Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Ever Oasis Review

Studio Grezzo proves that they're ready for prime time

After chipping away slowly at this summer’s 3DS desert epic, Ever Oasis, my journey is finally complete. During #JRPGJuly, I wrote fairly complete impressions for the game and most of the points I made there stand true for the experience of the entire game, so in this review, I’ll primarily be sharing my reflections on the later portion of the game.

One of my concerns during the early portions of Ever Oasis was that dungeons and combat felt a little too easy and simplistic. As the game progressed, these concerns were largely alleviated as the later dungeons definitely provide a steady but significant increase in difficulty and complexity. While the dungeons attain the level of design seen in the Zelda series, I found the ones in the back half of the Ever Oasis to be a satisfying level of challenge for a lighter handheld experience. Often times, later dungeons would include segments where specific characters or weapons would be needed to progress and the fact that party and gear can only be changed in town meant that I would have to fast-travel between the dungeon and town several times to complete a story quest. Thankfully, fast-travel can return you to the exact position where you left the dungeon. While I think the game designers set this system up to ensure you’d check the status of your town at regular intervals, it did become mildly irritating toward the end of the game. The ability to make at least some changes to equipment and characters while in the dungeon would have streamlined things considerably.

While the combat scaled up in difficulty, it ultimately remained fairly simple. Aside from a handful of combos Tethu can learn, (s)he doesn’t learn any new moves and enemy strategy never gets especially deep. However, as the game progresses, choosing the right party members and weapons for the situation can make a distinct difference in how smoothly battles go. Coming into the confrontation with a good supply of healing items also helps. Alternately, leveling up your town provides an HP boost and the ability to revive your party in the event of an unexpected wipe.

Much like how the dungeons grow in scale and complexity, so does the task of maintaining the Oasis town. For most of the game, as your town expands, so does your tool set for managing it, thus keeping the process of satisfying your townsfolk's needs efficient. Eventually, however, the introduction of these efficiency tools tapers off as the Oasis continues to expand, eventually becoming a sprawling metropolis filled with businesses that each require regular deliveries of a myriad of crafting supplies. As a player who was primarily focused on being an adventurer rather than a mayor, it became clear that there was no way I could please every citizen in the Oasis while still making progress through the campaign at a reasonable rate. Thankfully, in the course of dungeon crawling and battling, I picked up enough supplies to keep the town's happiness gage (it's an RPG; everything can be quantified) at 75% or more with only minimal upkeep required. This proved more than sufficient to keep my town prospering and get all the necessary perks (HP boosts, crafting recipes, etc) I needed to help me on my quest. For players with a perfectionist streak, however, I could see this never-quite-full meter driving them absolutely crazy and compelling them to waste time tediously micro-managing the Oasis just to max out the happiness gauge with minimal benefit. Ideally, the game would grant Tethu the ability to delegate more of the town management tasks to NPCs so that the town would run like a well-oiled machine, allowing Tethu the ability to concentrate on saving the world.

Quibbles about gameplay mechanics aside, Ever Oasis is a really high-quality package. As I noted in my impressions, the game's character design, music, and script are all very strong and were consistent throughout my entire playthrough. The plot is fairly simple (again, think 90s Zelda) but provides a reason for fun characters to interact and gives purpose to Tethu's quest, so it gets the job done. The game's length will vary depending on how many sidequests the player elects to do, but I found my playthrough to be long enough to feel like a good value without burning me out on the game's systems. With Ever Oasis, Grezzo proves that they're capable of creating quality original games rather than just being Nintendo's remaster factory. For their sophomore effort, however, I hope they can better integrate and streamline the management-sim/RPG hybrid design, and if not, split these two disparate gameplay styles into separate games. I would recommend Ever Oasis to players who like their action RPGs light and their characters adorable.

Score: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Completion Time: 32 hours, 15 minutes (Main quest with Oasis level 22/30)

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Implosion Never Lose Hope Impressions

This past weekend was my first time traveling by plane this year, and as the original Nintendo Switch reveal commercial demonstrated, I knew I had to bring my Switch with me to play in the air. Since most of the recent big releases for the system are online multiplayer-focused affairs, I found myself browsing the eShop for an affordable and light-weight single-player experience to play on my flight. After having good experience with Kamiko and Mercenary Saga from Circle Entertainment in the past, I decided to pick up their newest mecha-themed hack-and-slash, Implosion Never Lose Hope. Here are some thoughts on the first few hours of gameplay:
  • Implosion's combat starts out with very simple mechanics: combos of light and heavy melee attacks. However, the game quickly introduces ranged attacks, special moves, and evasive maneuvers to keep things interesting.
  • Controlling the mech feels pretty good and cycling through its various types of attacks felt like second nature after playing through the first few levels. Cutting through swarms of enemies is very satisfying now that I'm able to make use of the full arsenal.
  • Initially the enemies are pretty dull slow-moving zombies, but the challenge level and enemy variety ramps up. Eventually there are some big boss monsters to tackle that keep you on your toes.
  • The levels are mostly linear and each can be finished within about five minutes. Most of the levels have secondary objectives that earn badges that can be used to unlock mech upgrades. This gives the levels a little extra replay value.
  • I like that I can customize my mech's load out but I'm not always sure what the various new parts and upgrades do.
  • The graphical style looks sort of like a HD-remastered PS2 game. For a $12 game, however, I'm more than happy with how it looks.
  • I was surprised to find that a budget game like this has a fairly involved plot with fully-voiced cut scenes. However, due to the engine noise on my flight, I wasn't able to hear the dialog very well, so I can't really comment on the quality of the acting. For the same reason, I don't have much to say about the music either.
  • The only downside to Implosion so far is that there's no option for co-op play. As the old Gauntlet and X-men arcade machines proved, hack and slash games make for some great local multiplayer. 
During my travels, I was able to put about three hours into Implosion Never Lose Hope and have been pretty happy with it. It's been a fun arcadey experience that's well-suited for those times when I don't want to play something too engrossing.

Note: This post marks the 1-year anniversary of this blog! Woohoo! Many thanks to everyone who's stuck with me!

Monday, August 7, 2017

Dropping GTA 5 for Witcher 3

Of the remaining games in my backlog, the two largest games (both in terms of acclaim and scope) were GTA 5 and Witcher 3. Since I’ve been playing a lot of fantasy RPGs lately, I decided I would tackle GTA 5 next. Having been a fan of GTA since GTA 2 on the PS1, I was pretty disappointed to find that the new(ish) and insanely popular entry just didn’t grab me, but I’m not sure if it’s the series that changed, or if it’s me. Some thoughts:
  • From a technical standpoint, the size and level of detail of the game world are very impressive.
  • The cars and aerial vehicles all handle far better than they did in previous GTA games. Even when using mouse and keyboard.
  • While the story production values are clearly high, I just couldn’t bring myself to care about any of the characters. Of the 3 protagonists, only Franklin is even remotely likable and he quickly gets sidelined in favor of Michael and Trevor. Michael’s family drama, in the beginning, has the potential to be interesting, but the game doesn’t really do much with it after the first few missions. Trevor’s antics were amusing for a little while but got old very quickly.
  • The game's FBI vs CIA vs corrupt businessmen plotline fails to be engaging since each side is equally despicable. Earlier GTA games and their progeny (especially 2012's Sleeping Dogs) did a better job of showing the motivations of each of their respective factions and managed to include a few interesting characters in each.
  • The game’s snarky cynical tone just doesn’t jive with me; maybe this just isn’t a game world I feel like spending time with in 2017. The humor and attempts at social/political commentary don’t feel like they’ve evolved at all from 90s GTA.
  • After playing a high-octane open-world action game like Just Cause 2 last year, it's become painfully apparent how much time is spent in GTA doing mundane tasks like chauffeuring characters around while they chitchat. I do enough boring commuting in real life, I don't need it faithfully simulated in my virtual life of crime.
Despite my issues with GTA 5, I was still having some fun with it for the first 10 - 15 hours. At about the 20 - 25 hour mark, however, it was feeling pretty stale, so I decided to look up how many main story missions were left since I figured I was pretty close to finishing the game. Turns out I was less than halfway! With that revelation, I promptly dropped the game and moved on to Witcher 3.

I'm only about 8 hours into Witcher 3 and am enjoying it a lot so far. Some early impressions:
  • After playing the first two Witcher games last year, this one doesn't feel like the revolutionary leap forward that some people had lead me to believe it was. It's more like a quality iteration built on an already strong foundation.
  • The combat has a slightly different feel to it than the previous two entries, but there's enough similarity for me to still be able to take out enemies several levels above me when playing on medium difficuly. 
  • Like with the previous two games, I'm playing with keyboard and mouse controls and doing pretty well, though I may remap some of the harder-to-reach keys to my extra mouse buttons.
  • There's a good mixture of familiar characters from the first two games and new faces.
  • I was initially concerned the new open-world format would lead to a lot of back-tracking, but so far this hasn't been the case. Also, there's finally a convenient fast-travel system!
  • I have no idea how to actually win a game of Gwent, but it seems far more interesting than the dice game in the earlier Witchers.
Witcher 3 is a very lengthy game, so it's too soon to say if it'll manage to stay engaging for its entire duration, but for now, I'm looking forward to exploring it further. 

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Four Job Fiesta Wrap-up

 My Four Job Fiesta campaign came to a close last week and I can say that the experience has cemented Final Fantasy 5’s position as one of my favorite games of all time. The game is already tough, but playing with the Fiesta rules has pushed me to become not only a better Final Fantasy player but a better RPG strategist as a whole. Here are some developments from the last segment of the game:
  • Initially, having a white mage based party meant having a team full of cream puffs. That all changed once I acquired the Holy spell. This turned my once docile healers into savage damage dealers, especially Lenna, who had also learned Dual Cast from having been a Red Mage for most of the game. During late game boss fights (including the final boss battle), she became my primarily offensive character, dealing over 8000 damage per turn.
  • As I had mentioned in a previous post, the importance of using defensive buffs to improve character survivability cannot be understated. As a fairly grinding-averse player, properly leveraging Protect, Shell, and Reflect was often the key to victory. It’s hard to imagine what I’ll do next Fiesta if I don’t end up with access to White Magic.
  • While I spent most of the game using the Elven Mantle accessory to help my characters avoid physical attacks, switching these out for Hermes Sandals in the late game was the right move. Having everyone in a perpetual state of Hast” allowed me to do more damage while taking fewer enemy hits. It also made it much easier to recover if a boss used a devastating attack that hit the full party.
  • Partly for nostalgia’s sake, I frequently consulted with my “Final Fantasy Anthology” guide book that I used for my original play-through of Final Fantasy 5 back in 1999. While the dungeon maps were still somewhat useful, the Fiesta rules coupled with the higher-level strategies used by modern players have largely made this book obsolete. In some cases, using it slowed me down because having full dungeon maps made me feel compelled to get every single treasure chest even though most of the items in these chests would end up being gear for classes other than those I was assigned. Thus, I think I will allow this guide book to enjoy a much-deserved retirement on my bookshelf next year.
  • It took me a while to warm up to it, but I ended up really liking the PC version of Final Fantasy 5. The higher resolution graphics make spotting small objects easier, and the auto-checkpoint system it uses prevented unexpected party wipes from resulting in a significant loss of progress.
I had a great time revisiting Final Fantasy 5 and participating in the Four Job Fiesta. I already find myself thinking about next year’s Fiesta and what challenges a completely different set of classes might bring. I’m also considering trying out a mobile/handheld version of FF5 next time so that I can fit multiple shorter play sessions into my schedule rather than relying on longer sessions on nights and weekends to progress through my campaign. As a result, I’ll probably be reducing the number of Twitch streams I do for future campaigns (I streamed nearly all 42 hours of this year’s campaign) and will instead focus on streaming a handful of major events/battles in the game. Quality over quantity.

Regarding the charitable side of the Fiesta, my campaign raised $50 between myself and Twitch viewers, while the Fiesta overall raised over $18,000 for Child’s Play Charity! Thanks so much to everyone who participated, donated, or tuned into the streams!

See below for the stats of my end-game party:


Enjoy your retirement, trusty old guide book!