Monday, December 25, 2017

Nintendo Switch Accessory Recommendations

Like any Nintendo console, the Switch has an overwhelming amount of accessories and other plastic odds and ends to clutter up your home. If you're one of the thousands of people who received Nintendo's new hybrid device, there are two things that I recommend picking up as soon as possible: a case and a Pro Controller.

Off-brand cases:

Since the Switch is too large to fit in most clothing pockets and doesn't feature a clam shell design to cover its screen, a case is essential if you intend to travel with the device. While I generally prefer to buy gaming hardware and accessories from established companies, I decided to take a chance on an obscure case I found on Amazon and I've been really pleased with it over the past nine months. It's just big enough to fit the console, the USB-C cable, and 10 cartridges without being too bulky. It also offers limited water resistance (but is definitely not water-proof) and comes with a screen protector.

The case I have:
A nearly identical one (in case the other one is out of stock):

Pro Controller:

Initially I planned on just sticking with the included Joy-con controllers and balked at the high price of the official Pro Controller. However, after enough long play sessions of Breath of Wild, I eventually caved in and ponied up the $70 (US). It was totally worth it. The comfort and precision of the Pro Controller can't be beat. The Joy-con in their grip will get you by for a while, but if you're going to be primarily playing in docked mode, the Pro Controller is a must-have accessory. As an added bonus, the Pro Controller also makes switching between portable and docked mode even more effortless because you'll no longer have to go through process of attaching and detaching the Joy-con. Recently a 3rd party Pro Controller option has become available from 8bitdo. I haven't had a chance to get my hands on one yet, but I've been hearing good things about it. Both the official and 3rd party Pro Controllers can be used as controllers for PCs as well, though compatibility seems to vary from game to game.

Official Pro Controller:
3rd Party Pro Controller: 

Note: None of the links on this page are affiliate links. Feel free to buy these things from whatever source you see fit. If this blog every features affiliate links or sponsored content, I will be sure to disclose it.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Xenoblade Chronicles 2 Impressions

For the longest time, the Final Fantasy series was the gold standard of JRPGs for me and nothing else could ever come close to touching it... then came Xenoblade Chronicles for the Wii. As one of my favorite RPG series, I've been looking forward to Xenoblade 2 (which is actually the 3rd game in the series) ever since it was announced during the unveiling of the Switch. Right now I'm about 15 hours and 3 chapters into this massive game. Some early impressions:
  • The setting, a world in which each nation is on the back of a different giant flying creature is pretty cool and fun to explore. This does make each region feel a little smaller and more linear since each Titan is a self-contained area. I'm totally fine with this though, as I've already explored enough completely vast open worlds this year.
  • Like the previous two games, there are a ton of stats, abilities, skill trees, and items to manage. At 15 hours into the game, I still don't even have access to all the games menus.
  • It took a while for it to click with me but now that I'm getting the hang of the combat (particularly executing combos), the battle system seems like it will have some potential for interesting strategies. Combat is very chaotic though, so it can be hard to keep track of what's going on.
  • The game lacks a manual or in-game menu to reread the tutorial info which makes learning the game's complex systems more difficult than it needs to be.This is an especially strange omission considering that the first two Xenoblade games had such thorough documentation.
  • In addition to the lack of a manual or tutorial menu, the UI is also missing other smaller things like controller rumble options and aggro symbols on monsters in the field. Not being able to tell which monsters are aggressive has gotten me killed several times already.
  • The story leans heavily into one of my least favorite anime tropes: the magical girlfriend who is also the protagonist's possession, pet, or slave. For now, I'm going to try to have a little faith in the Xenoblade writers and hope that they'll develop Pyra into something more than just a bargaining chip for the hero, Rex, and his enemies to fight over.
  • Xenoblade 2's character designs are much more anime-inspired than in previous entries and I've found these designs to be a mixed bag. Several of their outfits look particularly silly. Also, some of the highly sexualized characters seem kind of out of place for the game's tone.
  • While many players will be quick to download the Japanese audio patch, the English voice acting has really grown on me. I appreciate the diverse range of accents in the cast; so far I've picked out English, Welsh, Australian, and American. The main downside to the voice acting is that the characters talk way too much during combat. However, this has been an issue since the original Xenoblade.
  • The game's music is really beautiful. I'm looking forward to playing the soundtrack at work or in the car.
Overall, I'm really enjoying Xenoblade Chronicles 2 even though the story isn't grabbing me as much as the previous games. If the earlier entries in the Xenoblade series didn't appeal to you, I doubt this one will be the one to win you over. However, series veterans will like what they find here and complete newcomers could easily use this as a starting point since the plot is unrelated to the first two games.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Golf Story Review

If you would’ve told me a year ago that one of my favorite games on the new Nintendo console would be a golf game, I would’ve laughed in your face… but here we are in the year 2017 and all the rules are out the window! I had a fantastic time playing Golf Story, the role-playing/sports hybrid game that I never knew I wanted. Here are my takeaways now that I’ve finished the game:
  • The game’s story of an underdog athlete, his coach, and his condescending rival is fairly typical of the plots one would see in sports movies or TV series. What sets Golf Story apart is its effective use of humor that varies from biting commentary to utter absurdity.
  • Even though real golf courses have 18 holes, the game wisely cuts it down to 9. Having to replay an entire 18-hole course after losing a tournament would be aggravating.
  • The golf mechanics seem simple at first, but become deeper as the game goes on. Eventually, more advanced aspects such as ball spin direction, club selection, and adjusting for wind/slope are essential to succeed on the later courses. The courses also feature hazards, such as ball-stealing birds, that can be to your advantage or detriment depending on how you aim your shots.
  • While I’m generally not into golf (or most other sports for that matter), I found that carefully lining up my shots and setting my parameters and then watching the ball sail through the air, hopefully landing in the right place, to be very satisfying. This process reminded me a lot of artillery games like Scorched Earth and Worms that I used to love playing as a kid.
  • The game offers a variety of challenges and mini-games that varied a lot in their appeal. A few stand-out ones surprised me and immediately put a smile on my face, while others I cut through quickly (or skipped) so I could move on.
  • Golf Story’s music is an interesting mix of jazz, rock, and ambient pieces. Many of them were appropriate, but forgettable, while others I’ve found myself listening to even in a non-gaming context. The game cleverly has some of the tracks drop in at just the right time to set the scene really well, for example, the tense-sounding theme that plays during a sink-or-lose putt.
  • I did have two minor gripes with the game. The first being that the player can't quit or reset challenges while they are in progress. For example, if you need to make 7 shots out of 10 and miss the first 4, the game will still require you to take the next 6 shots before you can restart the challenge. The second grip is that while on the putting green, the only indication of the slope of the ground is an arrow in the corner of the screen with qualitative descriptors such as "slight" or "moderate". This vague information can make pulling off long putts more difficult than it needs to be. While these issues show some lack of polish on the part of the studio, they didn't cause me enough grief to significantly impact my enjoyment of the game.
Overall, Golf Story is a fun and quirky experience that is unlike anything else on the Nintendo Switch. If you think you have a taste for off-beat humor and also have the patience for a slow-paced game like golf, I highly recommend picking up Golf Story.

Score: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Completion Time: About 20 hours (campaign and most side quests)

Monday, December 11, 2017

Dishonored 2 Review

Even though I received Dishonored 2 as a Christmas gift last year, it took me until this month to finally play through it. This has been quite a year for gaming! Since Dishonored 2 is quite similar to its predecessor (see original review), I'll mostly just be giving a quick overview of points of contrast here:
  • The new setting for Dishonored 2, Karnaca, is a little bit more vibrant than the previous game's Dunwall, but it still has a generally similar dark steampunk aesthetic. 
  • Of the game's nine missions, there are two stand-outs: the clockwork mansion and the time-travel stage. Each of these introduces new mechanics that manipulate the level layout and allow the player to explore in new ways. I wish that these interesting new features were further explored rather than confined to their own maps. The remaining stages, while well-designed, are fairly similar to those in Dishonored 1.
  • Playing as the new protagonist, Emily, doesn't feel significantly different than playing as Corvo (the first game's hero) since most of her abilities are analogs to his. The main exception is that compared to Dishonored 1, there are more options for non-lethally eliminating enemies head-on. In the first game, if Corvo was spotted, the non-lethal options were to use one of his precious few sleep darts or run and hide. Emily, on the other hand, has the option of blocking enemy sword attacks and the delivering a knock-out counterattack. This makes taking the non-lethal route much more forgiving in Dishonored 2.
  • I found the story to be a little bit less engaging than in Dishonored 1, but that be due to the fact that the first game was an introduction to a whole new world and Dishonored 2 is just building upon that. 
In summary, Dishonored 2 is a very good first-person stealth game that doesn't deviate much from the formula established by its predecessor. I'm glad I played this game, but in my opinion, there doesn't need to be a Dishonored 3. If you loved the first game and are craving more, you'll be satisfied with what Dishonored 2 has to offer. Newcomers will definitely want to start with Dishonored 1 in order to get introduced to the characters and world and then decide from there if they want to proceed to part two.

Score: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Completion Time: 17 hours, 25 minutes (non-lethal campaign path + most collectables)

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Mercenaries Saga 2 Review

After giving some initial impressions of Mercenaries Saga 2 for a "Demo Hotness" back in December 2016, I've finally gotten around to playing the full game. For convenience's sake, I picked up the Android version rather than the 3DS version that I originally previewed. Here are my takeaways now that I've finished the game:
  • Throughout the game's 32 stages I found that the variety of units, skills, and classes allowed for good party customization and changes of tactics. That being said, there definitely seemed to be some clear winners and losers among my characters (e.g. witch >>> thief)
  • Most of the battles provide a good challenge and mix of enemies along with some varied terrain to take into account. However, there were very clearly some stages that were just there to serve as padding. In my opinion, if the whole set up for a battle is  "Oh no! Bandits!", it probably didn't really need to be in the campaign.
  • As somebody who is pretty averse to grinding, I was concerned when I hit a few difficulty spikes. Thankfully, by revising my strategy I was usually able to find a way overcome stronger enemies and I managed to get through the whole campaign with minimal grinding. To me, this is a hallmark of a well-designed strategy RPG.
  • Compared to most other SRPGs, the battles are fairly short which is well suited to portable play. It's also helpful that progress can be saved at any time mid-battle.
  • As I noted during my preview, the controls and interface are pretty clunky. This is even more notable when playing on a mobile phone since some of the menus were clearly designed with physical inputs in mind rather than a touchscreen. Once I got used to it, this clunkiness didn't significantly impact my enjoyment of the game.
  • The writing in the cutscenes is pretty dry, but the story works in terms of giving each character a little personality and setting up each battle scenario; just don't expect it to keep you on the edge of your seat.
  • The music quickly became repetitive. This is a rare case of a game that I played mostly on mute.
Reading this review, it might seem like most of the positive aspects of this game that I've highlighted come with a negative caveat. That might be true, but when you get right down to it, this is a fully-featured portable SRPG for only $5 (USD), and a pretty enjoyable one at that despite a few flaws. If you want something more robust than Fire Emblem Heroes, but not as involved as Final Fantasy Tactics, Disgaea, or Fire Emblem Fates, Mercenaries Saga is definitely worth a look.

Score: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Completion Time: 25 hours, 5 minutes