Sunday, August 25, 2019

Four Job Fiesta 2019 Wrap-up

This past weekend marked the close of my third Four Job Fiesta campaign! Once again, I managed to finish the game in even less time and lower levels than in previous years. Here are some highlights:

  • This year's Name My Butz charity auction was our most successful yet! The top bidder donated $20 (US) to Child's Play and selected the name "Waffle" for our party leader! As a special thanks to our generous donor, I let her pick which class Waffle would be assigned next whenever she was watching the stream.
  • At the Wind Crystal, I rolled a Thief. Considering this class can only use knives, it had decent physical damage output but without the ability to equip heavy armor, their toughness left a lot to be desired and made for some very tough early boss battles. The Steal and Mug abilities proved to be very useful, however.
  • My Water Crystal job was a returning one from my 2017 campaign, Red Mage. As is typical of Red Mages, they were valuable in the earliest parts of the campaign, primarily for healing but became obsolete about halfway through. After that, I got a little more utility out of them for their rod-breaking ability (i.e. sacrificing an elemental weapon to cast a higher level offensive black magic spell) during a few key boss battles.
  • The Fire Crystal delivered a blessing in disguise: Bard. I initially thought this class would be a dud but it proved to be extremely useful. Particularly, Bard's ability to put regular enemies in a sleep/stop state made random encounters so much easier. The Bard also has some very useful full-party buffs for boss battles. I'm really glad that this year's Fiesta gave me an opportunity to learn this previously overlooked class!
  • At the Earth Crystal, we had another repeat: Chemist. Even more so than last year, the weight of the last few dungeons almost completely rested on the Chemist's slender nerdy shoulders. Since I lacked any strong physical attackers this year, the Chemist ended up being my primary damage-dealer, using various Mix! formulae to attack bosses ("Holy Water + Dragon Fang = Holy Breath" was easily the one I used the most). Thankfully, the Thief in my party was able to steal plenty of reagents for my Chemist to use.
  • The battle against Exdeath was quite difficult this year since I was almost entirely reliant on buffs and chemistry to keep me alive and deal damage. After several failed attempts at level 35, I backtracked a bit to grind up to level 40 and gather more chemical reagents. While on paper, Waffle was my Chemist, everyone else in the party was still making use of the Mix! ability nearly every turn. After using buffing mixtures like Dragon Power (temporary +20 to level), Goliath Tonic (temporary double HP), and Turtle Guard (Shell + Protect) in the first phase of the final battle, it was just a matter of mixing up as many Holy Breaths (Holy elemental damage) as possible while keeping everyone's HP up. I ended up taking down Neo Exdeath with all four party members still alive!
  • Between donations from the auction, Twitch viewers, and my own contributions, $60 went to Child's Play this year. While I didn't beat my previous record, I'm still happy with this result and very thankful to the generosity of the donors! Next time I do this, I'll try to come up with more interactive ways to encourage people to donate (like the auction) since that seemed to get the biggest response. 
While I had fun with this year's campaign, I found it a little harder to keep motivated this time around. This was due to a combination of having two returning classes, which made the campaign less varied than before, and my work schedule being a lot more hectic, making it tougher to schedule streams than years past. I was glad that I played the mobile version of Final Fantasy 5 this year, so I could still make progress even when I wasn't able to stream. Thus, I may take a break for next year's Fiesta depending on my schedule. I will also be a little quicker to reroll if I get repeat classes going forward.

All that being said, I wanted to extend a heartfelt thanks to everyone who donated or tuned into my streams!

Tales of Symphonia Review

While it didn't quite make my original list of gaming shames, getting into the Tales series has long been on my to-do list. After all, it's the number #3 JRPG series (after Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest), so it represents a pretty big hole in my gaming experience as an RPG aficionado.

I consulted with a lot of Tales fans to find out where I should start this prolific series. The responses I got varied wildly; often one fan's favorite entry would be a game another fan despised. However, almost no one seemed to object to the 2004 GameCube hit, Tales of Symphonia. It also helped that the remastered version was on sale on Steam for $5. 😁

Tales of Symphonia is a fantasy action RPG that uses a combo-based combat system, similar to a fighting game. The story follows Lloyd, a teenage boy serving as a bodyguard for his childhood friend. Collette, who has been selected to go on a cross-country religious pilgrimage. While this game is a part of the long-running Tales series, its story is completely approachable on its own.

Artistic Qualities:
  • This game went the extra mile with character design. Not only are the main characters all a distinct cast of anime people, but even the most basic enemies have detailed models and unique animations. Part of the fun of entering a new dungeon was seeing what new monsters I would encounter.
  • The characters, while fairly tropey by today's standards, are well developed and likable. The dialog is generally solid but at times can be a bit too chatty, especially considering the huge volume of dialog in the game as a whole. 
  • The story has interesting themes; it heavily focuses on discrimination and WW2 allegories while also mixing in some Norse mythology and sci-fi. The tone, however, is all over the place. At times the game jumps back and forth between grim drama and very light anime comedy. It was often jarring but did keep things from feeling stale.
  •  I tried my best to keep up with Symphonia's lore and backstory. After a while, I began to feel like the game's writers made it complicated for the sake of being complicated (there are lots of alliances and betrayals, secret organizations, conspiracies, etc).
  • There are fully voiced story-centric cutscenes as well as dozens of text-based support conversations. Sometimes after a long cutscene, it was frustrating to immediately get pushed into several additional heart-to-heart scenes in which the character reacted to the major events of the previous cutscene. Many of the support conversations were amusing but sometimes felt like too much.
  • This game has a very smooth difficulty curve. While there were a few bosses I had to try more than once, I never once had to grind. As those who have read my previous RPG reviews probably know, this type of balanced difficulty is something I highly value.
  • Symphonia's battle system is fast-paced and mostly fun but has little strategic depth. Most enemy encounters, even boss battles, are just a matter of spamming your best combos and healing. I could see a lot of players liking the combat's simplicity, but for me, I would have liked something with a little more substance in a game of this length.
  • This game featured lots of systems that I barely used. For example, you can cook food and have characters get assigned special titles. Whether or not I used these seemed to be of little or no consequence.
  • Symphonia's campaign offers a few sidequests but is a mostly linear experience. That worked out well for this game; I liked feeling that I was always making progress (especially since I streamed the whole game on my Twitch channel).
  • Like many older JRPGs, you can only save on the world map or a few specific save points. In dungeons, save points have to be unlocked using an item called a Memory Gem. Each dungeon has one Memory Gem that is dropped by one random enemy somewhere in the labyrinth. The game designers probably set this up as a way of ensuring that a player thoroughly explored the dungeon and had reached the necessary character level before advancing. However, I found this frustrating if I needed to stop playing mid-dungeon and couldn't find the Memory Gem. 
  • I really liked how dungeons featured puzzles instead of just combat and treasure. Not all the puzzles were executed well, but I generally liked what they were going for.
As I got into the game's later acts, I was feeling like the campaign was padded to be much longer than it needed to be. However, as Symphonia's credits rolled and I reflected on the 50+ hours I had spent with the game, it still left a positive impression; it was certainly a fun ride overall. It'll probably be a while before I play another Tales game (next year at the earliest), but I can see why this series is so popular and I will certainly return to it someday in the future.

Score: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Completion Time: 56 hours, 27 minutes (main campaign and a few sidequests)

Note: Streaming a full Tales game, as I did with this one, is a big commitment. It took almost four months of streaming nothing but Tales of Symphonia every week in order to finish it. I will likely stick to streaming shorter games from now on.

Acknowledgment: This post is part of the #Blaugust2019 event held by Tales of the Aggronaut. For more info about Blaugust, check out this article.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Monster Boy Review

Monster Boy is a game I played back in winter, but I'm just now getting around to reviewing it. Normally, I review games shortly after finishing them, but in this case, I've come to appreciate this game more the longer I've had time to reflect on it.

Monster Boy is a hand-drawn 2D Metroidvania game and is a successor to Sega's Wonder Boy series. Throughout the game, the player character increases his ability to explore the environment by learning to transform into various animals. Each animal offers new traversal abilities such as crawling through tight spaces, swimming, or flying.

  • The animation and artwork are gorgeous and impressively detailed. Each of the animal forms of the hero feels like they could be a main character in a kid's cartoon and even background NPCs have a distinct sense of personality.
  • In addition to being cute and charming, the different animal forms are a lot of fun to use. The game provides you with ample uses for each one and switching between them is a snappy process. I had so much fun changing between the animal forms, I was actually a little bummed out when I gained the ability to turn back into a human (i.e. the lamest animal).
  • Most Metroidvania games are content to provide a mix of exploration, platforming challenges, and light combat. Monster Boy adds an extra layer of depth by incorporating environmental puzzles into each area. I thought this was a great addition to the standard genre formula even though there were some situations where it wasn't clear what I was supposed to do next.
  • Compared to any other Metroidvania I've played, the game world of Monster Boy is absolutely massive. In fact, it took me over 24 hours to finish this game's campaign; a little over twice as long as any other game I've played in this genre. While I'm glad it wasn't any longer than that, I feel like it kept things interesting for pretty much its entire running time.
  • The story of this game is nothing particularly interesting but it does a good job of introducing the player to the world of Wonder Boy (which I had no prior experience with). I also got a good chuckle out of some of the dialog.
  • I finished this game back in March and I still find myself humming some of its music. Monster Boy has a very strong soundtrack.
When I went to Best Buy to pick up a copy of Monster Boy, I initially balked at the $40 price tag, a heftier price than I've ever paid for a game of this type before. However, after seeing the level of polish in this game's presentation and gameplay, as well as the sheer amount of content on offer, I'm really glad I was able to get over the sticker shock! I think anyone who considers themselves a fan of the Metroidvania genre owes it to themselves to give Monster Boy a shot.

Score: ⭐⭐⭐
Completion Time: 24 hours, 33 minutes (78.5% completion)

Acknowledgment: This post is part of the #Blaugust2019 event held by Tales of the Aggronaut. In fact, this year's Blaugust marks the third birthday of this blog! For more info about Blaugust, check out this article.