Monday, March 30, 2020

Bravely Default 2 Impressions

As someone who is a massive fan of Final Fantasy 5, its successor series, Bravely Default, has been recommended to me countless times. However, every time a game in this series is brought up, there's always some kind of caveat like "This game is great, but that second act is a doozy!" or "That game improves on some aspects of the original, but downgrades in other areas." As a result, I've been waiting for an ideal jumping-on point for this franchise for a while. When I saw in the recent Nintendo Direct that a demo for the newest game in the series, Bravely Default 2, was available, I figured that the time had finally come to get on board.

Bravely Default 2 is a turn-based RPG in the style of classic Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest games. One of the game's defining features is a job system that lets each character mix and match skills from a variety of classes. The demo features four classes: White Mage, Black Mage, Vanguard (knight), and Monk. The other major feature is the "Brave" and "Default" system that allows you to take extra actions in one turn at the expense of subsequent turns; which creates a risk-reward dynamic to the battle strategy. Despite its somewhat misleading name, Bravely Default 2 is actually the third game in the series and begins a new story with different characters than the previous games.

  • I found the game's graphics appealing, both in terms of art style and use of textures. The very detailed textures on somewhat simple-looking stylized character models made the gameplay and cutscenes look they were being enacted by dolls being posed in a playset. I thought it was kind of a neat look.
  • The game has nice battle animations that are distinct for each character and enemy. It's impressive considering how many types of monsters you're likely to encounter.  For example, I like the way defeated enemies slump over and collapse; in most games of this type, they would just fade away.
  • On the topic of the doll-like quality of the game's graphics, I had a lot of fun playing dress-up with my characters; each character has a special costume for each class. I spent several minutes in the Job menu cycling through the classes for each character just to admire the costume designs.
  • No two characters in the main party speak with the same type of accent. I like this voice casting decision because it conveys that the characters come from a multicultural world.
  • The FF5-like job system has the potential to be a lot of fun, especially later on once more than four classes are available. 
  • The music in the demo features pieces influenced by classical music, traditional Middle Eastern music, and rock. It was effective in giving the impression that the final game will have a great score.

  • The game's user interface can be a little unclear or inconsistent in layout. I sometimes felt like it was hard to display the info I needed both in menus and during battles.
  • Bravely Default 2 eschews traditional random battles for having enemies visible on-screen. The problem is that the enemies respawn too quickly; after defeating an enemy, all I would have to do is walk a short distance and then turn back to find that same enemy was alive and well again. Usually, the nice thing about having on-screen enemies is the ability to clear a room and explore freely; this demo did not allow me to do that, which I found frustrating. 
  • After coming out of a battle, other enemies in the area can engage you immediately. I had many situations where I had to fight multiple groups of enemies consecutively without a break, making the effective frequency of combat higher than what it would have been with random encounters.
  • By far the biggest issue with this demo was its extremely imbalanced difficulty level. Just to make a modicum of progress into the dungeon in the demo's quest, I had to grind for a considerable amount of time. After playing for several hours, I managed to make it to the dungeon boss only to find that I could barely deal any damage to him; I would likely have to grind for several more hours just to be able to finish this demo, which just didn't seem worth it to me.
Ultimately, this demo had the opposite effect than what was intended; it made me feel less inclined to pick up the full version. Why would I pre-order the full game when the demo was so discouraging to play? Since there seemed to be potential in the game from an artistic and mechanical standpoint, I'll probably give it a second look if reviews indicate that the final game has been drastically rebalanced to offer a less grinding-focused experience.

The demo warns you that the difficulty has been turned up "a little higher", but to me this seemed extreme.

I found the dialog in the demo to be fairly entertaining.

Be prepared to spend a lot of time staring at the battle screen if you decide to play this demo.

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Giana Sisters Twisted Dreams Review

For my third game during #PlatforMonth, I decided to pick up a platformer starring the gaming world's second favorite pair of super-powered Italian siblings, the Giana Sisters. While this series may have started off as a very blatant ripoff of Super Mario Bros, it has since grown into a distinct franchise with its own unique personality and mechanics. The fourth game in the series, Twisted Dreams, was the result of a successful Kickstarter campaign in 2012.

Giana Sisters Twisted Dreams is a 2.5D platformer with a linear level structure. The game's signature mechanic is that you can switch your character between two forms, "Punk" and "Cute". Changing between these forms changes your character's abilities and also the behavior of objects in the environment.

  • This game gets a lot of mileage out of its central switching mechanic. Switching between the two forms occurs instantaneously, seamlessly, and changes your move set, the visual aesthetic of the level, the background music, and the behavior of platforms and enemies. It somehow all feels very natural quickly and I found that it remained an enjoyable mechanic throughout the entire campaign.
  •  Twisted Dreams has a kickin' soundtrack. In Punk form, the music has rock instrumentation with electric guitars and in Cute form, the music takes on a more electronic synthy sound. Both sounded pretty good, but I found that when the situation didn't require a specific form, I would stay in the Punk form to listen to the shredding guitar.
  • With how much the switching mechanic changes things, I thought navigating the levels and picking the right form could get confusing. Thankfully the game signals to you when it's time to change forms via color-coded gems that you collect throughout each level. This comes in handy with some of the very technical jumps that could require several mid-air transformations!
  • Punk form's special move is an air dash and Cute form can twirl to glide through the air. Using both of these moves in tandem with each other works very smoothly once you get used to it.
  • Being a challenging 2D platformer, I was very thankful that Twisted Dreams is very generous with checkpoints.
  • This game is tough, but not in a way that ever feels discouraging (with the possible exception of the final boss). The game often asks you to pull off some very tricky maneuvers but the game gives you tools you need to succeed and doing so feels very satisfying.

  • Twisted Dreams gives you a rating of 1 to 3 stars at the end of each level. Earning a certain number of stars is needed to unlock the later levels of the game. However, the scoring system that determines your star rating is very opaque. I had to look up how it worked in order to earn the last few stars I needed to unlock the final level.
  • Like many modern 2D platformers, the game can be quite busy visually. I lost several lives due by missing a platform or crashing into spikes in areas where it was difficult to discern whether an object was in the foreground or background.
  • The campaign is split into three "worlds" but there is no cohesive visual theme to separate one from the other. Levels tended to switch randomly from a forest, castle, cave, or beach settings regardless of which "world" they were in.
Other than a few minor issues that occasionally slowed me down, I blasted through Giana Sisters Twisted Dreams and had a great time doing it. I give this game a strong recommendation to fans of platformers like Rayman, Donkey Kong Country, or Mighty Switch Force.

Score: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Completion Time: 10 hours

  • This review was written as part of the Chic Pixel community's #PlatforMonth event. For more info about their events, check out this page: Community Game-Along
  • For the majority of my time playing through Giana Sisters Twisted Dreams, I was convinced that I was alternating between a "punk" sister and a "cute" sister (i.e. two different characters). It turns out that you're only playing as one sister who changes her appearance; the other titular Giana sister is the character you are trying to rescue from the villain.