Rabbids & Smartphones & Dragon Balls, Oh My!

Greets, mortals!  I hope the evening finds you well…unless, of course, I hate you, in which case I hope the evening finds you fervently wishing that I DON’T FIND YOU.  Either way, welcome back.  Tonight I’ve got a few thoughts on a lot of different things for you, which is a bit of a change from normal.  I’ve found lately that, especially when I’m alone with my feline overlord, my mood and thoughts and emotions are scattered all over the place (well, aside from the constant overwhelming seething cauldron of hate for humanity…that’s pretty consistent), and consequently, I’ve been consuming media in a similar, scattershot fashion.  The good news for all of you, though, is that now you get to hear a bit about all sorts of good (or bad) stuff!  You may prostrate yourselves now.  I’ll wait.

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It was a cliched and stormy night in Costa del Sol…

First up, we have the continuing adventures of Evil Wizard as he journeys through Eorzea in Final Fantasy XIV.  Although the new expansion, Stormblood, was released this summer, I’ve yet to venture into any of that story content.  In fact, I’ve only recently, finally powered through all of the story missions that served as the bridge between the original Realm Reborn storyline and the first expansion, Heavensward.  After having reached Ishgard, I decided to take a slight break from powering through story content to level and unlock some other jobs.  But that isn’t to say the story isn’t calling to me – truth be told, I honestly feel like Final Fantasy XIV is the best game in the main series since IX, and maybe even since VI, and that is saying an awful lot because I have a lot of love for FF XII.  But XIV has an absolutely massive amount of plot content and characters, and the overwhelming majority of them are stellar.  Honestly, I recommend this game to anyone that loves RPGs.  Not just MMOs, not just Final Fantasy – if RPGs are your thing, and you haven’t tried XIV at all, you’re doing yourself a disservice.

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It’s Mega Mario Metroid Man!

Next up, I’ve got the Switch game that up until E3 a couple months ago literally nobody knew they wanted.  Seriously, the Rabbids are the most goddamned annoying fuckers this side of the It’s A Small World ride at Disney World, and when Nintendo and Ubisoft announced  a crossover between them and the world of Mario you could hear the entire Internet give a collected groan.  Then around came E3, and with it the revelation that this would be a turn-based strategy game with some RPG elements – essentially X-COM lite but with Mario & Co. taking on Ubi’s insane vermin.  After spending several hour with it since launch and getting through the first couple of worlds, I can easily say this game is the biggest surprise of the year for me, and that’s saying something with a Mario game.  The X-COM style cover-based gameplay is fantastic, though in the early stages the difficulty seems significantly less than the sci-fi masterpiece.  This can likely be chalked up to the game being aimed at a much larger target market on the Switch than the decidedly older audience that X-COM attracts.  My understanding from friends that are much further into the game is that there is a definite difficulty spike later on, so I am greatly intrigued and thus far highly recommend Mario x Rabbids: Kingdom Battle to anyone with a Switch and a love of X-COM.

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Hooray Job Systems!

Next up, for when I’m stuck with nothing but my phone or it’d be impolite to just open a book or Vita and blatantly ignore everyone around me, I’ve found myself diving back into Final Fantasy Dimensions.  I found myself drawn back in after talking about it for a bit with intrepid Michael “FinalMacstorm” Cunningham of #TeamHandheld.  I’ve been away from it for a while and am still getting back into the plot, but since it’s heavily patterned on the 16-bit Final Fantasy’s of old, there isn’t too much complexity to worry about.  I do now remember that the slow influx of jobs is made a bit more irritating by the fact that you can’t max them out – at particular beats in the story, you are granted a small pool of points that allow you to increase the max level of whatever jobs you choose for each character.  While I don’t believe this to be a monetization of the system – I don’t think you can purchase more of the points using real money – I haven’t yet reached the point of being able to know if there will be enough of these points to max out all jobs for everyone, or if not, how many each character may be able to fully develop.  It’s tough because it doesn’t let you really know if you should be specializing particular characters or what, and a somewhat incongruent party split can exacerbate matters somewhat.  Still, it isn’t anything that can’t be overcome with a bit of grinding, and I’m a complete whore for grinding in an old-school job system RPG.  Not going to say I’d wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone yet, but if you are older than time as I am, and love Final Fantasy V’s job system, you’ll likely find this worthwhile.

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Ka…Me…Ha…Me…

Last, but assuredly not least, I’ve also been catching up on Dragon Ball Super.  DB is one of those series that I watch in spurts – I’ll binge a couple of dozen episodes and love them, then hit a saturation point and put it away for a while.  I’ve reached the point where Goku & Friends have been confronted by Black’s Super Saiyan Rose, and I must say that one of the features I love about this show is that every once in a while they show a flashback to events that occurred in prior series such as the seminal Dragon Ball Z, and the contrast between the quality of the animation in those and the gorgeous HD animation in Super just can’t be fully described.  Akira Toriyama’s character designs are world-renowned and timeless, and for as much as I love his work in the Dragon Quest series, this is the apex in terms of the quality animation.  As for the series, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how much Dragon Ball has grown up – even in a series where death is often cheapened or worked around, there has been some genuine moments of tension and loss, and I feel like the experience gained by reworking Dragon Ball Z into Dragon Ball Z Kai has helped the studio to get a better grip on balancing fights with character development.  So no more 17-episode buildups to seeing Goku throw one Spirit Bomb…and that’s a very good thing.  If you’ve ever been a fan of Dragon Ball, you should check it out.

And that’s that for tonight, kiddos.  But before I go, just a piece of advice…I guarantee that most, if not all, of you humans have someone close to you that is likely suffering from depression.  You probably don’t know it, because they probably don’t say much if anything about it – ironically enough, because they already feel like a complete burden to those around them and don’t want to make it any worse.  But while they may be able to smile or crack a joke, inside they are very, very alone.  You humans have but a short time on this earth, and in that time, almost everything costs something…but kindness is free.  It can be given away to all that you care about with no real cost to you.  And while it might seem like little or nothing to you at the time, I guarantee you it means the world to someone.  Not that I care about the happiness of you pathetic mortals. – EWE

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Sorry – I’m Not Dead Yet

I’m not going to apologize for being absent for a while, mostly because I’ve had pretty good reason.  I will say that I have greatly missed communicating with all of you – but I’ll try to make up for it a bit by filling you in on some of the reasons for my absence.

First off, as some of you may have noticed from the godawful fucking heat and humidity, it’s summer!  This has meant that my two little evil-mages-in-training have been on a break from their studies and been wanting to spend time under the burning flame ball in the sky, like this:

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DEAR GOD, WHY?!?!

But since not just MY family, but ALL SORTS of people are ALSO much more active during the summer months, my work as a public defender has been extremely busy as well – and the ratio of incompetent/insane clients has gone WAAAAAY up.  Let me tell you just exactly how mentally draining it is when you are trying to explain to someone that murdering ducks is, in fact, a crime, and they are fervently telling you that it’s ok because the five-faced devil told them to do it…

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Because listening to this guy is just a fantastic idea.

And just in case increased work, increased time with the younglings, and caring for my feline overlord Zero while gaming and reading wasn’t enough, I decided upon advice from my little sis, the absolutely hilarious Kate Quigley, I decided to try making people laugh the old-fashioned way – so I’ve started doing some open mic nights at local bars and coffee houses and doing a little stand up.  Well, I suppose some might call it stand up…for me, it’s kinda just group therapy, where I get to talk about my issues and not bill my insurance!

Of course, it can’t all be upside – about six weeks ago, my fibromyalgia went into (I thought) a flare up.  It happens from time to time, based on weather and pressure changes, and normally I just grit my teeth and within a few days it is back to its normal level of constant-but-not-totally-debilitating pain.  But this time…it didn’t.  After two weeks, I contacted my doctor, and she gave me a significant injection of steroids due to the fact that my fibro meds were having no effect.  If it was fibro alone, the steroids would likely have made it worse, but if they helped, then there might be more going on.  Well…they sure as hell helped at first.  For about two days, I was Superman.  For two more, I was, you know…normal?  But then I was right back where I was before the shot.  Now I was going on a month of mind-numbing pain, and my doctor was out of normal options, so I am currently scheduled and waiting to see a rheumatologist in September.  Needless to say, going through all of the daily activities I described above while wracked with physical pain is…tiring.  So many are the day I have come home and couldn’t even find the energy to game or read, let alone write to you all.  So I would perform my ritual worship of Zero and collapse into bed, where he would then sit on my chest in an effort to comfort me (or kill me, I’m not entirely sure).

But take heart – all is not lost!  First, I am finding time to engage in some reading and gaming, so I will have some opinions on those fronts coming soon!  Look forward in particular to my review of Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age, as it captured me even harder than the original PS2 game did, and that was one of my favorite PS2 RPGs.  And now, if I can FUCKING REMEMBER TO HIT RECORD, I can even now and then provide you with some footage from my open mic stand up gigs – you know, in case you don’t have enough to mock me for yet, irritating mortal fleshbags (Editor’s Note: That’s not nice; they’ve always been very supportive.)

EWE and Editor Return

So before I go, I wanted to give you one last thing – a bit of the old and the new all in one.  You see, I have not been able to do much experimenting in my kitchen of late – but I have needed quite a bit of caffeine.  And so I wish to recommend a particular purveyor of pure coffee goodness – Carpe Diem Coffee Shop, in my own hometown of Canton, Ohio.  Now, while I fully understand that many of you cannot travel to their actual location (which is a goddamn shame, because it is fantastic), you CAN order their absolutely amazing coffee right through their site to be shipped to you!  I in particular recommend the Blueberry Crumble – and by “recommend” I mean “until you have tasted this, your pitiful, meager lives are wholly incomplete.”

So with that, humans, I bid you adieu for the time being.  But lest you forget, as always, if you are a Trump supporter, I suppose you have something notable you can attest to – it took 240+ years for America to progress to the point that it had this past January, and it has taken Trump only six months to set it back in many ways to before it was ever founded in the first place.  Congratu-fucking-lations. – EWE

God Wars: Future Past Review

Greets, humans!  It’s once again been a minute since I was here last – I was under the weather the last few weeks, which after work and spending time with my sons and Malevolent Moogle, I have not had energy to do much more than crawl into bed and play some games or read a book for a bit before falling asleep.  But the GOOD news for all of you is that now I can bring you the good, the bad, and the ugly of what I’ve been playing while laid up.  Aren’t you all just the luckiest things?!

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Is that a grinning samurai bear in the corner?  Fuck yeah it is.

We begin with a title that I’ve been anticipating since I first saw that it was being localized for the Western market.  It’s not secret that I’m a huge fan of SRPGs.  So when NIS America, the purveyors of the amazing Disgaea series, began to show off their newest property, God Wars: Future Past for PS4 and Vita, I was giddy with anticipation.  Well, ok, maybe “giddy” isn’t a word that particularly applies to me…but I was looking forward to it with something approaching positive emotion.  While the title is available on PS4, my purchase and review were done with the Vita version of the game – because I will support the greatest Sony console of all time for as long as it takes until I get a goddamn Vita 2.  Are you listening to me, Shuhei?!

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Mmm…cruncy, munchy stats.

Now, this isn’t going to be a deep dive on what makes up an SRPG.  Suffice to say, the name of the game is tactical positioning and planning, as well as class grinding to mold your individual characters into a well-balanced and complementary fighting force, to be deployed on various isometric, grid-based maps and engage in turn-based movement and combat with enemy forces.  That basic concept underlies the entire genre; but that said, SRPGs through the years have tended to gravitate toward one of two camps.  The first camp is made up of games with tough battles, deep plots full of political scheming and intrigue, and relatively little grinding outside of that needed to unlock new classes or purchase new equipment.  Some excellent entries here include Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions and Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together.  Those of you that have been here since the beginning of my little blog will remember that I reviewed Tactics Ogre once upon a time.  In the other camp, one populated by NIS itself on many occasions, are wacky, anime-inspired SRPGs which are the essence of the term “over-the-top.”  These games eschew dark political plots for comedic, barely necessary stories that are primarily there to get you on the grinding treadmill, which is the true star of the show – getting all of your stats to obscenely high levels in order to challenge god-like uber-bosses after the main scenario has ended.  In games like my recent review of Disgaea 5 Complete on the Nintendo Switch, the vast majority of the game doesn’t start until the “story” is over.

Bridging the gap between these two groups is a PSP original title that I absolutely adored – Jeanne d’Arc.  A fantasy retelling of the story of Joan of Arc, set in an anime-inspired alternate history involving beastmen and magic, it deftly combined the slick anime presentation and somewhat quicker combat of the Disgaea titles with the deeply political and historical plotline that would have been at home in a Final Fantasy Tactics title.  So, where would God Wars land – serious, wacky, or somewhere in the middle?

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It’s Japanese history, if every anime you ever watched were historical fact.

I’m pleased to say that much like Jeanne d’Arc, God Wars occupies a happy middle ground in the SRPG genre.  Imagine a feudal Japan in which every mythological god, goddess, yokai, spirit and the like were all present and accounted for, accepted as part of the fabric of the world.  In this fantastical history, Princess Kaguya is freed from imprisonment and sets out in search of her mother, who disappeared after being forced to sacrifice Kaguya’s sister to appease the angry gods of Mt. Fuji a decade before.  Along the way, she will meet and befriend a host of humans, demons, gods and goddesses, as well as master over twenty different character classes, each with its own skill tree and abilities.  Along the way, she will also help the common villagers she encounters by way of taking up requests from shrines – side missions that are repeatable and function as both sidequests as well as the grinding mechanic to replace random encounters on the world map.  This is a welcome change, as once a request is accepted, the party is transported directly to the battlefield.  Combat is standard, grid-based SRPG fare.

The story manages both lighthearted and serious moments, and treads the line of being serious without ever taking itself TOO seriously.  Likewise, battles are challenging, but never to the point of needing hours of grinding simply to proceed to the next plot point.  Each character may equip a main class, a sub-class, and has an inherent unique class, all of which determine the pool of abilities available to that character in battle.  The system is flexible enough to allow for a wide variety of builds, without suffering from the crippling feeling of having TOO MUCH freedom and being paralyzed by that freedom.

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That is a whole lot of brown…

The artwork in this game is what jumps out immediately and grabs hold of someone, and interestingly this beautiful aesthetic also serves to highlight one of the games biggest weaknesses.  While cutscenes, character models, and portraits are absolutely gorgeous to behold, they stand in stark contrast to the bare minimum effort that seemed to go into designing the levels and maps on which you will spend most of your time in combat.  A dull, brown rock quarry looks like the dull, brown mine, and you’ll quickly stop paying any attention whatsoever to the backdrop for your battles because it’s just so boring to look at.  The other primary flaw in God Wars is not a visual, but technical.  Despite having the entire game downloaded and installed on my Vita’s memory card, I still experienced far too many loading screens that went on for far too long.  Now, I’m no stranger to SRPGs and portable consoles – and had the load times been limited to transitions between the map and combat, I likely would have said nothing.  But a cardinal sin in gaming for me is when I press the menu button and am forced to endure a load screen just to arrive at the main menu.  This is compounded by a fucking load time when going into submenus for inventory or class management.  I understand this is a portable title with a lot of assets but this just seems like it could have been avoided with a little more work on the part of the developer.  Thankfully, the game is good enough that these irritants are minor and don’t detract from wanting to proceed through it.

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When you see ??? instead of numbers for health and magic, shit has just gotten real serious.

All in all, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time with God Wars: Future Past.  It has combined all the things I’ve enjoyed in other SRPGs into one slick, beautifully presented package – and despite a few technical hiccups and some bland backgrounds, is just an absolute blast to play.  It has kept me up more than a few nights saying “just one more battle” – and really, as gamers, isn’t that the ultimate praise we can give something?

EWE SAYS:

EWE Says God Wars

So that’s the verdict on God Wars!  Looking down the road, in addition to bringing you some more reviews as I get time (and more recipes if I ever find the energy to cook again), I’m also toying with the idea of doing a redesign of the look and layout of the entire blog.  As I’ve said before, I never thought anyone would ever find or enjoy my little contribution to the interwebs, but as some folks have and you all seem fucking crazy enough to keep coming back (boy do I wish you’d have a few words with this girl I know…), I want to keep things looking good!  For my fellow bloggers and writers out there, if there are any suggestions or favorite layouts that you would recommend, I’d greatly appreciate if you would leave them in the comments or find me on Facebook or Twitter.  Thanks in advance, and I’ll see you all again soon!  Unless that motherfucking maniacal mental midget masquerading as the US president manages to get us all killed by starting WWIII via Twitter somehow. – EWE

The Empire Falls, The Phantom Thieves Rise, and What You Should Be Reading

Greets, humans!  Please excuse any typos or less-coherent-than-normal ranting – maybe it’s the combination of inability to sleep and crippling exhaustion, I don’t know.  But if there is one benefit to using almost all of hours in the day to not rest, it’s that there are just SO MANY good games to play and shows to watch and things to read right now!  So, let’s get right to it!

Cape Westwind

My journey through Eorzea in Final Fantasy XIV continued, as I finished eliminating the threat of the Primals by defeating the beautiful and sadistic Garuda…only for the Garlean Empire to finally make it’s move at conquest, unleashing Ultima Weapon, which promptly absorbed the powers of Ifrit, Titan, and Garuda with little effort.  As my Warrior of Light – side note, I find it hilarious when NPC characters greet me with some variation on “ah, most heroic Evil Wizard!” – and his allies regroup, it was determined that the only way to respond was to, you know…kill a bunch of Imperial officers, sack their bases, and destroy their Weapon.  And since wanton death and destruction are kind of, you know, MY THING, I gleefully slew my way through their ranks toward leader, High Grand Poobah Gaius Something-Or-Other.  Basically, my dungeon and raid parties looked something like this:

Ah, Richard…you truly are my spirit animal.  Anywho, after spilling rivers of Imperial blood, I finally found myself face-to face with Gaius and his shiny new toy.  Admittedly, he cuts an impressive figure.

Ultima Weapon

But, as I am wont to do, I melted his face.  And with that, I had completed all of the original Realm Reborn content of FF XIV, and I am now ready to start on the bridge content leading into the Heavensward expansion.  Cheer me on, maaaan!

Now, said progress may be somewhat slowed due to the absolutely phenomenal PS4 release of Persona 5.  Quite simply, this is one of the best, most stylish, and addicting JRPGs that I have played in years, maybe ever.  The combat is the deepest I’ve seen since SMT: Nocturne (yay demon negotiation!), the interface and graphics are incredibly slick, the soundtrack is pure bliss, and the “day in the life” sim elements are amazingly engrossing.

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The writing is absolutely stellar.  From the main plot to the individual stories of all of your various “Confidants” – this games version of “Social Links” from prior entries in the series – every character is well developed, with a perfect balance between lightheartedness and gravitas.  The bottom line is this – Shin Megami Tensei is Atlus’s Final Fantasy, and some gamers may argue that it has equaled or even surpassed Square Enix’s venerable series.  Even more impressively, the Persona series is the rare offshoot series that has developed into something stands equal to, if not even surpasses, the entries in the main series.

EWE Says:

EWE Says P5

So, that’s what you should be playing…but hey, sometimes you just want to kick back and watch some anime, right?  RIGHT?!  (Editor’s Note: Just agree.  He’s not in the mood to argue.  There are only about four people he wouldn’t set on fire right now.)  AND YOU’RE NOT ONE OF THEM, SO SHUT UP!  Ahem…so, if you’ve been an anime and manga fan at all over the past 20 years, you should be familiar with Naruto.  Well, our lovable orange-jumpsuited ninja and all of his friends are all grown up following the end of their series, and conveniently paired up and bred like rabbits off screen in order for the adventures to continue in a new manga and anime series entitled Boruto: Naruto Next Generations.  The titular Boruto is the son of Naruto and Hinata, and is entering the Ninja Academy alongside all of his friends who look suspiciously like mashups of their fan-ship parents.

Boruto

Now, while this could easily be dismissed as simply a retelling of Naruto in an attempt to cash in on the original series popularity with minimal effort, this would be a mistake and a discredit to the new series.  The world has truly evolved and become more modern since the end of the Fourth Great Ninja War, and the dreams, aspirations, and motivations of this new generation of shinobi are definitely not the same as that of their parents.  Speaking of which, all of your favorite characters that survived the war are accounted for in the new series, and watching them mature into leaders and parents is just as compelling as seeing the adventures of their children.  As a new anime series, the animation and production values are top-notch.  While I haven’t yet read the new manga, I intend to do so, as I read the entire original Naruto series and count myself as a fan.  Is it perfect?  Of course not – it’s a shonen manga so you know kind of what you’re getting, but as long as you know that going in, the world of Naruto and Co. is still a fun one to spend time in.  Recommended – find it on Hulu or Crunchyroll!

Now, I am always very pleased that all of you feeble mortals (Editor’s Note: WONDERFUL READERS) whatever, that you all come and partake of my wisdom here.  But, and I know this may come as a shock, there are other blogs that you should be checking out as well.  I know that I normally only want to talk about me – and I mean, I AM a lord of darkness – but I feel like it has been a while since I properly recognized and called attention to some of the other wonderful blogs out there, as well as the amazing people behind them that I have become fortunate enough to consider my friends.

LightningEllen’s Release – Friend, fellow INFJ, and my favorite Amiibo-collecting ninja LightningEllen shares her thoughts on gaming, life, and the ever-shifting, never-ending backlog.

Cheap Boss Attack – Video game writer, reviewer and friend Brad shares his insights on games old and new.

The Shameful Narcissist Speaks – Amazingly talented writer and deliciously evil cohort Ash1Rose puts her talent on display with fanfictions, essays, poetry and more.

The Well-Red Mage – A friend and one of the first people to welcome me into the blogging community, The Well-Red Mage and his majestic menagerie of mages are some of the most informative and entertaining authors of news, interviews, and reviews of video games both classic and contemporary.

Retr0pia – A friend who shares his thoughts on many a classic game, movie, or show, as well as the all-too-common modern reboots of them.

These are just the first group, just a few of the many wonderful writers out there sharing their gifts and talents will all of you humans.  Don’t miss the opportunity to enjoy their blogs!  See you all next time, mortals – but until then, remember: if we DON’T see each other again, it’s because a psychopathic man-child conned enough foolish, simple-minded fleshsacks into voting him president despite having no ability to handle the job and has likely started an apocalyptic war that has left the world in ruin and the human race extinct.  And that pisses me off because that’s MY schtick, and I don’t take kindly to gimmick infringement.  – EWE

Tales of Berseria Review, Valentine’s Musings

Greetings, mor-*HACK*-tals.  As you can probably tell, even old EWE is *ACHOO* subject to a sinus infection now and again.  It is decidedly unpleasant.  Perhaps this is why, after I submitted my initial thoughts on this insipid holiday devoted a human emotion that causes nothing but pain and misery, Edi-*COUGH*-tor convinced me to allow him to speak on the subject, and let me focus on the later game review.  (Editor’s Note: Your post was so heartrending and miserable it would have resulted in mass-extinction levels of suicides.)  And what’s your point, exactly?  Whatever…you people all seem to like Editor’s sad-sack, mushy take on life, so fine – enjoy the next bit because when we get to Tales of Berseria, you’re stuck with me again.

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Hello, friends!  Now, despite my chastisement of EWE for his…rather dark thoughts on Valentine’s Day, some of what he had to say has merit, I believe.  (EWE’s Note: SOME?!?!)  So, I don’t really want to talk to the traditional, happily-in-love Valentine’s Day couples out there – because quite frankly, if you need a day or an excuse to celebrate having that kind of love in your life, then you are missing the entire point of it.  Every day, every moment that you get to spend with that person is a reason to celebrate.  Every chance to show them you care, be it with flowers or candy or just a hug or a hand squeeze is something you should take at every opportunity, not just one day out of the year.  So while we wish you the best (EWE’s Note: Uh, who the fuck is “we?”)…while I wish you the best, I think there are some others that are more in need of attention right now.  This is for everyone who’s without a valentine, even if they know who it would be.

This day can feel harder than others, but the reality is that it isn’t – it just brings focus to something you think about in one way or another every day.  But just remember – it isn’t about you or your value.  The problem lies with the other person not recognizing it.  Don’t let that hurt you, today or any other day.  I know that it’s hard, and I know that it is going to hurt no matter what I say – I know because it hurts me too.  But you are stronger, and better, than that.  If the person you love is worth being patient for, then don’t let today be anything other than one more day.  And if they are not, then let today be the first day of moving on.

And if you are someone out there reading this who may be overlooking or dismissing or discarding someone as “not good enough” or “not worth their time” – ask yourself, really ask yourself, if that person you so easily dismiss weren’t a part of your life, would you truly be better off?  Would you be happy?  Or maybe, is it easy to say that because you’ve come to take that person for granted?  That’s a dangerous thing.  Because depending on what you may believe, we all only get one shot at this life.  One.  And we never really know when our story, or their story, could come to an end.  Yes, it’s nice to think about the perfect person just around the corner who is going to be everything we’ve ever dreamed of since we were children – except that we were children, and children have to grow up.  Nobody is perfect.  And while you are so busy looking past someone who loves you for the next best thing, you never know when you might turn around and that person you took for granted, that person who loved you and supported you and cherished you while you ignored them, will be gone.  We only get a finite amount of time with one another.  Spending it with someone that truly loves you, even if they aren’t perfect, or what you always dreamed of, is a worthwhile way to live in that time.

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Ugh…and with that mindless, sappy drivel now over with, it’s time for something that actually matters – my review of Tales of Berseria.  As I stated recently, there had been a horrible audio bug in the Steam version of the game that had made playing it enough to make me want to kill…even more than I normally want to.  Thankfully, that bug appears to have been fixed with the most recent patch, and so I can bring you my full thoughts on this recently released entry in the long-running Tales franchise.

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As I’ve said before, I am a latecomer to the Tales series, with my introduction being Tales of Vesperia on the Xbox 360.  But oh, what an introduction it was!  I’d of course heard of the Tales tried-and-true real-time battle system, and its heavily anime-inspired stories and settings, but what truly, truly hooked me about Vesperia was its CHARACTERS.  And above all the rest stood the main protagonist, Yuri, and his foil, Flynn.

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Yuri is the dark-haired one, believe it or not.

For the first time in what felt like forever, the world had a pure, noble, lawful-good knight as a hero to the people…and THAT WAS NOT YOU.  Nope, that was your old frienemy, Flynn.  Yuri, the main playable character, was everything I wanted out of an avatar in a game – a dark, driven anti-hero vigilante.  And when I say vigilante, I don’t mean in the Batman, I-am-good-just-scary sense.  If you were a bad guy and Yuri found out about it, he was PUTTING YOU IN THE FUCKING GROUND.  Not because he was forced to, or because you’d backed him into a corner and there was no other way.  Just because you fucking deserved it and he could.  Case in point (SPOILERS if you care about them in an Xbox 360 game at this point), at one point Yuri and the crew save a town and it’s people from the machinations of a corrupt government official.  The people laud them as heroes and the official is locked in prison to await trial for his crimes.  In the dead of night, Yuri breaks him out of prison and sneaks him to the edge of town.  The official gleefully believes that Yuri must have been hired as a mercenary by some of his wealthy contacts to help him escape judgment.  NOPE.  See, Yuri had figured all along that if the official were brought to trial, he’d just find a way to bribe or manipulate himself out of the consequences for his crimes.  So Yuri broke him out of jail and got him out of town JUST TO FUCKING MURDER HIM AND TOSS THE BODY OFF A BRIDGE.  That, ladies and gentlemen, is my kind of goddamn hero!  (Editor’s Note: Yuri does go through some character development, folks.)  Shut up – he was fine as he was!

Anyway, this little stroll down memory lane was just to set the stage for this revelation – the cast of Berseria is BETTER than the one I loved in Vesperia, up to and including Velvet Crowe replacing Yuri as my favorite Tales protagonist of all time.

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I would strongly suggest you listen to her.

Velvet started out pretty upbeat for a girl who had lost her parents, and then later her sister, to the recurring waves of demonic activity in her world.  Left with only her younger brother and her brother-in-law as the centers of her universe, Velvet is understandably upset when those last two remaining pillars of her world are ripped away from her right before her eyes – and when she tries to stop it, she has her left arm lopped off and is chucked into a pit with some kind of Eldritch Abomination.  Said horrific monster decides to chuck her back up to the surface with 1. a new, monstrous, demon-devouring arm, and 2. a burning desire for revenge to the exclusion of all other things.  Oh, and an outfit that isn’t too shabby either.

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Gee, which one am I SUPPOSED to be staring at again?

Now, this wouldn’t be an RPG or a Tales game if Velvet and her ever-growing motley crew didn’t wind up facing off against a threat much bigger than they initially realized, but it’s Velvet’s constant desire for vengeance that drives the plot forward.  Guy you want dead is now the head of a massive theocratic world government?  Don’t care.  Upsetting the balance of power could potentially endanger the world?  DON’T CARE.  Usually in this genre, even if a character has some type of ulterior motive or driving goal that they are initially following, it is quickly subsumed by the overriding goal of “saving the world” and largely forgotten.  Velvet doesn’t forget a goddamn thing, and neither does the player.  You will know every fucking second that Velvet wants to kill the man who took everything from her, and nobody had better get in her way.

It helps sell this point that Velvet’s English voice actor does a tremendous job of conveying this dark, driven, single-minded tone through her work.  Overall, the voice acting is above average for a Tales game, and for most JRPGs in general, but it isn’t on the level of a Metal Gear Solid or Last of Us.  Some voices, whether by design or not, are incredibly aggravating, and you will quickly come to dread whenever their character portrait appears on screen.  But by and large, the voice acting overall is acceptable.  The musical score is even better – one of the best I’ve heard in an RPG since Skyrim.  The diversity between exploration themes, battle tracks, and menu background music all play well off of one another and had me nodding my head along with the rhythm more than once.

Speaking of menus, one quick note here – the menu artwork in this game is absolutely breathtaking.  If the anime art style of the Tales series is your thing, then you’ll just stare at the menus in wonder.  I did not include any screens here because quite frankly once the entire party is gathered, to show a menu screen of them would be to spoil a rather important plot point.  But sufficed to say it is phenomenal.

On to the bread and butter of any Tales game – the combat.  Berseria once again utilizes the classic Tales real-time combat, triggered upon coming into contact with an enemy while exploring.  This transports the party to a separate battle arena, in which you can freely roam and move while attacking your enemies.  You only control one character directly, but can switch that character freely.  Once again, the mainstay of combat is Artes – a huge variety of physical and magical attacks that are learned throughout the course of the game and can be set in various combos to the four face buttons on the controller.  Use of Artes are governed by the Soul Gauge – when you run out of Souls, you must defend and wait for them to replenish to continue attacking.  Souls can also be stolen back and forth or spent on special attacks – giving combat a tense tug-of-war feel as you balance Soul spending and replenishment to drive your combos higher and unleash greater sustained damage.

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The interplay between combat and the story is what is going to drive me to replay this game at least once upon completion.  There is so much nuance and depth to the combat that it is possible to get lost in trying to master its intricacies, but at the same time the story is so good that you are driven to continue it.  Thus, the temptation to simply button mash your way through the game on the initial run is very strong, and on the normal difficulty levels this is very achievable.  Once the initial run through the story is complete, the game begs the player to return at a higher difficulty and become a true artists at its delicious combat system, and I for one will be heeding that siren call.

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If anything, some aspects of the game are a bit overly complicated and thrown at the player very quickly in the beginning.  After almost every battle for the first several hours, some new element will be addressed in a tutorial screen.  It happens with such frequency in that time that it quickly can overwhelm the player and you may very well forget about the last thing you were told as you are bombarded with the next and the next.  While it doesn’t necessarily detract from the overall experience, it just feels like they may have tried too hard to cram too many good ideas into one gameplay system.

Visuals are gorgeous, and the art style is the classic Tales anime-inspired fare.  It is not exaggeration at all to say that playing this game is like playing through your favorite anime series or film, except that in many cases the level of animation and detail surpass even that.  Magic and Artes effects in battle are stunning and did not contribute any slowdown whatsoever during my gameplay with them.

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That’s going to sting a little.

All in all, Tales of Berseria is just a fantastic anime-inspired RPG.  If you are a fan of the genre, or of the series, or just of good games in general, you should definitely give it a try on PS4 or PC.  The PC version seems to have addressed the nagging audio issue, and I experienced no other issues with it during my play sessions.  As a newer Tales fan, I can say this is my favorite game in the series, and I’ve heard many veterans of the Tales franchise saying that this was the shot in the arm that the series needed after languishing a bit in the last few entries.  A definite thumbs up here – the developer’s village gets spared for another day.

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That’s all for tonight, kiddos.  Tell someone special that you love them.  If they know what’s good for them, they’ll love you too! – EWE

New Year, New Reviews, Same Old EWE

Hello once again, feeble naked apes.  I hope you all will forgive the absence of a #FrozenFoodFriday this past week.  Despite the short week due to the holidays, my workload was higher than normal and I was far too tired to do much else.  And since I’ve been making efforts not to siphon off the lifeforce of every pitiful human I encounter, I’ve been a little less lively than I normally would be.

I sincerely hope that you all had an enjoyable New Year’s Eve.  Me, you ask?  Oh, I was surrounded by everyone that enjoys me for who I am – in other words, I spent the evening alone watching anime and gaming, and texting back and forth with Malevolent Moogle.  I did attempt to enjoy the evening with another, but was literally told that doing absolutely nothing at all was preferable to doing anything with me.  Which, I suppose, should come as no surprise.  But on the plus side, I can come to you with not just one, but two new reviews for you – both an anime and a classic game.

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MAGI: Labyrinth of Magic

First up, we’ve got the treat I discovered while browsing Netflix in an effort to drown out both my obnoxious neighbors as well as the fact that I was sitting home alone.  Well, in fairness, whisky helped drown out the latter of those as well.  Plenty, plenty of whisky.  But on to the show – in this case, that show being Magi – The Labyrinth of Magic.

Magi follows the adventures of young magical boy Aladdin and his friend Alibaba, along with their ever-growing collection of friends (and enemies, and frienemies, etc).  As a shonen fantasy anime, all the action bases are covered – plenty of action scenes, swords and sorcery, the works.  But what I loved most about this show is that, unlike a lot of shonen anime, there is a decent sense of political intrigue, grey morality, and ambiguous characterization.  Not everyone is a clear-cut hero or villain – although there are clearly some of those as well.

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This is Sinbad – betcha never pictured him with purple hair before, huh?

While this show was a pleasant surprise – I hadn’t experienced any of the original manga prior to stumbling on the anime – I can’t say that everything about it was perfect.  Aladdin, the main character, goes well beyond being “good” and is just a bit too pure and naive for my taste.  That being said, he is the exception to the rule in that regard – most of the characters are well-rounded enough to be interesting, and all undergo character development as the story progresses.  I highly recommend this first season to anyone that is a fan of fantasy anime.  The second season, entitled Magi – Kingdom of Magic, is also available on Netflix, and I will bring you my thoughts on that in the near future.

But wait – there’s more!  You see, while I drowned my misery in whisky and anime, I decided to go for a hat trick and drown it in classic gaming as well.  And if you are a fan of classic JRPG mechanics, high adventure, tongue in cheek humor, and moments that tug at your heartstrings, they don’t come much better than the recently released on Steam Final Fantasy IX.

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Make no mistake – that mage in the corner is FAR kinder than EWE.

Released in 2000 for the original PlayStation, and shortly after the launch of the PS2, FF IX was an intentional departure by Square from the increasingly modern, sci-fi trappings of FF VII and FF VIII.  Knowing it would be one of the last titles released for the PS1 generation, it was essentially developed as a love letter and callback to the high fantasy settings and more classic fundamental mechanics that defined the series’ early entries.

FF IX follows a disparate band of characters, including the innocent, almost child-like Black Mage Vivi, the cocky, confident thief Zidane, the determined, headstrong Princess Garnet, the blustering, single-minded knight Steiner, and several of their friends.  What begins as a simple, innocent kidnapping scheme by Zidane and his band of thieves (yeah, this was from a time when a kidnapping of a young woman was apparently something heroes could do) quickly spirals into a globe-trotting expedition to save the entire world from total annihilation.

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If you could see what he sees under that hood, you’d say the same thing.

The plot setup and characters may seem to be cliche, but this is entirely by design.  See, nothing becomes a cliche unless it is used often, and it is only used often if it at some point is done so well that others seek to emulate it.  With FF IX, Square shows themselves to be masters of the RPG genre, taking a plot, setting, and cast that won’t surprise most anyone who has played a game or read a book, and making them endearing and memorable on the sheer force of their quality.  Although the crew is of course trying to save the world, they each have personal motivations for their journey as well.  Vivi is trying to learn about himself, his origins, and his humanity; Garnet wants to understand why her kingdom has come to threaten the rest of the world; Steiner wants to fulfill his duty to protect his princess; and Zidane…well, mostly just wants to score with Garnet for the majority of the game.  Honestly, Zidane just does right by people because it’s inherent in who he is – he does it because he feels like it.  He isn’t interested in a reward or the like, though he will take it if offered.  It’s only toward the end of the game that Zidane gains a more personal motivation in defeating the villains, but boy, is it one hell of a motivation.

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Oh yeah, my family makes a cameo torching a village or two. Hi guys!

Gameplay wise, this is one of the finest iterations of the classic ATB battle system that Square ever devised.  Combat is turn-based, with each character and enemy having a regenerating action bar that refills at varying rates based on the character’s speed.  Skills and abilities are learned from the various pieces of gear equipped by the characters, and then are set using a limited pool of gems for each character.  As characters level up, they earn more gems, allowing them to equip more skills and abilities.  In addition, each character has a predetermined character class, which imparts its own unique skills and abilities.  For example, Zidane is a thief, and as such has the classic ability to steal items from his enemies in battle.  Finally, the classic FF Limit Break system is back in the form of Trance.  Every time a character takes damage, the trance meter fills a bit, and when full, the character, uh, turns pink.  Not sure the significance of that – but it also gives them access to a new set of character-specific super moves that can cause massive damage and turn the tide of battle.

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White Mage, Summoner, Princess. I wanted to marry her when I was younger.

Being a Final Fantasy game, there are of course also a number of time-consuming minigames.  Chocobo treasure hunting can be an interesting diversion, and lead to some valuable treasure.  The Mognet mail system is a game-spanning sidequest with not much in the way of payoff, but thankfully it’s not that significant to complete.  Finally, the Tetra Master card game is another addition in the more recent tradition of deep card games in FF games, but falls a bit short of the high bar set by Triple Triad in its immediate predecessor.

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Are there airships? Oh yeah…there are airships.

While this game could have just crammed as many airships and Cids and summons as it could into it and still have been fairly well regarded, FF IX is the rare intentional nostalgia trip that actually lives up to, if not exceeds the standard set by the games it is invoking.  The story, graphics, music, characters, battle system – everything has aged tremendously well.  It’s port to the PC has upgraded the visuals slightly and added a few quality of life improvements, such as the ability to max out all abilities and damage, and turn off random encounters, for those that may wish to blow through the game.  But to truly experience this game as it should be, don’t use those.  Play through this game at least once as it was intended to be played.  Grind abilities because you only have one piece of gear with a great ability on it and you want to teach it to several characters.  Hunt down monsters for Quina to eat so it can learn their abilities.  Explore the world map until you accidentally run into a dragon that you have no chance of killing at your current level.  It’s the sense of the unknown, and of adventuring through it, that the most successful stories invoke – and Square well and truly invoked it here.  FF IX is the pure definition of a classic – not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but very, very good, and polished to a warm glow, and immune from the passing of time.  If you are a fan of Final Fantasy, or JRPGs at all, you owe it to yourself to experience this game.

And so the first entry in 2017 draws to a close.  Normally, this is the part where I mock the human race, or observe one of the many reasons why I should destroy it.  But as it is a new year, I suppose I should take a stab at being a new, friendlier EWE…BWAHAHAHAHA!  I’m sorry, I just couldn’t get all the way through it with a straight face.  What did you think I’d do, make some kind of bullshit resolution to dial back on my nihilism?  What the fuck is wrong with you?  Did you miss the part earlier when I said that I offered to share time with a human and was told that LITERALLY SITTING AT HOME DOING NOTHING was preferable?  Yeah, there will definitely be no shortage of village-burning in 2017.  (Editor’s Note: Don’t be disingenuous – you’d have torched those villages either way).  Ok, well…yeah, I probably would have.  But I’m going to enjoy it that much more now! – EWE