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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Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age Review; and Happy Evilversary!

Greets, mortal creatures!  Can you believe it’s been an entire year already?  One year ago, while wandering very lost and alone, I came upon this small little corner of the internet, and honestly my thought process then was something akin to “well, I can kill myself, or I can start imparting my nihilistic rants and ramblings on the web for nobody to give a damn about.”  I decided to go with the latter, and much to my surprise – many of you DID in fact give a damn, and came to enjoy my modest blogging efforts.  Perhaps more importantly to me personally, you gave a damn about me, and I found not just fellow bloggers or followers, but a new circle of friends – which for someone like me, that struggles mightily to find friends at all, has been very special.  To those of you who have chosen to share this journey with me, to help me along in my efforts to find my voice in my blog, and to share in my struggles that have led me to where I am, I thank you.

EWE and Editor Anniversary

And what better way to celebrate than to also celebrate the HD revival of one of the most unsung, amazing Final Fantasy games of all time – Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age.  Originally released in the dying days of the PS2, Final Fantasy XII was the poster child for a late-console-cycle video game – Square Enix squeezed every last little bit of power possible out of the aging PS2 architecture, and it showed in every aspect of that game.  The visuals were absolutely gorgeous, outshining many PS3 games – and depending on your views of art direction, even many modern games.  The gameplay systems were incredibly ahead of their time – a blending of classic single-player Final Fantasy RPGs of days past, and its MMORPG predecessor Final Fantasy XI.  Its plot returned players to the world of Ivalice, previously explored in the seminal Final Fantasy Tactics – another first, as it was the first time a Final Fantasy world – Ivalice – was home to multiple games.  But it wasn’t without its detractors – its massive world consisted of large, sometimes empty feeling zones, which could lead to long stretches of time spent simply traveling from one point to another.  Character progression was conducted via spending AP on a massive License Board, shared by all characters, which unlocked all weapons, armor, skills, and spells.  Because the entire board was open to all characters, it led to most of the party characters eventually feeling relatively indistinguishable from a gameplay perspective, as it was relatively easy to give all of them all of the “best” equipment and abilities.

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As far as the original PS2 release of the game, I come down squarely in the camp of it being one of the greatest Final Fantasy games of all time.  The story of a small band of rebels, each with their own personal motivations and brought together by circumstance, standing against the overwhelming might of an Empire bent on dominating all of Ivalice may bear more than a few similarities to Star Wars, but the plot and characters are masterfully written and developed, showing their own small part in a greater overall struggle.  For me personally, I rank it essentially 2nd/3rd all time, with it and FF IX flipping back and forth depending on my mood (VI is 1st by a mile).  But that said, I recognize the flaws in the game as described above – I remember much of the hours I spent with the game spent running all over creation, and I am guilty of turning every character into an overpowered clone of each other.  But I’m here to say that The Zodiac Age enhances everything I loved about the PS2 version, and improves every weakness.

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As with any HD remaster, SE has brought the already beautiful visuals of Ivalice up to modern PS4 standards.  Previously blurry or softened textures are sharp and crisp, and the game puts many, if not most current generation games to shame with its gorgeous art direction.  There is a fly in the ointment – some textures, in particular Vaan’s face during the in-engine cutscenes, didn’t survive the upgrade so well, and appear a bit…wonky.  But this is just nitpicking – overall, this is a stellar graphical upgrade for an already lovely game.

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SE solved the problem of the License Board some years ago, actually.  Shortly after the original PS2 release, SE release an updated PS2 version of the game entitled Final Fantasy XII: International Zodiac Job Edition.  This version of the game never saw official release in the US; however, SE took the Zodiac Job system, improved it even more, and incorporated it into The Zodiac Age.  In this new system, the License Board has been sundered into 12 separate “jobs” – combinations of equipment, skills, spells, and stat growth that fulfill different roles within an overall RPG party.  For example, White Mage has almost all the healing magic, Black Mage gets the nukes, Archer rains physical damage from afar…you get the idea.  Each character in the party gets to choose a total of two of these Boards, thus locking them into the character roles those Jobs represent.  There is some overlap – Knights can unlock some white magic skills, Red Battlemages unlock the same heavy armors as the tank classes, etc. – so players with some foresight and planning can create complementary Job pairings for their party.  But even then, having the right roles filled at the right times against the right enemies is MUCH more prevalent in this edition of the game than it ever was in the original.  Some creatures are highly resistant to physical damage – so you’ll be swapping out your Knight and Bushi for your Black Mage and Red Battlemage.  Other fights are just wars of attrition – and you’ll be well prepared with a White Mage, and a Time Battlemage to keep the party alive and kicking while you whittle away at the opponent.  This adds an entirely new element of strategy to the game that just wasn’t present by the latter stages of the original, and it is a very welcome improvement.

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But THE improvement, the one that absolutely changes the face of RPGs, and maybe gaming as a whole, is the one that I’m sure SE thought was just a tiny afterthought, thrown in as a bone tossed to people playing through the game again after enjoying it on the PS2.  FAST.  FUCKING.  FORWARD.  With a simple press of a button, you can cause the entire game – everything – suddenly shifted to 2x or 4x speed.  I cannot possibly overstate what an incredibly goddamn fantastic feature this is.  As the combat is a hybrid real-time/turn-based system that mimics MMO combat, and traversal across large, open zones is the basic mode of gameplay, being able to double or quadruple the speed at which everything is happening is an absolute godsend, not just for returning veterans, but for anyone who is crossing the Ozmone Plains for 243rd damn time on the way to track down the next optional Hunt side-quest boss, or exploring the labyrinthine Barheim Passage, or perhaps most crucially, grinding away at trash monsters to level and accrue AP to improve your party.  The amount of time this saves is quantifiable, but the level of frustration it alleviates is not – even if a four-minute trip is only cut to two, it feels so much faster.  After playing the game with this feature, I quite honestly think that any game developer, particularly a RPG developer, that does not shamelessly rip off and incorporate this feature into all their future games is just flat not doing their job right.

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A few last things about The Zodiac Age – if you have a Vita and have ever lamented that the Remote Play feature between it and the PS4 was just kind of left on the vine to die, then first, good job owning a Vita, (#TeamHandheld); and second, this might be the title that renews your faith.  I have Spectrum broadband internet, allegedly at 70 Mbps, but in practice somewhat slower due to living in an apartment building with a LOT of conflicting signals in close proximity.  My PS4 is plugged directly into the modem/router in my living room, and in my second floor bedroom, Remote Play on my Vita is absolutely silky smooth.  The controls map perfectly, there is no discernible input lag – JRPGs and turn-based games will always be the best choices for Remote Play for those very reasons, but even in some of the more fast-paced and hectic boss battles, I experienced no issues that I would chalk up to being due to playing remotely on the Vita.  While an actual Vita release would have been GREATLY preferred, this is absolutely the next best thing!  Finally, this game has firmly convinced me that Ivalice is quite possibly my favorite setting in all of gaming.  Please go back to it, SE.  Preferably in a true Final Fantasy Tactics II.

Before I go, kiddos, I’ve been avoiding commenting on Charlottesville and the response to it by the walking clusterfuck of mental illness currently disgracing the Oval Office.  Not because I don’t have strong thoughts on it.  Not because it isn’t important.  But mostly because of this – I shouldn’t have to.  I shouldn’t fucking have to.  It is 2017 for fuck’s sake.  If I need to tell you that being a white supremacist Nazi is a BAD FUCKING THING, you serve literally no purpose on this planet, and I should save my breath, time, and sanity, and just lob a meteor at you.  – EWE

Disgaea 5 Complete Review and EWE’s New Companion

Greets, people, non-people, literate farm animals – anyone reading this, really.  It’s good to see you all again, and for a change, I have some good news!  First and foremost, the Ominous Dark Tower has a new resident!  After engaging in a dark and arcane summoning ritual – or, you know, contacting my friend and fellow attorney Heidi – I have successfully gained a new familiar.  Now all shall kneel before the might of EWE and Zero!

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He plots your doom, mortals.
And as if that wasn’t enough, Z and I have recently gained access to a Nintendo Wii U – thus we can soon enjoy and bring you our thoughts on some of the exclusive titles for that innovative, but ill-fated system.  But before we get to the Wii U, let’s discuss the latest title for its successor that has been sucking up all of my free time.  If you like any combination of SRPGs, wacky anime-style slapstick, and penguins, then boy does NIS America have a treat for you!

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So, let’s get this out of the way – if you’ve previously played a game in the Disgaea series and did not care for it, this game isn’t going to change your mind.  NIS has recognized their target audience and steered firmly toward it, and while there are some basic quality of life improvements to this compilation of the previous PS4 release of Disgaea 5 coupled with all of its previously released DLC, those who have been put off in the past by this series’ quirks will only find more of the same here.  In fact, if anything, there are even MORE stats to build, subsystems to master, and over-the-top zany jokes to roll your eyes at than ever before.

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You want stats?  You got stats!
Like previous games in the series, the main gameplay here consists of turn-based, tactical RPG battles on grid maps between up to ten of your units and armies of enemy units.  Your army will not lack for diversity – as there are an absolute TON of different humanoid and monster classes to be unlocked, in addition to the plot-based characters and their own unique classes.   Each class has its own unique skills as well as the ability to learn weapon based skills for any weapon that they gain sufficient proficiency in.  Between battles, you can wander through your hub world, conversing with party members, buying weapons and items, powering up skills, and as is tradition for the series, journeying into each and every one of your items in order to level them up.  As before, every character, weapon, and item in the game can be raised to Level 9999, and while this is not in any way necessary to complete the main plot, you will be doing an incredible amount of grinding in order to complete the challenging post-game content.  And honestly, if you came into Disgaea 5 without a desire to grind…what are you doing here?

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If penguins with bazookas aren’t solving all your problems, you aren’t using enough of them.
Likewise, the trademark wacky demon humor of the series has been ratcheted up to 11 here – and while I still appreciate it for what it is, I can easily see how it is beginning to wear thin for many.  You can only tell the same joke, or do the same slapstick, so many times before the audience becomes numb to it, no matter how funny it originally was.  But while some SRPGs are heavily focused on plot (hello, Final Fantasy Tactics), the plot in Disgaea has always been there as an excuse to facilitate the leveling treadmill.  The real draw of this series has always been for that OCD impulse in many gamers to create a party of living gods that can inflict damage in the billions of points of HP, and on that front, Disgaea 5 on the Switch allows you to scratch that itch literally anywhere you go.

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How saving someone’s life leads to indentured servitude.
If you are a fan of the series, then this game is the ultimate way to experience everything great about Disgaea.  The DLC chapters give you access to a plethora of bonus characters for your party drawn from across the other games in the franchise, as well as from other NIS SRPGs.  And the Switch’s blessed portability is the absolute best way to play a Disgaea title.  I have owned and played every entry in the series on every platform it released on, and I have always enjoyed the PSP and Vita ports of the prior Disgaea titles – a game so dependent on jumping in, grinding a few maps, and jumping back out before it gets tiresome is absolutely MADE for a portable platform.  I honestly can’t say enough about how at home this game is on the Switch, and the beautiful screen is perfect for the hi-res sprites and beautiful 2D cutscenes.  The voice acting is a mixed bag – Killia has a cool, calm voice perfectly suited to an aloof anti-hero, Red Magnus is a hilariously obnoxious knock-off of the Rock…but word of warning: Seraphina’s voice, laugh, really any sound she makes is tooth-grindingly aggravating.

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Goddammit, don’t you people know how shonen anime works?!  It’s the 5th game in the series!
Bottom line is this – if you weren’t a Disgaea fan already, this game isn’t going to change your mind.  But if you’ve liked the series at all in the past, even just a little, then this is probably the best game it’s produced so far, and this is the ideal, definitive version of it to play.

EWE Says:

EWE Says Dood

That’s it for now, doods and doodettes!  See you again soon – and that’s not a promise, it’s a threat! – 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

Switch Quick Hits, FF XIV Update, and a Sweet Treat

Hello again, kiddos!  It may seem to have been a while since I was last with you, but worry not – I’ve been busy putting together all sorts of fun for you since I spoke with you last.  And a big part of that has been to sample several of the titles on my Nintendo Switch.  So what do I think of the initial batch of take-anywhere titles?

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For those unfamiliar with The Binding of Isaac, you control the titular Isaac – a terrified, naked toddler who is trapped in a nightmarish hellscape after his mother tried to murder him, trying to escape and combating the horrors there by weaponizing his tears.  So, yeah…it’s fucked up.  Not bad, mind you – in fact, it’s one of the best twin-stick shoot-em-ups that I’ve played in a long time – but clearly the minds that concocted this scenario are in serious need of some therapy.

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There are a couple of things that stand out here.  First of all, this came is brutally difficult.  In true bullet-hell fashion, shit is flying everywhere all the time, and you will die, a lot.  And permadeath is in full effect – you die, and that cool gear you’d been racking up is gone.  But this is somewhat offset by the second thing that stands out – the randomly generated maps and powerups lead to near-endless replayability, and keep you coming back over and over.  For anyone that has played this on PS4 or PC, you already know this – but here is where the Switch gimmick shines through, letting you take poor, abused Isaac with you wherever you go.  So long as high difficulty doesn’t bother you, a definite recommendation.

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Next up, we have a modern-day love letter to classic games.  Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove collects the original Shovel Knight game, and adds the two expansions, Plague of Shadows and Specter of Torment, all in one package.  For fans of classic 8-bit and 16-bit action/adventure games, picking this up should be a no-brainer.  And since I’m incredibly old and a fan of those types of games, there was no question that I would want to be able to take the heroic Shovel Knight and his quest against the Enchantress and the Order of No Quarter on the go with me.

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Fantastic platforming and action are the order of the day, beginning with the original Shovel of Hope base game, and just being further refined and perfected in the two subsequent expansions.  A well written and witty story are the icing on the cake.  In particular, the newest expansion, Specter of Torment, is just a joy to play, incorporating all of the feedback received and improvements that indie developer Yacht Club made since the release of the original game.  If you like pure gaming goodness, get and play this game.

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Another love letter to the past, I Am Setsuna was developed by Tokyo RPG Factory, a studio set up by Square Enix with a simple mandate – make games in the vein of the beloved 16-bit RPGs of yore.  For their first effort, they chose a very good game to look to – the seminal SNES classic, Chrono Trigger.  I Am Setsuna, from a gameplay perspective, is a RPG that you’ve played before.  Turn-based active-time battles, combination Tech attacks, spells and abilities learned from equipping magici- er, sorry, spritnite…but again, all distilled and refined from years of experience into their purest form.

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What sets I Am Setsuna apart from the predecessors that it emulates is a heartfelt, emotional story and a beautiful, haunting piano soundtrack, both of which you will remember long after you’ve completed the game.  It isn’t the longest RPG you’ll ever play, but this feels more like a trimming of fat and padding that has become all too common in many modern games, rather than anything missing from Setsuna.  Square Enix has gone on record that it intends to strongly support the Switch, and this is a tremendous first effort toward that goal.  Highly recommended.

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Ah, here it is – the one everyone wants to hear about and talk about.  And for good reason – Breath of the Wild is without doubt a tremendous game.  Beautiful, artistic, breathtaking – all of those adjectives definitely apply.  The visuals and score are absolutely stellar.  Story is a timeless (pun completely intended) Legend of Zelda tale, and at the same time turns that classic formula in some surprising new directions.  It is most definitely the star of the Nintendo Switch launch lineup.  BUT…is it for everyone?

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Here is the thing – Nintendo’s latest magnum opus is a game that requires something that has become a lost art among many modern gamers – PATIENCE.  It is almost intentionally trying to frustrate you.  You can only carry a handful of weapons, and they are going to break after only a few solid hits against your enemies – probably in the middle of a fight.  There is a huge open world to explore – but many times it will feel too big, too empty, as you struggle to determine how to get to your next quest objective.  You can climb any surface – but if you run out of stamina, which seems to disappear as if Hyrule were located in the Bermuda Triangle, you’re going to take a long, fatal fall.  And even if you get to the top of that mountain, I hope you’ve brought some cold weather gear or food, otherwise, you’re going to freeze to death.  These are all elements of many of the survival games that have come into prominence among hardcore gamers in recent times, but those same elements are likely to completely frustrate gamers who just want to play a Zelda game, rescue the princess, destroy Ganon, and all that.  Do I recommend it?  Yes I do.  Do I enjoy it?  Yes, I do…when I am in the right mood.  It isn’t a game you can just pick up and play for a few minutes – you have to have a good chunk of time to devote to it in order to feel like you’ve accomplished anything.  So be warned – while a great game, this isn’t a Zelda game like any Zelda game you’ve ever experienced before.

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So, you may ask, “EWE, that’s all great, but you still seem to be gone a lot lately?  Has your personal life improved?”  Well, there are a few answers to that – the first being WHO THE FUCK DO YOU THINK YO- Ahem, sorry, I mean, I suppose it depends on what you mean by “improve.”  If you mean, have I finally turned the head and won the heart of my maiden fair…no.  No I have not.  So thanks for reminding me of that.  Assholes.  BUT, if you meant spending time with cool people and having fun – well yes, because I’ve fallen headlong back into Eorzea with my beloved summoner, appropriately named Evil Wizard.

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Currently, I’ve been trying to power through story content in an effort to see most, if not all of it before the new expansion, Stormblood, drops this June.  I’ve managed to get to level 47 on my main class (as I said, summoner) while only minimally indulging in my normal penchant for leveling absolutely EVERYTHING there is to level equally (also known as OCD to normal people).  For the first time in a long time in an MMO, I am very pleased with the community and player base.  Long ago, I was a member of an absolutely fantastic World of Warcraft guild and community, with people that I loved playing with and interacting with even outside of the game.  Alas, due to complicated personal circumstances, it became best for them that I step away.  I quickly found that I disliked most of the player base outside of my friends, and left the game.  Since then, I’d never quite been enchanted with a player base in an MMO – but FF XIV just seems to have a predominantly kind and encouraging community.  There will always be exceptions to the rule – but by and large I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time with the game.  More updates to come – I’m currently trying to get to level 49 so I can continue to wage my personal war against the Garlean Empire!

oatmeal raising cookies

Last, but not least – you didn’t think I’d let you leave hungry, did you?  Silly humans.  Have some chewy oatmeal raisin cookies!

Ingredients:

  1. 1 1/2 cups old-fashined rolled oats
  2. 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  3. 1/2 cup raisins (or craisins)
  4. 1/2 tsp baking soda
  5. 1/2 tsp salt
  6. 6 tbsp butter, room temp.
  7. 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  8. 1/4 cup sugar
  9. 1 large egg
  10. 1 tsp pure vanilla extract

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

In a medium mixing bowl, combine the oats, flour, raisins, baking soda, and salt.  Mix together and set aside.  In a separate bowl, combine butter, sugar, and brown sugar and mix until fluffy.  Add egg and vanilla and mix until thoroughly combined.  Slowly add in the oats mixture, mixing until combined.  Use a tablespoon to drop the dough onto two baking sheets, placing each cookie about 2 inches apart.  Place in oven and bake approximately 12 – 16 minutes, until cookies are golden brown but still soft.  Remove from oven and cool for 5 minutes on the cookie sheets, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.  Pour a glass of milk – and if you’re me, add some Kahlua – then enjoy your dessert!

And with that, you’ve reached the end of this bit of my ramblings, mortals!  Thanks for sticking around, and see you all again soon! – EWE

Horizon: Zero Dawn Review

Hello, humans.  I hope you are all doing well (except the ones I hate; I hope you all are literally on fire right now).  I realize that I did, indeed, miss #FrozenFoodFridays this past week.  While I truly enjoy that segment, as I know many of you do as well, I think I may need to slow down a bit on it for a few reasons.  First of all, my two sons spend every Friday night with me, and by the time we are done hanging out together and they are in bed…I’m usually so tired that I don’t have it in me to do the post.  Secondly, I simply haven’t been in the kitchen quite as much lately – other things tend to pop up and prevent me from engaging in much culinary therapy.  But rest assured that it will still be a near-weekly segment here – I just won’t be able to update it EVERY week!

Another reason for this is that I’ve been in a bit of a funk lately.  It seems that when I am labeled “pathetic” to my face for the horrific crime of showing kindness to someone, and I restrain myself from obliterating said individual, the result of that internalizing is a period of depression.  Thankfully, I have coping mechanisms – including my weekly nights of coloring books and Buffy the Vampire Slayer with my Best Bitch (her phrase), Malevolent Moogle.  And another, being the introvert I am (INFJ FTW), is to escape from my world into others, via games and books.  The upshot is that I hope to increase my reviews of those treats in place of the edible ones I may be lacking at the moment.

And what better way to begin than with the PS4 exclusive Horizon: Zero Dawn.

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So, in case you ever wondered, in the future, mankind has dwindled to the brink of extinction, and giant cyborg dinosaurs are the dominant species on the earth.  In other words, everything will go exactly as I’ve been planning it for a long time now.  Essentially, someone at Guerrilla Games seems to have gotten a look at my diary and decided “what a fucking good idea for a video game!”  They are, of course, correct, but does their take on my vision of the future stand up well enough to satisfy me – and avoid my wrath for stealing my thunder?

Well, they certainly nailed the main character.  Aloy is a dream come true (for me) – intelligent, strong, brave, but also sarcastic, wry, and witty.  She’s even a redhead – although given the scarlet witch I last dealt with, perhaps that last fact should give me pause.  But hair color aside, Aloy stands out to me among the relatively bland main characters in many open-world games as being a warm and genuinely relatable protagonist.

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That she is not unpleasant to look at is also ok with me.

But no matter how sassy, how savvy, or how seductive Aloy may be, it is all for naught if she can’t handle herself in battle.  Because let’s face it – when a giant mechanical dinosaur sees you, what do you think is going to happen?  If you answered, “rush toward me with terrifying speed and ferocity while I think ‘holy shit I’m going to die'” then that is an appropriate reaction.  There is an impressive variety of species in the vicious cyber-beasts that you will face, but they all share something in common – if you rush in unprepared, they will fucking kill you.

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If this is your view, something has gone horribly wrong.

Luckily, Aloy is likely far more competent than the average meatbag in these types of situations, and she has the tools keep herself alive.  Combat in Horizon: Zero Dawn is by far it’s greatest joy.  Aloy has access to an ability with the storyline name of Focus, which amounts to using heightened senses to detect enemy weaknesses and environmental clues, ala Witcher 3 or the Batman: Arkham games.  Each and every enemy that Aloy encounters can be taken down in an efficient manner – but what that manner is, and how best to do it, are left to Aloy and the player to determine.  That’s right – no tutorials pop up when you encounter a new species to walk you through how best to kill them – you need to look for weaknesses and then test out ways to exploit them.

And the tools to exploit them are there.  Aloy’s weapon of choice is a highly upgradeable bow and various elemental arrows, combined with the ability to temporarily slow time and take precise aim at her targets.  Over the course of the game, she will also come upon several other tools, which she can use to immobilize or set traps for her prey ala the Ratchet & Clank series, but also like that series, while these are fun to play around with in random throwaway fights, they generally aren’t that useful in the main story battles.  But if hte concept of leaning primarily on your bow and arrow doesn’t appeal to you, fret not.  Aloy can also gain the ability override the mechanical minds of her prey, rendering them docile enough to ride or even turning them against their own kind.

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Is she aiming an arrow up his…oh, Aloy, you magnificent bastard!

When you aren’t on the hunt for Dinobots (please don’t sue me Hasbro) then you can retreat to one of the scattered settlements of humans in the world.  Here you will accept quests and missions for fun and profit.  While the primary narrative question to be answered in Horizon: Zero Dawn may seem obvious (“What the fuck is up with the robot dinosaurs?!”) the writing is tremendous and the performances put in by the voice actors is equally well done, elevating the tale far above the somewhat Sci-Fi channel premise that it may seem on the surface to a tale of humanity on the brink and what we will do to survive.  I’ll be honest – going in I had no expectations for the story whatsoever and was sure I’d just power through it in order to go kill more Dinobots (seriously, how has Hasbro not sued anyone over this yet?), and I was happy to be proven wrong.

That isn’t to say the game is perfect – while the story is well written, it does occasionally suffer from some hokey or awkward lines, which DO make me think it should be Bruce Campbell delivering them.  And while the combat is very satisfying, I’d have preferred if they had made some of the weapons and tools outside of the bow more useful, or excised them from the game entirely.  But these are nitpicks.  The reality is this – Horizon: Zero Dawn was touted for a long time as one of the PS4 exclusives that would define the system, and it lives up to that hype.

EWE Says:

EWE Says Horizon

And that’s it for tonight, my friends.  Go get yourself a copy of Horizon: Zero Dawn and enjoy!  Thanks for putting up with me for another day! – 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