EWE’s Insomnia & Gaming – Part 1

So, humans, it is a fairly poorly kept secret that old EWE has issues with sleeping through the night. For whatever reason, I am typically unable to get a thorough night’s sleep – and thus the search begins to find something to do during those hours when the world is aslumber and I’m left alone and awake.  Of course, this primarily means Switch, Vita, 3DS, my laptop with Steam access, or occasional classics on PSP and GBA.  Doesn’t mean I won’t switch a PS4 or Xbox One game in there, but generally these are last resort options due to having to go downstairs from bed and risking waking the neighbors – so what games make the grade?  Well here is the first in a haphazard and sporadic series on what I play when I sit bolt upright in bed, look at my phone, and utter some type of curse at the time.

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It is no secret that I absolutely loved Trails in the Sky – in my opinion, one of the best classic-style turn-based RPGs to be made in years.  So I naturally picked up its sequel series, Trails of Cold Steel, when it initially released on Vita.  But, as I had something of an extensive (cough massive cough) backlog, I had yet to do more than start the first game once or twice.  That has now changed, as when I woke up at 2 a.m. the other night the first thing I did (Editor’s Note: the second thing, actually, the first being looking at the time and saying, I believe, “god-fucking-dammit) ahem, the SECOND thing I did was fire up a new game on my Vita.  While I have thoroughly enjoyed the game thus far, I will say that all of the comparisons between this game and similar “social life” RPGs in the Persona series are not entirely accurate.  Time often passes in chunks rather than day by day, and as of this writing the social link aspect hasn’t really done much but give me some cute but predictable cutscenes and a slight increase in combat teamwork.  But if this comes across as a criticism, it is not intended as one – if I wanted to play Persona on my Vita, I would, you know…play Persona on my Vita.  I like what Cold Steel has offered so far, and I’m looking forward to seeing the rest of it…though preferably not always in the dead of night.

As an aside, and at the risk of sounding sappy (Editor’s Note: please, before you mock him, remember that he would not hesitate to set the world, quite literally, on fire), I’m well aware that it is some type of corporate emotion holiday today, and while I do not have a “Valentine”…if I were to, I know who it would be, and I got to make that person smile once or twice today, so I will take my small victories where I can get them. – EWE

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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

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