Greetings, humans – it’s been far too long, and while life offers no guarantees, I hope it is not so long again after this. And I will leave that at that.
Now, what does a malicious mage like myself get up to in the many months since we’ve met? Who is to say for sure (Editor’s Note: well, possibly some of those villagers…but I don’t think you left them in any condition to talk, actually), ahem – Editor’s flattery (Editor’s Note: I wasn’t complimenting you…) FLATTERY aside, I did engage in one particular activity that I can share with you here that quite intrigued me over the last couple of weeks. You see, several weeks ago my eldest, redheaded clone pointed out that when I had initially completed Persona 5 when it released on the PS4, he had not been able to watch most of it at that time. He seemed intrigued in the gameplay systems as well as the standard SMT storyline of carving your own path through the world to rage against the gods and your opposed humans to grab your destiny with your own two hands.
But the decisions being made moment to moment are what really brought us closer together. Because as you may understand, between the holidays and then some early January scheduling strangeness, they were able to more freely pick and choose time to spend with me. And since my big Beefer has been with often lately, he was able to help establish our personality for our avatar and how he interacts with his social links, er, I meant “Confidants.” For example, it took no time at all for us to agree strongly that Ryuji is a loud, tasteless, useless piece of garbage and gleefully try to envision scenarios in which we could get him destroyed. There were the long discussions about who the best female confidant was and why we should have our character date her as opposed to anyone else.
And then there was watching my young boy, my growing little man, who claims little interest in school topics, show genuine curiousness about the various demons, gods, and mythological figures that filled out the Persona Compendium. He and I loved checking online for more info on whatever the latest god we had tamed and the abilities now at our command. From there would be stimulating back-and-forth conversations regarding the occult, Judeo Christian demonology, Japanese youkai and spirits, and others. It truly is amazing seeing an intellect that reminds me so much of what I once was, but sharper, growing and learning and becoming even greater than I could have dreamed.
We were not, however, able to come to total agreement in choosing between clearly fellow nerd love interest Futaba:
…and more mature, and darker punk rock back-alley doctor Tae Takemi.
Honestly, it’s a great problem to have, choosing between those two. But even better has been the last 130 hours of game time – laughing at the insanity, freaking out at the ever increasing audacity of the villains, and concocting new ways to save our friends. Until finally, on the day we were faced with having to destroy God himself in order to preserve the freedom of humanity, we sat in awe as the main character we’d created ourselves manifested powerful demon lord and destroyed the divine. We were still talking about it when I had to take him home to do homework. About about the bonds the main character forged with his true companions to sustain him. About how outside of one another, they didn’t care what others had to say about what they felt called to do.
So for any of you parents that believe videogames are a waste of time, I openly mock you – because while you are busy denigrating something you don’t understand, you are also losing a valuable tool to connecting with your own children!
Until next time (Editor’s Note: unless in his frustration he summons a meteor to annihilate us all), I will take my leave and see you soon! – EWE
Hello, Hunters! So, as I continue to adapt and adjust to some changes in my fibro (Editor’s Note: you curl up in a ball and mew like a kitten when the weather changes abruptly) SHUT UP…ahem, ADAPT and ADJUST, I was given an unexpected treat. My Eldest Evil Offspring ™ decided that he wanted to spend some of his Christmas money on a copy of Monster Hunter: World and leave it at my apartment to play when he and his younger co-clone are here plotting with me.
Now, I’ve tried on a number of occasions to “get into” Monster Hunter games. Dating back to some of the PSP outings, and even most recently with Monster Hunter Generations on the 3DS, I have wanted badly to like them. The general concept – take assassination contracts on various monstrosities, harvest their parts, wear them as trophies – appeals to both the maniacal evil genius, and the grinding treadmill gamer, sides of me. (Editor’s Note: “Genius” might be a bit of a stretch…do I need to recount our personal life choices?) …Point taken.
The point, dear humans, is that despite my efforts, I just have heretofore been unable to really enjoy my time with previous Monster Hunter games. Everything about them just felt…slow. Clunky. I know in part this is by design – these aren’t designed to be fast-paced hack-and-slash games – but sometimes it also felt like an artificial and unnecessary frustration inducer. In short, I would inevitably play for a while, over several sessions…but invariably put the game aside for something else and not really miss it. They were never able to capture my devotion long-term.
Now I’m hardly far enough into the game to call this a “review” but in my early and not-so-humble opinion, Monster Hunter: World fixes just about everything I’ve ever really disliked about the series. Is the combat still measured? Yes, but not in the same frustration-inducing way that I remember. Instead, each of the 14 Hunter weapon styles is distinct in its speed, timing, combos, and visceral impact – the combat rewards changing not just your weapons for different fights, but also your mastery of each weapon’s distinctive play style. If you have been using the lightning-like dual blades exclusively, and then notice that a particular target is weak to blunt damage so you grab a hammer and go after it without spending some time altering your approach to suit your new tool…you are going to get painfully destroyed in short order. But unlike my past experiences with the games, this stops short of feeling unfair or frustrating – just intelligent and challenging.
I also LOVE the open-world expeditions that you can choose to embark on as an alternative to the more traditional timed missions that are a hallmark of Monster Hunter. Don’t get me wrong – the missions are still the primary bread-and-butter of the game, and I’ve never had any issue with the mission-based structure of previous games – but the open-world exploration and sidequest elements supplement the larger-scale missions perfectly, allowing you to take a break from difficult tasks and relax or grind up some bones and scales to improve your equipment. As someone who has many (Editor’s Note: many, MANY) times lamented the seeming glut of games that just decide to throw in an open world because it’s “the thing to do,” I was very pleasantly surprised to discover how well done this is. There is freedom, but not lack of direction or sacrifice of world building and level design. It is just so well balanced – a tremendous testament to the development team.
Suffice to say, I’ve been pleasantly surprised (and mercifully distracted) by this unexpected addition to my PS4 library. I’m looking forward to further hunts, more harvesting, and bringing you my additional thoughts as I continue to delve deeper into Monster Hunter: World. Plus, you get an anthropomorphic cat as a personal bodyguard – this automatically makes it awesome.
Until next time, humans, remember – next time you may be feeling down about yourself, you pick up that chin, because this is America, a land where anybody – ANY-FUCKING-BODY – can do anything, even be president. Yes, even a horrific, abhorrent, orange-skinned, fake-haired, petulant, raving, rambling, syphilitic, moronic, illiterate, misogynistic, raging dumpster fire posing as a human can. And if HE can, then YOU can. Unless, you know…he gets us all killed first. Then you can’t. – EWE
Greets, people! After last time, when we took a look at individual publisher’s press presentations at E3, it’s now time for the Big 3 – Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo. However, unlike last time, and unlike many other places where you can find coverage of E3, I’m not going to go blow by blow with all the particular news, announcements, and other info from each conference. This is primarily because it’s late, and I’m tired – but also because you don’t need me for that. If you just want to know everything that happened, there are plenty of sources. But instead, here are my general impressions of how each one fared in their particular event.
First up, we have Sony. The purveyors of Playstation had quite the reputation to live up to this year, as their last few E3 press events have been absolutely stellar, culminating last year with having a FULL FUCKING SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA at their event and unveiling God of War 4. Seriously – these weren’t just press events – they were epic live performance art. So could Sony do it again this year?
So I think the best summation I’ve heard about Sony’s event this year in comparison to past years came from Kinda Funny’sGreg Miller, who said “I think of the last few years’ of Sony events as being grand slams, and this year they ‘just’ hit a home run. So you see it and go, ‘oh, it’s just a home run’ because of all the grand slams but it’s STILL a home run!” Look, at the end of the day, is some complacency likely settling in at Sony? Sure, but they’ve kinda earned it. The PS4 has won this generation of the console war, from an install base perspective. They have an amazing string of first and third party exclusives behind them, and a number still to come. So this year consisted almost entirely of additional footage and trailers of games that we’ve known about already. The primary exception was a remake of Shadow of the Colossus. That said, the principal complaint I hear about Sony’s event is essentially “hey, they had one or two things I liked, but the rest didn’t really do much for me.” Except here’s the thing – those “one or two things” have varied from almost each person. So essentially what Sony did is have something for everyone. To me, that’s a damn good showing. Special shout out to Monster Hunter World!
I have an Xbox One. I love my Xbox One. I don’t think less of Microsoft because they are second in the install base behind Playstation. But when your entire press conference is essentially “here is a $500 upgrade to your existing console, that is capable of 4K but will have no exclusive games, but some of your favorites will get 4K support like, um…Minecraft!” then you’ve fucking lost me. I mean…I don’t have a 4K tv. I’m sure I will one day…but that day isn’t today, or tomorrow, or, you know…soon. So the only way you’re going to get me to give you $500 is to either have TREMENDOUS performance upgrades that I will actually notice, or games that I can’t play anywhere else. This didn’t do either of those for me, and is far too expensive to warrant a mid-cycle upgrade for anyone without tremendous expendable income. Lets assume I DON’T upgrade – that’s 8+ new games I can buy instead of a console. I’m sorry – I know the hardware manufacturers are insisting that “it’s just like a cell phone! Everyone buys the iterative upgrades!” but I’m just not going to support that in the console gaming market. You want me to drop that kind of money? Start the next console generation cycle. Otherwise you’re going to have to do a lot more than handing out godawful t-shirts and talking about almost no games at your conference to get a passing grade from me.
I saved what was, in my less-than-humble opinion, the best for last. Nintendo essentially split its big news between two presentations – but damn did they kill it. Mario Odyssey is going to be fantastic – we all knew that. But Mario+Rabbids: Kingdom Battle is going to bring XCOM style tactics to a whole new generation. While the excitement of Monster Hunter World on PS4 took a hit by the announcement that as of now Monster Hunter XX for Switch isn’t coming West, I quickly didn’t care anymore because METROID IS BACK, BITCHES! And not just Metroid Prime 4 on Switch – I mean, that’s great, but for me the killer news was a full 2.5D remake of Metroid 2 from the original GB is coming to 3DS in September. I’ve been waiting for a 2D Metroid since before many of you were fucking born, and the end of that wait is finally in sight! Nintendo essentially announced major Switch entries in every one of their front-line first-party franchises. I love the Switch, its launch has been a tremendous success, and if this software lineup continues as strongly as it has begun, Nintendo is poised to leap back to the prominence that it lost with the Wii U. Strong, strong showing for Nintendo.
That covers the major news from E3, but before I go, I’ll quickly address this being the “first” E3 that is open to the public. I say that somewhat sarcastically because since I’ve been a young EWE, fans have been finding ways to attend the “industry only” show, but this year marked the first year that they were officially invited. While I am sure this was a dream come true for many, I think it could have been handled FAR better by the ESA based upon what I have heard from my friends in the game journalism industry. Those folks work far beyond hard enough as it is in covering E3 every year – essentially it is the largest undertaking they have each year. To a man and woman, each said that it was far more difficult this year due to the unchecked crowding and lines clogging the show floor and making getting to appointments and meetings incredibly difficult. I’m not saying that the public shouldn’t be let in – and even if I did, who the fuck cares what I think – but the ESA needs to contact its friends at events like PAX and get tips on how to properly handle such a mass of humanity for next year.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Hello there, mortals! Oh, don’t mind me – I’m just having a bit of trouble changing my pants, what with the bad back and all. Why do I need new pants, you ask? Well, quite simply, because I just finished reviewing SuperMassive Games’ Until Dawn on PS4, and it scared the fuck out of me.
Until Dawn is a horror adventure game / interactive movie – basically the videogame equivalent of the classic Choose-Your-Own Adventure novels from years gone by. There is very little in the way of combat – essentially you will spend your time as one of the various protagonists, exploring the haunting environments in each chapter and finding clues and collectibles that will help you piece together the truth behind the supernatural events that have befallen a group of friends that have reconvened at an isolated mountain lodge, one year after tragedy befell them at the same place. (Editor’s Note: This was all EWE needed to hear before announcing “They went back? They’re too fucking stupid to live – kill ’em all, baby!”) I stand by my statement – they’re idiots. That being said, they certainly are pleasant to look at idiots – the character models and set pieces in Until Dawn are simply breathtaking, and blur the line of the uncanny valley moreso than any other game I remember playing to date. This is possible by the limited amount of interaction that the player has in high-action situations – for the most part, the fast-moving action scenes feature only the occasional timed button press from the player.
Speaking of the cast of characters – they are not just well-rendered, but they are also well-developed. While they certainly start out clearly entrenched in the various horror-movie character stereotypes, each goes through development (assuming, of course, that your choices along the way allow them to develop beyond getting, you know, dead) and grow as people and characters along the way. That isn’t necessarily to say that they are particularly likable, however. There were plenty of times that I found myself rooting more for the killers and traps than I did for my obnoxious band of followers
What follows is a series of branching paths and meaningful choices, choices that determine who will live or who will die, who will be trusted and who will be betrayed, and whether a butterfly flapping its wings in Brazil could really lead to this entire group being brutally murdered. “Combat” is limited to a few quick time events, similar to any of the others in the game, but involving crosshairs and a weapon. The game is broken up into chapters, with each chapter having a recap of what has gone on in the previous chapters. It’s a nice recap for those that will play the game in chunks and may need a refresher when they come back to it. The music and sound effects are absolutely stellar, giving weight and tension to every moment, every impact of steel on flesh, every desperate scream for help.
While I am generally not a huge fan of the adventure/interactive film genre of gaming, Until Dawn is a wonderful exception. It is also a game with a tremendous amount of replay value – there are a number of different endings, all dictated by the different choices the player makes throughout the course of the game. Particularly if you come to sympathize with a character and they wind up dead, or you detest a character but they somehow escape alive, you’ll want to see what you can do to alter those outcomes.
THE VERDICT – EWE SAYS:
So that brings us to the end of another bit of my wisdom that I give to you, my little minions. Use it wisely, and share it with others. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to see if urine can be washed out of robes or if I should just set them on fire now. I also foresee a significant amount of couch time with my shrink in my near future, possibly curled up in the fetal position and sucking my thumb. Until next time! – 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
When last we were here, brace adventurers and adventurettes, we were faced with the harsh reality of Dragon Quests V and VI for the SNES never making their way across the Pacific, until many years and a company merger later. It was a dark time for fans of traditional, turn-based JRPGs. Yet there was hope on the horizon, and that hope was in the form of the numeral VII. Two numeral VIIs, actually – both released for Sony’s inaugural effort into the home gaming console realm, the PlayStation. One was a small, niche title from some company called Squaresoft called Final Fantasy VII – you’ve probably never heard of it. And the other was the final Dragon Quest to be developed and released by Enix on its own – Dragon Quest VII.
Released in Japan in 2000, Dragon Quest VII was notable for several reasons. It was the first Dragon Quest game to be developed and released for a non-Nintendo platform, being released for the Sony PlayStation. It also was the first Dragon Quest game to be released in CD format rather than on a cartridge. And with its US release in 2001, it marked the return of Dragon Quest to Western shores. Gameplay wise, most of the core fundamentals remained intact – turn-based combat, an expansive world, and the deepest class system yet in the series. The sheer scope of VII made it stand out – a standard playthrough of the game would easily reach 100 hours, and delving deeply into the different classes could double that number. However, the Western release was marred by two flaws – a poor, incomplete localization, and the gigantic shadow cast by Final Fantasy VII. This led to limited sales in America, and the game quickly went out of production and became something of a collector’s item among JRPG fans. This ended in 2016 when the game was remade for the 3DS, with improved visuals as well as an entirely new, much better translation. This is definitely the way to experience this game.
Released in Japan in 2004 and in the US in 2005, Dragon Quest VIII saw the series jump to the PS2 and into full 3D. It also was the first time in the series that encounters were not random – enemies appeared on the map and could be avoided (this feature would later be implemented into the 3DS remake of VII). It was also the first game in the series not to be retitled “Dragon Warrior” when localized for the West, instead retaining its original Dragon Quest moniker. Finally, VIII was the first title in the series to be developed by the combined might of the merged Square Enix, and as such included a demo of the much- anticipated Final Fantasy XII. The title saw tremendous critical and commercial success in both Japan and the US, with many thinking that this was the mark of the Dragon Quest series finally “modernizing” by combining its classic turn-based combat with beautiful visuals and a unique character development system that eschewed set classes or roles in favor of developing individual skills for each character. It also featured a robust alchemy system for the first time in the series. With this, many expected the next Dragon Quest game to push the visual boundaries and epic storytelling even further – but Square Enix had a surprise in store.
Square Enix shocked many by developing Dragon Quest IX exclusively for Nintendos DS handheld system. Following the success of the visually impressive DQ VIII and the breathtaking Final Fantasy XII, DQ IX’s release in Japan in 2009 and the US in 2010 left many fans scratching their heads. In a way, IX represented something of a “concept album” for the series. Rather than the party being comprised of specific story-based characters, it was comprised entirely of player-created members, something not seen since DQ III. And for the first time in the series, and rarely seen in any JRPG, there was a multiplayer component to IX’s gameplay – other party members could be controlled by other players in combat. Further, IX featured online content in the form of items and visiting characters from previous entries in the series, as well as downloadable quests that couldn’t be received any other way. Gameplay still features turn based combat, again featuring a deep class system. However, while there was again a central narrative driving the player forward, most of the time in the game was spent completing tasks in a robust quest system inspired by MMO RPGs. While a tremendous critical success, IX failed to achieve quite the same commercial success as its predecessor, unfortunately leading SE to conclude that the West once again wasn’t a profitable market for the Dragon Quest brand, and leading to some titles not crossing the Pacific again.
Originally released in Japan in 2012, Dragon Quest X is a unique entry in the series. As of this writing, it is the only main entry in the series that has solely been released in Japan, with no form being localized or announced for the Western market. It also marked a departure from the series single-player roots – X was a full-fledged MMO RPG. A class system that combines elements of classic Dragon Quest games and the MMO features of Final Fantasy XI, and a battle system that was a mashup of the legendary Active Time Battle system and real-time MMO combat allowed X to carve out its own niche in the crowded MMO market. While critically praised and commercially popular in Japan, SE has cited prohibitive localization and development costs as the reason why they have no current plans to bring the title to the West.
And with that, we have reached the end of the current, main series entries in the venerable Dragon Quest franchise. With the exception of the Japan-exclusive MMO DQ X, I have played every entry in the series and I can personally attest to both their level of craftsmanship as well as their place as a cornerstone of the JRPG genre through the years. These games served as my gateway into the world of console gaming, and they have a warm spot in the abyss where you humans would keep your heart. I eagerly await the development and release of Dragon Quest XI, as well as the continued success of the franchise as a whole.
While this retrospective has focused on the main entries in the series, it is no secret that there are a number of spin-offs and side-entries under the Dragon Quest banner. Should any of you wish a look into those, please let me know in the comments section. I sincerely hope you’ve enjoyed my nostalgic trip down memory lane. And if you haven’t then I sincerely hope you have your life insurance paid up before the meteor I just summoned lands on your roof.
So until next time kids, remember – no matter how you may want to try and spin your support for Trump as not being an indication of you being a hateful, horrific human, when the KKK holds a parade in celebration of your chosen candidate’s victory, you should probably take a long, hard look in the mirror…and then drive your face into it as hard as you possibly can. – EWE