Final Fantasy VI and a Plea from EWE

Greets, fleshy water bags!  So, once again you all get to profit from a mistake I made.  You see, when I got home from work, I was really tired and mentally drained, so I sat down on the bed just to rest for a second…and woke up two hours later.  So now I can’t fall asleep, and thus, you get to hear me ramble again.  Lucky you!

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The struggle is real.
So since we are here together, and since I’ve been going back through some classic games despite having a massive backlog that I keep telling myself and everyone else that I am going to get through, I’ve decided to bring you another review of one of my favorite Final Fantasy games of all time – in fact, one of the greatest RPGS and video games in general of all time – Final Fantasy VI.

Although this was the sixth entry in the series to come out in Japan for the Super Famicom, it was only the third of those six games to be brought to the West.  Thus when it debuted on the Super Nintendo in North America, it was rechristened as Final Fantasy III, and it was only with the advent of FF VII years later on the PlayStation that the weird concept of renumbering games would be dumped and everyone would know exactly what fucking game they were playing.  Since then, FFVI has been ported to the GBA, iOS/Android phones, and most recently to Steam on PC.  Now, there have been niggling little complaints about each of these ports of the game, but I’m not going to get into those for one very simple reason – they don’t fucking matter.  Yes, the sprites in the later versions are somewhat “cleaner” and smoother than the original SNES sprites.  Whether you like them or not is a matter of stylistic choice or nostalgia.  But it has absolutely no impact on the sublime underlying game.  So this review is from my time spent most recently with the iOS and PC ports of the game – but I have owned and played every version of the game to ever be released, and when it gets a 3DS or Switch upgrade (it has to, right?  I mean, III, IV, and After Years did?!) then I’ll be first in line to play that too.

FFVI takes place in a world dominated by the Gestahl Empire and it’s Magitek technology and soldiers, which give them far superiority over the steampunk technologies employed by the other kingdoms spread across the World of Balance.  The Empire comes into possession of a young girl with the innate ability to use magic – something not seen in world since the magical creatures known as Espers sealed off their lands from the human world.  The Empire quickly places a slave crown on the girl’s head, robbing her of her memories and free will and sending her with a two man Magitek escort to subdue the village of Narshe and root out a Resistance movement there.  Our game picks up as she is on her way to that mission, tromping through the snow in her Magitek armor.

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Wooly mastadons and guys with stone axes vs. nuclear and magic powered death beam?  This’ll be quick…
Terra and her cohorts make smooth progress carving through the village until reaching a point in the mine where Terra is separated from her fellows after receiving some type of psychic distress or communication from the frozen form of an Esper trying to communicate with her.  In her confusion, she is found by Locke, a theif and adventurer, and Mog, a, uh, Moogle that breakdances, fights with a spear, and has an uncontrollable Yeti buddy  that will lend his violent insanity to your cause as well.  This rescue party is OFF THE HOOK!!  Locke and Mog find Terra wandering in the slums of the city and remove her slave crown.  Her free will is returned, but she still as questions about who she is and where she comes from.  Knowing that they can’t keep her safe in Narshe, Locke decides to sneak Terra into the neighboring kingdom of Figgaro, where he is friends with the current king, Edward.  However, the Empire pursues their taken prize, and thus a grand chase becomes an investigation into the Empire’s acquisition of magitek, and finally into their plans for the destruction  of the world of Balance.  To spoil that major climax would be a disservice to anyone that has yet to play through the game as it was intended to be played.  There are twists and turns and emotional moments all throughout the game.

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Remember when THESE twists and turns featured awesome Mode 7 rotation?! Yeah…this is better.
Special mention must be given to the sheer labor of love that was apparent by the way each and every character, villain, PC, NPC, all were written well, and all executed their roles, no matter how minimal or vast they be, and grew as characters, each and every one.  And not only does the incredibly deep cast of playable characters all undergo development, they are all useful in battle in their own way – which is good since several parts of the game require you to split up your entire group into three or four squads of adventurers to take down the same dungeon or monster simultaneously.  This adds some meta strategy to the game – do you spend the time as you go leveling up as best you can to try and keep the newer or weaker characters more caught up, or do you just hope that the powers of the top crew will be enough to carry the day?

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Not surprised you know him…more surprised he hasn’t cut off your hand yet.
As Locke and Terra are avoid Imperial troops in Narshe, it serves as a tutorial for the games battle system, which will go down in history as perhaps the greatest pure distillation of the ATB battle system first devised in FFIV.  Battles are turn based, which each individual character or enemy getting to take a turn as soon as the stamina bar is full.  Unlike in some past FF games, here, magic spells are learned by having Magicite equipped while in combat.  After combat, a percentage of AP points is applied to your account and you’re that much closer to permanently unlocking the spells that it teaches.  In this way, you can teach almost every one of the wide case of characters all of the magic in the game – and in fact this becomes a gameplay element in which weapons and physical attacks are ineffective and the only way to damage some bosses is either with magic or by draining their own MP.  It can be a bit tedious doing the necessary level of grinding to get all of your characters up to that level, but the payoff for it is tremendous!

The story, although it spans a threat to not just one, but two worlds, is actually best digested through the small side stories and personal reasons for each party member to continue on with the party.  These are  the moments that stick with you long after the closing credits have rolled, and you’ve defeated one of the greatest villains in Final Fantasy history.

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Battles always have been and remain colorful affairs.
Final Fantasy VI is a seminal entry in the world of JRPGs and RPGs in general, as well as one of the widely regarded greatest video games of all time.  There isn’t much more that can be said about it that hasn’t already been addressed.  Will absolutely everyone like it?  No, but the world will always be filled with morons that have no taste.  Just as not everyone that looks at a work of fine art can truly “get it” not everyone can appreciate the timeless quality of this game.  But that doesn’t change the fact that it is a phenomenal achievement in the art of game design that should be mandatory playing by anyone who claims to be interested in the game community.  So what are you waiting for?  Climb aboard the express!

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No they don’t – the bad puns just keep on coming!
Now, before we say goodnight, I have a special request.  As you know, I don’t care for most humans.  They treat me like garbage, and thus I don’t usually give a damn about them or their pathetic problems.  But there are exceptions: some of the best humans I have had the pleasure to interact with are Ryan McCaffrey and Alanah Pearce over at IGN.  They’re modern-day celebrities in the internet and gaming community, and yet they always take a few moments to engage me in conversation and to treat me like a friend when I need it.  I consider them my friends, and so it was with a heavy heart that I saw Alanah had created a Please Help Maggie the Boxer Campaign,  You see, Maggie the Boxer is facing multiple, expensive surgeries in order to correct an open cyst that, if left untreated, could lead her to bleed out or die of infection.  None of our furry friends should have to suffer such a fate. and Ryan can use all the help that he can get with paying for her care.  So please, go and donate as much or little as you can to Maggie the Boxer’s recovery fund.  Or…I’ll find you.  And when I do I’ll be quite sad.  And what do you consider could happen if I’m sad?

Do not make me sad.

Thank you all kindly for all of your support, both for Maggie the Boxer, and for me!  Until next time! – EWE

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New Year, New Reviews, Same Old EWE

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

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

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MAGI: Labyrinth of Magic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Are there airships? Oh yeah…there are airships.

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

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

Final Fantasy XV Review-in-Progress; Malevolent Moogle’s Dating “Advice”

Hello, humans!  Still alive and kicking, huh?  Damn…er, uh, I mean, damn, that’s great.  Yup – look at you, all not-dead and whatnot.  Fan-fucking-tastic.  This is what I get for taking evil shopping advice from a goddamn coyote – he never even did catch that bird, useless bastard.  ACME better have a good refund policy on partially-used plagues.

Anyway, since you’re still breathing, I suppose I should at least attempt to entertain you.  So first, I guess we could delve into my thoughts as I have begun playing Square Enix’s recently released Final Fantasy XV.  This isn’t going to be a full review yet – this is a large game with a ton to do, and I simply haven’t had the time to play it thoroughly enough to give my final thoughts on it.  But I can tell you how it’s compared with my expectations going in.

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Speaking of those expectations, they were…well, let’s be polite (Editor’s Note: for once) (EWE’s Note to Editor: you shut the fuck up right now) and just say that they were “low.”  Now, it isn’t as if I’m not a fan of the series – quite the opposite – but this game had raised some alarms for me.  First of all, I’m kind of old-school in my taste for RPGs.  I mean, for shit’s sake, look at me – I’m an 8-bit wizard.  My DNA is pixel-based.  Swords and sorcery, some steampunk, turn-based combat…this is the stuff I look for in an RPG.

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PUMP THIS DIRECTLY INTO MY VEINS!

But starting with FF VII, the main Final Fantasy series has started moving away from traditional settings and gameplay elements.  That isn’t to say that this has been entirely a bad thing – taking chances and changing things up is how a long-lived series keeps from getting stale.  But like any experiments with a proven formula, some alterations work…and some not so much.  FF VII was a smash hit, but FF XIII took some well deserved criticism for essentially featuring a 20-hour corridor at the beginning of the game with no real options to deviate.  So when the announced concept of FF XV was revealed to essentially be “Bro’d Trip!” I was…cautious.  When SE announced that there would be an entire universe of products revolving around XV, including anime film and series prequels, visions of the ill-fated Compilation of FF VII swam before me.  And most alarmingly, when I played through the demos of the game that were made available…I was underwhelmed.

But thus far into the release of the full game, I am happy to report that my concerns have thus far proven to be…well, not “wrong” because that’s impossible, but perhaps “addressed” is a better term.  The combat system that had felt so obtuse and unresponsive to be in the demo is in actuality one of the best systems that the franchise has had since the old ATB days.  Battles zip along and are action packed without (thus far) becoming overwhelming.  And while you can only directly control Noctis throughout, you can trigger his three besties to perform joint attacks with him.  And even on their own, the AI for your party members is adequate as far as I’ve gotten into the game.

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Yeah…I’m going to leave this guy alone for the moment.

Story wise, I have not progressed too far yet, as this is the first FF game to feature a mostly-open world with a TON of sidequests and loot scattered all over the map.  But I can say that thus far, the dynamic between the four best buds has actually been handled quite well.  Sure they’re dressed like something that should be on a catwalk in Milan, but their personalities and banter mesh well together without getting (too) cheesy.  There is still a lot of room for character development, but I’m looking forward to seeing the rest of this game based on my first impressions.

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Now as a last tidbit for you…you all remember my best friend, THE best friend, Malevolent Moogle, right?  Of course you do!  Well, MM and I had an exchange the other day that was so enlightening and life-changing, I simply had to share her wisdom with all you meatbags out there.  Here is MM offering me her, uh, we’ll call it “advice” for lack of a better term, on my personal life and dating.

MM – “Listen up.  I’ve appointed myself your datekeeper.  If you haven’t found a nice girl by my birthday, you have to go out with anybody I say.  Deal?”

EWE – “HAHAHAHAHAHAHA…HAHAHA..HAHA…Ha…oh, fuck, you’re not joking, are you?”

MM – “You didn’t say no, so, that counts as a yes.”

EWE – “Uh, we’re both lawyers, and I’m reasonably sure we both know that clearly IS NOT how ‘no’ works…”

MM – “Under this highly particular set of circumstances, and applicable only to you, it does.  Now, we can compromise – you will message any girl who has a cat with her in her profile pic.”

EWE – “Wait…how is that a compromise?  There are a lot of girls with cats…”

MM – “Cats cats cats cats cats!”

Now, for those of you who may still at this point be asking yourself “man, what is EWE’s deal?  What is wrong with that guy?”  I want you to reread that conversation, and then realize that the person I’m talking to is essentially THE SOLE VOICE OF REASON in my existence.  That should clear up any questions you may have had.

Until next time, kiddos, may you all have a merry happy whatever-the-fuck-you-celebrate – just please do it quickly, because I just honestly want it all over as soon as possible.  Thanks in advance. – EWE

Burning the Midnight Oil on #OmNoMonday

Welcome back, feeble carbon-based mouth breathers!  My, am I feeling productive this week – well, that or possibly I’m not sleeping enough.  But either way, you get more of my meandering musings, so you win either way.  You’re welcome!

So as anyone who read through my recent retrospective of the Dragon Quest series has probably figured out, I am a fan.  So I was eager to throw myself into the latest remake of a classic Dragon Quest game – the 3DS remake of Dragon Quest VII: Fragments of the Forgotten Past.  DQVII, for those that missed my retrospective (and you had better go correct that poor life choice right…now) was originally released on the PS1…after the PS2 had released.  Poor timing, coupled with an abysmal translation, led to lackluster sales of the original release.  However, the game was immense – 100-200 hours per playthrough was required if you wanted to see everything the game had to offer.  And it’s gameplay systems were solid.  So I was hoping that this remake would correct the errors of the past while maintaining the classic elements – and for the most part, it did so.

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Graphics

First things first – and you’ll find that I’m going to say this about damn near every single game on the 3DS – slide the 3D setting down to “off.”  It adds absolutely nothing to this experience, and in fact can detract from it.  Not because it’s bad, but because it will cause unnecessary eye strain in a game that begs to be played in long stretches, and will drain your battery faster.  You’re going to be spending hundreds of hours with this game – and you don’t need 3D in any of them.

The graphics are a noticeable improvement over the PS1 originals.  The camera in the original had a tendency to obscure, well, everything when rotated – but that has been largely corrected in this upgrade.  The characters models are MUCH more detailed than in the original, although there is some hilarious incongruity in the sizes of the characters in comparison to their surroundings.  Seriously, Keifer is apparently this world’s version of King Kong, because he’s larger than a lot of buildings.

The graphical improvement extends into battle as well.  In the original, battles were first-person against static monsters.  In this edition, battles are third-person, with your party fully visible on screen, executing lively animated attacks and spells against equally animated monsters.  Akira Toriyama’s legendary character designs have always been associated with this series, and they are beautifully brought to life here.  Another change from the original graphics centers on the games robust vocation system – while in the original, a character’s vocation wasn’t evident by looking at them.  However, now each and every vocation results in a new appearance for the characters – a very welcome addition.

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Sound

Not much can be said here that hasn’t been said before.  Dragon Quest features charming and catchy melodies and sound effects that will definitely become repetitive long before the game comes to a conclusion.  This especially evident in this installment, which is without question the game with the longest required playtime – a standard playthrough is going to eclipse 100 hours easily.  If you like the music, be sure to play with headphones because the 3DS is not known for it’s stellar audio hardware.  Once you begin to tire of it, just take them off.

Gameplay

I’m not going to go too in-depth here, mostly because if you have ever played a Dragon Quest game or you have read any of my Dragon Quest retrospective, you already know how this plays – and if you haven’t, this probably isn’t the entry-level Dragon Quest game I’d recommend.  The original version had a notoriously SLOW beginning, with the player going several hours before encountering their first battle.  This has thankfully been reduced in the remake, but it is still a slow open – it will still be 30-60 minutes until that first slime gets whacked with a cyprus stick.

One of the biggest changes from the original is also one I initially welcomed but soon grew annoyed by – encounters.  In the original version, monster encounters would occur at random while wandering in the field or dungeons.  The encounter rate was on par with classic RPGs in general and Dragon Quest in particular.  The remake has seen the introduction of the system first introduced in Dragon Quest VIII on PS2, in which monsters appear on the world map and can be avoided or battled at the player’s choosing.  Now on paper, this sounds great.  Unfortunately, the spawn algorithm makes the encounter rate incredibly aggravating.  I lost count of the number of times I would be trying to work through a dungeon, finish a battle and take two steps only to have another monster spawn directly under my feet.  I was soon longing for the days of a random, but fairly steady and predictable encounter rate.  The real shame is that this same system was executed to perfection in DQ VIII – this felt like a significant step back.

Story

If you are looking for a strong main narrative running through the entire game, you are likely to be disappointed.  There is a central plot revolving around a demon king sealing off the various islands of the world from one another, and your efforts to bring them back and defeat the revival of the big bad.  But the true stars of the show are the smaller, self-contained narratives of each of the trapped islands.  Each region has its own quest that must be solved before it appears on the world map – and these mini-epics are phenomenal.  Some are lighthearted, others are tragic to the point of being tear-jerking, and they all feel very REAL – there are choices made and consequences that must be lived with, for better or worse.  These feel all the more at home in a portable format – each island only takes a few hours to complete, making it ideal for an evening gaming session to have a definite beginning and end.

So Should I Play It?

Have you been playing Dragon Quest games since the NES?  Do you lament that the Final Fantasy series moved away from turn-based battles and into whatever the hell this weird kind-of action shit is now?  Do you not mind wandering around for a while trying to figure out what you’re supposed to be doing?  Does the thought of grinding a character through a bunch of different classes to make them into a physical god make you giddy with excitement?

Then you should play this game.  It’s a love letter and a magnum opus to the game design of JRPGs from a different era.

Is the first Dragon Quest game you played VIII?  Is your favorite RPG series Final Fantasy, starting with VII or later?  Do you have a relatively short attention span if not much is going on during a gaming session?  Do you need a breathtaking main narrative to drive you onward?

This probably isn’t your game.  You’re going to feel like this game is boring and old.  It’s not, and you’re wrong – but I can understand your mistake based on your tastes, so I will allow you to live.  This time.

I played the original DQ VII on PS1.  I still have it.  I’ve played it more than once.  I still enjoyed my time with this 3DS remake even more than the original.  It still has flaws, but if you love old-school JRPGs, you should give this one a shot.  Since these seem to need some kind of arbitrary numerical score, I’m going to give it:

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Four Burning Villages…out of Five.

But that’s not all, kids!  No, because it is once again #OmNoMonday – and last time, I got a request for a chicken dish!  So I have scoured my Evil Recipes That Didn’t Kill Anyone, and I have found this delicious and healthy take on classic Chicken Cordon Bleu!

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Ingredients:

  1. 4 thin-sliced boneless/skinless chicken breasts
  2. 4 slices ham
  3. 6 slices swiss cheese
  4. Ground black pepper
  5. Crushed red pepper flakes
  6. Olive oil
  7. OPTIONAL – 1/2 cup seasoned bread crumbs
  8. A Ziploc bag
  9. Baking dish
  10. Toothpicks
  11. Tenderizing mallet
  12. OPTIONAL – a child that enjoys smashing things with a tenderizing mallet

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Use a small amount of olive oil to grease the baking dish.

Place the chicken in the Ziploc bag and use the tenderizing mallet (and, if available, the child) to pound the chicken to about 1/4 inch thick.  If using child, be sure to make sure they do not pound the chicken so hard that the Ziploc bag explodes.  It isn’t fun to clean up.

Place the chicken in the baking dish.  Season to taste with the black and red pepper.  Place a slice of ham and a slice of cheese on top of each piece of chicken.  Roll up and secure each piece of chicken with a toothpick.  If you want crunchy chicken, sprinkle bread crumbs over them.  For a healthier alternative, don’t use the bread crumbs.

Place in the oven and bake for 30-35 minutes or until chicken is no longer pink.  Remove from oven, place 1/2 slice of cheese on top of each piece of chicken and bake an additional 3-5 minutes, or until cheese has melted.  Remove from oven, remove toothpicks, and enjoy!  Or, if you’re serving them to someone you don’t particularly care for, someone that may have wronged you, DON’T remove the toothpicks, serve, and enjoy watching!  Either way, I believe you will walk away satisfied. – EWE

Dragon Quest Retrospective, Part 3 – Return to the West

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

Dragon Quest Retrospective, Part 2 – The Lost Super Famicom Era

An Evil Wizard draws near!  Command?  And who the fuck are you that you think you can command me?  Ahem – welcome back, questors and questettes, to my look back a one of the seminal JRPG series of all time, Dragon Quest.  In this part, we take a look at what for many, many years were the “lost” gems of the series, at least for those of us that neither live in Japan nor read Japanese.  You see, Dragon Quest IV, being the last NES title in the series, was subject to the at-the-time usual delays in translation and localization, and hence was one of the very last games released for the original NES, and actually was released AFTER the Super Nintendo in the US.  As a result of this poor timing, sales of Dragon Warrior IV in the US were a significant decline from those of Dragon Warrior III – and Enix took this as a sign that the series simply wasn’t worth continuing to bring across the Pacific.  As a result of this, for many, many years the following two entries – including what is widely considered to be the pinnacle of the entire Dragon Quest series – were available only for the Super Famicom in Japan.  Thankfully, this would not always be the case!

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Released in 1992 for the Super Famicom, Dragon Quest V is widely considered to be the greatest entry in the entire series, by fans and the developers alike.  The series debut on a 16-bit system managed to retain all of the classic hallmarks of the series turn-based, JRPG roots while also managing to be revolutionary as well.  For the first time in the series, rather than the player controlling an entire party of human characters, recruitable monsters would join the hero’s party in battle, leveling up and gaining new abilities in the same manner as their human allies.  Monsters had a chance of joining after being defeated in battle, and while the active battle party was limited to three in the original Super Famicom version (four in the later remakes), additional monsters and party members would ride along in the wagon and could be swapped out between battles.  The original release had around 40 recruitable monsters, while later remakes of the game would increase this count into the 70s.  Secondly, while Dragon Quest III and IV began to flesh out the bare-bones narratives of the first two games, Dragon Quest V featured a plot that was truly epic in scale and scope – a tale that followed the hero throughout the entirety of his life, beginning with his birth and continuing throughout his adulthood.  To say much more would be spoiling a tale that you really should experience for yourself – and thanks to Square Enix’s love of capitalizing on its back catalog and talent for producing extremely polished remakes, the West finally got its chance at experiencing Dragon Quest V on the 3DS in 2009.  This remake was then flawlessly ported to iOS and Android in 2015 – meaning that regardless of your portable gaming system of choice, there is no reason for any fan of JRPGs to not play this gem.

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Released for Super Famicom in 1995, Dragon Quest VI again retained the classic core gameplay of the Dragon Quest series as a whole, while adding its own wrinkles and variations.  It was a marked graphical improvement over V, as the developers had several years of additional experience with the Super Famicom hardware to leverage into the visuals.  Gameplay-wise, Dragon Quest VI saw the return of the class system first introduced in Dragon Quest III, with some changes and expansions.  In addition, VI marked the first time in the series that characters could learn skills and abilities – techniques that were separate from classic spells and cost no MP to use.  Later remakes of III, IV, and V would add these as well, but the Super Famicom version of VI marked their debut for the series.  The story once again saw a hero and his allies combating a threat to the world – as well as their own amnesia after a failed attempt to defeat the villain previously.  While Dragon Quest VI is sometimes regarded as a bit of a letdown on the heels of the revolutionary Dragon Quest V, it is still a finely crafted, deep, and engaging RPG that is well worth experiencing by fans of the genre.  While the original release never came to the West, in 2011 a 3DS remake of the game made its way to the US and Europe, much as with Dragon Quest V.  This release was also later brought to iOS and Android.  Once again, both of these games are now readily available in convenient, portable form – any fan of JRPGs and classic games in general should make an effort to find them and play them.

And with that, we reach the end of this second part in our look back at the Dragon Quest series.  Next up, we reach the PlayStation era, and the return of worldwide releases for the series.  Until then, go find these games, goddammit! – EWE

A Dragon Quest Retrospective – Part 1: The NES Era

Welcome back once again, questors and, uh…questettes?  Sure, why not.  Once again I welcome you to something a little different from me – while I have profiled various humans here in the past, as well as reviewed some games, I have never before given an overview of an entire video game series.  Quite honestly, I feel as if doing so is something that should be reserved for only the most important and influential series in the storied history of video games – otherwise it somewhat cheapens the endeavor.  I mean, you can do a profile of the “Destroy All Humans!” Series but that would only be two game that not many people have heard of.

So when I considered doing a retrospective look at an entire franchise, I knew it needed to be one of some import.  It also needed to be one that had some personal significance for me – because let’s be honest, this is my blog, and if I don’t give any fucks about a particular series, why the hell would I waste my time discussing it?  I’m evil, not stupid.  So I figured that I would go with a groundbreaking, landmark JRPG series of fantasy worlds, swords, magic, world threatening evils, and parties of colorful characters growing from relatively powerless youths into earth-shattering Demi-gods intent on saving the world.

What’s that?  Oh, no, not that one.  There are no rideable chickens or bat winged koala bears in this one.  That’s right – it’s time for a look at Dragon Quest / Dragon Warrior if you’re older than time itself (like me, goddammit).  And since this is not a small undertaking, I have decided to split it up into a few separate posts, each focusing on a different part of the overall series.  This time, we take a look at the origins of the series on the venerable NES.


If Square’s Final Fantasy is considered the father of the modern JRPG, then Enix’s Dragon Quest was the granddaddy of them all.  Originally released in Japan in 1986, and in the US in 1989 as Dragon Warrior, the original Dragon Quest was one of the first console role-playing games to take the venerable gameplay of tabletop Dungeons & Dragons and convert it into a streamline, user friendly video game by placing most of the dice rolling and number crunching under the hood and only displaying the results to the player.  The game saw a lone warrior embark on a quest to save the Kingdom of Alefgard’s princess from danger and defeat the evil Dragonlord to restore peace to the land.  Yeah, as stories go, they don’t come much more cookie cutter than this, but it was the 80s, dammit!  Anyway, the relatively simple turn-based battle system was made enchanting by the now-iconic monster designs of famed Dragonball manga creator Akira Toriyama.  The game was a smash hit in Japan, but Nintendo wasn’t sure about its chances in America, so they literally gave it away for free – a copy of the game, along with a substantial strategy guide, was given away to every person that subscribed to Nintendo Power magazine.   This brilliant exercise in marketing strategy enabled a younger, extremely poor, not-yet-esq. Evil Wizard to fall madly in love with the world of RPGS.


Following the success of Dragon Quest, Enix released the sequel, Dragon Quest II, in Japan in 1987 and in the US in 1990.  Everything about Dragon Quest II was an expansion on its predecessor, but in some ways Enix’s ambitions outstripped their abilities at that time.  The world of Dragon Quest II was huge – for comparison, the Kingdom of Alefgard featured in the original title was only one small portion of the entire map.   The story was also much more central than the barebones plot justification of the original.  Dragon Quest II featured the descendants of the Hero of the first game banding together to combat an evil wizard named Hargon.  The game featured a party of three unique playable characters, and a ship that could be used to travel between the many continents in the world – however, the combat was not as balanced as other party-based RPGS, and the necessity of grinding in order to keep your weaker characters alive reached levels of absurdity.  Still, for its time, Dragon Quest II was an incredibly ambitious sequel and pushed the series forward in every possible way.


Ah, Dragon Quest III.  Make no mistake about it – this is my absolute favorite entry in this entire series, and I love a number of these games.  In almost every conceivable way, Dragon Quest III is the absolute pinnacle of JRPG game design and execution for the entire 8-bit era, and it inspired nearly every convention of RPGs today.  Not just one gigantic world, but two, packed with colorful NPC characters, an epic, sweeping story, numerous towns, castles, towers, caves, dungeons – but the show stealer was the game’s class system.  At the beginning of the game, the Hero recruits three characters for a party of four.  These characters can be created from a number of different character classes, each with its own unique strengths and weaknesses.  Later in the adventure, the player gains access to the ability for these party members to switch their current character class for a new one, beginning at level one but retaining all spells and abilities that they learned previously.  This incredibly well balanced system still holds up to this day, and has been copied by numerous other games through the years since.


Released in Japan in 1990 and in the US in 1992 as Dragon Warrior IV, Dragon Quest IV was the series NES swan song, and in many ways was something of a “concept album” for the series.   Eschewing the blank slate party building and open-ended class system of Dragon Quest III, Dragon Quest IV featured unique playable characters with their own set classes and abilities – but in a break from the past, rather than put the party together early in the game, IV instead broke the story up into individual “chapters” each focusing on a different party member.  Only n the last half of  game did all of the playable characters come together to face the common threat to their entire world.  The other main problem with IV was that it was released for the aging NES after the much more powerful SNES had come out – thus, despite being a critical hit, it failed to sell as well as its predecessors had.

Now, each of these games is more than worth a play through for fans of classic JRPG game design – and the GOOD NEWS for all of you is that each of these has been remade a number of times – most recently for iOS and Android devices.  Do yourself a favor – track down these classic gems and give them a look!

That’s all for this installment – as always, please give me any thoughts or suggestions on this topic or anything else in the blog.  I promise, even if they are critical or cruel, I probably won’t rain down terror upon you and all of your descendants for generations to come!  Next time I revisit this, we will take a look at the “lost” SNES entries in the series.  Until we meet again, kids, remember – not every Trump supporter you meet is necessarily a horrible person.  There is a chance that maybe they are JUST horrifically, criminally, incurably stupid.  Those ones can be forgiven, and then hopefully institutionalized before they can cause harm to themselves or others.  The rest are absolutely horrible people –  and this is coming from who LITERALLY wears his evil on his sleeve. – EWE