Game Ramblings #167 – Dragon Quest Treasures

More Info from Square-Enix

  • Genre: Action RPG / Adventure
  • Platform: Switch

When I’m travelling, I look for certain types of games to play. They don’t necessarily have to be the best game ever, and I’d honestly rather they not be since my play sessions are inconsistent. They should have a relatively short metagame loop so I can play in both 15 minutes and multiple hours as I can manage it. They absolutely need to be portable since I’m not lugging consoles or a desktop with me. Treasures ticked all those boxes. It’s definitely not going to win game of the year, but it’s a game that became so easy to fall into that I was surprised how fast I managed to complete it.

This game is the strangest mix of Pokemon and a treasure hunting game, and it somehow manages to work out alright. Your goal is ultimately to find treasure, but the other half the game can’t be ignored in the pursuit of riches. You use your party of typical Dragon Quest monsters to both fight things around, as well as to use their abilities to assist you in getting to and searching for more treasure. How that loop works out is really why this worked well for me as a vacation game.

The overall metagame is a series of treasure hunts where you go out, fill your inventory, and go back to your base. Each trip is capped by how much treasure your party can carry, and in some practical sense by the fact that the farther you get into each level the stronger the enemies are. During each hunt, you’ll eventually start getting attacked by rival hunters trying to steal your treasure. This ends up encouraging you to be fast in gathering treasures, and fast in getting back to base. As a loop this takes place in roughly 10 minute intervals and it’s incredible how infinitely repeatable this can be. If all you’ve got time for is one loop, it’s just a fun distraction but you still make forward progress. If you’ve got time for more, you can instead settle into achieving specific goals – grabbing specific treasures, finishing specific side quests, finding specific party members, etc – that you can focus on over longer periods of time.

In a lot of ways, the Pokemon aspects of it feel intentionally placed because this is one of the reasons that I really enjoyed Pokemon Arceus a lot. It never felt like my time in that game was being wasted and it also never felt like I had to really set aside time to make meaningful progress. Everything I did was valuable to my overall progress, and it allowed me to enjoy the game at any time in any situation. That is what makes a perfect travel game and this really nailed it, whether or not that was intentional on the developer’s part.

Because the core loop worked so well, the rest of the game just kind of had to not get in my way. Combat is simple, but effective. You basically attack and dodge, and that’s really all you need to worry about. There’s a neat slingshot secondary weapon that can be used for offense, but its more interesting use is to buff and heal your party on the fly. Your party have all of their own unique abilities tied to the monster design, but it’s all more or less irrelevant to the combat structure. The only one I really focused on was making sure I had a healer so I could focus my efforts on damage as much as possible. Monster collecting is more RNG-focused than I’d prefer, but you generally get monsters at a decent rate. Their ability to join your party is tied to a bit of a frustrating item trading system, but you end up getting so many items in a normal treasure hunt that it isn’t overly time consuming.

If there is one thing that I could point at as being incredibly frustrating though, it’s that your base can be attacked. It’s not that this was difficult, but the last thing I generally wanted to do after dumping my treasure back was to have to immediately be in combat. It was probably more frustrating that because it generally wasn’t challenging it just slowed down my pace and prevented me from getting back out into the field. There’s a similar annoyance while in the field where you can be attacked by random rival hunters, and it’s another case of not really being challenging and mostly just being something that slowed my pace. However, I didn’t really have major issues outside of those things.

This one I guess ends up being an easy recommendation in a lot of ways because it just kind of works pretty well. It’s got a fun core meta loop, a decent enough monster collection aspect, decent enough combat, and really tries its best to not get in your way. It’s no game of the year, but because of that I also wasn’t worried about trying to book large gaming sessions to dig deep into it. I just kind of hopped in and out as I could, and because I was having fun it became more hopping in than I really expected. Because it was a travel game, it also really just fit really well into some of the smaller gaming sessions that I had that were typical of my time availability. Given the holidays are over, there may not be an opportunity to play a kind of “travel ready” game for a while, but this is a good one to keep in mind the next time you’re doing so.

Year End Ramblings – Things You Should Play From 2022

2022! The count this year was definitely lower for me – 14 ramblings, 6 shelved, and a couple of more retro look backs – but shipping a game does that to you, which brings me to my first one.

Go buy High on Life! Help pay my salary!

With that self-serving nonsense out of the way, what do I think I played that was actually worth the look last year? Unfortunately a couple big names aren’t on the list because frankly I haven’t gotten to them. Crisis Core and God of War: Ragnarok are both games I’d normally expect to recommend, but I just didn’t have the time. I’m getting to that early this year though, so maybe they have a catch up chance next year. There are some things that I think stood out though.

Game Ramblings #154 – Kena: Bridge of Spirits

This was just such a pleasant surprise to me. It’s not without some level of jank, but it gave me a Souls-like combat experience without feeling over the top difficult, and when I hit points where the difficulty was frustrating me it had a slider to turn things down for me to get to areas that I was enjoying more. Little things like that are so important to my ability to enjoy games with the limited time I have, and I applaud them for doing stuff like that. It was backed with great visuals and enjoyable lore to give me a pretty early surprise for the year.

Game Ramblings #156 – Pokemon Legends: Arceus

This is an incredibly janky game. It’s often an incredibly ugly game. The balance often makes no sense to me. However, it’s fun. Having the player focus on catching instead of battling is interesting. Having the player be able to be attacked by Pokemon and be in danger is obvious. Having a relatively open world is a huge change to the meta game of finding Pokemon. This feels like an important step for the Pokemon series as a whole, and while the new entries a couple months ago feel like a step backward intro traditional territory, I’m hoping Arceus is allowing the long term planning for the series to move in new directions.

Game Ramblings #160 – Xenoblade Chronicles 3

This is an easy selection for my game of the year. It’s got a solid story, fun characters, incredibly addictive combat, a neat class system, and spectacularly impressive environments. It’s the culmination of a lot of things that were learned across the previous titles, and feels like it takes the best of each entry to finalize the overall story arc for the series. This is a game that I recommend buying a Switch for.

Game Ramblings #166 – Sonic Frontiers

I expected to absolutely hate this game just based on how inconsistent the 3D Sonic games have been through the years. This also wasn’t helped by coming out of the gate with some really awkward trailers. However, in practice it was hard to put down. It feels like the Mario Odyssey of Sonic games where there’s always something fun to do around every corner. However, that does come with a heaping side of usual Sonic jank. Luckily it wasn’t enough to really put a damper on the experience, and this probably came in as my surprise of the year.

The common thread for me this past year is that I’m becoming increasingly unwilling to deal with annoyances. Between family time and trying to ship a game, I just didn’t have the time to waste on bullshit. That left me with far fewer JRPGs than typical with me saving that time for truly spectacular entries. That had me shelving a higher amount of games than usual, basically once I hit the first sign of boredom with what was in front of me. However, there’s still so much quality stuff being released that I was never without something cool to play. I’m entering 2023 still catching up on some big titles and I’m looking forward to cranking through those to start off the year here.

Shelved It #19 – Sports Story

More Info from Sidebar Games

  • Genre: RPG
  • Platform: Switch

I really enjoyed Golf Story quite a lot, so I figured this was going to be an automatic home run. However, it just never hit for me. It’s not that the core game is really that different from the original, but some minor changes cascade into a lot of unnecessary-feeling drudgery. This then gets combined with day-1 performance, stability, and bug issues to turn into an experience that really just made me tune out. To say it was a disappointment would be a massive understatement.

I could probably forgive a lot of things about this game if it ultimately didn’t just baffle me with a lot of what was going on when I did end up in the golf portion of the game. The previous one had some pretty wild gimmicky courses, but they were fun because of the gimmicks. In what I’ve seen of Sports Story, the gimmicks are way reduced, so the golf is just kind of normal. However, it’s wildly inconsistent. Take these two videos from a desert course:

This first one shows what is effectively a shot from the rough in this course going completely wild. Does it have something to do with the terrain I shot from? Maybe, but it’s not entirely clear why that would be the result of a pretty good shot. Even if that is intended, why is that a good idea? It’s incredible player friction to randomly penalize them for doing things correctly.

This second video shows me hitting a mine on my shot. Again, am I hitting it purely because I’m doing a relatively low driver shot? Probably. Does that make sense at all from a gameplay perspective to penalize a player that much? Not really. I was taking an allegedly safe fairway shot and just got hosed from it.

That sort of decision making is present everywhere in this game. Where the original had some amount of RPGish mechanics to lead you through some fun interactions, this one leans way too heavily on fetch quests. Worse, the fetch quests are generally vague and offer no actual direction, so you’ll find yourself wandering around trying to find the right target instead of simply playing the game. It’s simply increased player friction that does nothing to serve improving the player experience.

So then this gets into another point of frustration for me. The couple of times that the game leans into doing dungeon-style experiences, it’s a lot of fun. There’s the one from the pic above where you go through a Zelda-style top-down dungeon playing minigolf to complete puzzles. This is complete with your usual assortment of keys to find and a boss fight at the end. Another one of them is an NES Metal Gear style dungeon built heavily around stealth mechanics. Both of these are really well-crafted homages to past games, so seeing the rest of the game around it falter is hugely disappointing.

That’s to say nothing of the other sports involved here. Tennis is the biggest star, with its own entire academy side story. Unfortunately, as seen above, the actual tennis experience is wildly inconsistent with reality. The core rules of tennis aren’t respected. Who gets points is sometimes hard to guess. I also managed to break the quest line in the academy, so I was never actually able to finish it.

In terms of other sports, cricket and baseball are lightly represented but aren’t more than single button mash to hit with timing being loosely important. I played volleyball once and never came back to it. I played soccer penalty kicks a couple times, but it was pretty much ball will always curve left so aim correct to win. There is a neat Excitebike-style minigame that comes up once in each world, and that’s probably the best of the bunch. However, none of them ever truly live up to the promise of this being a bunch of well integrated sports. They feel like they’re there for the sake of being there, rather than for improving the game.

I’m cognizant of the fact that it probably sounds like I’m being incredibly harsh on this game and there’s certainly a lot of truth to that. However, I want to make sure that I’m getting across how disappointed I am. This is easily my letdown of the year. It’s not even that new things didn’t pan out, but the core of what made the previous title so good also feels like it’s taken obvious steps backwards. The RPG progression is not as fun, the golf game is inconsistent, the game is not stable and has framerate issues that come up during shooting. It just feels like a game that missed the mark and I’m sad for that fact because I’ve so been looking forward to playing this one all year.