Game Ramblings #142 – Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin Trial Version

More Info from Square-Enix

Ramblings thread on twitter

  • Genre: Action RPG
  • Platform: PS5

The unveiling of this game did not do it any favors. The dialogue was TERRIBLE and you could die from a drinking game based around how many times they say chaos. There’s definitely some problems with the game, but behind all that nonsense there is a nugget of a fun game that could come out of all of this.

In general I’m not a fan of Souls-style combat. The deliberate pace of timing your attacks just kind of drags for me. I’d much rather hack and slash and use recovery skills to keep the combat pace up. However, this one does a couple of things that work out in its favor. The first is a reactionary block that if timed well allows the player to gain MP rapidly while avoiding damage. The second is an MP dump that increases the player’s damage and allows for a larger amount of the enemy’s stun meter to be chipped away. In general this encourages me to stay in close quarters more often than in my typical Souls experience.

That said, this still doesn’t feel like it’s at a point where I’m happy with the balance of it. The player’s stun meter and the ability to block damage are run through the same sort of pseudo stamina meter, so using the block too much is a huge risk. Being stunned on the boss fight was a huge risk of being 100-0’d in the second phase of the boss. That risk turns it into a slog where you stay back, chip away damage when you can, and just stay out of the way. That’s the part where the Souls-style combat really loses me.

In a perfect world for me, the block meter isn’t part of the stamina meter. You either do it right and get the advantage of having executed the mechanic well or you do it wrong and naturally lose some of your stamina meter to normal damage mechanics. In this setup the player is further encouraged to execute the block properly and stay in combat, increasing the overall pace of the game and preventing the sort of large passive slogs that a lot of these kinds of fights can become.

I think ultimately this is going to end up in a situation where I just end up playing on easy, which isn’t necessarily what I want to get out of this. I’m pretty fine with the actual level of incoming damage and the need to execute the mechanics cleanly, but if going to easy means I can get through fights in a more efficient manner, I think I’d lean into that. I’d rather just be able to treat a few things as smaller gameplay modifiers though, which is a bit disappointing.

This demo also feels kind of let down by the art style. This game has a lot of greys, which also includes the enemies. This left me in a place where a lot of the trash fights were me kind of taking more damage than I felt was practical, mostly because I was visually losing the enemies and missing their tells. It was frustrating to not have clear silhouettes, as that’s often a huge part of the experience of action games for me.

On the other hand, the job system feels like a huge perk for the overall meta game. There’s only a few classes to play here, but I set myself up around the use of the swordsman and black mage classes, and the differences in their combat pace and ability use felt pretty interesting to me. The fact that they have full skill trees is also pretty huge, as there’s an inherent power curve beyond simply getting bigger stat numbers.

There’s definitely a nugget of potential here though. The game is far better than its writing and even with me not liking this style of combat, I was still enjoying myself. I don’t think they’re really going to fix what I see as the major problems here, but we’ve also only seen a tiny slice of this game in both the unveil trailer and demo. Maybe other parts of the game have a better visual style and less ridiculous use of the word chaos. Even if they don’t, I’m left pretty surprised that I want to see more out of this game.

Game Ramblings #138 – Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime 3

  • Genre: Action RPG
  • Platform: 3DS

We’ve only been fortunate enough to get one of the entries in this Dragon Quest sub-series in the US. Luckily, an English patch has been created by a group called Fan Translators International, and it’s a quality one. I’ve been going through the process of backing up a lot of my older disc and cartridge games, and DS/3DS was up so I figured I’d take the opportunity to play through this one in English, and that was definitely the right choice.

The Rocket Slime games are kind of hard to describe, but the short version is that it switches between two main types of gameplay – an overworldish section where you collect items and monsters to build ammunition and crew and a battle-based segment where you engage in ship vs ship combat. The second one is definitely the thing that’s worth playing.

The overworld stuff is all well and good, but it basically exists to serve the purpose of grinding out ammunition for your ship. You use the same movement as ship battles in terms of flinging the player around and grabbing things, but there’s no real challenge here, even in the handful of boss battles. You go around, mop up everything, and send it off to your ship. Parts of it become pretty grindy as you get a bunch of parts to craft higher level stuff, but you get through it to make your ship stronger. If there’s anything to really point at as a major experience killer, it is that grind. Getting your ship together for the end game fight was really a hassle that I wasn’t expecting.

The ship battles just work so well. It’s a pretty basic loop, but has a really nice rhythm. You’re basically being given periodic dumps of ammo that you’ve collected throughout the world, picking it up, and chucking it into upper and lower shooting cannons. You’re doing this both offensively and defensively – hitting the enemies shots will knock them down, getting through to the enemy ship damages it. You can also fire yourself and your crew, allowing you to wreak havoc on the enemy ship, taking out their ammo feeds and really minimizing their ability to fight back. Once the enemy reaches 0 HP, you invade their ship and destroy their engine. That’s really all that there is mechanically.

That said, it works so damn well. On the ammo front, you get a feel for roughly how often you’ll get ammo and where on your ship it will show up, so you start picking out ship hulls that allow you to maximize your routing efficiency in picking up and chucking ammo. You start finding crew combos that work best with your play style. In particular, I had a combo where two crew split cannon duty and a third one chucked itself at the enemy ship to cause damage while I defended from enemies coming on board. It’s the kind of experience where even though a lot of the fights are generally the same, it doesn’t stop being fun.

The game we got as Rocket Slime on the DS was a really fun experience, featuring similar gameplay with tanks instead of pirate ships. Knowing that this game had been released in Japan and wasn’t being seen here – despite the popularity of the Dragon Quest main series – was a major bummer. I’d imported this one a while back, but kind of sat on it knowing that I was probably going to want to wait for a fan patch. Luckily some enterprising fan translators got that done, so I was able to play through it.

It’s tough for me to generally recommend importing JPN-only games, and in this case that still kind of stands. Playing this involved a number of things; importing the game in the first place, converting one of my 3DSs to custom firmware, going through the process of setting it up for custom game patches, getting this patch on there. It was a lot of stuff to play one game, but for me it was absolutely worth it. This is a hell of a fun game with a unique ship combat system that we could use more of, and I’m glad I stopped being lazy about getting this stood up to play.

Game Ramblings #136 – NieR Replicant ver 1.22474487139…

More Info from Square-Enix

  • Genre: ARPG
  • Platform: PS4
  • Also Available On: Xbox One, Steam

Playing remakes – and not just remasters – is always interesting. How do they modernize the game without ruining what people liked about the original? Do they choose to add or remove anything to change the game at all? Playing remakes when you didn’t really play the original is even more interesting. I bounced off NieR on the PS3 pretty hard, though I don’t remember why. However, I really enjoyed Automata so I figured it was worth a revisit. As it turns out, I definitely enjoyed Replicant a lot this go around, although it has some spots where it definitely shows its age.

In hindsight, this ones feels a lot like Automata, and that’s probably what makes it work out so well for me at this point. My Automata ramblings cover the basics, but to be sure the ARPG systems still work great here. The mix of melee and ranged combat, as well as your occasional bullet hell chaos works really well still. It’s generally clear whether a boss is more susceptible to what kind of attacks, and you plan accordingly to get your big damage dumps. It just works well.

However, the thing that struck me is how overwhelmingly fair it is. There just aren’t big fuck you moments. If you execute your offense well, you won’t have problems taking out enemies. If you execute your defense well, you won’t have problems avoiding damage. If you’re paying attention to enemy tells you’ll be ready to dodge things. The game just isn’t going to punish you if you’re paying attention.

Having talked to a few people about the original release, this seems like a big change. From what I understand, the original wasn’t necessarily unfair, but leaned into difficult tuning more than it should have. To me this feels like a conscious effort to align the game with both Automata, as well as a larger mass market. You can go to a harder difficulty if you want to, but the game doesn’t feel designed around punishing the player even on that harder difficulty. It just feels tuned to be right.

However, that was something they could absolutely control when remaking the game. What they couldn’t control was the overall metagame that was there, and that part is definitely showing its age. The first thing that stood out to me was how minimal gearing was in contrast to Automata. You have weapons that can be upgraded and some basic mods that can be applied to your gear (+damage, +defense, +magic, etc) but compared to the chip system it feels pretty slim. I just didn’t derive much gameplay out of it, because I basically picked a weapon that fit my style then applied the best mods and didn’t really think about it.

The general story flow also just didn’t age well. There’s a lot of mindless back and forth between the same areas just to finish story quests (run to coast town -> go back to your village -> go back to coast town -> go back to your village) and with so few unique areas, it wears out pretty quick. The lack of quick travel for most of the game also exacerbates the issue. You just spend a lot of time mindlessly running in comparison to the original.

This is pushed way to the forefront in the design of the game’s endings. Ending B is a replay of the second half of the game with a few unique story bits added. Ending C and D are replays of the second half of the game accessible only after you collect all weapons, which then adds a unique selection to the end boss. The new ending is the sole new addition, but frankly it wasn’t worth replaying the game so many times to get to it, so I just watched it on Youtube. Automata definitely learned a lot from this one in terms of making the chase towards multiple endings more fun and more unique. Replicant, even in modern form, is a bit of a drag.

That said, this game is worth playing even if you only get to the first ending. Even with its problems the combat is just that good. This and Automata have a combat flow that I’ve rarely felt nailed so well in other games. The closest that I could really compare it to would be something like Bayonetta in terms of mixing the grand scale and tight action. It’s just consistently fun and exciting to get to and fight through bosses, and each one leaves you wanting to push through the story problems just to get to that next adrenaline rush. For that alone, this gets the approval.