Game Ramblings #68 – Kirby Star Allies

More Info from Nintendo

  • Genre: Platformer
  • Platform: Switch


  • Really low difficulty continues to be the weak point of the series
  • Solid amount of content, lots of hidden secrets, really good end boss sequence
  • AI characters are surprisingly competent as co-op replacement; combinations of powers are a compelling addition to the Kirby formula

It’s been kind of the standard fare for the Kirby series over the last 10 years or so that the games end up being really solid, have one neat twist to their mechanics to stay fresh, but end up being really too easy.  Planet Robobot gained a mech suit to do occasional wrecking of things.  Triple Deluxe brought in a lot of use of multiple planes of depth.  Epic Yarn had the obvious visual style and strong environmental manipulation.  By and large they have all been really good games that leaned on just being purely fun, rather than difficult.  Star Allies doesn’t change that at all, this time playing into a multiple character theme where you can recruit enemies to help you out, as well as combine their powers to solve puzzles.  It’s definitely an easy game, but it didn’t end up hampering the experience in a negative way.

This game is flat out gorgeous right form the start.

I know this is a weird place to start rambles, but holy hell this game is beautiful to a point that really caught me off guard.  While the Kirby series has always held its own pretty well, and in some cases had some unique visual treatments, I was not expecting this one to impress me so much.  That screenshot above is the spawning spot for the first level in the game, and it continues to impress throughout.  There’s a large variety in visual themes from deserts to forests to fields and later on right into space.  Each level is distinct from the other, so as a player I never grew bored of the areas I was going through.  For a game built around keeping relatively similar gameplay throughout, this was a huge help to not feeling burned out on the experience.

Combos are the new thing in the game, and they end up working out really well.

But enough about that, let’s talk about what this game brought to the series; combination powers and multi-character gameplay, and how they feed into each other.

This game is 100% a four-character experience, and it doesn’t matter if that’s AI or players controlling it.  Anyone can drop in and take over a party member, but the AI are competent on their own to help you out.  However, the great part of the whole system is that everyone but player 1 is controlling an enemy archetype.  Combined with Kirby’s continued ability to copy powers, this gives the party access to 4 core powers at once.  This is backed by the fact that AI attack when needed and use their powers to clear puzzles, allowing the player to focus on simply exploring and finding secrets in most cases, rather than finessing the AI into precise spots.

The good thing that comes out of this system is that you can also combine powers.  The screenshot above is one of them (rock power +ice power), and this combination mechanic is used in a ton of ways.  Weapon-based powers can all gain elements to do new things.  The ninja power can gain wind to throw air columns.  Swords can gain fire to burn everything it touches.  The rock gaining ice allows it to slide along killing enemies.  However, this is also backed by some clever environmental mechanics.  The ice power can freeze waterfalls.  The bug power allows you to throw characters through breakable walls.

The end result of all of this is that the game’s difficulty can be low without negatively impacting the game.  The challenge becomes the puzzle solving involved in using your party to find secrets in the environment, whether it be switches to open secret levels or puzzle pieces to collect for pictures.  It’s by far the most puzzle solving I’ve done in a Kirby game, and it makes for a really satisfying loop in trying to find all the little secrets in each level.

Classic bosses return, but that shouldn’t be a surprise at this point.

In no surprise though, this game also doesn’t steer away from some classic expectations of the series.  Standard bosses return, like the Whispy Woods tree or Kracko.  You still romp through Dream Land for a while.  The majority of the enemies that are there are still powers from past games.  However, it never feels dull.  It reuses what is expected of the series in new ways, either through new mechanics added to the bosses, or clever new uses for the absorbed powers.  It gives the right blend of nostalgia and new, which has been a hallmark of the series for a long time.

Admittedly though, I did mostly play this game as a sort of no-thought gap game.  I knew there were games coming out soon that I wanted to play (looking at you Ni no Kuni 2), so I didn’t want to play something long.  This was a quick hitter, easily finishable in 6-8 hours.  It’s also not difficult, so the level of frustration is low.  However, it’s just flat out fun.  It doesn’t take itself too seriously, once again brings some new mechanics into the series, but still plays enough of the old beats to be familiar.  While it’s hardly going to be a game of the year candidate, it’s pretty easy to recommend taking a look at this one at the very least.

Also, as mentioned in the Kirby: Planet Robobot ramblings, Nintendo has once again put in an updated little adorable Kirby icon for their website.  Nice touch.

Game Ramblings #62 – Xenoblade Chronicles 2

More Info from Nintendo

  • Genre: JRPG
  • Platform: Switch


  • Visually spectacular JRPG filled with large monsters and even larger environments
  • Overly complicated level and gearing systems that could have worked much better if the UI wasn’t so frustrating
  • Solid battle system that has been smartly streamlined since the previous titles, but still has late-game issues with overuse of one-hit mechanics

I’m going to open with what nearly had me shelving the game, because it was the same type of weird late-game design pattern that plagued both Xenoblade and Xenoblade X.  For reference, I was at 84 hours in and on the final sort of boss run before the end of the game.  That late into the game is not the kind of place you want to turn the design on its head.

Throughout the game, I had basically setup my party to where I was a DPS/off heal, one of my characters was a full time tank, and my third was rotating between pure DPS and mixed tank/heal, depending on my needs.  Basically, the main character was in no way setup to actually BE a tank, but that’s what the end game expects of you.

The TL;DR without spoilers is that your entire party gets taken away, and two of the main blades that you develop through the story get taken away, leaving the main character on his own to fight a chain of 1v1 boss battles, without the two blades I’d built my gameplay style around, and needing me to scrounge together what blades I had to try and bullshit my way through the boss fights.  Looking on Gamefaqs and looking at my roster I barely had what I needed leaving me with one choice; bullshit around mechanics to get through it.

I threw on two hammer tanks that have a shield move containing major block percentage and health regen, swapped between the two of them only attacking while the shield was down and the other blade was recharging, and made the fight trivial.  Was it fun? No.  Was it doable? Yes.  That right there is the main problem.  And that’s to say nothing of the final boss, which had some fairly RNG-heavy mechanics that made an otherwise easy fight into a dance of potential instant death.

So with that said, if I’d have known 20 hours ago what to prepare for to avoid having to do that, is this a good game?  More or less, but it’s definitely not without its issues.

Xenoblade 2 follows the pattern from the previous titles where it looks way better than most games on the platform, even in portable mode.

Like its predecessors, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is a large scale JRPG with huge environments, too many different systems that go into the character’s power, and a somewhat shoddy UI.  It uses the same battle system as the others where it’s technically in real-time, but more or less plays like a turn-based RPG in practice.  However, it’s streamlined a few things for better overall flow.  The biggest problem that it has is that it doesn’t really attempt to fix the problems with its predecessors, instead adding more systems that didn’t feel needed.

While not everything is this large, the scale of the top enemies continues to impress.

Since it is the core of the game, the battle system is the thing that made XC2 last as long as it did, despite some of the problems I mentioned in the opening.  The battle system in place is very much a JRPG-style one, but more in the vain of Final Fantasy 12.  The player has real-time movement, but doesn’t attack while in active movement.  Each player character (driver) is joined by a passive character (blade) and work as a pair in battle.  However, it is a deep system, and I’d argue very nearly too complicated for most players.  I’m bolding a few things here for reference of how many things are in place.  Basic attacks happen automatically, charging up driver artes.  Successful driver artes charge up blade arts.  Successful blade artes can be chained to apply elemental orbs that can then be used to extend the length of a chain attack.  Driver and blade artes are tied to swapping out blades, which can be done in real-time.  If this all sounds complicated, it is, but it’s all very easy to activate thanks to some smart changes to the battle system.

Previous Xenoblade titles used a scrolling list to activate artes, so there was always a bit of a fight of scrolling around in menus to activate things.  XC2 changes this to be much easier.  Blade swapping is on the d-pad.  Driver artes are on B/X/Y face buttons.  Blade artes are activated with A for the player character, and LZ/RZ for party members, then use small quick time events for success chance.  Chain attacks are activated with the Start button, and then use the blade artes for damage.  Basically, if there’s a button around, it’s used for an attack.  There’s no scrolling, no in and out of menus, no looking around to figure out what’s going on.  It’s all extremely fluid, so even with the huge amount of things going on, it’s easy to do what you need to do.

This is backed by continued fantastic variety in what can be done with artes.  There’s a whole mix of artes based around damage bonuses for hitting at certain angles.  Heals can be either direct for healer blades, or incidental potion spawners for attackers.  Tanks have a variety of threat-generation and damage mitigation for good back and forth timing play.  Reaching into blades, a wide range of elemental types means that running a wide variety in your party will benefit your ability to maximize damage in any situation.

Despite everything going on, the rhythm of the fights always feels really good.  Swapping between blades is fast and used often.  Both driver and blade artes charge quickly and always feel impactful.  Chain attacks offer a nice way to interrupt the enemy flow, and also offer the player a fun dance in trying to burst elemental orbs and extend the chain attack.  Basically, the act of fighting is the best part of the game and will keep you coming back to do all the little side things that can be found.

Blades come in a large variety, though they do have some hilarious outfits.

However, when you start getting into the rest of the game systems, XC2 starts to feel like a game that has added systems just for the sake of adding them.  This is best illustrated by all of the different forms of experience-based things that have to be gained to truly increase your party’s power.

  • There’s core XP from kills that goes into the character levels like most JRPGs.  However, there’s also rested XP earned by completing quests and other side items that can only be earned by resting at an inn.
  • Killing enemies also earns SP, which is a currency for drivers to apply to passive skills, such as core stat boosts, ability to use certain abilities at the start of battle, etc.
  • Killing enemies ALSO earns WP, which is a currency earned per-blade to increase the level of the driver artes tied to individual blade types.
  • Every single blade has a unique affinity chart that has to be leveled up.  This can be done in any number of ways, whether it be kills on specific enemies, collecting things in the environment, completing blade-unique side quests, and more.  However, you have to go into the affinity chart of the blade to activate things they earn; it isn’t automatically activated when earning is complete.
  • Trust can be earned by completing quests and battling with blades.  For most blades, trust is used to unlock new tiers in their affinity charts.
  • Some blades have multiple forms, which each need to be leveled separately.
  • For those who don’t care about spoilers, there is a unique leveling scheme:

    One driver can also be a blade, but can only level one of those forms at a time.

  • One of the main characters also uses an artificial Blade, which as all the normal leveling systems, but also has a unique minigame that has to be completed in order to earn a unique currency that goes into core upgrades specific to these blade forms.
  • Part way through the game, the player inherits a mercenary guild, opening an option to send out unused blades on missions to earn XP, rewards, and affinity chart leveling.  It basically becomes mandatory for leveling more than just your core set of blades.

If all of this doesn’t make your head spin, then you’re probably as much of a JRPG fan as I am.  However, the problem is that these systems are all in separate menus found in separate places, and often interrupted by multi-second loads.  At best it can be described as clunky, and really adds a lot of unnecessary hassle to a bunch of systems that probably could have been largely combined into passive earning through battle.

It’s a good thing the banter is fun, because some comedy breaks are needed after dealing with endless menus.

That said, the story kept me coming back, even when I wanted to shelve the game near the end.  Although playing the first title isn’t necessary, the end of XC2 does tie the two games together nicely.  The game’s overarching story is also fairly cliche as far as JRPGs go (boy finds girl, wants to help her achieve her goal, drama, betrayal, etc), but the interplay between characters is generally entertaining enough to rise above it.  This is further extended in the return of the Heart-to-Heart segments, where specific drivers and blades act out little skits to the side of the story.  It’s a lot like the Tales of series in that regard, but it’s always a nice little break from the rest of the game.

In general, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is a tough game for me to place.  I enjoyed the hell out of a lot of it, but the last 10 hours of the game were frustrating as hell for no good reason.  I enjoyed the depth of the systems in place, but they make it hard for me to recommend to anyone but core JRPG fans, and the menu systems backing them were clunky as hell.  If there’s any single thing I can point at that anyone would enjoy, it’d be the soundtrack.  It’s phenomenal.  If nothing else, this is another point that Nintendo had one hell of a 2017, giving us one of the best JRPGs of the year, warts and all.

Game Ramblings #35 – The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

More Information from Nintendo

  • Genre: Action/Adventure
  • Platform: Switch
  • Also Available On: Wii U

I kind of expected this one to not live up to the hype, especially given the reviews it was getting up to release.  However, for me it definitely nailed it.  Even given the quality of past Zelda games, this is a tremendously special game.

As far as open world games go, there’s a certain set of expectations involved with what you’re going to see as a player.  Most of them have some form of collecathon of things all around the world, a relatively loose structure in how you get between different quests, and more recently, some way to reveal portions of the map to the player as they explore.  Breath of the Wild certainly sticks to some of these conventions, but in doing so they’ve also shaped the conventions in a way that make the game still feel distinctly Zelda.

Nintendo went all the way with the story being entirely open world.  Once you finish the tutorial you’re given a couple quests as is typical of the genre.  What isn’t typical is that one of them is literally to go kill Ganon.  From this point forward, you can either explore and do things that will expand your repertoire, or you can literally go finish the game.  More than any other open world game I’ve played, this very quickly establishes the expectation here.  You can do whatever you want, whenever you want, and finish the game whenever you feel like it’s time to do so.  Everything else that is typical of Zelda games falls into this setup.  What also isn’t typical is that the tutorial gives you all of the items and skills you will earn within the game, upgrades not withstanding.

Despite some of the lead in news, dungeons are there, but you have to earn your way to them, and they can be done in any order.  The dungeons themselves focus more on puzzles than combat, and tend to be somewhat shorter than past games.  However, what they lack in length, they make up for in quality.  The core theme here is puzzles tied to environment manipulation.  Upon completion of the core puzzle, there is of course a boss fight, this time acting as proof of mastery of the skills earned at the start of the game.  While not being a necessity anymore, the quality of the dungeons absolutely made them worth completing, if for no other reason than the story elements they provide showing the past of the world.

It’s also worth nothing that despite the reduction in dungeon count and size, the world itself provides more than enough to cover this missing element.  Within the world you can find over 100 individual shrines to complete, as well as towers that provide the map viewing coverage typical of open world games.  While these things do provide the way to fast travel, these are also the main puzzle element present in Breath of the Wild.  Each tower tended to focus one on specific skill in manipulating the environment to get to the point where you could climb and complete the tower.  On the other hand, each shrine effectively acts as a fantastic mini dungeon, with a huge variety in what is available.  These ran the gamut of what was available in the game.  Some of the shrines were just simple combat rooms.  Some shrines had a focus on individual skills like manipulation of air for gliding, or the use of fire-based weapons to burn a path to the end.  Still some of them were there purely for amusement, like one physics-based minigolf shrine.  While completing the shrines did ultimately give rewards that resulted in heart and stamina upgrades, they also provided a nice way to break up the game as I traveled around the world of Hyrule.

Despite all the changes from the usual Zelda formula, the one that was most striking to me is how they changed the use of music in the game.  Outside of towns, there is hardly any music, apart from some sporadic piano melodies.  Even within towns, the music was typically fairly subdued, and the bulk of what could be called the soundtrack was composed of ambient noise from the abundant wildlife throughout the environment.  When the music does kick in though, they definitely aren’t shy about bringing in some hints of the past whether it’s night or day.  Overall while it’s not as in your face as is typical, this soundtrack is another memorable one in the books for this series.

What became quickly apparent playing this game was just how polished it was, and it’s always in the little details.  There’s a ton of wildlife around, and it’s not just there for show.  It can be hunted, and the supplies you earn from doing so can be cooked into food to heal Link in battle.  Because you CAN climb anywhere, you end up climbing just for the sake of it.  Because shrines are then typically glowing orange against the background, climbing anywhere typically gives you new goals on the horizon to go for, further providing you with new things to do.  Large scale bow aiming with the analog stick is there, but subtle motion controls provide an extremely fast and precise way to accurately aim in small amounts for things far in the distance.  Camps of enemies can be cleared in straightforward combat, but it’s also just as practical to roll a rock down a hill onto the group, send fire arrows into explosive barrels, or lead enemies into traps by chucking bombs into their midst.  Those are all little separate things, but I hope it’s making my point here.  The amount of polish in place is of a level that only a few other companies ever attempt to approach. This is on a level typical of companies like Naughty Dog or Rockstar, and I’d dare to say it surpasses them.

All that said, weapons that can break are still a terrible idea.  It’s not that weapons are hard to find in BotW, but when you’re trying to fight a boss and you run out of weapons from lack of preparation, it can be extremely frustrating.  This did push me to collecting Korok seeds to upgrade my inventory, and by the end of the game was a non-issue, but boy were early large scale fights super obnoxious when weapons started running out.

I’m the type of person that will pretty much buy hardware on launch without fail.  Regardless of how many games are coming out, there’s going to be something in there I want to play.  What is rare is that I recommend other people to buy hardware just for one game.  Breath of the Wild is one of those.  If you have neither a Wii U or a Switch, you should get one just for this game.  Go grab a system for yourself or go grab one from a friend.  Just find a way to go play this.