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.
Still one of the more interesting JRPG battle systems I’ve ever seen with a heavy emphasis on moving and grouping enemies for AoE attacks.
Good selection of new content for returning players that is well integrated into the mainline story for new players.
Doesn’t do anything to inherently fix the grind of the original game, but a new Friendly difficulty opens up some interesting potential for JRPGs to pull from.
Admittedly this is a game I shelved the first time around. It’s not that it was bad; in fact its battle system alone makes this game at least worth checking out. However, in the base difficulty this game is EXTREMELY grindy. Fights are mechanically interesting, but can be slow. Damage is large, so healing is often necessary. Healing burns mana, so items are necessary. Items cost money, so money is necessary. Running out of money necessitates more fighting, so you’re stuck in a loop. Generally speaking, it wasn’t even the bosses that were an inherent problem. It was usually just getting to the point where taking out trash in a new chapter felt reasonable without being a huge risk.
So, does the remake solve that? Nope. Does it do anything to really change the game mechanically? Nope. What it does so is add a new Friendly difficulty that is entirely too easy, but brings in some really interesting mechanics to eliminate the need to grind, and is something I hope to see more games explore in the future.
Since this is a JRPG, I feel like I should start off with combat as it was and still is one of the strong points of this game. Radiant Historia pretty cleverly mixes pretty standard JRPG mechanics with a very tactics-styled positioning system into a quick hitting system where the focus becomes trying to maximize stacking of enemies to allow for multiple hits in one attack.
While the core system has your standards (basic attacks, magic attacks, heals, buffs/debuffs, etc), the real core of the system is in repositioning attacks. Pretty early on all the party characters gain attacks that can move enemies around the board. Enemies that are repositioned into each other are then treated as single units for purposes of attack location, allowing for stacked enemies to all be damaged at one time. This then combines with turn order manipulation, either via speed stat, skills to delay turns, etc to chain friendly attacks, and the real focus comes down to basically trying to stack all enemies at once into a single spot and unleashing hell.
As an example, in the screenshot above, I could use Fire Storm to move the whole back line forward, then use line attacks to kill all 4 enemies at once. Alternatively, I could push the front guy back and do the same against the full back line. Other bonuses come into play (front line takes more damage but also does more damage) to allow for more nuanced strategies over the course of a full fight, but the core is in smart positioning for maximizing damage output.
All of these things elevate what would be a typically standard battle system into something truly special, and even in the grindy areas of the game allow for a lot of fun, particularly with the on-the-go nature of the DS family, allowing for a few interesting battles in a few minutes if that’s all the time the player has.
On the story side, this game is entirely about manipulation of time. The game takes place in a split timeline where you have unlimited attempts to set things right, so dying is really not a huge deterrent. However, each timeline has its own problems to solve, and problems that can unblock progress in the other timeline. In addition, there are distinct losing points (red nodes in the above) where the story progress effectively ends, forcing a restart at the nearest chapter.
Overall this works as a good way for the player to have freedom in their choices. Hit a block in the story and can’t figure it out? Find a spot where a new side path can be completed elsewhere in the timeline, and you might be able to unblock things. Difficulty spike means you need to level up a bit? Jump back to an earlier point in the timeline where battle grinding is more practical. The freedom of choice to jump around like that is a thing that a lot of JRPGs don’t really give, and its an effective tool here when combined with the story background of jumping through time.
This is all maintained really well in the remake, and is padded by some additional new content both in the main timeline and in a new set of side stories labeled as possible histories. For returning players, this is the bulk of the content that they’ll be coming back for. While these aren’t story bits tied to the main line, they’re an interesting look at what could have been within the overall structure of the world. In addition, the woman running the Dunamis also provides a path to learning more about the history of the world the game takes place in, opening a path for some more interesting lore. However, this alone wouldn’t have been enough for me to come back for more grinding. The addition of Friendly mode was the real thing that brought me back.
The entire idea behind Friendly mode is that it provides a path for the player to skip unimportant battles. In the base game, if the player hits a unit on the field, they gain a preemptive strike to allow them to attack first in battle. While this was helpful, it didn’t eliminate the need to spend resources while grinding. Friendly mode takes this one gigantic step further. In this mode, if the user strikes an enemy in the field, they automatically win the battle, gain XP, and gain all relevant resources that would have normally dropped. The end result of this is that the only combat the player ever takes place in will be for boss battles and story-relevant battles, leaving the rest of the game to exist as a way to enjoy the story and figure out the time-based puzzles.
I’ve seen this mode described as the visual-novel version, and I think that’s about as close to accurate as I could come up with. The game becomes significantly shorter in this mode, and the story comes at a much more rapid pace, so I found myself being significantly more involved in enjoying the story as it came at me, rather than having huge grinding delays between story segments. It then felt even more important to be in battle, as it always felt like it served the story at that particular time, rather than being a consequence of needing to level up the party.
End of the day, I think this is something that more JRPGs should explore as a core feature going forward. The reduction in grind meant the game flowed much quicker and I never lost the story. If I WANTED to battle, I could also simply run into an enemy on the field and start battle, but it was a conscious choice. The one real downfall of Friendly mode is that it was also combined with an extremely lowered difficulty. Ideally, the Friendly mechanics would be combined with boss battles that are tied to the selected difficulty, leaving the challenge there where the player wants with the streamlined battle selection. However, for a returning player simply wanting to see the story, I think the lowered difficulty ended up being pretty ideal for me in most areas.
I guess this is a pretty easy one for me. This was a great game when it originally came out, and it’s a great game now. The problems that existed are still there, so if you’re a new player be ready for some grinding. If you’re a returning player, this is a <20 hour run with the addition of Friendly mode, allowing for the focus to be on enjoying the narrative. However, I think there’s enough there for anyone to enjoy to generally recommend it, assuming of course you haven’t sold off your 3DS.
Faithful remake with the right mix of visual polish without losing the soul of the original
Battle system still holds up, particularly against the newer entries that went more experimental
Bowser’s Minions portion of the game well made, but feels more suited towards mobile
I suppose the TL;DR really should have read – If you enjoyed the original, you’ll enjoy the remake – because that’s really all there is to it. The fact that this game is enjoyable is not a mystery. In its GBA form it was well received for funny dialogue, a great battle system, and a visual style that brought the world to life. All of that moves itself to the 3DS perfectly well, with some enhancements to the visuals and audio that make this feel a lot more modern. In addition, the new Minions mode does add a particularly nice tie in to what happened to the typical enemy cast of the game while the Mario Bros were out adventuring, even if the mode feels more suited to a mobile device. All in all, this is a solid remake that folks holding onto their 3DS will find worth playing.
For anyone that hasn’t played these games before, like any JRPG the battle system is really the core of what made the gameplay so special, and it’s standard turn based with a twist. Like Super Mario RPG on the SNES, button inputs at the right time can provide both offensive and defensive capabilties, in this case tied to A and B for Mario and Luigi respectively. The combat in place here was probably as simple as the series had, but the simplicity was also its strength. The core moves were easy to pull off and strong (jumps, hammer attacks, and fire/ice ball attacks). Moving up in complexity and strength, the brothers can combine to do Bros Attacks, involving more intricate combo and timing segments to pull off large damage. This pattern of A and B for each brother then goes into the entire game, whether it’s character-specific actions during combo attacks or actions taken in the overworld for traversal purposes.
Speaking of which, the overworld actions are still a lot of fun to use, and end up being the big puzzle push for the game. Most puzzles tend to be fairly basic, and generally involve whatever the latest power the bros gained, but they provided a nice break in the action that wasn’t just straight battle grinding. By the end of the game the brothers had a set of 10 traversal abilities, giving the inevitable Bowser’s Castle run a huge amount of flexibility in the use of different powers.
As far as changes go, there were some dialog changes, a few additional side quests, and the more obvious sound and visual upgrades. However, the big addition was the Bowser’s Minions portion of the game. Within the first couple hours, this mode is unlocked, and then runs as a separate independent mode with its own new (and entertaining story). From a gameplay perspective, it’s a simple mode of assembling a squad of minions and having them faceoff against an enemy squad. They can be one of three types, giving us an advantage triangle not too dissimilar to Fire Emblem. The fight then automatically goes, with the player really only occasionally interfering, whether to block special attacks or do a timed input for a damage bonus.
In general, the mode is mechanically solid, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that it would have worked out a lot better as a phone game, and that’s the biggest problem I had with it. Each battle is a generally quick hitting segment, with maybe a few minutes of story the first time you play, then combat lasting maybe a minute or two per battle. Given the size and number of units you can get, it then encourages you to keep replaying the battles to level up units. Victory grants more units, as well as beans used as a type-specific XP boost, allowing for even more growth of the party. In general, this feels perfect for a phone where you’d fire it up to play a couple levels then be done, and less perfect for the 3DS where it’s still just a sub mode to the much deeper main game. And I’m being serious when I say I’d absolutely play this on my phone because it is a lot of fun.
There’s really not much to say here. If you liked a previous Mario & Luigi or enjoyed the original release at all, this is still a great game. The battle system is really solid, the writing is often times hilarious, and there’s a ton of content to be had here. It also shows that the gameplay of the first couple games in the series is likely what I consider the pinnacle of the series, with a couple of the more experimental entries on the 3DS perhaps going a bit too far away from the core. Hopefully this means Nintendo is considering a more traditional entry looking forward to the Switch, but if the worst we get is another remake then I suppose we’re still doing pretty good.