Shelved It #12 – Bravely Default II

More Info from Nintendo

  • Genre: JRPG
  • Platform: Switch
  • Also Available On: Windows

I hate when games waste the player’s time. JRPGs are notorious for it, but there’s ways to make the grind typical of the genre rewarding – either through good side content or fun combat. Bravely Default 2 never got to that point and was so actively trying to make the game not fun that I gave up at about the 8 hour mark. Even for a series known for grinding, this one was pretty egregious.

The core of BD2‘s combat is around saving and using turns in the future to defend through incoming damage then pop a bunch of attacks or heals at one time when things open up for you. In general, this works pretty great. During general trash fights, you find the weaknesses for the various enemies then do what you can to try and hammer through it in one turn. It’s a fun way to give some strategy to trash fights beyond just running in and hammering attack to win. Where this falls apart is in the way they structured boss fights.

One of the core defensive measures that the AI have is counters. For example, they may counter physical attacks giving them a chance to counterattack if you hit them with a weapon. The boss fights take this to a level that felt actively punishing. For example, the boss that had me shelving this game did the following:

  • Weakness to ground-based attacks, which are physical on the Vanguard class, but with a counter on physical attacks that deals AOE damage
  • Single-target physical counter on singing abilities, despite the fact that I had literally just earned the Bard class so from a natural player standpoint would therefore be exploring its use in my party
  • Counter on healing, despite the fact that the previous two counters basically required me to be doing AOE healing
  • AOE silence, which becomes super obnoxious when the counters have you tending towards just using magic

The strategy that ended up being the most practical was to just use stacked poison magic and get the boss to die to DOT damage. It’s slow and boring and your party is for the most part idle and tossing items, but you aren’t taking a ton of unnecessary damage.

It’s this kind of setup that just feels unnecessarily punishing to the player. The game spends the entire time encouraging exploration and use of weaknesses to kill enemies quick and effectively, then spends its time on bosses countering the weaknesses so you have to find some random bullshit mechanic to actually take out the boss. Your other choice when you hit these bosses if you simply have the wrong party setup is to instead backup and grind new classes to find the right combination. It’s a bit of a typical problem of wide-ranging class-focused JRPGs, but the design choices of BD2 exacerbate this. It’s especially negative when they are directly countering the things you just earned so you’re forever discouraged from really trying new toys. The entire process feels like it’s wasting your time leading up to these fights, because you could very well have just been focusing on the wrong thing without knowing that you’re screwing yourself over.

It feels like it should be a small thing to just get through the boss fights and move on, but it’s one of those things that will endlessly frustrate me in games like this. I want my JRPG boss fights to be challenging me to the limit of my abilities, but I want that to be because the fight is legitimately hard with however I choose to play. I don’t want to play guess the mechanic and then have to grind to come around to the fight. Once I hit that point where I’m annoyed by the big moments, I’m out. There’s plenty of other games for me to play that will respect the time I put in to them in a better fashion.

The original Bravely games had similarly punishing grind issues, so I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised. Those had both a ton of grinding, as well as unnecessarily long plots where they liked to tell you to redo the entire game half way through. What they generally didn’t have were such punishing mechanics attached to the core boss fights. Sure their bosses were hard, but stragies around exploiting the fight’s weakness mechanics weren’t generally just hard countered, and hard countered for multiple things. Bravely Default II just goes so overboard with the counters that the bosses stopped being fun, and extremely quickly. It left my in a place where I just didn’t want to continue playing the game. It’s one thing in a JRPG if the trash is on the boring side, but once the centerpiece fights become something that I don’t want to do, it’s time to shelve a game – even moreso when I’m only 8 hours in.

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.