RPG Backtrack Sidetrack – December 2018 Edition
I have been working hard on catching up on games I promised everyone I would play for RPGBacktrack Sidetrack. I completed two of them, and got far enough in a third to discuss it in detail.
In October, I played Curse of the Azure Bonds, created in 1989 by SSI based off of the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons pen-and-paper game. The second game of the Forgotten Realms quartet, Curse of the Azure Bonds improved on its predecessor in a few ways. For me, the ‘Fix’ command ranks right at the top. It automates the process of healing the party while in camp, eliminating one of my main complaints from the first game. Aside from that, it provides a decent open world gaming experience allowing one to tackle its quests in whatever order they choose.
Players may opt to import their characters from Pools of Radiance, but I generally recommend against this as this game allows for greater flexibility in character creation than Pools of Radiance. With careful planning, I created a powerful, balanced party. Given the difficulty of the end fights, as well as the endurance needed for some of the longer dungeons, I felt validated in taking the time to do so.
In this game, your party awakens in a town with the titular azure bonds etched into their arms. Suffering from a bout of amnesia, they have few ideas as to how they became so marked. However, it takes little time to feel their effects as the bonds compel the party to attack a royal carriage! The rest of the game sees our heroes tracking down each of the five masters responsible for these tattoos, and the mastermind behind the entire operation. While I did not run into any major surprises, I enjoyed the plot well enough throughout the journey.
Curse of the Azure Bonds takes players from fifth level up through ninth. For casters, this adds a variety of additional spells to play with, adding more tactical options to combat. Unfortunately, fighters and rogues only earn a better chance to hit, and some additional hit points. The tactical combat feels a bit more satisfying in this game, however certain dungeons become repetitive grinds due to their high encounter rate. With that said, tougher fights require good party planning, a solid strategy for the fight, and a little luck. This makes victory feel quite satisfying, and the ability to save anywhere ensures that failure does not punish the player too harshly. I can definitely recommend this classic to anyone who enjoys old-school tactical RPGs, and I look forward to continuing the series with Secret of the Silver Blades in a few months.
For November, I played Wasteland 2, which InXile Entertainment released in September 2014 for the PC. Ironically, I kickstarted this game years ago, but never got around to playing it. As a fan of tactical RPGs, I wanted to show my support financially. After spending some time with it, I am glad that I did.
Wasteland 2 boasts a deep character creation system, though I felt I had to resort to an outside guide to better understand certain aspects and how they could impact my game. After that, the game immediately thrusts the player into a very rich world with a ton of dialogue. After a quick mission, I received marching orders to check out two locations. The first I chose, the agriculture center, provided a few hours of frustration. Numerous story objectives confused me. For example, at one point an NPC directed me to gather mushrooms from a basement area. That room had plenty of huge mushrooms, but I could not pick any up. I walked around the room, mousing over everything in an attempt to find one mushroom I could take with me. Much later, I discovered a side room with the quest objective. In another room, I spent nearly half an hour attempting to find out how to get past poisonous gas. I eventually found a tiny switch that blew it all away.
One of our friends in Discord pointed out pressing a certain key highlights items, switches, and doors. This helped immensely and I continued my journey. After completing that first area and earning a few levels, the game opened up a bit. Players can have two NPCs join, which I took advantage of. However, I wished I knew about them earlier, along with their skills, so I could better plan out a balanced party. One of the reasons I stopped playing before completing the game is that I decided to do just that on a future run-through.
Fans of games such as X-Com: Enemy Unknown may find the combat system a bit simpler by comparison. The tactical combat allows characters to exchange blows and shots with enemies wherever players happen to run into them. Having the best weapons and equipment makes a huge difference, so proper preparation helps immensely. A few boss encounters felt cheap, but other fights felt very satisfying. In one instance, taking on an enemy base head-on leaves the player at a distinct disadvantage which leads to wasted resources or outright death for the party. However, properly scouting out the area reveals a back entrance which allows the heroes to flank the gangsters, making the encounter much more manageable. Overall, I recommend Wasteland 2 for those who enjoy deep games, do not mind doing some research, and enjoy reading.
This month, I played Valkyria Chronicles. This title landed on the PC six years after its console release, following a trend of JRPG PC re-releases. This beautiful game features a unique blend of tactics, third-person shooter gameplay and RPG mechanics. On paper, this game sounds like everything I could hope for. Mostly, it met my expectations, but with a few wrinkles.
Told in typical JRPG fashion, Valkyria Chronicles follows Squad 7, a unit in Gallia’s military attempting to defend its lands from the evil empire. While the plot feels cliche, the characters in Squad 7 are fun and likable. On more than one occasion, I felt for them as they went through the highs and lows of their struggles with the enemy and their own feelings. However, I felt taken out of the experience a few times when anime antics would pop up right after a very heavy moment.
Like many, I was instantly hooked by Valkyria Chronicles‘ unique approach to combat. Players have a number of different classes with various strengths and weaknesses requiring planning and strategy for some of the tougher battles. However, I felt frustrated that most battles did not actually call for such tactics. Most early battles were easily and quickly won by having a buffed scout rush to capture the enemy camp. This approach awards the player with the highest rating, offering triple the rewards. Other maps had wicked bosses with unique mechanics which felt more like a puzzle than a tough battle requiring tactics. For those, a playthrough or FAQ would be needed to figure out the enemy’s mechanics, weakpoints, and patterns. Once known, the player could easily win the battle without much effort, robbing the game of satisfaction normally associated with a well played tactical fight.
With that said, the characters, art, and sound design won me over. I wanted to see what would happen to Squad 7 and the ending left me a lot more satisfied than many of the fights. Given the low price of this game these days on the PC, I can easily recommend it.
Starting in January 2019, this article will turn into the CRPG Club Wrap Up. Each month, I play through a PC RPG and invite you to join me in the discussion. You can read more about the new CRPG Club where we plan to play Final Fantasy VI, Secret of the Silver Blades, and The Witcher over the next quarter.