Whatcha Playing: March 2019
With the long, slow decline of RPGamer’s forums, there are a few things that I’m lamenting the loss of; situations where Discord hasn’t successfully supplanted that most ancient of internet technologies. Most notable is the “What are you playing today?” thread where staff members and the RPGamer community would discuss games both old and new that had caught their attention. I always enjoyed reading that less formal take on what people were playing. Since participation on the forums doesn’t seem likely to reverse anytime soon, this recurring feature will attempt to capture a bit of that same experience in a new form. Each month, I’ll be asking the staff what games have currently caught their fancy and share it with our readers.
With that introduction out of the way, whatcha playing?
Mario & Luigi: Dream Team and Dragon Quest II
I actually finished not one, but two games this month, and March is only about halfway done! Granted, I started both in January, so it’s not much of a feat; never mind the random but long bouts of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.
I thought it would be appropriate to finish Mario & Luigi: Dream Team on Mar10 Day. I initially tried to squeeze in the game before a backtrack on the most recent M&L games, but it was too little, too late. Dream Team was released relatively early in the 3DS’s life, so the game has a lot of 3D effects. They are neat, but I only viewed them briefly on a regular 3DS, as I chiefly use a New 2DS XL these days. It’s a bit of a shame, but I can’t stand the original 3DS’s tiny screens anymore. Dream Team also makes a lot of use of the 3DS’s gyroscope, sometimes to my annoyance. Luigi plays a huge role in the game, which is cute to see since he tends to be the butt of jokes in the Mario & Luigi games. I had forgotten this game was released during the “Year of Luigi” anniversary back in 2014. Luigi exhibits special powers in the dream world, so he powers up Mario in combat, performs special battle techniques that involve several Luigi clones, and possesses objects to solve puzzles. The story is nothing too special, as it’s not as fun or laugh-out-loud funny as Bowser’s Inside Story, but I still chuckled here and there.
Mario & Luigi: Dream Team took a little longer than I would have liked, and the last boss was annoyingly long, but I still enjoyed the game a lot. Heck, I even found the fight against Dreamy Bowser fun, despite how often he healed himself. I did lose my first time, but I had (mostly) learned the timing needed to avoid/lessen damage as well as the best Bros. Attacks to use against him. This is generally how I play Mario & Luigi games. They aren’t difficult, but bosses can sometimes be tricky and I’ll need to repeat a fight. I like getting the better of them in the rematch, and the battle system is loads of fun either way. I still prefer Bowser’s Inside Story, but I enjoyed my time with Dream Team.
The second game I beat is Dragon Quest II: Luminaries of the Legendary Line. I have Dragon Quests IV-IX on DS and 3DS, and for the longest time I held out hope either for the Wii compilation of DQ I-III that was released in Japan or that the games would be put on Virtual Console. Both scenarios are now basically impossible, so I thought I may as well play them on my Android phone. I don’t like mobile gaming, save for Pokémon Go, but thought it would be better to play them on a phone. They are simple turn-based affairs, and at least for the first two games, they’re easy to pick up and play.
There’s not much for me to say about Dragon Quest II. I suppose it’s funny that I didn’t know until I started playing that the game had an elaborate subtitle. The game is a bit on the long side and the world map is rather large. I had a difficult time remembering where any of the locations were on the world map, other than towns which can be warped to. Finding new locations was a pain without walkthroughs. Yet I didn’t hate my time with the game. I think it’s neat to experience the history of a series in a direct way, though this is a prettier, more accessible format than the original NES version. Apparently, Dragon Quest III is one of, if not the most beloved entry in Japan, so I’ll look forward to it. First though, I finally need to start up Pokémon: Let’s Go Pikachu.
Unfortunately, for the last few days I’ve been sick and that’s put a damper on things for me. I’m trying to get through Xenoblade Chronicles 2 but I’m only playing that while streaming and without being able to breathe properly that’s just not an option. I was down in the dumps for a day, feeling miserable, being unable to breathe out my nose, headaches, and sneezing but I got the urge to play Persona 3 Portable. That urge was undeniable and soon I was knee deep in the life of the female protagonist Minako Arisato as she battled both shadows and normal teenage life.
I’ve never played the PSP version of the game before, and I haven’t touched the original Persona 3 in more than a decade, so it really feels like a new adventure to me. I don’t know who I’m shipping Ms. Arisato with, but so far I don’t think any of the guys are good enough for her. She’s a leader, dedicated student, part-time working girl with some incredible strength and resilience and all she has to choose from are a boxing jock with no ability to read a room and Junpei? Really? I felt like all the girls were worth getting to know in the original, but maybe I’m more picky for the lady because I’m older now and have developed some sort of fatherly affection and wish to have this child grow up properly loved and cared for.
I’m near the end of June now and I’m getting ready for my trek into the labyrinthine Tartarus to find some old documents, rescue some people who seem to have gotten trapped in it somehow, and just generally grind out levels and Personas. I’ve been using a guide to try and get as much done in this one file as I can and it doesn’t allow for many trips to the big bad monster hole. We just met the trio from Strega, which I remember very little about other than some spoilers for Junpei. I guess we have to clear the fog! Er, wrong Persona!
Dragon Quest XI (among others)
This month I’ve been in a mood where somehow I am in between two very long games and I wanna smack myself for doing that. I’m still working my way through Chapter 1 of Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel, but I’m not entirely sold on the game yet. Love the combat, characters seem okay, I think I need to push myself further to see if this one is going to gel with me or not.
The other long game I’ve started is Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age which I am loving the hell out of! I’m making great progress in Act One, as I’ve made it to Gondolia and picked up Sylvando as my next party member. I have to say, I’m really adoring this game and it’s definitely trying to sweep in and remove Dragon Quest VI as my fave Dragon Quest game. I adore Serena and Veronica, and I actually think Veronica in particular has the chance of becoming my new favourite character in the series. Alana current holds that title, and Torneko was a close second, but Veronica is the littlest spitfire that just slays me when she opens her mouth.
I also love how Toriyama’s art has been transformed into such a beautiful 3D world. It’s wonderful to be playing a PS4 RPG that pops with so much colour and vibrancy. I’m also invested in the story, which when it comes to Dragon Quest, feels unheard of. Most of the time there’s a lot of simplicity, but I feel like Echoes of an Elusive Age has a lot more going on than some of the previous games. I really cannot wait to continue my journey and see if this game becomes a new favourite!
Then I’ve been noodling around with Golf Story and I love it! I’ve never played Mario Golf before, and it took me a bit to get a feel for the controls (like being able to extend your swing felt fidgety at first), but the writing, oh my goodness, is so adorable and funny. I’ve just made it to Lurker Valley and was forced to do the kiddie course. I hope to finish this one soon, as it’s been a great bedtime game.
Lastly, I’ve been working through London Detective Mysteria, which was an otome game that XSEED released right at the tail end of last year. I’m really enjoying it so far and have been locked into Herlock Holmes’ route for this first playthrough. I’ll be sharing more of my thoughts in our Adventure Corner once I’ve completed my playthrough. Though, darn it game, I really wanted to date Watson, he was the cuter one!
Editor’s note: You can read Sam’s full thoughts on London Detective Mysteria in the latest Adventure Corner.
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
I honestly still have no idea what possessed me to start playing The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. I mean, I do know why; I promised myself I would beat all of the games I had left to beat on my Wii/Wii U console so I could sell the damn thing, but I admit that I was dreading coming to this game in particular. The thing that got me was that it’s the only Zelda game I’ve picked up and put down because it’s borderline unplayable. Alright, fine, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but seriously, have you ever tried this game?
The first time I worked on this game, back during its launch, I got to the Lanayru Desert for the first time, just a bit before the third dungeon. I dropped it, and never looked back. It pained me a bit inside, because like most Zelda games, Skyward Sword has an incredibly written story. The personalities of Link, Zelda, Groose, and the host of other characters are memorable, and the tale equally so. Flash forward eight years, and I’m giving it another go.
Unfortunately, I still absolutely detest the controls. They’ve never gotten any easier to handle. Do you know how incredibly frustrating it is to spend more than a few moments fighting a Deku Baba, all because it opens its mouth in weird ways? Never mind the fact that even if I can predict the opening correctly, my angle would be slightly off and no progress would be made. At least I have the beetle to sever the stems and defeat them, if I’m annoyed enough. I’ve never missed button mashing more in my life.
All that being said, I am further than I was before. I’ve completed the three “preliminary” dungeons, and am working on powering up my Goddess Sword with the spiritual flames. I’ve gotten one of those already, and, while I may be bitter, and my arms sore from flailing them about wildly, I am happy that I decided to give it another go. It’s a story I didn’t want to miss, and it’s proving to balance out my frustrations as a whole.
I want you to know that you are to blame for my current situation. Yes, you — or, rather, your no-holds-barred raving about a certain Japanese visual novel you were playing while we were recording an episode of RPGCast last year. See, I’ve been very much enjoying getting into some VN shenanigans, and you made it sound as if this zany game with its colorful cast, real-life photographic visuals, and wild unpredictability would be right up my alley. Well I’m writing you to let you know… you were absolutely right!
428: Shibuya Scramble is essentially a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure visual novel set in and around the Shibuya area of Tokyo, particularly the world-famous Shibuya Scramble. On the surface, it’s a mystery thriller about a kidnapped girl and the detective who has been assigned to investigate the case. But there is so, so much more to it than that! Right from the game’s first time block (the game is broken down into sequential hours that mark the passing of time, rather than traditional chapters), players can jump back and forth between two different protagonists — police detective Kano and Achi, a street-smart ex gang-banger who unwittingly gets involved by being in the wrong place at the right time. As the story runs into dead ends, it’s possible — required, even — to jump back in time and from character to character to make different key decisions that let events play out differently, avoiding these Bad Ends and progressing the story. There’s a lot to keep up with when juggling two characters simultaneously, but as the first time block leads into the second one, 428 had a special surprise up its sleeve for me.
From this point onwards, the game expands from two playable characters to a full cast of five! Kano and Achi’s stories continue, and they are joined by the self-absorbed freelance journalist Minorikawa, straight-arrow scientist Osawa, and the fluffy cat mascot Tama. I don’t often geek out about video games, but getting to play as Tama made me literally pump my fist in celebration — can you guess whom I picked first? It’s not clear at first how the characters’ stories tie together, but that’s part of the beauty of slowly unraveling their twisted plotlines over the course of many hours; and with five protagonists all influencing each others’ timelines, things can get very twisted, very fast. The supporting cast is no less enthralling, and I have a strong feeling that Tama’s afro-headed over-the-top boss Yanagishita is going to end up being one of my favorite video game characters of all time. I still get the biggest smile on my face when he unexpectedly shows up in any other character’s story and his slapstick theme begins playing!
One of my favorite aspects of the game is its deliberate tonal changes, which can see you changing from a grisly scene of mass murder immediately into a wacky comedy routine accompanied by accordion music. It’s just par for the course with the cast, each of whom has their very own overarching feel or vibe. The choice to go with actual photographs of real-life actors supports this as well, and it’s a joy to see how some of them (thinking Yanagishita again here) have no trouble hamming it up for the camera. If there’s anything I would like to have seen dialed down, it’s the extreme — and often very unflattering — close-ups of the actors that really bring out every pore of skin, every untrimmed fingernail, and sometimes even straight shots up their nostrils — far more than I really ever wanted to see.
Josh, I’m happy you shared your enthusiasm for this game, which deservedly needs to be played by anyone who enjoys a good visual novel. I’m relishing spending an hour or two with it at a time, and being able to take a break when the occasionally plodding narrative becomes a bit much, and I’m thankful there is enough content here to make me come back in this manner for day after day, week after week. I suppose I’ll probably finish the last two or three chapters in the next few days though, so I’d like to end with a request that you begin thinking of your next great game recommendation for me to follow!
Now I have to go hum along to some more Aya Kamiki. Take care,
I’ve always stayed away from Kingdom Hearts because it seems like an experience not geared towards me. I’m not a huge Disney fan nor much of a follower of Square’s properties so I avoided it back in the day because it seemed like it is made for the fans of at least one if not both of those entertainment goliaths. With the release of Kingdom Hearts III, I admit that curiosity has gotten the better of me to learn what all of the fuss is about. So I picked up a copy of The Story So Far and I’ve been playing it a bit when I’ve had time between review projects; attempting to fill in this hole in my RPG knowledge.
Despite starting Kingdom Hearts Final Mix more than a decade after the original released on the PlayStation 2, I still have managed to have very little of the game spoiled. There are some things a follower of games will pick up via osmosis — Sora is the main character and he travels from one Disney-inspired world to another with Donald Duck and Goofy — but I really didn’t know much about the plot going in. Maybe because of my lack of knowledge I was expecting lots of Disney everywhere, so I was dumbfounded by the slow opening of Kingdom Hearts. There are a lot of rote fetch quests and typical JRPG setup before getting to the Disney parts which, even to a non-Disney fan like me, were what I was looking forward to experiencing. Also, I was gobsmacked by how bad the mechanics are. It’s hard to put myself back in the mindset of what games were like in the PS2 era, but Kingdom Hearts certainly compares unfavorably with modern action RPGs. The controls are loose, the jumping floaty, and the camera is a reminder of all the worst of the 3D action games of that era. The loose controls combined with a slow camera make some of the early boss fights way more frustrating than they should be.
Despite the raft of issues, I have to admit that the Disney worlds are a ton of fun. They really capture the feel of the movies. Poking around Wonderland or fighting through Hercules’ colosseum trumps the myriad of other problems the game has. Kingdom Hearts may just be concentrated fan service, but I have to admit that it is really effective. Despite my issues with the gameplay, I’m enjoying it a lot more than I expected and once I get past this backlog of review games I plan on coming back to it.
Anna Marie Privitere
Dragon Quest Builders was a game I’d dabbled with on PS4, but it didn’t really hook me — with so much to do in the game, I got a little lost. What materials did I need? What enemies are worth killing? The sheer amount of choices was a little daunting, and I lost my direction quickly.
When I received a Switch copy, I decided to get that needed focus, and quickly made my way through the first region. Suddenly Dragon Quest Builders was fun! I quickly caught on to the game’s rhythms and with minimal assistance made it through the second and third region as well.
Now I’m finally wrapping up the fourth region, at the heart of the DragonLord’s power, and I’m really appreciating how well designed the game is. Even though all the different regions have the same ingredients and generally the same enemies, each still manages to feel fresh, due to the fact your Builder character must start anew each time, and because the NPCs and their silly little narratives breathe a real life into the game — without which Dragon Quest Builders would feel a little stale.
I’m happy I decided to give the game a second chance, and it definitely makes me look back at my log of games from the last couple of years, wondering if there’s anything else I should be revisiting…but with so many new games arriving and a backlog, sometimes it’s hard to justify trying something again. At least with this game, I’m glad I got the nudge!
Yo-kai Watch 3 (and many more)
Yo-kai Watch 3 continues to be a source of joy and fun. It’s a bit bittersweet that this series should hit its stride after the 3DS is in its last days, and really there isn’t a ton of hope it will find too many fans at this point. It’s a wonderfully entertaining game which would be best described as Pokémon’s goofy cousin. Puns litter the game constantly, and it never takes itself too seriously.
I’ve also begun to play Tom Clancey’s The Division 2, which has been refreshing after dealing with many issues playing the cool but flawed Anthem. Not changing too much from its predecessor, it’s full of missions and other activities to partake in around the devastated landscape of Washington D.C. There’s tons of loot to gather, and a revamped version of the infamous PVP mode from the first game, the Dark Zone. The new soundtrack is fantastic, adding a great epic feeling to confrontations. Though not much different from its predecessor, The Division 2 has been a blast so far.
I’ve also been playing lots of Hero shooters, but I’ll wait to hear from readers to see if anyone wants to read about them from me.
The Wheels Digital TCG Report
The last expansion for Hearthstone kind of hit with the impact of a feather hitting steel. Though it had interesting cards, it failed to impact the meta too much, even after numerous nerfs. So, at this point I think Hearthstone is in desperate need of the next standard rotation, which thankfully hits very soon. Even better news is that two of the most meta warping cards ever released for the game (that gave you a cheaper/better hero power if your deck contained only even/odd cards) are thankfully leaving standard a full year early. The upcoming standard rotation looks to be quite exciting, essentially dumping all the top-tier decks into the void. The new meta is anyone’s guess, and such times are truly exciting for TCGs.
Though there are a few annoying decks, largely the digital landscape of the online Pokémon TCG has had a vast and diverse meta for quite some time. What you’ll run into when queuing up for regular play ranges from typical tournament fair, to strange experiments where people are trying desperately to break certain cards. The recent Team-up expansion injected even more interesting decks into the mix. Adding powerful Tag-team Pokémon such as Pikachu and Zekrom, all sorts of new decks have popped up in recent months. There’s never been a better time to jump into this venerable online TCG.
That’s all for this inaugural edition of Whatcha Playing. Please join the discussion in the comments about the staff’s selections and what games you’re currently playing.
Joe Hanley, reporting for duty!
Oh no! I missed the cutoff on this feature! I’ll try to get on it next month. I have a preorder on MK11. Anyways, here’s a list of what I’ve been playing:
Castlevania: Harmony of Despair – It’s not the best Castlevania game (which is SotN) or my favorite one (which is also SotN), but it’s now backwards compatible on Xbox One and I enjoy it.
Destiny 2 – I decided to give Forsaken another shot and I’m glad I did. Made it to Dreaming City, got the Annual Pass on sale, got the Hammerhead machine gun, and did some Gambit Prime matches.
Diablo – I still have my original disc, but the new GoG.com version doesn’t crash!
The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion – Replaying this flawed masterpiece on Xbox One X. It looks GORGEOUS with the X Enhancements!
The Messenger – This homage to Ninja Gaiden is challenging and fun. Starts off very linear, but then goes full on Metroidvania, with time travel!
Ni No Kuni 2 – I finally got around to playing this, and it does not disappoint! Feels like I’m playing a Studio Ghibli movie! Looks and performs great on PS4 Pro.
Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire – Finally finished it, review forthcoming.
Red Dead Redemption 2 – Played a few hours, got through the prologue. It’s more complex and has a steeper learning curve than I was expecting, but I do like it. Will keep playing.
Toe Jam & Earl: Back in the Groove – I will simply say that I like it. Stays faithful to the original. Exactly what I wanted and expected.
How do you play so many things at once???
Poorly. My completion rate is atrocious.
I just want to say I came back to this to reference my last segment, and I RELATE TO THIS STATEMENT SO HARD. This is why I have things like Backloggery.
Will this feature come back? I liked it!
My Magic 8 Ball says…check back REAL soon…