Whatcha Playing: June 2019
RPGamer’s recurring feature providing a look at what the staff is playing on their own time is back. I spent my month playing Judgment for review, but other writers have been tackling games like Cadence of Hyrule, Call of Cthulhu, and Bravely Second.
With that introduction out of the way, whatcha playing?
Anna Marie Privitere
When Cadence of Hyrule ~ Crypt of the NecroDancer Featuring The Legend of Zelda ~ was initially announced, I was both excited and daunted. I love Zelda, but I’m terrible at rhythm games; I was torn as to whether this game would be a good fit for me. I’m happy to report it is, due to a new playstyle mode added specifically for the title.
To play Cadence of Hyrule, players must take actions (moving, using classic Zelda tools, and attacking) on each beat; I was awful at this and died repeatedly. Instead, I switched the game to Fixed Beat mode, which plays closer to a Mystery Dungeon game. When my character took actions, enemies took actions — essentially one “beat” at a time, but it didn’t need to line up to the rhythm of the music (though doing so felt really good).
With the alternate playstyle, I quickly began to progress through the game. Each run of Cadence of Hyrule features a procedurally generated map, where four bosses must be defeated to acquire four musical instruments. With two dozen remixed Legend of Zelda tracks, I happily bopped and bobbed along my way, acquiring classic Zelda tools like bombs, a bow and multiple types of arrows, a hookshot, and a boomerang. These could be used to solve puzzles, collect heart pieces, or attack enemies. I also acquired a variety of weapons straight from the original Crypt of the NecroDancer like daggers and rapiers, eventually settling upon a spear imbued with poison, boots that let my character float for a short amount of time, alongside various rings and torches depending upon what I found was handy at the time.
Speaking of Zelda, she’s one of three playable characters! Take the stage as Zelda, Link, or Cadence, the heroine from Crypt of the NecroDancer. Alternatively, two-player co-op can support any duo of those three characters. Cadence of Hyrule makes me feel like I’m back in the Hyrule I loved from Link to the Past and Link Between Worlds, and I can’t wait to do another run soon! Zelda fans will feel right at home here.
A trio of games caught my attention this past month and kept my end-of-school-year quite busy with a wide variety of game types. I started the month with Atelier Lulua, took a couple of weeks to finally beat Dragon Quest Builders, and ended with the new Super Neptunia RPG. All had been ones I’d looked forward to for a while now, so I was glad for the extra time to get into them. Of the three, I am most surprised at how much I thoroughly and completely enjoyed Dragon Quest Builders!
Dragon Quest Builders has been the black mark on my Dragon Quest fan card for three years now. I’ve played every main game, side entry, overseas mobile titles, and even imported more than a couple of cartridges, enjoying and beating them all. But not Builders. Maybe it was because it released at an odd time near the start of my Master’s Degree program and around the time of Dragon Quest VII released on the 3DS, and maybe it was due to my lack of interest in Minecraft, but I only played it a bit and set it aside. With Dragon Quest Builders 2 out next month though, I decided to power through it, because that’s what true Dragon Quest fans do, right? Luckily I’d received a Vita code for Dragon Quest Builders a couple of years back from a Twitter contest and finally decided to redeem it to bring with me on my summer vacation.
Here I was, almost three years after this game first released and didn’t interest me, and I had a hard time putting it down. My sons hovered over my Vita nightly asking what I was building or what useful item the dead Slime or Green Dragon turned into. Difficult actiony boss battles kicked my turn-based-loving butt, and I eagerly went back for more, playing up to five hours nightly. What an awesome homage to Dragon Quest I this game was — the RPG that started my favorite series. I went from start to finish in under two weeks and totally surprised myself with how much I loved my time with the game. I’m excited I only have a few short weeks to wait for the next installment!
I spent the entirety of June preparing for Summer Reading Club at my work. Librarians man, gotta get those kids a-readin’ all summer long. When I was drowning in prep for work, I would come home and play nothing but Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age. I am happy to report that I have since completed the main story, and definitely want to dig into the post-game content. Problem is, the only game that matters, Judgment, released and my love affair with it has already begun. #JRPGJuly can’t come soon enough, and Judgment is going to be the game of choice.
— Sam Wachter (@merrygodown) June 9, 2019
I will say that Dragon Quest XI has moved into the slot for my favourite Dragon Quest game, beating Dragon Quest IV. I was just so engrossed in the world building, the characters, and it had all of Dragon Quest‘s tropes, but modernized in a way that didn’t feel hokey or cheap. The amount of times I laughed during the game was plentiful, and Sylvando stayed my favourite character through the entire game. His plotline was so wonderfully handled and his life’s goal to bring smiles to the world made me smile all the damn time. In fairness though, I think every character got a wonderful subplot that was just so memorable, and I think they are moments I’m going to remember and perhaps discuss in a feature once I learn to balance this full-time job and writing time.
But seriously, best Dragon Quest ever.
I actually managed to get in more Super Paper Mario time than I thought I would this past month. It helps that it seems to be a fairly straightforward game. There are no turn-based battles like in its predecessors, but I’m not minding that as much as I thought I would. I’m currently up to Chapter 4-4, getting two more of the Pure Hearts needed to save the multiverse. Chapter 2 saw the defeat of one of Count Bleck’s lackeys, a shapeshifter named Mimi with a rather terrifying “true form.” Chapter 3 has to be the funniest part of the game thus far, but I’ll go into detail a little later.
In Super Paper Mario, beings called Pixls replace the partners from the prior two games. Rather than being based on classic Mario creatures, they have odd, geometric shapes. They have special abilities to interact with the overworld, such as providing hints, acting as bombs, grabbing items, and so forth. I find it a little disappointing that after the Pixls introduce themselves, most of them ceased to talk. Nintendo seemed to make up for this by stuffing as much personality into their introductions as possible. It’s still a far cry from having much of a chapter devoted to their story and making comments thereafter. One recent development, though, involves Mario’s first Pixl, Tippi. She seems to have a reserved personality, doing her job of providing information. During the events of Chapter 3, Mario and friends save her from the creepy super nerd Francis. She is so grateful and starts to open up more to the others. It’s a neat bit of character development I wasn’t expecting. I can also forgive the lack of Pixl personality because, for the first time since the original Super Mario RPG, Peach and Bowser accompany Mario and are playable characters. They provide some amusing commentary and it’s fun to see their reactions to the bizarre worlds they visit.
To explain more about Chapter 3, the aforementioned chameleon named Francis kidnapped Tippi because he thinks she’s a rare butterfly. When Mario and the gang arrive at his castle, they see that other than butterflies, he loves cats, computers, science fiction shows, comic books, video games, and anime. After finding the keys needed to get into the room Tippi is being held in, the security system will only let Peach in, since she qualifies as a “hot babe.” Francis is completely flabbergasted when he sees Peach, then remembers he created a program to help him talk to girls.It turns the situation into a dating sim. He awkwardly talks about his hobbies until Peach bemusedly asks who is picking her dialogue options, then demands he gives Tippi back. I just lost it and laughed out at the whole scene. I never expected a Mario game to have a dating spoof in it. Heck, I’m surprised I only learned of this now. Super Paper Mario is twelve years old. The “I love going on message boards and complaining about games I’ve never played!” screenshot from this very chapter has been passed about the web since the game was released, but the mock dating sim never spread? Anyway, after Francis was defeated, Tippi saved, and the Pure Heart obtained, the team ventures off into space for the next chapter.
I’m really liking Super Paper Mario thus far. I am quite enjoying this game’s puzzle solving, secrets, and wacky situations. The story is also shaping up to be something rather interesting. Between chapters are these odd conversations between two unseen people named Timpani and Blumiere. I can’t help but wonder how this connects to the main story. There are also hints that Count Bleck is something of a tragic figure, though I suppose I’ll find out how in due time. For now, I hope I’ll have more chances to put time into this game in the near future.
June was a tough month to get much serious personal gaming in, despite the fact that it’s the first month off school for me and summer seems like an endless stretch of gaming time. The difficulty stems from the massive time sink that is E3. First, there’s a whole week devoted to little more than travel, press conferences, show appointments, impression coverage, and figuring out where my next hot meal is coming from in between all that somehow. Once back home, the better part of another solid week is earmarked for getting back to real life and catching up on lots and lots of write-ups from the show; with three days’ worth of appointments to write about, there’s quite a bit of ground to cover.
Nonetheless, there was one pleasant surprise awaiting me upon my return back home. While I was in Los Angeles, a package arrived, care of RPGamer’s very own Chris and Anna Marie: Call of Cthulhu, a game I had wanted to play since it released last year, was finally mine. And play it I did, immediately installing it to my PS4 the very next day, and finishing about two or three days later, in-between bouts of article drafting.
Call of Cthulhu, from moment to moment, can be one of any number of things, from atmospheric supernatural mystery to awkwardly-signposted stealth game to an intriguing descent into madness; throw in banal gunplay, a sometimes-branching narrative with multiple playable characters, and even the odd puzzle or two, and you’ve got a hodgepodge of gameplay styles on your hands that can go from delightful to infuriating with the speed of an eldritch tentacle tearing a hole into the fabric of space. I wish so much that the designers had picked one pony to ride, and simply polished that experience as much as they could. Instead, we got a game that will please most people some of the time, when it isn’t busy skipping from one lane to another.
It isn’t all bad though, and what Call of Cthulhu delivered in its final handful of chapters actually goes some way towards making up for its occasional earlier shortcomings. Having played more than my share of Cthulhu-based games, video game and tabletop alike, and having read the odd Lovecraft story, I am pretty familiar with its creatures and lore. But seeing protagonist Edward Pierce teetering on the precipice of madness during the final few chapters was nothing short of brilliant; kudos to the designers that found ways of representing a shattered mental state in a video game. The cherry on the cuttlefish sundae was that during the very last chapter, after years of reading vague and impossible-to-picture descriptions of it, I finally set foot on the otherworldly island of R’lyeh (or at least what I assume to be R’lyeh). It was a highly memorable sendoff to an otherwise average-to-good edition of the Cthulhu Mythos, and I’m not sorry I visited Darkwater Island.
For me, June was a month of pure Borderlands 2. I’ve leveled up a Psycho and I’m working on a Gunzerker, but after cross-saving my Commando to the PS4, I hit the True Vault Hunter Mode running and it’s great. It’s so strange seeing critical hits doing more than 13,000 damage and it not killing the target but only shaving off a quarter of their health. I’m finding myself challenged way more than I did on normal, which is the point I guess, but my legendary equipment being so strong and yet not strong enough is crazy. I really did have to change up how I approach fights with the exception of using my turret. That thing just goes wherever and mows through baddies like a hot knife through butter.
The coolest part about playing Borderlands 2 right now is my brother has some time off from work and we’ve been playing basically the entire day. He never played the game before and it’s nice to have someone else who is very into it right now. Best of all it’s free for PlayStation Plus members this month so I’m hoping to see some other people playing like my nephew so I can watch the joy and craziness of Borderlands spread even further.
Lucas Tahiruzzaman Syed
I was in a funk waiting for Persona Q2 to come out and had about a week’s worth of waiting still ahead when Amazon coyly advertised Bravely Second: End Layer at just the right time, and at just the right price ($10 or less, if I recall correctly). I thought I’d romp around in it for a few days and then shelve it indefinitely for PQ2.
Yikes, how wrong I was.
Upon assessing within a few moments that the story was going to be unremarkable and that the main character was reprehensibly cloying — and recalling the user-friendly signposting of the original title — I began skipping cutscenes almost immediately, and have done so to this point (approaching the end of the game, with only two asterisks left to pillage and over 40 hours on the clock to groom a level 75-ish party, I have no idea what’s going on or what the heck that meta twist was all about). This was the first, and perhaps most significant, step towards completely embracing the subseries’ lauded modification options made available to the player so that they might customize their experience. Once I found the perfect place to grind, I found myself playing in a way that boiled down the JRPG gameplay loop to its most essential parts: (1) grind for abilities, stat increases, and money; (2) outfit your party with the gains from your grind; and (3) take on bosses.
Dungeons became functionally useless; I would fight one or two battles while traversing them to make sure I had a sense of any enemy skills that might be learnable for the Catmancy class, but otherwise had no need to fight (grinding aplenty had been done) and expend resources before getting to the boss. With a 0% encounter rate set, dark forests, rusty sewers, and dank caves revealed themselves to be, in fact, breezy little promenades through a few screens with a branching path here and there and maybe a puzzle or two.
Boss fights remain a thrill, testing my well-prepared party to the utmost; and the fact that I’m taking in very new builds every two or three bosses (with little to no preparatory combat in between to explore the new setup) keeps things fresh and interesting. Combat is also fast and furious since I find myself prioritizing offensive parameters at the cost of defense or magic resistance so that the pendulum of battle swings radically with every turn. One moment a boss has my party near death with a single attack; the next, I watch them fall to a single, well-prepared, and comically overpowered combo from my Pirate Swordmaster.
Lurking in the back of my mind, though, is the cynicism that this playstyle reveals… well, that’s not quite true; it’s not active cynicism so much as an admission that the sense of wonder which a JRPG world once held for me is not something I expect, frankly, from many games in the current climate. Apparently, I can be quite content, even engrossed, when simply given an efficient way to explore every nook and cranny of a fantastically well-curated set of bizarre job classes (there are some truly devious skill combos to be excavated from this game, all hiding in plain sight). As I approach the end- and post-game content, I might just pivot to an over-leveled party of all Performers so that I can devastate whatever final fight awaits with a quartet of smug, sunglass-wearing chibi brats.
Only a couple of games had my attention throughout the month of June as I’ve been gearing up for #JRPGJuly. One of them was Devious Dungeon 2, a 2D action-platformer game with randomly generated levels. However, the game that really caught my attention this month is an old Xbox game from 2005 known as Phantom Dust. It was re-released as free-to-play a couple of years ago on Xbox One and Windows.
Phantom Dust is a unique card-building action game where players set up an arsenal of different abilities to fight enemies in one of the game’s arenas. What I really like about the game is that, while the action can be frantic, there’s an interesting element of strategy involved using the abilities you have on hand while keeping track of your aura level, a resource that’s required to use these skills. New skills can be obtained by completing missions and using credits to buy them from a vendor. This ensures that there are a variety of strategies that can be used in battle.
I’d also be remiss to not mention the surprisingly interesting story, which is a post-apocalyptic tale involving lost memories, betrayals, and esper powers. In between missions, you can even talk to NPCs with names like Cuff Button, pH, and Chunky. There are even times where players will need to do missions with them in order to progress. While I still haven’t finished the game myself, I’d definitely recommend checking it out.
That’s all for this edition of Whatcha Playing. Whatcha Playing will be taking next month off, but that’s because we at RPGamer will be celebrating #JRPGJuly once again this year. Please join the discussion in the comments about the staff’s selections and what games you’re currently playing.