#JRPGJuly 2019 – Week 1 Round-up
Welcome to another another year of everyone’s favourite monthly gameathon. #JRPGJuly is hosted by Anne Lee @ Chic Pixel, and once again the RPGamer team is showing their support for the event by playing some JRPGs. Here’s how week one went for the RPGamer staff!
Lucas Tahiruzzaman Syed
I was supposed to start Shadow Hearts: From the New World as my main squeeze for #JRPGJuly, but between a weekend trip and some extra work commuting, portability won out — the Phantom Thieves are once again stealing my heart in Persona Q2: New Cinema Labyrinth. I’m only a few floors into the first dungeon, so consider this very much a “first impressions” take.
I’ve always loved the Etrian series’ overall sound design, particularly the decision to make the dungeon-crawling music so dang chill, and Shoji Meguro’s toe-tapping style fits in perfectly. I also made sure to download the free battle music DLC, giving me access to a generous number of fondly-remembered tracks from the past three main Persona titles and even a few from the original Persona Q. The game anticipated my enthusiasm for the series’ battle music with a delightful option to randomize the background music with every encounter, an excellent quality-of-life feature that really is helping me mainline nostalgia. If only my old 3DS (the original model) didn’t have such miserably poor audio output! (Does anyone else have this problem?)
On to the game itself: it’s exactly as I expected and in a good way. There are subtle but effective additions to the combat system that keep things fresh and impressively different from the source series from which it has been Frankensteined. It also seems to be doling out the massive roster of playable characters much more gradually than its predecessor; I’m determined to change up my party very frequently this time around, and the implementation of sub-personas is a great way to encourage this, being a sort of modular character customization feature that can be easily swapped between characters so that fundamental restrategizing is not necessary every time one decides to tag folks out. I’ll be exploring these gameplay aspects, and others, in detail throughout the month!
I haven’t played a traditional, long-haul JRPG for some time, but Octopath Traveler spoke to my nostalgia (and, being July, ‘tis the season). So far I’ve gathered all eight characters and started on my first chapter 2 quest, Therion’s grand heist. I chose the surly thief as my starting character, since stealing usually leads to the best secrets. Now that I’ve played for a little bit, starting with Alfyn the chatty apothecary or Cyrus the insightful scholar would have better prepared me for uncovering the humanity that really makes a setting come alive.
As beautiful as this game is, many of the towns and dungeons feel flat. Their depth only becomes clear through character abilities like Alfyn’s Inquire. After learning the secret lives of a bunch of inhabitants of this strange, little world, I care less that all of the starting towns are equidistant, and all of the starting quests are very similar. With the game’s heart and soul, and eight tutorial quests under my belt, I’m looking forward to greater challenges and more in-depth exploration of the mechanics.
I received the first blow to my pride in the boss battle for Therion’s second chapter. I was playing under my usually sound (if off-kilter) JRPG technique of adventuring with my favorite characters, even if there were more advantageous builds. Surely a hunter, a thief, a scholar, and a merchant-scholar could defeat anything that threatens their journey! This was… not the case. Without the support of a dedicated healer, all of my desperate gambits eventually failed. On the plus side, my failure has given me opportunity to dig into the combat sub-systems like boosting, vulnerabilities, and staggering out my breaks. Onward to week 2 and greater glory!
Judgment and Suikoden II
Judgment has been an interesting experience so far. I’m well into Chapter 6 and the mystery is definitely starting to ramp up, but I am finding the detective gameplay to be a bit… sloppy at times. Tailing has never been fun in a game ever (I am looking at you, Assassin’s Creed), and while Judgment is forgiving about it, it’s still not fun to do. I also hate the chase elements, which again are not fun when you are hitting the left stick correctly and the game says you fail. On the plus side, the side cases are awesome story-wise, and the amount of times I have chased one man’s wig is an impressive feat. I hope to make more progress over the weekend because the investment I have in the game’s story is definitely high.
I am also replaying Suikoden II, and god, I love this game so much. This replay has been like comfort food, and my memories of childhood are coming back in full force. I’ve hit the point in the game where Two River City has become divided and Riou is tasked with trying to get Lord Makai and Lord Ridley back on the same page. It’s also where we meet the obnoxious (and delightful) winger, Chaco, who steals your wallet and reminds you that adults behave like babies and they need to get their crap together. Wise words from a fourteen-year-old, eh?
One of my favourite gameplay elements in Suikoden II is the military battles, as I think they are the right kind of challenging. They are strategic and difficult, but don’t feel unfair. They also offer amazing story elements that still keep you engaged, and the dialogue, for all of its awkward use of exclamation points, still does an amazing job of conveying that war is hell, and the most vulnerable are always the ones to pay the price. Next post, I’ll try and remember to mention how many Stars of Destiny I have. I cannot wait to play more and be reminded of my favourite story beats.
I’m gaming in waves for Final Fantasy XIV, it seems. Each time I try and pick the game back up, life gets in the way somehow. This month I’m making a commitment to try and finish Heavensward. (Don’t judge me!) I’m near the end of it, I promise. Then onto Stormblood, which I’m told is fantastic. I love the storylines of Final Fantasy XIV more so than anything else about the game so I’m itching to get back into it.
Apparently it’s been so long that I had to spend the first hour online redoing all my settings and hotbars, because, for some reason, Square Enix decided to forget I existed. I even had to choose my Data Center. Although white mages have lost a lot of spells, it took less time than expected to rebuild my hotbar. I was afraid of losing so many spells I had grown accustomed to using in the past, but I actually feel less stress and much more at ease with my new current set. Yoshi P wants white mages to be true healers, but as long as I have Holy, Stone, and Aero, I’m good. Fewer spells to learn and figure out the best time to use makes me a happier white mage. It was getting ridiculous with how many hotbars I had.
Finally getting out there, I was tired and just decided to unlock blue mage since it was the first quest I ran into. This was the perfect quest to do while getting used to the game mechanics again. My first thought was how naked I felt without Protect since it was taken away from white mages (and only available in PvP now). That will take the most getting used to, I feel.
Erik van Asselt
This week I booted up my PlayStation Portable and played the original version of Final Fantasy Tactics for #JRPGJuly. I have started this game many times before, but never gotten far into it. Not that I hated the game, but there was always something else that needed a bit more attention. But not this month.
The first thing that drew me into the game was the job system. Every character you have can change their job and learn certain abilities. These abilities can be mixed and matched with your other classes. For example, Ramza, the main character, learned how to apply potions when he trained as a chemist. Later I changed his class to a monk, but gave him the option to still apply potions if needed. And trust me, you can go pretty wild with these job combinations.
In my army, there are two recruits who need a bit more of an introduction: Pierre and Kate. Pierre has been with me from the start. He is not the bravest and his faith is not really high, two important stats in the game, but I liked the guy. He started out as a squire, turned into a monk, dabbled a bit in some other classes, and now he is a ninja. A ninja who fights as a monk. Pierre is very powerful. Then there is Kate. She is my tactical nuke. Started as a chemist, but found her true calling in being a wizard. She has blasted quite a few enemies with her powerful magic. Tune in next week to see how the other troops are doing in this war between lions.
The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry. I planned to put some serious time into Valkyria Chronicles 4 on the PC this week. Unfortunately, I found very little time to actually sit and play on my PC. However, I was able to jump into Dragon Quest Builders on my PlayStation 4.
I often refer to Minecraft as “LEGO for adults.” I enjoyed playing it on my PlayStation Vita back in the day, but ultimately grew bored of it due to its lack of direction. Dragon Quest Builders takes inspiration from that title, while adding in some Dragon Quest staples such as story and quests. I find the result much more enjoyable and engaging. The events of this game transpire after the very first Dragon Quest game, but with a twist. In this alternate reality, the hero of that original story failed. People hide, living in a world ruled by darkness. They have even forgotten how to construct things! You play the legendary Builder, tasked with rebuilding cities, as well as the hopes of others.
I breezed through the first chapter, and enjoyed it very much. The game oozes charm while encouraging exploration. The townspeople always have quests to accomplish when I need to refocus. With no time limit, I could explore and build as I wished. After finishing the first chapter, a second chapter opened up. I also noted that I could re-play the first. It now has a list of optional objectives which, from what I understand, makes up the game’s sandbox mode. This provides a great incentive for replay. Hopefully, I will get time to jump into Dragon Quest Builders again next week and finally make some real progress in Valkyria Chronicles 4.
For the first week, I’ve started playing Romancing SaGa 2, which finally saw a western release a few years ago on iOS devices before getting released on Steam, all the eighth-generation consoles, and the Vita which is my platform of choice.
Until now, SaGa was a series that I was fascinated with from a distance, yet hadn’t actually played. My first journey into the series, while in a lot of ways just as idiosyncratic and slightly frustrating as its reputation suggested, has been quite enjoyable. While the battle system is very standard turn-based fare as was common in games of its kind back then, combat is enjoyable as it manages to be challenging enough that I always have to keep my guard up as mistakes can lead to my whole party getting killed.
So far, I’ve managed to defeat Kzinssie, the first of the Legendary Heroes, using Andromache as the Empress. Unfortunatly, I ended up getting Gerard killed in one of my attempts to kill Kzinssie since I was, and still am, learning the ropes of the game. Whoops! Having successfully completed a couple of the questlines, time has skipped 200 years ahead and now I am playing as Jessica. I can’t wait to see what else the game can throw at me.
I started playing through Tales of Berseria for #JRPGJuly. I tried playing Berseria before, but, well… work and distractions. The game has a short intro section where a sickeningly sweet family life is shattered by betrayal and pathos, and the game’s mechanics are tepidly delivered in their most basic form so players can develop plenty of bad habits before the complexity is increased in agonizingly slow manner. The premise of the game is fine (if cliché), but the change in the balance of power could have used considerably more time to develop, as its haste causes the reversal of fortunes between daemons and exorcists to have little impact.
After the intro you escape from prison, don an absurd outfit — wearing something that screams “I’m totally a daemon!” doesn’t seem wise when you’re ostensibly trying to keep a low profile — meet a Malak (holy servant) who is gone mere minutes later, and set sail with some other misfits on your quest for revenge. I’m still in the early part of the game, so the party mechanics haven’t been fleshed out yet, but I went through some caves and fought a lizardman so I could fix the ship and continue on my journey. Long story short, the lizardman lost his tail, but we parted on good terms, because the humans are really the bad ones, in this case. I guess I’m supposed to feel sympathy for the daemons now? But only the good ones, and only after beating them up. Ah well.
Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse
Thus far in Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse, Nanashi and party defeated Shesha, the giant snake that devours demons and humans alike. Turns out, though, that the Divine Powers, the group of gods that want to create their own universe, can resurrect Shesha later. Worse still, they set up a special Mandala around Tokyo that prevents people from summoning demons. Nanashi is still able to, presumably because Dagda has some way around it. Nanashi has further earned the ire of the people of Tokyo after they found out that he and Asahi unintentionally unsealed Krishna, the leader of the Divine Powers. Now he and his party are tasked with sealing the jars that generate the Mandala to allow everyone else to summon. I can complete this task in any order, so of course I am taking the time to complete side quests.
I think the greatest improvements Apocalypse makes over the original SMTIV are the story and the characters. SMTIV was seemingly aimless, making it feel disjointed. I couldn’t muster the will to care much for the characters, either, who felt mostly one-dimensional. SMTIV:A is a more linear game, but the story is much more focused and engaging. The characters interact and talk to each other often, giving me more of a feel for their personalities. This game reminds me more of the Devil Survivor games in this way than mainline Shin Megami Tensei, which I like. My favorite character thus far is Nozomi, who acts like a big sister to Nanashi and Asahi. She played a minor role in the first game, and it’s neat to see her here as an experienced hunter and queen of the fairies.
I’m not sure how much time I’ve spent in this game, but it’s not overstaying its welcome at all. I am definitely enjoying Apocalypse thus far, much more than its predecessor. I wonder if I’ll get the chance to kick YVHV’s godly behind.
I’m something of a lapsed Atelier fan. I got into the series with Rorona and fell in love with the cute, low-stakes stories and the unique focus on crafting. My affection grew throughout the Arland and Dusk trilogies and despite the near-yearly releases, I eagerly anticipated each new dose of alchemy. Unfortunately, over the course of the Mysterious trilogy, I fell out of love with Atelier, and after the problematic Atelier Nelke earlier this year, I finally came to the decision that it was time for me and Atelier to see other people.
However, Anna Marie has been singing Atelier Lulua: The Scion of Arland’s praises over the past few weeks so I decided to give Atelier one more go, and goodness I’m glad that I did because it has been fantastic. Atelier Lulua stars the daughter of Rorona, and Lulua is intent on becoming an alchemist just like her mother. Progression in this game centers around a book — the Alchemyriddle — that dropped out of the sky onto Lulua’s head and she is the only person capable of reading it. Each time Lulua comes across an impediment — such as a dragon threatening a town — the book gives Lulua and the player hints on where to go or what to craft that will solve the predicament. It’s a well-conceived mechanic that leads players along without making everything too simple.
Most of my early affection for Lulua stems from the balance it’s managing to maintain between serious and silly. I’m getting invested in the serious main story of seeing Lulua trying to follow in her mother’s footsteps, but that is being combined with silly scenes like talking to a group of Punis called the Puni Rangers about how humans are encroaching on their habitats. Lulua has been keeping a smile glued to my face.
Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception and Trails of Cold Steel
This year, I’m using #JRPGJuly as an opportunity to do something I don’t think I do enough anymore: play some games not for review, but just for me. And what a great feeling it’s been to take these two games at a nice, leisurely pace, to really explore and take my time with them — something I wouldn’t be likely to do if I had a review deadline in mind. At the moment, I’m somewhere around 22 to 26 hours into each of my two games.
First off, there’s Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception, the first game I’m playing on the Vita since I finally bought one just as the handheld was in its death throes. The 22-hour time stamp is probably not very indicative of my current progress, as I’m going through the visual novel slow enough to actually listen to all of the Japanese voiced dialog, which is to say it takes an awful long time. But the cast does such a good job, I’d feel bad skipping their performances for the sake of time. I’ve only actually played about five or six battles, and my group is currently stuck between the dozens of event scenes after first arriving in the capital city of Yamato, having just had a bathhouse encounter with Nosuri.
My second indulgence for this month is the HD port of The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel. Calling it an indulgence seems accurate since I’m able to take the time to stroll the campus on free days, study my lessons, read up on history and current events, and just put the story aside and immerse myself in school life. Of course, with that comes school stress, and I’ve just completed my midterm exams, only missing two questions, at the outset of chapter 3. With sequels already waiting, this one has been a prime target to be removed from my pile of shame for sure.
Anna Marie Privitere
So remember how in my introduction I listed a whole bunch of Switch games? If you were to guess which one I’d been playing for the last week based on that, you’d be totally wrong because I ended up digging out my 3DS and firing up Persona Q2: New Cinema Labyrinth instead!
I really enjoy dungeon-crawlers and I’m not sure why I didn’t jump into this immediately when it arrived last month, but I’m quickly making up for that deficit. My party quickly formed of Joker and Fox from Persona 5, the P3P female main character, and Naoto from Persona 4, who’s just as broken in Q2 as she was in the first game.
That being said, there are a lot of differences from the first title. First and foremost, to help encourage players to regularly use many kinds of parties, there are items that boost anyone to the level of Joker, making them instantly viable. Next, while the story remains a little mediocre, there’s a lot more going for it this time around. Characters are no longer whittled down to a singular trope-ish characteristic, so while Chie still LOVES MEAT, it’s not the only thing that defines her, thanks to a new side quest system that not onlybuilds up the personalities of the 20+ roster of characters, but gives them special combination attacks that have a chance of triggering every time an enemy’s weak spot is targeted.
Third on the list of changes is a more fleshed-out combat system, which includes elements Nuke and Psy from Persona 5, along with damage-dealing Dark and Light moves Eiga and Kouga (Mudo and Hama are extremely rare both for the player and enemies). The mapping system is also closer to the Etrian Odyssey Nexus experience, with additional map markers that unlock as the story progresses, such as electrified gates and automatically closing doors.
Persona Q2 is not only an improvement in most every way to its predecessor but a fond farewell to the 3DS. I have a small number of games I still want to play on the system, but by the end of 2019 mine will finally be retired.