Whatcha Playing: November/December 2019
RPGamer’s recurring feature providing a look at what the staff is playing outside of games for review is back. While the holidays got in the way of an update in November, it hasn’t stopped the staff from playing lots of different games. Pokémon, Heroland, AI: The Somnium Files, and Trails of Cold Steel II are all getting some playing time.
With that introduction out of the way, whatcha playing?
November feels like such a blur. Work was busy, we hadn’t hit the slowdown period in our library programming, so all I remember playing is a ton of Castle Crashers with both my friends and my video game club at work. Game Night! (aka making new friends and playing video games) has been a fun experience in sharing games I’ve loved over the years with a new audience. We also played some Rock Band! Apparently, I also finished The Outer Worlds, Afterparty, and a replay of Final Fight in that month, but who is really counting? (Psst, I am totally counting and I’ve beaten 26 games this year, and don’t think I will finish another before the new year!)
December has mostly been spent with Atelier Ryza. I started Ryza after I finished The Outer Worlds and its beginning was not capturing me. In fact, Ryza‘s opening is one of the slowest I’ve encountered in my Atelier journey. That being said, I finally hit my stride with the game this month and it’s been pretty great so far. Ryza is probably one of the best heroines the series has had in a long time (far more memorable than any of the Mysterious cast). Her companions sadly needed a bit more development, but they are definitely interesting. The outfits and character designs have been “precious” to say the least. I’ve taken screenshots of one particular character because I have my reasons:
I just can’t even with her boobs. #PS4share pic.twitter.com/D1lwp3mRwy
— Sam Wachter (@merrygodown) December 20, 2019
Her boobs are something else. #PS4share pic.twitter.com/d859weHD6u
— Sam Wachter (@merrygodown) December 14, 2019
As a person with breasts let me say to Koei Tecmo and Gust once more: this is not how breasts work. Ever. At all. Please make your breasts not seem like they are actively crushing the character’s frame. Lila clearly needs a back-brace or she clearly has superhuman strength to keep those girls from falling out. Either way, not cool.
I am definitely nearing the end of Atelier Ryza, though I am unsure with my father-in-law visiting these next few days if I will have the game finished before 2020 is a reality. It’s nice to get to a stage in a game where it’s obvious that you’re at the end, but I definitely feel like I need to grind both my Adventurer and Alchemy levels so I can make some better equipment to take on the final boss. We’ll see if I have any success!
Fire Emblem: Three Houses and Pokémon Shield
November finally did see me finish the Silver Snow route of Fire Emblem: Three Houses, but not quite before the release of Pokémon Sword & Shield. Oh well, no biggie, as I ended up rolling credits on both Fire Emblem and Pokémon Shield anyway by the time I started writing this.
Three Houses‘ story ended kind of abruptly, after going at a good pace for a while. I have a bunch of questions, but I suspect most of them will be answered by completing the other routes. There’s also that story DLC that is supposed to come out at some point in the near future. Having the story be split like this somewhat hurts Three Houses, but at least, unlike in Fire Emblem Fates, I don’t feel like I’m getting three disjointed stories with large gaps in them. Even just the Silver Snow route’s story is better than all three campaigns in Fates, and all four paths are on one cart this time!
There’s little else I can say that I haven’t said already or isn’t a spoiler. The second-to-last battle map is pretty neat appearance-wise. I do wish the maps in Three Houses were more intricate, but they’re not bad. I don’t think Fire Emblem: Three Houses will be toppling Path of Radiance or FE Echoes: Shadows of Valentia from their places in my personal ranking unless I’m really impressed by those other routes, but it’s definitely a great game. I’ll likely be enjoying it for much of the rest of the year.
I not only started but I’ve already finished the story of Pokémon Shield. This game certainly goes by quickly, due in no small part to the permanent Experience Share feature, which distributes EXP to every Pokémon in the party. While I still think there should have been an option to turn it off, I will admit that I like that I didn’t have to slow down to level up all of my Pokémon one at a time. I could go from town to town, gym to gym, and complete the game much faster than I tend to. This includes both becoming champion and the post-game scenario in which the legendary form of the mascot Pokémon, Zamazenta, can be captured. I’m not sure if I’ve ever beaten a mainline Pokémon game in 40 hours on a first playthrough. I even spent a lot of time running around the Wild Area to capture Pokémon, registering nearly 200 of them before I finished the post-game story. Of course, I still have things to do in Shield: complete the Pokédex, see if I can make the team I went through the game with competitively viable, check out the Battle Tower, and raise up other Pokémon that maybe I’ll participate in online competitions with. I kind of do battling halfheartedly, but I try to enter into at least one online competition per generation.
I do wish Sword & Shield were given more development time. People complained so much about the culling of the Pokédex, but that was bound to happen eventually. There are currently 890 Pokémon, and if Gen 8 is anything like Gen 7, we’ll be getting more Pokémon added to this grand total in some kind of “third version” or remake of a previous game. These games do feel rushed, though. The story could have been better, even though I do like the characters a fair bit. There could be more to do in the post-game. I actually rather like the game’s graphics, but the animations really could have been better. I really hope that we’ll stop getting these yearly releases if it means Game Freak can spend enough time on each game.
Regardless, I still very much enjoyed my time with Pokémon Shield. I still love walking through a new region; encountering new Pokémon; deciding which ones I want to train; giving them nicknames based on whatever books, anime, TV shows, and video games I’m enjoying at the time; challenging gym leaders; dealing with whatever foes are causing trouble in the region; facing legendary Pokémon; and becoming champion. Galar is a really neat region to travel through, and I really love the Pokémon that are entirely new and the Galarian forms of older species. Regional forms were first introduced in Sun & Moon, and Game Freak took the concept and ran with it in Sword & Shield. Not only do some species from early generations have new forms, a few of them either evolve into entirely different Pokémon or can evolve further when they couldn’t previously. For instance, the Galarian Meowth can evolve into the best-named Pokémon ever, Perrserker, instead of the usual Persian. For an example of the latter, the Galarian Linoone can evolve into the new Obstagoon, when previously it couldn’t evolve at all. I absolutely adored the concept of Alolan Pokémon in the previous generation and love what they did with it in this one. Here’s hoping each coming generation will continue the trend of giving older Pokémon regional forms.
Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth Complete Edition
The last month has been dominated by Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth Complete Edition. In fact, I’ve put 190 hours into it according to my Switch profile. I absolutely love these games and I’m driven by the desire to get all of the monsters along with getting my favourites leveled up and loaded with all the best abilities. The two games are basically just telling one story from different perspectives so I can understand that some people might burn out before finishing them both. For me though? I have another 10 or 20 hours with it before I’m done.
In November, I was playing a lot of Pokémon. I put 90 hours into Shield before putting it aside for Digimon. I really like that game and I’m really hyped to see where they take the series next, but I haven’t been drawn into the breeding and shiny hunting. Some of that is due to having already made near-perfect Pokémon in Ultra Sun, some of which are in Shield too, so the grind just doesn’t feel as important to me. There are some issues, like lag in the free area or the obtuse online experience, but I’m happy with the time I spent with it. I’ll be setting up some sort of challenge run in the new year at some point, just to change up the experience. It’s hard to say whether I like Shield more than Ultra Sun, but I do think it’s worth picking up for people who like the series.
During the month of November, I put some effort into trying to finish Radiant Historia: Perfect Chronology, which I started way back in mid-2018 and had been on-and-off chipping my way through over a year and a half. Playing in Append Mode, I thought that I would be able to finish it without having to do the story content that was added to the remake. Unfortunately, after what seemed like a fitting end, the game forced me to start the added timeline with Nemesia and I wasn’t a fan of what I’ve seen of these additions so I decided to put it down for the time being, despite otherwise enjoying the game’s story and combat quite a bit.
At the end of that month and into December, I started putting some time into Heroland, a light-hearted RPG taking place in the titular RPG-themed park. In this park, tour guides lead groups of four patrons through dungeons to fight monsters that are actually park employees and finding treasures based on the exploits of a real group of adventures that defeated the Dark Lord in the past. The premise is certainly unique enough and the game does have its charms, mostly due to a very well-localized script. However, it’s not without some frustrating flaws that make playing it feel like a chore at times. The combat is a largely hands-off affair that won’t be to some players’ taste and a lot of the game can feel a bit grind-heavy and monotonous due to some balancing issues that can leave some party members under-leveled if they end up neglected. This can happen all too easily since a lot of the patrons available aren’t required for most of the tours. However, Heroland is not without its merits as the presentation is solid enough, with effective use of theatrical motifs and the game can be enjoyed in a laid-back sort of way. Where the game will end up for me, on the whole, remains to be seen.
Pokémon Shield and Super Robot Wars V
November saw Pokémon Shield (and Sword) arrive on the Nintendo Switch and much of the month was filled with me catching and training Pokémon in the new Galar region. While there were a few hiccups along the way, it was a fun ride and a much more enjoyable experience than the previous game in the series. Unfortunately, the Pokémon-hunting itch was scratched before I was able to catch them all!
In December I was able to blast through Star Ocean: First Departure R which was a nice throwback game to the times where handholding wasn’t so common. Afterward, I stayed in blast-off mode and fought some additional space battles in Super Robot Wars V for the Nintendo Switch. These games are pretty fun, and I am able to battle in outer space in a Bonta-kun suit! Actually, with each map completed, the SRW gang tends to find upgraded mechs for the pilots to play around with, so there is always something new to discover and enjoy as the story progresses. This game should take me into the new year, but I will try to squeeze one last game in before the year’s end. I’m looking forward to all the new RPG adventures that await in 2020!
Romancing SaGa 2 and Hyrule Warriors
This November and December I tried playing a couple of series that I’ve not spent much time with, with two very different results. First, a buddy of mine and I have tried starting RPG series we’ve never tried before together for the past few years. After falling in love with the Legend of Heroes series via Trails in the Sky and completely bouncing off Suikoden in past years, I started Romancing SaGa 2 with a little apprehension. It seems my worries were well-founded. After 20+ hours of in-game time and likely half that much lost to resets, I stepped away from it after Christmas. It was fun at times, but in the end too frustrating with excessive grinding for specific RNG-based abilities and some crushing difficulty spikes. I don’t regret giving the series a go and look forward to trying the more traditional Romancing SaGa 3 or recently-released SaGa: Scarlet Grace, but Romancing SaGa 2 is done for me.
As a die-hard Dragon Quest fan, I was introduced to the concept of musou games with Dragon Quest Heroes 1 and 2. Unfortunately, neither game has local multiplayer, and with a budding RPGamer at home, I wanted one we could play through together. Hyrule Warriors Definitive Edition on Switch has been a hit with both my young son and me. I’ve only played a few Zelda games in my life, and none since the Nintendo 64 days, so a lot of the little things are lost on me, but the gameplay has been excellent and the RPG elements quite deep. My son has recognized a ton of characters that also appear in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate and has filled me in on the details as he understands them. With all the characters to level up, the various missions and side missions available in each large battle, and all the crafting and stat-building to do between encounters, I’m having a lot of fun with this title and will for a long time into 2020, I’m sure.
The Trails series always feels like that Netflix show looming over my head, waiting to be binge-watched. I know I want to experience it, but I feel like I never have the time. Luckily, with a Switch port on its way for Trails of Cold Steel III, I finally got the motivation to play the two entries that I had missed.
I slowly made progress through Trails of Cold Steel II all summer. When I finally picked it up again as my main game, I chugged my way through to finish Act 1. Then, Act 2 started, and I was blown away by how much the game changes.
In Act 1, each story section takes place in a set location. In Act 2, players are given an airship and the freedom to visit most of the game’s areas. Players are also tasked with recruiting many of their former allies from the first Cold Steel game. Each ally they recruit unlocks a function on the airship, including various shops and crafting stations. This change in playstyle reminded me of the Suikoden series, and I was instantly hooked again. I rolled credits the day before Christmas, and I am now eagerly awaiting the third entry in the series.
Speaking of third games, let’s talk about the Trails in the Sky series. I had always written off Trails in the Sky the 3rd as a side game. Fellow staff member and Trails guru Joshua Carpenter took me to school over this inaccuracy. He not only informed me that Trails the 3rd fills important gaps in the story, but that the game is awesome, and worth a playthrough. I’m currently in the final chapter of Trails the 3rd, and Josh was 100% correct.
The game takes place six months after the stunning conclusion to Trails in the Sky SC. It stars Kevin Graham, the dorky but lovable priest from the first two Sky games. Accompanying Kevin is Ries Argent, Kevin’s childhood friend and fellow church knight. While investigating an artifact, Kevin and Ries end up in a dimension called Phantasma. They must explore this mysterious dimension and find out what brought them there.
Along the way, players discover items called Seal Stones. Each stone unlocks a party member from the first two Trails in the Sky games. The characters in the game seem to share your excitement wondering who is going to show up next. There are sixteen characters in all to find, allowing for a multitude of party combinations with unique dialogue depending on which characters players choose to include in the exploration of Phantasma.
In addition, there are also several doors in Phantasma that can only be opened with a specific character in your party. These doors show story segments for that specific character. Some of these segments explain their backstories, while others are charming slice-of-life stories that show what a character has been up to since Trails SC.
I am currently working my way through each of the special doors, and cannot wait to find out more about these characters. When I’m done with Trails the 3rd, it’s going to be an agonizing wait for Cold Steel III on the Switch.
While I’m a fan of Kotaro Uchikoshi’s other works, i.e. the Zero Escape trilogy, his newest game still managed to sneak up on me. Since AI: The Somnium Files is a stand-alone project, it doesn’t elicit the same sort of built-in anticipation that Virtue’s Last Reward and Zero Time Dilemma conjured. Nevertheless, his new adventure, as has been stated before, is a fantastic melding of visual novel with point-and-click puzzle elements that incorporates a near-future sci-fi setting to create a fascinating mystery to explore.
AI has the player inhabiting the role of detective Kaname Date who is called in to investigate a grizzly murder where the victim has their eyeball removed. This murder seems to echo a series of murders carried out six years previously by the Cyclops Killer who also removed his victims’ eyes. Date is tasked with solving this new series of murders and, as would be expected in an Uchikoshi game, the choices the player makes will determine the fate of Date and the people that surround him.
The gameplay is a mix of point-and-click segments and interrogating witnesses. When witnesses aren’t being cooperative, the special branch of the police that Date works for has a machine that allows Date to “Psync” with the person and explore their subconscious. These dream-like spaces replace the locked rooms from the Zero Escape games and Date has to discover how to unlock what the witness is hiding by exploring these rooms and finding the correct things to interact with before the six-minute time limit expires, thereby getting glimpses as to what the person may have seen.
The story though is what really shines and I don’t want to spoil any of the entertainment that comes from experiencing the murder mystery and seeing all the different endings to fill out all the different plot threads. There are a few times that the anime-inspired jokes were a bit much — men in this game respond to adult magazines with such passion that I wondered if the internet existed in this reality — but the way that the characters and plot threads are tied together makes for a truly interesting tale. AI does a great job of playing with Zero Escape veterans’ expectations of what will happen. While it may not quite reach the heights of 999 and VLR, AI is a must-play for any RPGamers into visual novels.
Persona 5 and Persona 3 Portable
The holiday season has been busy, but if you have been keeping up with RPGCast, you’ll know so have I. I’ve been up to my nose in Persona, and I don’t see the hype fading any time soon. This all started because of a casual conversation that I had on Twitter about needing to play some of the ones I own, and, well, here we are.
Persona 5 is what started the whole thing. I realized with Royal on the horizon that I have waited entirely too long to play this game, and I’m sad I did. This might be the most perfect Persona game I have ever played. I’m about 30 or so hours into it, have five party members, and am currently seeking information for my third palace, and I don’t want to stop playing. I haven’t felt this obsessed with a game since… well, I can’t think of one, so we’ll just say this tops the list. Also, have I mentioned that Shoji Meguro might be a musical god?
Having a three-month-old baby at home can be hard, especially when you’re strapped to a console trying to play a game. Handhelds have been my best friend during this time (judging by my Nintendo Switch year in review), and it makes sense: easy to pick up, easy to put down, and ready to tend to the needs of someone who depends on me at the drop of a hat. What makes Persona 3 Portable so special is that it cuts out a lot of the tedium that Persona games tend to have. Fast travel is a thing, cutting the sequences down from animated clips to a visual novel style, yet leaving the dungeon-crawling perfectly intact. I’ve got more time on this now than P5, even though I started it later, but having it available on my Vita (via the PlayStation Portable backward compatibility) has made it much easier to grab and play than my PS4. I’ve got five party members unlocked, explored about 50 floors of Tartarus, and am sitting at around 40 or so hours played. Oh, have I mentioned that Shoji Meguro is a musical god?
Needless to say, I’ve been RPG’ing hard these past weeks, but nothing has ever felt better.
Erik van Asselt
In the last months of 2019, I have been taking some time off and seeing which games still needed to be finished and there are quite a few of them. So instead of actually playing something, I spent more time finding out what to play, going through the games on all consoles I own and becoming more desperate: I couldn’t choose.
So I booted up Netflix again with my wife and started to watch whatever was new. And there it was. A brand new series, based on the great books by Andrzej Sapkowski: The Witcher, and I absolutely loved it! It made me realise how much I enjoyed playing The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, a game I never finished. After finishing the series, I booted up the PlayStation 4 again and continued my adventure.
For me, The Witcher 3 is one of the best games of the last decade. It doesn’t build a world around the player but provides a protagonist, who wanders through this incredible, already established world. Every quest has a story behind it and some quests are even better than the main story. There is the quest where Geralt dropped a baby in an oven and that time when Geralt followed a floating demon baby. Those were just some of the side quests.
But the game does have a problem, though it is more my problem than a problem of the game itself. There is so much to do in this game; the world map is filled to the brim with question marks — points of interest. I can’t help but want to scout them all, see what is there, and claim all those treasures. Just to make Geralt one of the wealthiest Witchers to have ever existed.
So toss a coin to your Witcher, and don’t forget to dust off your copy of the game.
Elmon Dean Todd
Dragon Quest XI S and Shenmue 3
During the months of November and December, I’ve spent some time with some extraordinary games. After many hours, I finally completed Dragon Quest XI S: Echoes of an Elusive Age – Definitive Edition, along with most of the side content. With its charming cast, beautiful world, and excellent story, this game had earned its place as my favourite RPG of all time. The extra additions on the Nintendo Switch edition were a nice bonus, and traipsing through the 2D mode provided an extra dimension (whilst taking away a dimension) for the game. I’m still coming back to this game for the endgame content, even after completing the main quest, and that’s something I rarely do.
Next, I continued an epic tale from the Dreamcast era with Shenmue III. Although I didn’t back the game on Kickstarter, I was especially looking forward to playing it. The game mechanics took some getting used to, but I enjoyed being Ryo all over again, right down to wasting my time and money with arcade games and Gacha-gacha machines. The end of the game left me wanting more, so I really hope to see a fourth installment down the road. If another Kickstarter project appears, I may even send some money next time around.
That’s all for this edition of Whatcha Playing. Please join the discussion in the comments about the staff’s selections and what games you’re currently playing.