Whatcha Playing: March/April 2020
RPGamer’s recurring feature providing a look at what the staff is playing outside of games for review is back. The pandemic has left lots of time for our staff to delve into their backlogs and play quite a few different games. Dragon Quest III, Trails games, Trials of Mana, and Persona 5 Royal are all getting some playing time.
With that introduction out of the way, whatcha playing?
The Witcher 3 and many more
Lockdown has allowed me to play so many video games. Which is great, given how many I have in my backlog! Backloggin’ the Year has started again, and the first post went up at the end of March, so April saw me finish The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt (and all DLC) and, oh my god, it was so good. I mean, I could keep playing that game for hours and had it not been for lockdown, I likely wouldn’t have finished this before summer. The joys of being a non-essential worker, am I right?
Honestly though, it’s not all been bad. I beat a bunch of adventure games, and I got K.K to perform on my island in Animal Crossing, so I’ve been productive at finishing games. The only other game I beat relevant to this feature, is The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening, and while this hasn’t converted me into a full Zelda fan, I do have to say this game was so sweet and such a delight, especially for days when the depression was hitting me hard. While those are the only games I finished, I have been playing a few things. One is Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate, which has been big dumb fun. I have also been working through Trails of Cold Steel, in which I’ve now hit chapter two. I gotta say, while I know Rean is dumb, Jusis and Machias need to step off of my dumb boy. I like Rean, but from all the spoilers friends have told me, there is a chance that feeling could change. Really, I’m just #TeamLaura, because seriously, how can you just not be?
Lastly, I have been playing a lot of Pokémon Conquest before bed. Seriously, it is a perfect bedtime game! It’s not too difficult, it’s silly, and I just love the concept so much. It’s amazing how Pokémon and Nobunaga’s Ambition shouldn’t work, and it totally does. At this point, I’m about to invade Valora, meaning I’ve conquered half of Nobunaga’s territories. I am glad so many people recommended I check this out — I’ve had a bit of gaming ADD (hence why I am in the middle of too many things at the moment), but this is the one that is sticking, and I look forward every night to playing a small bit of it. My Eevee is also a Jolton now, and it’s been pretty awesome just obliterating a lot of opponents.
I hope to make better progress in games in May since the lockdown has been extended. We’ll see how things fare for me next month!
You would think that this lockdown would give me ample time to play video games, but a combination of still having to leave home to work, needing to be extra cautious, and stress has prevented me from playing much. I had made significant progress in Fire Emblem: Three Houses‘ Crimson Flower route. I’m up to chapter 16 and am about to start the end-of-the-month battle. I don’t think I have many more chapters left to go in this campaign. I want to save any sort of plot overview for when I’m finished (spoiler-free, of course), but I do find this path interesting. I did choose to side with an empire, typically the “bad guys” in an RPG. I doubt anyone could call the Adrestian Empire’s actions wholly good in this run, but it’s different to be on the empire’s side, for once. I might have even fewer characters reaching Master Classes this time around.
I also finished a game: Dragon Quest III: The Seeds of Salvation. I played it on Android instead of Switch, as I bought the game over a year ago, but only got around to finishing it now. I’ve been slowly playing through this classic series, albeit somewhat out of order, as I played Dragon Quest IV first, then I and later II. Dragon Quest III does show its age with its minimal story, player characters’ lack of personality, and fairly simple gameplay. I expected as much, of course. Even if this particular version of the game is based on the SNES remake, Dragon Quest III was still originally released in 1988. My party consisted of the Hero, a priest, a martial artist, and a mage that I eventually changed to a sage. I’m used to more complex job class systems, but you probably could create some powerful combinations with it. At least as far as the main game is concerned, I didn’t feel the need to change classes of anyone else. There is a post-game dungeon with a tough bonus boss, but I’m not likely to tackle it at this time. I’ll keep the game on my phone for the time being, so maybe I’ll do it in the future. I think there may be a second bonus dungeon, too, but I don’t know if it’s in the Android version.
Even if the story is sparse compared to many games I could name, I do like all the call-forwards to the original Dragon Quest. The vignettes storytelling style is also used surprisingly well, such as the story of the daughter of the fairy queen running away with a human, but eventually drowning herself because her mother wouldn’t accept their relationship. There’s also the hero essentially following in his father Ortega’s footsteps, who seemingly died at a volcano, but he does, eventually, catch up to him. I wonder if it’s the first in the series to use this style, but I don’t really remember much about Dragon Quest II.
So yes, I did enjoy my time with Dragon Quest III, and I can see why this is a beloved entry in the series, at least in Japan. It must have been such a sprawling game back on the Famicom/NES, and it’s still quite charming to this day. I have Dragon Quest V-XI (sans X, for obvious reasons) in my backlog, but I would like to get to a few other games first.
There was a time when I scoffed at MMORPGs. That time was childhood. One of my best friends in high school played World of Warcraft seemingly nonstop, so I eventually subscribed to better communicate with him. I enjoyed the game alright for a while and did manage to understand the appeal of the genre, but I rarely actually played with him. After a while, I handed my subscription over to my brother, who eventually became a more seasoned MMORPG player. My friend went on to be much more successful than I am. I’m not bitter and/or jealous at all. I swear.
All this to say that I decided to revisit the genre after all the acclaim surrounding Final Fantasy XIV. I had played Final Fantasy XI only very briefly on my brother’s account and found it adequate but not worth the investment. Now I find myself seriously considering paying the subscription price to get the full Final Fantasy XIV experience. It feels more intuitive and plot-driven, scratching the itch that other MMORPGs didn’t quite satisfy.
Outside of that, and perhaps taking up more of my time now, I have been playing Trials of Mana. Seiken Densetsu 3 was one of my favorite RPGs of all time. I’d been waiting for a US release for ages, only to finally receive one along with an announcement of a full remake. Yeah, it’s a little cheesy, but that whimsical weirdness is what has always driven me toward the Mana series. Despite the cutesy aesthetic, everything seems just a little bit off-kilter.
April came and went in a blur of RPG mishmash, but in the end I wrapped up quite a few games.
The first big game I decided to finally beat was Dark Souls. This game had been mocking me in my backlog for a year or so now. I was initially playing this game with a friend, switching turns after dying. Unfortunately, they didn’t enjoy this experience as much as I had hoped and the game fell by the wayside. Fast forward to this month and I had time and new determination to finally slay this beast. And slay it I did, though I believe it slayed me quite a bit more in the end! Though I will say, every time I died, frustrating as it might have been, it was always my fault. I’d roll off a ledge, or dodge right into a heavy attack, or just attack recklessly without bothering to defend myself. The game forces you to learn from your mistakes, and finally conquering it felt oh so good!
I then jumped into Disco Elysium, which I had a love/hate relationship with. I enjoyed the game tremendously, as each conversation brought a wry smile to my face. You can tell the creators poured their hearts into this title as the world felt alive as I searched for the killer of the hanged man. Yet, I constantly had to fight with technical issues where the game would stop allowing me to save, which caused some lost hours of gameplay. I did put my frustrations aside and beat the game, but the glitches were enough to mar the overall experience.
Lastly I dove into Trials of Mana, which was tons of fun to play. Not only has the game done a masterful job of converting all the 2D maps into beautiful 3D environments, but combat is also improved and now you no longer need to stop the flow of battle to cast spells or use items. Overall, I felt the remake improves on everything the original tried to portray back on the SNES. It’s quick, rewarding, and a nice callback. All they need to do is figure out how to implement multiplayer. Hopefully sales are good which might prompt Square Enix to revive the series.
In 2017, I took nearly a year to play Persona 5, taking the game one palace at a time between college classes and part-time work. I was planning on taking even longer to get through the enhanced Persona 5 Royal this year, but alas, “take my time” I have not. Less than one month since release, my playtime has exceeded 100 hours and I find myself nearing the original end-point of the game. The RPG gods granted me a paid vacation with no end in sight, but at what cost? The answer to that question changes every minute. In the meantime, delving into the collective unconscious while staying indoors appears to be the right thing to do.
Yakuza Zero and others
Being home due to social distancing has done my backlog and nearly-filled console hard drives a world of good. Clearing out a ton of smaller-scale and indie games has given me some breathing room to think about tackling larger projects at long last, not to mention freeing up the memory required to install them. But on the RPG front, the news has been more somber. Though I’ve gotten through many games across the board, I keep bouncing off some RPGs I’ve been chipping away at for a while. The fact that both were heavily featured in our recent Games of the Decade list just makes me feel worse. Radiant Historia: Perfect Chronology is fun from a narrative standpoint, but I’ve not gelled with its combat system too much, causing sustained periods of gaming to be difficult. And this is now my second attempt at Fire Emblem: Three Houses, but I just can’t wrap my mind around any of its gameplay systems outside of battle; as soon as the academic calendar gets underway, the game just goes over my head on all fronts.
Luckily, I can at least balance out these tales of sadness with one uncontested triumph: Yakuza Zero was as glorious, if not more than, it has been made out to be. Though even its combat system and barrage of time-wasting mini-games got a little stale near the end, causing me to have a harder time than I thought getting right into Kiwami, the story and — especially — characters were magnificent, and that’s in a “throwaway” prequel! I’m convinced that Zero managed more detailed characterization than some franchises do over a whole lifetime. An outstanding plot, helped by an equally outstanding translation, made my first full foray into the world of Yakuza one I would have surely listed among my top ten for the decade, had I played it just a few months earlier!
Persona 5 Royal and many Musou games
Earlier this month, I sunk some hard time into Dragon Quest Heroes 1&2, Hyrule Warriors and Fire Emblem Warriors, to prepare for an episode of RPG Backtrack. That podcast ended up becoming our longest episode ever, running over six hours! The quality and fun found in these games is a big part of the reason for that length. I simply cannot express just how entertaining they are. Oh wait, I can, given enough time! Koei Tecmo did such a great job bringing together these intellectual properties and the Musou gameplay people know them for. Despite the fact that Hyrule Warriors originally came out six years ago, I still enjoy popping it in and playing it today. I simply cannot recommend these games enough.
Having made it through the podcast, I finally opened my pre-ordered copy of Persona 5 Royal, which arrived at the tail end of March. I can officially state that the “Year of Persona 5” has started! For a while, I have advertised that 2020 would be my ‘Year of Persona 5” where I focus on the newly released Persona 5 Royal, Persona Q (which I got about halfway through last year), Persona Q2, and Persona 5 Scramble. On that last game, it must be noted that we have yet to see an actual release date for North America, but we have plenty of signs pointing to a release by the end of the year. Regardless, I hope to have all of these titles completed by the end of March 2021.
Standing in my way is work, which has forced us to six-day work weeks and longer days. Even with limited time, I make it a point to chill for an hour or so each night which mostly goes into Persona 5 Royal. Last night, I progressed to the second dungeon, so I have quite some ways to go before I even beat the original story. I will leave it to others to discuss the huge amounts of additions and improvements packed into this version of the game. However, I will say that some of them show up even in the early hours, and the developers have done a great job making them feel natural. I also enjoy the fact that Morgana refrains from telling me to go to bed every other day. Combat feels even slicker and more fun than ever.
On a side note, I continue to chip away on main story quests in World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth in order to unlock some of the more attractive allied races. Again, without a lot of free time, my progress moves slowly. I tend to play when a relative calls wanting to talk, or while I catch up on the daily news. World of Warcraft has always been a great game to play while doing something else.
After finishing Rune Factory 4 Special and slowly chipping away at the post-game, I began and finished two lengthy games this month that involved some of my favorite turn-based combat systems: The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky SC and Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore. Tokyo Mirage Sessions was something that was not on my radar, despite being on an RPG Backtrack episode last year about it and Persona Q, but when the chance to play came this April, I jumped on it and am glad I did. To be honest, I skipped a good 50% of the dialog in this game and every single cutscene and movie, partly because they didn’t interest me, but mainly because I just wanted to get back to the awesome combat as quickly as possible. SMT battle systems always grab my attention, and the way this game blends them with the weaknesses and resistances found in Fire Emblem made it highly addictive. The combo system where teammates can follow up on certain attacks characters made was amazing and it was so much fun to string together up to eight attacks almost every single turn by the end of the game.
While it’d been a couple of years since I completed the first Trails in the Sky, I felt instantly back at home with Estelle, visiting all the familiar towns and NPCs. The narrative is excellent of course, that’s something all Legend of Heroes games seem to nail, and the battle system that places so much emphasis on positioning and area-of-effect is just perfect to me. There’s a reason this game featured in our top 25 RPGs of the Decade! Part of my gaming goals for 2020 was to get through this series, so I’m now looking forward to the third entry soon after I take a Radiant Historia: Perfect Chronology detour.
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.