Backloggin’ the Year – Paul’s Playthroughs, February & March 2021

Welcome to Backloggin’ the Year, a feature that discusses the challenges and excitement that comes with working through your backlog. Paul Shkreli looks at where he’s at in terms of his backlogging goals.

February has come and gone, and March seems eager to join it in the rearview mirror. I was briefly sidelined with COVID, during which I was rendered unable to do much, if any, gaming. Now that I am back to my normal cheeky self, I am glad to bring you a recap of my backlog gaming journey…right before I sink my teeth into the SaGa Frontier remaster coming out in a few weeks! This month features some classic JRPGs, a respectable Final Fantasy prequel, and a…rhythm dance game!?

Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII (PlayStation Portable)

I have no qualms admitting Final Fantasy VII Remake was my 2020 GOTY. (It wasn’t RPGamer’s GOTY, but I lobbied for as many awards as possible during our GOTY podcast!) And with Intergrade coming, I am looking forward to replaying it again on the PlayStation 5. In anticipation of Remake last year, I attempted to play Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII, but did not get very far. After playing Remake, I definitely wanted another taste of the series without revisiting the original game (or, frankly, other titles from the Compilation of Final Fantasy VII).

There is a lot to like about Crisis Core. The battle system is fast, fluid, and easy to customize because of the excellent adaption of the materia system. The music is unsurprisingly a highlight, incorporating themes and motifs from the original game, while still sounding fresh years later. I loved the “dark materia” mechanics, allowing magical attacks imbued with status effects. The variety of materia featured in this game is staggering. I am expecting dark materia to make an appearance in the next chapter of Remake.

The game is well designed for a portable console, including dozens of optional missions which are accessible from the main menu and only take minutes to complete. While I did not spend much time commuting during the last year, I did welcome a baby near the onset of the pandemic, which made the bite-sized missions all the more appealing between the antics of raising a tiny new human. This PSP game is still graphically inviting, breathing new life and imagination into a universe that is only now getting the scope and scale it truly deserves.

Not all that glitters, however, is gold. The story is a train wreck which introduces new, larger-than-life characters whose total absence in the original work would be baffling but for the obvious retcon. Genesis and Angeal are two of the most irritating Compilation characters, and the multitude of references to Loveless (the popular stage show within the game) fall flat. The game epitomizes the very mid-2000s excesses of Square Enix, for better and for worse. I also found some of the mechanics ill-conceived. I love a good slot machine, but I don’t want it tethered to my character’s progress, even if the DMW feels fairly generous. While I felt Zack leveled up regularly enough, the RNG component lessened the impact of individual battles.

That being said…the ending is a powerful ode to both Zack and Cloud. While certainly satiated, I am excited to see how Zack’s story is reconfigured and retold during the Final Fantasy VII Remake (Rebuild?) series.

Lufia and the Fortress of Doom (Super Nintendo)

I have such a fondness for this series, but it’s hard to discern between actual appreciation and earnest nostalgia. I remember having to grind for days early in the story, right when you first get Aguro in your party in order to prepare for the boss battle against three Imps.  This was probably my first grinding experience in an RPG.  I’ve played through the prequel and the GBA offshoot, and have never finished the DS remake of the prequel. I gave my legion of Twitter followers an option as to which game I should play, and out of the seven votes my poll received, the bulk of them were for this game.

There was something very forward about the opening of this game for seven-year-old me, where you essentially play through a final dungeon with stat-busting heroes who wreck the final bosses before (mostly) dying. Fast-forward 100 years or so, and the game opens with some teenagers drinking tea. The story starts slowly, and while it does pick up towards the end, the framework of the story is not terribly original. It’s not that the story of Lufia is particularly compelling, but moreso the way it is told with a series of character reveals and some pretty sharp writing for the early 1990s.

The battle system is standard turn-based fare, with a visual presentation that reminds me of early Dragon Quest games. The dungeons are uncomplicated, and the game features few puzzles, a concept that would be more elegantly implemented in Lufia II. The absolute highlight to this game is the soundtrack. Part of the reason I wanted to revisit this classic was just to bask in the incredible overworld, enemy, and boss battle themes. Decades later, they still do not disappoint.

I was able to complete my playthrough in less than 20 hours and really enjoyed this game. I think we will be seeing a bit more of Lufia in 2021.

Paper Mario (Nintendo 64)

I can talk all day about Super Mario RPG, the classic Super Nintendo JRPG birthed by a glorious collaboration between Nintendo and Square Enix, the likes of which we have never seen again (here’s looking at you, hyper-convoluted Kingdom Hearts). In fact, I’m low-key waiting for the podcast stars here at RPGamer to formally invite me to do so. We never got a true sequel to the game. Instead, we got Paper Mario.

I was disappointed when Paper Mario came out because it basically stripped the mechanics and party system and replaced it with RPG-lite mechanics and a reliance on paper jokes. While I’ve grown to mostly appreciate the Paper Mario series (Sticker Star, anyone?), my positive experience with Origami King prompted me to revisit the origins of the Paper Mario series.

The game is…great! While the RPG mechanics are stripped down, the badge system allows players to customize Mario to their liking, which is already against the grain for a Mario game. While I miss having a full party consisting of a marshmallow and a talking doll, the companions in Paper Mario feature great characterization and varying abilities, which all come in handy at different times. The existential paper jokes are an especially humorous staple of the series that continues to this day.

The battle system, while removing some RPG mechanics, has surprising depth as players will need to utilize different companions to exploit enemy weaknesses. When I was younger, I took issue with the relatively low HP and smaller parties as they appeared to trade typical stat management for simplicity. Decades later as an older gamer, I appreciate the nuance and lingering RPG mechanics.

Paper Mario still looks and sounds great, and the various worlds are visually distinct, similar to a standard Mario game. I admit that I’ve never played Thousand Year Door, so get ready to see that tossed in the mix at some point.

Persona 3 Dancing in Moonlight (PlayStation 4)

When we were gearing up for Persona 5 Strikers, I pulled back a bit to examine other non-mainline entries to the Persona series. Persona 4 has received the most love – anime series, fighting game, music game, etc – but it was Persona 3 in 2007 which moved me from a Persona fan to a Persona stan. No joke – my college roommates were getting ready to go out one night, and I pretended to be sick so I could play the game in the living room while they were gone. I’m still very cool.

Persona 4: Dancing All Night was probably my least favorite of the Persona 4 spin-offs, so I initially passed on Persona 3 Dancing in Moonlight and Persona 5 Dancing in Starlight. I had scooped them both up on sale and never played them. When Spotify added Persona music recently, I found myself grooving to Persona 3 Fes music while doing the dishes, so I fell down the rabbit hole and started watching the Persona 3 movies, and naturally, playing this game.

The music is obviously great. The visuals are very crisp and flashy – almost too flashy, especially during frantic gameplay sequences where the corresponding visuals can almost overwhelm. The actual rhythm timing can also overwhelm, even on easier settings.

I have a PSVR but it’s packed away somewhere in a box. I contemplated breaking it out to try it with this game, but I was honestly expecting it to give me motion sickness because of how hectic it appeared on my television screen on the other side of the room. Rhythm game aficionados may love this, but someone who enjoys the more mellow pacing of a Persona game might just opt for the soundtrack.

That’s it for this February/March hybrid month. I will be back again in a few weeks to recap how my April journey went.

Let me know which game to play next and what you think of my backlog journey so far!


Paul Shkreli

Paul has been playing video games since his Nana bought him a Nintendo in 1991. He joined RPGamer in 2020.

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