Backloggin’ the Year – Paul’s Playthrough, July & August 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.
Not sure about you, but I’ve already exchanged my bathing suit and flip flops for donuts and cider. Between back-to-school mask shopping and college football just starting, summer is out the door. Since the dog days of summer kept me busy, I’ve got a two-for-one for you, dear reader as I recap both July and August.
In July, I participated in #JRPGJuly while also reviewing Mario Golf: Super Rush. Later in August, I reviewed CrisTales. Follow along if you want to know what I did last summer, other than make homemade macaroni-and-cheese flavored ice cream.
Star Ocean First Departure R (Switch)
Although my first RPGs were on the Super Nintendo, my true RPG coming-of-age didn’t occur until the PlayStation era. When I initially played Star Ocean: Second Story in grade school, I was unaware the game was a sequel to a Super Nintendo game that never made it to the United States. While the first game had long been fan-translated, I never got around to playing it or scooping up the enhanced PSP port. In 2019, Square Enix released this improved port of the PSP port, featuring some graphical and balancing improvements.
— Paul (@paulwall217) July 7, 2021
As you undoubtedly saw in July, Star Ocean: First Departure R is a good game, but not necessarily a great one. There is also a host of gameplay mechanics — cooking, private actions, and the like — which are retrofitted onto this remaster that are not in the original. Numerous battle mechanics, exploration on the world map, and even new playable characters were added.
All that to say: it’s difficult to judge this game as the true genesis of the series because of the implementation of a number of mechanics that were popularized by later entries of the series. Like most Star Ocean games, the storyline also fails to capitalize on the mix of science fiction and high fantasy. As I approached end-game, my party was required to backtrack through most of the world map on a fetch quest.
Star Ocean: First Departure R is a great on-ramp to the series and has a fresh coat of paint. Newcomers to the series can certainly start here, while knowing many of the mechanics do carry over to the superior sequels. For long-time Star Ocean fans, though, playing First Departure R in 2021 may hit a nerve with the reminder the series has never reached the same cosmic heights it did on the PlayStation more than twenty years ago.
Final Fantasy (iOS)
I balked when Square Enix announced the Pixel Remaster of the first six Final Fantasy games; doubly so when Square Enix announced these titles were for mobile and PC only. Since we all know they will eventually release for console (or I will be able to play them on a Steam Deck handheld next year) I have done my best to avoid purchasing the games as they come out for PC. To celebrate the release of the first three Final Fantasy games in July, I decided to play my now-vintage iOS port of the non-remastered first game. Playing it on my iPhone 12 Pro Max is pretty bleak.
I tried playing the non pixel remastered version of Final Fantasy…sounds awful pic.twitter.com/cHmGD0RYgv
— Paul (@paulwall217) September 5, 2021
It sounds bad. It looks bad. There’s…no controller support? Oddities abound with this one. The game is particularly difficult, both in terms of enemies but also when it comes to getting lost. I was constantly lost, a condition quite difficult to reverse in standard-issue Final Fantasy. I played it for a few hours and then decided to take a look at Remaster on Steam. The difference is incredible. Playing these outdated ports is a disservice to the game and the player. It’s decidedly sub-optimal, reminiscent of when you update your ancient iPhone and the new operating system makes it run poorly. Thank you, next.
Kingdom Hearts III (PlayStation 4)
I’m a huge fan of Kingdom Hearts. Lord no, not the series. The first game. Fond memories, dear reader. I was a freshman in high school and I successfully convinced my mom to let me skip school. We ran a bunch of errands and we went to EB Games where I was able to pick up the brand new Final Fantasy x Disney crossover. The first game was truly wonderful, a bizarre mix of random Final Fantasy villains and James Woods’ hammy performance as Hades from Hercules. Simply put, I was lovin’ it.
— Paul (@paulwall217) August 13, 2021
The second game came out, but I was a freshman in college and missed it at release. I contemplated the sequel years later, but was so overwhelmed by all the partial sequels and side stories and awful names. When Kingdom Hearts III was released, I decided to give it a go. I played it for about twelve hours before stopping. Since then, my kids have been introduced to Disney — and especially Frozen — so this summer I made a pledge to play this game.
We finally made it to Arendelle, where Frozen takes place. I find the gameplay flow to be boring: run around, spam the attack button for an eternity, and move on to the next mob before a cutscene. We briefly saw Elsa; she was whisked away only for my party to be told to find her. We did find her a few minutes later… when we switched over to Disney+ and watched the movie instead.
Kingdom Hearts III is overstuffed with too many ideas, without regard to the convoluted hyper-anime plot trappings. There are gummi ships to build and race, Game Boy-style mini-games to collect and play, a photo mode, recipes to make with the mouse from Ratatouille, and more. Where did all of the Final Fantasy characters go? Why does the load screen look like Mickey’s Instagram feed?
The worst part? I bought the “All in One” package, so now I have more gummi ships and Hikaru Utada than I know what to do with.
Sword and Fairy 6 (PlayStation 4)
Earlier this year, a colleague here shared this article which explores the history of the Chinese RPG. It was a fascinating read for me, someone with very little information on the topic. I had very little exposure to the sub-genre and wanted to experience one of the games described but knew my options were limited as I wanted to play a relatively recent game. I added Sword and Fairy 6 to my wish list.
A few months later, and the game was on sale. It was an easy buy at under $7.00 on PSN. The game looks and sounds like a PlayStation 2 game, but it has surprising depth. The battle system was similar to Final Fantasy XIII. Players control one party member while AI controls the other two, although specific commands can be issued. Each party member has specific abilities to use outside of battle to traverse through dungeons: in the first dungeon, I swapped leader characters to utilize a special power to move a plank, creating a path to move forward.
I enjoyed my brief time with the game, but the inability to shake the feeling I was playing a game from 2003 makes it a difficult game to recommend. The graphical presentation is quite ugly, although I did enjoy a number of the enemy designs. The translation is riddled with minor spelling errors, and a full grasp of the gameplay mechanics was difficult to achieve. The game runs poorly on the PlayStation 4, but enjoyed improved performance on the PlayStation 5. There are a few Chinese RPGs scheduled for release in the west this year – including Sword and Fairy 7– and I am looking forward to checking them out as well.
Nintendo eShop sales strike again. I bought this months ago when it was available for a meager sum, and quickly tucked it aside. Magicat is a cuddly-cute platformer that can be played in short bursts or even longer gaming sessions. The story is uncomplicated: players control a magical cat on a quest to recover an artifact. The magical cat is able to launch a projectile at adorable enemies as well.
— Paul (@paulwall217) August 30, 2021
The presentation is delightful, with a bright color palette that features a number of visually pleasant hues. The game reminded me of a Super Nintendo Mario game through an Instagram filter. The handful of oversized boss encounters were uncomplicated fun. Despite the saccharine presentation, the game is not afraid to bring some challenge
I’ve said it before, but the eShop is a double-edged sword: it may be bursting at the seams with content of variable quality, but it’s always easy to find a great indie game at a huge discount. This is surely one of them.
The Coma 2: Vicious Sister (PlayStation 4)
You ever fall asleep while perusing the sales on PSN, eShop, or Steam? Yeah, me either. This game was an impulse purchase recently due to a great sale price and a haunting store icon. Despite the title, I initially assumed the game was not an actual sequel, but instead some highly stylized naming convention for a one-shot visual novel. Imagine my surprise to find this game is, in fact, a sequel. Playing the first game is not required, as this sequel incorporates an ending from the first game in the storytelling.
I have so many good things to say about this game, THE COMA 2 from @DevespressoG. Think Clock Tower x Persona + great localization. Picked up it during @PlayStation indie sale. I also love when I see my kid’s name in a game. pic.twitter.com/ZF7NubrJmZ
— Paul (@paulwall217) September 1, 2021
Players control Mina Park, a high school student who mysteriously falls asleep after an evening class at her school. When she awakes, she finds herself in the “Coma,” a shadow world where she is stalked by a nightmarish ghoul baring her homeroom teacher’s face. Mina is initially pretty defenseless but quickly acclimates to her surroundings with mace, vending machine restoratives, and a small number of items she can assemble at a work bench.
As Mina navigates through a series of survival horror staples — high school, police station, hospital — she encounters falling bodies, swiping shadows, and the ever persistent Dark Song. Vicious Sister plays like Clock Tower with a Persona aesthetic set in a Korean high-school. Players must contend with item management and solving puzzles while trying to escape the shadow realm. The game is rarely scary, but incredibly moody and atmospheric boasting a beautiful graphical novel style and a foreboding soundtrack. An unusual and short game that rewards players for sticking through to the end.
Are you still here? I’m off to play Tales of Arise. In the meantime, if you have any suggestions for anime video games (old and new) to try, let me know in the comments below or on Twitter!