Sunday, February 14, 2016

The Rise of Dr. Weil

Well, this has definitely become a trend. This is third in my new video review series and MMZ4 should be soon to follow. I'm unsure where I'll go after that, but new actual text articles should appear before long on some of the other games I've been putting off. Without further ado, here's my video for Mega Man Zero 3.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Zero's Return

Here we go again. For the. . .second time ever on Everything All the Time, I've done a video review! I think this one's probably a little better but certainly rough around the edges.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

The Resurrection of Zero

For the first time ever on Everything All the Time, I elected to do a video review instead of a standard blog entry. Whether or not this becomes a trend is still up in the air, but I did have a lot of fun doing it!

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Up to His Old Tricks

Way back in 2008, long before I'd conceived the idea of Everything All of the Time or become nearly as obsessive about completing games I played, I embarked on the first of many gaming marathons. I've discussed at length on this blog my multiple endeavors to play through game series entry by entry, back to back. One of the very first times I ever did this was with the original Mega Man series--and not in the Anniversary Collection either--I played the original NES versions, starting with the very first game and progressing all the way to Mega Man 8 and even Rockman and Forte. I had a ton of fun playing through these games and within about a week's time I became a dedicated Mega Man fan. After a short break, I tackled Mega Man 9, then recently released for WiiWare, Xbox Live Arcade, and the PlayStation Network. After finishing so many Mega Man games in a row, you'd think I would have been prepared for whatever Mega Man 9 could throw at me, but I was sorely mistaken. I found myself struggling to defeat even a single robot master. Discouraged, I left the game to stagnate in my backlog for many years.

Fortunately, the day has finally come for me to absolve myself of the shame I felt as I have just today completed Mega Man 9 some 8 years after it originally released. I supposed this should come as no surprise since I didn't play the original Mega Man series until 20 years after they released. Comparatively, I'm really ahead of the curve here. I still can't help but feel a disconnect between Mega Man 9 and the rest of the series--even from the first six games which it most directly emulates, with its retro 8-bit graphics and gameplay. I still can't say if it's just my imagination, but Mega Man 9's difficulty level is absolutely off the charts. I say this despite remembering keenly the frustration I felt when I originally tackled Mega Man all those years ago. As a person with meager action/platforming experience to draw on, I found it fiendishly difficult, if not incredibly addictive and rewarding. After conquering that title (and particularly the hellishly challenging Yellow Devil from the final stages), the rest of the series honestly seemed like a cakewalk--until of course I finally reached Mega Man 9. No more could I charge my blaster, no more could I cheekily slide around. It was back to basics again, and the difficulty hit me like a ton of bricks.

Let's step back for a minute and talk about what the Mega Man series is and what traditions are inherent to the series. As established in the very first title, Mega Man is an adorable childlike robot with a blaster arm. His goal is to defeat 8 robot masters (6 in the first game) assembled by the nefarious Dr. Wily for questionable reasons. Each of these robot masters adheres to a certain theme and possesses a weapon that Mega Man may take for himself. The order in which the player defeats these robot masters is a principal element to the strategy of these games as each robot master is weak to the weapon of another. Fans generally come to a consensus on which robot master is best to tackle first as it is the one Mega Man will have to fight with only the use of his standard mega buster. This formula is very consistent in the first six games of the series and in MM9 as well, although a few new features and mechanics are sprinkled in here and there, such as the introduction of Mega Man's robotic dog Rush in Mega Man 3. His ability to transform into coils, submarines, and jetpacks add an extra layer of gameplay to platforming. The ability to charge the mega buster to higher levels of power was also introduced in Mega Man 4 and was used in subsequent Mega Man titles. The charging mechanic (and the ability to slide) are conspicuously absent for Mega Man 9, suggesting perhaps that Inti Creates, the company responsible for this retro reboot, were interested in returning as much to basics as possible.

It is arguable that the advancements to the series made over the years were for the better or not. Is Mega Man 9 successful because it is so stripped down or would it have been a better game if it had picked up where the PlayStation's Mega Man 8 had left off? Mega Man 2 is generally regarded as the best the series has to offer--and Mega Man 9 shares the most similarities with it. It is elegant in its simplicity and brutal difficulty. Progressing through the game's stages takes significant amounts of trial and error and rote memorization. It is extremely rewarding to reach the point where you've learned a stage well enough that segments that seemed impossible at first can be conquered within seconds. This is a testament to Inti Creates level design--no surprise considering the developer consists of many ex-Capcom staff members.

One could regard Mega Man 9 as a return to form but it could just as easily be dismissed for drawing too heavily on its roots. Personally, I'm a fan of the entire Mega Man series and enjoyed most advancements that were made along the way--even when it resulted in a nerf to the overall difficulty. I appreciate Mega Man 9 for what it is, but it is just so hard that I'm not surprised I put off finishing it for this long. I can't dismiss it for being unfair, though. If I put enough time in, I could beat the entire game without relying on chugging energy tanks of storing up extra lives--but it speaks to my level of patience that I can't bring myself to do that. I found defeating Wily for the 9th time to be ultimately rewarding even so.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

The Second Chapter

I was a tad late to the party on Nihon Falcom’s The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky. It was graciously localized by the team at Xseed in 2011, but I didn’t play it until this past September. I’d heard a not inconsiderable amount of praise for the game, but those voices never really came to the forefront until the impending release of Trails in the Sky Second Chapter. The project had been considered abandoned by the community due to a lack of communication from Xseed and the massive amount of text the company were tasked with translating. Fortunately, they did get the project done and Second Chapter was released this past October, not long after I’d finished its predecessor. Of course, I’d long since moved on to other games at this point and found myself working through titles like Final Fantasy Type 0 and Disgaea D2--but as soon as I was done there, I picked up where I left off.

I enjoyed the first chapter of the Trails in the Sky story a lot, but I have to admit it would have been incredibly disconcerting to experience that cliffhanger of an ending with no way to be sure a sequel would ever be released. In Japan, all three chapters of Trails in the Sky were released back to back. Xseed, appreciated as their efforts are, took four years to release Second Chapter--and this is a sequel to a game that was originally released in Japan in 2006. The graphics are certainly dated--and honestly, they probably weren’t all that impressive even for the time--but the gameplay, dialogue, and plot more than make up for that.

Second Chapter picks up just exactly where the first game left off. It’s such a seamless transition that I wasn’t surprised at all to learn that the two halves were originally intended to be one game. You’re even able to transfer save data from First Chapter in order to carry on with your characters’ statistics completely intact. Of course, there are some new mechanics introduced, mostly to accommodate the game’s much higher level cap. It is possible to equip higher level orbments--magical relics that boost statistics and unlock powerful spells for your characters. Party members from the first game will learn upgraded versions of their previous skills as well as frequently a few new ones. It is also possible to combine with other party members and unleash Chain Crafts, damaging area skills that affect a larger area based on how many members participate. The battle system is completely identical other than these few new features.

The First Chapter ended with some shocking revelations and much of the Second Chapter focuses on uncovering more information about those secrets and going in depth about the ancient artifact Estelle and her companions came into contact with underneath Grancel castle. She’ll find herself revisiting all of the principal locations from the first game. I was a little disappointed in the lack of new environments for the sequel, but the dialogue and interactions between characters kept me suitably entertained even so. Second Chapter also affords you the opportunity of having more control over your party’s composition, especially for the first 3/4ths of the game. This is a welcome change, particularly since the game boasts an impressive 12 character roster, several of which were not playable in the first game. Of course, a few of these are only available at very late stages of the game.

Second Chapter’s primary weakness is in its lack of variety compared to the first game. Almost no areas in the game are new save for a few dungeons. I was looking forward to venturing onto Erebonian soil or visiting Calvard--but the vast majority of the game takes place in Liberl in the very same towns Estelle and Joshua already visited. Of course, the breadth of character development, quests, and things to do are impressive--but it’s disappointing that they all take place in such familiar locations. It makes a lot of sense when you consider Second Chapter was released as an extension instead of a straight up sequel--but here in the States when the first game was released in English some four years ago, it’s jarring not to see more of an advancement.

Trails in the Sky Second Chapter is essentially just more of the same--but when you’re discussing games as good as these are, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I had a blast learning more about Estelle Bright’s motley band of companions and their various backstories and motivations. Characters that had never clicked with me before became more interesting due to events of the plot and how these characters played a part in it. Trails gives ample time to each of its characters and makes them important--or at least this is true for the vast majority of the game’s running time. Bizarrely, the game throws three new playable characters at you in the final dungeon. They are characters that have been around for awhile, but it’s strange that they weren’t made available prior to 60 hours of game time. It strikes me as poor planning, but I suppose it’s better than not including them at all. And hey, maybe they were being set up for inclusion in the Third Chapter, but it’s probably too early to even think about that receiving the localization it so desperately needs.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The 2015 Video Game Retrospective

I did a fun thing in 2014 where I briefly revisited all the games I'd finished that year--in the order I'd played them. It was a really fun writing exercise and I really enjoy the idea of looking back on it in the years to come. I knew even then that I wanted to do the same thing for 2015, but unfortunately I was unable to finish it in as timely a fashion as I might have preferred. Although I'd furiously typed out the bulk of this entry on December 31st, I'd done nothing in the way of graphics for the article. I could have just published it as-is, of course--but I wasn't satisfied with that. Despite illness and other pressing concerns, I did eventually manage to finish up the rest of the article, even if we are now deep into January 2016. Without further ado, I give you my 2015 Video Game Retrospective.

The majority of my total play time of Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth took place in 2014, but I didn’t finish it until New Year’s Day, 2015. Despite criticism from both the Persona and Etrian Odyssey communities, I absolutely loved Persona Q, perhaps because it doled out a heavy serving of fanservice for those of us that really enjoyed both Persona 3 and Persona 4. I love crossovers in general, and while Persona Q could have gone further in delivering on that fantasy, I found it satisfied my craving well enough and introduced me to a type of gameplay to which I became quite addicted over the course of 2015—and invariably convinced me to soldier on through the entirety of the Etrian Odyssey series released thus far. I discussed it at length for my very first entry on this blog in 2015.

I couldn’t tell you exactly why I decided I wanted to play Illusion of Gaia, but it had something to do with an urge to revisit Terranigma, a game I’d played many years previous and abandoned due to a loss of save data. I decided to partner up with a friend and play through the Soul Blazer trilogy (without actually playing Soul Blazer for whatever reason) because it seemed like it might be a fun thing to do. As it turned out, it was! Illusion of Gaia is a sidescrolling action RPG with themes of world exploration and ancient history. It’s a little rough around the edges but overall quite fun.

Still, Terranigma was ultimately what I was interested in playing and it’s the superior of the two games—although the gameplay itself is very different. Terranigma is played from a top-down perspective quite reminiscent of Link to the Past and the combat is much more fluid and varied than its immediate predecessor. Themes of history and rebirth are again present in Terranigma, but the gameplay itself is much more polished and fun, even if spellcasting is somewhat less than satisfying. I found myself reminded of the awkward pauses while casting spells from Secret of Mana and Seiken Densetsu 3, which my co-op partner and I also completed the previous year.

I started Dragon Quest III right after finishing the Super Famicom compilation of the first two games of the series. I found myself absorbed in it pretty much immediately but for whatever reason I lost interest and moved on to other games. In an effort to clear out my backlog (and advance even further into the gargantuan Dragon Quest series), I decided to seriously tackle the third game and found I enjoyed it the most of the entries I’d played up to that point. It expanded the party size to four and introduced a fun new class mechanic while still featuring the classic combat and exploration mechanics from the previous two titles.

I became intrigued at some point in 2014 with the idea of marathoning RPG series. It’s a massive undertaking in many cases as RPGs are generally very lengthy and exhaustive experiences. I’m a fan of the Tales series, but the misery of the final segments of Tales of Destiny almost scared me away from the series entirely. I’m glad I decided to follow up, though, because Tales of Eternia ended up being one of the series’ better entries. It improved on Destiny in pretty much every way. This was also the first (of several) Tales games that I played with my co-op partner entirely. I assumed control of the martial artist Farah and he controlled the swordsman protagonist, Reid. Farah is still one of my favorite characters as far as gameplay goes, 3D Tales games included.

Before finding employment in 2014, I’d considered the idea of marathoning the entire Dragon Quest series. I’d never played any of the games before (save for Dragon Quest V via emulation, briefly) and felt it was a pretty important series to play to get a better perspective on the JRPG genre in general. After playing the first two games of the series, I found I quite enjoyed the formula, simple as it was. I was even more determined at that point to make my way through the series. After completing Dragon Quest III, I decided to order the DS versions of the next three games in the series. So far, Chapters of the Chosen is the only one I’ve actually purchased because they’re all quite expensive. Fortunately, it’s also my favorite! I’ve always really enjoyed games with large ensemble casts of characters that start out separated but come together in the end and DQIV is a really good example of that.

I’m a big fan of the Pokemon series and felt that X and Y were some of the best games yet. The jump to full 3D graphics after years and years of resolutely sticking to the 2D standard was a startling but welcome improvement over the usual formula. Additionally, the gameplay itself was quite fun and for the first time since the second generation many years ago, Game Freak elected to add a new type—the questionably named Fairy typing. While it might have made more sense to add Light (opposed to Dark) instead of Fairy, it was still an interesting wrinkle in a tried and true format. Alpha Sapphire is another remake in the vein of Fire Red/Leaf Green and Soul Silver/Heart Gold, but this time with the 3D graphics introduced with X and Y. Ruby/Sapphire was not my favorite generation to begin with and the enhanced remake doesn’t do it as many favors as one might imagine. Although a solid entry, it left me craving genuinely new content for the series.

It’s unclear why I decided to play Tales of Innocence while waist-deep in Tales of Vesperia. It’s a Japanese-only release for Nintendo DS that was graciously translated into English by a group of fans calling themselves Absolute Zero Translations—the same group responsible for the PSX Tales of Phantasia translation project. I’m not sure how I even heard about it, but I was considering playing Tales of Legendia at the time since I was craving more Tales in my off time after finishing Eternia. I was unable to acquire a copy so I looked to Innocence instead. Of course, my co-op partner and I started Vesperia around the same time so I very quickly became burnt out on the format—and switching between two slightly different control schemes was also a little disconcerting. Tales of Innocence is a slightly more bite-sized entry into the series and features only three characters in combat at a time. The Infinite Jam mechanic that allows you to string together complex combos by switching from character to character is probably the game’s highlight, but the long and tedious dungeons drag it down quite a few notches.

I spent countless hours on Super Smash Bros Melee as a kid and even spent a fair amount of time on Super Smash Bros Brawl a few years back--but this most recent iteration never caught on as much for me, despite the hype that's surrounded it. I'll be the first to admit that many of the recent new character announcements are pretty intriguing, but not enough to make me seriously consider returning to it after I got what I could out of it. It's probably not a failing of the game, exactly--it's just not what I'm looking for in games these days. I need a story mode--something that is tailored toward a single player or cooperative experience. Smash Bros is just not all that engaging as a single player.

My co-op partner and I made our first foray into 3D Tales with the Xbox 360’s Tales of Vesperia. I’d been meaning to play it for years since I’d heard about it, but of course for the longest time I’d only played Symphonia and Abyss, the latter of which I didn’t particularly care for. Vesperia shares a lot of the principal weaknesses of the Tales series, particularly when it comes to the 3D entries. It’s long-winded and frequently a little saccharine. The characters are solid, however, and the combat itself quite fun and satisfying. I spent most of my time controlling Judith or Karol while my co-op partner was responsible for Yuri or the strange knife-wielding dog, Repede.

I’d had plans ever since I finished Persona Q to tackle the main Etrian Odyssey series from the beginning. I ordered the first game of the series and was sent a copy of the second one instead—so I ordered the first one again and thankfully got the right game that time. It worked out in the end since I’d been planning to move right onto the second game afterward anyway. It was kind of a shock to play the first game of the EO series after playing Persona Q. It was pretty clear that a lot of advancements had been made over the years in interface, graphics, and balance. Still, the core gameplay of mapmaking, dungeon crawling, and character building remains intact, although I wonder just how much more I might have enjoyed the remake, Etrian Odyssey Untold: The Millennium Girl. I’ll have to try that one of these days.

I ended up enjoying Etrian Odyssey II a lot more, but it still had a lot of balance issues of which I gleefully took full advantage. I have to admit after the endless punishment of Etrian Odyssey, it felt pretty rewarding harnessing the destructive power of the Dark Hunter class with its insanely powerful counter attacks and binding skills. Heroes of Lagaard has my favorite implementation of the Boost Gauge mechanic in that each class has its own unique “super skill” that brings something unique to the table. In the first game, the Boost mechanic simply increased damage by 50% and in future titles each class chooses from a pool of shared skills for the Boost Gauge. In Etrian Odyssey II, each class only has one powerful skill, but they’re very flashy, game-altering abilities. The Dark Hunter has the ability to bind arms, legs, and head in one skill—and then follow up with the Ecstasy skill, which deals damage based on how many binds the enemy is currently afflicted with. This made short work of many bosses.

The only reason I finished two really long games in one day is because I was playing this in pretty long sessions with my longtime co-op partner at his house. Of course, Nocturne is not a cooperative game, but we still had a lot of fun trading off playing this. I’d definitely be interested in doing that kind of thing more often. We’d given the format a test run earlier in the year with Illusion of Gaia and Terranigma, but this was the first time we’d played a single player game cooperatively in person. It was a really positive experience—we were able to bounce ideas off each other as far as strategy and build decisions go. Nocturne is a fantastic game and one of my favorites I played in 2015. It is challenging and has satisfying gameplay depth and excellent atmosphere.

It was at this point that Etrian fatigue really began to kick in. I’d played the first three titles in quick succession (with quite a bit of Nocturne on the side, admittedly) and was becoming pretty burnt out on the format. Of course, I’d already ordered Etrian Odyssey IV for 3DS by this point (with Etrian Mystery Dungeon close behind) and was excited to try them out, but I knew instinctively that I needed to take a bit of a break before moving on. In a lot of ways, EOIII advanced the format to its best form yet, but I’ll admit to missing the super powerful class skills and devastating Hexer/Dark Hunter strategies from the previous title. Still, the new classes, subclassing, and sailing features were revitalizing inclusions to the format.

Hammerwatch was another cooperative title my co-op partner and I tackled and probably the shortest game I played all year. We finished it in a single day, but I still feel reasonably assured that it was worth the purchase on Steam. It's a pixelated action/dungeon crawler in the vein of the Gauntlet series featuring a handful of character classes, bullet hell influences, and hordes and hordes of enemies. It's actually pretty refreshing to play a fun game that doesn't take up 30+ hours of my time. Granted, I prefer RPGs, but games like Hammerwatch are a pleasant diversion in between role playing epics.

Somehow, while all of this was happening, I was still finding time to play Tales of Graces. I'd started playing it shortly after my co-op partner and I finished Tales of Vesperia. He'd decided that he was burned out on Tales for the time being (and it led to us playing Nocturne instead, which ended up being fantastic) but I still had a hunger to advance through the Tales series. Tales of Graces F is a PS3 port of a game originally released for Wii in Japan. Its graphics are even brighter and more colorful than is typical for the series--but most importantly, the battle system is faster-paced and more interesting than some of the other recent Tales titles. I would maybe even go so far as to say it's my favorite, but it's difficult to say since it still has so many of the series' hallmark frustrations--overly long exposition, volumes upon volumes of pointless dialogue, and--well, that's honestly about all the bad things I can say about it. The plot was more interesting than your average Tales title and the combat system was a blast.

I was still trying to find relatively short games to finish since I'd spent so much time on Etrian Odyssey, Nocturne, Tales, etc--and I settled on Crypt of the Necrodancer because I was in love with the idea of a roguelike with rhythm-based controls. I still love the idea and think the game's a ton of fun. It has enough content to last your average player many hours, but I think I spent perhaps a bit more time than was intended to finish it just because the last couple of levels are so hard. I don't get frustrated at games very often, but this game definitely did it to me. The soundtrack is brilliant and the gameplay innovative. I can't really say anything negative about it other than its difficulty level, but I can't honestly say the balance of the game was ever unfair.

As I write this retrospective on the last day of December, I can't help but feel envious of the breakneck pace at which I completed games earlier in 2015. I played Icewind Dale cooperatively with a different co-op partner than usual. I've always been a huge fan of the Infinity Engine games released in the mid 90s but somehow I'd never gotten around to playing IWD. The original version of the game struck me as a stripped down, virtually plotless Baldur's Gate, but the enhanced edition has a lot more options, culled from Baldur's Gate II: Throne of Bhaal and from more recent D&D titles in general. The plot and atmosphere of IWD remains virtually unchanged, but the gameplay is much upgraded and polished compared to the original version. I found it to be an unexpected treat.

After playing Graces on my own, my co-op partner and I decided to get back to work on the series with Tales of Xillia. The fast-paced, resourceless combat of the previous game was gone, replaced again with something more akin to most mainline 3D Tales entries. It plays like a slightly faster-paced Vesperia, except with a return to the Chain Capacity/Assault Counter mechanic allowing characters to chain artes and attacks together in any order. Unlike Graces, Xillia returns to using TP (technical points) as a limiter on arte usage. Eliminating TP in Graces felt like a breath of fresh air, so I have to wonder why they didn't stay the course. Then again, the combat system in Graces was essentially superior in every way. Xillia's Link Attacks are interesting, but are honestly kind of a no-brainer mechanic in an action-based RPG battle system. The characters themselves are sometimes interesting, but not often especially. The original intent was for us to follow up with Tales of Xillia 2, but plans have a way of evaporating. . .

For most of this year, I've had a game I played at work on lunch breaks, a game I played with my co-op partner, and a game I played during whatever other free time I happened to have. Final Fantasy IV was my lunch break game, and one of the few games I've played for Android. It is one of many different versions of Final Fantasy IV I've played and pretty closely resembles the DS version. It's more or less a direct port with touch screen controls, but certain features were altered. The graphics are slightly improved, but still not terribly advanced. I enjoyed playing through the game again, but I didn't feel it brought anything new to the table compared to previous remakes. I mostly just played it in preparation for the "sequel," which I had not yet played.

Final Fantasy IV has always had a special place in my heart. It was the first Final Fantasy I played--and despite its flaws I still really enjoy it. It's why I continue to play its various iterations. I may invariably end up playing the PSP version of the game as well, which as of this writing is just about the only version of it I have not yet played. Regardless, I was fascinated as a kid at the thought of a direct sequel to FFIV. At the time, this kind of thing was unheard of. It wasn't until the tenth entry of the series that Square opted for a direct sequel to any main line Final Fantasy title. Square-Enix's track record with sequels has been somewhat less than stellar, however, and The After Years is unfortunately no exception. It is a game that strikes me as rather exploitative as a Final Fantasy IV fan. It pays heavy homage to the orginal title but does little to advance the format. The new combination attacks are interesting and I have to admit that bringing together all of the Final Fantasy IV characters once again satisfies a deeply rooted urge I'd had since I was a little kid--but it's ultimately a game with a weak premise and lots of reused content from the original game.

After playing the enhanced edition of Icewind Dale, I really felt the urge to try Beamdog's other Infinity Engine updates. The gameplay is essentially unchanged from the original title, but like IWD:EE, it features many of Baldur's Gate II's updates and enhancements, including a much more robust selection of character classes and subclasses. My co-op partner--who had accompanied me on titles like Secret of Mana, Divinity: Original Sin, and a good chunk of the Tales series--was not immediately convinced by Baldur's Gate's admittedly dated gameplay. I mostly enjoy it for the atmosphere, exploration, and plot. I feel the gameplay itself is more interesting in its sequel.

It was during this time that I was alternating between playing different Infinity Engine remakes with two different co-op partners. We'd decided to continue on after finishing the base Icewind Dale game by first tackling Trials of the Luremaster, an extremely expansive dungeon that comprised the bulk of the expansion. Densely packed with riddles, puzzles, and difficult encounters--Heart of Winter and Icewind Dale as a whole focus much more on combat and dungeon crawling than Baldur's Gate and Planescape:Torment. However, there is still much in the way of atmosphere and worldbuilding beneath the surface--they're just not as integral to the experience. I find Icewind Dale to be a more immediately engaging experience but ultimately not as rewarding as Baldur's Gate (particularly II).

Unlike Heart of Winter, Tales of the Sword Coast is relatively flimsy in terms of content for an expansion pack, boasting maybe 3-4 hours of content, the bulk of which takes place in Durlag's Tower, a booby-trapped labyrinth. Also on display are an ice maze, an island of werewolves, and the quest hub of Ulgoth's Beard. Tales of the Sword Coast is less plot-driven than the main game, principally because it serves as content to complement it rather than extend it.

I was determined to get some use out of tablet as a gaming platform. Although I'd enjoyed both Final Fantasy IV and The After Years both to some extent, I felt it might be more interesting to tackle a game designed specifically for tablets (and phones) instead of a reworked port. Dimensions is an original spin-off title in the Final Fantasy series that pays homage to many previous games, particularly Final Fantasy V, which its job system most closely resembles. The plot is almost completely ignorable, but the gameplay itself is solid, if not repetitive. Because its split into episodes (like The After Years), it feels overly long, and the job system heavily encourages grinding to succeed. It ends up feeling like quite the slog in the end, but I'm generally a fan of becoming incredibly powerful by the time you reach an RPGs endgame--and that's a fantasy on which Dimensions gleefully delivers.

Because I felt I just didn't have quite enough handhelds, I purchased a PlayStation Vita. First on the list was a remake of a game I'd already finished on the Wii. I'm not certain why I elected to play so many remakes this year, but I guess that's just how things work out sometimes. Muramasa is a Vanillaware action game with a beautiful 2D art style with an aesthetic rooted in Japanese mythology and culture. The gameplay itself is a blast and light RPG elements keep things interesting for the game's duration. Momohime and Kisuke are the game's protagonists and the stars of their own storylines. Their control schemes are essentially identical but both have their own unique sets of katanas they unlock over the course of their campaigns, each of which control fairly distinctly and feature different special abilities. With its fluid controls, satisfying challenge, and beautiful art style, Muramasa is one of my favorite action games.

Finally, I thought, with assistance from my co-op partner, I could finally seriously play the expansion to Baldur's Gate II I'd been putting off completing for over ten years! That was in the back of my mind the whole time we were playing BGII, but I did find myself enjoying playing through a game I've completed literally dozens of times. Some of the first entries on this blog are about the non-enhanced version of thsi game. Of course, the "remake" in this case is less noticeable than those of Icewind Dale and the original Baldur's Gate title. I'm happy enough just to play a great game again with a friend, but unfortunately we found ourselves beset on all sides by annoying and game-altering bugs. They were frankly debilitating enough that we considered not finishing the game--but we soldiered on. I still enjoyed myself, but found the bugs definitely soured the experience--and to my despair, we never did finish Throne of Bhaal. I still haven't finished it.

It was at this point that I decided to completely switch gears to play a game that'd been in my backlog for years. I also realized I'd not played a strategy RPG in a year or more--which is interesting, since it's historically been my favorite video game genre. After I made a lot of progress on Knight of Lodis, I started getting ideas about continuing on to the PSP remake of Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together (since 2015 has evidently been the Year of Remakes for me anyway) but have so far not followed up on that idea. I'm still open to it, but as of now my foray into the Ogre series was a side path. Ogre Battle 64 is one of my favorite games ever. It seems strange to me that it was the only game from the series I'd completed for years. At least now I can add Knight of Lodis to that list.

There was a point at some time last year (or maybe even the end of the year before) that I was playing probably 12 hours of Path of Exile a day. It's an incredibly addictive RPG in the vein of Diablo but in my opinion it is far superior to it. The game's principal strength lies in its diversity of build options, which continue to grow and grow as more content patches are released for the game. I'd play more, but I don't want to get sucked into a rabbit hole that never ends! It's like League of Legends in that way. I enjoy both games, but I'd rather spend more time playing games that have an actual endpoint and narratives that feature a beginning, middle, and end. I feel those are more rewarding in the end. Still, if I can find an excuse to come back to those games and play them for a little while, then I will. Awakening added a final act to the main game and a lot of new content in general. If Grinding Gear Games relases another major expansion, I imagine I'll be back.

Well, it took me some time, but I finally returned to the Etrian series. Although the fourth entry is probably one of the shorter titles, I feel I spent more time on it than any of the first three. Maybe it's because I had less time to play games in general. Ican't be sure, but I'm glad I waited a long enough time to overcome my Etrian fatigue. Etrian IV makes the jump to full 3D graphics and completely separated major dungeons in the vein of Persona Q (or Persona 4, as a matter of fact), and incorprorates the sea maps from EOIII as airship maps. These are the principal form of travel from dungeon to dungeon, in fact, and lend more cohesion to the game compared to the sea maps that felt more like optional side missions. I liked Etrian Odyssey IV a lot, but I did find myself missing classes from the previous entry.

I'd heard rumblings about Trails in the Sky for PSP for some time and had always wanted to try it. Unfortunately, my PSP charger has been out of commission for a long time. For that reason, I elected to emulate various PSP games last year when I was trying to clear out some of my backlog. I've since ordered a replacement PSP charger, but I decided it was just as easy to download a copy of Trails in the Sky for my shiny new Vita instead. I'm really glad I did, because it ended up being one of my favorite games I played this year. It is a JRPG that reminds me mostly of a lot of PS1 classics like Lunar and Suikoden, with a pseudo tactical combat system. The primary strength of Trails lies in its characters and dialogue, however. I'm truly grateful to Xseed for undertaking the herculean task of localizing the game and translating its countless volumes of text. I've really grown attached to Estelle, the game's spunky female protagonist, and Joshua, and Kloe, Agate, Scherazard--none of the characters really lack in development, and are explored even further in the game's Second Chapter, which I finished just recently!

Because I'm a huge fan of parting with any money I might come into contact with, I decided foolishly to purchase a PlayStation 4 not long after purchasing a Vita. Realistically, I knew I'd eventually want one for such titles as Final Fantasy XV, Persona V, and Disgaea 5 (is there a theme here?), I didn't start out with much of a library on hand. Most PS4 owners grabbed Type 0 just for a chance to try the Final Fantasy XV demo, but I was genuinely interested in giving the game a shot. I'm somewhat obsessed with completing every Final Fantasy spin-off I come across within reason. Overall, Type 0 was one of the better ones, although the characters (and voice acting) were pretty darn questionable. The third-person action RPG combat system was interesting and not particularly like anything else I've played--but the game seemed to drag on for qute a bit too long. I can't say I'd necessarily recommend it, but I don't regret finishing it either.

Finally, I reached the end of my Etrian marathon. I'm pretty sure I'd heard about Etrian Mystery Dungeon before I played even a single Etrian Odyssey game--but I was interested in the idea since I'd already played Persona Q and liked roguelikes. The original plan was to play all the games in order and then follow it up with Mystery Dungeon. At the time, it seemed less a daunting obstacle than what it ended up being--but hey, it's exactly what I did. It just took me the better part of a year to do it, with a few breaks in between titles. Of course, after all that buildup, Etrian Mystery Dungeon was not exactly a perfect game--but I have discussed that quite recently on this blog. I'm still interested in trying the Etrian Odyssey Untold remakes of the first two titles, but I think I'll wait some time before giving them a try.

Part of the reason I was excited about having a PS4 was because I'd be able to play Disgaea 5 when it came out--but first I felt obligated to play Disgaea D2 first, because I'd been meaning to play it since it came out a couple years ago. Honestly--it wasn't a bad game, but it felt like a retread in a lot of ways. It returned to some mechanics that I feel might have been better left forgotten. Additionally, it seemed to lack content in comparison to mainline Disgaea titles. Much of the gameplay is identical to what you'd get from any other game in the series, but I didn't feel it brought a lot new to the table.

I hadn't originally intended for Shovel Knight to be my final game for the year, but that's just how it worked out. I figured throwing in such a short game at the end of the year would make it more likely that I'd hit 36 games and thus beat my record from last year--but alas I only ended up tying it. Still, I picked a really good game to end on, as Shovel Knight is an excellently designed retro platformer/action game that doesn't overstay its welcome. It made me wonder if I should play more games like it, because they serve as a really nice reprieve from the incredibly long JRPGs I usually play. I have a few games in mind (Ori and the Blind Forest, Freedom Planet) but who knows when I'll actually get to them. My preconceived notions about complexity and level of investment are frequently wrong, though. Crypt of the Necrodancer took a lot more time than I thought it might, and I've still barely managed to put a dent in Mega Man 9. Who knows what 2016 will bring? I've already finished Trails in the Sky Second Chapter so far this year (article coming up soon) but it's been slow going otherwise. Going full time at work combined with being sick for the better part of this year so far has made me have considerably less free time. This might not be the year to beat my record, but I intend to chronicle my efforts even so.