Shin Megami Tensei – Strange Journey

I didn’t finish Strange Journey. Instead I watched the ending on Youtube. But I was going down the neutral route so I was right outside Mem Aleph’s door when I got into Summon Night and forgot all about this. In fact I went in and fought her once, but she kicked my ass hard so I left to regroup and never did come back. IIRC I was level 78, so with a bit of grinding I should have been able to level up a bit and teach her who was who, but somehow the spirit just wasn’t in me.

Did I enjoy the game? Hmm, it’s complicated. Like most Shin Megami Tensei games I’ve played, Strange Journey went up and down regularly in terms of quality. Sometimes the story was fast-paced and the action was cracking and everything was really interesting, couldn’t wait to get back to it. Other times it was so dreary, slow and boring that I literally fell asleep behind the DS. The repetitive “fetch-questy” style of play didn’t help at all: go to this sector, explore it, kill this guy, get this item. Repeat for next sector. Repeat for next sector. I mean the details of who to beat and what the dungeon looked like differed quite a bit, but the core was exactly the same. So the story parts were good, but since each piece of plot progression was surrounded by 10 hours of only fairly-interesting dungeon-crawling it was hard going sometimes.

On the plus side I liked having tons of demons to fuse and summon, I really liked the creepy soundtrack, the characters didn’t exactly piss me off (not even Zelenin, who I thought I’d hate), and I enjoyed making new items and weapons out of monster parts, Atelier-style. Not to mention my favorite fiends from Nocturne are back, and the difficulty of the game was just right so I didn’t die too often, and all around it’s a very solid game.

Would I play it again? …Uh…I dunno… Gee… I think I’d have to let some time pass between replays. And it really depends on what you get to carry over and what you don’t. I don’t mind if I don’t carry levels or items over, but I insist on my compendium, etc. etc. Then again I got the only ending worth getting, ‘cos chaos is stupid and law is downright insulting, so I don’t know exactly what I’d be playing for. Short answer, no, I won’t play it again. But it’s not a bad game at all.

Summon Night DS

I’m on a Summon Night roll! Since I liked Summon Night X ~Tears Crown~ so much, I went out and downloaded the remake of the first Summon Night for on the Nintendo DS. I like isometric strategy RPGs anyway, so this was right up my alley. But then I loaded it up and UGH! The character designs are FUGLY! Right from the main character you select, everyone in the game looks like they were drawn by a third-grader! And the battles are slow, you spend half the game walking towards the enemy because they’re standing on the other end of the field and usually won’t move unless you come into their range.

And the story is YYY and the music is XXX and this and that…and before I knew it, 26 hours had gone by and I had finished the game. Just like that. Definitely one of the most painless game progressions I’ve ever experienced in my life. Long before I had time to start getting bored or start wondering where the story was going and who did what, it was over. On one hand, that’s called a shallow, simplistic story, on the other hand after several “deep” storylines in a row, it was a real breath of fresh air. If I had to summarize,

Pros:

– Very easy after the first few battles. Keeping everyone alive is kinda hard in the beginning, after that it gets way easier
– But not too easy: you have to do free battles if you want to keep everyone equipped ‘cos they’re very stingy with money.
– Lots of characters join your party and most of them are pretty useful
– Characters are automatically healed and revived after battle
– “Brave” system rewards you for not being overlevelled by giving you special party abilities.
– Game isn’t too long and isn’t too short. You can finish a first playthrough in 20-30 hours even if you grind.
– Lots of different beasts to summon, some very powerful, some very useful. Experimenting is fun!

Cons

– Fugly character designs. The cover art is a lie!
– Boring, cliched story. The original is over 10 years old, so that explains some things.
– Music is nothing remarkable
– Battles are really slow and take forever to finish.
– Battles are very repetitive, the same thing every single time: kill the boss/kill everyone, game over if your MC dies. Every single story battle, all the time.
– Trying to get new summons using summon stones is a crapshoot, and virtually useless in battle.
– No items to refill MP with makes using summons inconvenient in the first half of the game.
– Too many characters means you’ll be at a loss who to use and who to toss aside in the latter half. I just picked a party and stuck to it, since the game is easy enough.

So anyway, that was actually pretty fun, as far as strategy RPGs go. I was thinking of playing again with a different MC instead of Aya, but maybe I’ll wait a bit before a replay. In the meantime I’m playing Summon Night 2 DS!

Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth

Or, in short, “Quercus Alba is an idiot.” Obviously, endgame spoilers follow. There’s nothing wrong with the Ace Attorney Investigations game itself. Just like all the previous games, the last two cases dragged on tremendously, but the bad guy was gotten in the end and there was much rejoicing. This is much better than Apollo Justice and the third PW game, at any rate. Kay >>> Trucy > Maya, and Agent Lang >> Klavier (especially since you get to put paid to him in a most satisfying manner). And of  course Edgeworth = Phoenix (ooh, it’s a real toss-up) >>>>>>>> Apollo, so it’s all good.

But more than any of the other bosses before him, if this last boss had just kept his head down, stood his ground and DENIED EVERYTHING, he would have walked away a free man. There was no reason for him to cooperate with them at all once they’d caught Shih-na, ‘cos he was in plenty of trouble at that point. Deny, deny, deny, man.

Huh? My plant sticks were used as crossbows? Oh, how horrible, who would do such a thing to my poor flowers? Please find the real killer at once!

Huh? Mask Demasque II? It wasn’t me.

Huh? Loading a pushcart with a body? If someone did that, shouldn’t the suspicion be on the Steel Samurai and his staff? Anyway, it wasn’t me.

Huh? Putting the cart in the reservoir, etc, etc, etc? Shih-na and her mystery accomplice must have done that by themselves, I’m just a weak old man. Anyway, it wasn’t me.

Huh? A knife in my bouquet? Why, so it is! Or the handle, anyway. Please have the florist and my staff investigated at once, or maybe the Steel Samurai snuck it in when I wasn’t looking. Anyway, it wasn’t me.

Huh? Me and Manny in the car together? Okay, you’ve got me, I was there. But that doesn’t mean I knew anything about a so-called smuggling ring or the murder of that poor, poor girl. I was just hitching a ride with Manny to go to the doctor, what with my bad back and all. Anyway, it wasn’t me.

Huh? The fake Primidux statue somehow found its way into my office? What would that have to do with me? I have no motive, and you can’t prove I knew the counterfeit plate was inside. Seeing as Manny was the smuggling boss, maybe he or Ambassador Palaeno did it to make Allebast look bad! Anyway, it wasn’t me.

Huh? “Early Summer Rain Jab”? What can I say, I snuck a peek in the dressing room because I’m such a big fan of the Steel Samurai. Big deal.

Huh? My blood on a box of samurai dogs? Well, you can prove it was my blood, but you can’t prove it got on the box while it was in the dressing room, or that it wasn’t planted there. You say you got this from the Pink Princess? I suggest you investigate her and the Samurai one more time, their timing is especially suspicious. Anyway, it wasn’t me.

Basically you guys have got nothing on me except a bunch of wild guesses and random speculation. You can’t detain me because I’m not going to stick around long enough for you to get my diplomatic immunity revoked. So long, suckers!

Oh, and by the way: It wasn’t me!

Summon Night X ~Tears Crown~

I’ve gotten into a bad habit of starting a new game right as I’m about to finish an old one, and then getting into it so much that I forget to finish the previous one. In fact I started the Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth game right before I reached the final boss in this game, but luckily the last dungeon was so pain-free that I ended up finishing it anyway.

But I’m getting ahead of myself here. Summon Night X: Tears Crown was my very first game in the Summon Night series, as well as the only traditional turn-based RPG in the whole series, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect going on. What I expected: just an ordinary RPG to kill the time. What I got: just an ordinary RPG to kill the time, but with a fun battle system and really charming characters, well worth the time I spent playing it.

I don’t know if I want to write a full review of this. I mean, it really was ordinary. The twist at the beginning where the main character [spoiler ahead, stop now] ‘s dad [stop now, really] turns out to be evil and sends the brainwashed Prince Noin to kill the king was unexpected because I hadn’t read a synopsis, but after that everything followed automatically with almost no other surprises. Fight, conquer X place, take it back from the Evil Empire, move on to the next place, fight Empire over macguffin, lose somehow, fight some more…you get the drift. It’s a very linear game with your hand held every step of the way: Go to Tower X, it’s north of the Y plains, after that go to Cave V, it’s north of plains Z, etc. But I wasn’t looking for surprises, so I just relaxed and enjoyed the trip. The trick to enjoying this game is low expectations, after all.

Low expectations should also apply to the music, which is rather bland, and the graphics, which are quite hideous by DS standards. Don’t get me wrong, the characters designs and character portraits are cute and lovely (a little baby-faced, but in a good way), but the actual sprites on the screen are horrible. Muddled, blurry messes with obscured features. They’re almost SNES-level bad, but not quite. It took a lot of getting used to, but as I said, I wasn’t looking for anything special, so I took it in stride.

So, ordinary cliched story, bland movie, bad sprites…what haven’t I mentioned? Oh yeah, the battle system. This wasn’t quite so ordinary. I mean, it’s definitely turn-based, active time battle system where the faster person goes first (this will almost always be the enemy, especially in the case of bosses). Some of your party members can fly, so they’ll be on the top screen, the others will be standing on land on the bottom screen. Same with enemies, though the number of flying bosses is disappointingly small.

What’s the point of all this? Well a lot of attacks target a specific group of enemies/members, so if you have at least one member in the sky, you can survive a lot of things that would wipe out the party. Also the one in the sky can score critical hits on flying enemies, which most land-based party members can’t do. On the minus side, a lot of buffs will hit only those in the buffer’s zone, something to take into account. Overall I liked that the battle system used the whole DS, it made the same-old system feel a little fresh and different.

See that red-yellow-green gauge near the top? It’s a burst-gauge of sorts, and for each bar that fills up, the main character (Dylan or Fara) gets to unleash a co-op attack with one of your party-members. One attack for one bar and an ultimate attack for the full three bars. Maybe this is just me but I think Elnardita’s is the most useful because at just level one it heals all party members for huge amount and raises attack, all without using MP. That’s probably only on Dylan’s path though (you can choose one of two mains). Your choice of fighting characters will probably depend to an extent on what co-ops they offer, so do some research before you start blowing too much money on equipment.

Last thing about the battle system, you see that big yellow creature on the right of the top-screen? That’s a summon beast (duh, it’s called Summon Night), and you get them by…usually by finding them in chests.  You equip them to a character much like you did with GFs in FF8, and they provide all your magic attacks in the form of buffs, debuffs, healing and offensive magic. As you use them, they “level up” and learn new skills. And to power up these skills, you need special red Mana stones which are really (annoyingly) rare and must be used with care because they can’t be reused. A tip: don’t power up any offensive magic or debuffs, pour your stones into buffing and support magic. And be stingy with those stones until the latter half of the game when you get the good summons.

Phew…I said I wasn’t going to review it, but I got carried away. I really did enjoy Summon Night X, much more than I liked DQ9, at least. As proof, I actually finished it. And I did all the “Parliament” sidequests too, as soon as I unlocked them. What’s “parliament”, you ask? It’s a really whack system where your party members propose quests to do, e.g. a little boy’s gone missing, let’s go find him, then you and your party members debate over it, then in the end they vote on whether to do it or not. Sorry, I actually made that sound like fun, but it’s not. Because the debate consists of them throwing questions at you that you have no idea how to answer, and they don’t give you any hints/ideas, and if they vote you down you can’t do that quest for the rest of the game. Hit restart and start all over again. The worst offender is Muumuu ‘cos all he says is “Muu muu!” then you have to pick

-You want to boil the fish, huh?

-You want to fry the fish, huh?

How the hell would I know!? What’s worse, apart from the last few ones, most of them give you crappy items as rewards, stuff you don’t want or need and won’t ever use. Crap! But I did it anyway! And I liked it! Because despite everything, I really did care about the characters and I really did enjoy spending more time with them during those quests. Some of them were really funny, and a few gave really good experience.

Okay, that’s enough for one day. I wanted to talk about the “Brave” part of the battles, or about the great voice-acting, but all you really need to know is that Summon Night X ~Tears Crown~ is a pretty good game, in an ordinary way. It won’t be the best game you ever played, but you won’t regret getting it if it ever comes out in English. I hope they make more in the same vein!

Harvest Moon: Twin Villages

By now everyone must have heard about the latest upcoming Harvest Moon game for the Nintendo DS: Twin Villages. You can pick either the Westernized village of Bluebell or the Japanese-style village of Konohana to farm in, and what you get to do depends on where you choose to live. Bluebell is more about ranching, and you get to raise alpacas and other creatures, and keep an apiary too. Konohana is farming-oriented, so you can grow and process all kinds of crops. The mayors of both towns try to woo you and get you to come to their villages. Long ago the two villages were friends, but now they’re rivals. I bet anything the main objective of the game is to make them friends again through farming/ranching.

Anyway, I found shots and descriptions of the main characters on the official site, so I thought I’d post them here.

The Hero

According to the website he loves natures and has dreamed of living in a place with lots of greenery since he was a child. He moves to the villages in order to fulfill this dream. He’s a curious person who never gives up or backs down from a challenge.

The Heroine

Normally I like to pick the guy in Harvest Moon games, but this time I like the girl’s design and outfit better. I won’t even complain that it’s sexist that the guy is all “bold” and the girl is all “gentle” in this kind of game.

So far only 6 marriage candidates have been introduced, but I’m thinking there’ll be a total of 4 for each hero(ine). I’m all for reducing the number of candidates, so long as there’s an accompanying increase in things to do in the game. None of the HM games have been able to avoid getting boring after a year or two, but maybe HM:TV will be the first. I’m looking forward to it!!

Harvest Moon: Twin Villages comes out February 25th in Japan!