Lina no Atelier = Fail

[Note, this is not my real opinion of Atelier Lina. This was published before I’d played the game properly, and my final conclusion can be found here, helpfully titled “Lina no Atelier is Awesome!” As for why this post appears out of order, I really don’t want to talk about it.]

*sigh* I think Gust is losing their touch. Whoever they’re farming the DS Atelier games out to is making a royal mess of them. First there was Atelier Lise, which was horrible in every way, shape and form. Then there was Atelier Annie, which wasn’t a bad game but had a really kiddy story and too much talking. Third time’s the charm, right? That’s what I was expecting when I started Lina no Atelier: Strahl no Renkinjutsushi, but nooo, it’s just as bad as the others.

I haven’t gotten that far in, but this game could turn out to be the one Atelier game I don’t finish. Two things bother me. One, it’s brought back the crazy money requirement from Lise. I HATED that thing, and you know with a money requirement like that there’s almost no way to make that kind of money in one playthrough unless you have a FAQ. That’s highly unpleasant and totally unfair.

Secondly, and more importantly, it seems that buying and selling will be a more important part of this game than alchemy will. I already made a few items in my atelier and it was awful: even simple items take forever to make with a low, low chance of success. You don’t have time to waste, so I don’t see myself spending much time on alchemy. DAMMIT. What’s the point of an Atelier game if you don’t get to synthesize?

You know how else I can tell the focus isn’t on alchemy? Because even though you need money in this game, when you suffer and suffer and complete a store request, they don’t give you money. They give you scavenger items! If you spend time on synthesis, you’ll be BROKE! When you waste 10 cole to check rumors, they tell you about item prices, not about the latest forage areas. Arrgh, I hate this.

Oh, and the incessant talking from Atelier Annie is back. The talking that made that game the bane of my existence, that made coming back to my lab torture every single time. Yes, that talking. I knew I should have written a protest letter to Gust when that happened.

Phew, anyway. Guess I’ll keep plodding away at it. I’m also slowly plodding towards the end of Saga 2, and starting to really get under way with Dragon Quest 9, so it’s not like I’m trapped with this awful game alone. Time to play!

Dragon Quest IV – Chapters of the Chosen

Everyone in the world must have played Dragon Quest IV by now, so I won’t bother writing too much about it. I killed both Psaro the Manslayer and the bonus boss yesterday and had a great time too. Take that, Pstupid Psaro! That’ll teach you to wipe out the heroine’s village! I was really quite annoyed that the entire bonus chapter consisted of helping him get his girlfriend back so he could be happy. What about my village? Or Maya and Meena’s dad, why couldn’t we resurrect him instead?

The bonus dungeon was kind of fun though. Not the killing Platinum King Jewels part (which is easy enough with Psaro’s Hatchet Man attack and the Sands of Time) but the fighting Chow Mein and Foo Yung part so you can strip the picture naked and get Psaro’s best equipment. I lol’ed my head off when they ripped off the Yggdrasil leaf and left the pic standing there naked, heheh.

Apart from that, I don’t have too much to say about this game. I never played the original NES or the PS remake, and this is only the second DQ game I’m playing after Dragon Quest 9, so I went in with an open mind. And you know, I quite enjoyed it. I’ve played other games where you control different parties and bring them together at the end (most notably Suikoden III and Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn) and this was one of the better-executed versions. The overall story with the “chosen heroine” is old school (duh) and overdone, but the different short-term objectives in the early chapters stopped me from getting bored too soon.

Running around the world collecting the Zenithian items didn’t bother me, and neither did the fetchquests. I don’t mind such things in principle, it’s only when they’re boring, or there are too many of them that I start to complain. Something I really liked in Dragon Quest IV, though, chests! I love RPGs with lots and lots of chests to open. I honestly think putting just enough treasures and chests in an RPG must be a science. Too few and dungeon-crawling becomes a painful chore and a tedious crawl. Too many and the player doesn’t appreciate the rewards, especially if half the rewards are potions and the like. I think DQIV got the balance just right.

What didn’t I like? Not much, I thought it was a great game. Not too long, the music was okay, the remade graphics were nice, the difficulty was just right, and grinding was easy if you felt weak (hello 8 liquid metal slimes in a row), once you were strong enough you could cast the ‘Holy Protection’ spell to eliminate weak random encounters, etc etc. It’s a well thought-out system. The three main things that bothered me were:

1. Helping Psaro at the end – I only did it because I felt sorry for Rose, really. Oh, and you know, you never do get to see Rose die or anything. One moment you hear she’s been captured, the next moment she’s in a grave. What happened? Who killed her? Why? That didn’t make any sense. **speaking of which, what happened to the people in Zamoskva castle? They’re all back during the ending sequences (funny thing, they’re back at the end of C5, gone again in C6, and back again in C6 end), but where were they all this while? Mystery!

2. The fact that your party members join and instantly lose all thought and personality. There’s the ‘Talk’ button but you always get the “There’s no one to talk to” response even if there are 3 people directly behind you. I couldn’t figure out why they had the Talk button there, so I went investigating. It turns out you are supposed to be able to talk to your party members, but that option was cut out completely in the localization process and all their dialogue was erased! Seriously! I read a thread blaming the localizers (Plus Alpha or something) for it, but I’m about 99% sure the decision was made by Square-Enix themselves, either to cut costs or to shorten the localization time. I’m really disappointed though, I wanted to hear more of Alena, Borya and Kiryl’s ‘English’ haha.

3. On the topic of broken English, some of the ‘English’ accents were a bit much. It wasn’t too hard to figure out what townspeople were saying most of the time, but sometimes it was just an annoyance. Especially since most of them have nothing important to say, so essentially they’re just wasting your time with semi-undecipherable text. I hear it’s been toned down in subsequent games, so I probably wasn’t the only one who didn’t like it.

So! Since Dragon Quest IV went so well, I’m thinking of trying DQV next. My brother has it and is always talking about his bride and stuff, so I might borrow it and give it a shot. Right now, though, I’ve gone back to Tokimeki Memorial 3 and am working on the Junpei route. You’ll hear from me when I’m done.

Stella Deus – The Gate of Eternity

Or The Catacombs of Eternity, as I came to call it. But we’ll get to that in a moment.

Stella Deus is a strategy RPG released in 2004. Developed by Pinegrow (I feel like I’ve played another game by them but I can’t remember which) and published by Atlus. Many have heard of it, few have played it.

I’ve had it in my collection for a while, but I always found something else to play when it was time to choose a new game. Then one day, shortly after finishing Persona 3, I looked at the cover and thought…wait, these character designs really look like those from P3. Really. So I did a little digging and yup, Shigenori Soejima did the designs for both games. And that’s what it took for me to finally put this game in and play it.

I’m prone to making snap judgments about games in the first few minutes. Sometimes that proves to be wrong, but often I’m right. Rarely, very rarely, I am both right and wrong at the same time. My initial impression about Stella Deus was that it was bland, boring, preachy and colorless and had some of the worst voice-acting I’ve ever heard in a video game in my life.

That’s all true, to a great extent. I’ll give the game props off the bat for the cast. Apart from the dull, goody-goody Spero, the barely-there Gallant, the annoying Tia and the idiotic Lumena, most of the cast is lively, funny and interesting. The overall voice-acting is so flat and awful it’s also easy to forget that a few voices are really well done, Grey’s and Adara’s for example. The battle system is also decent, definitely won’t disappoint fans of the strategy RPG genre. Plus the story is very simple and straightforward, which might be a plus or a minus depending on what kind of gamer you are. Since the story takes place in a world that is gradually being swallowed by a strange mist called Miasma, even the washed-out color palette is strangely appropriate.

Where does Stella Deus go wrong, then? Pretty much everywhere else. The story about trying to revive a fallen world is disgustingly cheesy and preachy. Much of the late-game dialogue is the usual “We’ll never give up!”-”Humans are brave and resilient!”-”Never give up hope!” stuff that you’ve heard about 5,000 times before. As usual the enemies are extremists who have lost all faith in humanity, and then there’s the usual evil deity…who wrote this scenario? Was s/he even trying? *yawn*

The music is meh, so I won’t even talk about it. Over the course of the game you get to visit a lot of towns and cities, but you never get to explore them and you almost never get to interact with ordinary townspeople. You know, the same townspeople you’re trying to save? Might be nice to get to know what they’re really thinking, get them on your side and stuff, don’t you think? What’s more, interacting with the world around usually leads to greater immersion in the game, giving the player more incentive to save the world and finish the game. As it is, it’s very easy to lose motivation and stop playing, because you really don’t care.

Most of gameplay time in an SRPG is made up of battles though, which is why it sucks when the battle system is really slow (FFTA2, I’m looking at you) or excessively complicated. Thankfully Stella Deus’s system is neither of these. In particular the enemies don’t waste time thinking, so their turns move relatively quickly. The system works like a regular one with a twist: every character starts their turn with 100 Action points that deplete when they move on the map or select an action. When they run out, you can’t move/act any more and have to end their turn. In the beginning it feels really restrictive, but once you get used to it it adds a fun element of planning and strategy. Will you spend your whole turn approaching the enemy? Will you approach, hit, and retreat? Will you hit them with magic, hit them physically and then heal your ally? There’s a lot of thinking to be done once you get into it.

Then there are combos you can do with your party members, some of them extremely powerful. Before too long, your regular attacks will be hitting for more than the combos, but it’s still fun and flashy. Then there are Zone Effects, which are buffs and debuffs or status effects you automatically use on any enemy/ally who gets in range. By equipping ZSkills, you can, for example, boost the evasion of all allies in range/heal them a set amount every turn/cast darkness on enemies/cast Fear on enemies…etc, etc. etc. On top of all that, there are other stat-boosting/reducing skills you can equip on yourself to get stronger.

As you can tell, I had a lot of fun with the battle system. So much so that I quickly abandoned the main storyline to focus on the 100-level Bonus Dungeon called the Catacombs. It’s just 99 battles against powerful mooks, but somehow it’s the most addictive thing in the game. Seeing as it’s automatically unlocked right from the beginning, I believe the game makers anticipated that players would get into it really quickly. How else do you explain the fact that unless you’re a level or two higher than every boss you face, they will usually wipe the floor with your face?

Off to the Catacombs I went then, happily fighting my way down each level.  Some of them were tough, I tell you, especially the oddly designed ones and the ones where your party is spread out all over the map. Whew! But clearing each level gives you a sense of achievement that the battles in the main game rarely do, plus you later get all these cool weapons and armor that you can use in alchemy. …Wait, alchemy? Why didn’t I mention that earlier, you ask? Because…alchemy in this game sucks. Without buying or downloading a guide, you won’t be able to make most of the good stuff except by chance. Also since you can only make goods one at a time, you’ll be selecting, deselecting and reselecting items over and over and over again until you’re sick of it. But it’s the only sure way to get really good weapons if you plan to go beyond level 50-ish of the Catacombs, so you have no choice. Blerrrrgh.

I had fun playing this though. The main game was below-average, but I got into the bonus dungeon and the battle system with a vengeance, so it was a worthy purchase. If you like SRPGs, like endless battles, like grinding and don’t mind bad voice-acting, I actually recommend this game. I don’t want a sequel, but I hope to find other games like it soon.

Lemuore no Renkinjutsushi review

Have you ever picked up a game you thought was poorly-designed, poorly-conceived and poorly-executed…and ended up playing it for 30 hours?

The simplest games tend to be the most addictive, I don’t know why. The concept of this game is simple, the design is simple and the gameplay is simple too, maybe that’s why I found myself rubbing my eyes at 4am wondering where all the time had gone. Remyuouru no Renkinjutsushi is a DS port of a free Japanese game of the same name. I have helpfully included the link to a download if you want to check it out, but you’ll have to figure out how to run and play it yourself: Link.

Now then, how to describe this game… Well, there’s a (rather awful) game out there called “Final Fantasy: My Life as a King.” If this game is ever localized, it could be called “My Life as a Shopkeeper” (right before it’s sued into oblivion by Square-Enix, of course). You play as Tico, an alchemist with bad spending habits who wakes up one day to find herself 100,000g in debt. At the urging of your apprentice, you open up a general store to buy and sell items in order to pay back your debt.

There are a couple of ways to get stuff to sell:

– The easiest is to just  buy items from town.
– You can also buy farm animals like hens and cows, which will produce eggs and milk for you to sell every day.
– Additionally vendors will drop by your store once in a while selling items, lottery tickets and newspapers.
– You can direct your slave/apprentice Ruvel to pick up a few for you every night. Usually low-price, low-quality forage items.
– Once in a while a character named Theo will drop by and make you play a mini-game. If you win, you get some free stuff.
The most lucrative way, though, and the way to get the best items, is to pay adventurers to go out and forage for you. There are two in this game, Theo and Fil. They’re pretty costly in the beginning, but as they level up and learn to go to more places, soon they’ll be bringing in items faster than you can sell. Before too long I had completely stopped going to the local store.

So anyway, you’ve got your items and you’re selling them, making a tiny profit on each item. Your bank loan is only 100,000G, so you can make it in a few game months quickly if you haggle with customers constantly and spend sparingly. But doing that would be boring, wouldn’t it? The game title means Alchemist of Lemuore for a reason, and that reason is, once you sell 200 of an item, you get to refine it into another, better item. For example you sell 200 candles and suddenly you can make lamps. Or 200 oranges and then you can make bottled orange juice. For some items, if you sell 200 of the resulting product, you can refine it even further. And further. And make OODLES of cash in the process.

It reminds me a lot of the earlier Atelier games, which is probably why I played it so much. And you don’t have to go out and find the items yourself, so you can spend even more time on synthesis. Synthesizing takes up some of your “life”, so in the beginning you can’t do too much. Before too long you’ll get an (utterly broken) forage item that refills your HP for free, and then you can really go to town on those items. I estimate there must be at least 500 different items to make, and that I barely scratched the surface, but I’m having fun so no need to rush.

By the time I stopped playing Lemuore no Renkinjutsushi I had millions in my bank account and had poured even more millions in investment funds into the town. As I said, the 100,000G bank loan goal is something you’ll get fairly quickly, but the game introduces a further goal: to get 500,000G (I believe?) to fund research by your apprentice’s annoying little brother into a new item. Along the way he comes up with all kinds of unreasonable requests (like “make me some mahjong tiles so I can play with my friends”), and all that takes time to complete. You’ll get that done eventually, and after that there’s no point playing except you’re a completionist. I’ve never been one, but I might go back and make a few new things here and there one day.

Other random points about the game: Once you sell 100 items, the stock automatically refills every morning. If you sell 100 cigarettes, every morning they’ll deliver between 1 and 20 cigarettes to your store to sell, unless you stop carrying the item. This saves a lot of time. Good addition, except you can’t choose to receive 0 items, you always have to get at least 1. What if I don’t want to stock any that day? Well, too bad for you.

Once you sell 500 items, the stock will automatically refill throughout the day, every time you sell out. Again, you can’t choose 0. And what if you don’t want to sell any more, you want to switch to another item? Normally when you run out of an item the game clock pauses and lets you replace them, usually with something that sells better. If it auto-refills, it buys them at the market price, which means you make less of a profit…blah, blah, blah, you’d get a better idea if you actually tried the game. The link is up there.

The music is very meh. In fact I turned it off very quickly. The sound effects are scary, everything sounds like someone being slapped. *pow* Haggle and fail? *pow* Sell some items? *pow* Change a few things? *pow!* In fact I think that’s the real reason I turned the sound down. The graphics are what you’d expect of a free game: not that good, but not terrible either. The character designs are cute though, although the variety of customers is very small.

All in all I had a wonderful time playing this game, and if you’re a fan of sales simulation games (like Recettear or Atelier Viorate), I’d tell you to get it. But – and I hate to do this to a game I like, but – you might want to get just the free game instead. It’s 95% the same as the DS port except for a few additions. And it’s free. And you can have it now. So go for it!

Sands of Destruction – Really glaring flaws

I’d been looking forward to playing Sands of Destruction since it first came out in Japan, but it’s only last week that I finally bought it and settled down to play. What stopped me from playing it earlier was an Amazon.co.jp review I read that said the game’s story was impossible to understand without watching the anime. Having finally played the game I find this was a lie (though it’s easier to enjoy the story if you’ve watched the show), but back then I believed it, so I held off until I had the time to watch the anime.

And I should just say, the Sands of Destruction anime is pretty good. It’s nothing deep or profound, just three people having one episodic adventure after another. But Taupy is adorable (Yappi!), Morte actually has good reasons for wanting to destroy the world, and Kyrie…well, Kyrie will always be Kyrie. The anime Kyrie is a little better because he tries to talk Morte out of destruction from the start, and it takes him a long while to warm up her romantically.

Now then, so I finally played the game in four or five hectic sessions last week, and I just finished it last night. The ending was awful, but I’m getting ahead of myself here. I have quite a bit to say, so let’s see if I can break it down in an easier to read format. Massive spoilers included, read at your own risk.

What I liked.

  • – The battle system concept. Not the execution, the concept. I’ve seen a similar idea in games like Chrono Cross and Xenosaga. You know, you have weak but accurate attacks, and strong but inaccurate attacks, and you can combine them to maximize damage. I also liked that each character had a custom moveset and his/her own buffing and debuffing attacks.
  • – Buffs/debuffs actually work. And how! In most games, if you’re doing 100 damage and you use an ATK-UP potion, you go up to, say, 150, or maybe 200. In Sands of Destruction, you can be doing 1 damage against a boss, drink a Herculean potion and then boom, 300-400 damage, just like that! They’re overwhelmingly powerful, which is good when you use them and terrible when the enemies use them against you.
  • – The character designs. Not the blurry pixels that showed up on the screen, but the designs as they stand. Not too garish, not too plain, not too sensible, not too dumb. And Taupy is the cutest thing ever, no question.
  • – Distinct character abilities and personalities. Unlike some other RPGs, every character has his/her own moveset, abilities, stat growths, etc. so you can really feel the difference between using Taupy and Morte, for example.
  • – The characters themselves – except Morte. More on her below. Did I mention that Taupy is awesome? Taupy is awesome.
  • – The music isn’t half-bad. I hear Yasunori Mitsuda did some of the tracks, but I’m not all crazy over him like some people are. I do like him, though.

What I hated.

  • – All fights are either too hard or too easy with very little in-between. One level too low and you’re doing scratch damage. A level later and you’re wiping the floor with the enemy, it’s ridiculous.
  • – Too many useless skills. There are two types of attacks: flurries and blows. But after a bit of tweaking, flurries get so powerful that blows are completely useless. In the same way, magic does such piss-poor damage after the first few levels that you only need healing and buffing spells. On that note, some of the spells are broken, especially Taupy’s skill that revives and heals everyone, and his other skill that buffs every single stat. Not using Taupy would probably raise the game’s challenge by 35%.
  • – Characters look tiny and terrible on-screen. The designs are great, but as with everything else in the game, the execution is horrible.
  • – Too many enemy palette-swaps. In this day and age, that’s just lazy.
  • – Encounter rate is a little too high. Even weak enemies keep jumping out at you when they really should know better. And there’s no spell or item to reduce it at all.
  • – Last boss went down in two rounds of flurries, that’s how overpowered flurries are. Or how weak the bosses are . Or both.
  • –  Too many dumb puzzle stages where you have to pass just the right place and step on just the right thing or else spend hours and hours wandering around the same place. I’m looking at you, Tower of Light! After the first one I went straight to GameFAQs and downloaded all the solutions. Nyaah!
  • – Too many unexplained plot points! I can’t even remember them all right now, but let me list the few that really bugged me:
  1. How did Lacertus Rex get his instructions to them wherever they were?
  2. How and why did Lacertus select Morte to be his agent? Evidently they had never met or spoken until near the end of the game, but somehow she ended up as his lackey?
  3. Why is it called the Destruction Committee when it only has one member?
  4. Why was Morte stupid enough to blindly obey orders that came from who knows where?
  5. Why would Morte want to destroy the world? The anime gave her a pretty good reason, but in the game she’s got good friends, a nice hometown, a cheerful disposition, and it explicitly states that nothing bad has happened to her to make her want to kill the world. So what the heck’s her problem? This is the biggest wallbanger of them all!
  6. Why is Morte such a selfish bitch in general? There was no call for killing Elephas Rex, you know.
  7. Why did the Creator create the Destruct Code? Why would she want to destroy the world?
  8. How can the Creator have the power to create a Destruct Code, but not to destroy the world herself?
  9. What was the point of giving Kyrie human feelings and sending him out into the world? What did the Creator hope to achieve by that? And having thrown him into the world with no memory of his real function, why is she so surprised when he won’t do what she says at the end? You had it coming, dumbass!
  10. Why is Kyrie so selfish and so blase about the fate of the world? He destroys his village and everyone he loves, then forgets about it for ages while he follows a woman around the world, assisting her to destroy more things and put more things in danger for no good reason! When he finally does have an attack of conscience and decides the world shouldn’t be destroyed, it’s because “Then I won’t be able to be with Morte any more” and not for any good reason. And we’re supposed to sympathize with him? Who wrote this crap?!
  11. When the hell did Morte fall in love with Kyrie? This has gotta be the most sudden turnabout since Rinoa and Squall in FF8, and even then there were hints that Squall could get to like her. Here it was like “BLARGH I’M DEAD” “Oh no, I was in love with you all along, boo hoo!”
  12. Who sent the letter to Muffy? (not that it matters, all’s well that ends well)
  13. Last, but not the least, what kind of world did Morte and Kyrie create at the end? It looked to me like all ferals were either eliminated or turned to animals except Taupy, and all the sand was changed to sea water. Whoopie. They killed off the ruling system of the world just for that? And what’s more, who’s going to rule the cities now all the Rexes are dead? Can someone say “civil war”?

Replay value? None. I will not play Sands of Destruction ever again. Not because I hate it or anything, though it could have been much better, but because there’s nothing to do after one playthrough and it’s not interesting enough to merit a second one. I’m glad I played it to satisfy my own curiosity, but I don’t see myself going through this ever again.