Tinctura – I was expecting an alchemy simulation, instead I got… nothing.

Tinctura ~ Hazama no Machi no Monogatari (ティンクトゥラ~はざまの街の物語) is an otome game slash alchemy simulation slash stat-raising game made by an indie group known as Seventh Quark. It’s freeware, so you can download it from this site, though you need some Japanese skill to play it. Right now I am drowning in unplayed otome games, plus Atelier games have spoiled alchemy for me, so it takes something special to turn my head in that direction. As the post title suggests, Tinctura didn’t have “it.”

It didn’t have anything, in fact. Not that I expect Atelier-level production values from a free game, but that’s where an enterprising developer would fill the gap with addictive gameplay or good writing or funny characters. Like my favorite indie developer inutoneko does, speaking of which it’s high time I played another of their games. Let’s get this “review” over with so I can get right on that.

The story behind Tinctura

Dill is an apprentice alchemist who moves to a new town with her master. The master takes a huge loan in exchange for providing the guild with a panacea that can cure any disease. Unfortunately her master goes missing and Dill carelessly uses the drug to cure a random passerby’s disease. Now she’s up to her eyeballs in debt to the rapacious guild master. Oh who will save poor Dill from this cruel fate?

….. Well… that’s kind of the story I wish Tinctura had. It would be more interesting that way. Stuff I made up: Dill’s master does go missing with a huge loan on his head, but the guild master is very kind and understanding about it. If Dill hadn’t insisted on paying the loan in his stead (why???) she would be scot-free. When you’re paying off a debt you don’t really owe just because your main character has a false sense of martyrdom, it’s like nnngh…. this girl is dumb…

That’s why she needs to study so hard

Also she used the medicine on a passerby with a very dangerous and infectious disease. If she hadn’t the whole city would have been in danger. Thus the guild master agrees to waive any interest on the loan AND to give her as much time as she likes to pay it off. There’s a creepy villain lurking about with a strange doll, but apart from that everyone’s very nice and sweet. I’m cool with that, but then nothing really pressures me to play the game.

Gameplay, a.k.a. the Dealbreaker

Your dark and gloomy studio looks like this:

Dill can take three actions a day. Mainly she will be doing research to raise her alchemy level so she can work faster or taking on jobs at the guild to pay off her loan. The red 9965 in the upper right is your current debt. Not too bad. The 200 is how much money you have. You spend 5 gold a day on everyday expenses so Dill is fine for the next 40 days.

At least I hope so, because I quit after 6 days for one main reason: Dill is supposed to be an apprentice alchemist, but she never gets to make anything. Instead of crafting items, jobs in this game run on a “points” system. The more you select the “Work” command in your studio, the more points you get. I’ll illustrate with a screenshot:

Even if you can’t read Japanese, you can see the numbers 10.00, 5.000 and 5.000 on the second line of every job posting. You pick a job, go home, “Work” and get assigned a number of points depending on your alchemy level. Maybe 3 points the first time, 2 points another time, 3 points the next time, etc etc. For a 5.000 job that’s two sessions of points-earning. That sort of thing.

Once you get a sense of your work rate you can pick jobs you know you can finish within the deadline. However if you push yourself too hard your fatigue will get too high and you’ll be forced to waste time resting. Research, raise your level, take on tougher jobs, repeat, until you pay off the debt completely.

It’s not a bad system in itself but… It’s not really alchemy, is it? Not to be fussy or anything, but… IT’S NOT ALCHEMY!!!!! There’s no synthesis, no foraging, no tools, no exotic ingredients, no nothing! And the few items in the game aren’t even illustrated, they just use the same placeholder image every time!

What’s the point of making Dill an alchemist if she’s not going to make anything?! Oi, Seventh Quark! You do know how weighty the word “alchemist” is, don’t you? Are you making fun of me? Oh, it’s on now! >:-[[[[ …But realistically speaking there’s nothing I can do to them except quit their game in a huff, so that’s what I did. And that’s why I only played 6 days of Tinctura.

Otome aspects?

Oh yeah, there were supposed to be some dating aspects too, weren’t there? When I quit, Dill had met three love interests. Flavian the pretty-boy priest:

Friedrin the pretty-boy nobleman knight thingy:

And Dill’s childhood friend Leo who I didn’t screenshot because meh, childhood friend. Unfortunately I have no idea how I’m supposed to go about winning these fine gentlemen. I only just met them and each initial interaction is 5 minutes of reading boring text in a hard-to-read font. They’re cute, but maintaining my eyesight is even cuter. I’ll script an ending in my head where Dill paid off the debt and married knight guy and lived happily ever after and… There, done. I should do this more often.

Next game: Oukoku Shoutengai from inutoneko. After that maybe I’ll have the patience for a standard RPG.

Trails in the Sky 3rd and matters arising

To cut straight to chase, I just can’t bring myself to play Trails in the Sky 3rd. I started it up all, played through the prologue, turned it off, just can’t play it again. My body rejects it. You know that thing where every time you try to do Action A your mind immediately comes up with a thousand other things you could be doing instead? It’s like that, for the past 18 days. I wanted to get through at least 5 hours and write some preliminary thoughts about it, but my hand refuses to click on the icon on the screen. Trails 3rd is not going to happen. At least not any time soon.

I’m not 100% sure why I don’t want to give Trails a chance, but four likely reasons come to mind:

  1. The battle system is a step back from Zero and Ao‘s. It’s sluggish and lengthy and we’ve gone back to the era where enemies had to spend a turn just getting into range before they could attack. I don’t want to go through 40+ hours of this.
  2. The encounter rate in the prologue was too high. Too many enemies everywhere you turn. It made sense for story reasons but it was annoying to play. And Kevin’s level is high already so there’s no satisfaction of leveling up to go with it.
  3. I don’t like Kevin. He’s kinda gross. Those “playboy type with a secret serious/dark side” characters are always a turn-off. And that spiky green hair is just so… blergh.
  4. Leftover trauma from Trails in the Sky FC and Zero no Kiseki. They’re both games I started with a lot of hope and vigor and enjoyed for a while, but they just dragged on and on and on and on. And then FC had the nerve to end on a cliffhanger, I still can’t believe it. Zero was much better, but I still don’t want to go through that experience where you play for 40 hours, okay that was pretty good, now it’s time to move on, then Falcom goes “Wait, don’t go! The story’s just about to start!” WHAAAAAT?! I can’t… no more, please… please!

I think the sluggish battle system is the biggest thing holding me back. I want something fast and snappy, whap bang pow! Kevin’s supposed to be so strong and so elite but he can’t one-shot a simple Rottweiler? Pitiful. I need to really really be in the mood for an RPG before I can do this. Not quite there right now. However since The 3rd is supposed to be a complete self-contained experience, I probably will return to it someday…? No promises, though. I need a little more time.

So what now?

I’ve been dissuaded from playing Dragon Quest 7 by the kind readers of this little blog. Apparently it’s Falcom turned up to 11 on the “Nothing happens until you stop caring” scale when it comes to slowness. I believe them, but the warning came a little too late… -_-;; Not to worry though, I have a handy-dandy guinea pig in the form of my DQ8-obsessed brother. If he can’t finish DQ7, no one can. And I didn’t even have to ask him. The conversation went like:

– What’s that?
– It’s…
– DQ7!!!! *yoink* See ya! *zoom*

And I haven’t seen him since. Last I heard he’d taken a whole week off work, so it’s either going really well or very, very badly. I could call him and find out, but I’m rather enjoying this Schrodinger’s Gamer state of uncertainty. >:-DDD

Since he has my 3DS, that leaves me with my PC, DS and PSP. I’ve almost exhausted the playable options on the latter two, so… Current plan: clear up the various demos and freeware titles clogging up my hard drive and start something more serious in October. Plan B: sleep the rest of September away and start gaming again in October. A break is fine too.

Let’s go with plan A for now. First up is Tinctura ~Hazama no Machi no Monogatari~, another Atelier-inspired otome game in the vein of Eternal Wish and Densetsu no Kusuriyasan, but without the adult elements. See ya!

Finished Fire Emblem Echoes. So short! *spoilers*

Turns out Fire Emblem Echoes is a lot shorter than I’d expected. Act 5 is the final chapter of the game and it’s just a long dungeon with the final boss fight at the end. The game ending where it did blindsided me because I’d heard there were 6 Acts, but in reality there were only 4 and a quarter, maybe even less than that.

Warning to others: once you reach the Sage Hamlet with Celica it’s very hard to come back! And when you reach the top floor of Duma Tower that’s the end of Celica’s party until the final battle! If I’d known that, I would have backtracked to promote people like Boey (useless) and Atlas (promising) and Saber (very promising) and Sonya (very very promising) to the next level. All that trouble Dread Fighters gave me and I never got one of my own. There seems to be post-game content available, but except in very rare cases I don’t do post-game content.

Please, Mother Mila, give me a brain.

Besides, I lost most of my motivation in the final hours because Celica was being such a moron, determined to sacrifice her soul to Duma because a totally-not-suspicious man with purple skin told her so. Grapes have purple skin. Sweet potatoes have purple skin. If it has purple skin and it’s not a grape and it’s not a potato then it’s a villain. It says so right here in the textbook for RPG 101. But truth be told, such idiocy is beyond my power to comprehend, and I don’t have the energy to get mad about such things any more. At least everyone around Celica realizes it for the senseless act of stupidity that it is, so that helps a little bit.

The final conclusion boils down to the usual “Mankind needs no gods, you are not alone, we can do anything if we work together” JRPG spiel, though the gods here are portrayed a little more sympathetically than they are in most JRPGs. It’s probably because they were originally dragons and Fire Emblem has a fairly positive relationship with dragons overall. And it seems they aren’t actually killed but are put to sleep – not in the vet and faithful old dog way but in a magical way which opens the path for a sequel or… something? I’m up for other Valentia games along as Celica doesn’t show up again.

I don’t feel qualified to talk about the battle system because I don’t feel I really explored its depths. If it has any depths, that is. I only promoted most characters once, never got a Dread Fighter, never got whatever Pegasus Knights promote to or Sages promote to or Gold Knights promote to, and on and on. I didn’t get to evolve most of my weapons or teach most of my characters various Arts. I didn’t even use Arts much because on Normal+Casual mode you can get along fine regardless.

The game was cut short just when I had figured out the strengths and weaknesses of my party and things were about to get too. Most likely this was done to get you to play the post-game dungeons, but as I said, I don’t do PGC. Especially in game where the combat is fun and all but not particularly compelling or addictive. And especially not in games where I’m not particularly invested in the characters. It’s even harder to be invested when you read the character endings and see so many “X disappeared and was never seen again, Y went for a walk and never came back” for your favorite characters. Kliff! Sonyaaa!!! Yeah, I’m done here.

Moving on~ So glad I finished Atelier Rorona and Fire Emblem Echoes so I can move into September with a clean slate. The Sword Art Online: Infinity Moment game I mentioned a while ago is probably going to end up in the “stuff that didn’t work out” pile. It’s… not very good. Operation Abyss is dropped but not dropped-dropped, just dropped until I feel like playing a dungeon crawler again. I’d like to finish it and play the sequel sometime so it’s merely on hiatus until then.

Schedule for September: probably Dragon Quest VII… People I know who’ve played it aren’t very enthusiastic but I want to try it. Probably Trails in the Sky 3rd Chapter. And then whatever else catches my eye or fancy.

 

Finished Shin Atelier Rorona – Glad I played it

By “finished” I mean I successfully completed all of the king’s assignments in Shin Atelier Rorona, not that I’ve done everything the game has to offer. After the credits and the ending rolled I was offered an extra year to do some forging and foraging and stuff. I’ll save it for next time I need an alchemy kick, I’m pretty satisfied right now.

The nice thing about this game is that you can see several different endings in one playthrough as long as you meet the requirements. I got the following three endings after finishing with a 100% approval rating from the townspeople and an unspecified number of yellow stars from the assignments:

  • An ending where Rorona is a super busy and super popular alchemist. So busy she doesn’t have time to cook, so Iksel comes over to make her lunch. There are hints that he may have romantic feelings for her, but she doesn’t seem to reciprocate or even notice.
  • An ending where people gather outside Rorona’s atelier to watch her blow stuff up. Cordelia comes over and gets caught up in an explosion. Rorona is well-liked but doesn’t get a lot of alchemy requests and is always in the red.
  • Rorona and Hom decide to leave town and go on a journey to learn more about alchemy. They leave Sterk to take care of the atelier in their absence.

All decent endings, though the explosion one felt a bit hollow. I don’t know what the “True Ending” is like, but I’m not really motivated to find out. I suppose it will explain why the minister wants the atelier gone so badly, but seeing as he just gave up halfway through the game and was never seen again, I suppose it doesn’t matter.

Final thoughts on Shin Atelier Rorona. I will be brief. I WILL be brief!
  • The number of recipes available did increase, but not as much as I would have liked. For the last assignment I handed in a really good elixir in the first few days and spent the rest of the time making the same items over and over again.
  • Money was a bit tight. If I’d known how easy it would be to increase popularity once you can register items, I would have taken a few more of the trap requests.
  • I had no idea Hagel sold alchemy books till the final year >___< Long years of playing Atelier games have conditioned me to never buy weapons and armor from the blacksmith so I never bothered to check his inventory. Boy did I kick myself then.
  • I like the “decorations” gimmick. Especially since they carry over to subsequent playthroughs. I wish some of them had been available earlier but that’s the point of the future replays.
  • I still don’t like the side characters. What I hate most is the way they leave Rorona out of the loop all the time. Rorona will have a scene with someone and walk off, then Astrid will show up or Esty will show up and they’ll talk about stuff that happened in the past blah blah blah I don’t care blah blah blah. If I play a game about Rorona I want it to be about Rorona, not about whatever Sterk and Astrid and Esty had going on 10 years ago. Get your own game, guys.
  • Monsters were hard to avoid. I don’t like allegedly avoidable encounters.
  • Bright happy colors! Cute character designs!
  • I’m happy I got to do a lot of alchemy and fight a lot of bosses and explore a lot of dungeons. The boss fights were the best part, especially since I barely scraped through some of them by the skin of my teeth. It’s punishment for all the years I spent cheesing Atelier fights with tablets of time.

I’m glad I played Rorona just to get it off my chest. I’ve been wondering for years what it and the other Arland games were like and now I know. I had fun, I guess, but it’s more a feeling of “Okay I scratched that off my bucket list” than anything else. As a plus I can also skip over the other two games (Totori and Meruru) since they feature much the same cast and the same items. But I’ll play them anway because I just can’t help myself when it comes to Atelier games.

Enough about that. It’s an okay game you can play it if you want. I’m a bit tired of Fire Emblem Echoes because of the stupid cantors that keep summoning more and more and more terrors all the time. I might well shelve it for a bit and start something new once I finish Act 4, depends on how things play out and how much dumber Celica can get. We’ll see how it goes.

Halfway through Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia

Just finished Act 3 of 6, about 17 hours in. Opened both sluice gates and started marching on the upper half of the continent. Slight spoiler: Celica promotes once she reaches the Temple of Mila, just FYI. You’re encouraged to promote as soon as possible in Fire Emblem Echoes so it’s not that big a deal, but it still caught me by surprise.

Once I did move forward, though, I realized my unpromoted troops just weren’t cutting it any more. That Dread Fighter in the Dead Man’s Mire, rrghhh. Back to the Temple of Mila. On Alm’s side but I’m not impressed with the damage output from jokesters like Lukas, Python and Forsyth, so I’ve beaten a strategic retreat to the Sylvan Shrine to class everyone up up. Promotions for everyone! C’mon Clive, you can do it! You can stop being the squishiest cavalier known to man. Well at least now we know why the Deliverance was so eager to have Alm take over as leader.

Okay, all done! Hmm, Forsyth and Lukas as Knights, eh? Lukas’s speed is horrible. Forsyth has better speed and Res. But they’re just level 1 so there’s no telling how the chips will fall. I like Knights in Fire Emblem games. Knights and Mages and Archers. Of course I enjoy the other classes as well, but I have a special place for the slow and vulnerable… though Archers are ridiculously hardy and dangerous in Echoes. But only when they’re on the enemy side, hmm Python?

Now if you’ll excuse me, I suddenly have a whole bunch of new toys to play with. I wasn’t sure what to think when I heard of all the new twists to the FE formula (the dungeons in particular) but Echoes is a pretty awesome game 😀 Gameplay-wise, anyway. About the only thing I don’t like is that sometimes your party members will start out far away from the enemies in random battles and never get a hit in before the battle ends. On the other hand I love the way enemy bosses make a mad dash for your party as soon as the battle starts. That’s the kind of boss guts I like to see. Of course those guts will soon be splattered across the battlefield, but it’s the same whether they come to me or I go to them so I admire their courage either way.

The story, though… the main characters are just too dumb – seriously Celica, you can’t figure out who this masked guy is? And Alm, aren’t you going to press Mycen for a few answers? Question the old man in the castle about the past? Send someone to Ram Village to make a few inquiries? I don’t mind clueless protagonists. I don’t even mind willfully clueless ones, but you’d better not come crying “You tricked me!” or “Why didn’t you tell me!” down the line, got it?

This would have been a joint update with Shin Atelier Rorona, but after a heavy gaming session yesterday I’m about 10 game days away from finishing the last assignment from the palace. Thoughts and impressions when I’m done.

Ooh, I just leveled Clive up once and he got some speed and luck. There is hope for him yet. Okay I really must go. See you next time for a final review of Rorona!