Rune Factory 4 – Randomly f-f-freezing

Before I start, hands up anyone who is sick and tired of hearing about my 3DS hardware troubles. One, two, three… four hundred thousand people. Okay fine, I’ll just whine to myself. ZOMG Self, you won’t believe what the 3DS is doing this time! I worked around the circle pad issue, the Y button seems to have unstuck itself, but now Rune Factory 4 is freezing every five minutes. It wasn’t doing this before, it just started the day before yesterday and now I can barely make any progress at all!

Most recently I woke up, watered some plants, went to the general store to buy seeds and it froze. The time before I’d caught some good fish and was heading home to cook them when it froze. Before that, Forte and Frey had extensively explored the Water Ruins and had just warped out to save when bzzt, you guessed it, another freeze. That was particularly painful because I found Cooking Bread in a chest on that run through and when I loaded the next time there was just junk in the chest ๐Ÿ™ So sad.

Actually… come to think of it… I haven’t had freezing problems with any other games, and I was playing Stella Glow and 7th Dragon III just a few days ago. Could it be a Rune Factory 4 thing? Brb, Googling…

Ugh… It is a Rune Factory 4 thing. The 3DS is innocent, for once. But from my googling it seems most people only suffer from the occasional freeze. Mine freezes really really often. I can barely get through a game day normally. I thought the SD card might be on the fritz, but after testing it with both Windows and a testing app, it seems to be just fine. What am I supposed to do? :-<

Well… I’ll figure something out. I really really want to play this game. For now, a progress report. Frey is level 11, got her revenge on the butterfly boss in Yokmir Forest and has been plying Arthur with turnips every morning because the way to a man’s heart is through his love for veggies. I was planning to get Doug at first, but I realized I don’t like his smile (am I petty or what?) so Arthur it is. TBH I’m regretting playing as a girl a little bit because the girls are so much better than the guys. Forte, Margaret, Xiao Pai, Lumie, Amber… The guy list is just… who’s on it again?

Also I recently bought a refrigerator, a cooking table, a knife set and a chemistry set. My room looks like a disaster zone, or something from Shepherd’s Crossing. I need a bigger room. My progress is being blocked by a lack of Cooking Bread so I can’t learn recipes as fast as I want to. I bought bread the other day and I couldn’t even eat it because it was too advanced for me, what gives? Luckily enough it seems I can skip the Porcoline racket and get all my recipes from an online FAQ. Ha! Take that! My current goal is to save up for a forge and a crafting set and update my equips before taking on the boss of the Water Ruins with Forte.

There doesn’t seem to be much of a story beyond “You have amnesia, therefore you must develop our town.” I can’t even remember how the former led to the latter, but somehow Frey is the Chosen One so that’s how it goes. I’m not too hung up on stories in RPGs these days anyway. It’s fine if they just get out of the way and let me get on with it. After all, I already know how all Rune Factory games go. You kill all the bosses in all the dungeons then you kill their boss when he comes to complain and then you win the game. Now if only the game would stop freezing so I could actually do all that stuff.

I’ll google around a bit more for a possible solution. If that fails, I should be able to play Legend of Legacy now that the Y button is behaving. Fingers crossed!

7th Dragon III: Code VFD – Everybody’s talking at me

It’s not even a dungeon-crawler any more, it’s just another RPG where the characters just can’t shut up. Except your actual party is made up of mutes, so you just stand there while the NPCs pratter and blather. They tell you when to get up, when to go to bed, when to turn left, when to turn right, they just won’t leave you alone. Every once in a while they let you make some cosmetic choice, but I’ve been around the block often enough to know that this won’t make a whit of difference in the long run. Everybody just shut up!

Nothing much has happened in the story so far. Except we’re wasting time dealing with some ISDF fellows who are all going to die or join my party by the end of the game so I wish they wouldn’t even show up. Acting all tough just makes it more pathetic when the tide turns and dragons take out everybody’s headquarters. Yuma is probably going to turn into a dragon and make me have to kill him. Either that or he’ll do some kind of heroic sacrifice. He’s a goner either way so I don’t know why they’re bothering to build him up. Who’s going to be the traitor from Nodens? My money’s on Julietta for now. Whatever, just let me fight!!!!

This is where I would normally add something like “I’m still enjoying 7th Dragon III anyway” but this time I will add no such line because it’s not true. But it is early days yet – I’m only in chapter 2, just finished killing the High Dragon in Cladeon – so there’s still a chance for things to look up. After all 7th Dragon 2020 was even worse than Code VFD, but by 2020-II I had earned my stripes and got far more respect and autonomy from the higher-ups. Also I killed at least one of the people bossing me around, that always helps.

About the new classes and 2nd/3rd party systems… no me gusta. Me no like. Simply because they don’t introduce all the classes straight away. I’d made up my mind way back in the trailer stage that I was going with a Banisher and possibly a Rune Knight, but instead I have to waste time creating, equipping, leveling and learning to use throwaway classes instead. What for? Don’t you know I’m busy?

Ahem. I’d better stop before this post gets too whiny. It’s not Sega’s fault I’ve already played the earlier 7th Dragon games, and this is a good introduction to the series for newbies. I’m grateful to Atlus for bringing it out in English too, wouldn’t want to discourage anyone from playing it. I’m certainly not going to quit playing it any time soon. Time for another assault on Atlantis!

Densetsu no Kusuriyasan trial version – Kinda pointless

I feel slightly bad calling someone’s hard work “kinda pointless” but sometimes you have to call a spade a spade. And evidently the developers agreed because they never bothered to release an actual game. A trial version of Densetsu no Kusuriyasan is all that has existed for the past 12 years.

Densetsu no Kusuriyasan (ใงใ‚“ใ›ใคใฎใใ™ใ‚Šใ‚„ใ•ใ‚“, lit. The Legendary Pharmacist) would have been an R18+ otome and crafting game hybrid that would have been released by Japanese indie developer Mix Factor in 2012 but never made it past the (thankfully) worksafe demo stage. Normally this would sadden me a little bit, seeing as I love crafting games and I (think) love otome games but the resulting game would have been too adult for me to play anyway. Also the demo sucked. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves, let’s take this in proper order.

Story

Mimosa is an apprentice pharmacist who chafes at the slow pace of her training and longs to apply her skills to the real world. She runs away from home and becomes the resident medicine woman in a small village. When our story begins, her grandmother has just tracked her down and is about to take her back. Luckily the village chief strikes a deal with granny allowing Mimosa to stay and work for just one more year. What’s more, if Mimosa can craft the highest level medicines in a book her grandma gives her within that year, she will become a full-fledged pharmacist and be free of her arduous training forever. With nothing to lose, Mimosa agrees to give it her best shot and so the game begins.

Gameplay

The game menu (and your depressingly dark studio):

Mimosa can take one action on weekdays and Saturdays and two actions on Sundays. Somehow she has to balance studying to learn new recipes with making medicines to raise her level with going out to forage for ingredients with visiting guys in their rooms, all within that extremely limited schedule.

The worst part is the medicine synthesis because every drug no matter how basic takes a full action to make. Way to take all the fun out of what should be the most enjoyable part of the game. Crafting is disappointing in other ways as well. For one, there are no icons or pictures of any of the ingredients or finished products, and yet all the flavor text is dry and pedestrian.

For another thing, there’s no in-story demand for any of the medicines you make. You only make them as a way to grind out your pharmacist level so you can unlock more recipes so you can grind your level even higher and round and round it goes. It’s possible that Mix Factor would have eventually added quests and story events that called for Mimosa’s medical skills instead of leaving crafting as “That thing you have to do if you want to finish the game.”

As Mimosa studies and forages and levels up, her stats rise and fall dramatically.

This is something that would have needed serious tweaking in the final game, because certain stat growths tend to cancel each other out. Study once and, for example, your intelligence goes up +6, physical strength goes down -3. Then you go foraging once and Strength up +6, intelligence -3. Not quite cancelled out… unless you choose to study or forage twice in a row, then you’re back to square one. Fine then, I’ll alternate studying and foraging every day, you say. But that’s useless because you don’t need to forage that much. Forcing yourself would just be pointless busywork to preserve your stats at the expense of a fun game experience. Oh and, btw, you’re never told what each stat actually does… Or if any stat actually does anything at all… Pointless, I tell you.

The other thing you can do with your time is visit one of the game’s four eligible bachelors. There’s Kai the chief’s son who likes to tease you but isn’t a bad sort. Then Rosmarinus or whatever his name is is a sickly noble who recently moved to the village. Arty is a lively adventurer who also just moved in and Lou is a live-in helper your grandmother assigned to do your housework.

Since Densetsu no Kusuriyasan was going to be an adult game, Mimosa probably would have gotten up to all kinds of ungentlemanly activities with these fine fellows. Since this is the clean demo, however, all you ever do is talk and drink tea together. It doesn’t even say what you talked about, just that you talked. You can also give them medicines you’ve made as presents. There’s no way of checking affection and repeated conversations produced diddly squat by way of special event. No events, no CGs, no dates, no nothing. …Pointless.

The demo ends after a month of play, by which point very little has happened. Mimosa will have raised her pointless stats a bit and increased her pointless level once or twice and made some pointless medicines and had pointless conversations with a few guys. And the gamer will heave a sigh of relief as she chucks the game into the Recycle Bin and wishes she had just played Solitaire instead.

Impressions

Densetsu no Kusuriyasan is a well-meaning game, I suppose. The more “cute girls doing alchemy” games we have, the better. The premise is serviceable too and I liked all the guys well enough. I could easily do all their routes in a better game. That’s the thing, though: there are better games out there. Otome games are a dime a dozen even on the indie circuit. And thanks to Gust and Cyberfront I have unreasonably high expectations of “cute girls crafting” games.

It’s not like Densetsu no Kusuriyasan couldn’t have been salvaged, but it would have required an extensive overhaul of everything from the graphics to the crafting system to the relationship and stat-raising systems. Most likely Mix Factor run a few numbers and realized that putting in so much effort for an R18 game was, yes you guessed it… pointless. They pulled the plug and nothing of any value was lost.

Moving on…

IIRC I have one or two more indie otome + alchemy games to try but that will have to come much later. Right now I’m knee-deep in 7th Dragon III: Code VFD. They’re doing that thing I hated about 7th Dragon 2020 where the navigator just wouldn’t shut up and every 5 minutes or so I’d be summoned back to headquarters for a useless meeting. I play videogames to get away from real life, thank you very much.

I’m also looking to start another otome game soon, either Angelique Etoile or one of the Harukanaru games. I haven’t played a good otome in ages. And I just rediscovered a note to myself where I meant to play Princess Maker 3 soon. Ehhhh… okay. Soon. That gives me a full plate in February going into March then I’ll make more plans if we’re all still alive.

Stella Glow review – What an annoying game (massive spoilers)

Finally finished the wretched game known as Stella Glow. I almost dropped it several times along the way, but the SRPG gameplay kept drawing me back. That’s the problem I have with Imageepoch games. With one or two exceptions they are all technically sound, so you end up playing more than you should even when the story makes you want to bash your brains out against the nearest sharp corner.

I’m so glad to be done with this game. I feel spent. It’s good to finally get it off my mind and off my playlist, but… I wish I’d never played it. It made me so angry. Why can’t I ever be indifferent to Imageepoch games? Why do they always get such a rise out of me? Why did you have to die, Imageepoch???? Who is going to piss me off now? ;_________;

Notes on Stella Glow‘s gameplay

Standard isometric SRPG game with all the standard SRPG features like back attacks giving extra damage and side attacks extra accuracy. No height effects as far as I can tell but some minor terrain differences. Nice compact maps so you don’t cross empty terrain just to reach one enemy. Lots of grinding opportunities but very little need to grind. Generous EXP from enemies + full HP/SP refills on leveling up. It’s a very player-friendly game.

As always with Imageepoch the characters were clearly differentiated. All the witches had highly distinct skillsets, personalities and abilities. Even characters that used the same weapon (like Popo and Keith or Nonoka and Rusty) had different speeds, ranges, skills and passive abilities. There was always a point to using someone in particular versus another character, but no one character was completely useless.

I also liked what they did with orbs giving extra, often random boosts. Stuff like pre-emptive attacks and critical hits and follow up attack that give you an extra turn when you kill an enemy are all very nice bonuses to have. With the right orb setup (e.g. Nonoka + Control Condition + Delay + Sickness orbs) you can make like considerably easier for yourself against tough bosses. But even before that it’s fun to see nice effects going off at random.ย  It reminded me a lot of the great passive-attack fests in Shining Hearts, Glory of Heracles and Exstetra, but on a much smaller scale.

They copied the ‘Brave’ system from Summon Night games where you get bonuses for achieving certain conditions. Most of these are very doable AND they give great rewards. At the same time missing them didn’t destroy your game completely. Same with the treasure chests dotting the map and the stealable items most bosses had. Apart from the Follow up Orb (which is a must-have IMO) everything is a nice bonus to have but you can still get by just fine with store-bought weapons and items if push comes to shove. It’s a very low-stress high-reward kind of game. At least as far as gameplay is concerned.

La la, the power of friendship will always overcome evil and dumb decisions, la la

Niggling nitpicks: Isometric SRPGs tend to be a bit slow, especially when they’re speed-based. Stella Glow is better than most, but it’s still boring to sit around waiting for your next turn to come. There’s always a little pause as each enemy decides what to do even when they end up doing nothing at all. Animations are also a pain to sit through so I turned them off after two chapters. The game also gets a bit too easy from midgame onwards once Delay, Follow up and Sickness orbs become a thing.

Furthermore, some of the victory/defeat conditions are annoying. A battle you lose if any enemies die? And the enemies have Self-Destruct and aren’t afraid to use it? RRGHHH. Or a battle where you have to protect a character who won’t stay put? Hmm, Sakuyaaaa? You will also be forced to use all characters at some point, which sucks if you benched characters like Archibald and Keith as soon as you got them. Those are the main things that bothered me, but hardly enough for me to quit over. No, what really stuck in my craw was the story.

Why the story pissed me off

Liar, liar, G-string on fire.

I’ve played too many JRPGs, that’s the problem. That’s why I could tell from the start that Hilda was actually trying to save the world instead of destroy it. And that the Anthem Program was a bad idea. And that Klaus was up to no good. BUT STILL! I was forced to sit through a whole load of nonsense and made to do a whole lot of dumb stuff when everything in me was screaming NOOOOO, THIS IS ALL WRONG! Hilda this, Hilda that, Anthem this, Anthem that. When they asked her a question she wouldn’t answer. When she tried to tell them something they wouldn’t listen. And round and round and round.

And back and forth and back and forth for the first 20 hours of the game while I was ripping my hair out, JUST TALK TO ONE ANOTHER, DAMMIT!!! Stupid Alto. It made me miss Arc Rise Fantasia, another flawed gem from the late, great, irritating Imageepoch. I think L’arc from that game is the only JRPG hero in existence who doesn’t automatically believe anything random strangers tell him but instead keeps asking questions. Which means Imepo could have done it right if they wanted to, they just didn’t want to because they hate me so much.

Who or what is Hilda? It’s only halfway through the game that we’re told she used to be the queen of some kingdom or another… why didn’t you ask for such basic information to begin with, Alto? What is she up to, why now and not 1000 years ago, what exactly is this Anthem program, how does it work, how do we know it works, what’s the point of uncrystallizing people if Hilda is only going to crystallize them again, what exactly is this Conductor power and why do I have it, and on and on and on?

Eventually they meet Dr. Veronica who knows like she can provide all kinds of info but they barely ask her any questions and she doesn’t volunteer any answers even when it turns out she could have prevented most of the latter half of the game just by TELLING them a few key facts. Grrr! I wanted a scene where Alto and co. were clearly told the truth and refused to believe it. Or a scene where they asked honest questions and received only lies in return. Nobody asks any questions whatsoever, nobody listens to any answers whatsoever. Then at the end “Aaah, you tricked me!” Of course I did, you’re a moron.

You can’t look this good in a harem RPG. You must die.

And after all the mental torture I went through, I got the “normal” ending instead of the true one. Because I didn’t raise Klaus’ affection high enough. Which I didn’t do because I had him pegged as trouble from very early on. Once he got that suave-looking CG in the cafe I knew he was a goner. A smart, competent, super good-looking guy… in an harem RPG? No man can be a better catch than the hero and live. Either he’s going to die to give everyone a cause to rally around or he’s going to turn evil. Either way there’s no point raising his affinity stat… is what I thought. And got punished for being smart. Damn you, Imageepoch.

Not that I want the best ending anyway. I kind of like the bittersweet nature of the normal end, especially Marie’s death. They shoved her down our throats all game long, trying to make her all cute and sweet and loveable. Blechhhh. Super blechhh. It’s like the second coming of Nanako from Persona 4 except Nanako was genuinely and unobtrusively cute. Marie is just artificial. How many times did she have to faint and pass out before she was satisfied? Good riddance. I was a little sad to see Best Girl Ana bite the big one, but that’s just how the cookie crumbles when you’re too dumb to live.

Every other JRPG has this as a theme. What’s your problem, Japan? Come on, you can tell me.

As for the “mankind needs to no gods” resolution, the less said about it the better. It’s probably faster to count the JRPGs that don’t have that conclusion than the ones that do. Even games like Nayuta no Kiseki that have no gods in them still force the protagonist to compare certain characters to gods just so he can declare his independence from them. When the game started “Long ago, god….” I said stop right there, Stella Glow, I know where this is going. And I was right. What IS it with Japan and God/god/gods? Goddesses are usually okay, the kinder and sexier the better. “Gods” (plural) can go either way. If they’re ancient nature spirits they’re usually okay, especially if you have to seek them out somehow. God/god is a goner from the start. I wonder why.

As a last note on Stella Glow’s abysmal story, it reminded me a lot of Entaku no Seito‘s. They really have a lot in common: the hero failed to beat the boss 100/1000 years ago, he’s been revived/reincarnated, he has to get a new team together, some of his party members are descendants of his old crew, the hero failed last time because his bonds with his team mates were too weak, he has to strengthen his affinity with everyone, his best friend turned traitor and is the last-but-one boss, etc.

I guess it’s not that unusual to have the bad guy merely sealed away in the past so you have to finish him once and for all in the present, but Entaku is the one I played most recently so that’s the first one that came to mind. I thought from the trailers that Stella Glow would be Luminous Arc meets Ar Tonelico, but it was more Luminous Arc + Ar Tonelico + a heavy dash of Entaku no Seito. Three games I enjoyed very much and yet Stella Glow? Not so much.

Conclusion

Very good game, very, very annoying story. If you like SRPGs, Stella Glow is a must-play for you. Apart from the slow pace of battle, the gameplay is great. At 35-40 hours per playthrough it’s a meaty, satisfying experience as well. It doesn’t have nearly as much fanservice as you would expect from a harem RPG (avoid Nonoka’s ending, srsly) and the music is pretty good. I enjoyed all the witches’ songs. Plus bright happy colors!

But, and it’s a big but, you need to have a high tolerance for anime cliches and dumb heroes and being forced to do things no gamer in their right mind would do. Go for it if you’re a self-proclaimed masochist like Alto, avoid if you have high blood pressure or would like to keep your sanity.