March 26, 2014

Time to pimp some music again

Posted in music tagged , , , at 8:17 am by riulyn

This blog has recently lacked discussion of JRPG music. Partly because I have been playing some games with rather average/forgettable soundtracks (let me not talk about Tales of Innocence again). Partly because I am so focused on playing games and learning Japanese (if they are Japanese games). Partly because I don’t really have a ton to say.

However, after starting up Ar tonelico 2, I remembered how much I enjoy listening to that soundtrack when doing image analysis at work. I don’t know how best to describe the mood of the soundtrack, but it’s very “up” – like moving and energetic and stuff. In a very melodious way, of course. Lots of singing, though. I personally love vocals in video game soundtracks.

Another melodic and awesome soundtrack is the one for Bravely Default. At some point when I actually finish the game, I will talk about my issues with the game, but music was definitely not one of the issues. The character battle themes (or the music that starts playing when a character does a special move) are great. I can’t decide which of the four is my favorite yet, even after 1000+ times of hearing each of them. (Not an exaggeration, by the way.)

Ar tonelico 1 also has a great soundtrack, though I don’t think it has as much singing in it as the later ones. The soundtrack also seems smaller than the later games? I haven’t really listened to the tracks outside of the game, though.

Of course I can never say enough times how much I love the Valkyria Chronicles soundtrack. Despite being relatively small for a decent-length JRPG (only some 50 tracks), I can’t think of a single throwaway track. A more thorough discussion of this soundtrack is probably somewhere else on this blog. Nevertheless I only recently played and beat the game, and I have to say a certain vocal track was 100x more impactful in the game. Otherwise the music can clearly stand on its own. It could also totally be inserted into Final Fantasy Tactics without too much issue, though the happy tracks would probably have to be omitted. Maybe because I don’t have as much fondness for Final Fantasy Tactics as I do for Valkyria Chronicles, but while the music in FF Tactics was good (and I’d probably like it more if I went back to listen to it), I just don’t think I can ever love it in the same way.

March 25, 2014

I’m loving myself some PS2 Gust

Posted in video games tagged , , , , , at 7:55 pm by riulyn

Except I’ve run into a bit of bad luck the past few days with different games freezing on me. I don’t think Atelier Iris 2 ever froze on me, but Atelier Iris froze on me once late in the game. Atelier Iris 3 froze on me one time randomly after exiting my workshop (I had just saved right before that). Ar tonelico froze on me the first time you see the song “Ar Tonelico”, which if I say more will be a spoiler. Ar tonelico 2 froze on me today during a screen transition as well, and I was only about 1-2 hours in (and thus switched to playing Atelier Iris 3). The last three freezes have occurred in this past week, but I’ve also been putting a good amount of hours into these games.

I’m just over 20 hours into Atelier Iris 3. It’s not really a great game (the first two are significantly better) but it’s amusing enough and kind of soothing to play. I have a tendency to listen to podcasts while collecting all the items and slashing things in Alterworlds. The game is still too quest-heavy for my tastes, but finally something cool happened in the plot today. Even before today I was enjoying the interactions of the main cast. I think that’s why I don’t mind dungeon crawling so much in this game compared to something like Dark Cloud.

I also got Misha’s first ending in Ar tonelico and I am currently working on her second. Even though Misha will still be my preferred girl (I’ve dived up to level 7 in Aurica so I feel safe making this statement), I am definitely interested in doing Aurica’s path. I’ll be using that save file from before you make the choice, since I don’t think I need to rehash the beginning any time soon. The beginning wasn’t bad but the later parts are just so much better! Also, maybe the final bosses will really have me using my full arsenal of song magics, but right now I barely go through any of them and usually just use each Reyvateil’s first song. Anyway, I got the first ending at around 25 hours. If my PS2 allows me to play more of the game, I think I’ll get the second ending around 40 hours. So far going for that second ending has brought up a lot of interesting things and has already been worth my time. Of course, while the gameplay is fun, I really play this game for the characters and story.

I hadn’t heard as many nice things about Ar tonelico 2, but so far I am intrigued. I found myself pleasantly surprised by the battle system changes. I didn’t expect a ton at first since the graphics quality is not great and my experience with the Atelier Iris trilogy made me think not too much would change. However, I was immediately challenged by the quick battle system, which I will fail to describe adequately. Basically you have a certain amount of time to hit buttons to make your characters attack in real time. That means a character can perform multiple attacks in one turn if they can finish one attack before the timer runs out. So far I believe each character has three types of attacks, which can be performed by hitting the appropriate right-side button (aka square or X) with the left-side directional buttons (aka up or down). In the defending phase, you protect the Reyvateils by hitting the appropriate character’s button (such as square) at the right time as the attack hits. I’m terrible with timed hits and you need to be able to hit both square and X at the same time if necessary. I’ll probably get better at it but at some point if I just keep failing I might even have to drop the difficulty! Which seems crazy since I usually think of doing that only for action games. I guess I need to invest in some rhythm games too.

The other major impression was Cloche’s introduction. She is definitely a character and brings out a lot of life in the other characters, including the main character Croix, who looked to be boring otherwise. He certainly seems smarter than Lyner (the charming idiot main character of Ar tonelico). I’m sort of amused that Croix’s already traveling around with a “harem”. Compared to other games where girls seem to be lacking, Gust games don’t care if everyone but the main character is a girl. And later on (one day I will get to them!) Gust even makes the main characters female. As long as Gust games cooperate with my gaming systems and don’t crash too often (they tend to have a lot of save points so crashing doesn’t make me lose too much progress hopefully), I plan to keep playing them. Though I don’t think I’ll catch up any time soon…

March 21, 2014

Wild ARMs 2 so far

Posted in video games tagged , at 4:11 pm by riulyn

I’ve been slowly making my way through Wild ARMs 2 as I have been majorly distracted by a multitude of other games. Even so, at the 12-ish hour point I feel like I should have already found something to care about in this game. However, I struggle to say a lot of positive things about this Wild ARMs.

There’s nothing particularly wrong with this game. The music is fine. The battle system is a pretty standard turn-based system, where you select your commands at the beginning of the turn and watch them play out. The puzzles are fine and the dungeons are short (so far). Actually, for a PS1 game there’s a decent number of save points (though you can’t save on the world map). You can cheat the encounter rate somewhat by using the square button (to scan on the world map or to use your tool) to block the regular, white encounters. Wild ARMs 3 is pretty much the same as Wild ARMs 2 in many ways, and I really liked that game.

However, I struggle to care about the cast. Idealistic young men and women as the main cast is nothing new to JRPGs, but I find that this is usually counteracted by some more mature or at least pessimistic outlook by others. Instead, people are just being so obviously used and extreme things happen and your party is just cool with all that? Wild ARMs 4 had a lot of “stupidity” in its plot but at least it was acknowledged? I guess a lot of people prefer the fact that this party, unlike in many other JRPGs, doesn’t really gab a lot. At the same time, the characters are so flat that I need them to talk so I can find things about them to care about. Maybe something in the plot will change my mind, but right now it’s looking like Wild ARMs 2 is headed towards the bottom of my RPG rankings (one day I’ll actually make one…).

In addition, this game has so far been way too easy. If I follow the storyline, I have yet to find enemies that I cannot kill in one normal attack with at least one of my characters. That’s fine in the beginning of the game since you don’t have much health and you don’t always go first and you don’t have a pile of like 50+ heal berries, but later on it just seems so ridiculous. I mean, Lilka doesn’t even need to exploit elemental weaknesses most of the time. Boss battles are somewhat interesting but still mostly achievable by normal attacks + some healing. I think 10 hours in this really should have changed and is a much bigger negative than the lack of characters I care about, since that part is more subjective.

Anyway, I play this game while eating breakfast and it’s not really a chore to get through, so I still plan to beat it. I just hope (and believe) the original game is way better than this.

March 11, 2014

Very Initial Sol Trigger Thoughts

Posted in video games tagged , at 6:29 am by riulyn

I just started up Sol Trigger (after getting 3 more endings in Hana Ki Sou and realizing I died super early in my first playthrough of the game…) and it begins with a long animated movie. WITHOUT SUBTITLES! As someone who figures out Japanese best with audio and text, it meant I really didn’t know what was going on. I mean, things were happening, but why?

I think of other portable games I have played that had movies without subtitles – Persona 4 Golden and Suikoden Tsumugareshi Hyakunen no Toki. I just wonder why they do this? Especially for a portable game, you’d think people sometimes are playing these games in public where they can’t do the audio, right? I guess I can’t just get away with learning to read Japanese then…

Anyway, Sol Trigger certainly looks to be an interesting game. If I understood anything from the beginning of the game, the group of you are like “terrorists” or “rebels” (depends on how you look at them) in a society which was about to sacrifice some people, you bombed the power sources and freed the sacrifices? Someone in your group dies within the first half hour. Also I think all the ladies of the group are attracted to you to some degree – you have childhood supportive friend, young girl who also kind of looks at you as an older brother as well, and the maybe-older lady who is interested in your “golden sol” or whatever that is. Yes, I don’t really get what “Sol”, “Sol Trigger” and all that is yet, even though the game has made some explanations for it. Just goes over my head at the moment.

Other than explanations for terminology I don’t understand, the language used in the game is pretty straightforward. No “over-the-top” usage of kanji as in Hana Ki Sou and not quite the military terminology of Suikoden Tsumugareshi Hyakunen no Toki yet. Hopefully I’ll get to spend a good chunk of the game playing it and not next to a dictionary.

I guess I should touch upon the battle system, but it is so early that I know it will change on me. But anyway, it is turn-based with the view being first-person or where you don’t see your characters until they do an attack (visually like DQ8). You can see which order people will get their turns (up to 5 icons at the moment?) and how soon your next turn will be based on what action you plan to take. You can have up to 4 characters in your battle party. I don’t think you can do a front or back row? Anyway you have skills and you level them up by using them. Leveling them up means you can power them up even more when you want to use them by expanding a bit more “sol” (the apparent equivalent of MP or TP). I think the armor saleslady said that skills can change depending on your weapon? I will confirm that for you later.

So once again, I’m intrigued by the game but I wish I understood more of it! I sense a bit of anime trope-ness in the characters and their relationships, but the premise and world certainly look interesting. Now that I’ve passed my exams (only a few things I need to do to get that Ph.D.), I can slack some more and play games without feeling guilty!

March 6, 2014

5 “canon” JRPG romances that I actually like

Posted in video games tagged , , , , , , at 7:55 pm by riulyn

Valkyria Chronicles has just been beaten! Took me more time than it should have, but I had a good time. I especially loved the characters of that game, with the main duo being a great combination of adorkable, funny, and sincere. It’s a well-told story like this one where I find myself “awwing” at the interactions between the main couple. It’s no secret that I’m a “shipper”, or someone who gets emotionally invested in the romantic relationships of two (or more in rare cases) characters, but I usually roll my eyes at many of the “canon” JRPG romances. Let me not tell you about FFVIII but about 5 other “canon” romances that I actually like. (One per series, since I like some representation)

Some spoilers for FFIX, Shadow Hearts, Suikoden V, Tales of Xillia, Valkyria Chronicles below.

Read the rest of this entry »