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.

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December 29, 2013

2013 Wrap-Up

Posted in video games tagged , , , , , , , , , , at 7:19 pm by riulyn

2013 was quite a fast year for me, probably because I spent so many hours gaming 😀 They were many good hours, which I hope to continue with next year. So my personal 2013 game awards are as follows:

Best game that I beat in 2013 – Xenoblade Chronicles (honorable mention Persona 4 Golden)
I think I have enough posts on how much I love Xenoblade Chronicles. If I could accurately dictate why I loved the game so much, I think I would be able to write a good fanfic out of it at least. Persona 4 was quite the challenger, but maybe because I didn’t get the powerful true/great/whatever ending, I find that the end just comes and it left with a bit of a unsatisfactory taste. Anyway, Xenoblade for me had a great mix of interesting places and lore to explore, relationships to develop everywhere (and I think I liked “matchmaking” as my team more than being the center of everything as is the case more for Persona games), and a plot that moves at a good pace most of the time with some very crazy and some very emotionally moving segments.

Best game that I replayed in 2013 – Suikoden II (honorable mention Suikoden V)
I probably don’t need to write this section, do I? I love Suikoden games too much.

Worst game that I beat in 2013 – Lufia 2: Curse of the Sinistrals (honorable mention Magna Carta: Tears of Blood)
I knew Lufia 2: Curse of the Sinistrals was going to be a bad game, but I already bought it and figured I should beat it anyway. It wasn’t so bad that I couldn’t play it; the puzzles weren’t bad per se. The game tried to be too serious and too funny at the same time, doing a worse job than Star Ocean IV with this. It somehow felt more compressed compared to the original and most of the relationships between people (esp. the romances) were portrayed horribly. In addition I never really liked the action controls. I abused the retry and level boost, finding myself not caring enough to figure out the controls completely.
Magna Carta deserves a write-up for being a game that makes you do way too much repeated backtracking just so your characters can be at reasonable levels in the late game. There are many issues with the battle system which I’ve written about before. What saves this game from being the absolute bottom is a background lore and Yason dealings that were decently interesting. The way the story ended up being told, though, was quite inefficient. If many of the gameplay issues are resolved in the sequel, then I can see myself really enjoying Magna Carta 2.

Favorite game that I beat that was released in 2013 – Ys: Memories of Celceta (honorable mention Tales of Xillia)
I beat a good mix of turn-based, tactical, and action RPGs this year and action RPGs ended up being my favorite. Ys IV gets the top spot for being so crazily fun. The battle system is improved upon Ys Seven’s with a fun synthesis system added on. Characters are a bit sharper and smarter than in Ys Seven, the pacing is great, and map-making is both fun and story relevant. Tales of Xillia gets honorable mention because it takes too long to get to the good stuff. The good stuff is really good though, and the battle system beats that of Tales of Graces f for me due to Linked Artes. I highly anticipate Tales of Xillia 2 due to the way the first game ended; at the same time that means I don’t end up rating Tales of Xillia as highly due to that not so satisfactory finish.

Game that I beat in 2013 that surpassed my expectations the most – Shadow Hearts (honorable mention Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter)
I’ve already mentioned in previous posts how Shadow Hearts games were something I knew of but never wandered into. The early 2000s was filled with RPGs from everywhere, and I was still playing a decent number of PS1 games in the PS2 era. However, I knew enough people who liked Shadow Hearts and I figured that I like most games so I’d enjoy Shadow Hearts too. What I didn’t expect was how charmed I would be by the game. Yuri was more obviously a character that I would like from the beginning, but Alice was also amazingly charming. I liked the battle system more than I expected to as well. I already knew the music was good but it fits with the game ridiculously well.
Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter began with a frustrating start and it was hard to have expectations for this polarizing game. Even so, it seemed like it would be light on the story and be more about the battle system at first. The amount of depth and care in the presentation really took me by surprise. It’s hard for me to really, really enjoy a game that made me stress out while playing it, but I can definitely appreciate how it was put together.

Game that I beat in 2013 that fell short of my expectations the most – Shining Hearts (honorable mention Lufia 2: Curse of the Sinistrals)
I heard Shining games were good. I heard Shining Hearts was good fun. I did not hear just how annoying the battles could be. I didn’t think such a “fun” game would have such a bad plot. I didn’t think the other characters were that great; they definitely get more interesting if you do their sidequests, but they still felt mostly one-dimensional and not a mix of good tropes like Tales characters. Of course if I had looked more into Shining Hearts before I played it I wouldn’t have been so disappointed.
On the other hand, I already knew how bad Lufia 2: Curse of the Sinistrals was for most people. Still, I thought people might have been exaggerating their issues with the plot bastardization since the original’s plot wasn’t amazing either. Also I didn’t expect myself to find myself mostly at odds with the battle system (though those skills for puzzles weren’t so bad, since it didn’t involve chaining attacks). At least the music didn’t disappoint.

Best soundtrack (from games I beat in 2013) – Xenoblade Chronicles (honorable mention Muramasa Rebirth)
I can’t think of a single bad song on either Xenoblade’s or Muramasa’s soundtracks. Xenoblade’s soundtrack has some of the most beautiful songs for locations and some of the most sweeping songs for important moments. Almost all the battle themes kick ass as well. The soundtrack is just so beautiful. Muramasa’s soundtrack is more unified with amazing instrumentation for their melodic Japanese with a twist music, but I would have loved to have just a few more tracks. Then again, the game is a bit short and the emotional punches aren’t quite there compared to Xenoblade, so in a sense there’s no reason for the game to have so much music. I think the Xenoblade and Muramasa soundtracks highlight my bias towards catchy melodies with long enough (30 sec+ I think) loops; Persona and some Tales music will loop too quickly while Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter and later FF soundtracks tend to have less emphasis on melodies. Still, I enjoyed many games with great music this year; music definitely was not an issue for me.

Here are some other stats for the year:

  • Game that took me the least hours to beat in 2013 – Ys I
  • Game that took me the most hours to beat in 2013 – Xenoblade Chronicles (honorable mention Fire Emblem Awakening)
  • Total games beaten in 2013 – 28 (1 in Japanese)
  • Total games purchased in 2013 – 53 (darn you Steam sale and all those last minute Japanese games)

This was certainly a backlog-expanding year, but I also got to play many different types of games, including my first forays into SMT, Shadow Hearts, Breath of Fire, Ace Attorney, otome, and Atelier games. I certainly feel more like a JRPG veteran than I did just a year ago and I feel blessed that I can continue to find a variety of fresh experiences in my backlog. My Japanese knowledge continues to improve but the localization market still seems healthy enough to get most of the big releases. I think next year can be another good year of gaming (even if I don’t buy so many games), and I’ll let you know my goals in the next post.

September 5, 2013

Let’s Talk About Music Again

Posted in music tagged , , , , , , at 6:12 pm by riulyn

Just because I haven’t been working on sheet music doesn’t mean I should stop talking about music, right? If I’m surveying a shit ton of games, I’m hearing a lot of different soundtracks still, right?

I’ve been playing a bit of “play whatever loads in my PS2 and if not, Tales of Xillia”. Which means I should have an opinion about Tales of Xillia’s soundtrack by now. Compared to other Tales’ soundtracks, I feel like Xillia is in the middle? Even though I’m over 20 hours in, I’m only in the second chapter and there’s plenty of time for the rest of the soundtrack to show up. Sakuraba’s best themes, if there are amazing ones on a Tales soundtrack, tend to be near the end anyway. I have to say that the anime intro song is probably my favorite Tales intro song ever. I have spent hours listening to it on repeat. But anyway, I’m happy that Xillia’s soundtrack is better than Graces’. I might have been imagining this downward trend in “quality”, or at least in my personal enjoyment, of Sakuraba’s music starting with Abyss. I wonder how much overlap there is in the music for Xillia and Xillia 2? I guess I’ll find out when the sequel comes to North America.

Otherwise I have been engaged in the inner debate on which Wild ARMs soundtrack I’ve liked the best so far. I think it’s a fight between 3 and 5. The best part of 5’s soundtrack was the great variety in it, but 3 has catchier tunes. I probably should wait until I finish all the Wild ARMs games before choosing the Wild ARMs soundtrack to represent. I feel like when people think of Wild ARMs music they think of the first game, so it may have the best of the Wild ARMs soundtracks.

Recently, in my attempt to finish more PS2 games, I played some Magna Carta and while the game is taking way longer than it should to get through battles and has some of the worst scripted and acted cutscenes ever, the music is actually pretty decent. I don’t think I like it enough to own its soundtrack, but it certainly makes playing the game more enjoyable.

And while Magna Carta wasn’t loading, I was able to load Drakengard. I feel like this soundtrack will need to grow on me. It is certainly…interesting. I think the music fits the game? The game is also…interesting.

The one soundtrack, or rather music collection, that I’m getting soon and looking forward to is the 3 music CDs that come with the Ys IV Silver Anniversary edition. It’s $20 more than the limited edition, and I am severely lacking in Ys music on my computer. I don’t think I’ve met an Ys song that I haven’t liked, and certainly not a battle theme. I really, really hope the Amazon date of early November is true. I need it to come in before I head to Japan!

Finally, I don’t know if I spazzed enough about the awesome Muramasa soundtrack. Sakimoto’s music group continues to make good stuff. And frankly, I find myself once again wondering why he isn’t one of my top composers? When he goes melodic, it’s usually wonderful and awesome (like Valkyria Chronicles music). He certainly does atmospheric stuff well too (Breath of Fire Dragon Quarter, FFXII). In Muramasa, his crew makes melodic, sometimes driving music that has this traditional Japanese-ness to it. It’s incredibly appropriate for a beat-em-up RPG where you drive through enemies in traditional garb. I think out of all the big name Japanese RPG composers, Sakimoto is the least appreciated. Sometimes he was just so good that you didn’t even realize his genius? If that’s the reason, then I was one of the unenlightened…until now?

Ah well. Mitsuda will probably forever be my favorite, even if it’s the nostalgia talking. Chrono Cross music got me into video game music, after all.

August 11, 2013

Tales of Xillia so far

Posted in video games tagged , at 8:56 pm by riulyn

I’m not that far in Tales of Xillia but I feel like blogging more often so the 2 people who read my blog have more things to read. So far so good. I can’t really comment on the quality of the game as a whole but it does start off a bit slowly. I’m still getting tutorials 4 hours in and I only have 3 characters. I don’t feel like a ton has happened in the plot yet either. I started off as Milla but supposedly Jude’s story path is more straightforward, so I am strongly considering starting a new playthrough with him. Even if I think I’ll like Milla better as a character in the end.

Battle system so far is smooth overall but I find having a TP and a CC gauge to be pretty confusing. At this point I have paid no attention to the CC gauge and worry about my TP. The way I’ve been growing my Lilion for each character (has been a pretty general start from the center and spiral outward for the most part), I’ve been getting new artes that take up a good chunk of my TP. Auto-item is nice since you can have your characters auto-use orange gels (or other items) up until you only have a certain number of orange gels left. I haven’t changed strategy for my other party members yet as battles have been pretty easy for the most part. I’ve moved up to Moderate but I may go higher so battles take more than 20 seconds of hitting X. Linking is cool so far but it seems that I haven’t unlocked its true potential yet. Mostly linking has been great for the special artes you can unleash once you fill up certain amounts of the link gauge and for regaining your linked partner’s TP (or your own, depending on how you play) faster. Jude seems to drain out his TP all the time for some reason…

Characters-wise, Jude is like the typical Tales protagonist (young, idealistic, asking questions) but at least he also comes with some book smarts. Alvin must find Jude incredibly “cute” as he seems to manhandle Jude all the time Inigo of FE:A would be incredibly jealous. Milla so far is “not so human” but done in a good way. Unlike some previous non-human Tales characters, she doesn’t suffer from “amnesia” and isn’t a child; she has an interesting way of seeing the world/thinking that comes off as logical even though it is different. Her voice was weird at first but I like it a lot now. Milla in general takes some time to get used to, both in an audiovisual sense and gameplay-wise. I haven’t tried the others yet as I still find Milla interesting to use.

I love how they did the map for this game. It marks down the spawn points and the treasure chests you have used, so it can be fun to mark the map. It doesn’t seem to mark chests that you have opened but didn’t take the things out of, which is a little unfortunate. So far those chests have only contained Apple gels for me, which seem to be dropped in high frequency from monsters.

Titles give you Grade in this game, so I guess it’s useful later. Lilion (Tales’ answer to the sphere grid) is the way to enhance your characters’ stats and learn skills. At 3 GP per level gained, you can learn new skills and artes almost every level and not have the capacity to equip all the skills. I guess that’s a better problem to have then to have not enough skills and artes to play around with.

Music-wise, I don’t really care for it. The regular battle theme is kind of mediocre. I am hoping that the soundtrack is better than Tales of Graces’, but I can’t tell so early on.

And that’s it for now! I’m more focused on Wild ARMs 3 than Tales of Xillia so I may not have updated thoughts on Xillia for a while. As for Wild ARMs 3, I feel like it started off much better than 4 and 5, and I’m enjoying it a lot. I can certainly feel the Wild ARMs style coming through, which makes me confident that I’ll enjoy 1 and 2 when that time comes.