The Unplanned Variable

One man and his failed punch perm.

No-one would have believed that his unflinching resilience would allow him to uncover the sordid truth, but they were obviously underestimating the effectiveness of him repeatedly punching those that he deemed to be responsible. As antagonists in the Yakuza series regularly do. Yakuza: Like A Dragon is an exhilarating narrative-driven JRPG featuring an unashamedly exuberant protagonist, revitalised character development mechanics, surprisingly fluid turn-based combat, challenging boss encounters, and wonderfully unorthodox character classes.

Words can’t do them justice.

The creativity (and diversity) inherent in these character classes is staggering. Each fulfils a specific role in combat and has its own transferable skills, which not only makes them remarkably flexible, but encourages experimentation with different combinations of character classes.

This flexibility is bolstered by being able to forge (and upgrade) equipment, which helps immeasurably during the toughest boss encounters. You can forge both weapons and armour, but only weapons can be upgraded, and doing so often requires significant financial investment or rare components, but the results are definitely worth the investment. Making the Romance Workshop integral to your continued success, as the equipment that you find during your adventures is rarely comparable to that which you’ve forged (or upgraded) yourself. But that’s what the shareholder meetings in Management Mode are for. Reliably earning a ¥3,000,000 bonus for listening to the complaints of those who haven’t even contributed to the growth of your business, which is exactly what I imagine an actual shareholder meeting to be like. Only with less chickens.

You never know what Kasuga will do next.

Having earned over ¥45,000,000 during shareholder meetings, and having immediately spent those earnings, I can confidently say that the majority of what you need to upgrade weapons can be bought. It’s not always cheap nor is it always readily available, but it can be bought. So I’ve once again avoided learning the rules for various mini games. I’m not sure if I necessarily benefit from that decision, but at least I don’t need to fumble through shogi pretending to know what each piece does. Or whether the exclamations from participants are positive or negative.

Because I have absolutely no idea.

The introduction of turn-based combat is what makes Yakuza: Like A Dragon unlike other entries in the Yakuza series, but I can’t criticise its implementation nor the changes made to established mechanics, as it feels as intuitive as the real time combat that we’ve come to love.

Given that I’ve now purchased every entry in the Yakuza series available on Steam, I felt that it was finally time to experience the enrapturing narratives of each in earnest. I can’t say how many of these prodigious adventures that I’ll be attempting per year, but I am committed to finishing them, and will undoubtedly be devoting a considerable amount of time to these endeavours. Of the two that I’ve finished, Yakuza 0 and Yakuza: Like A Dragon, I’ve found both to be ridiculously content dense, and anticipate that those to follow will be just as immense. Which I’m wholeheartedly looking forward to. I don’t know what to expect from the next entry in the Yakuza series, but I highly recommend Yakuza: Like A Dragon as it fundamentally alters countless mechanics but still delivers an exceptionally enthralling experience.

Have a nice week, all!


Eighteen Years Service

Dutifully performed for the family.

Not that the family were nearly as appreciative as anticipated for this service, but things are rarely what they seem to be. I’d be more surprised if there wasn’t an ulterior motive involved. Hence why Kasuga’s relative innocence is so endearing, as he never fully understands how he gets himself into these dilemmas. Which include, but are not limited to: single-handedly reviving a failing senbai business, trekking across Yokohama to alleviate toilet-related anxiety, visiting a vintage cinema to be harassed by sheep, and watching over the fruit of a persimmon tree.

Each just as outlandish as the next.

Proving that the Yakuza series, with its reprehensible antagonists, and (surprisingly) rational protagonists, can be as silly as it can serious. Even if I doubt that there are any as ridiculous as Yakuza: Like A Dragon. But I consider that to be one of the strengths of this experience.

Comic relief is too often absent from darker narratives. Not only does it amplify those scarce moments of realisation, but it makes the experience more enjoyable between those bouts of heartbreaking revelation.
I honestly don’t know how I’d feel if I didn’t have a self-proclaimed Hero, a homeless Musician, a regretful Chef, and a brawling Breaker in my active party. But I can only commend the developers for their creativity,
as each of these character classes is as fresh as it is functional. They can be absolutely hilarious, too. I’ve never seen a man douse his enemies with a chilled bottle of champagne before. Nor have I seen a woman repeatedly bludgeon her enemies with a microphone. But I can’t imagine how its turn-based combat would
be were it not peppered with these absurdities.

His ¥1,000,000 investment paid dangerous dividends.

Turn-based combat that feels as fluid and as natural as the real time combat of Yakuza 0, despite being the notable difference between this and other entries in the Yakuza series. Countless alterations were made to established mechanics to revitalise them, and numerous character classes were introduced to replace the default protagonist proficiencies. Selecting your party isn’t easy, either. Each character class has its own strengths and weaknesses (as does each party member), and balancing those to adequately prepare for encounters can be tricky.

But it’s also incredibly fun.

Not only because I’ve been fascinated by character classes since those treasured days spent playing Final Fantasy V, but because there are transferable skills and statistical bonuses that benefit each party member regardless of their current character class. Which is neat.

Presenting Kasuga as an avid fan of the Dragon Quest series certainly explains why he sees the world as he does, as his world is far more compelling than the real world. Which makes this adventure entirely believable. We really did fight a giant automated vacuum cleaner, which ate its own creator with its super suction mode. Those were real things that happened in the real world. Of course they were. I’m not entirely sure that these ludicrous events would be as believable were they not presented as such, but it feels like the developers are trying something ridiculously zany with Yakuza: Like A Dragon. So I doubt that this is necessarily indicative
of future entries. Even if turn-based combat was to return, I doubt that it would be as absurd as this. Or that certain mechanics, such as Mental Points, would return with it.

Have a nice week, all!


Champions of the Dale

Together they could overcome anything.

No challenge proved insurmountable for the combined talents of Bruenor Battlehammer and Drizzt Do’Urden, whose campaign across the harsh and unforgiving landscapes of Icewind Dale ended in resounding success. Together they’ve felled colossal frost giants, fanatical cultists, ferocious gnolls, ravening verbeeg, a horrifying beholder, and even an ancient white dragon. Together they’ve done what neither could do alone. Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance is an enjoyable (primarily) co-operative ARPG that loosely follows the exploits of the Companions of the Hall.

Unconventional as they may be.

I’d usually avoid co-operative experiences, but I’ve uncharacteristically completed the entirety of the content with a friend and it was surprisingly fun. It definitely feels more satisfying when exploring together. Which is exactly what a co-operative experience should feel like.

Knowing that my friend would always be there to resurrect me should I fall in battle. Knowing that I’d always find every treasure chest as their lust for loot is more insatiable than mine. And knowing that we’d share the disappointment of discovering nought but trash in the reward chest. But that didn’t dissuade us from returning to face challenges far beyond what our combined Combat Power suggested was possible. Not that we could ever make sense of the Combat Power mechanics, as they were clearly skewed towards wearing legendary equipment even if it was vastly inferior. Nor would we heed the advice of an algorithm. As evidenced by our innumerable attempts to defeat bosses on the highest difficulty levels and our countless successes during those attempts. Not only when adventuring together but when adventuring alone, too.

The intoxicating rhythm of battle.

We were, however, somewhat discouraged by the lack of high quality equipment found during these attempts, which is my only criticism of this experience. The higher difficulty levels aren’t as rewarding as they could be. They’re certainly challenging, but that doesn’t feel nearly as fulfilling when the rewards aren’t proportional to the effort. Especially when each new difficulty feels insuperable compared to the last. Acquiring a full set of equipment also seems exceedingly difficult despite information to the contrary, as it should be possible to reliably farm every set.

But the rewards never seem to reflect that.

These are concerns that could easily be addressed with the post-release DLC, though. And I’m hoping that they will be. As Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance has an incredibly solid foundation, which could be built upon to create a truly invigorating co-operative experience.

I wasn’t sure of what to expect from Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance, but I was pleasantly surprised by how engaging I found it to be. Crawling through dungeons and slaughtering unholy hordes is nothing new to me. But I’ve found this experience to be an oddly compelling one, and one that was made better by having a friend along with me. Or maybe I was along with them. They were the one dealing ludicrously high amounts of damage while I stood unflinching against the relentless assault. But that’s why I’m looking forward to the aforementioned post-release DLC, as I’m sure that our misadventures will continue. And I’m sure that Drizzt will continue to carry the party with their damage output. Which is why I recommend this experience to those who love to crawl through dungeons with friends, as it has been immensely entertaining.

Have a nice weekend, all!


King of the Valley

His axe has a thirst.

Whether it’s the savagery of the verbeeg or the persistence of the goblins, the dwarves of Clan Battlehammer have witnessed countless atrocities. Prior to the rule of Bruenor Battlehammer, their ancestral home, Mithral Hall, was overrun by hordes of duergar and it was decided that they relocate to Kelvin’s Cairn to escape their aggressors. Only to discover that Kelvin’s Cairn had equally unsettling hardships for them to endure. Bruenor isn’t about to stand idly by and watch his people be slaughtered, though. Nor will he allow them to be driven from their new home in the Dale.

Not that he’ll face these challenges alone.

He’ll be facing them with other Companions of the Hall. Of which, having attempted one run with each, I’m reasonably proficient with Bruenor and Drizzt, despite Wulfgar seeming like the obvious choice for me. He just feels too cumbersome in combat. As does Catti-brie.

I’m not particularly fond of ranged damage, as that requires me to fire from a safe distance, and I rarely keep a safe distance, but Catti-brie has an unusual fighting style that involves kicking creatures. Kicking creatures and occasionally firing arrows into them. However, her ultimate, Arcane Arrows, is ridiculously powerful and decimates elite or boss encounters. So I can definitely appreciate how powerful she could be. But, much like Wulfgar, whose hits land with staggering intensity, it’s the quirks of their respective fighting styles that elude me. Especially when I’m accustomed to the unflinching might of Bruenor or the exhilarating burst damage of Drizzt. I’m continually discovering new equipment sets, too. So it’s entirely possible (and very likely) that their equipment is affecting their respective capabilities (or lack thereof) in combat.

Two heroes are better than one.

While Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance can be experienced alone, it’s easily at its best when experienced with others. Not only does combat become immensely satisfying, as each party member confidently exhibits their own strengths during encounters, but there are innumerable conversations between characters relating to their histories or to past events, which serve to deepen your understanding of the world around you. This isn’t exactly unexpected of a (primarily) co-operative experience, but the subtle execution is what makes you pay attention to the dialogue.

It feels like a natural conversation.

One that helps you to understand their individual motivations and how the current journey is affecting them. Which, as I’ve not read any of the source material, is welcomed, as I don’t know of their personalities or the adversity that they’ve faced during their past adventures.

Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance certainly isn’t for everyone, as you aren’t able to build your own unique character, and this isn’t an epic tale of heroism experienced through character sheets and dice rolling, but it
is an enjoyable adventure through the inhospitable and unforgiving wilds of Icewind Dale. One that can only get better. As the developers have acknowledged numerous issues from their (underwhelming) launch, and are currently implementing patches to fix the most egregious of them. And they’ve expressed their intentions to support this experience with post-release DLC. Of those currently announced, two are being delivered for free and one requires an additional purchase. But the idea of new locations to explore, treasures to plunder, and enemies to face makes me happier than anything else.

Have a nice week, all!


Coexisting With Lizardfolk

One of her more successful dialogue checks.

Less successful attempts include, but are not limited to: trying to broker peace with the Orcs of Old Owl Well after slaughtering them, promising not to steal the treasure of the denizens in the tunnels beneath Ember and then immediately stealing it, and trying to peacefully resolve the growing unrest in the Docks District. Not that these failures have dissuaded her. She was eventually successful, and that’s what matters. Not the needless deaths that plague her conscience. But then this is a fresh character build that I’ve conceived with Dungeons & Dragons 3rd edition rules.

So I’d expect no better.

I’d usually expect far worse, but I’m pleasantly surprised as to how competent this Aasimar Bard build seems to be. She isn’t terrible. She can capably swing her weapon. And she doesn’t immediately fall unconscious when engaging enemies in close quarters combat. It’s truly a fascinating build.

One that may be as fascinating as it is due to the inherent versatility of the Bard. Or maybe I’ve finally begun to understand Dungeons & Dragons rules. That’s unlikely, though. I’d never dare to suggest that I understand anything about what I’m doing at any given moment in time. It could also be because she is being bolstered (and carried) by an entire party. Unlike Neverwinter Nights, which affords a single companion, or up to two
in Hordes of the Underdark, Neverwinter Nights 2 affords up to three. Or up to five in Storm of Zehir. Hence why I’m excited about the second expansion pack. I’m looking to bring my Halfling Ranger/Rogue build and Half-Orc Cleric build together with this Aasimar Bard build, which should result in the worst adventuring party imaginable. Especially when I intend to build a Wizard or Sorcerer, too.

As charismatic as she is, she isn’t very convincing at all.

Unfortunately, Neverwinter Nights 2 is, in my experience, also marred by innumerable inconsistencies. And the majority of these don’t seem to be as detrimental as they actually are. Such as the party order shuffling that occurs on load, which doesn’t seem to affect anything, but is actually deactivating buffs and equipment modifiers, despite clearly showing them as being currently active. Quests have a tendency to arbitrarily and irreparably break, too. Either adding themselves to your quest log (or updating their progress) despite being nowhere near their objectives.

Or they simply refuse to update.

Making it impossible to actually complete those quests, to earn the rewards for doing so, or to undertake any further quests that may become available upon completion. I don’t know how many quests that I’ve missed due to this. Nor do I want to. Knowing would only deepen my growing frustrations.

I’d originally intended to experience Neverwinter Nights 2 as a Tiefling Warlock, but I didn’t appreciate how despicable he would need to be. Partly because I didn’t fully acknowledge the evil alignment requirement for Warlocks. But mostly because of the excessive alignment adjustments present throughout earlier quests, that are seemingly absent from later ones. I’m barely incurring any adjustments now. Not that I’m suggesting that Neverwinter Nights 2 is an awful sequel, as it isn’t. I’ve just struggled to return to (and remain invested in) this experience due to the issues that I’ve encountered. Yet I’m still keen to see it through to the end. Because I’m enjoying the main campaign and there are various new mechanics to tinker with. It’s just so hard to commit to when various things aren’t working as anticipated or working at all.

Have a nice weekend, all!