Cults of the Witch Gods

Don’t enter portals opened by strangers.

If you do you might end up in the Korvan Basin. It’s sandy. Very, very sandy. It’d make for a great holiday destination were it not for the bloodthirsty wildlife, the fanatical cultists, and the statues which come to life desiring nothing more than to see you rendered into viscera. You might also have to join one of three cults when you arrive, each of which represent the desires of one of the three Witch Gods. Which, thankfully, doesn’t require a human sacrifice. So that’s something. You will, however, have to fight for your life against the forces of Ch’thon to prove that you are the one they’ve been looking for.

Which is exactly why I don’t like people looking for me.

Forgotten Gods is the second expansion pack for the exceptionally exquisite Grim Dawn. It follows the events of Ashes of Malmouth, but can be experienced out of sequence as soon as you’ve completed Act 1. The content scales to your character level, though. So it’ll always be level appropriate for your character.

Act 7 is set in the lush, scenic, and sometimes volcanic Korvan Basin. Alongside the extended main campaign content there’s a new Mastery (the Oathkeeper), newly introduced Difficulty Merits and Iron sharing mechanics, expanded (personal and shared) stash space, additional Constellations and skills to unlock, and the endless challenge of the Shattered Realm. You’re now able to skip an entire difficulty level by using the respective Difficulty Merit. For instance, if you have a character in Elite you are able to buy the Elite Difficulty Merit which can be shared with another character via the shared stash. You can also condense Iron into Iron Bars to share wealth in a similar fashion. Which is undoubtedly great news for everyone who has multiple characters that might need a little help.

An old god sleeps in a fragment of a distant reality.

The sole new Mastery in Forgotten Gods is the Oathkeeper which (as always) can be combined with existing Masteries. The Soldier has always offered benefits to those who use shields and boasted greatly bolstered survivability, but the Oathkeeper unlocks the offensive capability of shields. If their shield isn’t hitting someone in the face they aren’t happy. Which could present some interesting possibilities for close quarters combat builds. The new Constellations also offer deeper customisation through the Devotion mechanics. While there are new mobility skills which (I do believe) are applied to medals.

It’s a surprisingly content-dense expansion pack.

Not that the developers have earned a reputation for anything less. They have continually and consistently delivered both paid and free updates of the highest quality, and have supported Grim Dawn since the days of Early Access. I’ve enjoyed seeing every new development as they seem passionate about this project.

While it has been hinted that Forgotten Gods may be the last expansion pack, the developers have done incredible things with Grim Dawn. I’ve always had the greatest expectations for Grim Dawn (and any additional content available after release) and they’ve been exceeded in every possible way. Not only does it feel entirely reminiscent of the ARPGs of yesteryear, but it delivers the kind of character building which is often painfully absent from modern RPGs. The developers have never settled and have always pushed ever-forward with new ideas, new concepts, and new updates. This dedication to delivering a truly one-of-a-kind experience is what has led Grim Dawn to be as enjoyable, engaging, and exhilarating as it has been in all of the years that I’ve been building characters in it. I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys ARPGs!

Have a nice week, all!

Moggie

The One True King

Let the banners of war never again be unfurled.

Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom is the exceptionally enjoyable and engrossing sequel to Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch that features an ever-expanding world to explore, an ever-evolving kingdom to lead, functional resource gathering mechanics, and more side quests than any one fledgling king could hope to complete. Much like the previous entry in the series there’s no shortage of things to do. You’ll be tasked with slaying powerful monsters, collecting songbooks, recruiting new citizens, learning new recipes, leading your armies to war, and so much more as you work through the main campaign.

The DLC adds a sizeable chunk of playable content, too.

Besides the overflowing number of things to do my favourite experiences were those of kingdom building. I’ve written before of how delightfully fun the process is, but kingdom building is superb and it never feels like a chore to return to Evermore after you’ve delved into a dungeon or tackled a tainted monster.

Being able to build and continually upgrade facilities to have access to increasingly powerful equipment, more varied Higgledies, more impressive spells, and further bonuses in combat is a rare pleasure. It never feels forced but it’s not required, either. You can quite easily finish the Dreamer’s Doors without the Dimensional Lab. Or you could simply buy equipment rather than craft your own. Or find it on monsters. That said, it’s entirely worth your time to invest in developing Evermore and I encourage you to do so. It’s a ridiculously useful hub location that unlocks more than a few useful things. It’s also a great place to engage in various side quests that (I do believe) are unavailable elsewhere. Or you could just catch up with your various party members and see what they’ve got to say.

I’ve also greatly enjoyed the various combat mechanics in the sequel. Opting instead for an action-orientated approach that allows your party members to act autonomously, but also lets you switch the playable character, offering the choice between long range and close range weaponry, while giving you full control of their spells and abilities. It’s almost entirely seamless, too. Unless you’re on the world map you don’t need to switch to a dedicated combat screen. Making for more fluid, engaging, and enjoyable combat. It also allows you to see when enemies have superior numbers or are of a higher level.

Which is quite useful inside of the Dreamer’s Doors.

The aforementioned comprise the majority of randomly generated content in the sequel. Each Dreamer’s Door leads to a labyrinthine dungeon which you’ll need to explore as an ever-increasing Danger Level promises more powerful monsters, and your aim is to either finish the dungeon or escape to safety.

I had great expectations for Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom and it has far exceeded them by having a wealth of playable content and a surprisingly extensive main campaign. Which is a good thing. It’s always better to have more content than less especially when it is of the quality that this series is known for. The only drawback to being entirely absorbed in the series is that I’ve finished the majority of content in both, and I’m currently working through the DLC in the sequel. Which, really, isn’t a drawback, as it’s been an entirely enjoyable affair. I’ve not once felt that I’m forcing myself through the content to see what’s next. Which is why if you’re interested in enjoyable, engrossing, and downright fun JRPGs I can highly recommend anything and everything in the Ni no Kuni series!

Have a nice week, all!

Moggie

The Pure-Hearted One

You’re a wizard, Ollie-boy.

Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch Remastered is a magnificently exquisite JRPG that tells the enchanting story of Oliver’s quest to save the person dearest to him. Featuring (quite literally) hundreds of familiars to tame, a sprawling world map, numerous locations to visit, and more treasures than you can shake a twig at this experience is truly one-of-a-kind. There are scarce few JRPGs that are as enjoyable and as engaging as this, and fewer still that have such a diverse range of content to immerse yourself in that they don’t begin to feel stale after a while. It also has some of the best art direction I’ve ever seen.

Not to mention a truly outstanding soundtrack.

I’m also quite fond of the various puzzles and riddles found throughout the main campaign. The riddles are particularly fiendish as you have to type in a response, which means you can’t simply select every available option until you find the correct one. These riddles often encourage the use of the Wizard’s Companion, too.

I’ve written before of the wonderful idea that is the Wizard’s Companion. I’m also enthusiastic about the errands and bounty hunts which comprise the majority of additional content. Errands are (as the name suggests) tasks that NPCs will assign you which often involve collecting materials, travelling to new locations, or (rarely) slaying certain creatures. Bounty hunts reward you for hunting down especially powerful creatures. Completing either (or both) will award you with rare materials, powerful equipment, and more Guilders than you know what to do with. There is an abundance of diverse and interesting content to complete alongside the main campaign, and you’re highly encouraged to take the time to revisit each major city regularly for new things to do.

There are some interesting mechanics present in combat, too. While Oliver may have prodigious magical prowess he’s also a bit squishy, which is why he (and his friends) fight with familiars. Familiars are able to learn various Tricks which allow them to perform differently in combat. Some familiars are exceptionally powerful, some incredibly durable, and some have more spells than any one creature reasonably should. Each character has their own affinity with certain familiars as well. Finding the right combinations along with a balance of offensive and defensive Tricks is not easy but satisfying when it does happen.

At a certain level familiars will be able to Metamorphose.

Once they Metamorphose into a new creature they’ll regress to Lvl 1 but they’ll retain all previously learned Tricks. That said, in the process of levelling up their second or third forms they may lose certain Tricks as they can only know eight at any given time. So sometimes levelling from base to final form can be a wasted effort.

Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch Remastered has drastically exceeded all expectations. Not only is there a wealth of engaging and enjoyable content throughout the main campaign but the additional content is refreshing as well. Alongside this you have various alchemical recipes to cook up, familiars to develop, a casino to gamble at, a gauntlet of combat to engage in, and a surprisingly vast sea of equipment to swim through. There are various puzzles to solve, too. Hidden spells to unlock. Forests to visit. Treasures to find on the world map. There’s a staggering number of things to see and do in either world, and it’s definitely one of the best JRPG experiences I’ve had in many years. For that reason I highly recommend this to those who enjoy RPGs, JRPGs, or heart-warming wholesome stories.

Have a nice week, all!

Moggie

The Urge to Climb

Ascending towards the surface and the sun.

Mary Skelter: Nightmares is an absolutely bizarre but enjoyable JRPG featuring satisfying dungeon crawling mechanics. It functions similarly to other dungeon crawlers and features a party of up to five characters, but allows you to develop those characters to conform to whichever party composition you have in mind. Presenting a typical JRPG party management system of being able to swap characters as and when you please. The development of the individual characters is tied to their classes, of which there are five unique classes and two characters embodying each class resulting in ten playable characters.

Of the ten one is a secret character unlocked near the end of the campaign.

Most character development is as expected with the acquisition of experience points leading to levelling up. However, there are the Blood Devolution mechanics (that allow you to reverse the levelling process) and the class change mechanics which both require increasing quantities of blood crystals. Blood crystals which are found at random in dungeons.

Changing classes requires a quantity of blood crystals and Job Rights, while Blood Devolution requires a (significantly greater) quantity of blood crystals and Devolution Rights. Every tenth character level you are awarded both a Job Right and Devolution Right. This is one of the earlier justifications for utilising the Blood Devolution mechanics, as you can easily devolve a low level character to acquire another Job Right with which you can unlock more classes. Unlocking a class makes every skill available to that class permanently available to the character even if they switch to something else. For instance, Alice will retain Cover or Intimidate (if invested in) even if she switches from Paladin to Destroyer. So unlocking each and every class is actually a viable strategy to maximise the number of skills you have available.

There are some unusual classes, too. The Item Meister is an exceptionally useful utility class that is second only to the Blood Hunter for making the most of each dungeon. Both classes increase the drop rate of items in combat while the Blood Hunter can also increase the amount of gold earned in combat, and utilising one of these classes will have you buried under mountains of loot. Loot, which, even if it isn’t immediately useful, can be sold. I had an Item Meister for the majority of the campaign and I reached the point where I had millions of gold that I couldn’t carry due to the gold cap being just shy of ten million.

The Paladin is quite a unique approach that really excels with higher level equipment, too.

My only minor criticism of the mechanics presented herein is that the acquisition of blood crystals can be quite unpredictable. Often only one or two creatures of a particular type (of a particular floor) will drop the crystals you need, but unless you’re planning to engage in Blood Devolution repeatedly you should have more than enough of even the rarer blood crystals to get by.

I bought Mary Skelter: Nightmares on a whim as it looked like a reasonably enjoyable JRPG dungeon crawler. Therefore, I was pleasantly surprised to experience something that’s genuinely enjoyable and engaging that doesn’t necessarily challenge you but remains fun to play throughout. The characters and their respective classes were quite interesting and varied, while the dungeons featured actual puzzles (albeit not complex ones) and particular mechanics that required you to use the unique abilities of each character. The main campaign was also quite a bit longer than expected. If you’re a fan of JRPGs or dungeon crawlers (or both) I highly recommend Mary Skelter: Nightmares!

Have a nice week, all!

Moggie

The Kamurocho Revitalization Project

The deadliest real estate agent.

Yakuza 0 is a wildly unpredictable but ridiculously enjoyable JRPG. Featuring a broad main campaign, two substantial minor campaigns (the Kamurocho Real Estate Royale and the Sotenbori Cabaret Club Czar), an overwhelming number of mini-games, and hundreds of optional challenges to complete. There’s over a hundred hours of diverse content to explore which is quite an impressive feat. My only minor criticism is that with so much to do it’s hard to know when the best time is to do what. That said, a Premium Adventure mode unlocks after completing the main campaign that allows you to revisit both cities.

This progression then goes towards the New Game+ save file.

I greatly enjoyed exploring both Kamurocho and Sotenbori as they’re beautifully detailed, vibrant, living locations overflowing with myriad (optional) Substories allowing you to explore the personality of each protagonist. They also allow you to buy video games for children, pretend to be someone’s boyfriend, train a dominatrix, and go disco dancing.

The sheer absurdity of some of these Substories is what makes them so enjoyable. In fact, the entire experience is somewhat absurd. It’s heavily exaggerated but amazingly enjoyable. I can’t say that I’ve ever enjoyed playing through mini-games as much as I have when going bowling or Pocket Circuit Racing in Yakuza 0. These mini-games are fully fleshed out, entirely playable, quite complex slices of optional content. As if the main campaign content wasn’t enough. Yakuza 0 also serves as a prequel to (the remastered) Yakuza Kiwami and the titles to follow. Very lightly skimming through the rest of the series has confirmed that many of the characters, events, and locations are representative of the stories to follow. It’s a sensible prequel that does an excellent job of explaining the events to follow and allows players to become fully immersed.

I think it suits him well as a real estate agent.

As if this wasn’t enough the optional challenges consistently reward you for actually going out and doing things. The CP acquired for each challenge completed can be invested in bonuses towards combat, adventuring, or your business ventures. With some of the business venture bonuses being quite significant. These challenges may be to play certain mini-games, defeat opponents with certain combat styles, eat local cuisine, play pool, or sing karaoke until your lungs burst. There’s such a diverse selection available that everyone will find something that they enjoy and that they can earn CP doing.

I was also most impressed with how fluid and satisfying combat was.

Both Kiryu and Majima have three combat styles (with a hidden fourth style) and each represents a concept. Be it versatility, strength, or speed. By attacking enemies in any of these styles you’ll build up Heat, and once Heat has reached a certain level you’ll be able to unleash ridiculously powerful special abilities. These abilities differ depending on the style used.

If there’s one thing that stands out to me about Yakuza 0 it’s the massive scale of the content available. I wasn’t expecting something that was as broad or as developed as this is. The main campaign was engaging, exhilarating, and beautifully presented which for most series would be enough. But the Yakuza series kept layering more and more content on in a world that despite its size puts most open world video games to shame. For such a small map there is so much to do, so much to see, and so many characters to meet. I absolutely adore the art direction and voice acting, too. It’s an exceptionally well presented experience that is quite unlike anything I’ve played before. But highly recommended if you’re looking for something a little different but incredibly rewarding.

Have a nice week, all!

Moggie

Masters of Orsterra

On a journey of self-discovery.

Octopath Traveler is an exceptionally enjoyable JRPG that tells an engrossing story through eight main characters in an ever-evolving world overflowing with secrets. It feels quite nostalgic, too. Not that it has any reason to, but everything about the art direction and mechanics feels akin to the JRPGs of the SNES. There are quite a few new ideas in there as well. You can utilise myriad path actions to interact with NPCs in various ways, which not only keeps progression fresh but allows those characters to have content specific to them in their respective campaign chapters. It also allows you to resort to thievery.

Which mostly results in quite a stack of pomegranates.

The path actions also present the opportunity to have multiple types of side quests. Some require you to guide NPCs to certain locations, others to inquire about valuable information, some to purchase rare or unique items that can’t be obtained elsewhere, and others which require you to defeat NPCs to access new locations.

I’m quite fond of the character progression mechanics, too. Each character has their own base class and can combine this with one of twelve other classes. No two characters can have the same secondary class at the same time, which means if Olberic is an Apothecary and you want Tressa to be an Apothecary then Olberic needs to select a different secondary class. They are freely interchangeable, though. So make use of the unique passive skills for each class. Of the twelve classes there are the eight default classes and four advanced classes, which require you to explore the world and look for shrines in numerous locations. Unlocking skills with the advanced classes requires far more JP than default classes but they repay the investment with overwhelming power. Aelfric’s Auspices on a Sorcerer is a monstrous thing to behold.

I’ve greatly enjoyed the combat mechanics as well. They’re somewhat unconventional but quite intuitive and mostly require you to match your actions with the weaknesses of your enemies. Each enemy has a shield, which, once broken, leaves them vulnerable and allows you to deal additional damage. With the Warrior, Scholar, and Hunter there are quite a few ways to break shields on multiple opponents at once. Some characters (like Alfyn) even have unique talents that allow them to perform actions in combat to break multiple shields at once, which you can’t inherit by becoming their class.

I’ve written of some of these things before.

It’s quite rare for a JRPG to offer some distinction between characters besides their abilities or statistics. Even the path actions have different categorisations, which mean that some are considered lawful while others are unlawful and each carries their own risks and rewards. These will have different impacts on your reputation when used.

Which is what I think is best about Octopath Traveler. There are quite a few unconventional mechanics (at least for JRPGs) which opens up the opportunity to explore the world in your own way. You can choose to be entirely unlawful and force your way through towns and during events. Or you can choose to be entirely lawful. That said, it doesn’t present the multiple choice dialogue akin to CRPGs and so the campaigns themselves will mostly play out as they should. But it does offer enough individuality to stand out from other JRPGs. If you’re a fan of JRPGs and you’re looking for something that’s familiar but different then I can’t recommend Octopath Traveler highly enough. It’s an exceptionally engaging experience from start to finish!

Have a nice weekend, all!

Moggie

The Sacred Guacamole

That’s Juan out of shape luchador, Salvador.

Guacamelee! 2 is the rather delightfully enjoyable sequel to Guacamelee! which takes Juan to the farthest reaches of the Mexiverse in a quest to solve the mysteries of the Sacred Guacamole, to defeat the once-mighty Salvador, and to return home to Lupita and his children. Occasionally taking the time to turn into a chicken and use the plumbing from a toilet as a means of transportation. Or even to lay eggs. Sometimes uncontrollably (and unintentionally) due to the nature of button-based combos that sometimes don’t work as intended. But it does perfectly illustrate the miracle of creating life.

Whether you meant to or not it’s still beautiful.

It’s been quite a while since I’ve played the Guacamelee! Super Turbo Championship Edition but I do believe that, while you could turn into a chicken, and had certain abilities in that form, they were never as extensive or as deadly as the updated mechanics in the sequel. So it’s a pretty solid chicken simulation, too. If chickens really do dive bomb skeletons into oblivion.

At this point I’m not really sure. What I am sure about is that the developers behind the Guacamelee! franchise really love chickens. I do, too. Their clucking is adorable. They also really enjoy coloured block-based puzzles. Which, to be fair, I’ve never really written about before but is one of the strongest mechanics in the franchise. I love how the blocks are highlighted on the map once you’ve seen them. It’s one of those modern conveniences that helps immensely but doesn’t affect the difficulty. It just means that if you’re unsure of where to go, exploring new areas, or hunting for secrets that you’ve actually got a useful map. You know where to return to and when. You’re not painstakingly redoing entire sections of the various areas only to find that you still can’t smash through green blocks. Or punch those pesky blue ones.

That’s an absurd number of chickens…

The combat has been slightly refined in the sequel but still relies heavily on button-based combos and breaking shields. You can further develop Juan by investing in more powerful abilities or useful bonuses by training with certain characters, which will ultimately empower both human and chicken abilities or allow for the acquisition of more resources. It’s quite an intuitive set of mechanics. For this reason combat never feels particularly monotonous. The inclusion of various chicken abilities also means there are more shields, more abilities required to break them, and generally that combat has an enjoyable rhythm to it.

Guacamelee! 2 has fantastic art direction, too.

Every element of the universe- from the music, to the characters, to the enemies- feels entirely unique. It’s an amazingly beautiful setting that feels wonderful to experience. It’s also really fun. Even the somewhat infuriating secret dungeons (for the super secret ending) are enjoyable in their own painful, masochistic, profanity-inducing way.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from Guacamelee! 2 but it certainly didn’t disappoint. My only minor criticism is that the secret dungeons were slightly ridiculous, and not necessarily infuriating because of what you were being asked to do but because it was to be done in a single run. Often with hazards that would instantly kill you. Which felt (just a teensy bit) unfair and out of place in an otherwise enjoyable set of puzzles. That said, this isn’t my area of expertise. So maybe these were user input errors. In either case, the secret dungeons are not required for anything (but the super secret ending) and can be ignored. It’s still an incredibly enjoyable (and ultimately very silly) experience. It’s definitely worth the price of admission- especially if you like chickens!

Have a nice weekend, all!

Moggie