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!


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!


An Unforgettable Adventure

One best shared with friends.

Who will willingly embark on a perilous journey to solve the mysteries surrounding the undersea societies, subterranean workshops, and crumbling catacombs found deep within the decaying ruins of a forgotten civilisation. One whose history and accomplishments have been lost to the unrelenting passage of time. Atelier Ryza 2: Lost Legends & the Secret Fairy is the delightfully charming narrative-driven sequel to
Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness & the Secret Hideout which features gathering, synthesising, duplicating, and feeding a Puni to gain decorative items.

I’ve finally discovered its purpose.

Not that this was its original purpose, nor its entire purpose, as it also returns with various raw materials, and can transform should certain requirements be met. But at least I vaguely knew what I was trying to achieve by feeding it. Even if doing so did result in the acquisition of a goat.

I’m reasonably certain that its statistics (and transformations) influence the raw materials that it returns with, but I’ve never been able to reliably reproduce results. Hence why I rarely gathered raw materials this way. But it is entirely possible that, with the right combinations, the rarest raw materials could be acquired, which would allow you to synthesise advanced recipes that were otherwise unavailable. The skill tree dictates how rapidly Ryza develops as an alchemist in the sequel, and affords unprecedented freedom by allowing you to prioritise different aspects of the creation process. Making it feasible to synthesise items of higher quality, to make use of more materials, and to learn numerous recipes earlier than it would have been possible to in Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness & the Secret Hideout.

The countless hours spent synthesising every known recipe attest to how complex and satisfying this creation process was. While the countless hours spent mining in the Crystal Cave of Oblivion attest to my reliance on the Item Rebuild and Item Duplication mechanics. Both of which feel like a necessity. Especially when you consider how much there is to synthesise, and how laborious the process would be otherwise. But such is what I’d expect from an experience that requires you to gather raw materials, synthesise recipes, and then repeat that process.

It’s an oddly enjoyable monotony.

One that I happily endured, as there were boss encounters that could have decimated my entire party were I not adequately prepared. Encounters that were as surprising as they were exciting. As I didn’t believe that such challenges existed, but I was proven wrong on numerous occasions.

I’m always happy to face a supposedly insurmountable challenge, though. If for no other reason than it justifies the hours that I’ve spent synthesising new equipment, empowering items, allocating Core Drives, adjusting Core Crystals, and tweaking traits. It’s also fun knowing that greater challenges could exist on even higher difficulty levels. It gives me something to aspire to. Something to eventually overcome. And that’s why I’ve greatly enjoyed my time with Atelier Ryza 2: Lost Legends & the Secret Fairy, as it capably builds upon the mechanics (and events) established in Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness & the Secret Hideout and serves as an excellent sequel. One that I highly recommend to existing fans of the Atelier series, or to those seeking a wonderfully enjoyable narrative-driven JRPG.

Have a nice week, all!


Degradation of the Soul

Unpleasant truths laid bare.

Truths that betray the motivations of those who inhabit this mouldering world, and suggest that events are not always what you’ve perceived them to be. That encourage you to question the role that the protagonist has in this. And to consider whether what they’ve done is truly for the betterment of the world around them. NieR Replicant ver.1.22474487139… is an exhilarating narrative-driven JRPG in which you embark on a journey through a sprawling post-apocalyptic world to recover the ancient Sealed Verses, and to save those most dear to you.

Ambitious as that may be.

It’s an experience that remains wholly captivating throughout, and that constantly challenges you to alter your perspective on events as they unfold. With each successive ending affording even greater insight into details that have intentionally been left ambiguous prior to that point.

There are five different endings, each with its own requirements and each introducing something new on subsequent attempts. Of those, the fourth and fifth are arguably the most significant, as they fundamentally affect the progress that you’ve made thus far. But the first also has significance due to establishing a rather unusual mechanic. One that is steadily built upon with each ending thereafter. And one that directly contradicts the strongest beliefs held by the protagonist, while simultaneously providing further clarification as to the motivations of the main antagonist. Something that is as bold as it is satisfying. Mechanics as subtle (and as creative) as these are rare, but they contribute to the experience in unexpected ways and serve to make it a memorable one.

It was rare for the main campaign feel uninspired or monotonous, but The World Of The Recycled Vessel, a relatively lacklustre post-completion DLC, definitely did. Unfortunately, it eventually became necessary to visit this hellish domain, as only through it can you acquire the final three weapons and (more importantly) witness every ending. I didn’t really enjoy its gruelling gauntlet, nor did I feel that it contributed to this experience in any meaningful way. So it’s unlikely that I’ll revisit its content again. Even to farm rare items that are otherwise unobtainable.

I’d prefer to forgo its thoughtless busywork.

Having completed NieR Replicant ver.1.22474487139… in its entirety on Hard difficulty, I was pleasantly surprised by how consistent the challenges were. Having to utilise various strategies to overcome the toughest opposition complemented the calculated combat perfectly.

I rarely felt overpowered, nor could I ever mindlessly mash buttons to dispense with trifling encounters. I thought that once I’d collected the Sealed Verses, assigned numerous Words, and fully upgraded different weapons that I’d be able to. But I was never able to. Which is a testament to the efficacy and complexity of the combat mechanics, as I had to carefully consider how best to defeat each variant of Shade. Hence why I highly recommend NieR Replicant ver.1.22474487139… to those seeking an unforgettable adventure through an unusual series of events, as this truly has been a one-of-a-kind experience that I won’t soon forget. I have nothing but the highest praise for its countless successes, but to write fervently about its narrative would only spoil it for those who have yet to experience it for themselves.

Have a nice weekend, all!


Besieged By Drow

And their legion of malevolent creatures.

The citizens of Waterdeep stood valiantly against the onslaught to no avail, with their hearts gripped by naught but despair, and their famed adventurers butchered by beasts, they sought divine intervention in their darkest hour. And there before them stood a shining beacon of hope, righteousness, and questionable decisions. Hordes of the Underdark is a surprisingly content-dense expansion pack for Neverwinter Nights, which (loosely) follows on from the events of Shadows of Undrentide by hurling you into the abyssal depths of Undermountain.

Perilous as they may be.

Infested with creatures heard of only in the hushed whispers of drunkards. Creatures that you’ll need to form tenuous allegiances with, who are easily swayed to your cause, and can certainly be trusted, because they definitely won’t be swayed by an even better offer in the future.

But, had Kaelan not delivered the mirror to them, they would’ve pierced his skull with their tentacles and feasted on the juicy brain within. Which would’ve been unpleasant. Avoiding this grisly fate only required the acquisition of an ancient relic, which was offered to- and absorbed by- a giant brain. Undoubtedly making the entire species even more powerful. But that was a fair trade. No man nor creature is going to penetrate the orifices of my Half-Orc Cleric. Not all of his decisions were questionable, though. He dismantled a false religion that participated in human sacrifice. He also freed a species of winged creatures that were caged for their hubris, and for using the same mirror that was absorbed by the giant brain. Which was shattered so that no-one could use it again. But I’m sure that they were just being unnecessarily cautious.

Surely nothing terrible will happen as a result of this…

However, it is, in my experience, an expansion pack marred by flaws. Combat quickly became unbearable when characters refused to act due to the sheer number of things happening at any one time. Even Kaelan himself was helpless. I’m not sure whether the mechanics (or 3rd edition rules) were ever intended to be used in these kinds of scenarios, but it was obvious that Neverwinter Nights wasn’t handling them well. Which is unfortunate, as I thoroughly enjoyed exploring the different regions of Undermountain while completing the quests found therein.

Combat was just a slog.

Most likely because you were developing an established character, who, with each new level, encountered increasingly unbalanced combat. Until it simply ceased to function. As is often the result of exponentially increasing statistics, as the numbers become too high to handle.

Not that my criticisms should dissuade anyone from experiencing Hordes of the Underdark for themselves. Rare is it that I’ve enjoyed exploring an environment as much as this inhospitable cavernous expanse. The subterranean societies were meticulously designed which reinforced their isolationist existence, as different races formed fragile bonds to survive the harsh conditions of Undermountain. They couldn’t rely on help from the surface. It was also great seeing old friends from past conquests, and being able to bring two of them along with you. I’m just hoping that the issues that I encountered were due to some kind of a glitch. Because this is a wholly satisfying campaign that perfectly concludes my time with Neverwinter Nights, and would be an easy recommendation were it not for the absurdly frustrating combat.

Have a nice week, all!