Having Too Much To Do

It’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Artificially extending the existing content of video games to lengthen the overall experience is nothing new, and seems to be increasingly prevalent in some modern releases. But it doesn’t really add anything to the player experience. It’s not satisfying having to sit through repeated content over and over again, nor does it feel particularly engaging to continually grind to no discernible end. Having numerous mechanics to understand can be enjoyable, though. It just depends on how these are presented to players, and how natural it feels to interact with them on a regular basis.

It should never feel particularly forced.

Which it usually does. Whether it’s a tedious repeatable (or daily) quest that offers a paltry reward, or a dungeon that presents no inherent challenge but is integral to your eventual success. There are so many awful ways to do it. But there are some video games that have done it really well.

I’ve recently been playing Assassin’s Creed Origins and I’ve been continually surprised by how wonderful the overall experience is. Hundreds of question marks litter the world map signifying new cities to discover, tombs to explore, war elephants to challenge, and much more. You could also partake in gladiatorial combat in two different arenas, or race for glory in the Hippodrome. Not to mention there’s a compelling main campaign to follow. Something I need to remind myself of when I’m working through the absurd amount of content that there is. Yet I’ve not once abandoned an optional objective because I’ve grown tired of it. It’s slightly ludicrous how enthralling I find exploring the vast sands of Egypt to be. I also can’t wait to sail to Thebes and experience the majesty of the otherworldly The Curse of the Pharaohs DLC.

Found a bowling alley. Never leaving.

Yakuza 0 is another outstanding example of this. There were so many things you could do as either protagonist besides the two substantial minor campaigns, all of which would contribute in some meaningful way to their character development. There were also far too many mini-games to learn. I didn’t even attempt the majority of the optional challenges, as I likely would’ve spent hundreds of hours doing so. I know that I spent far longer in the bowling alleys than I should have done. I even acquired a chicken that helped me conquer the Kamurocho Real Estate Royale.

They certainly didn’t cluck up their job.

There are many other excellent examples of this. Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot, Disco Elysium, and Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order to name but a few. It’s so refreshing to have single player experiences which aren’t mindlessly lacklustre, featuring compelling main campaigns and optional objectives.

Most of the aforementioned video games have interesting and ever-expanding open worlds to explore, too. Which seems to be something that I’m drawn to nowadays. I’m not sure if that’s a conscious decision as I’ve had many good experiences with them recently, or whether it’s a mere coincidence and doesn’t influence me in any way before purchase. But whichever it is I don’t mind. I’m just glad that single player experiences haven’t entirely disappeared in modern releases. Not that I’m entirely opposed to co-operative experiences, as I’ve got quite a history with MMORPGs which are inherently co-operative. But single player experiences shouldn’t need to suffer (or disappear) because of those. Both can exist independently of one and other, and each provides their own benefits and drawbacks to their respective genres.

Have a nice week, all!

Moggie

Purging the Entoma Scourge

A devastating blight upon the land.

Death end re;Quest is a ludicrously bizarre JRPG where strange occurrences in a virtual world slowly bleed into reality. Our amnesiac protagonist arrives in World’s Odyssey, an abandoned VR MMORPG that shouldn’t be running but somehow is, and fights desperately against the encroaching Entoma Scourge as she attempts to active the Ending Engage. Which is now the only way to log out and return to reality. Not that it’s ever going to be as simple as finishing the main campaign, as relentless opposition alters the fate of both worlds in an attempt to prevent her from reaching her goal.

It can also be quite a harrowing experience for all concerned.

As many of the worst possible outcomes heavily suggest graphic violence, which you’d not expect from this developer. It’s an unconventional approach that encourages you to explore different outcomes. Some of which may help to explain how certain characters are not what they seem to be.

There are some rather unconventional character development mechanics, too. While you primarily level up through the acquisition of experience points, new skills are learned by chaining together different combinations of existing skills. It’s an unusual mechanic which promotes experimentation instead of mindless grinding. You can also chain together three basic attacks to knock enemies back, allowing you to throw them across the field of battle into other party members who will respond in kind. It can be fairly satisfying to watch when executed correctly. Not every skill is effective in every situation, though. Each skill (and basic attack) is of a particular affinity that can counter (or be countered by) enemy affinities, which adds meaningful variation to combat as you’ll usually face enemies of different affinities in the same encounter.

So you shouldn’t be afraid of shuffling party members around to match the current encounters. Certain characters will be almost entirely ineffective against certain enemies. Given that, when an enemy counters an affinity, the skill is cancelled and the whole chain is rendered useless. You won’t even be able to deal any damage. Characters can learn skills of different affinities, but they might be more expensive or less accessible than those of their usual affinity. This makes balanced party compositions vital to continued success. Most characters are able to heal themselves or those around them, though.

Which means that healing should always be available.

I was pleasantly surprised by how extensive the mechanics proved to be, as I wasn’t expecting combat to be as engaging as it was. I’m also glad that Glitch Mode is a temporary form with heightened statistics, rather than a persistent transformation that could be freely activated when needed.

Activating the form feels more sporadic and akin to an actual glitch. But it’s also more dangerous to utilise. As a character needs to accrue a significant amount of corruption to activate Glitch Mode, and too much corruption can lead to their immediate death. So taking damage just before (or just after) activating the form is risky. But you can’t really control when that happens. That’s why I believe that Death end re;Quest is an unconventional but incredibly capable JRPG which, while it may not be appropriate for everyone, has reasonably innovative mechanics throughout, and it’s clear that the developers wanted to deliver a one-of-a-kind experience. I’d highly recommend it to JRPG enthusiasts and to those looking for something different. I’m certain that you won’t be disappointed if you approach it with an open mind.

Have a nice week, all!

Moggie

Earth’s Greatest Champion

An unparalleled martial artist.

Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot is an exceptionally entertaining JRPG which retells the story of Dragon Ball Z and allows you to fish, hunt, train, and fight as (or alongside) Goku and friends. You’re actively encouraged to explore and to engage in as many activities as possible, and to experience everything its vast world has to offer as you spend time as different characters. Nothing compares to the indescribable joy of watching Vegeta fish on Namek. Saiyans generally use a prosthetic tail to fish as most have lost their actual tail, but as Vegeta doesn’t have a prosthetic tail he resigns himself to a fishing rod.

One so sturdy that it can withstand his otherworldly strength.

Those familiar with Dragon Ball Z know that it rarely took itself seriously, and Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot perfectly represents the source material through outlandish side quests and the greatest cooking animations ever witnessed. The costumes for characters have been faithfully reproduced, too.

However, due to the nature of the source material, story progression is fairly linear as it needs to result in the intended outcome. Which is to be expected. But that doesn’t mean you won’t get the opportunity to spend time as your favourite characters, as there are numerous character development mechanics present. You’ll mostly be gaining experience through combat, but you’ll also be training to learn new skills, and collecting Soul Emblems to enhance the various Community Boards. Of these the Community Boards are the most deceptively complex, and each requires a varying amount of investment to unlock bonuses. You’ll also be afforded various statistical increases when cooking delicious food. Not that the statistical increases offered by food tend to be significant enough to warrant the sheer amount of farming required.

Community Boards arguably offer the best statistical increases, but they also take the longest to unlock. While food is readily available throughout. Yet the statistical increases from food prove to be fairly underwhelming. I’ve considered this before, and it highlights how diversification between various character development mechanics yields better results than focusing solely on one. I’m glad that there is such a wealth of content available, though. Being able to shuffle Soul Emblems around, hunt beasts for feasts, unearth rare minerals, and defeat strong enemies keeps the content engaging.

It’s certainly exceeded any prior expectations, too.

I’m intrigued to see how the developers expand upon existing content, and would welcome additional transformations from Dragon Ball Super. Original content based on characters or events from Dragon Ball wouldn’t go amiss, either. They’ve certainly got enough source material to draw from.

As with Dragon Ball XenoVerse before it, I was wary of Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot. Not because I had any doubts that the developers could create a captivating experience. But because the source material has been told, retold, and retold again. It’s slightly tired. It’s also something that’s quite dear to me. However, I can confidently say that this iteration of the events of Dragon Ball Z is as faithful as I’d hoped it would be. I’ve enjoyed every second that I’ve spent reliving my childhood. Not that I’ve been blinded by nostalgia. Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot is an excellent experience for what it is, and if you approach it with those expectations you can’t really be disappointed. It might not be as engaging to those who have never seen Dragon Ball Z before. But I have no regrets regarding the purchase and can’t recommend it highly enough.

Have a nice week, all!

Moggie

The Legendary Super Saiyan

Krillin’s greatest death to date.

Arguably one of the most iconic moments in Dragon Ball Z is when Goku first attains the legendary Super Saiyan transformation. Not only was he able to face Frieza for the longest five minutes known to man, but it exemplified how he was pure of heart yet brimming with uncontrollable rage when he finally unleashed his colossal strength. I’m also rather fond of the Super Saiyan 3 transformation. That was slightly less iconic (and the form was used far less often) but it was an enjoyable moment nonetheless. I do wonder how many hours of unbridled screaming his voice actor has recorded, though.

It must be hundreds of hours at this point.

I’ve always dearly loved Dragon Ball Z and it has provided an unending source of inspiration for my creative pursuits, which is why I’ve been highly anticipating the release of Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot. While also not-so-secretly wishing that they’d re-release Chrono Trigger in a similar fashion.

Imperfect Cell kind of looks like a lankier and less mechanical version of Lavos. That thought has consumed me while I’ve been training for the final confrontation with Perfect Cell, and explains why I want to defeat him. 1999 A.D. won’t suffer the same fate twice. I’ve completed far too many side quests, cooked too many meals, and fished for far longer than I should have to fail now. Not that I was entirely aware of the benefits of cooking meals at first. I thought that they were only providing the temporary buff, but they were also permanently increasing various statistics. Not that the increase is particularly notable. Investing in the appropriate Community Boards yields a more favourable long term return, as the percentage increase is more substantial than the increases offered by food. Unless you’re cooking literally thousands of meals.

That’ll always be you, Vegeta.

That’s not to say that hunting beasts and fishing is pointless. Cooking can substantially strengthen characters when they’re about to face dangerous bosses, and various items acquired through either pursuit can be sold at a premium. The Community Boards can also be more difficult to invest in. Given that you’ll need multiple Soul Emblems and many of those can only be acquired through side quests. Access to which usually requires story progression. As such I’ve found the Cooking and Development Community Boards to be challenging, as few early Soul Emblems are naturally proficient in either.

Not that you gain access to R & D for some time.

I’m quite glad that character development requires careful consideration of numerous mechanics, though. You’re not expected to simply grind for experience. You’re encouraged to explore new locations, meet characters, complete the side quests, collect the Dragon Balls, and have fun instead.

Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot provides a fresh approach to a somewhat tired source material. I’ve enjoyed being able to experience the story from multiple perspectives through different characters, and being able to bring those party members together to complete any available side quests during the intermissions. Goku is notably absent (or dead) for the majority of Dragon Ball Z. So it does make sense that you’d be able to spend time as Gohan, Piccolo, Vegeta, and others when the titular character is not available. It also keeps combat engaging, as each character behaves differently and develops at a different rate. I’m interested in seeing what they do with the season pass, too. Whether it would be entirely new content or whether it would introduce certain events from Dragon Ball Super. But I guess that we’ll just have to wait and see.

Have a nice weekend, all!

Moggie

Successors of the Queen

Of which we may be one.

Code Vein is a delightfully engaging post-apocalyptic JRPG that offers a fresh perspective on the genre. It has extensive character development mechanics which afford surprising freedom when building your character, and an impressive selection of (both Light and Dark) Gifts to make use of each weapon class and each style of Blood Veil. Character classes take the form of Blood Codes, and each Blood Code represents a particular concept. Atlas, for instance, is a heavily defensive Blood Code which has impressive damage resistance and utilises two-handed swords to deal ridiculous damage.

However, if you prefer, you can utilise polearms instead.

You’ll be unable to use Tormenting Blast (as that requires a two-handed sword or hammer), but you’ll be able to benefit from the weight allowance and scaling offered by the Blood Code. You could then further customise Atlas with a Blood Veil to cast Light Gifts despite a lack of inherent proficiency.

It’s slightly confusing at first glance, but once you understand how each of the mechanics contributes to the build it becomes an incredibly satisfying experience. My only (minor) criticism of Blood Codes is that they’re unlocked as you progress through the story. While you would expect this, certain Blood Codes, like Dark Knight, are so flexible and interesting that you wish they were available earlier. Very few Blood Codes that specialise in physical damage are inherently proficient at casting Gifts, and fewer still have good (base) Strength scaling. Both Mind and Willpower have reasonably high scaling, too. So it could utilise either Light or Dark Gifts with the appropriate Blood Veil. I’ll admit that I might be slightly biased towards Dark Knight, as I greatly appreciated Polearm Mastery and enjoyed obliterating enemies with Chariot Rush.

The scorching heat of the Crown of Sand.

Thankfully, due to an abundance of upgrade materials, you can easily adjust your equipment if you do decide to pursue a different Blood Code. You’ll also find upgraded equipment in chests as you progress through the story. Inheriting Gifts may become difficult if you’re constantly shuffling Blood Codes, but you can always visit the Depths to farm the necessary materials or defeat countless enemies. You can also acquire a selection of transformed equipment down there. Not that I found many of the transformations to be useful for my build, besides Fortification were I to block damage.

But I can certainly see the appeal of the transformations.

My only other criticism of Code Vein is the boss encounters. I’ve written about them before, but I’m not particularly fond of the excessive health that bosses have. Were they to have slightly less health they’d be more fun to fight. Especially if you’re not employing the use of a companion.

I wasn’t entirely sure of what to expect from Code Vein, but I was pleasantly surprised by how innovative the character development felt. There were several mechanics which meaningfully contributed to your build. While the variety of equipment expanded the character development by enabling the use of many diverse builds, all of which could draw from myriad Blood Codes. The levelling mechanics are perfectly suited to shuffling Blood Codes, too. You’re never committing to a specific approach. You can quite easily adapt to a new weapon class or a new Blood Veil, and that allows you to freely exercise the unique benefits of a particular Blood Code. Code Vein is not a traditional JRPG, but it’s an excellent example of when developers deliver a truly unique experience. For that reason I’d highly recommend it to JRPG enthusiasts!

Have a nice week, all!

Moggie