Extracurricular Questing

Better than extracurricular studies.

Not that Rean doesn’t have those, too. But he spends his supposedly free days undertaking various tasks at the behest of others; diligently completing each within its specified time frame. Tasks that have included, but are not limited to: procuring coloured bath salts, making deliveries to instructors, tackling absurdly dangerous monsters, and feeding a mysterious black cat at different times of the day. Not that anyone ever asked him to feed her. But he is wholly committed to ensuring that she is well fed, and is often seen scouring the campus looking for her.

But that’s hardly surprising.

What is surprising is how immensely satisfying combat mechanics can become so dreadfully dissatisfying in gimmicky boss encounters. I had nothing but praise for the complexities of combat prior to those encounters, but that praise diminished rapidly with each painful passing encounter.

Equipping different kinds (and colours) of Quartz is crucial to capitalising on elemental efficacy. Knowing how (and when) to interrupt or delay enemies is crucial to controlling the turn order. Understanding status ailments is crucial to either avoiding or dealing ludicrous damage. But none of this mattered with these gimmicky boss encounters, as they were often immune to status ailments (or being delayed) and their elemental efficacy was such that they rarely took additional damage from Arts. They don’t seem to take damage from regular attacks, either. They’ve also got ridiculous amounts of health. And they will instantly kill the entire party should some arbitrary condition be met, despite being relatively harmless otherwise. Artificial difficulty of every conceivable form was demonstrated during these ludicrous encounters.

Found a cat. Never leaving.

The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel is an unorthodox narrative-driven JRPG which is frequently– and unashamedly– punishing, but gimmicky encounters have made it such an infuriatingly polarising experience. These encounters didn’t add anything to the experience besides needless frustration, which (usually) led to shuffling Quartz around and using your own gimmicks to defeat them before they defeated you. Thankfully, these encounters are few and far between, but that doesn’t excuse the disservice they do to an otherwise enjoyable adventure.

Which is why I loathe them.

Because I’ve genuinely enjoyed the majority of the time that I’ve spent with The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel, and I was looking forward to continuing its fascinating story in the sequels, but these encounters have truly drained the enthusiasm that I once had for this subseries.

Not that my scathing judgement should discourage you from experiencing this exhilarating narrative-driven JRPG for yourself. I just detest artificial difficulty. The abrupt introduction to (and implementation of) Divine Knight mechanics was slightly irritating, too. Collecting different kinds of Master Quartz, acquiring legendary weapons, and finding rare accessories feels (somewhat) pointless when it doesn’t contribute to your success. If you can overlook this infrequent unpleasantness, then I highly recommend The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel for its captivating characters and delightfully cohesive ever-evolving world. I could probably write a thousand words and still fail to convey my feelings towards this experience, so I do hope that you’ll forgive me if this post comes across as inherently (or unfairly) negative.

Have a nice week, all!


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!


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!


The Mysterious Hatchling

Making new friends.

Something that Ryza is as capable doing as she is solving every known problem with alchemy. Regardless of what is needed- be it medicine, food, reagents, or even an entire tree- alchemy is the answer. Which is rather remarkable when you consider that her recipes are based on the practices of the Klint Kingdom, and that they used these same processes to commit heinous crimes. But such was their nature after their civilisation was consumed by its perverse desires. Ryza, however, has no such desires, and only seeks to use alchemy to better the world around her.

Exhibiting wholly innocent desires.

Whereas I desire nothing more than to obsess over the statistical benefits and traits afforded to her creations. And, as a result, have spent countless hours tweaking the materials added to recipes, while considering how best to reinforcement equipment to create the best items that I can.

I didn’t expect the creation process to be even more complex and satisfying in the sequel, nor did I expect to be able to expand upon it by unlocking advanced mechanics in the skill tree. Most notably, Essences, which drastically alter the statistics and/or traits of an item, and can fundamentally affect the entire creation process. The Item Rebuild, Gem Reduction, and Item Duplication mechanics from Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness & the Secret Hideout have also made a return. Utilising these with the Essence Refinement mechanics results in an increasingly involute creation process, which has never felt convoluted despite how layered it has become. And that can’t be understated considering how long I’ve spent synthesising new materials, and then turning those synthesised materials into new items, and then rebuilding those items.

The harsh reality of career aspirations.

Core Crystals have also returned, but their mechanics have been completely revisited. Each party member has their own and its Core Charges are tied to their respective proficiency. Lent, for example, has less Core Charges than Ryza, due to his lack of proficiency with items. Core Crystals can now be enhanced with Core Elements, too. These increase the damage dealt by specific elemental damage types, and will strengthen both the items and the abilities of the owner. Certain combinations of items can even be used to execute devastating new Core Drives.

Making item usage more tactical.

I’ve definitely been considering which items are best suited to which party members, as their individual Core Crystals dictate the likelihood of being able to execute different Core Drives. I’ve also tailored their equipment to the roles that they’re going to have in any given combat encounter.

I’m always curious as to how (or if) a sequel is going to build upon previously established mechanics, and whether that is going to contribute meaningfully to the experience. Hence why I’m delighted to discover that Atelier Ryza 2: Lost Legends & the Secret Fairy has built upon them in unexpected but beneficial ways. I had few complaints about the existing creation process, but this newly revisited one has been such a pleasure to figure out while I’ve steadily unlocked new mechanics. Not that I’m even sure whether I’ve unlocked all of the mechanics by now. I’ve not seen the Travel Bottle yet. But that may have been replaced by the economy development mechanics, as I’m reasonably certainly that the Travel Bottle was mostly a means to acquire unusual raw materials. But I suppose I’ll have to see whether one turns up or not.

Have a nice week, all!