Category: Games

Let’s Talk About Ni No Kuni II

It is rare I finish a game I am so mixed on. Released earlier this year on PC and Playstation 4, Ni No Kuni II is a solid roleplaying game that will likely be loved by many. It has a young protagonist out to make the world a better place. It has stats, gear, and all the other bells and whistles of a typical Japanese roleplaying game. It also manages to perfectly capture what I have enjoyed more recently about JRPGs: their relaxing and familiar gameplay loops. But, for me, Ni No Kuni II was only just okay.

Ni No Kuni II is not a direct sequel to the first game released on Playstation 3 by Level-5 (Dark Cloud, Professor Layton, Yo-Kai Watch, etc.). It also lacks the involvement of Studio Ghibli though the aesthetic is similar. That helps because I never played the first game so I have no reason or ability to compare this Ni No Kuni to the original.

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Nothing like a furry page boy!

First and foremost, Ni No Kuni II is an almost too saccharine game. The game’s lead, Evan Pettiwhisker Tildrum, is the child king of Ding Dong Dell, a kingdom divided by animosity from its ruling class (cat-people called Grimalkin) and Mousekin (obviously mice-people). After he is ousted in a coup, he sets out to unite all of the world’s kingdoms in peace under the banner of his brand new kingdom. He does so with kindness, generosity, and the understanding that most bad rulers are not evil.

I do not think there is a better JRPG to use to introduce younger gamers to the genre or to play as a family. At least not one that isn’t far older. Ni No Kuni II looks great (especially on the Playstation 4 Pro) and I never got tired of the character or enemy design, even if it frequently repeated itself.

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The game’s biggest boss battles are varied and interesting but there’s only four of them.

Even better for younger gamers, this is not a particularly difficult game. Battles focus on a single character with a limited array of combos and other abilities. Controls are responsive and animations are crisp. Enemies explode into a variety of items (mostly materials for crafting) when defeated. The combat never stopped being fun for me despite its simplicity. You can switch characters at will and each has a different weapon type they can use which further differentiates them when you need a change of pace.

While I failed to get into Persona 5, an obviously superior and deeper experience, Ni No Kuni II does better what I like JRPGs to do. I love being able to fire it up for some brief farming or to complete a few side-quests. Ni No Kuni II also has a limited city building element that reminded me of Bravely Default which kept me engaged as well. I loved how all of the loops feed into it. Farm enemies for resources to complete side-quests to recruit new citizens of your kingdom who then help you build up that kingdom or produce better weapons/armor/spells.

 

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Yes, this game has Facebook and, much like my own profile, I never used it.

I wasn’t achieving much nor was I overcoming any challenges. If anything, Ni No Kuni II had more in common with mobile clicker RPGs which satisfy players much the same way a slot machine satisfies grandma. That isn’t a bad thing though I wish the game was harder or had harder challenges.

Beyond the simplicity of its gameplay and characters, I did appreciate the games story even if it got to be a bit silly. It was a nice change of pace being the one who wanted to conquer world (though in peace rather for my own personal gain). In the opening, it is revealed that the secondary main character is essentially the President of the United States transported into a fantasy land moments before witnessing the presumed beginning of a nuclear holocaust. It is easily the most unique opening in any JRPG I have ever played.

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The President has a handgun, of course.

I won’t spoil it here, but I also enjoyed the main villains backstory once it was revealed in the game’s final act. Like all of the villains in Ni No Kuni II, he starts out twirling his mustache and ends with pulling your heart strings. That seems to be a story trope of sorts often used by Japanese writers (villain of the week becomes best friend for the remainder of the series) and it works perfectly in this game’s narrative.

Overall, I think I recommend Ni No Kuni II though maybe not at full price. I wouldn’t recommend it for anyone that wants a hard game to play, but it’s perfect for those of us who need something to relax while playing or something that’ll allow our brains time to rest between more narrative-intense video games or dense television like Westworld. If you haven’t yet, you may want to give Ni No Kuni II a shot.

Backstory: Dwarf Forge Cleric #DND

I haven’t committed to my next character yet, but one (of many) in the running is a Dwarf Cleric with the Forge domain. I’ve loved dwarfs and clerics for as long as I have been aware of D&D (mostly through reading the Dragonlance books), but I’ve never really put the two together. The Forge domain is thematically perfect for a Dwarf and a great excuse to build a dwarf tank steeped in his race’s culture and lore.

When working on this background, I wanted to get away from some of the more typical tropes, especially since Forge domain Dwarf Cleric isn’t exactly a unique idea. I’ve always loved the idea of ekphrasis which, borrowed from the Greek, typically means an overly dramatic description of a piece of art. I associate the term most with the Shield of Achilles from Homer’s Iliad where the god-made shield (Hephaestus) is described in elaborate, poetic language. Here, I wanted my character’s adventuring goal to be the gathering of materials (most dangerous) and crafting of a set of armor worthy of being described ekphrasticly.

Let me know what you think in the comments below!

Continue reading “Backstory: Dwarf Forge Cleric #DND”

Persona 5, I Yield

I am dropping Persona 5. Before some of you burn me at the stake for my sin, do know that I really have no issues with the game itself. “It’s not you, it’s me” is cliche but accurate in this case. As much as I wanted to love Persona 5, the more I tried to play it, the less I did, and the less I played the more I realized this was not a JRPG for me.

In general, it is hard for me to enjoy any JRPG that is not strictly fantasy. The only exceptions would be various entries in the Final Fantasy series, but those at least had “Fantasy” in the title. It didn’t dawn on me until I went to write this that I have not completed any JRPG that had a modern or science fiction setting. I dropped Xenosaga about three hours in, though I always attributed that to having sat through about two and a half hours of cut scenes before getting to the half hour of gameplay. I tried a Star Ocean game once and managed to get really far, but when I realized I had gone too far in the game’s final dungeon and was going to need to grind to get anywhere, I dropped it too. Xenoblade? Hated.

That’s a shame too because I would’ve loved to watch Persona 5 as an anime. The setting and characters didn’t grip me as a game, but this is exactly the kind of show I’d enjoy. It’s bizarre to me that I have such a cognitive disconnect. Maybe it is a time commitment thing? It’s one thing to spend my time and attention on a full season of an anime, and another thing entirely to experience the same story in game form of a much longer period requiring much more involvement.

Further annoying me, Persona 5 was fun, at least when I felt like I could play it. The game takes its time introducing things, which I enjoyed, but it never stops introducing things, which I hated. I even enjoyed all the atypical bits, like training your character’s skills or building character relationships. I am not sure I enjoyed both together though.

The combat I did like. I loved the weakness system and wish I had more time in my 15 hours or so having played the game. I also enjoyed recruiting monsters, though the whole system was a little weird and likely needed more time for me to really get the hang of it.

Other things I loved: presentation and humor. Persona 5 is a gorgeous game graphically, but, more importantly, it is a gorgeously designed game. Even the font has a sense of style and bravado. I loved every single random encounter because once I was done, my characters walked away triumphant rather than standing in place doing a dumb dance until I hit the button. I also laughed a lot at this game. It is hands down one of the funniest games I have played in recent memory and I enjoyed its insanity all the more because the character’s recognized how crazy things are too.

I could easily see myself regretting this decision and trying again another time. I don’t plan on deleting my save at least. Persona 5 has a lot to love, and I wanted to love it, but when something doesn’t hook me I rarely find much success in forcing myself forward. Worse, with so much choice and so many awesome games out there, I hate the feeling of wasting my time as I force myself uphill in a battle I know I will ultimately lose. Persona 5 is probably the great game that so many have recognized it as being, but we aren’t sympatico, at least not yet.

Backstory Time #DND

Last week, I talked about the one-shot character Roldoon and I teased a story about Calibos, a Bugbear Monk. Calibos was a cali-bust (fun, but too many folks at the table to do anything important, though I did fly over the boss and whip him from the skies before helicoptering down via my twirling whips when the Bard’s concentration broke).

Instead, I thought I’d share a backstory I wrote a while back for a character concept I hope to use one day.

His name is Asariel and he is an Aasamir Warlock (The Celestial)/Sorcerer (Favorited Soul):


On my thirteenth birthday, my origins were revealed to me, though I had suspected them long before knowing, by a journeymen priest who let the words slip after too much wine. He said my mother was a virgin priestess and that the truth of both my conception and inception were a miracle.

I had suspected this because, from a very early age, I had a gift for healing. Simply by touch and eventually by sound once I was taught the words, a warmth from within me would spring forth toward the sick or infirm and soothe their pains. In time, even as a young boy, I was called to the bedside of the most stricken before some of the more trained and more experienced clerics.

Even before I knew the truth of my heritage, I noticed the priests, clerics, and acolytes treating me reverently. Other orphans were treated differently. I may have looked similar and had some similar duties to them, but I never belonged with that lot. They were more like servants of priests where as I was born to be a servant to the gods.

For the first thirteen years, the temple was my only home and my only refuge. The Brothers and Sisters who ran it were my mothers, fathers, and cousins. They clothed me and taught me all they knew. Despite their attempts at challenging me with their lessons, never were they too difficult to overcome. My fate was etched at my conception. I was like a fish and their baptism a pool of water for me to swim in.

As I grew out of boyhood, the Temple District itself became my playground. I loved to listen to the acolytes and observe the rituals of the city’s many religions. I learned everything there was to know about every kind of “man of the cloth.” I learned to bark and curse and cajole. I learned to beg and speak in tongues. I helped elicit donations for the poor, the sick, and the orphaned. I single-handedly, simply by my passion and my spirit, raised enough money to roof a leaky infirmary.

My reputation grew quickly, despite my age. People adored me for my abilities and my dedication. They respected my faith.

Not long after turning fifteen, my world moved beyond the Temple District to the rest of the city. In a chance encounter, I made friends with another boy, only slightly older than me, but far more aware of matters at court or within the city or even beyond its walls. He was a princeling, furthest from the throne, accompanying an older brother whose newborn son had fallen ill and needed tending. The brother came for me directly on my reputation alone, but it was the princeling who asked me to banquet after healing his nephew.

The banquet was lavish and ornate. Despite my natural beauty, my priestly robes were nothing compared to clothing of the court. I looked more a servant than an honored guest, but the princeling and I took to one another like kindling and spark. Soon, we were running all over the city on what he called ‘quests’ in favor of more romantic notions of knighthood. Truthfully, he had never met someone as provincial as me and he wanted to show me everything I had missed.

He taught me how to drink spirits stronger and viler than the watered wines of the Temple. He draped me in clothes more fitting my status as his friend and companion. He had me taste foods from places, cooked by people, I had never known to exist. He even procured for me my first woman, whom we shared and worshipped like the idol that she was.

You could describe the first fifteen or so years of my life as being dedicated to the elevation of my soul, but the year I spent with the princeling was equal in passion and entirely dedicated to the revelation of my body.

In time, he admitted his intimate love for me. We quieted away to the shadows to protect our reputations, but I soon moved onto prettier things. I cannot recall his name, but the lesson he helped me learn has not been forgotten.

He taught me to embrace life and myself. He revealed to me a larger world. A world that needed me as much as the Temple District still did. A world that wanted me and that I wanted in turn.

This revelation led me away from the only home I had ever known in pursuit of something more. Finally embracing my internal and external beauty, I took to the road to share my love. I never called upon one god, but I was happy to provide a blessing to all.

All the while, I chased temple virgins and dockside whores. I ate better than dukes and sometimes their kings. I reveled in adulation and adultery.

I was a saint, a miracle worker, and the greatest lover most women (and a few other men) ever had. I commanded crowds.

I was loved. Respected. Happy.

Then everyone who I knew loved me left me. My beauty began to leave me. My glory wilted and my passion subsided. The love, the respect, and the happiness that I had rightfully earned was gone.

And why, dare you ask, did such a creature as me fall so far from grace? Was it a grave mistake? Poor judgement? Did I sleep with the wrong man’s wife? Pride?

One night, in a drunken stupor, a voice called to me. It called to me with a warmth and familiarity I had never felt before. The voice named itself my Father and offered what it called a fitting opportunity. Accept my challenge and be eternally loved. Do you agree?

I would say only the gods know why I answered the way I did, but that statement is more truth than a cliche uttered by faithful man in desperate need.

I muttered through wine-coated lips, “Yes” and the voice replied, Heal the world. Do good works. Do it earnestly and without expectation and be revered. Do it dishonestly or for reward and be forgotten.

I awoke the next morning, not yet knowing the calamity to which I had agreed. My purse was empty from the previous night’s revelry dedicated to a local god whose name I never bothered to learn. Hungry, I sauntered to a busy intersection and began my song and dance like so many times before. I made promises. I proclaimed great truths. I offered salvation in the name of beautiful goddesses whose likenesses I used to whet the appetites of passing men, heavy with coin but lacking direction.

Then, a puddle of water in the street caught my eye. My reflection, normally golden and bright, looked white and aging. Fear overcame me until the voice’s words from the night before flashed across my mind.

Do it dishonestly or for reward and be forgotten.

Dear Father, whom I have never known, you bitchless son of the nether. May you fade into obscurity an unthanked god for this affliction you have placed upon me. The phrase ‘No good deed goes unpunished’ never struck as true as this day!

You want me to walk the straight and narrow in your name? Fuck you and all you stand for!

I will die or waste away before I do your bidding!

… But this world wants and needs my beauty, my passion, my providence. Force me with a curse you blaspheme by calling a blessing? I walk my own path and always have. I will do something so great that the world will know me before it ever knows you again. I will be so beloved that all the other gods resting atop your high mountain laugh at the Father who has been outshone by his mortal son.

It is but a whisper now. My name, echoed by all whom I have touched. Their love for me absolute.

Dear Father, listen, for soon it will be the only one our names that ever gets repeated again.

Persona 5: One “Dungeon” In

Over the last month plus, I’ve been trying to tackle my first ever Persona game and … my feelings are mixed.

When Persona 5 dropped (and, to be honest, before it dropped too), it was a huge hit. My days of playing every JRPG are largely behind me, but the game did peak my curiosity. A friend offered to loan it to me after he was done, which is how we’ve arrived at this point.

I don’t think I have ever been more confused, more interested, or more overwhelmed all at once by a video game. I wouldn’t say I love it, but after beating the first palace (which seems loosely equivalent to a dungeon), I am ready for more.

The game is a weird mix of living an alternate life AND playing a JRPG, only you do it at the same time. Just like my real life, I have to carefully balance the few hours I have in the day for entertaining, self-improvement, relationship building or some mix of the three.

It isn’t my ideal game or my ideal RPG, but it is growing on me. I am genuinely excited to find out what sort of pseudo-psychology, acid trip we are going on next. BUT I don’t want to be playing this game for the next three months either.

We shall see.

Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age (PS4, 2017)

During my blogging hiatus, I revisited Final Fantasy XII with its Playstation 4 remaster.

For the longest time, FFXII was my least favorite in the series, much to the chagrin of my sister-in-law who is a huge fangirl for the game. Anytime I brought up my hatred, I’d get a side eye from her, whereas most of my other friends who happened to be Final Fantasy fans never even touched XII when it originally came out on the Playstation 2. After playing it again, I can safely say that Final Fantasy XII is pretty okay.

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My history with the original goes back to Blitz: The League, an arcade-style football game that has absolutely nothing to do with Final Fantasy or Square Enix. “Back in the day”, my friends and I would meet after school to play Blitz. On one occasion, a friend who I eventually served as Best Man at his wedding, got so excited in a Blitz win that he jumped up. In so doing, he ended up pulling the console down onto the hardwood floor by a connected controller cord (praise be to wireless). Thus ended our time playing Blitz and my time being a Playstation 2 owner.

A year later when Final Fantasy XII came out, I couldn’t afford to purchase a new Playstation 2. By then, I had mostly moved onto being an Xbox fanboy. Still, as Final Fantasy X and X-2 faded into memory, my need to play the latest and greatest Final Fantasy game increased. Plus, it was set in the same world as Final Fantasy Tactics, my absolute favorite Final Fantasy game.

Through shame and guilt, I made my friend loan me his Playstation 2 until I could finish Final Fantasy XII, which contributed to the first reason why I disliked the game: I rushed it.

Final Fantasy XII is not a game you should rush. With its open world setting, a real contrast to Final Fantasy X, it had an exploratory quality that the series had been missing for some time. Plus, the extra boss fights are both easy to miss and fun to do, so a large part of the game can be ignored if you aren’t looking beyond the plot.

As I previously mentioned, Final Fantasy Tactics was and is my favorite Final Fantasy game. Final Fantasy XII shares the setting of Ivalice, but is set in a different time, in a different part of the world, and all of its callbacks to Tactics are done through flavor text. In other words, it was not a successor, spiritual or otherwise, to Final Fantasy Tactics. This was the second reason I disliked the game.

Despite not being another Tactics, FFXII does have better characters. Sure, the plot was terrible in comparison, but that’s true of 99% of video games because FFT really was that damn good. I didn’t even mind Vaan, though I was pretty tired of the teenage boy shtick for Final Fantasy leads and would’ve much preferred any of the game’s more mature characters to be the sole focus.

For my final reason, I point to the combat. Final Fantasy XII was a huge departure since you only control one party member at a time, though you can switch around. Combat is still turn based, but it takes place out in the open world, and the game promotes automating most of it to the Gambit system. Gambits work as a sort-of customizable AI mini-game that allows you to set conditions for how the AI should play your party mates.

In 2006, I hated gambits, so much so that I refused to use them. Instead, I micromanaged everything in combat, rapidly switching from character to character, queuing actions and hoping for the best. This made Final Fantasy XII harder, but when compared to my more recent play through, far less enjoyable.

Part of the beauty of Final Fantasy XII, much like Bravely Default, comes from powering up your party, creating unique combinations, and finding ways to automate things for efficiency. By skipping over that entirely in 2006, I really missed out. Playing the game as intended and using gambits to their fullest is so much more fun. I loved farming and grinding so much that I did every achievement but kill the secret boss Yiazmat because fuck a boss that takes hours (not hyperbole) to defeat.

I loved Final Fantasy XII this last time around. It is a great example of marrying classic Final Fantasy with a then-modern twist (MMORPG-esque open world, revamped approach to combat, etc.). I hate that the series has only moved further away from its roots, but FFXII was a happy compromise if only I had recognized that fact then rather than last year.

Why then do I say it is only okay?

Because the plot sucks, most of the characters would be better off in a narrative that wasn’t “crappy Star Wars”, and it wasn’t Final Fantasy Tactics 2.

Sorry! Some things don’t change.

Onward to Distant Worlds

This past weekend, Diane took me on a (very delayed) anniversary trip to see Final Fantasy Distant Worlds in St Petersburg, Florida. It was fantastic!

Highlight of the Evening

Distant Worlds 2

Nobuo Uematsu was there and most of the crowd, save for one older gentleman sitting next to Diane who smelled like a marijuana, recognized him. The volume of applause went noticeably up anytime he was present.

It’s not that I feel like no one knows who he is or that people at a Final Fantasy concert wouldn’t recognize him, I just didn’t expect the level of respect shown him for his work was that evident in his fans’ passion.

It was a pretty spectacular thing to witness.

Oh and there was a sing-a-long for ‘One-Winged Angel’ where we all got to yell SEPHIROTH back at Nobuo himself. Amazing.

Lowlight of the Evening

There weren’t that many cosplayers, but there was one really amazing Zack. He was so good that we spent some of the evening just watching people walk up to him for pictures (it was a lot of people).

Diane and I were conflicted on this, but the reason this excellent cosplayer is a lowlight for me was because during ‘Swing de Chocobo’, he and his date started swing dancing in their balcony seats. People started pointing it out during the performance too, so I felt like it was a bit too much “hey, look at us and not these talented musicians currently performing right now”.

Best Song of the Night

I was really hoping for something from Final Fantasy Tactics or Final Fantasy XIV. I got the latter featuring the Tampa Master Chorale, which included one singer who absolutely floored both Diane and I with her singing.

The song? “Heavensward”:

Top 3 Songs I Wish They Had Played

For fun, here’s three songs I still wish I could hear played live:

Final Fantasy Tactics “Ultima, the Nice Body”

Final Fantasy VI “Aria di Mezzo Carrattere”

Final Fantasy XIV “Good King Moggle Mog’s Theme”

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