Thursday, September 20, 2018

Monster Hunter World - Review

Monster Hunter. I'm sure you've heard the name at some point, but what is it? Up until a few years ago Monster Hunter was known as an obscure series here in the West. There were some PS2, and PSP games, but who even played them? Well, besides a small fan base, no one. The series wasn't a household name, and even those who did play it may have been turned off by it's challenging gameplay and controls. While the original PS2 releases controlled just fine for players, it's the PSP's "claw method" that pushed many away. A game where you controlled the camera with the d-pad? Yeah, no thanks. Sadly this was the mindset of most out there, and because of that the amazing hunting series was held back. Of course his only applies to the west.

While the series continued to struggle in the US, even with it's 3rd major release on the Wii, in Japan it was a different story. Monster Hunter was something that had completely exploded there, and thanks to the PSP releases it was something many gamers carried with them on the go. As the series became more and more popular there, it became much easier for fans to jump into a game for a few hunts wherever they might go. It was something fans could start up on the train ride to work or school, and simply play a few hunts while they waited. They could play solo if they wanted, but chances are another fan would be within range for some multiplayer hunts. Then when they got home they had the ability to boot up their PS3's adhoc Party mode, and then take their game online. It was perfect for Japanese players, and it didn't take long for the series' popularity to spread.

Jumping back over to the western side of things, MH remained a niche series for quite some time. With the release of Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate on the Wii U and 3DS things did start to turn around, but it really wasn't until the release of Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate that things began to turn around. At this point more and more western 3DS owners were learning about the series, and became more willing to give it a try. Sure the same d-pad camera controls remained, but with extra monster lock on options and touch pad buttons players had an easier time managing it. The game was also one of the first to support the "New" Nintendo 3DS and it's right analog stick, so many of the issues players had with the PSP releases simply vanished. Throw in the fact that the 3DS was a popular console in the west, and you have a recipe for (possible) success. But did it succeed? Yes. Yes it did.

With MH4U doing well in both Japan and the west, it was a no brainer to release the follow up game Monster Hunter Generations as well. While it wasn't a full Monster Hunter 5, it was a game that built on the improvements introduced in 4, and it brought back many fan favorite monsters as well. It too did pretty well sales wise, but Capcom wanted to do more. Sure the games were finally doing well outside of Japan, but they figured it was time to finally make a game that would blow everyone away. Something that would bring new players to the series, and finally make it a full on hit world wide. This idea is what gave birth to Monster Hunter World.

Monster Hunter World is the 5th mainline entry in the MH series, and the first to really target the western audience. Needless to say this scared some long time fans, but thankfully most of those fears can be put to rest. Sure, there's no denying MHW is a different beast compared to the past, but for many that is a good thing. Although it doesn't completely reinvent itself, World does take some major step forwards, and introduces many quality of life improvements along the way. It's the first Monster Hunter to set out to fully realize the idea of having a living and breathing world filled with monsters, and it's also the first to feature a "real" story. So, just how well does it do all of this? Well...

The Story:

Don't be fooled. Although World does in fact have a story, it is still not a big focus here. The very basics come down to you, the player, joining an expedition group to what is known as "The New World." You start the game creating your character and meeting some supporting characters, and soon you are ship wrecked and thrown into the strange new world. It doesn't take too long to find your way to the camp the rest of the teams have set up before you, but the journey and settling in there is what acts as the game's main tutorial. As for what your goal is in this new world, you're tasked with a mission to discover why the elder dragons of the world are traveling to this place. It's a simple setup, and you do learn a bit more about this new world along the way, but that's about as far as the game gets with it's story. The main draw of Monster Hunter is fighting giant monsters, and that hasn't changed here.

The Gameplay:

Just as the games before it, World has a lot of different things going on. Sure it may seem like a simple boss fighting game at first, but it's actually a lot more complex than that...


Astera is the main hub of World, and where you will spend a lot of time. As a hub town you can expect to find a verity of shops and NPCs to talk to, but it is also where you will return to after every hunt. It's where you'll gain access to your farm, armor and weapon crafting, learn about the monsters you've fought, and where you can accept quests. Basically Astera is your lifeline as a hunter, and although you can technically remain out in the field indefinitely, you definitely do not want to do that. Learning how to use the different facilities there is key to surviving out in the field, and more features do get unlocked as you progress through the game.

The Item Shop -

The very first area you may want to access in the hub is none other than the item shop. Here is where you can buy basic healing potions, bombs, and other supplies to help you out in the field. Although the vast majority of items will be hand crafted, the shop does offer some items that can't really be gained any other way. Trap tools for example are used to create traps, and is the central ingredient. While you have to get the other pieces you need to construct a trap by going out into the field, the trap tool is a shop item you have to buy.  So even though you can get most things for free by gathering them yourself, the shop is still something you'll need to go to once in awhile.

Resource Center -

The Resource Center is a team of three NPCs who offer you different research related quests and rewards. By talking to them you can accept extra side quests that reward you with armor upgrade materials and Research Points (a type of currency used for some shops and services), and you can also complete weekly events for special rewards. On top of that, they are also the NPCs that allow you to accept special monster investigation missions, which unlock as you examine monster tracks during hunts.

Botanical Research Center -

The Botanical Research Center is World's version of the "farm" featured in previous games. Here you're able to give the team different materials to produce more of, and then come back later to collect the results. In other words, if you give the team honey, after every quest/hunt they'll have duplicated it for you. This means you'll get an unlimited supply of honey without having to worry about gathering it yourself. (Which is very useful considering honey is what is used to create Mega Potions.)  The Botanical Research Center also works with bugs and a wide verity of plants, so you can duplicate pretty much any material you'll need. (That is, as long as it isn't something carved from a monster, or mined...)

Ecological Research Center -

The final research center. Here is where you'll gain story related missions, and also be able to find out about monsters you've previously met. They'll show you the weakness of the monsters, what parts can be broken or cut off, and even what materials you can expect to get from them after taking them down. It's basically an in game wiki page, and it can be a lot of help.

Elder Melder -

The Elder Melder isn't unlocked until later on in the game, but once you do unlock it things become a bit easier. This NPC allows you to turn more basic materials into other special items, and it's also where you can trade in special tickets for rare monster drops. This makes grinding for those low percent drop items much easier, as you can simply trade for the ones you need instead of spending hours killing the same monster over and over again. Of course the tickets are rare themselves, but they are there for you if you need them.

The Canteen -

Food is very important, and it's the same in Monster Hunter. The Canteen is where you can go to eat a meal before you go out on a hunt, and different types of meals will provide you with different effects. As you play through the game you'll unlock different ingredients to use here, and that in return will unlock new and better buffs as well. For example, most food will give you more max health or stamina, but others will give you passive skills that will buff different stats, or even make it so you're more likely to find a rare item. These food skills will remain active until you either finish the hunt or die, and they become key to your survival when fighting the stronger monsters. Although you can pick dishes the chef himself recommends, you can also mix and match your own ingredients to get exactly what you want.

The Smithy -

Possibly the most important part of all of Astera (besides the quest board). The Smithy is where you can buy starting weapons and armor to use, and also where you craft everything else gear related. Whenever you find a material that can be used to create an armor set, that set will appear on the crafting list, and once you have everything needed, you can make it. Armor sets can also be upgraded at the Smithy with special upgrade items, but weapons are a little bit different.

While armor sets are simply made out of materials gathered, weapons follow a weapon tree. In past games in the series you had to either figure out what weapon became what on your own, or look up a guide online. This time around however, the full weapon tree is right in front of you. Once you have one of the base weapons, you can then go out and gather materials to shape that weapon into your desired end game one. You can even down grade your weapon if you decide to take it down a different weapon tree path instead.

The Quest Board -

The final, and main, part of Astera. The Quest Board is where you post all quests, and can find a list of quests other players have posted as well. There are different types of quests in the game, and you can even jump into hunts that have already started, but I'll cover that in a section of it's own. As for the board itself, all you need to know is this is where you go to play the real game.

The Weapons:

Before you can go off and kill monsters, the first thing you need to do is decide on what weapon you want to use. The game doesn't lock you into any choice you make, but it is very important that you find the perfect weapon type for you. Each and every single one is unique, and they can take some time to master. Different weapons have different systems to keep track of as well, and they all have different attributes and stats to go along with them. Elemental damage can be quite important when taking out some monsters, and the sharpness of some weapons will determine of they can even pierce a monster's skin. These are things you also need to look at when deciding what weapon path you want to go down, and something you'll need to keep track of when out in the field. Thankfully you can change your gear mid hunt this time around, so if you show up with the wrong weapon you can always change. As for the weapon types? They are as follows:

Great Sword -

A slow but powerful weapon. The Great Sword's main draw is it's ability to charge it's strikes to deal massive damage. In past games this was limited to only one or two charge attacks, but in World it has been upgraded to a full three part charge combo. You still have to stand still to charge your hits, but it's worth it if you can get the timing down.

Long Sword -

The Great Sword's "cousin." The Long Sword is a long reaching blade that has quick attacks. Due to it's speed the LS has high damage output,  and even has a special attack that can be activated. Although it can't be used as a shield to block attacks (as the Great Sword can), it makes up for it with it's speed. The weapon is fast and it relies on your ability to dodge as well.

Sword and Shield -

The "basic" weapon of Monster Hunter. This weapon has a single quick hitting sword held in one hand, and a large shield that is held in the other. It's a very balanced out weapon that allows you to quickly dodge and block attacks, and with the right build you can even use it as a sort of support class for other players. In short it's simply a great weapon, and easy to pick up for beginners.

Dual Blades -

The Sword and Shield's cousin. The Dual Blades drops the shield to add a second sword, and brings with it a lot more attack speed. Although this weapon cannot block attacks, it's able to quickly dodge attacks, allows you to run while the weapon is still drawn, and (like the LS) has a special demon attack mode. It's very fast, and very strong, and great for those who prefer speed and mobility.

Hammer -

The Hammer is one of the strongest hard hitting weapons in the game. It's faster than other heavy weapons, but it doesn't have the ability to block attacks. Unlike the previous weapons listed however, the Hammer is an impact based weapon rather than a cutting one. Because of this it is able to break parts, smash faces, and has a much easier time at knocking monsters out. It's a crazy strong powerhouse, and in World they even added a new power charge mode to it. (Which basically buffs the weapon and can be active at all times.)

Hunting Horn -

The other hammer of the game. The Hunting Horn is a unique weapon as it's also a support weapon. While attacking mostly comes down to bashing things over the head with it, the real draw of this weapon is it's songs. Different horns can play different songs, and different songs give you different buffs. These buffs can be anything from attack and health boosts, to even buffs that negate the wind pressure of monster's wings. It's a really great weapon, and very helpful when playing in groups.

Lance -

The tank class of the game. The Lance is a class built around blocking attacks, and stabbing monsters to death with the end of it. Just like with the Sword and Shield, the hunter will hold the Lance itself in one hand, and hold the shield in the other. At that point you can block as much as you want, and stab the poor thing till it dies. The Lance also has a charge attack, and a rush attack which hits multiple times. It also has the ability to side step, which allows you to reposition yourself when fighting a monster.

Gunlance -

Like the Lance, the Gunlance is a tank weapon which is built around being in a monster's face, and unleashing non stop combos. They have a shield so they can take a beating, and they have similar movement to the Lance (as in, side stepping). The main difference here though is that the Gunlance is also a gun that shoots at close range. Different types of Gunlances have different types of shots (such as a charge shot, or a wide shot), and unlike other gun weapons they do have unlimited ammo.

Insect Glavie -

The so called "pet class" weapon of Monster Hunter. The Insect Glaive is a pole like weapon that works in tandem with your hunter's pet bugs (which can be customized at the smithy). The pole itself is mostly a melee weapon, but it has the ability to shoot enemies at long range, and allows you to pole vault into the air to mount monsters. By using the shooting mechanic you can mark parts on a monster's body for your insect to attack, and in return it will bring back stored energy to power up the main weapon. It's a one of a kind weapon class, and perfect for those who prefer air combat over a more grounded fighting style.

Switch Axe -

Switch Axe is another unique weapon. Like the Gunlance that is both a gun and lance, the Switch Axe is both an axe and sword. It's a strong weapon that uses it's axe form to land quick hits, and it's sword mode to deal out devastating damage. The catch is that to use the sword mode you must fill up a meter by using axe mode first, and each sword strike after will use up that meter until the weapon reverts back to axe mode. (It also has a powerful explosive move that can be released all at once.) It's a powerful easy to pick up weapon, but to master it does take time.

Charge Blade -

Another unique weapon. The charge blade is a mix between the Switch Axe and the sword and shield. In it's sword and shield mode you're able to hack away at enemies to build up energy and store it. One enough energy is stored the weapon can then be switched over to it's Switch Axe like mode, and then used to unleash said energy for massive damage. It's a weapon that takes some time to get used to, but it's damage output is insane.

Bow -

The first true rained weapon of Monster Hunter World. The bow is a well rounded weapon that has both quick hitting shots, and stronger charge shots. It's great for hitting enemies both up close and from a distance, and it does wonders against monsters that like to stay in the sky. Of course, that's not all this thing can do. Unlike other weapons, the Bow allows you to apply different coatings to your arrows which have different effects. For example the bow can put monsters to sleep by using a sleep coating, or poison them using poison coatings. This means a bow user can be ready for almost any situation, and that makes them a formidable foe. (For the monsters that is!)

Light Bowgun -

The second ranged weapon, and the first of the two gun classes. A Light Bowgun is a weapon that allows for more mobility, but weaker fire power compared to it's cousin (the Heavy Bowgun). It can be loaded with different types of ammo (similar to the Bow's coatings), and its parts can be customized to have different features and change up it's stats. Overall the weapon is more support based, but it can still hold it's own when needed (as can every other weapon in the game).

Heavy Bowgun -

The "heavier" version of the Light Bowgun. This gun is the main damage dealer, and because of that it is also much slower. While the gun itself does have a shield (so you can block), everything else about it takes much more time than with the Light Bowgun. It takes longer to put away, the reload times are longer, and your movement in general is cut down greatly. On the flip side however, the gun is very strong, and it's a weapon you almost always use from a distance. In short, getting hit by an enemy won't be a problem for those who master it. (And yes, it too can be customized just like the Light version.)

The Palico:

Weapons aren't your only hope when fighting in this game. Palico's are cat like creatures that'll be helping you on your adventure. At the start of the game you're able to customize your own, and then you're able to take it out with you on hunts. As the Palico fights along side you it gains experience to level up and become stronger, and eventually you can unlock different pieces of equipment for it as well. While armor and weapons can be crafted back in town at the Smithy, special equipment can be unlocked by finishing side quests in the game, and they come in a wide verity of support options. So while the base Palico ability is to actually heal you, later on you could unlock buffs if that's what you'd prefer.

Sadly the Palico can only be brought with you when you're in a party of two or less players, so don't count on them always being there with you.

The World:

So, after you've walked around the town, picked out your weapon, and possibly bought a new armor set... What is there to do? Well, set out into the world of course!

Although Monster Hunter World is a game that really pushes it's "open world" aspect, it really isn't too much different from the games in the past. Rather than being a single seamless world, each area of the game is broken up into it's own map. The forest area is your starting area, and where you'll spend most of the intro quests, but not too long after the desert will open up. This area is completely cut off from the forest before it, but both areas are massive in scale. In fact they are so big, that while past games only had a single safe camp area to return to, each map in World features multiple camps instead. This is something that actually worried a lot of long time fans when they first heard about it, but I can safely say it isn't as bad as it first seemed. In fact, many people may even love the change.

In past Monster Hunter games the setup was quite a bit different. When you started a hunt you would be thrown into the area's camp, and each area would then be made up of multiple smaller areas. These areas were then split up by loading screens, and they each acted as a mini battle arena for whatever monster you were fighting. Because of this you could actually hide from monsters by simply going through the loading screens to get to another area, and you only had so many smaller monsters walking around as well. These older games tried to make their world's feel alive, but the disconnected map somewhat broke that immersion. As for how Monster Hunter World does things though... It's quite a bit different.

Since these maps are huge multi camp areas, the World map's feel more like multiple maps being brought together. The loading screens are gone (with actual paths connecting the major areas of a map), a multitude of animals and monsters roam the wilds, and monsters are free to go and do whatever they want. This means you can no longer hide off screen from a monster you're fighting, and instead must use plants to hide yourself if you are in danger. Health potions and other items can also be used while moving (in previous games you had to stand still while using them), and most items can be gathered as you walk past them as well. Other changes made due to the new open world is the inclusion of the scout flies that will help you track the location of large monsters, and the ability to freely fly back to any of the camps whenever you'd like. The grappling hook was also added to make it easier for you to progress through the areas, and the sling shot allows you to interact with your surroundings as well. Gone are the days of having to craft every single tool, as now you can simply shoot a rock at something and watch the aftereffects. For example, shoot a flash bug? It'll explode and blind everything in the area. Shoot an electric frog? It'll release a cloud of dust that'll stun everything that comes in contact with it. Basically the game does everything it can with it's new open world, but also tries to stay true to it's original Monster Hunter roots. But honestly, the world you explore is only a backdrop to the true focus of this game... And that's fighting monsters.

The Monsters:

Although the maps might be bigger, and the newly added tools might make your life easier, the main focus of the game has not changed. Monster Hunter is, and always will be, a boss fighting game. Each map in the game will have multiple big monsters walking around, and it's your job to find the one you need to kill, and then take it out as fast as possible. All quests have a time limit in MHW, and if you take too much time you will fail. On top of that other monsters will often attack you as well, so it's not like you can ignore everything besides your target.

Unlike past entries in the series, MHW actually does a really good job easing newcomers into the game. The first monsters you fight are a lot easier compared to what you have to deal with in other entries, and the larger world can work to your advantage. Being able to climb up ledges, or swing from grappling points is a great way to get out of harm's way, and allows you to easily mount the monsters. Knocking crumbling rocks down onto a monster's head is a good way to deal some extra damage, and sometimes you can even lead OTHER large monsters into attacking your target for you. All of this does make the game easier, but that doesn't mean it is a cake walk. (Although, it may be for some long time fans...)

In order to really take down a monster in MHW you have to learn both it, and your own weapon. If you're unsure of how your own body can move, then you're going to get pounded into the ground and die in no time. Then if you die three times? You fail the quest... For you and everyone else helping you... This means you can't just rush in swords swinging and guns blazing, and instead you have to figure out exactly what it is you can or cannot do. Once you've figured this out you then have to learn how to fight the monster itself, and what you can do to make your life easier. Different monsters have different weaknesses, and different parts of their body do as well. While some body parts might be resistant to piercing type weapons, others may receive more damage when struck with them. This includes the tail of most monsters which can actually be cut off in most cases. This cut off tail can then be carved for extra monster materials, and often will impact the monster's performance in a fight. The same can be said for other parts that get broken off, but maybe not quite to the same extent as a tail. (After all, most monsters do use their tails to attack, and without it their attack options become limited).

Even though large monsters are "bosses," they too act like living creatures. They aren't there to kill you, but rather to live their lives. This means they'll often consider their options before fighting you. Yes, some monsters will attack on sight, but others may walk by you without doing a thing. Of course the moment you attack them they'll attack back, but these things aren't your typical "bad guys" you have to fight. Instead they'll defend their territory (from both you and other monsters), and go hunting for food when they run out of energy. They'll also run away from you when they become frightened, and go to sleep at their nest to attempt to recover energy. This means you'll often have to chase monsters down, and pay attention to how they are acting to know what they might do. Monster Hunter World does add a pulse to help you see when a monster is close to death, but most of the visual cue's still come from the monster itself. It's a feature unique to the series, and something fans will be happy to see has remained the same. But that's not all...

Like in previous games killing isn't the only option. Weak monsters can be captured rather than killed, and doing so will give you more quest rewards on the result screen. Capturing also tends to be easier than killing in most cases, and can put an end to hunts much quicker. On the down side however, not all monsters can be captured, and you need to craft both traps and tranquilizers to catch them and put them to sleep. Of course this doesn't become a problem once your Botanical Research Center is upgraded, but early on in the game your resources are limited. However, there is one other use for capturing monsters in World, and it's a very welcomed edition.

If you capture a monster in World, a Special Arena quest for said monster will become unlocked. These quests are fights set in an enclosed area where you don't have to worry about tracking down the monster, nor do you have to worry about them running for you. They are full on death matches, and a great way to take out monsters quickly to farm for supplies. Although, that's not the only way to farm in this game.

Unlike normal quests, Investigations are randomly generated quests that are unlocked as you explore the map, and gather research data (such as by inspecting foot prints and what not). These quests have set restrictions, but offer rare items when completed. Although this doesn't insure you'll always get a rare drop, it does make it more likely, and speeds up the process of crafting new armor and weapons. It also means once you finish all of the game's main quests you have an unlimited supply of content to keep you busy after.

The Multiplayer:

The multiplayer mode in World is quite a bit different from how things used to be. In the past you had a multiplayer hub you could join which had it's own set of (harder) quests, and allowed up to four people to join you. In World however, all of this is gone. Instead the single player town is the same as the multiplayer area, and a large group of players can be in it at a time. This means you can technically play with a larger group of friends, but the quests themselves are still limited to four. On top of that any other player in the room can join your hunt, and you may not always want that. Thankfully there is an option to make private and offline rooms, but it really depends on what you want to do.

On the other hand, if you do want to play through the game in multiplayer, the new system is actually pretty nice. Sadly you can't join any hunts where cutscenes need to be watched (at least not until everyone has seen said cutscene), but that's only a minor inconvenience. Putting cutscenes aside, anyone who is in your room is free to join you in the middle of a hunt, and you can even shoot off an SOS signal to allow people from other rooms to join you. Past games required everyone to ready up and set out together, but now players are free to come and go as they please. The only real down side is that the Gathering Hall area MADE for the multiplayer is pretty much useless...

The Gathering Hall is a separate area to the town, and the only area where all the players in a room can see each other. You can talk and interact here all you want, but there's really no point. Most of the facilities you need to go back to cannot be accessed here, and the moment you return from a quest you're dropped at the bottom of the town instead. So why bother running all the way back to the Gathering Hub then? Yeah, there's really not an answer for that one... Although you can accept two player arena challenge quests here.

Although the multiplayer is pretty nice in World, there is one setback that some long time fans may not like. You see, originally the multiplayer hub was it's own area in past games, and they featured their own quests. These quests were harder than the ones you found in the base game (as they were balanced for multiplayer), and they were a way for solo players to challenge themselves even more. With the way World works however, this is a thing of the past. The story quests and multiplayer quests are one in the same. Now they do scale when a second player joins your quest, but there's no way to actually start the quest on this harder difficulty without having a second person with you. On top of that if a second person joins your quest and drops, the difficulty will not scale back to the single player version. It will remain as it's harder "multiplayer" counterpart, and (putting the monster's new HP aside) will make some simple tasks even harder for you. Sadly online players can use this free join feature to scale the difficulty to troll you, and there's not much you can do about it. Unless you lock the quest before hand that is...

Even so, the new multiplayer system in World is pretty nice overall. It does have it's down sides compared to how things were in past games, but the good does outweigh the bad. Plus full mic and keyboard support is always a nice bonus... And something that was missing from the previous 3DS games...

The Good and the Bad:

Monster Hunter World is not a game for everyone, and because of that it's really difficult to say what exactly is good or bad about the game. One thing that needs to be made absolutely clear though, is the fact that this is a boss fighting game, and not a story focused one. If you only want a story, then stop now. This game is not for you. If you want to challenge yourself by going against bigger and stronger bosses however, then by all means give this one a shot! On the plus side the game is really newbie friendly, it looks amazing, the combat feels great (once you get the hang of it), and the world really does feel alive. It's a game that finally makes good on it's promise of having a living breathing world like we expected to see with the first Monster Hunter, and it's quality of life improvements greatly improve the experience. It's also packed full of content, and can keep you busy for quite a long time. Really, for what it is, there's not much actually "wrong" with it. However not all long time fans may see it that way.

I guess when you come down to it, the "bad" part of World is actually it's lack of content. Now don't get me wrong, this game is filled with things to do, (Heck, I just said it was!) but it's nowhere near the scale of some of the previous titles. Now World is in fact the base game for the 5th generation, so it's really not too surprising that it doesn't have as many monsters or quests as something like 4 Ultimate, or Generation's Ultimate, but some may see that as an issue. Also some long time fans may be let down to see just how easy the game has become thanks to come of the quality of life improvements, but it's not like the game is a cakewalk either. Either way you look at it, this is the entry title for the next generation, and there is no doubt that more is to come. Free updates have been coming out every so often, and it's also very likely that an expansion will be released later on. This is the pattern most games in the series have followed up till this point, and its not something Capcom is expected to change anytime soon. So technically even these "bad points" may not be bad news for long time fans. This is a game that will continue to grow and evolve over time, but until then it is still a solid entry in the series. One that everyone should at least give a try.
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Saturday, September 1, 2018

Ben's Gaming Memories - Star Ocean

So it's been a few months since I've posted anything new here... Since my previous post a lot has changed for me, and I just haven't had as much time to do things as I'd like. Between starting a new job and things going on with my grandpa, it's been hard to find time to make blog posts. With the release of Star Ocean Anamnesis in the US though, I figured I'd take this time to share my story. You see, while many might see Star Ocean as just another JRPG, for me it's something much more. Now I actually brought this up about three years ago when Star Ocean 5 was coming out (it's seriously been that long?), but I never actually took the time to fully explain just what Star Ocean actually means to me. So that's what I'd like to do today. Here's my story of how Star Ocean changed my "gaming life" forever.

When I was a kid there was one genre I didn't really play: RPGs. Now I did play Pokemon (which I've also mentioned in the past), but that's about it. To me, Pokemon was a unique game unlike anything else, and it's RPG battle system was the Pokemon battle system. I had no idea that there were other turn based games out there, and I couldn't understand the fact that games like Earthbound were "similar to Pokemon." Friends tried to explain it to me when I was in school, but it was still hard for me to figure it out. "You mean Ness is like a Pokemon with a trainer commanding him?" Man, I must've sounded so stupid asking that. But anyway, it simply wasn't a genre I was into, and I actually avoided it later on when I started to learn more. It wasn't until I played Paper Mario on the N64 that I saw a turn based battle system outside of Pokemon, and it wasn't until Shining Force and Phantasy Star on SEGA Dream Cast that I saw a standard "fantasy" RPG. Both of these games turned me off though, and that's what eventually lead me to avoid RPGs. As for one of the major reasons for this? Well, it was magic.

I hated seeing magic in games. Something about it bothered me, and really that extended outside of gaming as well. If something had magic in it, or was about magic... I avoided it. I instantly labeled it as "crap," and refused to watch, read, or play it. I even got the teachers to let me leave the room in school when they watched the Harry Potter movies! I was so against anything magic related, I'd rather sit in the library reading books I didn't care about, than sit in class and have a free movie day. Then things started to change.

In high school I became interested in the Kingdom Hearts series. It had magic, and was an RPG, but I was willing to give it a try. Around this time I was getting tired of the turn based battle system Pokemon used, but since Kingdom Hearts was an action based game that wasn't going to be a problem. In fact it was the first time I had ever heard of an action battle system being used in an RPG (as my friends basically beat into my head that turn based was the only kind out there), and that alone made me want to play it more. Needless to say, I loved it and I couldn't wait for more. So I played more... The only way I could that is.

Although it wasn't actually Kingdom Hearts, Final Fantasy was the next best thing. Yes I had head of the series, but everything I knew about it turned me off. Playing KH got me interested in the characters though, so I gave it a chance. Despite getting tired of the turn based battles pretty fast, I actually did enjoy Final Fantasy 4 (and later on 6), but I had no desire to play anymore. Didn't care for turn based, and at that point I was already pushing myself to finish games like Pokemon Pearl. So I dropped the series, and never looked back (at least not for quite a few more years).

Jump ahead a few years later and now I'm a senior in high school. I bought a brand new Xbox 360 (it's now been 10 years since then...), and I was starting to get into new types of games. Before I was limited to mostly Nintendo stuff, but now I was finally able to see what else was out there. I guess this is what opened my eyes to trying new things and not being so "closed minded," but I still wasn't really feeling the whole RPG thing. Yes I went through KH1, CoM, 2, and FF4 and 6, but that didn't mean I was willing to play more games with magic in them. I made an exception for .hack, but that was a series set within an MMO world... It wasn't the same as other RPGs out there. In fact, I blew off a few friends at school who were trying to get me to play games like The Last Remanent, and didn't care about the upcoming new Final Fantasy XIII (funny that I'm saying that now). Instead I was more into Halo 3, Burnout Paradise, Lost Planet, and Skate. I didn't care about going back to RPGs unless they were Mario related, Pokemon, or a new Kingdom Hearts. But then it happened... One weekend everything changed.

Star Ocean was a SNES game released only in Japan, and suddenly I was hearing a lot of good things about it. The game had been fan translated, it was sci-fi based, and something about it just stood out to me. Not sure what that was really, but I figured I'd give it a chance. So, I got the game the only way I possibly could (as it was never sold in the US), and started playing it. Then stopped. While the game seemed interesting, it was actually a pain to play in it's fan translated state. Not everything was working as it should, and I didn't really care for it's battle system. While the story was holding my interest, it wasn't enough to keep me playing. Mainly because while I was playing I did a Google search and found that the game had been remade for PSP. So with a an official english (and much better) version released, I didn't see any point in continuing with the SNES fan translation.

Although I'm not exactly sure when it happened, a month or so later I finally decided to buy the game for myself. I went to Walmart one weekend, went right over to the gaming section, and bought one of the few copies of Star Ocean First Departure that they had. My next memories were of me starting it up on the car ride home, and then spending the rest of the night playing the thing. Around that time was also when my cousin started staying over at my house, and for whatever reason he began bringing his PSP with him as well. While I would sit there playing Star Ocean, he'd be on his own PSP playing Need for Speed. Although we were into different games, the two of us would sit there on the couch talking as we both worked our way through our game. This didn't last long however, as this was also around the same time a lot more free time opened up for the both of us.

During the last half of my senior year of school something unexpected happened. Our school was destroyed. Or rather, the grade-middle school building was. Due to this the younger students had to make use of our high school's limited space, and our days were cut in half. We had to be at school first thing in the morning (which was hard to do at first), but the trade off was that we got to leave at 11:30 AM. Yes, that's right. We met the minimum requirements by the state, and were then sent on our way before noon. We had the whole day ahead of us, and that's what I used to play Star Ocean!

It didn't take me long to go through the game because of that. In fact I'm pretty sure I finished it within a week or two. I was working at my family's bakery only when needed, so I didn't have to worry about going over there after school. Instead, what little I worked got me enough money to buy the games I wanted, and then I had the rest of my time to use on said games.So it didn't take me long to rush through the original game. Of course I didn't just stop there. Putting Pokemon and Kingdom Hearts aside, Star Ocean 1 was the first "standard" JRPG I got into, and I made sure to let the world know... By talking as many people into playing it as possible!

Although I only managed to convince GlacialLeaf and Cat (two writers here at NGR) to get the game, I think that was enough. The three of us talked about it quite a bit, and I continued to play it even after I finished it. Due to the game's multiple character system, there was plenty of reasons for me to return after I finished. Just because I had beaten it once it didn't mean I had seen everything, and I had to spend quite a bit more time going for the "best" ending possible. It was all time well spent though, and even after I finished I still wanted more. Thankfully SO2 was that more.

By this point Star Ocean had somewhat broken me of this whole thing of hating magic in games, but not fully. When reading the basic info about Star Ocean 2 I was sorta put off by this whole "sorcerer stone" thing. I figured there was something more to it than it just being some magic stone, but it still bugged me. Considering I loved the original game though, and how it handled magic, I put my feelings aside and got it anyway. Managed to track down a single copy at a GameStop quite a ways away from me, and once again I quickly got to work playing it.

With the school still being destroyed, and our half school days lasting for the rest of the year, I continued to put most of my free time into Star Ocean 2. Once again I blew through the game and got to the ending, but I messed up. Like Star Ocean 1 before it, the game featured multiple endings with multiple character paths, and I somehow skipped most of it. Ended up only getting a few of the characters, and skipped over some pretty interesting story arcs because of it. So, despite finishing the game, once again I had to start over from the beginning to do it the "right way."

Overall I ended up liking Star Ocean 2 much more than one, and I continued to play the game through most of the remaining school year. The characters became some of my all time favorites, and every time the credits rolled I found myself starting over from the beginning again. I must've beaten that game 3 plus times before I managed to find a copy of Star Ocean 3, and it was one I came back to even after I bought the others... Putting that aside though, I did continue on with the series.

When I felt I was finally finished with SO2 and ready to move on, I managed to find a copy of SO3 at a GameStop in a mall I'd always go to (which is one of the few malls still left in this area to this day). If I recall I got the game on a Sunday, so I had go to school the next day, and I didn't get home from that trip until later in the day. Sadly that meant I didn't have a whole lot of time to play it, but I was determined to get as far as possible before I had to go to sleep. So I sat down in front of the mini TV I had in the corner of my room for PS2 games, and started to play. Then my controller broke.

Yep, my original PS2 controller decided it wasn't going to work anymore, and do whatever the heck it wanted when it wanted. Analog sticks worked just fine, so I could walk around, but the face buttons and triggers would randomly go off, and not work when I actually wanted to use them. So off to Walmart I went, and I bought a brand new silver PS2 controller. (Looking back now, I'm lucky they still had one. Shortly after the PS3 fully took over, and I never saw a PS2 accessory there again.)

Despite loving the game in the end, Star Ocean 3 didn't actually hook me as much as the other two. Maybe I was getting burned out after jumping from game to game like that, or maybe it was how different it was. While it retained the whole action battle system that the first two had, it was slightly altered and a new weapon crafting system was integrated. Being new to JRPGs at the time, I didn't fully understand how things worked in SO3, and I actually struggled to get through it. There were bosses that stopped me in my tracks, and the whole MP death thing threw me off. Eventually I'd learn how to fuse stat upgrades into my weapons and become overpowered, but not before I decided to push the game to the side and get Star Ocean 4 instead.

I still remember the day I came home from our newly opened GameStop with a copy of SO4. The videos I had seen on YouTube made it look amazing, and I couldn't wait to try out the crazy rush attack system for myself. Seeing the main characters do flips and dodge behind enemies to dish out crazy strong combo attacks looked great, and the "realistic graphics" were pretty breath taking for their time. Seeing it compared to SO3 was a major jump in quality, and I was looking forward to seeing the origin story of Star Ocean. It was a game that took place before SO1, so I was already expecting a lot of great things from it. And then I realized the mistake I made.

Soooo, it turns out the Xbox 360 really wanted it's players to have an HD TV. Games that relied heavily on text also relied on it's higher resolution... Which my TV didn't have. I should've saw it coming when Project Gotham Racing was hard to read, but I never really thought about it when it came to RPGs. Again I wasn't interested in playing them on my 360, so why would I even consider it? Ended up struggling through the intro of the game, and had to put it aside for awhile. I eventually won another SD tv from my high school's post prom, but the game looked even worse on there. So before long I was forced to move my Xbox 360 into the living room, and was only able to play it for the few short hours between school getting out at 11:30, and my parents coming home at 3:00. So I went back to Star Ocean 3 quite a bit. (And good thing I did!)

While I was already half way or so into SO4, I did keep going back to 3 to finish it up. I managed to get to the major plot points I needed to see to understand some things in SO4, but once again I got stuck and spent more time on 4 instead. I actually had friends playing through SO4 around the same time as well (one being Vile who is also a writer here), so I spent quite a bit of time just talking about the game with them. SO4 basically became the game I spent all of my final days of high school playing, and one I would continue playing into the summer.

Despite having 3 and 4 to finish, I did go back to SO1 before finishing both. When we had our senior class trip that lasted for 2-3 days, I ended up bringing my PSP and my copy of Star Ocean 1 with me. Spent quite a bit of time playing it on the long bus ride, and I spent the nights in the hotel playing it as well. It was a game I still loved, and wanted to take with me as much as possible. I guess I could've taken 2 with me instead, but considering how many times I already beat it I settled on playing the original instead.

After I graduated from high school I did go on to buy an HD TV for my own room, but by then I was already at the end of SO4. Got to fight the final boss using that tv, but everything else I had already completed. Went back and finished SO3 soon after as well, but only after I finally understood the whole crafting system. Afterwards the game became a complete cake walk for me, and I finished it in no time. Sadly this was the end of Star Ocean, and I had nowhere else to turn... Or did I?

When I was in college it finally happened. Final Fantasy XIII was released, and despite how I felt about it before, I decided to give it a try. A few friends of mine were playing it, and it was the only thing out on the Xbox 360 that could even come close to filling the void Star Ocean left behind. Sure I saw some hate for the game here and there, but I figured it was worth a shot... And man, I wasn't disappointed. Sure, I may be one of the few people out there who can say this, but I actually loved FF13. I liked the characters, the story, and even the gameplay. As someone who didn't care for turn based games before, FF13 helped open my eyes to them, and eventually lead me to play the rest of the series as well. That's what lead me to where I am today. The JRPG genre has become one of my favorite, and I owe it all to Star Ocean.

Now last time this is where I ended it, but now things have changed. Star Ocean 5 was released, and we've even gotten HD remasters of SO3 and 4! Although I did enjoy SO5 for what it was, I don't really have too many memories to share about this one. I listened to it's theme song a lot while driving from work back home, but that's about it. Only one other friend of mine even bothered with the game (at this moment), so I was even limited on who I could discuss it with. Still I did enjoy my time with it, and would love to see 6 as soon as possible. As for the SO3 port, I really haven't had much time with it, but the SO4 port is another story. It's actually the game I started playing before my grandpa got sick... It's actually the main reason I haven't updated this blog in quite some time. I had to stop playing it soon after, as the next few months of my life were spent in the hospital with him instead. Something that still continues to happen off and on all these months later... But that's enough of that. Even with the few bad memories, the SO series will continue to be one of my favorites, and I can't wait to sink hundreds of hours into it's new mobile game. Thanks Tri Ace.
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Friday, April 20, 2018

Netto's Beginnings: First Racing Game

This is no secret to the people who know me, but I actually love racing games! In fact, maybe I like them a bit too much. You see, while a lot of my friends find them boring, I'm one of those people who buy them almost non stop. "Who cares if I haven't finished the last one I bought! This new one looks too fun!" Because of this mindset I have I have built up a crazy large backlog of just racing games, and it continues to grow as the days go on. Heck I just bought Burnout Paradise for the third time thanks to it's remaster, yet I still need to finish the past few Need for Speed releases, Forza Horizon 3 (and 2), and at some point I need to return to The Crew. Really, I love almost all racing games, and that's not something that is going to change. But how did this all begin with me? Well that's actually a bit of a strange story... (And can be read elsewhere.)

While I actually have a few games I'd consider my "first" racing game, for the sake of this post I'm going to actually start with my VERY first one. As for what that game was? Well, Top Gear 2 of course! While I have mentioned this game before (see above link), I want to take the time to go into it a bit more this.

Top Gear 2 was my first real look into racing games. Sure, maybe I sat at an arcade machine at Walmart or something (yeah, they used to have those there), but this was the game I actually played a lot of as a kid. It was my uncle's game, and when I'd go over there I'd often play it with him or my cousins when they came to visit. The game was one of those 3D SNES games, and because of that it was pretty simple. You got to pick the color of your car, got to choose between automatic or manual transmission (I always went with automatic of course), and all you really had to do was hold the accelerator and turn left/right with the track. While it was possible to somewhat go off course, the game was mostly on auto pilot for you. Your main worry was crashing into other cars, but even that wasn't too difficulty for my younger self. Sometimes you'd get hit and fall behind, but most of the time all you had to do is use your NOS to boost yourself ahead. It really wasn't that difficult of a game, but I still had a lot of fun with it.

One thing that made Top Gear 2 really stand out to me as a kid, was the ability to actually upgrade your car, change it's color, and then damage it in the race. Finishing races would net you money to make your car better and continue on, and as you got hit by other cars you got to see different parts on your own car get damaged or break. This was always shown to you at the top in a little diagram of your car, but typically it wasn't something you had to pay much attention to. (In fact I used to crash my car on purpose just to see how much of it I could destroy.) Even so I thought it was pretty cool as a kid, and it wasn't until many years later that I would see this type of system again.

Later on my uncle would go on to sell his SNES (and most of his games) and I ended up being left with TG2 as my own. This is when I started going through the full campaign mode myself, and sometimes I'd even co-op it with my dad. The game supported split screen and we'd both make use of that to complete the game together. Those were some really fun memories for me, and despite most tracks looking the same (except with different backgrounds and at different times of the day), I really enjoyed the adventure across different locations. I could never wait to see where we were going next, and I can still remember wanting to see the Loch Ness Monster when we raced around the area. Of course it wasn't there, but kid me kept hoping.

Eventually I would move on from TG2, but it wouldn't be to other racing games. Sure I played the Mario Kart games once in awhile when I rented them, but in general that was it for me when it came to racing. The newer generation of racing games on the N64 and PS1 made me sick when playing them (with the exception of a few N64 racers I had rented), and it wasn't until much later that I was able to fully handle these new 3D racing games again. With some exceptions like Mario Kart and Kirby Air Ride, the racing genre had almost been lost to me, but thankfully that's no longer the case.

Now days I can continue playing the old genre I love, and I can even experience them in completely new ways. Games like Drive Club VR put me "in" the drivers seat for a more realistic experience, and then you have other games like Wipeout VR that completely blow me away. VR has breathed new life into these games for me, and has me hooked more than ever before. That being said, I can't wait to see what the future holds, and where this technology will eventually end up.
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Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Mega Man X Legacy Collection New Info & Trailer

A few months ago the Mega Man X Legacy Collection was announced by Capcom. Well now we finally have more news on this release, and things are looking pretty good! Like the previous Mega Man Classic collections, the X Collection will be split into two releases. As some might expect, X1-4 will be featured in the first, and X5-8 will be in the second. Both collections will be released July 24th, but things will be a bit different depending on your console of choice.

Although you will be able to buy both collections in a single bundle, the Nintendo Switch version will not be receiving Collection 2 on it's own game card. Like the Resident Evil Revelations collection before it, the second half of the X series will in fact be digital download only. (At least here in the west.) While this may not be a big deal to some, it is a little bit of a let down that Switch owners will have to use more memory to play this game. Meanwhile the PS4 version does in fact come with a disc for each collection.

Putting all of this aside though, the collections do offer some bonus features as well. A new challenge mode has been added in where you can fight bosses from across the series, and the Day of Sigma OVA from Maverick Hunter X on PSP has been included. This OVA actually acts as a prequel to the entire Mega Man X series, but it does have a few differences from what many fans may know and love. After all the OVA was created for the series reboot, but sadly that never continued past the first game.

Anyway, for more information feel free to check out the trailer below!

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What is Full Metal Panic! Fight! Who Dares Wins?

Full Metal Panic. It's a series that is very special to me, and one that has been gone for quite some time. Although I personally didn't watch the anime adaptation when it first aired, the English release quickly became one of my favorite shows of all time, and it's actually the source of quite a few secret references here on this blog. But why am I talking about it now of all times? Well, that's simple. Because Full Metal Panic is finally getting a full video game, and it's coming out in English next month! Yep, that's right! It's a dream come true for many long time FMP fans, but that's not the only fanbase that might find this game interesting. In fact, it might just the game fans of the Front Mission series have been waiting for.

Before I get into the game itself, let me explain exactly what Full Metal Panic is. Stylized as "Full Metal Panic!" the series was originally a Japanese light novel released in the late 90s. It followed the story of a young man named Sousuke, as he is tasked with going undercover at a Japanese high school to protect a young girl named Kaname. Needless to say the story does have the whole "boy meets girl" thing going for it, but with a twist. You see, while Kaname is a "normal high school girl," Sousuke is anything but. In fact he's a soldier through and through, and he has no idea how to live a normal life. Sneaking guns into schools (DON'T DO THIS), blowing up lockers, tackling teachers, jumping out of trains, shooting arcade machines, and so on. The guy only knows how to be a soldier, and that makes for a lot of shockingly funny moments. In fact when the series was eventually adapted into an anime, a second season titled "Fumoffu" was released to focus completely on these aspects. Of course, this isn't all Full Metal Panic is about. Putting aside the stupid things soldier boy does, there is no denying he is in fact a soldier.

Along with the comedy, Full Metal Panic is technically a war drama of sorts. A strange group is out to get Kaname, and Sousuke, along with the group he works for, must do everything in their power to protect her. The story has it's serious moments, and giant mechs become the character's weapon of choice. While other series with robots just accept the fact that they exist, Full Metal Panic makes it apparent that such things aren't normal, and are like something out of science fiction. It's a technology no one fully understands, and it's becoming more and more common at a surprising rate. This is where the game and new anime comes in.

Originally the FMP anime only covered roughly the first five novels, now the series is now back and things are starting with a bang. At this point in the story the "intro" is over, and a full on war is about to erupt. Gone are the care free days of high school, and now only battle awaits. Taking a page out of this story, "Full Metal Panic! Fight! Who Dares Wins," allows fans to jump into the action themselves, and experience the war from of a turn based strategy game.

Taking a page out of the Super Robot Wars series (which FMP has been featured in), and mixing it with systems seen in games like Front Mission, Fight! Who Dares Wins is a full on tactical RPG. You pick your characters and mechs, send them out into battle, load them up with different types of weapons, and then do everything in your power to win. Battles are turn based, and they rely more on strategy than pure skill. Different weapons are effective against different types of targets, and each target you face has multiple parts that can be attacked and damaged. Of course this goes for you as well, so it's important to think your plans through, and keep your own units in top shape. Characters also have a skill tree to level through, which allows you to unlock new skills and abilities as the game progresses. While this setup isn't anything new to the genre, it helps make each unit unique, and allows players to develop their characters in their own way. This also means the game will most likely have quite a bit of replay value, as there is no real clear cut way on how you should play and progress through it's story.

Although FMP's game is stand alone, it comes after a long line of other similar games created by the same company. As I mentioned above, the game resembles Super Robot Wars greatly, and even has similar cut in attack animations during battle. The main difference here is that rather than using a grid system FMP allows you to freely move your characters around the map within a set range, and the characters and story are all set within one universe. While that might sound strange to say, you have to realize the type of games this team develops. Even their original games such as SRWOG Endless Frontier crosses over with Namco x Capcom and Xenosaga, which eventually leads into the Project X Zone series. Putting that aside though, the company is known for putting out massive strategy games packed full of content, and FMP is sure to be the same.

So what is Full Metal Panic! Fight! Who Dares Wins? A tactical role playing game that fans of robots, and fans of the series really shouldn't miss out on. If the game even sounds a bit interesting to you, I'd recommend checking out the trailer above, and watching the anime if you still haven't. You won't regret it.
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Monday, April 16, 2018

Kingdom Hearts III Adds LCD Style Games

Well this is a bit of strange news. A brand new "world" has been shown off for the upcoming Kingdom Hearts III, and it's not quite what you would expect. Rather being like the rest of this game, this new gameplay mode is a collection of mini games that features Sora in the style of old LCD games. You know, similar to what Nintendo had with the Game & Watch, and what Tiger Electronics released non stop! Although these type of handhelds might seem strange in today's world, back in the day they were all the rage, and people would actually carry them around. Despite how simple they were, there was something strangely addicting about going for that next high score, and now Kingdom Hearts has revived that.

Just check out the trailer below to see for yourself!

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Thursday, March 22, 2018

Sea of Thieves - Review

There once was a time when seeing a little "R" logo on a game box would fill one with excitement. Everyone knew that the R stood for "Rare," and that they would be in for quite the treat if they bought the game and played it. The company quickly became known for their quality games, and they would release them for all different ages. They had great platforming games for everyone, fun shooters for the more "mature," hard core arcade beat em ups, and even unique ones that became instant classics. In short, things were looking good for Rare, and fans couldn't wait to see their next game. Then things changed.

After creating many games for Nintendo, Rare was eventually bought out by Microsoft, and they became Xbox exclusive. This of course caused games like Nintendo's Donkey Kong series to get passed on to other teams, while Rare themselves focused on their new market. Although the team did release quite a few interesting games on the original Xbox, and even on the Xbox 360, things did not stay the same. Although the team still used the name "Rare," most of the original team left the company, and their games were seemingly lost to history. That is until now.

Sea of Thieves is Rare's first new IP in quite a long time, and many fans were excited by it's announcement. Not only were we finally getting a new game from Rare, but it was also going to be a multiplayer pirate game where players could live out their wildest pirate dreams! The game sported an interesting cartoony art style, and the idea of being on the open seas with friends just seemed like a lot of fun. Of course not everyone was sold on the idea, but now the game has released and we all get to see what it really is. So, what exactly is Sea of Thieves, and is it worth playing? Well, that's what I'm hopefully going to tell you now.

Due to the unique nature of this game I will tell you one thing right off the bat. It is NOT going to be a game for everyone. Sea of Thieves is something you either hate, or something you love, and this review most likely wont change your mind if you're not a fan of this type of game. Also keep in mind that this review will be covering the initial release of the game, and will not include any future added content. Rare has promised to continue adding features and expanding the game, so things may greatly change over time. Now with that being said, let's get on with the review!

You and The Sky, The Sands, and The Sea:

Sea of Thieves is an open world pirate adventure. What is the game's story? That's up to you to decide! While there are three factions to accept quests from, this game is very much your own story. There are no cutscenes, very little dialogue from the NPCs, and the game does not even direct you on where you need to go or what you should be doing. It asks you to pick a random generated pirate (which you can regenerate as many times as you want), and then it drops you onto an outpost island and asks you to figure out what to do from there. (There isn't even a tutorial to speak of.) You simply have the sky above you, the land below, a boat docked close by, and the open seas waiting for you. So, what exactly "should" you be doing at this point? Well...

The Outpost:

Before you set out into the open seas and start exploring, the Outpost is something you'll want to learn to take full advantage of. Sea of Thieves has multiple outpost islands scattered across the map, and every single one of them offers you the same services. These services include the three factions, the clothing store, the weapon store, and the gadget store, and they are also loaded up with barrels filled with extra supplies (we'll get to that a bit later). Because of these different buildings and features, outpost islands become key locations during your adventures, and are something you'll need to return to to complete quests and to score some cash. This is where the factions come into play.

The first major faction you can help out is a gold trading faction. Located in a little tent somewhere on the outpost, players can accept treasure hunting contracts that ask you to search for, well, treasure. After buying a voyage from the man (initial low level voyages are free) you and your crew can vote to accept it, and instantly you'll be handed a treasure map or two. These treasure maps will either show a picture of an island with an X that marks the spot, or you'll be given a map with a riddle on it. While these riddles will tell you the name of the island you need to go to, the rest of the clue will be up to you to solve. For example, one clue might point to a painting of a crap picture, which will then give you another clue to head up to the top of the island. By following each clue as they appear, you'll eventually be lead to the treasure chest, and you'll be free to dig it up and return it to the tent to sell. Treasure chests come in a wide verity of types, and sometimes you might just uncover a rare one.

After the treasure hunting faction, we have the merchant. Merchants are located on the dock and will ask you for a lot of different things. While the treasure hunts give you a map or tell you which island you need to go to, the merchant asks for you to find it yourself. Sometimes they'll want chickens, other times they'll want pigs, or maybe they'll even ask you for snakes! You never know what you're going to be after, and as you advance through the quests the requests only get harder and harder. Although the merchant will supply you with the cages needed for your animals, bananas, or whatever else they ask you for, you yourself will have to check every island around until you find what you need. Of course eventually you'll start to learn where things are, but that doesn't always mean you'll find the chicken you want. Every animal comes in a wide verity of colors, and sometimes the type of animal you need wont be walking around with the others. Of course this also means different color animals sell for different prices, so typically the wild goose chase ends up being worth it if it's a rare one. Once you have found what you need you can then turn them in at the merchant, but you have to pay attention to which outpost wants them, and you need to be on time. If you show up at the wrong outpost, or a day late, then you're not getting your full reward. (Don't worry, the item list tells you where to go and by what time.)

The current third and final faction is the soul faction. Here you get to talk to a creepy person in a building, who then asks you to hunt the living dead. As you may notice while taking on the other two faction's quests, the islands out there are filled with walking skeletons, and this faction wants you to bring back their heads. Similar to the treasure hunts, these quests will give you a location to head to, and it'll be up to you to find the skeletons on it and kill them. Once you've killed enough their captain will spawn, and killing him or her will make their head drop to the ground. Bring this head back to the creepy person, and you've got your reward. And that's about it. It's not an overly complex faction to work for, and the rewards are pretty good! Of course the more you do for this faction the harder the quests get, but eventually you'll get used to fighting, and dying is only a matter of waiting a bit to respawn. So no big deal if the skeletons kill you. (Unless another player destroys your ship while you're gone that is...)

Once you've taken on quests for any of these factions, you'll be rewarded with both faction experience points, and money. Money of course is used to buy new cosmetic items in the shops, but it is also used to unlock harder quests once your factions reach a specific level, and to buy special faction items as well. Eventually you'll be able to use these harder quests to get better rewards, and you'll also get titles to equip to show the world what you've done. Overall it's a simple system, and once you get used to it you'll be making money like crazy. Just know that this is the vast majority of this game.

The Shops and Items:

As a pirate you have a wide verity of items with you at all times, and everyone starts with these. You have a shovel to dig up things, a lantern to light the way or signal to other ships, a compass to find your way, a watch to see the time and date, a water bucket to carry water, multiple interments to play music, a telescope to see out into the distance, and multiple item slots for the items you can pick up from the islands. All of these items have "upgraded" versions you can buy, but all of this is simply cosmetic. So basically no one ever has an advantage in this game. Your gear is as good as everyone else has, and no amount of time spent playing and unlocking stuff will change that. Everyone is on equal grounds, with you only buying new items if you like the look of them. Of course this also applies to the weapons (which include a sword, a pistol, a blunderbuss, and a sniper) and your ship, so new players don't need to worry about getting killed easily. It's a really nice system, and lets everyone enjoy the game without worry, or the pressure to climb the ranks. But speaking of ships...

The Ship and The Crew:

Although I said most of the game is made up of faction quests, that isn't quite right. The truth is the vast majority of the game is spent actually going to these places for these quests, and surviving the open seas! Yes, ship management is what you'll be spending the most time doing, as it's the one thing you need to do to do anything else. This isn't a game that'll hold your hand and do everything for you either, you actually need to learn to work your ship, and you'll need to work with your crew to do it. (Or work really fast if you are solo.)

There are two types of ships in the game, and they both have their uses. The "main" ship is nothing other than the massive galleon, but the small sloop is no joke either. Which ship you use really depends on if you're going to be playing with four players or one or two, so you really shouldn't judge how good they are based on size alone. For the sake of this review though, I'll explain how they both work, and I'll start with the galleon.

The galleon is the biggest ship, and can hold a crew of four players. Of course other non crew members can ride along with you, but that depends if you can trust them or not. This ship is huge, has three cannons on both the left and right side of the ship, has three sails, a large four man anchor, and a map below deck. Because of how big the thing is it is hard for the captain of the ship to see, and crew members need to help spot obstacles ahead and use the map for navigation. The multiple sails also need turning and raised or lowered to catch the wind, and the anchor is very slow if four people aren't helping pull it back up. This ship really requires the teamwork if you don't want to crash into things and sink, and if you do take damage it can be a bit harder to repair it and get the water out. Holes typically appear two decks down, and that means someone will also have to run down there to scoop out the water, and then run back up to throw it off the boat. Again even tasks like this ask for teamwork, and might be challenging for a smaller crew to accomplish. The sloop on the other hand is a different story.

With the sloop's smaller size players can either go at it solo, or with one other friend. Due to it's smaller size the ship only has one cannon on each side of it, and only a single smaller room below the deck. This means it is fast and easy to run down there to repair any damage, which is done with planks you can pick up from islands and store on the ship, and you can quickly scoop out water and throw it out the nearby window. This ship does have less cannon ball storage than the larger one, but with less cannons it's really not much of a problem. There is also only one sail to work, and the anchor is just behind the wheel so the captain can work it easily as well. On top of that the map can be seen from above, so the captain doesn't even need a navigator. On top of that, although the sloop is small, it does still pack a punch. A sloop can easily navigate around a large galleon while unloading cannon balls into it, and a two many crew can navigate and repair the ship with ease. It's a great ship that is both easy to use, and can hold it's own. So again, it's really up to you which ship you want to use based around the size of your crew.

The Combat:

Combat in Sea of Thieves is broken up into land and sea battles (of course). While your pirate has two weapon slots for you to equip weapons in, your ship has cannons, and can also store extra items like the explosive barrels. The game asks that you get creative to take down your enemy, but combat in general is pretty simple. Your sword has a few basic slashes, a charge stab attack, and a jump dash attack, and you have multiple type of guns to equip. Needless to say, these guns work best in different situations, and it's up to you to decide which to bring with you. Thankfully ships have chests that let you switch out gear on the fly, and there is also an unlimited supply of ammo. While shooting cannons at the other ship will in fact be your main way of taking them down, you can also take the risk of shooting yourself at the ship to board them, or even try jumping into the water to sneak on. Carrying bomb barrels to the bottom of the ship and setting them off can be a great way to sink them, but you could also place them in the water like mines and shoot them with a sniper riffle to detonate them. Such tactics are great options if you  manage to pull them off, but cannons are the easiest.

When a ship takes damage holes will break out in the general area that was hit. Hitting a ship lower will do more damage and cause it to fill up with water, while hitting a ship up high will more than likely harm the crew members, or cause smaller holes up top. These holes can be repaired by putting planks on them, but each ship can only carry a limited number of planks. While a crew can work fast enough to repair holes and throw out water to stay afloat, they can only last as long as their planks do. In other words, if you run out of planks and have a hole in your ship, you must either run from the fight and find more supplies on an island, or accept defeat and sink. (Which isn't something you want to do if your ship is loaded up with treasure...)

Of course this goes for the other ship as well, and sometimes boarding a ship really is the best way to take them on. If you get to the other crew's ship you can actually steal the supplies for yourself, and kill them to keep them from repairing or shooting back at your ship. A single person can last quite awhile on an enemy's ship if they are good enough, and they can do some serious damage on their own. Hijacking ships and crashing them into islands can work wonders as well, but simply keeping them busy while your friends shoot cannon balls at them can end the battle in no time. But again, it's really up to you on how you fight, and not all strategies will work for all encounters.

Skull Fortresses:

Besides fighting other players, another high risk high reward part of Sea of Thieves is the skull fortress system. Every once in awhile a giant skull will appear in the sky over one of these fortresses, and that will be the sign to tell you this game's version of a raid has started. Many waves of enemies will start spawning at that location, the islands will fire non stop cannon balls at you as you get close, and a boss will be waiting for you at the end of it all. If you manage to get in close, repair your ship, and get on the island, you'll then be able to kill everything there and eventually score a ton of loot. Needless to say this isn't an easy task, and will take quite some time, but the payoff is well worth it. However, the skeletons wont be the only threat.

The down side to the giant skull in the sky telling you where to go is the fact that it also tells everyone else where to go! Now you may get lucky and be on a server of your own, or with other crews that don't care. But if they do care? Well then you're in for a fight. Sure maybe other crews will work with you to clear out the enemies and open the door to the treasure, but then what? What is going to happen? The thing about people is, you really don't know what they are going to do. Will they be nice and split the treasure? Or did they sneak bombs onto your ship when you weren't looking? Will they wait for you to get back to the outpost and kill you then? Or could they have been at the outpost the entire time waiting for you to finish the raid and come back? Anyone looking at the sky when a skull fortress is taken down will know exactly when it was completed, and they might be laying in wait for you. So again, doing these fortresses can be a risk, and yes they are very VERY much worth it.

The Good and the Bad:

Sea of Thieves really is a fun game, and it's even better with friends. The cartoony art style is great, the ocean waves look amazing (especially on max settings if you have a PC or Xbox One X), and it's a game that lets you role play and live out your pirate dreams. There are a lot of islands to explore, things to unlock, the kraken to fight, players to encounter, and treasure to find. It's just a massive hangout game where you can do whatever you want to do. The only real down side to this is that some people might find the launch content repetitive after awhile. There's no denying the lack of quest types, and the fact that you'll be revisiting a lot of the same islands, but for a lot of people this also won't be a problem. Putting aside the new upcoming content and expanded maps, Sea of Thieves is simply one of those games you can play to be with others, or something you can come back to from time to time when you feel like it. It's not some MMORPG where you're going to spend thousands of hours trying to clear all of the content, but at the same time it's a social game where you could spend the same amount of hours just spending time with others. It really is the people that help make this game, and how much fun you have may depend on them as well. But again, this type of game isn't for everyone.

So bottom line is, it's really hard to say what is good and what is bad about this one. Yes, more content is always better, but if you can have fun with what's currently in the game, then isn't it still a good game? For you at least? As for those who do not like this sort of thing, then there's a very good chance that Sea of Thieves isn't for you. You will be doing the same thing over and over again, and you will be encountering and spending time with strangers if you don't have friends to play with. While you can play solo, it is a multiplayer only game so you can't avoid everyone forever. (This also means you could run into some jerks as well, and yes the game is crossplay on Xbox One and PC.) So yeah, if this game is "good" or not does depend on what you yourself finds fun. If you're into these social hangout style games, it's something you should really check out, but if not it might be best to avoid it. The only real downside to the game is the fact that you can't create your own pirate, and have to rely on randomly generated ones instead. Sure eventually you might generate a pirate you like, but it can take awhile. With that being said, I would still recommend this game to anyone who is interested, but please be aware of what you're getting into before you buy it.
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Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Radiant Historia: Perfect Chronology - Out Now

You know? It's kinda strange to think about the 3DS still getting new games. On one hand, it still feels like just yesterday I was driving home from GameStop on release day as I was wowed by the 3D effect of the new console. I can still picture my dad in the driver's seat as I opened the box sitting on my lap, and I can still remember the moment it asked me to switch on the 3D for the first time. That moment really stuck with me... But then I also can't help but remember all that's happened since then. The fact is that the 3DS came out almost seven years ago, and a lot of things have happened over the years. The Nintendo Wii U came and gone, the Switch released as a handheld/console mix, and right about now you'd think the old 3DS would be getting ready to die out. Well thankfully, that's not the case!

Today marks the release of the "newest" 3DS game. Although, I say "new" lightly. Radiant Historia: Perfect Chronology is an enhanced port of the classic Nintendo DS JRPG "Radiant Historia." Yes, the very same one I went on a wild goose chase for back in 2011. Although it might seem strange for them to rerelease such an old game, this isn't the first time Atlus has done this (nor will it be the last), and the game is actually better for it.

You see, Radiant Historia was not a well known game. It was a very niche JRPG that attempted to capture everything great about JRPGs of the past, but while adding it's own spin on things. Rather than progressing through the game in a linear fashion as you'd normally do, RH takes the idea of time travel and mixes it into the core gameplay. Throughout the story you'll come across key moments where the timeline will diverge, and it'll be up to you to decide which path you can take. This moments however can then be revisited at almost any time, which allows you to choose different options instead. Go down one path only to see a main character get killed in front of you? Well just rewind time and go down the other path to see what went wrong. You might find out something which will allow you to prevent the death down the other path. Along with it's 3x3 grid based battle system, which asks that you push enemies into each other to create chain combo attacks, such systems make Radiant Historia is one of the more unique JRPGs to ever release on the DS. But again, sadly it wasn't one many knew about, nor was it one you could easily get your hands on... Which I learned the hard way. Of course, with today all of that changes. Thanks to this 3DS rerelease, the game is now much easier to find, and it's more likely that the news of it's release will spread. Even if a physical copy is sold out, the game is still up for download digitally on the eShop. But what is it that makes this version different? Well...

Although this game is not a "full" remake of the original, it has quite a lot of improvements. First of all, the game now features full voice acting for all major characters, and story scenes. While some lesser characters (such as one time NPCs) are text only, voice clips have been added to at least give them some personality. On top of this, the game's dialogue has been reworked to fit the new voice acting, and to improve the script in general. As a very story heavy game, these changes are very much welcomed.

Besides the voice acting, the game also features new story chapters, as well as a new key character. This new timeline not only adds to the original experience, but it also gives past players a reason to return to the game. Of course the game also offers an "original" story option as well, which allows you to play the game without the new content as it was on the DS, but chances are most would prefer to see everything the new game has to offer. The game also has new character art (with the old art being released as DLC), and has been updated for the 3DS' wider screen. Along with this also comes some new CG images during key parts of the story, rather than sticking with the simple sprites as the original did. (Plus analog controls have now been added thanks to the circle pad, but the original d-pad is still there as an option.)

Overall this version of the game is a pretty big upgrade from the original classic, and a must have for turn based JRPG fans.

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