The Alliance Alive: Everything is better with penguins …

Just now I was playing The Alliance Alive and fooling around with battle formation. There is the option to have the game suggest formation names for you, which I did because I am uncreative like that. Now, the game kept giving me fish names! At first, this confused me. Then I realised I had put Robbins in the lead, and he is a penguin. Aw, penguins love fish! Of course we’re going to fight in the Mackerel position!! It’s neat little details like this that make the game feel so deep and rich! It’s technically superfluous, but it brings me great joy – and that’s the point, right? This is why I play games: fun!

I had been reluctant to give TAA a try. After all, I had tired of Legend of Legacy quickly, and it hadn’t just been the lack of a storyline that put me off that game. It had been the dull, uninspired design of the starting town. It was just a very meh place. Why go there. But when I saw the first town of The Alliance Alive, and it was an atmospheric place with interesting NPCs, I was won over. And yes, of course it also helped that TAA kept Legend’s battle system, but was clearly also a story-heavy game full of quirky characters and well-written dialogue! Yay!

The reviews I’ve read didn’t always do the game justice, I think It was almost as if people were holding Legend of Legacy’s failures against this other game. Whatever problems some reviewers appeared to have with the characters or the story or the battle system … I don’t see it. To me, so far, this is a great game and I am glad I checked it out.

I really appreciate that the game feels so open most of the time. You can explore the world, which is full of little mysteries that you might miss if you just blindly rush through things. You can spend hours just exploring the world map!

Sometimes, NPCs react differently depending on which character is in the lead. Which means that not only do I try to track down and talk to every NPCs, but I try to talk to them repeatedly. =D

I encourage everyone to give The Alliance Alive a try, especially if you’ve been avoiding it because of Legend of Legacy. :3 This is not a final verdict, since I am still playing the game, and I hope it will keep me occupied for the next month or two. Until Octopath Traveler, ideally.


Ever Oasis, late final thoughts

I finally finished Ever Oasis. I’d had the feeling that I was close to the end for a while now, but had chosen to flop around and do subquests instead of anything resembling to finishing the game. In a way, it felt like that’s what the game kind of wanted me to do, anyway. But after a while – and that is the biggest flaw that I see in this game – the oasis management became boring and just a tad tedious. Oh my god, guys, can’t you do anything by yourself!!?? With no new travelers arriving and every shop either maxed out or close to getting maxed out, the game felt like it had no surprises left. It just becomes a chore of supplying good, tending gardens, sending out expedition teams, then getting annoyed that you sent the person you wanted in your party out with an expedition team! Ever Oasis is cute and original, I love the design and the atmosphere and the entire idea of its setting and the characters, creatures and so on … but in the end, I decided to go to the end boss out of boredom. And we’d run out of parsley and I didn’t remember where to get more.

I really wouldn’t mind some sort of sequel that was, perhaps, set 1000 years later so that the events of this game can be treated like legend, but any city management aspects would have to be overhauled so that they don’t become less fun and less important-feeling as the game progresses.

The desert setting was lovely, but the world itself was pretty small after all. I’m in the mood for something more VAST.

Speaking of JRPG deserts … The one in Secret of Evermore remains one of my favourites. It’s just a bg stretch of sand and because it is so hot, you gradually lose HP. I’d really love to see something like this done again in an game, so that travelling through the desert feels like an actual daunting task that you need to plan properly. I know we live in the time of fast travel where “back-tracking” is reviled and people get bord quickly … but I’d love to play a game where distances matter and travelling long distances actually takes time and makes you get a proper sense of the size of the world.

But that’s neither here nor there. My eyes are on Octopath Traveler now.

Erh, anyway, Ever Oasis: another annoying flaw was the camera during some of the more challenging fights. Whenever I was too far away from the boss, the boss was moving and I was trying to lock onto the enemy, the camera just switched to my character’s viewing direction instead, VERY annoying. And really not what you need during fighting.

I beat the end boss with Isa and Ida, and I have to admit that I spent a lot of time playing it ultra-save on the other side of the screen, biding my time for some well-timed slashing. Ida kept landing the finishing blows. Every. Time. Good girl.

The fun I had last week: RPG Maker Fes!!

OK, to be honest, the past week was … too hot, exhausting, and all I did was work and sleep. Friday, of course, saw the release of Ever Oasis and RPG Maker Fes. I have not played Ever Oasis yet, but RPG Maker is a lot of fun!

RPG Maker Fes has its limitations, compared to the PC versions, which allow for a lot of customization. But that’s understandable, isn’t it? After all, you can share your games online, so there probably needs to be a limit to file sizes and a way to make sure no one contributes inappropriate or copyrighted images, sound files etc. Limitations are also good for creativity, because they make you try to figure out what you can do with the things you have at your disposal. And let’s not underestimate the following factor: Since there’s no option of custom graphics or sound, there is no pressure to use them. You fall into this trap where you think you have to create unique graphics before you can actually start making the game, and don’t end up stuck in the planning phase. Well, at least that’s what I imagine it’s like for many people, especially those that do not have an actual talent for pixel art …

I’ve been surprisingly productive with RPG Maker Fes over the weekend, although I started without a plan. Not that I don’t have game ideas, but I let myself be inspired by the available character designs and chipsets and came up with a completely different idea. And … I don’t really have a proper plan for the game. Right now, I am stuffing a small town full of details and interaction possibilities. I made a first little “sidequest” which took hours and was really complicated because it required several switches and I am easily confused!

There seem to be a lot of RPG Maker veterans who are disappointed by the limits of this version of the program, but it’s probably a really good RPG Maker for beginners, exactly because of these limitations. Obviously, you have to look for tutorials elsewhere, since the program itself contains no detailed explainations, but you can build a nice little game without getting bogged down with the pressure to avoid standard chipsets and use custom scripts and all sorts of fancy things.

I hope this first game turns out well, because I’d really like it to be good enough to share online. After all, I am curious to know what other people think. But first things first. I must figure out the structure of this game. It shouldn’t be too long, but it needs to be able to tell some kind of story. Tricky, tricky. I have not really done anything with battle yet. It’s all town exploration so far. And one pretty elaborate cut scene, which I am very proud of.



Regarding the Bravely Second sidequest changes

Another sort-of-addendum to the old post about ethical choices in videogames, where I talked about the Bravely Second sidequests. You probably remember that Bravely Second‘s release in the west was met with some backlash due to several localisation changes. One job outfit was changed to avoid racist stereotyping, a few other outfits were slightly modified to show less skin, but most importantly: the way that the sidequests worked was amended.


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Will RPG Maker Fes take over my life this summer?

The 3DS has been a revelation for me as a JRPG fan. New installments of old francises like Zelda and Dragon Quest, remakes of games I hadn’t previously had the chance to play, and completely new stuff like the Bravely series or Fantasy Life … The thing about being a thirty-something gamer is that you are always, to some extent, tying to recapture the excitement you felt as a child, when everything was new to you – but I’m glad that my 3DS RPG experience so far hasn’t been just about replaying and rehashing familiar games and concepts. The genre is living and developing, including on the 3DS.

So, I’m thrilled by the announcement of RPG Maker Fes, set to be released this summer in North America and Europe. I’ve always dreamt up all sorts of RPG ideas in my head, but I’ve also never had the discipline and long-term commitment to turn any of them into an actual game. Compared to the previous PC versions of the software, RPG Maker Fes might end up a bit limited in its abilities. Being able to use one’s own art and music is something experienced users wouldn’t want to miss. But having to work with limited, pre-made resources actually sounds a bit … freeing to me. It sounds like a good idea for beginners like me, who’ve never made a game before, to just focus on the game itself without also having to worry about creating all the art (and make it look nice!).

OK, to be honest …. looking at RPG Maker communities, I think that using one’s own art over the standard chipsets and sprites is a little overrated. First of all, it often leads to people combining mismatched art styles, with an end result that was probably a lot of work, but looks incoherent. The other issue is that it’s not just about having great, unique resources, but also about how you use them. Good mapping is an art, and a constant challenge. It can go wrong in various ways: sometimes maps look empty and boring, sometimes they are stuffed full with distracting, pointless details. Maps are usually too big (which is probably why they end up either empty or purposelessly crowded with random nonsense). The challenge is to create towns and dungeons that are no bigger than they have to be, interesting to look at and never confusing.

The most exciting thing about the 3DS RPG Maker is that you don’t have to own the software to play games created with it. There will be a free, downloadable app for this. I wonder how this will play out in real life. Will there be a lot of games worth trying? Will there be some kind of rules concerning the content of games hosted online? Will people have access to games created worldwide or just in their region? Questions, questions.

Controversial opinion: I don’t like Dragon Quest’s music.

OK, I do enjoy listening to the music from the Dragon Quest games. It is not bad music. But I don’t think I’ll ever form an emotional attachment to any of the tracks, and that’s because of the way that the music is actually being used in the games.

I’m playing Dragon Quest VII for the 3DS right now. There are many moments that are emotionally touching and dramatic, but it’s like – the music doesn’t care. A cut scene occurs, featuring a sad moment between some characters, but the background music never changes from the same, cheery town theme that you hear all the time anyway. The visuals tell the game’s story. The music is disconnected from it almost entirely. So instead of supporting the mood of a scene, it just plays on as if someone forgot to put it off, which can be pretty jarring.

This is made worse by the fact that the same musical tracks are repeated a lot throughout the game. And by the fact that there are very few sound effects, not even walking sounds for the party.

Music is so important to build atmosphere, it’s really weird to play a game that so squanders an easy opportunity to engage the player emotionally. I am used to games where the music changes for every cut scene, where characters have their own character themes and each town has its own town theme, where there’s music for every occasion, sad, cheerful, creepy or exciting – and even tracks that you only ever hear once during the entire game, and that are nevertheless unforgettable.

Does anybody feel the same? Or am I overly sensitive to that sort of thing?

Dragon Quest VII … Gah, I love it.

Alright, I caved and just started playing Dragon Quest 7 two days ago. In my defence, it was a drearily rainy weekend and I was sick with a cold. There’s nothing better than huddling up in bed with a handheld gaming console and a brightly coloured, light-hearted JRPG! This was exactly what I needed.

I am about nine hours into the game, and now I know what they meant by the game having a slow beginning. But I don’t think that’s a bad thing. First reason: I wasn’t bored. I like exploring cities and talking to NPCs, smashing all the barrels and all the jars. I rotate the camera to admire the gorgeous graphics. Even running around the overworld (which isn’t a world map) excites me because it makes me feel like I’m controlling a cute anime with the Toriyama character designs of my childhood. There’s something dynamic and lively about this game, even when there’s not much action. Everything screams attention to detail, too, so it feels worth talking to everyone, exploring every corner … Second reason: It is very appropriate to run around this small island, devoid of dangers or excitement, for an hour or so. After all, the protagonists are three bored kids who dream of escaping their tedious island life, discover new places and go on adventures! You’re put in their shoes.

One thing I enjoy a lot about the game so far is that it’s all about the adventure, the discovery, the experience. And it is not about fighting all the time. I spent an hour or so yesterday advancing the plot without a single battle. And it was engaging.

Still, I am so happy that the battle screen is more visual than the classic Dragon Quest first-person-view battle screen. You see your character when they attack, which may not be a big deal for everyone, but it’s weirdly crucial for my immersion.

OK, enough blogging. Back to DRagon Quest VII.