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.

Spoilers!

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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.

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.

Gaming progress

Excellent, they only had 25€  eShop cards, so even after buying the Ace Attorney: Spirit of Justice extra case, I have money left on my account. I could impulse-buy a game! Except that would be a terrible idea. I have enough things lined up as is.

I am Setsuna, for one thing. Yes, I am really … taking my sweet time here. It’s a combination of different factors, one being that it’s been sort of difficult to adjust to home console JRPGs after years and years of playing exclusively handheld titles. I’ve become really used to playing JRPGs just whenever, whereever, without the need to stay stationary for a longer while. And it’s been summer! Now that the days wil be shorter and colder, I guess I’ll spend more afternoons or evenings huddled up inside in front of the TV, for more than an hour at a time. Honestly, it’s a bit weird to play a game where there is snow everywhere, while the birds are chirping outside, the sun is still up at 8 pm and the temperatures are above 30 degrees …

Dragon Quest VII, too. I am awful at finishing Dragon Quest titles, but I am going to stick with it this time. :P I promise. I won’t touch another DQ title before I’ve finished this one, at the least. OK? Deal? Please hold me accountable.

I really hate having games left unfinished, you know. I don’t mean the times when I decide to abandon a game because I don’t enjoy it, but the times when it just happens, because things keep getting between me and the game, because for some reason I cannot concentrate on it at that moment, because something else comes along, or because I’m stuck and grow frustrated and put off trying again and then it’s been two years and I’ve all forgotten about it … D:

I think I have it in my mind that you’re only ever supposed to play one (story-driven) game at a time, from start to finish, without longer breaks or without starting on a new game randomly. I feel the same way about books, but curiously, not about TV shows. Possibly because TV shows don’t require any immersive effort on the recipient’s part? With books and games, you’re in control, you decide the pace and it kind of takes your willingness and readiness to really immerse yourself in the story? I feel like I cannot do that if my mind is still occupied with another story (in the same medium).

Does anybody know what I am talking about?

 

Dragon Quest’s secret power is nostalgia

There is a Kotaku article titled Maybe This Is Why Dragon Quest Never Took Off In The West. Jason Schreier’s main point boils down to: DQ sticks too much to its old traditions, although some of them feel clunky and outdated now and slow down the gameplay, like the save feature for example.

OK, well. I am a bit wary of the idea that there’s some fundamental difference between Japanese and “western” players, and the article never explains why Japanese players are allegedly not “used to more streamlined design” like the Americans. Oh, yeah, in this article “western” means “American”. Because there isn’t really any mystery to why Dragon Quest never took off in Europe: None of the games came out here, until Dragon Quest VIII in 2006. Compare his to Final Fantasy: Europe got their first entry into the series with Final Fantasy VII in 1997 – absurdly late for sure, but still considerably ahead of Dragon Quest. I cannot talk about the UA, but I would wager that there are all sorts of reasons – from timing, to marketing to who knows what – that influenced the games’ reception in the USA. I mean … I don’t think there has to be something fundamentally wrong with a game for it to fail to “take off” in a secondary market.

Still, the article raises an interesting point: The Dragon Quest games do seem to undertake less experiments in style and format than the Final Fantasy series. The look is always Akira Toriyama, there’s iconic monster designs like the adorable slimes, recognizable weaponry and armour, recurring musical themes and many other things that give DQ  its own, unmistakable aesthetic and a strong identity. On the other hand, Final Fantasy seems much less beholden to its own legacy, and is quite happy to abandon its brand and fans and turn into a completely different but ~modern~ game. Honestly, Final Fantasy XV might as well be called Undo the Finality: Fantasia of the Road (I just made that title up – and now I like it???). It might as well not be a Final Fantasy game.

Anyway, back to Dragon Quest. Yes, some of its traditional mechanics are a bit clunky. Aside from the save feature, I dislike the battle system of the older titles, because if I cannot see my characters during battle, I cannot relate to what the hell is even going on. This is something DQ has since moved away from, though, so it’s not as if they are completely averse to change and modernization. I think that Dragon Quest IX – where you could see your team – had much more dynamic and fun battles. Perhaps that’s why it is the only DQ game to date that I managed to play from beginning to end (and then some).

There is a lot I want to write about the Dragon Quest style of saving your game, but it might be best to save it for its own post, no pun intended.

Dragon Quest’s secret power is nostalgia. It’s a sense of nostalgia so strong even I feel it.  I have only played three games, completed only Dragon Quest 9 and read the Dragon Quest manga Dai no daibouken, but it feels like we’ve been friends forever! I think this is because of DQ’s strong sense of tradition and identity. It is all a feature, not a bug. I see a slime, and it makes me happy! I see a certain design of armor, dress or weapon, and I know its’ Dragon Quest! I’ll always love Dragon Quest – and I’ve no idea why.

Ever Oasis: Yay, Nintendo wants to make me happy!

A while ago, I “finished” Streetpass Garden – a mildly entertaining, if frustratingly slow timekiller about growing flowers – and saw the name Koichi Ishii in the credits.

That … hurt, a little bit. Koichi Ishii had been one of those names that had been with me since the start of my videogame career. He made Secret of Mana, which was probably the most influential game for me, a very special gaming experience. Europe in the 1990’s wasn’t a great place for JRPG fans, so I played and replayed and replayed Secret of Mana for years and years. And each time I loaded up the game, there was the wolves’ howling, the gorgeous tree artwork – and the name “K. Ishii”. And now this! Seeing his name attached to some (comparatively) irrelevant Streetpass game, over twenty years later … well, it does kind of make you feel sad. Like the gaming joys of your youth are so, so far in the past. Like we’ve all lost our ways. Koichi Ishii should be out there making new RPGs that would shape the genre, dammit!

Ok, this is just the context you need to understand why I was completely thrilled by yesterday’s announcement of Ever Oasis, a 3DS action RPG by Grezzo … *drumroll*  … by Koichi Ishii.

Based on the first trailer and a gameplay video, I’m excited. The first associations are Fantasy Life, Animal Crossing, Zelda and – yes – Secret of Mana. The similarity to the latter mostly has to do with the battle system: three party members with unique skills that you can/must switch between? Secret of Mana! Good. I’d love if there was an option that would allow some kind of multiplayer co-op, to play with friends, but I have not heard anything of the sort and … shouldn’t just project my unfiltered SoM nostalgia onto this new game, right? ;)

Because aside from these obvious connections that any 3DS RPG player can’t help but notice, Ever Oasis seems beautifully distinct. The general, decidedly non-western look makes it stand out.The setting is described as Egyptian-inspired, to fit with the desert setting. Cool! I have to say, it also makes me happy to see a dark-skinned main character, seriously a rarity in JRPGs – and you’ll get to choose between male and female, too. Hey, can the feminist blogosphere maybe take a break from complaining about Link still being male, and acknowledge Nintendo’s new IP? ;)

Most of the characters in Ever Oasis appear not to be human, but some human-animal hybrid. And amazing penguin-owls! Koichi Ishii has brought us such distinct mascot creatures as moogles and chocobos. Will Ever Oasis‘ “noots” become as iconic? Fingers crossed!

Something to look forward to in 2017.