Posts Tagged ‘jrpg’

My 8 Favourite Chapters From Octopath Traveler

So I recently beat the final boss of Octopath Traveller, pretty much bang-on two months after launch and with a 90 hour save file to show for it. The game’s alright, I guess.

Lukewarm jokes aside, my deep appreciation for this itch-scratching JRPG gem lies mainly with the things for which it has been widely praised – Its astonishingly unique visuals, its wonderfully dynamic soundtrack, its deeply strategic combat. If people at large seem to have a bone to pick with Octopath, that bone is firmly lodged in the story department.

The game’s atypical approach to story structure – eight individual stories that stay separated from the wider party narrative outside of a handful of short optional skits – may irritate those who weren’t prepared to find such an approach in an RPG that appears so traditional at first glance. But as someone who has played a hell of a lot of JRPGs, I for one welcome the refreshing ability to tell some of the most focused, character-driven tales you can find in any title of Octopath‘s ilk. Bound by a less plentiful budget than is usually afforded to more known Square Enix RPGs, the game’s writers had to employ a simple combination of rudimentary animations, on-point musical cues and tactfully distributed voice acting to sell eight different four-chapter stories despite repeating a very similar contracted three-act structure 32 times.

Sometimes this works better than others, and though factors like the order in which you see them (the game is very open) and your own personal tastes and background will determine which of Octopath‘s story chapters stand out most for you, these are the eight that I enjoyed the most. Spoilers obviously abound, so read on only if you’ve finished the game or don’t plan on playing it any further / at all.

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8. Cyrus Chapter 2

Ah, Cyrus. As one of the later characters I met on my journey, I initially found his idealistic head-in-the-clouds indifference to the feelings of those around him to be a grating character trait, but by the time his introductory chapter is over that same trait has been turned into a joke at his expense and he is suddenly an endearing, not to mention mechanically essential, part of the octo-squad. His second chapter beats his first one onto this list, however, thanks to the way it uses this endearment to maximise the impact of a shockingly macabre turn. In the mining town of Quarrycrest, you get to see the full range of Cyrus’ strictly-academia reactions to everything from light jabs at his obliviousness to demonic blood rituals. If you haven’t done any third chapters by the time you see this one, the ghastly introduction of supernatural body horror into the world’s lore makes for some decently-paced foreshadowing.

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7. Tressa Chapter 2

The other major chapter taking place in Quarrycrest takes on a rather different tone. It sees the wholesome, naive aspiring merchant Tressa attempt to make her fortune by selling shiny gems in a town ultimately under the control of a despot of sorts who believes that very fortune belongs to him by right. It builds to the confrontation with said megalomaniac by first introducing one of Octopath‘s best supporting characters, Ali. A cocky young merchant with an existing bag of tricks and sales techniques, Ali serves initially as a cheeky antagonist and eventually as an ally against the larger evil at hand, in both cases encouraging tremendous growth from Tressa. Though more of his character is developed in later chapters, in Quarrycrest his relentless-yet-principled attitude to the art of selling solidifies him as an indispensable addition to the game’s considerable secondary cast.

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The 2016 JRPG Report: Quarters 3 & 4

That’s right, I didn’t forget about this little project – Quarter 3 was just such a relative non-event for JRPGs that I decided to combine it with Q4 and bring things home strong. With one day to spare…

Q3 of 2016 really could have been a big one for Japanese RPGs. With Final Fantasy XV and Persona 5 originally slated for release in the third quarter, July-September was in danger of relegating the remainder of the year to relative obscurity. Yet Persona 5 only came out in Japan within this window (I realise we knew this a long time ago, but it’s still a bitter pill), and as for FF XV… Well, it was delayed again. This pair of facts, combined with the ongoing absence of smaller yet nonetheless exciting titles like Cosmic Star Heroine, left us with a decidedly lighter period of releases. At least for me personally, this allowed me to give more time to other games, most notably an old, highly revered classic. But then we reached Q4, and received two very heavy hitters alongside a decent selection of smaller but far from insignificant titles, leaving us with a lot to talk about. Let’s get stuck into the second half of 2016 in Japanese role-playing games.

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WHAT I’VE PLAYED

Releasing in mid-July, before my very late Quarter 2 summary went up, the much-anticipated Square Enix title I Am Setsuna promised to prove a number of things – not only that the notoriously ambitious company is capable of shipping games on time, but in doing so that it might better cater to the tastes of some of its oldest fans through gameplay-first experiences. An admirable goal to be sure, and while they may have pulled it off for all I know (opinions I read/heard were genuinely mixed), ultimately all that the snow-covered, piano-scored exercise in melancholy did for me was remind me that I never did finish Chrono Trigger back in the day, and I should probably fix that.

Don’t get me wrong – I didn’t just drop I Am Setsuna straight away. I played the first two to three hours and enjoyed the instant sense of atmosphere the visuals and music provide. And yet with each and every Chrono Trigger-esque enemy encounter I was reminded more and more of how much I enjoyed the SNES gem when I initially tried it on DS seven years ago. Fast forward a few months and I finally did finish Chrono Trigger in late October. I loved every second. If I have time (highly unlikely) I might write about that experience one day. It’s not all that relevant on this page though, so for now I’ll just say a hearty thank you to I Am Setsuna and move on.

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The 2016 JRPG Report: Quarter 2

Wow, these days it’s like I blink and suddenly I haven’t blogged in a month.

Then Pokemon Go comes out and suddenly I haven’t blogged in two months…

Well would you look at that, we’re already well into the second half of the year. This of course means it’s (well past) time for part two of my 2016 JRPG Report, a look at the second quarter of the most insanely populated year for Japanese role-playing games in recent memory. If you missed Quarter 1, click on over here.

I mentioned this last time, but Q2 was indeed noticeably less intense for JRPG fans than the opening three month period. I was able to dabble in most of the notable releases within the genre this past quarter, even taking into account the dense explosion of quality triple-A videogame releases that defined May. I even managed to finish one or two along the way, in a manner of speaking, which was nice. The biggest JRPG-related struggle I faced this time around was that of classification – I came right up against that nebulous chestnut of a question “What makes a game a JRPG?” on more than one occasion.

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WHAT I’VE PLAYED

I’ll get to perhaps the most controversial of these classification conundrums shortly, but first, to the game that contextualises it. Stranger of Sword City launched on Playstation Vita in late April (It was also supposed to release on Xbox One as it did in the US, strangely enough, but no such luck for Australians), a first-person dungeon crawling game with punishingly difficult moments and beautiful sprite-based artwork. In many ways I found it to be a more visually striking, mechanically deeper version of Demon Gaze, a dungeon crawler I had enjoyed far more than I expected back in 2014. This makes sense given they come from the same developers, but it was good to see nonetheless. Though I only played enough of the game to get a good grasp of what it is, I am glad I did, and I’d recommend it to any Vita-owning JRPG fan looking for a substantial challenge. The finely detailed art style pops off the Vita screen to make it even harder to escape the game’s punishing grasp.

Now Stranger of Sword City is a first person dungeon-crawling RPG (a subgenre that in some circles is simply shortened to DRPG), and Q2 of 2016 featured another such game – a Playstation Vita exclusive to boot. The game was not developed in Japan, but exhibits enough JRPG elements that I believe it deserves to sit in the same camp as Child of Light and South Park: The Stick of Truth, themselves Japanese Role-Playing Games in all but country of origin. The wonderful game I’m referring to is Severed.

Developed by Canadian studio Drinkbox games, Severed ‘s clever blend of strategic, fairly unique combat, fun levelling mechanics, morbidly oppressive Aztec atmosphere, eye-catching visuals and focused story make it well worth playing for the JRPG-inclined, and if you don’t have a PS Vita, the game is allegedly coming to 3DS and Wii U very soon, and has just recently launched on iOS devices. Don’t miss it.

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The 2016 JRPG Report: Quarter 1

Another post that became far longer than I intended.

I couldn’t write a 3000-word post on JRPGs to open the year without following it up, could I?

So far, there can be little doubt that 2016 has lived up to its promise to inundate players with Japanese role-playing games of all kinds. While quite a few gamers have looked at this February and March as unusually barren in the “Triple A” blockbuster market – correctly, I might add – JRPG fans have been struggling to get through the deluge of quality content relevant to their interests. And boy, have I been struggling. I knew what I was getting into this year, but I’ve had to cut and run on some absorbing games and flat-out ignore others in order to even scratch the surface of the ones I most wanted to play. Such is adult life.

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WHAT I’VE PLAYED

It’s no real surprise that the Japanese handheld consoles have been the most fruitful homes for JRPGs early in 2016. The 3DS kicked things off with Final Fantasy Explorers, a Monster Hunter-esque game that focuses more on grinding for parts to make stronger armour/weapons than it does traditional Final Fantasy mechanics (though they also make an appearance). It was notorious for being in very short supply at retail when it launched at the end of January, but I got my hands on it and played a dozen or so hours alongside different co-op partners. The game is fun, and the ability to incrementally level up your skills and magic within the framework of a traditional FF job system offers some welcome differences from the MH formula. But it isn’t the kind of game I would play alone, so it was only a matter of time before I moved on.

Launching in Australia very quickly after Explorers, the PS Vita/PS3 received The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel in the early moments of February. Blending your standard turn-based battle style with light spatial awareness mechanics, the game presents a story in a Hogwarts-esque fantastical boarding academy with a cold military slant. It packs a schedule management system similar to the recent Persona games and its atmosphere is on point. I picked it up on Vita and really enjoyed the five hours or so that I played while up the coast on holiday, but life and other games have prevented me from going back.

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2016: The Year of the Japanese RPG?

As we arrive at the end of another January, and the videogame industry begins to awaken once more from its holiday release slumber, it’s already evident that 2016 is going to be a tremendously big year for games. We are already knee-deep in a veritable feast of high profile indie goodness, with the likes of Oxenfree, Darkest Dungeon and most notably the long-awaited The Witness just available this past week, and both Unravel and Firewatch just around the corner. Beyond that is a host of widely anticipated blockbusters that look set to define the current generation of videogames. The Division. Uncharted 4. Quantum Break. Overwatch. Mirror’s Edge Catalyst. No Man’s Sky. Many, many more.

Virtual Reality will finally become an, ahem, reality this year, with multiple companies trying their hand at convincing the gaming mainstream to pay attention to their lead VR product. Nintendo has an uncertain but very exciting year ahead as they look to unveil the mysterious NX console, at long last, simultaneously branching out into the mobile gaming space. It’s all rather delectable if you ask me.

And yet, when you look ahead at what’s slated to release this year, there are the makings of one more trend – one likely to be overshadowed by most, if not all, of the above in terms of media attention. That is, of course, the sheer volume of Japanese Role Playing Games – or JRPGs – that Western gamers will be able to get their hands on throughout 2016. Fans of ridiculous narratives, stylish presentation and checkbox-completionism, rejoice!

Widely considered a dead genre as recently as half a decade ago, not only has the JRPG survived to this day, but through the occasionally cartoonish force of will of a handful of developers, 2016 looks to be the biggest year for the genre since the burgeoning days of the first PlayStation, at least in terms of Western – especially European/Australian – release dates. Delays notwithstanding (and they will happen to some of the games I’m about to talk about, mark my words), 2016 is so packed with Japanese RPG promise that I could theoretically just play JRPGs – lengthy as they tend to be – and nothing else this year yet still be fairly satiated going into 2017. That won’t happen, of course, but it’s still a staggering thought given the scraps JRPG fans have had to feed off for the majority of the last 10 years.

If you feel a top ten coming on, you know me too well… and you’re close. Here come no less than fifteen JRPGs which, at the time of writing, are primed for a 2016 release and have at least a half-decent shot at coming out this year. If anything, it’s a little sad to think of how selective I’ll need to be with which ones I play in order to get any of them finished at all:

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Final Fantasy Explorers (3DS)

It all kicks off with this little game – a JRPG from Square Enix with ambitions far beyond those of your standard Final Fantasy spin-off. It’s already available for purchase (though in limited physical quantities) and its efforts to blend the addictive loot grind of Monster Hunter with the ever-appreciated traditional FF job system is holding it in fairly good stead on Metacritic thus far. It remains to be seen how long its series references and central gameplay loop will keep me and my friends playing together, but something tells me it won’t be the fault of Final Fantasy Explorers when I stop playing it – The blame will probably sit with the next game on this list.

When’s It Out? Two days ago here in Australia, at least officially. Indeed, it has already begun…

How Keen Am I? Considering it’s already in my hands and heavy on multiplayer, very keen indeed.

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Bravely Second (3DS)

Several pundits single out 2013’s Bravely Default as the game that put an exclamation mark on Square Enix’s turnaround as a game publisher, following years of baffling decisions and wandering through the metaphorical creative wilderness. I reviewed it on this blog, back when I did those, and I adored the game’s fantastic blend of classic Square RPG mechanics with very modern ideas, not to mention its phenomenal audio-visual presentation. Bravely Second looks to give fans more of the good stuff while cutting down on previous weaknesses, and I can’t wait to dive back into the world of Luxendarc.

When’s It Out? February 27th, meaning Second follows the example of its predecessor by releasing months earlier in PAL regions than in the Americas.

How Keen Am I? I put a tick over 70 hours into the first game, and yes, I finished both endings despite that final looping stretch. So yeah, I’m excited.

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Game Review: Bravely Default

Here’s a game that came out really late last year in Europe and Australia but only just hit the United States last month. It’s a pretty damn long one and I only recently finished it.

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Platform:
3DS
Developer: Silicon Studio/Square Enix

Rating: M
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Terrible name, lovely game.

Pretty bad name, lovely game.

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The new default.

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From now on, whenever a game developer attempts to craft a JRPG in the mould of classic 1980s and ’90s Final Fantasy titles, they need not look at the classics themselves. Rather, they now owe it to themselves to look at the 3DS exclusive Bravely Default. Not only does this Square Enix-published homage succeed in recapturing the magic of the epic turn-based fantasy tales of old, but it drags their spirit firmly into the current generation. It is a delectable treat for nostalgic FF fans, boasting an addictive set of job mechanics without forgetting about the importance of memorable characters and a grand story. It isn’t perfect – not by a long shot – but it is a wonderful game.

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