BlazBlue: Alter Memory

In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes. If Franklin lived nowdays he’d probably add one more thing: video games adaptations being utter unwatchable garbage. Yet, here we are =)

Even though I do like BlazBlue and think that this series may be the paragon of 2D anime fighting games — I’d been burned before, so I skipped the anime based on it when it came out initially. Recently I was feeling nostalgic and bought BB: Centralfiction, just to check out how much this game has changed after all these years. A few hours here, a few hours there and I decided that why not give the anime a try?

BlazBlue: Alter Memory is pretty wild. It’s based not on one but two first games, BB: Calamity Trigger and BB: Continuum Shift, and considering that BlazBlue games have one of the most convoluted plots in the history of mankind (some probably would say that it’s ridiculously complex — damn, you can spend a few hundreds hours playing it and still have no idea what BlazBlue is) it was an impossible task from the beginning to make something reasonably coherent in 12 episodes. Neither people who have never played it nor those who have (!) will be able to get what’s going on there. Ragna chaotically moves from place to place meeting characters we know and love (fanservice, yay!), Hazama/Terumi laughs like a madman half of the screentime he gets, Noel doesn’t understand anything but she’s behaving like a good girl she is, Rachel drinks tea, Taokaka wants to eat and play. It’s better to focus on these small things and forget about the plot that the authors are pouring at us at an alarming rate.

As a complimentary material for a fighting video game Alter Memory is okay. It shows almost all the characters from the games, even though some of them, like Carl, show up for like a minute. The battle scenes are decently animated and the attacks are easily recognizable. We get to see Rachel, Noel, Taokaka and Litchi in swimsuits! That still doesn’t change the fact that this anime is for the fans only and even they should approach it with care =)

New creative ways of making playlists =) Sadly off the top of my head I remembered only five bands/albums/songs like that.

Probably guys creating HUT teams only with players whose name is Smith feel the same weird satisfaction =)

13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim

Being that guy who, you know, lies on a couch scratching his belly, doesn’t do shit the entire day and gets bored easily I recently embarked on a questionable journey of getting new experiences in video games. I’ve been digging through old consoles’ libraries, bought a pile of fighting games — a genre I hadn’t touched for years, got Mario Odyssey (never thought that a platformer could be so uninspiring), Nier Replicant (Automata was not ideal but it was certainly an unusual game) and yep — 13 Sentinels.

13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim is an extremely highly praised game and usually that makes me suspicious, so I was a little apprehensive inserting the disc into the console. I honestly thought that there was a 50/50 chance that I’d end up yelling at my TV and stop playing within the first couple of hours. I had read up a bit on it and knew, for example, that despite often being called a JRPG this game is pretty much a visual novel with some kinda sorta strategic battles shoved in, but that was it, otherwise it was a blind playthrough, everything could happen =)

The first thing that everyone is bound to pay attention to is the trademark Vanillaware graphics. I was not entirely sold on it in their other projects but I think this style works really well in 13 Sentinels. All locations and characters look great and I really appreciate cute small details in scenes, like reflections or sun shafts. Secondly, the plot, dialogues and characters, the vital points for a visual novel, are written really well. Yeah, some of the heroes are more interesting than others (I really liked both delinquent characters; Megumi, even though she’s slightly やべ and, maybe surprisingly, Ryoko) and there were a couple of characters who I personally considered to be kind of boring, but no one was truly awful. To add more personality the writers added some running gags, like Hijiyama’s obsession with yakisoba pans and there you go, a perfect visual novel is ready =) The plot holds up pretty well up until probably the last third of the game, it makes you guess every time what’s going to happen next and, more importantly, what’s going on in general. The story kept revealing one layer after another and it was super fun to learn about yet another anomaly about this world: “Oh, there’s time travelling? And androids? Hmm, why the history in 1945 and 1985 doesn’t match? It’s a closed city? What’s the deal with the UFO under the city?” And so on and so forth.

It’s a perfect opportunity to move to a part about things I didn’t like about 13 Sentinels though. Closer to the end of the game the story becomes bloated and overwhelming. Yeah, you can say that I’m just dumb but at some point I realized that it was pretty hard for me to keep up with all this and, frankly, hard to care. Characters jump between the “timelines”, then there are androids based on the same characters, then there are people with different names but who actually are also the same characters, there are characters with their memory overwritten, etc., etc. It’s too much and didn’t feel necessary. Yeah, the game wanted to pay tribute to all classic sci-fi twists and ideas but it ended up being pretty messy. It’s even sadder that in the end I got the “it was all a simulation” finger. It’s an explanation, for sure, but c’mon. The last several hours of the game left me unsatisfied and certainly changed my overall impression of Aegis Rim.

What was consistently bad though is the combat part of the game. I read some suggestions to do as much story as possible and only then switch to battles, but for me it was a terrible idea, because essentially at some point I had to soldier through 8 or 9 Sentinels missions in a row and they all felt the same! Oh boy, what a mind-numbing experience it was. Not only the battles were dull but the last area also significantly cranked up the difficulty, so worse came to worst — annoying and questionably looking skirmishes became annoying, questionably looking and hard.

13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim did turn out to be a new experience I was looking for, it’s certainly an unusual game. Is it a 85/100 game, the rating it currently has on metacritic? I would say that it’s not. It has a lot of things that are interesting, that are done right, but there are also plenty frustrating and confusing moments that can easily spoil all the fun. I would still recommend this game to anyone who’d want to dip the toes in the uncharted waters of visual novels, it’s a peculiar genre and 13 Sentinels is much better than 95% of games belonging to it. Just set the combat difficulty to easy =)

Valkyrie Profile 2 had been my go-to answer to “What’s your favorite JRPG?” for a long time and whereas this title has been claimed by 軌跡 series I still think that TriAce did a stellar job and I have only warm memories of playing this game. Recently Square Enix published the first trailer of pretty trashy-looking Valkyrie Elysium, and I got simultaneously upset that apparently we’re never going to get another VP and curious how well my beloved VP: Silmeria aged. I found a PS2 emulator, downloaded a ROM with the game, hooked up my trusty PS4 controller and after a few hours I have to say: if you like JRPGs and haven’t played this gem then you must. It’s still such an experience!

Even 16 years later Valkyrie Profile 2 looks and plays amazingly. What matters most though is how creative this game is! It’s a fucking 2D side-scroller (again, fantastically looking) when you’re exploring the world, with environmental puzzles based on freezing and moving/teleporting the enemies and items. It’s pseudo-realtime combat system is fun and I don’t think that I saw anything like it in other games. The RPG mechanics with new skills obtained via a proper combination of runes; sealstones; attacks combinations; souls which join your party and could be released later — all this is a bit convoluted and overwhelming at the beginning but pretty interesting as well and nudge you to experiment. I also just like the main heroine(s) there =) I’ve played a lot of JRPGs and it’s hard to think of something resembling VP2. So currently I’m deliberating whether I should buy a PS2 console just to play this game (oh well, and maybe a few more I missed back then), for I’m way too old to sit in front of my PC for hours =)

To finish this love letter on a sad note — I highly doubt that SE will take a risk with a real Valkyrie Profile 3. Difficult, complex JRPGs are pretty niche. Instead we’ll get another action-RPG that can be praised by critics for featuring “strong female characters” or something, and unlike Silmeria will be forgotten in no time.