Star Ocean The Divine Force

I think I wrote earlier that I wanted to get more familiar with Star Ocean games and in recent months I completed Star Ocean 1 and Star Ocean 4. The latter was supposed to be the topic of this post but… I had a lot of stuff to take care of and by the time I sat down to finally share my impressions of that, probably the most underappreciated, SO game, I had already finished The Divine Force. And damn, it’s such a good game that SO4 will have to wait a bit longer =)

Star Ocean 6 has some minor issues, for sure, but it does so many things right! It’s an incredibly fun game, that simultaneously feels like an old-school JRPG yet has all the bells and whistles you’d want to see in a game in the 21st century. I’m genuinely surprised to see that it got somewhat a mixed response online, so I can only pray to Aidios (or Tria?) that it’s sold well enough to keep Tri-Ace afloat.

Before I start singing praises to stuff I like in The Divine Force (and notice the present tense — I’m still playing it and currently aiming to get the platinum trophy) let me go over things that could be improved. The most obvious and the most annoying issue is the font size in menus. It’s awfully small and I have to squint all the time to read anything. I hoped it would get patched at some point but that doesn’t seem to be the case sadly. I’d say that the second most important issue is the game’s difficulty. It’s… weird. I started my playthrough on Galaxy difficulty, switched to Universe after the first boss fight I guess, because it was too easy. But Universe difficulty, frankly, didn’t feel very hard either, except for a few spikes. And I’m saying that as someone who didn’t even try to break the game with item creation. I blame Laeticia’s Determined Princess skill, which is ridiculously overpowered (x2 experience for the active party at a price of -100% DEF for the princess herself, a great deal whatever way you’re looking at it), it allowed me to breath through the entire game until the second fight with Gabriel Celeste. Which was the first real difficulty spike and forced me to create the best weapon and armor for Raymond. The second difficulty spike was that bird in the second optional dungeon, I had to level up everyone to level 255 but it’s a different story. I’m also not sure that I liked the idea that you can change the difficulty any time you want. I mean… I used it myself to “complete” the game on Chaos (you need only to kill the final boss on a particular difficulty to get the corresponding trophy) but still. The rest of the problems are really minor. I wish we could use the scanner during characters’ conversations, and these conversations themselves sometimes unfortunately follow the modern trend of beating you in the head with the not-so-subtle hints: “Ah, I think we need to go to seaport of Cotto, we could use the southern gate”. Another gripe I had is a weird one — several times Laeticia referred to D.U.M.A as “they”, something that’s been a thing in English for about 7 minutes, not to mentioned that, well, it’s a robot; that felt really off. That’s especially noticeable because by and large the dialogues are well-written (I assume? well-translated at least) and match the speaker’s personality.

Speaking of personalities — I really liked the characters of this game. There are some who might be a bit generic (Nina or Marielle) or under-developed (pun intended), as Chloe, but overall the cast is very good. Look at Elena, for example — I honestly thought that she would be a fanservice-first member of the party, because… well, just look at her goddammit! Yet she turned out to be a decently written character who just happen to be a walking sex bomb =) I’m surprised how much I enjoyed following Raymond as the protagonist. On paper he is just your average JRPG main character, but the fact that he is a laid-back strong guy, who doesn’t second guess his decisions, who is loyal to his friends and family to no end and has nothing suspicious in the past felt really refreshing. Yeah, I’m tired of the current trend that every character should be “deep and complex” =) It was amazing to see his brother and father later in the game, both look like cool dudes and I should’ve probably tried to find private actions with them (I think there should be some). Even Laeticia’s farther and head of his guard (Bertrand I think?) surprised me — I thought that one of them, or maybe even both, would turn out to be assholes but instead I ended up rooting for them and hoping that they wouldn’t die. I’m purposefully not writing anything about Laeticia — yeah, we spend a lot of time with her and she is a great character as well, but I want to go through the game for the second time to be able to competently judge whether she was worthy of getting Inori Minase’s voice =)

Yeah, seiyuu in Star Ocean The Divine Force are pretty good. As I said, Laeticia is voiced by Inori Minase (Altina in Trails of Cold Steel but her most famous role I guess is Rem), Nina is Rie Takahashi (!), JJ is Takaya Kuroda (Kazuma Kiryu) — honestly, I play mostly without sound because of the baby, but for Star Ocean using a pair of headphones looked like a must.

The story will not blow anyone’s mind but it was competent enough to keep my attention. The combination of fantasy and sci-fi in this game was done masterfully though. I know that some people praise The Last Hope for having multiple planets but, honestly, I think TDF did it better. You you spend most of the time on Aster IV, in your average fantasy setting, and you only have conversations about the outer space — it’s actually very Raymond-like that he is not shy about his status as an otherworlder =) If you think and see all this from the perspective of, say, Laeticia — you learned about the existence of other planets, then for about 40-50 hours you’ve been hearing about space ships and space travelling — and after that you actually get to teleport to a ship and travel to other places! It was so fun!

It’s good when a JRPG has a decent story and good characters, but gameplay is usually more important, right? Star Ocean 6 is pure crystallized fun when it comes to combat and exploration. I love AP system in this game, I love that it nudges you to switch who you’re controlling, the skill tree is done really well (if we forget about the ridiculous font size), every character plays very differently, and D.U.M.A makes combat feel very fresh comparing to other games. During my first playthrough I was trying to use a party of “aliens”: Ray, Elena, Marielle and well, Nina or Laeticia (should’ve been JJ but he joins so late in game, he was like 25 levels below the rest of the party) and it was a blast. Elena is not only hot, she is also the most fun to play character, hands down. She has attacks for every possible situation and by the end of the game hits like a truck. Also would highly recommend to at least try playing as Marielle — she is the Star Ocean 6’s Reimi. Aster IV boys and girls for the second route, yay!

Let’s talk about Welch and whether she is hot (goddamn Sergei, what’s with this attitude of a horny teenager? although I’d say that yes, yes she is) Item Creation is fun in The Divine Force. I read some complaints about the random nature of crafting in SO6 and having gotten the trophy for crafting 90% of all possible items I can see where the criticism is coming from. Getting random items is a double-edged sword for sure — it’s addictive and exciting most of the time. “Ah, I got an accessory that increases item drop by 180%, wow!” By the end of the game however, when you do want to get the ultimate weapons and armor for everyone (or aiming to get the item creation trophy) it becomes a save-load fest, because late game crafting is bizarrely expensive. Overall, I’d say that crafting can be ignored until the first post-game dungeon. Yeah, it’s nice to get something that increases the amount of Fol or EXP you gain, but my pet-peeve with crafting in most RPGs is that at every particular point in the game it’s really difficult to create a better weapon or armor than what you can buy and The Divine Force was not an exception. I used IC regularly throughout the game and unless I was really lucky with a factor I’d say it was not worth it. Take my words with a grain of salt though, I heard that it’s possible to break SO6 as early as you get access to alchemy — create philosopher’s stones and craft the best weapons for most of the party. I don’t understand how it’s possible, because I only could craft Philosopher’s stones using Meteorites which become available either in the very last dungeon or even during post game, but maybe I just missed something. You can craft a cat though. And I love new Welch’s design =)

The last thing I wanted to mention is Esowa (someone recently blew my mind by pointing out to the fact that it can be written as SOA — Star Ocean Anamnesis, the name of the mobile Star Oean game). It’s a great, simple and fun, mini-game! The entire idea to use characters from previous SO games as accessories-slash-game pieces is fantastic and whoever came up with it should get a promotion. The most satisfying result of crafting an item was to get a new Esowa piece I hadn’t gotten before. I wish I knew who all the characters were… =)

Tri-Ace surprised me and may’ve made me a Star Ocean fan with The Divine Force. I didn’t expect to enjoy it as much as I did and going to play it for the second time soon, the platinum trophy won’t achieve itself. If the studio survives, and oh boy I do hope they will, even though it’s unlikely that we’ll get a new Valkyrie Profile game now I will be looking forward to Star Ocean 7.

God of War Ragnarok

God of War Ragnarok is a game that a lot of people will, doubtlessly, enjoy — just look at the trophies data, 41% (!) got the final battle trophy, that’s simply insane. For me personally though it was a mixed bag, I got really tired of GoW:R by the end and glad that I’m done with it for the time being.

I was absolutely in love with the visuals on the previous GoW but pretty neutral towards the rest of what that game had to offer. Ragnarok sometimes is better than its predecessor but sometimes, oh man, it is so much worse!

Let’s start with the good stuff. The game again looks incredible. I love the graphics from the technical standpoint; I love the art-direction; locations are fantastic — you can make an argument that it doesn’t look much better than GoW 2018 and that may be true, but that’s more of a compliment to the game that came out 4 years ago. I also played on ps5, so it was a 60FPS experience accompanied by haptic feedback =)

This time around I also, quite surprisingly, liked combat. I felt lukewarm about combat in the previous game, it was okay but never pulled me in. I bumped the difficulty this time (“Show me no mercy”, so “hard” I guess?) and maybe because of that the battles were much more satisfying. Hell, this may be the reason I will return to the game later to get the platinum! I still don’t like a lot of related things: all the tinkering with armor, the axe’s knobs and whatnot, the crafting and equipment system, all that frustrates me — but the actual process of swinging the blades, dodging, blocking, etc. was unexpectedly fun. I died dozens of times during my playthrough but thanks to the generously placed checkpoints I never felt an urge to lower the difficulty. This time I even fought a few Berserkers and planning on going back to challenge the rest of them — I skipped the Valkyries fights in the previous game entirely. But whereas the combat loop and locations where you’re tearing enemies apart are really good, the rest of the game, namely pacing, story and characters are bad at best and atrocious at worst.

I wouldn’t say that I’m a huge fan of Kratos or any other character from the original games. Their personalities are so-so and, overall, gameplay is the king in those games, everything else is secondary. Now it’s year 2022 though, so we can’t just play a videogame, we need to experience a Story with Well-Developed Characters who demonstrate their Growth by making Important Choices. Can you have too much of that in a game? Oh, turned out that you can, for sure. As I said I used to be neutral towards the characters of GoW 2018, now I really dislike all of them. No exceptions. Everyone is GoW:R is over-emotional, likes to butt into other people’s affairs and shares feelings when no one asks for this. And they. Are. Always. Talking. It’s frankly unbearable. Sometimes their chatter affects your gameplay, like if there’s a puzzle your companion will not give you even a fucking minute to come up with a solution: “Oh, maybe I should shoot an arrow into that spot? And you will throw the axe. What are you waiting for? Throw the axe. Let me shoot an arrow and you will throw the damn axe. This cliff looks climbable. Maybe you could climb up there? Doitdoitdoit. Listen to me!” It’s annoying and I hope that there’s an option to disable that but I couldn’t find it. Combat actually suffers from the same problem — each one of Kratos’ companions feels that it’s his or her sacred duty to yell at Kratos. “Parry! Use your shield! Dodge! Why are you not using you shield?!” Annoying and utterly ridiculous in the context of who Kratos is and who they are.

To add insult to injury, the non-stop exposition, lore drops and characters banter ruin the pacing of the game. Old GoW games barely had any dialogue in them, so the pacing was relentless, SSM tried to always keep you engaged by giving you something to do in the game. First you’re crashing a horde of weak enemies, then you solve a puzzle, then it will be a climbing section, then a couple of strong monsters will attack you… you get the idea. In the new God of War games we have large sections of walking/riding a sled and doing nothing but talking. “Sergei, but you’re playing JRPGs all the time and claim that Trails, the series based on unstoppable dialogues, is your favorite one, why are you so upset by conversations in God Of War Ragnarok?” Well, the answer is pretty simple — I really, really don’t like the writing in this game.

Whereas the main plot has some interesting points — for example the way Gram becomes Fenrir is pretty smart — overall I found myself not caring much about it. If you asked me what the plot was I would probably mumble something about defying the prophesy in… well… some way and ughh killing Odin for umm some reasons. Some episodes that look pretty good on paper, like when Atreus runs to Asgard, are actually not especially memorable. The what-a-twist about Tyr… well, I spoiled it to myself pretty early and overall it was kinda ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. I know that I will remember a few levels but unfortunately that will happen for a different reason — they etched in my memory because of how bad they were. We spend a couple of hours in Ironwood, for example, doing mostly talking and other pointless stuff. Accompanied by a girl that serves no purpose in the game and who, as your companion, attacks monsters using… paints. Why?! Why, Aidios, why?! It’s such an alien idea for a God Of War game. Not to mention her constant “You’ve got this! I’ve got this! Have you got this?” This level also was the one where I realized that something felt off regarding dialogues in this God of War. That girl and Atreus talked the way modern teenagers would talk (or perhaps how the writers assume teenagers talk nowadays). After that I couldn’t unsee and unhear how contemporary, out-of-place and, frankly, bland most of the exchanges are. Such tone, jokes, everything really, could be found pretty much in any blockbuster movie or game that came out in the last 5-10 years or so. You know that Disney-style formula, when someone says a smart or stupid phrase and in the end another character repeats it either mocking the original speaker or showing the growth? Like, character A says “We’re doing this because we have to, not because it’s cool” and in the end character B says the same phrase and everybody hugs and goes to eat some muffins? Don’t worry GoW has such stuff as well. The couple of cool phrases from the first game (“Don’t be sorry, be better” and “In the direction of a deer”) are now said by Atreus and directed at Kratos. Fuck me. Not only phrases, moment-to-moment interactions between characters are also so weird here. You know these little nods characters give each other when they acknowledge something? You think that would look cringe in a God of War game? Oh, it does, but we still have them. Also Kratos is now brave enough to give other members of their posse touching pats on the shoulder and hug his annoying son.

The last thing I want to mention is a lack of epic scenes. That’s truly a shame because a decade after I played old God of War games I still remember some of the crazy, over the top episodes those games have. The fight against Ares in the first game, the very first battle against Poseidon in GoW III (which I personally consider peak GoW), that sex scene with Aphrodite — I can’t recall anything in the last two games that would be as memorable.

Maybe I finally hit the midlife crisis and just like to complain in general, but I was pretty upset by GoW: Ragnarok. Amazing visuals and pretty fun combat are mixed together with the dialogues and characters that I want to wipe from my memory and never see anything like that again. Oh well, looks like Kratos’ part of the saga is over now, my guess is that Atreus will be the main character of the next game and I can skip it with no regrets. In meantime… I bought the original two games of GoW and going to replay them =)

I’ve been trying to get myself familiar with the Star Ocean series recently and currently playing The Last Hope. Wouldn’t say that it’s an amazing game but it’s pretty entertaining and that’s what really matters, right? Anyway, wanted to find some fan-art on this game and, surprisingly, found almost nothing of this sort. While I was searching though bumped into some pretty nice cosplay =) Yeah, it’s Reimi, Reimi and more Reimi, she’s certainly the cutest character in this game.

Trails From Zero

Finally, a new Trails game, hooray! Well, “new” is a bit of a stretch here — Zero no Kiseki came out in Japan on the PSP in 2010 — but only now we finally got the official English release, thanks to NISA and the Geofront. Not gonna lie, this is the first time I’ve heard of a fan-group translation used in an official release, that’s pretty cool.

The Crossbell duology is usually highly praised and I read multiple times that these two games might be the peak Falcom, the best ones the studio has ever released. However, I also read similar claims about Sora SC and wouldn’t say that game was better even than First Chapter, not to mention my personal favorite, Cold Steel III. This time around though I have to agree — Zero No Kiseki is a fantastic game. Not sure if it’s truly the number 1 in entire Kiseki series but I had great time with it and liked almost everything it has to offer.

Let me get my list of complaints and things that could’ve made me enjoy the game even more off my chest first, it’s going to be pretty short. Zero was released after Trails In the Sky and it uses a similar orbment and combat system. Sora games difficulty was kind of hit and miss, so based on my previous experience I picked normal difficulty. Unfortunately, turned out that Trails From Zero is on the easier side comparing to the Sky trilogy, I think I would’ve had more fun if the game was harder. Oh well, Nightmare for the second playthrough maybe? =) And now (haha) let’s address my main (haha) complaint about this game (haha). Or should’ve I said “barrier” instead of “haha”? Lloyd Bannings is a surprisingly boring main character. Yeah, more boring than our overprotective big brother Rean Schwarzer. I didn’t actively dislike Lloyd but oh boy does he have a personality of a friendly potato. It’s truly a shame considering that the rest of the cast is so, so good.

I knew in advance that Tio and Randy would be my favorites and they didn’t disappoint. Randy’s remarks are pure gold most of the time and Tio, despite being a totally different type, keeps up with him perfectly. The way she treats poor Chief Roberts… =( Elie is a surprisingly okay heroine. She doesn’t have any quirks (weeeell, well-well-well, unless you want to talk about the “dynamic duo”, as Randy once said), her past is not that mysterious, but I wouldn’t say that she’s boring, she’s just… relatable, kind of a normal person in this world. Sergei, Noel, Dudley, Grace, Rixia, Ilya, Arios, Estelle — all the supporting cast is also super likeable (yah, even Dudley). I’m desperately trying to recall any really annoying character or scene and drawing blanks. Okay, maybe Wazy is so-so? The antagonist in Zero is your typical Falcom villain. Funnily enough, in the middle of my playthrough I grabbed my Trails artbook to flip through a few pages (Estelle’s portraits bothered me a little, so I wanted to double-check that I’m not crazy and she looked differently in previous games) and spoiled myself to who the mastermind behind everything was =) Although, to be fair, if in a Trails game you see a pleasant middle-aged scientist, the only one among his colleagues who has a portrait in dialogues, and don’t automatically assume that he’s going to be either an Enforcer or at least a Really Suspicious Guy — that’s on you =) I’m a firm believer that if a game or book is good then a spoiler or two won’t matter much (detective novels are an exception of course). Not only Trails From Zero is good, to me Kiseki games’ main selling points have always been their fantastic characters, dialogues and fun combat, not the plot, so I could only chuckle when I had opened the page with Joachim =) Though the plot in Zero is built competently. What start off as relatively mundane investigations eventually transform into a large-scale operation against an evil cult. Surprisingly, Ouroboros doesn’t actively participate in this game. Yeah, they are around: we have a side quest from Phantom Thief B; Renne is running around the city; I already knew about Mariabell (although I’m not sure if she’s already with the Society in Zero) but they never actually intervene in anything. Even more surprisingly, Zero No Kiseki doesn’t end with a cliffhanger. There are some loose ends, for sure (Who is KeA? When will SSS learn about Rixia? When will Mariabell show her true colors? Will Randy finally go on a date with Cecile?) but by and large this is a finished story.

It was an interesting change of pace to spend the entire game in a single city. In Cold Steel I and III we had the “base” towns of Leeves and Trista, and because you spend quite a bit of time in these places you eventually get to know all the people there, learn what kinds of relationships they have with each other and see how these relationships are changing as the game is progressing. Crossbell offers the same but on a grander scale. I’d been trying to talk to everyone in the city at least once a day (NPCs can change their dialogues after some plot event during the same day) but frankly burned out a little after a few days of the festival chapter. I had already missed a bunch of collectibles anyway (guides are for weaklings), so decided to just speak with the people whose stories seemed to be the most interesting. As a side note I want to express my displeasure with the fact that Juna’s family (and Juna herself) are pretty much missing from this game (her little brother and sister can be seen a couple of times but that’s that).

I was thinking to write something about gameplay as well but, honestly, it’s a case of “if it’s not broken why fix it?” Gameplay-wise Zero is more or less a copy-paste of Trails in the Sky the 3rd. The camera outside of battles is fixed now and in combat we have access to combo-crafts, I think that covers most of the changes =) So instead of some gameplay-related wisdoms here comes just a list of random things from my playthrough.

The party of Lloyd, Randy, Elie and Tio is well balanced and fun to use. Randy is obviously a Crossbell version of Laura, all he needs is love accessories increasing the amount of CP and as many ATK cranking quartz as possible. Elie and Tio are both decent mages and can be used interchangeably. In my opinion Elie has better attacking crafts, so my “primary” mage was Tio (meaning I sped up casting for her as much as possible) but the roles can be reversed for sure. Lloyd is a bit of an oddball, because he doesn’t have a clearly defined “class”, but it’s the fate of all Trails protagonists.

Whereas I said that I don’t remember any really weak scenes there were episodes which were the highlights of the game for me. I liked how Tio and Randy were joking about Lloyd and Elie’s relationships (were they joking though?), the running gag with Cecile having fun at Lloyd’s expense (“Lloyd, I hope today you’ll finally tell me who you’re dating!”) is cute and, well, funny; the same goes to the scene when Noel is interrogating her sister about the “man she loves”: “Is it Lloyd? It’s Lloyd, isn’t it? No, please, no, please don’t tell me it’s Randy!” It was surprisingly touching to see how Renne was learning the truth about her family and their reunion with Estelle and Joshua was equally heartwarming. Goddamn, and I don’t even like Renne!

Trails games don’t surprised me anymore, that would be an impossible task after I’ve played so many of them, but every time it feels so nice to return to Zemuria and see all these characters again. Can’t wait to play Ao and Hajimari next year! And Kuro of course too… one day =)

P.S. And as a bonus some random screenshots from the game =)

Soul Hackers 2

I have to say from the beginning that I liked Soul Hackers 2. Moreover, it was a day one purchase for me — maybe the trailer came out at the right time, I had just finished SMT V and after that questionable experience was excited to try another, non-open-world-like SMT game — but the idea of getting these cards as a preorder bonus sealed the deal (this is a shitty screenshot from amazon — the cards look great in real life):

I’m a simple man (and a hoarder), give me some crap as a bonus and you get me heh =) By the way, by the time I pre-ordered the disc I had already read and watched some reviews, so I was aware that “Ringo’s ass is nice” and the main complaints were “the dungeons are boring” and “I wish Ringo could run faster”. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ I knew that it was going to be a dungeon-crawler, with minimum side activities, and, frankly, was fine with. Who knows, maybe I was the target audience, one of the people who wanted to play a kinda PS2-era JRPG in 2022 — a turn-based one, without an open-world, at the same time without some crazy maze-like randomly generated dungeons. I spent about 60 hours with Soul Hackers 2, finished all the side-quests, 4 floors of Soul Matrix for each character and whereas it’s definitely a game made on a budget it never felt like a chore.

So, about those dungeons… it’s true that they are not especially spectacular. They are definitely not Persona 5-quality and it’s truly a shame that everything in Soul Matrix looks the same. I mean, they could’ve at least used a different color palette for every character, even Tartarus in Persona 3 had more variety. However, frankly, it’s not such a big deal as people claim it to be. The dungeons in Soul Hackers 2 are not huge, their layout is fixed and relatively simple, so I think I finished even the most complicated ones (Soul Matrix 4F) in about 1.5 hours, so they never felt truly annoying. On top of that, somehow I always visited Soul Matrix when I was already overpowered for a particular floor, so I didn’t even have to fight much there.

Behold! That scary Soul Matrix

Speaking of being overpowered and all that — Soul Hackers 2 is not a super difficult game. I’d definitely recommend to play on Hard, it was pretty well-balanced and never felt unfair. It will not make anyone familiar with turn-based JRPGs sweat bullets, so for, you know, “real challenge” Very Hard may be a better option but you are unable to use items in battle on that difficulty, so it was a no-no for me, I’m not a die-hard SMT fan who’s ready to spend hours to fuse demons for every situation. The combat system in Soul Hackers is a bit different comparing to, say, Persona yet at the same time familiar and comfortable. I loved the idea of a separate Ruin skills category, in other games I’d rarely use Sleep/Poison/etc,. because they are rarely successful and usually end up being just a waste of a turn but here they also deal damage and enemies can be weak to them. I know some also didn’t like that you don’t see demons in battle, but I found a silver lining in that — I didn’t feel particularly attached to any demon, so I fused them away mercilessly (I kept Idun and Alice in SMT V until the very end of the game, even though they were absolutely useless at the point, just because I couldn’t force myself to discard or fuse them).

What a hunk!

Where Soul Hackers 2 truly shines is its characters and dialogues. The cast is very small, so you have enough time to get to know every of the five main heroes and I, a bit surprisingly, liked all of them. Yeah, even Saizo, whose design implied that he’s going to be one shady dude. I don’t know if she’s the best character but Ringo is definitely a great protagonist. Unlike in many, many, many games I didn’t want to facepalm every time I read another one of her lines. I would suggest to try and go to every hangout event — not only because they will open up new gates in Soul Matrix but they are just well-written.

Overall, I’d say that it was a very right and timely decision by Atlus to release a spin-off SMT game. I hope that Soul Hackers 2 was sold well enough for Sega/Atlus to justify more experiments and not just release Persona and SMT games every 2-3 years.

Blue Reflection Second Light

I was one of a dozen people who genuinely liked the first Blue Reflection and when we unexpectedly got Blue Reflection Second Light and I was simultaneously excited and suspicious. Apparently the first game had a lukewarm reception, so what did Gust change to make the sequel more successful? Did they make the combat realtime?! Or maybe (gasp!) they removed the see-through-when-it’s-raining shirts?! Maybe they made swimsuit DLCs free?! (Lol, who am I kidding, the last thing would never have happened.)

As a side note — it’s a shame that we have so few 魔法少女 games. With transformations and everything. Feels like it would be an ideal setting for a JRPG but oh well.

Turned out that Second Light is indeed quite different from its predecessor but my fears were for nothing — it became better in almost every department.

First of all I will quickly go through the list of things I didn’t like. The most obvious change is combat. At a glance it looks similar to the first game but it’s actually not purely turn-based anymore. Luckily, it’s not an abomination like Ryza’s combat either. Blue Reflection 2 utilizes “smart pause”, unless you want to rely on AI for 2 out of 3 girls in battle. I would lie if I said that this system is better than what we had before, you basically have to glue your eyes to the timeline instead of looking at the battlefield, but it’s not terrible. Especially considering that the game is ridiculously easy. It may be a good thing to some extent — the first game was very relaxing and cozy and SL has the same gentle vacation-like atmosphere, which could’ve been ruined by brutal fights — but I still wish there was an option to switch to hard mode from the beginning, it becomes available only after you beat the game once. I got ridiculously overpowered already by the end of chapter 4 I think, and the game never offered any real challenge after that. For example, I avoided the combat in the final dungeon entirely, simply because I had no reason to waste time on regular enemies. The last but not least, it sucks that you are basically forced to play the game twice to get the platinum and it won’t be enough to just run through the game quickly like I did with Ys IX. There’s a bunch of trophies requiring you to raise the talent level for every girl to level 10 and as far as I can tell it’s impossible to achieve that in a single playthrough. If there’s a way — I couldn’t figure it out. The problem is that you get only half of the talent points in NG+, so you’ll have to do side-quests and go on dates again.

It’s so nice to see these locations again!

Ufff. Despite the length of the previous paragraph Blue Reflection Second Light is a very fun game, which I enjoyed a lot. First and foremost because it has a great new main heroine, Ao. She’s a normal high-school girl who likes manga and light novels, a bit lazy, doesn’t mind having a snack in the middle of the night, can be reckless and yet she’s a caring friend and ready to step up when it’s needed. That, supposedly, average (read: boring) main character works perfectly! Hinako was fine but her ballet troubles were a bit over-the-top, I will take an Ao as a protagonist any day. By the way Hinako returns in this game and she’s totally fine as a supporting character here. To be frank, I liked pretty much all the other girls as well, except maybe Mio, who wasn’t terrible but just bland — I can’t recall a single fact about her.

But even with a great cast a game can be boring af, right? That’s not the case with the second Blue Reflection. Even though I liked its predecessor I will be the first to admit that that game felt way too small and repetitive sometimes. Second Light fixes that by giving each girl a brand new location, which all look fantastic. Funny enough, you’ll visit all the locations from the first game here as well, and now they are just a single Heartscape =) I already wrote about the combat — it’s not mind-blowing but serviceable. The transformations and Reflectors’ costumes look awesome, even though in the last chapter I gave up and disabled the “now I’m becoming a Reflector” animation. Shame on me.

The crafting in this game is perfect for a lazy bastard like myself. Complex alchemy system is the reason I never was able to get into the Atelier series but in Blue Reflection crafting is simple nice side activity. There’s a couple of ingredients I had to backtrack for, but mostly crafting and school development was just something to distract myself for a couple of minutes.

The dates get some, let’s say, disdain online, but I personally didn’t mind them, they are a source of some funny dialogues and, in general, a way to learn more about the girls. There is a lot of them, at least 120-130, but they are mostly short and sweet. Just don’t forget about the “go to the date destination” button!

What else I’ve got… Ah, the UI is still one of the best I’ve seen in games. It’s clean, easy to use and overall looks great. Now the game has a photomode! It seems to be a little unintuitive at the beginning but I got used to it eventually and have to say that it’s a much needed addition. What can possibly go wrong when you have a game with 10 girls and an ability to position them on the screen the way you want? Hehe.

As a usual wrap-up — Blue Reflection Second Light is a great sequel of a very good game and I do hope that it’s sold well enough that one day, when Gust have some time in-between the games about a particular alchemist with the most famous thighs in the universe, they’ll make the third Blue Reflection game. Will definitely be a must-buy for me =)

Star Ocean: First Departure R

Maybe 50% of potential enjoyment of any media is to set the expectations right. For instance, when I was looking for a new game on the Switch to poke for 20-30 minutes in the evening and decided to get the remake of the first Star Ocean I had a pretty good idea what it’s going to look like. I mean, it’s a SNES game that came out in 1996 for Aidios’ sake! What can you expect from it? Also I’m not a stranger to the Star Ocean universe — I played the second SO back in the day and even translated the last 7 or 8 episodes of the anime, because for some reason the guys who’d been working on the subs for that TV stopped doing that. Heh, maybe or whatever this site is now still has those (probably awful) subtitles =) Anyways, I knew that it would be a relatively dated JRPG with random encounters, my main fears were that I wouldn’t enjoy the combat and wouldn’t understand how the skills system works — Tri-Ace are notorious for making unusual game-design decisions which require some getting used to.

I love the character design in this game

Overall, it was a very smooth experience. Star Ocean: First Departure is charming, simple and short — I don’t remember the last time I’d finish a game in under 20 hours. The gameplay is kind of meh, objectively, “find the best attacking skill and spam it non-stop”; the plot might be overly simplistic, even though it starts amazingly — when you meet Ilia and Ronyx you think that you’re in for an epic adventure only to go on, essentially, a long fetch quest in your typical fantasy world — but the game makes up for it with an adorable cast of characters and the fact that it respects your time. As I said, it’s short and sweet. I was mentally prepared for some crazy grinding here and there but somehow it never happened. There was a slight difficulty spike at some point but getting the necessary level was a matter of maybe 15 or 20 minutes. I didn’t check out the optional post-game dungeon though, have never been a fan of those in any game. The downside of the game being relatively simple is that I didn’t have to figure out what most of the skills do. Cooking was useful, for sure; I tried crafting, with humiliating results (“You made an ugly earring, let’s pretend it didn’t happen”), but art/writing/musical skills didn’t appear to be needed to finish the game at all.

Star Ocean First Departure didn’t shatter my world but it’s a good nostalgic JRPG and I’m really curious to buy and play the Second Evolution, which is widely considered to be the pinnacle of the series, again. Maybe after The Divine Force though =) Oh boy, first world problems — so many games and so little time.

Lost Judgment

I never wrote anything about it but the first Judgment was a great game, which I thoroughly enjoyed. It had a compelling story about practices and corruption in pharma industry, very decent cast of characters, and, as any other 龍が如く game — tons of side content to do. Yakuza games are fun but I liked a lot that this time around we got to play as a detective. So, it was a no-brainer for me to buy Lost Judgment, the game that was supposed to be better than its predecessor.

However, Lost Judgment turned out to be a weird game. It indeed fixed the two issues I had with the first one — Keishin gang mechanics were thrown away (can I get a halleluiah?), and combat styles felt more varied and useful (in the first Judgment I ended up just using Tiger style 98% of the time). It added skateboarding, which is a lot of fun on top of just being a great way to move around the cities. Yes, cities — because most of the story of Lost Judgment is happening in Yokohama. It’s kinda a shameless re-use of locations from Yakuza: Like a Dragon, can’t argue with that, but whatever. It has even more minigames and side-content. It allows you to befriend cats and walk a dog! Can a game get any better than this?

A lot of moments in Lost Judgment are goofy (in a good sense)

Sadly though, Lost Judgment also removed a lot of stuff I liked. What about making friends with people around the town? That organically forced me to do things I normally would ignore, like playing mahjong. What about tailing people? Yeah, I heard that there were complaints about these missions but I liked them because, let’s be real, it’s a big part of what detectives, at least in books and movies, do. What about girlfriends? I mean, I get that some people might’ve found that offensive or whatever, because Yagami was kind of a scumbag in the first game, considering that he could be in relationships with 4 women simultaneously without any punishment, but it’s a videogame, for Aidios’ sake! It was fun to go on dates and learn their stories.

Some of the new mechanics the second game added are also kind of meh, like stealth or parkour. They felt like a chore and yes, tailing missions were much more fun, it’s a hill I’m willing to die on. However, all these are minor nitpicks, which are overshadows by a giant problem I had with Lost Judgment. Its story is not great.

Both games start off similarly — we learn about a gruesome murder and one way or another get pulled into the investigation. That’s the only thing they share unfortunately. Original Judgment was actually a good thriller, containing multiple layers and pulling twists out of its sleeve. It’s going to sound cringy but its plot actually kept me at the edge of my seat, I really wanted to know what’s going to happen next. The plot of Lost Judgment is… competent I guess? I understand what the authors were going for, that they wanted to explore the idea whether someone has a right to judge and punish an obviously bad guy when the system fails to do so. But, but, but. Maybe it’s the topic of school bullying that didn’t hit the mark. Maybe the lack of good argumentation by the sides is a problem. Maybe if the story was more personal to Yagami (and, therefore, to us) it would be more interesting to follow. Everything that’s going on is tangential to Yagami, Kaito or anyone from Genda Law Office, and unlike AD-9 fiasco that showed how deep the corruption at the very top of the government can be the Public Security angle was kind of boring and forced. Any event that’s going to happen in Lost Judgment could be seen a mile away and this predictability and, to some extent, safety was underwhelming.

I have to add a couple of words about School Stories. It’s an enormous chunk of side-content, which is, frankly, hit and miss. The idea itself that Yagami runs around the school serving as an advisor to 10 clubs simultaneously is a bit silly (and not Yakuza-silly if you know what I mean), but even if we forget about that for a moment — some of the stories and minigames are pretty fun whereas others are dragging for seemingly no reason. I gave up when I opened the biker’s gang quest. I just can’t imagine there are too many people who find those races enjoyable, and as far as I understood I couldn’t move on with the dance club (the one I actually liked) until I’d finish a few races. I still haven’t deleted the game and one day might circle back to it and finish these side-quests but for the time being it’s simply too much.

Overall, Lost Judgment is neither a step forward nor it is a step back. If you ignore the weaker comparing to the first game plot it’s a very good and, most importantly, entertaining game that can easily make you sink 100 hours into it. For me personally it was a let-down because the story was the main thing I’d been looking forward to. Oh well, will set my expectations accordingly for the third game.


I was actually kind of excited to play Shin Megami Tensei V. I’d never played any of the mainline SMT games but heard that they are darker, deal with the sort of philosophical choices, much harder and more intense than, say, Persona games. What’s not to like?! After pouring more than 60 hours into SMT V I have to say that this particular game was quite a disappointment.

There are various reasons why I like this or that JRPG. They can have great characters and dialogues (Trails games), amazing polished gameplay (Valkyrie Profile) or can be just ridiculously charming (Ni No Kuni). SMT V somehow doesn’t have any of that. Its plot and pacing are nonsensical — you have a brief introduction, meet a few characters who you think will be important later on, only to be thrown into a desert where you spend the next 10-12 hours without any particular goal. “Run from point A to point B and defeat a big demon. Run from point B to point C and defeat another demon”. Rinse, repeat. And it’s not just a problem with the first chapter, the entire game is like that! You simply have to go from one boss to another because… reasons. Once every 10 or so hours you get tiny bits of information about the world, information I, personally, couldn’t care less about, provided by the characters I couldn’t care less about either. Even better, there are characters who disappear without any trace and are never mentioned again. Why the fuck were they introduced in the first place? Because you so rarely have to interact with anyone and the conversations usually are absolutely pointless, it’s just ridiculous sometimes when you’re asked here and there “Oh, do you agree with his views?” How the hell can I know if I agree with his views? Those views were briefly mentioned 25 hours ago, I have neither ability nor desire to remember what they were. Whereas the main plot is bad the side-quests are even worse. 95% of them are nothing more but to give an item or to kill some demon, for poorly explained reasons. There are some quests which imply a choice and when I got my first one like that I actually thought I’d have to think carefully, because I hoped that these choices would affect the ending. “Your choices matter”. Ha. It was pretty naive thinking. No matter what you’ve been choosing, in the end you can side with any faction you want. A fair warning, it’ll be difficult to decide, because, again, you barely spend any time with any of the characters, have very vague understanding of their motivation and have no particular reason to help any of them.

Whereas the characters are so-so, some of the demons designs look pretty nice (though to be fair, I think Ame-No-Uzume looks great in all Atlus games)

The next thing I want to write about is exploration. A lot of people praise the more open locations of SMT V but I found them to be, frankly, more annoying than anything. Not only a herd of the Nekomatas or 50 Narcissus hanging out together look super weird, the locations themselves are painfully boring and all look and feel the same. The first location is a yellow desert, the second is an orange desert, the third is a grey desert and so on. There’s absolutely nothing to remember landmarks-wise after my playthrough, I just got sick and tired of the desert, abandoned highways and ruined buildings. I frankly was thinking about giving up on the game somewhere during the 3rd chapter, when you need to disable 7 or so devices before fighting Ishtar, it was just such a pain to find all of them in that bleak world where nothing catches your eye — even though the devices were marked on the map! SMT V also features whooping two dungeons, and for a series that was pretty much a dungeon-crawler before, these levels were also underwhelming.

If the plot and exploration are so-so, maybe the gameplay is great? Unfortunately, it’s also hit and miss. The combat system itself is good, the demon fusion is decent but there’s an elephant in the room. Well, two elephants. The first one is that the game has an odd level-scaling system. What I mean is that not only your stats are taken into account when calculating damage and so on, the difference in levels affects that as well. Meaning — you’ll have to grind. Especially in the last location. You arrive there when Hahobino is around level 55 and all the bosses there are level 72. Good luck fighting them even if you have great stats. Also SMT V nudges you to fuse new demons whether you want it or not, because the amount of experience they have to obtain to level up raises as a very sharp exponent. After the first 5-7 levels-ups Grimoires is probably your only hope to keep a demon useful. The second elephant I mentioned is that the game is not especially difficult. It doesn’t mean that you’ll never see the Game Over screen, you will and quite a few times. I just mean that you don’t have to come up with elaborate strategies to defeat enemies, most of the time simple buffing/debuffing will be enough. The bosses always use the same Magatsuhi attacks, probably the only ones you’ll need to keep an eye on, so every big fight boils down to you trying to guess what critical attack the boss is going to smash you with and if you guessed poorly — well, now you know the dampener you’ll need to use the next time. Closer to the end of the game everything becomes even easier considering how many elements you can block or even repel via essences. I think I enjoyed only two boss fights, one with the “true” version of Lahmu — his first phase was quite annoying and did require some planning; the other one was against Shohei Yakumo or whatever his name was, he had a lot of strong physical attacks and it was probably the only time I had to use a tank. Overall the combat was fine but I definitely would enjoy it much more if other components of the game were better.

Tao is apparently a super important character, but it’s never explained why exactly

So yeah, I know it was hard to notice but Shin Megami Tensei V didn’t exactly live up to my expectations =) It’s a long, boring, plotless, faceless JRPG with good but having some issues combat system. While I was playing it I discovered videos on SMTIII: Nocturne though. These videos simultaneously attract me and scare me to death =) So maybe I will give SMT another try soon, this time with the game from the PS2 era heh, what can possibly go wrong.