Welcome to the #JRPGJuly Week Two update! We are deep into the second week of July and staff have made quite some progress in their selections for the month. Let's see where they have left off, shall we?
Sam & Scott Wachter
Sam: Having had no internet for over twelve days allowed me to get in some prime video game time. In fact, it allowed me to finish Persona 5. While the last section of the game does feel never-ending, I will say that I did love this game in the end, and even went as far to get the True Ending. I grew to really love the main cast, particularly Makoto and Futaba who I felt had some wonderful development throughout the game. I also adored the family dynamic between Futaba, Sojiro and Arsene (the name I gave my protagonist. Too on the nose, perhaps?). I found those moments to be very sweet, and I think the way it was written was wonderfully done.
I ended up completing the game in 76 hours, which to a lot of folks is very short. I am not huge on grinding in games if it’s not necessary, and I feel like Persona 5 was streamlined enough that you didn’t have to grind too hard. I think it’s easy to fall down the rabbit hole in areas like Momentos, but given how many games I have in my backlog, I’m not going to spend unnecessary time grinding if I am well-equipped to deal with battles ahead of me.
Overall, Persona 5 is tied for the best RPG I’ve played this year with Yakuza Zero. We’ll see if any other releases knock them out of that top slot. As for me, it’ll be a surprise for you all what game I plan to tackle next for the rest of #JRPGJuly.
Scott: I had two days off in a row when my wife did not so I got to play through to the end of June/halfway through the third palace. There's a lot of story development that I don't want to spoil this week. What I do want to get to is our first new party member, or his voice actor
Low Rent Crispin Freeman Matt Mercer and the other voice actors for the leads. Whether it is the SAG strike limiting the field or a deliberate action, all the teens are voiced by younger/less known VAs, while all the authority figures are more established figures of the California Cohort (Sam fell down a rabbit hole trying to prove there was a deliberate Lupin III connection in casting -- not so much, Epcar has played 3/5th of the core cast and has threatened to tackle Fujiko soon, though). It helps reinforce the theme of youthful rebellion against the adult establishment. Another note on voice acting is that because half the conversations take place over IM/SMS (its Japanese cellphones; I don't know what clients won out over there), it provides a brilliant excuse for not voicing half the dialogue.
The story is building a trickster narrative, where the player dives into a situation to dethrone a staid establishment figure and the player is always upending their position. It's interesting that at every plot turn the player is asked to express whether the character is gung-ho or cautious about their plans. That may lead to something, especially in the context of Igor 'Rehabilitating' the player.
PS: Madarame boss-fight is lamesauce twice over.
Anna Marie Privitere & Cassandra Ramos
Anna Marie: As I focused mostly on the town building and social aspects of Ever Oasis last week, this week I want to dive more into the combat system. When you initially venture out of your tiny Oasis into the vast desert, you’ll have two simple attacks: A for a quicker, average damage swat and X for a higher damage smack but with a longer wind-up time, which can be interrupted. You can also dodge roll with B, and this tactic becomes increasingly important as you face tougher enemies with more complex attack patterns. Your own attack options also increase as you level up, being able to set off progressively larger combos of A and X presses in a specific order (and the allies you bring with you will also gain these). Most characters also gain special (SP) abilities, such as buffs, debuffs, or inflicting devastating stun or poison attacks. Your SP bar fills as you attack enemies and drains fully when returning to the Oasis.
In addition to attacking, each ally has a dungeon exploration skill they bring to the table. Drauk with their mighty spears can reach high up and activate switches; Serkah with their giant hammers can pulverize boulders no matter how large; Lagora with their quick double blades can shred any spiderwebs in their path. Seedlings have a more complex set of abilities, including your main character’s wind tornado, which activates spinning switches and crafts staircases out of sand; pellet, which allows a Seedling to roll up into a ball and access special tunnels; paratrooper, which launches the Seedling high into the air to float to their target; leaf wall, which redirects large items like boulders; and wand-wielding, which can light or dim a room as needed to manipulate certain objects.
Dungeons will typically require 2-5 of these abilities. That presents a small quandary when you can only take 3 people with you, but fret not: at almost any time, you can choose to create an Aqua Gate, which bubbles you directly back to the Oasis. You can then teleport back to that precise spot with the warp gate at the oasis entrance, or alternatively jump to any of the game’s numerous warp points; these static warp locations not only let you return to a specific section of the world (including dungeons) but also heal your health. Handy!
It took me about 30 hours to complete the main story of Ever Oasis, and I spent about 5 hours doing some post-game content, and I really enjoyed my time with Tethi and the Water Sprite. I truly hope this diamond in the rough doesn’t get lost in the sands and more people give it a try. There's a demo available on the 3DS eShop now.
Cassandra: Well, what do you know? Turned out most of those things I pondered about in my first write-up on Ever Oasis were actually answered by the time I got around to writing this. I can't say much about the story for the sake of spoilers, but it has picked up after I obtained the third Lumite. It's also been a bit predictable, but I don't mind it. I'm not particularly bothered by clichés, and this game is more about the setting and town building anyway. Speaking of which, I'm currently upgrading as many of the shops as possible while recruiting new townies and expanding my Oasis. I'm still at a point where I have more Seedlings than I have space for shops (the three non-Seedling races, Serkah, Drauk, and Lagora, don't run shops), and I imagine this will be a persistent thing until late in the game. At some point I will need to move on with the story to do more, but that time isn't now.
Ever Oasis is loosely based on Egyptian mythology and it has so far been largely window dressing. The game takes place in a desert; the character designs are somewhat Egyptian-looking; there are walls covered in hieroglyphs; there are occasional decorations with scarabs and cats; and there is stereotypical Ancient Egyptian-sounding music. As I advance in the game, I recalled that the concept of order versus chaos plays a major part in Egyptian mythology. Sure, it's a large part of many mythologies, but in Ancient Egypt, the dry, barren deserts were seen as chaotic. There is also Set, a god that was later seen as a god of deserts, storms, and chaos. There is a long dying and rising god story involving Set and his brother Osiris that I won't go into to, but I wonder if any part of that myth will play into Ever Oasis. So far, I've come across an unseen sage name Thoth, but that's the only obvious reference to mythology I've seen. I've only scratched the surface of whatever happened in this world's past, but it is stated that the world is almost entirely desert and that it didn't always used to be that way. Chaos in this world seems be winning...
Lore aside, I am finding the puzzles in this game quite clever. It is a bit tedious to have to warp back to the Oasis to need to swap out your party member for ones with the right skills, but at least it's easy to do. Even so, it would be nice to have all available skills at once. Regardless, I enjoy the interesting ways that skills are combined in dungeons. I recently completed a room that needed Pellet (turns a Seedling into a ball and send them rolling) and Leaf Wall (exactly what it says on the tin) and figuring out how to position the Leaf Wall to get to the item and move on to the next part of the dungeon. It's seems small, but it makes for very fun exploring. Combat has also gotten more involved, especially after fighting the particularly hard Chaos Kelp boss. I've gotten much better at dodging and learning enemy patterns.
It's gotten harder to put Ever Oasis down and I'm quite glad for it. I'll see how much further I get before the next update.
Mike: It's a me, Paper Mario! As I continue to dive into Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam, I can say I'm having a blast with the combat system, and the ways it mixes and matches paper enemies and regular enemies. The brothers combo attacks are fun and don't feel like retreads from past Mario & Luigi games I've played, though only having one so far that mixes in Paper Mario seems odd. I'm not going out of my way to avoid combat like I needed up doing in Partners in Time because it got so tedious.
I just got a special combo-hammer ability that has allowed for more puzzle solving while exploring. It's a straightforward ability, but some of the puzzles have been neat where you need to start, but not complete the combo and then start a fresh combo to knock away an odd number of obstacles. I'm hoping this is a sign of further things to come.
One element I've now run into twice since last week, are quests that pop up that task you with rescuing paper toads. I feared these would bore me quickly but right after the first one, which required simply chasing them down, a more complex one popped up. Given a set time limit, the player has to track down all the toads in a locked off area before time expires. The timer continues to tick in combat, so not getting in too many fights became an important strategic process. Not a difficult quest by any means, but it at least keeps it from being stale.
The story continues to have fun with the two bowsers working together not so harmoniously, and I just hit a fun scene where the two Bowser Jrs interact. I thought this humor would be getting old by this point, but it continues to entertain. I look forward to seeing what other zany adventures Paper Mario and company get into as this game progresses.
Robert Sinclair & Sarah McGarr
Robert: This week I decided to stick to Final Fantasy XIV instead of mixing game time. I spent most of the week making new characters and going through the early game. I decided at some point soon I'll do a speed run of the A Realm Reborn story to raise some money for Extra Life this year. I have most of it figured out, just working on getting the stream stuff sorted and coming up with a schedule. It has gotten me a little excited, to be honest.
But you know what I did that isn't very fun? I was grinding fates to level up my machinist class, which started going a lot faster when I used allied seals to buy fastest mount speed in grind areas. I also spent most of Thursday leveling up culinarian and desynthesizing all the fish I had. Took 6 hours, but hey, I'm up to 80 something desynth skill! That's pretty darn good for a few hours grind time.
After about two weeks of not wanting to progress in the story I decided I need to change from Warrior to another tanking class. I don't know what it is, but I feel like Warrior lost something special and no longer feels the same. It has been my favourite class since I first started using it, so this has put a damper on my experience. After playing around for a bit, I decided on going Dark Knight. While I love the sword and shield of a Paladin, it's hard to resist the draw of a ridiculously big sword. I'll be grinding dungeons soon to get it up to 60 so I can continue the story.
Sarah: I have gotten side tracked with side quests. I made it to the South Shroud, and got bombarded with a ton of quests since this is obviously the 20ish area. I keep forgetting that I need to get back to the story, because I am nearing level 27 and I still can't ride a chocobo.
I play MMOs by going to a new area, getting all the quests, doing them, and then turning them all in. So I feel the need to do these quests first,.. but no, I need to get a chocobo license. Sprint only lasts for about 15 seconds and then there's the cooldown.
I'll get there. I didn't play as much as I wanted to this week due to life, but I want to play more this weekend and definitely before the next update. Next week should have a more interesting update than "Yay! Side quests!"
Michael: It's really hard to keep talking about The Alliance Alive without veering straight into awesome spoiler territory, so I'm going to have to go for some of the technical details for the time being. So, first up is vehicles!
Professor Tiggy's "Swansong" (a.k.a. the rubber ducky) isn't the only thing the heroes can ride around in, but only one of the options isn't also a massive spoiler, and that is the Ornithopter. It's basically a hang glider that requires flapping, which means that as far as long-distance travel goes, it's far from optimal. The player needs to find a high enough starting point and then press A at fast and regular intervals to maintain altitude for as long as it takes to reach the target zone (if it's even possible). Also, any attempt to go over open water in the thing is going to end with a plunk. It can be rather frustrating at first.
The Ornithopter's saving grace is that it allows the overworld itself to be a multi-leveled platforming puzzle, with large sections of different zones remaining inaccessible until the local weather is rendered more amicable to light flying. There are plenty of smaller side areas to figure out, with an acceptable learning curve for the harder-to-reach locations.
What's the biggest reason to even bother? Real estate speculation. Well, sort of. There are five guilds operating in the game (Intelligence/Scouting, Librarians, Battle, Smiths, and Mages). Whenever the player's party is within a certain distance of a Guild Tower, then the guildsfolk will assist in combat from a distance. The Intel group can stun all enemies for a round, as an example, while other groups handle buffs or debuffs. The Smiths just fire a big honkin' cannon.
About halfway through the game, when the player has managed to secure an alliance of all the guilds, the option to build new Guild Towers opens up, as well as a massive recruiting drive. Practically every named NPC in the game seems to be recruitable, if the player can figure out the proper conditions for it, and there are several judgment calls in the first half of the game that actually turn out to matter more later on, when they influence whether or not certain potential allies are even still alive.
More Towers and more members means that the guilds' sphere of influence expands (letting the player get assistance more often), that the list of items on sale grows, and that certain other passive bonuses get unlocked. While the Talent (read: experience point) system isn't the mainstay of character advancement in this game, it's definitely helpful when the Intel Guild expands to where it can provide bonus modifiers in the post-battle.
Anyway, I'm not sure exactly how much more of the game I have, though it's probably a fair bit. I recently got to a major section with a very important looking boss who completely destroyed me, many times over. Thankfully my last hard save (as opposed to quick save) was before the point of no return for that fiend, so now I'm working on guild inventories and on building up my characters through optional dungeon dives.
Pascal: Two weeks into JRPG July, and I'm only now submitting my first write-up. Worse, I've not played a single minute of my planned entry for the feature, Eternal Sonata. Instead, it's been Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age, all day, all the time. But, hey, it's still a JRPG, so I'm good. Right?
I took this game on to review it for RPGamer because, largely, my history with it has not been that great. I played it on its first release eleven years ago, got to the very last boss, and quit. This was mainly because I wanted to earn some of the optional Espers before polishing off that final boss, and ended up rage-quitting on Cuchulainn. To this day, the Garamsythe Waterway gives me anxiety. So I hoped that this would give me a different perspective for reviewing the game than those that just plain loved the hell out of it.
So I'm pretty surprised how much I enjoyed my time with it. At just past sixty hours, I've completed the main story, and have gone back to that final save file to try and earn a platinum. The intervening decade has apparently made me at least a slightly better gamer, as I've collected more Espers than I ever did previously, and am into the last few upper tiers of monster hunts.
The one thing that will probably keep me from that platinum trophy is the new Trial Mode. Now that I have a reasonably strong, end-game party at my disposal, I'm spending some time playing through wave after wave of baddies. I'm still only about halfway through the Trial Mode (50 out of 100 rounds), so this'll be a real accomplishment if I happen to pull it off. I won't hold my breath.
In any case, FFXIITZA has been great fun, and, long story short, I think it's worth it even for those that played it "way back when". Now back to finishing my official review, which you should be able to read on the site soon.