Welcome to #JRPGJuly Week One update! The staff have been hard at work playing some JRPGs and sharing their experiences over social media. Here's a look at what progress has been made by each of the staff members participating.
Sam & Scott Wachter
Sam: Normally for an event like #JRPGJuly, I like to start a fresh game rather than work through something I am in the middle of. However, I am addicted to Persona 5 and I need to complete it. I am fifty-four hours into the game, just hitting the sixth Palace and the plot is taking some interesting twists and turns. I also picked my best girl, which ended up being Becky, because seriously, I couldn't help myself. In truth I wanted to date Makoto, and I think I still might since I am playing my protagonist as a such a playa.
In all seriousness though, I am really loving this game. It still hasn't past Persona 3 in my eyes, but I easily love it more than Persona 4. I think 5 melds the best of both games while still having its own stylish perks. I think the characters are pretty swell, and Makoto easily stole my heart. I still think the fifth Palace is awful, though I managed to do it in three in-game days (wanting to do it in less and realizing what a challenge that would be). Hopefully by next update I will be a little closer to finishing the game. Wish me luck!
Scott: So this one opens with a Casino heist going horribly wrong, the lead getting caught, beaten, and interrogated by a hotshot public prosecutor. This is absolutely not part of the plan at all, because I have never seen a heist movie ever no siree Bob. We then jump back to a "Perfectly Ordinary Transfer Student™'s" first day in the big city. Things get weird and the SMT and Persona stuff starts to happen and it up to our Hero, Ishikawa Nakamura (when in doubt mash two folk heroes’ names together), Not-Junpei, Animal Sidekick, and The Blonde to use the power of mobile apps, demons, and Jungian psychology to make the Gym Teacher stop acting like a complete toolshed. I have now done this and am faffing about waiting for all the subsystems and side elements to really open up.
My inability to describe a JRPG without being condescending to the premise and plot aside, I am really digging this. The tone and feel of this game is much more solid than the previous entry in the franchise and I like that the interrogation chamber framing device keeps coming back – it's a good storytelling hook and not enough games hang from it, or when they do they forget it half the time (side-eye at Dragon Age II).
Mechanically, I am enjoying all of the changes the game has made thus far. Even just the mapping of the combat actions to face buttons rather than a menu makes me feel like I am playing a character all the time as opposed to switching to the Heroic Cursor when things get real. Bringing back the demons as personalities that have to be bargained with and can threaten to take out party members given a chance is great. The way Palaces are set up with nooks and crannies to root for treasure or keys to progress about half scratches my Thief itch that never really goes away.
This game looks and sounds slick as all hell, I burned most of my day off in a single sitting run of Kamoshida's Palace. I'll probably end up mainlining this game hard and skipping #ActionRPGAugust to wind this game down.
Anna Marie Privitere & Cassandra Ramos
Anna Marie: When I first started up Ever Oasis and began playing, I was a little concerned I hadn't made the right choice. The introduction section of a game aimed at a younger or more casual audience requires a bit of hand-holding in its tutorials to ensure players regardless of age or game experience understands their options. This made the game intro a little dull and draggy to someone who was familiar with all the mechanics of both a time-management style city and a Zelda-style action-RPG.
However, once over that hump (which takes less than two hours in-game, probably closer to one if you're not goofing off like I was) the game opened up and let me do whatever I wanted, and it was wonderful. Taking notes from games like Fantasy Life, all enemies drop items and there's numerous places to gather materials with or without specific tools — cacti can be simply cut down, while holes and veins require party members skilled in digging and mining respectively.
These collected items are used to stock the shops of people who move into your Oasis, and as they sell merchandise and you restock their Bloom Booths they gain favour with you, which leads to opening up quests ranging from meeting a person in a certain place to defeating a certain enemy to planting specific crops in the garden, and these in turn allow them to stock new and more items. Building your Oasis is a really satisfying process.
I'm also continually impressed by how a game with so many systems still feels easy to understand and use. For example, there are multiple weapon types, each with a different enemy they are strong against. Different characters have abilities that help your hero traverse dungeons, from being able to smack rocks to tearing down spiderwebs to lightning up a dark room (or vice versa). There's a way to send characters out exploring, or tend the garden. There's special decorations to acquire via in-game achievements. There's always something to do, and I can't wait to do more.
Cassandra: Although I started off the month with some Pokémon Sun, that was mainly to finish up getting one of my 'mons, Camilla the Kommo-o, up to level 100, the real game I chose to play for #JRPGJuly is Ever Oasis. I actually considered changing it after seeing that Paws is also playing it, but decided that I could provide a different perspective on the game. Besides, after the plot-heavy Fire Emblem Echoes, I wanted a change of pace.
The premise of Ever Oasis seems fairly simple: you are the chief (I named my character Kirisa) of an Oasis and need to build it up and maintain to keep the force of Chaos out. It's also the last Oasis, so no pressure there. There's a bunch of neat world-building and bits of characterization as well, but story otherwise takes a backseat to town-building and exploration. I don't mind at all, and I'm still very early on in this game. Maybe this will change, but there's enough to keep me intrigued.
Much of my enjoyment of the game comes from exploring the surrounding desert, collecting materials, and fulfilling requests for people so that they can stay and become a resident of my Oasis. It isn't quite as addictive as I found Fantasy Life to be, but it certainly scratches that itch. My Oasis is currently level 8, as is my character. I nearly have the second Lumite, but first some Serkahs (apparently all-male scorpion people) need to be saved. It took me an embarrassingly long time to figure out how to get a party member with a wand (so that's what "Wizard" on their status screen means), but I should have this part of the game wrapped up soon so I can go back to updating Bloom Booths and recruiting new residents.
I know I have only scratched the surface and have a long way to go. I have some lingering questions, though some will no doubt be answered by the second update: When do I get to have some of those rabbit/fox/squirrel people in my Oasis? How can I get fish bones more more readily? Will there be something I can spend more Dewadems (money) on? Why do I get the feeling this isn't the last we've seen of Nour, you characters's brother?
Robert: Even though I'm about a year late, I'm having a load of fun playing Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright. The story is pretty interesting, which I heard was one of the things people were underwhelmed by, so I'm glad to be enjoying it. I have several A rank supports and the option for a few S ranks, but I've been holding off on them to see more relationships build with other people as I have a strong desire to set these characters up with the "perfect" marriage.
I'm on Chapter 21, so a good ways in, and the game seems to be reaching its climax. Thankfully I've been fighting enemies that give my advanced job classes decent experience because pretty much everyone is now promoted. I battled my way out of the stomach of a dragon or something like that and it wasn't too hard. Hana, Mozu, and Corrin are mainstays in pretty much every battle. They hit hard, they're fast, and they like to crit stuff. Corrin has really weak resistance though and for some reason can marry his sisters. Weird.
I also want to take a minute to sit right there and I'll tell you all about how much I like Hinoka. She moves so fast, has both defense and resistance in the 30s, really high speed and luck, good skill and strength and she works so hard on being as strong as she can to protect the people she cares about. I've been seriously fretting over who she can marry, because even my normal level of obsessiveness on this issue pales in comparison to finding this lady the absolute perfect match.
Mike: I absolutely loved the original Mario & Luigi game for the GBA, which to me, since I'd yet to play Paper Mario, felt like the first proper Mario RPG after Super Mario RPG on the SNES. Naturally this excitement continued into the sequel, until Partners in Time crushed my spirit so completely that I probably would have written off Mario RPGs completely if not for the wonderful Paper Mario: Thousand Year Door. So, while I kept buying the Mario & Luigi games for some reason, I wasn't really interested in playing them until Nintendo finally decided to do a crossover witch the Paper Mario universe.
Naturally I was distracted by shiny new games and didn't get around to playing much of Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam at release, so I decided to use #JRPGJuly as a perfect opportunity to force me to play it. My time with it so far has been quite positive. A collision of universes happens, two Bowsers kidnap two Peaches and all sorts of paper-related shenanigans begin. The writing is spot on, but I feel like it could quickly get boring if things don't move beyond the humor of double characters and paper nonsense.
The combat has been fun, mostly sticking to what made the original Mario & Luigi so fun, just adding a Paper Mario to your party to mix things up. The tedious brother items and other issues that drove me nuts in Partners in Time are thankfully absent. I did encounter this entry's mini-game, paper craft battles, which are simple real time sequences involving moving around a giant paper craft Mario hauled by a bunch of toads against similar enemy constructions. It was a fun sequence that didn't overstay its welcome, and I'm interested in seeing what else the game does with it.
My return to the Mario & Luigi series has been a good one so far, and hopefully will continue to be as #JRPGJuly continues.
Sarah: I wanted to finish Final Fantasy XIV: Heavensward on my main cat, but honestly, no one is ever on in my FC on Sargatanas anymore. So I decided to go back to a cat I started on Leviathan with the RPGamer folk. It was only a level 17 THM, so I have a fair bit of catching up to do. I haven't done the THM quest before, so it's something different, and it's nice redoing the story. I haven't done any of that since ARR came out.
With the Ala Mhigan earrings from the Stormblood expansion — it increases experience earned by 30% for level 50 and below — I have leveled quickly. I am now almost level 26. It is a lot easier doing story quests being quests five levels above. Doing dungeons as a Thaumaturge is definitely a lot less stress than a White Mage, I can just kill things with fire.
Square Enix also updated how the classes work with new gauges. I have kind of figured out the THM/BLM gauge. Kind of. But I am still but a wee THM, so I can't really do much other than read whether I am in Astral Fire or Umbral Ice, and the number of glowing ticks tells me how potent my next spell will be. For now, it's doing the same thing the icons at the top used to do before they added the gauges. We'll see how it changes as I get stronger..
Michael: My big game for the month is The Alliance Alive, which no one in the audience has likely ever played because it only came out like two weeks ago in Japan. I'm far enough in that I really should consider writing an impression, so... here it is!
This game's the spiritual sequel to The Legend of Legacy, which itself is a spiritual sequel to the old SaGa series, and there are some similarities that continue into the present. The battle system still has those "Eureka!" moments where the characters learn new skills on the fly, and HP/MP gains happen at the end of combat, for example, and while there's a sort of experience system in place, it serves mainly to bolster the characters by letting the player purchase support skills that effect skill efficiency.
In many other ways, The Alliance Alive differs greatly from the SaGa mold. There's a wide overworld to traverse, and a strong plot to lead the player along the course of three different groups of heroes as they uncover secrets of a world conquered and split ages ago. An oppressive regime provides a front for shadowy puppeteers, ancient ruins hold mysteries unimaginable, and every body of water seems to have something dank and squamous within its depths.
If it weren't for the absolute SaGa-ness of the battle system, I'd swear I was playing a Final Fantasy title. It's got all the hallmarks of the earlier games: evil empire-like government, plucky resistance movement, linear plot progression, alternating group narratives that switch every few chapters until the major uniting event happens, and absolutely gorgeous cinematic sequences that utilize the game's native graphics engine well.
This is a plot-driven game with strong characterization, and that's simply not the SaGa norm at all. About the only thing this game's missing from the basic Final Fantasy formula is a Chocobo... but it does have a yellow rubber ducky battle mecha. If Final Fantasy had gone down the other leg of the trousers of time back in the day, and Final Fantasy II had influenced the development of the series more than III, then this is the sort of game we might have gotten eventually.
Basically, I really hope this one gets localized, because I'd hate to see everyone lose out on playing another awesome 3DS title.
This wraps up our week one update for #JRPGJuly! Here's to another week of awesome JRPG-goodness, and who knows? Maybe one of us will finish the selection we are playing!