Celebrating ten years of video games and other things.

Posts Tagged ‘jrpg – action’

A Dissatisfying Time in Paradise

When Rune Factory: Tides of Destiny begins, it lets you know right away that this is an atypical entry in the series. After a brief battle sequence—the purpose of which is awfully vague—the two main characters appear in a completely different scene, where they’re spirited away and one is forced to share the other’s body.

From that point on, it continues as any Rune Factory does, on the first day of Spring with a strange new town and a lot of friendly locals to meet, but the differences start becoming noticeable again. For one thing, the house you’re given does not include an adjacent plot of farmland. In fact, it’s impossible to do any farming at all until certain story-related missions are completed. These seasonal farms, like the game’s dungeons, are islands spread throughout a vast ocean, which is traversed across with the help of a massive golem. This monster is both the game’s most important feature as well as the source of many of its flaws.

Exploring the world is done by walking all over the ocean via the golem. The golem is a neat feature, but as a form of transportation, it is far from perfect. As opposed to your typical Rune Factory dungeon, which is located close to home, Tides of Destiny‘s monster-infested islands can take half an in-game day or longer to reach. An instant-transport option is available for a good chunk of the game, but is later taken away thanks to story events. This setup can make it difficult to collect monster drops for crafting, but fortunately, reaching the farming islands is as easy as stepping into special portals within the golem.

The biggest single flaw, however, doesn’t have much to do with the golem and in fact messes with one of the core Harvest Moon fundamentals upon which Rune Factory has been based: the four seasons. This is the first Rune Factory I’ve played in which seasons are mostly irrelevant, mere points on a calendar. Seasonal areas are not dungeons this time around, and after restoration, can be used to grow just about any crop. Said crops are grown not through the use of seeds, but with Spirit Magic and captured monsters, each with their own specialty. All of this is fine, but aside from the winter-themed island, upon which only metals, gems, and crystals can be grown, any plant can be raised and harvested on any farm. For instance, with a well-groomed monster, it’s easy to quickly grow cucumbers on the Spring, Summer, and Autumn islands, discarding any need for the careful planning that typically goes into farming. On top of that, most monsters specialize in multiple types of crops, and the player has no option to tell them what exactly they should grow. Because of this, I wound up growing way more eggplants and far fewer tomatoes and that I would have normally.

The broken season system extends to the fishing as well. On the main island, the types of fish available to catch don’t vary much between seasons, and for rarities, one must venture out onto the golem to find special spots in the middle of the ocean—which are not added to the map once they’ve been discovered, unlike dungeons and seasonal islands.

Aside from the botched handling of ocean-crossing and seasons, there are flaws when it comes to the optional quests. For the most part, these quests, typically of the “fetch” variety, are all right, but there are a handful that appear early on and require high skill levels and/or rare items in order to complete, including one set which is informal in nature and impossible to get the details of again once it’s been triggered. There is also at least one quest which is impossible to even begin, an apparent victim of the worst bug I have yet seen in this series. As these sidequests are the only way to obtain new recipes for cooking, forging, and so on (though not all of them give out said recipes as rewards), this is somewhat frustrating. Also, speaking of technical problems, when multiple enemies or characters populate the screen, this game suffers from slowdown that’s worse than in some of the DS entries (note that I played the Wii version; I’m not sure if this is the case on the PS3 one). The localization is sub-par as well, with a not insignificant number of grammatical errors.

However, all is not lost with this Rune Factory, as it sports some above average dungeon design and carries over the great timing-based cooking/forging/crafting/alchemy system from Frontier, with a new addition in the form of woodworking. Loading times are also shorter than Frontier‘s, and the still character portraits that pop up during conversations have been replaced with animated 3D models. There’s also a neat musical easter egg that’s triggered by a certain Frontier character who appears for a cameo.

The story is a particular strong point, mixing certain themes from the older games (it must be noted here that all of the Rune Factory tales occur within the same world) with some interesting new ideas. The characters occupy the usual range of tropes, and are everything from charming to irritating, but as in Rune Factory 3, there are consistent mini-stories for each one that flesh them out over time. Two of the most interesting characters are the playable leads, Aden and Sonja, both of whom have more personality, for better or worse, than the rest of the series’ heroes. Aesthetically, and despite some odd decisions when it comes to what lines are given voice, the visuals and sound maintain the high level of quality I’ve come to expect from the series.

Tides of Destiny is one of the most ambitious, but also one of the most fault-ridden, Rune Factory games. It is highly experimental in its revamped approached to farming and exploring and unfortunately, the vast majority of these experiments are failures, but when the game does things right, it really shines. Still, this game is only for hardcore Rune Factory fans like myself. Everyone else would be better off checking out the slightly older, but far superior, Rune Factory 3.

Of Backlogs and Buccaneers

It was a long time in coming, but I finally, finally managed to play Level-5’s space pirate action RPG Rogue Galaxy. I don’t know exactly how long I’d had it sitting around, but its presence there dates back from at least April 2008. After roughly a month and a half of playing, the Rogue Galaxy Era of my backlog officially ended on November 7, 2011 after watching the credits roll. Looking at my “Currently playing/in my backlog” list from that post, it seems that Persona 3 (or rather, Persona 3 FES, which I had acquired since then) should be my next major priority.

However, let’s not concern ourselves with that right now; this post is about Rogue Galaxy. Ah, Rogue Galaxy! I can still remember how excited I was about this game before it launched. The splendidly quirky Dark Cloud 2 had been my first introduction to a small development house called Level-5, and from that point on, I was immediately interested in anything they produced. However, since that time, I had played their masterful collaborations with Square Enix, Dragon Quest VIII and IX, and none of their other titles. The first Dark Cloud and Professor Layton games are currently languishing in my backlog, but Rogue Galaxy had been in the Pile of Shame longer than either of them. This is not the case any more, and now, I feel obliged tell you about this game which took me way too long to get around to playing.

Much like Dark Cloud 2, Rogue Galaxy is a beautifully cel-shaded action RPG (with even more beautifully cel-shaded FMVs). The story follows Jaster Rogue, a young man on a desert planet who dreams of going up into space. One day, his dreams come true when a pair of crew members serving under the pirate captain Dorgengoa mistake Jaster for one of the galaxy’s top bounty hunters and bring the young man aboard their ship. What follows is an adventure filled with planet-hopping, interesting characters, and gobs of clichés. Think Treasure Planet with touches of every JRPG ever, told through cutscenes as long as Xenosaga, Episode I‘s, but without the sluggish pacing. Finally, I’d like to mention one handy feature in relation to the plot: a brief recap of recent events that pops up when starting a new game or continuing from a save.

The game is jam-packed with things to do. In addition to the main quest, there are a handful of sidequests and optional goals, including bounties to hunt down, a multi-tiered insect fighting tournament, and a complex factory-based item creation system that’s reminiscent of the town-rebuilding aspects of the Dark Cloud series. Speaking of items, there are an overwhelming number of them—not just in the form of weapons and healing medicines, but shields, foods, metals, gems, machines, circuitry, random objects, event-specific things, a talking purple frog that can merge two weapons into one, and a handful of alternate outfits for your party members. These items are used in some of the optional activities I described above, as well as the Revelation Flow, charts (specialized for each character) from which new abilities and augmentations can be unlocked. Then, there’s the separate section for special items—three types of them, to be exact. This is a game that loves its stuff.

At the core of all this is some very good combat made use of in environments that are pretty but relatively monotonous, and all far larger than they need to be. The party-based battle system most closely resembles that of Kingdom Hearts; there are no cutaways to “battle screens”—instead, enemies simply appear on the field—and one character is directly controlled by the player while the other two are handled by AI. However, here the action can be paused at any time to access party members’ menus for special commands, and AI-controlled members will often ask for advice on which attack or item to use. All of the special moves, by the way, are accompanied by brief cutscenes, which are thankfully skippable, though not right away. Each character also has a set of “Burning Strike” attacks, which relies on a filling up a meter and timed button presses, as well as combo moves that recall the Double and Triple Techs from Chrono Trigger.

It’s an engaging, well-executed system… for the most part. Its major weakness comes about in the rare instances when characters find themselves in one-on-one battles. Although Rogue Galaxy tends to err on the easy side, once party strength is cut down by a third, you’re facing the toughest fights in the game. It’s easy to blow through a dozen or more healing potions during one of these battles, to say nothing of dying and getting “Game Over”.

As for the environments, as previously implied, they are generally gorgeous, but also wear out their welcome fairly quickly, with little variety within single areas, and wide, lengthy pathways that take a long time to get through. Backtracking to unlock special chests, defeat bounties, or seek out any other extra content is often tedious, to say nothing of going through the game’s dungeons the first time around. The save points, which double as teleporters, do help to lessen this tedium. Unfortunately, I wish I could say the same about the map system, which only allows for views of many different floors at once at save points, and can be unreliable once the ability to see all unlocked chests on a given planet is accessed.

The music is inoffensive and only occasionally ear-wormy. The regular battle theme in particular has a starting similarity to the one in a certain other game about pirates in flying ships. As for the voice acting and sound effects, much like the music, they get the job done reasonably well. There’s nothing truly outstanding about the sound design in general, but nor is there anything bad.

I’m sure I’m forgetting something; Rogue Galaxy has so much going on that it would be hard not to. It’s a beautiful, ambitious title filled with both great and frivolous ideas, and arguably one of the better Sony-published JRPGs of the PS2 era. However, it lacks some of the coherence and originality of the best that console has to offer. I hesitate to call Rogue Galaxy average—since it isn’t—but it’s also not the masterpiece it had the potential to be. That said, it is still a very good game, and although it took me ages to get around to playing it, I’m glad to have ultimately done so.

Where I’ve Been, and the Return of Braincrumbs

Yes, I’m back. My main excuse for dropping the ball on this blog for so long was my cross-country move back in early April. It was quite a production, as you can probably imagine, and even now we’re still unpacking, buying new furniture, and generally settling in. Even with a bunch left to do, I feel as though life has only recently started to get back to normal. I’ve even had time to play some games.

In the meantime, I’ve been thinking about what I’m going to do with this blog. My personal blog at LJ is pretty much dead, and I thought about moving it somewhere else, but at the same time, I’m not 100% happy with Brainscraps either. Right now, the plan is to experiment with some non-gaming posts here, making it a more general blog, just with a heavy emphasis on gaming. Thoughts and/or opinions, if anyone has ’em, are appreciated.

Now, as I said before, I’ve been playing games again recently. After pretty much stopping all my gaming in early March in order to pack and do other moving-related things (with a few, scattered sessions here and there), I picked up where I left off in Rune Factory 3 in late April. Since then, I’ve beaten it, and soon followed it up with Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes and the single-player campaign in Portal 2. I have been wanting to write about all three (well, mainly just Rune Factory 3 and Portal 2), but didn’t have the usual luxury of spacing my posts, so I’m doing the mini-review thing again. Here we go…

Girls, Girls, Girls – Rune Factory 3: A Fantasy Harvest Moon

Daria's a bit nutty, but in an endearing way.

Rune Factory is one of my favorite game series of all time. A sublime blend of Harvest Moon‘s farm-based management (and dating) sim and a hack-and-slash dungeon crawler, it is heaven for those of us who like both types of gameplay. However, coming from Harvest Moon roots, it has not been without its hiccups along the way, including glitches, translation errors, and odd bits of game design. Thankfully, the series noticeably improves with each new entry, and Rune Factory 3 is certainly no exception, as it is the most enjoyable one yet.

The premise is very similar to what we have seen before: hero with amnesia, girl in a small town who gives him a farm to work on, etc. This time around, though, said hero is half-monster, with the ability to transform into a Wooly (the Rune Factory universe’s version of sheep), and said heroine is actually likable. All of the other bachelorettes in the game are interesting as well, with personalities that become fleshed out over the course of their sidequests. By the time I was ready to propose to the girl of my choice, I had maxed out the “love meter” for nearly all of the girls, mainly because I simply wanted to know more about them. On top of that, I liked the other townsfolk as well. Overall, the character development in Rune Factory 3 is outstanding, and a standard that all future games in the series should build upon.

The game’s mechanics have received some spit and polish as well. The farming system has been overhauled for both greater flexibility and greater challenge. Likewise, crafting is no longer the headache it once was, and rare items are now used in leveling up your existing equipment, and not much more than that. Meanwhile, the story progression is set up such that you don’t have to guess your way to the next event, but the player can still take things at their own pace.

Though we have yet to see how the localized Rune Factory Oceans—sorry, Rune Factory: Tides of Destiny—will turn out, for the time being, if you’re at all interested in the series but can only play just one of them, this is the one to play. Despite the occasional technical (or textual) hiccup, I wholeheartedly recommend this game to my fellow simulation and dungeon crawler fans.

Match Three Tactics – Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes

In between battles, things look a bit less puzzley.

And now for an entirely different sort of RPG, but no less unique; one set in the world of a Western series, and with turn-based tactical puzzle elements. Clash of Heroes is, as I understand it, something of a departure from your traditional Might & Magic, a series which I know nothing about. Despite my ignorance, it stood well enough on its own as a single entry, and one which I found rather enjoyable.

The campaign is fairly short for an RPG—roughly twenty hours—but that’s as much as this game needs, as there wouldn’t be any real added benefits to additional grinding, what with the low level caps and hard limits on how many units one can have on the field. Each of the game’s main characters is played in turn, and each of their “chapters” progresses similarly to each other, save for the final one, what with its love of multiple boss battles in a row without opportunities to save between each one. Back at the very beginning, the tutorial stuff is handled well enough, but stumbles when it comes to explaining the unlocking and acquisition of special “Elite” and “Champion” units. As for the story, it’s your standard save-the-world fare with conspiracies and a magical MacGuffin. So, the non-battle campaign stuff is, in a nutshell, average and a little rough around the edges.

The battle system in Clash of Heroes is similarly unpolished, but quite a bit of fun. Using the match-three puzzle genre as a point of inspiration, battles take place by lining up color-coded troops into horizontal (defensive) or vertical (offensive) formations. Only the units at the very end of rows can be picked up and moved around; others can just be deleted. As in your typical puzzle game, chains can be created by pulling off the right moves, with the reward being additional actions for that turn. It’s a system that takes some getting used to (especially when doing the optional “puzzle” boards), and there are obvious balance issues with some of the units, but in general it works.

Said balance issues are supposed to have been fixed in the XBLA version of this game (I played the original one on DS), but I don’t know how much else was tweaked. Certainly, it’s an okay time-killer if you can get it at a decent price, and for me, not a bad way to add some variety to an already RPG-heavy backlog. After beating it, though, I was ready to move on.

Aperture Don’t Stop – Portal 2

Aperture Science has seen better days.

Rounding out this post filled with strange genres is the sequel to gaming’s most beloved first-person environmental puzzler black comedy. This is—so far—the only big new “hardcore” game I have been interested in this year, and thankfully, it lived up to the hype. In this return trip to Aperture Laboratories, test subject Chell once again has to deal with the artificial intelligence GLaDOS and solve her way through chambers and corridors filled with endless amounts of Science. A chatty supporting player, the orb Wheatley, is along for the ride this time, and as in the first game, the environments are characters of their own.

Having gone through the original Portal twice (as well as the tough fan-made Flash Version Mappack after playthrough no. 2), I didn’t have as much trouble thinking my way through the environments in this sequel, even with a handful of new gimmicks thrown into the mix. The one time when I did take a hint to move forward, it was to a problem whose solution wasn’t very obvious; also, it was given to me in a natural manner in-game, reflective of the immersive approach Valve has (once again) employed in this world. There are some things in the environments that either feel gamey or don’t make much sense in the grand scheme of things, messing with the immersion, but they are few. Still, though, I feel that the original Portal did a slightly better job in this area. The wonder—and dread—that I felt playing through Portal were strong enough that I can still recall them; I had no such strong emotional reactions with Portal 2, save for a certain pair of moments, both of which were not driven by the overall environment, but mainly just the audio.

I don’t know if Portal 2‘s bigger, shinier, more mainstream approach is responsible for this less immersive experience, but I do feel that it has contributed to the lowered difficulty curve. There were certain puzzles in Portal that required damn good timing, and there’s quite a bit less of that this time around. Timing is still important in certain instances, but even then the game is more lenient, asking you to rely more on your own cleverness. Going through each individual area has become less about accomplishment and more about seeing what happens next.

Portal 2 is very good indeed (or at least the single-player campaign is. As of this writing, I haven’t done any of the cooperative stuff), but gaming magic is not something that can be easily replicated, especially in a sequel. If you loved the original and wouldn’t mind a longer sequel with more story and fewer mentions of cake, there is much to like in Portal 2. However, it’s a bit like StarCraft 2 in its polished approach, and it’s missing of that intangible something that made its predecessor go beyond the realm of “very good” and into “classic”.

Special Stage: Because of the move, I didn’t make it to PAX East this year. Instead, the plan is to go to PAX Prime, and indeed, we’re all booked for that trip and ready to go. There, we hope to witness the fourth “season” of Canon Fodder. The Season Three roundup is here, and sadly, not as entertaining a read as past summaries, mainly because there’s video attached this time.

P.S. to Kotaku (and various other gaming news outlets): There is no dash in “Square Enix”. None. I don’t care how silly or serious the article is, you’re embarrassing yourselves (not that that’s hard for you all). I’ve read way too many press releases, visited way too many of their sites, and bought way too many of their products to know for a fact that there is no dash in “Square Enix”.

(Sorry, little pet peeve of mine.)

And speaking of Square, I found myself greatly amused by The Dark Id’s Let’s Play of Chrono Cross. It really demonstrates just how much of a clusterfuck that game is, and makes it that much funnier and more entertaining. His earlier LP of Dirge of Cerberus is also not to be missed.

Oh, and finally, I’m now on the Twitters.

I Blame Dragon Quest

I meant to post here not long after beating StarCraft II‘s Terran campaign, and to devote an entire post to my impressions of the story and campaign structure, but I got sucked back into Dragon Quest IX so quickly again. Also, I’m a procrastinator.

Seriously, though, DQIX is incredibly addictive. I finally saw the credits roll yesterday afternoon, and though the basic meat of the plot is relatively straightforward and shouldn’t take too long to complete, thanks to all of the other things to do, my beat time was 125:27:02. And there’s still a lot more left in the postgame! However, I’m not even thinking about that stuff right now. For the time being, I’m Dragon Quested out.

Raynor from StarCraft II

"Darlin', when I squint my eyes at you, you better listen."

What else has been going on with me, gaming-wise? As I said before, I beat the StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty campaign. The missions had an incredible amount of variety compared with the original and Brood War, but in general, they also felt easier (it must be noted here that StarCraft II‘s campaign has difficulty settings; I played the entire thing on Normal). The easier, more diverse play compliments a story that, while serviceable, lacks some of the raw… je ne sais quois of the previous games. Certain things, most notably Raynor’s relationship to Kerrigan, are less ambiguous, and there is more humor and in-joking than ever before. One minor pop culture reference in particular was, while silly, somewhat anachronistic considering the setting.

Some of this can be attributed to the new structure in place for the between-mission bits. Instead of a dingy briefing room with an android adjutant, where you are a commander working with General Duke or whoever, you are an observer aboard a battlecruiser, with Raynor as your main character, a detached sort of avatar. A more human angle has been given to the story in the form of Raynor’s conversations with his shipmates and others, but in exchange, something has been lost. I’m not sure which approach I prefer.

The character models and voices are also worth mentioning. Raynor still has his smooth Southern drawl and still squints when he’s upset, but his face is no longer lean, but meaty, and he has an equally meaty build to go with it. His hair is darker as well. Kerrigan, in brief glimpses of her old human form, is more fair-skinned than I imagined her to be through StarCraft‘s crude character portraits, and I’m not too crazy about her new voice. Mengsk and Zeratul fare better, and in general, the new characters are well done.

I think I have a pretty good idea of at least some of what the next campaign, the Zerg one, might bring. It doesn’t have quite the same magic as the original (and its expansion), but StarCraft II is still damn good, and I’m looking forward to the rest.

Light Cycles!

Another thing I played recently—well, more like messed around with: Kingdom Hearts II, believe it or not. Compared to the original and even the low-key GBA spinoff Chain of Memories, KHII felt like weak sauce, dumbed down with a convoluted and contradictory story, QTE-style special attacks, and some Disney worlds that, design-wise, paled in comparison to their Kingdom Hearts equivalents. However, it did have some redeeming qualities, like the improved Gummi Ship schmup sections, a certain visually stunning minigame in the Hundred Acre Wood, and a few great worlds, like Space Paranoids, the KHII home of Tron.
My husband became curious about the upcoming movie Tron: Legacy after we saw a trailer before Inception. Neither of us had seen the original Tron, though I was familiar with its reputation as an early pioneer in the field of computer animated special effects, and so we rented it. Tron wasn’t very good story-wise, but it was a visual treat, and reminded me a lot of its appearance in Kingdom Hearts II. Wanting to show KHII‘s Tron world, Space Paranoids, to my husband, I fired up the PS2 and loaded up my starred save game. Unfortunately, I had forgotten how to travel between worlds, so I did a lot of needless backtracking before finally caving in and looking up how to do it. As I traveled through Space Paranoids—including Light Cycle and Solar Sailer rides—and recalled my experience playing through the story bits, I saw just how much of the movie had made it into the game. In this respect, Space Paranoids is no different from most other worlds in the series, but considering that I hadn’t seen Tron until now, it was neat to gain this new perspective on it.

The last couple of games on my recent agenda have been Plants vs. Zombies and Kirby Super Star. In the former, I killed lots of time in two (successful) attempts to get a couple more Steam trophies. The latter’s last and toughest minigame took me a long time and many attempts, but I finally beat it on the last day of August. I had a good time with both games, though Kirby took a little while to grow on me.

That’s about all for now. The next game I plan on starting is Metroid Prime (the Wii-enhanced version), and after that, Etrian Odyssey II. I’ve also been neglecting my Pokeymans, so I suppose I’ll have to pick up Platinum again as well. Oh, and I’ve added some more links to (where else) the Links page. On a related note, if you haven’t noticed, I’ve also made a few small cosmetic changes to the site over the past couple of months. I don’t know if I’ll do any more such tweaking, but it’s certainly not out of the question, and if you spot anything that looks out of place in the meantime, please let me know.

My Fan Translation Wishlist

Yuna Kagurazaka, Guardian of the Light. Forgot where I originally got this image from.Remember that huge stack of game soundtracks I bought awhile ago? I’m still working my way through them. Have managed to listen to most of them, but one I haven’t touched at all is Front Mission 5 ~Scars of the War~ Original Soundtrack. A big part of this is because, as I said before, I haven’t played the actual game. Although this sort of thing hasn’t stopped me before, this is Front Mission, and therefore, special in my eyes.

Front Mission 5 was, apparently, briefly considered for an official stateside release. However, this never panned out, and thus, fans took it upon themselves to do what very few (if any) had done before: an amateur translation of a PlayStation 2 game. Thus was born the Front Mission 5 Translation Project, which has since become the Front Mission Series Translation Project, as they are now working on patches for Front Mission 2 and Front Mission Alternative.

The group completed the beta translation patch of Front Mission 5 in December of last year, so all I would need to do is to hunt down a copy of the game and the necessary PS2 modding tools to get it to run. However, this brings me to the one criticism I have of the project. If the group’s goal is to draw Square Enix’s attention to English-speaking Front Mission 5 fans, then why make it so the patch works only on the non-Ultimate Hits verion of the game, which has long been out of print? I think a spike in sales of new copies of FM5, rather than secondhand ones, would push Square to consider an official release even more. For historical evidence, I point to Capcom, who localized the DS port of Gyakuten Saiban in North America (as Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney) after noticing all the sales of the bilingual game that were coming from outside of Japan. Anyway, I know the fan translation team is well aware of this issue, and I hope they make an Ultimate Hits version of the FM5 patch a priority for future releases.

With FM5 on my mind lately, I got to thinking about what other Japanese games never made it over here that I would like to see complete translations of. There are some games that are “import friendly” in that you don’t have to know a lot of Japanese—if any—to be able to enjoy them, so those aren’t a problem. There are also those like Tales of Graces, Front Mission 2089: Border of Madness, and Game Center CX: Arino’s Challenge 2 that are still recent enough to have a chance of localization, slim though they may be. What’s left are the text-heavy titles which are on dead systems and have small cult followings, if they’re lucky. What’s left, in other words, are games like those on my wishlist.

Ys V: Lost Kefin, Kingdom of Sand, Super Famicom – I’m cheating a little bit here with a couple of them, including this first one. You see, a fan translation of Ys V was started several years ago, but the patch is currently incomplete. This leaves Ys V as the only main-series Ys storyline whose translation has never been made available. Rather frustrating if you’re interested in the Ys canon and don’t read Japanese, but even after all these years, the patching project is not dead, so there’s still hope.

Galaxy Fraulein Yuna and Galaxy Fraulein Yuna 2, PC Engine – And now for something completely different: visual novels! My initial exposure to Galaxy Fraulein Yuna came in the form of the first OVA series; later, I saw the much more coherent second series, Galaxy Fraulein Yuna Returns. Each storyline follows the adventures of teenage Yuna Kagurazaka, who is the savior of the universe, a popular celebrity, and a regular girl all at the same time. It’s a pretty wacky series, with some amazingly good character designs, all courtesy of mecha designer and Gundam Girl artist Mika Akitaka.

Some years ago, I learned that these anime were based on a “digital comic” game series, which gave me a better perspective on the character-stuffed OVAs. However, aside from the Sega Saturn’s Galaxy Fraulein Yuna 3 these games have never been translated into English, by anyone. The Yuna games have shown up on several systems, but the first two in the series are on the PC Engine, thus, my wishlist request. A PSP collection of the first two Yuna games as well as a related title, Galaxy Policewoman Sapphire, was published only a couple of years ago, so it seems there’s still interest in these oldies, at least in Japan.

Chocobo Stallion, PlayStation – Unlike the others on this list, I actually own this game. If I recall, I first learned about Chocobo Stallion while reading some information about a different Squaresoft-related thing. The idea of a chocobo sim racer intrigued me, and I later picked up a cheap copy on eBay, only to find that this was not an import-friendly game in the least. There are no English-language guides of any sort on GameFAQs or anywhere, and, naturally, no translation patches. I’ve long had the idea to make a rudimentary guide of my own, but have yet to get around to putting something together.

Segagaga, Dreamcast – A translation of this navel-gazing RPG/sim is the dream of every English-speaking Sega fan ever, and as with Ys V, is an actual project that has been ongoing, with occasional updates. Started in 2006, the project lead is still pushing forward with it as of September 2009. Will it ever see the light of day? Let’s hope it does!

A Nice Place to Visit, but…

Although I play a lot of stuff published by Square Enix, prior to Radiata Stories, I’d never played a tri-Ace game before. Squeenix games developed by studios like Jupiter, Level-5, or others, sure, but for some reason, never tri-Ace. I’m familiar with their reputation for shiny graphics and generally average games, though, and Radiata Stories in particular seems to be a polarizing title.

Jack runs past a tiny village in Radiata Stories.It is a very pretty game, with appealing graphics that border on painterly, and—unlike many other games where brown is the dominant color—are pleasing to the eye. Similarly, the soundtrack is quite good; certain tracks would always get stuck in my head over the course of my playthrough. This being Square Enix, the localization is also solid, with nary an annoying voice to be heard.

The underlying mechanics are also, for the most part, excellent. The battle system is one of the best I have ever seen in an action RPG. This is a much more immediate system than your typical one a la Tales or Kingdom Hearts, where AI-controlled party members’ capabilities are individually tweaked through menus. A menu is still used here, but everything goes through the main character, Jack Russell (named after the dog breed?). Once Jack is able to lead his own parties, he can issue commands to individual members or the whole group, and even call them into special formations. These commands can be learned in various ways over the course of the game, and like with a lot of battle systems, you’ll come to rely on certain actions more than others. Battles themselves are generally easy, and whatever genuine challenge gets thrown at you isn’t of the frustrating kind. As for navigation, for the most part, I was able to get around just fine, with the final dungeon being the most annoying place in a world that lacks them.

Where Radiata Stories falls apart—oddly enough, given the title—is in the storytelling. It starts out promising, with Jack leaving home to go to Radiata Castle, to join an order of knights. This initial part of the game is plot-heavy, but by the time Jack takes up residence in the town surrounding the castle, the player finds that they now have a lot more freedom… or so it seems. Here, the game’s quasi-open world feel expands even more; in addition to the regular day and night cycles, Jack can now take on odd jobs, make friends, and freely explore most of the city and world. However, unlike a lot of open world games, story events in Radiata Stories can’t be started at your own pace; instead, they will be automatically triggered after waking up or—more annoyingly—after arriving at home to save your progress (and naturally, you can’t do so until whatever cutscene that happens is over, if they allow you even that). About the save system: there are a few temporary save points throughout the world which pop up during story events, but permanent ones only exist in one place at a time, which is always in Jack’s living quarters. You can see how this can be problematic.

Aside from pacing concerns, the story itself has its share of cracks. Though most of the characterization is great, Jack himself isn’t handled particularly well. Certain aspects of his personality change too quickly, even given the tale’s brevity; it leads one to believe that Jack is either naïve or fickle, or both. The meat of the plot, once the game gets around to it, is somewhat confusing. There are two branching paths this story can take; the ending I got was unsatisfying, and what I’ve heard about the second one didn’t sound all that hot either.

Despite its great battle system and beautiful visual and aural aesthetics, I can’t really recommend Radiata Stories. Much as I prefer to play games for the actual game parts, a competent narrative (whenever narrative of any kind is called for) does contribute a lot to the overall experience. While the story does try to break away from certain JRPG clichés in an admirable way, it interrupts the open world flow of the overall game when it isn’t wanted, and on top of that, doesn’t make a good enough case for its own importance. Radiata Stories is chock-full of promising ideas and approaches, especially for a JRPG, but in the end, it doesn’t deliver as well as it could have.