It’s now been 10 years since a real Suikoden game was released so let’s cry about it, together.
I don’t ever play enough games that come out in the calendar year to make a real top 10 (see: my haha I bought these and didn’t play them list at the bottom), so instead I like to put together lists of things that I played and liked. With that in mind, here are 10 games that I played and enjoyed in 2015, that came out in 2015. If this were games I played through in 2015 that came out in any year, the list would be different.
Atelier Shallie: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea – My love of the Atelier games is well known, and any entry that is better than Atelier Iris 3 (that is all of them) is bound to get on my “enjoyed games” list. Shallie is the last in the last game in the Dusk setting and ends on a hopeful note, which is good because I just spent three games trying to save a dying world. Like Atelier Escha and Logy it features two mostly the same but different in parts paths for you to play through, this time two young ladies named Shallie who wind up working together to figure out why all the water in the world is drying up (it starts out smaller than this, of course). The gameplay is the same, you complete tasks in a given period and toss a bunch of stuff together in a pot to do alchemy. If mixing a bunch of stuff together to try and get different/the best results sounds enjoyable, Atelier games are probably for you. The time management aspect has eased up greatly since the Arland series so if you hate that, it’s not present the same way.
Bloodborne – I haven’t finished this, because I am stuck on a boss, because I am bad at crowd control, and then I got distracted by other things like my cats. I stopped playing Demon’s Souls when I got stuck in an area and never went back (the Tower of Latria) because I felt like the game was just screwing with me, but Bloodborne is different. Things can be tough but they are generally manageable and if you are patient, you can work through them eventually (in a past life I beat Shadow Tower so I am a case study in patience with games). Beating the bosses is very satisfying.
Like all (and I mean all) From Software games, you’re navigating a world they don’t really bother telling you much about and I found Bloodborne the most compelling. You’re dumped in a mostly ruined city where people are turning into werewolves, mostly, but other stuff is going on too. There’s a school full of current-slimes-former-people and just not really any information on why that happened. It’s normal, you’re the hunter (which is of course not as straight forward as it seems), just go with it.
Cat Goes Fishing – This is a game about a cat that goes fishing, on a boat. Sometimes he also catches hats. You sell the fish you catch and get new rods and boats that go further out so you can catch new and different fish. It’s a very simple, relaxing game that I enjoy playing when I need to chill out for a bit. I haven’t caught a shark yet, but I will.
Citizens of Earth – Made by a group of people who clearly love Earthbound, Citizens of Earth embraces the feel of the Mother series but doesn’t attempt to do a 1:1 copy which is probably why it succeeds. With a whacky story (you are the Vice President of the United States and have to figure out what is going on with some aliens), the Earthboundiness comes out in the battle system where you have unconventional attacks and text. Besides that, the game is really more of a party recruitment title and a standard JRPG but done very well. If you are looking for something off kilter but doesn’t go off into the whack whacky lands, this is for you.
Crypt of the Necrodancer – This is a rhythm roguelike where you dance around levels and die a lot and cry and then you beat an area and you drink until you passout in celebration. Or at least this is my experience with the game. It’s more fun than it sounds. It is in fact, a whole lot of fun and features a rad soundtrack. If you enjoy rhythm games and also dying a lot in games (it’s a theme for me!), you will enjoy necrodancing. Everyone is making roguelikes now (when they’re not making metroidvanias anyway), so you should support the ones that are executed well with actual unique gameplay.
It’s easier to show than explain the gameplay, so please enjoy the following:
True story: I was in Japan when this game came out and asked my husband to buy it for me so I wouldn’t miss the launch discount. It was definitely worth all of the money he paid.
Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky SC – I waited so long for this game. I waited so long for this game. I have many thoughts about it which will go in its own post but this is the co-LeoGOTY and an extremely JRPG story in a good way.
Just to get one thing out of the way: Although Trails SC is so JRPG it hurts, the battle system is not turn-based in the traditional way. What I mean is, it’s tactical combat where you can run out of movement points and not execute an action in a turn. You must also wait for magic to be cast. All the Trails games feature this style of combat.
You must play FC (First Chapter/Second Chapter, FC/SC) before this one, but if you like JRPGs you should really play both. You must be willing to devote a big chunk of time to the game, as it is very long and cutting out the sidequesting won’t save much time.
Persona 4: Dancing All Night – I am not a Persona 4 maniac (I still like 3 better), but I am a huge fan of rhythm games (Nintendo if you are reading this please make Elite Beat Agents 2 I will buy 100 copies). I refuse to engage in Hatsune Miku so it’s been a while since I had one to play. While I’d rather have another Ouendan/Elite Beat Agents, Dancing All Night scratches the itch pretty well and includes a visual novel type story if you are into the whole Persona4verse. Since there’s an idol on the comeback trail it actually makes as much sense as it possibly could when you consider that the objective is dancing away evil.
Pillars of Eternity – I backed this Kickstarter at a rather high level due to being a complete nerd in desperate need of cloth maps. If you are a fan of any of the games the people who work at Obsidian created before they were at Obsidian (Black Isle Studios and Troika) then you will absolutely be a fan of Pillars of Eternity. A strong story in a fleshed-out world with very hard combat that takes a while to learn. This is not a “pc revival” like Divinity: Original Sin (which featured a combat system way more JRPG than CRPG), it’s a direct successor to the Infinity Engine games.
Shadowrun: Hong Kong – More of Harebrained’s Shadowrun is a good thing, though it is not as good as Dragonfall: Director’s Cut. It’s always weird when a game is set somewhere like Hong Kong because it falls into certain cultural trappings, but I thought they were fine and it’s Shadowrun so it’s all weird anyway. The big thing in Hong Kong is that they overhauled the Matrix and it is so much better than it was previously that I wish they could go back and
Tales of Zestiria – Much like Atelier games, Tales games are an autobuy for me. If you want to read a lot of words about my thoughts on Zestiria, I have a whole post about them for you! The long and short of it is that it has the best battle system since Graces F and none of the Graces F garbage story and horrible voice acting. It’s very charming with none of the rargh dark edgy story you find all over these days. Not everything in the game is flowers and sunshine even on the good guy’s side but it never gets up its own butt about it which I greatly appreciated.
Games I didn’t play in 2015 but meant to and oh well that’s life:
Age of Decadence, Amnesia: Memories, Code: Realize, Danganronpa: Ultra Despair Girls, Dragon Fin Soup, Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel, Legend of Legacy, Lost Dimension, Norn9, Oreshika: Tainted Bloodlines, Stella Glow, Story of Seasons, Undertale, Xenoblade Chronicles X
I didn’t play and don’t intend to:
Fallout 4, any multi-player focused FPS games
A friend of mine who makes games in his spare time wrote about his recent struggle with world-building in a fantasy setting where there is gender equality that reflects modern times rather that you should check out, so go do that: ECHOES OF THE FEY: BUILDING A BETTER (MORE EQUAL) FANTASY WORLD
I’m replaying Dragon Age 2 after five years at the behest of a friend who said the Legacy DLC was worth it. There are definitely thoughts going on in my brain, but the whole “doors that are unable to open because we just reused the same five maps” is still very much true.
The reason it’s an issue is because the doors just…don’t open. They’re there, you can see on the map there are paths and rooms beyond them but there’s no indication that they’re locked or acknowledgement that they’re unable to be open. You just follow along and then, oh! you can’t go here this time, sorry. Initially I was capturing every one I came across but there were too many to keep it up.
The nine-billionth entry into Namco’s long running Tales RPG franchise, Tales of Zestiria, is the series debut on PS4. It overhauls some of the familiar systems quite a bit, but it’s not a shakeup that will make fans of the series recoil in horror.
Tales of Zestiria takes place in a world looking for a hero–specifically a person who can assume the title of “The Shepard”–because of an overwhelming evil that is influencing the land. Vaguely Arthurian trappings are used to create the mythos of the game, with the Shepard being a person who can pull a special sword out of a stone. It takes a while for this to happen, but our hero Sorey who can see Seraphim (a race of magic based humanoids who act as the balance keepers in the world) without assistance (he was raised by them and it’s how we know that he is a pure-hearted softy) pulls it out, makes a pact with the Seraphim who is connected with the sword and sets out to fix all the bad stuff happening in the world.
While all the otherworldy evil is going on that needs stopping, the two main empires of the world are on the verge of war so something needs to be done about that as well. So many bad evil things to fix!
Some have railed on the simplicity of the story, but I thought it was well done and I don’t understand the need to complain about a straight-forward good-vs-evil deal. This isn’t the atrocity against story-telling that Graces was, it’s just to the point. The characters are very likable, the actions they take have consequences, sorry if there’s not angst up the wazoo.
It is also definitely a bishi shounen-ai inseki game in disguise but that is a matter best left to those who doujin. If you understand any of that last sentence, I apologize.
The Battle Mechanics
Like all the games in the series, there is a lot going on in the battle system in Zestiria. The very basics are that it’s a real-time battle system where characters have two types of moves: Regular attacks and special moves (human characters) or spells (Seraphim). New attacks are unlocked as you go by leveling up previously learned moves and titles. Combos are regulated by a stamina bar: No stamina, no attacking. All moves take up a certain amount of stamina, which goes down as you level them up, and you recover mana in battle by either standing still or guarding. You will guard a lot in this game.
The battle party is four (usually)–specifically, one human paired with a Seraphim. There are parts of the game where there is only one human so the party is only one pair. The reason for the pairing is, of course, explained in the story, but it comes through in the battle system as humans and Seraphim can fuse into a more powerful elemental form that does a lot more damage, has a lot more hitpoints, and can unleash absurd moves when the battle gauge is built up to a certain point. This doesn’t break the game since elemental damage is not always a plus, you often need a character on the side casting healing spells so you can’t be bundled together, and so on. In most boss fights I spent very little time in fused form, fusing only when a character’s hit points ran low.
You can hop around and directly control the character of your choice, hot-swap the active Seraphim for both you and the second active human character or sit back and be less of a crazy-control freak if that suits you. Unlike other games in the Tales series you can’t give direct orders to party members, instead titles determine the basic AI (healing/magic attack/physical attack). It took me a while to figure out this is what titles did other than boost stats, and I spent way too long looking for a way to map skills to my right analog stick. They probably mentioned this at some point in a tutorial but I tend to gloss over those when they pop up.
There are so many ways to customize battle conditions and behaviors that I am not going to get into all of it because it would wind up being 10,000 words, but there is a lot for the tinkerers of the world to get into if they please. And more importantly, those who choose not to dive into things won’t hit any walls on the easier difficulties.
Other than being driven nuts by not being able to be super crazy micromanager by spamming specific skills (Nurse-Nurse-Nurse-Nurse-Nurse-Nurse), I would say that the battle system in Zestiria is the best since Graces and unlike Graces, the non-battle elements of the game don’t make me want to die. It is certainly the most unique even if a lot of the available skills across the characters are familiar to fans of the series.
And, because it was mentioned so much in the marketing, open world aspect is not really open world in the sense the term is normally used. It just means that when you encounter an enemy instead of it happening on a set battlefield it happens wherever you’re standing on the map. This leads to getting stuck in corners and bad camera angles. The battle areas for normal encounters are pretty small and when fighting large creatures the lack of mobility (I turned on free run as soon as it was available) can be aggravating.
The Graphics and Design
Let me cut straight to the chase: I played Zestiria on the PS4 and the graphics are definitely more PS3, and not even good PS3. The textures aren’t super great and there’s a lot of fuzzy stuff around. I did not really have an issue with this, but I know a lot of people care about such things and it needs to be mentioned. Games in the Tales series never look bad, but they are never on the cutting edge since they’re mid-budget games.
Given that limited budget, the Tales series has always relied on the character–specifically the costume–designs are what give entries a unique look. The characters in Zestiria wear colorful, unique costumes that stand out against the medievalish background of the game. They are only somewhat ridiculous, and compared to other JRPGs downright grounded.
Beyond the changes to the mechanics battle system there are also major changes to the experience and grade systems in Zestiria that I am not sure will carry over to future titles because they are a radical departure from the norm.
The first is that leveling up does not work the same way as you normally find in JRPGs (or RPGs in general). Your stats don’t get a significant boosts and you can’t grind your way through fighting alone to overpower a boss. Instead you have to farm for equipment and fuse it together to get better stats. This costs money and time, but probably less than running around for hours eking out a few levels to take on a boss. Now, if you are an extreme under-leveler (hi, that’s me) you will still get pounded and on higher difficulties you’ll need to farm equipment for skills but that’s for crazy people (hi, that’s me).
The change to the Grade system is just as drastic. You still get Grade for completing battles, but not as much of it as you would in previous games. Instead, you sacrifice items to the protector Seraphim of a region (at save points) for Grade. So the real farming in Zestiria is for money to buy items, to give to the Seraphim. As you get more Grade, the Seraphim level up and you get certain bonuses in their region. You can also give them items that have been fused to +10 or higher to get a fancy upgraded version of the item with much better stats, but these items are not fuseable.
For some reason you can’t capture video or take screenshots in Zestiria except when doing some specific battle dungeon side quests, for reasons I don’t understand but it was very vexing to me, a person who likes to share stupid videos and screenshots. And who would have liked to use video to show all the things going on with the battle system to help clarify.
Tales of Zestiria is a game designed to make the fans of the series happy, offering something that feels similar but not exactly the same. It’s a little game full of charm, and a lot to do if you’re so inclined. If you don’t like JRPG trappings, stay away, but if you do it’s sure to scratch that itch.