I don’t know much about the Fire Emblem series, but that hasn’t stopped me from enjoying a Twitter thread that has recently gone viral. Created by Twitter user eiouna, the thread is all about their mom and what she thinks of all the men featured in the most recent Fire Emblem game, Three Houses. The thread is a wonderful journey.
As with many of the best Twitter threads, it starts out with a simple but interesting setup. Eiouna is going to ask their mother to rate the men in the game based solely on their looks.
The mother’s opinions on the various characters are hilarious and possibly accurate? I have no idea, I don’t know these characters. But they just feel right, you know?
The whole thread is great and worth reading, especially if you know who all these characters are and what they are really like. Let me and other non-FE players know in the comments below if this mother’s ratings are accurate. I’m very curious to know!
The developers behind RetroArch, the popular one-stop shop for retro gaming emulation, announced a new feature over the weekend: translating Japanese text to English on the fly. The results aren’t great, but they’re better than nothing and likely to improve over time.
RetroArch’s new “AI Service button” uses a Google API to scan whatever is being displayed on the screen, does a check to see if any of it registers as Japanese, and then translates it to English. You can map the command to a single button that you can press anytime you need to translate something. In “Image Mode,” the game pauses and the translated text pops up in a new textbox, while in Speech Mode a robot will actually read the words out loud to you while the game game keeps running.
The RetroArch devs demoed the feature in a YouTube video using the text-heavy tutorial for ActRaiser. While the grammar and syntax is off, the gist of what’s going on comes across just fine. But the mileage really varies from game to game. Here’s what I got for one of the conversations early on in Nintendo’s seemingly-never-to-be-localized Mother 3 for the Game Boy Advance. (Thanks to Chris Kohler for the non-machine translations.)
The first screenshot reads, “I stepped on a mole cricket. I wonder if it’s okay…” The machine translation gets tripped up on the slightly obscure insect name in the first half, and produces the semi-translated line “It was okera, but I wonder if it was all right.”
The second screenshot does translate all the words correctly, but misses the nuance. The original Japanese says “Everyone, it’s time to eat.” The phrase the character uses is “gohan desu,” which literally translates to “it’s rice.” The machine translation spits out “Everyone is rice.” (The “Ooh” and “Ah” in the screens are attempts to translate the string of random Japanese characters I dropped in for the mom’s name.)
Basically, the machine learning translation works well for when you need to know what a specific command prompt might mean, or want a general idea of what you’re supposed to be doing. Any sort of nuance or more subtle meanings are likely to get mangled. But you can sorta kinda get it, as seen in this shot from 1998’s Soukaigi for the PlayStation:
It’s still a really exciting improvement. I mean, if you have time to learn Japanese, you should definitely just do that instead. Official translations are also ideal, but even then there are still so many games out there that seem unlikely to ever get them. For every Seiken Densetsu 3 out there, a Front Mission II continues to fade into obscurity for English-speaking audiences. Fortunately, even those games still have unofficial fan translations, which is your best bet if you’re trying to play Mother 3.
But then there are all the Japanese games that don’t have any sort of translation readily available out there. It’s nice to know that players now have another option, even if it’s very much still a work-in-progress.
Dragon Quest XI is a very long game full of tragic twists and turns, so when my journey finally came to an end, it felt like a real accomplishment. The credits rolled. I’d defeated the main villain and brought peace to the land. I actually felt sad that my time with my companions was coming to an end because I liked them so much. There was a “The End” screen marking the quest’s conclusion. I was about to turn the console off when to my surprise, another line of text followed that read “to be continued…”
That’s when the post-credit sequence began. I thought maybe it’d consist of a few new bonus quests, some extra dungeons, and a chance to find treasures I’d missed in my first playthrough. But I was wrong as there was an entirely new journey awaiting which had me question everything I’d done up until then.
The second half of Dragon Quest XI was remarkable. I put it on the same level as the moment Kefka succeeds in decimating the world of Final Fantasy VI and the Kingdom of Zeal being destroyed by Lavos in Chrono Trigger.
That’s because it’s so rare when villains succeed. In Dragon Quest XI, not only does the Lord of Shadows, Mordegon, corrupt the Sword of Light, but he destroys the Yggdrasil Tree. Your party barely escape with their lives. When the main character wakes, he’s transformed into a fish and is hiding in the underwater city of Nautica. A massive monster called Alizarin, who’s one of Mordegon’s Spectral Sentinels, commences his attack on the underwater city. When you do escape, you immediately see that Mordegon has wreaked devastation on the land. The sun hasn’t been seen since the fall of the world tree. The land is corrupted; there’s poisonous patches all over the place and vicious forms of monsters are roaming everywhere. It was especially depressing because I’d felt such a deep connection to the world with its likable NPCs.
From there, the quest becomes an emotional and physical struggle to regather the party and destroy Mordegon. There’s a lot of character building after the fall of the tree, from the desperate situation at the Last Bastion, to Hendrick’s joining your side and the friendship you build, to the revelations Erick undergoes with his sister. A world of ruin, suffering from the consequences of the Luminary’s failure to stop Mordegon, makes every act more grave. I felt the second act was even more poignant than the first.
Things do become more hopeful as you meet back up with your companions, especially Sylvando, whose Smile Brigade tries to bring cheer, and rhythm, to the land. But the party’s search for their last member, Veronica, takes a tragic turn. You find her in the Grove of Repose in Arboria. At first, her sister, Serena, thinks Veronica’s sleeping. But when you touch Veronica’s staff, you get a vision of the past, jumping to the moment the tree was destroyed. You learn that Veronica did her best to save the party from destruction. “You’re the only ones who can save this world. Don’t let me down!” she yells as she transports everyone to safety. The tree is engulfed in a blast of fire that fatally wounds her. Veronica’s body evaporates soon after you see the memory. The whole party is both saddened and angered. Serena gains Veronica’s powers, who lives on through her sister.
I took out Mordegon’s sentinels one by one. Then I stormed his castle and finally defeated him. Game over, right?
An Elusive Age
I’m always talking about how underrated I feel Yuji Horii’s contribution to Chrono Trigger is and in many ways, Dragon Quest XI has themes that reminded me so much of what I loved about the classic time travel JRPG.
That’s thanks to the post credit sequence. A few days after the party defeats Mordegon, they gather in Arboria in a memorial to their fallen companion, Veronica. They share a drink, mourn their friend, and marvel at Yggdrasil being in full bloom again. “It still hasn’t sunk in, you know. We really did it. We really saved the world,” Sylvando states.
Serena states somberly, “We survived. We have to make the most of that. We have to laugh and smile for those who can’t.”
While the people of Arboria partake in a festival to celebrate their victory over Mordegon, the Luminary decides to sneak off on his own. The rest of the members catch him and they agree to set off on some new adventures, starting with investigating a shining light south of Octagonia. They find the remains of one of the floating islands that the Watchers lived on and discover there might be a way to save someone “lost to eternity.”
In other words, Veronica.
The party finds their way to the Tower of Lost Time where they encounter a being called the Timekeeper. The Timekeeper informs them that the Luminary can actually jump to the past using Time’s Sphere to the moment where Mordegon is going to destroy the tree. The Luminary can stop him there, preventing the destruction of the Yggdrasil, and saving Veronica’s life in the process.
“But to lose time is to lose much,” the Timekeeper warns them. “To take a sword to the Sphere would be to erase those moments.” Only the Luminary can go back, but if he does, everything that happened afterwards would be erased. The whole second act wouldn’t have happened. The new memories, new bonds, and character growth I’d had would be wiped clean. There is some debate among the party members, but the choice seems like a no brainer.
I made the jump, stopped Mordegon, and saved Veronica, which was awesome. If the game ended here, I would have been super satisfied. But as you quickly learn, since Mordegon is defeated, it has a ripple effect that isn’t all good. In the original timeline, one of Mordegon’s Spectral Sentinels prevents the summons of an evil monster called Calasmos. With Mordegon out of the picture, Calasmos is free to enter the universe and wreak havoc. A whole new quest begins.
I appreciated the way Horii shows that the consequences of a time jump like this isn’t all cheery. Horii is always playing with morality in his games, showing subtler nuances that make for uncomfortable truths. In this case, one terrible evil wards of an evil greater evil. Stopping Mordegon has unintentionally unleashed the potential for even greater mass destruction.
What I didn’t like was that it pretty much erased everything that had happened in the second half of the game. That made the dozens of hours I’d spent fighting Mordegon feel empty. I had invested so much of myself into that journey, that this new quest didn’t feel as important. While your party does regain all the experience and skill points from the second quest that had been erased with the time jump, the events I remembered had pretty much never happened.
In Chrono Trigger, there’s that moment where you can change time to save one of your companions. But that doesn’t erase the experiences that happened previously between the team members. Even in Avengers: End Game, the time jump doesn’t erase what Thanos did. It was as though I’d undergone an arduous trial where I’d lost so much, but only gotten through thanks to my companions who’d stood by my side. Then everyone around me forgot it ever happened. I felt isolated, lonely, and frustrated.
What was a gripping narrative with really dark moments in Dragon Quest XI had turned into a fairy tale. Bad things happens in fairy tales, but for the most part, the consequences are minimal as good triumphs. I’d jumped from two different types of stories; the grim, but quirky, quest of the Luminary with bittersweet consequences in their journey to defeating Mordegon, to one where good completely triumphs over evil and even some of the more tragic NPC sidequests get happy endings once you switch their original fate.
So I stopped. I turn off my PS4, removed Dragon Quest XI, and moved onto a new game.
My stopping isn’t an indictment of the game. It’s actually the opposite as it’s a testament to how much I loved the second act of Dragon Quest XI (I consider Dragon Quest XI, along with Persona V, to be my favorite JRPGs of this generation). I felt a strong attachment to the characters in ways that made me relate to them as much as humanly possibly to people with magical abilities who fight fantasy monsters.
Will I go back? Maybe one day as everyone tells me how good the post-credit scene is. But for now, I’ll leave it unresolved, stuck in a Time Sphere of its own. I’m not the kind of player that needs to experience every ending to feel satisfied (even though I often do, like with Nier: Automata). But in this case, the Timekeeper was right. To lose time was to lose too much.
14:29 – Updated the title so as not to make it spoilery! Sorry about that!
A mix of The Legend of Zelda and the works of Hayao Miyazaki, Crystalis was an incredible action RPG for the NES whose surprisingly complex story helped elevate it above many of its peers. It’s also one of the games I most fondly recall from my childhood, so re-playing it on the SNK 40th Anniversary Collection brought back lots of good memories.
Crystalis is probably one of the most brightly colored postapocalyptic games ever made. The sprites teem with a vibrancy reflective of a society that has tried to rebuild after destroying itself in a great nuclear war. Your main character, Simea, is woken from a cryogenic sleep to fight against a brewing evil, the Draygonian Empire.
I love that the main character is a scientist that harnesses the elemental powers to fight against superstition and war. He travels the world to try and protect its people against Draygon, the emperor wants to use the powers of a superweaponized tower to subjugate everyone. There’s an eclectic cast of NPCs you meet along the way that range from eccentric to downright selfish, and are memorable for their honesty. “Wise men… who cares. Let’s party!” one indifferent NPC suggests despite the calamity around them. While another annoyed NPC barks after you wake him, “A person like you should be eaten by zombies.”
The gameplay is an evolution of the original Zelda, especially when it comes to the movement of the main hero. Simea can move in all eight directions and he’s also faster and more agile than Link was in the original Zelda. Equipping the rabbit boots lets Simea jump all over and a suite of spells adds a new dimension of complexity to the combat. Simea has a max of sixteen levels he can gain, but there are enemies that can’t be hurt until you reach a minimum level threshold. This threw me off when I played it as a kid and couldn’t defeat one of the the Draygonian Empire’s“Finest Four,” Mado, because I wasn’t at the minimum level required to damage him. “Just level up your characters,” the friend I borrowed Crystalis from informed me.
Simea can wield four unique swords that can be powered up based on the element from which they derive their power. Different enemies are vulnerable to different elemental powers, which is a concept that’s cool in theory. Unfortunately, it’s a bit cumbersome in practice because it forces you to switch into the menu each time you need to swap the weapons to beat an enemy that is impervious to the elemental sword you’re currently carrying. Still, the combination of spells, attacks, jumping, and even basic platforming made the action feel fast paced and exhilarating. Simea could use paralysis on a foe and go in for an attack, or unleash a level 3 lightning attack from the thunder sword to wipe out most enemies on screen.
Going hand in hand with the combat is some of the best music on the Nintendo. The overworld theme is one of my favorites and I’d argue it’s even better than the Zelda overworld theme.
Tower In The Sky
Crystalis draws thematic influence from the works of Hayao Miyazaki, especially Laputa: Castle in the Sky and Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. The giant insect boss in the Poison Forest looks similar to the Ohmu in Nausicaa, and of course the big tower at the heart of Crystalis is reminiscent of Laputa. But the story diverges into a darker direction, as signified by the original Japanese title, God Slayer.
Leaf is your standard JRPG opening town, providing the hero with a sword, money, and initial objectives. But further into the game, you learn that everyone there has been taken prisoner by the Draygonian Empire. Once you track the townspeople down, they’ve been enslaved to mine for a special metal. It was a cruel shock to see them locked up and soldiers making comments like, “Are those worthless villagers working well?” and “of course it’s difficult to complain when you’re not allowed… We must make them work harder.” The ironic part is that even after Simea rescues them, some of the NPCs are cheeky, stating, “So you saved us, big deal.”
Later on, you find the central resistance village, Shyron, that is training people to fight against the Draygonian Empire. They’re led by the four wise sages, Zebu, Tornel, Asina, and Kensu. But while Simea is away, the Draygonian army attacks using the special armor built from the metal the people of Leaf had mined. Simea rushes back to town, only to see almost everyone is dead, including Stom, who was the pupil of one of the wisemen. As Stom dies, he tells you, “Everyone killed… watch out for Mado… He is more treacherous than the other three.”
There’s a touching moment later where you can transform into Stom and meet his bunny friend, Deo. Deo mistakes the main character for his old friend. When Mesia informs the bunny of Stom’s fate, he gets outraged and yells, “That’s a lie! He couldn’t be dead.” But he comes to terms with it and demands rabbit vengeance.
Little story touches like that made me feel real anger at the Draygonian Empire. I beat Mado in my first encounter, but it’s the second encounter that thwarted me as a kid thanks to the level limitation I mentioned earlier. It was only many years later when I was able to beat Mado properly. I felt so much satisfaction that I was finally able to fulfill the bunny’s request for vengeance.
There’s so many other memorable moments in Crystalis, like tracking down the real queen in the water kingdom of Portoa who’s masquerading as a fortune teller; finding a wounded dolphin, healing him, then riding him in the Angry Sea; and finally defeating the Finest Four. The telepathy spell acts almost like a codec, where you can chat with four of the characters from the game, get story hints, and even irritated replies brushing you off. With the teleport spell, you could return to older towns and NPCs would update their dialogue based on actions that had taken place during your adventure. My favorite spell of all allowed Simea to fly and made platforming in levels much easier since you could just soar past the pits with moving blocks.
Even after the defeat of the Draygonian Empire, Simea and his partner, Messia, have to climb the Flying Tower. There you learn the truth about Crystalis. The hero, along with his partner, Messina, are arbiters acting as a judge on humanity: “You both were part of a team of scientists who created this tower. As the most critical link, you were preserved to witness our future race; to judge if there’s hope for humanity… When the tower began operating, your life systems were engaged and you both were awakened.” As for Azteca, the leader of the four sages, “He was an android created by us, and programmed to lead the people in a positive direction. We can only hope will succeed. We used all of our resources to create him. If he fails then it will be up to you to decide their fate.”
Unfortunately, as evidenced by the rise of the Draygonian Empire, Azteca failed, and death and destruction are present almost every step of their journey
In the end, the DYNA system controlling the Tower has to be stopped since it has the power to destroy humanity. It’s not a difficult fight by any means with the Crystalis equipped. The ultimate judgment, which leads to the destruction of the air castle, is an unfortunate indictment of humanity. People can’t be trusted with this kind of power. Even their artificially supplied guidance through the use of an android was futile. As long as the tower exists, more people will rise up to try to exploit its power for their gain. The two scientists work together to destroy their weapon and rescue humanity again.
Crystalis has flaws, but makes up for it with bold strides in its narrative and gameplay. It’s not so much about slaying gods, though, as it is dealing with humanity and its evils. The android they created helped build the sword needed to destroy the tower, and knowledge, together with some fancy swordplay, paved the way to salvation. At least, that’s the hope…
While Idea Factory’s Hyperdimension Neptunia began in 2010 as a 3D turn-based role-playing game, spin-off titles have reimagined the series as a turn-based tactics game, a co-op beat-em up, a faux MMORPG and even a retro side-scrolling shooter. The latest spin-off, Super Neptunia RPG, traps the series’ CPU goddesses in a 2D platforming realm, where a sinister villain wants to get rid of 3D games forever. What a freaking weird series this is.
The Hyperdimension Neptunia series is set in Gamindustri, which is basically the game industry as a living, breathing world. It’s ruled over by four goddesses, each representing a video game console. Vert, also known as Green Heart, is the ruler of the country of Lastbox, representing the Xbox. Blanc/White Heart rules over Lowee, representing the Wii. The PlayStation’s country is Lastation, ruled over by Noire/Black Heart. And finally we have Neptune, a.k.a. Purple Heart. She represents the cancelled Sega Neptune console, and she’s the goofy main character of the whole shebang. The four goddesses were initially at odds, fighting over shares of fans in the Console War, but as the series has progressed, they have become friends, co-starring in a seemingly endless stream of spin-offs.
Like this one, for instance. Super Neptunia RPG, out now on Steam and coming to the Switch and PlayStation 4 on June 25, is a very pretty mix of 2D platforming and turn-based RPG combat. Developed by Canada-based Artisan Studios, it’s the first game in the series made outside of Japan, as well as the first to launch on a Nintendo console.
The game begins with our hero Neptune (nicknamed Nep or Nep Nep) waking up in an oddly flat bed in an oddly flat town. Used to starring in 3D fare, the purple-haired protagonist is startled to discover she’s now pixels instead of polygons. She’s also lost her memory, because the world of Hyperdimension Neptunia is one that thrives on video game tropes. In fact, after Nep joins up with the local adventurer’s guild in an effort to restore her memories, she runs into a pair of familiar faces who’ve also lost theirs.
For anyone unfamiliar with the tone of the series, this screen says it all. It’s self-referential, self-aware, tongue-in-cheek anime goodness. It’s got a unique sense of humor. It can be a little racy, but most of the time it’s too busy being completely silly.
The version of Gamindustri that the console goddesses find themselves wandering in Super Neptunia RPG is flat and uninspired by design. A mysterious villain oppresses the people of the land, forcing them to crank out unoriginal video games as taxes. Seriously, they say it right here.
It’s up to the goddesses and their super-powered alter egos (the Hearts) to take down said villain, restore their memories and make the world safe for 3D games once more. So stupid. I love it.
Super Neptunia RPG has all the hallmarks of an old-school platform-style role-playing game. Nep hops through beautiful 2D landscapes, collecting orbs, opening chests and battling (or avoiding) wandering monsters. Her dash move helps her cover more ground, and eventually she unlocks the ability to summon a bouncy ooze creature, allowing her to reach greater heights. There’s a ton of equipment and weapons, each unlocking new skills when equipped. There are so many side quests. There are fetch quests. Kill X number of monster quests. Give me money quests. Everybody wants something.
While the game looks beautiful in screenshots, in motion it’s a little bit janky. Idle animations are fine, and the character look and move well in cutscenes. But when Nep is hopping across the scenery during gameplay, she looks like a Flash animation. Check out this recently-posted behind the scenes video with developer Artisan Studios to see what I mean.
Exploration doesn’t feel bad, mind you. Neptune controls precisely, making perilous jumps with ease. She just looks weird while doing it.
Neptune and friends move much better once battle begins. Tapping on wandering enemies while exploring launches into a traditional-looking 2D RPG battle, with heroes on the right and baddies on the left. The up-to-four characters making up the players’ party are assigned action buttons based on their place in the party’s formation. Performing actions requires action points, represented by a slowly filling meter in the lower right of the screen. When enough action points are available, pressing the button that corresponds to a party character causes them to act.
A character’s position in a formation changes which actions they perform. In the screenshot below, Blanc is in the Y position, while Neptune is in the X. In this formation, pressing Blanc’s button causes her to cast Clear, removing status ailments from the party, while Neptune does a standard attack.
Switching places, which can be done on the fly during combat, causes Blanc’s action to change from Clear to Cure, which heals an ally’s hit points. Neptune, still relatively low level, keeps on normal attacking.
So it’s active time combat with a thrilling twist. It can get difficult to keep track of the abilities of four different characters in four different positions, but one you get the juggling act down, it’s quite cool.
I’m several hours into Super Neptunia RPG now. There’s not a lot of depth to the story, but then there never really is in a Neptunia game. It’s all jokes and charm and video game references and pretty pictures, with a heaping helping of side quest filler. In other words, exactly what I thought it would be. I’m happy with that.
Brittany Avery worked at Xseed, a US studio that specializes in localizing and publishing JRPGS, for seven years as a localization producer and then left the company. Recently she discovered that her name had been removed from the credits on a game she worked on. In response to the controversy, Xseed revealed a policy that caused instant backlash from developers and players.
Yesterday on Twitter, Avery revealed the news that her name had been removed from the credits in a port of a game she worked on called The Legends Of Heroes: Trails Of Cold Steel.
Fans of her work and the games she helped translate immediately responded, calling out Xseed on Twitter. Eventually, this backlash grew large enough to prompt the company to respond. For some reason, they decided to respond in the worst possible way ever with the reveal of a policy that only current staff members are credited.
According to this tweet, Xseed never credits developers after they leave the company, choosing instead to only credit people who are at the company when a game launches. This tweet caused an even bigger backlash, this time with many developers responding.
“Your company policy for crediting is and had been pretty bad then, and you should probably change it for the future,” said Rami Ismail, developer of popular indie games like Ridiculous Fishing and Nuclear Throne.
“You should have a meeting on Monday about this,” tweeted Nick Chester of Epic Games, the studio behind Fornite.
This policy is terrible and erases the hard work of people who might have spent years working on a game and simply because they leave before the game is shipped, all that work is left uncredited. Xseed isn’t alone in not properly crediting folks who leave or are let go during development. Rockstar Games has also come under fire for seemingly similar policies.
Video game workers being able to create and join a union would help kill this practice and also provide them with healthier work environments and better pay.
Xseed didn’t respond before publishing. This post will be updated if they do.
Fallout 4’s Far Harbor expansion is pretty anime with its island of misfit Synths and deep-seated mysteries. But one modder decided it isn’t anime enough and took matters into their own hands.
Nexus Mods user Hiyokomod created the AnimeRace Nanakochan mod, which adds anime-style characters to Fallout 4, after being disappointed with how the mechanic and synth expert Kasumi Nakano appears in Far Harbor’s questline. You first learn about Nakano by hearing her voice over the radio. She’s animated and bubbly, but also grappling with some heavy existential crises. Once you meet her though, she’s just as grim and mannequin-looking as most of the other character models that tend to populate Bethesda’s open worlds.
“I was absorbed in her and went to see her in a hurry. I was so excited that I even forgot that the game I was playing was Bethesda,” Hiyokomod, whose first language isn’t English, wrote using a translation tool. “I was in despair when I met Kasumi. At the same time, I realized that my ideal Kasumi could not exist in this world. I had to choose between quitting the game or creating my ideal Kasumi.”
Hiyokomod decided on the latter and so created the AnimeRace Nanokochan mod. Rather than just change how Nakano appears in the game, the mod adds an entire race of anime people. It even adds tools for players to create their own anime player character.
It’s a bizarre addition to the game that makes its strange, futuristic setting both more charming and more disconcerting. On a thematic level though, it also sort of works: Nakano’s whole storyline is about an island where Synths, the game’s race of beleaguered, self-aware androids, have taken refuge, and her residual doubts about her own humanity. Turning her into a youthful anime girl heightens that emotional turmoil. As a bonus, it makes Fallout 4 look like a Japanese role-playing game, which I’ve always felt like it was meant to be.
In Disc Creatures, you play as a licensed Disc Ranger canvasing the world for monsters who will fight on your behalf and be content to spend their downtime stored inside CD-ROMS that get uploaded to the DiscRnet. It’s set to release on Steam later this year and everything about it feels retro and looks freaking adorable.
The game is being developed by Picorinne Soft co-founder Satto. The Japanese indie studio has been around for some time. In 2018 it released Infinos Gaiden, a retro side-scrolling arcade shooter, on Steam, and before that a top-down shmup reminiscent of 1983’s Xevious called Battle Crust. Even Disc Creatures has been percolating for a few years now, with a free demo of the Japanese build released in 2016. The full version of Disc Creatures will be published by Dangen Entertainment.who announced Disc Creaturesduring their two-year anniversary livestream last night. At first glance, it looks like a demake of the original Pokémon games with what may be a nod to the CD-centered Monster Rancher games, but there are a few interesting differences.
Combat will take place with three creatures at your side rather than just one at a time, and each character will have a unique skill tree with trade-offs that can be developed over the course of the game. And unlike in Pokémon, the creatures’ usable moves won’t disappear if you decide not to learn them. Instead, they can be swapped out at any time between battles, letting you change up a given creature’s build as needed to tackle different fights. There will be 200 individual creatures to collect overall with a campaign the developers claim will take players up to around 20 hours.
It’s cool to see someone mining the monster-collecting RPG’s lo-fi Game Boy roots in 2019. Despite the popularity of Pokémon, the subgenre has spawned relatively few viable copycats. There was Dragon Warrior Monsters for the Game Boy Color in 1998, but the series hasn’t been localized in the West since 2011’s Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker 2. More recently, there have been the Yo-Kai Watch and Digimon Story games, but outside of them, it’s slim pickings. And of course, none of them harken back to the simpler days of 8-bit-style sprites and chiptune music, nor are they available on PC.Since Disc Creatures is coming to Steam, you’ll also have the option of streaming it to your phone via Valve’s Steam Link Anywhere service to recreate the portable experience of collecting monsters on the original Game Boy. It’s the best of both worlds.
Kotaku Game DiaryDaily thoughts from a Kotaku staffer about a game we’re playing.
I consider myself a veteran Etrian Odyssey player. I’ve hand-drawn dozens of maps across the role-playing game series, meticulously crawled floors for every treasure chest and scripted event, and gotten hundreds of monsters in my codex—conditional drops and all. So I came to the latest title in the series, Etrian Odyssey Nexus, pretty prepared for how these things go—make a guild, crawl some dungeons, maybe die once or twice or a dozen times. I was not prepared to find myself in a losing battle with my own ego as a result of refusing to lower the game’s difficulty, despite desperately wanting to.
My guild, which I am physically incapable of giving even a remotely serious name, is called Club 96 of RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars fame. Each of my characters is named after a queen from the show, including a Gunner named Gia (Gunn) and an Arcanist named Naomi (Smalls), who has long, absurdly skinny legs like her namesake. Rounding out the team are Sovereign Bebe (Zahara Benet), Nightseeker Bianca (Del Rio), and Hero Asia (O’Hara)—basically, my team is built around inflicting status ailments on bosses and dealing big dick damage while they flail around unable to do much.
Then there’s a roster of random utility characters for gathering items and for healing my characters when I cheaply don’t want to use the Inn yet, lovingly named 1 through 8. I thought about renaming them as “Bidoof” and “Skarmory” in honor of former Pokémon HM dumps but found the number method more helpful. All this to say, I have a system, and my system generally works.
Newly ready for some serious gaming with my Bad Bitch Squad (a censor-thwarted moniker which would have been my guild name if the developers at Atlus had stopped playing games with the character limit and thus my feelings), I set out into the wonderful world of Etrian Odyssey Nexus’ tutorial, which is in some ways meant to teach you basic mechanics but mostly meant to teach you that you can die at any goddamn moment. Yes, you, too, you dungeon-crawling scrub.
Since I consider myself an experienced EO player and a skilled motherfucker, I decided to play the game on Heroic mode, the hardest difficulty. THIS IS WHERE I MESSED UP.
OK, so here is the thing: It wasn’t actually a mistake. I am what they call a prideful jackass, and I very intentionally decided to play the game on its hardest possible difficulty for no reason other than a little voice in my head telling me that I am a Bad Bitch and do not mess around when it comes to Atlus games. (This is false—I absolutely do mess around with Atlus games and will never be caught dead playing a Shin Megami Tensei game on its hardest difficulty. Or even beating a Shin Megami Tensei game, probably, but never say never!)
Every player on every forum will very quickly tell you a harder difficulty is the “proper” way to play the game—masochism is a necessary trait for most Atlus games, so I’m not inclined to argue. Because I like to play my games with a healthy dose of hubris, I figured I’d also try my first-ever run without a Medic or a Protector; classic jobs meant to heal and reduce party damage, respectively, so that you die less and are less helpless when you do die.
The difficulty of the new Etrian Odyssey is fine. It doesn’t feel unfair and provides a reasonable challenge for anyone familiar with the series. It’s even balanced for some of the moments designed to capitalize on and subvert the expectations of those experienced with the series. Where I messed up was thinking that I am even remotely in control of my own gaming impulses, especially as they relate to titles where min-maxing is optimal and maybe even necessary for success.
Here is an example: There is a point where your party ends up under a sudden shower of rancid meat water. You then see what is a text version of a slapstick “I’m nauseous,” “Now I’m nauseous because you’re nauseous,” scene during which all of your party’s HP continues to drop. You’re then prompted to either keep going with the rancid meat smell or take off all your armor and wash it.
“You will probably get attacked while this happens,” the game all but outright warns you of your potential smelly nude shenanigans. Of course, I couldn’t not know what happens if you take all your armor off, so I choked down the anxiety of doing something silly and stripped down in the middle of a monster-infested magical ruin. I was summarily attacked by monsters without my equipment. Surprise!
I managed to survive, but I found myself constantly lured by the siren call of “knowing what some shit does” in Etrian Odyssey Nexus, in much the same way that a gamer might jump off a cliff to see if it’ll kill them or wade into water to see if they can swim. Will these fruit heal me, or become sentient and blindside my party? Can I kill this wildly aggressive kangaroo with a cheap-ass strategy and some luck, or will it annihilate my squad? Do I squeeze out my remaining resources and keep going until I activate a new shortcut or trek back to the Inn and play it safe like a goddamn loser?
I didn’t realize quite how out of control I was until I found myself moving more slowly through the game than I wanted. The pacing is fine and even feels faster at times than other games, as Nexus includes smaller snippets of dungeons from previous titles as kind of a love letter to itself. But there were other titles I wanted to play, and on top of that, I get into a very nasty completionist loop when I play EO games.
It was like a Bandersnatch moment as the hours went by and I realized that, as much as I wanted to, I could not lower my difficulty. I physically could, of course—all it took was a little foray into the menu and I could change my difficulty, just like that. Once you are in Heroic, you can switch to a lower difficulty—but you cannot switch back to Heroic. You also can’t start a New Game+ in Heroic if you completed the game in another difficulty, and since Heroic seems to be exactly the same as Expert, it is literally for bragging rights and nothing else, really, as far as I can tell.
Friends, I am still playing on Heroic and moving at a snail’s pace, and I am kind of OK with that but also feeling a little trapped!
I could keep a Heroic save and continue on a different difficulty, but the finality of moving forward and first seeing the game’s new content on a lower difficulty—and the idea of having to play the exact same mode again outside of a NG+ setting if I wanted the bragging rights of beating the game on Heroic—stopped me in my tracks. I already had to rip one bandaid off—one of my characters had died on the last goddamn turn of a boss battle and thus didn’t get any of the juicy boss experience everyone else got. Where past Natalie would have begrudgingly reset for a better run, I realized I was already moving more slowly than I wanted and pressed forward, my poor Gunner now lagging behind in a game where each level already felt hard-won. It took a while to feel normal again.
Standard mode has never been so easy that it’s boring, and Picnic is honestly fun if you’re literally just trying to get more of the game’s story, but no one is really trying to do that—in past titles, the game got so easy that my non-damage-dealers were landing haymakers on newly squishy enemies. Yikes.
I might have finally met my match as I decided to switch up my gameplay style and be a little more reckless as a form of motivation. There’s something in basketball called a heat check—basically, you take harder and harder shots, some of them relatively silly choices, to see how “hot” you are.
Around the third major dungeon, I tried to do another of several heat checks in Nexus—taking on a difficult quest fight at half TP without saving—and the random number generator laughed right in my face. “You are cold, scrub,” the game snickered as my party got wiped. “Do you want to save your maps though, so that you can be less bad at Etrian Odyssey Nexus next time you play?” I’m paraphrasing—it’s the feeling I’m capturing here.
And honestly? It sort of helped. I might have to challenge run myself into changing my difficulty, or just decide to play a little more recklessly—and make the move to an easier difficulty level to do it.
We’ll see. In the meantime, the Bad Bitch Squad prevails—on Heroic.
Playing a main series Dragon Quest game is a serious time investment. I’ve finished half of them, and the last three I played (V, VII, and VIII) each required almost 100 hours. But there’s something special about the games that director Yuji Horii is involved with, whether it’s the Dragon Quest games, Chrono Trigger, or even the classic adventure game The Portopia Serial Murder Case, that make those hours go by quickly.
A major part of the signature Horii touch is the attention to detail in almost every aspect of the game’s inhabitants. Dragon Quest XI is full of quirky, funny, and tragic NPCs that make the world feel alive and a joy to spend time in. They give the story more gravity because you actually care about its inhabitants. Saving Erdrea means rescuing people you care about. Here are some of the ones that were most memorable for me from the first half of the game.
In Dragon Quest XI, everyone gets attention. Priests at churches have a personality as they carry out their functions. Sometimes they’re somberly warning you, other times they’re reveling in drinks at a celebration. Storekeepers comment on the news of the day and are affected by events, like in Phnom Nohn, when many of its inhabitants have been kidnapped. One of the children has actually taken over for her mom and there’s a desperation in her voice as she says, “My mother is coming back. I know it. I am only looking after the shop until she returns. Maybe you would like to buy something, sir?” Even though I didn’t need anything, I bought a bunch of stuff from her.
Laguna di Gondolia has one of the most hilarious sales interactions. There are two brothers who are merchants and one of them sells a catsuit for 10,000 gold—pricey, to say the least. If you go to his brother and tell him about the initial offer, he’ll offer the same suit at a lower price. By going between the two brothers, their competitive nature takes over, and you can bargain them down to 1,000. The funniest part is how aggressive they get in their haggling and how much of their relationship is conveyed through their angry dialogue. You can tell this rivalry has been going on for years, and I couldn’t help but wonder what family get-togethers were like for them.
This cycle continues later on with a very strong armored suit, which has the additional effect of changing the wearer’s appearance. The first brother sells it for 100,000 gold, which is very steep. Go to the other brother, who makes a “special offer” of “only 50,000 gold coins.” The haggling continues until one of the brothers offers it at 5,000 gold because “I cannot lose to my brother! I do anything to beat him!” It had me cracking up as I bought this badass armor at a 95 percent discount.
While Dragon Quest XI has a massive world, these touches for background characters that are usually relegated to functional uses (buy, sell, save) help make it feel smaller, more personable. When was the last time you remembered a shopkeeper in a RPG?
One of the most moving sidequests seems simple on the surface. Deliver “A Lovely Letter” from a soldier, Hakim, in the Gallopolis region to his sister, Akia, in Laguna di Gondolia, which is where the hero is heading. She’d gone there to pursue her dream of becoming a baker, but Hakim hasn’t heard from her in some time. As a footsoldier, he doesn’t have the liberty of leaving his post, so he is desperate for help. After you accept and head over to the bakery in Gondolia, you learn Akia actually quit and is now working as a maid for Doge Rotondo. You find her sweeping the floor outside, and once you hand her the letter, Akia eagerly opens up it up. She reads the letter to find what Hakim has written: “Now that the misery of our old life is a thing of the past, I pray that you are enjoying your freedom. I cannot wait to see you blossom into a fully-fledged baker.” He had placed a few gold coins in the letter to support her.
I wondered what misery he was talking about. “Oh, poor Hakim,” she says to you. “How he must scrimp and save in order to send me money…”
She asks if the Luminary (that’s you) can return a letter, but also not to tell Hakim that she no longer works at the bakery. The letter she writes is equally painful. “I know that it cannot be easy for you to have to support us both. If it were not for your assistance, I would be unable to follow my dream of becoming a baker… I will continue to work hard, Hakim. I want you to be proud of me.” She continues the lie so that both of them can keep going, persisting through their difficult time with hope.
The story doesn’t end here. As Hakim reveals, their tragedy isn’t the evil monsters of Erdrea. It’s their father. “He was once a kind and gentle man, but then he suffered a terrible injury, which made him horribly bitter. Akia and I would often bear the brunt of his frustration.” Hakim is fighting for her future to try to make up for her past.
The interesting thing is, neither letter is integral to the plot. The material reward is just a cookbook. But the developers had changed what would normally be a simple trading quest into a glimpse of a family tragedy, where you realize even the freedom of being able to wander from town to town is a privilege. I wanted to give them some of my hoarded gold just to help them. The follow-up quest reveals even more about their circumstances and has a touching conclusion. This quest, more than all the monsters I’d fought and evils I’d vanquished, made me feel like a true Luminary, someone trying to restore light to a world being consumed by human darkness.
A Mermaid’s Quest
The playable characters in Dragon Quest XI have really great story arcs and the party talk option is an excellent way to gauge everyone’s mood. Every campfire break has interesting exchanges, and the fact that you can swap characters out at any time in battle means everyone gets field time. But it’s still Horii’s NPCs that steal the show, as in other games. This includes Chrono Trigger’s Fiona and her dream of reforesting the Sunken Desert, or the priest in Vogograd who sacrifices himself in Dragon Quest VII for the mental wellbeing of his fellow townspeople.
In Dragon Quest XI, an encounter with a rhyming mermaid named Michelle leads to one of the most memorable quests in the game. Initially, Michelle mistakes the Luminary for Kai, the human lover she’s been waiting for. Kai had promised to return so they could get married. When one of your teammates, Veronica, questions whether a human and mermaid can be wed, Michelle explains the Mermaid’s Burden: “If a mermaid leaves the sea and makes the land her home, if ever she gets wet again, she melts away to foam.” Because of that curse, Kai promised to come to the sea with her, and they received special permission from the Queen Beneath the Sea to live together in the underwater city Nautica. Michelle asks if you can go to Lonalulu and check up on him.
But when you get to Lonalulu, you learn that interspecies love isn’t exactly a popular political position. The citizens of the sea village despise the mermaid, believing they have a bewitching influence on humans. Horii’s narratives often play with public perception this way, so that those you think are the heroes turn out to be villains, and vice versa, and back again. Eventually, the party finds Kai’s mother, who tells them the story of one of the village’s best fishermen. The mayor of Lonalulu, the Big Kahuna, gave the fisherman “the hand of his beloved daughter” Leilani. But when he got lost in a storm,m he was rescued by a mermaid who stole his soul, causing him to forsake the woman he was engaged to. Even when he returned to Lonalulu, he just wanted to get back to the mermaid. Eventually, the fishermen was banished to Saikiki and forbidden from sailing again.
I was confused on which version of the story was true. Had Kai had his soul stolen, or had he fallen in love? When your party finally meets Kai, he at first is confused and tells you his full name is Kainui, then realizes they have him mixed up with his grandfather, Kainoa. Since mermaids have much longer lives, a generation had passed since Kainoa had met the mermaid. You learn from Kainui that the fishermen in his mom’s story was Kainoa, her father and his grandfather. Shortly after being exiled, a storm killed the chief Kahuna as well as his daughter’s new husband. Leilani had previously given birth to a new baby with her husband, but mother and daughter also disappeared. The villagers, believing the mermaid had taken them as revenge, were furious, and marched to Saikiki beach to confront Kainoa. They found him there with a baby whom they believed was the unholy result of a mermaid and a human. Shocked, they left him there. But that baby was Kainui’s mother. Did that mean Kainui was a quarter mermaid?
I have a confession to make before I go on. When I was much younger, I watched an animated version of The Little Mermaid—an anime film released in 1975 by Toei, not the Disney version. It was one of the few movies I remember bringing me to tears and I was sobbing because the ending, based on the original Hans Christian Andersen story, was so sad.
So as I played through this scene, learning the true identity of that baby, it brought back flashes of that memory. The party learns from a letter Kainoa left behind that he wanted to return to the mermaid, but he could not keep his promise after his exile. That was because he saw his ex-fiance, Leilani, “standing on the cliffs” of Saikiki Beach. “With her father and husband gone, she had lost all hope… and reason… Before my disbelieving eyes, she threw herself into the ocean.” Kainoa tried to save them, but only the baby survived. Wracked by the guilt of his ex-fiancée’s death, he felt he had a responsibility to take care of their child. So he stayed behind and raised her as his own.
While I didn’t openly sob this time around, I had to blink back tears. As the Luminary, my primary power was to shine a light on the truth. But I was powerless after I told Michelle the truth about what happened, and she opted to sacrifice herself. She faded away into foam, their love never fulfilled.
I was aghast. Even writing this article, I still feel depressed thinking about their love and the weight of remorse that must have hammered Kainoa everytime he looked at his new baby. He bore the censure and contempt of the villagers without protest, feeling it was just punishment for what his actions had caused.
There are so many more great NPCs in Dragon Quest XI. I could go on about the prince of Gallipolis pretending to be someone he’s not, the whole troupe of Sylvando’s Smile Brigade, or some of the wackier encounters players face in the Masked Martial Arts tournament of Octagonia. While the overall quest is of an appropriately epic scale in this eternal battle of good versus evil, it’s the all-too-human struggles of the minor character that make the game really stand out, echoing elusively about relationships that resonate long after we’ve left the world behind.