enfrdeitptrues

RPG

  • Dragon Warrior 7: Warriors of Eden (PS1)

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    Game Info:

    Dragon Warrior 7: Warriors of Eden
    Developed By: Heartbeat, ArtePiazza
    Published By: Enix
    Release Date: November 1, 2001
    Available on: PlayStation 1
    ESRN Rating: T
    MSRP: $35 used

    The Dragon Warrior series is known for expansive worlds and great storytelling, but the sheer number of titles may be overwhelming for newcomers. Thankfully, with an independent story, Dragon Warrior 7: Warriors of Eden makes it easy for anyone to jump into the Dragon Warrior series and doesn't require you to be familiar with the franchise to enjoy it. There are many returning features like collecting mini medals and the ability to change classes, but the story, characters and the world are brand new.

    You begin the game by naming your character, who also happens to be the son of the best fisherman around.  You’re nearly of age to join your father when destiny decides it has other plans for your young hero. Together with your best friends, the neighborhood girl Maribel and the prince of the next town over, Kiefer, you explore the peaceful land of Eden, a continent alone on a seemingly endless ocean. But a nearby ancient ruin reveals a portal to lands lost in time.

    As you talk to people and explore your surroundings, you’ll collect pieces of shards, that when combined, will open up a portal to a land in the past in need of saving. If you can successfully save the citizens from certain doom, their ancestors are suddenly alive and well in the present. Although some towns need more saving than others, as one town required intervention three times!   These quests vary from saving a town from a volcanic eruption, to stopping a mechanical army from destroying another.   Some of the towns are being tormented by a tough enemy that you will have to deal with in order to save them.  

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Over 110 hours of game play, not including the bonus engines.
    Weak Points: No multiplayer or re-releases on newer platforms.
    Moral Warnings: Swearing, violence and sexual references.

    The boss battles are the same as normal ones with the exception of different background music.  The random battles are pretty straight forward as you direct your party to attack, defend, or use magic.  You may be able to flee from regular battles, but not from boss battles.  If you die, half of your gold will be taken and only the main character will be revived at the last church you saved at.  When a battle is won, experience, gold, and sometimes a treasure chest is left behind. When enough experience points are accumulated, a character levels up, though attributes and spells are automatically adjusted, leaving little room for customization in that regard. The only way you can impact your stats directly is by consuming seeds of magic, life, agility, resilience, and strength.  Most weapons increase your attack attribute; however, there are a few that can be used in battle as a tool.  Some weapons are cursed, and if you equip them, they may negatively impact your stats.  

    Some of the magical attacks have really neat graphical effects and eye candy.  The explosions, wind, water, and fire attacks are always fun to watch.  Being the target of those attacks is another story.  The towns and dungeons have a  3D over view  and you can rotate to get a better viewing angle to spot those treasure chests that are not in the default field of vision.  These graphics are on par with the Nintendo DS releases of Dragon Quest IV, V, and VI.  

    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 86%
    Gameplay - 18/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 66%
    Violence - 7/10
    Language - 6/10
    Sexual Content - 3.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 6.5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Dragon Warrior 7: Warriors of Eden is the first Dragon Warrior game to be released on a Sony platform.  While the Nintendo releases had a couple of ”d words” in them, this game had them more frequently and one of the bosses calls your party b**tards.  Violence is a given, but it’s not gory or violent.  One of the towns has a kid being bullied and your party helps intervene.  You’ll make many friends, and some of them have romantic implications.  There are sexual references, including the ability for your character to get "puff-puff” for good luck at the casino.  As you progress in the story, you will need the help of the four guardian spirits (aqua, flame, terra, and wind) to defeat the powerful evil spirit.  To gain the help of the wind spirit, you must agree to send her five cute guys a year.  It goes without saying that a few of the characters you encounter are notably promiscuous.  

    Those issues aside, I like how this game offers you choices and exposes the depravity and redemption of humanity in general.  It even shows you the fallibility of the spirits that these people worship.   There are moments in this game where you will be put on the spot and asked to make a choice on how to save a village.  Sometimes the people asking you have impure motives and you have to look at the situation from multiple perspectives to uncover the truth.  

    As you can imagine, the character development is great and the story being told is a memorable one.  Since the boss battles get progressively harder, there will be times where grinding sessions will be required to be prepared for the upcoming battles.  A necessary evil for many RPG games out there and this game is no exception.  If you are a fan of the Dragon Quest/Warrior series this is a very long and great addition to the series.  Just keep in mind that it’s not as family friendly as the Nintendo offerings.

     
  • Dragon's Crown (Vita)

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    Game Info:

    Dragon's Crown
    Developed by: Vanillaware
    Published by: Atlus
    Release Date: August 6th, 2013
    Available on: PS3, Vita (reviewed)
    Genre: Action RPG
    Number of Players: single-player, four player multiplayer
    ESRB Rating: Teen for violence, alcohol and tobacco use, partial nudity and suggestive themes
    Price: $50 for PS3 version, $40 for Vita
    (Amazon affiliate link)

    Thank you Atlus for sending us this game to review! 

    The Kingdom of Hydeland is in turmoil as the king has gone missing. To make matters worse, magic users have been seeking out a legendary artifact called the dragon's crown to awaken the ancient dragon.  With monster attacks on the rise, the adventurer's guild and royal family have plenty of tasks for you to complete.   Are you up to the challenge?

    When you first start the game you will have to choose your character class. Since some are easier to play than others, the game recommends starting off with a brawny class like the amazon, warrior or dwarf.  You can also choose the sorceress, mage, or ranger.  Each class has unique abilities, fighting styles and equipment.  As you fight and gain experience you will also earn skill points that can be assigned to common or class specific abilities.  

    Some of the abilities include new attack moves, more health, or inventory space.  Dragon's Crown combines the action of 2D side scrolling brawlers with the allure of finding hidden treasures deep within dungeons and towers.  While there are only ten areas, there are multiple paths with a boss waiting at the end of each of them.  I like the humor of this game as one of the boss' is from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.  

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Fun combination of brawler and dungeon crawler gameplay.  
    Weak Points: Multiplayer is not available until the initial single player quests are completed.
    Moral Warnings: Like many RPGs there is violence and magic use. The female characters in this game suffer from abnormally large breasts, thighs, and buttocks.  They are also dressed so provocatively that a sneeze could cause a wardrobe malfunction.  The males of course are adequately covered and are without delusional enhancements.

    As you accept quests and explore new areas you encounter many enemies including orcs, vampires, lizard men, skeletons, evil mages and of course dragons.  They often drop coins after their demise.  There are also treasure chests and bones of fallen adventurers to be looted.  You can either revive the bones to get a NPC party member or you can bury them for a random treasure.  

    The first few quests are solo as you learn the game mechanics and prove your worth to the adventurer's guild and royal family.  Once you're at the point of collecting the nine talisman to battle the ancient dragon, you can play alongside NPCs, local friends, or random people online.  The boss' hit points go up the bigger the party is.  Some of the bosses I fought solo to make it easier on myself.  Some of the adventurer's guild quests require you to fight on your own as well. To do that you must disable joining.  If you have join enabled and are on the network, online players may hop into your party at any time.  It should come as no surprise that in order to play online, your system has to have the current firmware.  

    I never had any trouble finding anyone online to play with.  There is no chat and the only way to interact is you use your hand pointer.  When there are multiple dungeon paths, the majority vote wins.   Joining a random game is always fun and if the other players are higher level you may get even better loot.  I once picked up the bones of a level 99 adventurer; I didn't have the 999,999 gold to revive them though.  

    Gold comes and goes in this game pretty fast.  After you raid a dungeon you can either appraise (for a price) or just sell an item outright.  You cannot use an item until it has been appraised though.  Fortunately each item is assigned a rank form E (worst) to S (best) so anything C or lower I typically sold without bothering to appraise it.  As your character takes damage their equipment deteriorates or breaks altogether.  If you're carrying multiple bags of items you can switch equipment at the dungeon crossroads.   Anything damaged or broken can be repaired in town for a price.

    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 88%
    Gameplay - 18/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 64%%
    Violence - 6/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 2.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 3.5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Magic runes play a big part of this game no matter what class you play as.  There are rune markings on many of the dungeon walls and if you combine those with the runes your purchase, you can conjure up temporary weapons, buffs, hidden treasure, healing circles or an extra life.   You start off with three lives with the option to pay and pray for an extra one at the temple.  When those lives are exhausted, you can pay again and again until you can no longer afford the increasing revival rates.  When you're out of money and lives you're taken back into town and revived by a friend.

    Violence and magic use is a given in role playing games.  What surprised me with these titles was the blatant sexualizing of females.  The Amazon warrior I played was incredibly buffed with thunder thighs and a thong suit.  I mean who would seriously fight an ancient dragon wearing a thong bikini?  The sorceress was even worse with her double J bust size and a lace dress that was extremely low cut.  It gets even worse.  In the dungeons I encountered a mermaid with a human buttocks, a wounded female monk warrior spread eagle with her chastity belt holes exposed, and lastly, a bound attractive female spirit wearing a thin semi transparent outfit.  This artwork was extremely one sided; granted the warrior and dwarf classes were muscular like the Amazon warrior, but their groin area was realistic and not jiggling as they walked. 

    It's a real shame since the 2D artwork in this game is incredibly detailed and well done.  Unfortunately, they put too much detail into the females.  I would not recommend this game to anybody who is struggling with pornography or lust.  The sound and voice acting is top notch as well.  The gameplay is solid and had it not been for the sexual fantasy art, I would recommend this game to any RPG or brawler gamer out there.  

     

     

  • Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen (PC)

     

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    Game Info:

    Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen
    Developed by: Capcom
    Published by: Capcom
    Release date: January 15, 2016
    Available on: PS3, PS4, Windows, Xbox 360, Xbox One
    Genre: RPG
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Mature for Blood and Gore, Partial Nudity, Suggestive Themes, Violence
    Price: $29.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    Thank you Voitan_Rex for gifting us this game to review!

    Dragon’s Dogma was originally released in 2012 on the PS3 and Xbox 360 consoles. Four years later, it came out on PC and in 2017 it was released on the latest generation of PlayStation and Xbox systems. Although the graphics are a bit dated, the gameplay is still solid and this title separates itself from the many RPGs out there today. I can see why gamers have been longing for a sequel and am now among them.

    The game begins with you customizing your avatar and being placed in your home town of Cassardis. A huge dragon attacks your village and you’re one of the brave few to pick up a sword and fight it. Many villagers lose their lives and your character does not leave the battle unscathed. In fact, the dragon eats your heart and yet your character lives through the ordeal and becomes known as the Arisen. As the Arisen, you’re destined to battle the dragon and can command soulless warriors known as pawns.

    Along with customizing your character, you get to create your own pawn from the ground up. Pawns made from other characters roam around the world (if your system is online) and you can recruit them into your party. Up to three pawns can be under your command. Surprisingly, I was able to recruit pawns that were well over one hundred levels above me.

    Like many RPGs, you can get side quests from villagers which reward you with money and discipline points upon completion. Your character and pawns can learn various skills and abilities with the points earned. Characters level up both in their vocation and overall level as they battle and complete quests.

    Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Fun gameplay with good AI companions and epic battles
    Weak points: Quests can be confusing at times with no clear direction on 
    Moral Warnings: Violence and bloodshed; revealing clothing; can pursue relationships with anyone in the game, male or female, married or not; language (d*mn, b*stard); magic use

    When visiting an inn you can adjust your skills and pawn behavior. You can set how chatty they are as well as what kind of enemies to focus on (strongest/weakest). It’s worth visiting various vendors for the best weapons/armor and healing supplies. Picking up ferry stones for teleporting between various towns will save you a lot of walking.

    Though there are many enemies along the roads, even more are lurking away from them. Exploring is rewarded by uncovering many treasure chests with nice loot inside. Bigger enemies tend to drop good items after they are defeated. There are many enemies that are the same size or smaller than your character, but the bigger beasts are more fun to conquer. When battling huge monsters like ogres, cockatrices, wyverns, and more, you and your party can actually climb up them to strike vulnerable areas. For example, you should climb on top of a cyclops to take out their eye or slice off the serpent tail of a chimera to weaken them. Dismemberment and blood are a given for many of the battles in this game.

    Not surprisingly, there are some mage characters that cast powerful spells and undead creatures that need to be put to rest once and for all.
    There’s a great amount of detail in the monsters and their movements are well done. Though aged, the visuals are still pretty good and it didn’t feel like a six-year-old game to me. There’s a fair amount of variety in the different pawns and NPCs. The chatter from the pawns does get repetitive though. The voice acting is good and the background music is well done.

    Some language is used in the game but it’s pretty mild compared to other M rated titles out there. Every character can be romanced/won over by giving them gifts. There are a handful of quest-related love interests, but ultimately you can achieve a maxed affinity with whomever you please no matter their gender or marital status. One of the quests lets you romance the duke’s wife. When it comes to love scenes, I have only seen kissing. When changing armor/attire characters can be seen in their undergarments. After my heart was ripped out from the dragon, my female character’s shirt was badly ripped but the necessary areas were still somewhat covered.

    Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 84%
    Gameplay - 18/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 3/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 50%
    Violence - 2/10
    Language - 7/10
    Sexual Content - 3.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 7.5/10

    I was able to complete many quests without a hitch. I appreciated the warnings for when the game’s story was about to progress and any side quests would have to be ignored or completed before moving on in the game. By completing some quests, others will be nullified and the game will notify you of that too. Some quests left me scratching my head as the map marker did not align with my next destination. In one instance, the quest marker was stuck at talking to an individual when I should have been prompted to visit a location they mentioned instead. Thankfully, there are plenty of walkthroughs and maps available online to check if you get stuck.

    Though this title autosaves, I highly recommend saving manually as I was kicked back to my desktop unexpectedly more than once. There’s only one save slot so keep that in mind if you’re about to do something absurdly violent or stupid. I accidentally struck someone instead of talking to them and was quickly tossed into jail. I tried to reload after posting bail, but the game autosaved and my 5,000 gold was forever lost.

    I was able to complete the main story and a few side quests in roughly twenty-three hours. There is a speed run option available if you’re into that. If you’re the type that likes to explore every inch and complete every possible quest, Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen has you covered. After the credits roll there is some post-game content that adds significant but spoiler heavy story sequences. Your character can actually become like a god and take control of life in every realm.

    If you like epic battles and RPGs, Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen is worth looking into if the moral content doesn’t bother you. This title is well worth the entry fee and is worth checking out if you haven’t played it yet. Be warned that it will make you long for a sequel though!

  • DreamWorks Dragons: Dawn of New Riders (Switch)

     

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    Game Info:

    DreamWorks Dragons: Dawn of New Riders
    Release Date: February 1, 2019
    Developer: Climax Studios
    Publisher: Outright Games
    Available on: Microsoft Windows, Nintendo Switch, Playstation 4
    Genre: RPG, Adventure Game
    Price: 29.99
    Number of Players: 1
    ESRB Rating: E 10+
    Price: $29.98
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

    First of all, I want to thank Climax Studios for the code for this game!

    Dragon Dawn of New Riders is an interesting game developed by Outright Games. It is part of the "How to train your Dragon" series, and is set in a cool fantasy, Viking setting with characters such as Patch, Scribbler and Astrid. The game begins with a dragon in an egg and you need to let the dragon hatch out of the egg. You are then able to control both Patch and Scribbler in a thrilling adventure!

    Dragon Dawn of New Riders opens when you fly into a burning area. As with many RPGS, the plot begins with the age-old adage of the hero's hometown or area being destroyed. A second character is found by Hiccup, but does not remember who he is. The hero is thus named 'Scribbler,' as 'this will do until we find out what your real name is'. The adventure then begins with 'Scribbler' wondering how he will protect himself and the purple egg he has awoken next to.

    DreamWorks Dragons: Dawn of New Riders
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Good graphics; entertaining storyline; Game is mostly helpful on telling you how to play it
    Weak Points: Some controls and camera angles make assignments difficult; repetitive storytelling
    Moral Warnings:Fantasy violence and magic

    After that, Dragon Dawn of New Riders begins to explain the controls and missions and is fairly user-friendly. It explains right away how to open chests and that these chests contain valuables of various kinds to help in a quest. This is obviously designed for new gamers, as in earlier RPGs such as Zelda or Final Fantasy one would simply go up to the chest and open it without any explanation needed. As the journey starts, Scribbler first decides to just stay in his area, but then is harassed by Dragon Trappers who steal the dragon egg, thus making it necessary for him to fight them and get it back. Needless to say, the player now controls Scribbler and he goes after the egg. After some fighting, the egg hatches and we meet Scribbler's new dragon friend, an adorable purple dragon named Patch. Patch will soon become your best friend and constant companion.

    Dragon Dawn of New Riders is divided into separate mission areas and each of these areas opens with an assignment telling you your primary purpose for being in this region. The only downside is they can be clunky at times, especially when flying. Also, the first boss fight was not explained well. In earlier fights, one had to bash at orbs to free certain dragons. The way it is explained at the first fight makes it sound like this is all you have to do, but when I tried to attack the dragon via this method, I got defeated. The way one is to defeat this boss is to have Patch stand on certain switches and raise platforms to stun the dragon and then you fight the Dragon Trappers. I could not figure this out without a guide. This was somewhat frustrating, as most guides to this game are on YouTube rather than text-based. But that is not the fault of the game itself.

    DreamWorks Dragons: Dawn of New Riders
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 88%
    Gameplay - 16/20
    Graphics - 10/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 79%
    Violence - 5.5/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 8.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 5.5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    As Dragon Dawn of New Riders progresses, we are treated to several interesting characters. My favorite is Astrid, the alchemist. The controls are easy to figure out and are even explained. Gameplay is fun and interactive, but can get a bit repetitive at times as the missions tend to run into each other as time goes on. The game play is in the first-person in real time. It's quite similar to Zelda in that it is an open air area and you can explore the areas at will.

    From a Christian perspective, how does the game hold up? Given that this is a fantasy RPG, magic is to be expected. Patch the dragon can breathe ice and has other powers, and alchemy is also used in the game, wherein you mix together different materials to create your healing items. The game is also set in a Viking setting, which is known for paganism, but there are not any scenes of worship in the game. The lines between good and evil are shown pretty clearly in this game, a refreshing change in a time period when these distinctions are getting more and more blurry. The Dragon Trappers are clearly shown as evil for trying to imprison the dragons and when the dragons are freed, it is a time of great joy for the dragons and their owner. Of course, dragons are mythological creatures so if that concerns you, that is the only thing to be aware of. Also, it is a very short game, and I was left wanting more.

    All in all, this is a fun game, even if it can get tedious and boring at times. It reminds me a lot of Zelda and Final Fantasy for a new generation. The only concern from a moral standpoint might be the dragons and the alchemy. But I really enjoyed playing this and would recommend it as fun for the whole family.

  • Dungeon Souls (PC)

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    Game Info:

    Dungeon Souls
    Developed by: Lamina Studios, Mike Studios
    Published by: Black Shell Media
    Release Date: December 2, 2016
    Available on: Windows, macOS, Linux, SteamOS
    Genre: Rogue-like
    Number of Players: Single Player game
    ESRB Rating: Unrated
    Price: $12.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    *Advertising disclosure* - After this review was posted, Black Shell Media became an advertising partner.  This review is not influenced by this relationship.

    Thank you Black Shell Media for sending us the review code.

    Skill level is a hard thing to talk about with game reviews. I always try to avoid using the phrase casual gamer. Who am I to tell someone they aren't good enough for a game? Yet at the same time certain games are not meant for everyone. Some people have massive backlogs simply due to the fact there are certain games we just couldn't beat. I have a few of those myself (looking at you FTL: Faster Than Light). So now we have a game that is supposedly the Dark Souls of rogue-like games. Dungeon Souls certainly lived up to that nickname in my book.

    Dungeon Souls takes you through a fearsome dungeon. Souls are trapped and a select few are reborn with a chance at earning freedom if they conquer the dungeon. You choose from classes such as the barbarian, thief or ranger as well as a medley of unlockable classes. Each class has its own unique abilities; some classes focus on melee attacks, some on magic, some on pure ranged combat.

    Dungeon Souls
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: A well thought out procedurally generated game with plenty of content to keep you going.
    Weak Points: This game has a lack of world building and story.
    Moral Warnings: A rather dark game with eternal punishment themes. Some may compare this to Hell.

    To progress through the stages you have to activate a varying number of summoning circles in each level. Once you have defeated the monsters at each summoning circle an exit portal will open up to the next stage. You only have a limited time to escape to the next stage before the Redeemer ends your life quickly. Don't try to rush through every stage as the gold you earn can be spent on shops, or you may find a golden or silver key to open special chests that contain powerful passive items. Take too long and the Redeemer will come for you even if you're not finished with the stage. After every couple of levels you will face challenging bosses from skeleton kings, frozen golems, and Merlin. If you die, you will have to start over without any items or upgrades. However, materials you collect such as bones, metal, and magic dust can be used in the arcane forge to craft new weapons and items for your favorite classes to make them stronger.

    The challenge certainly lives up to its nickname. Enemies are abundant and constant, but never feel like they are just meant to completely overwhelm you. You also feel like you get upgraded when you pick up an item. In these rogue-like games too often do you find that certain items are useless no matter which way you look at it. Making items in the Arcane forge can feel like a bit of a chore due to the amount of materials some of these recipes require. However, the game doesn't make you feel like they are needed for meaningful progression. You will die so don't expect to beat this game within a few hours. Some gamers might find such challenge as a deal breaker and may take long breaks from playing. Many people may never finish the game at all.

    Dungeon Souls

    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 74%
    Gameplay - 14/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 84%
    Violence - 8/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 7/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 7/10

    The biggest notable con I have with this game is a lack of story. The game doesn't need it, but, imagination doesn't always carry interest. Why is each character trapped in the dungeon in the first place? This is one of the many questions I know I won't get answered. The only notable story bits I have come across is by appearing in a secret location when trying to find Merlin that I won't spoil. Story doesn't have to be around to make a good game, but you can develop the story off the back of a good game. Be warned this game has a notable memory bug where if you horde two million coins the game will crash on you and reset all progress. Controller support is lacking in this game as well; the character feels much harder to maneuver with a controller. 

    Morality comes from the few bits of story you get. You're playing as mysterious individuals whose souls are trapped in a deadly dungeon. Other than the more obvious occult themes, the violence is overexaggerated and extremely gory for an old 8-bit style game. With a lack of story elements it may not be clear what the developer was going for theme wise in certain moments.

    Dungeon Souls will frustrate you, anger you, and challenge your skills to the core. Rise up to the challenge and beat it, gamers! Or let it become another game in your backlog. The choice is yours. (Unless it erases all your progress.)

     

  • Elder Scrolls: Blades (Switch)

     

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    Game Info:

    Elder Scrolls: Blades
    Developed By: Bethesda Game Studios
    Published By: Bethesda Softworks
    Released: May 12, 2020 (Android/iOS), May 14, 2020 (Nintendo Switch)
    Available On: Android, iOS, Nintendo Switch
    Genre: Action role-playing
    ESRB Rating: Teen (Violence. Blood)
    Number of Players: Singleplayer, optional Multiplayer
    Price: Free (optional microtransactions)

    Note: Review based on the content present in the 1.7 client, which is the latest at the time of this writing.

    Generally, spinoff games wind up either being fun in their own right, better or worse than the main series entries, or are a nice complement to the main series if done well. Elder Scrolls: Blades is something of a mix of all three, with mixed results.

    Set after the Oblivion Crisis of the fourth series entry and the Great War that followed but before the events of Skyrim, ES: Blades is a side-story for the Blades, the former bodyguards of the Septim heirs now driven underground and forced to hide from assassins sent by the Aldmeri Dominion. They forced the weakened post-Septim Empire to cut off support for the former Blades after the Great War, and you play as a former Blade now struggling to survive.

    Set in Cyrodiil, you return to your hometown (default name Rivercrest) to discover it has been leveled and that while you are trying to evade the Thalmor, the hit squad the Dominion dispatched to hunt you down, the townspeople are even worse off, and by improving their fate, you secure your own. In the process, you discover political intrigue abounds, an ancient evil has been unleashed, and one of the titular Elder Scrolls may be at the center of it all.

    The gameplay is a mix of elements from The Elder Scrolls (TES) titles. The combat and user interface draws from the first two entries (being first-person only). The narrative style is a mix of the third and fourth entries, with careful speech being an integral mechanic like in the third and fourth titles. The other gameplay mechanics, such as the crafting, item maintenance, and town-building, adapt elements of the fourth and fifth main series titles, though in a simplified format. You can optionally spend money to acquire treasure chests with randomized boosts and resources, but this remains strictly optional, it's possible to enjoy yourself without ever spending a single cent.

    Elder Scrolls: Blades
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Good simplified distillation of Elder Scrolls mechanics for portable systems
    Weak Points: Unstable; buggy textures
    Moral Warnings: Action RPG violence; minor flashes of blood upon being hit though no gore; corpses are left after death; mild language {occasional h*ll and d*mn mostly); a few mildly revealing outfits; necromancy as a prominent theme (though portrayed as an absolutely bad thing); a few options to be a jerk in dialogue, though not encouraged in-game; clear discrimination to a religious minority (though you have the option to assist them in avoiding this)

    If you've played a TES entry or any RPG in general, this will not take long to get used to, and the game is generous with tutorials to get you started if you're a newcomer. The game is well optimized for cross-play on multiple platforms, so it features many mechanics that are much simpler than the main series releases on purpose. According to the developers, this was intentional so the player can play on one platform and resume on another, like going from Switch to PC and vice-versa. Some ports like the mentioned PC port, are TBA at this time, but it has been confirmed all ports will be able to resume from each other seamlessly. Unlike other entries, this is not an open-world title, it's more much of a dungeon crawler with randomized areas and a single town that serves as your home base in-between dungeon crawls.

    Graphically, it's medley of TES4 and TES5. It has the overall aesthetic and setting of TES4 Oblivion while using quite a few TES 5 Skyrim assets when and where possible. The overall effect captures the interquel nature of the game rather nicely. In terms of how well it looks, they generally succeeded in making the game look nice, and graphically the game can compete at times with the main series console releases for quality. However, there are some visual glitches, like some stray missing textures and floating items in a few places. Nothing game-breaking, but noticeable enough during causal play.

    Music is again a mix of the Oblivion and Skyrim style soundtracks, with some original soundtracks, including some excellent combat music. Voice acting is quite crisp, and while some voice actors are new, both they and series regular voices sound good. Sound effects are directly lifted from TES4 and TES5 for the most part and sound just as good as they did then. Aside from some odd combat music timing issues, which admittedly is not uncommon to the main series as well, it all sounds perfect to my ear.

    Controls are a greatly simplified adaptation of the more complex PC and even console control schemas for all platforms, and this was adapted well. I played on a handheld Switch, and aside from cramping my hands with frequent camera adjustment with one of the directional sticks at times, I had little trouble getting anything done. Combat has been adapted more a rhythm game like system where timing and combos are vital to simplify the action RPG controls used in the main games. There is a town management system that is also adapted well for repairing buildings and placing town decor that also makes use of streamlined controls, with again only camera adjustment being a slight hassle at times. In this mode you walk around town, choose places to rebuild ruins into houses and business, and with a few button presses can easily allocate collected resources from dungeons to newly restored buildings.

    Stability is where this drops the ball. The online portion tends to break connection quite a bit, ranging from merely being annoying when trying to sync with an opponent in the in-game PvP arena, to being downright game-breaking when it just hangs after collecting a treasure chest and the controls become utterly unresponsive. Fortunately, the auto-save system works fine and a simple reset will bring you back to just before things went wrong. Regardless, these crash and hang issues are extremely common and put a severe crimp in the fun factor.

    Elder Scrolls: Blades
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 72%
    Gameplay - 15/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 2/5
    Controls - 5/5


    Morality Score - 69%
    Violence - 4/10
    Language - 8/10
    Sexual Content - 9/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 6/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 7.5/10 (+3 for themes of encouraging wise speech to avoid conflict, +3 for establishing practices such as necromancy are wholly evil)

    Morally, we've got some issues in several areas.

    Violence is pretty restrained for a TES entry but still present, with you often having to fight in self-defense or defense of others against monsters and humanoid enemies. While blood display is limited to a brief spray from weapon strikes and bodies simply hit the ground and stay there after death with no blood or gore display, it's not uncommon to leave a dungeon area littered with dead bodies.

    Language is pretty mild, with maybe a few scattered d*mns, but the language is otherwise tame. Sexual references are also tame, with maybe a bit of cleavage shown in some outfits and armors at absolute worst. There are some references to Oblivion (the TES version of Hell) and some generic references to the various fantasy deities of the franchise, most being fictional variants of "God bless you" or something similar.

    Occult and supernatural content is prevalent, with necromancers being common foes, and their creations a notable part of the main campaign, though this is portrayed as wholly bad and worthy of being stopped. Unlike some other entries in the series, you are unable to engage in any necromantic acts yourself, and given you play as a former Blade, this makes perfect sense for lore reasons. That aside, all the other magical depictions are pure fantasy-oriented and otherwise downplayed or not given major focus.

    Ethically speaking, you don't have options to do anything downright evil, though you can be a jerk in dialogue. It's not recommended, and even in-game tact, guile, and diplomacy are encouraged to get more done. On a related note, on top of being brick subtle defiling the souls of the dead or otherwise tampering with the supernatural in pursuit of evil is an act beyond the pale, they weave the nice guy dialogue options into another good moral. Specifically, with careful words, you can resolve quite a few incidents with far less to no bloodshed. There is even at one point you can talk down a necromancer, make him realize the evil in what he's doing, and his moral shame is such he abandons his ways and assists you in stopping his former friends. In general, the game encourages the player to consider their tongue just as much a weapon as their blade and to be wise with it's use to restore peace.

    There is some clear discrimination against the followers of Talos, who is an in-game equivalent to Jesus to a limited degree (as a man who was also deity in-universe). They are being persecuted no matter how benignly they wish to worship due to the conditions of the war concluded in the backstory, though your character does do their best to subvert and avoid as much of this as possible.

    Overall, it's got some promise as an on-the-go dungeon crawler with a side of town-management, but the stability issues put a crimp in the enjoyment, even if the game itself is free. Morally, it's got some violence issues and the necromancy theme is troubling even if it's portrayed utterly negatively. On the other hand, encouraging your player to choose your words carefully to seek bloodless/less bloody ends as a result of guarding your tongue are some laudable moral lessons one can take away as well. If you can deal with issues mentioned, any teenager or older would likely enjoy this as an Elder Scrolls entry for casual play.

  • Endless Legend (PC)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Endless Legend
    Developed By: AMPLITUDE Studios
    Published By: SEGA (currently), Iceberg Interactive (previously)
    Released: September 18, 2014
    Available On: iOS, Windows
    Genre: RPG, Strategy
    PEGI Rating: PEGI 12 for Everyone 12 and older: Violence, Online Gameplay
    Number of Players: 1 offline, 8 online 
    Price: $34.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    Released a couple years ago, Endless Legend is a civilization builder of fantastical proportions. Set on the planet Auriga, players take control of one of the factions struggling to survive. On this world are all kinds of wonders waiting to be discovered but be careful, not all of them are friendly, nor a native of Auriga. Can you lead your faction of zombie bugs, crashed space marines, or mechanical cultists to victory or will you become another footnote in the history of Auriga?

    In Endless Legend you take control of one of the different factions in the game (or you can make your own faction using different traits) and try and lead them to one of the various victory conditions. Each faction has different traits that help make certain victory conditions easier to attain than others. While this might sound very limiting in how you can play the different factions it does allow for a lot of player choice. A fair bit of how the player will play their faction is decided by what regions the player settle with their cities. Different regions have different resources the player can collect as well as different minor factions that can be assimilated into the empire. 

    Endless Legend lets the player make many decisions of how to run their empire. The biggest choice is what regions to settle. Each region has its own set of riches and it is up to the player to decide if it is a good idea to settle there. There are five main resources in the game; food, industry, dust, science, and influence; and each one is used in different ways. Different parts of the map have different yields for each of those resources so you’ll have to pick what is most important for how you are playing when you go to expand. You might also settle a city to gain access to a specific strategic resource (used to equip your military as well as build special building), luxury resource (used to give a buff to your empire), or minor faction (to gain their empire boost and / or gain access to their specific military unit). All of these are things that go into deciding how to expand your empire.

    In this game each faction has access to three unique military units. Each faction has a different selection of units, each of one of the five classes of units in the game. The player can choose how to equip these units. Different types of equipment give different stat boosts as well as cost different amounts. They also can give different skills for the units that can help them both in and out of battle. Units can be combined into armies that are used to explore the world and to attack enemy armies. When your army attacks an enemy you are taken to a scene showing you the possible outcome of the battle and different ways to approach the battle. If you choose to manually control the battle and not go auto-combat you’ll be taken to selection of the map your units were on before the battle. In this screen you control your units in turn-based combat on the part of the map it gave you. At the beginning of your turn you can set up what you want your units to do and then they will then try and carry it out. I say try because the enemy also planned out their turn and they will be carrying it out with your units. This can sometimes lead to weird situations where your units end up taking a long route to get to an enemy or moving to a point where they can no longer attack an enemy.

    One thing I do really enjoy about this game is its research tree. All of the different techs in this game are organized into eras. In order to approach into the next research era you simply have to research a certain number of techs from any previous era. This is really useful for allowing you to spend less time researching things you will not need as much. I also really like the idea that some techs can’t be unlocked unless you complete certain quests. It feels really special to get a tech that way.

    Endless Legend
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Unique fantasy setting; unique factions and allows the player to create their own factions; randomized maps; allows for many different ways to achieve victory; clean UI; allows players in a multiplayer game to use the host’s dlcs.
    Weak Points: Lots of information getting presented to the player; all of the art in this game can make it hard to see the finer details; when playing multiplayer games, turns can take a long time to end.
    Moral Warnings: Some tactical-styled RPG violence; use of magic including some darker things like human sacrifices; some minor pieces of revealing clothing.

    Managing a city is also something that is really interesting. When you go into your cities you are actually able to control what all of the populations focus on. If you need extra dust just put all of your pops on the dust focus. It can really help give your cities that extra umph in the direction you need them to be heading. This is especially good during the dark season (winter) when all of your city yields get lowered. I also like the idea of appointing a hero to lead your city. 

    Heroes are another interesting thing added to this game. Heroes are basically really good military units. Each player starts off with a single hero under their control. Each starting hero is a hero from that player’s own faction but every player does get the choice of later being able to recruit heroes from other factions. Each hero can be equipped just like a regular soldier would but they also come with their own skill trees that can be used to give each hero some nice bonuses. Every hero can be sent to lead an army, acting as a really powerful unit, or they can be sent to a city where they will act as governor but will take part in any fights involving that city. My only real complaint about heroes is that each of them has a set story and are pretty unique and there are only a handful per faction. The way the game gets around that is by throwing in “relatives” of them. For instance if you had Bob, somebody else could get Bob the 2nd and so forth. That is a minor complaint but it does make the very special heroes fell less special.

    For a game about running an empire it has a fair bit of story. Each different faction has their own backstory and questline to expand on that story. The player can also get additional quests by exploring ruins and parleying with minor faction villages. In addition to that, there is also a fair bit of story accompanying all the research in the research tree. The story is also pretty interesting. One of the factions in this game, the Vaulters, is basically crashed space marines. Many years ago their ship crashed onto the planet and it went deep underground. They lived there for many years until they finally decided to come back to the surface. Another faction, the Broken Lords, used to be a race of proud, chivalrous knights until something happened that wound up with their bodies being fused with dust. Now, they are basically vampires that must feed upon dust in order to survive. Their questline is all about trying to stay the same group of honorable people they were before the transformation. It’s all this backstory that makes it feel very lively when most other similar games don’t.

    Overall the audio is pretty good in this game. Most of the tracks are fantasy-styled background music. I normally find the music very pleasant to listen to but it is definitely not the kind of music one would download to listen to later. The art in this game is also very pretty. Everything is very detailed although this can lead sometimes to the map looking very cluttered when you are zoomed in. The most outstanding part of the art design would have to be the UI. The UI is very clean and easy to read and it can even be resized in the menu if you are having a hard time reading everything. It is a good thing that it is fairly easy to read because it does have a lot of information to present you with. 

    Endless Legend
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 80%
    Gameplay - 16/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 3/5

    Morality Score - 81%
    Violence - 7/10
    Language - 8.5/10
    Sexual Content - 8.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 6.5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 7/10

    The controls are also pretty decent. Most, if not all, things in the game can be controlled by just the mouse. The game is also pretty stable. I haven’t had any crashes and I’ve encountered no bugs. The game can take a long time to load and, if you are a warmonger like me, the game can really start to take a little bit of time to load the next turn if you control around ten cities. I also have not had any problems getting the multiplayer to work. The multiplayer is also very generous by requiring only the host to have any of the dlcs in order for all the people playing to use them. The only bad thing about the multiplayer is that sometimes the turns can take a fair bit of time. This happens when somebody goes into manual combat. It can sometimes take around five minutes for them to finish the battle and that is time were the other players just have to sit and wait.

    In addition to all that the base game offers Endless Legend also offers a selection of DLCs.

    Guardians: Adds into the game guardian super units as well as legendary deeds, buildings, and new competitive and cooperative quests. $9.99

    Shadows: Adds to the game an espionage system as well as a new faction called the Forgotten that heavily relies on the espionage system. $12.99

    Echoes of Auriga: Adds into the game seven new soundtracks as well as some new items based on these soundtracks. $2.99

    The Lost Tales: Adds into the game over twenty different quests revolving around the minor factions. $1.99

    Shifters: This DLC revamps the way winter is handled in the game and adds a new resource called pearls as well as introduces a new faction called the Allyai that really benefits from the new winter season and new resource. $12.99

    Tempest: This DLC adds into the game an actual naval component as well as naval regions and the naval faction called the Morgawr. $12.99

    The new factions added to the game are all very unique and take good advantage of the new systems added. The new systems added are also pretty nice and gives the player more options for how to play the game. The Guardians DLC offers some interesting new units and gives the player some medium term goals to try and achieve. The two smaller DLCs, while not adding much, adds some new content that can appear during your game so as to help make each player feel different which is something I greatly appreciate in a game like this. The only DLC that feels like it should have been present in the main game is the Tempest DLC. In the base game, if you are on a map with a lot of ocean it really feels like something is missing. My final thoughts on these DLCs is each dlc is pretty good.

    Morally speaking, this game is very solid. I don’t remember any language coming up but there were some darker things being discussed during some of the faction quests. The game does have a decent degree of fighting and units being killed and cities being burned to the ground but the player is rather removed from the violence happening in this game. Some units simply die by showing their souls / life-force ascending. There are also some instances of the player being able to sacrifice units or population in order to get rewards. There is also a fair bit of magic happening in the game with some of it being elemental-type magic while others are clearly darker in nature. Finally, on the topic of sexual content there really is not as much as one might expect from a fantasy game. There are a few units that have some low-cut tops but that's about the extent of things in this game. 

    In conclusion, Endless Legend is a very solid civilization builder game. The game has a very unique fantasy setting with big differences between the different playable factions. Morally, the game is pretty solid with the main questionable content being its use of different magics, but the biggest reason for not getting this for a young kid being all of the information that has to be digested at one time. Overall, I’d say if you are interested in this genre of game and like a unique fantasy setting, you should probably check this game out.

    -Paul Barnard (Betuor)

     

  • Etrian Odyssey V: Beyond the Myth (3DS)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Etrian Odyssey V: Beyond the Myth 
    Developed By: Atlus
    Published By: Atlus
    Release Date: October 17, 2017
    Available On: Nintendo 3DS
    Genre: Role-Playing Game
    Number of Players: 1
    ESRB Rating: T for Fantasy Violence, Language, Suggestive Themes
    MSRP: $24.99
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

    Thank you Atlus for sending us this game to review!

    The Etrian Odyssey series has always been one of my favorite 3DS properties, partly because it suits the 3DS hardware so well. This series, which is on its seventh entry (if you count remakes), takes the essence of classic dungeon crawlers, with the 3D first-person view, and combines that with what most gamers from older generations had to do – create elaborate maps of each dungeon. The 3DS’ touchscreen is the perfect place to do this – it’s almost like Nintendo had this series in mind when they created the DS hardware in the first place. It also really helps that these games have some of the best 3D (as in stereoscopic) effects available on the handheld.

    The 3DS entries, IV (which I haven’t played yet), and Untold I & II, have all improved on the Etrian Odyssey formula in subtle ways. The Untold series, which we have reviews for (written by yours truly) remade and improved I & II by adding an adventure mode, which features a predetermined set of characters, each with their own personalities and backstory. This entry, V, goes back to the create-your-own-heroes style of I through IV, where you are free to create any party you like – anything from a totally worthless party of no damage dealers to an overpowered mess of monster slayers. (Of course, the game is balanced against your overpowered monster-slayer team, and is quite challenging.) You can even have five of the same class, if you so desire.

    Etrian Odyssey V: Beyond the Myth
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Excellent dungeon crawling adventure, with lots of content and tons to do; player-drawn mapping still required like previous entries; great character customization options, and still manages to feel different from the previous entries; building your party, taking on the challenges, and developing strategies and party compositions to overpower the enemies still as fun and excellent as it’s always been; very challenging (if you don’t purchase the cheater DLC)
    Weak Points: Doesn’t feel much different than the previous two entries; cheater DLC available (which really cheats)
    Moral Warnings: Foul language like ‘sh*t’, ‘d*mn’, ‘h*ll’, ‘b*st*rd’ used; God’s name is sometimes used in vain, like ‘God’ or ‘Godd*mn’; minor alcohol use; some significant cleavage for a few women characters; players and enemies use magic, including healing, poison, elemental effects like fire and ice, and death magic with scythes or summoning undead to assist you; enemies range from forest creatures to undead skeletons, dragons, and everything in between

    There are ten classes, with each getting to choose one of two legendary titles for further specialization once they clear the second stratum. On top of that, you can also choose one of four races, with each specializing in something: the Earthlains have the most vitality, the Therians the most physical offense, the Celestrians the most offensive magic potential, and Brounis are the best healers. Each race has skills and passive bonuses that are unique to them, along with various class skills to spend your precious skill points on.

    It is literally impossible to max out any character, as there are always more skills to invest in than skill points available, no matter what level you are. So even if you had a crazy team with five blade dancers (for example), each could spend their points on different parts of the skill tree, making each character still fill a different role. Of course, not all classes can fill every role – not everything can heal, for example.

    There is a ton to see and do, with each stratum consisting of five floors, and each floor taking quite a while to get through depending on your power level, as well as mapping/exploring skills. Each stratum has a different theme, with each ranging from a beautiful forest, to mountains, to even an undead graveyard. To say too much would be spoilers; the last two are quite something, and help tell the story of how the world came to be.

    There is a story in Etrian Odyssey V, but it’s pretty simple. There are myths abounding when it comes to the gigantic tree Yggdrasil. The local government wants to encourage adventurers to scale this huge challenge, and both secrets and mysteries await those who conquer its heights. So, a reward is offered for the first to make it to the top and learn its secrets. You and your team want to be the ones to make it to the top first.

    Each stratum gets progressively more and more difficult, and enemies also drop materials when they’re defeated. You haul these materials back to town and sell them to the shop, which then allows you to make new weapons, armor, and other items using them. It’s a great growth and reward system built into the game, as often the strongest and most difficult foes can have the greatest rewards. For example, with my Blade Dancer team, I was able to defeat the Primordiphant far earlier than intended – and I forged the Pugilist’s ultimate weapon as a reward! Suffice it to say, my party composition changed shortly afterwards.

    Pugilists are bare-handed physical combat specialists, while Masurao (of which Blade Dancer is a legendary title) are katana wielders. Fencers, Dragoons, and Harbingers are also melee classes, each with their own specialties. Dragoons are defensive, Fencers focus on chain combos, and Harbingers focus on status effects.

    Magical classes include the Warlock, Necromancer, Shaman, and Botanist. Warlocks are classical mages, with powerful elemental attacks. Necromancers summon wraiths, and often sacrifice them to cast various spells. Shamans are buff machines, and are very useful to have in almost any team composition. Botanists are straight-up healers, with direct healing spells. All classes are powerful and have a place, but Shamans fit into almost any team, and I chose that over Botanists as my healer. When you can passively heal around a third of your total health each round without having to waste a turn healing, plus make everyone do more damage or take less; now that’s a really handy class to have around.

    There is one more class, called the Rover. It’s not really magical; it is a beast master that can summon both a hawk and a hound that can help do even more damage or lick your wounds to heal you. It’s a great utility class that can do a bit of everything; I was close to swapping it out several times, and I probably could have exchanged it for something that did more damage or healed better, but it did such a good job of putting out consistent damage and filling in holes that I left it in my party until the end.

    Etrian Odyssey V: Beyond the Myth
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 92%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 68%
    Violence - 8/10
    Language - 6/10
    Sexual Content - 6/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 6/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8/10

    The legendary titles add even more power and flexibility to the party. For example, the Fencer has the Phantom Duelist, or the Chain Duelist. Both can do chain combos, but the Chain Duelist has much more powerful ones. On the flipside, the Phantom Duelist can become a dodging master – you can’t touch this! One of my favorite classes has the highest risk/reward – the Blade Dancer Masurao. This class allows you to equip multiple katanas – not unlike a certain One Piece character. Each extra one you equip is in place of armor slots, so your defense is basically paper-thin, unless you pair it with another character to defend for you. But it’s totally worth it. You can perform a ‘Hell Slash’ that follows up each attack with an additional slash – and if you prepare and power up the Blade Dancer enough, each one can throw out 2-4k per hit! Let’s just say very few bosses, even the last one, can survive more than a few rounds of that.

    Each Etrian Odyssey game I have played has had excellent dungeons, and this one is no exception. Each stratum has something that makes them unique, and challenging in their own right. If I had one complaint about it, it’s that the first half of the game felt too much like previous entries. The second half did make up for that mostly, but there was a bit of a ‘been there, done that’ feel to much of the early part of the game, except for the class system, which felt different enough to still seem fresh.

    The moral content is not all that dissimilar to other entries, except that without recurring characters, there were less chances for shenanigans like Untold II had with the spa scene; this game had nothing like that as far as I saw. There are curse words like ‘sh*t’, ‘d*mn’, ‘h*ll’, ‘b*st*rd’ used, as is God’s name used in vain, along with curses like ‘Godd*mn’. There is the expected fantasy violence, though no blood to speak of. There are lots of undead creatures, and an entire stratum dedicated to them. A team member can be a Necromancer, which is magic related to the dead or undead. Elemental magic, as well as various status conditions like poison and curses, are used by the enemies and the player. While theoretically a player could try to avoid all magic or dark magic, any attempt to do so will almost certainly strongly hamper player success. I noted alcohol use, and a few women have lots of cleavage shown.

    Etrian Odyssey V: Beyond the Myth is another solid entry in one of the best dungeon crawling series currently on the market. The great folks at Atlus have always managed to make each entry a winner, with great graphics, excellent music, and memorable dungeons and party members. This one is certainly no exception. If you are looking for a great dungeon-crawling adventure, Etrian Odyssey is a very easy recommendation, if the moral issues don't deter you.

  • Falsus Chronicle: Ancient Treasure (PC) (Preview)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Falsus Chronicle: Ancient Treasure
    Developed By: HorngYeuan Digital
    Published By: HorngYeuan Digital
    Release Date: December 19, 2017
    Available On: Windows
    Genre: Action RPG
    Number of Players: 1
    ESRB Rating: N/A
    MSRP: $9.99

    Thank you HorngYeuan Digital for sending us this game to review!

    Given how many games we are sent to review, it’s not uncommon for us to wait for a final release before spending time on a particular game. But what if it’s abandonware? In that case, we evaluate it on a case-by-case basis; sometimes we just don’t bother (especially for multiplayer only games) and sometimes we go ahead with a preview anyway. I decided to go for it here because it’s really close to complete (it’s missing just a few dungeons at the end) and because it could be the basis for a good game.

    Falsus Chronicle: Ancient Treasure is a top-down, 3D rendered action role-playing game (RPG) where you take the role of Emil, a gung-ho archaeologist and explorer who is commissioned by the Grand Duchy to explore a nearby ruin, along with three other mercenaries who help you out. You can choose three of the four explorers to take with you.

    The action combat is a bit unique; unlike most action RPGs where you press a button to attack, you actually hold the right analog stick in a direction and you automatically attack. This works really well for ranged fighters, but is also how you fend off bad guys as a melee character as well. You can assign up to four skills to various buttons, including potions to heal and three other custom skills. Unfortunately, you can’t customize the button configuration, so I hope you like their choices. (In my opinion they are okay, but I would have probably moved a few around.)

    Falsus Chronicle: Ancient Treasure
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Nice art style, and graphics look sharp; can be fun
    Weak Points: No resolutions above 1920x1080; deaths can be sudden and feel cheap; dungeons can feel a bit repetitive despite being short; abandoned just before 1.0 release
    Moral Warnings: Fantasy violence; magic use by players and enemies; some enemies are magical or undead in nature, like dragons and skeletons

    There are six dungeons with five levels each. Each area is semi-randomly generated; they are based on a general layout, with some variation each time you enter. Thankfully, you get to keep whatever you earn while in there, even if you die; the game can kill you sometimes out of nowhere, so it’s good to know that it’s not all for nothing. That is, unless you are attempting the Tower of Trials.

    The Tower of Trials is probably the least enjoyable part of the game for me. I understand that in games like this, you want to make something difficult with a good reward. The problem is that you can’t improve yourself and grind to get better; if you gain levels, so do your enemies. This is one aspect of game design I will always hate until the day I die: if you can’t overcome an obstacle by getting more powerful, but instead you make the game more difficult instead, you better have an awfully compelling reason for me to play, because I’m going to be biased against you by default. That is the case with the Tower of Trials. Thankfully, the main story levels do not appear to have this problem.

    Each story level is fairly short, with some taking just a few minutes. One problem though is that certain enemy attacks seem to do massively more damage than anything else, and can kill you in a moment with little warning. For example, if you see circles on the floor, you better get out of the way – they might be lightning, which can kill you from full health in seconds. It can be very frustrating when you can go to full health to dead with seemingly little warning.

    Falsus Chronicle: Ancient Treasure
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 76%
    Gameplay - 12/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 3/5

    Morality Score - 87%
    Violence – 6.5/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 7/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Another source of frustration is that sometimes when you are melee attacking someone, you might expect that pushing the right stick in another direction might target someone else. However, that might not be the case. Depending on your luck, you may end up wailing on the wrong enemy, which can prove deadly. While the general gameplay can be pretty fun, it’s little inconsistencies like these that keep the game from being so much better.

    As you go deeper into dungeons, you gain gold, experience, and loot. This loot can contain weapons, armor, shields, or gems. The gems can be equipped, and are a nice way to customize your characters. The higher your character’s level, the more gems you can hold. There is also a gem merchant where you can buy and sell gems, though the cost is very high. It may end up being worth it though, since it’s such an important part of customizing your character. Sadly, you can only change equipment between dungeon runs – If you think you’ll be able to equip that sweet new sword right after picking it up, think again. Dying will allow you to use it in a future run, and I haven’t noticed any penalties for death at this point.

    Morally, it’s really not too bad. Each character has a chibi art style, and looks really cute. They swing their sword, shoot their bow, or cast spells at their opponents. Enemies fade away when they die. Some enemies include golems, dragons, skeletons, and other mystical creatures like giant bats. I didn’t notice any other major moral issues in my time playing, but I didn’t play to the end of an unfinished game.

    Falsus Chronicles: Ancient Treasure could be a decent framework for a decent game. The graphics, despite not supporting the native resolution of my 4k monitor, look nice, with good lighting and shading effects. Sadly, it requires a bit more horsepower than my GPD Win 2 could provide, even at the lowest resolution. On the plus side, it plays perfectly in Steam Proton on Linux. The music is actually really good, and the translation is serviceable (I believe the developers are Taiwanese). With some tweaking, this could be a pretty decent game. It appears to be a sequel to a mobile game, also called Falsus Chronicle. It’s a real shame that the developers haven’t updated it since 2018. If they did, I can’t imagine it would be too difficult to push that 0.9.8 version number up to 1.0 and get it across the finish line, to finally remove it from Steam’s Early Access.

  • Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark (PC) (Preview)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark
    Developed By: 6 Eyes Studio
    Published By: 1C Company
    Release Date: 2019 (August 16, 2018 for Early Access)
    Available On: Windows, macOS, SteamOS/Linux, PS4, Xbox One
    Genre: Turn-Based Tactical RPG
    Number of Players: 1
    ESRB Rating: N/A
    MSRP: $19.99

    Thank you 1C Company for giving us a preview code!

    Usually, we don’t have much time to do previews or first impressions, since we are blessed with so many games to review. Even still, if something looks truly remarkable, sometimes we might just take the time out to give it a whirl - like we have done here for Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark. Here is a game that takes tons of inspiration from a game I absolutely loved, Final Fantasy Tactics. And I have to say – a little spoiler here – if first impressions are anything to go by, I have a strong feeling they delivered.

    Fell Seal takes place in a kingdom where Immortals rule and Arbiters act as the police force who try to keep the peace. Corruption is rampant, but Kyrie is one of the few that are not. She and her protege, Anadine, witness a murder by a snobby aristocrat. They proceed to arrest him, and take him to a far-off jail to avoid payoffs by the local prison guards.

    When they arrive, one of the Immortals announces that they are retiring, and that several Marks may show up on citizens who will soon be partaking in trials to determine if they are worthy to be the next Immortal. Of course, as luck would have it, our not-so-friendly aristocrat happens to be one of them. This sets up the power struggle that drives the story in Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark.

    Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Interesting art style that grows on you; engaging story; excellent music; if you like Final Fantasy Tactics, you will love this game, as it has a similar turn-based tactics game system with awesome classes
    Weak Points: Graphics don’t currently scale well to resolutions other than 1080p
    Moral Warnings: Too early to tell, but there is blood, magic, and fantasy violence

    I have to say, I am very pleased with how the story is told. Everything is done in engine, and there are scenes in between or during battles, as well as bits of interesting dialogue as you enter a town or other new areas. And thankfully, the character customization, battles, and so forth are also really well done.

    The Final Fantasy Tactics inspiration is clear and obvious, though the art style is different enough to make it its own thing. That’s not really a problem – I love that game so very much; it’s one of the top five SquareSoft/Square Enix products ever, in my opinion.

    The battle view is a three-quarters top-down view, with a square grid system for each battle map. Characters move in a turn-based fashion, with the turn order listed out at the top of the screen. When it is a character’s turn, they can move up to the number of spaces of their move stat, and can attack or use any skill in a class that they have unlocked so far and assigned to their skill slots. This can make for some incredibly varied and powerful characters.

    Each battle, party members earn both character experience, and class AP. Each character level, you increase hit points, magic points, and various other stats based on what character class you are at the time of gaining the level. This gives you plenty of options when it comes to min/maxing a character – if someone was a magic user for 99 levels, they won’t make a very good warrior, but their spells will be something to be feared.

    Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 90%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 82%
    Violence - 6/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 7/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8/10

    Each class has ten skills, one of which you get for free by unlocking the class. As you spend AP on the skill tree, you unlock more and more powerful skills that you can take with you to other classes. As you gain class levels, you can also unlock other classes. As you switch classes and unlock more skills, you can then unlock new classes, and so forth. This process grants you tons of skill customization options for both active and passive skills, allowing you to really make each character both powerful and unique in their skill sets. From what I saw, this looks great and I really look forward to trying more and more powerful classes out for size.

    From what I saw, when it comes to appropriateness issues, there is animated violence and magic use. One cut scene had someone bleed on the ground when they were killed, but most of the game, the enemies simply fade out. I have not noticed any curse words during my play time so far.

    Graphically, the game is all hand-drawn art, or pixel art. The combination is quite stunning, though the pixel art is not quite up to the level of quality the hand-drawn art is at. Nevertheless, it still looks very nice for what it is. The only problem I saw is that the game doesn’t really scale properly at higher or lower resolutions. At higher than 1080p, the characters have an odd pixel filter that simply looks bad. I had no trouble with my 720p GPD Win 2, but another user reported problems at 1366x768. Either way, I spoke with the developer, and they are looking into the resolution issues.

    I have only played a couple of hours of Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark so far, but what I have played I really liked. The art is great, the music is simply fantastic, and I really enjoyed the turn-based tactical gameplay a whole lot. It seems like a proper spiritual sequel to Final Fantasy Tactics that may actually live up to that high bar. I’m really excited about this game, despite having only played it for a few hours so far. I can’t wait for the final release in 2019, so I can give it a proper review!

    NOTE: Preliminary preview scores – subject to change!

  • Fictorum (PC)

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    Game Info:

    Fictorum
    Developed by: Scraping Bottom Games
    Published by: Scraping Bottom Games
    Release date: August 9, 2017
    Available on: Windows
    Genre: RPG
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Not rated
    Price: $19.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    Thank you Scraping Bottom Games for sending us a review code!

    Fictorum was successfully Kickstarted in July of 2016 raising almost $30,000 from their $25,000 goal. Early backers of the game were able to get it for $15, which is five dollars less than the current retail price. The reviews on Steam are mixed, as are my feelings with this game.

    All of the deliverables from the Kickstarter campaign are in place. You’re an all powerful mage who can customize magic spells and destroy anything in your path. Call forth meteors, fire, ice, lightning, and destroy to your heart’s content. I thought blasting apart houses was cool with fireball and ice spear spells, then I discovered the meteor spell and fell in love with magic. Whenever it comes to RPGs I tend to play as a strong sword or axe wielding warrior. Tank characters often steal the glory as they battle monsters face to face while mages hurl spells in the distance. Fictorum puts magic use front and center and the only way to use a sword in this game is to summon one if you have the scroll to do so. But why use a sword when you can wield lightning Emperor Palpatine style or throw fireballs?

    When you launch the game, you’ll get to choose your mage type and difficulty level. I’ve never heard of a Reese difficulty level before, but that’s the easiest level. After that difficulty level there’s easy, hard, and nightmare; a hardcore mode is also available. I first started as a fire mage, but was also able to use ice spells as I found them throughout the game. Other starting titles/types become unlocked as you complete the game. There are Steam achievements for unlocking new titles and beating the game on various difficulty levels.

    Fictorum
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: All of the joys of being a powerful mage without the grinding
    Weak Points: Graphics are a mixed bag; repetitive missions
    Moral Warnings:Magic use; violence; revenge 

    Currently there are eight chapters in the game, but more are coming an in a future patch. The developers have been very active on the Steam forums and on Reddit. They continue to make improvements to the game. I look forward to future updates as it currently is still rough around the edges.

    The concept is great and destroying things is very fun. I also like the randomly generated world maps/chapters. Each place you visit adds to your character’s backstory of revenge against the Grand Inquisitor who is hunting him down to execute him properly. The sense of urgency is real as the inquisitors gain territory with each place you visit or move you make. I learned the hard way to avoid visiting a contested area early on in the game as my butt was handed to me rather quickly.

    When visiting an area you’ll be given a bit of a story and often an opportunity to embark upon a quest to help the locals. You can ignore their pleas for help or assist them for some nice loot. Sadly, many of the backstories/missions are repeated and I once had four of the same quests in a row. When embarking on a mission, you will have to take out the hostiles quickly as they will swarm and do a lot of damage in groups. Some spells are great for long range attacks while others can blast nearby targets. I liked using the stone summoning spell for bringing up a defensive wall for cover. Some missions require taking out certain human or building targets to complete them. No matter your goal, in order to return to the world map, you’ll have to re-open the Nexus in town. There are beams of light closing it off and you have to destroy the towers emitting those beams of light to unlock the Nexus.

    Though your character’s mana and stamina bars regenerate, his health does not. In order to heal, your character can rest on the map and give the inquisitors more time to catch up to him, stop at a store and pay for healing, or loot houses in town in hopes of finding some healing potions to drink. I wish healing spells existed in this game.

    Fictorum
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 76%
    Gameplay - 16/20
    Graphics - 6/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 77%
    Violence - 6/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 7.5/10

    Looting houses is a great way to find better armor, rings, and spells to use. Each item can be enchanted to make it more powerful. The spell customization and runes are worth tinkering with until you’re happy with the outcome. By switching out runes you can adjust your spell’s radius, damage, distance and mana consumption. Essence is used as currency for buying and enchanting items and it’s earned by selling items and destroying buildings.

    Blowing stuff is up is fun and somehow refreshing in this game. When using the meteor spell it’s glorious. Some stuff looks great going down and other items, not so much. Trees will absorb into the ground instead of breaking apart into millions of splinters. Graphically, this game is rather hit or miss. The houses are nicely detailed, but some of them have trees in them or I have seen shrubs floating in the air. Most of the enemies are nicely animated while others seems to be gliding around instead of walking or running. The backdrops are not very detailed and the Unreal Engine isn’t being fully utilized here.

    With the latest 1.06 patch, the soundtrack was made available for purchase. The background music is good and I like how it intensifies when enemies have spotted you. The sound effects are good too.

    Overall, Fictorum is a fun game that celebrates mage characters and revenge. If you’re okay with the moral issues, there’s a lot of fun to be had here. There’s also a lot of repetition and some glitches to contend with as well. The developers have been very responsive and I’m sure that this game will get even better in time. Until then, I recommend keeping an eye on a good sale or update before picking it up.

     

  • Final Fantasy II (GBA)

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    Game Info:

    Final Fantasy II
    Developed By: Square
    Published By: Square
    Release Date: December 17th, 1988
    ESRB Rating: Teen
    Available On: GBA (version reviewed), PSP, PlayStation, iOS
    Price: $10.00 on LeapTrade

    It’s been my personal goal to play through every Final Fantasy game and I have been playing them in order.  I found the original Final Fantasy fun, but lacking in character development.  Final Fantasy II has improved on that along with revamping the class and leveling system.  While I'm not a fan of the broken leveling system, I found this game more enjoyable than the first.

    Final Fantasy II starts off with four characters: Firion (you), Maria, Guy and Leon.  After your hometown village has been burned down, your party is whooped by Palamecian soldiers and left for dead.  The rebel princess Hilda has rescued most of your party and needs your help in defeating the evil empire.  Leon is missing and nobody knows his whereabouts.  The princess lends you her magician Minwu to temporarily fill that fourth slot, but don’t get too attached to anyone in that fourth slot; it’s quite the revolving door.  

    The princess will be giving your party orders to help strengthen the rebel army and weaken the evil empire.  At first, you’ll be sent to check out towns close by, and later you’ll be asked to explore towns that have to be reached by boat, airship, snow sled, or chocobo.  The chocobo is an ostrich-like bird that can take you to land based towns quickly and without having to worry about fighting enemies along the way.  

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Fun game play, character personalities and leveling system.
    Weak Points: Poor translation from the Japanese version. 
    Moral Warnings: Violence, Magic use, evil and undead references.

    Enemies are hidden and they are lurking outside of towns and inside of dungeons. The battles are completely random with the exception of boss battles which are triggered by stepping on key tiles.  When in battle, you have the choice of attacking, using magic, using an item, equipping an item, or fleeing.  If you win the battle you will get some money (Gil), experience, and occasionally some loot.  After you gain enough experience you will level up and your attributes will increase automatically.

    The leveling system is unique this time around.  The more you use a weapon or spell, the more powerful it gets.  If your character takes a lot of damage, their hit points will increase.  If you use magic often, you’ll gain more magic points along with spirit or intelligence depending on the kind of magic you’re using.  

    Magic spells are sold in Magic shops and each town sells a handful of spells.  Each character can learn up to sixteen spells.  It’s a good idea to have every person learn and level up the Cure and Life spells to heal and revive allies.  After those, it’s best to diversify the magic among the characters. Given that you’ll be fighting elemental enemies, they often have a weakness.  For example, fire enemies will be weak to ice spells.

    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 90%
    Gameplay - 18/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls 5/5

    Morality Score - 88%
    Violence - 7/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - -7/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    These enemies often have nasty attacks that can poison you or turn you into stone.  Make sure you visit the item shop and stock up on healing potions, antidotes, and golden needles to cure you from becoming a statue.  Another item worth noting is the cottage that can be set up outdoors to give you a place to rest and replenish your Hit Points (HP) and Magic Points (MP).  Each town has an inn and the lower your mana and health is, the more expensive those inns get.  Don’t worry though: money is not an issue later on in the game.  At first it’s hard to come by, but soon you accumulate enough to stock up on $50,000 elixirs that fully restore health and mana.

    The graphics have been spruced up to SNES quality from the original Japanese NES version.  The dungeon layouts have not changed from the NES release of the game.  There is a new dungeon, called The Soul of Rebirth, exclusive to the GBA re-release.  The Soul of Rebirth dungeon is extremely hard and I didn’t bother completing it.  There are lots of unique monsters and lots of different colored variants.  For example, a green dragon is completely different than a red one.

    The music composed by Nobuo Uematsu is where Final Fantasy really shines.  The towns, shops, caves, and battles have the same music throughout the game.  However, some areas, like The Rebel Castle has its own unique theme song.  The chocobo has a dedicated song too.  The sound effects are decent but I was often listening to the beautiful music instead.

    If you like classic Role Playing Games, Final Fantasy II is worth looking into.  I spent close to forty hours playing the Dawn of Souls remake which includes both Final Fantasy I & II.  Had I completed the Soul of Rebirth dungeon, I could have easily spent a few more hours playing the game.  The only appropriateness issues I saw were fantasy violence and magic being used.  There is also a scene where your character is seduced but nothing is shown.  If you don’t mind those elements, you might want to check this out on your GBA, DS (via GBA slot), PSP, or PlayStation, if you can find a copy.

  • Final Fantasy III (DS)

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    Game Info:

    Final Fantasy III
    Developed By: Square Enix
    Published By: Square Enix
    Release Date: August 24th, 2006
    Available on: DS, iOS, Android
    Genre: RPG
    Modes: Single player
    ESRB Rating: E 10+

    Final Fantasy III was originally released in Japan in 1990 and the USA didn’t get to experience it until 2006.  The DS version was the first version to feature the updated 3D graphics.  The iOS and Android versions look similar, but the Android version is only available in Japan.  If you’re looking on the virtual console, be warned that the Final Fantasy 3 there is actually Final Fantasy 6 which was released in the US as Final Fantasy 3 originally.  (Confusing I know)  What separates Final Fantasy 3 from the previous entries is the brand new job system.   

    The story begins with four young orphans exploring some ruins after an earthquake struck close to their home town of Ur.  In their travels, they are summoned by the Crystal of Light who imbues them with its power to aide them in defeating the forces of darkness.  In order to defeat the enemy, they must harness the powers of wind, earth, fire and water.  

    These crystals are scattered across various continents that will require canoes and airships to reach them.  You’ll have to explore various caverns and locate towns and people spoken about in folklore.  Of course, when you finally locate the crystal it’s protected by a boss that wants to make sure you’re worthy to harness its power.  

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Fun gameplay, character personalities and unique job system
    Weak Points: Slower battles and noticeable blank white loading screens
    Moral Warnings: Violence, magic use, tight clothing

    Enemies are hidden and they are lurking outside of towns and inside of caves and dungeons. The battles are completely random with the exception of boss battles which are triggered by stepping on key tiles or by picking up treasure or quest items.  When in battle, you have the choice of attacking, doing a job specific move, using magic, using an item, changing position/equipment, or fleeing.  If you win the battle, you will get some money (Gil), experience, and occasionally some loot.  After you gain enough experience you will level up and your attributes will increase automatically.

    There are two forms of leveling up in this game.  Your character has a base level and a job level.  The more time you spend in your job, the more proficient you become at it.  You can change jobs as you see fit, but there is a cooling off period where your attributes are gimped for a certain number of battles.  At first you will start off as a freelancer that can use basic weapons and both white and black magic.   There are many magic based jobs that master in white, black, and summoning magic.  White mage specializes in restoring/healing magic while the black mage focuses on destructive elemental magic.  Many (but not all) enemies have a weakness to a particular element.  The black belt and monk jobs have no magic points and don’t require any weapons.

    There are a few knight classes that focus on swords and staves.  The onion knight is a special class that is unlocked by sending several in game messages to your friend’s DS codes. You can send messages to AI characters that you meet throughout your adventure.  You will actually get a few replies and possibly unlock a secret quest.    The messaging system is a little tricky to use and sending messages to my husband's system required us both to be online and in it to actually receive messages. Perhaps I’m spoiled by the 3DS’ swap note software that delivers messages to you whether you're online or not.

    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 88%
    Gameplay - 18/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls 4/5

    Morality Score - 85%
    Violence - 7/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 8.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 7/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    I was able to play this game on my 3DS just fine. The left trigger zooms in so you can find treasures not seen in the default camera view.  The right trigger brings up the menu.  During battles only one of the screens is utilized but they are both used when you're exploring.  You can save your game anytime when you’re outside.  If you need to save inside of a cave or town, you can use the quick save feature that will resume and delete the temporary save file after your game is loaded.  Closing your DS will put the game into a sleep mode so if you’re in a pinch, that’s always an option.  I’m not sure how that impacts your game play time though.  I put in close to forty three hours and ended my game with level seventy five characters.

    Level seventy five was overkill and I didn’t see a need to grind much further. I’m not saying that there are no rewards for doing so, but my characters had over 6,000 hit points and my physical attackers could easily do 9,999 points of damage in each turn.  The mages are not as powerful, but their healing, buffing and elemental attacks hold their own.  Not to mention that their spells add some visual variety and eye candy to the battles.  

    The graphics are cutesy and even though the characters are adults they look like children in this game. As much as I hate to say it, the main character looks effeminate but the intro movie is well rendered and shows the much needed masculinity for him.  Each job has its own outfit and many of them are appropriate but the Devout’s outfit with the white hoodie with cat ears is a bit over the top.  What’s worse is that outfit was worn by a male character in my party.

    The character animations are fluid and well done.  The cut-scenes show proper emotion and give depth to the characters and greatly add to the story.  There’s a wide variety of monsters and they gradually get tougher as you progress in the game.  You’ll also notice that some of them get recycled with a different name, color, and attributes.  Some of the names kind of poked fun at this and the “new” monster’s name would be the same as the previous one with “clone” after it.

    While the sound effects are decent and get the job done, the music is where Final Fantasy games shine.  The battle music gets your adrenaline pumping and the town music is calming and peaceful.  Some areas have their own music like Salonia and the Crystal Cave.  The music is composed by Nobou Uematsu, the same genius behind the scoring of the previous Final Fantasy games.

    Overall Final Fantasy is a wonderful adventure that is fun to play, watch and listen to.  The character development keeps getting better with each installment of the series.  Morally the only issues worth mentioning are violence and magic use.  There is no blood or gore and when a person dies, their body vanishes.  The last boss is definitely female but it's nowhere near as bad as future games featuring her. It’s a clean enough game that I let my kids play and grind my characters for me.  They enjoyed watching the boss battles too.  

    It’s a shame that it took so long for the United States to get this title.  Android users may still be out of luck in that regard.  However, if you have a DS or an iPhone, I recommend adding this game to your library.  

     
     
  • Final Fantasy IV (DS)

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    Game Info:

    Final Fantasy IV
    Developed by: Square Enix
    Published by: Square Enix
    Release Date: July 22, 2008
    Genre: RPG
    Mode: single player, multiplayer
    ESRB Rating: E10+
    MSRP: $17.50 on LeapTrade

    Final Fantasy IV was released for the Super Nintendo in 1991 and is known for being one of the best RPG’s ever made. Between all of its versions Final Fantasy IV has sold over five million copies.   It has been re-released on the Play Station, PSP, GBA, Virtual Console and of course the version I’m reviewing, the Nintendo DS.  

    The DS version has implemented 3D graphics, cinematic cut scenes and voice acting.  There is multiplayer support for battling against fellow DS players. I only played the main story, so I can’t comment on the multiplayer aspects.  The story is pretty much unchanged but the game play mechanics have been modified.

    Augments are new to the DS version and grant characters new abilities such as drawing all the attacks to one party member, increasing health or magic points by 50%, raising all of the party members if one dies or dual casting some seriously powerful magic spells.  Make sure you think long and hard on whom to give augments to since they are permanent and cannot be undone.  Some of the augments are given automatically in the story but most are easy to miss.   Many temporary characters in your party will reward you with one or more augments depending on how many you have given them before they leave.

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Excellent story of redemption and great character development
    Weak Points: Even at the fastest setting, the battles are still slow
    Moral Warnings: RPG Violence and low cut female attire

    Your party is constantly changing in this game; the only one that remains the whole time is Cecil.  Some party members stay a short time while others come back after a period of time.   Cecil is the main character who starts out as a Dark Knight following the orders of his king even though he doesn’t personally agree with them.  Convinced that this king is not the same that he swore an allegiance to, he sets out on a journey to find the truth and ultimately saves the world from pending disaster.

    As you embark on your journey you’ll be attacked by the hidden enemies lurking outside of towns and inside of caves and dungeons. The battles are completely random with the exception of boss battles which are triggered by stepping on key tiles or by picking up treasure or quest items.  When in battle, you have the choice of attacking, using an augment ability, using magic, using an item, changing position/equipment, or fleeing.  If you win the battle, you will get some money (Gil), experience, and occasionally some gear.  After you gain enough experience you will level up and your attributes will increase automatically.

    The pacing is pretty good and the caves and dungeons are long enough so you’re generally pretty well leveled and ready to face the next boss waiting for your party.  Level grinding is a given for any Final Fantasy game but some of the bosses are very challenging while others can be pushovers if you catch onto their pattern or element weaknesses.  Some of the bosses have been modified so veterans of this game will have to use different tactics to defeat them this time around.  My only complaint with this game pacing wise is the battle system.  The default battle settings are so slow that I was tempted to forget the DS version and play the PSP one instead.  While the PSP version is much faster paced and true to its roots, the DS version has nice cut-scenes, dialogue and voice acting.  The interactive flashbacks add even more to the already strong character development.  

    You'll see childhood memories of Cecil, Rosa and Kain playing together.  You'll learn about Cecil's parents and how he wound up at Baron castle.  The other characters' dialogue has changed a little bit here and there but the main story stays the same. The famous line "You spoony bard!" has been left intact.  The game just wouldn't be the same without that.    

    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 90%
    Gameplay - 19/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - -9/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 85%
    Violence - 7/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 8.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 7/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    The graphics are very similar to the Final Fantasy III DS game with the simple 3D anime style characters.  The CGI movies are more realistic and breath taking.  The battles have lots of eye candy when it comes to magic use and summoning creatures to battle for you.  I must confess that I usually skipped them to make the battles go faster.

    As you can tell, this game has violence, magic use, and the ability to summon creatures to fight for you.  The violence isn’t gory but death is unavoidable and part of the main story line.    The only other moral issue to be aware of is that a few of the females in this game can use more modest attire.  Many of them walk around in belly dancer style outfits.  In one of the towns you can join a gentleman’s club for 100,000 gil that allows you to get your own private dances.  There are innuendos suggesting that more than dancing is going on there but your party cannot partake in it.  

    Many towns along with various dungeons and caves have their own music to set the mood.  Some of the songs are brought back from previous titles including the chocobo theme and menu title music.  The battle music is similar but different from Final Fantasy 3.  The same composer, Nobuo Uematsu wrote the music for this game.  After playing these games I can totally see why people would go to see these songs played by an orchestra.  

    I’m glad to have finally gotten this game off of my bucket list.  The story is solid and has a great message of forgiveness and redemption.  Like many RPG’s there are some moral issues but this game is still pretty family friendly.  If you like flashy visual effects and better story telling, I would look into this version.  However, if you want a fast paced game I would recommend looking into other releases of it.

  • Final Fantasy IX (PS)


    \'Final Fantasy IX\' tells the story of Zidane, the member of a team of theater actors who also happen to be a gang of thieves, and Garnet, the princess of Alexandria. Zidane and his friends first plan to kidnap Garnet from her mother\'s palace. But shortly after the kidnapping, they realize the queen of Alexandria is up to something evil.

    Story

    It is nearly impossible to tell about the story without giving out a spoiler. The game is supposed to be reminiscent of the SNES Final Fantasy games. So the story goes rather slow until about the end of the 2nd disc. However, the story is incredibly moving and well thought out. Once you can overlook the fact that the \'crystal\' the tag line does not appear until the end (and even then, it\'s purpose isn\'t completely explained), and that the final boss isn\'t mentioned at all in the game, it is quite possibly the best FF game for the first Playstation. The character development is good as well, Zidane, goes from lecherous thief to a quite likable protagonist, just as Garnet and Vivi. 18/20

    Gameplay

    You don\'t fix what isn\'t broken, I suppose. The only differences in gameplay separating this from most other PSI era RPG\'s is the fact you can use 3 members in a battle instead of 2, and your powers are acquired through weapons and armor. If you use the weapon(s) and armor enough, you can learn the power it has to offer and get a new weapon, if you so desire. If you attack often, eventually a \'Trance\' meter will fill up. Unlocking, temporarily mind you, special powers and extra strength. It is quite fun. The only complaint I have is that near the end, Garnet casts spells and summons randomly. Meaning, if you tell her to do one of the before mentioned, chances are she won\'t do it. The excuse? \'Garnet can\'t concentrate!\' 17/20

    Sound

    Even on 4 discs, there was too much content to include voice-overs, much to my relief. Battle sounds are typical \'Hack Slash Hack\' sounds, but I don\'t recall being annoyed by them. The music on this game is wonderful, in my opinion. \'Melodies of Life\' suits the game nicely, and is very beautiful. The battle music isn\'t exactly noticeable, but still nice. I believe I will be the first to admit I died on purpose several times to hear a certain villains\' theme music. 8/10

    Graphics

    As mentioned before, the game is based of the old FF games, so the color is somewhat washed out, but the character models, pre-rendered backgrounds, etc. are nice themselves. The Full Motion Videos (FMV\'s) look like some sort of 3D anime so, being an anime fan/collector, I found them fun to watch. 8/10

    Content

    You can cast spells, summon up monsters (and gods), drink beer and the like, but this is true with most RPG\'s. Zidane, is a bit of a pervert in the beginning, but not much is ever made of it. In a certain part of the world, people can be found praying to a sandstorm. Eiko and Garnet pray to their ancestors, something I found a bit disturbing. A group of people talk of going down \'The Path of Souls\' when you die, and other such nonsense. In an important plot point, Cid talks of his wife leaving him after he had an affair. At one point, everyone in your party, except Zidane, passes out. And after they wake up, one of the members accuses Zidane of erm?\'touching\' Garnet. In a strange sequence, Zidane and Vivi urinate on the side of Eiko\'s house. We don\'t see anything, but it is an embarrassing scene. Zidane is a thief, but the enemy you steal from is going to die anyway, so does it really matter? There is mild innuendo, but nothing horrible. There are some mild references to demons, like a piece of armor called \'Demon Mail\' You can battle an optional boss called \'Hades\', but now I\'m being nitpicky. There is swearing, about PG-13 level, nothing horrible, but not so good for the kids.

    Violence 7/10 Language 6/10 Sexual Content 8/10 Occult/Supernatural 6.5/10 Cultural/ Moral/ Ethical 7.5/10

    Overall

    This is a wonderful game if you have the time to play it, and it is very cheap now. However I wouldn\'t recommend it to young kids for some confusing false religion and innuendo. As I said before, this is possibly the best game for the PS1. So if you are over 12 or so, I recommend it highly. As a game: 41/50 According to the CCGR rules: 36.5

  • Final Fantasy Mystic Quest (SNES)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Final Fantasy Mystic Quest
    Developed By: Squaresoft
    Released: October 5th, 1992
    Available On: Super Nintendo
    Genre: Role-playing game
    ESRB Rating: E
    Number of Players: 1
    Price: $499.97 new, $12.40 used

    Final Fantasy Mystic Quest was created by SquareSoft(now Square-Enix) as an attempt to get Western gamers into the JRPG genre. For the most part, it failed in what it was designed to do and Final Fantasy Mystic Quest is today regarded as at best a kid's game and at worst an embarrassment.

    My personal opinion of the game is to enjoy it for what it is: A Final Fantasy game for beginners, or Final Fantasy meets Zelda. Don't come into this game looking for another Final Fantasy IV or Final Fantasy VI, or even another Final Fantasy I, and then you won't be disappointed. If you look at Mystic Quest on its own, without comparing it to the epics that are FF2/4 or FF3/6, you can have a fun time playing and enjoying an interesting storyline in a unique world.

    You begin the game at the Hill of Destiny as Benjamin (although you can change his name to whatever you wish.) Your village has disappeared, and you run into a mysterious old man who tells you to slay a Behemoth. After this is accomplished, you are told your goal is to save the world and restore the four crystals: Earth, Water, Fire, and Wind. This helpful old man will become your guide along the way, showing up in places to give you hints. Your first mission? Save the Crystal of Earth.

    Mystic Quest is a beginner's RPG for certain, but the first curve of the game aptly epitomizes what is known on TVTROPES.ORG as 'early game Hell.' While are you saving the Crystal of Earth, you can die very easily in battlefields and in dungeon areas. Worse, you are either by yourself, or only have one person join your party, which is the mechanic for the whole game. Yep, you are either doing it alone or have one partner. Almost always, the partner will be much more overleveled than you are, and while you can gain levels, they cannot.

    Final Fantasy Mystic Quest
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Enjoyable as a stand-alone game; amazing music; cute characters
    Weak Points: Too easy at times; no overworld exploration
    Moral Warnings: Fantasy magic

    As the game progresses, you are introduced to several other characters. The first, Kaeli, joins you in Foresta, and gives you the Axe weapon. In this game, you retrieve weapons either when characters leave your party, or you can find them in chests. Unlike other FF games, there are no shops to buy treasure in, and you can't sell old armor and weapons- the game updates it for you automatically. On the plus side, you are upgraded to the more powerful armor. With weapons, you keep them all, and you can pick and choose for the main character (the other character will use what they join your party with.) and you get quite a variety of weapons here- bombs, a sword, an axe, and a claw. The claw is the most interesting, and its final form, the Dragon Claws, acts a lot like the Hookshot from Zelda. You can throw bombs too. See? Final Fantasy meets Zelda. Another unique feature of this game is you can jump.

    The battlefield and overworld mechanics are where the flaw of this game comes in. On the plus side, you can see the enemies, so you aren't spammed by random encounters every 2 seconds. Also, the monsters change appearance as they weaken, which is handy. You can either put your 2nd character on autobattle or on manual, but the former has just as many disadvantages as advantages. Battles are mostly easy, but if your characters are paralyzed or petrified, and you only have 2 of them, it's an instant game over. However you can restart in the battle, so continuing is a slap on the wrist, if that. Some battles cannot be skipped, such as bosses. The only really hard ones that you might die at though are Flamerus Rex, at the start of the game, or the final boss, the Dark King.

    The overworld mechanics are where this game really dropped the ball. I believe had it been a free-roaming overworld you could explore, this game would be infinitely more popular. Instead, you can only go in one of the directions the arrow points at. You can't freely explore the Overworld. Yep. That's about it.

    Final Fantasy Mystic Quest
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 80%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls 4/5

    Morality Score - 84%
    Violence – 6.5/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content – 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural – 6.5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Now, for the place this game really shines- THE MUSIC. Even those who hate this game admit the music is amazing, and they are right. From the title screen to the ending credits, there are no tunes I hate in this game. Amazing tracks include all battle themes, especially the regular battle theme, Fireburg, Focus Tower, Pazuzu's Tower, Bone Dungeon, Doom Castle, and Lava Dome/Volcano. I still have my CD of this game from back in the day when you bought them on eBay before YouTube, and I'm not ashamed to admit it sometimes plays when I'm driving.

    A little bit about the characters: Benjamin talks a lot more than Cloud or Squall, and has a pretty engaging personality. His shrug when something unexplainable happens is cute, and will happen quite a lot. The female characters are incredibly strong women, especially for a beginner game. Kaeli joins your party and fights in spite of her poor health later, and Phoebe joins your party in a search for her grandpa and to save her town. Tristam is a bit of a jerk, always teasing Benjamin, but he is very helpful in the first dungeon. Reuben is my favorite of the male characters- you find him in Fireburg and he is pretty upbeat and mellow. All of them somewhat fit a stock RPG role- Benjamin is the knight, Kaeli is the white mage/healer, Tristam is the ninja/Thief, Reuben is a jack of all trades, and Phoebe is a red mage/archer.

    Morally how does the game stand up? Well, there's magic. You learn magic from spell books too, as opposed to other Final Fantasy games where you just learn them naturally, or buy tomes, as in Final Fantasy II Japan, or from Materia or items or Espers. But this is really all there is to be concerned about. There's nothing sexual or overly violent in the game. No alcohol references, and the female characters wear appropriate clothing- they wear Greek like tunic-dresses that cover their torso and legs, and bare their arms, but only the most prudish of people would be angry at arms showing. I would feel comfortable letting even a very young child play it.

    Overall, I like this game, but I understand why it is resented as a whole in the Final Fantasy fandom. It's a game you can enjoy for a day or so, but there's little replay value. Some fans have made fanmade versions to beef up the difficulty, but I have not played any of these. From a Christian perspective, I see little to be concerned about. From a secular perspective, it is what it is. It's a game for beginners. I found it to be a good filler between FF4 and FF6 back in the day. But I still agree that we should have gotten Final Fantasy V instead of having to wait for FF Anthology. A good used copy is a good use of money; no need to buy it new though.

     

  • Final Fantasy V (PS)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Final Fantasy V
    Developed by: Square
    Published by: Square
    Release Date: December 6, 1992
    Available on: PlayStation (reviewed), GBA, PSN
    Genre: RPG
    Mode: Singleplayer
    MSRP:  $20.00 on LeapTrade

    The planet is in danger as the crystals that are guarding it are becoming unstable.  The king of Tycoon castle heads off on his dragon to check on the wind crystal. Being too impatient, his daughter, Reina secretly follows after him.  Meanwhile, a giant meteor has fallen and Bartz, the main character in the game, hops on his trusty chocobo, Boco, to investigate it.  While he’s there he runs into Reina, and Galuf, an older man with a bad case of amnesia.  After surviving some monster attacks, they discover that they make a good team and decide to look into the mysteries of the crystals together.  Along their journey they meet a pirate leader named Faris that joins the party. 

    Once the party is complete, the main story starts to unfold and they discover that an ancient nemesis named X-Death is interfering with the crystals to break the seal that’s imprisoning him.  He must be stopped at all costs.  I could go on, but I don’t want to reveal any spoilers.  

    The party will be doing a lot of traveling via walking, chocobo, dragon, submarine, boat, or an airship.  Cid, a Final Fantasy recurring character, helps the party along by modifying their ship to fly and go under water.  Many hidden enemies will attack on land and in the sea.  Riding a dragon, chocobo, or an airship will spare your party from being attacked.  

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: The job class system is awesome and greatly improved from FF3.
    Weak Points: While the game and story is fun, the plot is forgettable.
    Moral Warnings: Battles and magic use are a given.  Some of the female enemies can use more modesty and clothes in general.

    When in battle, you have the choice of attacking, using magic, using an item, equipping an item, or fleeing.  If you win the battle you will get some money (GP), experience, and occasionally some loot.  After you gain enough experience you will level up and your attributes will increase automatically.  

    There are two kinds of experience points earned in each battle.  There’s character experience and ability points.  Each job has several levels and when a job is mastered you can carry that ability into another job.  So do you want to be a samurai knight?  No problem!  A dancer that can cast white, black, blue, or time magic?  Sure thing!  Want to summon creatures to fight alongside you and sing your enemies to sleep?  You can do that too!  The best part is that you can switch jobs any time you like and there is no penalty or cool down period that Final Fantasy 3 had.  The job system makes Final Fantasy V awesome!

    Like its predecessors, there’s lots of hidden items and power ups scattered across the planet.  One of the optional (and timed!) quests is to fight a boss to unlock the Mime job.  The mime class lets you mimic your companion’s moves at no cost.  So let’s say your summoner uses behemoth and lashes out 5,000 damage to the enemy; now you can too without being a summoner, and better yet it doesn't cost any magic points to do so!

    While the mime class is cool, there are some other noteworthy jobs as well.  Chemists can mix items and potions to make stronger or new potions.  I used a chemist to prevent the last boss from taking his final form; this made beating the game so much easier!  Dancers can lure the enemies to your side temporarily or do some good damage with their sword dance.  Trainers can capture and use enemies for later battles (Gotta catch them all!).  Blue mages can learn enemy magic when it's used on them.  One handy spell to learn is guardian from the elusive sting ray. Red mages can cast both white and black magic spells and if that's not useful enough, you'll learn dual cast if you master the job.  Time mages can cast spells to speed up your party and slow down the enemy's attack rate.  Summoners can call upon boss-class monsters to fight alongside your party in battle.   The catch is that you have to defeat them first to prove you're worthy of their allegiance.   

    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 84%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics -6/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 78%
    Violence - 7/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 6.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 7/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8.5/10

    The summons along with other magical spells add some eye candy to the battles.  Many of the enemies and summons are the same from previous titles.  Of course the bosses are unique and there are some new enemies as well.  Sadly, some of the female enemies are lacking in the modesty department as they tend to do battle naked with hair covering vital areas.  Another thing worth noting is that a character in the game cross dresses to portray herself as a man.  

    The translation is a mixed bag in the PlayStation version of the game.  When a battle is won, the players say “Yessssss!” afterwards.  I didn’t mind that, but it may rub some purists wrong.  In Japan the main character’s name is Butz (I can see why they changed his name for us).  In all but this version of the game, the princess was named Lenna instead of Reina.  I’m not sure why they changed that.  The PlayStation version has its share of bugs as well.  Since I played this game on my PSP, I frequently experienced a glitch that would distort my screen trying to save my progress.  This is supposedly fixed in the Greatest Hits re-release.   Since I don’t like re-purchasing my games, I can’t verify if it has been corrected or not.

    I am happy to report that the music is still solid in this title.  Nobou Uematsu, the same composer of all of the previous games hasn’t lost his touch here.  The chocobo’s mambo theme is peppy and the intro music is pleasant to listen too as well.  The battle music is intense, especially Gilgamesh’s battle song which is sure to get your adrenaline pumping.  There are so many wonderful songs in this series and V has its share of gems as well.

    With the good music, fun job system, and solid game mechanics, Final Fantasy V is a great addition to the series.  Even though the story isn’t as good as its predecessor, it’s still enjoyable.  With an asking price of $9.99 on the PlayStation Store, it’s well worth the purchase.  My only complaint is that some of the enemy sprites are a bit sexualized.   

     

  • Final Fantasy VI (PC)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Final Fantasy VI
    Developed By: Square Enix
    Released: April 2nd, 1994
    Available On: Android, Game Boy Advance, iOS, Playstation 1, Super Nintendo, SNES Classic Mini, Switch
    Genre: Fantasy role playing game
    ESRB Rating: Teen
    Number of Players: 1
    Cost:12.99 for GBA version, 15.99 for Steam

    Final Fantasy VI, or III in the US, while not the smash mega-hit Final Fantasy VII is, still has quite a cult following. And with good reason. This is a game that has a splendid cast of characters that have a unique range of abilities, colorful, interesting personalities, intriguing and often tragic backstories, an easy battle system, a villain based off the Joker, and a stupid octopus. What else could one ask for?

    You start the game as ??????, Vicks, and Wedge, who are sent by the Empire to find a magical creature known as an Esper. After the mission pretty much fails, ?????? wakes up and has amnesia, but remembers her name. It's Terra. She was once part of the Gesthalian Empire, which is known and feared all over the world, but she is now pressured into joining a resistance group, the Returners, when she is rescued by an intriguing treasure hunter named Locke Cole. From here, you are taken south, to Figaro Castle, and the adventure really begins from this point. Gesthal's court mage, Kefka, is looking for Terra, having heard she escaped from Imperial Custody. Edgar, Locke and Terra pull a daring escape, and in the battle scene with 2 heavily armored pieces, we learn Terra has magical powers no other humans have when she either casts one of the 2 spells available to her- Cure or Fire. Upon Edgar stating 'No human is born with the powers you have', we begin one of the many plots in FF6- to uncover Terra's origins. There's not much to say about the plot after this without ruining the entire game.

    How is gameplay? Well, like any turn-based RPG, there are random battles. One of the weak points in the game is the lack of easy ability to run from battle. We've all felt it- the fun gameplay of an RPG is interrupted by a long, annoying random encounter. In games such as Final Fantasy 4 and Chrono Trigger, running is easy. FF6 however makes it more complicated than it needs to be. Thankfully, it's not like Breath of Fire 2, where not only is the encounter rate insane, Run almost never works. But Squaresoft didn't make it easy either. In other games, also, the entire party will flee, but not in FF6. Some will leave right away, and some will stay on the battlefield. Unless you run into Leafers, which are small rabbits, expect to get to at least the halfway point of the battle theme every time you run into somebody.

    Final Fantasy VI
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Amazing storyline with awesome twists and turns; tons of treasures, dungeons, and secrets to find; amazing music; edge-of-your-seat storyline
    Weak Points: Graphics are outdated by today's standards; Steam version is horrible; Running from random encounters is harder than it needs to be
    Moral Warnings: Partial nudity; avoidable references to suicide and teen pregnancy; fantasy violence; some alcohol references

    But battles are fun other than this. After you get to a certain point in the game, all of your characters can equip magical beings called Espers, which teach you different skills. Espers are based upon various mythological creatures. Some meet you during gameplay and you talk to them before they turn into what is called Magicite, or the corpse of an Esper, which teaches a human magical powers. Each character also has a different unique battlefield command.

    Also, the soundtrack. While Nobuo Uumetsu has said that Final Fantasy IX was his favorite, and I can't deny it is the best soundtrack for Final Fantasy, Final Fantasy VI is a [i]very [/i]close second. The game opens with an iconic rendition of Terra's Theme, which you will be hearing quite a bit during the game in different remixes. The battle themes- 4 in total- are all excellent in their own way. Each character has a unique theme that reflects their nature, and some of the NPCs even have slower versions of that same theme to represent their character and respective role in that PC's life. The iconic opera scene is there for a reason, and influenced future Final Fantasy themes, primarily Aerith's in Final Fantasy 7. Relm's Theme also influenced Eyes on Me. I can't hate on any of the tracks in this game. Well, except maybe Umaro's Theme.

    Now for the Christian analysis. FF6 has magic in it, but it is fantasy magic. Also, the theme of the game is about finding hope after loss and has a plot where Kefka declares himself God, destroying the world. Sound like Satan? Exactly. This is the game where you fight a villain based on Satan . Also, the theme of the game, while in a fantasy world, shows the consequences of immoral actions, and in the ending, the characters contrast their value of life with Kefka's worship of death. It also shows the consequences of messing with the occult as Kefka's total lack of moral compass is clearly pointed to his training with magic. While this is not specifically pro-Christian, it is not anti-Christian, as Jesus says he comes to give us life and have it abundantly. This game does teach the importance of hope and restoration after loss. This is a message needed in a world that is getting darker and darker, much like the plot of FF6. It's not perfect. But it's much closer to the truth than a lot of stuff out there, both in the video game world and outside of it.

    Final Fantasy VI
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 96%
    Gameplay - 20/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls 5/5

    Morality Score - 80%
    Violence 7/10
    Language – 7.5/10
    Sexual Content – 6/10
    Occult/Supernatural – 8.5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical – 8.5/10
    This game promotes the importance of family values. (+3 pts)
    This game displays the consequences of evil and/or messing with the occult. (+3 pts)
    The story in this game delivers a good moral lesson. (+3 pts)

    How does Final Fantasy VI hold up morally, without analyzing the deeper aspects of the plot? Well, it's not inconsistent with the Biblical worldview, but it's not squeaky clean either. Some bosses show cleavage, and one area is filled with femme fatale enemies. The themes of suicide and teen pregnancy are dealt with. They are dealt with tastefully though, and the first scene involving suicide can be prevented if you play a certain minigame correctly. The second scene can also be dealt with if you don't recruit a certain character in the second half of the game; however, I still recommend viewing this scene as this situation and scenario truly shows how much this character has developed since the start of the game. Also, in fairness, the teen couple expecting the baby is at least engaged. There are some scenes that take place in pubs, censored to CAFÉ in the SNES version, and one scene involves a woman aggressively hitting on a recently widowed character. The aforementioned Edgar is also a total horndog, although he does avoid explicitly sexual comments. However, you still know what's going on. So, while it's a spectacular game, I would not give it to a younger gamer.

    How does it hold up for being released 26 years ago? I can't complain. Does it? Yes! Please, go play it! Just don't give it to a younger gamer. If it was a movie, I would certainly rate it PG-13, and it was rated Teen for a reason. Also stay away from the Steam version, as the sprites look ridiculous.

    Still, they just don't make them like they used to.

  • Final Fantasy VI (PS)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Final Fantasy VI
    Developed by: Square
    Published by: Square
    Release Date: April 2, 1994
    ESRB Rating: T for Mild Fantasy Violence, partial nudity
    Available on: SNES, PS1, GBA, Wii Virtual Console, PSN
    Genre: RPG
    Number of players: 1
    Price: $25.00 on LeapTrade

    Final Fantasy VI has been touted by fans as one of the best RPG’s of all time.  I’m convinced that they’re right.  If you can look past the 16 bit graphics (which were cutting edge at the time), there’s an excellent story with strong characters and beautiful music to hum along to as you play.  The main character, Terra, is a mind-controlled slave for the empire who is forced to destroy cities at the bidding of the power hungry emperor, Gestahl.  Magic is a forbidden and lost art, though the emperor has invented machines that can use magic, but the resources required to build them are obtained inhumanely.  After Terra is freed from her slave collar, she is assisted by an underground movement and the choice is up to her to help them or not.  Given her unique abilities, only she can help save the world and prevent another magic war. 

    Over the course of the game you can acquire up to fourteen members into your party.  Generally speaking, you can control up to four at a time, but there are moments in the game where you divide your characters into multiple parties and switch back and forth between them.  Each character is unique in personality and abilities.  Most characters have a back story that can be revealed through dream sequences or interactive scenarios.  While some of the scenes are light hearted, others tug at your heart strings a little bit. 

    Some characters are limited with their weaponry, but that’s not the case when it comes to magic.  With the power of espers (crystals with magical beings trapped inside), any character can learn any spell.  There are no jobs or classes to hold you back from learning all of the magic spells.  Besides teaching spells, espers can boost stats like health points (HP), magic points (MP), vigor (strength), magic power, speed, and stamina.  If you want your party to be powerful in the end, don’t level up too much before getting espers.  Even if you don’t use espers, some of your attributes like HP and MP will increase naturally.  Relics, weapons, and armor can also give your stats a nice boost.

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Excellent character development complete with side quests and back stories; Compelling story and phenomenal music.
    Weak Points: You can’t control your characters when fighting in the coliseum
    Moral Warnings: Lots of battles so violence is a given, but the villain enjoys killing innocents.  There is a lot of magic/summoning use and some of the enemies need more modest attire.  (The Japanese version is worse in this regard.)

    The battles in this game are random, but some of the bosses and dragons are visible.  In battle you can fight, summon the equipped esper, use magic, use an item, defend, or run away.  Sabin has blitz maneuvers that can be triggered by pressing the proper button sequences.  It's a pain in the butt to learn them, but they sure are powerful once you have them mastered.  The magic spells are fun to watch and some of the characters like Gau and Strago can learn attacks from enemies they encounter.  

    While the bosses for the most part are unique, there are several instances of sprite recycling.  Even still, there is a good amount of variety.  The castles, caves and dungeons offer many twists and turns that will keep you on your toes.  I like the instances where you control multiple parties and have to work together to hold down switches to let the other groups pass through to new areas. 

    There is so much to do and explore that you can easily sink more than seventy hours into this game.  Like previous Final Fantasy games you can walk, sail, ride chocobos, or fly an airship after you meet Setzer, a determined high roller that has a crush on the opera singer Maria.  One of the most memorable scenes in the game has Celes performing in the opera, and your performance affects hers.  It’s up to you to say the lines, dance, and move in perfect time.  The accompanying music is memorable to say the least.

    For the era this game was made, it’s amazing what they did with the audio hardware they had to work with.  While there are no singing voices, they synthesize them pretty well.  The opera and Dancing Mad songs come to mind here.  Nearly twenty years later, Final Fantasy VI dominates on top lists of games for best overworld music (Terra’s theme) and boss music.  Nobuo Uematsu was on top of his game here.  

    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 92%
    Gameplay - 19/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 85%
    Violence - 7/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 8.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 7/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    It’s a shame that because of the graphics that many newer gamers won’t give this classic the time of day.  Many Final Fantasy fans started with Final Fantasy VII and haven’t circled back to see what they’ve missed out on.  If you’re one of these fans, I beg you to reconsider.  

    Even with the high praise, there are some moral issues worth noting.  Some of the female characters in the game are wearing bikini-like outfits.  While the North American version is censored, the Japanese versions show naked bottoms.  Magic is a huge part of the game and pretty much unavoidable.  The espers have magical powers and you have to summon them to get their assistance in battles. 

    Since this is an RPG, some grinding is to be expected if you want to master all of the spells available to you.  There are many rare items to be had if you’re willing to fight and search for them.  One of the mini games is a coliseum where you can bet an item to trade it for another provided you win the battle.  The catch?  You have no control of your character other than what they’re wearing and fighting with.  

    That’s it.  That’s the only negative thing I can say about this game.  Yes, the graphics are dated by today’s standards, but they were cutting edge when the game came out.  The music and characters are in a class of their own.  Even the bad guys are exceptional: the main villain, Kefka, is heinous and deplorable with his disregard for human life, while Ultros is aggravating and charming at the same time.   There are so many emotions you’ll feel playing this game, and if you haven’t played it yet, add it to your bucket list!

  • Final Fantasy VII

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Final Fantasy VII 
    Developed by: Square
    Published by: Square
    Release Date: January 31, 1997
    Available on: PS1, PSN, Windows (reviewed)
    Genre: RPG
    Number of Players: Single-Player
    ESRB Rating: Teen for fantasy violence, suggestive themes and mild language
    MSRP: $22.50 on LeapTrade

    Final Fantasy VII is Square-Enix’s bestselling video game with over ten million copies sold.   It debuted on the PlayStation and has been re-released on the PC twice. This review is based on the 2012 release that offers achievements, character booster (I never used it), and cloud saves.  If the cloud saves are a feature you’re looking for, you’ll be disappointed and I’ll discuss its short comings later in the review.    The story and game play are still memorable and I can see why many gamers consider this one of the best Final Fantasy games ever made.

    Cloud Strife is the main character who turned Mercenary after working for the Shinra Company.  Shinra makes their money by extracting the planet’s energy (MAKO) that’s used for weapons and Materia (grants it’s wearer magical powers).  While this sounds harmless, the opposite is true; their refining is making the planet unstable and could destroy it if nothing is done.  Cloud's first job as a Mercenary is blowing up one of Shinra's MAKO reactors for an eco-terrorist group called Avalanche.   Their goal is to put an end to Shinra and save the planet.

    At first Cloud is not very sociable and is only in it for the money.  His childhood friend, Tifa, is also in Avalanche and softens him up a bit. There are nine playable characters in this game but only three can be in a party at any given time.  Two of the characters are miss-able so reading a guide or a FAQ is highly recommended.  While every character can use Materia, each one has a unique weapon type and limit move.  A limit is a powerful attack that is earned by taking damage over time.  Like many RPG’s there are various stats like hit points, magic points, luck, strength and dexterity.  These adjust by leveling up and changing the armor or Materia they have equipped.   I like how the inactive members still gain experience and level up, though not as much as they would if they were in your current party.  The character limits also gain levels but you have to use the limits in order to unlock the next set.   If you want a powerful character, you have to grind, plain and simple.

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Engrossing story and excellent character development; nice magic system where each character can learn every spell.  
    Weak Points: Some of the graphics didn't age well, broken cloud save system.
    Moral Warnings: Like many RPGs there’s violence and magic; with the language and blasphemy I won’t let my kids play this one for a while.

    Enemy battles for the most part are random, except for a few bosses that are shown beforehand. Generally speaking, if you have a save point and a means to replenish your health and magic points, there’s a boss waiting for you around the corner.  You can save anytime in the overworld but once you’re inside a place, you’re limited to save points.  

    The cloud save system in the PC version is unreliable to say the least.  If you launch the game with an active Internet connection you’re at the mercy of their server to allow you to save and load your progress.  There have been many times where I have played and had to leave but couldn’t save my progress.  Sometimes it’s available again within a few minutes but oftentimes it’s longer.  The only way to save every time is to launch the game without an Internet connection.  That way it will use the save files on your computer and synchronize them the next time it’s launched with an Internet connection.

    Even with the broken cloud saves the PC version is still worth getting for the audio tweaking and improved graphics.  The antialiasing and improved character models look much better than the original PlayStation models.  There’s a wide variety of enemies and unique bosses.  The Materia summons and powers are fun to watch, though some of the animations take quite a while to complete and you cannot skip past them.    There are many mini-games including the ability to race chocobos, snowboard, fight in the battle arena and to defend the condor’s egg at Fort Condor.  The Fort Condor mini-game graphics are pretty crude and it’s hard to distinguish the units from each other. 

    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 86%
    Gameplay - 18/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 64%
    Violence - 7/10
    Language - 1.5/10
    Sexual Content - 6.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 8.5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8.5/10

    The characters have a lot of personality and their movements and animations compliment them nicely.  At the end of a fight, Tifa will stick out her (well endowed) chest with a stance that says “See! I did that.”   Cloud does a nice sword twirl at the end of every battle while Cid casually takes a puff from his cigarette.  Cid’s character is funny but his language is very coarse and says every word but the F-bomb.  Barret also has a short temper and a potty mouth.  It's also worth mentioning that the Lord's name is taken in vain here.  While I appreciate eco-friendliness this game, it does give the planet feelings and a consciousness.   

    Fortunately the language is not heard in the cut scenes which are nicely rendered and aged pretty well.  The music in the movies, towns, caves and battles is simply breathtaking.  Each character has their own theme song that suits their personality nicely.  Nobuo Uematsu has composed another masterpiece here.  I used a program called Anxious Heart that allowed me to swap out the PC music for the better quality PlayStation music.  To add icing on the cake, I was able to change out some of the songs (Those Who Fight Further, JENOVA) to the Black Mages version.  This mod is of questionable legality since it's downloading music from the Internet, but we do own The Black Mages CDs and the PlayStation version of Final Fantasy VII.

    The Battle music and songs like One Wing Angel sets Final Fantasy VII apart from the rest, not to mention the funny characters, awkward situations and humorous encounters.  I still recommend playing the previous Final Fantasy games but I can understand why Final Fantasy VII sold so well and still has quite the following.  I recommend picking it up if you haven’t played it yet.  Just keep in mind that it definitely earns its Teen rating.

     

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About Us:

Christ Centered Gamer looks at video games from two view points. We analyze games on a secular level which will break down a game based on its graphics, sound, stability and overall gaming experience. If you’re concerned about the family friendliness of a game, we have a separate moral score which looks at violence, language, sexual content, occult references and other ethical issues.

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