Operation Backlog Completion 2017
Mar 242017
 

When World of Final Fantasy was first announced, fans weren’t sure what it was. Well, it turned out to be a pretty awesome turn-based RPG.

World of Final Fantasy feels like a strange hybrid of Final Fantasy, Pokémon, and Kingdom Hearts.

In some ways, it’s a crossover game, with characters from across the entire Final Fantasy series present in a single world called Grymoire. However, their lives and motivations make sense in the context of this new world, even if they have similarities to their original counterparts.

The main protagonists are two original characters, twins named Lann and Reyn. They enter Grymoire to search for their missing family and learn the truth about their past.

They also learn they have the ability to capture monsters, which leads to the Pokémon-esque monster catching system. Each monster, or Mirage, has its own requirements to be caught. For example, you might need to use fire attacks on one Mirage, while another just needs its HP lowered.

(You can repeat the process on the same Mirage to make it easier to capture–something I didn’t realize until halfway through the game.)

In battle, your captured Mirages fight in “stacks” with Lann and Reynn. The monsters in your stack determine the abilities you have available, and some can stack to form more powerful spells. Every Mirage has its own skill board to fill out as it levels up, with a few blank slots to allow a bit of customization.

It’s an interesting twist on traditional Final Fantasy combat, and if you dislike the new battle menu, you can change it to a more classic style from the settings. World of Final Fantasy also has random encounters and fixed save points–in short, it’s the most traditional Final Fantasy game we’ve had in a while, although it still lacks a proper world map.

(They showed off a little world map and airship in previews, but they’re disappointing when it comes to actual navigation.)

But even though I wanted a world map, I loved World of Final Fantasy. It’s fun to play, it’s a solid turn-based RPG, and it has a pretty good story.

Before we get into the story, I want to discuss what I considered to be World of Final Fantasy’s greatest strength and one of its greatest weaknesses: intervention quests.

Intervention Quests

Early in the game, you meet The Girl Who Forgot Her Name. This mysterious character has power over time and space, and therefore lets you “intervene” to help your allies.

This means you’ll get to see story events that don’t directly follow Lann and Reynn, but Lann and Reynn will fight the actual battles. These are some of the most interesting and often funniest scenes in the game, and they give the various Final Fantasy characters a chance to really shine.

Both the intervention quests and main story are filled with Final Fantasy references.

Unfortunately, while the setup makes sense since you’re messing around with time and space, I often wished they were normal side quests encountered normally in the world, instead of selected from a list. Most don’t involve any gameplay aside from the battles, and I couldn’t help but see missed potential.

Additionally, there’s a certain point in the game where the story is also tied to completing intervention quests. When they become the main focus instead of a side activity, the pacing slows to a crawl. A traditional JRPG structure could have greatly helped World of Final Fantasy there.

But those are minor criticisms of a pretty awesome game. Now, intervention quests may be entertaining, but what about the overall story?

Story and Writing

World of Final Fantasy’s writing uses a lot of subjective humor. Either you’ll love the banter between characters, or you’ll find it (and them) annoying.

Lann and Reyn use the manzai style of comedy we discussed recently in reference to Lady Layton’s humor. Lann is the boke (funny man), and Reynn is the tsukkomi (straight man).

In our Lady Layton discussion, I mentioned Abbott and Costello, and if you don’t like a style of humor that focuses heavily on one character (Lann) saying stupid things and getting words confused, while the other character (Reynn) gets annoyed, the twins will drive you crazy.

I loved it and found it entertaining. That, together with humorous shout-outs to the Final Fantasy series and many funny monster descriptions made World of Final Fantasy’s writing a treat.

The story itself starts out simple, but it gets pretty crazy. It isn’t just a cute adventure where you catch monsters and fight alongside chibi Final Fantasy characters, but a full-fledged JRPG story in its own right.

If it feels too slow and simple when you start out, give it time. Major revelations and twists are waiting for you ahead. The characters are interesting, the plot is intriguing, and it’s definitely worth it to play for the “true ending” in order to experience the full plot.

Even then, although the story is self-contained, World of Final Fantasy’s in-game “Who’s Who” guide introduces so much expansive lore, they easily have room for a prequel, a sequel, or even a new series.

Click for World of Final Fantasy lore spoilers

The story might look simple on the surface, but when you dig into the lore, it gets kind of insane… and if they don’t make another game in the series, all of that lore will go to waste! So, where’s our sequel?

If you haven’t figured it out, I loved World of Final Fantasy. It was an excellent game and a worthy addition to the Final Fantasy series. If you love turn-based RPGs and monster-catching games, definitely give this one a try!

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Mar 172017
 

I intended to skip Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire.

The third generation of Pokémon was my least favorite, and I didn’t enjoy the OR/AS demo, either.

Then, I heard people talking about the Delta Episode, a new post-game story segment added for the remakes. Many fans praised the Delta Episode as being some of the greatest writing in the Pokémon games so far, next to Black/White and Looker’s side quest in X/Y.

Pokémon Black and White are among my favorites for their storytelling, and I enjoyed the Looker quest more than the entire main game of X and Y. Plus the Delta Episode has an oddly Kingdom Hearts-like battle theme, which I love.

So I made up my mind: I would get Pokémon Omega Ruby, rush through the main game (as much as I ever rush), and play the Delta Episode.

I also decided to give my entire Pokémon team Kingdom Hearts names, and since I thought I might do that for Sun/Moon, I’d restrict myself to only prequel names!

After about 20 hours, I made it to the end of the main game with Lea, Isa, Eraqus, Vinewinder (I was trying for the Unversed “Glidewinder”), Bll (my hand slipped), and Groudon (I never name Legendaries).

Pokémon Omega Ruby still isn’t one of my favorites. I liked some of the changes, like the additional character development for Wally and Maxie, but the story still felt bland to me overall.

Then it was time for the Delta Episode!

The Delta Episode was interesting. I’m happy I played it. It’s much more story-driven than Pokémon usually is, which I like, and I hope Pokémon continues to go in a more plot-focused direction.

It wasn’t perfect. There was a lot of running back and forth between locations, without the pacing to make it feel better. I swear at one point they had me go from Point A to Point B only to immediately send me back to Point A.

Nevertheless, it was enjoyable, and it even had a bit more moral complexity than the series usually has.

Click for Delta Episode spoilers

It also introduced the possibility of a Pokémon multiverse, with the suggestion that the original games still exist in an alternate universe.

The Delta Episode’s connections to Kalos even made me realize I didn’t dislike all of Pokémon X/Y’s story. I actually enjoyed its backstory. It was the main story, and especially Team Flare, that disappointed me.

In short, while the Hoenn games will never be my favorites, I’m happy I played Pokémon Omega Ruby and the Delta Episode, and I look forward to seeing where Pokémon’s storytelling goes from here.

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Feb 222017
 

About a month ago, indie developer Radical Phi sent me a review copy of Angels With Scaly Wings, which they described as “The Dragon Dating, Mystery & Drama Visual Novel.”

A dragon dating game? Sure, why not? After all, a game about dating birds proved to have hidden depths.

When I started Angels With Scaly Wings, I realized right away that the romance is only a small part of this visual novel. It began with an explanation of how humanity discovered a portal that put them in contact with a world of intelligent dragons, and from there quickly spiraled into a murder mystery with hints of conspiracy.

A few hours later, I reached a rather depressing ending. Determined to get a better outcome, I plunged into the story again and reached my first “good” ending… which was almost as bleak as the bad one. I realized I might need to play many times to get an actual happy ending.

But not only does Angels With Scaly Wings make that painless through features that let you fast-forward text you’ve seen or even skip entire scenes, it actually incorporates it into the narrative.

The presence of dragons might make you think “fantasy,” but this really is a science fiction story, and the sci-fi elements play a more central role than just setting up the premise. In particular, there’s time travel. When you start a new game, it’s because your character is in a time loop.

Ah yes… time travel…

While the game puts a great deal of enthusiasm into its time travel, it does present problems and paradoxes if you look at it too closely. On the other hand, the time loop creates a neat way to integrate the way most fans play visual novels–repeated playthroughs for each and every character route.

Now, despite the fact that you spend much of your time dating dragons, the sci-fi mystery story is stronger than the romance. You get to know these characters, learn their backstories, and grow close to them, but it isn’t given enough time or depth to feel especially romantic.

It’s also possible for at least some characters to get their good endings without accepting their romantic advances at the end, and a couple don’t have anything beyond lightly implied romance.

So if you’re looking for real serious dragon romance, Angels With Scaly Wings won’t be what you expect. (And if you’re looking for a happy, silly game, it’s definitely not what you expect.) However, the mystery is intriguing enough that it kept me hooked on my first playthrough, and subsequent playthroughs held my attention as I tried to see every scene, uncover every part of the story, and figure out how to help my dragon of choice.

In some ways, it felt like a puzzle: if I make this choice and go to this place, will I have the tools I need to get so-and-so’s good ending?

The more I played, the more my choices began to affect other playthroughs, because of the time loop. This was a pretty cool feature that tied into how the true ending actually works from a narrative perspective. It wasn’t perfect, as the game occasionally referenced events I hadn’t actually done, but overall it’s one of the most interesting aspects of Angels With Scaly Wings.

Some parts of the story and exposition could be handled better, and while some character interactions were engaging, others felt bland. However, I enjoyed playing Angels With Scaly Wings. It made me work hard for my happy ending, and intrigued me enough to make me do so. It might not be a perfect game, but I’ll be interested to see what Radical Phi does in the future.


Speaking of visual novels, don’t forget to back Ascendant Hearts on Kickstarter. No dragons here, but we do have romance!

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