Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE – First Impressions

Tokyo Mirage Sessions, a mashup between the Shin Megami Tensei series and the Fire Emblem series. While I have never played a Fire Emblem game, I was quite interested to see how it would turn out. Developer Atlus, or even the Shin Megami Tensei series itself isn’t a newcomer to Tactical RPG’s with the Devil Survivor series, it made me expect that the mashup would be a Tactical RPG. Well with the results in my hand, clearly my assumptions were wrong.

Normally mashups give me a bad image. The mashups I have an experience with, are with characters from two series thrown together with a shit happened bullshit backstory, that took 30 seconds to explain, and the audience is supposed to just accept it. So typically it comes off as just as fanservice to see your favorite characters from two series either duke it out, or fight side by side. Basically the type of shit you’d see concocted by a middle schooler on the back of his notebook, then debated about on message boards.

Well in this case, they made it work. It takes a typical SMT type of scenario, and just slid in Fire Emblem characters. The thing that makes it work, is that you can take out the Fire Emblem characters, and the game could still stand on its own. While you could argue that the Fire Emblem characters are in some ways there for fanservice, it doesn’t seem forced. It takes the trope of characters from another series being in an alternate dimension, but Atlus molds it into a situation that works in a game you would expect from them.

In the Megami Tensei games, usually the bosses and summons, or creatures that aid you, are based off of different mythological creatures, they instead just use Fire Emblem characters as the base models. Which explains why I believe this game would still stand on its own if you remove the Fire Emblem characters. Instead of falling into the trap of throwing in your favorite SMT characters, or even just the characters from the popular Persona series, Atlus said “fuck it, new game, new characters”, and crafted a new game out of that.

Onto the game itself. While I think the concept of having the characters as idols, or aspiring idols, and the monsters feeding off the “performa” of said idols, the actual game is pretty fun. I really enjoy how they based the concept of battle off of the Digital Devil Saga games, rather than recruiting the FE characters, like in the main SMT games, or like Persona where you use them as summons. It’s nice to see that the characters become the classes from Fire Emblem.

The battle system has the familiar flair from a SMT game, and it’s nice that they do add in a different twist. Knowing the weakness of your enemy still plays a role in this game like in the others, but instead of just having your character who exploited said weakness attack again, or just having an extra turn, the advantage in this game makes it to where you get to chain attacks to do more damage. It reminds me a bit of Breath of Fire 4 in a sense.

While I’m only done with Chapter 1 of the game, it’s still enough to see that this game will continue to be enjoyable as I continue on. While I do think I’m missing out a bit for not getting the Fire Emblem references, it’s still fun for an outsider to the series to get into the game.

Breath of Fire – First Impressions

Having played two other games in the Breath of Fire series, I decided to check out the original game. There definitely has been a lot of series progression, but I can still see familiarity from this to the newer games.

Compared to the newer games, this one does feel a tad bit archaic, but seeing the era and console it came out on, you can’t really give it much flack. Though I will say that this game doesn’t feel as unique as BoF 3 or 4. So far it kind of feels like a generic sword and sorcery RPG. Hopefully the game gets better as it goes along.

One complaint I have is with battling bosses. The part where you deplete a boss’s HP and then they glimmer and then have an extra spurge of HP seems kind of pointless, and feels like the bosses are being padded out. It makes the concept feel more of a gimmick than adding tension to a boss fight, and also just makes it plain annoying. Maybe if it was say a big time boss, or the final boss, but for just a run of the mill boss, it just feels unecessary.

Phantasy Star II – First Impressions

Sega’s original main RPG franchise, Phantasy Star II was the first for the Genesis. It’s been re-released on multiple consoles throughout the years, so it’s not hard to find a copy lying around.

Released in 1989 in Japan and a year later in North America, this game does feel a bit archaic for those used to modern RPG’s in both graphics and in gameplay. Though for the time, it was actually one of the most advanced games in the genre on consoles, especially for the North American market. Dragon Warrior came out a year earlier, and Final Fantasy came out months after Phantasy Star II. Sadly the Genesis won’t pick up steam until a year later when Sonic The Hedgehog came out, so while Final Fantasy feels more outdated, more people came in contact with it.

Despite being a 16-bit game, it does feel like a slightly souped up NES game in the graphics department. Though we can’t give it too much flack, as it was still very early in the life of the Genesis, so it won’t be until later games where developers know how to take full advantage of the hardware. Also the first Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy games on the SNES were just as guilty at looking like slightly better NES games.

Also like many early RPG’s, there is a lot of grinding involved before you can really do anything. It’s one of those aspects of the genre from this time period, as it’s basically in every console RPG at the time. Also new party members will also be underpowered, and also require grinding.

All in all, this is a pretty good game so far, but keep in mind it might be a bit hard to get into if you’re used to modern games. If you’re into early RPG’s, then this should be no issue for you.

Trails in the Sky – First Impressions

The Legend of Heroes series, definitely a very below the radar series. It’s definitely a well regarded series, by the 5 people who know the series exists. With a botched release history, and, starting with this title, a name theme being added, it’s no wonder a lot of people in the West haven’t heard of it.

Trails in the Sky is the first in the series that became notable in the West, and it’s translation is also infamous with being troublesome for publisher XSeed to translate. Despite being a critical darling, its low sales definitely didn’t help push the series into popularity, and its subsequent sequels within the Trails in the Sky trilogy were stuck in translation hell for years.

Upon finding an elusive copy of the game, I can definitely see why the publisher had “fun” translating the game. It’s very dialog heavy. Not only is the story very dialog driven, there’s a ton of different character interactions that move the game along. It’s almost like playing a very interactive novel. There’s also a metric fuckton of dialog to deal with in the game, which isn’t a bad thing, and does flesh out the characters and the world.

The gameplay itself is pretty fun. It’s nice that it’s an actual 3D world, not just characters moving around on a “three dimensional” pre-rendered background. Those types of games seem to be more interesting for me, and make it a lot more fun to explore. The battle system is a lot of fun as well, it reminds me a lot of the Grandia series, which isn’t a bad thing. You can build up on your special points, and unleash your super attack and give hell to your enemies.

So far this game is definitely a lot of fun, and it’s a bit sad that it didn’t sell very well. Definitely looking forward to Second Chapter whenever I decide to get a copy of that.

Lunar Silver Star Harmony – First Impressions

The fourth iteration of the original Lunar game, Lunar: The Silver Star Story (there’s currently 5, but it’s really just a mobile friendly version of the second “Complete” version). This game is fondly remembered, not only for being one of the few quality games on the ill remembered Sega CD (or Mega CD for those outside of the US), or even one of the few traditional RPG’s on the console add-on. It’s just a quality game all around, and the remake on the original Playstation helped bring it into a larger audience (it’s also just a better version in general).

Before talking about this iteration of the game, it does beg the question of why Lunar 1 is the only game in the franchise that got so many iterations, and the second one only got a single remake. It’s a quality game in its own right, and depending on who you talk to, can be considered the better of the two. Maybe I’m just preaching to the choir, because I really enjoy Lunar 2. Aaaaanyway

Silver Star Harmony looks like an even more updated version of Complete, which isn’t a bad thing, it’s the superior of the three previous versions, complete with all the cutscenes and completely revoiced with new actors. The new voices sound pretty competent, and do sound less “Speed Racery” in the cutscenes. They did find a girl that sounds similar to Luna, and she can sing pretty well. Some of the new voices do take a bit of getting used to, but that’s just because they sound different instead of being bad. Most notably Nall. I’m used to him having a squeaky voice from the original CD and the PS1  versions, but his new VA seems pretty competent.

The graphics look really good compared to the older games, mostly because of it being on a more powerful system. It’s in an isometric view, so some of the new layouts of the towns and such will take a bit of getting used to, but it does give the game a bit more of a new feel to returning fans instead of just feeling like yet another rehash.

The music sounds really good as well. It’s still midi, but who cares if it still sounds good. The only major complaint I have about the soundtrack, is that the music fades out every time you change screens and starts up again when you get to a new screen. I’d understand if you were going to a spot with a change of music, as it’s kind of expected, but it’s really jarring when you’re going to a different screen in a town or dungeon (or enter a house), and the music stops, then starts back up again (at least it’s from where it left off). You’d think it’d be a simple thing to program to have it continue, as even basic programs like RPG Maker are able to do it. Who knows, it’s not game breaking, but it’s still an annoyance.

The gameplay and battle mechanics are largely untouched from the PS1 version. You can still move around the field and attack monsters based on your range, and Alex can still attack twice in a row. They even kept the aspect of being able to see the enemies on the field if you want to avoid them, though sadly they can still follow you around. It does make the concept seem null and void when many of the enemies are basically unavoidable. At least they didn’t bring back the random encounters from the Sega CD version. The biggest feature they added to this version, is that the characters basically have limit breaks. So like in Final Fantasy, the more you attack and such, your limit meter builds up. It also follows the FF10 model where you can save it for later, like Luna’s super heal when you’re in a tight spot in a boss fight.

Now a gripe, which is how the cutscenes are in a fairly low resolution. The 4:3 ratio is ignorable, as they most likely didn’t make those cutscenes in a wider screen format, but the low resolution videos seems like an odd choice. It looks really pixelated in many of the scenes, and was probably just copied straight from the PS1 game, and it’s not a PSP limitation, as other games have better video quality. It’s possible that those are the only versions of the cutscenes available for the staff.

Another possibility is that I’m playing it on the Vita, and on the PSTV, so it could make it more noticeable, like playing a PS1 game on the PS3. It does make the character images look more pixelated and the text more blurry, though some of the other PSP games I’ve played on the Vita don’t look like that. Who knows.

A gripe I do have with the game is the added intro to the game. While it does give some backstory to the game, it feels like a drag to go through a boss fight (which plays more like an interactive cutscene). It’s somewhat long and kind of annoying when you just want to get to the damn game.

Anywho, Silver Star Harmony so far is a very good remake of the game, and personally the best version of the game out there. Some might have nostalgia glasses on the older versions, or just prefer the top down nature of them, but it’s still enjoyable nonetheless.

Tales of Hearts R – First Impressions

Tales of Hearts R is a remake of a game that never left Japan. The remake looks pretty good on the Vita, while I’m not too fond of modern 3D games with fixed camera angles, it’s easy to let it kind of slide by when it’s a remake of a DS game. I will say that they probably could have put a bit more effort on animating Kor’s walking/running animation. It’s one of those situations where it’s fine for the 2D sprite in the DS version of the game, but for a 3D game that came out in 2013 (especially with the graphical capability of the Vita), it looks really odd. It probably would be fine for a PS2 game, but at this point it’s more of a nitpick.

For the gameplay, it’s your typical Tales fare, so it’s pretty good so far. I do like how you have a lot of customization options for how you want to level up your characters. You can choose which parameters to level up your characters to learn different skills. Personally I stick to focusing on stats that work more towards the type of skills the characters start off with, like for a healer I’ll focus on his support or casting skills, and a combat character will focus on combat skills. A minor gripe with the battle system, is that the battle area is 3D, so you can run around with the control stick, but if you want to use the different skills, they make you use the D-Pad to use the skills and to walk around in 2D fashion. It’s just really odd that this is a thing.

For the story and characters, I have some mixed feelings. While the general gist of the story seems fine, it seems like the minor in-between actions aren’t that great. It also feels a bit more camp compared to other Tales games, which is kind of saying something. The biggest gripe I have is with the actual characters. Usually in some games, there’s maybe one or two unbearable characters, this game feels like the complete opposite, where there’s maybe one or two characters that aren’t obnoxious.

Kor is a bit too happy go lucky and too dense, and fucking Hisui is a bitchy overbearing, overprotective character over his sister Kohaku almost to the point like he’s a Sis-con. Gall is an attempt at a “cool” and wise character, but at the same time they want him to be a comical character, and the way it’s executed doesn’t seem to flow very well. Then there’s Beryl who comes off like the young spunky girl that’s prevalent in Final Fantasy games, but she seems really whiney. Also the comedy they try to throw in seems really forced, and not really funny. Also their smartass remarks they give each other at the end of battle get annoying after awhile, and even more annoying when you can’t really skip it.

One thing that you’ll see brought up a lot with the game is that it only has the Japanese voice, as opposed to other Tales games where there’s either only English voices or ones where you have the option between the two. While it might be a deal-breaker for some, personally I don’t have a problem with the general concept of it. Also a lot of Tales fans are also big anime fans and there’s a vocal minority who piss and moan about the inclusion of dubbed voices.

While I do think some of the voices are either annoying or don’t match, I do have a problem with the actual localization. The game comes off like they localized it for a dub, but the dub got canceled, and they left the script in. It’s really silly that they changed the names of some characters, but kept the original voices, so you’ll see the text saying “oh hey Kor” but in Japanese they’re saying “oh hey Shing”. It’s one of those “why bother?” situations.

Another feeling that it comes off like a canceled dub, is that the text and what they’re saying doesn’t match up sometimes, especially with subtitles for battle. The text and dialog for the most part match up, they did focus on the aspect of the game that matters the most. Though for the more “random” comments, they’re kind of silly in regards to localization. There’ll be times where the spoken dialog is really short like “I won!”, but the dialog is significantly longer like “I feel the power flowing through my veins”. Some people probably wouldn’t care, but as someone that knows Japanese, it does sound obnoxious after awhile.

For the most part, it’s a decent game, while the story and characters are kind of meh, the exploration and gameplay is at least enjoyable. So this game isn’t going to be much of a struggle.

Sword Art Online: Lost Song – First Impressions

Previously I talked about the previous Sword Art Online game Hollow Fragment, and while an enjoyable game, the fanservice cutscenes were a but much. Also it was a remake of the first SAO game, Infinity Moment, with basically an extra second game attached to it, so it feels like two games in the same engine patched together.

Lost Song, while technically the third release, is the second game in the Sword Art Online game franchise. Taking place in the second MMORPG in the series, Alfhiem Online, it incorporates many of the elements from the show into the gameplay. While the gameplay, including combat, was fun in Hollow Fragment, Lost Song is a massive upgrade. You have two different sword attacks, and you also have the option of casting spells. In Hollow Fragment, you really just had one sword attack, and you kept mashing X until it goes into burst attack, and if you weren’t a high enough level, the burst attack/sword skills were really the only way to get damage on enemies. Lost Song, all your attacks do enough damage. Also it’s much easier attacking multiple enemies at once. In Hollow Fragment, battles are constrained to one on one, despite the fact that multiple enemies can attack you at once. At times it got annoying when two or more enemies attack you.

The map screens were already decently sized in the previous game, Lost Song’s world’s are massive making exploration very fun. A feature of the game in the anime was flight, and good god is it amazing in this game. On foot exploration is a bit slow, but honestly, if you have the option to fly around without any consequences, why walk when you can fly? Regular flight mode is already fast enough, but since the worlds are large enough, you can also do a burst of speed. The only downside, is that they add a stamina meter, so you can only burst for a bit until you get too tired. Though you can stop speeding right before your stamina completely depletes, so you don’t pause from being too tired.

With flight, they also incorporated flight combat which is very fun. It works very similar to on foot combat, but flight combat adds a certain level of chaos (the good kind) to battles. Also aerial boss fights are a ton of fun. More regarding battle, you can also have two partners in your party as opposed to one. If you have two characters that have a lot of long distance attacks (like Sinon), they can whittle down the health of enemies while you go and tank them. Also with your partners, the other characters actually add different experiences of combat. With the previous game, the characters were very similar, so you really just partied with your favorite girl, but this time, it actually makes a different. Another feature, is that you can play as the other party members instead of just being Kirito. For the sake of simplicity for developers, you’re still Kirito in cutscenes, but in battle, you can have your player character as anyone in your party. So if you’ve ever wanted to play as Asuna or Silica, your dream has come true.

With the story, there’s more of an actual story so far in the game. Hollow Fragment had bits and pieces very sparsely placed in the game, but so far Lost Song has more of a story going on. Sadly the fanservice cutscenes are still present, and are basically the same as the other game. There’s still some typical ones like the girls trying on cat ears and asking who the cutest one is (Philia if you’re asking), but there’s racy ones like Strea making Asuna a set of underwear and having her try it on for her darling Kirito. Sadly I doubt they’re ever going to release a Sword Art Online game without these scenes, as it’s basically part of the anime, so it’s probably something that’s never going away, but at least they have more story going on. Hopefully they don’t drop the actual story somewhere along the game and just give you wave after wave of fanservice. Also in regards to fanservice, they added in alternate costumes, including swimsuits and bath towel costumes. To add “flair” to these costumes, they added boob jiggle physics. If that’s up your alley.

With all this in mind, Lost Song is a very fun game. If you enjoyed Hollow Fragment, then Lost Song is a guarantee like. It still has some of the flaws from the previous game, and they’re still catered towards people who have actually seen the show. Though if you can get over fanservice cut scenes, it’s still a very fun game, and aerial combat makes it almost worth it.