Saturday, August 1, 2015

Dragon Fantasy: The Volumes of Westeria (Wii U eShop, 3DS eShop) Review

The first review of August on this first of August is a retro-inspired series of RPGs for both the Nintendo 3DS and Wii U eShops, Dragon Fantasy: The Volumes of Westeria. Does this retro wonder deliver a good game, or is it too mired in old school sensibilities?

An old school flavored RPG is in the books

Originally released in 2011, Dragon Fantasy Book I was a retro Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy-inspired (hence the game's name) for iOS. Since its original launch, multiple books released for iOS and the PlayStation Vita. For the Nintendo 3DS release, all of the books have been combined to one package with Dragon Fantasy: The Volumes of Westeria. Not only this, but several issues from the separate book releases have been rectified in this combined launch.

Dragon Fantasy: The Volumes of Westeria is devised of four unique books, each offering a different adventure for players to join. The first is the biggest of the bunch, following Ogden, a retired hero who returns to prominence once the Dark Knight attacks Westeria castle and terrorizes the royal family. Ogden gets transported away from Westeria in the scuffle and must collect an ancient series of armor to stand a chance against the ultra powerful Dark Knight. The second and third books are side stories that take place during Ogden's adventures. One deals with the prince of Westeria, entering an ice dungeon where his father had passed. Here, he journeys to acquire a story-related object. The second concerns a thief alongside a trusty niece with the aim of leaving their current abode for sunnier pastures. Book four takes place in another timeline altogether with a completely unrelated story to the other events of Dragon Fantasy, having the hero save Minecraft creator Notch's hat from a savage dragon.

Should have stayed in retirement, Ogden!
The stories have a charm to them in both their dialogue and their script in general. The humor is really good, featuring a lot of tongue in cheek stuff, especially in battle. I mean, what else can you say about facing enemies like The Hunka Burning Love, a fiery cloud monster, or a son of a rock monster who sports a green mohawk and attacks with things like yelling statements that say "You're not the boss of me!" Something a rebellious rock creature would definitely do-- at least with my experience with rock monsters.

This snowman is definitely not a jolly happy soul!
All of the Dragon Fantasy books require a good deal of grinding, whether if it's experience to gain levels and new spells or money to purchase new equipment. It doesn't help that when you die you lose a good portion of your money, so keeping your health at a high amount is recommended, especially for battles where an enemy attacks before your character does each turn. Grinding isn't so bad as levels are earned relatively quickly and enemies divulge a respectable amount of experience each battle, and while the script is indeed sharp, seeing "the Obligatory Ork feels the need to attack" for the thirtieth time in battle can get a bit old.

Dragon Fantasy: The Volumes of Westeria has seen a lot of improvements compared to its separate releases several years ago. For one, players have access to a quest log to keep tabs of their adventure, as well as an in-game map to better get a grasp on the world, towns, and dungeons that they travel through. The individual books only allowed players to purchase one item at a time, meaning that for big spending on things like a dozen health-restoring Herbs, this process took a while. This design flaw has been corrected with the Wii U and 3DS eShop releases, allowing multiple volumes of items to be purchased at once. Additionally, the ability to sort through Ogden's (or whichever character's) inventory and through shop's wares have also been included, making for an easier time overall.

Ogden takes a much needed breather from slaying
ghouls, wereman, and rock monsters to explore this town.
That's not the end of the improvements either. in Book I, Ogden has the capability of adding different monsters as allies to his party. No longer will our hero have to travel through the game alone and grind all by his lonesome. Finally, while the world map continues to have random encounters, battles indoors are initiated by touching roaming enemy sprites. Each time Ogden moves, the enemy sprites on the dungeon map move simultaneously. This assists players in either avoiding battle or cornering a foe. No more random encounters while exploring the already dangerous dungeons within Dragon Fantasy.

Enemy encounters indoors have been changed for the better.
Muteki Corporation, the developer behind Dragon Fantasy's various books, has certainly been faithful to the NES-style RPGs that the game is modeled after. Enemies show simplistic sprites, backgrounds are 8-bit in appearance, the aforementioned grinding is here, and the basic story is present and accounted for. The visuals are most impressive in battle and on the world map where the 3D effect of the Nintendo 3DS version is most prominent, but the music leaves something to be desired. It's by no means bad, but it loops quickly and is a bit forgettable overall.

And I'm missing that for saving the world?!
Dragon Fantasy: The Volumes of Westeria delivers unto players a nostalgic trip back into time where RPGs were of a simpler nature, grinding was a necessary evil, and the sophistication of story wasn't as large. If you yearn for constant battle after battle against monster after monster, burning through MP and items healing yourself after most encounters, and a nice throwback to early RPGs as found on the old Nintendo Entertainment System, then you'll find yourself at home with Dragon Fantasy. All others may find the game to be too old school for its own. For me, the game was just the right amount of old and new to make it worthwhile.

[SPC Says: B]

Review copy provided by Choice Provisions.

Review Round-Up - July 2015

It was a month led by two strong women. Perfect Dark rarely misses
 the mark, and she certainly didn't in the 600th review on SPC.
SuperPhillip Central saw nine new reviews posted in the usually quiet summer month of July. Things kicked off with a return to the world of Castle of Illusion with Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse, a remake of the Genesis classic. It earned a B. Then we went old school with a retro review of Mega Man 8, busting Dr. Wily's robots and getting a B+ in the process. The game of the month, and also SuperPhillip Central's 600th review, Perfect Dark shot and scoped its way to an A. Next, we went a bit wacky with Rayman and friends with the Vita version of Rayman Legends (B).

Following Rayman was another platformer, Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams. Its busy art style led to a lot of cheap deaths, leading me to give the game a C+ score. Then two Wii U eShop games were reviewed, Tiny Galaxy and Canvaleon. The games earned a D and a C- respectively. Finally, the other big woman spotlighted this month of reviews, Bayonetta, earned herself a respectable B, and Mercenaries Saga 2: Order of the Silver Eagle surprised with a B+.

August is going to have a bunch reviews for it as well. Will we reach nine? That's the plan at least!

Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse (PSN, XBLA) - B
Mega Man 8 (PS1, SAT) - B+
Perfect Dark (N64, XBLA) - A
Rayman Legends (Vita) - B
Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams (PSN, XBLA, Wii U eShop) - C+
Tiny Galaxy (Wii U eShop) - D
Canvaleon (Wii U eShop) - C-
Bayonetta (Wii U) - B
Mercenaries Saga 2: Order of the Silver Eagle (3DS eShop) - B+

The other femme fatale of July, Bayonetta,
delivered fun in every "witch" way.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Final Fantasy Explorers (3DS) Announce Trailer

SPC's "Localizations, Please!" gets another game localized for the West! Okay, maybe my segment had nothing to do with Final Fantasy Explorers getting announced for its January 2016 release in North America and Europe, but it's another title we can take off the list! Battle favorite Final Fantasy summons in single or cooperative multiplayer battles as some of your favorite Final Fantasy characters. I'm reeling from happiness that Final Fantasy Explorers is finally releasing in the West.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Top Five Most Underrated Kart Racers

The kart racer-- a favorite game type of mine definitely. Nowadays they aren't widely made outside of the Mario Kart series. However, over the years we've seen different developers attempt to make games in the genre to varying degrees of success. Even if you create a great kart racer, there's no telling if it will turn out to be a commercial hit. Today's top five list delves into the kart racers that either sold below expectations, didn't receive much hype, or just are overlooked in general. After you've checked out the choices here, feel free to agree/disagree and share your own ideas for kart racers that need more attention.

5) MySims Racing (Wii, DS)

Of all the kart racers listed on this top five, the one that surprised me the most was MySims Racing. When I was originally given a review copy to judge the game, I did not expect something special, despite enjoying past MySims games on Nintendo's Wii. However, I quickly found myself greatly liking what I was playing. MySims Racing contains superbly designed tracks with cleverly hidden shortcuts aplenty, a fair and well rounded balance of items, smart enemy AI, tight controls, and enough content to make the game well worth owning for any Wii and kart racing fan.

4) LittleBigPlanet Karting (PS3)

Worthy of the price of admission alone thanks to its insanely robust track creator, LittleBigPlanet Karting is an above average kart racer that thanks to said track creator, opens up the possibilities for some amazing track designs. The tracks that come with the game on the disc that are played through the story mode are wonderful already, and every one was built with the same creator available to players. You can build multiple lap races, transforming tracks via some minor programming knowledge, one lap adventures, and even boss battles. While the actual item balance and unfair rubber band AI leave a lot to be desired (a reason why LittleBigPlanet Karting is only #4 on this list), the kart racing package on the whole is definitely worth checking out, especially since it can be purchased for less than $20 easily nowadays.

3) Mickey's Speedway USA (N64)

Released during the hey day of kart racers, the PlayStation 1 and Nintendo 64 generation of home consoles, Mickey's Speedway USA was Rare's second kart racer for the N64. While it doesn't come close to outshining the masterpiece that is Diddy Kong Racing, the game starring Disney's lovable Mickey Mouse crew is one that is indeed packed with lots of positives-- nice track design with well done shortcuts, cute banter between characters, a high amount of polish (befitting of Rare), suitably catchy music, fantastic multiplayer, and a story mode that progressively gets more difficult as the game goes on. Mickey's Speedway USA is in a lesser echelon of kart racers compared to Mario Kart 64 and the previously mentioned Diddy Kong Racing, but it holds its own regardless.

2) ModNation Racers: Road Trip (Vita)

LittleBigPlanet Karting supports a much larger kit of tools for players to create their own race tracks, but not only is this much more convoluted to do compared to the PlayStation Vita launch title ModNation Racers: Road Trip, but the actual gameplay is lesser as well. The Vita version of ModNation Racers possesses a wide array of pre-made tracks for the excellent story campaign, full of side missions such as not hitting a wall, taking every shortcut, and hitting five enemies, for instance. Creating capable and highly competent tracks is a breeze, and the use of the touch screen to accurately draw track, place objects, and sculpt terrain makes for an engaging designing experience that won't make you need to watch a 50 minute series of tutorials just to have a fighting chance of building some great.

1) Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing (Multi)

While its sequel, Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed gets a lot of acclaim from fans and critics, the original Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing usually gets overlooked. Not here at SuperPhillip Central, where I actually consider the original Sonic & SEGA all-star karting mashup to be superior. It has a better cast of characters with a more enjoyable way of unlocking them via spending SEGA Miles, it has a more entertaining single player mode with its Mario Kart DS-style mission mode, and it has tracks that are much easier to see the twists and turns of. A lack of glitches and bugs compared to Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed makes the pick of the original Sonic & SEGA quite easy to make as the most underrated kart racer currently on the market today.

Honorable Mentions: Konami Krazy Racers (GBA), Banjo Pilot (GBA), NASCAR Kart Racing (Wii), Crash Nitro Kart (PS2, GCN, XBX)

Monday, July 27, 2015

SPC Interviews: Butterscotch Shenanigans (Crashlands)

Watching the trailer for Butterscotch Shenanigans' upcoming release Crashlands sort of tells you everything you need to know about who this trio of brothers is and what they are like. That is to say that they're funny, hardworking, know how to make an impression, are a bit wacky, and are a little crazy at the same time, but the right mix of crazy. If you don't believe me, check out this interview with two of three brothers of Butterscotch Shenanigans, Adam and Seth Coster. We talk about their independent venture, the trials and tribulations of development (including the fact that one of the brothers suffered from two bouts of cancer during development-- sort of a big deal), future projects, and various other topics.

Phil Stortzum: First off, I’ve got to know-- where did the name “Butterscotch Shenanigans” come from?

Adam Coster: Pretty much random word association. During a road trip between our hometown in Iowa and St. Louis we decided to make the company. This was a year or so before Sam and Seth started game development. The original intention of the company was to be a catch-all thing for whatever we wanted to do (hence, “shenanigans”).  We just somehow ended on the word Butterscotch after playing word associations for a few hundred iterations, and it stuck.

Phil: How did you three brothers decide to form an independent game studio?

Adam: That’s a long, convoluted story. But here’s the short version: Seth always wanted to be in game dev but thought he couldn’t since he didn’t know how to program. Sam came across YoYo Games’ platform Gamemaker Studio, which lets you start programming with drag-and-drop, and let Seth know about it. Seth started making games, spending hours every single day and most of the hours every weekend, for over a year, until he became a proficient programmer and game developer. Sam and Seth did a game jam in STL and by happenstance were grouped with the CEO of a local studio, who hired them after the jam. They worked in that studio for 9 months but wanted to do their own thing. They had a 6 month runway of savings, and went for it. I had no role in the formation of the game studio, since I was busy with grad school. But after graduating, I jumped into the fray as well. And now here we are.

Adam Coster
Phil: Which of your past games did you find the most fun to create?

Adam: All of our games were made before I joined, so for me it was “I Know CPR,” a ridiculous jam game we made while I was still in grad school. A close second would be Narwhal Online, a prototype we also made during a jam that we’ll turn into a full franchise sometime after Crashlands.

Phil: Other than your current work-in-progress, Crashlands, is there a game which was particularly difficult to create?

Seth Coster: No game is difficult to create as a whole, once you get the basics down. Every now and then we’ll come across a crazy problem that we have to solve, but when that happens, we just sit down for a couple hours, come up with a solution, and then spend a couple days getting it done. For example, when we first set out to make Crashlands, the game was supposed to be an infinite world. But I didn’t have the understanding or technical capability to make that a reality. At first, the game took 7 minutes to generate the world, and the world only took 4 minutes to run across. So I spent a week researching random world generation until I knew enough to come up with a better way, and now we have an instantly-generated world that’s so big it might as well be infinite.

Seth Coster
Things are only as difficult as you allow them to be. If you can’t figure something out, approach it from another angle. Consult with friends and peers. Do some research. Keep hacking away at it until you get it right. Grit and determination make everything easy.

Phil: Is there a past game of yours that you wish you could have spent more time, or weren’t exactly the most proud of with how it turned out?

Adam: Most of our titles were born in game jams and not fully fleshed out, but we still published them on Google Play. Late last year we decided to clean the crap out of our portfolio, so we unpublished everything except for what are now our core 4 games, which we then spent months remaking. Of those, I still wish there was more to Roid Rage. It’s just too small of a game with almost no meta gameplay. But we’ve also learned that you can’t resurrect a financially dead game, so we’ll just keep moving forward.

Sam Coster
Seth: For me, I have to say... NO REGRETS! We have to always be looking forward. Every game we’ve made has taught us a lot, from both a game development perspective and a business perspective. I’m proud of that fact alone, so it doesn’t really matter how the games turned out in the end. Making games is like doing science. There’s always more to learn, and you just have to keep coming up with ideas and experimenting. We’re always learning with every game we make, and that’s enough.

Phil: How does your team of three brothers come up and all decide on a game to make? What makes all of you agree and say, “Yeah, let’s work on THIS!”?

Adam: Basically free-form, filterless improv. The more ridiculous the better, and the more fun it sounds the better. We just assume we’ll eventually figure out how to implement any of the ideas that come up, so we only say “no” to something when practicalities obviously prevent it (e.g. when the facts of piracy and hacking would break a particular kind of multiplayer experience, or the chance for financial success). Our games typically start as a single mechanic and situation, and then we just start making and iterating.

Seth: Pretty much what Adam said. Coming up with ideas for a game is the most fun part, because you can do whatever you want. It becomes much harder to add stuff to a game after it’s already well along, because you have to make new ideas jive with existing systems. But at the beginning, during those first few days of idea generation, it’s magical. There are no limits.

Phil: Where/how did the three of you learn to do all of the work required to make such sophisticated games?

Adam: We’re all self-taught in our particular roles, and we work our asses off every single day. We are fairly siloed in what we know how to do, so that allows the other two the freedom to come up with cool ideas without realizing how hard it would be to actually implement them. Then the third person just has to go figure it out, and is given the time and freedom required to do that. But we also need speed, so if a hurdle comes up that would take a bit too long to get over, we pivot immediately and make a new plan. Our game development process is 100% iterative, and each of us is willing to abandon an idea in a moment, without hard feelings.

Seth: If you want to teach yourself something, it’s purely a question of time. You have 24 hours in a day. You put 7 of them toward sleep (6 if you’re hardcore), 8 toward your day job, or school, or whatever, and you’ll lose another 4 or so to general maintenance of your life. That still leaves 5 hours in the day to do whatever’s most important to you. For me, the most important thing was to learn to code so I could make video games. So that’s where my 5 hours went, every day for a year. And on weekends, it was all day every day. I put in well over 3,000 hours of self-teaching in my first year of game development alone. If you put in that kind of time, you’d be surprised how quickly you can teach yourself just about anything.

Phil: Which games have inspired you guys the most throughout your game making and game playing careers?

Adam: For me it’s been successful mobile and small indie games in general. Because I look at those and know that I/we can make something at least as good, and those successful games prove that such a thing can be done as a real job.

Seth: World of Warcraft. It was a game that changed everything, both for me and for the games industry. That game is proof that you should never listen to people who tell you that something can’t be done -- MMO’s were thought to be a niche game type that only the most truly hardcore of nerds would ever play. Blizzard put a cork in that within months of launching World of Warcraft. And for me, as a player of that game, it showed me that games could be a lot more than a simple little burst of fun, or a good story. A game can form friendships, teach you things, and it can even become a way of life.

Phil: Crashlands, as many folks know, is your latest title that is approaching the end of development and impending release. What can you tell SuperPhillip Central readers about the game? What makes it so special compared to games in its genre?

Adam: It’s a crafting game with story and without inventory management. And it has a web-based editor for players to make entirely new experiences inside the game world. Add to that the complete cross-platform save system and social network and there is nothing else like it!

Seth: I’d also say... the same thing that makes every Butterscotch game special! It’s colorful, it’s packed full of jokes and humor, it’s ridiculous, and we put a lot of passion into making it the best thing we could possibly make it. I think people get that sense when they play our games -- we really care about them.

Phil: What have been some of the most difficult parts to developing Crashlands?

Adam: For me it is the Crashlands Creator, which is the web tool that we’re using to build the in-game story. It’s basically a high-level programming interface for story, so you can make characters, boss fights, and complex quests and bases. But that tool also has to be useable by Crashlands players, so it has to be intuitive, robust, and secure. Every single thing I had to do for that tool was something that I had absolutely no idea how to do!

Seth: Balance... for sure. I love the challenge of balancing game systems. It’s one of the craziest things I’ve ever had to do. But Crashlands has so much stuff in it, that it goes to a whole new level of crazy.

Phil: For those unaware, one of the Butterscotch brothers has had serious health issues, but is currently kicking cancer’s ass (ed. Note: Sorry for the swear, but it was needed in this case) in triumphant fashion. What happened to development during these especially difficult times?

Adam: Honestly I might not have joined the studio if it wasn’t for the cancer nonsense. It forced me to reprioritize my life and act quickly on those priorities. And so I worked my ass off and graduated really quickly (a normal molecular biology PhD is 5 years and I finished in just under 4, which was 6 months after Sam’s diagnosis). I was already working full time for Butterscotch the week following my graduation. During chemo and other rough patches I would usually just throw myself harder into the work, though sometimes Seth and I would work on side projects as a form of distraction. Development was hugely affected by it all, but not in a way that is easy to quantify. Things just came out a lot differently than they otherwise would have.

Seth: Sometimes it made things easier to work on, because there was a constant sense of determination being infused into the project. Especially at the beginning, when we had no idea what was happening other than “this is really really bad,” The sense of urgency for the project was huge, and I found it very easy to just go full-force into working on Crashlands. Plus, it was therapeutic and gave me a sense that I was helping.

Other times, it wasn’t so easy. When Sam was going through his first stem-cell transplant, there were a few days in which he was especially vulnerable because he had no white blood cells. For those uninformed, that means he had no way to fight off infections. He also wasn’t producing any of his own blood because his bone marrow had been wiped out by the chemotherapy, and he was developing fevers and coughs and was so weak he couldn’t stand for more than 30 seconds without throwing up from the exertion. And I couldn’t go see him, because the risk of me getting him sick with something was too great. When I knew all that was happening, it was impossible to concentrate. So I would just take a day to try to decompress by going for walks with my dog, watching stupid shows on Netflix, or reading.

So yeah... definitely a mixed bag.

Phil: Which part of Crashlands’ development have you guys thought to yourselves, “Okay. We’ve finally turned the corner on this savage beast”?

Adam: I joined when Crashlands was already a complete game. Since then, we’ve overhauled every damn mechanic in the game once or twice, and every time I thought “WOW, this thing is ready to ship!” Looking back, I was wrong every time. Just a week ago I finished the Crashlands Creator, and within the past week Sam used it to build the story for half of the entire game. That was the most recent corner-turning, and I totally believe it’ll be the last.

Seth: Yep. The story. It’s something that we’ve been working toward for a long time, but we needed the Crashlands Creator to be complete before we could do it. Now that it’s there, the story is just BLASTING into existence, and it is changing everything. Crashlands takes inspiration from a lot of other crafting-based games, but the presence of a narrative (and a truly insane one at that), and how that narrative complements the crafting and progression, is going to give people a whole new perspective on what a crafting game can be like.

Phil: Who is Crashlands being marketed towards? What kind of players are you expecting to download this game?

Adam: EVERYONE. But seriously, we wanted it to be an overall friendly game (hence the absurd humor and minimal consequences to in-game death) that is still challenging and fun even for avid gamers. With so many mechanics, harvested from so many genres, there really is something for everyone. The combat system is super fun, but challenging, so the only it’s the only thing I see pushing more casual gamers away. I hope they play it anyway.

Seth: People who don’t take life too seriously. Is there market data on that?

Phil: What engine are you making Crashlands in? What software is being used for the incredible art?

Adam: The engine is Seth + Gamemaker Studio. The art engine is Sam + Inkscape. My brothers are experts at their respective crafts, and are so intimately familiar with the software that it’s a little creepy sometimes. Sam can make a new art asset in 10-15 minutes, and Seth can recode an entire game system in half a day. It’s just weird.

Seth: Adam forgot all the tools he’s developed, though. Crashlands would be a much different beast if we didn’t have him in the mix. For example, whenever we add a new item to the game (like a weapon, or a chair, or resource, or whatever), there are a ton of things that need to be encoded for it to work. Adam automated this process by creating a Python script that writes Game Maker code for us by hacking the XML files that the game’s data is stored in. So where it used to take 30 minutes or more to hook a new item up, now it takes 3 (with a little bit of testing time). And, of course, there’s the Crashlands Creator, which is the web-based tool Adam created to allow us to rapidly build the game’s story. I think he used five different languages for that one, but I don’t even know.

Phil: What will you guys do once Crashlands has been completed? Are there other game ideas you’ve been tossing around or projects you have put on the backburner?

Adam: We have a lot of plans, though the order in which they occur will heavily depend on the consequences of launching Crashlands. Narwhal Online is still the next brand-new game we have planned, though we may finish up some already nearly-complete games before that, or port some existing games to other platforms.

Seth: Once Crashlands is done, I’ll be crapping my pants and sending out emergency patches for a month. That’s my plan.

Phil: What advice do you have for people that are interested in making games and possibly going independent as well?

Adam: Work your ass off and be ready to accept when you have failed at something. Take it as a learning opportunity and do it better the next time, and never stop moving forward. If you’re going to go independent, accept the realities of the games market. Competition is extreme and so making a good game is required but not sufficient. You can’t just plop a game down, no matter how good it is, and make money off of it. You won’t make any money for a long time unless you have a really good marketing plan, a really good game, and a lot of luck. You’ll need a financial safety net (either enough savings to live off of or a financially secure partner willing to take the gamble with you).

Seth: Adam said it. I’d also just add that I’ve talked to a lot of people who claim to want to be game developers. But to be honest, most of them actually don’t want it at all. I know this, because if someone really wants something, they go and get it. And only about 1 out of 100 aspiring game developers I’ve met have actually put in the time and effort necessary to make it a reality. So my advice would be... don’t just want it. Be one of the rare ones who makes a plan and actually does it.

Phil: Are there any final words you’d like to offer to my readers?



I'm going to quit typing and get back to gaming, too, on that note. My special thanks to the busy Butterscotch Shenanigans crew for taking time out of their schedules to answer my questions.

SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs - Role-Playing Edition

Like last week, we have a special themed week to share together here at SuperPhillip Central. It's a special RPG edition of SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs! There is music from Dragon Quest VII's 3DS remake, some classic tracks from Lunar 2: Eternal Blue and Final Fantasy II. Then we take to the world maps of games like Ar Tonelico: Melody of Elemia and The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky. As always, if you're interested in the 925 past VGM volumes, check out the SPC VGM Database.

v926. Dragon Quest VII (3DS) - Moving Through the Present

With the announcement of Dragon Quest XI soon to occur, it makes sense for this edition of SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs to begin with Dragon Quest VII's Nintendo 3DS remake. Although this version hasn't yet (will it ever?) made it to the West, we can still whet our RPG appetites with the music from the game.

v927. Lunar 2: Eternal Blue (PS1) - Field to Tomorrow

Both Lunar and Lunar 2 are excellent cult classic RPGs for the original PlayStation. Not only is the gameplay of both top-notch, but so is the incredible score of each. Field to Tomorrow is a nostalgic ride for listeners, harking back to an era where colorful sprites and worlds were king when it came to RPGs.

v928. Final Fantasy II (PSP) - Main Theme

We have not only an RPG theme this week, but also it appears to be a world map-focused one as well. Final Fantasy II's main theme plays during your party's trek across the game's world map. This version of the song is from the PlayStation Portable remake, offering sharper sounding instrumentation.

v929. Ar Tonelico: Melody of Elemia (PS2) - Green Lands

The pan flute leads this world map theme from the PlayStation 2's Ar Tonelico: Melody of Elmeia. There were three Ar Tonelico games total before the Surge Concerto series took over for it. These are about as niche an RPG series as one can get, so if you're fan of this series, you're in some small but nice company.

v930. The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky (PSP) - Looking Up At the Sky

Our final song for the RPG edition of SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs comes from The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky for the PlayStation Portable. This game is one of the PSP's best, offering a complex combat system, an engaging storyline, and as evident from songs such as this, excellent music.

Super Mario Maker (Wii U) Nostalgia Trailer

After Nintendo of America's thirty second trailer for Super Mario Maker, Nintendo of Europe has released this nostalgia trailer, showcasing Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World, and New Super Mario Bros. U, the games that you can create levels off of with their engines. It's a lovely watch, so I figured I'd share it with you guys.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Mercenaries Saga 2: Order of the Silver Eagle (3DS eShop) Review

Three new reviews in one weekend?! It's too hot this summer for Hell to have frozen over, so something else must be wrong. While I try to figure out what that something else is, why don't you check out SuperPhillip Central's review of Mercenaries Saga 2: Order of the Silver Eagle, from the same developer of the 3DS and mobile game Adventure Bar Story!

Sort of like Final Fantasy Tactics Lite

One of my favorite games of all time is Final Fantasy Tactics for the original PlayStation. I also enjoyed the two Nintendo FFT games on the Game Boy Advance and Nintendo DS, albeit to a much lesser extent. The tactical RPG is one that requires patience, persistence, and a high level of strategy to complete. Those are all things a lot of fans of the genre possess, and they also are needed to complete CIRCLE Entertainment and Ride On's Mercenaries Saga 2: Order of the Silver Eagle. Originally a Japan-exclusive mobile game, the title appears on the North American Nintendo 3DS eShop, ready to be downloaded by anyone who wants an inexpensive yet priceless tactical RPG for their 3DS.

You play as Claude, captain of His Highness's Order of the Silver Eagle. What starts out with the prince joining the order for a ride through the forest turns into him being poisoned, requiring Claude and his fellow Order members to track down a cure for his rare type of poison. This leads to a much more involved plot and conflict that threatens the entire kingdom. The story in Mercenaries Saga 2 is one that is a little bit dry, offering some humor here and there. The dialogue sometimes delves into typo-city, somewhat detracting from the experience.

Where was Admiral Ackbar when you need him to let
Claude and friends know that they were walking into a trap?
Any good tactical RPG has plenty of maps and battles to take part in. Mercenaries Saga 2 is no different. Here, battles take place in isometric 3D grid arenas just like Final Fantasy Tactics. (You'll see "just like Final Fantasy Tactics" a bunch in this review, so be ready.) You can have a party of up to six characters in most maps of the ten total characters that join your party throughout the game. Unlike Final Fantasy Tactics, however, there is a player phase and an enemy phase, instead of characters on both sides of battle taking turns based off of their agility attribute.

Battles consist of moving along the 3D grid based off that character or enemy's movement stat. Like a typical tactical RPG, attacks are done by heading to a neighboring square of the enemy and selecting the Attack option. It's better to attack from the side or better yet from behind to ensure that your attack will connect. At the same time, being right next to an enemy and attacking means that unless you hit them away from you or defeat them, they will get a counterattack in on you. Before you attack, use magic, or whatnot, the game identifies how much HP the attack is estimated to take off or in the case of healing spells, heal the intended target. Mercenaries Saga 2 also shows the probability of the attack or spell connecting with the target as well.

Experience is earned through successfully completing actions on the field of battle. Even if it's something as simple as healing oneself, experience (usually 10 points) is gained. Each time a party member earns 100 experience, a new level is gained. Generally attacking stronger, higher leveled foes is what is needed to gain the most experience at once.

If you've played Final Fantasy Tactics or one of its two sequels,
then you should be right at home with Mercenaries Saga 2.
When a character reaches level 10 and 20, they can change their class to one of two or four choices respectively. In doing so, their attributes change dramatically depending on which class you choose for them. At the same token, if you don't want to immediately change a party member's class when they arrive at the milestone level amounts, you need not do so until you're good and ready. Changing the class removes all equipment to that character, thus requiring you to re-equip it, which can be a little tedious to do, but changing equipment is a pain-free process that is simple enough to accomplish.

Once Beatrice reaches level 10, she'll be able
to change to one of two classes.
Mercenaries Saga 2 is a linear affair with no world map to speak of. You go from one battle to the next with a menu screen in between, giving you the ability to buy and sell equipment and items, participate in free battles to earn more experience and money, and to change equipment and classes for your maximum of ten party members.

The great thing about battles in Mercenaries Saga 2 is how filler-free and streamlined they are. That is to say that attacks, moves, turns, and spells don't take long at how to use. There are no ten second summon spells that slow the pace of battle to a crawl. The ability to fast-forward through story dialogue also makes repeated play-throughs (as there is a New Game+ option) enjoyable.

Mercenaries Saga 2 establishes itself visually with a washed out look to its colors and a serious anime art style. There are no heads that grow to four times their size when a particular character gets angry at another character. Meanwhile, the battle art consists of detailed sprites similar to Game Boy Advance tactical RPGs like Final Fantasy Tactics Advance or Tactics Ogre: The Knight of Lodis. Like most of CIRCLE Entertainment's published Nintendo 3DS eShop games, there is no 3D effect to speak of, unfortunately. A shame.

It's recommended that you play with the d-pad and not
the Circle Pad to make your way through menus and selections.
Meanwhile, the music is the weakest part of the presentation package, offering highly repetitive music that loops more often than I would have liked. Still, it's nothing that overly sours the experience. Just don't expect musical masterpieces like you'd find in a Final Fantasy Tactics, Tactics Ogre, or Disgaea game.

If you're looking for an absurdly affordable, budget, tactical RPG, then Mercenaries Saga 2: Order of the Silver Eagle should be a purchase you make right away. It's lengthy at 20+ hours of play time, it has over 30 unique missions, and the strategic gameplay is more than adequate for the price of the game. It's definitely wise to man up (or woman up) and enlist with the Order of the Silver Eagle.

[SPC Says: B+]

Review copy provided by CIRCLE Entertainment.