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February 29, 2016

WALL-E (Wii) (Part 2)

Last Friday, I started a review of a WALL-E game. I already feared for the worst; yet, I have to play through all of it. I did most of the work already, with 6 levels out of 9 completed – oh yeah, there's only 9 levels in this game adaptation of the film. Not a lot, huh? Sure, they make up for it by being rather long, but still, 9 is a pretty small number of levels. When we left off, WALL-E and EVE had found their way back on the ship after having been sent into space, and EVE brought the plant back to the Captain, only for AUTO to rebel and toss both EVE and the plant in the garbage chute. WALL-E and M-O soon follow…

Wow, this place is bigger than my apartment.
The one I'll have in the future.
...The one I'll probably have, I hope.
WALL-E knows he has to retrieve EVE and the plant, so he makes his way through this gigantic room that houses all the trash of the Axiom. As if there wasn't enough trash in here, there's also regions of dangerous liquid that kill our heroic robot upon contact. And of course, M-O follows the directives of being as unhelpful as possible, so he keeps chasing WALL-E, pushing him off platforms… into the dangerous liquid... It’s a long level, but WALL-E eventually finds EVE and the plant; then we see a mimic of the scene from the movie where M-O blocks the doors of the garbage room, preventing WALL-E and EVE from being sent into space, after which we see again the scene where Captain McCrea manages to contact the heroes behind AUTO’s back and tells them to bring the plant to the Holodeck. And he says that with the lowest resolution possible-Oh wait, I’m mistaken, it’s not the video that has low resolution, it’s the ugly, ugly CGI. McCrea still looks like some kind of unholy humanoid abomination.

Thus begins the eighth level of this game, where WALL-E has to bring the plant to the Holodeck, something that would be simpler if there weren’t large areas of red (dangerous) floors, a lot of SECUR-T, and many, many annoyances… such as, oh, I dunno, McCrea in the middle of his fight with AUTO, yelling every few seconds one of a few lines: “Get… that… plant… into… the Holo-decker!”, “The doors are open!”, “We need to keep that thing open!” and “Stupid wheel!”. All which would be fine if you heard them not too often, but when ALL YOU HEAR IS THESE FUCKING WORDS REPEATED AD NAUSEAM, over a sea of noise, damn do they become annoying. SHUT THE FUCK UP, MCCREA! Seriously, witness this by yourself...

Not pictured: Dignity. For everyone involved.
It died levels ago stepping on a red floor.
Eventually, we complete that part of the level and are welcomed by the many defective robots found on the Axiom (the ones that help WALL-E and EVE in the film, even though in the game they were nowhere to be seen in the repair center), and McCrea keeps fighting AUTO, only for the wheel to incline the ship, making WALL-E’s race to the Holodeck much more complicated. I mean, first there’s those stupid sectors of red on the ground, which are a damn big problem. Second, there are hundreds and hundreds of humans who fell off their chairs and are falling or tumbling down towards him. Well, either they’re tumbling or they’re trying to reinvent the bacon dance, really. Good thing the microgravity and lack of bones made them so bouncy or some of them might actually be getting hurt! WALL-E eventually reaches the Holodeck and stops its return into the floor, and EVE is able to place the plant inside it – but WALL-E gets badly damaged in the process. Captain McCrea regains control of his ship and proceeds to send it into hyperdrive, back to Earth.

Scannin' stuff. Just normal activity in the daily life of an
Extraterrestrial Vegetation Evaluator. They're also
conveniently really good at rebuilding broken robots.
When the ship lands, the passengers, who needed to relearn how to walk after a few centuries spent on floating chairs, finally step out. EVE hurries out with WALL-E and starts looking for spare parts. This last level takes place in the setting of the first ones, and EVE has to look around this large place for five WALL-E scattered around the deserted world to pick up pieces. The sleek white robot finds the pieces and brings them back to WALL-E, inside his modest “house”, where she repairs him with the results we know; WALL-E appears to lose all the personality he gained those past years. Thankfully, she manages to bring him back with an electric kiss. WALL-E recognizes EVE, she hugs him, all’s well that ends well, but I had almost no emotion.

That’s the end, and Thank God it’s over. What a piece of-

Huh? It’s not over? Damn, I thought it was! What do you mean, there’s plenty of collectibles? Oh. I see. This game has a large Extras section that includes many collectibles, mostly videos and images. The videos are the cutscenes from the game, useful if you press the Home button in hopes of pausing to write about said cutscenes (since this actually causes the cutscene to be skipped instead). The images are mostly concept art from the movie and game, which gives you an excellent opportunity to see how way better the movie is when compared to the game. The Bonus Section also has a list of all collectibles in the game, including:
-BnL suitcases that upgrade the appearance of WALL-E and EVE;
-Radios that unlock additional sound FX (yet no Sound Test in sight);
WALL-E, meet Wallops.
-Wallops: Levels 1 to 8 contain 30 Wallops each, scattered around the level, often out of sight or in hard-to-reach places. Thankfully WALL-E has infinite lives, so you can kill him as often as you want on this quest, with no repercussions whatsoever. Apparently, getting Wallops unlocks new multiplayer content, like alternate costumes. This game does inspire me to wallop something, possibly the WALL-E Funko Pop figurine that made me review this game...;
-Two sketchbooks, one in Level 1, another in Level 4, and WALL-E has to collect 10 in a level to unlock the corresponding sketchbook;
-Finally, Souvenirs. There’s one hidden in each level, and they refer to the WALL-E movie or other Pixar items like Luxo’s ball or Toy Story characters.

The Bonus Section also contains a Cheat Codes section, in which you can unlock special abilities and other talents to use in the game’s 9 levels. They range from an eternal upgrade to EVE’s ray gun to getting all multiplayer costumes to unlocking all levels. However, using a cheat code cancels the automatic saving file, so you can’t cheat your way through the game. Well, you can, but it won’t be saved. Tough luck.

WALL-E Robot Tag. Meh.
But that’s not all! In the very unlikely chance that you choose this game to play with your friends, there is a rather interesting Multiplayer mode that consists of mini-games that can be played among 2 to 4 players.
-WALL-E Robot Tag: The WALL-E have a fight in a small room, and the entire point is to deplete the HP of the other WALL-E in the room, either by shooting them with EVE’s laser or throwing blue blocks at them.
-Extreme Collecting: To win this game, your WALL-E must be the first to collect 20 Wallops on a three-sided platform. You can spin the platform at any moment using pressure pads, and the hard part is to avoid falling in the great emptiness below. Look out for the slippery parts, too.
Extreme collecting? Huh, you really gotta be dedicated
to your hobby.
-EVE Laser Training: 2 to 4 EVEs follow a path and must destroy as many boxes and targets as possible. The level is set on WALL-E’s world, and it’s basically a rail shooter. Who’ll be the quickest draw? Who’ll destroy the most objects?
-EVE Aerial Arena: The EVEs find themselves in space near the Axiom, with 20 giant rings floating in space. In this mini-game, the EVEs must go through as many rings as possible. At the end of the allotted time (between 1 and 5 minutes) whichever EVE has passed through the most rings wins.
-Co-Op Stop The Clocks: Two players help each other to destroy as many targets as possible; they’re both on a side of the room and cannot cross, thus they’re forced to cooperate. The match stops when the timer reaches 0 (but it refills when either robot destroys a target).
-Robot Tag Simulator: Like the other mini-game, except not in a bird’s view. The WALL-E shoot at each other with EVE’s ray gun, and whoever depletes the life bar of other WALL-E five times wins. If you look around, you can find a magical mallet that will be equipped to your WALL-E and give him a powerful weapon that will smash another WALL-E down to 0 HP in one hit, given of course that you manage to aim well.

I guess that’s all. If there are other multiplayer modes, I haven’t unlocked them.

All characters can also choose an alternate texture for their WALL-E or EVE; those are unlocked as you collect Wallops. You can have EVE disguise as an ice cream cone (really!), a mummy, or cover her in red hearts or in Christmas lights. WALL-E has a geek form (with giant glasses), two versions that make him look like a six-sided die, a British gentleman (complete with tie and derby hat), a disco enthusiast (extravagant afro included), or you can give him the colors of the American flag, make him all orange like a pumpkin or give him a design that makes him look like a wrapped gift. Well, this game gets at least one point for this hilarious collection of costumes.

Disco M-O not included.

And it’s one of the few points this game gets! It’s… pretty bad. Yeah, I had a hunch it would be. I ended up getting a bit more invested than I thought, but it’s still subpar for a Wii game. The story itself is nothing new, it’s the plot of the movie with only the game-relevant scenes kept, and it seems as though they took great care to remove most of the emotions. It just goes to show how important the subtlety in movements is for the CGI characters in Piar’s films. And it’s even more noticeable in this story featuring robots who talk mostly through body language and a limited vocabulary. Of course, I can’t discuss the cutscenes without discussing the quality of its… um, animation some more. The renders look absolutely horrible. I wasn’t kidding when I said this looked like it was straight out of a PlayStation 1. However, the only character on which this is truly noticeable is Captain McCrea.

However, I doubt this is what you’ve come here for. How is the gameplay? Well… I tend to enjoy puzzle platformers most of the time, but it’s not the simplest thing to set up. The platforming must not be so difficult that the puzzle becomes too hard to solve, and the puzzles must not be so hard that the character wanders around the level aimlessly, looking for the solution. There’s a fine line there and this game fails at keeping balance. Oh, it’s fine for the first few levels, but eventually puzzle and platformer clash, and the obstacles of one become a problem for the other. Best (worst) example: You need to create explosive blocks to power up stations and destroy faraway robots; that’s the puzzle part. Then M-O shows up and pushes WALL-E around endlessly, which might force you to discard the blocks (to distract M-O) and make more. If you have time, because M-O will quickly be back with a vengeance. Some levels are more puzzle-oriented, others are more platforming-oriented. Of course, the Axiom had to have the destructive red floors, because there is no good platformer without endless pits or instant-kill floors. No matter how nonsensical they may be in the setting.

If the characters could be controlled a little better, that would help. WALL-E will often slide past where you want him to go. I noticed this tends to change between levels; sometimes he’ll skid past his destination, other times he’ll stop where you want him to stop. For no discernible reason. When EVE flies, she’s a little simpler to control, but she also keeps floating a little after you let go of the A button, which is a problem since, you know, hitting floors harms EVE. And she’ll hit the floors a lot.

However, I have to admit that there are good ideas here: WALL-E alone, WALL-E equipped with EVE’s arm, EVE alone, the WALL-E/EVE team are four different ways the levels in this game go, and it’s actually pretty fun to see all four combinations as you progress. The puzzle sections are interesting as well, what with cubes of different weights and functions that WALL-E can create and other cases of puzzles mixed with platforming. It doesn't always work, but sometimes it does. Even if the game is shoddily put together and has many problems, there are some interesting ideas that could have been used much better.

True completionists will get to replay levels in order to find all 240 Wallops (the 9th level doesn’t have them) as well as every collectible item. This can take a moment to do, since some objects are well-hidden. Those who seek out the multiplayer mode will find something rather enjoyable, not perfect but definitely okay for a bit of time with friends. Not every Multiplayer mini-game is good, but the ones that are good are very good.

Many levels – or parts of levels – are actually pretty large and contain a lot of elements to look at (EVE’s speed flight sections are one such example). The music is meh, though you don’t miss much; I’d complain more about the unnecessary voice clips you hear in some levels, clips that repeat endlessly because they didn’t bother to record more than four lines.

This goes a step beyond being a blatant cash-grab, but not by much. It’s not so awful that it can be immediately called shovelware, although it IS close to deserving the title. Did I have fun? A little. It wasn’t an enraging experience like others I’ve had in the past few years. But I can’t quite call this a good game either; its problems are too blatant, its controls are bad, and it even reduces cute comic relief M-O to a major annoyance that you want to throw on those damned red floors (can you tell M-O is one of my favorite WALL-E characters?). It’s okay if you’re a diehard WALL-E fan, but don’t expect much replayability outside of getting all the collectibles. Hell, if you’re a diehard WALL-E fan… just go watch the movie again. You’ll enjoy it more. Everyone else should just avoid this game. Or check it out only if they’re curious.

(Last video: Of me telling the WALL-E figurine that his game sucked)

Well, I’m done reviewing this one. What should I review next… oh, I see. I’ve been playing this game for a while now… maybe it’s time to review it. But… can I review a game that I am incapable of completing? …we’ll see… Tune in this Friday. WALL-E and EVE are not the last robots we’ll be seeing this week!

February 26, 2016

WALL-E (Wii) (Part 1)

In my collection of Wii games, there are some games that I thought would be a good idea, then I realized I’d keep playing other games instead. And my hobby as a reviewer meant I had no time for those games. Well, today I’m looking at once of those games, and I’ll try to play through it.

What else are two robots going to do? It's not like they
can offer gifts to each other.... right?
Everyone remembers WALL-E? Of course you do. Who can forget the little Pixar robot, more adorable than any trash compactor should ever have the right to be, and you can just feel yourself melt at the sight of those puppy-dog vision captors… Yeah, I know what it’s like. The movie is often hailed as one of Pixar’s best, with its first 30 minutes considered one of the greatest pieces of CGI animation ever created, and the rest of the film being considered at least okay (I still like the whole movie, though, but is that a surprise? I like most things.). As with every popular movie, a video game adaptation had to follow to get more money from the viewer’s pockets, and hopefully provide them with a chance to play as the heroes of the film. Video game adaptations of films are frequently below par in terms of video game quality, and sometimes never go beyond being simple cash-grabs. However, not all video game adaptations are absolutely terrible, there are some good ones out there. What can I say about the video game adaptation of WALL-E? Is it good, is it bad? I'll only find out by playing it. Let's start!

Ha! Two blocks! Beat that, meatpeople!
When the game begins, we see scenes similar to those at the beginning of the movie. WALL-E is alone, compacting trash in this desert wasteland that once was a city, with no one but a little cockroach to interact with. The first level is a tutorial explaining the different controls; you move with the control stick, jump with A or C (and damn, for a robot, WALL-E can jump pretty high!) and can move in "Box form" by keeping A or C  pressed and moving with the control stick, and shake the Wii remote to create cubes from nearby piles of trash – usually provided by machines that need to be re-powered up). You can aim on the screen with the Wii remote, and when you find a point of interest (like a BnL target, which are used to activate machines around a level), you can press B and then A to have WALL-E throw a cube of trash at it. WALL-E can hold up to three cubes at once, which is already better than the robot in the movie.

February 21, 2016

Updates! New job, new games...New list!

Okay, so here are the good news: I found a job! It's a rather demanding job that requires me to be present almost every day for now (because it's a job that pays quite  bit, but only if you're efficient). However, this also means that in order for me to improve at that job in order to make a decent revenue, I need to concentrate more on that, less on video games. So, you see, I might have to slow down on updates for a moment. Not saying I stop! But after I'm done publishing the posts that have been written so far, I might go back to one update per week. Emphasis on "might", I don't yet know how well things are going to go with this job. Long story short, I hope for the best, but this also means I need to do as much work as I can.

However, I realize it's been a while since the last updated list of games I've posted on my site. A lot of new games have joined my collection since last time. However, instead of listing all the games I own and separating the ones I've reviewed from the ones I haven't, I will only list the ones I haven't reviewed yet.

Fossil Fighters
Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars
Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story
Picross 3D
Pokémon White
Spectral Force Genesis

MadWorld (NEW!!)
Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games
Mario Super Sluggers
Muramasa the Demon Blade
Naruto Clash of Ninja Revolution
New Super Mario Bros. Wii
No More Heroes
No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle
Rabbids Go Home
Resident Evil 4 Wii Edition (NEW!!)
Rise of the Guardians
Sam & Max: Beyond Time and Space
Sonic and the Black Knight
Sonic Unleashed
Spectrobes Origins
Super Mario Galaxy
WarioWare Smooth Moves (NEW!!)
Yu-Gi-Oh! 5DS: Duel Transer

The Legend of Zelda: A Link To The Past
Mega Man
Paper Mario
Phantasy Star
Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars
Super Metroid

Deer Drive Legends
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney
Sexy Poker
Sonic 4 Episode 1

Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon
Pokémon X
Rabbids Rumble
Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS (NEW!!)

Pokémon Picross (NEW!!)
Pokémon Shuffle

Kirby's Dream Land 2
Kirby Super Star
Kirby's Dream Land 3
Challenge Stages

February 19, 2016

Dragon Quest Swords: The Masked Queen and the Tower of Mirrors (Part 3)

^ New alternate titlecard for this review!

So, following the events of Parts 1 and 2, we’re at the entrance of Xiphos’ ridiculously stereotypical overlord fortress (…or Citadel, whatever). In the past week, we’ve geared up for this final battle, preparing to fight the nastiest monsters that could be sent the heroes’ way. Now that we're finally ready, it’s time to go.

Play now to have a chance to win a trip to the
Deathbringer's Citadel! Our beds are 100% guaranteed
not-covered-in-bleeding-hands! Enjoy a nice invigorating
walk in our Land of Fire! You'll never be the same again!
The Citadel is a long level that starts off in a section surrounded by walls of volcanic rocks and fire shooting everywhere. After a while, the heroes follow the path going upwards, which is when they reach carefully carved stone stairs with torches on both sides. There are some extra paths to follow, but one is guarded by a Groβmeister wannabe and the other by a weaker version of the boss of the Fire Sea level. Soon the volcanic rocks leave way for a carefully-crafted stone staircase. The final fork in the path lets the heroes climb up either side of a giant statue of a one-eyed monster’s face; either side you pick, strong monsters get in the way. Both paths end right over the statue’s face, and the characters have to jump on the platform below. The statue’s mouth is actually the entrance to Xiphos’ throne room. This seems too simple…

I should just drill into that giant eye of yours.
We'll see how you like it!
And because the universe loves to torment me when I’m right, the single eye on the statue starts moving and shooting energy balls at the heroes. The shield must be used to defend from some of them, but others can be hit back with the sword – in fact, it’s the only way to defeat this monster. When it is defeated, a staircase rises, allowing the heroes into the Citadel’s throne room. A few more enemies await in there, then a portal leads them to the throne room (with a few more enemies on the way). When they reach the throne room, they see Aruval’s “fishy” body on the floor. The spirit of Xiphos brings it back to its human self, then possesses it, turning into Xiphos’ more humanoid form. The fight is on! If by that point you went level-grinding to get a better ally (the better spells gained by Anlace, Fleurette or Claymore are only learned around Level 30) or a stronger sword, then you can get the upper hand in this fight. I strongly suggest an ally that learns the Magnishield spell, as an enlarged shield will be much more useful to block Xiphos’s attacks. Having a hero at about Level 40 and an ally at Level 30 seems good. But if you want an easier fight, be some levels higher than that.

You can't see it where he is, but I bet this guy has just the biggest grin
on his punchable face.

Xiphos attacks with a sword, but he can also use a boomerang (Xiphos, secretly Australian?) and even throws pieces of pillars at the heroes (destroying his own lair? Now that’s just dumb). When his life bar is depleted, Xiphos doesn’t admit defeat, and instead calls forth the power of darkness to turn into his final form: A grotesque, winged, giant, four-armed, half-Xiphos half-sea creature, er… monster.

And he's pretty damn big, too.
His entire design screams "I'M THE FINAL BOSS!
It’s like the perfect example of character design going “Alright, let’s mix as many demonic traits on this monster as we can think of! Screw subtlety!” Final Xiphos is really difficult, he hits hard and he has special moves that can break your shield. He also has some nasty surprises, such as being able to steal your ally from you to inflict a lot of damage to him or her – and prevent them from using spells for the duration. Oh, and the cherry on the sundae? He has a Master Stroke, Figure Of Hate. You can lessen the damage it does by slashing at Xiphos while he’s powering it up, but when he shoots, you cannot protect yourself or your ally from it. And it HURTS. You’ll need all of your resources for this fight. Good luck!

AKA "You're screwed, so better reduce the damage the best
you can, 'cause there's no escaping this blast".
No! He took Fleurette! I was almost enjoying her presence by now!

I should note that, as was the case for the red sea, no matter which ally you chose, the two you didn’t pick are still following you from afar. And for some reason they’re not helping in this final battle. Some allies they are…

What are you waiting for?
End this, once and for all!

This hero can't speak, but I'm sure he is thinking
"I just wanna go to sleep now..."
After a long battle, Xiphos is finally defeated. To be sure that he doesn’t come back this time around, the hero takes out the Rorrim mask, which magically places itself on the darklord, turning him to stone; after what the hero deals a final death blow, destroying Xiphos’ statue and ending his menace once and for all. The throne room shakes, the place will be crashing down! Claymore picks up Aruval’s body (How did it get back?), and the group makes a run for it, although they drop and lose the Rorrim mask into the void below. On their way back, Avalonia celebrates. The hero has to speak to everyone inside the castle, after which the main four go to the balcony, with a large crowd of Avalonians waiting for their hero to say something. (Yeah, good luck with that, we’ve got a heroic mime here.) The hero just brandishes his sword and the crowd cheers. The end!

So, now that the menace has been defeated, what else is there to do? Well, you can go back to any level and fight its boss (yes, even Xiphos. You had to make that bastard deader than dead to defeat him and he’s still around! So is his fortress and the red sea…). There’s a bonus to that, you can try getting a high score on each level; the higher your score, the better your grade, which means you get better rewards. And rewards is what you’ll need! What are the other postgame achievements that you can try to attain?
-You can go back to the previous levels to find all the one-time treasure chests hidden, as those often hold special pieces of equipment (such as a whole cat-themed set of equipment, and a dog-themed one) that you cannot buy anywhere.
-Getting one of every type of sword is extremely difficult. Finding the most powerful sword you can get on the first playthrough is difficult, it requires a lot of money and crafting items. Even then, you cannot get the best swords until after your next playthrough.
-Raising all three allies to Level 33, 34 and 36, so as to gain their “buddy blows”; see, you have your Master Strokes, inherited from the swords you gain, but each ally has a “buddy” blow that can be used whenever your Master Stroke gauge is full and your ally has enough MP. The result is an attack from the two characters’ at once. It can be very impressive.

Making a monster more dangerous? Simple! Add extra heads.
Not that a freaking DRAGON wouldn't be dangerous with just one...
However, the greatest challenge is the Mirror Bosses. See, when you play a save file in which you’ve just beaten Xiphos, you are told by Claymore than strange mirrors appeared in the Reflectory, that odd cave under the castle. When you get there, you see four grey mirrors on the walls. Each one leads to a boss, each a stronger version of a a mini-boss or a boss in the game. There’s Nomeg, a powered-up Envoy of Xiphos; Clank and Knalc, two living suits of armor with quick attacks; King Latem, a King Metal Slime that spend the fight running and jumping left and right, and you need to be able to inflict 12 HP of damage to it before it escapes, despite dealing only one HP of damage at a time; and last is Salta, a powered-up version of the one-eyed ogre enemy fought in Xiphos’ throne room. When those four opponents are defeated, a fifth grey mirror appears on the wall; this one leads to Valgirt, a three-headed dragon which you can reach with your sword, no matter how far you are. …Yeah. It’s a tough boss using both a fire breath to defend yourself from and fireballs that you can knock back, taking down one head at a time; and when it’s been down a first time, it revives and you fight a second round against it.

Obviously, this one had to be red and black.
Still not enough? When Valgirt is beaten, three purple mirrors appear on a wall in the room, containing even stronger opponents: powered-up versions of Nomeg, Der Gib and Valgirt. These are insanely powerful opponents, so much so that the recommended level to fight them is 60. And if you somehow get to defeat all three, you unlock a final purple mirror, with behind it the previous three purple mirror bosses, followed by a powered-up version of Xiphos himself. This is the hardest boss in the entire game, and beating this one awards you a special mode, called Payback Mode.

In that new mode, you simply replay through the entire game’s plot, with something special… a weapon called the Deathbringer, with a power of 200! For reference, the best weapon you could get in the previous game had a power of 136. The downside is that you start off with terrible defensive equipment. If you replay through the game entirely, all the way to the grey and purple mirrors again, and beat the bosses in those mirrors once more, you can gather enough materials to upgrade this weapon to Deathbringer’s Shade, a weapon with a power of 400!!! Note: prolonged use of Deathbringer and Deathbringer’s Shade may lead to a loss of soul, humanity, common sense and table etiquette. Use with caution. Keep out of reach of children (But teenagers are fine, though, apparently). Square-Enix is not responsible if you bite off more than you can chew and go against an enemy too powerful for you with these weapons. Which might not happen, but hey, we never know…

Some enemies know how to protect themselves.
Thankfully, that can also leave their weak point unguarded.
That covers everything in the game. Final verdict? Is it really a surprise? I like it! Don’t come into this game expecting a normal RPG, it’s not what you’re going to get. The gameplay is neat (for the most part, see below), and I really like many of the ideas brought forth (although it could have been implemented better with the story, and some things could have been corrected; again, see below). Seriously, you have to try this game for its gameplay. Swinging the sword around is enjoyable, you feel more invested than you’d be in regular RPGs where you simply set each character’s actions and see that character’s turn play out. It also means you need to learn to have some timing when slicing through enemies, using items and calling for your ally to use a spell. It’s clearly heavier on the “action” than the RPG.

The side-quests can keep you busy for a while, especially if you wish to get the best weapons in the game, and the postgame bonus bosses offer enough of a challenge, enough of an incentive to level-grind. I mean, any player should at least get to try the insane destruction you can do in Payback Mode. …Which, by the way, is a cool idea, even though I haven’t gotten there yet.

And thus peace reigned again until the next
megalomaniacal supervillain with powers.
The music is excellent. The graphics? They’re not the best we can see on this console, but they’re still pretty fun to look at, colorful and clear, even in the final stretch of the story. The worlds offer great visuals, and the creatures met throughout the journey are a lot of fun to look at; and it’s also fun to see their in-battle animations. The human characters’ designs can be pretty creative too, mostly the main four, and the more important secondary characters (most of the other villagers look like copies of others, as made obvious in the crowd scene in the ending). The idea of using Mii-like faces for the random villagers was a bit wise. And last but not least, having the main and secondary characters voiced during the plot-relevant cutscenes? That’s great. The acting isn’t always top-notch, and some could speak a little faster (looking at you, Minister Misericord), or emote a little more, but in video games I’ve seen much worse.

Can you at least smile, please? Is that too much to ask?
No one can say what you just said with a straight face.
That’s not to say it’s perfect, either. I found it had quite a number of issues. The main problem, for me, is the story; it’s not terrible, but it’s really nothing fantastic. The young hero on his quest, the sudden call to heroics, the Royal family’s ties to the plot, the return of a defeated villain, the mega-fortress of evil appearing out of nowhere. The worst has to be that everything related to the Mirror World is just the words backwards; an idiot could think of that. Plus, sometimes the clichés pile up and you wind up wondering if it was all meant as a spoof of role-playing games in general, or if they were blissfully unaware that they were rattling off an alarming number of the most common tropes. Hell, the nearly-naked warrior lady just confuses things even more, as she looks too silly to try being serious, yet never really says anything humorous or referring to her being a joke (outside of being sad because the Prince said she had great muscles). Thankfully, the plot does throw a few surprises our way, so it’s not all bad. Also, this game has a short Story Mode for an RPG, with only eight levels and a little less than 10 hours of gaming required to finish it.

I wish 64 more people would heard of me and my blog.
Sure, you can then do the other side-quests; getting your weapons to their final upgrade or beating all the Reflectory bosses. Since there are only eight actual levels in the game, you quickly become so powerful that all the actual levels – yes, even the last one – become very easy. And since you can beat the Story Mode around Level 42 (I know I did for this review), this means even the monsters in the last level soon become weak and give away too little experience. After a while, the sole reason to replay through Levels is to gain the rewards for B, A and S ranks on each, since those are usually materials required for weapon tempering. It also makes level-grinding really boring past Level 45, unless you play through the grey mirror bosses repeatedly (and by this, I mean dozens and dozens of times). Both level and money grinding get pretty bad after a while, though in postgame you’ll be farming money to upgrade your weapon, and almost nothing else. It doesn’t help that, aside from the occasional fork, you can’t move away from the pre-programmed path, and all the encounters in a level are also pre-programmed, in that you’ll always meet the same enemies at the same spots, save for the occasional metal slime running about. The enemies never get harder, neither do the bosses.

My arm already preemptively hurts.
Some enemies have weak points that you can find by thrusting the Wii remote forward on a part of their body, but good luck finding those; for one, to aim by thrusting forward you need to select the point where you want to thrust, and then thrust – which is easier said than done since the movement detection will often mistake a forward thrust for a slash. It also happens rather frequently that you’ll be slashing in a way, and the game will detect the slash as taking another direction; indeed, you must remember to always have the Wii remote level to the ground, horizontal, and not vertical – which is almost silly, considering heroes are frequently seen holding their swords vertically. As a final point of criticism I have for this game, the late-game Master Strokes learned require moving the Wii remote in large shapes, like the infinity symbol; it’s powerful against the bonus bosses, but you only have a few seconds to fill the gauge to use the attack to its maximum power, so you need to be quick, and using these Master Strokes too often will lead to your arm hurting. I once played the battle against Valgirt six or seven times on the same day; my right arm hurt for two days after that. The “pointing and aiming” mechanic is also very hard to use against enemies who are going way too fast for humans to react – but thankfully, that problem is confined to postgame bosses.

But even though my points of criticism took longer to explain, that doesn’t mean I dislike the game; maybe I’m just one of those guys who see past the flaws and keep playing, out of an ardent desire to see everything there is to see. That doesn’t make me a bad critic, just one who accepts imperfections and is satisfied as long as he has fun. And isn’t that the whole point of games in the first place? I heartily recommend Dragon Quest Swords: The Masked Queen And The Tower Of Mirrors,

Next week? Um… I have a few games in my collection that I’ll need to do someday, I think it’s time for one of those… Hm, maybe this one… Next week: WALL-E. …I have a bad feeling about this one.

February 15, 2016

Dragon Quest Swords: The Masked Queen and the Tower of Mirrors (Part 2)

As usual, the first part of this review was used to set up the plot and explain the important mechanics, now we’re jumping right into the plot!

I don't have a choice, do I?
When the hero - who's often referred to as Hiro on the Internet, for some reason - is back at the village, he goes home and finds Fleurette discussing with his father. She couldn’t get any answers at the castle, so she’s determined to go to Mount Arondight herself, and this means you have to tag along to protect her – or, in this case, she tags along with you and casts protective spells. Eh, every team needs a medic. Too bad teams in this game are nothing but teams of two… Fleurette goes to see the church and reveals that, before her brother got sick, she was studying to become a nun. Uh, no offense Fleurette, but first, I don’t think your impressive anime haircut would ever fit under the headpiece worn by a nun. Second, I kinda doubt a to-be nun would wear clothing this close to lingerie as her everyday clothes. Buuut I guess the male audience has to be pleased, and clearly the Bikini Warrior Lady wasn’t enough… Anyway, Fleurette assigns a nickname to the hero, and then they leave the village towards Arondight Heights.

I picked Chevalier, but the LP I take these pics from
chose Blade instead. If I want to see a guy called Blade,
I'll watch those vampire flicks, thank you very much.
Oh yeah, I haven’t mentioned that, have I? This game is fully voiced and in first-person, so most of the time the characters will be talking directly to you. Only downside, this isn’t Fallout 4, so you won’t have a personalized experience with the name you chose to start the game with. To circumvent saying the player’s name, everyone addressing the hero instead uses nicknames. The hero’s father, Claymore, always calls his son “Lad”, Prince Anlace switches between nicknames, and Fleurette gives you the choice between Blade, Hacker and Chevalier. (I went for the last one, because the other two sound kinda bland and “Chevalier” is totally in-character for her, what with that French accent…) Heck, Fleurette’s dialogue will feature the nickname you chose, every time she speaks to you, even in-battle! I have to admit, the result is a pretty interesting first-person view of the story. More immersive than a lot of games out there, that’s for sure.

...Anchor monsters. Yup, anchor monsters.
It's such an incredible idea, guys! So creative! I'm not even sarcastic about this!
...Okay, I am.

The Arondight Heights level is fine, for the most part, until the duo climbs on a raft conveniently left at the beginning of a river. The heroes only find out, as they are approaching it, that the water canal leads to a waterfall.

...Bring it on.

What's your third eye for? Future sight?
Predict me this, asshat!
However, our heroes are wearing several layers of protagonist armory, so they come out relatively unscathed. Hell, even their HP haven’t gone down at all! They emerge on a shore, go through a cave – where they battle a King Blue Slime – and reach a higher plateau, where they are greeted by a griffin-like monster simply called the Envoy of Xiphos. It’s not simple to defeat as it likes to attack multiple times in a row, and it also likes to summon monsters to send against you, but otherwise it’s not too bad. When this monster is defeated, it flees, and Fleurette remembers that this is where she saw the mask before; on a carving on the mountain seen afar, to be precise. It depicts an ancient civilization fighting the Deathbringer, who happened to wear the mask. Fleurette theorizes the Queen may be under the mask’s control, and that there might be a reason the Queen's possessed self went to talk with Fleurette’s brother Aruval.

Is it just me or the story is a tad… cliché? I mean, I’m not the kind to go around yelling “Seen it!” at everything I see that bears some resemblance to something I experienced previously… but, “seen it” does sound like a good description of what’s going on. Then again, the interest of this game is in its unique gameplay, not really in its plot.

Time to head back to Avalonia. There, Fleurette hurries to the castle and informs Minister Misericord and Prince Anlace. We can’t go in, but one of the guards near the room receives information of worrisome activity in another region of this island, Secace Seacove. A strong monster was spotted there, it seems. That’s when Claymore, the hero’s father, shows up. He accepts the mission, but notices his son in the room and takes him along – because without a sword, our in-game dad won’t last long!

When the two get to Secace Seacove, they get on a boat as the first half of the level is navigating an in-cave river. The second part is a maze with three forks in the path, and a lot of treasure chests to look for. After looking around, the hero and his father find a clearing, where the sea monster is waiting. It looks… weird, it’s got skin-colored parts on its body. And it’s wearing pants, a torn-up shirt, and a necklace. Even the titles don’t seem to believe this, they say a “fishy” monster draws near.

I've seen fishier. In more ways than one.

Wouldn't be so bad if Xiphos was a star dancer.
In fact, after this boss is defeated, Fleurette and Anlace come in – somehow having followed our duo through this freaking maze – and Fleurette says it’s her brother, transformed into a sea creature. The young lass explains that her brother’s illness caused scales to appear on his body, and they left Avalonia to hide in that shack in the forest so as not to freak out the villagers. Claymore says the monster Aruval became looks an awful lot like the Xiphos they defeated five years prior. Aruval gets to talk with his sister, explaining that he’s not in control, and before anything more can be said he runs away – leaving a necklace behind.

Upon the duo’s return to the village, they are pressed to head to the Castle immediately, as Queen Curtana has vanished again. Once they get there, they learn from Minister Misericord that she has headed into the Tower of Mirrors, the giant tower just behind the castle. Oh, right, I was wondering where this 1000-floor white tower came from, too. …No, really, I’m not kidding. This tower is so tall you can see it from anywhere on the island. Sole problem: The place is filled to the brim with monsters. Obviously the mask is forcing the Queen to go in there, without anyone to protect her. She should know it’s dangerous to go alone! An old man living in a nearby cave should have given her a sword or something!

I NEED TO KNOW! Is this the door? Come on, spit it out!
As you can guess, this means our main character has to go in there to save Queen Curtana. And this time, you can choose which ally to bring along! Will you go with Anlace, Fleurette or Claymore? The first two might be underleveled for the task, so Claymore might be the better option, but you might also go with Fleurette if you want a medic. Anlace? Tssk, who cares about Anlace?

Ah, nothing beats breathing the air at this height.
Just watch your step.
The hero ventures inside with his ally, whichever you’ve pick. After climbing multiple set of stairs – for a tower, this place sure lacks actual floors – the two are forced to take a different path. There, they need to take many steps around the tower, on its ledge. And yes, despite how dangerous it is already for them to stand on this small stone ledge at least twenty floors above ground, monsters also attack there and our main character has to hack and slash at them. It’s insane. The two reach an elevator taking them many floors higher – hey, I can see my house from here! – after which they re-enter the Tower. They walk up to a door with an odd engraving on it, then turn around, wind up at the side of the tower and see a platform far below; the two characters thus jump down onto the platform.

For all my snark, I have to admit, the levels are beautiful.

Well, let me add this to the (admittedly short) list of superhuman abilities our character has that somehow make him a lot less normal than he first let on: He can jump on a platform a few dozens of meters below, and somehow not harm his legs in any way. Make that four because his three allies can do that too. In fact, we don’t see the other two, but they’ve still followed the hero and his helper through this dungeon.

The group gets on an elevator and reaches a floor where the Queen, still wearing the mask, is chanting some stuff to a mirror. It goes “Reflection of darkness”, backwards. “Ssen-krad-fo-noi-tcel-fer” or something. Tssk, they haven’t even bothered to use Latin, or a fantastic language. Good effort there! I mean, wouldn’t something along the lines of “Reflexio De Tenebrarum” sound a lot more… menacing? Reflexio de Tenebrarum!! It sounds like something Voldemort would cast. When the Queen turns to the group, the main character slices the mask off her face, which causes… something, to come out of her. This is the spirit of Xiphos, who had been safely hiding within some of the companions who took him down five years prior. Namely, the Queen and Aruval, thus explaining why they got so weird. As for the mask, it was actually an item made to contain Xiphos’ power, prevent him from coming out; hence why the Queen was always wearing it; he didn’t have full control of her this way. After another bout of cartoonish villainous gloating, the spirit of Xiphos flees.

Gloat all you want, for now you're nothing but smoke and shadows.
A vacuum is your worst nightmare right now.

*yawn* Come back when you have something never seen before to send my way. I mean, an evil spirit possessing a member of the monarchy? Seen it! Come on, try a little harder than that.

The good news is that the Queen is saved. The bad news is that an elite member of Xiphos’ army has arrived. The name is Groβmeister (yes, with the Greek letter Beta), pronounced “Grossmeister”. And gross he sure is, belching upon his arrival on the scene and being an all-around jackass. He’s also a gratuitous user of German, as if we needed another villain with a German accent; haven’t the Germans suffered enough from that kind of depiction? Eh, whatever.

If you wanted a tough fight, here it is. This boss is the game saying “Yeah, I’m not going easy on you anymore, forget it”. Groβmeister has a mean trident swing, and he can spit fire. As if that wasn’t enough, he’s surrounded by imp-like creatures who also throw spells – or themselves – at the hero, and when Groβmeister is feeling low, they can heal him a little. If you make it through this fight the first time, congrats. Chances are you’ll be underleveled against him on your first try; hence the importance of replaying through the previous levels. Eventually, Groβmeister is defeated. The demon leaves, the Queen regains consciousness, and that’s where the ground shakes. Far off into the distance, a mountain splits apart, revealing a stereotypical red and black fortress of evil resting over a just-as-stereotypical sea of lava. Gee Bowser-Xiphos, you could have done something less cliché!

This looks like the kind of place I'd like to visit.

The group takes the Queen – and the sliced mask – back to the Throne Room. There, we learn that the mask was made by almighty creators in the Mirror World, which can be accessed through the portal that opened earlier in the Tower of Mirrors – you know, the one that the Queen opened to reveal Xiphos. To defeat this ultimate evil again, they need to repair the mask, which means retrieving its maker in the Mirror World, having him repair the mask, and then going after Xiphos. And thus, our hero has to go into the Mirror World with an ally…

Have you ever rammed at full force into a metal slime?
...DAMN, this sounded WRONG!
…and be ready to curse that goddamn level. You’re not standing on solid ground, the whole thing is the characters floating in the wormhole between Avalonia and the Mirror World; and, as a result, most enemies encountered in that level are either floating/ramming into you, or attacking with projectiles. This level turns out to be extremely annoying; what’s more, it comes right after a particularly tough level and boss, so the difficulty has been amped. The only upside to it is that there’s a higher chance of seeing metal slimes… but you have to be really fast if you want to kill them. You better hope you’re ready.

Okay, which one of you Greek people pissed off the Zeus statue?
...Was it a tourist? I knew it was a tourist!
After the final barrage of slamming slimes, the group reaches a temple with a strange statue in their way. The statue speaks to them, revealing itself to be Draug, the guardian of this world and the creator of the Rorrim Mask. (P.S. “Rorrim”? Really??? !!draeh reve evah I seman tsebmud eht foe no eb ot sah siht ,raews I) The statue is a tough boss, but there’s a way to overcome its defenses. That still won’t make Draug any easier to defeat at the end, when he gives his all. Still, after a good fight he’s beaten. Admitting defeat, Draug agrees to repair the mask, takes it from the hero, and not even ten second later the halves are back together. Well, that was quick. And to help them defeat Xiphos – since he needs to be defeated before the heroes can seal him away again – Draug also hands to the hero a mystical sword, the Rednusadner (“Rend asunder”?). A mystical weapon that almost nobody has ever seen in their world, and yet the village's blacksmith can upgrade it anyway.

.....To infinity and beyond?

Upon their return at the castle, the hero goes to see Swordsmaster Dao, who somehow knows about Rednusadner (Gee, for an unknown weapon, a lot of people sure know about it), and who teaches the hero a new master stroke: The Figure of Fate, which requires the player to swing the Wii remote in an infinity (∞) shape to power it up for the attack. I hope you have a strong arm, because you’ll be doing this move a lot. So much that it's gonna hurt. After learning this vital technique, the hero and an ally head into Galantyne Glades, to look for a fork in the path that leads to Xiphos’s new citadel. The forest is wreathed in flames, and the group soon reaches the Sea of Fire. It’s impossible to get to the Citadel… but Rednusadner knows what to do. The hero does the Figure of Fate Master master stroke, and the resulting blast is so powerful it splits the sea of lava on both sides, opening a path in the middle for them to follow. Once more, you pick an ally, and then the group heads down this very hot path.

This level has very powerful monsters, you must always be on your guard. Poison, fire? They have it. Squids who can heal their allies? Yup. And if you manage to make it through the warrior dragons, the hand monsters, the squids, the flying soldiers and every other enemy, you also have to fight the guardian of Xiphos’s citadel, a large ogre named Golok the Gatekeeper. Ah, good, we didn’t have enough hard bosses yet. Use everything you’ve learned and Golok should go down at some point. Tough boss? Yeah. But once it’s defeated, the group can finally move on to the final dungeon. The door opens without a hitch – Xiphos was waiting for them.

I’d really like to go through that part right now, but I think this will be in Part 3. Friday! Don’t miss it! Besides, before entering this castle of fire, I think the heroes need to gear up some more. Considering how tough the last bosses were, I’d say it’s time for some level grinding. Upgrading equipment wouldn’t hurt, either. I’d say the next three days should be enough for that. Be back Friday!