Categories
Gaming Reviews Switch

Review: The Legend of Zelda—Link’s Awakening

Developer: Grezzo, and Nintendo

Publisher: Nintendo

Genre: Action-Adventure

Platform: Nintendo Switch

Rating: E for Everyone

Price: $59.99

The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening is originally a classic Zelda title. The first to appear on the portable Game Boy system, it is the favorite of many Zelda fans, and for good reason. In its first and second debuts on the Game Boy and Game Boy Color, the game had received numerous rewards and is still highly regarded in many writers’ lists. However, legends don’t always carry over well in future re-tellings. Does Link’s Awakening on the Switch keep up the gold standard? Or is it lost to nostalgia? Let’s find out as we review The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening remake on the Nintendo Switch!

Content Guide:

Cartoon/ Fantasy Violence: The quest involves using weapons to slay monsters, though no blood is seen. Some weapons are magical.

Witchcraft: There is an instance of a witch who brews a magical substance that helps the player in his/her quest.

Death: If defeated in battle, the player can die. There is also an instance of a ghost haunting the player.

Grave Digging: An optional dungeon level and cave are located in a graveyard, requiring the player to move gravestones in order to access them.

Review

When I first saw the announcement trailer for the remake of Link’s Awakening, my jaw dropped. The anime-styled intro was absolutely stunning, and the graphics upgrade was shocking. More importantly to me, the game was coming out within the year! Naturally, I preordered it and started playing it as soon as I could. Here’s how my experience was.  

We’re Not In Kansas Anymore…

I noticed upon the start of the game how incredible the visuals are. A far cry from the Game Boy graphics I was accustomed to seeing, all the colors are eye-popping and textures feel like actual objects. While I still love the original hamburger-like trees and circular Link sprites, the graphics of the remake are absolutely top notch.

As I progressed through the game, I could never shake the feeling that I was looking into a diorama—a gorgeous, beautiful, colorful diorama. There is a reason why so many people are crafting Koholint Island switch docks and other things of that sort; the styles fit together perfectly.

In the original game, the dungeon “Eagles Tower” took me hours upon hours to beat. This was because I didn’t understand that I needed to take out tower supports in a puzzle in order to lower a level within the dungeon. More importantly, however, I misunderstood the puzzle because I didn’t actually recognize what the supports were—they just looked like black bars rising to the top of the screen. The remake more than easily solved issues like this. With more graphical prowess, this remade copy of Link’s Awakening never has you doubt what you’re looking at.

I used warp tiles so often it could almost be cheating.

 

Wandering Dream

In the days of the Game Boy and it’s gaming affiliates, it was common for video games to drop the player off in the world and have them explore until they found the next level or area—pretty much by dumb luck. Link’s Awakening still operates similarly to that idea. After each dungeon, the Wind Fish does give a hint where your next dungeon level is, but if you don’t know how to get there, or forget where you were going, you’re pretty much screwed. The only exception is if you use a phone booth, and even then, the phone booth’s hint can be…less than helpful. I spent hours trying to find my way into Animal Village, not realizing the entrance was under a bush.

To put it blankly, Link’s Awakening‘s over-world is a nightmare. Long, straightforward walls form dead ends leading nowhere, holes are everywhere that serve no purpose other than to be inconvenient, and many enemy types are similarly inconvenient in that they dodge or are impervious to regular attacks. In some cases, such as the forest and mountain, you have to travel in and out of a caves in order to just progress one screen, which is really just repetitive and annoying. Mindlessly running from area to area ad infinitum just isn’t fun or challenging.

That being said, thank goodness for warp points. Finding a new warp point was always satisfying, because then I knew that I wouldn’t have to spend another 10 minutes fighting enemies and going through caves whenever I wanted to come back where I was. In the original games, the caves were a mechanic to make games feel bigger than they were, but now it just feels over-inflated.

On normal mode, I defeated this guy without taking any damage. Cool.

 

Rest Easy

If I were to comprise a list of Zelda games I recommend for children, Link’s Awakening would be in the top ranks for multiple reasons. It’s light-hearted, charming, visually appealing, and has characters from other Nintendo franchises as Easter eggs. However, the biggest reason is because Link’s Awakening on Switch is extremely easy. On my normal playthrough, I cleared the game within two days, and only died once (because I got stuck on a door in a boss battle, I might add). Everything runs so smoothly on the Switch, much of the challenge is eliminated compared to the rougher Game Boy original. I took out several dungeon bosses without losing more than three hearts, and often with only a few attacks. Boss invincibility frames were longer and enemies were faster in the original compared to the dumbed-down, yet refined remake. 

Some of those difficulty factors didn’t even change when I played through on hard mode, either. Enemies were still slow and predictable, and even in the case of dying or being near death, it was pretty easy to make it back to the spa and buy another round of health. Hard mode had given me a run for my money a handful of times, but it was hardly ever due to enemies and more often just due to my recklessness, like falling down holes.

I remember the Game Boy original giving me a much harder time than the remake usually offered. If you want a difficult experience, closer to the original port, I recommend hard mode from the get-go.

Why’s Link’s closest ‘ship gotta sink so bad?!

 

Now What?

Other than menial minigames, there’s mainly only three things you can do in Link’s Awakening: progress in the story, look for collectibles, or participate in the trading sidequest. That’s it, there are no more sidequests after the trading is completed, and characters don’t have much dialogue or mission value. There is an extra dungeon, but experienced Zelda players will complete that within an hour. With how easy the game already is, searching for collectibles and upgrades seems a little pointless and unsatisfactory. Overall, Link’s Awakening feels just like what it is: a remaster of a much older and short game.

When it was revealed that Dampé was going to have a shack in which custom Zelda dungeons could be made, I remember the internet going wild. “Could it be like a new ZeldaMario Maker?” people wondered. People hoped. Unfortunately, that turned out to be untrue. Rather than making new dungeons brick-by-brick, as I had originally hoped for, the “customized” dungeons just take a hodgepodge of different dungeon rooms from the main quest and plug them together. The second I completed my first franken-dungeon, I immediately lost interest. 

Lucid Dreaming

Besides the aesthetics, I found one other major improvement in Link’s Awakening remastered over it’s original port: an updated user interface. Link’s Awakening remaster ties the map together, so there is no more side-to-side scrolling from screen to screen. Most everything scrolls continuously, and that freedom feels fantastic in comparison to the original.

While I love the Game Boy Color Zelda games, that is, Link’s Awakening DX, Oracle of Seasons, and Oracle of Ages, they all have one problem I found infuriating: the constant need to pause in order to switch between one of two buttons, as per software limitations. Accordingly, I wanted to jump for joy at the simple fact that Link’s Awakening on the Switch uses all of the Switch’s buttons. Instead of two items at a time, the Sword, Shield, and Pegasus boots are all permanently equipped in the remaster, on top of the two inventory buttons, with buttons to spare! If you do have to pause to change an inventory item, it is a lot less often than in the Game Boy games. 

Due to rupees being much easier to obtain,
It was easier to fight the temptation to be a THIEF.

 

Dollar Signs

It’s hard to say whether or not Link’s Awakening on the Switch is worth it. As previously stated, the remaster is almost exactly the original game, just with a few upgrades and a new coat of paint. There isn’t any additional storyline, no more sidequests—unless you count some of the minigames and collect-a-thons—and no additional dungeons that were missing in Link’s Awakening DX. What you’re getting is a modernized port of a port, and that’s about it.

If you are a Zelda fan and collector, a first-time Zelda fan, or just a parent shopping for a game their child will enjoy, go ahead and buy it, as you can likely appreciate what the game presents. But, if you’re a gamer looking for an experience akin to , or even A Link Between Worlds, you’re likely going to be disappointed.

A final consideration: While the remake is 59.99, Link’s Awakening DX is currently 5.99 Digital Download on 3DS and has almost the exact same puzzles and map, albeit minus some conveniences and the pretty visuals.

The face you make when you realize how good
a Zelda anime could be

 

Dream On

The second I got over the awe of Link’s Awakening‘s Aesthetics, I immediately thought “I hope they remake Seasons and Ages too!” Honestly, there are several factors that lead me to believe that the sequel games are on their way. Much like the original, Link’s Awakening remastered seems to be a test of new ideas which can be used for future installments. In dungeons, the player can now use pins to mark locations on the map. However, Link’s Awakening does not have many large dungeons. The Zelda Oracle games, however, did. It would be a huge improvement to those games just to have that alone. Similarly, it may be possible that Dampé and amiibos have a bigger role in games to come, rather than their fairly minimal role in Link’s Awakening. Lastly, it was confirmed that Nintendo moved Link’s Awakening on the official Zelda timeline to take place before Seasons and Ages.

Considering the true ending to the combined Oracle games used to tie perfectly into the introduction of Link’s Awakening, I would speculate that Nintendo and Grezzo may be looking at all three games simultaneously to reconnect the story. Since Link’s Awakening was the first to be originally released—and is, by far, the simplest of the three—it would make sense for the rest of them to take longer. Sadly, as there is no word yet from Nintendo about this, it’s all conjecture and all I can do is dream on and look to the future of a new era of the Zelda Franchise. 

Conclusion

As badly as I want to say that Link’s Awakening on the Switch was a smash-hit, I find myself being unable to. Everything on the Switch port is improved in some sense from the original game, but there just wasn’t enough of a difference to make it stand out. Looking at other remakes, such as Super Mario 64‘s Super Mario 64 DS, there are a bunch of upgrades: more stars, more characters, and new features. But with Link’s Awakening remastered, there really isn’t anything new that’s important, which makes it far less of a game than it could have been, unfortunately. I only hope that my theory on the Oracle games becomes true, because, as it is, Link’s Awakening just doesn’t have enough content to keep Zelda fans held over by itself.

Want to know which Zelda games are the GUG staff’s favorite? Check out our article, GUG Presents: My Favorite Legend of Zelda, here. Link’s Awakening is on the list!

The Windfish Awaits You.
Categories
Gaming PC Retro Reviews Switch

Retro Review: Cave Story+

Developer: Nicalis, Studio Pixel

Publisher: Nicalis, Studio Pixel

Genre: Platform Adventure

Platform: Switch, PC

Rating: E 10+

Price: $29.99 (Switch), $14.99 (Steam)

 

The year 2010 was an excellent year to be a kid. Toy Story 3 had just come out in theaters, and Bruno Mars’ Just The Way You Are was playing on the radio. The Wii was becoming more and more popular, and its Wii Shop Channel offered demos for the kids like me who wanted to play free games. My favorite demo was Cave Story, and it was the first time I had truly experienced indie greatness.

Now, 9 years later, Toy Story 4 is in theaters, I have long since stopped listening to the radio, and the Switch is reaching record-levels of popularity. It’s the perfect time for a retro review of Cave Story+!

Content Guide

Violence: Gameplay revolves around running and gunning.

Sorcery: There are trace amounts of witchcraft and sorcery displayed.

Death: It’s possible for several characters to canonically die.

Undeath: The final bosses have potentially disturbing stages and appearances with undeath.

Adult Humor: While little more than an occasional gag, there are hidden suggestive inventory items, such as female undergarments and lipstick.

Review

Since my childhood, I have played 3 different versions of Cave Story. The first was the Wii demo mentioned earlier. Then, when I was finally able to purchase a copy a few years later, I bought and finished the 3DS port. Today, I have the complete package on the Switch, with extras included. Is it worth playing in so many forms? Let’s start reviewing and find out.

This beautiful background is the first thing you see upon starting the game.
Settings Galore!

Starting up the game, Cave Story+ takes no time in demonstrating its improvements over the original Cave Story. Directly from the startup, a remastered version of the original theme plays, and three options are given: play the story, look at the game options, or listen to the jukebox (of which there’s only one song at the beginning).

However, the settings are where a lot of Cave Story+‘s perks are already shown. There are now six different versions of the soundtrack, which all sound incredible (more on that later). Other outstanding settings include an optional graphics remaster and unlock notifications.

Darn…I knew I should’ve turned left at Albuquerque!
A Challenging Adventure

Even on it’s normal difficulty, Cave Story+ manages to be a challenging experience. While being more forgiving than many other titles at platforming, it’s still very possible to die right off the bat, running into some spikes and instantly dying. N00bs beware!

After playing a few levels and gaining some experience, the challenge becomes adaptable; difficulty is based on little more than user error, so the better you get at memorizing certain pitfalls, the easier the game becomes. Even so, sometimes, it requires thinking outside the box!

Never forget to find Curly and save her (multiple times), or no Best Ending for you!
So Much to Re-Experience!

One of Cave Story‘s marks of genius is in its replayability. It has several different endings, and many items easily overlooked. While missing an item never feels good for a completionist like myself, it’s never too tragic of a loss, as Cave Story‘s campaign is just short enough to replay without needing an extended break. Cave Story+‘s additional settings only add to the replayability as well.

That being said, I can only take so much of playing the same levels over and over again. There are some particularly egregious backtracking segments (Sandlands, ahem) that, while fine on the first playthough, become burdensome upon a replay. 

Lastly, The Best Ending is both a blessing and a curse. There are several very elusive moments and items that, if missed, will automatically lock you out of the best ending sequence, with no way of going back after saving. Unlocking the best ending ultimately boils down to the following three rules: babysit Curly (as much as possible), search EVERY area thoroughly, and don’t follow your instincts outside of combat. Sounds easy… right?

If you manage to jump through all of the loops required for the best ending, you will be treated to the Bloodstained Sanctuary level (hardest and best in the story), and the final boss Ballos, along with some super-satisfying lore, unlockables, and endgame credits. 

Even after beating the game a handful of times over the years, it still took me three extra playthroughs to get the best ending. THANKS A LOT, CURLY!

More Weapons Than You Can Shake a Sword At

One of my favorite aspects about Cave Story is its weapon system. Unlike any other game I’m aware of, Cave Story‘s weapon system also depends on your skill. You need to gather experience to upgrade your weapon, but if you take enough damage, your weapon will lose XP and go back to level 1 out of 3.

There are 9 available weapons throughout the game, but only 5 can be held at one time. This means that according to your choices, you can, and will, miss out on other weapon options, depending on which “ultimate” weapon you chose. My personal favorites are the Spur (the best weapon in the game), and the Blade, which gets thrown like a tomahawk and is very powerful, both emotionally and physically.

When these two baddies show up, one of Cave Story’s most memorable songs starts playing. It’s especially awesome in Ridiculon!
Finally… The Soundtrack!

Cave Story‘s soundtrack is…amazing. While my favorite track will always be the game’s theme, there are a myriad of songs that are spectacularly well done and match each environment nicely. Just made a difficult choice and are now looking up at the moon and stars? Cue a slow song that makes you reminiscent of the hardships you’ve endured. Just been teleported to a Grassland full of froggy enemies? Cue a fun, bouncy, energetic beat as you fight your way through. And the list goes on.

With Cave Story+‘s remade soundtracks, these sounds never grow old (as I’m writing this, I’m still listening to the OST Jukebox on my Switch). My personal favorites include the “Famitrack” mode, which is the original that sounds like it’s straight out of an NES game, and “Ridiculon,” which is a rock remake for the “metal” in me. With the different soundtracks combined with the alternate graphic mode, Cave Story+ can feel like a brand-new game for even the hardest of Cave Story veterans.

Boing! Skrrrrt. Boing! Skrrt rt.

Even with the treasures that are Cave Story‘s combat and music, my favorite feature is still in its platforming. This is for one reason: the boosters. Boosters are similar to double-jumps and air-dashes of other games, but can do them at the same time, allowing you to “skrrrt” basically anywhere you wish, in all 4 directions.

Regardless of the mobility that the booster grants the player, many challenges are also formed from it later on in the game. The last cave, for example, has a lava pool that requires you to time your jump and boost, in order to fly straight and avoid spikes on the roof. These challenges are intuitive, and so satisfying to pull off.

Just make sure you get the right booster…

Conclusion

Cave Story+ is great. With a short but memorable story, loads of customization, satisfying and challenging gameplay, and an amazing soundtrack, it’s an experience all metroidvania lovers need to have at least once. With Steam sales on PC and a price tag 10 dollars less than other Switch games, it’s also a title with little excuse not to enjoy. So get this game, and let it tell you it’s story: again, and again, and again.

You said it, old man!
Categories
Gaming Reviews

Review: Shakedown Hawaii

Developer: Vblank Entertainment
Publisher: Vblank Entertainment
Genre: Action, Adventure
Platforms: PC, Nintendo Switch (reviewed), PS4, PS Vita, 3DS
Rating: T for Teen
Price: $19.99

To be honest, I can’t say on which platform I first played Retro City Rampage. Whether it be through a direct purchase or a Humble Bundle, I somehow have acquired it on almost every platform. I’ve played it on the Vita, 3DS, PC, and even the Switch most recently. As many times as I’ve played it, the best parts were its humor and on-the-nose references to all things retro. Plus, the Grand Theft Auto-inspired open world and 8-bit aesthetic provided plenty of entertaining moments.

Vblank Entertainment is at it again with a follow-up called Shakedown Hawaii. That same open-world action is back, but with a graphical update inspired by the 16-bit era of the Genesis and SNES. The humor also makes a return but has a different target in its line of sight. Though it has twice the bits, is Shakedown Hawaii just as good as the indie dev’s previous work?

Content Guide

Violence: In Shakedown Hawaii, players use a variety of firearms and melee weapons against civilians and police while causing destruction to the city. When shooting, hitting, or running over a person, no blood is shown but cries of pain can be heard. Many missions in the main story will have players committing acts of robbery, burglary, and vandalism.

Alcohol/Drug Use: One of the characters mentions that he once used illegal supplements and steroids.

Language: Only the word “do*chebag” is present.

 

Review

Shakedown Hawaii is not a direct sequel to Retro City Rampage; it is a completely new story. Retro City poked fun at all things related to retro pop culture, but Shakedown Hawaii takes a different direction and targets modern capitalism. It makes fun of modern marketing trends such as five dollar coffee, online shopping, loot boxes—the list goes on. As a washed-up CEO of a failing company, players must employ these modern tactics for the company to succeed.

While the graphics move from the 8-bit style of the previous game into the 16-bit era, the light cover system, lock-on, and ability to jump on the heads of enemies are still present. The old-school GTA-like open-world gameplay is still here too, but with a new feature straight from GTA V. Gameplay alternates from the perspectives of the CEO of Feeble Multinational, his son Scooter, and the company “consultant” named Al. When changing characters, the camera even zooms out just like it does in GTA; it’s admirable how closely they were able to mimic that feature with the 16-bit style.

Missions usually boil down to what is expected out of this type of game. You’ll be taking missions from various members of the company and causing chaos throughout the world. Some examples include destroying delivery trucks to weaken online shopping and sabotaging your competitor’s hotels. Some of the pettier crimes involve shaking down stores or robbing people’s homes to take their goods to a pawn shop. There is so much to do in Shakedown Hawaii, and it is not limited to causing chaos.

A unique feature within the game is the ability to buy businesses and properties to lift the company out of bankruptcy. Throughout the story, you’ll be buying plenty of subsidiaries to grow your company, including coffee shops, auto shops, and a soft drink brand, along with many others. Perks such as lobbyists, unrefined product, fine print, unnecessary expiration dates, and more can be applied to each property you own. This aspect of the game is something I have only dipped my toes into but seems worth exploring beyond the completion of the story. Aside from the story and building up the business, there are side missions to tackle along with plenty of shops to visit. Each character’s haircut and clothing can be customized, including the disguises they wear during missions. I hate to keep referencing GTA, but I was impressed to see this little indie game loaded with the same kind of features and content. 

The open world is enjoyable to move around in. Driving can be fun, even though I can’t see as far in front of me as I can with the over-the-shoulder perspective found in regular third-person action games. Shooting works in two ways to suit player preference by offering either a lock-on button or use of the right stick. I liked the freedom of the right stick, and using it made some of the missions feel like a bullet-hell arcade shooter as I could aim in all directions and dodge bullets comfortably. Shakedown Hawaii‘s controls feel good whether you’re playing handheld or docked; for some games, it can be hard to achieve that on both.

For the most part, the story was a fun ride. It suffers from a repetitious pattern that has the CEO seeing something on TV and saying “Hey that’s a good idea, why don’t we try that,” and proceeding into acts of mischief or chaos. I was never bored, but halfway through I questioned whether the story was going to advance anytime soon—and it did. The last few missions were easily my favorite and added an extra layer of tension to the open world that I would’ve loved to see sooner.

Burning down certain areas leaves that land for you to purchase.

The best part of Shakedown Hawaii and what I loved about Retro City Rampage is the dialogue. the characters lack any real depth but are completely built around this satirical jab at modern capitalism. I had become invested in seeing how this crazy story would end and whether the company would succeed. The setting of Hawaii and catchy retro 80’s tunes also make the setting feel a bit like GTA: Vice City, even though the story isn’t set in that time period.

One thing I feel that may go underappreciated is the fact that the game is only rated T for Teen; these crime-filled sandbox games are mostly known for how mature their content is. Much of what you’ll be doing this game is still rather crude but with a lot less blood, swearing, drug use, and nudity. Shakedown Hawaii seems like a great alternative for anyone that isn’t comfortable with playing other games in this genre.

When playing as Al, you take care of cartels overseas to secure imported products.

Shakedown Hawaii should be recognized as a quality indie title. Though it may be full of satire and dumb fun, it is a game that feels lovingly crafted. The action doesn’t stop when you complete the story thanks to the extra content that is included between the side missions and taking over the city. I admired Vblank Entertainment’s previous work because you don’t see many small developers tackle the open world genre like this, and it’s good to see that their second attempt is just as solid.

Review code generously provided by Vblank Entertainment
Categories
Gaming Switch

Review: The World Ends With You—Final Remix

Developer: Square Enix Co. Ltd., and h.a.n.d.

Publisher: Nintendo

Genre: Role-Playing

Platform: Nintendo Switch

RatingT for Teen

Price: $49.99

While I had always been interested in The World Ends With You (TWEWY for short) after learning about the game in Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance, I was wary when I saw the remaster come out on the Switch. With an abysmal price tag, and mixed reviews from several groups, I initially didn’t have the nerve to try it. Now that I have finally played it, I can tell you if the slack was worth it or not.

Content Guide

Fantasy Violence: The game involves fighting monsters and other people through means of supernatural powers

Paranormal Game References: At several points throughout the game, there are individuals who practice a “game” called “Reaper Creeper” in which they attempt to communicate with the dead, similar to a Ouija board.

Harsh Language: There are many instances in which harsh language and curse words are used. Da** and He** words are used relatively freely, and Dumba** is redundantly spoken as part of an NPC’s battle cry. Select soundtracks may also involve similar language.

Suggestive Themes: In other words, this means partial nudity. Certain characters have very short skirts and barren midriffs. However, there are no references to suggest any further exposure or action.

Death: Death, the afterlife, and the implication of “erasure” are consistent topics throughout the game, and vital to the plot of the story.

 

Review

Being a fan of the Kingdom Hearts series, I was excited for the ability to experience another story from the mind of Tetsuya Nomura. He had even mixed the universes of TWEWY and Kingdom Hearts in the 3DS title Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance. However, everything in The World Ends With You looks very different from the Disney-Final Fantasy child to newcomers. Little did I know just how different the two were, yet with similar themes at the same time.

When I started the game, I already knew what other reviews were saying about the remastered game, and I was choosing to ignore them. I put my Switch into its dock mode, pulled out a controller, and pointed my way to a start.

Where Am I?!

Upon starting the game, I was thrown into Shibuya with protagonist Neku, and felt his unease of not knowing what was going on. Immediately, I could tell that this game is unique. I wasn’t sure what to make of the soundtrack, the controls seemed easy but difficult at the same time, the art style was unlike anything I’ve played before, and, like Neku, I had no idea what I was doing. I only knew that the plot was directing me.

Shibuya is a bustling district full of unique people

However, over the course of the beginning several hours, I began to nestle into the world TWEWY had to offer. Your first companion, Shiki, is a lovable contrast to the more-angsty Neku, which allows for rather comical character discourse and progression. And, while it might be slightly text-heavy at first, in-game tutorials teach you the basics of how to fight and perform other in-game actions over time. Although I still don’t know what roads lead where in Shibuya, it only helps promote the feeling of wandering in a vast city, rather than just bee-lining from story location to location.

The Stylin’, The Strange, and the Ugly

Universal staples of RPGs include having a lot of words, story, and varying equipment. That being said, TWEWY‘s equipment system is… a little weird and a little more annoying. Rather than having armor, weapons, and accessories like one may see in Final Fantasy or The Witcher, equipment in TWEWY is based on regular clothes and brands of clothes.

To explain the entire system would take a whole other article and a half, but in summary it essentially works as thus: you will need to buy better clothes if you want better stats, but need to have a high enough “bravery” stat in order to wear them, which is raised by leveling up and eating food. More “stylish” characters in the game have higher bravery stats and can wear more.

Neku is a straight savage.

I personally felt that it was kind of funny that bravery was equated to wearing clothes, but then I thought about it a little more:

Clothes can and will be mismatched when you wear them. For most of my game, Neku was wearing a blouse with a stocking cap, whilst holding a teddy bear and wearing flip-flops. His partners’ clothes were not much better assortments, either. No wonder you have to be “brave” to wear things. Thankfully, character sprites don’t change with each piece of clothing, else, I’m sure I’d either be having nightmares or would have had died of laughing too hard some time ago.

The annoying factor in the equipment system was its usage of abilities and vast variation of items. Each item in TWEWY has a different ability set to it, but in order to know what that ability is (a crucial factor for anything I buy in a game), you need to keep buying from a store, so that the storekeeper will befriend you and eventually tell you what the ability is. That’s like buying an item store’s entire stock in  Final Fantasy just to know what a “Phoenix Down” does, and the abilities often weren’t worth the effort.

The real punchline to the entire system is this: it doesn’t really matter. As I said, I had Neku wearing flip-flops throughout much of the game on normal mode, and they were one of the cheapest items I could buy. The game just generally wasn’t that difficult with the right balance of leveling, attacks, and movements. Additionally, one can change the difficulty at any time once they reach a certain point, which enables the game to be even easier.

Move Aside, Motion Controls

To my surprise, TWEWY only allowed me to use one joy-con at a time. I would come to find out that, throughout the entire game, you only use one hand to play, which saddened me and made gameplay much more complicated than it had to be.

The combat system of the original port of TWEWY took full advantage of the DS touchscreen hardware it originally released on. To activate your attacks, which can be equipped via “pins” that grant you certain abilities, you can either slash, drag, scratch, tap, or hold a pin-specific required object. I can easily imagine how that would be a revolutionary idea, as they all require the touchscreen in some form, with minimal button input. However, many of these commands did not carry over to the Switch port very well.

The biggest gripe I have with TWEWY is its control scheme, especially the motion controls. A simple flick of the wrist caused the cursor to move from where I was pointing, and while there is always capability for quick re-calibration, needing to re-calibrate after every attack in battle is ridiculous.

Input frustration in battle was annoying- I often found myself shouting “MOVE!” aloud.

To make matters worse, the lag between the motion controls’ input often proved my undoing. For example, to tap an object with motion controls, you have to aim at the object and press the “A” button. However, a sizable delay often happens after hitting the button, so even if you tapped the object, the game registers it too late and doesn’t perform the command, which is especially problematic with fast-moving enemies (stupid wolves!).

TWEWY is better with a touch-screen than it is with motion controls. If you read any other review on TWEWY: Final Remix, you’ll also see others saying the same thing for good reason.

Handheld Mode is the Way to Go

After progressing through roughly half of the game, I was ready to give up and call it quits. The motion controls were making battles impossible with increasingly difficult enemies, and the clothing system was so vast I didn’t even want to try any further. Then, I tried the game in handheld mode, and I am glad I gave the game another chance.

Until that point, I had only used the handheld mode sparingly. I love TWEWY‘s style and didn’t want to take it off of my TV screen. However, the sacrifice of a smaller screen for playability was worth it. I had then started to make an actual effort in the equipment system by making myself filthy rich (easy to do when you can actually fight enemies), and the game had instantly gotten much more fun.

After some getting used to, the combat can be action-packed and super-satisfying.

I was able to perform many new and awesome attacks (without restraints) that I had never seen before. In the end, I found I had the order reversed: I should have used the docked mode for story cutscenes and dialogue, and handheld mode for anything and everything else, including Tin Pin Slammer, a minigame that essentially requires quick controls and accuracy.

No matter which mode I used, however, moving Neku was always a problem. Since attacks were often the same button and action as moving Neku, he often would just sit and take damage while the game misunderstood that you were trying to make him move. Certain attacks, especially ones in which you had to draw circles in order to activate the pin, often killed me due to this, and other similar movement confusion.

Putting “Character” in “Characteristic”

If TWEWY could be described in one word, I would say “character.”

The characters of TWEWY are probably my single favorite focus within the game. The antagonists in the story—called Reapers—all have unique attitudes and quirks. The first boss you encounter, for example, has a palatable amount of food puns he uses in his dialogue.

This guy has lots of food puns he’s just waiting to serve you.

Naturally, the protagonists—called “players”—also have an amazing amount of personality, which through the extended use of dialogue demonstrates an incredible amount of character progression. For example, a certain “tough guy” character starts off in the game not trusting anyone but his partner. However, over time, he not only learns to open up to his companions, but explains his reason to live and (familial) love of certain other characters. In typical Nomura fashion, friendship is a key part of TWEWY, and is a theme that becomes more apparent only as the game progresses and mysteries unravel.

 

Conclusion: 

The World Ends With You: Final Remix is a work of art. Its soundtrack is incredible with my personal favorite track being “A Lullaby For You,” and a graphic art style that looks like a comic book come to life. Heavy, but meaningful themes of freedom and individuality are beautifully portrayed through a likable cast of characters, and are especially effective to a presumably teenage audience.

That being said, this piece of art has its mistakes, and doesn’t come cheap. The game is fifty dollars, its motion controls are buggy, and its equipment and combat systems are a convoluted rut to overcome. However, mining through those ruts yields the golden (chicken) nuggets of accomplishment, worth your time and your money.

No matter if you complete the story or perfect the game, I think this world does something to you—it certainly did for me.

I just love some optimistic advice…. ROOOOLL CREDITS!
Categories
Gaming Retro Reviews

Review: Radiant Historia—Perfect Chronology (3DS)

Developer: Atlus
Publisher: Atlus
Genre: JRPG, Role-Playing Game
Platforms: 3DS
Rating: T for Teen
Price: $39.99

 

In retrospect, 2018 has been a year of JRPGs going back to their roots. Octopath Traveler tried a modern take on old-school graphics, while Dragon Quest XI went for the biggest, best version of doing the same thing Dragon Quest has always done. Earlier in the year, though, Atlus quietly contributed to the ailing 3DS with an updated version of the DS RPG, Radiant Historia. With quite a few changes in this update, including new story content and a new ending, is Radiant Historia: Perfect Chronology worth your time? Let’s find out.

Content Guide

Violence: The plot of Radiant Historia is centered around an ongoing war, so the game is violent, but we are talking about SNES-level graphics. There is no gore or blood. Even when an art still shot shows two corpses, they just look like two people lying on the ground.

Sexuality: Another still shot later on shows a main female character in a state of undress, with only a small bra covering her upper body. It’s a moment played for amusement and is complete fan service. This is one brief moment over the course of the entire game. The Satyros characters show their midriffs, but not in much of a sexual manner. I have not played any of the DLC, but it is abundantly clear that the “Bathing in Mana” episode is meant as further fan service.

Language: There are 1-2 cuss words on average in each dialogue scene; no “F” bombs.

Spirituality: Like many other JRPGs, bad guys manipulate the (generic) church and the faith of the people for their own gain.

Review

In many ways, Radiant Historia is a classic SNES-era Japanese role-playing game (JRPG) akin to Final Fantasy VI or more specifically, Chrono Trigger. Its graphics, for the most part, aren’t much above SNES-level quality. Players work through a fairly linear story while buying items and equipment upgrades. They battle random enemies in preparation for boss fights, using a turn-based combat system. Fights are not “random encounters” in the sense that they do not come upon you suddenly; players can see enemies in the overworld and choose to engage them or try to avoid them, as in Chrono Trigger. However, the biggest reason for that inevitable, unavoidable comparison is Radiant Historia’s focus on time travel.

The in-game tool to manage all that time travel.

Radiant Historia has players bouncing between two main timelines instead of one, with each parallel universe influencing the other. Metaphysical accuracy aside, this is a fantastic mechanism that sets Radiant Historia apart from nearly every other JRPG. It’s only a good idea because it’s executed so well. The game has an extremely meticulous system that guides you through the branching timelines, keeping track of what events happened when and where. This makes it incredibly easy to teleport between different points in time and space, and without that careful support the game would be incredibly frustrating to play. Instead, players can focus on navigating the story.

The story is still linear in the sense that there’s only one real progression: you will eventually get stuck in each timeline, and then have to circle back to the other for some kind of guidance to proceed—the game does have tons of side quests and multiple endings. The voice acting, writing, and characterization are all very strong, and it’s an enjoyable story where the villains actually make sense, a JRPG rarity. I do wish the main character, Stocke, had more personality, however.

Time travel requires you to mind your surroundings.

With this new version of Radiant Historia, subtitled Perfect Chronology, two big additions have been made to let players focus more on the story and side quests. The first is a plethora of new story content, the second is a friendly mode for combat. There is also a new dungeon challenge area, but I did not use it much at all.

The new story content primarily involves a new mode that runs parallel to the rest of the game, where the main character, Stocke, runs briefly through a bunch of side quests in “Potential History” instead of the two main timelines – “Standard History” and “Alternate History”. These quests are entirely optional, but they give fun glimpses into completely different versions of the game world, and completing all of them allows you to go past the game’s original “okay” ending and even the original “true ending”, to the new “truest” ending. Most of these quests involve some kind of detective work: you have to go back and find a place and time where something relevant to your current situation has happened. As someone who almost never goes for 100% in a game and will often just search on YouTube for the best ending if I get a bad one, I have to say that I enjoyed this material enough that I went through the work to get the final ending.

Potential History.

Aside: At the beginning of the game, it asks you if you want to play the new content all at the end of the original campaign which is called “Append Mode,” suggested for newcomers, or have it spread throughout in “Perfect Mode,” suggested for veterans. Their recommendation seems backwards to me. I played in “Perfect Mode” as a newcomer, and though the new content was easily differentiated from the old, I still think it fit the setting and idea of the game very well and was glad to play through it all together.

Part of the reason I spent the time grinding through the side quests was because of Radiant Historia’s friendly mode. In friendly mode, combat is way easier, but you can also skip random encounters entirely—really skip them. In Bravely Default and Bravely Second, you could just turn encounters off. Here in friendly mode, you can actually just push the “Y” button to swing at enemies in the overworld, and you immediately defeat them. You get experience points, level up, the whole shebang, without taking a hit or actually doing any work. It’s…great! I think! I’m incredibly torn about this.

On one hand, grinding is never why I’ve played JRPGs. I primarily play for the stories, exploration, and character moments. So, I was quite happy to be able to skip all of the random encounters, and I’ve felt spoiled since. For example, in Dragon Quest XI, you can put fights on auto-pilot, but you still have to sit there and watch while the game, well, plays itself. I remember mentally screaming at my TV, “Why can’t you be more like Radiant Historia!?” 

This soldiers’ weakness is… Friendly Mode and the Y button.

However, friendly mode has a variety of problems. First, once you choose the mode, you can’t undo it. Why? We may never know. Second, while you still have to play through story (i.e. boss) fights, they are incredibly easy. Some attacks from the final boss did 4-10 damage when I had 1,000 hit points. I’m not even sure why I kept upgrading my weapons and armor. Unfortunately, the ridiculously low difficulty level is fully intertwined with friendly mode. And the worst problem is that while this mode makes a lot of sense in games with boring or archaic combat, Radiant Historia’s battle system is actually fantastic

Two key innovations set Radiant Historia’s combat apart. Enemies are on a 3×3 grid, and players can knock enemies around the grid to group them together so that they can all be attacked at once. Additionally, several special attacks and spells hit enemies in certain areas of the grid. The other innovation is turn order manipulation. Combat is completely turn-based, but you can see about 15 turns ahead of who is going when (both enemies and allies), and you can have players swap positions in turn order, though this makes them vulnerable. Setting up the same epic attack 4 times in a row, killing enemies just before they would attack, is incredibly satisfying.

Push Assault knocks enemies backwards on the grid.

So, friendly mode is great, but could be better. I really wish I could just toggle “swipe at enemies in the overworld to auto-kill them”, while still having boss fights that were actually challenging. That being said, the excellent combat system means that you can play Radiant Historia normally and still experience a fantastic RPG, or you can play it nearly like a visual novel with very little consideration for combat, and still experience a fantastic RPG. It’s a testament to the game’s storytelling that it still works so well in friendly mode; tactical RPGs that depend on combat gameplay for their appeal would not fare so well. The game still took about 25 hours for me to get to the “truest” ending in friendly mode, and I didn’t do that many sidequests other than what was required. That’s plenty of bang for my buck; at some point “100+ hours of gameplay!” means diminishing returns.

In the end, these new features were added on top of a game that already had a stellar reputation and for good reason. The writing, the story, the combat, nearly everything about Radiant Historia is top-notch. The graphics are dated now, and I wish Stocke had more personality. Some might complain about the lack of 3D—I own a 2DSXL and didn’t even notice. But in the end, those complaints are incredibly minor. Radiant Historia is a timeless classic, as shown by its relevance nearly a decade after its original release. Perfect Chronology deserves to be mentioned in the same breaths as Dragon Quest XI and Octopath Traveler as one of 2018’s best JRPGs.