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Saturday, July 8, 2017

Cave Story+ Review!

Well here's a blast from the past. The game I'm reviewing today was originally released all the way back in 2004, then was remade for the Nintendo Switch, Steam, and the 3DS. The version I played was on Nintendo Switch, in case you were wondering. But what kind of 13-year-old game managed to earn this privilege?

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Cave Story. The Story of a Cave! Anyway, originally released back in 2004 and made entirely from the ground up by one person (Daisuke Amaya, who is better known as Pixel), and went on to become one of the most beloved indie games ever made, with some folks arguing that Cave Story is a much better game than even Undertale, which, in addition to being my personal favorite game, is also considered a masterpiece by almost everyone (at least when that game was released in 2015, nowadays the Undertale hype has died down). Which really says a lot. Especially since Cave Story is over 10 years older. But arguing over which game is better is pointless, because it's all rather subjective, and the two games aren't even in the same genre (Undertale is a Turn-Based RPG, Cave Story is a story-driven half-platformer, half-shooter hybrid). If these two games were both RPGs, or both Platformers, I can justify arguing over which game is better, but any argument you can make is rendered moot by the simple fact that the two games are nothing alike.

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The story of Cave Story starts with a plucky robotic protagonist waking up in a cave (redundant statement is redundant), with no memory of how he got there. My first praise for this game is the tutorial. It goes by the logic of "Show, but don't Tell". Not a single pop up telling you what to do appears at all during the game, leaving you to figure out the controls for yourself, and relying on your common sense to figure out which parts of the environment can be interacted with, and which cannot. I love this, as it's smooth, fluid, and most importantly, doesn't kill the mood with redundant pop-up text telling you how to do something you could have figured out on your own.

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After some exploring, our robot hero stumbles upon an underground village populated by the insanely adorable Mimiga, who all look like a cross between Alvin and the Chipmunks and bunny rabbits. After some more exploring, the robot gets caught up in a war between the Mimiga and a villainous Doctor and his two minions, Balrog (HUZZAH!) and Misery (yes, her name actually is the word "misery"), who plan to use the Mimigas' tendency to transform into feral, flesh eating monsters should they eat bright red flowers to take over the world. Oh, and speaking of the villains...

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The story starts off simple, and I gotta give credit to Cave Story for having a surprisingly compelling narrative. Also, I just have to say that despite the fact this game is rated E10+ as well as being "That sort-of retro game where one of the bad guys henchmen is literally a toaster with legs" (HUZZAH!), it deals with some seriously dark themes, most notably slavery and loss. And there were a few moments, which I will NOT spoil, that are legitimately sad, and there are even some moments in the game where you actually have to mercy-kill some of the Mimigas that the Doctor and his cronies have mutated/enslaved. That's not to say this is a dark and brooding overly edgy game. It has plenty of charm and humor as well, like basically any time Balrog (HUZZAH!) is around, or the fact that the adventurer's female counterpart (Curly Brace!) is so happy and peppy and energetic in complete contrast to rest of the relatively serious cast, or the fact that in the original version of the game, a random Mimiga insults the Doctor in a way so surprisingly profane (for a kids' game that is) that it's almost a shame the remake's localization made that line more family friendly. Almost a shame.

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The main difference between the original Cave Story
and the Nintendo Switch remake is all of the sprites got
updated, as one can see with everyone's favorite Mimiga,
King the red-eyed samurai bunny dude.

Oh, and the game has FOUR different endings, based on your actions. Unfortunately, one of the choices to get the best ending possible requires a direct violation of common sense (I will not elaborate because of spoilers). For a game that has an otherwise stellar tale to tell, getting the Best ending is a little annoying due to the immense amounts of foresight and preparation needed, as well as the aforementioned violations of common sense (unless of course you look up a guide on the Internet). It gets even more annoying because that particular moment is somewhat counter-intuitive in it's execution. The only logic I can see behind that design choice is the off-hand chance that Pixel doesn't want you to get the Best Ending on your first playthrough. Which, ironically, is how I normally play video games with multiple endings. First I play through normally, then after seeing what ending I get a replay the whole game and try to go for a better ending. Or you can just throw spoilers out the window and look up a guide, but Cave Story is game that is best played with as little knowledge going in as possible (this review contains the bare minimum of info you may or may not need). Unless you want the best ending on your first try, but then, what's the point of seeing multiple endings if you only want to get one?

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But ignoring the ludicrous amount of foresight needed for the Best ending, the plot is actually really good. The characters are lovable and charming, but alas, Nintendo Switch remake lacks the charm of the original since they redid all the dialogue (yes, ALL OF IT) and while they did fix some grammar problems, the original localization gave the cast their own unique quirks that make them stand out. The remake, while it does keep the core personalities and plot intact, it lacks the whimsy and charm that the original localization had, in addition to over-simplifying some lines. It's kind of a shame, but which localization is better depends on whether you want fluency and accuracy (the original version), or legitimacy and officiality (Nintendo Switch/Steam/3DS remake). Oh well. At least the official localization is better than Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth's.

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Cave Story also has it's fair share of boss battles

But enough on the story, what about gameplay? Well, you can jump, shoot, interact with objects, and collect items to add to your inventory. Some items are required to progress and/or unlock a better ending, while others are there for a quick one off joke. Something neat is how every time you destroy an enemy, they will drop either a Heart that heals you, spare ammo for the Missile Launcher weapon that you unlock early on in the game, or little golden triangles (and no, it's not the Triforce). These triangles work as EXP points. "But wait!" You cry. "I thought you said that Cave Story is a Platformer/Shoot-em-up hybrid! Why is there EXP, a traditionally RPG element, in this game!?!?". Well, the EXP is not for your character. It's instead for your currently equipped weapon. You see, collect the triangles while holding the weapon in question will gradually level it up, giving it extra power, range, and a more visually impressive visual effect. Chief among them is the Blade weapon. At level one, the Blade itself is thrown like a boomerang. At level three, instead of throwing the sword, our plucky robo-adventurer uses it to summon the ghost of the Blade's previous owner, who then slices and dices any enemy caught in their path. However! The weapons are balanced in a very simple way; If you take damage, you will lose experience. This makes it so you can't just go in guns ablazing and encourages you to play it safe, in addition to just making the gameplay challenging, but fun.

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EDIT: This right here is the worst boss in the
game. For more details, see the second editor's
note at the bottom of the post.

As for visuals and music, the original game's 8-bit sprites were charming, but made it difficult to tell what was what (in my opinion). But in this remake, the sprites have been updated, so they are crisper and nicer looking. The levels are also nicely designed. Each one runs with a specific theme, and does SOMETHING to stand out from the rest of the game. The game's soundtrack is also catchy and memorable, and one of the advantages to playing Cave Story+ is you can play the game while listening to not one, but FOUR different versions of the soundtrack (changeable in the settings). All of which sound pretty good. Based on my experience, there's not a bad song in the soundtrack.

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You can also unlock a secret mode called 
Curly Story, which essentially swaps the roles
of the adventurer you play as with his female 
counterpart, Curly Brace. The dialogue changes
accordingly, and unlike with the adventurer (who is
mute), Curly Brace actually talks during cutscenes.

At the end of the day, Cave Story is a fantastic game that has aged phenomenally. But is it better than Undertale? Yes and No. There are things that Undertale does better (like how it handles it's alternate endings), but there are things that Cave Story does better (fast, energetic gameplay). But the games are so drastic in genre that it's really unfair to both games to compare them. But anyway, I give Cave Story/Cave Story+ a 10/10 for being a fun, challenging (but not unfair) platformer with a great soundtrack and a compelling story, the only real flaw being the oh so frequently mentioned criterias for the best ending, which require either improbable amounts of foresight, or a walkthrough/guide. But which version of Cave Story should you get? Cave Story+ (aka the Nintendo Switch/Steam version) is mostly faithful to the original, but has updated sprites, multiple versions of the soundtrack, and Curly Story, but it suffers from a lesser localization and rather unnecessary dialogue changes. The original version, which you can download off of Pixel's very own website, doesn't have as much content as the remake, but it DOES have a better localization. The 3DS version also gave the design of basically everything a massive overhaul. So my advice? Get whichever version of the game is on your system of choice and/or preference.

P.S. For some inconceivable reason I never explained what my rating scale actually means. Just like Cave Story, I relied on you, the reader, to use your common sense and guess that the higher the number, the better the product in question.

P.P.S. In case you're wondering why I don't use the main hero's real name, it's because you are actually not supposed to know what the main hero's name is until after you beat the game. But just like how Princess Zelda and Sheik are one and the same and how Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker's father, just about everyone knows what Cave Story's main protagonist's real name is. Except the people who never heard of Cave Story. For obvious reasons.

P.P.P.S. The Mimigas are officially the cutest video game creatures ever created and nothing will top the cuteness of the Mimigas. NOTHING. Not Pikachu, not Asriel Dreemurr, not even Kirby.

EDIT: I almost forgot to say this but it needs to be said! *deep breath*

"HUZZAH!"-Balrog, 2004

EDIT 2: I did, however, forget to mention that I only managed to beat the game on Easy mode because I actually tried playing on Normal and had to reset the difficulty because even on Easy Mode, this game is really challenging. Ironically, I praised the game for being challenging but fair, but that's because I forgot that the Monster X boss exists (and was painfully reminded this evening when I went to play through the game on Normal mode), which is by far the worst boss in the game. It's not plot-relevant, it deals way too much damage and moves way too quickly, it can launch homing projectiles, which are inherently annoying, and the room starts with half a million of the already annoying Gaudi-type enemies I could have put up with all of these brutal shenanigans if it weren't for the fact that you don't even get a chance to save beforehand, which means if you die to this boss in particular (and unless you are an unstoppable Chuck Norris-esque prodigy you WILL die a LOT) you have to hoof it all the way back to that boss area. But wait! There's More! While on your way back, you have to deal with even more Gaudi and you have to platform around not one but TWO instant kill obstacles! So chances are you aren't even going to be at full health when you start the fight! It's almost as if Pixel designed Monster X to be as frustrating and unbearable as humanly possible while still making him actually beatable. The only things I like about Monster X is it has a neat design and it's death animation is admittedly kind of funny. That, and finally beating him is oh so satisfying.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

World of Final Fantasy Review!

Well, here's some food for thought. Last time I published a blog post I made a Final Fantasy VII reference (comparing the Destiny 2 Dawnblade subclass to Sephiroth). And now I'm reviewing an actual Final Fantasy game. I somehow never made the connection until just moments ago.

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For those of you who have never heard of Final Fantasy (and if you actually haven't the what kind of rock have you been living under?), it's a very long-running and immensely popular franchise of RPG games created by Square Enix (who also own/created the Kingdom Hearts franchise!). Granted, some of the more recent games in the franchise are more akin to Action Adventure games than actual RPGs, but for the most part, the roots are firmly planted in Role Playing soil. The irony of this franchise is the original Final Fantasy was meant to be the creator's last project before retiring (hence the "Final" part of the title). But like I said, it's hands down one of the most popular video game franchises of all time and has spawned dozens of sequels and spin-offs.

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World of Final Fantasy is a rather curious installment in this series. It exists to kill two birds with one stone. First and foremost, get the younger generation hooked on Final Fantasy (and as such, it's much more lighthearted than the rest of the franchise), and secondly, overwhelm long-time fans of the series with nostalgia via clever cameos from fan favorites like Cloud Strife and Gilgamesh and neat little easter eggs and in-jokes that only Final Fantasy fans will understand (complete with spoony bards and laughing at beaches). And I know some people hate the cutesy kid appeal aesthetic but all the people that hate it are the people who are outside the game's target audience. Although, that would include me, since I am neither a longtime fan of the series, nor I am a child mildly interested in the series. But I got to say, it's a pretty stellar game, and I actually like the artstyle, but this is also the guy who watched every episode of the Pokemon anime series up until Pokemon Black & White because Black & White was so bad that it almost killed the anime. So I am no stranger to watching/playing shows/video games with kid appeal at their core.

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World of Final Fantasy stars a pair of twins, Lann and Reynn, who after learning they both have amnesia (Final Fantasy is infamous for using memory loss as a plot device), are given the task of exploring an alternate dimension called Grymoire and building an army of monsters called Mirages, which just happen to be the hundreds upon hundreds of enemy types from the main series, for the mysterious Enna Kros, which "might" restore the Twins' memory and "maybe" reunite them with the rest of their family.

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While brand new characters are normal sized,
returning characters like Cloud are chibi-fied.

One of my few gripes with the game was the terrible pacing towards the beginning of the story. It does get better later on but early on the adventures literally consisted of the Twins navigating the world of Grymoire with literally no story development whatsoever. And not even the twins charming banter can make me turn a blind eye to the final story arc, since that has a lot of moments that come right out of nowhere (such as the identity of the two masked knights working for the main villain). Granted, I wouldn't mind this if it did a better job at foreshadowing those two characters' identity reveal better.

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Oh, and speaking of which, I know some people have mixed feelings about the Twins. On the one hand, the banter between the two is charming and either endearing or simply humorous. On the other, some folks refuse to see past the fact that Lann is a bit of an idiot, while Reynn's sarcasm and snarky attitude makes her appear to be a lot ruder than she actually is. But Lann's character development during the Postscript arc redeems his character for me, personally. And while Reynn is a very snarky and sarcastic person, I can think of some video game heroines that are even snarkier *cough cough* Aloy from Horizon: Zero Dawn *cough cough*. But on a whole, there are likeable. And the story is decent, once you get past the poor pacing (but again, the final arc makes so little sense it leaves you going "...What?"). But what I'm about to say might be perhaps my most unpopular opinion ever...

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This here is Tama. She's the very first Mirage that joins the Twins' team, kind of like a Starter in Pokemon. However, SO many people despise Tama for an admittedly understandable reason. First of all, her adorably squeaky voice, combined with her the-habit of the-including the-the word "the" in random parts of her sentences makes her a mood killer at best and extremely annoying at worst... Unless you are me, because I actually kind of like her voice and verbal tic. I understand why they would do that as well, seeing as how Japanese!Tama ends every sentence in "nano-desu", and Square Enix's localisation team thought the best way to translate this verbal tic was to make Tama add the word "the" at random parts of her sentences. Plus, her true form looks pretty dang awesome. Why do I not consider her true form to be a spoiler, you ask? Because it shows up in the opening cinematic. And the game makes it painfully obvious that Tama has a true form.

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90% of World of Final Fantasy is exploring dungeons, collecting Mirages a la Pokemon, and bad punning your way through a *70+ hour long story campaign. The other 10% is backtracking to Nine Wood Hills, which is basically a hub world, to stock up on consumable items such as healing potions. Something I must give appropriate praise for, is how you actually get new Mirages. You see, in most Pokemon-lite games, you wear down the monster in question and use insert device here to trap it. World of Final Fantasy is much more specific, as a Mirage will only become possible to catch (or Imprism, as it's called in game) if specific criteria are met. While some just require their health to be lowered, others require that you reflect one of their attacks back at them, or heal them instead of hurting them, or attack them with a specific element. It requires you to be more strategic, and makes every encounter more varied and interesting.

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Oh, and there's a Power Ranger Shiva. Because 
why not?

Also, something that older Final Fantasy fans will appreciate is how combat works almost exactly how it worked in the older games. That is, turn based combat with a bar with icons representing party members and enemies, and when an icon reaches the top of the bar, that marks the start of the turn of whichever character was on that icon (like Lann's turn, for example).

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The most interesting aspect of the combat comes from the Stacking mechanic. The way this works is you can have a Mirage riding on top of another Mirage or one of the Twins, and given that the Twins can switch between normal size to chibi size, it's possible to have a chibi Twin riding on a Large Mirage and then have a Small Mirage riding on the Twin. The stats and abilities of all of the Stack's components are added together, so the simplest way to think of it is as like, the Power Rangers Combining into a MegaZord. And while Tama does mention there are times where you DON'T want to Stack (you can Stack and Unstack with a push of a button), in my experience, the only time you don't want to be stacked is when you are trying to not one shot that pesky Cactrot (a Cactus that is Trotting) so you can finally get one after two hours of grinding. An interesting thing about the Mirages is as they level up, they earn SP, which can be used to buy upgrades along Skill Trees. The upgrades vary from one Mirage to another, and can be anything from stat boosts, to passive abilities like healing every other turn, to simply being new attacks and spells. It's nice and all, but it leaves to the game's biggest flaw gameplay-wise. It encourages you to find a team you like and stick with it, since only Mirages that are in your team earn EXP, which means if you want to experiment with new Mirages you are going to have to grind EXP just to make the new guys even remotely viable. This design choice makes the game needlessly tedious if you are trying out different Mirages to see which ones you like and which ones you don't. What makes this even worse is instead of being at the level in which you encountered it, the Mirage's level is somehow reset to Level 1 (even if you caught it in a level 65 area!), and thus if it's a Mirage you would like to use on your team, it becomes EVEN MORE tedious to make that Mirage strong enough to keep up with the rest of your team.

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Chibi Sephiroth!

You can also use Champion Medals to summon iconic characters from across the franchise, such as Cloud, Lightning, Tidus, Yuna, Squall, Bartz, Terra, Shantotto, and more. As a thorough lover of over the top and visually impressive animations, I can say that almost all of the Champion attacks are a joy to watch, especially since they play remixed versions of music from the previous games when you use them and are often ridiculously overpowered.

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Outside of combat, you are mostly exploring various dungeons inspired by locales from the main series. However, most of these dungeons are extremely linear. The worst offender to this is Big Bridge Alexander, because that dungeon is LITERALLY a straight line. A straight line with mob encounters. The linearity makes a lot of places overstay their welcome, and the one dungeon that isn't that linear is painful to navigate because not only is there no map whatsoever, but every room looks identical, and thus you wind up accidentally backtracking without realizing it.

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As for the presentation, the music is, as far as I'm aware, mostly remixes of soundtracks from the main series. Which is actually pretty good, since the only soundtrack I don't like is the default battle theme, due to how generic it sounds. The voice acting is also alright. Some lines do feel kind of forced, due to some characters adding overly long pauses every time a comma shows up in the captions. But there wasn't any downright bad acting, though whether or not you find Tama's voice to be annoying depends on whether you can tolerate squeaky voiced foxes with strange verbal tics. The visuals are also pretty good. I mean, yeah, it's a lot more cutesy than the rest of the franchise due to the whole "bring-in-the-kids" goal the game has on a meta level. And some cutscenes cannot be taken seriously because returning characters are cute-as-a-button chibi versions of themselves. On a positive note, I like how expressive the characters are in cutscenes, since regular sized characters have surprisingly good facial animations, and almost everyone moves with grand, exaggerated gestures while talking (except maybe the main villain). The design of the Mirages are also really nice, since they are not quite as cutesy as the rest of the game, and even have some intricate (read: Totally Kick-booty and Bodaciously Awesome!) designs, such as Bahamut or Magitek Armor. The area designs are also beautiful, even if most of the areas are painfully linear.

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Some Mirages, like Cerberus, are so large that
both of the Twins can ride them simultaneously.

But the big question at the end of the day is, should you get World of Final Fantasy? The answer to that, is it depends. If you don't mind the kid-appeal-iness of the game, and can forgive terrible pacing and a somewhat nonsensical final story arc, World of Final Fantasy is a nice 70+ hour romp through all things Final Fantasy. But something to keep in mind is your milage will definitely vary based on whether you are in the game's target audience (younger gamer with a mild interest in the franchise or longtime fan wanting to see how a modern take on the older games' style would be like). Since I have never played a Final Fantasy game before now, and am almost a legal adult, I am perhaps the worst case scenario as far as a potential audience is concerned. I will give World of Final Fantasy credit though, for being a decent Pokemon-lite game, and it even succeeded in making me curious about the other games in the franchise. And thus, it earns an 8/10.

*I say it's a 70+ hour game, although it's entirely possible to beat the whole game in 30 hours or less. 78 hours was my playtime, largely inflated by grinding EXP because like I said earlier, if you want to experiment, you are going to have to grind. A LOT. And I LOVE to experiment.