Review – Boot Hill Bounties

I purchased the first game in this series and thoroughly enjoyed it. The developer noticed my video series on it so they sent me a complimentary copy of its sequel and I was more than happy to play it. I figure it’s only appropriate to give it a review in an Old West style with The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly!

The Good

This game excels at a lot of things and I find it really impressive coming from such a small development team. The scope of the game is one you’d find in big time studios.

First, the story takes itself seriously. It doesn’t shy away from some classic RPG tropes but taking place in the wild west it feels very fresh. Often, small indie devs will make parody games because they don’t have the confidence to try and take on a more serious story — this game doesn’t fall prey to this. The story is serious but still finds ways to inject humour, it has a nice balance.

The game’s story also holds on its own. You might get more enjoyment if you played the first title in the series but chapter 2 picks up in a way that is forgiving for newcomers and ends in a satisfactory way where you don’t feel like you played the middle game of a trilogy.

The sequel also adds extra features. Hats to learn abilities, cooking, weapon upgrading, etc. They also included a ton of mini quests and side content. A school house full of riddles, lockboxes with hidden clues to find the combination, ads requesting help in the paper, help your mom upgrade the farm, and so much more (from the end credits I noticed a missed quite a few of them). The game is even designed to let you decide in what order you want to tackle on the main story quests! While not quite an open world, I felt like I was in control the whole time. Heck, you can even load your save file from the first game to start with the same equipment and levels!

The Bad

The game has some good graphics but it does heavily reuse assets from the first game. This is not a big issue but I felt like it needed to be addressed. The main hub is Swellsville which is practically the same Swellsville as the first game. A lots of the music is reused too, but thankfully, it is very good.

I think some of my main gripes with the game is that the UI and controls can be a little wonky sometimes. For example:

  • I’ve found myself in situations where I had multiple cursors in battle. This is problematic because both cursors were active so I would pick two abilities at once, often not the ones I wanted.
  • When you walk around in the world you seem to clip in many things which keeps you from moving forward. Lots of games have this mechanic where if you’re close enough to an edge you slide up the wall so your character doesn’t just stop. This game could have benefited from this tremendously because there are lots of obstacles on the maps (e.g. rocks, shrubs).
  • Action tiles can be difficult to trigger. When I try to talk to a NPC or use a camp fire to go to sleep, I would find myself spamming the action button to trigger the event but nothing would happen because I wasn’t facing the object just right.

While none of these complaints ruined the game for me, I felt I needed to share as I did notice them enough to think “I wish it wasn’t like this”.

The Ugly

Rosy in a brothel dancing. Ain’t nobody should be witness to those dance moves. If horrible dancing is a turn off for you, run as fast as you can!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=erSAwppIPfo&list=PLOontXQ__-_bdoKjCI_pzC6GssjxwVieD

Review – Shadows of Adam

I wanted to wait until I finished the game before leaving a review. I backed this game on Kickstarter and I was really hyped for its release so I didn’t want the hype to cloud my judgement. I’m glad to say that even by taking my time, and spreading this game over a few weeks, the game has lived up to my expectations.

The Good

We live in an awesome time where indie RPGs are abundant. Unfortunately the barriers to entry are very low with the use of frameworks like RPG Maker. This often leads to games with low effort, poor balance, and unrefined stories. What makes Shadows of Adam stand out is that everything was done from scratch and done very well; from the graphics, game engine, music, and story.

I think the game’s best feature is its battle system. There are no random battles here! The developers made sure this wouldn’t make the game too easy by placing choke points with a guard the needs to be taken out. Monsters don’t respawn while you’re in a dungeon until you leave to the overworld. This makes for intense dungeon explorations because you might find yourself through the majority of the puzzles only to find yourself rationing your items in fear of having to go back to town to restock.

Finding yourself thin on items can force you to come up with different battle strategies to try and conserve your precious AP. You might try and cheese an encounter by finishing off all but one weak enemy and letting it live while you refill your AP through your meditation skill.

Also, there’s no such nonsense such as out-of-date abilities. Lightning, the first spell you use, is as relevant at the end of the game as it was at the beginning. This is very much a modern RPG, it tries to remove the annoying bits without trying to reinvent the whole formula.

The Bad

During my playthrough I did run into a few bugs. Some were trivial but immersion breaking (loading in the wrong spot when entering a town), some forced me to reload the game (getting stuck behind a one way staircase), and certain puzzle pieces being able to be pushed over water (not game breaking but it made the puzzles a bit more confusing).

None of these ruined the experience but they were there. Fortunately the devs are extremely active on the discussion board and take bug reports very seriously. The bugs mentioned above have all been patched.

The Ugly

There’s nothing uglier than being ready for a boss fight only to have him instakill two of your party members with an opening attack. This forced me to throw my strategy out the window and improvise. What’s worse is that I later found out that the instakill ability had been patched out of the game in favour of a more fair (but still tough) strategy. Dang you Something Classic!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3zf1IOI0z_Y&list=PLOontXQ__-_YCyH-6nsBlmVfqPDPj-8yz

Review – Helen’s Mysterious Castle

The Good

This game was a huge surprise. It’s well reviewed but I had never heard of it so I was skeptical. This game is absolutely awesome.

The game has a unique battle system that is fun to discover. The system requires you to manage which ability you use based on your enemy’s next move and in how much time they will use their ability. By studying your enemy’s skillset you can trick them into using specific abilities which would you put you in a better situation. For example, if you start the battle with a quick attack they will start with a defense ability that lasts a while which gives you plenty of time to cast your spells. Learning how to juggle your foe is awesome.

The game also has very well designed levels. Nothing feels inflated for the sake of increasing the game time. Not only do the levels feel right, there are secret passages that lead to new items — it rewards exploration. The secret passages are super obvious but there are visual cues that hint at something, so if you’re attentive you’ll be rewarded!

Another aspect that I loved about this game was the story. While the game starts off light on story, it’s unravels itself as you explore the castle. I wanted to keep playing to find out what was going to happen next. This feeling was intensified by the awesome cast of characters. If I were to describe them in reference to another game, I’d say they are UnderTale-like. The type of characters I wouldn’t be surprised to find in a Saturday morning cartoon. Fun and full of personality.

The Bad

While I loved the characters, I think some of the charm is removed by the naming convention.  The protagonist is Helen. I mean, might as well call it Brittney’s Mysterious Castle. It’s not a huge deal but it is a little immersion breaking, doesn’t quite fit the setting.

Some of the translation was a little sloppy. There were a few typos (albeit not many) but quite a few broken characters.

The Ugly

Let’s be honest, the game makes use of some of the default assets. That’s a bit of a turnoff and is one of the reason I was skeptical when I was going into the game. While Satra designed extra frames for these characters, they are still part of the default assets, it is quite the turn off.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j5Ump4mrPJY&list=PLOontXQ__-_apvrn2gfTSHjVZz_fLBIcV

Review – Dragon Fantasy: The Black Tome of Ice

I’m really torn about this game.

On one hand you have a love letter to JRPGs of old. The development team designed characters and battle system that are inspired by Chrono Trigger series. The music is charming but none of the tunes stuck with me, these are not pieces you will be humming in the shower.

My biggest gripe with this game is the lack of polish. There are tons of game breaking bugs in the game. Put a monster to sleep to capture them. Game crashes. Try to record footage and exit the game. Game crashes. Fight a trivial monster after a boss fight in a specific location. Game crashes.

Then there are the minor bugs like walking through walls and getting stuck. Meeting goals for achievements that don’t actually unlock the achievement. Bugs happen but what’s frustrating is that the developers don’t care! Look at the discussion board on Steam, a few bugs are listed with no comments from Muteki! I emailed their support email with a link to a private video of the steps to take to break the game and they never looked at the video (the view count never went up).

There’s a bug where your cursor gets stuck in your menu and there’s no way to get out. There’s also a distinctive lack of polish in the menus. There’s no way to scroll down by page and instead you must go down item per item. This gets very tedious at the end of the game when you’ve accumulated a ton of items! It’s even worse when you go to equip something, why is it that when I go to equip a chest piece that it doesn’t put me in the chest piece items and instead in the “all” category?

Why can’t I reorganize my spells? The low level spells are useless at the end of the game so in each turn I have to scroll down passed all the useless spells to the bottom of my skill list (remember, no scroll by page only item per item). This makes each battle takes a lot longer than they should!

There’s also questionable design decisions like a heavy reliance on RNGesus. You miss ALL THE TIME. Most modern role playing games seem to be moving away from this gimmick but Muteki seems to stick to old design patterns.

I want Muteki to succeed and I want more indie JRPGs like Dragon Fantasy but I cannot recommend this game unless you’re starved for an old school RPG. I will play/buy the next chapter (as I said, I want more of these kinds of games) but I hope Muteki gets their act together.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-_iyUBrrGzA&list=PLOontXQ__-_YtaOkks_PgemYY8fOnVJWO

Review – Hylics

Pointless and non-sensical. It’s quite possible that I’m just a dolt but the story (for the lack of a better word) didn’t really do it for me.

There are light puzzle elements to this game (or recreational program) and a JRPG battle system that was fun enough — for example, the final boss requires some strategy to beat. The art was really pretty in its randomness and the music was alright.

The game isn’t very expensive so I wouldn’t say that it’s a waste. That being said, if a friend asked if I recommend this game, I’d probably say no.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Omp5fMAZos&list=PLOontXQ__-_Yl6fVHgGKU6-lLMzdjFPw-

Review – Echoes of Aetheria

I’m only about 2 hours into this game but so far I’m enjoying it quite a bit.

(Edit: After completing the game and clocking a total of 34.4 hours I can say that what I mentioned below hasn’t changed. The battle system in this game is probably the best system I’ve seen of any RPG Maker games.)

If you enjoyed Skyborn, which I did, you will probably enjoy this game for the same reasons. What I find really great about this game is that, unlike Skyborn, this game uses a custom battle system that doesn’t feel like it was taken from Dragon Quest. While the combat system is simple with elements borrowed from other games it is still very interesting and much more entertaining than most RPG Maker games.

I’m a sucker for tropes in JRPGs because I like to see different people’s spin on them. Kidnapped princess? Hell yes! Sassy protagonist that gives the figher character lip? Yes please! Framed for a crime you didn’t commit? Of course! I’m excited to see what comes next 🙂

Some of my gripes with the game include gripes that I have with most RPG Maker games. The resolution isn’t great and isn’t meant to be played in widescreen (unless you like stretched graphics). Even at 4:3 the graphics look a bit off. Also, I don’t know why Dancing Dragons does this but, like Skyborn, this game uses some of the default RTP tilesets. With the talent pool at their disposal you’d think they’d make their own.

If you’d like to see some gameplay video, feel free to check my Let’s Play series of the game here:

https://youtu.be/rOEu9CRJArc

Review – Artifact Adventure

I should point out that I bought this game through the Playism website and got my Steam key when it came out (while my profile says I have 0.1 hours on file my non-Steam game is 4 hours in at the time of this review).

This game is awesome. I started playing it in hour long sessions because of time constraints and I always look forward to going back to it.

You should know that this game is old school hard but also fair. Dragon Warrior was a hard game but if you stocked up on healing items, equipped yourself with the best equipment you can find, and knew your limits – you could make it through no problem. Artifact Adventure follows this same kind of philosophy — there are no cheap tricks.

It does use random battles but the encounter rate is manageable. I have failed to run from battles but I find that more often then not, I can run.

The game does not hold your hand. There is no quest log and sometimes you discover something and there’s no way to know what it is. What I absolutely love about this game is that you are rewarded well for exploring. If there’s one thing that I hate from RPGs is going through a detour only to find an antidote that you’ll never use. No, this game gives you much needed gold, new equipment, and some new powers.

The music reminds me of Dragon Warrior, the graphics feel just right, and piloting an airship from the get-go is just so cool. I can’t believe that I have never seen a jRPG with an open world because it seems like a concept that should have been done before (especially with the popularity of series like the Elder Scrolls or The Witcher).

The game is broken down in chunks that don’t consume too much time. So far I can finish a dungeon in 15-20 minutes while fighting most random battles.

My main gripe with the game is that certain elements were not translated really well. Artifacts aren’t always clear so you’re never sure what you’re assigning to your character. I have given a MP consuming spell to my warrior class (a class with no MP) thinking I was giving him a DEF boost.

I definitely recommend this game and invite you to take a peek at my Let’s Play series of the game to get an idea of what it’s like:

https://youtu.be/wMus7mXRPBE

Review – Dragon Fantasy: The Volumes of Westeria

I haven’t really been using my blog. Most of the time I don’t really know what would be worth putting into writing. I tend to review some of the JRPGs I play on Steam, so I decided to copy them on here (I’ll space them out over a period of time for now).

This is a great game that kicks nostalgia into overdrive.

The game is a little short but still manages to deliver a satisfying story. The first chapter is the meat and potatos of the game while Chapter 2 & 3 add other perpective to the story but are much shorter. The fourth chapter, or the intermission, is more of a joke chapter that can be skipped.

This game follows the jRPG formula to a T. If you don’t like jRPGs you probably won’t like this game but if you love jRPGs then you should love this one as well. It doesn’t try to be unique and then lack to deliver, it tries to be exactly what it is: a classic.

The only negative thing I can stay about this game is that the short chapters leave you wanting more. They are ended abruptly and don’t feel like they have been concluded.

You can view my playthrough of the game here:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MaZ9okxhtZI&list=PLOontXQ__-_YUdhFIWOPJB8N0vMo3nYKY

What feature is crucial in a modern JRPG?

Some games claim to be retro, not just in visual style but also in game features. The latter can be detrimental in the creation of a memorable experience, well, memorable as in the experience is remembered in good light.

I really want to love Dragon Fantasy The Black Tomb of Ice but some of its design decisions just made it such a grind. It’s clear that a love went into making the game, but there were too many things that were a chore (e.g. navigating menus).

I haven’t finished playing through Shadows of Adam but I find that they’ve found a balance. The game uses pixel art but it looks amazing. It also doesn’t make use of random encounters, the UI is simple and intuitive.

Out with the Random Battles

So what are some crucial features that need to be updated from the days of old? Well, for one, random encounters need to be out. Nothing robs the player of control more than a random encounter. You can balance the game by playing with the odds but this is not perfect. Running into three back-to-back random encounters can ruin a gaming session to the point where you just want to save and quit (if the game allows you to save on the spot that is).

That being said, there are still ways to ruin a on-map encounter system. If your enemies spawn randomly close to you and then run faster than you can outrun them, then there’s no difference.

Simply removing the random encounter isn’t enough.

Legrand Legacy was guilty of a similar implementation. While the version of the game that I played was just a demo (so I will cut them a lot of slack) the monsters on the map would float over the ground. The problem with their implementation was that these monsters did not cast a shadow so it was difficult to make out their position. This would cause me to miss my run towards them resulting in the monster ambushing me from behind moments later.

Shadows of Adam also makes use of placing units on the map to engage. While the system gives complete control to the player it can make the game feel like you’re being railroaded.

While this implementation might not necessarily be a bad thing, it does rob the player of having the ability to dodge encounters when resources are limited. Furthermore, if the player needs to go back to town to stock up on potions, the monsters are all reset which can make backtracking feel like a chore.

Food for Thought

If there’s one thing that you can grok from this post is that randomness, in this day and age, is an artifact of a time when computers weren’t as powerful and needed simple solutions.

Randomness is also a remnant from pen and paper games such as Dungeons & Dragons where dice made your make believe session into a real game. The dice add a risk of failure to all of your decisions. They also remove the bias a game master might have towards your decision. A video game doesn’t have that problem, it can have a very complex set of rules.

So whether it be the system that controls the number of battle encounters, the number of damage you deal, or if your attack hits or misses — randomness should be taken out of the equation. Let’s try to be clever!

 

Fan Art, a Pixelated Avatar

I doesn’t happen often but I was pixelized by a subscriber! It’s always fun to receive these because it gives me the feeling that some of my viewers feel part of the channel.

The following image was sent by Redman:

Avatar made by Redman
Pixelated avatar made by Redman.

I had received one back when I was in the middle of my Undertale series by a viewer with the handle Peroshy.

Fanart sent in by Peroshy
Fanart sent in by Peroshy.

I never really knew where to put the latter and figured it would be a one off. Now that I have two, I figured I should display them somewhere! So here’s a temporary location for them. One day, maybe, I can make a wall to display all of them (assuming it becomes a recurring event).