Videogames don’t need to be perfect

Sometimes I wonder… does the name Cynical Gaming Blog hold much meaning anymore? Perhaps I should rename the site to “Rational Gaming Blog” because as a gamer, I seem to be one of the most rational gamers there is at the moment. Why is this you ask? Because I can appreciate games for what they are instead of simply berating every single little thing about them.

Ryudo 1

What has happened to gamers these days? Have we really stooped as low as the movie industry? I made three consecutive articles a while back (two of which are reviews) and all three of them revolve around gaming related media which has recieved negative backlash from either fans or critics over something stupid like “why does this girl wear such huge underwear?” or “this movie sucks because it’s based on a series which I haven’t a clue about because I don’t play videogames so I don’t understand the story” or “Why do the character models look so ugly? This game sucks because the character models are ugly!”

Now I think one of my biggest flaws as a blogger is that I haven’t stayed true to my name as a “cynical gamer” and hopefully this blog will help you interpret its meaning. I’m cynical towards the industry, yes because publishers are ruining it (that’s a rant for another day, go watch this video if you want the gist of it because this guy sums it up in a nutshell) but I’m becoming even more cynical of the gaming community. Why? Because we let it happen, it is us gamers that let all the industry bullshit happen because we buy the games that cause the issues in the first place.

You just bought Overwatch? You’re the heart of the problem. I wonder how long it will take before they implement microtransactions… oh, wait they already did? Brilliant, one small step for man, one large step for the industry’s downfall. Lets see how long our beloved games last shall we? Gaming may be on the up now but considering how much backlash Star Ocean 5 has received by so-called fans, can we honestly expect that it will last?

Is Star Ocean 5 really that bad? Or is it simply misunderstood?

Is Star Ocean 5 really that bad? Or is it simply misunderstood?

Perhaps you were disappointed by Star Ocean 5 and while that is cool and all, it doesn’t make it a bad game just because you set your expectations too high, it has too many merits to be a bad game and I have described those merits in my review. That’s why I write reviews, because reviews are all about finding both the merits and the flaws of a game and weighing them up. The problem is that most gamers, sometimes even critics focus way too much on either the positives or the negatives that they contradict their statements completely. I try not to be one of those people. Whilst I won’t deny that I have written reviews that are absolutely terrible (my Star Ocean 2 review which written was back on Destructoid was appaling) I can definite say that I have improved over the years and I have enough experience to understand what makes a good review.

However many may be led to believe that my points are invalid due to the fact that I’m not a paid professional. Journalism goes beyond what I do, they get where they are because they have qualities which I don’t and I am aware of those qualities. That doesn’t mean that their points are any better than mine, I’ve seen some absolutely terrible reviews from critics that don’t know what they’re talking about, go look at Warcraft movie reviews if you want proof of that.
terenas sleeping

As a result, I only read/watch reviews from independent sources such as myself because believe it or not, they do a far better job than professional critics do. This is mainly due to the amount of workload they are given whilst we independent critics have all the time in the world to make a detailed and complete review, it is something which I aspire to do, to cover everything a game has to offer and whilst I don’t always get it the first time (AKA Valkyrie Profile 2) I try my hardest to cover as much as I can about the game and even then it’s not enough. I could re-write half of my reviews and apply so much more information but I’d rather look to the future rather than look to the past. Maybe if I received requests I would go back but until then, I will move forward (unless I really feel the urge to re-write a review).

You see, most paid professionals are given deadlines and a lot of games to review. As such they can only briefly cover each one because they have to be resourceful with their time. How can you trust someone who does half a job? Don’t you want to hear the whole thing? I’m not telling you that you have to read my content and only my content because that’s absurd, so many people do a better job of reviewing videogames than I do, here’s some examples of reviewers that I watch, those guys do a far better job than I do when it comes to making reviews and you should watch them.

That little rant aside, let’s get into the meat of the topic, perfection in videogames. What does perfection mean exactly? I’ll show you exactly what perfection means:

f-zero gx 3

Ok, ok I don’t mean to be so big-headed to state that F-Zero GX is a perfect game as a fact but personally in my opinion, I think it is. Why do you think we haven’t seen a sequel yet? Because what else could they do with it?  Shigeru Miyamoto asked this very question and to be honest I can’t deny that he is right F-Zero GX perfected the gameplay formula, it perfected the world, the feeling.

Even the terrible voice acting and over the top choreography invokes the perfect style of campy charm that was intentionally designed to act as a parody of comic book tropes, an underline agenda that the game never openly admits to but as the player, you can just tell by playing the game that the developers wanted to create a comic book inspired world and rather than trying to come up with something serious, they decided to make it funny, this is made even more evident by the character bio video’s which show each character in a funny situation. The game was intended to be camp and as such the flamboyant and misplaced voice acting was added specifically to add humor to the game.

F-Zero GX 1

Add to that the incredible music, visuals, 60 FPS and the countless features which exist purely to add more to the experience and you have what I consider to be a perfect game. Even Valkyrie Profile 2 couldn’t surpass it in this department but my cognitive bias puts it 1 place above F-Zero GX because I love RPG’s.

However to expect every game to be as incredible as F-Zero GX is simply outrageous. That game was a masterpiece in every single way, though it may be possible to top it, doing so would be an insane task, a challenge and a huge risk. People seem to forget that videogames are made by people. The goal of a videogame director is not to come up with as many ideas as possible because that would be foolish, their job is to be resourceful. Why do you think Star Ocean 5 was so short? It’s not because the developers are lazy, not by a long shot.

The reason why is simple. They want to filter out all of the filler in order to improve the pacing of the game. Shuichi Kobayashi (I swear I spell his name wrong every time) openly mentioned this in an interview. How can you say that’s not a good decision? He is surely giving us what we want by removing the needless filler that many games have these days and even if you enjoy filler, can you honestly say that this decision ultimately made the entire game terrible? Surely not because I refuse to believe that anybody could be that foolish.

Character development on the go. Just like one of those cereal bar commercials.

Character development on the go. Just like one of those cereal bar commercials.

One thing that I would like to mention before wrapping this up is that the things that matter to me in game design are the little things. Whether or not you pay attention to these things or not is irrelevant, it is important to pay attention to the small intricacies if you want your opinion to hold any value. If you aren’t capable of accounting for every single little detail a game has to offer then your opinion is worthless. I’m not saying that having a biased opinion is wrong, I’m saying that you shouldn’t use your opinions to give false advice.

By analyzing the minor intricacies you are able to decide more thoroughly who the game is for and who should avoid it. If you fail to do so, you obviously don’t show enough respect for the game, so why should other people respect your opinion? I don’t care if you’re a reviewer, if you have an opinion, don’t spread biased propaganda if you aren’t able to respect the game enough to give it a thorough analysis.

This however doesn’t mean you have to look at every single feature a game has to offer. Like I said, the small things matter but the big things aren’t as important when discussing a review because they are a lot easier for the consumer to see and as such they can easily judge whether or not the game is for them by just looking at it or watching a lets play on Youtube. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t cover these points however. Big things do matter, just not as much, if a game has a unique feature that separates itself from the crowd then it is definitely worth a mention. However most games use features that are set in stone.

Painkiller HD Survival

Like for example, most FPS have horde survival modes now. You don’t have to break down every single game mode to get your point across unless that game mode has issues… and if it does you have to find the problem… and thus you must delve into the small intricacies once again. Instead you evaluate the bulk of the game and judge it based off of that because if the cogs don’t work properly, you aren’t going to have a working machine, no matter what it does.

If people only looked at the big, we would only see the same thing time and time again. If you go back to my “What a rip off” article, I mention the qualities of ripping off other games. It is these small intricacies that differentiate those games from their original concepts.

As such, the tools of making a great game are applying the right tools for the player to enjoy a functional, yet enjoyable gameplay experience, you don’t have to make the gameplay spectacular to pull that off. The reason why I gave Star Ocean 5 a “great” rating was for that very reason. I had fun playing through the game despite the lack of move options and the inability to stagger enemies simply because the game was designed well enough to add an element of challenge, something which in all honesty may well be the most executed out of all of the games in the series in my opinion. Is it perfect? Perhaps not.

Break Mode

If we look at Valkyrie Profile 2 for example, that game uses break mode to allow unlimited attacks for a short period of time, perhaps Star Ocean needs to do the same thing with staggering, they tried it with Star Ocean 4 but I find that they will need to do the opposite in order to succeed. Add a gauge that when filled allows enemies to stagger or do what Valkyrie Profile 2 did and make it so that when you break off an enemy’s body part, you can make them stagger for a short period of time allowing you to combo them.

However that alone wouldn’t make the game perfect. I wrote another article before talking about how we could theoretically create the perfect action game and since Star Ocean 5 is an action RPG, this is relevant. One of the games I brought up is one of Star Ocean 5’s competitor’s, Tales Of Xillia which by holding a certain button, it changes the moveset of the character on the fly allowing for a more varied moveset. This is what the Star Ocean series needs in my opinion, however I cannot deny that Star Ocean 5 was a step in the right direction and you shouldn’t either, removing the stagger-lock was the first step to creating a better game… but it’s not a complete step. People need to realize that these things take time, tri-Ace are probably trying to find some new way to improve this as we speak. Instead of complaining about it we should see the merits of its intentions and move on.

ryudo 2

I’m not just saying this because I’m a Star Ocean/tri-Ace fanboy (which I am). Tri-Ace have made mistakes just like any other developer. In my opinion, that mistake was teaming up with SEGA and making Resonance Of Fate but as a fan of tri-Ace, I’m not going to discredit them just for one game because I know that they are capable of more than that, plus I know that they’re all human beings and human beings make mistakes. This is an undeniable fact, game developers aren’t gods, they are people just like me and you, so appreciate the effort they put into the game by showing a level of respect worthy of that effort but to truly respect the game, you have to look at the small intricacies that make the game so good/bad in the first place because believe it or not while most of us gamers don’t pay attention to these things, developers do, there is a reason for every single little thing they add to a game and you may or may not understand those reasons, nor will you even notice all the things they add to the game.

As someone who knows very little about the intricacies of game development, I cannot say I can completely understand everything, however I consider myself a theorist. It makes things more fun that way. I don’t need to know the exact reason, I just need to know what works and what doesn’t. That is what I do. Though I do want to explore the theory behind why certain game design decisions were made and why certain intricacies and features were included. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a while but I haven’t found a good enough format in which to do so. Hopefully one of these days, I will be able to get face to face with these developers and learn the truth but the chances of that happening are very low.

So remember, games are supposed to be as good as they can be for what they are. You can’t expect everybody to be as accomplished as Arnold Schwarzenegger and the same applies to videogames. Learn to appreciate things more rather than nitpicking about every little thing and calling it out as bad.

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Star Ocean 5: My thoughts on the story (Spoilers)

So I finished the English version of Star Ocean 5 and having played it, the story is just as I expected really. In any case, the cast of characters were a lot better than Star Ocean 4’s cast if you ask me. As such I’m going to talk about all of the characters and what I personally thought of them.

Fidel Camuze: Without a doubt the best lead character in the series IMO. Why is this? That’s simple. Fidel isn’t a silent protagonist but his personality is kinda up to the player. A bit like Ludger from Tales Of Xillia 2 only he does have a baseline to work from in the sense that he’s a trained swordsman who desires to protect others. However aside from that he’s a pretty stoic hero with a blank slate personality. This works rather well in private actions since the choices you make pretty much define his character.

That’s not to say that he is completely devoid of personality though, he is still a decisive and dependable swordsman which makes him somewhat respectable unlike the rest of the cast (except maybe Roddick) and he still has that protective nature about him.

Overall, whilst he may not be my ideal character, Fidel represents the “Integrity” int he game’s title very well and the fact that he’s straightforward only makes him better for the lead character role. His character design helps this because it stands out very well.

As a fighter, I played him mostly as a tank. His guard counter is extremely useful and he has a lot of quick specials which allows him to exploit short counter windows without being hit.

Miki Sauvester: I knew I wasn’t going to like this character the moment I saw her. The standard moeblob childhood sweetheart does absolutely nothing for me at all other than serve as a huge obstacle in my attempt to get the ending I want.

I took great pleasure in pissing her off whenever I gad the opportunity and feeding her emotional destabilizers in order to lower her affection rating in my attempts to avoid getting the most generic ending in the game. Seriously though, why does every Star Ocean game make it so easy to get with the female lead? It’s beyond me and just plain absurd.

As a character, she isn’t half as irritating as Reimi and Milly thank god, I could just about put up with her, she’s decent at healing and she doesn’t constantly bitch about everything and instead tries to start comic relief at the other characters expense because who else is gonna do it? Miki is like the only character in the game who has absolutely zero street cred. She doesn’t have any military training, she isn’t a powerful signeturge, she doesn’t have a super powerful symbological sphere that slows down time. She’s just a barely looking 18-year-old who has a few symbological spells and thinks that makes her worthy of being amongst the rest of the cast. Oh and she likes to talk a lot… just a warning for you all.

Oh and to top things off, she has absolutely zero relevance to the plot. When you are upstaged by Ms Fanservice in this department, you might as well just give up.

Victor Oakville: At first I thought this guy was going to be another edgelord like Arumat, turns out I was wrong. At first this guy seems like a stoic and serious soldier, much like Fidel however after doing several private actions  I found that Victor appears to be quite the eccentric and quite possibly the most entertaining character in the game… even more so than Emmerson.

Just listen to his PA’s and you’ll see what I mean, this guy is the most interesting character in the game as well as the most interesting choice of voice. Crispin Freeman pulls this one off very well. Some of his lines are just hilarious and often the delivery of these lines makes him the star of the show.

I actually mained this guy for the vast majority of the game. His moveset just resonates with me. He is an excellent damage dealer with some really badass specials. Probably the most fun character I’ve had the pleasure of playing in a Star Ocean game. His reserve rush tops it all off though, divine wrath is quite possibly the best attack in the game in terms of dealing a fuck ton of damage.

Fiore Brunelli: And here’s the obligatory fanservice character, this time taken to the extreme. Thankfully she has more relevance to the plot than Myuria did and she does seem to make private actions a little more entertaining.

However as a fighter she’s… well, not the best. I just slapped the crusader role on her for double raise dead since symbology isn’t really the most fun role to play in Star Ocean. Like most casters in tri-Ace games, she is excellent at the start of the game and near obsolete at the end. This wouldn’t have been so bad if she wasn’t upstaged by Miki of all people in this department. Her reserve rush is interesting though.

Anne Partricianni: Probably the best female character of the bunch, that’s not saying much considering the fact that she’s the reason behind the infamous “kitty” PA’s. However Anne stands out due to not being a childhood friend, fanservice character or a loli. That alone puts her to the top. Plus as a cat person myself I can see where she’s coming from. She also serves as a good sparring partner with Emmerson when it comes to banter.

I didn’t use her as much as I could have but she seems like a balanced melee fighter. She has an anti air guard counter and interesting moves like acrobat locus and infinity kick. She has some great quick specials and great extended ones but sadly she isn’t much of a tank since she gets inferior armor to Fidel and Victor. However, that’s not to say you can’t tank with her should you choose to do so. She can do basically anything making her an ideal character to main.

Emmerson Kenny: This is the sort of guy you go drinking with but don’t associate anywhere else other than the pub. He’s essentially one of the lads. This is interesting when combined with his role as captain of the Charles D Goule. He’s a captain who isn’t completely stuck up like they are in most games and instead he’s a laid back playboy. Well I suppose if you’re a captain you can do whatever you want… including turning your entire spaceship into your own bachelor pad… just sayin. Plus his voice actor plays one of the Dreadlords in WOW, bonus points for that (even though it’s not original Warcraft).

Honestly though, it’s surprising how the Charles D Goule doesn’t have a private bar… and yet the Calnus in Star Ocean 4 does… I guess the Federation don’t commission those unlike the SRF. Shame.

In battle he is insanely powerful. I played him for a bit and found him a bit too powerful so I swapped back to Victor. He is a ranged character with lots of extremely powerful attacks. I occasionally swapped him in when I wanted to get rid of trash encounters quickly as his crescent wings skill is extremely useful for clearing crowds of enemies.

Relia: This is the character who represents the “Faithlessness” in the title (I presume). The biggest irony here is that the VA for Relia makes her sound older than Miki. Plus this character is actually very important to the plot considering the fact that she’s the first protagonist chronologically able to use forbidden symbology.

Thankfully her VA isn’t half as obnoxious as Lymle’s and she throws a lot of interesting questions in private actions. You can’t control her in battle but I gave her roles such as Terror Knight to lower enemies actions.

So that’s the cast, now onto the story. The game starts off in the small village of Stahl and gets attacked by bandits so Fidel and co seek help from reselia against them. However they eventually find an unconcious Relia from a shuttle. This character is being tracked down by Kronos who have been researching relia and appear to have given the people of Trei-kur their technology to oppress the eastern lands which is due to either carelessness or a deal made with their leader. However the eastern lands refuse to surrender to this threat and war breaks out.

I like how the entire game revolves around this war as it works well together with the game’s cast of characters who are mostly combat veterans. There are several war battles throughout the game, my favourite being the invasion of Eastern Trei-Kur. I think they melded these two plot points rather well to keep the story more interesting. However I believe they could have done a bit more to connect things on the villain’s side of things. How did Trei-Kur gain access to Kronos’ technology? Regardless, Trei-Kur is like what Shinra is to Sephiroth in Final Fantasy VII. They are the “in your face but still not the real baddies” faction whereas Kronos, the guys who gave them that technology (obviously) are the main bad guys of the game who desire to use Relia’s power.

The best part of the story is simply the fact that throughout the game you will see both sci-fi and fantasy melded together. So there is more consistency here than other Star Ocean games. In a way it’s pretty much Star Ocean Till The End Of Time had  the entire game taken place on Vanguard III but with a larger scale as it shows the horrors of what happens when the UP3 law is broken and why it is so significant. With new technology in Trei-Kur’s hands alongside their more primitive society, it leads to them using this technology recklessly which causes a lot of danger for Reselia.

A lot of the complaints were that the game takes place on only one planet. However this is not an issue at all simply due to the fact that the sci-fi and fantasy melds in perfectly well this time around so they don’t need multiple planets to show things off. They still manage to incorporate space travel in there too allowing you to travel to the Caverlero and the Alcatraz which is better than nothing so i’d say that this game still lives up to its “Star Ocean” identity.

Even though this concept has been explored before, it hasn’t been explored nearly as much as it has in Star Ocean Integrity and Faithlessness. It’s not the best story in the series but it’s refreshing to see a cast of characters that are actually…normal. At least after having played Star Ocean The Last Hope… *shudders*.

So my question is simple. This game or Star Ocean 1? Well Star Ocean 5 obviously has the better graphics and battle system but how about the story and characters? Well Star Ocean 1 still wins in that department to some degree as the characters are somewhat more interesting. I think both games equally give a great experience. In a way they are for the most part a similar game in terms of how the story plays out though I was surprised how that in the ending Fidel and co all go with Emmerson and Anne and many of whom join the Federation. That’s an interesting twist of events.

However you can’t beat that good old school feeling of the first game. I find that while Star Ocean 5 may objectively be the better game, I find myself undecided on this. The cast of the first game was pretty solid plus it had you choosing different party members each time which made things a bit more interesting. In addition, the first game explores more philosophy with its plot twist which Star Ocean 5 kinda doesn’t. Also I found that Star Ocean 5 lacked different races. I think it’s something the developers must have overlooked.

So I am left undecided. Perhaps its for the best really. Star Ocean 5 is everything I could have possibly wanted from a new Star Ocean game and I am glad I picked it up and played it. I may also add that there are battles in the game where you have to protect Anne. I had a lot of trouble in the Japanese version fighting these battles due to the fact that Anne is constantly bombarded by attacks and if she dies it’s game over.

However once I got the right setup, the battles weren’t too hard. I suppose having done it beforehand I knew what to expect. Just expect a bit of a difficulty spike there. I would have mentioned it in my review but it was a bit spoilery and I wasn’t sure if the game warned me or not. Turns out it does warn you at the start of the fight so I have no qualms with it. However you may have a bit of trouble in those fights.

Regardless, it’s not a huge flaw, just something to be mindful of, hence the reason why I didn’t mention it in my review. The game is still solid regardless. At least they warn you unlike Star Ocean Till The End Of Time where you die so easily in the Urssa Lava Caves due to MP death which is barely ever explained in-game.

So all in all, I liked Star Ocean 5 a lot. It brought everything I wanted to the table as a Star Ocean fan and was refreshing to play. I will never understand the severity of the criticisms. Sure it’s not perfect but it’s still a solid game and offers just what any Star Ocean fan could possibly want. People have nitpicked this game to death and quite frankly it doesn’t deserve this.

This game has given me an experience better than any JRPG I have played this decade and that is likely due to tri-Ace being tri-Ace. Exist Archive is a solid contender though. However I found that the game had a bit too much filler for my tastes. Still a solid game though. Why can’t people just accept games for being imperfect and move on? I blame the hype for all this. People buy way too much into the hype these days and then they shit on the games when they don’t live up to their expectations

So do yourself a favor and remember that just because the game isn’t as good as you expected it to be doesn’t make it a terrible game. Star Ocean 5 most certainly isn’t one. I knew that the game wasn’t going to be as great as the hype made it out to be. I analyzed it from the start and the score I gave it was predicted to be a “good” rating. Well I ended up giving it a “great” rating. It sure pays to be a cynical gamer because you know better than to trust hype bait and while the hype bait was definitely needed for this game, it still didn’t influence my purchase of the game at all. All I wanted was a new Star Ocean game and I got it… now I’m just waiting for a new Valkyrie Profile game. In any case I’m going to move on from Star Ocean 5, it and Exist Archive gave me more enjoyment than any other JRPG I’ve played in the past decade and it’s a sign that gaming is going up.

 

Star Ocean: Integrity And Faithlessness Review

Ah finally I get to reveal the truth about this game. After all the negativity and all the incessant whining from Japanese fans over a pair of underwear, we can finally get down to business. Star Ocean 5 is indeed the return of tri-Ace and Square-Enix’s relationship and I can say with confidence that it doesn’t disappoint. As a fan of tri-Ace, I commend this game for its efforts to bring the JRPG genre back to life.

Now with all that considered, let’s get straight to it. Star Ocean 5 is basically a giant floating blob of fanservice to all Star Ocean fans, this can be interpreted both positively and negatively but I see it in a positive light, there are tonnes of throwbacks here and there and you can see that the devs are trying hard to bring that Star Ocean magic back into the series.

star ocean 22

Welch returns to cause some more mischief…

However things could seem a little too familiar, many of the enemy designs resemble past Star Ocean games and also many of the music is re-used from previous Star Ocean games. Personally this didn’t bother me so much as I like to listen to old Star Ocean music. The enemy designs didn’t bother me much either, it merely helped maintain that Star Ocean feeling.

Another thing you will notice very quickly is that many of the moves from previous Star Ocean games return. Pretty much every attack in the game is re-used from older Star Ocean titles. This isn’t exactly a bad thing since the Tales series does exactly the same. And several attacks look slightly different from they used to.

 

“Star Ocean 5 is basically a giant floating blob of fanservice to all Star Ocean fans”

 

That aside, let’s get into the bulk of the game. The story is in Japanese so I didn’t understand a word of it, the cast of characters are quite different this time round. Many of them are highly experienced combat veterans which is a nice change from the usual teenage kid saves the world having had zero combat experience (I’m looking at you Fayt Leingod) and it really gives the cast a strong feeling of importance as if they belong in the story as opposed to being put there due to circumstances in the plot.

The story revolves around planet Faykreed, a single planet. I can see why they went with this though and I believe the plot is the main reason why. The game starts off almost immediately in a conflict which expands over the course of the game, the game revolves around this conflict and as such it’s befitting that the story revolves around a single planet for that reason. As a result, the scale of the game’s storyline is a lot smaller than Star Ocean Till The End Of Time but the execution is done rather well.

star ocean 23

“Who ate the last piece of my pie? Was it you!?”

This brings me to the seamless cutscenes. This is where a double-edged sword comes into play. On the plus side, the cutscenes blend in really well with the gameplay rather than taking you out of the gameplay experience in a way many traditional cutscenes do. On the negative side, due to the third person perspective of Fidel it can be difficult to position the camera in a way that lets you focus in on the cutscene. In other words it’s trying to create a Half-Life effect by essentially putting the player into Fidel’s shoes and watching the story from his perspective rather than watching a traditional cinematic cutscene where the player feels detached.

As such, the seamless cutscenes are somewhat of an acquired taste. As you go through the game you grow to appreciate their significance more once they start playing around with new ideas. The game likes to throw them at you quite often and during these scenes you can walk around so long as you stay in the designated area. However there is a new emotes feature you can make use of which is a nifty novelty. The devs obviously intended for the players to make their own fun with the cutscenes and offered tools to do it with. The question is, is it enough to keep the player’s interest?

star ocean 7

The answer is simply… it depends. Whilst many of us appreciate the flashy CGI cutscenes, those that don’t can usually skip them. The biggest problem with the seamless cutscenes is the inability to skip them. This can be troublesome at certain points but for the most part they aren’t long drawn out and if for some reason you’re getting bored watching them, you can force Fidel to do all sorts of nonsense to keep you amused. Personally I had a lot of fun with the emote system but considering the fact that Star Ocean 5 isn’t an MMORPG it could be considered to be somewhat out of place. Then again we are talking about Star Ocean *wink* *wink*.

Another thing that sort of feels very MMO esque is the questing system. Like the seamless cutscenes, these side quests have both positive and negative implications. The obvious negative implication being the fact that questing can be kinda bland. On the other hand the bulletin board keeps everything together in its respective area which cuts out all the monotonous running around town in search of quest givers or trying to find that particular NPC you need to give that item to.

star ocean 9

There’s so much content in this game that you’ll never be board.

One thing that may bother people is that many of the content acquired throughout the game is locked behind sidequests. This includes skill books which are used to learn new battle skills and item creation professions. As a result you will have to spend a lot of time backtracking to different areas fighting mini-boss encounters and finding certain items to obtain new skills and abilities. So to get the most out of Star Ocean 5, you will have to spend a considerable amount of time doing side quests and backtracking. Then again, Star Ocean has always features a lot of backtracking through its private action system.

Speaking of which, private actions return but this time they are a lot easier to access. To access private actions, you merely need to approach a whistle icon in town where your party splits up and by approaching that party member, you trigger that private action. You no longer need to leave town or use a guide to find private actions though you may still want to use a guide to get certain character endings. I personally tried everything in my power to get any ending besides Miki’s, needless to say, I failed and ended up paired up with my least favorite character, looks like the Japanese language barrier trumped me that time.

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Miki appears to get very excited when you trigger her PA’s, shame I don’t feel the same way…

In addition to traditional private actions, certain private actions trigger on the road, kinda like skits in the Tales series only this time you don’t have to trigger them and watch a bunch of character portraits chatting amongst themselves. Instead the private action plays out as you are moving, kinda like seamless cutscenes but you are free to move and even battle during them. Obviously battle will cancel them out. As such you can enjoy these PA’s at your own pace and if you so wish you can take a break from exploring to see their expressions.

Item creation is back and is better than ever. Star Ocean 5 has in my opinion the best item creation in the series. Whilst it mostly sticks to Star Ocean 4’s item creation at first, over the course of the game you will unlock the classic Star Ocean 1 and 2’s item creation… with a twist. As such you get the best of both worlds here. The regular item creation is just like Star Ocean 4’s only this time you no longer have to visit Welch every time and can perform item creation straight from the menu which is handy. Also you don’t have to spend SP on invention or find recipes any more, rather you learn new items by simply making them.

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At first all the items are hidden behind question marks so you don’t know what you’re getting but once you unlock it will reveal what it is and you can make more of it should you wish at any time. Like Star Ocean 4, item creation requires you to gather certain components and use them to create a single item. Over the course of the game however you are able to unlock a new item creation system called the lottery.

The lottery is basically Star Ocean 1 and 2’s item creation where you put items into a pot and get a new one out. This time however you can use just about any item you please and you use up to a combination of 6 items from your inventory. You can have them randomly picked for you or you can choose them manually. Once you’ve selected your items, you can throw them into a pot (or in this case a bunny) to obtain a new item. However be careful not to throw important items in as they may be lost forever and you never know what you’re gonna get, it’s completely random depending on the items you use. The lottery system is fun to experiment with and you may end up getting an item that you can use in regular item creation to create the item you wanted. If you’re lucky, you may also get a new piece of equipment that is better than the one you had before. Of course you will get duds a lot of the time but that’s why they call it a lottery.

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Up to six items can be placed in the pot. Choose wisely!

Item synthesis is back also but is split up between multiple skills, one for weapons and armor, another for accessories. Like Star Ocean 4 you can apply factors to your equipment using any item in your inventory or combine certain items together to create a new and improved one. The system is very much the same as previous titles and whilst it may be nothing we haven’t seen before, it’s still refreshing that they brought it back in all it’s glory. As such there are many customization options for equipment available to you.

Visually, the game is fantastic. Whilst the overall aesthetic style is inherited from Star Ocean 4, there have been some huge improvements made. For starters, the first thing I noticed in the game was how impressive the game’s draw distance was. Whereas Star Ocean 4 tries to cover up a lot of its empty backdrops with white fog and clouds, Star Ocean 5 adds more detail to the game’s environments making them more vast and as such is contributes towards improving the game world’s sense of scale.

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Considering the fact that the majority of the game takes place on one planet though and there aren’t too many areas on that planet, the game’s world isn’t as large as the visuals would lead us to believe. However each location is very detailed. I found it quite odd that the desert area had constant rain though. Isn’t a desert supposed to be piping hot and dry?

The character designs have been outsourced and are designed by freelance artist Akira Yasuda, who is recognized for his work on the Street Fighter games and they look great. The main character, Fidel is probably the best designed protagonist I’ve seen in a while in terms of visual appeal. Victor looks pretty rad too. The character models are a mixed bag though, Some of them are great, others are a bit off. Emmerson’s head looks a tad too small outside of the CGI’s and Miki… well she looks odd in general. Fidel still looks fine though as does Fiore.

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Overall I’d say the visuals are pretty impressive, at least compared with most other JRPG’s these days. I think they made a good decision to keep the choice of art style colorful and vibrant rather than trying to make it look realistic. It really gives it that Star Ocean flair. In addition, unlike Star Ocean 4, the characters don’t look like weird dolls anymore (aside from perhaps Miki).

Visuals aside, lets talk about the combat. Tri-Ace made the huge mistake of returning to Star Ocean Till The End Of Time’s horribly archaic battle system. Thankfully that’s the only word I could possibly use to describe the battle system of Star Ocean 5. It’s not all doom and gloom though, there has been some improvements. Now in case you don’t know, Star Ocean Till The End Of Time’s combat was abysmal. With the horrible CP cap, difficulty spikes aplenty and of course the dreaded MP death along with the HP cost for special attacks, Star Ocean Till The End Of Time gave me an experience best forgotten, gameplay wise at least.

Star Ocean 5 attempts to fix the system and it uses many simple yet effective methods in an attempt to do so. One method is to simply allow normal attacks to cancel into normal attacks. This way you aren’t stuck with only special cancels. This adds a little more depth to the gameplay as certain specials are long drawn out and you may wish to use a faster normal attack instead, especially if you think the enemy is about to attack you.

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Another improvement is the balancing of the characters. No more useless characters like Adray or Mirage, every character is useful this time round. In fact I found myself switching between characters a lot and thankfully due to the game’s guard system, this worked like a charm. What is the guard system you ask? Remember the fury gauge in Star Ocean 3 which let you guard attacks when it was at its max? Well that awful feature was scrapped and replaced by simply adding a manual guard function. This allows you to block weak attacks and almost all magic attacks which is pretty nifty if you ask me.

Once you have guarded and attack you can unleash a guard counter by letting go of the guard button right after being hit. There is a reasonable time frame but you have to let go of the guard button almost immediately. It does take a while to get used to but once you do it becomes a really fun mechanic and adds a fun new approach to battles. Rather than playing 100% aggressively like in previous Star Ocean games, you can now experience a more defensive style of play. Whilst Star Ocean 4’s blindsides were cool and rewarding, they were rather easy to pull off as you could pull off a blindside before an enemy could get a chance to hit you. In Star Ocean 5 however, guarding requires a lot more precision.

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You see by holding down the guard button, you can maintain a guard for as long as you want. However the enemy will usually read this as an opportunity to hit you with a strong attack. If you are hit with a strong attack whilst guarding your guard breaks and you lose a portion of your reserve gauge. So it’s important to read your opponent carefully and guard their attacks only when necessary. Enemies with blue auras around them are often preparing to attack you with a strong attack so be sure to move out of the way if you see one coming your way.

The reserve gauge is essentially the replacement of the bonus board. However, like in Star Ocean 3 it is a bar this time round. The reserve gauge is accumulated simply by attacking enemies. However it is depleted if you get guard countered or ko’ed. It may also be depleted if you are attacked during an attack animation. Accumulating additional reserve rewards you with bonus experience, sp and fol.

Once the reserve gauge fills up one of its bars you are able to unleash a special reserve rush attack. These attacks are basically the Star Ocean equivalent of Valkyrie Profile’s soul crushes and deal devastating damage to enemies (aside from Miki’s which heals the entire party). It’s cool that they implemented this feature as I always loved the soul crushes in Valkyrie Profile and it’s nice to see a similar concept used in Star Ocean.

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Like in most JRPG’s, it’s important to give the character an extravagant pose before using their ultimate attack. Just so you know that shit is about to get real.

Unlike Valkyrie Profile however, reserve rush attacks don’t show up on a separate screen. Instead they blend into the rest of the battle allowing you to keep the fight going as the reserve rush piles damage into the enemy. As such you could say that reserve rushes are the polar opposite of rush combo’s from Star Ocean 4 as instead of simply showcasing regular attacks on a separate screen, you are able to use unique attacks on the same screen.

The biggest change however is the fact that you control 6 party members in battle and as such you can swap between all of them to make unique combo’s. I personally didn’t have a main character this time round. Instead I cycled between characters and used each one periodically. I mostly stuck with the three dudes: Fidel, Victor and Emmerson though I occasionally swapped to the ladies for some support when needed.

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This brings me to another issue that was fixed from Star Ocean 3. Usually when you switched characters, the character would run up to the enemy in order to perform an attack. This could not be canceled out. In Star Ocean 5 however it is possible to cancel this run up through guarding which cancels out the attack completely. This is extremely handy and can be a life saver at some points.

Another improvement is the removal of boss staggering. Though this could be considered a negative. Bosses will no longer be interrupted by attacks. However with proper usage of the guard mechanic, it’s not likely that they will be able to hit you with a quick attack unless you let them but this is where the strategy comes in. You have to be able to read what the enemy is about to do. As for weak attacks, they aren’t used to interrupt bosses, rather they are used to exploit short counter windows. Strong attacks are used for the same purpose as always, to break down shields. As such, dodging and positioning yourself is very important and you can use it in conjunction with weak attacks for some quick hits.

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This means that you can no longer stagger lock bosses which was an issue that plagued the rest of the series. Now you have to think a bit more and use counter windows to your advantage. On the plus side, this feature only serves to make cancel bonuses all the more rewarding. If you can get a 200% cancel bonus on a boss without getting hit, good job but it’s not that easy. In Star Ocean 3, you could get cancel bonuses easy, all you needed to do was button mash and spam. In Star Ocean 5 however you have to be more calculated as enemies can hit you mid combo which causes your reserve gauge to decrease so you have to be careful with how often you stack attacks and wait for a counter window.

As a result there is a lot more thought process behind Star Ocean 5 compared with the rest of the series, even with the game’s rush mode, Star Ocean 4 still had the ever exploitable staggering but only for a certain period of time. However when an enemy entered rush mode you would simply run away from it until it’s rush gauge depleted then you would wail on it again which was kind of an exploit since the rush gauge was somewhat flawed even if it was a better concept than Star Ocean 3’s fury system.

So Star Ocean 5 manages to do a lot of things right with its battle system despite it’s limitations, so much so that many of its shortcomings are outweighed by the good parts. Needless to say however, the combat system remains somewhat archaic to a degree considering the fact that we’re still using MP for specials (well at least it’s not HP like in Star Ocean 3) rather than AC like in the Tales series. In other words, the Star Ocean series has a bit of catching up to do to keep up with this generation’s standards.

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All that aside however, the combat is still just as fun as the rest of the series, you could even consider it to be the best in the series. I would personally mark it on par with Star Ocean 4’s battle system. I think any Star Ocean fan will find enjoyment out of this system. If you can have fun by simply replaying old Star Ocean games, you will have so much fun with this game, especially if you enjoyed Star Ocean Till The End Of Time.

Now I want to touch on seamless battles a little bit. When you get into a battle, there are no transitions. Instead you are given the option to either attack or block to initiate a battle. If an enemy hits you, you will get surprised and the battle starts so you must be careful as you approach enemies and make sure you get the first move. Once the battle starts, a red ring appears around the field, running into that ring allows you to escape battles but there’s a timer. One thing that could be considered a minor annoyance is that when playing characters other than Fidel, they may end up outside the ring at the start of the fight, setting off the escape counter. It’s only a minor gripe though and if you do run away you merely have to wait some time to re-initiate the battle so it’s all good.

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When the battle ends a results screen appears in the top right of the screen and you are immediately free to move. There is no fade out or loading screen’s in between battles, they start almost immediately. Certain battles may even take you off guard at some points as they are blended in with the seamless cutscenes. Certain battles will give you specific objectives where you have to protect someone as well and as such, battles can get quite difficult later on in the game.

In addition you may occasionally be accompanied by guest characters who will help you in battle. This brings me to what is quite possibly my favorite feature in the game, war battles. War battles are a somewhat frequent occurrence where large scale battles take place in a designated location.

During war battles you can freely move around the map as the battles are waged and can engage into battle simply by getting in range of the enemies and instigating them by using either the guard or attack button. In other words there are several battles going on at once and you are accompanied with NPC soldiers to assist you, very much like the siege of Castle Prevant in Infinite Undiscovery only on a much broader scale. These battles are quite the spectacle and really show off what the game’s seamlessness is capable of as it makes the battles feel more exciting.

Another new feature is the roles system, this allows players to not only provide certain bonuses but it also allows players to alter the character’s AI behavior in battle. As such the AI is vastly improved from Star Ocean Till The End Of Time and no longer will you have to put all characters on manual control due to the fact that the AI likes to recklessly charge towards an enemy. One of thing things that annoyed me the most with Star Ocean Till The End Of Time was the simple fact that Sophia’s AI had to be one of the worst healer AI i have ever had the displeasure of witnessing in a JRPG.

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There are 5 categories for roles. One for offensive, one for defensive, one for healing and one for support. The final category is just for stat boosts among other things that do not affect your character’s AI.

Roles can be used for more than simply changing the AI behavior, certain roles have specific abilities that apply certain effects to the characters in battle. These effects can be pretty dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing. Certain roles offer great benefits but can impair the character’s judgement which makes their AI less effective, other roles encourage the AI to do specific actions which may or may not be helpful. Other roles such as altruist exchanges all EXP gains with SP gains which can be problematic if you somehow forget that it was equipped and start wondering why your characters are gaining 0 EXP (this happened to me before). Put simply, roles in Star Ocean 5 are like sealstones in Valkyrie Profile 2 taken to a whole new level of dangerous.

Now as I mentioned before, the music of this game includes tracks from Star Ocean 3 and 4, if you haven’t played those games I urge you to give them a try (even though Star Ocean 3’s gameplay is godawful, it’s worth it for the story). The music from those games are as good as ever and with the exception of a few tracks, the majority of the tracks tie in well with the game

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As for the new tracks, Motoi Sakuraba has put a lot of work into developing new ideas for his future projects as shown in Exist Archive. The soundtrack of Star Ocean 5 is a little bit more familiar though and really gives off that Star Ocean feeling. You’ll realize very quickly that the music maintains the series the standard of quality the series is known for and while there isn’t as much of it as we expected (Sakuraba is a pretty busy guy these days, seriously they should get Noriyuki Iwadare to work with him as he did the music for Radiata Stories and the legendary Grandia 2) the music we got is top-notch.

You can feel the effort that was put into the music and you can also feel the struggle that Sakuraba has gone through to make the soundtrack as good as it can be. I think by now, music composition has become more of a challenge than ever for Sakuraba as he has a lot of reputation behind him that he needs to maintain and this means experimenting with new ideas and new approaches.

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It’s amazing how the soundtrack manages to remain so familiar but feel so different at the same time. The mixture of Violin, brass and alluring techno is the style Motoi Sakuraba went with for this game. The brass often stands out as being somewhat overpowering whereas the violin is very technical. The techno really brings out the sci-fi effect, especially when accompanied with the brass.

As will all tri-Ace games, there’s a bonus dungeon at the end and like the other games in the series there are two more unlockable difficulty levels for completing the game. The game itself is rather short but doesn’t outlive its welcome. There are several diversions available throughout the story such as the cathedral (the replacement for the series’ more conventional arena) which pits you against a gauntlet of enemies and finally a boss to obtain a reward at the end. There also of course plenty of side quests to do via the bulletin board and private actions. As a result you’ll generally spend around 40 hours or so which isn’t bad by any means.

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Those intent on rushing through the main story may be disappointed by the game’s length. I’d say the main story is on par with that of Infinite Undiscovery’s main story in terms of play time so if you don’t mind a short JRPG, you should be satisfied with what this game has to offer. I for one am glad the game was short as it meant that I could get to this review a lot quicker. Still I took my time and played through around 37 hours worth doing sidequests and stuff and had a lot of fun doing so, so much so that I was getting a bit lax on my analysis hahahaha. It is a long time since I’ve enjoyed a proper Star Ocean game, I wanted to make the most of it and I got what I came for.

So if you’re wondering whether or not Star Ocean Integrity And Faithlessness is for you, it all depends on what you’re looking for in a JRPG. Are you looking for a long adventure with lots of filler? You won’t find it here. If you’re looking for a game that’s short but sweet and intend to play through some of the game’s side content, I’d definitely recommend this game to you. In other words, Star Ocean Integrity And Faithlessness is the opposite of Exist Archive in the sense that rather than trying to shove as much filler into the game as possible, it aims to bring top quality content in small quantities to keep the budget costs down and while it may not be completely devoid of filler, I find that the seamless combat speeds up the process well enough to keep players engaged.

As such I believe they made the right decision with this game and though many will disagree with me, I think that Star Ocean 5 is an enjoyable experience that didn’t get enough time to fully blossom but is definitely on the right track. I can see a potential for a Star Ocean 6 in the making. So if the game seems up your alley, I highly recommend giving this game a go. As long as you don’t set your expectations too high, you will enjoy this game a lot.

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Plot/story: Satisfactory
Visuals: Exceptional
Music: Great
Game play: Great
Lifespan: Quite Short
Difficulty: Easy
Worth replaying? Yes

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Overall score: Great

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For more about Star Ocean 5’s story click here warning: may be small gameplay related spoilers!!!

Value: £40.00+

Purchase Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness (PS4)

Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria Review


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There comes a time where the excitement and wonder of playing videogames begins to waver. As we experience more and more games, our tastes become more refined as do our expectations. It is very rare that a game manages to truly live up to the expectations of a seasoned gamer and when it does, you know you have picked up a true gem of a game. That’s where Valkyrie Profile 2 comes in.

Nostalgia is often the driving force when it comes to deciding on a player’s best experiences. We all look back at the good times… and the bad but it all translates to good in the end because they were an experience. My childhood was spent playing games such as Pokemon, Final Fantasy and Super Smash Bros Melee, looking back my childhood was pretty shallow compared to what I experienced in my later years. Even though I am merely at the age of 23, Valkyrie Profile 2 wasn’t a childhood game, I played it in my late teens. I had already played countless other games beforehand and I was beginning to grow tired of modern gaming.

So I made the decision to go back to the good old days and play some of the games I missed out on in my youth. In doing so I realized that there was more to my distaste of modern gaming than nostalgia, there is something missing in gaming today. I realized that I missed out on so many gems that went under the radar, some were better than others but I soon realized that I had missed out on so many amazing games that I wish I had experienced as a child. Then I found it, A game that went above and beyond my expectations. A game so breathtaking that it put all of my childhood games to shame. Little did I know that it would forever be engraved on my very soul. Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria currently stands as my favourite game of all time and it’s my job to explain to you why I find it to be the greatest game ever made… man this is going to be one hell of a challenge to review.

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So lets start with the logical observation. Unlike the first Valkyrie Profile which was a cult hit, Valkyrie Profile 2 was shadowed by its predecessor in every single possible way and was considered a “massive disappointment” by many fans of the first game. I’ve never seen a game that has been nitpicked as much as this game. It’s a game that literally did no wrong (at least to me). Seriously just picking out flaws in this game alone is like finding a needle in a haystack and yes there are flaws there but personally I find that they do not hinder the game’s experience in any way.

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So what did the game do to make people dislike it? Well for starters, Valkyrie Profile was a very good game… I say that loosely considering the fact that it was a hugely flawed game, an acquired taste you could say but the flaws in that game stuck out like a sore thumb. Nevertheless, Valkyrie Profile managed to gain a cult following who appreciated the games design choices for its originality and also appreciating the emotional impacts and deep undertones that made the game feel unlike any other.

Valkyrie Profile was unique and to see it become a traditional JRPG was ludicrous. People refused to accept that an 18-year-old midget princess with social issues replaced the almost stereotypical stoic goddess that was Lenneth but if you look back at Lenneth, as cool as she was, her stoic disposition really took a toll on her character as a whole and her development arc was blatantly forced. I just think the game was rushed by the end… but then again even Valkyrie Profile 2 suffered a similar fate by the end though looking back, I found that Valkyrie Profile 2’s story as a whole was better structured and was better executed than its predecessor.

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At first sight, it’s understandable how someone can detest the idea of Alicia being the main character. She appears to be a stereotypical bimbo at the start of the game which is ironic considering the fact that I found that her alter ego, Silmeria fit that category far better in the long run. Over time however, things began to make sense and I did start appreciating Alicia as the main lead and became to understand the developers reasoning behind this choice, it was all about perspective and that’s what led to the biggest change Valkyrie Profile 2 made, the fact that it followed a more generic narrative structure but despite popular belief, this change was completely vital.

Lets face it, Valkyrie Profile was an unpolished masterpiece. Horribly unpolished might I add. Had the developers put more TLC into the game’s execution, it could have become the masterpiece that was Valkyrie Profile 2 but it was held back by some questionable design choices. Despite this it still managed to be a cult hit. Valkyrie Profile 2 didn’t do so well in comparison. People who hadn’t played Valkyrie Profile avoided it and people who played and loved Valkyrie Profile also avoided it. In other words, Valkyrie Profile 2 was to be an inevitable flop that very few were ever going to play or even talk about. Basically Valkyrie Profile 2 is the most under-appreciated video game ever made.

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Now as someone who disliked the direction the first Valkyrie Profile took, I played a few more tri-Ace games and realized that they were by the same people who did Valkyrie Profile. So surely I should give the series another chance and I picked up Valkyrie Profile 2 on a whim. It could have been another horrible experience but I had a small glimmer of hope that they changed it and thank god they did.

 

“Valkyrie Profile 2 is the most under-appreciated video game ever made”

 

Valkyrie Profile 2 removed the convoluted open-ended story line progression along with its horrendous period system which punished players for exploring the world and replaced it with the old school narrative structure we all know and love. Vanilla storytelling has never been so bliss and to be honest, it was quite refreshing seeing the Valkyrie Profile series’ story line told with a more conventional form of progression as you got to actually experience the story line directly as opposed to just watching some random scene which holds no relevance to the plot whatsoever only to be thrown into the next dungeon, rinse and repeat. The developers clearly recognized just how hollow, convoluted and repetitive the open-ended progression was and while their decision to remove it completely might have sounded a bit extreme to some, I personally think that the decision was plausible.

Valkyrie Profile 2’s traditional approach may not have been perfect though. Early on in the game, you are presented with quite possibly the worst macguffin trope ever conceived to man and I honestly don’t mind macguffin tropes so long as they don’t take up too much time and aren’t too predictable. It’s easy to just sit there and say “this game is boring, give me a better plot” but as bad as it was, it didn’t seem to hinder the game’s pacing half as much as Valkyrie Profile’s entire story line and strangely enough, it really didn’t impede on the overall experience. In fact I believe the slow pacing was actually needed. Why? Because it allowed you to take everything in.

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That’s right, Valkyrie Profile 2 is the best looking game on the PS2, still holding up today as one of the most aesthetically appealing games ever created. The visuals are crisp and are loaded with glittering particle effects to add that extra sparkle. It’s easy to tell that a considerable amount of effort was put into the game as there are a lot of minute details that are easily missed the first time round.

Valkyrie Profile 2’s visual style illustrates a tone which is neither bright and uplifting nor is it dark and gloomy. Valkyrie Profile 2 treads the middle ground between the two, illustrating a world where prosperity is relatively prominent yet tensions are rising and war could break out at any moment, thus foreshadowing the events that occur in the first game and Covenant Of The Plume.

So to put it simply, the visuals are a step beyond sublimity but the game’s incredible soundtrack just happens to be even better. The two go hand in hand to provide the player with one of the greatest gaming experiences you could possibly imagine.

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Valkyrie Profile 2 is a work of art in motion and not just visually but musically as well. If you can appreciate music and visuals, then this might possibly be your dream game and I damn well love some good music and visuals as I find that when done right they bring out the personality of the game better than any form of narrative.

I could listen to the entire soundtrack from beginning to end and never encounter a single track that doesn’t maximize its potential. Valkyrie Profile 2’s soundtrack is consistently magnificent from beginning to end, that’s not to say that there aren’t certain tracks that soar above others, rather the music never becomes bland or tiresome.

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Listening to the music in Valkyrie Profile 2 is like a drug, I just cannot get enough of it. Captivating is probably the most fitting word to describe Valkyrie Profile 2’s soundtrack. Heck I’ve spent more time listening to the game’s soundtrack than I have actually playing the game. I sometimes even listen to them whilst playing other games, particularly open world RPGs where they are surprisingly fitting.

 

 “Valkyrie Profile 2 is a work of art in motion”

 

It is implied that many of the locations you visit in Valkyrie Profile 2 are strongly connected with the series’ lore and whilst I cannot discredit the visual department for doing its bit, the music does its part in expressing the significance of each location extremely well by establishing an awe-inspiring ambiance of wonder as players traverse through them. As such it is recommended to experience the music in-game in order for them to truly appreciate the game’s artistic value and its lore.

In addition, Valkyrie Profile 2’s soundtrack is so incredible that it manages to illustrate the story better than the actual dialogue. What I mean by this is that the tone of each track paints a pretty clear picture for each and every moment that occurs in the story. Now Valkyrie Profile 2 isn’t the only game to do this, nor is it the only game to do this well but Valkyrie Profile 2 arguably does this better than any other game. This is due to the consistency of the game’s soundtrack. Many of the game’s tracks are brimming with emotion, allowing players to become attached to the story quickly in order for them to be emotionally prepared for each moment the story throws at them.

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What differentiates Valkyrie Profile 2 from every other game is that important cut-scenes are not the only areas that receive this treatment, the towns, fields and dungeons each play their part in building the player’s emotional connection to the game which establishes a strong build up of emotion which carries the story forward. Despite this there are very few sections of the game in which the emotional build up cascades but when it does, it feels more impactful as a result.

A recurring theme surrounding Valkyrie Profile 2 is history. The game takes place many years before the events of Valkyrie Profile and puts you in the perspective of a Valkyrie who can read the psychic energy of objects allowing her to read into the past. Valkyrie Profile 2 tends to feel very barren and empty at times. This is intentional as the game tries to divert the player’s attention away from what is going on in the present, focusing on the events on the past in order for the player to see the world for what it really is. The problem is that many of these events are never explained thoroughly and players are required to piece things together for themselves in order to paint their own picture of the world.

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Silmeria’s object reading opens up a whole new dimension within the game’s storytelling.

 

This is where einherjar come into play. You can collect einherjar by interacting with weapons littered around dungeons and they will fight for you, essentially giving you another character to control in battle. Each character comes with a bio which can only be read in the status screen, some characters relate to one another, it’s funny when you learn that one of the first einherjar you get is one of Alicia’s ancestors. Now this is one of the game’s biggest controversies and what gives the game so much hate. The first game practically revolved around einherjar which are basically warriors risen from the dead to fight for Odin.

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In Valkyrie Profile, you can view the death scenes of each character during intervals. This is where the game’s abstraction is rooted, a series of short stories involving character deaths who will eventually become a member of your party and from that point on, you never see or hear from them again, except in battle or the sacred phase (which shows brief conversations between characters that aren’t really all that big of a deal and to view them, those characters have to be removed from your party). So essentially Valkyrie Profile had absolutely no character interaction outside the sacred phase and at a certain point you are expected to believe that they have grown attached to her which is total bullshit if you ask me.

Now the second game replaced them with a brief bio and people hated this despite the fact that the einherjar in Valkyrie Profile 2 took a backseat role in the main story. On the plus side, Valkyrie Profile 2’s main story actually has a bit of character interaction. Though the main cast may not be as interesting as other games in the genre, there’s still some character development to be found here. I do believe the cutscenes do a good enough job, at least enough to motivate the player. People who expect strong character arcs may not find it in Valkyrie Profile 2 (or any JRPG for that matter, go play Warcraft 3 if you want serious storytelling) but it doesn’t make the game any less enjoyable. If you prioritize gameplay and just about everything else over story, then you will adore Valkyrie Profile 2.

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Then again, there is a lot of attention to detail when it comes to the einherjar backstories in Valkyrie Profile 2, it’s just a different kind of approach which requires more reading than watching. If you take the time to read all of the character bio’s in the game, you will find out about a lot of events which occurred many years before Valkyrie Profile 2. I strongly recommend reading all of these einherjar biographies as they are the key to solving the puzzle that is understanding the world of Midgard. As you are essentially playing from the perspective of Silmeria, you are technically experiencing two stories, Alicia’s story (or as I like to call the “main story”) and the stories of the many souls within Silmeria, giving you an insight into many events that occurred in the past.

Some of the einherjar are connected and will occasionally share a battle quote with each other relating to their backstory which symbolizes that the einherjar, though backseat characters are actually part of the game’s lore. I personally believe that the attention to detail makes up for the lack of more concrete einherjar stories and I also find that a more abstract presentation of the einherjar’s backstories befits this game better as more concrete scenarios would be too distracting for the player when you consider the game is clearly trying to be a work of art in motion. As such, I’d argue that the developers didn’t rush this design choice.

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Somebody mentioned in an article that Valkyrie Profile 2 tells a better story in its world and setting than it does in its narrative. This is 100% the truth. The narrative in Valkyrie Profile 2 isn’t bad by any means but as I have mentioned before, the narrative doesn’t even compare to the likes of games such as Grandia 2 as it is somewhat flawed at certain points. That is because narrative is not the focus of Valkyrie Profile 2 whereas the first Valkyrie Profile had quite a lot of narrative, some more trivial than others but there was plenty of it nonetheless.

Valkyrie Profile 2 decides that rather than telling you the story it wants the player to explore its world and uncover the story for themselves. Sadly, most players aren’t patient enough to do this and as such, I find that the story of Valkyrie Profile 2 was horribly misunderstood. Nevertheless, as I mentioned before, the music of Valkyrie Profile 2 creates a solid ambiance that will pull you into its world should you allow it to and that alone is enough to keep player’s emotionally connected.

Rather than simply plundering people's hoses for Loot, Valkyrie Profile 2 often has readable books where you can learn some of the lore.

Rather than simply plundering people’s houses for Loot, Valkyrie Profile 2 often has readable books where you can learn some of the lore.

As for the gameplay. It doesn’t disappoint. Much like the first game, it is a side-scrolling RPG which is probably one of the biggest reasons why it was overlooked. In any case, side-scrolling is part of the series’ identity and as such it’s a good thing that the developers didn’t change this. In any case, the visuals more than make up for the fact that you can only move left or right.

As with most side scrolling games, Valkyrie Profile 2 experiments with platforming with the use of photons. For the most part, the game’s platforming sections are pretty simplistic and the game tends to focus on thinking rather than reflexes.

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Photons can be used to crystallize enemies to immobilize them, however if you shoot a photon at a crystallized enemy, you will swap places with it. This mechanic is the most common element of the game’s platforming as it revolves around swapping places with enemies to reach certain areas.

If anything, the side scrolling sections are less about platforming and more about puzzle solving. I often joke about how Valkyrie Profile 2 experimented with the portal gun idea before Valve did with their release of Portal as it is essentially the same idea with photons except it uses enemies instead of walls. Overall, the platforming sections are a cool distraction, but the real meat of the game play is in the battles.

Valkyrie Profile 2 keeps the same style of combat as the first game but expands on it greatly. In battle, you are actually able to roam around a 3D battlefield… oh the irony. This opens up a completely new approach to battles and applies more flexibility and depth to them as a whole.

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Like the first game, characters are set to face buttons, they are your choice of attacks. Rather than just giving you a set of special attacks for each character, picking one and letting the computer play the rest, Valkyrie Profile 1 and 2 have you playing as all the characters at the same time and each character represents a certain move set which can be customized at will in Valkyrie Profile 2 (which was limited in the first game). This is where Valkyrie Profile 2 succeeds where other ARPGs fail, the ability to be in control of everything on-screen at all times. So if you make a mistake it’s your fault.

Valkyrie Profile 2’s battle system is unlike any other JRPG and can take a while to get used to. It can also feel quite repetitive at the start but once the training wheels are off and you obtain more characters, the real action starts. Honestly when I replayed the game and just had Alicia and Rufus I felt like the game removed so much. That’s because the combat improves over time but eases you into the basics and you better appreciate that as the game is very deep. Sadly it can put a lot of newcomers off, particularly impatient ones who judge the game at first sight.

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A lot of people say that this game is really hard. I honestly had no trouble playing through this game. It’s a very deep game and you really need to pay attention to the tutorials, get the right skills and understand seal stones as this game requires a lot of preparation. Valkyrie Profile 2’s game play is all about thinking outside the box. Whilst there is some strategy involved during game play, it matters little if your characters are under equipped, you’re going to get a spanking if you’re not prepared.

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Then again, if you do come prepared, you might find the game to be way too easy. This is because Valkyrie Profile 2 is so easily broken, it’s ridiculous. It’s all about knowing how the game works and if you want to play the game the normal way, the difficulty might be tough. However if you’re into power leveling and gearing then this game can seem be a bit too rewarding.

 

“This is where Valkyrie Profile 2 succeeds where other ARPG’s fail, the ability to be in control of everything on-screen at all times. So if you make a mistake it’s your fault”

 

There are a lot of ways to play this game and it can seem a little daunting at first but experimentation is key. Valkyrie Profile 2 is all about finding the best play style for you and maximizing it to its full potential, though it is encouraged to switch on the fly. For this reason, gaining experience matters little in comparison with equipment and skills.

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Each character has their own set of attacks and they learn more of them as they level up. Considering the fact that Valkyrie Profile is not a Tales/Star Ocean game, the move selection in battle is limited (and linear) for each character simply due to the fact that you are controlling everyone in the party (though you can learn the scramble attack skill to mix things up). You’re not picking out moves, you’re picking out characters and developing moves from the characters you like in order to enhance them, you can then change-up their moves later after you’ve developed them, either that or swap them out for a new character and equip that character with the armaments from the other character to make them just as powerful.

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Characters learn skills through battling, the amount of battles required depend on the character’s level. So it’s important to learn new skills as early as possible.

Utilizing all of your character’s skills and abilities is the name of the game here. Most battles revolve around timing your attacks in order to acquire bonus experience via magic crystals as well as increasing your AP reserves via gems which lets you use more attacks. Whereas some characters are best at dealing direct damage, others are better at generating extra hits which can not only help gain more gems and experience crystals but it can also generate more heat allowing you to perform soul crushes which are a signature move each character has which can be chained with other soul crushes to deal a tremendous amount of damage towards the enemy. In addition, the higher your hit count, the higher the damage you deal.

That’s not all, enemies can also lose body parts when they attack in a Monster Hunter esque fashion in the sense that breaking off enemy body parts often rewards you with loot such as accessories which you can use to learn skills and improve stats. Additionally, breaking off certain body parts changes the behavior of the enemy, if you break off their weapon for example, their range will be limited.

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Shopping in Valkyrie Profile 2 is like Monster hunter. Basic armaments can be bought with cash, more powerful items need additional materials to be created. You do however get a return on your materials simply by trading them for OTH.

The biggest reward for breaking however is break mode. Break Mode allows the player to attack freely without expending AP so you can button mash to your heart’s content. The strategy guide mentions that break mode occurs randomly and the rate that is occurs accumulates by 5% per break for each character and the occurrence rate starts at 70%. Pretty deep stuff huh?

Allow Lezard Valeth to demonstrate the many benefits of breaking

It is often important to experiment with different attacks in order to hit a certain body part and acquire certain items early on in the game which can be used to learn skills quickly. This is important if you want to have an easier time with this game.

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Magic is visually spectacular, however many of the enemies have high resistances making mages fall short of other characters in the damage department. Possibly an oversight by the developers.

Visually, the combat is spectacular. The animations are very detailed and encourage a steady flow of combat. Like I mentioned previously, timing your attacks is important and can be very rewarding. However if you miss an attack, it could prove detrimental so it’s important to stay focused on the action, however it never becomes too hectic and can even be somewhat relaxing due to it’s pacing. The soul crushes are also a treat for the eyes and can be extremely satisfying to pull off. All in all, Valkyrie Profile 2’s combat is not only intricate in its mechanics but also in spectacle.

However, Valkyrie Profile 2 offers a variety of features which enhance the possibilities in combat. Sealstones are powerful tools you can use whilst traversing through dungeons to empower or weaken the holder.

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Sealstones can be purchased with Magic Crystals which are rewarded for hitting enemies in a mid air combo in battle. Allowing you to keep them permanently.

By holding a sealstone, the effects of said sealstone are bestowed upon the entire party. As such you may find some sealstones to be detrimental in battle. However if you place it on a dais within the dungeon, all the enemies in the area will be under the effects of the sealstone. Sealstones have multiple uses, you can use them to assist you and you can even use them to deliberately handicap yourself for challenge runs, if that’s what you’re into.

Furthermore, the game has up to 50 difficulty levels which can only unlocked with each play through (complete the game on 1 difficulty, unlock the next difficulty etc). Each difficulty multiplies the enemies stats depending on the difficulty making this game quite possibly one of the most challenging rpg’s out there. If you are a perfectionist you will spend a long time on this game.

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Valkyrie profile 2 also has a bonus dungeon that not only deliberately butchers the game’s storyline (typical tri-Ace trend) but also provides a real challenge for the dedicated players. The bonus dungeon has 5 floors each packed full of mini-bosses and tough super-bosses and lots of loot. Much of the side content takes place here and the developers worked hard despite having limited resources to make it a somewhat interesting bonus dungeon compared to the conventional bonus dungeons many rpg’s implement which tend to be rushed, dry and tedious.

Valkyrie profile 2 carries on the trademark super-bosses of the tri-Ace games as well as adding its own, allowing players to recruit otherwise inaccessible characters in the main story. Sadly most of these characters have already been playable beforehand so you won’t find many surprises here except maybe for one but you’ll have to wait and see.

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One word that defines the experience of Valkyrie Profile 2 overall is sophistication. Though I have mentioned the visuals previously, I find that sophistication is the core of all aspects of Valkyrie Profile 2. Not only does its focus on history carry a lot of sophistication within itself but just about everything from the subtle yet somewhat simplistic story, the unbelievably sublime soundtrack, the crisp yet somewhat achromatic visual style and even the pacing of battles feels sophisticated as the game encourages times button presses rather than reckless button mashing.

In fact this game is so sophisticated, it is difficult to believe that it is a tri-Ace game at times considering the fact that many of their games often try to follow a more generic anime style route. I find that Valkyrie Profile as a series stands as tri-Ace’s true claim to fame personally because as enjoyable as the Star Ocean games are, they don’t manage to capture half the depth the Valkyrie Profile games do and each installment seems to follow the same formula… just with a different method of conveying that formula.

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Part of what makes the Valkyrie Profile series in general so iconic is the simple fact that it stands out as being sophisticated but the first Valkyrie Profile, despite it’s plot and setting didn’t manage to capture as much sophistication as the sequel simply because of it’s ridiculously flamboyant voice direction, the enjoyably dynamic, yet unsophisticated soundtrack and it’s focus on delivery through exposition, which despite being presented and performed very well, fell flat on its face in the end simply due to the fact that it was not only rushed by the end but it also felt as if they shoved way too much forced exposition down the players throat leaving them confused as to what relevance each and every moment of the game’s story had.

Valkyrie Profile 2 didn’t have this problem. Whilst Valkyrie Profile was undoubtedly sophisticated to a degree, Valkyrie Profile 2 seemed to have perfected the sophisticated feeling that they were trying to convey in the first game but with a completely different approach. While the first game tried to tell us the story of its world by shoving exposition down our throats, Valkyrie Profile 2 tries to show us the world without actually telling us anything and quite frankly it doesn’t need to tell us anything.

 

“One word that defines the experience of Valkyrie Profile 2 overall is sophistication”

 

You see, the beauty of Valkyrie Profile 2 being a sequel is that the first Valkyrie Profile already explains so much that they had a lot of room to experiment with other means of world building, giving players the tools to paint their own picture of the game’s world rather than it being painted for them. I think the developers simply saw an opportunity to try something new and ran with it, expecting players to appreciate it. Sadly this was not the case and some people were dissatisfied with the game. Others managed see the beauty in the game’s direction and as a result they enjoyed it. I was one of those people.

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“I know you are there… come out and play”

Ultimately though, the storyline can be enjoyable but it doesn’t satisfy all tastes and it’s narrative, though it is enjoyable to a degree feels rather simplistic, though the delivery of the narrative is done in a fashion which befits the sophisticated style of the game. The voice direction is very direct in its approach and the pauses in cutscenes helps tell the story in a clearer fashion rather than coming across as convoluted like the first game. There are a few lip sync issues here and there along with a few other oddities in the cutscenes but they are barely noticeable most of the time and when it is, the voice performances more than make up for it. Those who can appreciate the direction of the narrative and aren’t concerned by the very minor flaws in the game’s story will have a good time whereas those who are dissatisfied with the simplicity and are unable to appreciate the game’s focus on abstraction may find the story quite boring which is understandable.

As such, if we speak from a broad perspective, Valkyrie Profile 2 is the opposite of Warcraft 3, the story is serviceable but the rest is absolutely brilliant. It brings together everything that makes a JRPG experience so enjoyable. I encourage anyone with an ounce of taste in JRPG’s to give it a try, just be sure not to rush through it and take time to appreciate what this game has to offer. Oh and Valkyrie Profile 3 needs to happen, get on that shit tri-Ace, I know you’re busy with Star Ocean 5 but please do not forget this legendary series. Honestly all of the Valkyrie Profile games are legendary though Valkyrie Profile 2 holds that special place in my heart that no other game has. If you’re going to play Valkyrie Profile 2, you may as well play them all, yes that includes Covenant Of The Plume.

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Subtle and sophisticated, Valkyrie Profile 2 is not just your run-of-the-mill JRPG experience, it’s Michelin star quality gaming at its finest and as a result, it deserves a star of its own, a symbol that this game is phenomenal, something which I can easily recommend to all fans of JRPG’s because if you don’t enjoy this game, you’re not a true JRPG fan. As such This game gets my gold star of awesome and I do not give them out lightly. Reviewing a game like this is quite daunting, after all, a game as classy as this deserves a review of equal standards and though that feat is a tough one to meet, It won’t stop me from trying.

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Plot/story: Great
Visuals: Masterful
Music: Masterful
Game play: Exceptional
Lifespan: Decent Length
Difficulty: Medium
Worth replaying? Maybe

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Overall score: Masterpiece 

Gold Star Of Awesome

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Value: £40.00+

Purchase Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria (PS2)

Tales Of Phantasia Review

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Well this is a long time coming, I finished the game ages ago but I was too bummed out to do a review afterwards. In case you’re curious, I played the Dejap SFC version and believe me, its the best translation.

Playing Tales Of Phantasia has been an experience without a doubt, an experience that has taught me many things about RPGs and tri-Ace alike. I would consider this game a must play for any
Tales or tri-Ace fan but with that said, the experience you get from this game may be mixed. I will enlighten some of these points in my review.

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For starters, lets look at the premise of Tales Of Phantasia or should I say, the story. Tales Of Phantasia is a very ambitious storyline which suffers from archaic plot devices with lackluster execution but offers a somewhat interesting twist to the usual JRPG romp by establishing a somewhat interesting universe which could have been more than it turned out to be.

Though this just happens to be a continuation from Tales Of Symphonia Dawn Of The New World timeline wise, it feels kinda more like a prelude to what could have been an epic series. In fact it hit me the moment when I reached the city on the eastern continent and viewed that scene. I knew what I saw in that scene and what I saw was tri-Ace as they are now. It would seem that the Wolf Team were planning something big with Tales Of Phantasia, a whole series continuing the timeline and unfolding an epic universe with potentially an epic storyline… but instead we got a prequel which felt a bit too similar to Tales Of Phantasia, moreso a massive nod to the series, similar to what Star Ocean 4 did to Star Ocean 1.

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There are so many things you hear about in Tales Of Phantasia and it makes you want to learn more but the game’s plot felt half-baked. I honestly feel like we were playing only half a game… or maybe they were trying to build up a sequel… wait they did make a sequel, well sorta. It’s my favourite game of all time (well the second one at least). It all made sense now. tri-Ace pulled an Exist Archive on Tales Of Phantasia but they split it into two games. Those games being Star Ocean and Valkyrie Profile, these were tri-Aces legacy but Tales Of Phantasia is where it all began.

Though technically a Namco game by right, this was a tri-Ace game by heart. You could tell this was a tri-Ace game with the whole long/short-range attacks and the fact that the entire interface and style mimics Star Ocean. This game was the foundation for all the tri-Ace games we have grown to love but not only that, it pioneered a new system that would later be adopted by many Japanese Action RPGs. This would be the use of battle transitions and fields optimized for real-time gameplay as opposed to turned based gameplay, a style that was heavily focused on in the Star Ocean series. With the limitation of a side scrolling battlefield, Tales Of Phantasia was able to experiment with new ideas allowing for a more flexible gameplay experience.

So Tales Of Phantasia has a lot of acclaim under its belt but what does it do to earn this praise? Well I can’t speak as a gamer of today but if we transport ourselves back to the early 90’s where the only ARPG’s around were Secret Of Mana and the Soul Blazer series (which were more like action puzzlers if you ask me), Tales Of Phantasia really stood out for its style. It was the first ARPG which didn’t feel like a Squaresoft game or a Zelda game. It instead opted to be different from the competitors in order to attract attention. If we look at gaming today, we can see that Tales Of Phantasia has surpassed them in terms of legacy.

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I don’t want to go in too deep with the story but I will say that it’s one of those stories you’ve likely seen before in some form but you probably won’t see it quite like this. Think Grandia 2 when I say this, only a lot more primitive. This game has a charm to it that separates itself from the other games of its time, something only tri-Ace could do. In fact, this game doesn’t really feel much like a Tales game at all, there aren’t any skits or anything you would consider to be “Tales”, if anything it felt more like Chrono Trigger/Secret Of Mana combined into one. This game has everything you would expect from a JRPG released in the early 90’s.

One of the things that took my interest immediately was the opening music. Whilst it wasn’t dubbed in english (unlike the strange intro of Star Ocean) it was pretty incredible to hear vocalized music coming out of a SFC game, something many games have adopted these days. While I’m not much of a fan of JPOP, I have to credit them for making this possible on such a dated system, there’s just something mysteriously alluring about hearing the primitive voice recordings on an SFC. It felt less of a Final Fantasy/Dragon Quest clone and more of a unique anime-like style RPG whilst not forgetting the preceding RPG games as it is quite clearly inspired by such games.

This looks awfully familiar... Well I suppose every mana tree has it's secrets.

This looks awfully familiar… Well I suppose every mana tree has its secrets.

To be honest, to call this game the core of every JRPG I love wouldn’t be too far off, though there would be a few exceptions, Tales Of Phantasia is the game that established many of the games I love today and as such, it earns my respect regardless.

As for playing the game yourself, if you go into this game with a more modern mindset, you’ll probably find yourself getting bored with all the currently archaic elements this game has and whilst this is true for pretty much all games released in the 90’s, this game sticks out like a saw thumb in the archaic department.

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Being the pioneer of the many games I love, it’s unsurprising that this game is so primitive. The characters line up in battle which causes movement issues, since your movement is restricted constantly. Tales Of Phantasia, like many early Japanese ARPG’s feels like a stunlock fest but it’s definitely a good one. However with this said, it can also prove to be bothersome as the movement issues tend to give you some trouble in boss fights. However the main thing to be concerned here is not the comboing, blocking or dodging like in most ARPG’s these days but with picking the best attacks for the job.

Comparing it to Star Ocean on the SFC, the combat is very different as it focuses more of elemental attacks and conventional JRPG strategy whereas Star Ocean is more about positioning yourself and picking the right attack string for the situation as you can manually move anywhere (though not directly with the d-pad, rather you control a cursor which position’s you). However the premise is very similar. You have special attacks and regular attacks at both long/short-range and whilst regular attacks have a bit more focus in this game, they don’t really amount too much.

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I was a bit peeved that the only character worth controlling was Cless and as much as you basically have to control pretty much everyone manually (due to some AI issues), you don’t really feel like you can play with different styles unlike Star Ocean which was a shame. Cless is pretty versatile though and has a lot of cool moves and different weapons but Chester… he’s kinda useless and boring, the rest of the cast are all… you guessed it, casters. This was fixed in later versions where they added a new character to balance things out.

There are quite a few side quests about, I didn’t bother with many of them though but some of them are pretty interesting and just enhance the game’s story more as well as the game’s world. If I could devote more time to this game, I might have done so but I tend to rush through most game’s these days.

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The visuals, whilst not as lush as Star Ocean’s are still rather nice, typical SNES stuff mostly, if you’ve played Seiken Densetsu 3 you’ll probably be in familiar territory here though I personally find Seiken Densetsu 3 to look better from what I’ve played (in fact that game looks more like Star Ocean to me). Still the good ol’ fashioned 16 bit top down world map never gets old.

The music was obviously composed by Motoi Sakuraba, who else would it be? Mickey Mouse? I mean, this is the game that pioneered practically 80% of games he composed for (basically everything except Golden Sun and Dark Souls). His soundtrack in this, whilst not completely as memorable as Star Ocean’s has some quirky ones to say the least. To say that this was the first soundtrack he ever did for a Japanese ARPG, it’s pretty unique and somewhat captivatingly magical… but not on the same level of Valkyrie Profile 2 of course.

However one song that really stuck out to me was the piano solo which was played at the adventurers guild which was played by none other than Motoi Sakuraba himself. He is actually a character in the game. That pretty much sums up just how important this game is to not only me, not only the fans but also the creators themselves. This is the game where Motoi Sakuraba made his mark and he is immortalized in this game for a reason.

Now that's my kinda music right there...

Now that’s my kinda music right there…

This game was developed out of passion and though it may be a series that has moved on since, it’s hard to consider Tales Of Phantasia to be a Tales game, it doesn’t belong to Namco, it belongs to no one because if tri-Ace can’t have it, no one can and whilst Namco themselves might disagree, they’ve yet to prove that they are worthy of owning the rights to this game because as it stands, this game is not only the centerpiece for the Tales series, it is the centerpiece for tri-Ace and practically every single game Motoi Sakuraba has ever composed for.

So whilst this may not be much of a review, let it be understood that whether you like this game or not, I urge you to play it just to experience it yourself if you consider yourself to be a fan of Tales, tri-Ace, tri-Crescendo and pretty much any Japanese ARPG in general. As for whether you enjoy it or not depends on your standards, if you really dislike archaic games, you probably won’t enjoy this, however if you’re open to these kind of games or are new to the genre, you might appreciate it more.

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Ultimately though, it is what it is and nothing can change that. At least I can safely say that this game has a lot of unique charm that is a nice change from most 16 bit JRPGs but to compare it with Star Ocean, I’m afraid I’ll have to give it to Star Ocean to be honest as that game tried a lot of cool new concepts whereas Tales Of Destiny focused on expanding current concepts.

Then again that basically sums up the difference between tri-Ace and Namco’s Tales team as developers, tri-Ace aim to innovate and tinker with new ideas, Namco aim to expand on current ideas to refine them to the best they can be. Regardless this game is the centerpiece of it all and it’s wonderful to see just how much it managed to accomplish in the long run, despite it’s shortcomings.

Who is the mysterious man of mystery? Which mysterious man of mystery is the real mysterious man of mystery? Or is that just another mystery?

Who is the mysterious man of mystery? Which mysterious man of mystery is the real mysterious man of mystery? Or is that just another mystery?

In general, Tales Of Phantasia is a good game but it hasn’t aged well. The archaic combat system of this game is unacceptable to today’s standards but if you’re just looking to re-live some of the series’ history or are wanting to see where many of the best ARPG’s began, you might want to give this a go, it’s definitely a worthwhile experience.

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Story/Plot: Satisfactory
Presentation: Good
Gameplay: Satisfactory
Music: Great
Lifespan: Decent length
Difficulty: Medium
Would you replay? No
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Overall: Satisfactory

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Value: £25.00

Grandia 2 Anniversary Edition Review

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Of all the many games to be re-released, Grandia 2 Anniversary is the only time I’ve ever forked over money for a game I have already played. My reasons for this were simple. Grandia 2 Anniversary is available solely on PC. Now considering the fact that PC is my main platform for games these days (subject to change) I chose to purchase the game for convenience reasons, in other words no more plugging in my PS2 to play it. I could now play through this game in all its glory once again and I’ll tell you one thing for sure, the second visit to this game alone was worth every penny… even though I could have done so for free. Grandia 2 is worth another playthrough without a doubt.

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At least they didn’t call it “The Battle Of Good And Evil Anniversary Edition”

Now before we discuss the remaster itself, lets talk about the game. Grandia 2 is the sequel to Grandia 1 and is set in a completely new setting with new characters. Basically the game is completely different from Grandia in a lot of ways. I haven’t played the original Grandia but based on the knowledge I have of the game, it seems to function very differently.

So all in all, Grandia 2 feels like a standalone title and doesn’t require any experience of the first game to enjoy it. If you are looking to jump into the series or are just looking for an amazing JRPG, you could do far worse than Grandia 2. If you’re a newcomer to JRPGs I highly encourage you to start with Grandia 2 as it is quite possibly the most definitive JRPG experience you will ever experience. Only trouble is… you’ll feel a bit spoiled by the end and may struggle to appreciate other JRPGs which fail to meet the same standards in which this game set.

The story of Grandia 2 is straightforward for the most part. It is best described as “A run-of-the-mill JRPG experience with an unexpected twist of satire coated in dozens and dozens of euphemisms to keep things clean”. As such, the characters of this game aren’t the usual bunch… save for maybe two.

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Enter Ryudo, the snarkmeister.

The protagonist, Ryudo is what you’d expect from such a satirical-driven game. Ryudo is a lovable, yet sarcastic bastard (that’s an understatement) who takes pleasure in being an asshole. His dark past has led him to become rather cold and pessimistic but his cynical disposition gifts him with a unique, dry sense of humor… often at the expense of others. His unorthodox vocabulary may lead some confused… but others amused, nevertheless the delivery of his lines is priceless. Worth the price of admission in itself. Ryudo is without a doubt the best written protagonist in a JRPG and if you disagree, you probably hug too many trees.

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Personality aside, Ryudo is a geohound (euphemism for a mercenary). Accompanied by his talking pet bird Skye (dubbed by the legendary Paul Eiding), he takes on numerous jobs for cash, usually involving monster slaying among other things. He is renowned for his trade which often invokes resentment among the populace but rather than being bothered by their hateful remarks, he shrugs it off… usually accompanied with a snide gag to put them in their place.

Despite his rough upbringing, Ryudo, unlike most JRPG protagonists doesn’t tend to distance himself from others, rather he tolerates others so long as they don’t get in his way. He is highly sociable though his crude mannerisms tend to turn others away. As a result, Ryudo spends most of his life as a social outcast, save for his partner Skye, he is a lone wolf.

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Bird is the word!

Ryudo later meets Elena, a pious songstress who’s on a mission to perform an exorcism. Elena is literally the definition of a goody two shoes… So much so that she comes across as both obnoxious and frustratingly naive towards Ryudo. Ryudo is tasked with escorting her to an exorcism and takes every single opportunity he can to poke fun at her for her lack of caliber.

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This offers a unique dynamic rarely seen in JRPGs these days and its this dynamic that surprisingly many JRPGs lack. Banter… though not always the pleasant kind. It’s this which makes Grandia 2 so memorable and the characters strong. As more characters join the group, more banter unfolds.

Speaking of unique dynamics, unlike standard JRPGs where the NPC’s talk to you and you walk away, Grandia 2 makes the NPC’s relevant by adding character interaction whilst talking to them as opposed to them talking to what might as well be a brick wall. This gives more life to the world and more personality to the characters and setting. It’s a truly unique experience that cannot be missed.

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In addition, the game has dinner scenes offering even more character interaction, these just simply cannot be missed… unless you’re not interested in JRPG storytelling in which case, you can skip over half the game’s dialogue. They are essentially the skits from the Tales series done right and are usually far more relevant in comparison.

To feed your curiosity, I made a video to showcase one of these dinner scenes:

(Playstation 2 footage)

Overall the story manages to stand out from other JRPGs despite its common approach to storytelling. If you’ve played other JRPGs you’ve likely seen it all before… but just not in the same way. Though Grandia 2 is mostly lighthearted, it can be surprisingly dark at times, sometimes too dark. Despite all this the characters hold everything together so well that you almost forget about the archaic plotline (though if we consider its release date it was pretty unique for its time).

“A run-of-the-mill JRPG experience with an unexpected twist of satire coated in dozens and dozens of euphemisms to keep things clean”

I really like the whole campy feeling this game has. It really makes it feel surreal, in a good way. The characters, particularly Ryudo approach dangerous situations without blinking an eye, usually saying something awesome or witty like a classic 80’s action movie. Sure it isn’t realistic and all… but its a JRPG and I tire of the constant melodrama among JRPG casts, especially if it follows a conventional plotline (White Knight Chronicles anyone?). Despite this, the story is written in a way that it manages to make a huge impact in the latter half of the game and though there’s a tiny bit of melodrama in there, its cut short by the “getting shit done vibe” before it gets out of hand… I’m looking at you Edge Maverick.

It’s this reason that I consider Grandia 2’s story to be purely satire, it doesn’t take itself seriously half the time and when it does, the game still feels like a barrel of laughs due to how generic everything is but you can’t help but love every minute of it. It makes a mockery of generic RPG stories with it’s campy yet well written dialogue which doesn’t hesitate to add some cheesy lines in there to further intensify the satire, it works so well that it makes for a great JRPG story in itself.

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The core gameplay of Grandia 2 could be considered mildly archaic to todays standards but it still manages to stand out from other JRPGs of its time with its unique style of combat. Grandia 2 combines the ATB system from Final Fantasy and mixes it with the turned based style of older JRPGs and instead of using the ATB system to apply tension, it uses it to apply strategy.

Gameplay video:

(Playstation 2 footage)

Grandia 2 is a very easy game to master once you know the mechanics and when best to use them. As such I couldn’t recommend this game any more to newcomers, its one of the best JRPGs to start with. The combat is rather satisfying and never outstays it’s welcome.

Battles follow a simple mechanic called the “cancel” mechanic which allows you to push enemies back along the “IP gauge” (the game’s ATB gauge) to essentially cancel out it’s turn. The IP gauge may appear confusing at first and if you don’t pay attention, you may get hammered pretty quickly but once tamed, you will find yourself controlling every battle.

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One of the complaints I made about the original Grandia 2 is that it was too easy. The gameplay on normal difficulty doesn’t punish seasoned JRPG veterans and it led to the game feeling like a cakewalk. Grandia 2 anniversary edition attempts to rectify this with the game’s new hard difficulty. What are my views on hard difficulty you ask? I personally believe it is falsely advertised as “normal” but it does manage to add some extra challenge to the game and I did have a few moments where the bosses nearly kicked by ass but I still never saw a single game over screen. Nevertheless I still found the game to be of a reasonable challenge on hard difficulty and I recommend all JRPG vets to play it on hard right from the get go.

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“Expect an early winter… with lots of snow”!!!

On Hard difficulty the enemies move along the IP gauge much faster, so you have to think more. I enjoyed this challenge a lot more and the game definitely rectified itself in this department. Overall though I’d say the gameplay is still a fun romp, it’s very simplistic but unique. I couldn’t recommend this game any more to newcomers in this department, veterans should play on hard mode like me to get the most out of it.

“The IP gauge may appear confusing at first and if you don’t pay attention, you may get hammered pretty quickly but once tamed, you will find yourself controlling every battle”.

Now in my previous review I talked a lot about the character management but after a bit of research, I found out that a lot of the information I gave was false, sorry about that. In any case, hard difficulty has opened me up to new strategies and has made the character management much more essential than normal which is refreshing.

Sure there are still a lot of imbalances (lotus flower anyone?) but I found that a lot of the moves that I claimed to be useless actually came in useful whilst playing hard mode. Sure there are still a lot of useless moves and spells (I never found much use for freeze at all in this game) but I find that hard mode has opened up new possibilities. As such I can safely say that character management serves a greater purpose than it did in the original game.

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Now for those unfamiliar with the character management of Grandia 2, I’ll explain. Grandia 2 offers total freedom over your character progression. This may turn off some people but it is definitely inviting to those who love freedom. Of course with freedom, there are exploits so I strongly recommend (and this goes for any game which focuses on freedom in character management) that you avoid all guides, forums or any form of conversations over gameplay so that you are not spoiled the fun of character management.

You are given 2 different currencies to develop your character’s skills, much like Star Ocean, you can spend these to put points in skills, moves and spells. These two currencies are special coins and magic coins. Special coins develop moves and general skills, magic coins develop spells and skills relating to spells. These coins are dropped by enemies along with experience so you’re able to break the monotony between battles by developing your character on the fly… not that battles are monotonous to begin with (dat battle theme never gets old).

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Spells are developed separately from characters. Instead of binding spells to each character, there is a pseudo materia style item called a mana egg. These mana eggs can be equipped to any character and whoever equips them gets access to its corresponding spells. Mana eggs are developed exclusively with magic coins and are completely separate from characters. There are several eggs each with their own set of spells. Each egg has 3 pages of magic and to learn them all, you must first master lesser spells and by doing so you will unlock new ones. This makes things a little trickier as you don’t know the spells available in each egg so you have to be careful what spells you want to develop.

Now here we get to the bad stuff. Grandia 2 is an excellent game without a doubt and please note that the vast majority of these issues are found in the anniversary edition and I will notify those issues which are found in said edition. The Playstation 2 version is constantly ridiculed by people for being a bad port. I disagree, the Playstation 2 version worked perfectly fine for me. However I own the PAL version which is said to lack the problems of the NTSC version. Ultimately though, if you live in Europe or the UK, the PS2 version is the definitive version as it doesn’t have any major issues like the NTSC PS2 version has and it’s really cheap. Alternatively you could pick up the anniversary edition if you’re looking for more of a challenge but overall the experience is better on the PS2.

If you live in the US, I would encourage getting the anniversary edition… unless the problems I state would prove really troublesome for you, if so then…*sigh* I’ll have to recommend the Dreamcast version (I hate SEGA and it pains me to recommend anything involving that company).

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H..hey, don’t fall asleep on me just yet, there’s still more to cover in this review.

Now before we look at the anniversary edition exclusively, lets look at the issues Grandia 2 has. For starters Grandia 2 has the tendency to lock you out of areas during certain points in the story and force you along a linear path. Though there is some backtracking to be done, the game loves to block out areas of the map you’ve been to previously, preventing you from returning. This can be quite aggravating if you’re deeply invested in the game’s narrative as there are optional dinner scenes and missable NPC dialogue that you can be locked out of and some of this is worth witnessing. Thankfully there are very few missable items in this game… though there are quite a few. Put simply, if you thought Legend Of Dragoon was linear, you’re in for a nasty surprise. Grandia 2’s linearity feels very similar to Legend Of Heroes: Trails In The Sky… heck the game itself is very similar to Legend Of Heroes Trails In The Sky but superior in pretty much every single way in my opinion.

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Only 2 areas available on the map? Linearity at it’s finest…

Put simply, if you’ve played and enjoyed Legend Of Heroes: Trails In The Sky and haven’t played Grandia 2… what are you doing with your life? Get this game right now! Anyways let’s get back on topic. Grandia 2’s biggest flaw is its lack of optional content. Inability to backtrack aside, I would have loved to have seen some side quests here and there. Sure there are a few minigames (i’ll get to those later) and a few diversions but not enough to truly divert myself from the main story. I would have loved to have gone back to Agear Town and rebuild it back to its former glory like Luin in Tales Of Symphonia but sadly it was not to be I guess.

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My final complaint with Grandia 2 in general is the annoying compass which replaces the conventional minimap making traversing certain field sections a nightmare. Seriously Game Arts, why subject us to this torment? Can’t you just put in a conventional minimap like everyone else?

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Anyways I’ve covered all of the issues with Grandia 2 in general, lets look at some of the issues with the anniversary edition. Before I do lets talk about the visuals. Grandia 2 anniversary edition improves the visuals slightly. The lighting is improved, the terrain looks a lot more polished and there are some other small details that have been improved too. That aside we’re finally going to discuss the issues with this port.

First of all I have noticed numerous crash issues throughout the game (PC gaming as it’s finest ;)). I can’t count how many times I’ve been forced to replay certain sections due to crashing. It’s frustrating. Thankfully there is a great abundance of save points in this game which helped out a lot (even if their ability to fully heal your party is exploitable as hell). Still these issues are inexcusable. There have been a few patches here and there so many of the crashes have been fixed though there may be a few un-patched ones still lingering.

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Aside from the random crashes, the other major issue of Grandia 2 anniversary edition is the music synchronization. This has been acknowledged by the developers who claim it is due to framerate issues. Battles in Grandia 2: anniversary edition have the option of running at 60 fps but the rest of the game runs at 30 or lower. Put simply, the framerate is all over the place, certain scenes run at 25 FPS, others at 30, it all depends on how long each scene is played out. As a result, the audio synch is messy so you may not hear certain tracks when you’re supposed to and vice versa.

That’s not to say improvements haven’t been made, there have been several fixes made to the game, including music loop issues. Those are patched now as well as a few major crash bugs.

Aside from all that there are a lot of awkward scenes where parts of the terrain are cut out or certain objects are see through or completely disappear altogether. Funnily enough these issues tend to show up in the game’s more cornier sections which adds some amusement to what would otherwise be an insipid melodrama.

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“We have to ruin this scene… how can we possibly ruin this scene”? ~ GungHo

Finally I’d like to touch on a few more things. The music of Grandia 2 is very dynamic, lighthearted and catchy. The battle music in particular is a real treat to the eardrums. I cannot get enough of the game’s battle music. The music also enhances the emotional investment of the game’s cutscenes in its own unique 80’s cop movie style which Noriyuki Iwadare just loves to display and it gives the game more personality. All in all, the music does it’s job really well and is really memorable, it might not be Valkyrie Profile 2 caliber but it certainly manages to stand out from the rest in this department.

On a final note I’d like to touch on Grandia 2’s minigames. Grandia 2’s minigames are unlike any other game (they’re awful). Grandia 2’s minigames will give you an unforgettable experience (one that will haunt you for the rest of your life). Grandia 2’s minigames are innovative and offer a lot of depth (if you consider incessant button mashing to be depth).

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The first minigame you will encounter pits you in a 1 on 1 contest of strength that will test your skill (ha, more like test your patience). You are given two buttons, one button applies power, the other button applies endurance (just tap the power button 3 times then tap the endurance button, rinse and repeat) it can be quite difficult to manage your power and your endurance (if you have no brain). The rewards for completing this arduous task are worth all the effort (if you like collecting junk that is).

Next up is the nut grabbing minigame, if you thought the arm wrestling minigame was difficult, the nut grabbing minigame proves to be an even greater challenge (challenge? more like ordeal). You are tasked with grabbing nuts from moving pillars before the pink insects drop down and stun you (sounds like a bad Snickers commercial).

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Great minds think alike eh Ryudo?

With all that aside I can say with great confidence that Grandia 2 was worth the second look and that playing the anniversary edition was enjoyable despite it’s shortcomings. I managed to find a lot of new things that I previously missed in my first playthrough. All in all, Grandia 2 is a game that should be cherished and I’m glad it is finally immortalized as a digital classic on Steam so that future generations may too appreciate this legendary RPG.

As for whether you should fork over your hard-earned money for it… If you really loved Grandia 2 and haven’t played it to death, I’d say yes, if you’ve played it to death already, I’d give it a miss. If you’re new to the series (or the game) or haven’t played a JRPG at all, the anniversary edition would be worth checking out. All in all, the port has it’s problems (like many of its previous ports) but it also improves on a few things which were lacking in the previous versions. Regardless of which version you get, Grandia 2 is a must play for all JRPG fans and a great game to get invested into the genre. If you’re curious and haven’t tried a JRPG before, I’d say give it a try, you’ll either love it or hate it and if you hate it, at least you’ll know where you stand.

“Grandia 2 is a game that should be cherished and I’m glad it is finally immortalized as a digital classic on Steam so that future generations may too appreciate this legendary RPG”.

Personally I think Grandia 2 is the perfect example as to how a traditional JRPG is executed to cater to all audiences. I would even go so far to recommend it over Valkyrie Profile 2 (my favorite game of all time).

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That may be so… but I feel that this review has gone on long enough…

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Story/Plot: Exceptional
Presentation: Great
Music: Exceptional
Gameplay: Great
Lifespan: Decent Length
Difficulty: Very Easy
Would you replay? Yes
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Overall: Exceptional

silver-star-of-awesome sized

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Value: £40.00+