Beautiful japanese mythology action adventure game starring Amaterasu the sun goddess in wolf form. Waking up from a long slumber, the quest is to restore the for some reason extremely cursed lands to full beauty. So off the do god-wolf things you go, finding divine weapons and celestial brush techniques on the way. A big mechanic is using the brush for restoration and various god miracles to manipulate reality, all in a very folkloric way.
It is a long journey in three acts, and the all the locales you encounter are stunning and full of nice spins on japanese mythology in terms of important people and plotlines. There's also a ton of side quest foolishness and minor characters to engage with and side nooks to explore, and while it is never required the world feels inviting and it's nice to take time off from the main quest to feed the animals or dig up holes or some such. With the entrancing appeal of the visuals and music this is a very fulfilling game to play.
The format for Atelier mainline games 9 and 10 is an alchemy school life RPG. Each chapter is half of a semester where you need to get a certain amount of grades in your selected courses to pass. Get straight As, and you'll have more free time units after. Get bad grades and you'll get detention duties...free time is used to muck around and dive into your party members' character quests, and after that comes the climax of the chapter in the form of a dungeon and some plot.
The tasks -> plot flow, field exploration and battle system are very similar to Atelier Iris 3 with some refinements. This works out well, as the excellent time card battle system now offers some more bite to fight back and a character switching mechanic between front and back ranks in form of support attack/defense skills to make things more dynamic. Little touches regarding the school setting really sell the experience, such as various pieces of music changing with each year. There is a fun cast of very strange characters to interact with each other - this time taking more of a comedic hijinks approach where Vayne's defeatist tendencies bounce off everyone else's screwball schemes he gets dragged into every single time, but it's also able to turn on the heartstrings for the more serious bits of plot in the endgame.
There's also a sequel for more of the same except everything is dialed up to 15, including the new cast's dynamic with everyone being some sort of comedic sociopath so it goes for the rougher chuckles. The result doesn't end up feeling quite as genuine though it is still a good game. Aside from some annoyance with the grow book system where you have to create items to be able to power up your characters and then also gain enough points to actually do that which is kind of tedious there is nothing to complain about in Mana Khemia. Just a rock solid RPG fun time with a great cast, battle system and of course, the tunes.
The draconic RPG series lands on the PS1 and now has the chops to match its ambition. The world and scenario are definitely the first highlights that come to mind when thinking about this one. The juxtaposition between the first half where the main character is a largely carefree (dragon)child trying to make it in the world who inevitably gets caught up in a web of fate and the second half with the cast all grown up and focused on their mission to go on a journey to the most desolate part of the world in order to get answers from god, complete with mood-appropriate change in musical themes, is excellent. The world is populated by beautiful sprite animation that gives character to its many strange inhabitants, and has plenty to do and explore as well. Battles are standard RPG fare, with a solid sense of design and again, excellent animation and even bits of voice acting. This odyssey's simply a joy to play through.
Another fine one from the dank RPG repository that is the PS1 library. This takes on more eerie aspects as humanity has existed in symbiosis with creatures called Seru but a decade ago the Mist suddenly engulfed the world and turned the Seru on humans. You start in one of the small settlements that is walled off from the Mist but that is, of course, very short-lived. However you get some help to awaken a special world tree that can repel the mist in a radius, and once you have your hometown situation sorted out you take on the quest of hopefully ridding the world of the Mist.
The Mist-filled areas gain their considerable ambience from a dreary palette and percussion heavy disrupted music. Many of these abandoned or otherwise gone wrong areas feel like something from a survival horror game, and exploring them is a vivid experience. On the other hand whenever you manage to restore an area it is bathed in warm, earthen colors, vibrant music and bustling people, making it feel like a real triumph. Pushing back the mist step by step and learning about what's going on is engaging, and the battles where your basic combos are basically turn-based tekken juggles with full voice acting including the (humanoid) enemies are an audiovisual treat. There's also random nonsense to engage in like fishing and as such this game covers all the bases of a big good RPG journey.
What I personally consider to be the peak of the Wild Arms series. While later installments were more game-shaped objects this one is just strange and janky and wonderful. It has a manic energy where everything is constantly happening but mixes it with muted colors, surprisingly grounded characters and a rather muddy and gritty scenario where for a while it is rather unclear for whose sake you or anyone else are doing things but it eventually crystallizes nicely into themes about the meaning of heroism while maintaining each character's strong sense of inviduality.
Some of the odd feeling can be attributed to the translation which is bad, but an atypical charming bad that somehow manages to get its themes across through the garbled nonsense (and is amusing besides). I find that enhances the game. Gameplay-wise it is a strict midpoint between WA1 and WA3, maintaining the light puzzle focus while expanding the array of fun secrets in the world (which is massive, because this is Wild Arms after all) and making the battles a bit more interesting, but not going all out on hiding critical quality of life things like WA3. Boasting enjoyable exploration and a surreal plotline that finds grounding in its character work, Wild Arms 2 is a very unique, memorable and entertaining experience throughout.
Perhaps the finest games of the PC-X8 era, Ys I & II offer a brisk and earnest high fantasy action RPG adventure filled with warm feelings. Amnesiac Adol Christin washes up on the beach of a village with nothing but the clothes on his back, and in less than 20 hours resolves multiple games' worth of conflict involving myth, goddesses and demons. The world is made of gorgeous pixel art that carries the legacy of PC-X8 sensibilities, the setting is fully steeped in lore and legend, and the music accompanying each area and scene is 100% certified bangers (with three different options of era for the soundtrack, even). Combining all these great qualities with the lightning quick bump system combat, these games are incredibly satisfying to explore and make your way through. The care and love put into the best fantasy RPG story of the 80s shines bright through this remake.
After getting their name on the map worldwide off the success of the original Disgaea, NIS developed a trio of highly ambitious SRPGs for the PS2. The last one of those to come out was Soul Nomad, and it was a drastic shift in direction, with NIS's colorful madness and pile of experimental systems almost seamlessly fused with earthen tones and a dark story about the succession of wars. It begins when three world eaters, gigantic monsters from a past war and suddenly appear and start to ravage the world again. The hero of the previous war from 150 years ago, still alive, chooses herself a young successor who takes up her blade - and ends up partially fusing with the godlike main villain, Gig, from the previous war sealed inside. They set out to amass comrades and armies in order to fight a nearly hopeless war...unless you were to give into the constant whispers of power in your ear...?
The game flow of Soul Nomad is a SRPG in customizable squads-as-units style, every squad has map abilities based on their composition and when they duke it out with each other in skirmish range how it goes is based on the types of units at play as well as their levels and such. It's a bit overly fiddly but works well enough for what it is. As the story unravels there are a lot of various factions past and present that end up intertwining and producing a narrative that has a whole lot going on. There's also an alternate route on NG+ that has the protag fully succumb to evil influence, ally with the most messed up people and ultimately ends up uniting the entire rest of the world against them with an unique and satisfying ending should you lose your final battle on that route, which is some very interesting storytelling. A very bold game in both story and game mechanics, Soul Nomad doesn't succeed on all the shots it takes but it is highly entertaining.
Remake of the ultimate platformer trilogy. First off, there are a few downsides compared to the originals with HD remake best practices stripping the more eerie levels of their charm and the changed platform physics absolutely ruining muscle memory and perhaps even loading screen hints being too bullish on pointing out some of the secrets, but the added levels, entire added relic race mode for Crash 1/2, being able to play as Coco and quality of life features more than make up for it.
The actual games themselves are very simple. You jump the platforms, avoid the obstacles, stomp/spin/slide/avoid the enemies, break the boxes, find the secrets, usually in a sort of a 3D belt-scroller where you go toward the screen but occasionally in 2D sidescrolling, dynamic chase sequences and other sorts of gimmick levels. It's all very fluid and fun and simple to play and nice looking. For further mastery you can try to do the gem challenges in each game, mostly by breaking all boxes in a level but occasionally involving hidden level exits and entrances. There's also a relic race mode which is a time attack but there are marked boxes where breaking them freezes your timer for the marked number of seconds, which adds a fun wrinkle to what could otherwise be a rather rote mode. All games have their own flavor, 1 is sort of janky and hard, 2 is filled with secrets and the overall best entry in the series and 3 just goes hog wild with gimmicks and superpowers. Platforming! It's good.
Do you like my car?
Gran Turismo is the ultimate racing game series, with a huge amount of real cars, tracks, and an elegant appeal that celebrates all facets of motorsport. All the numbered games have slightly different feel and strengths to them, but in general you start off with getting the lowest racing class license by proving your worth in trials and then buy an used car and tune it up to start your career. The sense of progression is satifying, as well as the wide variety of events. The edge that puts the PS3 version over the top is the ability to form an mp3 playlist that plays in game when you race, fulfilling all your Initial Dreams as you hit that perfect drift. Cars! They're good.
Jade Cocoon! Painted as a Pokemon clone by the outlets of the time, even a cursory delve into this title highlights how poor the discourse surrounding games has always been. As the village in the middle of a possibly endless forest that serves as their hometown faces a calamity of infectious locusts, the coming of age childhood friends Levant and Mahbu are thrust into an arranged marriage with each other and tasked with becoming the people's hope to finding a cure within the bounty of the forest and its gods. Levant must risk his life in the art of the Cocoon Master, who is able to bind wounded beasts of the forest into a cocoon and summon purified cocoon beasts to fight for him, and Mahbu takes on a curse visible in the form of advancing bodily marks as she practices the art of purifying cocoons, merging beasts and spinning unneeded cocoons into silk for money. Your entire family is treated coldly as influential villagers believe the current calamity to be caused by your father's disappearance, and so you toil for the sake of people who hate your guts.
Things keep escalating until a particularly striking sequence where the entire village is petrified and Levant has no choice but to go on a solitary journey to nowhere taking the cocoonized Mahbu with him, with only the lush, vibrant, full of life, but devoid of people jungle to keep you company. Even as you find a temple to forest god Elrihm with a few devotees within to make your new home base the feeling of isolation is palpable for the entire game. Remarkable sense of atmosphere. As for the gameplay itself Levant is armed with a small blade, but is better served using his flute to summon captured and purified monsters to fight. You capture and merge these monsters to pass on traits, skills, and most intriguingly physical appearance. Merged beasts take on physical characteristics from each of their parents, creating thousands of possibilities for how your forest creatures will look. The battle system is ultimately very basic but doesn't get in the way.
There is also a sequel on the PS2, Jade Cocoon 2. Taking place a very long time after the first game, civilization has discovered the forests and cocoon masters are tales of legend. Temple of Elrihm is now a place for would-be adventurers, wanting to experience the thrill of exploring the forests beyond the gates and raising beasts to battle, the player character Kahu being one such hopeful. Overseeing the temple's operations and flow of people from his throne is the unaging Levant...it is a game with a very different feel to it, a much more gamey (and playable, with the new 4-way beast amulet battle system) one, and how it all turns out is quite fascinating. With character designs by Ghibli artist Katsuya Kondo and music by the uniquely suited Kimitaka Matsumae, the audiovisual appeal of Jade Cocoon is extremely high, and it is backed up by formidable lore and atmosphere. Gem of a series.
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