Its time for Episode 12 of Indie Impressions, and today I am a bug! A tiny little bug knight, doing tiny little bug knight things in a horrible world destroyed by some cataclysm that I do not understand.
The world of the Hollow Knight. This game is excellent, but it demands something of me that I just do not have when it comes to video games, and that is patience.
Good ol FOMO hit me hard enough that I said screw it and got Borderlands 3. Plus, ya know, I should actually try the EGS instead of just working off hearsay, so there ya are. I talk my BL3 experience, my thoughts on Difficulty in Games and the idea of adding “Easy” modes to em, and answer a coworkers question on my feelings towards the state of Retro Game Collecting.
What have I been up to? Borderlands 3 and UNTITLED GOOSE GAME!
My Impressions on Borderlands 3
Difficulty in Games / Adding in an Easy Mode to Games
The State of Retro Game Collecting
As always you can find the Terminally Nerdy Podcast on:
Google Podcast -Search for Terminally Nerdy Podcast
Authors Note: Yea there are a lot of links in here, but every single creator I mention and link to is worth your time. Check them out, please.
Hey everyone, time for another general muddle on something that has been running thru my head lately, and that’s the hidden “cost” of content creation. As someone who, at this point, has a podcast, a YouTube channel, a Twitch channel, and this website as well as an artist wife, I pretty much have seen or done every form of main content creation out there. And let me tell you, it’s a LOT harder to put out a quality product regularly then you might imagine.
And there are costs to the creator in both time and money, costs that most fans or consumers never realize as it’s in the background, hidden when we creatives do our work.
I am going to try to break down my own experience with doing all this stuff, and how much effort it really can take. I want to give you folx reading this an example of each kind of content creation and the kind of time and effort (and sometimes money) that goes into all aspects of it from a behind the scenes perspective.
Let’s start with my newest venture: Podcasting.
On the surface this seems like the simplest thing to get going. Grab a mic, get with some friends if you wanna do a group show, hit record and go. But it’s much more complex than that. Sure, getting started is easy! I started my podcast in my car using my cellphone microphone…and it shows. That episode, the very first one I did, is pretty messy. You can barely hear me, I sound like I am in a wind tunnel, and it’s just a mess and a half. I have since upgraded to a Lapel mic, and my audio quality has vastly improved, but every time I do a show I get a little better. My flow gets better. As a solo podcaster, I am responsible for everything.
I have had to learn how to work a new software, Audacity, to handle audio (which has helped with my Youtube stuff actually!) for one. I had to go out and pay for hosting, I had to submit my podcast to directories to get it out there, and of course I have to do all the promotion and advertising myself. And mind you, my podcast is SUPER BASIC. I have no ads to edit into it, I have no intro or outro yet. Other than spending $5 a month on Hosting, the cost for my podcast is solely time. First I have to record the episode, which involves getting everything plugged in and making sure the mic is working. Then I record it on my drive, which takes 30-45 minutes. My drive is “wasted time” otherwise, so this is a way to be productive. Mind you, I am generally leaving work during the recording, so it’s a commute in traffic but I always talk to myself anyway, so that’s how I treat this.
To prepare for this recording I have to come up with topics, an order then in a way that makes sense. Once I am done recording, when I get home, I spend about 15 minutes doing some basic noise reduction, I write up the “show notes” which takes another 15 or so minutes, and then I schedule and upload the podcast to my site, Pinecast, and Patreon. All told I spend about 1.5 hours on each podcast episode start to finish. If I was someone like say The White Vault however, this would be WAY more involved.
See the White Vault is an Audio Drama. So for them, they start with writing a script for each episode and sending parts out, then they have to get audio from every one of their actors for those parts, combine and stitch together that audio in the correct way and balanced properly, add sound effects (and make new effects as needed) then do all the self-promo and uploading for each episode. Its nearly a full time job for something like the White Vault (or Welcome to Nightvale, ect). And you can tell in their production quality that they put that effort in. When I asked them just how long an episode takes start to finish (and their eps run about 20 minutes from what I have seen) this is what they had to say, via email. Be ready this is quite an in depth response (its the Italic bit just to be clear).
You know all of this but to your readers – I’m a full time podcast producer & editor. My wife and I create four audio drama podcasts, the most notable being The White Vault– an award winning arctic horror adventure. My credentials are as part of a team that has released 30+ minutes of polished content every two weeks for the past ~4 years, as a well-recognized champion of the fiction podcast community, as an educator who’s talked at dozens of events around the country, and as a full-time creator with download numbers that put my shows in the top 1% of podcasts.
The first question we get after we release an episode is always “Why can’t you just release the next one now,” so I’m more than happy to outline the not-so-hidden time cost of a fully produced, full-cast fiction podcast. It takes us anywhere from 40-80+ hours to create a 30-40 minute episode, which we release FOR FREE every two weeks. That’s an average of 1.7 hours per finished minute, largely split between two people. Yes, this includes a 5 hour buffer for advertising the show because if you don’t advertise the episode your show won’t grow, and this is a discussion on hidden costs, so I’m not pulling any punches. We are very far on the ‘we polish everything to make it sound as good as possible’ side of things because we have a reputation for high quality audio. The breakdown by hour is roughly as follows:
Pre Production: ~22 hours
Discussing what kind of show we want to make and incorporating research into worldbuilding – 7 hours
Writing the script, including the initial season outline – 8 hours
Editing the script – 3 hours between 4 people
Translation (we work with multiple languages in everything we create) – 2-4 hours
*Casting / Auditions – 2-3 hours, not including the actors’ time
*Note: This only happens once per season, though I sometimes forget to cast smaller parts and have about an hour of emails per episode to fill those roles and coordinate scripts with actors.
Production: ~10 hours
Emailing the cast – 2 hours
Recording (our actors record remotely, individually, on their own) – Somewhere between 3-10 hours, cast pending
Recording Retakes (includes emails to and from cast) – 2 hours
Music – Thankfully we use very little music. Our introduction/outro themes take maybe 10 hours to create (composer, musicians, editing, mixing), so 1 hour per episode
Post Production: ~33 hours
*Dialogue Cut (picking the best takes and putting them together) – 6-8 hours
Environmental Sound Design (creating a unique location for the raw voice tracks) – 3 hours
Foley (episode specific sounds, made just for the episode) – 4 hours
Final Editing (anything that’s missing or needs to be tweaked) – 2 hours
Mixing and Mix Revisions (Adjusting levels on every track to sound cohesive) – 6 hours between myself and our engineer
Uploading (to our Patreon/Himalaya+, then to the public through Libsyn a few days later), plugging in credits, descriptions, making episode-specific art for promo – 1 hour
Episode Release Promo (Social media text, posting, monitoring those posts, and replying to comments) – 4-6+ hours
*I’ve literally been given 30 minutes of takes for 20 seconds of lines, so the experience can greatly differ by actor.
These are a lot easier on the pre and post production side. I can easily save 5-15 hours of work in recording, editing, sound design, and mixing. They’re also a lot easier to write. We can create a 40 minute narrative story in about 15-20 hours of work. While some audio drama purist gate keepers claim that they don’t count for various intangible reasons, I’ve been happily listening to audio books my entire life and many of my favorite audio drama podcasts are narrative (NoSleep, Creepy). For a really great example of a powerful narrative audio drama that feels very natural with almost no sound design check out season 1 of Moonbase Theta Out.
Actual Play / Improvised Production Editing
Our D&D Podcast, Dark Dice, is also about the same in terms of the time put in, except that I typically get 45-55 minutes of polished episode instead of 30. Sure we don’t “write a script” but I spend a lot of time before each session writing descriptions for each monster, location, and character so the session goes smoothly. I also prepare text blocks for lore and NPC dialogue. The above numbers are about the same for Post Production as well because I cut a LOT of table talk and silence between tracks to where maybe an hour of content is kept per 2-hour recording session. I also edit combat heavily to where a 10 minute round of combat rolls by in about 80 seconds or less.
I’ve spoken with quite a few improvised audio dramas as well, most notablyMission to Zyxx and they had similar things to report – that you won’t use everything you record, and you will have to edit everything. Their show doesn’t sound great just because they hit record and are great improvisers. They have a really fantastic post-production team that works hard to edit and improve their (already good) raw recordings. If Zyxx is too R-rated for you, check out Civilizedby Fable and Folly Productions for a great example of an edited improvised show.
Finally, in the interest of honesty, keep in mind that while your gaming or improv session “may have only been 2 hours,” it was 2 hours for multiple people. You wouldn’t only pay one employee if four people simultaneously worked 2 hours, so if you’re trying to calculate how many hours you’re putting into your show remember to multiply any action by each person present and actively participating.
For some more great scripted, full cast, audio dramas that make use of full sound design, I highly recommend: *The White Vault – Scientists go to the arctic and discover that they might not be alone. What terrors lurk beneath the ice?
*VAST Horizon – A woman wakes up on a derelict spaceship with numerous mission critical problems. How did she get there and how can she survive?
We’re Alive – LA is overrun with zombies and this is the story of survival. You don’t need to like zombie stories to enjoy this podcast, it’s truly amazing.
The Phenomenon – This is an emergency broadcast. Don’t look outside. Don’t make any noise.
Marsfall – The first colonists to the red planet encounter mission critical obstacles.
Rose Drive – A drunk driver killed his sister in highschool and the reunion is the perfect opportunity for revenge.
*I make these shows.
Podcasting, one of the simplest seeming forms of content creation is actually insanely complex the more you want to do with it. Also everything I am quoting here does not include any research the podcasters have to do on topics, if they are unfamiliar with them. I know Marc with a C of the Discography Podcast frequently mentioned that the research required to do his season on The Who nearly broke him, it was that in depth and involved.
How about Artwork?
Well I have watched my wife work on things like my simple logo or my banner, as well as stuff for our mutual friends Virus and Saevrick. My twitter logo seems on the surface to be pretty simple, yet, it took her 15 hours to do. She sketched it out by hand first, then used that reference to recreate it with her digital tablet. Then had to color it, make sure I was ok with everything, and then put it together. My banner? Took her a few days working 8 hours each day as she custom created the fonts used and everything else. Again, this is a time consuming process, and it’s NOT easy work. Sure, seems easy cause “it’s just drawing LOL” but believe me it’s far from that simple. I remember my wife spending nearly a full week coming up with Saevrick’s logo or Virus MechaMay stuff. It takes a long time to do artwork.
It gets even worse when you are doing work for someone remotely, having to send messages back and forth and deal with payments and unhappy customers and all that jazz. The more detail, the more time. This is the one I have the least personal experience with but having talked to various artists and seeing my own wife at work I have a healthy respect to the sheer amount of time this stuff takes.
What about Writing?
As you are reading this, you are possibly wondering “How long did this monster of a post take to write?” Well I timed myself. About an hour give or take, not including my thinking through how to word things, how to edit things, how to approach and format everything. That was just putting the words down. Then we have another 30ish minutes of just reading it over, editing it, fixing any grammar mistakes that I can find (which I am bad with) and then another 30 minutes getting all the examples put together on this such as screenshots and comments. I happen to type 100 WPM so I am pretty fast, but even then it means a 4k word article (like my Xenoblade Chronicles 2 Review) takes 40 minutes to write, not including everything I do up to that. Like adding in all the links into this post takes time, even if it’s just minutes.
In fact, if you factor in the fact that my written reviews, book or game, take about an hour to write/edit in total, combined with the time it takes me to consume the media BEFORE I write it, they are some of my most time consuming things. Xenoblade 2 in that case took nearly 80 hours total between playing the game and then writing about it, sourcing screenshots, getting gameplay footage, ect. Grim Dawn took nearly 45 hours. Many of the book reviews take around 8-10 between reading the single book and then writing about it. And my series reviews (like the Rick Riordan One) take around 8 hours per novel (I read insanely fast)…and that series had 22 books. Thats a LOT of time spent for something that got me almost no return on the effort.
Writing is brutal, make no mistake. Just like writing this article. And don’t get me started on actual novel writing. There is a reason those take literal YEARS.
Let’s talk Twitch/Mixer/Livestreaming!
With Twitch it seems again simple of the surface. Just hit “start streaming” in your software of choice and go. And if you are just doing it as a hobby yea that’s about all ya need. But what if you want to run a full on Twitch stream as more than that?
Well you need logos and artwork, which either need to be created by you or commissioned by people, which costs you time and money. Then you need to make sure you have your stream overlay setup, and sometimes even change the overlays depending on the game and how the game (or whatever you are streaming) show up. You need to have intro screens, outro screens, and even a Break screen so your viewers are not staring at an Empty Chair. Perhaps you want music to play during your streams at certain points? Bots to run your chat and notify your viewers of things. Commands your viewers can use. Every time you stream you need to make sure your dashboard is setup properly with game title, description, alerts, tags!
Oh and let’s not forget that self-promotion you need to do to notify people you are going live!
Every time I get ready to stream I spend at least an hour before the stream making sure everything is up to date, working, and ready to go. Then you hit that go live button…and things are just beginning. Now you have to be both decent at whatever you are doing, interesting to watch, entertaining, and engaging! Its live entertainment, and the longer you go the more energy it takes. I can usually manage 3-4 hours on a good day, and then I am just beyond tired both keeping up a running commentary of what I am doing on the fly, trying to play the game the best I can, and interacting/chatting with my viewers. Then if you want to keep your footage you need to either download it off twitch or export to Youtube, and decide how you want to present it. Folx like CohhCarnage have entire TEAMS of people working on their background stuff. Cohh himself just hits the button and goes, while he has a team who manage him, his contacts, his overlays, the works.
If I stream for 3 hours, I generally spend a total of 4-5 hours getting everything setup and streaming combined. Once a week I do this on average. Sometimes a bit more if I am getting ready for a new game or setting up bots or whatnot. Nevermind all the networking behind the scenes.
Finally, let’s talk Youtube!
Thinking about how much effort I put into a 10 minute or so video on Youtube is what prompted me to really consider just how insanely time consuming it can be to do content creation, and how little it’s talked about. No one wants to hear about how you spent 8 hours editing a video that’s 20 minutes long, and no one wants to consider that the 20 minute video is going to be seen by like 20 people when you are a tiny Youtuber. Most of my videos, without heavy self-promotion on reddit, get around 10 views within the first week.
And that’s a reality Youtubers face just trying to get going.
I primarily do Indie Impression videos, and my workflow has been refined down to a near science at this point. I do very little in the way of actual editing, and my videos are completely unscripted beyond me talking to myself in my car to practice what points I want to make. Seriously.
Here is my process, start to finish, to make 1 Indie Impressions video:
Play game for at least 2 hours (or more depending on the game, Dead Cells played for 6-8 hours for example)
Record game footage (usually 20-30 minutes’ worth done after the min 2 hour point)
Record audio for video (around 10 minutes average, depends on how much I have to say)
Put video together (about 20 to 30 minutes total to get all the graphics in place and created as well as audio balance and intro/outro stuff)
Render video (render length is equal to video length, so 10 min vid = 10 min render roughly)
Upload video (around 30 minutes to an hour depending on my connection)
Write vid description, tags, and setup Patreon/Blog post (about 30 minutes total)
Do all my own Promotion Work (10-20 minutes)
That’s a rough total time spent PER 10 MINUTE VIDEO of 4+ hours MINIMUM. And I make these videos biweekly, and they are SUPER simple. I mean incredibly simple. I don’t edit out mistakes, I don’t edit out ums and pauses. I don’t do a lot of fancy techniques or have a lot of audio streams to balance. And it still takes me 4+ hours minimum for a 10 minute impressions video. Those few video reviews I have done? The ones that are 45+ minutes? Those monsters took me the entire time I spent on the game (20+ hours for Elex and Kingdoms of Amalur) and then around 6-8 hours of editing / creation / render / upload time. There is a reason I no longer do those sort of videos, and the folx who do like The Golden Bolt, LGR, and Stop Skeletons from Fighting (some of my fav youtubers) have my UTMOST respect with the effort they put in, each and every video. Which is why I watch every video they post start to finish. Their work deserves my time.
So What does this all MEAN to me as a viewer/consumer?
I wrote this entire thing as a sort of “wake up call”. To help folx who don’t do this sort of thing on a regular basis to understand just the sort of effort that goes into your entertainment. Too often people demand “a new video” or “why aren’t you streaming today!” or “where is my podcast” ect ect without realizing that the sheer amount of work it takes to do ANY of this stuff is intense.
Simply put, creators are people, and we spend a lot of our time and energy doing these sort of things. Mind you, many of us smaller ones (like me) also hold down day jobs. I work 40 hours a week, commute for a total of about 20 hours on top of it, and then I get home and immediately get to work trying to push stuff out that feels like it goes unnoticed. And it’s a ton of work and labor. For the Creators who does this as an actual living? It gets wild.
CohhCarnage for example streams pretty much every day, 7 days a week, for 2 blocks of roughly 4 hours each day with a lunch break (he sometimes skips lunch, and the blocks combined equal 8 hours). He has to entertain an audience in the THOUSANDS, all vying for his attention and interacting with each other. He is able to do this with an actual full TEAM of technical experts, artists, and Mods for his stream. LGR works alone, but puts in easily 40 hours a week in research, restoration, recording, editing, and producing his videos. And I spend pretty much all my free time pushing out the podcasts, the writing, the videos, and the streams. I only play games now that I intend to cover in some fashion. Borderlands 3? I did 2 streams on that to justify its purchase. If I buy Cyberpunk 2077 I will have to think of something I can do to “cover it” (prolly talk about it on the podcast). Ect ect.
The hidden cost to content creation is time, energy, and all the work that goes into the finish product, and it’s something many people don’t understand unless they are part of the process it seems.
I hope this has helped you to understand just the sort of work your favorite creators, whomever they are, put into what you consume. We all create for different reasons, but at the end of the day, we all put in a lot of ourselves into this. And I hope you can respect the effort each of us do and continue to support us and our work.
Thanks for reading, be kind to each other and Stay Nerdy everyone.
I spent 75 and a half hours on a journey. A journey through a land called Alrest, with a colorful cast of characters taken straight out of an anime. All in the hopes of eventually taking a woman named Pyra to a land called Elysium. It didn’t start as a journey to save the world or anything. It was simply a boy called Rex trying to take a girl named Pyra to where she was born. And it was amazing.
As of late, JRPGs by and large have not been able to hold my attention. The turn based combat in most of them bores me anymore, the trite anime fantasy worlds feel the same over and over again or feel like they copy older games, and the “save the world with the help of a chosen one!” plotlines that are still used in the genre feel tired and dull. Thankfully, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is none of these things. In fact, the best way I can really describe it is this: a JRPG in Tone, Storytelling, and Characters, but a Western Styled Open World Action RPG in mechanics and playstyle.
I wasn’t sure if I would fall in love with this game either, but over the course of my journey, I found myself pretty much liking everyone. Tora and his odd way of speaking. Poppi and her sass towards her “Masterpon” and childlike nature. Zeke and his completely insane catchphrases (He is the ZEKEANATOR ya see). Morag and her no nonsense attitude and maturity. And even Rex, with his weird obsession with saving everyone, even the villains, from their own anger and hatred.
This is my review of Xenoblade Chronicles 2. A game that, to me, is something a bit special, a bit silly, and has a whole lotta heart.
The anime influence is clear from the get go with the design and style of Xenoblade Chronicles 2. Everything is bright, colorful, and stylized from the costumes that Rex and company wear to the NPCs that populate the world to the enemy designs. However, speaking of enemies, there is a lot of pallete swapping going on, with types looking basically the same (all Bunnits look the same but might be carrying different items in their tails, for instance) and there is a VERY clear line between the costumes and designs of the main cast and characters and generic NPCs. Basically, if someone has an actual outfit that pops, they are a main character vs the NPCs who all wear the same sort of clothes based on the region you are in. It can be a tiny bit jarring at times, because Rex and company (and the rest of the supporting cast) look so vastly different from literally EVERYONE ELSE.
The world design is also something I want to mention. Each Titan Landmass looks visually distinct from the others. Gormott for example is a big lush island, with a swamp, rolling plains, mountains, and a massive tree. Mor Ardain however is a desolate rocky Titan, with a ton of industrial machinery and mining equipment lying down. My favorite, however, is Uraya, which is otherworldly (as you would expect given where the people of Uraya live) with a ton of pools and strange plants laid out in steppes. The Leftharian Archipelago is also a treat, with distinct islands connected by long pathways over the Cloud Sea which gives you some stunning vistas to experience.
Performance wise, most of the time the game works great in Docked mode on the Switch, although some areas like Gormott can have FPS drops and stutters if there is a lot going on, or if the day night cycle shifts making the shadows change. However, there is a noticeable drop in quality the instant you try to go into handheld mode and I personally would avoid doing so. I tried for a bit and just couldn’t handle it.
I love the music in this game. Each area has its own theme, and they all are stellar tracks. Of note, Uraya (again) as well as the final areas of the game are my personal favorites and I really want a copy of the soundtrack so I can listen to these tracks and others.
Just listen to the Uraya Music!
The sound effects are pretty good, with attacks sounding suitably brutal or effective. The battle music is also pretty solid as well, although it can get a bit repetitive at times, as it always can in a game like this. However, you won’t really notice the battle music most of the time because of the in game battle voice clips. And lets talk about that voice acting.
I played with the English voice cast, although you can download a free DLC update to access the Japanese. The English cast for the main group is pretty great, honestly. Most of the voice acting by and large is solid work, although some of the characters can get annoying (Hello Tora…meh-meh!) just due to how the characters vocal patterns and mannerisms are. However, what started to drive me insane are the in battle voice clips.
You see, your characters and the humanoid enemies constantly talk in battle. Special attacks, random quotes, the works. You will hear Rex yell “ANCHOR SHOT” every time you use it, you will here Zeke scream “Dynamic Spark Sword!” whenever he unleashes the blow. And they all overlap in a medley of aural chaos. It can be a mess at times. Your enemies, the humanoid ones at least, also yell things. There is one area of the game where you fight these particular soldiers…and they ALL yell the following phrase: “YER DONE!?” just like that, sounding almost like a question. Over and over. In one fight I had four of these enemies active in a fight and the overlapping yells of YER DONE became a joke to me and my wife. We now wander around the house and will just randomly scream YER DONE?! at each other when we do things.
Also, Rex legit screams “We will defeat you with the power of Friendship” as a battle quote, so that’s a thing. This game really is anime to its core.
Trying to explain this story without giving too much away might be a tad difficult but I will do my best here. This is the story of Rex and Pyra, two people brought together under unusual circumstances and bonded together. Rex has promised to take Pyra to her birthplace, a land called Elysium, which is a mythical land of plenty atop the World Tree, this massive tree that sits at the center of the known world of Alrest.
The big thing here is that Alrest is a world where humans live on the backs of mammoth creatures called Titans, who swim around the Cloud Sea, a literal sea made of clouds. The remains of the previous civilization sits under the Cloud Sea, and people called salvagers (like Rex) make a living diving into the cloud sea and scavenging for relics of the past. It is due to these skills as a Salvager that Rex is hired to accompany some dubious people, and that is how he meets Pyra. From there you travel the world, all with the primary goal of getting Pyra to Elysium. Rex truly believes that the way to fix the world also lies atop Elysium, so he is more than happy to accompany Pyra. It also helps that Rex is very clearly attracted to Pyra very early on, and this attraction grows and forms between the both of them, although neither ever expressly states this till the very end.
Along the way you will uncover plots to destroy the world, deal with terrorist organizations, run from the law, and more. But throughout the game the main goal is always “Get Pyra to Elysium”. Everything else is pretty much secondary to that stated goal by Rex and company.
The world itself is very well realized, with each Titan landmass having its own accents, culture, visual style, and personality. From Tantel being an isolationist country that hides in the Cloud Sea, to Mor Ardain being a super advanced military country, to the Nonpons of the Argentum Trade Guild, every area feels and looks different. There are tons of side stories to undertake as well that expand on both the cast and their relationships (called Heart to Heart events) as well as hidden areas to explore, side quests to discover that fill out the trials of the people of the world, and so on. The main story is also very well written, but also very much anime inspired. At times, it felt like I was playing a Shonen anime in game form, with Rex being a little too positive and naive at times, with him spouting the “Salvagers Code” at random times in an effort to bolster the group or explain his intentions. The villains are pretty straight forward as well, but they all have their motivations, and while the story does try to do the “redeem the baddie” stuff here and there, it doesn’t really take away from anything. Also, I will freely admit that by the end of the game, during the final sequence, I teared up and got a little sad as to what happened between Rex and Pyra.
One of the more unique things about the world that is woven both into the mechanics of the game as well as the narrative is the concept of “Drivers and Blades”. Blades are beings summoned from these crystals called Core Crystals, that resonate with a “Driver”, a person who has the potential to bond with a Blade. Those who do not have the natural talent to resonate with a crystal….well they die. Very very horribly. Rex becomes the Driver to Pyra, and its thru this bond of Driver and Blade that the story really gets shaped. As the narrative progresses, we learn more about how Drivers and Blades interact, where Blades come from, and the way Blades work. There are also the Titans, and we do learn towards the end of the game where they come from as well, and by the end of the narrative we have a full picture of how Alrest was born, the ideas its creator (The Architect) originally had, and its past and future. All in all I was very much satisfied by the story and setting of this game, and really enjoyed every moment of narrative I experienced, even if Rex and Pyra’s attitudes annoyed me at times.
Alright, there is a lot to unpack here with this game. It involves a ton of systems, some of which don’t even seem to connect to each other and at times feel half baked. In fact, this game even still gives you tutorial popups of new features all the way till the last chapter of the game (seriously, there is a pop up right after one of the 2 final boss fights letting you know of a new thing you can do its wild).
Controls are pretty straight forward however. Left stick to move, right stick to control camera. You move in a 3rd person perspective. The B Button on the field is Jump, A unsheathes your weapon if you are targeting an enemy or you using A to activate items or talk to people. R1 targets nearby enemies. ZR (or R2) opens and closes your “quest” tracker, LZ switches your active Blade on screen, X opens up the Fast Travel screen. Y is for auto run although I never used that. The L Button plus the Control Stick or Directional pad can shift the camera around. R3 (Pressing the R stick) changes your map zoom (so mini map, full map, zoomed map, no map). The + key is your menu key to access things like inventory, characters, ect. The – key is to quickly go to your system menu to save the game, change the time of day, and get access to options. You can save almost everywhere which I love.
Combat is where things get a little wild. To start, you must target an enemy, or get its aggro (some enemies can auto attack you if you get too close, like an MMO). Once you target or are targeted you must take your weapon out with A. Then your characters will auto attack with their equipped weapon which is based on the Blade you had out on the field. Your Blades are how you access different weapon types and roles in combat. Each Blade will be either an Attack (DPS), Healer, or Tank type. Each character in your party will have 1 Blade that cannot be removed (Pyra cannot be removed from Rex, for instance, & Nia cannot remove Dromarch) and eventually you will be able to equip up to 3 total blades on each character. Tora is unique in that he can only use Poppi, just as an FYI, and Poppi is a unique Blade with her own set of mechanics that will take way too long to go into here.
One combat has started you will have access to 3 “Weapon Skills” mapped to your X, Y, and B buttons. These charge up during combat, and can be unleashed to do more damage and have added effects such as Break, Spawn Healing Potions, Heal the Party, Grab aggro, ect. You can check these effects in your Weapon Menu in the character screen. Each Weapon Type goes with a Blade Role as well (so Hammers are almost always TANK weapons, Katanas are Tanks, ect) but it also depends on the character. Rex will have different attacks when using Fist weapons then Nia will, for example. You also get a Special which is unique to the Blade, mapped to A. This special can charge up to 4 levels during combat. Your DPad will be used to eventually switch between your equipped blades (Up, Down, and Right) and also set your team to Target specific enemies (Left). Finally, you can switch your target by holding down R1 and pressing B or Y for left and right. You have no control over your party members (and you will have 2 party members plus whichever character you are controlling) in fights.
There are 2 big things in combat you need to be aware of: Driver Combos and Blade Combos. Driver combos are activated by chaining specific status effects. Start with Break, then you can hit the Topple status effect, then the Launch effect, and finally Smash. Each character will generally be able to activate ONE of these (Rex can do Topples for example, and with one blade he can do Smash eventually). The window to activate these is pretty small but you can do big damage. You also have Blade combos, which are based on the element of your blade, and those Specials. If you hit an enemy with a level 1 water special, you can combo with say a level 2 water special, and then finally a level 3 water special for big damage. You can use Blade Switching to maximize your potential for both Driver and Blade combos and you will need to learn this to be effective.
Mind you the game will explain all of this to you…exactly once. And never again. You cannot access any of the tutorials the game gives you about combat, or ANYTHING AT ALL, once you have seen them, so you will have to be looking this stuff up on a wiki if you can’t remember it. It took me nearly 40 hours before I FINALLY got the hang of Blade Combo’s and understood what I was doing. Also, the game doesn’t really explain how roles work, or how healing works, or any of that. Thankfully I have played enough MMOs to understand that, in general, you will want 1 Tank character, one DPS character, and one Healer. By the end of the game I had Rex as my healer due to some story stuff, my DPS was Zeke, and my tank was Tora. It worked pretty well. Most of the games combat is going to be up to managing who everyone is targeting, your blade and driver combos, and understanding how to use Chain attacks (yes there is another mechanic that comes way later) to maximize damage.
Character customization is surprisingly detailed as well. Each character has a skill tree you can spend SP on (earn in combat and by doing side quests) that unlock upgrades. Things like being able to use your Weapon Attack mapped to Y at the start of a battle, or more HP or strength, or increased critical chance. Each weapon type has 4 unique skills for it as well, and you can only equip 3. You can also level those skills up with earn WP, again which you get from combat and side quests. Finally, each character can equip 2 “Accessories” which can do all sorts of things like increase aggro generation, boost auto attack damage, grant increase damage with specific weapon types, and so on.
Blades also come in 2 types: Rares and Commons. Rare blades have unique names, art, and skills. Each blade will also have an “Affinity Chart” which has nodes that increase their Special Attacks, their passive skills, and their Field Skills. All blades have Passive Skills that do things like “Heal the party every second while at max Affinity” or “Increase damage when under 30% health” and Field Skills which are used for skill challenges on the world map. You might find a chest, for instance, that needs several levels of Lockpicking to open. That’s a Field Skill, and the more Blades you have equipped that have Lockpicking as a field skill, the more levels you have access to. The game does not tell you that your characters who are NOT in the active party will contribute to this.
An example: You have 4 total available party members. 3 of them are in your active team, one on the bench. You run into a chest that needs 8 levels of Lockpicking to access. No single blade will give you that much (at most, you can get 5 from a single blade). But if each of your 4 party members has a Blade with 2 points of Lockpicking, you can switch those blades onto them (equipping the blades) to get 8 total levels of Lockpicking, and beat the challenge. Most of these Field Challenges will unlock treasure, new areas, and more.
There are even more systems, like Town Development which unlocks more stuff in shops, a pouch system that grants Trust to your blades (which is basically how much a blade likes the character, mercenary missions where you can send blades out to do jobs while you play, and a full on gathering system and salvaging minigame. This game has a metric ton going on here, nevermind a full complement of side quests that are pretty involved at times (and quite a few that are just fetch quests too), and the fact that just about every Rare Blade has a “Blade Quest” unique to them that you can unlock as well and sometimes HAVE to unlock to level the blades Affinity Chart further and its just…there is a lot of stuff here. Oh and I almost forgot to mention all the Unique World Bosses that roam areas of the game. Those things can be scary to face.
My biggest single gripe about this game has to do with those Rare Blades. You see, you get some Blades from story moments, like one called Wulfric, or Pyra. However, many Blades are locked inside “Core Crystals” which you get as drops from enemies. Core Crystals are in essence Loot Boxes you cannot buy with real money outside of some that are included in the DLC packs that you can get ONCE. Core Crystals come in Common, Rare, and Legendary types, and there roughly 28 total Rare Blades in this game. I opened all my Crystals, and I think I got about 12 Rare Blades from them, plus I have all the Quest Rares. Most of the time, I got Common blades, which can vary in quality and usefulness in the extreme. You also have a limit to how many Common Blades you can carry, and Blades have to be bonded to specific characters and can only be moved thru the use of “Overdrive Protocol” items. So if you mistakenly get a healer blade on a character you want to use as DPS, you will be stuck unless you have one of the rare Overdrive Protocol items.
Now, as always, here is some gameplay footage showing off both the exploration, combat, and even the salvaging minigames as well as menus, blade systems, and all the various charts. PLEASE BE AWARE THERE ARE SOME MINOR SPOILERS REGARDING WHO JOINS YOUR PARTY. I CANNOT HELP THIS AS THIS IS MY END GAME SAVE FILE. I also access one of the DLC Features called the Challenge Mode for the first time to show you combat as well as some of the voice acting and cutscene stuff.
Look, it takes a special sort of game to grab my attention for as long as Xenoblade Chronicles 2 has. The last JRPG to manage this, to make me actually WANT to finish, was Persona 4 on the PS2. Beyond that, most of the games I play with long playtimes are things like Fallout 4, Path of Exile, Dragon Age Inquisition, and so on, and generally those are over multiple sessions over long periods of time with breaks for other games mixed in and frequent restarting. But Xenoblade?
I have basically been playing that exclusively outside of my Indie Impressions games, and honestly I am not done with the game yet. I still want to complete more Blade Quests and try to collect all the remaining Rare Blades (which means farming Legendary Core Crystal drops). There is a New Game Plus mode that unlocks special Blades and secondary skill charts for all the characters. I have the DLC Torna the Golden Country which is something like 20 more hours of content that goes over the Aegis War time period. But now that I have finished the main story of the game I feel I can take my time, and do things when the mood strikes me. But my time with Rex and company isn’t over yet.
And if what you have seen here interests you I urge you to consider picking this game up. Its $60 on the Nintendo Switch Store, and it was well worth every penny for me, personally, even if it’s got some oddball issues, some strange mechanical quibbles, and the goofiest voice acting at times.
So…I gotta ask myself…YER DONE?!
No. No I aint. But Alrest has been saved, at least for now, so it’s time to move on for a while. Thanks for reading, and as always treat each other kindly and Stay Nerdy. We can defeat the evils of the world with the power of Friendship indeed, Rex-Rex.
A cute little game where you run a shop while also delving into horrible dungeons full of horrible monsters in search of loot to sell at said shop.
No I am not talking about Recettear, but rather the indie game Moonlighter, the focus of Episode 11 of Indie Impressions! Will I be able to amasses massive piles of gold while also being a hero? Maybe!
Welcome to my second episode! This is the first episode with my new Lapel mic, and its pretty damn loud? Hope I got the noise reduction done well enough. Today I bring ya what I have been up to, and then a discussion specifically on the Nintendo Direct from 9/4/19 and what about it caught my attention.
Its time for the 4th Special Edition of Indie Impressions, and specifically I am looking at an older game that just recently got a Switch Port. That of the action RPG by Runic Games and published by Perfect World, Torchlight 2. Can this Diablo Clone hold up on a home console?
Welcome to the Bait Shop, come right in! Missing the manticore? Well he got tetchy so we replaced him with Greg. Who is Greg? Well he is the red dragon behind me. Pay him no mind, as long as you don’t try to steal you should be fine.
Here in the Bait Shop we have many fine wares to tickle your brain meats! What? You thought we carried such drab materials as potions or swords? BAH! What we deal in…is inspiration! Need a story? Come in and see what catches your fancy! Need a plan to deal with those dastardly adventurers? We got barrels full of em.
This is still a problem and no one seems to be able to solve it. Perhaps I should put an exclamation point over the barrels. That usually attracts hardy adventurers.
Today on offer, I present the following 5 pieces of Bait! Perhaps one will tantalize you? Entice you? Inspire you?
Oh and no charge, at least for today. Consider these a fine sample of our wares. Welcome to the Bait Shop. I hope you can hook a good one with these!