TN’s Indie Impressions – CrossCode

A 16bit era styled ARPG?  You would think this would be right up my alley.  I certainly hope I dont get eggs on my face…or balls.

Prolly Balls.

And always remember…STAY NERDY!

CrossCode on Steam: https://store.steampowered.com/app/368340/CrossCode/

Book Review – United States of Japan & Mecha Samurai Empire by Peter Tieryas

A new book review?  On two books at once?!  What madness is this!  But yes, dear readers, it’s time for me to bust out my reading cap this year and get back in the swing of things.  I posted on my Goodreads Profile that I was going to be trying to read at least 26 books this year (one every two weeks) and after seeing a tweet posted by WriteLeeWrite on twitter that posted some book titles I knew I had to check one (Mecha Samurai Empire, specifically).  Also can I just say I am proud of my 2019 Challenge Results?

Imagine my surprise when I found out it was part of a loose series and there was a book called United States of Japan set before that, and an upcoming book called Cyber Shogun Revolution.  The author Peter Tieryas did confirm on twitter that while these three books are set in the same universe they are not really connected narratively.  But I will get into that.  Let’s talk about these two books!

United States of Japan

The basic premise of this book (And really the series) is that the Allies lost WW2.  America has been effectively split in half between Japan and Nazi Germany.  The East Coast belongs to the Nazi’s, the West, the Japanese Empire.  The book opens with the final moments of the war coming to a close and a bunch of Japanese Internment camps being freed by the Imperial Army.

From there the book fast forwards to the 80s, and we meet our protagonist Beniko aka Ben.  He is head of the Office of Gaming Censor and a Captain in the Imperial Army, where he basically has to monitor all the “poritcal” games (cell phones, basically) and make sure there are no thought crimes or dissent happening.  He is quickly shown to be pretty blasé about most things, a sort of go with the flow character, but he does show some irritation about certain events like being passed over for promotion and the like in the military.

However, things change for him after he gets a mysterious phone call from an old general he knows asking him to give his (The generals) daughter a proper Christian burial rather than a standard Japanese / Shinto one.  This call ends up getting Ben mixed up in a strange case headed by the Tokko, the empires Secret police, involving terrorists calling themselves the George Washingtons who are somehow distributing a portical game where the US won WW2 rather than the Japanese.  From there, Ben and the Tokko Agent Akiko dive into the underworld of The USJ to determine who created the game, its purpose, and along the way uncover dark secrets about the Empire.

There is a lot going on here, and the themes of the book deal with honor, resistance, race, loyalty, and so much more.  It’s very political, and has some disturbing bits involving graphic depictions of torture which I did not expect.  Peter clearly knows what he is talking about however, and he doesn’t glorify ANY of the atrocities that occur in his world on any side.  The idea of a police state, with heavy monitoring and thought crimes being dealt with (and with only one outcome generally) show a bleak possibility of our own future.  This book is kinda like the Bourne movies in a lot of ways, now that I think about it.  High stakes espionage and mysteries abound.

The twists and turns do not let up and I could not put the book down, with new revelations about the characters and their pasts coming at just the right moments to make you go “WHAT!  OH THAT EXPLAINS IT!”.  The ideas presented with futurized tech in the 80s are also fascinating to me.  If you are a fan of alternate history and sci fi, well you should read this.  It’s very much a “crime thriller” styled book, so keep that in mind.  Frankly I don’t want to say too much more as a great deal of my enjoyment from the book was the mystery and world building.  Akiko, as a character, took a little while to grow on me but she eventually did, and Ben was just a trip to learn about as the book progressed, especially as his personal history was slowly revealed.  The ending was bittersweet and a bit abrupt, but overall a solid finale.

Within 24 hours of purchasing this book I finished it, and was instantly wanting to jump to the second book, Mecha Samurai Empire.  So I did.

Mecha Samurai Empire

Set this time in the 90s, and about 10 years after the events of United States of Japan, Mecha Samurai Empire is the story of Makoto, aka Mac, and his dream of becoming a world class Mecha Pilot.  This is a VERY different book from the last one.  First, its told in a first person rather than third person perspective.  We see the world from Mac’s point of view, and we see his life from his high school days right up to him achieving his goals and the results of all his hard work paid off.

It opens with Mac seemingly giving the readers a tour of his life.  He likes to go to the Arcade with his best friend and spend his time playing portical games.  Mac is a War Orphan, his parents killed in the 2nd San Diego conflict (Which we see the beginnings of at the tail end of USJ), and the government had assigned him a foster family and has been paying for his schooling.  His goal, his dream, is to become a Mecha Pilot and get into BEMA.  However, we are also shown that he is a rather average student as far as his studies go, and while he is solid at the simulations and games he really isn’t suited, at least as far as his school is concerned, to be a Mecha Pilot.

After events take place during his High School his life gets much more complicated, and we follow him as he works his way through his life to eventually becoming a Mecha Pilot.  We learn more about his history, secrets about his parents are revealed, and we get to see him interact with lots of interesting characters.

As a character, Mac is interesting.  He has a goal and a singular focus on that goal, and his life does not make that an easy thing to achieve.  You cheer for him as he struggles against all odds, against a system that seems dead set to prevent him from achieving his goals.  We see how war orphans are treated in the USJ and the sorts of things that are still taking place even if the timeline has advanced.  We also run into characters from the first book, who interact with Mac and take an interest in him.

Further, the background plot of the book deals with a new terrorist organization called NARA as well as rising tensions with the Nazi Germany half of the world.  Eventually this plot is brought front and center and Mac has to deal with old friends and issues that occurred in his life earlier in the book.  The climactic battle is a full on assault by the Nazi’s with their horrible Biomechs (Which are fully explained and let me tell you, its messed up!) against Mac and his friends, set in the city of Berkley.

A big part of this book, obviously, are Mecha.  The depictions of their combat, the various types of Mecha that USJ uses, and the pomp and circumstance around the Pilots are excellent.  A high point of the book for me is the BEMA Mecha Tournament that occurs about 60% of the way into the book.  Watching Mac cut loose and show just how good of a natural pilot he is was awesome, as was seeing how he handled the various opponents.  Also, later on there is a ton of video game references that had me laughing.  Double Dragon, Chrono Trigger, and Mega Man 2 are all referenced as well as some other stuff like Godzilla and Anime.  Also the nature of the ending sequence and the team make me think of Super Sentai shows.  And the ending, this time, was on a more positive note, even given the nature of the final battle and all that takes place.  Mac’s journey was, in the end, worth it.

Overall Thoughts

 Both books are very well written, but I preferred Mecha Samurai Empire overall.  The style of the book, its focus more on a single character and that characters journey, and the plot and ending make it the better of the two.  However, I strongly suggest if you are interested in this series to read the first book first.  While in truth the two novels are not directly connected plot wise, the fact that characters from Book 1 show up and play a major role in Book 2, plus the fact that Book 1 really holds the worlds backstory, makes it almost needed reading in my opinion.

There is also a third book on the way titled “Cyber Shogun Revolution” that is due out  3/3/2020 and may already be out by the time you find this dear reader.  Given how much fun and enjoyment I got out of these previous books I am most assuredly going to pick that up, and possibly update this review with it once I have read it.

You can pick up both these books on Amazon, and if you are a fan of Anime, Mecha, Sci Fi, and Thrilling adventure, I strongly urge you give these a shot.

The USJ Series on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07T3HSM91?ref_=series_rw_dp_labf

TN’s Indie Impressions – Valdis Story: Abyssal City

Ever wanted to be a JRPG hero in a world of Angels, Demons, and Underwater Secrets? How bout a dude wielding a big fuck you sword? No I am not referring to Final Fantasy Seven but rather the clearly Symphony of the Night inspired Metroidvania Valid Story: Abyssal City.

The title is way too long if you ask me.

Valdis Story Abyssal City on Steam: https://store.steampowered.com/app/252030/Valdis_Story_Abyssal_City/

TN’s Indie Impressions – Daemon X Machina

Heavy Metal Action. Thats what Daemon X Machina is all about. Being a big stompy robot, shooting other big stompy robots, and doing it to some killer metal music. Best played in short bursts if you ask me, but the real question is this: Are you a metal enough person to save the Earth from an invasion from the Immortals?!

Daemon X Machina on Switch: https://daemonxmachina.nintendo.com

And always remember…STAY NERDY!

The Terminally Nerdy Podcast #7 – Mercernaries (April 2019)

Back in March of 2019, I had a chance to sit down with Matthew Mercer, famed Voice Actor & Dungeon Master on Critical Role. I got talk to talk to him for an hour and a half about his life, his interests outside of TTRPG, video games, cooking, and more. Originally this was a “video” on Youtube, but I decided to take it down from there, and host it here instead. The audio is a little rough, and due to how we recorded (Via Discord) there are some hiccups, but overall I think this is a decent interview.

BTW the Video we reference where I critized Critical Role can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fdmbLjNzlwI

This is a reupload of the original interview, however its in Pure Audio Form.  You can find the episode at any of the links below.

Support Terminally Nerdy on Patreon at http://www.patreon.com/terminallynerdy
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Xenoblade Chronicles 2 – A Review

75 and a half hours.

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.

VISUALS

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.

AUDIO

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.

Oh and the entire soundtrack (as covers, but good ones) is available to listen to on Spotify.

STORY & WORLD

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.

GAMEPLAY

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.

FINAL THOUGHTS

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.

TN Talks with Matthew Mercer – Yes, Really.

Yes, you are reading that correctly.  Back on the 31st of March, I had the privilege of sitting down with the man, the myth, the legend known as Matthew Mercer for an hour and thirty minutes to discuss all sorts of things.  Comically I released this to my Patrons and advertised its existence on the 31st of March…and April 1st.  I imagine a lot of people assumed it was an April Fool’s joke, but I assure you, as you can see here, it was not.  Timing is not my strong suit obviously.

For the talk, rather than focus on Critical Role the Show, I decided to take a different tack.  We discussed cooking, his voice acting career and how he got into it, video games and his history with them, his early days with tabletop RPGs, and then both Critical Role as a Business and the CR Kickstarter.  It was a fascinating dive into the man behind the name, and I hope you enjoy listening to this as much as I enjoyed talking to Matt himself.

Also, we mention another video of mine, the one that got me & him talking originally, and for reference that video is this right here:

My stance that video originally discussed has since changed, and I do go over those changes in this post on this very site, so please bear in mind the video is old and I am only posting it for reference.

Perhaps, in the future, I will have a chance to talk to others in the world of video games and tabletop rpgs, but that is a thought for another time and only assuming people enjoy this.

So Enjoy, share it around, and I hope you all have a great day and as always thanks for reading everyone and Stay Nerdy!  Make sure to follow me on TwitchYoutubeTwitter, and join my Steam Group and Steam Curator pages!  Pledge to my Patreon!  Spread the word on social media & help me get out there so I can bring even more content to the masses.  You do want more content yes?

Impressions: Soul Worker

I love me a good brawler and dungeon grinder at times. On some days, all I want to do is sit down and relax by slaying tons of enemies in very flashy and stylish ways.  When my wife and I were looking for a new game to try I ran across Soul Worker, and I discussed it a bit in a previous post but decided since I spent around 25 hours now playing it, I would write up a more detailed impressions on my time with the game.  For those curious, Soul Worker is a Korean Action RPG MMO which uses a 3rd Person Action Combat style, and is very much a dungeon crawler made in the same vein as games like Dungeon Fighter Online, Kritika, and so on.

Now, any time I write about an MMO such as Soul Worker, I am going to call the posts an Impressions post, simply because games like this evolve and change over time.  Bear in mind, it’s still going to be done in my usual review style complete with sections, but take anything written here with a grain of salt. Things may very well change for the game in the coming months and years after I write this, and I will most likely never update this as a “living document” as it were.  So these are my impressions at the time of writing this and posting it.  Any real changes are going to be in the Gameplay section more than likely, so keep that in mind.

Anyway, lets jump right in and talk about the visual style of the game.

VISUALS

The game honestly feels like I am playing an Anime at times.  Visually the levels are pretty basic but thankfully there is variety from each area.  The game is divided into Town Hubs, each with its own theme, and then Dungeons, each one using a unique tile set for that zone.  I saw underground sewers, an abandoned hospital, a mansion, a suburb, and so on.  Each dungeon had a clear theme to it, and it made sense in the context of the world.  Characters have limited customization, so while you can change your hair style and clothing at the start, pretty much all characters of a particular type will look the same.  All Stella’s will look like Stella, only with different hair and eye colors, essentially.

Enemy design is dull for the most part.  You spend a lot of time fighting the exact same enemies, and they even reuse bosses in later stages.  Kill a boss in one stage, and they will likely be an enemy type in a later stage of that same dungeon, barring the final boss of the final stage of a dungeon.  Most enemies just start to run together as fodder for your attacks.

Thankfully your attacks are super awesome looking.  Each of the characters have a unique moveset and style to their weapons and combos, and they all look fantastic.  Jin for example is a brawler who fights with his fists, is very close range and has heavy impacting hits, whereas Stella is someone who fights with a guitar and demon dogs, bouncing around a lot and uses her dogs to attack at range while also being able to heal the other players in the dungeon or herself if needed.  I ended up focusing on Lilly, a girl who wields a scythe and specialized in high speed multiple hits with decent range.  Overall the visual style is solid overall with just a few hiccups here and there for me in the area of variety.

AUDIO AND SOUND

So the game has voice acting first of all, and it’s in Korean.  Its solid stuff, and I love the little clips that play during cutscenes.  However, NPCs also have voice clips each time you talk to them…and those clips never vary.  You start to repeat them in your head every time you talk to the NPC Shopkeepers for example, and it wears thin pretty fast.  I got real tired of whatever the Blacksmith says after hearing it over the course of 25 hours, and knowing that he will always be there was not appealing in the slightest.  In fact, the NPCs follow you from town to town, so you NEVER get away from their clips.

The sound effects were all solid as well, and fit each character.  Hearing my wife’s character Stella jam out on her Guitar to summon her demon dogs was always a good time, and the attacks each sounded different.  Lilly’s attack sounded fast and lethal, while Jin sounded heavy and impactful.

However, one thing I and my wife both loved is the background music. It’s super atmospheric and fitting, each area having its own tune and its fantastic. I honestly commented multiple times while we played that the music was amazing, and my wife would agree.  If I could find a way to get the soundtrack I most likely would.

PLOT AND STORY

As far as a plot goes, there is one, but after 25 hours and going through 2 of the 5 hub zones I could not tell you what the overarching story is.  Each zone seems to have its own central conflict, which is told via long winded and dialog heavy stretches where you talking to multiple NPCs, frequently standing right next to each other, before heading into Dungeons where you try to listen to the NPC tell you things WHILE also killing large groups of enemies.  It honestly drags along because rather than space out exposition and action, you end up with HUGE dumps of exposition, and then short bursts of action.

From what I can gather, each character has their own unique start to the story, about how they got sucked up into this Void Zone.  Each one has some tragic history or past that I will not ruin here, and honestly its a bit over the top.  This Void Zone apparently destroyed most of the city, and when you come back its almost like no time passed for you, but the rest of the world has gone on for about 20 years.  From there, it’s a pretty standard post-apocalyptic Sci Fi story, where you, being this super powered individual known as a Soul Worker joins a group who defends the last few bastions of humanity against the ever encroaching forces of evil.  Additionally, each zone as I said has it own conflict.  Rucco Town, the first one, deals with these Puppets and their master, and Candus City, the second, has to deal with an evil corporation and its evil experiments.  It’s all very Anime, and while I like that from time to time, by the time me and my wife got to the 2nd town we were just skipping the exposition dumps because they were repeating themselves over and over.

Except for Trashbert.  I still have no idea what is up with him but I need to know why a dude is living in a trash can giving me kill missions.

GAMEPLAY

So first and foremost this is an online MMO styled game.  So you cannot play this offline.  You start by creating a character, but only in the loosest sense possible.  You see, this game is designed much more like a single player RPG.  You don’t create a blank slate character, you create a modification from one of the five base characters, each with their own distinct story and personality which WILL show during dialog.  I chose Lilly for example, and she switches between snobby rich girl to complete and utter psychopath.  Jin, another character I tried, is very much the goodest boi who wants a steady job with steady income and to help as many people as possible.  Stuff like that.  Each character also has a distinct weapon they use and playstyle, so do a bit of research before deciding.  The only real modifications you can make are hair color and style, eye color, and your starting outfit.  That is it.  Your character name is only seen by other players and is never used in dialog either so my wife’s character name of “Loli=^.^=” and mine of “Maddalia” meant nothing story wise.  Yes my wife named her character Loli Catface.  It let her and she laughed about it.

The game supports both KB/M and Controller, and I personally use KB/M for my controls.  WASD to move, space to jump, and left and right click for your basic attack and special “Soul” attack which is unique to each character and can do different things.  Lilly’s right click for example is a secondary dash, while my wife’s Stella actually changes from DPS to Support by using her right click to retune her guitar.  Jin had an AOE stomp that stuns on his Right Click.

You then have 6 hot bar buttons to slot in your various special attacks, and you can actually create combo chains of up to 3 attacks for each button.  What I mean by this is you can have 3 attacks that if you press the 1 key 3 times in a row that will fire off in succession.  Further, you can specify the effects your different combo stages have.  You could set your second 1 press to have increased damage, or decreased SP cost (the games mana system) and then your third press to have even MORE damage or a greater reduction in cost.  You choose.

You gain Skill Points at each level up, which you use to increase your basic attack, soul attack, and to buy new special attacks.  Each special attack can level up to 5, with increases to its effects.  Some attacks can also be upgraded with a unique twist, which requires them to be level 5 first.  A good example is my Lilly, who I was able to upgrade one of her attacks with a Life Steal effect (My only self heal!).  From looking at it, there are not enough Skill Points to master every skill, so you will need to plan ahead.  Respeccing your skills is NOT FREE!  You have to have a premium item, a skill reset ticket, to buy points back.  You do get these as log in rewards, but they are not free by any means.

Gameplay is pretty straight forward.  You go to a Stage Entrance, select your level and difficulty, and then go in and kill everything that moves.  No, really.  Unless you are doing a quest that specifically has you interacting with objects in the zone, your objective will always be to kill everything to move forward in the level.  This is an action game first and foremost, so you gotta be killing everything with flashy moves and increasing that combo counter!  You get achievements for a variety of things such as killing X enemies, hitting X combo counter, dodging a certain number of times, ect.  You can also find hidden quests in levels at random which can sometimes be very silly (Jump 10 times before the stage ends) to really annoying (Kill 5 Knocked Up enemies before stage ends).  You also get a ton of random loot and crafting materials as you advance through the stages.  The game also uses an Energy system to limit your play time.  Each time you access a stage / dungeon, you use up some Energy Points.  These refill at the end of the day, and they can stack…till they seemingly get reset at the start of a week back to 200.  Run out of Energy, you cannot continue playing.

Now beyond the repetitive nature of the gameplay itself which doesn’t seem to change, there is one more major issue for me personally and that is the limited inventory space.  Now, this is a free to play game, so I understand that limiting my inventory space is a way to get me to spend cash on expansion tickets, but its seriously cramped given the sheer amount of loot you pick up.  Worse still is your bank inventory.  Now, your inventory is divided in premium, fashion, and normal sections.  Fashion items such as clothes and accessories (The only way to customize your appearance) go into the Fashion section, anything cash shop or “premium” goes into premium.  These two are maxed out in space, so you don’t have to expand them.  However, every single thing else goes into your main inventory.  Most items you can sell or break down to make space.  However, there is one item, Brooches, that you cannot sell, you cannot destroy, and they DO NOT STACK!  These little bastards are so annoying because until you can use them (via slots on your Fashion items) they will always take up space. One slot for each brooch. And you have to add brooches IN ORDER to your fashion items! It goes Attack, THEN Defense, THEN Utility.  If you don’t get an Attack brooch, you cannot slot that Defense one you have, which means you have a space taken up at all times.  My bank has 4 of the things sitting in it, all utility, and none of my fashion pieces even have a Utility slot unlocked (which of course requires a cash shop item!)

Thankfully, you can get basic inventory expansion tickets (but NOT Bank Expansion Tickets, they are different) pretty often due to login rewards.  Just managing your inventory, with all the crafting components, gear, consumables, and so on can feel tedious and take away from the game.  In fact, I dare say my wife and I spend more time when we play sitting in town organizing our inventory and dealing with exposition dumps then we do actually running the dungeons, simply because we fill our inventory up so quickly.  Its honestly a buzz kill and slows the pace of the game to a crawl.

Oh, and one final issue: Neither me, my wife, nor our friend Virus who played with us can figure out how to rebind certain keys.  We tell the game to rebind them, our options menu shows we rebind them, yet the keys we selected never work.  It’s like the options menu doesn’t really do anything at times.  It’s very bizarre.

As far as the cash shop goes, its filled with your standard F2P stuff. Boosters, outfits, expansion slots, ect.  Everything is honestly pretty pricey with some outfits costing upwards of $20 in their in game currency.  I had no urge whatsoever to spend stuff on this game.

Now, as always, here is some unedited gameplay (Around 20 minutes) of my wife and I running a few dungeons and showing off how the game plays, as well as the inventory, towns, and other systems at play.  Also emotes!  There are plenty more subsystems in game including Akesha Cards, Daily Quests, Titles, and some other stuff, but its stuff that you can learn as you play rather than me trying to explain it to you…especially when I don’t understand it myself.  Pretty art on the cards though!  Gotta collect em all. (The Video is a link only because I cannot embed here on Patreon for some asinine reason)

FINAL THOUGHTS

Overall I enjoyed my time with the game, but it’s very repetitive nature and horrible inventory management, coupled with several mechanics that are poorly explained, left me wanting to find something better suited to my wife’s and my own preferences and honestly after 25 hours with the game both my wife and I have dropped it.  If you enjoy 3D action games, dungeon crawlers, or beat em ups you might find a few hours of fun with this game, and maybe enough to keep going much longer than I did.  Suffice to say, from what I have seen and heard from others, the game never really changes from the start to the end, and that alone was enough to put me off of it.

You can download Soul Worker for free on Steam if you want to give it a try. The worst it will cost you is some time, so if anything I have shown you here has interested you, give it a shot!  You might find you enjoy it much more than I did.  I do suggest playing it in short bursts rather than marathon sessions however, to maybe alleviate the repetitive nature of the gameplay.

Impressions: Dragalia Lost

As some of you know, or really most of you should know by now, is that I play games.  Lots of games.  All kind of games really.  And with Cellphones being as advanced now as they are, I even use that device to play games at times.

Ranzal is a big slab of beef, good character though.

While my phone is never on the cutting edge (Seriously, I got an LG Stylo 3 Plus) it’s still a surprisingly capable phone.  And one sort of game I am attracted to are, of course, Gacha games.  Good ol Gacha games, those Free to Play games that try their darnedest to get ya to open your wallet and spend cash on em.  Thankfully, the only ones that have grabbed my attention for any length of time have been Final Fantasy Brave Exivus (which I have stopped playing due to sheer Power Creep) and now Dragalia Lost.

Dragalia Lost is a game developed by Cygames (Creators of Shadowverse and Granblue Fantasy) and published by the big dogs themselves, Nintendo.  Its an Action RPG where you collect adventurers and dragons, and embark on quests to help a Prince save his kingdom.

Visually the game is actually really good looking.  It plays in a 3D Isometric view, fixed camera, with 3D Sprites done in a very Chibi style.  Attack animations and Dragon Transformations are accompanied by appropriate flash, and during story cut scenes each character is drawn in a very nice anime art style.  You start to learn characters by their appearance very quickly as each one looks unique compared to the others.  I love the art style of both the Adventurers, and the Dragons you get to encounter.

As far as gameplay goes, its an Action RPG.  You move during combat by dragging and holding, and attack by tapping.  Dodging is done by quickly swiping in a direction.  You take a team of 4 Adventurers on each mission and in general your objective is to reach the end and kill a boss creature.  Pretty standard for most action RPGs.  What sets the game apart from other mobile titles is Coop for me.  Every single mission and event can be played Solo, or you can join or setup a Coop room, where 3 other players can jump in and the team can go out and fight against whatever hordes of monsters stand in your path.  There are even Raid events, where each of 4 players brings an entire team of adventurers into a boss fight, and these feel very much like an MMO boss fight with mechanics to learn, attacks to dodge and fire to not stand in.  Its a lot of fun honestly.  Best part is most missions take around 2-4 minutes to complete, meaning you can easily get some bite sized gameplay action when you have time.

I do want to take a moment to talk about the audio as well.  This game has some stellar music, including a very catchy theme song and anime styled / jrpg style opening video.  I adore the music in this game.  Plus, this game has VOICE ACTING!  You see, story sequences are played out in a very JRPG styled cut scene, with portraits of the characters on screen with limited animation, and speech bubbles.  But the speech for a lot of it is voice acted and its done very well.  There is both Japanese and English voice acting in the game.  Thankfully the story is solid as well, telling the journey of Prince Euden and his attempt to save his Kingdom from a demonic invasion by finding and creating bonds with Dragons, ancient protectors of his land.  Its very much a JRPG storyline.

You do occasionally get disconnected in CoOp, but its still no big deal. This is the Hypnos Raid.

Now, like any Mobile / Gacha game, you will be doing Summons to get new Adventurers (characters), Wyrmprints (Armor), and Dragons.  This is where the game hopes to get ya to open your wallet, as you either need the premium currency or Wyrmrite to do summons.  The rates are clearly spelled out for your chances on 3*, 4*, or 5* items, and there is a pity timer on the 10+1 pulls.  The longer it takes for you to get a 5* anything, the better your chances become in the future.  It does appear to be a per banner thing though.  You do get both Story characters and Story Dragons, and drops from doing quests so you don’t really need to spend cash or even Wyrmrite on summons unless you want to.  In fact, all the story characters and dragons are 4* and are plenty enough to get ya through the content currently in game.  5* are admittedly more powerful though.  I find that I get enough Wyrmrite right now to summon, and the rewards for daily logins and events are good enough that I dont feel any urge to spend cash on the game at all.  I have yet to really run into anything I couldn’t do with my current squad either, which is nice.  I do expect 6* to be an eventuality, as right now the 5* Level Cap on Adventurers appears to be 80, and we all know that RPGs always go to 100.

Characters, by the way, are improved with Leveling, Wyrmprints, Weapons, and Dragons.  Wyrmprints are basically Armor and provide stat buffs, each character can use a specific weapon type, and Dragons provide a Dragon Transformation as well as stats.  Characters are also divided by Element (Fire, Wind, Water, Light, and Dark) which does matter.  Fire elementals take less Wind damage and Deal more damage to Wind Creatures.  Wind characters take less Water damage and deal more damage to Water creatures, and Water takes less from Fire and deals more to Fire.  Light and Dark counter each other, but ALWAYS in the players favor (IE You won’t take more damage as a Light character from Dark attacks, but you WILL deal more damage TO dark enemies).  Weapons and Dragons also have elements as well, and equipping a Dragon that matches the Element of a character gives a greater boost (IE A Fire Dragon on a Fire character will be better than a Water Dragon on a Fire Character).  There is an entire crafting system for weapons as well which I have barely gotten into, but it is definitely something you will spend time on if you get serious about the game.  Its very Monster Hunter like in that you start with a base weapon and then upgrade it into newer types.

Every Character has a Story to Unlock

Now that I got most of the technical stuff out of the way, I want to talk about one of my favorite parts of this game: The Adventurer and Dragon stories, and the Castle.  This game has a Castle building Minigame, where you build up and design your own Castle / Town.  The buildings you put down have a real benefit, whether its money generation (Gold for upgrades), Dragon Fruits (this is how you level up dragons) and boosts to each Adventurer by Elemental Type (there are 5 Elements).  You can place buildings in pretty much any spot available, and there are decorations you can add as well so you can spice the castle up quite a bit, and its fun to plan out how you want your home base to look.

Further, you can unlock stories for each Adventurer AND Dragon you have.  As you level up your characters “Mana Circles” (which are upgrade paths) you unlock their Stories, which tell you background about who they are, how they met the Prince, and their own goals and history.  I am a guy who loves learning about Characters and this is what really got me into the game.  Every single time I get a new character from a Summon I want to know why they joined Euden (the Prince) and what they are all about, and they are all different.  For the Dragons, you have to fill up their Friendship meter.  Each dragon will accept gifts each day, and give you gifts in return.  You get upgrade materials for this.  As the dragons bond gets increased, you unlock THEIR stories, and can learn about them and everything.  This is honestly my favorite part of this game.

Overall I am really enjoying this game a great deal, and I find it to be a very fair Mobile Gacha game overall, and its definitely quality.  I have encountered no bugs, personally, and while I dont have an urge to spend money on the game I might pick something up just to support the developers.  The gameplay is rock solid and fun, the characters are all interesting, and I am a sucker for Dragons.

Just look at my favorite dragon, the Halloween Event Silke!  She is adorable (and no longer available, because she was a Halloween only dragon.  I got her though!)  How can you not love such a cute character!

You can grab Dragalia online from the IOS and Android store, and if you are looking for a good mobile game its well worth your time.  Now excuse me, I gotta go beat up a Wind Raid Dragon!  (At the time of writing this, there is a Wind Dragon Raid event)

All images used in this post are screenshots of my own game and characters.

Pokemon Ultra Sun / Ultra Moon: A Review

As I sat in the Champions chair after the final showdown with my rival and friend, Hau, I had to reflect on the journey it took to get here.  High atop Mt Lanakila, surrounded by my partners, I had to think about the friendships, the hardships, the Pokémon I met, the people I helped, and everything else leading up to this point.

It was a trial, but Aegislash, Decidueye, Chandlure, Empoleon, Magneton, and Metagross made sure I would become the undisputed first time Pokemon Champion of Alola.

Man, it’s good to be the champ.

Hello everyone and welcome to another review!  I finally, after nearly a year of waiting, I am writing my first ever 3DS Game review!  Now I have to do these reviews in text form because I do not have (nor do I wish to have) my New 2DS XL modded for footage capture.  Maybe down the road if I get the cash I will buy a second system for that, but for now it’s all text all the time for this and future 3DS / DS games I review.  Technically this review applies to both Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon, as the games are identical barring certain available Pokémon.

Pokémon and I have a strange history.  My first game was Pokémon Blue at the original release, on an original Gameboy.  I did not play another Pokémon game till Pokémon Black on a DSi XL.  Then, Pokémon Y on my old original 3DS.  And now Ultra Sun.  I have dabbled off and on with the series, but I have always loved the gentle fun loving nature of the games, focused on catching a mostly cute (and sometimes terrifying) little monsters with which to go on an adventure through fascinating lands.

Pokémon Ultra Sun is the last one that is to be released on handhelds, as Nintendo is moving everything over to the Switch now.  So it seems fitting that the final handheld release is the one I am going to review first.  And boy howdy is it a doozy.  Let’s break it down, starting with the visuals.

VISUALS

The New 2DS XL is a fantastic system, and I should take a look at it more in depth one of these days.  Ultra Sun uses its features to the max, and the game looks stunning.  Environments are wonderful to explore and easy to navigate, and the change from day to night is amazing.  Further, character models and Pokémon models are the best I have seen, with wonderful 3D renders, and occasionally a little risqué.  Fight up against a male or female Swimmer and you will see what I mean.

For the most part, framerates are consistent, but I did have issues when there were double battles (2 Pokémon to a side) or weather effects on screen as I would suffer slowdowns and fps drops..  The effects for the attacks, and especially the new Z Moves, were a sight to behold, with fantastic looks and animations to accompany them.  Also, your character can be customized quite a bit and I enjoyed the various clothing options and hair options that I was given.  Overall, visually this game is a treat and until the Switch games come out, is most likely the best you are going to get.  But what about the sound design?

AUDIO

Musically the game is pretty solid, with decent BGM throughout.  However, unlike some games, I don’t really remember any particular theme, not even the intro theme.  Further, I would not seek out the music here to listen outside of the game, like I do with Chrono Cross or World of Warcraft.  Its serviceable, and the battle theme honestly gets kind of annoying after a while.  Point of fact, I played a lot of the game with the sound turned off and I did not really notice anything too bad by doing this.

In combat, the sounds your Pokémon makes, the cries they have, and the sound of attacks are all pretty solid.  Pikachu is the only Pokémon that actually says their name (And they even have a specific voice actor credit) but every other Pokémon simply has a unique sound growl.  Attacks sound impactful, and varied enough to get the job done.  Overall, it’s a serviceable sound design and soundtrack but nothing that stands out in my mind.  Thankfully, the Story fares much better.

STORY AND SETTING

Like every other main title in the Pokémon franchise, you start as a new kid moving into a new town in a new region with your mother.  This time, you are moving into the Alola region, made up of four islands.  Unlike most of the rest of the Pokémon world, Alola doesn’t have gyms, and is a much more laid back region with several unique variants of Pokémon seen in other lands, such as the Alola Sandshrew and Alola Vulpix, among others.  You quickly meet the grandson of the local Kahuna, Hau, and after rescuing a girl named Lillie and her Pokémon Nebbie from a wild Pokémon attack, the local Totem Pokémon gives you a Z-Bracelet, indicating that you are to take the “Island Challenge”, the Alola version of defeating gyms.

The premise is simple: Go and complete 2-3 Island Challenges, obtain Z-Crystals, and then face off against the Island Kahuna in battle to grow and prove you are worthy of the Totem Pokémon’s attention.  You travel island to island doing this, while also helping people deal with issues on each island that are usually caused by a group called Team Skull, which honestly is my favorite team I have seen.  They are just so damn goofy and tryhard its amazing.  They also try to rap, really really badly I might add.  In Ultra Sun there are also sub stories involving the Ultra Beasts and Ultra Wormholes, which lead to “other places” but those are not really touched on in the main storyline too much.

I will admit however that the overall story is fairly basic, and focuses on the themes of friendship and hard work and is clearly designed for children and young adults.  If you are looking for the Witcher 3 levels of storytelling here, you will be disappointed.

One major change to how the story plays out is the switch from Gyms to Trials.  For me, the change from Gyms to Trials is honestly a welcome one for me.  The trials were all interesting, and fit the theme and tone of the islands.  The Trials all features particular types of Pokémon, and because you ended up with close to 14-15 trials overall, you got to face off against each type of Pokémon in a grand battle.  Further, the world felt a lot more real than previous entries.  Roads and trails frequently connect to multiple locations, and distances travelled felt realistic as well.  The towns all had diners, cafes, stores, and more that you could visit, and plenty of people to interact with and help.  One of the first things I did in fact each time I got to a new region was to explore as much of it as I could, looking for off the beaten path locations, secrets, and trainers.  Plus of course, all the various Pokémon I could chase down and capture.  The world even evolved as the story moved forward, with Alola changing a little towards the end.  Overall out of the few Pokémon games I have played this has to be my favorite for the journey.  It also helps that Hau felt less like a real rival and more like a true friend, both of us trying to train our teams to be the very best, while helping each other through the journey.  And what a journey it was.  Let’s talk about how the game plays.

GAMEPLAY

Let’s get this out of the way right now: Pokémon by and large can be a fairly simple game on the surface.  And if you just play it without paying attention to the nuance of it, you can miss out on quite a bit.  However, at the same time, you don’t NEED to learn all the nuances like strengths and weaknesses, or STAB or Breeding or EV/IV and things to really enjoy the game either.  It’s as basic as you need it to be, or as deep as you want it to be.  I also want to be clear that I am by NO MEANS an expert, and I am a PVE (that’s Player vs Environment) player.  I do not get into competitive battling, which is cutthroat and highly complex.

Controls are simple: You use the Circle Pad or DPad to move on screen, or select things.  You have an inventory system made up of bags which stores your potions and consumables, your TMs (machines that can teach moves to Pokémon), your beans, and more.  You also have your party of 6 Pokémon, which are the focus of the game.  You will spend your time wandering the islands of Alola, using the Riding Pokémon to speed up travel, encountering other trainers to battle for cash and wild Pokémon in the tall grass to capture.  Battles are a turn based affair as well, with you vs the other trainer in a 1v1 match (sometimes 2v2).  The trials are a combination of gauntlet (usually involving other trainers or wild Pokémon) and puzzles, involving simple switches to move things around, or slides, and the like.  You can also visit Pokemon Centers to buy items and heal your team, and use the Pokémon PC and Box system to store hundreds of your little friends.

But the real magic of Pokémon?  It’s the creatures the games take their name from.

Pokémon is all about the little creatures you find and capture, and train to make up your party.  In Ultra Sun there are over 700 little beasties to hunt down and catch, and each one has a combination of moves, strengths, and weaknesses that make it different from the rest.  A Pokémon can only ever hold 4 moves, and each move has a set number of PP (Power Points) that dictate how many times you can use that move before you have to rest.  Every game starts out the same, with you choosing a “Starter” Pokémon from a Grass, Fire, or Water type.  These typically evolve twice (yes, Pokémon can evolve and change) getting stronger and learning new attacks as this happens.  In Ultra Sun your options are Rowlet (Grass), Litten (Fire), and Poplio (Water).  I for example started with Rowlet, because a tiny owl is too damn cute to not use!

Each Pokémon can have 1 or 2 “Types”.  For example Rowlet is Grass.  These types can also change when the Pokémon evolves.  Rowlett eventually becomes a Grass/Ghost type when they evolve to Decidueye, for example.  Types dictate what the Pokémon is Strong and Weak against.  Hit a Grass type with a Fire attack, and it does boosted damage, whereas hitting a Grass type with Water does less.  Attacks ALSO have types, and if your Pokémon and the attack share a type, the attack gets a STAB (Same Type Attack Boost) bonus on damage.  So if Rowlett uses a Grass attack, it gets boosted damage.

This is where learning what each enemy Pokémon’s type comes into play, and the game can get incredibly dense.  Some Pokémon are tough against physical attacks but not special attacks, for example (And yes, attacks can be SPECIAL or PHYSICAL in nature).  Learning how to maximize your teams potential, while minimizing the weaknesses you have, is crucial.  When I played the game, I went through making sure my team was themed, with either everyone being a Ghost or Steel type.  Which, comically, meant that Fire Types were for the most part my bane (both Ghost and Steel take increased damage from Fire).  It’s a challenge I give myself each time I play, using thematic Pokémon.

This is a deep RPG, despite its child like setting and themes, make no mistake.  Battles are 1 v 1, with you sending out a Pokémon and your opponent sending one out, unless it’s a double battle.  You can switch your Pokémon out during a fight or use an item, but that takes the Pokémon’s turn, and it gives your opponent a chance to get in a free hit or even heal their own Pokémon.  Double battles can get even crazier, especially when your opponents decide to have both their Pokémon attack just one of yours.  Your Pokémon’s speed stat dictates how fast it goes in battle, and when your turn comes you choose from one of the four available moves your Pokémon has learned.  Some moves are attacks, some are buffs for your team, and some are debuffs for the enemy.  There are even status effects like Poison, Sleep, Paralyze, and so on.  And to make things even more complex, every Pokémon has an “Ability” that gives it a unique effect.  Metagross has Clear Body which prevents Status Lowering effects (things that might drop its attack or defense) from bothering it, for example, where Arcanine has Intimidate, which cuts the opponents Pokémon’s Physical Attack down.  Geodudes can have Sturdy, which make them survive lethal damage once with 1 HP.  Every Pokémon has 2 abilities it can come with, and you will almost NEVER know what your opponents have.

To make things even more complicated, you are level gated.  You see, Pokémon only listen to a seasoned trainer.  As you complete trials, the max level a Pokémon will obey you without question goes up.  But if a Pokémon goes beyond that level, then they might ignore your commands, meaning they will not do anything in battle.  This prevents you from simply level grinding to overpower enemies with sheer force.  Traded Pokémon make this even worse, as they gain BOOSTED XP during fights!  I used quite a few traded Pokémon in my team, and there were multiple instances where I simply outleveled my trainer card, and had to resort to hoping my weakest Pokémon would survive and let me defeat my enemies, because my stronger ones just wouldn’t listen to me.  My Metagross Hiemdall was my saving grace for a lot of this, because I actually caught him and trained him up on my own from his unevolved form Beldum.

All of this adds up to an incredibly deep and satisfying game, which is as complicated as you want it to be, nevermind things like IV and Effort Values which I still personally do not understand (it has to do with stat growth on level up and things) and natures.  Or breeding your Pokémon, or the various side activities or the Player vs Player stuff.  Collecting all the outfits, getting all the Z-Crystals, ect ect ect.

There are also plenty of stuff you can do with other people outside of battling, such as the Festival Plaza and Trading.  Wonder Trade is my favorite trading method, where you submit a Pokémon and randomly get one in return from someone else.  I spent several hours total just repeatedly sending out Pokémon and getting ones in return, just to see what people would send.

The answer is a whole lotta Magikarps, just saying.

Finally, there is the Post Game.  In Ultra Sun, the game is NOT OVER when you complete the main story and become the Champion of Alola.  In fact, there is an entire Epilogue called “Team Rainbow Rocket” and plenty of activities you can complete once you are champion.  Hell there are entire areas that only become accessible once you are champion!  For the first time, for example, YOU CAN DEFEND YOUR TITLE!  You can actually go and face off against people who want to take you down and become Champ in your place.  I haven’t dug too deep into the Post Game, as after 40 hours of regular Pokémon I needed a change, but it’s just as deep and compelling as the main story.  Such as hunting down the various Ultra Beasts and Legendaries (yes, there are special Legendary Pokémon which are even stronger than most normal ones out there) that exist in the Ultra Wormholes.

FINAL VERDICT

If you could not tell, this game is something else.  It’s an epic culmination of years and years of games and history, and it shows.  Truth be told, this is my favorite of the Pokémon games I have played, and one I fully intend to come back to on my system when I feel the urge.  The story, the world, the style of this game just exceeds every expectation I had for it.

If you have a New 2DS XL or 3DS system you should definitely get this (Or Ultra Moon, they are effectively the same game with just a few different Pokémon available to them) if you are looking for a relaxing yet deep RPG with tons to do and see.  If however things that are very kid friendly and feel at times like it’s come out of a child’s anime are not your thing, you might want to steer clear, as the story, while solid, is pretty basic.

You can pick up Pokémon Ultra Sun / Ultra Moon from the following places, and it’s well worth the $40 price.

The Nintendo Store – https://www.nintendo.com/games/detail/pokemon-ultra-sun-3ds

Amazon – https://www.amazon.com/Pokémon-Ultra-Sun-Nintendo-3DS/dp/B071WNTGFY/

Gamestop – https://www.gamestop.com/nintendo-3ds/games/pokemon-ultra-sun/149398

Walmart – https://www.walmart.com/ip/Pokemon-Ultra-Sun-Nintendo-Nintendo-3DS-045496904555/664937166

Videos belong to their original creators.  They should give you a prime example of the kind of content you can expect from Ultra Sun / Ultra Moon.