Editorial Miscellany: Return to the JRPG

But whose isn't, right?
Sigourney Weaver’s favourite Madonna song is Ray of Light.

As the wise, late popstar Madonna once said, “sheeeiit, Ethan, time really does fly by, right?” I could not have said it better myself, Madonna. Rest in peace.

Let us talk about gaming, shall we?

Radiant Historia

Back in the glory days of the First Phase of Editorial Miscellany, I reached out to all you lovely readers in an effort to collect thoughts on Radiant Historia. Because of the overwhelming and unified chorus of people stating that it was without a doubt the greatest game they had ever played or ever would play, I decided to order a well-priced copy from Amazon and then I promptly forgot about it.

Flash forward a few weeks when I have been exhausted on the engaging, detailed, fun, but ultimately hollow experience that is Assassin’s Creed IV. It is also a time when I need a change of pace from the satisfying but notably difficult task of trying to open up the final level in the flawed but still incredible Super Mario 3D World. Combine this with the fact that I have been feeling distinct pangs when I remember that this is the longest I have gone without playing Final Fantasy IX (a fact for which I can only blame myself and my uncanny ability to lose PSP Gos) and I realized that it has been far too long since I have played a JRPG that was not Etrian Odyssey.

So I waddled my way down to my PO Box and picked up the copy of Radiant Historia which I had forgotten about up until that point and plopped it in my 3DS. I am about 4 hours in, but it is the most promising start to a new handheld RPG IP since 4 Heroes of Light. I only hope that Radiant Historia does not continue to follow 4 Heroes of Light into what became something entirely antithetical to what made it exciting in the first place.

My sense is that I do not have to worry much. The battle system rides the fine balance of being slightly more involved than “mash attack to win” yet remaining swift enough to not inspire dread. And while the writing is nothing above the norm, the focus is on character and relationships while not hesitating to jump into the main time-traveling hook of the premise. Combine that with a pretty great soundtrack and I am feeling confident in my purchase.

This picture is brought to you by Recycled Pictures Inc.
Fun AND challenging? GET OUT!

Super Mario 3D World. The “D” Stands For “Difficult”

Granted, the main levels never get nail-bitingly difficult, but the surprising amount of post-game content (consisting of both new levels and challenging remixes) serves up a less exciting but more satisfying offering that reminds me of the truly excellent later moments in Super Mario Galaxy 2. The only downside to this is the fact that the multiplayer starts to show its seams. On one hand, having another person to pick up the slack is a big relief, but on the other hand it exposes that while the game is more polished than most AAA content, it could have done with another six months of Nintendo-style obsessive fine-tuning.

I understand the need for the camera to never pull too far back in order to keep the levels visible, but Galaxy 2 was supported by section-specific camera work that really enhanced the playability. Super Mario 3D World seems to occasionally forget that it is intended to be played by more than one person, which is especially strange considering that some of its greatest elements are drawn from outstanding couch co-op. The biggest gripe in addition to the camera is how the action button and the “pick up your ally” button are the same, even on the more button-heavy controllers. This leads to far too many deaths that are of no fault of the player.

These flaws are notable, but so is the impeccable level-design and ramping challenge of the end-game.

Q&A? More Like Q&No Way!

I am just going to gloss right over that one.

Link Between… Something, I Think?

Oh yeah, I was playing this game too. I got up to right before the final dungeon and just stopped. The game is awesome, so I am not really sure what the reason is. Maybe I am coded to self-destruct when I complete a 2D Zelda game and my failsafe is kicking in.

Final Thoughts

This has certainly been the sort of scattered week that befits an Editorial Miscellany. Remember to keep gaming and to keep talking about gaming. And THAT is how to incoherently throw together a patchwork of thoughts in a failed effort to create something barely resembling an editorial, Gyme Peggle!

11 comments

  1. I am so glad that Nintendo has decided to put DIFFICULTY back into their Mario games. I was really turned off by the Galaxy series, but feel much happier since NSMB U came out.

  2. I’m glad you’re enjoying Radiant Historia, that really is a fantastic game.

  3. Your description of Assassin’s Creed IV as ‘hollow’ really struck a chord for me. For as long as I’ve been gaming, I always felt that most (note that I didn’t say all) western developed games that I enjoyed didn’t leave me with any meaningful sense of substance afterwards. Almost like I was playing a tech demo that was fun, but meant for the moment, not the long haul. Hollow is really the word that sums up the feeling I’m left with shortly after. Which I guess poses another question: What gives a game substance?

  4. @Wolfe – I think that’s an incredibly difficult question to answer because I do not believe enough thoughtful criticism has arisen about games as an artistic medium. We seem to be able to criticize its individual parts, but as a whole, things tend to get a lot more muddy. Assassin’s Creed IV has many individual parts that are greater than games that I would argue are its superior. Even when the later games attempt to explore the complex reasons why people may dedicate their life to something, it still comes off as hollow, even when recognizing that the game is not without insight if its elements are parsed.

    There are a number of theories that bounce around my head on the subject, but I in no way present these as fully formed assertions. The first is focus. The games that I’ve found to have the most impact tend to have great focus. Most, if not all, elements serve a core group of themes, and players feel like they have arrived somewhere when it is complete. It’s why I believe that shorter games have had the most success with impact recently. Not because an expansive game with tons of distractions can’t be given focus, but because I imagine it must be far more difficult to do so.

    And, well, that’s the main one, really. The rest stem from it. One such subtheory pertains to environment. Not just in relation to mood and aesthetic value, but also the way in which environment interacts with gameplay. The environment can slowly teach a player how to get better at a game without even realizing it (returning to the “easy” version of a challenging remix level in SM3DW or Galaxy 2 are great examples) and if this process also ties into a game’s story or themes (as in a game like Braid or Journey), the game is far greater for it.

  5. On the topic of what gives a game substance, I think another way to word that might be “what makes a game satisfying”. And games cover a wide range of types or genres, that can satisfy the player in different ways. For instance, I really was taken by The Last of US. But I also finished Rogue Legacy with an equal sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. Those are two very different games that did two very different things for me. So perhaps answering that question is difficult in part because games can be SO many things even to just one person.

  6. So Ethos, if you were wondering how this week in gaming has been for me, I’ve been enjoying spending time on Etrian Odyssey IV & Untold, beat Super Mario 3D Land which was okay but not great or challenging, downgraded Pokemon X to a low priority, played a good chunk of Diablo III for the first and probably only time (it feels like you have to put less thought into everything than DII, in a bad way), finally learned what a MOBA is (not impressed), got powerups in a round of The Binding Of Isaac that made my guy basically invincible by teleporting me back a room when I got hit and regaining half a heart when I walked back in, so I had to beat every room without getting hit once but would never die no matter how many times I tried, which was an interesting twist on it having no risk but being extra challenging, and last Saturday I saw a Distant Worlds concert which was pretty good and they had 2 marriage proposals (one for Aerith’s Theme, one for some crappy FFX song) and Nobuo playing a mean violin solo over FFVI’s Dark World Theme.

    My Question(s) for this week are: what, if anything, do you think of Fire Emblem Awakening and Bravely Default? I’ve played only a very little Fire Emblem and am wondering how much deeper it gets than rock-paper-scissors on a map, and Bravely Default looks like paper doll dressup time instead of hat party and what I’ve seen reminds me of Final Fantasy III DS – so do you have a better sense of what it is?

  7. @Mel – I’m chewing on your comment but haven’t landed anywhere I’m satisfied with. Just wanted to let you know that I’ve read it and am thinking about it.

    @Matt – Sweet. I love hearing about people’s gaming experiences. And because I hope I don’t buy another game until March (barring any unexpected indie releases with excellent trusted reviews) next week might finally be the week I answer questions. Maybe I’ll make the last article in every phase a Q&A session. Or maybe I’ll make the entire fourth phase a Q&A phase. Who knows, man!

  8. I’ll try to keep asking questions and hope it catches on, thank you!

  9. I wasn’t very fond of 3D World for 3DS… sounds like this one is worth playing though!

  10. @slayde – the DNA is the same, I should warn. So depending on what the reason is for your thoughts on 3D Land, I cannot promise that you’ll love 3D World. I would say it is distinctly better, but absolutely in the same gameplay vein.

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