Etrian Odyssey V: Beyond the Myth (3DS) Review

A Different Kind of Odyssey

In an age when role-playing games continue to expand in size and scope, it’s a delight to see Etrian Odyssey V: Beyond the Myth hold on to its old-school, dungeon-crawling roots. As a first-person dungeon exploration RPG that asks players to draw their own maps, the game has a specific appeal. But for devoted fans and interested newcomers, this is one of the most refined sequels to date.

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Fellow traditional JRPG fans unite!

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Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King (3DS) Review

The Dragon Warriors Return

The Dragon Quest franchise has always been a hot commodity in Japan, with each entry selling millions of copies. The series hadn’t been as popular in the West until Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King shipped for the Sony PlayStation 2 in 2005. DQVIII captivated audiences with its beautifully animated 3D world, compelling storyline, and stellar fully-voiced cutscenes. Square Enix went on to re-release most of the mainline entries on modern systems, garnering fans on both sides of the globe. Hot on the heels of the Nintendo 3DS remake of Dragon Quest VII, the company has finally released the 3DS port of DQVIII, bringing the series’ Western renown full circle.

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Say hello to your silent protagonist. He won’t say hello back though.

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Bye-Bye BoxBoy! (3DS) Review

So Long, Farewell

The time has come to bid farewell to our beloved BoxBoy. You’d be forgiven if you didn’t know there was a BoxBoy to say bye-bye to. After all, his first two games arrived on the Nintendo 3DS eShop with little fanfare. Developed by HAL Laboratories of Kirby fame, Bye-Bye BoxBoy! marks the finale of this 2D puzzle platformer’s trilogy and is just as enjoyable as its predecessors.

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The 3rd game stars our heroes, BoxBoy, BoxGirl, and… TallBoxMan?

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Pokémon Sun and Moon (3DS) Review

The Pokémon Series Evolves

The original Game Boy Pokémon games inspired a generation to be the very best like no one ever was. Worldwide, trainers set forth on an adventure to capture and raise the titular Pocket Monsters. Twenty years later, the series remains as strong as ever, spawning dozens of sequels and hundreds of Pokémon. Pokémon Sun and Moon cap off the series’ yearlong anniversary celebration and show us how far the franchise has come. Not only does Pokémon’s seventh generation provide a robust execution of the game’s ever-growing mechanics, but it also challenges the traditional structure of every other mainline entry, resulting in a fresh evolution of the series.

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Cue The Lion King

If you’ve ever donned a Pokémon trainer’s cap, Sun and Moon’s base gameplay won’t surprise you. For those uninitiated, you play as a young trainer and raise unique creatures known as Pokémon. By capturing them in Pokéballs, they are yours to train. As your Pokémon battle other trainers’ monsters, they become more powerful, sometimes even evolving to stronger, larger forms. Each Pokémon is distinct, sporting different elemental types (Fire, Water, Electric, etc.) and game-changing abilities. The joy of discovering new Pokémon and picking a team of six favorites still forms the backbone of these installments.

Fans have enjoyed this structure for decades, but the developers at Game Freak have wisely chosen to spruce up the formula. The biggest difference is there are no gyms in the new region of Alola. You may be crying blasphemy, but the new Island Challenge feels fresh while still holding on to the series’ beloved gameplay. Instead of gyms, you engage in Trials scattered throughout the four Alolan Islands. These Trials vary from gathering ingredients to taking a memory quiz. Upon completion, you fight against a buffed-up boss-like Totem Pokémon. After finishing the trials on an island, you are worthy to fight its Kahuna, essentially a gym leader.

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You can now see your opponent during battle.

The autonomous Totem Pokémon mark a shift of focus to the lovable creatures themselves. Sun and Moon remind us that Pokémon are the stars. The new Pokémon Refresh, an upgrade to Pokémon X/Y’s Pokémon-Amie, lets you pet and feed your creatures via the Nintendo 3DS’ touch screen. Through Refresh, you can heal status ailments after battles at no cost. Even better, as you take care of your Pokémon, they will return that favor in battle. Loved Pokémon gain more experience points, land more double-damage critical hits, and dodge attacks more often. I hardly used Amie back in X/Y, but here, Refresh is clearly displayed as an option post-battle. You can ignore it if you’d prefer as well. But when I see my Pokémon ruffled up, I can’t help but want to clean it.

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This Raticate is more than buffed-up.

The focus on Pokémon extends to your means of travel. Instead of a bike, you traverse the world on Pokémon like Lapras and Charizard. They aren’t yours, but you are free to summon them as soon as they unlock. By far, the best aspect is that the series has finally gotten rid of HMs (Hidden Machines). In the past, you had to teach your Pokémon these special moves to get around. The HMs wasted potential slots for a Pokémon’s limited four-move set, but were mandatory to beat the game. Now, you can teach simply call on the new PokéRide summons to push boulders or surf. It’s more intuitive and also purely fun to charge a Tauros into a blockade of rocks.

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Riding on Lapras

There is a downside to giving Pokémon more autonomy. Wild monsters now sometimes call for help during battle, transforming it into a two-on-one fight. These “SOS Battles” can lead to some bonuses with stronger and evolved Pokémon appearing. However, it is a hassle during regular gameplay, especially since you can’t capture until you defeat one of them. Even worse, there’s no penalty for a wild Pokémon to call for help, so it does so immediately after attacking you. It’s a neat idea, but one flawed by its inconveniences.

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Magikarp may call on Gyarados to battle.

The new Pokémon are high-quality and have a hint of tropical flavor. From the adorable owl, tiger, and seal starters to the majestic cover legendaries, each new creature breathes life into the world. There are new monsters based on Hawaiian leis, salamanders, red pandas, and sand castles, just to name a few. Additionally, new Alolan forms of old Pokémon allow you to see old favorites in a new light, for better or for worse. Though there are some amazing inclusions, like the fire-dancing Marowak and snowy Ninetales, there are also hilarious oddities like the awkwardly tall palm tree Exeggutor. While the effort to make old Pokémon new is appreciated, it would have been nice to see more novel creatures.

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Litten takes on the new Alolan Raichu.

Sun and Moon’s new major battle mechanic is the Z-Move. Although intended to follow up to last generation’s popular Mega Evolutions, it doesn’t garner as much hype. Like Mega Evolutions, you can only use one Z-Move per battle. However, your opponent can block or lessen the damage considerably, with a move like “Protect,” for instance. There is a corresponding Z-Move and Z-Crystal for each type, and you obtain each type’s Z-Crystal through the Island Challenge. They are incredibly flashy and are fun to use during the game. However, as far as battle mechanics go, it’s more style than substance.

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Pikachu performs the electric Z-move.

The new optional battle format, the Battle Royal, is decent. Battle Royal pits four players into a free-for-all match. You earn points by landing the final blow on a Pokémon, and the game ends when one player has run out of usable Pokémon. This mode generates unique strategies as well as luck-based outcomes. Brought a Pokémon to a sliver of health but an opponent finished it off? Shame, you get nothing. Battle Royals can be entertaining as a party mode, but they’re not meant to be taken seriously.

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Four Pokémon go in…

There are other quality-of-life improvements that trainers will appreciate. You can now see which moves are “super effective” or “not very effective” from the move selection screen, eliminating the need to memorize the type chart. It only activates for Pokémon you have faced before to prevent spoiling your initial encounter. When you catch a Pokémon, but have a full team, the game now asks if you’d like to add it to your party. You can increase a Pokémon’s base stats with Hyper Training. Grid movement is also gone, allowing you to move freely in any direction with the circle pad. Finally, a map with objective markers on your bottom screen ensure that you will never get lost.

Both Sun and Moon are fundamentally identical, with the exception of version-exclusive Pokémon. Additionally, Pokémon Moon reverses day and night in-game, which means if you play during the day, it’s actually nighttime in the game. It’s a minor difference, but one to keep in mind.

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Would you hang out with these guys?

The story is a step up from previous generations with one of the most entertaining teams in recent history, the nogoodniks of Team Skull, and some of the most mold-breaking characters the series has to offer. The journey’s linearity is par for the course, but this game especially makes it clear by blocking you off from areas until you beat the Island Trial. Coupled with the slow opening, veterans may get disheartened. Worry not, for the game picks up after the first island.

What a journey it is! The Hawaii-inspired region of Alola comes alive through the impressive visuals and music. Thanks to a shift from the traditional overhead view to a more natural perspective, the world sucks you in with its vibrant colors and lush life. Each island is distinct and offers an array of environments. Even battle backgrounds display your current terrain. The animations during battle are as exciting as they’ve ever been, with some new ones added in. The only con is that the game chugs on an old 3DS, especially during battles with more than two Pokémon. There’s also a lack of 3D, aside from a new lackluster photography mode (it’s no Pokémon Snap!). For the first time, characters have realistic proportions. This complements the character customization tool, and your custom hairstyles and clothes will stand out.

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The Pokémon world has never felt so alive.

Relaxing island tunes comprise the soundtrack, and the trademark composition of battle music is familiar and energetic. Of particular note are the hip beatbox stylings of Team Skull’s themes, the futuristic Aether Foundation music, and the island chantings from the main Alola theme.

When you’re not journeying through Alola, you can also visit the new Poké Pelago. Here, you interact with your stored Pokémon in gradual increments, similar to how mobile games work. You can train your team, hatch eggs, send Pokémon on expeditions, and perform other tasks, provided you are willing to wait hours for them to finish. Its passive nature makes it super effective. While you are playing the game proper or even while not playing, everything continues moving in Poké Pelago. You then return and reap the rewards later.

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The Festival Plaza, your online Pokémon theme park

Festival Plaza is not as effective, and is actually a downgrade of a feature from Pokémon Black 2/White 2, Join Avenue. Within the plaza, you can interact with trainers who you’ve passed online or offline. By taking their requests, you gain Festival Coins which you can spend on any of the facilities in your specific plaza. Each facility has a different function, whether training your Pokémon, dyeing your clothes, or selling rare goods. However, unlike Join Avenue, you can’t upgrade your facilities. You either get a random new facility after earning coins or buy facilities from other trainers. While a great setup can go a long way, a barebones set of stores is only moderately useful.

More importantly, the Festival Plaza is where you engage in online multiplayer. Whereas previous games allowed you to always be online while playing the story, you are now limited within the confines of the plaza. That said, the online is fantastic. All the multiplayer options that have kept the community alive are present here. Battle with trainers around the world through the Battle Spot or official championship tournaments. Compete in singles, doubles, and Battle Royals online. Trade with anyone in the plaza, or test your luck with a random Wonder Trade. The Global Trade System (GTS) likely represents your best chance at catching ‘em all, with players depositing their Pokémon and requesting specific creatures in return. Even though it’s all limited to the plaza, it works. The extensive multiplayer and the everlasting desire to catch ‘em all and raise the best battle-ready Pokémon will keep your adventure going past the roughly 30+ hours of story and postgame.

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Welcome to Alola!

Conclusion

There is always an expectation for Game Freak to deliver the classic gameplay that has enamored us for years. With Pokémon Sun and Moon, I can safely say that they have not only accomplished this, but have also given us groundbreaking changes in how we perceive the traditional Pokémon journey. Whether there are gyms or trials in the next game is unforeseen, but this newest generation represents a radical shift and a wondrous excitement for the future. If you’ve somehow avoided the Pokémon series up until now, this is one of the best entry points the series has ever had. For those of you who already love the series, pack your bags for the Alolan Islands and embark on one of the freshest journeys to date. Alo-la!

Rating: 9.5/10

What are your thoughts on Pokémon Sun and Moon? Which version are you getting? What are your favorite new Pokémon and starters? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments section below!

Note: Both Pokémon Sun and Moon were used for this review, with Moon being the primary version played.

Yo-kai Watch 2: Bony Spirits/Fleshy Souls (3DS) Review

Build a Supernatural Entourage

The Western release of the original Yo-kai Watch for Nintendo 3DS finally brought Level-5’s Japanese monster-collecting RPG phenomenon overseas. The first game had flaws, notably its battle system, monster-befriending mechanics, and fragmented story progression. While the game gained a following, it didn’t live up to the lofty precedents from its home country. Despite this, Nintendo and Level-5 have given the franchise another chance in the West with Yo-kai Watch 2 for 3DS. À la Pokémon, the game has two versions: Bony Spirits and Fleshy Souls. Each come with its own set of exclusive monsters but are otherwise similar. While it is easy to compare this series to Pokémon, Yo-kai Watch is its own unique breed. With general gameplay improvements over the original and plenty of new quirky ghouls, Yo-kai Watch 2 may find a home in the hearts of monster-collecting fans.

Story

Yo-kai Watch 2’s story builds upon the Saturday morning cartoon concepts of its predecessor. Yo-kai are mysterious ghoulish creatures that cause numerous daily problems. For example, if you suddenly forget something, begin to sweat profusely, or get over-excited, you may be inspirited by a Yo-kai. Many Yo-kai are based on Japanese myths and folklore, and a stellar localization ensures that fans outside Japan can appreciate the cultural creatures. For example, Predictabull is a human-like bull based on a mythical beast that can predict misfortune, but the localized name itself helps unfamiliar players understand some of the significance. The quirky Yo-kai are easily the stars of the game, and with over 180 additions in this installment, there are hundreds of fun spirits to befriend.

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This Yo-kai makes objects big…

YW2 begins with the (male or female) protagonist forgetting all memories from the first game. While it is a common trope, he quickly regains the memories following a helpful tutorial, which streamlines the gameplay elements from YW into an easily digestible two-hour lesson. Following that, the hero is able to go back in time 60 years to meet his grandfather, who also has the ability to see Yo-kai. As you travel between past and present, you discover a scheme that could alter both time periods. The story is more cohesive than the original’s, with less filler elements breaking up the pacing. The main plot is still divided into episodes, but nearly every part contributes something meaningful. The game is even more humorous with tongue-in-cheek jokes reminding players to simply enjoy the wacky world. As a result, YW2’s campaign is more satisfying.

Gameplay

There are several improvements over YW, but the battle system and befriending mechanics are mostly unchanged, for better or for worse. Using Yo-kai that you befriend throughout the game, you build a team of six monsters. Unlike traditional RPG battle systems, Yo-kai fight on their own, creating a more passive experience. However, don’t confuse passive with easy or boring. Rather, it’s better to think of the player as a general commanding Yo-kai troops in battle. While the Yo-kai battle on their own, you are in control of several aspects. For instance, you decide which three Yo-kai are in the frontlines at any time. Although you bring in a team of six, only three can fight at the same time. However, you can literally rotate your team around using a wheel on the bottom screen. By spinning the wheel, you can substitute in benched Yo-kai to continue the battle, effectively making your team a revolving door of creatures.

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Battles are three-on-three affairs. Use the touchscreen to rotate your frontlines and activate Soultimates.

The player also decides whether to strike hard or get back and recover. When a Yo-kai’s Soul Meter is full, you can activate its Soultimate move, which manifests as either a strong special attack or helpful recovery/stat boost. Upon using a Soultimate, you engage in a brief touchscreen minigame like tapping bubbles or spinning a circle. When your own monsters are inspirited, or debilitated, by enemies, you can rotate them to the back and engage in a similar touchscreen-enabled purification minigame. There are only a few minigames, and only a couple are new, so it can get tedious if you do them often. The new Yo-kai Watch Model Zero tweaks the battle engine a little by allowing two new actions: M-Spirits and Poking. M-Spirits are supercharged Soultimate moves that draw upon the Soul Meters of the Yo-kai next to the user. Meanwhile, poking a Yo-kai in certain sweet spots nets bonuses such as a higher chance of befriending the enemy. Lastly, players can target which opponents to attack and use items to affect the flow of battle.

There is clearly more to the auto-battle system than meets the eye, and it can get overwhelming keeping track of everything during a fight. Boss battles especially can get heated since you must strategize and target weak spots, similarly to fighting bosses in platformers and adventure games. Unfortunately, those who didn’t like the battle system before will likely not change their opinion. Since Yo-kai act on their own, they may not always perform your desired actions. Depending on a Yo-kai’s attitude, it may even loaf around in battle. There is quite a bit of dependency on luck, which may turn off some.

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Bosses are fun to fight and strategize against.

Continuing with the “Yo-kai General” analogy, preparation is half of the battle. Where you place Yo-kai on the wheel is important. For example, you may want a balance of offensive and defensive Yo-kai, or you may want to put a healer next to a weak creature. Additionally, Yo-kai belong to one of eight tribes, such as the strong Brave tribe and the quick Charming tribe. When putting two or three of the same tribe in the frontlines, they receive “Unity” stat boosts. Yo-kai attitudes also matter greatly when building your team, as they affect stats and likelihood of loafing around during battle. It’s fun to come up with team strategies that produce the greatest chance of success.

Befriending Yo-kai was one of the big complaints from the first game, and it sadly doesn’t change much in the sequel. To add a Yo-kai to your collection, you must first have the Yo-kai randomly approach you after battle to join you. You can throw its favorite food at it to improve your odds, and thankfully, the game tells you what Yo-kai like when you hover your target over it. However, it’s discouraging to use up an expensive slab of meat on a creature only to have it ignore your advances. Even worse, you must finish a battle before you can find out if it has deemed you worthy. If it doesn’t join you, you must find another one to battle. There are some additional actions you can take to improve your chances, such as “poking” a Yo-kai’s sweet spot and having the right equippable items. While this makes befriending more likely, the mechanic remains a strictly luck-based affair that is more frustrating than fun, particularly for completionists.

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Befriend and build a unique team of Yo-kai.

There are no random battles; you either find hidden Yo-kai with a special lens or engage them in dungeon areas and alleyways. In a clever effort to highlight their role as spirits that affect the world, the game introduces Baffle Boards, in which you must guess the name of a Yo-kai using clues. Once you do so, summoning them to that spot changes the world slightly. For instance, putting a Hungramps in front of the convenience store will bring in hungry customers, allowing the store to provide big discounts on its products. You can fuse certain Yo-kai together, evolve others into stronger creatures, or transform them into equippable souls that benefit their holder. Finally, you can have your favorite Yo-kai follow you around, which is a small but fun feature.

The game is immersive, leading to some of the game’s greatest strengths and weaknesses. As in the first game, most of YW2 takes place in the large town of Springdale. Though many assets are reused, there is still plenty to do and see, even if you played the first game. You can run around the town, rest at the bathhouse, give offerings to a shrine, and even attend a festival. The town of Springdale is alive, filled with interesting people and Yo-kai alike. The addition of two new areas, the rural Harrisville and the port town San Fantastico, bring more variety to the world. The game is sometimes immersive to a fault, most evidently through the game’s train, in which you must wait at every stop until you get to the right one. This is a minor issue, as it soon gets rectified once you can warp. Regardless, the few times you are forced to use the train are a waste of time, considering there is nothing to do at most stops aside from a couple of sidequests.

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The large world of the first game has expanded in the sequel.

Replayability

There are a lot of Yo-kai to befriend and sidequests to complete. An enhanced map, that both labels landmarks and guides players using arrows, heavily improves the original’s convoluted quest structure, making it more enjoyable to complete the quests. Besides NPC requests, you can also search for hidden Yo-kai Spots, enter Gate of Whimsy challenge rooms, collect new rare Yo-kai using the daily Crank-a-Kai capsule machine, and obtain a large number of achievements. An extensive postgame keeps the game alive long after you beat the 15-20 hour story.

By far, the biggest enhancement to replay value is the new online battle and trade modes. You can take on other players’ teams online in engaging six-on-six battles. Though it’s possible to get competitive, the fact that Yo-kai attack automatically makes battles somewhat dependent on luck. Nevertheless, online functionality is a huge improvement. Online trading also helps for completionists, especially since exclusive Yo-kai are split between the game’s two versions. No matter which version you have, trading makes it easier to obtain a full collection of the 300+ Yo-kai. You can also engage in these social features locally, as well as a bonus game, “Yo-kai Watch Blasters.” This multiplayer-enabled action game, based on the in-game “Terror Time” stealth-esque segment, lets you directly control a Yo-kai to battle evil Oni demons in 2D Zelda-like gameplay. It’s a decent diversion that only adds to the fully-featured package.

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Battle Yo-kai in both the present and past.

Graphics and Sound

The graphics contribute much to the game’s charm. The Yo-kai are all well-animated with standout designs that speak just as loud as their descriptions, and each Soultimate attack features its own mini-cutscene. The multiple towns, both past and present, are filled with intricate details and add to the immersion. Animated cutscenes look just like the anime.

The music remains as catchy as ever, with upbeat ghoulish and cartoonish battle themes and nostalgia-inducing town themes. The voice acting is fun, and each Yo-kai has at least one spoken line upon befriending, giving it personality. Some cutscenes are also fully voiced and give vibes of Saturday morning anime. Level-5 did a tremendous job with both graphical and sound design, making the world feel alive.

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Yo-kai is Why

Conclusion

Yo-kai Watch 2 provides a more fulfilling experience than its predecessor. Although there are still some aspects that could be improved like the befriending system, the game makes many other improvements in story flow and sidequest structure. Battling remains a passive experience, but once you learn how to affect the tide of battle, the system can grow on you. YW2 builds upon the original’s biggest strengths, giving life to an immersive town and hundreds of Yo-kai. The 180+ new Yo-kai add to the charming roster of hilarious souls and spirits, and learning about each one is smile-inducing. The game won’t appeal to everyone, but monster-collecting enthusiasts should give Yo-kai Watch 2 a try. The only question is: will you go Bony or Fleshy?

Score: 8/10

Note: The version used for this review was Yo-kai Watch 2: Fleshy Souls.

What do you think of Yo-kai Watch 2? Do you have any experience with the Yo-kai Watch series, whether games, anime, or toys? Which would you choose: Bony Spirits or Fleshy Souls? Please share any thoughts you have in the comments section below!