Octopath Traveler (Switch) Review

Eight is Enough

Over the years, Square Enix has become synonymous with role-playing games. For many fans, the SNES era hit a sweet spot with classic RPGs like Final Fantasy, Secret of Mana, and Chrono Trigger. The company has continued to develop nostalgic throwbacks like Bravely Default and Lost Sphear, so it was no surprise when it initially unveiled Octopath Traveler during the first ever major Nintendo Switch presentation. Its brief reveal trailer was like nothing I’d seen before, yet it felt so familiar. After finally playing through this gem, I realize why. It evokes the classic era through modern takes on retro game design – striking visuals that marry 2D and 3D, truly daring storytelling, and a deep, engaging battle system.

Be sure to watch my Video Review to see the game in action!

Continue reading “Octopath Traveler (Switch) Review”

Nintendo E3 2017 Predictions – Pandas Predict

Boarding the Hype Train!

E3 (Electronic Entertainment Expo), one of the biggest video game conferences and annual hype holiday for gamers, is just around the corner. With a new hotly selling console under its belt, Nintendo has a huge opportunity to show off what the Switch can deliver this year. Of course, we can expect more details on Super Mario Odyssey, Fire Emblem Warriors, and Xenoblade Chronicles 2. We might even get more information on the upcoming ARMS and Splatoon 2. Following the Pokemon Direct, Nintendo might also have something brief on the newly announced Pokken Tournament DX and Pokemon Ultra Sun & Ultra Moon.

 

 

Here is the Video Version, in which we go into more detail!

Continue reading “Nintendo E3 2017 Predictions – Pandas Predict”

Tales from Japan – Akihabara: Land of Video Games, Anime Shops, and Final Fantasy Cafés

Pilgrimage to the Electric Town

Welcome to the second round of pictures and stories from my trip to Japan! My wife and I had the opportunity to visit Japan, and it was the trip of a lifetime! We are both big video game and anime fans, so it was a no-brainer to visit Japan together. Last time, I shared about our stop at Ikebukuro, an area in the Western side of Tokyo with fun attractions like the Pokémon Center (which we visited when Pokemon Sun and Moon had just come out), the Shonen Jump amusement park J-World, and some huge anime stores. However, that was nothing compared to what we witnessed at the glorious mecca of geekdom, Akihabara.

Note: Click on images to enlarge or see captions.

Electric Town

Historically, Akihabara has been a major shopping center for electronic goods post-war. This helped the district earn its title of “Electric Town.” There are still many big electronic stores and computer goods scattered throughout the city including Yodobashi Camera. Nowadays, Akihabara is commonly referred to as a cultural center for otaku, who are typically hardcore fans of anime and video games. The area itself isn’t very large, but it’s densely packed with many dozens of stores filled to the brim with character goods. There are also arcades filled with “UFO Catcher” crane games and popular game cabinets. Even outside, gigantic banners showcasing the hottest anime line the buildings. It’s truly a sight to see, whether or not you’re familiar with any of the series. Cute characters, battle scenes, and other cultural icons are all over the place. Final Fantasy XV had just come out the day we were there, so there were huge displays in front of multiple stores advertising the hit road trip simulator.

As a kid, I had always imagined that Japan would be like this. Now that I’ve been twice, I know that the country consists of much more than anime. Truth be told, although anime is more commonplace and recognizable around Japan, there are only a few places where the hardcore fandom is in such full effect. Akihabara is probably the biggest and most well-known. And I absolutely love it! We were most excited to make the pilgrimage to the cultural home of our biggest hobbies. Unfortunately, we couldn’t make it to every store. As soon as we entered any shop, we ended up staying there much longer than intended. There was just that much for us to see, from figurine displays depicting our favorite anime scenes to hundreds of merchandise in one aisle alone. Multiply that aisle by 30 and you roughly have the size of one floor of a store. Now multiply that floor by eight to get a full shop. Finally, factor in dozens of these tall buildings and you’ll get an idea of how jam-packed Akihabara really is! Needless to say, we spent a lot of money here alone.

Video Game Stores

Being in the Electric Town, I simply had to check out the treasure troves of Akihabara’s video game stores. Although there are a good number of retro video game havens in the area, they’re pretty well hidden. Of course, if there was any semblance of 8-bit goodness on a storefront, we instantly went inside. Occasionally, I would hear overworld themes from Zelda or Mario and would be lured inside like a sailor drawn to a siren’s song.

One of my favorite stores is the renowned Super Potato. The pictures speak for themselves. There are tons of retro video games at pretty decent prices. I was surprised by the dearth of old-school Famicom and Super Famicom games up for the taking. I even saw an honest-to-goodness Virtual Boy! I didn’t pick up any of them, but I documented my journey inside the utopia of game goods.

Final Fantasy Café

Akihabara is also known for its maid cafés and other themed restaurants. Within the former, hostesses dressed up as maids serve you goodies. It’s apparently quite a unique experience, but we scoured for the latter. There are numerous cafés around Tokyo, based on hot trends and other longstanding popular series such as Kirby and Monster Hunter.

My wife and I love Final Fantasy, so imagine our surprise when we discovered a café themed around it. We later realized that there was also a new Square-Enix café that was actually serving up some FFXV goodness, but we’re still happy that we got a slice of fantasy in Akihabara! The Final Fantasy Eorzea café is named after the region in the online multiplayer Final Fantasy XIV. The interior itself is well-decorated with artifacts from the game, cute statues of popular FF mascots, and stations to play the game (PlayStations, if you will). The food and drinks were FF-themed as well. There were Titan crepes and Fat Cat cakes. My wife had a Tonberry omelet and I had Ifrit cheese tortilla, which came with a wonderful seaweed representation of the fiery summoned beast. We also enjoyed delicious Potion and Ex-Potion drinks! Each order came with a souvenir Eorzea coaster. We were so lucky to have such an amazing experience!

Gundam Café

That wasn’t even the only café we went to that day! We later visited the Gundam Café, themed around the popular giant robot anime. The café is conveniently near the Akihabara train station next to the other popular AKB48 café based on the popular all-girl group. While I’m not a huge fan of Gundam, I enjoyed my time there. Several human-sized model robots and other mechanical decorations filled the interior. A video played constant clips of Gundam theme songs and anime scenes. We even enjoyed some foods that were shaped like the iconic mecha, such as the Gundam curry rice!

Next Time… Shinjuku and Shibuya!

I hope you enjoyed our journey through one of our favorite hot spots in Japan, Akihabara! I have many hundreds more pictures from Akihabara alone so choosing about 50 was incredibly difficult. That said, if there is anything you want to see and I just happen to have it, I’d love to include it in my next update. I can’t guarantee I have such pictures (we only spent a day and a half here), but if I have something close to fulfilling a broad request, I’ll look for it! I’ll end here with a picture showcasing some of our goods from our fun-filled pilgrimage. My favorite goods were Phoenix Wright keychains, a Daigyakuten Saiban (Phoenix Wright prequel) shirt, a Yu-Gi-Oh! Millenium Puzzle glasses case, a mini-Garnet figurine from Final Fantasy IX, and goods from my beloved anime Detective Conan and My Hero Academia. My wife loves her Dragon Ball Super Goku-shaped water bottle and keychains of Yo-kai Watch’s Hovernyan, Danganronpa’s Monokuma, and an adorable Rayquaza-cosplay-Pikachu.

Thanks for indulging in our displays of fandom! Please let me know if you have any questions or comments! Next time, I’ll share about our day at the popular hangout districts of Shinjuku and Shibuya, including our stop at the Final Fantasy store!

Tales from Japan

Ikebukuro’s Pokémon Center, J-World, and More!

Final Fantasy Explorers (3DS) Review

Monster Hunting in Final Fantasy

Final Fantasy Explorers is Square-Enix’s attempt at incorporating a cooperative mission-based gameplay structure into the world of Final Fantasy.  Although Final Fantasy is in the name, this does not play at all like one.  That is not to say that this game is bad, but requires different expectations coming into it.  Rather than taking story or characters from any single game in the series, Final Fantasy Explorers instead features an original world while including cameos from the other entries.  This game does not have the elements most common to the original Japanese RPGs, such as a turn-based system or leveling up, but instead utilizes a simple hack-and-slash approach.  In contrast to story-heavy Final Fantasy games, Explorers prioritizes social gameplay and a mission-based structure.  The end result is a game that is not at all like Final Fantasy, but features enough fan-service that may still appeal to the most hardcore of Final Fantasy fans.

Story

Unlike main Final Fantasy titles, this game does not focus on story.  There is a bare-bones story that is told through some non-playable characters in town.  Overall, you are an explorer, not any certain character but rather a created avatar.  Your goal is to defeat monsters and gain licenses, raising your rank.  There is a threat at work and as you play through the game, you will be able to learn more.  The story is as forgettable as it sounds and is really meant to just guide you through the early parts of the game.  Luckily, this game is more leveraged on its gameplay than its story.

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A lot of your game time will be spent in this town.

Gameplay

Explorer!

Final Fantasy Explorers is a game that is easy to pick up and play, which complements its portable nature.  The game focuses on numerous missions, with each taking anywhere from 10-45 minutes depending on player skill and difficulty.  Most missions ask you to defeat a certain number of enemies or .  There are a large number of missions, divided into difficulty ranks ranging from 1-10.  Many of the quests are actually very similar, due to the limited number of monsters and bosses, leading to quite a bit of repetition.  In addition, the world is not very big and only consists of about 15 major areas separated by “randomly-generated pathways.”  By that, I mean you will randomly be put in very small basic pathways (straight line, T-shaped, L-shaped, etc.) with a few enemies each.  Go through 3 of these to reach a bigger area.  It will usually take less than 5 minutes to explore these “larger” areas, because of a lack of enemies or diverse topography.  For a game with the word “explorers” in the title, the small scope of the world limits the actual exploration.

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Fight classic Final Fantasy monsters throughout the land.

Such limited scope of the world makes the game feel cramped and makes missions feel repetitive.  Because you will need plenty of the loot given as rewards to make better equipment, be prepared to do some of these missions over and over again.  The game does allow you to embark in any of the major areas by using an airship, meaning you can literally teleport near a boss and finish the mission within minutes.  However, such a structure merely drives the point that there is not much to explore due to its small world.

Job System

Before taking missions, you must prepare your customized character in town.  There are a decent number of jobs, including mainstay Final Fantasy jobs of Knights, Monks, White Mages, and Black Mages.  The game begins with a few options and more advanced jobs are unlocked as the game progresses.  Each job functions like a typical RPG class and has different abilities, skills, and equippable weapons.  For example, Knights equip swords and have good attack and high defense, Monks are strong physical attackers who use knuckles, and White Mages focus on healing magic as opposed to attacks.  This system shines brightest in multiplayer mode, where a group of up to 4 people with different jobs can utilize individual strengths and playing styles.  The game rewards teamwork in this regard.  However, in solo mode, it is harder for some jobs to stand out, such as the weaker, primarily healing White Mage.  While it is doable to play alone in any of the classes, some are more frustrating than others.  Regardless, having a myriad of options welcomes experimentation and customization, as each job feels unique.

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Monks use knuckles to vanquish their foes.  White mages assist by healing.

Battle System

Regardless of the job you pick, the mission structure is similar.  Go into the world and hack away or cast magic spells at everything you come across.  All action is real-time as opposed to turn-based.  Attacking and dodging effectively are the primary strategies.  For those expecting a complex battle system where using different weapons and pressing various button combinations will result in battle combos, it is best to look elsewhere.  Final Fantasy Explorers only uses a single button for basic attacks.  Pressing it multiple times will allow you to do several more swings of your weapon, but it is not at all a deep system.  Luckily, there are different weapons to experiment with.  However, aside from each having a unique feel and speed, the simple battle system limits each weapon’s true potential.

Luckily, the skill system makes up for it as one of the best parts about this game.  Each job comes with its own set of special skills from dynamic blows to barrages of arrows.  Skills take time to activate, but you can use them at any time, even one after another.  The only limits are: Ability Points which are used up to activate skills, and cooldown periods in which you must wait to activate the same skill again.  Those willing to explore each job will be able to appreciate the diverse skillsets each one provides.

In what is perhaps the most original part of this skill system, skills can now be upgraded through Crystal Surges.  Crystal Surges are special temporary upgrades activated by building your Resonance meter through attacking enemies.  These upgrades may add an element to your attack or give you bonuses, such as increasing attack, defense, and HP recovery.  By using skills during a Crystal Surge, an upgraded version of the skill is created, incorporating the type of bonus gained.  For example, using an attack skill while the Fire Affinity Crystal Surge is activated will allow you to create a fire element version of that skill.  Note that you will still have to buy that upgraded skill with Crystal Points to permanently keep it.  However, once you own that skill, you can create an expanded skill with even more bonuses by using it during other Crystal Surges.  Building off of the previous example, your new fire skill can also gain the ability to poison enemies if you use it during a poison-type Crystal Surge.  This skill-building mechanic can be quite addictive, especially if you are willing to grind for the numerous additions each skill can have.  A small criticism of the Crystal Surge system is that it is too random.  Depending on your Resonance level, you have a choice of up to 4 Crystal Surges you can activate. Unfortunately, you cannot choose which 4 are available, which may not be helpful.

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Battle across large fields.

Another big aspect of this game that primarily serves as fan-service is the Trance system.  By filling a Trance meter, you can temporarily become a hero from past Final Fantasies, such as Cloud, Squall, and Tidus, among others.  While it is fun to suddenly take on the form of a classic character, the whole process is too short to change much.  If you activate a Crystal Surge during Trance mode, you can use an iconic move, such as Cloud’s Omnislash.  However, they are a little-watered down and do not fully resemble the attacks as originally represented in their respective games.  Regardless, this is a nice nod to Final Fantasy fans, though not a fully realized experience.

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Play as fan-favorite characters like Cloud!

All of these elements come together to help you fight the real meat of this game, the Eidolons.  In the Final Fantasy universe, Eidolons are summoned creatures that help in battle (fire beast Ifrit and ice goddess Shiva, for example).  In Final Fantasy Explorers, they are the major bosses.  Eidolons are a step above the normal enemies and can be quite difficult.  Some more strategy is required during these encounters, which is appreciated considering the game’s repetitiveness.  However, aside from a few cases, the bosses feel a bit uninspired.  While you can break parts of bosses to get more loot, there are no truly weak spots or special sequences that make the bosses stand out.  If your team has the right stats, you may even be able to defeat the bosses without a sweat.  They really are just giant hard-hitting enemies.  Another disappointment is that recurrent encounters with a limited number of Eidolons (about a dozen) make the game feel even more repetitive.

Solo vs. Multiplayer

For this type of game, the multiplayer aspects are the focus.  Thus, solo mode is just passable in this game.  Playing merely to enjoy the lackluster story will likely bore the solo player.  As a replacement of real-life partners, monster allies can be created to accompany players on missions.  However, they are a bit unbalanced. They are either too weak to make dent or so overpowered that they take down bosses for you.  Another disadvantage to playing solo is that the game is designed to support multiple jobs, so only having one job is limiting.  Monster allies can help offset these issues but are no substitute for the fun to be had in multiplayer.

Multiplayer with friends is the real highlight of the game and makes the game feel more alive.  Final Fantasy Explorers supports both local and online multiplayer for up to 4 people at once.  Having to work together to beat a boss is more of a thrill than doing it alone or with computer-controlled monster allies.  The unique jobs synergize to form a cohesive team.  This can be realized when playing local multiplayer or online with friends.  The same cannot always be said when playing with random people online.

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Multiple people can team up via local and online play.

Online multiplayer can be fun, but a lack of communication options can make finding that enjoyable experience difficult.  In online multiplayer, you may create or join rooms.  These rooms actually have quite a few options.  For instance, you can look for people who are stronger than you or others of equal or lower level.  You can even specify what you want to do online using preset options, such as grinding for loot, doing high-rank missions, or helping others train.  Once you get into the room, however, it is difficult to actually coordinate all of this due to a lack of chat options.  There is no voice chat, and the comments you can make are limited.  In addition, online lobbies allow anyone inside to choose a quest, meaning there can be multiple quests being chosen at once.  Members in the lobby will then have to decide which quests to go on or just leave the room altogether.  Odd inconveniences have happened before in which I have entered lobbies where people had already embarked on quests.  I did not know where to go or what to do and just left the lobby.  If there was a quest I did not have access to, I could not even join in.  A way to reliably communicate could offset this.  Instead, we get limited presets that are vague like, “Let’s do this.”  Note that while you can edit the presets, there are character limits.  The confusing online infrastructure is barely passable due to the simple nature of the game itself.  For a more enjoyable experience, I recommend playing with others that you can communicate with in real-time via an actual chat system (like Skype).

Despite the flaws online, multiplayer is still the way to play, and finding a good group to play with will surely extend the life of this game.  Taking down the strongest and highest-ranked monsters calls for a skilled, synergized team.  Plus, it is simply more fun to play with real people considering how repetitive the game can become when playing alone.

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A view of the bottom screen.

Lastly, there are other features that round out this title.  For one, quest options can make the game more challenging by adding extra conditions, such as decreasing the time limit or increasing damage dealt by enemies.  You get more rewards for completing quests with these handicaps.  You can also take on subquests that act as bonus conditions to get more Crystal Points.  They are usually simple missions like defeating a certain number of enemies or activating a certain Crystal Surge.  Finally, Streetpass functionality gives you License cards, or profiles of other players, but do not do much else.

Graphics and Sound

The graphics are a little primitive looking, but are decent considering that this is a 3DS game.  There are some odd textures but the game still handles all of these graphics well considering the action.  The style is appropriately cutesy and super-deformed, matching its lighthearted tone.  The environmental settings are perhaps the nicest things to look at and make the world feel bigger than it is.  Interestingly enough, there is no 3D functionality, which may not be a big deal, but is certainly disappointing given how much better the game could stand out with it.

The sound is decent as well, with music selections that feel epic and action-packed.  The best part is probably the borrowed music from other Final Fantasy games during Trance mode.  These iconic themes are nice fan-service but make the actual game music feel a bit uninspired.  There is no voice acting, but the voice clips from non-playable characters are so poor in quality that perhaps this is for the best.  The female voice that shouts “Explorers!” sounds particularly forced, and you hear it every time you take on a quest.

Playtime/Replayability

The average playtime of the story, without too much grinding, is about 15-20 hours.  However, it is important to note that the single-player story mode is really just a tutorial, and the real meat of the game is found post-game.  There is a lot to do, including grinding for equipment, mastering the numerous jobs, finishing the higher ranked quests (which can get very difficult without multiplayer), and completing the explorer’s notebook.  Multiplayer extends the life of this game, as long as you can find people online that will work with you.  That said, even multiplayer mode can get repetitive due to the mission grinding structure, making a prolonged play-session a little boring.  Finding the right balance of playtime and multiplayer sessions is key for the longevity of this game.

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Explorers!

Conclusion

Final Fantasy Explorers is a decent game best played with friends in multiplayer mode.  The solo mode is repetitive and unbalanced, but with multiplayer, the game experience feels more complete and exciting.  While there are hiccups and flaws due to a lack of communication options in online multiplayer, it is still a solid mode to play with the right group of people.  The jobs, skills, and trance systems add depth and variety regardless of which mode you play.  In addition, the featured cameos of classic Final Fantasy characters and Eidolons will please most fans of the series.  While it can be compared to games like Monster Hunter and MMORPGs like Final Fantasy XIV Online, this game is perhaps closer to a slightly faster version of the 4-player action title, Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles.  In comparison to its larger counterparts, this title falls short in terms of features and the scope of the world, but taken on its own, it is an easygoing game that can just be picked up and played.  Overall, Final Fantasy Explorers has numerous flaws and a repetitive nature, but there is still fun to be had for those looking for a simple multiplayer hack-and-slash action title.

Score: 6/10

What do you think of Final Fantasy Explorers?  Do you have a favorite job class?  How does it stack up against other cooperative multiplayer experiences?  Please share your thoughts in the comments below!