Stuff I’m Digging This Week


Camiel Fortgens Popover

Mr. Fortgens is relatively new to the fashion scene, having only begun designing in 2014. Taking inspiration from his dyslexia, he builds his collections upon rethinking how garments work, constructing them in a way that makes sense to him. His clothes are quite inspired, but this shirt is especially so.



The Field Guide to Dumb Birds of North America

Let’s face it, birdwatching is for the birds. When has a bird ever done anything for you? The author of this book understands that birds can be jerks, thinking that they’re better than you. But seriously, if you like avians and/or have a sense of humor about you, you should pre-order this book.


Sage de Crêt Seersucker Trousers

Summer will be here soon and it’ll be time for lighter clothing. Enter seersucker. But this isn’t your usual boring striped seersucker from yesteryear. Sage de Crêt has created these trousers with a much more versatile plaid pattern which will see you through the warm months in style.


Ami Long Windbreaker

And here I thought coat season was over. Ami is here to prove otherwise. Not only will a long windbreaker like this elongate your frame, making you look taller, it’ll also help protect you from sudden showers. Or, you know, wind.


JAXA x Toyota Lunar Rover

Toyota is officially getting into the reinvigorated space race with their new agreement with JAXA. While this may not sound like a big deal, the truth is that it is much more difficult to make a case for space exploration if there’s no potential profit for companies. Now that automobile companies are involved, humanity might get more serious about it.


Scotch & Soda Button-up Polo

Hawaiian themes are everywhere right now, but that alone isn’t what I love about this polo. What strikes me is that this polo looks like something Amiri would design. You know, the brand that perfected the skinny jean. So basically what you get with this shirt is not only something that looks stylish but also looks five times the price.


Balenciaga Leather Tote

Omg. A yellow leather bag with kittens on it? Fuck everything else, I want this!


Google Stadia

So Google recently had a press release that consisted of the announcement of the company’s push into the game industry. They didn’t have much to say about Stadia except that it wouldn’t require a box like a PS4, just a suitably robust internet connection. With that, one can stream 4K games to any screen just as they would Netflix. There’s no doubt that this is the direction the industry is headed anyway, but what remains to be seen is whether the tech giant can deliver on its promises where other game companies have so far made no headway. Hopefully it is more successful than Google Glass.


LEGO Steamboat Willie Set

I normally don’t dig toys, but having grown up playing with LEGOs, I have a soft spot for them. In honor of the 90th anniversary of Mickey Mouse’s screen debut, the company made this detailed set. It’s feasible that a care-free adult could even display this on a bookshelf in his home right next to his birdwatching books.


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Don’t Try to Hack Your Vita. It’s Not Worth It.

While the writing has been on the wall for some time now, the PS Vita, Sony’s attempt at a follow-up to it’s popular PlayStation Portable (PSP), has been discontinued. For the first year or so after its initial release to American audiences, the company made a half-assed effort to show support for the powerful piece of hardware, but in response to sales never quite picking up, they pulled all software support about halfway through its lifecycle, leaving the heavy lifting up to 3rd party and indie developers. And lift they did, eventually releasing a ton of games that, while mostly not exclusive to the system, were still fun to play on the go.

I could lament from atop my soapbox until the cows come home about the mistakes Sony made or the potential the Vita had to rival the Nintendo Switch, but that won’t change what has already happened. The only option now is to move forward. Sometimes to move forward though, one has to confront the past, and the truth is, the most glaring flaw with the development of the console is that only Sony’s proprietary memory sticks could be used for game storage. These things were at least twice the price of standard SD cards with equivalent storage and the maximum capacity available was a paltry 64 GB. For someone such as myself who has a lot of/too many games, that kind of storage doesn’t cut it without constantly doing storage management.

So a couple weeks ago, I started wondering if any 3rd party developers had ever created more sizable storage options in the years since the console’s launch. Such a thing is standard practice in the gaming industry, even for niche hardware. I happened upon some threads and Amazon listings suggesting that special adapters could be used to install micro SD cards in the game slot. My prayers had finally been answered! The only catch: I had to hack my system in order to do it. With fully detailed instructions all over the Web, how difficult could it be?

I suppose it’s worth mentioning that I have a small amount of experience having done soft hacks in the past. First, it was emulators, which wasn’t so much hacking as it was acquiring software from different places and using them correctly. Then, I started jailbreaking my first iPhones, enabling me to do things I couldn’t normally do with them. That was simply a matter of downloading the right program and running it with the phone physically connected to the PC. Next was my first actual hacking: the aforementioned PSP. I honestly don’t remember much about this because it didn’t last long. While I was able to successfully play a ton of games from different systems, the hardware was notoriously unstable and eventually bricked itself.

Much more recently, I installed a high storage memory card on my 2DS, allowing me to store all my games on it at once. This was simple, convenient, inexpensive, and didn’t really require hacking. I was hoping to get the same results from hacking the Vita. So after checking to make sure I had the right firmware–anything below version 3.70–I bought the two pieces I needed, the SD2 Vita and a 256 GB micro SD card. I briefly glanced over instructions for the process and, while tedious, most of the steps were simply copying and dragging files. I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

I’m not going to go over every step of the 4 or 5 hours I spent trying to get the software to work on my Vita, but suffice to say, it didn’t work. The first process I followed didn’t transfer the necessary software onto the handheld at all, so I sought out a more hands-on procedure. This next one actually did install one of the programs on the hardware, but after opening it and attempting to install the other ones, seen in the below menu, the system just crashed. Nothing I did could make it work, after wasting a night on it.

At first, the angel on my shoulder said, “You can just start the process over tomorrow. Maybe you made a mistake somewhere. Failing that, you can just find another procedure that’ll work better.” But the devil on my shoulder said, “What? And waste another night on this crap? Your time could be better spent blogging and playing video games!” So I listened to the devil and now I’m looking for a reason to keep my unopened 256 GB micro SD card. Storage management is annoying, but it’s not worth wasting multiple nights trying to avoid it.

If you must have a hacked Vita and can spare dropping around $300, which is nothing compared to all the money you’ve spent on your games if you don’t have storage space for them, there are plenty of pre-hacked consoles on eBay at the optimal firmware version, 3.65. They also have emulators for multiple former systems like the NES and Sega Genesis including their entire game libraries. I would recommend buying one of those.

Suikoden V Review (PS2)

There was a time, not long ago in fact, that Konami was a well-known and venerated video game developer. The company was originally founded in 1969, and it was instrumental in releasing some of the most well-known games of the 80s such as Frogger, Gradius, Double Dribble, and Contra. That notoriety for creating great games, not the least of which included Castlevania, Metal Gear, and Silent Hill, continued until Konami became a holding company in 2006. Since then, their video game output has dwindled to just a handful every year, the majority of which are either remastered ports of old games or low-quality, high-return mobile games. This one, the fifth and final of the core series, released at the pinnacle of the company’s success, feels like a swansong for the once great Konami.

Suikoden was one of the company’s series that usually flew under the radar but was also top-tier in quality. While each entry’s narrative stands apart from the other, the overarching story revolves around the 27 True Runes–sources of tremendous power–and the civil wars caused by the struggle to command them. The objective in each game is to gather the 108 Stars of Destiny, forming an army lead by the silent protagonist to defeat the main antagonist in his attempt to rule over the nation. This premise is inspired by Water Margin, a classical Chinese novel attributed to Shi Nai’an. A few characters hop in and out of some of the games which helps to flesh out the world for people who follow the series.

The plot of the Suikoden V isn’t too different from what the series was already known for, but there are a few interesting twists and turns. You control the Prince of the Queendom of Falena. His mother, Queen Arshtat, rules via somewhat bipolar methods. While she is the main figurehead the nation looks up to, the Senate creates the laws of the land and is controlled by two opposing families–the Godwins and the Barowses. It becomes obvious the Queen is troubled by how the families have a stranglehold on her power, but she can rest with the knowledge that only she can wield the Sun Rune, a powerful True Rune. Soon, as she is the heir to the throne, Princess Lymsleia will have to take a husband which is chosen by the Sacred Games. This is where things start to go off the rails.

The story is definitely one of the high points of the game and is the main reason I kept playing. It usually kept me guessing at what would happen next, even though I saw one of the major plot twists from a mile away. Though I would have liked to have had more scenes and action from Lymsleia’s point of view, I found her character progression fascinating. I found it notable that, while the main character is male, this is a nation where females are typically the ones in power. In general, women are depicted as strong, caring leaders while the men who are trying to wrest power from them are arrogant and indifferent to the suffering caused. This is also the only Suikoden game in which the player never gets to control a True Rune, which adds an interesting dynamic to the series.

The game features a number of gameplay mechanics that should be familiar to people who’ve played these games before. 6-character parties make a return after their absence in Suikoden IV. The traversable-by-foot overworld map and the overhead view in towns have both been revived after their omission since Suikoden II. Skills from Suikoden III also have been added though they are less useful now than they were then. 1-on-1 duels and army battles, series mainstays, are also prevalent here. In fact, even the music, dungeon design, and enemy design all seem to be inspired by those from the first Suikoden. Voice acting returns as well from Suikoden IV and, at least during cutscenes, is still quite strong. In essence, this game looks and plays like a “best of” compilation of series gameplay mechanics. This was likely a conscious decision after the blowback from the huge departures made in the fourth entry.

One of the few new additions to the series in this entry is the style used for army battles. As far as I can remember (and correct me if I’m wrong) this is the first time real-time strategy has been implemented. I’m not going to lie; this was quite an adjustment coming from the classic turn-based style of yesteryear. At first, it seemed like these battles were out of control with soldiers everywhere. Luckily, I did eventually figure out how to fight these battles effectively and they became much easier. In fact, they were quite exhilarating. The only problem was, even with how proficient I became, sometimes I frantically had to move the cursor from one side of the map to the other because any battle would reset the camera’s position. Being able to simply switch between characters using the shoulder buttons would have solved that problem. This was a minor issue though.

My biggest problem with this game is that it is so. Fricking. Long. It’s one of the many reasons I haven’t written a game review in a long time. Just completing the main story will take the better part of 50 hours, but if you want to see the best ending, it will be around 70. A good portion of that is due to the excessive random encounter rate. Cutscenes also aren’t skippable which is odd given that this game was released in 2006 when the ability to skip was likely standard. Load times are especially outrageous and add a significant amount to playtime as you will get a load notification between almost every map, room, town, battle, etc. The cute low-res walking graphic is a very small consolation when you are frequently waiting up to 7 seconds traveling through dungeons, fighting monsters every few steps.

But enough about how long the game was (it was seriously long though). Some of the gameplay mechanics were also irritating. Whoever constructed the main menu should have been fired because it was not designed properly at all. For example, when you want to equip something, standard RPG procedures dictate that the game show you everything a particular character has equipped with empty spaces in the areas of the body where there’s nothing. You simply move the cursor to the area you want to equip something, select it, and it shows you what you have available in inventory to attach. Instead, when you select Equip in Suikoden V, it shows you all the items that are available to equip in inventory without being able to see what your characters already have on them. I could go on about these backassward designs, but be assured that this mentality carries through to many other areas such as rune placement, inventory management, and party formation.

As I pointed out above, skills made a return in this game. Unfortunately, they have very limited usage this time around as each character can only select two skills to use, and for many characters, the second skill slot is taken by an unremovable specialty skill. Stat-altering skills don’t become that useful until much later in the game when you gain access to epic skills which raise more than one stat. Even then, stats are so much higher by that point that raising them by 10 or 20 won’t have much of an effect in battle. Because SP (skill points) is so difficult to come by, you would have to grind for hours (see: long game) to make any headway toward the most useful skills for each character. Thus, skills are largely ineffective.

Another useless addition to gameplay is new to the series in this entry: formations. In the first 3 games, 6-character parties were always organized into 2 rows and 3 columns. This game says “To Hell with that noise!” and gives you the option of different formations which increase attack, defense, or some other stat. In theory, this was refreshing and led me to change my formation now and then depending on the situation…at first. In practice, I began noticing my medium-range fighters, the range that classically could attack enemies from either the front or back row, started missing all the time in these new formations. Without confusing you more than I already have, using alternate formations requires a lot more adjustment with regard to character range and placement than it should. As a result, my party spent most of the game in the classic 2×3 formation to ensure fighters could hit their marks.

There has been some speculation that Suikoden V was released before it was ready which would explain a lot of the issues I had. Perhaps the menus would have been cleaned up if development took longer. Perhaps the more cinematic cutscenes would have been replaced with FMV. It speaks to the quality of the game that I still felt drawn to finish it despite its flaws. The story is great, the graphics are adequate, the music is nostalgic and superb, and the battles are thrilling.

It’s unfortunate that we may never get closure on what Konami had in mind for the Suikoden series. Only 18 True Runes were ever revealed. Characters like Viki, Jeane, and Leknaat still remain mysterious with questionable motives. I always figured they were leading up to a final crossover game in which the bearers of the True Runes would team up and destroy some gargantuan, otherworldly power. Alas, that will probably never happen. However, the games that were released are still fun even if the full scope was never realized. If you still have a PS2 laying around (this is the only mainline Suikoden game still not released on PSN) I recommend playing Suikoden V.

Score: 3.5 out of 5

Stuff I’m Digging This Week

Schoolhouse Side Table

Last week’s little visit to the Schoolhouse website got me to look at this new bad boy they have in stock. This thing is handsome enough to serve as either a nightstand or an end table with plenty of storage built in for both.

Rhude Plaid Overcoat

I’ll give you the short version and simply tell you that plaid is HUGE right now. Seems like every label from Todd Snyder to Gucci is going all in on the pattern with wacky variations. Plaid coats are especially big, and this one looks like a dream. I love Rhude for their modern takes on classic menswear staples.

$2 off Hulu Subscription

Remember the uproar Netflix caused a few weeks ago when they said they were raising the price on their subscriptions? I have feelings on that, but I won’t get into it here. Anyway, Hulu made the best move ever and said that, in response, they would be lowering the cost of their own subscription service. The catch is that it’s only for their higher-tier no-ads service, but still, it was pretty genius marketing. It convinced me to upgrade.

Ovadia x Mouse T-shirt

Yeah I know, another collab. I’m not going to highlight the entire thing like I did last time, even though I really want to. Ovadia & Sons, another label that blends streetwear and fashion, has teamed up with Grateful Dead album cover artist Stanley Mouse to capitalize on the popularity of tie-dyed and GD-style clothing. This tee is just one of many pieces I find interesting. You might want to take a look at this gorgeous sequined jacket while you’re at it.

Burberry Plaid Trousers

I told you plaid was huge right now! Another thing that’s big is wearing clashing plaids together in the same outfit, as displayed here. I have a confession to make. Ever since I played through Persona 5, I’ve been dying to own a badass pair of plaid pants like the ones the Phantom Thieves wore to school. They don’t have to be exactly the same color scheme, but something audacious yet versatile would be great. This pair fits the bill.

HMS Owl Air Control Tower

I am always on the hunt for new travel experiences, which is one reason I follow Uncrate. They like to show off interesting places to stay or own like this old renovated military control tower in Scotland. The industrial furnishings sleep up to 4 with a king-sized bed overlooking the sunset. It even has a hot tub!

Kingdom Hearts III

After 14 years of waiting, we finally got the end to this long-running, beloved series. Reviews are out and they are mostly good. The one major drawback I’ve heard about the game is that the Final Fantasy characters were completely forgotten and left out, which is a bummer. Unfortunately, due to my sizable backlog which I decided I’d complete before starting on more modern games, I won’t be getting to this one for quite some time. Though exceptions have been made in the past.

Wild Arms 4 Review (PS2)

One of the many RPG series to have been birthed on the original Playstation then subsequently die with the demise of the Playstation 2 was Wild Arms. They were some of the many RPGs published by Sony back when the genre was in its heyday. The first game in the series had the unfortunate luck of being released the same year as Final Fantasy VII which arguably doomed it to obscurity despite being a decent game. The series as a whole was known for using a Western-type motif complete with the music and a barren-looking world. The “arms” referred to in the title were usually some sort of firearm, though I think in the second entry, ARMS was an acronym for a special task force. At a time when so many RPGs were being released and most of the best were from Squaresoft, it was easy to overlook this series. However, most of them were pretty decent.

A boy named Jude acts as the main character for the fourth entry in the series. He is a completely unassuming kid, growing up in what seems to be an idyllic village. That is, until the village is attacked by a group known as Brionac who is using a girl named Yulie to control what turns out to be an Arm. Jude’s life is shattered as he comes to find out that his village was hidden away from the rest of the world which was utterly destroyed in a long civil war that was now technically over. Those people who are left to figure out how to continue living have all but lost hope. The two kids, along with their new buds Arnaud and Raquel, have taken it upon themselves to figure out what exactly Brionac hopes to accomplish and thwart their plans.

The developers of this game decided to take a different approach to the series this go-around. While every other entry has leaned hard into their fantasy aspects, this one leans decidedly science fiction. I found it interesting when at one point the characters were discussing viral evolution, a scientific theory I only just recently learned about. While this added a new dynamic to the plot, I have to say that I don’t think the story followed through very well on its premise. Though the game was very dialog-heavy, it didn’t feel like the characters said much that was worth saying. They probably could have cut half the lines out, made it more succinct, and trimmed about 10 hours from the game.

I liked that there was a good amount of voice acting in this game. Unfortunately, the acting was often awkward and wooden with a poor script to top it off. Jude’s voice was especially grating and I hope that I never have to hear that actress’s voice again. Between the voice acted scenes, the 2D portraits of characters move around the screen as they speak like a visual novel. Though the dialogue was often a bit boring, this movement made the game much more lively. It did get pretty annoying though whenever a character would start talking about “adults” or “kids” or “growing up”. Yes, I’m aware many of the characters in RPGs are young, but I’ve never seen a game beat the player over the head with it like this one does. It really takes you out of the story, what little there is.

Battles received a massive overhaul with the introduction of the HEX system in which characters and enemies can move around the battlefield. This made battles very interesting and somewhat tactical. I noticed I was using the characters’ Force moves a lot more often than I have in other entries. On the other hand, I found that the system could start to get irritating because there was no auto-fight option. Every battle had to be fought differently because some enemies aren’t affected by direct physical attacks. Sometimes, even if you have been grinding a bit, you can still find yourself in a tough battle in which you will die if you’re not careful.

Leveling up is quite interesting in this game and is tough to describe. As you gain levels through experience, you also gain points that you can allocate to learn more skills. While this seems straightforward, using those points simultaneously depletes that character’s HP and MP. Needless to say, you likely don’t want to use all your points up or you will be much easier to kill in battle. Fighting battles doesn’t typically earn a lot of experience or money, save for boss battles. It’s an interesting system that ensures that your characters will never be overpowered unless you devote hours to grinding. The skill tree is one of the best I’ve seen because the skills your characters learn are mostly useful throughout the game.

There are some other interesting bits about this game, little things that the developers just threw in but that didn’t make much sense or weren’t used much. One was Accelerator, an ability that Jude can use to slow down time and see objects he wouldn’t normally see. Using this ability enables the player to solve a few puzzles, but it is nearly useless in the second half of the game. Tools, having been a character-specific way of solving puzzles in former entries, have been relegated to objects that only show up when needed. Their use in progressing through dungeons is usually self-explanatory. Side-scrolling also made an appearance in many areas. I will admit that these areas made gameplay more interesting even though most were easy to traverse. However, all these aforementioned mechanics seemed very gimmicky since the only reason for their existence was
to liven up otherwise boring gameplay.

What gets irritating is when you start trying to do things outside of the normal flow of the game. I decided at one point that I was going to grind because I was using a guide that suggested being 10 levels above where I was. (Come to find out, that was completely unnecessary as I beat the game with all my characters below level 55 and little difficulty.) The area I was in was rife with enemies that would steal your experience, so grinding became impossible. Nonetheless, I persevered and ended up in a battle with a rare enemy that was some 45 levels higher than me. I tried to run because I knew I couldn’t beat it and, because you drop money when you run from battles, I lost like 10,000 gella which was all I had. Thankfully I had recently saved, so I just restarted my game.

To add insult to injury, toward the end of the game there is an equipment shop that sells powerful items. The catch here, besides them being expensive, is that you need many of the other weapons from the shops throughout the game to be able to fuse them together. Because enemies don’t typically drop a lot of money, this task could take days of grinding. There is an arena about half-way though that may or may not have solved my money issues, but I was so fed up with how the game actively fights you from making progress on this optional content that I just wanted to finish the game and be done with it.

Wild Arms 4 is tough to score because I could see myself liking it a lot more if I’d have played it 10 years ago. I may have even played through a lot of the optional content, fused all the weapons, and fought the hidden enemies and bosses. There is a ton of extra stuff for younger me to find, but older me just wasn’t that interested in searching for it all. Perhaps the problem with this game is that the developers threw too much into it when they should have pared it down to a more enjoyable streamlined experience. As such, the game suffers from being too long winded and trying to fight your progress. While fun to play if mainly for the exciting battles, I can only recommend this game to RPG or Wild Arms enthusiasts.

Score: 3 out of 5

Rhapsody: A Musical Adventure Review (PSX)

Rhapsody is not a particularly well-known game, but there is a small story that led to me buying it several years ago. It started with a much better known game by the name of Disgaea 2, which I will also be reviewing eventually. I missed it the first time around when it was on the PS2 because I was more preoccupied with life and Final Fantasy. So when I bought the PSP port and started downloading the additional DLC characters, I was curious where these characters came from and noticed they were mostly from prior games. Thus began my exploration into the back catalog of Nippon Ichi Software, which tangentially also led to Atlus, both of which were involved in the release of this game and went on to become RPG powerhouses.

Rhapsody: A Musical Adventure PlayStation I wonder why no fantasy temple looks like a synagogue

I know what you’re thinking. Just the title itself sounds silly and childish. And you’re right, the game definitely is both. But I found myself enjoying the plot all the same because it has a certain innocence. Cornet is a singing, magical horn-playing girl pining over the dashing Prince Ferdinand. She has the ability to talk to and control puppets, including her best friend and guardian Kururu. As a result of a series of goofy misadventures, many of which involve rival Etoile, Cornet must go on a mission to save the boy she loves. 

Battles in Rhapsody are TRPG-lite with Cornet and 3 puppets/friendly monsters lined up on one side and all the enemy monsters on the other. When each character’s turn comes up, that character is moved and/or attacks. Each puppet and monster has its own set of abilities and affinities which makes switching them around quite interesting. There’s no requirement to switch them, however; you could simply stick with the same team most of the game.

Image result for Rhapsody: A Musical Adventure

As I alluded to, recruiting monsters is also possible, but don’t get it twisted and assume this is going to be like Pokemon–there are a few caveats to monster recruitment. The first is that Cornet has to beat the monster. The second is that recruitment is random with a small chance of actually occurring. The third is that when monsters die in battle, they’re gone for good. Therefore, it’s much easier to simply rely on puppets once you get 3 of them in your party.

While I have no problem with this game being cutesy and lighthearted, I take extreme issue with the fact that the dungeon design in this game is the worst I’ve ever seen. There are 3 or 4 basic graphical types used, and they simply change the colorway for different areas. Each one becomes a maze of what seems like randomly generated (but aren’t) rooms no bigger than the size of the screen. Some of these dungeons can take an hour or more to explore every single passageway with most ending in dead ends and no treasure. It took just a couple of them to convince me that using a guide would help keep me sane. This design reeks of laziness. 

Image result for Rhapsody: A Musical Adventure dungeon

Speaking of laziness, while each character has its own skillset, most of the same types of spells have the exact same graphic when used. The exception is Cornet’s abilities which are cute and mostly represented by sugary desserts. New enemies will often be palette-swapped representations of old enemies, and most puppets look similar to one or two others. All of this can make battles look visually boring. Add to that the fact that halfway through the game, it gives you vague directions on how to continue the story.

The game’s saving grace is that nothing takes very long. You can usually run through dungeons pretty quickly if you know where you’re going. There is an auto-battle button (square) which the game never discusses but will move and attack for you so random battles aren’t a huge annoyance. Leveling up happens pretty quickly too, so you can usually go from being underpowered to overpowered within a half hour. The whole game takes around 10 hours to complete. There are also some late-game story developments that are kind of cute and unexpected which make the game more worthwhile.

Rhapsody: A Musical Adventure PlayStation This is the effect of a Holy spell one of your characters can cast. Pretty cheap, if you ask me

I hear the DS version received many alterations such as ditching the TRPG battles, being able to use Kururu in battle, and receiving a special move upon completing quests for similarly-designed puppets. I don’t believe the dungeon designs were changed, but I think there are maps, which helps. Overall, I have to say that the Playstation version of Rhapsody is difficult to recommend. It is cute and fun, but for all the design frustration and short runtime, it’s probably not worth tracking down a copy. However, if you are a devoted collector and want to acquire this game, you will be in for a short but sweet treat. 

Score: 3 out of 5

Vandal Hearts II Review (PSX)

After playing through and enjoying the original Vandal Hearts, I was anxious to try its sequel. In doing a little background research beforehand, I found out that Konami expanded the game to be somewhere around 30 hours for a normal playthrough, which is roughly twice that of the first game. I wasted no time getting into it, and the prologue chapter seemed to have a lot of good things going for it. It was beautiful in some areas, ugly in others. Unfortunately, I found that many things that didn’t bother me at first became extremely tedious into the 20th hour of gameplay such that I was no longer enjoying the game at all. I decided to give up and move on since my time could be better spent on other games.

Vandal Hearts II begins with a scene of four children playing together. Through the course of the story, you will come to find that all of them will play pivotal roles in future events, but right now they are just children. The main character of the game is Joshua, and he and his friends alter the course of history when they save a man who becomes extremely important. The game follows the main characters into adulthood as we see the consequences of those initial events and they try to unify a nation being divided by outside forces.

vandal hearts 2 2

The game is rife with social commentary on class stratification, political unrest, and civil war, clearly getting much of its inspiration from Final Fantasy Tactics. But while that game at least made attempts at keeping its story simple enough for the player to follow, this one doesn’t seem to care. I will have to give it credit, the script is much sharper than most games from the era, but the plot is so complex with its different factions and who is doing what and where that I completely lost track of what was going on past Chapter 2. It certainly doesn’t help that barely any of the characters have a discernible personality or backstory.

While the story isn’t particularly unique in the TRPG genre, the gameplay aims to make up for it. One of the issues I had with the first Vandal Hearts was that every character and enemy had a turn and the camera would focus on them, whether they moved or not, and this tended to bog down a lot of battles. It appears Konami tried to remedy that issue with the Dual Turn System, in which an enemy moves at the same time the player moves a character. The result of this is that battles actually take longer because the player has to figure out where the enemy can attack in order to figure out how to avoid them. The button sequence for figuring this out is not intuitive. Also, many times I would move a character to strike without thinking and ended up attacking an empty square, thus wasting a turn.

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Another system that I liked in the beginning was how skills, abilities, and spells were allocated to characters. Instead of assigning jobs to characters like most other TRPGs, this one simply has weapons with abilities attached to them. Basically the player can change jobs on the fly by changing weapon types. After abilities are learned from one, they can be moved onto other weapons of the same class.

This is a neat idea which is similar to the system used in Final Fantasy IX. However, what makes this system irritating is the amount of menu management that goes into moving said abilities. The prologue was okay because there are only 3 characters and a couple weapons, but upon progressing further into the game, managing 7 characters with at least 5 weapons each gets to be an arduous chore.

Besides the aforementioned issues, there are many other small gripes that just continued to annoy me while I was trying to enjoy myself. You can’t save mid-battle like you could in the first Vandal Hearts. I ended up leaving my PS3 running overnight a few times because I wanted to go to bed. Even doing something as simple as equipping new weapons on characters take more time than it should because Konami didn’t see fit to let the player switch between characters using the L and R buttons. Menus also take about 5 seconds to load, which really adds up when trying to figure out which characters will have which weapons and skills, accessed from two different menus.

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The final straw for me was with chests and buried items that are found on the battlefield. In order to access these things, you need to have the necessary skills equipped on a dagger. That is the only weapon that has those skills and you will spend the entire length of a battle trying to get to everything, which will make them last even longer. As if that wasn’t irritating enough, another weapon class has the ability to make and break blocks, which you will also always want on a character. There are a few battlefields that only come up once and if you miss a chest with a unique weapon because you didn’t have one of these skills equipped, you will ostensibly miss out on the best ending for the game.

Upon realizing I was tired of jumping through the hoops Vandal Hearts II expected of me, I gave up. I can’t play a game I’m not having fun playing (I’m not getting paid for these reviews after all). There were a lot of great ideas in this game, and the prologue definitely had me interested in seeing where the story would go. However, everything after that became so complex that I lost all interest. Maybe one day I’ll come back to beat this game, but it won’t be anytime soon.

Score: 2 out of 5

Vandal Hearts Review (PSX)

There’s no denying that RPGs flourished on the original Playstation. Contributing to this was the hardware’s mass-market appeal and Squaresoft, the developer that was once considered the king of the genre, being in its prime. In this period, several other companies tried their hand at creating new RPG IPs, some more successful than others. Sony published Arc the Lad and Wild Arms, Game Arts ported their hit Lunar series, and Konami made Suikoden and Vandal Hearts. Surprisingly, this last one managed to stay off my radar until well into the PS3 era, but I was anxious to try out a game that produced a sequel and a prequel (both of which I will also be reviewing).

The game begins with a sizable narration about what has transpired in this world leading up to the events of the game. In brief, thousands of years ago, Toroah the Messiah helped usher in an age of peace and established the Holy Ashah Empire that was then overthrown by Arris the Sage 15 years ago. Arris then disappeared without a trace as the Republic of Ishtaria replaced the former empire. Over time, the politicians of the republic have become just like the ones they overthrew, brutally destroying any resistance against them. This is when Ash Lambert and his buddies, the main characters of the game, get involved as they sense a conspiracy.

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It should be noted that there is A LOT that happens in this game, despite its short runtime. The story is deceptively complex and most of the characters are pretty well-developed, each with their own motivations. I find it interesting that while the developers adopted the typical political scenarios that most tactical RPGs use–class inequality, religious authority, conspiring to attain otherworldly absolute power–they mix in some science fiction machinations such as time travel and even real-world concepts like self esteem and betrayal. So while some specific events may feel similar to those from other games, as a whole, this one has a way of blending them together to create a story all its own.

Some people might want to compare this game to Final Fantasy Tactics, but that comparison is somewhat disingenuous to me as Vandal Hearts came out first. In fact, the gameplay more closely resembles that of a Fire Emblem or Shining series game. Each unit has its own strengths and weaknesses and job progression follows predetermined routes. As a unit gains levels, they will have the ability to grow into stronger jobs. There isn’t a ton of variety, but what is there provides a small amount of choice in how to develop your squad. Small changes in the beginning of the game may force you to rethink your strategy in battle further down the line.

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Vandal Hearts isn’t without its own set of faults. Though I found the audio to be serviceable for the most part, the narrator is extremely muffled, so you will need to turn your TV up a few notches during the segments between chapters. Also, the song that plays in the overworld irritated me to no end for musicality reasons: they added what seems to be an extra eighth note in three measures of the song which throws off the rhythm. On the gameplay side, the process for buying and equipping items can be cumbersome, and the menus overall could have been tightened up. Finally, battles could be a little irritating when there are a lot of enemies as the game will show you each one of them every turn, even if they don’t move.

Most of these are small gripes and don’t do much to detract from a quick but fun game. Though it took me a bit to get into the story because of how dense it is, once I did, I totally dug it. The script wasn’t very tight, but the personality of each character still comes through assuredly. There’s even one guy who appears to be inspired by Cid from Final Fantasy IV (oddly, he is the least developed character). I’m glad I finally played Vandal Hearts. If you like TRPGs and still have the hardware to play a physical Playstation game, I recommend you give it a try.

Score: 3.5/5

Brave Fencer Musashi Review (PSX)

My husband tells me nostalgia can be a powerful thing, but I believe that we should all evaluate artwork based on its own merits, not viewed through rose-colored glasses. With that in mind, I decided to begin my journey through the last four physical Playstation games I have left with one I’d started many years ago but never quite finished–Brave Fencer Musashi. Back when Square-Enix was just Squaresoft, I played my way through the action-RPG but stopped just short of beating the final boss, which I seemed to do quite often at that age. I remember really liking the game overall, completing each mission, fighting the challenging but not impossible bosses, finding and freeing all the missing castle dwellers. For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why I never finished it, so I made out to rectify that mistake.

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The game starts out simple enough with Allucaneet Castle being attacked by the Thirstquencher Empire and Princess Fillet being led down a staircase to summon a hero, whom we come to find out is the legendary hero Musashi. Overall, the story is simple. Go solve this problem. Go get that item. Go kill the boss. Thankfully gameplay was varied enough to liven things up, but it should be noted the hero is not likable and is a jerk to everyone. I’m all for having a hero who, over the course of his adventures, learns how not to be an asshole, but Musashi is entirely focused on himself and saving people just seems to be the way he thinks he can get home. Later in the game, his rival Kojiro makes an entrance and fights him for no discernible reason. By the end, the plot twists aren’t necessarily unexpected, merely uncared for because they involve characters you never really had much interaction with, let alone an emotional connection.

Through the course of the game’s opening events, Musashi ends up with two swords: Fusion, which absorbs and assimilates abilities from enemies, and Lumina, which gains five elemental abilities as you play. These swords are how you attack your enemies and their capabilities seem like they would be fun play around with, but you really don’t need to use those capabilities often, mainly just in boss fights and unlocking doors, and when you do, the effects are typically short-lived. Even more irritating is that you have to pause the game to change Lumina’s element, which shows the developers really didn’t intend to integrate those abilities into gameplay in a major way.

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Unfortunately, I feel like this game should have just stayed in my memory because it did not age well. The graphics are fine enough for the time, so I can forgive that. The voice acting is relatively decent as well. In fact, the music is just as catchy and energetic as I remember. On the other hand, the story is so boring and didn’t make much sense. The thing I didn’t remember was how difficult this game was to play. I’m not talking “fun” difficult like Dark Souls, where you die, you learn something about beating the baddie, you come back a second time and kill him. I’m talking “unfair” difficult, where there is a delay in jumping off bouncing lily pads, so you die just trying to get across the damn river. I wish I could blame this on the PS3’s emulation, but other games seem to be perfectly responsive to controls.

It wasn’t until I got to precisely where I was when I stopped playing the first time 18 years ago that I remembered why I gave up. The final dungeon never tells you that it is the point of no return and it is so difficult to get through that even if you go in full of restorative items, you will likely use them all up by the time you get to the final boss. This happened to me back then and I didn’t feel like starting the game all over again because I’d already saved over my previous saves. I knew going in this time, but still didn’t feel like devoting more hours to ensuring I made it to the end with the ability to beat the final bosses. I just said “screw it” and watched the ending on YouTube. My time is better spent elsewhere.

I wish I could recommend this game because I used to have such fond memories of it. It is thankfully short, but because it is super frustrating to play and the story is basically rubbish, I would advise against dusting off your Playstation in order to play Brave Fencer Musashi, even if the music will get stuck in your head for weeks. It’s no surprise the game hasn’t been remastered for later consoles.

Score: 2/5

Dragon Quest XI First Impressions and Moving Forward

I gave into temptation. I’ve seen the glowing reviews for this game from other sites. I also read somewhere that how well this game sells will decide whether Square-Enix will localize future titles. I’m also fairly confident we are in the beginnings of an old-school JRPG renaissance after the overwhelming support of games such as Octopath Traveler. So I gave into temptation and bought Dragon Quest XI at full price, which is not something I do often.

After I bought it, I remembered I still have 500-some games that I wanted to play first, but I really wanted just a little taste of the game I will eventually have time to play. “Just a little taste,” I kept telling myself. Thankfully, the game was set up quite well for this with the first dungeon being something of a tutorial. I haven’t played the demo, but I imagine this would make for a good one. If I were to describe what I’ve seen of the game in one word, it would be “gorgeous.”

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The graphics seem to be similar in style to Dragon Quest VIII, black line borders around characters and cel shading, but with 3-dimensional backgrounds and a more expansive palette. As a result, the game comes off as a realistic-looking, colorful anime. Peering into the distance on the mountain I was climbing revealed other interesting-looking monuments I will no doubt be visiting in the future. For now, I can only gaze out in wonder.

The story seems to start off simple, like any Dragon Quest game. The traditional storylines of the games have been a hallmark of series since its inception, and this one involves a coming of age youth making his way through his village’s ritual trial only to discover his lineage as a displaced heir to the throne. Though this is a cliche opening, the developers have thrown such personality into the characters and gameplay, the plot really takes second fiddle.

There are so many things to find through exploration that I forgot where I was supposed to be going a few times. Luckily, getting myself back on the right path was relatively simple. As fighting battles are a substantial portion of the game, I’m delighted to report that they function just as well as they always have. The developers decided to allow the player to get an overhead view of the action and to run around the battlefield. Come to find out, this doesn’t serve a tactical purpose. It is only an aesthetic change and can be switched to the more traditional front-facing view.

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Alas, I quit the game right before leaving the first village, but I had fun with what little I played. Recently I realized that with all the games I’m trying to get through, I haven’t been taking a systematic approach to playing them which is really necessary in order to get through them more efficiently. As such, I decided I would start playing them chronologically by system, leading me all the way back to the original Playstation. Games on older systems tend to be shorter, so it should be easier to pump them out. Nostalgia trip, here I come!