Friday, May 20, 2016

Coming Soon: A Darker Side of Mario

Mario Brothers: the Lost World is coming to Nintendo NX, and fans should be ready for a different and darker shade of Mario Brothers! This new game is being described as being darker and more mature than previous installments. Naughty Dog will be heading this new romp through the Mushroom Kingdom, and the concept art alone has me sold! 

Mario Brothers Lost World Concept Art
Concept art by Sylvain Sarrailh
See more concept art and read more about the game from the concept artist, Sylvain Sarrailh, in his DeviantArt journal. Keep an eye out for more information in upcoming Nintendo Diretcs! 

What do you think about this new take on the Mario Brothers world? Do you have a favorite Mario Brothers game? Is there a Nintendo game you would like to see remade with a darker theme? Please comment and let me know!

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

The New Pokemon Starters

I've previously gone on at length about the power and appeal of Pokémon, but today I am left feeling like words fall short in the face of art. The starters for the new games, Pokémon Sun and Pokémon Moon were revealed just a few short hours ago, and the outpouring and quality of fanart which is already flooding the Internet is simply amazing! Check out this small collection of some of my favorite fan art featuring the new starting three.

What are you excited for?

I'm looking to get Moon and pick up a squishy little Rowlet to be my partner, it will be my first grass starter since Bulbasaur!
Which of the new starters is your favorite? Which version of the game are you planning on getting? Please share, and be sure to link to your favorite piece of Sun/Moon fan art!

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Animal Crossing Mobile Game Coming Soon!

Animal Crossing fans woke up to exciting news this morning, Nook, Isabelle, KK and the gang will soon be hanging out on your mobile phone!

The Animal Crossing mobile game logo

It seems that the crazy success of Miitomo (congrats on 10 million unique players, Nintendo!) cemented the seemingly obvious fact that gamers want to game on their mobile phones. While there is not currently any news on when the game will come out, Nintendo has stated that the mobile version of Animal Crossing will contain more gaming elements than Miitomo, and that it will fit nicely into the previously established Animal Crossing world.

Animal Crossing and Fire Emblem will both be heading to mobile devices

Animal Crossing will not be the only Nintendo title headed to mobile. Fire Emblem, which recently made headlines for Nintendo, will also be released in a mobile version. Tactical RPG's can be notoriously time consuming, so the convenience of a mobile app may be just the thing to bring new players into the series.

What do you hope to see in these new mobile games?

While it does not sound like the mobile games will directly integrate with existing Animal Crossing or Fire Emblem games, this announcement brings the promise of new gameplay. What are you hoping to see? An entirely new Animal Crossing town to manage? Integrated villager swaps? Mini-games where you get to run Nook's Cranny or The Roost Café? Are there any other games you would like to see heading to mobile? I'm hoping for fleshed out, stand alone mobile Pokémon game! Please share your hopes and thoughts in the comments!

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Are you ready to Return to PopoloCrois?

Fans of the charming PopoloCrois series are  counting the days until the release of Return to PopoloCrois, a Fairy Tale Story of Seasons. I suspect that this 3DS game, a teamup with the Story of Seasons series, will be the first exposure many readers will have ever had to the world of PopoloCrois. Not to worry, you're in for a real treat.


It may be virtually unknown outside if Japan, but PopoloCrois is a much-loved fairy tale series created by Yohsuke Tamori. Originating as a comic, this series has expanded to include mangas, anime series and several video games. The US has received only one localized game, which was released on Playstation Portable in 2005. This game, simply titled PopoloCrois, spawned a small but dedicated fanbase who have made some adorable fan art, which you should totally check out. A turn based strategy RPG, PopoloCrois focused on storytelling and character development, and the game helped to ignite an ever-growing desire for the slower-paced, story-focused video games of an earlier era, commonly known as "90's nostalgia games."

Return to PopoloCrois features a cast of unique characters which fans of the series will be familiar with, and newcomers are sure to fall in love with. The game has partnered with the Story of Seasons (formerly known as Harvest Moon) games, potentially bringing in an entirely new audience to the PopoloCrois series.

We do not know all of the features Return to PopoloCrois has to offer, as the development blog has said that there is at least one exciting element that has not been discussed publicly. We do know that the game focuses heavily on building and maintaining relationships. We also know that there is only one potential romantic pairing in this game: Prince Pietro and the forest witch Narcia. While this is a departure from the Story of Seasons tradition, this romance is well established within the PopoloCrois canon, and this sweet, mutually dedicated pair are much loved by fans. We have been assured that the romance, and indeed the game as a whole, is very innocent, focusing more on heartwarming character relationships and overcoming seemingly impossible odds, rather than gory graphics or sexual innuendo.

With a main plot of 20 to 25 hours of gameplay, Return to PopoloCrois is a little short for a traditional RPG. Game makers have compensated for this by adding a large amount of side and sub quests which, can reportedly double if not quadruple the length of game. It also boasts a Street Pass feature, though we are unsure how this impacts gameplay, and includes collectibles souvenirs, insects, plenty of crops to grow, animals to care for, and the ability for players to decorate their farm.

Prince Pietro and his farm

While we have seen the fusion of the Story of Season/Harvest Moon games with the action RPG genre in the Rune Factory series, it is still somewhat difficult to imagine how a turn-based, strategic style RPG can be married with the farming world of Story of Seasons. It appears that, unlike in the Rune Factory series, Return to PopoloCrois will not set players up to begin farming at the start of the game. Instead, a thirteen year old Prince Pietro Pakapuka will begin his journey in a new land, where his title and heritage mean very little. Farming will eventually be unlocked as part of the story, and will, the development blog assures, feel like a natural and logical part of the story's progression.

Those who have been following my blog know that I'm something of a Story of Seasons fan, though I am not above being critical of the series. While slow gameplay and, generally speaking, a lack of driving plot are part of the appeal of the SoS series, they can also be a deterrent for both new and returning players. Return to PopoloCrois boasts a rich, emotional, character-focused plot, which may be too much of a departure for old school Harvest Moon players, but could be just the thing to bring new players into the series.

An animation still from Return to PopoloCrois
Return to PopoloCrois features gorgeous animated sequences
With a release date of February 16th, 2016, those eager to return to the world of PopoloCrois will not have long to wait. The game will be available only on the Nintendo 3DS, and those who use Amazon Prime to preorder will receive an additional 20% off the game! What adventures await Pietro, Narcia and their friends in the never-before explored world of Galariland? I certainly can't wait to find out! In the mean time, take a read over the development blog to get a better idea of the potential of this nostalgic RPG.

Return to PopoloCrois cover art

How about you, dear reader?

Did you play the PSP release of PopoloCrois? Have you read any of the mangas or seen the animes? How successfully do you think it will integrate with the gameplay established in Harvest Moon/Story of Seasons? Is there anything you're especially looking forward to about this game? Anything you're disappointed or concerned about? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

Monday, October 12, 2015

Legend of Legacy: Thoughts and Tips

Legend of Legacy is soon to hit shelves in the US, and JRPG fans should take a look at the spiritual successor to the SaGa series. Atlus' newest RPG features seven playable characters whose paths all meet on the mystical and newly appeared island of Avalon. If you are already familiar with the game, you can jump right to my tips!
The game being set on an island, not an entire world, makes Legend of Legacy feel like a scaled down version of a SaGa game. The rich history of Avalon helps fill the void left by a smaller map. Each playable character game has a unique reason for exploring Avalon, but outside of an opening sequence, the character development, which was very rich in previous SaGa games, feels a little lacking.

Legend of Legacy has 7 playable characters, including a frog prince!
It's difficult not to compare this game to Bravely Default, as these two games share a and feature similar graphics. While Bravely Default wins out when it comes to graphics, Legend of Legacy should not be dismissed out of hand. Legend of Legacy offers a much wider array of playable characters, as well as a different kind of tactical game play. Being a sandbox-style game, Legend of Legacy is lighter on plot than the very story-driven Bravely Default, and feels much more open world, with a stronger emphasis on exploration and grinding.

The world of Legend of Legacy feels very alive, due in no small part to the way trees, rocks and other environmental elements pop up as you explore the map. This can be a little annoying at times, as occasionally a wall of trees will pop up and block your path, but it lends a unique kind of charm to the game. Monsters roam the maps, and will give chase if you wander too close, though they are much easier to avoid and outrun than in previous SaGa games. NPCs also appear on maps, providing information, items or healing services.

Elements and elemental alliances are an incredibly important part of Legend of Legacy, and players should beware of maps which have been taken over by the Shadow Element! The poor visibility caused by Shadow makes it impossible to consult your map, and the fog makes monsters three times more powerful. By exploring maps, finding singing statues and listening to stories about Avalon's history, players are able to explore the story of the game as well as receive elemental charms, which can be used in battle.

Map creation is also a key element in Legend of Legacy, though it is a far more passive and less demanding undertaking than in the Etrian Odyssey series. Maps auto fill themselves as you wander through dungeons. Map creation can be frustrating when you have a map which is 99% complete and you can't quite figure out which tiny sliver of the map you have not walked across, but this is usually resolved by  simply walking the perimeter of the dungeon. Once a map is complete, it can be sold to the merchant in town for a pretty penny.

I found the game to be rather quiet, musically speaking. The background tunes are pleasant, but not terribly loud. Despite having the 3DS volume all the way up, I had to turn down the volume of special effects, just to be able to appreciate the background music. The art of the game is lovely, and the backgrounds are beautifully rendered. That said, the game does not take advantage of the 3D features as often as does Bravely Default.

The city of Initium is beautifully illustrated.
If you are unsure if Legend of Legacy is the right game for you, not to worry! The Nintendo eShop has a free playable demo available, just waiting to be downloaded onto your 3DS. While this demo is very limited, it will give you a good idea of if this is the game for you.

Regardless of if you are interested in the demo or if you already have the full game, I have tips for you!

Hold down the L button during battle.

While not as convenient as the auto battle feature in Bravely Default, holding down the L button will allow you to play one-handed. This will not only speed up battles, it will also auto-enter the last set of commands you entered.

Heal the Fallen.

You don't need a special spell to revive a fallen ally, just use Treat Wounds! They'll pop right back up and get back to the battle.

Pick fights.

Despite the early in-game advice encouraging you to avoid monsters, your characters will be auto-healed after every battle, so as long as a character does not fall during battle, there is no reason to worry. Do take note that your SP will not automatically regenerate.

Talk to the NPC guard wandering the first Forest Ruins Map.

This character will teach you the Ambush formation, which will allow you to deal more damage and make grinding quicker.

Hire a Ship. Hire lots of ships.

This is a great way to get access to good gear early on in the game. A Caravel, which can be hired for 1000 St, provides good loot, and selling the items it brings will usually net you more than it costs to hire the ship.

Get ambushed by shaking trees.

The mobs housed in shaking threes in right-hand maps of the Hidden Forrest drop a sword which has a whopping 31 attack. Arming your team of three with these weapons makes grinding will be a breeze!

Be a social butterfly.

Talk to the characters wandering maps, they are full of surprises! In dungeons they may give you items or offer to heal your party. In town they may provide valuable information or even join your party. The brighter the character's outfit, the more you should speak to them. 

Fill your maps.

While you can sell a map of any level of completion, you can only sell each map one time. There is no reason to take less money for something that will automatically fill itself out, so hang onto your maps until they read 100% complete. 

Transfer your game.

The Legend of Legacy demo cuts you off after only two dungeons, but if you decide to invest in the full game, you do not have to start over! Transfer your save data and pick up right where you left off, with all your weapons and stats in place.

How about you?
Have you played Legend of Legacy? If so, what were your impressions of the game? Did you ever play the SaGa series? How do you think it compares to this spiritual successor? Do you have a favorite JRPG? Please share your thoughts in the comments!

Saturday, September 12, 2015

That Summer Slump

It seems that the time of year is upon us again. We've seen all the summer blockbusters, the fall television lineup has not yet started, and the desire for a 'holiday rush' launch means that the release of new video games is being delayed. Combine that with heat and you have a perfect storm: 

The Summer Slump

It's hard to be creative when the sun is trying to bake you alive and there is so little new entertainment to inspire the imagination. I've certainly felt it, and my updates on this blog have suffered because of it. Fandom can be a truly incredible thing, it can excite and inspire, it can unite people over great distances thanks to a shared passion in stories that originate from basic human needs, yearnings and fears. We all fear death, we all need companionship and affection, we all fear, at least on some level, being different, and because of that difference, being alone. 

I feel like that is part of why the Summer Slump hits fandom, especially the creative group within fandom, so hard. Fandom is so incredibly good at uniting us, so when there is a lack of new content to bring you and your fellow fanatics together, it's easy to feel isolated, lonely, unhappy. For me, it manifests as restlessness, the desire for something new--but not that new thing. Or that one, either. I want the new thing that I want, not what's available. As frustrating as this sensation is, I still consider it better than the alternative I have heard about from so many others recently: Depression, or just a simple sensation of sadness that they can't quite shake. 

Figuring out how to free yourself from this sensation and return to a contented state is a challenge, and something unique to each individual. Some people marathon older, favorite shows which they know make them happy. For some, it means starting a group project to occupy the mind and the body; for others it just means trying new things, like making Butterbeer! (Hi, StumbleUponers, welcome to my blog!) For me, I've found enough distraction through a combination of finally sinking my teeth into the main story of Bravely Default and  attempting to world-build for a future project. 

Many fans found a break this week thanks to the release of Super Mario Maker, creating and sharing their their custom built Mario levels, while furiously downloading and discovering how to conquer the challenges presented in brand new, user-created levels. With so many new games set to release in the very near future, this feels like the first droplets before the rain really begins. 

Has the Summer Slump affected you? 

If so, have you found any tricks to survive the Slump? Any advice, be it activities, treats or older series, movies or games that you would suggest others indulge in during the Slump? Are there any upcoming games, movies or series which you are most looking forward to? 

Summer may be ending, but winter is not coming just yet. Be strong, everyone; new entertainment is just around the corner, and with it comes the promise of a revitalization of our favorite fandoms.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Story of Seasons: The Good, the Bad and the possible Future

As should be fairly obvious by my earlier article, my love for the Harvest Moon/Story of Seasons games is no secret. It is that very love which makes my frustration with the recent incarnations of this series so frustrating and so profound. I intended to write a review of the newest game, Story of Seasons, but after 1,000 abandoned words and having had no desire to open the game for several months, I found I had something other than a review to write.

While I am certain I played earlier versions of the game, the one I vividly remember obsessing over was Friends of Mineral Town. As the series progressed, some of my favorite aspects were dropped from it, such as the in-depth mining system, and the farming system increasingly became more difficult, much more of a chore. By the time I had seduced Sanjay in A New Beginning, I swore that I would not play the next game if they added any more complexity to the crop raising system.

And then I rejoiced, because with the announcement of Story of Seasons came the promise of a simplified crop system. I was elated. The game promised so much that I wanted: The chance to run my own store, character customization and wifi gameplay. Bring it on!

Unfortunately, once I had the game in my hands, I found that Story of Seasons had fallen far behind similar games in its addictive and entertaining qualities. The tutorial itself was painfully slow, lasting one full in-game week, and sadly, seemed to set the pace for the entire game. Not only was I unable to skip or even speed up this tutorial, it failed to provide some very important information, such as having to press a button while looking at the calendar in order to see when traveling merchants were scheduled to come to town.

While simplifying the crop system was very much needed, it seems that the developers decided to remove the chance to get ahead along with crop complexity. There was no longer any reason to try and discover how to best utilize every second of every day, because you could not unlock anything, such as those precious silky chicken eggs, any sooner. New items, crops and animals were all time locked, encouraging you to blow through the days as fast as you can to get to that magical unlock point, rather than carefully managing your time in order to see just how quickly you could accomplish a goal.

Image courtesy of videochums
Speaking of removing features, this game also lacks the ability to have someone else tend your crops. In the past, the Harvest Sprites took on this job, but they offer no such services this time. Even if you become king or queen of the region and have farming rights to every public field, you have to do all the watering, fertilizing and harvesting yourself. While it is possible, thanks to tool upgrades being somewhat easily achieved, I still would have found it a real treat to be able to pay one of my rival farmers to tend my crops for me. If Elise can do it, why can't I?

And then there was the social component. While Story of Seasons does support both an online connectivity feature and a local Streetpass option, they are both so minimal and uninspiring that you may as well be playing Farmville. One upon a time, the ability to enter into someone else's game with a 'magic wand' to offer some invisible boost to the happiness/value of an animal or crop was mind blowing. It would have been cutting edge technology. Those days passed, and we're not on Facebook. Gamers who use the 3DS system expect far more at this point in time.

Image courtesy of gameinformer

While games like Animal Crossing, Fantasy Life and Monster Hunter 4 allow up to three players to enter a host's game and play mini games, chat and trade items in real time, the online gameplay in Story of Seasons allows for no text chat, and does nothing to encourage social bonding. Instead, players get a magic wand and sprint across the farm, 'blessing' everything they can as quickly as they can, so that they can rush off to do the same for the next host, all with the hope the host will reward their time with a useful item. Hosts are not even allowed to offer some of the most useful or exciting items, as things such as silky eggs are not allowed to be gifted.

The social component in the Story of Seasons games needs a drastic and immediate update if the franchise hopes to remain relevant. This does present some rather difficult challenges, the biggest of which has to be the time factor. Time ticks away quickly within the world of Story of Seasons, and time is far more important to game play than in Fantasy Life or Animal Crossing. Having other players over could mess up your gameplay and could potentially require some pretty intense planning. So what is the solution?

One simple solution is a mulit-player co-op.

Instead of bringing others to their own farms, players could band together at a communal farm, where those who have exchanged 3DS codes can farm together. Combining their resources, co-op members could contribute animals, seeds and other resources. Everyone involved in the co-op could receive a portion of the harvest, either equally distributed or based upon the amount of care given. Players could also exchange their goods with other members of the co-op. In order to ensure everyone is still active and involved, those who do not visit the co-op for a certain amount of time could be removed, with the option to be invited later.

Image courtesy of gameskinny
Another great way to encourage social play and to help drive an economy would be to allow players to set up shop in the games of other players. This system could be similar to the GTS system in Pokemon, and Story of Season has already implemented an easy way for random players to set up shop in your town, thanks to the recently introduced foreign traders! Imagine waking up each in-game day to find a fresh set of shops, stocked by real players, filled with produce, resources and other goods, both in and out of season, for sale.

Imagine, also, being one of those dedicated players who has carefully budgeted time and resources and has unlocked silky eggs or five star crops shortly after the games release. Being able to sell those items at a premium to other players could easily fund your farm upgrades. On the other end of the spectrum, offering up such desirable items at a low price could be a blessing for a new player, giving them an extra cash boost in that lean first year on the farm. Pokemon players know the joy of getting a rare or powerful Pokemon via Wondertrade, imagine the same kind of item coming from a generous farmer in Story of Seasons. It is this kind of human connection, even if virtual and anonymous, that helps bond players to a game.

So far as graphics are concerned, well, I have another complaint there. It's hard not to compare Story of Seasons with Animal Crossing, as the two games  have so much in common. While Animal Crossing has kept its graphics cartoony and bright, Story of Seasons moved to an odd mishmash that is overly simple in some cases and overly textured in others. Its color pallets have also suffered. While winter in game is lovely, the ground covered with twinkling snow, I find autumn to be downright depressing. Instead of painting the game with vibrant, inspirational colors, everything turns brown and drab, leaving me yearning for a blanket of snow to just make it stop. Also, while spring is nice, it is visually dull compared to spring in Animal Crossing:

Image courtesy of vgoutpost
Image courtesy of gamesradar
And then there's this strange, shifting expanse of what seems to be swamp water which appears in random places in the game:

Despite all my complaints, Story of Seasons did offer some improvements to the overall series. While it was slow going, there were certainly well developed characters who made it worth the slog. As mentioned earlier, the simplified crop system makes growing crops more enjoyable and less of a chore. Then there is the ability to (finally!) customize your character was also a real treat. While Story of Seasons did not allow for same-sex relationships, the customization allows for all characters to wear all apparel and hair styles, so you could effectively cheat the system by selecting a male and dressing it as a female, or vice versa. It's not the same as an actual same-sex relationship, but at least it's one step closer.

Image courtesy of Cruchyroll
I have high hopes for Return To PopoloCrois, an upcoming game which is being advertised as a Story of Seasons Fairytale. While Rune Factory, a similar game series advertised as a fantasy Story of Seasons, faces many of the same hurdles of the main Story of Seasons games, its action-RPG nature helps better break up farming and gives players plenty of monsters to slay. The RPG elements of PopoloCrois holds a great deal of promise, and I cannot wait to dive into the game when it releases in December.

Until then, all I can do is hope that the next major title in the Story of Seasons franchise will find a way to, once again, offer the charm, addition and entertainment of its earlier installments.

How about you?

Have you played Story of Seasons, or any of the Harvest Moon or Rune Factory series? Do you have a favorite game from this franchise? Was there a particular aspect of Story of Seasons which excited, frustrated or disappointed you? Please tell me about it in the comments below!