Phantom Brave: Wait, it’s over?

Remember way back on Wednesday when I said I had a few more hours ahead of me in Phantom Brave to go? Well, it turns out a few more hours meant one hour because Wednesday night I beat the final boss and rolled the credits.

Here’s what happened. I took my squad through a few floors of Failure Dungeons to get leveled up. I brought a bottlemail unit who has a high chance of taking items with it when it’s turns are up so along the way I was able to pick up a few very high level items. This lasted all of a half hour or so. I took those items and used Failure Fusion to get some higher stats on Ash’s weapon and one of my Valkirye’s weapon.My plan was dip in to the last fight, see how much more damage my weapons were doing, and then quit out and continue to farm the Failure Dungeons for weapons and xp.

I also had an idea I wanted to test out. A little while back I had summoned an archer because it had a Failure title and never stored it away. Then I summoned it accidentally in a dungeon run andto my surprise, despite being level one, the archer was going second in the turn order. That’s because it has a passive called quick attack which lets her attack right after Marona when it’s summoned. So when I got back from the run, I looked for other units who also had this skill and I found the Fenrir which had quick attack and more movement speed than the archer.

The final boss fights have crystals that give the boss invincibility. So the priority is to kill the crystals as quick as possible before using strong units to engage the boss. I was doing this by summoning some of my middle of the road units who could kill the crystals but by the time Marona was up again most of them would be dead leaving my stronger units open to being targeted. The idea is to summon all three level one Fenrir, have them pick up the crystals, and run straight to the boss. Since the boss seems to attack the weakest and closest units to it I was hoping it would kill all 3 and in the process destroy the crystals for me.

Here’s how it all went down.

Spoilers ahead, this game is old enough to drive, but still.

Ah Sprout, I thought you were going to be the bad guy but it turns our you’re just edgy.

Marona and Ash battle their way across the Island of Evil. After every battle they seem to be up against insurmountable odds but the people they’ve helped along the way show up to lend a hand. Eventually the gang ends up at the at Sulphur’s lair where they’re ready to fight and seal Sulphur away for eternity.

Until Sprout shows up and just fights Sulphur on his own. Honestly, I would have been satisfied with that ending, it would atleast be unique, the main character doesn’t have to kill the big, bad, world destroying monster for once. But this is a JRPG and there are rules!

It appears Sprout has defeated Sulphur but Sulphur has other plans. He takes over Sprouts body and the first fight begins.

Run to the center!

I put my plan in to action and summoned the three Fenrirs A, B, and C (definitely not names of disposable units. Not at all.). They grabbed the three crystals providing stat boosts to Sprout and ran up to him. Sprout took the bait and killed all 3 on his next turn along with the crystals.

Giving my stronger units an extra turn really made a difference here. Ash and company did more damage with the upgraded weapons but it wasn’t significantly more. They did, however, get to go twice this time and make quick work of Sprout.

Cue the next cut scene.

After the fight, Sprout realizes the only way to stop Sulphur now is end his life and take Sulphur with him.

Except, that doesn’t work either. Sulphur comes back for his second phase and the next battle begins.

This fight has a similar setup to the last one but there are 4 crystals now providing invincibility. Sulphur also has some wicked long range AoE attacks. Again I summoned the three Fenrirs, picked up three of the crystals and ran right next to Sulphur. I would have to use the archer to get the fourth crystal when Marina could summon her again.

I fully expected Sulphur to wipe out the Fenrir’s on his next turn. Instead he walked over them and then did nothing. I summoned my archer, grabbed the fourth crystal and had her join the Fenrirs. Then Sulphur took his turn and did the same thing as last time. He walked a bit and then did nothing. At this point I thought maybe Sulphur wouldn’t attack units holding his magic crystals.

I summoned the rest of the crew just in case Marona didn’t get another turn. On Sulphur’s next turn, to my relief, he hit all four units holding the crystals and destroyed them all. At this point, all of my strongest units were up. Now the play was getting in as many hits as I could with each unit while also making sure they didn’t all clump up together. I still didn’t expect to win the fight but I had to try.

It all came down to this moment.

One by one Sulphur picked off each of my units. When it was only Ash left and Sulphur used a powerful spell I thought it was all over. But through those extra levels or sheer luck Ash held on with only a few hundred health left. It all came down to Ash, on his last turn, with Sulphur sitting at 2400 health. The great thing about Ash’s last turn is it gives him a significant damage boost. We’re talking a double damage or more kind of boost. I attacked with Pincushion, a skill that does 9 hits and then a big 10th hit, all of the 9 hits were over 200 damage so as long as the last hit was big enough I would defeat Sulphur. Lucky for me, it was just enough. The Stage Clear notification popped and we were back to the cut scenes.

Is it though?!?

Sulphur was once again gone and everything looked like it was wrapping up. I had a sneaking suspicion that there might be a third phase. And wouldn’t you know it, Sulphur came back yet again! There’s a moment where Ash is going to sacrifice himself (because that worked so well for Sprout) to seal Sulphur away and Marona tells him she can’t live without him. But our kind of rival Walnut, who has the same power Scarlet the Brave used to lock Sulphur away last time, comes in and finishes the job.

And that’s it! The credits roll, I went back to Phantom Island to save, and the game is over. Unexpected for sure but I’m glad I got to see the ending.

Phantom Brave: Almost Done but Not Quite

I’m on the “Final Episode” of Phantom Brave. Marona and Ash have fought there way through scores of battles on the Island of Evil with some help from the people they’ve met throughout the game. They’ve arrived of the big bad’s door step and all that’s left to do is take it on. Well, in theory. In reality, there’s a fair bit more game to go if I actually want to finish Phantom Brave. Why? Because I find my squad over leveled and under leveled all at the same time.

I’ve tried to take on the final scenario a few times. Without getting too spoilery, the final encounter is a two parter. I’m able to barely scrape by the first phase with Ash as long as I sacrifice my other party members and get one good damage spell off from my witch. The second part is where I’m really struggling. There are four crystals that give the boss invulnerability that need to be destroyed before I can start doing damage. All of the crystals are on opposite sides of the room. So the plan is to summon phantoms next to the invulnerability crystals, take them out, and attack the boss, all before it has a chance to pick off to many party members. There is just one problem, that fourth crystal is at the far end of the room and it will take at least 2 turns for Marona to get close enough to confine a phantom over there but that will also take her very close to the boss. No Marona, no more summoning party members. The other issue is that the boss uses very strong AoE spells so if there are too many party members standing next to each other it’s going to take them all out.

I have 3 party members (Ash, a Valkyrie, and a Witch) who can do reasonable damage to the boss per turn but I’m having trouble keeping all three alive long enough to get their shots in. Then there’s Marona who is a good 20 to 30 levels below the rest of the party so keeping her alive is a challenge.

Unlike Labyrinth of Refrain I can’t just lower the difficulty for the final boss so the question is where do I go from here? There are two options. Option one: Continue to play for a few more hours to get my party leveled up. Option two: Go watch the final scenes on Youtube and call it a day. I’ll probably go with option one, I’m still enjoying the game and watching cut scenes on Youtube just doesn’t hit the same.

After a little internet research the best way forward from here seems to be Failure Dungeons and Failure Fusion. I knew about Failure Dungeons before and have used them to get the party leveled up when I ran in to difficult scenarios.

Example of a Failure Dungeon. The item is level 297 with 3k health. That lone enemy over there is level 297 with 400 health.

The idea is to create a random dungeon that’s about three times your level and then use the Titlist to put a Failure title on the dungeon. This causes the enemy levels to be high but their stats are severely diminished and they don’t give XP for being killed. You might be wondering how leveling works if the enemies don’t give XP. Well, phantoms also gain XP based on the level of the item their confined in to. Since the items in the dungeon are the same level of the enemies you get a ton of XP for confining and then it’s very easy to pick off the weakened enemies. The only issue with this method is while the phantoms gain levels rather quickly, Marona get’s very little XP which has lead to my current situation of Maron being under leveled.

Failure Fusion is not something I’ve tried yet. The idea behind this method is to take a weapon whose stats you want to boost, put a Failure title on it, and fuse it with a much higher level weapon. The Failure title makes the primary weapon five times weaker and since stats through fusion are determined by the difference in primary and secondary weapon you get a massive stat boost for fusing and then even more when you take the Failure title off. The best way to get secondary weapons for this is the Failure Dungeons since the item levels will be much higher than anything I currently have. I’ll just either need a lot of mana or I’ll need to get my Fusionist leveled up more before I can do this.

I’ve got a little work ahead of me if I want to complete this one. Not to imply that it’s something I won’t enjoy. If I didn’t like the battle system and the story so much I would have shelved this game a few episodes ago when things started to get tough.

Tweaking Settings for Success

Brother and I have continued our 7 Days to Die game much to both of our surprise. After the first session I concluded that there was enough new things added over the years that I could see myself playing it for a few more hours. That was more than a month ago and I’m still looking forward to every session.

Something that’s helped form that stickiness for me are the game settings that we’ve tweaked:

  • 24 Hour Cylce: 120 minutes
  • Player Block Damage: 200%
  • Drop on Death: Backpack Only
  • Blood Moon Count: 16 Enemies

You could say this makes things much easier but I say it makes things more playable.

I like the exploration aspect of 7 Days way more than I like the horde nights. I know, I know…the horde nights are, like, the namesake of the game but mowing down hordes of zombies with traps doesn’t do as much for me as going out there and finding cool stuff. Making the 24 hour cycle twice as long adds more time for the funs stuff and doesn’t make preparing for horde nights feel a chore. There’s more time to explore, complete quests, get level ups, and find loot while also leaving the 7th day open to prepare for the horde. We did double the amount of zombies that can spawn per player to compensate for the extra time.

The longer days add their own challenge in the way of food and water. The game days are twice as long so there’s a need for a bigger food supply to keep up with the extra exploration and fighting. We’ve found ourselves in many situations where we desperately scramble to find something edible before one of us die. We’re going to start a farm to try to eliminate those situations.

Longer days also makes getting through a week of in game time take a while. We average maybe a day and a half per session about once a week. As a result, we just saw our first horde night at the end of November.

Our horde night base minutes before the sun went down.

Increasing Player Block Damage to 200% is a nice quality of life improvement. There are a number of safes and locked chests that contain some nice loot but in the absense of lockpicks the only way to open them is by hitting them with a pick axe. High durability and slow stamina regen leads to a lot of waiting around to open these things so we decided to up the block damage. It still takes time to open high durability chests but it’s much more reasonable.

Our final tweak was dropping only your backpack on death. That way we can keep our most important items or weapons on the hotbar and have something to defend ourselves with as we run back to get the rest of our stuff.

On top of our changes, there a couple additions to the game which has made the whole experience better. First up are Bicycles. Back in the day (way back in 2017), we had one mode of transportation, the Minibike, and we liked it. Until it got randomly got stuck in the ground and you may or may not have been able to dig it out of the ground….

Enter the Bicycle: a marvel of post-apocalyptic engineering that can either be crafted or obtained from completing the Tier 1 quest reward.. It doesn’t need gas, it’s faster than running, and if you sprint it consumes a moderate amount of stamina. And the best part? It has yet to get stuck in the ground. There are a few other vehicles that have been added over the years. Right now we’re working towards crafting motorcylces as soon as we can craft or find enough forged steel. There’s also a 4×4 truck and a Gyrocopter waiting at the tail end of the Grease Monkey skill line.

Then there’s the Trader quests. I vaguely remember traders from our previous games. I don’t think we used them much and I think they weren’t easy to find. Now traders serve as quest hubs and a general store to bolster your supplies. The quests aren’t complicated they come in a variety of fetch, clear, and treasure hunt style. There are some quests that can only be completed at night which involve turning on a bunch of generators in a building and fighting off zombies. those are pretty fun.

Alright, the bicycle got stuck in a fence once but it came right out after I dismounted.

The quests help give a bit of direction on what to do with your day when your not scrounging around for food and supplies. The traders dole out some nice rewards to for completing them. The rewards very, sometimes all of the reward options are junk and sometimes you get a new tool or weapon you aren’t able to craft yet. After completing a certain number of quests a new tier is unlocked which garners better rewards. We just unlocked tier 3 quests last week.

November 2022 Recap

November was a busy month for me but not so much for the blog. We had visitors every weekend and despite that I found quite a bit of time to game and didn’t take much time to write. I’m going to try to rectify that this month.

I’m still participating in the Humble Choice group review effort which gives me at least one post a month. This month I took another look at Raji: An Ancient Epic and found it had changed since the last time I played it. I didn’t get too far the second time around. After reading everyone’s posts, it appears November’s Humble Choice didn’t have much to get excited about. I know I ended up skipping it.

Top 5 Games This Month

  1. Phantom Brave PC
  2. 7 Days to Die
  3. Labyrinth of Refrain: Coven of Dusk
  4. Dark Pictures Anthology: Little Hope
  5. Generation Zero

I finished Labyrinth of Refrain: Coven of Dusk which ended up being one of the longest games I’ve played in a few years. Then, I decided to follow it up with yet another long game Phantom Brave PC. Whether that was a good idea or not remains to be seen. I’ve crested the 40 hour mark and I’m nearing the end of the main story.

Though I didn’t write about it this month, I have gotten back in to 7 Days to Die with Brother. After many years away, it’s become our go to game again. We’ve tweaked some settings to make things more enjoyable for us since we’ve already done the whole default settings thing before. The biggest improvements have been increasing player block damage to 200% so breaking high durability chests and safes takes a reasonable amount of time and increasing the 24 hour cycle to 2 hours so we have way more time to explore before preparing for a horde night.

We also finished up the alternate play through in Little Hope at the beginning of the month. The Curator’s Cut is shorter but you get to play different characters and make different decisions. We tried our best this time to keep everyone alive and see another ending and we “succeed” at both.

December Goals

  • Finish Phantom Brave PC: I’m only a few episodes away from finishing this game so I’m confident I can finish this one up by the end of the month. Who knows, I might even write about it!
  • Get to Day 14 in 7 Days to Die: With the 24 hour cycle set to two hours we average about a day and a half per play session. I think we should see day 14 by the end of the month. With the holidays at the end of the month we’ll see if we end up playing enough sessions to get there.

Phantom Brave PC Early Impressions

Phantom Brave was first released for the PS2 in 2004 by Nippon Ichi Software (NIS). You might know NIS from the Disgaea strategy RPG series which released one year before. Over the years, Phantom Brave saw a remake on the Wii (Phantom Brave: We Meet Again) in 2009 and again in 2011 to the PlayStation Portable (Phantom Brave: the Hermuda Triangle). In 2016, Phantom Brave PC was released on Steam which includes all content from We Meet Again and the Hermuda Triangle. This Steam version is the one I’m playing.

I picked up Phantom Brave PC along with a couple other games either developed or published by NIS. There was a sale you see and I was really into JRPGs that day….I was actually surprised to find how many of their older titles have been ported on to PC over the years. While this is my first time playing Phantom Brave, I have played more than a few hours of Disgaea 4 on the PS3 so I have some familiarity with NIS’s flavor of SRPGs. Even so, Phantom Brave is it’s own variant of the Disgaea formula.

For one, instead of choosing units at the beginning of the fight, Marona summons units out of objects on the field which affect the stats of the unit. You want to summon fighters out of objects that will increase attack and HP and magic users out of objects that boost intelligence.

There’s a speed based initiative system as opposed to a back a forth player turn then enemy turn system. You can see the turn order which helps to plan out your attacks. Phantom Brave also replaces the grid based movement of Disgaea with distance based movement. Each unit can move in any direction up to its move distance and you’re able to see just how far an enemy unit can move. With these combined features I feel like I have a lot of control over the battle. I can prioritize knocking enemies out that are between my characters turns and make sure to move my units out of the enemies range before ending their turn.

Finally, units only last for a set number of turns which leads to some interesting choices on when and where to summon your units throughout a given fight. So far I’ve found the whole battle system very engaging.

Our story starts on the Island of Evil. We see Jasmine, Haze, and Ash in the middle of battle with a bunch of monsters and it doesn’t look like it’s going well. As the group retreats, a big, powerful monster appears and proves too much for the group. Haze uses the last of his powers to save Ash as the rest of the party is wiped out.

Then this guy shows up, easily kills the monster and absorbs it. He doesn’t have a name but he sure looks like the bad guy…

From there story focuses on Marona, the 13 year old daughter of Haze and Jasmine, who just so happens to be have the ability see phantoms. Turns out, this is super useful because Haze’s magic didn’t exactly save Ash from death but rather made him in to a phantom. Ash takes it upon himself to watch over Marona in absence of her parents.

With Ash’s help, Marona works as a Chroma, a kind of adventurer/ bounty hunter that people hire to solve problems. Thanks to her ability she’s pretty good at it but she’s not so good at the whole requesting a fair payment thing which Ash constantly reminds her of.

The story in Phantom Brave takes place over a series of Episodes. It has the sort of structure of a Saturday morning cartoon: Morona and Ash get a request via Sea Mail for a job, they go and talk to the requester, check out the location of the job, there’s some sort of twist, they fight a big bad guy, and then return to complete the job. There’s some overarching story points along the way but you could watch any episode in isolation and get a complete story from start to end.

This is a a game where I can start it up and time just seems to melt away. Maybe it’s the novelty of playing an SRPG which has very different mechanics from games I would usually play and it will wear foff eventually. Or maybe the systems in this game just click in a brain pleasing way. Only time will tell. One thing I know for sure is that I have been enjoying my time with it. I’m about 20 hours in and haven’t finished the first chapter yet….I never claimed to be good at strategy games!

Backlogged: Labyrinth of Refrain: Coven of Dusk

Platform: PC/Steam Deck

Time to Finish: 61 hours

Labyrinth of Refrain: Coven of Dusk is a first person Dungeon Crawler RPG in a similar vain to Wizardry or Entrian Odyssey. If you’re unfamiliar with this style of game, typically, you lead a party of adventures, usually your own creation, through a series of dungeons fighting monsters, challenging bosses,finding items, and discovering secrets.These dungeons are typically you discovered one grid square at a time. If you’re playing a really old one you’ll have to pull out some graph paper and make your own map.

The first time I encountered this style of game was when I played Etrian Odyssey IV on the 3DS. It was probably one of my favorite games for that system and I put many, many hours in to it. Ever since, I’ve kept my eye out for games of this style. I’ve put some time into a few, mainly Stranger of Sword City and StarCrawlers, but nothing has really captured me in the way that Etrian Odyssey IV did. Until I played Labyrinth of Refrain and I think that’s because this is the perfect type of game for a handheld system. Yep, I’m talking about the Steam Deck again…Seriously though, for a game like this playing stilling at my desk and playing it on my PC feels like overkill. It’s much better suited for playing on the couch downstairs.

The story follows Dusk Witch Madame Dronya and her 10 year old assistant Luca as they arrive in the town of Refrain. Dronya has heard of a magic well here and the labyrinth beneath it that houses powerful magic artifacts. Dronya has come to explore the Labyrinth and find it’s secrets as well as collect valuable items to appease the towns Mayor. As the player, you lead a brigade of adventures down the well and map out the Labyrinth.

Things I Liked:

The Setup

Typically, in these types of games, your party is either never mentioned or if they are addressed in the story it’s as a collective and not the individual members. To explain this out of the way, in Labyrinth of Refrain, you are a magic book. I don’t think I’ve ever played a game where I was a book before!

You see, the labyrinth under the city of Refrain is filled with a sort of miasma that would kill a human if they went down there. So to solve this, you, the Tractatus de Monstrum, are thrown down the well along with a party of puppets infused with human souls. You use your abilities as a magical book to lead the party through the dungeons.

I like this for two reasons. One, because it solves the whole, how are you leading a party of 10+ people around who are never addressed by any of the characters. Two, because it separates you as the player from the story in a way that I haven’t seen before. 

The Tractatus de Monstrum is a character mentioned by other characters but what you’re doing in the labyrinth isn’t necessarily part of the main story. You’re kind of a side character doing the dirty work while the story takes place around or without you. I found this to be a really interesting perspective to play from.

Dark Themes

If you glanced quickly at the store page you might get the impression that this game has your typical JRPG setup. It’s colorful and has a bit of goofy music in the trailer. However, this is not a happy game.

From the start Madame Dronya and Luca’s relationship is toxic at best and down right abusive at worst.You get the impression that Dronya doesn’t really want Luca around and all Luca want’s to do is make Dronya happy. Dronya herself is selfish and power hungry using anyone or anything to get what she wants and just mean spirited in general. Often times making Luca miserable because she can. At the start of the game she kicks a lamb that Luca has found down the Well…

There’s also a subtly and implied horror throughout that I like here. There is a ton of disturbing things happening that are never outright shown.

For example your puppet soldiers will sometimes get hit for a super critical hit called a Gore hit. They make a really awful sound when this happens because they lose a limb. You don’t see them lose a limb but the sound helps emphasize how horrifying that is. Couple that with the fact that there’s a human soul in that puppet solider and all you can really do is fix them up and send them back in to those situations where it’s bound to happen again and again.

Exploration

There’s something very addicting about mapping out a dungeon square by square. As long as the map draws itself that is…I found myself in the classic “just one more floor before bed” situation multiple times. There was always another undiscovered section to find, a short cut to unlock, or a chest to got back to once I found a key

There is a lot of backtracking to be done. I didn’t find it a chore to do as there was always a reason to do it or a reward for going back. At a certain point you unlock an ability to destroy some walls in the labyrinth which makes traversal easier and opens up a lot more areas. As the story progresses you unlock abilities that make back tracking even less of a hassle.

The Storytelling

The story is told like a visual novel with 2D characters standing around not moving in scenes while text scawls along the bottom. Everything is fully voice acted and voice acted well for that matter. There are some times where you’re asked to make a decision but these are few and far between and I’m not sure they have any bearing on how the story unfolds.

This style of story telling works for me and my preference for listening to a story rather than watching it. There’s a lot that’s done with just sound a dialogue to make the story come to life just like an audio drama.

Things That Could Have Been Better:

The Battle System

With the option to have a ton of characters fighting in your party with multiple classes and styles I didn’t thing the combat system would be the weakest part of this game.

In 90% of battles you won’t even have to use skills other than the occasional heal. The only time I really had to use more than healing spells were boss fights. Most fights I just pressed the button to have the party use basic attacks and we won in a round or two.

Gore Hits

Gore hits are super critical attacks that cause your puppet solders to lose limbs. Their health is permanently decreased until you repair them back at the base. If they lose the arm they attack with they won’t be able to use their main handed weapon unless you change their dominant hand in the character menu. If they lose their head they are insta-killed.

On top of that, puppet parts are expensive and I found myself running out of money most of the time just repairing puppets. It was also annoying to just get back in to a dungeon and the first fight one of my puppets are gored and their total health is halved.

I wouldn’t mind this system as much except Goring an enemy doesn’t really do anything other than more damage. Sure you Gored a boss for 35k damage but they barely felt it and then Gore you back an now your tank has less total health than your glass canon DPS. It’s a bit frustrating for sure.

The Final Boss

If you look at the Steam reviews you’ll see all sorts of mentions about how the game is easy except for the final boss. I didn’t find this game that easy on the normal difficulty there were definitely a few bosses I needed to level up for or take on a few times before I beat them. But the final boss amps up the difficulty a ton.

There is an item you can get that makes it a bit easier, as in your party will get wiped in five turns instead of two. My problem was I was finding it difficult to cast the spell that makes the boss easier before it either KO’d or silenced my spell casters.

At this point, I was 60 hours in and just wanted to see the end of the story. So I put the difficulty down to easy and still lost half my party before finishing…

Final Thoughts:

Clocking in at just over 60 hours this is by far the longest game I’ve played in years. The last one being 59 hours in Tales of Berseria in 2020. I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Labyrinth of Refrain. The story was intriguing and the labyrinth was fun to explore.

I didn’t like the combat all that much but maybe that’s because I didn’t take the time to really dig in to the various systems too much. There is a whole lot that you can optimize and create to make your party stronger but I didn’t feel like you really needed these systems until the final boss so there wasn’t much of a reason to learn them.

Every boss battle and every new floor meant more story for me and that’s really what drove me to finish the game.

A Second Look at Raji: An Ancient Epic

Raji: An Ancient Epic tells the story of a young Indian circus performer and her brother. Her brother has been kidnapped by demons and Raji sets out to find him. It just so happens that two Indian Gods, Vishnu and Durga have chosen to help Raji and provide some solid commentary along the way.

I bought Raji: An Ancient Epic shortly after release in 2020. I played through the entire game and remember really enjoying it. Unfortunately, it was one of those games that I kept meaning to write a post about and then never got around to it. I wish I had though. Then I could read exactly what I liked about this game and what has changed.

I picked this one for the Blaugust Reviews Humble Choice because nothing else in the bundle spoke to me. Since I had the game on hand and wanted to contribute I thought I’d run through the game again. It’s short, last time I played it it took me a hair over 5 hours to beat.This time around, I put it down after an hour.

So what changed?

Part of the reason is all me. I’m not usually one to replay a game, re-read a book, or re-watch a movie. There’s so much stuff out there that once I’ve played it, it’s hard to get excited about it again. But I also think the game might have gotten harder.

There was an Enhanced Edition update released in May of this year with some pretty substantial updates with many of them focused on combat. I can’t be certain but I don’t remember dying quite as much the last time I played. So either the combat has changed, I’ve gotten worse at it, or I’m not in the right head space to play action combat game right now. Maybe it’s a mixture of all three. Either way, the combat is not doing it for me. Which is a problem because most of what you’ll be doing in is combat.

there are some elements in Raji that I think make it worth checking out. I like the back drop of ancient India and it leads to some very pretty scenes and some unique locations that I haven’t seen in a game before. There’s also bits of Indian mythology told through murals and narrated by the gods as you discover them. Again, I don’t think there’s another game that I’ve played or could even name that includes Indian mythology. Hindi voice overs were also added in the Enhanced Edition. Sometimes the audio quality isn’t as good as the English VO’s but Hindi isn’t a language I’ve heard spoken often so it was neat to play with it on.

So now we come to the question at hand: Is Raji: An Ancient Epic worth picking up November 2022’s Humble Choice for? I think it is, if only for the unique setting and lore which make it a bit of a different gaming experience. The combat may be harder than what I’m looking for right now but if you’re a fan of action games I don’t think it’s terribly difficult with a bit of practice. It’s also got a fantastic soundtrack!

7 Days to Die: Mostly the Same but a Little Bit Different

7 Days to Die one of my most played games on Steam clocking in at just shy of 160 hour. My friend group and I played this into the ground for a few months in 2017. It was my first Zombie survival game and the first survival sandbox I’d played at a time when those were just starting to fall out of favor. By the time I had racked up 150 hours I felt like I had seen and done everything I wanted to and shelved it for years to come. Since then, I’ve played it two more times. Once for a few hours in 2020 and once more earlier this week.

My feelings in 2020 were much the same. There was nothing that was really new in the game even after 3 more years of being in “alpha”. The core mechanics were still the same and most of the new things were locked behind later game skills and resources. Since our saves have long since been wiped starting a new one didn’t do much for me. I was done after a few hours and felt indifferent to the experience.

Recently, Brother started playing it again on his own and asked if I wanted to play. Again, I felt indifferent towards the game but figured I could play it once more and see how another two years of “alpha” had gone. I spawned in to the new game and was met with the same tutorial I’d done a few times already. Punch plants, make a bed, punch more plants, make some clothes, punch a tree and some rocks and make a tool…the survival sandbox equivalent of “Use WASD to move.

Once that wass over and I met up with Brother I was pleasantly surprised to see that things had actually changed. For one, the small city we found ourselves in had a lot of buildings I’d never seen before. The residential area also had some new houses I’d never been in either. Right away, the game was feeling a little less stale.

There was a trader within 100 meters of us which offered some gear and quests to complete. They’re basic, fetch an item from a location, clear out a location of zombies, and find buried treasure, but they offer a a different play stlye from systematically exploring and looting every building. The rewards aren’t to shabby either. All quests reward some tokens that can be used at the trader to buy things and some quests even reward you with skill books, weapon mods, and other useful items.

Digging for buried treasure.

So far, guns seem to be easier to get. The pipe guns seem to be a new low tier gun that fire regular ammunition. I remember having tons of ammo in the past but guns being difficult to acquire. Things seem a bit more balanced now in that regard, I now have a pipe rifle and anywhere from 10-30 rounds at any given time. Melee seems to still be the most efficient style of combat for the early game but the gun comes in handy in some sticky situations.

This is our base, I’m not sure what it’s suppose to be but it sure looks sturdy!

After running some quests and gathering up a few materials we started looking for a place to set up a base. I came across a very sturdy looking industrial building. I’m not exactly sure what it is but the entrance is high off the ground and accessible by a ladder. There’s enough space for every thing we need right now and it’s close to the trader.

Setting down roots and starting to build up the base has left me feeling more attached to the game than I was in 2020. I can see at least a few more sessions in the future. I’m hesitant to say 7 Days to Die will make it in to the main game rotation but I can see the possibility. There’s a certain nostalgia factor for sure but there’s also enough that’s new right off the bat that makes me want to poke around for a few more hours.

Backlogged: Wintermoor Tactics Club

Platform: Steam Deck

Time to Finish: 14.1 hours

Wintermoor Tactics Club is a mix of Strategy RPG and Visual Novel tacking place at a boarding school in the 80s. The story centers around the “Tactics Club” which is a D&D club (or Curses & Catacombs as it’s named in game). You play as Alicia, a member of Tactics Club who just wants to play C&C with her two friends Jacob and Colin. The principal of the school has other plans. He announces a mandatory snowball fight tournament to find the “Ultimate Club” on campus. The catch? Any club that loses must disband…forever!

I picked this one up in this year’s Steam Summer Sale. Every once and a while I’ll get the urge to play a turned-based, strategy RPG and I have very few in my library. I was also looking for more games to play on the Steam Deck. I’m happy to say I played through this entirely on the Steam Deck and didn’t run into a single issue.

Things I Liked:

The Strategy Parts: Wintermoor Tactics Club is split up into two parts. There’s the visual novel aspect where you walk around campus talking to people and doing side quests and there’s the strategy parts where you’re either playing a battle in the Curses & Catacombs campaign or participating in the snowball tournament.

Each character has their own set of skills that you can employ to beat each mission. Each mission is scored on different elements such as how many characters died, how many turns you take, and how many special powers you’ve used. I found myself replaying encounters a few times to try and get a perfect score.This made the strategy parts feel more like a puzzle than an one off battle.

The Side Quests: There are a ton of side quests to do between battles and the snowball tournament rounds. These are given out by characters around campus and usually have you find another character or an item on campus to complete them. These are totally optional but doing them does unlock perks for your characters, some of which are pretty powerful, so their worth doing. Each character around campus has their own personalities and you run into the same people over the course of the game. I found myself running the side quests just to learn a little more about each person.

The Soundtrack: I appreciate a game with good music that sets the tone for the game and really meshes with the setting. While it’s not a soundtrack I’ll probably listen to on it’s own but the music fits so well with the quirky, lightheartedness of the game.

I drew that myself…it’s suppose to be a horse!

Things that Could Have Been Better:

The Mission Scoring: Like I mentioned before, each battle is scored on different facets like damage taken, turns taken, and characters knocked out. One of the categories I was constantly missing was number of Tactics Powers used. Tactics Powers are special abilities that each character has that either do a lot of damage or add a lot of utility to the fight. There’s a “Tactic Points” bar that fills up after 5 normal attacks (there are some perks that make a character generate 2 tactics points but I didn’t use those much). Once the bar is full you can use a tactics power. The problem I kept running in two was that missions wanted me to use 2 or 3 Tactics Powers per fight and I only usually needed one to beat it. On the one hand, it did make me think about encounters differently as I tried to use multiple tactics powers. On the other, it felt like I had to draw a lot of fights out just to satisfy this one requirement.

Final Thoughts:

Wintermoor Tactics Club bridged a gap for me that I didn’t know was there. Before, I was playing mostly exploration games with little to no combat. It had the same lighthearted themes and style as those more casual games but also offered a more challenging game play experience. After finishing it, I find myself leaning more towards playing some more mechanically challenging single player games.

The Dark Pictures Anthology: Little Hope – Big Impressions

Looking for something spooky to play this October? Do you like narrative driven games with where you have to make decisions? Do you like watching hours of cut-scenes? How about quick time events? Then I have a game for you!

The Dark Pictures Anthology: Little Hope (here by known as Little Hope) is part of October 2022’s Humble Choice. It also happens to be the game I’ve chosen to take a look at for this month’s Blaugust Reviews Humble Choice. Little Hope is typically priced at $19.99 so with the bundle you’re getting a 35% discount. Not bad, but it’s been as low as 60% off through various store fronts.

I have heard of The Dark Pictures Anthology series before but never played one. There are currently three of them with a fourth set to release in November. They’re all cinematic, narrative-driven, choose your own adventure-esques, horror games with multiple endings. The stories are independent of each other so you can start with any of them. You can either play by yourself, with up to five people locally, or with one friend online. I ended up playing with Brother online via Parsec but technically we played the single player version of the story.

I’m no stranger to this type of game. One of my wife’s favorite games is Until Dawn and we’ve played through that at least three times together. We’ve also played through most of the Telltale games too. Little Hope isnt’ much different from either of those.

Well, Little Hope, is a little more graphic than I remember Until Dawn being at least. It earns it’s M rating for Blood, Intense Violence, and Strong Languaue pretty regularly. On a side note, I completely forgot games had ratings and didn’t realize you could see them on Steam.

It’s hard to talk about the story without spoiling anything so I’ll leave you with the store description:

“4 college students and their professor become stranded in the abandoned town of Little Hope. Trapped by an impenetrable fog they try desperately to escape whilst witnessing terrifying visions from the past. They must figure out the motivation of these apparitions before the evil forces at work drags each of their souls to hell..”

The story starts off with a bang, get’s pretty weird, and I was not expecting the ending at all.

The gameplay revolves around watching cut-scenes, making choices, doing quick time events, and doing some point & click adventuring. The choices you make, the secrets you find, and the quick time events you complete or fail all affect the story and it’s outcome.

I know some people find quick time events annoying but I’ve never had a problem with them. We did, however, missed the explanation of how to do them and failed almost all of them until about 4 hours in. Unlike your typical quick time event where you’re prompted to press a button in time, the quick time events in Little Hope have you move your cursor and click an area on the screen to succeed. I didn’t test the game with a controller but I wonder if that would have given us a more standard quick time event mechanic.

There are sections of the game where you need to walk around and find things to interact with. I think this might be better with a controller than a keyboard and mouse as well. The keyboard and mouse controls have you click to move which ends up feeling really weird in a bit claustrophobic in a 3D space. It also leads to some awkward camera angles and is kind of a pain to navigate in general. One time we got stuck and couldn’t move at all which forced us into taking a decision we might otherwise not have made.

We completed the story in about 6 hours (we got lost in a few walking sections and were also trying to find all the intractable points we could). It was so enjoyable that we immediately started up a new play through after the credits rolled.

Completing the story unlocks an alternative path. This time you’re making decisions in scenes and for characters you didn’t have control over before. This is great because I don’t feel like I’m playing the whole thing over and just making a few different choices. This is a completely new set of choices to see how everything plays out so I’m not really sure I can say I finished the game. Feels like I’m more so halfway through it.

Is this a game worth picking up this month’s Humble Choice? If you like this style of game then absolutely! If I don’t play any other games from this months bundle I’d still be happy with my purchase.

Little Hope has been one of my favorite games I’ve played recently. Which is weird because its the least well received game of the series. If this is how food the worst of the bunch is I’m definitely going to pick up the rest of the series!