Backlogged: Ghost Song

Developer: Old Moon

Platform: PC

Time to Finish: 10h 25m

I’ve known about Ghost Song for a while now. Brother has been following it for years, even played a few demos, and, quite frankly, I didn’t think it would ever come out. At one point the entire game engine was scraped and the game was built on another. But at the beginning of last month, Ghost Song released after nine long years in development. I was happy that my friend would finally be able to play the game he was so looking forward to but I didn’t have much of a desire to play it myself.

Brother finished up the game and was looking for someone else to play through it to discuss. I saw that it was available in the Humble App and since I was picking up the Humble Choice already, I decided to give it a go. I almost immediately bounced as I was met with Dark Souls style punishment for death, losing nano-gels (souls) and losing a chunk of health that needs to be repaired with more nano-gels. This isn’t my typical genre and I was probably going to be dying a lot.

I started a new game on the Explorer difficulty which does away with all the annoying Dark Souls mechanics. It also makes “Certain other adjustments”, I went digging around the Steam discussion boards to figure out what those might entail. It looks like the other major difference is that enemies don’t scale with after each ship part is found. Otherwise, it doesn’t seem to be much different.

Things I Liked:


Lorian is the moon on which the game takes place. It’s beautiful. The world feels like a living painting. From it’s desolate surface littered with robots and crashed ships to it’s depths littered with more robots, some people, and some very large bugs. All of it is dripping with atmosphere. As you learn more about the world the eerier and more beautiful it becomes.

The lore of Lorian is also fantastic. The moon is surrounded by a static field that crashes ships and makes it impossible to leave. The lore is all delivered through dialogue in bits and pieces. As you explore you’ll meet a host of other robots, creatures, and people, all of which will drip feed a bit more information. I don’t typically like this approach to storytelling but it works in Ghost Song as it’s tied with exploration. The more of Lorian you discover the more information you get.

The Crew

The main story focuses on The Deadsuit after it wakes up in the middle of Lorian with no recollection of who it is or how it got there. After a few hours, The Deadsuit encounters Roper who is the captain of a ship that’s crash landed. They made a camp around the ship, Gambler, and are trying to figure out how to repair her and get past the static field.

The crew is a group of interesting characters who aren’t all what they appear on the surface. Which is a good thing because you spend a lot of time talking to them. My favorite was Raven, an android who was badly damaged in the crash and spends most of the game deciding on how to build her new body. There’s some thought provoking conversations that take place between The Deadsuit and her around identity.

The Module System

The majority of items you find during the game are modules. These are slotted in to the Deadsuite and have passive bonuses. They can cause your gun to overheat less, they can give you super armor for a short time after dashing, add extra projectiles to the blaster, and a whole bunch of other useful things. You are limited in the amount you can equip by their power consumption. You’re able to use more as you level up the Deadsuit and increase it’s power level. By the end of the game I had six or seven equipped at any given time.

By the time I finished the game there were still a lot left that I hadn’t unlocked or found. I wasn’t going out of my way to get them but I was exploring every room I came across. There’s a ton of variety and different combinations to try which adds some nice replay value.

Blaster/Melee Mechanics

One of the more interesting mechanics in Ghost Song is the synergy between the blaster and your melee attack. After a certain amount of use the blaster overheats which lowers it’s damage and rate of fire. However, the overheated blaster increases melee damage. This isn’t something I’ve seen before but it makes sense, hitting something with a hot gun barrel would hurt more. There are modules you can find that increase or decrease the rate at which the blaster overheats so you can fine tune your combat style. I found myself favoring a little extra blaster time but still utilizing the overheat feature for burst damage.

Explorer Difficulty

If you look around the internet of reviews for Ghost Song you’ll see a wide range of opinions on the games difficulty. Some think the game is too easy and the punishments for dying are out of place because you don’t die that often. Some think the game is too hard even on the easier exploration mode. I land somewhere in the middle.

I don’t have much experience with this style of game so I found it challenging even on Explorer. But I never found it too challenging that I wanted to give up at any point. I died a lot in the beginning but as I got more familiar with the combat and the controls the game did become easier. It still took me a few tries on every boss but it never felt like I wasn’t able to beat them. Even so, I feel like the punitive mechanics for death aren’t needed. They don’t do anything to heighten the experience or the gameplay they’re just frustrating. I’m glad there’s an option to turn them off.

Things That Could Have Been Better:

The Deadsuit

The Deadsuit is our main character. It wakes up on Lorian without any recollection of how it got or what it is. It’s mysterious, yes, but it’s also hard to connect with or care about a main character without an identity. I think it would have been better if we slowly learned more it as the story progressed like we do with the rest of Lorian. As it is, there’s one specific place, kind of out of your way, you need to get to and watch a very short scene to get any kind of resolution regarding The Deadsuit.

The Music

There are maybe one or two tracks that stand out and convey a feeling of an alien world but most of them are kind of boring. The soundtrack feels too mellow for a game where the majority of the time you’re blasting alien lifeforms apart and fighting bosses.

The Story (Spoilers Ahead)

After this picture, the rest of this post contains spoilers for the end of the game.

I found the setting so interesting but the story itself fell a bit flat for me. Before you ask, yes, I got the “good” ending.

I get that there needed to be a reason for the player to explore the map and that’s why we’re tasked with finding ship parts for the stranded crew. The crew was probably one of my favorite parts of the game but there isn’t much else going on story wise. There are a few side quests that you can follow but the majority of the map is empty of any other story threads. Which is a shame considering how interesting the setting is.

Like I said before, you won’t get much of a resolution to the Deadsuit’s identity unless you find a specific spot on the map to trigger a very short cut scene. Getting there requires getting all four jumps, one of which is hidden away behind a secret trader. I only knew about this because Brother told me about it.

On top of this, you also need to be paying close attention when talking to the crew, specifically Pasha. Up an to that point, I had figured out that the Deadsuit contained a ghost of someone from the crew but I didn’t know who exactly. There’s a couple things that hint at this including finding the escape pod and a scene where Pasha says you seem familiar.

I got to the end of the game, saw the scene with Pasha and the Deadsuit and felt like I was missing something. The scene played out like it was suppose to be some big emotional reveal but I came away from it feeling pretty indifferent about it. It wasn’t until I talked about it with Brother that I realized that Charley was Pasha’s sister and that’s who the Deadsuit was. I either missed this key bit of information for not paying close enough attention or missing a couple conversations with Pasha when I turned in two ship parts back to back and forgot to talk to her. That’s on me and I’m not holding it against the story. it’s a nice ending. Far better than the default ending which explains nothing and rolls the credits.

At the same time the ending is very human for a game that takes place on such an alien world. I would have proffered if the Deadsuit was a denizen of Lorian before the it was destroyed and was learning about their past while helping the crew. Even better, on a moon that crashes ships, why not have Deadsuit be the consciousness of a ship that was destroyed on the planet. The other ships it encounter constantly think it’s a ship. I guess, in a way,it it’s a ship for a ghost.

It does leave some questions t

Backlogged: Before Your Eyes

There are very few games that have left me thinking about them long after their done. In fact, only two come to mind: Journey and SOMA. I think Before Your Eyes might just join that list. I finished it two weeks ago and I’m still mulling it over. As such, I wanted to forgo my usual format and just write down some thoughts.

This is definitely one of those games that should be played blind so I won’t get into much of the story here. I will say, much like Journey and SOMA, the story will take you through a whole spectrum of emotions before the end. I do, however, want to talk about what makes Before Your Eyes unique. You play it by blinking.

The Ferryman, asking you to blink at his hand.

To fully explain that we’ll need a little story context. You play as a soul who is fished out of a river by the Ferryman. The Ferryman will help you pass on but he needs the story about your life first. So he’s sending you down memory lane to relive moments in your life both big and small. There is a catch, at certain times when you blink, you jump forward in time. It could be 5 minutes or it could be 5 years.

Your blinks control everything other than moving the mouse to look around. After a short calibration of your webcam to determine when you blink you’ll use them to make decisions, interact with objects, and to advance the story. For the most part, this works without issue. Sometimes the camera detects a blink when you move your head to much which can be frustrating but I also have to wonder if it adds to the experience. Sure it’s annoying to have dialogue cut off or a scene end before you want it to but that’s also happens when you blink on accident. It’s kind of the point. One of the core themes is time is fleeting and we can’t always stay in the moment even if we want to. Some things are just out of our control. You can opt out of blink detection and use left click but I don’t think the experience would be quite as impactful that way.

I have never been a big fan of first person perspective. It makes me feel like a camera that sometimes has hands and not a character in the world. However, combined with the blinking mechanics and a full voice cast it made for a very immersive experience. Maybe the fact that your character doesn’t move helped it feel more natural. My play through lasted just under 90 minutes and I was completely engaged the whole time. I don’t know many games I can say that about.

The only part I found immersion breaking were certain parts when you’re asked to close your eyes to hear a conversation better. When it works it’s a very cool effect but it didn’t often work. My webcam didn’t do a great job of figuring out when I closed my eyes unless I squeezed them shut. Even then it was hit or miss and a little uncomfortable.

An hour and a half feels just right for this game. Any more and my eyes would have been very tired. Looking at some achievements there are story points that I didn’t see in my play through and more choices I could have made. I would like to revisit this and see how those choices play out but I don’t think I’ll ever have that first play through experience again. I’ve seen people ask “What game would you erased from your memory so you could play it for the first time again?” this would definitely be one of them.

And yes, you will be acutely aware of how often you blink by the end of it.

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.


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.