Neo: The World Ends With You Review


The World Ends With You was a game I owned for many years before completing. Once I did knock it out though, it felt pretty good. The game had a very fun dynamic and an excellent plot. Throw in a sizzling soundtrack and you were good to go. Neo is definitely a great follow up. While I would give the original one the slight nudge over it, you can really expect a complete experience out of this game. It will will leave you in a pretty happy place.

The game starts with Rindo and his friend Fret hanging out around Shibuya as always. Rindo is also texting with his FanGo friend and it turns out that the person is somewhere in Shubuya too. They’ve never met in person so Fret declares that they should find this mysterious “Swallow”. Unfortunately this doesn’t work but they do get roped into a cool new app game. It involves doing a lot of little quests and fighting monsters. There’s no big prize at the end which is disappointing but the two friends split up to hang out another day.

Trouble is, they wake up the next day in the middle of Shibuya once again. Rindo doesn’t remember coming back here so the whole thing is odd. Well, turns out that he and Fret are stuck in the game now. It’s a survival game too which makes things even worse. The heroes can’t interact with ordinary people anymore and have to clear the quests with a certain level of urgency. After all, the lowest ranked team after the 7 days are up will be eliminated. Can Rindo and Fret stay alive or are they doomed? One thing’s for sure, with other teams having well over a dozen members, they are going to need some backup.

The only survival item the heroes have is a pin which allows them to fight back against the monsters as well as other players. Each pin has a different power ranging from elemental attacks to TK type abilities. Some players are nice enough to chat with you while others will try to murder you on sight so these are all things to keep in mind when trying to survive. At the very least they will certainly know Shibuya like the back of their hands once this is all over.

As a 30+ hour RPG there is a whole lot more to the story beyond the premise. Still, part of the fun is finding out what is going on and turning the tables. You will get to see a lot of characters return from the first game as well so those moments are always hype. They always show up with an excellent opening scene that is definitely worth the wait. It’s something I’m glad about because nothing’s more satisfying than seeing the characters you played as a few years ago return as complete legends and powerhouses.

As for the gameplay itself, it’s a little unique so it’s tougher to describe than most. It’s a 3D environment where you press a button to use your Pin. Each character can have a pin equipped and you have to choose pins which are locked to different control inputs. So you can have one on the R1 button, 1 on the L1 button, etc. Later on you unlock an upgrade so you can have more than one per button which is pretty handy but that won’t happen for a while.

Each pin’s ability is quite different. For some you have to hold the button down, others require rapid tapping, and others have you hold it down for a little bit and then release. It’s important you get used to how each Pin works but fortunately the menus are quite elaborate so that shouldn’t be a problem. The game also has a lot of good customization options available which you can use if things get dicey. You can also lower your own level to get more pins per victory. It makes each fight higher risk but higher reward which is a cool feature.

The battles can get tough at times so don’t be afraid to exit and train against minions. I had to do that several times but it’s over before you know it. It’ll help you get closer to trophies as well since there are some for beating thousands of enemies and things like that. Meanwhile you will also want to time your pins well to land combos. Landing combos increases your sync levels. When you hit 300 (Available after a certain point in the story) you can use a terrific final smash which also completely refills your health. I highly recommend saving this to use against the final boss. It really came in clutch for me at one point. I was nearly about to get a game over when the full health kicked in.

As you’d expect the graphics are definitely top tier here. The cutscenes are portrayed like a comic book with the characters going in and off panel all the time. Occasionally you will get full on cinematics as well but most are in the comic format. From those, you have the intro and end cutscenes to each chapters that have full voice acting and then the regular text ones. A lot of budget was put into this game for sure. Not sure if the voice actors for the original characters were the same as some of them sounded pretty different to me but it’s been a while since I played the first game. Also they are older so I suppose you’d expect the voices to change a bit.

The soundtrack is also a lot of fun. You’ll be hearing the tunes a whole lot so of course you’re hoping that the songs are on point. They definitely don’t disappoint. It’s also really nostalgic whenever a song appears from the original game. Now that’s a blast. The game is everything you could want and more from a technical perspective as well as the gameplay.

Aside from the main campaign being quite long, there is also a lot of replay value here. First off you have a bonus day set in an alternate universe that should make for a good bit of fun. Then you’ve also got the trophies to go after like completing a bunch of side missions and maxing out your social network. Obtaining the Platinum doesn’t look super difficult but it is absolutely time consuming so you can expect to be there for a long while. The game easily earns back the $60 value and then some.

As for the characters, we’ve got a pretty solid cast here. The main character is named Rindo and he’s not a big people person. Not to the extent of Neku who really didn’t get along with anyone but Rindo isn’t exactly the kind of guy who will seek anyone out. He does his own thing that’s for sure. As the game goes on he learns more about being independent and making his own decisions while still being a good people person. It’s a solid character arc.

Then you have Fret who is pretty much the opposite. He’s great at talking to anyone and just gets along with people. At the same time, he takes everything pretty lightly and you have a hard time seeing what he is really thinking. That’s what he has to contend with as the game goes on. He’s a fun enough character, I prefer Rindo but they’re both solid.

Nagi is the first member to join the group and is the main heroine here. From the 3 she is definitely the weakest character though. For most of the game she is pretty mean to Fret for no real reason. They definitely didn’t get off on the right foot but he always tries to be nice and she constantly reminds him that she isn’t talking to him. Even when she has a direct response she plays it off like they aren’t talking. Gradually she learns to get along with him a bit better but it takes a while.

Then you have the best character in the game: Minamimoto. This guy’s great, every line he has is some kind of number pun. He talks about everything as if they were fractions and number crunching. While the characters never know what is going on, it’s easy enough to follow what he’s saying. His goals are rather mysterious so you really never know what he is thinking. The scene where he confronts Susukichi is amazing though and one of the best scenes in the game.

Then you have the Ruinbringers who are a decent team. Susukichi is the member you have to deal with the most. He’s a true powerhouse and can deal a lot of damage. He also likes being a troll as he leads you on a bunch of wild goose chases. He’s definitely not bad. Then there’s Tsugumi who is very silent but immensely powerful. Her toy cat makes for a difficult adversary to fight as well. Her opening battle is impressive as she seemingly murders one of the original cast.

Then you have the other groups stuck in the game. Fuya is the leader of Team 1 but there’s not a lot to say about him. He seemed okay I guess but didn’t get to do much. Kanon is the leader of Team 2 and gets a much bigger role. She’s a nice character who is pretty helpful even while trying to achieve victory. Definitely not someone to underestimate as a fighter. At most her weakness may be that she tries to tackle everything by herself but it’s not a trait I would ever blame any character for. At the end of the day sometimes that’s the best way to help your team out so I can support that.

Then there’s Motoi, the leader of Team 3. I definitely didn’t like that guy at all. He’s pretty annoying the whole time. After a certain point there was just no way he was ever going to go up. The opportunity for him to do the right thing had come and gone. For the main villain there is Shiba. He definitely loves his announcements. Shiba makes for a good villain. While his overall motivations may not be the best as even by the end they seem shallow, he does get the job done. He also has enough power to back up his ambitions.

Kubo is a wild card but I couldn’t take him as seriously as some of the other villains. While everyone seems to have their own motives and agendas, he seems like the only one who really enjoys messing wit everyone else. So as a villain he may be the most devoted to the role. Then there’s Shoka who is another one of the Shinjuku reapers and she gets a really big role. I was actually surprised at just how extensive it was. You can expect to see quite a lot of her as the game goes on, that’s for sure.

Shoka is a fun character, I would say she is easily the best reaper. She clearly has more morals than the rest and is always around to give a good pep talk. She throws a lot of insults around as well to be sure but does so in more of a playful way. She doesn’t seem to detest the players the way some do. Also I give her credit for actually acting while many of the reapers stay in the sidelines.

For example, I would say Uzuki and Koki look pretty bad here. They talk tough of course but for the most part they just watch what is going on. By the time they start to act they are quickly defeated and don’t stand a chance. You’d expect the big bad Shibuya reapers to be more impressive but they never actually do much of anything. At least Coco actually made some pretty loud moves on the board. She may not have acted much directly but she still contributed.

All right, the next two paragraphs are spoiler territory so skip these sections if you haven’t played the game yet. It’s time to talk about the old characters.

Neku is naturally a pretty big deal. I think everyone expected he would appear at some point in the game but I don’t want to spoil his big moment. It is a great way to jump in though and he shows why he has earned the title of living legend. The guy one shots an opponent that the main cast absolutely couldn’t deal with. It’s very impressive and very cool. I liked his portrayal throughout. You can tell that he is a veteran.

Then you have Beet who helps out a lot during the game. His skills may not be as high as Neku’s but they are still considerable. He has a lot of confidence and really gets a lot of work done throughout. I can definitely appreciate his commitment. The rest of the characters get less of a combat role but you’ll still see Shiki and Rhythm at different points in the game. Even Joshua appears briefly.

All right, spoilers are over now. So does the game have any weak points? Well, I do think the gameplay can at times feel a bit like pure button mashing. There’s so much going on in the screen when you’re firing a bunch of pins at once. You can use strategy but most of the time you may as well just spam the attacks and it’ll have the same effect. So that can be a bit repetitive and same with the time traveling. There’s one point where you basically play through the same cutscene like 5-6 times. I love time travel as a concept but I do think it could have been used a little less or maybe there was a way to make each visit a little more different.

The story itself is definitely very compelling and epic. Each week continues to increase the stakes and scope of the plot. If you’ve played the original game then you’ll really be able to enjoy a lot of the references and guest stars. If you played the Switch version with the extra epilogue during the 3 year jump then you’ll be able to get even more out of it. This game doesn’t hold back on trying to get every kind of reference thrown in as well. It’s cool how the games are all so connected as this one even gives closure to the first game.

That said, if you cut beneath all of the deep dialogue and characters wondering what is going on…you do feel like the Reapers could have done a lot more. There’s no way the villains should have even been able to get into the position that they did. It’s just hard to buy that they could suddenly change things so drastically and nobody stepped in. Shibuya has a Conductor after all and many top tier Reapers. Why did they all cower in fear or just vanish? I am definitely going to need some more details before I can really buy into this. So at the moment I am pretty skeptical. Maybe they’re just like the Gold Saints of Athena in that they love making the situation as bad as possible I suppose.

Overall, Neo: The World Ends With You is a great game. It’s a real page turner from start to finish. The characters are on point, the gameplay is solid, and you’ve got great graphics at the ready. You’ve got every reason and more to just keep on going with the game all the way through to the end. There are quite a few plotlines that are still open and story ideas to be explored so I’d like to see another sequel at some point down the road. There’s just too many cool items to leave on the shelf.

Overall 8/10

Wizards of Brandel Review


Wizards of Brandel brings us back to the world of high quality RPGs. The Asdivine Heart titles will always be legendary for their various quality of life upgrades to the genre and this one follows closely in its tracks. It may not be going as cosmic in is setting as those games but it’s got a fun story and you’ll have a fun time running through the game. It’s a bit on the short side but there are some post game elements that will help you run the length a bit more. I think I beat it at around 14 hours or so.
The story starts with Darius being evicted from his house since he hadn’t paid the rent in a very long time. All they left him is his bed so he now lives in the middle of a forest. One day he is approached by an immortal wizard named Mark who says he will allow Darius to live at his mansion as long as the hero does chores. Darius agrees but little does he know that Mark is a legendary demon lord who is wanted by the entire world. Is he really safe at this house?

The core cast is fairly small but each character is memorable. Brandel does a good job of giving each character a lot of character traits early on. First off you have Darius who is fairly emotionless most of the time although it’s very easy to tease him and cause the guy to blow up. He has a lot of different magical spells. Darius is obsessed with learning as much as he can but unfortunately none of those spells get him a lot of money. As he gets roped into this latest quest to save the world, he stows his fear and does his best.

Then you have the heroine Erica who is an agent of the government and was originally here to hunt Mark. Gradually she realizes that something isn’t quite right about all of this. Mark doesn’t seem like a villain and Darius is an upstanding guy so she aims to get to the bottom of this. She’s a good character and the game has an interesting dynamic with her and Darius. Usually you have the oblivious guy but the heroine likes him. In this game both of them only see the other as a friend so the supporting characters keep trying to push them together since that’s how it’s supposed to be…but the two main characters are both oblivious and just keep it moving. That was a fun twist and it must have been intentional.

Then you have Phelia who is a little girl that was kidnapped and experimented on until she turned into a plant monster. She has a lot of cool abilities now and may even be immortal but at the same time you never want to voluntarily have to go through experiments. The main characters decide to help protect her and ensure that this doesn’t happen again. It takes us back to our main plot where there is clearly someone evil in the world but it doesn’t appear to be the immortal wizard Mark. The heroes have to clear his name and find the main villain before too long.

In this case, the game is short enough where there aren’t many suspects so you’ll probably figure this out pretty fast. That said, the game does its best to still throw a few curve balls your way so it won’t be too easy to figure out what is going on. The story is interesting so you should be on board the whole time. The post game is more about tournaments and not really plot but there are some cutscenes to give closure to the characters as well. You can’t help but feel like Erica got the short end of the stick though.
Finally you have Mark who joins the party near the end. He has some kind of tragic backstory involving how he became immortal but the game doesn’t go into it. Every time someone asks him about it, Mark refuses to talk about it. It’s kind of neat that we don’t find this out, leaves a little mystery and room for your head canon here. I wish he would fight a little more since it seems like he should be pretty powerful but unfortunately that never ends up happening.

Then you’ve got Veldt who is the leader of the Guild. He seems pretty reasonable but the guy just looks like he’s a little more powerful than he should be. You’ll want to give him a second look to be sure and don’t let your guard down. Then there’s Cloney who is here to help the heroes. He will be King if our plan works out so that’s a pretty nice incentive for him to help us right? Not a bad prize for being a good citizen. There’s also the Warriors 3 who are pretty interesting antagonists. They are the best of the best in the kingdom and since they are after us, that means things will be tricky.

The gameplay is that of a turn based RPG. As I mentioned though, the game is light years ahead of most other titles in pretty much every way. You are able to speed up gameplay, go into auto battle mode, and use all kinds of tricks. You can turn animations on and off and so at all times you can play the game how you want. You may need to grind up some levels to beat the game but with auto battle turned on it’s not really much of a problem. It goes by very quickly and it’s just a lot of fun. I’d like to see more titles just make a game as smooth as these always turn out.

In a way you may get a little sloppy with the actual gameplay if you rely on this too much though so make sure you fight a bit on your own just in case. It shouldn’t be necessarily if you get a lot of level ups though. You have physical skills, magical ones, unity moves, and of course your physical attacks. Then you have the shop where you can trade in gems to buy incredibly powerful weapons, permanent EXP upgrades, and things like that. As a rule of thumb I always say to get the permanent upgrades first since they will come in handy for a lot of other things as the game goes on. By the end you will be really OP. A good way to grind is to click on the statues in each dungeon which let you run a gauntlet of 3 battles in a row over and over again. You get guaranteed gems which is huge.

The graphics are very good as you would expect. The art style always pops out for all the games from this company. The level designs are on point and the whole thing is just so colorful. Meanwhile the soundtrack is on point as well with a lot of tunes that sound just like something out of Asdivine Hearts. It’s all very fast paced and pretty hype. On a technical level the game really holds up.

Overall, Wizards of Brandel is great. It’s a relatively simple game as far as RPGs go but the execution in each area is just so good. You won’t be bored for a moment since there is always something happening here. The character cast is good and while the length isn’t very large, there’s enough content to keep you satisfied here. I’d definitely be down with this game getting a sequel and I hope the company continues to churn out more RPGs. I’d recommend getting this game if you like the genre or if you’re curious about starting this kind of game since this is a perfect entry point.

Overall 8/10

Final Fantasy II Review


This game has certainly been sitting on the backburner for many years. After beating the original Final Fantasy I tried to get in on the action with the sequel but I just couldn’t pull it off. The gameplay didn’t click. Well, I finally played it from start to finish and I have to say that my view hasn’t changed a whole lot. The story is the strongest part of the game even if it doesn’t touch the newer ones.

The basic plot is that the world is under attack by the Emperor. He has decided to rule over everything just because he can. The heroes are in a rough spot so the queen will now rely on a talented swordsman named Firian, a mage known as Maria, and a strong axe user named Guy. The three of them will need to travel the world and get strong enough to defeat the Emperor. Do they actually have enough strength to do so though? The Emperor has many powerful allies as well as pretty impressive tech at his disposal as well.

This is one of the first games where it took me way longer to complete than the estimated time on the “How long to beat” site. My time nearly doubled it I think at around 20 hours. It’s pretty difficult and that’s due in large part to how the level up system works. See, you don’t have straight level ups like 1, 2, 3. Instead you level up your proficiencies and stats in battle one by one.

Lets say you defeat a minion but you took a hit in the process. You have the potential to increase your max health, speed, defense, and attack power. If you used magic during the battle you may increase that as well. You passively level up your weapon skill as well depending on which kind you have equipped. You can already see how a lot of this is luck based. You increase the chance of increasing your proficiency but it’s not guaranteed. There are a lot of other factors here as well like the strength of your opponents and the duration of the match.

It’s not a very satisfying way to level up though because it’s hard to see when you’re really getting better. You also need to make sure you choose the right spells and weapons or you’ll be wasting your time leveling up something that you’ll never need. Your 4th member of the team also tends to change every other chapter so don’t get too attached. Often times when they leave they will never return so say good bye to any level ups you got.

The weapons also don’t seem very balanced to the point where I discarded them entirely by around the halfway point of the game. Instead I focused on using the barehanded techniques for the climax and honestly they seemed better than weapons anyway. I would always deal heavy damage while the weapons would falter at the worst moments. I have little doubt that the weapons would ultimately be better than bare handed but at least to the point where I was up to this did not seem to be the case.

The final boss was very difficult to defeat like this though. RNG is partially what got me through. See, his attacks were strong enough to not only finish me in a single hit but also replenish almost all of his health. Of course, that was only with physical attacks. On one of my runs I got lucky because he kept spamming magical spells which deal far less damage. I was able to buy just enough time to defeat him before he healed. Even now I think I would have a very hard time trying to defeat him again. It’s rare for things to work out in quite the same way they did here.

I don’t understand why the game went so far as to also make the equipment work against you. Wearing heavier items makes it harder to dodge but you can’t see how heavy something is without going to your character status page and leaving the item screen. Everything just did not feel very intuitive at all. Perhaps there was an easier way and I just didn’t find it. It seems like Final Fantasy II was meant to be very experimental but in this case I felt like it just back fired completely.

FF II’s spawn rate is also extremely high. Enemies are constantly attacking you every few steps. I was able to get in a lot of good reading during every dungeon. I would just keep spamming the attack button as I read through the God of High School chapters. I finished over 100 chapters as I played through this game because the battles took forever and there were so many of them. It was also uniquely useful to multi task in this game since I didn’t need spells and could just use normal attacks for every minion encounter. If I had nothing to distract myself with that would have hurt though.

Final Fantasy II also suffers from being unclear at times. You just don’t know where to go or what to do in order to advance the plot. The worst is when you’re supposed to talk to someone again and forgot to do so. So you go to the next temple but it’s still closed so you have to travel the world again in order to open it. You don’t get to fly until the very end of the game so prepare for a ton of walking. The game doesn’t give you any real shortcuts either so you really feel like an explorer. Just not in a fun way this time.

I could go on, but as you can tell pretty much none of the gameplay elements worked for me. It’s just a title that offered no qualify of life features. The graphics are good though. The character portraits are on point and I did like the minion designs. The game has a very retro sprite look which works well enough. The soundtrack is also very classic Final Fantasy with how each tune sounds. It’s all got a lot of energy and works really well.

As for replay value, by beating the game it seems like you do unlock some kind of new game+. I’m sure that will take you quite a while. Considering that the game is 20 hours long to defeat once, this is probably a 40 hour game or so. I’m not sure what the price is nowadays but it was pretty cheap before so I doubt it would set you back all that much.

Overall, Final Fantasy II is one of the weakest Final Fantasy games for me. In fact, I would have to say it loses to Final Fantasy VII and is my least favorite title. VII has the better gameplay, characters, and stories so II loses around the board to me. Don’t get me wrong, the story is fun and all but it just doesn’t make up for the game’s weaknesses. I don’t really see myself recommending this title to others as well. I’m glad that it helped continue the franchise into its current state but this is an entry you can skip.

Overall 5/10

Tales of Phantasia Review


I haven’t played a lot of Tales of titles yet but I’m working on it. Over the last year or two I played the two Symphonias and Legendia. Now with Phantasia I’m one step closer to getting the full Tales experience. This one’s definitely a lot of fun and feels old in all the right ways. The turn based combat is simple yet effective. Now, I would still have to put it under both Symphonia titles but I dare say this one actually does beat Legendia.

The game follows a guy named Cress who has to go through a rather sad origin story as all Tales of characters do. Cress’ village is attacked by an evil mastermind who murders his family as well as his best friend Chester’s family. The whole village is burned to the ground and the main characters want vengeance. This won’t be quite so easy though. For starters, this is a battle that has been going on for generations. The villain is reviving an evil threat from 1000 years ago, Dhaos. Dhaos has mastery over time and space. The heroes will need to find a way to traverse time as well or they will ultimately be left behind to continue holding those Ls. Let me tell you, the Ls weigh a whole lot after a while.

For the gameplay, it’s not strictly speaking turn based combat. You do take turns when using spells but otherwise you can all move at the same time. The game is in 2D which is an interesting twist since you have to cram all of the characters together as you attack the villains. Since it’s not as close to 3D as the others, it can get a little tricky at times with your A.I. partners getting in the way. The game seems to intentionally get these guys to sabotage you as they’ll use the worst possible spells against the bosses.

No worries though you can keep pausing the game to give them manual commands. It’s a little extra work but it is worth it most of the time. You can see the areas where the series was still finding its footing with the gameplay mechanics. The game has to freeze whenever someone uses a spell which is pretty much every few seconds so that extends the length of each battle. That’s something future games stopped doing which is for the best.

So those are the weak points of the gameplay but the positives definitely outweigh those. For starters it’s always fun to learn new spells and try them out. The EXP system is very straightforward and the level ups make a difference. The most crucial part of the game is making sure you have the right equipment though. You want the pendent that cuts the spell time in half. It’s the most valuable item in the game by far and it would have been difficult to beat some of the bosses without it. You can effectively spam magical spells at your opponent which is incredibly handy.

As for the graphics, it looks pretty good. Some of the sprites may not be as descriptive as in other games like the Mana titles but you can still tell what is going on. The character illustrations may look a little different than the sprites but that’s hard to get around. The game does like to show off its graphics at times though like with the cutscene where we blow up a lot of monsters. That was definitely impressive.

As for the soundtrack, it’s a little less memorable than some of the others but the final boss theme is definitely fun. I liked the castle in general and the game does have a lot of energy. This one uses a style where the music will completely cut out a lot of the time. That’s something that I think the game should have changed. The situation getting dramatically quiet can be effective but not when you use it constantly. Then it doesn’t quite work.

If you like time travel then you will definitely enjoy the story quite a lot. As with most RPGs the story is very satisfying and a lot happens. Jumping from the past to the future is always fun and there are a lot of moments where it seems like the game is ending and then you jump back into it. Additionally The campaign took me close to 30 hours and after that there is still a lot of replay value to be had. You can try to complete side quests, get more level ups, and things like that. I don’t know of any significant post game though so it’s not quite as much of a post game as many RPGs. Still, with the base game being so long you shouldn’t have any issues there.

As a main character Cress is pretty reasonable. He’s a nice guy who does what he can to save the world. He may have a little less character than some of the other big RPG heroes but I wouldn’t say he has any real faults. Chester makes for a good friend but he misses out on a considerable portion of the game. By the time he rejoins the party you may not feel like putting him back in the rotation since your team is already set.

Mint also tends to miss a lot of the game. Unlike Chester she is around the whole time but doesn’t get to talk a lot. She’s a nice enough mage though. Claus gets more and more broken as the game goes on since he is able to summon all of the elemental spirits in the game. A large chunk of the adventure is supplying him with these creatures so he can fight off anyone who gets in his way. Then you have Arche who is a spell expert and can deal out a ton of damage. In most battles you just need her and Claus to take out the enemies since the other characters can barely even contribute in comparison. Arche has a lot of fun trolling the cast which is always good for the dynamic.

Finally you have the villain Dhaos. At times it’s hard to say if the game was really trying to make him sympathetic or not. Either way I wouldn’t say it succeeded as we needed to see more about his goal. No matter how he may have acted at the very end, it’s hard to get the feeling that this guy was ever in it for anything but himself. He makes for a great villain, no doubt about that. I just wouldn’t consider him anything but a full fledged villain.

Overall, Tales of Phantasia is another great RPG to add to the pile. It’s easy to see how this would help kickstart the Tales of series into becoming the huge title that it is today. I’m not sure when I’ll be checking out my next Tales of title but there are certainly a lot of other options to choose from. If you want to check out a very retro version of the franchise this is the one to pick up.

Overall 8/10

Sword of Mana Review


The Sword of Mana is a game I’ve owned for many years at this point. It just kept getting passed by other games but no longer. I finally went in and completed it. The game certainly played really well and lives up to the Mana brand. The real time action is a nice touch and the story got rather intense with a lot of twists and turns along the way. It’s a good reminder as always on why I like the RPG genre so much. There’s always so much to do in these games.

The two main characters don’t have formal names so I just called them Terry and Daisy. Well, the game starts out with the two characters on the run as their parents are hunted by the Dark Lord. Unfortunately Terry ends up tripping so the two get split up. We fast forward a bunch of years to where Terry is now forced to fight as a gladiator for the villain’s amusement. One day he manages to escape and meets up with a girl who looks just like Daisy. Together, the two of them will find the legendary Granz and take the Dark Lord down!

Of course for an RPG like this you already know there is a lot more to the story than just that. The Dark Lord is not so easily defeated after all. The heroes meet up with a man named Bogard who was a friend of Terry’s parents and a lot of other characters. Along the path to saving the world the heroes will see other kingdoms, meet a demon, and other villains are also along the way.

This RPG isn’t quite as long as some others as it’s a little under 20 hours but you still get to do a lot. I would say you’ll end up pretty satisfied here to be sure. Not every game needs to be crazy long after all, although I will admit that for RPGs I like to see them 20+ hours long. For normal games I strive for at least 10 but of course each genre tends to have their specialties in that respect.

Sword of Mana also has a lot of replay value with the side quests going on. I assume some are probably skippable so you’ll want to do them as you play through the game rather than just waiting until the end. There does not seem to be a post game though as the game just freezes after beating it so you have to turn it off at that point. Perhaps that triggers something to change within the game itself so you do unlock the post game but I’m not sure of that myself. Either way there’s enough to keep you busy.

As expected the graphics are quite sharp here. The sprites are well animated and also have a lot of depth to them such as the characters whisking out their swords and even sitting down for dinner. The developers added a lot of extra animations to really make this as realistic as possible which was cool. This was clearly not the kind of game that was thrown together at the last second but had a lot of effort.

The soundtrack is also pretty solid. Now, I wouldn’t say it quite matches up to a lot of the all time greats when it comes to RPGs but there are enough quality tunes for this one to still hold its own at the end of the day. The main boss theme for example is a pretty solid one.

As for the gameplay, it’s a real time combat title as I mentioned earlier. You obtain many different weapons during the course of the game but you’ll get the most mileage out of the Sword, Bow/Arrow, and your long baton of sorts that extends. You will use this to cross large chasms. Perhaps you will grow a liking to another weapon along the way but I just can’t go wrong with swords. They’re always just so much fun to use.

I will say that the game’s way of letting you power up your sword can be a little complicated. You need a lot of materials and have to find a blacksmith. So due to that I just used the basic level 1 sword for the whole game until the final boss where I finally got a really cool one. I can tell you that I felt the immense difference as soon as I picked that one up. Now that was true power right there.

Whenever you level up you are given one point which you can put to any attribute. This will determine what your stat boost will be so choose carefully. You also unlock classes depending on what your focus is. If you don’t have a focus then it could get a little tricky for you. I went for one of the warrior classes which means putting the points away into strength, random, and a little into magic I think. It’s worth it because you get a crazy power boost which really served me well.

The game knows that you’ll be focusing on the sword though so there are quite a few bosses where you can’t even attack the bosses that way. A lot of them fly away so you have to use a projectile weapon. This could be a little cheesy but they probably knew that otherwise you would really be steam rolling through these guys. That’s how insanely powerful the sword is. There’s no enemy or boss who can last for very long against it.

My final note would be if you’re ever in doubt, grab some level ups. The EXP system here is pretty well balanced so leveling up doesn’t take too long. As soon as you get $10,000 make sure you buy the EXP brace to double your EXP. Trust me that is worth the purchase because it makes a huge difference immediately. There are a few puzzles that can be tough near the end of the game so brace yourself for them. In particular Dime Tower doesn’t hold back. If you see that a light isn’t showing up to signify that you completed a puzzle on the floor, go back down. For some reason puzzles can be on the wrong floor to trip you up so don’t fall for it!

Overall, Sword of Mana was definitely a lot of fun. It’s a very well balanced RPG and one that had a really wide cast. The story certainly shifts a lot by the end with all the new villains and plot twists. The Dark Lord was a really fun character throughout it all and he got quite a few battles with Terry. The game wasn’t afraid to have the hero lose a few fights that’s for sure since he took quite a few Ls as the game went on. If you’re looking for an old RPG that has aged incredibly well, look no further than this title. The Sword of Mana is just what you’re looking for.

Overall 8/10

Dark Cloud Review


Dark Cloud is one of those games I’ve had on the backburner for many years now. It’s just always around but never made it to the top of the pile. Well, with less than 20 games left to get through it makes sense that it would finally step up to the plate. It’s a very intricate RPG that will take some getting used to but it is crafted rather well. The weapons breaking mechanic was also a lot better than I dared hope.

The basic plot of the game is that a Dark Genie has awoken and intends to eradicate humanity. Toan, our brave hero steps up to the plate….but doesn’t make it in time. Humanity has been destroyed and the planet is an empty wasteland. The only survive is a mysterious old man who tells Toan that he will help the lad save the world. See, the people aren’t dead but merely trapped in capsules outside of time. Toan will need to free them all while finding some way to stop the genie. He can’t possibly do it on his own so he’s going to need help.

For the gameplay, this is a 3D hack and slash. Think of it similar to .Hack where you run around in dungeons and take out the monsters. Some characters have projectile type weapons which are fun to use but for the vast majority of the game I used Toan’s classic sword. Part of the reason for this is you can only really work on powering up one weapon at a time. So naturally I focused on his since he’s always around.

That said, it did come back to bite me during the final boss since you can’t use Toan for a whole section of the fight. You have to switch to a projectile user and both of mine were extremely weak. I spent a few hours grinding up the cat girl to a level where she could fight and then the rest of the boss was pretty easy. Still, it was a tense moment so to avoid that you will want to spread your attention between two characters for a while. Make sure you have a strong ranged fighter as well as a close quarters combat user.

The final boss is also intense just because his attacks can’t be dodged. Yes you heard that right. His clap attack releases a sonic wave that is impossible to dodge or block. Your only options are to eat the attack and use a health item right after or use a stamina drink which gives you temporary invincibility. If you do that then you should be just fine.

The rest of the game isn’t nearly as difficult which is why the final boss took me by surprise. Let me get back to the gameplay though, there’s a lot to unpack here. So every time you use your weapon, part of its stamina goes down. If it hits 0 then the weapon breaks and you lose every upgrade you’ve ever put into it. To stop this, always carry an auto repair in your quick item inventory. It’s expensive but if you ever forget to heal a weapon in time this will ensure that it isn’t completely shattered.

There’s also a water mechanic here so you will die of thirst if you don’t drink enough water. It’s a good reminder to go and grab some water irl too of course. At first this will be a little tedious since they get thirsty very quickly so make sure to find as many water upgrades as possible. These are scattered around town and usually pop up after you help out a villager.

The formula for the game is pretty straight forward. You enter a dungeon and complete all of the floors you can. After a while you will be stopped which is when you need to build the village. It’s pretty easy to build but hard to make all of the villagers happy. I wasn’t able to get 100% satisfaction in any area but you don’t really need to do that in order to get the items you need. The only tricky one is the robot on the moon. I was building him upside down which got tricky.

The game explains everything pretty well though so even though it sounds like a lot of mechanics to keep track of, you’ll get the hang of it pretty quickly. It certainly does take a while so the game is around 30 hours as it promises. It took me a little over 28 so that was right up there next to the estimate. The sequel is apparently over 50 hours which sounds insane to me. I wonder how many dungeons are in that game.

There is some replay value here as well. Apparently there is a bonus world at the end which you can try to beat. I imagine that world must be super tough. You can also go back to all of the old villages to try and make the villagers happy which will get you some good items and equipment. So all in all there is definitely a lot to do here.

If I have any real issues with the game it can be that the game can become almost too formulaic without throwing in any wrinkles. For example, the first world has a cool boss fight as Seda showed up and the story started to get intense. Then there are almost no truly relevant story cutscenes with him or the Dark Genie until we approach the final world. I have to admit that I was expecting them to have more of a focus. It’s almost like the story itself went on break for around 20 hours during the game. You still do get cutscenes, but nothing big for a while.

Also, the dungeon exploring can be a bit repetitive. You will need to cross around 100 floors in order to get to the end of the game and each floor is fundamentally the same. You beat a bunch of enemies and then get to head out. I enjoy the gameplay so it wasn’t that bad but if the sequel is double the length because they doubled the floors…that could get painful.

Overall, Dark Cloud is a pretty good RPG. I’m glad that you at least have the opportunity to keep your weapons from ever breaking. That mechanic could have easily gone sideways otherwise. As it stands, I was pretty cool with it. I definitely would have liked to have had more of a focus on the story though. For smaller items I would remove the water mechanic and special levels where you are forced to play as 1 character too. A lot of thought was put into this title though and it shows. If you like RPGs, particularly dungeon crawlers then you should enjoy this one quite a bit.

Overall 7/10