Tag Archives: rorona

Gamer’s Thoughts: Difficulty in games

downloadToday I want to talk about something extremely objective subjective. Something not a lot of people agrees on. That subject is the difficulty in games. This isn’t unique to video gaming since other entertainment mediums can be difficult to understand, analyze or appreciate. But, the difficulty is one of the most important factors in gaming. In order to write this article, I have asked in various groups what their opinions about game difficulty are. Are games today too easy? Are difficult games fun to play? Are old school games too difficult? I got some extremely interesting replies. Now, if you have your own opinion on this subject, I would love to talk about it in the comment section down below. Of course, keep it civil down there, everybody has a different opinion.

My own views on game difficulty.

Keep in mind that the following thoughts and opinions are mine. It’s quite possible that you think in a different way due to your different experiences in gaming and/or life. Like I said in the introduction of this article, feel free to leave a comment with your thoughts and opinions on the content of this article and or the subject. With that out of the way, on with the show.

Now, with such a broad subject as game difficulty, it’s quite tricky to give a full opinion. In the introduction alone, I gave a few different angles I could take this article. In addition to that, this subject is extremely subjective. For example, I’m not rhythmic at all. When I talk about the DS, a lot of people talk about games like Elite Beat Agents, a rhythm game. I have to admit that I find this game too difficult.

pokemon goFirst of all, let’s talk about a sentence you often hear us older players say: “Games today are too easy.” Are they really too easy? Well, they became easier in one way but more challenging too. For example, take the Pokémon games. When Game Freak remade the 3rd generation on Nintendo 3DS, one of the biggest complaints was that the game was too easy. And yes, I finished the game without losing 3 battles during the whole playthrough and 2 of these loses were because I wasn’t paying attention during the battle and forgot to heal my Pokémon and the other loss was because I forgot that grass was weak to flying and I most had grass Pokémon in a flying gym. Whoops.

photoNow, why do I think that games can be too easy nowadays? That’s has two reasons. The first reason is that games just got more accessible. Because of the growth of the hobby, a lot more people play video games. So, there need to be ways for every style of player to play video games, even the youngest ones. Thankfully, you have difficulty options that can provide the other players with some additional challenges. Sadly enough, not all games do this. In most games, the difficulty settings have a small explanation of what each level means.

And this brings me to the second reason why games are too easy nowadays and that’s a skill. I have been playing games since I was a young lad. I started playing games give or take 21 years ago. During these years, I have played a TON of games and got a TON of different experiences. That means I have seen quite a lot and the chances of a puzzle stumping me or a fight being too difficult to get slimmer with every game I play.

Is this a bad thing? It depends on what you are looking for in a game. Do you want a game that challenges your strategizing skills or the ability to solve puzzles than the lower difficulty can be a problem? If you are looking for a game to play to pass the time, in that case, the drop in difficulty shouldn’t matter that much.

resident evil 4It’s always a difficult balancing act in how difficult you make your game. Since if a game is too difficult, people will stop playing. A great example for me is Resident Evil 4. There is a section in that game where during an already hectic fight, two chainsaw enemies spawn that kill you instantly when they come to close. There were three times that one of those enemies actually spawned right behind me, giving me no time nor room to turn around and defend myself. These moments I actually rage quitted the game. Another example is Atelier Rorona. The amount of depth in this game is just insane. You have to think about so many things like the freshness of ingredients, how long it takes to collect them and get them home, the amount of MP you have to fight and or craft… It was quite challenging to balance all of these things.

EuropaUniversalisIV_Packshot_editedThat brings me to the question, what makes a game difficult and how difficult should a game be? It speaks for itself that how more layers of gameplay and mechanics you add, the more difficult a game becomes. Take Europa Universalis 4 for example. In this grand strategy game, there are so many mechanics; it’s not even funny anymore. The complexity of a game can turn some people off. I would love to play Europe Universalis 4 with more people but most of my friends don’t understand how the game works or get too scared when they hear how many things they need to think about while playing the game.

In a way, the difficulty of a game can limit your audience. I would love to play a game like Cuphead, but from what I have seen and tried, the game is a bit too much for me. I don’t really like games that depend on memorization or trying over and over again. This makes the game boring and repetitive in my eyes. For me personally, I want to have a great time while I’m playing games. I want some parts to be challenging and test the skills I learned during the game and I want some sections to be easy to play through so I can relax and enjoy the game.

SI_NDS_NewSuperMarioBrosDS_image1600wA game series that nailed difficulty, in my opinion, is the Super Mario World games. In these games, you learn by playing the game. You might have heard this explanation in various other videos or articles but if you haven’t heard it yet, allow me to explain. At the start of the level, you are able to experiment with a new level mechanic in a safe area. One where you can easily avoid the enemies and you don’t have death pits. And the further you go in the level, the more challenging the mechanic or level gimmick becomes. And during the later and last stages of the game, all the challenges are combined into one big final set of levels that test your skills and what you learned through the game. In a way, you can compare it to school. The early levels and sections are the classes while the later levels and finale of the game are the final test/exam.

Now, should games become “NES-hard” again? To be honest, I think we shouldn’t do that. In the current gaming climate, we get a lot of games inspired by the more challenging nature of older games and we also get easier games. That means we have options. Now, we’re all old school games difficult? Were games more challenging in the past? Well, that’s a tricky question to answer.

Tomb Raider LegendFor example, I grew up with the original Tomb Raider games. When I play these games today, I don’t have a lot of trouble with jumping from platform to platform. Of course, due to the limitations of the systems at the time, it wasn’t always clear to which ledge you should jump and how you should make that jump. In more recent games, a better visual presentation helps out with that problem a lot. This “issue” became clear when I did the Tomb Raider project. Some people in that collaboration had never played an old school Tomb Raider game and gave it a try for the first time. And because they were more used to the newer style of the series or the newer style of play in more modern games, they had trouble during the game.

Something I often got during my search for writers in the Tomb Raider project was: “Also the old Tomb Raider games that aged poorly?” or something similar. I completely agree that the original Tomb Raider games aged poorly. The newer Tomb Raider games, and not per se the more modern games, play better because the developers improved their craft and learned a lot from developing the previous entries in the series.

I don’t find all retro-inspired games that difficult. I was able to beat some without much trouble like Blossom Tales or Retro Game Challenge. While I did had some trouble in Shovel Knight because I haven’t played a lot of games similar to that.

When I was researching and brainstorming for this article, I came to the conclusion that there are 4 types of difficulty in my eyes.

The first type is the intended difficulty. This is planned by the developers to challenge you during the game. Think about a Zelda dungeon where you get a new item in a dungeon and you have to learn to use it or remember the places where you were unable to progress and needed to use the item.

The second type is an unintended difficulty. This was an unplanned difficulty due to bugs, randomness (like RNG or random generation) or just plain bad game design. Or it can be because of things like certain mechanics. For example, a lot of people complained when Super Mario 64 DS came out. While it’s a good remake, the controls weren’t loved by various reviews because the original game was designed with a joystick in mind while the DS didn’t have a joystick.

The first two types can be mixed with the other two types.

The third type is a fair difficulty. With this I mean, the game provides you with a challenging and rewarding experience. Like, you finally figured out how to beat that one puzzle or beat that one boss.

The fourth type of difficulty is, you guessed it, unfair difficulty. Now, this can be because of bad and or lazy game design but this can also be a huge spike in difficulty. A great example is Suikoden Tierkreis for me. Overall, the game is somewhat easy. If you don’t skip too many battles and pay attention to what you are doing, the game isn’t all too challenging. I rarely to never saw the game over screen. Until I came to the final boss. This annoying battle gets such a difficulty spike that made me not fully finish the game and actually look up the ending online. Now, while writing this article, I actually restarted playing the game and I’m hell-bent in finally beating the game this time.

The more difficulty of type 2 and 4 you have, the worse it becomes for your game. One time a developer asked me to review an Android game. In this game, you had to feed various foods to some customers. The issue was, all of the dishes were based on Asian dishes and I’m European. I barely know anything about Asian cuisine. The unfair difficulty in this game is that almost nothing was explained in the game about the foods themselves. So, I was unable to figure out which food was what, so it became a guessing game.

Another example of unfair difficulty is more recent. A developer asked me to review a Switch game they just released. The game is a twin-stick shooter and in the shooting tutorial, there were two spawners in the room that spawned so many enemies so quickly, it became overwhelming. You shouldn’t put so many enemies in the first level of your game while the player is still learning the basic mechanics of the game. That’s unfair.

headerDoes a game like Dark Souls have unfair difficulty? Well no, the game is quite balanced in my opinion. There is a lot of risk and reward gameplay, the punishment is just a bit too harsh in my opinion. But the game becomes beatable when you learn the finer details of the game and get used to the inner workings of the game.

The line and difference between the four types are really thin and make it still personal. Speaking of personal, some people talk proudly when they were able to beat a certain game on the highest difficulty. While that is impressive, you shouldn’t look down upon people having trouble on the lower difficulties. While my gaming buddy MiseryLC can beat the AI in Europe Universalis IV on hard, I feel that the normal difficulty provides just enough challenge for me.

I think it would be a great development if all games have difficulty sliders. The more you can adjust the difficulty, the better. Something I really loved in the Etrian Odyssey series is that you can change the difficulty setting when you are in the town without any other punishments. This is great because when I was unable to beat a certain boss and almost stopped playing, I was able to lower the difficulty a bit so I was able to beat the boss and move on. After I had beaten the boss, I set the difficulty back on normal. This is a perfect system since people can choose how easy or hard you want the game to be.

Now, I have said quite a lot about the topic now. To avoid this article becoming a bit too long or having too much rambling, I think it’s time to let some of my friends talk. I want to thank everybody for their input since they helped me quite a lot while putting my thoughts together for this article.

How others think about difficulty.

Now, I asked around on various groups on Discord and Facebook on their opinions on game difficulty. Here is what they have to say. Note, some quotes I translated from Dutch to English. Some quotes had minor edits since sometimes contained an answer to another topic in the conversation or something in those lines.

The following quotes come from a Facebook group where Belgian retro game collectors gather.

Ward: “Some games are pretty challenging due to their difficulty like Slain and Cuphead. But other games hold your hand, but that doesn’t always take away from the fun of the game. It really depends on the game and how enjoyable the story is.”

Hakim: “Sometimes a too difficult game can be really frustrating. And out of this frustration, the game can go on my shelves to be never played again.”

Kenny: “Personally, I think that the player should have a choice how difficult the game should be. Some games I play personally for the story and not for an extreme challenge.”

Mayu: “For me, a game can never be too difficult. I’ll play until the end as long as the difficulty, challenge, story and such are fun. It already happened that I was disappointed when I bought a new game and I finished it without issue. The solution for this is lately, collection or completion rewards. Some of them are really letdowns. In the past, gaming was a very niche hobby. When a game was too difficult, you just had to try and try again. But, now that gaming isn’t a niche hobby anymore, the difficult games don’t sell that well anymore. And with companies trying to make as much profit as possible…”

Koen: “Making a game extremely difficult is no issue for me. As long as all the elements of the game are fun, it doesn’t matter to me. I really enjoy the rewarding feeling of finally being able to beat a game at the highest difficult setting after trying on it for weeks and seeing the real/true ending. But, when the story is garbage and I have to replay the game on a harder difficulty setting, I won’t be spending my time on a new playthrough.”

Niels: “As long as a game stays fair, it’s worth my time. Nowadays, there are a lot of games that are too easy for everybody to play. From endless tutorial sections to special power-ups when you die a lot and sometimes even a skip button, these are just a few things that you find more and more in modern games. Now, there is nothing wrong with that, as long as they are optional or are disabled by higher difficulty settings. Something I really want to stress, a game that is too difficult thanks to bad enemy placement, terrible controls or bad decisions is a bad game.”

Xavier: “I prefer easier games. There are a lot of games that are quite enjoyable to play. It doesn’t matter to me if games are shorter, I usually buy them at a lower price after they have been released for a while. It’s better then having to play a game where you have to retry a section 20 times to finish it.”

Dennis: “I usually start a game on normal mode. Depending on my experience, I raise or lower the difficulty. So, this means that I play some games on easy, some on normal and some on the hardest difficulty. I don’t really enjoy games where you respawn a thousand times before you can continue and especially when you have the same issue 10 minutes later in the next section. If I enjoyed the game enough, I might replay it on a higher difficulty setting. Most of the games interest me for somewhere between 10 to 20 hours. But, this is absolutely not the case for me with Final Fantasy games.”

The following opinions are from fellow bloggers or friends in the blogging world.

Aiphafemaie: “A couple thoughts – I think games felt more difficult in the past because you had to rely more on yourself to figure out how to pass levels or quests. Or printing out walkthroughs from GameFaqs.com lmao.  Now when you’re stuck, you can just to YouTube and see how it’s done. I don’t think games were more difficult in the past, but “difficult” is a subjective word.  Today’s games do have varying difficulty modes, in comparison to the past. Before most games could only be played on default.”

TwoTall4uFool: “I think there was a lot of trial and error with games back in the 80’s and 90’s. Even in the 2000’s. Aiphafemaie you bring up a great point about GameFaqs but there are some games out there that I would’ve never beaten if it wasn’t for Game Genie/Gameshark. Today in games you have tutorials and of course there is YouTube. And even with plug and plays such as the SNES Classic you can rewind and try a part again if you fail. And plus suspend you point. So emulating older games have made them easier ….. sort of.”

ReaperInteractive: “I agree with @aiphafemaie . Games in the past had no clear instructions or clear, “Go here to pass to the next level.” Games nowadays are a lot more direct and I feel that developers intentianally make these instructions extremely clear as to make the game as playable and prevent people from giving up midway. A little more on the note. There have been games where the instructions were so unclear that I literally had no clue what to do and ended up giving up. Another reason I feel that games nowadays are a lot easier is because we’ve played the same basic mechanic over and over again as to games in the past, there were hundreds of different mechanics. Most games nowadays can be grouped into a couple dozen genres with the same mechanic and controls. Contrary to this, I feel that games in the past are composed of hundreds of different genres, some completely new to the people hence why I feel that why games in the past are a tad more difficult than those of our age.”

The Well Red Mage: “I think that games can still pretty hard now, some of them, but there are new varieties of games now. There are brutal platformers as a subgenre now that are built on difficulty, but then there are also walking simulators and interactive movies now that eschew difficulty almost entirely. I think some would say that the difficulty of retro games was such that it was unfair, but I think that the lives systems and the memorization of patterns (two very retro-centric ideas of difficulty) are perfectly valid; we maybe just don’t have the toleration for them that we used to. Those games were still demanding something of the player (memory or timing). So I think this is a conversation that benefits from specifics like specific games and specific features in those games that bring difficulty into the equation (memorization, level design, limited options or limited chances to complete a challenge, longer periods without save features, increasing speed, item management, enemy AI… all those things are specific features that games then and now used and use to create difficulty).”

The Badly Backlogged Mage/MrBacklog: “I think the obvious-but-unhelpful answer is “as difficult as they need to be to convey the desired experience”. Dark Souls, the Walking Dead and Mario Party are all different in terms of difficulty because they’re going for different experiences.”

OverThinkerY: “I think there are different ways of adding difficulty – Backlogged makes a good point about those games being difficult in different ways as part of the experience. There’s perhaps the most classic sort of difficulty, which is reacting and executing the right series of inputs quickly enough to proceed, and then there are things more dependent on memory, ingenuity, or sheer emotional fortitude. I think there are more examples these days of different sorts of difficulty other than simply pressing buttons accurately, which might be down to better tech or just natural progression, but it enables different kinds of experiences to be made effective in that way.”

Mail Order Ninja Mage/Daniel Flatt: “Difficulty is the hardest thing to get right in video games. If you push back too hard you lose all but your most dedicated player, if you don’t present any challenge then moderately skilled players become bored. Like everyone said above it is drastically different depending on the game and furthermore the individual playing.

That being said games aren’t necessarily easier than they were before, but they have become better at not wasting our time. Games previously were artificially hard, first because checkpoints and saves weren’t a thing, and then because many NES games are a handful of hours long without constantly starting over. They had to have that difficulty to make the game worth it, can’t have Billy coming to you after an hour and asking for a new game. I dare anyone to play B side levels of Celeste and say games are easier, but the difference is you don’t have to play through the same 30 minutes over and over to finally get through something and die 20 seconds later to start all over.

The best games have difficulty determined by the player, Nintendo excels at this, but one of the best examples is Ori. It has a function where you basically create your own checkpoints or don’t, depending on your preference. It could be brutally hard, but if I get to try again right away for a certain section it wasn’t wasting my time making me play the same section a hundred times.”

Now, as you can read, the opinions are extremely diverse when it comes to difficulty. This brainstorm was extremely interesting to do. I honestly think that I’ll return to this topic in the future. Before I close this article, I want to point you to an article created by Rob “I Played The Game” Covell that he wrote in 2017 about the same subject. “A Difficult Conversation”.

Closing off

Like I said in the previous paragraph, the conversation of how difficult a game could be or if games are too easy nowadays gets quite diverse opinions. While this topic could be discussed for hours and the opinions will go in various directions, I think I’ll close off this article here. I’m quite curious about what everybody thinks. Maybe I’ll revisit this topic at a later date.

If you have written or talked about this subject in the past or know a great resource like another article or video, feel free to send me a message with the link. Maybe I’ll include it in the next article. And with that said, I think I’ll really end off this article. Thank you, everybody, for helping me put this article together. It was a blast. Thank you for reading this article and I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. I hope to be able to welcome you in another article but until then, have a great rest of your day and take care.

Review: Atelier Rorona -The Alchemist of Arland- DX (Switch) ~ Crafting The Adventure With Alchemy.

atelier-rorona-featureWikipedia page

On my top 10 games list of 2018, I talked about Atelier Rorona. I talked about how this game got me interested in playing the Atelier series. Now, it’s time to give my full opinion on the game. Why did I place this game on my top ten list and why wasn’t it higher on the list? I think it’s time to talk about crafting and exploring. Adventuring and RPG’ing. And as usual, feel free to leave a comment with your opinion on the game and/or the content of this article in the comment section down below.

Get off your lazy bum

atelier rorona screen 1The story of this game has a simple premise. You play as Rorona, a young girl who is an apprentice at a local alchemy shop in the Arland Kingdom. Her master Astrid is so lazy that business isn’t going well at all. As a matter of fact, she didn’t get off her lazy bum for so long, the kingdom is considering to close down the shop. Rorona doesn’t want this to happen so she takes on the challenges provided by the kingdom. She gets a deadline of three years. During these three years, she has to prove that she can run the alchemy shop and make a profit. If she fails one of these challenges, the shop will be closed without any further questions.

On the surface, the story of this game isn’t anything special. It’s one that has been done various times before. Yet, the story actually changes a lot in your actions. It depends on who you take with you on your journey, how good you craft your items, how you interact with the characters and how you run your alchemy shop. The one that lazy Astrid sort of gave to you because she wanted more sleep but didn’t want the shop to be closed.

This makes the story quite a lot of fun to play through. Because each and every playthrough is going to be different, you will have a different story. This game has various endings that all depend on how good you did during your missions provided by the kingdom. When I had beaten the game for the first time, I got a very generic ending that didn’t give the closure I felt that the story deserved. Because of that, I feel motivated to replay this game with so I can get an even better ending.

The writing of this game makes replaying this game even more enjoyable. While I was playing this game, I posted a short clip on my Twitter showing off the voice acting. The game has a lot of funny and charming moments. I actually fell in love with the characters of this game. Now, depending on how good you play this game, the characters you interact with getting more character development.

Now, during my playthrough, the story was quite enjoyable. While it didn’t have a lot of moments where I sat on the edge of my seat, it was quite relaxing. Maybe the other endings have more thrilling moments, but overall I enjoyed the story quite a lot. The writing, the pacing, and the voice acting make for an enjoyable experience. I can’t wait to see how the game plays out on my next playthrough.

With that said, how do you actually go about saving the shop? For that, Rorona needs to gather ingredients from various locations and craft various items. Depending on the quality of the items, you get better items. Now, I do have one thing I felt mixed about in terms of the gameplay.

Running that shop

atelier-rorona-the-alchemist-of-arland-dx-screenshot-01-ps4-us-04dec2018

Yes, this is a screenshot from the PS3 version, but the Switch version looks the same apart from the different buttons.

While the story pacing is quite good, the pacing of the game is … let’s just say, strange. Because the game gives off a relaxing and casual vibe, the game can feel extremely slow. But this is very misleading. Because you have a strict time limit; you shouldn’t waste time at all. You have to play every move extremely carefully. The more mistakes you make, the worse your ending gets. The depth in this game is crazy. You do get an assistant at the middle point of the game. This mechanic saved me various times. You can assign this assistant to go and explore for you or craft items for you.

Be warned, the tutorials of this game only scratch the surface of the mechanics of this game. Something I recommend is that you use the save system to your advantage. I had various saves at various points. So, I can go back when I felt I was able to finish the missions with better results.

Talking about the save system, the fact that this game got ported from a PlayStation system really shows in the UI. If you have played a game on a PlayStation you will recognize the typical save and load UI easily. The only thing that annoys me is that I’m unable to name my saves. This would have helped quite a lot.

So, you have to explore, fight monster and craft items. This sounds like your typical RPG fare. You do have side quests that can help you to get a better relationship with a certain character. Some of these side quests have the potential to improve the reputation of the shop which also has a big influence on the ending of the story.

All in all, the biggest challenge of this game is time management. Use your time wisely and try to waste as few days as you can. I always tried to finish the assignment of the kingdom as fast as I could. When I finished that, I used the remaining days to explore new areas and improve my relationship with the other characters.

The gameplay immersed me quite a lot. I really felt like a shop owner trying to find the best strategy to get my shop up and running and to try to get as many customers as I can. While the game isn’t too difficult to get the most basic ending, the challenge for this game hides in trying to get the best endings.

A normal playthrough of this game will take you somewhere around 20 hours. But, if you want to see all the endings, you will get a lot more out of this game. On howlongtobeat.com, there are reports of players taking 60 to 100 hours to fully complete this game. Now, this is for the PlayStation 3 version. At the time of writing this review, the website has no listing for the Nintendo Switch version.

Now, the meat of this game is in exploration and crafting. First of all, let’s go a bit more in-depth about the exploration. During your exploration, you can take two allies with you. Certain allies require a certain price to hire. This price needs to be paid upfront. So, make sure you have enough gold in the bank to hire them.

During the exploration, you can go to various locations. Each location has several areas you can explore that provide different items. These items aren’t randomized, so if you find herbs in a certain area, you will be able to find those herbs every time there.

One thing you need to keep in mind is that you have an inventory limit. If you reach that limit, you have to throw out items. Also, you need to keep in mind that certain items can lose their freshness. For example, if you collect berries and don’t put them in your storage in the chest in the shop, the quality will drop.

During your exploration, you can see certain spots where items can be gathered. In the meantime, you see the enemies roaming around. When you interact with them, you can start a fight with them. The battles are turn-based. It’s the system you see in a million other RPG’s. But there are a few differences.

One difference is that only an alchemist can use items. So, only Rorona can use healing items during the battle. Another difference is that you can use certain characters to defend you and make combo attacks. In each battle, a meter builds up. When that meter is full, you can use the shoulder buttons to defend Rorona. A similar mechanic counts for the combo attacks.

One thing you need to keep in mind during the exploration is that moving between locations and areas takes valuable time. So, make sure you know which items you need and where you can find them and plan accordingly. Otherwise, you might get into trouble and you aren’t able to craft certain items.

In addition to that, keep in mind that you have a limited amount of MP. MP is also used to craft items. And this brings me on the second part of the gameplay I want to focus on, the crafting. This is something I didn’t always pay attention too. Each item can have certain properties that make a huge difference during crafting. Each item has also a quality level that changes the outcome quite a lot as well.

Something I found extremely tricky was looking for high-quality items. For some reason, I always found a mid tear or low tier quality items. I’m quite sure that this was one of the reasons that resulted in me having a mediocre ending. Now that I know that, I know what I should look for in a second playthrough.

Anyways, the crafting system itself is a bit basic. You can select various ingredients to craft an item. If you don’t have a certain sub ingredient that is craftable, you get forwarded to the crafting menu of that item. One thing that I found really annoying was that it wasn’t always clear which ingredients were missing. For example, the icon of the missing ingredient was a flame. But I had a few ores that looked extremely similar. Yet that wasn’t the ingredient I needed. It turns out I needed oil.

Something I really liked was that in the crafting list, you were able to sort ingredients in terms of quality or rarity. Also, you had various symbols that gave information if you were or weren’t able to craft a certain item. For example, a triangle means that you are able to craft the item but you have to craft a sub-item first.

One thing that I would like to mention is that this game can be repetitive. It’s quite easy to fall in a loop for every assignment or mission. Explore, craft, rest. Explore, craft, rest. Explore, craft, rest. And repeat. Each assignment has a different theme like preparing for a festival or helping to craft medicine.

I didn’t mind too much, but I feel that a bit more variation in the gameplay would do the game some good. For example, a bit more assignments where you needed to defeat a certain number of monsters or collect a certain amount of ingredients would do the trick.

Arland is saved

atelier-rorona-the-alchemist-of-arland-dx-screenshot-03-ps4-us-04dec2018Let’s talk about the visuals. This game looks quite nice in my opinion. While the game could have benefited from a free camera, I actually didn’t mind too much since the camera allowed me to watch the nice city and fun dungeons in great detail. Some enemies suffer from the recolor syndrome, like the slime enemies. There are at least 3 variants and only the color has been changed. I wish those games added a few extra details. Oh well. At least I never had slowdowns during gameplay and I was able to play the game at a decent frame rate.

In terms of animation, this game is good. While the cut scenes would have benefited from some more character animation instead of gorgeous looking 2D artwork. Now, if the game came out in a previous generation, I would excuse this…. oh, wait… that’s right, this game is a port of a PS3 game. Then again, the PS3 is capable of so much more. Oh well.

Now, something that bugged me a bit is the rather awkward jumping animation. I think it’s missing a few frames near the end where Rorona’s feet almost snap into place. It also looks strange when you adjust your jump in midair. Since Rorona sort of floats awkwardly. It’s hard to put into words but while the jump works great, it feels off and looks a bit off.

Jumping in itself is easy to do and control. You just press the jump button and voila. I don’t have any complaints about the controls. I really like how there is a dedicated button to cycle through Rorona’s animations. The game controls great and I didn’t have the need to spend time getting used to them. The UI explains it so well, I got the hang of it right away. One minor nitpick is that the prompt for running is a tad confusing. When the UI shows a button for “running ON” and you press that button, Rorona actually starts walking. So, that prompt in the UI actually shows the status if you are running or not.

Now, the UI has some amazing things I really liked. Like how easy it is to sort items or the great and easy to use crafting system. But I have a few complaints. First of all, I wish I was able to see which ingredients were at a certain location before I actually traveled there. I would have been able to save so many days…

Secondly, while I totally understand why the developers did this; I wish I was able to see how many days it would take to go to a newly discovered gathering area. The reason why they don’t tell you this is most likely for immersion reasons.

And my final and third complaint is when you buy armor, you can’t see if it would increase somebody’s stats or not. This was quite annoying, especially when the armor shop rarely has new items because the game really wants that you craft it yourself.

The music and sound effects for this game are good. The soundtrack really fits the mood of the story quite well. It’s relaxing and rather melodic. It helps to get immersed in the game. I even added the soundtrack to my playlist for when I want to relax. Now, the sound effects are great but I wish there were a bit more of them. For the whole crafting system, the use the same effects and I would love some different ones for food or bombs. Also, one for days passing, while the clock ticked over, would be the cherry on the cake.

Oh, and here is something nice, you can totally change the whole soundtrack. Yes, while interacting with the book in the atelier, you can change each and every track to another track. You can choose between a pretty long list of other games in the series. Now, this is an amazing feature but it could have used some additional features. Like a reset to default option and one where you easily see which song you have selected since in that menu there is a lot of unused screen space. And the biggest missing feature is, in my opinion, a preview of what song is currently playing. Oh dear, they were so close.

In that same menu, you can access the different costumes for Rorona. As far as I know, these are only cosmetic. You can do save file management and decorate the atelier to a certain degree. You can also access the options menu where you can adjust the sound mix to your liking. Here, you can also change the language of the voice acting to Japanese or English. So, if you want Rorona to greet you in Japanese on the main menu, you can do that.

After you have finished the game, there is a post-game chapter. I won’t spoil what the chapter is about but it adds some additional story. But after this post-game, there is no free-roaming. So, you can’t experiment with the game… This is a real missed opportunity since I would have loved to try and experiment with the game to learn and have a better run next time. Yet, on the other hand, I totally understand why they did this. Because the game has so many different endings in which different characters aren’t present, it would have been a hell to program.

Interestingly, during my writing this review and posting it; the game got a small update. I have no clue what has been added, but I wanted to mention it, just in case something in my review doesn’t make sense anymore.

With that said, I have said almost everything I wanted to say about this game. I did leave some things out for you as a surprise if you decide to play this game. But, it’s time for the conclusion of this review and my final thoughts.

Conclusion

The bad:

  • The jump animation looks awkward.
  • The game can be repetitive.
  • There is no free play in the post content.

The good:

+ Enjoyable story, writing and voice acting.

+ Amazing charm.

+ Great UI.

+ High replay value due to the different endings.

+ Relaxing soundtrack and you can change it to your liking!

+ ….

Final thoughts:

I don’t know exactly how this game compares to other games in the Atelier series. Since this game is the first game in the series I have played. Nevertheless, I did enjoy my time with this game quite a lot. The game is on the surface of a relaxing game with a lot of charm. But, don’t get fooled, this game can become quite hectic in a good way.

The game is quite enjoyable to play but difficult to master. You really need to plan every single move to make sure to you get yourself in a difficult situation.

This game is perfect for everybody who is looking for an RPG with a crafting system or somebody who is looking for a shop simulator. While I can totally understand why some people won’t enjoy this game too much, it did click with me.

But the game is far from perfect. Don’t get me wrong, this game is quite good but it has some flaws that hinder the gameplay in my opinion. Like the strict deadlines and the repetitive nature of the game.

Personally, I recommend that you give this game a try. If only there was a demo of this game you could try out and judge for yourself if this game is for you are not. I bought this game because the screenshots and descriptions looked interesting on the Nintendo eShop and I wasn’t disappointed.

Now, I can’t wait to play the other games in this trilogy to see if they improved the mechanics in the other games. Maybe they crafted an even better adventure while they kept everything that worked quite well in this game.

Do keep in mind that I’m not saying that this is a bad game. It’s a good game with some flaws. It’s up to you to decide if these flaws would hinder your enjoyment of the game or not. Since this game has a lot of depth so you will be able to have a lot of fun with this game.

With that said, I want to thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed reading this article as much as I enjoyed writing it. I hope to be able to welcome you in a different article but until then, have a great rest of your day and take care.

Score: 70/100

Gamer’s Thoughts: NekoJonez’s Top 10 Played Games of 2018

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2018 was an extremely strange year for me personally. A lot has happened in the past 12 months both good and bad. I have graduated this year. I’m now a bachelor in Computer Science – Networking. But on the other hand, I have gone through a lot of personal rough patches that did quite a number on my mental health. I’m slowly recovering and the support I’m getting is motivating me, even more, to go forward and get better. That said, I also played quite a lot of games this year. I got a Switch this year and I enjoyed it quite a lot. I also finished and completed a lot of games I started in the past few years so I had a bit of trouble putting this list together. So, for those who are new here, this list contains my 10 favorite games I have STARTED playing in 2018. The release date of the game itself doesn’t matter, what matters is that I started playing it in 2018. Before we get into the actual list, reminder, this list is my personal opinion. So, feel free to discuss it in the comments and also feel free to post your own list into the comments. I’m rather curious. Anyways, this introduction is getting quite long, it’s time to get into the actual list.

Place 10: Angels of Death (Nintendo Switch)

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My review

At first, this game would have a higher place on this list. The story and theming of this game grabbed my attention so much, I felt the black hole after finishing this game quite hard. I wanted to spend more time in the world of this game and spend more time with the characters.

I think that my love for the Corpse Party series and the Zero Escape series made me enjoy this game so much more. If you are a fan of either series, I highly recommend that you check out this game.

In addition to that, this game might have one of the best soundtracks I have heard this year. How many times I have listened to it this year, I lost count already. And mind you, I found this game in late October.

Now, why is this game not higher on the list? I praised it quite a lot in my review and I might have given the impression that this game would be my game of the year… Well, it’s because I played another horror game this year that just did that bit more. Outside of that, the short length and gameplay; the game felt like a game I play in between big releases. So yeah. That’s why.

Place 9: Shining Resonance – Refrain (Switch)

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So, back in 2016, I played Stella Glow. I got quite into the story of music playing a big role in an RPG by giving buffs or debuffs. When I found Shining Resonance: Refrain on the Nintendo eShop on the Switch and read that music played an important role as well, I was sold.

When I started to play this game, I got flashbacks to Stella Glow. Even when this game plays quite a lot differently than Stella Glow. This game is more action-focused and in real-time while Stella Glow’s gameplay is more a big puzzle and turn-based.

While I haven’t even come close to finishing this game, I’m quite curious about what else I’ll encounter in this game. I’m at the midway mark of this game but I have been rushing through it. I think that the next couple of playing sessions will be to catch up with various side quests and improving my characters and their equipment since I quite a lot of trouble while battling the last boss.

Now, this game is a port of a PS3 game released in 2014. It’s also a part of the Shining series. If the other games in the series are as enjoyable as this game, I think I might explore this series in the future. Too bad that a lot of games in this series haven’t left Japan.

Place 8: Atelier Rorona – The Alchemist of Arland (Nintendo Switch)

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Wikipedia

So, not too long ago, a bundle of three Atelier games got released on the Nintendo Switch. These games are the Arland trilogy. After I figured out what was the first game in the series, I started playing Atelier Rorona.

I was very surprised with the game actually. The game is quite enjoyable to play but it can be repetitive. The game is about an alchemy workshop with a very lazy owner. You play as her pupil named Rorona. When the kingdom orders the closure of the workshop, you get three years to prove the worth of the shop and finish various assignments of the kingdom. If you fail one of these, the workshop closes right away.

Now, what I didn’t know is how replayable this game is. These are so many mechanics I discovered during my first time playing this game, I also found out that there are a lot of various endings to the game. Now that I have beaten the game once, I think I’ll first beat the other two games before I do another playthrough to get an even better ending.

I personally really liked this game but I have to say that this game isn’t for everyone. I recommend this game to everybody who enjoys a more laid back RPG game. This game does have a lot of depth, but overall I found this game a more relaxing experience. That statement might change if I try to go for the other endings, who knows.

In any case, I’m rather curious about what the other two games have an offer for me. Since I’m going to beat those next. And who knows, these games might convince me to further check out the Atelier series, of which there are many… many games.

Place 7: Resident Evil 4 (PlayStation 2)

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Wikipedia

When I started playing games like Corpse Party, Fatal Frame and Zero Escape; I knew that one day I’ll have to look into the horror genre. A long time ago, in one of my local toy stores, there was a PS2 booth where a demo of Resident Evil 4 was playable. I think I was 14 years old and while I enjoyed playing the game, I didn’t even know the title nor the impact that game was going to have in the gaming scene. I think I only played the game for like 10-15 minutes in total since the next time I went, the booth was replaced with a demo Gamecube with Donkey Kong Jungle Beat.

I actually forgot about the game until some of my favorite YouTubers started to talk about it on their channels. Back then, I was more into adventure and puzzle games, so I took note of the name and moved on.

Fast forward to this year. I was browsing the second-hand games in my local game store and I saw a copy of Resident Evil 4 for the PS2 for only 10€. I didn’t hesitate twice. I bought this game and after I came home I started to play it right away. While I was afraid that I would suck at survival horror, I was able to finish chapter after chapter.

I also got quickly used to aiming and firing a gun with a controller. Since that was one of my biggest fears. I tried playing various shooters with a controller in the past and I always had a lot of trouble.

So, because I was highly surprised at how much fun I was having, I felt that this game rightfully deserved a spot on this year’s list.

Place 6: Project Zero II (Fatal Frame II) – The Crimson Butterfly (PlayStation 2)Fatal_Frame_II_-_Crimson_Butterfly.jpg

Wikipedia

So, due to Project Zero V – Maiden of the Black Water last year, I got quite into the Project Zero / Fatal Frame series. But seeing the pricing of getting other entries in the series ranging from 30€ to 60€, I had a hard time tracking down a copy.

To my surprise, around my birthday, somebody brought Fatal Frame I, II and III into my local game store and I was able to buy the three titles for 20€ each.

I started playing all three games to test out if the games worked or not. Yet, when I was testing Fatal Frame II, I found myself not able to stop playing the game. The concept of the story where one sister is always looking for her sibling just spoke to me on a personal level. It was quite tricky to get used to playing this game on the PS2 since I always tried to move the camera while moving the PS2 controller since I was used it that playing the other game on the Wii U.

I enjoy playing this game the most, late at night while I darken my room and turn off the lights so I have only the glow of the TV and the disc spinning in the PS2 to keep my company. This makes the game and the experience that more enjoyable. I can’t wait to boot up my PS2 again tonight and try to make some more progress in this quite enjoyable game.

Place 5: Death Mark  (Nintendo Switch)

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Official website

It looks like I was in a horror rush this year. Death Mark is the 4th game on my favorite games of 2018 list. Now, when I wrote my Halloween special on Angels of Death this year, I actually completed the game before Halloween. So, I was looking for a new horror game to play on Halloween and that’s when I found Death Mark on the Nintendo eShop.

When I was looking at the screenshots and reading the description, it felt like a mixture of Corpse Party and the Zero Escape series. A visual novel horror adventure game that throws you in front of a lot of puzzles.

And that’s what the game delivers perfectly. An enjoyable story with multiple outcomes depending on your actions and one that gripped me to the end. While I was able to see some twists coming from a mile away, the pacing and writing the story more than made up for it.

The story is about a mysterious mark that appears on your body when you go to a haunted place and that mark spells death by dawn if you are unable to clear the grudge of the spirit that gave you the mark. So, if you enjoy a visual novel style horror adventure game, I highly recommend that you check out this game.

Now, Japan is getting a sequel/follow up to this game next year.  Now here is my call to the developers, please localize the follow-up game as well. Looking at the screenshots and the teaser, I’m quite interested! And here is my call to everybody who is interested in horror, please give this game a shot and share it around. This game is highly underrated and deserves more attention and love!

Place 4: Blossom Tales (Switch)

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My review

I often check the Nintendo Switch store for interesting and unique games. When I came across Blossom Tales, I was sold. The game looked like a well made 2D-Zelda clone and as a big fan of the Legend of Zelda… Let’s just say it was a no-brainer.

And I didn’t regret that decision once. I enjoyed playing this game quite a lot. I felt right at home as a Zelda fan. Also, this game reminded me a bit of the Fairune games. It reminded me how fun that 2D Zelda games are and how much I miss that style of gameplay. I wonder that if we are going to ever see a 2D Zelda game again after the massive success that was Breath of the Wild.  Only time will tell, but for now, I’m happy to see that there are indie game studios that will create games in that style so I’ll always have a game in that style to look forward too.

What I liked the most about this game was the unique way the story was told. A grandfather telling his grandchildren a story since they are bored. That’s one of the biggest strengths of this game. It gives off so much charm and character to the game, for that alone I would recommend that you play this game. And, since we are in the holidays period, the charm is even better!

Place 3: Fire Emblem Warriors (Nintendo Switch)

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My review

Raise your hand if you saw this one coming. This game is one of the reasons I bought a Nintendo Switch. I think the praise I gave in my review on this game made it pretty clear that this was one of the best games I have played in 2018.

Honestly, at first, I was afraid that I wasn’t going to like the game. Since I had put so many hours into Hyrule Warriors, I was afraid that I was burnt out on the formula and gameplay.

But Fire Emblem Warriors brings a lot of new and fresh mechanics to the table to make me enjoy the game even more. The only criticism I have about the game is that some parts are a bit too complex and not well explained enough in-game. Everything else is highly polished. Even the trick that Drakalus gave me to improve the frame rate in multiplayer aided quite a lot.

Thanks to this game, I got back into the Fire Emblem series. I think that in the upcoming months, I will start tackling my huge backlog of Fire Emblem games I have in my collection. I have at least 6 Fire Emblem games that I have started but never finished. I think it’s time to change that. This game convinced me that the series has quite a lot to offer and I can’t wait to see which adventures the world of Fire Emblem will bring me.

Place 2: Dragon Quest Builders (Nintendo Switch)

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My review

When I saw a trailer for Dragon Quest Builders for the first time, I was hooked. I was disappointed when I learned that this game was going to release for the PlayStation 3, 4 and PSVita. At first, I was considering to buy a PSVita for this game (and Corpse Party Blood Drive before that got ported over to Android)

The game got ported to the Nintendo Switch, so I was able to buy it on the system I bought this year. And I’m glad I was able to play this game. I loved every moment of this game and I’m so extremely hyped for the upcoming sequel. The Japanese version released a couple of days ago. It’s quite tempting to look up let’s plays but I want to keep my experience as spoiler-free as I can.

The only new negative is that I’m unable to play the Terra Incognita mode. Since I have to pay for a Nintendo Online subscription and purchasing that for only that and a few NES games is currently not worth it for me in my opinion. But hey, that’s my opinion.

Honorable mentions

Now, I have played a lot of games and some games deserve a mention but haven’t made it on my list for various reasons. So, before I reveal my “game of the year” / number 1, it’s time for the honorable mentions.
Cleopatra – A Queen’s Destiny (PC), Knights of Pen & Paper (PC/Switch), Darkest Dungeon (Switch), Kamiko (Switch), A Magical High School Girl (Switch), Grumpy Cat (Android),
Etrain Odyssey 5 (3DS), Zack & Wiki (Wii), Steamworld Dig 2 (3DS), Silent Hill 4 (PS2), Telsagrad (Wii U), DuckTales (NES), Age of Empires – Definitive Edition (PC), Devil May Cry 4 (PS2).

Now, I know that a lot of major titles released in 2018 didn’t make it on my list or on my honorable mentions. In any case, I think it’s time to reveal the game I was most hyped for this year and I enjoyed the most. Which game is MY personal game of the year 2018? Let’s. Find. Out.

Number 1 – Game of the Year – Shadow of the Tomb Raider (PC)

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My review

So, this experience. This game is my game of the year in 2018. Shadow of the Tomb Raider. When I was planning the Tomb Raider – Writers Raid collaboration, I claimed this game right away. I wanted to write about this game.

While some fans in the Tomb Raider series aren’t a big fan of the reboot since it’s a more action-focused and linear game; I enjoy the new direction of the series. Especially this game. The improved visual style, improved writing, the improved quality of life features… The game is just an amazing way to finish this reboot trilogy.

I seriously hope that this isn’t going to be the final game in the Tomb Raider series. Since I enjoyed myself with this game so much, I can’t wait to see where Lara goes next. Besides that, this year a new Tomb Raider movie got released. That movie I personally enjoyed quite a lot. For a movie based on a video game, I find that they did an extremely good job. I’m not really a movie review but if I have to grade the movie, it would get a 75/100.

Now, why did I enjoy this game so much? Why did I pick this game as my game of the year? For several reasons, the first reason is that this game’s story is the best story out of the three games in the reboot series. I had several moments where I felt the emotions of the characters, the voice actors did that good of a job.

The second reason is that this game is just beautiful. The visual presentation is just amazing. There are various spots where you look out over a huge forest from on top of a mountain or you get other breathtaking views. Now, a few moments had some minor visual glitching or some spots where the game could have look a bit better, but that might be because of my older GPU on my desktop. That might explain various lighting glitches I have in the post-launch DLC.

A third reason why this is my game of the year is that the Tomb Raider series just means a lot to me personally. I’m a huge Indiana Jones fan and I see and I have always seen Lara Croft as a sort of “sister” to Indiana Jones. But Indiana Jones doesn’t get a lot of attention in the video game scene while Lara does get that. So, being able to play games like Tomb Raider… Well, it’s my favorite genre and style of games after all. A mystery adventure game mixed with action and platforming segments.

The only disappointing thing is that I don’t have a physical copy of this game. The PC version of this game hasn’t gotten a physical release. And I feel it would be a waste of money to buy a PS4 or XBOX copy of the game just to have a physical version. But, if you want to know my actual opinion on the game, I advise that you read my review. Since I really detailed my opinion in that article.

So, if you will excuse me now. I think it’s time to wrap up this article so I can play the newly added tombs and story segments.

Wrapping up 2018.

Like I said at the beginning of this article, 2018 was an extremely weird year for me. I even got my articles stolen various times. Outside of that, I had 25,000 views on my blog. This is more than double compared to the number of views I got in 2017.

This inspires me to continue and write even more articles in 2019. I have a few in mind so I hope I’ll be able to welcome you on my blog next year. Blogging is my biggest hobby since I’m able to share my opinion on the games I have played with the world. I’m quite grateful for everybody who reads my articles and leaves comments or talks to me on social media or even in person about my articles and/or the games I have talked about.

I also love it when developers contact me and give me various chances to play unique and fun games. It also helps me to expand my collection and takes makes me even happier.

If I have to pick my favorite blogging moments of this year, I have to say how the community came together for helping me and other bloggers in fighting article theft, the Tomb Raider project and the various milestones I reached like 500+ followers on my Twitter. It’s still the best way to keep up-to-date with me.

2019 is going to celebrate the 9th year I have been blogging. Before 2013, I had a Dutch blog. That means that this blog will be 7 years old next year.

That will mean that 2020 will be an extremely special year for me. But, let’s focus first on 2019. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Speaking of 2019, I think I should talk about the games I’m looking forward to! That’s going to be (one of the) next articles on my blog. So, keep an eye out for that.

With that said, I want to thank you for reading this article and I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. I hope to be able to welcome you in another article but until then, have a great rest of your day and take care.