Backlog Report – February 2023

Photo by Lukas on

In this month’s short and late report, I talk about what has been eating at me this month, my first real posts this year, the games that I’ve been playing, and the secret to a healthy lifestyle.

Life (The cereal is better)

February has been rough. I started the month by injuring my back around the same area where my shingles occurred. Luckily, the devil bumps did not return, but now I need to see a chiropractor to make sure I didn’t damage anything too bad. I’m afraid what the beginning of March will do to me since I have a feeling my body is conspiring to kill me.

My mental state has been taking a beating as well. I have come to terms that I need to find a new job. Long story short, administration going to admin. I am burnt out from the work that my coworkers and I busted our asses to make happen in a short period of time, only for our director to just give us a thumbs up. No thanks. No acknowledgement like the other directors did for their teams. No stipends. No appreciation whatsoever. I love this place and the community, but I refuse to continue working for someone who has zero interest and respect for the people who keep things running. I’m sorry if this is all very negative, but I need to vent and have my resolve documented.

With that said, the plan is to move over the summer. To where? It is a coin flip at the moment. Kat is leaving her job as well and is waiting to hear back about a possible job in her hometown. If she gets it, then we will move there. If not, there is another area that we talked about moving that we liked. It is very stressful to think of these things, but now is the time for us to reestablish ourselves in an area that we will call home for a long time. Plus it will be nice to not live in a town where there are things to do and people our age.

Blogging Side of Things

Despite being in a mental haze, I managed to write two blog posts this month! The first post was for Love Your Backlog this year. I always enjoy having a reason to check and see the status of my backlog. I weeded out a lot of items that are not technically my responsibility to finish, so that helped a lot. At this point, I am still trying to decide what I want to finish in March.

The other post that I wrote was my SaGa post. That post would have been longer if I didn’t cut out some of the things that I wanted to talk about. The SaGa series is something new to me that I have grown to appreciate. I hope my post will one day inspire someone else to give the series a try and help with giving the series some more notoriety.

Games Acquired and Finished This Month

Theatrhythm Final Bar Line

This is the one and only game that I bought this month. I had been waiting like crazy for this to come out. I love the music from the Final Fantasy series, and making a rhythm game based around the OSTs is great. If this is the last entry in this series, then Indiezero did a great job of making this last for a while. I say that since by the time every song becomes available the track list will be over 500!

I double dipped on this since I like having physical copies of games, but wanted the ability to pick the game up and play whenever. Kat and I agreed on the PS4 physical for an easy achievement run for us, and the digital version on Switch that we will attempt to 100% complete throughout the rest of our lives. I am done with the PS4 version, so I will slowly work on the Switch version whenever I get the urge to play.

Other Games That I Finished This Month

Romancing SaGa – Minstrel Song Remastered

I am somewhat proud of myself for playing this game on a hard difficulty without realizing it. I mentioned in the post that I unknowingly made this game difficult due to my starting character and not fully utilizing all of the game’s mechanics wisely. Now that I’ve started a second playthrough, I can see how challenging the game can be without proper knowledge. It is also nice playing as someone who has an actual story that I can follow. 

Currently Playing

I wrapped up Theatrhythm the other day, so now I am back in that limbo of not knowing what to play. I should work on either Fire Emblem Engage or my game for Maybe in March. There are also games that I started or acquired that I want to play like Metroid Prime Remastered, Final Fantasy XII, and Divinity: Original Sin (also playing the second one with Kat and two other friends). I’m sure I will find the next game that will hook me. It is only a matter of time for the motivation to kick in.

That is all that I really have for this month. Life is too short to spend time worrying about the “ifs” and “buts.” I promise that EXP Share is still being worked on.

What The Hell Is A SaGa? An Introduction Through My Experience.

If I were to ask you to name some of Square Enix’s well-known franchises, I would get your typical answers like Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, Kingdom Hearts, and the Mana series. It is hard not to think of these titles and others since we have either grown up with them or have been around them in different settings. But did you know that there is a Square franchise that has been going on since 1989 and is still ongoing? That franchise is the highly acclaimed SaGa series! …what? Have you never heard of the SaGa series before? That is not surprising since hardly anyone outside of Japan knows about the series. If you have heard of a game called The Final Fantasy Legend, then congrats, you have heard/played a SaGa game! Despite being a big franchise in Japan, players in the West have little interest in it. Rather it is the fault of the design of the games or looking like an uninteresting JRPG, the SaGa games are generally avoided; making so that no one really talks about them. Since no one talks about them, few resources exist that explain what they are. So, I am going to attempt to explain what a SaGa is and try to encourage some to give it a try. I am not an expert on the series (my first playthrough of Romancing SaGa was done in the absolute worst way possible), but I want to talk about my experience with the series, and what it took for me to fully appreciate the series for what it is.

What is SaGa?

Most of my information comes from the SaGa Wikipedia page. The SaGa series started out as Gameboy titles known as Makai Toushi SaGa. Over in the West, we would know this games as The Final Fantasy Legend. Being the first game to sell a million copies for Square, Makai Toushi SaGa would go on to get two more games before the series moved to the Super Nintendo with Romancing SaGa. Romancing SaGa was released in 1992 (in Japan) and really changed what other JRPGs were doing at the time by giving players more freedom than they were accustomed to. This change of style (and difficulty) was probably not going to do well in the West, so the Romancing games never made it outside of Japan. The West wouldn’t get to experience this new frontier until SaGa Frontier released in 1998 for the PlayStation.

SaGa Frontier release was meet with little fanfare. Despite coming from Square, players had mixed feelings about the structure of the game. That didn’t stop Square from releasing SaGa Frontier 2 in the west which received a better reception from reviews. The nail in the coffin came from the lowest rated SaGa game, Unlimited SaGa, that came out in 2003. Due to the difficult nature of the game, the series took a fall in the West. Not even the 2005 remake of Romancing SaGa was enough to convince westerners to play the series. While Japan received remakes and some new games in the series, it wouldn’t be until 2017 that a “new” SaGa game would be released in the west with a remaster of Romancing SaGa II. Since then, remasters of all SaGa games have made their first appearance in the West with the exception of SaGa Frontier 2 and Unlimited SaGa (if you don’t count the mobile game Imperial SaGa.).

So what made Romancing SaGa so different back then? This comes from how nonlinear the game’s story and progression is designed. Coined the Free Scenario system, players are able to choose between one of eight characters to set off in the world and progress how you like. There is no “set” path that you take in the game to reach the end, so players are free to choose how expansive or short their journey could be. Players will spend most of their time finding quests, recruiting new characters, and slowly build up their weapons and armor before the final confrontation. It was different at the time and could be a bit intimidating since most JRPGs at the time had some form of guidance to lead the player through the story.

Another big difference for the series is how you strengthen your characters. The series does not use any form of experience point system to level up your characters. What happens instead is that characters may be rewarded a stat increase to one of their attributes. Think Final Fantasy II but less exploitative. What many new players fail to understand (including me) is that your weapons and armor are what make you stronger in the end. The SaGa games try to discourage you from grinding since the rewards are little. This doesn’t mean that battles are completely useless. Characters who become proficient with their weapons can unlock new moves and skills. You can also learn combination attacks with other characters that can make the difference in battles. These are the true rewards in battle since strong attacks and combinations can make the biggest difference in tougher fights.

This Sounds Interesting, But Why Does It Not Sound Interesting?

The SaGa series has unfortunately never caught on as much in the West. The biggest complaint about the games that I’ve read about is the Free Scenario system. After playing through three of the titles (SaGa: Scarlet Grace, SaGa Frontier, & Romancing SaGa Remastered), it can get pretty confusing on what you need to do, and what decision is the right one. The games like to keep track of what you have done, but there are not a lot of hints to help new players progress in a meaningful way. There are resources available online to help new players, but since the player base is already small, finding specific information can be a challenge on its own. When you think of more linear RPGs, you think of tales about heroes fighting against the forces of evil and saving the world in the end. SaGa is no different from these games, except that it really requires the player to tell their own tale of how these characters got from point A to fighting an angry god who thinks a human can’t beat them for a second time. 

Introduction to Series (Romancing SaGa: Minstrel Song, PlayStation 2)

From my own experience, I know first hand how playing the games for the first time can be frustrating. My first experience with the series was Romancing SaGa for the PlayStation 2. I immediately became mesmerized by the music and art design. To me in 2020, this felt like returning to a classic era of early PS2 games. It sort of reminded me of playing Radiata Stories for the first time (another great game that needs to be remastered). I started off with Barbara since she seemed like the most normal person out of the bunch (this would be a slightly terrible decision that I wouldn’t realize until later). I set off and received my first quest to rescue a child from a cave. That is when the captivating spell wore off on me and I had to understand how the game works. The cave was a bit difficult for Barbara and her friend Herman to handle by themselves. I scouted the surrounding towns to see if I could recruit someone and found a friendly sorcerer to help out. I went back to the cave and made my way to the end, but there was no child for me to rescue. Upon returning to the child’s mom, I was surprised to see that she had a child accompanying her. She then informed me that another party came along and rescued her child, marking the quest as a failure in my journal. Since I left the cave and didn’t rescue the child quick enough, I lost out on the reward since someone else beat me to it. This is what it means when the game says that it is a breathing world. Events will happen whether you are there or not, so it is best to take on quests when you obtain them.

After a while, I cam across another quest that involved another cave. Without dawdling, I set off to the cave and made may way deep inside. I came across a tough enemy that promptly wiped my entire party out. Since auto-saving was not a feature in this version, I had to start all over again from the town that I was in and redo my progression. If I was playing this when it first came out, I would have the patience to learn from my mistakes. But in the year 2020, a game without an auto-save function or a means to save wherever you want kills the momentum swiftly. This made me put the game away and not attempt to play it anytime soon.

Third Attempt At Series (SaGa: Scarlet Grace – Ambitions, Nintendo Switch)

After failing at my first SaGa game, I wanted to try a different game to see if there was something I was missing. I tried the remaster of Romancing SaGa 2, but it didn’t hold my attention for long. I then came across SaGa: Scarlet Grace – Ambitions. This is technically the newest title from the SaGa team since Unlimited SaGa back in 2002. I was skeptical at first to give it a try, but the art style drew me in again. I am a sucker for storybook ascetics, and this game knows how to make the entire journey feel like a story. While it did take me a while to understand how this game functioned, I did manage to finish the game with one character’s story; making it the first game in the series that I finished. If I had to rate this game on how accessible it is for new players, I would say that this is the second game that I would recommend to them.

I am not going to spend too much time talking about this since I already did that in 2021 (my writing has changed completely since then). Just know that out of the other two games that I have finished, I found the most enjoyment out of this one. While there are choices to be made, I found myself engaged with figuring things out on my own and enjoying the story. The trial and error is there, but it never got too overwhelming that I couldn’t get past an obstacle. It holds up and an easy recommendation from me if you want to try out the series.

The Easiest Game In The Series (SaGa Frontier Remastered)

With one win under my belt, I decided to give another game in the series a try. This was around the time that the remaster for SaGa Frontier was coming out, and my research showed that people enjoyed this one. 

Not going to lie, I really wasn’t feeling this one. From what I can tell, Square did a good job of improving this over the original. The one thing that I absolutely do not like is the art style. The game used prerender backgrounds in the original, and they did a good job of keeping that in tact. What I don’t like is how it clashes with the chibi mobile character sprites. I will be the first to admit that I do not like Square’s character designs for mobile ports of their games (Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest). The bright color palette doesn’t match well with the darker tone backgrounds and is just unpleasant to look at for long. The prerender backgrounds also make it hard to navigate some areas since it can be hard to tell if something is accessible or not.

With that out of the way, this is one of the easiest games to start off with. The only times I vaguely struggled were at the very beginning and the final boss for Emilia (I started with her). Other than that, the game went by really fast thanks to how linear and nonlinear it is. You do have free range on deciding where you want to go since all major areas are open to you at any time. The main difference with this game is that each character has a main story that is ongoing at all time. Your journal in this game will tell you specifically what you need to do in order to progress the story. It took a lot of the guesswork out since if I just wanted to do the story, I could just follow along and not worry about other things going on. It makes for one of the easiest games to finish since most stories can be done in less than a week. You still need to worry about finding weapons and armors to strengthen your team, but obtaining these items is less of a challenge in the previous games I’ve played.

It might not be the prettiest game in the series, but SaGa Frontier does a good job of focusing on the narrative of each character’s story. You are still free to go and choose to do the things you want to do, but it never becomes a hassle to get back to the main plot. That alone makes it my top recommendation for new players who want to give the series a shot. The game I would warn people about to do their research beforehand is the latest game that I finished.

Back To Where It Began (Romancing SaGa – Minstrel Song Remastered)

I got excited when I heard that this game was getting remastered (again). The moment I knew that this version was going to be better than the PS2 version was when I learned that you had the ability to save the game ANYWHERE! This made dungeons more forgiving since if my party wiped at any point, I didn’t have to start from the last town again. What is even better is that the auto save function will save after every battle that you do; meaning you can get back to where you were if you encounter a tough fight. This makes the game so much easier to see through the end. However, the game is just as hard as the original. While I found Scarlet Grace enjoyable, I found this title to be my favorite so far in the series. It isn’t the easiest game to figure out on the first go, but is rewarding when you do things right.

It wasn’t until I was halfway through my first playthrough that I realized that I had been playing the game the wrong way. I had been making my way through the game using very little resources that the game provides (I ordered a guide book, but it didn’t come in until I finished the game). When preparing for the final battle, I realized that my team’s weapons, armor, and spells were inadequate and made the final fight a struggle (until I booted an old file and redid my loadout). To anyone who wants to try this game, there are a few things that you absolutely need to know.

  • DO NOT FIGHT/GRIND AT THE BEGINNING! This sounds odd since you are playing an JRPG. In order for your characters to get stronger, you need to fight enemies and increase your stats. That would be the case for most games, but Romancing SaGa semi punishes you for fighting every enemy you encounter. The game features a clock that keeps track of which events are available and have expired, but it also keeps track of how tough enemies will be. For each notch you progress on the clock, the enemies get tougher. The clock will only increase if you are constantly fighting, but it is also important to get to a certain point in order to progress to the final fight. New players are encouraged to avoid battles as much as possible in order to obtain better gear before doing necessary fights. This is something that the game doesn’t tell you and I only realized halfway through the game (when I was kicking everyone’s ass). The remastered version of the game allows you to slow the clock down if you would like to ease yourself into the game before cranking up the difficulty for future playthroughs. 
  • Pay attention to your weapon modes and classes. Another mechanic that I completely ignored were classes and weapon modes. Classes have their benefits for characters to become proficient with different weapons, magic, and field skills. What I didn’t know was that classes have unique abilities that are valuable when given to the right person. I had everyone in their beginning classes for the longest time until it dawned on me that I should change them. Along with this, some jobs work best when using weapons in a certain mode. Modes consist of attack, defense, and trick. If there was ever a reason why some of my characters would die instantly was because everyone was just in attack mode and I never considered giving them different weapons with different styles to compensate for certain fights. Which brings me to my next point…
  • Study how enemies fight. Enemies have their own modes that are weak to different styles. Attack beats trick, defense beats attack, and trick beats defense. This was the one thing that I never paid attention to in battles, but it would have saved me a whole lot of time in certain fights. The helper in every town mentions this, but in a game with so many convoluted rules it just meant nothing to me at the time. You will need to observe your opponent to determine which type it is, but it gets easy to tell while fighting.
  • Do not neglect quests. Quests give you good items. Items that will help turn the tide when you need it the most. Since your equipment will build your character, pay attention to what you find or what you could get.
  • Use the blacksmith. Blacksmiths can change the mode of your weapon for a small fee. This is helpful if you want to have different weapons with different modes available at all times. Blacksmiths can also strengthen your common weapons to give them an extra umph. 
  • Do quests as soon as you get them. Once you hear about something, go ahead and start working on them. The rank clock also acts as a sudo event clock as well. Some quests will be unsolved if you take too long to complete them, or if the event clock reaches a certain point. I lost out at obtaining one of the fatestones since I waited until the last moment to get it. 
  • Do not start with Barbara. I love Barbara. Her character and journey was fun to experience. According to the guide book, Barbara has no tutorial to the game and just throws the player into the world to have at it. I never started the game with another character, so I did not know this. Most of my struggles may have been eased if I knew about this. The guide recommends starting with Albert since his tutorial does a good job of easing new players into the game.

These are my tips for anyone who wants to play this game. It can get confusing on how to go about things and to avoid unnecessary fights, but at its core, the game is rewarding for playing smart. Most obstacles in JRPGs can be solved by getting your characters to a certain level and winning by sheer force. Romancing SaGa doesn’t allow you to do that unless you’ve earned the right to do it. Even still, you will come across fights that you just can’t win with brute force alone. You have to change your tactics up a bit. Use certain techniques that will give you an edge. Learn how to anticipate how enemies behave and learn from your mistakes. It is a game of wits at the end of the day, and it is set to a difficulty level that I haven’t experienced in most JRPGs that I’ve played.

I hope this little post has been helpful in understanding these games. It is difficult to get someone interested in these types of games due to how difficult it is at first. My aim for this post was just to show that even if the game sounds confusing, it really isn’t once you understand how to play it. I would suggest finding the aspect of it that appeals to you the most. I probably would have given up on the series if the art, music, combat, and the feeling of playing an old school JRPG didn’t appeal to me. Chances are, none of this appeals to you and that is fine. I just wanted to spread the word about these games since no one seems to know that they are about. Hopefully this little reference was enough to give a general picture. Also please remember that I am still learning about these games as well and not a specialist on this series at all. Like I mentioned, I played these games in the worst way possible, but have learned with the bits and pieces that I’ve found.

My Games of 2021

Ugh. What year is it? 2021 is over, so now I can talk about the games I played throughout the year. I was originally going to rank the games that I came out in 2021 that I played, but I ended up playing a lot of uninteresting titles. If you want me to talk more about Mario Golf: Super Rush again I can try, but that was already a struggle previously. So, this year I am going to shake things up and talk about my top ten favorite games that I finished this year. There is a good mix of new and old titles in here and it makes for a more interesting write for me. To give you an idea of how slow I am with things, here are two honorable mention list with games I wanted to play and games I started but haven’t finished.

Games Released in 2021 That I Had Interest Playing, But I Never Bought

Disgaea 6: Defiance of Destiny
Pac-Man 99
Poison Control
Nier Replicant ver. 1.22474487139…
Resident Evil: Village
Chivalry 2
Cris Tales
Famicom Detective Club: The Missing Heir
Famicom Detective Club: The Girl Who Stands Behind
Legend of Mana (Remake)
Pokemon Unite
The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles
Psychonauts 2
No More Heroes III
Sonic Colors: Ultimate
WarioWare: Get It Together!
Cruis’n Blast
Kena: Bridge of Spirits
Metroid Dread
Far Cry 6
Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba – The Hinokami Chronicles
Voice of Cards: The Isle of Dragon Roars
Forza Horizon 5
Dungeon Encounters
Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy – The Definitive Edition (For the lols)
Monster Rancher 1 & 2 DX
Super Robot Wars 30
Potion Craft: Alchemist Simulator

Games That Came Out In 2021 That I Played, But Didn’t Finish

Persona 5 Strikers
Bravely Default 2
New Pokemon Snap
Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin
Scarlet Nexus
Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game – Complete Edition
Back 4 Blood
Shin Megami Tensei V
Yu Gi Oh! RUSH DUEL: Dawn of the Battle Royal!!

Top Games That I Finished This Year

10. Etrian Odyssey III: The Drowned City

“Hie thee to the ocean city… To the Yggdrasil Labyrinth. A journey to the blue depths… To conquer the shadows of night. Though you know not what this means, you go towards Armoroad. What awaits is time’s end; death’s demise. A tempestuous dream… To push away the unfathomable dark and bring light to Armoroad… A stormy adventure begins…”

Creating my list was hard, but I knew I wanted to include this game. Etrian Odyssey III was one of the hardest games I have on the DS. My gaming knowledge was new to dungeon crawlers and understanding party compensation.10 years later, I have become an adult with a better understanding of how things work. I went from not understanding how certain abilities could be helpful to finding ways to make my party unstoppable. The mix between dungeon crawling and finding treasure out in sea made the game enjoyable for many hours. The game left such a big impression on me that I went out and got the other games in the series to slowly play through the story canon games in the series. I will report my thoughts when I finish the series twenty years from now.

9. Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age

The trend this year was finishing games that I’ve put off for years. I was really excited to play through this game when it first came out, but I found myself playing chunks at a time since I had started grad school at the time. Motivation went south fast when the definitive versions came out and sour my mood when I learned that you couldn’t transfer your progress to the newer, shinier version. So instead of starting all over, I chipped away at the base game and finally finished it this year. 

Dragon Quest XI is a comfort game for JRPG players. It is simple and friendly for newcomers while also engaging for series veterans. The story and setting make this an adventure worth playing while never feeling stale. There is always something to see, something to do, and challenges around every corner. I still need to finish the post game and eventually play through the definitive edition one day, but that won’t be until a while from now. I did write a post about this game back in October.

8. The World Ends With You: Final Remix / NEO: The World Ends With You

Yeah I’m cheating with this one. I couldn’t decide on which game I liked more over the other since they both have their high and low points. Ultimately I decided that if you put both together, you get a great game. The World Ends With You took me places that I wasn’t ready to go. The themes of your world ending when you refuse to live in it struck a chord that I never really thought about. It opened a new viewpoint that I was unaware of and kept the optimistic flame in me going. It’s sequel doesn’t do the theme justice, but it did deliver an improved gameplay formula that irritated me in the formal. Both games had me playing them whenever I had the free time to do it, and that’s coming from someone who ignored the original game when it came out. I am sad that NEO didn’t do well enough to Square’s expectations, but here’s hoping that the series can continue with new characters, locations, and a stronger emphasis on its theme.

7. Castlevania Advance Collection

I’m still cheating! When I learned that the Gameboy Advance Castlevania games were being rereleased, I got excited. Symphony of the Night is one of my favorite games and the advance trilogy share the same formula. While most games in the collection were better than others, I enjoyed my time playing through all four games. If you would like a more of my thoughts on the games, I wrote a post about them last month.

6. SaGa: Scarlet Grace – Ambitions

This was a surprise to me when I was looking over my options. The more I thought about this game, the more I remembered my playthrough and the adventure I went on. SaGa: Scarlet Grace has the charm and formula of a SaGa game that is also friendly for newcomers. The almost endless possibility of how your journey could play out makes finding and making decisions fun since you have to figure it out yourself (almost literally since there are not many guides). My journey with Urpina was a daunting one, but rewarding in so many ways. The other three protagonist are still waiting for me to take them on, but I am in no rush to get through theirs (especially since I started playing other games in the series). I wrote about my experience with the game back in August, so you can get the full read there.

5. Xenoblade Chronicles

The award for the game that took the longest time for me to beat this year goes to Xenoblade Chronicles. In hindsight, I could have finished this game a long time ago, but similar to Etrian Odyssey, my dumb young brain didn’t understand how to play the game logically. Xenoblade mimics a MMO game style where understanding how abilities and status modifiers matter. Once I understood this, the game became much more enjoyable to play and finish. It was a bit bittersweet to finally cross this game off my list since I was really feeling it. My advice if you want to play the game is to get the definitive edition on Switch. It is a really good game and worth playing. And yes, I did write about it as well as part of Love Your Backlog month.

4. Dark Souls Remastered

This is one of my proudest gaming achievements. I had no intention of finishing this game anytime soon, but the more I played and got into it, I was determined to see it through. I’m glad I did since the reward was definitely worth it and I felt accomplished. The original Dark Souls may not be my personal favorite out of the series, but it is now the one I am most comfortable with. There are parts in this game that I dread doing again, but I’m not afraid of facing them anymore. It is somber that I finally get to cross this off my list, but with other games in the series to keep me busy for the next four to nine years, I think the experience will make me a better player.

3. It Takes Two

There is a reason why this game won Game of the Year. It is a well-developed game. I played this with Kat the entire way though to the point where we couldn’t stop playing it. Everything felt well designed from the locations to gameplay to how everything relied on how cooperative you and your partner had to be. The story still irks me in several places, but certain moments make it up for being heartbreaking or hilarious depending on the type of person you are. I wish the game had more to do after the campaign since Kat and I were eager for more. If Hazelight Studios can expand on this gameplay and create something more inline with this, then it would be an instant buy from me.

2. Monster Hunter Rise

A new year, a new Monster Hunter game to play through. For me personally, I enjoyed Rise way more than I did with World. Rise fixed a lot of my personal issues with scaling down the bloated environment and making them smaller and more interesting. I like exploring the maps in Rise since there are things to discover like artifacts from the previous era and remnants of epic battles. My favorite is the Frost Islands where you can explore a destroyed ship and follow the skeletal remains of the monster it was fighting throughout the entire map. It’s details like this that I wish existed in World to make my time getting lost more interesting.

Besides the map, the mobility and how fast the game plays now made for interesting hunts. The Wire Bugs are one of my new favorite additions to the series and offers a lot of elements in and out of battles. I felt “meh” at first with the Wyvern Riding mechanic at first, but once I figured out how take advantage with the controls, it became fun to use. Rampage quest are still a struggle for me. The idea is to have multiple people with you during them, but my lonely self had a hard time maintaining everything that was going on. They do present a nice change of pace and strategy, but it does feel like it was meant to be played with others.

Other than that, the new monsters introduced had their fun gimmicks and quirks. I thought the Magnamola would be a pushover since I had no real difficulty up to it, but it quickly put me in my place when it decided to fly all of a sudden. The two new elder dragons are no pushovers either since they utilize Rise’s gameplay and your understanding of them. They are neat fights and made me say a swear or five. Outside of all of that, I’m happy Rise brought back interesting and creative designs for weapons and armor. It was something I was missing and happy to have back.

I never did write a post on Rise for one reason or another, but there is a lot that I can talk about. I originally didn’t have this game high on my list, but after replaying it this month, I feel in love with it all over again. On the fence if I might double dip and get the PC version when it comes out. I may actually finish Sunbreak when it comes out. The offer still stands if anyone wants to play online.

1. Tales of Arise

Tales of Arise is not a perfect game. If I had to rank it with the rest of the series, I would put it as maybe my fourth or fifth personal favorite. The game has a lot of good qualities in it, but there are glaring issues that hold it back from being up there for me like Symphonia and Vesperia. So why is it my number one game this year? From beginning to end, I could not stop thinking about this game. I wanted to explore everything this game offered and complete each difficult challenge that was available. I tend to avoid doing ridicules challenges in Tales of games, but Arise kept me engaged throughout. I didn’t find the characters annoying outside of battle and their struggles kept me invested. Even though I felt the story wasn’t on par with other titles, it did through me off guard at times and only decided to get complicated at the last minute.

Even as I write this, I still find it hard to explain why this was my favorite game I played and finished this year. There is something to say here about acknowledging all the faults it has while still finding some enjoyment out of it. I may never write about this game because I can never find the true words that I want to say. The best I have is that it is good despite its flaws. Rather that is good or bad is left to the individual. All I know is that Arise was my favorite game that I finished and completed this year.

So that’s all I got. Sorry if it is not the follow-up from last year’s presentation, but there wasn’t a lot of excitement from my gaming bubble. Let me know what some of your favorite games were this year that you finished.

Backlog Tale – SaGa: Scarlet Grace – Ambitions

The SaGa series is one that I’ve been interested in getting into. I first attempted this series with Romancing SaGa on the PlayStation 2, but never finished it since I got lost. Then I attempted Romancing SaGa 2 when it was remastered back in 2017. I didn’t get far in that game either since the mechanics felt confusing for me at the time. Third time is the charm however and I was able to actually finish a SaGa game! SaGa: Scarlet Grace – Ambitions was one of the easiest SaGa games to get into, but also one of the hardest games that I have played.


This is all I got from the opening cutscene.

In the beginning, there were the twelve Celestials. These twelve decided who was cool enough to exist in this cool realm that they built and punished anyone who they didn’t like. One person they didn’t like was a scarlet star that was called the Firebringer. The Firebringer did something to betray the Celestials’ cool realm that they had going on and decided to banish him from the sky. He must have done something bad like mixing M&Ms, Recess’ Pieces, and Skittles all in one bowl and served it at a party or something. The Firebringer, not liking the idea of not partying in the heavens anymore, decided to grant man the gift of fire and force his way back into the heavens. Instead of doing something about it themselves, like all responsible deities, they decided to grant this one emperor’s bloodline the ability to defeat the Firebringer whenever he showed this spiky hair around. The emperor’s lineage was able to defeat the Firebringer six times before a future heir struck him down “permanently” on the seventh try. This shattered his body into scarlet shards, and peace fell over the realm; until it wasn’t. Humanity started to act like humanity and brought about the dark ages by worshiping Spirituals and Infernos that turned the world into a modern day Wednesday afternoon. The emperor’s bloodline came to a halt when he was assassinated with what the game calls a dagger but if you look at the cutscene that looks like a freaking jagged claymore. So now after all this time, the Firebringer plots his return to burn the heavens. It is up to YOU to stop him now; and when I say “You” I mean one of the four protagonist that you chose from after answering a Buzzfeed quiz.

The introduction is not that all important. You just need to know that shit is going down and it is the protagonist’s destiny to stop the Firebringer from returning. How that happens is all determined by the actions and choices that you make. For those who are new to SaGa games, each game follows the nonlinear, open world RPG mechanic where you are responsible for the story and adventure that you have. There have been games similar to this design that prove to be great experiences. What makes the SaGa games different, unique, and sometimes frustrating is how the game commits to your decisions and affect characters, items, and events that you can get if you miss out on it. The other good or annoying aspect of these games are the different character’s stories that you can play after finishing each of them. This can vary your playtime as the first playthrough could be longer than the next once you have the basic understanding of how the game works. SaGa games are not meant to be easy or hard, but they do challenge your understanding of how combat works, how to grow character’s skills, and your ability to save as often as possible.

I Can’t Tell If I’m Enjoying This Or Hating It

For my playthrough of SaGa: Scarlet Grace, I was given Urpina as my main character for this journey. Urpina is left in charge of watching her father’s kingdom as he goes off to war. While on patrol, she spots some shady characters hanging around and summon an Earth Inferno. After dealing with it, she gets word that he father is missing and brother has been kidnapped. Now it is up to her to track them down and stop the shady characters from summoning more Infernos around the world.

That is all I remember before I just stumbled around places to see what would happen. Thanks to the nonlinear nature of the game, I was free to chose how I would go about tackling the main story. This resulted in me missing out on some good characters and skills (like dual wielding) because I just didn’t know what was going to trigger what. To some this might sound exciting since each playthrough is its own experience that could be drastically different the next time. For someone like me who likes to do as much as possible and unlock as many options as I can, I felt like I missed out on a lot of things that may have made my playthrough more enjoyable. Its like finding a can opener that fits your inventory really well, but knowing you missed out on another can opener that has a bottle opener as well and can also shoot lightning. It is possible to unlock all characters and get most special items in one playthrough, but it requires a lot of research or trial and error that I did not have.

Combat was something that I struggled with the most at the beginning, but slowly turned into an expert towards the end. You are able to bring 5 characters into a battle and select a formation that works best for what you have. Formations are important since each one carries a specific buff for characters in key positions and determines the amount of Battle Points (BP) you have in battle. BP determines the techniques that each character can use with basic techs costing less BP and stronger techs costing more. Enemies follow the same logic as well, but you can’t see what their BP gauge is, so just know that they can’t spam their strongest attacks if fighting in a large group. If I haven’t lost you yet in the explanation of the battle system then get ready to get a migraine after these next parts.

Like an RPG, enemies (and you) have weaknesses that you can exploit. There are weapons that can go slash, poke, and bonk, but there are also spells that are hot, cold, or shocking (oh my!). Monsters come in a variety of classes and each carry their own weakness and immunities that you have to take into account. Beastman for example, have no weaknesses what so ever, so hit them with status aliments to help bring them down quicker. The main problem I have with this game’s approach to strengths and weaknesses if that most of them are weak to one weapon type, but will resist multiple types. It becomes less of a game of exploiting weaknesses and more of finding ways to outsmart and overpower with what you have. I constantly had to have a weakness chart on hand mostly to remember what enemy types resisted or were immune to.

Give that child a cannon. Children love cannons.

Ok. Time for the hardest curveball. There are no levels or traditional stat increases that characters get at the end of each battle. The only things characters improve during battles are their HP stat, weapon proficiency, and the rank of their techniques. The most important thing to remember about this game is that character’s improve in battle AND the equipment that they have equipped. Each character comes with stats that cannot be improved in battle or consumable items, but can be affected by their equipment. Each stat (like always) corresponds with how effective they will be with certain weapon types. If you have someone with a good acuity, you better give them a spear or bow to make the most out of them. Some characters come with great stats in one or multiple areas that will tell you what they are made for. Characters become stronger when they have more proficiency with weapons they are good with, so try only using two weapons per character. Technique rank goes up the more times you use that technique in battle. The only difference is magic which staff users have to absorb flux in order to level up that spell. You get a certain amount of flux depending on the difficulty and element of the battle; and the staff wielder has to be in the battle to obtain flux.

Each battle will tell you the elemental boost of the field (I am not going to explain that one since I ignored it), how difficult the battle(s) will be, tasks that you can do during battle to get extra rewards, and a silhouette of the enemies you will be facing. One of the best things about this game is that there are no random encounters, and the game does a good job of giving you a heads up before you enter a fight so you can accept or decline. Once you accept a battle, you will have time to change up your party and formation and leave the fight if you feel like you are not prepared. A reason you may want to back out of a fight is if party members are hurting. Each character has a Life Point counter that goes down each time they fall in battle. If that number reaches zero, that character cannot be used in battles until their LP is fully restored (LP restores when they are not taking part in battles (about 1LP per 2 battles)). This is where having rotating party members come in handy so you are not left with your weaker characters taking on the harder fights while your MVPs are resting.

You Know What. I’m Tired Of Talking About Mechanics

As you can tell, there are a lot of mechanics that go into this game. The sheer amount of things to take into consideration like using a ranged attack on an enemy that has ??? under their icon to quell them from interrupting or countering is something to look out for. Defeating an enemy in-between two of your characters can trigger a united attack and vise versa with enemies. The despair you get when you are trying to protect someone only for some bullshit to happen and causes you the fight. It is a lot of information to process at all times, and that is one of the best and worse things about this game. What I found enjoyable and what got me to play through the entire game is the combat. As frustrating as it is to learn things through trial and error, I always felt satisfied when I was able to take down a tough opponent. There were fights where I was down to my last character, but thanks to counterattacks, it was easy to take them out since I would keep countering them. When you are able to pull off a united attack three times in a row and finish a battle in the same turn, it just feels good. Those are the moments when I felt like I had somewhat mastered the battle system. I was able to think ahead in a lot of situations and find ways to keep all of my party members alive at the end thanks to my planning ahead. There are no recover items that you can use in battle and the two healing spells that I got were pointless since they costs a lot of BP for little effect. When I was able to start predicting the flow of the battle, that is when I was starting to have the most fun.

At this point you are probably asking what happened to the story? All I can say is nothing really. There are some good moments like if you are unable to save Urpina’s brother (like me) and character moments that I actually found entertaining. I was able to recruit this lady (names Lady) who had a giant crush on Urpina and she was like “let’s go my love!” Moments like this made me want to find new party members and never turn down anyone that wanted to come along (you also learn new formations by recruiting more people). I missed a lot of people in my playthrough, but the team I assembled got most of the job done even when I started to default to the same 8 people over and over.

Remember To Always Save

All things get boring at some point. Towards the end I was starting to get my fill, so I decided to stop doing side quest and head straight to the final boss (after I was told that I could). I felt confident in beating the Firebringer since my team felt tight. Little did I know, the Firebringer likes to fight with AOE attacks that wiped my party out in about three turns. I felt like this was going to be impossible without a guide to help me get pass his bullshit. After finding a guide (there are not a lot of guides out there for this game) I learned that not only was I fighting him at his full strength, but he had 7 more forms that I had to beat in succession. Luckily, my guide told me that I needed to finish destroying the scarlet shards in order to make the final boss easier to manage. So I loaded up a previous save and got to work. The last shard requires you to fight against one of your party members, Elysed (best Mage in game), and depending on your decision, you can either “save” her or leave and get a powerful weapon. I didn’t want to lose one of my best characters before the final fight. So I fought her, won the battle, and the following dialogue scene says that she was going to stay home and support Urpina from there.

Uh, no. I need you to come with me to finish this fight.

Upon reading the guide again, Elysed needs to be one of your top 15 characters in order for you to keep her. Something wasn’t right then since she was in most of all my fights ever since I got her. So I grinded some battles really quick, redid the fight, and the dialogue still said that she was going to stay at home. In bewilderment, I checked my roster to see if she wasn’t truly there, but there she was in my party! I don’t know if it is just a translation issue or what, but I wasted so much of my time trying not to lose her when I still had her all this time. To add salt to the wound, when I went back to fight the Firebringer, Sasha (the character that has been following you to destroy the scarlet shards) will join your party for the final fight (only if you destroy the other shards, plus Urpina’s ring) and then she becomes the most powerful mage in your party. I spent hours trying to keep my favorite mage, but ended up tossing her back in the toy box when I got my new BMF (Best Mage Forever). Thanks to her (and destroying all the shards), the Firebringer fight was piss easy and none of my characters died during each phase. So much for throwing the biggest barbecue in the heavens.

No! Not again! I just want to grill steaks!

My Recommendations

At the end of the day, I ended up enjoying this game more than I had the right to. It is not an easy game for beginners or people new to the series, but it is also the easiest game to get into the series. Other games in the series has permadeath if a party member’s LP reaches zero unlike this game. This game has no random encounters and gives the player as much preparations and chances to back out a fight if needed (you can’t flee battles, but you can load up the last autosave if a fight is too hard, which will be right before you accept the battle). Honestly, if someone wanted to try out the series I would suggest them to start with this one to get a base understanding of the series. However, I cannot recommend this game to anyone unless you are seriously interested in this game or the series. For $30 USD, I don’t feel comfortable recommending this game to you unless you feel like you are going to have a good time playing it. I enjoyed my time playing this game, but I have no desire to play through the other three character’s stories anytime soon*. You definitely get your money’s worth with the content and replay value, but if you don’t like overcoming certain limitations and strategic battles, then I would say save your money. If game rental stores were still around, I would definitely recommend borrowing it and trying it out for yourself and then determine if you want to continue. But seeing as this is only a digital game outside of Japan, you either have to enjoy it or be sad that you wasted money.

*Hello! Future Danames here to tell you that I recently started a second playthrough. You do have the option to carry over some techs and skills over to the next playthrough to make that process a bit easier. I am on Taria’s story now and she is kinda busted with her role ability and the spells she starts off with. I haven’t gone too far in her story since I have other games to finish, but I enjoy having this on the backside if I need a break from what I’m currently working on. Now if you excuse me, I’m off to do more future things like pay the future tax. You have to pay a tax for going back to the past in the future. It sucks.

Advent Gaming Calendar 2019 Day 8: Romancing SaGa (PS2)

Credit to Micahely’s YouTube channel

This opening feels really simple to me. It doesn’t feature any memorable moments and the song is not as catchy at first. If you have never played a SaGa game before, the premise is all about creating your own journey with the characters available and the established world. This is done with the Free Scenario set up that makes every playthrough different depending on what actions you take.

But enough game analysis, why do I like this opening? Well first, after subjecting myself to this song every time I started the game, the song final stuck with me. I do not know what the song is called or what any of it means, but it feels soothing after a while like someone telling me a story by the fireplace. This is kind of what is going on with the Minstrel playing his double neck lute, guitar thing (I’m pretty sure it is a guitar, but it looks nice!). As a minstrel/bard does, they go around to places and tell stories about different people and events. The opening makes that plain and clear as we see the minstrel walking and we see different scenes happening in the background. The scenes have no significant meaning, but are images on how you think this story unfolds. Again, with the Free Scenario system, the story can be different every time, and all the minstrel can do is tell the story of how it is. It would be cool if the images in the background changed with data left on the memory card, but PS2 limitations hadn’t reached that far yet. All in all, a simple opening that invites you to tell your own tell and it may go down in history.

*Breaking Pre-Post News!* Before I posted this I watched the opening again just to make sure I was not forgetting anything. I completely missed the point that each character is shown individually and then as the story goes on, each character starts interacting with one another until they are all shown together. It shows that no matter where your story unfolds, destiny will always bring people together when they are needed. A nice touch at the end that is miss-able. We now return to our regularly scheduled post content.

Tune in tomorrow for Day 9!