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Introduction

This is the post excerpt.

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My name is Kevin Corbett, and I am currently unemployed. I just graduated with an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Arkansas. Used to have blog about my feelings and other things I realize most people aren’t interested in reading about, so now I’m going to try to blog about something I can monetize (at least in theory): video games. Which I actually do spend an unhealthy amount of time on.

But really, I don’t have the energy to try to promote this, so it will be more like a repository of game writing samples for me to apply to jobs I almost certainly won’t get. Wish me luck (because imma need it).

Oh, as for the name–when I was a kid, me and my grandfather would park in an electrician’s union building in Corktown when we went to Tigers games, because my uncle had once been a member, or maybe was in an afffiliated union, which of course made our parking there totally legit. At least we were never towed. Anyway, that’s a nice, positive memory, and it sounds sort of cool in a hipsterish combination of an old and a new thing, and it’s at least better than “agamingblogcontainingsamplesofwritingidoubtanyonewilleverread.wordpress.com”

Review: Deus Ex: Mankind Divided

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Jensen has no idea why this techno-cult needs so many TV’s of different sizes acting as a bizarre chandelier, but it makes him angry.

Lately, it seems all I play is derivative of something else, either a sequel or a reboot or a franchise. This makes it that much harder to really understand even what I myself thought about the game itself, independent of the source material or the other iterations in the series.

This is especially true of Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, as, even more than Bravely Second, it feels like an extension of the last Deus Ex game, Human Revolution, itself a prequel to the 2000 action RPG that was just Deus Ex. As with my Doom review, a disclaimer: I never played the original Deus Ex or its sequel, Deus Ex: Invisible War, and my familiarity with both games boils down to what I’ve read on Wikis and Ross Scott’s reviews; I have, however, played Human Revolution. And it’s a good thing I did, as Mankind Divided only gives new played a rushed video sequence explaining the events of the last game to newcomers, and it’s a complicated, plot-heavy series.

Okay, spoilers from here on out for both games.

You play as Adam Jensen, a hard-boiled (but affably so in my mind) former cop in the year 2027 (and in Mankind Divided 2029) who leads security for Sarif Industries, a major biotech firm in “Detroit” (the Detroit in the game bares little to no relation to the real one outside of a few references to real landmarks like the Renaissance Center–actually, it might only be the one reference). Sarif makes prosthetic augmentations that can not only let the disabled live otherwise normal lives, but give anyone who has them superhuman abilities, ranging from enhanced strength to superior rhetorical skills (yeah, really). One day before Sarif can unveil its plan to produce affordable augmentations that will be in the reach of the normal citizen instead of just the super-rich (or the poor whose sponsors want super-efficient laborers), you are attacked by terrorists, who (seemingly) kill Jensen’s genius love-interest Megan Reed and leave him for dead. After, his broken body is repaired with Sarif’s own top-of-the-line “augs” (as they’re called) and he’s left to track down the terrorists (since the police are apparently too incompetent to do anything about it).

Well, a lot of stuff happens, but the long and short of it is this: in the Deus Ex universe, the Illuminati, a small group of super-rich and super-powerful people who manipulate the course of human events in secret and will kill anyone who tries to exposes them (as opposed to the real world, where they do this sort of thing at the Marriott and just shew reporters away when they try to ask questions), are real, and apparently they hate augmentations, since they will make people too free, or something. They want to get a sort of killswitch into all the “augs” (which is also a word for anyone with augmentations in this world) that will turn of their enhancements when the Illuminati find it expedient. Their downfall is that one of their own, Hugh Darrow, the man who basically invented augs in the first place, hates his creations way more than them (he claims it’s some sort of Icarus thing, but it comes out in dialogue that Darrow is just mad that we went to all the trouble of inventing augmentations after a skiing accident left one of his legs busted, and yet turned out to be one of the few people completely genetically incapable with using them). He decides to broadcast a signal that drives every aug on earth (except you, for plot-related reasons) into a killing frenzy so that people will reject augmentation permanently out of fear. You have a decision at the end of Human Revolution to expose the Illuminati, frame pro or anti-aug groups, or even blow up the whole facility you’re on, killing even yourself so people will never know what happened and have to figure things out themselves.

But the choice is completely meaningless. Mankind Divided claims that, whatever you chose, the messages got confused in the chaos so that no one really knows what happened, meaning the “blow up everything” ending might as well have happened. 50 million people died in the so called “Aug Incident”, only a small percent of the aug population is still alive (whether they died in the incident or after), and the 7 million augs left are basically treated like African-Americans in the Jim Crow south, complete with separate lines to enter the subway where the sign for the “Natural” line is green and the one for the “Aug” line is red. In this game, Jensen is working for Interpol in Prague, once a sort of libertarian-capitalist haven for corporations using aug labor. After the tutorial, a subway station is bombed with Jensen in it–the damage gives the game the excuse for you losing all your upgrades because this is still sort of an RPG and it has to. You have to unravel the who is behind the bombing before the Illuminati can pin the bombing on ARC, the Augmented Rights Coalition, an organization that is exactly what it sounds like working out of an aug ghetto conveniently located outside Prague.

Human Revolution was a game I adored–I’m not sure if it’s in my top 10 of all time, but I found it to be a truly great experience. While both games make it possible to play the game as a straightforward first-person shooter (possibly, but not easily I imagine), it seems to lean toward stealth, which is a favorite genre of mine. Combining this with RPG elements, complete with conversation trees, plenty of sidequests, and a deep, engaging story, it’s a game I was bound to enjoy. My only major complaint is that, as I just found out, a large chunk of the story was taken out of the original–literally, there’s a part of the story where you go from one location to another and it doesn’t explain why–and repackaged as a DLC I never played. It’s this sort of thing that make me glad I usually rent rather than buy. As a character, Jensen can come off as a bit abrasive and hard to relate to, but by the time you’ve finished the game, you feel like you’ve peaked a bit beneath the Eastwoodesque exterior to see the real human beneath. There’s also the endings, which, even if they hadn’t been written out came off as absurd. For example, my choice was to release Hugh Darrows confession exposing the Illuminati and revealing himself to be behind the Aug Incident, but the cinematic I saw made it sound like I some how agreed with his philosophy just because I chose to make his confession public. It’s like the lawyers at the Nuremberg trials saying they exposed the Nazis crimes so everyone would know how great they were for saving the German economy. Still, these are minor gripes, and I can wholeheartedly recommend Human Revolution to anyone who likes a game with a great story, great atmosphere, great gameplay. From what I understand, some fans of the original may find it unfaithful to the original, but I’m sure those people already know that.

Now, coming back to Mankind Divided, the game I’m actually reviewing–and this is a review for this game only, as my judgment, for all I know, may have been clouded by time. Yeah, I know that sounds bad after such a strong recommendation, but gaming is an impressionistic medium, and the most accurate assessment of that impression comes when the taste is still in your mouth. In any case–it would be easy for me to say that Mankind Divided is a great game too, and part of me wants to say it, but I still can’t. Because it is just to short.

For all I know, I am wrong about this. When I looked it up, Mankind Divided had only two less sidequests than Human Revolution, and I missed two of them, so that is probably contributing to this impression. But somehow, I still still felt like I talked to less people, did less things, even in the main quest, compared to Human Revolution. I had less elaborate conversational duels with my UI giving me the lowdown on my opponent’s psyche-profile, and I when I did have them, they felt to short. I didn’t get told not to use the pheromone sprayer for improved conversational outcomes by the person who designed the thing after I had already done it (actually, I barely got to use the pheromones at all).

I think the main issue is, there’s only one hub city, Prague, whereas Human Revolution shuffled you back and forth between Detroit and Hengsha, China, and with a different context both times. When I got to London in Mankind Divided, I was expecting to start the second hub city when I was in fact already at the end of the game, as I found out from these little in-game Easter Eggs you scan with a real life smart phone that takes you to an interview with the developers about the area you found it in. I really was quite disappointed that the experience was nearly over–which is, on the one hand, an indicator of the quality of the game, but on the other, a genuine let-down that didn’t go away.

So, in fine: a good game, but one that leaves you wanting. I just hope it doesn’t turn out the real ending is in the DLC.

 

 

Review: Ghostbusters: The Video Game

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That’s you on the far right. Yeah, you don’t talk either.

I first heard about Ghostbusters: The Video Game back when I was still an undergrad, when a preview appeared on the glossy pages of Game Informer. Back then, I was still buying enough games that having a membership card thing at GameStop, which owned the magazine and included it with the membership, was worth it for the discounts on used games. To this day, I think they keep putting that thing out solely to drive up pre-orders for crappy games.

It was an era before the Arkham series, and I, along with everyone else was rightly skeptical of all licensed games. However, the fact that the game would feature the voices of all the original Ghostbusters certainly raised the appeal, and after it came out I did hear that it was at least above average—so why I never got around to playing is anyone’s guess. I was recently drawn to the title after seeing the somewhat middling reboot of the movie this summer, which had many fans of the series pointing to this game to as the closest thing we would ever get to Ghostbusters 3 now that Harold Ramis was dead.

My reaction to the game is pretty similar to my reaction to the reboot film, a sort of meh–though the film’s meh probably had half an eye roll in it. It’s not even that the game is mediocre, it’s more just, well, okay. I heard someone say—maybe it was Yahtzee, I’m too lazy to look it up—that this was probably the best possible Ghostbusters game anyone could make, and in a way I agree, though not entirely.

The story of Ghostbusters: The Video Game the picks up two years after Ghostbusters 2 in 1991. The team is relatively respected and has a robust business insured by no less in the city government, meaning they are free to cause as much property damage as they need without fear of lawsuits. You play as a silent male protagonist, variously referred to as Rookie, Hoss, Scooter, Kid, etc. there is a rather amusing joke that the main team doesn’t want to learn your name says there’s a good chance you might not make it out of your internship.

Much like the film reboot, you’ll be visiting many familiar locations, except these are literal rehashes from the first movie, including the New York Public Library and the Sedgewick Hotel. Ivo Shandor, mentioned in the first movie as a Gozer cultist, acts as an antagonist of sorts, but mostly you’re just going from set piece to set piece blasting ghosts. Also, Alyssa Milano as, get this, Ilyssa Selywn—and yes, it’s pronounced almost exactly the same—is there for some reason (I think she’s some kind of scholar of Gozer stuff) as Bill Murray/Peter Venkman’s love interest. This plot thread comes off as pretty awkward, since Murray only stuck around to record half his lines, and the games creators considered even that nothing short of a miracle. Venkman spends the latter half of the game repeating the same one-liners in barely appropriate contexts and otherwise goes strangely silent, but still gets to make out with the hot, initially hostile girl at the end just like in the movies, only this one goes a little further by looking half Venkman’s age. Still, you can’t blame the developers for this — they did the best they could with what they had.

The rest of the performances from Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, and Ernie Hudson are what makes the game even remotely worth playing. It’s especially nice to see Winston finally get his due with equal screen time as all of the other Ghostbusters and quite a bit more than the absent Venkman — indeed, the man has his PhD in Egyptology (or something) so it’s Dr. Zeddemore now.

Still, even when the performances are stellar, the jokes and writing in general isn’t always so great. Although Ramis and Aykroyd have lead billing as writers, Ramis revealed in interviews that this was more of a marketing ploy then a fact. He and Aykroyd were given near finished copies of the script and rewrote certain parts they thought didn’t fit. While there are moments that sound like they could’ve been in a Ghostbusters movie, when the characters repeat the same line for the 9th or 10th time, it really takes you out of the cinematic experience they’re trying to create, especially when the line wasn’t even good the first time. The story is also a little questionable—there’s a series of levels held together by a conspiracy, but the stakes never feel high. I don’t even think you see many random people running from ghost-related chaos after the first level where you fight the Stay-puff Marshmallow Man in what is probably the best part of the game. Nevertheless, just for the characters, the experience of the non-gameplay elements is above average.

But the real problem with Ghostbusters: The Video Game is the gameplay. Like I said before, I think the idea that this is the best you could do to incorporate the ideas from the franchise into a game isn’t too far off the mark, but there are plenty things that could’ve been easily fixed that weren’t. For example, the whole main team is pretty much useless whenever you’re up against a ghost. The way you fight most ghosts is by wearing them down with the Proton Pack, and when they lose most of their health, you pop a trap out and try to reel them in.  But your character is the only one who seems to capable of doing any damage. It certainly looks like the rest of the team is hitting the ghosts, but they seem to do negligible damage, maybe because they never use the alternate firing modes like the Boson Dart.

I will say in the game’s defense—this part of the game genuinely feels like what I imagined trapping a ghost would feel like. The Proton Pack beams have just the right amount of give to make it challenging to keep the struggling ghosts in the trap’s range. Maybe they thought if your partners were too good, you wouldn’t feel involved in the experience of trapping them—but there’s a better middle ground than this.

Unfortunately, you really need to keep your incompetent team members alive, because if you lose all your health (which is extremely easy to do) you have to wait for one of them to walk over and revive you—and yes, they walk, not, as far as I can tell, run. If none are available, it’s game over. And for some reason, none of the other characters can revive each other, even if they’re standing right over the flailing, sparking body of one of their comrades incapacitated on the floor. And they get knocked out constantly, especially during boss battles. What’s worse, the game occasionally suffers from a milder case of Final Fantasy X/Kingdom Hearts syndrome where the checkpoint is right before a chunk of dialogue you can’t skip*.

These are all things that could have been improved, showing that this is perhaps not the best possible Ghostbusters game. But these are issues that could’ve been relatively easily fixed, and you still might not be able to make more amusing gameplay out of the source material. It’s like this: the gameplay mechanic here that is both fun and faithful the original—wrangling ghosts—can get repetitive very easily. This is something the developers seem to have recognized, because you actually don’t spend that much time doing it. Lots of the ghost you’re fighting are sort of possessed objects that just need to be blasted away, low level “animators” as I think they’re called, like possessed books or lumps of marshmallow.  They are more of an annoyance than a challenge, and you have to slog through tons of them, sometimes when you’re trying to capture a normal ghost. They try to add some variety with different gimmicks, like forcing you to use different weapon modes keep the animators from spawning by destroying the pink pustules the emerge from, but it feels tacked on.

But when I think, “What else could they do without making it feel more like a generic third person shooter than a Ghostbusters game?”, I can’t think of an answer. There was a point at which I saw series of chest high walls and couldn’t help but think how weird it was that I couldn’t duck behind them–but I don’t think that it would’ve been a good idea to let you do that, as again, it would risk just becoming another third person shooter. All the developers of this game really had was the fairly interesting gameplay mechanic of capturing ghosts, but one that would inevitably get boring quickly if it wasn’t spaced out. All they could come up with for the time between was a lot of generic gameplay ideas that just aren’t fun to play, no matter how much clever dialogue you pepper around them.

So what is my final verdict on Ghostbusters: The Video Game? It is without a doubt the weakest of the three games I’ve reviewed so far, and I can’t even say that I think it was good—that it was an experience worth having over just watching a YouTube play through. But I can’t say either that it was positively bad, because I did finish it — and even if it is a short game, that alone should count for something. At the very least, if you felt something was wanting after seeing the Ghostbusters reboot, this might in fact be the closest thing you’re ever going to get to a conclusion to the movies narrative, even if it isn’t a very satisfying one. And from what I’ve read of its troubled development history, it definitely could have been worse.

*   I should note that the dialogue here is in no way comparable to multi-minute nightmares you had to watch over and over again because they come before hard boss fights in these games, but the problem is still, at the base level, the same, if not nearly to the same degree.

Review: Doom (2016)

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This totally isn’t Master Chief. Totally.

First, a disclaimer: I never played the original Doom or any of its sequels. My first experience with a shooter was glomming in on my brother’s Halo parties in high school because I didn’t have anything to do on Saturday nights. So you can think of me as either having no bias one way or the other, and being a great person to review this game, or someone no real context of what it’s trying achieve, and so probably not such an ideal reviewer. All I can say is, I heard some positive sentiments somewhere I can’t quite recall—basically something that said, “Hey, this game isn’t terrible and is actually kind of good!” Then I saw Zero Punctuation give it a positive review, and those are rare enough from him that I thought it was worth checking out as a rental during an otherwise dry spell of games.

The story of Doom (2016) is actually a little more important to the experience that I was led to believe, though still not as important as I would’ve liked. The idea is that in the sort-of-distant-but-not-really future, humanity is facing a major energy crisis when the shady United Aerospace Corporation (UAC) finds a massive supply of something called “Argent Plasma” on Mars. Turns out, though, they were getting it from, well, Hell–yes, the Hell, which there is apparently a portal to on Mars. All was going smoothly until lead the scientist Dr. Olivia Pierce, a wrinkly woman with an gray Duke Nukem haircut, is seduced by demons into releasing them into our world (if not our planet) to wreak havoc. This is, unfortunately, their only Miltonic act of temptation, as the demons spend the rest of the game as mindless killing machines indistinguishable from the alien enemies of any other sci-fi shooter. Indeed, [minor spoiler] the Argent Plasma isn’t even originally from Hell, but a world that Hell somehow conquered…militarily. Basically, Doom is so unconcerned with the theological implications of its story that you may as well consider the demons in the game as extra-dimensional aliens who bear some vague similarity to our Dantean concept of demons.

As for you, the player, it’s not really clear who you are. You are human, the “Doom Marine” clad in the Master Chief-looking Praetor Suit–but it seems you were recovered from some kind of tomb in Hell where you were in suspended animation before any other contact had been made with the demons. As best I can tell, the implication seems to be that you are somehow the same Doomguy from the original PC game, but you’ve now been delivered to a sort of parallel universe where things are in HD you can aim up (yeah I never played it, but even I know that much). You wake up in a foul mood, literally ripping the chains binding you to your sarcophagus, and commence killing demons, which you continue to do for the next 10 to 20 hours.

The tone is sort of the opposite of the original BioShock—when the helpful voice of Dr. Samuel Hayden attempts to guide you along to your next objective, you defy his commands on at least one occasion, and the text between levels even says that he thinks you could use his help but “you don’t”. The plot gives you just enough to stay interested, even when you can tell it’s just window dressing to all the fast-paced demon killing. That said, I would have liked more, though I realize I am probably in the minority. At least, I am not very fond of discovering what little plot there is through text descriptions of items and people in the menus a la Dark Souls. It’s far more fun when we get a little taste of how UAC views its employees through the still functioning holographic messages reminding workers that their lives are several times less important than their research and encouraging them to further ingrain themselves in the company’s cult-like hierarchy.

What really matters is, is it fun to play? I would have to answer with a reserved yes. The main mechanic that sets Doom apart from other shooters is the use of Glory Kills. When you damage an enemy enough, they start to flash light blue; when you close in so they flash yellow, you can tap the R3 button to do a pre-rendered animation of tearing the demon apart or shoving something where it doesn’t belong after you’ve the ripped it off, depending on what angle you approach it from. Doing this gives you health and occasionally ammo drops, while also rendering you invincible while you’re performing what amounts to a quick time event. When you’re low on health, enemies spit out more than they normally would with a Glory Kill, you’ll need this because even full health can get peeled down to almost nothing with just a few hits. Half of the enemies in the game, mostly the human sized ones, can be staggered for glory kill with just one shotgun blast, and it is these enemies you’ll be using to heal yourself during the frequent melees where stronger enemies are ganging up on you.

The game play is divided between, on the one hand, periods of exploration where are you’ll make your way through the maze-like level, occasionally doing a bit of first person platforming that is actually pretty functional, all the while facing mostly one-hit enemies, some of them with projectiles and sometimes with stronger enemies mixed in (but not always). On the other hand, you have free-for-alls where you’re trapped in a winding set of interconnected rooms usually revolving around a central open space, and you have to clear wave after wave of stronger enemies while you dash from place to place like a runaway tilt-a-whirl until you’re allowed to leave. When the game tells you that standing still is death in the load screens, it sure isn’t kidding–the moment you try to take cover to get a few shots off at the Minotaur-looking demon chasing after you, another identical demon is going to come up behind you and either gore or you melt you with a blob of green laser juice.

Oh, and there are boss battles…like, three. They’re not that great, but not terrible either. The worst that can be said of them is that, once you get a feel for their pattern, even if you’ve died like 10 times before, you realize its only inevitable that you’ll beat it—whereas, in some of the more difficult free-for-all sections, all you can do is adapt to the chaos and hope you don’t miss too much. I know that that fist I raised during after beating some of these was more triumphant that any of the boss battles. And, like I said—there’s only three of them, and they’re all clustered near the second half of the game when you’ve already mastered the game enough that you don’t have the raw challenge of trying to figure things out when only have your base health and a few weapons.

So anyway, Doom is definitely a good, fun game—I can say that with more certainty than I could with Bravely Second. Its biggest strength is that it knows what it wants to be—a run-and-gun shooter where you can rely on your instincts and eventually come out on top and feel like you’ve accomplished something. There are no turret sections; you never lose your weapons and have to stealth kill wandering enemies; you never get in a vehicle to reach your next objective; it doesn’t have an overly involved story full of stock characters you’re meant to care about but don’t. Doom simply is what it is.

But this leanness is also what keeps Doom from being more than just a pretty good, B- sort of game. For example, say there was a guy who only knew two things well enough to talk about them intelligently—say carpentry and opera—and when he’s talking about those things, he’s not only insightful and interesting, he can make the topics he knows engaging even for people who don’t know anything about them. Let’s also say that this guy is self-aware that these are the only topics he can speak intelligently on, so unless he’s with his family or maybe very close friends, those are the only things he’ll talk about; he won’t shove his two topics down your throat, but if you’re talking about, say, hockey, he’s just not going to say a thing. Now, the fact that he doesn’t try to talk about things he doesn’t know and that he would just bore other you trying to talk about is a good thing—but it doesn’t change the fact that he can only talk about two things. If you’re a carpenter or you love opera, the guy might be one of your favorite people; but for the rest of us, no matter how fascinating he makes his interests out to be, he’s more the kind of guy you don’t mind running into every now and then in mixed company rather than someone you specifically seek out. Again, in small doses, the guy is great, but the fact that he knows his limits doesn’t change the fact that he is, indeed, very limited.

To make this more concrete, let’s compare Doom to another recently game revamping an early PC-game, but doing it better—not massively better, but still better—Wolfenstein: The New Order. Unlike Doom, The New Order has a story, and it’s a pretty good one, even if it does fall victim to the old problem of the most affecting story elements being revealed in audio-logs. Like the Doom Marine, B.J. Blazkovicz is a pretty big badass, though its tempered with humanity enough to make him relatable. The New Order also offers more variation in game play, mostly because you can sneak around if you want, but it’s never artificially forced on you. The fighting is fast-paced, but more tactical since you can’t just replenish your health with Glory Kills and even the mookest of the mooks have guns. That said, I don’t think The New Order necessarily beats Doom on the combat front, since it’s apples and oranges, and both are fun in their way. For exploration, I think it’s also pretty much a wash, but I give the slight edge to The New Order because the environments are more varied, so it feels more rewarding to find out as much as you can about them.

There are probably a dozen other aspects I could compare, but the point is that compared to The New Order, Doom feels like a pretty fun theme park with only half the rides you expected. The lack of variety may be good for not giving you dull experiences, but it’s also pretty easy for it to make the main experience of running and gunning get repetitive pretty fast.

Bravely Second: Class overview

Last time, I talked about the more plot oriented elements of Bravely Second, but now let’s get to the meat: the (new) job classes. For semi-completionists like me (i.e. I beat all the sidequests in Arkham Knight, but hell if I was going to spend 10+ hours collecting Riddler trophies, true ending be damned), collecting all the jobs is half the fun of playing. And that includes the ones you level halfway on one character and never use again. Here, I’ll go through all the new job classes for Bravely Second and how (and if) I used them.

Before I start, I’m just going to admit that I wasn’t terribly impressed with the new job offerings. All the conventional jobs were used in the original, so the designers had to stretch here. But there are still a few worth using even for the end game.

Wizard

BS_Wizard

The Wizard uses what are basically low-MP cost Black Magic spells (though they don’t actually count as Black Magic for the purpose of modifiers and other such rigmarole) that default target all enemies, but can be modified to do various other things like target all the same type of monster or due damage over time. The problem is that modifying a spell costs a Brave Point and most of the modifications are too situational to be of much use. However, I did find the Dart modifier–which attacks a single enemy right at the beginning of the turn regardless of speed and unlike some mods doesn’t cost much MP–pretty useful, and the class is pretty serviceable for the time you have it at the beginning of the game, so I can’t count this one as a failure. It’s definitely one of the better early-game jobs.

Charioteer

BS_Yuu_Chariot

A melee class that was so convoluted I barely used it after I got some other options. Basically, the Charioteer shows a C-rank proficiency with every weapon, but each time you attack the rank goes up. This doesn’t seem to have much point, seeing as every other melee class has a default S-rank. The class can also throw weapons (and you can get them back at the end of the battle), but when you get the class early in the game you won’t really have any extra weapons just sitting in your inventory as you’re constantly strapped for pg. The Charioteer does have some good support skills, like +20% physical damage and ones that let you equip an extra weapon if your head and body armor slots (though at a 50% damage reduction), once you get them, it’s better to pair them with a better class. I’ve heard that using the Ninja’s Dual Wielding gives you full damage with at least the helmet-equipped weapon (I guess it’s in your teeth like Zoro from One Piece), but I honestly never tried it since I wasn’t struggling to get enough damage without sacrificing defense.

Fencer

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A sword-wielding melee class that can enter different stances to boost attack, defense, or agility, and can do an attack that adds more damage from each stance. However, using an attack from one stance shifts you to the other, so you need to go back and forth between them–if you’ve played Final Fantasy XIV, I think the Pugilist class does something similar. Admittedly, it’s a bit complicated, but it’s definitely one of the more useful new jobs in the early game. But by the time you can level it up to the skill that puts you in the offensive Blazing Wolf stance at the start of your turn (so you can take all four turns instead of three, one of the major drawbacks), you’ll probably have moved on to classes with more damage potential for a melee class like the Ninja or Pirate. This is a recurring problem with these new classes—they often can’t compete with the old ones.

Bishop

BS_Magnolia_BishopA healing (only) class with a default skill called Good Measure that raises the effect of spells cast twice in a row—but also collapses them into one cast that costs two BP and, as far as I could tell, doesn’t offer much of an improvement over just casting the same spell twice. The main problem with the Bishop is that, for all its healing power, it has no offensive spells, and since you can get the Red Mage around the same time (which has both), you won’t have much incentive to use it. Since it’s healing is percentage-based, it can be a viable option for a dedicated healer, but it’s hard to give it the edge over the White Mage that can do almost all the same healing and has Wind and Light-based attack spells.

 Astrologian

BS_Tiz_Astrologian

Another magic class with no offensive spells, focusing on buffing and defensive magic. While not especially useful for grinding normal monsters, this class can buff speed and physical and magic defense; reflect and nullify elemental magic; and boost magic damage with particular elemental spells. The issue is that the Performer job does everything but the elemental stuff better because it targets the whole party. But for plenty of boss fights, the Elemental Barrier spell that nullifies all elemental damage for four turns is extremely useful, especially when paired with the Black Mage’s support skill Group-Cast-All that lets you use it on the whole party.

Catmancer

BS_Cat_MasterThe name alone should tell you they were running out of ideas with this—but basically, this replaces the Vampire job class from Bravely Default (one of the few Asterisks from the last game you can’t get this time around) as the Blue Mage type class that uses enemy attacks. But instead of MP, you summon a little feline companion and feed him (or her) a certain kind of fish to cast the spell. You get fish either by buying it from the Adventurer, with new fish unlocking as you rebuild Fort Lune (this game’s equivalent of Norende from Default), or as spoils from battles. I had the same problem I always have with Blue Mage classes—it’s a pain to track down the enemies to learn the spells, and few of them are really even useful compared to conventional spells. Not to mention that getting the fish, which are not cheap or easy to get at the point you get this Asterisk, is just another layer of hassle you don’t really have to go through to beat the game.

Hawkeye

BS_HawkeyeA gun-using class with an emphasis on breaking through defense. I didn’t, in all honesty, get much use out of this class—once you have Dual Wield from the Ninja class, two-handed weapons like the gun lose a lot of their luster, and most enemies with a high defense are better handled by attacking their magical weakness. There is a spell to pierce Default, but most enemies don’t use Default at all, including most bosses. The only skill I found useful from the Hawkeye was the one that adds elemental damage to physical attacks—but again, it always seemed like just doing a normal elemental attack would be more effective.

Patissier

BS_Tiz_Patissier

A whimsical but surprisingly effective debuffing class. Like with the Catmancer, you’ll need to either buy items—cakes instead of fish—or get them from battle to use these abilities, but by the time you get this Asterisk, Fort Lune should be pretty well along and you should have a decent amount of pg in reserve. In addition to status attacks (that I never used) the Patissier can lower defense and attacks by 50%, more than any other class, as well as give enemies without elemental weaknesses new ones for a few turns. Absolutely indispensable in boss fights, and one of the few new job classes that isn’t overly complicated for the sake of creating something new.

Exorcist

BS_Yew_ExorcistA class based on the concept of undoing things—damage, losing MP or BP, and so on. Like the Patissier, this is another highly useful class among the new crop of asterisks (and one that, like the Patissier, has almost nothing to do with what its name suggests, i.e. this isn’t a class for fighting undead mobs). An Exorcist can act as both a healer and a defensive buffer by undoing damage or using Undo Action, which completely nullifies one attack of any kind, which is extremely useful for end bosses that use powerful abilities that can inflict status effects that would otherwise lead to a Game Over. The jewel of the class is Auto Undo, which completely restores health and MP at the end of each turn, allowing you to use as many powerful spells as you want without fear of running out of magic.

Guardian

BS_Edea_Guardian

 

A heavy-armored class that can possess enemies or allies, and builds up “Spiritual Power” by taking damage, which is then used for abilities. In theory, this could be an extremely useful class—the trouble is that there’s little point possessing an enemy that you’ll just have to kill when you can just whack it with your weapon, and do it in the same turn. Then there is the Spiritual Power you need to build up like a tank in an MMO to use most of your powerful abilities—but remember, the bonus system in this game encourages you to finish off your enemies in one turn, and you’ll need to wait until the second to build up Spiritual Power unless you equip the support ability that gives you 50% by default, which isn’t really worth the slot in your set. That said, the Guardian can be useful in certain boss battles where the boss has minions, and there are some useful skills like Soul Mirror, one that reflects all physical damage on one target for three turns, that cost MP instead of Spiritual Power, so it may be worth experimenting with more than I did.

Kaiser

BS_Yew_KaiserThis class has high strength and intelligence, but it’s theme is a bit underwhelming—essentially, the poorly named Supremacy skill has buffs, debuffs, healing abilities, ect. that effect all enemies and allies. For example, Spring Awakening restores 10,000 HP to each side at the end of each turn, but that amount is split by four for you, and if you’re facing a boss they get it all back. I’m sure a cleverer player than I could have gotten more out of these abilities, but the usefulness seems so contextual that I didn’t think it was worth the effort. It does have a pretty sweet Default ability, Cerberus, which resets your HP, MP and even your K.O. status after every battle, but it’s only useful for grinding.

Yokai

BS_Edea_Yokai

Probably the hardest class to evaluate—the Yokai class lets you summon demons to use powerful abilities like -ja level Black Magic (i.e. the most powerful) and others like Acid Breath that do heavy damage and inflict debuffs. The issue with the latter is that they cost BP instead of MP and some can’t be used on bosses. Furthermore, you have to track down and defeat each demon in a boss battle to get its powers, and they aren’t easy. The main draw of the class is the Awakening support skill, which you need to have equipped to learn every other job’s level 11 skill. Once I had Awakening, I didn’t use this one much, but in high difficulty playthroughs I imagine it would have been very useful.

Review: Bravely Second

I think I liked Bravely Second: End Layer.

You would think after 95 hours on a game, I could come to a more solid conclusion—but that is about as far as I’m willing to go. I think I liked it. Convert that into a numerical value if you will, but I’d rather not.

On the other hand, I know I liked Bravely Default. It was everything you could hope for from a JRPG—the characters were interesting, the hand-drawn art design of the cities was memorable, the combat system was satisfying (more on that later), and even after the internet had spoiled the twist, the plot was engaging.

bravely second
Don’t worry, Tiz isn’t actually emo, it’s just his hair.

Second is, like the name suggests, mostly a second helping of the same thing. Now, if this were an Assassin’s Creed game, it would be like eating pizza from a place you know you enjoy but you’re maybe getting a bit tired off. But we’re only at two iterations, so it still feels fresh enough that I didn’t mind, for example, there’s only a handful of new cities to explore. But if there’s a Bravely Third, I am probably not going to be so tolerant. There’s only so much you can do in the Villa Auditore.

To summarize: Second takes place two and a half years after the end of the original. We have two new protagonists: the earnest Yew Geneolgia (the pun is probably intentional, even in the Japanese), whose Crystalguard acts as a sort of Swiss Guard to this world’s Crystal Orthodoxy, and Magnolia Arch, a “Ba’al Buster” (I imagine this one is mostly the translators) from the moon, the “Ba’al” in question being powerful monsters her lunar civilization is dedicated to wiping out. Returning are the hero the first game Tiz Arrior and the tomboyish Edea Lee, daughter of the Duke of Eternia Braev Lee, the Well-Intentioned Extremist antagonist from first game (don’t worry, he’s patched everything up with his daughter and the religion he was trying to wipe out).

Really, the plot isn’t especially important. That’s actually the biggest fault of Second—while many complained about the monotony of beating he same dungeons over and over again in the original, it contributed to a sense of hopelessness that the typical JRPG tropes could not deliver the desired ending. You got the boat, the bigger boat, the airship, and beat the final boss, but all you got for your trouble was an unsatisfying reset. While Second has its moments and incorporates more of the meta-gaming ideas (I won’t spoil in, but you, the player, are an acknowledged entity in both iteration of the series) that acted as the cherry on top of Default’s sundae, it amounts to a typical princess-rescue scenario. Agnes Oblige, one of the other protagonists of the first game and Tiz’s love interest, is about to be declared Pope of the Crystal Orthodoxy when she is kidnapped by the mysterious Kaiser Oblivion, and Yew teams up with the rest of the gang to save her. On the way there are the typical shenanigans, but like I said, it’s not very important.

The only really interesting plot points revolve around the Plague that set up the conflict between the Crystal Orthodoxy and the Duchy of Eternia, but these elements are awkwardly incorporated into the story and their payoff comes too late. In fact, the developers seem to have recognized how much the Plague’s backstory didn’t fit into the main plot, as its real resolution happens in an optional dungeon near the end of the game—the player doesn’t even have to wrap up that plotline if they don’t feel like it.

Where Second shines is its characters and excellent voice acting (it’s rare to even get bad voice acting on a 3DS game, let alone something good). Despite coming off as a bit of a tool at first, Yew’s stuttering awkwardness and naïve idealism are charming, and Edea is still amusingly straightforward and obsessed with food. One of the highlights of the game are the series of sidequests where Edea becomes the de-facto lead as she’s put in charge of admittedly pretty typical “moral dilemma” incidents involving the Asterisk holders from the previous game, which vary in seriousness from deciding whether or not to let newly recovered sea-shanty be turned into a pop song, to deciding who should get to eat when the crew is trapped after a cave-in at a magical laboratory. From what I understand, some of these quests were cut to make the endings less harsh (i.e., no one dies), but even if that’s the case, I’m not that bothered bye it in the first place—if anything, the tone of these quests is light enough that deaths would have been out of place.

The supporting cast is also well done, but there is weakness is in the rest of the player characters. Tiz is actually pretty boring, which worked more when he was a literal self-insert. As a secondary protagonist, it becomes more and more apparent that he doesn’t have much of a personality outside of being level-headed and good-natured. Likewise, outside of her occasional French turns of phrase, Magnolia exists solely to make puppy dog eyes at Yew. It’s a shame, because she was actually featured in the teaser at the end of Default, which made her out as strong and intriguing, a true “Ba’al Buster”, but the Ba’al monsters themselves are so clumsily worked into the story that she hardly has the chance to dwell on it. I think the most amusing thing she ever does is one of her stock phrases during “bravely second”—“Busting makes me feel good!” I know some will cringe, but I’m a sucker for that sort of thing.

The combat is pretty much unchanged (with one pretty major exception). Just like in Default, you have the option to take as many as four turns per character each round by the Brave command, but you risk having your enemy get four turns in a row against you if you don’t finish them off; or you can Default, which cuts most attack’s damage in half. It’s an interesting twist on turn-based combat system, and one that actually owes more to Dragon Quest than the Final Fantasy series from which it was spun off, as you enter your commands before the round begins. Using Brave Points carefully also allows you to grind out levels much faster than you would in more old-school JRPG, and the major exception I mentioned before factors in here: if you finish off a set of mobs in one turn, you can take on another round (without recovering health or Brave Points, which usually makes four rounds the maximum) for a multiplier that increases your experience, money, and job points per round. This actually changes the dynamic of the combat more than you would think, and you almost unconsciously start emphasizing maximizing your damage output at the expense of defense and healing.

Some have complained that the Brave/Default system let’s players almost auto-level their characters, proving in their eyes that even fans of JRPGs don’t like the turn-based combat we say we crave. There is some truth to that. No one likes grinding, and the both games certainly go out of their way to streamline it—you can even fast forward combat animations to get them over in quickly and you can turn off random encounters (or crank them up in a prime grinding spot). What’s more, if I could go back, I probably would have played the game on Hard, as when I only die maybe three times in 95 hours of play on Normal something is definitely wrong. But still, I spent all those hours somewhere, and a lot of them were probably in random battles trying to level up a new job class, but I didn’t feel the usual stress. I think what this series does is simply shorten the distance between instances of the Pavlovian stimulus and reward, the sort of things free-to-play games do when they’re trying to get you hooked to wanting to do a repetitive task—but unlike those games, once you’ve put down your $40 for Bravely Second you’re good to go.

Likewise, I’d also dispute the claim that the system lets you essentially auto-level your characters by allowing you to repeat a pre-determined set of commands at the start of every battle. Now, you might be able to do that if you grind in a zone 10-20 levels under you, but otherwise you’re inevitably going to run into an enemy combination that will survive your Brave onslaught because one enemy has a resistance to the spell you were using or you were hit with a status effect that makes all you’re attacks miss—so if you think you can just put the game down and update your Facebook status, you’re going to see some Game Over screens.

Next time, I’ll talk about the other major change from the original: the new jobs classes.