Friday, April 18, 2014

Beat Hazard: Shadow Operations Unit DLC

Contained within this cost-efficient DLC package is a brand new ship hangar with a "make your own ship" option, Steam Workshop support for sharing your ships with others, new ships we've never seen before that all have different gameplay characteristics, and missions to go with each ship.

The Ship Hangar is the meat of the update.  Remember the old "Ship Skin" option under Game Settings?  Well, that got replaced with this.  Each ship has its own set of three Shadow Operations Unit missions, and doing these will let you rank up within the Shadow Operations Unit.  Doing so unlocks more ships and ship customization options.  It's all extremely straightforward and integrates well with the game.  The missions are essentially challenges, like "Score 4 million points on a single track" or "Complete two tracks on Hardcore difficulty".  Each mission has a death penalty resulting in loss of some or all progress on the mission, so it basically forces you to get better at the game.  Rising to a challenge is precisely what gamers want, and this DLC allows us to do that, without ever really making it tedious.

I've played around with the ship creator a bit, and its range of options is amazing.  You can set your fire spread, the Beat Hazard weapon spread, and even the coordinates of the guns on the ship so it'll match up with whatever graphics you're using.  I haven't made any ship graphics to import yet, but there's already a plethora of ships available on Steam Workshop, so even if you don't want to go through all the effort of making custom ship graphics, you can grab a ship that someone else has made and use that.

To keep everything balanced, each ship now has its own leaderboard.  I'm unsure how this works with Workshop ships, but it's nice nonetheless.

Overall, the Shadow Operations Unit DLC is a good example of DLC done right.  A lot of thought went into it, and it does it unobtrusively, allowing you to disable the missions in the options if you so desire.  In fact, the other major content DLC for Beat Hazard, Ultra, is also a good example of DLC done right.  It was basically a completely new game with refurbished mechanics that freshened everything up and made everything less predictable.

I'll take the opportunity to remind you that Cold Beam Games is one guy.  One guy made this game and all its DLC.  That very same guy is also active in the Beat Hazard community forums on Steam, where he handles bug reports and feature requests directly, and also socializes with the community that's built up around his game.  This makes him one of the better indie developers out there, in my opinion.

Good job, Cold Beam Games.  Can't wait for Beat Hazard 2, since you said that's the next thing coming down the pike.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Chrono Trigger DS

Because I'm a whore for Chrono Trigger, I now own it on SNES, PlayStation, and DS.  The DS version is quite a bit different from the others, so here are my thoughts so far.  This is by no means a complete analysis, but I've played up to 65 million BC and taken everything in, except for the extra areas, which I haven't gotten to yet.

Photo update: Okay wow, the 3DS takes photos in absolutely horrible quality.  I'll either abandon this entirely or take the stuff over to my parents' place and use my dad's camera, which is much better.

So, first off, the stuff that I like:

They did a fantastic job of adapting the game to take advantage of the DS' features.  There's an option to put it in "classic" mode, which gives you the old action bar from the SNES/PS1 versions, but I haven't bothered to do so yet because after a little tweaking (read: set "Run Mode" to "Walk") you can pretty much play the game exactly as you're used to it with the DS features intact.  Leaving it in DS mode leaves the top screen relatively un-cluttered in battle, with health and ATB bars beneath each character.  Also, if you're so inclined, you can play the game completely with the stylus.  Moving around is a bit weird and imprecise (resulting in accidentally triggering battles and the wrong character dialogue from time to time), but it works.

The menus have been improved greatly.  You can easily see the effects of every piece of equipment you currently have equipped.  No more having to swap it out for something else just to check.  Also, the inventory is divided into pages by item type.  Once you reach The End of Time, the screen for swapping party members in and out is integrated with the menu for changing the order of your party.  I just wanted to highlight these improvements, but there are more to be found.

Also present are the extra cutscenes that were added to the PlayStation version of the game, except here, you have the option to turn them off if you so desire.  Once you save, you gain access to the Extras mode from the PlayStation version as well, which means getting all the endings will be crucial to anyone who wants to actually see all of Extras mode.

There is some new content, as I hinted at above.  I'm not sure how the new stuff ties in, but available for the playing are Lost Sanctum, Dimensional Vortex, and the Arena of the Ages.  Part of this new content is an extra end boss and new ending.  I will definitely have to experience this and post thoughts here when I do.

In the arena, you train up a monster and then fight it against other monsters.  This happens in the background, so you can do it while playing through the game.  There's also a wireless multiplayer option so you can fight your friends' monsters.  The arena has some brand new items specifically designed to be used within it.  According to the internet, there are a lot of rewards, including end-game equipment and tabs (which were renamed to "Capsules" in this translation).

The map on the touchscreen was a nice... touch... but what I would really rather have on that screen when I'm not in battle is the menus.  It would make equipment shuffling so much easier.  However, the map always being on the touchscreen effectively makes pressing Select to bring up the world map obsolete, though you can still do it for shits and giggles.

For all the low level game enthusiasts out there, one of the arena rewards is the Wallet, and you can potentially get it before beginning the story.  If you're into this sort of thing, you know precisely what this means, but for the rest of you: the Wallet is an accessory that converts all experience your party gets into gold, and is the staple accessory of a low level game challenge where the entire point is to avoid getting as much experience as insanely possible.  If you've never done a low level game before, you probably haven't equipped the Wallet before either, unless it was one of those "ooh, this looks interesting..." *equip Wallet* *10 hours later* "How come I'm not levelling up?" things.

The mixed bags (let me tell you what kind of bag?):

As far as graphics go, the font is different and harder to read.  There seems to be a fake scanline effect on the top screen that kind of annoys me, but I'm not sure if that's part of the whole "3DS running a DS game" thing or if it's actually the game itself doing it.  All the colors seem to be a bit darker, as well.  But other than that, they're the Chrono Trigger graphics we all know and love.

For the DS port, the game was completely re-translated.  All the lines we know and love have been changed anywhere between "ever so slightly" and "completely".  Even the tech names, item names, and enemy names are different.  I know this translation is supposed to be more accurate and overall better, but the SNES translation is what everyone's used to, and it just feels weird to not have it there.  Especially once you get Frog, and discover that his dialect is gone.  No more "Lower thine guard and thou'rt allowing the enemy in.", "The equipment hath evanesced!", or "Hand'eth over the Masamune!" for us...  such a shame.  That dialect really completed his character and made him as memorable as he is today.  Even if it did stick out like a sore thumb because nobody else in 600 AD talked that way.

Stuff I don't like:

Sound-wise, this port is lacking.  It just doesn't sound as good as the SNES or PlayStation versions.  Need proof?  Just go through a gate.  Congratulations, your ears are now bleeding.  How does one fuck up SPC emulation this bad?  Some of the music sounds like it's being run through a MIDI card without a proper wavetable.  Way to shit on Yasunori Mitsuda's masterpiece.


Chrono Trigger DS is a pretty decent port of the SNES classic to the DS, both in terms of integrating the DS' features and in preserving the classic gameplay for a new generation to experience.  Unfortunately, it's not without its issues, but for the most part they can be overlooked.  If you want to Chrono Trigger anywhere, pick yourself up a copy.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Bravely Default Nemesis Strategy: Leviathan

Leviathan is a giant water creature whose lower portions are all you can see during the fight.  Being a water creature, it casts potent water magic.  This fight is far simpler than Belphegor.  This is for the level 30 version of Leviathan, higher level versions will obviously take longer.

Recommended party:
  • Three Black Mages and one White Mage.
  • The Black Mages should be at least Job Level 7, so they can cast the level 3 black magic spells, most notably Thundara.
  • The White Mage should be at least Job Level 8, so they can take the Angelic Ward support ability.
  • The Black Mages should also have White Mage at Job Level 8, so they can take the Angelic Ward support ability.
  • As far as Job Commands go, as long as you have Miscellany on one of the Black Mages so that you can Examine, you're good.  Examine isn't strictly necessary, but knowing how much HP Leviathan has left is never a bad thing.
  • For support abilities, you'll want Abate Water and Angelic Ward on everyone.
  • Above level 30.  My party was level 35.
  • Equipment that amplifies lightning, like the Lambent Hat, on all your Black Mages.
Special Moves:
  • If you plan to use any, set the damage component to Lightning, and any elemental resistances conferred to Water.
  • heal as necessary
  • ???
  • Profit!
For higher level versions of Leviathan:
  • Shoot at it until it dies.
Up next will be Tax on the Cupid.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Bravely Default's Spell Fencer Job is Cool

This won't fit in a tweet so I'm putting it here.

Yet another way to say I like Bravely Default: all the Nemeses you get encourage different playstyles and party compositions.  Encouraging players to branch out and try new things is never a bad thing.  I'll readily admit that the vast majority of gamers, including myself, get stuck in a rut in terms of the types of games they play and how they play those games.

I myself am on record in a number of places saying that I vastly prefer ranged support classes to melee classes.  By "ranged support", I literally mean everything except melee.  Archers, Sorcerers, Necromancers, Clerics, you name it; if it sits in the back and assists the party from a distance, I have a tendency to prefer it.  You can then understand that I was surprised by how much I've ended up liking the Spell Fencer class in Bravely Default.

The Spell Fencer is a melee mage.  They fight by casting a spell on their sword and then attacking like your normal Fighter, Warrior, or Monk (D&D style martial artist wearing robes, since some RPGs have the Monk as a healing class) might.  The neat thing about a Spell Fencer is that they have pretty solid proficiency in armor.  Compare this to the Black Mage, which doesn't have any armor proficiency to speak of and wears robes and caps instead.  Since a Spell Fencer can equip armor and even a shield, they can actually be pretty tanky.  Combine that with a sword and/or a shield that has an ability when used as an item and you have a pretty solid tank mage support character.

Playing the Spell Fencer takes a little up-front planning since you have to prepare your attack a turn in advance, but the Brave/Default system from which the game takes its name alleviates this by allowing you to imbue your weapon and attack in the same turn.  Also, once you've set yourself up, you're good for the next 10 turns, which in Bravely Default is an eternity.  You can even put a status condition on your sword and attempt to inflict it with every swing, which grants the job a lot of utility.

The job is also very MP-efficient, as you essentially amortize the cost of casting the spell on your weapon over the number of attacks you make before casting something else on the weapon.  At the same time, it doesn't render a Black Mage obsolete, as with a Black Mage you can cast spells on the entire enemy group.

I know this job/class/whatever is referred to elsewhere as a "Spell Sword"...  How many other games have these?  For that matter, is there such a thing as a "Spell Archer"?  How about an entire game where everyone is a mage with a weapon proficiency and armor rather than being the traditional "robes and staff" type of mage?  Has that ever been done well?  And if not, can I get in on making it happen?

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Bravely Default Nemesis Strategy: Belphegor

Belphegor is a rather interesting nemesis to fight, who cycles its elemental weakness every time you exploit that elemental weakness.  This is for the level 20 version of Belphegor, higher level versions will obviously take longer.

Recommended party:
  • Three Black Mages and one White Mage.
  • The Black Mages should be at least Job Level 7, so they can cast the level 3 black magic spells: Fira, Blizzara, and Thundara.
  • The White Mage should be at least Job Level 6, so they can cast the level 3 white magic spells, most notably Cura.
  • The White Mage should also have black magic at Job Level 8, so they can take the Black Resonance support ability.
  • Job Commands on the Black Mages should be Miscellany, so you can Examine.
  • Your White Mage will be healing pretty much every turn, so their Job Command doesn't matter much here.
  • For support abilities, you'll want Abate Fire on everyone, and Black Resonance on your White Mage.
  • Above level 20.  Due to the grinding I did to level people up in black magic, my party is level 30.
  • Equipment that amplifies the elemental spells.  Rod of Fire, Lambent Hat, etc.
Special Moves:
  • You shouldn't really need these here if your black magic is decent enough.
  • Right away, Examine Belphegor and Default on everyone else.  Take a look at its weakness, this will cycle throughout the fight in the order Lightning → Fire → Water → repeat.  You can't go at this blind, you must Examine and know what to cast at all times.  Belphegor will be healed by anything that isn't what it's currently weak to, including physical damage.  If you have multiples or get another one later, though, its weakness will already be revealed and you can skip this step.
  • On turn two, hit Belphegor once with whatever he's weak to, default with your other two Black Mages, and heal the party with your White Mage.
  • On turn three, default on your first Black Mage.  Your second Black Mage should be at 2 BP, so brave twice and cast the entire elemental sequence.  Heal the party with your White Mage.
  • On turn four, default on the first two Black Mages.  Your third Black Mage should be at 3 BP, so brave three times and cast the entire elemental sequence, plus the next spell in the sequence.  Heal the party with your White Mage.
  • Belphegor should die on this turn.  Yeah, you could do it faster by using lots of brave everywhere, but I ran out of Belphegors to fight before I could try that.
  • If you take too long, Belphegor will summon three spheres.  These spheres do the same weakness cycling thing that Belphegor does, in the same pattern, but their weaknesses will be randomized.  Examine all three in one turn, then on your next turn, cycle the weaknesses of everything so that Belphegor and the Spheres all have the same weakness.  Once the weaknesses are synchronized, resume casting the elemental sequence.
For higher level versions of Belphegor:
  • Your White Mage should be wielding a staff and have Rejuvenation ready to go (go trigger random battles and heal 10 times) with the best HP/MP recovery level 5 and BP boost level 2.  I typically have Cure K.O. on Rejuvenation as well, just because it makes the most sense.  This is also the ability I've sent.
  • Pop Rejuvenation on the second turn and then again as soon as it comes up every time it comes up.
  • Your White Mage should still heal every turn.  This is important to keep being able to cast Rejuvenation.  If you don't really need the heal, cast Cure or something.  Work on shielding/protecting allies, I dunno.
  • If you feel ballsy enough to hold out for Lux, do so, assuming you've got it at +5 turns.  The rest of the parts on Lux don't really matter.
  • This strategy is scalable to the higher level versions of Belphegor.  After the first two turns, you'll always have a Black Mage who can brave twice and cast the entire sequence.  It also grabs you an extra turn on your White Mage that it doesn't even use.  For higher level versions, you'll want to work a bit more at getting your White Mage's BP up to 3.
I hope this helps anyone else out there who wants to try this fight.  I think I'll make a series of these posts as I figure out strategies for each of the Nemeses.  Up next will be Leviathan.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

A More In-Depth Look at Bravely Default

So because I play console RPGs the way I do, in an incredibly grindy manner, I've been going nowhere story-wise and instead focusing on upgrading the village of Norende all the way.  Doing so fills out the shop that's available at save points, as well as providing a pool of items for the village to select from and randomly gift to you.  It only amounts to a slow trickle, but still, a slow trickle of free items is never a bad thing.  Overall I see no reason why I shouldn't get it done as early as possible.

The places that give you weapons and armor simply unlock that equipment in the save point shop.  You still have to actually buy the items, which involves having the money to pay for them.  Predictably, the higher-end equipment is expensive enough to prevent you from easily buying it early-game and just stomping the rest of the game.  If you wish to do that, you'll have to crank the encounter rate up and farm money for a while.  Given the prices of some things, you'll be doing that for an eternity.  Or at least, so long that even I probably won't do it.

However, some of the Norende shops are different and provide a much more immediate benefit and boost in power to your party.  The Special Move shop unlocks the three special moves for each weapon.  The Parts shops unlock special move "parts" that you can use to customize the special moves.  Each character can have a separate setup of parts on the special moves for each weapon, making for a ton of customizability.  You can adapt them to make them work for the enemies you're fighting through currently, and then every few battles you'll have a special move come up that can completely pwn some faces.  Also, some of the special move parts are simply straight upgrades to damage, HP recovery, MP recovery, bonus BP, etc.; and in general you'll only want the highest available level of that upgrade.

Though it's only cosmetic, you can also rename the special moves and change the dialogue each character says when using special moves.  Combine this with the job system, though, and you can really make your own fighting style, complete with the custom names and dialogue to complete the whole thing.  This text does get sent to other players when you use the "send" option in battle, so when they summon your attack, they'll see your custom name and dialogue.  The social aspects of the game can help tremendously and should not be overlooked.

The Brave and Default options in battle affect your Brave Points, or BP for short.  Certain special move parts can affect your BP, opening up a wide range of possibilities in battle.  Also, each random encounter has a chance of having an effect such as "Enemies strike first!", "Allies strike first!", "Enemies get +1 BP!", or "Allies get +1 BP!" applied when triggered, further changing the tactics you have at hand when it works in your favor.

All of this put together means that Bravely Default is a very technical and tactical RPG, even though on the surface it looks pretty much like any other JRPG.

Stuff I just flat-out didn't mention before:

You can get Nemeses via StreetPass or by sending Net Friend Invites.  They show up in Norende and defeating them gets you extra stuff.  They tend to be high level and quite the difficult fight, the lowest level one I have is level 20 and I'm not quite ready to face it yet.

Yet another social feature of the game is Abilink.  You can borrow abilities from your friends by linking their characters to yours.  Seems kind of interesting.  To be honest I've been under-utilizing the social features of the game, because I kind of had the impression that they were something you should only lean on in times of dire need.  They seem to be more of a thing that the game intends you to use much more regularly.  That said, I don't have anyone's friend code yet, so I only have the AI Friend that the game creates and modifies randomly to simulate a friend updating their own data and sending it to you via StreetPass.

The only glaring negative I've seen in the game thus far is that MP recovery items as a whole are rare, overpriced, and underpowered.  I don't know about you, but I'd like my mages to actually be able to cast their spells on a regular basis, and being able to refill their MP while out in the field is essential to that.  Some people around the internet suggest that MP recovery is considered "overpowered", but as rebuttal I offer this argument:

It costs significantly less than the price of a single Ether to simply turn off random encounters, run back to town, and stay at the inn.  Staying at the inn fully recovers everyone's HP/MP, instead of just recovering a small portion of the MP of the character in question.  After staying at the inn, you can then run back to where you were and turn the random encounters back on.  This essentially makes travelling to the inn and back from anywhere in the world a free action, to borrow a Dungeons and Dragons term.  Being that setting the encounter rate is a thing in this game, I consider that to be far more powerful than simply being able to recover my mages' MP in a dungeon somewhere.  Therefore, the game should have reasonably priced MP recovery items, as well as MP recovery items that remain relevant in later portions of the game, and the lower-power ones should be much more common than the higher-power ones.  Besides, if limiting how much I can cast spells is desired, then why do I have almost 200 MP when my only spells thus far have a maximum cost of 5 MP?  It'd make more sense to knock an entire power of 10 off of my max MP if you wanted to put a better limit on it.