Bravely Second: End Layer Extended Review

Bravely Second - Box

Bravely Second: End Layer is the sequel to Silicon Studio’s Bravely Default: Where the Fairy Flies. I took notice of the first game because of the stunning visuals in the artwork, trailers and initial screenshots. Once I actually got a hold of it, I fell in love with its gameplay above every other aspect, with its innovative take on classic turn-based combat. It was soured only by the repetitive end game, which made for a frustrating finish to what would otherwise have been an incredible game  I would have recommended to just about anyone. Despite this, I came into Bravely Second with high hopes.

Bravely Second picks up the story two years after the previous game, with the world of Luxendarc in a state of peace following the last game’s journey to put an end to the warmongering Eternian Empire. The current Pope of the Crystal Orthodoxy, Agnès Oblige, was kidnapped by a man calling himself the Kaiser. One of the brightest of the Pope’s personal Crystalguard, Yew Geneolgia, set out to rescue her, accompanied by Tiz and Edea from the last game and a woman named Magnolia who hailed from the Moon. Along the way, they also have to fend off fearsome beasts known as Ba’al, which have recently begun appearing in Luxendarc.

I enjoyed Bravely Second’s story. At first I didn’t think it was anything special, but after a certain point, the plot became far more interesting, and I was especially impressed with the way Silicon Studio implemented the gameplay to enhance the storytelling. It’s not something I see very often, and without going into any detail so you can experience it properly for yourself, the way it added player interactivity to the game delighted me. Another thing that made me love the journey so much was the characters and their dialogue. It’s a very well-written, pun-filled game, and it’s easy to see the writers had a lot of fun with the localisation process.

The voice actors did an outstanding job with with their roles, making the writing far more engaging than it would have been without them and wonderfully bringing the whole thing to life. There seemed to be some kind of issue with parts of the recording; some of the female voices sounded hollow and like they had a lisp. I eventually got used to it, but it was jarring to listen to, and I honestly have no idea what caused it or how it could have happened.

Bravely Second’s aesthetics are excellent. The series retains its gorgeous art style and marvellous soundtrack I especially love some of the boss music, as well as the various character themes, some of which were lifted from the first game.

A lot of people, particularly friends overseas, have asked whether Bravely Second does the same thing Bravely Default does in the endgame: Does it (for reasons I won’t go into so as not to spoil the plot) make you fight the same boss battles some four or five times to reach the true ending? The answer, I am pleased to report, is no. If you were concerned about having to go through that crap again, don’t be.

Battle in Bravely Second is of a classical turn-based variety but with its own twist, which players of the original game will be familiar with. In addition to regular and MP-consuming attacks, you can choose to ‘Brave’ or to ‘Default’. Choosing to Brave allows you to take turns in advance so you can execute multiple attacks all at once. Defaulting has the character defend and saves up one BP, or ‘Brave Point’. If the number of BP a character has drops into negative territory, they will be unable to act for a couple of turns until their BP comes back up to zero at a rate of one per turn. It’s an interesting high-risk high-reward mechanic that can work in your favour or see you get killed over a miscalculation.

You can assign characters to different jobs or classes, which will affect their stats and the abilities they are able to use. Each character will level up their jobs as they fight, unlocking new skills as they go. In addition to being at the appropriate job level, magic-wielding classes will also need to get the scrolls related to each magic type in order to use their spells. There are 30 jobs available in the game, some of which are found in the main story, and the rest of which are gained via sidequests.

Sidequests unlock as you advance the plot, and will show up on your map with a blue marker. Each one presents two jobs, but makes you select one, throwing in an ethical dilemma for you to ponder throughout the quest. Forcing this choice annoyed me; I just wanted to choose my jobs based on which one I would prefer. Your decision doesn’t matter anyway, as you get you get to repeat these quests later in the game anyway, cheapening the impact of your initial choice. The alternative would have been to prevent the player from completing the second half and gaining all the jobs, which would have irritated me even more as I’d have been locked out of skills and abilities. Neither of these outcomes are good, and it makes me wonder why they even implemented this system in the first place; why couldn’t the game have had us unlock some jobs through new sidequests or different means?

The sidequest system has you performing the exact same thing twice, and this is one example of an issue I had with this game: Its recycling of material — both from itself and from the original game. This includes art from various places in the world that were present in the previous game, as well as pieces of the soundtrack.It’s not something that was a huge deal for me, but it did come across as somewhat lazy.

A totally new  and optional mini-game is chompcraft, which sees the party creating adorable plush toys. The toys you make can be sold for chomp points, which in turn can be exchanged for pg, the game’s currency; they doesn’t do anything else. Your chompcrafting abilities can be improved by upgrading your party’s tools. It’s an addictive game that makes for a fun way to earn some pg.

StreetPass, SpotPass and your 3DS friends list all have roles in Bravely Second. You can attach one friend to one of your party members, allowing that party member to use skills that friend has unlocked, even if your character has yet to sufficiently level themselves up. In battle, friends and people you meet via StreetPass can be summoned to execute a special move. You get to choose which move you send to other people by selecting an option from the menu in a battle, and you can change it at any time during any battle.

Collecting friends via StreetPass will also assist in the game’s town rebuilding sidequest, which sees you rebuild Magnolia’s home on the Moon. You can also get five people a day via SpotPass if you have an Internet connection. These people can then be put to work reconstructing the town, rewarding you with free items from time to time and improving the inventory of the wandering red salesperson who shows up before each boss fight. The village contains a number of powerful Ba’al for you to defeat, which get refreshed every time you choose to update your data via the Internet and whenever you StreetPass with someone. You can weaken them using battleships piloted by your friends or by bots before you fight them, dropping their level over time. Defeating them nets you a lot of experience, which isn’t affected by how much you drop their level with the ships; I’ve killed a few in one hit after dropping its level from 50 or 60 to 1, so it can be a nice way gain experience.

Other elements of the gameplay have been improved as well. A favourite of mine is the ability to chain battles together for extra rewards and multipliers; it makes grinding much, much faster. There are also more options for the auto-battle feature, so your allies can grind even without your input, as well as a range of other new additions.

Bravely Second allows you to play again in New Game +, so you can restart with all your jobs and experience. I’d clocked up a little over 50 hours when I finished Bravely Second, having done most sidequests and acquired about two thirds of all the jobs.

Bravely Second: End Layer took the first game’s already refined formula and polished it further, with the new gameplay changes only improving the experience. The plot and characters were more memorable than the last game’s, and the dialogue was top-notch. It looks good, it sounds good, and is simply fun to play, retaining the best parts of classic RPGs while adding modern touches and convenience. Bravely Second is a must for just about any RPG fan; it won’t disappoint.

Fire in the Soul: Hands On With Dark Souls III

Dark Souls 3 header

I have never been good at FromSoftware’s Souls games. Ever since Demon’s Souls was released in 2009 (or 2010, for those that had the patience to wait for the Australian release), I’ve always had the sort of relationship with the franchise you don’t want to admit. You see, I’m genuinely quite terrible at it.

I am horrendous even compared to other people who aren’t any good at these games. I don’t really understand a lot of the back end systems; I only ever played the Warrior class and I don’t really mess around with magic. Hell, I’m still prone to using the occasional Estus Flask at an inopportune moment in a mad panic. When some skeleton dude or whatever comes and tries to mess me up, my plan of attack is to start rolling around the floor and flailing my sword wildly. Basically, I have no idea what I’m doing. And yet, I have still played all the games in this series, and I’ve still had fun being absolute garbage at them. So when I got the opportunity to head to Bandai Namco’s Sydney office to check out Dark Souls III, I prepared myself to be subject to a serious amount of punishment.

Following a quick cinematic introducing you to the game’s main foes, the Lords of Cinder, you get to create your character. There isn’t a whole lot new here regarding stats and classes are far as I could see, but I was told that the creation tools have been given an overhaul and provide a lot more depth. I don’t really get too involved in this as I like my character to be dressed in as much armour as possible, so after giving the preset a mullet and naming him ‘Aussie Battler’, I was in the game.

There’s an opportunity to get a quick rundown of the controls, but the only real significant change here is the introduction of a ready stance, which gives you a bit more flexibility and agility regarding attacking. If you’ve played a Souls game before, you’ll be straight into it…or dead, if you’re anything like me. Within the first 10 minutes of the game you’ll come across a sword-wielding statue kneeling in a wide open area, and in my naiveté (or just plain stupidity), I ran up to it and without hesitation hit the button prompt to remove the weapon. My excitement upon receiving a new weapon was quickly dissipated when I remembered this is a Dark Souls game; by removing the sword I triggered a boss fight. I’m not sure if you can actually avoid this and just head straight to the Firelink Temple (more on this later), but damn did I feel dumb.

Dark Souls 3 combat

Upon his inevitable death, I was greeted by what is one of the more significant changes to the way Dark Souls plays. In the previous games, death was punished by becoming Hollow: your maximum HP would decrease, you’d lose your ability to summon White Phantoms to aid you, you’d lose your collected souls etc. However, in Dark Souls III it seems the only penalty for death is the loss of collected souls, which are recovered in the usual way by retrieving them from the location of your last death.

I managed to eventually beat this early boss (it only took about four or five attempts). Just beyond this boss is the Firelink Temple, which is a name that anyone who played the first Dark Souls game will be familiar with. The Firelink Temple serves as the same purpose in Dark Souls III, being a safe haven where you can get weapons repaired and interact with characters integral to the story. However, the similarities end there. This is a very different looking Firelink Shrine, and Dark Souls III eschews the openness of the first game and has the shrine act as a central hub similar to Dark Souls II, which will probably come as a disappointment to some fans.

Going from the Firelink Temple into the next major  area, you immediately noticed how much larger the environments are compared to the previous games, how gorgeous the bleak an ashen scenery is. It seems as if the game is not only designed to utilise the current-generation processing power, but also to take advantage of the increased agility that your character now enjoys.

I started to actually get into the swing of things. I didn’t die too often and when I did, I was quick to learn my mistakes and began to amass a healthy amount of souls. Stupidly, I started to forget that Dark Souls is a complete bastard disguised as a video game. At one point, I came face to face with about 5 enemies blocking my path, with a staircase to my left. Not wanting to let Aussie Battler die again, I decided the best course of action was to give the enemies a miss and see what awaited me at the top of the stairs. Oh what a terrible choice that was. No sooner had I reached the very top step was I engulfed in flames by a fucking dragon. But the great thing about Dark Souls was that upon my resurrection at the bonfire, I was able to return to that same area and use my knowledge to lure the enemies that had previously blocked my path towards the waiting dragon and have it obliterate them for me.

Dark Souls 3 dragon

This elation that followed was, of course, swiftly terminated by my sword breaking mid-combat with an 8 foot tall knight. You can’t win ‘em all.

Dark Souls III is as tough as the series has ever been and it doesn’t do a whole lot to mix up the formula, which is exactly what fans will want to hear. However, I worry that after Bloodborne and the Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin DLC last year,there might be a bit of franchise fatigue at this point. I was also a little concerned that despite the jump in processing power provided by the Xbox One and PS4, there were still the occasional frame rate dips similar to those seen Dark Souls and Dark Souls II in the previous generation of consoles. I was assured that these weren’t present in the previous build, so hopefully it gets ironed out before release.

Whether you’re jumping into the franchise for the first time, the type to take pleasure in doing a Dark Souls run without taking a single hit or , like me, you skipped over Bloodborne, then there’s definitely a lot worth being excited for Dark Souls III when it hits Xbox One, Playstation 4 and PC on April 12th.

Shin Megami Tensei Devil Survivor 2: Record Breaker Review

Shin Megami Tensei Devil Survivor 2 Record Breaker - Logo

Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor 2 first released in 2011 for the DS in Japan, arriving in North America the following year and then in Europe in 2013. Record Breaker is a remake of the original Devil Survivor 2 that released last year for the 3DS. It contains full voice acting, a new story arc, a fresh translation for the original story, new skills and demons, DLC and a new character. I never played the original, and only picked this up because my best friend wouldn’t stop talking about it. Having now finished it, I’m glad I followed his advice.

The first Devil Survivor 2 had you take control of a nameless protagonist just before their home of Tokyo was destroyed and beset by demons. He and his friends discovered a demon summoning app had suddenly been installed on their phones. They used this app to prevent their own deaths, sent to them in a video by a mysterious website known as Nicaea. The friends worked to drive out the demons and the powerful beings known as Septentriones, which were attempting to bring the world to ruin. Record Breaker adds to this story with a new scenario that continued from one of the multiple endings from the first game. The new arc has you defeating the similarly world-rending Triangulum.

Record Breaker allows you to select whether or not you want to start with the Septentrione or the Triangulum scenario when you begin. This allows those who never played the original to start from the very beginning, while veterans who want to jump into the new plot line can do so immediately. Each scenario has multiple endings and achievements to unlock, providing ample reason to replay the game for those who want to. I found both of the stories compelling, with the first in particular eliciting strong emotions from me, something not many games can do.

Devil Survivor dialogue

What really made the story was worth it were the characters. The localisation was brilliantly scripted, and the voice acting is some of the best I’ve ever heard in a game. You could talk to your characters between plot events to learn more about them and their histories, watching them grow and became noticeably more mature as the two story arcs progress. Combined, they all contributed to the game’s lively atmosphere, making the characters feel unique — like they could be real people. Atlus totally nailed everything about the characters and their development in Record Breaker, and it was beautiful to watch.

Talking with your characters and progressing the plot consumes time, which is limited in Record Breaker. It also raises their FATE level with you, unlocking all kinds of bonus effects both in and outside of battle. The game features free battles that can be challenged at any time and as often as you like. Free battles take up no time, and so can be used to grind if you’re stuck or just want tougher demons.

Just as thought out is the way Record Breaker handles difficulty. ‘Blessed’ is the easier of the two, where you deal more damage, take less damage, and gain more EXP and money than you do in ‘Apocalypse’. The two can be swapped at any time between events and battles. I tried fighting a couple of battles on Blessed and then Apocalypse to see how it changed, and there is substantial difference; where I breezed through the fights on Blessed, I only got through by the skin of my teeth on Apocalypse. I loved being able to change them at any time as it meant I could swap to Blessed whenever I needed to level up, and then back to Apocalypse when I resumed the story, reducing the amount of time I spent grinding. This could be done without any penalties, allowing you to play the way you want to.

Record Breaker is a turn-based strategy game, with battles taking place on a gridded map. You fight with a party of up to four characters, each flanked by two demons. A single unit on the map is similarly comprised of two side demons and their leader in the middle; these side demons raise the defence of the centre fighter. Units will disappear when the leader is defeated, so you can either go straight for the centre character with their raised defences or pick off the demons on either side first.

Skills for humans are shared between the party, meaning you can’t have multiple people with the same skill. You gain new skills in battle with the ‘skill crack’ function. At the beginning of a battle, you can assign skills possessed by your foes to each of your characters. If you beat those opponents with the character you assigned to them, you will earn that skill. It’s an interesting system that lets you take control of which abilities you get to acquire, and I enjoyed it.

Devil Survivor menu

You gain new demons in Record Breaker by buying and fusing them, doing away with the demon negotiation seen in other Shin Megami Tensei games. You’ll unlock new tiers at the auction house as you buy more demons, giving you access to even better ones. These, in turn, can be fused; you get to transfer some skills, abilities and bonuses to the demons you fuse, making them more powerful and malleable than the bought variety. The game prevents you from combining demons of a higher level than the protagonist, and some of the more powerful demons need to be unlocked before they can be fused. It’s fun to just check all the different combinations you’ll get by combining different demons.

Fusion allows you to create the same demon with a different set of skills, and as such, you can register one sample of each demon species in your compendium. These can then be summoned again whenever you like and as often as you like so you’ll never lose access to your favourite build for each demon, provided you have the money to summon another copy. There’s a huge of variety of demons at your disposal, each divided into different classes with their own unique characteristics and special class skill.

The skills your party uses will consume either HP or MP, depending on the type of attack; as a general rule, physical attacks consume HP and magical ones MP. I really like this system as it means physical attackers, which are usually low on MP, are able to keep using their special abilities as it consumes their more plentiful health pool instead. They can keep using these attacks more than they could have it if were draining their meagre MP pool, as would generally happen in other games.

Devil Survivor combat

Record Breaker’s soundtrack is superb, having been crafted by series veterans who have worked on the Mana series, Shadow Hearts, previous Shin Megami Tensei and Persona titles and more. I’ve enjoyed listening to the music both in and outside of the game, with some tracks in particular standing out as favourites.

The game’s new game plus mode unlocks after completing either scenario for the first time and allows you to carry over as much or as little as you want to the new game. Each scenario contains multiple endings and achievements (“titles”) to collect, all of which will take a long time to gather. I spent a little over 67 hours with Record Breaker just to beat the main storylines for both scenarios, and I’m missing a lot of titles. It also has a lot of DLC, leaving this game with a huge amount of content for anyone who wants excuses to keep on playing.

Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor 2 Record Breaker is a game that gets everything right. It looks and sounds great, with a wonderful soundtrack and some of the best voice acting I’ve ever heard. Between its engrossing story, deep character development and excellent design choices, Record Breaker is one of the few games I feel confident recommending to just about every gamer I know.

Etrian Mystery Dungeon Review

Etrian Mystery Dungeon - Logo

Spike Chunsoft’s Mystery Dungeon series has crossed over with a number of games over the years. Etrian Mystery Dungeon sees it merge with Atlus’s dungeon delving Etrian Odyssey, which I adore. It gives Mystery Dungeon an Etrian skin; it shares the same basic gameplay as Mystery Dungeon, but the art, music, monsters and more are all lifted from Etrian Odyssey. I was pleasently surprised to find that the two worked well together.

The game has you play as an adventurer who has just arrived in the town of Aslarga, which is actively seeking out individuals willing to brave the mystery dungeons that have been opening up throughout the land. You and the other members of the town need to band together to figure out why there are so many new dungeons, and to stave off the monsters that are pouring out of them. Your journeys will lead to the secrets of the Yggdrasil tree located near Aslarga and how it relates to these dungeons. I enjoyed the game’s characters, as it had quite the colourful cast. If you’re after a game with a deep story though, I suggest you look elsewhere; Etrian Mystery Dungeon’s plot is not its strong point.

Aslarga will act as your hub. The town was founded to attract adventurers, so there are various facilities that allow you to buy, sell and store items and equipment, accept quests, have a bite to eat to raise your stats before a journey and more. You can improve the town using ‘en’, the game’s currency, with upgrades being unlocked as you progress the story and explore more dungeons.

Etrian Mystery Dungeon has you form a guild when you start, which you get to name. There are ten classes to choose from, with the game allowing you to name each character and choose from one of eight pre-determined portraits per class (four for each gender). You can have up to four characters in your party at any time and store more in forts, which I’ll discuss shortly. All unused characters will stay at the guild in Aslarga, to be called upon at any time.

As implied by the game’s name, the people of Aslarga know little of the dungeons’ inner workings. The number of floors in each dungeon is fixed, but the layout of each floor and the rooms on each floor will vary every time you enter. The goal is simply to reach the the bottom of the dungeon via the stairs on each floor, at which point you will encounter a geomagnetic pole that will warp you back to town. As you explore, your character will get more and more hungry; once they’re starving, their health will begin to drop. Dungeons are helpfully littered with amber, which your main character will consume to restore hunger and TP. I never found hunger to be a real issue, especially in later dungeons where there was more than enough amber to keep my character full. Dungeons also contain gathering points where you can pick up unique resources, with each class specialising in the exploitation of different types of these item points.

Forts exist to aid you in your exploration and make mystery dungeons less confusing. Their presence in a dungeon will fix its layout, ensuring it’ll always be the same every time you enter. Most forts will contain a geomagnetic pole so you can warp there; they will act as your checkpoints within the dungeons. They’ll also reveal a number of surrounding spaces and floors, helpfully allowing you to see more of the dungeon layout, including the arrangement of floors and areas you’ve yet to enter.

You can choose to fill your forts with other members of your guild who would otherwise have been twiddling their thumbs back in Aslarga. While in a fort, they will gain levels, and they’ll be able to defend a fort should it get attacked by an DOE; these are beasts which act as mini-bosses, and are far more powerful then regular monsters. The game will alert you when they appear in a dungeon, and you can watch their progress as they move from the base to the top of a dungeon. If they reach the top and get into Aslarga, the town will be flattened. Should your party fall in a dungeon, you can assume control of your allies in the fort and have them rescue you. Try to avoid dying as much as possible, as the consequences are brutal; you’ll lose all the items and money you had in your pack, as well as a great deal of your current equipment.

The game is entirely turn-based. In the field, your foes only move after you do, and you can see them clearly; there are no random encounters. I encountered an issue when there were lots of enemies on the floor, as it would cause the game to stutter. The same thing occasionally occurred when I stepped on a gathering point; if my party was able to pick a lot items up from that area, the game would freak out for a few seconds as it processed my find. I was playing on a New 3DS as well, so I’m not sure how a regular 3DS would handle it. It’s not game-breaking by any means, but it was jarring.

All encounters take place in the field, allowing you to surround your foes and vice versa. Red amber is situated at the entrance to many of the rooms on each floor, and standing on it allows the party to take a battle formation around it. You have a number of skills and magical abilities at your disposal, which vary between classes. Skill points are gained as you level up, which you can then spend on learning or improving skills. There are also special skills known as ‘blast skills’. Most of these are found by progressing the story or completing certain quests, and can only be used by filling the Blast Gauge as you explore. This meter is filled by dealing damage and collecting amber in dungeons, and it may be filled up to five times over before maxing out. You can then consume it to use these blast skills, which are all far more powerful than regular attacks. All of this allows for a great amount of flexibility in the way you build your characters and your team; you have complete control over all of it, which I appreciated.

Something which frustrated me about this game was how you could control your allies. In Pokemon Mystery Dungeon, you can give them orders individually (fight, wait, go out on your own, and more). In Etrian Mystery Dungeon, there is none of that, with your allies acting of their own accord all the time. Their actions vary between classes; offensive ones always go out of their way to attack, for example, and there was nothing I could to to prevent them from doing so, short of taking control of that character. That would then leave my other party members doing as they please, and this was by far what killed my characters the most. I couldn’t stop them from doing stupid things, and no matter who they were, whether tank or squishy healer, they would always stop to fight any opponent that stood next to them. You can assume control of all of your allies at once using a blast skill, but to return to the regular control method, you had to use the blast skill again, which I found wasteful. Given its presence other games, I saw no reason why Etrian Mystery Dungeon couldn’t have had a better way to give out orders to your allies.

Aesthetically, I enjoyed Etrian Mystery Dungeon‘s world. The game was adorned with a variety of bright colours, giving each area its own unique feel. The music was nice to listen to as I played; it’s nothing particularly great, but it’s still good, and accompanies the events of the game well.

The game doesn’t stop offering new content even after the credits roll. I’d gotten 44 hours out of Etrian Mystery Dungeon before I finished the main scenario, after which some half a dozen new dungeons unlocked for me to explore. The postgame will double your play time with ease; I’ve played for another 15 thus far and barely scratched the surface. This game has a huge amount of content to offer for anyone who enjoys it.

Etrian Mystery Dungeon successfully incorporates the Etrian Odyssey series into the Mystery Dungeon series’ roguelike style. While the plot was paper thin, the gameplay is solid, and the two series’ work wonderfully together. Despite some minor technical difficulties, the game looked great, was filled with fun and brimming with content and dungeons to explore. It can be difficult, but if you’re a fan of the roguelike genre or an Etrian Odyssey fan looking for something a bit different, there are few games I would more heartily recommend.