I mentioned a while ago that I had been slowly playing through energy breaker for the super famicon SU2MM . I finished this, some time ago. As a SRPG it had a somewhat unique gimmick in that your action points which determine the number of actions you can do each turn (there are different actions which cost a different numbers of points) are determined by how much damage you have taken. This means that there is a very large incentive to keep you characters fully healed in order for them to be effective. At the same time, it means that enemies are less dangerous during their turn if you damage them. This does meant that completely killing one enemy by the end of a turn becomes less of an overwhelmingly important aspect of the strategy than it is in many SRPGs. However, ultimately I am not sure how I feel about it, while it was nice to play something slightly different, overall I think prefer a more standard system, the constant need to heal up felt slightly tedious. It was fine for one game, but not something that should be generally implemented.
I felt like the difficulty was a bit uneven as well. After getting acclimated to the game, the curve seemed fine for the majority of the game. But at one point relatively late in the game there was a sudden difficulty spike, particularly in a couple of battles with multiple enemies who utilize poison which lowers all stats of a character. At this point I finally engaged properly with the one-use items which turned out to be a bit of a devil’s bargain. I soon realized that by buying the skill-scrolls which are pretty cheap at this point, the game becomes a lot easier, to the point that I almost trivialized some of the rest of the game. Essentially they allow you to use skills for one action point unlike the 4 points or so it normally takes. Thereby you can do many attacks per turn for example. I don’t think the store had poison scrolls initially when I started doing this (I may be wrong), but towards the last couple of battles they definitely had and these of course made the game even easier. I ended up using a bunch on the final bosses and turned them into chumps…
I played the game over a very long period of multiple months, despite it being about 25 hours to finish. Due to this, I feel like I may have lost the thread of the story slightly at some points, but overall I thought it was pretty good with some fun characters and time-traveling shenanigans. Ultimately the villain and the climax is not super interesting, but I enjoyed the journey.
So that was a bunch of complaints, but overall I actually quite enjoyed the game!
I also recently finished another SRPG Black/Matrix Advanced, which I remember Brandon talking about a few times on the podcast. Ultimately I liked this game more than Energy Breaker. While the battles were perhaps more standard, I guess there is a reason it is the standard. One thing that I really appreciated about the game was the ability to divide experience between units, however you see fit after a battle. It removes the tedious attempts at trying to level up a new character who joins later in the game or a healer (the game doesn’t really have any pure healer characters, but in games that do) . It is something I wish more SRPGs would implement. With this game the difficulty felt slightly wonky as well, with many battles being easy, but suddenly having an unexpectedly difficult one thrown at you particularly towards the end. However, they were all beatable with slightly better strategizing which actually felt pretty good. But there was one particular battle in the last scenario that was essentially impossible without me cheesing the game and buying a ton of potions before the battle. There are elective battles in some towns, but they seem to give almost no XP, so the game cannot really be grinded. Mostly this is fine, as the difficulty feels balanced, aside from that one battle.
One of the reasons I enjoyed the game more than Energy Breaker is that the non-battle part of the game was less involved. It’s mostly just story segments with a few towns where you can talk to people. But the game is completely linear and there is no way to get lost. I think I have come to the conclusion that I like my games compartmentalized to a degree that many people don’t. I like just going through a story with the gameplay being fun tactical battles and potentially optimizing systems. The first SRPG I played, Disagaea was essentially like that as well, although of course with many more game systems and a lot of possibility for grinding compared to Black/Matrix.
There are a lot of Japanese games and anime that like to use biblical imagery, but I think this game actually did something slightly more interesting/fun with the mythology than many of them and ultimately I quite enjoyed the story and characters as well. I’m also a sucker for voice acting in games, I guess I will never be one of those people decrying how it destroyed the purity of just reading text or whatever.
While I mostly liked the game it did have some weird wonky stuff. There is one chapter in particular I found kind of annoying, but also funny due to how ridiculous it was. Essentially the protagonists have to deal with two factions who have a very different definition of freedom, essentially being caricatures of capitalism and communism. But the “communist” city is just so silly, like the good things are extremely basic social services like free healthcare, social services for old people etc. But the bad things is how nobody has any individual rights, people are sent to reeducation camps etc. And it’s like, these basic social services already exists in capitalist nations like my home country, is the suggestion that secret police is a necessity for providing free health-care? The main reason I call it a communist caricature is because the aesthetic is clearly soviet-inspired. As I said the actual benefits are just bog-standard social democratic policies.
Obviously there is an interesting discussion to be had about trade-offs between individual freedom, equality, the collective good etc. but this failed before even getting to the start-line. At least the game allows you to choose that both cities are wrong. It’s not super important in the grand scheme of the game, but I just wanted to share it because it’s kind of funny.
Also while I am complaining about a game I mostly liked, I did not much enjoy the choice of a silent protagonist. In fact, I think I can just outright say that I don’t like silent protagonists at all. It doesn’t make me feel immersed, it just makes for weird awkward interactions between the main character and other characters in the story. Overall, I am also once again realizing that I just generally like SRPGs a whole lot and that these battles are much more engaging to me than most other menu-based battle systems. The battles also tend to be limited in number with each fight feeling more interesting.
I finally played Hades as well, after hearing a lot about it. I enjoyed it for most part. I didn’t care much about the story, but the game-play loop was very addictive to me for 35 hours or so. I really like putting together builds in action rpgs and the game has a bite-sized version of this each run and I do enjoy the feeling of progress across the runs, even though I understand why some people think it’s just an artificial time-waster. Unfortunately I got slightly bored before I got the ending and the last few runs I did to finish the story felt a bit like an obligation (I think you have to finish around 10 times or so for this?). But having done that I feel like I can put it behind me.
Final Fantasy VI:
I just started playing Final Fantasy VI, which is my second attempt at this game which I first tried playing 17 years ago or so. I already feel like I am enjoying it a whole lot more than I did that time! I didn’t hate it back then, I just kind of got bored and stopped. But to be honest, I don’t seem to remember much from that time, the story feels completely new. We will see how it goes this time.