Dragon Quest slime controller for PS2  

Game Playability

I was diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome in 1992, when I was 40 years old and working as a systems analyst. Physical therapy and a switch to using an ergonomic keyboard and a trackball let me work again. Twenty-plus years later, my hands are not in the best of condition for console gaming.

This is my attempt to quantify what makes games easy or difficult for me to play and to record what I find enjoyable, or not. What causes me the most trouble is repetitive use of my thumbs, or of any finger if it's extreme (like hitting the X-button quickly during battles). So my focus is on ways around such use of my hands.

  Risa stats, by Lisa Lees.

I should disclose that I play games for fun, to make the evenings less lonely. Though I enjoy a bit of challenge, I'm not trying to 'beat the game,' but to participate in an interesting story with characters I come to care about. My general tactic to make gameplay easier on my hands is to level up and equip my characters so the battles are fairly easy to win. Using multi-button closely-timed combos to let lower level characters win battles is not something of which I am physically capable.

These are all games that I own, and have at least played long enough to have some useful information. (Games I tried to play but gave up are the titles that are not emboldened.) In September 2013 I codified a set of factors to use in describing my gaming experience that are explained in detail here. There is also a rant about playability on that page. Updated: September 2017.

Index of games with completed (or abandoned) play-throughs and full notes.

Sony PSP

A big advantage to the PSP is that a game can be paused at any time, so there's never the need to play too long just to reach a save point. Controls are rarely a problem (unless the game has been ported from another system without redesign, in which case there can be awkward combinations of button presses required). So factor III is usually moot. PSP games are on a UMD (miniature DVD; only two games were ever made that require two UMDs) or downloaded from PSN (PlayStation Network) either directly via the PSP's built-in WiFi, or from a linked PS3. I now usually use the PSP on a table, plugged into a large display and stereo sound system. (See the PSP section on my controllers page for details.)

Brave Story: New Traveler
I. XSEED, 2007. RPG. ESRB: Everyone 10+
II. Party/combat: 6/3. The 'hero' (named Tatsuya by default) cannot be removed from the party, and his icon is always used on the map. Party turn-based. Frequent random encounters on world map and in dungeons; enemies not visible. No retrying.
III. Controls are very simple. No camera movement. Save only at Inns and restore/save points.
IV. It's always clear what is supposed to be done, but exploration is possible. Following boss battles, you generally find yourself back outside, so if the dungeon wasn't fully explored, you have to return and start at the beginning.
Physical difficulty increases fairly quickly because of the combination of random encounters, sparse save points and the lack of any way to revive characters during a battle. An early dungeon has monsters that, when enraged, can inflict massive damage, and the dungeon ends with a three-part boss battle with no time for healing between the parts. On top of that, trying to escape even normal battles is not guaranteed to succeed, and the entire party looses its turn if the attempt fails. If the reason you're trying to escape is that you don't think you can survive, that's a pretty big gamble. So the need to continually heal your still relatively weak characters up to full HP makes exploring this dungeon a bit of a slog.
With the following dungeon (emmet warren, chapter 6, at 10-12 hours into the game) when your characters are up to around level 20 and more than one of them can heal, escaping battles to avoid doing essentially the same battle over and over and over again is less risky but no less annoying.
V. Loosely adapted from Miyuki Miyabe's novel, Brave Story. Tatsuya's backstory is much shorter and seemingly not as dark as Wataru's, but you do quickly end up in Vision under similar circumstances. (You do meet Wataru, Meena and Kee-Kima and others in-game; in fact you have them in your party at times.) This is one of those games in which the hero is basically mute. The mixed-race girl Yuno, who joins him almost immediately, does the talking. The usual stereotypes. Some sexism and light fan service. (Yuno is a cute but feisty cat girl archer / white mage with a skimpy costume.)
The game often forcibly reconfigures your party. Guest characters enter with similar levels and are fully equipped, and you are prevented from changing their equipment or accessories. Having a continuing character sidelined for an entire dungeon or boss fight makes it difficult to keep everyone leveled up with Tatsuya, who is always in the battle lineup. As characters receive a little extra EXP for dealing the final blow, it can be done, but it's annoying.
One finds diagrams that show how to craft materials into accessories. Accessories can later be sold, or broken back down into materials. Some found or dropped items can only be sold.
There are quests that can be carried out to earn money or items. There are optional dungeons to be found on the world map, if you want to endure the random encounters while looking for them. There is an in-game game of bird (goalfinch) catching and fighting, which I ignored.
VI. Animation mostly is anime style, but there's an attempt to render some of the more human faces realistically. The world map is pretty bland, and dungeons and scenery within each dungeon is very repetitive. English or Japanese battle voices, but the occasional other use of voices is English only. Music is inoffensive.
VII. I gave up trying to play this game after Gasara, when two of the party of six (including Tatsuya, who can not be swapped out) were K.O.'d in the first three random encounters. This game is simply too painful for me to want to play.
It is very difficult to avoid comparing this game to Ni no Kuni, which was of course created with vastly more resources for a much more capable platform, and is much kinder to its player.
VIII. No English language strategy guide. Never looked online.
Gurumin: A Monstrous Adventure
I. MASTiFF/Falcom, 2007. Adventure, puzzles. ESRB: Everyone 10+
II. Party/combat: 1/1, though occasionally friends help. No random encounters, but the non-random ones and boss battles can be quite tricky!
Initially you may select Beginner or Normal level. The Beginner level makes things quite a bit easier, and you begin again after game over with full HP. On Normal things are less easy and you begin again with half your HP. More levels of difficulty can be unlocked, but you carry over accessories, items and some loot, so your character becomes more capable.
III. Controls are okay, but complex actions in battles require multiple buttons and timing. Camera needs to be moved to find things; the default is okay while fighting. Cannot save in dungeons, but you may exit a dungeon at any time and return to the world map. There are heal points and check points in dungeons.
IV. Not too hard to make it through the basic game the first time, especially on Beginner level. But, there are puzzles, jumping, fighting (on ice and around lava, water and poison gas) and timed trials, some of which I am unable to do. The score with which one completes a dungeon depends on the percentage of battles won and treasure found. (You can go through a dungeon again to try to improve your score.)
V. Player character is Parin, 12 y/o human girl, equipped with a mining drill. Fiends and frenemies are monsters, as you'd expect from the title. There's a decent story, and the characters have surprising depth at times.
No unusual stereotyping and no overt sexism or fan service. (But one can unlock some pretty ridiculous costumes for Parin, some of which change her voice in rather creepy ways.)
VI. Animation is anime style. Music is good. Voice acting in cut-scenes and battle.
VII. I bought this game when it came out, and despite the difficulty I loved it and played it through multiple times, reaching levels of difficulty I probably can no longer tolerate.
VIII. No strategy guide. Online walkthroughs and FAQs available. There's a lot of hidden or difficult to find / figure out stuff in this game!
  Fan art for of Parin.
There once was a really cool website for the game but, alas, it is no more.
Harvest Moon: Back to Nature for Girl
Natsume, 2007. Farming/relationship simulation. ESRB: Everyone
Player character: Fate, young woman.
Difficulty: Generally easy on the hands, if a little repetitive in places.
Comments: No same-gender courtship in this one.
Hakuoki: Demon of the Fleeting Blossom
AKSYS, 2012. Otome visual novel. ESRB: Mature 17+
Player character: Chizuru, young woman.
Difficulty: none.
Comments: Edo period. Japanese voice acting is a plus!
Jeanne D'Arc
Sony/LEVEL 5, 2007. Tactics. ESRB: Teen
Player characters: Jeanne, age 17, plus a variety of other characters.
Difficulty: no problem.
Comments: This is rated Teen rather than Everyone for good reasons. Also, read a biography first!
Sweet Fuse: At Your Side
AKSYS, 2013. Otome visual novel. ESRB: Teen
Player character: Saki Inafune, teenage girl.
Difficulty: none.
Comments: Japanese voice acting is a plus!
Trails in the Sky, First Chapter
I. XSEED/Falcom, 2004, 2011. RPG. ESRB: Teen. PC, PSP, PS3 (Japan only), Vita, Vita TV.
II. Party/combat: 8/4, but at times only 2 or 3 characters are in the party. Turn-based battles with a tactical component. Enemies always visible and usually avoidable except for booby-trapped chests (which can be wicked). Boss battles are manageable, the final battle is doable. Any lost battle may be retried, and the game may be configured to make retried battles easier. (But it's better to reload, which is fast, unless you're in pain.)
III. Simple controls. On the Vita, one can configure the right stick to be used for one of a number of other button combinations, as the PSP has only one stick. I mapped L/R to the right stick, as that's more convenient usually than the L1/R1 buttons on the SRWC. Save anywhere! Both HP and EP are fully replenished when a character levels up, which is very handy early on.
IV. There is one fight that can go on a long time and is difficult to win (the game continues if you loose this fight), and a number of treasure chests trigger monster battles that are a good deal harder than the surrounding encounters. The Bracer Handbook keeps track of up to what one is supposed to be, and has good help about important things. Until the end-game, one is largely free to do what one wants, but there can be consequences, which is okay. Overall physical difficulty is on the easy side.
V. The viewpoint character is Estelle Bright, a spirited teenager, and one of my most favorite game characters. Though the characters available at any one time are constrained, they can be arranged as one wishes. (Estelle and Joshua are required to be in the combat lineup for the end-game.) I love the story. Typical JRPG stereotypes, no overt fan service, and if you're being sexist Estelle will punch your lights out.
There are two kinds of item creation. Monsters drop sepith and ingredients for cooking. Sepith can be sold, or used to create quartz, which in turn changes character stats and skills. Cooking can be done to make restorative items that can be used in combat or sold. Sit-down meals can be cooked outside of battle that have immediate effect. The only way to directly earn money is to carry out missions that have sometimes relatively short expiration times. (The primary consequence of spending too much time wandering around or doing things out of sequence is finding that missions have expired, which is a bad thing, as accruing BP and mira is very important.)
VI. Anime style animation with chibi figures on the map. Great music. BGM an FX volumes adjustable. Only voice-acting is battle voices.
VII. Playing time depends greatly on how much effort is put into completing quests and acquiring sepith to make quartz. Can easily take 75 hours to play. The ending is an incredible cliff-hanger for the second game, which is a direct continuation. Have played twice on PSP, third time on Vita TV using HORI SRW controller. Playing with a clear save allows one to carry over many things, and choose level of difficulty (which affects monster strength).
VIII. No English language strategy guide, but very good online walkthroughs exist. Tons of Japanese material. I love my Estelle and Tita Nendroids!
  Photo of Estelle Bright Nendroid.   Photo of Tita Russell Nendroid.
XSEED web page for the games.
Second Chapter: 2006, 2015. NA download-only for PSP, Vita, Vita TV. Originally one of only two two-UMD PSP games ever made, it downloads as two separate files.
SC is a direct sequel to FC in terms of story (it picks up on the next day), with almost exactly the same mechanics. One may now set run or walk as the default, and do the other by holding down the 'X' button. It is also possible to 'chain' crafts among multiple members of the battle party, which is more powerful than a single character using a craft, but not as powerful as using an S-break. Player level (35-40) carries over, and characters retain all their crafts and S-breaks from FC. Orbment changes, with an additional slot, and slots may now be upgraded to hold more powerful quartz. Depending on Estelle's final Bracer rank and total BP, up to two bonus accessories, an item and a quartz are awarded early in SC. (All four only with rank 1 and all 368 possible BP.)
I encountered about half-a-dozen glitches with subtitle colors, and a couple of instances of missing sound effects for various things. I've only played this on the Vita TV, so I don't know if that has anything to do with it. Considering the massive amount of text and number of options in the script for this game, I can only give the localization a rousing three cheers.
My rather obsessive first play-through of SC took about 133 hours over the course of three months, with my main characters reaching level 94. I also spent probably that much time translating from my Japanese PSP-Edition Official Conquest Guide Book, which covers FC and SC in 168 pages, and Japanese Sora no Kiseki Second Chapter Scenario Book (which is essentially a script for the game).
Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth
Square Enix, 2006. RPG. ESRB: Teen
Player characters: various, and Lenneth, of course.
Difficulty: Generally no problem, but there is much jumping and use of crystals, which can be very hard on the hands.
I never finished the PSP version. See my notes on the original Playstation version.

Sony Playstation / Playstation 2

There are many alternative controllers available for the PS2, and the selection of PS and PS2 games is stunningly huge. (One can download many PS games for the PS3, but I have found that the PS3 does not reliably play PS games from CDs. The current PS3 will not play PS2 games, so owning a working PS2 remains essential, IMHO.) PS games are on from one to four CDs. PS2 games are on one or two DVDs. *ed games are Playstation games.

Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance I & II; Champions of Norrath & Call to Arms
I played the Norrath games with my kids. Multi-player tends to be easier, but there's still a lot of X-button mashing and some very tricky boss fights. The Baldur's Gate games are two-player games, so I just watched.
Chrono Trigger *
Fairly easy game to play using the Joystick controller. I had to use the slow mode in a few places that required rapid movement and precision control, and the turbo X-button in a few places, also.
Chrono Cross *
No problem to play using the SRWC controller. A bit too heavy on the X-button mashing, but not atypically so.
Dragon Quest VIII
I. Square Enix, 2006. PS2. RPG. ESRB: Teen.
II. Four primary player characters. Battle party is usually 4. When an additional NPC tags along, they are not involved in battle. Random encounters, but the rate is rarely a problem, and there is an easy way to avoid annoying encounters with weak enemies. If the party is KO'd, it wakes up at the most recent church, with half its pocket money gone. (A good reason to spend your money, at least until you are able to bank it where the Church can't get their hands on it.)
One can set general instructions for characters, but I have never used this capability. It's too important to choose exactly what each character does in each battle round. Once that is set, the round proceeds without button mashing.
III. Standard controls and camera. Save only in churches (or at the rare lone priest or priestess). The Church also provides other services: amount of EXP needed to level up (free), reincarnation and removal of various status effects (which costs an ever increasing amount of money). Heal only at inns, which costs money, or the occasional heal point in a dungeon before a major boss battle. (Eventually you have easy access to a free heal point.) There is no way to pause the game.
IV. I find this game to be very well balanced. By doing everything possible to do, I was easily able to keep the party well-equipped and leveled up to the point where we were almost never wiped out.
V. This is a long game with an open world, little hand-holding, and several interesting (and rewarding) optional activities. As the story progresses, the party gains a ship, the ability to ride a large cat and eventually the ability to fly to otherwise inaccessible areas. The 'zoom' spell may be used to revisit towns and dungeons, so moving around the enormous open world never requires a lot of foot-slogging and random battling. The only thing I find annoying about this game is that the drop rate is very low, and the ability to steal is almost useless. So completing some recipes is almost impossible, even in the end and post game.
VI. Animation, sound, music are wonderful. Voice acting is British and is superb.
VII. I played for about 170 hours (but remember, no way to pause the clock, so not that much actual playing time), reaching levels 50-53. There is a post-game dungeon (after clear save) that adds to the story and unlocks a slightly different ending.
VIII. I have the Brady strategy guide, which is perhaps unique in being so spoiler-free. Mechanics are fully explained, lists of all main game treasures, item creation recipes, weapons, et cetera. But no story spoilers and rarely any information about boss battles.
Final Fantasy I, II, IV, VII, VIII, IX *
Each game has its quirks, but generally not too bad until the final boss battles. The games through VIII have turn-based battles. Some games have very difficult post-story content. (All of these can also be played on a PSP.)
Final Fantasy VIII
I. Square, 1999. Playstation, four CDs. RPG. ESRB: Teen.
II. Six primary player characters. Battle party is 3 plus multiple Guardian Forces per character. Turn-based battles, configurable ATB speed. Invisible random encounters, no retry. Pause anywhere but during cutscenes. Battle party order can be changed, but no control over character displayed on map, and considerable constraints during much of the game on which characters can be placed in the battle party. Gameplay frequently forces battle party changes and at times alternates between two parties and forces inclusion of minor player characters.
I find it annoying that for most of the game Squall is forced to be in the battle party, and so levels up more than other characters. So he spends a lot of the game just standing around, drawing spells, ready to step in with a potion if needed.
III. Standard controls, configurable, including analog sensitivity. Running is default and cannot be changed. Minimal camera. Save at save points and on the world map.
IV. Weapons can be improved at weapon shops, if one has the required materials. The Guardian Forces play a central role in the story, and provide a way to 'junction' various stat improvements and abilities. GFs may be invoked to fight and take damage in place of their controlling character. Magic works by using skills drawn from enemies or draw points.
GFs and magic can be moved from character-to-character, piecemeal or all at once, so it's easy to rebalance the party or adapt to forced changes in party composition. (Generally the GFs and magic of all possible party members is accessible even when some members are not allowed in the current battle party.)
Because of the ATB turn-based fighting system, and the ability to invoke Guardian Forces, this game is easy on the hands, in spite of the random encounters. It never devolves to X-button mashing. The little battle stuff that requires timed button presses can be automated, and there's a setting to pause the battle while one is fiddling with menu choices. Awesome! (A perfect example of why I love so many old games, despite their low-resolution graphics.)
V. A long game with many side quests and optional things to do. Though the card game is optional, it is the best way to acquire some important materials early in the game (via the Card and Card Mod GF abilities). Selphie is one of my all-time favorite game characters.
VI. Fortunately, I love large pixels!
VII. I'm on at least my fourth full play-through.
VIII. I have the strategy guide, which is decent, two Selphie figures and a Cactur plush.
Selphie Tilmitt.   Selphie Tilmitt.   Selphie Tilmitt.
Final Fantasy XII
I. Square Enix, 2006. PS2. RPG. ESRB: Teen.
II. Six primary player characters. Battle party is 3, sometimes with additional guest characters controlled only by the AI. No random encounters. Cannot retry battles, but can swap leader or swap in another character to replace a KO'd character.
A 'gambit' system essentially allows the AI to be programmed for player characters with a set of if/then statements.
III. Pretty standard controls and camera. Save at save points, which also restore. Eventually there are teleport points, too. Pause almost anywhere.
IV. I really like the skill system and the combat system! The latter actually works without X-button mashing.
V. It's a long game with many, many side quests and optional things to do. The setting is very interesting and initially the story seems promising, but sadly the characters are unusually shallow and mostly develop very little (especially Ashe). Voice acting is good, though.
VI. Animation, sound, music are okay.
VII. I played for about 125 hours over two months, reaching levels 50-55. I eventually replay all Final Fantasy games, but I think this has the weakest set of characters.
VIII. I have the strategy guide, which is good.
See the PS4 section for notes about changes with the HD version.
Parasite Eve *
I love this game! (Read the novel first.) Easy to play using a standard controller in digital mode (without the stick) if one pays attention to modifying equipment and leveling-up. The only drawback is that in digital mode one ends up continually holding down the O button to run. (In digital mode only the directional buttons work; they do not work in analog mode, it's one or the other.) Once you get the hang of it, this game is actually pretty easy, and has great characters and a good story.
Parasite Eve 2 *
Parasite Eve 2 is a direct sequel to Parasite Eve, but with rather different game mechanics and priorites. Both the directional buttons and analog stick work at the same time, and there is a configuration option to make running the default. However, this game uses the turn and move system where one rotates Aya left/right then moves forward/back, which is difficult for me to do correctly. When I first played this game in 2012 I had to give up when I hit the trash compactor in the Shelter. In 2015 I played the game from the beginning using the ASCII Joystick controller, and managed to master character movement well enough to be able to take out the Glutton boss—which requires a lot of movement with no mistakes—albeit with many failed tries. PE2 story setup.
Despite its difficulty, I love this game; the graphics, the music and the need to make many hard choices about equipment, skills and what to carry at any one time. Much more replay value than the original game. (The slow mode of the Joystick controller does not work with this game.)
  PE2 before final bosses.   PE2 before final bosses.
Rogue Galaxy
Lots of story, many ways to equip and level up. Very few bosses have one-hit kills. The end battle is not that difficult, but it is a real marathon that takes quite a while to get through. The teleportation system becomes quite handy for skipping needless repetition later in the game.
Tales of the Abyss
I. Namco Bandai, 2005. RPG. ESRB: Teen. One DVD.
II. Six player characters, battle party of up to four. You control your choice of character and the AI handles the rest, within a few parameters you can set. (With careful attention to setup, the AI does a credible job of using Natalia as a healer and support character.) Enemies pop up randomly, but are visible at a distance and can usually be avoided if desired. This is one of those old-style games that allow local multiplayer during battles. Best of all, you choose which character shows as party leader!
III. Controls are fully utilized and somewhat configurable. Camera can be controlled only on the world map. Save anywhere on the world map, at save points in towns and dungeons; there are occasional recovery points. No pausing, except in battle.
IV. Generally easy to play. Little handholding and great freedom to explore and do quests, as constrained by major events. (Rather confusing without a strategy guide, though.)
V. The story is long and complex and revealed in stages. The characters truly develop, the stereotypes are fun, sexism is not excessive. Huge number of optional areas, quests, things to do during the main story line.
I began playing Natalia, because I love archers, but I had to switch to Tear to save my hands (and because she's my favorite character).
VI. I love this level of animation. Voices, SFX, BGM separately adjustable. The music is great.
VII. Very long game, 100+ hours. The ending is of course sad, but not really surprising. I've played it through twice, and intend to do a third play through from a clear save, which unlocks a few things.
VIII. The Tales games don't usually receive English language strategy guides, so I have the Japanese starter guide (which has furigana) and the 600 page 'official complete guide'.
  Japanese strategy guide.   Japanese strategy guide.
Valkyrie Profile
I. Enix, 2000. RPG. ESRB: Teen. Two CDs. An 'enhanced' port was released for the PSP in 2006 as Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth.
II. The battle party is four, with a constantly changing selection of Einherjar to include and level up, before sending on to Valhalla. Battles, are turn-based, but the system is somewhat complex. Enemies are visible and encounters should not be avoided, even if possible. Easy, normal and hard levels.
III. Buttons are configurable. No camera movement. No pausing. Save at save points and on the world map. This is a side-scroller. (So you see Valkyrie in profile; get it?)
IV. This is a physically challenging game, as it involves a great deal of jumping, building structures out of crystals in various ways, often combined with jumping, and puzzle solving.
V. The story is well known, but not all the players and their stories. For that matter, the major known characters have their own quirks.
VI. Lots of pixels, but good pixels. Surprising amount of voice acting for a Playstation game. Sound levels for BGM, FX and voices are configurable. At startup there's a music player, and one can replay the intro movie.
VII. At the beginning, once the difficulty (easy, normal, hard) is selected, one of four game patterns, different for each level of difficulty, is randomly and invisibly selected. These patterns determine when one visits places and dungeons, meets Einherjar and may access events. Not all places, dungeons, characters or events are available in any one level. So in terms of exactly what one encounters and when, the game is almost infinitely replayable. Three endings: very bad, okay but leaves many questions hanging, and good. The ending isn't simply cut scenes; it determines your final scenario and battles. Easy level is much easier and also shorter; a good intro to a very complex game.
VIII. I have the Prima strategy guide for the Playstation version and the Brady guide for the PSP version (they share an author). The maps are better in the Playstation guide; the PSP guide has more details about spells and equipment (but the latter are not exactly the same between the two versions).
Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria
I. Square Enix, 2006. RPG. ESRB: Teen. Positioned as a prequel to Valkyrie Profile.
II. Battle party four; many playable characters. Though one receives some benefit from releasing Einherjar, it is not necessary to do so, and one may play the entire game with a set of Einherjar, if one wishes (up to the final battle). Unlike Valkyrie Profile it is possible to rotate Alicia out of the battle party.
III. Buttons are configurable. Right analog camera movement. Pause except during cut scenes. May skip cut scenes. Save at save points and on world map. Side scroller.
IV. The battle system is a bit too complex for my tastes, and I find movement during battle rather confusing and difficult. There is some jumping and a number of necessary puzzles that are annoying.
V. Quite a few treasures are simply too difficult for me to reach. This is one of the few games in which the final two-part boss battle is significantly more difficult that other battles in the final dungeon, in no small part because of a surprise last minute change in available characters. Basically, the final battle is rigged against you, and I've only bothered to smash my way through it once. But there's no save after the battle; the bonus dungeon, if one wants it, is opened by the save before the final battle.
VI. Unfortunately sound is not configurable except for turning off battle voices.
VII. A number of optional dungeons in several chapters, item creation, and different skill sets and release benefits of Einherjar (and four major characters) give the game a reasonable level of replayability.
VIII. I have the Brady strategy guide.
Xenogears
I. Square, 1998. RPG. ESRB: Teen. Two CDs. Available on PSN*.
II. Party is 9/3. Battles are turn-based. Random encounters, but the rate of encounter is usually reasonable.
III. Simple controls*, not configurable at all. L1/R1 rotate view. Hold circle button to run, triangle to jump. Save at save points (which look like the original Zohar in Xenosaga) and on world map. As this is an early Playstation game designed for a digital-only controller, it's best to use that type of controller, or an arcade pad, to play with.
IV. The primary physical feat is jumping, using the triangle action button in conjunction with D-pad movement. Big jumps require running. There are many places where jumping (often big jumping) is required. L1/R1 allow the view to be rotated so movement can be directly NSEW, i.e., using a single D-pad button, but this does take time, which one does not always have in abundance.
With attention to leveling, items and equipment, the fights and boss battles are not difficult. The game sometimes allows you to retry tricky situations or falling off of things. However, because there is no way to skip dialog or cut-scenes, this can become very tedious and painful.
V. The story is complex, and probably suffers from heavy-handed localization. (As with Xenosaga, there is a heavy religious basis to the story.) Dialog is a bit stiff. There is little character development. The sexism and stereotypes are not too heavy-handed. A few side-quests; no post-ending content.
There is much lore and speculation as to how the Xenosaga, Xenogears and Xenoblade games are or are not related (Wikipedia). In my opinion it's a stretch to say they are in the same universe.
VI. This is an early Playstation game, so lots of visible pixels. The fighting suits ('gears'), being large, look decent. No adjustment of sound levels. Good soundtrack. Only cut-scenes have voice acting.
VII. I ended up putting this game on hold after about twenty hours of play, primarily because the jumping became too much for my hands. I'll continue when I feel better, and perhaps switch to the ASCII Joy Stick controller, as that controller allowed me to make it through Parasite Eve II.
VIII. I have the Brady strategy guide, which is basically a walkthrough with no maps and little data, and the Japanese Perfect Works. Many online walkthroughs exist.
* The PSN download of Xenogears is playable on the PS3. One must install the game, then create a Playstation memory stick image and assign it to a slot. (Once the game is active, the PS button brings up a configuration screen, from which one may read the game's manual.) However, the PS3 does not support Playstation digital-only controllers (without joysticks) and does not map analog-to-digital for PS2/3 controllers. So one needs a PS2 or PS3 controller with a decent physical configuration to comfortably play this game. Only the D-pad, action buttons, L1/2, R1/2, Start and Select buttons are used. The download is also playable on the PSP and Vita, which may be better choices if one does not have a reasonable PS3 controller.
Xenosaga I: Der Wille zur Macht
I. Namco, 2001. RPG. ESRB: Teen. One DVD.
II. Party is 8/3. Battles are turn-based. No random encounters, but one cannot always avoid visible enemies as almost all action takes place in the corridors and rooms of spaceships and towns. Boss battles are doable with preparation. No retrying, but save points are not hard to find and there is no shortage of healing and revival items or skills. All characters level up, but only battle party receive ether, tech and skill points.
III. Controls are simple and cannot be changed, which is a little odd as this game uses the Japanese convention of O for yes and X for no, but not a problem for me at least. No camera movement. (This was a very early PS2 game, so in many ways it's like a Playstation game.) Save points are usually easy to find. Pause almost anywhere, including cut-scenes.
IV. Low on physical feats and puzzles. Little handholding. Fair amount of freedom, considering that most of the game takes place in locations one cannot easily access—separate spaceships and planets—but a way is eventually provided to do so. The only real difficulty is that the battle system is quite complex.
V. The overall story is fantastic. (The opening scene is stolen from Stargate, but the story is quite different and leans heavily on the Kabbalah.) The characters are good, especially the female characters Shion, MOMO and KOS-MOS, who really are the main characters, especially Shion (though Junior tries to steal the show later). Light on stereotypes, sexism and fan service (in the overall context of anime, at least). In fact blatant sexism, racism and xenophobia are part of the storyline.
Some characters can also use A.G.W.S. fighting suits (but despite what the strategy guide advises, they are never necessary in this game), and there's a rich system of leveling up, with skills, techniques, weapons and armor. Ether skills (magic) learned by one character can be passed on to other characters who are unable to learn the skill on their own. Accessory abilities can be extracted multiple times from items.
The early part of the game takes place in several separate areas as the characters are introduced, often limiting the party to one or two characters plus perhaps NPCs. Once the characters all get together, there are occasional areas where the party is split, and one boss battle where one particular character cannot participate for reasons that make very good sense. There are optional areas, quests and mini-games.
VI. Anime style animation. Excellent English dub. Great sound effects and music.
VII. My playing time was about 75 hours with characters at level 48 before the final boss battles (65 and 46 on second and third play-throughs). The ending animation is long and one of the best of any game. Xenosaga is a true series, with continuing characters and story. It was supposed to be longer, unfortunately. I'm on my second time through the series. This game is a joy to play and replay! (Cue lament: "They don't make them like they used to.")
VIII. There is a very good strategy guide, and much online material. (This was a very popular series.)
Xenosaga II: Janseits von Gut und Böse
I. Namco, 2004. RPG. ESRB: Teen. Two DVDs.
II. Party is 7/3 (Jin is the new PC, with a guest appearance from Canaan). Turn-based battles, no random encounters. No retrying, but save points (which also heal in this episode) are plentiful. The latter is necessary, as there is no money and there are no shops in this episode! Again, all characters (and fighting suits now) level up, but only the battle party receive class and skill points.
III. Controls are similar to episode I, though running speed is now variable (there's still a walk button) and cannot be reconfigured. No camera movement. Save/heal points usually plentiful. Pause almost anywhere.
IV. Low on physical feats and puzzles, though there are some in the essentially mandatory side-quests. More handholding and considerably less freedom than in episode I. The lack of money and shops basically requires one to complete the G.S. Campaign side-quests to acquire items and unlock skills. And in this episode, one cannot choose when to use fighting suits; they are used automatically in certain areas of game. The overall difficulty is easy, arguably too easy.
V. The story and characters, which continue from episode I, continue to be good. Clear save from episode I unlocks bathing suits for chaos and KOS-MOS and may influence the number of skill points with which each character begins. (Bathing suits let characters accrue skill points more quickly in return for a loss of defense and stupid appearance. There are occasional small areas in which it would actually make sense for them to be so dressed, but not so much in spaceship corridors, wrecked towns crawling with monsters and open country in winter. I hate this kind of mood-breaking crap in games and refuse to make use of it.)
VI. The animation style has changed to be more realistic, which I personally do not like. There are a number of voice actor changes, too, unfortunately. Good sound and music, though the character voices are a bit too loud and cannot be adjusted separately.
VII. Much shorter than episode I, even with all the side-quests; 40-45 hours. (Though there is a good deal of non-story post-game content, if one desires.) Despite the changes and constraints, this game is replayable for the story, which receives heavy treatment through dialogue and cut-scenes in all three episodes and delivers not a few punches to the gut.
VIII. Good strategy guide, many online walkthroughs and FAQs.
Xenosaga III: Auch Sprach Zarathustra
I. Namco Bandai*, 2006. RPG. ESRB: Teen. Two DVDs.
II. Party is the same 7/3 as in episode II (with guest appearances from Canaan and Miyuki at the beginning). Turn-based battles, no random encounters, no retrying. Fighting suits have changed again. Some changes to battle details, but similar enough to learn quickly. Can swap characters during battle. KO'd characters automatically revive with 1 HP at end of battle. Healing is never a problem, but ether potions are very scarce throughout the game.
III. Controls pretty much the same as episode I and II, cannot be changed. No camera movement. Save points heal and restore ether. Pause anywhere.
IV. This episode is very linear (the strategy guide doesn't even contain maps) and if anything too easy.
V. Money and shops are back, and there's more equipment than in episode I. The skills are organized in a way that better differentiates characters, though there's still a lot of choice. Character designs are close to those in episode II and mostly the same voice actors as in episode II. Clear save from episode II gives you an early alternate clothing choice for Shion. (This is an armor upgrade, not a #%!@ swimsuit, thankfully.) As in episode II one is forced to use fighting suits in certain areas and in a whole string of boss fights. But the story continues and sadly, ends with this episode. (The story is very emotionally charged and very dark at times.)
VI. Animation, sound, music continue to be good. Animation is a bit better than in episode II. However, in the North American localization, blood has been completely removed, which ruins a number of key scenes. Given all the emotional and physical violence inherent in this series, that was a really stupid decision. Still wish that volume for SFX, BGM, battle voices and cutscenes could be separately adjusted.
VII. Length is back up around 65 hours, with characters reaching level 60 or greater. Less post-game content.
VIII. Strategy guide is good, but I miss having maps.
* The partial collapse of the anime, comic and video game industries, with subsequent mergers and changes in personnel cast as dark a pall on so-called real life as Ormus does on this series.

Sony Playstation 3

The PS3 can play many PS and PSP games (via download from PSN), and with an adapter some of the alternative controllers are usable. The standard wireless controller is no better or worse than the standard PS2 controller, though a bit heavier. Native PS3 games are on one Blu-ray disc unless otherwise noted.

Eternal Sonata
I. Bandai Namco, 2008. RPG. ESRB: Teen.
II. Battle party is 3, out of a total of 12 playable characters. But there are many constraints on available characters, and one does not have free choice from more than six characters until pretty far along in the game. Battle is turn based, so no AI for player characters. No random encounters, though encounters cannot always be avoided. Boss battles are usually much harder than those in the surrounding area, so attention to leveling-up and buying equipment is required. No retrying from game-over. Save points at reasonable intervals and before bosses (except in Mysterious Unison).
There is no MP. Equipped skills can always be used in battle, and never outside of battle, even healing. But one can carry 99 of an item, so once one has money, the latter is no problem. What is a problem at times is that one can use only a relatively small number of pre-set items in battle, and once items are used one must reallocate items to this set outside of battle. Early on, for example, one can carry only two resurrection and two healing items, which tends to encourage level-grinding. Capacity increases as the party levels up.
Another interesting feature is that characters have light and dark skills, which can be used only when the character is in the light or the shade or shadow. Same applies to monsters, who can even change form in light versus dark areas. Characters gain new skills as they level up, and the number of skills that can be equipped increases as the party levels up.
III. Controls are relatively simple. Choice of X or O for attack. Right stick is not used at all, nor is R3. Camera can be changed only during battle (L2) and has only three positions. This is something of a pain when traveling back through an area, because the camera still points in the original forward direction, so you can't see where you are going. Coupled with no in-game map, this makes for some blundering around and of course blundering into monsters. Save at save points only. Pause anywhere. (All PS3 games can pause via the PS button, but this game explicitly uses the Start button for a hard pause at any time, which is nice!)
IV. No physical feats. A few simple puzzles in dungeons. Moderate handholding. Very linear, and one not infrequently is outside a dungeon or in an entirely different area with a different party following a boss fight. So though one can run around within an area, and often exit back through the entrance, one cannot readily revisit areas.
I had to give up trying to play the 'Encore' game (playing through with a clear save). Monsters and bosses are something like 1.5 times as difficult, but there is no way to increase the ability of player characters except by level grinding, which became too hard on my hands past level 25 or so.
Overall difficulty increases because the battle system changes as the party levels up. (Both individual characters and the party as a whole level up.) This affects how quickly one must act*, sometimes requires button combinations, and a good deal of X and O button mashing. (It remains possible to use Start to pause a battle, though.) I had problems with the left stick being used to move characters and L3 immediately ending the current character's turn. I wish the latter could have been assigned to R3 instead!
* A turn has a tactical time and an action time. At party level one, the tactical time is infinite, then when the character moves the action time remaining decreases. At party level two, the tactical time remains infinite, but once the character moves at all, the action time proceeds to run out even if the character stops moving. At party level three, tactical time is no longer infinite, so one has to quickly size up the situation. By party level five, there is no tactical time and speed of characters has increased by 50 percent. Additional capabilities are introduced with higher levels: echoes, counterattacks and harmonies. At level six (in the optional Mysterious Unison dungeon) one can carry echoes over to the next battle, harmony chains are longer, but after each use of a harmony chain the function of the O, X and triangle buttons is scrambled, making it rather difficult to keep track of everything. (The buttons and functions are displayed on screen in the same pattern as on a standard controller, and they do reset to the default when an area is entered or re-entered.)
V. The story is engaging, with a dark undertone. (But no more so than many RPGs.) This game allows one or two additional local players to control a character during battles. There are several optional side-quest kinds of things. Encore mode unlocks some additional content. (Notes about an Encore game, with some spoilers.)
The game is somewhat educational in regards to Chopin's life and music in general. (An in-game glossary explaining the meaning of names, which are all musical terms, would have made it even more educational.) Being able to read music makes the 'score' thing easier, but there's no penalty for trial-and-error.
The game froze on me once, near the end of an area (Mt. Rock), losing close to two hours of play. This is unusual for a game on any Playstation console*, but it is horribly frustrating and painful to loose that much work a few minutes away from a save point. (* With the possible exception of using Playstation CDs in a PS3, during which I once encountered a repeatable freeze.)
VI. Animation, sound and music are fantastic! Both Chopin pieces and game music can be replayed from the main menu. Japanese voice track is very good. English and French subtitles.
VII. Length is about 60 hours (primary characters about level 55) without the optional Mysterious Unison dungeon. (To make it through the final boss fight in Mysterious Unison I had to have a battle party at level 70 or more, so with that, my total playing time was around 80 hours the first time.) After going through Mysterious Unison the very final boss fight was no problem. Definitely replayable! When loading a clear save, one has the option to view the ending again, which is awesome!
VIII. The manual is minimal and there is no in-game help or map of any kind. I have the Brady strategy guide, which is for the Xbox version. The PS3 version of the game has many minor changes and a couple of added areas/quests. There are many online resources, including maps.
Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD
I. Square [Enix], 2001 & 2003 (PS2), 2013 (PS3). RPG. ESRB: Teen.
II. For X, battle party is 3 of 7 player characters. Characters may be switched during battle. Equipment may be changed during battle. Battle is true turn-based (CTB instead of the ATB used in previous Playstation games), so no AI. As usual with Final Fantasy, there are random encounters, but the rate is usually not excessive and later in the game there is a way to avoid them.
For X-2, there are 3 player characters (though there is a way to increase the selection. Battle is back to using ATB, which is harder for me, though there are a couple of settings to slow it down and make it easier.
III. For both games the controls remain the same as the PS2 versions. No remapping, no camera movement. Save and heal at save points, which are frequent. Pause almost anywhere. No way to skip cutscenes in X, but you can in X-2. There is no 'walk' in X-2; joystick deflection determines speed, which is harder for me. Controls are quite different for the X-2 'last mission' area, including camera and complex character movement. I may not be able to do that.
IV. The CTB battle system makes X unusually easy on the hands (like XII). I love the sphere grid, especially the expert grid; less so dress spheres, but largely because of how difficult it is to manage everything in combat with ATB. X-2 also has a few required and many optional tasks that require manual dexterity or timing, such as the Gunner's Gauntlet, that I find difficult.
V. I really like the characters and story in both these games. Both games have a number in in-game games and optional side-quests.
Final Fantasy VIII through XII (leaving out XI) are my favorites of the series, and if I had to choose an overall favorite it might well be the HD remake of X. (Though I'm hoping SE will bring the version of VIII they released for the PC to the PS4, which would be reason enough for me to buy one.)
VI. Animation, sound and music are of course great. The intro theme for X-2 is one of my all-time favorites.
VII. I devoted 110 hours to this play-through of X, compared to about 97 hours on the PS2 the first time. (I just didn't want it to end, so I leveled up to a fairly ridiculous amount.) The first time I played X-2 I did not finish, stopping after about 50 hours, near the beginning of the final chapter. That was in 2011, and I don't recall why I stopped, but as that was when I began having problems with vitreous degeneration in my eyes, it may have been a factor. This time I took 105 hours to play through, and am now replaying with a clear save.
Endings, as usual for Final Fantasy, are glorious but mysterious. Complexity and good characters makes for good replayability. X-2 is a direct sequel, though perforce with some character changes. A nice touch with this package is the short movie that is included to fill in the two-year gap between X and X-2. When one plays through X-2 with a clear save, player levels reset to one, but accessories, gil, garment grids, dress spheres and abilities are retained, making the game quite different.
VIII. There are strategy guides and copious online information for both. The game manual is only online as a PDF, unfortunately, though little has changed for X and only a few minor things for X-2. New figures and wall hangings:
  Final Fantasy X figures.   Final Fantasy X wall hanging.
Final Fantasy XIII
I. Square Enix, 2009. PS3. RPG. ESRB: Teen.
II. Six main player characters, with various subsets (usually 3 total) in battle. You control only the combat leader; rest of party is on AI. Cannot switch leaders or characters during battle. Game over if leader is KO'd. All characters fully heal and revive following each battle.
AI can be set to help with the character that is directly controlled, and the battle speed (ATB gauge fill rate) can be set to slow. No random encounters. Can retry from game-over screen, or pause and retry at any point in battle. (One cannot flee; only retry from just before the battle began, which allows reconfiguring and reconsidering strategy, even avoiding some battles or trying for a preemptive strike.)
III. Controls are reasonable. Camera is right stick and L3/R3 and is mostly used for looking ahead and for treasure, not in battle. Save at save points/shops, which are frequent. Pause almost anywhere using the Start button.
IV. This game is infamous for handholding and linearity, and lives up to that reputation. There's only one area in the fifteen story chapters where free exploration is allowed. Overall difficulty is manageable, but the battle mechanics boil down to repeated X-button mashing with occasional paradigm shifts, which is rather painful.
Eventually one can set up 'roles' and 'paradigms' for characters and the battle party (kinda sorta like gambits in XII, but nowhere near as flexible) to tailor what the AI does with characters. As has become common, characters don't level, but can gain abilities and their armor and weapons can be improved (though the game rigidly caps how far this can go during the story). This is all suitably complex and up to the player to apportion, however it's fairly easy to max everything out for your three main characters; I did so in about 80 hours.
V. I like the story, and it is very well told. The characters are somewhat less stereotyped than usual, and the sexism is not as overt as usual. The game is frustrating in its linearity, locking down of leveling up and item creation and rigid battle mechanics. The optional quests and areas clearly are intended for post-story play.
VI. The animation is more realistic than I like, but so it generally goes in the twenty-first century. Sound and music are decent.
VII. I played for about 85 hours, and really liked the ending. I may play it again some day, because I like the characters and the story, but there isn't much that can change on a replay, unfortunately.
VIII. I have the Piggyback strategy guide, which is unusually thorough in coverage of game mechanics. And a few figures:
  Final Fantasy XIII figures.
Final Fantasy XIII-2
I. Square Enix, 2011. PS3. RPG. ESRB: Teen.
II. Two main player characters (one with a moogle). A large variety of monsters may be recruited to fill the third slot in the paradigm pack. You control the human combat leader; the rest of party is on AI. You may switch the leader to the other human during battle, and control automatically switches if the leader is KO'd. The battle party fully heals and revives following each battle.
The monsters are not equal partners. A monster may not be a part leader, or sole party member (game over if Serah and Noel both are KO'd). Each monster has a single, dedicated role, and only three may be included in a party at any one time. (Maximum battle party remains three; but the three monsters may take part in different paradigms.) But all monsters included in the party share HP damage, so it's more like having one monster with three faces as a third party member. There is a complex set of ways to level up monsters, infuse abilities from one monster into another, and so on.
Random encounters are back (ugh), and if you try to avoid one and fail, you loose the ability to retry if you loose the battle (double ugh). Otherwise, there is the same retry mechanic as in XIII.
III. Controls are the same as XIII. Can now save almost anywhere, but the save files are huge (about 30 mb) and can be created or switched only by leaving the area and returning to the historia crux chrono x-bar. The game autosaves into the current save file before key events and upon returning to the historia crux. Because of this save file mechanic, reloading takes appreciable time, so explicitly saving before minor actions such as purchasing items is hard to justify.
IV. Much more freeform than XIII, however the random battles in the early part of the game can become annoying, including some areas where you literally cannot take two steps before the next one occurs. If you stand in one place too long, looking around—bam!—there is a battle when you move. (Eventually you can learn an ability to reduce random encounters, but by then it doesn't much matter.) There is an 'easy' mode, though, so the random encounters is not a deal breaker, just a painful annoyance.
Some parts of the game are annoyingly busy with something always going on; NPCs chattering, PCs talking to each other in inane ways, messages popping up (some of which can be disabled). There are occasional 'live action' sequences during which random prompts for button presses pop up, kind of like the lightning tower tuning in X-2, or dialog choices that don't seem to affect anything.
The Crystarium has annoyingly changed to be less freeform. The humans use CP to level up; the monsters use items, some of which may be purchased, if you can figure out what each monster needs. CP is plentiful, and gil is now dropped in battles, so leveling is maybe too easy. Weapons and accessories no longer can be upgraded, though some accessories can be modified into a version that uses less space, allowing more to be equipped.
Because the third battle party member is a monster that cannot be the battle leader and has a single ability, paradigms have become a bit weird and even more awkward. There are six paradigms in a pack, and one can use up to three monsters in setting those up. But all three monsters take damage if any one does, so that's not as useful as it seems.
V. The story is rather bizarre. This game seems to be pretty much an excuse to cram in a lot of puzzles, quests, battles and chocobos, reusing places and events of the original story. I personally do not like the inclusion of bizarre 'funny' things such as Chocolina, the moogle throw, and many dialog options in what is fundamentally a very dark story but, oh, well. (The dialog choices produce no useful results, only 'adornments' for monsters that have no functional impact, so I simply pick sensible options.) During the story part of the game, even with all the optional things I did, I had no trouble playing. If one tries to do everything as it comes up, the random encounter rate all but guarantees that the party will quickly level to beyond the difficulty curve.
VI. No big change in animation or music. There are a lot more NPCs and more variation in backgrounds.
VII. Once I got past the feeling that I was playing a warped version of Chrono Cross, and worked off my hatred of random encounters, I began to like the game for its variety of things to do. One can power through the main story in 30 hours of less, but if one can stand listening to the characters annoyingly remind each other what is going on, over and over and over again, there's a lot to do that is fun and challenging. (I don't believe I've ever use the words 'but' and 'annoying' so often in talking about a game, though.) The ending is unusually depressing, which is saying a lot for a JRPG.
VIII. I have the Piggyback guide, which is thorough and really shines in its explanation of the fine points of game mechanics that are not obvious in-game. Unfortunately, though it has hard covers it is still perfect-bound, and the pages are falling out on my second play-through.
Final Fantasy XIII-3
I. Square Enix, 2013. PS3. RPG. ESRB: Teen.
II. Lightning is a party of one, but not really. Instead of paradigms there is a schemata containing up to three active schema, each of which is essentially its own version of Lightning with its own ATB gauge. You can cycle through these schema in battle. So there is no AI for player characters. Encounters are not random. You cannot retry, but you can revive yourself, and escape if all else fails.
III. Controls and camera are similar to XIII and XIII-2. Save and pause almost anywhere.
IV. The primary physical feat is that the world ends in thirteen days, and there is an in-game clock that counts that down. One must accomplish a minimum set of tasks to make it to the final day, or it's game over (at which point you'd have to truly start over or use save files to back up enough days to be able to complete more tasks). After the initial handholding and tutorials, this game is very freeform. But having to constantly keep an eye on the clock for the entire game sucks the fun out of it for me. There is an easy mode that lets one escape from battles without time penalty, and a skill that can halt the clock for a little while (at a cost). The game isn't undoable, especially with the strategy guide, it simply isn't fun under those conditions, and for me the pace and the repetition literally is painful.
V. The story is, if anything, even more bizarre. Characters from XIII and XIII-2 put in their appearances. Stereotypes and sexism are a bit more overt. Frustration other than the clock TBA. Plenty of optional quests and such, if one can find time for them. Because of the clock, one has to save frequently and restart if a quest or exploration goes wrong. Very painful.
VI. Animation, sound and music similar to XIII and XIII-2. There is finally a DLC Japanese voice track! (I hope enough people wanted it for this to become standard.)
VII. Length, ending TBA. (I gave up after the first in-game day. The pain/pleasure ratio is way too high for this game.) A "new game+" option that preserves most of one's equipment and attributes makes failing to beat the clock, and/or replaying at a higher level more palatable.
VIII. Very good strategy guide.
Ni no Kuni
Real-time battles, but there's an 'easy' mode "for people who are mainly interested in the story." (Can be changed any time.) At game-over, you have the option of reloading from the title screen or spending 1/10 your money to revive at the most recent save point. Pause just about anywhere, including during cut-scenes. Fairly easy to avoid battles on the world map if one desires. Save anywhere on the world map. Gorgeous graphics. Japanese voice track.
Unfortunately, the level of handholding is so annoying that I postponed playing it again for a long time, and then abandoned it when I did. That's a shame, as they could easily have added an expert level to tone down the handholding and constant advice. This has prejudiced me against buying the second game. Life is too short. (At age 65, that's not an idle comment.)
Tales of Symphonia Chronicles
I. Namco Bandai, 2013. RPG. ESRB: Teen. One Blu-ray disc. This is an HD release of Tales of Symphonia (originally on Gamecube in 2004) and Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World (originally on Wii in 2008) for the first games's tenth anniversary. I have the collector's edition.
II. Battle party usually of four from a maximum of eight playable characters at any one time, reasonable AI, visible encounters. It is reasonably possible to play battles on full auto AI, once characters are leveled up a bit and well equipped. In New World one eventually ends up with Emil and Marta, four monsters and all the characters from the first game in the party, but only Emil or Marta can be the first (on-map) character and the guest characters have various draw-backs (see below).
III. Reasonable controls, limited camera movement, save at save points and on the world map. Pause in battle with Start button, else must use PS button. In Symphonia, the world map can be explored, and there is stuff to do and find outside of cities and dungeons. In New World, the world map is used only to move from one location to another. No camera movement in New World.
IV. Encounters are visible, but not always avoidable, so this is a game in which exploring and fighting through an area can be more difficult than the boss battle at the end, which at times makes for a bit too much X-button mashing. When I found myself using full auto AI for most battles, I changed to the Hori SRW controller, which is much easier on my hands. Some dungeons have relatively annoying puzzles or feats, sometimes made more difficult because the only way to walk slowly is by varying pressure on the left stick, which I find difficult to do consistently.
V. The story is reasonable, characters a bit shallow, usual stereotypes and sexism (but no fan service). A few optional activities, but no quest board. The first game consists of about seventy small chapters. There is cooking for healing and stat boosts, and limited item synthesis. (The item synthesis is largely a way to upgrade without spending gald.)
New World is a continuation of the first game, with two new main characters, Emil and Marta. (Marta has a Mieu charm on her bag.) One can recruit monsters, and evolve them through cooking via the Katz guild. The characters from the first game make playable appearances, but do not level up and cannot change equipment. As their level are not adjusted to match those of Emil and Marta, the guest characters are often not good choices to include in the battle party. The game forcibly changes party composition very frequently (usually by temporarily removing Marta), which is a pain if you want to control Marta rather than Emil, as the artes shortcuts must be reset each time. Quests are now explicitly managed by the Katz guild. Synthesis can now make items one cannot purchase.
VI. Animation and sound is fine for me. Can choose on-map character to be any currently playable character. (In New World on-map character has to be Emil or Marta.) Except in certain short instances, there is free choice of battle party composition. Both games have a Japanese voice track.
VII. Symphonia took about 75 hours. As usual with Tales games, one can spend grade in a new game with a clear save to carry over various things, which can make replaying have a different focus. New World is a shorter, less complex game; even being fairly obsessive I took about 62 hours to clear the game.
VIII. I have the strategy guides for the Nintendo releases; the first one is much more complete than the second one. There is ample in-game help, also.
Tales of Graces f
I. Namco Bandai, 2010. JRPG. ESRB: Teen. Second play-through.
II. Seven player characters, four in battle (local multiplayer in battle). The AI in this game is superb! It's one of the few AI I have encountered that does a proper job of using a balance of fighting, support and healing skills. (Cheria and Hubert are great when controlled by the AI.) Five levels of battle difficulty, from 'easy' to 'chaos', which may be changed at any time ('evil' and 'chaos' levels available only in a plus game). Boss battles may be retried, with the opportunity to change equipment, strategy or difficulty; with all battles you are given the option to reload.
III. Controls are standard; no camera movement. Save at save points, pause almost anywhere. There are no 'heal' points, but status anomalies are cleared post battle, and it's easy to carry food for reviving and healing and to set up the eleth mixer to heal while walking. The world map, once you find it, is unusually useful.
IV. There's a good deal of handholding, some of it optional. This is not a difficult game, but it is an extremely complex game.
The first time I began playing using the standard PS3 controller and before long developed aching thumbs. Switched to using the SRWC controller with a cheap USB converter and found that it works on the PS3 just like it does on the PS2. (I use the PS button on the Blu-ray remote to regain access to the PS3.) On second play-through I used the Hori Sports Pad Pro controller throughout. I find Sophi the easiest character to play, though as usual the game at times constrains choice of character. (And you can always choose which of the available characters shows on the map and is controlled in battle, which don't have to be the same!)
V. It's a Tales game, with what I consider to be very interesting characters, and an interesting, if sad (of course) story. Because most character development takes place in skits, rather than in expensive-to- make cut scenes, Tales games are usually excell at character development. This is especially true in this game's Lineages & Legacies post-game segment.
VI. Animation, sound and music are good. The theme, "White Wishes," by BoA, is easy to listen to over and over again, in either English or Japanese. (The game is English-only, though.)
VII. The main game sequence is fairly short (could probably be completed in 50-60 hours) but there are many, many optional things to do along the way, quite a few of which enhance the story, which can double the playing length.
After clear save there is an optional fighting style dungeon (Zhonecage) that doesn't appeal to me, and an optional segment (Lineages and Legacies) that takes 20-25 hours and continues significant character development). There is a new game plus in which, like other Tales games, one may use grade to carry-over some things and get a head-start on abilities, items, money, experience and item creation. The first time I did this, I was able to play most areas on 'evil' difficulty to begin with and on 'chaos' when it became available. But in a few areas, circumstances with reduced parties, and most boss I had to fall back to hard or moderate level to survive.
As of this play-through, I consider Tales of Graces f as the game that does more things right than any other game I've played. The complexity of item development, very large number of ability-granting character titles, interesting side quests, and the hundreds (385) of interlinked skits, make this a very re-playable game and an enjoyable way to spend 100+ evening hours.
VIII. I have the Japanese strategy guide.
Tales of Xillia LE, Xillia 2 CE
I. Bandai Namco, 2011, 2012. JRPG. ESRB: Teen.
Xillia 2 is a continuation, one year further on, with Ludger, a new player character, and Elle, a new non-player character, as the focus.
II. Xillia has six player characters, with a battle party of four. Xillia 2 has nine player characters, with a battle party of four. No random encounters. AI is configurable as in Graces f, but with instructions for using items that are like the gambits in Final Fantasy XII. Boss battles may be retried.
Ludger, the new PC in Xillia 2, must always be the leader in the battle party. (This restriction is removed in a plus game.) Additionally, in Xillia 2 the battle party may only be reconfigured while in a town, and during a "character story" episode, some party choices are forced.
III. Controls are reasonable, with some configuration. Camera works well and is controllable. Save at save points; quick save almost anywhere. Pause anywhere.
IV. There are no difficult feats or puzzles. The combat system is a bit too complicated. The linked combat requires finely timed button presses. Characters level up and unlock and allocate skills, so there is some control over each character's development. In Xillia shops can be expanded by using gald or material, but there is no item creation, per se. In Xillia 2 shops cannot be expanded, but some item creation is introduced.
The battle system in these two games hurts my hands, a lot. I had to sleep with full thumb and wrist braces for a while to recover. (Began playing Xillia using Hori Sports Pad Pro, but switched to the Hori Gempad 3 to use the turbo buttons at one point and stayed with it, which was probably a mistake.) Using the Sports Pad Pro with Xillia 2; the rear button and stick lessen the impact of combat on my hands. Combat in Xillia 2 becomes even more complex because Ludger as battle leader is always forced, and Ludger has multiple weapons (L1 + R1/R2 to change) and the ability to transform (L3 + R3). Added to the button presses to link and choose artes, and the inevitable X-button mashing, this is often simply too much for my hands to sustain.
V. In Xillia, one chooses whether to play with Milla or Jude as the main character, which changes the opening sequence and some portions of the play-through, though you are filled in on what happens either way via skits and NPC dialogue. The story, which continues in Xillia 2, is interesting. There is significant character development. No objectionable fan service. As usual with Tales games, there is a post-game dungeon, and one can spend grade at the beginning of a plus game to carry over many things, allowing one to shift focus on the second play-through.
Xillia 2 has the complication that Ludger is forced to make frequent payments on a huge loan he had to take out to pay his doctor bill. This significantly alters the playing dynamic, and it's not optional, such as debt repayment in a few other games I have played, though it does deliver rewards for early payment. There are also cats to be found that can be sent on errands. (They do not resemble Chocobos in any other way.) So Xillia 2 is a very 'busy' game.
VI. Animation is typical of mature PS3 games; a bit too realistic for my tastes. Separate controls for voices, SFX, music, cutscenes. Nice theme songs in Japanese by Ayumi Hamasaki.
VII. I spent about 70 hours the first time through Xillia; about 90 hours the first time through Xillia 2. I will eventually replay both on game+ levels, if my hands last long enough.
VIII. I have the Japanese complete guides, and the english language strategy guide for Tales of Xillia 2 from Prima.

Xillia and TLH figures.
Milla and Ludger; Edge and Reimi.

Tales of Zestria
I. Bandai Nambo, 2015. JRPG. ESRB: Teen. PS3. Playing now.
II. [party, battle, AI, encounters, boss battles, retrying]
III. [controls, camera, saving, pausing]
IV. [physical feats, handholding, freedom, overall difficulty]
V. [story, characters, stereotypes, sexism, frustration, extras]
VI. [animation, sound, music]
VII. [length, ending, replayability]
VIII. I have the Prima collector's edition guide.
Trails of Cold Steel
I. XSEED/Falcom, 2013, 2015. RPG. ESRB: Teen. PS3, Vita. To be played.
VIII. I have the Lionheart Edition and Japanese guides.

Sony Playstation 4

In my opinion the default controller for the PS4 is more ergonomic than that for the PS3. As of spring 2015 there are only a few alternate controllers available for the PS4, none of which fully support the touchpad.

Sherlock Holmes: Crimes & Punishments
I. Focus Home Interactive, 2014. PS4. Detective. ESRB: Mature 17+.
Final Fantasy Type-0 HD
I. Square Enix, 2015. PS4. RPG. ESRB: Mature 17+.
VIII. I have the English language strategy guide from Prima.
Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age
I. Square Enix, 2017. PS4. RPG. ESRB: Teen.
II. Six primary player characters. Battle party is 3. Occasional additional guest characters now have gambits and can be given orders, though equipment cannot be changed. No random encounters. Cannot retry battles, but the game autosaves every time a zone boundary is crossed, and this save file can be reloaded. As zone boundaries occur much more frequently than save points, and always before boss battles, this comes close to being able to a retry battles. You also can swap in another character to replace a KO'd character; it isn't game over until all your characters are KO'd, including those in reserve.
The 'gambit' system that essentially allows the AI to be programmed for each character using a set of if/then statements survives intact, but gambits are now somewhat easier to obtain.
Instead of one big skill board shared by all characters, there are now twelve separate boards (hence the name zodiac). Each character can have one primary and one secondary job. No jobs may be shared. The jobs are modeled after the usual RPG roles: Archer, Black Mage, Bushi, Foebreaker, Knight, Machinist, Monk, Shikari, Red Battlemage, Time Mage, Uhlan, White Mage. Balancing each character's first and second job, along with choice of Espers (Almost all of which unlock additional skills) is extremely complex; it's possible to render a character almost useless if the choices are wrong, and they cannot be undone (except by loading a save file).
III. Pretty standard controls and camera. Save at save points, which also heal. And there is the aforementioned autosave feature, which saves into a visible file, but separate from the ones you create. Eventually there are teleport points, and a fast way to move around in the main city of Rabanastre. Pause almost anywhere.
IV. I personally preferred the open skill system, but continue to love the combat system! The latter actually works without X-button mashing.
V. It remains a long game with many, many side quests and optional things to do. The setting is very interesting and initially the story seems promising, but sadly goes off track and ends with a whimper instead of a bang. Japanese vocal track is now included!
A 'trial' mode has been added, which allows the party (and guest character) to go off and fight through 100 battle stages for gil, loot and LP (license points for use on the skill board) but not EXP. Trial mode may be accessed at any time from the main screen, and you may save while in trial mode, but if you return to the game, you loose your progress in trial mode and have to start over. So it works quite differently than either an optional side-quest or a traditional post-game dungeon. This was no doubt added because FFXII originally had zero post-game content.
VI. Animation, sound, music are good. BGM, SFX and Voice are separately adjustable. Original and remastered BGM.
VII. Currently playing.
VIII. I have the Prima collector's edition strategy guide, which unfortunately is very hard on my eyes. The typeface is not heavy enough for the paper and the backgrounds used, and the font is too small. (Admittedly, my eyesight is quite poor, but this manual is more difficult for me to read than many.)
This is clearly just a (sloppily) revised version of the previous guide. Its major failing continues to be that in the walkthrough nothing is done to indicate when the various side events become available.The weapons tables are all in shades of grey, destroying the information about what level of license is required to equip particular weapons. The list of merchant shops was not included. So, this guide is a step down from the previous version.
World of Final Fantasy
I. Square Enix, 2016. PS4. RPG. ESRB: Teen.
II. Two main human characters. ATB battle system, so no player AI. Random encounters, but at a reasonable rate. In a sense, anything but a boss battle may be retried. You may have to repeat part of your way through a dungeon, but dungeons are not large, and any puzzles solved or switches set remain that way if you leave and return.
III. Very little camera movement. Save and heal at save points, which generally occur only before boss battles. Every dungeon and town has a gate to which one can easily transfer from a central location. One huge quirk is that there is only one save file! However, most ways in which a party can be wiped out do not result in game over, only in being teleported back to a central location without loosing progress. Areas in which a true game over may occur are clearly marked in-game, and preceded by a save point. Pause anywhere.
IV. This game is amazingly configurable and playable in terms of level of physical difficulty. There is sufficient but not annoying hand-holding. The game is fairly linear in a forward direction, but you can always return to towns and dungeons, and there are some areas that must be returned to at a later date, i.e., when you can survive them.
V. This game is made for people who love Final Fantasy, and have play many of the FF games over the years. It's one of the most frustration-free games I have ever played, but that doesn't mean it's always easy.
VI. The animation quality, voice acting (Japanese) and music are first class.
VII. The many ways in which 'mirages' can be used and combined in the two types of stacks invites replaying. And it's cute as all get out.
VIII. I have the Day One DLC, including the Japanese language track, and the English language strategy guide from Prima.
Tales of Berseria
I. Bandai Namco, 2016. JRPG. ESRM: Teen. PS4. To be played.
II. [party, battle, AI, encounters, boss battles, retrying]
III. [controls, camera, saving, pausing]
IV. [physical feats, handholding, freedom, overall difficulty]
V. [story, characters, stereotypes, sexism, frustration, extras]
VI. [animation, sound, music]
VII. [length, ending, replayability]
VIII. I have the Japanese guide.

Sony Playstation TV / Vita TV

The PS TV died a sad and lonely death, without realizing its full potential. I do have several games yet to play on mine, but the Vita was never popular in North America, and few NA Vita games were certified for use on the TV.

Tales of Hearts R
I. Bandai Namco, 2013. PS Vita. RPG. ESRB: TEEN.

Additional figuures.

Notes

I've worn out one PS2 and have purchased a third as a spare, as there is no PS2 backwards compatibility in either the PS3 or PS4. I have two PSP 2000 (one imported) and one 3000, a spare PS3 (diskless), a Vita TV, and a PS4.

I also own used Nintendo Gameboy Advance and Gameboy Advance SP hand held consoles, primarily for Blue Sphere, but also for a few other games (Tales and Zelda). The SP, with a backlit screen, is easier to read, but the GBA has better button ergonomics. Recently I've added a used Retron 5 and a new Wii U.

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Copyright © Lisa Lees www.lisalees.com lisa at lisalees.com