Game Playability Reviews
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. Three decades later,
with arthritis added to the picture,
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.
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 on 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.
Additional information I include is to jog my memory when I play a game. I try to
avoid outright spoilers without warning.
Updated: September 2019.
Index of games with completed (or abandoned) play-throughs and full notes.
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. Abandoned.
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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. PSP, Vita TV.
- 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
- 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
- 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!
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, unfortunately.
- Jeanne D'Arc
- Sony/LEVEL 5, 2007. Tactics. ESRB: Teen. PSP, Vita TV.
- Player characters: Jeanne, age 17, plus a variety of other characters.
- Difficulty: No problem; this is a tactics game.
- 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!
- Tales of the World: Radiant Mythology
- I. Namco Bandai, 2006. RPG. ESRB: Teen.
- II. Create your own character. Choose gender, face, hair color, skin
color, battle voice, initial job and name!
- V. Not a mainline Tales game, but has all the usual Tales
characteristics, including being able to play on full auto.
- Trails in the Sky, First Chapter
- I. XSEED/Falcom, 2004, 2011. RPG. ESRB: Teen. PC, PSP, PS3 (Japan only), Vita,
- 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!
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
- 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.
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. (See my notes on
using wired controllers with the PS TV.)
- Tales of Hearts R
- I. Bandai Namco, 2013. JRPG. ESRB: Teen. Vita chip.
- Hearts R is a remake of Hearts, which was developed for
the Nintendo DS and released in 2008. So originally it fell between
Vesperia and Graces, but the R version
was released following Xillia 2.
- II. Eight player characters, four in battle party. Full-auto works for all
characters in battle, and you can choose which character is displayed.
The AI is okay, but going from Berseria
to this game shows how much AI has improved. However, the AI configuration
is similar to that in Xillia, including gambit-like per-player instructions
(which you have to purchase) that also include attacking, defending and use
of skills, so you can really fine-tune the AI behavior. Invisible random
ncounters. Boss battles usually not much worse than mob attacks and boss
battles usually have a preceding save point and may be retried.
Playing on normal difficulty to begin with and I'm leveling up quickly.
- III. The controls are late Playstation-style; no L2/L3 and R2/R3, movement
with either L stick or directional buttons. Camera movable using R stick
only on world map. Buttons configurable, battle-camera focus configurable.
Save (sometimes also heal) at save points; save anywhere on the world map.
Pause only using the PS button. (Or Analog button, as I am using the HORI
SRW Controller with my Vita TV.)
- IV. Surprisingly little tutorial handholding, compared to later games in
the series. A few puzzles that would be very vexing if I didn't have the
guide book. (Though random encounters do make some puzzle areas quite
annoying; one cannot control the camera in dungeons, so the only way to
look at things is to move the character, which triggers encounters. And,
yes, there are holy bottles to reduce encounters, but that's a pain.) A
few dungeons seem unreasonably long without a chance to save.
Reasonable freedom to run around on the world map.
- V. There is cooking, of course. TotA-style discovery points. Namcoins to
collect for prizes (like mini-medals in Dragon Quest). Relatively
simple skill system.
There is a clear-save extra dungeon. I used only the free 1,000 gald DLC.
(When I played in 2018, the NA store did not have any of the item packs.)
The story is interesting and the characters are varied in the usual way
for JRPGs of this era, backstories are filled in, but the characters don't
really develop (except for Kohaku, of course, but that's different). Boob
jokes and relationship humor have not aged well.
- VI. Japanese voice acting only; subtitles are as usual not very accurate.
BGM, SFX, Voice, Movie (cutscene) volumes separately adjustable. Music is
underwhelming. Cutscenes tend to be short. Very good anime-style graphics.
- VII. I played the main game through in 60 hours. Did not do any post clear-save
playing. There is an extra dungeon, and there is the usual grade shop for new
game+. Ending wraps things up nicely, but characters still feel like cardboard
cutouts. The huge amount of inane dialogue and skits serves as a damper on
thoughts of replaying this game.
- VIII. I have the Japanese Complete Guide.
- Ys Seven
- I. Xseed/Falcom, 2010. JRPG. ESRB: Teen. PSN Vita TV download. Abandoned.
- II. Ys Seven, Ys: Memories of Celceta and Ys: Lacrimosa of Dana
all have very similar mechanics, so I am only noting the differences from
Ys: Celceta, which is the one I played first.
(Though the order of events in the Ys universe is Celceta, Dana, Seven.)
- Battle party is three, from a total of seven available at various times.
Difficulty level may not be changed during the game. (I was playing on normal.)
Retrying boss battles does not reduce the difficulty.
- III. This is a PSP game, so no use is made of the Vita touch panel, no
auto-upload of saves and no DLC. Camera may be set to automatic or zoomed in or out.
Minimal AI settings: same target, weakest target, different target.
- IV. Very brief tutorials and little handholding; maybe too little. Map
completion is not a thing in this game.
- V. The boss battles are much more difficult than other battles. The very limited
number of healing items the party may carry and lack of any healing skills make
these very difficult for me, as the general flow of a boss battle is: whack it
repeatedly while staying alive until a vulnerable spot is revealed, then whack that
spot as hard as possible; repeat four or five times. This is not fun for me when
characters cannot guard, the party has only 3 - 5 of each healing item, and I
have to retry half-a-dozen times to get it just right. After the second boss
battle, my hands were aching. At the third boss battle, I gave up.
- Simple item creation from found and dropped material. Some quests from
interaction with NPCs.
- VI. Adol's battle voice may be turned off, sliders for BGM and SFX.
- VII. I was 8 hours in, level 13-14, when I gave up. At some time when my hands
are hurting less I may give it another go, on easy difficulty. Compared to
Memories of Celceta and Lacrimosa of Dana, I found this game to be
- VIII. Online walkthroughs are available. I have the PSP release, with booklet.
- Ys: Memories of Celceta
- I. Xseed/Falcom, 2012. JRPG. ESRB: Teen. Vita chip on Vita TV.
- II. Six playable characters, not all available at any one time for a while.
Battle party of up to three, though at times it is one or two. Battle party
members can be swapped out during battle if there are more than three player
characters available, and changing the controlled character is a one-button
thing. (As characters have different attack types—slash, strike,
pierce— and enemies have vulnerabilities and defenses to these types,
this is very useful.) Adol does not have to be in the battle party, and the
character you control is the one shown on the map outside of battle, also.
There is little AI configuration (and I see no sane way to make
use of that on the Vita TV with the HORI SRW controller, as it uses the rear
touchpad of an actual Vita for two-finger gestures).
- Enemies are visible, though not always avoidable, and battle just happens
where you are. You don't 'enter' battle, so there is no 'escape' from battle;
you can freely run around (or even out of) the battle area to choose
targets or draw single enemies away from a pack. You occasionally encounter
a large enemy that you can't handle, so being able to easily run away is a
life-saving ability in some places. Battles may be retried. Game-over
otherwise lets you resume at the nearest monument (these are heal/warp points),
camp or town, or you may reload a save.
- Somewhat unusual is that one must choose easy, normal, hard or nightmare
difficulty at the beginning of the game, and thereafter you may only
decrease the difficulty. I began on normal and was okay, but
ended up with a rather over-powered party by half-way through. In other
games, I would have gone up in difficulty.
- III. Controls are simple, and one may reassign the six buttons used. No
camera control, but the world map (Select button) is unusually detailed
and useful. Save anywhere. There are heal points that also serve as
warp points to leave dungeons and to travel around the world map, though
any particular warp point connects only to a subset of warp points. (Later
you gain the ability to go to any warp point from anywhere.) Party
heals slowly while standing without moving in the field, and quickly in
camps and towns, which means healing potions need only be used in battle
and there are no stays in inns for healing. (Characters have no healing
skills, either.) Pause with PS/Analog button.
- IV. There is no player AI, and though the battle system is simple, with a
battle party of only two or three this is definitely an X-button masher,
which is quite painful for me at this point in my life. There are a few
puzzles and tricky situations, but nothing too bad. The world map is
much larger than any town or dungeon, and usually you are free
to return to areas you've already explored. The shops have different
capabilities in different towns, and every town has unique quests, so a
good deal of traveling around is expected. Map completion is a thing, with
a reward is available for each 10% completed.
- V. Weapon and armor stats and some accessories can be enhanced, healing
items synthesized and accessories crafted, using material from drops and
a variety of resource points which renew after a time. Few treasure chests.
No DLC. Interesting story. Typical Ys characters. They each have a backstory
that is revealed, but past that they do not develop. Adol, as usual, is just
Adol and remains oblivious of everyone else's feelings.
- There are points (first is the final door in Ancient Burrow) where it is
impossible to proceed without using the Vita touchpad. This is possible using
the virtual touchpad of the Vita TV, but is a bit finicky.
- There appear to be no story extras post game.
- VI. The upscaled animation looks pretty fuzzy on my monitor, no matter how
I adjust settings. (Dialogue pop-ups, menus and cut-scenes are fine.) Sound
is good, with BGM, SFX and voice being separately adjustable. No text speed
control. Adol of course is mute and other voice acting is minimal. Music is
- VII. Sixty hours at the final warp point. (There are no true save points in
this game, but after a certain boss battle, when saving you are advised to
not overwrite your previous save if you wish to go back.) Everyone is level
56 to 58 (four are 57) with best equipment fairly well enhanced. We're clearly
over-powered; the character I control takes damage only because I do such a
poor job of guarding; the AI-controlled characters are fine. Ending is rather
minimal; no glimpses of what happens with the various characters afterwards.
Very enjoyable game with plenty to do, and some equipment decisions that
can be different on replay.
- VIII. I have the Silver Anniversary Edition, which includes a cloth map,
some other goodies and "Adol's Travel Journal," a small book
that is somewhere between a manual and a strategy guide. The Journal only
has about half the map (the cloth map is complete) and only hints at some
of the later areas, towns and quests.
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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- Final Fantasy XII
- I. Square Enix, 2006. PS2. RPG. ESRB: Teen. Last played: September 2017.
- 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
- 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.
- Mana Khemia: Alchemists of Al-Revis
- I. NIS/Gust, 2006/2008. RPG. ESRB: Everyone 10+
- The ninth game in the massive (20+ game) Atelier series.
Unlike many games in the series, Mana Khemia does not impose
time limits on completing tasks. (That's an immediate no go for me.)
- II. [party, battle, AI, encounters, boss battles, retrying]
- III. [controls, camera, saving, pausing]
- IV. [physical feats, handholding, freedom, overall difficulty]
- V. The Atelier series is all about item creation.
[story, characters, stereotypes, sexism, frustration]
First clear save unlocks massive extra dungeon.
- VI. [animation, sound, music]
- VII. Eight endings.
- VIII. I have the very nice Doublejump strategy guide.
- Parasite Eve *
- I. SquareSoft, 1997. Playstation. ESRB: Mature. Last played: August 2019.
- I love this game! (Read the novel first.) Easy to play using a standard
controller in analog mode (using the stick) if one pays attention to
modifying equipment and leveling-up. In digital mode one ends up continually
holding down the O button to run, so that's out for me. (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.
- My most recent play-through was sixteen hours for the
main game (which is where I stopped, failing to run away at the end).
Level 34, HP 629, SG550 79/127/34 with single shot, double command, quickdraw,
acid, tranq, burst; N-suit 79/52/47 with HP-up, null poison, null stiff,
inventory +1. Went into final battle with two revives and lots of medicine 4.
No problem (except the running away).
- VIII. I have the Brady Games strategy guide.
- Parasite Eve 2 *
- I. SquareSoft, 2000. Playstation. ESRB: Mature. Last played: June 2015.
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.
- 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.
Unfortunately, I am physically unable to play this game any longer.
(The slow mode of the Joystick controller does not work with
- VIII. I have the Brady Games strategy guide.
- Rogue Galaxy
- I. Sony, 2006. RPG. PS2, PS4. ESRB: Teen Last played: September 2019.
- II. Party of eight, battle party of three. Jaster Rogue must always be
in the battle party, but you have choice of the character you control.
All three battle party characters show on the map, you move the one you
control and the others follow. Random encounters. Real time battle
system with a bit too much X-button mashing. Very few bosses have
one-hit kills. No re-try.
- III. Controls fully utilized, buttons may not be reassigned. Full
camera control, directions may be swapped (which is good because
the default camera control always seems backward to me). Save and
heal at teleportation points, where you can also store excess
inventory. Pause anywhere.
- IV. No puzzles. There is jumping, sometimes during boss battles,
that can be a challenge. Direction on maps is sometimes confusing.
- The final boss battle is very difficult. There are two fights using
the battle party, the first of which involves jumping, then each
character must fight in sequence on their own with no save in between.
None of the battles is particularly hard in itself, but it's a
long trudge. As one rarely develops facility with controlling every
character, it's too easy to make a fatal mistake and not heal in time.
I did the final battle sequence on the first and third play-throughs,
but will probably never do it again.
- V. Good story, characters have depth. The teleportation system becomes
quite handy for skipping needless repetition later in the game.
- VI. Excellent animation, music and voice acting. There is some
audio noise in the PS4 version when switching menus. No adjustment
to audio levels.
- VII. Almost insane number of side quests and optional things to do.
Many ways to equip and level up, complex item creation. Weapons
are mastered, then combined to create more powerful weapons. There
is a factory in which to produce items from recipes found by talking
to NPCs. There is no armor in the game; emphasis is on offense.
- Easy to put 100 hours into this game. Third play-through, on which I
did the final boss fight (which takes two hours with ending credits)
I reached level 70 for Jaster and Kisala, level 65 for everyone else.
- VIII. I have the Doublejump strategy guide, which is amazing.
- Tales of the Abyss
- I. Namco Bandai, 2005. RPG. ESRB: Teen. Last played: December 2017.
- 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 three times; first without a strategy guide,
which was extremely confusing; then with the Japanese guides, which allowed a
more completist approach; and (perhaps finally) a third play-through from a clear
save, which allows spending 'grade' in the Grade Shop to carry forward a few
useful things, such as money, combat items, recipes and titles.
- If I retain my ability to play games long enough (I'm 65 as I end the
third play-through) Abyss is on my short list of games to play one last
- 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'.
- Tales of Legendia
- I. Namco, 2005. RPG. ESRB: Teen. Last played: August 2019.
- II. Seven player characters in the main game, though it's a long
wait for the sixth and even longer for the seventh, battle party
of up to four. Eighth character available only for character quests.
As usual, you control your choice of character and the AI decently
handles the rest, within a few parameters you can set. Game is 3D,
but combat is only 2D. Choice of party leader. Senel does not have
to be in the battle party once there are more than four available
characters. Random encounters which are unfortunately not visible or
avoidable (except for occasional visible and sometimes avoidable
'chaotic zones' that promise a more difficult encounter).
- As with most Tales games, full-auto
battles are an option. It's easy to take control when necessary,
and you can still trigger some special actions even when on full auto.
(The down side to playing on full auto is that it's more difficult
to learn what to do when you do take control. But, less pain is good.)
- III. Controls are fully utilized but not configurable. No camera
control, but there is a rotatable and zoomable world map.
Save anywhere on the world map, at save points in towns and dungeons.
There is a system of 'ducts' that allow you to return to town from
outside most dungeons, so you can heal, restock and bake more bread.
There are occasional recovery points. No pausing, except in battle.
Battle difficulty may be set to easy, normal or hard and may be changed
at any time. Most boss battles may be retried from the beginning of
battle without reloading the most recent save.
- IV. Generally easy to play on normal difficulty. The random encounters can
become tedious. Puzzle-box ducts are easy. There are two areas with
randomized connections that are a bit of a pain. Searching
for items not in chests requires X-button mashing, as there is no
notification that an item exists, so the guide is very useful here.
- V.There is a long main story, followed by character quests involving each
main character. Some things are not unlocked until the character quests,
e.g., arena and customization. A few side quests are available
during the main story.
- VI. Orchestral music score, at times jazzy. BGM, SFX, battle voice and
event voice levels are separately adjustable. Unfortunately the voice
acting is rather uninspired, though some of it improves later in the game.
Though Legendia and Abyss have the same release date,
Legendia is the 7th and Abyss the 8th main
- VII. As usual for Tales games, one earns grade in battle,
which may be spent during the next play-through to carry over stuff and to
alter some game characteristics. Finished the main game in 65 hours at level
49. Not motivated to do the character quests.
- VIII. I have the Brady Games guide, which makes things easier, though it has
quite a few annoying errors. The manual that comes with the game is actually
- 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
- Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria
- I. Square Enix, 2006. RPG. ESRB: Teen. Positioned as a prequel to
- 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
- VI. Unfortunately sound is not configurable except for turning off
- 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.
- 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
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 may try again,
perhaps with 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. Last played: June 2019.
Oops! Missed translating a caption.
- II. Party is 6/3. 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
- 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.
My favorite KOS-MOS.
- 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
- VII. My playing time was about 75 hours with characters at level 48
before the final boss battles (65, 46 and 42 on 2nd, 3rd and 4th 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.
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. Last played: July 2019.
- II. Party is 7/3 (Jin is the new PC, with a guest appearance from
Canaan). Turn-based battles, no random encounters, though in a number
of areas it is not possible to avoid battles. Can swap characters during
battle to make use of elemental attacks. No retrying, but save
points (which also heal in this episode) are plentiful. Healing at save
pointes is necessary, as there is no money or shops in this episode!
- Again, all characters (and fighting suits now) level up, but only the
battle party receive class and skill points. (No class and skill points
are earned from battles fought in suits.) Can swap suits during battle.
There are three suits; only two in battle at any one time. Suit abilities
are affected by choice of co-pilot, which cannot be changed during battle.
- 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 are generally easy, though there are
a few more difficult (or at least tedious) 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 the game. The overall difficulty is easy, arguably too easy.
- V. The story and characters, which continue from episode I, continue to be good.
(This episode arguably is a well-told and animated story with a game tacked on.)
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 silliness 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
- 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. Last played: August 2019.
- II. Party is the same 7/3 as in episode II (with guest appearances from
Canaan and Miyuki at the beginning). Characters in a battle at end gain
both HP and SP, but less than those not in the battle. Turn-based battles,
no random encounters, no retrying. Fighting suit (E.S.)mechanics have changed
again. Some changes to battle details, but similar enough to learn quickly.
Can swap characters (but not E.S.) during battle. KO'd characters automatically
revive with 1 HP at end of battle. KO'd suit (E.S.) automatically swapped out.
Healing is never a problem, but ether potions are very scarce throughout
- 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,
though they are promised in the forward) 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.)
A more evolved KOS-MOS.
- 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 really 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. I believe this is why Xenosaga II
ended up being such a skeleton of a game, and why the story elements are so
densely packed in Xenosaga III, with an entire game's worth of elapsed time
covered in the database and the guide introduction.
- ** Xenosaga was envisioned as a longer series.
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
- 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.
- 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 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 figures of my favorite characters:
- 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
- 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
- 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. (In fact, the AI is so good that when my hands are hurting too much
I can put the player character on auto and just sit back and watch the battle,
intervening if necessary.) There are 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 usually excel at character
development. This is especially true in this game's Lineages & Legacies
- 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
battles, 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 official complete 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.
Characters may be swapped around during battle if not KO'd.
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. As with Graces f, one may put the player
character on auto for battles. Difficulty level may be changed any time.
Amazingly, when this game reconfigures the party because of a temporary
story point, such as a couple of characters wandering off on their own in
a town, it puts the party back the way you had it once they return!
- 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
- 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
- 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 official complete guides, and the english language
strategy guide for Tales of Xillia 2 from Prima.
Milla and Ludger; Edge and Reimi.
- Tales of Zestiria
- I. Bandai Nambo, 2015. JRPG. ESRB: Teen. PS3.
- II. Party size varies from two to six. Battle party is at most four; two
humans and two seraphim. Sorey is always the map character and is always
one of the humans in the battle party, but does not have to be the character
controlled in battle. There are three human PCs, but never more than two
at a time. The four seraphim have elemental attributes and may be swapped
around during battle.
AI is good and can be given general directions, but not unfortunately the
gambit-style directions on item use that Xillia has. No random encounters.
Full-auto works in battles. Boss battles may be retried.
- III. Usual Tales controls and settings, which can be changed at any time.
Save at save points and a single quick save from the system menu or pause
screen. Pause anywhere. I used the HORI Sports Pad Pro, though I rarely
- IV. Few physical feats. Usual tutorial handholding at the beginning. There
is reasonable freedom to run around and pursue sub events and quests, and
the game generally warns when one is going to make a move that precludes
returning to previous areas. All the major boss battles are at least
partially scripted. Overall difficulty is manageable.
- V. The story is divided into four broad arcs (plus the Alisha DLC).
Characters and world are very well developed. Item creation is a mess.
Each character has talents that can be set to make snacks or remedies, but
there is no way to influence the outcome. Equipment fusion, which determines
available skills, is beyond complex into mind-bogglingly insane, requiring
enormous amounts of time and money.
- VI. Have Japanese voice track. BGM, SFX, Voice, Movie (cutscene) volumes
- VII. The largest of the 'optional content' areas covered by the guide,
Alisha's Story, must be purchased as DLC.
(Other DLC is costumes, or the kind of head start one can obtain by spending
grade in a plus game.)
- The Alisha DLC, which is best played following a clear save in the main
game, itself produces a clear save that puts one back in the main game,
retaining everything created, earned and found in the DLC. The Alisha DLC
takes place in a small subset of the areas of the main game, outside of
which one cannot go, except to the one added dungeon. Alisha takes Sorey's
place in the party as the map character. Because Alisha cannot armatize and
has none of the Shepherd's special abilities, the play is quite different
from what one is used to toward the end of the main game.
- I did main game (148 hours), Alisha DLC (25 hours), then Hexen Isle
(35 hours). A good deal of that time was spent earning drops and gald to
use in fusion. If I am able to play again, I'll have a much better idea of
what is and is not worth doing in terms of fusion.
- VIII. I have the Prima collector's edition guide, which has a ridiculously
tiny type size. Though the information is relatively complete, there are no
cross-references and no index. This makes it rather tedious to figure out when
sub-events and optional quests can be done. The maps have an increasing
number of mislabeled chests, left out connections and confusing or left out
labels later in the guide. The guide is of no help at all in using the very
complex fusion and skills system. (There is some more detail available in the
Prima online addition to the manual.) Have the Japanese Complete Guide for
decent maps and skill and fusion details.
- 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.
In my opinion the default controller for the PS4 is more ergonomic than that for
the PS3. Still, I find myself using alternate controllers.
- Cosmic Star Heroine
- I. Zeboyd Games, 2018. RPG. ESRB: Teen.
- II. Battle party is four of eleven playable characters, plus a support
character from a selection of twenty-four allies. Support characters
generally boost a stat or affect damage or healing.
Four difficulty levels, which may be changed at any time.
Visible encounters. Turn-based battles. Battles may be retried,
however you can't change the difficulty level unless you reload
instead of retry. Characters heal totally between battles and items
refresh (you don't permanently loose an item when using it). Enemies
do not re-spawn, even when leaving and reentering a dungeon, but later
there is the capability of doing virtual battles once you've cleared
- This is a simple turn-based battle system. All the good guys go,
then all the bad guys go; repeat. Some characters have an ability to
take a double turn or speed up, and you can force an enemy to skip a
turn (and vice versa.). There's no front row / back row
distinction in terms of targeting. Most abilities can only
be used once per battle, unless recharged using a guard action.
There are a few multi-part battles with no ability to save or
reconfigure between parts, but at least you do heal and refresh
abilities, items and skills between parts.
- III. Very simple controls, which cannot be changed: move with left
stick or button pad, action, cancel, open menu, move around in menu,
close menu. No camera. Walk/run is configurable. Save anywhere (but
only four save slots). Pause with PS button.
- IV. No physical feats. Little handholding. There are optional dungeons
and bosses, but the main storyline is linear and even when you are able
to revisit an area, there is often no point in doing so.
- V. No item creation, per se, but complex interactions between
equipped weapon, armor, accessory and support units. The story and
characters are interesting. The characters are stereotyped, but that's
kind of the point in a retro game.
- The character set is constantly changing, with no control over battle
party selection until well into the game, and even then there's only a short
time you have access to all eleven characters. Alyssa is always in the battle
party and on the map. Even after the 'party' command is available, often one
or more additional characters is 'locked' into the party. As the characters
have very different skill sets, this makes some battles rather tedious, with
too much time spent on simply staying alive.
- There are a few flaws and glitches. Menu text is sometimes not correct.
Several times Alyssa became unable to move, hemmed in by furniture, and I had
to reload. This quickly led to me saving pretty much after every
battle and as soon as I entered a new area. Fortunately the saves are fast.
Shopping does not indicate what you already own. As you are usually shopping
without access to the full party, this is a bit of a pain. (However, there is
a ridiculous amount of money in the game, so it doesn't really matter.)
- I only ever managed to make four of the eight item slots usable, and I
don't know whether this is intended to be the max or if I missed ways to open
up more. (It's easy to miss an interaction that has no visible cue; Alyssa must
be positioned just right for the text to pop up. Which is how she became
trapped three times, by obsessively moving her into every possible location
on a map.)
- It took me quite a while to really figure out all aspects of the battle
system. Not the biff, bam, pow stuff, but what affects stats, how important
style is, the trade-offs between weapon and shield base stats and the skills
and buffs they offer, using the hyper slots to best advantage, multi-stage
ability use to amp up damage, and so on.
- VI. Glorious 2D 16-bit graphics! Separate volume settings for sound and effects
(no voices). The music is of course retro and is quite good.
- VII. This is a short game, 13 chapters of one or two hours each, depending on
how OCD you are about the optional stuff. But, hey; many games back in the day
(Parasite Eve for example) were as short and were
thoroughly enjoyable. First play-through on 'agent' difficulty I was 27.5 hours
at final save, level 54. Immediately began another play-through at 'heroine'
difficulty, though eventually had to drop to lower difficulty levels for the
challenging dungeons. Good game from a tiny indie shop!
- VIII. I have the Limited Run Games edition with booklet. I also have the PDF
strategy guide, but Zeboyd did not release it until late January 2019, after
I had finished by second play-through.
- Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age
- I. Square Enix, 2018. RPG. ESRB: Teen. Abandoned.
- II. Battle party is four of seven player characters. Characters may be
swapped in/out and equipment changed during battle. (The latter is good
because each character can use two rather different kinds of weapons.)
The Hero is always the map character, but does not have to be in battle.
The AI is decent, guided by a choice of tactics. Encounters are visible,
usually avoidable (except at sea), and regenerate quickly. Time of day
and weather affect what beasties are about. This game has the same
mechanic as DQ8 for retrying a boss battle (retry from latest full
save or loose half your gold to retry from latest auto save) but I
was never in any danger of loosing a boss battle.
- III. Usual controls, camera configurable. Save in churches or at
campsites, autosave when crossing region boundaries. There is no way
to pause the game. Using the PS button does not stop the clock, or
prevent a wandering enemy from attacking you. It's safer to open the
menu when you have to walk away from the game for a bit. Battle is
turn-based with choice of whether you control the camera during
battle and move the characters around (I do not). You may set tactics per
character if you don't want to issue instructions for every character
during battle. It is possible this way to completely automate
the battles, but that makes relatively slow battles rather boring.
- IV. This is not a difficult game. There is plenty of freedom to run or
ride around, level up, and buy and make good equipment. Given how much
there is too do, I'd say this game is too easy; I never encountered a
situation where I felt I needed to level-up or improve equipment beyond
what I'd already done.
- V. I loved Dragon Quest VIII. Within minutes of starting up
XI, my reaction was, "Yes! This is Dragon Quest!"
I don't know whether it's only for the NA release, but there are many
nods to Dragon Quest VIII in the game. (Unfortunately there's
even more sexism and stereotyping in this game as in DQVIII;
stupid costumes, sexist jokes and the "puff-puff" thing.)
At least the big-boobs character is wearing a sports bra.
- Item creation is done at campsites using a magic forge that can
combine materials to create equipment and use perfectionist pearls to
rework existing equipment to increase stats. It's nowhere near as versatile
as the alchemy pot in DQVIII—you can't just randomly try things, you
must have a recipe—and the in-game help on how to use the
forge is inadequate. As there is no way to load a save file other
than to quit and restart the game, learning to use the forge is rather
frustrating. (Even if you restart the game it makes you wait five
minutes before you can use the forge again.) Campsites are plentiful
and it becomes possible to buy most materials and perfectionist pearls.
- The frustrations are all minor: no way to truly pause, no way to
quickly reload a save file, occasional audio and video glitches,
tedious ocean travel (no short cuts and no way to avoid encounters),
the world maps don't have place names on them; but
they add up to dull the experience a little. Towns and world are grand
and beautiful and there are many quests and things to do.
- VI. Animation and sound are top notch, but there is some audio and video
noise at transition points. Excellent British voice actors.
Music, FX, voice volumes separately adjustable. Unusually, brightness
is adjustable from within the game, which is welcome.
- VII. Eighty hours to find the six orbs, before the altar (but remember,
there is no way to pause the game). About 113 hours in, after reassembling
the party, I abandoned the game because it had stopped being fun.
- VIII. I have the Edition of Light release, and the Japanese Square
Enix Official Guide Book. (Because of the huge use of puns and rhymes
in Dragon Quest, the localization changes names more than is
usual, making the guide a bit more difficult to use.)
- Final Fantasy Type-0 HD
- I. Square Enix, 2015. RPG. ESRB: Mature 17+.
- VIII. I have the English language strategy guide from Prima.
- Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age
- I. Square Enix, 2017. 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. I put about 150 hours into a very complete play-through.
- 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
- This is clearly just a (sloppily) revised version of the previous guide,
that doesn't even fix known errors.
Its major failing continues to be that in the walkthrough nothing is done to
indicate when the various side events become available, and there are no
cross references to anything using page numbers and no index. 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.
- Sherlock Holmes: Crimes & Punishments
- I. Focus Home Interactive, 2014. Detective. ESRB: Mature 17+.
- Tales of Berseria
- I. Bandai Namco, 2016. JRPG. ESRB: Teen. PS4.
- II. Six player characters, battle team of four. AI settings similar to
Zestiria, but AI seems to be smarter. No random encounters. Full-auto
works in battles, and one has the ability to see enemy stats, trigger
Velvet's Therian state and to switch out characters while in full-auto.
- After a while, fighting many battles in an area may cause a sub-boss
to spawn in the next battle. Wandering enemies or dire foe, these are
difficult but rewarding fights, and unlike normal sub-boss and boss battles,
they may be escaped from if one is caught out in poor shape for the fight.
- III. Usual Tales controls and settings, which can be changed at any time.
Save at save points and a single quick save from the pause screen. Pause
almost anywhere (anywhere, actually, using the PS button on the controller).
Using the HORIPAD FPS Plus wired controller, but I don't hold it.
- IV. Less hand-holding than Zestiria at the beginning, but later there are
a few areas that are pretty closely scripted. Mercifully when tutorials
force you into semi-auto you usually are returned to full-auto once
you clear the tutorial. Am playing on moderate difficulty with full-auto
battles for more gald and better drops.
- There are Katz and Turtlez. The Katz chests hold fashion accessories,
so strictly speaking are optional. (Opening enough chests grants access to
the usual kind of Katz area.) Turtlez merchants, as usual, show up in
out of the way places so you still have access to shop services if the
story blocks you from returning to a town. The Katz run a series of
mini-games, which do contain puzzles and feats. These games reward Tales
coins that can be traded for fashion items and some useful items, though
the latter are very expensive. (Tales coins are occasionally found in the
random sparkly objects, also.) There are several other mini-games, including
a card game that features characters from all the main Tales games.
Many sub-events, often with multiple steps spread all over the map.
- V. Velvet is a welcome change from the usual Tales protagonist. All the
characters have significant backstories and development. This is a party
drawn together by need, trickery and devious motives. Trust no one!
Item creation has returned to sanity after Zestiria. You have some
control over cooking, which uses items you collect.
- Equipment enhancement uses special items, some of which come most
easily from dismantling enhanced equipment. Skills are learned from mastering
equipment. Equipment also adds temporary skills, as do titles. In-game help
is pretty weak in general, and totally lacking about cooking, enhancing,
dismantling, skills and so on.
- DLC is mostly costumes, and I'm ignoring it. There is a large
(nine area) and complex (treasure determined by floor and number of souls
given to a Katz) extra dungeon (after clear save) that ends with
a 128-level boss.
- Berseria is set in Zestiria's distant past. For those intimately familiar
with the various Tales storylines, Berseria (and Hexen Isle in Zestiria)
make it clear that the worlds of the Tales games are more intertwingled
than it appears from the viewpoint of each individual game.
- VI. Japanese voice track. BGM, SFX, Voice, Movie (cutscene) volumes
separately adjustable. Great opening and music. Translation/localization
in the subtitles is a bit rocky in places. (As in, wrong.)
- VII. Guide states that level 60 is the target for the final large,
eight-boss dungeon at the end of part four, and my party easily reached that
level early in part four, switching to play on the 'hard' level of difficulty.
Given the storyline, what one knows about the future (in Zestiria) and hints
dropped along the way, one doesn't expect a happy ending, and things do look
pretty grim at one point.
- My thorough playing style had consumed 100 hours early in part four.
By the final dungeon I was easily playing on 'chaos' level for better drops
(boss battles on 'hard'). My party reached level 83+ with equipment aggregate
level 45 for the battle party and a total of about 183 hours playing time.
(Sixty-three of those hours were spent in menus, i.e., mostly
doing equipment enhancement.) The complexities of equipment enhancement beg
for a second play-through now that I thoroughly understand things.
- VIII. I have the Japanese complete guide.
- World of Final Fantasy
- I. Square Enix, 2016. 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.
- 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
- 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.
- Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana
- I. Falcom, 2017. JRPG. ESRB: Teen. PS4.
- II. Ys Seven, Ys: Memories of Celceta and Ys: Lacrimosa of Dana
all have very similar mechanics, so I primarily note the differences from
Ys: Celceta, the one I played first.
- AI can be toggled between offensive and defensive. Required boss battles
may be retried, with the option to go down a level in difficulty. Game over
anywhere else results in resuming from the most recent area boundary, way
marker or one can load a save file.
- III. Every control button can be remapped, which is awesome! The camera is
decent, for the first time in an Ys game. Save anywhere. Pause with the PS
- IV. Map completion is again a thing, and one can see completion by area,
which is a big improvement. Warping to significant points already visited
can be done early on using the world map, making exploring the vast island
easier, as one needs to periodically return to base camp.
- There are places off of which one can fall. Climbing and jumping, including
jumping sideways while climbing, is required in places. Occasionally you run
into a beastie that stomps the party to mush in a few seconds. Reload and run
around it for now.
- The world map is huge, and there's a good deal of freedom to revisit
places one has been. Progress through the map is not at all linear, and one
could skip large areas. Occasionally the game blocks access to areas or
forces events, but it all makes sense in terms of the story.
- Playing on normal difficulty pushed my hands to the limit, sometimes
beyond. There were a few things I simply could not do, and I had to resort
to using the turbo feature of the HORIPAD FPS Plus controller that has
become my favorite for the PS4.
- V. The game begins with a scene of sexist stupidity (on the part of the
developers, not the characters). [Also, developers, please realize that an
ultra miniskirt is not suitable garb for a fighter. Why don't you try
fencing and see how much exposed skin you want to have? And really, are fart
jokes actually funny?] There is a wide range of DLC. Good story, interesting
characters, tons of stuff to do. The harvesting quests and building up of
the base camp remind me of something like Harvest Moon, which is a
good thing in my opinion.
- [Spoiler!] Playing Dana in both time periods is a bit challenging, as
she has a different level, different equipment and different abilities. So
I stuck with Laxia in the present time.
- Clear save unlocks some extra content and options, and allows a few
things to be carried into a new game. (Neither of which I have done.)
- Item creation is woven into the theme of being castaways on a deserted
island. There is no money. You find stuff, find people who can do things
with found stuff, then ask them to make or improve stuff. There is cooking,
and fishing. The fishing mechanic is the best I've yet seen.
- VI. This was originally a PS Vita game and has been upscaled for the PS4,
but on my setup it looks great! BGM, SFX and voice are separately adjustable.
Good music. Japanese audio and French subtitles included with my version.
Subtitles and localization a bit weird in places.
- VII. I played for 120 hours at normal difficulty, reaching character levels
of 75-80. The ending is somewhat unusual, in that it isn't simply beat the
final boss and roll credits. Definitely replayable, if I'm able.
- VIII. Limited Edition. I have the Japanese guide.
I've worn out one (maybe two) PS2 consoles and have purchased two more as
spares, as there is no PS2 backwards compatibility in either the PS3 or PS4.
I have two PSP 2000s (one imported) and one 3000, a spare PS3 (diskless),
two Vita TVs, and a PS4. (The only one of those that is still in production
is the PS4, which is why I have only one of them.)
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, with the Sony
Playstation Classic on order.
Return to my main gaming page.