Dragon Quest slime controller for PS2  

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. (On the far side of 70 years of age, my eyesight is pretty awful, too.)

  Risa stats, by Lisa Lees.

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. Updated: July 2024.

— Currently on hiatus until I figure out how to game with cat. —

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

Sony PSP

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

Brave Story: New Traveler
I. XSEED, 2007. RPG. ESRB: Everyone. 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 restore/save points.
IV. It's always clear what is supposed to be done, but exploration is possible. Following boss battles, you generally find yourself back outside, so if the dungeon wasn't fully explored, you have to return and start at the beginning.
Physical difficulty increases fairly quickly because of the combination of random encounters, sparse save points and the lack of any way to revive characters during a battle. An early dungeon has monsters that, when enraged, can inflict massive damage, and the dungeon ends with a three-part boss battle with no time for healing between the parts. On top of that, trying to escape even normal battles is not guaranteed to succeed, and the entire party looses its turn if the attempt fails. If the reason you're trying to escape is that you don't think you can survive, that's a pretty big gamble. So the need to continually heal your still relatively weak characters up to full HP makes exploring this dungeon a bit of a slog.
With the following dungeon (emmet warren, chapter 6, at 10-12 hours into the game) when your characters are up to around level 20 and more than one of them can heal, escaping battles to avoid doing essentially the same battle over and over and over again is less risky but no less annoying.
V. Loosely adapted from Miyuki Miyabe's novel, Brave Story. Tatsuya's backstory is much shorter and seemingly not as dark as Wataru's, but you do quickly end up in Vision under similar circumstances. (You do meet Wataru, Meena and Kee-Kima and others in-game; in fact you have them in your party at times.) This is one of those games in which the hero is basically mute. The mixed-race girl Yuno, who joins him almost immediately, does the talking. The usual stereotypes. Some sexism and light fan service. (Yuno is a cute but feisty cat girl archer / white mage with a skimpy costume.)
The game often forcibly reconfigures your party. Guest characters enter with similar levels and are fully equipped, and you are prevented from changing their equipment or accessories. Having a continuing character sidelined for an entire dungeon or boss fight makes it difficult to keep everyone leveled up with Tatsuya, who is always in the battle lineup. As characters receive a little extra EXP for dealing the final blow, it can be done, but it's annoying.
One finds diagrams that show how to craft materials into accessories. Accessories can later be sold, or broken back down into materials. Some found or dropped items can only be sold.
There are quests that can be carried out to earn money or items. There are optional dungeons to be found on the world map, if you want to endure the random encounters while looking for them. There is an in-game game of bird (goalfinch) catching and fighting, which I ignored.
VI. Animation mostly is anime style, but there's an attempt to render some of the more human faces realistically. The world map is pretty bland, and dungeons and scenery within each dungeon is very repetitive. English or Japanese battle voices, but the occasional other use of voices is English only. Music is inoffensive.
VII. I gave up trying to play this game after Gasara, when two of the party of six (including Tatsuya, who can not be swapped out) were K.O.'d in the first three random encounters. This game is simply too painful for me to want to play.
It is very difficult to avoid comparing this game to Ni no Kuni, which was of course created with vastly more resources for a much more capable platform, and is much kinder to its player.
VIII. No English language strategy guide. Never looked online.
Gurumin: A Monstrous Adventure
I. MASTiFF/Falcom, 2007. Adventure, puzzles. ESRB: Everyone. 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 in dungeons.
IV. Not too hard to make it through the basic game the first time, especially on Beginner level. But, there are puzzles, jumping, fighting (on ice and around lava, water and poison gas) and timed trials, some of which I am unable to do. The score with which one completes a dungeon depends on the percentage of battles won and treasure found. (You can go through a dungeon again to try to improve your score.)
V. Player character is Parin, 12 y/o human girl, equipped with a mining drill. Fiends and frenemies are monsters, as you'd expect from the title. There's a decent story, and the characters have surprising depth at times.
No unusual stereotyping and no overt sexism or fan service. (But one can unlock some pretty ridiculous costumes for Parin, some of which change her voice in rather creepy ways.)
VI. Animation is anime style. Music is good. Voice acting in cut-scenes and battle.
VII. I bought this game when it came out, and despite the difficulty I loved it and played it through multiple times, reaching levels of difficulty I probably can no longer tolerate.
VIII. No strategy guide. Online walkthroughs and FAQs available. There's a lot of hidden or difficult to find / figure out stuff in this game!
  Fan art for of Parin.
There once was a really cool website for the game but, alas, it is no more.
Harvest Moon: Back to Nature for Girl
Natsume, 2007. Farming/relationship simulation. ESRB: Everyone
Player character: Fate, young woman.
Difficulty: Generally easy on the hands, if a little repetitive in places.
Comments: No same-gender courtship in this one, 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, Vita TV. Latest play-through (fourth) April/May 2021 on mini-PC in Steam*.
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.
  Be free of gender roles!
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 and 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.
* Steam notes: There are three levels of difficulty, which cannot be changed after one's initial choice. There is DX9 Configuration (out of game) and Options (in game). The DX9 configuration is for video and audio setup, and enabling and configuring a controller. These games were originally made for the PC in the Windows XP era, so the graphics in the PSP games (480 x 272 with 24-bit color) were chopped down quite a bit. I'm playing on a 1920 x 1080 32-bit color Samsung LCD display. Controller face buttons map somewhat differently. X as usual; O is both cancel and main menu, and it doesn't seem possible to separate those functions; square is the Bracer notebook; triangle the cooking menu. There is no way to pause the game using the controller. If there is a way to skip cutscenes I have not found it, which is a pain for backing up and retrying things. There are some noticeable localization differences between the PSP and PC versions, e.g., Neil/Nial, Zane/Zin.
VIII. No English language strategy guide, but very good online walkthroughs exist. Tons of Japanese material. I have the Japanese Falcom PSP-Edition Official Conquest Guide Book, which covers FC and SC in 168 unfortunately monochrome pages. I love my Estelle and Tita Nendroids!
  Photo of Estelle Bright Nendroid.   Photo of Tita Russell Nendroid.
Trails in the Sky: Second Chapter
I. 2006, 2015. NA download-only for PC, PSP, Vita, Vita TV. Originally one of only two two-UMD PSP games ever made, it downloads as two separate files. Latest play-through (second) May/June 2021 on mini-PC in Steam*.
II. SC is a direct sequel to FC in terms of story (it picks up on the next day), with almost exactly the same mechanics. This game continues the party-switching mechanic from the end of FC. The battle party is four or fewer characters, and to swap in/out from other available player characters, one must be at a Bracer Guild house. (There continue to be places where party lineup is forced or a character forcibly joins aways from the Guild house.) This party-switching mechanic makes swapping equipment and quartz a bit awkward. Only battle party members gain EXP and build up CP, so you can't just ignore the PCs in the Guild House. Fortunately Shining Poms are common in this game, so it's not difficult to keep all the characters at the same level.
Depending on Estelle's final Bracer rank and total BP in FC, up to two bonus accessories, a reviving balm and a quartz are awarded early in SC. (All four only with rank 1 and all 368 possible BP.) I used the stat-boosting accessory, kept the KO protecting accessory and sold the balm.
In boss battles, the level of the boss tracks that of the party, so excessive leveling only helps with the random encounters. As with FC, one may choose to repeat boss battles at a lower level. (But I never do; save and reload is easy!)
III. One may now set run or walk as the default. It is now 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. How many characters may participate in a chain levels up. Character level (35-40) carries over, and characters retain all their crafts and S-breaks from FC.
IV. The orbment is reworked in SC, giving everyone an additional slot. All slots are open, and can quickly be filled with low-level quartz made from sepith earned during the prologue, but all slots can be upgraded to accept more powerful quartz and increase stats. As a full bracer, Estelle now has to work her way up from G to A in 13 steps. Because everyone begins with at least level 35, accessories, balms and recipes have been re-normed so that they remain useful. Of course the initial monsters and enemies are also appropriate to those levels, and the shining poms just as nearly impossible to take down (multiple characters need to use S-Breaks or the dark matter art). Quests tend to be more complex and bonus BP more difficult (and sometimes annoying) to obtain.
VI. On the Vita TV I encountered about half-a-dozen glitches with subtitle colors, and a couple of instances of missing sound effects for various things. I did not notice these problems in the PC version. 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!
VII. 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 Falcom PSP-Edition Official Conquest Guide Book.
* Steam notes: There are four levels of difficulty: easy, normal, hard, nightmare; I chose normal. In-game options include an auto/30FPS/60FPS setting; some things, like the sepith count after battles, are noticeably jerky at 30FPS so I set it to auto. Unlike with FC, I simply could not get the DX9 gamepad config to work in Steam Big Picture Mode (the controller worked until the configuration widget opened and then went dead). So I had to use the game management / controller configuration widget outside of BPM to remap the function I needed to change (run/walk) from R3 to L2 (and Turbo, which I never use, from L2 to R3). Everything else in the DX9 configuration widget worked just fine.
Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth
Square Enix, 2006. RPG. ESRB: Teen
Player characters: various, and Lenneth, of course.
Difficulty: Generally no problem, but there is much jumping and use of crystals, which can be very hard on the hands.
I never finished the PSP version. See my notes on the original Playstation version.

Sony Playstation TV / Vita TV

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

Tales of Hearts R
I. Bandai Namco, 2013. JRPG. ESRB: Teen. Vita chip. Played August 2018.
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 2018.
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 extremely disappointing.
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. Played 2018. Coming to PS4 in June 2020!
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 decent.
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.

Sony Playstation / Playstation 2

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

Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance I & II; Champions of Norrath & Call to Arms
I played the Norrath games with my kids. Multi-player tends to be easier, but there's still a lot of X-button mashing and some very tricky boss fights. The Baldur's Gate games are two-player games, so I just watched.
Chrono Trigger *
Fairly easy game to play using the Joystick controller. I had to use the slow mode in a few places that required rapid movement and precision control, and the turbo X-button in a few places, also.
Chrono Cross *
No problem to play using the SRWC controller. A bit too heavy on the X-button mashing, but not atypically so.
Destroy All Humans!
I. Pandemic/THQ, 2005, 2006. Action/adventure. ESRB: Teen. To be played.
II. [party, battle, AI, encounters, boss battles, retrying]
III. [controls, camera, saving, pausing]
IV. [physical feats, handholding, freedom, overall difficulty]
V. [item creation, story, characters, stereotypes, sexism, frustration]
VI. [animation, sound, music]
VII. [length, ending, replayability, post-game extras]
VIII. Old enough a printed manual came with the game.
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. Also, stupid, immature jokes and overt sexism that is the hallmark of the Dragon Quest series.
VI. Animation, sound, music are wonderful. Voice acting is British and is superb.
VII. I played for about 170 hours (but remember, no way to pause the clock, so not that much actual playing time), reaching levels 50-53. There is a post-game dungeon (after clear save) that adds to the story and unlocks a slightly different ending.
VIII. I have the Brady strategy guide, which is perhaps unique in being so spoiler-free. Mechanics are fully explained, lists of all main game treasures, item creation recipes, weapons, et cetera. But no story spoilers and rarely any information about boss battles.
Final Fantasy I, II, IV, VII, VIII, IX *
Each game has its quirks, but generally not too bad until the final boss battles. The games through VIII have turn-based battles. Some games have very difficult post-story content. (All of these can also be played on a PSP, and most are available for PS3, PS4 and/or Vita.)
Final Fantasy VIII
I. Square, 1999. Playstation, four CDs. RPG. ESRB: Teen. Last played: October 2019.
PS4 Remastered. Still the same game. The remastered graphics are quite decent, characters and moving objects more so than backgrounds. The touchpad is now Select (so touchpad + square for GF boost). Options button is pause. New controls: L3 to move 3X speed, R3 to boost battle parameters, L3 + R3 for no random encounters. Trophies have been added. No sound problems. Part of the original ending animation with Rinoa and Squall is now used at the beginning, after developer scroll.
II. Six primary player characters. Battle party is 3 plus multiple Guardian Forces per character. Turn-based battles, configurable ATB speed. Invisible random encounters, no retry. Pause anywhere but during cutscenes. Battle party order can be changed, but no control over character displayed on map, and considerable constraints during much of the game on which characters can be placed in the battle party. Gameplay frequently forces battle party changes and at times alternates between two parties and forces inclusion of minor player characters.
I find it annoying that for most of the game Squall is forced to be in the battle party, and so levels up more than other characters. So he spends a lot of the game just standing around, drawing spells, ready to step in with a potion if needed.
III. Standard controls, configurable, including analog sensitivity. Running is default and cannot be changed. Minimal camera. Save at save points and on the world map.
IV. Weapons can be improved at weapon shops, if one has the required materials. The Guardian Forces play a central role in the story, and provide a way to 'junction' various stat improvements and abilities. GFs may be invoked to fight and take damage in place of their controlling character. Magic works by using skills drawn from enemies or draw points.
GFs and magic can be moved from character-to-character, piecemeal or all at once, so it's easy to rebalance the party or adapt to forced changes in party composition. (Generally the GFs and magic of all possible party members is accessible even when some members are not allowed in the current battle party.)
Because of the ATB turn-based fighting system, and the ability to invoke Guardian Forces, this game is easy on the hands, in spite of the random encounters. It never devolves to X-button mashing. The little battle stuff that requires timed button presses can be automated, and there's a setting to pause the battle while one is fiddling with menu choices. Awesome! (A perfect example of why I love so many old games, despite their low-resolution graphics.)
V. A long game with many side quests and optional things to do. Though the card game is optional, it is the best way to acquire some important materials early in the game (via the Card and Card Mod GF abilities). Selphie is one of my all-time favorite game characters.
VI. For its time (20 years ago!) the graphics are great and the music is of course good. SFX separately adjustable.
VII. The final boss battle, even for JRPGs, is rather bizarre. I'm on at least my fifth full play-through.
VIII. I have the strategy guide, which is decent, two Selphie figures and a Cactuar plush.
Selphie Tilmitt.   Selphie Tilmitt.   Selphie Tilmitt.
Final Fantasy plushes.
Final Fantasy XII
I. Square Enix, 2006. PS2. RPG. ESRB: Teen. First PS2 play spring 2013. Played Zodiac Age version 2017 and 2020, then second PS2 play summer 2023.
II. Six primary player characters. Battle party is 3, but often with an additional guest character controlled only by the AI. (These guest characters can be very helpful in ganging up to completing quests. Guests who have gambits that use items have their own infinite supply. And it is not game over if a guest is KO'd.) No random encounters. Cannot retry battles, but can change leader or swap in another character to replace a KO'd character. Characters not in battle party earn LP but not EXP, so you need to change the party from time to time to keep everyone leveled so they can usefully swap in during a crisis.
A 'gambit' system essentially allows the AI to be programmed for player characters with a set of if/then statements. You can buy/find additional gambits and open up more gambit slots as the game progresses. It's easy to disable gambits (or reduce the party size) if you need to ignore a too tough enemy or sneak through a heavily trapped area. You actually can change equipment or use license points during a battle, though I've never done so.
III. Pretty standard controls and camera, which cannot be altered. Save at save points, which also restore. Some of the save points are teleport points, at which you may spend a teleport stone to quickly return to a region you've already explored, to complete a quest or farm for a particular drop. Pause almost anywhere.
IV. I really like the skill system (spend LP to learn abilities and skills and be able to equip specific gear) and the combat system! The latter actually works without X-button mashing. (I do not care for the job system in the Zodiac Age version.)
V. It's a long game with many, many side quests and optional things to do and, importantly, the freedom to run around and do them. The setting is very interesting and initially the story seems promising, and I was hoping it was a return to Final Fantasy roots of four disparate young people finding the crystals to return light to the world. But it kind of fizzles out and derails, or is hijacked, by Balthier and Fran (I can stand the ears but not the ridiculous shoes). There is no clear save or post-game content. Voice acting is good, though.
VI. Animation, sound, music are up to Final Fantasy standards. I absolutely love the music in Rabanastre!, especially underground. Sometimes I go there and walk around to look in the shops and listen to that music.
VII. First play about 125 hours over two months, reaching levels 50-55. The lack of random encounters and the gambit system makes this the final Final Fantasy game that I am physically capable of playing. (Yes, FFXIII was a serious disappointment after FFXII.)
VIII. I have the Brady Games strategy guide, which is good, but loosing pages.
See the PS4 section for notes about changes with the Xodiac Age version.
Mana Khemia: Alchemists of Al-Revis
I. NIS/Gust, 2006/2008. RPG. ESRB: Everyone 10+. Played spring 2023.
The ninth game in the massive (20+ game) Atelier series. Mana Khemia does have some time limits, and time advances while in a dungeon from morning to night. (It's harder to see at night, and monsters are more aggressive and dangerous.) But you can teleport out of a dungeon to heal, then go back to explore some more, rinse and repeat. Item creation does not use time, and before long you can set tasks for teammates to create or gather in the background. Long dungeons or dungeons with a dangerous mark, tend to have a heal/save point.
Al-Revis is an academy and most PCs are students. So there are classes and assignments and free blocks of time that structure the twelve chapters of the story.
II. Eventual total of eight PCs. Three characters in the front line, three in standby and two in the waiting area. Characters in standby may be swapped in and/or do support tasks and gain AP. Characters in the waiting area do not gain AP and cannot be swapped in during battle. Visible encounters, and usually you want to avoid fighting as it takes time and depletes resources. (Characters do not gain EXP from fighting.) Turn-based battles. From the beginning you have the ability to teleport out of a dungeon back to your atelier to heal and save.
Characters do not level up. Each character has a Grow Book that is filled in with items or achievements, then AP can be used on filled-in nodes to further increase stats and abilities. (Kind of like Rogue Galaxy.) Weapons, armor and accessories also affect stats and skills.
III. Usual PS2 controls. Save at save points, some save/heal points. Can load at save points. There are twelve save slots. No camera control. No explicit pause, but the in-game clock does not advance while in menus.
IV. Decent in-game help. There are some physical feats such as fishing that I find difficult.
V. The Atelier series is all about item creation and doing jobs to help people out, but this entry also emphasizes character-related quests that are necessary for character growth and unlocking endings. There's a rumor system; triggering and buying rumors can be very advantageous. Less overt sexism than some of the later Atelier games. First clear save unlocks massive extra dungeon.
VI. For a PS2 game, the animation is great, as is the music. Can adjust BGM, voices and FX separately. English and Japanese voice tracks. No difficulty levels.
VII. Eight endings. Played for 111 hours and had no problem with the final battles with all Grow Books at 100% and decent equipment.
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. PE2 story setup.
Despite its difficulty, I love this game; the graphics, the music and the need to make many hard choices about equipment, skills and what to carry at any one time. Much more replay value than the original game. Unfortunately, I am physically unable to play this game any longer. (The slow mode of the Joystick controller does not work with this game.)
  PE2 before final bosses.   PE2 before final bosses.
VIII. I have the Brady Games strategy guide.
Rogue Galaxy
I. Sony, 2006. RPG. PS2, PS4. ESRB: Teen. Last played: fall 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, and the encounter rate is very high in most areas throughout the game. Real time battle system with a bit too much X-button mashing. Very few bosses have one-hit kills. No retry.
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.
There are quite a few enemies, bosses and situations that require the use of one of Jaster's sub-weapons. This is especially annoying for random encounters when one is controlling another character. The special Burning Strike ability that all characters have is so difficult for me to use that I don't even try. (Hit buttons as they are flashed on the screen in random locations, like some of the lightning towers in Final Fantasy X.)
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 real armor in the game; emphasis is on offense. There is a post-game Ghost Ship dungeon that I have never played.
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 69 for Jaster and Kisala, level 65 for everyone else. (The game makes it both difficult and pointless to level up past 65 for the main game.)
VIII. I have the Doublejump strategy guide, which is amazing. The only thing it lacks is an explanation of character abilities, which I would much rather have than the half-page EXP table for each character, which differs very little between characters.
Tales of the Abyss
I. Namco Bandai, 2005. RPG. ESRB: Teen. Third play winter 2017; fourth play summer 2023.
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. You may choose which character shows as party leader once you have a certain item!
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 storyline.
The first play through I began playing Natalia, because I love archers, but switched to Tear to save my hands (and because she's my favorite character). This was before I realized it is quite reasonable to put the player character on full-auto, which I have always done since with Tales of  games.
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 then 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.
I'm 71 now, so this may be my final play-through (also from a clear save, but only to make the game a little easier to play). And I'm running out of functional PS2 consoles (Abyss has never been ported to a newer system for some reason). Possibly one final summer playing old favorites. (Yeah, I'm a bit down; life has kind of sucked since the beginning of 2020.)
VIII. The Tales games don't usually receive English language strategy guides, so I have the Japanese starter guide (which has furigana) and the 600 page 'official complete guide'.
  Japanese strategy guide.   Japanese strategy guide.
Tales of Legendia
I. Namco, 2005. RPG. ESRB: Teen. First play: summer 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 of  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 heal points (not heal and save, just heal). 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. (You may reload from the retry prompt without having to go to the title screen.)
IV. Generally easy to play on normal difficulty. The invisible random encounters are unusual for Tales of  games and are a major negative in my opinion. 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., battle arena and item customization, and some areas are reset. A few side quests are available during the main story. The characters are rather shallow and silly during the main story, making them hard to relate to. Compared to Abyss, it's like night and day.
VI. I found the orchestral music score a bit odd, though it is sometimes great when it turns jazzy or into choral music. BGM, SFX, battle voice and event voice levels are separately adjustable. Animation of semi-deformed characters and a wide variety of monsters is good.
Legendia and Abyss  were both released in 2005, but Legendia is the 7th and Abyss  the 8th main Tales of  game. Legendia seems more like a Playstation game than a Playstation 2 game. (The PS2 was released in 2000, but the PS was produced until 2006s, so maybe that was the original target?)
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. First play finished the main game in 65 hours at level 49 and was not motivated to do the character quests at that time. The save following completion of the main game is not a clear save, which further reduces my motivation to try playing it again.
VIII. I have the Brady Games guide, which makes things easier, though it has a few annoying errors. The manual that comes with the game is decent, too.
Valkyrie Profile
I. Enix, 2000. RPG. ESRB: Teen. Two CDs. An 'enhanced' port was released for the PSP in 2006 as Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth.
II. The battle party is four, with a constantly changing selection of Einherjar to include and level up, before sending on to Valhalla. Battles are turn-based, but the system is somewhat complex. Enemies are visible and encounters should not be avoided, even if possible. Easy, normal and hard levels.
III. Buttons are configurable. No camera movement. No pausing. Save at save points and on the world map. This is a side-scroller. (So you see Valkyrie in profile; get it?)
IV. This is a physically challenging game, as it involves a great deal of jumping, building structures out of crystals in various ways, often combined with jumping, and puzzle solving.
V. The story is well known, but not all the players and their stories. For that matter, the major known characters have their own quirks.
VI. Lots of pixels, but good pixels. Surprising amount of voice acting for a Playstation game. Sound levels for BGM, FX and voices are configurable. At startup there's a music player, and one can replay the intro movie.
VII. At the beginning, once the difficulty (easy, normal, hard) is selected, one of four game patterns, different for each level of difficulty, is randomly and invisibly selected. These patterns determine when one visits places and dungeons, meets Einherjar and may access events. Not all places, dungeons, characters or events are available in any one level. So in terms of exactly what one encounters and when, the game is almost infinitely replayable. Three endings: very bad, okay but leaves many questions hanging, and good. The ending isn't simply cut scenes; it determines your final scenario and battles. Easy level is much easier and also shorter; a good intro to a very complex game.
VIII. I have the Prima strategy guide for the Playstation version and the Brady guide for the PSP version (they share an author). The maps are better in the Playstation guide; the PSP guide has more details about spells and equipment (but the latter are not exactly the same between the two versions).
Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria
I. Square Enix, 2006. RPG. ESRB: Teen. Positioned as a prequel to Valkyrie Profile.
II. Battle party four; many playable characters. Though one receives some benefit from releasing Einherjar, it is not necessary to do so, and one may play the entire game with a set of Einherjar, if one wishes (up to the final battle). Unlike Valkyrie Profile it is possible to rotate Alicia out of the battle party.
III. Buttons are configurable. Right analog camera movement. Pause except during cut scenes. May skip cut scenes. Save at save points and on world map. Side scroller.
IV. The battle system is a bit too complex for my tastes, and I find movement during battle rather confusing and difficult. There is some jumping and a number of necessary puzzles that are annoying.
V. Quite a few treasures are simply too difficult for me to reach. This is one of the few games in which the final two-part boss battle is significantly more difficult than other battles in the final dungeon, in no small part because of a surprise last minute change in available characters. Basically, the final battle is rigged against you, and I've only bothered to smash my way through it once. But there's no save after the battle; the bonus dungeon, if one wants it, is opened by the save before the final battle.
VI. Unfortunately sound is not configurable except for turning off battle voices.
VII. A number of optional dungeons in several chapters, item creation, and different skill sets and release benefits of Einherjar (and four major characters) give the game a reasonable level of replayability.
VIII. I have the Brady strategy guide.
I. Square, 1998. RPG. ESRB: Teen. Two CDs. Available on PSN*.
II. Party is 9/3. Battles are turn-based. Random encounters, but the rate of encounter is usually reasonable.
III. Simple controls*, not configurable at all. L1/R1 rotate view. Hold circle button to run, triangle to jump. Save at save points (which look like the original Zohar in Xenosaga) and on world map. As this is an early Playstation game designed for a digital-only controller, it's best to use that type of controller, or an arcade pad, to play with.
IV. The primary physical feat is jumping, using the triangle action button in conjunction with D-pad movement. Big jumps require running. There are many places where jumping (often big jumping) is required. L1/R1 allow the view to be rotated so movement can be directly NSEW, i.e., using a single D-pad button, but this does take time, which one does not always have in abundance.
With attention to leveling, items and equipment, the fights and boss battles are not difficult. The game sometimes allows you to retry tricky situations or falling off of things. However, because there is no way to skip dialog or cut-scenes, this can become very tedious and painful.
V. The story is complex, and probably suffers from heavy-handed localization. (As with Xenosaga, there is a heavy religious basis to the story.) Dialog is a bit stiff. There is little character development. The sexism and stereotypes are not too heavy-handed. A few side-quests; no post-ending content.
There is much lore and speculation as to how the Xenosaga, Xenogears and Xenoblade games are or are not related (Wikipedia). In my opinion it's a stretch to say they are in the same universe.
VI. This is an early Playstation game, so lots of visible pixels. The fighting suits ('gears'), being large, look decent. No adjustment of sound levels. Good soundtrack. Only cut-scenes have voice acting.
VII. I ended up putting this game on hold after about twenty hours of play, primarily because the jumping became too much for my hands. I 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. Fifth play-through: summer 2023.

Screenshot with Japanese caption.

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 sparse in some areas. Occasionally can rest to restore EP and HP, but usually need to use abilities o items. Pause almost anywhere, including cut-scenes.
IV. Low on physical feats and puzzles. Little handholding. Fair amount of freedom, considering that most of the game takes place in locations one cannot easily access—separate spaceships and planets—but a way is eventually provided to return to previous areas. The battle system is quite complex, so takes a while to learn.
As I age past 70, the lack of save points and the very long cutscenes have become a problem, making it difficult to choose how long to game in an evening. By modern standards, parts of the game proceed very slowly. When you're caught in an unavoidable battle, even if it isn't challenging, it will take several minutes to finish unless you choose to escape. Fortunately cutscenes may be skipped if one has to repeat an area.

KOS-MOS version I.

My favorite KOS-MOS.

V. The overall story is fantastic, though quite grim, dark and quite frankly terrifying in places. The opening scene is stolen from the movie Stargate, but the story is quite different and leans heavily on the Old Testament and the Kabbalah. Good characters with really distinct personalities, backstories and development, especially Shion, MOMO and KOS-MOS, who are the main characters, along with Junior once he enters the story. Light on fan service (in the overall context of anime, at least), but blatant misogyny, sexism, racism, religious fanaticism and xenophobia are part of the story. (The evil people are really, really evil.)
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 that can yield good items.
VI. Anime style animation. Excellent English dub. Great sound effects and music.
VII. My playing time was about 75 hours with characters at level 48 before the final boss battles (60 hours and level 43 at final save on 5th play-through). The ending animation is long and one of the best of any game. (I always cry.) There is a clear save, but it is not loadable and there is no post-game content. Xenosaga is a true series, with continuing characters and story. This game is amazing 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.)

Screenshot U.M.N. AI.

And you thought all the brouhaha about AI was new!

Xenosaga II: Janseits von Gut und Böse
I. Namco, 2004. RPG. ESRB: Teen. Fifth play-through: fall 2023.
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 shopping in this episode! But characters in reserve do heal slowly during battle.
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 somewhat 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 probably 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 Chaos 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, unfortunately. Good sound and music, though the character voices are a bit too loud and cannot be adjusted separately.
VII. Much shorter than episode I, even with all the side-quests; 40-45 hours. This is basically a skeleton of a game. KOS-MOS is still a PC, but not part of the story and can be completely ignored as a playable character. There is a good deal of non-story post-game content this time; clearly the designers expected you to continue post clear save, but I never have.
VIII. Good strategy guide, many online walkthroughs and FAQs.
Xenosaga III: Auch Sprach Zarathustra
I. Namco Bandai*, 2006. RPG. ESRB: Teen. Fifth play-through: fall 2023.
II. Party is the same 7/3 as in episode II (with Canaan and Miyuki as guests at the beginning) and we're back to being a full-fledged game. Characters in reserve now do not heal, though they do accrue some points. Turn-based battles, no random encounters (doesn't mean that encounters can be avoided), 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 revive with 1 HP at end of battle. KO'd suits (E.S.) automatically swap out. Healing is never a problem, but ether potions remain very scarce and there are some excessively long spans between save points.
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 and again probably 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 continues to be very emotionally charged and very dark at times.)

KOS-MOS version III.

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 is a jarring change and makes several key scenes incomrehensible. Given all the emotional and physical violence inherent in this series, that was a really stupid decision!
VII. Length back up around 65 hours, characters reach level 60 or greater. Less post-game content.
VIII. Brady Games strategy guide is good, but has a number of errors and feels unfinished: references chapters, but there are no chapter headings; says there are maps but there are no maps. I really miss having maps. (I've worked as a technical editor and writer and I realize that management is to blame, not the hard-working editors, graphic artists and writers.)
* 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 ghost 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 printed guide's introduction.
** Xenosaga was envisioned as a longer series.

Sony Playstation 3

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

Eternal Sonata
I. Bandai Namco, 2008. RPG. ESRB: Teen. Played February/March 2014. Began replay December 2022; abandoned as unplayable.
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). Saving is slow; it takes 30 seconds and there are only five save slots. (And no, this was not originally a Playstation game, it was developed for the XBOX 360 in 2007 and expanded for the PS3.)
There is no MP. Equipped skills can always be used in battle, and never outside of battle, even healing. No heals points, no staying in inns to heal. But one can carry 99 of an item, so once one has money (have Beat take and sell as many good photos as you can stand during the early stages of the game!), healing 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. Capacity does increase with party level.
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. (You need to do this because although the battle system is turn based, it is active in the sense that your characters need to move to encounter or avoid enemies, or to tempt them into going into dark or light areas.) This is something of a pain when traveling back through some areas, 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 using the Start button.
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 (this depends on controller, though; no problem with the HORI Pad FPS Plus on second play).
December 2022: abandoned game at second Tuba boss battle. The constant button mashing is just too painful, and things happen too fast at party level three. The battle mechanic means that a level 21 party of three can easily be wiped out by a level 16 boss unless everything is done just right and I can't cope with doing each boss battle five or more times. As I'm now 70 years old, this means I'll never attempt this game again. That's sad, because I rather like these characters and their story, but there is simply no way to make this game easy enough to play that my hands aren't left throbbing with pain and it's not worth it.
* A turn has a tactical time and an action time. At party level one, the tactical time is infinite, then when the character moves the action time remaining decreases. At party level two, the tactical time remains infinite, but once the character moves at all, the action time proceeds to run out even if the character stops moving. At party level three, tactical time is no longer infinite, so one has to quickly size up the situation. By party level five, there is no tactical time and speed of characters has increased by 50 percent. Additional capabilities are introduced with higher levels: echoes, counterattacks and harmonies. At level six (in the optional Mysterious Unison dungeon) one can carry echoes over to the next battle, harmony chains are longer, but after each use of a harmony chain the function of the O, X and triangle buttons is scrambled, making it rather difficult to keep track of everything. (The buttons and functions are displayed on screen in the same pattern as on a standard controller, and they do reset to the default when an area is entered or re-entered.)
V. The story is engaging, with a dark undertone. (But no more so than many RPGs.) This game allows one or two additional local players to control a character during battles. There are several optional side-quest kinds of things. Encore mode unlocks some additional content.
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! I love the hand-painted backrounds, which seem retro now. 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! In Encore (new game +) one can choose the party level, which is an argument for waiting until Encore to do Mysterious Unison.)
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, PCs and 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. Have played too many times to count; last in spring 2019. Playing PS2 versions in spring 2024. Woot!
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 am unable 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 are my favorites of the series, and if I had to choose an overall favorite it is the HD remake of X, though that could change if VIII ever receives a proper HD version (only if they don't ruin the battle system). If XII had been properly finished, it would be a tie, but alas.
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. New figures (Auron is an older figure) and wall hangings:
  Final Fantasy X figures.   Final Fantasy X wall hanging.
Final Fantasy XIII
I. Square Enix, 2009. PS3. RPG. ESRB: Teen. Played 2014, 2017; playing final time spring 2023.
II. Six main player characters, with various subsets (usually 2 until chapter nine, then 3) 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, and you cannot choose party members until chapter nine and the leader until after chapter nine. All characters fully heal and revive following each battle (and following use of an Eidolon).
AI can be set to help with the character that is directly controlled (though this falls far, far short of what 'auto' means in Tales of  games), and the battle speed (ATB gauge fill rate) can be set to slow or normal. 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, and you have no control over party formation until chapter nine. Stat increases are rigidly capped during the main game. (No 'leveling-up' to make things easier; you play this game our way, buckaroo.) Overall difficulty is manageable, but the battle mechanics boil down to repeated X-button mashing and multi-button 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. Characters do not level, but 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. It's fairly easy to max everything out for your three main characters; I did so in about 80 hours. (But this does not make the game easier to play.)
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, difficulty of item creation (improving weapons and accessories) and complex battle mechanics requiring multiple button presses to change paradigms and choose abilities and techniques. Many 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. Having all battle party members on the map and jerking around trying to keep up with the player character has not aged well. Music is as usual awesome.
VII. I played for about 85 hours. Second play-through about 99 hours. This is a physically challenging game for me to play, but I'm playing part of the way through a third time until it hurts too much. (Which is a twenty-minute boss battle in which we're doing okay until the Doom counter snuffs us. Not re-doing that. Done. Forever.) I will buy no more Final Fantasy games. They are just too hard for me to play.
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 figures.
Final Fantasy XIII-2
I. Square Enix, 2011. PS3. RPG. ESRB: Teen. Played twice, last in 2017.
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 or 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. Unplayable by me.
II. Lightning is a party of one, but not really. Instead of paradigms there is a schemata containing up to three active schema, each of which is essentially its own version of Lightning with its own ATB gauge. You can cycle through these schema in battle. So there is no AI for player characters. Encounters are not random. You cannot retry, but you can revive yourself, and escape if all else fails.
III. Controls and camera are similar to XIII and XIII-2. Save and pause almost anywhere.
IV. The primary physical feat is that the world ends in thirteen days, and there is an in-game clock that counts that down. One must accomplish a minimum set of tasks to make it to the final day, or it's game over (at which point you'd have to truly start over or use save files to back up enough days to be able to complete more tasks). After the initial handholding and tutorials, this game is very freeform. But having to constantly keep an eye on the clock for the entire game sucks the fun out of it for me. There is an easy mode that lets one escape from battles without time penalty, and a skill that can halt the clock for a little while (at a cost). The game isn't undoable, especially with the strategy guide, it simply isn't fun under those conditions, and for me the pace and the repetition literally is painful.
V. The story is, if anything, even more bizarre. Characters from XIII and XIII-2 put in their appearances. Stereotypes and sexism are a bit more overt. Frustration other than the clock TBA. Plenty of optional quests and such, if one can find time for them. Because of the clock, one has to save frequently and restart if a quest or exploration goes wrong. Very painful.
VI. Animation, sound and music similar to XIII and XIII-2. There is finally a DLC Japanese voice track! (I hope enough people wanted it for this to become standard.)
VII. Length, ending TBA. (I gave up after the first in-game day. The pain/pleasure ratio is way too high for this game.) A "new game+" option that preserves most of one's equipment and attributes makes failing to beat the clock, and/or replaying at a higher level more palatable.
VIII. Very good strategy guide.
Kingdom Hearts
Sadly, the X-button mashing—battle system and jumping feats—make the Kingdom Hearts games unplayable for me.
Ni no Kuni
I. Namco Bandai, 2013. RPG. ESRB: Everyone. Played 2013 while my mother was dying, so did not do a full entry at the time. Replayed December 2022 and January 2023.
II. Battle is a bit complicated, as each of up to three characters in the battle party also have familiars that can be used. You control one character (or its familiar) and the AI controls the rest. The AI is not very good; it can be given limited direction, such as to use the leader's target, but these tactics can only be changed during battle, which can be a problem if you enter a tough battle with the wrong tactics set. The battles are real-time with movement, but there is an 'easy' mode "for people who are mainly interested in the story" that can be changed any time.
Encounters are visible, and it's usually possible to avoid battles, though some beasties will charge you. You can try to escape. 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. (If you're going to make use of this option, obviously you should not horde your cash!)
III. Usual controls with some configuration. Save anywhere on the world map, and in towns. Dungeons have heal and save points. Annoyingly, one can reload only by exiting the game. Boo! Pause anywhere using the Start button, including during battles and cut-scenes (the latter may be skipped). You quickly have use of a ship and may travel to any place that has a beach. (Though early on you are unlikely to survive the encounters at most places.) Eventually you have a teleport spell to revisit some places and can fly on a dragon to new places that aren't accessible from lower levels that can be reached by ship. Grinding and hoarding is easy from the beginning.
IV. The level of hand-holding in this game can be really annoying. I wish there was an expert mode or a shizuku shizuka (shut up, Drippy) mode. There is a trial that requires some ambidexterity, but fortunately I am quite ambidexterous. The 'hidden treasures' are quite literally a pain, as one must mash the X-button in an area until the treasure is found. Without a guide, I wouldn't even try. There are huge numbers of optional tasks to do for rewards, but they are often simply running around.
V. Story is good, characters have depth. Capturing and raising familiars is a whole big thing. Treasure chests and resource points. Shops. Item creation. It's a huge, complex game. A lot like Dragon Quest VIII, but better and without all the stupid jokes and less sexism. But Drippy.
Item creation with a cauldron. Annoyingly, when you figure out a new recipe it is not added to your list of known recipes. The Djinn constantly sneezes, which is one of the few DQ8-level pieces of 'humour'.
VI. Gorgeous graphics. Wonderful music. (I love setting sailing!) English or Japanese voice track. English or French text.
VII. Finished first play in 2013 with characters about level 87; 20 levels higher than recommended. Second play in 2017 I stopped with characters about level 77, did not go through with final boss fights. In 2023 I finished with characters about level 85 after 95 hours of play. This time I did some of the post clear-save content while waiting for my next game to arrive. Reached level 99 (the max) and did almost everything. Gave up on the all but impossible Master Alchemist errand (#78) and didn't bother with fighting the Guardian of the Worlds because my hands were already hurting too much. (Switched to 'easy' difficulty before final dungeon and left it at that to keep from totally wrecking my hands, and because I find the battle system extremely awkward and difficult to use quickly.)
VIII. I have the Prima hardcover guide (which is too heavy to use easily) and the Level 5 Japanese guide.
Syberia Collection
I. The Adventure Company, long ago. Adventure. PEGI 7. Playing spring 2024.
II. Syberia 1 & 2 on one disc; 2 is a direct continuation of 1 with same mechanics.
III. No settings. Auto save only, into one save file.
IV. Three levels of difficulty, which affect how much help you can get. Cannot be changed. Played 1 on normal level using guide, tried 2 on normal, abandoned, restarted on easy, eventually gave up in Monastery.
VI. Very good static backgrounds, I assume by Benoit Sokal. Animation good for its era, a few cutscenes. Parts of the game seem to have 4:3 aspect ratio and parts 16:9. Minimal music and dialogue.
VIII. Syberia: Le guide officiel (2003) auteur Daniel Ichbiah covers the first game with minimal but complete hints and blurry screenshots.
Tales of Symphonia Chronicles
I. Namco Bandai, 2013. RPG. ESRB: Teen. Replayed during winter 2021. 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. In New World one eventually ends up with Emil and Marta, four monsters and all the characters from the first game in the party (with hundreds of other monsters in storage with the Katz), but only Emil or Marta can be the first (on-map) character and the guest characters have serious 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. Both games have several levels of difficulty, which may be changed at any time.
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. Some dungeons have 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 levels 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 the first time, 88 the second time (new game +). As usual with Tales games, one may load a clear save to access the Grade Shop and begin a new game carrying over various items and info, which can give replaying a different focus. New World is a shorter, less complex game; even being fairly obsessive I took about 62 hours to clear the game and couldn't make myself replay it.
VIII. I have the strategy guides for the Nintendo releases; the first one is much more complete than the second one. The mini-manual included in the set is actually useful. There is ample in-game help, also.
Tales of Graces f
I. Namco Bandai, 2010. JRPG. ESRB: Teen. Fifth play-through, October/November 2022.
II. Seven player characters, four 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 used 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. Fifth play it's the HORIPAD FPS Plus. I find Sophi the easiest character to play, though as usual the game at times constrains choice of character. (And I usually play with full auto, anyway.) You can 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 post-game segment.
VI. Animation, sound and music are good. The theme, "White Wishes," by BoA, is easy to listen to over and over again, in either English or Japanese. (The game is English-only, though.)
VII. The main game sequence is fairly short (could probably be completed in 50-60 hours) but there are many, many optional things to do along the way, quite a few of which enhance the story, which can double the playing length.
After clear save there is an optional fighting style dungeon (Zhonecage) that doesn't appeal to me, and an optional segment (Lineages and Legacies) that takes 20-25 hours and continues significant character development. There is a new game plus in which, like other Tales games, one may use grade to carry-over some things and get a head-start on abilities, items, money, experience and item creation. The first time I did this, I was able to play most areas on 'evil' difficulty to begin with and on 'chaos' when it became available. But in a few areas, circumstances with reduced parties, and most boss battles, I had to fall back to hard or moderate level to survive. By my fifth play-through evil difficulty was a good challenge, even going light on what I carried forward.
I continue to 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 third play-through, Xillia 2 second play-through, spring 2020. Xillia new game+ winter 2023.
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 usual, 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. (Restriction is removed in a plus game.) In Xillia 2 the battle party may only be reconfigured while in a town; during a "character story" episode, some party choices are forced.
The people need a leader to guide them.
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, and the AI fails to make good use of complex combinations, linked combat and mystic arts, which makes some boss battles an item-consuming slog. 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.
Most of the time there is a fair amount of freedom to explore and backtrack if desired, though some choices are constrained, and some events restrict the abiltiy to move around until they conclude. Eventually, one gains the ability to hop around the world map, which is handy to complete tasks. There are a few optional areas that are worth exploring for loot and leveling. (In Xillia there is an opportunity to travel freely just before the final boss battles, which is nice.)
The battle system in these two games hurts my hands, a lot. I had to sleep with full thumb and wrist braces for a while to recover. (Began playing Xillia using Hori Sports Pad Pro, but switched to the Hori Gempad 3 to use the turbo buttons at one point and stayed with it, which was probably a mistake.) Using the Sports Pad Pro with Xillia 2; the rear button and stick lessen the impact of combat on my hands. Combat in Xillia 2 becomes even more complex because Ludger as battle leader is always forced, and Ludger has multiple weapons (L1 + R1/R2 to change) and the ability to transform (L3 + R3). Added to the button presses to link and choose artes, and the inevitable X-button mashing, this is often simply too much for my hands to sustain. (In later play-throughs of these and all Tales games I have been using the ability to put all characters on auto because my hands simply hurt too much to do all the repetitive button presses.)
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 new or plus game to carry over many things, allowing one to shift focus on the second play-through.
Xillia 2 has the complication that Ludger is forced to make frequent payments on a huge loan he had to take out to pay his doctor bill. This significantly alters the playing dynamic, and it's not optional, such as debt repayment in a few other games I have played, though it does deliver rewards for early payment. There are also cats to be found that need to be sent on errands. (They do not resemble Chocobos in any other way.) So Xillia 2 is a very 'busy' game.
One of these days life will return to normal.
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. Xillia is 70-80 hours; Xillia 2 is 90-100 hours. There is post-game content if you want it, and the usual Tales new game+ and grade-based carryover. Next to Graces f, my candidate for best Tales of game.
VIII. I have the Japanese official complete guides, and the english language strategy guide for Tales of Xillia 2 from Prima.

Tales figures.
Ludger, Edna, Milla.

Tales of Zestiria
I. Bandai Nambo, 2015. JRPG. ESRB: Teen. PS3. Played winter 2020-21.
II. Party size varies from two to six. Battle party is at most four; two humans and two seraphim. Sore 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, but some encounters in close quarters are not avoidable. Full-auto works in battles. Most boss battles may be retried with a chance to reconfigure first.
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 menu. Pause anywhere. As usual of late, the HORI Pad FPS Plus is my controller, and I never hold it.
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 quite manageable. (You can choose and freely change between easy, normal, moderate, hard and chaos. I played most of new game+ on moderate or hard, only using normal for the insane main game boss battle.)
V. The story is divided into four broad arcs (plus the Alisha DLC and the post-clear Hexen Isle dungeon). 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 separately adjustable.
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, 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 new dungeon. Alisha takes Sore'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. (It's basically an excuse for Alisha and Rose to interact, as they are never player characters at the same time in the main game.)
First time 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. On new game+, with the Japanese guide and a good idea of what to do with fusion, my play was much shorter. Main game, level 102, 102 hours. Alisha DLC, level 110, 15 hours. Hexen Isle, level 133, 16 hours; for 133 hours total over 55 days with 7836 Grade points.
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 should 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.) Once I realized how awful the Prima guide was, I purchased the Japanese Complete Guide for decent maps and skill and fusion details.

Sony Playstation 4

In my opinion the default controller for the PS4 is more ergonomic than that for the PS3. Still, I find myself using alternate controllers.

Atelier Rorona: The Alchemist of Arland DX
I. Gust 2009/ Koei Tecmo 2018. JRPG. ESRB: Teen. Playing May 2022.
II. Turn-based battles, no random encounters, but sometimes unavoidable due to narrow quarters. Only the characters in the battle party gain experience.
III. Save in atelier only. The Atelier games are all rather similar; much of what I said about the first one I played (Ayesha) holds true for the others listed here, so I won't repeat myself.
IV. Only one level of difficulty. Increasing stats through equipment is much more important than leveling up.
V. Unfortunately in this game some JRPG stereotypes and sexism are taken to an extreme. (It's almost as bad as Dragon Quest!)  Not difficult to meet minimum quarterly goals once one understands the game system, but some things are annoyingly difficult to figure out. The inability to save anywhere but the atelier and the calendar system make exploration extremely frustrating. DX release includes DLC and the 'plus' game extra content, which I did not play.
VI. English and Japanese voice acting. Anime style graphics.
VII. Played for 18 days and received the 'bad' ending. I have no desire to replay because of the stereotypes and sexism and because I feel little empathy with most of the characters.
VIII. No strategy guide, but several walkthroughs online.
Atelier Totori: The Adventurer of Arland DX
I. Gust 2010 / Koei Tecmo 2018. JRPG. ESRB: Teen. Played June 2022.
II. Five years total; must accomplish one specific thing by a certain date.
III. Can save on the world map!
V. Was hoping the character interactions would be less stupid, but no.
VI. English and Japanese voice acting.
VII. Finished in two weeks. Bailing on Arland. Buh-bye!
VIII. No strategy guide. Decent online walkthrough.
Atelier Meruru: The Apprentice of Arland DX
I. Gust 2011 / Koei Tecmo 2018. JRPG. ESRB: Teen. Played?
Atelier Lulua: The Scion of Arland
I. Gust / Koei Tecmo, 2019. JRPG. ESRB: Teen. Played?
Atelier Ayesha: The Alchemist of Dusk DX*
I. Gust / Koei Tecmo, 2012. JRPG. ESRB: E. PS4 DX: summer & fall 2020. PS3 winter 2023.
II. Turn-based battles. Visible encounters. Party of three, from nine available PCs. Party can be changed only by talking with the character in its current location. Ayesha is always in the party, and has some unique abilities. Characters not in the party still level up. Game-over lands the party back on the world map with HP of one point each.
III. Simple controls, including circle to jump (yea!). Save in atelier or on world map. No camera control. No pause (but no clock).
IV. The primary feat is that you have three years to complete the objective of finding Ayesha's little sister Nio. (Start date is Year 1/ Month 4/ Day 1; final playable date is 3/3/30. All months have 30 days, so 36 * 30 = 1080 days.) Days pass only when you engage in certain activities; there is no in-game clock ticking away like in Final Fantasy XIII-3. You must spend days to do synthesis, rest or travel on the world map; and spend fractions of days to battle or gather items. Three years is a fair amount of time, but the limit definitely makes the game different than most RPGs. Some events happen only at certain times of the month (the bazaar), or certain times of the year (the contest) and only in one town. Once you rescue Nio, you are able to make an item that allows you to teleport to a small list of places without using any time travel time, so rescue Nio as soon as possible! (It's possible to rescue Nio half-way through Year 2.)
Usual tutorials and very useful HUD display in re controls at all times. Good built-in help. Two levels of difficulty: normal and hard (DX only).
V. The Atelier games are all about item creation, improving skills, doing quests and progressing through the story, not fighting, per se. (There are only three true bosses in the game.) It is at times a bit difficult to figure out what to do next**, especially as a wrong choice could waste a week or two in travel time. I backed up several times, and restarted completely once before I understood what I was doing. Beyond the primary goal of rescuing Nio, there are many other things to do for various endings and trophies. As the game ends at the end of year three, doing everything in one play-through would require obsessive planning. But in new game+, all money, equipped items (including Ayesha's special items) and recipes carry over, making completion of everything much easier. The 'DX' releases include all the DLC.
** Some of this is due to confusion caused by poor localization. For example, place names in requests and tasks do not always match place names on the world map.
VI. Voice acting English and Japanese (DX only, as the Japanese voice track for PS3 was DLC that is no longer available). Animation is characters against painted backgrounds, which I like. Separately adjustable BGM, Voice, System FX, Event FX, Battle voice, Battle FX and Movie volumes! You may choose background music from other Atelier games (DX only). The Dusk storyline of encroaching doom is perfect for 2020. Characters are distinct, with different abilities. The usual JRPG stereotypes.
VII. I restarted after two weeks ('real' time) when I reached year three still uncertain of how I was going to rescue Nio. After the restart, it took me a little less than two weeks to go through the game. The primary reason to replay is that unless you follow an online walkthrough, you are going to miss things, either because you're not in the right place at the right time, or you're being stingy with days; especially on the first play-through. There also are multiple endings, which I think would be fairly easy to see from playing a new game+ and redoing the end multiple times.
VIII. No strategy guide; Japanese guides are all sold out. There is online information, but I could only find one actual walkthrough.
* This is the fourteenth Atelier game.
Atelier Escha & Logy: Alchemists of the Dusk Sky DX
I. Gust / Koei Tecmo, 2013. JRPG. ESRB: E. PS4 DX: summer & Fall 2020. PS3: winter 2023.
II. The party eventually has a total of eleven playable characters*. Battle party of six arranged in two rows of three. Turn-based battle mechanic. Visible encounters. Some challenging battles, but boss fights can be way more difficult than other encounters.
You choose to play as Escha or Logy (who must be in the battle party), which slightly alters your view of events. For my first play-through, I chose Escha. As with Ayesha, only Escha or Logy may use items (offensive, defensive and healing) in battle and in this game they have a linked battle tactic also, if they are both in the battle party. Other characters have battle skills that may be offensive, defensive and healing. There are a number of changes in mechanics from Ayesha; Escha & Logy is more similar to Shallie than to Ayesha in many ways.
* This is a ridiculous number of characters, and if you don't use the ones in the original game, you'll miss character events and possible endings.
III. Simple controls. Save in atelier or on world map. No camera control. No pause (but no clock). Items in basket that have limited uses reset in town.
IV. In this game you have three years divided into 'terms' of four months during which a primary task must be accomplished and numerous supplementary tasksks may be accomplished, followed by one year that is free-form (during which one may choose to complete missed supplementary tasks from any term). Usual tutorials, HUD displays about controls and help. Only one level of difficulty, unfortunately.
I did not really have any trouble until the ninth term, which contains some supplemental tasks that depend on certain character events that I missed and some tasks that are very difficult if not impossible to complete in terms of time requirements. Supplemental bosses in the fourth year are ridiculously difficult, even on the new game+ play-through with the other main character. This game has my favorite alchemy method so far of any Atelier game.
V. The game ends when the four years pass, but similar to Ayesha, new game+ gives you leeway to accomplish things you may not have been able to do the first time through. This is a continuation of the story from Ayesha with a number of familiar characters.
VI. English and Japanese voice acting. Same animation, same sound controls as Ayesha. Wide selection of BGM.
VII. You must play the game twice, once with each hero character, to unlock the 'true' ending. New game+ makes this easy, and there is a way to fast forward through the numerous cut scenes. Two to three hours of playing time per term (until term nine). I had to back up over a term several times to work things out, so no clear sense of how long this would take once everything is understood, but I'm guessing about 40 hours. (More like 60 hours over three weeks, after doing new game+.)
VIII. I have no strategy guide. Several good online walkthroughs exist.
Atelier Shallie: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea DX
I. Gust / Koei Tecmo, 2014. JRPG. ESRB: E. PS4 DX: fall & winter 2020. PS3: winter 2023.
[Began playing this on PS3 in July 2020 because this game (and Sophie) don't have the usual time limits. But I actually found that to be a minus as there is less structure to the game. Also, as this is the third game of a trilogy, a lot of things did not make sense. So I stopped, bought all three as PSN downloads for the PS4 and began at the beginning of the series. As characters from earlier games in the series show up in later games (both NPC and PC), playing the games in sequence really helps the later games make sense.
As PS4 and PS5 systems remain impossible to buy in 2022 and early (?) 2023, shifted my play back onto PS3 and PS2 systems for which I have spares and which are actually available for reasonable prices as refurbished units. I hate this timeline!]
II. Possible battle party of three directly controlled, three in reserve who can 'assist' in certain circumstances. Eventually you have a choice from a total of twelve player characters, which is absurd. For other than a few boss battles, one may continue from game over with 1 HP. As areas are small, and HP and MP are restored upon returning to town, this is quite viable, however your main character will loose some motivation if you take this way out.
You play as Shallie; either Princess Shallistera or tomboy wannabe alchemist Shallotte. This choice is made following a lengthy tutorial prologue that introduces each character and their situation (skipped on new game+.) In new game+ you carry forward battle equipment, search equipment, growth points and cole. Unlike in Escha & Logy, you do not get to keep the teleportation device, but then you don't really have any time constraints in this game other than keeping your motivation up.
III. Heal upon re-entering town. Save in the Atelier or on the world map. Limited camera control. After a while, may enter ship on the world map to off-load items picked up and do synthesis, but not heal or restock.
IV. Three difficulty levels: story watcher, game fan, hardcore (plus despair and no hope on new game+). I used game fan on the first play, am trying hardcore on new game+. (For the PS3 run in 2023 I ended up on story watcher, as my hands just cannot take the constant long battles any more.) The alchemy method is my least favorite of the three games.
V. There is a mechanic for invoking tougher monsters in an area, but this is not something you must do to make it through the game. Tougher, but avoidable monsters also appear in areas as time goes forward. A couple of the optional monsters that appear toward the end of the game are much more difficult than the final boss.
VI. English and Japanese voice acting. BGM, voice, SFX, movie separately adjustable. The music is perky and superb, and you can choose alternate BGM from other games in the Atelier series of games (DX).
VII. There are ten chapters, with the final chapter being quite free-form. In chapters 1-9, if you noodle around too much the primary character's motivation begins to drop, which reduces speed of movement and how many items you receive from a harvest point. In chapter 10 motivation remains constant, so you can noodle to your heart's content. The game ends after you beat the final boss.
Obviously replayable at least once, with the other viewpoint character. After playing all three Dusk games, my opinion is that one can finish each one in about three weeks, or a bit more if being completist. All three games have clear saves with new game+ modes, so one could argue for jumping right back in and replaying all three (all three have a fast-forward dialogue toggle that would make this tolerable, as there is a lot of dialogue) which in fact I did.
VIII. I have no strategy guide, which only bothers me because I'm OCD. There seems to be only one online walkthrough and it only covers the trophies. The game makes it quite clear what you can do, and what you must do to advance to the next chapter, but there are many things that are easily missable.
Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book
I. Gust / Koei Tecmo, 2015. JRPG. ESRB: Teen. Played June/July 2022.
II. I will primarily note differences from Shallie. The battle party size has increased to four, and party members can be changed outside of battle at any time. This is a huge change! Game over puts the party back in the atelier with 1 HP, which is sometimes very inconvenient when it triggers long event scenes when all you want to do is reload the last save and get back to where you were wiped out.
IV. Four levels of difficulty, which may be changed at will: easy, normal, hard, despair. After level 20, you get to fine-tune characters using ability points!
V. Alchemy has changed a bit, with the addition of a block pattern assembled from ingredients that determines the outcome. There are no time constraints, but various things change because of the time of day and . . . there is weather! Time of day and day of week affect NPC interaction, weather and time of day affect gathering and monster population. There is post-game content.
VI. English and Japanese voice acting.
VII. Played for about a month, maxing out my chosen four characters, and easily beat the final boss. Did not play extra content.
VIII. No strategy guide but online walkthrough is available.
Atelier Firis: The Alchemists and the Mysterious Journey
I. Gust / Koei Tecmo, 2016. JRPG. ESRB: Teen. Played July/August 2022.
II. Am mainly noting differences from Sophie.
IV. The change to an open world is a bit confusing at first, and it took me a while to get used to using the maps effectively. Once you clear the exam and no longer have a time limit, the open world is the largest, most complex world I have yet encountered in any game. Just fantastic!
V. There is a task that must be completed in one year, after which unlimited play and multiple endings are available. One year is actually plenty of time, but I became nervous about how many days I had left after crossing the lake and restarted. The exam itself is simple, but the first two parts have strict time limits, which was no fun; had to reload once.
The game crashed once, first time under the lake, with CE-34878-0 code, which is the catch-all code for "your game has crashed."
VI. English and Japanese voice acting.
VII. Takes two to three weeks to make the ship, cross the lake, pass the exam. After that you can play for an amazingly long time exploring and doing quests. Once your party consists of four alchemists, you are all set!
VIII. No strategy guide. Online FAQs are available, but no true walkthrough.
Atelier Lydie & Suelle: The Alchemists and the Mysterious Paintings
I. Gust / Koei Tecmo, 2017. JRPG. ESRB: Teen. To be played.
II. [party, battle, AI, encounters, boss battles, retrying]
III. [controls, camera, saving, pausing]
IV. [physical feats, handholding, freedom, overall difficulty]
V. [item creation, story, characters, stereotypes, sexism, frustration, post-game extras, DLC]
VI. English and Japanese voice acting. [animation, sound, music]
VII. [length, ending, replayability]
VIII. No strategy guide.
Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness & the Secret Hideout
I. Gust / Koei Tecmo, 2019. JRPG. ESRB: Teen. To be played.
II. [party, battle, AI, encounters, boss battles, retrying]
III. [controls, camera, saving, pausing]
IV. [physical feats, handholding, freedom, overall difficulty]
V. [item creation, story, characters, stereotypes, sexism, frustration, post-game extras, DLC]
VI. English and Japanese voice acting. [animation, sound, music]
VII. [length, ending, replayability]
VIII. Have Kadokawa Japanese guide.
Atelier Ryza 2: Lost Legends & the Secret Fairy
I. Gust / Koei Tecmo, 2021. JRPG. ESRB: Teen. To be played.
II. [party, battle, AI, encounters, boss battles, retrying]
III. [controls, camera, saving, pausing]
IV. [physical feats, handholding, freedom, overall difficulty]
V. [item creation, story, characters, stereotypes, sexism, frustration, post-game extras, DLC]
VI. English and Japanese voice acting. [animation, sound, music]
VII. [length, ending, replayability]
VIII. Have Kadokawa Japanese guide.
Atelier Ryza 3: Allchemist of the End & the Secret Key
I. Gust / Koei Tecmo, 2022. JRPG. ESRB: Teen. To be played.
II. [party, battle, AI, encounters, boss battles, retrying]
III. [controls, camera, saving, pausing]
IV. [physical feats, handholding, freedom, overall difficulty]
V. [item creation, story, characters, stereotypes, sexism, frustration, post-game extras, DLC]
VI. English and Japanese voice acting. [animation, sound, music]
VII. [length, ending, replayability]
VIII. Have Digital Deluxe edition. (And physical edition because Metronet abandoned the building I live in and I now have AT&T Internet, i.e., DSL.) Have Kadokawa Japanse guide.
Chrono Cross
I. Square Enix; 1999, 2020. RPG. ESRB: Teen. Played July 2013 (PS2); May 2022.
II. Battle party of three, forty-four potentially recruitable characters in addition to Serge (one may rename characters). Turn-based, no AI. The encounters are not random in the sense that they are always visible, but in many dungeons they are unavoidable. There is a way to toggle non-boss encounters off completely if you just want to loot a dungeon.
III. Usual simple controls Fixed camera. Save at save points or on world map. True pause (option button). The battle system here is quite complex, but it is intellectually complex as opposed to requiring repeated feats of wrist-destroying complexity.
IV. Not a particularly difficult game. Some freedom to run around and revisit places. No way to 'grind' to level up characters, but one can farm for items and money.
V. The major frustration is the number of characters and the number of times one is forced to change characters. One can only swap equipment and elements (magic) among the three players currently in the battle party. So one must be at a save point (or on the world map) and swap characters into the battle party, unequip them, swap them out for the character you want to equip, rinse and repeat. Gets old very fast. New-game+.
VI. I think they did quite a good job on this release...
VII. but ultimately I became tired of constantly adapting to new characters and stopped playing.
VIII. Have the Brady Games strategy guide.
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 a dungeon.
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 my 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 XII: The Zodiac Age
I. Square Enix, 2017. RPG. ESRB: Teen. Second play winter 2020.
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 retry battles. (Go to title screen from pause screen; reload, try again.)
Unusually for a JRPG, during a battle you have access not only to a limited battle menu, but to the full 'triangle' party menu, allowing you to change practically anything while a battle is in progress. This is essential in Trial mode, when you are often fighting one boss after another, with no time out. So you can change equipment and gambits on the fly, and can swap in another character with needed abilities or to replace a KO'd character; it isn't game over until all your characters are KO'd, including those in reserve and any guest character.
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 all available from early in the game.
The big change is that 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 primary job may be used by more than one character. The jobs are modeled after the usual RPG roles: Archer, Black Mage, Bushi, Foebreaker, Knight, Machinist, Monk, Shikari, Red Battlemage, Time Battlemage, 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).
* This is more useful than it might seem, as guest characters fight very well, often are several levels above your party, and the gambits allow them to be used to their best effect (or simply as healers to relieve your characters of that chore). Having a guest character along on a difficult hunt, side quest or in Trial mode can really help! You cannot change equipment on guest characters, but during battle they can be directed to use abilities, magic, technicks or items just as your regular characters can.
III. Pretty standard controls (not configurable) and camera. Save at save points, which also heal. There is the aforementioned autosave feature, which saves into a visible file, but separate from the ones you create. Pretty early on you can consume a teleport stone to transfer to certain already visited save points, and there is a fast and free way to jump around in the main city of Rabanastre. Pause almost anywhere but not, unfortunately, in many cut scenes.
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. I find it useful mainly for farming LP.
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 than many.)
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. (But it does explain some of the complexities of the Zodiac job system, albeit with a sprinkling of errors, and the section on hunting Espers is improved.)
The Japanese Square Enix Final Fantasy XII International Zodiac Job System Ultimania book is a fantastic reference, containing all the data one could ever want. The jobs are laid out on grids so you can see how they overlap and interact. The maps show traps. The information is accurate. Wonderful!
Nayuta: Boundless Trails
I. Falcom/NIS, 2012, 2023. RPG. ESRB: E 10+. PS4. Yet to play.
This is in fact part of the Legend of Heroes: Trails series.
II. [party size, battle, AI, encounters, boss battles, retrying]
III. [controls, camera, saving, pausing]
IV. [physical feats, handholding, freedom, overall difficulty]
V. [item creation, story, characters, stereotypes, sexism, frustration, DLC]
VI. [animation, sound, music]
VII. [length, ending, replayability, post-game extras]
VIII. There do not appear to be any printed strategy guides available.
Sakura Wars
I. Sega, 2019. RPG. ESRB: Teen. PS4. To be played.
Set in 1940.
VIII. I have the Launch edition.
Tales of Berseria
I. Bandai Namco, 2016. JRPG. ESRB: Teen. PS4. Second play NG+ September/October 2022.
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. There also are extra quests and events all over the map when one continues from a clear save.
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. Reached level 98 in that second play-through. Versus Jude and Milla was still hard!
VIII. I have the Namco Japanese complete guide.
Tales of Vespiria: Definitive Edition
I. Bandai Namco, 2019. JRPG. ESRB: Teen. Last played 2019.
II. Nine player characters, four in battle party. The AI is a bit clunky at the beginning with less than four in the battle party. Visible and often avoidable encounters that re-spawn quickly in the field, but only when leaving and re-entering areas in dungeons. Initially Yuri is the visible character, but eventually that may be changed.
III. There are a surprising number of settings, even including a choice of fonts for subtitles. Controls are configurable. Camera control only on the world map. Save at save points or on world map. In some long dungeons there are heal and save pointes. Pause anywhere. [R3 to allow item usage is not working for me and I cannot figure out why.]
IV. In many ways Vesperia feels similar to Abyss. Tutorials continue for quite a while, but it didn't feel like hand-holding. However, there are a few places and a few ways in which one can end up in trouble and it takes some head-scratching to figure out what went wrong. Two important points for the first part of the game: 1) If you find yourself using all your healing items to survive a boss fight, you're doing something wrong and you may not survive the next battle before you can restock and/or save, so reload and fix the problem. 2) Some weapon skills lower damage or waste TP, so if a character is suddenly doing much less damage or burning through TP check their skills and turn some off. (Some support artes also burn TP and are best used only manually.)
Once one can sail, and definitely once one can fly, there is plenty of freedom to revisit most places, and new places to go that are not directly in the story line. Playing on normal difficulty, I did not find this game to be physically difficult.
V. Cooking after battles. Easy to understand item synthesis. Many sub-events and optional things to do (many of which are not at all obvious and are missable). There are two extra dungeons available, one that can be begun but not completed before New Game+. Neither appeal to me because of their mechanics. There is DLC which I ignored as it is mostly costumes and accessories.
VI. The Definitive Edition has both Japanese and English voice acting, with subtitles in English, French, Spanish or Portuguese. More sound sliders than I have ever seen; music, SFX, voice in and out of battle, and voice for the skits, too. Anime style graphics, which is my preference. Great music. The Japanese cast is quite a list of talent!
VII. Played for 120 hours, reaching level 70 before the final boss battle. Ended with 2930 Grade and about a million Gald. Ending is not surprising and a bit lackluster in terms of character relationships. Definitely will replay.
VIII. I have the Namco Japanese PS3 complete guide. (The game was originally released on XBOX 360 in 2008, then ported to PS3 in 2009 with expanded content. The Definitive Edition is essentially a remastered version of the PS3 edition.)
Tales of Arise
I. Bandai Namco, 2021. JRPG. ESRB: Teen. PS4. Tried to play October 2022.
With this title the game changed to using Unreal Engine 4. This is the first PS4 game I've had where the fan noise is usually audible, so I'm not pleased with the change. As it is currently impossible to buy either a PS4 or a PS5, I'm not going to stress my PS4 by playing this game!
II. Six player characters, battle team of four. AI settings are more like gambits, which is a big improvement. No random encounters. Full-auto in battles with some easy control of special attacks. Choice of visible character.
III. Usual controls. For a change the camera defaults worked for me. Save pretty much anywhere, so the quick save option is gone from the options button pause menu. Pausing, either with the options button or the PS button doesn't seem to actually pause, because the PS4 fan keeps running or even speeds up. O button for jumping. Yea! And you can jump off of almost anything. There are campsites in the wild for resting, which is weirdly like the Atelier games. And I have a Sophie 2 DLC. Why?
IV. [physical feats, handholding, freedom, overall difficulty]
V. I played for one evening and decided to abandon the game. I don't like the PS4 fan usually running at audible levels. I don't like the long load times. (I have the game on the system disk, not the external disk.) Mainly, I just cannot deal with the bleak situation, and that's saying a lot, having just finished replaying Berseria. Maybe I'll try again if I ever buy a PS5 and if the world ever settles down.
[item creation, story, characters, stereotypes, sexism, frustration, post-game extras, DLC]
VI. Character animation is good, but I'm not wild about the backgrounds, or about the music.
VII. [length, ending, replayability, post-game extras]
VIII. Have the Japanese KGL Perfect Guide
TMNT: Shredder's Revenge
I. [Nickelodean/Limited Run Games, 2022. Fun. ESRB: Everyone. To be played.]
Trails of Cold Steel
I. XSEED/Falcom, 2013, 2015. RPG. ESRB: Teen. PS3, PS4, Vita. Played first time August/September 2021 on PS4.
II. There are nine students in class VII, plus several instructors and ancillary people, all of whom eventually become PCs. You begin with three students, less than the battle party size of four. Rean is the viewpoint character in all Cold Steel games and I find him to be a likable guy. One can change the lead (map) character and even swap out characters during battle. Usually two or three support characters (ones who can be swapped in/out during battle) who also level up. Rean always has to be in the battle + support set, and one or two other characters are also mandated. Visible encounters.
Battles still turn-based, but without the grid. Character-linking somewhat like Xillia. Orbment is different, with a master quartz that levels up to enable various arts, and quartz to enable specific stats and arts (rather than arts being enabled through combinations of quartz). Many familiar arts and crafts. Wide variety of accessories.
There is a calendar and personal interaction events, so a dash of Persona, too. Treasure chests no longer talk, but you get to smash things to look for items. Sepith comes in two forms, one of which is good only for selling. (Because you are not paid for performing most quests.) Weapons may be upgraded and some items may be traded for more potent versions. There is AP instead of BP with levels from B7-B1, A7-A1 and finally A0 (for 430 AP). You receive link upgrades and occasionally rare items for advancement, so quite like BP.
III. Usual controls, camera right stick, save pretty much anywhere, heal points for HP and EP. No true pause that stops the clock. Run is the default, hold O to slowly walk, R1 to dash. Buttons are quite configurable.
IV. As with Sky, difficulty must be set before playing and cannot be changed. I'm playing on 'normal' which makes leveling up a necessity and boss battles quite challenging for me. (There is the option to retry a battle with reduced enemy stats, which I sometimes used for long battles at the end of an evening.) The calendar system and school assignment structure makes for a game with little overall freedom of movement. The only place one has access to the full party for equal leveling is in the Old Schoolhouse. The automatic un-equipping of accessories and rare quartz (for the team Rean is not on) when the teams head out to assignments becomes a pain later in the game.
Spoiler: The sudden and unexpected shift to a completely different set of battle tactics for the final boss fights (a string of three battles with no in-between saves) would have really chapped me if I wasn't using a guide. Even then, understanding the required tactics is difficult.
V. The story is quite different from Sky. Set in Erbonia, the characters are students and instructors in a military academy. Class VII is an experiment of mixing commoners and nobility. As the series progresses, characters from Sky show up. Cooking, but no sit-down meals that affect the entire party. Fishing heals CP, but instead of one well-timed key press it requires increasingly complex button mashing, which kills my hands. But the points one earns by fishing may be traded for useful items. There is DLC, which I am ignoring.
The lack of sit-down meals and the fact that EP and HP are not restored upon leveling up makes EP-restoring items extremely valuable, as in RPGs of old. I find that I am constantly reloading rather than finishing a battle needing a lot of healing or with CP wiped out by a K.O. The Old Schoolhouse battles must be fought periodically, but one cannot purchase higher-level armor and weapons in that town, which is frustrating when the entire party becomes available, as it means a lot of fiddly swapping around of equipment.
Horses! I love riding the horse! And so many trains! Train, train, take me away...
During the boss battle at the end of floor 4 in the Old School House, the game crashed with error CE-34878-0 on my first try at the battle. Second try went okay. With the kind of games I play, an error like this is really unusual.
VI. Anime-style animation (with anime-style stereotypes, sexism and ridiculous female uniforms). There is an egregious example of sexism with one of the NPC students being portrayed as fat and ugly. For the player characters, there is a great deal of character development and in-depth look at their backgrounds that comes from the mixing commoners and nobles theme. Great music. Partly voiced; English and Japanese.
VII. Took me two months to play. 180+ hours (but there is no way to pause the clock) level 67-68 for my preferred party of seven, level 60 for the rest. The ending—from the final battle in the Old Schoolhouse on—is absolutely the best ending of any JRPG I have ever played! New Game Plus allows carrying over various things. One must play through the game multiple times to unlock everything. This is a very complex game and, despite my age, I'm hoping to be able to replay it.
VIII. I have the Lionheart PS3 Edition, PS4 edition and Japanese complete guide. There are some online walkthroughs and a Legend of Heroes Wiki.
Trails of Cold Steel II
I. XSEED/Falcom, 2014, 2018. RPG. ESRB: Teen. PS3, PS4, Vita. Played first time October—December 2021 on PS4.
As with Trails in the Sky, the first game ends with unexpected twists and a huge cliff-hanger.
II. Direct continuation of first game with very similar setup and mechanics. A few new PCs for a ridiculous total of 20, but Class VII remains the core. Rean begins at level 40 with minimal equipment and quartz, dependent in part on his level and rank at the end of the first game. (For me, he was at level 68 and rank A1. I did not realize soon enough that his ending level was important and had the master quartz that increases EXP on someone else.) Valimar begins much less capable than at the end of the first game.
III. Same controls, et cetera.
IV. Playing on normal. This game seems less structured than the first, but that turns out to not be true. At least in the first act, the whole party is never together, access to shops is limited, and there is no freedom to travel.
V. There is still a calendar, but the story has changed dramatically. I am frustrated by several things. The in-game help is sparse compared with Trails in the Sky;  there are hour-long long sequences of battles and cut scenes at the end of chapters with no ability to save; Valimar is used only in the end-of-chapter battles, so there is no way to figure out how best to use its abilities outside these boss battles. Usually in these sequences of battles there is one thing that is doable but very difficult. Although one can retry individual battles, if you need to adjust equipment or orbment, you have to reload and redo the entire sequence. Argh! The final string of boss battles, with only one save and no chance to do any configuration is in my opinion stupidly annoying and difficult. Not quite as bad as Final Fantasy VIII or Rogue Galaxy, but absolutely a depressing chore for me.
VI. On the PS4 there are frequent mismatches between action and sound effects, with the SFX lagging. (This may be due to my rather slow external disk.) The "active voice" audio also does not always smoothly mesh with action. English and Japanese voice tracks. Much less true character development.
VII. Two months play time. Party for final battle, level 142, rank A1. I have mixed feelings about this game. I like the characters and the story, but more often than not, this game was tedious rather than fun. Especially with the boss battle frustrations, and many of the fishing quests being physically impossible for me, I doubt I will replay.
VIII. I have the PS3 and PS4 editions and Japanese complete guide.
Trails of Cold Steel III
I. XSEED/Falcom, 2017, 2019. RPG. ESRB: Teen. PS4. Played first time December—February 2022.
II. Story is a direct continuation of II. A few new PCs, many old friends and a few more characters from Trails in the Sky. Everyone starts off fresh, at low levels with few open slots, no gear and no money. Difficulty can be changed while playing: very easy, easy, normal and hard, with nightmare on replay. I used normal.
III. As III and IV were developed for the PS4, the battle system and controls are slightly different, but not enough that it's a problem. In fact, once I became used to it, I liked it better. In-game help is very poor. Note-to-self: R1 can set/unset dialogue to auto, but only while there is a dialogue prompt. Option can be used to skip cut-scenes.
IV. Fishing has changed so that it does not require constant button-mashing, which is a very good thing. But there are still concatenated boss fights and cut-scenes that can run more than an hour without being able to save, which I really loathe.
V. Ability to access characters for setting quartz and equipment seems less constrained.
VI. Oodles of character development.
VII. Again about two months play time. Level 62, 417 AP for rank S. Ending battles and cut scenes about two hours in length. Definitely one of the most depressing endings I've seen.
VIII. I have the Early Enrollment Edition and the Japanese complete guide.
Trails of Cold Steel IV
I. XSEED/Falcom, 2018, 2020. RPG. ESRB: Teen. PS4. Played February—May 2022.
II. Battle party remains four with up to three in reserve, with many of the characters from the previous eight Trails games making at least a brief PC appearance. Direct continuation of III, and this game recognizes the clear saves from I, II, III  and awards a selection of useful items for playing the previous games and for Rean's level and rank in III. Once the introductory and tutorial sections are done, new class VII is at level 50 and can quickly earn enough sepith and gald to decently outfit the party.
III. Pretty much the same mechanics as III with the incredibly wonderful addition of auto-saves, which should make those hours long battle and cut-scene sequences less nerve-wracking. (No, auto-save seems to be worthless.)
IV. As with Trails in the Sky Second Chapter, orbment slots are open, but must be upgraded to use special quartz.
VII. May fortune favor humanity! However, after almost three months of playing, with main PCs at level 143, I just could not face the final string of seventeen (yes, 17) boss battles. Maybe it's because I've been playing nothing but Trails games in this series for the past thirteen months, partly because I can't stomach playing what is essentially a war game with everything going on in this country and the world. So I bailed and am now playing Chrono Cross.
VIII. I have the Frontline edition and the Japanese complete guide.
Trails into Reverie
I. Falcom/NIS, 2020, 2023. RPG. ESRB: Teen. PS4. Yet to play.
II. [party size, battle, AI, encounters, boss battles, retrying]
III. [controls, camera, saving, pausing]
IV. [physical feats, handholding, freedom, overall difficulty]
V. [item creation, story, characters, stereotypes, sexism, frustration, DLC]
VI. [animation, sound, music]
VII. [length, ending, replayability, post-game extras]
VIII. There do not appear to be any printed strategy guides available.
Trails through Daybreak
I. Falcom/NIS, 2021, 2024. RPG. ESRB: Teen. PS4. Yet to play.
II. [party size 8, battle, AI, encounters, boss battles, retrying]
III. [controls, camera, saving, pausing]
IV. [physical feats, handholding, freedom, overall difficulty]
V. [item creation, story, characters, stereotypes, sexism, frustration, DLC]
VI. [animation, sound, music]
VII. [length, ending, replayability, post-game extras]
VIII. I have the deluxe edition, with a tiny art book and a code to download the OST. There do not appear to be any printed strategy guides available. ANN review.
Trails through Daybreak II
I. Falcom/NIS, 2022, 2024. RPG. ESRB: Teen. PS4. Yet to play.
II. [party size, battle, AI, encounters, boss battles, retrying]
III. [controls, camera, saving, pausing]
IV. [physical feats, handholding, freedom, overall difficulty]
V. [item creation, story, characters, stereotypes, sexism, frustration, DLC]
VI. [animation, sound, music]
VII. [length, ending, replayability, post-game extras]
VIII. There do not appear to be any printed strategy guides available.
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. Pause anywhere.
IV. The 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 played many of the FF games over the years. It's one of the most frustration-free games I have ever played, but that doesn't mean it's always easy.
VI. The animation quality, voice acting (Japanese) and music are first class.
VII. The many ways in which 'mirages' can be used and combined in the two types of stacks invites replaying. And it's cute as all get out.
VIII. I have the Day One DLC, including the Japanese language track*, and the English language strategy guide from Prima. The guide is very well done and the paper and binding are among the best I've seen. Big poster of mirages included. * Lots of new talent here, who went on to successful careers.
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 button.
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.
Ys IX: Monstrum nox
I. NIS Falcom, 2019. JRPG. ESRB: Teen. PS4.
VIII. Pact edition. Have Japanese Complete Guide.

Sony Playstation 5

Considering my age and problems using my hands, I am doubtful I will ever purchase a Playstation 5. Maybe if a game I really, really want to play comes out exclusively on the PS5. At least Sony finally released its own configurable controller for the PS5. Instead I bought a spare PS4 once the supply shortage sorted itself out.

Steam on a Mini-PC

In May 2020 I purchased a MinisForum N40 mini-PC: Celeron N4000, 4 GB DDR4, 64GB eMMC, HDMI 2.0, USB 3.0, Intel UHD Graphics 600 and added a 128GB SSD. This was originally to play Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky FC, SC, 3rd on Steam, but as things turned out I used it to play other Steam games with my adult kids during the pandemic. (I did eventually play the Trails in the Sky games.) Photo at end of this section.

In July 2023 I upgraded to a MinisForum TH80: Windows 11, Intel Core i7 11800H, Intel UHD Graphics for 11th gen, DDR4 16gb x 2, SSD 512gb, lots of various ports. Obviously a huge upgrade!

Tell Me Why
I. Xbox Game Studios, 2020. Adventure. Attempted July 2023*; played fall 2023.
IV. I find the constant character movement, looking and clicking around in these kinds of games to be a bit hard on my hands.
VI. The Alaska setting is beautiful. (I live in Michigan and love snow.) I like the music.
VII. The story is a bit emotionally rough for me, for several reasons, but good.
* My original mini-PC was unable to run the game without unacceptable audio and video degradation. (Intel UHD Graphics uses up to half of system RAM, and there was no way to add system RAM.)
Trails in the Sky: 3rd Chapter
I. 2007, 2017. NA download-only for PC. First play-through July/August 2021 on mini-PC in Steam*. (The Vita hit end-of-life before this partially volunteer project was complete. So I purchased a low-end mini-PC to play the PC release of all three games via Steam. The Celeron-based mini-PC struggled a bit in places, but I finally was able to play all three games!)
II. The story picks up a few months after the events in SC, with Father Kevin Graham as the viewpoint character, soon to be joined by Sister Ries Argent, his new squire and old friend, who is the only new player character for a grand total of sixteen player characters. The battle party size remains four, but you can designate a fifth character as a support character, which alters stats for the battle party. Usually Kevin and Ries are required, and often a third member is forced.
Though the mechanics remain basically the same, this game has a very different feel. Action takes place in an altered reality, using all the locations from the previous two games, but with no NPCs. So none of the shops, bars, hotels and so on are active (though they often contain treasure chests). There is no traditional world map; it serves as a way to teleport around. There is always a kiosk near for healing, buying equipment and supplies, and doing orbment work. No bracer points. No bracer quests. One of the teleport points on the world map is designated as the 'base' to which you must return to do certain things, such as change party configuration.

TH80 mini-PC.

MinisForum TH80

You encounter moon, star and sun doors that lead to, respectively, long stories, short stories and mini-games. Each door requires a specific character or characters to be in your battle party to be activated. So you cannot always activate the doors as you find them. (They appear on the world map after being found.) NPCs do appear in the stories, but you have no control over what goes on (see section V). You receive loot and/or mira after viewing a story.
III. Characters begin at level 90 or above, as this game is a continuation of the story and characters from FC and SC. Generally characters have the same Arts and Crafts, with a little rebalancing of stats and a few additions.
IV. Same orbment as SC, but there are some new level 3 quartz. Easy difficulty is truly easy, to the point where I feel like skipping random encounters unless I need to restore CP. That and the lack of NPCs with whom to interact is a blessing for my hurting hands. Because there are no bracer quests and no playable world map, this game feels very linear. You can teleport around, but except to access doors, there is no reason to do so.
The 'Eagle Eye' quartz does not work (because this is an alternate reality?) but it's still useful to build up arts. Eventually you receive a Falcon Eye quartz that does work, but by then I was so used to not expecting foes to show on the map that it wasn't all that useful.
VI. I love the retro music is certain areas!
V. The moon door stories are long (as in 45 minute or more) during which there is no way to pause (on the PC) or exit the story. You get sucked into the first of these with Tita before you know what you're in for. These aren't cutscenes; you still have to mash the X button to get through dialogue, and sometimes you have no other control or ability to save. As always, I find mini-games to be annoying ways to hurt my hands and some of them (Josette's in particular) are impossible for me.
One may purchase common cooking ingredients only at the foot of the large tree in the base area. Very confusing if one somehow misses this detail, but it is mentioned in the notebook. You can also wander around the base area and speak with team members not currently in the battle team or reserve spot, which can be interesting.
VII. Finished in about three weeks on easy difficulty, levels 140-145 going into the final round of boss battles. The very final battle is tricky, even on easy. I retried once I knew the strategy. Excellent endings!
VIII. I have the Japanese Falcom PC&PSP full-colour guide.
* Steam notes: Same four levels of difficulty and this time I chose 'easy' because my hands were hurting bad. Same problem and solution in configuring the gamepad (see notes on second game). The N40 mini-PC struggled with frame rate if there is a lot changing, such as clouds flowing outside the windows of an airship. Camera rotation is by default L1/R1 instead of right stick, which is more like the PSP, but an awkward change from the previous two games (easy to change in Configuration).


My first mini-PC, a MinisForum N40, hanging behind the Vita-TV.


Additional figuures.


I've worn out three PS2 consoles and am currently using a reconditioned one with warranty that has an external power brick. I still have a boxed spare (maybe two) with internal power supplies. There is no PS2 backwards compatibility in either the PS3 or PS4, and I have a few favorite games (e.g., Tales of the Abyss, Xenosaga) that have not been ported to other Playstation models.

I have a spare PSP 2000 (but only one decent battery), a spare PS3, a spare Vita TV and a spare PS4. Do not foresee buying a PS5.

Return to my main gaming page.

Copyright © Lisa Lees www.lisalees.com risa at lisalees dot com