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Jaimas's Rants - Where Laughter Goes to Die Below are the 5 most recent journal entries recorded in the "jaimas" journal:

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December 21st, 2016
12:56 pm


Every Dragon Quest Game I've Played In a Nutshell:

If Cid can do it, so can I.

Dragon Quest: Powerful Wizard has conquered the known world; the hero, as the only known character with the ability to level up must go and drive a sword through his face.

Dragon Quest II: Decades of peace and prosperity are shattered when the monsters discover religion and under their new personal Jesus attempt to destroy the world; a party entirely consisting of the grandkids of the first game's heroes must stop it before they can reach out and touch faith.

Dragon Quest III: The hero's badass father has gone missing during a quest to save the goddamned world; the hero must pick up where he left off and save the world multiple times because the lord of evil is that much of a prick.

Dragon Quest IV - Chapters of the Chosen: A steadfast European, his slime companion, a kindly merchant, a cleric, her hot stripper sister, and a pair of insane Russians must quest to find a hero to join the party of; hijinks ensue.

Dragon Quest V - Hand of the Heavenly Bride: Handsome hero tries to settle down and become a family man with a choice of three different waifus; this ends predictably badly when the plot of a Dragon Quest game arrives to demand recompense.

Dragon Quest VI - Realms of Revelation: In an attempt to prevent the next installment of Dragon Quest from happening, the hero and his friends get quite proactive about attacking the dark lord only to screw it all up and find out that everything was a dream and the real world is even more screwed than the one they were trying to save.

Dragon Quest VII: God was dead, then alive again, then he died again, and finally was revived again; unsurprisingly this fucked the world up and now it's up to our heroes to unbreak time and space.

Dragon Quest VIII - Journey of the Cursed King: King turned toad and the sexiest horse alive must join forces with the only sane man, a former thief with a heart of gold, a busty sorceress and a womanizing templar in an ongoing quest to purge clowns from existence.

Dragon Quest IX - Sentinels of the Starry Skies: Disgraced angel must kick the shit out of another disgraced angel in order to prevent the latter from destroying the world, earning the respect of his peers and the approval of his hot mom in the process.

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March 25th, 2016
03:52 pm


Game Reviews: Darkest Dungeon

I... Really didn't want to write this article.

I, unlike many, don't like savaging games. I like games that try new things or do interesting things like Darkest Dungeon attempts. I like RPGs. I like Lovecraftian overtones and gothic horror. You would think that this means Darkest Dungeon fits me like a Cthulhu-themed glove.

I love the title if nothing else.

Darkest Dungeon is a Dungeon Crawl/Survival Management/Role-Playing game by Red Hook Studios that was recently crowdfunded and made a big buzz for trying to blend aspects of survival gamegplay and mental illness to a dungeon adventuring game with blatant Lovecraftian overtones and unique art-style all its own. I really like the premise and some parts of what it brings to the table; there's the core of a solid game here. Indeed, parts of it seem the sort of Etrian-style nuttery that I practically was born and bred with, which surprised the hell out of me.

Indeed, Darkest Dungeon is in a few ways similar to its JRPG counterpart in that it too is stubborn, frustrating, often completely opaque, and as much about resource management, farming, and squad-building as it is about combat and exploration. Unlike Etrian Odyssey however, Darkest Dungeon has a much more Roguelike feel and permanent character death. The story of the game opens with the head of a noble family gradually succumbing to depravity and excavating the catacombs benearth his family's estate, Unfortunately in so doing he encountered things left best unexplored and with corruption staining the lands. Fun! Since the idiot also bankrupted the family in this endeavor, one may wonder why in god's name we listened to his empassioned plea to shut the proverbial gates of Ry'leh which he just-so-coincidentally opened before blowing his brains out, but considering how much the locals drink it is perhaps to not consider such things.

With your return to the Hamlet, you manage a small squad of adventurers and encourage people to return to what was once a solid town now fallen into disrepair. To begin exploration into the region and try to restore some level of quality of life to the individuals who live here, you need to hire adventurers, four at a time, from the Village Stagecoach. From here, you send them on missions into the depths to earn money and artifacts you can use to refurbish the town and hopefully enable expeditions into the initial estate grounds. With fourteen classes in the game and different skills for each, as well as an intriguing, position-based battle system and exploration system that encourages preparation, this game encourages variety since there's many different foes across many different dungeons.

Managing combat is quite complicated despite a very straightforward system, because specific attacks can only strike specific sections of the enemy formation (annoyingly, enemies are not beholden to this restriction, because screw you). In addition to managing health and status effect healing, you have to keep an eye on Stress; when it builds too high, your characters start to crack up, and can suffer any number of terrible mental afflictions for it, causing them to endanger themselves or others or even start fucking with their own party members.

Build it higher than that, and they can die to cardiac arrest. Downed enemies don't usually vanish (their corpses remain on the ground until moved away or destroyed) and their bodies take up positioning slots, further muddling matters. Many enemies have attacks that reposition party members (or themselves), and surprise can further cork up your ranks, forcing you to waste turns repositioning or otherwise fighting in a less-than-ideal way.

Stress is caused by absolutely everything. Some enemy attacks cause stress. Getting hit by a critical hit causes stress. Darkness causes Stress. Hunger causes srtress. Stress is this gigantic mechanic in this game and mitigation is practically a necessity. Unfortunately, unlike reality Stress doesn't bleed off naturally with time and you have to assign them activities to party members (costing money each time) to treat it. Each adventure needs to be financed as well. Characters can gain or lose certain benefits or drawbacks and you can only lose the drawbacks via a costly stay in the Sanitarium. There are ways to shed stress outside of town, but these involve either mid-combat abilities (bringing up their own bag of worms) or camping abilities (which can only be used at specific times).

And again, character death is permanent.

All of these conspire to make Darkest Dungeon's world a dangerous, unsettling place, but the subsystems in the game are all, to a man, absolutely fascinating in setup. They reflect a situation where you can get a grasp of what's going on with your characters and there's a lot of room for organic storytelling just through what various characters go through.

Hey guys what's happening in this hallwa-- Oh.

And sadly, this is where I need to begin discussing this game's shortcomings.

Darkest Dungeon is one of those games where the RNG is responsible for absolutely everything and it's not to the game's benefit. Depending entirely on the largesse of a random number generation, you can have a quest that literally is zero effort and can actually mean your party pulls things off without even having a healer, or you can have a situation where the enemies get a barrage of critical hits and ambushes and successfully cause an explosion of stress whilst your party becomes as effective as grease on fire due to the placement of your team now being all the fuck over the place.

There's no middle ground, and it would almost be forgivable if the situation were even remotely tilted in favor of the player - it isn't. Even with the mercy of the "Death's Door" mechanic, the game is notoriously bad about setting you up with no-win scenario after no-win scenario. And it claims this is the point, which is fair enough - except that unlike say, Dwarf Fortress, where such a scenario is also exactly the point, and getting to that scenario in the most entertaining possible way is the main draw, Darkest Dungeon pulls this crap to an almost unfathomably dickish degree.

You don't get to choose what classes you get - that, too, is random, except for the starting characters who will, without exception, start with a Crusader that has an absolutely bastardly quirk that you won't be able to get rid of before it locks in before it becomes permanent (it will cause him to random steal an entire loot package, which essentially means less income for you and less ability to get shit done if he does it when you have supplies worth grabbing). With no choices over which classes you get and limited storage space for characters, pretty much everything in the game gradually begins to boil down to how hard the RNG is going to sodomize you on this particular run. And this is where Darkest Dungeon starts to fall apart. The "loss is inevitable" gimmick could almost be forgiven if Darkest Dungeon weren't such an unpleasant grind-fest. Losing any character sets you back to having to replace them with trainees who may or may not even be a desirable class and may or may not even agree to work with your party members (got an Abomination? Good for you! Three of the game's most common classes will refuse to work with them and won't even let you party them together).

The game's opening declares that Darkest Dungeon requires a lot of the player. There's an implicit statement in its opening that failure is inevitable, but also that if you screw up and lose progress, it's your fault. That is, after all, how most roguelikes and RPGs work, after all. Even ones as unforgiving as Etrian Odyssey or Dark Souls. But it's not how Darkest Dungeon works. I am no fucking stranger to challenge, as it were, and I've beaten hard-as-hell games more times than I can count.

Darkest Dungeon does not fall into the same category. Darkest Dungeon is outright player-hostile.

The game is actively set against you, gives you no real control over many of the game's mechanics (no ability to choose the classes you get, no ability to effectively mitigate how often your party members get insane drawbacks) and is, as mentioned, a ridiculous grind. Getting characters just up to level 3 can take a dozen quests or more (and good fricking luck doing those in a row when Stress and Disease repeatedly screw you over). Lose one, and you're out all the work you put into them, which means approximately tons of quests, as well as any cost of upgrading their equipment or abilities. And because of this, there's no sense of progression in Darkest Dungeon. As your characters get stronger, they're going to acquire a ton of annoying, hindering, useless abilities that range from minor inconveniences to full-blown liabilities, and getting rid of these takes time and money that's always in short supply. The rank mechanic that forces you to carefully set up your position doesn't apply to the enemies, who can just attack any row they want whenever they want with no hindrances.

Even healing mechanics in the game are set up in such a way as to be player-hostile; only a scant few classes heal, and of these, only a rare few are remotely capable of doing it effectively and even they can only really stem the tide unless they get critical hits. If you're like me on my last few playthroughs, it's possible to have a team full of people whose stress is too high to deal with, who can't be put into stress relief because of the cost, and who can't have their crazy aspects treated because there's just not enough to go around. You can take every step correctly and the game will still decide, apropos of nothing, to completely screw you over with surprise rounds that break your formation even if you keep the light level max and enemies scoring constant critical hits or focusing all their Stress-boosting attacks on one person.

And that kind of crap isn't enjoyable. I apologize to anyone who likes it, but I'm not a fan of that kind of luck-based gameplay.

If the Dankest Dungeon meme is the only good thing to come out of my playing this game, it's been sufficient.

In an effort to make a game with realism and form over function, Darkest Dungeon falls flat. The game's mechanics are harder to micromanage than Ogre Battle: March of the Black Queen, an SNES game with many of the same problems that at least knew enough to not feed everything to the Pseudorandom Number Generator. It's a shame because the game's art design is great, the story is amazing, and the overall presentation is fantastic, but it drops the ball with a completely user-hostile experience and requiring the player to micromanage to an almost enviable degree, all whilst offering up a ridiculously grindy experience.

It offers a fairly rich world in its own right if you can get past the game's myriad issues, but in my experience, whether the game even lets you get past those issues is up to a flip of the coin.

Final Score: 7/10

EDIT: PC Master Race to the rescue again! It turns out that Darkest Dungeon is fully compatible with Mods, and one I used fixes a lot of the game's inherent issues, and made it more enjoyable. I've adjusted score to compensate.

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November 25th, 2015
02:36 pm


Etrian Games, From Worst to Best

I'm a shameless fan of the Etrian Odyssey series. I have been since the mid-2000s, when I was struggling both with depression and long-term unemployment. My family was less-than-appreciative and so I turned to what was, historically, my outlet for my frustrations: Vidya. Problem was, I was constantly in and out of job placement centers and training facilities at the time. I needed something portable, and something that was legitimately different at the time. This is when Antipothis spoke up and sent me something via mail that I didn't expect: The original Etrian Odyssey, on DS.

And thus began me becoming a fan. Etrian Odyssey was a clear callback to oldschool RPGs from when I was little - like Bard's Tale or Wizardry - but in many ways was its own beast. The game was so influential on me and so beloved by me that I wound up buying - and playing to 100% completion - every game in the series so far. Whilst there's one that I haven't completed in its entirety yet, I will eventually, and I can now say, with complete assurance that it's one of the better series of RPGs out there - and I can now safely say which games are the best in it.

Before I begin, I want to get across: In no way am I suggesting that any of the Etrian games that are low on this list "bad." If they were, they wouldn't have me as a fan, nor so many others. With that in mind, let's strap on our rose-tinted goggles and cover pretty much Etrian Odyssey Game, in order from worst to best in overall quality:

6. Etrian Odyssey (2007)
Etrian Odyssey may have been a ground-breaker at the time, noted for its unusual difficulty, unique mapping system, and setting, but it's also a flawed masterpiece. In much the same way that the earliest Pokemon games are fun but hilariously buggy and glitch-ridden, Etrian Odyssey's first game is one riddled with problems. The FOE encounter system is noted for potentially making fights unescapable if your back is to a wall. The game's difficulty spikes are numerous and anus-shattering, and the game's plagued with a series of brain-dead design decisions and outright bugs (for example, only two major enemies in the entire game are vulnerable to electricity - the first FOE you fight and the Stratum 2 boss). The game is virtually unbeatable without a very specific party design and ability set - whilst the game is theoretically beatable without these, it's goling to be a ridiculously uphill battle. Etrian Odyssey also has the most primitive graphics of the set and a number of bizarre choices for the overall game setup.

However, beyond all these problems, Etrian Odyssey is a game that defied covnentions in many ways. In a world where conventional wisdom was that people didn't like oldschool JRPGs, Etrian Odyssey was a game that came out, being a game type and game style that was tacitly believed to not be successful anymore, and created a critical and commercial success. The story for Etrian Odyssey is also unique in that it establishes that EO's universe is, in fact, our own, and the various big implications of its plot make it a worthy game in terms of fluff as well. From this humble beginning, an entire empire of niche games would flow.

5. Etrian Odyssey III: The Drowned City (2010)
I feel remiss putting Etrian III so low on my list; it's easily the most ambitious Etrian game of its age and has one of - if not the - best overall storyline in the series, with multiple endings and one of the most robust sub-systems of the early Etrian games. However, Etrian III is a game with serious problems - almost all of them mechanical and having to do with internal balance and the game being rushed rather than more immaterial shortcomings. Class balance, in Etrian III, is atrocious, with classes ranging from concentrated godliness to utter fail, and the subclass system essentially making many choices in the game irrelevant. This lack of internal class balance absolutely ruins great swaths of the game's overall playability, and the rushed nature of the build team for Etrian III leaks out in gurgles due to the map design; Etrian Odyssey III is a much smaller game than previous Etrian games due to slashing and burning to reach a deadline, and it shows - most of the Stratums are much shorter and harder to navigate solely to make them more of a challenge. Etrian III did add sailing mechanics and team quests, but this is a small comfort because you can't really explore the world very much and the bulk of it's just there to give you some new bosses to fight, many of which you've fought before. It also brought the forging system, an easily min-maxed system for weapon customization.... That ultimately also made the game significantly more grindy.

Where Etrian III makes up for all this is in its other areas. It has easily the best soundtrack of the original trio of games, with its boss theme, FOE theme, and final boss themes being consistently rated amongst the best of all the games. It brought us the (hilariously lopsided) early subclass system and numerous refinements to the engine and game design (even if it wound up being intensely buggy). The seafaring, though almost entirely accessory, did a lot to make the world feel more alive and expansive, and the storyline, again, is one of the darkest, most interesting, and most ominous of the set. If it weren't for what had to be sacrificed to make it happen, and for what else was involved, Etrian III would doubtlessly be at least one slot higher in this list, if not two.

4. Etrian Odyssey II: Heroes of Lagaard (2008)
Etrian Odyssey II: Heroes of Lagaard is widely considered to be one of - if not the - best of the original Etrian trilogy. It has the distinction of being remembered more fondly than its predecessors, though it's hard to see why if you're new to the series - Etrian III does seem to have more content - but this is only at a glance. Etrian Odyssey II is a great example of how even when you make a mis-step and screw many things up, it's still possible to do so much good in the process that it remains a net win. Etrian II has two of the worst things ever in any Etrian game: zero experience when killing FOEs and the single worst level-cap removal system in the history of video games - but the rest of the game is so robust and handles so well that it doesn't really matter. Building on Etrian Odyssey, Etrian Odyssey II: Heroes of Lagaard adds enough that it's hard to go wrong with, fleshing out existing characters and adding multiple new options. The two new classes, though somewhat middling, are nonetheless quite interesting and offer many unique tricks all their own. For the first time, a Medic was no longer a necessity, and for the first time, neither was any class, really, offering you more flexibility. All of this was backed by Etrian Odyssey II's fantastic storyline, which is one of the stronger ones in terms of narrative and excellent class balance, which was far better than the previous game - and indeed the one after it - in virtually every capacity.

Etrian II's biggest drawbacks were its music - which whilst excellent, was not as good a the other games in the series overall - and its progression, which was actively fairly user-hostile, demanding a player retire a character dozens of times to reach the level cap. In a game with no FOE XP. Players fought on despite this, however, and beating the true final boss at the basic level cap is hardly an unheard-of occurrence, marking Etrian II as being stronger than its shortcomings. It just edges out Etrian III on this list because of its across-the-board improvements; it falls behind Etrian Untold in this list solely because Etrian Untold is put together better.

3. Etrian Odyssey Untold: The Millenium Girl (2013)
Etrian Untold marks a new chapter in the series - the second of the 3DS Etrian games, Etrian Untold was a remake and added a host of new facts and information to the canon of the series. From a purely technical standpoint, Etrian Untold is an incredible achievement, implementing voice-acting, a full-fledged conventional story mode, and a host of other new features, plus an entirely new dungeon and bosses - to the existing framework of Etrian Odyssey. It also added the new lower difficulties for Etrian newcomers, whilst keeping the game challenging and brutal for the oldschoolers. The result is an overall solid game with significant promise, echoing the original game whilst at the same time being its own beast. Gone are the oft brain-dead original shortcomings of the first Etrian Odyssey - the game is smooth, polished, and relatively well-balanced. The music is fantastic and the story is excellent, deepening the story of the original Etrian Odyssey game. However, this is definitely the weakest of the three 3DS Etrian game so far, not necessarily through any one specific major issue, but through a host of smaller ones that are big enough that they cannot be ignored.

Like the first Etrian Odyssey, Etrian Untold is a game with some shortcomings. Lacking the subclassing system, Etrian Untold brings the player the Grimoire Stone system, a system that allows the player to essentially subclass in a fashion whilst potentially getting the skills of the monsters as well - but unfortunately the new system is so heavily lopsided and such an incoherent mess that the system is almost entirely luck-based, to the point of being considered tacitly unusable if it weren't for the fact that the game has item duplication tricks for spamming Grimoire Stone-related items. Moreover, Etrian Untold has much lower experience curves and less viable farming methodologies for leveling up than in the games to follow on this list. So whilst Etrian Untold is, storyline-wise and gameplay-wise, head and shoulders above its predecessors, it's ultimately hamstrung by some of the few areas it screws up. Some of these are the inevitable result of relying on the original game as a base; others seem to be the result of trying to do something different. Regardless, it's a solid game, and certainly deserving of its place on this list. Whilst the weakest of the "new" Etrian games, it's most assuredly one of the most interesting ones and worthy of a spot on this list. The refinements to the game are simply too big to ignore, even with the myriad of minor issues it has.

2. Etrian Odyssey IV: Legends of the Titan (2012)
To date, Etrian IV is the most successful Etrian game in terms of sales, and with good reason - it's undeniably one of the best games in the series not only in terms of balance, but in terms of overall quality, and do accomplish all this whilst making for one of the most enjoyable Etrian Odyssey games of all is a hell of an accomplishment in and of itself, considering that it's the earliest of the 3DS Etrian games. It accomplishes this by making good use of what it has available; with so much improved hardware power, Etrian IV leveraged its newfound muscle very carefully and in so doing created an impressive gaming experience - using fully orchestrated music, careful use of 3D graphics, and angling itself specifically towards an older crowd, Etrian IV creates a unique and compelling game that feels like it's got a coherent world all its own. The Skyship flying and expansive world-map meant that even though the central tenet of the game hadn't changed, there was so much added that it was legitimately hard not to like. Etrian IV kept some of Etrian III's early missteps, and shares some of the same problems in design philosophy - shorter stratums, smaller maps - but these problems are minimized because of the improved overall design of every other asset in the game being designed around them, allowing for small additional dungeons and making each area unique. Etrian IV has the gentlest XP curves of any of the games barring Etrian Untold II, and there's legitimately simple XP farming methodologies, which makes the game way less grindy and progression much more enjoyable. It was the first Etrian game to reliably have a system where, without excessive grinding, you were likely to hit the level cap before the story's main boss - and it was also the first one to come up with a work-around for the economic shorting that's so common in every other Etrian game. It also brings forward Etrian III's subclass system, and then fixes it for good measure, resulting in a fully customizable character system that isn't as front-loaded as Etrian III's. The subclass system offers a lot of possibilities, meaning every class has some great possibilities without a relatively small pool of character classes. Every class in it is also great - there's no class in Etrian IV that's really underpowered, and all of them have major tactical advantages. This is a far cry from even Etrian Untold, where the Survivalist was usually considered accessory and Troubadours struggled to find a position in a party.

Etrian IV sometimes gets flak for being too easy, but this stems from both including a lower difficulty mode and because of how aggressively powerful the classes in it are (Etrian IV has three of the heaviest hitters in the series' history). Under the surface, the game is just as brutally, soul-crushingly, ball-tweakingly difficult as the others, but it's less openly dickish in design, which makes it a better experience overall. The party-centric aspects to the storyline and the general tale of conflcted loyalty and good intentions gone wrong makes Etrian IV have its own appeal storyline-wise as well. If there's a major criticism to be had about the game, it's the inclusion of the Forging system (which is, again, an emphasizer of min-maxing and a major grind increaser) and the fact that it's got a very unconventional Stratum V layout that makes it feel shorter than it actually is.

1. Etrian Odyssey Untold II: The Fafnir Knight (2015)
If you had told me after Etrian IV that the best Etrian game ever would be coming out in a few years, you'd have raised my eyebrow. Color me completely unsurprised, however, that the "new" version of the best of the three older Etrian games quality-wise, howvever, is the best of the current new ones.Etrian Untold II is, beyond a shadow of a doubt, the best Etrian Odyssey game thus far in terms of overall quality, presentation, and content. It's easily the biggest Etrian game thus far, as well, and the most robust as far as subsystems go; this is a game bristling with content. Not only does it include a fully-fledged story mode with specific characters, a full-fledged improved Classic mode with substantially more content, and an Untold version of Etrian II's storyline, but it includes even more character classes, a completely revamped (and easily the best in the entire series so far) force system that enables a wealth of different combat tactics. Improvements to class balance and a wealth of DLC that adds tons of content to the game (and was free if you bought the game but is pretty damned cheap if you didn't) makes this one a winner.

In almost every respect, Etrian Untold II is an achievement. The character dialogues include everything from idle chatter amongst your guildmembers to humorous episodes in which they discuss their hopes and concerns. The story is touching and tragic, wrought with personal tragedy and good intentions gone hideously wrong, painting characters with a dark history fraught with regret. The environments and setting are given immense care to make the world feel richer and more robust, and the game meets this with keeping its mechanics flawless. When Etrian Untold II was rumored to have the Grimoire Stone system, I was concerned, but that concern was unfounded; Etrian Untold II's system improves on this one so thoroughly that it's difficult to describe, since you can now readily trade grimoires and get exactly what you need. The game is more generous with XP than any other Etrian game, resulting in a smooth growth curve that generally does not require grinding. The game throws unique, interesting traps, environments, and techniques at you, and challenges the player to think on their feet and come up with solutions. This results in a game that seems almost perfected in its motions. Mechanically, the game is solid, building on Etrian Odyssey Untold: The Millenium Girl's premise and it backs this with a whole new guildhouse and subsystem therefore, allowing you to build up a cafe to try food to boost your stats, provide handy benefits, and even earn you significant money on the side. Multiple saves - a first in the series - allows players to try both the Classic and Story mode seperately from different angles, or to save in specific spots for content. This huge aresenal of content truly sets Etrian Odyssey Untold II apart from the crowd, and means that any Etrian game to follow has its work cut out for it, to say the least!

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April 2nd, 2015
07:16 pm


Crossposted to Kiwi Farms.

All right, People, let's talk Palicos.

Lloyd, a Siamese-pattern Felyne Palico, rushing into combat.

Palicos are members of the Felyne and Melynx races; they are kitty-cat allies that work with your hunter in single-player and which act as helpers during your hunts. They help fight monsters, and depending on their skills, they can have a number of other abilities. By default you have one main Palico, who can be any of a number of colors and can be named; this Palico, sometimes called The Ace Palico, has sole custodianship of the Leadership forte. Other Palicos you acquire are randomly generated, with differing colors and patterns and fortes as well. You can re-name these other Palicos, so in time you can have a force group of Palicos named for the cast of Dark Souls (for example). You can have up to 2 Palicos at any given time on the field in single player - if your multiplayer team numbers 2 or less, you'll be allowed to bring Palicos along for the ride too, but only your mains.

The following are the initial Palico Fortes:

Fighting: These Palicos have the highest damage output in terms of raw offense, and will reliably out-damage even a Leadership Palico. Their focus is on offense, which they bring to the table by not only hitting really fucking hard, but boasting combo attacks, piercing boomerang strikes that can hit multiple times, and the ability to use Demon Horns to bolster the whole squad.

Stealing: These thieves learn well from their Melynx buddies, and are raging kleptomaniacs. Ranged fighters to a man, they use upgraded boomerangs to keep enemies at tail's length before moving in to attempt to steal valuables. These guys are a godsend when fighting opponents and looking for rare materials, since they'll happily pilfer an extra Scale or something from big monsters. If they pull off a grab for a rare item like a Wyvern Gem, they've saved you a buttload of work, so consider them.

Treasure: These guys are the Barbara Chandlers of the Palico line. ALL FOR THE HOARD. They're essentially incapable of fighting and focus everything on gathering goodies from resource cache points. These guys pay for themselves on Expeditions, where rare items can be worth their weight in gold and then some. They suck balls at fighting, though, so avoid using them if you need a Palico that can actually get shit done.

Healing: These are the Palicos most-likely to keep your ass alive. They provide vital healing abilities and can keep both you and other Palicos in the fight way longer than anyone else. The fact that they can heal you means that they can potentially keep down how often you'll need Potions and Mega Potions, and statistically they're average fighters to boot, which makes them arguably the most useful Palico around.

Bomber: These Palico Grenadiers throw explosives and excel at battlefield disruption. They can set barrel bombs on allied Shock Traps (Whether set by you or by an allied Support Palico), and will cheerfully chuck Barrel Bomb S at opponents to disrupt and damage them. Upgraded ones can chuck elemental bombs and even lace their grenades with Felvyne to incite their Felyne and Melynx brothers to attack their targets by roving in angry packs like a gang of 1920s Irish immigrants dealing with abuses by the police.

Support: These guys are simple, but have some great abilities - they can set Shock Traps, they can tell a monster's health/stamina levels, they can determine where a monster's going, and they're competent fighters, too. All of this on a Palico that works purr-fectly with Bomber Palicos, thieves, and even Fighters - they make every Palico class better.

When you get far enough, three new Palico Fortes become available:

Launcher: These flying kitty specialists excel at helping you mount monsters. Succeed at a mount? They'll blow horns to increase your bar buildup and even catch you if you get thrown. Their attacks wear down monsters to make them mountable (like a jump attack), and they can even act as a springboard to launch yourself high into the air - devastating when used with a Great Sword or Hammer. Their role is very specialized, but they excel at it and can be quite useful for many builds, and they're stronger than many Palicos. Worth using.

Protection: The tanks of the Palico World, these guys have statistically the highest defense and HP of any Palico type. At high levels, seeing them with a defense substantially higher than the Hunter they're backing is not unheard of. Their role is to draw enemy fire and keep the attention of monsters squarely away from friends and entirely on them. This makes them a godsend when fighting assholes like Steve or Deviljho, and better still, they're the only Palico who can block, a-la you with a Sword and Shield or Charge Blade. They sometimes blow horns to boost your defense, and those of other allies.

Stamina: A rare prize, easy to underestimate. Stamina Palicos focus on exhausting enemies and bolstering the party. If you're a defensive fighter, one of these kitties can be a godsend, though the competition between whether a Stamina or Healing Palico is better for a defensive fighter will rage endlessly if allowed (the correct answer is both, as I'll get into during the Leadership Palico explanation). They also are the only non-leader Palico that gets Grudge (which boosts their skill rate).

Fear the Leadership Palico with 5 Bomber Fortes as First Stringers...

The Leadership Palico Forte is unique. His stats are all above-average, with no weaknesses. It has no forte skills and seems, other than its basic default abilities (a weak horn it can play, the ability to wake up allies and teammates, slap slacking Palicos and fighting better than every Palico shy of a Fighter-type) means that they don't seem all that impressive. This is because the Leader Palico is customizable. By assigning multiple Palicos of a given Forte to his wing as First Stringers, The leadership Palico can use their abilities. This means you can essentially kit him out as you see fit. The following is a list of what each Palico Forte offers for the Leadership Forte:

2 Fighting Palicos: Demon Horn
3 Fighting Palicos: Piercing Boomerang
4 Fighting Palicos: True Demon Horn
5 Fighting Palicos: Felyne Fury Combo+

2 Stealing Palicos: Mega Boomerang
3 Stealing Palicos: Boomerang Duty
4 Stealing Palicos: Stealth
5 Stealing Palicos: Thieving+

2 Treasure Palicos: Hasty Harvester
3 Treasure Palicos: Gathering Duty
4 Treasure Palicos: Gathering Scout
5 Treasure Palicos: Gatherpaw+

2 Healing Palicos: Healing Horn
3 Healing Palicos: Detox Horn
4 Healing Palicos: True Health Horn
5 Healing Palicos: Parting Gift+

2 Bomber Palicos: Trap Rigging
3 Bomber Palicos: Bomb Duty
4 Bomber Palicos: Big Barrel Bomber
5 Bomber Palicos: Mad Bomber+

2 Support Palicos: Shock Trap
3 Support Palicos: Trapper's Eye
4 Support Palicos: Pro Trapper
5 Support Palicos: Cat Nap+

2 Protection Palicos: Armor Horn
3 Protection Palicos: None (Leader Palico can now block attacks)
4 Protection Palicos: True Armor Horn
5 Protection Palicos: Provoker+

2 Launcher Palicos: Mounting Horn
3 Launcher Palicos: Mounting Damage
4 Launcher Palicos: Cat-Apult Taunt
5 Launcher Palicos: Mounting Master+

2 Stamina Palicos: Grudge
3 Stamina Palicos: Recovery Attack
4 Stamina Palicos: Exhaust Attack
5 Stamina Palicos: Meowrale Boost+

Now naturally, this means that there's an upside and a downside to the Leadership Palico's versatility - if he devotes himself to a given Forte, it means surrounding himself with Palicos of the same type. Different Palico Fortes have a different critical mass before they really start to give the Leadership Palico benefits - for example, the Healing Palico Forte requires at least 4 Healers to be of any real benefit, whereas the Treasure and Stealing Fortes can be easily made use of with only 2-3 Palicos of a given type. This is important because whilst the Leadership Palico is highly useful and should see constant use, he isn't a god, and surrounding himself with only one Palico type means having only that type for backup on missions.

Some Palicos work outstandingly well together (Healers most notably - you can never have too many of these), but other Palicos shine brightest when paired with other Palico fortes. Protection Palicos are often best used solo, rather than being some giant investment for your leader (the Leader is better at it once he gets Provoker+, but his stats are still lower) for example, and Support and Bomber Palicos are practically designed to work together, and Stamina and Healing Palicos make an outstanding team - as do Protection and Stealing, Thieving and Launching, and Fighting and Support.

Who's watching your back?

As such, this makes Palico balance and especially who your Leadership Palico's First Stringers are a balancing act - Do you want to load them up with skills to make your Leader really, really good at something at the cost of who they can pair up with, or do you want to go for less ability investment and more for a readily-available base of different Palicos you can troubleshoot with? It may seem obvious that loading up on Fighting Palicos for raw punch gives a tough-as-balls Leader, but it also makes your Palico team tactically one-dimensional since you can only have a Fighting first-stringer backing up your now-also-Fighting Leader Palico.

Additionally, some Palicos are frankly fine as a solo act. Healers do just fine on their own, even if they do better grouped. Stamina Palicos can handle themselves fine individually, as can Fighters. Thieving Palicos are practically lone wolves (lone cats?) by default, so this choice actually has some pretty big implications for your Palico usage. Many Palicos can get status ailment skills or elemental damage effects or even the ability to lace their attacks with Felvyne or the like that the Leadership Palico cannot get, no matter how many Palicos he has under his wing.

Finally, we have special attacks. Every Palico has access to one, and which one your leader gets depends on who's assigned to deploy with him. There are many variants, but they will fall into one of three categories:


Summons a tank. The Rath of Meow is a powerful little vehicle armed with a powerful, wide-ranging cannon. The basic one is less a tank and more of a weapons platform armed with Acorn shells, but you can get advanced versions later that feature either elemental shells or the (surprisingly deadly) Omnicannon, which deals a barrage of completely randomized elemental damage blasts on impact. The damage done by the Rath of Meow and how durable it is depends on the two Palicos using it. These variant tanks will be called the likes of Rath-of-Thunder or Rath-of-Mix, respectively.

Flying F-Bomb: This aggressive special attack has both Palicos load up a portable version of a Palico transport rocket and launch themselves at the large monster. On impact, the bomb explodes, dealing pretty good damage, and releasing its two angry passengers, who will then latch onto the monster and do their own version of a Mounting Attack. During this time, the monster will usually be too distracted to do much - use this time wisely. Rare variants later can add stronger explosives, move much faster, or add elemental damage to the rocket. Look for these, as they'll be called Flying I-Bomb or Flying Fast Bomb, respectively.

Purrtuoso: This subtle but useful special attack is the least flashy, but potentially a game-changer. The Purrtuoso ability has the Palico team whip out a massive horn array and rock the hell out. The music provides pretty strong healing (about par with a Mega Potion), and boosts both your HP Max and Stamina Max - making this ability, uniquely, one of the few that can completely salvage a quest that goes bad due to a monster knocking your ass out, since it can restore your life gauge to max. The higher your Palicos' levels, the more this horn heals. Variants of this ability can add elemental properties that boost your resistances to a given element, or heal status effects - look for these, as they'll be called Purrtuoso/Ice for example, or Purrtuoso/Detox, respectively.

Note that if in Co-Op with a friend, your Palicos can (and will) use these attacks with your teammate's Palico in lieu of a first stringer.

All in all, Palicos are a potent force multiplier in Monster Hunter. Use them well.

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October 24th, 2014
07:26 pm


GAME REVIEWS: Shantae - Risky's Revenge

After that Depression Quest review, wherein I reviewed a game wherein we tried to address depression and the game itself wound up falling short on multiple levels, I felt it was sort of depressing, which means it's time for some levity. So it's time to throw off my shoes, scream "to hell with it," and break out the big guns - it's Shantae time.

If you can find a copy, this game is amazing.

Shantae is a hugely under-rated series that began on the Game Boy Color and started out with a late entry, but arguably one of the best-looking, most-playable, and overall highest-quality games of its type. Whereas many small-dev-team games wind up in over their heads, Shantae was always a series that took its time and threw everything at being the absolute best it could be - and it shows - the games are beautifully-animated, fun as all hell, and graphically at the top of their field. It got game of the year for the GBC when it came out, and had some of the highest overall reviews of any game for the platform. All very impressive for a tiny IP with a small budget. A sequel was announced, and then dead silence occured.

In the case of Shantae: Risky's Revenge - the game we'll be reviewing today - the game was originally developed for Game Boy Advance, but plans were temporarily scrapped because despite the original game getting top-score reviews and being generally considered one of, if not the best game for the Game Boy Color, the IP was just too small to be considered by most publishers - and so the game languished as the Dev attempted to find a publisher for this little IP that could. The game was eventually backed by Wayforward, those cunning sods who made Contra 4 and Double Dragon Neon, and the game finally got released as a DSiware title in 2010. One might expect the Duke Nukem Forever paradigm to play out here, since a second Shantae game had been in development hell for ages.

The exact opposite happened. Shantae: Risky's Revenge is a fantastic game.

You can't really see it here, but there's stuff going on in the background, and you can jump into said background.

Shantae: Risky's Revenge shows just how amazing a quality 2D game can be. A solid little game with a whole lot of heart, the game involves you taking the role of the titular Shantae, a half-genie, half-human cross-breed. Appointed as the guardian of the port town known as Scuttle Town, Shantae fights off monsters and periodic attacks by a megalomaniacal pirate gal known as Risky Boots, and that's really all you need to know (so if you missed the first game, you needn't worry). When Risky winds up attacking the town (again) in order to steal a magic lamp, Shantae has to get it back. To do so, Shantae will need to use her traditional means of offense (using her massive ponytail as a whip), as well as magic items and the ability to use magic belly dances to shape-shift into other forms to solve puzzles or bypass obstacles. Treasures and secrets lie all across the game world, in true Metroidvania style, and are often hidden away quite cleverly.

Shantae games are noted for their solid graphics that show less raw power and more excellent style. The visuals are sharp, crisp, and colorful, with good use of parallaxing and background effects. Animation is fluid and fast; the game runs extremely smoothly (way more than its trailer might suggest), and the gameplay is fast-paced and action-packed. The boss fights in particular are frenzied affairs where you need to manage yourself well in combat to defeat enemies and use everything at your disposal to bring them down. All of this is done with a lot of careful balancing - Shantae: Risky's Revenge is tricky but not too difficult, full of secrets but never inaccessible, and having a lot to offer without weighing anything down. The controls are absolutely fantastic and completely customizable on the new PC Version on Steam, but I'd definitely recommend a Controller if you have one to spare - the game plays much better with one.

The music matches up well, including really moody, atmospheric songs like the game's Desert music, sinister-as-all hell themes like Risky's theme, and more upbeat, energetic songs like the Scuttle Town theme, and intense, high-paced themes like the boss music. The audio is solid and spot-on, with everything in it sounding appropriate and on-point, from Shantae's hair-whipping to the tinny death sound of the Eyebugs. In fact, really only one sound effect absolutely caught me off guard for how jarring it was - the huge impact of one of Shantae's alternate forms' bubble attack, and that's my fault, because I was expecting a little bubble and not something with the impact of a fricking rocket launcher. The game has a little bit of voices, but not much - mostly Shantae's groans and yelps as she falls in holes or smacks enemies with her hair.

Shantae talking to the Squid Baron, who earleir was a boss.

The true gem of any Shantae game, and one this game has in spades, is the characterization and humor. Shantae is a deeply-sympathetic, incredibly well-rounded heroine, and one that honestly has deeper characterization than many other series' protagonists. As a half-genie, she has personal doubts about her abilities, especially given that Risky's gotten the better of her a few times, and she's repeatedly shown to have a number of flaws, including a deep naivete and a lack of willingness to accept help that winds up being a major centerpiece of the plot later on. Shantae herself has a number of humorous upsides, though - she's competent, flirty, fiercely intelligent, enjoys helping others, and is hilariously genre-savvy. She's completely willing to break the fourth wall if necessary, and the game itself has gotten the kind of laughs from me I normally reserve for the likes of Far Cry: Blood Dragon. Watching her interactions with other characters is practically worth the price of the game in and of itself - the writing is that good.

The supporting characters in the game truly make things shine, from Skye, Shantae's best friend and mentor, who raises warbirds, to Rottytops, a mischeivous zombie who continually jokes about wanting to devour Shantae's brains and tends to wind up being as much a hindrance as a help to Shantae on her journeys. Even relatively minor characters in the game have hilarious lines and really lend a lot to the insane world that is Sequin Land, fleshing it out way more than almost any other contemporary setting for a game of this type. This is something that carried over from the first Shantae game, and into the just-came-out-yesterday Pirate's Curse as well (Spoiler Warning: It's amazing, and will be reviewed soon).

It needs be noted that whilst Shantae: Risky's Revenge is loaded with humor and colorful imagery, it also has its darker moments, and the series as a whole is one of, if not the only series that I'm currently aware of that can pinball between seriousness and hilarious - and back again - without any loss in tone from the change of pace. The final act of Shantae: Risky's Revenge heavily centers around Risky's plan coming to fruition, and what it means for Shantae herself results in one of simultaneously the most genuinely uplifting and touching closers for a game I've seen in quite some time, leaving the door open for a sequel whilst at the same time offering quite a bit of closure in and of itself. There's multiple endings in the game as well, and there's a variant costume in the PC version, which means that the replay value for this game is actually quite high.

The game overall has very little to complain about. Some of the puzzle solutions are a bit off at first, but it's nothing a player can't figure out with trial and error. The endings themselves are heavily focused on a player's ability to find *everything* and still get in at under the time limit, but this is nothing new to a Metroidvania vet. About the only real complaint I have about the game is its length; It's somewhat short for what it is, and by the time you've opened up the ability to fully explore, you're practically at the game's end, but the various endings and heavy replayability cuts this down a bit. If you're a fan of this genre, it's a really hard game to find fault with, especially given its many nice features.

All in all, this is a fantastic game, especially for fans of this style of game. For fans of the series, the game itself is practically a must-have, and the game's coming out for PC makes it a great introduction for anyone to the series as a whole. All-in-all, I'd argue that it represents the creme de la creme of what small-dev gaming can accomplish, achieving much of the skill of games with much bigger dev teams, and showing care and polish throughout. It's definitely worth playing.

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