Sunday, June 18, 2017

Whisper of a Rose's Hellena's Nonexistent Fire Magic

Okay, I said I was done ragging on Whisper of a Rose, but this issue only came to mind after I was done with the other rant, so...yeah. 1 more rant on this Indie RPG, and then I’m finished. Really.

...Well, until I remember something else that bugs me, anyway.

Something which occasionally occurs during story cutscenes in RPGs is that magic-using characters will use a spell from their repertoire to accomplish something or other. Most often, this comes in the form of the healers in the party trying to repair someone who just got thoroughly wrecked, actively showing their healing spells outside of combat, but it can apply to plenty of other scenarios. In Final Fantasy 4, for example, there’s a moment in which a bunch of ice is blocking the heroes’ path, and they need Rydia to get over her fear of fire so as to use fire magic to melt the ice. Rydia, of course, steps up and delivers, as she always does, and we see her use fire magic outside of battle, and find that it’s been added to her list of battle spells.

RPGs tend to be, I’ve found, surprisingly careful about this sort of thing, too. Many times, I’ve been slightly annoyed because a party member will use an attack spell in a cutscene that’s actually not nearly the best option available to them (like, say, using Fire 1 to attack an enemy outside of actual combat even though the character has access to Fire 2). This is done, of course, to make sure that other players who may not have advanced their characters’ abilities as far as I have at that point will not be seeing the party member using spells that he/she hasn’t actually unlocked yet. It’s a careful detail for the sake of accuracy, you see. Heck, Lufia 2 has several moments in its storytelling in which Selan or another spellcaster uses their magic for a purpose outside of the battle system, and the game is so meticulous about being accurate with this, that Selan in fact has in her magic list a spell called Light, which has no actual function in the game whatsoever, save for a moment at the game’s end in which she uses it to light the dark fortress of the Sinistrals. And I think that’s only there because it was shown to have happened during the beginning sequence of the first Lufia title, so to maintain accuracy, they added this otherwise unused spell to Selan’s repertoire, specifically so her ability to light up the room (in the literal sense, though I daresay Selan does it figuratively, too) is accurate. Now that’s attention to detail!

I suspect that it is because RPGs tend to be extra careful to be accurate with their use of out-of-battle spell-casting that it seems so careless and strange when a case like Hellena in Whisper of a Rose comes along.

So, in Whisper of a Rose, the first companion that protagonist Melrose meets is Hellena, the perpetually and maybe a little unrealistically cheerful and friendly witch whose control over the elements makes her your primary spellcaster for the game. There are several moments in the game in which Hellena’s powers manifest during story scenes outside of battle, such as early in the game, when she accidentally uses a lightning bolt to try to keep Mel from walking away from her, or very late in the game, when she casts a fire spell on piles of wood during a sidequest to find a pile that doesn’t burn. In fact, those 2 abilities are the ones which Hellena frequently exhibits outside of battle, the ability to throw lightning around and the ability to control fire. She has more spells, of course, but you don’t really ever see the storytelling emphasize her control over wind, hail, rain, and plant life, just the lightning and fire thing.

And that would be just fine if Hellena actually had access to a fire spell. But she actually doesn’t.

I’ve looked everywhere on her skill tree, and even checked the walkthrough for Whisper of a Rose to see what her Rose Point super-skills are, and...nope. There is not a single fire spell in the entire tree. There’s a lightning spell, so that one checks out, but no fire spell. And yes, the lightning spell is actually of the fire element in terms of which kind of damage it does, but you can’t really count it as the same fire spells that Hellena uses during cutscenes, because, well, she also clearly has separate lightning spells that she also uses in cutscenes, too, as I said.

I know this is a nitpicky detail, but how do you, as a developer, manage to overlook the fact that the mage that you show using fire magic at multiple places in the story does not, in fact, have a fire spell? I mean, the very first time you encounter Hellena in the game, she burns down an inn! Fire is not only an ability that she makes use of frequently during the story’s course, it is also the first, character-defining thing about her that we see! That bit of hotel arson is related to Hellena’s occasional inability to control her powers, which is a plot point later on regarding her wicked witch wannabe mother. It’s at the root of a scene having strongly to do with a major story detail about Hellena! How did you just FORGET that she can’t use the fire magic she uses in this and multiple other scenes, Roseportal Games? Come on!

Is it a big deal? Nah. Is it a unique problem? Well, I guess not technically (the Mass Effect series’s cutscenes are known for ignoring the various abilities and weapon preferences of Shepard in favor of generic weapons so as to keep things easier for themselves), although it certainly is unusual. But it’s details like this that can be telling of larger problems with a game, and that’s the case here, I think, because this carelessness with following up on Hellena’s details to make sure they supported the ideas that Rosepetal Games had for her is similar to the major problems what Whisper of a Rose has with not taking the time and making the effort to support, explore, and follow through on its ideas.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Shin Megami Tensei 4-2's Downloadable Content

I was not terribly impressed with the downloadable content for the original Shin Megami Tensei 4, if you remember. There wasn’t enough substance to them, they were overpriced, and the only 1 that was notable was also an example of how DLC is used for dishonest business practices. But hey, Shin Megami Tensei 4: Apocalypse, known on this blog as SMT4-2, is generally a better RPG than its predecessor, so maybe it’ll have a better bunch of add-ons, too! Let’s find out.

As always, this only rates DLC that could conceivably be worth paying for--in other words, add-ons with some form of story content. It’s your business if you want to delete your money for the sake of pointless cosmetic changes and experience/money/jewel/whatever grinding, but I’m not going to rate it myself.

Fall of Tokyo Promo Video: Does this count? Eh, I think it counts. Basically, this is a free DLC which just gives you the option to watch the original anime promotional video for the game back when it was announced as an upcoming title. It seems like it must have been made before the plot was really hammered down for the project, because it shows a vastly different scenario for how Nanashi gains his smartphone and makes a contract with Dagda. Really, after the initial part of the video that shows the creation of the Firmament over Tokyo, nothing about this has anything to do with the game’s events.

Still, it’s cool to watch and totally free, so I don’t really have any complaints on this.

The Inverted Pyramid: Not a good start to the paid DLCs. Much like the DLC packages for SMT4-1, this is just a brief bit of narration, a couple of battles, and then you unlock a demon (Cleopatra) for fusion purposes. $2 might not be much money, but you’re still being overcharged for a DLC that takes, what, 20 minutes to get through? Tops?

It’s also not much to speak of in terms of the actual story. It’s just a tiny little side venture in which you investigate some missing girls, 1 of which happens to be Asahi, and find that a bunch of demons from Egyptian mythology have been trying to resurrect Cleopatra, because...well, just because, really. You fight them, you fight a 90% complete Cleopatra, you save Asahi while being given the option to say that her nose is super sexy, the end. Boring and totally superfluous. I’ll grant you that Cleopatra is actually a pretty useful minion, but unless you’ve been aching for the last 50 hours of gameplay to tell Asahi how much she appeals to your nasal fetish, I say skip this one.

Lore 1, 2, + 3: No point in separating these. These 3 DLCs simply each put a new entry into the game’s codex to read, regarding parallel universes, the concept of Observation, and a chronology of the game’s historical background. It’s useful background lore for reference, not exactly giving new information, but helpfully solidifying your knowledge of the concepts and events the game builds itself on. All 3 entries are free, and benefit the player’s understanding of the game’s story, so this set gets a thumbs-up from me.

A Trip to Hawaii: And I thought the Cleopatra DLC was poor. You meet up with a demon named Mephisto, he lets you go on a pretend beach trip with your party members, he tries to take your soul, you fight him, and once he’s defeated, you can fuse him for your own uses. At least with Cleopatra, that was an actual side adventure, small and useless though it was. This is just totally worthless.

Oh, and Japan? It seems like maybe you haven’t noticed, but the internet? It exists. I know you really want to capitalize off your horny customer base with a little bathing suit fanservice, but if I want to get my rocks off to SMT4-2’s party members, or the royals of Fire Emblem 14, or any other fictional character ever conceived, it is a single image search away. And they won’t be obscured by bathing suits, they won’t take as long to download, and they won’t cost me $2.50. Hell, said pics were created and freely available before the damn game released.

Explosive Epidemic in Mikado: This one’s a bit better, I suppose. This is a side story for the game path where you decide to be a hypocritical giant douchebag and side with Dagda, in which Nanashi goes to Mikado and kills everyone there, partially because they’re turning into demons and partially because in this route Nanashi’s just the kind of fucktard who likes genocide. You go through Mikado, fighting various residents and finding out what’s going on as you do so, until you reach Hugo and get the rest of the story as to where this epidemic came from. As a side story, it’s okay, I guess, and it at least ties a little into the plot of the game (well, 1 route of the game), unlike Cleopatra and Mephisto’s nonsense. At the same time, though, not a lot comes of this, from a story perspective, and it’s a pretty forgettable sequence of events. Not as big a waste of time and money as the previous 2 paid DLC packages, but still not worth the $2.

Messiahs in the Diamond Realm: This one’s actually kind of neat...while still not being very good. In this DLC, you’re called away to a realm between realities by Stephen, for the purpose of helping the main characters of each previous numbered Shin Megami Tensei become ready to fulfill their roles as Messiah to each of their respective realities. Whereas A Trip to Hawaii was stupid, mindless fanservice that mildly insults the player, this is the good kind of fanservice, much like Mass Effect 3’s Citadel DLC: a pandering to fans not by trying to take advantage of their base instincts, but rather by working with their love for the series and their longtime devotion to your products. It’s fun to see Nanashi help, interact with, and fight alongside the protagonists of SMT 1, 2, and 3 (and 4-1, I guess, but since that naturally happens in SMT4-2 anyway, it’s less of a big deal). It also plays to nostalgia by making the dungeon you’re going through very reminiscent of the old school first-person dungeons of SMT1 and 2, complete with the original music for them. Neat! And the DLC finishes with a very challenging boss battle against an enemy that will be kind of exciting for long-time SMT fans.

Beyond nostalgia, though...well, it’s not really all that interesting. I mean, it’s not bad, or anything, but there’s just not much that happens here. It’s fun, but not particularly meaningful, to meet up with the Demifiend, Flynn, Aleph, and Kazuya, and the battle at the end just seems to be there for the hell of it, rather than any real reason. I dunno. It’s like...I want to like this, because who doesn’t like a good hero team-up, but at the same time, objectively, and even a little subjectively, I really have to admit it’s no more meaningful and entertaining than the other paid DLCs in this game. It at least gives you a little more content than the previous packages have, but it also costs the most of all of them, so in the end...sorry to say, but I find Messiahs in the Diamond Realm about as lacking as the rest of this game’s paid DLCs.

Bah. What a disappointment. SMT4-2’s Downloadable Content is barely any better than its predecessor’s. The only DLC here that has a straightforward, untainted positive effect on the game that isn’t overpriced is the 3-part Lore update. I’m finding that JRPGs’ add-ons have an even lower success rate with me than the ones made on this side of the ocean.