New & Noteworthy: Wargroove

It’s rare these days when I get a game right as it releases (or at least this close to release). I suppose it should be noted that I didn’t actually purchase this one though, instead it was gifted to me by my father. He was congratulating me on my new job, which *side note* I’m starting tomorrow with an orientation at 8 am. So first of all, thanks Dad!

Wargroove is a game that I didn’t see coming. I happened upon it in the Steam discovery queue, and it was reminiscent of many old-school turn-based RPGs from years past. I added it to my wishlist and that was going to be that until later on when I had disposable income to check it out. Looking it over, I was instantly reminded of the Shining Force series, but most reviewers of the game hearkened it to Advance Wars — a series I’m familiar with but never played. There’s also elements that feel familiar to Langrisser (Warsong) of which I covered recentlyWargroove is a top-down tactical RPG created in-house by Chucklefish Games, whom you might know as the creators of Starbound, and also the publisher of Stardew Valley and a cool rogue-lite I played years ago called Risk of Rain. The one similarity all of these games have is a pixel-art graphic style, but that’s where the sameness ends.

The game opens with a short tutorial that explains a bit of what’s going on under the hood, along with a prelude to the storyline. You’ll start off as one of the evil characters heading to take care of the king of this land. Story bits happen in cut scenes that are layered over the top of the gameplay map, as is combat, done in an animation style that I adore. Your unit(s) will appear on one side of the screen, with enemy unit(s) on the other, and your unit(s) will cross over the middle border to attack and vice versa. A single unit on the map can represent multiple units though, which is mostly conveyed through their health bar. You can get an over view of the map to make strategic decisions, and also click on units or the map terrain itself for more information.

There seems to be a bunch of complexity here but it’s really rather simple. Some units do better against others, and weak to others still. Some terrain will benefit you, and some will slow you down along with lowering your defenses. Later missions introduce buildings that you can capture by first lowering their health to zero and then using the appropriate unit to claim them. You’ll also eventually get barracks and other buildings that allow you to purchase units once per turn. The story continues, and with your father being dead, you (the princess — now queen) must lead your people against the oncoming evil. Sounds pretty similar to most fantasy tales, no? You will end up being able to control other heroes, and your heroes themselves have what they call a “groove” which is essentially a hero power that can turn the tide of battle. Our queen can heal units in a small area. Another hero of this faction can lay down a stone that grants units within a small area a defensive boost. It’s all pretty straightforward when you get used to it.

Outside of the main campaign, there are a few other things you can do. There is a multiplayer option where you can play against friends. You can play Arcade, which essentially is a death match on a map with plentiful resources and you’ll progress through various bosses to complete it. There is also a map/campaign maker, and it’s fairly easy to use. I threw together the above map in under 5 minutes with minimal effort, and it appears that you could create some cool stuff if you wanted to go down that route. This gives the game near infinite replay-ability. There is also a puzzle mode that I have yet to unlock, but I’ve only played the game for a handful of hours.

It appears that the devs haven’t quite called the game done yet either. There is a post on the dev blog that tells us what we can expect in the future, from bug fixes to additional content updates and DLC. The main complaint I’m seeing around the interwebs is that the factions aren’t defined enough, and having played a bit I can see why there is this criticism. Indeed, your Pikeman will behave identically to the enemy’s spearman but will have a different skin to identify it. Essentially all units in the game are identical, so you’ll be seeing the same things over and over. Thankfully there is quite a bit of variety between units, just not between the factions outside of their heroes. Still, I have enjoyed the game and think you will too if you’re into this type of game. Perhaps future patches will add some new units to switch things up a bit. Either way, I adore this game so far and am thankful to have the opportunity to play it! Wargroove is available now everywhere besides Playstation 4, but that’s coming “soon.”

Early Impressions: Langrisser Mobile

A while back, I saw a “new” game that was coming to mobile devices and pre-registered for it. The game in question was Langrisser, and for some reason or another it looked familiar to me, despite not having any memories of playing a game by that name before. After digging around and doing a bit of research, it turns out that I had played a game in the Langrisser series, but as things were back in the 1990’s, many games that released in the West that were developed in the East were put out under different names. In Japan, Langrisser was a series that saw many iterations and wouldn’t have been something many of us would have played. In the US, one of the games in the series was renamed Warsong and released for the Sega Genesis in 1991. I once wrote a post about 25 of my favorite Genesis games and this actually should have made that list, but did not. Whatever the case, we’re now getting a mobile revision of this 90’s JRPG series that hasn’t seen a new title since then, outside of re-releases. It’s unclear if this new mobile version is a remaster of one of the titles or a whole new spinoff, but it is instantly recognizable once you dive into the game.

What appealed to me most was the fact that it is a turn-based strategy RPG, or tactical RPG depending on how you like to word things. In the same vein as games like Shining Force or Final Fantasy Tactics (and honestly, much like Nintendo’s Fire Emblem series), this is an RPG where your battles take place on a grid and you move and attack/use abilities accordingly. I haven’t played too far into the game’s main story, and there are clearly features that won’t unlock until I’m a higher level, but I wanted to give my initial impressions, because the game is hot off the press — it released this week.

Despite having its similarities to the other game series I’ve mentioned above, Langrisser sets itself apart in its combat system. You’ll still move about on a grid and when you do attack an enemy you’ll get pre-combat information about them, but instead of your units being individuals, they are a hero unit along with a battalion of soliders. The heroes themselves have special abilities and stats, but their units will also do the attacking when you do, so as you take damage the graphical representation is via your health bar and the amount of soldiers fighting along side of you. This is unique to this series, as other games typically focus on just the hero itself, regardless of if there is an animated cut scene for combat, or if it occurs right there on the battlefield. In this sense, it hearkens back to my youth and memory, but this version of the game is polished and pretty. Go ahead and search for Warsong gameplay on YouTube and you’ll see the vast improvement.

Many other RPGs have had the concept of various unit types being strong and weak against enemy types, so that’s nothing new but I thought I would highlight it anyway because it’s nice to see a little complexity in a mobile title. I played Fire Emblem Heroes a bit when it released and though it shared some design concepts, I didn’t end up sticking with it. So far, this game feels better and has some depth.

After completing a short tutorial, you’ll head to the world map and then a ton of other options start to open up for you. There are missions, events, and other ways to earn resources to do things. What all of the resources do, I don’t know just yet. I also can’t access features like training, bonds or the guilds, so I’ll have to get back to you on those. What I can say is that I appreciate the art direction, I feel the game runs great and I love tactical RPGs so it’s got a lot going for it. There are various currencies and I don’t know what all of those do just yet either, but there is a real world money component, and I’m not sure how pervasive or abusive it might be. To this point I’ve been able to play without feeling the need to spend any money, and that’s a good thing.

One feature that is very much like Fire Emblem Heroes and other Gacha games, is the summon mechanic. I’ve earned several of the tickets needed to summon various heroes of various rarities, but it’s unclear how they are used otherwise. I’m sure there are other tutorial sessions that just haven’t popped up yet for me, and I’m sure there’s either a way to expand your party with these heroes or to do some sort of PvP thing with them. Whatever the case, they are there and we’ll see how that goes.

As I said, I just wanted to give some early impressions, and so far they are good. I enjoy the combat and the mechanics to this point. I’ll report back when I know more. I’d recommend trying it out if you are a fan of this style of game, but otherwise you should probably pass. It’s nothing overly original but it is a fun little time waster.

Tastes Change

I have a long history of playing RPGs in their many forms. From JRPGs to MMOs, I’ve dipped my toes in all of the sub genres and over the years some of those genres have died off or changed in ways that were incremental and not really noticeable at the time.

Snap judgement: I am not in love with Pillars of Eternity. I absolutely adored all of the Bioware/Black Isle games from the 1990’s; titles like Baldur’s Gate and Icewind Dale took up much of my gaming time back then. The revival of the isometric real-time cRPG genre that’s been happening for a few years now with titles like PoE, Wasteland 2, and Divinity: Original Sin seemed like it would be right up my alley. I did of course play many of these games over the years, but as this genre moved forward into the 3D space with titles like Dragon Age and Mass Effect, I too evolved.

Because of this realization, I have uninstalled all of these titles that have been sitting in my backlog for ages that I would have believed that I would have liked but simply don’t anymore. My tastes have changed. The same could be said for a lot of other titles/genres, but this one in particular strikes me as odd. I know that with age comes changes in not only your body’s function but your mind’s as well, but I’m surprised to find myself writing these words.

I’ve been enamored with games like Shadowrun, Diablo, and some recent JRPG style games. It’s funny because Shadowrun and Diablo are both isometric like the cRPGs that I’m not longer into — but they differ because Shadowrun uses turn-based tactical combat, while Diablo is action combat and I seem to prefer both. The real-time coordination of multiple party members just doesn’t feel fun anymore. In Dragon Age or Mass Effect, the AI for your teammates can be programmed and always felt effective enough to where I could focus on my own character. In action RPGs you only have yourself to depend on so there’s never the added distractions. My tastes have clearly changed. Though I would have called Baldur’s Gate superior to Diablo back in the 90’s, my 35 year old self has flipped sides. I don’t know how to feel about this.

I do feel better about uninstalling all of those games. The backlog has shrunk and many of those games would have taken 60+ hours to complete. Gives me more time to focus on other games I would rather be playing. I’m not going to slog through something just because it *should* be something I’m into. If I’m not feeling it, I’m just going to pass. I’ve done this with other games but had this little sub genre up on a pedestal and I’ve now kicked that pedestal over. If it’s not fun, entertaining or holding my interest, it’s getting cut.

Time to dive into the games that are more appealing to the older me.

Has-Been Heroes

I caught wind of a flash sale on PSN this weekend, where a couple dozen random titles were pretty heavily discounted and saw one little gem that piqued my interest. Has-Been Heroes is credited to the same company that created the Trine series, of which I played the first two. They were fairly enjoyable-yet-linear adventure titles that focused on a trio of characters with distinctive abilities, and all of them depended on each other to complete the series of levels. This game has a touch of that same all for one and one for all sensibility, but repackages it in a completely different sort of game.

The game comes packed with a few different features, some of which I don’t quite understand yet. The Prologue is the tutorial that changes into the campaign mode after completion, and in true rogue-like fashion, when you die you have to start the quest over again. Challenges are runs set up with special rules, and I haven’t tried that out yet. The Epic Quest is also something that elludes me to this point, but appears to have something to do with collecting some sort of arch-portal things. You start the game with the three heroes pictured above, but by the look of the Heroes page, there are a ton to unlock:

I honestly don’t know how these other characters will be unlocked, but after seeing what the base characters do, I’m ready to try out some new ones! The game has a cartoon or anime style look which I rather enjoy, and the gameplay is smooth and responsive. This isn’t the sort of rogue-like title where it’s an Action-RPG level of twitchy fighting mechanics, rather think of it being more akin to Darkest Dungeon. Real-time and turn based elements are present, and at times it almost feels like you’re playing a rhythm game based on the button combinations pressed in rapid succession. Thankfully a much-needed pause system allows you to think out your moves at a more relaxed pace but at times you’ll still be feeling the pressure.

The cutscenes and intro were beautifully crafted and I imagine there are more to come as you complete runs or significant events in the story, but I could just be projecting what I would hope for. If it is only the little bit I’ve seen it’s a nice touch but more of it would have been even sweeter.

The tutorial plays out simply enough. The Monk and the Knight characters are the so-called “Has-Been Heroes” in that they had retired and were once again called upon by their king. You start off as a young rogue who wants to meet them, and heard the king’s call. You’ll learn the basic mechanics here and then meet up with the old guys who let you tag along to see the king. The king mistakes the young rogue as a fellow hero and lumps her in with the has-beens, forming your starting party. You’re joined by the king’s daughters who need a lift to school. They perform one simple function each: One collects coins while the other collects souls.

Souls serve the function of filling up a meter when you ascend to heaven. Upon reaching the prescribed number you’ll sometimes get a chest that unlocks items that will then appear in the game, which is part of the persistence or progression system for the game (a sort of typical subsystem of rogue-likes or lites of the modern era).

Combat is strange, but it somehow works. Each hero resides in a “lane.” Enemies will appear at the other side of each lane and slowly move towards the heroes. Think of games like Plants vs. Zombies where the enemies can only reach your side of the lane so many times before someone dies. However, the twist here is that only one of your heroes has to die and it’s game over. Kind of sucks and there’s a missed opportunity for resurrection spells, but it is what it is. Speaking of spells, each character has a starter spell unique to them, and you’ll pick up other spells as you clear the map. These can be activated at will, but have a cooldown between uses. Each level would appear to be randomized with different rooms that will have either a various encounter or nothing at all (we’re back to Darkest Dungeon themes here). Some rooms will have monsters to kill and others will provide a boon, such as stamina camps or merchants peddling wares. A key merchant is nice to run into, as most chest rooms require them. You’ll also come across gear drops that can help to boost stamina or provide other effects. Stamina is essentially the amount of hits a character can take, so it’s probably the most important thing to keep your eyes out for.

Eventually you’ll come to the end of the dungeon and face off against a boss. They’ll come with their own sets of challenges, and it gets rather complex using your characters to their greatest affect. Enemies have stamina as well, and you have to break through this “armor” of sorts to do damage to their health bars. Each hero does his own sort of attack as well, for instance the Knight has one mighty swing and the Monk hits two times but for less damage. However, damage doesn’t make a difference when it comes to knocking out stamina on enemies, so you have to perform combos. Let’s say the enemy in your center lane has 2 stamina plus health, you would want your Monk to make the first swing (let’s just say he’s in the center lane for simplicity’s sake) hitting the enemy for 2 stamina damage, then you can swap lanes with the Knight so that he can charge in and do maximum health damage to the enemy (oftentimes killing it). Unfortunately this isn’t always the situation, as enemies will spawn in all lanes and your heroes can only swap lanes during a combo. The game conveniently pauses after one hero hits, allowing any other hero to swap lanes as long as their attack gauge is full (this fills like an ATB meter – read: Final Fantasy Series). So sometimes your Knight will hit a high stamina enemy for only 1 damage, but then you can quickly swap your rogue into place and hit for 3 more, then swap in the monk for two hits for health damage. Once a combo is performed the enemies are either slain or knocked back to slowly charge at you again. Bosses don’t go down so easily though, and I have yet to clear the first dungeon. Doing so I imagine, will open up a new hero.

Overall I think it’s a rather unique title despite clearly having used concepts used in other games as building blocks for their own. I like what the developers pulled off here and I look forward to future runs! It’s on sale for under $5 right now, but I know the flash sale was ending soon so you may want to hurry!

The Banner Saga 2: Screenshot Dump

I pre-ordered The Banner Saga 2 as soon as I had the chance. The first game caught my attention due to it’s beautiful 2-D animation art style, reminiscent of old animated films from the 70’s and 80’s. Learning that it was a tactical RPG was all I needed to hear, and finding that I enjoyed both the combat and the story was even better. I loved it, but only managed one playthrough of the game. Sadly, I lost my save file so I was unable to import that into my playthrough of The Banner Saga 2. I might have to go back and play through them both again at some point, as the sequel is a direction continuation of the first game, so it is less of a sequel and more of a second episode — despite the title never being labelled as “episodic.”

The game went live this past Tuesday, and I dove right in. I’m only three hours into the game at this point, but I can already tell you it’s fantastic. If you enjoyed the first game, you will enjoy this one all the same. It feels like some of the kinks from the first game have been ironed out, and some additional depth has been added. For instance, it seems like you earn Renown more readily, which can be used to promote your heroes and buy items/supplies. It also feels like the random encounters are almost always bad, but you’ll still make it to your next destination with supplies to spare. Either that or things that I learned during the first game are just coming back to me, and I’m playing a safe style? I’m not sure but it seems more balanced this time around. The combat also feels more varied and diverse. There are additional races and combat abilities this time around. For the most part though, if you liked the first title, you will enjoy this one as well. I wanted to save some of the screenshots for posterity, so I’m going to add them to the bottom of this post. Be warned, there might be some mild spoilers but I don’t think anything game-breaking.

I saved a couple bucks by pre-ordering, but you can still pick the game up for only $20 on Steam. It’s very much worth your time. The first game took me 8 hours to beat, and it’s likely this one will be a similar length, so it’s also one of those games you can beat in a weekend and still feel like you got your money’s worth. That’s my two cents at least.