mark cerqueira well-rounded nerd

The Dragon Quest XI Demo Is Bonkers

Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age came out on the PS4 and Steam on September 18th, 2018. While I’m a big fan of the Dragon Quest series, Square Enix said the game would be coming to the Nintendo Switch in the future so I held off on picking it up. Fast forward to this weekend when I downloaded the Dragon Quest XI demo on my Switch to give it a go before committing to purchasing it on its release date: September 27th, 2019.

The demo is amazing. It’s long… Four hours in, I actually looked it up because it felt too long. The demo covers about 10 hours of the game and any progress you make in the demo can be carried straight into the full version of the game. You’ll get introduced to the story, game mechanics, and even recruit extra party members.

The Dragon Ball Z vibes from Akira Torayama on full display

The demo gave me enough time with the game to get a great feel for what I like and don’t like about it. It might’ve been because I just finished Grandia HD which didn’t have amazing graphics but this game looks amazing. The character design, by Akira Torayama, is top-notch as expected. The world and towns are wonderfully designed. It would’ve been nice to have a bit more variety in the music tracks - different dungeons and overworld areas share the same exact tracks. The battle theme is also very divisive. And I’m bummed that we’ve got yet another silent protagonist in this game. They have got to go; it’s such a bummer to assemble a great cast of characters where one stays silent and communicates via gesticulation.

All things said, I’m very excited to jump into the world of Erdrea again on the 27th!

Grandia Adventure Completed

After a couple of starts I wasn’t able to follow through on, I finally started and finished Grandia! Blessed be the power of the Nintendo Switch!

For a game released nearly 22 years ago on the Sega Saturn, Grandia didn’t feel too dated. Don’t get me wrong - I don’t think GungHo put a lot love into making this look HD on the visual side, but the story, characters, and game mechanics held up remarkably well over two decades later. Some thoughts - good and bad - on the game:

  • The cast of characters were all unique and ultimately all lovable. Except for those ten minutes I thought Gadwin was evil and was going to betray the party, everyone that joins your party comes off as genuine and not likely to betray you down the road. Not many JRPGs have certain characters join you for a long time and then leave the party but Grandia did cycle in and out characters as the story progresses. They did keep Justin and Feena as fixtures throughout which provided a good anchoring point for all the character churn.

  • The magic / weapon system is cool in theory but it became too much of a grind later on. With each character being able to learn all four core types of magic and being able to wield different types of weapons, the use-it-to-level-it system quickly went from exciting to way too much work. For what it’s worth, Grandia 2 made this system a lot better by simply giving you generic skill and magic coins you can invest into whatever you want.

  • Dragon King Slash! In what would become a staple in the arsenal of main characters in Grandia, it was cool to learn the origin of the Dragon Slash family of moves. Gadwin joins your party with the ultimate move, Dragon King Slash, and passes it on to Justin when he leaves the party. The aforementioned pain point on the magic / weapon system is very clear here: Justin never actually learned it in my play-through because I never got the magic needed to unlock it high enough. But that’s okay as Justin later learns his own variant of the stab your sword into the ground and make enemies die attack - Heaven and Earth Cut.

  • The story got a little confusing but the love story was crystal clear. The story of the Icarians, the Angelou civilization, the Spirit Stone, and Gaia got a bit muddled with ultimately unimportant stuff like Humanoids and Herr Mullen’s story arc. Throughout the game, surprises would be revealed that ultimately didn’t impact the story. But where the overall story fell a bit flat, the story between Justin and Feena was thoughtful, well-told, and believable.

  • The game felt very rinse and repeat. You start at a town, visit two to three adjacent dungeons, get on a boat or climb a really tall wall, and repeat. This is a JRPG originally released in 1997 so this isn’t shocking. What did help, at least on the perception front, was there was no going back to previous areas once you crossed a major hurdle like an ocean or said really tall wall. This compartmentalization kept you focused on the current arc and helped dull away the realization that you were visiting yet another dungeon after visiting yet another town.

  • The cutscenes were gorgeous. Voice acting was terrible. These aged incredibly well; I’m unsure if GungHo spruced these up but they look amazing! The voice acting on the other hand wasn’t great. Audio engineering was pretty bad so even if you had a decent voice actor, the audio quality / compression killed any potential for it being good.

  • There was an annoying background music bug that would cause the background music to abruptly stop and then resume a second later. GungHo is shipping a patch on November 15th to address feedback from customers so this may get fixed in the future. I didn’t run into anything buggy beyond this audio issue but I also didn’t play Grandia 2.

  • Inventory management is terrible. Each character in your party can hold 12 items. Get an item and have no more room? You’ll have to use it, discard it, or discard an existing item. This isn’t too bad but the UI is so bad that I - more than once - accidentally threw out the wrong thing.

Overall, if you’re into JRPGs or the Grandia series, I recommend giving the original a whirl. If you never played a Grandia game and want to start with the best entry, just hop right into Grandia 2 since it addresses paint points from the original and has a completely separate story. Whichever path you choose, happy adventuring!

Nintendo Direct - Yes, Yes, Yes!!!

Nintendo is on a roll and the latest Nintendo Direct doubles down on that. Among the slew of new things announced (Overwatch) and updates on already announced things (Animal Crossing, Pokémon Sword and Shield), three things in particular have me hyped:

  • Xenoblade Chronicles Definitive Edition - Yes! I love, love, love the Xenoblade Chronicles series and am very excited to play through this masterpiece again in 2020. I’m still praying to the JRPG gods for a Xenoblade Chronicles X port to the Switch and doubling praying for a sequel to X. Given the Wii was a much popular console compared to the afflicted Wii U, I am confident X would sell incredibly well on the Switch. Come on, who doesn’t want JRPG Breath of the Wild? 🤞🤞

  • Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore - Yes! I never got around to playing this Fire Emblem and Shin Megami Tensei mashup, but I’ll be able to kick off 2020 on a high note with this quirky game.

  • SNES - Nintendo Switch Online - Yes! The Nintendo Switch Online service just got a massive upgrade with a collection of great SNES games. This collection includes fantastic gems that were a pillar of my childhood like Super Mario World, Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island, Star Fox, and The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. While it doesn’t have Super Mario RPG: The Legend of the Seven Stars it does include a JRPG I may dive into: Bread of Fire. Read more about all 20 games available on Ars Technica.

Yes, yes, yes! So much goodness… When is the next Nintendo Direct?

Management Systems - Accountability

As a manager you’ll get questions and requests from many people coming through different mediums: the very traditional in-person ask, Slack, email, text messages. Being able to take them in and deliver on them is key. Accountability is unbelievably valuable because doing what you’ll say you do is the easiest way to earn trust. Even for those not in management having a system to track and follow through on things is valuable.

So how does one ensure nothing falls through the cracks? Build a system of mechanisms to help you! Here are the tools I use to ensure no ask is left dangling.

Evernote - I use Evernote so much everyday but there is one note that gets more use than any other: my todo list. This list keeps track of things I need to do or just want to be reminded of in the future. I separate it into sections:

  • A reminder on top to check my 1:1 notes since I often have action items to follow up on in them
  • Top-level area for important or personal stuff
  • Staged / Spinning for anything that I can’t finish because I’m waiting on an external dependency
  • Work for anything work-related
  • Books for books I’m reading or working on Manager Reads blog entries
  • Blog for things I want to write about on this blog
  • Video Games for games that have piqued my interest

Gmail’s Multiple Inboxes - Gmail has a handy featured called multiple inboxes. I am an Inbox Zero person but that does not mean that my inbox is free of things that need follow-up. If I come across an email that needs me to do something, I’ll throw a star on it. Then I configure multiple inboxes to show all messages with a star above the traditional inbox. Once I’ve addressed the email, I remove the star. Gmail supports different colored stars so you can even set up more than one extra inbox if you need extra levels of differentiation.

Screenshots - macOS has a handy feature that lets you take a screenshot of an entire window. If something comes onto my radar, I don’t always immediately dump it into Evernote and instead use this low overhead tool: just take a screenshot of the window. Periodically, I’ll go to my Desktop and take care of the screenshots that get dropped there.

Screenshots on Mobile - This is an on-the-go version of the above tool. If I’m on the go and need to be reminded to do something, I just take a screenshot on my phone of whatever created the reminder. This can be a Slack message asking for estimates or if I find a bug in the Twitch app. These then get uploaded to Google Photos and I regularly visit Google Photos to take care of these screenshots. I archive them as I complete them so they don’t take up visual space in my photo library.

Archive of recent screenshots I took on-the-go

I’ve been using these four tools for a while and they work well for me. As you develop and build confidence in your process, it becomes easier to keep track of your obligations and follow through on your commitments.

Got an interesting tool you use? Let me know on Twitter!

Grandia HD Collection Finally, Finally, Finally Has a Release Date

After months of teasers and announcements of everything except a release date, GungHo finally delivered on giving us a release date for the Grandia HD Collection: 10 days from today on August 16th! This collection releasing on the Switch and PC includes Grandia and Grandia II.

This is an easy must-buy for me especially since it’s coming to the Switch. Grandia II is one of my favorite JRPGs: the story, the characters, the music, the battle system, the creepy laughs during that one battle, Sky Dragon Slash - it’s all so good! Playing through the original Grandia has also been on my todo list for a while so I’m looking forward to diving into it next Friday.

If you’re looking for a great JRPG experience to sink your teeth into, I cannot recommend Grandia enough!

P.S. Speaking of great JRPGs that were on the Dreamcast, can we please get Skies of Arcadia again!?