mark cerqueira well-rounded nerd

Trails of Cold Steel 3 is Coming to the Switch!

After Xenoblade Chronicles, Trails of Cold Steel is my favorite JRPG series the past decade has blessed us with. I loved the first entry and the second entry even more. When the third entry finally landed stateside in late October, I was torn because it was a PS4 exclusive.

Don’t get me wrong: I was definitely planning on playing this game on the PS4 once I acclimated to being a parent. Having played the first two games on the Vita reminded me how much more convenient gaming on the Vita and now the Switch is (e.g. commute, plane trips, bed).

Yasss!

Fortunately acclimating to parenting takes months (or maybe years) so I got some great news in the convenience department this week: Trails of Cold Steel 3 is coming to the Switch in Spring 2020!

If you’re considering picking this up on the Switch and haven’t played the first two entries I highly recommend you do so because this game is very, very, very plot-heavy. I’m bummed the first two entries aren’t also coming to the Switch but given you can play those entries on the PS3, PS4, Vita, and PC it shouldn’t be too hard to find a way to play them.

Looking at the bigger picture, the Nintendo Switch is increasingly becoming a fantastic console for JRPG games: Xenoblade Chronicles, Trails of Cold Steel, Valkyria Chronicles, Octopath Traveler, Tales of Vesperia, Dragon Quest, Pokémon, Fire Emblem, and it rounds things out nicely with ports from fantastic series like Grandia, Secret of Mana, and Final Fantasy. Seal the deal Nintendo and get Persona on the Switch and bring Super Mario RPG, Chrono Trigger, Terranigma, Lufia, and Earthbound to the SNES virtual console. Also, revive Valkyrie Profile too. Thanks!

Finally Done with Dragon Quest XI

After getting hooked on the ridiculously long demo, I dove into Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age when it came out for the Switch at the end of September. 118 hours later, I’m finally done with the game!

This game is great! You build a unique cast of characters and the game does a good job of developing each of their personal stories. The world is big but doesn’t feel like it’s repeating itself; the overworld music being shared across snowy tundras and dry deserts doesn’t help here though. The story - divided into three acts - takes a while to go through. Some plot twists are expected and easy to see coming, especially for those who have played previous Dragon Quest games but the end of Act 2 really took me by surprise.

My face when there's nothing left to do in Dragon Quest XI

My gripes with the game are relatively minor, but if ever addressed, would make Dragon Quest XI an all-time great:

  • A repetitive soundtrack - the battle theme being reused in the horse races takes the cake here for me.
  • A silent protagonist - give him a voice!
  • Painful item management - transferring items from the Item Bag to each character is annoying.

Waiting for the Definitive Edition on the Switch was worth the wait as it includes many quality-of-life improvements and additional content. This includes an optional superboss, the Timewyrm, that challenges you both in strong it is and in how quick you can defeat it. I took it down in 43 actions which earned me the Warp-Speed Wyrminator accolade. Accolades are the in-game trophy system; we should all continue to pray for Nintendo to one day build a proper trophy system. 🙏

Overall, I am very pleased with Dragon Quest XI. It’s a JRPG through and through that I very much enjoyed.

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?