3DS

DSC02511Despite popular opinion, Nintendo is actually a company of iterative refinement—a company that does not simply rest after unleashing its creations, instead finding ways to subtly improve on them. This is especially true in their hardware offerings, all but one (the beleaguered and short-lived Virtual Boy) receiving some sort of incremental upgrade during their respective lifetimes. Remember those mystery ports on the NES and SNES? Though often appearing stunted from a technological standpoint, Nintendo always seemingly looks ahead and somehow sneaks in some sort of improvement in their consoles or handhelds, mysteriously forcing their consumers hands and snaking in a quick payment when, really, the “old” version of the hardware worked just fine.

Whether it’s slapping add-ons to the system (the Famicom’s Disk System), miniturization (SNES Jr., Game Boy Pocket), slight spec bumps (Game Boy Color and this very piece of hardware), or correcting a terrible, terrible mistake (the Game Boy Advance SP and its actually-legible scren), all of us have paid for a “standard” mid-cycle Nintendo upgrade one way or the other.

DSC02514I suppose where I’m getting at with this is, yes, Nintendo has a giant hard-on for improving their existing hardware, for better or for worse. Enter the “New” Nintendo 3DS. In what’s probably the least-creative console rebranding this side of the PlayStation twos through fours, the New Nintendo 3DS (or NN3DS, as abbreviated by absolutely nobody) is simply just that, a newer, mid-cycle version of its vintage-2011 Nintendo 3DS handheld awkwardly slotting in a couple years before its real successor comes out. Unlike the Nintendo DSi right before it, Nintendo isn’t immediately halting sales of the “older” 3DS units in lieu of this iteration, instead puzzlingly choosing to market this in North American regions as a premium version of the 3DS hardware. Irritatingly, Nintendo of America has decided to not release the New 3DS XL’s smaller sibling at all, choosing to keep the “old” 3DS and XL, as well as its forlorn stepsibling, the adorable but maligned 2DS. It doesn’t take a marketing degree to realize that they’ve made a mess out of this.

That aside, the short story with the New 3DS is that its actually a worthwhile upgrade to the original 3DS and 3DS XL. Much unlike how a typical Nintendo fan fails to refine him or herself into a nuanced adult, the NN3DSXL feels like a more premium, mature product. Even the intangibles such as heft and gloss were taken into account when crafting Nintendo’s final revision of the 3DS product. On paper it sounds like a dicey cash-grab, but when you actually have one in your hands, the New 3DS XL looks, sounds and feels exactly how the handheld should have been in the first place.

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Small things, such as the volume slider being relegated to the top of the clamshell instead of its irritatingly easy-to-cajole former home on the bottom half of the console, turn into vast improvements once you spend some more time with the console. Little nuances, such as the brightness controlling itself automatically, or the Wi-Fi no longer needing to be switched on and off, pop in every now and then and remind the end-user that, yes, this is a better 3DS than the one you had. And of course, there are the tiny, irritating screw-ups that remind you that this is a Nintendo product: the MicroSD slot being nigh-inaccessible is definitely a Luddite decision that the tiny Kyoto company would make. I’m not even surprised that the New Nintendo 3DS doesn’t come with a charger: they know their target audience for these things, and their target audience has like four or five of those things kicking around from the DSi’s heyday. Whatever, I don’t even use them—I vastly prefer and recommend those knockoff USB chargers from China. Plug ’em into a sentient box that has a USB port (such as a cable/digibox) and voila, instant charging station.

DSC02515One immediate drag with owning a New Nintendo 3DS is the system transfer process. I can count the number of digital games I have with one hand, yet it still took four hours to move less than four gigabytes worth of data from my old 3DS XL to my New 3DS XL. It’s almost useless to hope for at this point, but it’s 2015 and the fact that Nintendo still doesn’t have a unified account system at this point is borderline laughable. I can literally run to the store, buy a new 2000-series Vita, download roughly 64GB of game data and saves from the cloud, make myself a mean osso bucco, and still clock in less time than it takes for a standard 3DS system transfer to finish. It’s insane.

Let’s talk about super-stable 3D: it’s awesome. Forget the bad, disjointed 3D experience from the old 3DS, that’s dead and buried now. The New 3DS tracks your head with some sort of proximity sensor and adjusts the 3D image in real-time to compensate, making playing in 3D on the darn thing actually feasible now. I hardly ever use the 3D feature on my old 3DS because it was such a pain to get into that “sweet spot” to enjoy the effect, but I have 3D permanently turned on with my New 3DS and apart from the quick jitter ever now and then when it fails to adjust for whatever reason, its totally seamless and immersive.

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DSC02512As for the new control features, they’re alright. The C-stick feels a lot like the eraser-nubs on old IBM Thinkpads, and is surprisingly solid-feeling once you get a hang of it. After clocking in a few hours on Monster Hunter 4 and The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, sweeping the camera across the screen came as second nature, and the little nub deftly did its job when needed. I can’t see the C-stick ever working for FPS games, but given the fact that so few of those come the system’s way, I’m sure it’s not even a concern. I forgot the ZL and ZR triggers even existed, given how sparingly MH4 used ’em. I suppose we’ll have to wait for a “real” NN3DS exclusive to come out before we even see the little buttons get used.

DSC02517A small sidebar on software compatibility: it may be placebo effect, but games do in fact load faster on the New 3DS. Newer titles like Majora’s Mask and Smash Bros. aren’t a surprise since they were probably developed with the New 3DS in mind, but even older titles that I’ve revisited such as Snake Eater 3D (still a bad port) and Pilotwings Resort (super-underrated, even as a launch title) seemed snappier to load. My hope is that Nintendo and its third-parties patch out some of the older titles to fully take advantage of the New 3DS’ hardware, even to improve simple things like framerate and draw distance.

So for better or for worse, the New Nintendo 3DS is just that: its a New Nintendo 3DS. Despite the minor spec-bump, the system still sports sub-iOS level graphical capabilities, an insultingly low-resolution screen (exasperated by the XL’s massive berth) and shockingly bad online capabilities (the eShop is still a poorly-designed nightmare). Still, there’s a reason these things crush the competition, and thats simply thanks to an amazing software lineup. For those that happen to enjoy the 3DS’ roster of fine videogames, the New 3DS XL is almost a required purchase as it improves the 3DS experience so much.

You can name this game as a Final Fantasy spin-off like “FF: Crystal Chronicles Dimensions” or however you want to fit in the word “3D”. I imagine that they would have called it Final Fantasy something and deferred that idea due to less-than satisfactory sales of non-Final Fantasy Numbers games. Regardless of the glaring similarities in the game system of Bravely Default with Final Fantasy games, credit must be given where it is due, it is a well made game.

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Bravely Default is as turn-based as it gets.

Bravely Default is the summary of the collective experiences of classic Final Fantasy games (I through VI), updated to appeal to a younger/more casual player base. The game is also integrated with a social networking experience (Streetpass and a “Netfriend” system) to deliver a some-what refreshing RPG experience while feeling all yet too familiar to older fans of the genre with classic turn-based mechanics and the ever-loved job class system.

The story revolves around four (4) characters namely: Tiz Arrior, the sole survivor of a great calamity which struck his home town of Norende the wake of the disaster would be known as the “Great Chasm”.  Agnes Oblige, the Vestal of Wind who has the ability to awaken crystals. Ringabel, an enigmatic man with no memories of his past with a penchant of speaking perverted thoughts out loud seemingly without knowledge of basic social graces and Edea Lee an impulsive young girl who has a very simple view on values by categorizing them as black or white. They are accompanied by the ever-charming “cryst-fairy” only known as Airy. She possesses the “collective knowledge” of all vestals of the crystal from the past and guides Agnes in awakening the crystals to prevent the end of the world.

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It’s not a Square game without fantastic graphics (most of the time).

Struggling to save a world in turmoil from the crystals losing its light and the oppressive kingdom of Eternia opposing the religion of the Crystal Orthodoxy our main characters fight an uphill battle against Eternia‘s elite forces and ancient evils which have corrupted the crystals. A new job class is unlocked every time the group defeats Eternia’s top soldiers and leaders by taking their “job asterisk”. These will unlock a new set of active and passive skills which will prove vital in future boss fights and competing the game.

I must emphasize that unlocking all the job classes is absolutely essential not only for beating the game but enjoying the game to the fullest. The combinations of skills from several jobs is key to making your life a whole lot easier as proven by this interesting bit of news from Bravely Default’s Japanese release. While I didn’t bother to attempt that feat, playing Bravely Default smartly is something I agree with. Capping out your character level and getting the best gear means squat because the later chapter boss fights will prove to be impossible unless you figure out the right combinations to outlast them or even to completely suppress their relentless assaults.037

The Brave and Default system makes battles more interesting. Each action a character takes costs one (1) Brave Point (BP), you can have them make a maximum of four (4) actions per turn by using the Brave command. You do not need to accumulate Brave Points to take multiple actions in one turn but when your BP falls below zero at the start of your turn, that character cannot take an action until your BP is at least zero. The Default command simply raises your defense at no expense of BP, allowing you to accumulate Brave Points to take multiple actions without losing turns. This simple system can be used and abused based on your job skill combinations and opens up various ways to beat certain bosses. What I really like about this system is how battles turn into combinations of exciting big swings from you to your enemies at least until you figure out the extremely cheese combos which I abused ’till the end of the game.

It is very difficult to discuss Bravely Default in detail without spoiling the entire game so here is a run down on key features of the game that will help you figure out if the game is worth your time or not. But if you do pick up the game or have already done so, I invite you to look back at this review after completing the game. A lot of things will suddenly make more sense.

Good Points:

  1. Graphics (it’s Square, duh)Once your eyes get settled with the game after the nice CG intro, you will find that the graphics of the game is done really well. Especially with the background environments. When you leave your game idle, the map will zoom out for a breath taking scenery you can further appreciate with the 3D option of your 3DS (because 2Ds owners am cry).

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    It looks even better in 3D.
  2. Streamlined game – The character XP and job XP are streamlined so that you can max everything out with little effort if you play smartly. There are a lot of features which make “grinding” a walk in the park like Auto-Battle which remembers the last actions your characters take and the option to increase or decrease your random encounter rate. You will at the least want to max out your job levels to play around with all the skills so Bravely Default gives you all the tools to play your game with ease.
  3. Job Class System – Boss fights in later chapters will prove to be some of the best battles yet. Granted that there are some fool-proof methods to beat them, you are not limited to those combinations only (you also need to figure them out first). You can attempt to beat bosses with the various tools presented to you outside abusing the Bravely Second skill which allows you to take extra actions at no penalty and break the 9999 damage cap. You can try to beat bosses while retaining some of your favorite job classes whilst taking on a handicap because sometimes the journey is more exciting than the answer.
  4. Character Development – There is a surprisingly huge amount of character depth despite the droll plot of the game. As you go through the course of the game, the growing cast of characters keep developing their personality to maturity.

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    Unacceptable!
  5. Game Depth – This isn’t a “you will get 60 hours of game-play, this is worth it!” thing. Rather, the meat of the game is in overcoming challenges presented to you. While everything is ruined by consulting an online guide, relying on your understanding of the game’s job system is the real reward in playing Bravely Default. I mean if that is your thing.

Bad Points:

  1. Voice Acting – This could really have been done better. They sometimes sound like they are just being played over a voice recorder and some character voice acting are just plain bland. It really puts a damper of a pretty nice soundtrack. Your usual orchestral fair.
  2. Plot Structure – Einstein once said insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results” and I couldn’t agree with it more. This does not pertain to grinding in the game but a more core aspect of the game, the plot.
  3. Not expansive – When the game’s plot unravels, you will realize that the game world is not as expansive as you were lead on to believe.

X-Factors:

  1. Micro-transactions – Anything under this is normally bad but it does provide a way for people to share their benefits (of dealing incredibly insane amounts of damage by using Second Points (used to activate Bravely Second) or even buying them. While viewed by some as “breaking the game”, it is an edge you have the option to use. If you pride yourself too much in being “such a hardcore gamer” don’t use: problem solved.

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    One thing I didn’t write much about: Special skills, lots of special skills
  2. Social Networking Features – While Bravely Default is in the strictest sense a traditional RPG. The inclusion of the Abilink and Send Skill feature really helps break in casual gamers into the genre. Abilinks are the collective job levels your registered friends on your 3DS have already attained. You can start out a game at level but have maxed out job levels already. This takes out the grind for the player who benefits from Abilinks from early adopters. With this, new players can focus on core game-play and the story rather than take time to level up. If you have really hardcore RPG playing friends, they probably already found a way to deal hundreds of thousands of damage and can share their skill for you to summon in times of dire need, that’s if they’re not selfish. If they are, you may stumble on someone who is not as selfish, as I have.  Net Friends are random people you can add up as villagers and receive their sent skills. No worries about your privacy, as this is Nintendo, absolutely no personal information Friend Codes included will be shared with these people.
  3. Added Value – On top of the above mentioned social networking features, you can access additional content through the rebuilding or Norende. You can gain access to valuable items, weapons, Special skill parts and new costumes for your character through re-populating Norende and upgrading the shops using villages you acquire through Streetpass or from sending invitess to “Net Friends” daily. You will also receive Nemesis monsters to fight from your Streetpasses and Net Friends. These Nemesis are challenging boss monsters which drop permanent stat improving items provided you can beat them. There is a challenge for everyone all the way to level 99. While entirely optional, rebuilding Norende does unlock a lot of goodies for you.

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    Rebuilding Norende
  4. New Game Plus – That’s replay value for you should you crave for more but honestly, once is more than enough. I’ve enjoyed Bravely Default thoroughly in my first play-though.

Overall, I would still say Bravely Default is an extremely well made RPG which will appeal to its traditional fans and makes a strong attempt to break into non-RPG players through social networking. It uses its fan-base as ambassadors of the genre through Abilinks and Net Friends to give casual gamers a huge edge in the game which they would normally not attempt to achieve by spending their time grinding in the game. If you like role-playing games, this is a no-brainer. Buy it.

There are potential spoilers below. Highlight the space below at your own risk.

As a head-up to current and potential players of Bravely Default, the droll plot of the game will eventually make sense of standard RPG functions which are treated as plot holes such as save-points. He he he.

 

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This is not your momma’s Zelda.

The only Zelda game I have thoroughly played is The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, the great classic on the SNES system back in the day. I have always loved how a top-view adventure RPGs can package a lengthy and deep adventure concisely and this new sequel A Link Between Worlds is no exception. While game design and development choices have made me or possibly you cynical about sequels to great classics, rest assured that this is not a soulless shell of a quick cash grab that we have been repeatedly exposed to over the last decade of games.

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That worm dude boss is bigger than this but is still 100% annoying.

While the entire world of Link Between Worlds looks familiar to those who have played A Link to the Past, the similarities end with the familiar locations. Each scene is not a carbon copy of its SNES predecessor nor are the dungeons or bosses in any way rehashed (except for one distinctively annoying worm). Some of them may look derivative (like the Thieves’ Hideout boss) but they don’t play the same. It’s a brand new game with modified mechanics and different challenges (where you still have to collect the same pendants to get the Master Sword, lol) so you can have your slice of nostalgia pie and enjoy an entirely new experience.

One major deviation from the Zelda formula is the immediately availability of most tools (Hookshot, Ice and Fire Wand, etc.) which are rented from one of the supporting characters of the game, the mysterious Rovio. Others may find this change detrimental to the game, I on the other hand appreciate this streamlining. You are not required to take on any dungeon or boss in any particular order. Rented weapons are lost upon dying so there is a bigger sense of urgency to stay alive while you earn enough rupees to purchase the rent weapons so that you can retain them even after getting killed and upgrade them. Yes, you can upgrade all your tools in Link Between Worlds primarily to make your life easier in boss fights if they become too difficult for you.

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Stick to the walls, bub.

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds also features a new art direction for all the characters. Personally I don’t like it that much but it is certainly pleasing to the eye and the 3D display for once (in a blue moon) is actually utilized in a way for you to solve puzzles easily. While it seems like you are playing on a 2D field, you need to think three-dimensional to get the job done.

Good Points:

  • There are a lot of secrets to discover and challenges to overcome in order to achieve full content completion.
  • A Link Between Worlds has the best 3D visuals to-date. If your eyes can take the strain of 3D display, go for it, it’s worth the effort.
  • This is the first game in a long time I felt compelled to play a game continuously every chance I got. The game’s pace proceeds so well that you just want to continue your adventure and see things to the end.

Bad Points:

  • The game is rather short. It will take you roughly 20-30 hours to complete the adventure if you don’t go with any guides. The game is absurdly easy to finish if you consult a guide (why play a game in the first place if you do consult a guide for your first play-through).

X-Factors:

  • If you find even Hero mode too easy, you can always intentionally “gimp” your character by avoiding optional upgrades for your weapon, armor, hearts, and empty bottles. It will be hell, you might enjoy it.
  • The StreetPass function of the game gives the latest Legend of Zelda game additional replay value. Although a bit shallow and gear dependent, it’s always fun taunting a friend for having a weak-ass Shadow Link.

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