Video Game Review: Guardian Tales

The above video is a joke anime trailer the developers made.

Details: I’ve been playing this game for the past few months. This is a mobile game available for Android and iOS. More information can be found at https://guardiantales.com/

Score: 7.5/10

Edit: Lowered the score by point five. There are some hard spikes in difficulty in later parts of the story mode (specifically chapter 10 and 11) that exist for no reason other than to push players to spend money for better characters and gear. The game is still mostly good, but this artificial barrier to seeing the ending is unnecessary and turns the endgame into a meaningless grind. There’s plenty of other places they could have made the content difficult, but the story mode was not a good place for that.

I’ve been playing a lot of gacha games during the pandemic. Some of them include Genshin Impact, Epic Seven, Exos Heroes, Arknights, Fire Emblem Heroes, and Princess Connect. In my opinion, Guardian Tales is better than all of them. Actually, Guadian Tales is the best gacha/mobile game I’ve ever played. Part of that is because of the charming and funny story. The other reasons is because this game truly has its own personality. You can feel that the developers of this game put their passion into this game before their greed, and that’s something that is not present in any other gacha game I’ve ever played.

This game takes place in a fictional world of very different nations. Some are magical, some are more science fiction. Aliens invade this world and it’s up to you, a soldier and guardian of one of the fictional countries in this world to find a way to defeat them. That means going on a grand adventure, exploring all of these very different nations and meeting a colorful cast of characters along the way.

The first and best thing about this game is the story, especially its dialogue. It’s very funny and I found myself cracking up constantly throughout this game. That’s not to say that there aren’t serious moments, because they do happen later on and they are well done. But for the most part, this is a very funny story.

What makes it especially funny is that the vast majority of this game pulls and parodies popular video games and movies. It constantly references things from nerd and weeb culture, but most surprisingly, American facing aspects of that. I would’ve sworn that this game was developed by Americans because of how American facing the references are. However, I recently watched a behind the scenes video from the developers and it seems that the nerds in Korea that developed this game are just as big of fans of the things that nerds in America are fans of. I guess some thing really do cross borders.

All this is to say that despite this being a Korean made game and that many foreign made games often translate poorly in the American market, Guardian Tales avoids all these pitfalls. As an American, I got all the video game, anime and movie references and that made the game even better.

Here’s a long list of some, but not all of the references I picked up on: Animal Crossing, Frozen, Bioshock, Kill Bill, Harry Potter, Mega Man, Doctor Who, Phoenix Wright, Shaolin Soccer, Full Metal Alchemist, Seinfeld, Dungeon Meshi, Final Fantasy II (or Final Fantasy IV in Japan), Ghostbusters, Back to the Future, Monty Python and Holy Grail, Shaolin Soccer, and Dragon Ball Z.

You can tell by this list that the developers of this game have either done their research or are huge nerds/weebs. As a fairly nerdy person myself, the constant use of hilarious references to my favorite stories only increased my appreciation of this game.

Something else I love about this game is the look of it. It uses a very nostalgic 2D sprite style that long time gamers will be familiar with. It’s like something from the Super Nintendo. However, this is a modernized take on that style. Expect to see perspective changes, 3D models, and complex special effects that would never have been used back in the old days of video games. This style is a mishmash of old and new, resulting in a nostalgic, but contemporary visual style.

The music is also fantastic. Again, it uses the old synthesized style of old video games, but modernizes them with more complex, contemporary beats and synthesized sounds.

The same can again be said for the gameplay. You go through levels, beat bosses, and solve puzzles. It’s a top down style, action role playing game very reminiscent of games like The Legend of Zelda: Link to the Past… except you can use Gatling guns. It takes that old visual style and adds speed to the gameplay as well as a greater amount of options. You can use swords, bows, guns, shields, magic etc. Again, the tone of this game is nostalgia of old video games combined with the contemporary gameplay developments of modern video games. It’s old and new.

With all that said, this is still a gacha game. Gacha games are heavily stigmatized and rightly so. Many siphon thousands of dollars from players lacking self control. Guardian Tales is certainly one of these offending games. However, I will say that Guardian Tales is far more generous of a gacha game than any gacha game I’ve played before. They give you a ton of gems throughout the game with which you can roll for new characters and weapons.

There is a still a hard wall or difficulty spike in gameplay which comes in chapter ten and again in chapter eleven. At the time of this review, there are only eleven chapters, so that increase in difficulty is very late in the game. This spike in difficulty is common for free to play gacha games. They increase the difficulty to tempt players into spending money to roll for more powerful characters and equipment in order to progress further in the game.

There is also a multiplayer component where players play other players. Like other gacha games, there is a metagame and doing well in multiplayers usually requires having the best characters and equipment, which usually means spending money. Doing well in multiplayer in gacha games is usually reserved for the whales who throw tons of money at the game and Guardian Tales is no exception.

Guardian Tales is guilty of this tactic, but I would say that it is less guilty than others. This is because the difficulty spike is based mostly on skill. No matter what character you obtain, it will still be extremely difficult to get past these gameplay barriers. Will some characters make it easier? Yes. However, it will still be difficulty for all and I think that helps lessen the greedy, money grubbing aspect of this gacha tactic in Guardian Tales. Personally, I really liked the higher difficulty because it forced me to get better at the game. On the other hand. I rolled a fairly powerful character that really helped me get through it… so your experience may vary.

Overall, Guardian Tales is my favorite gacha game I’ve yet to play. I like it more than Genshin Impact, Epic Seven, Arknights, all of those games. And that’s because it has personality. It has a funny, entertaining story. That’s something none of the above games have in my opinion. At the very least, it has a vastly superior story and dialogue compared to those games. That’s everything to me. Give me the constant pursuit of progression of a gacha game along with an immensely entertaining story and I’ll be a happy gamer. Guardian Tales gave me that.

Video Game Review: Exos Heroes

Details: Been playing the game for the last few months. Official site is https://global.exosheroes.com/

Score: 7.2/10

Exos Heroes is another turn based, auto-battler mobile game like Epic Seven. It has a distinctive art style which I really like. I also think it’s slightly better than Epic Seven simply because they have a sweep function and Epic Seven does not, which makes Epic Seven a far more disrespectful game to players’ time.

Exos Heroes takes place in a fantasy world of monsters and magic. I can’t tell you anything specific about the story because I mostly ignored it. It’s not very good. It’s told mostly through text and static images like a visual novel and that just turned me off. It did have a lot of very cool cut scenes that were full voiced and very well choreographed and animated. However, it’s mostly ignorable.

Gameplay is mostly identical to all other auto battlers like Epic Seven or RAID: Shadow Legends. There are some nuances like Signature Force, but this is mainly just another grindy auto battler. In other words, this is a turn based role playing game, except that there is a button in the top right that you can press that does all the fighting for you. What ends up happening is that you watch more of the game than actually play it because of this auto battle function.

One thing that I like about Exos Heroes is that it has a sweep system, something that many other gacha games do not have. What that means is that if your party of characters reaches a certain power level, you can just skip the battle and obtain the rewards. Most other gacha games require you to sit through an automated play through of the battle, which is just a waste of time. I appreciate that Exos Heroes recognizes that you are capable of smashing these enemies and simply lets you collect the rewards and save time.

Edit: Something I forgot to mention is how unique the stamina system is from other gacha games. The stamina in this game is used mostly for resource gathering only. Which means that unlike other gacha games, you can go through the entire story portion of the game without having to wait or pay real money. Most gacha games artificially restrict the amount of time and progress you can make in the game through an in-game resource that recharges over time. That usually means that you can only play a limited amount of the game each day. Exos Heroes just lets you play to your hearts content. There is still gameplay walls in the game that have extreme jumps in difficulty that require stronger characters. However, by not using a stamina system, Exos Heroes is undoubtedly superior to most gacha games, at least in this regard. For this reason alone, I raised the score up two tenths of a point. As a side note, Genshin Impact also does the same thing with its story portion. However, there is a decisive lack of story content in Genshin Impact at the moment and the amount of in game resource they give players is tiny compared to other gacha games. In other words, Exos Heroes does in-game stamina better.

What truly makes this game distinct from the other games is the art style. In role playing games, presentation is everything and this is one of the best looking games of this genre I’ve ever played. That alone has kept me playing the game.

In regards to the gacha mechanics, Exos Heroes is generally pretty generous. I have a bunch of top tier characters. I’m trying to level them and it’s obviously taking time and resources as it often does in gacha games. Even still, I’d say Exos Heroes is mostly more generous than most gacha games I’ve played. I’ve recently played Genshin Impact and Epic Seven and this game is definitely more generous with resources than those games.

Overall, this is a generic auto battler, but a great looking game and that’s enough. The presentation alone makes this game as good if not better than all of the other popular games in this genre.

Video Game Review: Epic Seven

Details: Played for at least a few dozen hours. This is a mobile game you can play on iOS or Android. More information can be found at https://epic7.smilegatemegaport.com/

Score: 7/10

Epic Seven is about as generic a gacha, role playing game can be, except that it has very stylistic visuals and character design. It’s a very Blazblue, two dimensional style (which is unsurprising since the two games actually did a collaboration a while back). I play this game mainly to look at pretty sprites attack each other. As always, this review is written from someone who has spent nothing on this game.

As said above, this is a gacha role playing game. Primarily, this is a turn based role playing game similar to traditional Japanese role playing games like old Final Fantasy games. As this is also gacha, you need to roll for the characters to fill your party in order to progress through the story.

As with most gacha games, the game gives you some characters up front to play with, but all the really good characters need to be rolled/summoned/wished for… which generally requires spending real money. When I started playing, it was during an event where they were giving out a ton of free rolls. Other than the event, this game is generally pretty cheap with giving free rolls. Making wishes/rolling is generally very expensive in comparison to other gacha games.

There’s pity (a mechanic where you are guaranteed a good character/item if you make a certain number of rolls), but it doesn’t transfer between banners, something that even the notoriously expensive Genshin Impact does have (Genshin Impact is still worse in terms of pricing and free rolls). In essence, if you want to guarantee obtaining an advertised banner character, you need to save or spend enough to make one hundred and twenty wishes. At about thirty dollars for ten wishes, that’s going to cost about three hundred and sixty dollars to guarantee and advertised character. That is a lot. There are also many other ways to summon/roll for characters, but all of them require resources that are hard to obtain unless you spend real money. The only redeeming factors to this stinginess is that the recent event which gave out a ton of summons and that you get one free summon per day… which is not encouraging.

In regards to the gameplay, Epic Seven is notorious for being one of the grindiest games among all gacha games or this type. Games like this are inherently grindy, meaning that you have to replay the same thing over and over again in hopes of obtaining an item or advancing a level. Luck is a big factor in whether you get equipment that will help you progress, meaning that the amount of time you spend grinding away at this game could go on infinitely.

Edit: What I forgot to mention is that this is mostly an auto battler. That means that most of your time will not be spent playing, but watching the game play itself. You simply start a battle, hit the auto-play button, and the game does everything for you. Later on, you get a pet that lets you repeat missions so you don’t even need to restart battles. This is both good and bad as it saves time, but gameplay is mostly passive. With such passive gameplay, why bother even playing the game? Are you even playing? It’s sad that the auto-battle type of gacha games are so popular due to the repetitive, grindy, uncreative nature of such games.

Edit 2: I shoud’ve also mentioned that unlike other games in this genre, there’s no sweep system. A sweep system is where you can instantly complete a level that you’ve beaten before, obtaining the rewards from that level without wasting time. Epic Seven does not have such a system. Even though to can set a level on auto battle, you still need to watch the level play out in real time. There is no fast forward option either. It’s annoying and disrespectful of players’ time.

Progression matters not only to get through the single player content, but there is also a very big multiplayer component. If you are a player who spend nothing however, don’t even try to make any meaningful progress in the player-versus-player multiplayer mode. The most proficient players are those who have spent the most money on this game, more colloquially known as the “whales.” This is common for this type of gacha game as the more money you spend, the more powerful a player you will be. If you want to be one of the best players, you’re going to need to outspend people who’ve spent thousands, if not tens of thousands, if not even more than that.

The single player mode is fun enough, but still grindy. You need to keep in mind that the goal of this game is simply to make your characters or your team of characters stronger. This leads to the multiplayer where, again, you’re trying to get stronger. Which leads to the ultimate conclusion that you need to spend money because that’s the only way you can make any meaningful progression. Again, this is normal for this type of gacha game and if you are not prepared to throw away thousands of dollars, just play the game casually and don’t take it too serious.

Additionally, there is also a Guild mode where you can join a guild and participate in guild wars. This… also encourages the spending of real money. In order to be useful to your guild, you need to have powerful characters, which means spending money… you get the idea. In case you are unaware, gacha games are known as some of the most degenerate games with some of the most degenerate players. The purpose of the game isn’t to have fun, but to get money out of you. Fun is just a by product of that goal and successful gacha games generally have to balance giving you fun things to do while annoying the hell out of you in order for you to pay them to stop annoying you.

Visually the game looks great. It uses a stylized, two dimensional sprite system that looks like it was hand drawn. I like the look. It looks like anime. There are in fact anime cut scenes throughout the plot.

The music is also pretty good. There’s voice acting in the game, but only for exclamation or battle cries, the kind of stuff you hear during a battle. The rest of the story is told through mostly silent text, like in a visual novel video game.

Because the story is told like in a visual novel, I found it mostly boring. I skipped most of it because I just didn’t care to read all the text and got tired looking at static images rather than hand drawn animations animations. I did watch the full animated cut scenes though because those were pretty cool.

Overall, I enjoyed my time with this game. I spent nothing and played through it very casually. I enjoyed all the free characters I got through the temporary event that just ended. I enjoyed the visuals and the art style of the game. The story was mostly ignorable. Most of all, I enjoyed the feelings of progression that I got while leveling my characters and seeing them get stronger, and that really is the primary driver in games like this. Even still, I felt ample pressure from the multiplayers aspects of this game to spend money to get stronger and that was annoying.

Video Game Review: Pokemon Go

Details: More information can be found at https://www.pokemongo.com/en-us/

Score: 7/10

Pokemon Go came out years ago to great reception. People were obssessed with the game and caused a great deal of real world problems from playing it. After some encouragement from a coworker, I decided to give the game a try July of this year, long after the hype has died down. I enjoy the game and I’m still playing it.

Keep in mind the following review is my opinion of the game as of the time as of the writing of this review and from someone who played the game since July of 2019.

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Video Game Review: Dragon Quest VIII (PS2, iOS, Android, 3DS)

Dragon Quest VIII was recently re-released on iOS, Android, and 3DS, pretty much all the mobile systems. It originally came out on PS2 and that is the version I played. It was also English dubbed.

Before playing, I read many reviews on the game. Most of them were very positive with the same specific caveat: this is a classic/old school Japanese role playing game. What I found during my playthrough was that this was a euphemism for grinding, repetitive, unoriginal, primitive gameplay.

But first, let’s go over the good parts of this game.

The first thing that amazed me was that all the music in this game is fully scored by a live orchestra. Even in this day and age, synth music is popular and practically much cheaper and less of a hassle than hiring a full orchestra play your music. Dragon Quest VIII ignores that and opts for the live orchestra for every song, something even Final Fantasy X did not do even though it was a system seller back when the PS2 was released. You need to also remember that this was years ago, back during the time of the PS2. Games were far less popular than they are now. Even still, they opted for the orchestral music and I am glad they did.

Voice acting is all right. Everyone has some kind of accent from the United Kingdom for some reason.

Graphics are all right. It’s an old game. I do appreciate the nostalgic Toriyama art style.

I think most people agree that the strength of a good role playing game is its story. The story here is satisfactory. It’s a classic tale of a nameless hero saving the world.

I also think most people would agree that the greatest weakness of role playing games is the gameplay. Even with the years of progress made in this genre of video games, I think most people would agree the weakest parts of games like Witcher 3 and Dragon Age: Inquisition was the unimaginative combat and gameplay. The same is absolutely true here.

Dragon Quest VIII self proclaims that it wants to remain true to the “old style” of Japanese rpg’s, but what comes across to me is old primitive it is and how lazy the developers must have been not attempt any improvements to the old formula.

The games basic structure is this: you travel through an open world from town to town, dungeon to dungeon. Each town has ┬áplot point. Each dungeon has a boss and an associated plot point. Town’s are safe areas while everywhere else is not. That means that if you walk through these unsafe areas, you are subject to random encounters (based on the number of steps you take) with enemies who you have to battle. Battle is turn based. You have up to four playable characters and you and your enemies take turns casting spells and performing attacks.

It’s a tried and true system… except role playing games have come leaps and bounds since the inception of this genre and playing into these outdated systems leaves much to be desired. For instance, there are only four playable characters. A remedy to the old problem of how boring only four playable characters are is to add more character to the plot who play differently. Further, there aren’t that many spells nor are they sufficiently flashy. In the past, old role playing games would create massive, cinematic spells to help ease the boredom of turn based combat and alleviate the repetitiveness of seeing the same spells over and over again. In Dragon Quest VIII, I’m just bored. There aren’t enough spells. Furthermore, the lack of a journal or some method of keeping track of quests just makes playing the game a hassle. I literally have to memorize or write down what I was doing or else be completely lost in what I’m supposed to do. As an adult who takes breaks between gaming sessions, this is a hassle.

And I haven’t even gone into the time consuming grinding required to progress in the game. At many point in the game, the difficulty of the game spikes and there is no way to progress unless you spend substantial time grinding out levels and items so that you can be strong enough to defeat the enemies in that area. Normally, you can attribute this to bad or lazy game development. Developers are supposed to organize the pacing so that players get some kind of payoff as they play through the game, be it in items or story progression. Subsequent games after the old Japanese rpg’s, like Dragon Age: Inquisition or Witcher 3, have introduced many side quests with meaningful storytelling instead of requiring dull, repetitive combat. In Dragon Quest VIII, there is none of that. I just waste time grinding out levels. It’s extraordinary frustrating as I am working adult and I just don’t have as much time to attribute to such mind numbing game play.

Score: 5.9/10 A fun game, if not for the grinding. I spent around sixty seven hours playing this game, maybe thirty hours of it just grinding and leveling so I can progress. I don’t have the time for this.┬áThere are plenty of better role playing games to play that reward the time spent much better. I would only recommend this game if you’re looking for a time killer, feel nostalgic about old Japanese role playing games, and you have a 3DS, android, or iOS device. Otherwise, avoid it and go play Witcher 3, Dragon Age, or any of the other million role playing games that that better respect your time.