2022 Hindsight

It’s time to reflect on 2022. From a computing angle, my rural area FINALLY rolled out fiber internet. Social media’s demise seems to have accelerated this year. And in a gaming letdown, the Breath of the Wild sequel was delayed until next year. On the upside, 2022 was surprised with JRPG Xenoblade Chronicles 3, which released to rave reviews and later got three nominations in the annual Game Awards. As for blogging, there were vexing WordPress shenanigans.


In April I pulled the plug on Twitter. When word first got out that Elon Musk was eyeing a takeover and after I felt the burn of borderline addiction — doomscrolling, constantly checking Tweets — I’d had enough. My ten year old account…deleted! And the Twitter that was is no more; Elon’s Twitter is…tumultuous.

Also in April, I logged out of Facebook; I didn’t delete my account…yet. If I stay off until next April — a whole year — then I might finally nuke my account from orbit. Meanwhile in 2022, Facebook’s earnings and market share dropped big time. Zuckerberg continues to pivot towards an unwelcome metaverse while Instagram saw negative blowback from troubling changes and more feature bloat.


April was crazy. It was around that time I stopped staff writing at RPGamer. Then WordPress shadow dropped a radical plan/pricing upheaval that caused the WP community much consternation. After a few months of uncertainty and backpedaling, WordPress basically hit the big UNDO button on the whole thing! So…I left WP and rejoined Blogger!


In late summer, I employed Minimalism (anti-consumerism) to moderate my tech fascination and related personal interests (photography), avoiding Apple’s annual new iPhone adver-nouncement. With Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism, I also got a fresh take on Biblical Minimalism, wanting more of less. Later I slowly and intentionally resumed my normal habits of blogging, computing, and gaming.


Interestingly, this Fall I started to change my mind about Apple’s AirPods due to their expense and lack of audio quality. Despite their great convenience, I realized other brands and types of wireless audio are more affordable and convenient enough. Then I got a new pair of wireless JBL over-ear headphones for Christmas! Now my two year old AirPods are…backup? Going forward, I’m open to more non-Apple gear; don’t want to drink too much of that kool-aid.


This year I played JRPGs and a racing game. I began 2022 with progress in both Bravely Default II and Octopath Traveler then paused for months. Later I started Pokémon Legends: Arceus, finishing in the fall. Then I quickly beat BDII and Octopath. Finally, I started the epic Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition, which I should finish in early 2023. I also enjoyed Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit Remastered on the side. Speaking of side gaming, I plan to resume Animal Crossing: New Horizons, hopefully on a Switch OLED in 2023!


I set my usual goal of reading 12 books in a year, one per month. I failed, reading only 8. But I think I read quality over quantity! Also, I upgraded my Kindle to the newest Paperwhite; love it.


For movies, I loved Top Gun: Maverick at the theater this summer, watching it twice on the big screen before buying the blu-ray disc set with the original. In the fall, I watched The Batman for the first time; great movie though a tad long. Also new to me this year, Tenet, which I’ll need to watch backwards to see if it makes sense.

I didn’t watch much TV this year, but the little I did was fantastic. It was Severence on Apple TV+! Can’t wait for the next season.

What did you like/dislike in 2022? What do you look forward to in 2023?

USB-C All The Things

You may have heard news that the EU is mandating that digital devices use USB-C ports for charging. Basically, all tablets, phones, laptops, cameras, etc must have a USB-C port to charge, as opposed to something like Apple’s Lightning port found on iPhones. And you know what? I’m ready for it!

Yes, seriously. I have so many devices now that use USB-C to charge; it’s great! So common, so ubiquitous, so simple. Everywhere I go in my house or at work. Every room. Every charge plug. It’s all USB-C all the time. 

Well, almost. There’s still Lightning for iPhone. And AirPods. Also my 8th-gen iPad.

But I don’t use my iPad much anymore. And I always charge my iPhone via Qi “wireless” inductive pads. So I’m almost 100% USB-C. In fact, for Christmas I received a gift of new over-the-ear headphones. And guess what? They charge via USB-C. Because of course.

Other than my Apple gear with Lightning, I have one micro-USB device hanging around…for now. It’s a JBL Go 2 bluetooth speaker. And it’s on the chopping block, soon to be replaced by a newer version that uses USB-C.

There’s an argument that mandating USB-C may stifle innovation. I think there might be some merit to that point, but overall I think the convenience and simplicity of having a single universal port overrides potential limits to innovation.

There’s also some push back against the precedent of a public government entity dictating what a private company can or can’t do. But I’ll leave such politics to better minds. As an end-user, I’m ready for USB-C in all the things.

Are you ready for USB-C in all devices? Why or why not?

Need For Speed

In one of those Nintendo eShop sales — thanks, Christmas! — I grabbed a non-JRPG title. It’s a racing game, Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit Remastered. But why?

Besides being a super deal, I was thinking of my oldest son; he loves exotic cars, especially Lamborghinis. Of course! I do like a good racing game myself and enjoyed the original Need for Speed by Road & Track waaaay back in the 90s on PS1. So I bought two copies — it was less than $10 each — one for each of our Switches.

Oh wow I love this game!

I’ve been enjoying this Need for Speed game a lot. Honestly, I’m surprised by how nice this racing game is. I full-on smile ear to ear when playing it. My face makes many expressions of focus, grit, thrill — I even yell in glee!

The overall game is simple. Pick a track, pick a car, and race. UI and presentation are no frills yet elegant and stylized; it’s not cluttered or over-stylized. By contrast, another racing game I had fun with, Asphalt Legends 9, is busier and more complex in just its interface. AL9 is also laden with gacha mechanics, where you can pay to win, buying cars and such. Thumbs down on that. I like my old-school simple race games. I pay for the whole game; now let me just play it all.

I like the fun of arcade-style racers, but I don’t like how silly they can sometimes be. Years ago, I played games like Daytona USA and Cruis’n Exotica, the latter of which was a bit too simple and unsophisticated. But Need for Speed strikes a great balance of both arcade racing and racing simulator. I think games like Gran Turismo or Forza Motorsport might be too sophisticated for my taste, though the realism is part of what I like.

Let me also add that Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is in a league of its own — local kart-racing is another kind of fun.

Another aspect that makes Need for Speed so great are its tracks. I love that they’re set in a realistic world and are point A to B rather than closed circuits that get repetitive. Part of the realism is the beautiful scenery and landscapes which, though running on weak Switch hardware, are nonetheless detailed in HD with clean textures and pleasing light effects like reflections. The day/night cycle is also very well done.

The gameplay itself is most enthralling. Gas’n go, feather-touch the brakes in corners to break loose those tires and drift, counter-steer, and blast nitrous to push out of turns and accelerate on the straights. Avoid collisions, outrun cops, slipstream and bump rival cars…it all adds up to serious fun!

Speaking of the cars, wow, love their looks, the licensed brands and models; I’m of course aiming for Lambos. The Countach is within reach now!

For me, Need for Speed Hot Pursuit Remastered is serving as a great game to play between my Xenoblade Chronicles sessions. One moment I’m in an epic JRPG, immersed in a fantasy story. The next I’m in a sports car, engaged in fantastic racing.

What are you playing lately?

New JRPGs In 2023

As the year closes and we look towards 2023, I can already see several video games on the beckoning horizon. Brand new JRPG releases are slated in the coming months, including one that may be the biggest impending adventure since Breath of the Wild. Of course, I’m talking about Tears of the Kingdom, the next mainline RPG-like title in Nintendo’s Zelda series. But even before that, I have my own backlog to look forward to, eyeing yet more Xenoblade awesomeness.

If you had to choose only a handful of games — new, old, backlogged — you could play in 2023, which ones would you pick? Or what upcoming new releases do you anticipate most? Below are my choices. 

  1. Octopath Traveler II
  2. Tales of Symphonia Remaster
  3. Dragon Quest III HD–2D Remake
  4. Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom
  5. Xenoblade Chronicles 3
  6. FFVI Pixel Remaster

That’s only six games I’d play in 2023, but they’re all huge and long open-worlds, JRPGs, or both. They could easily occupy my spare time all year long. And since I’ll still be enjoying Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition in the first few months of next year, I’ll likely finish only three games in 2023.

Octopath Traveler II follows its original debut about five years later. It should be an improvement. Initial previews show the HD–2D style has been enhanced to some degree, not that it needed more polish, but I’m not complaining. As long as the classic turn-based battle point combat system from the first title is present, I’ll relish it.

Tales of Symphonia Remaster is looking nice so far. I never played the original, so I’m sure I’d be in for a treat. It is often regarded as one of the fan favorites in the Tales of… series. That said, I already have Tales of Vesperia Definitive Edition backlogged. So maybe I should play that instead.

Dragon Quest III HD–2D Remake looks sweet, though a 2023 release date isn’t confirmed. I love the nostalgia-inducing pixel art lavished in modern HD effects. And a DQ JRPG is simply good times. Also, its story directly relates the Erdrick saga to Dragon Quest XI, which I finished in 2021. Sounds interesting.

Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom. The sequel to Game of the Year 2017 winner Breath of the Wild. What else can I say? Besides me, my wife and kids also greatly anticipate this game. We plan to buy two copies, one for each Switch in my household. Also, any new Zelda amiibo or fancy controllers will likely be purchased. Maybe even a Tears of the Kingdom edition Switch OLED!

Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is arguably the best and biggest JRPG on this list. It was nominated for Game of the Year 2022. And it’s sitting on my dresser, patiently waiting for me. So if no other new games were scheduled for 2023, I would at least have XC3 to look forward to. I’d like to savor it as much as possible. 

Are you anticipating any new games for the new year?

Merry Christmas 2022!

“And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” – Luke 2:10–11

Fight Magic Items Review

Done! I finished reading Fight Magic Items and gave it 5 out of 5 stars on Goodreads. Bottom line: if you like JRPGs, it’s a must-read. Pause your game on occasion and grind out some of the pages; it’ll be worth your time. Let me share why and also sprinkle some of my favorite quotes throughout.

The story — history — of how JRPGs were born, matured, and thrive today is closely recounted in detail from cover to cover. It focuses on the inception and influences of the Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy series and how they individually and collectively gave life to the JRPG genre gamers now enjoy, like Hironobu Sakaguchi’s (Mistwalker) recent Fantasian on Apple Arcade.

“Fight, Magic, Items is the story of how JRPGs brought a genre to the masses and reached meteoric success thanks to some of the most brilliant and bold creators in gaming history.”

If you’ve never played one of these series titles but you have enjoyed other JRPGs, you may still find Fight Magic Items to be an intriguing account of how such cool games came to life. But if, like me, you grew up in the “Golden Age” with Final Fantasy III (FFVI) on the SNES, for example, then you’re in for a real treat.

The telling begins all the way back with the first table-top role playing games like Dungeons and Dragons — you may have heard of that one — and how such western TTRPGs sparked the imaginations of game developers — nay, creators — in Japan to bring forth Dragon Quest and the like.

“Whether The Legend of Zelda and its sequels are JRPGs or not is hotly contested by fans, yet no one can deny its adventurous and far-reaching impact on the genre thanks to its highly explorable world, puzzle-based dungeons, and sword-and-sorcery setting.”

Fight Magic Items also details JRPGs outside of the DQ and FF franchises, so not to worry. Star Ocean and many more are all onboard: Super Mario RPG, Xenogears, Tales of… They’re woven through the history, with several given special text block call-outs.

The book follows a basic JRPG timeline throughout the 80’s to the present that coincides with each gaming generation: 8-bit (NES, Sega Master System), 16-bit (SNES, Genesis), 32-bit (PS1, Dreamcast), 64-bit (N64), and onward. It also includes, of course, handheld consoles and titles.

“If you grab a random sample of Final Fantasy fans, chances are they’d name one of Final Fantasy VI, VII, or X as the series best. And I’d bet my complete-in-box copy of Chrono Trigger that their answer is also the first Final Fantasy game they really fell in love with.”

I was personally very interested to fill in the missing gaps in my own gaming history as I, like author Aidan Moher, was at times sidelined from gaming by adulting and related life events. And I didn’t own every gaming console, so I missed out on many great JRPGs.

My favorite part of the book was where I learned about the “Dark Age” of JRPGs when developers struggled to transition to the HD level on PS3 and Xbox 360. I learned specific details and general factors that directly hindered JRPG development, and it all made sense. It so happens that during this time, I didn’t play video games at all, not even the Wii (that’s why I’m just now playing Xenoblade Chronicles for the first time). So this section of the book greatly informed me.

“…the rising popularity of handheld consoles provided JRPG creators an affordable and increasingly legitimate alternative to the high-priced consoles.”

So Fight Magic Items is very informative. It’s also fascinating and spurs nostalgia for a reader in my situation. The JRPG historical timeline is presented in a storytelling and structured manner, with the dots connected and highlighted between each point along the way. It utilizes interviews from those in the gaming industry and previously published references.

“The Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 era was, in one way, a dark age for traditional home console JRPGs. However, there was a light in the darkness, and you could hold it right in the palm of your hand.”

While the content is detailed and historical, it’s not presented matter-of-factly as a rote academic paper. Instead, it’s shared with care and high esteem. About JRPGs, it’s not like asking, “How did this happen?” It’s like wondering, “How’d we get so lucky?”

“Many of these indie projects are finding success on Nintendo’s Switch console, with the hybrid handheld–big-screen console quickly establishing itself as a go-to platform for retro-inspired indie games.”

If you consider yourself lucky to enjoy JRPGs, then you’ll surely enjoy Fight Magic Items. A suggestion: use this book as your “palate cleanser” between epic JRPG playthroughs. 

Have you read this book? What’dya think?

3D TV Comeback?

By now, maybe most people have upgraded their TV sets from HD to 4K; I finally did last summer. So to get consumers to buy more TVs, maybe the industry wants to try 3D again? Recently, Wired published a piece reasoning 3D could return but this time succeed. My take? I doubt it. Seriously. Though the tech looks cool, is it really? Here are some reasons why I don’t think so.

The simplest reason is that people don’t like covering their face. Unless you’re already accustomed to wearing glasses, donning thick goggles to watch a movie is inconvenient and a bit uncomfortable. 3D effects look cool, but are they impressive enough to mask half your face for a couple hours?

Another reason is that while immersive, 3D depth doesn’t really help tell a story. Eye candy and the thrill factor are fun and can draw viewers in on some level, but the story is what’s most compelling in a good movie. In fact, the medium of cinema altogether, whether 2D or 3D, is arguably inferior to good storytelling, as it’s generally true that “the book is better than the movie” in most cases. That’s to say, a good book is oft regarded as better than its movie counterpart. (Though in the case of The Martian, starring Matt Damon, I enjoyed the movie at least as much as the book.)

A good writer can create characters with real depth that a movie goer connects with. But if a hero or villain is flat, no amount of 3D visual effects will make the story better. Rarely are subjects popping out from the background powerful enough to overcome weak writing or directing.

One rare example of where 3D is daftly used in a movie to convey the story is Tron: Legacy. It consists of the real world and a computer generated digital world. The real world is always shown in 2D while the digital world is 3D. Such implementation makes sense in that film due to the story. But again, though a 3D spectacle can be enthralling, the story and characters are what truly grip audiences most on an emotional level.

Let me add that not only do I think 3D video effects are not worth the extra cost and equipment in my home, I also gave up on 3D audio effects — surround sound. Long ago, I was into Dolby Pro Logic and set up a home theater system with 5.1 channel audio. It was cool. But for years now, I’ve preferred the more simple and affordable 2.1 channel setup. Just stereo and a bass-y subwoofer is all I need to enjoy a movie at home. Don’t forget some popcorn.

Now, the final reason I doubt 3D will make a comeback: it already had its chance and failed to catch on. People voted with their wallets. While some folks bought 3D TVs and 3D disc players, it seems that most people didn’t. James Cameron’s megahit, Avatar, wowed the world, caused many to run out and buy 3D home theaters, and then…nevermind, it’s all about 4K UHD!

3D came and went. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. So no, I don’t think 3D movies and TV will pop back into the market and succeed.

Do you think 3D TVs will make a comeback, why or why not?

Big Finally For iPhone?

Can I FINALLY just buy a Kindle book (or see its price) in the Kindle app or Amazon app!? That’s all I want to really know after learning that Apple may soon fundamentally change its App Store rules and the like on iPhone. The change could mean more convenience for the average end user. Sounds good to me.

Two recommended reads:

I first learned of these potential sweeping changes via M.G. Siegler at 500ish.

Then I gathered more from Jason Snell at Six Colors

“I can imagine Apple telling Amazon that if it wants to write an iOS app that lets users buy Kindle books directly from Amazon via in-app purchase, it’s welcome to—but that version of the app can’t be in the App Store.” — Jason Snell

That quote is what I’m wondering about. Why can’t I simply see the price of a Kindle book in the current Amazon app or Kindle app? And why can’t I just buy said book via those apps on my iPhone? What’s the big deal?

I understand the desire to protect users from malicious third-party apps, but Amazon as a book seller is kind of an established and trusted entity and has been since the last millennium when it first started out selling books.

I also know there are many other factors to consider; it’s complicated. But we’re also talking about Apple, the company kind of known for its simplicity, its straight forward software design, etc. I like Apple, a lot, so don’t get me wrong. But Apple isn’t perfect (e.g. headphone jack removal).

What’s your take? Do you think Apple should open up its App Store more, or allow third-party app stores on iPhone?

iPhone 11 Thoughts

After turning my iPhone up to 11, I have some thoughts. Yes, it was the upgrade I wanted, substantial enough. All around, it’s a quality smartphone one would expect from Apple. Below are some things that stand out to me most.

Tap to wake

This is one of those quality of life features that seems small on paper, but in practice it’s huge. The ease with which I can now, finally, just tap the screen to see it display relevant or urgent info is so nice. I use it mostly to control audio in the playback widget. It’s more convenient than before.


Technically a superficial thing, yet it has deep impact. I LOVE the color of this iPhone 11 in yellow. I enjoy it every time I see it, often pausing to just look at it. My favorite color is orange; this is close. Even though the shade is a light pastel, it’s still great and feels more like an expression of my own personality. I do tend to be enthusiastic about tech.

Face ID

While I very much liked Touch ID, I find unlocking my phone by just looking at it to be kind of amazingly easy. It’s almost like the thing isn’t even locked when I pick it up. Also, it works in the dark. Not that I ever pick up my phone at night from the bedside table. Right.


Oh yeah, it’s way longer than was my 5 year old iPhone 8 Plus. I can go all day with moderate use and not worry one bit about charging up. It’s so good. Power to actually use your phone is fundamental to functioning. More battery is usually better. I love how long iPhone 11 lasts.


Oh snap! The camera is better, and the Night Mode and low-light shooting is much more improved than I expected. I’m truly surprised how iPhone 11 can get shots in little to no light and they actually turn out good looking. It’s super nice and enabling. Overall picture quality across the board is noticeably better too.

I’m also a fan of the ultra wide lens. Though its quality is a bit lacking in anything other than daylight landscape shots, it’s super useful for indoors when you can’t back up, like a small room or dining table. Also, I can now shoot portrait selfies, and I’m vain enough to enjoy it, thanks. Speaking of, the front camera has higher resolution and can shoot wider, both of which make me extra glad.

Ultra Wideband

I have not tried this out yet, but I plan to get an AirTag in the near future and “accidentally” misplace something important to see if I can find it.


Overall performance is more fluid than my 8 Plus, as it should be. It feels a bit more responsive. The display notch is not a problem at all. The LCD display looks as great as ever. Fit and finish are Apple caliber. The two speakers are much louder and fuller than the ones on my iPhone 8 Plus, which surprised me.

So there a some things that I value in iPhone 11. It’s reliable, it has all the iCloud ecosystem features, iMessage, and it’s the best version of Apple’s smartphone I’ve ever had the privilege to own. Best of all, I snagged this from Apple’s refurbished store for a great discount on a practically new phone. Highly recommended.

It’s not all rainbows and unicorns of course; there are a few imperfections with iPhone 11:

  • It lacks a 3.5mm headphone jack
  • It uses Lightning instead of USB-C to charge
  • It is too big to easily use in one hand
  • It lacks a microSD card slot for expanding storage
  • It doesn’t come in orange

Did you upgrade your phone in 2022? Will you upgrade in 2023?

Game Awards 2022 Winners

At first, I wasn’t going to watch the 2022 Game Awards, but I mostly ended up doing so. I hoped somehow that Xenoblade Chronicles 3 would win at least one of its three nominated categories. But as I figured, most awards went to its competition. Oh well. Being nominated three times says a lot by itself. Besides, I was happy to see Nintendo score plenty of awards.

So Xenoblade Chronicles 3 got three nominations this year:

  • Best Role Playing
  • Best Score and Music
  • Game of the Year

Though XC3 left empty handed, good news remains: an RPG took Game of the Year!

As a JRPG enthusiast, this is a great thing. I wrote about why on RPGamer around last year’s game awards. I reasoned that an RPG winning GotY would promote the genre further, leading to greater growth from developer and player attraction. I also kind of predicted that this year’s GotY winner would in fact be Elden Ring since it won the Most Anticipated Game of 2022 award. Last December I said:

“With this high-caliber title set to release early next year across multiple platforms and console generations, such audience reach should have the potential to impress the most gamers, giving it the greatest chance to clinch the vaunted Game of the Year title.”

Sure, I think Elden Ring’s reach helped, but the great gameplay itself — I’ve not played it — with its story, game mechanics, presentation, and direction all apparently earned its trophy. Of course, Elden Ring also claimed the trophy for Best Role Playing game.

Best Role Playing nominees:

  • Elden Ring (FromSoftware/Bandai Namco)
  • Live a Live (Square Enix/Nintendo)
  • Pokémon Legends: Arceus (Game Freak/Nintendo/TPCI)
  • Triangle Strategy (Artdink/Square Enix)
  • Xenoblade Chronicles 3 (Monolith Soft/Nintendo)

Let me point out that three of the five best RPG nominees are exclusive to Nintendo. Yes, the Switch is a great role-playing machine, no doubt. And for the record, I played and finished Pokémon Legends: Arceus this year. It was more fun than I expected, with its well implemented monster catching system and large open-world areas to explore.

And kudos to Nintendo, earning a nice armful of trophies:

  • Best Family: Kirby and the Forgotten Land (HAL Laboratory / Nintendo)
  • Best Multiplayer: Splatoon 3 (Nintendo EPD/Nintendo)
  • Best Action: Bayonetta 3 (Platinum Games/Nintendo)
  • Most Anticipated: The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom (Nintendo EPD/Nintendo)

I’m happy that Nintendo did well, though I’m bummed that Xenoblade Chronicles 3 didn’t get more recognition. I truly hoped that developer Monolith Soft would receive admiration and respect for its creativity and productivity. It has released Xenoblade 1, 2, and 3 on the Switch. I wished that, had Monolith Soft won Best RPG or GotY for XC3, that either it would be spurred with pride and funds to begin development on a new Xenoblade title and/or port Xenoblade Chronicles X from the Wii U to the Switch!

I’ll close with this. There’s good hope that Nintendo will win Game of the Year 2023 with RPG-adjacent Tears of the Kingdom. If it does, it would be a great boost to the aging Switch, which by December next year will be close to seven years old. This would simply add to the overall great success of the platform, which in turn will continue to attract greater game development. That would likely mean more or better RPGs, and it doesn’t get much better than that.

Did you watch the Game Awards, what did you think?

A Xenoblade Adventure

One of the greatest JRPGs to grace gamers in modern times is Xenoblade Chronicles. The definitive edition on Nintendo Switch was on my backlog. Now, I’ve finally — FINALLY — started on this adventure. It’s my first playthrough and, so far, I love it!

Coming right from both Octopath Traveler and Bravely Default II, two lovely classic turn-based JRPGs, Xenoblade’s combat requires adjustment. That said, I’m taking to it quite well and really enjoying it. There seems to be much in the way of battle mechanics to learn, but I’m finding the game gives you plenty of tutorials, time, and monsters to practice your party’s fighting skills.

One of the coolest things about Xenoblade is how world exploration flows into and out of combat. Each area, whether an expansive field or an enclosed cave, is teeming with baddies, living and breathing on the land. They’re part of the ecosystem it seems, and while exploring the game world’s massive environs, players can easily enter into combat at will.

Engaging enemies is straightforward, and once defeated, players simply continue on the journey. There are no special battle screens or transitions between world travel mode and fighting mode. On-screen menus or overlays may change, but the 3D terrain, party members, and creatures all persist.

I expected Xenoblade to be great, and it’s proving to be more than that already. It’s seriously awesome. It gives me a feeling of adventure and immerses me unlike many other games. It feels like the wonder I first felt with Final Fantasy VI or, decades later, Breath of the Wild. It’s special indeed.

While I’m only about 10 hours into the game at Chapter 4, I can say the battle system, world design, exploration, items, progression systems, and music are splendid. But the story, the storytelling, and the characters — including voice acting — rise above all that. I like to say that JRPGs stand on the three pillars of presentation, gameplay, and story, with the narrative aspect being paramount. Xenoblade looks to have nailed it all so far.

The only other game I compare XC:DE to at the moment is Xenoblade Chronicles X on the Wii U, in which I played a bit over 40 hours. It’s an eye-popping and breathtakingly expansive open-world JRPG, with exploration possibly exceeding even that of the first Xenoblade I’m now enjoying. But without doubt, the party setup, characters, and driving story of XC far surpasses that of XCX.

Come to think of it, despite my love of the graphics and gameplay of both XCX and Octopath Traveler, those two otherwise great JRPGs buckle at the knees due to weak story or storytelling when compared to XC and Bravely Default II.

Suffice to say, I’m loving the greatness of XC so far and am thrilled to finally be immersed in it. And while I want to savor its adventure to the full, I’m also pushing steadily towards the newest series entry Xenoblade Chronicles 3. It has received impressive accolades, it is nominated for Game of the Year, and it’s on my backlog.

What do you think of Xenoblade?

Bravely Default II Review

Sweet victory! I finally finished Bravely Default II this past weekend, rolling credits at nearly 79 hours of playtime. And by default, I’ll brave some thoughts — I use the term ‘review’ loosely.

Upon beating the final boss, my immediate reaction was, “Wait, what!?” That was followed by, “That’s it? There must be a concluding sequel.” I held my breath before releasing a victory shout, “Um, so was that the penultimate boss? Am I about to get decimated by an insanely-hard nemesis?”

I had one final boss to fight, which essentially…well…I’ll avoid spoilers. What I was expecting and hoping for, after almost 80 hours of gameplay, was more denouement. I thought the characters’ personal stories would be wrapped up a bit more to say the least. But because they weren’t, I thought I’d see the words, “To be concluded…”

Having said that, the story overall was good. Compared to Octopath Traveler, BDII featured a cohesive overarching narrative, singular to all the characters in the game. This is what a good long JRPG does; it tells a story rather than telling a group of separate but kind of overlapping mini-stories.

For this reason alone, Bravely Default II edges out above Octopath Traveler in my personal Top Ten JRPGs ranking.

Both Octopath and BDII get very high marks for presentation (visual, aural) and gameplay (combat, level progression, character customization). But story is where BDII outshines Octopath. Sure, the narrative may seem only serviceable to many players, but I appreciated its relative simplicity and that it avoids the typical convoluted mess JRPGs are infamous for.

Crystals? Yes. All the crystals, please.

Bravely Default II is a spiritual cousin to classics like my #1 favorite, Final Fantasy VI. Likewise similar to Octopath Traveler, BDII is a classic turn-based JRPG featuring an overworld that connects towns and dungeons between which you travel.

Also, there’s good ol’ fashioned grinding.

Want to learn new abilities and gain XP? Go fight monsters and then fight some more. Increase encounter rate and enable progression boosts at will. For BDII, when I wanted to just grind away, I’d always equip “JP Up” and “JP Up and Up” together for job point multipliers. This game was made to grind!

If you dislike grinding, I don’t recommend this game.

Winning new jobs with new abilities to unlock is tantalizing and fulfilling throughout the game. Having so many options at your disposal is empowering. It’s like a kid in a JRPG candy store who is suddenly handed a wad of cash; enjoy! There are more than enough job abilities to satisfy every type of player, so you can experiment with many different setups, which you’ll need to do. New bosses bring unique combat, forcing players to think about their strategy.

Besides abilities, you’ll need to consider what weapons, armor, and items to equip, giving you the advantage over the enemy. In addition to that, BDII forces you to think about how or when to use your Brave points and when to Default. The whole system is robust enough that I know I didn’t experience it totally, though I certainly relished a satisfying amount.

For example, I’d still like to try a party setup that leans on heavy buff/debuff combos with the Bard and Pictomancer jobs. I stuck mostly to a standard load out of DPS, tank, healer/supporters. My main jobs were Shieldmaster, Swordmaster, Spiritmaster, and Red Mage.

There are so many combos you could try. Here’s one possibility: mastering four Red Mages and four Spiritmasters, then defaulting your party to the max, you can cast 32 Holy spells in a single round thanks to the Red Mage’s Chainspell ability!

So Bravely Default II’s gameplay is, I think, its best trait. The story is adequate for the Job(s) (see what I did there?) And its presentation suits my tastes with top-notch polish and spell effects especially showcasing exquisite particle detail.

If you like turn-based JRPGs at all, then BDII should be a must-play game on your list.

Have you played Bravely Default II or do you plan to? What’s your favorite turn-based JRPG?

Fight Magic Items

This new book by Aidan Moher was an instant purchase for me! I read a few words of the synopsis and skimmed a couple reviews and — boom! — I clicked Buy Now and sent it directly to my Kindle in a flash. It’s said to be “unputdownable” for someone who likes JRPGs and grew up playing them in the 90’s. Oh yeah. Pause game…read book…resume game.

The book was just released this October. I discovered it in November — thanks to the Thirsty Mage — and started reading it in December. I’m about 20% through it already.

So far, I’m really enjoying this good read. It is written with a lot of detailed history about how JRPGs came to be and arrived in the west. Sprinkled throughout are personal anecdotes or commentary about the state of JRPG gaming at different stages, such as the 80bit NES days. There are also info boxes here and there with specific game info.

The writing itself is done well. My kindle ebook has had zero errors thus far; links and formatting function correctly.

Here is an early quote:

“Fight, Magic, Items is the story of how JRPGs brought a genre to the masses and reached meteoric success thanks to some of the most brilliant and bold creators in gaming history.” — Aidan Moher

In particular, I’ve been really appreciating learning about the writers, artists, and developers who first pioneered JRPGs for the Nintendo in the late 80’s. Their talent and ambition was vital to success and I’m thankful it all came together against the odds at times.

One of the things I always look for in a published work on JRPGs is how it defines the genre; it can be hard to pin down. Likewise, I also look to see how it views Zelda games. In other words, is Zelda an RPG?

Here’s what Fight Magic Items says:

“Whether The Legend of Zelda and its sequels are JRPGs or not is hotly contested by fans, yet no one can deny its adventurous and far-reaching impact on the genre thanks to its highly explorable world, puzzle-based dungeons, and sword-and-sorcery setting.” — Aidan Moher

I’ve only ready through the very early days of video role-laying games up to the release times of Dragon Quest III and Final Fantasy III, as well as Phantasy Star and Mother.

If you really like to geek out with JRPGs, I’d already say this book is a must-read; go pick it up now. Though it’s hard to put down a controller sometimes, good books like this are also hard to put down. 

Like the JRPGs of this book, it always comes down to a good story, which everybody loves. Fight, Magic, Items is the story of playable video game stories!

Are you interested in this book? Is there another book you’re reading or looking forward to?

macOS Stage Manager Impression

Stage Manager is a marquee new feature in macOS Ventura, which released to the general public this October. I updated my MacBook Air right away, eager to try it out. After several weeks of using it off and on, I’ve been reminded of the already impressive multi-tasking capabilities with good ol’ fashioned windows on the Mac. Exiting the stage, I’m happy to manage apps and their windows myself.

I think one reason Stage Manager is a prominent addition to the Mac is simply because its so visual. App windows quickly and easily swap out with each other automatically. I’ve tried to nail down the best understanding of what Stage Manager is actually managing: windows, apps, or tasks. I think the answer is, “Yes” to all three.

Essentially, apps and their windows are tools for users to complete tasks. So juggling multiple windows and apps — multi-tasking — is what Stage Manager is supposed to help you do. Most people, though, do one thing at a time and, at most, reference some other thing alongside. So it’s not uncommon to have two apps side-by-side and sometimes three. 

Stage Manager lets users set up multiple apps or windows in groups and then switches between either groups of apps or single app windows. In practice, though, I found the set up portion to be cumbersome and the auto-switching part to be a bit too jarring sometimes. Once set up, it’s simply hard to mentally track what apps and windows are where, especially if you also use Spaces (multiple desktops).

For the sake of brevity, avoiding the technical bits, suffice to say that Stage Manager helped me re-evaluate the Mac’s previously established multi-tasking features: Mission Control, Spaces, and Exposé. And to a small degree, also command-tab app switcher.

I realized how good these features already are and how much I appreciate them. So after several weeks of leaving Stage Manager on, I turned it off. Tellingly, I don’t miss it.

In fact, I now much prefer my new simpler approach: fully zoomed (not full-screen) windows on one desktop Space. I love the Dock for its ability to both launch and switch between apps in a visual way. Its always present, at the ready, and serves as an anchor for the desktop. And I like to keep multiple Pages and Numbers files open. For those, I simply use tabs in their respective apps.

I wanted to like Stage Manager, but one of my initial reactions to it turned out true: it’s redundant. The Mac’s other multi-tasking options were already enough. I think Stage Manager has potential if Apple improves it.

One simple way to make it better would be to allow an option to always show more than four (the current max.) piles or groups at once on a 13” MacBook Air. The app or window I wanted to switch to was often pushed out of view simply because it wasn’t in the four onscreen. Another weak spot that needs work is streamlining the set up process. Somehow, apps and windows should be able to be grouped without also switching back and forth and dragging them back out of their piles.

That said, I find it easier to go full-manual, relying on the complete flexibility and total freedom of windows and apps being in one place, right on the desktop where I left them. To switch between them, I just click the app icon in the Dock. Since my apps are full-zoom most of the time, the app window I want pops into view, totally covering the previous window, which effectively switches it out and keeps my desktop clutter free.

In the end, though Stage Manager managed apps and windows to some degree, I still had to manage Stage Manager itself by setting up groups and mentally tracking where things were. 

Thanks, Stage Manager, for showing me how effective the other long-standing methods of Mac multi-tasking are. I’ll take it from here.

Have you tried it; do you like, dislike, or can’t make up your mind about Stage Manager?

Social Media Twilight Years

Do you want a good long-ish read? This great piece from The Atlantic was right up my alley. The end of social media? Imagine that. Sure, this has been said before, and I think that’s because the life of social media has been dwindling for years. We’ve seen more signs of it in recent months with Facebook earnings dropping and the company pivoting away from the social app towards the metaverse. And lately, we’ve witnessed Twitter being run into the ground in quick fashion.

If social media has aged into its twilight years, it looks now to be in hospice. It’s condition is terminal; there’s little time left.

“It’s over. Facebook is in decline, Twitter in chaos. Mark Zuckerberg’s empire has lost hundreds of billions of dollars in value and laid off 11,000 people, with its ad business in peril and its metaverse fantasy in irons. Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter has caused advertisers to pull spending and power users to shun the platform (or at least to tweet a lot about doing so). It’s never felt more plausible that the age of social media might end—and soon.”Ian Bogost

It’s one thing to predict the demise of social networking as we know it. It’s another thing, though, to step back and realize we may very well be witnessing social media in the throes of death. It’s not going down without a fight, but it’s definitely down. Even regular users of Facebook wouldn’t argue that the service isn’t what it once was.

As long as we still have the good ol’ internet, we still have social networking despite lacking social media proper. Along this line, it’s interesting to see how many people have left Twitter lately and joined Mastodon and refer to it as old-school networking due to its federated or decentralized setup.

We don’t need Twitter or Facebook. Social Media was cool at first, but it devolved. After causing upheaval, it is being upheaved. Despite some benefits, I still think social media, overall, isn’t worth it.

A telling anecdote: in times past, when I’ve quit Facebook, I always eventually felt pressure or draw to return with a new account; friends and family can be hard to resist. But since I logged off Facebook almost eight months ago, I have not logged back in a single time. I’ve only felt a possible reason to maybe log in once, just recently and very briefly.

I did not log in. Instead, I met an acquaintance face to face. How’s that for social?

Do you think we are truly seeing the age of social media ending?

Fully Rendered In Dark Mode

A quick update for the blog. My site www.jasonmcfadden.com now has an official new blog name, “Fully Rendered.” It’s also now sporting a dark theme.

After migrating from Jason Journals at WordPress to Blogger, I had named my new blog jasonmcfadden to match the domain name and keep things simple. And being unsure what direction my post content would go, I made the blog minimal and mostly white. It was clean, maybe too spartan, and the header image — the site URL — felt a bit lacking.

Before. Light theme.

After. Dark theme.

With my new blog name and header, I’ve added a custom graphic. It’s a pixel art profile image of an RPG character I made using RPG Maker MZ (which, by the way, runs on my M1 MacBook Air, no problems).

Here’s my explanation for the new blog name:

“Fully Rendered” originally came from a phrase I repeated ad infinitum when exclaiming how Donkey Kong Country for the Super Nintendo was developed using pre-rendered 3D computer graphics. The name eventually became my gaming avatar pseudonym. It stands for both modern video gaming and computing technology.

Previously, at Jason Journals, my blogging focused on mobile computing and video gaming. Once again, that’s my focus. It’s fun to geek out on my hobbies and interests.

What do you think of the new look and feel?

Back To Bravely Default II

Since I finished Octopath Traveler, a great JRPG, I resumed another one I had paused, Bravely Default II. I love it, but is it greater than Octopath? Tough question! I watched a YouTube video comparison of the two and think I agree that BDII edges out ahead. This is surprising since I had previously ranked Octopath a notch above BDII.

Of course, the final verdict can’t come in because I haven’t finished Bravely Default II yet - I’m about 70 hours in. Before I finished Octopath, I had held it in high regard and didn’t fully grasp why many players disliked its story structure. But once I finished it, then I realized the game’s story shortcomings. Likewise, though I now esteem BDII, once I fully finish it, my view may change.

Wherever I end up ranking BDII, it remains in my top three JRPGs of all time so far, right up there with Final Fantasy VI (FFIII SNES).


Now that I’m back to playing the game, I’m having great fun with it again. I love the job system, grinding for new active and passive abilities, and finding the most effective combos against challenging bosses. I also optimize my characters’ equipment and accessories to balance out their stats and any special conditions like nullifying certain status effects when needed.


As for presentation, the music is very good and the visuals are excellent. I really love the high-res details in environments and special spell effects, and I appreciate the Chibi character models too. My only real gripe is that I wish it was possible to rotate the camera freely in the overworld to easily see everything instead of constantly enlarging the on-screen map overlay and then hiding it.


The story may be simple, but it’s told very well through plausible scenarios displayed as either party chats or full cut scenes with dialogue voiced over. And though I’m accustomed to convoluted JRPG plots, I think BDII’s classic tale is refreshing in its simplicity. And I like it overall better than Octopath’s collection of individual mini-stories because it helps carry me, as the role-player, throughout the entire game’s continuous and cohesive narrative, pushing me to see how it all will come to an end.

It’s a great time to be gaming on the Switch with games like Octopath and BDII keeping classic JRPG gameplay alive and well. And with Octopath Traveler II set to release in a few months, the future looks promising too.

Have you played either Octopath or BDII? What’s your take?

Turned My iPhone Up To 11

A few weeks ago, I had decided to stick with my iPhone 8 Plus and not upgrade until likely next year. Confession: I didn’t hold out that long. I’ve been wanting to upgrade my five year old iPhone and my son’s now unsupported iPhone 7. So when a nice deal appeared, I jumped on it, netting one new-ish smartphone for two phone upgrades.

I can be fickle, leaning hard into minimalism when I feel the need to counter my (and my culture’s) natural bent towards maximalism (hyper-consumerism). I’m also frugal and moderate. So instead of buying the latest and greatest iPhone 14 super-duper-mega-ultra or whatever, I opted for a refurbished iPhone 11. It’s still a great phone today, three years after its first release, and it’s a substantial upgrade from my iPhone 8 Plus. 

The best part might be that for the single price of upgrading my phone, my 16-year old son is also getting a good upgrade — at no extra cost. He will once again have a supported phone, going from the 7 to the 8 Plus, which still has over 80% battery!

As always, I tried to weigh the balance between wants and needs, and I think I’ve struck it close to the center. Sure, I had to spend a bit more money than what might be ideal, but again, my family nets two iPhone upgrades from it. Plus I saved money by choosing a refurbished phone from Apple’s store. This also has the benefit of recycling a phone, getting more life from it, and conserving resources, though Apple’s refurbished iPhones include a new 100% battery — a big plus to me.

My most blogged about topic is Mobile Computing — be it smartphones, tablets, or laptops. The iPhone is one of my most important tools and, admittedly, one of my favorite tech toys too. Upgrading eventually becomes a necessity. And when I can afford them, I don’t mind a few niceties as well.

So I’m eager to switch from TouchID to FaceID, for example, gain Night Mode on the camera, and trade my telephoto lens for an ultra wide one. Speaking of ultra wide, how about the ultra wideband chip for precision AirTag tracking? Yes, please. And while it may be superficial, I’m keen to swap dull black for delightful yellow on the iPhone 11.

If only Apple made an Orange iPhone!

How often do you upgrade your smartphone? Would you rather use a feature-phone or “dumb” phone?

Tracking JRPG Playtimes

When it comes to gaming, JRPGs are my fave. This genre of escapism is time-consuming. For example, check out HowLongToBeat for the numbers on Xenoblade Chronicles 3 — 100+ easily. Last year, I spent about 120 hours playing Dragon Quest XI S before finally finishing it. And recently, I finished Octopath Traveler at over 83 hours. With so many great JRPGs to play and little time to spare, it makes sense to use a service or a spreadsheet to keep track of it all; I do both.

Game Services

Here are some favorite ways to track my gaming via web sites.

Grouvee - This is a cool social-cataloging site, like Goodreads but for games instead of books. It’s free to use — from what I remember, ads were non-intrusive. You can use it strictly for cataloging and ignore the social stuff, but it’s nice to geek out over a common interest with other like-minded folks.

On the cataloging side, you can create game lists to organize however you want, and there’s built-in status categories like “Wishlist” or “Playing.” It also has game-related info like average completion times for each title across various systems.

For the social aspect, each user has a profile page, can post status updates for games, and there’s a common reverse-chronological feed of others’ posts. Friending is optional, as are liking and commenting on posts. Grouvee’s gamer community is nice and feels small like a Discord server. Posts and comments generally are friendly, respectful, and can be insightful — there are no Twitter-like trolls or bots I’m aware of. And if the main feed isn’t enough, there’s also a classic forum where players can post in certain topics. I like the service enough that I volunteered to pay for a Grouvee Gold subscription to show support and get a few perks. If you’re into gaming at all, I recommend it:

“Grouvee is a place for you to keep track of your video game collection. Once you sign up for an account, you can start adding games from our database to your virtual shelves. Every user starts off with four shelves: Playing, Backlog, Wish List, and Played. You can create as many shelves as you want by going to your My Games page, and clicking the Add Shelf button. We import our data daily from Giantbomb, so we should always have very up to date information on just about every game out there.

In addition to being able to track your game collection and backlog, Grouvee lets users rate and review their favorite (or not so favorite) games. Get your friends signed up for Grouvee and add them to your friends list to see their reviews and game shelves to make Grouvee even more useful!” — Grouvee

HowLongToBeat - This site is a game nerd’s delight; it’s a great resource of game stats to freely view. Create your own account and you’ll enjoy the stats and tracking of your own games too. I use it for keeping up only with JRPGs I’ve played. It readily displays game status, like Backlogged or Completed, as well as playtimes and completion levels. Think of it like a crowd-sourced online spreadsheet of average game times.

IGN Playlist - Popular game site IGN recently launched what’s called, “Playlist.” I’ve been using it for a few months and really like it. Playlist is both a web app and a mobile app; I use both. The user interface is simple and elegant, making it easy to track the status of any game you like. You can create playlists for games and find IGN’s own reviews and guides for them. The cherry on top is that HowLongToBeat playtimes are also integrated. Playlist has similar features as Grouvee for cataloging your game library, minus the social aspect.

Game Spreadsheets

I use Apple’s app, Numbers, for my personal spreadsheet — Microsoft Word or Google Sheets would work too. I’ve made three main files for game tracking. One is for my video game library, which lists all my owned games and what systems they’re on. Another is for logging my daily playtime and progress in each JRPG I’m actively playing. And another is for JRPG play status where I break titles down into three main categories based on time: Played, Playing, and Play. There’s also sub-categories:

  • Played
    • Completed
    • Retired
  • Playing
  • Play
    • Backlog
    • Wishlist

Games I want to play but haven’t bought (yet) go on the “Wishlist,” while those I have bought are on my “Backlog.” For JRPGs I played, there are different ways to say one is “finished.” I base it mostly on rolling the credits at the end, meaning I “beat” the game. For those, they’re “Completed.” If I played a JRPG for at least 10 hours but never saw the credits or final boss, then I mark it as having been played but did not finish (DNF), so “Retired.” This can happen whether I rage quit, fizz out, pause indefinitely, or get distracted by life in general. Sometimes I resume and complete them.

Between online services and my own offline spreadsheets, keeping track of my video games, especially JRPGs, is a fun and manageable task, which helps me see progress. I’ve made something like a gaming schedule, set a daily playtime goal, and record times and take notes on JRPG progress. Seeing that progress with metrics outside the game itself provides motivating feedback to me.

As an adult with plenty of career and parenting responsibilities, game tracking helps me enjoy what I’m playing now while also anticipating titles I’ve yet to play. It helps me pursue my hobby and keep some fun in my otherwise serious life.

Do you track your book reading time or movie watching library?

What Is Up With 5G?

Remember a few years back when there was hype that the next cell service upgrade would be mind-blowingly fast? 5G service promised download and upload speeds equal to or exceeding a fiber optic data line wired directly to your phone. The benefits of such a feature were things like…remote real-time tele-surgery? Streaming gameplay in high-res? The question: so how’s that working out for ya?

9to5mac recently asked, “Is 5G worth it?

The piece cites a report showing the answer to be a firm, “Nope.” It also gives other evidence to the same.

Does 5G even exist?

Here’s my take. After the iPhone 12 — with 5G! — debuted two years ago, do you know how many people in my circles I’ve heard say they enjoy the new cellular speeds? Zero. Not a single person has said they’ve even experienced 5G. The only people I’ve ever heard say they’ve seen 5G speeds have been reviewers from tech sites. That’s it. And again, it’s been two years or more since the next-gen cell connection began to launch.

So despite 5G service and multiple 5G phones being in the market for the past few years now, my personal experience so far shows that it has not lived up to any of the hype at all. I have to trust tech reviewers’ reports that 5G service actually exists in a few spots amidst big cities. And I assume it’s eyelid-peeling fast…but to what end?

Do we even need 5G?

There was a push for 4G/LTE cell coverage years ago because people wanted to stream video on their smartphone without buffering or loading and they wanted good quality playback. We consumers finally got that and have been watching YouTube and Netflix on our phones with no problems; it’s great! 

Video streaming on-demand to phones is a solved problem. Any other consumer (normal person) usage of cellular data is less demanding. So 4G/LTE certainly seems to be more than adequate. Thus there seems to be no real need for 5G in the first place. (This is similar to saying we don’t need 4K quality video because HD looks good enough already.)

I actually have been paying for an expensive AT&T cell plan for a couple of years now that includes 5G service though I’ve never seen such speeds. One reason is likely because the area where I live lacks 5G coverage. The other reason is my aging iPhone 8 Plus remains solidly in the past with only a 4G/LTE modem inside.

And you know what? Data speeds are very good and are available everywhere. Besides being plenty fast, the more important point is the ubiquity of my cell data coverage. I can totally rely on the fact that when I need fast-enough service, I’ll have it.

What good is blazing fast 5G speed if it’s not even available?

My next iPhone might have a 5G chip in it. And it still might not matter because I doubt 5G service will be available and reliable in my region, at least for several more years. So I’m not champing at the bit to get a 5G phone. In fact, I’ve considered avoiding a 5G iPhone until I’m certain my area has good 5G coverage. I don’t want a 5G phone battery dying in short time due to hunting for a 5G signal but never finding one. I’d rather turn 5G off or not have it at all. My 4G iPhone works great; its cell data is wonderfully dependable.

As a matter of fact, I’ve written this entire blog post on my MacBook Air tethered to my iPhone 8 Plus hotspot during a rainstorm and have had zero glitches, no dropped connections, all via 4G/LTE.

I don’t know what’s up with 5G, but 4G is great.

Do you experience 5G service on a 5G phone; what’s that like, is it game changing for you?

Octopath Traveler Review

At long last, I finished the gloriously pixelated Octopath Traveler, having first begun around February 2020. I paused a few times despite how much I like the game, so it had been on my backlog/resume list for a while. Restarting in earnest this month, I finished all the remaining chapters for all the characters and saw the credits roll after two weeks of focused fun. Previously, I’ve ranked the game near the top of my favorites list. Now finished, my final perspective is a little different, though Octopath is still one of the best JRPGs I’ve played.

There are a few particular points about the game that most reviewers and players have in common. First, presentation is great with its HD–2D stylized visuals and its stirring soundtrack. Second, gameplay is also great, sporting fun, addictive, and strategic combat that utilizes your party’s battle points against an enemy shield break system. Lastly, the story is…not so great. Why? Because there is no story; there are eight short stories.

Having finished Octopath, I now understand why, I think, many people are down on the game’s story structure. At first, though, I thought it was great overall for a few reasons.

One, while there’s not a single story but rather several mini-plots, the storytelling is very good because it blends nicely with the game’s overall presentation. Dialogue is mostly text-based, though there are several particular moments of quality voice acting that express much emotion. And each character’s plot lines are delivered in four distinct chapters, each with text/exposition overlays and a handy journal to review plot points, including info for side quests.

Two, Octopath’s story structure provided variety and flexibility in how the player can unfold or play out each of the game’s eight character stories. I really liked this approach because it made the game non-linear and could be played in small bite-sized narrative chunks. In that regard, it respected the players time and was unique.

Three, the game’s narrative arrangement presents eight individually detailed mini-stories. Though small or short, they have depth. This means they lack breadth, but there are eight in total. When added together, the sum makes for a long playtime overall. It’s a refreshing break from JRPG’s that have one long convoluted narrative arc. But this strength is also its weakness, which I felt when I finished the game.

The narrative sum is not greater than its short-story parts.

I’ve played many RPGs and read many long-ish fiction novels, so I’m accustomed to long overarching narratives, whether plot-driven or character-driven. They’re cohesive, like a 3-act play. You have one main conflict and resolution. It’s so common that it’s formulaic.

That’s what Octopath Traveler misses. It’s like you’re playing eight short RPGs that happen to be set in the same common world. Despite such omission, I enjoyed octo-traveling between eight plot lines. I could easily change characters with their intriguing stories at will to keep things fresh and avoid getting stuck. The journey itself is what it was all about as there wasn’t really a final or connecting destination.

So when I arrived at the end of all the chapters of all the characters and saw credits roll, it felt anti-climatic. I think all along, I subconsciously expected every separate sub-plot to somehow tie together to reveal an overarching plot, one that was mysteriously hidden or hinted at along the way, becoming obvious in hindsight. But that didn’t happen.

Spoiler Warning

Skip this to avoid spoilers. I had heard Octopath contained some kind of ultimate over-arch nemesis. So I looked it up — wow! It’s convoluted, difficult, and fairly hidden. From what I gathered, you must be a completionist or happen to take on enough side quests to be led to the final boss. It is tied to the world and lore in some way (I noticed not-so-subtle hints to it at different points). But it’s pretty obscure, hard to find, and harder to complete. This is unfortunate to many players, I think, as it may provide the nice connection and closure to the whole game and to each of the eight characters. Sure, they’re individuals. But they live in the same world and happen to also occupy the same battle party most of the game; they are together yet their stories stay disconnected unless the player happens to find the final boss.

End Spoiler

Like I said, since I finished the game, I now realize why so many players felt unfulfilled by the eight separate stories. The individual plots and characters are interesting and well told, but their lack of cohesion saps the game of optimal greatness.

Despite this weak point, I still enjoyed Octopath Traveler, and it remains in my top 5 JRPGs. The music is beautiful, the exquisite blend of 16-bit graphics with high-def special effects is both nostalgic and modern, and the engaging battle system is fun and addictive. All this is more than strong enough to overcome the game’s lack of a cohesive narrative.

And without doubt, I plan to buy and play a physical copy of the upcoming Octopath Traveler II as soon as I can fit it into my backlog schedule.

Have you played Octopath Traveler; what did you think?

Wired Audio Sounds Winning

In my recent post where I asked are AirPods worth their cost, I was only comparing them to cheaper “true wireless” alternatives. But there still exists an even more affordable option: wired earphones. Yes, physically connecting your ears to a device with dangling cords. And apparently, it’s a trend amidst Gen Z.

Are wires really that bad? Fair question.

Is being tethered to your phone or laptop a problem that needs to be solved? Okay, sure, unraveling a tangled mess of cords or accidentally yanking earbuds out by their tails is inconvenient and can be frustrating. But is that bad enough to warrant the high cost of wireless headphones?

Wired ear pieces are practical and affordable and simple. In fact, though AirPods can seamlessly switch between Apple devices, wired headphones can basically do the same thing. Just unplug from one gadget and plug into the other device — it’s not hard.

Well, except iPhones lack a standard 3.5mm headphone jack. Of course, Apple makes a dongle for that. Also, you can’t connect wired buds to the Apple Watch, so Bluetooth buds are required. You could just use the Lightning EarPods for iPhone then switch them to the Mac…wait, Macs don’t have Lightning ports, just old-school round headphone jacks. Oops. Maybe there’s another dongle for that too. So much for the simple Apple ecosystem, eh?

Overall though, wired earbuds are simple:

  • Just plug’em in
  • No pairing required
  • No charging needed
  • No special case needed
  • You can’t lose one bud
  • They just work

Like this quote says, wired headphones reflect simplicity:

“Wired earphones make a different kind of statement. A person wearing wired headphones is disassociating themselves from modern trends altogether. They want to be plugged into simpler times.” — Elena Cavender

Besides simplicity, reliability, and affordability, wired headphones also have another distinct advantage over their rich wireless relatives: quality, as in Lossless Audio. Well, this was the case until recently, but it’s still mostly true today. Bluetooth couldn’t stream uncompressed audio; now it can but with caveats. And Apple’s own just-released expensive AirPods Pro 2 still can’t stream Lossless Audio.

Apple does include a good 3.5mm headphone jack. Though the iPhone ditched it and the new 10th-gen iPad dropped it, my M1 MacBook Air has one. I had to use it recently with my JBL speaker for audio playback; I couldn’t get the speaker to connect via Bluetooth after fussing with settings — grrrr, ugh. So I plugged in my speaker with a standard 3.5mm cord and it just worked. Wired audio for the win!

Have you gone wireless, or do you still enjoy classic wired earphones?

Game Awards 2022 Preview

Nominees are out now for this year’s Game Awards. It’s exciting to see which Nintendo games are nominated, hoping for many winners from my favorite gaming company. Likewise, it would be great to see an RPG earn Game of the Year; last December, I wrote about why at RPGamer.

The more Nintendo games that win across various categories, the more the company will appeal to developers and players alike. The popular Japanese video game business is already on a winning streak with its current handheld console: Switch. Good publicity and advertising could generate more profitable revenue for the big N, especially during the busy American holiday shopping season.

I’m not going to lie: I already have a handful of Switch games I’ll likely buy for my kids this year. Shhhh, don’t tell them.

Seeing more RPGs win big at the Game Awards would be a boon to the genre. That works for me, of course, since it’s my favorite kind of video game. The more categories that see RPGs win — including Game of the Year — the better.

Since the golden age of 16-bit era JRPGs on SNES and PS1, it seems there was a dark age that lacked both high quantity and quality role-playing games. But in recent years, especially on Switch, the genre appears to be enjoying a renaissance. Winning more awards and accolades is bound to further bolster development and sales of RPGs, from ‘AAA’ titles, like this year’s Elden Ring nominee, to up and coming indies.

So I’m stoked to see Nintendo and Monolith Soft’s Xenoblade Chronicles 3 in the running for Game of the Year! It’s also nominated for Best Score and Music. With two chances to win an award, things are looking good. That said, I’m not too hopeful for it winning GotY because the other nominees are seriously good competition and are likely more favored overall. We’ll wait and see after the votes are counted.

After getting XC3 for my birthday last month, I’m already hyped to play it — backlogged for now. But seeing it nominated in the annual Game Awards splashes more fuel on that fire.

I think the awards celebration is good that way. No matter what games win which categories, it’s a time to celebrate gaming with its developers, publishers, and players. The industry and market are strong, and if nothing else, the awards help ensure that doesn’t change. That means there will likely always be more great games to anticipate, like The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom (which I think will win GotY in 2023).

Maybe if Monolith Soft wins GotY with XC3, it will then…find the resources to port Xenoblade Chronicles X to the Switch!

One can hope to celebrate.

What games are you cheering for this year?

YouTube Handles More Social

A few weeks ago, I noticed that YouTube would be adding Handles to existing accounts and wondered how that might change the platform, for better or worse, into a more social media-like experience. Well, looks like we’re about to find out; I’ve already got my @username!


YouTube says that handles will be “shown in more places over time” as the feature gets more traction and as YouTube expands the ways in which it can be used. Two of the most prominent areas you’ll see handles in are video descriptions, where they can be used to mention collaborators, and in video comments, where you can give a shout-out to another user on the platform.” — David Nield

So I eagerly dashed over to my laptop while in the middle of making coffee so I could maybe snag a good @username. My personal favorite: @jason is already taken. No surprise there. But to my real surprise, I already had a good name assigned to me: @JasonMcFadden. I wasn’t sure about the camelcase — I have the option to go all lowercase — but I stuck with it. Not half bad.

For details around the use of an @username, check out this Google support link.

The big question remains: will YouTube become social? In the wake of what looks to be the implosion of Twitter, could YouTube find a place within the journalism and tech spheres to share breaking news and snark in lieu of blue bird tweets?

I discovered on the site there’s a place for posting text and images like what’s found on Facebook. Interesting. But is it good to use? I don’t know. I still only use YouTube to watch videos, not share stuff. The only Google property I use to share stuff is…Blogger! But on YouTube, maybe mentioned people will become common and useful now.

I’m cautiously optimistic. I would “+1” the addition of YouTube handles, but we all know how Google+ turned out. (Bummer; I liked Google+ more than Twitter.)

What do you think, will YouTube become more social since you can @mention viewers and Tubers?

Are AirPods Really Worth It?

Apple’s popular white plastic buds spurred the ubiquity of true wireless earphones. Competitive companies now make more ear-candy devices at wallet-friendly prices, offering other colors, styles, and feature-sets. So are AirPods really worth their price tag now?

Wireless Options

AirPods provide the single greatest benefit of “true wireless” audio: total mobility. But their small size sacrifices audio quality for convenience, and they cost an awful lot. So at first, I plunged into the unchained audio space with a chonky pair of bluetooth headphones.

Those wireless aural ear muffs were super affordable; I loved them. But the AirPods feature-set of bells and whistles kept ringing in my ears. Resisting their temptation proved futile. Eventually, I overcame sticker-shock, bought AirPods Gen 2 on sale, and now love using them daily.

Yet with almost 2 years of enjoyment, I’m now asking if AirPods are still worth it.

Thanks to my lovely wife, my eyes have been re-opened to other options for my ears. She was in the bluetooth earbuds market — outside Apple’s walled garden; AirPods don’t fit her ears — for a pair without a triple-digit price tag. Helping her shop, I noted that solutions from established companies like Sony, JBL, Razer, Jabra, and more look great, with several under $100.

If my AirPods died today, would I be willing to pay Apple’s cringe-worthy price tag again for a newer pair?

Apple Advantages

To help answer, Consumer Reports says that, for iPhone owners, AirPods Gen 3 are recommended. The main reason they exceed the competition is the synergy of Apple’s tech:

“Used with an iPhone and other Apple products, the AirPods will give you a more seamless experience.”

The only distinct, maybe dubious, advantages I’m aware of with AirPods are how they’re treated as a first-class citizen with Apple’s gear. For example:

  1. Easy pairing with Apple devices
  2. Seamless switching between MacBook, iPhone, iPad…
  3. Precision finding of misplaced AirPods (iPhone 11 and up)
  4. Siri summoning

Easy pairing to Apple gadgets is fast, nicely done, and works well. Pairing other bluetooth devices can be too much of a hassle — a win for Apple magic.

Seamless switching between devices works most of the time and is quite awesome, but sometimes it doesn’t work, which can be frustrating.

Precision finding seems handy, but my iPhone 8 Plus lacks the specialized chip for it; I can’t use that unique advantage.

Siri Summoning is fast and reliable…but Siri isn’t always helpful.

AirPods are great overall, but I have a little gripe: sometimes just working…doesn’t work. Too often, my right AirPod won’t turn on when I put it in my ear. It’s a minor issue that shouldn’t exist at the quality and price-tier I bought into. Paying twice as much for an Apple solution should net about double the benefit over the competition. Yet with AirPods, paying much more may only net little more versus others.

Best Value

Per several websites’ Best Buds of 2022 articles, AirPods are typically not the number one pick, though they’re often in the top 10 and sometimes in the top 5. Here are a few sites’ best true wireless buds in the AirPods 3/AirPods Pro price range overall:

And for the best buds on a budget:

Note why some sites omitted AirPods from among its picks:

“…while Apple’s standard AirPods (first, second, or third-gen) do some things well, we just don’t like them all that much. (Read our review.) They get OK battery life, come in a compact case, and work well for calls, but they don’t fit all ears well, and since they don’t have ear tips or wings, you’re out of luck if they’re loose.” - Wired

“As an avid Apple user…I like that the AirPod Pros work with other Apple devices. At their suggested retail price of $249, however, these earbuds are more expensive than much of the competition without the audio quality to match.” - Forbes

Finally, there’s AirPods Gen 3 review by MKBHD that basically says they’re a no-brainer if you’re in the Apple ecosystem.

Tough Decision

Deciding if AirPods are worth the expense isn’t easy. Their hardware quality is Apple-renown and their feature-set is great — not just for audio playback, but also for hands-free phone calls. Yet affordability is highly valuable. Can I be content with only the necessities of AirPods — or any Apple hardware — or must I have some niceties too?

Do you think AirPods are worth it?