Backlog Bustin To Xenoblade 3

Finally. I’ve arrived. After months of bustin’ my JRPG backlog, I now begin my first play-through of Xenoblade Chronicles 3, nominated for Game of the Year 2022. Having just finished Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition and Future Connected, I think I’m primed for an epic Xenoblade zenith.

On my birthday last year, I received XC3 for Switch. The great gift was the catalyst, the impetus I needed, to launch me forward in earnest. I had to finish:

  1. Pokémon Legends: Arceus
  2. Octopath Traveler
  3. Bravely Default II

Then I had to start and finish Xenoblade Chronicles: DE with its main quest and extra story, Future Connected.


So begins one of my greatest gaming adventures of 2023. Xenoblade Chronicles 3.

Now, with such an acclaimed JRPG, how could I ever top it? Glad you asked. If I finish by May 12th, then I’ll embark the only other adventure title to closely match the polish and scope of XC3. It’s Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, the most anticipated game of 2023.

What a year it’s turning out to be.

By the way, besides blogging here, I hang out at the JRPG Hangout on Grouvee forums. Check it out.

Have you played any of these games? Are you anticipating a new play-through?

Animal Crossing Renewed Horizons

This month, I restarted playing Animal Crossing: New Horizons — on a new island from scratch! (I’m also still enjoying Xenoblade Chronicles.) Why would I do this again, after the game’s release in 2020, having built up a previous island over hundreds of hours?

First, because it’s a great game! Replay-ability is proof. Starting over, spending many more hours of escapism on a casual island, means the gameplay and setting must be compelling, and I really like it.

In fact, I’ve always liked Animal Crossing since its GameCube debut. Much later, I played Animal Crossing: New Leaf until starting anew with the current series entry, New Horizons. So yes, replaying now isn’t too surprising.

All that said, the reality is a bit more pragmatic. I didn’t have much choice but to start over. My old island still exists…on my older Switch. I bought a new Switch OLED that has a larger and more vibrant display on which to play a game like AC:NH. But due to the restrictions of moving to a new island, transferring your old island and/or Nintendo linked user account…ugh! It’s kind of a major hassle.

After reading in-game instructions and watching YouTube tutorials, my situation is such that I had to start a new island, so I did. 

I don’t mind so much because this second run should be better as I can now apply lessons learned from my first island. And though I was the island representative before, as I am now, this time I’m not sharing my Switch or my island with other residents.

It’s not that I dislike co-op play or socializing with in-game friends, it’s that now I need not be concerned with other players having agency (read/write capabilities) over the island. So now I can really do whatever I want on my very own tropical paradise — nice!

AC:NH is one of those types of games that works great on a handheld console with a small display. Most of the games I play are tailored to look good on a big living room TV but, though playable, look too diminished (squinty text) on a portable screen. So while I mostly play epic JRPGs on a giant monitor, I’m glad to now have easy access to my own Switch with its own Animal Crossing island.

This is a nice balance for a Nintendo Switch gamer. Sometimes I’m in Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition, a massive world laden with lore and heavy gameplay mechanics spread across an expansive display. Then I kick back with a super-chill island, casual gameplay, and the mild social life-sim of AC:NH on an up-close-and-personal screen. These are two sides of the coin of escapism.

Restarting Animal Crossing, new horizons are new again.

Have you played Animal Crossing: New Horizons?

2023 Foresight

With a focus on computing and gaming, here are two things to look forward to this year. One is a super computer. The other: a fantastic game…that cannot be played on that super computer but rather on the equivalent of a six year old Android tablet!

Mac Pro

Though rumors suggest Apple might release mixed reality glasses this year, I doubt it. What can be expected, of course, are the usual iterations to its existing hardware lineup: new versions of iPhone etc.

The one new device to come should be the Mac Pro, as Apple had intended to update all its Macs with new Apple silicon chips in a 2-year time frame that’s now behind us. The Mac Pro is the last, and biggest, computer that’s yet to leave Intel chips behind. That said, there’s a notion that last year’s Mac Studio is already “Mac Pro” enough.

In any case, those high-end things are far more machine than I’d ever need; my M1 MacBook Air is still — after one year of usage so far — plenty fast and powerful!

Now, if Apple’s expensive and impressive computers ran the latest PC games at full specs, then maybe…and speaking of gaming…

Tears of the Kingdom

A mainline Zelda title only comes once every handful of years. The last one, Breath of the Wild, won Game of the Year 2017. It’s arguably the best Zelda title in the highly acclaimed franchise. And its sequel, Tears of the Kingdom, is scheduled to release May 12, 2023. It also won The Game Awards 2022, Most Anticipated Game. So, yes, there are high expectations for it. 

With its pedigree, TotK stands a chance to run for GotY 2023. Most remarkable about this is the fact that it will run on gaming hardware that will be over six years old. It’s also likely one of the last major Nintendo titles for the aging Switch platform.

Having played through Tears of the Kingdom’s predecessor BotW on the Wii U, I’m eager to see how much better this late hardware cycle game looks and feels on the Switch. I’m also curious to know how Nintendo will meet or exceed the level of greatness that is BotW. Will Tears of the Kingdom be emotionally gripping? Who might cry? What if Link, Zelda, or Epona dies?

More to come

There are many things one can look forward to this year. New devices, books, movies, or games. Maybe your favorite artist will release their newest album.

I’m not looking forward to all that much. Tears of the Kingdom, after a long delay, should prove to be worth the wait. With each passing day, that wait only gets shorter. Yet I still can’t wait.

What’s got you excited for this year?

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?

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?

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?

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?

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?

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?

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?

Piling Up The Role Playing Games

My RPG game time has been on pause for a while. I’ve been casually playing Minecraft and taking a break from gaming in general. But thanks to a recent birthday gift — Xenoblade Chronicles 3 — landing in my controller-hands, I’m motivated; unpause the role-playing! It’s going to take a focus on other fun for a while before I can get to enjoy XC3 though.

I’ve had a few “paused” games I should finish first: Octopath Traveler and Bravely Default II. I’m about 3/4 through each of them. So finishing shouldn’t take too long. In fact, I finally finished the main story for Pokémon Legends Arceus on my birthday. After those, I plan to play Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition before XC3. Hopefully by that point I won’t be getting burned out. It’s a lot of rich RPG goodness!

Let’s say I somehow pull all that off over the next few months. Great. Then I plan to sink my teeth into…Octopath Traveler II, releasing next February. Ideally, I’d finish it by May when Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom takes over my free-time.

Here’s my proposed gaming calendar:

  • Oct ’22 — Arceus
  • Nov ’22 — Octopath
  • Dec ’22 — BD II
  • Jan-Feb ’23 — XC:DE
  • Feb-Mar ’23 — XC3
  • Apr-May ’23 — Octopath II
  • May-Jun ’23 — Tears of the Kingdom

Is that feasible for me? Well, probably not. That’s a lot of big RPGs back to back with no palate cleansing in between. But hey, gotta have gaming goals. In my household where 7 people share 2 Switches, it’s not so easy to find game time. Also, working full-time…takes time. #adulting

The real ideal, I think, should be to enjoy these games like I did when I was a kid: as if I had only one to play. Instead of feeling like I need to hurry up and get through them all, I should slow down and savor each one to the fullest. Rather than be concerned that I might lose time to play one or more RPGs, I should pretend I have just the one in front of me, sink into it, and play it for all its worth without haste.

In any case, I’ll need to pause book reading to some degree; it’s game time. But there’s no pause button for blogging.

Have you played XC3? How do you manage time for all your hobbies?

Google Kills Again

In both gaming and tech news, Google is shutting down another service, Stadia, surprising about 0.0 people, I think. Its cloud gaming was nebulous.

From The Verge,

“Google has a habit of killing projects only a few years after they launch…”

Not surprising yet disappointing for many, though I never got into Stadia myself.

On a brighter note, this news ties into a hunch I’ve had, that Google has no plans to sunset Blogger. Why? Because it’s been around far longer than a few years. Also, it’s used by reportedly millions — including myself.

I think Google has had much time and opportunity to axe Blogger, yet it hasn’t. Somehow, for example, Blogger survived partial integration with and then disintegration from Google+. This doesn’t mean the company will never end all the blog-spots, but it suggests maybe they’ll leave well-enough alone.

That’s my hope.

As for people who use Stadia, I’m glad they’re getting a full refund on their investment. But I imagine it’s still a punch to the stomach.

At least Google has stuck with Search, Gmail, and Docs. Also, its YouTube acquisition seems to be paying off a bit, not to forget about Blogger of course.

Did you use Stadia? What’s your take?

Xenoblade Chronicles 3 Hits Hype Zenith

The time has come. How good, or not, is the latest title in the Xenoblade franchise? Does it meet or exceed expectations? I’m avoiding details and spoilers, but review embargoes for Xenoblade Chronicles 3 have lifted. The initial scores and praise overall are great – fueling hype – as the JRPG could be in the running for game of the year. I’ve not played it yet, but of course it’s on my wish list.

Here are several sites – with links to reviews – and their scores. While the scoring systems vary and are subjective, the point they all drive home together is that XC3 is anywhere from good to excellent.

The overall ratings give a very positive general impression of the game as one well worth the money to buy and the time to play. I can’t wait.

There seems to be a consensus that Xenoblade Chronicles 3excels with its grand story. Its weakest point may be the ambitious graphics pushing the dated Switch hardware to its limits (queue the “Switch Pro”). Besides story and presentation, its gameplay sounds great.

As if there wasn’t enough hype already, here are some choice quotes from reviewers:

“We could go on and on about the combat here but what Monolith Soft has come up with is one of the very best battle systems we’ve ever had the joy of getting to grips with…”
“Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is a genuine masterpiece and the highlight of Monolith Soft’s superb series thus far.”
PJ O’Reilly – Nintendo Life

“I strongly believe that Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is a modern JRPG masterpiece.”
Josh Torres / Adam Vitale – RPG Site

“Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is another heartfelt adventure paired with some of the best combat in the series.”
Jake Dekker – Gamespot

“Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is another excellent JRPG with great characters, a unique world, and addictive tactical combat that remains entertaining even after the over 150 hours it took to complete it.”
Travis Northup – IGN

“Monolith Soft has crafted a JRPG that is so colossal yet also intricately focused. It delivers an experience that iterates upon everything its predecessors managed to achieve, resulting in a masterpiece that I am utterly enraptured by.”
Jade King – The Gamer

“Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is a culmination of lessons learned from developer Monolith Soft’s past projects, and a best-in-class JRPG that’s a must-play.”
Cody Gavelle – Screen Rant

“… it delivers a story its creators have been building toward for years…”
Autumn Wright – Polygon

”It’s a highly cinematic, mindfully crafted JRPG with a story that hasn’t let me down.”
Jess Reyes – Digital Trends

That’s a good sampling of the most positive reviews I found online. They help me get a taste of what to expect from XC3. Maybe I should go in more blindly; I already expected greatness. The reviews simply confirm that Nintendo and Monolith Soft have released an RPG that’s a must-play title. Hand me the controller, please.

Will you be picking up Xenoblade Chronicles 3 on release day, June 29th? What other game(s) are you looking forward to?

Xenoblade Chronicles X Resume

When it comes to gaming, I like to enjoy a good JRPG. One of the more lauded examples of the genre in recent years has been the Xenoblade Chronicles series, at least on the Nintendo side of things. My first plunge into the Xenoverse was Xenoblade Chronicles X on the Wii U. There was something about the game that compelled me to pick it up a few years ago, and I’m so glad I did.

At the time in 2018, the Switch was the new hotness, but I had picked up a used Wii U. The first game I played and beat on it was Zelda: Breath of the Wild. I grabbed other good games for the system too, but I longed to play a modern RPG that would engage me like when I first played Final Fantasy VI (FFIII on SNES) in the 90s. On the Wii U, with a dearth of games overall, Xenoblade Chronicles X happened to be, I think, the only RPG available. So it had to be great; I needed it to be.

Having read several promising reviews of the game, there I was at my local GameStop, eyeballing the beckoning box art of XCX, with its giant mech dwarfing minuscule characters next to it, overlooking an intriguing sci-fi fantasy vista. Though one shouldn’t judge a game by its cover, XCX‘s was very compelling. If the game proved to be half as cool as the box art, then I knew I’d be in for a real treat.

The proof was in the gameplay pudding. Once I fired up XCX on my Wii U, I was blown away by the opening cut scenes and the gorgeous open-world exploration. With enthralling world design and engaging combat, the game kept me glued for a while, but then I set it aside for a couple years once I got a Switch. Since then, Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition(now on my backlog) was released, and soon Xenoblade Chronicles 3 will launch.

All that Xenoness re-awakened the allure of XCX, which was packed in a closet with my Wii U. So this week I dusted it off, hooked it up, and made 3 hours instantly vanish in a flash while I rediscovered the lush world of Mira, my unique avatar character, and resumed progress on my latest mission. Previously, I had finished Chapter 6 before pausing my game, so I reported in and…finally started the Skell mission!

At just over 40 hours of game time, I’m still learning to grasp the rich combat, class, and gear systems, but suffice to say I love the game overall; exploration is easily its best feature. Combining all that with the good-enough main story plus the myriad of side quests, Xenoblade Chronicles X is hugely impressive and immersive. Oh, and have you heard the soundtrack for it? You should.

When Xenoblade Chronicles 3 was announced back in February, I finally moved Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition from my wishlist to my backlog so I could start the first mainline Xenoblade adventure, hoping to have it completed before XC3would be released. But that’s not how things turned out. Instead, I’m just now resuming XCX because, if nothing else, I must obtain my first Skell! And the game is so good, how can I not continue to enjoy it?

I’ll likely play XCX for a while and then “pause” it to start XC:DE. Eventually, I hope to enjoy XC3. With all that, I’ll have no time to play XC2. So that’s several hundred hours of Xenoplay. Of course, I’m also juggling other RPGs…almost finished the main story in Pokémon Legends’ Arceus.

I’d love for Monolith Soft to port XCX to the Switch in its own Definitive Edition, making it more accessible to many players who otherwise might have missed it. Better yet, port the game to a future “Switch Pro” in 4K resolution! In any case, just make the tiny text more legible. And while using the Wii U gamepad to navigate the game’s map and interact with probes was nice, these features can be done on the Switch display too.

For a really great explanation of why XCX should port to Switch, check out this new video.

I remember when Final Fantasy moved from the Super NES to the PlayStation, leaving Nintendo kind of empty handed when it comes to RPGs. Years later, when Xenoblade arrived on the Wii, though I missed it then, I eventually got onboard. Now Nintendo has a strong exclusive RPG franchise with three, soon to be four, solid titles plus expansions. I hope this trend continues with XCX porting to Switch along with more new mainline Xenoblade games.

At the very least, Skells and true open-world exploration should be brought into future Xenoblade games.

What Xenoblade games have you played, and which is your favorite? Would you play XCX if ported to Switch, or would you stick with the mainline games? How does Xenoblade compare to Horizon Forbidden West?

Revisiting RPG Towns

A few months ago, when I was a staff writer at RPGamer, I drafted a couple overviews of towns in RPGs that struck me in a special way. The whole piece, which includes several other authors’ views of towns that they enjoyed, was recently published for all to read.

I talked about Cosmo Canyon in Final Fantasy VII and Onett in Earthbound. Check it out below!

A Place to Return To, Part 1: RPGamer’s Favorite Towns

Have you visited any of these towns? What is your favorite town or place among all the RPGs, or any video game, you’ve ever played?

Xenoblade Chronicles 3 Preview

Nintendo’s recent Direct, a 24 minute bonanza of flashy gameplay and polished cutscenes, aptly hyped an epic RPG that’s set to release next month. I was already happy to plunk down the coin for this upcoming title. Yet now the anticipation is overflowing for Xenoblade Chronicles 3.

I mentioned the game earlier this year when I finally got my first copy of the original Xenoblade Chronicles…well, the re-released Definitive Edition for Switch. I know, I know…how have I never played this renowned RPG? I could explain…but suffice to say I plan to fix that. Soon! The only series title I’ve played is Xenoblade Chronicles X on Wii U. And facepalm…I didn’t finish it…yet…

Now that I’m hyped for XC3, there’s a timing issue. I should first play XC1, a long RPG itself. Ah, but here’s the rub: I’m currently playing through Pokémon Legends Arceus and plan to jump back to Octopath Traveler and Bravely Default II soon after to finish those two awesome games.

It’s the typical conundrum: so many RPGs, so little time. And yes, it’s a great problem to have.

Will the hype of XC3 overtake me, pushing the new game to the forefront? Might it catapult itself from wishlist to backlog to can’t-pry-the-controller-from-my-hands?

As if the base game wasn’t enough by itself, there’s also an Expansion Pass full of extra content, in multiple waves, planned for release. Also, if you’re lucky, you can score a Special Edition of the game.

Life: pause; game: play. If only it were so easy.

Will you be playing Xenoblade Chronicles 3 on launch day or will you backlog it? Or would you rather read a good book, watch a movie, or escape screens altogether and go outside?

Pokémon Legends Arceus Impression

Last September, I wrote an editorial at RPGamer about Pokémon Legends Arceus, anticipating its open-world gameplay and reasoning how good it could be. Now I’m finally adventuring in the game and, after ten hours of playtime, I can say it’s impressive, fun, and delivers on my expectations. So, yeah, it’s good! My starter: Rowlet.


Let me address the game’s apparently lackluster visuals. There seems to be a solid consensus online that the graphic presentation is sub-par. Textures are simple, details suffer, and the open-world areas are sparse. There also seems to be mediocre shading and lighting. But in my view, the visuals are fine, if not good. Character models are well done, Pokémon look great, and the art style fits the anime genre. Also note that the animation is always very smooth – no dropped frames. It’s very important to see smooth gameplay, even if it means sacrificing some graphical details.

The audio is what’s to be expected of a Pokémon game, with sound effects common to the series. Ambient background music is not very memorable but it sets the tone. I quite like the quaint track within Jubilife Village at the outset.


Gameplay is where Arceus shines brightest. The thing I looked forward to most is where the game delivers best: exploring the large open-world areas and catching Pokémon is a delight. Terrain is varied with hills, water bodies, trees, canyons, and caves. It’s expansive in both horizontal and vertical directions. And the atmosphere changes with both weather and day/night cycles. This makes traversing the setting of the Hisui region full of fun and discovery.

And of course, there are Pokémon everywhere! They appear at different times of day, in different areas, and I think during different weather too. I’ve only scratched the first area so far, but I’ve already caught or defeated many creatures, including a few Alphas.

Catching Pokémon is fun without being too difficult, as the controls are executed well, so while sometimes it’s challenging, overall it’s enjoyable. Target Pokémon with ZL and throw a ball with ZR. It’s easy enough to change what balls you throw (to catch) or what Pokémon you throw (to battle). You can even crouch to quietly sneak up on them, which is fun. Other times, you will want to run and/or roll to evade encounters.

Battling Pokémon is about as easy and fun, yet challenging, as catching them. So far, you simply level up with experience and learn new moves to be more effective in battle. Use the right types of moves against the right types of Pokémon to increase efficiency in fighting and ensure your survival. The strong versus agile styles mechanic adds a bit of depth but seems simple so far. Agile style is good to increase your speed or move count in battle, so you can get more consecutive turns. Use one to attack and one to heal, for example, before the enemy gets a chance to drain hit points or incapacitate you with a status effect.


Having finished the first major area, the game’s story is straightforward, which is a far cry from the convoluted plots of a series like Final Fantasy. Your character is specially equipped for the task of catching, battling, and researching Pokémon to complete the Pokédex. There’s also a somewhat linear progression in the main story arc, which you can move forward anytime you’re ready to pause exploring an open area. There are occasional side quests too that seem mostly skippable, offering a few nice items but nothing you can’t live without.

Speaking of items, there are many to collect and use for luring Pokémon or crafting into other items. So far, I find most items unnecessary. They’re easy enough to collect, and I store them in crates since my satchel is small, limiting the items I can carry around the field. I’ve expanded slots in my satchel to carry more items at once, but it’s still easy to run out of space. Maybe items will become more useful later in the game. Menus are presented well enough to manage Pokémon and item inventory.

Overall Impression

Arceus is an open-world action-adventure turn-based RPG. Your character doesn’t have a class, weapons, or armor. Instead, your “party” consists of six Pokémon at a time, each one a different type that can evolve into stronger forms, and each one having certain attack types. It’s very similar to Pokémon Sword or other mainline games in the series while being more open and flexible in the field and lacking the numerous gyms and towns.

I’m enjoying the game as much as I anticipated because the main draw – open-world exploration and catching Pokémon – is as well done and fun as I hoped. It’s simple and casual, offering a refreshingly easy RPG to enjoy. On top of that, I’m happy to finally meet new characters in the game as they also appear in the Trading Card Game, like the trainer Zisu and new Pokémon like Wyrdeer.

If you like Pokémon and video gaming, then I’m sure you would enjoy Pokémon Legends Arceus. I’m looking forward to completing the game’s main story and learning more about the legendary Arceus.

Have you played Arceus? Is it on your wishlist or backlog? Are you waiting for Pokémon Scarlet/Violet?

Imagining Apple GamePod

This week I happened upon a YouTube video covering rumors or leaks about a potential new device from Apple that’s focused on playing games. The company may be developing its own hybrid handheld game console similar to the Nintendo Switch. What!?

Questioning the potential

I don’t think Apple makes new devices without serious consideration. When it does, it typically introduces a hit product. But not every device Apple makes (HomePod, for example) sees success. So while I’d be one of the first to get excited for a shiny new Apple gadget, the big question is, can Apple seriously enter the gaming industry and compete with Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo? And if it did, how would its success be measured?

There’s precedent. Microsoft, the Windows and Office company, launched the Xbox long ago, which has mostly thrived, albeit the market it released in was different back then. Likewise, Apple, once solely a computer company, pivoted to a mobile devices company and later added services.

Consider that Apple recently entered the TV/Movie industry to stream videos among established rivals like Netflix, and it appears successful so far. If Apple’s resolve is serious, it has the talent and the capital to pull off a gaming device…by the numbers. 

Besides engineering and financing power, it also has a powerful brand, one that’s aspirational, popular, and trusted for quality and privacy. With that, Apple has clout and connections in the entertainment industry with Apple Music, Beats, and Apple TV+. 

But is all that enough? What about developing or publishing triple-A titles exclusive to its platform? How would it leverage Apple Arcade? Would there be an Apple Arcade “Pro” or “Plus” tier that costs more to allow ‘AAA’ games?

Pushing into gaming

Before answering games and software questions, though, for gamers to take Apple seriously, there’s one clear sign the company would have to display at the outset: buttons.

I’m talking about real, physical, tactile, buttons like those found on most game controllers. While Apple has often eschewed buttons, it would need to think different. There are two things gamers don’t want:

  1. Mobile games (with gacha mechanics) playable on a console. 
  2. Console games playable with only touch controls. 

A leading example, Nintendo is known for innovating game controls, and even when it fully moved to motion controls on the Wii, the unique controllers retained physical buttons.

Imagining a GamePod

I can imagine a future with Apple being among the other big three companies, publishing (but not likely developing) exclusive major console titles. I can also imagine Apple making a Switch-like game machine (an expensive one for sure) with excellent CPU and GPU performance using a variant of its already stellar M1 line of chips — I’d say make them the “G” series for gaming and GPU focus.

Apple GamePod could feature:

  • All-new G1 system on a chip
  • All-new control interface the follows the innovations of the click-wheel, multi-touch display, and digital crown
  • Built-in Apple Arcade and GameCenter
  • All-new gameOS
  • AirPlay enabled audio
  • Play through HomePod mini or AirPods
  • Connect to Apple TV
  • Sync and backup games via iCloud to continue gaming on all your devices
  • Retina display

There’s much to consider with Apple possibly entering the gaming market. Apple would hopefully think of new ways to “solve gaming” unlike what’s been done before. I have more questions than answers overall. But that said, if Apple makes something like a “GamePod,” I’d be sorely tempted to buy it on launch day.

RPGamer Editorial April 2022

In my latest editorial at RPGamer, I share why RPGs should have overworlds and why I like them.

Ode To The Overworld

“I’m not over the moon for the overworld, but I do love a good one and, like many gamers, prefer titles with one rather than without. It’s a staple of RPGs that shouldn’t be overlooked or underappreciated.”

I Am Setsuna Backlogged

Thanks to a generous sale, I added another RPG to my backlog this week. I am Setsuna has been on my wishlist for a while now, and it moved to the front burner this week when I found a new positive review of the game at The-Pixels. Later, when I looked and saw the game was 50% off, my Switch’s memory card welcomed the new download.

I am Setsuna is inspired by classic JRPGs of the 90s and is said to be nostalgic, which I think is enough for me to want to play it. But the game is said to feature more as well. Screen shots indicated the game has good visual presentation. Combat seems good too. The story might be a bit linear and simple, but that’s okay with me. A straightforward tale and quest isn’t necessarily bad or mediocre; sometimes less is more. 

One other trait of the title that sold me is its relatively short playtime at around 20 to 30 hours. I appreciate quality RPGs that take less time to finish than their mega-long counterparts. I like to squeeze a short game or two in between 60+ hours roleplaying adventures. I guess my brain just needs some breathing room every now and then.

Hopefully this game will take up some of my playtime this year; I’ve been looking forward to experiencing it. The title just seems special to me somehow. I have a feeling it has a chance to end up as one of my personal favorites, like it might be one of those overlooked or under appreciated gems.

Have you played I am Setsuna?

A Tome About Japanese Role-Playing Games

The only game guides I ever bought were thin magazine-like booklets, having stratagems for one game…until last year. That’s when I discovered Bitmap Books and their awesome tome A Guide to Japanese Role-Playing Games. Here’s your up front call to action: if you’re a fan of the RPG genre and are able to purchase this wonderful reference book, do yourself a favor and order it a.s.a.p. You will not be disappointed.

I’m not sure why I haven’t already written about it, but better late than never. What prompted me was its constant presence. I keep the book within reach, prominently atop my bedside dresser or desk. The large hardback book with magenta binding and colorful cover is simply good looking and worthy of display. It catches my eye (usually the left one) every time I’m near it.

The overall quality of the cover, binding, pages, ink, and printing is, to my untrained eyes, excellent. The shipping package was also considerable and impressive. It arrived from England to my Texas home quickly and in excellent condition. I can tell Bitmap Books puts great care into its products.

The book’s organization and layout with sections and headers is clear and easy to follow. And looking up games is fast and simple thanks to its thorough index. Each game has a few screenshots and an overview or synopsis with what seems to be the most relevant information about it. The guide is not exhaustive but is comprehensive, so you won’t find a wiki-amount of info for the games, but you’ll find out about the main or essential elements of each game.

It’s an indispensable tool — a tangible one in this age of the internet — and an inviting big picture look at the breadth and wealth (and a bit of depth) the JRPG genre offers. I especially appreciate the authors’ care in defining the genre as it started and has come to be known today, along with some history and other general pertinent info about JRPGs.

I’m a fan of JRPGs and of this excellent book. I’ll also say I’m am very interested in buying more physical goods from Bitmap Books. In our digital age, only the best physical products are worth an investment; A Guide to Japanese Role-Playing Games is one of them. And if this tome is updated with added JRPGs in the future, or a volume two is released, I will definitely buy it.