Atelier Firis DX: The Alchemist And The Mysterious Journey (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £32.99 (or £74.22 for this, Sophie DX, and Lydie and Suelle DX)
Where To Get It: Steam

Time limits. My ancient nemesis. Why, I haven’t seen you since… Come to think of it, I haven’t played an RPG with time limits since Recettear. Huh.

Anyway, before I go on, I will mention they’re quite generous unless you want to do aaaaall the sidequesting, but, can’t lie, I’ve been spoiled by the recent ones and feel like it’s antithetical to cute alchemist chill times.

Well, except maybe in Escha & Logy, what with the whole “World on the verge of ruin” dealio. Anyway, bitching over, time to talk about cute alchemist funtimes. Because, oh look, it’s still a quality series.

I feel you, Firis. I feel you.

And this installment… Apart from the ones I haven’t played (most of the earlier ones), this is perhaps the saddest beginning. Little bird Firis, trapped in a stone cage, barred with an iron door.

I mean, the cage is actually a mining town, and she has a valued job because she can “hear” gathering points (ores is specifically what she was trained for), but… A cage all the same, and she wants to see the blue sky, feel the wind… The world outside, dagnabbit!

Well, obviously it’d be a short game if she didn’t find a way to leave, but… It’s an emotional beginning, all the same. And then, of course, it’s cute alchemist funtimes, with cute alchemist obsta-

Obligatory Random Barrel Text Screenshot. Also, yes, this is before I got to the actual building part of the questline.

Ah. Let’s talk a little about Flussheim. Flussheim is not my favourite place in Atelier Firis. In fact, it seems to serve almost solely as something to make the clock flow by. Long runs from objective to objective, a small mazelike portion of the map where I waste a day on average trying to get to the two shops there during their opening hours, and your first mass alchemy. Oh boy. I hope you were collecting ingredients despite feeling the time pressure, otherwise you’re going to be spending time gathering ingredients. 40 metals. 30 fuel. I forget the others, but in addition to the other quest item requirements, you can pretty much expect to be a pro at Ingots, and spend several days, probably around 20 or 30, just making this one thing.

This killed my buzz pretty quickly. Up to this point, I’d been happily gathering, getting new recipes, meeting new folks, chuckling as an old lady very obviously put us through the wringer with chores for the sake of putting us through the wringer (oh, you cunning old biddy), engaging with the turn based combat and making new friends to fight with, pretty much all of them useful in some fashion in the party, enjoying the aesthetic…

I didn’t check out during Flussheim’s final step. But god, I was tempted, and I think, honestly, this point in the game is going to be where people get put off from finishing. It’s a segment of the game that doesn’t respect your time. And what with the time pressure, it’s a frustrating, evil segment that brings the rest down.

Some of the combat animations are great. Suffice to say, she wrecks face with this skill.

The rest of the game is fine, and indeed, once you’ve gotten through the alchemy exam, the time limits go away, and it remains cute alchemist funtimes, with great music, well designed enemies, cool crafting with puzzle elements (Addition: Oh hi there, colourblind unfriendly ingredient colours!), interesting places… But I can’t say I’m fond of time constraints, however generous, and I’m even less fond of them after encountering Flussheim. And I’m also less fond of Atelier Firis.

In conclusion? Firis is one of the weaker entries I’ve encountered so far in the series.

Which is a shame, because otherwise, it’s a fun story.

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Atelier Sophie DX: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £32.99 (or £74.22 for the whole trilogy of Sophie, Firis, and Lydie and Suelle)
Where To Get It: Steam

Atelier Sophie, The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book, and indeed, the first in the Mysterious Trilogy of the Atelier series, starts off with a bang. In Lydie & Suelle, we had a missing mom, and trashdad. In Firis, we had the feeling of being a bird in a cage, needing to be free.

In Sophie, we encounter a talking alchemy book that has lost its memories. A very snarky talking book too.

Suffice to say, I like Plachta.

Happens all the time, Sophie, it’s no big! (NARRATOR: But it is a big)

In any case, best to mention the gist of the Atelier games, as this’ll be the first posted of the two parts of the Mysterious Trilogy I haven’t covered: Cute alchemists go on adventures, relatively low stakes until suddenly it’s not, with a puzzle-like crafting system, turn based combat (this time, it varies), and a beautiful world filled with characterful people. By this point, they’d been at the Atelier games for 16 previous games, iterating and testing each time, so for the most part, they’ve got the formula polished (although they experiment to this day.) It’s fun stuff.

It’s also the first Atelier game I’ve played (I have yet to play most of the series) where the stakes introduce themselves pretty early, in the form of a pair of very sus folks. We’ll not go into details, but suffice to say, there’s heavy foreshadowing in the game, and I’m okay with this.


Aesthetically, well… It be an Atelier game. Cool tunes, great character designs, beautiful landscapes to pick flowers and mine from and murder punis in… I haven’t had a complaint yet in terms of aesthetics, and this is no different.

So… Mechanically? Storywise? Any particular problem segments? Not really. The game has some small bugs, but otherwise, it has an interesting take on the usual alchemy funtimes (Where you can improve your cauldron for better effect, rotating parts, that sort of funtime), locations are more limited, but you can revisit them quickly (for greater risk), combat’s very much about chaining things together, although this isn’t terribly difficult, and the game has no timer. Plot is, in fact, based on unlocking recipes, which does, on the one hand, mean you’re grinding things out, but you’re going to be grinding things out anyway, because holy shit, you’ll need those bombs and unis and other weapons of alchemic destruction.

Crafting in Sophie and Firis is similarish, so here’s a good ol’ screenshot of making a nice, low stakes creation.

But while, of this trilogy, Lydie & Suelle is my favourite, Sophie comes a close second. I’m enjoying my time with the cast, many of whom return in later games. Including Sophie herself.

As with any Atelier game, if you like cute alchemists, crafting, low stakes gameplay until the latter half of the game, and JRPG funtimes, then yes, Atelier Sophie is a good pick.

Look, cute alchemists doing cute alchemist things, only needing to save the world in the third act? This is extremely my jam. Gimme the Dusk Trilogy. Do it. I’ll do a Going Back on those too!

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Atelier Ryza 2: Lost Legends and the Secret Fairy (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £49.99 (digital deluxe £59.99, Season Pass (argh) £36.99)
Where To Get It: Steam

Ah, we’re back to the Atelier series, and so soon! So yes, as a quick refresher, the Atelier series is a JRPG series about cute alchemists doing cute alchemist things, meeting people, getting ingredients, beating up monsters, synthesising new things, and, after a relatively slow burn, saving the world. It’s usually pretty good stuff.

Doing this this early was a mistake. But a fun one.

Now, the other thing about the Atelier series is that it changes the formula up somewhat nearly every time. So, while time limits on the overall story still appear to not be here (yay!), the combat system is different from Lydie & Suelle, the alchemy system is different, maps are different… And I like most of these changes. One, in particular, I’m not a huge fan of.

There is a world map with shortcuts. There is a minimap both in the main city portion and the various biomes you encounter. You know what isn’t there? A minimap inside buildings. There is a fast travel menu in the city from the world map, but honestly, that feels a bit backasswards from the way Lydie and Suelle did it. I sorta get it overall, there are people who will have quests for you, so you need to be running through the city to meet them (and, as usual, alchemical ingredients can be found in town), but…

Oh dear. Oh dear oh dear…

Look, I get lost easily. And, to rub a little salt in, there is… A colourblindness issue with the door type objectives. Specifically, it’s difficult to tell what is a door you need to go through for the objective, and what… Is not. There’s a small difference in shade. That’s it.

Not cool.

Otherwise, though, Atelier Ryza’s second installment has a lot of cool stuff, the grind remains as mellow and, honestly, low key as ever, and the characters remain charming and interesting, from the folks you meet around town (oh, Ryza, why do you keep getting in trouble like this, huh?), to the main characters themselves. It looks damn pretty, the story is a little higher stakes from the beginning (as the ruins information rapidly makes it clear that yes, things are afoot in ye ancient ruins), the soundtrack remains as chill as seems to be the case (until it needs to be otherwise, and it’s alright at that too)…

Hrm… Yes. I see… Interesting… And other noises of academic interest fitting for the moment…

So, what about them lost legends, huh? Well, that’s one of the more interesting additions. Effectively, you’re piecing together the story of ancient ruins, with the help of a magic mcguffin and deduction, in order to learn more about the situation you’re in, and about the fairy wot hatched from an egg you got given at the beginning of the game. Called Fii. Who goes Fiii!

Shush, they’re extremely cute, I will hear no bad words against them. It’s honestly not a bad system, though, because it encourages exploration of the ruins themselves, and filling in blanks.

Gripes about the map aside, I can’t really think of any critique that would significantly improve the game. What little quality of life it lacks, is easily fixed, and the rest just… Works. It’s a solid game about cute alchemists doing cute alchemist things, befriending many, crafting stuff incessantly for various reasons, whaling on monsters for various reasons, with a relatively chill difficulty curve, and an equally chill lack of pressure. You take it at your own pace, and, so long as you don’t mind a fair bit of repetition in your routine, then yeah, this is a solid JRPG to play.

I really can’t complain when I can make a beatstick specifically for early enemies.

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Hardspace: Shipbreaker (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £21.99 (Soundtrack £6.99)
Where To Get It: Steam

If there’s one thing we can be sad about with Hardspace: Shipbreaker, it’s that we can’t huck segments of the ship, especially kersplodey ones, at Corporate. Then again, I can imagine we aren’t the first cutter to be disgruntled and think about that, so they might have giant cannons for just such an eventuality.

One of those “Last things you’ll see” moments. Whoopsie.

Anyway, yes, Hardspace: Shipbreaker is a game about dismantling spaceships in a dystopian hellscape where you are a clone whose processable (not furnaceable) worth is approximately $8. Armed with substandard tools you can improve (and later buy) thanks to completing work orders, and slowly, ever so slowly reducing a billion in debt, you cut up ships and yeet the various portions into the right trash receptacles for recycling, for your corporate masters.

You’re also a clone without a union, so no, diving into one of the three processing areas is a no-go, I’m afraid. You can, to be fair, set your number of clones between infinite, 30 total til game over, and none. Don’t pick none, you will die at least once learning the ropes.

I did, eventually, work out a way of getting these parts apart without this happening. Eventually.

It’s actually pretty relaxing, although there are motion sickness warnings for six degrees of freedom movement and the odd thing that’s moving while you’re looking at something that’s not. And with only a few tools, it’s pretty easy to learn the ropes. Cutting tool in focused mode for getting rid of cutting points or smaller metal plates you just want off to get the sodding airlock already, line cutter for when you’ve got metal things connected you don’t want. Grapple tool, its tether, and force push for moving stuff to the right receptacle and picking up even most things that are nailed down, visor to see the harder to see stuff to shove in the barge or destroy, and demo charges for when you can’t cut the bastard (nanocarbon or cut guard), but you want the damn thing gone. Simple!

…Except a friend just told me I can get rid of cut guards with a charged force push. Fuck my life.

Spooky ship, spooky ship, scares you just like a spooky ship…

The aesthetic is pretty cool, although glitch effects annoy the hell out of me, as does a resetting windowed mode, the UX is pretty clear, the music… Well, it’s space trucker guitars, I have no problem with space trucker guitars for, essentially, working yourself for the company store. The three base ship designs and their variations are pretty cool, each with their own challenges (sod you, Javelin, and your backasswards way of building a ship. I hate ensuring your individual toroids don’t snatch up the core of the ship, or drag the whole thing into the wrong station, and you are my nemesis), so… Yeah, I’m liking it on the aesthetic front.

But I also love me some worldbuilding, and, through collecting data boxes, we see just how shit a company Lynx is… And the mystery behind the AI nodes hiding in the Ghost Ships you encounter later on. It’s really not much of a spoiler to say “Someone done fucked up their if-whiles”…

This one isn’t the biggest. Even at the current stage.

Shipbreaker is pretty far along from the looks of things, and I’d love to see multiplayer, but as it is? Granular difficulty’s fun, the world’s fun, the game modes are fun, and if you’re into just chilling out for an hour or two with some mild swearing, a session of Shipbreaker is a good way to do it.

(EDIT: Well, ain’t my timing great. I published this, then found out the story update is hitting soon. Ah well, enjoy the story, I’m certain it’s suitably dystopian!)

Taaake me hoooome, hyperspace roooaaaads…

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Conan: Exiles (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £33.99 base game (£21 for the “Added goodie bag” content, or £54.99 for the whole deal)
Where To Get It: Steam

NOTE: Conan: Exiles is a game that comes in 3 flavours with the same base game/maps – PvP, PvE, and Single-Player/Co-Op. The majority of the review touches on the Single-Player experience. Thankew.

Conan: Exiles is a lot of things. The problem being, it takes a hell of a time to get to a lot of it, as, originally, Conan was a survival MMO. It shows, as the single player, on normal difficulty, is… Hell. To the point where I look at other reviews, and wonder what game these folks have been playing.

Approximately 15 seconds before the *first* time I lose all my kit to this small Darfari camp, and about 30 minutes before I switch to Easy difficulty.

For example, the usual survival game rule of “You die, you lose all the stuff it took you ages to craft” comes into play. In the very early game, this isn’t so much a problem. Woo, you need to get some stone and wood, and make a sword, some plant fiber, make some clothes. Big deal. But the further you get, the more of a pain this becomes. Got iron weapons? Odds are high this means you’re taking on things that need iron weapons, which means… Good luck getting your corpse back, and equally good luck with the trek to your nearest iron deposit (hopefully restocked), fending off the beasties there, harvesting, trekking back… It’s a game with a pretty hefty buy-in to each stage of the game, time and resource investment wise, and even the gains you’ve made in terms of buildings can be undone by… The Purge. Aka “A horde of AI that attacks at randomish times once you’ve gotten to capturing Thralls.”

CONTENT WARNING: Aside from the naked bits that people joke about, Slavery is a core mechanic of the game, treated pretty much as *a mechanic* . You have been warned.

If you’ve guessed that I very quickly switched to easy mode once learning how painful it can be to progress on Normal? You are, like me, a person of sense. Although, unfortunately, this doesn’t make building (a necessary element) any less of a pain. Want those neato iron weapons? Okay, first we’ll need 540 stone for a furnace. This is the easy part. Next, we’ll need 50 bricks, and 100 iron for a blacksmi- wait, you don’t know how bricks are made? Easy, that’s 10 Stone a brick, chuck it in the furnace, and use Wood or Coal to fuel it, and… What do you mean, “WHAT?!?” , it’s only another 500 stone and 200 ironstone! Oh, and the 40 ironstone you’ll need for a basic sword, ta.

Oh, you don’t know where ironstone is, or what it looks like? Look around, or look at wiki, like… Look, if you’re going to keep complaining, player, about stupid things like “Unreal Engine games disliking alt-tabbing”, I’m just going to take my crocodiles and go home!

I detect… Mystery! Also History! Mystory?

I’m sure that Conan: Exiles has an interesting world. What it’s shown me so far has been hints of awesome locations, and, for the early game at least, I’ve been levelling up like a levelling thing (Level 24/60 as of this review.) But it hides it behind so… So much grind. Even with a couple of friends to help out with the buildings, I definitely wouldn’t be playing this on normal difficulty, because of the pain of keeping everything going, and 7 hours of play and more than a third of the way through the levelling process before hitting iron weaponry can best be described as “Extracting the Michael.”

“And PvE?” I hear you ask. “Is it any different?” Well… Yes and no. Yes, once you have some friends or have managed to join a clan, it is. Your survivability goes up. You can descend like locusts on a resource node and gobble it up. But until that point, it’s like playing on normal difficulty, with the disturbing addition of the Unconscious, players registered but not logged in, littering the landscape like the introduction of Phillip Jose Farmer’s “To Your Scattered Bodies Go.” Oh, and the core narrative conceit, that Conan himself frees you (there’s your tie in), and that Thoth Amon, for some odd reason, is the one who put the murder-bracelet on you… Kind of falls apart.

See? Disturbing as hell.

Sometimes, you have to keep going, to get a better picture of how the game pulls together. But this is one of those times where I can see my future stretching out in front of me, and, funnily enough, it does not involve gathering 200 corrupted stone, whatever the hell else that Map Room which finally lets you access the equivalent of quick travel in the game, and beating Thoth Amon’s demons. Theoretically, having a friendly group of, say, 5 or 10 players clanning up immediately would make the game flow that much easier… But even then, this feels like Game as Job, which is a distinct turn off for me.

Ironstone, so you know what to look for without a god-damn wiki, and one of the many and varied beasts that will try to kill you on the way to or while harvesting it.

The Mad Welshman is already underpaid in this job. He has no desire to take on a second for nothing.

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