My Time At Portia: A Review

[Yes, I’m alive. Too busy playing games to write, but now I’m back. For a bit anyhow.]

Did you ever want to play Harvest Moon/Story of Seasons/Rune Factory, but were put off by the mobile nature of many of those games? Well, there’s Stardew Valley for you. But if you want a game like the console versions of those games (specifically Rune Factory), there’s this game. My Time At Portia definitely fits in the niche with those games: live a daily life of solving problems for the local townsfolk while wooing one of them to start a family with.

I don’t know how I came upon this game. It certainly doesn’t look like a game I’d like. By look I mean look, in particular the character designs. They just look weird, no cute anime girls here. They are like the stylized western cartoons of the 90’s and 00’s on cable. There’s one particular cartoon I’m thinking of, I’m sure, but I just can’t grab it off the top of my head. Anyhow, not really my speed.

I mean, look at these weirdos.

But that game description? Exactly the sort of thing I like. I’ve played all of the Rune Factory games, and loved them. Well, most of them, for a while. I mostly like the concept, at any rate – they eventually become a grind and slog, after the marriage part at least. Romancing a bachelor/ette is a core part of the game: gathering materials, doing housework, completing quests, fighting monsters, all of that is in large part in service to getting the girl (or boy) of your dreams.

Or maybe I’m just very, very lonely. Nah, can’t be that.

My Time At Portia (MTAP) is no different, that I’ve found. Sure, there’s a main story. Sure, there is nothing pushing you to get a romance. But it’s there, in the background, driving everything. At least for me. In the Rune Factory games, you would finish the main quest long before you’d finish a romance, at least if you weren’t laser-focused on getting your beau. Here, I was able to marry one of the hardest candidates (Ginger) well before the story finished. Which kinda killed my motivation for driving as hard forward as I was going (I’ve got 70-ish hours in the game, which I started on 20 Dec) – and why I’m writing this review now instead of the nebulous “later” (see: my not-extant-but-still-planned AssCreed: Odyssey review).

Anyhow, I keep comparing this to Harvest Moon and Rune Factory, but what exactly does that mean? And what makes this game different?

Basically, the PC is a new kid in town, coming for some reason (often because a family member used to live there, and you’re taking their mantle: generally, their farm). You get started at your basic house with a basic plot of land, and over time work to improve it. In the Harvest Moon games, you start with a farm, and thus are a farmer (in the Rune Factory games, add in “badass monster slayer”). In this game, you start as a Builder: you build things that the townsfolk need; in other words, a crafter. Essentially, those are basically the same thing, just with a different flavor. (Indeed, in later games in the Rune Factory and Harvest Moon series, you spend a lot of time getting crafting materials to do a lot more than farm.) In MTAP, you can still farm a bit: “building” includes “building food” apparently, and it’s a lot cheaper to grow your own and have it on-hand.

Along the way you can talk to the various NPC townfolk, building up relationships with them from stranger on through soulmate, if that’s your thing. And it should be, because becoming friendlier to these folks gets you material benefits, like shop discounts or increased stamina. You do this in the usual, realistic way of talking to them once every day, and giving them trinkets that they kinda like (also every day, if you can hack it), as well as doing the occasional chore for them. Get them to like you enough, and you can ask them out, in a romantic kind of way. In this game, it doesn’t matter if you’re a guy or girl: everyone is very open-minded about their dating partner, as long as they aren’t (or haven’t been) already married. You can even be lovers with multiple people at once, though for some reason they don’t like it if they see you with some other lover on a date (or kissing, I suppose). The various characters often have quests associated with their friendship level and relationship status, which can help you increase said status faster than just doing the daily chores.

(Incidentally, I think this is where I messed up my fun: I went all-in on Ginger, ie., one girl, instead of going for the lot of them. Once you get married, your romance options are all gone, down to just doing the daily interactions with your spouse. At least there are a few post-marriage quests, depending on who you marry, but otherwise that’s it. I don’t know why I rushed it (“rushed,” he says, after taking over 65 hours to do it), but now I’m stuck.)

I didn’t just pick her because she’s the most normal-looking freak.

As crafting is the main gameplay loop, you need to get your crafting materials. You can buy them, if you’re a chump. You can grow some of them. You can smash rocks and cut down trees out in the field. You can also go into abandoned ruins to mine stuff (as well as get artifacts). And, sometimes, there are devious critters that are holding things you need. Thus, you need to kill them. With combat, which consists of mashing the attack button and dodge-rolling. (Incidentally, one of the daily interactions with most NPC’s is to spar with them; I guess beating each other senseless is one way to get closer.) As you do these various things, you get XP, which lets you level up and pick perks, most of which have something to do with increasing the efficiency of material gain (though increasing combat ability, gathering efficiency, or social interactions).

Since you saw XP, you know this is a RPG, so that means there’s a story. And there is! At the start, you come to replace your father (who’s been gone quite a while on an adventure) as a builder in this sleepy little town. But the mayor has big plans, and you’re just the person to put them into motion. He wants to turn this boring berg into a major hub city for all the free cities in the region. Oh, yah, this is a post-post-apocalyptic setting; the abandoned ruins are what remains of the old highly advanced civilization that apparently completely destroyed itself. There’s even a church, which is mostly about how advanced tech is bad because that’s what caused the temptations for evil and destruction and whatnot. Of course, not everyone belongs to this church – there are some very helpful researchers that study the old tech to teach you how to make all these things the mayor wants you to make. It starts out small: make some signs for a haunted house, make a few street lights. But eventually it’s: create supports for a tunnel to the next city, completely renovate the harbor so it can support large ships, and so on. There’s also some stuff about finding an ancient AI that may or may not have had a hand in destroying the world back then.

As far as graphics and the like go…it’s serviceable. Small indie devs, pls understand. This isn’t a feast for the eyes, but that’s not what the game’s about, so I can forgive it. The sound, on the other hand, that’s just plain bad. Music is fine, nothing fancy, but it works. Voice acting is, again, fine. There are some parts that aren’t voiced for some reason, as is usual in these sort of games. Some (named) NPC’s aren’t even voiced at all, which is odd. Accents are all over the place, but that’s not bad in itself. The sfx, on the other hand, are straight out of the N64. Very jarring to have such low-quality things in a game that’s otherwise much better than that. And since you’re going to do a lot of things with those sfx, it grates.

One thing that’s odd, though not wholly out-of-place: the save system. The only time to save is when you go to bed. So, if you screw up, or the game crashes, or whatever, you have to do the whole last day over again. And if you want to stop for the day, you have to go to bed. I think there is more than one save slot, but until you load from another one, you are stuck using the one you’re on. It’s very old-fashioned, taking directly from the older Harvest Moon games.

Besides the above, I only have one major complaint: the marriage. No, not the fact that marriage ends a big part of the game; I’m not too fond of that, but it’s the same as every other game in the genre, so I can’t really complain about that here. No, it’s the marriage itself. After you propose, and fulfill all the other marriage requirements (some characters have quests associated with getting married), the start of the next day is the ceremony. As in, as soon as you wake up, you are transported to the church. You walk down the aisle with your promised, the priest says some words…and that’s it. A short cutscene. None of the NPC’s at the ceremony (which isn’t even the whole town, not even close) even acknowledge what just happened, nor does the spouse! Except that they head back to your house at the end of the day, after going back to their old house. For all intents and purposes, you basically just start the day at the church instead of your house. Very disappointing, very anti-climactic.

This review might sound a little negative, but I don’t mean it to be so. It’s a fun game. Remember, 70+ hours, and I’m not even done with it. (Nor am I finished, obviously.) It really scratches that Rune Factory itch, one I haven’t been able to scratch for a long time – and one I won’t be able to until much later this year, if not the next, when Rune Factory 5 comes to these forsaken shores. In fact, aside from a few niggles, I’d say I like this game better than most of the Rune Factory games. The building focus over the farming really suits me, and I love how the things you build for the town are permanent, major additions to the landscape. In short, I really recommend this game, especially if you are a fan of Rune Factory, Harvest Moon, or Stardew Valley.

Genshin Impact: A Deeper Look

I’m going to be reusing my pictures from the last post, since that’s what I have available.

The first thing to note, is something that I’ve seen from a lot of other people all across the internets. Some people that wouldn’t know better if you hit them over the head with the idea, and others that should have gotten it by now:

“Gacha” isn’t a genre.

Let me repeat that:

Gacha isn’t a genre.

And just so you remember:

Gacha isn’t a genre!

Gacha, as I’ve pointed out multiple times, isn’t a genre (do you get it yet?), it’s a monetization scheme. Gacha is essentially the same as lootboxes, but you don’t call games with lootboxes “lootbox games,” do you? Of course not, that’d be silly. But all the time I’ll see posts or reviews saying something along the lines of “Genshin Impact is a gacha game, but it doesn’t play like a gacha game.” What does a gacha game play like? I know what these folks are talking about, and I’ll get to that later. But it’s not a gacha problem.

To the more important point, everything I said in my first look still holds true. I’ve played a lot more by now, and I stand by my previous statements. Well, except for that last part. I can definitely recommend this game now. This is a good game overall. However, it’s good to know what it’s about going in, what to expect.

All of the good stuff is still good, even after tens of hours. I’ve heard it staid that the combat is more comparable to Nier: Automata, rather than Breath of the Wild; I don’t know if that’s true or not, having never played Nier, but still, it’s good stuff. (And it gives me hope for Nier: I’ve heard it said that the combat is kinda lacking in that game; but if it’s like Genshin, I’ll love it.) Once you actually get a good party going, the combat and flow starts getting quite natural. It’s fun, even taking out the same enemies over and over (another area the game is similar to Breath of the Wild…).

The story is actually pretty decent. I wasn’t expecting much going in – the beginning is yet another “oh noes a dragon?!!”, but it picks up from there. There’s a bit of nuance to the various situations the Traveler finds themselves in, especially in the second area. Not a lot of nuance, mind, but it’s not an obvious case of black-and-white, like it might seem from the prologue (even in the first area, after you beat the prologue, you see some of that nuance come in). The story isn’t great literature, but it’s nice for a rpg like this.

It seems the various characters that you’ll see in the gacha will get their own character stories that you can play through at various points. To be honest, I’d rather these be tied to actually having the character (like using the friendship system, instead of the few paragraphs they get per friendship level), as an added incentive/bonus for pulling said character. But I suppose this is another way to advertise the character – I didn’t care about Klee after they nerfed her animations (her alpha/beta animations were far more…animated), and certain folks said she sucked; but after playing her missions, she’s actually pretty good. Maybe I’ll get her eventually.

The writing is pretty snappy, at least in the English translation. I’ve noticed some liberties taken here and there, at least compared to the Japanese translation; I’ll believe that they’re the invention of the English localizers, since this is the kind of stuff that English localizers are notorious for (I have another post on that issue brewing). But it isn’t too bad, as far as I can tell. It’s not too distracting, at least, except for some of the memes used for achievements.

One thing of note is that the daily random quests actually advance the world and story, sometimes. Most of them are just “go here, wipe out the enemies”, but occasionally there will be one that involves npc’s and areas you’ve already visited, and either advance a little story in themselves, or somewhat change the world. For example, there is an inn in the second area that has broken stairs; one of the random mission sequences has you help repair those stairs, and they are repaired. Those little details and care are really what make this game special.

Which is good, because there are a couple of big problems. The gacha problem that I talked about in my last post on this game still applies. It’s the worst rates I’ve ever seen, outside of maybe STO’s lock boxes. But that’s not the main complaint people have, which have folks up in arms. No, they don’t like the fact that this game is indeed a mobile game.

This is what most people are talking about when they have complaints about the energy system (called “resin” in this game). They put the blame on the “gacha game” nature of this game, but that has nothing to do with the gacha. No, this is just your standard mobile game tactic. It’s a perfectly valid complaint, but we need to understand what it is: the fault is that this is a mobile game. For some reason folks got the impression that this was a mmo, or something along those lines. But it’s your standard mobile game, just with a nice coat of paint that’s worthy of a pc. But you need energy to do all the grindy stuff – get resources for leveling and advancing characters and gear. You only get so much, which regenerates over time. Pretty standard stuff, but I guess people weren’t really expecting it, so they are mad (well, more mad than they would have been with the correct mindset – it’s not a particularly good implementation of an energy system).

And I think, as a bit of meta commentary, is a big problem. People aren’t coming in with that right mindset. They expect a “main game” – something they can play for hours and hours, and stay entertained throughout. Frankly, I’m surprised it had as much ready going in as it did – most games of this sort would be envious of just that first area’s worth of content. As it is, the game gives 30-40 hours of good content, before getting terribly grindy – very good, actually. But still, mobile games like this have this trouble at launch, and early on – good start, but then an incomplete, unsatisfying “mid”-game, with no real end-game yet. I’m sure these problems will be addressed in the future – they tend to be, in successful games. But we’re going to have to wait.

One thing that does really concern me, with that mobile-game mindset, is the frequency of updates and events. Six weeks is a good amount of time for major updates. But there should be events and the like between those updates, to keep players going. New characters should come at a good pace, and I’m not really seeing it here. Significant events should come at a decent clip (at least once a month, if not slightly more often at first), but again, not seeing it here. Personally, I’d like to see story events, but even events without stories would be something. We have had one event so far in the game, and it wasn’t much (and again, takes energy to get rewards – though the rewards definitely weren’t worth the energy here). This can be a problem with immature games (and make no mistake: despite the high level of polish, this is a very immature game right now), but it doesn’t make it not a problem.

To sum it up, this is a good game. Just keep in mind that it’s a mobile game, with all the normal mobile game issues, and you can be happy with it.

Genshin Impact: Initial Impressions

Another week, another new gacha game. But this time, people are actually anticipating it. I’ve never seen initial hype for a new mobile game so high, or a new Chinese game. But there’s good reason for it: it looks good. And not just graphically, but actual gameplay. This game looks like it has soul.

Now granted, a lot of that soul comes from the very obvious Breath of the Wild inspiration in graphics and gameplay. But that’s what people want apparently. BotW is hugely popular, so why not go with a more anime version of that game?

I’ve been able to play this game for a bit, about the first hour or so. Of course, I’ve played that first hour several times now. I’ll give my first impressions in terms of the good and the bad.

The Good:

  • Gameplay: It’s basically Breath of the Wild. You run around an open world, climbing on things, jumping off things, gliding to places, beating up enemies, and so on. The big difference here is that, instead of Link, you use one of several characters. Each character has an elemental affinity, which you use as you’d expect, and which also give different elemental status effects. The main gimmick here is switching out characters on the fly to synergize those status and elemental effects. It’s pretty cool making a fire tornado, or freezing a wet enemy.
  • Art: The art is pretty good. Even on mobile this game just looks good, and from what I’ve seen from actual systems, it looks fantastic with some power behind it. This is the first game that I’ve played that has felt like an anime come to life. Which is weird, because it’s Chinese, not Japanese. But whatever, it’s cool. The character designs are also pretty cool. This might not be the game for you if you’re into big buff manly men, because I haven’t seen any, but if you like any other character archetype, there’s something for you.
  • Translation: There are no translation issues that I can see. I’m honestly shocked. I don’t know Chinese, but I do know a little bit of Japanese, and the English translations match that at least. The English dub is pretty bad, but the Japanese dub is fine. You can also listen in Korean or Chinese, depending on your preference. (And you don’t need to download additional data to do so, which is nice.)

The Bad

  • Gacha System: The gacha system was going to rub people the wrong way regardless, since they’re all kinda predatory. But this is the worst gacha system I’ve ever seen. First, the rates are terrible: 0.6% for 5*, the highest rarity. That’s not for rate-ups; no, that’s for ANY 5*. Next, the 5* are the best characters and weapons. This is mostly normal, but from what the Chinese testers have reported, it’s rather insane in this game: whales won’t even play higher-difficulty content with f2p’ers, it’s that bad. And to make matters worse, you need multiple copies of characters to make them stronger. Oh, and as you see above, you get equipment from the same pool, which dilutes things insanely. No one wants to draw weapons, they want characters, and this just adds insult to injury. At 0.6%, you need to roll about 120 times to get better than even odds of getting at least one 5*. But you’d better pull out your wallet for that, because the game is very stingy with free currency. For this reason, and this reason alone, no matter how good the rest of the game is, I can’t recommend it to normal people. And if you’re into gachas, I still can only recommend it with reservations.
  • Rerolling: Given the above, you’ll want to re-roll so you can at least get a decent start. Most of these gacha games give you a big up-front currency bonus to get you excited, and this game is no exception. At first glance, rerolling is easy: you just make a new account at game load, which is super easy. No registry edits, diving into files, or even having to salt emails for new accounts. However, that’s the only easy part. You have to sit through the entire opening sequence, which is full of unskippable cutscenes and dialog. It takes quite a bit of time to get to the first point you can roll – about a half-hour on mobile, but a lot less on PC (load times and control issues). That gets you your first ten rolls. But, play for another half-hour or so (again, significantly shorter on PC, if you know what you’re doing), and you can get 20 more rolls when you hit account level 7. So, either ten or thirty rolls, for either a half-hour or hour, depending on load times and how much you know what you’re doing. And, considering what I said above about how much you’re going to be rolling for a 5* (ANY 5*, not even a specific one you want), you’re going to be doing this a bunch. I’ve done four so far, and want to throw my tablet all the way to China.
  • Controls: This is mostly a mobile thing, but the controls suck. The menus and stuff are fine, obviously crafted for mobile, but, as is the case with all 3D games, it doesn’t do well with mobile. It’s obviously made for console first (it would be almost perfect on Switch, using the touch screen for menus and such, while having the sticks for movement), and even the PC controls are a bit wonky. But controlling this game with the virtual stick is most un-fun.
  • China: This is a Chinese game. That goes on your PC, potentially. That should be enough, which tells you why I’m playing on my tablet. Every piece of Chinese software is suspect: if not from the devs, or the publisher, then from the government. It doesn’t help that this comes on PC with anti-cheat at the kernel level that doesn’t turn off when the game does, nor goes away when you uninstall the game (sounds like some other (non-Chinese) game that had a lot of controversy recently). The publisher says this is “unintended behavior” and says they will fix it, but don’t worry for now it’s perfectly fine. Yah, I sure believe that.

So yah, fun game with some really bad, glaring flaws that don’t have much to do with gameplay itself. I can’t really recommend it, but I want to play it more myself. I just hope I can actually get to playing before I claw out my eyes rerolling. Time for account #5…

Crusader Kings III: A First Look

As mentioned yesterday, Crusader Kings III came out. I had seen a few previews for it, and it looked fun enough, so I decided to pre-order whatever the deluxe version was. I normally wouldn’t do this, but I found a good discount, which made the whole thing the price of a single new game – fair, as I figured the base game game plus the first expansion would be about the level of a proper new game. So last night after work I booted this up.

I figured I’d start with the tutorial. I am experienced with CKII, but I wanted to see what was different, and if the tutorial would be any good. (CKII’s tutorial was the best that company had done to that point, but it still wasn’t that great.) Plus, I had a bit of nostalgia for good ol’ Tutorial Island (aka Ireland).

As a tutorial, I don’t know how good this would be for people who hadn’t played CKII. It seems like it’s holding your hand, as is proper, but it leaves a lot out. It works quite well for CKII players, though, effectively illustrating the early-game differences between the two. However, it leaves some later-game (not late-game) differences off.

I won’t talk too much about the aesthetic differences between the two games. I’m not sure how I feel about the 3d models, but they do have a charm of their own I suppose. I must admit they make the clothing pack dlc’s more enticing – well, more enticing than zero, with CKII’s 2d portraits where clothes really don’t matter in the slightest. The map is fine, too.

Surprisingly easy and quick to unify Ireland

I was going into this trying to find what was going to be left out from the previous game. These sort of games always seem to take away things from previous games, to sell them back to you as dlc. I can’t see too much of that here. The plague system seems to be gone, and the council system seems more bare-bones than CKII with all expansions, but those were expansions I didn’t personally apply anyways, so not much difference to me. Seems most of what’s missing in the base game are a bunch of flavor-type events.

There are a couple of important differences between this game and its predecessor.

  • You can, right from the start, raise up a proper army. Levies work, but they aren’t that good.
  • You don’t need to have transports to move your armies across water. This is convenient, though also takes away from idea of oceans as obstacles (not that they made that much of a difference for ai anyways).
  • Marriages of children automatically form alliances (if both spouses are landholders), instead of just making them more likely, so doom stacks are a lot bigger of an issue earlier in the game (ask me how I know this); so it pays to have alliances closer in, rather than spread all over the world.
  • The perk system that is rather important here, and can give additional options. There’s one perk in particular, which allows you to extort money from people you’re blackmailing (after you’ve found out a secret sin of theirs), that really can bring in the money.
  • Factions seem to be a lot easier, or perhaps simpler, and thus are much more important to pay attention to (ask me who I know this).

There are other differences, but I didn’t get too much into them in the short time I played.

All in all, this isn’t a game I need to play RIGHT NOW. Which isn’t a slight against it: it’s a game I can come back to and play whenever I feel like it. Which is good, because a lot of games aren’t like that. Like Assassins Creed: Odyssey, which I will go back to before I lose the plot. But CKIII, for the first time in modern Paradox history, seems to be a complete, good, game right out the box, vanilla, and not bugged to hell or anything.

Hardspace: Shipbreakers – A Review

Here we’ve got an early-access game that actually seems pretty good. The early-access part seems to be mainly just lack of content – the polish is pretty good, even at this stage. If you’re looking for a work simulator, but IN SPACE, this might be the game for you.

So far, I’ve done 21 hours in the game. I have ADD, and this is a work sim, so that should tell you something. If I didn’t have other exciting games to play, I’d be playing this every night. Sure, it doesn’t have any fighting, but there are layzors and splosions, so it’s still fun and exciting and manly and such.

As suggested on the cover, you play the role of a ship breaker – the person that takes apart ships for salvage. This is a real-life job, but naturally it’s not a space job, yet. In the normal game mode, you have 15-minute blocks of time to take a ship apart. As long as you do it in one sitting, you can pick at the same ship for multiple time blocks (logging out for some reason doesn’t save the ship). There is also another mode where you have an unlimited amount of time per block to work on a ship.

Regardless of the time taken, each block represents one day of work. After each shift you have to pay interest on your loans, as well as rent on your room and equipment, and any fees incurred during your last play session (if you die, you get charged for the cloning). Oh, yes, you have loans. You start the game with a billion-space-bucks debt, presumably the money the company spent to ship you up to space. It’s very much a company store situation. ‘Fortunately,’ you get a big chunk of money for each part you salvage, so your goal is to get more money from salvage than the costs you incur each day.

As can be seen from above, each item you salvage is itemized. There are three broad categories of salvage, based on where you put them. There’s stuff you put into the barge, which are things like chairs, computers, fuel, and reactors, that can be reused as-is. There are things that go to the processor, and then things that go to the furnace; I don’t know the logic of which goes where, here, but there apparently is a difference. The game helpfully tells you what item goes where as you hold it, so you don’t have to guess or memorize, though you get used to it pretty quick. If you put something in the wrong place, it is rejected and destroyed, and you don’t get any money from it (I don’t know if that gets taken out of your profits as well, or not).

Lucky for you, you don’t just have your hands and mass to move entire ship parts. You have a space magic tool to help you move those heavy objects contrary to Newton’s laws. You have a sort of tractor beam, which lets you directly manipulate objects. You can then push objects to…give them a push to where you want them to go. And then there are tethers, which basically pull two objects together like a rope that contracts on its own.

Conveniently, the ships you take apart are very modular. Parts are mostly just held together by some sort of space magic glue field, with a few structural joints that are easily cut with your laser (those yellow striped bars in the picture above). It’s only the rare part that you actually need to cut metal for (like the airlocks for some reason, or glass windows). After that, you just need to put the right parts in the right place, starting from the outside, then moving in.

I mentioned death earlier. Because you sure can die, in many terrible ways. You can fly into the furnace. You can get hit by any of the various parts your moving around. You can exploded by the reactor or fuel or coolant. You can run out of oxygen. You can get electrocuted. You can even somehow catch on fire. The main difference in the harder difficulties is how many lives you have – infinite on normal, 30 on hard, and one on the hardest.

There is some management and improvement possible. Every individual ship has certain items that you are assigned to salvage, via the Work Order system. Each work order you accomplish gets you xp (they call it LT in this game, but it’s xp). You can also recover lore bits (Logs), which give xp as well. You use this xp to upgrade your various gear, and you can even use it to buy it outright from the company (so you don’t have to rent it – your equipment rental is the main daily cost that eats into your profits). Your upgrades are limited by a level system, which is task-based, and thus independent of xp (though things that give xp often also accomplish those tasks as well).

That’s about it. Pretty simple game. The fun is in the execution. It does get repetitive, though. At this point there are only two classes of ships, with two basic variations each. As I said, I got 21 hours before I wanted to play different games. If you like work sims, or other games where fine-tuning the process is what you like, this is for you. I only have a certain amount of patience for that. But still, 21 hours is a good amount of time, and I didn’t even come close to completing everything (didn’t even get to trying the last major ship variation). If the devs just abandoned it right now, as-is, I’d say it’s worth the $25 price tag. But they haven’t, and are continually improving it (there was one major issue I had, but it was resolved in the last patch!).

Double Cartoon Review: Lower Decks ep 4 and Granblue Fantasy ep 14

Since two episodes of different stuff came out this week, I’m going to review both at once. Good thing, because I don’t have much to say about either, but two is good for one blog post.

Lower Decks was, once again, OK. Not as good as the last episode, but still OK. It was, however, the most consistently funny episode yet: there weren’t some of the highs of the last episode, but there weren’t as many luls between the lols either.

The trouble remains, once again, the character of Mariner. She increases her Mary Sue levels once again. One might object, saying that she’s clearly a jerk. But this show comes from a school of thought that being a jerk is fine, if not good, if one is correct and/or funny. Mariner is right in every instance in this episode. It was nice to see her get a bit of character suffering, but it didn’t last. (Also, why do they just skip Lt.jg? They even have one of those this very episode.)

I’m also getting a bit weary of the “major crisis takes over the ship” gag. It’s like they think there must be a major action sequence every episode. I think this is where a lot of the not-Trek feeling comes from.

There was a serious misstep with the latest (and last) episode of Granblue Fantasy: there were two separate stories, one of which featured Gran. It seems almost like that section was an afterthought, even though it wasn’t: the animation and art is the worst in the series, almost constantly off-model and simple. It was mildly amusing seeing Lucha Gran, but it would have been better with Djeeta.

Much like the second part was. It’s clear that’s where the budget went to: most of the art is at the level of the best in the series, even the random mob shots. It’s also much more entertaining, a send-up of the shoujo-yuri genre. (Once again, Vira steals the show in her scenes.) I’m of course biased, but it was much better. And even funnier, with that ending. I wish the whole episode was this part, fleshed out.

Star Trek Picard: A Belated Review

This is really late, and nothing I say here will be terribly original, but I have to be honest.

I hate this show.

Not just because it’s low-quality, but because it actively, purposefully takes a massive dump on Trek and its fans. STD was bad in just about every way besides sfx (and even those often looked bad, but that was art direction, not poor quality), but Picard was worse. The writing is bad, the effects were not great, the directing was often poor, and the story itself is garbage.

It’s too bad, too. The show didn’t exactly start strong, but it wasn’t terrible either. But taking a full 30% of the show on the basic set-up (without leaving Earth) was a bad move, even if that stuff was some of the best stuff in the show (a low bar, to be sure). And that wasn’t even the end of the set-up, either. No, four of ten episodes happened before the adventure proper starts.

And then things go downhill, fast. The entire fifth episode was a joke which feels more at home in a SyFy original than Star Trek (moreso than the rest of the show). That would have been bearable, if they didn’t literally destroy the legacy of Trek out at the end of the episode. And things got even worse after that. With only one sort-of quality episode after the third (unsurprisingly, the one where we get good guest-stars, and the one without the vast majority of the Picard-original characters), the show just goes from one mess to the next.

It doesn’t help that this show feels cheap. Despite being supposedly one of the most expensive shows in the history of television (there are rumors that a bunch of funding was diverted to STD S3, which I can believe), things seem so simple and basic. The space shots are sparse. The sets, especially the main ship set, are cheap. The props are even more out of place than the sets, especially as the show goes on (they literally use a standard, unmodified park table as the “meeting table”). The lack of ship designs in a Star Trek show is atrocious – in any large fleet scene, there are three separate ship designs, even the one time there are two opposing fleets!

Also note the standard, unmodified folding park chairs in the background.

As far as the overall story goes, it’s pretty trash. The initial mystery is fine, if starting with an incredibly dumb premise. Having the two stories, one of the Picard gang, and the other on the Borg ship, was fine in concept, but the execution didn’t work, because the characters in the Borg plot were not the sort that people want to watch: you have an alien ship, in alien territory, with lots of ethical implications as to what they’re doing, and yet that is all just background to soap opera drama.

Actually, that’s a good illustration of the entire show: all this possibly-cool stuff going on, and it’s all merely non-context to poorly-written melodrama. This didn’t need to be Trek: it could have been any modern sci-fi drama if you changed the names. Hell, change it to fantasy, just replacing the spaceships with waterships, and Borg with zombies (that would actually fit the state of the reclaimed Borg better…). Literally the only stuff that requires some knowledge of past Trek is the Borg stuff, and the characters of Locutus, Riker, Data, and Troi. (Maddox and Picard may as well be completely different people.) And as far as the character knowledge goes, the only Trek you’d need to watch was the movie Nemesis – it’s clear that’s the only Trek any of the main writers watched in full (they skimmed First Contact too, for the Borg stuff). All the rest of the Trek references could have been gleaned from wiki articles.

All of that is sad. I had some small hopes for the series at first, but they were all dashed to pieces. It’s dreck, and insulting to fans like me on top of that. STD could at least be slightly excused by being a prequel, but this is a direct sequel to Nemesis, and should have at least been somewhat respectful of that. It was marketed to TNG fans, and yet there’s nothing there for them.

Star Trek Lower Decks Episode 3 Review

I just have to say, this is the best Star Trek since Enterprise.

Not that that’s a hard bar to get over. Like, the bar is digging into the ground. But still, it’s nice to see improvement. And improvement this is. I don’t know if the show will keep this level of quality (probably not), but I hope it does, or even keeps improving.

This episode is “OK”. (Last one was “Meh,” the first was “Bad”.) There were scenes (plural) here that are funnier than the entirety of the last two episodes combined. This was not a laugh riot by any measure, but it had some good gags. There’s still a bit too much of that modern ironic-absurdist humor that I’m not terribly fond of (I like my absurdism old-fashioned), but at least most of the rest of the humor feels appropriate for a Trek show.

A big part of the success of this episode is that there is simply Mariner. Sure, she is still the Mary Sue; even though she gets taken down a peg, she’s still completely right in everything she says (it’s only that someone outdoes her at her own shtick, after giving a lecture – to a superior officer – about her shtick). Also, Boimler is able to do his thing without Mariner being right there. Part of the problem is that Mariner absolutely overshadows and humiliates Boimler in every instance, so him being without her lets him shine in his own way. (Now, if they’d only let that happen with her.)

I also appreciated that the show lets the senior staff not look like a bunch of baffoons (excepting the captain). Ransom, the XO, might be a Kirk/Riker knockoff, but he shows how he was able to rise in rank. The rest of the senior staff also shows their competence, in smaller ways.

Dragalia Lost Chapter 15 Review

(Naturally there will be spoilers, especially for the most recent main story chapters.)

Sometimes you can have a good story, but it’s undermined by poor writing. The opposite can also be true – a bad story can have good writing. Today we’re going to look at an example of the former, in the newest addition to the main story.

To bring everyone up to speed, all you need to know is that The Great Evil, Fantasy Satan, (officially, The Other) was defeated, and Zethia was saved. Except then she was kidnapped pretty much immediately, and now Euden and friends going to get her back (conveniently, the kidnapper told them where to find her). Turns out that said kidnapper, Nedrick, is the boss of the Agito (the super-powered bad guy group of evil), has it in for Euden.

Now the big reveal comes (to Euden – the players have had this information for months): Euden isn’t the natural-born prince, but was adopted after the king’s seventh child died soon after birth. There’s some other stuff too, like Valyx (one of the other princes) gets turned into an Agito temporarily, everyone gets beat up by the agitos, and so on. But the big deal is supposed to be how everyone, and particularly Euden, reacts to the fact that Euden isn’t who he thinks he is.

Naturally, pretty much everyone except Euden is fine with it, because they are his friends. Euden is at first shocked, as one would expect, but he eventually gets over himself and gets back to work.

My overall reaction is a big Meh. There isn’t any real revelation here that we didn’t already know. There’s no big character stuff that we couldn’t already guess. There isn’t even a whole lot of character drama, besides what I’ve shown above. As far as worldbuilding goes, the only thing we get is the reveal of the last Agito in-game, and just what is up with them (the masks are magitech that brings out base emotions while simultaneously really buffing their stats.- basically turning people into monsters).

That, and there were two bits where the writing really took me out of it. The big one was during the reveal – why would anybody as smart as Nedrick (who had everything figured out) think this would change much. Sure, being told you’re adopted, when you thought your parents were your birth parents, is a big deal. But that doesn’t effectively change anything here: as Euden correctly points out above (though he does it to himself, when he should be saying it out loud), he’s got the dragon blood, so no matter what, he’s in. And, from Nedrick’s (and everyone else’s) point of view, he was officially adopted anyways (says so right in that book), so he’s got claim as much as anyone else. All the official stuff he’s done is just as legitimate as it always was. And all his friends there literally heard Alberius – the founder of the kingdom – tell Euden that he was the true heir to his power. And of course, that doesn’t change how his siblings feel about him – the older ones presumably know, and Zethia is the last person who would care (and now it’s not incest anymore…). As we see, Nedrick’s plan isn’t to usurp Euden’s place, even he did want to kill him, so I don’t see the point.

Second, back earlier Ciella tried to sow conflict in the heroes by implying that Eli had a secret that could ruin their friendship (it’s that she already knew about Euden’s situation, that’s all). As if friends didn’t have secrets from each other. This is a thing that comes up a lot in media for teens (or is written like such, as many jrpg’s are). The fact that this worked, even a little, upset me a bit, and took me out of the story. In a somewhat smart move by the writers, Euden at least dismisses this, saying that Eli will tell them in her own time, but it’s not important at that moment. Of course, if the writing were actually good, someone (I’d say Shanon, both for in-character reasons, and because she’s the one that got the idiot ball here) would point out that even friends keep secrets from each other, and that’s perfectly ok.

(We also have the fact that Brunhilda forgets she’s a dragon, and jobs in her human form; but that’s usually the case, so I’ll just ignore if for now.)

So yah, pretty middling new chapter that didn’t live up to the hype. Though I guess they never do. Even though there were a few easy fixes to the writing, overall this is basically a filler arc, right before the start of the next part of the adventure.

Lower Decks Episode 2: A Short Review

This episode is better than the last one. It’s funnier (I laughed twice). Mariner is slightly less annoying. This is far less of a parody and more a straight comedy. If I must give a rating, it’s Meh. (Last episode would be rated Bad.)

Again, Mariner is the worst part of the episode. As I said, she isn’t as annoying, but she still is. Her major character flaw from the first episode, her dangerously impulsive nature, is gone. Now she’s merely a free spirit. But she moves extremely squarely in Mary Sue territory. The only time she does something strictly wrong, it’s [spoiler] not actually wrong, but just helping her buddy out.

The other thing that continues to bug me is that they keep Boimler (or whatever his name is) as the buttmonkey. It’s one thing to take the uptight prick down a peg or two, but he isn’t that. They just won’t give this guy a break. His main job just seems to be making Mariner look better by comparison. He’s obviously also supposed to be in the straightman role, but the point of the straightman is that they are usually correct/right, and that never happens for this character.

I still don’t know who this show is for. The humor is quite immature, and not particularly smart. Not that this is a bad thing in and of itself (that top pic is one of those times I laughed), but CBS is trying to market this show as a proper Trek show (not the for-kids cartoon), and Trek fans skew older, more mature. It’s trying to catch that Rick and Morty audience, but they won’t want to watch this, I’d bet. It’s too Trek, and we know that isn’t very popular right now, despite all the money being thrown at it. Once again, it’s clear that Trek fans made this show – you can’t make the above pic by just skimming Memory Alpha (which is how STD and Picard were written). But other Trek fans don’t really want to watch this either.

This was the other time I laughed, but I figure there are maybe only 200 people in the entire world that know why.