My Top Ten Games of 2018: #3

My top ten favorite games of the year, presented in ascending order each day leading into the holidays. Look for my full Top Ten list with categories and awards on December 24!

#10 Dead Cells
#9 Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden
#8 Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu/Eevee!
#7 Frostpunk
#6 Jurassic World Evolution
#5 Into the Breach
#4 Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

#3 Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age

Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
Platforms: PC, PS4

I’m not an old school Dragon Quest fan but I’m also not quite a newcomer. I fell in love with Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies back in 2009 on the Nintendo DS, then recently dabbled in the 3DS remakes of Dragon Quest 7 and 8.

The series defiantly sticks to its very traditional JRPG roots, and Dragon Quest 11 is no different. It’a tale as old as time, or at least the mid-80s. You play as the chosen one, an orphan from a small village, where you set off to gather a group of diverse friends and travel across a pristine fantasy land full of monsters and dungeons.

Yet within that seemingly stale plot the world comes alive thanks to Akira Toryiama’s colorful art style and some of the best writing and voice acting I’ve ever seen in a Japanese RPG. Yes there’s a big bad villain out there but it’s really more about the engaging microstories of each town, like the mermaid who fell in love with a sailor, or the kidnappings around a fighting arena. When the main story does pick up it definitely delivers with several legitimately shocking twists, including a stunning moment that gave me fond flashbacks of one of my all-time favorite games, Final Fantasy 6.

The party members are all amazing, memorable characters with their own emotional hangups and narrative arcs. It’s easily my favorite cast since the last good Mass Effect or Dragon Age. All their perceived archetypes defied my expectations. On the surface Sylvando looks like a hyper-homosexual joke, but his bravery, quick wit, and endless optimism makes him my favorite character of the year.

Many RPGs live and die by their combat system and Dragon Quest‘s traditional turn-based battles is simple yet effective. Seeing enemies on the world map gives me the agency to choose when to fight, and not once in my 60 plus hours did I ever feel the need to grind. Each party member has their own skill tree to develop, giving them far more distinct roles and personalities than previous Dragon Quest games of mixing and matching classes, and discovering new combos and synergy remained satisfying throughout the lengthy campaign.

Dragon Quest 11 also includes lots of helpful modern game design features that really makes everything go down smoothly, like the ability to swap out party members in the midst of combat, frequent campsites between towns to rest and heal, and a surprisingly enjoyable and rewarding crafting minigame.

If you’ve ever sighed wistfully and declared that they don’t make them like they used to in regards to traditional RPGs, Dragon Quest 11 is here to grab you by the arm and usher you into a gloriously sincere world of monsters and charm.

Dragon Quest 11 Review [Pixelkin]

Read the full review at Pixelkin

It’s easy to get jaded about the RPG genre, specifically Japanese RPGs. Every trope has been well-worn, every character archetype has been fully exploited. Dating back to the 1980s the Dragon Quest series is one of the most egregious examples of many tiresome gameplay elements and story beats.

Yet each new Dragon Quest game proves why the series remains beloved and resilient. With an irresistible charm, modern design conveniences, and excellent writing, Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age is a wonderful RPG for newcomers and a delightful return for series veterans.

Read the full review at Pixelkin

Gaming Backlog Final Thoughts – Chrono Cross

How well does one of the all-time greatest RPGs hold up nearly two decades later?

Adventuring through my backlog of games, one game at a time. 

Developer: Square
Publisher: Square Electronic Arts
Release Date: August 15, 2000
Played On: PSP

backlog gamingI have a somewhat complicated history with Chrono Cross. It’s one of my  all-time favorite RPGs, hell one of my all-time favorite games. I even named one our cats Lynx, and yeah, he’s kind of a jerk. But my secret shame is that I never actually beat the damn thing.

Now, almost two decades later, I finally did. Chrono Cross is still an amazing game whose early 3D graphics have aged better than most, but it’s not without some major design flaws that somewhat tarnished my teenage memories. Continue reading “Gaming Backlog Final Thoughts – Chrono Cross”

Dragon Quest 11 First Impression [Pixelkin]

Read the full article at Pixelkin

I’m about a dozen hours into Dragon Quest 11: Echoes of an Elusive Age and the smile has rarely left my face. Dragon Quest is one of the most resilient RPG franchises in video game history. The latest installment proves why it’s such a winning formula by embracing its classic roots while sprinkling in many welcoming improvements and features.

If you’re a newcomer to the series, Dragon Quest is a bit like Final Fantasy. It’s a classic 50+ hour Japanese RPG with each entry a standalone adventure (save DQ 10, which was an MMO).

Read the full article at Pixelkin

My Top Ten Games of 2017: #4

My top ten favorite games of the year, presented in ascending order each day leading into the holidays. Look for my full Top Ten list with categories and awards on December 24!

#10 Fire Emblem Heroes
#9 Metroid: Samus Returns
#8 Injustice 2
#7 Hand of Fate 2
#6 Battle Chasers: Nightwar
#5 Thimbleweed Park

#4 Cosmic Star Heroine

There are lofty goals and then there is aiming your sights at the greatest RPGs of all time. When Zeboyd Games went to Kickstarter in 2013 they conceived of an old school, 16-bit RPG that would feature the compelling story and combat of Chrono Trigger, the base-building, party gathering of Suikoden, and the sci-fi awesomeness of Phantasy Star. Who could say no to that (I certainly didn’t).

While Cosmic Star Heroine is somewhat hampered by its indie budget, it is a damn fine retro JRPG that successfully draws many of the best elements from all those inspirational classics.

The story stars Agent Alyssa L’Salle, a pseudo-space cop who discovers that someone within her own organization is up to no good. With the help of some memorable friends and fun newcomers she eventually joins up with the local freedom fighters, exploring multiple planets and uncovering more sinister details.

Other than a nifty twist toward the end the storytelling is the softest ingredient, leaning heavily on style and humor, which thankfully the game does very well.

Ten party members is a crazy huge number for a 15-20 hour RPG. Some are a bit more underdeveloped than others, but they all have distinct styles and themes, from the break-dancing, schmoozy robot to the bestial alien bounty hunter.

Combat resembles the Grandia games (as well as Zeboyd’s previous retro RPGs) more than any of the actual 16-bit RPGs. There’s a D&D-like initiative tracker, and everyone has more than half a dozen abilities you can equip and customize, as well as Shields that offer even more abilities. There’s also an interesting system involving building up Style and entering Hyper mode. It’s challenging but fun to work out the most efficient timing and unleash your most powerful attacks at the right moment.

In a perfect world developers like Zeboyd would be given twice the budget to create a larger, deeper RPG using their exact same design philosophy. What this two-person team (three if you include the stellar soundtrack) accomplished is nothing short of astonishing. Cosmic Star Heroine wonderfully (and appropriately) embodies the classic quote: “Aim for the moon, even if you miss you’ll land among the stars.”*

Read my review for Pixelkin!


*Yes I’m aware that the stars are much farther away than the moon. It’s still a nice quote damn it.

My Top Ten Games of 2017: #6

My top ten favorite games of the year, presented in ascending order each day leading into the holidays. Look for my full Top Ten list with categories and awards on December 24!

#10 Fire Emblem Heroes
#9 Metroid: Samus Returns
#8 Injustice 2
#7 Hand of Fate 2

#6 Battle Chasers: Nightwar

Battle Chasers: Nightwar

Most RPGs need to sell me on story, or combat, or setting, or preferably all of the above. Battle Chasers: Nightwar puts it’s exquisite art front and center, and it’s damn good. From the developers of Darksiders and the artwork from comic artist Joe Madureira come an impressive little indie RPG that offers a compelling turn-based combat system, fun characters, and a lengthy adventure. Continue reading “My Top Ten Games of 2017: #6”

Cosmic Star Heroine Review [Pixelkin]

Read the full review at Pixelkin

We’re supposed to “reach for the moon” in our goals. That way if we fall short we’ll still land among the stars. That doesn’t make a whole lot of sense given that the nearest star is several light-years farther away than our moon. But the point is sound.

Zeboyd Games’ moon is represented by classic, beloved 90s Japanese RPGs such as Chrono Trigger, Suikoden, and Phantasy Star. It’s a big reason I backed the game on Kickstarter several years ago. To take on some of the best RPGs in gaming with an indie budget and two-person development team is a daunting challenge. While Cosmic Star Heroine falls short in some ways, it still lands among the stars as one of the best games I’ve played this year.


Pokémon Sun and Moon Review [Pixelkin]

Read the full review at Pixelkin

A lot is riding on Pokémon Sun and Moon. Pokémon popularity is at its highest point since its inception in the 90s, thanks to its 20th Anniversary and hit mobile game Pokémon GO. Yet we haven’t seen a new, non-remake Pokémon title in three years.

Pokémon Sun and Moon represent the largest shift in the series we’ve ever seen. These are still classic monster catching and battling games aimed at kids, but the numerous improvements and new island setting make Pokémon Sun and Moon a hugely successful entry in the popular franchise.


Yo-Kai Watch 2 Review [Pixelkin]

While Yo-Kai Watch’s older brother Pokémon drops you into completely new worlds in each new game, Yo-Kai Watch 2 brings you back to the familiar city of Springdale.

Read the full review at Pixelkin

While Yo-Kai Watch’s older brother Pokémon drops you into completely new worlds in each new game, Yo-Kai Watch 2 brings you back to the familiar city of Springdale.

More yo-kai, new features, and improved abilities build upon the successful ideas in the first game. But even time-travel doesn’t save it from the feeling that you’ve already done all of this before.

Yo-Kai Watch 2 begins with one of the cringiest clichés of the JRPG – the amnesiac protagonist. Your chosen hero (either Nate or Katie) has their titular watch stolen and memories erased, creating a terribly painful prologue sequence for anyone that’s previously played the first game.

Yo-Kai Watch 2 wrestles with trying to appeal to newcomers as well as veterans of a game that was just released last year outside of Japan. The new yo-kai you meet are often well-designed additions, but you’ll also stumble upon a lot of repeats from the first game’s roster.


Dragon Quest VII Review [Pixelkin]

If you have the time to dig in this 3DS remake should easily become the definitive version of Dragon Quest VII.

Read the full review at Pixelkin

Back when the original Dragon Quest VII (called Dragon Warrior VII in the US) was released for the Sony PlayStation in 2000, it was already dated. The old-school 2D sprites were a big step backward compared to Final Fantasy VII’s fully 3D polygons. This new 3DS remake brings a much-needed graphical facelift, improved translations, and streamlined additions to entice turn-based JRPG fans to one of the genre’s forgotten gems.

Dragon Quest VII is all about time travel. Your hero and some childhood friends open an ancient shrine on your home island – the only island in the world. The shrine contains portals to other islands in the past. Each new island brings new characters, quests, monsters, and dungeons. The islands then appear in the present for even more monster-slaying content.

Time-travel requires assembling the tablet portals from fragments you find scattered throughout these islands. The main story focuses on exploring new islands, righting the wrongs of the past, and defeating Dragon Quest’s colorful array of enemies.