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Please give me my life back its been 10 years

Despite my love for it, I don't have much to say about this one in depth.

Feels like stepping back in time to 2016-2017 where every game was obsessed with setpieces, and given the game started development under Platinum it's not unlikely some older DNA bled into this game.
Granted, unlike AAA titles from the 2010s and Platinum's mediocre back catalogue, setpieces are used cleverly in GBFR and they don't ever repeat.
The first turret section is the last, and the one time it reuses the rising lava gimmick setpiece it's as a ludonarrative character capstone to make you go "OH SHIT".

The story is, at its core, the most quintessential JRPG-ass JRPG ever made, which fits given it's a Granblue Fantasy game and its parent title is mostly the same. It's a breath of fresh air in its simplicity, not shooting for the moon but instead the familiar horizon and all of its hits land because of it.
In an era where Naoki Yoshida and other big JRPG franchises are ashamed of sincerity and keep making edgy ~subversive~ bullshit, it's doubly nice to see something sincere without being an obvious 'tribute game' like the other side of the Modern JRPG Coin.
If you've ever seen a Shonen Jump movie you'll be familiar with GBFR's format: It's not an adaptation of Granblue's story, it's an original work sandwiched between existing arcs with a cast of fan favourites and wholly new supporting cast. Arguably it works better for games than movies, for while the One Piece movie villains are boring as hell I think Lilith might be in my top 5 Granblue characters alongside Vira, Apollonia, Shalem and Belial. Yes, I'm gay, what made it obvious.
There isn't much to spoil because it's so straightforward, and while I think simply calling it "good" defeats the purpose of even having a backloggd, it is. The emotional beats land, it doesn't waste any time, it managed to turn FF1's "go kill these primals" plot into an excellent GBF title, Narmaya is there. Perfect all around.

Gameplay is the star of the show though and wow. It's like a mirror into a world where Platinum Games regularly make titles that aren't garbage.
Their influence is clear, aye, but with GBFR having 19 characters it's opted to sprinkle mechanics onto each of them to keep it fresh.
You're baited into assuming this is yet another piece of licensed Platinum slop by Djeeta/Gran's boring Dynasty Warriors-esque combo mechanic only to stumble into Narmaya's infinite stance combos, dodge cancellable iai draw attacks, and butterfly stacking mechanic.
Or Siegfried, who plays like Hi Fi Rush and actually made me better at that game due to having a rigid but reliable timing mechanic that can actually be dodge offset.
Or Secret Character, who has a devil trigger.
Or Lancelot, whose attacks are centered around mashing and also gave me a minor RSI which still hurts a few days later.

Trash mob fights are almost always you and your party trouncing them while dodging ranged attacks. Fine enough, but the boss battles are the star of the show and their focus in the postgame is why you'll see other reference Monster Hunter. There's an excellent blend of mechanics and spectacle on display here that, again, puts other character action games to shame.
If you've ever played FFXIV you'll likely be right at home dodging AoEs and yelling at your party for something that so very easily could've been negated. God, I hate Siegfried mains who refuse to use his hyper armor.
They're all very lovely to look at, and towards the end of the story the spectacle starts approaching levels heretofore unseen in the character action genre besides Bayonetta (the one good Platinum duology). The final boss was just... Mwah.

On the presentation side, Cygames have long since been the kings of gacha presentation and with GBFR they're expanding that to the action RPG genre. Everything about this game is beautiful. Areas, outfits, characters, Narmaya's narmaya's, music, you name it.
The music deserves special attention though. Tsutomu Narita is one of the greatest game composers of our time and he's applying his decade of composing for GBF mobile to this game. The returning compositions are gorgeous yes, but the new ones for the original fights are jaw dropping and the final boss theme had me pause the game just to let it wash over me. It is some divine work, I hope they keep Zero (a 13 minute prog metal song) when Lucillius debuts in the next update.

Post-game is an amazing encapsulation of the browser game and I'm frankly astounded they managed to keep the experience intact but without the gacha/live service stuff. You grind to build up weapons, buff grids and other stuff ad nauseaum while tackling harder and harder fights that you meet with stronger and stronger characters.
Characters tend to really come into their niche here; you can get by with flailing before post-game, but if you're a Zeta main and you can't land your timed hits you gotta go play Percival or something. Buffs go from being useful accruements to utter gamechangers and I swear to fucking god if I run into another Cagliostro who's afraid of Phantasmagoria I'm gonna flip.
In short: The Monster Hunter comparisons are valid.

All in all... Psh, I really do wish I had more to say. I had the time of my life playing this game, man. I haven't loved a JRPG this much since Yakuza 7, and it's a nice reminder of what the genre can be like when it's not helmed by Naoki Yoshida's eternal shame at having made JRPGs in the past or endless nostalgia bait.

I wish Lilith was real. Happy that Maggie Robertson got to voice act in a game that wasn't terrible.

Expressiveness is the quality that defines roleplaying games: they’re judged by how freely players can assert themselves in a reactive space. Players want to convey their personality and make choices, but while these are the obvious core concepts of the genre, Baldur’s Gate 3 has proven to me that they’re not what makes an RPG great. Having the capacity to make decisions is certainly a necessity, but decisions only matter when players care about the outcomes. Choices surround us in every moment of our lives, but most vanish from our minds within seconds for that very reason; they’re so emotionally inconsequential as to be hardly worthy of notice. So, more fundamental than allowing for choice is providing a real adventure in which to make those choices, and defining a journey which has players encountering challenges, learning, changing, and overcoming. This is the critical component which Baldur’s Gate fails to establish, most glaringly from its narrative structure.

(Minor spoilers through act 2)
In the opening cutscene, your character has a mindflayer tadpole inserted into their head, so your call to adventure is getting it out. This is fine in itself, but the game is quick to tell you that there’s no urgency to this task, relieving you of the burden of care. Every quest you receive to accomplish this goal, across the first ~22 hours of gameplay, results in failure where your party just sorta gives up. It takes another ten hours before the main villains are established, a stale group of evil zealots of evil gods who just love being evil, pursuing an agenda which players can't feel meaningfully aligned against. The simplicity of the central narrative gives the impression it’s just supposed to be a foundation for a character-driven story, but the interpersonal aspect is similarly lacking. In what feels like a symptom of the game's long stay in early-access, your companions put their love and trust in you in act 1, before anyone’s had the chance to organically develop relationships or encounter life-changing struggles. Characters don’t have the time and space to have an arc, and you don’t get the chance to express yourself alongside them, you simply skip to the end for an immediate and vacuous payoff. There’s no journey here, you’re simply being presented with scenes from an adventure without actually going on one.

The same can be said for the mechanics, even when they’re lifted from the tabletop game, thanks to a design philosophy where every playstyle is thoroughly accommodated. This seems like a good strategy in a genre where players want to assert themselves, but the refusal to challenge players leaves unique approaches feeling irrelevant. Even with a party led by a Githyanki barbarian, with very little in the way of charisma, intelligence, or skill, there was never a time I couldn’t overcome a situation in an optimal way. I could pick whatever locks I wanted, disarm whatever traps I wanted, circumvent any barrier I wanted; the game never asked me to think ahead or prepare. I didn’t have to be ready with certain spells or proficiencies, it never demanded more than following a clear path. Even if it did, the cheap respecs mean that you’re a maximum of 400 gold away from having a team perfectly suited to the task at hand, and even if you don’t end up using that option, knowing that your choices are so impermanent is a detriment to any feeling of growth.

That’s the key here: growth. My characters leveled up, but I don't feel like they grew. I traveled, but I don’t feel like I went on a journey. I made choices, but I don’t feel like I went in new directions. After a fifty-hour playthrough, all I remember was that I chilled out, ran around some nice maps, and managed my inventory. I spent all that time relaxing well enough, but I didn’t overcome challenge, feel much, or learn anything. All I could confidently state that the game did for me is live up to its basic selling point, of being an adventure I could take at home, a journey where I go nowhere.

It's a NEO world!

An unexpected yet dearly welcomed sequel to one of the greatest RPGs ever made.

I came in expecting a rehash of the first game, and was thoroughly surprised at how well-executed and fresh the transition from the DS's dual-screen gameplay to NEO's traditional single-screen gameplay was. Combat flows seamlessly since every character is controlled by one button, which lets you switch between them instantly while giving you an extra layer of depth by being able to control multiple party members at once. Despite some poorly designed enemies and bosses, I loved mixing and matching pins to see new combos come together.

NEO, much like its predecessor, exudes style in every aspect—from the characters’ fashion to the phenomenal soundtrack that includes both fantastic new tracks and stellar remixes from the original game. It just goes to show how you don't need a massive budget to have a strong presentation, which I feel is a pain point for a lot of other smaller JRPGs.

The game’s cast won me over completely, with Shoka coming out as my favorite new character. It was really admirable to see a cast of ordinary people banding together for a common purpose. It struck a perfect balance between how people talk normally and the JRPG quirkiness you come to expect.

The writing is attuned to a newer generation of audience, mirroring how it's a sequel fourteen years later. Despite the game only taking place three years in the future, I was really pleased with how much more I could relate to these newer characters, who live in times much more similar to ours. I'm confident this game will serve as a wonderful timepiece of culture in this era, as the first represented the late 2000s.

Forgive me... I can't break the 3,600 point threshold, and I'll never be able to get max level RoRo... I'm sorry.

This game is full of SOUL.

+ Stellar art direction
+ Stellar vibes
+ Stellar combat
+ Stellar Bosses
+ Stellar Soundtrack
+ Stellar presentation
+ Stellar performance and optimization
+ Fun dress up game tbh
+ Puzzle Variety
+ Rule of Cool the whole way through

- Fairly mediocre storytelling and characters, but the actual world and story is still cool in concept.
- One of the final boss options is pretty lame compared to the other, its also the only boss in the game that felt slightly buggy. Kinda weird. The other boss is SUUUUPER rad though.

Really fantastic realization of Granblue's scope and charm in stunning detail. Has some of my favorite ARPG combat that I've ever experienced, its similarities to Xenoblade made me realize that those systems are infinitely more engaging to me with full-on action combat as opposed to auto-attacking. It definitely helps a lot that it keeps up an extremely consistent flow to its combat, never feeling like it drones on or stalls too much. I haven't tried too many of the cast yet but Zeta was an absolute blast to play with how much airtime she gets with her combos. The sense of scope is helped even further by having some of the most stunning giant bosses this side of FFXVI, each one feels bigger and grander than the last. Story's not too much to write home about, it's basically the Granblue equivalent of a Shonen anime movie, which is fine as a standalone thing but a bit disappointing since I know that Granblue's capable of really engaging and gripping narratives. This probably being a lot of peoples' first impression of the cast doesn't help since it doesn't really showcase as much of what makes them so charming and likeable as the mobage does. (Lyria and Vryn are hit by this the hardest) Even so, a lot of Granblue's charm is still completely intact in here, so I can definitely see it drawing more people further after the fact. After beating its fairly brisk main story, I wanna keep playing to see everything the game has to offer. I guess I really have been itching for another Monster Hunter-like experience since I played 4U way back. Overall fantastic game, Cygames add Vira in a future update or all of this was for nothing.

100% achievements.

November 6th, 2023, marks the day I would begin my journey of playing Hellsinker. 5 months and a day to be exact. With interest spawning from a stray suggestion by a friend of mine, this would quickly result in an obsessive play-through which then graduated to an obsessive achievement hunt which would THEN go on infiltrate my personal life via absolutely wreaking havoc on my sleep schedule, even hijacking my dreams.

And I couldn't be more thankful.

Quite honestly, I'm not sure where to take this review, I'll let my fingers glide along the keyboard and post whatever crops up.

At 89.1 hours, Hellsinker sits comfortably at my #5 most played game on Steam. Despite this, I've only gone on to engage with the game in its entirety through the lens of 1 character. The game features 4 characters, 1 of which has 4 "Ordinance Packages" which change up their loadout. Essentially, this 1 character is 4 though their endings remain the same between loadouts. This leaves me with a staggering 1/7 true completion. In addition to this, each character does have a unique ending depending on their TLB progression, not viewable within the game's text sequence viewer. Though I've already gone ahead and watched a video showing their contents (SPOILERS (DUH!)), I'd still love to play the game to experience them firsthand.

Alright, what more is there left for me do? Surely after that I would have completed EVERYTHING there is to this game... right?

WRONG! THERE'S SO MUCH! THERE'S QUITE FRANKLY TOO MUCH! AND I THINK THE FUNNIEST PART HAS TO BE HOW ABSOLUTELY UNINTENDED MOST OF THE EXTRA STUFF IS!

I'll start by introducing this game's older sibling, Radio Zonde. Yes, I have played the game before, but I haven't really completed in a manner I find acceptable, so there's still this entire game for me to play. Much of the ideas regarding design both graphics and gameplay are very much seen within Hellsinker. 1CC for Radio Zonde TBD.

Following this game would then come Hellsinker but in the form of a demo, kinda? Colloquially the build is known as Hellsinker 0.95. This build is quite.... special. There's a bajillion changes from this version of the game to the Doujin and Steam releases and although I'd like to talk about them all day I'll spare this "review" the word count and cut to the main thing. This game, although presenting itself as a demo, actually holds within itself the entire game but more importantly the final stage(SPOILERS(AGAIN(DUH!))) accessible through dropping in some files graciously provided by the original poster. In a non-patched version, only stages 1-4 are playable. The cut special stages also feature 2 versions from what I understand looking at the channel. One version would then go on to become the Shrine seen in the Doujin and Steam release. The other version cut from the final releases feature something adjacent to a dungeon crawler style level (not spoilers).

Okay so. That's it right? Nothing more? There couldn't possibly be more?

But there is! All of these are from the game's Doujin release era (so like 2007-2011?) I'll tally up everything here:
>Doujin release (PURCHASED)
>Completion of said Doujin release (unsure if I'll do all characters TLB but I'll cross that bridge when I get there)
>Buying the fanzines (warning the page probably has some Not Safe For Work Ads so please use an adblocker <3 ) and then reading said fanzines (currently studying Japanese primarily for that)
>A 3D Hellsinker Railshooter fangame (Completed)
>A Puyo Puyo styled Hellsinker puzzle game (Completed)
>Another Hellsinker fangame though I don't really know what to compare this one to, check the IGDB page for more info (Completed)

...and that's it. At that point, I'll have fully exhausted myself on every possible official and unofficial expression of love for this game. Have I made it obvious enough how much I love this game?

I'm currently in ownership of pretty much every version of the game out there with their fan-patches in addition to the fan-games so if you'd like any of that please contact my either on Twitter or Discord @strawhatcanti. Thank you for reading. Until the next "review" goes up,

Keep your dignity.

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