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Okay, let me say this, Cassette Beasts is not a bad game. It does a lot of things pretty fine. In fact, it's pretty impressive that only about 5-7 people total made the game. It's a monster-taming RPG very similar to Pokemon. You go around the open world and platform around to access new locations, which I do find the visuals very charming, and engage in battle with beasts and trainers. You catch these beasts with cassettes by recording them and I really love the idea of having music integral to the game. It just helps give it its own identity.
Cassette Beasts share a lot of the same mechanics as Pokemon such as remasting, which is evolving your beasts into new powerful forms. As well as each beast falls into multiple types of elements; including more unique ones such as glitter, plastic, glass, and toxic. Plus I really like how you can customize movesets and abilities with stickers, even if the sticker doesn't match the element type of the beast. However, my favorite aspect has to be fusion. When you and your partner's beast combine into a new, bigger, more powerful beast that shares the same moveset. Plus I just think it's aesthetically super cool that no two beasts look exactly the same when you fuse them together.
Gameplay-wise...while personally I'm not a huge fan of monster taming in RPGs, I still found it severable and fairly fun. However, it's very barebones in terms of story. I felt like I spent 80% of the game on just going to new areas and fighting.
Cassette Beasts' plot is basically you're a complete stranger who landed on New Wirral, a strange land full of monsters, and you want to get back home. To do that, you need to defeat archangels to search for clues. And in the meanwhile, you can fight against ranger captains to get stamps (much like how you defeat Pokemon trainers for badges) and deal with vampires that may or may not be real estate scammers. That is essentially the plot within a paragraph. Granted there is a few cool moments I don't want to spoil but I found it to be very sparse for the most part.
If anything, the characters that serve as your partners add a lot of spice to the game's writing. They may not be super in-depth that get tons of development but they're still very likable characters that come from different time periods and places. Each partner has a bond system and you are able to learn more about the character's life before they came to New Wirral and even have the option to romance almost any of your partners once you max out thier bond. Plus a lot of the side characters such as the ranger trainers are colorful. They are pretty one-noted and only have a single trope for thier personality but alas they add to the game's vibrant atmosphere.
Other complaints I have is I personally found it super annoying for random people to pop up and challenge me to a fight all of the time, when sometimes I just can't be bothered at all. Plus the game does become very grindy in the post-game, especially since by then most of the content is either randomly generated quests or filling out the bestiary but as far as story content, there isn't much left to do after the final boss. And this is more of a Switch-specific issue but even with the stable patch update, I wasn't particularly a fan of the long load time. It's especially jarring when a loading screen pops up in the middle of walking from one area to another.
Cassette Beasts is a cutesy, fun 20-25+ hour game with some neat vivid ideas to break away from the monster-taming formula Pokemon have dominated for over 25 years. It doesn't truly do anything wrong or awfully. However, there's just much more to be desired with the story writing and there are certain mechanics and tropes I wish Cassette Beasts didn't copy from Pokemon. Maybe because I'm not in love with this subgenre of RPGs but decent gameplay alone can only keep my attention for so long before I would eventually get tired of the game. I don't think Cassette Beasts is bad, I'm just not sure if monster-taming games are for me
Xenogears is a very ambitious game and it’s clear that Tetsuya Takahashi was aiming highly with his vision. Even 25 years later, Xenogears still have more nuanced story writing than most games that came after it. It’s a game filled with interesting and complex ideas that combine Analytical psychology, religious symbolism, and scientific theories wrapped in a war-torn science fiction, mecha-filled setting spanning across centuries. As ambitious as Xenogears is, there is quite a lot of stumbling as the game approached the finish line with questionable game design, plot inconsistencies, irrelevant characters, and a very patchworked disc 2. Despite the many issues Xenogears obtains, it still entertains its promising concept from start to finish and does what it can to share a fraction of the overall scope of Xenogears.
Gameplay-wise, Xenogears is very resemblance to the golden days of the PS1 RPG. Random encounters, action time-based combat, a world map to explore and discover towns, dungeons, and hidden places, etc. all with little to no clear guidance on where to go next to progress the story. However, that’s more of a testament to what was considered standard PS1 RPG design than an element specific to Xenogears. What set apart Xenogears from other Square games such as classic Final Fantasy and Chrono Trigger is the Deathblow system. Rather than having a basic attack command, there are three button inputs, square for a light attack, triangle for a heavy attack, and X for a fatal attack. Different combinations can create a Deathblow combo for more damage. In addition, there are ether attacks and abilities (or character-specific alternatives such as chi or arcane) that function similarly to the game’s magic system and the possibility to perform several Deathblows in one turn, known as “combos”, granted if the player has built enough action points (AP) to perform them.
Another major factor in Xenogears’ combat is mecha battles, which are known as Gears in the game. Considering Gears are an essential part of Xenogears’ story, there are several Gears battles to engage in. They share similarities to on-foot combat such as using regular and ether attacks. However, each attack requires fuel to perform and a certain attack level is required to perform Deathblows. The player can also engage in boosting, which will increase the characters’ speed in exchange for more fuel usage. In addition to “special options” that feature Gear-specific attacks or repairing damage granted the Gear has the correct part for the command.
Despite featuring both on-foot and Gear battles, there isn’t much to Xenogears’ battle system. In fact, besides unlocking more Deathblows and ether attacks, the player will see the full extent of its combat system within the ¼ mark of the game. Combat will eventually feel repetitive, especially with the high encounter rate in dungeons and in the world map. Not to mention, the party can only truly get stronger by grinding out battles for more EXP or obtaining better gears to increase stats such as attack and defense for both physical and ether attacks as well as agility to increase speed. However, considering its age and the period the game is from, it’s ultimately serviceable at least.
That said, one of the biggest flaws of the game is at times, the dungeon designs are atrocious and frustrating to deal with. I do not know whose idea it was to include platforming, but it’s some of the worst I’ve ever played in a game. In fact, platforming through Babel Tower was one of the most unenjoyable experiences I had in recent memory and I wanted to just give up on playing the game a few times, especially since it’s quite a time waster to redo certain areas of the dungeon and it have created so much stress and anxiety for me. Plus there are a few dungeons with confusing layouts that feel maze-like and very easy to get lost in without a map. On top of the high encounter rates….exploring dungeons is definitely one of the weakest areas for Xenogears.
Despite its gameplay, which is presented enough at least for the majority of the game, Xenogears biggest strength that often receives praise is the story. It’s a sprawling epic featuring protagonist Fei Fong Wong traveling across the Ignas content to discover the mysteries of the Aveh/Kislev war, the all-ruling Solaris nation, the floating country of Shevat, the religious deity of Ethos, and within himself alongside Elehayym Van Houten, Citan Uzuki, and others. Xenogears have a large scope between various countries, lore, and terminology covered across the game’s narrative and it’s especially impressive considering its age and its fellow contemporaries don’t even come close to the amount of detailed worldbuilding Xenogears contains. One aspect that I’ve particularly found impressive was the occasional updating of NPCs with different dialogue as the story progress. It’s not as text-heavy compared to say…the Trails series that would emerge a few years from now after Xenogears, but it was a pleasant surprise to see this feature in a PS1 game as it helps fleshes out the worldbuilding a tad bit more.
Xenogears starts off very promising with its scale, as the game quickly pushes the plot forward in a very dramatic execution that forces Fei to travel around begrudgingly. During his journey, the player sees Fei develops as a character and understands his role as a Gear pilot as he met key characters that would eventually join his party and understands the current state of each country. However, as the stakes increase all across the country, this means there is more ground to cover and focus for Xenogears. Meaning as the game progress, character motivations and purposes for half of the playable cast will be forgotten and plot points will be more inconsistent and rushed through quickly.
Xenogears serve very well for the protagonist, deuteragonist, and tritagonist. Which are respectively, Fei, Elly, and Citan. These three characters are introduced very early on in the story, within the first few hours, and remain a constant device to advance the narrative. Fei and Elly in particular are explored fully with their own psyche and how both of them play a critical role in the game’s themes of human existence and purpose throughout religious mythology, self-identity, and using technology to achieve the state of godhood and ascension. The two characters complement each other well beyond their surface relationship for each other, but also as the subtext of the role of Psychoanalysis and Metempsychosis. Citan also serves as a foil character to Fei with his calculated methodology approach and juxtaposition to Fei’s emotional and uncontrolled outbursts along with Citan’s own motivations.
While Fei, Elly, and Citan are overall excellent characters that embody the central message of Xenogears, unfortunately, I can not say the rest for the playable characters. It’s common for the PS1 era to let the player form their own three-person team and only the required characters have speaking lines during story moments while the rest are awkwardly silent as if they’re not there at all. However, I personally found that Xenogears mistreats a huge chunk of its characters even for PS1 standards. Besides, Fei, Elly, and Citan, Bart is the most important playable character and does have some significance throughout the game. However, Billy, Maria, and Rico all have a minor arc early in the game that is ultimately used just to spread insight into the game’s world, and beyond that, they have very few lines in the overall story, and if they were cut out from the game, hardly much of anything would be drastically changed. In fact, Chu Chu is merely nothing more than a cutesy mascot character and I’m sure Xenogears will almost be exactly the same game without her. Perhaps Emerlada is the most snubbed playable character. She is introduced right before the end of disc 2 and Emerlada is never a required character to use not once in the game. However, she has so much important lore behind her character that is easily missable and it’s only found at a hidden location right before the final dungeon of the game. It’s quite frustrating and even sad to see how the game eventually forgets about the importance of ⅔ of the playable cast.
Aurbably, a major reason why most of the cast become irreverent overtime is because of the dramatic change of story presentation in disc 2. disc 2, half of the time, is completely narrated by either Fei or Elly at a black void with one of the two sitting down in a chair with a backdrop of still images of them explaining what has occurred. In comparison to how the events of disc 1 unfold, disc 2 feels like a quick summary at times. From my understanding, some say budget cuts are the result of disc 2, while others have said Tetsuya Takahashi felt like he and his team could not fully complete Xenogears within 2 years and have to settle for a compromise. Either way, it’s very evident between the lack of dungeons, open map exploration, and detailed story writing, the development team at some point began to rush through Xenogears.
However, I personally believe not all of disc 2 is messy and incomplete. With how the story presentation is formatted, it serves well to gain and study an introspection of Fei’s psychology and mental state in a way that would be jarring and out of place to do during disc 1. Not to mention the heavy usage of backstory and flashbacks to conceive how much of Xenogears’ setting is built before the start of the game. Disc 2 is rather excellent to enforce the Psychoanalysis and Metempsychosis themes without disrupting the game’s pacing of the present state of events too much.
Xenogears, at a quick glance, is a sci-fi epic that has a lot to tell. Upon further inspection, however, there are some areas that are superior such as Fei and Elly being excellent character studies that enforce the core themes of the game. While other parts such as the rest of the cast slowly become forgotten and the rushed pacing of the plot near the end of the game, there’s still much to be desired as well on top of the awful dungeon design. Xenogears is very flawed but it uses its flaws the best it can to come to a conclusion no matter what, rather than leaving it incomplete, and it’s quite admiring that Tetsuya Takahashi does what he can to tell his vision. While it will be years from now until Takahashi can fully realize his ideas with the Xenoblade Chronicles series, Xenogears is the first example of the boundless potential Takahashi is capable of. As rough and unpolished as it is, there is a diamond underneath the psyche of Xenogears.
After 114 hours, four months with all character events and nearly all side quests completed including the DLC and tons of synthesizing, I have finally completed Atelier Ryza 3. Being the final game in the Ryza trilogy, it’s the most ambitious and grand Atelier game to date. With the most amount of playable characters in an Atelier game, huge open-world areas, and a mysterious plot to unravel. Gust was aiming for the moon with Alchemist of the End & the Secret Key. There is quite a lot of stumbling toward the finish line with some of the story execution and game balance but overall, Ryza 3 does manage to conclude the trilogy in a satisfying enough matter and the alchemy is as open as ever.
One of the biggest selling points of Atelier Ryza 3 is the open world and how the game is three times larger than Atelier Ryza 2, which includes all of Kurken Island, the main area for the first Ryza game, completely seamless with no loading areas. It was interesting to see Gust revisit the open-world idea after Atelier Firis but with even a bigger scope in mind. There is a lot of asset reuse and plenty of landmarks that are completely optional to visit. So some could argue the game is huge for the sake of it but I personally appreciate the second attempt at an open-world Atelier game. My only minor complaint is, graphically while it’s beautiful at times, there are places with low texture and polygon counts. Given the game’s scope and the budget and size of Gust, this isn’t too surprising but it’s an ugly and jarring look at times.
To freshen up the series’ formula between synthesis and combat, one of the major new gameplay (as well as story) elements in the game is the key system. There are a lot of complexities with keys, but essentially, you create hollow (and later pristine) keys, then you use a hollow or pristine key at a landmark or during battle to create a secret key. With secret keys, you can use them to enchant synthesis traits and qualities for items, increase stats and AP during combat, and gather new materials and items at supply boxes for exploration.
Speaking of exploration, there are new features that have been added. Random quests can occur at any time and anywhere in the game. The quests are extremely simple and repetitive since they’re nothing more than hunt, fetch, follow, or trading quests. After a short while, the full extent of random quests will be seen and they will become more easy to ignore when they pop up. However, they’re a useful and excellent way to gain more SP (skill points for the skill tree), gold coins, and money. Also, while a more minor feature of Ryza 3 ultimately, Atelier building will occur in every area you visit. However, there is customization on how each Atelier can give different benefits such as higher SP gain, higher chances of random quests spawning, and higher qualities of materials during gathering.
That said, at its core, Ryza 3 functions the same as the previous entries. Combat is still action-time based but it’s as redefined as ever thanks to skill usage, AP, and tactics levels all overhauled to be as responsive and smooth as ever before. Additionally, there are new features to combat such as order drives and switching between support and aggressive mode to tailor the usage of AP between the party and give the player a tactical edge in battle. Plus the skill tree allows you to unlock adventure gear and high-level synthesis items early in the game. Plus all of Ryza’s previous alchemy abilities such as item duplication and rebuilding, as well as gem reduction, forging, and sending out puni to gather materials. All of the enchantments to item creation can be obtained early on in Ryza 3 if the player desires so since there are no stop points in the skill tree that ties into the main story's progress.
Ryza 3 offers so much in gameplay since the alchemy system is as deep and fruitful as ever with the many tools the player is able to use almost immediately and more to come as they progress through the game. Combining that with the key system, and the potential for high-end alchemy is boundless. However…that can be a double edge sword by itself. From personal experience, I’ve found Ryza 3 to be the most breakable Atelier game to date thanks to all these tools on top of having no time limit like the past Atelier games. Not to mention if the player knows their way with the skill tree and makes the best usage with synthesizing, they can easily be at endgame strength within the midway point of the game. And by the time I completed the main game, I was so overpowered with equipment and items, almost nobody was a challenge at all even at the highest difficulty setting. Now, this can be avoided if the alchemy engagement is done at a minimum, but any game balance is thrown out of the window if the player chooses to get the most out of synthesis.
Now Atelier Ryza 3 offers plenty of depth with gameplay and there’s more that could be explained further but the appeal of Atelier isn’t just about the gameplay, it’s also the story. In Ryza 3, Ryza and her friends travel to solve the mystery of the Code of the Universe and the surrounding Age of God people in the past as well as the purpose and usage of the keys that appear suddenly in front of Ryza. Being the most focused in plot writing and text in the series, Ryza 3’s story offers a lot of lore and background information as well as tidying up any lingering plot threads and character development ongoing since the first Ryza game.
Atelier has always been excellent with character writing due to each character having its own series of events. Characters that have been in all three games such as Kladuia, Lent, Tao, and Bos have been thoroughly developed over the trilogy and evolved but there are still new tidbits to learn about the characters as well as resolving any conflicts that have started since the first game. While new characters such as Federica, Dion, and Kala get additional focus within the main story alongside character events and side quests. Speaking of character events, more characters are often involved in events, to the point one on one conversations are rather rare in Ryza 3. Personally, I like this since more people can draw out different sides of a person, plus the cast is rather very large so the interaction between each character has to fit somewhere.
That said, there are quite some issues with the game’s overall plot. At first, Ryza 3 appears to be very streamlined, focused, and getting straight to the point, assuming the player has played the first two games. However, after the first few hours or so, the game will often put off the main quest of resolving the issue with the Kark Islands and the Age of the Universe to resolve issues surrounding the new characters and the areas they are from. This is great for character writing but in exchange, it hurts the pacing of the plot. Even if the issues Ryza and company resolve are connected to the main conflict eventually, it just takes quite a while to make progress, especially near the end.
Another complaint I have with the plot is there is a lack of significant focus and urgency in Ryza 3 which adds to the jumbled pacing. There isn’t a single main antagonist in the Ryza games at all to actively be a threat to the group. While it wasn’t needed in Ryza 1 and 2 since the themes were more so about coming of age, seeking out adventure; and discovering new ruins, learning about a mysterious creature, respectively. Ryza 3’s story would serve very well with active antagonists since the plot is very actively focused on stopping evil from occurring again. However ultimately, the plot just felt like the group was cleaning up a massive incident that happened thousands of years ago and anyone that could potentially be an antagonist is long gone. It’s quite anti-climatic considering how ambitious and grand Ryza sets out for its narrative.
Perhaps the biggest flaw of Atelier Ryza 3 and even the entire trilogy is Ryza herself as the protagonist. Now I am aware this is the most subjective and personal part of the review but my feelings for Ryza as a character have been very flip-flopping. Ryza has been a massive improvement in the sequel but I was just quite frankly unsatisfied with her by the end of the third game. She has gotten almost no character development at all and when all of her allies have improved in strides, especially the same characters that grew up with her. It’s just not a great look.
Instead in Ryza 3, the game turns her into a convenient mary sue that can solve any immediate issue the game throws at all within minutes, or at best, a trip to the Atelier. There’s no challenge, no obstacle that has beaten down Ryza and took her a while to recover. Plus, in past Atelier games, there was always a deuteragonist that was considered the closest to the protagonist and help them grow and evolve as a person. However, for the Ryza trilogy, it just felt like Ryza wasn’t allowed to be too close to anyone. Ryza just felt like a “safe” protagonist. Lacking in character depth and writing but yet liked by everyone and able to solve the main conflict essentially by themselves and any potential threat to Ryza ended up being a near-instant recovery. I wasn’t sure what was Gust planning with Ryza but I personally believe the lack of a true deuteragonist hinders Ryza’s character overall, especially since this is the first time Gust created a trilogy of Atelier games based around a single character.
Other noteworthy quality-of-life issues I have encountered during the 100+ hours I’ve spent in Atelier Ryza 3 are the dialogue and script for the text is once in a while awkwardly translated or there are spelling or grammar mistakes. Not to mention, for a few side quests (mainly the DLC quests), the reliance on completing random quests which can trigger at any time and determine what the exact triggers is questionable game design. I could not complete a side quest because I struggled to trigger one of the required random quests despite trying different variables. I am not sure if Gust and Koei Tecmo was a tight deadline for Atelier Ryza 3, but despite a month's delay from the original release date, it wouldn’t hurt to have more polish, especially considering the size and scale of the game.
In the end, Atelier Ryza 3 is the biggest Atelier game in terms of scope from large open-world explorable areas, the number of playable characters and interactions, and the most potential for alchemy with its many systems and gameplay elements. All wrapped up with one of the most original and polished attempts in action time-based combat. The plot struggles quite a lot between the lack of focus, no true antagonist, and Ryza leading the charge being plain and uninteresting. But all and all, Ryza 3 does conclude and wrap up the trilogy in an overall solid ending with vague but promising endings for the entire cast as well as the future for Kukuen Island and beyond. The open-world approach can be better redefined and perhaps not give pave the road to the strongest items at the start of the game. However, for the future, my biggest wish for Gust is to return to just put in more character building into the next protagonist for Atelier…and maybe not attempt another epic world adventuring plot for a while.