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im really mad with how this game turned out, especially considering how much hype the game garnered before release (and even after with all the meat riders). that's not to say it's bad, far from it - it's just got some glaring flaws that really did this game dirty, and i don't see anyone talking about them.
let me start with the good. gameplay is objectively a huge improvement over 7's. combos, moving around your enemies in battles helps so much since you can now get critical back hits if positioned right, wonky foreground objects that would mess up your attacks in the last game can now be picked up as weapons, and grappling attacks that break guards - it's solved almost everything i didn't like about 7's gameplay and i'm very glad they put more thought into it, the potential of 7's system has finally been realised.
one big issue that pained me in the last game is still glaringly apparent here though. enemies and bosses are piss easy up until chapter 10 i'd say, all being able to be done with in 3 or less turns. after that, the game has a difficulty spike (annoying, but a lot nicer than 7) which forces mandatory grinding. granted, one run of the mystery dungeon will give you enough XP to fight the final boss with ease, but the fact that it never hits the sweet spot in difficulty is very annoying.
also, the new characters added are an absolute treat - they never feel out of place with the gang and i'm glad they're written well. easily the greatest part about the ichiban games are their bonds together.
this game is also filled to the brim with content, and not in a bloated way like 5. the bucket list is an absolute tearjerker (even though i think it should have been part of the main story) and the substories are pretty developed this time around, even better than they were previously. that, and the quality of life genuinely make me scared to see how 7's features pale in comparison to this. an auto-win button for low-level encounters, finally being able to choose a taxi location from the map, and especially the electric scooter - one of my complaints in 7 was that the city was way too big to traverse on foot, and i had to rely on opening the phone menu and selecting taxis way too often. it's a blessing and i'm glad they've done this much.
this is where the praise ends, and story spoilers start.
i don't need to say much about the ng+ dlc, but it's shameful considering that this was a thing with 7 in japan - but the backlash got so bad that it was included with the game in the english version. just an earthly reminder about how scummy companies can get. if not for the emotional kiryu stuff that was heavily advertised with this game, i don't think i would have got it. but if there's some extra dlc content that is worth getting, it would probably make the dlc worthwhile.
the story is easily the worst part about this game. there's so much about it that genuinely pisses me off, but i'll try to summarise it in the best way i can. they had so many chances to do some wicked shit but ultimately pulled a lot of its punches and played it safe for reasons i can't really grasp. the first half of the story is genuine filler - the gang was really just running around looking for akane - the game does a good job and hyping her up (she's his mom - obviously learning more about this goat protagonist is interesting) and lani as well (even comparing her to haruka in y1 - kiryu's reason for helping out) and when we do find them, they contribute absolutely nothing to the story afterwards. I don't even think kiryu and lani had a scene together, given how much he wanted to rescue her.
in addition to this, there's a lot of shit that just gets glossed over for seemingly no reason at all. the whole daidoji thing with kiryu could have been expanded on given how much of a tight grip they had on him in gaiden, but nahhh, he's just able to live after being exposed because he's "important for the mission". we're also gonna forget about eiji, the man who literally fucked up ichiban and gang's whole careers, fuckin disappears after we get back lani, and now he's gone back to japan and is now looking homeless? how the fuck did that all happen within the span of a few days???? and don't get me started on ebina. his whole backstory just makes the arakawa family fiasco in 7 even more confusing, and the fact that ichiban isn't even made aware of it is just ??????
people wack on 5's story for being ridiculous but at least it was a good time. this genuinely feels lazy.
on top of that, the villains are boring. bryce is some cult guy who isn't even remotely interesting. his backstory is lame, and we're supposed to care when we don't see him AT ALL. until his boss fight i'm convinced he only appeared to ichiban at least 3 times max. eiji is a bitch boy - his blackmail with chitose was honestly great, a very good motive to do all the shit he did, but there's no real resolve or one-to-one convo with him about it. only at the very end do we see he's sorry, and even though the ending went insanely hard, it just wasn't convincing enough because we didn't see any development from himself beforehand. i already talked about ebina, he's basically a "daddy issues" villain but his speech at the end highlighted the yakuza being a necessary evil, that will always linger in japan despite the dissolution. couldn't care about it less about it by that point but it made kiryu cry (something that hasn't been done since y3) so it gets extra points.
i've left the bucket list for last, cuz it's the best and worst part about the game. seeing old important characters really just made me appreciate for wonderful all these characters are. i genuinely shed a tear when i saw taichi and kaoru - such a heartwarming section and i'm glad they've done this. being side content really hurts it however, haruka's part is a very good example. you think there would be some insane cutscene where they both start bursting with tears while being the sweetest shit ever, but nah, we get edged and kiryu leaves halfway through. the daidoji is their reason for this i think? you'd think kiryu would go through some tough shit because of this but he just gets away with a simple fight since he knows that he has plot armour 😭 you can't make this shit up
if the bucket list took up the first half of the game, with the lesser important people being side content, i think that would have been perfect.
but as great as it was, the worst offender of the story is the ending, simply because it just leaves way too much unexplained. very lazy to leave this much "to interpretation".
for starters, ichiban and saeko's shit could have easily been the cherry on top, with him finally getting the proper words to say to her. but they just had to ruin it with some weird fuck ass shit - even for ichiban this was out of pocket, especially since the whole team was building ichiban up to this moment (especially saeko's speech in the final boss, was that all for nothing????) ofc it'll be resolved in the other game, but it really feels lazy.
we don't even see how any of the characters are actually doing, just short summaries. chitose and lani not being seen at all was very disappointing considering that they've both taken on some big roles.
but the final cutscene with kiryu was easily the worst. honestly thought kiryu's final moments would have been well spent - and him being killed off in a either badass or heartwarming way, but nahhhhh, he lived. with him with cancer you'd think he would go (or be finished by the daidoji after completing the mission) but fuck what we've previously established am i right?
to end it all off, haruka and haruto are waiting for him by his hospital bed while he's out for an inspection or whatever. here he reveals his name, supposed to be a big deal, but why should it be when there is no reasoning behind it? why would the daidoji let him do this????? the bucket list moment felt like it was leading to this, but of course we don't see what happens at all...... haha
just hype the end of kiryu up for it not to be the end of kiryu. this should have been the dlc that gaiden was supposed to be to this game.
even past all that, i did have some good fun thanks to the quality of life and improved gameplay. maybe i will go back in premium adventure because looking at the completion list, there's a LOT of cool shit i missed. hard to do that when the entire game was essentially a big blueball.
the city deserves its own section. i absolutely love the vibes, but when you get down to it, it's really just the special shops crammed into one place, and it hurts the game’s replayability a lot. special characters in wild world would pop up in town and do something fun each week, and for me, that was a big motivator to come back to the game every day - there’d always be something new to find, or unlock - and if not, they would at least be interesting to talk to. but now that people like Redd, Katrina and Harriet are always in the city, there was no real reason to come back, since they’d always be there, doing the exact same stuff. gracie’s shop made returning furniture sets from gamecube way too expensive, the auction house is pretty much useless now that wifi’s gone, and kicks would be better if he had his own building. it would have been so much better if they had made new characters to replace these old ones, but that’s what new leaf is for.
i would go into more things like the terrible golden axe fountain rng, the fact that multiplayer is virtually unchanged from ww (and you can't go to the city), the weird exclusion of classic controller/gamecube support and ultimately harder to play for longer periods of time due to the lack of portability, but i don't want to be too harsh considering i have had some fun memories of this game with good friends. the goofy wii speak, pro patterns, and the whole hacked villagers and dlc item fiasco years ago are always a fascinating part of animal crossing history in my eyes. still, for every improvement it introduced, it adds 3 more problems, while also being way too similar to wild world and trying too hard to fill in the gaps it left behind.