Ys I & II Chronicles – First Impressions

Feels like it’s been a while since I wrote one of these “reviews.” Probably because it’s been a while since I felt so passionate about the beginning of a game. (Depression’s a jerk, that’s for sure.) However, I just started playing this game last night, and let me tell you: the impression it made on me is so incredible. Last time a game’s intro got to me this much was when I played Persona 3 for the first time.

At first, I wasn’t sure how to feel about it. I’m far more of a turn-based RPG fan. I got this game because it’s made by Nihon Falcom, the creators of one of my favorite RPGs of all time: Trails of Cold Steel. With that, I was expecting it to be a turn-based game, but when I realized it was an action RPG, it slightly turned me away. Only for a little bit, however. I gave it a day’s thought, then booted the game up last night. Let me say I was blown away.

The combat in Ys I is very simplistic. It was designed with accessibility in mind, so basically, all you need is the D-pad or analog stick to fight. You ram into the enemy, and if you hit them from the right angle, you can damage them without taking damage yourself. It’s simple, but when you get into a rhythm of ramming into enemies and grinding, it gets rather fun!

I can’t say much about the plot yet since I’m only two hours into the game and just made it to the first dungeon, but I can say that it’s one of those stories where less is really more. The game focuses a lot more on exploration and combat, but the story is very present. You know the protagonist well (for the most part), you understand the circumstances, and the plot still progresses. A lot of the dialogue mostly comes from talking to NPCs in the various towns, but that’s also where you get more insight on the plot. So in a way, you can sort of choose how much information you as the player take in.

Enough about that. The thing that really stuck out to me was the music. As a fan of the Legend of Heroes series, it’s no secret to me that Falcom games have kickass music, and this game is no exception. You start out in a town, and once you’ve done your exploring and talking to NPCs, the only other step you can think to do is to leave town despite everyone’s warnings saying it’s dangerous out there. However, the moment you step outside, you’re greeted by one of the most kickass overworld themes I think I’ve ever heard.

Let’s hope YouTube doesn’t take this video down.

Once I heard this song and got used to the incredibly addicting combat system, let’s just say I was absolutely hooked. This song, along with the simplistic-yet-amazing combat, makes you feel like a total badass when you’re going around wiping out the monsters threatening the local towns. I spent forever just grinding last night because this music never got old.

I certainly plan on playing the rest of the series after beating this game, that’s for sure. This was way too good of a first impression for me to pass up on the rest of the games.

Making a Game

I’m not what you’d call an expert developer. Hell, I’m hardly a developer as is. I only know basic coding for games, and I generally work with premade engines like RPG Maker and such so I only have to worry about the game itself. Even so, I find that developing a game, especially as a solo developer, has been a whole chore in itself.

For well over a year, I’ve been using RPG Maker MV to create a story-driven fantasy RPG called The Crystal’s Tale. This game is inspired by the plot of the first novel I have ever written and maintains the original concept while taking the many things I’ve learned over the past 17 years as an author into consideration. And in that past year, I have completed the Prologue chapter, and as of this article being written, I am still not done with Chapter One.

It’s not like what I’ve created is short, either. For only being the prologue and first chapter, the game has quite a bit of substance to it, lasting almost four hours long counting the duration of the optional dungeon. (Even then, the optional dungeon takes up about an hour or less depending on when you choose to go in.) But still, for how long I’ve been working on it, you would expect that I would be a little further along in the process. That’s what I assumed, at least. That’s a long time to be working on a game.

But of course, there are more factors in this process than have been accounted for. Life events and changes, work, other creative endeavors (I’m an author first and foremost, so the game comes secondary to my writing work), the list goes on. However, even if you take those out of the way, I still probably wouldn’t have been finished with the first chapter yet. Why is that? Because of the work that goes into making a game by yourself.

When you’re a solo developer, you are the whole dev team. You’re the writer, the programmer, the artist, the music composer, the director, the producer, and so much more, even when using an engine as simple and easy to use as RPG Maker. RPG Maker has some amazing artwork, music, and sound effects built into the engine, which are amazing as placeholders or if you just want to make a game with the default assets. I’m using the art in the engine for now since doing all my art for this game that will potentially last 30-80 hours would take much longer, and I want the base game finished before I do all of that.

However, there is something I am doing that impedes my progress, and that is composing every single track in the game.

I have a background in music. Nothing extensive; I took four months of music theory, eight years of choir, a couple years of musical theatre, and I’ve been experimenting in music composition since I was 14 years old. And as a fan of video game music, developing my own game and putting my own music in it sounds ideal. But with this, the problem lies with the fact that I want the soundtrack to have a unique song for almost every situation. I even want the main battle theme to change every time you start a new chapter. Doing this, though, results in me stopping the progress of my game for weeks, sometimes months, until I get the music I want written. That’s just how my work flow has been, since I’m not always in the mood to work on my music.

With that being said, it will likely take plenty of time for me to get this game finished, especially as a solo developer who is way too determined to make sure the soundtrack is as good as can be. However, I am excited to share it with you guys. I plan on releasing it completely for free to the public once it is finished, and I will provide updates here! If you are familiar with RPG Maker and have any suggestions or tips or anything, feel free to let me know!

Here are some samples of the game’s soundtrack so far!

This is the Overworld theme. At least, the first one.
This is the theme of the first town in the game.
This is the first main battle theme in the game.
And here’s my personal favorite. This track plays during battles in the first optional dungeon.

A Song That Inspires Courage

I might not have been in this life for particularly long, but I’ve definitely experienced the fear of regular things in life that not only happen all the time, but are things I feel like we shouldn’t even be afraid of. I experienced this same feeling of dread and even despair just this morning, so it’s not exactly the greatest way to start the day. I panicked because after getting paid, I realized I wouldn’t have enough money to pay my phone bill (or anything else) after paying my rent, which was definitely priority number one.

I feel like the reason it hit so hard was because it was the straw that broke the camel’s back. For many of us, 2020 has been a rough year. Things always seem to get worse and worse. It’s been incredibly easy even for me to succumb to the despair of feeling like things can’t get better, and I’ve always been known to be a rather optimistic person. (A little nihilistic as well, but I feel like a small dose of that helps with the optimism.) Just this year alone, I admit that I’ve thought numerous times that it’d be much easier to just die than put up with all of this. The thought of pushing through all the troubles that I just know are ahead almost brings me tears because I know how difficult and painful it will be.

But this morning, after that feeling of panic and dread started, a simple yet beloved song of mine came to mind, and I had to listen to it.

(Here’s to hoping the video isn’t taken down.)

There’s something special about this particular theme, both this version and the original version from the GameBoy. It starts off with the familiar Legend of Zelda main theme, but then breaks off into a new section that I personally feel is even better than the original Zelda theme. Anyone who’s played a Zelda game gets the basic idea of the concept. You play as the young protagonist Link, travel a dangerous world, crawl through dark dungeons, take on huge enemies, solve puzzles, and you save the world. You endure much hardship in these games, but at the end, you never see Link give up. (So long as you play through the whole game, that is.) You see him find a way to keep moving, because he knows as well as you do that it will be worth it in the end to have fought through it all.

Listening to this theme again warmed my heart, reminded me to take a deep breath, and to remember that life is more than the trouble we endure. We have people we care about, we have things we enjoy doing. That’s what life is about, and in the famous words of Talesin Jaffe, life needs things to live. As silly a quote as this was in context, it rings true. We all need each other. And even though we’re in a time of separation right now, we’re still connected even if we don’t know each other.

This theme has reminded me to keep my own courage up. I acknowledge my feelings and concerns, but then I must cast them aside, because if I don’t, how am I supposed to move forward? It’s like my childhood experience with Zelda games. It’d take me years to beat one because I was so afraid of failure that I’d put off taking on the next boss for long amounts of time. I’d still do it, though, because I wanted to see more of the game. I wanted to experience the rest of the game’s world, meet the people who populate it, and see Link come out on top. This same wish applies to my real life. I want to surpass my trials now so I can keep moving forward, to one day see the rest of the incredible world we live in, to meet the wonderful people who live in it, and to eventually see that I might be able to make a career from my writing.

At the end of the day, we are not the same as our problems nor our thoughts. We are ourselves, and we are each strong enough to overcome these struggles. I have faith in myself, and I have faith in you, as you should. Keep going. Fight. Show the same courage our boy in green always has, and I hope you can be proud of yourself for doing so.

(Here’s the GameBoy version if you feel like listening to it.)

Tales of Vesperia – First Impressions

The Tales series is something I meant to get into way sooner than I actually did. Back when I was a teenager, I guess you can say I started with Tales of Phantasia, only it was before there was an English patch for it. I just remember being astonished at not only the visual style for it being a SNES game, but also surprised that there was voice acting in it. I didn’t play much of it because of the language barrier, but still, this is a series that has always been at the back of my mind. Even when I was a younger teenager, I’d heard some of Motoi Sakuraba’s work from Tales of Symphonia. Since then, I’d been wanting to play this series even more.

Flash forward six or seven years into the future. As an adult, I’ve spent most of my gaming time with Persona, Final Fantasy, Shin Megami Tensei, and Dragon Quest, and I’ve played most, if not all the games in each series so far. (I haven’t beaten them yet because it takes me forever to get through games, but still.) I’m rather burned out on the RPGs I’d been playing, so I ask a good friend of mine what RPGs he’d recommend that aren’t in those series, so later, he sends me this massive list of recommendations. One of the games on there was Tales of Vesperia. I’m pretty sure that game is available on most modern gen consoles now, but I decided to grab the PS4 version. (Though if I knew it was on the Switch, I probably would have gotten it for that instead.)

The moment I booted up the game, I fell in love with the anime-esque art style. Sakuraba’s music hit me with a wave of nostalgia from my years of listening to Tales of Symphonia music. The voice actors all sounded familiar and almost embraced me emotionally with a sense of welcoming, like I was coming home from a long journey, if that cheesy comparison makes any sense. After the prologue, I was raring to go. I loved how the dungeon-crawling worked, though I did admittedly get lost frequently in the first dungeon because I was just not all that observant. It took me a little bit to adapt to the combat style, but eventually, I got the hang of it. It reminded me of what a traditional turn-based RPG would look like if it all played out in real time, and I still love it. It makes grinding not feel as much like a grind.

I don’t really have much to say since I’m only seven hours in and haven’t had much time to play it since booting it up, but I can safely say I am absolutely in love with this game. The characters are all so charming, the world feels amazing, the classic RPG elements make it feel familiar and comfortable to play, and even though I’m currently stuck on a boss right now, I’m still having an amazing time with the game. If you’re looking for a fresh RPG that also shares similarities with what we RPG fanatics have come to know and love, I’d highly recommend picking it up, or at least listening to the music. Motoi Sakuraba is a genius.

The Genesis – Persona 4

Listen to the end. Trust me; you won’t regret it.

This is such a fascinating song that I had to write an entire article about it. Maybe not a long article, but I just wanted to share my thoughts on this song and why it’s personally one of my favorite tracks in the whole Persona 4 soundtrack. People talk about it being boring, and while they’re allowed to have their own opinions, I couldn’t agree less than I already do.

Maybe it’s because of this following fact. I’m not the biggest fan of Persona 4‘s soundtrack in general, at least, in comparison to the other games’ soundtracks. (My personal favorites are the soundtrack of P1, both the PSP and PS1 versions, P2: Eternal Punishment, P3, and P5.) People talk about it being too slow for the “true final battle” theme, and yes, it is a little slow, but it’s incredible. This track just stands out to me more than most songs in the P4 soundtrack do because of its intimidating and ominous nature. The true final boss is most certainly a formidable foe, and this song is probably the most fitting song Shoji Meguro could have composed for it.

In a game with music that gives off a pop/rock vibe, a song like this, with a classical orchestra feeling, really just provides that atmosphere change that really shows you you’re in the endgame now. Even The Mist, another one of my favorite tracks from P4, doesn’t scream “final boss” like this song does. At least to me, anyway. All of this is my own opinion, and I can absolutely see why people would disagree with me. But I’m coming from the perspective of a former choir/music theory major. In the years I performed in choir and have studied music theory, I learned to be able to feel what music was saying through the timbre of the instruments, the way the time signature is utilized, the cadence of the melody as it combines with the background harmonies, the list goes on.

My point is that just about every song out there tells a story, and it doesn’t need lyrics to tell that story. You can understand what it’s saying through close listening and truly immersing yourself in the song. This song gives off the perfect foreboding aura such an intimidating final boss deserves. It sort of reminds me of the song “Transient Butterfly” from the PS1 version of the first Persona game, at least in its structure and what sort of feeling it’s giving off. Except unlike that song, “The Genesis” has that bit of hope at the end of the game where it brings things back full circle with the melody of “Reach Out to the Truth”, another one of my favorite tracks from this game. That ending always gives me chills.

Long rant short, I personally think this song is absolutely incredible, and it’s the perfect track for the true final battle. Also, the instruments give off very heavy Strange Journey vibes. I know that both games’ soundtracks were composed by Shoji Meguro, but still. Strange Journey is one of my favorite games of all time, and I absolutely love that Meguro threw some of that game’s music style into a Persona game. Goes to show it’s true that every Persona game’s final battle theme has some Shin Megami Tensei inspiration.

Persona Q2 – First Impressions (No spoilers)

I cannot express my love for this game enough, guys. Just play it when it comes out.

Ever since Atlus announced that they’d be making a sequel to the original Persona Q, which remains one of my favorite 3DS titles to this day, I’ve been hyped from day one. To make a long story short, I got into the original PQ because of the franchise’s predecessor, Shin Megami Tensei. The fact that there existed a first person dungeon-crawler featuring the Persona characters I’ve come to know and love over the past few years made me happy.

(I know Persona 1 was a first persona dungeon-crawler, but I never saw them doing this again.)

And then this beautiful gem of a game was announced.

I watched every trailer, every character overview, and basked in the amazingness of the music. I was ready. Of course, it came out in Japan long before its release here in the US, which is pretty standard for Atlus titles, but then we received unfortunate news that the game didn’t sell all that well in Japan. If I recall correctly, anyway. I’m not necessarily the go-to source for info like this. I just heard about it before localization of the game happened. As a result of the game’s poor sales, they made the decision to just keep the game’s Japanese voice acting in, and, possibly, if enough people in the US show interest in the game, they may consider adding English voice acting later down the road as DLC, like the Japanese voice patch in Persona 5.

As is normal on the internet these days, people got all up in arms about it, but personally, I don’t see the point. Yes, I had come to know and love the English VAs over the years, but English voice acting or not, the game still got an English translation, and I’m beyond thankful for that.

Backstory aside, I got my copy quite early. It just arrived yesterday, despite not actually being released to the public until June 4th, so I figured I’d give a little first impressions treatment to what is my new favorite title on the 3DS.

Honestly, all I can say is that this game is as amazing as I expected and then some. It’s not just another Etrian Odyssey game with the skin of a Persona game. (I’m over-simplifying things, but still.) It doesn’t feel like they just copied the assets from the first game and brought them to this one. Everything feels almost redone from the ground up, save for, perhaps, the engine itself, but that doesn’t matter.

The writing is incredibly solid, like in the rest of the Persona series. Every character remains faithful to their original selves from their respective games. The music, as is to be expected of a Persona game, is absolutely incredible, even more than I expected, to tell you the truth. Prior to the game coming out, I only heard the battle themes and the incredible intro theme, but after having gotten to start the game, it all sounds amazing and fits well. The animation and art style are both absolutely gorgeous. The chibi models look even better than they did in the original Persona Q.

And of course, there’s the gameplay. Honestly, when I was playing it, it gave off heavy old school Shin Megami Tensei vibes to me in the best way. It could also be because it reminds me of Strange Journey, another favorite title of mine on the 3DS, but still. I’m playing the game on Normal mode, and even the tutorial battle showed that, yes, you are playing an Atlus RPG, and yes, you will get your ass handed to you time and time again, and I absolutely love it.

To make a long rant short, I’m glad I pre-ordered this game back in February. It was worth every penny and then some. June 4th is its release date, so if you didn’t get the chance to pre-order it, I highly suggest purchasing it. Let’s show Atlus some love, and show them that the Persona series has a legit fanbase internationally. To end things off, I’d like to share a couple of my favorite songs from the game, so here we go.

(Sadly, most of the songs I posted here were deleted.)

Mother’s Day Nostalgia – EarthBound

This song alone stirs my nostalgia and I love it.

It’s certainly been a while since I posted an article here, and I most definitely apologize for that. Sometimes, life gets crazy. I do have more articles planned, I promise you that. I’m just waiting to get a little further in certain games, like Dragon Quest XI since I feel like I’m nearing the end of the game at around 100 hours now.

However, that’s not quite what I wanted to discuss. With it being Mother’s Day, I thought it would be appropriate to write about a game I’ve been playing again during breaks at work, and that is one of my favorite games of all time — Mother 2/EarthBound.

At work, I’ve been trying to come up with various methods of keeping my head above water. It’s easy to fall to despair in my line of work and get bombarded and drained by the onslaught of verbal abuse from customers, so during breaks, I’ve been bringing my 3DS to work for the first time in years and playing this amazing game. I already had a file saved in Onett when I booted it up. It was just outside of Giant Step Cave, so I knew exactly what to do.

Playing EarthBound again for the first time in well over a year over the past week or so has brought back many pleasant memories. When I first discovered this gem of a game, I was fourteen years old. I saw a Let’s Play for it done by the YouTuber Chuggaaconroy from back in 2008 and fell in love with the game from that. After I started high school, a friend of mine introduced me to the magic of emulators and being able to play games I wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford.

As soon as I got a Super Nintendo emulator, the first games I got were Final Fantasy VI and EarthBound, the two games I’ve been wanting to try for a while. I’ll never forget how difficult the game seemed at first. I was still technically new to RPGs, so I didn’t do much grinding and exploring to find secret items or pieces of equipment. I don’t think I made it past the Giant Step Cave for a long time. When I eventually did, I still found difficulties in the game for sure, but I think I eventually got stuck in Threed because the enemies kept completely destroying me.

It’s a cold little life here in Winters.

Fast forward to when I’m about sixteen years old or so. At that point, I’d gotten used to EarthBound and its mechanics for two reasons. The first is that I decided to try the game out using cheats, which I later regretted because it made the game crash as soon as Poo joined the party. But then I played it again naturally, and this time, I had found a PDF version of the old school player’s guide. You know, the super cool and creative one. I fell in love with that guide and decided I’d use it to finally try and beat the game myself.

I finally did, and what a masterpiece it was. Since then, I’ve played that game over and over again, and every time I do, I learn something new about the game. It’s incredible. Some of my favorite memories with the game are these days when my brother and I would be home alone a lot. Back then, he had worse anxiety problems than he does now, and he couldn’t sleep in a room alone for a long time, so I’d let him crash in my room while I played EarthBound. He always liked the sound effects and music and thought the general atmosphere was calming, even when I got to Moonside. The sounds would just make him fall asleep. We’re both adults and living our own lives now, but we recently reminisced about that and it reminded us both of how much we love this game.

This game helped me establish my identity as an author, a music composer, and now a game developer. While Persona did a lot of the work, this game helped me through some difficult times, and playing it again here in my new life is a bittersweet experience, but mostly sweet. It’s not necessarily everyone’s cup of tea though. All throughout high school, my co-author often hated on this game, but now that we’re older, he’s far more civil about it. We haven’t discussed it in years, but I reached out to him recently because I wanted to know what he didn’t like about it and why, and he had an interesting answer.

He hadn’t really thought about the details until then, but his judgement was that he felt the game was quirky in its general atmosphere, but not in a way that kept his attention, so he simply didn’t enjoy it. To be fair, he’s not the biggest fan of most turn-based RPGs, with some exceptions like Final Fantasy VII and the Pokémon series, so I can at least understand his point of view.

The song of sweet relief.

This is all to say that this was, still is, and will forever be one of my favorite games of all time, right up there among games like Final Fantasy XII, Xenoblade Chronicles, and any Persona game, including Persona 1, but I’ll get more into that game in another article later, because I have some words to say about that one. EarthBound holds a special place in my heart. The game, the music, the characters, it’s all just perfect. It doesn’t feel so much like a game as much as it does an experience, and I think that’s why it resonates with so many people. It’s an adventure, one that brings back a childlike sense of wonder and amazement. If you haven’t played it before, I highly suggest playing it, and if you have played it before, pick it back up again and just play it, even if it’s been forever. Perhaps you’ll find something new in it that you haven’t noticed before.

The Magic of Final Fantasy

Listen with headphones and enjoy WiiGuy‘s amazing job with this mix.

Final Fantasy was my introduction to the RPG genre, like many others, and I must say that to this day, the game that started it all is still one of my favorites. No joke; I’ve beaten this game so many times, and it never gets old to me. You know why? It’s not nostalgia, believe it or not. This wasn’t actually my first Final Fantasy game. There are two big reasons for this—the imagination aspect of feeling as though you and your friends are on this Dungeons & Dragons-like quest to save the world still makes me feel like a giddy little kid, and the godly soundtrack.

I could hear this game’s soundtrack over and over again and I never get tired of it. Nobuo Uematsu is a musical genius; I’m sure this is a fact everyone can get behind, but hearing where it all began is a beautiful experience. Using only three sound channels, he captured the magical essence of this wonderful game and turned it into an unforgettable experience. From the start of the game where you have nothing but the clothes on your back to the end where you travel 2,000 years into the past to stop the endless cycle created by Chaos, every step of the journey is one you’ll never forget.

Naturally, you’ll get annoyed at the encounter rate in some areas, and yes, there is definitely level grinding involved, but it’s not nearly as much as you’d expect. And if you play the game with an active imagination the way I do, it makes it that much greater of an experience. I like to play the game imagining that the characters are interacting throughout the journey and during battles. I mean, I am an author, after all. It’s my job to create stories. If I had more knowledge of D&D, I’d totally be a DM, but I still have much to learn, but that’s another story.

In any case, if you’re an RPG fanatic like I am, pick this game up. Maybe not the classic NES version unless you’re really into the classics like I am; I’d suggest either the PS1 or PSP versions, but just pick this game up, play it with an open mind and an expressive imagination. Trust me; you’ll have so much fun with it that way.

Less is More – Why I Love the Music of A Link to the Past

Not gonna lie; this is my favorite Legend of Zelda soundtrack, narrowly beating Link’s Awakening.

A Link to the Past versus Ocarina of Time — a classic tale of clashing fans and grumpy animators. People spend all this time arguing over which one is better, when ultimately, it comes down to preference. As for myself, I’m someone who loves and accepts both fondly. A Link to the Past was the first game in the series that I owned, but as funny as it may be, I actually beat Ocarina of Time long before I beat this one. (As a kid, I sucked at this series; it actually took a bet with my co-author for me to finally beat Ocarina of Time.)

I have a personal connection with A Link to the Past, and here’s why. That game impacted me in a massive way when I was a kid, in a way that still positively affects me even as an adult. That game was the reason why I wanted to become an author in the first place. I loved the magical majesty of the world of Hyrule, the narrative nature of the adventure, and the idea of a young protagonist saving the world. Naturally, considering I was six years old, I was drawn towards the idea of young protagonists saving the world, which was a major building block in what would eventually become my writing career.

Rants aside, the biggest thing that drew me to this incredible game was the soundtrack. Despite knowing the soundtrack consisted of midi instruments, it was magical, especially from the beginning. The music immediately draws you in, from the prologue theme into its shorter leitmotif that plays during the rain scene, and finally, the Hyrule Castle theme.

Still one of my favorite VG tracks of all time.

In my opinion, everything about this track is absolutely perfect. The instrumentation, the progression, and the incredible climax. This song is what defines A Link to the Past for me. As a kid, this song blew my mind. It really made me feel the severity of the situation of infiltrating a castle full of possessed guards. There are so many emotions packed into this song, which is perfect! You traverse this castle, face fearsome foes, and eventually rescue Princess Zelda from the dungeons of the castle, only to find out that your job is far from done.

Fear of the unknown, courage in the face of adversity, urgency in knowing what’s at stake, and triumph over the trials that stand in your way. Those are the emotions I feel from this song, yet when you really listen to it, there are only really five instruments, at least out of what I can hear: a strings section covering both the main melody, background harmonies, and our bass section, a brass section, a triumphant trumpet exchanging the melody with the strings, a trombone (or potentially something else; I wasn’t a band kid, so I’m not too great at identifying brass instruments) harmonizing with the trumpet’s melody in the latter part of the song, and a timpani to convey the heavy feelings all within this song.

Maybe I’m reading into it too much, but you know what? Even if I am, that’s just the way I like it. I love this game’s soundtrack. Every song perfectly conveys the emotions of each location or scene in the game, and even to this day, it still blows my mind. Feel free to let me know what your favorite Legend of Zelda soundtracks are in the comments! I’d love to discuss them, because frankly, I love all of them.