Fire Emblem fanatic that I am, I'm highly anticipating the release of Fire Emblem Warriors this fall. I'd really enjoyed Hyrule Warriors when I'd played it a year and a half ago (not to mention gotten completely obsessed with the Adventure Mode), and to help tide me over until the release of Fire Emblem Warriors I thought I'd spend some time checking out other entries in the Dynasty Warriors series.

I usually like to play series in order, but after trying and failing to get into Dynasty Warriors 2, the first main Dynasty Warriors game, I had gone ahead and played Hyrule Warriors. I had a couple of other games in the series lying around, including one on PS3 and one on 3DS, but I ended up settling down with Samurai Warriors 3 for Wii. The game is from a spin-off series that basically seems the same as the Dynasty Warriors games except instead of recounting historic Chinese events the series focuses on Japanese history.

The game has a large cast of characters, and I randomly picked Yukimura Sanada as the character to focus on first. I didn't realize it at the time, but he's actually on the cover and is apparently the "poster boy" for the spin-off series. Although I'd spent a ton of time with Hyrule Warriors, this game took a little adjusting to. For one thing, using the Wii remote and nunchuk setup felt a bit awkward, so I ended up using the Classic controller (although the Classic controller pro would have been even better). Secondly, the button layout was different than the Zelda-style controls of HW, but the main thing I missed was the lack of Z-targeting. This makes blocking enemy attacks more difficult since you have to make sure you're lined up with them before blocking, although I suppose you could assume it's a design decision to give players more of a challenge.

The pace of the battles is very simlar to HW as you're given tasks within the larger mission (e.g. "defeat 3 enemy commanders"), although here you're also given optional tasks that will give you rewards, such as gems (used for upgrading equipment), or bonuses that will help you in the mission. One of the bigger differences to HW is that instead of three different types of "spirit attacks" (i.e. a type of special move), there's only one. This makes the combat feel less varied than in HW, but I suppose the much larger cast of characters makes up for that. The graphics aren't that great but average for Wii, but the characters feel pretty unique (at least the ones that I tried out). Moves are pleasingly flashy, and everything runs pretty smoothly, although the voice acting does feel a bit stiff.

One of the things I really liked about the game is the main story mode, where you follow a character though a 5-stage story arc and increasingly tougher stages. Sanada's last stage in particular sticks out and really captures the game's general feel of being one person fighting against an entire army. I like how the game tells the story from different angles based on which character you're using, and even on the normal difficulty that I was playing at it's clear that you can't just mash buttons and expect to easily win.

As with Hyrule Warriors the game has a Free Mode where you can play any unlocked story mode stage with any character, although this seems pretty pointless other than for grinding and casual local co-op play. There's also a mode where you can customize your own hero, but this seems basically the same as the other modes except you play the stages in chronological order rather than by an individual character's story arc (this mode had online co-op play, but the Wii's Wi-Fi features have been shut off for a while now). Rounding out the list is the Murasame Castle Mode, based on the Famicom game of the same title. I dipped into this a bit as well, although the gameplay was basically the same as the other modes, although with more supernatural elements. I'm sure people who have played the original Famicom game would appreciate all the references, so this is a mode I may have to come back to after I've played that game.

I enjoyed my time with Samurai Warriors 3, and although I didn't already have a deep connection with the characters like with the Zelda characters in Hyrule Warriors before I played it, I liked getting to know them and am looking forward to playing more of the other characters. The historic setting is less appealing than the fantasy setting of HW, but the gameplay is basically the same and still a lot of fun. I could easily have played this game more, but I don't want to burn out on playing Warriors games, before FE Warriors comes out, so I'm going to set this aside for now. Hyrule Warriors really opened me up to the Warriors series, and I'm glad I have more insight into the games in the series before playing FE Warriors. I'll definitely be continuing to check out more games in the series, so don't be surprised if you see more posts about Warriors games before too long.

Check out the Japanese Warriors in these Samurai Warriors 3 links:
- Entry at koei.wikia.com
- Entry at samurai-warriors.wikia.com
- Entry at Wikipedia
- Positive review at NintendoLife, although the game didn't get great reviews in general

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I've been trying to get through all the downloaded games that have been sitting on my 3DS, so I spent some more time with yet another Pokemon Rumble game, this one called Pokemon Rumble World. Although the game is a free-to-start downloadable game, it was was also given a retail release, which is a bit unusual. This one is the fourth in the series (I skipped over the Wii U release, although I've dipped into that as well), although from a few feet away it's pretty hard to tell the games apart as they're all extremely similar.

Unsurprisingly this game is most similar to its 3DS predecessor, Pokemon Rumble Blast, which I spent some time slogging through last year. Both games feature the same beat-'em-up-like mechanics which consist of collecting little toy Pokemon that you send on short stages where you have a chance of collecting other Pokemon you defeat. Each stage ends with a boss encounter, but it's basically more of the same. The stages have minimal differences and are bland, and the action is extremely repetitive and mindless. The developers have gone to a lot of effort to come up with beat-'em-up analogues for every move in the main games, although a lot of them are unwieldy or pretty useless in this context. Both games also mix things up a bit with arena "free for all" brawl challenges, in which you battle against a large group of Pokemon all at once.

Pokemon Rumble World adds in a few wrinkles, most of which are for the worse. One is that it introduces balloons which you have to buy with the in-game currency in order to visit stages that are home to particular Pokemon. You can only use a balloon after a certain amount of real-world time has elapsed, which is a familiar but annoying free-to-play mechanic. "Poke Diamonds" are the in-game currency that you have to pay real money for in order to unlock everything in the game. The download game maxes this currency at 30 real dollars and after that apparently you get a number of free diamonds a day, which seems like an extremely awkward combination of free-to-play mechanics with a regular paid game.

The game includes the Pokemon from the then-most recent generation of games (Generation VI, which included Pokemon X and Y), and also some of the mechanics introduced in those games, namely mega evolutions and the fairy type, which may get some people excited. It also introduces mission challenges which make things a little more interesting (which isn't saying much since the core game is so boring) since they add challenge that's really not seen in the rest of the game. It also puts a bit of focus on the social element, as you can earn costumes and backgrounds for your Mii and your Mii profile card. Profile cards are exchanged via StreetPass and include various stats such as play time.

All in all this is basically just a free-to-start version of Pokemon Rumble Blast, and I can't imagine anyone but the most hardcore Pokemon fan would be interested in playing both extensively. The Pokemon Rumble formula has long worn out its welcome for me, but I suppose this free-to-start iteration was released in order to attract new people to this Pokemon spin-off series. I can't say I'm particularly looking forward to playing more of these games, but I guess there are worse games in the world.

Some mindless Pokemon Rumble World links:
- Official site
- Entry at Bulbapedia, which includes passwords
- Page on Miiverse
- FAQ at GameFAQs
- Review at NintendoLife
- Entry at Metacritic

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I actually finished Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia for 3DS before playing the English Training games I blogged about in my last post, but I thought two posts in a row about Fire Emblem would be a bit much. This has already been a big year for the series, and I'm still looking forward to the upcoming crossover, Fire Emblem Warriors, and planning to squeeze one or two playthroughs of the main games in this year as well.

Anyway, I'd dipped into the original Japan-only Fire Emblem Gaiden, the second game in the series, so I'd already become familiar with the majority of the unique elements in Fire Emblem Shadows. Like many sequels of the era, Fire Emblem Gaiden experimented with a lot of things, including playing two separate armies simultaneously, spells that cost HP, towns with villagers you can talk to, unbreakable weapons, a world map with random encounters, and items, such as shields, that characters can equip for bonuses during battle. Like the first game, Gaiden feels very slow and primitive compared to the later games, as you can't skip the battle animations and the character hit rates are so low it means a lot of rounds you and the enemy are just missing each other (boring!). The characters' growth rates in the original game are also really low, which also adds to the feeling of slowness because levelling up your characters takes a long time.

Like their previous remakes, Shadows feels true to the original, but thankfully modernizes most everything. Although the developers didn't incorporate the series' now-standard weapon triangle (which wasn't added until the fourth game in the series), most everything else has been updated, including the story, which has been greatly expanded upon and fleshed out; the characters, who are fully voiced, a series first; towns, which you navigate in a first-person view that feels very Phoenix Wright; and dungeons, which you explore in a third-person perspective in a very Persona like manner. The game does include support conversations, which are a big draw for fans of the series, myself included, although they're very limited: most characters only have one person they support with. This means that in a single playthrough you can unlock almost all of the supports, which is actually kind of a good thing for a completist like myself. They also added "Combat Arts", which are skills that some weapons/equipment can unlock the more you use them, which helps keep things interesting.

The remake looks and sounds fantastic. It reuses the same game engine as Awakening and Fates, but the new artist and the more demure color palette, and the great battle animations, which are more dynamic than ever, you hardly notice. make else feels fresh .The game also includes Amiibo support in the form of two unique dungeons for Alm and Celica (the two game-specific Amiibo), the usual glut of DLC content for diehard fans, and a new challenging "marathon" type dungeon as a new chapter 6 available after you complete the main story.

One area the developers didn't change was the battle maps themselves, which tend to feel pretty same-y (too big and too bare). The game also still lets you bring pretty much your whole team to every battle, which is probably why the maps are big, which seems a bit unnecessary and tends to make battles drag on. I played the game on normal, which was pretty mindlessly easy for the most part, especially because the game adds in "Mila's Turnwheel", a device you pick up early on and that lets you rewind time to take back a bad move you've made. Although I appreciate how convenient this addition is, it almost makes the game too easy, although the developers mitigate this somewhat by not letting you rewind time if either of the two main characters dies. The developers have experimented with a lot of different ways to prevent players from getting too frustrated such as restrictions on mid-battle save points, etc., and although I'm still a bit conflicted about this I wouldn't mind seeing it return in a future installment.

After having played through this remake, I'm left feeling a lot like how I felt after playing Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon, the DS remake of the first game in the series. While the game pales in comparison to other games in the series, it's fantastic to have an updated version of the game rather than have to struggle through the extremely slow-paced and Japanese-only original. The game has a lot of unique elements that were rarely seen in other entries of the series, if at all, and the developers did a pretty good job of breathing new life into the characters and fleshing out their personalities (although the characters and story are still on the thin side overall). This game isn't likely to be amongst my top favorite Fire Emblem games, but I'm extremely glad that the remake was created in the first place, and I'm really hoping that more remakes are in the pipeline. One can only hope!

Check out these gussied up Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia links:
- As always, serenesforest.net should be your first stop for info about the game
- Entry at nintendo.com
- Page on Miiverse
- Review at NintendoLife

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When I was travelling in Europe a few years ago I was curious about video games that were published outside of the US, so I picked up cheap copies of two DS games that I otherwise would have little use. Both of them were no doubt riding the wave of the success of the first Brain Age game, and the first is called English Training, while its sequel is called Practise English. "More English Training" would probably have been a more appropriate title for the latter, as that game does pretty much everything the first game does, but adds more extras.

[As a side note, be aware that the original DS and DS Lite are region free and so a US version can play these games, but note that all the DSi and 3DS/2DS models are region-locked and US versions can't play this game. Also note that despite packaging being specific to different countries, all versions of the games give you the option of selecting your native language amongst the provided options, which are German, French, Italian, and Spanish, and in some versions of the game, Dutch. Oh, and the original version of the game was for Japanese speakers.]

I had the vague notion that playing these games might help me learn other languages, but the majority of the games are really focused on having you listen to dialogues and then transcribing them via the games' handwriting recognition, which is, of course, fairly useless for a native speaker. There are a lot of ways they take the material from the dialogues and repackage them to help drill them into you, for example: some listening comprehension questions of the dialogues, including a dictionary of words and phrases from the dialogues that you can refer back to, a "continuous play" option where you can listen to all the dialogues in a row without pause and on a loop (and also just the ones you've marked as having trouble with), etc. The dialogues themselves have a lot of variety and seem like pretty standard but useful phrases, and there are some surprises thrown in to mix things up a bit, such as some nursery rhyme songs (although I'm not sure how useful it is for a foreign speaker to know how to say "Mary had a little lamb whose fleece was white as snow", haha). The second game in particular has some more variety, such as a section that consists of many different people speaking English in different accents, including an Australian or a Japanese person speaking English (the game otherwise uses British English).

As with the Brain Age games you can take a test once a day to help chart your progress, and there's also a graph you can look at that shows you how many exercises you've completed over time. Both games have a handful of extras that are more game-like, but the second game has more of them. That game has a mini-game where you act as a pizza delivery person and have to follow directions to deliver pizzas, and one where you're given instructions on how to color a picture (for example, "color the woman's hair pink").

Although I'm not the games' target audience and it's not really too useful for me to learn one of the foreign languages, they are very well designed and seem like much better overall than the two other language games I've played, My French Coach and My Japanese Coach. Still, it's always fun to take a peek at games released outside of my region, and if any reader happens to be checking out this review, then I can definitely recommend these games based on my experience with them. Have fun! ;)

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In my post about contributing to the blog A Most Agreeable Pastime, I'd mentioned that I wouldn't be cross-posting in general, but I'm afraid I'm already going to have to make an exception. I'd already posted about Nintendo's smartphone game Fire Emblem Heroes, on this blog a few weeks after it was released, and I'd enjoyed the game but hadn't been wowed by it. But what a difference a few more months make! The game has steadily grown in features and, although there have been dips in my interest, overall my enjoyment of the game has just increased as time has gone on. My blog entry at A Most Agreeable Pastime goes into exhaustive (and probably exhausting) detail, but my concluding paragraph sums up my current feelings:

    Intelligent Systems is one of my favorite developers, and contrary to my initial expectations the game is actually so much fun and addictive that I’ve added it to my list of Favorite Games of All Time. I’m skeptical that the game can continue to keep my attention for another year, but I’m also looking forward to seeing what Intelligent Systems has up their sleeves.

In the few weeks since that post was written there haven't been any major announcements of new features, so I'm in a steady state of trying to put in the minimum time required to keep up with whatever the current missions are. I'm sure when new characters I like are added my interest will be reinvigorated, but for now I'm happy to keep chugging along without having to sink too much time in the game. Which hopefully will free me up to finally finish other games I've been ignoring for far too long!

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