Abbreviated review: Dragon Quest XI

It’s been awhile!
I completed Dragon Quest XI S to my satisfaction over two months ago, after a break of nearly three years. While I enjoyed parts of it, I was really disappointed with others.

First – the good. The fun-sized forge is an excellent little minigame, with just enough randomness (and just the right level of reward). While it does feel like its level scaling is a little funky, that does incentivize revisiting items after progressing a little in the core game. Combat is a bit of a mixed bag – at no point did any of my characters feel particularly strong, which is good (things are somewhat balanced) and bad (did I make a wrong decision in a skill tree somewhere?). The latter feeling got worse as I progressed. For example, a late-joining character had some skills with a one-handed weapon that were especially powerful leaving me to believe I had missed some nuance in unlocking spear skills for Jade. The core story is more twist-driven than most Dragon Quests, which is exciting in places but disappointing in others.

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Review: Sailing Era (Switch)

Sailing Era is a weird mix. Its portraits are bright, expressive, and fun, but its 3d models feel somewhat lifeless and drab. A lot of the game feels the same way. For example, It’s really satisfying to make a good trade and shore up your cash-on-hand… but beyond a certain point, trading becomes meaningless because it is too profitable. This makes the whole system feel a little… unmoored. Another good example is explorations – they’re a great source of experience for your crew, and often yield useful treasure or discoveries you can turn in for port contribution points. They’re actually even a little bit fun in how they throw different challenges as you every so often. But the challenges don’t grow with your crew or even by “danger level” so you’re likely to outstrip them after about 5 hours of play – and without the need for growth, there is little need for the experience.


In the end the experience feels a bit like an idle game with extra steps. You’re leveling your crew to make leveling your crew easier, trading to get money to upgrade your trading ships to trade faster, fighting other ships for loot to build better ships to fight with, and so on.

An example of the ugly-pretty aesthetic of sailing, which is as clunky as it is peaceful.

This isn’t to say that it’s a bad game – actually a lot of games are like this, and I actually found it simultaneously addictive and relaxing. In Sailing Era it feels a little more blatant though. Like its inspiration, Uncharted Waters, Sailing Era is an easy game. The first couple hours may be tricky as the main quest throws some hard battles at you, or the trading situation may feel a little tenuous before you’ve built a fleet. Once you’re past a certain point – say, you have three ships in your fleet and are relatively comfortable with crew wages – you’re trading so many goods at a time, and the relative pricing for trades so generous, that you can easily turn a major profit.

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Review: Chaos Galaxy

When I was much younger, I very much enjoyed Koei’s weird brand of grand strategy game. Being focused on personalities over numbers, tech trees or deep city-building makes them feel a little lighter on strategy than even the Civilization games coming out around the same time. In retrospect, though, they were fairly deep while still being well tuned to a console experience. The “officer” layer adds another level of management, as well as some personality – even a portrait and a couple of numbers can go a long way towards making a character feel more real. This in turn adds a bit of additional flavor to the overall experience, which might make it feel more tolerable when – for example – playing as Chrysalis and Flax in Gemfire are much the same experience after you’ve surpassed the threats in the first few hours.

Officer biographies are mostly interesting, although they introduce a lot of interconnected terminology. In this case, we have one that actually overflows on the Switch and there is no way to scroll.

Chaos Galaxy (which I played on Switch, but is also available on PC along with its sequel) channels much of the same feel as those games, while adding some helpful tactical depth.

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Nothing to talk about: progress updates

In the past few months, I have been dormant writing-wise. There aren’t any particularly great reasons for it, but writing (on obscure-ish video games on the internet) remains one of my hobbies. I’ve been active (or at least an active reader) on a few forums, had a busy work and home life, but I remain thinking and still intend to write those things up when I have something I feel I can share.

Feeling like I have made progress, however, is something that eludes me. I’ve been gravitating towards longer games, even as I admit privately I may not complete them. On some I have already waved the white flag of freedom, but on others I am not yet ready. This will serve as a quick “what I’ve been up to, but haven’t written about yet” post, in rough chronological order. I’ll do my best to keep it brief.

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Strange Journey Redux: Synthesis

It’s now been several months since I beat SMT Strange Journey: Redux, making it the second of my resolutions that I managed to beat in 2022. While I’d pat myself on the back for making (reasonably) accurate resolutions, I actually feel a little more like I set myself an unrealistic goal (beat a dungeon-crawler I knew I had failed to beat before) and somehow managed to complete it after more than 6 months of play.

In an unusual move (for me), I actually kept an ongoing journal of my Strange Journey progress. In 11 entries, I broke down the game as I went along, providing commentary (relatively sterile by journaling standards, knowing me) on characters, themes, and mechanics. This entry will serve as a synthesis of those, trying to bring the various impressions around into a single cohesive whole. In the end, I feel disappointed in the game, in part because it opens on such a strong note and in part because it is so different from most Shin Megami Tensei games.

I think that the 11 entries combined form a better, comprehensive view of the game (and more emotional, less analytical content – looking back, I feel they are certainly more interesting to read than this post), but since they were written over the course of 6 months, my views on the game evolved and I didn’t get a chance to “look back” beyond the callbacks to earlier plot points. So here’s something vaguely resembling a review.

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