Game time: 1.5 hours
I'm living in a hotel for work, and will be for the next few months. I have four games with me, but right now I'm only planning to write a review for Yggdra Union when I finish it. We'll see though. I might get bored and then pump out reviews like a madman.
I loved YU for the GBA. It's my favorite GBA game, and the best looking one right with Riviera. Even with this sentiment, I was a bit shocked when the graphics on YU PSP blew me away. It's extremely sharp, crisp, and beautiful. I know -- it looked fantastic on the GBA, and most PSP games look great, so I should have seen this coming, but Atlus did an amazing job with the port. As a rule, I never buy ports or remakes for games I already own; YU is one of only two games I enjoyed enough to purchase a second time when a port came out. Had I reviewed YU GBA when I played it last year, I'd have probably given it a 4.5/5. Right now, I can see why Paws gave the PSP port a 5.0 in her staff review.
After completing the first three stages, I had to force myself to turn off the system to watch the Top Chef premiere. If it keeps me sucked in like this the whole time, YU is going to become my favorite PSP game too.
Game time: 8 hours
Current Stage: Battle 11A
Definitely loving this game still. I worried that playing it now when I just played the GBA version a year ago might ruin the experience a bit, but that hasn't happened at all. My current battle is the one after you choose between Rosary and Roswell. Last time I sided with Rosary, then heavily relied on her all game. Milanor and Rosary were my workhorses, and I liked Rosary so much that I almost chose her again. I stuck to my "do things differently the second time" rule, though, and picked Roswell.
I'm tempted to pull up a FAQ to make sure I find all of the missable characters. I think I missed a couple last time, and have a feeling that I'll miss them again. I really, really, really dislike looking stuff up online, though. To me, the crazies who play RPGs with a walkthrough in their laps, needing to find every secret and feel the satisfaction of knowing they pulled off a 100% are totally missing the point of completionism. If you need help to do it, where is the accomplishment in that? I've never been a completionist, and I love naturally finding -- and, sometimes, not finding -- all the secrets a game has to offer. Because of this, I do have a bias toward games that give you an open world to explore, where you feel like you are really trailblazing, with interesting surprises around every corner. Some recent examples of this would be Fallout 3 and Etrian Odyssey. Unfortunately, JRPGs rarely include gameplay like this, often prefering a structured, linear world with the only secrets either being 5 feet off a beaten path, or requiring ridiculously unnatural actions to discover -- to the point of being undiscoverable without a FAQ.
Got off subject there. Sorry. Even on the second playthrough, YU is one of the best tactics RPGs I've played, and shows what an excellent developer can do when the studio steps outside the Tactics Ogre/FFT box. Sting has quickly become one of my favorite Japanese development studios, with Riviera, YU, and Baroque all being excellent, unique games.
I'm enjoying YU more the second time through because I already understand how the battle system works. It's so different from other TRPGs that I spent about a fourth of my first playthrough trying to understand and my wrap my mind around it all. It isn't complex; it is just so unique that it took a while for my brain to change the way it approached the game. One nice improvement in the PSP port is that morale increases some when a unit levels up. It's such a small thing, but it helps a ton since the original version had, you know, ZERO WAYS TO INCREASE MORALE aside from wasting precious items. I'll have to look it up sometime, but I think the card that increases morale in this version is new too, thereby providing another way to raise it without destroying items.
For those who haven't played YU, morale is like HP -- when it hits 0, the unit leaves the battlefield. Morale carries over between battles, though, so if Yggdra's unit barely survives with 5/3000 morale at the end of a battle, she will start the next battle at 5/3000 morale. This alone made YU GBA a damn hard game. The only way to increase morale was to give units items as presents, but there were a limited number of items and no ways to restore morale during a battle, so it was easy to land yourself in a tough spot. This has, for the most part, been tweaked in the PSP port to make it a bit easier.
Game time: 14 hours
Current Stage: Battle 18
I'm at the stage where a certain party member goes berserk and runs off to fight alone. Unfortunately, the battle starts with a lengthy, uncontrollable sequence that can't be skipped. I'm sure it's supposed to be emotionally charged and whatnot, but it exudes the whole "when bad guys lose, they always escape; when good guys lose, they always fall over dead and cause a game over" feeling that destroys what little realism JRPG stories aim for. Needless to say, this is one of my least favorite stages in the game, since it wrecks the gameplay to make a strong plot point that hinges on the "teleporting villain, frail hero" gimmick.
Truth be told, I already lost the battle once. I'm writing this while the long, scripted beginning of the fight plays out for the second time. I remembered failing on this stage the first time I played the game due to some trick that pretty much requires you die when it catches you unawares, but I couldn't remember what it was. It caught me again, though, and now I'm on my second attempt -- only wiser and more knowledgeable this time. It doesn't bother me when tactics RPGs spring surprises on you. Overcoming the odds on the first attempt is such a great feeling, and when the battle system is great I don't mind playing a stage two or three times to beat it. My issue here is the time-consuming plot intro to this specific level.
I found another feature added to the PSP port - pressing the R-button makes battles go hella fast. Like, ultra-uber-hyper-super-hella fast. It's fantastic. Using it just to speed through the skill animations alone is going to shave hours off my playtime
Game time: 25 hours
Current Stage: Battle 32
I found out how to recruit one of the characters I missed in my GBA playthrough, and I'm pretty certain that I goofed and missed an optional character I found the first time through. I came out ahead though -- the guy I missed this time is an archer who spent most of my last playthrough warming the bench while the new character I found kicks butt.
As for the Rosary/Roswell choice, I think they are equally useful. Roswell's warping is nice, but if I remember correctly, Rosary had slightly higher stats. Either way, I'm leaning on Roswell this time just as much as I leaned on Rosary last game. Another nice thing about Roswell is that he doesn't summon golems who always appear right on top of bridges I need to cross. I hated golems so much.
I'm progressing through the game very quickly. The difficulty in battle seems the same, but the game is much easier due to the new ways to increase morale. I've been able to complete every stage so far without cheesing out and chosing the retry option. If you lose a battle, you get the option to retry it at a lower difficulty, or you can cancel out to the title screen and attempt the stage again at the normal setting. Aside from patting yourself on the back for being awesome, completing stages at the normal difficulty provides a stat boost to the character who dealt the most damage in combat. Losers who retry stages at the lower setting miss out on that bonus.
Also, the main antagonist in YU has one of the strongest auto-win abilities in any game, plus his weapon type beats all other melee weapons. There were only two times I could not beat stages at the normal difficulty in YU GBA -- both were stages where you fight that guy. I have much higher morale and many more items this time through, though, and have been able to beat him at the normal difficulty so far.
The stage I'm currently on just gave me a nice game over. It's the first stage where enemies can turn your dudes to stone, which is bad. Very bad. So my army of immobile statues lost, and now I'm going to retry it after equipping some items that make my guys immune to ailments.
Game time: 35 hours
Current Stage: Completed
I finished YU PSP in the airport last week. Overall, the PSP version has just the right fixes to improve upon the game without altering it much. The new ways to increase morale make it much easier, and people who want a deeper challenge can start another playthrough on Hard. In a world with fewer new video game releases, I certainly would have started over on the higher difficulty. I enjoyed YU just as much the second time as I did on the GBA first.The faster battle speeds cut two weeks out of my playtime -- I played YU GBA and YU PSP while travelling, so it's safe to estimate that it took around 60 hours for me to beat YU GBA compared to 35 for YU PSP. Every one of those shaved off hours came from the high battle speed in the enhanced port.
I won't list spoilers, of course, but I want to say something about YU's plot: it's actually good. I had forgotten how good it is. Sure, it deals with an outcast princess regaining her kingdom and saving the world, and is quite normal in that regard. The goodness comes from the characters, both friend and foe, who fill out the story. As I mentioned earlier, there is the typical, cheesy, issue where villains teleport away after losing. There are also smaller bad guys, though, who die after a couple of losses. When the bigger, more irritating and recognizable villains slowly die off late in the game, it has more meaning than JRPGs usually muster. You almost feel sorry for them. The also standard "war is bad" message is there, and not at all subtle, however it is doled out with more feeling than I'm accustomed to. Like Ogre Battle, the protagonist goes from outclassed liberator to powerful invader as the plot wears on, and the heroes realize this and openly discuss it.
Sometime this week when I feel unlazy I will write up a review. I do highly recommend it, and in the unlikely case that you are reading this blog and on the fence about giving it a whirl, I'd say go for it. Even someone who is tired of tactics JRPGs should enjoy YU because it diverges so far from the Tactics Ogre standard. If I had to rank my top favorite tactics JRPGs, I would say:
1) Ogre Battle 64
2) Yggdra Union
3) Tactics Ogre
I would give OB64 a 5/5, and TO a 4.5/5, so you'll have to wait to see what YU gets.
The lesson here is that dreams inevitably lead to hideous implosions.