The story recently got hit with a potent one-two punch of badness. I’m obviously not going to spoil anything, but suffice it to say that when you only introduce a small handful of characters and one is missing while you also have a super-secret masked character running around out there, it ceases to be surprising when—gasp—there turns out to be a connection. I don’t know why, but this is a trap that a lot of Japanese games seem to fall into for some reason. It might be time for the country to swear off masked characters until they learn to use them responsibly. Then we get to the second punch, which is the fact that even after starting to connect the two because of a convenient one-of-a-kind necklace never mentioned before this point, the characters are so dumb that they fail to put it together. Right now they’re all worried that this random character has the necklace that belonged to the missing person. This degree of character stupidity is an insult to everyone’s intelligence.
Character AI is similarly dumb
Okay, so I finally figured out what “priorities” are.
They’re specific instructions for your computer-controlled allies that you can bind to various combat approaches that are swichable mid-level by pressing left and right on the game pad. For example: you can set your “offense” setting to involve your allies throwing a lot of grenades, or set up your “defense” setting so that allies heal everyone. Or just mix it up, with everyone doing something different. Do these actually work, though, and what happens if you give them a bunch of contradictory instructions? No idea; I didn’t really notice a difference when doing a before and after comparison, and I find it difficult to have confidence in my allies’ strategic wherewithal when they struggle with tasks as simple as avoiding telegraphed attacks and climbing ladders.
[Update: the stuff I said about priorities turned out to be wrong. I had tested setting some up for unit behavior that I thought was only applicable to the “offense” default in order to see if there was a difference between that and their actions back when I wasn’t using any priorities, so I naturally assumed that you could set up different approaches for characters that caused them to act differently depending on the mode you’re in. After all, it would make total sense to include something like that in a game where the computer controls 75% of your squad. As it turns out, though, priorities are universal and changing them for one setting causes them to be changed for all settings, which means that you’re most likely setting how that character acts by default when you choose between offense/defense/whatever in their menu. It also means that changing mid-fight is completely and utterly useless since you’d presumably be overwriting units’ default approach. Really, it’s my fault for expecting a competently designed system in this game.]
You know why I couldn’t figure this out earlier? Because the only way I’ve found of getting to the menus that allow you to change priorities is by accepting a mission and then changing things around from the deployment screen. The same thing goes for equipment, which is shared among your entire unit, but not equipped automatically. Most games (RPGs in particular) will allow you to equip at pretty much any time, but here the option only seems to be available after accepting missions. You can’t even change equipment while walking around the city despite that being standard in jRPGs decades older. Even the incompetent ones allowed this.
[Update again: I’m an idiot. You can get to the menu and change things around in town by pressing the weird not-select button on the Xbox controller that looks like a picture-in-picture button. I tried every button but that one because so few games use the select button that it might as well not exist. That one’s on me, though.]
Combat has become truly irritating
I was right to be worried that the difficulty would come from enemies being annoying damage sponges. The weird thing is that normal enemies can be cut through like tissue paper at the moment, whereas bosses are 5-10 minutes of slowly chipping away at their tank-like health bars and occasionally reviving an idiot companion who ran into a damaging attack in a stunning feat of pure, unmitigated brainlessness.
The rules in combat also feel depressingly arbitrary. You’ll sometimes get a notification that you killed someone with a headshot as though there was locational damage, but it doesn’t seem to do any extra damage if you knock down a tank and then aim at the operator’s head when it’s exposed. The cursor only shows up when you aim around a footsoldier’s chest, too, so the game isn’t even acknowledging that you’re supposed to be aiming there. I suppose the problem here is that there’s a lot of stuff happening, but so little effort put into making it coherent and informational that it’s difficult to get a feel for whether one approach is better or worse than others.
Also, sometimes bosses can block all of my bullets so that they do no damage. That would be fine except for how they sometimes do it when they’re not actually doing a blocking animation, they’re facing the other direction, and I’m shooting at the back of their head. How the hell am I supposed to know when they can randomly nullify my damage? It’s stunning how I’m still being buried in tutorial prompts hours and hours in, and yet they’ve managed to explain so very little about how the important parts of the game actually function. Needless to say, my patience is running thin.
The barks are kind of funny, though
Beating up on random enemies in the middle of missions causes the various characters to shout out things, and sometimes they can be funny (usually unintentionally). There’s one Amulet Grumpy shouts out that I think is something along the lines of, “I’ll never forgive you Ruks!” It instead comes out sounding like, “I’LL NEVER GIVE YOU ROCKS!” I laugh every time because I’m evidently easy to please. There’s also an ally who swears sometimes when finishing off an enemy, which is kind of amusing. Most of the profanity in this game is forced and comes out of nowhere as though the developers were trying to meet some kind of edginess quota, but her delivery and timing comes off a bit more natural.
Stealth is still useless
I recently suffered my first death. The game randomly threw me into a map where my only character was Amulet, and there were popups about how night stages have reduced visibility. I couldn’t figure out where to go because a ladder was blending in with the walls, though, so I instead ran around like an idiot and picked a fight with multiple machine-gunning tanks. Not the brightest idea, of course, but I was bored out of my mind and went into I-wonder-what-would-happen-if mode.
Eventually I found the ladder and continued on, but the stealth in this game is just atrocious. Enemies spot you pretty consistently, and it’s not like normal enemies are a match for you, so killing everything is a much faster and more intuitive option. Doing so even gives you the freedom to wander around and grab anything hidden in nearby supply crates that you’d probably have to ignore if you were trying to be stealthy out of some tragic misunderstanding of this game’s priorities.