8-Bit Adventures 2: Back to Our JRPG Roots
Another excellent JRPG throwback
2023 is shaping up to be a banner year for throwback JRPGs. The release of Chained Echoes late last year introduced a lot of people to a style that critics and the industry have been trying to bury for at least 20 years. But RPGs have always found places to thrive, and there are plenty of promising titles germinating in the independent games scene.
One of the first ones to bloom is 8-Bit Adventures 2, a neo-retro throwback to the NES and SNES - touchstones for the genre. For the hardcore fan, there's a lot to see and do in this title, though it might not be the easiest entry point for newcomers.
As the title suggests, 8-Bit Adventures 2 is a sequel, but the good news is that you really don't need to know anything about the original game (which I didn't) to understand this one. There are references and Easter eggs for anyone who did play 8-Bit Adventures, but there's enough exposition to fill in the gaps for any newcomers and the story ultimately stands alone.
The game is set in what is essentially a post-apocalyptic world. Two years prior, a cosmic force known as "the Dust" changed the face of the world, only to be stopped by three heroes plucked from the populace by the Computer, an omniscient being that maintains the world. The world has enjoyed some peace and quiet every since. But one of those heroes has just disappeared, and his absence is linked to the emergence of a new entity called "the Glitch" - a mysterious creature with godlike powers and the mind of a child. And this time, it'll take more than three people to stop it.
8-Bit Adventures 2 freely mixes elements from across the speculative landscape. In this regard it's a lot like Phantasy Star, but it really wants to be Chrono Trigger.
The story of 8-Bit Adventures 2 is meant to be fairly simple so that the narrative can focus more on exploration and character drama. "Simple" is a relative term, but it doesn't have the same volume of breakneck twists you'd see in a lot of SNES-era RPGs. There are a few twists (mostly later in the game), but you meet the main villain and get your essential tasks within the first few hours, and after that it's all about the journey.
It's also about the conversations. The characters in this game love to talk. And talk, and talk, and talk, and...they can get a little verbose, is what I'm saying.
Incidentally, there is a lot of story here. It took me around 30 hours to finish the whole thing, both the main quest and most of the side quests, so this is a full-length RPG with all of the trappings you'd expect from any similar game actually made in the '90s.
At first blush, the combat system for 8-Bit Adventures 2 looks very similar to a lot of other throwback RPGs, but there are a few things here that you won't figure out until you're pretty deep into the quest.
The game uses the Final Fantasy X-style staggered turn system that's become standard for a lot of similar games. Each character has access to a standard attack, personal ability (basically a cost-free special attack) and a range of spells and abilities, along with an "Omega Burst" that's basically a Limit Break that runs off of a meter shared by the whole party. You can have three characters in your active party, but if you have more than that, you can switch the current character out for one on the back bench without using a turn.
8-Bit Adventures 2 doesn't have random encounters - most enemies are plainly visible and you can often avoid them. You'll probably have reason to dodge encounters, at that.
It's unusual to talk about difficulty in an RPG, but I really need to bring it up here because 8-Bit Adventures 2 gets extremely hard, especially once you're past the halfway mark. Mid- to late-game enemies usually act before your characters, deal tons of damage and are generally sturdy enough that you can't one-shot most of them. And that's just the mooks - some of the bosses are a real struggle.
Whether this is a plus or a minus is a matter of perspective. You could view this as a more tactical system than you'd normally get in a JRPG - you can't win fights by just mashing the action button or spamming your most powerful spells, so you have to make careful use of status effects, stuns, items and party switching to make progress. You could also view it as frustrating - a dungeon packed full of little boss fights can get to be a bit much.
I found myself moving back and forth between these two takes. Suffice it to say, though, that this is not the kind of game where you can easily grind your way to victory - figuring out the finer details of the combat system is essential.
But there is a little bit of mercy here: You can save the game at any time. There are "save points," but they serve more as Boss Fight Incoming warnings, not to mention a chance to slip in a little whimsy.
8-Bit Adventures 2 doesn't take itself too seriously. It's not a surrealist game like Earthbound, nor is it one of those insufferable self-aware RPGs made by people who see themselves as too good for their own games. Rather, 8-Bit Adventures 2 is a game that gives itself permission to get a little bit silly and a little bit weird when it's appropriate.
That's helped along by a setting that's surface-level conventional but can (and does) feature just about anything you could dream up. Most of the game's areas are typical for the genre, but it also goes to places that are wholly unexpected.
8-Bit Adventures 2 is a game made for serious old-school JRPG enthusiasts. It features a large amount of content and a combat system that might be too hard for newcomers, but is a great fit for anyone who wants an alternative to the often simplistic combat seen in most older RPGs.
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