White Flag – Giving up on Saga Scarlet Grace and Monster Train

I recently came to the conclusion that only chumps play every game until completion. And so here is the first entry in what will likely be a long, if not entertaining, series of posts on games I gave up on. I got lucky in that both are very good games that just couldn’t hold my attention until the credits rolled.

Saga Scarlet Grace: Ambitions

Scarlet Grace is the best Saga game I have played, which is similar to being the smartest Qanon believer. The series has managed to improve in stature amongst people who care about long running JRPGs, no doubt assisted by Jeremy Parish’s constant Kawazu fawning. I am happy the games exist because having something weird and different is preferable to not having it, but the games do not really come together from what I have experienced. Yet in a twist I did not see coming, Scarlet Grace is actually pretty good.

The game is like a nice gift wrapped in the obituary section of a newspaper – combat is a lot of fun, but the plot, characters, and questing is all off putting. The container and dressing for the mechanics is inert, uninteresting, inconsequential, inane, or simply bad. This is apparently ironic as someone from the localization team is on record saying in Japan the Saga series is known for having great writing. Maybe it’s me.

Talking heads pop up and tell you plot stuff. You travel the low tech world map from identical town to identical town which are primarily distinguished by the color of the element their blacksmith excels at working with. There are branching side quests that are entirely missable. It all feels frictionless and detached, like watching a movie through a full fish tank. The game wastes a lot less of your time than Saga Frontier, though, and for that I am grateful. I may not care about what’s happening, but it happens at a quick clip and moving around is easy and peppy because there are no dungeons.

The battle system, skill learning mechanics, and weapon upgrades are a lot of fun, though. So much so that I put 20 or 25 hours into the game while not at all caring about the plot of my executioner and his victim’s ongoing resurrections. The spark system from the older games (keep doing a move and you eventually learn a new better move – like Punch unlocks Super Groin Punch) finds its way into this one, as well as some really interesting wrinkles on turn based combat. In my crazier moments, I think games like this entirely obviate Dragon Quest-descended battle systems.

The term for learning new techniques is actually Glimmer in this game, rendering my decades of Sparking experience entirely useless.

I could not push onward after getting my fix of the fighting, changing weapons around, upgrading gear, leaning all the abilities, and swapping characters in and out, but even so I am glad I played Scarlet Grace. If you like JRPGs more for their mechanics and less because you are a weeb looking for a waifu, check this game out.

Monster Train

Monster Train was sold to me as a Slay the Spire caliber card game (I think the kids call them deck builders, which is like calling RPGs experience accumulators). I don’t remember who actually sold it to me this way or if I just made it up, but I am mad. Well, not mad since the game is actually really good. But I will still have to have a word with myself for telling myself this game was as good as Slay the Spire, because it’s not and I was wrong, assuming I said it.

Anyway, Monster Train is still a good game and I am happy to have played it, which is never as satisfying as being mad about something. The aesthetic revolves around monsters, demons, and other rejected heavy metal designs and is a bit garish for my taste, if more professional than the almost comically amateurish look of Slay the Spire (which doesn’t prevent it from being the best game). How a card based game looks is kind of irrelevant, I just felt compelled to mention the try-hard edgelord trappings.

I hate it when monsters invade my train, which happens to already be full of monsters.

Monster Train may be deeper than most similar games, I can’t tell. It sacrifices clarity to complexity. Each move can have a bunch of knock on effects and chain reactions. Elegant design is the opposite of this – you fully comprehend where each step will bring you yet the journey remains compelling. So if an expert player came to my house uninvited wearing some illegible death metal band shirt and told me I am too dumb for Monster Train because pro players see none of the fuzziness in the game I do, I would have to believe believe him and hope to not be lectured on the differences between melodic death metal and melododeath next.

All of this to say it’s a very fun game but after fighting the final battle a few times, I lost interest. There are too many dials and levers to mess with and it’s too vague for me to decipher what exactly I am doing poorly. If you like card battle games and/or are a super genius, you should like Monster Train at least as much as I did. I eagerly await the sequel, Monster Mass Transit System and hope they make cause and effect a little more decipherable in it.

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1 year ago

reading this made me realize that only rarely do i make the conscious decision to stop playing a game. much more often i put it down for a while with the intention of picking it up again at a later date and just never do. i think its an artifact of when i started tracking what games i finish, but i generally intend to finish games i start. sometimes i just dont.

1 year ago
Reply to  pat

I’m the same way Pat. Sometimes I think back and ask myself questions to help me clue on as to whether or not I really just forgot about the game, or if there was in fact some subconscious problem I had with it that made me lose interest. Questions like:

  • What did you replace it with? Another game, or some other hobby?
  • If another game, what was it?
  • If another hobby, did you eventually go back to playing a game? If so, was it a different one?

A recent example for me was Skyward Sword HD. I finally realized that, in fact, the control scheme was too annoying to deal with, and that that is the underlying reason why I gave up on it.