Saturday, February 25, 2017

Lolita 52 Challenge: How Satisfied I am with my Current Wardrobe

Hello everyone! Today I'm back with another topic from the Lolita 52 Challenge: How satisfied I am with my current wardrobe. Let's get started!

 So I kinda waited to write this until a few weeks prior to it posting to make sure I wouldn't have to entirely rewrite it a few months down the road. So you can reasonably assume that this post is up to date for the time being as I have zero money to spend on wardrobe additions right now... Currently, I feel like I have a pretty good base wardrobe in Lolita and J-fashion. I have enough pieces I could probably put together a different Lolita outfit for every day of the week and still have each one be somewhat unique (a challenge I've considered to be a good goal for a basic Lolita wardrobe). As for J-fashion, I've been able to put together two weeks worth of outfits in the past and I know that I could easily do the same now as well. So for workability, I feel my wardrobe's in pretty good shape.

 In terms of items I don't know how to coordinate and pieces that don't suit my style anymore, I did a bit of a closet cleanout several months ago with my Gothic clothing and realized I didn't want to wear the majority of it anymore. I still have some pieces I'm dithering over and some I've yet to reassess for both J-fashion and other styles. I also have a lot of fabric and half-made pieces lying around my crafting area waiting for me to get back to sewing that I need to assess if they're still something I want to make and own.

 I still have a plan of items I wish to add to my wardrobe, but I feel like I have a fairly decent basic wardrobe that's lacking a little bit in cold weather items such as gloves and tights. I would like to add more to my Lolita and Fairy Kei wardrobes so I can have more variety to work with and have less similar looking outfits or having to change clothing plans because both of my cutsews are in the hamper all the time. So I'm generally happy with my current wardrobe, but still want to add a lot more pieces to it.

Do you feel satisfied with where your wardrobe, J-fashion or otherwise, is at? Or is it a huge mess that you can't wear any of? Let me know in the comments!

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Saturday, February 18, 2017

Game Reviews: Age of Ishtaria

Hello everyone! As promised, now it's time for a review of Age of Ishtaria! If you haven't already, be sure to check out my side-by-side comparison of Spirit Stones and Ishtaria as well as last week's review of Spirit Stones.

 As with last week, I'll be giving an overview of the game so you don't have to read through the massive comparison post to know what the game's like. Age of Ishtaria is a card-collecting battle game with a fantasy based storyline. You have two different types of stamina that limit gameplay as well as different types of currency to improve your gameplay, one of which can be bought with real world money. The main aspects of the game are events (of which there are multiple types), battles, quests, and card powering-up and trading. Every week there is a new event and there is a main storyline series of quests as well as event quests and harder quests for big prizes. Since I want to focus more on reviewing the game as opposed to the in-depth details, I'll leave game description at this and we'll move onto what I like about Ishtaria.

 One of my favorite aspects of Age of Ishtaria is collecting all of the cards I can, all of which have beautiful artwork. There are plenty of ways to get cards in the game that don't involve spending real world money, so I have a fairly good sized collection so far, which makes me really happy. Gameplay itself is also very nice and has lovely graphics throughout all aspects, from quests to battles, events to Nightmare Rift, etc. One of the things I like the most about Age of Ishtaria is how responsive and communicative their staff are. While I haven't had to personally contact them, I regularly see posts notifying when updates will be made (usually once a week when the event changes) as well as after detailing what was updated. I also regularly see notifications about typos or glitches that were corrected as well as that an apology gift is being sent out to all players who log in within a certain timeframe, whether they were affected by the problem or not. I really like seeing that so much effort is being put into this game and I love seeing the new cards and events that come out every week (even if it does mean I have even more cards to collect to have a complete collection).

 For dislikes about Ishtaria, I don't really have any. Obviously there are aspects that frustrate me (like a boss that's extremely difficult to defeat or skills not activating as often as wanted), but these are all a part of the game that makes it more challenging and unique. Just like you wouldn't expect GLaDOS to give you cake after the first level, I don't expect every quest in Ishtaria to be super easy (though I do like it when all the stars align and I get a 300% bonus rating). If I had to criticize anything about Age of Ishtaria, it would be that there aren't more details about unions in their in-game FAQ. I'm still figuring out what exactly unions are for as I go along as well as how to obtain the currency that allows you to upgrade the design of your union. Also, I am not a huge fan of everything downloading as you go to use it instead of when the game is first downloaded and installed, but I don't mind it too much as it helps reduce the amount of time to download the game and allows you to choose what you want to download and when, so you can wait to play or view certain aspects until you're connected to Wi-Fi (although it's hard waiting sometimes).

 Overall, I would highly recommend Age of Ishtaria to anyone who likes fantasy or collecting games as well as anime-themed graphics.

Have you played Age of Ishtaria before? Are you thinking of playing it now? Let me know in the comments!

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Saturday, February 11, 2017

Game Reviews: Spirit Stones

Hello everyone! As promised in last week's post, I'm going to be reviewing Spirit Stones and Age of Ishtaria. This week, Spirit Stones.

 Since last week's article is verrrrry long, I'm going to do a quick rundown of what Spirit Stones is for anyone who doesn't want to know all of the details. Spirit Stones is a turn-based, card collecting puzzle game with a fantasy based storyline. You collect and power-up cards to fight monsters and complete quests to progress the storyline. It limits how much you can play with different types of stamina and offers more difficult dungeons, big bosses that everyone fights against, and a player versus player system. I would recommend referencing the different sections of last week's post for more details if anything in this one is confusing. Everything there is broken down into aspects of the games for easier reference.

 For starters, I'm going to talk about what I liked about Spirit Stones before getting into the aspects that could have been done better as well as the ones that ultimately led to the game's end. One of my favorite parts of Spirit Stones was collecting cards. They had a wide range of very nicely done artwork on them and it was fun seeing the changes as I evolved them. The puzzle aspect of the game was a lot of fun, albeit difficult at times, because it added a level of difficulty and helped me to become better at strategizing while playing. I enjoyed trying to power my decks up and beat stronger and stronger opponents. Overall, I really enjoyed the game and spent quite a few hours playing it.

 One of my main frustrations with Spirit Stones was the overly difficult player vs player battles. More often than not I ended up having to fight a very high leveled player instead of someone closer to my own level. Additionally, occasionally I would randomly be unable to do battles and I had no idea why because the explanation was vague and I couldn't find any further information on it. Another one of my gripes is that many of the levels were overly difficult, giving objectives that could only be fulfilled if all of the stars aligned and it was also your lucky day. While I enjoyed powering up my cards, it was a bit difficult and quite expensive game-currency-wise to collect enough of the same card to evolve it completely, then try to remember what combinations of fully evolved cards made a new card, and so on. (I eventually looked up the wiki towards the end so I wouldn't be wasting my in-game currency evolving cards I didn't need.)

 Overall, I enjoyed Spirit Stones quite a bit despite my frustrations with it and I was really sad to see it go away. However, after reading other's comments on the "We're discontinuing the game" post that was made, I could see that the development team had neglected quite a few bugs that essentially broke the game. I hadn't taken any part in the team gameplay, which is where the bugs were, so I never saw that aspect of the game, but I had noticed that there wasn't ever a new event or much in the way of updates to the game. I would give Spirit Stones a 4/5 from what I played in it and had recommended it to friends prior to its discontinuation.

Have you ever played Spirit Stones? Let me know in the comments below!

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Saturday, February 4, 2017

Spirit Stones and Age of Ishtaria: A Side-by-Side Comparison

Hello everyone! Today I'm going to be talking about two of my favorite phone games: Spirit Stones and Age of Ishtaria. Unfortunately, Spirit Stones was cancelled a few months ago and is no longer able to be played, which is why I discovered Age of Ishtaria. So in case any of you played Spirit Stones or are just looking for a new game to play, I would recommend you check out Age of Ishtaria! Due to the number of details each game has, this is going to be a very long, descriptive post. Tune in over the next couple weeks for my reviews of the games. So let's get started with the comparison!

#1: Game premise
 Both games have a fairly similar premise and gameplay. Basically, there's a disaster facing the world you're in and you, a summoner, have been asked to help fight. You're able to summon heroes from cards to fight for you against monsters. You progress through levels that each have different monsters you have to defeat in groups. You strengthen your heroes by combining them to make a stronger hero or by fusing them with items. And you fight big bosses to get more rewards to make or find stronger still heroes.

#2: Card Collecting
 Spirit Stones and Ishtaria both have a strong card collection element to them. In both games there are different types and strengths of cards available and you collect cards through completing quests or random summons that you pay for with in-game currencies. Both games have a summoner aspect in that you summon the heros in the cards to fight battles and quests for you. Both games have very lovely artwork on their cards. Spirit Stones had a somewhat varied style on their cards while Ishtaria has a more consistent anime style on all the cards. In Spirit Stones cards were summoned using one of the two in-game currencies while Ishtaria makes use of summoning tickets as well as one in-game currency. Both games have an album that allows you to see all of the different cards you have collected, though Ishtaria has all of the details for each card as well. Additionally, different cards have different costs, limiting how many can be used in a deck at the same time.

#3: Stamina
 Both games have a limiting factor to how much you can play the game at a time, essentially stamina. Spirit Stones had three different types: Battle, Hell, and Battle stamina. Age of Ishtaria only makes use of two types: Action and Battle points. Spirit stones has an ever increasing number of stamina points for each type while Ishtaria only has a maximum of five points for each. There is a corresponding power-up that you can use to refill each stamina type for each game. In Spirit Stones you had wine which refilled all stats (as best as I could tell) as well as hell and battle wines to refill the corresponding stamina. Ishtaria makes use of AP and BP potions in small sizes that only fill up one point at a time or large ones that completely refill the corresponding stamina.

#4: In-game currencies and power-ups
 Both games have two types of in-game currencies as well as power-ups that refill your different stats. One in-game currency is mainly bought with real world money and the other is easily won by completing tasks in the game in both games. This is where things are a bit different with the currencies though: In Ishtaria, crowns, the money bought currency, are easily obtainable, albeit in somewhat limited amounts, by completing a quest for the first time, leveling up, consecutive success in the daily log-in game, and completing challenges. For Spirit Stones, the equivalent currency, gems, were obtained in very small amounts occasionally upon completing quests, and for completing certain daily challenges. It's a lot easier to earn crowns in Ishtaria than it was to get gems in Spirit Stones, in my experience. Both games have a second currency that is only available through completing tasks in-game. For Ishtaria, you get gimmel for completing quests mainly. In Spirit Stones the equivalent was gold and it was earned by completing quests and challenges. Both games have relatively equal chances of getting power-ups to refill staminas.

#5: Powering up cards
 Both games allow you to power up your cards to make them stronger. Both make use of leveling up cards by sacrificing weaker or unwanted cards. Additionally, you can combine two of the same card to make a stronger version in both games. The main difference for that is that in Spirit Stones you had to have two of the same strength to do this while in Ishtaria you merely need another of the same card, even if they're different levels. Also, Ishtaria also has what's called "breaking" a card where you can use spirit gems to boost a card's attack and defense after a certain point.

#6: Decks
 Both games make use of decks, one for quests and one for battles. In Spirit Stones you have to make your decks yourself and in Ishtaria they are automatically made for you using the highest powered heroes available, but you can make your own decks if you want to as well. Spirit Stones allowed a maximum of four heroes for the quest deck, generally one of each type was best, and a total of eight for the battle deck, though you could have fewer depending on the cost of the cards you used. Ishtaria has a maximum of five cards for the quest deck, generally one pound type and two of each of the other attack types. The battle decks can have a maximum of 15 cards in teams of three. You start out with only one team, but unlock more as you level. The maximum cost of the cards you can use goes up whenever you level for both games.

#7: Quests
 Both games have quests you can complete to progress a storyline as well as earn rewards. As I mentioned in #1, both have a similar layout to their quests. A few monsters are presented for you to defeat, once defeated you're presented with a few more, and so on until you clear all of the stages in the level. The attacks are turn based, allowing you to attack, then giving the monsters a chance to attack, then going back to you, and so on, like many popular JRPGs. The monster's attack rates vary depending on the monster and the level, so they might attack you every round, or once every three rounds. If your health runs out, you fail the quest and have to start again. Spirit stones gives you the option to pay gems, the real-world currency, to continue playing while Ishtaria doesn't give you that option. (I may be wrong here since I've only failed maybe one or two levels when I was first starting to play Ishtaria, so I'm not positive on this.) Both game's quests require a certain amount of stamina to be played, for Spirit stones an ever increasing amount of Battle stamina and for Ishtaria one to two AP. Additionally, in Ishtaria you have the option to spend all of your AP or go "all out" to increase rewards at the end of the level. This option is nice for if you don't have a lot of time to play or just need to move through levels slower so you can power up more to make them easier. I believe you can only use the "all out" option after level 30.

 The main difference between Spirit Stones and Ishtaria's quests is in how you do attacks. With Spirit Stones, you have to connect colored orbs and powerups to determine how much damage each hero does. Each hero has a class that corresponds with the orb's colors: Red for warrior, blue for magic user, yellow for assassin, and green for ranged. This means your attacks are limited to whatever color orbs you have in groups of three or more, so generally you can only attack with one hero each turn unless a wild card, a rainbow orb, is used to let you change color orbs, or a powerup is linked in your combo. In Ishtaria, you have a set attack for each hero, with their attacks being more or less effective based on the monster's stats. Similar to Spirit Stones, there's different attack types as well as each hero has an element. There are three attack types, pound, flurry, and slice, and four different elements, fire, water, earth, and null. Each hero can have a different combination, so, for example, you can have a flurry null or a pound null type. To attack in Ishtaria, you usually can only attack with each hero once and you have to choose the order of the attacks based on how many monsters there are and their power level. In addition to regular attacks, there are assists and burst attacks. Assists are unlocked as you level up up to a total of three, one for each attack type, and allow you to borrow a hero from a union member's deck to attack once per level. Burst attacks are unlimited, but to use them you have to fill up the burst meter by attacking monsters. Once the burst meter has been filled, you can use eight different attacks in any combination you want. This is the only attack where you can attack with a hero more than once in a round.

#8: Battles
 Both games have a battle element that lets you put your team up against another player's team. In Spirit stones, you use Battle stamina to fight other players and are given a completely random player's team to fight against. Battle play is similar to quest play in that you connect orbs and powerups to attack your opponent, then your opponent (being played by the computer), does the same to attack you. Whoever runs out of health first loses. Ishtaria's battle system is completely automated, so it's really a matter of choosing an opponent you can beat more than skill or luck. Ishtaria also has different ranks based on how powerful your deck is and gives you two options for your current deck rank as well as the option to try and beat higher or lower ranked decks.

#9: Boss Fights
 Both games have powerful bosses you can go up against periodically. Spirit Stones had Hell Bosses and Hell Gates, high powered monsters that everyone had the opportunity to fight and do damage to. Both used Hell stamina and your battle deck. Due to their high hit points, or HP, Hell Bosses generally took several hours to defeat with everyone in the game having the opportunity to fight them and receiving rewards based on how much damage they did. Hell Gates were significantly weaker monsters, but still more powerful than typical monsters. Usually Hell Gate monsters started out weaker, then ramped up in difficulty each time one is defeated. Hell Gate monsters also have a time limit you have to defeat them in. You have a chance to fight a Hell Boss after a certain point in time every week, if memory serves me correctly, and Hell Gates have a chance to open after quest battles. In Age of Ishtaria, you have Raid Bosses that you fight using Battle Points, or BP, and your battle deck. Raid Bosses are similar to Hell Gate monsters in that you have a time limit to defeat them in and they are significantly stronger than typical monsters. Raid bosses are usually unlocked by completing event quests and vary in level depending on what the level of the last raid boss you had was and whether you defeated it or not. Once you defeat a raid boss, there's a chance for the boss to go "wild," essentially changing to a more powerful form of the monster or character. When fighting the raid bosses, you're given the chance to spend your BP one at a time or go "all out" and do more damage based on how many BP points you're spending. For example, if your BP is at the max of five, you can get x6 damage.

#10: Special Dungeons
 Both games have a form of special, more difficult dungeons and quests you can try. Spirit Stones had the Devil's Castle (I might be remembering that wrong) where you could play for free once per day, otherwise you needed a ticket specifically for the dungeon. (Side note, I may have some details on this wrong as I only played it a few times due to it being difficult and also a bit obscured in the menu. There's also some points I can't be sure about due to not having played enough to figure it out.) The Devil's Castle is a series of increasingly more challenging stages and floors you have to complete. The further in the dungeon you get, the better the prizes you get. You're given the choice between easy, medium, hard, and a super hard stage to fight your way through using your quest deck. The main kicker: Your health doesn't always refill to max at the end of a stage. I'm unsure of what the determining factor is, but you were occasionally rewarded with a full health bar and oftentimes you had the same health that you ended the last stage with. I don't think I ever finished the dungeon, but there were a lot of floors, each with several stages. I think if you complete the dungeon you have a chance of getting a rare card.

 In Ishtaria, there are Nightmare Rifts, which I also have fairly limited experience with. Nightmare Rifts are very similar to Spirit Stone's Devil Castle. You have to fight through multiple levels with a variety of monsters until you reach the boss. Unlike in Spirit Stones, you use AP to fight Rifts, usually using 3-5 AP per level, and you can battle in as many levels as you have AP for with full health and bonuses for each one. However, unlike with regular quests, you're unable to use items such as potions to recover your heroes's health when you're fighting in a Rift. There are a number of different bosses you can fight, but they only appear for a few hours at certain times of the day or week, as best as I can tell. You also can only choose from two of the bosses that are chosen at random every time there's a Rift. You earn runes from defeating Rifts that, once you collect enough, you can redeem for prizes such as AP and BP potions, extra card storage, and rare cards. You can also collect "spirit points" (I'm not sure what the actual name is) for defeating a boss that, once you've beaten that boss enough times, you can redeem said points to obtain a card for that character.

#11: Events
 Spirit Stones and Ishtaria both have events, but by the time I joined Spirit Stones, it was well on its way to being shut down and only had one event that never changed. The event I saw for Spirit Stones was relatively simple: Visit various pages in the game to collect "keys" and get a reward. Its main point seemed to be to get players to explore the different parts of the game a bit with an incentive. Age of Ishtaria has a different event every week, occasionally two or more different ones at a time. I'm going to break things down a little for simplicity's sake. In Ishtaria, there are three different types of events: Main events, Raid Boss events, and bonus events. Generally there is only one main event at a time with a raid boss or bonus event running at the same time, but I've seen two main events running at the same time once in the past. Bonus events are the simplest type of event, basically giving a bonus when you power up your cards. Raid Boss events cause more frequent raid boss appearances, generally of characters in theme with a quest based main event. Main events are the most varied event type with several different kinds of main events. The main ones I've seen are gift based, collecting based, quest based, union battle based, and giant monster based.
 Gift based events revolve around trading gifts with union members and other players that you're following. The more gifts you trade, the more and better rewards you get. There's always two types of gifts, a regular type and a special type. The regular gifts are easily obtained by completing quests and sometimes the special ones can be obtained this way too, but at a much lower drop rate that varies for each event. The main way to obtain special gifts is by buying special card packs that include them as well as a chance to get special themed units and other items. Collection events cause special monsters to spawn during quests that drop event items you collect then trade in for potions, card pack tickets, crowns, and other items. Quest based events have a special storyline you can play through and are generally the same format as typical non-event quests. It's also common for a Raid Boss event to happen in conjunction with a quest based event. Union battle events pit unions against each other in special battle grounds. (I'll explain unions more in the next section, so don't worry if you don't know what they are.) There are only battles at certain points during the day and how much damage you do to the other union's team determines how many points you get both as an individual and as a team. After the event ends, prizes are determined based on personal points and your union's rank compared to other unions, which is based off of total points scored by your team. Every union member gets the prizes for their union's rank, while personal prizes are only earned if you participated and scored points. Giant monster events revolve around fighting, you guessed it, giant monsters. With this type of event you get to fight super powerful monsters, usually flanked by some weaker ones, with your quest deck along with a team of other players. You either summon a monster with your BP or jump in on another fight with open slots and do as much damage to the giant monster as you can, working with other players to defeat it. Once the monsters are all defeated, you get points and prizes based on how much damage you did and other factors such as finder or last attack. At the end of the event, you get ranked on how many points you scored and receive a prize based on your rank.

#12: Teams
Both Spirit Stones and Age of Ishtaria have teams of some sort. I know very little about the teams in Spirit Stones since I decided to be introverted and avoid any contact with other players, but as I was reading the comments on the forum post stating the close of the game, I noticed many players stating the team battles were very easy to abuse and one of the factors to the game's closure since it was never updated to avoid abuse. In Ishtaria, there are unions that you get assigned to when you start the game, then you can change unions if you so choose. There are two types of unions: Open unions and closed unions. Anyone can join an open union and the leader is determined by player's union ranking which, I believe, is determined by how well you do in raid boss events. (I just recently discovered this feature when I realized I'd become leader for my union, so I'm still learning my way around a lot of things.) Closed unions require the union's creator and leader to accept requests from other players to join. The leader stays the same unless they transfer ownership of the union to another member. As far as I can tell, the main use for unions is for union based or gift based events.

#13: Storyline
 Compared to Ishtaria, Spirit Stones had a very vague storyline. To sum it up, a kingdom is in being threatened by this evil dragon and you're the summoner chosen by the princess who must protect the kingdom. Each boss has a short phrase or sentence they say before you fight them and then one they screams upon defeat ("I'll get you next time," "GWARG *fades into mist*,"You will not defeat me, puny mortal," etc.). And that's about it until you get to the end and get victorious story, yay! And then some other dragon's attacking another land, so guess who gets to go fight more monsters? Yup, you. Who'da guessed?

Age of Ishtaria has a similar setup, basically you meet two caracters, Salix and Meru, who are fighting against a thing called Storm that's causing monsters to become crazy and vicious. To combat Storm, they are purifying God Stones in various areas after defeating monsters. They found you unconscious and tended to you, then asked you to join them in their quest since you lost your memory and are a summoner, someone able to call heros from cards to fight. Every few levels, you get more storyline telling you more about the characters you're with, their quest, and the world you're in. I don't want to give any storyline away should any of you decide to play, but you have a much vaster storyline in Ishtaria's quests than in Spirit Stones, and on top of that you also have more storyline in quest based events. I'm nowhere close to finishing the first storyline and I know there's even more still after that. I haven't been playing long enough to see if the quest based events repeat with the same story every year or anything, so there may or may not be new storyline coming out consistently.

#14: Game Development
 The number one reason Spirit Stones died was due to lack of game development and new material from the creators. I only made it through the first storyline, some of the second storyline, and had just gotten strong enough to start making it farther through the Devil's gate, so I can't speak from my own experience, but almost everyone who commented on the game closing forum post was saying something about lack of new content and lack of updates to improve already available content. I personally had a lot more to explore in the game, but for players who'd been playing regularly for several years, there was nothing new and exciting coming out to really keep them coming back. And apparently the game developers ignored players suggestions for improvements or bugs on the forums as well.
 Age of Ishtaria is constantly growing and improving. While the general interface stays the same, there's always new content coming out, quests update regularly, and the development team listens to the players. Sometimes I log in after a maintenance is performed to see a notification stating there was a bug or a description was unclear, so a free mini BP or AP potion or something similar is being sent out as an apology gift to everyone who logs in within a certain time window. And 10/10 times I never even saw the error or bug that they're apologizing for in the first place. Also, every week when the events are about to change over, a notice is sent out stating when the maintenance will be taking place and what content is ending and starting, then once the maintenance is over another notice is sent out saying what started and ended and if the maintenance was extended it apologizes and states what apology gift is being sent out. I've never personally had to send in a bug report or anything, but the staff seems to be very responsive to everyone.

So, that's pretty much all of the game aspects Spirit Stones and Age of  Ishtaria have. I'm really glad I found and tried out Age of Ishtaria after Spirit Stones was closed since it's very similar and a lot better maintained. TL;DR Spirit Stones and Ishtaria are very similar games, but in general Age of Ishtaria is a lot better made than Spirit Stones was.

Have any of you guys played either of these games or something similar? Let me know in the comments!

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