Doki Doki Literature Club Review

In what’s really a departure for me, I fired up my Mac and played a Steam game.

Highly recommended by a few IGN staff and with enough intriguing non-spoiler hints, I chose to dive in to Doki Doki Literature Club. Plus the game was free.

The game comes off initially as a cloying continuation of a strange genre of video games: the dating sim.

However, after the first two hours, it becomes evident that the game is setting up the player for a huge twist.

I don’t actually want to say more to ruin anyone’s experience with this game. I’d just say dive in without learning anything more than the bare minimum and prepare to power through the sometimes awkward feelings of playing a japanese dating sim.

In hindsight, this game is extremely well written and thoughtfully mapped out. It leans hard on the tropes of the genre but only to completely blow them up by the end. I came to appreciate the light-hearted tone and dialogue at the end because of what comes after.

The game also has a plethora of secrets and easter eggs and it’s been fascinating to dive into those online.

Again, I highly recommend checking this game out. And don’t read anything about it until you do.

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Let’s Play: Star Wars Battlefront II

Here’s a game from a small studio on some unknown licensed property that no one’s talking about.

EA took some notes from the last Battlefront game and gave us a single-player campaign, which is what the Let’s Play covers.

Overall I enjoyed it. There were certainly surprises in gameplay and characters that were fun. However at around 5 hours, the story felt a bit rushed and undercooked. As a result, some character turns felt a bit more sudden and unearned. There were some fun Easter eggs but looking back, I think they only weakened the narrative and seemed like corporate mandates. Not enough time was spent on our new protagonist, Iden Versio.

That’s a shame because she seems interesting and shows lots of future potential. It helps that’s she’s given life by actress Janina Gavankar. It’s been fun seeing her do PR for the game because she’s clearly a big fan of Star Wars and has been a strong advocate for making games more legitimate in the eyes of the non-gaming public.

The multiplayer areas of this game is where the firestorm of controversy and outrage have centered. Honestly, I think the reaction is overblown but not wholly unwarranted.

EA has a checkered history and obviously views the games as a service model as a potent money maker. And we shouldn’t forget that this is entertainment for us, but a business to them. The cost of making a video game today is much higher than in the past. I have no quarrel with them trying to find ways to monetize. I think we’ve now seen a few examples of how to do it right and EA did them wrong.

There are other sources that go more in depth on the issue but my take is that pay to win is wrong. Microtransactions that give players advantages over others is the problem. Overwatch is a great model because there’s plenty to spend money on but nothing ruins the balance of the gameplay. Naughty Dog floods its multiplayer modes with skins, emotes and finishing moves, but no unfair advantages can be bought.

Even non-cosmetic DLC is okay for me in the form of additional story content. I bought every Mass Effect trilogy DLC and had no regrets. And although Mass Effect 3 had a multiplayer with loot boxes for better weapons, the game mode was never PvP so no one went up in arms. They also smartly made any MP DLC free

I’ve already written more than I care to so I’ll reiterate that the story campaign made me glad I bought this game, despite the issues with multiplayer. The campaign should’ve been longer to flesh out beats and maybe less fan-service elements would’ve strengthened the core plot.

Also, EA recently shuttered the studio that was working on an Uncharted-like Star Wars game. But there were certainly moments in this game that felt like a Nathan Drake adventure. Bombastic set pieces and high paced death defying antics left me breathless, and made me want more.

Let’s Play: Horizon Zero Dawn, The Frozen Wilds

Just in time for the end of the year and “Game of the Year” discussions, Guerrilla shrewdly released a meaty DLC for Horizon Zero Dawn, which has maintained a spot near the top of everyone’s list despite the tough competition.

Clocking in around 8-9 hours of gameplay, it’s more than a typical add-on. Clearly a lot of work went into this expansion.

While it doesn’t offer anything newly revolutionary from the base game, what it does is remind everyone why Horizon Zero Dawn was so great. Every aspect of the game is solid and polished.

A few new tweaks were added, including control towers which shook up how I approached a pack of metal machines. The devs also brought in a few new beasts, which were dialed up in toughness and aggressiveness.

Almost immediately into the DLC, I stumbled onto one and experienced a heart-pounding battle that I wasn’t quite prepared for.

The story quests have a nice balance of current day tribe politics and some Old World lore to sift through, but I wish there was slightly more personality or differentiation from this DLC tribe and what we’ve encountered throughout the original game. The Ban-Uk look slightly different and live in the harsh snow climate, but they act like every other tribe: intolerant and dismissive. That is until you (as Aloy) solve every one of their issues and quarrels to gain their overall respect.

I just wish there was a bit more variety in this new world order.

Overall, I’m simply glad to be back in this world. I greatly enjoyed the main game and still hold it in my top three of the year.

As for the videos, I blasted through them pretty quickly to get through the game. But I also played shorter episodes. Let me know if you have any thoughts on the length!

New Game Announcements at E3 2017

This year’s E3 didn’t fail to excite with all the new announcements from the big three platforms. I have to say I was underwhelmed by the Xbox One X (dumbest name ever) but a lot of games got me really jazzed for the next year. Most were expected, but some nice surprises too…

Metroid Prime 4
The biggest “holy crap” moment of E3 for me and probably many others. The Switch really needs more marquee games and this really fits the bill. Now if we ever see it anytime soon…

Uncharted: The Lost Legacy
Something I was already 100% going to get. I liked the tension between Chloe and Nadine. They’re working together but there looks like a lot of mistrust that will make for an interesting dynamic.

Dishonored: Death of the Outsider
A really pleasant announcement. It wont be a full-sized game but looks to be a lot meatier than a typical DLC. I wouldn’t be surprised if this was the last thing we get in the Dishonored franchise, which is a shame. (Go get these games, seriously.)

Spider-man
Got an extended trailer and the gameplay looks a lot like the Batman Arkham games, which I don’t necessarily view as a bad thing. I just hope they have a few new twists on the formula to not be totally derivative. And hopefully not too many quicktime events. Still looks really fun.

Anthem
Looks like Bioware is pulling a Destiny (with a bit of Titanfall). Not 100% sold on this yet but I’m curious. Still sad about no Mass Effect news.

Star Wars Battlefront 2
This game looks gorgeous and epic. But I feel like I bought the first game not that long ago and am a bit annoyed that I sunk so much cash into it only to have to move on to the sequel so soon. I may hold out on it if I can.

Detroit: Become Human
Another beautiful looking game. I always love the Choose Your Own Adventure style games so I’m pretty much hooked. The trailer had a very anti-human angle which is really curious since we’re all, y’know, humans. Or ARE we??

God of War and Shadow of the Colossus
Never played these games, but the trailers are starting to win me over.

Days Gone
Still not sure what to make of this game. Looks like there are some impressive mechanics in it, but I’m a bit tired of zombies, and it feels enough like Last of Us to make me a bit put off.

Cuphead
I absolutely LOVE the graphics in this game and I’m a bit bummed that it’s an Xbox exclusive (for now).

Life is Strange: Before the Storm
The more I hear, the more worried I get. The voice actress for Chloe isn’t even performing the dialog???

Mario Odyssey
I was initially put-off by the urban setting, but as usual, Mario games display an echelon of inventiveness that is hard to not get excited over. Plus we may not see Metroid for a while so this could be a good gap between that and Zelda.

I’m Happy Yet Hesitant About the Life is Strange Prequel

As you’d expect from E3, a ton of exciting news and announcements are coming out of the event. Yet one of the more minor reveals probably has me the most excited… a prequel to Life is Strange was announced with a teaser trailer!

A surprisingly gripping indie game, Life is Strange puts you in the shoes of Max, a high school teenager who suddenly discovers she has time-rewinding powers. As fantastical as that aspect is, the game mainly stays grounded in the world of teenagers, focusing on the awkwardness and intense emotional swings of that stage in life.

As much as I want to dive back in to that world and absorb every iota of experience there, I’m hesitant about the idea of a prequel focusing on Chloe for a few reasons.

First, I generally think prequels are a bad idea (not just because of Star Wars). When a story or characters becomes successful and popular, the obvious urge is to go back and see more. Exploring origins may give more context, but trying to tell a story in that way is problematic. Mostly because you already know where the end of that origin story winds up. It takes a lot of the mystery and drama out of it.

For Life is Strange, we already find out a lot about Chloe and what she was doing in this era through the course of the first game. She gets expelled from school, befriends Rachel Amber and has run ins with Frank. I didn’t ever feel compelled to know more than that. What was always more important was Max and Chloe’s relationship to each other.

It leads me to my second issue in that Chloe has a great redemptive arc in the original game. She starts off at a low point, aimless in life and even attempting to blackmail Nathan.

A prequel focused on Chloe essentially means she has to experience another arc to propel a plot. I doubt the devs would go the dark route and have her spiral downward, but you’d need her to do that to make the link back to the original story make sense and retain its impact.

Another issue is that the trailer reveals Rachel Amber as an actual character. I’m sure plenty of people are happy about this, and yeah, I’m curious about it too. But the fact that she never actually appears in the original game outside of photos and referenced in conversation is such a powerful way to tell a story.

It’s a lot like the great Wes Anderson movie, Rushmore, with Edward Applebee who also never actually appeared in the film but loomed large over every other character like a ghost.

I think it’s such strong, evocative and mature storytelling. I just fear that going back and making her an actual presence undercuts the effectiveness of that original story.

Finally, it was revealed that Dontnod isn’t developing this game. I don’t want to outright dismiss the new developer but it’s a tad disappointing and just gives me less confidence overall.

But I guess all that we can do is wait and see! Hopefully we get a great game that enriches the world rather than detracting from the original story. Plus, Dontnod is working on an actual sequel, which we still know nothing about.

Why I Play Video Games

There’s a recent article on Vulture examining why some (particularly grown-up adults) choose to spend so much of their free moments playing video games.

As much a past-time as reading, watching tv, or sports, playing video games has always had a negative stigma. That it wasn’t as worthy of our time and effort as the other recreational activities. I assume because it’s thought to be more for kids. Although I can’t fathom then why so many have no issue obsessing over sports… and not even playing but watching sports.

The article tries to justify gaming through several angles… some people make money broadcasting on YouTube! Or it’s a way to experience a world that has rules and goals unlike real life!

But the author (while a self-described gamer) doesn’t seem to fully buy into any rationale. Even stating that writing for a video game is an inferior artform to literary writing.

Of that, I totally disagree. Just because examples of stellar video game writing are far more scarce than books or poetry or whatnot, doesn’t mean it’s not capable of achieving the same heights.

Take The Last of Us. I can’t recall too many novels that caused me to swim in such a deep well of emotions by the end. I put down my controller at the end credits and felt a mixture of awe and devastation for characters that I had come to connect with more than most fictional characters

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We also tend to forget that video games are a relatively new medium compared to other forms of artistic expression. Music and writing are about as old as human existence. Television has even been around for almost a century.

Video games, starting off severely limited by technology, have only really recently begun to venture into the waters of art and storytelling. More complex stories, professional voice (and mo-cap) actors, and music conductors, are all becoming as vital to video game production as the level designers and programmers.

Back to my own gaming journey, I spent a hefty amount of my childhood playing NES and SNES games, only to fall off around college, thinking that yes, indeed video games are just for kids.

I missed entire generations of consoles such as the N64, Gamecube, Playstation 1, and Playstation 2.

I finally found my way back after being intrigued by the concept of the Mass Effect trilogy. That there’s a series of games that allows you to craft your main character, to make decisions that have actual effects in not just the game you’re playing but subsequent games too. That video games were now much more epic and cinematic than when I was running around on 8-bit and 16-bit levels.

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Even now, I have friends and girlfriends who look at me a bit sideways when I reveal that I spend a significant amount of my time gaming. It’s still viewed as a waste of time. Especially at an age and time where so many other things should take priority.

My simplest explanation basically breaks down to how video games are much less passive than watching tv or movies. And video games are as immersive as books, but have visual stimulation as well.

Being able to control a character, guiding them through a story or a puzzle or a battle, allows me to have agency and investment.

I won’t deny the sense of satisfaction when beating a tough boss enemy or solving a puzzle obstacle or the pleasure of killing an obnoxious online player. But that’s not what keeps drawing me into gaming. There has to be a story. There has to be character. There has to be emotion.

Recently on the way in to work, Life is Strange‘s main theme came up in my phone’s shuffle mode and I had a flood of feelings hit me. I felt a sense of missing Max and Chloe and their heart-warming, heart-breaking journey.

This is a grown-ass man going to an office, fighting back emotions for a video game about two teenaged girls.

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Now, I know that people play video games for different reasons. I’m all about the story. But I recently found out that my cousin only likes to play online shooters and skips any cinematic just to get to the action. I found that mindset completely baffling. But to each his own.

Personally, I don’t play games for profit, popularity, or even as an escape from my real life.

I just like that as a form of entertainment. Like going to see a film or listening to music. Video games have just as much value to me as any of those.

Hopefully soon, there will be less stigma whenever I admit to someone that I like to game. I’ve definitely had the urge to sit people down in front of a game to show them that things have progressed very far from Super Mario Bros.

Here are some of my go-to games to express the potential of the medium:

The Last of Us
No brainer. The prologue might play a little too long for some people’s patience but it’s a hell of a display of the power of interactive story-telling.

Journey
A very different type of experience. Most people are caught off guard by how restrained it is. Usually, games come off as loud amusement parks. This game is more like a monastery.

Limbo
This one tends to be a bit easier transition for people since most are at least familiar with side-scrollers. But the art direction and the stellar adherence to minimalism is always impressive.

Life is Strange
As mentioned above, this game really gets its hooks in you emotionally. It’s a bit of a tough sell though since it takes a good amount of time before the appeal kicks in.

The Walking Dead
I’ve come to love/hate Telltale games but this is a good one to introduce to people due to the popularity of the show. Plus it does a good job of retaining the show’s brutal no-win scenarios but puts decisions in the player’s hands.

Until Dawn
A great one to pull out for a group gathering around Halloween. The impressive visuals and the Scream-like setup is another good example to people of how games can be just as engrossing as a movie.