Let’s Play: What Remains of Edith Finch

Another quick Let’s Play, where we do another small indie game that was just released called What Remains of Edith Finch.

Basically a walking simulator game, I can see a lot of people turned off or dismissive towards this title. However, if you’re someone like me who enjoys a good story in a video game without needing to have lots of things to shoot, this is another engrossing tale that packs a lot in a short two hour play-time.

You play as Edith Finch, back at her childhood home, traversing through its many rooms and hidden passages to recount the tales of her dead relatives. Apparently there’s a family curse where each person dies a random, sometimes horrible death. Thus the game ends up being unintentionally creepy, despite its slow, serene pace and lack of typical video game scare tactics.

I appreciated how the developers approached each relative’s death in a unique way, giving us a new perspective as well as new visual style. One relative’s death was relayed as a comic book, another as a surreal time lapse. One of the most unique experiences I’ve ever had was trying to relive a relative who was succumbing to schizophrenia, so the game forced me to live out two “realities” simultaneously. By the end, I really felt like I was losing my mind along with the character. It’s a powerful example of the medium’s unique ability to get us into the viewpoint of a character.

Again, this game may not be everyone’s cup of tea. The play style, the slow pace, the price tag (especially for the short run-time) will all be factors that will deter many.

But I think anyone willing to step into this game will end up with a rewarding experience.

UPDATE: Ok, minor spoilers… I just read about the game’s canonical connection to the developer’s previous game, Unfinished Swan. I don’t think the experience of this game was hurt at all by not getting the reference, but it seems like I missed out on a pretty mind-blowing moment. I even comment on liking that portion’s music, which is from the other game. Oh well. It’s cool that they did that. Wish I knew about it at the time!

Let’s Play: Little Nightmares

I just wrapped up a brand new indie game, Little Nightmares by Tarsier Studios.

I saw a preview of this a few months back and was instantly intrigued by the visuals. Something about the lighting or the design just makes me think of real-life miniatures rather than rendered graphics. Imagine a Tim Burton stop-motion style with the mechanics of a Play Dead game.

Burton’s style I’ve always characterized as weird shapes where nothing fits together perfectly. This game has plenty of that. Wardrobe dressers with drawers that don’t align correctly. Or bookshelves that are narrow but twist their way up multiple stories high.

Possibly influenced heavily by Play Dead games like Limbo or Inside, this game also has a lot of puzzle platforming, but I like that they took it a step further. You interact with enemies quite a bit more (to terrifying effects). And you can pick up or move random objects in a room even if they don’t contribute to the puzzle solution. That was my main criticism for Play Dead: if you could touch or move an object, it was a big hint that you needed it to get past the current obstacle.

Also, this game is plain gross. But in a good way. Grotesque chefs were hacking away at fish heads, and a lanky-armed blind monstrosity was plucking up children and wrapping them up in gauze. And once one of them spotted me, the game turned into a pulse-pounding chase to escape their grasp. I was panting and sweating on more than one occasion.

I don’t want to spoil anything, but I’d love to hear reactions or discuss the way this game ends. So I hope and encourage anyone to play this gem of a game.

Let’s Play: Mass Effect Andromeda

Mass Effect Andromeda might be my most anticipated game in the past few years. I was a devout fan of the original trilogy, having completed runthroughs across all three games multiple times.

However, in the age of internet outrage, I forced myself to stay in the dark about anything concerning this latest installment and try my best to keep my expectations low. That allowed me to have a pretty blank slate going in to Andromeda.

I didn’t like abandoning the Milky Way for a whole other galaxy, 600 years into the future. That just minimized the effects of the events in the trilogy.

But, I suspect there was really no other way to move the story past what had happened. Bioware was looking for a clean start and this was their way to do it.

That meant losing a lot of familiar characters and environments. Luckily, we kept a lot of other elements, including species, aesthetics, abilities and weapons.

It was a joy to see turians, asari, and krogan again. Equipping the valiant sniper rifle was like finding an old, comfortable sweater.

In that sense, Andromeda was able to attain that elusive goal of “feeling” like a Mass Effect game. To me, at least. Plenty of people seemed unhappy and unsatisfied. (That goes back to my comment about hedging my expectations.)

Gameplay-wise, the balance of RPG and FPS seemed good. The side quests were much more robust (perhaps with a bit too much planet hopping back and forth).

The main story was a bit lackluster, but still managed a few nice twists. The main antagonist wasn’t as iconic or fearsome as the Reapers. In fact, the nice easter egg of audio logs about the Reapers actually reminded me how intense and dire that situation was, and unfortunately dulled the current story I was playing.

Mass Effect though was always more about the characters and your relationships with them. This is probably where Bioware managed to shine the brightest. It was a tall order to ask players to love the new teammates and Ryder as much as Shepard or Liara or Tali. Outside of the supremely annoying Liam, I think they succeeded. Even characters I was skeptical about, like Peebee or Cora, eventually won over my affection.

As for the Let’s Play, it was a challenge to play such a long, sprawling game with the pressure of keeping it engaging and entertaining. It was easily twice as long as any other game I recorded. I’m still glad I did, and hope it comes across well.

Not sure where Mass Effect goes from here (Bioware resists hinting at a new trilogy), but I’m still along for the ride!

Final Fantasy XV Review

One of the first opening screens for latest installment of Square Enix’s long-running franchise states “A Final Fantasy for fans and newcomers alike.”

The decision to flash that message every time the game boots up seems like an odd marketing ploy; even odder considering anyone who sees it has probably purchased the game already.

But does the game fulfill that promise to satisfy loyal fans as well as invite those who are curious about the storied series?

My verdict is mostly no.

As a person who was a huge fan of Final Fantasy IV and VI on the SNES, as well as VII and VIII once the series jumped to Playstation 1, I’ve always had a soft spot because these games provided an epic scope of story and characterization that was unparalleled in video games at the time.

The following years though, I strayed from the series and gaming in general, so was not quite familiar with how the series has tried to evolve as video games overall became more epic and cinematic.

So, in a way, I felt like I was both a fan and a newcomer. (Well, I did play XIII but no one likes to think about or consider that game at all.)

Back on topic to FF XV, I immediately felt lost and uncomfortable. The game boasts an initially complex and daunting series of systems, from how to fight to how to level up to how to manage magic. I just couldn’t fathom how any casual gamer would be patient enough to learn these mechanics. I think I was at Hour 5 or 6 before I felt like I had a good grasp of everything.

Not only that but nothing in the game felt to me like a “real” Final Fantasy: the American West-esque setting, the cartoonishly overdone Southern accents, driving around in a CAR. The Jap-pop design of the main characters was off-putting but at least it seemed appropriate for a FF game.

I did end up enjoying the game. In fact, I ended up platinuming it on the PS4. The camaraderie between the four protagonists has been universally cited as a strong point and I tend to agree.

However, another hallmark of Final Fantasy games in my opinion is how a rag-tag group of people from completely different backgrounds always manages to come together to save the world. FF XV never really allows for anyone else to join the party, and players only ever control Noctis.

I also realized around the halfway point during a cinematic scene that I had virtually no idea what was going on in the story.

My band of travelers was on a roadtrip to go meet Noctis’ fiance in another city. However there was some sort of strife back in home with the king and some other people but I generally had no idea with whom or why.

I eventually pieced together the plot but none of the motivations ever got illuminated in a meaningful way.

I think that was the most disappointing aspect of playing this latest Final Fantasy. The story didn’t seem epic or worldly like other past installments. It’s hard to feel like there are any stakes to the conflict when you’re allowed to just cruise around in your vehicle with your buddies.

Which was another issue I had with the game. I got to the point where I’d set my destination and then walk off to grab a drink or check my phone. Huge swaths of time were devoted to just sitting there waiting for the auto-pilot to get to the next place. There is a fast travel option but the loading screen seemed to take just as long and didn’t provide any AP bonus points.

The more I write, the more clarity I get on how disappointed I actually was in the game. It’s by no means the disaster that XIII was. But this game was in development hell for ten years. The fact that it got released at all is probably an achievement.

The end result makes me want to boot up FFVI Advanced on my old Nintendo DS, but it makes me a bit nervous about the likelihood that Square Enix will bungle the FFVII Remake.

Let’s Play: Dishonored 2

Here we go! Another Let’s Play series.

After the first Dishonored, I immediately barreled into the recently released sequel. I’m glad that I played the original to get more context and more depth, plus it helped me get better at the gameplay. (“Better” is subjective in this case.)

The graphics are great, but since the art is so stylized, it doesn’t seem like much of a jump from the first game.

But you can tell the devs were working with more confidence and more budget. The level design is amazing. Chapters like the Clockwork Mansion and Stilton’s Estate are some of the most innovative stages I’ve ever played.

Plus the main character(s) finally have voice acting. And being able to choose between two main characters to play means I’ll definitely be replaying this game. Each has comparable but different power sets which I really want to go back and experiment with.

All in all, I think these were stellar games that should’ve gotten more attention than they did.

I definitely recommend playing these if you can.

My Best Games of 2016 List

2016 comes to an end. (Thankfully! It was a pretty brutal year… death of Bowie and Prince, and the election.) It’s that time of the year to jump on the bandwagon and start making Best Of lists!

So here goes (in no particular order):

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This has to be the most obvious contender. While I don’t think it’s the best Naughty Dog game, or even the best Uncharted game, it’s still a remarkable achievement, graphically and storywise. No game looks better than Uncharted 4 and they really tug on the heartstrings through all the relationships built up through the course of the series.

Overwatch

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This caught me by surprise because I’m not usually a fan of PvP shooters. But the wide variety of colorful characters and simple setup makes for an unexpectedly robust experience. Playing with a friend definitely ups the enjoyment factor significantly.

Battlefield 1

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Another surprise for me. I never thought I’d play one of these types of games, let alone consider it one of my favorites for the year. But the World War I setting was so unique and special and the story vignettes in single player really captured the horrors and sacrifice of war so well. If only there was more to the single player mode.

Rise of the Tomb Raider

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A game that was on many’s Best Of list a year ago, and the long wait to PlayStation was worth it. I don’t think it beats out Uncharted 4 overall but it does a lot of things well. The story wasn’t as compelling as the previous game simply because Lara’s rise to bad-assery was better there. But I think the gameplay system and fighting mechanics outshone NaughtyDog’s game.

Batman: Arkham VR

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What could’ve been a half-hearted attempt at VR was actually a gripping return back into this world. This could’ve made my list simply by virtue of being such a different experience. But Rocksteady again managed to really screw with our heads with a very visceral and mind-bending ending.

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Notes:
I have yet to play Dishonored 2 but I have a feeling that this would be on my final tally. I’ve liked what I’ve seen and heard good things. I think Final Fantasy XV could be a winner as well but I’ve been a bit more wary of jumping onto that ship until I hear more reviews from actual players. Mafia 3 was under consideration but the flaws in that game were just too deep to make my list.

Let’s Play: Inside

Here is my Let’s Play series on the great game by Playdead, the makers of Limbo. It’s quite a short game, but it leaves a strong impression.

It’s a strong example of how video games don’t need to have everything and the kitchen sink thrown into it. A strong art style and sure-handed direction, with tight puzzle mechanics make you realize you don’t even need dialog or music.

Still, I’m always an advocate of a strong story. Not that Inside doesn’t have a story or a message, but one of Playdead’s tricks is to leave things very vague and open to interpretation.