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I’m deep into Persona 5 right now and there’s no end in sight. People have been touting 100+ hrs and I’m only around the 35 hr mark.

So far it’s great, but I definitely think the anticipation and high praise made me expect a lot. The game’s a little more confining than I expected, forcing me to do or not do things at certain times. Which can be frustrating because there’s a ton to do in the game and I want to do it all.

I’m also wondering if the game will change things up later on. Even though I’m not halfway, I feel like I’ve got a pretty good handle on the mechanics and the gameplay loop. It hasn’t felt tiresome yet, but I’m afraid that I’ll get worn out by the same process throughout the whole game.

Other than that, I’ll still jump into Mass Effect Andromeda multiplayer from time to time. It doesn’t have its hooks in me quite the same way that Mass Effect 3 multiplayer did, which I can’t figure out why since it’s basically the same format.

My hunch is that there are just too many other games I want to get to. This has been an incredible year for games and we’re only now reaching the halfway mark.

The second half of the year doesn’t seem has loaded with games I’m anticipating. That’s even before Red Dead Redemption 2 got delayed until next year, which surprised absolutely no one.

I still have yet to play Horizon Zero Dawn and Legend of Zelda. I’m hoping that by the time I am ready to get to them, they’ll be on sale or at least in stock (looking longingly at the Switch).

For now, I’ll keep an eye out for more indie gems like Little Nightmares and What Remains of Edith Finch. And I’m still itching to do a second run-through of Dishonored 2.

I assumed I’d do another play of Andromeda simply because it’s Mass Effect, but the further away I get from the game, the less interested I am in revisiting it.

But good news is that a sequel to Life is Strange was announced! I have no idea what that game might look like, but I’m still excited.

Let’s Play: Persona 5 (intro)

I’m finally diving into the eagerly anticipated Persona 5!

Due to Atlus’ restrictions, I won’t be doing a full Let’s Play series. Which is a shame because, lord, is this game beautiful and awesome.

Rarely have I ever seen a game this slick and stylish. Every single menu or graphic has been infused with eye-candy. Not to mention the top-notch animation cut-scenes that look better than most anime.

I’ve now played about 12 hours and I still feel a bit railroaded, so hopefully things change as I move further into the story.

There’s a lot to do and see, and lots of people to talk to, but the calendar system really makes you think hard about your choice of action.

As a somewhat OCD completionist who wants to see and do everything, I find it a little bit constrictive and somewhat stressful. But I hear this is a hallmark element of the Persona series so it feels a bit wrong to criticize it.

Also, unless the game opens up new areas as I progress, I’m a bit surprised at the limited scope of locations in the game. For some reason, I had expected to be able to explore at least a good chunk of Tokyo but so far have been confined to three areas. Now, those three areas are pretty dense with activities, but still… I’m anticipating another 50 hours in this game.

Even those complaints are pretty minor in my book, as I’ve been enjoying my time already.

Also to note, since Atlus barred the PS4 broadcast/recording features, I had to resort to external capture methods for the first time. So that’s why the audio sounds a bit off. If I had planned to record the whole game, I would’ve tried to solve it, but don’t really feel like it’s worth it at this point. Apologies!

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!

Learn to Play: Mass Effect Andromeda Multiplayer, Asari Adept

I’ve finally done it. I’ve made an edited video post for video games. As many Let’s Plays as I’ve done, it’s always been pure recordings with no edits (other than cutting out times when a game has crashed).

I’ve been playing a ton of Mass Effect Andromeda single player, and honestly really enjoying it. The game’s been getting mixed reviews and the typical internet outrage, but knowing that every ME game has had its flaws, I’m getting pretty much what I’d expected (if not what I’d hoped).

But like Mass Effect 3, this latest game’s multiplayer is great and so fun. I logged countless hours in ME3’s multiplayer and a lot of that translated over to this new incarnation. Thus, I have a lot of working knowledge and expertise and felt compelled to share some of that with others.

It was a lot of work putting this together so I now have a new-found respect for those professional YouTubers who pump out videos everyday. A lot of time and effort goes in behind the scenes. I had to create a ton of footage so that I had enough to pull together for this one 24 minute video.

Hope people find it helpful!

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.