Let’s Play: Night in the Woods

I jumped onto another short indie game in order to take a break from my 90+ hrs of Persona 5. Night in the Woods had been mentioned a couple of times so I decided to give it a run.

I almost didn’t play past the first Let’s Play episode just because I wasn’t sure what I was getting. The game features cute animal characters and a playful art style, yet the story and gameplay deal very much in the mundane. I have no problem with walking simulators but I guess I was expecting some kind of platforming or puzzle element.

While there are mini games, they vary radically in terms of actual skill involved. There’s Guitar Hero style button matching and some minor platforming traversal, but then are some very basic move the cursor to grab an object that barely seems worth the effort.

Over the course of the story though I found myself getting attached to the very likable cast of characters. And I started to realize what the game was going for.

Themes of transitioning into adulthood, living up to expectations (or failing to), and having to let go or feeling a sense of loss, are all very mature topics that this game deals with. The cutesy style is an interesting juxtaposition to that. In fact, this game swings wildly and unexpectedly from humor and whimsy to very morbid and morose conversations. I’d be laughing one second at the insult tradeoffs and then suddenly become speechless at a friend’s dilemma over her mentally failing father. I also appreciated the subtle way they treated a LGBT couple in the game.

When the final act starts to bring up the heat on a more mysterious, fantastical story beat, I actually began to wish that the game hadn’t resorted to such tropes for tension and interest and just stayed invested in the tragedy of the mundane. To their credit, when things get really metaphysical, the game still steers away from any overt reveals or explanations.

All in all, this game ended up winning me over with its witty dialog and endearing characters. I think some actual voice acting and foregoing the more pointless mini games would’ve made for a better experience. Hopefully the success of this game will allow the developers to stretch their legs more in their next effort.

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.

Now Playing

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: 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.