Now Playing

Despite some proclamations that 2018 is already matching 2017 as a great year for video game releases, I’ve found myself not interested in most of the big releases.

I wasn’t interested in Dragon Ball Fighter Z or Monster Hunter World. Although I’m actually hungering for a game with a lot of character customization, Monster Hunter World’s gameplay loop doesn’t appeal to me very much.

On the near horizon, Far Cry 5 and God of War are series that I’ve never paid much attention to either. Unless these games end up getting incredibly rave reviews, I may skip out on them this time around as well.

I did dive into the Shadow of the Colossus remake, which has been great to finally experience what everyone’s always talked about.

But playing a 10+ yr game always has its downfalls. Bluepoint has done an incredible job remaking this game with cutting edge graphics. The scenery looks stunning and I’ve paused to just look around at the landscape. But the world definitely feels a bit hollow. And the gameplay loop a bit shallow.

That said, I can fully appreciate how groundbreaking this game was when it was first released. It’s more of a history lesson than a true game for me to play. And you can see how it’s influenced games such as Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

Plus, even after all this time, there are moments that feel unique to this game. The scale of the “enemies” is still rarely seen in other games today. And the feeling of clinging to a flying Colossus was a vivid and electrifying moment that I can’t recall any parallel to.

The other game I’ve been spending my time with lately is Friday the 13th.

On the surface, nothing about this game would appeal to me. Online multiplayer, horror theme, subpar graphics, based off an IP I’ve never paid any attention to.

Yet there is something that is, frankly, really fun about this game.

Firstly, the developers wisely leaned into the campy b-movie style of the film series. In that way, everything about this game works in its favor. The cheesy setup, the dated and somewhat exploitative character designs. It all feels right.

Plus the actual tension and terror this game creates is surprising and hard to convey through reviews or watching video clips. I’ve had so many moments when Jason pops up nearby and I get a flash of panic that ripples through my body. Frantically trying to escape from him is harrowing and successful survival is a euphoric moment.

The main frustration for the game is the matchmaking. The game has been out a while now and thus less people are still playing it. Plus there aren’t dedicated servers so you’re at the mercy of the host who can quit or lose connection at any moment during the match, ruining your experience. (Also there are a disturbingly high percentage of little kids playing this. What the hell, parents??)

Aside from these two, I’m really itching for a good story-driven game, maybe from the indie side. As well as hoping we’ll get release dates for Spider-man and Detroit: Becoming Human.


Nier: Automata Review

After I finished Nier: Automata, a friend asked if I liked it. I was surprised that I wasn’t quite sure what my answer was.

I think much of the praise of the game is deserved. The fighting is fluid and flashy. And the music is simply amazing.

But I found myself thinking about the game long after I finished it. More so, I kept pondering about what the game was about and what it was trying to say.

If someone were to just play and beat the game, it comes off as pretty straightforward. You are one side (androids) and you have to fight the other (robots). Beat them all and the game’s over.

However, if you get through the game’s multiple playthroughs and endings, you see that Automata is trying to explore something deeper.

The central theme seems to be humanity. What does it mean to be human? Why are these artificial beings striving so hard to be human? Does merely acting out aspects of humanity allow you to attain it?

The game showcases various groups playing out different aspects of humanity: androids (loyalty, violence), robots (generosity, a sense of community), main characters (romantic love, jealousy, hatred), main antagonists (familial love, curiosity),  the twins (guilt, duty).

It’s funny how these themes are explored with no actual humans involved. Also a helpful tidbit is that “Automata” is the plural form of “Automaton” which by definition means “a moving mechanical device made in imitation of a human being”.

Multiple perspectives are further reinforced by how often Automata shifts the play mechanics throughout the game. You’re constantly moving from overhead to 3-D to side-scrolling. It’s literally making you look at things from a different angle.

By the game’s (final) ending, I wasn’t sure what I was meant to feel or think. The resolution wasn’t exactly strong or definitive. However, I think the game ended and told its story exactly how it wanted to.

Automata‘s approach is very Japanese in how it explores ideas in an elliptical way. Heady concepts are pondered upon but rarely given any conclusions for the player.

It reminds me of the author, Haruki Murakami. His books consistently have a dream-like quality and he doesn’t coerce the characters (or the viewer) towards any conclusions to the themes and concepts he introduces. To me, it shows how Japanese storytelling is less direct than Western storytelling. Not better or worse, just more ponderous.

Funny that this game came out relatively close to Persona 5, another very Japanese-feeling game. There, the colorful pop and light-heartedness of anime is very much on display. Automata presents the other side that anime can take in the dark and philosophical. (Also, big swords, upskirt views, and nude non-anatomical boys.)

Furthermore, it didn’t help that I realized after playing, that this game is a continuation of a long and winding story that spans several games, books and even stageplays. I think Automata stands well enough on its own for newbies like myself, but I’m sure there are richer effects to be had for those more fully immersed in the overall lore (as convoluted and complex as it sounds).

I’d love to explore more in-depth about aspects of the game and their meaning (such as why the characters are blind-folded) but maybe that’s for another post.

In the end, I would say I really enjoyed that the game had something to say and wanted to explore some really ambitious concepts. I don’t think I loved the gameplay itself but am always a fan of a game that pushes the medium’s ability to tell story and be artistic.

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!

Let’s Play: Horizon Zero Dawn

This summer we finally got a lull in an incredible year of games so that I was able to go into my backlog of games to play. At the top of that list was Horizon Zero Dawn.

Here was a new Playstation exclusive IP from a dev studio I never paid any attention to. But the pre-release buzz was really good and post-release reviews put it at the top of the games of the year, which is pretty impressive.

I state a few times in these videos that the level of polish and quality for a new IP is incredible. The visual direction and story are established with a sense of total confidence. The gameplay is tight and all the systems work together flawlessly.

And Sony has a new mascot in Aloy, a vibrant, brave, spunky, female protagonist. She has an aura of mystery but balanced with a virtuous code and a touch of rebelliousness. Ashly Burch’s vocals initially took a bit getting used to since I just kept hearing Chloe from Life is Strange, but was a great choice. Despite a few times where she sounded too much like a modern millennial, Burch gave all the poignant and emotional beats the proper weight needed to sell the story.

The main mystery in Horizon’s universe is extremely gripping and even hits a bit too close to home sometimes. I wasn’t prepared for how harrowing or tensely the history unfolded. Even though it’s told mainly through choppy holograms, audio clips, and emails, the developers were able to keep a sense of momentum and suspense that builds extremely well towards the end of the game.

In fact, the story is so tight that I’m not sure where the inevitable sequels will go. Sony has hit on a new franchise here, and especially with Nathan Drake (probably?) retiring, it’s hard to not to see more Horizon games on the… horizon.

Most online chatter has this game going neck and neck with Breath of the Wild for Game of the Year, and I can’t disagree. I’d probably put Persona 5 in the conversation. But we’re also about to ramp up again into some great looking releases in the fall.

And I’m definitely interested in diving into Horizon’s DLC in November.

Persona 5 Review

I finished Persona 5 last night, clocking in 100+ hrs in a single playthrough.

I have to say… “Wow.” I’ve never played a Persona series game before so not sure how it stacks up to the rest, but this game was incredible. This could be the most perfect iteration of turn-based RPG mechanics I’ve ever played. Very rarely did I ever feel like it had become a slog to fight, and whenever I lost I never felt like the game was being unfair or cheap.

I think the story was pretty intriguing, even though it probably could’ve been cut a little lighter in the middle portion. But the jumping timeline and the calendar system kept the propulsion of the pace going.

If anything, I felt a bit constricted at times by the calendar. I would’ve liked to spend more time exploring or meeting up with friends but time was a valuable commodity.

My other gripe might be that items to replenish SP were few and far in between. Especially by the final few battles which you had to play back to back to back and every member on my team had used up all their SP long ago. I wasn’t even expecting the end to come so soon but the game really forces you to just hunker down and play the final 4 or 5 hours nonstop.

But the time I spent in this game really allowed me to feel invested in the characters and the game itself. [Minor spoilers] When a teammate makes their exit in the end, I actually teared up. Of course the game cops out by having the character come back, which while it made me happy, I sort of wish they hadn’t done that.

And the graphics… Oh my god, the graphics! This is such a beautiful game. Not just that the top-notch animation of the characters and cutscenes felt like watching an anime, but every tiny bit of this game was given the time and attention to craft what is pretty easily the most boldly stylish game I’ve ever played. Every other developer really needs to examine this game when they start considering their own UI and navigation system.

Finishing the game has definitely felt like an achievement. I feel a bit exhausted since I played through Persona 5 almost exclusively, without many other games to break up the experience. i will 100% jump back in for another playthrough… eventually. Mostly to try to max out my confidants and try a different romance option. Or just to listen to the amazing music again!

I have Zelda and Horizon next on my playlist, but this could be my vote for Game of the Year.

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.

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.