The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild Review

Having not played a Legend of Zelda game since A Link to the Past, Breath of the Wild was a wholly new experience.

Fully 3D and open world meant complete freedom. Praise for this game has been about how if you can see it, you can get to it. And it’s true: there are no invisible boundaries that block you. Any hindrance I encountered was more about if I didn’t have enough stamina or the right clothing for the environment.

Other than somewhat confining me to a beginning area (although fairly large) to casually introduce game mechanics, the game never dictates what a player should do. You could even rush right into the final area to confront the end boss if you wanted to. You’d be almost guaranteed to fail, but the game doesn’t exactly say no to you. Open world has never felt so… open.

The storyline is fairly standard Zelda fare: Link is a legendary hero, Zelda is the princess in peril, Ganon is the big bad, and Hyrule is the expansive world in which to explore. Outside of the main quests and some side missions, there’s really no storyline or dialog. Players are free to run around and discover the environment.

That’s where the beauty and richness of this game really shines through. Instead of heavy exposition or long pages of text to flesh out the world, Hyrule casually and subtly presents itself by exploration and discovery.

I continually marveled at how almost every location I wandered into felt like it had a deeply baked-in sense of history unique to other locales. Ruins of long-gone structures told as much of a story as talking to inhabitants of villages. Even small touches, easily missed such as a patch of cobblestones among the overgrown grass would hint at a history to that area.

Enemies are littered throughout the land, but other than in the first few hours of the game where I lacked equipment and hearts, none of them ever felt challenging. In fact, they never level up with my character’s progression. Soon, my Link became an overpowered beast, easily mowing down hapless goblins with the same sticks and clubs they had when I first encountered them in the game.

But it makes sense that the enemies are only a secondary element. In Breath of the Wild, Hyrule is the singular focal point.

In an age where games usually hold a player’s hand, to the point of just providing a line to the next location, Breath of the Wild almost never tells you where to go or what to do. The game never falters to portray freedom, discovery and wonder, all without sacrificing tight, robust mechanics.

In fact, it’s amazing that the puzzles are all so well executed in a way where there are multiple solutions. I solved a few of them with an absolute knowledge that I somehow did it in a way the game probably didn’t intend.

Nintendo really outdid itself with this iteration of The Legend of Zelda. And that’s saying something. It’s amazing how so many developers struggle for years to output a game and Nintendo’s teams continually create innovative, polished games so often.

As games head towards more cinematic experiences, relying on motion capture, vocal performances, quicktime events, dense worldbuilding exposition, Breath of the Wild proves that a video game can give an equally immersive experience without any of those elements.

Even after beating the main villain, I can’t wait to jump back in and see what else Hyrule has hidden away, waiting to be discovered.

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.

SNES Classic is Coming!

As if 2017 weren’t jam packed already with insane video game goodness, Nintendo decides to pile it on with the announcement of the SNES Classic, coming this fall.

I absolutely have an affinity for the 8-bit era games, but to me the 16-bit period hits me much harder in the nostalgia feels.

The SNES Classic doesn’t disappoint with an incredible lineup of games, some of which are still considered all-time bests. Super Mario World, Super Metroid, Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Donkey Kong Country, Final Fantasy III (or VI for accuracy), and Secret of Mana are all must-play games for any gamer.

The 16-bit games really had that sweet spot between technical advancements but still limited enough to require the creators to find innovative solutions to craft the experiences they wanted to make.

The SNES editions of Mario, Zelda and Metroid are essentially re-dos of the originals, but more finely polished and thought-out.

All this is just to say that I REALLY want a SNES Classic. The original NES Classic was notoriously hard to find and everyone anticipates that Nintendo will continue their track record of horrible supply chains.

Honestly, I’d much rather have a Virtual Console on the Switch so that I won’t need yet another console, and I can take these games on the go. I managed to find a Switch and there are only a few games on it that I want to play. Metroid Prime 4 and Mario Odyssey are coming, but having some of these classic games would really make the Switch feel like a worthwhile purchase.

Here’s hoping that Nintendo figures logistics out on their end.

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.

Dishonored DLC Announced!

Somewhat lost in the E3 extravaganza, Bethesda announced a stand-alone DLC for Dishonored 2.

It’s both telling and saddening how little noise this news made since the Dishonored series is a hidden gem of inventive, stylish, and entertaining games.

I give the developers credit for believing in these games though. Apparently, none of the games has made a huge splash financially so the fact that we got a sequel at all seems like a miracle.

I keep singing the praises to anyone who will listen though. Dishonored 2 has some of the most inventive stages and game mechanics I’ve seen in a long time. I’m hoping good reviews and word of mouth leads to a larger following and possibly a third full-sized entry in the franchise.

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.