To the Metal Gear Mooooooooooooon. And other such strange titles.

The suave, daring, unrivaled King of Video Games. He is on an EROTIC quest to see if lesbians indeed have the goods. BEWARE, the Moon.

Man, I've been playing a lot of war games recently, haven't I? Valkyria Chronicles, Medal of Honor, Spec Ops: The Line....and now this. Even more surprising is just how diverse my opinions on these games have been. For instance, I'd probably have been harsher on Valkyria Chronicles and its saccharine ilk if its gameplay wasn't absolutely amazing. Then there's Medal of Honor, which was little more than a dick-waving contest with a poor understanding of dick-waving mechanics. Spec Ops: The Line comes next, and while it certainly has important flaws, it also certainly dedicates a lot of energy toward maintaining its horrifying, pointless world.

.....and now this. Where do I even begin? How about with my conclusion: I like this game. Sure, the "game" is about half cutscenes, and it's only barely aware of this sad fact. And sure, the story presented in those cutscenes is confusing and self-indulgent. But deep down, there's ultimately something that makes this game worth playing, even if it is only barely. Could that something be the rewarding stealth gameplay? Who the hell knows?

I'm still not entirely sure what Stan Lee is doing in this game

I'd probably start on that stealth gameplay thing, but I did just say that the game is half cutscene. You can't drop a bomb like that without explaining yourself, can you? But I stand by it: half the game is cinematics, and half of that is utterly needless filler. I'd say that the designers forgot this was a game, but they clearly remembered enough to pander. Unfortunately, that's not going to cut it. Load the game with a bunch of cutscenes, and suddenly, you've created distance from the player. Instead of experiencing things for yourself, you're simply sitting on your ass, watching things unfold in front of you. Sometimes, that's appropriate (like if you're literally supposed to be watching something), but most of the time, the story is simply harder to relate to because of all these cutscenes. Granted, the cinematics are damn fine on their own terms. Whoever directed these scenes clearly knows what elements to highlight, and they very clearly know how to work in some meaningful symbolism. If this were a movie, such technique would be admirable. But this isn't a movie. It's a game, and the cutscenes don't integrate themselves well into that game.

But maybe Guns of the Patriots tells such a good story that it can get away with priding cinematics over direct interaction. (Alright, it can't; you can't ignore gameplay when writing a story for a video game, but let's just run with the premise for now.) If we're judging the game on those merits, then it does....well? It at least does better than it did in the last paragraph. The story is essentially a world hopping fist fight between two decrepit, aging men. Liquid Ocelot (which just has to be a perfume name by now) is trying to take control of The Patriots, and Solid Old Snake is there to stop him. Oh, and tackle a ton of heady themes along the way. Stuff like the commodification of war, trying to maintain autonomy in the digital age, and Snake figuring out his place in the world as an outdated relic. And child soldiers and nanomachines and conspiracy theories and.....maybe the complex plot interferes with those heady themes.

I think this is the only screenshot in the game that isn't mostly grey or mostly brown. Quite bold for a game from 2008.

Thankfully, it doesn't interfere enough. The story still knows damn well what it's doing. For instance, let's look at what I said about Snake being old. Yes, it really is that big a part of Metal Gear Solid 4. Half the story's dedicated to people calling Snake an old fart, and the other half is him breaking his hip on a mission. You can't help but feel bad for the guy. Yet in spite of all this, he manages to accomplish a helluva lot over the course of the game. More importantly, though, he accomplishes all of this without ever giving the impression that the writers have pulled anything out of their asses. Everything just feels natural, all the more impressive when there are mooing muscle robots romping about the scenery (more on that in a bit). It's really amazing the level of control that the story maintains throughout the game. And that's just one topic. Imagine what the game does with everything else it wants to cover.

And then the Kojimaisms barge onto the scene to fuck things up. By that, I mean any moment when the game devotes a lot of time toward justifying every last detail of its world, only to populate said world with the dumbest shit imaginable. For instance, Metal Gear Moo. When Metal Gear Moo first came onto the scene, I started getting headaches. I didn't know it at the time, but this was my brain warning me not to put up with any more of this bullshit. My brain was right, as the Kojimaisms kept on rolling. An arms dealer who feeds his diaper-wearing-monkey soda; a little girl who cooks eggs to the tune of obsession; a fucking robot samurai (and everything used to explain his existence); Guns of the Patriots features all of this and so much more. For some reason. I really don't see why any of this was included in the game. They're not consistently entertaining; just jarring. All the Kojimaisms accomplish is to take me out of the experience and render the messages less credible. How am I to take the game seriously on its issues when it can't even take itself seriously? Or maybe that's just me. Maybe you're actually supposed to play the game for the action and sense of spectacle. If that's the case, then yea, I can see all this dumb crap fitting into the story.

You'd better stay off the ground, Snake. You don't want that guard to hear the weird slurping noise your suit makes for no real reason.

Normally, I'd opt for a broad explanation of the gameplay mechanics, but this time, I think an example will serve me better. Cut to the third act in the game. Snake's taking a sabbatical in Europe, meaning he's trailing a local resistance group to their hideout. If you want Snake to succeed, you're gonna need to put every last bit of your stealth knowledge to good use. Yes, you can tranquilize every idiot in your path and slurp your way into the shadows, but there's so much more you have to do. You have to observe your mark's movements, make sure he doesn't see you, pit the resistance against the army to your advantage, keep track of your surroundings, and so much more.

Does that sound like a lot of work? Well, that's because it is. Unless you're in a wide open area where you can simply blow through enemies undetected, Guns of the Patriots expects a lot of work from you. And time. Let's just say that you're not the only person who's going to spend most of their time sitting on their ass. But you know what? I wouldn't have it any other way. That slowness is precisely why playing through the game feels so good. You've invested so much time and attention into this one minor thing, so it follows that the payoff is going to be even greater. There's almost a predatory aspect to the game; it just feels so empowering, and it all comes together for this great experience. (There might also be something about autonomy and control to tie into the story, but fuck it. Patient gameplay wins out.)

Without spoiling anything: SHITTY PLOT TWIST.

The boss battles, by contrast, damage the experience beyond all belief. They suck. There's no way around it. (The few other bosses are alright, though.) They're too action oriented for the own good. Sure, the game is capable of handling action moments, but it very clearly wasn't meant to. Each boss battle is a clumsy process of finding the Beauty in question and unloading your bullets into her face. Your only hope of finding success is if you stumble across it, not because you're playing as an old man, but more because you're playing through a scenario based on trial and error. And on that note, the bosses don't even have the story to back them up, as they contribute nothing to it. They pop in for a quick boss battle, crawl up and die, have Drebin explain their back-story (all of them pretty much the same), and then fade into irrelevance, never to be heard from again.

I also have some things to say about the weapons systems and the PTSD button and all the bullshit plot twists at the end, but I think I've made my point. In the end, Guns of the Patriots is the kind of game that makes you work for enjoyment. Story-wise, this probably doesn't hold up too well. I can't imagine many people would want to see the game's take on self-determination after learning about the digital conspiracies and psychic computer egg children you have to get through first. Fortunately, this functions better when you're playing the game, largely because the game rewards you this time around. So......great. Another game whose recommendation depends on that whole "game/story" split. Like I haven't played enough of those recently.

Review Synopsis

  • Tale as slow as time....Snake far past his prime.....Metal Gear Solid.....
  • I don't have any strange Disney jokes for the mechanics. All I can say is that they're as good as ever.
  • You know, for a game called Metal Gear Solid 4, the actual Metal Gears really have very little to do with the plot.

Sadly, I was not able to experience Metal Gear Online. However, I feel like this video captures the potential experience quite well.

Another moon-based video game that revolves around emotional item collecting? Sign me the fuck up!......Now that I think about it, I don't need any more elaboration than that. I can just say "Fragile Dreams" and you'll probably understand what my opinion of this game is. Something about emotions, writing, and me pestering the shit out of you to play this damn game.

And it's not just because my glorious Lunar Kingdom plays a big role in the story......OK, that's a pretty big reason. You play as these two memory doctors, but the real focus is on John Wyles, whose life's wish has always been to go to the Moon. Unfortunately, he's a few days away from death, so he'll have to make due with memory alteration so that he believes he went to the Moon.

Have I mentioned the game's sense of humor? It sucks, but fortunately, it doesn't intrude on the game's more serious events.

Such a subject brings up some very important ethical concerns, but for whatever reason, none of them are societal. I guess we can ignore serious political ramifications (to name one) if we know that downloading music through your memories is illegal. No, it's all personal for To the Moon. For example, is it right to whitewash a person's history to their liking? What if getting rid of the tragic moments requires getting rid of the joyous ones, too? Is there an obligation to get rid of the tragedy wherever possible? And what about what actually happened? Does altering a person's memory negate the reality of what happened, or is that allowed to stand on its own? Each one of these questions is a complex issue, and fortunately, To the Moon treats each one with the depth and respect they warrant. There are no clear answers; only enough material for you to derive your own.

But that's not what makes the game good; at least not entirely. What makes the game really stand out is its emotional side. I forgot to mention this earlier, but our two doctors (whose names I also forgot to mention) need to create a plausible story leading up to the Moon, and that requires incepting Lunar desires into John's earliest memories. But to get to that point, they have to work backwards from his most recent ones. It's an interesting way of relaying this guy's life story, and more importantly, it works really well. The whole "telling the story backwards" thing creates this feeling of helplessness throughout the story, since you know John can never solve the problems he encounters. You want him to overcome his problems, but given the nature of the plot, you know that's not going to happen (at least in the way you'd want it to happen). This only becomes so much worse when you realize this while the characters are first confronting their problems. And then that becomes worse when you realize that you're playing a video game; a medium known for its interaction. It's amazing how this game can be both heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time. Of course, backward story telling alone is not responsible for this. The game has other tricks up its sleeve, like how it uses meaningless objects or how it breeds familiarity. Arguably, though, how the plot moves forward is one of the more important ways the game breeds a sense of pathos.

When did things become so Spec Ops: The Line?

Of course, that sense of pathos takes a serious blow when you realize how selfish John is. For all the time he spends with River (his autistic wife), you never really feel like he gets to know her on a deeply personal level. He doesn't make any strong efforts to know her beyond what she shows him, even when he's presented with a reasonable opportunity. (Anybody who's played the game knows what I'm referring to.) River only seems to exist as an object to fulfill John's desires. Yes, the game blatantly acknowledges this, but that doesn't make it right. If anything, it makes things worse. On some level, John knows what he's doing is wrong.....but he does it, anyway. Given that the story is only good insofar as you sympathize with John, this hampers the quality in a pretty significant way.

I feel at this point, I should probably mention the gameplay. Let's see....well, you wander around small environments, examining items to gain memory orbs you need to advance. You also need to solve simple puzzles to advance, for some reason. They're mildly entertaining, but......do I really need to mention any of this? All these particular mechanics accomplish (besides complementing what I've already discussed) is creating a sense of discovery that closely mirrors what the two doctors most likely feel. In fact, forget everything I said about the mechanics. Just focus on the closely detailed characterization and the emotional investment and all that stuff. Those are the real reasons you should play this game. You know, ignoring the obvious fact that it has the word "Moon" in the title and does justice to my Lunar glory.

Review Synopsis

  • Man, does this game know how to bond with its player.
  • I just wish the protagonist was less selfish.
  • Oh, and something about solving simple "flip all these squares" puzzles.

31 Comments

Spec Ops: Grandpa's Leftovers.

The suave, daring, unrivaled King of Video Games. He is on an EROTIC quest to see if lesbians indeed have the goods. BEWARE, the Moon.

Well, isn't this a stark contrast from my last blog? Not just in the title (in that you could probably guess what I'm going to talk about this week), but also in the games I'm covering. Remember how Valkyria Chronicles and Medal of Honor both treated war with irreverence, and they both suffered because of that? Spec Ops: The Line ain't having any of that shit. This game absolutely knows how to put the medium to use, and in this case, that use is to create some horrifying imagery of war. And damn, does it do a good job.

It all begins when a small group of soldiers get sent into Dubai. Their mission is simple enough: pick up survivors and find out what happened to the 33rd Infantry. This all changes about three chapters in. The once opulent city of Dubai has fallen into a state of utter decay, teetering on the edge of nothingness; the 33rd are revealed to be a bunch of assholes (not that you're much better); and overall, things just become weird. Really, really weird. Thus we arrive at perhaps the game's greatest strength: it's surreal nature. Sometimes, this backfires horribly, like it does with this silly shit. Fortunately, that's only a minor fraction of the experience. The rest of the time, it works beautifully. You'd think blurring the lines between fantasy and reality would make the terrors of war harder to take seriously, but the opposite happens. That otherworldly atmosphere permeating the streets of Dubai only makes the atrocities pop out more. You directly experience the toll that war takes on those experiencing it. Better still, the game never lets up. From beginning to end (whatever those are; they blend together), the game simply becomes more hideous and twisted and repulsive, like a mocking parody of itself.

Spec Ops: The Line also has a VERY keen eye for detail. For instance, the shark depicted here is, in actuality, a complex metaphor for a shark.

And then there are the choices. They...are actually where the game starts to fall apart. I get what the game's trying to do, although that may have something to do with its lack of subtlety. Anyway, I get it: I shouldn't try to shirk off responsibility for the things I do. Everybody's constantly pinning the blame on somebody else, or placing their deeds into a better context. That last one might hold validity, but does the first one? Do I have any real ability to avoid the terrible actions in this game? Most of the scenarios presented me with three options: "Horrible Atrocity A", "Horrible Atrocity B", and "Fuck Else". You can say "just walk away" all you like, but it doesn't mean much unless I actually have the ability to walk away. I can remember quite a few situations where I tried simply walking away from something terrible, only for Spec Ops to railroad me into an awful "choice". It's not entirely fair or thought out to blame me for choices I was essentially forced into. But then that ending comes around, and man, does it fix every flaw these themes could possibly have. I know that sounds exceedingly hyperbolic, especially when I'm not going to tell you what the ending's like (spoilers), but you're just gonna have to trust me on this. It really is that good.

The only real flaw I'd see with the game is how it uses cutscenes. If not for them, I'd probably hold the game in higher regard than I already do. At times, it's almost like the game is a movie. I mean, yea, the moments when you're playing are just as important to the story (the most horrifying moments are usually the ones you directly experience), but come cutscene time, and Spec Ops feels like a completely different experience. There's staging, an acute focus on camera work, and all these other things that never happen when you're actually fighting your way through Dubai. Again, it's like a movie, which is the worst possible thing this game could be, given its message. If I feel like I'm simply watching events unfold before me (rather than like I'm actually making these events happen), I'm going to feel some distance from what's happening. Now I can safely abdicate responsibility for what I did in the game, because I didn't do it; I just watched some guy do all these horrible things. Hell, I'm only a special guest in this game. How can themes like "you always had a choice" or "you're not a hero" apply to me under those conditions, game?

You know what? Maybe I was completely wrong about this game when I originally wrote this blog.

Oh, that reminds me: this is a video game we're talking about. It's a shooter, which should mean you shoot bad guys until the game gives you other bad guys to shoot, and for a time, that's true. In fact, the only distinguishing trait early on is just how often you're shooting out windows to let sand rain down on your foes. But this is Spec Ops we're talking about, so of course, it's going to put a scary amount of thought into this one aspect of the game. You want to feel like you're in a hell on Earth? It doesn't matter; Spec Ops is gonna do it, anyway. You're constantly running out of ammo, bullets are so lethal that even hearing them can put you in a comatose state, and you need to issue orders to your allies intelligently if you want to succeed in a firefight. That last one might sound rather tame until you realize that about half the game is spent away from those teammates. So yea, just about every shoot-out is tense, frantic, chaotic, and a bunch of other words you'd use to describe a war zone. Overall, a fitting complement to everything else in the game.

(There are also BioShock-esque intelligence tapes to pick up every now and then. The less said about these jarring little boxes, the better.)

Actually, now that I think about it, that's a weird way to refer to Spec Ops: The Line. After all, you're not coming to this because of the shooting mechanics or anything like that. (Just ignore the multiplayer mode on the title screen. The developers certainly have.) You're coming to this game because it knows how to connect to you. And promptly stomp the ever-loving hell out of your conceptions of the world. You're coming for the haunting imagery and that feeling that things are slowly spiraling out of control, eventually reaching a crescendo of absolute carnage. It is a beautiful madness.

Review Synopsis

  • Who knew that the Middle East could be such a horrible experience?
  • How the game handles choice looks pretty bad at first. Then you hit the credits, and it looks pretty good.
  • Oh, and you shoot things, I guess. That's in there.
  • You know, I probably could've just said "Apocalypse Now: The Game", and you'd understand most of the review.

You know, this is an oddly accurate summary of Spec Ops: The Line.

This was supposed to be DEFCON. You know, so I could pair it with Spec Ops thematically. Unfortunately, several factors got in the way of that, like it being a multiplayer game and my absolute lack of skill in it. So instead, we're looking at Tiny and Big, the Turner & Hooch of video games. Probably. If ever there was a poster child for simplicity in game design, Tiny and Big would be it. The game really only has one gameplay element to fuck about with, but does that stop it from being good? Hell no! If anything, that only makes the game better, since the game can now focus on milking the hell out of this one particular mechanic.

That feature, of course, is cutting shit up. What? You couldn't gather that from the title? Grandpa's Leftovers are ropes, fire, and cutting implements. (Actually, the leftovers are underwear, but is that really any less unsettling?) You're gonna have to use every last one of them to navigate all those acrophobia inducing environments. Now, that may not sound like fun, but that's only because I haven't mentioned the very loose physics on display. This is where things get interesting. When you combine loose physics with tools that let you manipulate your environment, you transform the world into your personal playground. A sense of childlike glee will roll over your face as soon as you realize that the world only exists so that you can utterly destroy it. By that, of course, I mean you're going to feel both very, very powerful, and very, very stupid. Hell, there's even a small sense of rebellion as you defy the game's implicit orders. Yes, there's clearly a right way to get through these levels, but who gives a shit when the wrong way is clearly much more enjoyable?

Man, what a beautifully detailed environment. Time to get to cutting it to a billion little pieces.

Eventually, though, you're gonna have to do things the right way. As fun as it is to slice a level into ribbons, it's also a very good way to screw yourself out of any progress. You're gonna have to slow down considerably if you want to make your way through the game. Surprisingly, this only makes the game that much better. Instead of merely giving you some monuments to needlessly cut up, Tiny and Big's now testing a set of skills, and it does so relatively well. Success in the game hinges on paying careful attention to you environment and knowing all the ins and outs of your various tools. Watching it all come together leaves you with a well deserved sense of accomplishment. Hell, I'd go so far as to say that the sense of chaos from before only enhances that feeling of accomplishment. After all, you're gonna feel a lot better for solving something if you know just how badly you screwed things up beforehand. Of course, this set-up isn't entirely perfect. The frequent checkpointing robs you of at least some sense of accomplishment, and the loose physics that were so fun a while ago now introduce an unwanted element of luck into the mix. But despite these issues, the game manages to have its cake and eat it, too. Oh, and there are rocks to collect, too, and maybe a couple of other extras, but the game calls those boring, anyway, so I see no harm in skipping them over completely.

Speaking of things I'd rather ignore: the length. The game's a measly couple of hours long, and I feel like I'm left wanting more. Not because two hours is too short for a game, but because it's too short for this game. For all the game does with the idea of cutting things, I still feel like it could do more. Not much, mind you, but the game still ends just before it's exhausted every last opportunity to slice things apart like a madman. It's like the game is underdelivering on its own potential, even if it's only doing so by a marginal amount. Fortunately, though, that's not really enough to drag down the game's other accomplishments. I mean, it still somehow manages to take an idea that's completely dumb and transform it into something that's thought out. How many games can claim to do that? Without being designed by Hideo Kojima?

Review Synopsis

  • This must be what it's like as a five year old.
  • With the brain of a thirty five year old.
  • Just keep in mind that it's only a couple hours long.
  • Wait, I think I just described Akira. So yea, Tiny and Big is exactly like Akira.
34 Comments

Now all I need is Germany. (Blog)

The suave, daring, unrivaled King of Video Games. He is on an EROTIC quest to see if lesbians indeed have the goods. BEWARE, the Moon.

This is the first blog of 2014, ladies and gentlemen. Just ignore the fact that I posted this in late June; we're kicking off the new year! And what better way than with my first PS3 game? I have to imagine there are several better ways, because that first PS3 game is Valkyria Chronicles, and I'm.....a little conflicted about this. On the one hand, the story's hot shit. It's too childlike and idyllic, traits you shouldn't include in a game about World War II (and, by extension, the Holocaust). Normally, this would be enough grounds for me to dismiss the game outright, but then that other hand comes into play and punches me in the face with gameplay. So thoughtful, so tactical, such a perfect balance between strategy and action....What the hell do I do with this game?

How about we start with the story, like I always do? It all begins in the happy, peaceful nation of Gallia. One day, while they're singing about brotherly love and peace among men, the big bad Empire sends their metal death monsters in to murder kill all the happy Gallains. But worry not! Lieutenant Welkin Gunther is here to.....are you seeing the problems, here? The story's too saccharine for its own good. Keep in mind that there's a long-lasting, continent-engulfing war going on. You've gotta treat that shit with reverence; put in the time and attention to detail necessary to make sure you've done the complex social and political issues justice. Valkyria Chronicles, unfortunately, does the opposite. In this game, war's fun and happy. There might be some sad moments, but nothing severe. For example, the worst a forced labor camp does to you is leave you a little bummed out. Other than that, war's just a fight between heroes and villains. Nothing more. Also, nothing better. Worse than that, though, is that the game's only very barely aware of these problems. It'll try to add some complexity (like resource scarcity motivating the war (at least until the end)), but only in conciliation. The game's less trying to treat the subject of war with the respect it deserves, and more trying to cover its tracks. And the story's full of moments like these. It's like the story is parodying itself, only with some very worrying implications.

How does everybody maintain such perfect skin in this worn photo aesthetic? It's a little confusing, is all.

For instance, let's consider the racial themes in this game. There are three races in the world, but only two worth considering: the Darcsen, whose distinguishing trait is that they all have short dark hair, and the Valkyria, who essentially gain superpowers by huffing magic gasoline. The Empire's sending the Darcsens into forced labor camps while simultaneously using the Valkyria to win the war. Our allegiances seem clear: Darcsen are the victims, and the Valkyria are to be maligned. Until we actually see the Valkyria, that is. Then, they're absolute demigods, raining righteous fire down upon their enemies, shining in glory about the battlefield. The game can say they're supernatural and inhuman all they want, but that does little to abate their godly status. You're not supposed to look down on the Valkyria; you're supposed to look up to them. And the Darcsens? Well, at this point, I've completely forgotten about them. Too focused on wanting to be the bad guy, you see. Wonderful.

Maybe the characters can redeem this game, right? Oh, I wish. You can sum up most of them in one, maybe two traits. "Largo's large and likes vegetables", "Rosie sings and is anti-Semitic", "Alicia only exists to bolster Welkin's character, even when it makes no sense", etc. This is a cast that makes you want to look up the official criteria for diagnosing Asperger Syndrome. Especially Welkin. You know what I said about the story being a cheery Disney movie about World War II? Welkin ratchets that attitude up to some very high number. Somehow, even in the worst situation you could possibly imagine, he keeps a calm, upbeat, positive outlook on things. That may sound admirable until you realize it's the result of delusion. There's a reason I made the Asperger joke: Welkin's into bugs and plants. Like, really into them. He can only perceive the world through obscure species of beetle, and to him, this is completely normal. Hell, at one point, he compares Alicia to a bug, thinking it's a compliment. Funny, right? I'm guessing that was the intention, but it just makes the problems I listed before a little worse. It's like he's brushing aside war as nothing serious so he can get back to his precious bugs. Joy.

If only snipers were this useful in the game. Most of the time, enemies wipe them out with a single well-placed shot. How sad.

But even ignoring those problems, he's still not a very interesting character. His motivations are "to pass good things down to the next generation." Those are his words. What weak, utterly bland and meaningless motivations. This makes his status as the focus of the first half of the story all the stranger. Then again, I can't imagine many characters whom I'd especially enjoy the story focusing on more. The only character worth considering happens to work for the enemy, but she's an exception. For all the individuality your own squad mates have, every single enemy is just some generic fuck who can be replaced in a heartbeat. You know, almost like you should follow the Imperial example and regard your enemies as inhuman vermin.

But there's hope yet. Have you perhaps noticed that the entire story takes place largely from one perspective? Or how about that art style? It looks time worn, like the game is a series of old war photos being presented to you. You know, like you're looking back on the game's events rather than playing through them. And then there's the fact that you advance through the story line by line, page by page. My point? This is a fairy tale. I know that sounds redundant, but hear me out. The events of the game did happen, but not exactly like this. Somebody's changing the details (smart money's on Welkin) to present their side in a far better light. Looked at this way, the story's far more salvageable. Yes, the simplicity's still there, but it's something to work against, and the source of the story's quality. Now you're trying to figure out not only what details have been changed and why, but also what actually happened over the course of the war. It's subtle and t-What's that? There are some Empire scenes that Welkin couldn't have possibly known about or guessed at? And the game's fairly clear about what the framing narrative is? OK, nevermind. The story sucks. Go about your business, everyone.

This image has frustrated Sigmund Freud to no end.

The gameplay, on the other hand, is simply amazing. I don't even know where to begin. I don't even really know how to describe it. Ogre Battle: The Third Person Shooter? You choose which unit to command from a huge military map, and then zoom down to them and take control of them manually. You walk forward, pop a few shots off on a guy, and then retreat to cover. That may sound simple, but there's actually a lot to keep track of. You've got to know where everybody is, where they're facing, what their weaknesses might be, how much ammo some of your units have, and maybe some other stuff I haven't gotten into. You have to think tactically about every move if you want to win. Needless to say, the atmosphere is tense, uncertain, almost like you're fighting in some kind of war.

Despite that (or maybe because of that), Valkyria Chronicles can be pretty rewarding, too. As tense as the scenarios can be, there's something to be said for placing your troops in such a way that the enemy can't advance a foot. Or watching an enemy scout run into one of your shocktroopers (hint: it doesn't end well). It's the feeling of watching all the pieces fall perfectly into place, and seeing everything go exactly as you planned. I'd call it 機能美, but a lot of stupid shit keeps that idea at bay. Of course, I mean stupid in a good way. Like using all your commands to sneak one unit through the Normandy landing to conquer a single base while only killing one, maybe two enemies on the way. No, seriously. How dumb, yet utterly brilliant. And what a perfect demonstration of what makes this game good: planning. Put in the time, and Valkyria Chronicles will reward you well. True, some of your shots can feel like they rely too much on luck to plan for (like missing a blow to the head at point blank range), but that doesn't happen enough to make the game any worse.

The only real downside to the gameplay's in the minutiae. On top of all the exciting battles, you also deal with some not-so-exciting bureaucracy. Things like leveling up soldiers, upgrading/managing their equipment, and taking advice from old guys who hang out in cemeteries. I imagine all these options are supposed to make you feel as though you're becoming more powerful as the campaign ramps up, but that doesn't really happen. Enemies die to about as much firepower at the start of the game as they do at the end, and you almost never get any new abilities from upgrading your guys. Since you can't see what your upgrades are doing, they just become needless busywork. And then there are all those special perks on each soldier to worry about. Great. Actually, that's the wrong tone. None of these ancillary features detract from the game, but they don't necessarily add a lot to it, either.

And that's Valkyria Chronicles. What the hell do I make of it? I just spent the last few paragraphs telling you how the gameplay manages to balance so much and how it puts the "tactical" in tactical RPG. But just before that, I railed against its fairy tale interpretation of severe human suffering and death. How do I reconcile such disparate stances? Simply put: I won't. I'll leave it up to you. You want gameplay? Get this game. You want story? Go play something else; maybe Little Inferno I don't know. I'm talking Valkyria Chronicles, here.

Review Synopsis

  • Hey, remember how Path of Radiance handled topics like race and war and genocide and all that other heady shit? Imagine if somebody else did it, but without as much pesky thought put into it.
  • Hey, remember how Path of Radiance had brilliantly balanced strategic gameplay? So does this game.
  • Hey, why's Tom from Toonami such an asshole?

It is a glorious madness. It cannot be understood, nor can it be misunderstood. It simply is.

And now we shift toward America's take on World War II: Medal of Honor. No, not the 2010 reboot that nobody remembers (hell, I confused it with Warfighter for the weapon controversy), but the 1999 one made by Dreamworks. Surprisingly, that explains everything that's wrong with this game. I mean, Dreamworks made Shrek shortly after this, which explains why Medal of Honor is so concerned with fantasy and grandeur. Dreamworks also makes movies, which explains why this game fails to deliver on any of that grandeur. Hell, the game doesn't even have decent gameplay to mitigate those problems. It just sucks.

A large part of that suckage comes from just how powerful the game makes you feel. Not on its own, mind you, but that certainly plays a part in why I don't like the game. Every single little aspect of this game is dedicated to making you feel awesome. That stuff about the Nazis and World War II? Just window dressing. (Window dressing that paints the Nazis as gleefully evil scum, but that's probably the least of this game's worries.) You start up the game, and already, somebody's telling you how awesome you are. Holy shit! I barely had to do anything, and already, I feel amazing. No time for that, though. You're on a mission to save the world from utter Nazi annihilation (annazilation?). And then again. And again. And again. That's pretty much what the whole story's like: a bunch of missions of the utmost importance. Not that there's anything wrong with that. Yet. All that weight does a good job getting you to play the game, since all your actions feel significant. Hopefully, the scenarios are challenging and exciting enough to justify the sense of importance the game places on you and all your actions.

What amazing historical accuracy. I never knew the Nazis occupied Anatolia. Or the British Isles. Or Soviet Russia.

They aren't. They aren't even remotely close to challenging or exciting. The game sets the lowest bar it possibly can, robbing your actions of any legitimate importance. For example, the enemies: they're all Nazis incredibly weak. Your character can take quite a bit of punishment, yet he can send Nazis flying back nine feet with a single bullet. Literally; they actually fly backward when you shoot them. They also only come out in very small numbers; usually one or two at a time. Just enough to pick 'em off as they come at you. So instead of anything like urgency or tension, Medal of Honor instead doles out mere targets for you to shoot down. I'd say that's quite some distance from what the more explicit narrative is preaching, but the gameplay's still close enough to tamper with it. I mean, it's kind of hard for the game to make you feel good about yourself when it doesn't offer a formidable opponent, isn't it? True, the game gets better about this later on as it throws more enemies your way. But alas, it isn't enough. The tone has already been set.

The levels themselves don't help matters. If anything, they only make things exactly the same. Much like the enemies, the levels themselves aren't that complicated. You get a few goals to accomplish, and they're all arranged in what is essentially a straight line. Complete them out of order, and there's a good chance you skipped one of them by accident. To be perfectly fair, it is rather convenient that the game telegraphs these things to me. At least under these conditions, I won't spend half my time wandering around in search of that one item I missed. (I mean, I still did that, but I couldn't really pin any of that on the game.) But again, it's these conditions that suck any sense of satisfaction out of the game. There's no challenge. The game's simply spoonfeeding me victory and then telling me I'm a great person because of it. It all creates this weird dissonance between what the game tells me is happening and what's actually happening as I play.

There were people here, but I shot them down for pretty much no reason. The snowman's fine, though, and isn't that all that truly matters?

Perfect example: there's this one level where you have to sink an enemy sub from within. That may sound simple, but there are actually several other things to worry about in order to sink the sub. My mission briefing even says I'm on a tight time limit. That may sound complicated, but everything I need to do is clustered into one small area. Plus, the briefing lied: there is no time limit, and even if there was, I doubt it'd be much of a problem when the exit is three feet away. So with enemies who only exist to die and levels that don't leave much to the imagination, I feel like any joy I derive from the game is unearned. What place do my own skills have in this world? Failure was never a viable option. I couldn't even bump up the difficulty in case I wanted feelings of legitimacy. (Or if I could, I never figured out how.) This was all the game was offering me.

If I had to say something positive about the game, I'd have to go with the visual design? As that question mark should indicate, this idea is difficult to explain. The levels feel like real places? I mean not in the act of playing them (again, they're little more than hallways), but in the act of experiencing them. There's a fair amount of detail in these areas. They often feel like living, breathing places, rather than just arenas for Nazi shootin'. That goes for the enemies, too; they feel like actual people. Not because they always respond to your presence with bullets, mind you, but in all the other ways. Despite only being able to survive two bullets, you're still going to see them near death quite a bit. They'll crawl around, stagger on their knees, generally behave like somebody who got shot in the chest. So, if nothing else, at least the game presents a believable world.

But, of course, that's not enough to redeem Medal of Honor. I mean, we still have to deal with the lack of challenge. I know that I've probably beaten this point quite deep into your skulls at this point, but it really is the one linchpin holding the game together (well, not holding it together, in this case). With all its praise of your various escapades, the story needs challenge for any of that praise to make any damn sense. Without that challenge, it feels like the game is selling itself short, telling you how great you are for the most minor of deeds. Maybe there's something worth digging into if you can power through the easier sections, but that's asking a lot out of the average player.

Review Synopsis

  • Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to kick some Nazi ass.
  • They have large asses, so they shouldn't be that hard to kick.
  • Also, do some other stuff, if you have the time.
  • Man, that Mission Impossible reference got weird fast.
31 Comments

The screenshot ballad of Heartbreakin' Hisao Nakai. Episode 4: Takin' it to Harlem.

Part the 一番目

← To Episode 3: Tears in the RainTo Episode 5: The Unposted→

And so we're back with the G-Man. How? Why? Who cares? Certainly not Hisao; he just wants to get this over with. In fact, he says as much to the Man's face. The G-Man's taken aback by Babyface's forwardness, but he takes it rather well. He only leaves Hisao with this before sending him on his way:

Prepare for unforeseen consequences.

Anyway, Hanako's route. What road do we take to get to Harlem? Pretty much the same as Lilly's. In fact, almost exactly the same as Lilly's. They're literally a choice apart, which I'll detail when we get to it. In the meantime, a couple of fun facts:

  • This is the only route in the game where Miki gets a speaking role. A little strange when you realize what little influence she has on the story (and how much more relevant she'd have been in Emi's route), but whatever. You take what you get.
  • So far, Hanako's route is the first one with three endings, at least in the "good/neutral/bad" sense. If I play my cards right, we'll only see the first two. Of course, I'm going to play them wrong. That's right: I am going for her bad ending first. I warn you now so you know why I feel like such a piece of shit later on. Anyway, let's take it to Harlem.
It's like she knows.
Step one on the road to Harlem: book it to the library.
"It's like there's more vomit each time I come back. How can she puke up so much of it and STILL be so drunk?"
How are you finding out about their night clubs just now?
"Makes me think of Emi."
.....How about we just skip right to the library?
But not without being an asshole to Hisao first!
Guess from who. And why.
Don't worry about Yuuko. She gets her revenge by putting them in spine-first.
Step two on the road to Harlem:
Gawk at her scars and make her feel extremely uncomfortable......Goddamn it.
Fine. Apologize to her. Just don't spend twelve pictures staring at her scars.
Somehow.
Don't you fucking do it.
*seething seething rage*
It was love at first sight.
And by "love", I of course mean "stress-induced fear".
"You cut her off at the stairs, you cut her off at the elevator, and I'll go in for the kill."
Yea, she "got this fit". Nothing else could have possibly happened.
"A few" meaning "enough times to draw a lifelike portrait of just her scars".
"Oh, you mean like a rabbit?" "What?" "....Nothing."
HANAKO IS CUTE IN ALL TIMELINES!
"You might want to cut that shit out."
"Because I don't think Hanako's having much fun. Shizune clearly is, but that's to be expected."
Take the hint.
Wrong hint, b-wait, didn't I already make this choice?
"Sorry for turning The Life of Pi into The Strife and Cry."
Normally, I'd add "by looking deep into their faces" or some such nonsense. Unfortunately, there's a good chance he'd actually do that.
Wait a minute, this IS the exact same scene. What the hell, game?
"There's nothing to worry about. I'm sure you'll get along well with him." [Naw, girl. You'd better ice this fool right here.]
Oh, fuck.
This kind of thing's easier when you don't talk to the victim.
Just in time. She almost ended this thread in the first update.
"BOOZE!"
And let's add THAT one to the list...
"I'm sure Shizune and Misha will keep y-"
"Aw, shit."
"I don't understand. I thought I dodged her this time."
[Told her to ice that fool.]
"And that's when I notice Emi."
This time, he's added finger motions to the mix.

Maybe a weak way to end the first update, but whatever. It's funny in my head, alright?

53 Comments

Finally. A blog as random as the games within it.

The suave, daring, unrivaled King of Video Games. He is on an EROTIC quest to see if lesbians indeed have the goods. BEWARE, the Moon.

That's right: I'm jumping ahead two episodes in the chronology. This has everything to do with this episode being the only free one. Not that my previous experience with the series should really matter, as we'll soon find out. While the first two were adventure games (a genre known for using items in very specific scenarios), this third installment is an RPG (a genre known for using items in very specific scenarios. Also, hitting.), and the change seems to have paid off. I mean, it's hard to say that without any context on the previous games, but this game in particular seems alright. It has a decent sense of humor, and the battle system is intuitive, fast-paced, and a lot of fun. Why does this sound familiar?

I guess that's why, to separate Penny Arcade from their previous outings, Zeboyd made sure this game's story wasn't very good. The story begins with me making the characters girls because I am never to be trusted. Normally, I'd begin with a brief synopsis of what the story's like, but, well, I don't understand what the hell the story's about. There's this guy trying to assemble a book, possibly of evil origin. Also, something about paintings and Tycho wants to end all existence or something? I've got no idea. The story introduces a lot of elements without explaining them or making them feel natural to the world, so you never have a good idea about what's going on. It's confusing, to say the least.

Not that this fact is ever relevant to anything.

It's poorly paced, to say some amount greater than the least. The second half of the story isn't necessary; it simply drags the game on longer than it should go. The characters have a simple goal (that I can't remember for reasons already explained), but they spend a lot of time pursuing minor diversions that don't contribute anything valuable. An alternate dimension here, a Star Trek parody there, etc. This doesn't add anything to the plot; it just needlessly bloats the game. In short, don't play On the Rain-Sli.....Don't play this game for the plot.

Instead, play the game for its sense of humor. If you're the right kind of person, that is, because the humor here isn't for everybody. A lot of it relies on just how random things can get, usually by combining two things that you don't normally find together and then drawing attention to how funny that is. It's a very fine line to walk, and I have to admit that the game falters from time to time. Many of the game's jokes come off as annoying and obvious, the shoehorned cultural references especially so. But for as many times as it blunders its way to a punchline, it's absolutely amazing just as many times. It's like the writing is detached from what it depicts; like it's completely aware of how stupid it can be, and it has no problems pointing out this stupidity. That approach doesn't always work, mind you, but there's enough thought and attention to most of the humor that in the end, I came to like it.

This is all she ever says. One of the writers (and one of the artists (and one of the programmers)) dedicated time and space to this mediocre joke.

That not doing it for you, huh? Fine. How about we talk about the gameplay, for once? Like every other Zeboyd game in existence, Game With Obscenely Long Title is an RPG mocking old school RPGs. For some reason, though, it never mocks the fact that you have no choice but to walk down bottlenecked corridors and actively engage people in conflict until you've beaten them to death. I'm assuming that's because the game's relying on the strength of its battle system, which, yea, I'll give it points for. Battles unfold a la Final Fantasy X: everybody's turn is queued up in a little line at the top of the screen, and winning each battle rests largely on you understanding and getting on top of who acts when. It's actually a lot easier to understand than I make it appear, but there's still a level of skill involved in it. Each battle has their own rhythm and flow as you figure out the right moves for each situation, and since each battle lasts about a minute, tops, you don't have to invest a lot into the game to get something out of it.

The real fun, though, lies in the class system. It allows you to mix and match all kinds of abilities and skills for all sorts of intricate strategies. Let's consider three classes as an example: Dinosorcerer, Diva, and literally anything else. The Dinosorcerer can transform into any dinosaur they damn well please. That should be enough to sell you on the game, but humor me. The Diva's only real purpose is to mess up your allies. That may sound like a bad thing, but one of the Diva's moves lets you drain MP, and a dinosaur'd ally can't really use that MP. This is where the classes begin to interlock. Dinosorcerer becomes a dinosaur, steamrolls some enemies, and the Diva sucks up the useless MP to use for their literally anything else. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. Presumably. Unfortunately, I was far too lazy to mess around with a lot of the classes (or at least take note of the ones I did mess around with), so this could be the only good part of the game's class system. I'm pretty sure it isn't, though.

I'd say that's enough for me to recommend the game, but on second thought, I'm a tad more trepidatious around such a recommendation. On the one hand, you have a visceral battle system and a class system that encourages experimenting and strategy. On the other hand, you have randumb humor and a story that more concerned with shiny distractions than it is with actually making sense. So where's I'm Never Typing the Full Title land in terms of quality? Personally, I'll settle on it being a good game if you play it in short bursts. Those are the best conditions for the quick battles and the apropos-of-nothing sense of humor. I mean, what's the alternative? Play it for longer, more concentrated sessions? If you do that, then you're subjecting yourself to a dreary and monotonous experience, and you don't need to suffer through that. Besides, the game isn't terribly long, so you'd better play it in short bursts if you hope to get the most out of the nothing you might have spent.

Review Synopsis

  • I can haz cohesive storee? (Is probably one of the jokes in this game.)
  • To give the game credit, hoboism is pretty damn funny.
  • And inflicting it on some hapless foe is just as fun.

Just what I wanted out of SpongeBob: for Mario to burst in and kill everything about it.

That's right: I'm jumping ahead two games in the chronology. Unlike last time, though, this jump's simply because I forgot about the other two games. But can you blame me? I doubt the other two games are anything special, at least if this one's anything to go by. This game is just so completely and utterly average. It doesn't do anything wrong, but it doesn't do anything right, either. It simply plays things safe, only offering you the most basic of concepts to deal with. I don't know if I should feel elation or dread.

Probably nothing, because that's exactly how the story makes me feel. Like the rest of the game, it starts off inoffensively enough. One kid shows a rare dinosaur bone to his friends, but then another kid accidentally breaks it. How can we continue our lives in light of such a horrible tragedy? Worry not, for Doraemon's here to save the day. He's the cat with a wand of forgetting, a watch that can change a person's mood, a doll that can assume another person's identity, a time travel object of some kind, and everything else a budding rapist needs. He's going to use one of those tools to fetch a duplicate bone and make everything all better. So far, so good. (Ignoring the rape.) Somehow, this ends with Doraemon trying to stop The Joker (actually The Tick) from taking over all of history. How sudden and strange.

How this game avoided an AO rating....wait, this is a Japanese game. That explains it.

Except not at all. In spite of the mafia's time crimes, the stakes remain rather low throughout the story. I mean, for at least half the story, the bad guy doesn't take any real steps to annihilate you, or if he does, you don't feel that he does. To call it "relaxing" would be inaccurate. "Doldrum" would be more accurate, and Doraemon's sense of humor only supports this notion. Nowhere will you find anything as raunchy as my earlier rapist joke. At best, you'll get whatever the hell this is supposed to be. Other than that, prepare for funnish comedy. Not funny, but funnish. All the humor's relatively clean, the scenarios are non-threatening, and the story leaves little if any lasting impact.

Playing the game, on the other hand, leaves about the same level of lasting impact. A large....actually, that's entirely because of how simple the game is. For example: the levels. You get an elevated piece of land to jump on, some baddies to beat up, maybe a boss with easily predicted patterns, and nothing else. Oh, and maybe a trip to the city every now and again, but given how much those suck (it's mainly a framing issue), I think it's best that we just ignore them. That way, we're left with nothing but safe, elementary level design. Nothing to challenge you; nothing to engage you; nothing to motivate you to play through the game for something that resembles enjoyment. Just nondescript gameplay to occupy your time. That's it, really.

Shizuka's never been a big fan of Mega Man X. It only reminds her that she could be in considerably better games than this.

Really, the game's only noteworthy aspect is the character switching mechanic. Throughout your time-hopping escapades, you'll encounter some new playable characters from time to time. Of course, there' s Doraemon himself to fuck about with, but you also get a fat guy who murders things with the power of song, a small child who murders things with what I have to assume are burps, and a couple of other characters who murder things. Maybe they use sound, too. Who the hell knows? That's what makes the game so fun. Everybody has their own little quirk about them, like the way they move or how high they can jump or what their attacks do. Finding out how each character behaves and how you should adapt your play style to them is part of why Doraemon's as enjoyable as it The only character I didn't like was Nobita. He's the one with the glasses and the snot. He's also the one with the slowest speed, shortest attack range, and least useful ability in the game. Other than him, though, the character switching mechanic gets the job done.

Man, if there's a better way to describe this game than "gets the job done", then there probably is. It feels like Doraemon sets a low bar for the player. It doesn't want to do anything that might scare players away, so it highlights everything the player needs to know about and only gives them so much to work with at any given time. It's patronizing, in a way. Yes, I realize this is a kid's game, but that's no excuse. You can make a good game for a wide audience and still engage them in worthwhile and exciting ways. Hell, I imagine people would kill for such an experience. But such an experience Doraemon is not. Instead, it's flat, unassuming, and average. In summation, I knew I should've done Yatterman.

Review Synopsis

  • It's like Peabody and Sherman if anybody had any clue what the hell I was talking about.
  • All the simplicity of "slide slide jump jump" without any of the urgency.
  • And a girl who can fly with her head. Not sure what to make of that.

Oh, fine. For old time's sake.

19 Comments

A pair of lumbering, undead monstrosities.

The suave, daring, unrivaled King of Video Games. He is on an EROTIC quest to see if lesbians indeed have the goods. BEWARE, the Moon.

Look at that: a game that you might actually know something about, for once! If you don't, here's all you need to know: lots of people credit Tokimeki Memorial with launching the dating sim genre. That's right: Japanese developers the Japan over looked at Tokimeki Memorial and thought to themselves, "Man, I could definitely make a better game than that." I know that sounds obvious in the wake of any successful video game, but Tokimeki Memorial really does leave a lot of room for improvement.

Of course, for there to be room for improvement, there has to be some initial promise of quality, which Tokimeki Memorial readily provides. There are a lot of memorable girls roaming the halls of Tokimeki High, and the premise encourages you to get to know them in greater detail. But alas, this promise remains unfulfilled. Despite the game's length, you never come to know any of the girls past your initial impressions of them. It's almost like Tokimeki Memorial has this really good idea, but doesn't quite know what to do with it. It's disappointing. Nothing more.

I swear that this isn't a porn game.

Except for the billions of words I'm going to list here. For instance, the characters! You're going to meet so many of them. Only counting the ones with breasts, there's a character who speaks English at random intervals, a character who's all poops and smiles, a character who's practicing rather hard for a spot on the Space Channel Five news team, a character who has no problems dissecting your brain, and oh so many more. As I hope I made clear, they're all just bristling with personality, inviting you to hear their stories. Or something like that. Everybody emotes, too, and while their range of emotions is indeed limited, it's more than enough to make them feel like living, breathing people. I can't wait to get to know them better.

Too bad that never really happens. Seems strange, doesn't it? I mean, you go out on dates with these girls quite frequently over the course of the game. Just what the hell are you doing during those dates? You select some place to date, usually arrive there late, she asks a question, you respond, and then the date's pretty much over. If that doesn't sound conducive toward building personality or relationships, that's only because it isn't. You don't have to know much about these girls to make them happy on a date. Maybe one of their interests or what an asshole might say (this is easier to figure out than you'd think), but that's about it. True, there are opportunities to better familiarize yourself with whomever you happen to be dating. Unfortunately, I have no idea how to access said opportunities. They seem to trigger under specific conditions that don't make themselves apparent, or may very well be random. Until you meet those conditions....well, I hope you like first impressions, because you're not going any deeper.

In case you guys were wondering which girl I ended up romancing, it was a girl I never once revealed in the thread. (Then again, there's very little chance this was ever the case.)

The actual mechanics of play don't make things any better. If anything, they make things worse. For instance, let's consider dating strategies. You meet a girl and you're attracted to her personally. You decide that you'd like to start seeing her more often and now you've made a very big mistake. You didn't think about the other girls, did you? See, they're all vindictive bitches, and if you don't pay them any attention, they're gonna spread rumors that you've been beating them. And the love of your life will believe every last one. I am not making any of that up, even if it doesn't make a lot of sense. If you want to win a girl's heart, you're gonna have to date around, even if that goes against the spirit of the game. If you're dating so many women at once, doesn't that make it more difficult to form a lasting relationship with any one of them? Wouldn't you end up with only the barest idea of what these women are like? It's like the game's encouraging me to view the girls as mere objects. I'm dating them more to make myself happy rather than to form some greater emotional bond or obtain something longer lasting out of the experience.

At this point, I'm tempted to talk about how the statistic management feeds into all this. However, I feel I've made my point. (Besides, it'd only make the same point from an easier to justify perspective.) In the end, Tokimeki Memorial's ultimately focused on being a video game, which is the wrongest choice possible to make in this specific context. As an experience, Tokimeki Memorial should be about meeting a girl and forging a strong emotional bond between the two of you. As a game, it's about jumping from girl to girl, fawning over the cold numbers, and maintaining emotional distance. But that doesn't make the game callous; just the result of misguided efforts. I mean, you could always do worse. You could always be Princess Maker.

Oh, and there's also some weird-ass RPG mini-game that sometimes pops up for absolutely no reason. You can probably ascertain why I didn't mention it in the blog.

Review Synopsis

You know you've wanted to see it. Even if you didn't, you knew.

What's the opposite of a healthy romantic relationship? That's right: zombie vampires! I know that I've covered this game before, but in between stuff like Star Wars and Wonder Momo, I needed at least some promise of quality, and Legacy of Kain delivers on that promise. Sure, the combat might err a bit close to the simple side, but everything else about the game's really good. You've got a wonderfully told story, (somewhat) thoughtfully planned puzzles and did I mention zombie vampires?

Let's start with the story, since it's the fastest way to get to the zombie vampires. Hell, that's how the story begins. In walks Raziel, a vampire lieutenant who looks like an emo version of the new Dante. Unfortunately, Kain's a fan of the older games, and he expresses his opinion by casting Raziel into the Lake of the Dead for thousands of years. Now Raziel's off on a quest for revenge amidst the ruins of Nosgoth, unraveling the mysteries and conspiracies regarding the world's decline. Don't expect me to hold much of an opinion on those mysteries, though. All I can say is the plot's very well structured and the ending sucks its fair amount of ass. Unlike the dialogue. The dialogue sucks minimal amounts of ass. Everybody speaks as though they're in a Shakespearean play, bandying about soliloquies and dialogues with the heft of a titan. As I hope that demonstrated, the writing is carefully tended to and lends a lot of weight and importance to what's happening in the story. It's like playing a stage production, only you have glaucoma.

What the hell happened to Raziel? Isn't he supposed to be blue instead of brownish-orange?

Surprisingly, that's not Soul Reaver's greatest strength. No, that honor belongs to the world. It's amazing how much craft (and grey and brown and blue/green) has gone into creating this world. Nosgoth is utterly decrepit; barely clinging to life. Vampires have infested every last crevice they could find, and they mirror the world's feral degradation all too well. Even Raziel himself moves about the world like a scavenger feeding off whatever scraps he may. Only the mere impressions of an age long dead remain. And this one guy with a flamethrower, for some reason. I don't have much of a clue what he's doing there. But other than that, the world design's amazing. It does a fantastic job of drawing you in and making you want to see just what the hell happened to this place. Clearly, a lot of craft went into creating Soul Reaver's world.

The only real problem I have is actually exploring said world, surprisingly enough. You'd think that such a well-designed world would give you decent motivation to comb through it, but alas, that is not the case. You're only going to find weapon upgrades that you never really need and some health upgrades you could do without. Not exactly the greatest motivation to dig through the ruins. But even if it was, the game doesn't make exploration terribly easy. That grey/brown aesthetic might connote death really well, but it also makes everything look exactly the same. All of Nosgoth is but a labyrinth, and not in a good way. Jumping's also a hassle. Raziel has such a crippling fear of heights that he'll launch himself off platforms as soon as he's on them, which isn't the best of traits to have in a world with as many platforms as this one. I'd say that Soul Reaver's appeal lies more in the sights it offers rather than in actually exploring those sights, but exploring the world is what gives it the sense of death and emptiness that makes it so damn good. This is quite the conundrum.

"Tell me, you wretched monster: what long-standing feud with Princess Tomato has wrenched such vile calumny from your lascivious lips?"

And then you have the block puzzles. They're....weird. I don't exactly like them, but I can't place why. It's not for a lack of challenge. While none of the puzzles stumped me for too long, they still require a good deal of thinking. Some of them even require very careful attention to detail. Light shining through a window, precise environmental layouts, stuff like that. And it's not something to do with their place in the world, either. I mean, the developers clearly tried working them into the world. Most of the time, you're restoring frescoes or reassembling pipework, both of which somehow unlock a nearby door. I guess that's the core problem I have: no matter how much effort the developers put into working these block puzzles into the world, they simply don't fit. (Pun not intended.) Giant cubes simply announce their presence in a way that nothing else in the game matches. This isn't as bad as Tokimeki Memorial was above; the block puzzles don't contradict anything the game's trying to achieve. I guess they just add another layer of ridiculo-OH, wait, now I remember. The game has you fight enemies while you're working on these puzzles, almost like it's punishing you for solving these puzzles at a regular pace. Real dick move, Soul Reaver.

Which brings me rather nicely to the combat. Remember how the block puzzles are fun to solve, but don't entirely fit with the world? If you don't, then your short term memory must be completely and utterly fried. But my point was that the combat's exactly the opposite: it has a lot of story value, but isn't terribly fun to play through. Let's start with that first one. What are you fighting in Soul Reaver? Feral vampires, basically. They show absolutely no signs of intelligence or humanity; they lash out at you because of their animal instincts. Not that you're much better. You have to eat to survive the dangers that face you, and if that means tearing a dude's face off, so be it. Combat is something to be dealt with rather than something to be anticipated with glee. Still, it adds volumes to the game. It really brings to life the sense that the world is only barely clinging to life.

Game-wise, though? Things aren't looking so well. You can only dig your claws into an enemy in so many ways, so every encounter comes to feel very similar. You whack a vampire about a couple times and then impale them on the nearest pointy object. Repeat until monotony ensues, and then repeat a bunch more times for good measure. The fights against your vampire brothers aren't much better. Most of them amount to little more than "do this thing", maybe with a side of "get sent to the spectral plane because you didn't do this thing". Doesn't make a lot of sense when the story revolves around these guys, does it?...............You know what? I'm ending the blog there. By now, you should have a good idea what I think of this game. Besides, the abrupt ending here should prepare you for the abrupt ending in the game.

Review Synopsis

  • To be or not to be a zombie vampire; that is no question.
  • I think I made a Fragile Dreams reference back in the original blog from two years ago. It still stands.
  • And then there are some block puzzles and combat to deal with.
  • As long as I'm ending things with Adventure Time references...

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A Song of Ice and Fire (That's Completely Unaffiliated with Anything Game of Thrones).

The suave, daring, unrivaled King of Video Games. He is on an EROTIC quest to see if lesbians indeed have the goods. BEWARE, the Moon.

You ever play a video game and feel like a total piece of shit afterward? No, I didn't confuse this game with Spec Ops: The Line (which I really should get around to playing). I'm honestly saying I feel like shit after finishing Little Inferno. I spent the entire game depriving other people of their joy and brought the world around me closer to annihilation. And for what? To bring a fleeting amount of joy to my pathetic, lonely existence? When I finally saw those credits roll, I felt like an awful person. And that's what makes the game so damn good.

It all begins with a relatively simple premise. Here's a fireplace; have fun burning shit. Hell, you even get paid to burn things, just so you can buy more things to burn. At first, all of this feels rather gratifying. There's just this primal joy to be had, watching things slowly fade into ash. Maybe it's the setting. All you ever really see in this game is cold, unfeeling brick. Starting a fire, as psychotic as it sounds, is the only thing that brings even the smallest, most fleeting glimpse of light and warmth.

Of course, there are always memories I'd be happy burning away.

Whatever the reason, it isn't going to last. Primal joy soon gives way to tedium as you soon realize how repetitive your actions are. Remember that little tidbit about being paid for your "work"? Well, that's the entire experience: you buy things to burn to buy things to burn to buy thing to b-and it goes on like that for a while. You're essentially trapped in digital samsara, bringing things into this world so that they might die, only for the process to repeat ad infinitum.

And then the story context makes things so much worse. Even though you spend most of the game looking at a fireplace that's completely removed from the outside world, Little Inferno's more than happy to send you newsletters to keep you updated on current world affairs. Turns out the Earth's covered in smog, trapped in eternal winter, and you're to blame for this. Well, not entirely; you're not the only one lighting fires to entertain yourself. But it's difficult escaping my role in what's going on. Oh, sure, my limited view of the world and the letter's flammability certainly encourage ignorance, but ignorance isn't an excuse. The game is telling me in unambiguous terms that my actions are destroying the world. Yet I continue to do it. Hell, I could've simply shut off the game at any time, and I'd no longer be an active participant in the world's destruction. But I continued, anyway. For what? Some fleeting moment of joy I knew couldn't last? That would ultimately deprive somebody else of perhaps even greater joy?

Despite a planet so vast...and populated by countless number of people...Why is it that I'm so alone?...Oh, well. More tinder for the fire.

In fact, let's explore that last idea some more. What is it that I'm burning? Used credit cards, discarded family photos, letters that people have sent you, children's toys, are you starting to see a pattern here, yet? All of these items have a personal history to them. Somebody out there valued this item and attached some personal meaning to it. Now, you're just feeding it to the pyre. Even if the item in question doesn't have any sort of past attached to it, I'm still ultimately denying other people things that they have more of a right to than I could ever claim. I'm sure there's some kid out there who needs that toy more than you do. In fact, there's almost definitely somebody out there who could use that medication more than you do. But I still bought it all, specifically knowing that all I could do was destroy it and be paid for the privilege, whore that I am.

The worst part of it all, though? This one particular moment toward the end of the game. I'm not sure if I mentioned this, but there's this girl who writes to you throughout the game. You can't write back to her, but you can send her gifts every now and then. She's your only personal contact for 90% of the game. Fast forward to the tail end of that 90%, and now she's asking you to send her all the items you sent her over the course of the game. All four items. I couldn't remember them. Oh, believe me, I tried. I desperately tried to remember the only contact we made with each other, but it was a fruitless endeavor. I could only remember one, maybe two items correctly. One of those items was the most recent one I sent. In a three hour experience. Way to trip over a low bar, me. I took so long trying to dig up lost memories that she had to send me a letter explicitly telling me what I'd sent her. Do you understand how awful that experience made me feel? I had spent so much time trapped within my own limited, ultimately selfish perspective that I'd completely forgotten about other people. The fire had wiped away more than my possessions. It wiped away my memory.

That's enough needless melodrama for one blog, now, isn't it?

Gameplay? What the hell's there to discuss about gameplay? The closest you come to any challenge in the game is in figuring out what two items you have to burn to fulfill a combo. Some of them are difficult, but most don't require a lot of brain power. But that's not what Little Inferno is about. It's about watching the world burn away to nothing, all because that's what gets you off. Who cares about exploitation, or about a cycle that can only end with destruction? It's just you, me, and the cubes.........no idea why I made that reference, but alright.

Review Synopsis

  • What could be more fun than watching things crumble into ash?
  • Maybe stopping to think about all the horror associated with that sentence?
  • The story doesn't help too much, either.

And now for something completely out of date.

........You ever try to come up with an introduction for one of your blogs, only to feel two horrific monsters burn their gaze into your very life essence?......Anyway, Snow Bros. Like Little Inferno, it's a very simple game based around a very simple concept. But unlike Little Inferno, you're smothering things in snow instead of lighting them ablaze. Also unlike Little Inferno, Snow Bros. lacks a deeply depressing core. Instead, it's just that one gameplay mechanic. You get to fuck around with that for fifty levels, the game ends, and you feel as though your time has been occupied.

I'm really not kidding: covering things in snow is really as there is to Snow Bros. You lob snow at an enemy, turn them into a snowball, smash them against the nearest wall or floor, and then repeat for a large number of enemies over a smaller number of stages. Sound simple? It almost is. Turning enemies into snowballs is rather easy, but rolling them down a hill isn't as self explanatory. You have to hurl snow at their corpses while you're pushing them. I guess you can't let them die without taunting them one last time. As if I didn't have enough reasons to hate those two....things that the game considers protagonists. Other than that, though, Snow Bros. is good for what it is. Despite its simple nature, Snow Bros. is gonna make you think. Not very hard, mind you, but you still have to put some consideration into how to kill all the enemies on screen at the same time. It's all mildly fun and you get decent enough thrills from completing a level. Overall, this game knows how to dole out the instant gratification.

"Try having kids NOW, King Scorch!"

Hmmm....Instant gratification. Let's explore that idea, shall we? Does instant gratification make Snow Bros. an exploitative game? I mean, have you seen how I've described the playing the game thus far? "Mildly" and "decent enough" don't exactly connote the highest quality. They connote an utterly detached experience that I couldn't care less about. Clearly, the gameplay hasn't held my attention. Instead, that responsibility falls on the bright visuals, the simplistic melodies, and the cheap thrill of solving a very basic puzzle. Snow Bros. doesn't want to engage your skills and abilities; it wants to hold your attention for as long as it can.

To what end? I have no idea. Keep in mind that this is a really short game. There are only fifty levels, and I'd be hard-pressed to find one that's longer than fifty seconds. That comes out to......some number higher than fifty seconds of gameplay. That's not a lot of time for the game to accomplish much of anything. So Snow Bros. isn't necessarily benevolent; just incompetent. But after some careful consideration, is that necessarily a bad thing? The game's still offering you some enjoyable puzzle action. Who cares if it parcels out said action like crystal meth? If you're willing to overlook Snow Bros' more exploitative trappings, then it might be right up your alley. Don't think about it too hard, though. I think I've demonstrated why.

Review Synopsis

  • What's not to like about pushing enemies down small inclines and watching them die a horrible death?
  • Besides the game exploiting the sense of joy that scenario creates?
  • Oh, and something about the flame king turning people into snow. Should've mentioned that.
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Possibly the most Japanese blog I've written in a while.

The suave, daring, unrivaled King of Video Games. He is on an EROTIC quest to see if lesbians indeed have the goods. BEWARE, the Moon.

Well, this certainly is an....interesting game. Oh, that's not a backhanded compliment or an attempt on my part to insult the game. I mean, there's certainly something appealing in Project X Zone. The game looks absolutely goddamn amazing, and that whole "crossover" setup results in some entertaining antics among the enormous cast. But Project X Zone doesn't do a good enough job of justifying itself as a game. It's almost like Project X Zone forgets that it's a game and not a collection of flashy graphical effects, and while the game eventually realizes this, it may be too late for some players.

Still, that shouldn't disparage all the things that Project X Zone gets absolutely right. Like the graphics. Where do I even begin? Well, the best way I could describe it is "video game-y". All the characters are 2D sprites, and the camera's pulled in close enough that you can see every last pixel on Juri's assless chaps. (There are 3D backgrounds and special effects, but they only exist to accentuate the 2D visuals, really.) Project X Zone absolutely wants you to know that it's a video game.

The girls are shocked that T-elos can stretch that far. Sanger's having absolutely none of it.

Fortunately, this feels less like a crutch and more like a chance for the game to explore just how far it can take this art style. Who knew how much this art style was truly capable of? Everything's just so fluid and striking and rendered with the utmost detail that it just demands your attention. Even after 40 or so hours with the game, I can't take my eyes off it. The game just looks that amazing. True, the game sometimes looks less like a glorious spectacle and more like a confusing pixel art orgy of confusion, but for the most part, it strikes a satisfying balance between chaos and craft. Besides, when a game looks this amazing, I'm pretty sure it's earned the right to brag.

(The music's also pretty good, as it incorporates a wide selection of styles yet consistently keeps you pumped for what's to come, somehow. But what do you honestly think is worth mentioning more: this or that exact same link with your eyes closed?)

If only I could say the same for the plot. Oh, sure, the premise sounds interesting enough: a billion separate universes (including a universe of genitriloquists) begin crossing over, and it's up to some detective ninja clan or whatever to figure out why. Unfortunately, the reasons for this crossing over only even vaguely reveal themselves toward the end of the story. What happens until then? The story frantically jumps from plotline to plotline, desperately in search of purpose and direction. Characters enter the plot when they damn well please (as do a couple plot points), nobody can stay in any one place for longer than it takes to make a .hack reference, and I have no goddamn clue how the chronology of anything is supposed to work. You never really feel like you're making any meaningful progress. It's like the the game doesn't know what to do and is wasting your time until it figures something out. At least in terms of the plot. It feels disjointed, honestly. Maybe the game spread itself too thin to do anything other than simply jump from event to event with no real commitment. Maybe it's best to look at each chapter as its own event instead of as part of a greater whole.

Spoiler alert: the only Valkyria Chronicles characters in this game come from the one that wasn't released outside Japan.

Or maybe the focus is on the characters instead of the plot. That would explain why the game introduces so many characters apropos of nothing: it needs material for the wacky antics to come. With so many characters to work with, you get just as many personalities to manage. Where do I even start? Well, there's moe incarnate Neneko; the ever aloof Yuri Lowell; the scarily detached Ulala; something called a Deathsatan; and so much more! Naturally, these personalities lend themselves well to fun and entertaining situations, which probably explains why there are so many to find in Project X Zone. It also helps that the game is perfectly aware of its own idiocy. Granted, with a cast larger than a small nation, it's easy for a lot of them to fade into obscurity for much of the story, and that's certainly a problem with Project X Zone. Fortunately, it's not much of a problem. The game does the best it can to keep these characters relevant throughout, giving them a tiny role in conversations to remind you that they still exist. They might not be explored in any real depth, but the game's still remembering to use them.

Unfortunately, for some of the ladies, this means being used as sex objects. What? Don't give me that look; give the game that look. A good portion of the female characters are drawn in such a way that you're encouraged to view them as mere sexual objects. Their postures prominently stress the ass and titties, always at a perfectly lustful viewing angle. For some characters, this is perfectly fine. Morrigan's a succubus, so I've no qualms with the camera slowly glazing over her chest and ass whenever it gets the chance. Where that justification for a princess like Kaguya is, though, I have no goddamn idea. Tron Bonne's metal crotch plate probably doesn't help, either. The source material could have been to blame if not for the original female protagonist of this game looking like she specifically chose an outfit that looked like she just got out of bed. And the game designs her like this for....OK, it doesn't do this with all the ladies (but none of the men, as far as I can tell), but when it does, it's incredibly uncomfortable. Why does this game want to give me an erection? What possible function could this serve other than to put me on edge?

I've only just now realized that this is probably Japan's answer to Family Guy. (Either this game or this screenshot. Either one works.)

And why have I spent so long talking about things that weren't the gameplay? Oh....I can actually answer that one. Like I mentioned before, there's something strange about the gameplay in Project X Zone. Not so much in the set-up; that part's easy to understand. It's a strategy RPG from the Tactics Ogre school of that thing: one character acts, then another, then another, and this is repeated until somebody yells "Turn End" with a thick Japanese accent. When it's one of your characters acting, you can use items or "kill a bunch of guys" attacks, but you're gonna find the real meat of the game once you use a normal attack. Now things are looking a bit more fighting-game-y. Instead of worrying about troop placement and ranges of attack, now you have to deal with building up combos and learning the timings on all your moves. So far, so good. We've got some complex systems with reasonable depth, and the game's demanding a wide range of skill sets on your p-

And there's the problem with the game: it doesn't actually test your skills. There's no real challenge to speak of. But the strange thing is that when I try to explain why, it's hard to find any good reasons for this lack of challenge. The conditions for a challenging game are certainly there. A lot of the maps are heavily populated with enemies (especially toward the end of the game), so there's something to fight against. In theory. In practice, the odds are weighed overwhelmingly in your favor. You can wipe out many enemies in a single move with one pair of characters, whereas they have to take potshots at you over several moves. Numbers might be on their side if not for that "cast larger than a small nation" thing from before. Nothing is ever a threat, and it's harder to lose than it is to win. In fact, I only ever failed a chapter two times in the game. The first time was because I simply forgot one of the fail states the game had presented me with; had I remembered, I probably would've beaten that chapter. The second instance, though, I did remember, but still made a stupid decision and lost because of it. So out of two failures, only one of them could possibly be because of the game's challenge.

I have absolutely no idea what's going on in this game, and that's part of why I love it.

That's probably why I shouldn't be looking at this game in terms of challenge. Instead, it's best to look at Project X Zone through the magic of 機能美. Now for those of you who were utterly confused when I used it in my Darwinia blog, that was the whole point. I'm an asshole. Anyway, 機能美* is pretty much beauty in efficiency. It's that good feeling you get from knowing that nothing's going to waste and all components of a system are being put to maximum use. For a 機能美 game, the fun's all in accomplishing goals with as few resources used or effort exerted as possible. Hell, you don't even really need challenge; just the threat of doing things in the least efficient manner. To ground all this in some sort of reality, Darwinia and Final Fantasy XII could be considered 機能美 games.

That, and Project X Zone. With this new idea, Project X Zone is given life once more. Before 機能美, there was little real motivation to try and become better at the game. Why bother when the game's not gonna put up a fight? Now, there's a reason: because you'll waste so much if you don't know what you're doing. You'll waste moves if you don't know what timings max out damage, items as you heal damage you could've avoided, your special meter if you don't know when to use it for what, etc. Your fun and your level of skill are directly tied to one another, is what I'm getting at. Finally, Project X Zone has justified itself as a game.

But is this justification on time? It took me a good portion of the game to discover the 機能美, and I'm pretty sure it would take you guys about as long. Does that make this a bad game? I honestly have no clue. If you want a gorgeous looking game with funny (if disjointed) scenarios, then yea, I'd recommend Project X Zone. I'd recommend the hell out of it. But as a game where you push buttons and things happen? That's....harder to recommend. If you're pati-wait, Sega was involved with this, right? Does that mean Sonic's in it? No? What the fuck!? OK, screw everything I just said: it isn't worth it.

Review Synopsis

  • FUCKING LOOK AT THIS.
  • Surprisingly, Project X Zone is a better Family Guy game than most Family Guy games.
  • Should you play this game? I don't know.

Not safe for work. Probably.

You ever play a game for your blog, only to find out it's completely irrelevant to what you're writing? No? Well, it's happening here, alright? I thought Valkyrie's appearance in this game would tie it to Project X Zone, but alas, cameos don't count.

Anyway, Marvel Land. It's a game of absolutely no significance to anything, probably because it's exactly like every platformer released in the early 90s. By that, I mean it's merely OK. Not outstanding or terrible, but simply OK. Marvel Land gives you some wide open spaces to explore, and that's really all you need to feel relatively engaged for the length of this tiny game. Not much to complain about, really. Marvel Land's only real flaw is that it doesn't know what works and what doesn't, so it just throws a bunch of ancillary shit on top in the hopes it all works out.

An appropriately obscure reference for an equally obscure video game

Like the story! Now I'm not gonna go into too much detail about the story, simply because it's all ad-libbed and makes no sense. The rat king's captured the fairies of the amusement park kingdom, and the dragon prince must rescue them all? What does that even mean? And how is that relevant to the actual game? As best as I can figure it out, only the amusement park aspect really improves the quality of the game. Many of the levels are simply amusement park rides that you jump through, and the ends up working in the game's favor. Amusement parks are supposed to connote fun and excitement, and that's exactly what these levels deliver on. It's a lot of fun to zip around on a roller coaster, collecting everything in sight, or to swing from a grappling point and into a giant target. (Disney Land does that, right?)

Of course, that might have more to do with what you're doing rather than where you're doing it. I mean, yea, exploring an amusement park is certainly enjoyable, but Marvel Land's fun mostly for the exploration. The levels are little more than winding obstacle courses, but that's OK. They offer enough fun thrills to keep you engaged for a while. Do you want to speed through a level on slippery controls? Because you can do that. How about glide about on dragon wings for some reason? Because that's in here, too. Want to hop all about a level in search of a warp zone? That one happens a lot. I'm surprised all those warps didn't break spacetime itself. And the game continues on like this, offering you decent enough reasons to push on and excavate every last nook and cranny, for about four more worlds. True, those worlds are plain, but that doesn't get in the way of what makes Marvel Land as good as it is.

"The name of the game? Racism."

The boss battles do, though, largely because they're such a departure from what the rest of the game is. Instead of pure platforming pfun, you get some random-mini-game-boss-battles whatever. That's right: to save the princess and the fairies, you're gonna have to play rock/paper/scissors! Or a matching game! Or musical chairs? Are you seeing a pattern between any of these? Because I'm not. These boss battles just feel abrupt and random, like the scraps of some other game Namco might've been developing. That probably explains why these moments don't mesh well with the rest of the game. When I'm up against one of these guys, I don't feel like the game's engaging my time; I feel like it's wasting it.

It doesn't help that the game never explains the rules all that well. For instance, should you win a round of rock/paper/scissors, your opponent screams that you've cheated. At least that's what I determined after the fact. In-game, everybody shares the same word bubble, so I thought that the person explaining the rules was chastising me for some unexplained rule. Now I was left with absolutely no idea how to progress through the game. That's not exactly conducive to an enjoyable game. Then again, not much about the boss battles is. Why was any of this included? What does it any of it add to the game? In the game's defense, this could have been the only feasible option. The story demands boss battles, and designing bosses around particular levels would be wildly impractical. Marvel Land could claim this if the final level didn't prove otherwise. Look at how exciting and fun that level is! Why couldn't the rest of the game be like that?

Wait a minute....it is like that. This makes things more complicated. Do I say that the game's good because you can jump through amusement park rides for some mild platforming fun? Or do I say that it sucks because the boss battles feel rushed and don't fit in with the rest of the game?.....How about both? I mean, the game's not particularly good, but it's not particularly bad, either. Hooray for compromise!

Review Synopsis

  • Wow! These levels are sort-of fun!
  • But these boss battles absolutely aren't!
  • Also, something about rats taking over Disney Land? I don't know.

*I will always write 機能美 in kanji instead of Latin letters. THERE'S NO CHANGING ME.

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I just had to end it on a Half-Life 2 reference.

The suave, daring, unrivaled King of Video Games. He is on an EROTIC quest to see if lesbians indeed have the goods. BEWARE, the Moon.

......Do I count this as modern or old school? Well, either way, I'm finally tackling Episode Two (after years of anticipation!), and I have to say that it's.....not that good. Now, I'm not saying that it's a bad game.....actually, let's go with that. For whatever reason, the game embraces first person shooting mechanics when it absolutely shouldn't. Features that could once stand on their own feel out of place or at odds with each other, and there's not much hope that Episode Two can recover from such mistakes.

I see that you have already prepared your nooses and pitchforks. But hold off on that for a second, because I'm gonna start things off by listing a feature that I actually like: the world design. I'm not even completely sure what I like about it so much. That's not an insult against the game, but more a comment on how difficult it is to pin down what makes the environments work. Is it the vague hints of a supernatural, spiritual ethos permeating the atmosphere? Or maybe it's the dead, industrial forest motif going on? Again, I don't know what exactly it is; all I do know is that it works. The world looks absolutely gorgeous, and I just want to explore every nook and cranny, see every little thing that the world has to offer me. It's a great way to ensure that I stay through to the end.

Pictured: the level of trust the designers have toward the player.

And the story is.....problematic. Actually, that's misrepresenting the situation. The story does some interesting things. We pick up immediately after Episode One, wherein Gordon Freeman and Alyx Vance blew up a giant tower or something. Unfortunately, said tower-blowing-up has created an evil portal or something, and it's up to the two heroes to close said portal once and for all. Well, until a Hunter rips Alyx's guts out that is. Although an early plot twist, it's handled really well, conveying just enough emotion to matter, but not so much that it's imposing. But that's not important. What is important, however, is that the story now shifts away from the Combine and more toward the relationship between Alyx and Gordon. Of course, being mute, Gordon can't directly express his character through dialogue, but all the stuff he does to save her should prove just how much she means to him. It's an interesting look at how to characterize somebody through actions rather than through words.

Until the game puts a gun in your hand, that is. Did I not mention that? Episode Two's a first person shooter. You look at things and shoot them. Why? I'm not quite sure. It's an awkward fit, to say the least. You spend much of the game saving Alyx from a large wound in her stomach, not a giant turtle king that's captured her for his own amusement. What place does shooting have in this world? I'm not even certain the game knows itself. Most of the weapons Gordon finds in the game are just that: found. They're lying around for him to pick up, as if the game couldn't figure out how to give him these murder tools in a way that mesh well with the story it was telling. It's almost like Valve felt obligated to work shooting elements into the game somehow, and the larger experience suffers because of it.

Where most men see a horrifyingly gruesome tragedy, Gordon Freeman sees a new toy to throw around.

I believe we can establish this by looking at just what you're fighting over the course of the game. For a good half of Episode Two, it's nothing but antlions and zombies. Both enemy choices situate you as the bad guy. Those zombies can't aggress; they have no free will to do so. They're screaming in pain, and only attack out of desperation. Your response? Gun the ever loving crap out of them and don't look back. Well, that's worrying. Maybe the antlions are better? I mean, at least they can aggress. In fact, they do, and I'm pretty sure it's related to the fact that the people of this world essentially built their houses on the poor things' nesting grounds. Knowingly, I might add; one of your Vortigaunt buddies mentions how his kind are skilled in antlion eugenics, and have been for many a generation. This knowledge presumably carries with it the knowledge of what pisses them off, and I have to imagine tearing down their homes and replacing it all with noisy, disruptive machinery ranks up there as one of the better ways to get on their bad side.

Now, all of this could be ameliorated if the game acknowledged this and somehow worked that moral dissonance into the storyline. Unfortunately, that isn't really the case. I can't remember any point in the game where anything remotely like that happens. Yes, the writing characterizes some of your allies as idiots, but it does so for reasons completely removed from what I've been discussing. I'd say that their decision to build next to a goddamn antlion nest might as well be their smartest decision, but Episode Two doesn't even bring up said decision as a topic of discussion. It doesn't even encourage you to ask why the antlions attack you with such malice. In fact, they might as well be meaty targets who only exist for your own amusement. (The sick guitar licks certainly aren't helping.) The poor little guys are just defending their homes and their children from a small group of guys mercilessly killing their friends, family, neighbors, and who knows what else. What possible justification could the game give for any of this?

I will never tire of dumb physics exploits. (Or at least this one.)

Well, to be fair, you do eventually fight an organized military force that knowingly and intentionally attacks you without much pretense for self defense (or at least not as much). But man, does the game take its sweet time bringing them out. It takes almost half the game before Episode Two's ready to acknowledge them, and when it does, it feels reluctant to do so. This much is evident as soon as said military force enters the picture. Alyx has just recovered from her horrific injuries (I guess), meaning she and Gordon can finally resume their journey to White Castle Forest. As they exit the caves, they spot a Combine battleship flying across the sky. As players, we finally have a clear antagonistic force to work against. Seconds later, you're shooting down the same antlions you've been shooting for the previous 50% of the game. Guess the game isn't quite ready to commit to an unambiguous bad guy, is it?

I feel I should also mention that Gordon Freeman occupies no space within this world. Granted, that's one of the less important problems the game has to deal with, but it's a problem nonetheless. The Freeman does not walk upon the Earth, like you or I would, but glides ever so slightly above it, presumably with the power of his mind. That power's also how he interacts with the world around him, because I can't think of any other explanation as to how he can reload a shotgun while turning a valve. That one's a lot harder to ignore, since a good percentage of the game is nothing but turning valves. It's jarring, to say the least. (The lack of presence, although the high number of valves also leaves me worried.) It only serves to remind me that I'm playing a video game; exactly what Episode Two doesn't need. For a game whose greatest strength is the world it crafts, it sure does a lot to make you feel removed from it.

WHAT DOES THAT EVEN MEAN!?

You can find one particularly egregious example just by looking down and walking forward. You don't see any feet moving down there, but you can hear footsteps being made. Hell, different sounds play depending on what you're walking on. Normally, that would be a fine attention to detail, but without any feet, this implies some very worrying things. It means that somebody on the development team was assigned to produce various footstep sound effects, and another person was assigned to make sure they play under very specific conditions, but nobody thought to animate or even model the damn feet that actually make these noises. What a worryingly strange dedication to (a lack of) detail.

How did Valve....OK, I think I'm getting it. Don't you see? It's all making sense now. The ten or so rockslides preventing me from exploring anything outside the immediate path; the boulders that fail to elicit a response from Alyx when they're Gravity Gun'd into her brain; the series of caverns I explored in search of vital medicine (that I could've reached via the elevator I used to exit said caverns); that stupid helicopter chase sequence where you're being attacked with explosions and rock music; the inexplicably weak second half of the story, forgetting about a newly introduced plot element until it's needed for a cheap twist at the end of the game....this is a dumb action movie. Thematic implications and creating a cohesive world mean nothing when you can just shoot to your heart's delight.

Of course, even under these standards, the game falters. It doesn't fail, mind you; the shooting can be quite decent. The frantic, hurried, chaotic pace to each encounter mixes quite well with the similarly hurried pace running through both of the major story arcs AND it's pretty damn fun. Unfortunately, said sense of fun is usually balanced with plodding shoot-outs that feel less like a triumphant bang and more like an impotent squib, so the shooting's a wash, overall. The puzzles aren't much better, often sufficing with simple physics puzzles or plugging things in (to fix short circuits, strangely enough); not exactly the most engaging material the game can muster. It's painful, really, typing out all these sentences utterly lambasting Episode Two. I mean, the ingredients are there for a good game. Or maybe for good games. It's the BioShock Infinite problem all over again: decent enough components when examined separately, but when you look at them in the context of each other, it's hard to ignore the mess it becomes. Tell me, reader, if you can. This game sucks so much. What is it, exactly, that makes it worth playing? Can you name even one thing?...I thought not.

Review Synopsis

  • Just shoot shit up, man. Ignore the myriad story problems with this set up.
  • And the far less significant mechanical problems.
  • At least the world's interesting (although if we're going that route, I'd probably cut out the middle man and recommend Dear Esther instead).

I think we'd ALL like Twilight Princess a bit more if it was just Ganondorf licking everything in sight.

OK, so what's the story behind this decision? The word "episode". That's it. Both of these games have the word "episode" in their titles. But strangely, things worked out fine in the end, because both of these Episodes share very similar problems. Much like Half-Life 2: Episode Two before it, The Phantom Menace can't quite get its story and its gameplay in perfect agreement. What should have been a space-hopping epic topped off with tales of political intrigue ends up a clumsy, plodding mess of an experience.

Of course, the traditional narrative (for lack of better phrasing) isn't completely off the hook, despite its initial promise. It all begins with the greedy Trade Federation (not my words) blocking trade with the planet of Naboo. The Galactic Republic, pissed that they're no longer able to buy swamp roots or whatever the hell the planet produces, decides to send in some Jedi Knights to muscle away the problem. So far, so good. We've got the promise of some tense political maneuvering to look forward to, along with monks whacking things with their laser swords in case the former becomes too boring. How are we gonna deliver on that?

What makes this especially confusing is the music video you can watch from the title screen. Not its existence, mind you, but how it uses actual footage from the movie. I have to wonder why the developers decided to render these CGIsores.

Well, if you're The Phantom Menace, you focus most of your energy on dull, boring subplots. Jar Jar Binks readily comes to mind, and while I agree with you that he sucks a bag of racist dicks (the dicks are all wearing Klan hoods), I personally see Anakin as more corrosive to the story. Once he enters the picture, both of the appeals I listed before are thrown right out the window, which is a lot worse than you're probably thinking, since this is the Star Wars universe and everything. Anyway, the story moves away from that other stuff and towards pod races and freeing the boy from his slave life.

All because Qui-Gon Jinn needs some spare parts for his ship. What an underwhelming motivation, especially given how this ordeal comprises pretty much the entire second act. If you're gonna devote so much attention to some kid you introduce a third of the way through the story, he'd better play an absolutely vital role to what's happening in the story. Sadly, that's not the case; he's freed, mentioned as the chosen one (mentioned because he kind of disappears after being freed), and overall does nothing to justify the level of importance placed upon him. Is that really why people want to play this game? For a little kid who just sort of exists? What about the robots pursuing the Queen (who happens to be Princess Azula, for some reason)? Don't they deserve some development?

Translation: "Our plan's not gonna work. The Supreme Chancellor's a pussy, and the Senate doesn't deal with bitch bait."

So far, I've only talked about how the.....I still don't have decent phrasing. How about we talk about the gameplay? Specifically, the level design, largely because it doesn't do the story any favors. First, the dead space. You're gonna spend a lot of time in these levels simply wandering around, looking for some purpose that the developers forgot to implement. This brings the pace to a screeching halt. The lack of (otherwise outstanding) music certainly doesn't help. What was once exciting becomes prolonged, and what was once prolonged becomes torturously awful.

But perhaps more importantly, the level design renders the world ridiculous. Most of the levels force you to jump between ledges, push boxes, collect pass keys, and engage in every other staple of early 3D game design. It's about as fun as you'd expect, but to look at it in terms of fun would be to miss the point entirely: how does any of this fit into the world? I mean, without all that other stuff, the worlds are amazing. They're just so intricate and thoughtfully designed. The worlds you explore just breathe life and personality, almost as though people actually live in these worlds and conduct their daily business in them. That is, when they're not pushing blocks to fetch their car keys (which, for whatever reason, are hanging off a support beam) or removing their groceries from their secret-activated cabinets to make room for medkits or the errant grenade. You see the problem here, right? It's exactly what happened with Episode Two before/after it: I'm reminded that I'm playing a game. No longer am I Qui-Gon Jinn, confusingly named Jedi Master, effortlessly slashing my way through the droid armies; now I'm just some schmuck pushing buttons to make things happen. Of course, The Phantom Menace doesn't fare much better when it's trying to create atmosphere (fucking Mos Espa), but game-centric design isn't the way to go, either.

"A chance to pet those adorable ponies."

This even holds true under fun conditions. By which I mean light saber battles. Because it's impossible not to have fun with a light saber, especially when you're using it to slash bullets instead of people. (You also get to fight using guns and grenades and stuff, but why a magic space knight would use any of that is beyond me.) Yes, actually bouncing those bullets back is awkward and takes getting used to. They reflect back based on where you're facing, but the precision means that a laser can hit you right on and be reflected 90 degrees into the next star system. For many, that may be too precise, and while I agree with you, I add the caveat that such precision brings with it a new layer of skill in learning how these systems work. Think of it like the cherry atop the true appeal to be found in the combat. That appeal, of course, is watching a group of droids open fire on you and somehow manage only to kill themselves.

But let's flip this around and look at the combat in terms of the story. You're supposedly playing as some of the top Jedi in the universe on a mission of the utmost importance, so it's safe to say that they know what they're doing. Why, then, do all their fights come across as clumsy drunken slapstick? Seriously, it's hard to name a single fight that didn't end with the Jedi recklessly swinging their sabers about and hoping something happened. A major military conflict is not the place to reenact your favorite Three Stooges sketches, guys.

And have I mentioned how easy it is to clip through the boundaries in some areas? Because that's sometimes an option.

Darth Maul gets it the worst. In the movie that I don't know if I've ever seen, I have to imagine he fulfills some sort of role as this super ominous bad guy who has a reason to exist. What that reason is, the game doesn't make clear. The guy introduces himself by pushing over some rocks and then slapping you about for no explained purpose. He continues to do this until you chuck him down a giant hole on a completely different planet. In short, Darth Maul's less a foreboding villain who connotes dread and more an insane nuisance you have to deal with every now and again. Hard to take the story seriously when this is the closest thing we have to a clear antagonist, isn't it? I'd also mention how Queen Azula can survive an entire belt of ammunition to the face yet collapses dead when her escort walks 50 yards away from her, but I feel I've made my point by now.

Simply put, this game's crap. Or, perhaps more specifically, this is crap because it's a game. The combat and the levels mi....OK, there's no chance they would've worked in any other game, but they especially don't work here. The Phantom Menace has an agenda, and block puzzles don't fit anywhere into it. There might have been a way to make a good game based on The Phantom Menace (I seem to remember that pod racer game being pretty good), but this certainly wasn't it. Tell me, re-wait, I've already used that one......I'm gonna need a bit more time to come up with a decent Half-Life 2 reference. In the meantime, this is where I get off.

Review Synopsis

  • Turmoil has engulfed the Galactic Republic. The taxation of trade routes to outlying star systems is in dispute. But let's ignore that in favor of some ultimately inconsequential pod races.
  • Apparently, "a galaxy far, far away" doesn't preclude Mars. (That's supposed to be a Doom joke. Because of all the colored keycards.......*ahem*)
  • I have to admit, though, that the game is extremely faithful to the highly visceral fight between Darth Maul and the two Jedi.
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Girl power! (Isn't very good, it turns out.)

The suave, daring, unrivaled King of Video Games. He is on an EROTIC quest to see if lesbians indeed have the goods. BEWARE, the Moon.

Man, even I don't know who this game's supposed to appeal to. Now I'm not saying that this is a bad game, but rather that the game doesn't offer any compelling reasons why you should spend time with it. Oh, it tries (maybe), but it never really excels at anything. The characters have only half-defined personalities; the plot's not that enticing; and the gameplay's so thin that the game feels more like a proof of concept than it does something you'd want to play for a significant length of time.

In fact, why don't we start there? Most of the game's dedicated to exploring the world of...I don't think it ever gets a name (not counting the Nipopo Mirror World or whatever). But who cares about names when the world's offering you so much already? I mean, you get all these cool areas like frog bath houses and mysteriously Jewish caves, and they all sort of bleed into each other, creating a feeling of interconnectedness and progress throughout the game. Plus you get to fly on a broom with child-like glee! What else could you want? Well, besides a reason to explore all of it. I know that sounds weird, but hear me out. Akazukin doesn't so much offer you these areas to explore as force you into them over the course of the game. The world's only barely larger than a thimble and ferries you from event to event with alarming rapidity, so exploration for its own sake is out of the question. And for reasons that I hope will soon become clear, there aren't any real significant rewards for going off the beaten path. The game ends up feeling like a chore; like you're simply going through the motions to get to its better parts.

He's supposed to be near the verge of death, drowning in the river; instead, he looks like he's taking a relaxing riverside bath. Now, admittedly, that WOULD be in character for this guy, but it probably wouldn't make a lot of sense, anyway, given what happens earlier in the plot. (Dog boy gets the shit zapped out of him.)

By the way, what are those better parts? I don't know; I'm here to talk about the combat. Occasionally, the game will take a break from aimless wandering around and instead let you mercilessly beat another living being to within an inch of its life. You get to fight! You get to use magic! You get to....wait, that's pretty much it. In fact, that's probably the greatest weakness the battle system has: its simplicity. Sometimes, it works out. For instance, the clear bars for HP and MP and the face buttons being used for battle actions (perhaps it's best just to see) make battles very user friendly and incredibly easy to jump into. But then you look at what you're actually doing in battle and realize that it's not worth your time. There's no variation in the battles at all. You're simply applying stat boosts to all your guys before throwing everything else you have at the enemy. No reason to think things out or try alternate strategies; win one battle, and you've essentially won them all. If there's any incentive to trying different things in battle, I have yet to find it. Most of your attacks are equally effective and the game unfailingly upgrades your strength at pre-determined intervals, so your very first fight is going to be exactly as easy as your last. Again, it feels like the game's wasting your time rather than engaging it.

Strange, then, that there are only a few battles in Akazukin Chacha, and that almost all of them come at the end of a chapter. (By the way, this game has chapters.) This suggests two things to me. First, the developers probably weren't aware that, by reducing the number of times I entered battle, they were actually drawing attention to their own flaws. But more importantly, I think these battles were intended as some sort of reward; as a climax to whatever story arc you've been bumbled your way through. This blows my mind in so many ways. What am I supposed to find rewarding about these experiences? How can these battles claim a sense of gravitas when they're all equally easy? Why would you end major parts of the game on such weak notes? Why would a game starring an eight year old girl even have a ba-

Akazukin Chacha in a nutshell.

Oh, yea, that reminds me: you're probably not supposed to play this game for the story. Or, more importantly, the characters, because that's really what the game's all about. You get Chacha, the...actually, I can't really remember any of the characters' disparate personalities, Riiya's idiocy aside. It's nothing to do with the quality of the writing. I mean, yea, it's just as simple as the rest of the game, but this doesn't harm the game like it normally would. Zany antics and ritualistic squirrel baby sacrifice see fit to that. No, the weak characterization has more to do with presentation. (A little with the writing, as well, but mostly the presentation.) Because of the SNES' technical limitations, characters can really only express themselves by moving around, hitting each other a little bit, and maybe even showing a facial expression. That may not sound like a big problem, but it certainly becomes one when the game's relying on this expression to establish personality. It's almost sad, really. The story could've been at least a little entertaining if the characters were more capable of expressing emotion. But alas, it seems that two or three expressions are not enough, and the game as a whole feels flat, uninteresting, dry, and unentertaining.

Actually, now that I think about it, those three words sum up the game really well. Think about it: the battle system is flat, eschewing complexity and challenge in favor of absolutely nothing; the world is dry, not giving you any decent motivation to stray from the beaten path; and the story is uninteresting, largely because of how limiting the presentation can be. It's like the game's too simple for its own good; like it has all these potentially neat ideas that it's too lazy to flesh out into something worth your time. So are there any reasons why anybody should play Akazukin Chacha? There's always one: because I say so. And I am a cruel, horribly indifferent monarch. SO SAYETH THE KING.

Review Synopsis

  • No, I think I summed it up rather well in that last paragraph.

I believe this next video explains itself.

You know, I'm starting to think that maybe playing games based on old and esoteric animes probably isn't a good idea. In fact, I think I'm starting to notice a few similarities between these two games. Remember how Akazukin Chacha was an overly simple game that didn't know how to tell an entertaining story? If you do, then you sort of have my opinion of Wonder Momo. (Incidentally, you should probably see a doctor if you don't remember. You've just read the damn thing.) The only difference between the two is that Wonder Momo has some pretty good ideas deep down somewhere. It's just that it never really cares enough to expand on them.

Or, rather, it has one good idea: framing the game as a play.....sort of like Akazukin Chacha, now that I think about it. But whereas that was mostly window dressing that had little effect on what you were doing, here, it's impossible to ignore. Each sta-er, act, opens with the curtain rising, the audience ready to see Momo materialize out of thin air (actors do that, right?) to assume her role as the hero of this story. Her fellow actors enter stage left so that she may high kick them out of existence. Repeat that a few more times, maybe with some asshole blinding Momo with the flash on his camera, and then.....scene. Pretty cool concept, right? It's like you're acting out a story!

It's like Tatsunoko made a Sonic the Hedgehog anime, and it wasn't especially good.

What story would that be? I've no goddamn clue! And herein we encounter Wonder Momo's amazing lack of effort. This whole theater idea requires narrative context or some sort of planning on the designers' parts if it's gonna work, and Wonder Momo has neither. It makes no attempt to explain just what the hell's going on, instead simply dropping you into the latest pointless skirmish. It doesn't even have to explain what's going on through words, either, although Wonder Momo does have them (more on that later). It could subtly create context by carefully planning out how and when enemies appear on stage. Or maybe it could've changed the backdrops to signal where Momo is in the story. Hell, Wonder Momo could've been a perfect example of telling a story through gameplay and level design rather than through direct narration.

Instead, the game eschews such conventions in favor of the innovative strategy of doing absolutely nothing. Enemies jump on scene apropos of nothing, and none of the enemies are specific to any one level. Hell, an ice pillar could rise up out of the beach and the game wouldn't bat an eye. But that may be because that actually happens. Oh, and speaking of beaches, that's about one half of the levels you'll be playing through. Just beaches and mountains the whole time. No rhyme or reason or story explaining why you're exploring these areas. Just beaches and mountains. In fact, the most sense I could make of the game was the following: Momo is the town alcoholic, drunkenly kicking the shit out of anybody with the audacity to socialize at the many beaches and mountains. Somehow, this leads to Momo toppling a secret military organization. And then the play just ends. Is it because that's where the story ends, or because the audience has long since stopped caring and left the building? I believe that's for us to decide. And I decide that it sucks.

Nobody puts Momo in the corner!

But at least the game has a back-up plan, right? Actually, I'm pretty sure that was the back-up plan. They probably thought that if the game's set-up went perfectly, then I probably wouldn't notice how shallow and repetitive the gameplay behind it really is. Alas, the theater motif has fallen flat on its face, and now, every last mechanical fault stares me directly in the face. The enemies, lurching onto the stage in boring and predictable patterns; the stage design, limiting you to flat expanses of nothing for twelve whole levels; the controls, preventing you from kicking and turning at the same time without the main character suffering an epileptic seizure; the transformations into Wonder Momo herself, leaving the gameplay completely unchanged; I can appreciate the suck in them, one and all. True, there's some fun to be had in grabbing a power-up and watching Momo spin in place like a maniac, but that's not really enough to compensate for all the shortcomings the game has, is it?

Oh, and did I mention that sometimes, the game likes to break up the action just to show you pictures of Momo? Possibly with some commentary on her part that I didn't bother reading? Well, it does, and it's disturbing, to say the least. The pictures get more and more sexual over time, from her just sitting in a field (and erasing the lower half of her body) to what you see above. Why does the game give you these images? Why do they expose more and more of Momo as time goes on? Who the hell can say? I'd guess that it's supposed to be for the sexual thrill if not for the lack of sexuality elsewhere and the lack of any actual nudity anywhere in the game. Maybe it's a look into the "actress's" personal life off the stage? I have no idea. It really just takes you out of the moment and makes you feel needlessly perverted.

But in the grand scheme of things, that's probably the least of Wonder Momo's problems. We still have to deal with much larger problems like the complete lack of a story, the shallow gameplay, the....no, wait, that's about it. Still, those are some severe problems to deal with. As it is, Wonder Momo feels horribly empty and does little to justify its otherwise good ideas. Yes, it can be fun to do things because you're playing for an audience, but that idea alone isn't enough for a strong game. If you want me to stick around, you need to do something with those ideas; something to engage my time and make me feel like what I'm doing actually matters. And no, almost naked teenagers don't count. They never count. Never.

Review Synopsis

  • The Thousand Year Door proved how fun playing for an audience can be; how can it go wrong here?
  • Well, how about forgetting to include a story to make sense of what the hell you're doing?
  • And forgetting to make your mechanics more complex than "kick dudes until there are no more dudes to kick"?
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