It wasn't supposed to happen like this. My plans for Tokimeki Memorial were very different back then. Oh, how I wish I could relive those naive days. "Dating sim? That would be the perfect venue for my snarky pictorial prose." But then....something happened, and....I think it's best if I just show you. Join me as we map my spiraling insanity.
This one's definitely going to be a hard category. I played so many good games in July that you'd think the month was trying to tell the first half of the year to go fuck itself. I mean, we have Metal Gear Solid 2 and its naked cartwheels, Fallout 3 and its rich landscape full of things to kill, Pandora's Tower and that skeleton jar guy thing (the hell was he supposed to be, again), and some other things. However, I'm giving the Best Game of July Award to Terranigma. Great music, vivid graphics, solid action RPG gameplay, and a well told story, it's overall a fitting way to close out the storied history of the SNES. Wait, how could almost all of this apply to Pandora's Tower, too? I need to be more distinctive with these features.
Given the previous section, this looks doomed on arrival. But rest assured, dear reader: I apparently thought ahead. Near the end of the month, a couple of bad games managed to sneak in alongside the higher quality stuff I was just writing about. For instance, the original Shin Megami Tensei, what with its confusing navigation and piss easy boss fights around every corner. But at least that has a redeemable aspect in the form of the world it creates for itself. Harder to find such a redeeming side to Dynamite Dux. That aloof "gun things down" face can't mask the absolute nothingness that is Dynamite Dux. Then again, can anything, really? Besides substantial gameplay mechanics, of course.
Oh, August. What the hell happened? July was so awesome, with Metal Gear Solid 2 and Pandora's Tower and all that other cool stuff. So how do you follow that up? Games like Black Ops 2 and Koudelka and ugh. Not the best follow-up in the world. But that's not to say everything in August was bad. For example, Fire Emblem: Awakening. I think that's enough to qualify it for the Best Game award this month. Little Samson probably would have been considered for this award if I'd actually gone through with my ideas to video review this fucker. But as that never happened, neither shall this game receiving an award of any kind. Hey, speaking of video reviews...
So with not a lot of bad games and not a lot of good games, what does that leave us with? That's right: January! This is what we call progress. One caveat, though: January, as I recall, was clear-cut. Not so with August. The average is 6.7, but two games remain equidistant from this score: Gears of War 3 and Darwinia. It was an easy decision, as I'm giving the award to Darwinia. When caught between two mildly challenging choices, always choose the one you actually like, especially when that option gave you the chance to use a random Japanese word for no reason. (You're gonna....be fairly damn confused when that comes around, now that I think about it.)
This is gonna be a weird category to consider. Rampant alcoholism (you'll understand why in the next section) has wiped out both my memory of this year and my ability to read, but I'd like to think that even at my lowest (not counting this), I had at least a few good games for this category. September, on the other hand, only has two games really worth considering: Killer is Dead and Yume Penguin Monogatari. As good as the last one is (it has the higher score of the two), there's no way I'm giving the award to a game that reifies both bulimia and vore. Instead, I’m giving it to the game that just throws whatever at you and hopes that it all works out. Somehow, it does. Rock on, you magnificent bitch. (For some reason, I’ve always wanted to write that sentence as of five seconds ago.)
What the hell happened, September? We both know that August was having some trouble finding some good games, but at least it was trying. You, however, saw fit to stuff mediocre game after mediocre game down my gullet. Tenchu, Sonic Shuffle, Mario Party Advance....You certainly made it easy for me to choose a bad game. Strangely enough, though, none of those games are quite bad enough to take home Worst Game of September of 2013. That particular honor befalls Onimusha: Warlords. Samurai action game? Great idea! Basing that action game on early, fixed camera Resident Evil games? Not a very good idea. Instead of the grace and precision we come to expect of the honored samurai, we get the plodding inprecision we come to expect of the Star Wars Kid (if the Star Wars Kid was being emulated at half the FPS). Wonderful.
Now this is, by far, the most interesting category of September, and possibly the entire year. (Well, at least the entire year so far.) Why is that? The average score of the month was 6.1, and equidistant from that are three games. That's right: three games are competing for the glory of the least notable game of a particularly unnoteworthy month: Sakura Samurai, Ninja Spirit, and Mario Party Advance. Mario Party's automatically out because it has the lowest score of the three and it's a proud supporter of sick sexual crimes. That just leaves Japan games. I distinctly remember liking Sakura Samurai when I played it, so it's safe to say that it isn't winning this award. That honor goes to Ninja Spirit and its admirable averageness.
Some of you may be confused as to what the hell's up with the banner for this month. What is this game, and why is it so ostentatiously represented? The game in question is Napple Tale, and because it's a game that concerns itself with the seasons themselves, I thought it best to give it all the banner space. And it is for that reason I give it the Game of the Month of October award. Sure, I could have focused on more relevant qualities, like the gameplay (solid), the story (sort of solid?), or the music (so densely packed a solid that it may very well be a black hole), but the mere fact that it managed to overpower the horrid Plant Laika is more than enough to earn an award of some type.
Which is more than I can say for the following game. Something as bad as Princess Tomato in the Salad Kingdom deserves no accolades of any kind, but for whatever reason, I feel compelled to point it out to you. Maybe it's to keep you from making the same horrible mistakes I did. I'm not entirely sure. Now I could ramble on about how it's a logic-based game with absolutely no logic, how it removes items from your inventory just to make you get the exact same ones, or how it looks like MS Paint spewed biohazardous fluids from both ends. However, I believe my most cogent argument came to me while compiling scores for the next category: I looked at Princess Tomato's score, and realized it's the same as Planet Laika's. I'm fairly certain that's a war crime in certain countries. Like mine, for instance.
I feel like I've said this a lot so far, but what a month for average games! In fact, only about two games this month broke the trend of mathematical averageness: the previously covered Princess Tomato in the Salad Kingdom, and Code of Princess. Strangely enough, the second game, despite being distinctive, grabs the average. I know, I know: it's strange how a game I don't remember liking that much is being honored with easily the least memorable reward on here, but there's one thing you have to keep in mind: the average for this month was 5.7. (Blame fucking Princess Tomato for bringing it down.) Code of Princess got as close as possible with a 5.3, so I am bound by math to give it this award. DO NOT QUESTION THE ALL KNOWING MATH.
.........*frothy bubbly noises*......That's my way of indicating how absolutely defeated I feel. (I have to remind myself that this isn't a video feature and that audio/visual gags don't work.) It's like the year just gets continually worse as I go on. I can't even think of a game that's notably good enough to be the Best Game of November. The closest I have is Maui Mallard, but come on. Maui Mallard? Yea, that was an OK game (partially because of how completely strange every last aspect of its existence was), but Game of the November? Is that really all the month has to offer?
Oh, that's right: bad games. Fortunately, this part of the blog is gonna be stupidly easy to write, since I have so very much to work with. No matter where I look, I'm bound to find a terrible game well deserving of this award. Half Life 2: Episode Two. (Be prepared for some controversial blogs, is what I'm saying.) Akazukin Chacha. The Phantom Menace The Phantom Menace. If ever there was a warning sign that I was going to make a horrible mistake, that should have been it. But surprisingly, I found something far worse in this particular month. At the beginning, even. That's right, I'm talking Motoko-Chan no Wonder Kitchen, a game I know for a fact that you've never heard of. It's pretty much Cooking Mama if the titular Mama's kitchen was a meth lab where half the ingredients were disgusting mayonnaise. This being an adventure game, it's a lot worse than you're probably imagining.
And so we come to the ultimate proof that 2013 has just been one downhill slog since about July. No month has managed to surpass the July average of 7.3; if anything, it's been a steady decline from there. November hit a new low at 5.5. Remember, remember, the fifth point fifth of November. Also remember remember how many ties I've had to deal with, because that certainly ain't going away. This time, it's between Daibakushou Jinsei Gekijo and Wonder Momo. I'm digging the bottom of the barrel, aren't I? This might look like a particularly difficult decision to make....
...but I don't think that's gonna be an issue.
Wonder Momo. Duh.
What a way to end the year. For those too lazy to click a musical link every minute, that's not sarcastic. December honestly ended up a great way to end the year. After so many months of crap and mediocrity, I get to wrap up 2013 with some decent games, for a change. The Averagest section will make that especially clear, but I think my choice of Best will illustrate this point just as well: Little Inferno. I didn't have to settle for anything, like I did last month. This game I genuinely enjoyed. How do you get two hours worth of content out of burning things? If I made this game, the answer would be "set a building on fire". Fortunately, the fine people at Tomorrow Corporation instead decided on "intelligent narrative context" and "scathing anti-capitalist themes". This is why I don't make video games.
But alas, there is a downside to a month filled with good games: a veritable lack of bad games. Wait, how's that a downside? A situation like this not only gives me a ton of good games to play, but it also makes choosing a bad one that much easier: Tokimeki Memorial! You know, that famous(-ish) dating sim that wasn't released outside Japan?..........OK, so Tokimeki Memorial isn't necessarily a bad game; it's just an incompetent one. A game centered around romance sounds like a good idea, but math and objectifying dating strategies both damn Tokimeki as a game of poor quality. Especially math. When's the last time you saw math with a fine lady?
We're dealing with sub-Laika averages this month, aren't we? Surprisingly, no. 6.8 is the number to match this month; a marked improvement over the steady decline from July......and the exact same average from January. Spooky. How about we ignore the possibility that I'm living in some sort of Groundhog Day Time Prison and instead focus on the task at hand? What earns the coveted title of Averagest Game of December? Doraemon 3: Nobita to Toki no Hougyoku. It's a game as average as it is obscure, and that's exactly why I gave it a score of 6.8. That way, it's a shoe-in f.......What's that? Penny Arcade got the exact same score? And it didn't even have to try? FUCK IT! Doraemon's the most average game of December. But what about the entire year? Hopefully, we find out in...
I have no idea what the fuck that means. And with that out of the way, the actual awards! A little disclaimer before I begin things proper: this particular part of the blog is gonna be in reverse order from everything else, because I like building suspense. That out of the way? Good. Let's wrap up this monstrosity.
In retrospect, this may not be the best place to wrap things up. Have you seen the averages for the previous months? They're all over the place! What does that mean for the year as a whole? 6.6. It means 6.6. That's three points off the usual average of 6.9. Most disappointing and most unsexy. That probably explains how a game like Steel Storm ended up winning this award. In a way, this feels absolutely appropriate. All I remember about the game is that there's shooting and nothing else. That's all an average game has to be, really: shooting and nothing else. And it is for that reason that Steel Storm wins the Most Average Game of the Year Award. Or maybe it's because that's the only game to get a 6.6 score this year. Yea, that's probably why.
And so we finally come to the end of this feature. Despite all the shit I've had to push through (especially toward the end), there are a lot of great games to choose from. Persona 3 FES, Terranigma, Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance...Hell, I could even choose a game that actually came out this year, like Fire Emblem: Awakening or Pandora's Tower or Project......I can't finish that sentence with a straight face. But in the end, only one game can win the coveted GOTY title: Fragile Dreams: Farewell Ruins of the Moon. I know this seems completely out of ana field, but rest assured that I replayed the game back in January and simply never told anybody. Honest. Now get out there and play Fragile Dreams, already. Your King commands it.
Once again, GOTY season has hit the forums. Everybody's out celebrating the festivities by putting together lists that all look almost exactly the same. Yet each year, I still feel there's something missing from them all. Originality? Oh, hell no. (OK, hell yes, but I'm going somewhere else with this.) I'm talking about a full perspective. Most of the big hitters are released near the end of the year, leaving the rest of the year utterly depressed.
I am here to fix that with my own wacky brand of GOTY celebrations. Last year, I honored the very users of this site; this year, I will honor THE YEAR ITSELF! Rather than go crazy with the categories, I'll go on a month to month basis, picking out the best, worst, and most mathematically average game there. Then, at the end, I'll select the most representative of those and tie things up. Before I get into it, though, let me say that I'll be choosing games based on when I uploaded the banner for a blog, so as to get a more complete (if infinitely more confusing) image of my own gaming year. Oh, and speaking of banners, I'll include a picture from Planet Laika in each one. I find it appropriate, since that's a game where you can collect the fucking months themselves. Besides, I still have all these images eating a hole in my computer, and I have to kill them somehow. That settled? Let's dive right in.
Well, this has already blown up in my face. The first month of the year, and there's not a lot that could fit the best category. Oh, sure, I played quite a few notable games here, but each one had their own fatal flaw that prevents it from claiming this very minor title. Snake Eater has this high school douche nozzle. Typing of the Dead has ironically ironic idiocy. Pokemon Conquest....OK, I don't have many issues with Pokemon Conquest, as far as I can remember, but I do know of one game that deserves this title more than that. Namely, Harmful Park. You know, that super obscure shooter with really cool set pieces and awesome weapons? Did any other game even stand a chance here?
What the fuck? Somehow, I have even less bad games to deal with here. What's going on? Why am I only dealing with an educational Popeye game and a dull beat em up from the early Genesis era? Don't I have anything else? (Yea, I potentially have Golden Sun, but I wouldn't call it outright bad. Meandering and unfocused, but not bad.) Well, hard to complain now. Just gotta deal with what I've got, which is surprisingly easy. Last Battle, definitely. At least Popeye serves some sort of purpose, and I can imagine somebody getting some kind of brief ironic enjoyment out of it. I can't say any of that for Last Battle, a game that I'd say had a bad translation if it made any sense in the original Japanese. So congratulations, Last Battle, for your accomplishment in ass.
So if there weren't a lot of good games this month and not a lot of bad games, what does that equal? That's right: tons and tons of simply average games. I feel like a kid in a store! Or at least I would if I wasn't bound by that fickle bitch known as mathematics. She set the average at 6.8, and the closest game to hit that mark was Snake's Revenge, at....6.8. Setting the mark high, aren't we? Well, at least I can remember this average game, as a Metal Gear Solid game for the type of person who doesn't have the patience to play through a Metal Gear Solid game. Ideally, this would be reserved for a game I don't remember, but who am I to disagree with math?
Alright, now we're getting somewhere. Finally, some meatier games to deal with. Specifically, I get Amnesia, one of two games to convince me that survival horror might be worth it. How, exactly? By focusing on world building instead of gameplay mechanics that have no business being here. But Amnesia, being a survival horror game, never had any chance of winning the GOTM. So instead, I shall bequeath it unto Kid Icarus. What happens when Seth MacFarlane's hired to write a Disney movie? Mildly funny pop culture references. But I'd keep it in Uprising for two reasons: first, it adds some type of charm to the game. Not sure what charm, but there's definitely a charm. Not enough for you? How about some kickass on rail segments and cool combat segments? That should be enough.
This one's gonna be the hard category for February. I mean, I played so many good games in February that it's difficult to choose one for such a nasty category as worst GOTM. But I’m not completely without choices. Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors seems the exceedingly obvious candidate. It’s the Menger sponge of of video game writing in that it has more plot holes than it does plot points. Combine that with leaps in logic that I'm sure set some type of Olympic record somewhere and other such mechanical weaknesses, this has gotta be the worst February game, right? Surprisingly, no. From out of left field comes a pointless South Park trivia game to steal the....what's the opposite of gold? Lead? To steal the lead from 999! I'd say the joke's on South Park, but I don't think it would've earned this spot if it had something approximating humor.
Now this shouldn't be too hard. I'm never at a shortage for average games, and the average for this month is 7.0. I give fucking everything a seven! This should be easy. Too easy, in fact. At first, I was going to give it to Tiny Toon Adventures: Buster's Hidden Treasure, standing pretty at 7.4, but then I remembered Cadash, with a much closer 6.8. That's the mark of a truly average game: it took me some actual effort to remember that it even existed. You're doing God's work, Cadash.
This was a no-brainer. Part of that's because March turned out to be an average to mediocre month for games, but a much larger part is that even if there were better games that month, I doubt they'd be able to complete with BIT.TRIP RUNNER. Now this is a weird game to explain. I mean, describing the gameplay doesn't do it justice (hit buttons when the game tells you? *yawn*), and telling you it looks fantastic makes me come across as horribly shallow. But BIT.TRIP Runner....I don't even know how to put it. It just traps you in the moment and you just never want it to end? It's like rhythm games and platformers had a beautiful orgy, and then the people at Gaijin Games put down the heroin needle long enough to turn that into a game.
As always, I have to go with my heart and pick the most obscure game possible for this category. Sorry, Metro 2033; your poor use of cinematics and overly punishing stealth sections didn't cut it as the worst of March. And I can't remember anything about Zombie Nation and people remember that it exists. So what gets the coveted award? Miracle Girls. You know, that vapid, bare bones platformer where you play as two girls rescuing their friends (presumably)? Well, actually, you don't know, given how stupidly obscure it is. Tis but a sample of the beauty that is Renegade Ego. Anyway, not a big fan of Miracles Girl. Next up:
So if the Best and Worst sections were easy, what does that mean about the Averagest? That's right: I get to sift through a lot of average stuff! Nightsky, Sorcerer's Kingdom, Uniracers, oh the ehness! Where will it end? With math. Remember: this is a math-based category, and this month, we've got an average of 6.6. Aero the Acrobat flies in to snatch the award with its 6.7 score. In a way, it feels appropriate. When you think of the average mascot platformer (emphasis on average), chances are that platformer is Aero the Acrobat. That shall be Aero's legacy: complete averageness.
Well, this is certainly going to be an awkward entry. My laptop was out of commission for a good portion of the month (remember that blog where I posted Norse runes alongside shitty stick figures?), limiting my selection of games for this feature. Want to know what makes this even weirder? I didn't even blog about the game I'm choosing as the best of April. That's right, I'm talking about Path of Radiance. What did you expect? It's a Fire Emblem game, and just whispering the word "fire" gives me a raging erection in anticipation of the emblem. (I should probably have a doctor examine that.) But ignoring that, you still get...well, I just linked the review. Why bother repeating myself?
OK, this seems a tad unfair. Remember what I said about my laptop fan crapping out on me limiting my selection of games for this part of the year? That becomes even more of a problem when one of the categories is based on mathematical averages. Case in point: Ghost Sweeper Mikami gets the award for averagest game at 7.4, just one point off from the average of 7.5. Of course, looking back on it, I wouldn't describe this game as average. I think the level where you're riding atop rooftops by catback elevate this game well past simply average. But math gets what math wants, because math is an incredibly stubborn dick.
Well, this is an obvious choice. It may not appear so to you, since I've got BioShock Infinite and Halo 4 and some other games going up against each other, but you have to keep in mind that I didn't really like BioShock Infinite. However, I did like Halo 4, which is why I have no choice but to give this award to The Walking Dead. Wait, what? Did you forget that I played that game some while ago, too? Sure, it may not have a roster of alien weapons that each serve very similar purposes, or a magic blue lady dividing herself into six other magical blue ladies to take down the bad guy, but it does have a good story. A really, really good story. Sure, half the cast is completely unlikeable (BEN), but despite that, The Walking Dead still does a fantastic job of getting its point across and making sure the game parts contribute to that point, too. Much unlike....
Presumably. I'm not even sure if the worst game here even really has a point, or even a reason to exist. Can anybody tell me why Beauty and the Beast was turned into a video game in the first place? I don't remember the movie lending itself well to any type of game outside maybe a visual novel (less Katawa Shoujo and more Let's Meow Meow), and the fact that this isn't a visual novel should tell you all you need to know about its quality. Which is exactly why I'm moving onto the next section before anybody chimes in with a smartass comment about visual novels.
What a perfect month for average game of the.....month. What I probably should have said is that this month saw an odd abundance of middling to mediocre games. If you wanted a game that technically existed, this was the month to go to. From Magicka to Madoola, Ghoul Patrol to fourth option, this game served all my average needs. But in the end, only one game can hit the average mark of 6.2. Sadly, none of them did, so how about I choose the nearest one: Tomb Raider II at 6.3. What does it say about this franchise that "sort of OK" is considered an improvement?
And so we reach the halfway point of the year. So many memorable experiences these past six month. The great, the terrible, the average....oh, especially the average. Of course, considering that there's still half a year to look forward to, this probably isn't the best place for reminiscence. (Then again, I might as well, since just about everything after this month will be posted next year.) Instead, we must settle the here and now: what was the best game of June? All things considered, I have to give it to Liberation Maiden. It might have only been an hour long, but man, it managed to pack so much action in such a short amount of time that I'm honestly surprised that Persona 3 is gonna win this category, instead. How could I ignore all that time I spent with illustrious characters such as Mass Murderin' Mamoru, Apparently Transexual Akinari, and, of course, Brooklyn Rage? How can anybody?
This one....isn't so obvious. Initially, it looks like Yumimi Mix is a shoe-in for this award. Nobody's ever heard of it, and while I can't name any significant faults with it, I can't sell anything about it enthusiastically, either. Perfect fit until we discuss score. 6.0. That's quite a ways away from the 7.1 average for the month. But you know what's much closer? Assassin's Creed III at 7.3. An odd fit, considering that it contains a story so bad that the title has the word "ass" in it twice, as if warning you of what's to come. But then there's the typical Assassin's Creed gameplay that I actually like quite a bit. Maybe the two balance out into a perfectly average experience? That's certainly something to put on the back of the box.
And that's it for now. Tune in on the 31st to see the rest of this madness.
There's a good chance that this is going to be the last game I beat for the Wii. What else is even left? Dokapon Kingdom? Gri-wait, I still have Grill-Off. OK, let's pretend that game doesn't exist so that Pandora's Tower is the last Wii game I beat. Man, what a fitting send-off. If the Wii is this generation's Sega Saturn (and with all the Wii U/Dreamcast comparisons, it might as well be), Pandora's Tower is the Panzer Dragoon Saga it deserves. Which I guess makes Grill-Off the Magic Knight Rayearth, and anything af...
ANYWHO, the story. There's this white haired girl named Elena who's slowly transforming into a monster, and Aeron, her blonde-haired love interest, is determined to save her from this wretched curse. According to Mavda, a character whose hair color confounds me, the only way of accomplishing this is by eating bloody flesh ripped straight from living beings. And....that's really all there is to the story, but you know what? It doesn't need anything other than that. Yea, the plot's direction is a tad obvious, but it certainly has good reason for going such an obvious route. The game's about Elena, and damn it, they're going to let you know it. You're going to see every last detail of her life and every little quirk to her upbeat personality until you begin to recognize her as an actual person rather than a collection of polygons and pathos. Given these circumstances, it's understandable to feel bad about her slowly turning into something inhuman, especially given how inhuman it ends up looking. "Where's Aeron in all this", you ask? Shit. Hadn't considered that. Well, he doesn't get a lot of characterization, but again, we only get what's necessary. He's got a deep relationship going on with her, and there are ample amounts of backstory and now-story to support that claim. In the end, though, it's all about her.
But what I really like about this relationship is how well it's integrated into the gameplay. No matter where you are, everything you're doing is going to be for her sake alone. I'm lazy, so I'll start with the times that you're actually with Elena. This is when you're going to be chatting her up and giving her gifts and stuff that you just so happened to buy. And these are some expensive-ass gifts (or at least the ones that actually matter are; you don't want to be the buttwipe who gives her a bottle of monster pus, do you?). If you buy her that dress she flings off whenever she starts transforming, you're not gonna have enough money to upgrade that fancy weapon you've been swinging about. I'd say hooray for selflessness, but what affect does this have on your actual gameplay? Well....jack shit, honestly, unless you want to count alternate endings, all of which are incredibly sad.
But speaking of alternatives, what's the alternative approach to this situation? You don't spend time with her and acknowledge her existence? You asshole. All the poor girl has to while the days away is a tiny house in the middle of buttfuck nowhere (the worst part of nowhere) that slowly turns into an oppressive cage when you remember that whole "transforming into a monster" thing she has to deal with. The least you could do is give her some berries you found growing in the middle of a long-abandoned tower. Say, what's going on when you're in that tower, anyway? Well, aside from the occasional cutscene showing you what Elena's doing back at base, there's a clock ticking down, showing you just how long you have until she transforms. YOU CANNOT ESCAPE HER.....WHATEVER EMOTION WOULD BE APPROPRIATE TO THIS SITUATION.
Oh, and remember that meat thing I mentioned a while back? Turns out it's part of a very strong and thorough anti-violence polemic Pandora's Tower works up throughout its story. There's a good reason why all those endings are so sad: you have to do some awful things to save Elena, and believe me, the game's not giving you any choice in the moral status of your actions. Why do you think that the game even uses motion controls in the first place? There's no escaping your fate; in order to save Elena, you're gonna have to rip out a beast's heart in the most gruesome manner possible.
You don't even have the benefit of a defensive argument, at least in most of the weakly explained boss battles. These guys won't attack until you stab them in the eye with your chain, so you're always the asshole who wants them dead for their precious meat. The only exceptions tend to be the mechanically designed bosses, who will have no qualms giving you impromptu gender reconstruction surgery. And when you actually give her the meat she needs to be cured of her curse? Imagine this in motion. It's grotesque, and I love that the game thought it out. But that's not all there is to this story. There are also some political aspects there to round out the world, but that's all they do: round out the world. And turn the people of the land into cowardous assholes, but really, it's only there as window dressing to the main story of young girls and untold violence.
Huh? What's that? You want to talk gameplay? Well, it is a game, I suppose. Sure, why the fuck not? Since I've been talking about chains and using said chains to rip things up, I might as well start with the combat. An odd choice, given how much of it isn't dedicated to the chain. Sure, you use it to get meat and other goodies off the baddies, but a lot of the combat is just whacking dudes with your weapon of choice. There's not a lot to say outside this other than that it's mechanically solid. Pressing the "slice this fool up" button will indeed slice up whichever fool most deserves slicing up, and you're provided enough moves with which to perform this task, so there's not a lot to complain about. Granted, the combat's sticky, firmly locking you in one place after just about anything happens, but that's just part of the charm. It's not hidden from you in any way, so it becomes easy to account for and a legitimate part of the challenge. The only real flaw comes in the form of the motion controls. I realize I praised it earlier, but think about it: this is a 20 hour game built around flicking your wrist. I swear, Pandora's Tower has done worse things to my wrist than masturbation could ever hope to accomplish. It's also made me sweatier, but that's a discussion for another day.
The real charm, though, is in the game's story levels. To a point. Do you recall how I said that the chain isn't the sole focus of the combat? That's because it makes up for it in the exploration. It's put to some pretty cool use as you solve basic environmental puzzles or just swing about the towers like you're in a platformer. Does it make a lot of sense? Not particularly, but that's hardly a concern when you're exploring levels as good as these. Grass tower! Fire tower! Mechanical tower! Fire tower! Mechanical t-I think you can see why I said "to a point". Quality was considered, but variety sure as hell wasn't. After a while, the game just runs out of ideas for tower themes and simply repeats earlier ones. They didn't even get an ice one in! The last two decades would be sorely disappointed in you, Pandora's Tower. Well, whatever. You can always shut them up with your huge environments. OK, not so much in terms of exploration, but in terms of scale, simply dwarfing puny little Aeron. Not only is this generally all kinds of cool, but it lends a lot of weight to your actions that wouldn't be there otherwise, like a David vs. Goliath thing if David proceeded to rip out Goliath's stomach.
I'd continue with some discussion of the game's graphics (they're good), but I think you can understand my message by now (the game's really fucking good). What needs elucidation is context; with all the Operation Rainfall games under my belt, how exactly would I rank them? Well, that's actually a very difficult question to answer, since the two best games in the "franchise" are going for completely different things. Xenoblade's trying on this world-hopping epic adventure with enough gameplay mechanics to fill its utterly vast universe. Pandora's Tower, on the other hand, scales the focus down considerably, working to death on a few story concepts and just as many gameplay mechanics. Both clearly know what the hell they're doing, but for me, the more personal focus of Pandora's Tower means it comes out on top. So in the end, Pandora's Tower barely edges out Xenoblade Chronicles for the first place spot while Xenoblade claps slowly, acknowledging the victory of a worthy opponent. Meanwhile, The Last Story is drinking by a sewer drain while screaming "THIS SADDENS ME" betwixt swigs, not really understanding how this type of thing is supposed to work.
Wow, this game really knows how to craft a relationship. This is a dating sim, right?
A dating sim that would have all kinds of gratuitous violence. It's not unheard of.
And level design ripped straight from 2003.
For those too lazy to play through this awesome game for yourself, here's the ending to Pandora's Tower:
Perhaps it's best to start with a simple description of the premise. We begin with a couple in a field of flowers, when suddenly, the main character's girlfriend is captured by a bubble. I know what you're thinking, but save all questions for the end, because said main character also becomes a cartoon duck. He's then transported across the land to brutally murder whatever fever induced nightmares he happens upon. Somehow, this fixes all the problems I described earlier. Do you see the problem? Nothing makes any damn sense. Sometimes, this results in some fun madness, but for the most part, it's just really, really confusing. Why did putting out this fire summon a magical door? Where did King Penguin come from? Why is Colonel Sanders? I think they were trying to go for an old rubber-hose cartoon atmosphere, but without even remotely establishing any kind of logic, Sega missed the target by a nautical mile.
The strangest part of it all, though? That's the best thing this game has going for it. What else is there? The actual game? Well, there isn't really a lot to describe there. Gameplay consists of steering a cartoon duck through crowds of somethings and killing every last one of them. Or just jumping over them. You don't really stand to gain anything from killing these guys, and there usually aren't enough of them to constitute an engaging challenge, so what's the point of doing them harm? Fun? Ignoring how psychopathic that is, what fun is there to be had in murder? Yes, there are multiple weapons to fuck about with, but I can't imagine that amounting to much, given how similar they all feel. Speaking of similar, all the levels tend to be straight lines, severely crippling any longevity Dynamite Dux is aiming for. Reskinned bosses don't alleviate this situation. Wow, this part of the blog has been negative. Maybe I should list off some things that the game has going for it. Well, it looks good, for one, and....no, that's it, really. I think the verdict on Dynamite Dux just makes itself.
I can't tell if this game takes inspiration from Max Fleischer or mescaline.
Maybe that's all used to mask the gameplay that's lacking in gameplay.
Wait, where did this come from? Shouldn't I be playing Fire Emblem or Pandora'ing up my towers or something by now? Well, for reasons that currently escape me, I suddenly developed the itch for an old first person RPG, and Might and Magic VII is still sitting in the corner, thinking about what it's done. And on top of that, I'm sweatily making out with Fallout 3 right in front of the poor game, whispering, "You know what you've done. You know all too well" in between motions of the tongue.
OK, that got....ridiculously off track. Maybe I should get it back on track with the usual method: blandly describing the story. Washington DC's been blown to hell and everybody's forced to live in giant metal bunkers. After some genuinely warm family moments, your dad says "fuck this" and bails as soon as he gets an opportunity, and it's up to you to chase him down and ask him what it is he doesn't like about the cold metal life he embraced for near twenty years. It's largely a simple premise, and while it works for what it is, I still have a few issues with the execution. I'd say that I can't remember half the cast, but I'm willing to acknowledge that this may be just me. I can remember the non-human characters (and Three Dog) just fine and like what they did, but can't tell you much about anybody outside that limited selection of characters. But speaking of characters, where the hell is mine? I can't see my own feet, I ghost through environments without so much as a single step, and nobody seems to react to my presence when I'm jumping on tables like a madman. I know that technical limitations could go a long way toward explaining some of this, but it's the little touches like these that make or break my immersion in a game. A simple "stop messing up my lunch" would be enough.
But for all the things it messes up, I still have to give it credit for all the things it does right. For one, what the game sort of lacks in memorable characters, it more than makes up for in terms of events. I don't want to spoil them by simply listing off bland examples, so I'll just cut to the chase and say that you get a healthy variety of both lighthearted, funny moments and meatier, serious stuff. Also, a complete lack of emotional dissonance. What the hell does that mean? In this case, that the gameplay and atmosphere line up pretty damn well emotionally. Let's look at exiting the Vault as an example. What do you think a cave dweller's first instinct would be upon seeing the outside world for the first time? Probably what I did in this exact situation: explore every little facet with absolute glee and wonder. But what happens when you end up murdering an entire town of people on a whim? Well, personally, I felt like Badass Supreme after all that, but there's enough evidence in the game to suggest that other people may not have felt the same way. Stuff like seeing a once populated town become just as empty as the rest of the death-laden Wasteland. And it doesn't end with brutal murder. No matter where you go, Fallout 3's going to be one step ahead of you, making sure you only have fun when it wants you to (which just so happens to be a lot of the time).
For me, that was through being the most psychotic bastard the game would possibly allow me to be. It all begins with a character creator where being white is viewed as the default and every character ends up looking 40 years old, despite the incredibly robust amount of tools at your fingertips. Next, we add a stat and ability system on top of all that which lets you speck out your character however you please. And the final ingredient is a moral system that runs the gamut from Jesus Christ Superstar (there has to be a singing perk in there somewhere) to Anti Christ Booed Off the Stage. Bake for approximately fifteen to twenty hours and you have a game that allows you to be just about anything you could ever want to be. I should know; I've played this game twice over. The first time through, I played largely as a goody good saving the world from...robots? I think it was robots. Anyway, the game had no problem with this. Second time through, though, and I was a ruthless psychopath who would bash in somebody's brains for looking at me funny. Or refusing to look at me funny. Really, I just wanted to kill people as much as possible. The game didn't have much of a problem with this, either.
The best part, though, is that the game isn't.....actually, it will stop you from time to time. Sometimes, this takes the acceptable form of "you're not strong enough to murder everybody in Megaton". Come back in a few levels, and at its worst, the game will give you judgmental looks throughout. But then there are those other times when the game comes down with an iron fist and demands that you play the game a certain way. You want to play through the game as some sort of pacifist? Too bad. You're gonna have to kill somebody sooner or later, ya pansy. And while you're at it, pick up a gun. Everybody else is using them, and melee weapons are so tactically gimped that you'd stand a better chance fighting off the Mutants with a limp sausage.
Which brings us to the VATS system, also known as "DEAR FUCK, HOW COULD YOU BE SO GODDAMN PSYCHOTIC!" Who thought it would be a good idea to dedicate a feature solely to liberating people's limbs from their entire being? From a gameplay perspective, it makes sense. It gives you both an endless amount of strategy in each battle and oh so many ways to express yourself in the game. (Well, at least if you're using a gun; apparently, I can only aim a baseball bat "anywhere".) But from a moral perspective, it's downright uncomfortable. Any bullet you fire has a good chance of blowing a person's arm clean off and sending it five yards in the opposite direction. Sometimes, it's downright, cartoonish. I've seen bullets actually lift a person off the ground when they die, as if in sheer mockery of Galileo. Some of you might say that this should make the violence easier to deal with, given its now weaker connection with reality. Try saying that again after watching this. Why, Fallout 3? Why did you have to make the act of killing somebody so incredibly uncomfortable?.....Well played, game. Maybe not in terms of actually playing (as VATS feels like an awkward split between FPS and RPG), but in terms of the sto-
Hold up. RPG? As in "there's more to this game than just shooting dudes"? How the hell could I forget about that? Maybe because it's presented as a first person game where you shoot things a lot, but that doesn't excuse my forgetfulness. This isn't a game that deserves to be simplified. I mean, just look at the world: it's fucking huge. Even within abrupt invisible walls, there's just so much to do and steal and stab. I'd mention that experience and quests and such provide a nice enough incentive to go out and do this, but what more incentive do you need than the act of exploration itself? Why wouldn't you want to bum around a completely desolate Washington D.C, simply drinking in every last detail carefully wrought unto the land? Yea, the main campaign goes by oddly quickly, but given the large open world I just extolled, and the (mostly) unfettered ability to express yourself within it, I'm not complaining. Much.
And did I mention how amazingly good the game looks?......Actually, let's leave it there.
Well, you get to destroy the 1950s, but you can't see your own feet while you're doing it. A strange complaint, I know, but still something that bothers me.
As does the Scanners Combat System on display.
Everything else is alright, though.
Sex joke? Check! Drug joke? Check! Weeaboo reference? Check! I think I've met my quota for today.
It all begins with you plopping out of your mother's vagina. Fast forward eight years (Christ, this is Fallout 3 all over again, isn't it?), and you're bumming around the land of.....let's call it Land....with your dad. And then you get to Reinhart Castle, and everything just goes to shit. Just horrible event after horrible event. But rather than making the game an emotional horror show, they're what make this game good in the first place. First, because there's that religious, saccharine tone there to keep the depression in check. Second, you're gonna feel pretty damn invested in the affairs of Land because holy hell, this game knows how to hold a man's moods captive. Every little iota of detail, each and every minutiae, from the cinematics to the gameplay scenarios, is calculated specifically to suck in your feelings and hold them sway with an iron vice-grip. When you hear this, you know Dragon Quest V has good fucking reason to do so.
Perhaps a stronger example is necessary. How about the very first town in the game? You're going to spend a lot of time here, and with your dad busy, all you can do is explore the town. Comb over every last detail and get a feel for the daily lives of the people occupying the burg of Santa Rosa. And then the terror happens (I could probably write a bit on that alone, if it wasn't laden with spoilers). After escaping that hellhole of a life, you decide to return to Santa Rosa, maybe to forget i-oh dear fuck, this is just awful. Now imagine an entire game that puts this level of work into even the most inconsequential of things. It's about as good as it sounds. I'd say that the gameplay gets in on the action, too, but breaking and rummaging through everything in sight becomes a lot less child-like when you age ten years. More drifter-like, really.
What's that? You want to know about the plot? Who gives two shits about the plot? The only overarching plot-lines are "find the legendary hero" and "find your missing momma", and while the story never loses focus on those two important goals, they're not the real meat the story. Rather, most of what you'll be experiencing are essentially short stories scattered about the world. Often times, they're simple, sparse on detail, and completely optional, but somehow, still interesting in the very brief time that you get to know them. They're like a small glimpse into the insignificant lives of the NPCs populating the world you're exploring. Maybe not to the extent of Dragon Quest IX, yet that shouldn't diminish this game's accomplishments. But side-story or main, you're getting the same stuff: wonderful pacing, a hefty emotional weight, and, outside a few minor bumps, mechanical perfection.
Now if only I could say the same about the actual game parts. Outside rifling through people's belongings to steal all their "medicinal herbs", a lot of the game is spent in and out of battles. Part of this is because that's the main gameplay system; part of it's also because the game is half random encounter by volume; but no part of it is because the battles are in themselves enjoyable. Given how high the random encounter rate is, you're going to be in a lot of battles, but sadly, the system isn't strong enough to support this level of engagement. You get some spells, some items, some....actually, that's really all there is. But all I really did in most of the random encounters was set all my allies to "eviscerate" while I mashed L1 and waited for the battle to end. No mental stimulation or even attention, really; just button mashing until I can just continue with the game. I'd say that it could use some more bosses to keep battles focused, but the ones that are there aren't especially challenging, at least if you stay on top of your healing. Instead, they're just really, really long. I imagine you could complete other Dragon Quest games in the time it takes to beat one of these bosses.
So what do you get instead of boss battles? A monster recruitment system! Sort of! Now in theory, this a pretty neat idea. Look at that picture just above this paragraph. Wouldn't you want to recruit that horrible thing? No? OK, well, no worries. There are tons of other monsters to recruit, all of them not that thing. Now how do you go about getting them? Well, you don't. Enix apparently never made it to that step in development. Just whack the shit out of an enemy (with love, somehow) and hope it joins you. What fun is a gameplay mechanic if you have absolutely no control over it and can't plan for it in any meaningful way? The one neat part of this game's battles, and it lucks itself out of relevance.
So with the battles completely busted, what else is there to do in this game? Look at and listen to it? Yea, that works, especially the latter, but what else? I'd say side-quests, but I can really only remember one: the largely pointless museum mini-game where you gather collectibles to exhibit to people in the most schizophrenic displays imaginable. And outside that, I can really only mention the dungeons. I don't know what it is about them, but there's something enjoyable about plundering their labyrinthine depths for untold treasures. The joy of discovery and whatnot. Hell, it's more enjoyable than the fights littered throughout wait what the fuck did I just say? How poorly does that reflect upon the feature you'll be seeing the most in this game? And how good does the story have to be that I'd still recommend the whole product?
In the blue corner, we have a story wtih a small focus but the tools to make it work!
And in the red corner, we have a battle system that interrupts instead of engages!
I haven't even rung the bell, yet, but the story somehow still won. Go figure.
Wait, what's this game doing here? Well, remember my Snake Eater blog a while back? It was around this time that I started pining for more Metal Gear goodness. I'm aware of how strange that sounds in lieu of me blasting Snake Eater, but keep in mind that I really only took issue with Ocelot. With him out of the picture (or at least not a whiny little shit now), I should enjoy the experience more, right? Surprisingly, that's exactly what happened. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that Metal Gear Solid 2 is the Moby Dick of gaming.
By which I mean it's incredibly dense and hard to understand. (Like one of my blogs. I future stole your joke, reader person.) There are just so many cutscenes in this game and they're all incredibly long and dense with information. In fact, almosthalf the game involves you sitting on your ass and watching things happen. Do I even need to say that's too much? And it's not even like that's a necessary number, because these cutscenes have more padding than a nervous teenage girl. A lot of the dialogue is the characters discussing what types of bullets their guns can use or how their nanomachines can read their biodata or whatever. I appreciate that this level of thought was put into constructing a believable, realistic world (where the Marines are building laser burping metal dragons), but maybe all that information should have been condensed or shoved aside into supplementary materials in the levels or something.
Otherwise, it's just going to distract from all the actually enthralling moments in the story, and believe me, there are actually elements here that are worth checking out. For instance, you get a ton of kickass action moments to help tide you over through all that Navy procedure talk. But more than that, Sons of Liberty has some pretty good points to make. I know what you're thinking: meta-game theme fuckery, right? Well, yes and no. I mean, it's definitely there; it would be hard to deny it when the game's nearly explicitly telling you as much. But sadly, it was not meant to be. A pretty damn thorough understanding of the original Metal Gear Solid is required in order for that reading to hold any water, and since that's a separate game completely outside this one, that's not gonna work out too well. You're just going to risk confusing people who have never played a Metal Gear Solid game, and that's on top of all the other confusing parts about this game. Sure, there's a plot synopsis included in the supplementary material, but from what I've read, it's somehow dense and bare-bones. That has to be some type of achievement.
Fortunately, Metal Gear Solid 2 has other ways of creating meaning. Namely, about how far legends differ from reality and trying to live up to them is only going to end in failure. This is a message you're going to see everywhere in the game, pounded into your head at every opportunity, and not just because of how dense these cutscenes are. It's clear that a lot of thought was put into these themes, and for proof, we need look no further than the protagonist: Raiden. Hot off the heels of ultimate badass Solid Snake, the guy's got some pretty big shoes to fill, and he knows it. Go watch his introduction and then compare it to anything Snake says. It sounds like he's copying Snake's inflections, almost like he's trying to be the legend himself. Predictably, he fucks that up big time. He's unjustifiably smug, egotistical, cocky, incompetent, and overall very abrasive. (Just like me. Am I psychic, future blog thief?) I'd throw in melodrama, too, but that's not exclusive to poor Raiden. Not the Solid Snake you thought you'd be getting, is he? So yes, I'm calling Raiden a bad character, but that's part of what makes him such a good character. I'll give you a moment to clean the nose cum from your keyboard. The best part about it, though, is that the entire game is just spilling over with these types of examples.
The worst part is when the writers lose their iron grip on the writing. No, I'm not talking about Fortune deflecting bullets with the power of smooth jazz or Vamp being Vamp. Yes, that's all incredibly silly, but I feel like Kojima planned for that. What I want to talk about are the things he didn't plan for, and not just about how CODEC calls make no sense for a stealth agent. At times, the plot feels way too convenient, like this scene, for example. To get to this point, I had to check everybody in the room in three second spurts lest the other guard become suspicious. Nice to know he's willing to let Raiden have a conversation with the man for as long as he does. And it sure was convenient that the microphone I needed to do all that was right where I needed it to be just when I needed it. But it's OK, because in the end, this all ends up being part of a plan concocted by Ocelot or the Patriots or whatever. A plan that would have to be executed ludicrously perfectly, given the number of variables that could go wrong (including the one that does, despite the amount of time in which it could have been fixed). And why does an American conspiracy group have a distinctly Japanese name? My point is that the story requires some heft suspension of disbelief in a few areas. Its made even worse by the attention to realism that I previ-
Wait a minute. Aren't I supposed to be talking about a game that you play with your hand fingers? Guess I should get started on that. To begin with, it's a stealth game. A really, really slow stealth game. But unlike all those cutscenes from before, this actually works to the game's advantage. You try plowing through the levels like Sonic the Hedgehog, you're going to get a bullet through your brain and any other part of your body that happens to be exposed. If you want to complete this game, you're going to have to slow down, observe your environment, and generally think things through. Naturally, this requires a lot of patience on your part, but it's well worth it just for that sense of reward you get from completing things flawlessly. But if you do fuck up (and you will), there's still fun in actually escaping enemy fire.
And then there's the tranquilizer gun, which.....actually does nothing to the overall gameplay. Yea, it gets the enemy out of your hair, but not instantly. If you don't put out the enemy immediately (or if you do so when another is watching), Sons of Liberty's gonna come down hard on you for it. So we return to the reasons why Sons of Liberty is so good, making the tranq gun the best weapon in the game. Wait, why do I even have multiple weapons? This is a stealth game; I'm trying to get by people, not outright kill them. Now there are times when you are tasked with killing people, but since Metal Gear isn't that type of game, the end result is all kinds of awkward. You're working from a top-down perspective, cover fire doesn't work (nor should it), and going into first person turns you into a sitting duck. Specifically, this duck. You are not at all equipped to handle direct combat, which makes any boss battle that doesn't use a sword or a Stinger a very strange presence.
I'd probably go on about how the flat skin textures make Fortune look like she's permanently sweating vegetable oil, or how you get to watch women sleeping, but I think I got my point across in as many words as possible. Actually, now that I think about it, my blog's a lot like Metal Gear Solid 2: the writing is incredibly dense and hard to penetrate, with an unlikable asshole at the center of it all, but that's just part of the charm, and underneath it all, there's something worth picking out. But that's not why you read. You read for the precise, methodically paced stealth action you know you can't get anywhere else.
What I'd say I like most about Terranigma is just how aware it is that it's a video game. In fact, you can say just that right from the very start. Our hero's a rambunctious asshole who causes trouble wherever he goes. This doesn't make a lot of sense until you find yourself trying to open a treasure chest that very clearly isn't yours. You see what just happened there? The game knew what you were going to do and worked it into the story. This is the type of thing that's going to pop up a lot in the story. A lot of the time, it's just minor tricks on convention, but there are those glimmering few moments when Terranigma goes for something big, like the most common thing you're going to do in the game.
That's right, I'm talking about the violence, even though I really shouldn't. The game simply waffles on this topic. On the one hand, it makes a concerted effort to transform it from an act of destruction to one of construction (more on that in a bit, though). So hooray for that. But then the game advances, and you find yourself killing the very things you brought back to life. Remember how you revived the animals of the land, player? Well, how about you go kill some wolves. Oh, and these aren't special demon wolves or some shit; they're regular fucking wolves. Terranigma's clear on that, if not on the entire topic. Yes, the thematic structure underlying the game essentially equates construction and destruction as two sides of the same coin, but that just feels like too easy a solution. Maybe it should've been more thorough with its themes of reconstr-
That's right! There's also the reconstruction aspect that I love ever so much. Oh, sure, you also get stuff like fate and nature and blah blah blah, but how many others integrate themselves into the gameplay? Although not the main gameplay element, a large part of the game is simply guiding the world in its slow revival, and arguably, it's the best part of the entire game. Killing something is small potatoes; bring something back to life, and the game makes a huge fucking event of it. Bring plants back to life? Have a fucking awesome cutscene. And that's just the plants. Needless to say, it's a great way to foster a palpable sense of accomplishment, especially given how absolutely huge the world you're restoring is. It also helps that the story throws some cool characters and sad moments (and cannibal goats) your way so as to create a personal emotional attachment to the world you're helping to revive. If you're going to take one thing away from Terranigma, take this: it knows how to tell a story.
And then it gets needlessly political. Take, for instance, the voting sequence in Loire after the death of King Henri. That's already bad, but just give it a second. You get two candidates who wear their political ideologies on their sleeves: one who will bring about the Golden Age of Man and the one who will cause existence itself to implode into nothing. This is especially strange in lieu of the previous section's declarations on how democracy is just so goddamn awesome, you guys, even though one could make the argument that communism is closer to democracy than capitalism is (at least the pure Marxist version that nobody's ever managed to pull off.) But it doesn't end there. The game also goes out of its way to insult Islam and/or Russia (they're combined into one for reasons I don't quite understand) for no real reason. You were doing just fine with the themes of rebirth and reconstruction, Terranigma, so why you chose to add a transparent political dimension to things is beyond me. Then again, that very same racism is probably why there's a skateboarding wizard in this game, so maybe it gets a pass?
And have I mentioned how amazing the gra....you know what? Maybe I should get around to the combat. That's how these things go, after all. You can't be a video game if you're not killing something, and even by those strange standards, Terranigma is damn good. It's mechanically solid. You have a decent variety of moves with which to kill people, and surprisingly, each one has a definable personality and presence to it. Yes, that sounds strange, but it's easy to feel when you're meteor-ing into enemies or putting a ton of holes in them rapid fire style. Granted, it's easy to forget that you even have a few moves (did you know that you can block incoming attacks?), but I'm more willing to take the blame than place it. That not doing it for you? How about some awesome enemies, great levels, and OK bosses? A lot less specific, but it gets the job done, if you're into killing things. But it doesn't always have to be about violence. That's not what makes Terranigma great. It's about bringing life, not taking it away. By the time you see Ark dream his last dream, you're going to feel like you've accomplished something AND be justified in that belief.
The wiki page for this game says it combines the best of Seiken Densetsu and Link to the Past. It's not kidding.
And then it lays that feeling of creation and rebirth on top of it all. Ooooohhhhhh yeaa.......
That not enough for you? How about sewer lions, skateboard wizards, and fucking this?
Feeling thoroughly confused yet? Then my job is done. I'd say this mirrors my own confusion about the disdain that this game garners, but I feel like I have a good understanding of the reasons behind that: it's put out a lot of games in a short period of time (five games in six years) and people are getting sick of it. How anybody could get sick of climbing huge buildings and running around Boston is outside my understanding.
Let it be said, though, that I still have some pretty big issues with Assassin's Creed III. Namely, it thinks it's a movie instead of a video game. You know, because that worked out so well for another A-named action game about the end of the world. OK, so it's completely unfair to compare this game to Alone in the Dark, but the game does hit on many of the same problems that I experienced there. For one, it's probably why the game's pacing is best described as glacial. Worse than that, though, is that any tension or emotional impact the game could ever hope to deliver feels completely and utterly manufactured. Listen to the music swell up as it's telling you that this is an exciting moment, goddamn it. Watch Connor react to huge events like he's been there before, simply because you pressed the X button once. Feeling pretty badass, right? And therein lies the problem: I don't feel badass at all. The game simply strapped me to the rails, force fed me every last little detail, and made it really hard for me to fail. When I do fail, it's more because I didn't do things like you wanted me to rather than through any significant failure on my behalf. True, there are moments when this works to the game's advantage (example), but they're the exception rather than the rule. Hell, the cinematic nature even robs you the satisfaction of taking part in some of the largermoments in the narrative because you, the player, can't be trusted with the responsibility. Instead, you're told exactly how to feel at each junction, and your only role is to press a button to remind the game you exist. But the story it's presenting has to be good to compensate, right?
Wellllllll, no. Not really. It has all the depth of a subatomic particle, and that's ignoring the idiocy of the Hollywood style production. It all begins with the 2012 Apocalypse looming around the corner, which, standing at the tail end of the very year after it, should tell you all you need to know about the quality of the writing. From there, we go to British assassins generally failing at stealth and Native Americans leaping from tree to tree before settling into Hope Leslie if everybody was trying to stab each other. The ideas backing up the story are rather solid and I could imagine them working well if, again, there was some actual depth to the story. Alas, that is not the case. Instead, it’s the villains mostly shouting some variant of "order order order order hedonism", the Assassins retorting with "freedom freedom freedom freedom", and for whatever reason, I'm expected to agree with the Assassins. (I won't even get into how the story subtly sets this all against a racial backdrop for some reason.)
Even more worrying is the corollary that if somebody disagrees with you politically, then it's perfectly fine to stab them in the face for it. Now I know that initially ,Connor's fighting for the more noble goal of protecting his people, but boy, does that lose its focus quickly. And yes, later in the game, this dialogue is fleshed out considerably more, but the core message remains the same: the Assassins are good because freedom. Yet somehow I still sympathize with the Templars over the Assassins. Look at how many people you brutally murder over the course of the game. Think of all the chaos you create in the name of "freedom". Hell, there's a gameplay feature specifically dedicated to starting riots. Who wouldn't want the Templars to take over and put an end to this dickery?
Speaking of the Templars, guess who mercilessly rewrites history to their benefit at every opportunity? That's right! The Assassins! At least that's what I got from how the game treats history. Apparently, every bad thing that ever happened in Massachusetts was all part of a Templar conspiracy. Boston Massacre? Templars. Britain's iron grip on the colonies? Templars. The Curse of the Bambino? The Templars are huge Yankees fans, obviously. But don't worry, because Connor Kenway's here to make it all right by attending every single event of historical importance, from the Tea Party to Yorktown to the signing of the goddamn Declaration of Independence. What's that? It's incredibly implausible that somebody could have a major influence on such large events in a nation's history, yet still remain shrouded in secrecy about it all? You're right!
It's almost as though the writers didn't give two craps about history. That would explain why the Boston Massacre looked worse than it actuallywas, or how Paul Revere wasn't arrested on his famous ride (at least that I could tell), or how the Stars and Stripes is used despite that not being popular use at the time, or when they used the word "shiv" despite it not appearing until 1915. I know that a major aspect of the game is that the history we know is actually a Templar lie, but you can only stretch that premise so far before it cracks under pressure. What could they stand to gain from keeping the word "shiv" a secret for nearly 150 years? Were they in the patent market that might as well have existed at this point, given what's already been established? I'd also mention the wasted opportunities that lie within the story (why can't I play as Ziio? Or super cool Chinese assassin lady?), but I feel I've criticized the game enough for now.
Which is why I'm going to tell you how utterly goddamn amazing this game looks. I'm aware that this plays into the game's problems of not focusing on substance as much as it should, but it's hard to care when the game looks this good. See all the detail packed into those models? It's almost like real life (for as corny as that sounds)! Yea, it never really animates, but how can you even afford to animate something this good looking? Besides, that's not even the worst graphical problem. That honor falls upon actually playing the game. Not to say that it looks bad, but the scene I linked before is a hard act to follow, and the game simply isn't up to the task. It tries, though. Dear god, does it try. Everything looks high def and usually with a smooth frame rate, but the real beauty lies in the world of colonial America. I don't even really know how to put it. There's just this really refined European aesthetic that makes everything a pleasure to look at.
And explore, too. Did I mention that? Well, I should have, because it's my favorite part of the game. Not just because of the world it creates, either (although that's certainly a big factor). There's just so much to do in this world, and the game rewards exploration quite well. There's always the obvious Viewpoints to scale, but if you're not up for that, you're in the wrong type of game. Who plays Assassin's Creed without getting the viewpoints? Yea, the climbing me....anyway, assuming that's not your thing, you can always chase ludicrously out of date almanac pages around like a giddy schoolgirl who climbs buildings for unknown reasons. That not your cup of tea? Then why not help the townspeople with their random problems? Or collect bird feathers, which are apparently in very short supply in New England? Hell, you can even just run around New York and ruin people's lives, if that's your thing. The point is that no matter where you look, there's something going on, and given the sheer volume and variety of tasks the game throws in your face, it's impossible not to find something you'll like.
Of course, if you get tired of the cityscape, there's always the Frontier to explore and hunt in.
Moving right along, there's also the combat looming over the horizon, just waiting to contradict the game's premise. You know how Assassins are supposed to be sneaky and clean about their murders? Well, I'm not seeing it here, because every fight I've ever been in has devolved into a far clumsier re-imagining of the Boston Massacre. Just keep bashing X until you've killed more people than the war surrounding you. It's brutal, simplistic, celebrates violence...and yet has this strange charm about it. Not just in therapeutically hitting a single button over and over, but in the flow of events. It's always very easy to get trapped in a sort of groove in battle, bashing up against one guy and effortlessly brushing off another's attacks. That may be because the game announces enemy attacks with all the subtlety of a penis (can YOU name a time when a penis has been subtle? Exactly.), but that's not of any importance in the heat of the moment. Imagine a gay night club where everybody's punching each other silly, and you have a good idea of what to expect from Assassin's Creed III.
Again, there's more to the game than what I've already listed. There are a couple of rewarding but difficult to control naval battles over the course of the narrative. Desmond hops about the globe from time to time, adding some level of variety to the experience. There's even a mansion to fuck around with, if you're into that sort of thing. Just looking at all that it offers, it's hard to imagine why anybody would dislike this game. Then you realize that it's all glued together with a one dimensional and frankly proselytizing story, and suddenly, judgment of it becomes much harder. I'd still recommend it, though, just so long as your controller has a rapid-fire skip cutscene button.
This sums up the Assassin's Creed III story quite well.
Fortunately, that doesn't ruin the enjoyment of leaping from rooftop to rooftop. Still set to this, for reasons unknown.
Oh, and the combat's decent, too, although I can't imagine a description of it would help.
Before watching this video, keep in mind that it's meant to promote somebody's YouTube channel. Let that horror sink in for a minute.
Believe it or not, this game has some pedigree behind it. Turns out Game Arts was behind this. You know, the guys behind Lunar and Smash Bros.....and Alisia Dragoon. If you make games for long enough, chances are one of them's gonna suck. Fortunately, Yumimi Mix isn't one of those. Sadly, I couldn't understand a lot the language (which is a bit of a problem in what amounts to an FMV game), so I feel it slightly unfair to pass judgment on Yumimi Mix. But that being said, I'm still going to deem it average. Really, really average. The most distinctive thing I can say about this game is that if you have about 90 minutes to spare, it will occupy that amount of time somewhat well.
Now rather than begin with the story, I feel like I should open up with the gameplay, since, well, there's not a lot to describe. From time to time, you're presented with a choice and are expected to make one. Make your choice, see how it plays out, and then continue on with the story. If you're hoping that your choices have some sort of influence on the game, they really don't. Discounting the obvious differences between one choice and the next, none of them really have any lasting impact. Yea, there are three endings to pick, but only the choices at the absolute end of the game really have any impact on that. No, seriously, go check it out for yourself. Makes you wonder why they included that element of the game if it....wait, why is this a game, exactly? If my choices don't have much of an influence on what's going on, then why am I even making choices? It might as well be an OVA with a couple moments that only look like they'd make for an awesome game.
Hey, that reminds me: this game looks amazing....sort of. (Christ, this is just becoming Assassin's Creed Redux, isn't it?) On the one hand, the quality of the drawings is really fucking good. All the lines and colors are incredibly well defined, so everything's just really satisfying to look at. There are a few faces that amount to simple lines and dots, but given everything else the game has going for it, I choose to believe that this is more a stylistic choice than anything else. Just like the lack of animation. Time Gal this ain't. Movement is more implied than actually performed. For the most part, animation amounts to mouths simply opening/closing or maybe the absolute bare minimum animation needed for a scene to work. Not that there's anything wrong with this. After all, I imagine the reason behind the lack of animation is precisely because there's so much art in this game. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that it lends the game this strange charm, like you're playing a manga while twelve year old girls yell shit in your ears. No, this isn't a flimsy justification for Yumimi's motionless nature; it's just something you have to be aware of before you jump into this.
Just like the magical elements in this game, because they're not readily apparent from the outset. At first, you're just helping this middle school girl called Yumimi get to middle school (and seeing her bathe, if that van came with your mustache), and suddenly, magical balls of light. They're just as abrupt and strange as I make them out to be, and it only gets weirder from there. Anne Heche will nuzzle Yumimi's sternum like crazy when given the opportunity, people bathe in Mountain Dew, and horse lesbians exist. Also, whatever the fuck this is. Eventually, though, every last fucked up element makes itself a legitimate element of the world ,decides to mellow out a bit, and reveal their true purpose: imprison monsters in another dimension for just existing. A tad worrying, but like I said, at least it adds purpose and direction to the plot, something that I don't think would be there otherwise. Without Sponge World, you'd just be left with a group of tweens bumming around their local neighborhood. At least this way, you get some cool action moments thrown into the mix, and that's gotta be worth something, right?
Yes, it does. I'm not contradicting my own premises. BUT I will say that they're not the main appeal behind Yumimi Mix. That honor would probably go to the graphics I mentioned before. Move further down the totem pole (which totally exists in this game), though, and I'd have to give it up to the characters. Quite the affable cast we have populating this. I've already mentioned our protagonist and Horse Lesbian Anne Heche, but there's so much more. Sort of Mean Blonde Girl. Keisuke Hiraga. Other Guy......My descriptions don't do them justice, do they? Believe me when I tell you that the characters are slightly more memorable than I make them out to be. Everybody generally puts a lot of genki energy into their performances, and the result is a generally fun experience. Yea, it's a very mild fun, but what more do you want out of a 90 minute experience?
What did I just play? No, I want to know what it is I spent about ten hours playing. It's definitely one of the more terrifying games I've ever played, but that's not exactly a good thing. Planet Laika is what doctors show their terminal patients when they have to explain why the electric bill wasn't paid.
It all begins with a group of space dogs flying off to the military dictatorship that is Mars on a science expedition or to take care of some evil space terrorist or something; I don't know (a phrase you'll say a lot should you decide to play this game). And then this shows up. Do you feel your cerebral cortex slowly slitting its wrists? That's a feeling that will continue throughout the whole experience. A lot of it is simply because of how the game looks. Who thought modeling a dog's face onto a human body was a good idea? And who was it that decided to put bloated man-tits on all that? Or suspend it all in fart space from time to time? And that's just the "normal" stuff; you don't want to know what the game's like when it's trying to be scary. And it's not like the dialogue is any better. There's just something...off about each and every sentence. Nothing's ever explained too clearly, and half the sentences feel like one of the words was changed to something completely unrelated to anything that's going on, thus absolutely destroying any meaning I otherwise could have gotten from that sentence. Sometimes, entire sentences seem to be fucked. Don't try stabbing your eyes to escape this fate, either, because the limited instances of voice work will get to you, too.
And the worst part of it all? IT NEVER FUCKING LETS UP. Not once. Not ever. "But oh benevolent King", I can hear you calling, "Surely, the game must let up at some point. It can't just keep getting scarier and scarier; it eventually has to reach a peak." Oh, how I wish I was that naive. I didn't even show you guys the most horrible parts of this game. Just when you think it couldn't possibly get any worse, tentacle rape. Just tentacle rape. Nothing heartw-OK, to be fair, there are a few touching moments in the game. A few. Hell, I can actually count them all on one hand: April having to deal with Laika's insanity early on and Yolanda recounting how she was there to witness her friend (Laika's mom) just up and kill herself in the bathtub. Yes, even when you're in the middle of a genuinely well written story moment, the game still manages to scare. You will never escape it. But if you still don't believe me, go check out the thumbnails to these videos and point to one that doesn't give clowns nightmares.
I'd say that this would be fine if the developers were aiming to create this type of atmosphere, but that would be like excusing what Jack the Ripper did because it was always his intention to eat some girl's internal organs. But let's assume for a second that the prior premise is true. Even then, Planet Laika fails spectacularly, because I never got the vibe that this is what the developer wanted the game to end up like. There's a lot of dialogue about new avatars and alternate personalities (which everybody seems to have) and the number pi and other such nonsense, which, at first, seems random as all hell. But to a trained eye, there's actually some symbolic value in these plot elements (or at least there would be if they were in any other game than this). Only when the game unloads things like the prophet Jeremiah and the Horseman of the Apocalypse (something it actually getswrong) and all the fucking Christmas motifs lying around the city...only then does it become clear that this was supposed to be a Christian story of ultimate good conquering ultimate evil with a hint of overcoming psychological trauma, or something along those lines. With enough of the 1970s to make Space Channel 5 wet its pants. Strange design choice. Even ignoring that, though, the fact that everything looks like some hideous monster creature means this approach was doomed from the start.
I'm not kidding; the game's sick, demented ethos genuinely makes it difficult for the story to succeed on any level. I can't even tell who's supposed to be a good guy and who's supposed to be a bad guy. For a lot of the story, it seems like Dog Tits is supposed to be an antagonist, but then it turns out he's a victim in all this? Even though he was generally causing nightmare shit to happen all over the place for....why was he doing that, exactly? I remember a lot of dialogue about him living in a nightmare, but that doesn't explain why he was walking on ceilings. AND HOW IS THIS THING A BENEVOLENT FIGURE!? This isn't even getting into all the incredibly weird plot tw....you know what? I could have saved myself a lot of time by telling you that the people behind Planet Laika don't really know how to tell a story. There's not even any hint of a narrative arc. Things just happen because the game says they do, and after ten hours of torture, it mercifully ends.
Now after nearly 1000 words lambasting this atrocity, you may be wondering why I haven't said anything about the gameplay. Well, that's because there really isn't a lot to describe. After an introduction that's pretty much just cutscenes and nightmares, you just walk around a very small world (both in terms of design and writing), talking to random NPCs and battling face aliens. (More on that last part in the next paragraph.) Now because the world is small and your access to it often smaller, you'd think that progress in the game would be fairly easy, since you don't have a lot of options to try out. The answer to that is yes and no. Yes, you're limited in what you can do. No, it's not easy to know where you're supposed to go and what you're supposed to do. Even knowing what the NPCs were saying, I still felt like progress was up to dumb luck.
Perfect example: mid way through the game, a creepy little frog creature wants to take you through the looking glass to meet his God. Why, yes, that God is a horrifying abomination against the natural order, but that's not the point. The point is that he's not gonna let you come along unless you accept Christ as your one true savior (despite the fact that this game is the most cogent proof against God that's ever been conceived). Before I divulge the solution, I have to explain that you play as multiple characters throughout the game. Build up enough psychic energy just talking to people, and you get to become another person. Its true worth is in the narrative, so mechanically, it's only used to progress through the game. Like here, for instance! Can you guess which character you're supposed to change into to proceed? The one whom you've never used prior to this and thus would know absolutely nothing about. Duh! Now to be fair to the game, this does serve an important story function in that it finally introduces us to this fucker. But good fucking luck foreshadowing that in the gameplay so that the player knows how to get to this point!
Fortunately, this isn't the only gameplay that Planet Laika offers you. If it was, I'd be using far nastier words throughout this blog. On top of aimless wandering around and....really, just the aimless wandering around, you get some strange sine wave battle system thing. It doesn't show up a lot, but when it does, it's....satisfactory, I guess? You're supposed to launch a ball of psychic energy at your opponent while also using it to reflect their own shots back at them. It's not terribly complex (I won a couple of the battles by simply holding forward and doing nothing else.), but given how rare it shows up, it's fun for a nice distraction. Some of the more important battles in the game even give you some exposition on the characters' many psychological issues, like Persona 4 if it quaffed everything in the sink and the medicine cabinet. But as I've already elaborated on, that description isn't for the best. Mere exposure to the very concept of this game will result in your brains melting out your ears in a desperate attempt at freedom, which probably explains the level of quality the writing demonstrates. Also telling is how this is pretty much the game that killed Quintet; this was their last game before simply vanishing into the aether. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go shit blood to remind myself that I'm still alive.
Have you ever wanted somebody to combine the visuals of the human characters in Toy Story with all the mental stability of a concussion? Of course you haven't! Nobody has!
No surprise, then, that the story feels like a series of severe psychological traumas barely lumped together under the pretense of something greater.
Space Pong's alright, though.
Hey, look at that: something almost as terrifying as Planet Laika.
Which is exactly why I'm bringing up the past here. Look, after the cosmic horror show that was Planet Laika, I needed a reason to love Quintet again, and this game....splinters the hell out of that. On the one hand, you have a mediocre, meandering storyline that doesn't explain a helluva lot. On the other hand, you have a great action RPG with some cool levels and really solid combat. Pretty damn tough call to make, but the end result is still a good game.
But not a good story, mind you. It all begins with psychic child Will stepping into a cosmic pocket to speak with the spirit of Gaia. Why? How? These questions (and maybe one other) are only ever addressed about nine tenths into the story. But that's the least of Illusion of Gaia's worries. Instead, it has to worry more about a lack of focus. In addition to speaking with the gods, Will is also tasked with finding some Mystic Statues and finding out what happened to his father, a set of tasks he immediately does nothing about. It's hard to say that Will and company ever take specific actions toward this end. More often than not, they sort of just luck out and happen to be in the right area at the right time. Like here, for instance! Hell, I could probably describe the entire game as merely bouncing around from event to event until the pig dies and it looks like the plot's going somewhere, maybe with the odd meaningless choice thrown in from time to time (although I don't have much of a problem with that). I'm not even entirely sure what the message or theme behind the game is. That all life everywhere is precious and connected to one another? That's the best I could come up with, and if it's there, it's only very barely hinted at, development of said message coming at the ass end of the game. It also doesn't really explain why I'm slapping the shit out of sand worms beneath the Great Wall of China......Wait, why am I beating up sand worms beneath the Great Wall of China?
Better yet, why am I giving Illusion of Gaia such a hard time? The characters populating this world already have it rough. After the Incan Ruins level, everything goes to hell for these poor guys. Two youths have to survive a month at sea, one of their friends turns into a giant fish for all of two minutes, a guy gets rejected, and the pig, man. But what good would this be if the characters were all massively unsympathetic pricks? Still pretty good. Actually, I was supposed to say that the characters are all well written enough that this crisis is averted. For one, they all have pretty well defined personalities. You have Kara fulfilling the Ben role of generally being useless to the expedition; the pragmatic Lilly; and the "I think I'm confusing him with Otacon for absolutely no reason" Neil. All their personalities play off each other in an endearing way that not only helps make the more depressing elements more palatable, but also acts as a Febreeze to the musty pile of compost that is the plot. Sure, it doesn't cover up the smell entirely, but it certainly helps.
You want to cover up that bad smell? You play the game; not experience the story. Hell, some of the dumber story moments may get a pass simply because they lead cool places in terms of the gameplay. For instance, the overly linear story creates an overly linear game.......That's not what I meant to say. Even without the option to move about the world in any meaningful capacity, the world still has a depth to it. Levels wind about and curve back onto themselves, but never feel like they're wasting your time. I'd say part of this is because of the puzzles in store, but really, they're a minor factor in the levels' success. More credit has to go to the mere concept behind these levels being fun, because what's there not to like about a sky dungeon where you flip the level upside down? Or exploring the Great Wall of China, only to end up fighting a dumb sandworm for no real reason? And that's not even getting into collecting all the laboriously placed Red Jewels strewn across the land.
Mainly because the time I would devote to that must instead go toward greater gameplay features, like the combat, IE one of the game's main selling points. (The other is just how goddamn good it looks. Who knew that vibrant colors and fluid animations actually went well together?) What makes it sellable is that you get to transform into a dark knight (why?*); what makes it good is that no matter what, you're going to have a lot of moves with which to brutally murder anything in sight, and perhaps with the exception of the Psycho Dash, you're going to use every last one of them. But even without that variety, I'd still like the combat in this game simply because there's a real weight behind it. I know that sounds like a petty reason to like a game's combat system, but it's true. Each stab of the sword will send Will flying toward his enemy and said enemy flying back about a few feet. It's little touches like those that make me want to engage every enemy I come across. The fact that they vomit up stat increases only sweetens the deal.
Wait, why am I beating up these enemies, again? Back in Soul Blazer a week ago, it was because I was rebuilding the world and fighting off moral corruption of the soul. Here, there's really no explanation given for why I'm stabbing slime puddles or why they explode into staircases. And while I'm at it, how do we live in a world where Earthly city and culture exist long before there's actually an Earth as we know it? What I'm getting at is that this isn't the tightest narrative put to pen. But it is one of the tighter gameplay experiences put to.....uh, controller? Yea, sure, let's go with that. If the two were more in sync, half the words would have been "nnnnnggghhhh" or some other variation of a raw sexual grunt. Instead, we've ended up with a game that I like quite a bit, albeit reluctantly so.
Turns out it's because both the knight and the late game fire being are supposed to be the ultimate evolution of man or something. Should this plot point have been introduced far earlier in the game? Absolutely. But is it explored in any real depth in the limited time the game has allotted itself? Not particularly. We're going the Halo 4 route of simply saying that the ideal man is built only to fight, and then just ignoring all the horrible implications of that line of thinking.
Take a pinch of aimless wandering around and add more pointless choices than BioShock Infinite, and you have the story to Illusion of Gaia.
This is in stark contrast to the fairly refined gameplay experience used to string it all together.
Maybe it's because the game is so goddamn brutal that I like it as much as I do. I'd describe the overall premise, but all I need to say is Chickenhead. After doing God does not know what because his existence is proof against God, Chickenhead finally returns, and his mere presence should explain everything that is Hotline Miami. At first, you may wonder what's so wrong with something like Chickenhead. Just look at all the bright colors and fun times he's all about. What could possibly go wrong with that? Just wait. In time, all will be made clear. The grotesque, disgusting, outright shocking reality of Chickenhead will manifest itself, revealing itself for the inhuman abomination it truly is. The same thing applies to Hotline Miami (at least if you bother tacking on a happy ending of sorts), the only difference being I like it. Oh, I'm still horrified with it, but unlike Chickenhead, I like Hotline Miami because I'm horrified of it. It's like the game slowly becomes aware of how horrible it truly is and begins adjusting its scenarios to reflect that grim reality, twisting itself into a cruel parody of its very concept. Gleeful mania warps into hollow violence, and guilt-inducing NPCs transform into...well, guilt-inducing NPCs. A little awareness goes a long way.
But that doesn't mean the gameplay can't be.....actually, fun may not be the right word. That would create the strangest dissonance imaginable. For what it's worth, though, the game does a good job of getting you into the mind of a killer. Each level presents you with the same goal: murder every single living thing that just so happens to be in the same building as you. If that sounds simple, that's because it kind of is. But that's OK, given how well it's all pulled off. The majority of your weapons are going to be melee (largely because guns are about as stealthy as a sonic boom), so invariably, you're going to get this very primal feeling from each of your kills, watching your opponent crawl away before you jam your fingers in their eye sockets and introd......As I was saying, this is a very good way to get you thinking like the protagonist, especially when you jump from one target to the next, just bashing heads in, one af.....I think you get the point.
And then you die. What? You thought death only applied to other people? It's going to apply to you, too. This is a pretty difficult game, and you're going to die far too many times to count. Some aspects of that difficulty may feel cheap, like enemy weapons being randomized each time or how enemies don't attract attention when firing their own guns, but for the most part, it's handled really well. Despite what the game tells you, it helps to plan things out. Each stage has its own kind of flow to it, and if you don't know what that is (after playing the level again and again and again), you're not going to succeed. At first, this may seem antithetical with the game's appeal, since it forces you to stop and think things through, something that wouldn't exactly fit with the spur-of-the-moment murder motif the game has going for it. But then, you realize that none of that fucking matters. You're still getting that instantaneous killing streak that makes the game so strong, only with a mechanism attached that rewards skill and thought. Without it, you'd just have a thoughtless hack and slash game, and that's not at all what Hotline Miami is about. There's some actual thought put into this game, and really, it's the thought that counts. Non-ironically, of course.
CHICKENHEAD! WHY MUST YOU TORMENT ME SO!?
Still, for all the poultry horrors that this game contains, it at least throws you a solid combat system.
And with an element of strategy! What more could you want?
I've only now just realized that this is one of the few contexts in which my choice of font makes sense.
You know what Super Mario 64 could have used more of? High pitched crappa.
What? This is an addendum to last week's blog, wherein I spent far too many words talking about magical teenagers, so I thought this would be a good time to revisit a game from years past. To that end, I played Soul Blazer, a game that is sadly not about a magical article of clothing that imbues its owner with the power of African American music, but a dungeon crawler from Quintet, a company named such because only about five games in their entire library are worth remembering. (I guess they'd be ActRaiser, ActRaiser 2, Soul Blazer, Illusion of Gaia, and Terranigma. Maybe Robotrek should I ever get around to playing it.)
I originally picked it because I wanted something that would line up well with Hotline Miami, but then I realized how incredibly little these games share in common. You know how Hotline Miami is as absolutely psychotic as the laws of nature will allow it to be? Well, Soul Blazer tones that way the hell down and adds a dollop of Christianity on top. Somehow, it doesn't suck as a result of it.
I'm guessing that's because it knows how to put it to use: creating a sense of accomplishment and some small sense of emotional bonding rather than in addition to beating you over the head with religion. Here's how things unfold: God digs up a corpse and puts armor on it (that's my explanation for your ghostly white skin), and then demands that said corpse revive the world. What caused the end of the world? And why doesn't God get off his lazy ass and do the work himself? Shut up. That's not the point. It's that you're an active agent in reviving the world. This may not sound like much, but it sure does pay dividends. Every little thing you revive has some sort of voice and personality, and some of them even have a short little story, almost like you're returning life to the world. Naturally, you're going to feel invested in at least a couple of these stories. Granted, it's not much of an investment, but for what it is, it works quite well. This is especially considering the sense of accomplishment that you get from reviving the world. Who knew that adding life and personality to your world would grant you some feeling of reward in bringing it all back to life?
Sadly, this level of thought and care isn't entirely present in the scenario design. Fortunately, I couldn't give two shits about that, because the levels are fun in spite of that. It's amazing how many cool levels this game has. It's hard to name a single bad level in the game. For instance, what do you do after exploring a painting? Bum around a swamp temple, of course! And why not throw in some reindeer skeleton monsters, while we're at it? But the best part of the game has to be Dr. Leo's lab. After finding out both that he's a hoarder and that the things he's hoarding all have a voice, you head into his basement and slash robots to death (to some pretty bitching music, to boot). After enough of that, it's off to toy town, which probably has to be the best part of Dr. Leo's lab. It's like somebody combined Through the Looking Glass with Godzilla and then threw a sword into the mix. Now imagine an entire game just made up of these levels. What more could you want out of this game?
Maybe decent gameplay. I know that sounds strange coming hot off the heels of a paragraph lauding Soul Blazer's levels, but here's the thing: while the scenarios that make up the levels are fun, actually playing through these scenarios really isn't. Here's how just about every level in the game unfolds: you find an enemy spawning circle and bash away at the enemies that march forth from it until the game decides you've done that enough times. Repeat that approximately 400 times, and you have the Soul Blazer experience. Does that sound like it gets repetitive? Well, it does, very quickly, and it only gets worse when spawn points birth other spawn points. That's not legitimate level design, Quintet; that's just incredibly lazy.
In fact, that's probably how I'd describe some aspects of the game. Take, for instance, the enemy AI that I could probably program. It's all something like "just mill around a bit" or "track player position and then move there." Not terribly complex or engaging, is what I'm saying. Same goes for the boss battles, wherein the challenge is less in figuring out their pattern and more executing on that. And have I mentioned the translation? Because it's definitely an artifact of its era, overly literal in some places and strangely typo'd in others. Sure, all of these features are inoffensive and perfectly functional, but they're not the reasons you come to Soul Blazer. You come to Soul Blazer because ActRaiser didn't have enough dungeon crawling for your tastes.
What could be better than bringing life back to a dead world so in need of revival?
How about fucking up some toy soldiers?
Too bad the gameplay holding it all together is all kinds of eh.
Well, this is certainly going to be awkward. For those of you unaware as to why, allow me to elucidate. A while back, I started this screenshot thread for Persona 3 in the hopes that it would quell my F8ing habits. Clearly, that hope died a prolonged death in a rainy ally, all alone, nobody to comfort it in its most terrifying moment. Fortunately, the fear that I've wasted my best material in that very thread, leaving this blog a hollow husk of words desperately trying to convey my enjoyment with this game, is only lying in a hospital bed somewhere while doctors poke it and scribble down its responses to being poked. Let's see if I can write more words than I took screenshots.
Now where the fuck do I start with this game? How about the pacing? Yea, sure, why not start with the hardest possible aspect of this game to describe? The story begins with local psychopath Brooklyn Rage riding into a town of afro-headed beasts and girls who consider suicide a hobby. Soon, he finds himself with an amazing power that essentially turns him into Japan's magical Batman, protecting the streets of Gekkoukan from the monsters of the night. Of course, by "soon", I mean "over what feels like a long period of time", because returning to my original point, the pacing is...weird? If you measure out the events in the narrative day by day, then this game slows to an absolute crawl. You're lucky if you get a major event every two months, at least in retrospect. I added that clause because it's very easy to feel like things are going really fast. Maybe not at first, when the game's easing you into its primary concepts, but give it time. Soon, Social Links and special events and other such things will have you feeling rushed cursing the name of Chronos as you demand more time for so many disparate events. Yes, it plays into the game's messages about time constantly moving forward, but.....actually, there's no end to that sentence. I just like that aspect of the pacing.
But ignoring that and considering the flow from event to event, Persona 3 ends up....still kinda slow. At almost any point in the story, you feel like you're in preparation for something bigger, even when the events that you're already experiencing are pretty big. This may be because the writers have the attention span of an excited cat, jumping to one shiny plot point only to abandon it just as quickly for the next. Uh oh, looks like Junpei's developing an inferiority complex about being a deuteragonist. Want to know how that's going to play out? Too bad. We're on Ken's introduction to the team. But not before we get to see what Akihiko's up to with his old buddy Shinjiro. It's a really disorienting approach to storytelling that leaves the overall product feeli-
Wait, why am I talking ill of the story? It's probably the best part of the game. Hell, I don't even know why I'm speaking ill of the pacing, because there are a couple of aspects of it that I really love. Namely, the plot twists. I know it's strange that a game like this can move so slowly and still catch you for a loop, but it's hard to deny that Shinji's death and Ikutsuki being a villain for all of twelve minutes and other such twists were predictable. At the same time, they fit really well into the overall story and take it in some interesting directions. And did I mention that Persona 3 really knows how to work over your emotions when it really wants to? It's almost like the developers knew what they were doing with this.
In fact, that's probably why I like the story so much: Atlus really fucking knew what they were doing with this game, as it displays a thematic focus and clarity that you don't see terribly often. Time moves forward for us all. Always look toward the future instead of wallowing in the past. Figure out a goddamn reason for living (or fighting, if you're a high school girl with mommy issues). You are going to see this message plastered absolutely goddamn everywhere in the game, from the high school kids who turn suicide into a superpower to the Christ allegory with a gun. Yes, it sounds incredibly forceful, but fortunately, the themes are worked into the story quite naturally. The story's easy enough to enjoy without examining its messages, and the game lays out its logic well enough that it never feels like the messages are strained or overly proselytizing, so it's quite clear that the writers put a lot of thought and effort into their end product. The only part I think they really overlooked are the Full Moon operations. Maybe you shouldn't have characters breaking the law on a whim because they're special and unlike everybody else, especially when half the characters are fucking psychopaths. (Do I even really need to explain that one?) Other than that, though, Persona 3 has the big picture thoroughly figured out.
It's just that in the smaller details, the story doesn't hold up as well. For instance, the Dark Hour, a mysterious time that opens up between midnight and the exact minute after midnight. Only a select few can access it, even though logic dictates that absolutely goddamn everybody should be aware of its existence. It's not taking place instantaneously; this shit occurs over the course of a full minute. How is somebody to ignore people moving around 60 times faster than normal? You can scream "transmogrified" and "Tartarus" all you like, but scenes like this and this and this kind of take the validity out of those arguments. That's not even getting into how physics work in this mystery realm, maybe because the game just makes crap up as it goes along to justify minor leaps in logic. I'd cite a few more examples of this nit-picking, but they involve some hefty spoilers, and for all the complaining about the story I've made in the past few paragraphs, trust me when I say that I want you to experience every goddamn word of it.
Because aside from the other reasons I've already listed, there are some really damn good characters to be found in this game. It may not look it at first, though, when half the characters are brutalpsychopaths and the other are average to unlikable, but give it time. (Maybe midway through, when the game just decides to dump a slew of characters right in front of you.) You're bound to find somebody you like. It would be very easy to write this off as being due to the sheer volume of characters on display, and while that's definitely a major factor in their success, I'd say the writing's also a big component of it. Every character has their own memorable quirk or two and all the problems the characters have are easily to relate to, so it's easy for the game to move your emotions where it wants them to go. After all, who hasn't lost a dear friend or had an extremely possessive girlfriend? Even characters I didn't really like in the first place, like Yukari and Junpei, get their own redeeming nuggets in the story. The only exceptions are Keisuke the Clingy Sexist and Ken the Generic. But still, that's only two characters out of a cast whose size would make your average Suikoden game blush. What more could you want?
How about a feature whose sole purpose is to expose to more of the characters than you'd simply find in the story: Social Links! I've already discussed what makes the characters work, so that leaves only the actual mechanics to discuss. Within a Social Link? Piss easy! Just grab a matching Persona for the person you want to Link (preferably a high level one that you can fuse into something worthwhile later) and then remember to be polite and agree with every goddamn thing they say in the cutscenes that follow. And even that's not hard; most of the choices you're offered boil down to "Should I say that I'd like to hang out with them or urinate on their shoes?". You really have to go out of your way to fuck up a Link while you're in it. Outside it, though? That's actually very easy to fuck up. There's just so much to keep track of. Conflicting schedules, personal condition, tests and other such gaps in time, reversing. Don't get me started on the reversing (although that might be because it only happened to me once.) Quite a bit of the system is based on luck, but so much more of it is based on simply being aware of how the flow of time works in the game that it feels like the game's presenting you with a fair challenge. If you're somehow able to max every Link in the game, then you probably have more important things to do with your time, like maybe taking care of that impending Dalek threat.
But story and characters are only one half of the Persona 3 experience. An incredibly large half resembling Pac Man, but my point is that there's more to the game than what I've already listed. Namely, running around Tartarus and beating shit up. It's a nice, simple way to blow some time for a variety of reasons, like clear time limits, how the game encourages constant grinding, and the fast pace of the battle system. Sadly, though, another big reason is that the battles are ridiculously simple and easy. You only control your own character (more on that in a bit), and coincidentally, they're the only one allowed to use multiple Personae. Combine these two statements together, and every battle results in you spamming whatever elemental weakness is needed for the moment and watching the enemy flounder about. It's even worse if you've scanned the enemies before and have quick access to what their weaknesses are. The only reason you'd let your allies handle things is either because the mechanics back you into a corner or because you don't want to blow your SP load too early. Oh, and I guess there are also fusion spells thrown into the mix, but given how incredibly difficult they are to stumble across (I only found one on my own), it's best to treat them like an afterthought instead of a full-fledged feature.
What's that? Having AI partners whom you can't control adds an element of strategy to the mix? Well, discounting what I just said a moment ago about the other party members being accessories instead of full fledged partners....nope, not really. In order for this to be true, there would have to be a need to change how my allies behave in battle from time to time, and for the most part, that simply isn't true. They can handle themselves just fine and adjust their own behavior as they see fit. (Though I should acknowledge that exceptions arise near the end. Mitsuru will decide to murder anything within 95 billion lightyears of her sword, and Koromaru will ignore any elemental weaknesses just so he can play with his shiny knife.) It's good that this level of behavior was programmed into the various characters, but it removes a lot of incentive for me to play around with the various AI commands the game gives you. Have I made it clear that strategy isn't Persona 3's strong suit?
Meta strategy, on the other hand, is something this game has in spades. Not an easy thing to accomplish when your entire deck is full of wild cards. Before even picking your party members, you have to be completely aware of their strengths and weaknesses. Same goes for your own weaknesses. Did you make sure that the Persona you just pulled out isn't weak to spells the enemies are casting? Or spells that you can cast (reflect is a bitch)? Because Persona 3 isn't the type of game to let you off lightly. Screw up even a little bit, and the game will bring the mighty hammer of Thor upon you to teach you not to slack off. Sometimes, you don't even need to screw up; the Reaper will still take your mortal soul away for all time. But if you actually put in the work and learn how things work, and you'll be rewarded with....well, those things I listed in the last paragraph. Believe me: it's better than I put it, especially given the strategy just oozing from every single hole this game possesses. Hell, even something like the All Out Attack requires careful consideration. Is it really worth it to damage all these guys when you know it'll knock them right back up?
And while I'm complimenting the game for a change, I might as well bring up the many gratifying boss battles. Those things I said before about the lack of strategy or AI commands? That's all gone. Combine the considerations for party strengths and weaknesses I talked about in this paragraph with the improvised strategy I kinda wish was present in the last paragraph, and you have this game's boss battles. This isn't even counting the scenario design of the fights. It's hard to forget something like a naked train lady or the wheel of fortune or the New York Knicks.
And while I'm "and I'm while"ing, how about I mention the graphics? For you see, this game's look is.....well, it's like the pacing: hard to describe, but I'll still fit in some really nasty things to say. Not about the actual game parts, though; those look fantastic. No, I'm talking about the anime cutscenes. The billions upon billions of anime cutscenes that, more often than not, look like crap. You want barely animated mouths? Here you go. How about faces with a glaring lack of detail? We have those in droves. No detail? That's here, too. Yes, there are some moments that look really well done, but they're just that: temporary fleeting moments awash in an ocean of bare designs. The music's alright, though. Has a modern sexiness to it that's hard not to like. (I know what I said.)
Unlike The Answer, apparently. Nobody seems to like that. Well, nobody except me, apparently. Yep, turns out I genuinely like The Answer inside and out. In it, we get to see how the various characters we've come to know and mock respond to the loss of a dear friend. You know, something the original game never gave itself time to explore in any meaningful depth. Surprisingly, it also delivers something that The Journey already has in spades: character development. How's that supposed to work when you're dealing with set characters whose pasts and foibles and whatnot have already been explored in depth in a story the game outright expects you to have played beforehand? Somehow, it finds a way, and for at least a couple of the characters, it works out really well. Who knew Ken could have something approaching a character? Because while he doesn't seem to have it when he's yelling about his mom, he certainly has it when he's yelling about his mom. Yea, maybe it drags on for a bit too long (blame Yukari for that one) and the conclusion could have been neater, but overall, it's a worthy addendum to The Journey that fulfills its role respectably enough.
Maybe it's the gameplay none of you liked in The Answer. After all, I can understand anger aimed at erasing all that progress you made over the 100 or so hours in The Journey, despite the game having clear access to your saves from it. That's difficult to justify, which probably explains why the game tries so hard to do just that, at least early on. But at its worst, this is only a temporary issue that resolves itself quickly. Soon, you're bumming around the halls of Tartarus Basement Sand World, enjoying Persona 3 all over again. There's just one small change: the bosses are balls hard. Unless you're well prepared ahead of time, expect to have your ass kicked hard and any victories to be prefaced with the word "barely". But the key phrase in that last sentence was "well prepared ahead of time". That's what makes The Answer's bosses fun: they force you to be aware of your own elemental weaknesses and whatnot. After getting killed once or twice, you're going to head off to Igor to fuse away your faults, and then you're back off to battle, configuring your party just so and hoping everything goes as planned (IE that your partners' AI doesn't go rogue on you, because that's something of an occasional problem). There's a tangible enjoyment to working out how to take these guys down (both in and out of battle), and finally beating them only multiplies that level of enjoyment.
So the story to The Answer is alright, and the bosses in it are all kinds of fun. Where does the malice for it lie? Perhaps we can find out in the billions upon billions of notes I took for the game. Because this blog isn't long enough, I'm going to explain why exactly it's so long: 160 goddamn notes. The record holding game before this just so happened to be.....Persona 4? I guess this kind of thing runs in the family. Although looking back on that blog I just linked does raise some interesting thoughts. For instance, my prediction of 2014 was only off by a couple of months. Well done, past me. But more worthy of investigation is how my Persona 4 blog could have been longer. Does that statement apply to this? DEAR GOD, I HOPE NOT. I already feel utterly crushed under the sheer volume of words I just clacked out. There's no need to add more wood to the bonfire. In fact, how about I end things here before my hands rebel against me and try to squeeze my brain out of my head?
How is it that such a strangely paced tale could be written so well?
And how is it that a lot of the battles devolve into spamming weaknesses, but they still have strategy?
And the graphics....OK, those anime cutscenes suck. But at least there's The Answer.
OK, you know what? Fuck it. This is a Renegade Ego first: I'm ending the blog early. It's just way too goddamn long. At over 3000* words, it's only a few words shorter than my Sonic CD blog. If I made a video review of this, it would last over twelve fucking minutes. Persona 3 should be enough to generate discussion value, so tune in next week when I cover...something else, I guess.
*Holy shit. I just realized that this is actually less than the number of screenshots I took of the game. Not even Edgar Allan Poe could write anything as horrifying as that realization.