Entirely adequate summer games (and other fantastic uses of time and money)

Avatar image for arbitrarywater
Posted by ArbitraryWater (15162 posts) -

So, August huh? Welp, shit. There goes my summer. I guess I could tell you about video games that I’ve played, or something.

Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc

I like to play video games to play video games. And also read text boxes.
I like to play video games to play video games. And also read text boxes.

One of the reasons I haven’t written as many video game blogs in 2017 (aside from the usual issues of life, school, work, a lack of motivation, etc.) is because I’ve been spending my ever so precious time watching far too much anime. Before this year, I’d probably best describe myself as a “casual” fan of Japanese Cartoons, occasionally dipping my toe into the pool here and there with a small handful of series per year. However, for whatever reason I’ve gone all the way down that dark hole this year and am unlikely to emerge unscathed. I’ve seen suggestive toothbrushing, dubstep body horror, two very different light novel adaptions about some otaku loser getting stuck in a generic fantasy world, and a significant amount of Gintama, to name a few. I might eventually write something about this act of self-ruination as part of one of my end of year blogs, but I’ll spare you the details now lest you come here for all of the hot takes on video games as long as those video games are ancient CRPGs, old Resident Evil, or Fire Emblem.

Okay, I lied. Danganronpa is a visual novel, which is like an anime except with more reading and sometimes you interact with it. It is also not an ancient CRPG, old Resident Evil, or Fire Emblem. I sincerely apologize. It's about 15 anime teens (the decidedly bland main character and a bunch of quirky weirdoes such as “Rich Asshole Guy,” “Mysterious Cool Girl,” “Girl who dresses all Gothic Lolita and speaks with a vaguely French accent,” and “Basically Chie from Persona 4, but she’s obsessed with doughnuts instead of meat”) who are all trapped in Hope’s Peak Academy by an evil robot bear named Monokuma. They are free to stay in the school as long as they want, but the only way to escape is to murder someone and get away with it. To get reductive, it’s the murder game aspect of something like a Battle Royale crossed with the investigation and trial segments of an Ace Attorney and the social interaction of something like Persona. As previously mentioned, I’ve watched a lot of anime recently, and if that premise doesn’t sound like the most anime-ass shit out there, then I don’t know what does.

My anime watching habits, summarized.
My anime watching habits, summarized.

In a gameplay sense, most of Danganronpa is spent reading through text. Generally you’ll have some time to hang out with the other students for a bit between large story sequences, before someone is inevitably murdered and you proceed to investigation (which consists of clicking on everything and sometimes talking to people) and the class trials. In a seeming attempt to distinguish itself from Phoenix Wright and include “actual gameplay”, the trials are a little more active, dramatically requiring you to shoot “Truth Bullets” (i.e. Evidence) at the statements they contradict while the discussion plays out in real time. Sometimes you need to use one statement to contradict the other. Sometimes you have to shoot around “white noise” that blocks the bullets. Sometimes you have to play hangman or a rhythm game. It’s tolerable, but never feels necessary or engaging, and I’m half-tempted to turn everything down to easy when I play Danganronpa 2 just so I don’t have to deal with it.

Needless distractions aside, the writing and story are what matters in a VN, and in this case I think both of those are solid. There’s a bit of a Lord of the Flies or Werewolf vibe to the entire thing, with an increasingly paranoid cast alternating between trying to cooperate and being at each other's throats. While I ended up correctly guessing most of the mystery behind the cast’s confinement pretty early on, the game still does a good job not telegraphing most of the individual twists and turns. There’s a weird juxtaposition between some of game’s more stereotypically “anime” moments (including a bit where you peek in on the girls when they’re bathing because fanservice) and the unflinching brutality in which it executes its premise. Special shout-out to the ending, which is deliciously ambiguous and messed-up in a way I can fully get behind. It’s pretty good.

There's also what is basically a clicker game that you unlock after finishing the story. It's a neat way of letting you do all of the social interaction stuff you missed.
There's also what is basically a clicker game that you unlock after finishing the story. It's a neat way of letting you do all of the social interaction stuff you missed.

But is it great? Honestly, I don’t know about that. Aside from the actual act of playing the game, I have a couple of qualms. It took me around 15 hours to finish, which felt a little padded. The school doesn’t really need to be a fully explorable environment, and I don’t really need the characters to re-summarize information that was just presented 10 minutes ago. Speaking of the characters I… don’t think I liked most of them. Maybe that’s by design, since like half of them end up being murderous sociopaths or intentionally annoying, but only a fraction of the ensemble ever really develops beyond their initial archetype to anywhere interesting. It should also be mentioned that there’s some anime-ass English voice acting. That’s not so much an insult as it is an acknowledgement that there isn’t a whole lot of nuance or subtlety going on alongside the occasional dubious line-read. It was effective enough for me, as someone with a very loose preference for dubs over subs, but it was also enough of a thing that I felt the need to mention it. You have been warned.

Even despite those (mostly) minor gripes however, Danganronpa was definitely a weird thing worth my time, even as it also represents yet another step in my inevitable descent to anime hell. I’ll likely play the second game before the end of the year is through, and I’m interested in seeing how it compares.

Horizon: Zero Dawn

Still a bad title!
Still a bad title!

It’s a testament to the strength of Horizon’s premise and finely polished gameplay that I still mostly enjoyed it despite the part where I’m more than a little sick of the kind of game it is. I could go on for a while about my disillusionment with the modern AAA open world action game, but I’ll keep it brief because I don’t really think there’s much to be gained by me complaining about how much I never want to climb another damn tower for multiple paragraphs. It’s not a grudge against open worlds, per se, so much as it is my dislike of using open worlds to fill your game with a lot of C-grade filler content, superfluous upgrade systems, and bad mission design. It was around two years ago when Dragon Age Inquisition and Far Cry 4 broke me on a lot of that stuff, and barring a couple of noteworthy exceptions (The Witcher 3) I haven’t fully recovered since. For all of its quality of execution, Horizon doesn’t break that mold. It’s unfortunate that no amount of robo-dinosaurs or quality world-building shifted my perception, but I liked it enough to beeline through the main quest after the halfway mark. That counts for something, right?

You’ll note that I said “premise” and “world-building” when applying praise to this game, rather than “story.” Horizon has a pretty straightforward video game plot told effectively and uplifted by quality writing and voice acting. It’s only when you add in an attention to detail in the post-apocalyptic tribal societies and the bonkers insane exposition dumps explaining the nature of the world that it becomes noteworthy. It’s not exactly Planescape Torment, but for a pulp tale about a bunch of superstitious tribals fighting robot animals it’s far better than it has any right to be. It’s a little disappointing that the best parts of Horizon’s story involve the player spinning Aloy around in circles as you listen to audio logs detailing things that happened centuries prior, but the smaller arcs that make up some of the sidequests and main quest were good enough to keep me interested. It’s also worth praising the simple fact that Horizon sets up and resolves a mostly self-contained plot in one game, with only the briefest flash of sequel bait after the credits. That’s a low bar, and maybe I’m a little cynical. However, I could easily envision an alternate reality where some of this game’s crazier plot revelations are teased out over the course of 2-3 games.

I found Aloy's constant bemused snark in the face of superstitious tribals to be a little much at times, but she's still an enjoyable character (even if she doesn't make a whole lot of sense if you think about it too much)
I found Aloy's constant bemused snark in the face of superstitious tribals to be a little much at times, but she's still an enjoyable character (even if she doesn't make a whole lot of sense if you think about it too much)

The actual game part of Horizon is… well, it’s basically a better Far Cry. If you still like Far Cry, I bet you’ll enjoy it even more than I did. I mentioned some of my issues with the Ubisoft open world template, why I don’t really feel a huge desire to do things like use Batman detective vision to follow tracks or clear out bandit camps by engaging in rudimentary stealth (or whistling and drawing guards into the bushes one-by-one so I can shank them) over and over again, so I won’t repeat myself. That said, I still enjoyed the combat in Horizon quite a bit when I was walking from main quest waypoint to main quest waypoint. Being a modern video game, it’s not all that difficult on Normal difficulty, but I still had quite a bit of fun engaging in its particular brand of chaos. Shooting the turrets off of some of the more dangerous robots, then using said turrets to blow them up is an incredibly satisfying thing to do, as is aiming a bunch of tearblast arrows at something and watching all of its parts fly off. Sure, if you boil it down you’re using upgradable varieties of three different bows, two grenade launchers, two different things that make tripwires, and a highly inaccurate machine gun, but that also means that there’s no filler in Horizon’s arsenal. Each weapon has a distinct role and can be called upon to do its own variety of stupid thing, be it crowd control, raw DPS, sniping, status effects, and so on. I found some of them more useful than others, but none of them seemed useless. I didn’t really engage in any of the hunting trials, but I got the impression that

One day Lightning. One day.
One day Lightning. One day.

I don’t really know what else to say about Horizon. I enjoyed the 15-20ish hours I spent with it but it’s not going to be anywhere near whatever end of year list I’ll write in late December. I came in with a built-in disconnect between my desire to see the story to its end and my desire to run around a mostly empty open world chasing like 18 waypoints, and I think that probably blunted a lot of the criticisms I can make about it. I can’t exactly go after something I didn’t engage in, right? Besides, I’m saving my vitriol for Mass Effect Andromeda, which is probably next on my docket, barring the loss of my sanity or the possible chain of events that ends with me taking the disk out of the PS4, shoving it back in the box, and then putting that box in my closet forever. It’s that, or I pick my Lightning Returns playthrough back up.

Random Endorsement:

I've seriously considered running the original module for my D&D group. Because I'm a lunatic.
I've seriously considered running the original module for my D&D group. Because I'm a lunatic.

It’s been a few years, so I’m due for yelling at you people about how great Temple of Elemental Evil is for the eleventy-thousandth time. If I end up setting Mass Effect on fire because I need a to play a RPG-ass RPG with dice rolls ‘n shit, and Grimoire doesn’t actually come out tomorrow, I’m considering giving ToEE a replay. This is due in part to the emergence of Temple Plus, another fan-mod that fixes and tweaks a bunch of stuff on top of the already obligatory Circle of Eight Modpack (which is basically necessary if you want to play Temple of Elemental Evil in the first place. Seriously, don’t ever play any of Troika’s games without some variety of fix pack.) What makes Temple Plus exciting is that it not only fixes a few of the issues left in the final version of Circle of Eight, but also that it opens the door to a bunch of additional nonsense. They’ve already added most of the Prestige Classes that were in the 3.5 core rulebooks (Assassin, Blackguard, Arcane Archer, etc) and are apparently messing around with other, more complicated stuff (The Archmage class! The possibility of someone modding in Psionics!) therefore inching ever closer to my ideal D&D CRPG. Well, maybe that Pathfinder RPG will fill the void, but until then…

Avatar image for gundamguru
#1 Posted by GundamGuru (730 posts) -

If I end up setting Mass Effect on fire because I need a to play a RPG-ass RPG with dice rolls ‘n shit, and Grimoire doesn’t actually come out tomorrow, I’m considering giving ToEE a replay.

You owe it to yourself to power through Andromeda. It's the only way to be able to give the truly scathing critique it deserves. It's only 70-ish hours for a near-100% playthrough.

As an aside, would you recommend Horizon? Buy, wait for sale, or rent? I went and bought myself a PS4 on Prime day for no reason, and I'm waffling on the various PS4 exclusives that I've not had a chance to play at this point.

Avatar image for arbitrarywater
#2 Posted by ArbitraryWater (15162 posts) -

@freedom4556: Given what I played of Andromeda (i.e. the first two hours) my expectations are NOT high, but I think my morbid curiosity will be enough to fuel me through the main story at least.

I bought Horizon for like $40 on sale and don't feel especially cheated, though there are other, better PS4 exclusives that might be worth your dollar first. I was playing the new Nioh DLC yesterday and was reminded how much I love that game, for example.

Avatar image for fredchuckdave
#3 Posted by Fredchuckdave (10825 posts) -

Also 1/4th of the way into Lightning Returns; thought about playing it today actually. (I didn't/haven't yet, Just Cause 3 seems fun though). Horizon's plot arc isn't necessarily great but the plot elements themselves are extremely strong.

Avatar image for slag
#4 Edited by Slag (7871 posts) -

Heh, Video games are the gateway drug to Anime. Think it's gotten many of us. :)

I enjoyed Danganronpa, but I wasn't crazy about the post game at all. In order see everything it'd take you what like an additional 40 hours of story grinding. Seems like a bad tradeoff, as that minigame gets real boring real fast.

Don't know if you've played any of the Zero Escape VNs, I've been going through those lately. I absolutely 999. While it definitely has its bits you need to replay to see everything it felt like it was worthwhile to out the 20 hours in to do so.

Otoh it's sequel Virtue's Last Reward, seems like it's going to take me 40-50 hrs to go through all the endings for something that maybe has 6-8 hours of interesting story. Way too much repettion in that game and it doesn't have the core tension drivers or compelling characters that 999 has to drive the plot along. Seems like the sequel shares some themes/tropes with Danganronpa too ( such as

pyscho mascot torturing people in a life or death game, implication that the outside world may be apocalyptic etc

)which I found to be disappointing. But if you liked Danganronpa, 999 for sure is definitely worth checking out if you haven't already.

I have similar motivations as you for Mass Effect: A. As I think you know I played through the ten hour free trial and thought it seemed a bit better than I was expecting (btw I learned that Origin achievements can unlock through the Steam Big Picture mode which is nice). Benefit of lowered expectations I guess.

at the end of the day I'll probably eventually buy it and play it. It's kinda like gas station pizza to me. The quality of food may be absolutely terrible, but it's still my favorite kind of dish.

Thinking twenty bucks is going to be my trigger price there.

p.s. You don't make Horizon sound very appealing. FarCry is what I keep hearing about that game, when I want to hear Western Dragon's Dogma :(

Avatar image for theflamingo352
#5 Edited by TheFlamingo352 (164 posts) -

@slag: Horizon is VERY Far Cry. EXTREMELY Far Cry. Maybe more a mix between Shadow of Mordor and Far Cry in terms of design choices...I wouldn't recommend buying Horizon if you're looking for more Dragon's Dogma.

Avatar image for sparky_buzzsaw
#6 Posted by sparky_buzzsaw (8396 posts) -

I keep missing Horizon when it's on a good sale. That's probably for the best. I can wait until Black Friday at this point.

Avatar image for sloppydetective
#7 Posted by SloppyDetective (1395 posts) -

I feel like the marking mechanic is really where Far Cry outshines Horizon. Just having a white arrow above a marked guy in Horizon made it frustrating to keep track of dudes I marked. But the human on human combat is the most boring combat in the game so I was never too worried about getting spotted and going arrows blazing.

Avatar image for arbitrarywater
#8 Posted by ArbitraryWater (15162 posts) -

@slag: I haven't played any of the Zero Escape games, though given where my dark journey is taking me, I'll probably encounter them soon enough, right after I check out the "Free-to-Start" visual novel that has Nazi witches or something. People talk up 999 and Virtue's Last Reward quite a bit.

In regards to Mass Effect, I got it for $20 new at Gamestop, which was the highest amount of money I was willing to pay (though, given the quality of the writing in that introductory sequence I'm wondering if I paid too much. It comes off as a pitch-perfect parody of the kind of writing that Bioware's detractors like to cite.) Like you, I have a sickness that occasionally manifests itself in the form of engaging in garbage and mediocrity, though it's been a couple of years since I almost finished Bound by Flame.

Horizon is Far Cry as hell and is about as far away as you can get from Dragon's Dogma in terms of design philosophy. Oh, it's probably a "better" game from a sheer "this is a big-budget, AAA console exclusive made for a mass-market audience" sort of angle, but it's not weird or insane in the ways that make Dragon's Dogma a game that has managed to stick with me 5 years after it came out.

Horizon's plot arc isn't necessarily great but the plot elements themselves are extremely strong.

That's not a bad way of putting it. It's a game with a bunch of incredibly well-done moments that are ultimately in service to a pretty stock and standard "Find out about yourself and save the world along the way" plot, complete with an entirely disposable villain.

ALSO, as a PSA, it looks like Grimoire once again missed the promised release date, though this time the developer claims that he fixed a last-minute issue and had to re-submit it to Steam. I'm sure the RPG Codex forums have once again imploded.

Avatar image for doughnutwarlord
#9 Posted by doughnutwarlord (15 posts) -

Like you, I have spent a lot of time this year watching loads more anime than I ever did before. Also like you, I played Danganronpa earlier this year! My thoughts pretty much mirror your own, especially the part about not really liking many of the characters. I did decide to grind my way through that post-game clicker thing (mostly while watching TV, 'cause it's real boring otherwise), and while I feel like some of the characters fare better having seen their personal stories through, I still wasn't that keen on many of them.

I'm half-tempted to just look up spoilers for Horizon and see what the deal with that story is, since I know I'll never play it. I haven't even played it, so I shouldn't be too mean, but apart from robot dinosaurs, almost everything about that game seemed so... rote? Played out, I guess? I had a similar feeling when watching preview gameplay of ME: A and seeing how it went all open-world with objective markers everywhere. Despite it not even having been released yet, I felt like I had already played that game a dozen times.

Speaking of Mass Effect, Andromeda sure seems like a thing, huh? Honestly, I felt pretty done with Mass Effect after 3, so I really wasn't interested in more Mass Effect even before Andromeda being... well, bad, it seems. If you do stick with it, I look forward to you tearing into it.

Avatar image for slag
#10 Posted by Slag (7871 posts) -

@slag: I haven't played any of the Zero Escape games, though given where my dark journey is taking me, I'll probably encounter them soon enough, right after I check out the "Free-to-Start" visual novel that has Nazi witches or something. People talk up 999 and Virtue's Last Reward quite a bit.

In regards to Mass Effect, I got it for $20 new at Gamestop, which was the highest amount of money I was willing to pay (though, given the quality of the writing in that introductory sequence I'm wondering if I paid too much. It comes off as a pitch-perfect parody of the kind of writing that Bioware's detractors like to cite.) Like you, I have a sickness that occasionally manifests itself in the form of engaging in garbage and mediocrity, though it's been a couple of years since I almost finished Bound by Flame.

Horizon is Far Cry as hell and is about as far away as you can get from Dragon's Dogma in terms of design philosophy. Oh, it's probably a "better" game from a sheer "this is a big-budget, AAA console exclusive made for a mass-market audience" sort of angle, but it's not weird or insane in the ways that make Dragon's Dogma a game that has managed to stick with me 5 years after it came out.

Yeah they do talk them up, probably too much (as hype is wont to do). 999 at least is worthy of it, especially if you consider when it released. If it were new today, I don't know if it'd get noticed nearly as much. Such is the nature of games. Timing is everything. A thought I've been kicking around in my head lately is how I think some kickstarter projects fail purely due to just taking too long to get product to market. Take Cosmic Star Heroine for instance, a game most people who have played seem to think is pretty good yet looks to be struggling commercially despite coming from a well known indie house. I have to think that since it took forever to get done, I doubt Zeboyd games could have imagined the endless flood of indie titles that is the new norm for that market. It's hard to enough to predict trends/market conditions in this industry 1-2 years out. When you start to run dev time 4-5 years, I think you really could be running into trouble. The consumer you may have been making it for may essentially be gone, altered by new expectations driven by peers that have been delivering product while you've been developing.

re: ME:A I'm not really into criticizing creators given how ugly said criticism can blow up into a witchhunts on social media, but I couldn't help but notice one of the former lead writers on Andromeda was also the lead writer on Halo 4 and Destiny. While we can't ever know what he is exact contributions were at what point is it fair game to say I think this dude is probably not a great game writer? And if I see his name attached to something, I probably won't want to full price for it? The dialogue kinda reminds me of low budget Star Wars, which isn't a good thing. TBF I didn't feel like the VA were really leaning into their work either. But when your lines are things like "My Face is tired from dealing with...everything." (wtf does that even mean?) or 8 variations of " I got this", it's hard to blame them.

re: H:ZD- yeah I know. I just saw big robo dino fights in the old E3 trailer and was hoping for DD style big monster fights. I'll keep irrationally hoping until I actually play it myself and then experience the disappointment I've been fairly warned about first hand.

Avatar image for corwag
#11 Posted by Corwag (427 posts) -

My Target had the Stardew Valley collectors edition ps4 disc on clearance for 20 bucks, thats a goooood summer game.

Avatar image for joshth
#12 Edited by joshth (711 posts) -

I love the Danganronpa series, just replayed them both for the first time since their release on the PS4 remastered edition, and I still like them a lot despite their flaws. I would be interested to hear your thoughts on 2 if you do end up playing it. In many ways it doubles down on everything, the parts that make the series great are even greater, but it's flaws also feel exasperated. The murders felt way crazier and were much harder to predict what exactly happened, at least for me.

Avatar image for azure_skeith
#13 Edited by Azure_Skeith (5 posts) -

@arbitrarywater: As far as Danganronpa characters go, they can be weird. Most everyone has an interesting story or arch to them, but if you don't spend time with them and have good presents to give them to skip some non-story days with them, you won't see any of it. I think I only finished two of the character's stories, and they were cool, but my friends who played the game had no idea what I was talking about.

@slag: The Danganronpa and Zero Escape games are similar, but different in execution. For Danganronpa, once you've beaten it and seen credits, great job! move on to the next game. Where as 999 and its psuedo-sequels are much more akin to Nier and Nier Automata. You really should beat all of them to the 'true' end as it were. Virtue's Last Reward and Zero Time Dilemma being noticably longer than 999 though. I think my VLR playthrough was about 35 hours.

@joshth said:

I love the Danganronpa series, just replayed them both for the first time since their release on the PS4 remastered edition, and I still like them a lot despite their flaws. I would be interested to hear your thoughts on 2 if you do end up playing it. In many ways it doubles down on everything, the parts that make the series great are even greater, but it's flaws also feel exasperated. The murders felt way crazier and were much harder to predict what exactly happened, at least for me.

I also am a big fan of Danganronpa. And I have to agree the second one doubles down on things. As for the puzzles being harder, there are more mechanics and sometimes just figuring out exactly which truth bullet you need to shoot at exactly which statement can be annoying. Especially when you know what you are trying to say, but now how the game wants you to say it. Prediction-wise, they actually hold information or straight up lie to you during the investigation, in an Ace Attorney sort of way, for twists mid trial. I didn't like that about the second, but overall its much better.

Avatar image for arbitrarywater
#14 Posted by ArbitraryWater (15162 posts) -

@azure_skeith: Yeah, I only ended up "finishing" two character stories on my playthrough. That's what I get for trying to hang out with Genocide Jack, I guess. Honestly, the socializing stuff is neat (if, admittedly, sub-Persona in its writing,) but if you don't have a present guide open at all times you aren't going to see much of it without engaging in the clicker game.

I'll probably start Danganronpa 2 sometime later this month; basically whenever I get done with Mass Effect.

This edit will also create new pages on Giant Bomb for:

Beware, you are proposing to add brand new pages to the wiki along with your edits. Make sure this is what you intended. This will likely increase the time it takes for your changes to go live.

Comment and Save

Until you earn 1000 points all your submissions need to be vetted by other Giant Bomb users. This process takes no more than a few hours and we'll send you an email once approved.