Backlog CatchUp: Lords of Shadow, Ni No Kuni, Last of Us, DmC and SMG

So I been playing games.

Ever since big daddy PS4 came home and took the spot in the big TV room, ye old PS3 has been relegated to "The Office". And by office I mean room-where-I-do-most-of-my-playing-because-no-one-is-watching-Netflix-there. Through a twist of fate I also discovered a dusty ass Wii in the office. Oh and there's a PC there too! Long story short, instead of playing shiny new PS4 games this holiday, I played dusty old PS3, PC and Wii games.

Let's get on with it and see how these five games are faring in my heart.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow

Excitement Level: Medium
Time Played: ~3 hours

2010? Really? That's when this game came out? Seems like only yesterday I fell in love with the PSN demo. Basically, I had been uncharacteristically excited for this game ever since I saw a trailer for it - the idea that Kojima and Fox Hound Productions or whatever they're called would have any hand in this game had me frothing at mouth. I've barely played any Castlevanias (yes, shame on me) outside of the first few hours of III and SotN over and over again and some gameboy game whose title I can't remember.

Hi, I'm Sir Patrick Stewart. Not only do I narrate the game, and star in the game as a hero *and* villain, but I also designed this character model, and keyed the animation.
Hi, I'm Sir Patrick Stewart. Not only do I narrate the game, and star in the game as a hero *and* villain, but I also designed this character model, and keyed the animation.

I waited three years for this game to go on sale, and now that I've got it and all its DLC on PC I can't wait to devour it all. Or can I? So here's the truth: I wanted to love this game instantly. Turns out, I don't. But maybe I will love it soon? What first really got me about the game was just the whip action. It feels amazing. Unfortunately, the game doesn't throw very many interesting enemies at you in the early going. Wargs and Trolls? Is there anything taller than 3 feet that poses a threat in this game? I know there's tons of game left (hey 50 hit that big ass map!) so here's to hoping we pick up the pace soon. The giant golemn fight left a bit of a sour taste in my mouth unfortunately, with it being a poor imitation of Shadow of the Colossus mixed-in with QTEs, but I'm ready to press on. I'd be a lot further in this game if DmC hadn't reared its free, demonic head on PS+ nearly the same day I picked this baby up.

Story-wise I already know what's up with Zobek (thanks, Vinny) but that doesn't change the fact that listening to Patrick Stewart talk is awesome. And there's a lot of Patrick Stewart. Gabriel is a decent enough hero character. Solemn, likeable, looks cool. I'm actually strangely into collecting the soldier's letters. Great art in them - which reminds me - the production in this game is really great. Your menu book, which houses all the moves, character and monster info is very nicely done. The sketch-animations for the moves are especially cool. Unfortunately Lords of Shadow's in-game book is easily out-done by what is no doubt the best in-game book ever made, which brings us to...

Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch

Excitement Level: High
Time Played: ~6 hours

It was Greg Miller's constant "Ni Nu No No" shtick that burned this game deep into my mind as something "I'd have to pick up, one day". Then I saw it at Wal-Mart for less than twenty bucks. After an awkward encounter with the clerk ("No, that one, Ni Nu Kuni"). Fast forward to me getting home and boom, after SEVEN YEARS away, I've been reunited with the RPG.

After jokingly saying
After jokingly saying "Ni Nu No No" and "Na Ni No Nu Nu" to my girlfriend and friends whenever they asked what I was playing, I've now brainwashed them all into referring to this game as such. Which is hilarious.

This is a big deal for me. A very big deal. In the 90s I played every RPG I could get my hands on. I burned through ever RPG Square could put out faster then they could re-release them. But FFXII was the last hurrah for me. After that pretty much nothing appealed to me. Certainly I've been all-up in turn-based strategy, cRPGs and aRPGs but not a true blue, turn-based, Japanese Role Playing Game. And BY GOLLY - I missed them so, so much. Even though I die a lot and am made to feel pathetic...

While the in-your-face gorgeous art-style and charming personality were the first things that warmed my heart, it didn't take long at all for the story to break my heart and that's when I realized Ni No was something a little different. It's not just that watching Oliver lose his mother (a painful thought for many of us, duh) is hard. The majority of traditional RPGs are about doing good, but Ni No is really transparent about this do-gooding. The central side-quest mechanic is about finding good qualities in people's hearts, borrowing a piece of it, and giving it to someone who needs it. If that doesn't put a smile on your face, you're probably missing something deep down yourself! This "feel-good" wrapper surrounds a combat system that so far has proven to be fast and fluid, two cliché terms you almost never associate with RPGs. It helps that the game has some real world-class animation. Magic spells look especially beautiful. The Wizard's Companion (of which I dearly wish I had a physical copy) is UNBELIEVABLE. Incredible art everywhere, fascinating magical descriptions, world history, world maps, bestiaries - just unbelievable. You seen the Fifth Element? Then you know. UNNNBELIEVABLE!

Now, for all the hullabaloo that was made about the English localization (and it's great, no doubt) I found myself playing in Japanese after only a few hours. Yeah, Mr. Drippy's accent is hilarious and all but I found Oliver and the rest of the cast much more likeable in Japanese, and Mr. Drippy's mannerisms/animations sync up much better with his original voice work. His dialect, even to non-Japanese speakers, is obviously different from the rest, so much of his "uniqueness" is preserved.

The Last of Us

Excitement: Low-Medium
Time Played: ~6 hours

For some reason, I could never get into Uncharted 3. Loved 2. Instantly bored of 3. So when The Last of Us came out I didn't jump on it right away. Since its release we've heard pretty much nothing but praise from every critic under the sun, and as GOTY got under way across the internet it became pretty obvious who had delivered the slam dunk of 2013. Agree or disagree, The Last of Us is the closest thing to a unanimous Game of the Year we may have ever seen across this internet. That's what got me to play it. I had to see for myself.

The Last of Us? More like... the Last Guy! Every time I hit start to begin TLOU I just hear someone whisper the... last... guy... in my ear, not sure why. Thematic similarity, must be.
The Last of Us? More like... the Last Guy! Every time I hit start to begin TLOU I just hear someone whisper the... last... guy... in my ear, not sure why. Thematic similarity, must be.

Annnnnd??? Well??? It's aight. The major thing that is surprising me is that THIS IS A RESIDENT EVIL GAME. Handgun bullets and random healing items strewn around? Tank controls 2.0? Zombies and plant infections ?Quick use shivs? There's so much about the cadence of this game that is reminiscent of RE I was having serious bizzaro flashbacks the first two-three hours. Playing on Hard and not using the listening mode is basically making this a murder-puzzle room solver akin to Hotline Miami. One room with 5 enemies could be 15 minutes of 1 minute attempts gone wrong. After enough memorization and a few brave moves I make it through. Not what I expected from Naughty D. I've finally got a little more tools at my disposal (molotov, smoke bomb, nail bomb, etc) which are adding a needed layer to the combat, which until now felt a little thin. While I'm enjoying these rogue-like encounters I think they're also weighing me down. I can only play at that tension level for about an hour a time, which makes running into enemies kind of annoying. Ugh, I'll say, I don't feel like spending a half hour being super careful again. So far I've been able to avoid the nagging want to do a perfect run (restarting an encounter as soon as something goes wrong) but I already feel I am falling into a Difficulty Trap. At some point I may notch the difficulty down to Normal but I feel it will be world breaking for me. Better to just slowly get through this game attrition style I guess.

This might be a little pointless to mention at this point but, by the way, this game looks fucking amazing. Game definitely suffers from gameyness though, largely due to these fantastic graphics. When you're in a world that is so well realized and there is junk strewn about everywhere it gets a little weird that you need X number of random pills to increase your skills (what?) or that there are all these little bits of firearm parts lying around. Also... two shotgun blasts to ace a regular human? Nitpicks, absolutely, but they are definitely bubbling to the top. Where I am now, the relationship between Ellie and Joel is just taking off, so maybe I will feel more compelled to move through the game as that picks up.

DmC Devil May Cry

Excitement: High
Time Played: ~5 hours

Same badass attitude, same badass look. Well, sorta.
Same badass attitude, same badass look. Well, sorta.

Ok, so, remember how I said it's been seven years since my last RPG? Well, guess when the last time I played a character action game was. That's right! You got it! TEN YEARS. Until this weird Castlevania/DmC double header Devil May Cry 2 was the last character action game I touched unless you count ten bored minutes of God of War and then another ten bored minutes of Darksiders. Long story short is I was blown away by the Devil May Cry demo that came packed in with Code Veronica X, and ran to the store the day DMC came out to buy it. Very few games are so room-by-room burned into my memory, but the original Devil May Cry is. So, like a lot of fans, when I saw the Ninja Theory remake headlines my immediate reaction was "Flock off!" but hooo boy was I wrong.

While I was never that attached to Dante's look (though it worked perfectly in the original) I was sceptical of Ninja Theory's ability to nail the fighting systems. Heavenly Sword was cool enough and Enslaved too but, you know, the combat in the DMC series is nothing to snivel at. It's some serious shit. Now, fair enough, I ain't been playing a lot of these types of games recently - but, at least compared to Castelvania and any other semi-action I've played in recent memory - wow. Just wow. I never expected to like this game this much. Dante is, pure and simple, amazingly agile and strong, and super responsive to player input. This means fun. So far I've got the handguns, sword, power fists, giant axe and scythe. While nothing quite has the classic oomph of Dante's Shotgun everything. really. hits. in. this. game. Amazing sound design makes all the combat not only sound like it hurts, but it's a great homage to the original game too. The returning hilarious thrash metal (DIIIIEEEE!!! JUUUST DIEEE!) and weird ambient noise are cherries on top. My favourite move so far is Showdown, in which you jump up in the air, charge up a huge punch, then drop down and punchcrack the ground beneath you. All of the animations (and there are a lot of them) are so slick it becomes addicting just to see them all. Very few characters in games move like Dante does and it only takes a few minutes with him to appreciate the buttery, turn-on-a-dime control.

Story-wise I'm surprised how much of the original DMC background I remembered, as I find DmC to be a great retelling of this "classic" tale of two nephelim born from the union of an Angel and Demon. There was a lot of crying on the internet about Dante's new emo look but he's actually very much like the original Dante: in your face attitude. The fact that the demons are in your face back is totally hilarious. There's an early sequence where Dante and a Succubus go back and forth yelling FUCK YOU at each other and it basically says everything about the game. DmC is an amazing remake because it captures everything that was awesome about DMC, namely, feeling like a badass. Dante is so cool (as in, unimpressed) towards demons it makes all the stylishness actually make sense. As a feat of identity, DmC is so cohesive it should serve well as a "Cohesion in Games 101" for the next however many years. Of all the games in this blog this is the one I will likely finish first, just because I can't wait to jump back in and fight demons.

Super Mario Galaxy

Excitement: Fucked
Time Played: ~15 hours

I don't have much to say about this game other than fuck. Fuck you Nintendo. Fuck you games industry. Super Mario 64 is an ageless masterpiece. I revisit it every year on my 64 and I love it more every year. Super Mario Galaxy makes Mario 64 look like pediatric monkey who can't jump. The minute to minute levels of creativity are overflowing so high I can't usually stand to play this game more than 3 hours straight. I also can never escape it before the 3 hours are up. My emotions are mixed between pure disgust at how talented one group of people could be (and the impossibility of that same group of people seemingly acting as one) and even greater disgust at every other developer on earth, because they've never made a game half this fun. I wonder, is this game the reason no one else makes 3rd person platformers? Was this the last nail in the coffin? This is the first game I've played since I was 12 where I play the entire thing completely wide-eyed. Yah! Wah! Waahoooo! The only serious problem I have with SMG is that Mario is basically a character from a nightmare now that I've seen the Giant Bomb videos with the man responsible for Mario's voice. Every time I crush a hapless creature under my boots or with my ground-pounding ass I just see the face of that vaudevillian actor smiling at me. I can't believe how good the music is either. But did I mention the levels? Running around and inside planets up-side down and right-side up? The way they play with gravity never stops blowing my mind. In the middle of the last Bowser level I did I nearly got up from chip-dust-encrusted chair and called every person I knew. But you can't explain SMG to anyone. Even a trailer or screenshot is useless. It has to be played to be believed.