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Playing The Witcher again after reading the Books (spoilers)

This will be the 1st of 3 blogs about my experiences playing the Witcher games again after reading the books.

The Witcher series is one of my favorite game franchises of all time. However, unlike some of my other time favorite game series such as Mass Effect and Zelda where I've played the games many times each, I've only played each Witcher game a single time. I've been wanting to do a full series playthrough back to back to back pretty much since finishing Blood and Wine early last year. Before doing so, I wanted to read the books, and over the past couple months I did just that.

I thoroughly enjoyed the books. It was an interesting experience having a general idea where the story would go based on things I remember from the games, but having very little notion of the specifics of how it would get there. Having played all the games first is probably not the best way to experience the saga, but it was nice to have a clear picture in my mind of how these characters look and speak (yes, I read the dialogue in the characters' voices in my head) and what locations like Toussaint, Skellige, etc. look like.

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Even when I first played The Witcher years ago, before ever reading a page of the books or playing the two sequels, I thought it was a pretty flawed game. Not bad by any means, good even, but very rough around the edges. The combat is clunky, the animations are stiff, the visuals weren't great even for the time, and the voice acting is a mixed bag. The writing, storytelling, and decision making was the one part of game I thought was unarguably good at the time.

Playing the game with a 2017 perspective, knowing what I know about how good The Witcher 2 and 3 are, pretty much every aspect of the Witcher 1 seems worse now than it did when I first played it. With the added dimension of throwing the knowledge of the books in there, things get interesting.

There are a bunch of references to things from the books, some are good and some not so much. I enjoyed the subtle things such as Triss mentioning Vilgefortz in passing, knowing the origin of the Catriona plague (which no actual characters know the origin of, only the reader), your first silver sword originally being Coen's, etc.

I especially loved the two instances of conversations where there is a “right answer” response that you'd only know if you read the books. The first was you finishing the line “The sword of Destiny has two edges, you are one of them. The other is” and one of three dialogue choices is “death,” which is how Geralt completed that phrase in the books. The other is a conversation where Geralt is asked if believes in destiny, and the choices are “yes” “no” or “I believe in something more” which is an idea he ponders in the books.

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In addition to these, there are some more meaty callbacks to the books, such as Dandelion telling Geralt about how Regis died in detail and several characters from the books explaining how they originally met Geralt (Zoltan, Toruviel, etc.). However, for the ways these types of references and callbacks enrich the world of the game for people that have read the books, at its core I think the first game does book readers a disservice with the choices the writers made with the story.

The core issue stems from Geralt's amnesia. By having a Geralt be a completely blank slate that remembers nothing, he's essentially not Geralt. I certainly understand why they did this, they didn't want players to confused by 7 books worth of established world and character history, especially english speaking players who couldn't have read most of the books even if they wanted to when the game originally came out. It just works better for explanation and exposition if the main character is in the dark as much as the player, I totally get that.

However, I still don't think they straddled that line well. As we'll see when I get on to the Witcher 2 in the next blog, it's totally possible to tell a good and faithful Witcher story with an amnesiac Geralt, but they didn't pull that off in the first game. The I have two major issues with the storytelling in The Witcher.

The first issue is how characters that know a lot about the events of Geralt's past don't tell him everything and leave out important details. I know much of that isn't relevant to the main plot, but Geralt's return to world after 5 years is still big deal, and there are three characters in the game that were present at his “death” and none of them really tell him everything. Triss glosses over most of it and doesn't really go into any detail, Zoltan simply says he was stabbed by a pitchfork during a pogrom and died, and Dandelion is the most infuriating.

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Dandelion actually tells mostly the whole story. Pogrom in Rivia, Geralt was protecting nonhumans and got stabbed by a pitchfork, Triss summoned a hailstorm, Geralt was bleeding out and disappeared in a boat and a unicorn was present. He mentions everyone that was there, Zoltan, Triss, Yarpen Zigrin, the perceived ghostly presence of everyone that had died on their journey, and that's it. No mention at all of Yennefer and Ciri also disappearing alongside Geralt, no mention of the fact that Ciri is the one that took them away.

In fact, Yennefer and Ciri aren't mentioned at all by any of the main characters that knew them. I get that Geralt's memory is gone and he doesn't know who these people are, but you'd figure Dandelion would at some point mention the two most important people in Geralt's life. One would think that an effort to help someone with amnesia remember their life would include telling them about people that were very important to them, but apparently that never occurred to Triss, Zoltan, or Dandelion.

Triss also comes across as a far less sympathetic and likable character when viewed from a certain perspective. She and Geralt had a brief fling during one the many off-again phases of his relationship with Yennefer, but she was never going to replace Yennefer in his eyes. Despite knowing this, she was always infatuated with him. Now, Geralt basically falls into her arms with no memory, and she leaves him flailing in the dark. Instead of telling him about his past, the love of his life and daughter that could be out there somewhere (they all vanished from the world together, and obviously he's alive), she instead chooses to basically keep him all to herself and let him continue to be with her in ignorance.

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As an aside, when you choose Triss over Shani she says “so now you've truly forgotten about her?” She's presumably talking about Shani, but in my headcanon she subtly referring to Yennefer.

Despite the issue I had with the extreme omissions by other characters when talking about Geralt's past, that's more of a nitpick about wanting more connections to the books. The second major issue I have is more a situation where the story seems much worse with the context of the books than it did when I played it without that context.

Essentially, Alvin serves a blatant stand-in for Ciri and Triss as a blatant stand-in for Yennefer. Alvin is a child of Elder Blood and Triss and Geralt basically adopt him and try to help him deal with his abilities. Take that sentence and replace the names and you have a one sentence generalization of the books. It feels to me like CDP Red didn't know if they wanted the game to be a direct continuation from the books or a reboot of the story in video game form with some changes in characters, so they split the difference.

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The whole idea that Geralt, without his memory, finds himself in such a similar situation is just kind of dumb. That's not even accounting for the fact that Ciri was supposed to be the end of Lara Dorren's line and is herself a resurgence of the gene after it had gone dormant without manifesting extraordinary abilities in her direct ancestors. There's also the issue of Triss, who never once mentions that he had previously adopted a child of Elder Blood that was also on the run from various factions much like Alvin. It doesn't feel like a continuation, but a rehash that isn't told as well.

So, to conclude, the first Witcher game has a ton of references and callback to the things from the books that I thought were great. It does a great a job of bringing the world of the Witcher into video game form in a faithful way. Many of the characters are consistent with their book version and transition from page to pixel very well.

All that being said, the story is caught somewhere in between being a continuation of the books and a retelling of similar events. The game's complete refusal to even acknowledge that Yennefer and Ciri even exist beyond easter egg dialogue by an innkeeper in act IV is beyond frustrating. Alvin is a bad, underdeveloped character that is needlessly tied to core elements of the book saga in a very clumsy way and his related twist is super obvious.

Bottom line. The game would have been better if it didn't have anything to do with Elder Blood, Ithlinne's Prophecy, and the White Frost in any capacity. If they did want those elements in the story, Ciri and Yennefer should have been involved. Having the plot revolve around those elements without those two character involved was simply a bad idea, and one I think CDP Red realized given what they did with The Witcher 3.

I'm already well into the Witcher 2, so the next blog will be sooner rather than later.


I Finally Played Ico

Last week I turned to the Giant Bomb Community to help me to decide which of 15 or so unplayed games on my Steam and Playstation Plus accounts I should tackle first. Based on the results of that poll and the feedback in the thread I decided to play Ico, a game I've wanted to play for a long time but had never gotten around to playing. Rather than simply blog about my thoughts on the game, I figured I'd put forth the extra effort and do a video. I've been looking for an excuse to do more youtube videos, and I like the idea of looking at old games for the first time from a modern perspective, so I will likely do more of these as I make my way through my backlog.

I welcome any feedback on that video (either in my thoughts on the game or the production itself). I know I'll never get huge on youtube without some gimmick or comedic element, but I'd rather simply provide my sincere opinions and observations, even if it's not as exciting as some other content.

Since my other option is to stare at this unopened copy of The Last of Us Remastered and await the return of my PS4 from the repair center, I am likely going to try and get to another game from that list immediately. I am leaning towards heading straight into Shadow of The Colossus, but if anyone has any other recommendations feel free to leave them here or in the poll thread. I should also mention I forgot to include the classic Fallout games in that other thread because they're in some random folder on my PC and I always forget I have them (got them free from GOG), so I could also play those as well.


Persona 3 vs. Persona 4

With the announcement of Persona 5, I have spending a lot of time thinking about Persona and which game in the series I like best. The following is an in depth look at and comparison of the various elements of Persona 3 and Persona 4. This purely my opinion, but I'd be interested to hear which game other Persona fans feel is better and for what reasons.


Unsurprisingly, these two games share a lot in common from a gameplay perspective. Persona 4 is pretty much a refinement of the gameplay concepts introduced in Persona 3, so like you would expect, improvements were made. One of the biggest improvements was the addition of the ability to control your party directly. In Persona 3 you only had direct control over the main character and were limited to giving tactical commands to your party members such as “conserve SP” or “go for knock downs”. This created a situation where the challenge of combat was just as much about learning the AI tendencies of you party members and knowing how specific commands would cause them to behave as much as it was about dealing with enemies. In Persona 4 you could directly control you party members like you would in any turn based RPG, selecting their commands from a list. The system in Persona 3 was a neat idea that made the characters feel like individuals with their own tendencies rather than tools for you to use, but ultimately the gameplay considerations come first, and the system in Persona 4 is better in that regard.

Other than that, the gameplay of the two games is largely the same, so Persona 4 gets the edge.


Like the gameplay, the design of these two games is incredibly similar, with Persona 4 once again being an iteration on the systems of Persona 3. However, in this instance the improvements made are somewhat offset by some steps backward. The most immediate improvement is the way the game handles dungeons. In Persona 3, there was only a single dungeon that consisted of around 250 floors. There is no getting around the fact that a large portion of Persona 3 consisted of grinding your way through a single dungeon that didn’t change much visually from floor to floor. Persona 4 is a huge improvement in this regard, with eight unique dungeons consisting of around 10 floors each. Even if you choose to clear each dungeon a second time to fight the optional boss, that is still only 160 floors compared to the the 250 or so from Persona 3. The result is a shorter game but also one with much better pacing and far less grinding (though not none).

However, while dungeon design is much better in Persona 4, there are some other elements of the design that took a step backward. The RPG elements of Persona 4 were simplified slightly compared to Persona 3 and some interesting mechanics were removed. In Persona 3, physical attacks were divided amongst three damage types: “slash”, “strike”, and “pierce”. This played into the weakness system making physical weapons and physical based characters specialists in certain types of damage, just like magic users. By rolling these damage varieties into the single category of “physical damage” in Persona 4, it meant that enemies were now never weak to physical damage and physical based characters couldn’t really contribute to exploiting enemy weaknesses. This in turn reduced the number of overall categories for weaknesses and resistances, making it easier to have all your bases covered with your party configuration while also marginalizing physical based characters. In addition, there were also some other minor elements removed such as weapon fusion and combo skills, which just contributes to the feeling that Persona 4 is a game with slightly less depth than its predecessor.

Because each game has an edge over the other in one area of design, this category is a draw.


Like most role playing games, the story is the focal point of each of these games, and it is fantastic in both. Both feature long and in-depth stories that play out over the course of dozens of hours. Persona 3 revolves around a group of high school students that belong to the Specialized Extracurricular Execution Squad (or SEES). They spend their nights fighting shadows and investigating the mysterious tower dubbed “Tartarus” which materializes every night during the “Dark Hour”. Persona 3 has a very dark tone, especially in comparison to Persona 4, and has some genuinely surprising twists (and some not so surprising). The story evokes things like Buffy The Vampire Slayer, being about a group of high school students gathering after hours to fight monsters and being led by an adult member of the school faculty that knows what’s really going on. The story moves at a snail’s pace, but every development is compelling and the writing is extremely good.

Persona 4 also stars a group high school students that fight shadows, but rather than being recruited into an organization they simply stumble into this scenario. It all begins with two murders in their small hometown and a rumor about a mysterious TV phenomenon known as “The Midnight Channel”. The main characters soon find they can enter another dimension, the “TV World”, which is inhabited by shadows. Persona 4‘s story is actually primarily a murder mystery, with the end goal to uncover who has been kidnapping and murdering people using the TV World. This encourages you to play along with the characters in the game since you the player are trying to piece the clues together and figure out the identity of the murderer just as much as the characters are.

While I love the story in both of these games, I have to say I prefer Persona 3 just slightly. When it comes down to it, the story is the driving force of Persona 3, while often it takes a back seat in Persona 4 for hours at a time. Persona 3 also feels like the stakes are a lot higher, and the twists and turns the story takes in that game feel much better earned than they do in Persona 4. It also helps that Persona 3 has clear antagonists for the majority of the game with genuine payoff, while Persona 4 features no clear antagonist for 90% of the game and then pulls the same bait and switch three times in a row right at the end of the game, each time feeling less earned than the one before it.

The Persona 3 story gets the edge over Persona 4′s story.


Each of these games feature outstanding characters with well written dialogue and fleshed out personalities. Most importantly, they have struggles that feel realistic and relatable, even though they’re taking place in a world of demons and magic. I have my favorite characters in each game, but the simple fact is that characters are the focal point of Persona 4 whereas the story is the focal point of Persona 3. So much of Persona 4 revolves around the characters, their insecurities, relationships, and struggles with maturity. Persona 4 is a game about characters set against the backdrop of a supernatural murder mystery. Persona 3 certainly does have some great character moments, but they aren’t as frequent or as in depth as they are in Persona 4.

There are several points in Persona 4 where the main narrative is all but forgotten in favor of purely character driven sequences that last a significant amount of time. While I love the characters in both of these games, Persona 4 dedicates so much more time to character development and interaction that it is the clear winner. It’s not so much that the characters themselves that are so much better in Persona 4, but that the implementation of characters is better. In addition to the story placing a lot more focus on the characters in Persona 4, every one of your party members has an available social link, which is unfortunately not the case in Persona 3.

The characters of Persona 4 get the edge.


Like most aspects of these games, the music is simply outstanding. Both games were composed by Shoji Meguro, and he absolutely nails it in both instances. However, if I had to choose which game I thought had better music, it has to be Persona 3. Like the game itself, the soundtrack of Persona 3 is much darker than Persona 4. It features a lot more jazz and hard rock, with excellent/ridiculous Japanese written English rap verses performed by someone that clearly speaks limited English. The Persona 4 soundtrack is a lot more upbeat and features more pop type music. The soundtrack of both games fits perfectly with the tone of the game, but I just find myself personally liking the Persona 3 soundtrack a bit more.

The music of Persona 3 get the edge.

Although I fully intended to pick a clear winner before actually writing this, it turns out the games wound up tied. Across five categories, each game won two with the games tying in the “design” category. Despite them tying in the head to head matchup, the edge still goes to Persona 3. The tie breaking aspect for me is the tone of the games.

Both games deal with some heavy themes and more than a little death, but the lighthearted nature of the visuals, music and dialog in Persona 4 create somewhat of a disconnect with the events that play out in the story. The hamfisted way the story concluded in addition to the fact that a happy ending was never really in doubt make the whole game feel like it had less weight. Persona 3 has this feeling of impending disaster that pervades the back half of the game, and the darker tone serves the story much better. You never get the sense that everything will work out like you do in Persona 4, and indeed it doesn’t. The bottom line is Persona 3 felt a lot more dire than Persona 4. You could argue that these elements fall under the category of story, which Persona 3 won anyway, but I feel they are significant enough to make a difference. By the slightest of margins, Persona 3 is the winner.

This blog is a copy of an article I published at After some admittedly poorly thought out missteps early in my history of Giant Bomb forum activity, I have since avoided posting anything I wrote for other websites on these forums, but with this topic I really wanted to get some input from the Persona faithful here at Giant Bomb.

You can see the original article here:


An Examination of Looting in Bioshock Infinite and The Last of Us

After spending way too much thinking about a single game mechanic and how it was used in Bioshock Infinite and The Last of Us, I decided to make a video about it. I hate my voice and my diction sucks, but I think I got my point across ok.

Mods: If this is somehow youtube spam, I could always just post the 2000 word transcript of the video instead. Just let me know.


I was so optimistic 5 years ago

Earlier today I was prompted to sign in on Gamespot when I tried to post a comment on a video, and I forgot which of my email addresses I used for my Gamespot account. So I tried my primary email only to realize it was attached to a Gamespot account I used five years ago and was banned, which is apparently no longer banned after the site relaunch. I then took a look at my posting history and found this.

I used to spend a lot of time and energy in the system wars forum trying to be a voice a reason, but only resulting in my own frustration. It culminated in the thread above, which was quickly locked by the mods, presumably for having too much reason and common sense contained within it. After the lock I received a warning from a mod, to which I responded with maybe too much hostility, but part of me was just hoping he would ban me so I could avoid the temptation of continuing to engage with the most immature and irrational subset of the video game community, and he did.

These days I pretty much tend to just shake my head and ignore ridiculous console war fanboyism, but back then I was naive enough to think I could actually bring some sort of reason to the discussion.

Anyone else spend any time in system wars, or am I the only dumb enough to torture myself with that nonsense?