I Played Some Games In February And Then Wrote About It

Welcome once again to February's episode of This-Column-Needs-A-Name! I'm your host, Nophilip, and we're going to be taking a look at the video games that I played in the last month. Let's get to it.

ALL DONE!

Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen (PS3)

What an interesting, flawed experiment Dragon's Dogma is. Capcom set out to make a game in the style of other open-world western RPGs, and the result is pretty unique. This wasn't my first experience with the game, and I had played about 1/3 of the way through it back when it came out on Playstation Plus. For whatever reason, I just didn't come back to it until now.

Seriously, the magic in this game is rad.
Seriously, the magic in this game is rad.

The main attraction here (and greatest success of the game) is the combat. Capcom managed to craft a system that is leaps and bounds for interesting than the dull, button-mashy combat of Western games like Skyrim. Weapon strikes feel impactful, enemies react in a satisfying way when shot in the face with arrows, and high-level magic feels appropriately devastating. The lack of a smooth difficulty curve in the game is also compelling. Dragon's Dogma makes it very easy for you to blunder your way into situations that are far beyond your capabilities as a low-level character. It's pretty neat to come across a huge griffin or a monstrous drake in your wanderings, only to find that you are NOT AT ALL prepared for a fight of that magnitude. This is in stark contrast to many western RPGs, where throughout the game enemies are scaled to your level so that everything is roughly the same amount of challenge. Dragon's Dogma's world (boy, that's a weird title to make possessive) feels much more organic in this way. The key thing here is that the game doesn't punish you for finding a fight you aren't prepared for- you're perfectly able to run for your life fairly easily in those situations. I wish more games handled difficulty like this one does.

However, once you look beyond the combat, there's not a ton to get excited about. The art direction is particularly bland, and paired with being a last-gen game, the visuals here are aging rapidly. The quest variety is decent enough, but it's rare that the game gives you much motivation to do anything besides "Hey, this was written on a notice board". The dialogue is kind of weird. They go for a deliberately "ye olde" style of speech for the characters, and the results are... kind of odd. (Everyone's absolutely OBSESSED with the word "aught").

The biggest disappointment I had with the game (and the area where they should have followed games like Skyrim much more closely) is the story and characters. The story is almost completely generic fantasy, with almost nothing making it stand out from any other swords-and-sorcery sort of tale. Nowhere to be found are the delightful sorts of miniature adventures and interesting things to find in the world that are the hallmark of many Western RPGs. Almost none of the characters are memorable in any way. The one redeeming part of the game in this area is the postgame questline, which delves into some pretty interesting stuff about the nature of the world. But when that is 5% of your time spent with the game (and the last 5% as well), it feels like Capcom really missed the mark in putting interesting writing into the game.

I still came away from the game with a positive experience. You should give it a shot, but if the combat doesn't grab you in the first hour or two, maybe let this one pass you by.

SCORE: 3/5

Dying Light (PS4)

I'm one of those weirdos that REALLY liked Dead Island. I found the analog combat to be extremely satisfying- so much so, that I ended up playing through the game a few times with different characters. Once Dying Light came out to some critical acclaim, I still felt a little mixed about it. It sounded like they had fixed some of the problems (and boy were there a lot of them) in Dead Island, but they also took my favorite thing out of the game! I didn't know how to feel about it.

Dropkicking zombies: Never not satisfying.
Dropkicking zombies: Never not satisfying.

It turns out that I shouldn't have been skeptical at all. Dying Light is the better game in pretty much every way. The combat has been simplified a bit, but the satisfying bits still sort of there. You can't precisely aim your strikes anymore, but after spending a few hours with the game, I was able to bend it to my will in a similar fasion. Decapitating or breaking arms, legs, and heads is still very possible once you get a feel for it.

The parkour and climbing elements are a godsend. Moving around Harran feels great- doubly so once you get your hands on the grappling hook. The upgrade system is handled really well. Upgrades are meaningful and really change the way you run, climb, and slice your way around the city. The nighttime segments are genuinely frightening and really make you plan your routes and play carefully. On top of that, the story in the game is told really well. Aside from the main villain being a little too cartoonishly evil, characters act and emote in ways that feel genuine.

I'm pretty happy with my experience in Dying Light. If you still like killing zombies, this is a pretty good way to do it. Oh, and the Co-op is pretty great, too!

SCORE: 4/5

Kairo (PC)

Boy, what a weird game. I went into this one expecting an experience somewhat like Naissance. I wasn't entirely off-base, but the experience of playing Kairo is decidedly more strange.

This room was actually pretty creepy.
This room was actually pretty creepy.

Kairo is a first-person puzzle game that also tries to dip its toes into being a bit of a visual experience. It's somewhat of a success in the former and somewhat of a failure in the latter. There's no story of any kind here, just lots of really, really weird rooms and kind of crappy 3D modeling. The puzzles are serviceable, ranging from being a little too simple to a little too obtuse. The visuals are really strange. None of it looks especially great, and each "chamber" is a complete non sequitur compared to the last. You travel through doorway-like portals to appear in the next room. There's zero consistency or pattern to any of the style, color, or geometry between any of the rooms. You just go through a door, and poof! You're somewhere completely different that has nothing to do with where you were before. The one thing that keeps me from writing off the style of this game completely is that the game has this weirdly compelling sense of being vaguely disturbing from time to time. One room in particular surrounded me with weird static-y images and garbled radio voices for seemingly no reason. It was genuinely unsettling.

Where the game kind of falls apart for me is the predictablility. It's structured in nearly the same way from beginning to end. You run through a series of unrelated rooms with weird visuals. Then you hit a sort of hub room with multiple exits. One leads to your the next hub, but you can't go that way until you finish the puzzles in the rooms connected to this one. The pattern to the hub and puzzle rooms almost unilaterally goes Hub -> Weird hallway -> Puzzle Room -> Weird hallway -> Puzzle Room -> Weird hallway -> Puzzle Room -> Weird hallway -> Back to the original hub. Then you run through some weird hallways to the next hub, and it all repeats. It wouldn't be as much of a problem if the other aspects of the game were better.

In the end, I was glad I ended only paid about $1.50 for this in a sale. It has some somewhat interesting weirdness to it, but it just doesn't quite execute well on any of it. Maybe skip Kairo.

SCORE: 2/5

Apotheon (PS4)

Look at this damn game. Look at it.
Look at this damn game. Look at it.

I finished this game over a week ago and I still can't get over how great it looks. What an awesome idea for an art style. In case you didn't know, Apotheon's visual style is inspired by the ancient Greek art style known as "Black Figure". It's a very striking look for the game.

I went into Apotheon expecting a Metroidvania-style experience, but that's not really what I got. You don't really get any traversal upgrades or any abilities that let you reach new areas. Apotheon is nearly 100% combat focused, and all upgrades you earn are in the same vein. The combat system is surprisingly complex. There are a multitude of weapon types, from melee weapons like swords and hammers to ranged weapons like bows and slings. All weapons have a durability meter, and everything breaks pretty quickly. Running out of killing tools is never a worry, though, since the game practically blankets you in more weapons at every turn. The main effect that the durability system has is forcing you to change up the weapons you are using frequently.

Apotheon also has a number of other complex systems layered on it. There are health and armor meters and upgrades, a crafting system with learnable recipes for consumables and tools, a stamina bar, throwing options for all weapons, melee or ranged... It's safe to say the game was quite a bit more complex than I was anticipating. Most of the systems seem to work together fairly well, and I only had a few complaints about my time with the game. First of all, there are many dark areas in the game where you need to get out a torch to see. That's all well and good, but effectively taking away the map in these segments is not welcome when it's already pretty easy to get lost in the labyrinthine passages of the various regions of Mount Olympus. Another annoying issue is the poorly implemented crime system in the hub areas. Taking basically any action besides running or jumping will bring down a hurricane of guards that are frequently more deadly than any boss encounter in the game. Sometimes the game allows you to pay a fine to the guards to make them leave you alone (a mere 20 gold, no matter what the crime), but more frequently the game decided I was to be immediately put to death.

All in all, Apotheon wasn't at all the game I was expecting, but that doesn't mean that it's not a good experience. I was hoping for something with more of a focus on exploration, but Apotheon's fairly complex systems are solid enough that I still had a great time with the game.

SCORE: 4/5

WORKING ON IT:

Elite: Dangerous

Nuclear Throne

Bayonetta

I find that I can only play this game one chapter at a time. It's taking a while to get through. I'll write about the experience once I finish it.

Metroid Prime

Alllllmost wrapped this one up. I'll write more about this and its sequels next month.

MULTIPLAYER STUFF:

After watching Brad's Encyclopedia Bombastica for Tetris Battle Gaiden, I finally decided to get off my ass and start trying out some of the Giant Bomb classic old local multiplayer games. Here's what we played:

Tetris Battle Gaiden

This is the real hit. Everyone I've introduced the game to loves it. It's especially been a hit with my fiancee. She's played a lot less video games than I have but is also very competitive, so it can be frustrating for her when I win the games we play most of the time. However, Battle Tetris appears to be the great equalizer. Now that we all know the general strategies and abilities of the characters, my brother, my fiancee, and I are all pretty evenly matched.

Sanrio World Smash Ball

We've only played this one once so far. It hasn't really grabbed anyone.

Windjammers

So far I've only played this with my fiancee and my brother, with wildly varying reactions: My fiancee hates the game, but my brother really likes it. Windjammers has more of a learning curve than I was expecting, but my brother and I are both getting there and having a lot of fun along the way.

Diablo III: Ultimate Evil Edition (PS4)

Some friends of my friends from across the country and I decided to start playing this together. We're having a great time so far! More on this in the next column.

Dota 2 (PC)

The Year Beast Brawl is terrible.

Guild Wars 2 (PC)

After the announcement of the expansion last month, I felt like I should try to jump back into this one. I still haven't done more than dabble a little. I guess you'll know next month if I end up actually doing it or not.

So that about wraps things up for February. Next month, we start to turn away from the backlog and look more towards new releases! Especially Final Fantasy Type-0 and Bloodborne.

Thanks for reading! See you next month.

2 Comments

January in Games: A Super Late Look

Hello fellow duders! I decided to write more about the games I play in 2015 as sort of a new year's resolution. This is way later than I intended to get January's entry done, but here it is. I'll be writing the most about games I actually finished in a given month, mention games I'm still working on, and try to get a few words out about smaller experiences (local multiplayer games and the like).

GAMES I FINISHED

Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots (PS3)

I began my journey with Metal Gear in 2012. The HD collection had just come out a few months prior. Having heard a bunch about how great the series was, I decided to go through all the story-relevant entries in chronological order. So I picked up the HD collection, played MGS3, and loved the hell out of it. I then proceeded to play through the rest of the games up to the halfway point of MGS2, where I petered out. I didn't care for much about that game and just got tired of how it played.

Flash forward to December 2014, when Metal Gear Scanlon 2 was wrapping up. Having now satisfied my own internal requirements for series completion (at least I saw the whole game, even if I didn't play it myself), I started MGS4 that day. That game is... something else. It's definitely the craziest Metal Gear game I had played up to this point. The scene with Raiden at the end of Act IV may be the most ridiculous/dumb/great scenes I have seen in a video game.

So the story is totally bonkers, but the gameplay headed in the opposite direction. It's way more playable than previous entries in the series. I never felt like I was fighting the controls or that Snake was doing what he felt like instead of what I wanted him to do. Every aspect of this game plays better than any of the previous entries. Even stuff like piloting a Metal Gear felt pretty natural.

I had a good enough time with this game that I decided to go for the Platinum trophy. I ended up getting it pretty early in the month.

SCORE: 4/5

Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance (PC)

The Metal Gear journey continues! If you didn't think the series could get more ridiculous after MGS4, you were wrong. I initially had a really terrible time with this game (I could not pull off parries for the life of me). I played through the first chapter and thought the "cut everything into a billion pieces" system was cool, but remained frustrated with the rest of the controls.

The second time I booted it up everything clicked. For some reason the controls felt right, I could pull of parries 95% of the time, and I was ripping through guys left and right. I had a great time with the rest of the game (except for the fight with the dude who splits into lots of pieces. That was super tedious and boring). The story is pretty nonsensical and somehow feels way more Japanese than normal Metal Gear does, which is likely the influence of the insane minds at Platinum. The end fight(s) make the entire experience worthwhile. I was not disappointed.

SCORE: 3.5/5

Metal Gear Solid 5: Ground Zeroes (PC)

Like everyone else, I was a little incredulous about the reports of this game on release. 1-2 hours to get through the game? It sounded crazy. Even going in with those expectations, I was STILL surprised by how short it was. That said, it's still a hell of a teaser for MGS5 proper. I'm really interested to see where the story goes, as I've always been more invested in the Big Boss side of things than the modern-day games.

The game plays incredibly well compared to everything else in the series, and pretty much every single new mechanic is a welcome change. The slow-mo reaction time window when an enemy sees you is perhaps the best new thing in there. It looks fantastic as well.

I ended up playing through all the available missions once. I didn't really feel the need to go back and go for S-ranks on everything or collect all the tapes, but that may just be Metal Gear fatigue speaking. I'll probably go back to the game if Phantom Pain is too long in coming.

SCORE: 4/5 (But really only because I paid something like $14 for it in the Steam sale. I can't imagine paying more than $20 for what is essentially the Tanker demo from MGS2)

Dragon Age: Inquisition (PC)

I decided to go back and play through the whole Dragon Age series after checking out the Dragon Age Keep website and realizing that I had forgotten a whole bunch about what happens in those games. I ended up starting Inquisition in mid-December, and eventually got back to it after wrapping up my Metal Gear fling.

I have really mixed feelings about this game. The overarching story is serviceable, but that was never DA's main strength anyway. Where this game really shined for me was the moment-to-moment stories and character interactions. Smaller self-contained adventures like the dinner party mission were really neat to play through. The banter between your party members as you run around is probably the best I've heard in video games. Inquisition has really superbly written, well thought out characters. My crew for most of the game was Iron Bull, Vivienne, and Dorian (swapped out Solas because he was a dick about my elven heritage).

Then we get to the gameplay. I found the combat in this game to be really dull. Gone are the days of the tightly paced, deeply strategic fights of Dragon Age: Origins. Gone are the days of the flashier-but-shallower, bombastic fights of Dragon Age II. In its place is a system of "Hold down this button to kill everything. Every so often tap a button to make your character do something slightly different." I decided to play on Hard, as I heard the game was quite a bit easier than previous entries in the series. However, Inquisition was still braindead-easy for me.

Overall I enjoyed my time with the game. The characters and some of the story grabbed me like few other games have, but I just didn't enjoy fighting anyone.

SCORE: 3.5/5

Wolfenstein: The New Order (PC)

Confession time: This is my first Wolfenstein game. Wolfenstein 3D came out when I was 2, and I didn't really start playing shooters until I was 17 or 18. To this day they're not really my favorite franchise. To my surprise, I had a hell of a time with The New Order. The shooting is fast, fun, and controls tightly. The stealth is pretty good and entirely optional. The first-person cover/leaning system is probably the first time I've actually found a "lean" button useful.

What really surprised me about the game was the quality of the story. It does a really good job of telling a personal, heartfelt tale on the goofy backdrop of alternate history Space Nazis. I decided to save the Scottish guy, and was really impressed with some of the cutscenes that dealt with his survivor's guilt as the game went on.

MachineGames, this was a good first title. More like this, please.

SCORE: 4.5/5

Final Fantasy XIII-2 (PC)

I'm one of those weird guys that actually really liked FFXIII. The game was disappointingly linear, but I really enjoyed the battle system, characters (except Hope), and world they created in the game. So when XIII-2 first came out and was supposed to have fixed the things I didn't like about the first game, I was pretty excited. I ended up stopping about a third of the way through the first time. I decided to give it another shot with the Steam release.

The excellent combat from XIII is still intact, but they've added a Pokemon sort of monster training system for the third party member. I tend not to enjoy those sorts of systems anywhere but Pokemon (Ni no Kuni being a rare exception), so I try to circumvent it the best I can. I find some good starter monsters, switch to what the internet says are the best ones ASAP, and never change from them. This is especially true with XIII-2, since you are punished for experimenting. If you want to level up your monsters, you really have to dump a lot of items into them. That means you will either have few left over when you want to switch to a new monster, or you'll be grinding for a while.

XIII-2's story is a weird beast. It's kind of a mess, as most time travel stories are. The majority of the plot points don't make any sense at all, but I think there's an interesting core at its center. The idea of Caius attempting to destroy time in order to save this girl he's forced to watch die over and over again is really compelling. It's so much more personal than the motivations of most other FF villains. It's too bad they couldn't write something better around that idea.

SCORE: 3/5

GAMES I PLAYED SOME OF:

I'll write more about these next month.

Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen (PS3)

Guild Wars 2 (PC)

Metroid Prime (Wii U)

Elite: Dangerous (PC)

Nuclear Throne (PC)

MULTIPLAYER STUFF:

Dota 2 (PC)

I pretty much only ever play this with my younger brother anymore. He lives with us on the weekends, so we tend to play a few matches each time he's over. I still love this game a ton, I just have lost most of my desire to play with people I don't know.

Crypt of the NecroDancer (PC)

Haven't done a ton with this so far, but my brother and had fun getting to Zone 2 in the local co-op. It's a really neat idea for a game. I'll have to spend more time with it.

Crawl update (PC)

1.03 is out, and with it brings new gods, new monsters, and most importantly a new boss. My fiancee, my brother and I have played a lot of Crawl so far and booted this up as soon as we heard about the update. The new boss needs rebalancing, as it seems to be a lot easier to win as the human. We continue to look forward to seeing how this game develops and gets better over time.

Super Slam Dunk Touchdown (PC)

This is a fun, dumb little thing. Played it with (once again) my brother and fiancee. It's pretty rudimentary so far. I see potential there, but they need to do some more work to it.

Jackbox Party Pack (PC)

This was a staple of the holiday season in my family. The nature of the game (playing on smartphones) meant I could get just about anybody to play- even my grandparents, who DO NOT play video games. General consensus after several sessions: Drawful is the overall favorite, followed by Fibbage and You Don't Know Jack. YDKJ seems to be a bit too complicated and game-y for non-gamers.

Thanks for reading! I'll try to get next month's out closer to the actual end of the month.

2 Comments

Final Fantasy: A New World concert recap

Hey Duders! Last night my fiancee and I attended the performance of Final Fantasy: A New World in Ann Arbor, MI. In case you're unfamiliar with it, A New World is a spinoff of sorts from Final Fantasy: Distand Worlds, the touring orchestral production of music from the series. A New World is this but on a smaller scale- last night it was an eleven piece band.

I'm going to run through some of the highlights of the night (and I'll link to some songs from their album to give you a feel for the performance).

The Red Wings (FFIV)

This is what they opened the concert with. It's a great piece, and this performance typifies what I felt more and more as the night went on: The players did a fantastic job of having an ebb and flow across the various instruments, moving back and forth from having emphasis on the strings and the wind sections.

The Promise/Blinded By Light (FFXIII)

I enjoyed XIII more than your average person did, but I have an especially deep love for the music from the game. The Promise is my favorite piece from the soundtrack, and here it was performed as a duet between conductor Arnie Roth on violin and pianist Benyamin Nuss. It was exceptionally beautiful. At the end, they transitioned into Blinded By Light (which is the main battle theme from XIII). It was really cool to hear that arranged as a duet.

Chocobo Medley

This was probably one of the more fun takes on the Chocobo theme that I've heard, incorporating things like ukulele, slide whistle, and marimba.

March of the Dreadnoughts (FFXIII)

Benyamin Nuss performed three solo pieces on piano throughout the night. March of the Dreadnoughts is a fun piece that translates well to a solo performance on piano. Nuss was phenomenal throughout the night (more on this later), and I felt he did a great job capturing the feel of this one.

Zanarkand (FFX)

Conductor Arnie Roth spent some time talking about how he and Nobou Uematsu wanted A New World to have a different feel than Distant Worlds. They try to stay away from having the same setlist between the productions, and so A New World stays away from some of the most well known pieces. However, they felt they couldn't do a FF concert without Zanarkand. I'm glad they made that decision. It was one of the most memorable pieces from the night, and the band came together for an incredible performance of this classic.

The Decisive Battle (FFVI)

This was another really great, energetic performance. They even played it again for the encore!

Troia (FFIV)

Troia was probably my favorite new arrangement from the night. This was performed as a duet between the cello and the classical guitar. It created a more personal feel to the piece that I felt fit the theme of the concert well.

Those Who Fight (FFVII)

This was the final solo that pianist Benyamin Nuss played. He performed the piece in the style of the track from the film Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children. The first time I heard that version of the piece, it blew me away. It's an intensely complex piano piece, and one of my favorites from all Final Fantasy. Nuss knocked it out of the park with this one. This was one of my true hightlights of the night.

One-Winged Angel (FFVII)

My other biggest highlight of the night, this was the other classic that Roth and Uematsu felt they needed to carry over to A New World. They used a fun bit of audience participation for this one as well: Every time the "SEPHI-ROTH" part would come up, Roth would turn to the audience and have everyone shout it out. It was a fun way to do the piece, and the performance that went along with it was incredible.

I had a great time at the concert. It's a really good set of music played by some fantastic musicians. If you're a fan of Final Fantasy music and this comes to your area, you owe it to yourself to attend.

Start the Conversation