Every Game Played in 2021
A full list of every game I've played this year, regardless of release date, along with occasional notes I had while playing them.
A full list of every game I've played this year, regardless of release date, along with occasional notes I had while playing them.
One of those 'just wouldn't die' games for me. I don't think Cyberpunk is an out-and-out failure as a game, more a fun, shoddy Deus Ex-like with wildly uneven storytelling capability and art direction. Yet, I kept playing and playing it. Maybe it was the years of anticipation or maybe it was the story threads CD Projekt managed to follow through on, but either way I found myself booting this up over and over again until I saw credits. The closest equivalent to Cyberpunk 2077 for me is probably 'b-games' of the PS2 era in spite of the supposedly better, prestige-tier classics in your library; it's like Enter the Matrix or something. Just fun enough - and just *broken* enough - for me to enter a perpetual cycle of 'eh, why not one more try at it.'
Dragon Quest XI is the JRPG zenith. Contained within it's languidly paced text is a permutation of every JRPG fairy tale archetype, elegantly repainted for a new generation of fans but also faithful - stringently, theologically faithful - to the core ideals of the genre. Dragon Quest XI is not a game which subverts these core values, but a game that recognizes the best qualities of past JRPG magnum opuses and examines them through every incontestable lens it can; this is a game about standing in the breeze and watching the flowers blossom, not a game that questions the intrinsic value of a monomyth.
Despite my lack of interest in JRPGs generally, Dragon Quest XI is a convincing thesis in the genre's favor. The RPG mechanics are trimmed to their roots, ensuring combat and traversal mechanics are legible even to a newbie like me. It makes concessions to modern game design, but only aesthetically. Battles are stop-and-start/turn-based in the tradition of the original Dragon Warrior, Final Fantasy or Pokemon games, but the game lets you navigate the full 3D battlefield as you would in an action game during battles anyway, and it does so purely for the player's interest; there's a tool tip that explicitly explains this feature as a 'just for fun' thing, encouraging the player to move characters around either for perspective purposes or even just to make the fight look cooler. That's a weird, chill idea in a genre as stringent as the jrpg.
Dragon Quest XI is a friendly game. It refuses to sacrifice accessibility for complexity, in contrast with every other contemporary JRPG out there, most especially mathematical noise-a-thons like Bravely Default or Xenoblade Chornicles. It's a game that, saving it's final, demanding last act, never once tasks the player with grinding out levels to meet the challenge of a boss fight, instead leaving the option open to customize the difficulty of battle at the player's will. The first two acts of Dragon Quest XI are fun-first, through and through, a happy go lucky jaunt through a Pixar-like, Toriyama-drawn multicultural world. Seeing each new city and getting a feel for its culture was a greater joy than the story or combat, and the game is constantly encouraging the player to chill out with its many quirky NPCs.
The player's ability to divorce themselves from mechanics-first game design is arguably essential to their enjoyment of Dragon Quest XI. I've read multiple articles which accuse this game of 'lacking depth' in its tertiary mechanics, specifically calling out features like the turn based combat's free roaming character placement for lacking a concrete gameplay function of any kind. If you demand every feature in Dragon Quest XI possess a mechanic which either compliments or complicates the core gameplay loop, I think you're fundamentally misunderstanding the game.
Dragon Quest XI, in a very Nintendo-ian way, *insists* that the JRPG be simple to understand, and fully commits itself to being the friendliest iteration of a very unfriendly genre of video game. Steering itself away from new innovations in favor of radically beautifying ancient game mechanics is, without any question at all, the game's most all-encompassing intent. There's little subversion here. Dragon Quest XI is the old school, all-welcoming JRPG it advertises itself to be as hard as it can manage to be it. Critics who call out it's relatively threadbare set of gameplay functions are missing the point.
But then, the final act comes around, and it's a doozy. This is a rich, rewarding, clever, and eminently likable game - right up until the end, in which Dragon Quest XI suddenly becomes a completely different JRPG. There's quite a bit of text online about Dragon Quest XI's 'post-game' content, but all of the 'you can just skip all the hyper difficult stuff at the very end!' apologia does not pass the spit test. While I understand Dragon Quest's use of JRPG structure implies there's a clear stopping point somewhere around the 70% complete mark, I can't for the life of me imagine the kind of 'casual' Dragon Quest fan who would somehow stick with the game for 60-70 hours but feel the remaining 30-50 hours of game, most of which contains important story content, are fun extras to be skipped.
I'd go as far as saying the story content of the 'post-game' quests is key to comprehending Dragon Quest XI as a text - and it just so happens to also be a demanding, ludicrously time consuming second trip through some of the game's most difficult and repetitive content. To see this game's true ending, the player must max level every character, complete a second run through almost every dungeon in the entire game, and display a mastery of near every cold, hard, mechanical element of the game which up to that point had been seamlessly blended with narrative.
It's an enormous mis-step in an otherwise gorgeous game. There's so much more here to like than dislike, and I'd recommend Dragon Quest XI to anyone who loves simple but elegant storytelling and has at least a little bit of nostalgia for the difficult JRPGs of decades past - but, I'd only do so with that qualifier.
If you have the patience to see it through, Dragon Quest XI is immensely satisfying - exhausting, but satisfying. It's a milestone JRPG fit to stand alongside FFVII and Chrono Trigger as a hallmark of the genre, even with an asterisk attached.
Little Hope caused a brief fervor in my apartment. My partner and I discussed and re-litigated our choices in it for about a week, and then it left our consciousness just as soon as it came. I love a game that can do that, more a fun TV special than an 8 season show to binge through.
A ton of fun and just as resplendent as I'd been lead to believe, but the entire time I had this nagging feeling like, without VR, I was only getting about two thirds of the requisite Tetris Effect experience.
Love the tone and like the art style, but the pace...! Too many first person indies want to languish in the elegance of their art and environmental design, and too many of them look roughly equivalent to this. Too many nice protagonists lacking in immediate flaws (re: human) attributes, too. Wish games of this ilk would get spicier.
Apelegs is the only time in my history of playing online games where I've A. felt a need to return to it years after having first played it and B. the game welcomed me back easily despite all the new features and more competitive player set. It's the polar opposite of Overwatch, in other words, and it sure beats the doldrums of yet another COD. This has gotta be the mulitplayer shooter of the decade.
I hate to rag on such a feel good nostalgia project, but I just could not bring myself to see Spyro Reignited through to the end. As Spyro's feature set expanded across the original trilogy (and as the incidental writing and character designs improved), the level design got more and more complicated and unnecessarily cyclical. Spyro: Year of the Dragon is by far the worst offendor, tasking the player with returning to stages again and again with unlockable characters to complete some shitty, mini game-based bonus objective that's usually a whole lot more of a hassle than the primary gameplay.
And the gem collecting suuuuucks, dude. Unlike Crash, *every* collectible in Spyro levels are mandatory to unlock the final stage, and there aren't any items or trackers to make hunting them down any easier. It's a serious waste of the player's time.
New coat of paint or not, the character designs in the Spyro series is terrible. The original games had some reaaal rough edges, but even with Vicarious Visions' laudable clean up work, the enemies in this game are inherently annoying; they're all huge, loud, low-IQ fury muppets. At least on the PS1 things were so roughshod anyway that you could ignore it, but even redesigned in high def they're shrill and irritating
I'm savoring my playthrough of Hitman 3 like no other new game I've ever purchased. The 'World of Assassination' trilogy has proven to be one of my favorite experiences with any game, and even if IO returns to a similar format for Hitman titles in the future I dunno if they'll ever hit quite the same way as this one. The World of Assassination trilogy is arguably not the Hitman franchise at its absolute apex, but it's definitely the franchise at its most generous and evergreen. The maps of Hitman 3 are more beautiful than any in the franchise's history so far, and they contain such a multitude of microscopic human moments, and story and incidental dialogue that I'll probably technically never see all of it. As a result, I savor the flavor to a (probably) insane degree, sticking with just one level at a time until I hit Hitman 3's full 'mastery' level of experience in each one.
All that being said, you only get to play these maps for the first time *once*, and I don't love a Hitman map more than when I go into it blind. So I've been making an event of it each time I jump to a new one, taking it as slow as possible, soaking in as much story and atmosphere as I can, always on Master difficulty without the UI on, which - yes, I know, that's a really dumb way to go about it. It takes me hours to complete each level this way, and I love it.
I only recently completed the Berlin map for the first time, and my lord was my mind blown. IO cemented a formula for the trilogy early, and Hitman 2 did a ton to add flavor, cultural specificity and occasionally outlandish twists to a set of mechanics that had, in the previous iteration, felt almost *too* machine-perfect. In Hitman 3, the series has almost folded in on an analysis *of itself,* casting both 47 and the player in roles that, on the surface, are parallel to the series so far. In a game that's explicitly about framing a murder as an unsolvable accident, what do the mechanics look like when they are instead applied to solving a murder disguised the same way the player might? In a game about playing the role of an invisible hunter, what can the game mechanics do to instead cast the player if they themselves are hunted by an invisible threat? Hitman 3 is a bold, deliriously inventive twist on a decades old concept, and it's so good at doing what it does that it reframes the mechanics (and the narrative!) of the entire series thus far. I love it.
It can take a while to find your footing in a new Animal Crossing game, but as someone who returns to this series as a kind of chill out, casual collectathon where I lazily redecorate my home and hear what my weirdo neighbors have to say, New Horizons has me feeling like I'm waiting for a game that isn't there to unveil itself. Fact of the matter is, despite New Horizons' positively bonkers number of potential villagers, its really more concerned with being an out and out video game than the older titles in the series. Fossil collecting, bug hunts, bell accumulation...these were all accoutrements to the primary experience for me back when I was sinking hours into Wild World and the GameCube original. Now, these things comprise the primary Animal Crossing experience, and I think the series is worse off for it.
I recall long, rambling letters and bizarre monologues from my villagers in the first two titles, and I even seem to remember building an acquaintance-ship with villagers in the more gameplay-driven New Leaf. In New Horizons, villagers have been reduced to one more item to check off on your Animal Crossing to-do list, offering up little more than a one text bubble comment or yet another craftable DIY recipe upon speaking to them. Taking an already repetitive series in a new direction is...well, good, but Nintendo are slowly and steadily removing the *only* feature that made Animal Crossing special to begin with.
I'm still enjoying myself! I do my rounds everyday, selling off some fish, seeing what fossils my partner left behind after her daily playthrough, picking up some junk that might look fun in my house down the line. But it's all building towards a cute, likeable distraction to me, and not the artfully surreal life sim that made the series special. Animal Crossing is still Animal Crossing, so I'm sure I'll be in it for the long haul, but after about three weeks of play, I'll be pretty surprised if I end up looking back on this entry anywhere near as fondly as even New Leaf.
Katamari Damacy REROLL 2004/2018
I wasn't a huge fan of Bastion, Supergiant's first claim to fame, both because I thought the combat was loose and unsatisfying and because I thought the storytelling was largely only pretty good. By contrast, I like Hades so much that it's got me questioning my own take on Bastion. Roguelikes are a perfect vessel for that 'one more run' style gameplay that used to be mainly the purview of arcade titles and as such aren't typically suited towards complex narratives. Hades layers an award-worthy narrative over each element of its rogeulike loop with so much elegance...it's a genuinely wild take on the genre. It feels revelatory, even.
Still digesting what's going on with Fuser. I love the conceit, and the energy is there, but the core mechanics are still a little up in the air to me. Fuser seems to be inherently less of an arcade title than Rock Band, which is fine, but it's got the same scoring structure of one; or, at least, if it *is* similar in structure the parameters for a 'perfect run' are unclear to me.
What really stuck out with me after trying this out one weekend was what a tremendous, hilarious time the free mix feature is. Spent literally hours just experimenting with different pitch values and time signatures to make the perfect nightcore/pseudo accapella mix, and it *swallowed* me. I meant to mess around with this mode for maybe 15 minutes and set it down hours later. I don't mean this as a pejoritive, but it's an incredible toy for music nerds.
Genuinely strange to me to play through Super Mario Bros. 1 with updated artwork. In comparison to 2 and 3, SMB 1 may be an introduction to game design course in and of itself but it's also a thuddingly mechanical game first and foremost. SMB 3 is already stylish and SMB 2 has it's own visual character, but seeing 1-1 repainted as a Super Mario World level just feels...wrong, somehow.
I'd casually played about half of Super Metroid before, but it wasn't until this time through that I've really come to appreciate it. The pseudo-open world design and deliberate pace make its use as a template for not only Metroidvanias but many other non-linear titles really obvious. While the world design does act to mask otherwise linear level progression, the slow reveal of roadblocks and seemingly unreachable pathways twisting in and out of familiar spaces makes Super Metroid just as much a cartographer sim as it does a platformer, and the feel and mood of the game are incredible, especially for the era. Any positive text written about Super Metroid's design at this point is probably redundant, but I guess I hadn't realized up to this point what a bullet point it is on a timeline that leads to titles like Dark Souls and Breath of the Wild.
Edit: finished this game for the first time this year, and MAN what a ride. I sometimes try out classics for the first time and am dissapointed to find that I don't gel with them as much as I might have if i tried them at the time of their release, but that isn't the case at all with Super Metroid. Genuinely stunned by the art direction, tone, pace, and fun, pseudo-free flowing structure. Sure, you could argue a lot of that tone and art direction are derivative of, say, Aliens, but filtered through the lens of the colorful, pixelated maximalism of SNES games, Super Metroid creates quite a bit of distance between it and its wells of inspiration, and it's better off for them anyway.
I mean, I can't stress enough that Super Metroid managed to actually shock me, twice, during my playthrough. The first time was during a mid-chapter boss who burns alive in a vat of acid - just, genuinely flabbergasted the Super Metroid devs got away with something as disgusting as that sequence making a Nintendo game in the mid '90s on 16 bit hardware. The second was during the final boss fight, which - ew! That rubbery, brainy guy was gross and horrifying!
It's wildly redundant to point out that Super Metroid is good, actually, but having played Prime, Prime 3, Fusion, Zero Mission and Other M I'd say I was pretty well suited to have seen all this somewhere before already. Super Metroid is genuinely timeless that way.
The Falconeer's gameplay and structure seem pretty neat, but the onboarding ramp it provides is abysmal, with a tutorial that's somehow both too mechanical and lacking in explanation. Once the open world was revealed I was doubly confused, because I had *no idea* there even was an open world to begin with. I bounced off The Falconeer faster and harder than I have with a game like this in years, but I'll give it at least one more shot.
I don't think I'll ever complete Metroid or Legend of Zelda, or if I do, it'll be under weird circumstances. They're really unfriendly games that cast you as a cartographer more than a video game player, and I have so little of the time or the patience needed to map out a bunch of NES screens, and I genuinely don't think the time investment could come anywhere near justifying the potential payoff.
Like a lot of Yakuza titles, I have about a dozen concurrent yet parallel takes about Yakuza Kiwami 2.
1. The Song of Life/Judgement era Yakuza combat streamlines the *feel* of fistfighting in a satisfying, visceral way. Fights have weight they didn't before, and the smooth transitions between combat encounters vs. the staged, random RPG battle-like combat instances of Yakuza 0 and Kiwami 1 make Kiwami 2 feel almost like a Kiryu life sim. But - and this is a big but - the combat mechanics have also lost quite a bit of momentum without the arcade-frenzy beat 'em ups of past entries, and the wildly riciulous use of ragdoll make even the most dramatic of encounters feel wacky and graceless, rather than wacky and graceful.
2. Kiwami 2 is a remake of Yakuza 2, and it's so, so good at re-coloring sequences from the PS2 title with flashy AAA sheen. Sometimes Kiwami 2 gets *too* excessive, adding a ton of unnecessary details or dramatic framing to sequences the PS2 game smartly sprinted through as comedic asides (I'm looking at you, conspicuous chandelier quick time event), which makes the overall re-telling sometimes too laborious. It's the same with any reboot with a budget the original never got - sometimes the added details are a lot of fun, and sometimes they sink otherwise solid work.
3. Kiwami 2 is also an opportunity for Ryo Ga Gotokou studios to close the loose ends introduced by Yakuza 0, a prequel which was imagined and produced after the 5th title in the franchise, and which introduced new characters beloved by the fanbase which would never appear in the series again. Some of these wrap ups work really well! I love to see characters in crime fiction leave the story not because of tragedy, but because they were afforded the space in their lives to return to normalcy. Others, like the cabaret club, are so wrong-headed and driven by the need to produce more 'game' content that I'd almost have preferred the thread been left dangling.
4. The cabaret club campaign is...bad! It's bad. Kiwami 2 hoists a mode from Majima's Yakuza 0 campaign into Kiryu's, set two decades later, and the shift is totally unearned. It's weird to see Kiryu act out a role directly written for a polar opposite character, especially considering they copy/paste some of Majima's animations into Kiryu's. Not to mention, Yakuza 2's plot is quite a bit more bleak than Yakuza 0's, and without Yakuza 0's framing of the shady deals happening behind the scenes in Tokyo's night life, this full fledged 5-10 hour campaign feels wildly anachronistic. For it to also place characters from the original campaign in nearly identical circumstances as their original story just to learn the exact same lessons they already did makes it that much worse.
5. The Majima Construction campaign, while admittedly a lackluster copy/paste of Yakuza 6's clan creator mode, is a terrible tower defense game. It's really difficult and I sort of hate it, but the story is at least pretty fun.
6. Yakuza 2 jumps the shark in spots. I started the series with Yakuza 0, and while that game also gleefully departed from reality, it was also a game about excess. Kiwami 2 features a sequence in which a castle is split in two, revealing a second castle made of gold, which contains two tigers Kiryu must face in combat. It's...completely fucked lol I don't know how else to put it. The wild shifts in tonality are a lot of the fun of Yakuza, but moments like these are stupid enough that when the game shifts back to drama mode the entire story buckles under the weight of itself.
7. The substories, Yakuza's version of side quests, are top tier in Kiwami 2. Sure, a lot of them boil down to 'fight this guy for no reason,' but the circumstances around these fights are more meta than ever before, and they're a huge step up from Kiwami 1's sometimes threadbare mini stories.
8. Kiwami 2 is the skeeviest game in the series I've played so far, and some of its content is genuinely creepy. There's a photography mode in which you take pictures of models that...idk man, it's icky. Really offputting and not fun.
9. The AAA redesign of Sotenbori and Kamorucho as AMAZING. If not for the many NPCs wandering around, they'd be near photo-realistic depictions of Tokyo. Multiple times now I've taken a break from the actual game to take walks - the only other game to inspire me to do this was Red Dead Redemption 2. Kiwami 2 is far from the technical masterpiece that is Rockstar's magnum opus, but it crams a TON of detail into the tiny shops and restaurants around town. There's a phenomenal amount of flavor and character here. I realize Kiwami 2 uses a repurposed version of Kamorucho from Song of Life and Jugement, but it's still immensly rewarding to have played 0 and Kiwami 1 and be allowed to explore these spaces in first person, upscaled to a maximum degree.
10. The early goings of Chapter 13 features some of the most incoherent storytelling I've seen in a game, and it's certainly the stupidest and worst I've seen the Yakuza series get so far.
Found myself frustrated with how stringently procedural the combat is in this game vs. how flamboyantly unreal everything else about it is, then discovered Virtua Fighter was originally directed by Yu Suzuki, which...makes Virtua Fighter 2 make a lot more sense!
Briefly revisiting this, I was struck by how immediately engaging the blunt force tactic of 'the descent'-ing Lara Croft is. It's an approach worthy of criticism, sure, but the sheer punishment Lara undergoes at the start of this game and the ensuing burgeoning trauma are *effective*. It's a trainwreck of an 'in media res' approach in the best way possible. Though, this game is also a bit of a joke - once I realized that Tomb Raider's world is basically a pillar of salt that crumbles, explodes and evaporates as Laura leaps from precipice to precipice, the game gained a nearly comedic timing to its supposedly harrowing set pieces.
Also - not for nothin,' as both Rise and Shadow are tremendous benchmarks of video game nature simulacra, but goddamn how did they make this game look this good in 2013. It's still phenomenal to look at.
Never tried this before! Only put a little bit of time into it but *man* is it weird! I already know the backstory about how it was another game entirely that ended up having Mario stapled on top of it, and the characters are definitely a weird fit for the kinds of mechanic and art in it vs. Mario 1 and 3. That said, the mechanics and art in it are fun and pretty weird! It's pretty crazy how the mechanical conventions for the primary Mario cast started here and stayed true for decades afterwards. I played Super Mario 3D World for the first time immediately following setting this down and that kind of continuity is weirdly powerful. The logistics of the Mario world are completely arbitrary but any derivation from them whatsoever would feel like heresy at this point.
2013 (Super Mario 3D World)/2021 (Bowser's Fury)
Dontnod were doing something fun here, and I don't think they quite got the credit for building a pseudo-open choose-your-own adventure structure with this free intro chapter to Life is Strange 2. It's weirdly ambitious for a free, 1-2 hour game. The plot of Captain Spirit is so thin you could explain as: 'little boy wakes up, plays with toys, interacts with his father and then something goes wrong' and that would describe the entirety of the game's plot. What's interesting is that Captain Spirit allows you to spend free time chasing six different objectives at your leisure before initiating the endgame cutscene. None of them are essential to completing the game or comprehending the story of Life is Strange 2, but all of them teach you something about this game's protagonist and his situation (at least one of them has major cosmetic effects for a portion of the main game, as well). I think that's a really neat idea, and we're unlikely to see a lot of games experiment with open design that way in a Telltale format for quite a while. Other than this game, I can't think of a Telltale-like that grants the player free, open time in which they dictate the sequence of events of the story, or in which they can actively choose not to engage in those events at all.
It's weird to say that a Metroidvania is...nice? But this one is nice. I mean, honestly, skip the vania - this game is all Metroid if Samus was a cat in a robot suit. It's super compact, too. I sometimes find myself craving the exploratory gameplay of a Metroid but don't have the patience to deal with a whole 15 hours of exploring/mapping a place, but Gato Roboto scratches that itch and is super compact. I wish more indies that were gameplay-first were bold enough to make a big first impression like this one and get out quick. Way too many bloated games these days.
I'm six hours in to Yakuza 3, and STILL nothing has happened. The game tutorialized its beat 'em up mechanics with some perfunctory fights at the jump, but other than that and the random battles this game is, so far, an Okinawan Dad Simulator. I'm playing in chronological order, and have hit this game after completing Yakuza 0, Yakuza Kiwami and Yakuza Kiwami 2, so this tonal disparity is incredible to me. The dramatic plummeting of the technical quality is also quite a bit to grapple with, but still, I find myself more interested in the shift in tone. This game is slowww, way more willing to explore quieter, non-explosive problems for its hero, and I think that's great.
Edit: The pacing in this game is truly crazy to me, especially following the (rather maniacal) breakneck nonsense of Yakuza 2. I realize Yakuza 2 is beloved by fans for escalating the franchise and creating the groundwork for the absurdity that was to come, but starting at Yakuza 0 like most western players probably do, Yakuza 2's fucking wild tonal zig-zagging makes the games drama feel weightless and arbitrary; it feels like a game for the PlayStation 2, in other words. Yakuza 3, by comparison, feels like a game for a more mature audience interested in a good story. It cares more about grounding its characters in some version of reality, and while it certainly escalates towards classic, wild Yakuza-isms, it also cares very much about human problems. Kiryu isn't an action guy with a daughter attached, but a father figure invested in building a life rather than destroying an institution. His reformation puts his capacity for empathy at the forefront just as much, if not occasionally more, than his physical prowess.
The game even goes as far to challenge the island of peace and prosperity he's supposedly built for himself and his children. The land he's built the orphanage he runs is put in precarity when a mad-land grab for the orphanage's island breaks out between the government and a large corporation. Both parties have conflicting views on what should be built on the land, and both plans will destroy the locals' homes. This is a plain factor in all of our lives - you can try to seperate yourself individually from the greater problems of the world, but the greater problems of the world WILL find their way to you eventurally.
Bounced off of this harder than I expected to, or at least much quicker than I expected to. This is a game about painting a gorgeous island inhabited by animal-head folks in which 'painting' is using the snip tool on Windows to make a screenshot. That's what a 'painting' constitutes in Eastshade. Not to put too fine a point on it, but even if this mechanic gets more complex later, seeing it for the first time is like running into a brick wall. It captures very little of the experience (or the context!) of what making a painting is like, abstracted to such an extent that it calls the entire purpose of the project into question.
Didn't find that NieR:Automata hit me quite as hard as virtually everyone else who played it to completion when I tried it, and for some reason I've been thinking about it off and on for an entire year so I'm replaying it from scratch. Probably will be a few notes here as I slowly roll through it.
On a first playthrough, I didn't (and still don't) like the sexy gothic lolita look for the main cast. 2B is relentlessly sexualized, and the constant upskirts, inevitable thanks to her bizarre uniform, make many otherwise serious cutscenes unintentionally hilarious. I still feel this way, whatever the justification you have for designing every woman in your game as a sort of customizable doll can't possibly be worth undercutting the drama. I do at least find it interesting that, outside of the many anonymous NPCs in the game's safe areas, there literally aren't any traditionally masculine strongman type protagonists amongst the cast to speak of. Literally every character of import is a hyper-feminized woman. Considering the androids in this series are humanity's last gasp at capturing the human form, this is an...interesting choice, I guess.
Will probably make a few notes here as I try this game out.
Easily one of the most baffling intros to a video game I've played. After a slideshow of CG cutscenes and what appears to be a music video/intro cutscene that makes no sense out of context, the player is booted into a theme park/zoo/university campus/military academy complex and forced into a very long tutorial sequence about """junctioning.""" Complete nonense.
Edit 1: After about 6 hours, I've gotten a grip on the core 'draw' and (*shudders*) 'junctioning' mechanics, compartmentalizing them as trading card game and item/armor/equipment mechanics, respectively. That's essentially what FF8 is - shove a trading card game into Final Fantasy 7, but present the trading card game as normal Final Fantasy RPG mechanics.
It's bizarre and seems to flow against the core joys of the ever-increasing stat bar skinner-boxing of JRPG mechanics generally, but it's extremely clever all the same. FF8's monsters and core characters are, in a very literal way, objects, commodities who opt-in to be traded as commodities. So far, the closest textual equivalent piece of media to FF8 I can think of is Starship Troopers, what with its bleak, in-universe uncritical celebration of military youth and jingoism. Because it's Final Fantasy, it's also insanely over-complicated and clunky, but, hey - I dunno if I would want it any other way with this series.
Edit 1: That assassination setpiece is predicated on some incredibly stupid decisions by the main cast, but oh my LORD does it hold up. Incredibly cinematic for a game made when video games just weren't cinematic. Speaking just in sheer technical execution, nothing in FF7 can compare to that sequence.
I know this one was way, wayyy late in the NES' lifespan and developed by Nintendo, but holy shit did they get a lot of leverage out of that limited hardware in this game. It holds up as an aesthetic object, bar none, and it plays just as tightly (if not moreso) than contemporary Kirby games.
Like Ninja Gaiden if Ninja Gaiden was nice to you and thought Miami Vice was cool.
As someone who found Oblivion too rudimentary and plain-faced to really dig into, I knew Morrowind might be a big ask but...oh my god. This was...this was rough to start.
It's got personality, though. You can learn a whole lot about Bathesda's output and their effect on gaming from Morrowind and Oblivion. From a first impression, Morrowind has a true visual identity and a lot of personality, but oh my lord does it seem like a nightmare to play. Oblivion is, by contrast, hyper-flexible to the player and easily grappled with. The structure of the game itself is satisfying, and immediately opens the game up to a wider player base - but man is it a boring world with shitty characters. I mean, it's the blandest high fantasy setting I've *ever* seen. Can't we have both?
Oof, this one really didn't come together for me. Thought critics might've been a bit too harsh on it with all the lukewarm Diet Portal criticisms it got at the time of its release, but trying it out for myself I think that might've been generous. The level design is hyper function-first, to the point that the potentially fun conceit that you're exploring your crazy uncle's science mansion is lost entirely. Spaces are literal puzzle boxes first and nothing else second. Worse, the art design is very straight-to-DVD Dreamworks rip-off, which is just about the worst aesthetic I can imagine a game like this having. It's like a shittier looking version of the already shitty-looking Hello Neighbor. And the writing is bad. It's the same tone as Portal, with a megalomaniacal scientist narrator booming through speakers littered throughout each puzzle room, except this one is a shitty, verbally abusive parental guardian instead of a psychotic A.I. gone rogue. Instant uninstall.
Only in the starter zone in this game. Was a bit hesitant to see if this game could hold up to all the hyperbole from (geez) four years ago now, but so far, I'm having a really, really, really good time poking around in it.
What Comes After (2021)
Don't you sort of miss games like this? Games with just one big idea and a series of generic gameplay functions to surround it? Playing a game like this is like going to a theme restaurant, or any restaurant with a 'home of the ____ burger/sandwich/other meal' plastered somewhere on the front of it. Good to eat junk food now and again.
EXTREME flash game energy from Duck Game. But - a very good flash game! I think there's a ceiling to how frequently one would want to play Duck Game, but it's terrific for a few rounds of pure chaos.
OK listen - we really, REALLY need to let go of this reverence for '80s mass media. It's been DECADES of this junk. We're like, what, FIFTEEN years past James Murphy reprimanding us for our 'borrowed nostalgia for the unremembered '80s' and we're STILL stuck in here? Back to the Future was good! The pop music was good! Tron was good! They weren't THAT good!
Narita Boy not only weaponizes '80s toys/movies/neon nostalgia as a blunt object to the temple, but it painstakingly reconstructs familiar '80s archetypes with an obsessive zeal. It's so weird to see a team dedicate such painstaking effort towards saying something everyone else has been saying for years and years and years. It's weird, even. Like, at the beginning of this game, the protagonist has to deal with his mom's insistence that video games are a waste of time before venturing into Tron to save the digital world or whatever. Like, really??? What level of emotional regression is this game at, exactly?
Probably not as ear-piercingly annoying as Ready Player One, but close.
Fun fact: this game straight up just doesn't have subtitles! Every time I play an older game that lacks any kind of accessibility options it brings me right back to the PS1/PS2 era. Accessibility wasn't just far from the minds of devs, publishers and critics back in the 2000s - it wasn't even on their radar! Wild times. The first Assassin's Creed, even, has no subtitle options whatsoever! Completely bizarre to me.
Use your keyboard!
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