Subnautica: Breaking the (Surface) Tension

I messed up yet again with the approach to writing these things. The last article on Atelier Ayesha ended up being a full on review and discussion, as well as a look at the series overall. I approached writing this article about Subnautica as much the same approach. Unfortunately, I wanted to write the article to cover just one aspect of the game and the two times in which it broke in a more casual approach, but instead I got sucked into trying to write a full thing.

As such, it started to get bogged down and I lost interest. I was struggling to write the damn thing because I was struggling to get through the filler to the meat of what I wanted to talk about. So enough of that: I’m scratching that off, cutting a bunch of this article off, and getting right back into the topic I wanted to tackle. Let’s start from there!

Pretty much every game I’ve played so far in 2019 has come about as a result of what I’ve come to think of as The Eternal Search. I outlined what that entails a few posts ago, but I’m going to relink it here for posterity. A number of games with heavy aspects of resource gathering, management, crafting and survival were sampled as a result ever since, and Subnautica is among those.

I won’t go any further into the overarching stuff than what’s in the post, so I encourage you to give it a read if you haven’t yet to see what I mean. Don’t worry, this post will still be here when you’re done. I’ll wait.

All caught up? Awesome. Let’s dive right in then.

Continue reading “Subnautica: Breaking the (Surface) Tension”

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Atelier Ayesha Review/Discussion: Atelier Hwhat, Bobby

An atelier is a workshop usually associated with artists or designers. Just putting that there for reference, because I’ve had to define it for at least one person before. Got it? Good.

The Atelier series is a long-running development project and the primary flagship series of Gust, one of the more prolific and constant mid-tier JRPG developers. The core concept behind them is that of alchemy; you gather materials either through exploration or combat, use that to craft items, and then utilise these in battles or for quests and such. While many RPGs contain some kind of crafting or material system as a secondary feature, the Atelier series focuses on it as the primary strength, with everything else being secondary.

With this slightly difference focus, one may wonder: just who is this kind of game for? It’s a question a friend has, in fact, asked off-handedly before. Atelier games lack or have reduced focus on the usual strengths and highlights of the more notable JRPGs; the battles are more about what you bring into them than how you execute strategies with the party on hand. The stories and characters don’t tend to stand out among the bigwigs of Persona or Legend of Heroes, often leaning to fairly plain designs and personalities highlighted from a stock standard list of anime tropes.

Yet the games continue to be made and continue to maintain a decent following. So it was that, during my never ending search, I dug up an Atelier game or two that I had picked it up mostly out of curiosity at the time but had never fully invested myself in: Atelier Ayesha most notably. I started it pretty much the moment the new year began, and then finished it in rapid succession, making it the first game I played to completion in 2019. Now I have quite a few thoughts about both Ayesha, and the series as a whole.

So who is this game for? Turns out it might just be me.

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Pyramid Scheme: Revisiting Pharaoh and Other Sierra City Builders

Back in the early days of high school — sometime in the Mesozoic Era, it feels like — one of my favourite subjects was history. We can probably thank the Civilization series for seeding and Age of Empires for nurturing that interest, but that fascination carried over into my schoolwork. I was always keen for an opportunity to study the past, particularly ancient history.

This was something that my dad took notice of, hence why I found myself gifted a jewel CD case bundle containing Caesar 3, Pharaoh, and the latter’s expansion Cleopatra. Made by Impressions Games under the Sierra banner before their closure, these were (at the time) the latest entries in a series of city building games. I was vaguely familiar with Sim City 2000 by this point, but the notion of a real-time game in which I built cities in Ancient Rome and Egypt was fascinating and immensely alluring.

I ended up playing both games quite a bit during my high school years. They were a couple years old by the time I got to them, which meant they had the advantage of working on the low-specs PC I had in my room that was ostensibly for school work only. This made them staples when I wanted to slack off, so naturally I played them a hell of a lot.

Of the two, Pharaoh had the advantage of improving on the issues of Caesar 3, being a much more enjoyable experience that also had a few more unique elements. It was easy enough to build farmland in ancient Italy, but Egypt had no such luxury, forcing me to make use of the limited Nile floodplains per map and abiding by the whims of the seasonal inundation. Certain resources were much harder to get, trade was more important… but most importantly, Pharaoh demanded that you build some of the great monuments and structures. In the end, this one saw a lot more playtime.

I never did finish all the missions and campaigns on offer for either game, but Pharaoh quickly became one of those titles that I would just pick up on a whim every few years to play a couple levels. It even became one of the first titles I purchased on GOG, back when they were still Good Old Games.

From this same platform, I had the opportunity to dabble in the games that followed it: Zeus and expansion Poseidon, the Ancient Greek version steeped heavily in mythology; and Emperor – Rise of the Middle Kingdom, one set in China. Both games ostensibly had more features, improvements, and better graphics than Pharaoh, but I never did end up sticking with them or finding the same satisfaction.

While I had considered this a matter of nostalgia or just preferring the Egyptian thematic over the alternatives, I ended up playing all of these games again following the Christmas search I outlined in my last post. Once again, Pharaoh ended up being the one that stuck with me the most, and this time I was able to figure out why.

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Fantastic Resources and Where to Find Them: Delf’s Search for a Strategy Game

Back on Christmas Day (which was almost a month ago already, where does the time go?), I spent a couple of hours in the evening being somewhat… manic. I don’t recall precisely what initiated this, but for whatever reason I had pictured a specific kind of game in my head, and I was now tearing apart my collection or the internet in a frenzy to find and play it. It cascaded into me playing a handful of games since that point, trying to find something that would absolutely meet the requirements I was searching for.

From this, I ended up discarding or putting aside most of these games when they failed to achieve success, or else playing the ones I did stick with for incomplete or else different reasons. Most of these games I’ll speak about at length in the future (probably their own articles), but by now I feel like I should address the kind of game I was looking for.

In short, I was looking for quite possibly the nerdiest thing I could: a game of resource management, production chains, and logistics. And while I’m sure a few people could see that and immediately list off a few examples — just as I could, did, and started with in my search — I was looking for something more expansive. I don’t just want the end result of the chains, but the acquisition of the resources used, and the utilisation of these to allow me to expand or further my goals.

See, the first title I gravitated towards during my thought process and subsequent search was Black Desert Online. Besides the flashy and graphically striking action combat that the game sells as its main feature, it has a variety of “life skills” to complement this. You can set up farms, buy and sell trade resources in various markets that you can either manually carry or transport via wagons and boats (which you can build, and even breed better horses for), acquire property in towns that can be converted into production centres, and hire workers to work these centres or even gather the resources themselves from some areas if you didn’t feel like doing it yourself.

This was the part of the game that kept me playing for a lot longer than I expected previously. I would frequently go from place to place in order to figure out what resources were available, do smaller quests in order to open them up or else just farm contribution points that let me expand my sphere of influence, or just run trade routes back and forth in the background while doing other things. And it was this model that the manic searching for more games like this was based around.

So why didn’t I just play Black Desert Online when this mood struck me? Well… a few reasons.

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Some Games I Liked From 2018’s Second Half

For the games I liked from the first half, here’s a link to the post. Assuming you don’t want to scroll down a screen’s length, anyway. Don’t say I don’t look out for you~

Just as I am somehow delivering another (hopefully) great post within a week of the last one, so too did it seem that the second half of 2018 was dropping an intriguing title in our laps at much the same pace. This breakneck schedule seemed to continue pretty much until the first week of December, whereupon it took a quite breather for the holiday season and then is slated to get right back to it in just a few days.

Looking at you, Tales of Vesperia. Can’t even give me time to fully digest the FF14 patch updating as I write, can you?

So let’s get right back to it then. First, a couple of footnotes of sorts that I could have included from the first half, then right back to the second half of 2018, culminating in a quick talk about my favourite game of the year at the end. I’ll have plenty more to say about Yakuza Kiwami 2 than what’s here, but keeping to the 2-3 paragraphs trend for this article seems to suit me well.

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Some Games I Liked From 2018’s First Half

My personal favourite game of the year for 2018 was Yakuza Kiwami 2.

Amazing how short this can be when I skip all the preamble, huh?

Regardless, welcome one and all to the other side of 2018. Love it or hate it, it was an interesting year for video games. There was a slew of stellar indie titles, some absolutely incredible high budget games from big triple A studios that were purely single player or console exclusives… and there was a continuing, unrelenting downwards spiral into a late-stage capitalist hellscape which saw more backlash and discussion from gamers than I’ve ever witnessed before despite all that.

Single player games got better, multiplayer games didn’t (for the most part), fan-favourite company goodwill was squandered, burned, and ultimately lost, and we’re all starting to feel quite bitter and jaded of the whole hobby.

With all of that in mind, I’d still like to draw attention to some of the games that I quite enjoyed throughout 2018, which I’ve picked from a list of game releases I found on Wikipedia. The list proved too long and unwieldy to fit in one article, so I’ve split it based on the first half of the year with the latter to come around Soon™.

I don’t plan to draw it out or make a spectacle of it like the hideously late Delfies, though I will draw special attention to and write at length about my favourite game that I mentioned up there afterwards. Instead, I’m going with the abridged format: no more than 2 or 3 paragraphs on each game, and the only criteria was that they released from January to June and I played and enjoyed them. Let’s begin.

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Xenoblade Chronicles 2: A Focused Look at the Systems and Flaws of the Combat

Xenoblade Chronicles 2 came out in December, and I played about ten hours of the game in that month before putting it down for other titles. I did enjoy those few hours, but there were a lot of issues with it that kept it from gripping me at the time.

Eventually, I did come back to it about six months later, and did power through it to completion. That took an additional 100 hours of playtime, give or take, with a lot more content that I could still go and do; that should give you an idea of the size and scope of the game. It did improve considerably as it went, but there were times even dozens of hours in when I found myself saying “I’m not sure if I love this game or hate it.”

But still, results speak for themselves. I got through the game and overall quite enjoyed my time. The conclusion was satisfying, and some of the plot developments and twists were quite enjoyable. There were nice and unexpected tie-ins to the first game that made it worthy of being called Xenoblade Chronicles 2 in ways that X was not. And then I ended up binging the sizeable expansion that released shortly after I finished it, enjoying that also.

Now, as much as I like the game, plenty of those flaws do stick with me. There’s a lot of questionable game design in there that I wanted to deep dive into, going over what works and what doesn’t. That was originally the purpose of this article; alas, like many of my writing projects of late, it didn’t pan out as intended. It’s been about two months since the first draft of this article was written, which probably comes as a surprise to absolutely no-one. That said, I want to put something out there, so I’m repurposing what I wrote into a more focused article.

I could talk about the Xenoblade series as a whole quite a bit on many levels, and perhaps I shall do so at some point. For now, this article is taking a good look at the fairly interesting combat system that Xenoblade Chronicles 2 offers, and why it ends up being so flawed and clunky despite the promise.

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