The Persona Aftermath

It’s been almost two weeks after I finished Persona 5, settling down to do so a couple of days after the last post. There’s been a huge amount I wanted to say, and I was still fully intending on doing a proper review for it on GameSkinny or for here, but ultimately I just haven’t been up to writing much lately. I will hopefully have it written up in a couple of days, by which point the window will likely be closed for getting any real attention or readership for it, but no matter.

I really don’t know how to quantify how much I liked Persona 5 though. I feel like I could call it my favourite game ever, yet part of me suspects that isn’t the case and I could probably argue it with a few others. I feel like I could call it the perfect JRPG, but I know for a fact that there are flaws and issues with it, even if most don’t surface unless I really start nitpicking. I suppose I’d liken it as similar to Gigguk’s Perfect Anime, which is a thought provoking take on how we absorb entertainment as a whole. Persona 5 is my Perfect Game, just about, and I don’t expect another game to come along and topple it in my eyes anytime soon.

At least not until Trails of Cold Steel III, anyway. Fingers crossed on that one.

The other games that I’d call my favourite games are things like Baldur’s Gate 2, Morrowind, Chrono Trigger — games that I played more in my formative years that have stayed with me since, but it’s hard to know if I’d feel the same way if I was introduced to them today. At the same time, they have shaped my tastes in games so much that even if they may not “hold up” if first played today, they have been so influential that I would be loathe to call them not as good. Besides, they’re all games I can (and have) replayed even in more recent years and found plenty of enjoyment.

By contrast, the games of the recent couple of years that have truly stuck out for me are more like modern updates and advances in those earlier genres. The first two Trails of Cold Steel games, for example, gained similar responses from me as Persona 5 by basically being exactly what I wanted out of a JRPG in terms of gameplay systems and story.

Now Persona 5 has come along and set the bar higher, yet at the same time I don’t consider the overall feel of the characters and party members in P5 to reach the level that Cold Steel did. I liked most if not all of the Persona 5 characters both major and minor, protagonist and antagonist, but they weren’t written as cohesively and emotively (nor were they as numerous) as the overall cast of the Cold Steel games. Everything else is a step above in Persona’s favour, but if such an important aspect is lower, could the game be called perfect? These are the things I think about, even if that in itself is nitpicking.

That said, it’s been nearly two weeks and these thoughts have not ever left my mind for too long. Persona 5 may be over as an experience, but it has remained with me so profoundly ever since that it’s coloured my gaming habits and related moods. There’s a very real chance I’ll fight off my urge to pick up new games and work on completing them and instead go replay the game on a harder difficulty, not even a month after its release. That’s the kind of appeal the game has presented for me.

Since I haven’t done that, instead I went looking for gaming experiences like Persona 5’s. I thought I’d swear off JRPGs for a while because others can’t compete, but instead I picked up Shin Megami Tensei 4: Apocalypse once more, set on beating that after putting it down for P5. And beat it I did — that became my new obsession, forcing every other game out for a while as I struggled to fill the hole Persona left in my heart.

Thankfully there were quite a few key systems and narrative points in SMT4 that helped ease off the Persona come-down enough, and it itself was a very good game overall. Great themes, enjoyable story, likeable characters, solid battle system… and the worst final dungeon in a JRPG that I can think of. Seriously that last dungeon was atrociously badly designed in all ways and it was almost enough to kill off all my positive feelings of the game had it lasted even a few minutes longer (and it lasted HOURS). Thankfully, the final boss fights more than made up for that and left me with a satisfying conclusion. I’ll share more thoughts on that fully soon, with luck.

Nonetheless, ever since I finished with that game, I’ve been bouncing from title to title trying to find something to captivate me as it did, and nothing has succeeded. I’ve played a huge amount of Heroes of the Storm following that big update, I’ve rummaged through my 3DS collection for titles I never finished and flicked through about half a dozen of those, and I’ve started playing the Skyrim mod Enderal (which is quite good) among other games, and I’ve continued to drop some time into FF14. But nothing is quite having that same effect.

I suppose I should elaborate and say that it’s quite uncommon for me to stick to a game from start to finish in one go from the launch onwards. Normally I multitask profusely and put games aside for variety the moment I get bored or frustrated with them. It’s only more recently that I’ve found the patience and persistence to get through more titles from start to finish, and even that has started to vanish. Persona just did it better, and now other games aren’t captivating me enough, regardless of their genre.

It’s actually frustrating to feel this way, but there you have it I suppose. Persona 5 — so good that it’s ruined all other gaming enjoyment for me since. I did say that I realised halfway through that choosing not to judge it fully until I’d reached the end felt meaningless when I was growing despondent at the mere thought that it would eventually end, and I didn’t truly expect to seriously feel that once the credits had rolled. But I do.

All the way throughout, Persona 5 managed to keep my attention rapt. 98 hours total play time, and it only had the most minor of fumbles in terms of pacing and focus. It never wore out its welcome or felt like it dragged on. Some might say it’s a bit slow to start and I can see that, but I was quick to be pulled into its world and want to experience more. As the plot progressed and the dungeons continued, I always wanted to see and know more. I wanted answers for the questions the game was presenting to me, and I was rarely if ever left disappointed. If I did feel that way, it wasn’t because the game failed to deliver, but simply because I was hoping the game might push or explore a couple of concepts further yet chose not to do so. It’s not necessarily a defect or a flaw in the game; it’s merely how I wanted more narrative elements to chew and digest on.

By the time the credits had rolled, the story was told from start to finish in a completely satisfying manner. All the major plot points were resolved and all the characters had their moment to shine in some way. The narrative smarted small and ramped up constantly until it capped in a truly grandiose Shin Megami Tensei fashion. The final boss wasn’t particularly challenging for my setup, but it was epic enough to feel fitting. Start to finish, all of it a great game that I truly adored.

I’m happy to call Persona 5 the best Persona game. I’m even happy to call it the best game in the Shin Megami Tensei franchise as well as the best game of 2017 so far. But I’m even happier to go further than that: I’m happy to call Persona 5 my favourite JRPG ever. I firmly believe it sets the new benchmark to beat and will be talked about in the years to come in the same manner as games like Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy 7, and yes, Persona 4 are now. As said above, I’d just about call it my Perfect Game. It’s hit me so hard that it is skewing how I play and enjoy games afterwards.

So that’s that. Now I need to find a way out of this funk and to keep moving forward with the games progression. Things I need to write soon: proper in-depth review for Persona 5’s game elements, more discussion about SMT4:A (especially compared to SMT4 and other SMT games), a discussion about character narratives using P5 and Trails of Cold Steel as comparisons, coverage of Enderal, and also chatting a little about my random dabblings in Elder Scrolls Online. And all while writing this, I need to find a new game that’ll keep my attention that can be chalked off the Backlog, because Heroes of the Storm cannot qualify for such a thing.

Look forward to all of that soon… hopefully.

Transistor, checking in

I’m typing this from a brand new PC that I only just properly got plugged in and running no more than half an hour ago, biding my time while the slew of standard programs is downloading and installing. Mostly just a small status update rather than any of my usual video game related ramblings.

First off: new PC. It’s been five years since I’ve had a fresh rig, though naturally the computer that I just stashed in the corner a few minutes ago has had numerous upgrades and replacements in those years. Still, the motherboard was effectively fried and I was getting constant black screens as the display drivers died on a regular basis, and multiple attempts to fix it or isolate other parts showed that it was unlikely to be anything else. I could probably have repaired or rebuilt it for cheaper than what I got this new machine for, but after dealing with this problem for literal months, I just wanted peace of mind and for this tech support nightmare to end.

So, the machine that I named Bastion is no more. Moment of silence.

Now, this isn’t an absolutely massive upgrade due to all my tweaks over the years, but this new machine should definitely keep me from having to push or upgrade in order to get newer games running comfortably. I’m probably going to shame the 60 FPS enforcing PC Master Race, but it should be pretty clear that I play games for gameplay and story more than graphics and can usually deal with a few hiccups. Regardless, the specs should get me decently far.

Naturally, I shall name this machine Transistor, since it’s the successor to Bastion even if the systems are slightly different. I’d consider calling it Pyre, but any name that’s fire related for a PC is just asking for trouble.

So with the PC back, I’ll be reinstalling FF14 and then picking and choosing my games as I go from there. Torment will be first up on the list since I didn’t get all that far in it and really need to put some more time and devotion into it. Cosmic Star Heroine just dropped a couple of days ago after a lengthy development cycle, and I’m quite keen to sink my teeth into that. However, I’m not about to start a new JRPG until the big one is finished: Persona 5, which has been both my obsession and my sanity-preserver during this time of technical troubles.

Everything I said about Persona 5 in the previous post still holds true, and I’m now 90 hours in and pushing the final stages of the game at long last. After such a long marathon journey over a comparatively short timeframe, I am now looking forward to the ending and seeing how it all wraps up nicely (if it does), but I will definitely be sad to see it gone. It’s without a doubt the best Persona game to date, and I still think we’ll be talking about in years from now in the same way we do some of the JRPG greats.

That’s assuming the ending doesn’t let me down horribly… but at present that doesn’t seem quite likely. Currently I’m intending to a full and formal review of the game (probably for GameSkinny), and then do a more in-depth analysis about a few points in the narrative. I also want to talk about the soundtrack and compare it with that of NieR: Automata, plus I want to do a big pros and cons comparison of P5 vs. the Trails of Cold Steel games, which are my other favourite and recent JRPG series. That last one in particular I could talk a great deal about, so please look forward to it I guess.

Time to set up a few downloads over night and crash.

We all wear a mask, metaphorically speaking

Persona 5 is well on track to being the greatest, most genre-defining JRPG ever made.

How’s that for a sensational opening? Still, subjective though it may be, it’s quite close to how I feel on the matter. In the four days I’ve had access to it, the first three of those saw me put in twelve hours of gameplay per day. I didn’t touch any other games during those initial three days save for forcing myself to play a few rounds of Heroes just for variety and to avoid burnout. The burnout wasn’t inflicted by anything about the game, however — I was literally getting physically uncomfortable from being in front of the PS4 for so long, no matter how I arranged myself.

Today, the fourth day, I didn’t play nearly as much of the game by design… instead, I wrote guides on it (and shall shamelessly plug them over on GameSkinny, be sure to check that for more of my work). I also dreamed about it, and woke up with the battle theme stuck in my head. During my other gameplay time, I was talking to people about the game and shooting messages back and forth helping friends who are behind me with it. Now that I’ve finished playing it for the night, I’m here writing about it. So yes, to say I’ve been enjoying it and that it has captivated me are gross understatements.

I went in to Persona 5 with a lot of very high expectations. I’ve liked the Shin Megami Tensei series for as long as I’ve known about it, always enjoying the more strategic and challenging battles on offer over other JRPG series. I loved that they were willing to go to more mature concepts and plots that dabbled in all sorts of mythologies beyond the usual Greek/Roman or Norse ones seen most video games. Persona 4 was one of my favourite games ever, and I’ve followed the series back through its shaky past and into the sea of spinoffs P4 generated.

I was hyped as hell about the announcement for 5 and watched the trailers continue to please me, though never let myself dive too deep into speculation or details because I wanted to experience it for myself. The game came out in Japanese six months ago, and my Japanese friends who played it spoke highly of it. I even had the chance to play the Japanese version for a time, and was absolutely blown away by the sheer stylish look and feel of the game. I waited patiently through delays and worries about translation issues, biding my time.

I don’t know if I’ve had such high expectations for a game before, but it has thoroughly destroyed them and gone beyond them.

At its core, this is still a modern post-P3 Persona game. It still starts you in April and progresses along a calendar system, juggling aspects of time management dating sims for social activities that improve your skills and relationships, then using those to strengthen your Personas for use in a number of otherworldly dungeons. The battle system is your standard turn-based JRPG with the elemental affinity system that the SMT series is known for, which rewards you for playing smartly and utilising even the buffs and status afflictions that many series keep only for tradition and filler. If you’ve played P3 and P4, you won’t find that much that’s brand new here.

What Persona 5 has, then, is polish. Absolutely every facet of this game has been polished until it gleams. Every feature and gameplay element is well thought out and handled well. The design of the locations is fantastically detailed. The soundtrack is phenomenal and diverse, with solid voice acting to back it up (despite some questionable pronunciation of Japanese names at times). More than anything is the constant and consistent visual style, which incorporates everything that the developers have learned from previous games — including Catherine, interestingly — and presents a world that is utterly gorgeous and completely unmistakable. The real world elements blend with the supernatural ones to create a visual spectacle that is unlike anything I’ve seen before.

The most impressive thing for me is the narrative, though, as if often the case with my gaming experiences. Persona 5 is especially striking because everything and everyone involved in the game world is unified under a central theme: Rebellion. Now this isn’t new to the franchise, as P3 had Death and P4 had Truth as the central unifying theme, but neither of them took it to this level.

At the heart of P5’s narrative is this central motif that branches into literally everything around it. You are the Phantom Thieves, a group of outcasts and societal rejects (often for reasons that are either unfair or beyond your control) that have discovered the power of Personas and are now using it to rebel against a corrupt and broken system. The Thieves are the quintessential Robin Hoods, striving to bring justice to a system that has failed its people. They strike against the targets that are abusing their power and causing other people to suffer, whether it be due to abuse, manipulation, theft, and blackmail; even rape and suicide are themes brought into the game quite quickly, and Persona 5 has absolutely no qualms about confronting such mature themes with an equally mature outlook.

Literally every notable character in this game, whether part of the Thieves, supporting them, or opposing them ties into this central theme incredibly strongly. The Phantom Thieves are promoting their own sense of justice against modern society, and even while they target the worst, most vile and corrupt creatures, they also end up discussing (and serve as discussion points of) serious conversations about morality and society.

But there’s more. What really makes the Phantom Thieves relatable is, again, the fact that they are outcasts and rejects. Every member has a reason for not being liked or not fitting in with their surroundings, and it’s not just because they’re delinquents or criminals — some are foreign, some are introverted, some feel like they lack purpose within society’s structures, or some have an almost savant-like behaviour that makes it hard to fit in. Beyond that, the Phantom Thieves have Confidants which serve as the Social Links of previous Persona titles, but all of them tie back into this central theme as well. All of them are trying to do the right thing in a society that doesn’t value them, and even as they strive for social reform they find opposition from those who abuse the system for their own gain in twisted manners.

It’s a topic that can very quickly bleed into edgy teenage ideals of “fuck the system” for the sake of a perceived sense of anarchy, yet Persona 5 has thus far managed to steer away from this… which is in itself an incredible accomplishment, because the Thieves are teenagers. But they’re all believable, fully-fleshed out characters and their struggles and situations are fantastic and compelling to watch. And when you realise that it all just keeps threading back into that central theme, it really becomes clear how much of a masterfully written tapestry you’re witnessing.

There are so many ways this could fall into traps and tropes, but it somehow skirts them all. It presents questions about society and humanity, and then rather than bluntly answer them, it chooses to explore both sides and often sees characters on either side discussing them without a real “right” answer. It’s really fascinating to watch people clash with the Thieves, and not even bad guys — some are honestly good people both within and without society that nonetheless question the manner in which they work, discussing concepts such as law and justice and whether or not they should be observed.

But beyond all these grandiose themes and complicated webs… it’s a very human story. You really do end up feeling for the main cast, because they’re not bad people at all, they just for whatever reason don’t fit in. Anybody who has ever been bullied or feels like they’ve been ostracised or discriminated against will probably find something to relate to in the cast. But at its core, these people are just teenagers trying to make their way in a very strange, confusing, and difficult world. It touches on so many struggles we all face, especially in the arguably complicated and increasingly hard times we live in nowadays. And all throughout, it presents it in a very respectful and well thought out manner.

And if you don’t find all that as compelling as I do, well, there’s no questioning how well done all the game mechanics and gameplay systems are. I haven’t even spoken about how the previously pseudo-random dungeons of the Persona series are now replaced by massive and vivid set piece Palaces that the Thieves literally infiltrate and explore in the hopes of stealing the “treasure” within. I’ve even completely glossed over the motif of masks from this post title that the Personas have taken on that also serves as a consistent narrative device. That, I think, will have to wait for a proper write-up later.

To think that I’m still perhaps only halfway through this game… it’s utterly mind blowing. Perhaps now the sensational statement I opened with sounds far more reasonable. But all throughout, I’ve been quietly weighing the merits of Persona 5 against its predecessors, then more classic genre-defining JRPGs like Chrono Trigger or certain Final Fantasy titles, then against my personal favourite stand out JRPGs such as Trails of Cold Steel or Golden Sun. Yet even the most treasured of those that Persona 5 has lovingly built itself upon is struggling to compare.

I’ll close this by sharing a final epiphany I had yesterday. I don’t want to give true judgement on Persona 5 just yet because I keep telling myself “wait and see if it maintains this level of quality and narrative to the very end”. Amazing things and fantastic events occur in the game and I still keep thinking those same things. And then, when saying that same thing, I abruptly felt sad and depressed at the very consideration not that the ending might not live up to it… but that there must be an ending at all.

I don’t want Persona 5 to end. As much as I want to see closure and the resolution of the many plot threads I’m gradually following, I dread the feeling that this sublime experience will one day reach a conclusion. No matter how good or bad it might actually be, the fact that there will be an ending is honestly saddening.

If that’s how I feel about the game, well… seems safe to say that Persona 5 just might be the greatest, most genre-defining JRPG I’ve ever played then, huh?

I’ll leave you with a piece of the diverse soundtrack, which serves as a reminder of how much I treasure Shoji Meguro’s work as a composer.

NieR-ly Amazing

Yesterday I finished my playthrough of NieR: Automata, completing all five of the primary endings and seeing the “true conclusion”. It was a really enjoyable experience and, overall, a great game. It’s receiving a lot of positive feedback from many sources, including a number of friends and other people I chat with about such things. Some people are quick to call it Game of the Year material, but personally I wouldn’t even call it the Game of the Month — that title rests with Horizon in my eyes. That doesn’t detract from its quality or the fact that I’m glad it exists, and I’d highly encourage most to play it.

So let’s talk about it. First: gameplay. It’s got a fairly enjoyable combat system which is drawn from the standard Platinum Games formula – flashy and dynamic action combat with an emphasis on timing evasions in order to execute retaliation combos. Unlike Bayonetta or Metal Gear Rising, however, the combat is somewhat basic. It’s fast, it’s fun, and it generally gets the job done nicely, but ultimately it lacks a lot of the depth and complexity of those games.

Instead, it combines the top down shooter aspect that Yoko Taro is so known for to add bullet hell elements to the game, both for you and for enemies. That keeps you pressing the R1 button in addition to your combos, but said combos are relatively sparse and don’t require too much in order to maximise them, tapping the dodge button just in time from the well telegraphed attacks in order to dodge and retaliate.

The combat is further simplified by the fact that it’s not merely an action game, but also an action RPG. As such, with so much of your power and survivability derived from numerical stats, it’s pretty easy to outscale enemies in the process of exploration and side quests. This is further compounded by the ability to customise your “programming” (you are an android character, after all) to supplement it with extra buffs and effects. In my case, I just combined the ability to heal when my HP gets low, gain HP regen after not taking damage for a few seconds, and gaining HP based on % of damage I dealt, and from then on combat was a simple matter. I was only playing on Normal difficulty though; I hear it gets pretty brutal on the higher settings, but that’s normally not my focus and I was satisfied with the gameplay.

Besides, the gameplay is largely the side dishes and condiments to the plot and narrative in NieR: Automata compared to the reverse being true in the average game. I’ve dabbled in Yoko Taro’s writing before with the first game and he’s been held in well regard before, but this was the first time I dove headfirst into it. It’s a fairly common theme in a lot of Japanese fiction to experiment with concepts of existentialism, but Taro clearly enjoys taking it even further, combining this with general weird situations and questions that you likely won’t encounter in your average video game.

Let me give you an example: I witnessed a constantly spawning pile of machines pouring into the arena with me, screaming “THIS CANNOT CONTINUE” repeatedly until they all suddenly stopped, started moving to combine into a strange egg-shaped structure… which then cracked open like an egg, spitting out strange fluid within which was a naked genital-less man that looked like Sephiroth from FF7. To say that scene was expected and typical to things I have encountered before would be a blatant lie.

There are a lot of strange and unexpected scenes like this, with a large number of interesting set pieces and encounters that are both enjoyable to play through and fun to contemplate. Much contemplation is had, too, since the writing asks all kinds of philosophical, existential questions. After all, you’re playing as androids fighting as machines, both of which have aspects and responses that you wouldn’t expect of them. It asks questions about what makes you guys so different, what makes humanity so different, and how one can define a life or many lives in certain contexts.

Perhaps the biggest complaint I have with the game is that while many of these philosophical questions are presented, it quite rarely takes the time to explore them fully. If I were being disingenuous, I’d say that it’s more or less setting up a dart board of philosophical concepts and throwing darts at them until it sticks, but I don’t think that’s the case. Rather, I feel like these could have been explored but there simply wasn’t the time or budget in order to make it so. Or, perhaps, NieR chooses instead to handwave those with the comment “Not all questions need to be answered”, which appears as a direct quote in the game; I’d like to think that the quote was merely used in the present context at the time, however, rather than applying to the whole game.

Instead, a number of cool ideas are brought up, and a number of plot twists or events occur that both intrigue the player, but only a few are properly dove in to or expanded on. This means that a number of interesting side characters (and even some bosses!) get lots of exploration, but others are just left by the wayside almost as soon as they’re brought up.

Still, you could say that it’s a credit to the quality of the writing that I wanted more of it by the end, but ultimately I did enjoy what I experienced. There were some logical inconsistencies between character reactions in between events — lead characters such as 2B and 9S will take turns considering the machines as more than enemies while the other reminds them that they’re just soulless foes, only to swap stances a few minutes later. In addition, some of the characters were kind of flat, with the lead character 2B coming off as aloof and standoffish with little in the way of personality. While there are definitely plot reasons for that which are elaborated on, it still ends up meaning that you have less direct attachment to her (and instead people on the internet are relying on the physical aspects instead).

By contrast, 9S is an extremely interesting and believable character, even if he occasionally comes across as whiny… but when he does, it makes perfect sense, and you really feel for the guy by the end of the tale. I’d say that the game focuses on him more so than even 2B, and a lot of people underrate 9S in the process.

Nonetheless, the game presents a lot of interesting and emotional scenes, and touches on or elaborates a lot of elements from the first NieR that returning fans will be extremely pleased to see. I wasn’t always sold on what was happening, but I did get quite invested and want to push on to the end, and the ending left me quite satisfied. In fact, the final “true” ending culminated in one of the better conclusions to a video game I remember in recent times. So many games are kind of abrupt or half-hearted with their endings, but NieR: Automata goes out of its way to touch at the player’s heart strings, even reaching out to them through the fourth wall and drawing them into the process. If you decide to play the game, it is absolutely worth pushing on to the E path ending, just for the combination of satisfying conclusion, excellent music, and other elements that would be spoiled to elaborate on.

So overall, it should be clear that I quite liked the game and enjoyed it greatly. It’s not perfect in any sense, but I’m glad it exists and I’m really glad I played it.

And it’s kind of surprising that it DOES exist, when you think about it. Yoko Taro’s games have largely been mediocre affairs developed by a B-team of Square Enix devs and carried by left of centre writing and dark, philosophically driven plots. NieR was generally received with less than stellar responses, but developed a cult classic following based on the stories it offered. Yet somehow, it was given a sequel in a collaboration of the well-loved but “in a slump” Platinum Games and built on not a huge budget provided from the dregs of Final Fantasy XV development, released in the wake of that massive launch. And despite all these strange and unlikely circumstances, a really surprisingly good, enjoyable, and thoughtful experience has emerged.

It might not be the best game of the year/month, but it’s nonetheless a real surprise and I’m truly glad it exists. More games like it need to be made; games from well known and not-indie developers that are willing to break the mould and try something experimental or touch on different and interesting narratives.

So, with NieR finished, I’m more or less just dabbling in other games and filling time with Final Fantasy 14 until Persona 5 is released. Less than a week left, and then that’ll be my primary focus for a while I’d imagine. It’s finally starting to sink in that it’s almost here, and hype is beginning despite my best efforts to the contrary. Exciting. Soon!~

Over the Horizon

Contrary to the tone of the post title, I’m actually only over Horizon: Zero Dawn because it’s finished. It was more than strong and compelling enough to drag me away from Torment and ultimately kept me there throughout, being the only game I’ve really worked on for the past two weeks.

I finally completed the game a few hours ago, with just under 70 hours of playtime logged. All major sidequests and plots are completed, all collectibles save world datapoints found, and the only two things I can think of that need doing are retrieving one last Power Cell to get the ultimate armour (I missed it first time through the plot area) and tightening up some of the Hunting Ground times for all the rewards. There’s also knocking over a few target dummies for an achievement. I might go back and do all that in an afternoon, but for now it’s done.

It’s a really good game and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s been well received by most establishments and is quite deserving of those, I feel… even if it’s being a little overshadowed by the insanely high praise that the new Zelda is receiving. From what little I’ve experienced of Zelda, I can say that it’s a great game, but I can’t say yet if it’s deserving of quite all that.

I’ll get to it soon, but having just thrown myself into a huge open world action adventure game regardless of tone and style differences, I need something to break it up so I don’t burn out. As such, I’ll probably divvy up my time between resuming Torment and playing NieR: Automata now that that’s out. There’ll still be a chunk of time dedicated to FF14, I’m sure, though I did finally reach 60 so that grind is slowing somewhat.

Anyway, Horizon. I liked the combat with the machines, having to learn all their parts and weak points to better plan my attack (or else at least strip their armour in order to hit them hard). I liked that the vast majority of options were available to me from the outset, and the skill tree didn’t unlock whole new playstyles so much as slightly improved or gave me alternative approaches in styles of play that I enjoyed. Towards the end, this might have made combat feel a touch same-y, but generally that’s hard to avoid in as long a playtime as I gave it.

The world is absolutely gorgeous, with some great designs and features as well as standout landmarks to keep me interested in exploring and being a part of it. Coupled with the machine designs, and it was a very easy game to get engaged with… and then the plot and characters kept me engaged. It was a very interesting mystery to unravel, digging into the ruins and memories of what is effectively near future for me, but a thousand years in the past for the main characters. They don’t understand the technology and terms that are being presented fully, but I do, so it’s an interesting layer of subtext there for the first half of it. In the second half, the characters have grown to learn enough to be on board with it, but it’s still no less compelling to find out the truth of what happened.

The characters were also very well acted, with the most serious but well-delivered voice work I’ve heard Ashly Burch give. She’s done a bunch of roles, with some quite hit or miss, but this is probably the most subdued and serious character performance she’s given with Aloy, and I think it suited quite well.

Aloy was a very interesting character – curious, quick-witted and intelligent in a world that absolutely doesn’t recognise those traits anymore, yet still possessed of the strength and willpower to stand up in it. There’ll be plenty of character discussions regarding Aloy as a Strong Female Lead Character by a host of publications eventually, I’m sure, so I’ll let them handle it. I’ll just say that I liked her and most of the supporting cast.

What really struck me about the plot and characters was the memories of the past, however – the titular Zero Dawn project that is crucial to the story. I won’t spoil things, but the post-apocalyptic nature of the current world is delved into quite heavily, bringing up the records and memories of the time right before and leading up to the apocalypse. And what an apocalypse – we’re talking complete biosphere destruction and mass extinction of all life on Earth, in remarkable detail and with lots of feeling behind it. It was those little details that made it that much more compelling and drove me to finish and find out what I could of it.

Any complaints I have with the game are mostly minor nitpicks regarding things like animation glitches or poor lip syncing.There’s occasionally repetitive combat towards the late game once you’ve figured out your style of dealing with everything, mostly because you have the means to eschew things like traps and careful setup in favour of rapid firing elemental arrows and exploiting weak points while tearing off all visible components. Still, you have to work to get to that point, and it’s still satisfying to pick apart machines.

Plot wise, the ending was kind of lackluster and not entirely clear on all details. The lead up to the end was still quite enjoyable, however, and prepping for the final battle actually saw you meeting up with just about every character you’d met even in side quests to have them assist you, which was nice. There was also a sequel hook, however, which I’m actively curious to see realised. If this world is to be revisited, I will quite likely be there.

Give Horizon a shot if you have the means, I highly recommend it. Yes, even if you’ve been playing Zelda. It’s good enough and different enough to be worth it.

Now it’s time for me to go hunt entirely different robots… and this time I’m playing the robot! What a twist! NieR: Automata feedback once I get around to it.

Torment vs. the March Gauntlet

It’s already been a pretty busy year for video games, but today was the kickoff of the real gauntlet of key titles that I’ll be acquiring and (hopefully) playing a satisfactory amount of.

First and foremost, today saw the release of Torment: Tides of Numenera, the spiritual successor to the classic and massively revered Planescape: Torment. There was quite a bit of buzz generated by this Kickstarter, and after throwing a hell of a lot of money at Pillars of Eternity, I wisely chose to back at a more reasonable figure. It’s finally out, and it’s actually really good! More on this momentarily.

Despite the full length of time a very text heavy western RPG is likely to take, I unfortunately don’t have all that much offered to it before it’ll be contested. Tomorrow sees the release of Horizon: Zero Dawn on PS4, and I’ll be going to bed and retrieving it first thing in the morning once this blog post is done.

In keeping with past trends, I suspect I’ll get this, put it in the console, and then leave it to download the Day 1 patch at a ridiculously slow rate while I put some more time into Torment. Once it’s ready to go, however, I am very much looking forward to roaming around an open world and fighting Zoids- excuse me, robot dinosaurs. Early signs and feedback from gaming sites suggest that it’s quite good, so I’m looking forward to seeing what’s… ahem, over the Horizon.

The biggest issue Horizon is going to have isn’t with itself, however – it’s the fact that it’ll have some seriously hard hitting competition in just two days. Big open world adventure game with RPG elements that has a lot of gathering and crafting? Yeah, that’s going to fill the exact same niche The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. I do hope for Horizon’s sake that it’s able to stand out and succeed even with that kind of heavyweight competition, because by all accounts it’s worthy of it… but then, so is the new Zelda, apparently.

Zelda drops on March 3rd here, same as the Nintendo Switch – a brand new console that I am most interested in but have no intention of buying it until late this year if not 2018. With only Zelda in its immediate future to really interest me,. I can hold off on purchasing a full price console on launch, and instead plan to scoop up the Wii U version of Zelda as a last hurrah for my underutilised and sadly abandoned console.

So those three games will be fighting with everything else for the bulk of my time in the coming days, but even they’ll be joined by new additions in only a week: NieR Automata released on March 10th in Australia. Now by a number of accounts, this is perhaps the weakest of the games on offer – it had a strong demo but doesn’t quite hold up to it as a full game from what I’ve heard, but my sources aren’t the greatest on this and mileage may vary. I still intend to pick it up and give it a whirl, because it looks like a bunch of fun to be had.

Four games in two weeks, most of which are quite large affairs. Surely I won’t have anything else to lure me in though, right? Well… technically, Mass Effect: Andromeda comes out in late March, but as it stands I have little real interest in that series after the conclusion of ME3, or in dealing with BioWare’s shenanigans again. That’s very much a case of “wait and see” like Dragon Age Inquisition was. But hey, here’s hoping it ends up good, right?

Finally, to crown it all off, Persona 5 is FINALLY out on April 4th. As soon as that comes out, all bets are off and all other priorities shelves in favour of putting a good chunk of time into that. So I really have a month to focus on these other games and hit them as hard as I can.

To that end, I’ve obviously started with Torment, and I have to say that I’m quite enjoying my five hours of game time so far. Numenera as a tabletop RPG setting quite interested me, as it had the potential to be utterly bizarre and alien, and so far that has translated tremendously well to video game format. There are so many little stories and occurrences that are quite weird, strange, or otherwise convoluted and kind of crazy already, but it’s just been a fascinating experience.

It’s a really text heavy game – perhaps even more so than Planescape: Torment – but I’ve been happy to talk to everyone, learn more about the world and the setting, listen to the various stories, talk my way through some puzzles or encounters… really, I’ve just been soaking up as much of the setting as I can. The story has a compelling start, and I’m very curious to see how it pans out.

Perhaps my biggest gripe so far is that I’m not hugely invested in any of the companions I’ve discovered so far. The Last Castoff (the MC) is potentially interesting just because of how s/he ties into the narrative and how many strange events and old memories s/he can trigger, but the other characters so far I haven’t really developed much attachment for. Maybe that will change in time, we’ll see.

Nonetheless, I’m looking forward to getting back into it and pushing through tomorrow. We’ll see how it goes… and if the other games on my agenda will have any hope of pulling my attention away from it for long.

Last things to mention: I sat down and forced myself to play Gravity Rush 2 until I couldn’t do so anymore, and that sadly didn’t take as long as I was hoping. The game just has too many frustrations for me to stay attached, and I actually got so mad at it that I had to pause and walk away for a while just because of the terrible camera in one particular encounter. Really interesting and cool set pieces have been completely ruined by the unwieldy camera and jarring controls, and the new gravity styles feel way too gimmicky to really do much to change that. A proper article will be forthcoming.

And speaking of articles, I just had a new one promoted on GameSkinny, this one about why I think that Square Enix’s JRPG offerings are lackluster and other companies are getting much less credit for doing much more work for the genre. Give it a read if you’re interested.

Mid-February Activity Dump

I usually do my best to consolidate the number of games I’m focusing on playing at any given time, hence the Current Projects list on the sidebar. That said, my attention span is the exact opposite of my backlog, and tends to falter quite a bit. The last couple of weeks have seen me jumping between a number of games in relatively quick succession, so rather than write a number of articles focusing on them individually, this article is going to be a rapid fire synopsis of my feelings and experiences on them.

There will be more focused articles, of course, but that’s for another day. Let’s begin.

Gravity Rush 2 (PS4)

I really enjoyed the first game as my post on that indicates, and hearing good things about the sequel saw me anticipating playing it quite a bit. Sadly, I don’t like it nearly as much. The primary reason for this is that, well… there are large stretches of the game where I’m not playing Gravity Rush. Instead, the new features and attempts to expand the game feel like a mix of things like Assassin’s Creed or Beyond Good and Evil, just… not nearly as good.

Stealth missions where you can’t use your gravity powers, or missions where you have to comb through crowds and ask people about X or Y… it’s an attempt to expand on the core of the game, but it’s so far removed that it ends up pulling me out of it. When Gravity Rush lets me play Gravity Rush, it’s great! But that is actually rarer than it should be. Lots of points I could make on this one that deserves its own post or GameSkinny article; I’ll just move on for now.

Digimon World: Next Order (PS4)

I haven’t played a Digimon game in a while, but there were immediately enough elements that this felt very much like revisiting a childhood memory. Sadly, that feeling didn’t last long. This game isn’t bad at all, but it’s not really what I expected. I planned on it being more like a JRPG, but it’s true to its roots as a monster raising game through and through.

Now while that’s not a bad thing, it immediately sets itself up for one BIG problem. See, training your Digimon back at the base city gives considerable stats and improvements as you’d expect. But going out and actually fighting? The rewards and stat gains are so negligible as to actively discourage fighting to keep from wasting time. So you’re effectively choosing between power or progression, and it feels like a very strange dichotomy that could’ve been woven together better.

And when you’re not really interested in fighting in a monster raising game, well… I’m sure you can see why this sapped my interest. I owe this game more time and attention, I really do, but it’s on the backburner for now.

Nioh (PS4)

I’ve been looking forward to this one for a while now, letting myself get hyped by videos and trailers despite my normal caution. That said, it’s met my expectations nicely. The game is a lot of fun to play, and I’m greatly enjoying my time with it. I’m dying LOTS, mind you, but that’s to be expected when I don’t have much experience with the SoulsBorne games to prep me for it.

At one point, I spectated my friend and brother playing the game, and they were much better at it than I was due to their familiarity with Dark Souls – they died considerably less and made progress much faster than I did. I have much to learn in my quest to git gud. Despite this, I must reiterate that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed getting my ass kicked by this one and look forward to playing more in the coming days.

Fate/Extella: The Umbral Star (PS4)

Purchasing this on a whim after a friend’s recommendation, I’ve been playing this over the last day or two. It’s a Musou/Warriors game ala Koei Tecmo’s Dynasty Warriors style games, set in the Type Moon universe made famous by Fate/Stay Night.

Now those who know anything about Dynasty Warriors or any relevant spinoff will know what the gameplay of this boils down to, and little really changes here. But I’ve long been a fan of that style of play, and mowing down thousands of enemies while clashing with the tougher figures is quite therapeutic even if it gets repetitive quickly. There’s a lot of context and nuance to the plot that I don’t fully understand, since it’s a sequel to a PSP game I never played… but I’m filling in the blanks as I go and it’s reasonably enjoyable.

Will see how it lasts in the long run, but again, it’s therapeutic and a good game to wind down with since (at least in regular difficulties) I can mow things down without a thought.

Final Fantasy 14 (PC)

As my interest in WoW wavered, my interest in revisiting the world of Eorzea grew. It was kind of a whim at first, since I hadn’t played the game for around a year after unsubbing before any Heavensward patch content was released. That said, after dragging a good friend in for the ride, I got back into it. And, well, this has absolutely been where all my time has gone since.

I’m back in the game with a passion and vigor that I sincerely didn’t expect, even replaying old content that I’ve done while leveling up a fresh character instead of returning to my main. In between playing with my friend and leveling solo, I’ve almost reached Heavensward content a second time and I’ve been having a blast doing so. I really do love the world they’ve made here, and it’s remarkably refreshing to be pulled back into a fictional universe that I feel like I can relate and invest myself in without fear of harsh disappointment. There’s even been fanfiction! What can I say, I love developing on my characters even in video games.

I tend to play a little of this every day and am pushing on ahead to endgame where I can visit all the patch content I missed and hopefully be ready to tackle the Stormblood expansion when it’s fresh. I really did miss this, though.

Heroes of the Storm (PC)

Anyone who knows me knows that this game is a constant, and nothing has changed. I’m still picking this game up and playing a couple of games every so often, usually in QMs with friends but occasionally attempting to climb the ranks back up into Diamond. My frequent run ins with angry and abusive assholes as well as people intentionally ruining ranked games is stifling any attempt to get seriously back into that one, though.

Lucio is due out soon, though, and he looks fun to play. That should be interesting.

Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King (3DS)

Strangely, while enjoying this game a reasonable amount, I quickly put it down once I reached almost the same point as I put down the PS2 version and have yet to really pick it back up. It’s not bad – it’s quite good, honestly, and I’m having more fun than I remember from the first attempt at beating this years ago. I just… can’t seem to stick to it? I don’t know. I’ll give it another shot in the coming days.

Fire Emblem Heroes (Mobile)

The first of many impending Fire Emblem games, and the one I was looking at with the most skepticism, as mobile games are rarely anything but quick cash-ins. Nintendo’s offering has more quality and gameplay than the vast majority, and it was a pleasant surprise to find myself quite enjoying it.

That didn’t last long, though. Eventually, I reached the end of the current content save for repeated arenas or grinding ceaselessly to beat the highest difficulties, and then the veneer starts to wear off and… surprise! It’s your standard mobile Gacha game designed to draw in whales! For all the negativity in this statement, though, I did enjoy myself. But I’m already at the point where I don’t even bother to log in and play it now. Feel like I’m done with it already, especially when I could be playing

Dandy Dungeon (Mobile)

The last game on today’s list is also the biggest surprise, because up until I saw it reviewed on GameSkinny, I’d never heard a damn thing about it. That said, it’s easily the best game I recall playing on mobile since You Must Build A Boat, and I’ve sunk a considerable amount of time over the past few days into it.

The general plot and style of the game is completely wacky, zany Japanese humour that is amusing and delightful to behold. The gameplay sees you plot the path of the main character through a dungeon and then use items at the right time to make sure you get through it, as well as equipping and upgrading the right gear before tackling those dungeons. There’s a lot of farming and grinding involved to get the item drops you need to make progress, but honestly? The game’s so entertaining that I don’t even mind just playing a dungeon or two when I get a spare minute and my energy’s full.

Yes, it has the standard free to play mobile game energy system. In this case, however, a small purchase will completely negate that akin to just purchasing the game outright, and I’m starting to think it might be worth it to do so. Nonetheless, even with the free to play elements, the game is well executed and entirely too endearing. Highly recommended!

 

Barring a few minor dabblings, that largely covers my gaming over the past few days. With any luck I’ll settle in on knocking over set projects and making headway in the backlog… though with the impending release of Torment: Tides of Numenera, Horizon: Zero Dawn, and NieR: Automata in a matter of weeks, I can only foresee the list growing rather than shrinking. Oh well!