Horizon and a Short Look at DLC

With the last console generation, there were certain practices in the game industry that were introduced which never could have been conceived in a prior generation. The most prevalent of these, however, was the introduction of DLC as a way of expanding the game experience.

When it was first introduced, DLC was mostly a way to add a little more story content to a game or add in a larger variety of locales in multiplayer games, but it would eventually spiral into the mess we have today, where you have to buy costumes in a Tales game or- and this is a real thing- see through girl’s clothing in Gal Gun. Eventually, this would escalate into microtransactions, a concept from Free-To-Play games that has been blighting the AAA industry for about two years now, always in disgusting, slimy fashion.

However, there is yet hope! Certain games have taken DLC in an entirely different direction. Rather than forcing you to purchase things which should have been in the game from the beginning, or pervy gross wank-mechanics, Games like The Witcher 3 have, in the past, shown that DLC could be utilized more in the fashion of an MMO’s expansion pack, wherein you add in entirely new storylines that build on an existing, complete experience. And the latest to do so is Guerrilla Games’ Horizon: Zero Dawn.

When Horizon came out earlier this year, I was enthralled with it. The combat is tense, often chaotic fun, the story was gripping and well-told, with numerous interesting characters to meet and intriguing cultures to interact with, and the world was visually stunning. Unlike most other open-world games, Horizon didn’t feel the need to fill the world with pointless collectables, instead creating a limited number that they used to create unique gaming experiences, build further on their world, and even gave them a practical use if you know where to look. It wasn’t excessively long, clocking in at 55 hours for my first completion, and after I was done, I still wanted to keep playing.

Well, come November 7th, I might have reason to. Horizon: Zero Dawn will be getting an expansion, and this makes me so excited, not just for Horizon, but for games as a whole. The expansion is meant to include an entire new area, a host of new enemies to fight, a whole culture we have yet to interact with for any significant amount of time (the Banuk, which had one small settlement you could visit in the base game, but nothing beyond that), as well as continuing the story that ended so phenomenally, but still left room for more. Guerrila Games basically took what could have been the premise for a whole sequel, and are adding it to the existing game for a third of the price.

This excites me. This is what I have wanted DLC to be for so long, the only way I could ever truly be made to embrace the concept, even. One of the most scummy businessmen in the industry, EA’s John Riccitiello, once said this: “A few years ago, the game you bought is the game you got.” He portrayed this in a negative light, but for many, myself included, we look back on the pre-PS3 era as a time when we bought a game and played the game without the game ever trying to sell us costumes or gun packs or (god-forbid) ammo packs. We bought a game and it was complete.

I bought Horizon: Zero Dawn and it was complete. I do not have to wait 3 years and pay $60 for a sequel to this game. This is the marrying of two things which should have gotten together ages ago, but the sheer bliss I feel in seeing them now is still incomparable. This is how DLC should be done. This is how it needs to be going forward. Games industry, look to Horizon‘s example and learn from it.

Tales of Berseria: The Greatest Tales Ever Told

When Tales of Zestiria came out, I absolutely fell in love with the story and characters, even if the gameplay itself was obtuse, unnecessarily difficult, and downright frustrating. Regardless, I immediately claimed it as my favorite Tales game, even if so many others are technically superior in all aspects. Zestiria garnered a special place in my heart that cannot be taken by any other. One came close, however: it’s immediate successor, Tales of Berseria.

Being a prequel to Zestiria, the games are similar in many ways, some good and others… not so much. As a result, this review will actually feature both in about equal measure. But while on the surface level, Berseria might share many similarities with Zestiria, once you graze beneath the surface, you start to see just how much improved in Berseria.

For one, the story is immensely better. Zestiria was a classic Good Vs. Evil story, “Like a bad play where the heroes are right, and nobody thinks or expects too much.” Blues Traveler’s words are very fitting for Zestiria, and it is a damning statement. Even if I personally found the world and story of Zestiria gripping, it’s easy to spot the numerous cliches. Sorey and friends are set on a journey to “save the world” from the ruin you don’t often actually see outside of cutscenes. The beautiful world sat in stark contrast to the terrified way people spoke of it. Not so in Berseria, where many areas of the world are clearly in states of decay. The world of Berseria is teetering on a ledge between doom and salvation, and even salvation would be doom. Where in Zestiria, the villain was a stock standard Stoic Evil Behemoth of a Man who had barely any presence in the story itself and a backstory that the game literally told you in a thirty second cutscene with no dialogue (it’s built on for about 5 minutes at the VERY end of the game), in Berseria, the bad guy is a Villain With Good Publicity such as Tales is known for, who genuinely wants the best for the world but was broken by his own experiences into utilizing methods that would make his goal ultimately meaningless. He is constantly in the background of the story, even if not directly involved in whatever current situation the party is dealing with.

One of Berseria’s big selling points was the first female protagonist in franchise history (not including Milla Maxwell of Xilia, who shared the position with Jude Mathis). Velvet Crowe is arguably one of the strongest characters in the Tales series, with writing that develops her well over the course of the story and a performance by Cristina Valenzuela that sells every moment. The prologue begins with her as a happy, cheerful girl who’s friends with the whole village and cares for her family deeply. After three hours, she is a broken, vengeance-fueled demon (quite literally) with the blood of the entire village wet on her hands. She is beholden to no such lofty goals like “saving the world” or “helping my friends” when she begins her journey. She wants only to kill the man who destroyed her world. At one point, one character refers to the party as a “troupe of villains,” and this indeed holds true to the very end of the game, as even though they ultimately “saved the world,” Velvet’s legacy is as the first “Lord of Calamity,” a term players of Zestiria will recognize immediately.

All the characters in the game are actually very well-written, especially on the party’s side. Rokurou Rangetsu is a demon who joins the party early on, claiming a debt to Velvet that beholdens him to her cause. He lives for the thirst for battle and aims to kill his brother for reasons he’s not immediately willing to share. Eizen (a returning character from Zestiria) is a pirate who joins the party searching for the captain of his crew. He is cold and ruthless (or so he likes to think). Laphicet is a malakim with, initially, no personality of his own, who joins the party due to an attachment he feels for Velvet. He’s also a Zestiria returner, though you might be surprised by who he is. Magilou is a witch who doesn’t care about the party at all and only travels with them because she finds it fun. She is an entirely mysterious character you learn little about, but is an absolute delight to have on your screen. Finally, Eleanor is a praetor for the villainous Abbey, who finds herself attached to the party after they’re forced to work together to survive. Aside from Velvet, Eleanor is probably the character who grows the most over the course of the story, and I found myself just as invested in her arc as I was in Velvet’s.

The most palpable improvements to Berseria were made to the combat system, however. Gone is Zestiria’s awkward Fire Emblem-esque weapon triangle, replaced instead by… nothing. Because it was unnecessary. The equipment system is far less obtuse, as well. Instead of a confusing mess where you had to combine items with abilities in specific slots in order to transfer them or mix two abilities to create an entirely new one (seriously, 60% of my frustration in Zestiria came from that), it has a more Graces-esque style of just using items to level the gear and unlock set abilities on the gear. It’s far more stream-lined and easy to grasp and I love it.

When it came to level and monster design, however, I have to call Berseria out for it’s laziness. Several locales are just retooled Zestiria locations (one particular early meadowy area I immediately recognized as a swamp from Zestiria, for example), and many trees, buildings, and such look exactly the same. Monsters were even worse about it, with probably about 50% of the bestiary being ripped from the game’s predecessor. And yes, the dreaded Marmot made a return (incidentally, being the spark that made me realize what was happening). Although, given that the game had a production cycle of about a year, I am willing to forgive this, while still acknowledging it happened.

However, character design is extraordinarily hit and miss, as well. Characters like Eizen and Laphicet have very memorable and sensible designs that clearly define who they are, others like Velvet and Magilou are far from sensible. Magilous’ “book skirt,” in p[articular, has become an endless fount of comedy for detractors of the characters, and I have to say… the book skirt is awful. I bought some of the DLC costumes just to get rid of it. Meanwhile, Rokurou wins the award for Least Visually Interesting Design In A Tales Game Since Genis From Symphonia. He’s a samurai. He wears purple samurai clothes. How cool.

Speaking of the DLC, however, this has become a major point of contention for me when playing recent Tales games. Zestiria made a handful of costumes DLC, which worried me then, but Berseria has taken the idea and ran with it. Gone are the days of cool sidequests where you might be rewarded with a nifty bartender outfit for Guy or even an epic black and red palette swap for Sorey. If you don’t unlock a costume via the story in Berseria, it’s DLC. Period. And there is SO MUCH DLC. They clearly had a lot of interesting ideas for cool outfits for all the different characters, but having to pay for them just feels gross. It’s a business practice in games that I’m becoming more and more disgusted with, where you take things that would have otherwise been in the base game, and force people to pay for it.

Ultimately, Berseria is a great game and you can’t go wrong picking this one up. It’s easily a contender for the best game in the series, and I personally would place it at the top. However, I cannot move past the hostage-taking of costumes, and I would like if, for the next entry, they made entirely new assets. Zestiria and Berseria taking place in the same world a mere few hundred years apart allows it some leeway, but going forward I would like to see both of these practices disappear.

Developer: Bandai Namco

Console: Playstation 4

Genre: Japanese RPG

Final Score: 8

Fire Emblem Awakening’s Greatest Flaw

In the late 2000’s and early ’10’s, Intelligent Systems knew one thing for sure: Fire Emblem, their series of strategy RPG’s with a respectable twelve mainstay entries, was dying. New entries were no longer garnering the attention they once did, and remakes such as Shadow Dragon went out practically unnoticed. By 2012, Intelligent Systems was ready to call it quits.

They had spent a couple of years sure in this knowledge, in fact, and had thrown everything into one last project, a swan song for the Fire Emblem franchise they had been building on since 1990. It would be their biggest project yet, with more characters than anybody knew what to do with and nigh-unlimited supports to go with them. The game would incorporate facets from older entries as well, such as the marriage and child mechanics from Genealogy of the Holy War and the overworld map and “random” battles of Sacred Stones and Gaiden. Everything was set into place for Fire Emblem to go out with a big bang, Final Fantasy-style.

And indeed, it did go the way of Final Fantasy. Just like Square’s 1987 RPG epic, Fire Emblem Awakening blew up, gaining audiences Intelligent System had never thought they would be courting. There were a few major reasons for this. First and foremost was the introduction of a “Casual” gameplay mode. This allowed players to go through a map and make minor mistakes without any permanent character losses. This is often disavowed as making the game “too easy,” and while, yes, it does simplify the game a lot, it only really makes the game better for those who want to use it. In previous entries, if a character died, and you wanted to continue using them, you had to restart the map constantly until you ran it in a way where nobody died. You could easily spend 3-4 hours (if you’re as terrible at these games as I am) resetting a map to run it the one perfect way. In casual mode, there’s no need for that. If one character dies, sure, you no longer have access to them for this match, but they’ll rejoin you for the next, and if you’re like me and want to preserve every character, this setting can only be a boon. (I want to point out that, according to what I’ve heard, Heroes Of Light and Shadow, the game before, actually introduced the “Casual” mode concept. But as that is a Japan exclusive title, Awakening may as well have been the first -Ray)

The next major factor is how prettied up the game became. Previous Fire Emblem‘s had an art style with more realistic proportions. People were usually still pretty, but in a normal sort of way. Awakening went full anime. Every single character is gorgeous or handsome or at least good-looking. There’s no Bartre’s or Gonzalez’s in Awakening, is what I’m saying. This actually ties into the third major factor and the one I want to spend the most time discussing: supports.

Supports have been around since 1994’s Mystery of the Emblem, though they wouldn’t take the form we know until the first GameBoy Advance title, The Binding Blade. Essentially, when the characters fight near each other, they can build bonds which can, in turn, lead to skits which provide character development and will, afterwards, allow those units to fight with each other even more effectively. For the sake of game balance, previous entries relegated you to 5 supports per character per playthrough, which meant to see them all you would have to play the game multiple times, and focus on different characters every time. Awakening removed this stipulation for the sake of the marriage and children game mechanic, with… interesting results.

In Awakening, a big part of the story (even though only one character from this facet of the story is ever forced on your party) is that, in the future, the first generation characters are all killed by the Big Bad, and the second generation characters, their children, go back in time to attempt to avert that from happening. But for those characters to appear, they must first exist, which means some soldiers gotta get some bedsheets rockin’. That’s where the supports come in. All the children (save the plot relevant one and the Avatar’s, as the Avatar can be of either gender) are attached to a mother, so when a mother marries any eligible husband, their child will appear on the map. To get them married, you have to support.

Supporting can be a daunting task, however. With few exceptions, a character of one gender can support and marry with just about any character of the opposite gender, as a way to ensure that most everybody can get married and you won’t lose out on any children. They can then also support with about 4-5 characters of the same gender, building strong bonds of friendship to utilize on the battlefield. As well, every character can support with the Avatar, and the Avatar can support with every character.

The second half of that last sentence probably seems redundant, right? Well, it is, but it also isn’t. There is a separate connotation implied when I say “the Avatar can support with every character.” But what could that connotation possibly be, Wombat?! Well, I’ll tell you, because it’s what I’ve been leading up to this entire time: there are characters that ONLY the Avatar can support with.

In fact, every character who joins after Henry’s addition in Chapter 13 has no supports with any first generation character except the Avatar and, in the case of second generation characters, their parents. This includes the plot important Say’ri, Flavia, and Basilio, as well as side mission recruits Tiki (who is actually a returning character from the very first Fire Emblem) and Anna, and extends to SpotPass characters such as Walhart, Aversa, Gangrel, and Emmeryn, some of whom actually have deeply personal connections with other first generation characters, but regardless can only support with the Avatar. This is especially egregious with Say’ri (who shares a national background with Lon’qu, being the only citizens of Chon’sin), Tiki (who, as a thousand plus year old manakete, shares much in common with Nowi, the main manakete of Awakening), and Emmeryn (who is the main character Chrom’s and first cleric of the game Lissa’s sister), all of whom should reasonably support outside of the Avatar but don’t.

Now, some would say that supports are not actually that integral to the gameplay, and there is an argument to be made there, an argument which fire I would fan being on the opposing side. As previously addressed, supports give a boost in stats when two supported units fight near each other. This is actually amplified in Awakening with the major new gameplay mechanic introduced in the game, Pair Up. With Pair Up, two units can occupy one space and fight together as one. Pair Up could be the topic of an article all its own, what with its controversial nature, but there is no denying that it is THE driving force behind Awakening’s gameplay. Now, how does Pair Up tie into my complaint about the Avatar’s support exclusivity? It’s quite simple, really.

All those characters who can only support with the Avatar? You know, the ones you fought tooth and nail in some of the hardest maps in the entire game to acquire and add to your available roster? Well, at best, you might be able to utilize about three or four (I named nine earlier, and only touched on a little more than half the available exclusive units) of them on any given map, and that’s if you have them all stay right next to the Avatar. This is because if a character can not effectively Pair Up with other units, you are essentially handicapping yourself by using them, and the Avatar, like all other units, can only Pair Up with one character at a time. They can still lend out their support stat bonuses to nearby allies, but will not be able to join in for Pair Up abilities. This means that, for the most part, these late game units will be receiving very little use due to their lack of variety. If you can only keep them near the Avatar, why use them at all when their slot could be taken by another unit who can Pair Up with over half the army?

The answer is, you shouldn’t.

Fire Emblem Awakening is a great game, and is indeed the reason I started to play not only the Fire Emblem series as a whole, but also began to give the entirety of the strategy RPG genre a chance. It has numerous flaws, some of which we touched upon here, but overall, it’s a glowing masterpiece that stands as one of the best of its kind (even if hardcore Fire Emblem fans hate it, this “waifu-simulator” has more than proven itself), and it really is just this one major issue that truly bothers me whenever I discuss the game with others. The game is built around supports and its strong character interactions, but all the characters in the second half of the game lose out on those strengths and appear shallow, pointless, and misused as a result. Even worse, characters who should have become game breakers are instead bench warmers, all because they cannot make appropriate use of one of the game’s major mechanics. It’s just sad to think about what could have been. But, in the end, Fire Emblem Awakening is still a great game. Go play it so you can nitpick as much as I do.

Just don’t play Fates. At all. Go get Shadows of Valentia.

 

(Edit: Some of these have since changed and more supports are available, but it was not that way for a long time. As well, their S-rank [marriage] supports are still limited to the Avatar.)

Final Fantasy 7: A Good First Try

It was okay.

It took a while for me to get around to playing Final Fantasy 7. One reason for this was the years and years of overexposure, people constantly telling me I should play it, that it’s one of the greatest games ever, and it’s a cornerstone of gaming history. Another reason was that I had played a game from the Compilation of Final Fantasy 7 (Dirge of Cerberus), and was immensely unimpressed, souring my view of what the actual game would be like. However, last year I picked up a copy, popped it into my Playstation 1, and had my 60 hour experience with Final Fantasy 7. And when it was over, I sat back in my couch and had a singular thought.

It was okay.

I didn’t hate it like I genuinely believed I would. The combat was fun, I had a team that I favored (Cloud, Yuffie, and Vincent), picking out Materia for my characters allowed for nice customization of my team, and battles never dragged for too long. However, it was also incredibly easy. I’m not usually one to knock something for being easy, but if there had been one (story!) boss that was remotely challenging, I would have been incredibly pleased. Instead, I felt like I was walking from one end of the world to the other with little dogs yapping at my feet, a nuisance as opposed to any real challenge.

What really fell flat for me, though, was the story and particularly the characters. First, the characters. The only one who spends enough time in the party to get invested in is Cloud, and early game maybe Tifa and Aerith. This is because of how the game utilizes its characters within cutscenes. With a handful of exceptions, the only characters who will appear in any given scene are the ones currently in your party, which means that if you never have Barrett in your party (largely because he’s a terrible stereotype and also a Mr. T ripoff and also he sucks in combat), then it looks like Barrett just never does anything. The characters would definitely have benefited from far more screen time, but it just never comes. As a result, the bulk of the story revolves around Cloud, as, for the most part, he is glued to your party. And anytime the story needs another character to be important, the game basically forces them into your party, which is really frustrating when you’re used to being able to choose who you take. Just let the characters exist outside of the party, game? Please?

That being said, I did enjoy them when they were on screen (except for Barrett and Cait Sith, both of whom I avoided wherever possible [I’m pretty sure Cait Sith is never actually required in your party, but he still has a couple of scenes that will make you wanna scream in hatred]). They all have distinct personalities and are really fun to watch. As I said previously, I mostly had Yuffie and Vincent in my party, which is a really interesting contrast. Vincent is largely apathetic, never getting excited about anything, speaking mostly in short, quiet sentences. Yuffie, on the other hand, will never shut up, being highly energetic and excitable and also a Valley Girl, I think? She has more of a gunner personality than Vincent, the gunner, does, while he has more of a ninja personality than Yuffie, the ninja. It’s kind of funny and I love it, so they were my party for every boss after acquiring Vincent, wherever they were both available. That includes Sephiroth, even if Yuffie did spend most of that battle dead.

(Spoilers for 20 year old game ahead! Apparently you’re supposed to tag these things, even though it’s… 20 years old…)

As for the story, it… happens? Honestly, I’d have to say that this is one of the weaker stories in the franchise. It’s a “Villain tries to destroy the world” plot with a new wardrobe. This time the protagonist is not just connected to the villain, he’s a clone of the villain!… or so we’re led to believe, until it’s revealed he actually is just connected to the villain and his mind is being tampered with. Until about 3/4’s of the way through disc 2, it’s hard to really tell what the truth about Cloud is, which I guess was the point? But it also just muddles who Cloud, as Cloud, is, to the point where I’d argue that the true Cloud has less screen time than I ever gave Barrett (is that zing worthy?). I will say that Aerith’s death at the end of disc 1 is shocking, not in that it happens because the game sets that up far in advance, but in that it is STILL rare today for a game to kill a major character off like that. Party members are expected to perform a Heroic Sacrifice, but that’s not what happens here. She just… dies. It does set up something at the end of the game, but for a character to just be dropped like that is still impressive for a game to do, and if I had to guess, it’s one of THE major contributing factors to why this game still persists in the public eye.

The other reason is Sephiroth. Oh boy, Sephiroth. He shows up about 1/4 of the way through the first disc, and suddenly everything else that was going on doesn’t matter so much. He steals the show. Where Kefka made villainy gross and disgusting and insane, something to be reviled, Sephiroth makes it look cool and elegant, and also insane, something to strive for. He’s honestly a bit too cool, because he totally overshadows the main cast. By the end of the game, I was mostly playing just to see more Sephiroth scenes. Unfortunately, though, I was disappointed in the end. Sephiroth has been cloned numerous times, so most of what we see of him is not the man himself, but rather those clones. The original Sephiroth never actually mutters a single word. If you want to see that, you’ll have to play Crisis Core.

The soundtrack, however, never disappoints. From “Opening Theme, Bombing Mission” on to “One-Winged Angel,” the music never doesn’t deliver. It’s honestly the one part of this whole experience that doesn’t feel dated, and even while playing Final Fantasy XV, I’ll pop 7‘s soundtrack into the car and just chill.

The aspect of this game that is the most dated, however, are the graphics. I’m sure a 3D Final Fantasy game looked amazing in 1997, but today this aesthetic looks like garbage. That’s really the only way I can truly describe it. It is an assault on the eyes. Even a couple years later, with Final Fantasy 8, the graphical capabilities of the Playstation would be put to far better use, especially regarding the pre-rendered cutscenes. In 8, they would look almost like early PS2 era cutscenes. In 7, they look like… uhh…

Whatever that is.

Overall, though, I had fun with Final Fantasy 7. I don’t think it holds up very well, considering what RPG’s would become even within the same console generation (I would recommend games such as Breath of Fire III/IV or Legend of Dragoon if you’re looking for a Playstation RPG that holds up), but I can see why it was such a big deal when it was released. If you’re interested in video game history, or are a fan of the Final Fantasy franchise, definitely play this if you somehow haven’t already. Just… don’t get your hopes too high.

I can’t wait for that PS4 remake, though.

Onyx: An Ugly, Brown Tur-Rock, Onyx Is A Rock

On a whim, I picked up this cheap Steam RPG that came out not even a week before writing this review. Now, I’m against the idea of people charging anything for the games they’ve made in RPG Maker, but they rarely charge more than $5-$7, which I suppose isn’t objectionable. What is objectionable, however, is Onyx.

Onyx is about a world where witches are a regular part of life, but are being hunted down and slaughtered like lambs by a rebel sect known as the “Nimrod Brotherhood.” Yes, that is what they’re called. No, I don’t believe they’re named after the Biblical Nimrod. I think they’re named Nimrod because it’s a JOOOOOOOOOOOOOKE.

That seems to be half the reason for the game’s existence, really. There can’t be three lines of dialogue without some character or other cracking what they must think is the wittiest jest in their lifetime, and while some will get a chuckle out of you, others fall flat on their face. Not helping matters is the lack of any editing or spellchecking going into the product before release, leaving horrendous typos everywhere and sometimes incomprehensible sentences, problems that could easily have been fixed prior to release.

That’s another problem I have with the whole RPG Maker business model. Due to the ease of cranking out games when you have very little to do yourself aside from place assets and write a story, it creates an environment where you could easily release two or three games a month, given enough free time. With that capability at your fingertips, it can become easy to give in to apathy, and start cutting back on things like QA testing or giving a shit about the products you sell your customers.

Speaking of not giving a shit, the game focuses on a character named Rowan, though you can rename all playable characters anything you see fit within the 8-or-9 character limit. Rowan is Velvet Crowe from Tales of Berseria. That’s her character. A poorly written Velvet Crowe. She’s joined by a character who is basically Komoto Raynar from this site, a mother and daughter with serious familial issues, a Mystic Knight from Final Fantasy V, and some other character I couldn’t be bothered to play long enough to meet. None of them are interesting enough to get invested in, Vel- I mean, Rowan is a selfish witch, and they are all groan-worthy at various points.

The maps you’ll be spending most of your time travelling around are some of the clunkiest and poorly designed maps I’ve ever seen. Back in my Ar tonelico review, I threw some serious shade at its maps, but I feel I now owe it an apology. At least Ar tonelico had maps with rules. Onyx has no rules. One bush might block your progress, while the very same bush in a different location you might be able to pass over. Sometimes the ground covers up half your character’s sprite, as if they are slowly sinking into the abyssal quicksand that is this game. Take two steps and they are suddenly freed, allowed to suffer the torment of fourth wall breaks and petty intra-party drama. This will occur even if you are standing on the exact same kind of floor tile after moving.

Battles are just a visual nightmare. Your party appears as RPG Maker sprites, obviously, but enemies are these weird, watercolor portraits superimposed over Earthbound‘s battle background. They look horrendous, have a tendency to blend together or hide each other, and, given enough enough enemies on the screen, can even impose themselves over your own character sprites. And once you have a fourth party member, you might not realize it, because the UI is so tall and the characters are situated in such a way that the UI will cover your fourth member. It is negative fun to get into a fight in this game. Anti-fun, if you will. It actively sucks joy from your life.

You’re allowed to save anywhere in the game, but outside a tent early in the game, there’s a save point. It has no reason for existence. I can only assume that an early version required save points, and they failed to dummy them all out. It’s extremely inconsistent.

Near the end of my play time, I also stumbled across The End of Ti- I mean, a magical museum that is not totally a ripoff of Chrono Trigger right down to name-dropping Melchior as the inspiration. It definitely also does not have the Hylian shield (which can be seen in other places within the game, as well) and Prince of Persia‘s scimitars hanging in a hallway. This game is wholly original and will not fall back on using nostalgic images in order to garner favor from its players. I hate this game and my life because of this game.

I don’t understand why this exists. I don’t understand how it has the right to charge money. But since it is charging money, it deserves to be criticized like anything else we have to crack open our wallets for, and even at a $7 price tag, this one is not worth your time or money. Even if you are an avid follower of RPG Maker enterprises, steer clear of this one.

Developer: Aldorlea Games

Released: 2017

Platform: Steam

(Hijacking the post to relay my thoughts on this whole thing, since I was watching him play that 3-4 hours before he wrote this. This game has about as much polish as I’d expect from a 90’s freeware game. I feel like the developers need a few lessons in proper design, or at least some research into how other games did it. The few maps I saw were spacious, yes, but with a lot of dead ends, and dead ends that look like they should lead somewhere but don’t. The battle system is about as simple as it gets, with ridiculously inflated damage values, and for Goddess sake, if one of your selling points is “Hilarious Touches of Humor”, at least actually let it be humor for humor’s sake. One of the NPCs in an early game town literally states how badly constructed the town is. Parody Played Straight is a horrible thing to let happen to your game, regardless of your intention. Don’t get me wrong, we had a few laughs at this game, but laughing at this game is about all we’ll be doing from now on.

I try hard to find redeeming features in games. The only redeeming feature I find for this one, is a “What Not To Do” example for game design classes. ~Ray)

The Last Story Review: End of an Era

The Last Story is one of the most unique games I have ever played. Over the years, I’ve seen it receive scorn and criticism from all angles (one of my favorite video game reviewers even called it one of the worst games of 2012), but I’d never actually played it myself. Having done so now, I […]

The Last Story is one of the most unique games I have ever played. Over the years, I’ve seen it receive scorn and criticism from all angles (one of my favorite video game reviewers even called it one of the worst games of 2012), but I’d never actually played it myself. Having done so now, I have to say that I largely disagree that any flaws it has ruins the product as a game. This romp with the adorably boring Zael and his band of mercenaries was one of the most enjoyable times I’ve had all year.

As with all JRPG’s, the first place you have to look is to the story. Being largely linear, narrative experiences, a terrible story can indeed make for a terrible game in this genre, and each new entry has a host of previous classics to contend with. Fortunately, at The Last Story’s helm is Hironobu Sakaguchi, the creator of Final Fantasy and essentially father of the genre, and he is fully aware of what he has to contend with. While the game largely confines you to a single major city, it weaves a tale on a global scale, as a threat to the entire world is defended against at this central location. And it works. Zael and his friends fight a massive war on the frontlines, and have no reason to go beyond where they are right now. Characters appear to be of moral ambiguity until their true intentions are realized. Setpieces are grand and beautiful and perfectly convey the levity of the situation bringing you to them.

That’s not to say the story isn’t riddled with cliche’s. The villains are just a little too on the nose (save one), with one in particular who could have made for a much more satisfying turn had his evil motivations not been revealed in an entirely unnecessary scene a full dozen chapters before his direct betrayal of the mercenaries. Another just looks like Ganondorf in a purple aura, and that’s about all the characterization he gets, too. The central conflict is a very generic “our world is dying” tale, as well, though the reasons for the world dying are much weirder than most.

But behind the poor villain characterization and poorly hidden plot twists lies a story with heart, as the mercenaries, initially fighting for their own gain, begin to realize that there’s more at stake, and they’ll have to learn to think beyond themselves. Each mercenary has their own reasons for fighting, interesting backstories and development, and you really do grow to care for each of them. The only major gripe I have with the main cast is how often Lowell was not in my party, because Lowell is clearly the best character in the game and should have been in my party constantly, but actually spends less time with Zael than almost any other party member.

The love story between Zael and Calisto is almost a deconstruction of generic JRPG love stories, as they spend as little time as possible after the first quarter of the game in each other’s company, with Calisto actively pushing Zael away, which only makes Zael more interested in staying close to her. Doing so only creates further problems for the both of them, where had Calisto not been so worrisome or had Zael given up on Calisto after being told to stay away, their lives would have been much simpler than the third path their contradictory actions resulted in. It’s ultimately reconstructed near the very end of the game and in an optional epilogue chapter, but it comes so late you would almost be excused for thinking this was more like Romeo and Juliet and less a RomCom.

However, I feel like the story was also more of an afterthought for the core gameplay, as if they had an idea for how the game would play and then crafted a storyline around it, because The Last Story is one of the tightest games I have ever played. Coming in from any other JRPG, you might be thrown off, because combat is less explosive action and more like a real-time tactical shooter, but with swords and magic. Imagine if Fire Emblem combined with Gears of War, and that’s similar to what you get in The Last Story. You approach enemies carefully, because being overwhelmed means death. You single out the most dangerous targets first and take them out with Zael’s crossbow, which while usually cannot kill enemies, does come equipped with bolts that can instantly kill a magic-user. Once the fight starts however, there’s no turning back, as you are often locked in the combat area until all your enemies lay defeated. At that point, you might take advantage of the ability to deal powerful blows to enemies as you exit cover. Or you might command one of your friends to use powerful magic on surrounding enemies. It’s a very intricate battle system which can be used to full effect or discarded completely in favor of a brute force approach… so long as you’re good enough.

Unfortunately, when it comes to bosses, the possibilities tend to be limited to one strategy and no other ways of coming at it. It can be very frustrating going from trying out all kinds of cool tactics against regular enemies to using the same commands over and over again in a boss fight. Of particular note is the boss that closes off the entire ship-raiding segment early on, which not only has a very specific and unreliable method of defeating, but is also the one to start the trend of terrible bosses within the game, throwing you a huge curveball. If you end up fighting this thing for an hour and a half, don’t worry. I did the same.

Sometimes, however, the game will throw a boss out that seems absolutely impenetrable. What this usually means is that Zael and co. are underleveled, which would mean lots of grinding, right? Not so! There is usually at least one place within a dungeon that you can return to, and it will have summoning circles that allow you to summon enemies. This is the only true way to grind in the game at all, as enemies do not respawn and revisiting areas does not award experience. However, I mean this as a good thing. The summon battles take little to no time, are very straightforward, and will award you tons of experience until you’re caught up to about where the game wants you to be, at which point you’ll notice that instead of gaining 2-3 levels a fight, you’re not even gaining one. It’s very easy and quick and will put you right back on the story’s path once you’re done.

Chapters in the game are more like Missions in a tactical shooter. It’s a very linear pathway where you clear out enemies until you arrive at your objective. People like to spit on the word linear, but done correctly, a good hallway can mean a lot more than a not-so-great continent. The linearity fits with the story being told, as the party has a clear objective and consistently work towards it, and it keeps the pace steady. You are always moving forward, and there are no major chapters that might count as “filler” or “padding”. Any unnecessary chapters are treated just like that; unnecessary and optional. And even doing all of those, the game clocks in at just over 20 hours. The game never outstays its welcome, tells you exactly what it needs to, and wastes no time getting there.

All in all, The Last Story is one of the best experiences I have ever had with a JRPG (which is really saying something when you consider my game library). I highly recommend picking this one up if you never have. I don’t think you’ll regret it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let’s Review – NieR: Automata – “Falling Back Right In With The System…”

A look at the story of two androids, and the loss and struggle they endure on a machine-ruled Earth.

The Story of two androids in a mechanical hell…

Starting up the game, you’re immediately thrown into a top-down shooter style of gameplay. Hold on, bear with me, as this is basically introducing you to the type of reality this world is. As your comrades get shot down one by one, you’ll suddenly find yourself fending off your enemies, and eventually ditching your flight unit to take the fight to the ground, where you belong.

That is your introduction to 2B, and the world of Automata.

After dealing with a giant buzzsaw and meeting up with your field support unit (Simply known as 9S), you race through this abandoned weapons factory, cutting down all in your way. In the end, though, you can’t find your actual objective, something called a Goliath-class machine. (Spoiler warning, they’re as big as they sound.), unless you are accosted by two more giant buzzsaws, which turn out to be attached to the Goliath you were actually hunting.

It’s a hard fight, but 2B and 9S eventually manage to disable it, at great cost to themselves.NieR:Automata_20170323112719

Surprisingly, this is one the tamest things in the game

After some big fireworks, you’ll find yourself in a space station known as “The Bunker”; a bastion for the android forces of YorHa to restore themselves. And by restore, I mean we’re literally going to walk you through the Settings menu…NieR:Automata_20170323113644

On a meta level, it works…

Once back in fighting shape, you are given your mission: To contact the Resistance camp stationed on Earth, which leads into doing some odd jobs to get the shops into working order and some desert recon. The machines, despite being the enemy, are a strange and mysterious group. And it gets even stranger once you battle your way through both desert and ruined apartment complex.NieR:Automata_20170323142545

There’s something clearly not right here.

Certain events cause 2B and 9S to retreat from what they discover in the desert, but since they technically accomplished what they were told to do, they are met with praise from the Resistance. Afterwards, The Bunker gives the pair another mission; contacting a missing faction of YorHa that have fallen off the communication grid. This leads the andriods through an abandoned sewer pipe and into an even stranger sight…NieR:Automata_20170323152314

Disney Land in the future.

The machines here are more interested in having celebrations, so progress is smooth until you have to stop an one-machine show in the heart of castle. Unfortunately, the fate of the YorHa soliders is not pleasent, but this chain of events does lead into something not quite unexpected at this point.NieR:Automata_20170323155019

Pacifist machines. Better yet, they’re into philosophy.

After making introductory rounds, 2B and 9S are met with shocking news; Goliaths are attacking the city ruins where the Resistance is station. Even though the recently discovered machine village is suspected of laying a trap, it’s quickly put aside to actually deal with the threat. Upon disposing of the second Goliath, however, something strange is discovered in the aftermath left behind.NieR:Automata_20170323200309

This chasm is more important than you’ll ever realize.

Following the strange signal underground, however, leads to the first of many shocking revelations, and the official introduction of two familiar adversaries.NieR:Automata_20170323204157

Our greetings.

The ensuring fight ends in a stalemate, promising another encounter between the two pairs. However, more pressing matters await, as Command tells the two androids to investigate the leader of the pacifist machines, who in turn, sends them to contend with a group of machines who live in a “forest kingdom” that they built. It’s a hack-and-slash journey through the loyal machines, but the ending is not quite what they expected.maxresdefault

This android doesn’t feel the need to hide her true self…

Despite orders to dispatch this rogue android, she takes off on her own agenda. At this point, the two decide to check in on the Resistance camp, where they are suddenly tasked with guard duty. The escort? A payload of missiles. Guarding the missiles in itself is no chore, but then the supply ship itself suddenly comes under fire, after which point protecting it is no longer an issue…NieR:Automata_20170408013512

Mecha-Sin: Yevon’s new lord and savior.

It’s an intense fight, at the conclusion of which 2B and 9S are seperated. After obtaining a Scanner program for her Pod, 2B manages to track down 9S’ location to a baffling area; a fabricated, colorless array of blocks arranged into something like a city. And at the end awaits one of the two heads of the machine network.maxresdefault (1)

What happened here may be explained in an alternate reality.

The following struggle between the two ends with 2B killing her adversary. After bringing 9S’ data back to The Bunker, she is enlisted by the head of the machine village to accompany him to meet another group of machines that desire peace. This takes them back to the abandoned factory (from all the way back in the beginning), and to the dismay of them, leads them directly into the midst of what is actually a machine cult of all things…hqdefault

Renounce your false religion…

With some outside assistance from 9S, escape from the factory is possible. However, things quickly go from bad to worse, as the other half of the network starts to experience a slight malfunction… causing some of the machines to go berserk and begin wrecking not only the Resistance camp, but the machine village as well. 2B and 9S manage to stay them off, buying enough time for them to strike at the source itself.NieR:Automata_20170402001732

Putting an end to the chaos.

Broken and battered, 2B still manages to kill off the other side of the network and bring the machines back to normal (whatever that is.), but payment must be paved twofold, as they say…NieR:Automata_20170402003629

And that’s simply just the first ending. There’s a set of five main endings, and twenty-one non-canonical endings, for a grand total of twenty-six endings and off-shoots. The fun’s just beginning here.NieR:Automata_20170408021357

The choices are yours, and yours alone.

Armaments of a fighter.

There’s three distinct game play styles. The first one you’re introduced to is vertical shooter style, which probably could have been taken out and not have anything lost. This only ever applies to whenever you take a Flight Unit for scripted battle sets, and even then, it only applies to half of each set.

More prominent than that, however, is when your Flight Unit transforms into a Gundem-light knockoff. Your controls become that of a twin-stick shooter at that point. This is not only the other half of your Flight Unit sections, but is also the control setup for the hacking minigame. It’s a little awkward to get used to it, however, and precision is a bit of a chore for controllers. In addition, most of the challenge doesn’t come from unique challenge, but rather how many bullets can you slide around, which may be a bit overwhelming for people who are not used to this type of third-person shooter content.NieR:Automata_20170403005825

Still, it’s a lot easier than real world hacking…

The main gameplay style you’ll be working with, however, is more traditional hack-and-slash combat. It’s set up like a mix Devil May Cry and God Of War. There’s no style ranking, so it’s less about combos and more about finding your openings between enemy attacks to take them down. There’s four weapon types than handle differently, and you’re able to assign two different weapons to a Light and Heavy (Square and Triangle respectively) attack, which can do different things both seperately and when mixed together depending on your weapon type. Holding down R1 fires off your Pod, which faces in the same direction as the camera. It’s a strange design at first, but you can effectively damage two fronts at once after you learn to set up. L1 uses a Pod’s equipped program, a sort of extra attack you can perform on cooldown. These range from really useful (Hammer) to siuationally useful (Spear), to almost useless (Gravity). There’s enough variety to let you find something to compliment your play style however. R2 lets you perform an evade, and evading just before an attack hits sets you up for a counter attack that does something different depending on which attack button you hit. You’re going to be evading a lot in this game, so learning when to prop an enemy into the air or simply blowing it up is key to helping improve your combat life. L2 lets you lock onto an enemy, but, honestly, I found it to be a hindrance in this game. It’s designed to help aim your Pod easier, but this game sometimes has targeting issues where you’ll sometimes lock onto an enemy halfway across the field instead of the one right in your face that you wanted to lock onto. In addition, harder difficulties actually disable your ability to lock on, so it becomes a double-miss in my book. The combat isn’t built around requiring singling out enemies, however, so you can take or leave it as you will.NieR:Automata_20170401235155

Combat can be as fast or as methodical as you like. Just be careful of getting tossed into the air.

Throughout your adventure/genocide of all things mechanical, you’ll come across Plug-In Chips. These define everything (and I do mean EVERYTHING) your android fighter is capable of doing and seeing. Like with Pod Programs, there’s a fair amount of variety to them, but some are going to be more clearly useful than others, especially given the limited space you have to install.

As far as moving around in the world, X lets you jump. Pressing X again in midair gives you a double jump, and holding down X lets you grab onto your pod to glide down to safety. Yes, there is fall damage in the game, but you kind of have to go out of your way to encounter, as you’ll often land on your feet anyway. Pressing R2 lets you perform an evade, even outside of battle, and I mention this because after an evade dash, you’ll run instead of jog, and after enough time running, you’ll move into a sprint that lets you cover ground the quickest. The game doesn’t tell you this, it’s something you’ll have to learn on your own (or by having someone like me tell you that you can do this.) The world only consists of five major areas and a couple additional side areas that the plot takes you to, so it’s a rather condensed world. Despite that, however, I wish that there was a little more inter connectivity between the areas, especially with the desert. A lot of side quests either take place, or take you back to the desert and there’s only one way to get into the desert. Granted, you will get access to a quick-travel option to help cut down on walking, but that happens halfway through the first playthrough, and by that time, you’ll probably have missed a few sidequests in that time. The same thing could be said of the abandoned factory as well and overall these two areas could have been better interconnected with the rest of the world.NieR:Automata_20170323195736

By the end of your first go around, you’ll probably be sick of all this sand.

Walking the streets of a ruined Earth

Despite the general inconsistency in running between areas, exploration can be a rewarding things. There are chests and item spots scattered all over to help reward you for going off the beaten path. While you’ll mostly get materials for upgrading weapons from these, you’ll also sometimes find brand new weapons in general, or even a little backstory lore for your trouble.

You’ll also find a bunch of side quests throughout the world as well, and these range from world-building, to outright silly, to some combination of both.NieR:Automata_20170323200534

Yes. Escorting a machine clown parade is one of the many things you can do.

Side quests will also give you materials and weapons to work with for your trouble, as well as occasional other things like new Pod Programs or Plug-In Chips. It’s worth going out of your way to do them, but a lot of them are missable, so it may take you a few playthroughs to track them all down.NieR:Automata_20170323202122

Want to know what happened here? Just another of many side quests you can do.

Parting Notes

The time you’ll spend in NieR: Automata is most likely going to spent deciphering the rabbit hole. Some things are more easily picked up than others, and others will have to be pieced together in order to discover what’s really going on. By the end, you’ll most likely wonder just what, exactly, you were fighting for, and I believe that was the point. This not a story of a singular good versus a singular evil, of great conquests or epic battles. This story is about two androids and the loss and struggles they have to contend with as they undertake their missions in the name of YorHa.

The gameplay is a solid experience throughout, with no glaring flaws to look at, the world is constructed to tell an experience with it’s side quests and environments, and the facts you find are not always directly given to you.

If you appreciate a story that doesn’t pull punches, and a solid combat experience to accompany it, I’d recommend giving Automata a try. You won’t be disappointed.

~Komoto Raynar