LTTP: 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim

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Third time’s the charm with Vanillaware and I. I tried Odin Sphere, but found the original PS2 release onerous to play. (The remaster was only marginally better.) I didn’t like Dragon’s Crown Pro either so I really didn’t pay much attention to 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim until I started seeing the praise and noticing that it wasn’t a beat ’em up game like their previous works. I was cautiously optimistic so I put it on the watch list and finally picked up a copy during Boxing Day 2021.

I generally like the look of VanillaWare games despite their grotesquely proportioned women. Things were looking up for 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim though; it only had one character was stupidly busty. The rest of the cast was fine, but a majority of them weren’t instantly memorable. Generic anime high schooler was a very common through line.

VanillaWare aren’t a big budget studio and they tend to wring out a lot of use with what they make. With Odin Sphere and Dragon’s Crown, the backdrops, character animations, and gameplay ideas were reused to their breaking points. Unfortunately for beat ’em up styled games, that breaking point hits me very fast. 

13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim mitigated wearing out their assets in a few ways. Firstly, they developed a story that justified the need to see events from different character’s perspectives. They made it actually interesting to revisit areas to reveal meaningful story tidbits. 

Secondly, they metered out exposure by splitting up the gameplay and story segments and then gating progress based on the different characters and battles. Subdividing the story into different character arcs may have been a source of frustration early on, but it ensured I wasn’t burning out on any one thing too quickly; they saved me from myself and I ended up appreciating it.

The story started off quite slow and reserved. After the tutorial and character introductions were out the way, the pace and science fiction tropes began flowing. The tropes may sound like a knock against 13 Sentinels, but there were so many of them that it somehow all gelled together to create something that compelled me to come back to on a nightly basis.

I was initially invested because of the strategy gameplay scenarios, but by the end, I just wanted to know how this wild story pieced itself together. I was content with the ending and even got a tiny bit misty eyed with some of the revelations and moments in the epilogue. 

I had reservations about the size of the cast. I thought I would lose track of storylines and wondered how many of them would resonate. As it turns out, if you spend enough time steeped in this game (just over 30 hours), you get to know everyone and everything rather well. Thankfully they included an easily accessible events timeline and information files that I could peruse at any time for a refresher.

I don’t think it’s a controversial opinion, but I despised the selfishness of Megumi Yakushiji.

Whenever I feel a strong negative reaction to a character’s actions, and discuss hypotheticals with my fiancee about a character’s decisions, I praise the writers for making me care enough about their story. While her choices ended up working out, her motivations were not just and nobody will ever call her out on it — in fact, she gets a very happy ending which upon reflection, sends the message: Obeying talking animals and shooting your friends with mystery bullets always pays off.

The gameplay half of this game was very straightforward, but I felt like I broke it from the get go. As soon as I was able to generate A.I. controlled interceptors and sentry turrets, I kept dumping upgrade points into it and then kept spamming them in battles. I S ranked every mission except for the last couple on the first try. I figured the game would force me to change tactics at one point, but it turns out that investing in drones, chainsaw swords, and EMPs was enough to bulldoze everything. Don’t get me wrong, I still found it satisfying to stomp through the hordes of enemies, but I was hoping for a bit more variety in the objectives. 

I ended up liking 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim quite a bit, but when I evaluate its component pieces, I realized a lot of what I liked about it was in the cutscenes and story payoffs. The strategy gameplay missions were serviceable if not repetitive. The adventure/story segments were not interesting mechanically often exposed the limits of asset variety as well. What made this game work was how the gameplay, story, and mysterious context of everything melded together to deliver an experience that warranted all that repetition. Intrigue and curiosity took me a long way with this and thankfully for me, I had boatloads of both.

Verdict:
I liked it

Ratings Guide

Metroid Dread Review

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11 years. That’s how long it took Nintendo to release a new 2D instalment in the Metroid franchise. It took them a long time to find someone else to pick up the mantle after the disappointing Metroid: Other M. The Dread project was given to MercurySteam after they proved themselves with the awesome Metroid: Samus Returns.

Metroid Dread played like a very refined Metroid: Samus Returns. Samus’ parry ability and 360 free aim returned, but she also developed the ability to slide under openings that were previously only accessible with the Morph ball. Additions like that and the wall climbing made her feel more versatile and nimble while staying with the confines of the game’s structure. She still required the staple of abilities like the Morph Ball, Space Jump, and Power Bombs to unlock the map.

The flow of the game did not deviate much from the Metroid games before it. There were little wrinkles like teleporters that brought Samus from one area to another to cut down on back tracking, but progress was still gated by abilities. 

The big “disruption” to progress were the E.M.M.I. encounters that offered a change of pace. I liked the idea of being hunted by an indestructible robot foe, but I didn’t like the punishment for getting caught. I might as well just skip to the Game Over screen because having to guess the right window to parry and escape the killer robots’ attacks was not fun. Samus would eventually obtain the ability to cloak and hide, but that would just delay the inevitable if she took the wrong turn somewhere. I found myself focusing on running away or kiting the E.M.M.I. through long winded paths just to buy Samus time to make her way to her destination. I would have preferred if the E.M.M.I. just sapped large chunks of her life away when Samus got caught.

Taking away health would have forced me to a bit more careful with platforming. The bosses kicked Samus’ ass, but the fodder enemies were easily dispatched thanks to the heavy reliance on the parrying mechanic. It’s not a slight against that mechanic, but perhaps one shot killing every enemy after a successful parry was a bit much.

I played Dread entirely in handheld mode which is made me consider picking up an OLED model. I found the game to look very nice on the original Switch’s LCD, but I know all those colors would have popped even more on an OLED. I only wish the game didn’t struggle to maintain its silky smooth framerate; there were a handful of areas where there were just a few too many X parasite thingies to render.

It’s been a long time since I thought about the X parasites and Metroids squaring off. Their introduction in Fusion brought a substantial change to Samus that I found functionally interesting, but aesthetically cringy. Making Samus more biomechnical was an interesting idea in Fusion, but I didn’t enjoy the path they went down in Dread. By the end, Samus became stupidly powerful and wouldn’t look out of place hanging out in the Kingdom of Atlantis as some kind of crustacean themed dark knight. It didn’t resonate with me at all. 

Weird suit transformations and other tiny misgivings aside, I really enjoyed my time Metroid Dread. It nearly convinced me to pick up a Switch OLED. I had such a good time playing through the game, and unraveling the map like a good one of these games should do. It took Nintendo a long, long time to add to the Metroid franchise, but they finally did and it was worth the wait.

Verdict:
I liked it

Ratings Guide

LTTP: Yakuza Kiwami 2

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Yakuza 2 on the PlayStation 2 was an eye opening experience for me. It was my first Yakuza title and it was also my first time experiencing a smidgen of life in Japan. The neon of Japanese nightlife, the small cramped alleyways, the hostess clubs, and the art of punching tigers in the face. Yakuza Kiwami 2 allowed me to revisit all those wonderful memories through its faithful remake of that 2006 cult classic.

When I think back at Yakuza 2, I see Kiwami 2. The character models, the cutscenes, the cities; all the years of playing Yakuza games slowly evolved that image of Yakuza 2 to what Kiwami 2 actually looks like. The reality is anything but. I took a look at some screenshots and footage from that old PS2 game to remind myself how far the series progressed in the last 15 years.

While it plays and looks a whole lot better than the old PlayStation 2 version, I’ve grown accustomed to playing this game at 60 FPS and I really wish that was an option on the Xbox Series X. It runs fine on the console, but the sluggish response makes navigating in the cluttered and crowded streets of Osaka awkward. It’s hilariously awkward, but not ideal if I were trying to evoke the calm and cool Kiryu Kazuma demeanor.

 The story beats were as I remembered which only reminds me of the disappointment of not seeing Kaoru Sayama play a role in subsequent Yakuza game. I recognize that other prominent characters introduced in one game would fade away in the future games, but she was Kiryu’s love interest and the lame way that she just disappeared in Yakuza 3 and to never return was a bummer.

While the core story remained intact and relatively untouched, the peripheral activities and side missions received more significant reworks. The hostess management game from Yakuza 0 made its way here along with a brand new real time strategy game involving Majima’s construction crew fending off gangsters guest starred by Japanese wrestlers. I’m not familiar with any of those names, but they gave off strong wrestling vibes. 

I didn’t spend much time with either of those activities. I spent more time playing Riichi Mahjong which I actually learned how to play for the first time. It was similar to Hong Kong Mahjong which I learned earlier this year so I wasn’t going in blind. 

I also spent a fair bit of time completing all the side missions and trying to impress Haruka by taking her places around Osaka and Kamurocho. The latter I gave up on after her demands became increasingly ridiculous. Taking a little girl to various eateries around the Osaka was one thing, but her request for me to dominate a poker game in a seedy underground casino was just too much. This little girl needs to stop hanging out with Kiryu.

I declared Yakuza 2 as the best of the series for the longest time only to have it be dethroned by the excellent Yakuza 0. I wondered how well Yakuza 2 would hold up many years later and I’m glad to see that it has. It’s still the second best Yakuza title. I have yet to play Yakuza 5 and Like a Dragon, but I doubt they would do much to sway my opinion on this.

Framerate preferences aside, revisiting Yakuza Kiwami 2 was a pleasure. An engaging story set between two iconic Japanese locations filled with drama and over-the-top action? What’s not to love? With the remasters, remakes, and the availability of a majority of these games on Xbox Game Pass, it’s never been a better time to check out this weird and wonderful franchise.

Verdict:
I liked it

Tesla Model Y Impressions Part II

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It’s been over three months since I jotted down my initial impressions of the Tesla Model Y and a number of things have happened since then.

Bless the Super Charger Network

We took a number of road trips down to Toronto over the summer and early autumn. We took so many road trips that we found ourselves using up all the free KMs that were given to us via the now defunct referral program

Our first impression was not very positive at all. We knew that we had to stop at least once for food, bio break, and the opportunity top up so that we didn’t enter Toronto needing to charge. I chose Kingston as the stop of choice, but that location was too busy, had too few Supercharger, and the charging stations arranged in a manner where people parked in non-designated Tesla spots can grab the cable from the other side. It was annoying to say the least and it left a very bad first impression. 

So we set off to the next major city, Belleville, and its 20 SApechargers. That was a superior experience from top to bottom. There were plenty of spaces and the amnesties were alright. It was located in the Quinte Pointe shopping mall which meant we had access to everything a typical mall has to offer during open hours. It would be ideal to start seeing charging stations at ONroute stops as well, but we’ll see if that 2022 plan bares fruit.

Supercharging Etiquette

Once you find a spot, the actual Supercharger experience was extremely pleasant. There were not additional apps to pull up, no sign-ins required, no need wonder if you even need an app in the first place: it just works.

  1. Pull-up
  2. Plug-in
  3. Wait.
  4. Get the bill afterwards.

We had a 100% success rate with charging stations. Every single one of those stations worked which is something I shouldn’t take for granted. 

Because we punched in the Supercharger as a destination in the navigation, the Model Y began prepping itself for fast charging which saves us time and preserve’s the car batteries’ health. We Supercharged for about 20 – 30 minutes each time when we only really needed 10 – 15 because we often took the opportunity to grab a bite to eat. I’ve had more East Side Mario’s this year than the last 5 years combined thanks to the proximity of that restaurant. 

On one of our trips, we learned something about “Supercharging etiquette” where we’re supposed to space our cars apart and not double up on a charging station if there were other spaces available. It wasn’t for fear of the cooties, but to allow every one to receive the full speed of the charging station. Nobody told us about this until a friendly Tesla owner told us about it.

Basically, if a charging station has numbering like 2A, 2B, and 2A is occupied, one should go to a free 3A or 3B first.

The charging time estimates were usually quite accurate, but once the charging was nearing completion, we would receive a notification on our phones warning us about idling fees. I understand why idle fees exist, but it’s a tiny bit annoying to have to get up to move the car in the middle of a meal. 

Convenient Service

Every car will have its problems, and although people will be quick to point out Tesla’s quality control issues, to me it’s not the mistakes or faults that defines my perception of a product/company; it’s how you recover from said issues. We interacted with Tesla service 4 times over the last few months and they’ve been mostly positive.

1 – TPMS and free PPF Install

I wanted to get some TPMS sensors for the winter wheels/tires. So we visited the Service Center to buy them and I mentioned that I heard Model Y deliveries in Canada started to include the mud flaps and PPF kit and was wondering if we qualified. The service tech told us that our VIN didn’t qualify, but they were going to offer it to us anyways and install it on the spot. It took less than 15 minutes and we got what we wanted and then some.

The mud flaps and PPF kits were not too expensive, but the TPMS sensors were. I took the whole visit as a a net zero. I got what I wanted and we left on a positive note.

2 – Roadside Assistance for flat tire

We made it into Toronto one long weekend, turn the corner to my fiancee’s parent’s street and then hear a noise that sounded like we scraped a curb. We took a look after we parked, but didn’t see anything wrong. Maybe we just scraped the tire?

The next morning, it was evident that what we heard was the tire being punctured. My fiancee had a CAA, but we decided to see what Tesla’s Roadside Assistance offered. We punched in our request through the app and they gave us a very reasonable quote that didn’t require towing whatsoever. We discovered the puncture at 9am or so and by 12:30pm, Tesla had dropped by with the exact tire we needed and swapped it out.

It turns out that we ran over some metal shard that sliced open the tire. An unfortunate accident that was resolved quickly without us having to pay an exorbitant amount of money. We didn’t need to deal with any towing or figuring out what tire we had to buy. The Tesla service team had all that info which meant we didn’t even need to physically interact with the mobile service tech if we didn’t want to.

A fantastic experience.

3 – Folding Back Seat & trunk door felt panel repair

Mobile service was a game changer. Knowing that many of the service calls can be made without us having to drop the car off, we decided to get a couple of things looked at. The first item was the folding back seat which didn’t fold down when triggered and the other was a felt back panel that wasn’t glued all the way.

A Tesla technician dropped by our house and took care of the felt panel without issue, but the seat needed a spring replacement which had to be ordered and for us to drop the car off at the service center. A couple of weeks later, we dropped off the car and it was repaired without issue. 

A positive experience in the end.

4 – Windshield wiper sprayer stopped spraying

The windshield wiper sprayer stopped spraying  We thought it was out of windshield wiper fluid, but it wasn’t spraying properly after refilling it. We called the mobile technician and after waiting the entire 1:00 – 5:30 pm window, they finally showed up at 5:45pm and got it working within a handful of minutes. Unfortunately, we discovered that the strength of the spray wasn’t like we got it so we scheduled another mobile technician appointment.

Not a great experience, but thankfully we don’t need to drop the car off yet. It’s just silly that this minor issue is even happening in the first place.

Mobile service visits allow Tesla to just drop by our house or even a publicly accessible workplace parking lot to service the car. However, as convenient as it may seem, they cannot solve every issue without a visit to the service center. All  cars are still made by humans and they will all have small issues that need to be addressed by someone. I would have a very different view on the car if I had to drive my car to another city to address relatively minor issues. 

We’re now adjusting to other cars

After many months and numerous kilometers driving with one pedal, aggressive regeneration, not needing to start/stop the car, I find every other car feels weird now. I now drive the Chevy Volt 2016 in L mode which has more aggressive regen in an effort to mimic the Tesla Model Y’s feel. The Volt’s keyless entry and ignition adds a minor step to the vehicle entry and exit process, but it’s amazing to me how dated it feels now.

As expected from the price tag, the noise isolation on the Model Y is on a different level compared to the Volt. Road and wind noise at high speeds are quite noticeable in the Chevy compared to the Model Y.

Having said all that, I still miss Apple Car Play in the Model Y. It’s just a superior audio control experience. 

Improvements over time

As expected, the Tesla Model Y received a number of software improvements since we received the car. The most recent noticeable change was the updated mobile app which gave us the ability to adjust charging amperage and schedule charging remotely. They also made improvements to driver safety by activating the in cabin camera to monitor for driver inattentiveness. They also made a number of small user interface improvements and adjustments like the ability to toggle between percentage and distance easily on the battery indicator.

I didn’t even mention the Full Self Driving beta that was recently released to American owners because 1) we didn’t purchase the upgrade and 2) that FSD beta isn’t available in Canada yet. I don’t think I’ll ever buy FSD for this car at this rate. I think we’re content with just Autopilot for now

Autopilot is good

Autopilot is essentially just driving with a good adaptive cruise control and auto steering. The car does a remarkable job keeping to the center of the road and maintaining a set distance away from cars ahead. It makes long drives a much more relaxing experience in comparison. It shifted the driver’s mentality from being actively engaged to actively monitoring. It actually made the term “Autopilot” make sense to me. Pilots are not actively flying the plane when they put their planes on autopilot, but they are still keeping watch over everything. We’re still monitoring our surroundings and the conditions of the road. Getting in and out of Autopilot was very easy which is important because it can be jarring if Autopilot is not properly disengaged by using the gear selector stalk.

The journey continues…

Winter is around the corner and I’m very curious how the vehicle will handle. I’m curious how the wheels and tires we bought will fare. I’m also wondering what changes the car will receive as time and progress marches forward.

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