Yakuza 0 Review

Yakuza 0 Review

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Yakuza 0 was the definitive Yakuza experience. It had everything I loved about the series and then some. The cultural touches, the wackiness and the over-the-top violence was all there with a fresh coat of current generation paint. I took a six year hiatus after finish Yakuza 4. I still loved the series but I always felt it was losing a bit of its identity the further it marched forward in the timeline. Yakuza, to me, was and will always be a late 80s to early 90s series. This prequel was right up my alley then.

Tackling a prequel isn’t easy. How can you tack on a meaningful story when you already know the major outcomes? How can you introduce characters that were never referenced before? It turns out there’s a lot to mine and flesh out in the Yakuza series because this was one hell of a drama.

Kiryu Kazama, Goro Majima, Akira Nishikiyama and many others would go onto become bigger players in subsequent games but they all got their start somewhere. There was a time when Nishikiyama and Kiryu were oath brothers and actually loved one another. Kiryu was just an up and coming yakuza member doing small time jobs like debt collections. Nishikiyama was still aspiring for bigger and better things and Goro Majima wasn’t as wacky as he eventually became yet.

The game has its gripping crime drama but it also shares the story of Japan in the late 1980s. Side stories offered insight into various areas including the temperature of the people and taxes, the weird nature of telephone clubs, the influx of big money, and some citizen’s love of American culture. Of course, they are side stories and thus you can ignore the bulk of it but they add a lot of flavor and texture to what makes this franchise great. It’s not unusual to find myself racing slot cars for hours and then find myself running away from murderous yakuza types.

Coming from Yakuza 4 and its four characters down to just two in Yakuza 0 may seem like a downgrade at first glance but I found the focus on two of the series’ mainstays gave the story strong direction. Four characters also offered four different playstyles giving each character slightly different spins on how to dish out brutal punishment. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that they shoved four playstyles into Kiryu and Goro giving a total of eight distinct playstyles to toy around with. They’re all viable options for the random throwdowns on the mean streets of Tokyo or Osaka but every so often, it behooved me to switch to a specific style — especially important against the likes of Mr. Shakedown.

Mr. Shakedown? Giant men who roam the streets of Tokyo or Osaka looking for Kiryu or Goro to beat up and steal money from. I wish these giants could be seen shaking down other NPCs. These men were the game’s trickiest opponents. They had the most health and hit the hardest. I eventually discovered It was primarily a test of patience. If I was too bold or too greedy, I was in a world of hurt but since money was so easy to come by, losing to Mr. Shakedown wasn’t the end of the world.

I love the ridiculous side content of this game. They varied in size and scope but they all fed into the atmosphere of the game. Some of it taught life lessons that wouldn’t be out of place in a Saturday morning cartoon. Others were long drawn out games within a game where I’m managing a hostess club or real estate development firm. A lot of it though, were genuinely funny.

I was introduced to host and hostess clubs through this series. I gleaned more and more nuggets of Japanese culture in subsequent games but it’s been a while since I learned something significant. In Yakuza 0, I was introduced to telephone clubs and the precarious dating situations that they present. Some of it is still relevant today and online dating scene.

Yakuza 0 is at its best when it’s imparting knowledge, makes me laugh, fills me with suspense, and entertains me with hard hitting action and drama. This prequel fills in the back story of many of the series characters and lays the groundwork for things to come. At the same time, they’ve opened up the idea of getting into the story of Shintaro Kazama and Masaru Sera and how they built their legacies. I also feel they ended Yakuza 0 with one of the sweetest endings in games let alone the series.

It’s been days since I wrapped up Yakuza 0. It took me a lot longer than I it would but that was because I was delving deeper and deeper into what this game had to offer. I still have a lot of side stories to complete but Nier: Automata was calling and I had to go. However, there were moments when I considered revisiting Kamurocho. I should wait though: the Yakuza: Kiwami is just around the corner.

Verdict:
I loved it

Ratings Guide

Dragon Quest VII: Fragments of the Forgotten Past Review

Dragon Quest VII: Fragments of the Forgotten Past Review

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I tried to play Dragon Quest VIII back in the PlayStation 2 days but the stark contrast between it and the flashier Final Fantasy titles made it tough for me to appreciate it. It wouldn’t be until Dragon Quest IX that I gave this Japanese roleplaying game juggernaut its fair shake. It turned out that I really enjoyed playing Dragon Quest on a handheld. I enjoyed the DQIX so much that I pre-ordered both Dragon Quest VII and Dragon Quest VIII releases on the Nintendo 3DS. I had an inkling what I was getting myself into but I really didn’t know.

It took me just over 85 hours to finish Dragon Quest VII: Fragments of the Forgotten Past. That’s a lot of time for a single player title. The last game role playing game that I invested that much time in was The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt but that was broken up into two giant stints. The DQVII cart was permanently entrenched in my Nintendo 3DS for months as I gathered fragments and witnessed some of the most depressing scenarios in a JRPG.

As conventional as the turn based combat was, the story and the long journey that accompanied it was anything but. The journey began with the son of a fisherman and a prince named Kiefer stumbling into an ancient temple that opened gateways into the past. Apparently the world was a much bigger place with islands and continents all over. The duo would eventually be joined by a local mayor’s daughter, Maribel, and together they gathered the necessary stone fragments to reassemble the lost islands. The assembled stone fragments opened portals to the past which inevitably enabled the trio to restore said islands in the present.

A  mysterious calamity in the past doomed each kingdom/island/continent and it was up to the trio to defeat the evil that was responsible make the world whole again. I found it to be a very novel and interesting means of gating access to the world without relying on traditional transportation barriers.

Each island/area was like a little vignette of woe. One island was plagued with terrible rains that turned people into stone. Another was essentially Groundhog Day. And one of the most depressing ones featured a cursed town that had newborn babes turn into demons and running away. As I solved each area’s problems, I learned more and more about the ultimate evil responsible which undoubtedly resulted in a confrontation with said baddie.

Dealing with the sad stories and disheartening circumstances in the past often produced positive results in the present but for a majority of the time they didn’t have real consequences for me or my crew. So when a party member chose to remain in the past and I lost access to him, I actually missed the brute. In fact, by the end of the game, it was possible for the protagonist to be the sole original member duking it out with the big bad Demon King. It was a very unorthodox experience because you just don’t see RPGs, let alone, JRPGs make drastic changes to its lineup part way through the journey. Maribel stepped away from the grand adventure to be with her ailing father for a while and, for the longest time, I was wondering if I would ever see the cross eyed ball buster again.

I accepted the introduction of the fourth character, Ruff, and I tolerated Mervyn’s inclusion into the lineup but the final character, Aishe, was handled poorly. I felt she was thrusted into the limelight because of her heritage and I was supposed to immediately connect with her for that reason alone.

Although I missed the original members for their personalities, I also missed them because I invested so much time developing their classes. Being forced to start a new classes with new characters whom I didn’t really connect with was a bit of a chore. It was doubly worse because I couldn’t easily change classes without warping to Alltrades Abbey and talk to this one specific NPC in the present day.

There weren’t random encounters (except for in this one specific area) but combat was primarily a breeze thanks to the inclusion of A.I behavior. It was like a Final Fantasy XII-lite where I set certain characters to focus on healing while others fought “wisely”. It made thumbing through normal battles easy as pie so I didn’t have to page through the countless abilities and spells that I’ve learned.

The victory lap after defeating the big bad Demon King captured my feelings of Dragon Quest VII: Fragments of a Forgotten Past perfectly. It was charming, filled with warm fuzzy feelings and I wanted it to pick up the pace. And yet, at the same time, I was surprised by the fact that I was an active participant in this victory lap. Dragon Quest VII was a long journey and, in the end, it’s one that I won’t soon forget.

Verdict:
I liked it

Ratings Guide

Inside PS4 Review

Inside PS4 Review

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Playdead’s Limbo aesthetic was borrowed and reappropriated many times over since its 2010 release. Now, six years later, the studio who gave us one of most memorable Xbox Live! Arcade titles is back with its next title, Inside.

It’s tough to live up to expectations and in many ways, Inside does not. Playdead didn’t fashion a new look for other developers to draw inspiration from – they built upon what they established already. They didn’t make reinvigorate the indie development scene and make it cool to make 2D platformers again – it’s well worn territory in 2016. Coming to Inside (and its relatively high price tag) looking to be wowed again would have been a mistake.

Inside was exactly what I expected from Playdead. If Limbo was their Super Mario Galaxy then Inside is their Super Mario Galaxy 2. They refined their craft and made another beautiful puzzle platformer.

Limbo shocked me with its surprise impaling and sudden decapitations. I often had no idea that things would go awry in Playdead’s last game. Inside, on the other hand, was a more methodical game where hazards are telegraphed with more obvious means. Deaths are still horrific displays and a few them did come without warning but they were fewer and thus more impactful when one does occur.

Someone shone a brighter light at Playdead’s diorama showing a bit more color and detail in their worlds. I appreciated how expressive the animation of all their actors were but I loved the little details and naunces of the backgrounds. Like Limbo, there was no dialog or overt storytelling. Any story was gleaned off actions and details on screen.

Once again, a small boy is the star of this of show. I guided him through environmental puzzles and away from ferocious dogs and adults who did not hesitate to strangle or drown him. The puzzles weren’t particularly difficult – in fact, I found myself overthinking a few of them resulting me stumping myself. There weren’t many signposts or obvious points of interaction but since it was such a sparse world, it was easy for me to pick out interactable items.

My only complaint against the puzzles was the fact that I was left wanting more. Playdead saved the best for the final third of the game and in some ways, I felt they were just getting started

If Limbo was known for its aesthetic and spider leg pulling, Inside will be remembered for its shift in gear. This singular moment seemingly unhinged the audio and visual restraints placed by Playdead and the game just barreled towards the credits.

I had questions after reaching the end of Inside. What exactly happened in the end there? Was there a secret ending? Of course there was. I didn’t go back to unlock it nor did I go on YouTube to watch it though. I was satisfied reading the discussions and proposals made by people smarter than myself. I kept asking myself what was happening while I was playing the game and in the end, I was satisfied asking questions along the way. The answers really didn’t matter, it was all about the journey.

Verdict:
I liked it

Ratings Guide

The Last Guardian Review

The Last Guardian Review

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I never owned a dog or a cat but I’ve spent enough time with them to recognize that The Last Guardian asks for the same mentality that pet ownership requires. I gave into the idea of Trico, the giant bird-cat-dog creature, being a living breathing artificial intelligence that required repetition and patience to command. To expect an obedient animal to follow my every whim with both speed and accuracy would be a mistake. Trico can be frustratingly unresponsive or annoyingly imprecise with his actions. The fact that the game required environmental puzzle solving coupled with Trico’s finicky behaviour could have lead to situations where I was either doubting myself, Trico’s abilities or the game’s design. Thankfully, my gut instincts and years of recognizing video game design cues helped me maintain a steady pace throughout.  
 
But first, let me address the game’s technical issues on standard PlayStation 4 consoles; I wouldn’t have played The Last Guardian if I didn’t own a PlayStation 4 Pro. It’s incredibly silly that PlayStation 4 Pro is required to play the game at 1080p and 30 FPS but if you want to avoid dips down to the 20 FPS or lower, you have no choice.  
 
Not having to fight technological shortcomings was a godsend but the controls left me with the perpetual feeling of teetering on the edge. My actions landed more often than not and there were safeguards preventing me from simply running off a cliff but I wasn’t sure if all of it was intentional. Having the player flop about and react to different momentum shifts in a realistic manner was very obviously intentional but could the same be said about having controls be slightly imprecise? I never died because of the controls but I was never entirely comfortable with them either.  
 
Outside of early voiceovers laying out the capabilities and interactions between the boy and Trico, there was little in the way of highlighting what to do next. Trico would eventually position himself and hint towards the right direction and often that was enough to get the gears in my mind moving. Unfortunately, it took a bit of time to reach those points and thus, whenever I was stuck, I was wandering aimlessly for 5-10 minutes trying to figure out what I’m supposed to do next.
 
Once I did figure out correct path to take, Trico’s stubbornness (or slow reaction to my commands, if you’re cynical) required me to repeat commands a handful of times to get him moving accordingly. Thankfully there was usually a single correct path to go down and I wasn’t accidentally sending Trico toward our doom. I’ve had a couple of situations where I sent Trico harmlessly backwards though.
 
The game’s frequent checkpoints and fast loading minimized the impact of unfortunate deaths. I’ve misjudged jumps but I’ve also met my demise due to Trico inadvertently knocking me off a platform. I found the latter humorous and was glad it was possible. I was happy to know that I had to account for the giant creature’s presence to ensure my own safety.  
 
I grew to care for Trico. I spent time pulling out spears and wiping off the blood from his feathers. I don’t believe there was built-in incentive to do either but I just wanted my giant cat-bird-dog thing looking its best. I needed to pet him in order to calm him down after battles but I wanted to groom and tend to his wounds. There were several occasions where I needed to find barrels of food to feed him but I wanted to find extras so his horns would be restored to glory. Eventually, I picked up on many of Trico’s nuances and tendencies. Through story beats, I learned he was afraid of giant eyes. While over time, I organically learned he actually slumped into a distracted state when left alone which required cajoling to get him moving again.  
 
Everyone feared a sad ending for The Last Guardian when they first laid eyes on Trico with many predicting the giant beast’s death in the end. Little did we know that the most trying ordeal we would be facing was the possibility of the game being cancelled and not seeing the light of day. The Last Guardian has and it asks a lot from the player including buying hardware to get an acceptable level of performance to patiently repeating orders to an A.I. But if you enjoyed Ico and The Shadow of the Colossus and approach this game with a high degree of patience, I think you will love Fumito Ueda’s third instalment. I enjoyed my time with it and loved every triumphant moment the beast and I overcame. 

Verdict:
I love it

Ratings Guide

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