LTTP: Firewatch (PC)

LTTP: Firewatch (PC)

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I spent a lot of time reading maps, exploring the surrounding wilderness and dealing with the usual public park happenings that would crop up. Rowdy teens? Illegal fireworks? Missing persons? They certainly made it feel like I was working in a giant public park. All these mundane activities were broken up with radio communiques with Delilah, a veteran lookout who acts as a guide at first but slowly develops into a companion for Henry.  

The dialog options gradually evolved from cordial and business like to flirtations. I’m supposed to believe Henry begins to fall for Delilah despite only hearing her voice on the radio. I bought it and believed the possibility of falling for someone in this manner but I wasn’t sympathetic to Henry’s emotional affair. I wasn’t convinced to even consider the flirtatious options. While Delilah sounded like a perfectly nice lady, time progressed in jump cuts and the slow build-up towards a connection was a bit too rapid for me to develop any emotional connection with her. I can see Henry growing that kind of relationship 60+ days into the job in the middle of nowhere but a couple of hours in real time on my couch? I wasn’t sold. 

The precarious nature of the Unity engine also struggled to keep me engaged. I was okay with not being able to run the game at 4K60 on a NVIDIA GeForce GTX1070; I was fine with settling with 1440p60. I was less forgiving of the minor hitching and game’s inability to maintain application focus with Steam Big Picture Mode. I wasn’t too keen on the handful of crashes I experienced either. I felt the entire game’s technological foundation was coming apart at the seams at times.  

I am enamored by Olly Moss’s art so when I heard there was going to be an entire game filled with his touch and style? I paid attention. But pretty scenery and art could only get me so far. What pushed me forward was Delilah and Henry’s conversations. What were they going to talk about next? By only sitting in on snapshots in time, enough loose ends and questions were raised along the way to entice me forward. I may not have bought into the idea of Henry abandoning his wife and falling for Delilah, but I was very curious to discover more about her and her experiences on this job.  

If Firewatch was supposed to make me think about my views on commitment and unconditional love then Camp Santo succeeded. If Firewatch was supposed to engross me in a situation where I’m supposed to develop a relationship with this woman on the radio then it’s a bit dicier. There were beautiful vistas to behold and a genuine believable person on the other side of the radio but unless a person can be convinced to ponder the topic of relationships and commitment, there’s not a whole lot to be gleaned from Firewatch. 

Ratings Guide

Verdict: 
I liked it

Nier: Automata PS4 Review

Nier: Automata PS4 Review

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I like the idea behind Nier: Automata more than the actual game itself. I like feeling and vibe that Square Enix and Platinum Games were going for but I could have done without the tedium. I would rather hear someone tell tales of the ridiculous things that Yoko Taro and company went attempted in this game than actually experiencing it for myself. Because the action and moment to moment gameplay powering Nier: Automata was tedious, mindless and — if developers were being honest with themselves — not the point of Nier: Automata.

What is the meaning of life? What is the point of living? What does it mean to be human? Why were the androids in this game programmed to feel? How are they different from humans? Nier: Automata was about raising questions from the player and it does that very well. One standout question tied directly to the conceit that I had to play the game multiple times in order to unlock true endings. I had to put up with a repeated content and tedious activities in order to get to the “good” stuff. And I did. I didn’t retread with 999 nor the original Nier but I dove back into Nier: Automata to unlock the multiple endings and see if the outcome was worth the journey. 

I was underwhelmed.

Perhaps it’s because I already knew the answer but what was the point of this 43 hour journey? The combat was much improved compared to the first Nier but it pales in comparison to Platinum Games’ proper efforts like Bayonetta or Metal Gear Rising. The music was wonderful but I derived more enjoyment from listening to it on the way to work than in the game. And while there were amazing vistas and ideas drip fed to me throughout the game, the bulk of it was in the end and by the time I witnessed said ideas, I already checked out.

I wished I liked Nier: Automata more. It’s stylish, it has wonderful ideas and provokes discussion but I would have been happier without 10-15 hours less fluff. Or perhaps that fluff was essential to conveying their message. I’m not certain. Maybe or maybe not but in the end of the day, I was hoping to play a more engaging game to go along with all that wackiness.

Verdict:
It was okay

Ratings Guide

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

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