LTTP: Undertale

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“You should play Undertale.”

I’m not one to refuse indie game recommendations — especially ones that have a large fervour around it. I watched the first few minutes of GiantBomb’s Quick Look and noticed the high praise for the game’s soundtrack but that was it. I kept the game in the back of my head and as soon as I saw it go on sale on Steam, I took the plunge.

The early turn from charming to evidence of an underlying darkness with the introduction of Flowey piqued my interest. I was curious how this lost little girl was going to get out of this underground world filled with monsters. Who was Flowey? Was he the G-man of Undertale? Was he part of something more sinister? I had so many questions.

Undertale featured one of the more interesting turn based battle systems found in Japanese styled role playing games. I was able to ‘Fight’ or ‘Act’ with enemies, giving me the ability to deal damage and kill them or interact with them through gestures like petting, feeding or talking. It was immediately obvious that the ‘Act’ option was the more interesting of the two. Using the right actions or combination of actions placated the foe which would allow me to spare them. I tried my best to not kill anyone but I occasionally found myself stuck or lost patience with the mini games and struck down the foe.

Whenever it was the enemy’s turn, I was given the opportunity to avoid damage by manipulating a heart confined in a box. Dodging frogs, tears and other gibberish was amusing for the first couple of hours but I grew bored and annoyed by the process. Like the JRPGs Undertale was inspired by, random battles played a significant role. I could have fled battles but at the same time, I wanted to accumulate money for healing items.

There were quirky and interesting twists to those mini-games but I only ever wanted to play them once. Flexing, dodging sweat and arms for the third time in the span of 10 minutes erased any charm that was built up. I felt the first two thirds of my time with Undertale felt like a long drag and if it wasn’t for the stupendous soundtrack, I would have dreaded my time with the game even more.

The final third of Undertale was a barrage of quirky characters and twists to established video game mechanics. The final sequence culminated with fourth wall breaking mechanics which made me wonder if it would ever make its through the stricter console environment. I had long gave up trying to interact with the mini-games in any meaningful way so I summoned the determination that the game so frequently made reference to and brute forced my way to the final credits.

One of the reasons why I disliked the mini-games and random battles was because it got in the way of me exploring and finding clever bits of dialog throughout. I found those incidental lines of text humorous and incited more than a few chuckles and smiles.

Far and away, the most enjoyable aspect of Undertale was its soundtrack; it’s the only reason why I finished the game. I love it for its variety and its incredible ability to elevate any scene. Most of the songs were around short one to two minute in length but there was a precision an efficiency to its use that’s so often lost in today’s games.

I wish the visuals were as eloquent as the audio work. The main cast of characters exhibited the same qualities that I admired in the sound work but the backgrounds and other designs left me wanting. This feeling was especially strong after seeing some of the wonderful art and designs in the latter parts of the game.

There’s a lot to like in Undertale but most of it fell off for me because of poor pacing, repetition and uneven quality in many areas of the game. I enjoyed many individual moments but I cannot say I was fond of the journey. I can listen to the soundtrack from beginning to end for years to come but the very idea of having to play through another one of those mini-games makes me recoil with disgust. I would love to explore more of the underground and revisit the town of Snowdin and its many residents but just thinking about wandering through all those barren lands and random battles gives me pause. To me, Undertale is the very definition of an uneven experience with high highs and some very irritating lows.

Verdict:
It’s okay

Ratings Guide

LTTP: Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture

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I started The Order 1886 last night and while I was restricted to explore an area at a snail’s pace, I suddenly remembered that I didn’t write up my thoughts on The Chinese Room’s “walking simulator”, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture. Now the struggle is to recall what I took away from the game. I guess it’s telling that all I can recall are:

  1. Poor framerate
  2. Detailed & realized location
  3. Village in England
  4. Excruciatingly slow movement speed

It’s clear that The Chinese Room wanted to the best looking English town they could on the PlayStation 4. They were so obsessed with that goal, they were willing to allow the framerate to vary wildly and dip down to well below 30 FPS. The result is a sluggish and disappointing because I’m just looking at things. I’m an active observer; I can manipulate where I look and what I look at but I’m not causing an overload of explosions or special effects to incur a framerate drop.

What made these framerate issues so pronounced and vivid was the fact that they capped the movement speed to a plodding pace. There was a “sprint” option but it merely elevated the speed from a slow crawl strolling speed. With so much time inbetween points of interest and so little to pay attention to, I began noticing the game’s faults like the framerate.

The slow movement speed also discouraged exploration. Not every single home or room was accessible. As I encountered more and more locked rooms, I was discouraged to get off the beaten path to explore unless I can clearly see or hear something of interest emanating from that building or area. It’s a weird design choice and one that I don’t understand or agree with.

Discouraging exploration was a huge disservice because the town of Yaughton was genuinely pleasant and the mystery surrounding it was intriguing. “What happened to these people? What caused all of them to disappear?” The hook was compelling enough to draw me in but not enough to put up with the framerate and movement issues. I eventually stopped caring and “rushed” for the end. I soaked up what I could and then did a bit of light reading on the intricacies that I may have missed. I came in as a fan of Dear Esther and open to these kinds of experiences but in the end, I was left yawning and forgetting to even document my time with Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture. And that’s one of the most damning thing I could say about a game.

Verdict:
I don’t like it

Ratings Guide

 

LTTP: Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call

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It’s been nearly a decade since I poured any significant time or effort into a rhythm game. I wasn’t into Guitar Hero or Rock Band and since they stopped making Dance Dance Revolution games, rhythm games dried up for me. I witnessed fervour for Hatsune Miku and other anime related rhythm titles but none of those interested me. I believe the last rhythm game I played with serious zest was Rhythm Heaven for the Nintendo DS.

I recall the original Theatrhythm Final Fantasy title being very intriguing in Giant Bomb’s Quick Look. So when I saw the sequel, Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call, hit the $15 price point, I couldn’t resist checking it out for myself.

It’s a given but being a fan of Final Fantasy franchise increased my enjoyment of Curtain Call tremendously. Playing through the classic songs of all the old Final Fantasy titles was like running through those games without the fuss of actually playing them. The accompanying backgrounds triggered memories of running through the fields of Final Fantasy VII or duking it out against L’Cie in Final Fantasy XIII.

I’m sure wrapping a rhythm game with a battle system isn’t an original idea but I found Theatrhythm’s implementation it was very clever. Levelling up characters, equipping the appropriate skills and items gave this game a level of strategy that I didn’t expect. Higher level characters and skills helped mitigate the damage dealt when I missed a music note or helped dish out additional damage to defeat enemies for loot.

It took me an hour or so before I clicked with the rhythm mechanics. It’s not a complicated system but there were tricky notes that tripped me up for quite some time. Slowly ramping up through the “Quests”, which were nothing more than a series of songs placed on a world map, helped me tremendously. I’m still not playing through songs at the highest difficulty levels but that doesn’t diminish my enjoyment.

Theatrhythm: Final Fantasy: Curtain Call was a pleasant surprise. It was a fun and easy way to inject Final Fantasy nostalgia but at the same time, it was also a great way to expose the soundtrack of Final Fantasy properties that I never played before. I’m not done with it and I don’t think I will ever be. It’s one of those timeless classics that I can see myself revisit time and time again.

Verdict:
I love it

 

LTTP: Massive Chalice

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There’s a lot of species survival lessons in Massive Chalice. Most of it requires the player to make some cold and calculated decisions. Morals and modern day customs had to make way for necessity and I can’t think of any other game that rewards this kind of thinking.

The world of Massive Chalice was afflicted by a corruptive force called the Cadence. Fortunately there’s this Massive Chalice that can purge these lands of this Cadence but it takes 300 years charge this giant chalice. As the immortal overseer of this world, it was my responsibility to guide my people towards that fateful day.

It was up to me to breed the best warriors, build the best equipment and protect the Chalice and the surrounding land from the Cadence’s attacks.

With the 300 year hard deadline looming, it’s tough not to drop the sickly or the weak while propping up the strong, the virile and the talented. I arranged marriages between people out of necessity and not love; they had tendencies to live long lives and incredible strength, so who cares if one was 22 and the other was 60? It was about survival of the species dammit!

The people didn’t seem to mind it though. There was only one random event that made issue of the age gap but it was a the single complaint in three centuries.

It was important not to grow attached to specific heroes because they would eventually be killed or die of old age. Instead, I grew attached to specific bloodlines and classes. Hunters (like snipers in XCOM: Enemy Unknown) were god like beings — especially at higher levels. Their offshoots were equally deadly which cemented them as my favored hero classes.

Once all the mechanics fell into place, I really enjoyed my time with Massive Chalice. It rewarded my faith in breeding future super soldiers and selective breeding. There aren’t many games out there where you can say that.

Massive Chalice was the third backed Kickstarter title and I was pleased to see it pan out. I got exactly what the initial pitch video laid out; I managed bloodlines through the ages towards an end goal. What I didn’t expect were the lessons in pragmatism. I found myself questioning decisions but ultimately deciding on what was best for the entire race.

The beauty of it was they didn’t hit me over the head with these dilemmas. I made the observations so I had to make those calls; all they did was layout these opportunities for me to encounter and they did a marvelous job with that.

Verdict:
I like it

Ratings Guide

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