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

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 โ€“ 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 โ€“ 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 โ€“ 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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