Hey guys, welcome to our new board software. You'll need to re-register to post.

Izzy's 2020 year in review...gaming took a bit of a backseat

User avatar
isthatallyougot
Posts: 514
Joined: Fri Jan 19, 2018 9:52 am

Re: Izzy's 2020 year in review...gaming took a bit of a backseat

Post by isthatallyougot » Wed Jan 13, 2021 5:27 pm

jfissel wrote:
Wed Jan 13, 2021 5:13 pm
Nice in-depth write-ups, izzy. You always amaze me with how well you can translate your thoughts and emotions (and sometimes my same thoughts and emotions) into coherent sentences. ;)
Thank you j! That's very kind of you to say. :)
Image

Dragon kick your a$$ into the Milky Way!
User avatar
canedaddy
Posts: 344
Joined: Sun Jan 07, 2018 1:36 pm

Re: Izzy's 2020 year in review...gaming took a bit of a backseat

Post by canedaddy » Thu Jan 14, 2021 10:40 am

Agreed. Excellent writeups, and man, what a variety of games and platforms. Love it.

You brought back a long-buried memory... I rented the NES version of Super Dodge Ball from the local video store a million years ago and it was awesome.
Image
User avatar
isthatallyougot
Posts: 514
Joined: Fri Jan 19, 2018 9:52 am

Re: Izzy's 2020 year in review...gaming took a bit of a backseat

Post by isthatallyougot » Thu Jan 14, 2021 1:38 pm

canedaddy wrote:
Thu Jan 14, 2021 10:40 am
Agreed. Excellent writeups, and man, what a variety of games and platforms. Love it.

You brought back a long-buried memory... I rented the NES version of Super Dodge Ball from the local video store a million years ago and it was awesome.
Thank you cane. Appreciate it. :)


#14 Game of Thrones (PS4)


ImageImageImage

I have a strange relationship with Telltale games. I don't really *love* any of the games that I've played by them, but I apparently enjoy them enough to keep returning. What I think is happening is that there is just such a low barrier to entry; they're such a low-effort sort of experience. If I'm tired or in the mood for some more passive entertainment, but don't want to watch TV, they are easily digestible and come without any undue strain. And that's not to say that their games are bad. I've enjoyed what I've played from them, but I've never been wowed.

I must have found myself in the sort of mood described above because I picked up Game of Thrones to see what it was about. To be clear, I'm one of the 11 people who have never watched the show. Not a single episode. I don't know much about it at all, and so I went in pretty blind, not even knowing if this is a retelling of the show, or a sort of side-story. (I'm assuming it's a side story.) I always enjoy medieval sort of settings, so it had that going for it right away. You find yourself playing a variety of characters from the Forrester family and weave back and forth between their intertwining narratives. Some characters are more action oriented, looking to influence with the sword, and some are more subtle, choosing to further their cause with the more nuanced tools of language and interpersonal persuasion. Throughout the various stories, there was a great deal of political conflict and socially precarious situations that made for some interesting drama and some intense and exciting events. I really enjoyed many of the plot threads and seeing the impact of each character on the overall drama.

Of course with this genre (and developer), we're not playing the game very much, at least not in the traditional sense. It's a game to play with the controller in your lap mostly, although some of the shoe-horned combat oriented quick-time events demanded a greater sense of urgency. They never offered the immediacy of an action game, of course, but they did add some extra intensity, if you could call it that, I suppose. The Telltale engine is always a bit funny to me as well. The characters bodies and faces often animate in a particularly inhuman sort of way, and I find that a bit off-putting oftentimes, as it has an uncanny valley sort of flavor. And there are glitches and strange things that crop up from time to time. I'm just not a big fan of the engine. When all was said and done, however, I did enjoy many of these characters and their respective plights. As with everything Telltale it was a lukewarm type of sensation, though. Good enough to play, but not good enough to really get enthused about. A 3/5.

#13 Koudelka (PS1)

ImageImageImageImage

The blend of survival horror and turn-based RPG is an exciting premise for me. I love both genres, and the idea of combining them is pretty uncommon. I was interested in playing the Shadow Hearts series, and since I know Koudelka has at least loose ties to those games, I decided to start with it. There are plenty of interesting pre-rendered backgrounds, although sometimes not as detailed as some others on the PS1. But the environments were interesting enough for the genre and there was also a nice smattering of CG cutscenes to help push forward the narrative. I sometimes kind of miss the era where the in-game graphics weren't as detailed as the CG scenes and you felt like you got rewarded with these nice little cinemas from time to time. You have 3 members in your party for most of the journey. Koudelka, a gypsy who is a bit of a mystery, Edward who fits the typical hero mold, and James, a bishop from the Vatican looking for an ancient tome. Building up your party allowed for flexibility, with none being pigeon-holed into any particular role, and I always enjoy that type of openness. Granted, it seemed most obvious to make Koudelka and James more of the magic/healer type characters while leaving Edward as the physical brute, and that's the route I took. Not that it really mattered. It's very easy to get overpowered if you do even a bit of exploration, which is almost required as you are forced to back-track at times. And there are also issues with navigation in places. Some of the pre-rendered backgrounds open to other areas in not-so-obvious ways at times. I found myself wandering aimlessly in one instance as I had failed to press up against the edge of one particular background that opened to a new area which was ultimately required for progression. This screen edge did not visually seem to offer any further exploration, and so I failed to search in that direction. And sometimes the shifts between backgrounds are very awkward, causing you to warp back and forth rapidly between screens if you hit the wrong spot, which was unnecessarily frustrating. The biggest issue I had with the game though was probably the combat itself. The most pressing issue was the pace. After attacking an enemy there is a lengthy pause every time and for no apparent reason, and if there is a kill, you just sit there staring at the static enemy for a couple of moments before it finally slowly fades away. Everything felt very lethargic and really sapped some fun from things. And the combat is exceptionally easy throughout with one exception of an optional foe, making things feel even more tedious and mindless. Also the voice work for the characters was pretty poor, although not too out of place for the era. They really made a mess of the bishop though, resulting in him being a laughable caricature. I won't grade too harshly overall in this area though. Voice work is tough to get right especially for someone so sensitive to this element, and few games had the budget or talent in this generation to take this aspect of game development truly seriously. In the end, I liked the premise of Koudelka more than the execution. It was not a bad game. There were some interesting monster designs, a cool overall atmosphere with some creepy environments and quite a bit to like actually, but it needed some significant tweaking that it never received in order to reach its full potential. I don't regret playing it, and now I'm primed to explore the Shadow Hearts series when the mood strikes, but I can't really give an enthusiastic recommendation here. It's frustratingly not excellent because I can see the potential for a better experience, however it's just not compelling enough to warrant real heartfelt praise. It's a game that I wanted to love, and while mildly interesting, it failed to meet my hopes or the promise it carried. 3/5.

#12 Samurai Western (PS2)


ImageImageImageImage

I played Way of the Samurai for the first time last year, and while I didn't exactly fall in love with it, it did have a cool setting and there was certainly potential. With that experience in my pocket, I was interested enough that I decided to try the PS2 spinoff, Samurai Western. Western changes the flavor from the branching narrative adventure focus of WotS to pure action. You are a Samurai who is capable of taking on gunned foes with your impeccable sword skills, and the main mechanic involves dodging and deflecting bullets with your sword as you spin around and move in for the up-close and personal bladed kill. In premise alone, there's a lot to like for me. I love action games of the hack-n-slash or beat-em-up variety, so I was pretty excited immediately. The actual controls are very responsive and moving about, evading and countering gunfire is smooth and enjoyable. There are tons of unlockable weapons that vary in terms of stance or style and those various styles all have unique abilities attached. You can also unlock many outfit accessory options which act as stat modifiers for your health, attack power, defense, and super ability called Master Mode as well as allowing for in-game appearance customization in some stylish and often ridiculous and comical ways.

There are only 16 levels in the entire game - unlockable bonus levels aside, and many of them are recycled as you progress through the mostly forgettable story. It would have been nice to see some more diversity to keep things fresh, but it's partially understandable as the narrative takes place in a small, old-west town. In the tale, you embody Gojiro Kiryu as you look to overthrow Goldberg, the primary villain for the main character, as he hunts down his brother Rando who had dishonored the Samurai Way in service of this cold mustachioed capitalist. Replaying the various levels is a big part of the experience since it allows your character to grow in power in an RPG level-up fashion as well as unlocking the already-mentioned new equipment. There is a nice sense of empowerment as you do replay the levels over and over because of your increased capacity for carnage. I was drawn to the grind in the hopes that things would really crescendo for me. It teased and hinted at that flavor, and that kept me engaged despite the repetitive aspect. And trying to best your scores on the levels was an additional draw as you are rated on time, style and enemies dispatched. You also could get a nice bonus for not getting knocked down on a run which could be the difference in a really good score or not.

But as much as I enjoyed some aspects of this game, both in concept and execution, it had a number of negatives that prevented me from wholeheartedly embracing things. The enemies, for one, are really repetitive. The same handful of enemies confront you from beginning to end, with only a few new types sprinkled in on your journey. And, as mentioned, the story was not very engaging. It seemed as if it wanted to surrender to full-on Japanese quirk, but it never properly leaned into that feeling, and the end result was a lukewarm tale that never grabbed my attention in either style or substance. There are also some pretty strange difficulty spikes that interrupted the flow and that lack of balance detracted from the overall experience. It was also possible to get stun-locked at times, especially by bomb throwing enemies, and you could find yourself getting pummeled without hope of recovery.

In the end, Samurai Western was more enjoyable than its inspiration, but only mildly so. I kept thinking that maybe if I kept playing and unlocking new swords and extra stages, leveling up, and acquiring new accessories that it would finally realize its potential. But sadly, it was just a tease as things remained mostly the same as they were at the start with just a bump in power without any real depth or finesse. And this was frustrating to me because it's really close to being something quite good. With just a little polishing of the combat and maybe some TLC given to the narrative, Samurai Western could have been something special. However, it just never got there. Not bad, but what could have been! 3/5.
Image

Dragon kick your a$$ into the Milky Way!
User avatar
isthatallyougot
Posts: 514
Joined: Fri Jan 19, 2018 9:52 am

Re: Izzy's 2020 year in review...gaming took a bit of a backseat

Post by isthatallyougot » Fri Jan 15, 2021 11:09 am

#11 Super Smash Bros. Ultimate (Switch)

ImageImageImage

Not every game is for everyone. Although I suppose that much is obvious. Some games are well made with lots of thought given to design, aesthetics, and fun, and yet they still won't connect for every player. Such is the case with the Smash Bros. series for me. I've given multiple entries a try, dating back to Melee on the Gamecube. I've played various modes and both single and multiplayer. I've been wowed by all the fan-service to the history of Nintendo's and gaming's classic characters. I've seen so many, including within my own family, really click with this series and find so much joy in it. But, it just doesn't happen for me.

I think the biggest issue for me is the nature of the gameplay itself. I grew up playing fighters. I grew up playing platformers. I get those genres and I have tons of fun with many of their entries since the inception of those ideas. But the melding of the two just agitates a part of my brain in the wrong way. It's not that I don't understand it in theory, but in practice, I find myself having an awkward and frustrating time. I feel like my mind is trying to play a 2D fighter from the era where I first learned - hearkening back to Street Fighter 2, but that style of play doesn't translate. I also suppose it doesn't help that the in-game action can feel overly busy and chaotic - to me at least. At times there's just so much input, and I feel like you'd almost have to know every character and stage inside and out to make sense of things. I find myself feeling overwhelmed and I suffer to give proper focus due to the avalanche of information.

And I've tried to love it. I've played a significant amount of time, and despite loving the enormous content that is just bursting at the seams with stuff to do, collect and experience, as well as nods to so many iconic franchises, I'm just not feeling it as much as I would like. Even after reaching a point where I felt somewhat competent, I still just wasn't having too much fun. So, I think I've finally waived the white flag with this series. I certainly had some fun, to be fair. It's not that I found no joy in it at all, and yeah it can be great from a certain angle, and it is incredibly well made in many regards, but I'm left appreciating it in concept more than with controller in hand. I'm happy for all those who do love it. But, I can't say I'm one of them. A 3/5.

#10 Tetris (Gameboy)

ImageImage

Tetris for the original Game Boy was truly an iconic release. If ever there existed the idea of system-selling software, this was certainly one of the originators of that concept, and most assuredly so within the handheld space. I'm not a fanatic of the game of Tetris, unlike many, but I certainly enjoy it. Almost no one who has the slightest interest in picking up a video game would be repelled by the game. It possesses a simple and elegant design with a concept and set of rules that is immediately apparent, whether you are a rabid gamer or a grandma. This particular release may not have all the bells and whistles that some other versions of the game have, but it's surely fundamental Tetris at its core, and there is something appealing about that pure minimalism as well. As fun as this game is, I do have to say that it has limited long-term legs for me. It can be fun chasing your own high score or that of others, but I don't find any desire to play consistently. But that is likely true, in large part, because of how much Tetris I have already played over the years, and has to be taken into consideration. Nevertheless it's still great for a quick pick-up and play session or three, and still provides good fun all these years later. What really needs to be said about Tetris. It's a game that the world has played, and for good reason. 4/5.

#9 Rakuen (PC)

ImageImageImageImageImage

It is often the case that you know what to expect going into a game even if you've remained mostly spoiler free. Or if you don't, the game reveals its essence very early on. So it was with Rakuen, an RPG Maker game developed and published by Laura Shigihara, who worked on the soundtrack for To the Moon and Plants vs Zombies, among others. We encounter a young boy - simply referred to as "boy" - who is laid up in a hospital bed from the open. We are introduced to a variety of characters, all with their own dilemmas, and we are told by a magical being in another parallel and closely connected, perhaps-dream world, that we will learn what we need to understand by helping those around us. In the process of doing so, we interact with others within the hospital and deal with some touching circumstances and flawed (real) people, all with their own stories, idiosyncrasies, unfulfilled dreams and personal tragedies. And as we try to help them find peace, the story unravels with some often-touching moments that are accentuated by a lovely and reflective soundtrack which sets the mood nicely for a type of creation that ought to be more common within this predominantly violence-first medium. The graphics are basic, given the engine of course, but there is some nice artistic flair and charm to the visual presentation. The gameplay is simple and straightforward here. You are mostly reading dialogue, collecting items, and solving light puzzles while navigating environments as you press forward in the various plot threads. There is also a nice mix of humor blended in with the melancholy as you switch back and forth between the normal (hospital) world and the alternate reality which served to relieve some tensions and balance out what could have been an overly heavy flavor. Rakuen is not a difficult game. There are no interesting mechanics to speak of and no real depth in terms of gameplay, but it is a sweet and often poignant tale that touches the domain of the human heart and at its best, it achieves its aim beautifully. And I found it to be quite moving in spots. It's certainly worth playing if you have any sentimentality or just enjoy a sweet and innocent story. At the very least, it's an excellent palate cleanse from the bulk of gaming. I definitely enjoyed my roughly 10 hours with this one. 4/5.
Image

Dragon kick your a$$ into the Milky Way!
User avatar
Phaseknox
Posts: 609
Joined: Sun Jan 07, 2018 7:20 pm

Re: Izzy's 2020 year in review...gaming took a bit of a backseat

Post by Phaseknox » Fri Jan 15, 2021 10:01 pm

canedaddy wrote:
Thu Jan 14, 2021 10:40 am
Excellent writeups, and man, what a variety of games and platforms. Love it.
I agree, I’m enjoying reading these detailed opinions/reviews for such a wide variety of games.
canedaddy wrote:
Thu Jan 14, 2021 10:40 am
You brought back a long-buried memory... I rented the NES version of Super Dodge Ball from the local video store a million years ago and it was awesome.
Super Dodge Ball is one of my favorite NES games, I probably played it more than any other game on the system. I recently bought Double Dragon & Kunio-kun: Retro Brawler Bundle which includes Super Dodge Ball along with some of my other NES favorites from the same developer (Technos Japan) such as Double Dragon 1, 2, 3, Renegade and River City Ransom.
User avatar
isthatallyougot
Posts: 514
Joined: Fri Jan 19, 2018 9:52 am

Re: Izzy's 2020 year in review...gaming took a bit of a backseat

Post by isthatallyougot » Sat Jan 16, 2021 10:21 am

Phaseknox wrote:
Fri Jan 15, 2021 10:01 pm
I agree, I’m enjoying reading these detailed opinions/reviews for such a wide variety of games.
Thank you phase. :) I surely do tend to follow the beat of my own drummer. :P

#8 Walden (PC)

ImageImageImage

If you've ever felt oppressed by society, perhaps unable to articulate or even understand the mechanisms and powers that are subjugating you, if you've noticed that, despite our continuing technological advancements from the industrial revolution though today, that the life of the average man has not, as may have been natural to expect, become easier or "better" by and large, if you've seen that debt is a yoke enslaving mankind, if you feel like Neo as described by Morpheus in "The Matrix" when he said, "What you know you can't explain, but you feel it. You've felt it your entire life - that there's something wrong with the world. You don't know what it is, but it's there, like a splinter in your mind driving you mad." If you can relate to these sensations, then perhaps you can relate to Henry David Thoreau as well who famously said, "That government is best which governs least." And what that statement represents is the realization that power is oppressive by its very nature. If Thoreau were alive today, he would likely see that the real government of today's world (America naturally included) is not in Washington or the structures of traditional and acknowledged government, but in the idea of, and control wielded by, money, which has been used as a tool to direct the populace and enslave the many on behalf of the few. He would likely be as bemused as I to see the people struggle and fight each other for the very chains that bind them and freely grant dominion to their oppressors. And if alive today, he would surely want to escape as he did in 1845 to the Walden woods outside of Concord, Massachusetts.

If, like me, you are an admirer of Mr. Thoreau along with his writings and philosophy, and you also question the status-quo, you may be interested in a game where you get to walk in his shoes during his stint on Walden Pond where he explored self-reliance and minimalism on the property of his friend and mentor, Ralph Waldo Emerson. I know that I was very drawn to this experience when I became aware of it this year, and I eagerly played it as soon as I could. So what do you do in this Thoreau simulator? Well, you build your modest cabin in the woods, you get inspiration from reading the philosophy of other great historical thinkers, and as your inspiration grows the world become more colorful and vibrant. You grow and harvest beans, forage for wild food, identify flora and fauna, fish, exchange letters with others, assist in the fight against slavery. You row your boat (or ice skate in winter) across the pond. You pick up arrowheads that prompt Thoreau to speak his thoughts, you read his writings as the days and seasons progress, you visit Concord to mail your manuscripts and receive some correspondence. You interact with his family and some of the principal players during this period of his life. The game does a good job of touching the bullet points of this time in this great man's life. The pace of the game was wonderfully deliberate, allowing for an ease in taking on the role of a man disillusioned with society and "progress" as he returned to a more natural state, trying to satisfy only the most basic physical needs allowing for exploration of the deeper spiritual and intellectual needs. Everything has such a calm and soothing sensation, and just begs you to take your time and tune in to the slow and methodical rhythms present in the natural world.

Speaking of "slow", I must make note that you walk very slowly in this game. And there is no way to run or speed up your movement. If you thought Everybody's Gone to the Rapture had slow walking speed, you are in for a new definition of labored movement. If you surrender to it, you will find that it is very much in harmony with Thoreau's experiment on Walden Pond, but if you're eager to get on with things, or have a narrow attention span, you will probably get frustrated. Also, the game's survival mechanics are pretty poorly implemented. You have to repair your clothes, gather food, chop firewood, and repair your dwelling, but these things are designed very strangely. For example, you can repair you cabin in the morning, but by the next day, it will be "in ruins". Granted each day is not intended to be a representation of a single day of Thoreau's life on Walden, but it felt overly quick in terms of deterioration, and all the elements work in a similarly rapid fashion. While that could have been a source of frustration, there was no real penalty for letting things go, and performing the various activities did impart the proper flavor of this way of living. It would have been best if they had tuned them differently or just offered them for the experience alone, rather than trying to tie these activities to any sort of measurement. I just enjoyed them as if I were experiencing the actions of a man living alone in the woods and did them from time to time for that sense of authenticity. But this is certainly not the type of game to play if you must have goal-oriented play. It's about the experience.

Despite some of the questionable elements I was thoroughly engrossed with my time as Thoreau. It did a great job of reinforcing the idea that I have long held - the idea that our modern pace of life simply isn't in harmony with our fundamental nature. It was a breath of fresh air (no pun intended) to virtually return to this simpler time and way of life. And when you add in all of the wonderful bits of philosophy, everything came together for a satisfying package. I would have made some changes, but the essence of my trip to Walden was serene and revitalizing. 4/5.

#7 Golden Treasure : The Great Green (PC)

ImageImageImageImage

I knew very little about Golden Treasure : The Great Green prior to starting it. Before beginning, I saw that it had quite a positive user reception, and I was in the mood for something different so I dove in. You begin in the dark, uncertain what is happening only to discover in time that you are inside an egg and on the verge of hatching. Upon hatching you come to know your self as a dragon hatchling, a member of the tribe known as the "Kin", and you make your way into the world knowing that you must destroy and seek treasure, as that is your nature as a powerful and majestic being of this sort.

The first thing that I absolutely must make mention of is the presentation and atmosphere. There is such a wonderful representation of being something other than human that is conveyed through the beautiful writing and mostly static artwork. From the very beginning, I found it very natural and easy to embody the role of this young dragon. There was so much care and attention given to cultivating the sense of place and the character of both your avatar as well as the various beings you meet on your journey. It placed you in context within nature as a whole and allowed you to inhabit your role in a very instinctive manner. Few games have made it so easy to embody the role of something so foreign, and I was thoroughly impressed and completely absorbed by this aspect.

In a practical sense, you have to work out your survival as a young hatchling, and in order to survive you must explore and you must hunt and kill to maintain your essence. And there are risks to both general exploration and combat, of course. You may encounter beings that are much stronger in your younger stages as well as dangers from the tailless (humans) and other creatures you aren't hunting, including your own elders, and far more powerful kin. There is always a sense of the fragility to life, and you know that it is always on the line. The way the game portrayed the feel of nature without any sense of malice or bitterness was absolutely beautiful to me. There is a dance to the flow of life, and part of that dance involves the taking of life, but in that taking there is an acknowledgment of making or sustaining as well. Golden Treasure really tuned into the beauty of the movements of nature, movements that can appear quite cruel or callous when zoomed in, but with the macro angle there is a beauty and even magic to things, and this was imparted expertly here. There was an acceptance to the way things are, and in that acceptance there was no room for anger. There was a real peace and surrender to what is, and I find that to be something that is much needed within our own species in the real world today.

In terms of the nuts and bolts, the hunting and eventual combat plays out in a sort of rock-paper-scissors manner with the elements of fire, water, and air all having priority in a circular manner. (There is also earth, which acts as a neutral element, at least within the context of combat.) As you grow, you gain various abilities and attacks associated with each element, and various events can result in different increases and abilities for the different elements, so it's potentially beneficial to explore. You explore a static 2D map, and each section you explore eats up a sun (an in-game day). When you have explored an area, there are several highlighted icons that open up which may be related to hunting (green animal icons) or (white) narrative exploration icons, in addition to some other unique options and scenarios. As time passes via exploration and hunting, you must be wary of the tailless discovering you, and there is a sort of circular sundial countdown, letting you know that you must make your way to new territory before it's too late and you find yourself in inescapable peril from the fearsome and unnatural two-skinned creatures.

Everything plays out in a trial and error sort of fashion. You learn by doing and by making decisions, and there is a nice sense of empowerment (mostly - I'll get to that) from exploring this world. If you do die, you awaken to find out that it was only a bad dream, but if it happens three times, you do actually die and must be reborn to try again. There are hard points of progress as you develop and reach major milestones, so you don't always have to restart at the very beginning, but that option is there if you wish as well. I mostly enjoyed the sense of progression, however there are a few points where you can't know what is needed in order to progress, and you can find yourself in what is an essentially unwinnable state, and I did find that frustrating. Having to go back to a previous point to rework your way to where you were at wouldn't have been so bad if it weren't for the fact that everything is so narrative heavy, specifically in terms of written text. You will find yourself going through the exact same situations repeatedly in a roguelike sort of structure, often not knowing how you ought to change what you did last time to make progress possible. I realize that it's meant to be a learning experience where you gain knowledge and make better decisions as a result, but a visual novel/text adventure it suffers from a lack of immediacy in execution in comparison to more mechanically inclined games, and scrolling through text boxes that you've been through numerous times can feel tedious. And in addition to that, the game is certainly not easy. You can find yourself killed quickly and out of lives, which starts that loop of potential tedium I mentioned.

All things considered though, I really enjoyed this experience. Had there been some tweaks to things, it could have been an all-time classic for me, but even as it is, it's a special and unique kind of experience that offered a sensation that is unlike most anything I've ever played. There is a real sense of adventure, majesty and even awe at the natural world. It clicked with my own nature, and I'm very happy to have experienced it. 4/5.

#6 Shadow Hearts (PS2)

ImageImageImageImageImage

Having played Koudelka earlier this year, I was ready to begin the Shadow Hearts series. As with many games/series, it has long been on my radar, but there is only so much a person can play, so many things get inevitably get bumped into the future or are never played at all. But this series was one that I wanted to make time for, knowing how esteemed it is, especially Covenant, and I was in the mood for a traditional turn-based rpg, so I fired it up.

Visually, I still found the game to be impressive all these years later. The pre-rendered backgrounds were often nicely detailed with pretty good design frequently. The game takes place in several real world locales set during the early 20th century, and the dark gothic mood was nicely established oftentimes. There were plenty of combat animations and the spell effects could be quite impressive in certain instances. Alice's "Advent" magic was particularly epic as she summoned the power of the pyramid to crush her foes. Some areas were more impressive than others, but there was a nice consistency overall, and I definitely enjoyed the visual aspects of the game.

The core of the narrative centers on the relationship between boy and girl, a tale as old as time. Yuri, a gruff and uncouth young Japanese man who is in fact introduced to us as the "rude hero", is driven by a strange voice that only he can apparently hear. This voice leads him to a girl named Alice Elliot, an English mystic whose unique qualities make her an important chess piece for some unsavory types bent on the ego-driven desire for ridiculous power and control - typical stuff. Within that backdrop, the ground for the conflict and gameplay are established, and the two take their journey together - Yuri as the protector and Alice as the vulnerable, albeit powerful, focal point of numerous entities looking to wield the power she could unlock. In that context we travel and battle along the way to resolving this conflict.

In the act of settling this struggle, we engage in turn-based battles, this being a traditional rpg. And there are some unique things brought to this venerable formula by Sacnoth. Yuri, a Harmonixer having the power of "fusion", is able to transform into various beasts, each with their own abilities. These transformations (for Yuri only), along with all other actions in battle cost SP, or sanity points. If these are fully depleted, your character goes into "berzerk" mode and will act unpredictably, even doing damage to your own party, until some sanity is restored - with items or healing by another party member. So, in addition to considering your typical HP and MP, you have the added weight of SP as a factor in the flow of battle. Besides that aspect, we are also tasked with an element called the judgment ring, a disc with highlighted areas that must be hit at the appropriate time for successful attacks. (This ring also plays a role in item usage and some mini-games throughout.) These areas can be bigger or smaller, depending upon many factors, some of which you can control, and the indicator can spin slower or faster, again with some modifications that can be made through various methods. There are also smaller red areas within the green strike areas that allow for perfect hits, but being at the end of each strike zone, there is a risk reward aspect to either doing potentially more damage or missing your attack altogether. This gave a nice active and somewhat weightier feeling to the combat. Each character also has three item slots for equipment that can modify abilities. These are quite varied and really added to the strategy of equipping your party. I particularly liked the "mind's eye" which, if equipped would make your target zones invisible (seeing only the spinning line indicator), but would deal double damage if hit. So if you knew a particular attack well from so much use, you could really deal plenty of extra damage by attacking from memory. (This made quick work of everyone if used well, even the bosses.) There are also extra abilities that are learned with leveling and a variety of clothes (armor) and weapons that can be acquired and, in the case of weapons, upgraded via an "acupuncturist" that had a bit of funny sexual innuendo attached to the process. There are also a variety of characters that you meet throughout and add to your party that, in addition to fleshing out the narrative, give you a greater selection going into battle. All of these characters were interesting in their own right and added quite a bit to the story and the joy of combat. Overall, I found the combat to be varied and fun, and I didn't tire of it through my 35 or so hours with the game.

There are some minor issues that were present in the game. A few obvious translation errors made an appearance. There were some cringe worthy moments of dialogue from Yuri which came off as very adolescent, but I suppose it was in harmony with his character, to be fair. Random battles are always a bit of mixed bag for me, often interrupting and/or disorienting when you want to explore, but that's more endemic to the genre, and not particular to this title. And despite the overall quality of the narrative, the fundamental essence of "boy saves world, gets girl" still underpins everything, giving a formulaic flavor at its most distilled core.

Overall though, I'm quite impressed at the improvements Sacnoth made with this entry in the series. Koudelka showed promise, but was ultimately hamstrung by some significant issues that prevented it from being a must-play. Shadow Hearts, however, remedied any gripes I had with its predecessor and delivered an exciting, well-playing and intriguing adventure that frankly exceeded my expectations. I enjoyed the call-backs to its predecessor and all the twists and turns throughout the narrative kept me interested in moving forward. I won't go so far as to label it a personal all-time classic, but I'm very happy to have played it and can easily recommend it to any turn based rpg fan. I very strong 4/5.
Image

Dragon kick your a$$ into the Milky Way!
User avatar
isthatallyougot
Posts: 514
Joined: Fri Jan 19, 2018 9:52 am

Re: Izzy's 2020 year in review...gaming took a bit of a backseat

Post by isthatallyougot » Sun Jan 17, 2021 11:48 am

#5 Batman : Arkham Knight (PS4)

ImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImage

I'm not the biggest fan of comics or comic hero movies, but when it comes to the games, the best ones are really engaging to me. And the Rocksteady developed Batman games are among the best, for sure. I have previously played both Asylum and Arkham City, and although I've skipped Origins to this point, I was interested in finishing the Rocksteady-developed entries to this series. As has been par for the course with this franchise, there is an incredible level of detail and fan-service to the caped crusader and his universe. This time, we patrol the skies of Gotham itself, and the city is just gorgeous. There's a dark, moody and oppressive vibe that wonderfully captures the essence of a city in turmoil and in need of a hero. The Bat glides easily into the gloom and dispatches his brand of justice across a variety of narrative beats in both a main campaign and a nice selection of side-stories that are tracked with an elegant disc-interface that shows varying degrees of progression across all the main and optional content. (I'm a sucker for seeing my percentage completion in games, lol.)

As with the previous entries, Knight does such a great job of making you feel like The Batman. On top of the wonderfully detailed world, you have his myriad gadgets and tools to solve problems, both thug-related and otherwise. Firing your grapple to launch yourself into Gotham's murky night air and soaring above looking for trouble remained thrilling throughout. And when you're down on the ground and investigating in "detective mode" you really feel as if you have stepped into the shoes of this rich vigilante for justice. And in this entry we're also treated to the implementation of the Batmobile - something that has been apparently divisive among series fans. I will say that, on the plus side, having use of the vehicle added another layer of authenticity to embodying this crusader. I also found the tank battles - events when you used the conversion aspect of the car to fight enemy vehicles - to be really engaging. It was a fun mini game where you were in a stimulating dance of dodging incoming damage - shown by laser arrows targeting you by your enemies - and dishing out your own. The flow was really nice and could be challenging at times. As for the vehicle outside these instances, I wasn't as impressed. The handling was quite loose during normal navigation for one thing. Granted that slippery handling was accommodated by destructible environments that rarely slowed your movement, but I would have like a tighter handling vehicle. More troubling were the platforming and stealth sections. While I won't say I hated them, they did feel a bit odd. Thankfully they weren't a big part of the overall experience, and for most of the game, even if you don't enjoy the Batmobile, you are free to ignore it and navigate the city on foot or in the skies. Overall though, this felt very much like a "Batman simulator" - an expression that I've heard others use to describe this game, and a big part of the enjoyment I derived.

The fighting system from previous entries also returned with some small changes. I've never been as enthusiastic as some, but it's enjoyable enough, and there's a nice rhythm to things. When you get in a good flow, it feels like you are incredibly competent, and I suppose that is the draw. For me, I didn't look forward to the combat, but neither did I avoid it. However, it certainly isn't the highlight of the series for me.

One small touch that I was particularly fond of, and feel I must mention, was how satisfying it was to see the GCPD fill up with thugs and main villains as you captured them. It was pleasing to witness as you virtually embody The Bat and gave a nice sense of vicarious satisfaction. Also, being able to interact with and hear their jabs and taunts from behind bars really added to the flavor that you were cleaning up the streets of Gotham. Nicely done.

One aspect Batman that I've always found a bit strange or even off-putting is how boring of a character he can be. As an example, one scenario (If you meet the requirement) has Catwoman serving herself up on a plate for him, and he's like (paraphrasing) "Sorry, the world is so bleak, there are so many bad guys. Only I can be the arbiter of justice. Please excuse me while I continue to fellate my Betelgeuse-sized ego." lol. On the one hand, he's incredibly egotistical, having the desire and thinking he has the ability to right all the wrongs in the world. But on the other he's drowning in fear and suffering from a crippling need for control stemming from the loss of his parents - a state from which he's never healed. I was pleased to see this game directly address these issues. But Batman has always been more than a bit broken, not unlike many of those he seeks to thwart, ironically. On the plus side, his brooding and overly serious tone sets the perfect contrast for all the wildly interesting and colorful villains - especially the Joker. And in that regard everything works nicely. However, a part of me can't help but compare him to Spider-man and his playful and youthful demeanor. I know they're not the same universe, but comics are comics for me, and subject to natural comparison.

In the final analysis, despite any issues I may have had with the game or the main character, this was a fantastic entry to a fantastic series. It doesn't stray far from previous entries, batmobile aside, but it's an excellent refinement of things and an incredibly polished game in a beloved fictional universe. Rocksteady is rock solid, and I'll happily play whatever they try next. 5/5.
Image

Dragon kick your a$$ into the Milky Way!
User avatar
jfissel
Posts: 365
Joined: Thu Jan 11, 2018 3:18 pm
Location: Ohio

Re: Izzy's 2020 year in review...gaming took a bit of a backseat

Post by jfissel » Mon Jan 18, 2021 9:37 am

Arkham Knight is still in my backlog and, for whatever reason, I just keep skipping over it every time I am choosing something new on PS4. Which is odd because I constantly hear great things about it and I thought Asylum and City were fantastic. One of these days...
Image
User avatar
isthatallyougot
Posts: 514
Joined: Fri Jan 19, 2018 9:52 am

Re: Izzy's 2020 year in review...gaming took a bit of a backseat

Post by isthatallyougot » Mon Jan 18, 2021 11:33 am

jfissel wrote:
Mon Jan 18, 2021 9:37 am
Arkham Knight is still in my backlog and, for whatever reason, I just keep skipping over it every time I am choosing something new on PS4. Which is odd because I constantly hear great things about it and I thought Asylum and City were fantastic. One of these days...
Yeah, I loved it (obviously). I know some hate the Batmobile, but I enjoyed it for the most part. Another great entry in the series imho.

#4 Bulletstorm : Full Clip Edition (PS4)

ImageImageImageImageImageImageImage

As popular as it is, the first person shooter genre is not my go-to type of game. I've played my share, and a few are greats for me, but they generally feel pretty similar most of the time for me. It often seems like it's just a new coat of paint on the same old car, and I feel like I've experienced the essence of the formula enough that I don't feel the need to revisit the category too often. That's not to say they aren't fun, which is why they keep getting made. But personally, I don't need to indulge frequently. I just play when I'm in the mood, and finding myself with that itch I picked up Bulletstorm : Full Clip Edition for the PS4. I own the game on PS3, and I've long felt it was a game I would enjoy, but I never found the time for it until now.

So, where to begin? Well, if I could distill the game down to its essence, I would call it "Testosterone : The Game". Everything about this game defers to typical masculine energy and tendencies. Despite the obvious aspect of being a shooter, there are a variety of elements that really push the "XY" vibe. The language, for one, is tightly tuned into that frequency. A sampling of lines from the game: "I'm feeling all murdery." "Murder them in their holes." "You scared the dic* off me." "I will kill your dic*s." Girl says, "Stupid, stupid a$$hole." Guy responds, "You can complain about how I saved you later." Enemies are "ejaculated" rather than ejected from air vehicles. And that's just a small sampling of the man-juice infused into the game. Plenty of the lines are really funny and they do a good job of establishing that murder-spree mood of a shooter.

The combat itself is also blatantly male. From shooting dudes in half with your shotgun to kicking them into environmental spikes and cacti for some satisfying impaling, you really get an opportunity to indulge your lust for carnage. Speaking of kicking, I never knew how much I needed a kick button in shooters until playing Bulletstorm. (It does remind me of the Dead Space "stomp" button in a way.) It seems so obvious in retrospect, but getting enemies out of your way with a boot to the chin (or groin) is ever satisfying. And doing so engages slow mo bullet-time (on the enemies only) so that you can follow up a kick with finishing firepower, which brings me to another point. There is so much in the way of variety when it comes to killing here. There's even an in-game list of all the possible kills and kill combos (called "skillshots") you can achieve. And doing all of them for a particular weapon unlocks unlimited ammo for that gun. It's just really open ended and satisfying to find inventive ways to kill on your own and accomplish the ones listed for you in-game. You also get points for performing these skillshots - points that allow you to purchase ammo and upgrades for your variety of weapons. The skillshots even stack, resulting in some potentially wild scoring in certain situations.

In addition to what I've already mentioned, there are tons of crazy and different enemies in all variety of sizes. There are fun set-pieces that really get the blood pumping, like being chased by this giant piece of environmental machinery on the loose called the grind wheel. Everything has a massive sense of scale and it looks really impressive for the most part. All weapons can be upgrades with secondary and more powerful shots that are really satisfying. You also have a wrist weapon called the energy leash. You can use it to pull enemies towards you (to follow up with a kick, obviously) and when upgraded you can perform an attack called the "Thumper" which launches many enemies and debris into the air in bullet-time so you can pick them off as they slowly descend in that state of stasis.

I didn't find the narrative particularly engaging. There is a story there, and it seems like it might be somewhat interesting, but it suffered in delivery as the game favored continuous uninterrupted action to real moments of downtime where the story could come to life. So it just sort of fell to the background as a kind of noise and is really just there as an excuse to shoot things. Although to be fair, it does succeed more in tone than content, and the main antagonist is a hilariously annoying stereotype that is incredibly satisfying to deal with in the climax. But that minor issue aside, Bulletstorm is just pure fun. Everything is over-the-top crazy and always engaging mechanically. There are a number of inventive weapons and plenty of opportunities to be creative. There's very little downtime and you're left feeling breathless as things unfold in ever-more wild fashion. If you still have any connection to the adolescent within, or just enjoy good satire and blowing the sh*t out of things, it is an absolute blast. Everything is hilariously tongue-in-cheek and really embraces itself as a "dudebro" parody. Just a throbbing erection of dumb, sophomoric fun. I loved every minute of it. 5/5.
Image

Dragon kick your a$$ into the Milky Way!
User avatar
canedaddy
Posts: 344
Joined: Sun Jan 07, 2018 1:36 pm

Re: Izzy's 2020 year in review...gaming took a bit of a backseat

Post by canedaddy » Mon Jan 18, 2021 2:57 pm

jfissel wrote:
Mon Jan 18, 2021 9:37 am
Arkham Knight is still in my backlog and, for whatever reason, I just keep skipping over it every time I am choosing something new on PS4. Which is odd because I constantly hear great things about it and I thought Asylum and City were fantastic. One of these days...
Same. Someday!
Image
Post Reply