Onimusha 2: Samurai’s Destiny Review

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When it comes to 3D beat em ups, the first thing people usually think about is Devil May Cry and while the Devil May Cry series did manage to bring a lot to the genre, it’s predecessor, Onimusha Warlords is basically the father that Devil May Cry never knew it had as it was Capcom’s first attempt at melding the survival horror genre with the beat em up genre which is ironic considering the fact that Hideki Kamiya would do the exact same thing with Devil May Cry. Onimusha was released around the time where games like Dynasty Warriors 2 were the highlight of the genre. Unlike Dynasty Warriors 2 however which emphasized fighting massive hordes of enemies with over the top attacks, Onimusha instead focused on fighting fewer enemies in tighter environments with a fixed camera and a combat system that required more finesse compared with that of Dynasty Warriors 2 which mainly revolved around mindless button mashing.

It was this contrast that gave Onimusha it’s identity at the time. It was one of the first 3D beat em ups on the PS2 to give the player a feeling of unease. Despite this however, the game’s critical system allowed players to feel equally as powerful as that of a Dynasty Warriors character but that power demanded greater skill from the player to pull off, as players would have to counter the enemy’s attack with near-perfect timing and by doing so, they would kill the enemy instantly. Those who were unable to get to grips with this system however relied on a basic combo attack as well as a magic attack that felt very much like a musou attack in Dynasty Warriors 2 in the sense that not only does the attack provide invincibility frames but it also delivers incredible damage to enemies. With this simple, yet satisfying system, Onimusha would begin a legacy of it’s own, a 3D beat em up that catered to those who enjoyed the slower pace of Survival Horror as well as a more technical combat system.

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While Devil May Cry later emphasized a more aggressive, faster paced combat system with the same idea of having fewer enemies in tighter areas. Onimusha 2 decided to stick with the passive aggressive, slower paced combat of it’s predecessor. Unlike Devil May Cry where jumping around to avoid attacks was the only way to defend yourself, Onimusha 2 brought back the guard system from the first game which could be held down to prevent enemies from dealing damage to you. I find that that the guard system offers a much more reliable method of defense than Devil May Cry’s clunky jumping/evading as it allows players to remain stationary and prevent damage as opposed to praying that there is enough space for you to move around like in Devil May Cry.

This is why I personally consider the earlier Onimusha games to be vastly superior to earlier Devil May Cry games and considering the disappointment of Devil May Cry 2, Onimusha 2 didn’t just surpass the series at the time, it humiliated it. Now I’m not going to deny that Devil May Cry did bring a lot of great ideas to the genre, the original game suffered from an identity crisis and I personally found it to be incomplete due to the fact that it is a game that emphasizes flexibility yet only has 2 melee weapons and one of them doesn’t even have unique delay combos, sure there’s a third weapon but it is pretty much a copy/paste of another weapon with longer reach and without devil trigger but at least it’s not as bad as Devil May Cry 2 where all of the melee weapons are clones of one another, therefore only having 1 weapon type as opposed to 2. Onimusha 2 not only has more weapons than its predecessor, it provides additional functions to each weapon so while Devil May Cry got worse, Onimusha got better.

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The first functionality each weapon is given in Onimusha 2 was originally introduced in the Xbox version of the first Onimusha but was completely absent from the ps2 version of the game. By holding down the R1 button, the player’s weapon begins to glow. Upon doing so, the player can press the attack button to perform a charge attack. These charge attacks play a massive role in the combat, especially for those who struggle at performing critical’s as they are extremely effective against the larger, sturdier enemies in the game as they not only deliver more damage to the enemy but they also provide greater knockback than regular attacks. Much like criticals, charge attacks reward the player’s patience as unlike Devil May Cry where you are encouraged to chain multiple hits on enemies to build up the style gauge, Onimusha encourages players to take their time and wait patiently to unleash their attacks so that they can take the enemy off guard.

In addition, each weapon has what is known as a “secret technique”. By inputting down, up and square, players can perform a different attack unique to that weapon. The Buraitou in particular has a secret technique which performs a swift 3 hit combo, you can use this move to cancel out a basic 4 hit combo on the third hit to perform a 6 hit combo. I thought this was a pretty nice touch to the game that made the combat feel more involving than just mashing square. The secret techniques are different for each weapon though and can only be used once players locate the scroll which unlocks the secret technique. I found secret techniques to be pretty handy in a pinch as they can stagger some of the larger enemies, allowing you to break out of situations where you are pinned to a wall by buying you time to re-position yourself. It could be argued that secret techniques can be abused however and there is no denying this as the stagger potential makes them far more useful than the regular attacks, though the fact that they can be chained with regular attacks encourages players to utilize them more as a combo extender instead.

There is also another returning feature from the Xbox version of the first Onimusha where you can collect up to 5 large souls to trigger a state of invincibility state only this time the souls are coloured purple instead of green and by collecting them, not only do you become invincible but you also transform into an Onimusha. Your Onimusha form is kind of like Devil Trigger in Devil May Cry in the sense that you become more powerful but unlike Devil Trigger, you are completely invincible in this mode and do not regenerate health. The problem with this however is much like Painkiller’s demon morph, it will trigger automatically once you acquire the last soul so being able to manually trigger it is difficult though you can stock up on 4 souls and wait till you’re in a bad situation to pick up a fifth soul to trigger your Onimusha form.

As for the Onimusha form itself, it does come with a ranged attack instead of conventional magic which decreases time spent in the Onimusha form for a bombardment of magic missiles that can clear away groups of enemies effortlessly at any range which is extremely useful. It’s just a shame that it cannot be manually triggered but perhaps that’s the intention, to require players to risk leaving themselves open for an attack by absorbing the souls before they can transform so that players can’t just trigger it effortlessly. Of course there’s the issue of accidentally absorbing it while trying to get other souls wasting all of your collected souls but thankfully the purple souls are a lot harder to draw in than regular souls.

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Other than this, the combat is basically exactly the same as the first Onimusha game, to the point that it still has the awkward tank controls and this is arguably the game’s weak point, as tank controls are never ideal in a 3D beat em up though to be fair there were very few parts of the game where it proved to be a hindrance. The only time I can think of is during the last form of the final boss fight and I’m not going to disclose why for spoilers sake but it does prove a nuisance in that fight. Ultimately though, it’s something you just end up getting used to over time and if you’ve played survival horror games before then you should already be familiar with these controls. Thankfully due to the fight stance, moving around during combat is never an issue and the ability to guard against most enemy attacks by holding down the block button makes defending yourself a trivial matter.

With all things considered though, all the improvements made to Onimusha 2’s combat makes it arguably better than the first game by comparison. I still believe that there is merit to the simple, yet satisfying combat system of Onimusha 2. It may not be as flexible or as flashy as Devil May Cry 3 and other modern 3D beat em ups but it is still quite satisfying, especially when it comes to mastering the critical techniques. Onimusha 2’s combat is pretty impressive for an early PS2 3D beat em up and is arguably the most fun I have had in a beat em up released during the early PS2 era.

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Of course you’ll be doing more than just combat in Onimusha 2, much like in the first Onimusha there are some puzzles to solve as well, though they are nowhere near as brain tearing as the infamous water puzzle from the first game, however there are still certain parts of the game where you will find yourself needing to do specific things to avoid getting a game over, usually with a time limit and while they aren’t half as annoying as the water puzzle, they can still be quite a pain to get through and often feel like a cheap way to kill the player. This is especially irritating if you are doing a no save run as you could be doing well in all the combat sections only to screw up in one of these annoying sections.

Puzzle boxes also return from Onimusha Warlords requiring you to slide panels to form a circular symbol resembling a target. Though I’m not usually fond of puzzles in games, I do have a soft spot for Onimusha’s puzzle boxes as they aren’t compulsory and can be skipped but provide a rather nice change of pace from the combat. Some of the puzzle boxes are pretty straightforward though others can be quite challenging to figure out. You will feel stupid when you finally figure them out though. Still I do have to admit that figuring out these puzzle boxes was quite fun and that maybe I do actually like puzzles in games, just as long as they aren’t mandatory puzzles.

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We know, we can tell by the size of your belly.

One feature that separates Onimusha 2 from other games in the series is that you can influence certain events in the game’s story through the game’s gifting mechanic. During the early portions of the game, you will find yourself in a small mining village, here you can buy items from the local shop and interact with people in town, kinda like a RPG. It is here that you will meet up with the characters Oyu, Ekei, Magoichi and Kotaro who are all based on real historical figures if that interests you. What is more interesting however is that these characters act as your companions throughout the game and assist you in battle. At times you will even have to control one of these companions yourself for a short time. While this could be an issue in theory due to players having to constantly adapt to playing as different characters, they all play similarly enough to Jubei to be easy enough to get to grips with, though they do have some nuances that allow them to stand out from one another.

It’s important to note however that much like with Valkyrie Profile 2’s einherjar, it is impossible to play as every single character in a single playthrough. This is where the gifting mechanic comes into play. Whenever you acquire a new item that seemingly does nothing, chances are that it’s a gift and can be gifted to one of the four characters. Depending on the item gifted to them, you will get different results. For starters, each gift can impact a variable which affects numerous things in the story as well as what characters you’ll end up playing as during certain sections of the game. On top of all this you’ll also get gifts in return which can range from other gifts to give to a character of your choice or a useful item like a medicine or a power jewel. There’s a surprising amount of depth to this system as there are some unique items that are only available if you gift a particular item to a particular person, some of the gifts required may be gifts received from another person who you previously gifted. They clearly put a lot of thought into this system and as someone who’s a sucker for these systems, I found it to be a pretty enjoyable diversion.

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Story-wise, I think that Onimusha 2 lacks the sense of urgency that the first game’s story had and the early portions of the game are pretty slow, though this could be seen as a good thing as you get to interact with the characters more in this part of the game since in the second half of the game, it’s mostly on rails and you barely get to interact with other characters at all, heck you lose access to the shop completely so you can’t even buy gifts for them anymore making your gold completely useless. I think the story does its job well enough though even if it isn’t the primary focus of the game, it is mildly entertaining at times, particularly when you encounter Gogandantess who I found to be quite an interesting villain. If you’ve played any Capcom game before that isn’t called “Breath Of Fire” then you should know what to expect from the story by now, it really is nothing special.

One thing people will be glad to see in Onimusha 2 is the gorgeous pre-rendered backgrounds it has. There’s a great variety of locations ranging from mountains, ruined villages, caves and many more. I find that the pre-rendered backgrounds do a pretty good job at building up a tense atmosphere too as do the fixed camera angles since you never know if there will be an enemy around the corner until you go there. Fans of survival horror games will love this, however there are a few areas where the camera leaves much to be desired, particularly in small, cramped hallways where there are 5 different camera angles and 2 of them zoom the camera in further which only serves to hinder the player, making it difficult to tell how far away you are from an enemy, which can be quite annoying at times. If you played the first Onimusha game then you should be prepared to expect more of the same in Onimusha 2 and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. They even brought back the castle area from the first Onimusha which looks strikingly similar to it.

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Onimusha 2’s soundtrack does its job, it compliments the visuals well enough to build an atmosphere but aside from a couple of tracks here and there, nothing particularly stood out to me as memorable. Perhaps I’ve just been spoiled by the later games in the series which have an arguably superior soundtrack by comparison. Still I do think the soundtrack fits the setting really well, even if it’s not something I’d regularly listen to.

I can safely say that fans of the first Onimusha will feel right as home in Onimusha 2 and though it isn’t without its flaws, it’s easily one of the best 3D beat em ups of its time. If you’re looking for a 3D beat em up with survival horror vibes, this is definitely the game for you. Personally I do not consider myself to be a fan of survival horror games but I still enjoyed this game nonetheless. I think out of all the Onimusha games, Onimusha 2 offers the best of both worlds, so both fans of beat em ups and survival horror will get something out of it. It should be noted however that Onimusha is still an action game at its core and therefore I can’t recommend it to people looking for a pure survival horror game as I find it lacks the fear factor that survival horror games are known for mainly due to the fact that you’re playing as a badass samurai.


Story/Plot: Satisfactory

Visuals: Good

Gameplay: Great

Music: Satisfactory

Lifespan: Quite Short

Difficulty: Medium

Would You Replay? Yes


Overall: Great

 


 

Value: £30.00

 

 

Need For Speed Most Wanted (2005) Review

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What happens when a racing game gets a story featuring cutscenes with real actors and fast paced police pursuits where the cops drive corvettes against your tuned up supercar? You get one of the greatest racing games ever made… according to most people that is. As somebody who started with Need For Speed Underground 2 and loved the whole concept of racing it brought to the table, the thought of a new Need For Speed game filled me with excitement, I couldn’t wait to get straight to tuning up my own personalized ride to compete against other wannabe racers to be the best in the city.

The game starts out with a sizable introduction sequence, which is nothing but race after race with some cutscenes in between in a car that feels completely foreign to you. You didn’t customize this car, it was just given to you, like the Nissan 350z at the beginning of Underground 2 but thankfully you only had to put up with it for a short time. This is where the biggest problem with Need For Speed Most Wanted starts to show, the absolutely abysmal amount of padding and this is just the start of the game’s padding. In Underground 2, the moment you brought the 350z to the car lot, you get access to your first car, from then on the world’s your oyster, you have the freedom to go anywhere, heck you can even freely roam the map right from the get go in the 350z if you want to. You can’t do this in Most Wanted until you finish the introduction sequence.

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I hope you like the BMW M3 GTR E46 because you’ll be driving it a lot at the start of the game.

Once you actually get your car and access to the world map, you are presented with a task list. Now In Underground 2 you had something similar but these were just a list of race events you had to finish. In Most Wanted, not only do you have to finish so many race events but you also have to complete milestones and grind bounty to a certain amount before you are allowed to race the boss. While these requirements are somewhat trivial at first, later on in the game they become a real pain in the ass since the bounty requirement is so unbelievably high that you have to start grinding for it. This is not fun, it’s just sloppy padding.

To make things worse, vehicle customization in Need For Speed Most Wanted is insultingly bare bones compared to that of Underground 2. Now you can only apply a single vinyl and individual body parts have been removed, leaving you with only one of 4 wide body kits to add your car. They did add some new things such as custom gauges but was this really necessary? It doesn’t add to the cosmetic appeal of the car, it just changes the game’s UI aesthetic which is pointless to me. On top of all this, countless things have been removed, there are no more spinners, neons, headlights or any of the ridiculous, yet awesome things you could apply to your car in Underground 2, it just really feels watered down by comparison.

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Only two body kits!?

What did interest me about Need For Speed Most Wanted is its broader range of cars compared to that of the Underground games since you aren’t stuck with mostly import tuners. As is evident from the player’s flashy BMW M3 GTR right at the start of the game, Most Wanted adds some flashier car brands such as Lamborghini and Porsche. The problem with this is that it can create some ridiculous matchups. Unlike Need For Speed Carbon which later added a tier system, pitting higher tier cars against each other for more believable races, in Most Wanted there is no such thing so have fun watching the AI rubberband you in Fiat Puntos when you’re driving a flashy supercar. I get that tuning up a home grown ride is the whole point and all but I can’t help but find this pretty jarring since much of the appeal that comes from these supercars in real life is their performance, It really diminishes the value of your car.

Now at first, I was a bit disappointed by what Most Wanted had to offer, I came expecting Underground 2 and what I got wasn’t what I expected. This all changed when I got involved in some of the heated pursuit events that were not in Need For Speed Underground 1/2 though apparently harken back to older Need For Speed games like Hot Pursuit. Now before I start throwing praise at Most Wanted’s pursuits, I really should emphasize that police pursuits are a double edged sword and are ultimately the game’s Achilles’ heel.

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Somebody give that cop a raise…

What I mean by this is that while Underground 2 allowed me to take a relaxing drive around the world map to break up the intensity of the racing. In Need For Speed Most Wanted, any attempt to roam the world map leads to getting into a police pursuit. Not only that but aside from going to the car lot/customization shop, there’s no other incentive to explore the world map. In Underground 2 you had collectibles hidden around as well as secret races and outruns to do. Most Wanted has none of this and it makes travelling around the world map seem not only pointless but annoyingly intrusive. You can’t drive around at your own leisure without a cop spotting you and it’s a real pain to deal with. Luckily Need For Speed Carbon allowed you to lower the heat of certain districts you conquer which makes encountering police happen far less often than it does in Most Wanted, allowing you to roam freely without worrying too much about police. In Most Wanted they are everywhere and it’s so annoying.

Once you do get into a police pursuit however, the meat of the game begins. This has to be hands down one of the most exhilarating experiences I’ve ever had in a racing game. Unlike Midnight Club 3 where the cops just push you around and are merely a nuisance, these cops work together to take you out and they will use several techniques in order to do so. Initially, evading police is a trivial matter, you can just turn around and drive backwards to confuse them or smash into them causing them to roll over and become immobilized. There’s also pursuit breakers laid out all around the map to immobilize cops that are following you, breaking up the crowd and allowing you to escape easier.

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Smash everything to win!

Of course things start to get tougher the longer you are in a pursuit. Eventually you will start encountering roadblocks attempting to slow you down. It’s always fun to watch police cars getting T boned and roll over each time you smash through them. There are many ways to approach a roadblock and some will have an opening allowing you to maintain your speed, be careful though as once you reach heat level 4, police will place spike strips on the road to destroy your tyres. Should you be misfortunate enough to run into one of these, the pursuit is pretty much over and you will likely get busted so watch out for them. They are usually placed in openings though they can occasionally be placed in front of the police cars themselves. On top of this there are helicopters that will appear later on which will track you down, informing police of your whereabouts. These things are just annoying as they force you to either keep driving till they disappear or go under a bridge or something to avoid detection.

In any case, there’s plenty to keep you occupied in police pursuits and your face will be glued to the screen each time you get into one. Pursuits are definitely the main draw to Need For Speed Most Wanted without a doubt, everything else feels like an afterthought by comparison. I will say though that if it wasn’t for the races and everything else, pursuits would have less meaning to them. It’s the weight of your accomplishments and the risk that comes with pursuits that makes them so engaging, granted you can save scum to avoid losing your car/paying a fine (which I did) but the option of playing legitimately and potentially losing your car is there which adds a heavy consequence to failure.

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The question is, aside from being exhilarating, are police pursuits rewarding? Well some people may be interested to know that there’s a rap sheet which challenges you to reach the top in every category of pursuits. This is optional but it can be a pretty fun challenge for those looking for it, there’s nothing to get for doing it other than having your name appear at the top of the list. Other than that though, police pursuits are nothing but a progression wall. You have to acquire bounty and reach milestones to progress. Unlike races, there’s no money to be earned from finishing them, nor is there anything unlocked in the customization either. It just feels pointless to do all of the milestones unless you are a completionist but you’ll probably end up doing most of them anyways as you may end up getting several milestones in a single pursuit or you may not even get any at all.

To make things worse, if you managed to trade paint with 50 cop cars in a police pursuit early on in the game and the milestone only told you to trade paint with 5, you will still have to do the trade paint with 50 cop cars all over again later on in the game. Seriously this is what I mean by the game’s incessant padding, they should have let you acquire all of the milestones early on in the game instead of having to wait till later on to do the same thing you may have done ages ago. Now I get that the heat cap increases the further you get in the game to give an extra challenge to these later milestones but it sure feels like you’re doing the same shit over and over again at times and it can get quite tedious. Once you reach heat level 5, one mistake can screw you as the cops are extremely competent to the point that they are an absolute pain in the ass to evade, let alone trying to get milestones from them. Should you fail, you have to do them all over again and this can sometimes be half an hour of progress down the drain.

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At higher heat levels, police will begin to employ new tactics to try and take you out. Sometimes they will try to box you in, other times they will try to ram you with SUV’s to slow you down. The worst however are spike strips which are laid out in roadblocks, watch out for these because if you hit one, you recieve a one way ticket to the back of a police car.

So now you can clearly see why Police pursuits are both the game’s greatest strength and their greatest weakness, the game clearly focuses heavily on them and while this is not inherently an issue, it can be problematic for those looking for a straight up racing experience. Those who are looking for a Hot Pursuit style Need For Speed experience however will be right at home with Need For Speed Most Wanted. It feels like they tried to mix Hot Pursuit and Underground together and the result is more Hot Pursuit. I’m not saying that Underground’s influence tarnishes the game, it just doesn’t live up to Underground 2’s standards. So many things were removed that were in Underground 2, even Carbon didn’t manage to bring back all the features of Underground 2 but at least Carbon managed to bring back the more important things such as drift racing, individual body parts for cars as well as limitless vinyls. While it may be a shorter game content wise, Carbon feels like a more complete, well rounded Need For Speed experience than Most Wanted. The only thing memorable about Most Wanted’s gameplay is the police pursuits and if they don’t win you over, the rest of the game isn’t going to save it.

The issue with the racing isn’t the races themselves, it’s the fact that the time spent racing will be pitifully low compared to the time spent in police pursuits, mainly due to the amount of bounty you have to grind in order to progress. You can clearly tell that the game really pushes you to get involved in the pursuits and this might be a major turn off to some people. The race events themselves are plentiful and they added an interesting new one called speedtrap along with a not so interesting one, tollbooth which is basically just a fancy name for time trial events. Speedtrap changes the rules a little, encouraging you to drive faster past certain checkpoints in order to get the highest total speed score at the end. Of course it’s still a race and if you are too far behind you will start to lose points but even if you get passed by the AI right at the end, you can still win if your speed score is higher than the enemy AI’s speed score, take that you filthy rubberbanding scum!

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The goal of tollbooth is to reach the next toll booth before the time runs out, by doing so you are given more time to reach the next one. Therefore, the only difference between time trial and tollbooth is the fail condition, in time trial you fail only at the end, in tollbooth you fail part way through. To be honest though, this is a good idea as it gives the player constant feedback on how well they are doing throughout the track which is handy for players to see if they’re doing a good run or not.

Speedtrap is an excellent idea as it offers a personal challenge to the player on top of having to deal with the AI, so you can’t just play dirty or get a lucky pass, you have to use skill, same goes for the AI. Sadly however, many of Need For Speed Underground 2’s events do not feature in Most Wanted, while I can’t say I’m all teary-eyed at the loss of street X (fuck street X with a passion) but the lack of any drift events is disappointing to say the least. The drag events do make a return however but I hate drag events almost as much as street X and am glad to see that they were removed in Carbon.

Ultimately the racing itself can still be quite fun, especially if you enjoy the sense of speed that comes from driving at 200 mph on long straights, that is if you can get past all the usual rubberbanding that you should expect from the series by now as well as being able to appreciate a more arcade style of handling. I always found the Need For Speed games to have a nice weighty feel to their cars as opposed to being entirely floaty like in Midnight Club. Crashing into traffic is also a lot less aggravating than it was in Underground 2 as you no longer have to watch a cutscene of your car flipping all over the place every time you make a collision. Sure the traffic slows you down but it doesn’t completely bring you to a stand still.

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If you hit a traffic car in drag events you will become totaled and automatically lose the race. The game makes things worst by making the traffic appear at the worst possible time, like this truck you have to drive under.

To make things even less intimidating for newcommers, Most Wanted adds a new speedbreaker feature which is similar to the Zone ability in Midnight Club 3. Speedbreaker allows you to steer in slow motion so you can make more precise corners. It’s a handy tool for newcomers but many people may find that it makes the game too easy. Still if you’re in a heat level 5 police pursuit, you might be glad to know that speed breaker can be used to apply more force when colliding with other vehicles, an extremely useful tool for breaking through those pesky roadblocks.

Now I’m going to bring up the visuals of the game and this is going to be subjective but I’m not a big fan of the aesthetic of Need For Speed Most Wanted, at least compared with Underground 2. The biggest reason for this is that Most Wanted’s Rockport feels bland and dull when compared to Bayview’s neon lit cityscapes from Underground 2 which I felt brought a lot of flavor to the game’s world. Rockport is a shithole and it makes no secret of it. You have your run down, muddy caravan park, a dilapidated coastal boardwalk, several industrial areas and a city completely devoid of character to the point that the only notable things about it are that there’s a police station, an open air theater and a football stadium on the outskirts.

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Sure there’s the rural upmarket area of Rosewood but not even that can cover up the fact that Rockport is a declining city. Then again, what better place is there to organize illegal street racing? The grimy colour palette may not be pleasant to the eyes but that’s the whole point. You’re not here to go sightseeing, you’re here to cause chaos in an urban playground, this is partially what lets down the free roaming aspect of the game as I enjoyed driving around the gorgeous cities of Bayview and Palmont just for that alone. Rockport, not so much which does take away some of the game’s appeal to me personally but it is understandable considering the game’s theme and there may even be some people who prefer it.

If you’re going to play any version of this game, make sure that it isn’t the PS2 version as the visual improvements made in later versions are staggering. Unlike Underground 2 and Carbon which aged rather well on older systems due to the incredible lighting that covers up would would otherwise be bland textures, Most Wanted has none of that. In fact if you want to see how little lighting there is, go and download the Rockport mod for Need For Speed Carbon and you will quickly realize that night time Rockport is almost completely pitch black (particularly on the lower settings), save for the few lights in the middle of downtown Rockport which stick out like a sore thumb. That’s because Rockport was designed to appear in the daylight, not at night so there’s minimal lighting besides the orange glow appearing from the sun every now and again. Ultimately you’re going to either appreciate how appropriate the visuals are or you’re going to find them bland and uninteresting. Personally I think the visual appeal of Burnout 3’s daytime tracks is a lot better and that game was released before Most Wanted.

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The cars themselves look pretty good for the most part. When compared with the cars of Underground 2, I’d say that while they do look a little better, the lack of neons and coloured headlights really takes away from the visual flair that Underground 2’s cars had which is somewhat disappointing. Despite this however, I think the cars have held up better than the cars in Midnight Club 3 which is a pretty big accomplishment if you ask me, particularly the cars that are painted in metallic/chrome paint. I will say though that Carbon has definitely aged better than Most Wanted when it comes to the cars themselves and that is mostly due to the light reflections on the cars being more apparent, courtesy of the game’s night time setting.

The music fits in perfectly with the game’s setting. Lots of punk rock in here to add that extra thick layer of edge to the game as well as some fast paced electronic music to mix things up. It’s all licensed music so be sure to expect music that was popular in the mid 2000’s. Bands like Bullet For My Valentine and Disturbed are some particular notable ones for bringing out the edge in every single race. I will say though that the music does make the gameplay experience feel more exhilarating regardless of whether you’re into that kind of music so it does its job really well. I do prefer Carbon’s emphasis on electronic music though.

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If you thought the series couldn’t get any edgier after Underground, think again.

For better or for worse, Need For Speed Most Wanted was a departure from the Underground series. A lot of people swear by this game and I can kind of see why, the story is cheesy fast and furious style nonsense and while it may not be anything special, it does a pretty good job of motivating the player to make their way through the game. I think the fact that Most Wanted was the first game in the series to focus on the story is the reason why so many people enjoyed the game as well as the pursuits. The game isn’t without its shortcomings though, the lack of customization options, drift events and the game’s ridiculous padding will leave fans of Underground 2 disappointed. I would argue that there are better racing games out there but Most Wanted is definitely one you shouldn’t ignore. The police pursuits are definitely a good reason to play this game as they are definitely worth experiencing. If you’re looking for a game that focuses on the racing itself however, I would recommend Midnight Club 3 DUB Edition over this any day. Nevertheless, as critical as I am of this game, I still think that it’s a solid entry in the series and enjoyed it quite a lot.

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Visuals: Satisfactory

Music: Good

Gameplay: Good

Customization: Satisfactory

Lifespan: Quite Long

Licensed Cars? Yes

Difficulty: Medium

Would you replay? No

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Overall: Good

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Value: £20.00

 

Sorry for the lack of a gameplay video, I had trouble getting good enough footage to make one. However if you do want to see the game in action, I did do a live stream of the game a while back so be sure to check it out:

On another note, I have recently started playing Need For Speed Heat and so far I haven’t noticed any Microtransactions or Always Online DRM so that’s good news. Could this be the return of the arcade racing genre?

The Worst Decade For Gaming So Far: 2010 – 2020

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Holy shit it’s that time already? We’re more than half way through 2019 and it’s not long until we reach 2020? You know what that calls for don’t you? Time to take a look back at the past decade of gaming and see how games have improved since the 2000’s… oh wait, they haven’t. They’ve just been getting worse and worse since 2007 and in 2011, gaming hit an all time low.

Before we talk about how terrible this decade has been for gaming as a whole, we first have to take a look at what I like to call the videogame drought. The videogame drought took place in the year 2011 and ended in the year 2014. What a pathetic 3 years of gaming that was, A time where JRPG’s were almost nonexistent, save for a few budget titles that overloaded on fanservice out of desperation in order to cater to a smaller demographic. Aside from the Tales series, finding a JRPG was like looking for a needle in a haystack and because of this, I had to turn to other genres such as FPS and open world action games because that is pretty much all there really was for the most part. Sure there was the odd exception such as Kirby’s Adventure Wii which breathed some life into the dying Wii but aside from that, 2011 was barren and dead.

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After 2011, things didn’t really seem to get much better, games like Farcry 3 were the highlight of this year but those types of games were not fulfilling to me. Sure they gave me stuff to do and the gameplay was admittedly fun but I felt that the games lacked the hand crafted feel that games of previous generations due to their overly formulaic design, making them soulless and hollow by comparison. It was as if game developers had completely run out of ideas and were desperately clinging onto formulas and praying that they would maintain our interest.

Of course we all know by now that this isn’t the case, the real reason why games are clinging to these formulas is not because developers have run out of ideas, rather it is the publishers that are the problem, because they are too big for their own boots, they know this and because of this, publishers have to take fewer risks to maintain consistency in their sales, they have to target a broad demographic that can guarantee success and pump tonnes of money into marketing to make sure that everyone knows about it, at the game’s expense.

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Now of course there is a lot of good that has come from this terrible 3 years of gaming… for me that is. For starters, the state of gaming was so bad that I decided to focus primarily on playing games from the precious generation, the sixth generation. The PS2 and the Gamecube are without a doubt the pinnacle of my gaming experience and if it wasn’t for the terrible state that gaming was in at the time, I wouldn’t have found out about games like Valkyrie Profile 2 or Grandia 2 as I’d be too busy playing newer games instead, causing me to be ignorant about the existence of those games for what could be the rest of my life. For that reason, the videogame draught was kind of a blessing in disguise, it has helped expand my knowledge on games and has allowed me to experience something wonderful that I would have otherwise missed out on.

Eventually we would reach 2014 and this was the beginning of the current console generation of gaming. For many, this was a time of uncertainty but for me, it was a time of extreme cynicism, gaming was so bad at the time that I wasn’t really expecting much from the next generation of consoles, in fact I had already made the decision to convert from a console gamer to a PC gamer as consoles just didn’t seem worth it to me anymore. I will say however that 2016 was a pleasant surprise for me. With games like Star Ocean 5, Exist Archive and Odin Sphere Leifthrasir all being released in the same year, it felt like gaming was starting to return to form.

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As much as I enjoyed this game, there’s no denying that it was a low budget title that could have been so much better than it ended up being.

2017 on the other hand was not quite as impressive. Aside from YS VIII which I wouldn’t play until 2018, and Nier Automata, nothing really managed to catch my interest in that year. While Nier Automata certainly tried, it failed to live up to my expectations mainly due to its lack of focus. Nier Automata tried to be a bit of everything and nothing really stood out as a result… except maybe the music and the design of its semi-open world which while not the best I had experienced, definitely stood out from many other games in the current decade (see my review for more details). Still, it had nothing on the Odin Sphere Remaster and YS VIII which were more focused games that knew that they wanted to be and focused on being the best in their field as opposed to being an all rounder like Nier Automata. YS VIII was pretty much the only thing 2017 had going for it if you ask me.

What of 2018 then? Well to be honest I didn’t really play many games released in 2018, the only games that I can think of are Bloodstained Curse Of The Moon which I enjoyed and Warriors Orochi 4 which I have only recently played in 2019. It was a pretty “nothing” year for me, much like the drought. You could argue that I was still catching up with 2017 and playing other games from the sixth generation. There have been quite a few announcements made in 2018 that caught my interest, but many were delayed until 2019/2020.

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So here we are in 2019. So far I have played two games released this year, those being Devil May Cry 5 and Bloodstained Ritual Of The Night. Devil May Cry 5 was a game I never asked for but was mildly interested in because it is Devil May Cry and I was curious as to whether or not the series could remain relevant in the current generation. Sadly, despite keeping the same combat as Devil May Cry 4 with a few minor adjustments, the game was pretty disappointing for me overall. Like I said, I never asked for a new Devil May Cry game, I knew that nothing could ever top Devil May Cry 3 for the simple fact that the dynamic that made Devil May Cry 3 so great could never be done again and any attempt to do so would backfire. Devil May Cry 5’s story felt like a mediocre fanfiction written by the fans of Devil May Cry 4 who wanted Nero to take center stage, I hated Nero, I hated having to use him again and I hated how the game made me switch between multiple characters, fucking up my muscle memory and forcing me to relearn the entire game from scratch which was fucking annoying.

Thankfully though, Bloodstained Ritual Of The Night did not disappoint though it didn’t exactly exceed my expectations. I enjoyed the game quite a lot and it maintained my engagement for quite some time. So I would argue that 2019 was a better year than 2018 for me, though not by much. Still I would like to shed some light on these two games and the companies behind them. While Bloodstained Ritual Of The Night was developed by a renegade development team with the goal of bringing back a series that was beloved by fans, Devil May Cry 5 was developed by a AAA publisher’s development division.

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Just to be clear, I don’t think Devil May Cry 5 is a bad game. After all, the game brings back the exact same combat system Devil May Cry 4 had, so there’s still quite a lot of fun to be had in the game… when it isn’t annoying you by changing up your entire moveset every so often. They should have just stuck with 1 character or maybe given each character separate stories rather than having them constantly switching throughout the story.

This may seem like a pretty biased correlation but my interest in AAA titles is growing more and more distant with each passing day. It feels like every time a AAA game comes out, it ends up being either disappointing, bland or absolutely dreadful. While I am glad to see Capcom recognizes the value of their IP’s again, I don’t think they or any company can make those games the way they used to. Devil May Cry 5 was full of fanservice and throwbacks to previous Devil May Cry games to the point that beating it only ended up making me want to go back and play Devil May Cry 3 again, because it is better.

I mean don’t get me wrong, Devil May Cry 3 was a masterpiece and the very thought of a game like Devil May Cry 3 being released today is mind-blowingly awesome but deep down I realize that such things are too good to be true. If a game were to come out that could match Devil May Cry 3, it wouldn’t be a Devil May Cry game, why? Because it’s already been done. We need something new, something that can go beyond what the Devil May Cry formula allows and for a Devil May Cry game to do this, it would have to sacrifice it’s very identity, therefore I believe that Devil May Cry has run its course and quite frankly, I was always mixed on the series as a whole to begin with. I do hope that Itsuno can bring another 3D Beat Em Up to the table in the future, just one that isn’t Devil May Cry and only has me playing as one character instead of being forced to change character every few stages.

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Bloodstained on the other hand is very much a Castlevania clone as it was intended and what we got was a game that offered a lot of great new ideas but as a complete package, didn’t manage to reach Castlevania Symphony Of The Night’s level of greatness, causing many to be disappointed and to be honest I expected this to be the case, it was just another metroidvania in a sea of metroidvanias. The genre has expanded greatly since Symphony Of The Night and Metroid and with the rise of the indie market, more metroidvanias would enter the fray, creating a new standard for the genre. While Bloodstained undoubtedly met that standard, it felt like just another metroidvania game, for better or worse. Still it was undoubtedly an enjoyable experience and gave me a bit of hope for the future of gaming.

Now as of writing this, there are still games coming out in 2019 but it seems that the ones I care about are being delayed to 2020 (or in Descent’s case, released right at the very end of 2019). Therefore I think I can safely say that based on how few games I have enjoyed in the past decade, this is arguably the worst decade that gaming has ever had, for me at least. Sure the 70’s and 80’s were primitive but that’s kind of to be expected, gaming was in its infancy back then so it isn’t really fair to pass judgement on that era of gaming. Though the industry may have crashed back in the 80’s, it was a learning curve which led to better games in the future.

Nowadays however, there is no excuse. After having experienced so many incredible games in the previous two decades, this one is an absolute joke by comparison. While there have been some great games like I mentioned previously, there’s nothing compared to what we had in the previous decade. To give an example as to how terrible this decade is compared to the previous decade, I will pick out two of the best years in each decade and list all of the games that I enjoyed that were released in that year.

2005
  • Devil May Cry 3
  • Starfox Assault
  • Castlevania Curse Of Darkness
  • Atelier Iris 2
  • Midnight Club 3
  • Need For Speed Most Wanted
  • Pokemon XD Gale Of Darkness
  • Shadow Hearts From The New World (yes I enjoyed this despite the crappy story)
  • Tales Of The Abyss
  • Grandia 3 (I enjoyed this as well despite the crappy story)
2016
  • Star Ocean Integrity And Faithlessness
  • Exist Archive The Other Side Of The Sky
  • Odin Sphere Leifthrasir

Now to be fair, I haven’t played every single game released in either years and the list is biased towards my personal tastes but there are many other games released in 2005 that don’t interest me and that many other people love that I don’t such as Shadow Of The Colossus but I played these games for a reason, it’s because I am interested in them to begin with. So many games in 2016 do not interest me so I didn’t bring them up but based on the ones that do interest me that I played, you can clearly see a massive difference between both years and I haven’t even played all of the games that interested me in 2005 yet, I have played every single game that interested me in 2016 though.

You could argue that I may be pleasantly surprised if I try something else in 2016 but you could argue the same for 2005. The point is that there were numerous games I was interested in, played and enjoyed in 2005, in 2016, there is only 3 and that is pretty much the best year of the entire decade if you ask me, 2005 is one of the best but I cannot say for certain that it is the best unlike 2016 because it has a lot to compete with other years in terms of game releases. Heck we haven’t even talked about games like Painkiller, Valkyrie Profile 2, Grandia 2, Warcraft 3 or Mount And Blade Warband, all released in the previous decade and are my favorite games of all time. Only one game released in this decade managed to get on my top 10 list and that’s Odin Sphere Leifthrasir, a remake of a game that was originally made in the previous decade, kinda sums it up really.

So what’s the problem? Why has this decade been so awful for me? Well the answer to that question is something I have been trying to figure out for years but I have a rough idea as to why this is the case. For starters, the biggest thing that I believe has had a negative influence on gaming in recent years is the internet. Sure the internet has been around for years now but it didn’t have as big of an influence on gaming as it does now, mainly because publishers and the media in general did not know how to properly utilize the internet to influence consumers. Nowadays however, the internet is arguably the biggest platform for videogame marketing as it allows for information to reach countless people.

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The popularity of online gaming has caused split screen to be removed from most modern games. I miss the days of playing games together with friends in the same room on the same console. Online gaming just isn’t the same, now both players need to own a copy of the game to play with each other. Sure game sharing is a thing on PS4 but it’s just not the same as playing locally with a friend in the same room.

Previously, if you wanted to know about the latest releases, you had to purchase a videogame magazine. These magazines came with reviews, previews and sometimes a demo disk for the price of around £6.00. Nowadays you can access all of these things for free via the internet so why would you waste money buying a magazine filled with information that you can already get for free? Publishers have certainly taken advantage of this luxury, as have consumers. It has come to the point that information on new releases is thrown in your face at every opportunity to the point that it becomes overwhelming. It is nigh impossible to avoid gaming news these days and personally I tire of hearing about the latest games on social media as it’s obnoxious hearing about the same games time and time again just because they are new releases.

Sure I’m just as guilty of releasing the occasional news article every now and again but I try not to make a habit of it and only do so to express my thoughts on something that is coming out (plus I never front page my news articles because I consider them to be filler). Mass media outlets on the other hand throw out news articles all the time, this can get really annoying to me and I’m sure it’s equally as annoying to others. It shoves the games in people’s faces, teasing people with inside information. This encourages more discourse about it which inevitably serves to build up more hype. Because of this hype culture, publishers can sell games more efficiently by throwing money at marketing to attract impulse buyers as opposed to building loyalty by investing in the game’s development to make a strong brand that consumers will support over time. The result of this is lackluster games due to underfunding.

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Then there’s games like GTA 5 which had a lot of money invested into the development but most of the money invested was put towards gimmicks, graphics and pretty much anything they can show off in trailers as opposed to investing in a more focused project with more refined gameplay, hence why the character/vehicle’s movement feels so slippery and it blends really poorly into the gameplay because they don’t want to invest in reworking the movement from previous games as despite being such a vital feature to get right, it doesn’t help sell the game so they leave things as they are.

Consumers are partially to blame for all this as they are ultimately the ones who purchase these products but I can’t completely blame the consumers as they are being misled by the media. I’m sure there are those that are deeply passionate about certain games and want to buy them day 1, that’s fine. The problem is however that many people purchase a game day 1 just for the sake of buying games day 1 to be in with the cool crowd and this is a massive problem, most of which is caused by games becoming overhyped.

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Microtransactions such as this wouldn’t exist if people stopped buying the games that have them. They will continue to exist so long as game sales continue to generate income. So stop buying games from publishers who put microtransactions in their games!

It doesn’t help that the consumer base for videogames is becoming broader and more divided with each passing day. I did a video discussing this a while back, breaking down each side of the consumer base and how their priorities differ. When discussing politics in gaming, many people think of censorship and journalists expressing offense over controversial social ethics in games. While this may be a problem, it’s pretty insignificant to the real politics surrounding the gaming industry. The real political battle revolves around the business practices in games and the type of games we have today. Games as service models for example have claimed a massive chunk of the consumer base and that chunk of consumers are the opposition to my political agenda. As for me being an opposition to their agenda, I really don’t see how that can be possible but it certainly appears that there is no reasoning with them and they will continue to be in opposition.

There are many arguments made by the opposition claiming that publishers need to implement microtransactions/day 1 DLC because the costs of game design are going up and that always online DRM allows for a more seamless multiplayer experience which is somehow beneficial to people. My arguments are that publishers invest the bulk of their money into marketing, pushing games to be gimmicky and eye catching in order to attract sales. This makes sense from a corporate perspective but from a consumer’s perspective it is a waste of resources that could otherwise be spent on designing something truly ambitious that focuses on being the best in it’s field. A focused, handmade game that is built for the purpose of giving players a refined experience that leaves a lasting appeal on them. This is what the industry badly needs.

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YS VIII is one of the few games this generation that delivered a focused, refined experience without the budget issues of an indie title. This is possibly due to the fact that Falcom is not a publisher like other companies such as Square-Enix, Namco and Atlus.

Now a lot of you may be saying “but these games still exist in the indie market”. This is only half true. Yes handmade games do exist in the indie market, there is no denying that. Focused games also exist but to a lesser extent, however the budget of these games is so low that it’s difficult for indie developers to bring the best out of their games which is a shame. To make matters worse, there is also a big problem concerning the indie market. This being the oversaturation of indie game developers. Now of course it’s natural that making indie development more accessible is going to attract a large quantity of amateur game developers looking to create their dream games. The problem is that your “dream game” isn’t necessarily a game the industry needs right now. This is the very reason why I started my Theorycrafting series, to show the pragmatic side of game design in order to empower and inspire indie game developers to create something valuable that people will want to play. Of course this alone is not enough to help indie developers gain the success they need to take over the industry as no matter how great their games are, so long as publishers continue to shadow them with their excessive marketing, indie developers will fail to receive the exposure they are entitled to.

Many would argue that mass media outlets have made attempts to cover indie titles but it’s pretty obvious where their priorities lie, as with the priorities of consumers, AAA games. You see it’s easy to point fingers at the media and publishers but without the consumer’s support, these companies would either be forced to adjust or cease to be. Gamers want news on AAA games, not because they need it, because publishers have conditioned gamers to feel like they need it. E3 is the centerpiece of publisher propaganda, it is a major event that is highly anticipated by gamers, allowing them a sneak peek as to what new games are coming out. It’s the publishers way of saying “This is what you could have, now submit!” and people do so immediately without question, all because of a single trailer that only showcases the product at its best with all of its gimmicks on show.

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I can tell you right now people, the hype is never worth it, all it leads to is disappointment. I know this from experience. The hype built for Final Fantasy XIII was so immense that I pre-ordered a Japanese copy for £60.00 to get it early, needless to say, I paid dearly for this mistake so do yourself a favor and avoid watching these E3 conferences, avoid listening to other people on social media hype these games up and wait patiently until  year after release to see if the game still holds up and read up all the reviews you can on it to figure out if it is for you or not. Now of course if you have personally been anticipating a game for years and it has absolutely no scummy business practices related to it, feel free to risk a day 1 purchase. If it does have scummy practices and you really want it, wait for a second hand copy. I purchased a second hand copy of Devil May Cry 5 not so long after release on Ebay so you can too. That way you do no damage to the industry, only to yourself… possibly.

By avoiding E3 and all the hype, you liberate yourself from the wants/desires that you feel obliged to purchase and by doing so, not only do you free up time in order to get through the backlog of games you’ve built up through the years but you also save money. Your purchase is more impactful towards publishers than you think. Each time you purchase a game day 1, you are giving publishers your consent to keep doing all unethical business practices associated with it. Sure 1 purchase isn’t going to make or break a company but if enough people condition themselves to be cynical and to willingly abstain from purchasing games day 1, they will cripple the publishers responsible for all of these unethical business practices and slowly help Indie developers work their way up the ladder of influence.

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Remember when this game got announced? Remember how hyped and excited you were for it?

Of course supporting Indie developers is highly encouraged though I don’t think you should do so for the sake of supporting indie developers (not saying that you can’t if that’s what you strongly desire to do), rather you should support the games that interest you. Indie developers have a responsibility to cater what isn’t being catered. It is the responsibility of Indie developers to provide quality hand made games for the consumer. Should they fail to do so, they too should be removed from the industry (I’m looking at you Digital Homicide).

It’s not just games that are suffering, consoles are becoming worse and worse every year. Why is this you ask? Well I think that partially has to do with the lack of a wow factor due to graphical differences from a previous generation’s games and that cannot be helped sadly. By the sixth generation, games already had the ability to render smooth 3D models in detailed environments. Take a look at Valkyrie Profile 2 for example, a side scrolling game that features highly detailed 3D environments. It is truly a monument to what the sixth generation of gaming is capable of in terms of graphics and few games can match it, even today.

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This is what a 9th gen game should look like.

However this does not excuse the fact that console manufacturers enforce the use of their own services to all users and in doing so, charge for things that users should not be charged for. I’m talking about online paywalls and the biggest culprit for this is the company that single handedly ruined console gaming, Microsoft. Microsoft are hands down the worst of all three console manufacturers as they successfully pioneered this method of exploitation now used by all console manufacturers. That’s not to say that Sony and Nintendo are saints as they are just as bad nowadays but Microsoft instigated the whole thing so they deserve most of the blame for all this bullshit.

So what is the argument for having an online paywall then? Well apparently it is to pay for server maintenance but I call bullshit on that. For starters, PC games do not have an online paywall yet their servers manage to survive just as long as they do on console. Why should console gamers have to pay for something that PC gamers get for free? Well the good news is that there is a simple and effective solution to solving this problem that benefits everyone, it’s called transitioning from console to PC. Don’t let all of these “PC master race” stereotypes deter you from making the best decision you will ever make as a gamer, now is the time to invest in a PC! Start saving up all your money (which should be easier if you stop spending money on games day 1) and get either a pre-built or custom made PC, I don’t care. Just make sure you know what is inside the thing and you’ll be good.

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Despite the fact that many PC games are ported to consoles nowadays, there are still many great games out there that are only available on PC.

Once you have a PC, not only do you have access to free online with every single game you purchase (that isn’t a MMO) but you also have access to many different storefronts. I recommend GOG and Humble as I believe they offer the best services but it’s up to you. You might notice that PC parts can be expensive to purchase but you need to realize that PC offers backwards compatibility or just about anything… and if it doesn’t, there’s usually a way to get things working with a bit of know how, just ask around. Seriously it’s time people stop being scared of the expense and complications of PC gaming. It might be tough at first but once you get used to it, it’s not that big of an issue, you don’t need to upgrade every year, you’ll still be able to buy all the latest indie games every year so long as you have a 750TI (or better) and an Intel I5 (or better) because they are not as demanding to run.

On consoles though, if you don’t buy the latest, you miss out on these indie titles as they will be exclusive to only the latest console. If that doesn’t convince you, then the prices of games will. Now obviously the fact that PC is predominantly digital may seem like an issue to those who want to boycott these publishers but there are other ways of getting their games without handing any money over to the publisher. For starters you have sites like G2A, a platform for people to sell their unwanted codes. Nothing harms publishers more than buying their games off of G2A, just don’t make a habit of it and certainly don’t buy indie games from there or games that do not have any unethical business practices associated with them, by doing so, you are only causing harm to ethical companies which is not a good thing. Also you do so at your own risk because if your key was stolen, then you are not only funding illegal activity but your game may be deactivated on Steam and that’s bad.

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Videogames are no exception.

Of course there are also those who will choose piracy over actually purchasing games and quite frankly i’m not going to tell you not to do it but I’m not going to advocate piracy as a whole as I believe that pirating indie games from genuine indie developers is unethical. Those people shouldn’t have to work their asses off and not get paid for their hard work. If everyone pirated their games, it would prevent them from paying their bills and discourage indie developers from making quality products as a result. Do what you have to do, that’s all I’ll say. I’m not one who judges those who commit piracy, to me you are just as much of a gamer as the rest of us. All I will say though is to be aware of what you pirate and the harm it does to companies.

So now you know how to boycott publishers, you should be able to take action against them. All it takes is a little self-discipline and the knowledge that by doing so, you are making things better for not only yourself but for everyone… except those publisher scumbags. Before I conclude on my anti-scummy publisher tirade, I should also address another argument that has come my way “what about all the people who lose their jobs as a result of these publishers going bankrupt?”

 

“Each time you purchase a game day 1, you are giving publishers your consent to keep doing all unethical business practices associated with it.”

 

To those of you who work under these scumbags, I strongly suggest getting out as soon as you can. You need to have a plan B. I get that you have families to feed and bills to pay but it’s better to leave prepared than to be made redundant later and believe me, whether the company goes bankrupt or not, it will not save you from redundancy, you mean absolutely nothing to these companies, all they care about it money and if you are a needless expense to them, they will strip you of everything (look at what Activision has done to its employees). You absolutely need a backup plan. Companies that do unethical business practices are dangerous to work for as consumers do not tolerate bullshit… at least in the hospitality industry. If you have ever worked in the hospitality industry then you will know that unhappy customers leads to guaranteed failure. The same should apply to all industries and gaming is no exception. It’s always sad to see people lose their jobs but that’s just reality, it sucks but you can’t expect us consumers to keep paying for your wages when the company you work for screws us over. Don’t go down with a sinking ship!

Either ways, the only hope we have of improving the gaming industry is to get shut of all these massive publishers who hype up hollow products designed to exploit their audience and empower the small indie developers who need our support better than anyone and if this means that they are to go bankrupt then so be it. No doubt they’ll be bought out and then if they continue the same bullshit, we force them to go bankrupt too until indies manage to overtake the AAA. Take a look at how seething games journalists are today due to the popularity of Youtubers taking away their influence. The same could happen to videogames, we just need to stick to our guns and not let scummy publishers take our money.

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Publishers are far from being the only problem with the industry though. Like I said before, consumers are also an issue. Even if we get shut of publishers, we would be digging our own graves if we carry on being the way we are. What am I talking about you ask? I’m talking about impatient videogame consumers, you know… the people who have demanded Mount And Blade II Bannerlord to be released early. These people are becoming a big problem as they have helped cause countless games to be released in a poor, buggy state due to their own impatience. Now It’s been 15 years since the last F-Zero game, a series I love and want to see more of and sure I have brought up the desire to play another F-Zero game but quite frankly it’s not a big deal whether I do or don’t. Why? Because I have countless other games to play, that’s why!

The same goes for Valkyrie Profile. I want Valkyrie Profile 3 more than I want a new F-Zero game, I honestly do but Valkyrie Profile 3 moreso as I believe there is more potential in the series. The chances of getting a new Valkyrie Profile game are like the chances of getting hit by a lightning bolt in a rubber suit. It just isn’t happening, at least not right now. I accept it and am willing to move on so that I can play other games instead. You know, I’ve just about had it with people who want everything now. Don’t you have better things to do in the meantime? I mean sure there are people like Biophoenix who have played countless games and I respect that they have fewer options compared with someone like me who has yet to play all the hidden gems of 6th generation but I’m betting that many of you are in the same boat as me, in which case you should focus on finishing the games you have or finding games you missed out on back in the day and trying them out. What do you think I’ve been doing for the past 10 years?

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I’ve been too busy having fun to care about modern games…

You see, as pathetic as this decade has been, I’m grateful that it has given me a chance to seek out these hidden gems and give them the appreciation they deserve, I am thankful that I have saved a ton of money from not buying games, I’m thankful that I haven’t had to fork over money for a Nintendo Switch since it has no F-Zero on it. It feels liberating to be in control of what I can’t spend money on, I know it sounds silly but it’s true. By avoiding purchasing something, I am making a meaningful decision, a decision to not subject myself to a tedious slog of a game or to make a stand against publishers. It’s so easy nowadays for me to avoid purchasing games, so much so that the gaming industry as a whole feels completely foreign to me. I have barely played any games released in this decade compared to the amount of games I have played in the previous decade and in doing so I have saved so much money. In the worst case scenario that I do miss out on an amazing game, I can get it cheaper later on anyways since games don’t maintain their value nowadays.

I’m not gonna lie though, it does sadden me to see many of the series of previous decades die out. In fact, if we look back at the sixth console generation, there were entire series of games that started and ended in that console generation.A few notable examples being Shadow Hearts, Onimusha and Baten Kaitos. What happened to those games after the sixth console generation? Why did they die out? That’s not including series that had been going on since the fourth and fifth generation that died out in sixth gen. What is with Sixth generation marking the end for so many game series? Do publishers not have the balls to bring them back or are developers simply unable to make more of these games? Perhaps these games were perfected and didn’t need a sequal? Regardless, I can safely say that I enjoyed these games back in the day and it’s kind of sad to see them go, many of those games make a mockery out of the games we have today which is an even bigger shame.

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Onimusha got a remaster of the first game but that doesn’t count, it’s the exact same game all over again and still has that god awful water puzzle section that should have been cut out. I’m so sick of people hyping up remasters.

It’s not nostalgia that has blinded me, that’s for sure. Many of these games I experienced in the recent decade due to the lack of good game releases and I noticed that these games were simply better in quality, generally speaking of course. Sure there are some games that have aged badly but some that did age badly, improved and spawned better sequels in the sixth generation. What bothers me is that publishers are pushing for games as service and games that follow the same bland open world formula. Sure there are games like Devil May Cry 5 that tried to breath new life into its series but all of its issues aside, it felt like it was nothing more than a throwback that only served to make me want to play the older Devil May Cry games.

I’m starting to think that game companies have completely lost their way nowadays. Either they release games that harken back to the good old days with barely any identity of their own or they don’t release new games in a series at all. This further strengthens my desire to see AAA publishers disappear from the industry since they clearly aren’t bringing anything of value to the table regardless. Even if a Valkyrie Profile 3 were to come out, the reality is that it won’t be half as good as Valkyrie Profile 2 (prove me wrong please), why? Because it will be poorly funded due to the fact that Square Enix doesn’t see any value in the Valkyrie Profile brand.

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It’s up to indie developers to pick up the pieces now and start again. I have hope that gaming can continue but Indies need to be empowered to do so, not just with finance but with knowledge as well. Now is the time where intellectual discourse about videogame needs to happen the most and we need game developers to understand what made the games of the previous decade so enjoyable. It’s not throwbacks, it’s not having the same gameplay with a few minor gimmicks to help stand out, it’s good game design and I don’t think a lot of Indie developers understand this, they are too busy in their own little fantasies and I can’t blame them.

On a slightly related note, what has happened to the Arcade racing genre as of late? It seems that AAA publishers only want to make simulation racers now and any arcade racers they do make are being ruined by microtransactions and always online DRM. I mean there are some indie racers out there but it does hurt to know that this means we won’t ever see a good arcade racer with licensed cars aver again. I know it might sound like a silly thing to complain about but I enjoy the fact that I get to pick from many different real life car brands and race in cars I would never be able to drive in real life, in an arcade racer.

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Ironically, many of my favorite racing games just happened to have been published by EA… which explains a lot. Such a shame.

Nowadays it is impossible to do that and it really pisses me off. Need for Speed has been crucified by EA, Midnight Club is nowhere to be seen, F-Zero is dead, Burnout is dead (and if it was still alive EA would ruin it) and all we have left are games like Forza, Asseto Corsa, I Racing and Gran Turismo. These games just aren’t fun to me, I don’t want to have to hold down the brake before turning a corner, there’s no satisfaction in slowing down to turn a corner. I want to drift around corners at high speeds not slow down because “realism”. This is a videogame goddammit!

It seems that now that technology’s capabilities have improved over the past few years, many games have been aiming towards being more realistic. The racing game genre isn’t the only genre to suffer from this issue. Now we have games with hunger meters and games where you have to sleep or become fatigued. The biggest offender of this would be Kingdom Come Deliverance. The game throws way too many needless features for you to manage on top of being a open world medieval themed RPG and all it does it make the game feel tedious. I also hate the combat system in the game for being extremely unintuitive and the fact that the character starts off swinging his sword really slow.

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Unfortunately because Kingdom Come Deliverance is the worst game of 2018, the only screenshot I managed to get from the game is of the loading screen because I waited for ages and it was still loading. Anyways this load screen hint tells you all you need to know. Even if you aren’t caught, everyone knows you did it and will be an asshole towards you. Also guards are magically able to detect stolen goods in your inventory because they are magically branded with the word “stolen” on them. Seriously it’s a carrot, how can you tell that this carrot was the one that was stolen? It looks no different from any other carrot but it’s got a red mark on it in the menu so the guards automatically know that the item was stolen, realism my ass. Fuck Kingdom Come Deliverance, it’s a retarded game.

I get it from a thematic standpoint but this just isn’t fun to play for me. I don’t want to have to block in all directions, heck even Mount And Blade has an auto guard feature which makes it easier to guard. Kingdom Come Deliverance doesn’t have such an option so to someone like myself who has little patience/willingness to invest their time learning ridiculously complicated gameplay mechanics, the game is unplayable and I dropped it only a few minutes in despite paying $39.99 for it. Fuck me. I love the setting of the game and how it’s like realistic in its narrative but I don’t need that shit in my gameplay. I don’t want to live the life of a soldier in the middle ages, I want to play a game that is set in the middle ages with a gritty storyline. The sad thing is that the story of Kingdom Come Deliverance from what I played seemed to be quite interesting.

Now another thing that I am sick and tired of in games is elitists in the gaming community who complain that gaming is too easy and that easy modes shouldn’t be allowed in games. Because of this, we have games like Dark Souls that are marketed solely as being a “hard” game. Some idiots seem to have it in their heads that challenge is the core of what makes a good game. Those people have no idea what they are talking about. Sure challenge is an important component but it isn’t the core of what makes a game.

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It’s not the challenge that attracts me to F-Zero GX, it’s the feeling of adrenaline you get when you’re navigating complicated race tracks at high speeds, it’s very satisfying.

The core of what makes a game is presenting players with a goal with obstacles for them to overcome in order to reach that goal. Sure challenge can add to the appeal of this but it isn’t everything. There are many other factors that games need to consider and those factors are the rewarding elements I brought up in my theorycrafting video. People need to realize that people prioritize rewarding elements differently and I personally prioritize mastery the least. I couldn’t care less if the game is challenging, I just want it to be fun to play, it’s the same reason why people play the Dynasty Warriors games, they aren’t challenging (though some of them can be frustrating) but they sure are a lot of fun to play. If games like Dynasty Warriors exist and sell well enough to stay alive, how can challenge be the core of what makes a game? Dynasty Warriors games (at least the modern ones) are easy, you just button mash your way through and mix things up if you like with charge attacks. That’s really all there is to it. Yes you can die/fail but it’s uncommon to do so in most cases.

I’m sick and tired of people telling players not to play a game just because they want an easy mode. I’m tired of people saying “git gud” whenever someone complains about games being hard. People have a right to complain about these things, especially if the game lacks an easy difficulty. Being good at games isn’t a vital life skill people. Some people have other priorities in life, clearly by telling them to “git gud” you have no respect for anyone with a full time job and a family. Even if you have a full time job and a family, you need to respect that everyone has different priorities and that’s one thing that the gaming community fails to do. They have zero respect for anyone who wants something different from them and that’s why we are in the situation we are in. Gamers are too busy bitching at one another to unify against all the bullshit these publishers are throwing at us. It disgusts me and we all should be ashamed at the state of the gaming community. It’s a joke.

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Why can’t we all just get along?

Gaming community aside, I think when it comes to the games themselves I do have to acknowledge the fact that the developers of the previous decade aren’t going to last forever. Sooner or later we’re going to need some new blood in this industry and that new blood will shape the future of gaming. The problem is that because of the state gaming is in now, I don’t know if this “new blood” will be able to out perform the industry veterans of today. Maybe they will surprise me who knows? All I know is that 2010 was the end of an era. I hope that 2020 can mark the end of this terrible era of gaming and that a new era can begin, an era where great things will happen in the industry but let’s face it, so long as EA, Activision, Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony are around, the chances of that happening are very low. Perhaps I just have to accept that gaming will never be as great as it once was and I should stay cynical, miserable and pissed off about it for the rest of my life till the point that I’m screaming at a brick wall.

One thing is for certain though. One of these days I’m going to get old, when that day comes, I don’t think I will have the energy, nor will I care anymore about the state of the gaming industry. Perhaps I’ll be one of those people still playing SNES games only for kids to think that I’m weird and uncool for doing so. Gaming makes me feel older than I actually am and it’s kinda bothering me. Am I really getting that old? Or is gaming just an absolute joke now and people refuse to admit it? I don’t know but one thing that’s for certain is, the gaming industry is abysmal and I am ashamed to be a gamer right now.

Resonance Of Fate Review

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I remember being mildly interested when I first saw this game in a magazine, only to find out that it had the SEGA logo on the front of the box, causing my interest to disappear in an instant. Fast forward many years later after having experienced countless tri-Ace games and enjoying them, I eventually found out that Resonance Of Fate was not only developed by tri-Ace but it was also directed by the same person who directed my favorite game of all time, what could possibly go wrong? When I heard that a PC port of the game was on the horizon and that it was going to be self-published by tri-Ace themselves, I decided that it was finally time for me to give Resonance Of Fate a go.

I’ll start by saying that Resonance Of Fate doesn’t really feel like a tri-Ace game… but it most definitely feels like a Suguro game. It’s as if Suguro left tri-Ace to work with Square-Enix or Mistwalker and carried over some of his ideas from Valkyrie Profile 2 in order to make a game that feels isolated from other tri-Ace games. What I mean by this is that while Valkyrie Profile and Star Ocean have completely different tones, they both follow a very similar formula. Both of them being action RPG’s with an emphasis on character management and growth in the sense that you are encouraged to interact with a variety of different systems outside of battle, in order to make the process of grinding levels/items to make your characters more effective in battles more interesting.

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Other tri-Ace games tend follow this formula as well but Resonance Of Fate is the odd one out in the sense that it is not an action game, it is a synchronized time strategy game that lacks the fun factor of character management that other tri-Ace games are known to have. Resonance Of Fate kinda feels as if it is trying to cater to a completely different audience by employing its own formula as well as its own thematic direction which feels quite alienating to a tri-Ace fan such as myself

Now don’t get me wrong, Resonance Of Fate does have character management but it all feels different to Star Ocean and Valkyrie Profile in the sense that you’re not actually managing your characters specifically (for the most part at least), rather you are customizing guns which can be equipped on any character. I suppose this could be considered to be Resonance Of Fate’s item creation/weapon synthesis as to customize guns, you will have to craft the individual attachments using parts looted from enemies but this is literally the bulk of the game’s character management so you better love guns because every facet of this game revolves around them. Leveling up only serves to increase your weight capacity (allowing more attachments to be placed on a weapon) and the character’s maximum HP, as well as acquiring skills depending on which weapon you have equipped in a linear fashion.

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At first glance, the gun customization seems quite interesting. You get to place attachments wherever the hell you want. Sadly none of this is cosmetic so don’t expect Serious Sam Double D levels of gun stacking on the weapon aesthetic but do expect to mount multiple scopes on your SMG because tri-Ace logic dictates that more scopes makes enemies easier to see when in reality having more scopes on a weapon only ends up making it heavier and therefore more cumbersome to use with only the first scope being of any use but this is a JRPG so who the hell cares, go crazy with gun crafting, put those multi-barrels on your gun, it may look ridiculous but you’ll regret it later if you don’t. Gun customization is so important in this game that neglecting it might as well be a one way ticket to the game over screen so you’ll have to do it a lot.

By the end of the game, gun customization becomes less of a cool distraction and more like a bloated weapon synthesis that is more complicated than it needs to be and since it is such an integral part of character growth, gun customization can often feel like a slog to get through at times which is a great shame to be honest, especially once you realize that the guns you create aren’t cosmetic. I suppose the game makes up for this by allowing players to buy clothes for the characters to wear and unlike most games these days, not a single piece of clothing has been sold separately as DLC, they’re all available to buy in game. This is quite the feat if you ask me considering the state of the industry these days. There’s a surprising amount of features available in the character customization, even going as far as to change a character’s eye colour, giving player’s lots of ways to personalize their own distinguishable character at no extra cost, remarkable!

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What isn’t remarkable however is the game’s story. Resonance Of Fate has quite possibly the worst story I have ever seen in a tri-Ace game and that’s coming from someone who managed to beat the cringefest that is Star Ocean 4. While Resonance Of Fate may not be as cringeworthy as Star Ocean 4, the story is so incredibly boring that I’m amazed at how I managed to stay awake throughout the whole thing. The plot is pretty much nonexistent for more than half the game as you are merely doing odd jobs for the tower’s nobility and by tower I mean the world because much like in Ar Tonelico, the entire game takes place on a massive tower that soars above the clouds. This means that you will spend ages going from elevator to elevator in order to reach a certain floor of the tower and complete quests be they main story quests or side quests, this gets tedious very quickly as there’s no easy way to travel from a to b in this game.

Speaking of travelling, I forgot to mention that the entire world map screen is covered with hexes. What I mean is that instead of watching your character walk around in an overworld, instead you have a cursor that moves on a top down isometric grid filled with hexes that you need to break through in order to progress. How do you get hexes you ask? You get them from battles. You know what that means don’t you? If you want to progress through the game you’re going to have to farm these hexes which means grinding, lots and lots of grinding and believe me, you will want to do more than just simply progress through the game, you will want to fill in all the hexes to get access to all the loot littered around including bezel shards which I will get to later.

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See all those hexes? Once you fill all of those in, random encounters become completely pointless.

Put simply Resonance Of Fate has you spending a good portion of the game following the same formula over and over again. Before you even begin doing the main story you will want to head over to the local guild and do all the sidequests, yes all of them, do not leave a single one unfinished before finishing the main story or it will be gone forever and the rewards for finishing them are a pretty big deal as they give you a lot of vital customization parts that will make battles more manageable in the long run. Plus completing quests gives you hunter points which gives additional rewards upon completing so many and there’s a final reward for completing them all which adds another incentive to do them.

Once you have accepted all of the side quests, now you have to start grinding hexes. It is recommended to grind hexes as early as possible so that you get items that would otherwise be inaccessible early on to make some of the earlier fights a lot easier than they would be otherwise so you’ll spend the next part of the game filling out all accessible areas of the map. Once you do that you will want to start doing all the side quests, travelling back and forth between floors as you do them. Finally you want to start the main quest and once you’ve finished that, you go to your home base, save and move on to the next chapter.

Why am I telling you all this you ask? Because the game is ridiculously hard if you don’t know what you are doing… and I mean ridiculously hard, to the point that you will quickly get burnt out if you don’t pick up on the basics fast. A lot of people recommend heading to the arena to learn the combat system before you even start the very first story mission but even if you do that, you will not learn the combat system because the tutorial does a terrible job at explaining things to the player. You can’t just jump into Resonance Of Fate expecting it to play like any other JRPG you have ever played because if you do, you will be seeing the game over screen a lot.

First things first, the most important thing to realize is that there are two types of attacks, standing attacks and hero attacks. Standing attacks cost nothing to do but during these attacks, enemies can attack you. As Resonance Of Fate is a synchronized time strategy RPG, you will want to spare as much time as you can to outmaneuver the enemy. Therefore it is often favored to use hero attacks in the latter half of the game. It is important to note however that hero attacks cost 1000 hit points to use (1 bezel’s worth of hero gauge). This isn’t immediately obvious however but once you become better acquainted with the game you will come to realize this. Of course I’m going to help you dodge all this needless inherent complexity by telling you that hero attacks use hero gauge which requires bezels and guess what? Bezels are basically your total hit points, your hero gauge is the hit points you have left.

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What about the actual hit points you ask? Oh that’s different, running out of that kills you then you get a game over but get this, if you run out of bezels/hero gauge, not only do you lose the ability to perform hero attacks but you enter critical condition where you become severely crippled to the point that you are almost guaranteed to be greeted by a game over screen every single time you see it. Therefore it is very important to watch your bezels carefully because if you run out of them… you’re done.

So what happens when you are attacked? Do you lose bezels/hero gauge? Nope, you take scratch damage (unless you get poisoned which I’ll go into later). Scratch damage accumulates over time and once you lose an entire health bar of scratch damage you will lose bezels for every 1000 health your character has in order to fully restore your scratch HP. Those bezels will become littered around the map requiring you to pick them back up in order to bring your maximum hero gauge back up, if you don’t pick them up, enemies will and they will heal enemies, plus you are unable to gain hero gauge if you have no bezels left to hold it.

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Defeating bosses will often reward you with bezel shards, you can also find bezel shards while filling in the map and by fighting enemies in flashing red areas on the map. Collect enough bezel shards and your maximum hero gauge will go up 1 bezel.

Because of all this, it is absolutely vital that you do not level up too much too early. If you have even slightly higher than 1000 health, you will lose 2 bezels every time your health runs out regardless of how much health is actually restored. Of course later on in the game you will need to have more health as enemies will deal more damage but until you have enough bezels, you should try to avoid leveling up too much in order to prevent your characters from having way too much hp or you’ll get a nasty surprise (you level up individual weapons, not characters but with each level you gain a boost in HP for the character). Despite all this you will still have to farm hexes anyways so don’t think that you can escape the monotony of grinding, you will still have to do it… early on at least. By the latter half of the game you should have filled the entire world map with hexes, therefore fighting random encounters becomes completely pointless. Does this all sound like fun to you? I hope so because this is what you’re in for when you play this game.

Don’t think I’m done scaring you away from this game because I’m not. Performing hero attacks not only consumes a single bezel of hero gauge (which we all know by now is a very valuable resource) but it also has you moving forward in a straight line as a circle begins to spin. This circle represents your weapon’s charge and you usually want to keep it spinning in order to improve the effectiveness of your attacks. Once it stops spinning, you have to press the x button to execute the attack. You can also jump in the middle of these attacks and this allows you to hit multiple enemy parts at once. You’ll want to do this often as breaking off enemy parts restores hero gauge one bezel at a time (not the bezels themselves), killing enemies also restores hero gauge so be sure to KO the enemy if you choose to perform a hero attack for maximum efficiency.

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Another thing to note is that if you collide into anything in the middle of a hero attack, your character will stop in your tracks causing your hero gauge to go to waste. I swear this has happened to me so many times it’s ridiculous. Some of the larger enemies are especially problematic and while you might think that you could run under a giant golem’s legs are under their massive cannon that’s miles above your character’s head, think again. Ideally you want to be as close to the enemy as possible to increase your charge speed (another reason to use hero attacks).

There’s also multiple levels of terrain to be aware of as well as hazards littered around the map such as barrels and even land mines that are planted by enemies. You can (and usually should) shoot and destroy them to deal damage and possible status ailments to anything near them. Don’t worry about running into landmines with a hero attack, they will blow up and do nothing to you (you are invincible during hero attacks)… but running into barrels is not a good idea, nor is it a good idea to run into walls.

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Use the jump ability to circumvent these walls when they appear and be careful when you perform tri attacks in case your other characters are in awkward positions to prevent them from running into walls during these attacks. Try to have them jump as soon as you have access to them, even if it means cancelling one character’s charge. Oh wait I forgot to explain tri attacks didn’t I… they’re basically hero attacks but every character performs them simultaneously for the price of 1, using them costs resonance points as well as bezels, the more resonance points, the more laps around the triangle each character makes, allowing for more attacks.

Did I forget to mention that status ailments in this game are devastating? Be sure to avoid getting inflicted by them as much as you can because if you do get inflicted by status ailments you’re going to have a very hard time. Thankfully you can inflict status ailments on enemies pretty easily as there are no immunities like in other RPG’s. Surely you know what that calls for. I should also point out that the poison status completely bypasses your bezel barrier and deals direct damage to your character’s health so you can die from poison even if you have maximum hero gauge… ouch.

 

“You can’t just jump into Resonance Of Fate expecting it to play like any other JRPG you have ever played because if you do, you will be seeing the game over screen a lot”

 

To make things worse, if you want to heal status ailments or scratch damage, you need to use the character with the first aid kit. If the character with the first aid kit is frozen… you’re screwed, prepare to get your ass handed to you very quickly. Each characters can equip two items, either a handgun, SMG, Grenade, ammo box or first aid kit. Handguns deal HP damage but not much of it, they’re pretty worthless tbh, at least if you have plenty of grenades. When fully charged, the damage they deal doesn’t increase so don’t bother charging them up unless you want to get a higher chance of gauge breaking.

Gauge breaking splits the enemy’s health gauge into segments and when a segment is depleted, players are rewarded with an extra bezel of hero gauge. This can be handy against enemies who lack breakable parts but it isn’t always needed. SMG’s deal scratch damage and while they cannot kill enemies like handguns, you will use them a lot because they are your main DPS. Fully charging the gun apply’s damage multipliers to your attack so be sure to fully charge your SMG as soon as possible.

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Once you gain a second SMG (new weapons are very rare and hard to come by in this game), it is highly recommended you replace someone’s handgun with it. You only need one handgun user. Grenades deal both scratch and HP damage in an AOE. Grenades are very handy later on in the game and it’s recommended to have someone use both a grenade and a SMG. Finally there’s the ammo box which changes the properties of the attack you are using. Some bullets apply status effects while others apply additional damage, you’ll need a gun to use them though, grenades won’t work.

The goal of the game is to lower the enemy’s health with scratch damage then finish via SMG’s/grenades then finish with either the handgun or a grenade which converts all the scratch damage delivered to enemies into HP damage, much like Final Fantasy Dissidia’s brave damage is converted into hp damage, the difference is that scratch damage heals over time, this applies to you as well, however enemies cannot deal direct damage to your hp unless they poison you.

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Did you bother to read this far without being scared off? If so then you may actually enjoy this game… fancy that! For those that are wondering why I told you all of this information instead of actually critiquing the game’s combat is because I want to illustrate to you all just how goddamn complicated this game is. Now that you have read all that, you never have to do the tutorial of Resonance Of Fate as I have saved you so much precious time that you probably won’t appreciate as much as you should. As for my thoughts on the combat, Resonance Of Fate is basically Valkyrie Profile 2 if you removed all of the action, attack areas and the dash ability was replaced with hero attacks, with layers upon layers of inherent complexity dumped on top of it. Does it need to be this complicated? Of course not. The question is, is there enough depth to make up for the game’s ridiculous complexity?

Well let’s just say that by the latter half of the game I found an exploit, if you can read between the lines of my explanation on how the combat system works you can probably figure it out but for the sake of keeping the experience as fun as possible for you, I shall not spoil that exploit. Let’s just say that finding this exploit made the latter half of the game a lot easier. Don’t get me wrong I still had trouble with some sections but the boss fights in particular became considerably easier once I figured out how to deal with them. In fact I’d even go as far as to say that the fewer enemies on screen, the easier the battles get later on. Ultimately the answer to the question I asked at the end of my last paragraph is both yes and no. Does it have a lot of depth? Yes, does it have enough depth to outweigh the level of inherent complexity? No.

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Resonance Of Fate may require an encyclopedia of information to play but once you finally figure out how to play it, it’s not really all that difficult, heck I found the final boss to be an absolute joke compared to some of the earlier encounters in the game simply because by that point I had learned the game’s combat system well enough to know the best way to win. There were some tough fights in the final dungeon though so I wouldn’t say that the game became an absolute cakewalk by the end, rather it became considerably easier to the point that certain sections became a joke. In other words, expect a lot of difficulty spikes. One group of enemy encounters may not be as tough as another group of enemy encounters and vice versa, regardless of where you are in the game. Some enemy encounters are going to be a pain in the ass whereas others are monotonous to get through because you already know exactly how to win against them.

I will say though that learning the game did actually feel quite satisfying, even if most of it is inherently complex. I think RPG’s require a certain amount of inherent complexity in order for them to be somewhat cryptic for the sake of keeping things interesting, just not as inherently complex as Resonance Of Fate. To enjoy this game to its fullest you are going to need patience and a lot of it. The gameplay can be enjoyable if you’re willing to invest time into mastering it but it takes a special kind of gamer to do that and quite frankly I’m not one of those people. I still enjoyed it to a certain degree though. I wouldn’t say you need to be a hardcore JRPG fan to be able to enjoy this game, anyone can jump into it so long as they have the patience to learn something new as hardcore JRPG fans will have just as much to learn as people who don’t play JRPG’s, old methods won’t work here.

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Leveling up is pointless, especially early on as you don’t have many weapon attachments available to you. Later on you’ll likely have gained so many levels anyway that you won’t need to grind at all and there’s barely any benefit in doing so, especially if you have filled all your weapon slots.

I think if the story was better, the learning curve of the gameplay may have been more tolerable but sadly this is not the case. You’re probably wondering if the story picks up in the latter half of the game. I’d say that it picks up in the final quarter of the game but I’d also argue that by the time the story picks up, it feels a bit rushed. Unlike Valkyrie Profile which had a similar problem with its story but made up for it with its excellent world building, Resonance Of Fate’s world building is severely lacking which is devastating considering how ambitious the game’s setting is.

I would have liked to learn more about the poorer areas of the tower and maybe have the lower level inhabitants involved in the game’s story but sadly they’re kinda just there, there’s nothing to truly distinguish rich and poor except one side of the tower has sewage and debris everywhere while the other is more opulent in its appearance. There is a bit of dialogue from NPC’s that give a few more implications of poverty but there’s not enough to truly make the world valuable, it just feels empty and I think this is what ultimately lets the game down the most.

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Could you get any less nuanced than this?

On the plus side, the game has the tendency to throw in quite a few gags in between some of the earlier missions and to be honest these gags are the best part of the game’s story even though they aren’t really relevant to the story at all. The story appears to build up to something big at first but you’ll be surprised to find out that the story is actually very simplistic. Put simply Resonance Of Fate’s story is at its best when it doesn’t take itself seriously, when it does take itself seriously, it falls flat on its ass. Even Star Ocean 4 ties its story together better than Resonance Of Fate and that’s saying something considering how many times the story gets side tracked in that game. I swear there is so much needless bullshit in this game it is unbelievable.

The characters themselves are a mixed bag… and there’s only 3 of them. You have the edgy teenager, the funky middle aged dude and the chick. The only character worth noting is the funky middle aged dude, Vashyron. I found Vashyron’s characterization to be the most diverse of the three as he has a pretty well rounded mixture of seriousness and goofiness that makes him somewhat unpredictable. He’s a pretty laid back character for the most part and often acts as the voice of reason for the group.

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Leanne is quite odd in the sense that she is written as a fiery, strong-willed and likable character but at the same time some of her lines express a lack of confidence in her abilities. It’s pretty jarring to watch her kicking ass in battle only to beat herself up by saying that she’s an amateur. To make matters worse, the other character’s beat her down as well by making out that she’s a novice, even later on in the game. I find that this ruins what would have been a pretty refreshing character. I’m not a feminist or anything, I’d just rather they written her into a stronger, more confident character considering her traits and all.

Finally there’s captain edgelord, Zephyr. Every single time I look at this character a linkin park song starts playing in my head. He’s almost always moping, so much so that he could give Cloud, Squall and even Sieg Wahrheit a run for their money. In fact he is so unbelievably emo and edgy that i dyed his hair red and dressed him in white just so that he could look as close to Sieg Wahrheit as possible. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m a sucker for these types of characters most of the times, mostly because I find them amusing and Zephyr doesn’t disappoint in this regard, his character is so unbelievably edgy it’s laughable. I can’t say that his character is any good though… unless you’re into edgy shit I doubt you’ll give a shit about him.

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Would it kill you to smile?

I also regret to inform you that the music, while not terrible is pretty sub par for Motoi Sakuraba’s standards. Usually he shines in most tri-Ace games but Resonance Of Fate is arguably his weakest tri-Ace soundtrack. There’s some nice prog rock tracks here and a few good ambient ones but nothing particularly stood out to me as being memorable. I’d say the boss theme is probably the most memorable of the bunch. Ultimately I’m disappointed by the soundtrack of this game, maybe it’s because Motoi Sakuraba focused more on his prog rock this time round which didn’t appeal to me as much as his more mixed approach of orchestral/prog rock. I suppose it’s a matter of taste but this is no Valkyrie Profile 2.

Voice acting on the other hand is pretty good compared to that of most tri-Ace games. While the main cast of characters have surprisingly natural voice acting, some of the cardinals in particular have some really hammy voices, so you get the best of both worlds in this game. I think the voice acting for the main characters in particular was the best part though, especially since the game revolves around the three of them and you hear them talking to each other a lot. They feel like actual conversations, not forced lines that feel misplaced like in Star Ocean 4. It really makes the world feel more natural and believable even though it’s clearly ridiculous and surreal like other JRPG’s.

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Visually the game looks pretty decent, Valkyrie Profile 2’s art style seems to linger a bit here though there’s a lot of brown and grey sadly, possibly due to the game’s steampunk setting which lets it down a bit if you ask me. I think the character designs offer a nice contrast to this however. Put simply, Resonance Of Fate is very grungy yet somewhat refined in the visual department. I suppose you can’t expect too much from a giant tower now can you… regardless I do think the visuals meet tri-Ace’s standards of quality so that’s something I suppose, I just think that the grey and brown really isolates this game from other tri-Ace games as there is a clear lack of vibrancy by comparison which I find to be rather bothersome.

Resonance Of Fate is a very difficult game to recommend. You are going to need both patience and tolerance to get through this game but if you can cope with the game’s complexity and the story doesn’t bother you, I believe that you can find some value out of this game. For everyone else this game is a tedious slog that should be avoided. If you plan on picking this up, I recommend the PC version if you can, it is a pretty solid port and the only thing you’re missing is SEGA outfits since SEGA aren’t part of this game anymore. The graphical quality of the PC version is vastly superior and all of the issues have been fixed. Support great PC ports people, the industry needs more of them!


Story/Plot: Mediocre

Visuals: Satisfactory

Gameplay: Satisfactory

Music: Satisfactory

Lifespan: Quite Long

Difficulty: Hard

Would You Replay? No


Overall: Satisfactory

 


 

Value: £25.00

 

 

Console Exclusives Are Bullshit

Back in the 90’s we didn’t have digital games, all we had were cartridges that were designed to only work with a specific console so we kinda just accepted exclusivity because of the complications that came with creating different physical formats for each system.

Nowadays we have digital games yet there are still so many games that we cannot access unless we own the platform it is exclusive to. With PC having emulators that can play games from all previous consoles as well as having support for all controller types, there’s no reason these games shouldn’t be on there. Every single game ever created should be playable on PC/Mobile. Enough of this exclusivity bullshit!

Bloodstained Ritual Of The Night Review

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The genre widely known as “metroidvania” has been very popular in the indie market. Many metroidvanias tend to follow in the footsteps of the original Metroid but Bloodstained Ritual Of The Night is not one of those games (not directly at least). For those of you who don’t know, Bloodstained is a spiritual successor of the Castlevania series, particularly Symphony Of The Night which was directed by Toru Hagihara and Koji Igarashi, a game that changed up the Metroid formula to pioneer a completely new take on the formula. Bloodstained Ritual Of The Night continues the legacy of Koji Igarashi’s revolutionary Igavania genre.

What is an Igavania you ask? Is it just a fancy name for metroidvania? It is… sort of but not really as Igavania defines a game that has all the tight, methodical exploration of the Metroid games but with more emphasis on RPG elements to spice things up. I love this as it allows me to grind levels and farm items while I find my way around the confusing levels in order to make progress. Put simply there’s always something to do in Igavania games and Bloodstained Ritual Of The Night is no exception.

Bloodstained Ritual Of The Night doesn’t just give you content, it overwhelms you with it. Right from the get go you are introduced to the game’s shard mechanic, similar to Aria Of Sorrow’s soul mechanic only this time you can upgrade your shards and each shard in your inventory stacks with other shards of the same type to amplify its capabilities. On top of all this there’s crafting, cooking, sidequests and tonnes of secrets to find. I hope you have plenty of time on your hands because this game will keep you up till the early hours in the morning.

Like other games of its kind, Bloodstained Ritual Of The Night’s gameplay functions very much like a platformer but with an emphasis on combat. What I mean by this is that the combat is very over simplified in these types of games as most of the time you will only be pressing the attack button to do a basic attack over and over again rather than building up combos like a beat em up would have you do. Despite this, Bloodstained adds an extra layer of flexibility in the form of special moves that require input commands to pull off. This likely harkens back to Symphony Of The Night’s magic system where you had to input commands similar to that of a special move in Street Fighter. Special attacks are unique to certain weapons but can be mastered in order to be used by all weapons of its type, therefore encouraging more experimentation with the combat.

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As for the shards themselves, you can equip 1 shard of each type. You have your red shards which are used for a multitude of things including summons, then you have your blue shards which drain your mp over time, triggering certain effects, purple shards are directional, therefore you can adjust where they are fired using the right analog stick. Passive shards are special as maxing them out permanently applies a weaker version of their affects to Miriam even if they aren’t equipped. Finally you have green shards which can summon familiars, not to be confused with the red shard summons which are temporary, these companions will stick with you and level up in order to become stronger, much like the familiars in Symphony Of The Night.

With all this in mind, there are a lot of things to be mindful of in this game and there are a lot of things that may easily be missed on a first playthrough, particularly if you get well acquainted with your setup. Fortunately the game has a new game + feature which allows you to carry almost everything over from your previous playthrough allowing you to experiment further with everything you have acquired. There is so much experimentation to do in this game and much like in Symphony Of The Night, certain setups completely break the game’s difficulty, making you feel like an unstoppable god. Then again, what do you expect from a game that has such diverse flexibility? There’s just something quite satisfying to see and experience Miriam going from a frail shardbinder to a savage beast by the end of the game making Alucard’s shield rod exploit look like a freaking joke by comparison, if you can think it, chances are you can probably do it in this game, though the game does have its limits sadly.

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The platforming is as straightforward as you would expect from a metroidvania but it is a lot of fun. Miriam has countless movement options at her disposal which can be very useful in all kinds of situations. With the help of shards she can pull off some insane maneuvers that would make even the most athletic videogame characters gasp in amazement. I’ve set to play a game that features platforming as loose as Bloodstained Ritual Of The Night, the freedom and awe of Miriam’s movement is liberating and exciting which does wonders for the game’s pacing. The level design is strongly reminiscent of Symphony Of The Night in a lot of areas but it also has some interesting ones with a few nice platforming sections along the way. It never feels to overbearing though and is accessible for those who suck at platformers.

Like in Symphony Of The Night, you are inevitably going to come across certain progression barriers which require certain items (usually shards) to progress. While I was never a big fan of these progression barriers, I think they are spread out just enough to avoid being a nuisance. One issue I have with the game however is that while Dominique offers hints on how to progress through these areas, these hints are never repeated and if you miss them, you may end up not knowing where to go at certain points because there are certain parts of the game that are quite vague, requiring the use of a guide. The good ending is especially notorious for being incredibly vague, there’s no way I would have figured out how to get it without a guide. While I get that back in the day this sort of thing was used as padding to keep you hunting for things you may have missed, nowadays it’s just a nuisance, especially when the 2 bad endings are literally game over screens, they make Valkyrie Profile’s B ending look phenomenal by comparison.

 

“I hope you have plenty of time on your hands because this game will keep you up till the early hours in the morning.”

 

The visuals are noticeably different this time around, putting a heavy emphasis on vibrancy over detail. Some areas are better than others and those that are highly detailed tend to be the ones that stand out the most. Bloodstained is clearly going for a different tone to Castlevania as it lacks the feeling of melancholy that the Castlevania series was known to have. Instead, Bloodstained opts for a colourful, vibrant look which completely demolishes the tone of the Castlevania games, making Bloodstained’s visual representations look more comical by comparison. While the Castlevania series has always had its comical moments such as finding chicken hidden in walls, Bloodstained just goes all out with it and in doing so, sacrifices some of Castlevania’s appeal as a result.

What Symphony Of The Night did well was melding different aesthetic themes together such as the lava filled catacombs, the transition from the castle cellar into icy tunnels that flooded with water and Olrox’s Quarters which melded stately architecture with a gloomy dungeon. The latter of which is one of my favorites as the contrast between the two themes not only has a sense of irony but it makes sense as it illustrates the darker side of the castle while also illustrating the majestic feeling of the castle. Now Bloodstained does have a few areas that mix in multiple themes such as the Libre Ex Machina but some areas are lacking such as the Forbidden Underground Waterway and the Infernal Caverns which feel rather uninspired compared to their Symphony Of The Night counterparts which is a shame.

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Some of the 3D backdrops look gorgeous, they remind me of Valkyrie Profile 2 a little

Ultimately if I was to judge Bloodstained Ritual Of The Night as a Castlevania game, I’d argue that the visuals were a massive disappointment but as a standalone game, I’d say that the visuals are pretty good for the most part as the vibrancy is dazzling in many areas. I think that the visuals are going to be something you’ll either love or hate depending on what you expect from them, it’s kinda how Diablo 3 completely changed the tone of the visuals from Diablo 2 but Bloodstained isn’t a Castlevania game in name, so it gets away with it.

The music, while enjoyable to listen to, felt a bit sub par for Michiru Yamane’s standards. I think she did a much better job in Curse Of The Moon and other Castlevania games than she did in this. Now don’t get me wrong, the game does feature some great tracks but I find that they lack the majestic and melancholic feel of Symphony Of The Night’s soundtrack. Another complaint is that there are a few areas that have no music playing whatsoever, granted those areas are short but I think not having music in them is a bit of a shame. Much like the visuals though, if you never played any of the other Castlevania games or heard any of Michiru Yamane’s work before, you will probably enjoy the game’s soundtrack a lot as it is really good, just not as good as her previous work.

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There are a few issues in the game to note, the biggest issue is that the game has the tendency to crash every now and again. It should also be noted that Miriam’s death animation doesn’t always occur when you get a game over and getting knocked down to 0 health merely transitions to the game over screen. While this isn’t a major issue, it can make the game look a bit sloppy. One thing that did bother me about the game is that while you can skip dialogue, you can’t skip the in game animations during all the dialogue, forcing you to watch characters move around awkwardly with no context should you wish to skip through the scenes.

Speaking about scenes, the story isn’t really anything special, then again neither were the Castlevania game’s storylines. There’s quite a lot of dialogue in the game and quite a few people to interact with but there really isn’t much to say about it. There are a few scenes that made me chuckle though. I think the biggest problem with the story is that the characters you interact with don’t really have anything interesting to say, they try to give a little backstory on things but there isn’t any strong connection between the characters, even though the game clearly expects you to care about them. I don’t think this is a big deal though and is easily overlooked considering the fact that you’ll be too invested in the gameplay to care about the story.

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In any case, regardless of its shortcomings, Bloodstained Ritual Of The Night is a highly engaging experience to the point that the game’s issues aren’t likely to become bothersome to anyone craving a solid metroidvania experience. Those that are expecting Symphony Of The Night will find this game to be a poor imitation but the same can be said for all spiritual successors. On its own Bloodstained Ritual Of The Night is a solid game that is a great entry point for newcomers and an enjoyable throwback for veterans of the genre. There’s something for everyone here and I think it would be wise to pick the game up and give it a try if you are on the fence, just don’t go in expecting it to live up to Symphony Of The Night or you may end up disappointed.


Plot/Story: Mediocre

Visuals: Good

Gameplay: Great

Music: Good

Difficulty: Medium

Lifespan: Quite Short (To beat)/Quite Long (To do the side stuff)

Would You Replay? Yes


Overall: Great


Value £35.00

 

 

The Truth About Final Fantasy – Why Square-Enix Are Selling Us A Lie

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I hate making blog posts like this, I really do. I like to assume that my readers are smart and know a lot about videogames, therefore I don’t like to waste their time on articles like this because I find it to be an insult to their intelligence. However I have reached the point where I feel the need to speak out about this because the ignorance of some people out there frustrates me to no end and the only way to solve this issue is to educate people on what should be common sense because I am sick and tired of people who are so unbelievably gullible that buy a game in a series day 1, complain about it post-launch, then proceed to buy the next game in the series day 1 expecting it to be better. Isn’t that the definition of insanity? It is and that’s why something has to change, right now, hence the reason why I wrote this article.

Anyways it is time we discussed the Final Fantasy series, a series I barely ever talk about surprisingly enough. Back in my youth I was a huge fan of the series to the point that I believed that the series could do no wrong. Back in the 90’s and early 2000’s, having the name “Final Fantasy” on the box was like a seal of quality, a symbol of a truly amazing JRPG experience. Nowadays, while the brand continues to thrive, recent titles in the series have received a lot of flak, a lot of which I find is deserved, though others would argue that much of the backlash given to recent games was blown out of proportion. Personally I’m not too fond of the newer Final Fantasy games myself, not that my opinion amounts to anything in relevance to this topic, just be aware that I’m not writing this to express my personal bias, rather I am writing this to express why opinions are so divided on the latest installments in the series.

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This isn’t Final Fantasy

With the release of Final Fantasy XV, many people were disappointed and quick to hate on the game. Others were satisfied with the game and praised it. Put simply, the game had a mixed reception, something that I predicted would happen many years before its release. In fact the exact same thing happened with Final Fantasy XIII, a game that many were anticipating for quite a while, only to be bitterly disappointed upon release. I was one of those people. I imported a copy of Final Fantasy XIII before its regional launch because I was so excited to play it, heck I even paid £60.00 for it, no joke. This would have been my most regrettable purchase of all time… if it didn’t shape me into the gamer I am today.

You see, it was after playing Final Fantasy XIII and Dissidia Duodecim that I gave up on the series entirely. After that I vowed never play another Final Fantasy game ever again and stuck to my words ever since, hence why you rarely ever see me talking about this series. The only reason why I’m even bringing up this series to begin with is because I believe that it is the perfect example of what I shall call a “brand facade” and I think such a topic is very important to discuss, because it greatly affects the industry as we speak and is starting to become a major issue with games in general. It’s about time I expose this once and for all so that people can finally understand what truly matters in gaming, it’s the very reason why I started blogging in the first place and it’s about damn time I lived up to the name “Cynical Gaming Blog”.

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Now I’m not necessarily trying to imply that branding is inherently a bad thing, rather I wish for people to realize that branding can potentially be a bad thing. I want people to understand that Final Fantasy is nothing more than a brand name and that brand names are inherently meaningless to consumers. So why do we have branding? That’s simple, publishers of course… why else? After all, the whole point of this entire site is to point my finger at publishers every time there’s a problem with the gaming industry because 9 times out of 10, they are the ones to blame for all the bullshit.

While branding is not inherently a bad thing, I believe that Square-Enix have misused the Final Fantasy brand name, essentially taking advantage of Hironobu Sakaguchi’s legacy for the sake of maintaining their sales numbers. From a corporate perspective, this is perfectly understandable, after all they are a business and making money is essential for businesses to thrive but I’m not here to talk about a corporate perspective, I am a consumer and I wish to speak from the perspective of a consumer for the sake of other consumers so that I can hopefully empower other consumers with knowledge, knowledge that I believe everyone needs to know right now. Therefore, ever since Sakaguchi’s departure from Square-Enix, I believe that every single Final Fantasy game released since then has been a lie.

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Now don’t misunderstand my point, I am not saying that modern Final Fantasy games are bad, rather I am saying that they are not truly Final Fantasy games. Why? Because Hironobu Sakaguchi himself was the core of what made Final Fantasy what it was, without him, Final Fantasy is nothing but a hollow shell, he was the creative mind behind it, therefore the credit should go to him, not the “Final Fantasy” brand name and certainly not Square-Enix. Eventually, Sakaguchi would release a game called Lost Odyssey, a game many considered to be the true Final Fantasy XIII. One could even consider it to be the true Final Fantasy XI, however I personally believe that Lost Odyssey was not meant to be a Final Fantasy game, rather it was meant to be Sakaguchi’s attempt at creating something new and fresh.

It’s common to make assumptions, especially when the information given to us is enigmatic but rarely does one make assumptions about something that people are well-informed on. Thanks to the power of the internet, information is bountiful, to the point that it can feel somewhat suffocating at times, to me at least. Due to the objective nature of gaming news however, much of this information is enigmatic. Because of this, people feel more inclined to view things at face value and this is ultimately the biggest issue with the brand name “Final Fantasy”. The name holds so much power and influence now that the name itself holds more value than any videogame ever could. After all, a videogame is nothing more than a bundle of code and assets melded together, surely there isn’t any value in that… oh wait, that’s the very thing that we are getting when we spend out hard-earned money on these brand names.

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Put simply, Square-Enix needs Final Fantasy because shareholders expect consistent sales figures (ideally going up), if they didn’t continue to release Final Fantasy games, they would start to lose face in the industry and eventually they would lose their value as a company as a result. They need to prove that they are still the face of Final Fantasy in order to maintain the consumers trust because without Final Fantasy, their value as a company would be drastically lowered to the point that they wouldn’t be able to please their shareholders, thus the downfall of Square-Enix would be inevitable, hence why they refuse to let go of this IP.

Why am I telling you this? Because I want you to realize why the Final Fantasy series didn’t end with Final Fantasy X, it’s not because the developers are passionate about the series to the point that they want to see it continue, nor is it because they are trying to improve the series (well at this point I’d be more inclined to say that they are trying to reinvent the series), it’s because the series is valuable and generates a shit ton of money that the company needs to maintain stability. To take Final Fantasy away from Square-Enix would essentially cause the entire company to collapse like a Jenga tower, because Final Fantasy is the central pillar that holds the company together.

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This isn’t Final Fantasy either

Sure, Final Fantasy is known for mascots such as the moogle and chocobo but let’s be honest here people, how important are those mascots really? Star Ocean has giant bunnys which serve exactly the same purpose as chocobo’s (there are even bunny races which are totally not inspired by chocobo races), Grandia has carros which might as well be considered moogles because they are trying to be the same thing, a cute looking furry thing that is easily identifiable, isn’t that the whole point of a mascot? The truth is, aside from their aesthetic design, these mascots have no real value to consumers and their aesthetic design is merely an attempt to give value to the brand, which is why you see moogles littered all over Square-Enix’s games these days.

The point is that none of this matters really, all Final Fantasy games are completely different from one another, just like how all Grandia games are different from one another. The difference is that Grandia is pretty much dead at this point and rightfully so as the creator passed away a while back. Final Fantasy on the other hand is still alive and Square-Enix are milking the series for every last penny. Heck I wouldn’t even say that Final Fantasy is even alive at this point, rather the series has been inflicted by the zombie status ailment where healing it only ends up damaging it. Final Fantasy isn’t alive, nor is it dead, it is undead, much like how Sylvanas is undead in World Of Warcraft in the sense that its presence has become a nuisance.

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This is Final Fantasy

Sure you could just ignore it and move on and that’s exactly what I’ve been doing for years but it’s very hard to ignore it when people continue to talk about it. Like I said before, information on the internet can be suffocating to me at times, that includes anything related to Final Fantasy… it’s suffocating to constantly hear people talk about the series and I believe that I can’t just ignore it anymore, I really have to make it clear to people that the Final Fantasy series is no more. You have all been lied to by Square-Enix, modern Final Fantasy is an impostor and nothing more.

As for the games themselves, Final Fantasy XII has more in common with Vagrant Story than anything XI and XIV are MMORPG’s that have more in common with World Of Warcraft and XV is just your typical open world experience that could have quite possibly been received a lot better if it wasn’t titled “Final Fantasy” but Square-Enix don’t care about that, they already got your money and they’ll get it again with the next installment, because you’re blinded by the brand name “Final Fantasy”. Sure I realize that this does not apply to all of you and I realize that many of you that follow me are smart enough to know all of this but there are many who are still blind to the truth and those people need to know the truth for the sake of gaming’s future.

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Why is this so important you ask? Why can’t we just simply ignore all of this? Because publishers need to recognize that they can’t succeed on brand names alone, they need to ensure that the product itself is top quality so that people who buy it will not be disappointed, therefore trust in the company’s products will grow… as idiotic as that may sound but hey, that’s the system we have to work with I’m afraid, it’s called capitalism and I’d certainly prefer that over communism.

Instead of complaining about these corporate entities for milking these games, why don’t we instead take control of the system? We as consumers have the power to shape the future of this industry as we are the ones who are essentially giving these big CEO’s their paychecks and keeping the shareholders happy. How do we do this you ask? It’s called keeping your wallets shut and boycotting on principle. I’m not saying that you should stop playing Final Fantasy just because it’s a lie, I’m just saying that you need to be more skeptical of the brand and base your purchase on reviews, not on trailers or on brand names. Wait for the reviews to come out and then decide whether the game is for you or not. Do not pre-order any more Final Fantasy games should you wish to avoid further disappointment. This is my message to all of you who continue to blindly support this series. Once again, I am not hating on the series and I am not saying that you cannot enjoy it, nor do I say that the modern Final Fantasy games are Inherently bad. This applies to all brand names, not just Final Fantasy, remember that.

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Now that I have made my point clear, I believe I should talk about the positive side of branding. Let’s look at Valkyrie Profile for example, a brand that is unknown to many but beloved by many of those that do know it. Now bear in mind that when I say the word “brand”, I’m not just talking about the name, I’m talking about all rights associated with it, much like Final Fantasy’s moogle mascot. Unlike Final Fantasy which is a different game each time for the most part, Valkyrie Profile is set in the same world with the same lore, same characters, same mythological setting with a combat system that emphasizes the timing of button presses to perform combos via the face buttons with each face button representing a character. This is something people have identified with for a long time and while Exist Archive brought many of this back, due to copyrights it was unable to truly be a Valkyrie Profile game despite wanting so badly to be one.

Needless to say, tri-Ace gave Exist Archive a completely different setting with completely new characters for they realized that trying to make their own take on Valkyrie Profile would be futile because people would be unable to take a game that is too similar to Valkyrie Profile seriously, hence why they made Exist Archive’s universe completely different. Regardless, it is the closest thing to Valkyrie Profile 3 we will likely ever get, therefore I respect it for what it is.

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Then there are games like Bloodstained Curse Of The Moon which is pretty much the latest Castlevania game, just without the name “Castlevania” in the title. It has the same director, same composer and even the same visual style with a very similar setting and almost identical gameplay. This game was well received but this was likely due to Castlevania’s absence. Had it not been for the absence of Castlevania, Bloodstained would never have been as successful as it was, though it would probably still have a cult following.

So I do see the value in branding, it gives a series of games an identity, something that people can recognize. When I see the name “Dynasty Warriors” I know exactly what I’m getting into (well I should… but the first game is a fighter and the earlier titles are insanely hard to the point of frustration), a dumbed down 3D beat em up that lets you mow down armies of enemies with minimal effort which thrives on visual spectacle to give players a feeling of catharsis. That information is important to me and many of us but is a brand necessary to present that information? Not necessarily. There are other ways to present this information but publishers continue to shove brand names in our faces because it’s the easy way for them to make money. Just don’t fall for it people, don’t buy into the hype!

YS VIII: Lacrimosa Of Dana Review

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It pains me to admit that I never really got into the YS series back in the day. The whole idea of playing as a single character in an action RPG with overly simplified combat seemed a bit too archaic for me. Now I realize that the YS series is one of the pioneers of the action RPG genre and truth be told, I did want to give the series a chance but I just never knew where to start. It wasn’t until the release of YS VIII Lacrimosa Of Dana, that I decided to give the series a try.

It appears that YS VIII opted to follow in the footsteps of more modern action RPG’s such as the Tales and Star Ocean series as it features 3D camera controls as opposed to its top down/side view predecessors. It is also worth noting that recent YS entries have started incorporating a party system into the games and YS VIII is no exception. I personally appreciate these changes to the series as I believe having a more modern 3D look does wonders for the aesthetics and the party system offers multiple play styles to keep the gameplay fresh.

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What makes YS VIII stand out from other RPGs of its kind is its premise. The story starts off with the protagonist Adol, who gets shipwrecked on an uncharted island filled with dangerous monsters. Along the way he is reunited with some of the ship’s passengers and crew but many of them have gone missing and it’s up to Adol to track them all down. As simple as it may appear on paper, the simplicity of this premise is quite refreshing as rather than throwing you into a deep and intricate save the world story right from the get go like most games do, YS VIII tells you to go out and explore the world in search of other castaways… and that’s pretty much it really, at least early on in the game.

While this might sound off-putting to those who seek a deeper, more intricate storyline in their games, the game moves at a very quick pace and you will soon realize that there is more to the island than meets the eye. Put simply, the story does get deeper and more intricate later on. That being said however, YS VIII feeds the story slowly to you and doesn’t exactly present its more intricate details particularly well in the game’s early sections but you’ll probably end up ignoring it anyways as the game’s premise is exciting enough for you to keep playing regardless.

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God forbid I ever get stranded on an Island then…

I really find that playing the role of a castaway in the search of other castaways on an uncharted really gives off a feeling of adventure that not many modern JRPGs seem to offer nowadays. Back on the SNES, this was common as many JRPGs were lacking in the writing department and the characters you played as were simple and the plot usually revolved around hunting down macguffins in order to pan out game time. For this reason, it was important for developers to create a world that players would want to explore by designing interesting levels in order to keep the games from stagnating. I feel that most modern games focus way too much on their storytelling that they forget how important it is to design intricate dungeons.

The dungeons in YS VIII are some of the best I have seen in a long time, as are the locations themselves. I find that many of the dungeons put a heavy emphasis on verticality which makes them way more interesting to navigate compared to most JRPG dungeons these days. It is also worth noting that YS VIII doesn’t try to throw too many annoying gimmicks at the player, sure there are a few puzzles and there are sections which cannot be accessed until you acquire a certain item, but there isn’t too much of it to the point that it bogs the game down.

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The YS games are also known to have had environmental hazards in the past but they are mostly absent in YS VIII. I personally see this as a good thing since I find that environmental hazards often get in the way during combat and serve no practical purpose. All they seem to do is annoy the player. I find that the verticality and the aesthetic design of YS VIII’s levels as well as the abundance of items to find more than makes up for the lack of gimmicks present in previous YS games.

Speaking of the aesthetics, generally speaking I’d say that they are pretty solid for a vita port. While the graphics may appear to be somewhat dated for PS4/PC standards, I’d say that the vibrant usage of color masks this really well. I’d also like to point out that while the visuals themselves may not be as detailed as they are in Star Ocean Integrity And Faithlessness, the field of view in this game is equally as impressive as that game which does wonders for the game’s exploration value which is a big deal considering how important exploring is in this game.

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Check out that view…

The character designs appear to be very similar to that of the Legend Of Heroes Trails series and Tokyo Xanadu. So if you like the art style of those games, you’re probably going to enjoy YS VIII’s art style as it pretty much inherits the same style. YS VIII’s character models are celshaded, much like Tales Of Berseria/Zesteria, however the environments have a very vivid vibrancy compared to that of the Tales series and I find that this greatly contrasts with the celshaded design of the character models. Whether this is a good or a bad thing is for you to decide.

Ultimately, the main appeal to the YS series isn’t so much the story/visuals, rather it’s the fast paced gameplay that the series is known for. YS VIII takes the Action RPG genre to the next level, proving that Falcom’s long running series isn’t just a relic of the past. What makes the gameplay of YS so enjoyable is its simplicity and YS VIII does not stray away from this. That being said however, YS VIII improves the mechanics of the combat considerably, allowing for more flexibility in the combat system, giving other ARPG’s a run for their money.

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Those who are looking for a more technical, combo-centric battle system may be disappointed by YS VIII as the combat doesn’t really offer any of that, in fact you can spam the same moves over and over again to get through pretty much every single battle, though this is nothing out of the ordinary for an ARPG. YS VIII chooses to instead focus on the defensive aspect of gameplay, rewarding players for avoiding enemy attacks and severely punishing players for getting hit.  Sure you can spam the same moves over and over but it won’t save you from getting hit.

Dodging attacks with perfect timing rewards players with flash move. This makes the player invincible for a short period of time allowing them to freely attack without worrying about getting hit. You can also parry attacks with a flash guard but it requires perfect timing to pull off, doing so makes all your attacks stronger for a short period of time. These features allow players to approach battles differently and rewards players for their dexterity in defensive play.

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As far as aggressive play goes, players are able to map up to 4 special skills to each of the face buttons and they can be triggered by holding the R1 button and the corresponding face button, while regular attacks, dodges and jumping can all be performed by pressing their corresponding face buttons without R1. This allows for the game to have that little extra flexibility which is important as without it, the game would be pretty bare bones.

By attacking enemies, a skill gauge is accumulated, using special skills consumes the skill gauge requiring you to manage your usage of special skills carefully. On top of all this you have the extra gauge which is filled by using special skills, therefore it is recommended not to conserve your skill gauge unless you need to. Once your extra gauge is full, you can perform a finishing blow which can deal devastating damage to enemies.

It is important to remember that Adol is not on his own in this game, now he has AI partners to help him out. You can switch control of characters at any time with the press of a button and unlike Star Ocean, they will instantly swap to manual control and vice versa once they are switched. This alleviates one of the biggest issues of the Star Ocean series, switching characters could get you killed fast if the AI uses an attack during a switch.

Speaking of AI, the AI in YS VIII is hands down the most competent AI I have ever seen in an ARPG. You rarely ever have to worry about the AI taking damage in a fight as they will avoid attacks automatically and will receive considerably less damage than the player if they are attacked. Of course the player controlled character cannot do this but they are ultimately going to be stronger in terms of damage dealing to the point that you cannot really rely on the AI to fight for you as the AI tends to respond to the player’s actions, acting accordingly so if you pull out of a fight, so will they.

 

“YS VIII takes the Action RPG genre to the next level, proving that Falcom’s long running series isn’t just a relic of the past”

 

Put simply, if you lose a fight in YS VIII it is never the fault of the AI, it is always the player’s fault, as the AI never holds the player back, nor does it do all the player’s work for them. This is what I love the most about YS VIII, the fact that the game doesn’t force you to babysit a bunch of incompetent party members by constantly spamming healing items. For this reason, I think more ARPG’s should adopt this style of AI controlled characters.

All in all, YS VIII has a very simple, straightforward combat system and with no battle transitions to worry about, battles can end in a matter of seconds. This is very much a run and kill kind of game much like its predecessors, you never feel at a standstill and this does wonders for the game’s pacing as you are constantly on the move, quickly progressing through the game. This is what YS VIII excels at the most, therefore if you’re the type of person who wants to get from a to b as fast as possible, then this is definitely a game that is worth your time.

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For the most part you’ll spend your time traversing the world in search of refugees. Some refugees grant you access to certain facilities while others just act as NPC’s to talk to in town. There is also a gift giving mechanic similar to that of Onimusha 2 which allows you to improve Adol’s relations with the other refugees. Doing so rewards the player with stat boosts for each character involved in the gift giving process. While it may not be as open ended as the gift giving mechanic of Onimusha 2, it’s still a nice enough distraction that can give you access to some extra scenes should you choose to partake in it.

There are also side quests to do which allow you to improve your relation with refugees and usually come with a reward. There’s a great variety of tasks on offer to keep the sidequests fresh and they never become bothersome for completionists. The only issue is that sidequests are missable so they must be done as soon as they are available should you need to complete everything the game has to offer. The game doesn’t feature too many of them though, therefore it’s never a slog to get through them.

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YS VIII also offers a couple of combat related minigames in the form of raids and beast hunts. This is where the refugees you have gathered over the course of the game are put to good use as they provide various buffs to assist you in battle. In raids, players must defend the refuge from monster attacks, while beast hunts require players to lure out and hunt certain monsters. Both of these minigames can get pretty chaotic as there are usually tonnes of enemies on screen making for some pretty exciting battles. If you’re a fan of musou games, you’ll probably love these missions and if you’re a completionist then you better enjoy these diversions because it makes up the bulk of the game’s end game content.

Personally I’d argue that while raids are a lot of fun, beast hunts are a bit too chaotic and can kind of feel a bit too overwhelming at times due to having so many needless features such as having to take over territories, destroy nests etc. I think beast hunts could have been simplified a little to make them a bit more fun. Raids on the other hand are a lot of fun and are really exhilarating to experience. The goal of raids is to defend your fortifications and bait by pushing enemy groups away from them. The more fortifications you protect and the better your battle performance, the better your rewards. As for beast hunts, there are a lot more factors to be aware of and this can make getting high ratings pretty complicated. Also unlike raids, in beast hunts you have a limited amount of time to finish them and this can be somewhat irritating at times.

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On top of all the other side content, there’s also the obligatory fishing minigame that every game has to have these days. It’s surprisingly pretty decent though.

Needless to say, the refugees you’ve gathered are essentially the only other characters besides the playable cast that you ever get to talk to for the most part. On top of all this there is only one settlement in the entire game which basically acts as the main hub. This could be a turn off for people looking for a more traditional JRPG experience where you visit multiple towns and cities to buy items and interact with NPC’s. That being said, many of the refugees are surprisingly interesting characters that you want to get to know and connect with.

Speaking of characters, the story of YS VIII revolves around two characters, Adol and Dana. Adol is pretty much the player’s persona in this game in the sense that he is more-or-less a silent protagonist, occasionally saying something after the player makes a choice. Based on his choices, he appears to be somewhat confident and well mannered. You could say that he is a typical heroic character, which makes sense considering the fact that this isn’t Adol’s first adventure and as a result, he shows a level of competence that is respected by the rest of the group. Despite all this, he still fits the protagonist trope of being a bright-eyed do gooder but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

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Dana on the other hand embodies pretty much every single issue I have with the game’s story, not to say that the story is bad or anything, rather the flaws in the narrative all tie in with Dana and how the role she plays affects the entire course of the game’s story. I don’t want to go too much into detail for the sake of spoilers but the game’s story takes a crazy turn during the second half where players may have to willingly suspend their disbelief should they wish to continue investing themselves in the game’s narrative. Put simply, the second half of the game leaves itself vulnerable to many potential plot holes due to the complications of what happens and as a result it can be difficult to accept how things play out as a result.

The second half of the game’s story plays out somewhat similarly to Richard Knaak’s War Of The Ancients trilogy in the sense that it focuses on events of the past but also ties in with events in the present. If you have read any of those books, you know exactly what I’m talking about, if you haven’t then I’ll let you all find out for yourself as I wouldn’t want to give too much away. I will say however that if you’ve been finding the story up to this point to be bland and uninteresting, the second half of the game might change your mind. With all of its flaws considered, the story does start to get more interesting in the second half and in some cases it gets better even.

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As for Dana herself, I honestly cannot find anything to say about her character other than the fact that she is a mary sue who is gifted with powers that are vaguely explained. She also has a strange connection with Adol which is explained later on in the game. That’s about all I can say about her character. She’s pretty much a walking talking plot device. The problem with this is that the game clearly wants to make the player care about her character despite her not having any distinguishable traits. Sure she isn’t a completely unlikable character but even Adol manages to express more personality than she does and he is mostly a silent protagonist.

This made me feel a bit turned off from the latter half of the game but despite all of its shortcomings, I would say that the narrative is still enjoyable for what it is. I think it handles some interesting themes and aside from Dana, the cast of characters do their job well enough to maintain the player’s investment. Laxia develops surprisingly well, Hummel’s unpredictability keeps him interesting and while Ricotta isn’t the greatest of characters, at least she has a distinguished personality. None of them can hold a candle to Sahad though, Sahad’s personality is simply magnificent. It’s great to see such a cheerful, yet crude character with such a modest composure. Why can’t more games have characters like Sahad? He’s such a refreshing character. I do dislike how many of his lines were censored due to people whining about the so-called bad translation but it didn’t bother me enough to make me like the character any less though.

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Regardless of your own personal take on the game’s story, one thing that will stick with you throughout the game is its soundtrack. Falcom are renowned for having great music in their games and YS VIII’s soundtrack doesn’t disappoint. There are a lot of high energy tracks here as is expected from a YS game but at the same time there are also some calmer tracks that offer a nice contrast. The music adds a lot of flavor to the game, particularly in its dungeons but that’s not all, I’d argue that the music is the main driving force of YS VIII as it synchronizes with the game’s pacing, helping to enhance the player’s adrenaline to provide a thrill factor.

Ultimately, while people expecting YS VIII to offer a strong narrative may be disappointed, those who do not may find themselves to be pleasantly surprised by the game’s story. Regardless of how you feel about the story, it’s important to remember that the crux of what ultimately makes YS VIII so enjoyable is the game’s combat. If you do not enjoy fast paced, simple and somewhat mindless action, then this game may not be your cup of tea. Those that do however are going to love YS VIII regardless of its flaws as it is one of the few modern action RPG’s to succeed at doing away with battle transitions, essentially perfecting what Star Ocean 5 and Tales Of Zesteria attempted to do.

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Story/Plot: Good

Visuals: Great

Gameplay: Excellent

Music: Excellent

Length: Decent Length

Difficulty: Medium

Would You Replay? Maybe


Overall: Excellent

silver-star-of-awesome sized

 


 

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Value: £40.00

Note for PC players: For those misfortunate enough to own a copy of YS VIII on PC who are intent on playing with a gamepad, I have bad news for you. You’re going to be fighting to toughest boss in the game right from the get go:

The Controller Configuration

Have fun with that…

Games I Couldn’t Finish – Descent + Descent II

The Descent games deserve more love, not only did they pioneer the 6DOF genre but they were also quite advanced for their time. Neither of these games are perfect but they are definitely worth experiencing, especially Descent 2.

I could talk more about the games but the video pretty much covers everything so for people who want the gist of it, I will list the pros and cons of the game:

Pros:

Lots of weapons

Enemy AI is really smart

Great visual style

Music is awesome

 

Cons:

Enemy placement can be bad at times (Descent 1 only)

Easy to get lost in the game (Descent 1 only)

 

Here’s hoping that the reboot will be just as good.

Apparently Heretic also had verticality, can’t know for certain since I never played it, I only watched someone else play it.

Theorycrafting – Difficulty Burnouts – Giving Players Control

Difficulty burnouts are essentially the result of players getting frustrated by a game’s difficulty and this leads to them quickly becoming disengaged from the game.

It is pretty common for games to suffer from this issue and it is usually due to careless design. However, many games manage to circumvent this issue and in this video, I’m going to explain how they do it.

Now it goes without saying that game theory and player empathy is important when designing a game but what many developers seem to forget is the importance of giving players control, as a lot of games have the tendency to take control away from the player in varying quantities and they do so for various reasons.

One example of how a game takes control away from the player is the act of reloading a weapon. This disables the player’s ability to shoot temporarily until the animation of reloading has been completed. Other examples of how games take control away from the player are recovery time, staggering, delays and stun effects. When these are applied to the player, players feel powerless against their adversary and this can become one of the many causes of difficulty burnouts.

Now don’t get me wrong, I understand that some games require the implementation of stun effects and recovery time for balancing reasons and to prevent them from performing exploits. As for staggering, I believe that games use it as a means of making the impact of hitting a target more satisfying and more effective to give players a sense of power.

When applied to the player however, it can prove to be somewhat irritating as players lose control completely when this happens. Therefore It is recommended that developers cut down the amount of time these effects occur to the player, in order to maximize speed. This is very important, especially in a real-time game where time is a resource, as players who are unable to control themselves, have to spend time for the ability to do so and if this causes them to get a game over, they are far more likely to blame the game rather than themselves.

Personally I find that delays and reloading are completely useless, as their only purpose is to take control away from the player. The only reason reloading exists is because of realism and as we all know by now, realism should never be applied to game design. As for delays, I find it hard to see a reason to implement them. Perhaps they are implemented for balancing reasons but even so, I still think that there are better ways to balance a set of abilities.

Regardless, these are but mere examples of how games take control away from players and why it is so frustrating. The purpose of this is to help developers understand why players are being frustrated, not to tell them to avoid it completely, just to be aware of it and take action where it is necessary, because taking control away from the player, essentially takes them away from the game itself, as if they aren’t able to control anything, they aren’t playing a game. Remember that frustration is the cause of most difficulty burnouts and this causes players to become disengaged from your game.

Another thing to note when it comes to difficulty burnouts is fatiguing due to the brutal nature of difficulty curves. Now a lot of people advocate for the idea of a difficulty curve and I’m not one of those people. Sure the difficulty in games should go up as players progress but for the sake of engagement, I think it is important to ease the difficulty down a little at certain points. This is what I like to call breather levels and to explain what a breather level is, I’m going to use one as an example.

In Painkiller, there is a level named Asylum. Asylum is arguably the best example of what makes a successful breather level. It is important to remember that the idea of a breather level, is to give players a chance to recharge without compromising their momentum and Asylum does this perfectly. In fact, Asylum goes above and beyond what a breather level should, as it encourages players to approach the level slightly differently than the previous levels, since the level is a lot tighter than previous levels. This means that players will not have as much freedom to move around like they did in previous levels, forcing them to manage their movement more diligently.

However, unlike the previous level, Opera House where players are forced to contend with projectile based enemies and deadly melee enemies, Asylum only has melee enemies to content with. This drastically alters the player’s method of play, as now they no longer have to avoid projectiles with timed movement, allowing them to essentially take a break from dealing with projectile enemies. Despite this however, the enemies in the Asylum level aren’t as simple are the ones fought in Cemetary. The amputees found in the Asylum level may not have projectile attacks but they have a deadly leaping attack and they can leap at players from a surprisingly long distance. This means that players need to be constantly aware of what is around them, therefore the intensity of the gameplay is maintained, despite the lowering of difficulty.

This allows players to recharge after the previous level, whilst giving players something new to learn so that they can play the game more effectively later on.  On top of all this, the Asylum level is noticeably darker and eerier than the previous levels to create a tense atmosphere, making players feel uneasy despite the level being considerably easier than the previous two levels. This is why the Asylum level in Painkiller is such a masterpiece of level design that few people appreciate.

In any case, the point is that through the use of what I like to call “difficulty waves”, games can provide a difficult challenge without being too overwhelming. Put simply, the wave should start out at the bottom end of the difficulty scale, slowly go up then slightly go back down, then slowly go back up and so on & so forth. Over time, the waves will gradually rise up higher, much like if you were to swim out into the open sea and this is where the game would offer the challenge that players yearn for, without being too overwhelming for the player. I believe this design theory is overlooked and is very effective, Painkiller executes this theory extremely well for the most part.

Finally should a player be defeated, go easy on them. Don’t punish them too harshly and always leave a window of opportunity for the player to bounce back. When players are defeated in Mount And Blade, they are taken prisoner and lose a few items, along with many of their men. They will eventually be released from imprisonment and will be able to continue playing, as well as keeping the levels that the player has accumulated over the course of the game. This punishment may be harsh but it still makes it possible for players to bounce back should they build their army back up and try again.

In addition, make sure that there are checkpoints after overcoming a major obstacle in a game. Do note that this does not include break points as break points should be provided as a means for players to pull out satisfied. There needs to be checkpoints in between break points so that players maintain some of their progress, that way they do not feel as if their time has been wasted. It amazes me to this day how so many games fail to offer checkpoints.

Now a lot of people look at gaming today and see it as being too easy. The truth is that game’s aren’t getting easier, they’re becoming more accessible and players that consider games to be too easy were brought up in the arcade era of gaming, where games were designed around coin operative machines that required players to spend real money if they ran out of continues. This caused developers at the time to make games harder for the sake of making more money.

Nowadays games need to be accessible, not just to attract a wider audience like many people claim but also because accessibility helps prevent players from becoming disengaged and prevents them from wasting time failing at a level, time that could be spent elsewhere. If players aren’t making progression, they will want to disconnect themselves from your game. Videogames are more than a means of challenging players, they are an experience and players want to enjoy their experience, not be frustrated by it.

 

Ar Nosurge: Ode To An Unborn Star Review

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Being of the last JRPG’s to be released on the Playstation 3, Ar Nosurge is one of the many games that fell off the radar due to being released at the latter end of a console generation. To make matters worse, Ar Nosurge just happens to be part of the Ar Tonelico series despite not being named Ar Tonelico which could have also been part of the reason many forgot about its existence. While the Ar Tonelico series has a cult following, Ar Nosurge barely has a following at all, in fact it is actually the sequel to a game titled Ciel Nosurge, a game that was never released outside Japan which caused a lot of confusion over in the west upon its release… to those that bothered to look into it that is.

Those of you who have played the Ar Tonelico games before will likely find Ar Nosurge to be somewhat familiar, yet different. It feels like a spiritual successor in some ways as it carries over many of the gameplay elements of the Ar Tonelico series but it continues the story of Ciel Nosurge and brings back its established setting. As such from a narrative standpoint, Ar Nosurge doesn’t feel like an Ar Tonelico game at all. Despite this, it turns out that Ar Nosurge is actually a prequel to Ar Tonelico and takes place many years before the events of Melody Of Elemia which you would never have guessed if you hadn’t reached the latter end of the game’s story.

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The first thing that caught my eye about Ar Nosurge was its premise. After the destruction of the planet, people inhabited a space vessel known as the Soreil and have lived on it ever since in their journey to find a new world to call home. Over time however, people forgot about their search for a new world and transformed the ship into a huge colony in which two races battle for dominance over the vessel. Now if that isn’t an interesting premise, I don’t know what is. While the first Ar Tonelico also had a pretty ambitious narrative concept, it had a more conventional cyberpunk/fantasy setting whereas Ar Nosurge throws the fantasy out of the window and feels more like a sci-fi game which is ironic considering the fact that it is a prequel.

Upon hearing that Ar Nosurge has a sci-fi setting, you’re probably expecting lots of space travel and futuristic aesthetics. While there is plenty of the latter, space travel isn’t exactly the main focus of the game, rather the story focuses on the conflict between the two races. In addition, the environments in the game are pretty varied, offering the more traditional bright and colorful grassland in addition to the futuristic aesthetic of the ship’s interior. As for how grassland appears in a game that takes place predominantly on a space ship, Lets just say that you’ll have to willingly suspend your disbelief for most of the game.

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Unfortunately however, the level design itself is pretty bland for the most part. Each of the locations you visit are usually 1 or 2 screens large, even the dungeons/field areas (aside from a few pointless secret areas that are accessible later on). I personally believe that this was partially due to budget constraints but also due to the way the game is designed as each dungeon/field area serves no other purpose than to give players a place to fight enemies and considering the way Ar Nosurge handles random encounters, there would be little point in panning out the levels. Nevertheless I personally believe that many of the game’s design choices stem from budget constraints and that the developers goal was to do as much as they could with what little they had. This is the impression I got while playing through the game.

In terms of visual aesthetic, the levels look nice enough for what they are even if they seem a bit dated for 2014 standards. Yet another sign that the game was designed on a budget but nevertheless I didn’t find the visuals to be unappealing or bland, they were just ok. Like the Ar Tonelico games, towns are navigated via a menu which isn’t surprising but just like in Ar Tonelico, you do get to walk around in tiny areas inside each town but don’t expect too much. Ultimately if you’re looking for exploration, you’re going to be bitterly disappointed with this game and it definitely isn’t going to be for you. While Valkyrie Profile 2’s environments may have been limited by side scrolling, the game made up for it with its highly detailed aesthetic design which this game lacks. I strongly believe that Ar Nosurge would have been better suited as a side scroller rather than trying to have full 3D movement as the freedom to move in all directions doesn’t really add anything to the game.

Speaking of Valkyrie Profile, the combat in Ar Nosurge is similar to it in the sense that it is a turn based action RPG where each of the attacks are mapped to a face button. The similarities end there however as Ar Nosurge has a rather unusual battle system that can be pretty overwhelming at first but is actually pretty simple once you grasp the mechanics. Before I can talk about Ar Nosurge’s combat in more detail, I need to explain the game’s most distinguishable feature. One thing that has always bothered me in JRPG’s is the monotony of fighting one random encounter after another. Ar nosurge circumvents this issue by allowing you to use powered up song magic to defeat every single enemy in the dungeon at once, in fact the entire combat system revolves around this feature making it important to explain it in detail.

The way this works is that all the enemies in the dungeon are separated into waves. By defeating a single wave of enemies, the player is then introduced to a completely new wave of enemies to defeat. The player has a limited number of turns to defeat as many waves as possible. Turns are consumed each time the number of available attacks are reduced to zero. Now you are probably wondering how you manage to defeat 10 waves of enemies with so limited attacks. This is where breaking attacks come into play. By breaking/defeating all of the enemies that are preparing to attack on each turn, the number of attacks replenishes to maximum meaning that you essentially skip a turn but the enemies do not and thus some of the remaining enemies will prepare to attack in the next turn.

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This forces the player to think carefully as to how they approach battles as they have to not only consider the harmo gauge boost for chaining together attacks but they also want to consider which attacks they use and who they are targeting. Once the burst gauge reaches 100%, the player may activate a song to automatically end the battle, killing every single enemy in the dungeon, doing so rewards you with an experience multiplier which allows you to level up your characters insanely quickly should they manage to dispatch all enemies in a single battle by properly managing their turns and abilities. I love how the combat manages to keep players on their toes at all times with this system as it makes battles quick, yet exciting. This is something many JRPG’s need to learn from when it comes to fighting standard enemy encounters.

Of course there are some flaws to this system. For starters, I personally think that there aren’t enough enemies to fight in each dungeon. As such, while the idea is great and all, I find that it is a bit too easy to dispatch every single enemy in dungeons, at least on the lowest difficulty. This means that the game offers barely any combat at all when it comes to standard progression. Thankfully once you leave an area, enemies will respawn, this allows players to grind for as long as they desire but in doing so, it kinda diminishes the challenge of the game. This didn’t bother me though as I love power leveling in games, especially when I can do it quickly. If you’re the sort of person who is looking for a challenge however, playing on hard/veteran difficulty is an absolute must, fortunately they are available at the start so you do not need to unlock them.

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I also find that many of the game’s boss fights are pretty underwhelming due to the fact that the battle system is designed around fighting waves of enemies and since bosses are generally just a single wave, sometimes with only a single enemy, you will often find yourself repeating the same strategies against them making boss battles feel a bit tedious at times. That’s not to say that all the bosses are like this as some boss fights include multiple enemies which can spice things up a bit and can be pretty fun to fight. I think the issue ultimately lies in the wave based battle system as the combat is designed around killing waves of enemies as opposed to a single enemy.

In addition to this, I also found quite a few spikes in difficulty at times. This is likely due to the encounter system since fighting a single battle can level you up a ton, making certain boss fights a lot easier. That being said, if you didn’t fight any enemy encounters, you are going to have a very hard time against certain bosses, at least on the higher difficulties. This happened to me at the beginning of phase 2 where following the main story quickly threw me into a boss fight. This boss fight kicked my ass a ton of times but that was because I didn’t realize that there were new synthesis items available to craft at the beginning of phase 2 and as such I had to beat up more enemies to farm experience and items to do synthesis. Upon returning, I defeated the boss very easily.

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Thankfully farming experience isn’t such a chore, especially if you get a high score.

Equipment in Ar Nosurge is also a bit unusual as there aren’t any weapons or armor in the traditional sense. Your front line fighter can equip cathodes and your song mage can equip bios. Cathodes are used to modify the properties of the attack associated with the face button it is equipped to. Up to three cathodes can be equipped to each of the face buttons allowing for multiple modifiers to be applied to your attacks. Bios are used to enhance song magic at specific harmonics levels. Like cathodes you can equip up to 3 bios for each harmonics level.

Unfortunately there appears to be a bug associated with bios which renders the level 1 slots completely useless, this bug causes the bios to be triggered one harmonics level higher than the current harmonics level. As such at harmonics level 1, you will activate level 2 bios and at level 2 you will activate level 3 bios. Put simply it is impossible to trigger level 1 bios for this very reason and as such the level 1 slots should be ignored. Both characters can also equip RNAs which are used to increase base stats as well as offer additional effects.

Ar Nosurge Review 3

Now you’re probably thinking that you can purchase new equipment from shops but aside from the most basic of equipment, most of it is acquired through synthesis. On the surface, synthesis is just your typical crafting system, which it is. However, like in Ar Tonelico’s grathmelding, every new item that is created through synthesis triggers a conversation between characters. In Ar Tonelico, this was perfectly fine and all as the crafting materials were obtained through fighting multiple battles but since the battles in Ar Nosurge have you fight against every single enemy encounter in the dungeon simultaneously, you will likely have all the materials you need to synthesize a ton of items after a single battle, making synthesis a tedious ordeal to acquire new items for people who are uninterested in the conversations that revolve around each one, as a single enemy encounter can give you enough loot to make several synthesized items, usually to the point that you end up synthesizing all of the available items in one sitting.

As a result, synthesis feels somewhat tacked on and only serves to add more dialogue to the game. While the additional dialogue that comes with it isn’t necessarily terrible and can be comedic, it tends to take up a lot of the player’s time. If you aren’t content with reading large amounts of dialogue in bulk, I can safely say that synthesis is going to be one hell of an ordeal for you. Conversely, those who are looking for a more dialogue heavy experience can rejoice as Ar Nosurge inserts dialogue into every nook and cranny to the point that you are literally drowning in it. It’s pretty easy to tell what the developers were trying to do with this game as everything from the random encounter system, to the synthesis system and more is designed to get players out of the action and into the dialogue as quickly as possible. If you ask me, this is where Ar Nosurge takes focused game design a bit too far.

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Speaking of taking things too far, every time you create something, weeb shit happens… Thank god for the skip function at the bottom right.

Sure, there is an audience for what Ar Nosurge is attempting to cater to but the question is, is the material itself worth all the hassle of reading layers upon layers of incessant dialogue? That’s a good question. While Ar Nosurge’s world is a very ambitious concept, the story itself is actually quite straightforward for the most part, at least early on in the game. I think that while Ar Nosurge doesn’t have a terrible story, it does get a little bit ridiculous later on and whether or not you enjoy it will ultimately come down to how you handle the game’s plot twist because Ar Nosurge may have the craziest plot twist I have ever seen in a videogame.

Ultimately though, despite not having played Ciel Nosurge and not having any understanding on what went on in that game’s story, I personally found that the story of Ar Nosurge was decent. I wouldn’t say that it was groundbreaking but I wouldn’t go as far as to say that it was completely terrible. It definitely has its weird bits in there to help spice things up a little and I think the game handled its themes rather well. Still, as much as I don’t want to believe it, I think that most of the story was just an excuse to ship the characters which is a little sad but then again I could say the same about the first Ar Tonelico so it’s not like it’s all that surprising.

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In addition to the main storyline, the cosmospheres from Ar Tonelico return but this time they have been renamed to genometrics. Genometrics are a little different from the cosmospheres in Ar Tonelico as you are able to dive into multiple characters as opposed to just one. I also noticed that there are a lot more multiple choice branches in the genometrics which gives players an illusion of choice. Perhaps this is what the developers meant when they were calling their game an “A Deeply Immersive 7th dimension RPG” but I think that’s a load of bollocks to be honest. As I’ve mentioned before, immersion is about making meaningful choices and these choices are anything but meaningful. Sure some choices award you with crystals which can be used to… uh, I’ll get to that later but most options just eject you out of the dive session and force you to restart the dive all over again.

Thankfully all of the dialogue is skippable in genometrics which is a life saver because had I been forced to read all of the dialogue all over again due to picking the wrong choice, I wouldn’t even be writing this review right now, as I’d still be struggling through the ordeal of mashing the X button to skip through it all to this day. Ok, maybe I’m exaggerating a little but I want that thought imprinted in your mind, because it certainly feels like an ordeal at times to get through the layers upon layers of dialogue just to unlock song magic. Speaking of which, there aren’t any support song magic to be found in this game, pretty much all of the song magic is used to nuke enemy waves, probably to befit the nature of the encounter system. As such you can only acquire one piece of song magic for completing a character’s genometrics as opposed to acquiring multiple songs within the cosmospheres themselves.

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Some choices require dive points to select them. Dive points are accumulated by winning battles and you will rarely be short on them. Regardless, it is recommended that you pick the cheapest possible choices first as it saves you from having to farm DP to access more events later on but be careful as some choices will eject you from the dive session.

The only other reason to do genometrics aside from experiencing a visual novel within a game is to acquire crystals and this is where the game gets weird. Once you have dived enough into your partner, you are able to perform purification. Now truth be told, I didn’t experience purification myself, mainly because the game makes it pretty obvious as to what I would be getting myself into should I end up experiencing it myself. Let’s put it this way, purification is cringeworthy to the point that I’m not going to go into too much detail on it. Put simply it’s just another excuse for the game to shove more dialogue down your throat as well as being able to equip crystals in an unusual manner. Talk topics are acquired though exploration but considering how simplistic the level design is, they are often very hard to miss.

Now with that aside, lets talk about the characters of the game. Considering the fact that Ar Nosurge prioritizes narrative above everything else, you’d expect to have a strong cast of characters. Well I’d argue that the characters are kind of a mixed bag in this game as while some have interesting personalities and are well-developed, others are just dumb anime stereotypes that get kind of annoying after a while. For starters I want to talk about Delta and Casty. These two characters are completely pointless and did not need to exist at all in the game. Not only do they barely have any connection to the plot but as Delta is pretty bog standard for a protagonist and Casty plays the generic tsundere role for the majority of the game, it’s difficult to see any value in these two characters. While these two characters aren’t exactly terrible, nor are they completely unlikable, they do not really offer much to the plot and are kinda just along for the ride.

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Conversely Ion and many of the NPC’s in the game are pretty well characterized and fit in really well with the plot. If they removed Delta and Casty from the story, literally nothing important would change. I can kind of see what they were trying to do though, they were trying to implement multiple perspectives into the game which I can praise them for trying, however I personally find that this doesn’t really add much to the game other than having to level up two sets of characters separately which can be a bit of a nuisance at times. Had Delta and Casty had a stronger connection to the plot and were more interesting, I probably would have appreciated this design choice more. It’s not as if it’s a major issue that the game tries to offer multiple perspectives and it is a cool idea, It’s just that it felt like a last-minute addition to the game, even if it wasn’t.

I’m not saying that the Delta and Casty added absolutely nothing to the story, there are sections where the two parties encounter one another and you can clearly see a strong contrast between the two, I just think that Delta’s side needed to be fleshed out more for me to care. One thing that I didn’t give Odin Sphere’s story enough credit for was that it had you rooting for pretty much every side. In Ar Nosurge I didn’t really give a shit about Delta’s side because they weren’t fleshed out enough and didn’t really have a big enough stake in what was going on. The thing is though, I get what they were trying to do and in theory it’s brilliant but in practice, not so much. If the main story was all there was, I’d argue that the plot clearly outweighs the characters in terms of value.

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In the genometrics however, things get a little bit more interesting as you are able to see the characters inner thoughts. While this appears to be a clever way to develop the characters, it can feel a bit disjointed from the main story at times, kind of like that feeling after you’re walking out of a cinema after seeing a movie where it’s hard to connect what you have just seen to reality because it is completely different and that’s kind of what genometrics is trying to be, it feels like a sub plot or a re-imagining of the characters rather than natural character development with loose connections to the plot. That isn’t to say that it is a re-imagining of the characters, rather it feels like it is because of how separated it is from the story.

I prefer natural character growth over simulated character growth personally and as such, I cannot ignore this point. Regardless, I get what the developers were trying to do, I really do. They were trying to make a point of illustrating how characters inner thoughts differ from their outer selves. I just don’t think that this is everybody’s cup of tea and as such I feel the need to bring it up. Nevertheless I think that the genometrics really brings out the best of the characters. Funnily enough, I found myself caring more about the NPC’s than the main cast as they really put a lot of effort into designing their genometrics, not to say that the main cast didn’t get the same treatment, I just found myself caring more about the other characters personally and it was a nice surprise to see them getting fleshed out instead of just having the main cast develop.

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It should be noted that while many of the characters are written well enough, It’s hard to take any of the writing seriously when the characters wear such ridiculous outfits. Just looking at these characters makes me wanna puke.

Perhaps the developers had planned to have multiple party members at one point but later scrapped it in favor of focusing on having one front line fighter and one song mage for each side, this is heavily implied by the game’s friend skill ability which allows you to summon friendly NPC’s to attack enemies with a one time super move to deal a lot of damage to enemies which can be handy in a pinch though nothing beats the power of song magic. Speaking of which, there is a harmoburst ability that can be acquired later on which is similar to Valkyrie Profile 2’s break mode in the sense that you can use your abilities freely within a time limit. Unlike break mode however, this attack comes with a super move at the end and you will automatically unleash your song magic afterwards making it the ultimate finishing move. This can only be used once you have fully maxed out your harmo gauge and as such you will need to do a lot of genometrics to unlock it.

I think that if you want to enjoy Ar Nosurge to its fullest, genometrics might as well be compulsory as it the only way to acquire new song magic and increase your harmo gauge. Conversely I never felt the need to equip the crystals I received from genometrics so purification isn’t really all that important and can be completely ignored should you wish to avoid it. As for whether you will enjoy genometrics or not, that depends on how much you care about videogame narrative. Regardless, most of it can be skipped anyways after seeing it for the first time but it must be viewed at least once. Bear that in mind if you aren’t looking to play a dialogue heavy game because this game has no shortage of text boxes to button mash your way through.

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Ar Nosurge takes every opportunity it can to insert more dialogue for players to read through. So much so that players can trigger skit-like conversations seamlessly as they walk around.

Had it been for the gameplay, story and visuals alone, I would have probably given Ar Nosurge a satisfactory rating as despite its shortcomings, there was some fun to be had here but it wasn’t a groundbreaking experience… well it wouldn’t have been had it not been for the game’s incredible soundtrack. The Ar Tonelico games have been known to have amazing soundtracks and Ar Nosurge is no exception. Electronic music makes up the bulk of the game’s soundtrack which is no surprise considering the game’s sci-fi setting but there’s also plenty of other genres on offer too.

I find that many of the tracks were well thought out and befit their roles rather well. The music that plays during the synthesis dialogues is so relaxing to listen to that it makes reading all of the dialogue a lot less of an ordeal, same goes for the music that plays in the genometrics, as there’s some really underappreciated songs that play in there and it makes the experience so much more enjoyable as a result. Generally speaking, Ar Nosurge’s soundtrack builds a very relaxing atmosphere that when combined with the game’s overall design, ultimately makes for a very relaxing experience. I cannot stress just how relaxing this game is to play once you get into it, nothing ever feels too overbearing and the pacing is on point thanks to the game’s unique encounter system.

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Much like in Ar Tonelico, Ar Nosurge features a lot of hymnos music. Hymnos music is essentially vocalized music that is used to represent the song magic being sang by the characters in-game. I usually consider vocalized music in games to be the videogame equivalent of doping. It is a cheap way to get players to be in awe of your game’s soundtrack and these song usually get way more attention than they deserve, at least in my opinion. The Ar Tonelico series is the exception to this as the vocals fit in with very nature of the game due to their representation of song magic, the core of the series’ narrative, making the existence of vocalized music plausible.

The Ar Tonelico series has a pretty good track record when it comes to its vocalized music but does Ar Nosurge manage to live up to the series’ standards? Hell fucking yes! The vocalized music in Ar Nosurge is simply put phenomenal, so much so that it feels a tad awkward when accompanied with the game’s low-budget presentation. What makes Ar Nosurge’s vocalized music stand out from other game is its use of instruments and the overall composition. There’s also quite a lot of different genres too, of course you get your generic Jpop but there’s also some metal tracks in there too as well as some orchestral tracks. It often seems as if the instruments and the vocals are fighting a constant tug of war in each track in an attempt to dominate the listener’s attention. While there are some tracks that focus primarily on the vocals, most of the songs have a good mixture of instrumental and vocals in them.

 

“I cannot stress just how relaxing this game is to play once you get into it, nothing ever feels too overbearing and the pacing is on point thanks to the game’s unique encounter system”

 

One criticism I do have though is that some of the boss theme’s were a little too flamboyant to the point that the final boss theme felt disappointing in comparison, not that the song was bad or anything, rather the music that played in other battles would have fit the final battle a lot better. In any case, you’ll have a tough job finding a game that can match Ar Nosurge’s vocalized music and if you do manage to find one, chances are it’s an Ar Tonelico game.

Ar Nosurge likes to masquerade as a deep and immersive JRPG. Its unique battle system is brimming with inherent complexity and the narrative needlessly complicates itself in order to maintain this facade. While it may not appear to be a simple game at first glance, players will eventually realize that the game isn’t really as deep as it first appears. The game suffers from what appears to be a lack of budget and there are a few annoyances in the game as well as some really awkward moments that envelop you in cringe. That being said, Ar Nosurge manages to make up for all of its shortcomings with its spectacular soundtrack, quirky design choices and its steady pacing.

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Or we could just shoot our way through and avoid all these needless discussions.

I think there’s a lot that can be learned from Ar Nosurge, particularly the way it handles the issue of random encounters. I think more JRPG’s need to employ systems designed to circumvent this issue in order to better optimize pacing. I still enjoyed the game’s combat despite its lack of depth as I found that it synergized with the encounter system well enough to create a really unique and rewarding experience. As for the story, If you’re a fan of visual novels, I think you’ll probably appreciate it quite a lot. Conversely if you’re not a fan of visual novels, you’ll probably have a harder time getting into the story as most of the game’s characterization is found within genometrics. All in all, I think that this game definitely deserves more attention as it has quickly elevated its way to being one of the better JRPGs on the PS3 (exclusive to Sony consoles at least).


Plot/Story: Good

Visuals: Satisfactory

Gameplay: Good

Music: Exceptional

Lifespan: Decent Length

Difficulty: Easy

Would You Replay? No


Overall: Good


Value: £30.00

 

 

Theorycrafting: Why Systematic Engagement Is So Important

A while back I did a video talking about the many methods developers use to engage players.

Looking back at that video, I realized that I wasn’t really delivering valuable information, nor did I explain anything in enough detail as the topic was far too broad to be discussed in a single video.

Now why start with systematic engagement? Well it’s a pretty common method used to engage players in the short term. Systematic engagement involves incentivising players to adjust their behavior in order for them to become more invested in the experience, thus becoming engaged.

Now you may be confused by what this means and for that reason, I shall give some examples. One of the more notable examples of systematic engagement is Devil May Cry’s style system. The style system is a distinctive feature of the Devil May Cry series and is often praised by its fans for making the gameplay experience more enjoyable. The question is, what makes the style system so important?

Anyone who plays the Devil May Cry games for the first time will quickly realize just how relentlessly difficult the games can be and at times it can be tempting for players to button mash out of panic. The style system was designed to circumvent this issue as players who button mash are not enjoying the game to its fullest, therefore they are more likely to become disengaged.

By adding a style rank as an incentive, players will be more likely to experiment with different moves in order for them to finally achieve that S rank that they’ve been working towards. Once players finally manage to reach the highest style rating, they are rewarded with a large quantity of red orbs which can be used to purchase new moves and upgrades to their character.

Another example of systematic engagement can be found in Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria. In Valkyrie Profile 2, battles require that players only need to defeat the leader to end the fight. The purpose of this is to encourage players to end battles quickly, thus saving the players time instead of forcing them to kill each enemy individually. The other enemies are merely an obstacle, which must be traversed in order for the player to reach and successfully defeat the leader.

Now this is fine and all but where’s the incentive? Why shouldn’t I kill all the other enemies first? On the right hand side of the screen there is a gauge consisting of 5 orbs. This is actually a timer which challenges players to end a battle as quickly as possible, if a battle is won with all 5 orbs lit up on the screen, the player will execute a direct assault which rewards them with a massive chunk of experience as well as occasionally dropping an extra item.

On top of all this, players are able to accumulate magic crystals by attacking enemies who are airborne, the purpose of this is to encourage players to experiment with combos in order for them to juggle enemies and acquire more magic crystals. Magic Crystals not only reward players with bonus experience but they are also used as a form of currency that players can spend to transport sealstones to other dungeons which allows their bonuses and penalties to be used anywhere. This can drastically impact gameplay and as such it is important to collect as many magic crystals as you can to give you the edge in battles, by using those sealstones to your advantage.

The point is that by giving players another factor to be aware of, you have essentially bolstered their level of engagement. Valkyrie Profile 2 not only saves the player’s time, but it also encourages players to learn the mechanics to get the most out of it. This is how Valkyrie Profile 2 manages to maintain the player’s engagement and it would not be possible without these two systems, the same goes for the style system in Devil May Cry, it isn’t just a random gimmick, it’s an important facet of the game that keeps the game from getting stale and when a game becomes stale, players become disengaged, just like how wasting the player’s time can also disengage them.

Now In my engagement video, I used the loot system from Diablo as an example of systematic engagement and you’re probably wondering why it is an essential facet of the game. The purpose of the rarity system is to encourage players to explore in order to locate unique enemies and treasures, doing so will reward players with special loot with unique parameters that distinguishes itself from standard loot, giving players bonuses to make their character stronger. This also encourages players to replay the game in order to collect even more loot, which gives an extra layer of engagement for people who enjoy growth.

Before I wrap up this video, I want to talk about the difference between psychological and systematic engagement. Psychological engagement is manipulating players into tedious layers of compulsive activity and compulsive activity in games is never fun. Many people have argued that level grinding in videogames is a tedious process and this is where the theorycrafting part of this video comes in.

What systematic engagement does is remove the monotony of games by building systems to distract players from this monotony and by doing so, you manage to make tedious tasks such as grinding more fun for players to partake in. As such my argument to Keith Burgun’s theory that grinding is bad game design is that systematic engagement exists and all game developers need to realize this.

The good news is that many game developers realize this, the bad news is that there is very little in terms of creativity these days when it comes to developing these systems as developers tend to re-use old systems. I personally would prefer if developers experimented with other methods of systematic engagement as old methods usually tend to become worn out over time. Thus my message to game developers is to come up with something new.

Castlevania: Curse Of Darkness Review

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Castlevania is one of Konami’s most popular franchises and for the longest time, I had never actually played any of them. My first Castlevania was actually the original NES game which I picked up on the Wii Virtual console. I found it to be extremely difficult and never got far into it, however I later played Super Castlevania 4 and despite struggling through some really tough sections, I eventually managed to beat it and while the game initially felt like a frustrating ordeal, by the end it actually grew on me.

Ever since finishing Super Castlevania 4, I suddenly got the urge to play other games in the series but I didn’t know where to start. One Castlevania game that caught my eye in particular was Castlevania: Curse Of Darkness, a 3D Beat Em Up game set in the Castlevania universe with the ability to summon demons to fight for you, as tempted as I was to pick the game up, I ended up playing Symphony Of The Night instead due to the fact that it was considered the series’ magnum opus and that Castlevania Curse Of Darkness received pretty mixed reviews.

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While Symphony Of The Night didn’t disappoint me in the slightest, when I finally played Curse Of Darkness, I realized that I had picked the wrong game. I mean don’t get me wrong, Symphony Of The Night is a wonderful game and definitely lives up to the hype but Curse Of Darkness was just begging for me to play it simply because it caters specifically to my tastes for better or worse.

Imagine what would happen if Chaos Legion, Castlevania Symphony Of The Night and Shin Megami Tensei Devil Summoner combined, that’s exactly what Castlevania Curse Of Darkness is, it’s a 3D beat em up, much like Chaos Legion in which you hack n slash enemies and summon demons to assist you but at the same time your demons can evolve and level up much like in Shin Megami Tensei Devil Summoner.

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The level design appears to be reminiscent to that of Castlevania Symphony Of The Night in the sense that it is tight yet somewhat open-ended. However I would argue that Symphony Of The Night provided more incentive to explore and there was a lot more freedom in terms of where you were allowed to go once you acquired the required abilities to traverse certain areas. That’s not to say that Castlevania Curse Of Darkness removes the aspect of backtracking to acquire new items, rather the progression in general feels a lot more linear.

I would argue however that the game more than makes up for this with its combat which is surprisingly flexible for a Castlevania game. Make no mistake, Castlevania Curse Of Darkness is not a metroidvania at its core, it is a 3D beat em up so if you are expecting a 3D version of Symphony Of The Night then you may be disappointed. Personally I find this to be a good thing as I enjoy beat em ups.

The combat itself feels like a combination between Chaos Legion and Dynasty Warriors, you have your basic attack string which can be cancelled into a finishing move by using the circle button. Sounds simple doesn’t it? Well it would have been if it wasn’t for the Innocent Devils. By pressing triangle, you are able to command your Innocent Devil to perform a special ability… sound familiar? Yep it’s just like in Chaos Legion except this time, your summoned companion has several abilities to choose from, allowing you to mix things up. By pressing left and right on the d-pad, you can scroll between each ability in the heat of combat meaning that you don’t have to go into the menu to change abilities which allows for more flexibility in the combat.

Much like Chaos Legion however, Castlevania Curse Of Darkness doesn’t focus on building combos like Devil May Cry, rather the combat is designed more similarly to games that have you fighting a larger quantity of enemies such like Drakengard and Dynasty Warriors. Unlike those games however, Castlevania Curse Of Darkness doesn’t throw massive groups of enemies at you. Despite this, Castlevania Curse Of Darkness manages to distinguish itself from other 3D beat em ups of its kind as it puts more emphasis on enemy behavior patterns rather than swarming you with enemies, making you think more carefully how you approach each enemy. However, due to the quantity of enemies being considerably lower than other games of its kind, this can make a lot of the game’s arenas feel a bit empty at times as they can be pretty long and wide.

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Speaking of the arenas feeling huge and empty, the game’s protagonist, Hector moves considerably slower than other characters in the series and this is made even more apparent when you are trying to run from one room to the next as it can take a while to get from A to B which can be a bit irritating at times. I often find myself dodging to get to each area as it is faster than jogging but if you choose to do so, be careful if you have the double dodge ability switched on because if you dodge too quickly, Hector will have a long recovery period so you will have to time your dodges as you move between areas. Despite this, I highly recommend turning on the double dodge ability as it allows you to chain dodges faster, thus allowing you to move faster. Just be careful when you use it in battle as dodging too quickly can leave you vulnerable due to the recovery period.

Thankfully the dodge ability is accompanied with a guard ability and they both share the same button which means that even if you fail the dodge, the guard can still save you so long as the dodge animation has ended. Be careful though as enemies can break your guard if you guard for too long so it’s important to keep on the move in order to avoid getting hit. Once you unlock the perfect guard skill, you can time your guard perfectly in order to stagger the enemy, leaving them vulnerable to your combo’s so it’s a good idea to keep that in mind when guarding.

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I really like how the game offers plenty of options for defensive play as not only is guarding and dodging flexible but there are also skills your innocent devils can use to keep you safe from enemies and deal damage simultaneously. Curse Of Darkness may appear to be shallow on the aggressive side at first but once you unlock new Innocent devils and acquire new weapons, it really opens up. There are lots of different ways to play this game which is what ultimately makes Curse Of Darkness’ gameplay so appealing to me.

Aside from combat, Curse Of Darkness has a lot of RPG elements, so much so that it could arguably be considered an action RPG. Each enemy you slay will give experience to both Hector and your Innocent Devil companion. Bear in mind that in order to gain experience, the Innocent devil has to be summoned. Therefore it is often encouraged to switch things up every now and again to spread the experience points between each of them. On top of all that you may also acquire evolution crystals from enemies, these crystals can be collected by Hector to evolve the Innocent Devil that is currently summoned.

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Each Innocent Devil has its own evolution paths and in order to get the evolution you want, you will have to use a specific weapon. It’s often encouraged to experiment with different weapons each time you get a new Innocent Devil. If you screw up then don’t worry as your innocent devil can produce devil shards which give birth to new innocent devils so you can try new paths with them. In addition, these new Innocent Devils will carry over the stats of your current Innocent Devil, making them stronger in the long run.

Weapons and armor are crafted by obtaining materials dropped by enemies and combining them in the combine menu. You can also steal materials off of enemies by pressing the circle button on them when the lock on cursor is purple but it can be quite difficult to do so against some enemies as to trigger the steal option, there are certain conditions that must be met with each enemy and some steal conditions are absolutely ludicrous. Stealing is hands down the most challenging aspect of Curse Of Darkness and can be quite frustrating at times, especially against bosses as you only have one chance to steal from them outside of the boss rush mode which is a pain.

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In addition to stealing and killing enemies, certain ingredients can be found in secret areas which usually require the abilities of certain Innocent Devils to access. This is similar to the form changing in Castlevania Symphony Of The Night in the sense that they’re used to traverse areas of the map that were otherwise inaccessible except this time, each Innocent Devil has its own abilities and some Innocent Devils may not have the abilities you need, requiring you to incubate another devil shard to pick another evolution path in order to acquire the abilities that are needed.

This can be a tad annoying to some and a bit cryptic but it’s only necessary for those looking to get 100% map completion as many of the items can be obtained through stealing anyways, thus diminishing the value of finding secret areas which may disappoint fans of Symphony Of The Night. On the bright side, it encourages players to experiment with different Innocent Devils and make use of the devil shards.

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Aside from devil forging, weapons play a major part in combat as each weapon  type has its own set of combos and finishers. In addition, some weapon types have a one-handed and two-handed variation which perform very differently. For example, one handed swords are handy against mermen as they have the tendency to dodge a lot and are often attack in groups. Since one handed swords have long attack strings, reasonable AOE potential and high attack speed, they are a great weapon to use against them. A two handed axe on the other hand would have trouble hitting them as it is a lot easier for them to dodge a slower weapon despite its reach.

To get the most out of Castlevania Curse Of Darkness, you really need to be experimental and not stick to a favored playstyle. On surface, the combat may not appear to be very flexible but that’s because in order to change weapons and innocent devils, you have to use the menu and since changing weapons and innocent devils is important, you will spend a lot of time going in and out of the menu screen to do so.

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Curse Of Darkness isn’t the first Castlevania game to have this issue as Symphony Of The Night also suffered from this problem. While this could be problematic for people who want to play a more seamless 3D beat em up, I personally don’t have an issue with it as the menu is paused and not in real time. This means that I don’t have to consider time spent navigating the menu as a resource cost. I’d also like to point out that Curse Of Darkness doesn’t require you to equip items in order to use them like in Symphony Of The Night so its menu navigation isn’t half as irritating as the equip menu isn’t as cluttered.

So Curse Of Darkness is not only a solid 3D beat em up but it also has some pretty deep character management to the extent that it could even be considered an action RPG. Despite how common it is to see RPG elements these days, I’d argue that Curse Of Darkness has more depth in its RPG elements than most beat em ups and I personally consider this to be one of the game’s biggest strong points as the ability to level up and evolve your Innocent Devils is rewarding in itself as there are many different possible evolution forms for you to discover which gives more of an incentive to play the game.

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I personally think that this winning formula is ultimately what makes Curse Of Darkness stand out from other 3D beat em ups. If you’re looking for a game that is similar to Drakengard, Chaos Legion, Shin Megami Tensei Devil Summoner or even Kingdom Hearts 2 then you’ve found the right game because all of these games have one thing in common, they are all action games in which you primarily control a single character and they each have some kind of leveling system to give players a feeling of progression. This is what Castlevania Curse Of Darkness is all about and it’s the best of the bunch in my opinion as it arguably has the perfect mixture of action and RPG elements within the framework of a 3D beat em up.

That’s not to say that the game isn’t without its flaws, while the need to constantly access the menu mid battle and the more streamlined level design could be considered flaws, they can easily be overlooked. What cannot be overlooked however is the visuals which are pretty mediocre for a 2005 game. It doesn’t help that a lot of the locations in the game look as if they were copy/pasted, particularly in the final area. To the game’s credit, there are some unique locations at certain points which help mix things up but the majority of the game has you exploring what looks to be a copy/paste of a previous room.

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If it wasn’t for the in-game map, navigation in Curse Of Darkness would be an absolute nightmare as nearly everywhere you go looks the same. It doesn’t help that the arenas are big an empty as it can take ages to reach an area that looks different due to Hector’s slow movement speed. As such, the value of exploration in Curse Of Darkness is crippled because if all the rooms look the same, what’s the point in wanting to see what is through the next door? It’s just going to be another copy/pasted arena with enemies to kill.

On the plus side, like in most Castlevania games, the music is on point. Despite its dark gothic setting, many of the tracks are surprisingly upbeat which can feel a bit jarring at times but the same can be said for most Castlevania games. The music succeeds where the visuals fail, some of the tracks help build a strong ambiance while others play to the game’s strengths by being more dynamic. As such, there’s a nice variety of tracks on offer.

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Despite this however, due to the game’s lackluster visuals, any attempt for the game’s soundtrack to build a strong ambiance falls flat. So while many of the tracks that build a strong ambiance are nice to listen to, they tend to blend in with the visuals poorly. Nevertheless, I really enjoyed Curse Of Darkness’ soundtrack and I highly recommend listening to it outside the game to better appreciate it. The music is arguably the most fun part of backtracking to previous areas if you ask me.

Aside from the visuals, the only other flaw that could be considered a major flaw is the fact that the Innocent Devils themselves aren’t exactly balanced as some abilities are better than others, therefore you may end up using the same abilities over and over again simply because they are better than the rest. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of useful abilities in this game but some of them just aren’t as good as others and some of them are a bit too good to the point that they could be considered overpowered.

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I personally think that this flaw is justified due to the fact that there are many different Innocent Devils and they each come with their own abilities, it would be difficult to balance them all. With that said, Chaos Legion also suffered from balancing issues and I can safely say that Curse Of Darkness suffers from them a lot less than Chaos Legion despite the fact that Chaos Legion only has 7 legions to manage with only 1 assist ability for each.

As for the story, there isn’t really too much to say really. The story revolves around the characters Hector and Issac primarily who appear to have some sort of rivalry. Hector himself appears to be a dignified yet somewhat paranoid character who is prepared to fight anyone who stands in his way in order to avenge the death of his former lover by defeating Issac, a flamboyant servant of Dracula who scorns Hector for making a mockery out of him by abandoning his service to Dracula.

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While the story does its job, it doesn’t really take center stage. One thing I can comment on however is the voice cast. Crispin Freeman and Liam’ O’Brien were the perfect roles for their respective characters, Liam especially since he has the tendency to voice a lot of flamboyant characters, particularly those who are aristocratic or insane. Crispin Freeman tends to play the dignified role well in pretty much every game he’s been in which makes him very fitting for Hector. I think the voice acting of these two characters is what makes the story as while the writing itself isn’t anything special, the delivery is perfect in every way.

While it might not be everybody’s cup of tea, Castlevania Curse Of Darkness does its best to cater to its crowd. If you’re a fan of 3D beat em ups then I can definitely recommend this game to you, I can also recommend this game to fans of RPGs in general as the Innocent Devils add a lot of growth and personalization to the game that many RPG fans will enjoy. Ultimately I’d argue that Castlevania Curse Of Darkness is a solid game as it manages to hold its own against other 3D beat em ups well enough to be considered a gem on the PS2.

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Plot/Story: Mediocre

Visuals: Mediocre

Music: Great

Gameplay: Great

Lifespan: Decent Length

Difficulty: Easy

Would You Replay? Yes


Overall: Great


Value: £40.00

 

Games I couldn’t Finish: Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

Here’s a new video idea I came up with, glad I could finally get all of this off my chest.

The whole concept of leveling up could be removed from Witcher 3 and it wouldn’t change a thing, heck it would actually make the game better and more believable as Geralt has gone through 2 other games and countless books prior to this, he should be max level already theoretically speaking so he would have no problem dealing with powerful giants at this point. Why have a leveling system in a game where you play as an experienced Witcher? Instead why not make all the enemies in this game scale to Geralt’s level (in which case have no levels at all, instead just make enemies as tough as the difficulty level)? Not only would it give players a chance to fight these tough creatures early on but it would also make the game feel less linear because certain quests just aren’t doable at low levels, you have to do the low level quests before the high level quests meaning you have to do the quests in a somewhat linear order kinda. Sure you do have options but there are enough of them. If you fight an enemy that has a skull near its level, it’s considered to be “certain death” by the game.

Seriously though If they worked on the combat, cut out everything that makes this game an RPG, it might have actually been a better game. As an RPG though… nope.

Regardless of whether you agree or disagree, I hope you can take something from this video.

 

Edit: Looking back I’d say that what I said at 28:27 was wrong, there is a lock on in that game but the staff has such long reach that you can hit multiple enemies with ease so I mistook that for not having a lock on. In Witcher 3 it’s a lot harder to deal with multiple enemies. I would also like to add that The Technomancer has a stun ability that can help with crowd control without having to constantly dodge everywhere, should have mentioned that really but I was doing this off the cuff so I was saying what was currently in my head without thinking.

Theorycrafting: Humor is serious business – The Value Of Humor In Videogame Narrative

Now I have always believed that narrative is not a vital component in videogames but for some people, narrative can be the driving force of a game. I would argue however that games are not the best platform to deliver a narrative experience and that to properly execute a meaningful story in a videogame, it is highly recommended that its serious themes are accompanied with comic relief.

People play videogames to be rewarded and while a serious narrative can be engaging to some, it can become quite overbearing for others to the point that it can become tedious. Unlike movies, videogames are built around not only their narrative but also the gameplay. As such the narrative often takes a backseat in most cases. However it is important to remember that the narrative serves as a rewarding element and if you choose to cater to players desiring this rewarding element, you need to understand the value of humor because players do not play videogames for the narrative, the narrative acts as a reward to the player.

As such the narrative needs to be concise, it needs to be brief but most importantly, it needs to be enjoyable. If a game’s narrative focuses too much on its serious themes, the story can quickly become convoluted, this is because narrative that is too serious will often fail to grab the attention of readers due to the fact that there is no shift in tone, making the story feel repetitive. Because of this, impatient readers will be unable to take in all the information, thus missing out important details which leads to them becoming lost in the narrative and this leads to them becoming bored very quickly.

There is a fine line between writing for a videogame and writing a book. Both require a completely different approach. As books are written with the intent of connecting readers to an imaginary world, it is important to go into as much detail as possible to describe each scenario in order to paint a clear picture in the minds of the reader.

In most cases, it is also important for a book to remain consistent in its theme as a believable world is a lot easier to connect with. For this reason, the inclusion of humor in some cases would be out of the question because humor is not the primary focus of the narrative nor is it a critical component of the narrative. A book that revolves around comedy specifically would serve a completely different purpose however, such books do not focus on connectivity, rather they focus on amusing the reader, as such these books would require a completely different approach entirely, much like a different style of game would.

One thing that both books and movies have in common is that their stories are a strictly linear experience where nothing can be hidden from the reader, as such there aren’t as many methods to conveying a story in books and graphic novels as there are in videogames. I would argue however that this limitation is what brings the best out of books as in order for them to stand out, they need to be well written or else they will fade into obscurity.

Since games are illustrated and have interactive elements that allow players to have more control over their experience, they do not need to rely on descriptive writing and often encourage players to discover the story for themselves through interaction, hence why talking to non playable characters in towns has become a commodity in RPG’s. This means that a varied style of narrative is plausible and in most cases critical as there is a lot more room for content. However videogames have another role to fill, engaging the player. To do this requires a strong, varied narrative that can be picked up quickly without players having to invest too much time into it beforehand.

The reason why many gamers consider character development to be critical to providing a strong narrative is simply due to the fact that videogame narrative needs to play out at a much faster pace than that of a book. While I have always disputed the importance of character development in videogame stories, I can easily argue that character development isn’t as important in books, in fact you could also argue that it’s not even needed.

The difference between reading a book and reading text off a screen might not seem like much on the surface but when you consider the people consuming the medium in which the text is written for, you will realize that they are both completely different. Books attract a fairly niché audience, usually introverted people looking to connect themselves to a world where they can take a backseat. Videogames on the other hand attract all kinds of different people, not all are patient enough to play through a long, detailed narrative and as such, videogame narrative should be catered with these people in mind as focusing on a niche would actually be a bad idea. Why is this? Because you aren’t writing a book, you’re making a game and games are meant to be played. The gameplay is a big factor and cannot be ignored, by catering your narrative to a wide audience, you can instead focus your gameplay on a specific niche. See what I’m getting at?

This is where my theory comes in. While it is not wrong for games to be serious or comical, too much of it can make for a very stale narrative. Unlike books where there is room for detail so that players can connect themselves to the story easier, in videogames there is not. This is because narrative is broken into chunks that are separated by the gameplay. These chunks serve as a reward for the player, the carrot on the stick you could say. As such the reward needs to be valuable. In a book, you aren’t reading to be rewarded and the narrative is not broken up, so you keep reading on.

Because of this games need to break up each individual chunk of narrative in a way that prevents it from getting stale so that players want to see more. Humor is a great way to spice things up and keep things varied so that the player can easily become engaged in the narrative. In fact I would argue that Humor is often critical in videogame storytelling, at least to some degree.

While some games get away without having much humor such as Warcraft 3, they still have the occasional quirky moment that keeps players on their toes when consuming the narrative.

Other games such as Grandia 2 have a great balance of both humor and serious moments that make for a very memorable experience.

While I won’t deny that Warcraft 3 has a far better story than Grandia 2, I would argue that as a game, Grandia 2’s narrative is far more complimentary than that of Warcraft 3’s and I’m not knocking Warcraft 3’s narrative, rather I am comparing the two in terms of videogame storytelling. I can’t imagine Grandia 2 ever getting a series of books or a movie like the Warcraft series has but as a game, the narrative does its job really well. In fact I would argue that Grandia 2 is the greatest example of a strong videogame narrative. It’s very easy to get into and the characters are easy to learn and identify, whereas in Warcraft 3, the characters require a time investment for the player to get to know and appreciate them, much like in a book.

This is where Grandia 2 succeeds where Warcraft 3 fails. I absolutely adore the Warcraft series’ storytelling as I love reading the books and watching the cutscenes so I won’t deny that its narrative is a valuable experience. However I would argue that Grandia 2’s cutscenes reward players with more value than the cutscenes of Warcraft 3. Understanding this is vital when writing a videogame narrative.

Now that you understand the differences, what about humor? How does humor make Grandia 2 stand out so well? That’s simple, the humor brings out the character’s personality. When the player first meets Ryudo, the game makes it very clear as to what type of character the player is going to be experiencing through its use of humor. Ryudo is a gruff mercenary with one hell of a bad attitude, you can tell that this is the case through his snarky one-liners which are not only humorous to read but they characterize Ryudo really well.

Ryudo is a very serious, no-nonsense type of character and doesn’t take kindly to other people holding him back, he is very principle driven and has expectations of other people requiring them to live by his principles in order for them to earn his approval. The game doesn’t tell you this however, instead you find out through the many implications found within his witty comebacks. By reading into Ryudo’s humorous statements, you can easily define his character. In fact you could argue that Ryudo is written so well that he doesn’t need any character development whatsoever, he could have remained the same type of character for the entire game and still be entertaining.

Of course Ryudo does change over the course of the game which is fine and all but I’m making a point here. Character development is not the important thing, what is important is writing characters in a subtle manner so the player does not have to waste time listening to the writer’s explanation of the character, this is basic common sense in all kinds of writing but the way Ryudo is written through humor really makes him stand out as a character, it not only gives him personality but it also gives the player a few laughs. This kills two birds with one stone which is very important when writing a narrative in a videogame.

My advice would be to read into who the character is and what the character is most likely to come into conflict with, now bend the conflict in a way that is designed to be humorous and there you have it. The beauty of having lots of different personalities is that they clash and when they do they can be expressed in all kinds of different ways but humor is an expression a lot of games seem to undervalue. I believe it is a very valuable form of expression that needs to be explored more.

However I want to talk about another problem. Games which are humorous for the sake of being humorous. Now I know we all have different tastes in humor here but games which try too hard to be funny just aren’t engaging to me. A lot of people see the Devil May Cry series as being a series built on humorous storytelling, they would be wrong.

Dante is a very serious character to the point that he can be made into a humorous character. The point is that the funniest characters are typically the more serious ones and humorous narrative requires a serious space to have any lasting appeal. On the surface, Grandia 2 is nothing more than a giant cheeseball but Grandia 2 actually has a very serious narrative with a lot of very serious themes and a strong message that it is trying to deliver to the player. Rather than coating it in melodrama however, the game builds a bright, colourful and comical atmosphere to accompany these moments which creates a strong contrast that ultimately brings a very varied and engaging narrative that can easily be picked up on by just about anyone. It is for this reason that I strongly recommend Grandia 2 to just about anyone who enjoys JRPG’s.

However, games such as Disgaea and Borderlands fail to deliver to me the same experience, despite being “humorous”. As I was unable to take the game seriously I was also unable to take the humor seriously. This was the problem with these games for me, it’s just not engaging enough for me to even invest my time into the humor. These games feel extremely hollow and it is because of this that they fail to engage me. I pray that developers in the future can understand the value of humor and seriousness in a videogame’s narrative and how they can be blended together to make for a highly engaging experience for the player so that perhaps one day we can experience another game that can match the experience of Grandia 2.

Chaos Legion Review

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Chaos Legion is a difficult game to recommend. It has its ups and downs but its flaws stick out like a sore thumb. When I first played Chaos Legion I didn’t know what to expect. I picked it up dirt cheap in a bargain bin. The premise sounded interesting so I gave it a shot.

Chaos Legion is without a doubt an unforgettable experience but it’s an experience which may or may not leave a sour taste in your mouth. Put simply, Chaos Legion could easily be mistaken as being a campy 3D beat-em-up in the same vein as Devil May Cry with an emphasis on summoning minions to assist you in battle which isn’t completely far from the truth. The problem is that unlike the Devil May Cry games, Chaos Legion tries to take itself a bit too seriously.

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This wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t for the ridiculous yet somewhat confusing storyline. It’s difficult to put it into words to be honest but the problems lie in a multitude of issues. For starters, the characters are just bad… I mean bad. The main character is what would happen if Dante from Devil May Cry and Squall Leonheart from Final Fantasy VIII had an offspring… now that’s a scary thought.

Sieg Wahrheit is about as cheerful as an onion, so much so that clowns would burst into tears at the very sight of him. He’s the sort of guy you would find sat on his own in a bar drinking himself into a stupor. This doesn’t stop him from kicking some serious ass though. Not only is Sieg a capable sword fighter but he is also able to summon powerful legions to do his bidding. When confronted by a formidable adversary, Sieg combs his hair back as he sends the god of death to do what it does best… bring death!

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The story as a whole is basically a massive dollop of edge to the point of absurdity. It doesn’t help that the main villain is hilariously identical to Sephiroth from Final Fantasy VII, so much so that you even see a flashback of him standing in front of a fiery background much like Sephiroth did in Final Fantasy VII during the Nibelheim scene. There are other little quirks to the story such as poorly delivered voice acting and the odd choice of music that plays during the ending credits. The story is bad, really bad and you are going to either love it or hate it for being bad. Nevertheless, Chaos Legion makes up for this with its sheer kickassery in the gameplay department.

Chaos Legion is not without its flaws though. While I do not dispute the fact that this game is kick ass, the options available to you at the start are pitiful to say the least. You really are forced to rely on your legions a lot at the start of the game since Sieg starts out with a basic 4 hit combo and 2 aerials. Sieg also comes with what is quite possibly the most badass lock on system ever which shoots red lightning at an enemy because why the fuck not?

Over time however, Sieg is capable of learning an assortment of new abilities which can make him a lot more versatile in combat and this allows you to become very powerful. Doing so however requires you to level up your legions. Every single hit/smash rewards you with XP and soul. Soul is the power source used to summon and maintain legions, XP is used to level up legions in 3 categories:  “Force”, “Assist” and “Enchant”.

Force is pretty much the standard level of your legion. It increases the number of legions you can summon at once and the more legions you have, the more damage they will deal. This can be handy when fighting certain enemies who are immune to Sieg’s attacks which you will find over the course of the game. The good thing about summons is that they cost nothing to use and you will only lose soul if they get hit so you will probably be using this a lot.

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By combining the legion’s powers with Sieg’s you can perform a special ability known as an assist. These abilities vary depending on the legion Sieg is equipped with and while some abilities are arguably more useful than others, they all come in handy in a pinch. Using them will lower the health soul of your legion minions which can leave them very vulnerable when summoned. Each assist has its own soul cost and there is a cap on how many assists you can accumulate (though this can be increased via certain stat items you can acquire). There is essentially a risk reward system with both force and assist abilities making it very important to carefully manage your usage of them.

Enchants are augments for Sieg, they do not cost anything to use and are permanent upgrades. This allows Sieg to broaden his move pool and also offers several permanent stat boosts. These upgrades are tied to the respective legion however and as such you will need to equip that legion in order to make use of these abilities so it is important to keep in mind what legion does and what abilities it has before you equip them. Once you hit level 4, these stat boosts are directly linked to Sieg so you no longer have to use that legion. This requires a lot of level grinding though.

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Leveling up your legions is the key to getting the most out of this game, many vital gameplay elements are contained within each legion and you are only able to use two legions at a time. This can feel limiting considering the fact that there are certain areas that are blocked off and can only be accessed with a certain legion’s ability which encourages player’s to backtrack to previous levels to collect hidden items. The problem with this is that the game doesn’t allow you to backtrack until you have the map selector which is an item you obtain for beating one of the game’s later levels.

In theory you could argue that they did this to prevent players from grinding experience points but this just isn’t the case. If you die in a level, you are given the option to retain a portion of your total experience points so you can technically death crawl your way through this game if you need to (you can also do this via the menu). Speaking of death crawling, this game can be ferociously hard even on easy difficulty. Enemies in later levels can deal a considerable amount of damage and have a ton of health, plus the game likes to throw a ton of enemies at you at once which can be overwhelming.

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If you’ve played games like Devil May Cry before, you will likely be accustomed to the level of difficulty Chaos Legion brings to the table but if you aren’t you are probably going to have a hard time getting through the first few levels. As your legions grow stronger and learn more abilities, the game starts to open up a little as you are given more options at your disposal which can make the game feel a little less limiting and more enjoyable. Put simply this game requires a lot of patience, especially when trudging through the first few levels with just your basic attack string.

The controls are kinda weird at first and require a bit of practice to get used to but they offer a surprising amount of flexibility. X is to jump, square is to attack and triangle is to use your legion assist. To summon legions you press the L1 button, To swap legions you use the L2 button and R2 button changes Legion behavior. The R1 button locks the camera in the direction Sieg is facing as well as allowing Sieg to sidestep and perform dodge rolls and circle is used to lock on to the enemy (the one that shoots a bolt of lightning at the enemy). This can also be used to direct legions to attack specific targets.

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Sadly despite how awesome it looks, the lock on function doesn’t automatically lock the camera towards the target and instead requires you to hold down the R1 button in order to lock the camera onto a locked on enemy. This can be quite nuisance as holding the R1 button down completely changes your movement leaving you unable to jump. The issue with this is that it’s not easy to utilize the dodge function as it requires precise timing to pull them off so in many cases it is easier to jump to avoid attacks as a poorly timed dodge leaves you wide open as you can’t chain them unlike in Devil May Cry 2 and trickster in Devil May Cry 3 which can feel crippling especially when there are a lot of enemies around which there will be.

I’d have preferred it if the lock on would automatically focus the camera but still allow you to jump around and by using R1 to change camera you could cancel your lock on. The problem with this is that when you want your legions to focus on a specific target, the only way to do so is to use the lock on. I get why the developers did this as they wanted to give players better control over the legions but it just goes to show how poorly the legions are integrated into the gameplay and in all honesty I think this is where the biggest issue with Chaos Legion lies. The problem is that summoning the legions kinda detaches Sieg from the gameplay as his movement speed is severely limited making him almost completely useless in combat. This is a shame because if they removed the legions completely and instead focused on enhancing the rest of the combat, this could have been serious competition for Dynasty Warriors.

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The right analog stick camera can be hard to maneuver at times which can be problematic as due to the amount of enemies on screen it’s important to keep an eye on your surroundings at all times. Fortunately there is a handy mini-map which shows the location of all the enemies around you. It is often recommended to use the R1 button to lock the camera in the direction Sieg is facing instead. Sadly it requires to hold the button down for a short time in order to fully fix the camera which can be quite irritating at times but it still beats using the right analog stick which is something.

Awareness plays a big part in Chaos Legion’s gameplay as unlike Devil May Cry 1 and 2, you are going to be swarmed by a ton of enemies. In a way you could argue that Chaos Legion has more in common with games like Drakengard and Dynasty Warriors than it does with Devil May Cry. If you are accustomed with those type of games you’ll feel right at home with Chaos Legion.

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As you can see, Chaos Legion has a lot of issues in both the gameplay and the story department, as such it’s easy to see how people can be turned off by this game and pass it off as a mediocre hack & slash game as it has so many odd gameplay elements and mechanics that are poorly executed. However there is no doubting that Chaos Legion is pretty unique for a 3D beat-em-up. Legions play a significant role in this game and it is important to learn and master them all to get the most satisfaction out of it. Sadly some legions are better than others and it’s easy for players to stick with the same ones which can lead to limiting the player’s gameplay experience, especially since only 2 legions at a time can be equipped and many of the underappreciated ones have some interesting abilities.

Chaos Legion appears to be one of those games that is awesome in concept but terrible in its execution. The question is, is there still fun to be had in this game? The answer is definitely yes… but you need patience. Leveling up legions does more than just make the player stronger, it opens up more gameplay elements that keep the gameplay fresh and ultimately more accessible. I found that when I managed to unlock the ability to quick dodge and counter attack, I was having a lot more fun with the game. Sadly this is all too little too late and I wish that the earlier portions of this game could be as fun as this. I really wish I could recommend Chaos Legion for putting a new spin on the beat-em-up genre but I just cannot ignore its many flaws.

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The problem lies with the lack of flexibility in the game’s early stages as well as the really awkward gameplay elements. I think with a bit more time and thought, this game could have been so much better. I do see the possibility for a remaster of this game with improved combat mechanics and controls but since this is a Capcom game I won’t hold my breath. Still if you can get past the issues there is some fun to be had here as there are lots of really awesome powers available to you and Chaos Legion presents things in such a unique fashion that the gameplay is instantly likable. It’s one of those games that really makes you feel awesome playing it.

Speaking of awesome, the game’s soundtrack really amplifies this. From the first level all the way to the last you are presented with an epic soundtrack filled with metal and epic choir chants that really keeps the adrenaline pumping in a fashion that befits the setting of Chaos Legion rather well. To make things even better, the music changes when you summon your legions which can make things even more epic. Even the intermission screen has some great music that pumps you up for the next level.

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Visuals on the other hand are a mixed bag. While the character models are nice, the environments are bland and many of the early levels look the same. You can clearly tell that they designed the levels knowing that there were going to be tonnes of enemies littered around and so many of the areas are somewhat open and empty. There is a bit of verticality though which makes the levels a bit more interesting but don’t expect the levels to be as good-looking as Painkiller.

All in all I think there is a lot we can learn from Chaos Legion. A game that does many things right but way too many things wrong. It’s a pit filled to the brim of both mechanical and a conceptual ideas that never got to truly flourish. On top of all that it has a great soundtrack and some really cool abilities to mess around with. Would I recommend this game? That’s a good question. Personally I would recommend this game solely to aficionado’s of 3D beat em up/hack n slash games as this is yet another action game by the makers of Devil May Cry so if you enjoy these types of games and want to experience something a little different, I’d say it is worth a shot.

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As for everybody else, you’re probably better off just playing Devil May Cry 3 instead as unlike Chaos Legion it has aged rather well and still holds up as one of the best games in its genre. Though it saddens me that I have had to be so negative about a game I really like I believe it is important to paint an accurate picture for you all. Who knows? Perhaps the game’s unique ideas and awesome soundtrack might be enough to keep you engaged like it did me or it would be yet another mediocre slog for you to push through only to return it to the bargain bin.


Story/Plot: Ow The Edge

Visuals: Mediocre

Gameplay: Satisfactory

Music: Great

Lifespan: Quite Short

Difficulty: Hard

Would You Replay? Yes


Overall: Satisfactory

 


Value: £10.00

Theorycrafting: The Importance Of Pacing In Videogames

Pacing is one of the most important aspects of game design in my opinion and is one of the biggest challenges you will face when designing your game.

So you’ve solved a problem and you’ve decided how you’re going to motivate players to play your game but how can we engage them? I talked about engagement beforehand but In that video I mainly talked about the commonly used systems that many games use to build engagement. Now it’s time to get more in-depth and talk about pacing. Pacing is arguably the biggest factor that decides whether or not your game will be engaging. While it isn’t the only factor, pacing can make or break a game depending on how well it is implemented.

Now I have previously brought up the terms: real-time, synchronized time and turn based. These terms will be very important in this video as they are ultimately what will govern the style of pace you want for your game. The hard part comes with deciding how you want to pace your game as not all games have explored these terms and for good reason. A racing game could never work as a turn based or synchronized time based game because its core mechanism revolves around reaction time and dexterity which contradicts a turned based style of pacing.

Nevertheless, pacing is a science which has yet to be fully explored, much like many other aspects of game design. I can however point out fundamental flaws in games where the pacing and the nature of the game contradict one another. Real Time Strategy is essentially a flawed genre for this reason. While it is important to use time as a means of adding tension, a game that has too many things to manage will contradict its real-time pacing.

However, if we separate the nature and the pacing of Real Time Strategy, we can clearly see that real-time and strategy are not incompatible by nature, hence why it is not the genre, rather it is the games that are commonly labeled with the RTS genre that I have issues with. Real Time and Strategy could possibly work together but it would come at a cost. If you’re going to make a game work in real time, it needs to be adaptable to real time gameplay. Too much management can compromise a real time game and as such the inputs required to execute strategic choices need to be as straightforward as possible so that players can feel comfortable playing your game.

One could argue that Final Fantasy XIII is closer to that of a Real Time Strategy than a Turned Based Strategy and they wouldn’t be wrong. The ATB bar is very similar to that of a unit production timer that you would usually see in a traditional RTS. On the other hand I would argue that games like Grandia are closer to turn based, as the game pauses when you are about to enter a command.

Final Fantasy XIII’s biggest flaw was the fact that it was forced to implement an auto battle option in order for players to keep up with the pacing of the gameplay. As such, players would use that option over actually picking skills manually because of how its real-time influences the game’s rules, as auto battle is arguably the most efficient option due to the fact that picking skills manually forces them to navigate through menus which wastes valuable time.

In a turn based game, this would never be the case as the game pauses when you are navigating through the menu which makes sense as navigating menus is a meaningless activity that has absolutely no connection to the player’s strategic choice. As such, while Grandia may have an ATB gauge, the game works completely differently to Final Fantasy XIII as the decision-making process isn’t governed by real-time, Final Fantasy XIII’s is.

This is what greatly differentiates the two. You could argue that Final Fantasy XIII was received poorly for this reason, because it didn’t work. The question is, could it work?

Well that depends, are you willing to narrow down the number of choices in order to have a tighter level of control in your game to make up for it? The problem is, doing so could actually turn your game into an action game because even action games have some decision-making involved, it just isn’t as noticeable. There is a fine line between action and strategy that can be crossed if developers are not careful.

This is where games labeled as RTS are flawed, as the outcome is often influenced more by the number of actions per minute rather than the decision-making process. Take Warcraft 3’s four versus four for example. Due to the fact that large battles favor massing powerful units, certain units such as the Banshee become false choices as they are lesser units designed to support more powerful units. This makes the decision making process weaker. Most players will use Frost wyrms, fiends, chimeras, hippogryphs, siege engines, mortar teams and bats depending on their race.

Because Warcraft 3 suffers from a lot of balancing issues, the outcome of a 4V4 game is usually influenced by what races are on what team but if you were to play in an all undead mirror game, the team with the most combined action per minute wins. As such, Warcraft 3 is not a strategy game anymore, it is an action game.

Then we have synchronized time. Synchronized time is where time moves when the player inputs certain actions. In other words, the pacing of the game can vary from slow to fast depending on how quickly the player acts. While this might seem like a good thing at first, it’s important to remember that synchronized time changes the rules considerably from real-time and unlike turned based, it wouldn’t really work in a multiplayer game.

In addition to all this, it is important to note that certain genres just wouldn’t work well with synchronized time because it would contradict their very nature. Games like Mount And Blade, Valkyrie Profile 2, Mystery Dungeon and Superhot all use synchronized time in some shape or form.

Now that we’ve covered the basic pacing methods, it’s time to refine them. In order to do this we need to find an answer to a more complicated question, “how does the pacing of a game differ between two games which use the same style of pacing?”

Since this is a lot to take in, I’m going to aid you in the process of solving this issue and as such I have come up with a guideline, not a be all and end all… but a guideline on how to decide what style of pacing you want your game to be so that you can clearly understand what this process involves and how important it really is.

This guideline focuses on two aspects of a game which are polar opposites. In terms of racing games for example, supporting mechanisms make up these two opposite ends of the spectrum. One one hand you have games which focus on control and on the other hand you have games which focus on building up speed. I can safely say that all racing games need both mechanisms to function but one is usually going to outclass the other. This is where the decision-making process comes in.

Now the guideline suggests that games on either end of the spectrum are going to be niche… however for the sake of brevity, let’s say that this guideline is used to judge how good a game is. Lets say games on opposite sides of the spectrum are the best games in their genre.

Lets use first person shooters as an example. On one end of the spectrum you have games like Arma and Half Life. On the other end you have games like Quake and Painkiller.  Now that’s not to say that Arma and Half Life are the same because they’re very different but so are Painkiller and Quake. Each game has its own identity which separates it from the other. What these games share with one another is not the style of gameplay but rather the pacing of the game. In Half Life you spend a good portion of the game roaming the maps, hunting for ammunition and solving puzzles. In Arma you spend a lot of time positioning yourself in strategic positions as well as carefully aiming your weapon.

Quake and Painkiller on the other hand has you firing off bullets like there’s no tomorrow and you will be moving very quickly through levels, dodging bullets and other hazards like a god. Now there’s no secret that Painkiller was heavily inspired by Quake 2, you could even argue that it is Quake 3’s true single player campaign as its mechanics are very close to that of Quake 3’s. The level structure however is different. Painkiller is more linear, with large, open arenas to fight in, Quake is more contained and maze-like. Once thing is for certain though, both games are fast and will require a lot more reaction timing to master, Arma on the other hand requires more precision. While both games require a form of dexterity, it is merely the way in which players utilize their dexterity that differs and this completely changes not only the pacing but the entire nature of the gameplay experience as a whole.

As such you can clearly see how important pacing is, pacing can transform games. As a result, you have to be very careful with how you decide to pace your game. Does it fit in with your vision? This is the hardest question of them all because you might have the vision for the perfect game only for it to be ruined by poor pacing. As such you have yourself a dilemma. This is why pacing is so difficult because you don’t want to waste valuable resources trying to make a solid game only for it to fall apart because you realized that the pacing and the vision do not fit together. Then you have to re-think everything all over again and scrap the project.

To alleviate this issue. It might be important to pick the style of pacing first before you pick a vision, it sounds counter-intuitive but believe me, you won’t regret it. This will narrow down the scope of your vision drastically but this also helps you make a more calculated decision when it comes to designing your vision. Afterwards all you have to do is make sure the vision and your style of pacing work in tangent. In order to do so, you need to come up with creative mechanisms, ideally ones which kill two birds with one stone. Remember that the less mechanisms your game relies on, the less you will have to put in your game and the more simple and accessible your game will be. In addition, dealing with too many mechanisms can be costly and time is precious so it is very important to be creative with your ideas in order to hit that sweet spot.

Shadow Warrior (2013) Review

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After the disappointment that was Hard Reset, I decided to give Flying Wild Hog another chance to impress me by playing one of their more recent games, Shadow Warrior. Shadow Warrior is a re-boot of a 3D realms game released in 1997 which was also named Shadow Warrior. Shadow Warrior strives to be a blast from the past, allowing players to relive that old school FPS experience.

After watching one of the most badass opening cutscenes of all time (featuring Stan Bush’s “The Touch”), you are quickly introduced to the swordplay of Shadow Warrior. At first the only moves you have are a basic slash attack and a delayed slash attack but later on you can unlock more interesting special attacks you can use by double tapping specific directional keys and pressing the left mouse button. You can also press the right mouse button to use magic powers though I find the restoration power to be the most useful as it can be used to heal yourself mid battle whereas the other abilities specialize in crowd control and damage reduction.

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As cool as it is to have such a flexible close quarters weapon, I can’t help but wonder why the katana needs to have a delayed slash attack. You will almost never use this attack as it feels completely pointless to use considering the fact that there are so many better attacks you can use with your katana. This wouldn’t be a problem if it wasn’t for the constant necessity to double tap the directional keys to input these special attacks.

Having to double tap directional keys in the middle of a huge fire fight is a pain to do as it takes a bit too long to execute. Sure you can double tap the directional keys quickly but doing so will still leave you immobile for a split second which is never a good thing in games like this as all old school FPS games are built around mobility and this is ultimately what I consider to be lacking in this game as the movement in this game feels sluggish and this can be a major hindrance when you’re trying to avoid enemy attacks.

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So it has shurikens… but where’s the lightning?

Now this could be considered a personal bias but I absolutely loathe the dodge function in this game, yes there is a dodge function much like in Hard Reset Redux but this time there is a stamina meter that governs how many times you can use it, so you cannot abuse it. In my Hard Reset Redux review, I praised the dodge system for existing and as such I will give credit to the developers for considering the necessity of movement in FPS games but to be perfectly honest my experience with Shadow Warrior has conditioned me to detest this dodge system for numerous reasons.

The biggest issue I have with the dodge system is that it just isn’t adequate for this kind of game. You are constantly swarmed with enemies, sometimes in areas where there is lots of clutter. Games like Painkiller get away with this by having bunnyhopping, why doesn’t Shadow Warrior have bunnyhopping if it’s trying to be an old school FPS? This is ultimately the biggest issue I have with Flying Wild Hog’s games. They are trying to make old school style games on a modern framework and this never works. Being able to bunnyhop would make it possible to jump over some of the clutter and could also allow you to hop between platforms, the extra air time from bunnyhopping is crucial to these games for so many reasons.

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Much like in Painkiller where the player is constantly tapping the space bar, you will often be tapping the alt button repeatedly to dodge. You can also hold down the alt button to sprint but there’s no point in doing so as it doesn’t flow naturally with the pacing of the combat. You’re supposed to be gunning down enemies on the move and you can’t do that then you are sprinting so adding a sprint option was a waste. The stamina gauge will constantly be limiting your movement and you’ll eventually return to Lo Wang’s sluggish walking if you tap the alt button too much, as such the game encourages players to dodge only when the enemy is attacking which makes movement in Shadow Warrior an absolute pain in the ass.

Being a first person shooter, you’d expect to have some powerful firearms in your arsenal but Shadow Warrior’s weapons are pretty varied in their usefulness to the point that some of the game’s weapons feel misplaced or unnecessary. The revolver’s slow fire rate really doesn’t fit the pacing of the game all that well at all, so much so that you’re just better off using the katana, not only that but the revolver itself is rendered completely useless later on in the game once you encounter tougher enemies.

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Then you have weapons like the PDW and the Flamethrower, both of which feel inadequate. Sure the PDW is the only automatic rifle in the game but does it really have to feel this weak? Oh well, at least it’s not as bad as the flamethrower which is completely fucking useless. Seriously what is the point in giving players a weapon with absolutely no stopping power in a game where enemies are charging towards you and you move at a snail’s pace? Painkiller Battle Out Of Hell’s flamethrower was at least decent and could kill most enemies quick enough to be of use.

Finally there’s the rocket launcher which is quite possibly the worst rocket launcher I have ever seen in a videogame. This weapon does absolutely bugger all in terms of damage to most enemies later on and the velocity of each rocket is so slow that it’s near impossible to land a well placed hit with it as enemies are constantly moving. The splash damage it nothing to write home about either, it may kill some minor fodder but that’s not saying much, it’s definitely better than the flamethrower but not by much.

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As for the other weapons, the crossbow feels pretty decent despite having a low fire rate. I think they did a fairly good job with this weapon all things considered, it’s powerful without being completely imbalanced. It’s better than the revolver in pretty much every single way if you ask me. The crossbow can also shoot remote bombs at enemies which is pretty cool. The shotgun is also pretty decent for the most part as it deals fairly decent damage to enemies at close range which is a considerable improvement from the shotgun in Hard Reset.

You better enjoy the shotgun, crossbow and the katana because they’re the only 3 weapons worth a damn in this game. The PDW has its uses but only in certain situations is it really all that useful. I get that Shadow Warrior wants to focus primarily on its katana combat but does it really need to make more than half of the game’s firearms completely fucking useless? Satisfying weapons are important in any FPS, particularly the fast placed single player ones. Sadly the majority of the game’s weapons just aren’t effective enough to want to use them.

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The shotgun outclasses just about every other firearm in this game.

Part of this is due to the later portion of the game’s constant bombardment of hit point sponge enemies and believe me, there are going to be some long ass firefights in this game enough to tire out even the most hardened of FPS veterans. I don’t think it’s bad to have the occasional mini-boss enemy with more health than the average foe but ultimately I would argue that glass cannon enemies are arguably more fun to fight as you have to react fast before they can damage you. Hit point sponge enemies remove the thrill of killing enemies before they kill you, instead you have to keep blasting away till they fall over.

In addition, shooting enemies in Painkiller causes a stagger effect so if you manage to shoot an enemy once but didn’t get the finisher, you get a second chance to make a finisher. You can also use the freezer to freeze an enemy in place allowing you to shatter them with a single shot regardless of how much health they have. This makes the gameplay feel more aggressive and less passive as rather than trying to back away from the enemies, you’re chasing them down. This whole “run away” mentality is what made me detest Serious Sam and Shadow Warrior does this to some degree mainly due to the hit point sponge enemies. As such you will often find yourself playing more passively in Shadow Warrior than you would in games like Painkiller.

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The dodging system does make this a little bit less problematic than games like Serious Sam and I will acknowledge that its existence allows you to play a tad more aggressively but there is very little incentive to do so as dodging wastes stamina which could be used to help you escape from the enemy, therefore playing passively is simply more efficient than it is to play aggressively and I consider this to be a huge flaw in the game’s design.

Now sure, Painkiller had moments where keeping your distance was the best option, particularly in trauma. However the option to play aggressively was always available and was encouraged. The ability to pick up enemy souls gave players an incentive to stay closer to the enemy than to keep their distance. Shadow Warrior has a similar mechanic but unlike Painkiller, health drops from enemies are very infrequent as unlike Painkiller where soul drops are guaranteed, Shadow Warrior’s health gain system uses RNG to decide whether or not the health will appear which is a stupid idea.

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Be sure to max this out quickly, you’ll be using it a lot.

This brings me to a point that I neglected to mention in my review of Hard Reset but I will mention it here instead. Now the reason why I didn’t mention this before in my review of Hard Reset is because I was willing to give this idea another chance to see if it could actually work. Shadow Warrior proves otherwise as many of the game’s problems are related to the needless RPG elements that plague the gameplay. Like with many modern FPS games, Shadow Warrior allows players to upgrade their weapons and learn new skills. Unfortunately this is to the games detriment for so many reasons.

Now lets take a look at Painkiller again. In Painkiller you have 5 weapons that have been tightly balanced to give players an incentive to swap between them. Each weapon has a secondary function, some even have 3 functions. Each weapon serves a specific purpose and as such the weapon you’re using often depends on the situation you are in. The shotgun is used to deal with enemies at close to mid range, the stakegun is used to deal with enemies at mid to long-range, the electrodriver is used against large groups of enemies at close range and the rocket launcher/chaingun is used against large groups of enemies from afar. The painkiller on the other hand is a very flexible weapon that can do pretty much anything the other weapons can but isn’t as efficient at dealing with enemies as the other weapons are making it the perfect side arm weapon.

 

“You better enjoy the shotgun, crossbow and the katana because they’re the only 3 weapons worth a damn in this game”

 

In Shadow Warrior you have 7 weapons, one of these weapons being the katana. Much like the painkiller, the katana is a very flexible weapon that can do anything the other weapons can do. The problem is that the other weapons do not give the katana a run for its money. While some weapons like the crossbow, the PDW and the shotgun end up being more efficient later on in the game, at the start of the game they are pretty weak. This is because of the game’s upgrade system. Each weapon starts off as an unfinished weapon in which you have to spend money to complete it.

Now I can see what Shadow Warrior is trying to do, it’s trying to give players the incentive to explore to find valuables that reward players with growth. As good as all of this may seem on paper, it is actually damaging to the gameplay due to the fact that the weapons aren’t worth using until they are fully upgraded which requires players to accumulate resources. This takes time to do and as such you will spend a large portion of the game with a very weak arsenal of weapons, aside from the katana of course.

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The sad thing is that it really didn’t need to be this way. Painkiller’s tarot card system required players to gather gold coins to purchase new cards. This gave players an incentive to explore in order to find secrets like holy items which are worth 100 gold each. This allowed Painkiller to keep a strong emphasis on growth and some minor exploration without compromising its weapon balancing. Now I realize that I’m comparing Shadow Warrior to Painkiller a lot here but bear in mind that the creators of Shadow Warrior also worked at People Can Fly and were involved in the creation of Painkiller. As such the fact that their more recent games are so inferior to Painkiller worries me greatly.

One issue that never ceases to infuriate me in most modern first person shooters is the constant need to reload your weapon. Not only does it bring the gameplay to a standstill for 3-5 seconds but it also adds more busywork for the player. Sure it makes sense in a more realistic game but in a game like Shadow Warrior, it just feels misplaced. I cannot count how many times I had to cycle through every single weapon at the end of each battle just to reload them just so that I would have a full clip for the next fight, it’s tedious and it is just bad game design.

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This kinda sucks…

Sure you could argue that the need to reload adds an extra layer of challenge considering the fact that you have to be more careful with your ammo usage but let’s be real here, you have 7 weapons to swap between, if your ammo runs out, you can just swap to a new weapon so technically the reload feature doesn’t add any extra challenge, it just brings the pacing of the gameplay to a stand still which is never a good thing in a fast paced first person shooter. When will developers learn to stop assuming that realism is essential in games? Because it isn’t.

While Shadow Warrior tries to bring a solid single player experience to the table, it really doesn’t feel like an old school style first person shooter at all, rather it feels like your typical modern FPS with a premise that differs from the usual military warfare. I really like the oriental setting they went for with this game, the levels are very colorful and being a lot of flavor to the experience, that is until you reach the more industrial themed levels where the game starts to become a bit too generic for my tastes. As such I’d say that the visuals are a mixed bag. While some levels look really great, other levels are pretty lackluster to say the least.

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I get that the game wanted to give us something different and it does to some degree. The first few levels are bright, colorful and filled with tonnes of Japanese architecture, later on you encounter a cool urban setting with a similar style to the first few levels. Once you reach the industrial levels however, the game starts to look bland and believe me, there’s no shortage of these levels and they seem to go on forever. Personally I think the industrial levels should have been shortened a little as I find them to be quite monotonous in comparison to the other levels for the simple fact that industrial settings tend to lack color and while they’re good in small doses, I think they overstayed their welcome in this game.

Speaking of things that overstayed their welcome, the boss fights leave much to be desired. Every single boss fight in Shadow Warrior feels like a needless ordeal and a time waste. Why on earth do you give the boss a health bar when the bosses health doesn’t decrease until you drain another health bar? The whole point in giving bosses a health bar is so that players are able to tell how much damage they need to do to the boss before it dies. Unfortunately the bosses in Shadow Warrior cannot simply be shot at, you have to instead shoot their weak points but in order to do so you have to break the shard of armor protecting that weak point.

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This is the exact same issue I had with Hard Reset. The developers have clearly learned nothing when it comes to boss fights. Now to be fair, I’ve yet to play a single first person shooter where the boss fights are all consistently good. Even Painkiller had problems with its boss fights but at least it had a few good ones like the Necrogiant which was as simple as “shoot it till it dies”. Plus the bosses in Painkiller could be killed quickly by using tarot cards and players are encouraged to do this in order to unlock new tarot cards. In Shadow Warrior however, boss fights take ages and none of them are even remotely challenging, they’re just a tedious ordeal for the player to get through.

Another issue I have is with the hit detection of the bosses weak points. The hit boxes are way too small and as such you are limited to weapons such as the PDW and the crossbow to deal with every single boss fight as accuracy is everything. Plus if you have to reload in the middle of the fight, guess what? The armor regenerates and you have to do it all over again. This is quite possibly the pinnacle of shitty boss design in a FPS… or it would have been if it wasn’t for Hard Reset which was even worse in this regard. Why can’t I just shoot the boss and kill it? Why do I always have to shoot the weak points to damage the boss? It’s so annoying.

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Except it’s not just the boss fights that have hit boxes. In the later portion of the game you are introduced to a new enemy known as Berserker. Berserkers are immune to all forms of damage from the front and will constantly charge at you. Basically imagine an over sized Kleer from Serious Sam with heavy armor at the front and lots of health. That’s basically what the Berserker is. These enemies are hands down the worst enemies I have ever encountered in a first person shooter and for good reason. The only way to kill them is by shooting the weak point on their back. Not only is it difficult to get behind them but when they charge you, you have only a split second to shoot their back before they turn around.

You would think that fighting just 1 of these guys is bad enough but in later levels they throw even more at you and you are constantly dodging around the map trying to avoid them. If you try to shoot one of them in the back, the other one will hit you with their charge attack. Because it’s impossible to focus on just 1 enemy at a time, adding 2 or more of these enemies in a single fight is downright criminal. I get that the developers are trying to make the game more challenging later on in the game but this just isn’t the way to do it, there are plenty of ways to make challenging enemies without having to make it such a needless hassle to kill them.

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Will you just die already!?

Another of my biggest gripes with this game is the level design. Much like in Hard Reset, Shadow Warrior likes to fill each level with explosives and clutter except there’s no real thought put into their positioning. Not only does it serve to hinder the player’s mobility but it can be potentially fatal if a player accidentally triggers a chain reaction of explosions. Many of these explosives are positioned in places where enemies are not likely to go, making them nothing but a hindrance to the player. Compare this to Painkiller where most of the explosives are positioned in places where they can be put to good use such as the barrels that appear on the staircase on snowy bridge which can be used to blow up enemies that come down the stairs.

Speaking of explosives, later on in the game you will encounter these weird green orbs scattered across the level. This is probably the developers attempt at trolling the player by adding a form of trap to the game. I hate games that do this and I wish that developers would just stop. While some of these orbs are easy to see, others are not. Some of these orbs are placed near doorways or which aren’t in the player’s line of vision giving them a nasty surprise if they walk in, others are placed behind crates or even in bushes and can be a real pain to deal with.

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Eventually you will encounter an enemy known as Mother, these enemies like to create more of these green orbs and send them rolling towards you. The only way to avoid these is by shooting them. I tend to use the revolver for this as it is a completely useless weapon for just about everything else so it’s not a waste for me to use it on these orbs. The worst part about all this is that the orbs can reach you from literally anywhere, they can even roll up staircases… I’m dead serious. You would think that in a game where reloading exists, the laws of physics would also apply. Sadly this doesn’t seem to be the case.

On the plus side there is plenty of ammo to be found in each level so you don’t often find yourself low on ammunition. If for whatever reason you do, there is a way to buy extra ammo from the upgrade shop if you need it. In addition there’s plenty of money littered around for players to find in order to give players some breathing room between fights as well as secrets to find. Despite all this, I feel that many of the games levels overstay their welcome. Some levels are way too short whereas other levels are way too long. One level in particular took nearly 2 hours for me to finish which is inexcusable.

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Nearly an hour and a half? Are you freaking kidding me!?

While the game does give players the ability to save anywhere, I think that the developers should have spread the levels out a bit for the sake of encouraging break periods, especially since players are graded at the end of each level. Gamer psychology dictates that players are more willing to drop a game upon completing a level or upon reaching a certain milestone. As such it is important to have a bite-sized level structure, particularly in first person shooters. Shadow Warrior’s failure to do this is quite possibly its most damaging flaw, especially considering the rest of the issues that plague this game.

It doesn’t help that the music adds basically nothing to any of the levels, none of which are particularly memorable and makes you wonder why they even bothered with music in the first place. None of the music is adrenaline pumping nor does it go towards building a strong ambiance… it’s just there. I really have nothing to say about the music at all, it’s just forgettable. It’s like they weren’t even trying.

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Music is shit… but at least it has rabbit sex…

All the negativity you have seen so far may lead you to believe that this game has absolutely no redeeming qualities. Is the game really all that terrible? Yes and no. You see when I started the game, I was actually having a lot of fun playing it. I really enjoyed using the katana to chop foes to pieces and at first the upgrade systems appeared to be a nice touch. I really liked the emphasis on exploring for secrets and I also liked the level aesthetics. That all changed when I reached the half way mark where the game started to become a tedious slog, enemies started to get more and more irritating to fight due to having way too much health and I started to lose interest in the level aesthetics once they went towards a more industrial setting.

Shadow Warrior is a game I wanted to like… a lot. While I didn’t expect it to be as good as Painkiller, I still wanted to have some fun with it and I did for a while but then the game began to stagnate in its later sections so badly that I couldn’t help but write a harsh critique on this game. In baseball, when you get 3 strikes, you’re out. This isn’t the way I do things however. If they get 2 strikes from me, they’re out. As such I can’t see myself wanting to give Shadow Warrior 2 a go, or the new Rise Of The Triad. Flying Wild Hog have failed to impress me twice now, they’re not the developers they once were back when they made Painkiller, they’re different now. It’s difficult to come to terms with my dislike for this game but I’m afraid sometimes you just have to accept the truth.

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In any case if you’re thinking of buying this game, I’d say that it depends on how tolerant you are of the bullshit most modern FPS games. If you somehow managed to enjoy games like Serious Sam 3, I think you’ll probably find a winner here… but I despise Serious Sam for so many reasons and Serious Sam 3 is the first game in the series to implement a reload feature. It’s also interesting to note that the first Serious Sam makes a cameo appearance in this game which is quite fitting if you ask me. If you can tolerate games like Serious Sam 3 then you’ll most definitely enjoy Shadow Warrior. If not then spare yourself the ordeal and avoid this game.


Visuals: Satisfactory
Music: Forgettable
Gameplay: Mediocre
Lifespan: Decent Length
Difficulty: Medium
Would You Replay? No

Overall: Mediocre

 


So the question is, which game is better? Shadow Warrior or Hard Reset? Well if I was basing my opinions on the start of the game, Shadow Warrior wins hands down. As a complete package however I’d argue that Hard Reset does a far better job.

Value: £5.00

Thanks to Hypno Coffin for gifting me a copy of the game. Saved me wasting my money on this.

Theorycrafting: Immersion is the byproduct of meaningful choices

Getting players immersed into your game is no easy feat. Many developers think that immersing players is as simple as creating realistic environments and mechanics, in this video I will argue against this flawed mindset and explain how we can make our games feel more immersive.

Mount And Blade Warband is a game not known for having realistic visuals or animations but it is hands down one of the most immersive games I have ever played. As such the video will show you an epic siege battle that managed to turn the tide in one of the toughest conflicts I have had in Mount And Blade.

I hope you pay attention to how dated the animation and visuals are to help you understand my points as the video is supposed to show how lacking Mount And Blade is in this department but to also show a sense of scale to illustrate just how incredible it is to launch your army into a siege.

Nier Automata Review

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When people think of notorious game developers, a few names come to mind, Yoko Taro is one of them. Yoko Taro is quite possibly one of the most interesting gaming personalities of all time, a man who dares to present himself in an unorthodox manner and escape the confines of formal corporate etiquette. If you ask me, Yoko Taro is essentially what I would consider to be the perfect videogame producer.

However, looking at Yoko Taro as a game developer requires us to take a look at the many games he has developed. Now my personal knowledge on Yoko Taro’s games is limited but I have seen a pretty clear pattern in his design philosophy. It appears that Yoko Taro gives zero fucks about any of the potential repercussions that his crazy ideas may cause and rather than solving problems, many of Yoko Taro’s design choices often end up creating them.

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When you look at Yoko Taro’s games on the surface, his games are crazy and over the top. I believe this to be the main draw to Yoko Taro’s games. His carefree attitude is certainly appealing, especially in the current climate where most gaming companies prefer to play it safe. Yoko Taro appears to believe that by doing the opposite of what other game developers try to do, he will succeed. He is partially right but at the same time this is a flawed mindset.

While it is important to experiment with new ideas, it is equally as important to prioritize certain ideas over others and cut away anything that isn’t congruent with the gameplay. Sadly Nier Automata prioritizes its narrative and illustration over its gameplay and tries to meld them into one in order to create an unusual experience, an experience in which I personally feel mixed on.

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If Nier Automata has taught me anything it’s that ideas and concepts alone do not make a game. If we look at Nier Automata on the surface we see a massively ambitious project that blows our minds, so much so that this game is admittedly very difficult to critique but at the same time it’s very easy when you look closely at what the game actually is. Nier Automata is the equivalent of a dish that hadn’t been tasted, that’s not to say that the QA department were to blame, rather Yoko Taro’s dumped a lot of random ingredients into a blender expecting it to turn out great.

Now the good news is that Nier Automata is a game that manages to tickle everyone’s taste buds, hence why it became so popular. Methinks this was Yoko Taro’s plan from the start, create something so ridiculously absurd that people get blown away in amazement by how unorthodox the game is and with a plethora of ideas at his disposal, he was able to make a game that grabs the attention of the masses for it offers something for everyone. It worked, sure but that’s not to say that the game is a masterpiece, far from it actually.

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As this is a review I am obligated to paint an accurate picture of the experience and that’s exactly what I’m going to do. In doing so I’m going to tear this game apart. Yeah you heard me, I’m not going to pretend that this game is a special snowflake because it’s not. Nier Automata is far from being a masterpiece like many make it out to be and this is due to one simple issue that plagues the entire game, it lacks a solid foundation.

Videogames requires a similar structure to that of a tree’s anatomy. You have the roots, the trunk and the branches. The roots are essentially what keeps the tree alive, without the roots there is no tree. As such the roots are the base of the foundation, they provide the tree with nutrients and water. Considering the fact that Nier Automata appears to be primarily a 3d beat-em-up I will use Devil May Cry 3 as an example. Devil May Cry 3’s foundation is not the attacks, nor is it the style gauge, the base of Devil May Cry 3’s foundation is the movement and the camera. You see, the entirety of Devil May Cry 3 is built with camera and movement in mind. Devil May Cry mainly uses a static camera angle and the gameplay is built with this in mind.

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Many animals were harmed in the making of this review

Later on, many 3d beat-em-ups opted for a manually controlled camera so that players have control over the camera rather than feeling unable to feel in control. This came with a cost as it can be difficult to manage both the game and the camera simultaneously. Some games such as Chaos Legion made camera management easier, others such as God Hand opted to remove the camera controls entirely, this caused both games to differentiate from one another dramatically giving each game a completely different feel. As you can see, the camera plays a big part in these games as it is the focal point in which each game is built around. In other words, the camera acts as the foundation that governs the rules and systems built to accommodate it.

Why am I bringing this up? Because one of the biggest issues that plagues Nier Automata is the very thing that governs the foundation of all 3d beat-em-ups, the camera. The very first thing you are introduced to in Nier Automata is a shoot-em- up section. Wait, isn’t this supposed to be a 3d beat-em-up you ask? That’s the thing, Nier Automata doesn’t focus on being one specific genre exclusively, rather it tries to meld different styles of gameplay into one expecting to impress a huge audience with its diverse gameplay.

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When you first begin, the game starts with a vertical camera with your flight unit able to move forward, back, left and right as enemies appear from the top of the screen for you to shoot down, sounds simple doesn’t it? Well don’t get too used to this as the next section presents you with a top down camera which plays more like a twin stick shooter. This introduces the use of the right analogue stick which was previously unusable in the previous section. In other words, the game has just changed its rules without warning and you now have to adapt to a completely different set of rules.

This can be disorientating as players need time to adapt to a set of rules before they are introduced to a new set of rules. Only through practice can players experience educated empowerment, the problem is that rather than having players feel like they are coming to grips with a system, Nier Automata changes the rules and forces players to come to grips with an entirely new system, thus the element of mastery is neglected for the sake of diversifying gameplay which can be infuriating to people who enjoy mastery in videogames and can be equally as frustrating to people who struggle to pick up on gameplay mechanics.

 

“If Nier Automata has taught me anything it’s that ideas and concepts alone do not make a game”

 

In Devil May Cry 3, aside from the occasional puzzle, the game consists of mostly beating the living shit out of bad guys with mostly close quarters combat, it focuses primarily on this close quarters combat and the very first mission involves primarily close quarters combat. Why? Because that is the core of Devil May Cry 3’s gameplay and the game wants to introduce the player to the game by giving them a fairly simple and straightforward training ground allowing players to experiment with Dante’s move set in order to learn the basics of the game’s combat. At first, it is natural that players are going to suck and as such you need to present the player with more of the same gameplay sections, occasionally adding something new to the mix in order for them to become better acquainted with the game’s mechanics which is the first step towards mastering the game.

If you transition to a completely different ruleset, you essentially compromise the entire process of mastery, this is the biggest issue with Nier Automata’s gameplay and it only gets worse from here on out. Nier Automata loves to experiment with a lot of different ideas… the problem is that Nier Automata is a commercial product designed to be a recreational activity. Such experimental ideas do not belong in the game, rather they belong in a note pad… or in a completely different game entirely.

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Of course this also applies to the sections where you are grounded and engaged in close quarters combat. Most of the time you will have access to manual camera control but this is not always the case, some sections will have a static side view camera or a static top view camera. The game seamlessly transitions between each camera angle so this can often happen without warning, changing the way the controls work every single time.

The top down sections are by far the worst of the bunch as the camera is usually zoomed out way too far. Of course this isn’t the only time this happens as the side view camera angle can also be zoomed out way too far at times but I find this to be a lot more common with the top down sections. This can be quite irritating as it can be difficult to read the enemy’s moves when the camera is zoomed out too far. The game tries to make up for this by giving many of the enemies a red aura when they are attacking but it only happens for a split second and when there’s so many enemies on-screen at once it can be difficult to figure out which one was attacking you, let alone what their attack is going to be as it can be difficult to see which enemy you’re fighting.

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Now I get what the game is trying to do, I really do. It’s trying to harken back to the old school style of gameplay, back when side scrolling and top down camera angles were common. The problem is that the gameplay of Nier Automata is not built with these camera angles in mind. The entire game is built with manual camera controls in mind and as such having multiple camera angles is kinda pointless as it doesn’t enhance the gameplay experience whatsoever, rather it hinders it.

If you want to make a side scrolling beat-em-up, that’s perfectly fine, look at what Odin Sphere Leifthrasir did, that game was built with a side view camera angle in mind. As such, rather than removing certain functions from the game, it incorporates functions that simply wouldn’t work in a game that uses manual camera controls such as the ability to hold down square and press up on the left analogue stick to perform aerial attacks. You can’t do this in Nier Automata as pressing up on the left analogue stick is used to move your character forward, granted games like Devil May Cry 3 added a directional input using its lock on system, something Nier Automata is sorely lacking.

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This is where I want to get into the game’s combat system, specifically the 3d beat-em-up sections. Nier Automata’s combat system feels somewhat archaic, at least when compared to other 3d beat em ups like Devil May Cry 3. You are limited to one string of attacks per weapon and can equip 2 weapons at a time. You are also given a pod that shoots bullets and other ranged weapons. In addition to all this you are also able to dodge enemy attacks and counter them which is pretty satisfying to pull off.

One thing that bugs me however is that the short sword counter attack launches enemies into the air, this is cool until you encounter enemies that don’t stagger as instead of launching them into the air, you flail your sword around like an idiot, it gets really irritating how some enemies can be staggered while others can’t. In addition to all this, I encountered several hit point sponge enemies over the course of the game, the game gave me no indication as to which enemies were hp sponges and which weren’t which was annoying.

It appears that these enemies are monikered “gold enemies” and they’re really annoying to fight as they take way too long to kill them unless you hack them but doing so requires you to have a hacking skill which you don’t have access to when you first encounter them and you don’t have access to them for ages. In which case why spawn these enemies there? They’re not even challenging, they’re just annoying and tedious, I killed one of them but I didn’t get anything special for doing so, perhaps there’s more to them but I don’t really care, the fact that they show up in a section of the game you need to pass through to progress through the main story is absolutely fucking ridiculous as you clearly aren’t supposed to kill them at that point… yet you can, the funny thing is, these enemies aren’t a higher level than any of the other enemies, so why do they have so much goddamn hit points!?

It was at this point where I realized just how limited the combat feels, yes the combat is really fun and satisfying at the start but it stagnates later on, particularly when you find out that shooting enemies at long-range with the pod is usually the best strategy for dealing with most enemies making melee combat kinda useless. In a way, Nier Automata feels a lot like Devil May Cry 2 but with faster, less janky combat as it gives you an automatic weapon right from the get go meaning you can hold it down and kill most enemies surprisingly quickly. Why waste time with the melee combat when ranged combat is safer and easier, sure it might not be the most efficient method in terms of damage dealing but after weighing everything up I’d say the game encourages you to use ranged weapons over melee weapons.

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Now you could argue that Devil May Cry 3 gives you handguns and that you can shoot enemies to death. Though this may be true, it clearly isn’t encouraged as shooting requires you to rapidly tap the square button and they deal very little damage per shot, it’s so much easier to hit things with a sword as not only does it deal considerably more damage but it also helps build the style gauge which gives you access to more red orbs letting you learn more moves faster. It puzzles me how a 12-year-old game manages to have more flexibility in its combat system than Nier Automata. It’s as if the developers were desperate to release the game ASAP with a passable combat system. To the developer’s credit, the combat is easy to pick up and play, dodging feels very responsive and the overall combat feels smooth, so much so that it makes a mockery out of Yoko Taro’s previous game’s in this department which is nothing to write home about but commendable nonetheless.

Going by Yoko Taro’s track record, I’d say that this game’s combat system would have been a train wreck if it wasn’t for Platinum games which just goes to show how little confidence I have in Yoko Taro’s games. Drakengard 2 and 3’s combat systems were painfully slow and janky, I could never finish either of them for this reason, granted I never played the first Nier though I heard a lot of complaints about the game and based on my experiences with Drakengard 2 and 3, this doesn’t surprise me. If you ask me, Platinum games saved this game from being yet another janky mess.

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Of course this is only the first layer of the game’s combat system as it is technically two games in one, well sort of. The shoot-em-up segments make up the second layer of the game’s combat system, much like in Odin Sphere, I really wasn’t too keen on having them in this game either. To the game’s credit these sections aren’t particularly all that bad but they just seem to be thrown in there for the sake of it. Unlike most shoot-em-ups where enemies drop power ups and you improve your ship, Nier Automata doesn’t do this which kinda makes these sections feel tacked on and thus an ordeal to get through.

I can’t exactly complain about these sections though, much like the beat-em-up sections you have more-or-less the same abilities, dodging is still great, you can melee attack to deflect projectiles and shoot powerful lasers at enemies. If I was to summarize my overall experience with these sections, I’d say that they’re the top down low-budget equivalent Zone Of The Enders. In other words I think these sections are ok but not particularly rewarding or enjoyable to get through, at least in my opinion. I would have rather they focused on enhancing the beat-em-up style gameplay than shove this in there because I bought this game to hack n slash robots on the ground, not shoot things in the air.

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Then we get into the hacking minigame. To be honest while these sections are simplistic, the fact that they keep the camera static the whole time makes these sections the best part of the gameplay hands down. Much like the standard shoot-em-up sections however, these sections also feel like a needless ordeal to get through most of the time and you will want to get back in the action ASAP. Still I cannot complain about these sections, it’s like a budget indie title some amateur made in game maker, how can you possibly fuck it up? All you need to do is shoot cylinders, circles and arrows, you can’t possibly fuck this up. Do you want a fucking medal game?

Combat aside, Nier Automata offers a reasonable amount of character growth and personalization through the use of plug in chips. Over the course of the game you will acquire plug in chips which can be added to your pod. Each plug in chip has different effects that can be applied to all elements of gameplay. They can also be enhanced by combining multiple chips together in order to improve them. I honestly found this to be a nice addition to the game and sort of makes up for the lack of options in combat. As such you could argue that Nier Automata is actually an Action RPG and to be honest you wouldn’t be completely wrong as the game does have a leveling system and RNG… but after the last blog I made, I’m going to treat this game as a 3d beat-em-up. I do think the character management is good enough to give this game some credit as an ARPG but with only a single controllable character, it’s expected that the game can do more than most ARPGs and as such it feels unfair to compare it with other games in the genre.

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Still, I think what Nier Automata lacks in the gameplay department is flavor. The framework is there… mainly because that’s all they had time to do by the end because they didn’t bother to focus on one particular element. This means the game feels sterile as a result, you get a playable, yet empty experience which could have been so much more had the developers focused on one element of gameplay rather than trying to do everything at once. As such, the lack of focus is the core of the problem. The potential is there but the material on offer feels archaic, dull and boring which is extremely disappointing coming from Platinum games. If you ask me, I’d say that Yoko Taro’s involvement is the main reason why the gameplay never reached its full potential, he demanded too much from the game and Platinum did their best to make it work.

By now you can probably see a trend in this review. So far I have only touched on the gameplay and for good reason, it’s all over the fucking place! That means I have to review every single combat section separately because they’re all different even though my opinion on every single one of them is the same, they all feel half-assed. Now I’m not saying that the gameplay is terrible, it definitely isn’t, heck the game can actually be quite fun to play for quite a while, the gameplay is definitely not a major issue, if I said it was then I’d be a hypocrite for giving other games the pass and not this. I’m just disappointed that they didn’t go all the way with this game considering the amount of hype that was built up for it.

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The sad thing is, Nier Automata clearly had the budget, it just lacked common sense in its direction and I know that this might sound like I hate Yoko Taro but the truth is I don’t, I really want to like his games, I really do. I support everything he stands for in gaming, he’s one of the few people involved with Square-Enix that is genuine and for that I cannot bring myself to hate the guy. I feel his games however seem to follow a clear pattern. Yes they’re all weird and wacky, nothing wrong with that, I get it, heck I can even appreciate it. However there are certain things about his games that rub me the wrong way, particularly in the gameplay department. As such if gameplay is the only thing you’re interested in, Yoko Taro’s games definitely aren’t for you, you are wasting your time and money playing them as there are better games out there for people like you, go play them instead.

So as a game, Nier Automata could have been so much better but is it a good experience nonetheless? That’s a tough question. You see Nier Automata is one of those games that’s either going to click with you or it isn’t. Nier Automata’s narrative concept is pretty unique. The world has been taken over by machines and mankind has deployed androids known as Yorha to deal with them. Sure we’ve seen conflict between human and machine in other media countless times but what truly makes this interesting is Nier Automata’s choice to replace humans with androids.

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Such an ambitious narrative concept is going to require a lot of creativity in the narrative department as androids are artificial lifeforms that use artificial intelligence. There are only two ways to approach such a concept, either make the android characters completely devoid of emotion and focus primarily on building a strong, interesting world with plenty of abstract storytelling or find a way to encourage players to willingly suspend their disbelief in order to establish strong connectivity with the characters. Nier Automata focuses mostly on the latter.

The problem is that the characters in Nier Automata are pretty bland. This is usually expected with such a narrative concept as it is normal for androids to lack emotion but when you clearly focus your game’s story on connectivity with characters, you need your characters to have strong emotions in order for them to be interesting enough to connect to. The main character 2B has a cardboard personality. She’s a serious, duty-bound Android who is stoic and blunt. Then you have 9S who joins 2B on her mission who is kinda laid back but does develop later on in the game.

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When a game feels the need to be literal when describing the personality of a character, you know the writing’s fucked.

Unfortunately the character development in Nier Automata feels forced. This is mainly due to the game’s lackluster dialogue. The build up is there but it feels very shallow. Once again, this all comes down to a lack of focus. A lot of the game’s narrative is focused on the game’s premise and its themes rather than the characters. If the game was going for a more abstract style of storytelling it could probably get away with this but sadly this is not the case as Nier Automata clearly focuses on connectivity. For a game focused on connectivity to work it needs strong characters to act as a foundation for the rest of the story. If the characters are weak, the pillars holding the story together begin to crack and if the pillars crumble, the rest of the story goes down with it and thus is the unfortunate fate of Nier Automata’s story.

To enjoy Nier Automata’s story to its fullest, you not only have to willingly suspend your disbelief but you also have to read a lot of the game’s texts and engage in many of the game’s sidequests. While this does not save the main story from being a complete let down, it at least allows you to appreciate the world a little bit more. I can honestly say that I had way more fun doing sidequests in this game than I did playing through the main story as the sidequests are pretty well designed. Sure there are plenty of fetch quests but they each come with their own little side story. Some missions are more interesting than others but I can definitely say that these are some of the best sidequests I’ve seen in a game hands down.

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Where Nier Automata truly shines is in its exploration. If you’re looking for a true adventure game, this is it. The world of Nier Automata doesn’t feel empty and barren like most open world games nor does it feel strictly linear, instead the game gives you freedom to explore within limits. Personally I’d argue that this is by far the best approach to open exploration. If you see it you can most likely reach it and the game makes it easy to move around the world for the most part making exploration simple and fun. Of course there are plenty of treasure chests and items laid about for players to scavenge to reward players for exploring the game’s world.

Visually I’d say that the game is kinda a mixed bag for me personally. I’m not personally fond of the post apocalyptic urban setting as there is a lot of dull grays. The vast majority of the game takes place in these areas which is a bit of a downer for me but outside of these areas, there are some gorgeous looking areas to explore. I do think the developers overdid it with the lighting at some parts but I don’t think it’s a major issue. For this reason, I found the best parts of the game were the early sections before acquiring the first ending. Those of you unfamiliar with Yoko Taro’s games probably don’t know what I mean by this but Drakengard and Nier both have multiple endings. As you play through the game you will eventually reach an ending where the credits play but the game isn’t over and you are told to keep playing on for more content.

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After the first ending, I started to lose interest in the game as I had already explored the majority of the game’s map and the value of exploration was no longer present in the game. To be honest, despite the fact that the first ending left me with lots of questions, I felt that it was the best possible time to end the game. You could argue that the game is worth purchasing for the first section alone but considering the full package, I’d say that Nier Automata overstays its welcome much like everything post disk 1 in Legend Of Dragoon.

One thing that didn’t disappoint me was the soundtrack. While I’m not usually fond of vocals, I found that they accompanied many of the tracks pretty well. The music helps encourage the exploration, something a lot of open world games fail to do because they tend to shuffle the music randomly rather than keep the same track for each area. I really like how a semi-open world is accompanied with a soundtrack that perfectly fits each section. Not only that but the music changes depending on whether or not you are in battle to get you pumped up for the action. I think a lot of games can learn a lot from Nier Automata for this reason. In terms of open exploration, I’d argue it’s one of the best if not the best game I have ever played.

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Though Nier Automata does have some redeeming qualities, I’d argue that the overall experience of the game is hit-or-miss. When this game was first released I had to pay £44.99 which is an absolutely outrageous price for such a game. I definitely didn’t get my money’s worth out of it but I probably would have if I spent £39.99. This is why I come across as somewhat harsh and bitter in this review because not only am I having to pay more for videogames these days but I feel that many of the games released this generation (and the previous) fail to meet the standards set by games that were released 10 years ago and Nier Automata is one of them.

As such I cannot say that I was as impressed or as blown away by this game like the masses were but can I recommend this game? Well I’d say if the price is right, pick it up, just don’t spend £44.99 on this game, it just isn’t worth it. I base my entire judgement on value for money and time as when a game has the audacity to charge more, I expect more. I don’t give a shit about inflation, I expect games to improve as time goes by, sadly this clearly isn’t the case.


Story/Plot: Satisfactory

Visuals: Great

Music: Excellent

Gameplay: Great

Lifespan: Decent length

Difficulty: Easy

Would You Replay? No


Overall: Great


Value: £40.00

 

 

Theorycrafting: Does the RPG genre really need to exist?

When one interprets the term “RPG” they tend to associate it with Dungeons And Dragons. The problem is, this doesn’t tell us what an RPG actually is. If you look at Dungeons And Dragons today and break down all of its elements, you can clearly see connections between DND and other genres outside of RPG’s.

Doom for example is loosely inspired by DND, this is made even more apparent by the Astral Dreadnought’s face being cropped and made into one of Doom’s most iconic enemies, the Cacodemon. ID software were clearly fans of DND and they took inspiration from it. The maps in both Wolfenstein and Doom can be seen as replications of possible DND maps, the first person maze-like structure of the game’s levels are similar to that of Akalabeth which was also inspired by DND.

One could argue that Doom and The Elder Scrolls Arena are the same game on the surface with the only differences being the lack of RNG elements, character building and replacing the direction of sword swings with the aiming of the crosshair. Mapping isn’t the only thing DND was known for but it’s definitely one of its defining traits as mapping was a big part of the game. The same could be said about Doom.

So what truly makes an RPG an RPG? If we look at all the elements of DND we are left confused as to which elements truly matter within the context of an RPG. The point I want to make is that the context does not matter. Every single gameplay element of DND is important, not just in RPG’s but videogames in general. The problem is that the games we define as RPG’s were merely games that were built to imitate DND much like Toukiden Kiwami and God Eater Burst are built to imitate Monster Hunter. That is not to say that they don’t have their own unique elements, these games did solve problems, it’s just that the problems they solved aren’t as clear to us today because we’ve taken them for granted.

One could consider Role Playing Games to be a sub genre of strategy games. The thing is, DND is exactly that, it’s a strategy game that uses dice rolls to manipulate variables to encourage more experimental gameplay and more replayability. The dice roll is merely a facade that covers a deep strategy game built on player intuition. The player’s choices are the strategy, the dice roll is the manipulation of the variable values that influence the outcome of the strategic choice the player makes. The reason for this is likely to solve a problem.

Strategy games like Warcraft Orcs And Humans are a lot easier to figure out than DND because they focus less on RNG and more on methodical design. That’s not to say that Warcraft Orcs And Humans is entirely a methodical game. However the fact that it is named “Real Time Strategy” and not “Real Time Role Playing Game” makes it pretty obvious that it wasn’t trying to be like DND, it was trying to be more akin to wargaming but in real-time. Then Warcraft 3 came along and introduced a leveling system. This isn’t something that hasn’t happened before. Games like Chainmail did this way before Warcraft 3 ever did. Does this mean that Warcraft 3 and Chainmail are RPG’s? Well apparently not as many consider them to be strategy games. So if leveling systems have nothing to do with what makes an RPG then what does? Just to make things clear, Warcraft 3 does have elements of RNG. A good example of this is Grom Hellscream’s critical strike skill which has a chance to deal double the hero’s base damage.

So this technically means that RNG and stats also have nothing to do with RPG’s since they can be applied to strategy games and they should be applied to strategy games, at least in my opinion. Why? Because they are wonderful gameplay mechanics that helps keep games from stagnating. Random elements can make anything intense because you can never be so sure of the outcome, sure said outcome can be manipulated but only to a certain extent through the use of RNG. The thrill of getting that critical strike chance is awesome because it can turn the tide of battle very quickly.

Now if we were to break down the definition of a Role Playing Game, it essentially means that you’re playing a game in which you represent a role. The truth is, this is the case for a lot of games these days. We have moved on from games such as Tetris and it seems that most games these days involve role-playing in some shape or form. Halo might be a first person shooter but you’re playing the role of Master Chief. What people don’t understand is that back in the day, games in which you played roles were few and far between, games were more abstract and as such it was far more difficult for games to portray a role for the players to play. There are games like Tetris in which you don’t play a role whatsoever. These games still exist today and as such they’re massively outnumbered by games that can be labeled as RPGs and if we were to name these games RPGs then the term itself would serve no practical purpose.

I can however state that most games are RPG’s these days and the mechanics that traditional RPG’s are known for have flooded into other games such as Borderlands. Does this mean that the term RPG has no meaning anymore? Well yes and no. The mechanics traditionally used in RPG’s are very meaningful, the ability to play a role is also very meaningful. What isn’t meaningful is the genre used to define a specific type of game. The term RPG is misleading. If you were to ask whether you wanted to make an action game, a strategy game or an RPG, which one would you choose and why? Action and strategy games have plausible reasons for their existence. Some people enjoy slow-paced thinking games, other people enjoy adrenaline pumping rhythmic games. There is a completely different audience for games like chess to games like football and each audience has their own set of preferences.

This is why many people were outraged when Final Fantasy decided to focus on real-time gameplay. The usage of the menu system in Final Fantasy XIII didn’t flow particularly well with the fast paced real time gameplay. Adding an auto battle option merely served to limit the player’s choice and navigating the menus took way too long for players to do due to the fact that every single choice is presented in a long list the player has to navigate through. As such the combat of Final Fantasy XIII was a recipe for disaster and the reason why people despised Final Fantasy XIII becomes clear.

Personally I dislike Real Time Strategy games as I don’t enjoy having to quickly think about what i’m going to do, I prefer to take my time. Real Time Strategy games rush you to make decisions and while making quick decisions might seem like a good thing to some, it doesn’t to me. Strategy games on the other hand aren’t so bad. Mount And Blade is a good example of a well paced and cleverly structured strategy game as the pacing of the game is only as fast as the player wants it to be. It is what I like to call “Synchronized Time Strategy”.

Believe it or not, the same applies to action games. Valkyrie Profile 2 is a “Synchronized Time Action” game which is something you definitely don’t see everyday. This is what makes Valkyrie Profile 2’s combat system one of a kind as many of its gameplay elements would never work in a real-time game (which most action games are). If I was to compare this style of gameplay to any other game series it would be the Mystery dungeon series. Unlike Valkyrie Profile 2 however, the Mystery Dungeon games are not considered to be RPG’s, rather they are considered to be “Roguelikes” which Valkyrie Profile 2 is not.

I really think that people under appreciate the value of synchronized time in videogames. It allows players to play games at their own pace. Pacing has been an issue for quite some time now and if more games were to use this style of gameplay, I believe it could help alleviate the problem of slow-paced gameplay. Synchronized time is not exclusive to RPG’s, so this doesn’t make it less important than any RPG mechanics in an RPG.

The point is, people need to start looking at the structural elements of game design more closely rather than trying to come up with thematic definitions for game genres. It’s one thing calling a game a first person shooter but is it a rail shooter or a free moving shooter? Both can be in first person and involve shooting but both are completely different games. Unlike RPG’s however, at least the term “First Person Shooter” makes sense as it categorizes gameplay that involves aiming via camera movement. The term Role Playing Game makes no sense whatsoever as it only categorizes gameplay which involves playing a role… which is in the vast majority of videogames released these days.

I do think genre definitions can improve, however I can see the importance in thematic genre definitions as they help newcomers discover a genre they can feel comfortable with. Not everybody is going to want to play a shooter because many shooters contain violence. Sure not all first person shooters are violent, Pokemon Snap is a good example as to how you can design a first person shooter without having to kill things but until people become more accustomed to gaming, I don’t think genre definitions should change. Perhaps if gaming becomes more acceptable in popular culture, we can improve our definitions of games by breaking down their individual mechanisms and sectioning them off into their own categories, we need an alternative definition for these games as the current definitions too vague. The problem is that there are so many different games labeled as RPG’s and we would have to break them down individually to find out what they really are.

If we did break them down, I think critics would have a much easier time measuring a game’s caliber. Of course it is still important to measure the levels of growth in a videogame and since RPG mechanics are directly linked to growth it can be as easy as simply looking closely at these mechanics and measuring them to see how well they accompany the core gameplay mechanics and how much of a rewarding experience they provide.

So I think we’ve found the true meaning of the term “RPG”. The genre label of RPGs given to games that use heavy RNG based mechanics and variables as a form of influencing decision-making and growth. The biggest problem with this label is that every other genre of game is adopting this system and thus they become RPGs. This means the way we look at games needs to change, we need to look at other games and how they implement elements of growth and experimental gameplay because this has become the norm now. Role Playing Games are no longer a genre exclusive to the stereotypical games that focus on heavy narrative (which was never the case to begin with, we just grew accustomed to this definition and by we, I am talking about the masses).

So what is to become of those games? Are they to be judged independently as either action or strategy games? Or will we find a new definition? Whatever happens, the way we critique these games should be no different. It is still important to focus on the mechanics that make the game’s growth and decision-making process engaging. We just need to start acknowledging these games as either action or strategy games or whatever is left when the RPG mechanics are ripped out of it. That way, we can help people understand what the game actually is without getting lost in the fog that is the term “Role Playing Game”.

It is important to note that this is not the responsibility of the critics. Critics cannot change something until it is widely accepted by the masses and as such we need to be patient. We cannot simply shove these definitions down people’s throats nor should we confuse the masses further by completely boycotting the definition. Instead we need to work on breaking down each individual game and discuss what makes these games great or otherwise. Once we know what makes a great game, we can discover new methods to motivate and engage players by analyzing the systems games use to provide the best possible experience for the player and share our ideas with other people so that not only do we get better games but people can finally understand what truly matters to them in game design.

This is a slow and arduous task that I alone cannot do but I can shed some light on it hence the fact that I chose to write about it. The RPG genre label needs to disappear and all games should be judged on growth and how well they implement growth because growth is practically everywhere now, people enjoy growth and as such, people enjoy RPGs. That’s not to say that everybody needs it but I do think that people enjoy it. Ultimately it all comes down to the way it is implemented. People have argued for way too long as to what makes an RPG an RPG and it’s time we put a stop to this, permanently by banishing the label from existence and accept that each of these games are different.

Odin Sphere/Odin Sphere Leifthrasir Review

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Imagine A Valkyrie Profile beat em up game where you get to play 5 different characters each with their own perspective in the story. Sounds cool right? Well the guys at Vanillaware seemed to think so and decided to create a game that would do just that… well maybe not exactly that but they came very close. That game was Odin Sphere released in 2007… a year after the release of Valkyrie Profile 2… surely that’s not a coincidence.

Now when I heard that there was a remaster of Odin Sphere in the works, I didn’t really think much of it. You see during its time of release I was in the middle of playing the original Odin Sphere and I was originally going to review that game by itself. Thank god I didn’t because Odin Sphere on the PS2 was a piece of shit. Now you might be wondering how bad it could possibly be?

How about you watch this video and make your own judgement:

So after watching the video you can clearly see that this game has a lot of issues. Let me explain. First of all, the most obvious issue is the fact that you have 1 attack button. What this means is that you are literally mashing the square button the entire time. Sure you can use the directional buttons to mix things up but they really don’t blend in well with the main combo attack that can be used by simply pressing square over and over again. As such there is no way to string together combos. All you are doing is mashing square over and over again.

But don’t just think you can just sit there and mash the square button constantly. Just like in Star Ocean Till The End Of Time, Odin Sphere has a special gauge designed to punish spamming… when in reality all it does is leave the player incapable of doing anything for a few seconds. In other words it is completely pointless and only exists to give an illusion that the game is actually encouraging players to use a wide variety of attacks when it clearly isn’t the case.

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This my friends is what the game likes to call the POW meter. It is a meter that is consumed every single time you use an attack or a guard action and it recovered by either walking around or simply doing nothing. You can also recovery it by absorbing phozons off of dead enemies but doing so requires you to perform an animation which leaves you vulnerable. Once the POW meter is depleted the game not only prevents you from attacking but it also inflicts the dizzy status ailment immobilizing you leaving you vulnerable to being attacked. Talk about adding salt to the wound.

The attack animations are quite detailed but unfortunately the frames used to perform these attacks take ridiculously long whereas the frames used for certain enemy attacks can be extremely quick, in fact one particular enemy can hurt you before the actual attack frame is executed. This can be really frustrating as you feel crippled compared to pretty much every other enemy in the game. To make things worse, certain bosses tend to heal themselves or be healed by other enemies. This can be extremely frustrating as when they are healed their health bar is restored to full. Add to this the fact that these healer enemies respawn and you have a really tedious and annoying boss fight to deal with.

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Oh and don’t think that boss fights are few and far between. Each stage has not only a single main boss but also has several minibosses for you to fight, these minibosses are just as difficult as the actual boss fights, sometimes more. You will often find yourself stuck on a boss only to beat it and eventually run straight into another boss fight. This can be infuriating to deal with and can make each stage a painful slog to play.

Odin Sphere is a game that focuses heavily on its alchemy system which is surprisingly pretty complicated for those who don’t know what they’re doing. Basically potions have different effects when mixed with mandragoras but they also have a numerical value. This numerical value is a variable that decides what potion you brew with each material.

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Each material has several different combinations based on its number. These combinations are only tied to even numbers however, odd numbers will have no effect with any ingredient and only single digit numbers affect the outcome of the potion so if your numerical value is 10/20 you will still get the same result as you would get with a 0 but it will release extra phozons as a result. You can multiply the numerical value by adding more ingredients to the material, the value the material is multiplied depends on the item. The results of the potion vary based on the numerical value and the type of mandragora used to create the potion.

And don’t think that the alchemy system is just a novelty. Expect to brew dozens of potions and be sure to keep stocked up on them but don’t forget to use them when the time is right. Potions can save you a lot of hassle, this is true in both the original game and the remaster but especially true in the original. There are offensive potions such as napalm allowing you to deal a large chunk of damage to an enemy and healing potions which are surprisingly quite rare since the main ingredient for it is hard to come by. This is somewhat problematic as healing potions tend to be your main source of healing early on and you’ll likely end up backtracking to acquire more of them.

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In the original Odin Sphere, phozons had to be absorbed manually using the R1 button. In Odin Sphere Leifthrasir Phozons are absorbed automatically but you can still manually absorb them if you want to.

In addition to all this there are potions that protect/heal certain status ailments, these are also vital as well since to add insult to injury, status ailments can be devastating in this game. The poison status effect will sap your hp to 1 very quickly so using an antidote quickly will save you a lot of food/potions, the burn status is also quite strong too with a similar effect which can be stopped by using a cooler. Then there’s quite possibly the most annoying status ailments. These are freeze and dizzy.

Freeze does what you think it does, it freezes you in place leaving you completely vulnerable for an attack which can be devastating in this game. Dizzy stuns you for a short period of time just like running out of POW which can be a real pain. Pretty much every single status ailment can turn the tide of battle in the enemy’s favor very quickly especially the freeze/dizzy status ailment as being inflicted by those ailments often leads to the player’s death since they are vulnerable to any attack and enemies won’t hesitate to take advantage of your misfortune.

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Goddamnit…

Hopefully I’ve illustrated to you just how frustrating the original Odin Sphere is which is why I recommend against playing it. I say this because there is a “classic mode” option in the remaster of the game which is exactly what you think it is. It’s the original game in HD. If you don’t want to put yourself through this torment then please for the love of god don’t play classic mode, it will break you… no I’m serious, it will break you… mentally.

Now that that’s out of the way, let us talk about the remaster itself. Odin Sphere Leifthrasir is not just a mere HD re-release like most re-releases tend to be these days. Story and cutscenes aside, Odin Sphere Leifthrasir is a completely different game to the original. They have completely wiped the slate clean and started from scratch, essentially recreating the entire game from the ground up. It’s incredible to see how so much has changed with this re-release it literally feels like a whole new experience altogether. In other words, fans of the previous game will find a lot of new content here even though the game’s story is still pretty much the same as it was in the original.

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The question is, does this 9 year game still hold up today or was it best left in the dust? Now I’ll admit, I was eager to get this game simply due to the fact that the original game had so much potential underneath despite all its flaws and I seriously mean that. Odin Sphere is one of those games that I really tried to like despite my infuriating experience. I wanted to keep playing the game to experience more simply because I didn’t want to give up on it.

On paper, Odin Sphere had a lot going for it. A simple yet engaging story with multiple perspectives and a great soundtrack composed by Hitoshi Sakimoto accompanied with bright and colorful visuals in order to create a lush atmosphere that would have captivated me had it not been for the abysmal gameplay. Thankfully, Odin Sphere Leifthrasir not only fixes many of the issues that plagued the original game but it also brings more to the table.

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For starters using regular attacks no longer consumes POW, instead there are new items called phozon prisms which contain psypher skills. These abilities consume either POW or PP when used, the latter being a replacement for the phozon gauge which has been removed. In addition, running out of POW does not make you dizzy either which was a big nuisance in the original game. I like how they found a good use for the POW gauge rather than just removing it entirely, it merely adds an extra layer of depth and flexibility to the game and that is never a bad thing.

In addition to the new psypher skills, there are also new regular attacks to experiment with allowing for even more flexibility. There is also an added dodge button which can be quite handy at avoiding attacks quickly. You can dodge both on ground and in the air but on the ground you can dodge limitlessly making it a great way to quickly maneuver around each stage as well as a great way to avoid getting hit. Dodging doesn’t make you invincible but it can let you slip away from attacks easily. Dodging is really smooth and easy to execute so it’s a good idea to take advantage of it as often as possible.

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Guarding no longer consumes POW and all characters are given the ability to guard making it a more viable option to protect yourself against enemy attacks. Guards can only take so many hits but they let you avoid attacks in situations where movement is limited, They can also help you deal with annoying projectile attacks and often put you in a better position to counter your enemy making it a more viable option than dodging in some cases though if you get hit from behind then your guard will break so be careful.

Moving the left analog stick in each direction while guarding allows you to perform the additional standard attacks I spoke of allowing you to weave in and out of a guard easily allowing for more passive aggressive play. Psypher skills can be set to the circle button or used from the menu, it’s great how players have the option between seamlessly performing their psypher skills and pausing the game to select a psypher skill. Up to 4 moves can be assigned to the circle button and its associated directional inputs so they can be used in a pinch.

Odin Sphere Review 1

Each psypher skill you acquire can also be upgraded using phozons collected from enemies in order to enhance their effects which adds a little bit of personalization to the game allowing you to customize your experience making Odin Sphere feel more like an RPG than its predecessor. In addition to psypher skills, as you level up you will acquire ability points which can be spent on passive abilities for even further customization. All I can say is that it’s about time this game had some great character management as the original was sorely lacking in it despite being considered an RPG by many.

In the original game you would either absorb phozons from dead enemies to level up your psypher level (attack damage) or you would plant seeds which would absorb phozons in order to obtain food items which would heal you and level up your hit points. This essentially means that you had 2 levels to manage. Odin Sphere Leifthrasir merges both levels into one so that you don’t have to worry about your food to psypher ratio which was kind of annoying as your hit points level would often be lower than your psypher level simply due to the fact that it was so tedious to level up a character’s hit points because of how long it took to grow seeds.

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So to rectify this issue, both levels merged to become a single level which increases all your stats. In addition they added the ability to stack seeds in order to save the player from having to constantly go back and forth between menus to plant multiple seeds. Another problem with the original is that if you absorbed phozons it would cost part of your psypher gauge in order to release them. Odin Sphere Leifthrasir adds the ability to release phozons by holding R1 + Square. The top right hand corner of the screen shows the total number of phozons you have and you can use them as not only a form of currency in the upgrade screen but also to feed seeds so they will grow into food.

In the original Odin Sphere there were restaurants which would cook meals for you giving you a huge chunk of hit point exp. This was vital if you wanted to get through the game smoothly and as such you would often have to backtrack to different levels to farm ingredients including mandragoras and seeds, it was tedious. In addition specific coins were also required to pay for the meal. Odin Sphere Leifthrasir splits this system in half by adding a new touring restaurant that appears in rest areas on the map. This means that players can eat food on the go rather than having to constantly enter and exit the level to get access to the restaurants.

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Unlike the restaurants however, the touring restaurant doesn’t require any money, rather you are required to bring the ingredients necessary to cook the dish. The restaurants themselves however only take specific types of coin but do not require ingredients. This allows players to level up their hit points easier in a way that befits them. Those who wish to gather the right materials for a meal can level up their food level at the touring restaurant. On the other hand, those who do not want to have to search for specific materials in each level can use the regular restaurants. Ideally you will want to utilize both for the maximum exp gains. You can also buy takeaway food that can be used in battle but the exp gains are lower than other dishes.

This is great for people who enjoy invested empowerment as it constantly throws exp rewards at you… but you have to earn them. Ingredients can be purchased from shops but they can be expensive, special coins are often obtained from treasure chests littered around each stage. You can also be rewarded with more/higher quality special coins by getting a higher rank for beating each fight zone meaning that if you play well, you will be able to level up higher. In addition as there is only one leveling system in this game, food doesn’t just level up your hit points it levels up all of your stats. This is a pretty big deal.

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How does she remain so dainty after eating so much food?

One of the more interesting challenges that comes with playing Odin Sphere Leifthrasir is managing your resources in a way that best suits the situation. As important as it is to eat food, it is also very important to keep stocked up on potions. There are a lot of new potions this time round, many of the spells from the original have been transformed into consumable potions which kinda makes more sense when you consider the fact that many of the characters shared the same spells. Now that the psypher skills are more-or-less unique to each character, it makes sense to separate the shared magic and to instead use it as a consumable damage dealing item.

If the original Odin Sphere has taught me anything it’s don’t be conservative with potions. Potions can really deal a lot of hurt towards enemies and can really help turn a bad situation around for you as well as to buy you some time. Things can get pretty chaotic at times to the point that even the psypher skills don’t provide strong enough crowd control. Damage dealing potions act as an extension to your psypher skills allowing you to really build up the hits and can be really handy for crowd control, especially when you’re trying to position enemies up for an attack. This can be really handy against bosses too as they can take a good chunk of a bosses health away.

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Crafting potions is a lot easier than before. Rather than relying on the numerical value to decide the outcome, the numerical value is now used to determine the strength of the potion as well as other factors. Crafting different types of potions is as simple as adding up to 3 of the same type of mandragora to a material. The type of potion you make depends on how many of the same type of mandragora you put in. Each mandragora has different potion recipes  linked to it, you can find them out by collecting them over the course of the game but they’re easy enough to figure out. I would also like to note that potions will no longer generate phozons when crafted which means that you can no longer abuse the value system for phozons.

Just about any item can affect the value of a potion. Other items such as seeds, accessories and even junk have their own recipes connected to them so you will want to try all kinds of items to find out what results you can come up with. To make things easier, there is an option to stack multiple ingredients as you make a potion. This not only speeds up the process but it allows you to preview the results of a crafted potion without having to actually make it. This makes potion crafting a lot easier to grasp than it was in the original and it only takes a few minutes of experimenting to find every single combination. You can also craft some really overpowered potions early on if you want to so you can still break the game… though it will come at a cost of course.

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When it comes to surviving in Odin Sphere, preparation is key. You’re going to spend quite a while doing simple yet somewhat time-consuming character management. While this is not everyone’s cup of tea it’s important to realize that Odin Sphere isn’t just a mindless beat em up, it’s also an RPG. While the core gameplay really focuses on the beat em up action, you are expected to manage your character’s stats and inventory often. Thankfully Odin Sphere makes this easier as it cuts away all the tedium so you will spend far less time planting and crafting than in the original.

Those looking for more of a challenge may be disappointed by the fact that many of these new mechanics added to the game seem dumbed down when compared to the original. Fear not, Odin Sphere Leifthrasir acknowledges these changes and offers even more challenges to the player in order to balance things out. Bosses have a lot more hit points this time round and rather than having a single health bar, their health is presented in multiple chunks. on other words you have several health bars to deplete. The good thing about this is that bosses will no longer be able to heal their health to maximum if you have taken out a chunk of their health.

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If you somehow managed to beat the original Odin Sphere you probably have all of the basics figured out but don’t think you’ll be able to use the same strategies as before. Odin Sphere Leifthrasir introduces new enemies, many of which are bosses. These bosses can be brutal… so much so that they put the original game’s bosses to shame though I won’t deny that many of them can be really fun to fight. Returning enemies also come new and improved with new abilities to keep you on your toes. You will have to be more careful when fighting these bosses this time round and be prepared to eat food and use potions often, you’re going to need them. All in all the standard enemies and the bosses offer a satisfying level of challenge and death is never too punishing, you can also retry a fight right from the beginning at any time retaining any items you used.

The stage map is a lot more intricate this time round. The original Odin Sphere’s stage map consisted of battle stages, boss stages and rest stages. Odin Sphere Leifthrasir mixes things up adding brand new stage layouts each with their own unique environments which is a pretty big deal considering the fact that the original Odin Sphere re-used the same environments for each stage which became quite stale over time and appeared to be somewhat lazy. I don’t know whether this was to do with budget issues or not but this was a pretty big problem considering the fact that the original Odin Sphere’s art design was the game’s biggest selling point. The new environments are just as stunning as they were in the original and they really help to flesh out each location to give them more of an identity.

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Some passages are too small for the character to fit through. These pink plants allow you to transform into a miniature version of your character in order for you to access small passages, keep an eye out for them.

In addition to all this, Odin Sphere Leifthrasir adds a brand new soundtrack to accompany these new environments. Fear not, the original music is still there, it’s just not as common as it was in the original. Many of the original ambient tracks now play in the rest stages, the battle music remains the same for the most part as does the boss music. The cutscenes remain completely unchanged from the original and have the exact same music playing in each one. I really enjoy the new soundtrack that has been added into this game, some of the new tracks are even better than the originals, that’s not to say the originals are bad but the new tracks are even better which isn’t surprising considering the fact that Hitoshi Sakimoto returns to compose many of the game’s tracks.

That just about covers all of the new additions to Odin Sphere Leifthrasir but aside from all the improved mechanics and additions, how does the rest of the game hold up? While the gameplay may have been abysmal, the story itself wasn’t half bad. Like Valkyrie Profile, Odin Sphere’s setting takes a lot of inspiration from norse mythology although Odin Sphere goes a little crazy with it. there are several nations, each with their own ideals and methods. The character’s you control are often affiliated with each nation and has to deal with the many conflicts each nation is involved in.

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Each book starts at a completely different point in the game’s timeline from a different perspective. Interestingly enough the first book starts half way through the story and finishes right near the end… but once you finish the rest of the books, the events leading prior to the first book become clear. It’s a smart and interesting way to tell the game’s story by putting you straight into the action right from the get go rather than drowning the player in exposition. In doing so, the story manages to bait the player’s curiosity, beckoning them to uncover more.

Despite all this the plot itself feels rather simplistic though that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I find that the story’s execution is the driving force that keeps players coming back for more. I like how rather than telling you what’s going on directly, the game illustrates the situation and presents the player with written notes which explain the story in more detail which can quickly be skimmed through or even skipped should the player wish. These can be viewed at any time in the bookshelf on the book selection screen and in the original they could be found in the prophecies section of the notes.

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There is also the timeline which allows you to watch all the cutscenes you’ve unlocked without having to play through the books again. The timeline lists all the cutscenes from each book in chronological order, allowing the player keep track of where they are in the story. I found this feature to be extremely useful because not only does it help you piece together the story but it also helps alleviate confusion when progressing through each book.

It’s interesting to see the events of each book intertwine and how each character views one another. I always love the ability to experience multiple perspectives in a game’s story and I can appreciate how Odin Sphere manages to execute this concept so well. While it may not be on the same scale as Warcraft 3, having 5 different characters to play individually is something I believe that more games need to explore.

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The original Odin Sphere was undoubtedly wasted potential. I think the game suffered from a severe lack of budget. Even with its vibrant visuals, interesting story and gorgeous soundtrack, the game itself felt patched together at the last minute. Given more time, I’m sure the developers would have been able to deliver a solid experience. Odin Sphere Leifthrasir proves this. It is a remarkable turnaround for what was once a complete and utter failure of a game.

I think we can all learn a lot from both Odin Sphere and Odin Sphere Leifthrasir. Gameplay is the root of all videogames and while the focus may still be shifted towards the visual and audio department, we cannot forget that these are games to play, not games to look at. Polished shit is still shit and I can’t recommend shit to anyone. Odin Sphere is probably one of the most painful experiences I have ever had in gaming to date. This is why I had to review this both this game and the original simultaneously because Odin Sphere Leifthrasir proves that stripping away flawed mechanics and replacing them with something better can turn shit into diamonds.

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Now I could give this game a higher rating but there are still a few things that annoy me about Odin Sphere Leifthrasir. For starters, using items in the middle of battle is still an issue. The animations still take way too long and I’d rather they were just cut out completely or at least sped up several frames. Even with the gourmet ring, eating food still takes way too long. Why can’t players simply use items on the move rather than just standing there? It really doesn’t blend in well with the gameplay at all and often leaves you open to be attacked which is a nuisance.

One of the additions that didn’t impress me were the shoot-em-up sections with Mercedes. I get that they were trying to mix things up but these sections are frustrating as hell. For starters you are unable to use items and you can only evade backwards not forwards. Also if you die you merely get sent down to the floor below. Fortunately these sections are completely optional to complete though they tease the player by knocking them down to the next section when they die rather than letting them retry which is a pain since you have to use items to heal yourself since you will have 1hp left afterwards.

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Fortunately you are able to retry these sections as the stage map now allows you to warp between stages so you can backtrack easily. This still doesn’t make these SHMUP sections any less painful though. If they allowed the player to dodge forward instead of back then these sections could have been more enjoyable. Sadly this was not the case. While you are often able to choose between multiple stages on the map, these “optional” stages are compulsory to partake in though you aren’t required to finish them.

Another issue that may turn players away from this game is the inventory management. While it has improved considerably from the original Odin Sphere, it is still an issue. The original Odin Sphere gave you bags which had to be picked up and placed in your inventory. You then needed to create a separate bag slot from the inventory by selecting the bag. This was a pain to do if your inventory was full as you had to drop an item, pick up the bag, create a bag slot and pick the item you dropped back up off the floor.

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Thankfully Odin Sphere Leifthrasir fixes this issue by automatically increasing your storage capacity which cuts out all the needless inventory management you had to do. There is also a storage chest which can store numerous items too. The problem is that these storage chests are only in rest areas. While I can’t exactly fault the game for this I can see it being a problem to people who detest inventory management as you will often find yourself with limited space. Plus it is important to save your best items for the bosses so you won’t want to use them in standard fights. Why would you want to when you can use your powerful psypher skills?

In any case I would argue that aside from these minor issues, Odin Sphere Leifthrasir is definitely worth playing for both newcomers and returning fans. I would also recommend this game to people who were disappointed by the original Odin Sphere. It’s just sad that my first time playing this game was single-handedly crushed by the abysmal gameplay of the original. For those who haven’t played the original and are interested in these types of games, never play the original, it’s just not worth your time or money but if you own a PS4 or a Vita then you owe it to yourself to experience Odin Sphere in all its glory by picking up Odin Sphere Leifthrasir.

Odin Sphere Leifthrasir Review 5

Can you please stop eating? It’s making me hungry…


Story/Plot: Great
Visuals: Excellent
Gameplay: Excellent
Music: Excellent
Lifespan: Quite Long
Difficulty: Hard
Would You Replay? Maybe

Overall: Excellent
silver-star-of-awesome sized

Value: £40.00

 

Tales Of Symphonia Review

Tales of symphonia review 3

I don’t talk enough about the Tales series, maybe because the series has burned me out. I’ve been seeing more and more Tales games get shoveled out every year and each time I see them I kinda get a bitter taste in my mouth. Ever since the release of Star Ocean 5 and Exist Archive, my interest in the Tales series started to dwindle to the point where I had just lost interest in it.

However there’s nothing like a great Tales game to satisfy one’s JRPG cravings and Tales Of Symphonia is the first game that comes to mind when It comes to playing a good old-fashioned run of the mill JRPG. You see, Tales Of Symphonia doesn’t present itself as anything new. At first sight it’s easy to be misled by the game’s slow pacing but I’d advise you not to judge a book by its cover. Tales Of Symphonia is definitely a must play for any JRPG fan, particularly those who enjoy action RPG’s over the conventional turned based.

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As and action RPG, Tales Of Symphonia is often seen as a benchmark and rightfully so.  It was the first 3D Japanese Action RPG to give us a deep and engaging combat system and ultimately served as the demise for the Star Ocean series as a whole. If it wasn’t for Tales Of Symphonia, I don’t think the Tales series would have lasted as long as it has. The series has had a pretty huge legacy and Tales Of Symphonia serves as the pillar that holds it all in place.

Tales Of Symphonia might not seem much at first glance but as a game released in 2003 it has aged magnificently… most of it that is. A lot of people question the popularity of Symphonia, often comparing it to other games in the series. While the Tales series has evolved considerably, there have been a lot of changes to the series that have improved on the formula set by Tales Of Symphonia. As good as this was, future games in the series failed to stand out from its predecessor. While I won’t deny that there were some solid Tales games released after Symphonia, Symphonia kinda feels different from those games.

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There is something about Symphonia that keeps me coming back to it and I think I’ve found out what that something is. For starters, one of the things that made Tales Of Symphonia so iconic is its diverse array of content. There’s no shortage of things to do in this game as the main story has a pretty sizable length and there are plenty of sidequests to experience as you progress through the story and many of them offer some great rewards, usually in the form of titles.

The title system allows players to collect special titles that will alter the character’s stat growth. These titles can be carried over in a new game plus which allows players to customize their character’s growth in future playthroughs. Knowing that nearly every sidequest you complete contributes towards each playthrough gives you more of an incentive to complete them, when it comes to rewarding players, Tales Of Symphonia has a lot to offer.

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This alone would be a mere novelty. What truly makes Tales Of Symphonia a memorable experience lies in its gameplay and story. While the story of Tales Of Symphonia might appear quite generic at first glance, it manages to stay fresh with its strong themes. The characters themselves are very much the same, on the surface they are cardboard cut outs but each of them has their own place in the game’s story and play their role well enough. Rather than focusing on the characters individually, the game uses them as a means to portray the strong themes the game’s story revolves around. I don’t want to go into too much detail on these themes for fear of spoilers.

I’m not going to lie, Tales Of Symphonia’s story isn’t going to blow you away, it’s pretty bog standard for today’s standards but it was executed well enough to create a memorable experience. So long as you don’t set your expectations too high, you might be pleasantly surprised by the game’s story. If you do want to get the most out of the game’s story though, you’ll want to engage in some of the game’s many side quests as a lot of the story is hidden behind them. There are also skits which can help shed a light on some of the characters too.

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What makes this game truly stand out from other games in the series is its affection system. Tales Of Symphonia steals borrows this idea from the Star Ocean series which allowed you to partake in special events known as private actions which allowed certain scenarios to influence variables. These variables would affect the ending the player would obtain and each character would have their own adjustable variable value. As such the player may opt to avoid certain scenario’s or backtrack for specific scenarios in order to build up their desired variable.

In Tales Of Symphonia the way you interact with characters is different from the Star Ocean series. While lot of the choices you make throughout the game will affect the amount of affection each character has for the main character Lloyd, the actual process of acquiring these affection points is a lot more streamlined for the most part often forcing choices onto the player as they make progress though the game’s story. That’s not to say that there aren’t any optional interactions. Many of the sidequests can also affect a particular character’s affection for Lloyd. There are also optional skit points where you can engage in a skit conversations with other characters in which the player’s choices affect the character’s affection for Lloyd.

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Sadly this feature never made it into any of the future Tales games which is a shame. Unlike the Star Ocean series however, the affection system doesn’t affect the game’s ending, rather it changes up many of the game’s cut scenes. Once you reach a certain point in the main story, the characters with the highest affection will be able to partake in a cut scene with Lloyd, this scene will solidify that character as the one with the highest affection for Lloyd, essentially replacing the multiple character endings the Star Ocean series has. As a fan of the Star Ocean series I really enjoyed the inclusion of this feature as it allowed me to get more invested in the story and characters. Plus it allowed me to personalize my experience more which is always a good thing.

The Tales series is known for its fast paced real-time action battle systems and Tales Of Symphonia is no exception. Even today, Tales Of Symphonia holds up well despite it being rather basic. If you’ve played any other Tales game then you’ll know what to expect here. Tales Of Symphonia uses a side scrolling battle system in a 3D battle arena. This means that by changing targets you are able to spread your party out. So despite the fact that it is a side scrolling action RPG, it really feels like a free moving combat system.

Tales Of Symphonia was the first game in the series to offer serious competition to the Star Ocean games and for good reason. Rather than simply having players barrage foes with attacks, Tales Of Symphonia focuses on chaining hits to build up combos. While the ability to combo was somewhat prominent it still felt rather unrefined. Tales Of Symphonia’s combat offers a more refined combo system allowing players to chain up to 3 techs and alternate between 6 different techs per character at a time. This was a big deal back then as ARPG’s often lacked variety back in their early years. Tales Of Symphonia was one of the first ARPG’s that added a considerable amount of depth making it capable enough to rival that of a turned based RPG.

The combat focuses on synchronizing your attacks with the AI (or other players) in order to build up a combo. This idea would later be used in other games such as Valkyrie Profile 2 which allowed players to take control over all four characters in battle, managing them all simultaneously. Tales Of Symphonia was one of the first to focus primarily on combo focused gameplay and offers a wide variety of options in battle.

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Unfortunately like in all real-time action RPG’s with AI controlled party members, the combat suffers from having a lack of control over multiple characters. This is a problem that is not exclusive to Tales Of Symphonia but is worth bringing up considering the fact that Tales Of Symphonia is one of the pioneers that established the more modern style of real time action RPG’s and as such it is important to keep in mind that relying on the AI is essentially a big part of the gameplay.

For this reason, playing the game with a friend is probably going to be a far better experience than playing alone. Much like Secret of Mana was a more co-op orientated game, Tales Of Symphonia appears to be very similar. However players managed to enjoy playing Tales Of Symphonia as a single player game so it’s not impossible to enjoy playing it alone, rather there are some flaws to be aware of in terms of the AI. I will say though that for the most part, the AI aren’t all that bad in Tales Of Symphonia and if you can learn the AI’s patterns, you can really build up some awesome combo’s.

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Still, my philosophy on these type of games is that they were actually built with co-op in mind originally but the early games in the series along with all of the Star Ocean games seem to have forgotten this. Regardless, I judge these types of games in four different categories: flexibility, intuition, smoothness and AI behavior and considering the time this game was released, Tales Of Symphonia is above average in all four of these categories making for a very well-rounded combat system. Like I said before, you have 6 attacks at your disposal and they can all be mixed up in any order you choose as well as several regular attacks to mix things up more. While that may not sound like much today, back in 2003 this was a pretty big deal in terms of flexibility.

Now I never had the chance to play the original Gamecube release (which is quite ironic since the Gamecube is my favourite console) but based on the PS3 release, the controls are very simple and easy to use. You can guard and dodge using the square button, use normal attacks with X and artes using O. Comboing is simple enough, using a combination of normal attacks and artes as well as the AI’s attacks you can build up some crazy combos which are still really fun to pull off today and it’s easy to build up those hits, you never feel like you have to do too much busy work to pull them off like in Star Ocean Till The End Of Time which required the player to constantly swap characters in order to juggle their enemies.

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To add to all this you also have unison attacks. This was cool because you got to stop the enemy in their tracks while you get to perform any move of your choosing. Performing certain moves allows you use a compound special attacks which were a combination of two different artes with two different characters. It was a flashy and cool way to finish off enemies. I really liked the unison attack system and building the unison gauge was never too much of a hassle. It just gives you more control over battles and adds some extra flashiness to the combo’s.

To make things even crazier, the PS3 version (based on the Japanese PS2 version) adds mystic artes which are an alternate finisher that allow specific characters to pull off a unique special attack much like the purify weird soul attacks in Valkyrie Profile. These are used as finishers but unlike Unison Attacks they are pretty hard to pull off and can sometimes be completely forgotten about. This is due to the fact that the overlimit gauge didn’t exist yet and overlimits were built up over time much like trance in Final Fantasy IX in the sense that you cannot trigger it at will. Since most mystic artes required the character be in overlimit or at low hp, they were difficult to pull off.

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Regardless I can easily say that Tales Of Symphonia’s battle system stands the test of time, while other games in the series may be better in some areas, few games come close to the polished smoothness of Tales Of Symphonia’s combat. It is one of those combat systems that keeps you coming back for more due to how simple yet polished it is. To put it more accurately Tales Of Symphonia’s battle system is the benchmark of any real-time action JRPG combat and is what all real time action JRPG’s should aspire to be.

Aside from combat you do get a little bit of character management here, while not as deep as it is in the Star Ocean series, Tales Of Symphonia offers the player a few choices in regards to character management in the form of EX skills. These skills alter several different properties of each character giving them special passive abilities or allowing them to be played in a unique way. Sadly in future games such as Tales Of The Abyss, EX skills were learned in a more linear fashion and rather than picking and choosing, you get given all the EX skills over the course of the game which ruined the whole point of having EX skills. Regardless this was a great addition which adds a little bit of experimentation to the game.

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Other than that however, character management is very basic, learning new artes can be quite complicated as there are two different combat styles to learn: strike and technical. Each style has its own set of artes and is influenced by the player’s EX skills. Strike artes are mostly powerful attacks which focus on knockback. Technical artes focus more on delivering more hits and are usually a lot flashier than strike artes. Then you have magic which is completely different depending on the character. For example, you could have Raine be a strong party healer and teach her technical moves like Revitalize. On the other hand you could teach her stronger single target healing abilities and the ability to give your characters an auto-revive buff.

You can mix between strike and technical artes by changing your EX skills to favor the opposite style just before you learn a new move, you can also forget certain moves and swap them for their alternate move should you wish. Or you could just stick with either style and see what you get. This makes the game more interesting as there are so many different combinations of moves you can have at your disposal, some may see it as limiting but that’s kinda the point, by limiting the player, you are making them choose between two variants of moves based on which they prefer.

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Do they want to focus on dealing raw damage and knockbacks or so they want to focus on building up more hits? By limiting your game for the sake of choices, you’re actually providing a more rewarding experience since the choice the player makes equates to that of rewarding players with personalization. This is what many of the other Tales games failed to realize, by breaking these limits and just giving all the abilities away to the player, they are essentially removing that element of choice which made Tales Of Symphonia feel so rewarding… at least in terms of personalization.

So Tales Of Symphonia does a lot of things right with its gameplay and while the story starts off quite slow, it picks up later on. In theory this alone should provide a highly engaging experience and it does… for the most part. You see Tales Of Symphonia may be the series’ benchmark but it isn’t without its flaws. For starters, the dungeons of Tales Of Symphonia tend to really bog the game down in monotony as there are plenty of dungeons in the game that just flat-out suck. Why is this you ask? That’s simple, puzzles and when I say puzzles I mean hours upon hours of tedium.

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The puzzles in Tales Of Symphonia are quite possibly some of the most irritating puzzles I have ever seen in an RPG. While the first few dungeons have very simple, yet boring puzzles, later puzzles can become quite tedious and annoying to do. One puzzle in particular literally has you moving blocks of garbage and dropping it off a catwalk for no other reason than to pan out game time. To make things worse you have the sorcerers ring with its many functions. I absolutely loathe the inclusion of this feature because there are times where you have to switch between ring modes to accomplish certain tasks the game gives you to do like shooting braziers and shooting a bomb to blow up a rock.

Maybe this is just a personal issue but I honestly do not see how anyone can enjoy slogging through such horrendous dungeons. The most infamous of dungeons require you to guide several blobs to a certain position. These blobs will follow you but it is a nightmare to keep them all together. All you do is run around the area aimlessly pushing switches, trying to find all the blobs and trying to keep them all together. To make things worse, pushing in certain switches pushes other switches out. It’s a nightmare for people like me who want to get straight to the action. Even if I were to like puzzles, I cannot see myself not getting frustrated in that horrendous place.

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The dungeons are the biggest problem with this game and they are one of the few things that hinder the game’s replay value. However there is also another problem that many games released back in 2003 suffered from, unskippable cutscenes. That’s right, one of the most irritating parts of replaying a JRPG is to have to press X/A to keep the text moving so that you can get back to the action. I wish that players could just skip the cutscenes and move on. Why this isn’t a thing in the PS3 port I cannot fathom.

Despite all this, I managed to slog through another playthrough and while it did have its annoying parts, the amount of rewarding content this game offered convinced me to play through it again and once I reached the second half of the game, my engagement levels rose a ton. Tales Of Symphonia offers a new game plus feature. By spending grade you are able to unlock certain perks which you can carry over to each playthrough. After unlocking the combo’s perk the game felt extremely rewarding to play in terms of growth as it rewards you with experience based on the highest combo you perform in the fight. This made every boss fight feel different and added an extra layer of depth to the game.

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It was this second playthrough that convinced me to review this game as I felt that being able to play through a game such as this a second time alone is something worth noting since I don’t normally do such things in videogames. I will say though that the second playthrough did have its annoying moments, particularly in the dungeons but I believe if you are truly willing to give the game another shot, by all means do so.

This game has a lot of replay value to balance out the horror of having to slog through those painful dungeons again and as someone who dislikes replaying videogames in general, I can confirm that there is some value to be had in doing so, it just takes a bit of patience because Tales Of Symphonia is quite a lengthy ordeal as it can take around 40 – 50 hours to finish the story. I assure you, once you endure the first half of the game, the game opens up fairly quickly and you feel like you’re playing through a whole new experience entirely. There are still the painful moments but if you are willing to endure some of that pain, it’s definitely worth playing through this game multiple times.

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As far as music is concerned, the game’s soundtrack does a reasonable job of keeping players engaged in the experience but doesn’t go the extra mile to deliver something particularly noteworthy. There are some good tracks here and there, ironically the best tracks tend to play in some of the most tedious dungeons, kinda fitting considering the fact that you’ll be spending a lot of your time in these places. Some tracks are better than others but for the most part I’d say that the soundtrack does its job reasonably well.

In terms of art direction, Tales Of Symphonia takes a very vivid approach depicting a bright, colorful cel-shaded world. While some may find this kind of contradictory to many of the game’s themes I feel that it serves to make the world more likable and makes the locations more memorable due to this distinct art style. After all, sometimes you want a break from the more darker styled games and you want something bright and colorful as a refreshment. As such I feel that the art design fits this game rather well, it really fools you into believing that the game is very plain and simple at first but when things start to get more interesting as the story clashes with other themes, the art direction really stands out.

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When it comes to choosing whether or not to play Tales Of Symphonia, ask yourself what exactly you are looking for in a JRPG at this point? While I do believe that most JRPG fans should give this game a shot at some point, I don’t think this is a game people should rush towards for the sake of it. If you’re going to play Tales Of Symphonia then you want to be in the right mood for it.

If you’re tired of the more conventional RPG and want something different, Tales Of Symphonia can be quite difficult to get into. On the other hand if you’re looking to escape from more modern, avant-garde JRPG experiences and are looking for a bit of comfort food in the form of a JRPG, then you should definitely give Tales Of Symphonia a go. I do think that the game starts off quite slow and it can be an arduous task to get to the meaty stuff but when you do I believe that you will enjoy what you see.


Story/Plot: Good
Visuals: Good
Music: Satisfactory
Gameplay: Great
Lifespan: Quite Long
Difficulty: Medium
Would you replay? Yes

Overall: Great

Value: £40.00

 

Theorycrafting: The Difference Between Methodical And Experimental Gameplay

Sorry I’m late with this one guys.

Whether you want to know which style of gameplay is best suited to you or you desire to develop a game with a specific audience in mind, knowing what makes experimental or methodical gameplay is important.

Let’s Play Painkiller (Trauma) (Complete)

This is my full lets play of Painkiller. Chapter 1-4 are on Trauma difficulty and Chapter 5 is on Nightmare difficulty.

In this lets play I will not be using tarot cards on my Trauma playthrough. Chapter 5 is a bonus section of the Let’s Play taken straight from my original walkthrough of the game on Nightmare and I ended up using Vitality and Mercy for that playthrough. No Gold Tarot cards are used though. I don’t show all of the secrets but I do show some of them.

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Grandia 3 Review

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So after years of waiting, we finally got Grandia 3 in the UK via Playstation Store. It was a hassle to access the US Playstation store but regardless, I have finally finished it and quite frankly I’m quite glad I got to experience this game, even if it is a bit rough around the edges. What do I mean by this? Well it is pretty much the opposite of everything that made Grandia 2 so great in the first place.

Allow me to elaborate. When this game was first released, people were in uproar about it, some consider it the death of the Grandia series, others just consider it to be a mediocre title which was nothing more than a disappointment. Hey, that sounds like the perfect game for me to review. So I picked the game up and gave it a go. How bad could it possibly be?

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First of all, I would like to talk about the visuals of this game since they are a considerable improvement from Grandia 2. The world of Grandia 3 is certainly a looker, not the best looking game I’ve seen but it has certainly been given a makeover that stands out if you’ve played any of the previous Grandia games. It feels great to actually play a Grandia game with such great visuals. Sure Grandia 2 Anniversary Edition improved on the visuals somewhat and made them a lot easier on the eyes and actually made them quite likable but Grandia 3 really has a fresh new style that is unlike any of the previous Grandia games.

One thing I would like to note is that Grandia 3 feels like a much more open-ended game than Grandia 2 but don’t let this fool you, the game is every bit as linear as its predecessor though to be fair, you are able to backtrack this time around thanks to the game’s flight system which allows you to freely roam the world map in a similar way to Lost Odyssey in the sense that it is very restrictive and in a lot of ways kinda pointless considering the linear nature of this game.

Grandia 3 Flying around is kinda pointless

For a theme centered around freedom to roam the skies, you’d expect the game to deliver that feeling of freedom in its structure but sadly this is not the case, instead when you approach certain areas, you merely get a text box telling you about it, kinda like in Mass Effect. It’s such a shame since there is a huge world out there to fly around in yet you only get to explore a small portion of it. It’s such a shame really.

While we are on the topic of the game’s theme, let’s get straight to business and talk about the games laughable story. Where do I even begin? For starters after having played the legendary Grandia 2, it is easy to see how this game has come to receive such a negative reception. You would think that after playing a game like Grandia 2, the story would be exciting and fresh, sadly this is not the case this time around, the story of Grandia 3 is about as exciting as a baked potato.

Grandia 3 Trying really hard not to make a dick joke

Trying really hard not to make a dick joke

While Grandia 2 went off the beaten track with its protagonist, in Grandia 3, you are presented with Yuki who follows just about every single cliché in the book as a JRPG protagonist. His only standout feature is his love for planes… not that I consider that a good thing, rather It comes across as obnoxious more than anything else. Typically the game starts off with the protagonist, Yuki getting scolded by his mother Miranda for being too obsessive over his hobby.

But believe me, Yuki doesn’t get any sympathy from me. After crashing his plane like an idiot, he is left stranded in the middle of a forest a couple of miles from his hometown and encounters a young girl named Alfina… you know what this means don’t you? That’s right, get ready for some boy meets girl action in the form of yet another bland, uninspired romance that contributes absolutely nothing to the plot… hurray!

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Little did I know that the entire build up of Yuki’s character was about to capsize from here on out. Now Yuki must escort Miss Bigears to a place called Arcriff, a place of worship dedicated to communicating with the guardians. Sound familiar? Anyways the story starts getting duller and duller from there.

Put simply if you’ve played any JRPG, you’ve seen Grandia 3’s storyline already. It pretty much deflates into a quest for macguffins once you reach the halfway mark and by that point, the story never really evolves past that until you face the big bad evil thing at the end.

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To make things even more insulting, the only two redeeming characters leave the party early on in the story. This cripples the story as they are replaced by two dull characters who barely have anything to offer in terms of personality and they are mostly cardboard cut outs. In fact, these characters are so bad that you could remove them from the game and it wouldn’t change a thing.

Now in a game like Grandia, this is particularly worrying since the Grandia series has always revolved around its interaction between characters and with a cast of characters as dry as oatmeal, its efforts to focus on character interaction are pretty much wasted.

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The nature of the Grandia series remains unchanged however. Grandia 3 follows the same formula as the previous games. Its focus on NPC interaction is still an all you can eat buffet of narrative and the dinner scenes return to add more flavor.

You can tell that Game Arts were trying to focus on building a strong narrative as they continue to use the same tools that made Grandia 2’s story so engaging, it’s just a shame that the characters and the plot of Grandia 3 are so sterile otherwise it could have made for yet another memorable and engaging storyline.

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Where the game truly shines however is in its battle system. Like the previous Grandia titles, Grandia 3 uses an active time based (ATB) battle system with a heavy emphasis on changing the flow of battles through cancelling enemy attacks and manipulating the IP gauge to intercept enemy turns.

Grandia 3 enhances the system by rebalancing the game’s difficulty to make for a more challenging experience. In addition, the game adds new aerial combos in an attempt to mix things up. Sadly while aerial combos have their uses early on in the game, their effectiveness diminishes later on as enemies are given insane amounts of health and this tends to make many of the boss fights a slog.

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Fortunately many of the boss fights are varied, some of which can be quite difficult to figure out at first. The game keeps things fresh by offering plenty of devastating abilities to be used by both the player and the enemy. It is important to stay on your toes in all battles as you are usually outnumbered by multiple enemies and if your characters are widely spread out on the IP gauge, you may find yourself in a compromising situation if you make the wrong move.

Thankfully the game offers a wide assortment of abilities in the form of moves/magic to bolster your arsenal. Every ability is useful, you just need to find the right one for the job. That’s JRPG combat 101 right there and while many JRPG’s forget the significance of this, Grandia 3’s combat focuses heavily on making the player’s choices feel important. Add to that the need to manage SP more carefully (due to the lack of SP restoration items available) and you have a surprisingly deep combat system which offers plenty of variety to keep things fresh for the entire duration of the game.

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Character Management is different this time around. New moves are learned via leveling up rather than with special coins. Moves are enhanced at random. I personally dislike this as it can sometimes screw you over in battles since attacks will be pulled off instantly when a new secret method is learned (the process of leveling up moves) which can ruin a potentially well-timed cancel. I also dislike the randomness of move leveling. Grandia 2 gave the player total freedom with learning moves which led to several balancing issues, however this method is still preferable to the method used in Grandia 3, at least in my opinion.

Magic is pretty interesting this time around. While the spells in your arsenal are more-or-less the same, the method of learning magic has drastically changed from that of Grandia 2. On one hand it complicates the progression system, on the other hand it is a more balanced system that prevents players from acquiring high level spells too early. Magic eggs can be dropped by most enemies and are surprisingly very common, they can be used to enhance the effects of spells or they can be consumed to learn new spells. Abilities work the same way allowing you to equip skill books to increase the potency of specific skills or consume them to learn new skills. These can be equipped at any save point.

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In addition, there are higher level eggs available which can easily be acquired through mana egg fusion. This allows you to access powerful magic when you wouldn’t normally be able to. It is important to note however that characters have a set magic level depending on how high of a level they are. As such the system is balanced and you can never learn spells that are too powerful. To some, this could be seen as a bad thing, however mana eggs can still be equipped to increase the potency of spells to make up for this allowing you to grow stronger should you wish to.

Ultimately when comparing the gameplay of Grandia 2 and Grandia 3, Grandia 3 comes on top just by a small margin, this isn’t to say that Grandia 2’s gameplay was bad, many of the fundamentals that make Grandia 3’s gameplay so great were lifted straight out of Grandia 2, they have just been improved this time round which is expected of a successor. Sadly it is difficult to call Grandia 3 a true successor to Grandia 2 as it falls short in the department Grandia games are known for, story.

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Personally, I do not often prioritize story in videogames. Grandia 2 was an exception for me and I honestly didn’t expect Grandia 3 to be anything quite like Grandia 2 but the combat is ultimately what won over my interest in this game. While I disagree with some of the systems used in Grandia 3’s character management, the combat itself is actually quite engaging to say the least. As such I cannot say that my experience with Grandia 3 was as bad as many people make it out to be. To be honest I quite enjoyed it.

The music is what sealed the deal for me, despite this games shortcomings, it still has a solid soundtrack, not as good as Grandia 2’s but a solid soundtrack nonetheless. Add to that the eye-catching visuals and you have yourself an enjoyable game. That being said, I can understand the negative reception this game has received, as a Grandia game it is pretty weak and its linear story focused structure limits its potential. Add to that a couple of irritating songs and a few lackluster dungeons leaving you with just another run-of-the-mill JRPG which just falls short of being yet another classic PS2 RPG.

Grandia 3 Mirror mirror on the wall, who's the evilist of them all

Truly a work of art! Oh wait, that’s a mirror, never mind…

So all in all, Grandia 3 is not as bad as people make it out to be, while it is far from being a true successor to Grandia 2, it is still worth the experience. If you can find the game for cheap, give it a try. It’s not a bad game, just don’t expect too much out of it. Put simply if you’re starving for some JRPG action and you’ve played all the best, you aren’t doing yourself a disservice by playing this game, you should be able to find some enjoyment out of it. While this may come as a surprise to you all, I actually had a hard time tearing this game to shreds as much as I’d have liked to.

I really didn’t expect to like this game. Though the story may have been laughably bad and cringeworthy at times, I’ve definitely experienced worse (*cough*White Knight Chronicles*cough*). It gave me some good laughs at least… seriously what is with the blatant similarities between the story of Grandia 2/3 and Devil May Cry 4? Even the voices for Yuki and Alfina return to play the same roles in Devil May Cry 4 as Nero and Kyrie… plus why does the villain look so much like Ganondorf and why does he wear black patches on his face? Seriously dude, grow a beard or something. Plus what is with that wannabe Arngrim guy named Kornell? Why is he such a doofus? What is his purpose in the plot besides being comic relief? We may never find an answer to these questions. All I can do is give the game its final score.

Grandia 3 Could he possibly be evil

Seriously who the fuck is this guy!? What is his purpose in this game besides just being there?


Story/plot: Pretty Bad
Visuals: Good
Gameplay: Great
Music: Good
Lifespan: Decent Length
Difficulty: Hard
Would You Replay? No

 

Overall: Satisfactory

 


 

Value: £15.00

For a more in-depth look at the story, watch this video:

What makes MMORPG’s so successful?

ultima online

This is a topic that I have had in my mind for a while now, MMORPG’s have been widely successful in the past few years, however their popularity has started to slowly deteriorate in recent years. Looking closely at the genre as a whole, it is easy to see that there are a lot of reasons why people play MMORPG’s and almost all of them have a psychological impact on a player’s approach to such games. This makes MMORPG’s one of the most diverse genre’s in gaming which is appealing in itself, sometimes to a fault. This is ultimately what has led to the success of the MMORPG genre as a whole.

The reason why people enjoy MMORPG’s however is tough to answer. We all have different tastes as games and MMORPG’s offer a diverse quantity of activities to engage in. Let’s look at World Of Warcraft for example. There are many different types of World Of Warcraft players and the game attracts an extremely wide audience for this reason however there is one thing that grabs the player’s attention almost immediately. That would be the game’s theme. Warcraft is known for having a very strong lore and setting. You could say that in theory, an MMORPG is the best way to accompany such a title, this is evident with the release of Star Wars The Old Republic, a game based on a series that has built up a massive fan base through its iconic lore and setting which rivals that of World Of Warcraft.

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As such, themes are an important component when developing an MMORPG, it may appear to be quite silly at first but when you consider the vast amount of MMORPG’s on the market it kind of makes sense. The most popular MMO of all time, Word Of Warcraft has a theme that a lot of people can identify with and that many people have likely already invested themselves in. So a strong theme is usually the first thing that grabs people’s attention but what makes a strong theme?

A strong theme is a byproduct of engaging lore which is a byproduct of strong world building and iconic characters. Allow me to break things down for you by using Star Wars as an example. A lot of people are strongly invested in the Star Wars universe for many reasons but when you look at popular culture the most prominent character in the Star Wars universe who appears to have shaped the series is Darth Vader. What makes Darth Vader stand out from the rest is his back story, much like Arthas was in Warcraft 3, Vader was once a noble jedi who fought against the dark side of the force under the name of Anakin Skywalker but after performing what is known as one of the most notorious face-heel turn’s in pop culture, he turned to the dark side of the force and betrayed everybody who trusted him.

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It’s funny how both Star Wars The Old Republic and World Of Warcraft are so very similar in the sense that they both use the same trope for their most prominent characters but that is not to say it is the only way to approach a game’s theme. The face-heel turn trope was simply executed in a way that strongly impacted the connection between the person and the character. I think the reason why this worked so well is the fact that it allowed players to experience two sides of the same coin or as I like to call “multiple perspectives” as mentioned in my previous article.

What does this all have to do with MMORPG’s you ask? Well when you consider the vast amount of MMORPG’s on the market and the ones who succeeded the most, you will recognize the importance of the game’s theme. An MMORPG without a theme is a very shallow experience and while many successful MMORPG’s exist without having an established theme prior to the game’s release, these games haven’t aged too well.

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If we look at Ultima online for example, it is based on a series which is comprised of 9 other games filled to the brim with world building content, Lord British being one of the more prominent characters in said game. Ultima Online was the first MMO to gain recognition by the masses and essentially pioneered the genre. Afterwards games such as Runescape, Everquest and Tibia followed suit in an attempt to cash in on the success of Ultima Online, it wouldn’t be long before World Of Warcraft itself would take hold of the market and make what was quite possibly the most profitable decision Blizzard have ever made. They had a huge opportunity and they took it at the cost of the series’ lore (which I’m still salty about to this day).

As such World Of Warcraft’s strong theme grabbed the attention of the masses quickly and became a juggernaut. In fact, World Of Warcraft has become so successful that many people have forgotten the RTS series that made it so big in the first place, Warcraft. This has ultimately proven to be detrimental to the series as a whole from a lore enthusiast’s perspective as it has catered the series’ storyline to a broader audience causing many problems for players who were highly engaged in the original trilogy’s storytelling.

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As one of those people, I am very cynical towards the MMORPG genre as a whole but that isn’t the only reason. MMORPG’s have the tendency to focus primarily on psychological engagement often using microtransactions to exploit the consumer’s lust for growth by providing them the option to pay for services with real money. This often comes at a cost to the gameplay itself. Games such as GTA Online is notorious for making progression a tedious grind by making their obstacles more of an ordeal to overcome rather than fun and rewarding players with low amounts of experience and in-game cash in order to psychologically influence people to spend their hard-earned money on shark cards.

MMORPG’s as a whole rely on slow progression in order to maintain engagement. What they’re forgetting is that they are catering to a massive audience. I personally believe this is partially what has led to the slow drop in popularity of the MMORPG genre as people simply do not want to invest any more time into these games anymore. For example the age demographic of Runescape players have grown up and this caused a severe drop in player activity among other things. The addition of microtransactions was implemented for this very reason. Instead of improving the game, Jagex decided that the best cause of action was to seek an alternative method to making money, much like other companies in the gaming industry, Jagex will do everything in their power to avoid improving their games and maintain a solid income to keep their servers running and keep their staff paid.

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I feel that a lot of MMORPG’s have grown to rely on this feature since their drop in popularity but this is definitely not the answer we consumers want, this merely solves a one-sided problem and that being the developer/publisher’s need to make money. It is evident that MMORPG’s focus less on releasing quality content and more on quantity that is supposed to keep people playing the game but that is not how the rules of engagement work.

Engagement requires players to be invested in something, it requires motivation and motivation requires a rewarding element. The problem isn’t the lack of rewarding elements however, rather it is the time investment required to earn said rewarding element. As such MMORPG’s need to find a new way to keep players engaged and microtransactions are not the answer.

 

MMORPG’s have the tendency to focus primarily on psychological engagement often using microtransactions to exploit the consumer’s lust for growth by providing them the option to pay for services with real money

 

So we have found the problem but what is the solution? This is where creativity comes into play, something that developers seem to have forgotten about. MMORPG’s are certainly a challenge to design as they are designed to attract a wide audience. As such it is difficult to figure out what players ultimately desire in the game and as a result there is no absolute method to keep players engaged.

The only way that MMORPG’s are going to maintain relevance is by narrowing their target audience. I know it sounds counter-intuitive in a genre that is designed to attract a massive audience but I do believe that it is needed. To know what audience you need to attract you need to find out what said audience wants. There are what I like to call the 3 core audiences in MMORPG’s. These are commonly known as PVPers (Player Vs Player), PVEers (Player Vs Environment) and RPers (Roleplay). The first two audience are easier to cater to as they represent the masses.

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To cater to the PVP audience you need to understand the concept of false choices and how they can be detrimental to your game. PVP is all about balancing. Games which focus on PVP are often criticized for having balancing issues. As a result having more choices and options does not automatically make your game better, it can actually make your game worse unless it is properly managed. I do think that having some level of choice is important to gain the player’s interest but it is important to realize what each choice brings to the table and what their strengths and weaknesses are.

This is where the tricky part comes in. The more choices you provide the harder it is to balance the game because every choice acts as a weight to the scales. It is not as simple as merely dumping ideas on each side of the scale, you need to consider every single facet of each idea brought to the table and how it affects other ideas. Only then can you properly balance it. Think of it like solving a rubix cube. As you move one side, the other side will change as well until you can get each face to show only one colour, you have yet to solve the puzzle. This is the process of balancing and it can be an extremely strenuous task to take on.

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Then you have PVE also known as player vs environment. The process of designing PVE is similar to that of regular RPG’s. Provide the player with a scenario that involves working together to overcome an obstacle. The goal of PVE is to give players a challenge that forces them to work together to overcome it. Most MMORPG’s rely on inherent complexity to create devious obstacles that require both a strong mind and team co-ordination to overcome. The problem with this however is that many of these obstacles often lead to trial and error and this can irritate players. Many RPG’s tend to focus on inherent complexity due to the fact that they complicate their rules with the intent of presenting players with many false choices in order to keep things interesting.

Sadly this can be applied to all strategy games that are focused on single/co-operative play and as a result there is often a barrier of entry to these games, MOBA’s are the worst offender for this relying solely on Inherent complexity to provide a challenge. With inherent complexity being an important component in designing an engaging PVE experience, this can heavily divide the audience of a game’s player base and is quite possibly one of the biggest reasons why players tend to get frustrated playing MMORPG’s.

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 Path Of Exile may seem like a mindless action game on the surface but its character management systems are inherently complex..

But to focus on PVE, you will need to add some level of complexity, there really isn’t much of a choice really. This is why World Of Warcraft has so many different statistics. It is not simply to get players to gaze in awe at the many parameters, rather it is to essentially overwhelm the player with many different choices, many of which being false choices. Ultimately I would say that the best way to approach PVE is to give purpose to each choice in some way or another. If you don’t use *insert ability here* on one boss, you might want to use it on another boss. Keeping a diverse range of obstacles is the best way to keep players engaged. It’s important to encourage players not to rely on the same methods when it comes to PVE and instead have players experiment with different methods and see which works best. Don’t forget to test those methods in order to fine tune your difficulty.

Experimentation is key and as such you will want to focus your game on experimental design rather than methodical design. This is what makes RPG’s so unique from other genres as they tend to combine inherent complexity with experimental gameplay in order to present a challenge for players to overcome. There are also games such as Child Of Light which are surprisingly very simple and focus on emergent complexity with the cancel mechanic allowing players to time their attacks in order to cancel out the incoming attack. This cannot work for MMO’s however simply because MMO’s are built to last and games such as Child Of Light do not last in such an environment because those games are quickly “beaten” and the strategies are quickly set in stone as they are easy to learn.

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The biggest issue is the unfortunate eventuality that all MMORPG’s will eventually be beaten. In fact, you could say that these games tend to be beaten faster than one would think. This is due to the fact that MMO’s tend to have groups known as “first world clans” which are clans dedicated to becoming the first group to overcome the obstacles and are often the first people to establish the solution. This information is then spread to the masses and afterwards the game becomes a monotonous grind as players already know the solution to the obstacle, the challenge is simply getting all players informed and keeping the team coordinated which is a lot harder than it sounds.

So PVE in MMO’s often tends to revolve around using complicated mechanics to influence a heavy focus on team play. Understanding this is only half the battle though, finding the answer is a different kettle of fish altogether. Is there really an answer to this problem or will MMORPG’s continue to stagnate in the PVE department. If you are going to tackle this then you have to be a better man than me. As someone who prides himself on his intuition, even I have become mind-boggled by this and as a result I am unable to find a solution that will work for everything, at least not without completely changing the game from the ground up. I do have some ideas though, developing an MMOFPSRPG might be one way of solving this problem as FPS games tend to have a lot of room for emergent complexity as it adds the extra layer of challenge in the form of movement and aiming.

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You could argue that these games are the future but I would also like to bring your attention to a game I’m quite fond of, Mount And Blade Warband. Already, Mount And Blade Warband has managed to surpass the MMORPG genre in my eyes. Sure the experience is more solitary but the scale of things are much bigger and more immersive. However what I would like to focus on is the gameplay. By using its simplistic yet intricate blocking system, Mount And Blade Warband has a lot of emergent complexity to the point that the multiplayer has a very strong learning curve. Sure anyone can simply swing a sword but how do you approach an attacking foe?

Mount And Blade, much like in real world combat is all about mind games and reflexes. In order to control a battle, you must be constantly aware of the enemy’s actions and know the most effective method of countering said action, plus the dexterity to pull it off. This is what makes Mount And Blade so unique in comparison to other games and the silly thing is that its multiplayer tends to focus on PVP rather than PVE. However modders have managed to incorporate PVE elements into the multiplayer adding bots for the players to fight against as a team. This makes for some really exciting gameplay as players are constantly on their toes performing actions with the utmost of dexterity and intelligence.

Mount And Blade standing together

If you ask me, I’d say that the ideal game is one that manages to incorporate the gameplay of Mount And Blade with the universe of Warcraft. Now imagine if World Of Warcraft inherited the gameplay of Mount And Blade. That is my philosophy on how to make the best PVE experience possible in an MMORPG.

Finally we have RP otherwise known as “Role Play”. Not to be confused with “Role Playing Game”, role play is what I like to call an adult version of “playing house” but on a much larger scale. Basically you put yourself in a persona that is your avatar and you act out your avatar in-game. Yes it is very nerdy stuff but A lot of people are engaged in it and I would definitely say that it is an important component of any MMORPG.

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Roleplaying has been given a bad name over the years. This is often due to the blatant elitism of roleplayers. If you are planning on targeting roleplayers as a whole, the MMORPG genre definitely isn’t for you. This is because tabletop RPG’s are the best platform for just about any roleplaying experience as it negates all of the elitism that comes with it by allowing you to play with other people and respect one another allowing other people to learn how to role play more effectively rather than being shunned by a condescending player base who are hiding behind their anonymity.

Of course this doesn’t mean that computer games shouldn’t keep role players in mind. Role playing in computer games has become very popular and it is a good idea to accommodate these players. It is important to remember however that the game you are designing is a game to be played. My advice is that if you wish to focus on roleplay, you will want to incorporate more story-focused elements in your game rather than just simply giving players progression. This often means that you will fall into the trap of having to artificially lengthen your game through slow progression.