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 orf 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.

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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 which allows you to deal a large chunk of damage to an enemy, plus there are healing potions which are actually quite rare and hard to come by since the ingredients for it are hard to come by so you may be required to grind for 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.

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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. Luckily 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 a timeline where you can re-watch all the cutscenes which can be handy for those who want to re-watch them. Each cutscene represents a specific point in the timeline so when you see characters cross paths you can see what the other character was doing simply by checking out the other character’s cutscenes that occur around the same time as the current cutscene. This helps link the story better and also helps the player keep track of where they are in the timeline which is very important as certain books start in different places and you will question why something is or isn’t in the other book because of changes made in an earlier book.

It’s interesting to see how each book connects 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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Luckily 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 the remaster.

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
Would You Replay? Maybe

Overall: Excellent
silver-star-of-awesome sized

Value: £40.00

Purchase Odin Sphere Leifthrasir (PS4)

Tales Of Symphonia Review

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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 and trying to find all the blobs and trying to keep them altogether. 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 you 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 every JRPG fan 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 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

Overall: Great

Value: £40.00

Purchase Tales of Symphonia (PS3)

Theorycrafting: Maintaining Engagement – How Do Games Keep Us Engaged?

One of the biggest challenges game developers face is maintaining engagement. As such it’s important to understand what keeps us playing the videogames we like and what stops us from playing the games we can’t get into.

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.

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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
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?

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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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Role playing has been given a bad name over the years. This is often due to the blatant elitism of Role Players. If you are planning on targeting Role Players 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 roleplay 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.

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However, games with an established theme need not be too concerned with story elements as they already have an established lore. These games simply need to give roleplayers the tools and the environment to impact their role-playing experience in a positive way. Role playing is essentially a metagame attached to most MMORPG’s and while it is a popular activity, it should be recognized as such. It is impossible to mechanically strengthen role playing in any videogame and any attempt to do so any actually cause more problems than it really needs to such as having players make choices such as “do you want to be Alliance of Horde?” This only serves to limit the player’s possibilities in roleplay rather than make their roleplay more engaging as they are only able to roleplay from a single perspective which is kinda limiting.

Of course there is no limit to the player’s imagination, the purpose of implementing roleplaying elements is to avoid disorienting the player with aesthetic limitations. As such, the goal of all role play focused computer games is to give players a diverse amount of aesthetic tools such as costumes and skins to keep the player immersed and engaged in their role play. This can work with just about any game, just don’t forget that personalization is a rewarding element and that role-playing gives purpose to personalization. In a way, you are given a free ticket to engagement by this player-made metagame so take advantage of this by rewarding players with more cool cosmetic outfits.

path of exile Microtransactions

This is another thing that MMORPG’s have exploited with the use of microtransactions as many MMO’s use cosmetic microtransactions to fund themselves. This is almost a universally accepted method of incorporating microtransactions but it is certainly not the most ideal method from the consumer’s perspective. There are so many ways to reward role-playing but this is best left to the players themselves as it is essentially a meta game. This is where tabards in World Of Warcraft come into play. By giving players an emblem printed on their outfit, they feel rewarded for partaking in role play. What games need to do is provide clan leaders with more options to reward players for their role playing efforts with cosmetics.

Now that you know how to cater to your audience, you need to execute the solution but it is not quite as simple as this. Since MMO’s are built to last, the process of problem solving must be repeated time and time again to maintain a strong player base. This is what I believe most MMORPG’s seem to be forgetting. Problem solving is important for games to maintain their relevance in popular culture and when a game is built to last a long time, many problems will need to be solved to keep the game fresh and attract an even bigger audience to keep those numbers high. Taking all these things into account, developing an MMORPG is no easy task.

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If your goal is to develop a successful MMORPG I strongly advise you to reconsider. The most successful MMO’s are often byproducts of already successful franchises, a place for fans to gather and socialize. When I asked players what they enjoyed the most in an MMORPG, most who responded told me that the social aspect of the game is what keeps them engaged, not the gameplay, the story or the aesthetics. Do we even need MMO’s to be games? Or do they serve a greater purpose than simply providing players with engaging activities? Perhaps MMO’s are designed to bring gamers together in a heavily social environment. In a way you could consider Playstation Home to be an MMO as it does just that. Games such as Club Penguin did the same thing, people didn’t play it for the minigames, they played it to stand around and talk to people in a world that was built primarily for such interaction.

As such, social interaction is the core focus of all MMORPG’s regardless of gameplay and just about anything else a game needs and it is logically impossible to control a social environment as it is shaped by the players and only by the players. You could argue that MMO’s serve as the ultimate platform for metagaming and you wouldn’t be far from the truth. It is important however to provide guidelines to help players adapt to the social environment and this is where the gameplay comes into play. Rather than focusing way too hard on providing a difficult challenge, try to provide activities that require good coordination that aren’t too inherently complex.

 

Do we even need MMO’s to be games? Or do they serve a greater purpose than simply providing players with engaging activities? Perhaps MMO’s are designed to bring gamers together in a heavily social environment.

 

Games like football for example are a social activity that is not inherently too complex but has a lot of emergent complexity and focus on teamwork. Trying to fit such an activity in a virtual space is ultimately the goal of all MMORPG’s. It is the biggest reason why games like Fifa and Madden are so popular, and one of the biggest reasons why games like Rocket League became so successful. Social interaction plays a big part in these games for better or worse and as such designing the game in a way that allows you to manage the social interaction indirectly is what every MMORPG needs to do.

My personal stance on MMORPG’s as a whole is that they contradict themselves. The two rewarding elements commonly associated with MMORPG’s are invested empowerment and personalization. Both are single-handedly crushed by the simple fact that these games are designed to be played online. This means that when the servers go down, the player’s progress is essentially taken away from them as well as the personalized avatar that they have grown attached to.  This is why I tend to prefer games such as Mount And Blade Warband which are single player games that can be played offline and all the data is stored directly on the player’s hard drive. In addition, Mount And Blade has a lot of design elements that rewards player intuition as well as demanding player intuition in order for them to make progress.

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Add to this the fact that you are given an army to control and that technically makes Mount And Blade Warband the best MMORPG ever made… and it’s not even an MMORPG. As such I don’t personally enjoy playing MMO’s, while I used to play World Of Warcraft back in the day, after my account was hacked and my character lost, I realized that all of my efforts playing World Of Warcraft were futile, especially when games like Need For Speed World get shut down by EA, what is stopping Blizzard from doing the same?

My advice to anyone who wants to develop an MMO is to ask yourself “how can I make this game more rewarding?” and I don’t mean improving what is already there. In theory, what you need to do is find a new niche in the form of rewarding elements. Invested empowerment and personalization has been proven to be ineffective in the long run.

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This leaves kinetic empowerment and exploration and most MMORPG’s don’t focus on these rewarding elements and that’s not to say that they aren’t there, rather the lack of social interaction revolving around these two rewarding elements causes them to be far less emphasized as they can often detract from the social experience. Invested empowerment creates a hierarchy which influences the community and gets players to feel as if they are inferior/superior to others based on how much investment they have in the game.

Personalization allows players to define themselves in the social realm so that they can portray themselves through imagery, it also lets them create a cool/trendy avatar that allows them to show rather than tell. It’s a psychological thing mostly but it works. Now what does exploration and kinetic empowerment have to do with social gaming? How often do you see people chatting in public lobby’s in first person shooters and how often do they say anything of value? This is because players are way too absorbed in kinetic activity to put their efforts into communication.

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As for exploration, exploring a world is an isolating experience because your eyes are fixated on the aesthetic awe rather than connecting with the other players. It would be cool if people would band together and explore a world together, maybe there are role-playing groups that do this but if such things do exist then they are incredibly niche. As such it’s difficult to focus on these rewarding elements because they tend to divert players away from the social interaction in which an MMO is supposed to revolve around.

In any case, MMO’s will always have these problems so long as they strive to be Online social simulators, so I doubt the genre will ever appeal to me as much as it used to. However there is still a demographic for it and as such I feel the need to voice my opinion on it as well as give people ideas on how to make these games better. I do hope that you have taken something away from this and that it will hopefully impact the MMORPG genre in a positive way.

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Still, if you are thinking of developing an MMO, take time to consider the other routes and see which is best for you. MMORPG’s may sound like huge, massive and successful games but this is only the case in the circumstance that the developer can give the genre a needed boot to the ass by solving some of its many problems. Only that way will the genre return to its supremacy and will another MMO ever rival the likes of World Of Warcraft. Blizzard’s multi-million dollar game has a weak point, you just need to hit it for massive damage!!!

Special Thanks to Zombz for the Images

Theorycrafting: The 3 Principles Of Game Design

 

Today I’m going to talk about my philosophy on videogames and what I believe to be the 3 main principles of game design. After seeing the saturation of the indie market, I’ve been led to believe that indie developers have struggled to stand out from the crowd and I have pondered whether or not they are aware of what actually makes a successful game. Here are what I personally believe to be the three main principles of game design.

Problem solving

The ability to give reason to your game’s existence lies in problem solving, by solving a problem, you are welcoming a new audience and giving your game an identity. Even a simple problem such as keeping players on track or structuring your narrative to be easier or more entertaining to read can give your game a perception of originality… even though it is not original, this way you can appeal to a specific audience who wants that problem solving and they will in turn buy your game. Problem solving is a skill required in almost all forms of game design including programming, level design and direction. As well as solving problems for an audience, it is important for indie devs to be able to carefully manage their finances and in turn manage their ideas and consider the time and costs of each idea they wish to execute, to do so they need to solve a problem.

Most indie developers try to keep their games as simple as possible to avoid potential financial struggles, the problem I see in a lot of indie games is that they tend to forget the consumer’s perspective, if you cannot solve a consumer’s problem, you might have trouble solving your own financial problems. So it is important to analyze other videogames and search for any potential issues found in those videogames, reading reviews on the steam store page can help you with this. Once you find the problem, you need to solve it, this is where creativity comes to play.

There may be many ways to solve a problem… or very few. The goal is to find a way. There is no easy way to do this, the only help I can give you is that concepts alone cannot make the game, you must give purpose to those concepts to solve a problem and fix the mistakes of your peers. That is how you release an eye-catching and successful videogame.

This applies to any product, just because your toilet brush is coloured pink doesn’t mean it’s going to solve any more problems that a plain white toilet brush, it cleans toilets just as well as the other one. You need to find some way to position your game and make it stand out and by solving a problem that nobody else has, you have accomplished this in the best way possible since not only will someone consider purchasing your game but they might actually crave it and that can be something you can seriously take advantage of.

Motivation

Games are first and foremost a recreational activity that involves a form of simulated kinesis and interaction. As a recreational activity, motivation is key. Problem solving isn’t reason enough to get people to pick up and play a videogame, it is merely a way to garner interest in it. However, a game that fails to motivate is enough to deteriorate that very interest in the game and can put a stain on your game. To motivate is to accommodate the player with a strong premise and ease of access.

There are many things to consider when motivating a player through a game. Balancing ease of access with freedom to interact and experiment is a good way to approach gameplay when considering motivation, you don’t want to drown players in tutorials, nor do you want to throw players in the deep end without any rewarding elements to offer. To motivate the player, they need a reward to strive for and those rewards are:

Exploration (Linear/Open exploration, feed curiosity or encourage curiosity, develop a strong, memorable ambiance, create a strong, enigmatic world)

Growth (Invested empowerment)

Mastery (Educated empowerment)

Personalization (Individuality)

Storytelling (Connection to narrative, characters, plot)

Adrenaline (Kinetic empowerment, empowerment through momentum of simulated motion and interaction)

With that reward in place, a player will be ready to start playing your game

Engagement

No matter how good a game is, the inevitable question of “how long should I keep playing?” will be asked. The goal of engagement is to delay the inevitable by keeping players hooked. A concrete example of this would be to design your game with quality in mind and to consider the time investment your game requires and provide the same level of quality to keep the engagement strong. Rewarding elements can also assist with engagement when executed correctly. However, execution requires more than a simple goal, the process of delivering that goal is the process of engagement. Engagement requires consistency in terms of quality but it may also require a consistent level of variety depending in the targeted audience.

Ultimately it is important to focus on a game’s core elements to keep the level of engagement strong, balancing this with variety is one of the greatest challenges a game developer has to face. This is where pacing comes into play. By focusing on the core elements, players will often forget their motivation, while it is important to remind them of their motivation every so often by maintaining the constant stream of rewarding elements, the goal of engagement is to get players to stop questioning what is motivating them to play the game but to actually keep them playing without them having any time to consider such things.

It is not easy to make a game that is 100% engaging, even some of the best games can fail at doing this at times but if a player feels excited and looks forward to playing your game, you have accomplished what you have set out to do. If a player would rather put down your game and play something else, it might be worth evaluating your game and checking for any potential issues and applying them to later projects. Don’t be put down just because your game is not 100% engaging because the truth is, very few games are and it is this reason why it is difficult to compete in the market. To any budding game developers, remember that you can only try your best and you will never satisfy and/or engage everyone.

I hope this was helpful to you all and helped you see gaming in a different light, if you are a critic, a developer or just simply a gamer who is interested in theoretical discussion, I hope you stick around so that we can discuss more of these things in the future.

Let’s learn from each other and make a better future for gaming.

This was supposed to be uploaded before I uploaded my rewarding elements in videogames video but I wanted to try a more scripted approach with this one to try to make it more concise and to the point. Neon XSZ is a game that ties into this as it is a game that has a lot of potential to be a solid game… but I was disengaged from it for a few reasons, hence the reason why I picked it for the video footage… and to plug it for the developer, I recommend giving it a try if you’re a fan of growth.

 

How to make an engaging storyline in a videogame

Videogames have reached a point where they are no longer merely a source of simulated kinetic interaction in the form of virtual entertainment but many games are being known for their interactive stories, some games are built for this purpose exclusively but what is it that truly makes a good story? While I cannot speak for everyone, I can at least speak for myself and what videogame storylines can engage me. As such I will list several important components a story needs in order for it to become engaging for me.

1. World building

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Evil bad guy wants to destroy the world? Why should we care? Make your worlds captivating first before putting one of these tropes in your game… heck you should make your worlds captivating regardless. Every videogame with a storyline takes place in some kind of world and this world is shaped by the people in it.

As such, the player needs to be able to connect with the world through its characters and its people but not just any characters, they need to experience the cultures and social standards that govern the world, they must also meet with charismatic individuals who they strongly care for or bitter rivals who they wish to overcome before any world ending conflict. If you don’t craft an interesting world then you might as well be destroying a cardboard box. Make the impending doom something worth preventing!

2. Multiple Perspectives

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Now here’s something you rarely see in videogames. Remember that guy who crossed you at a certain point in the story? Perhaps you were brought into conflict with this person. Who or what is that person and what are his/her intentions, why do they side with the bad guys? What are their strengths? What are their weaknesses? What do they strongly believe in?  What challenges must they overcome?

Most villains in videogames just show up to laugh at you and bugger off for a coffee break when they have played out their part. When a game puts you into the perspective of that evil dude however, the player sees a part of that character that the other characters didn’t see, they get a personal connection with that character… even if that character is a deranged psychotic serial killer. You might grow to hate a character one minute and the next minute you are cheering them on. Why most videogames do not make use of this concept is beyond me. I am tired of games being focused on individual characters, I want to play and experience all of them!

3. Add a bit of edge

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Now I know that edginess is often seen as a bad thing but let’s be honest, a good way to engage the player into a videogame is empowerment and by putting them into an edgy world filled with powerful enemies with a character who is equally as powerful and confident enough to take on entire armies of these enemies, the player is pumped up for not only the story… but the gameplay.

Remember that the purpose of storytelling in videogames is to motivate the player. What better motivation is there than having you play as someone stupidly cool?

Now sure there is a limit to how much edge you can have before it becomes too silly and if you do throw in too much edge, at least lighten things up with some humor. Edginess can get pretty bland after a while and that is why people tend to hate it. If you take your game too seriously and edgy, your game becomes sterile. No one cares if you can wield a 20 ft long buster sword and cut down armies, they want you to have some kind of personality. Even Arngrim, as edgy as he is has at least some funny moments in Valkyrie Profile.

4. Keep it clear and concise

Keep things simple and concise

Or more accurately speaking, respect the players time and make damn well sure it is not wasted with uninteresting dialogue or boring exposition. The player wants to move through the game as quickly as possible and the story needs to grab their attention whenever possible. However, the moment that the player loses that attention, stop the chatter and move on!

I know it can be difficult for game developers to judge when and how they present the game’s writing but it may be a good idea to have someone read through and cut out some of the filler. This can be quite important when writing complex storylines. It is easy to drown the player in jargon and cruel doses of exposition but you need to know when to stop.

In addition, it is important to make your points clear by being brief. The main reason why people hated the plot twist in Star Ocean Till The End Of Time was because it wasn’t clear enough… or to be more precise, there was way too much exposition explaining it all that many players completely lost track of the plot and gave up at what was a crucial point in the story.

5. Experiment with different tropes and see what connects

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Every videogame uses tropes but not every game puts them to good use. Tropes can be both a games strongest weapon or its biggest weakness. To use tropes correctly you must find a connection. For example, evil empire oppresses its people and suddenly a world destroying maniac appears out of nowhere and wants to destroy everything (yes I’m referring to a specific videogame here and no I’m not telling you what it is and you can probably guess if you’ve played it).

Are his/her reasons for wanting to destroy the world connected to this evil empire. Or are the evil empire somehow aware of this destructive force and are secretly planning to prevent the worlds doom? If not then don’t make a ridiculous plot transition like that.

However a game which manages to connect tropes together well can make for a very engaging experience because you get to watch the world change and people change, you get to see how certain events can impact the player’s characters and their personalities. A story of epic proportions requires a plot that is not only ambitious but can connect seamlessly with each plot point to keep players engaged. Tales Of Vesperia is an example of a story which didn’t manage to do this very well.

6. Subtlety

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Though it isn’t required to be subtle, it certainly makes a story more interesting. Foreshadowing is something that may appear completely irrelevant at first but once the event does happen, you will remember that moment and you will realize that you have been fooled. This can and most likely will shock the player when the time comes and it keeps the story fresh, entertaining and most importantly, engaging. Some games however can make things a bit too obvious.

I find it amusing when the game shows the villains in a room talking amongst themselves as to how they are going to defeat the good guys, giving away all their sinister plans and then they swap back to the good guys who are completely oblivious despite the fact that the player is informed.Lets say there’s a box and you know not to open that box However the game forces you to open the box and inside that box is a trap that you saw coming, it makes the player feel as if they lack control over the story and can be quite frustrating and sometimes even boring.

So be sure to keep things a secret from the player when you need to. Remember that the purpose of the player is to be connected with the characters. Unless you are in direct control of the bad guys at some point in the game, don’t reveal their plans right away. Even so, you can still give that character control and make them subtle to make things even more interesting. Make the character a puzzle that the player has to unravel. This can be done with both abstract and exposition. This makes players feel more rewarded if they figured it out.

7. Keep characters fresh

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I would have put character development here but let’s be honest here, character development is pretty unrealistic in some cases. Watching someone completely change over the course of a night can sometimes feel awkward, it is almost as if they have been swapped brains with someone else. Character development is often demanded in story driven games but it isn’t always the best approach nor does it work in some cases. Like they say, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, at least not without a good reason.

That being said though, characters take the spotlight in the story, they are the pillars that hold everything up. If the characters are uninteresting, the pillars holding up the story will begin to deteriorate until there is nothing left. It is important to at least have one character who gives mixed feelings to the player to make a story engaging. If all the characters give the same impression for an entire game, it really does get sterile.

However it is possible to change the player’s perception of a character without character development. Like I said in #6, a subtle character can prove to be one of the most engaging of characters because you learn more about them at a slower pace and you feel more rewarded for figuring them out and that alone can be a game in itself, a puzzle someone will need to solve.

8. Don’t forget to illustrate your stories

Don't forget to illustrate your stories

Videogames can be more engaging than books sometimes and this is often the main reason. When you are in a fictional world, you expect some aesthetic appeal in that world. While this may be more connected to visuals than storytelling, the visuals do have an impact on a game’s story and can set the mood for a particular event or abstraction in a story.

Sometimes, a strong ambiance can speak greater words than any story. The same has been said about art. Illustration speaks a lot of words and if you can illustrate your world well and make it look interesting, even if your story fails, at least you have a brilliant looking world set up for you in the sequel (so long as you maintain the level of visual quality).

Remember that stories don’t need to have any narrative whatsoever. An example of this would be Kirby 64 The Crystal Shards where the characters don’t speak and only gesture but the world is so picturesque that you are immediately engaged in the story. It is important however to remember to make the aesthetics fit in with the theme of the story so the player doesn’t get distracted by an inconsistent visual style. Sunshine and rainbows have no place in a story where people are being enslaved and beaten to death.

9. Don’t just make videogames

don't just make videogames

It may sound silly but sometimes a story is better told in words and in such a case a book would be more appropriate. Videogames are great and all but if you can make an engaging book to go alongside it can get people more invested in the game’s story and they grow more attached to it. This is usually the ultimate test. A book written within a game’s world can be daunting. Sometimes it works, other times it doesn’t. It is a good chance that if you do manage to pull it off, you probably had some good material to work with.

Successful videogame stories are perfectly evaluated this way, if you can tell a story in a videogame you can also tell a story in a book. However, books have been going on for years now and there are much higher standards set by readers than there are with gamers. If you are going to write a book, make sure that your world is well-built and that you have a lot of potential to expand your story beyond the game’s story.

This can involve characters that may have had very little opportunity to shine, it can also involve characters you played as in the games. You could make a completely new story altogether with new characters if the world building is good enough. Warcraft managed to do this and it did it so well that sometimes I find the books to be more engaging than the games themselves.

10. It’s not about what you write, it’s how you write it

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A story can be great in concept but can be very shallow in writing. Good writing can make a huge difference in storytelling. While average writing does get a pass most of the time, good writing is what helps games stand out. I know it may seem obvious but when your vocabulary is limited to the basics, the story can become stale very quickly. Good writing allows you to create memorable lines that can be either witty or hammy to make for an epic moment.

There is no straight answer to what makes for well-written dialogue, you just have to experiment. Using a thesaurus can be handy if you wish to bring the best out of your dialogue. Try to deliver your writing in a way that is not only clear and concise but is also quirky.

Remember to make sure that your writing matches the mood you wish to portray to your audience unless you are deliberately trying to alter the mood of the game. That being said writing something funny in a serious situation can be a good thing at times as it can add an unexpected twist to suppress the melodrama a little which can be handy should a situation cause a game to stray away from the narrative style the writer wishes to portray.

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In any case, those are ten ways to make a story engaging in a videogame. A lot of it may be simple and perhaps somewhat vague but nobody said it was easy. If you are playing a game, try to pay attention to these things and see if they are up to snuff. It may help you evaluate your experiences better and it may also help you inform others too, something I may also have to keep in mind.

I’ll be the first to admit that I haven’t really looked too closely at storytelling in videogames and that it mostly due to the fact that I haven’t experienced many stories in videogames which I can consider to be masterful. I’m not a critic of narrative, I am a critic of videogames in general and as such I try to be an all-rounder. Even then I will miss things that a writing critic would point out. I do my best though, after all it is my goal to create a review that is as accurate and detailed as possible.

Theorycrafting: Rewarding Elements In Videogames – What Makes Videogames Rewarding To You?

Here’s a topic I’ve wanted to bring up for a while. What makes videogames a rewarding experience for you? What keeps you motivated to playing a game? What types of rewarding experience do you get the most out of? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

Postal 2 Review (Steam version)

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Postal 2 is an oddity among the FPS genre. While most FPS games released prior to the seventh generation were often constrained and linear in terms of progression, Postal 2 takes an alternate approach being one of the first sandbox shooters alongside Grand Theft Auto. Unlike Grand Theft Auto however, Postal 2 decided to do away with its top down origins and transitioned into a first person shooter. This makes Postal 2 pretty unique for its time since sandbox FPS games were very few and far between back in 2003.

In addition, the Postal series maintains a reputation of being one of the most obscene gaming franchises of all time. While the first game chose a darker, more grittier feel, Postal 2 opted for a more comical feel that takes great pleasure in mocking pop culture as well as the gaming industry as a whole. Usually I wouldn’t care for such humor but Postal 2 executes it so well that I can’t help but love it. This is due to the fact that the game doesn’t try to shove the joke down your throat, rather it throws you in to a world of extremities and your job is to navigate your way through it.

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Naturally as a rational individual or a crazed psychopath (usually the latter), you will often come into conflict with many of the angry stereotypes that populate this game’s world and they are all out to cause trouble. You will quickly wonder if there is any sanity left in the town of Paradise… or perhaps there never was. Nevertheless, you are given a list of errands to complete and how you get from A to B is up to you, this might sound like a chore at first but there are more to these errands than meets the eye… or not. You’ll just have to wait and see for yourself.

Like all good first person shooters, you’re going to need a large arsenal of weapons and Postal 2 doesn’t disappoint. There are many different types of weaponry available to you from the standard assault rifle to a can of inflammable Lynx Stynx which is used conjointly with a lighter to create a devastating flamethrower. There is also a wide assortment of melee weapons on offer for those who want to take a more up close and personal approach.

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It definitely has a strong aroma…

Some melee weapons even have multiple functions such as the machete which can be thrown at enemies like a boomarang allowing you to cut down enemies from afar, there’s also a powerful scythe which can cut down several enemies at once and be tossed at a herd of enemies waiting to be culled. Most are fairly standard swinging weapons though, some are more useful than others but there’s certainly no shortage of them around and they all pack a punch.

The game itself is pretty bog standard in its execution and doesn’t try too many ideas with its gameplay. Weapons are easy to use and have perfect accuracy. This may make the gunplay feel sterile to some but ultimately I see it as a good thing. Enemies are pretty brain-dead for the most part, they will usually respond to gunfire by standing in a stationary position and shooting you. This could have been detrimental to the gameplay had the game not had such a ridiculous premise to begin with. In a way, the AI fits in with what this game is trying to portray. Postal 2 is nothing more than dumb fun, there is literally nothing stupider than Postal 2 and that’s why it is so much fun to play.

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With all that being said however, it is easy to be overwhelmed with enemies and it is recommended to try out different weapons based on the situation. Most enemies will use the standard pistol weapon. Later on however you will find enemies who opt for a deadlier arsenal with weapons such as the assault rifle and explosive weapons such as grenades. How you approach enemies varies based on their weapon types as their strategy is always the same, stand in one spot and shoot or throw grenades. If you’re looking for realistic AI and gunplay, you’re not going to find it here.

On the other hand, those who just want to have a fun time mindlessly spraying lead into people’s faces will have a blast with this game. The satisfaction that comes with playing Postal 2 is the slaughter. You are given a huge sandbox with dozens of satisfying weapons to use at your leisure. They are all well-balanced for the most part (though the pistol’s usefulness doesn’t last) and they all pack a punch, particularly the explosive weapons. It is best not to think of Postal 2 as strictly being a first person shooter as you will have just as much fun utilizing the melee weapons and explosives.

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The freedom to cause as much chaos as possible is arguably the strongest point of Postal 2. Freedom to roam also helps with this. Postal 2 is a semi-open world game which separates each location with loading boundaries. You are free to explore a huge chunk of the map early on and gain access to more locations as you progress through the game. There are tonnes of places to go and you are encouraged to go off the beaten track to find cool new weapons, munitions and cash to buy more munitions, armor and health pipes to keep you safe. Exploration in Postal 2 is certainly a very rewarding experience and finding new weapons is always refreshing.

Over the course of the game, you will be given numerous tasks you must complete in order to progress through the game. You can approach these tasks in many different ways. Do you want a blood bath? Do you want to abide by the law? Or do you want to take what you want and flee the opposition? Naturally this game encourages you to shoot as often as possible and you are given the tools for the job so you are encouraged to slaughter as many people as possible. However this is not the only way to play the game, it is possible to play through the first 5 days without even firing a single bullet.

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In addition, the game manages to break up a lot of the open-ended progression with some linear sections. I personally like this as it keeps the gameplay fresh rather than feeling like just another GTA clone as it kinda maintains the traditional feel of the FPS genre if just for a brief moment. One thing that can be annoying though is that they often strip you of all of your weapons and you have to find them littered around these levels and you will have to find them. Aside from that, these sections tend to offer more of a challenge as they often put you in a situation where you are handicapped due to lacking your equipment as well as encountering an overwhelming force of hostility.

Where the game falls short however is in the visual department. While the visuals are understandable for such an open-ended game released in 2003, they aren’t all that great to look at. Many of the NPC character’s heads are ridiculously huge and terrain has little to no detail for the most part. I’d say that the visuals are on par with the original Half Life (released in 1998) and there is a lot of similarity between the two but Postal 2 doesn’t really go anywhere with it. While this likely isn’t going to be a big deal for most people, I can’t exactly praise the game for its visuals.

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The same can be said for the music which is practically nonexistent save for a few jingles every now and again which can get annoying at times. In a way, this is probably one of Postal 2’s weakest points, the lack of music definitely limits the potential of this game, it would have been much more satisfying to listen to some metal music as you mow down hundreds of people with a scythe but it doesn’t even go there which is a shame. All in all, don’t expect a strong ambiance with Postal 2.

Another thing that bothered me was the incessant crashing issue that I constantly ran into, even after I upgraded my PC a few days back, I still experienced these crash issues in a 2003 game, this is absolutely unacceptable and arguably the biggest problem I had playing Postal 2. I can’t see them fixing this in the near future but it still affects the game in a negative way and it would be wrong of me not to mention it. Nevertheless I do not think that it is enough to completely boycott this game even if it is a major issue.

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The steam version of Postal 2 includes Apocalypse Weekend, this adds two extra days onto the main game of Postal 2 and is a very linear focused expansion with very little open-ended content. For those who enjoy the more linear sections, Apocalypse now is definitely worth a play but considering the fact that it is free on the Steam version, there is little point in going over it in greater detail in this review as it is completely optional. At the beginning of the game you can choose to play through the first 5 days or the whole week. Bear in mind that the retail version does not include this expansion, however the steam version is the cheaper option so for this review I will be covering the entire package found ion the steam version.

So ultimately, I get that Postal 2 is made by a small development team and while my review might be a little harsh on it, I do really love this game. I cannot however mislead people into thinking that it is a huge AAA title that people hype it up to be and as such I believe people should keep in mind that this is not a game that is going to blow you away with stunning visuals and revolutionary gameplay but rather it will give you a fun sandbox to ventilate your rage on countless innocent people with a few good laughs here and there. You can often find this game priced at 69p which is about equivalent to $1.00. This is an absolute bargain for this game and cannot be passed up. Of course I’d encourage you to support the devs by paying full price should you feel the need to but if you do see it on offer, you should absolutely give it a try.

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Story/Plot: Good (I base my score on the humor)
Visuals: Mediocre
Gameplay: Good
Music: Forgettable
Lifespan: (varies, main story is decent length but it is a sandbox game so it might take you a little longer)
Would you replay? Maybe

Overall: Good

Value: £25.00

Meanwhile at Activision HQ…

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SAG-AFTRA’s attempt to strike a deal with Activision’s CEO goes horribly wrong.

Hard Reset Redux Review

This game has been a very rocky ride for me and as a result I have put myself into a position where I find it difficult to review this game but here’s what happened. So I picked up the game on a sale for £11.00 and gave it a shot sometime just after it was released. I was excited to play this game as it was developed by people who were involved in the development of the legendary Painkiller and since People Can Fly don’t seem to want to make FPS games that aren’t published by EA anymore, I decided to give Hard Reset Redux a shot to see if I could get a taste of what Painkiller gave me.

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Now for starters, I want to make it clear that I did not have any lofty expectations for this game, I expected something simple and straightforward and that is almost what I got, almost. I started with the original Hard Reset which came packaged in with the redux. About an hour into the game, I saw warning signs. Hard Reset is what I like to call a horde swarming game in the sense that every single enemy in the game seems to move twice as fast as you and is impossible to outrun.

As a result, I knew where this game was going and quickly refunded it. Later on, I saw the game priced at around £4.00, so I decided that I owe the game another chance simple because I forgot to try out the redux version. Do I regret my purchase? Well considering the fact that I got the game for dirt cheap, I can’t say that I regret giving this game another try as I got my money’s worth with this game, at least as far as content is concerned.

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Hard Reset feels like a low budget version of Painkiller. It takes the fundamentals of Painkiller and doesn’t even give you half the level of enjoyment in almost all facets of the game. Heck it doesn’t even feel like Painkiller for the most part, it feels more like Serious Sam and I really dislike Serious Sam for having tonnes of HP sponge enemies who spawn in battalions and move twice as fast as you, leaving you with no choice but to keep backpedaling with the rocket launcher and pray you don’t backpedal into a wall.

Call me crazy but I really don’t enjoy the gameplay Serious Sam offers (at least the first game). Call me a noob if you want but honestly, if the game wasn’t so lazily put together, I would have probably had a much more enjoyable experience with it. Thankfully one thing that Hard Reset Redux does right is that it actually creates a pretty stunning looking world. Whether or not Hard Reset is better looking than Painkiller is subjective, I prefer Painkiller for its aesthetic style but damn, Hard Reset puts games like Deus-Ex Human revolution to shame with its visuals and they are set in the same type of universe which makes them the perfect comparisons.

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Everything from billboards, vending machine advertisements, all the way to the virtual screens that pop up as you approach objects. Everything feels seamless as you interact with terminals. It is undoubtedly pretty cool and really pulls you into its cyberpunk world. You can tell that the developers put quite a lot of effort into the level design in this game, particularly from an aesthetic standpoint.

What they didn’t put effort into however is the gameplay. Now I will say that the redux improves the gameplay drastically compared to the original with the addition of the new dash feature. This allows the player to essentially double their mobility. You can almost move as fast as Painkiller… almost. This makes for a more fast paced experience than that of the original Hard Reset and it really adds a lot to the fun factor of the game since you feel as if you have more control of battles. With the ability to dodge attacks effectively and avoid melee enemies easier instead of having to constantly backpedal away from them. You still have to keep your distance though as enemies still move rather quickly and their attack animations are very fast, some of which have pretty wide AOE’s.

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Now here’s where the problems start to appear. The weapons in Hard Reset Redux are interesting but the cool idea of having upgradable weapons doesn’t make up for the ridiculous control layout. I mapped the change weapon button to Q and E simply because it was near the WASD keys but couldn’t they simply make it possible to cycle through every weapon with the mouse wheel rather than having to press keys all the time?

Now I get that people like to hotkey specific weapons to the number keys and you can still do that… but why do we only get to swap weapon modes with the mouse wheel? Why can’t we swap the actual weapons with the mouse wheel? This is just one example of Hard Reset trying to be more complicated than it needs to be. Painkiller didn’t need to have two weapons with different modes, it just had lots of swappable weapons.

“Hard Reset is what I like to call a horde swarming game in the sense that every single enemy in the game seems to move twice as fast as you and is impossible to outrun”

The only explanation I can think of is that they are trying to be realistic. In this case then why not have a single gun instead of two guns and have that gun use both energy and kinetic firepower? Then we can cycle through every single upgrade a lot easier. To make matters worse, the redux adds the katana to the mix which is a near-useless weapon and you have to cycle through it every single time you want to swap to your kinetic weapon.

Weapon swapping aside, Hard Reset has all of the problems that Serious Sam has but worse (aside from having better aesthetics). The enemies have insane amounts of health. Some enemies have literally 400+ hit points and you can tell by using the smart gun. Every shot you do deals roughly 5-20 damage unless it is an explosive shot and it can take ages for the machine/plasma rifle to kill some of the tougher enemies in the game.

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One of these enemies in particular you will encounter right at the start of the game and these enemies will charge at you and were basically unavoidable in the original but thanks to the new dash function, you can dodge them easier but they are still a little annoying, even when you get the more advanced weapons, they are a pain in the ass to deal with since they have ridiculously large amounts of health and are easily the most annoying enemies in the game.

Now I do get where this game is going, I really do. The weapons are still pretty cool and can be fun to use and you really have to think about what weapon you are using. Some weapons are better than others however and two in particular are completely useless. These are the shotgun and the katana. When I play a videogame, I expect a shotgun to instagib any enemy at close range unless it is a really powerful one. In this game, even the smallest of enemies require 2-4 hits to kill with the shotgun even up close. This is inexcusable when you consider the fact that Painkiller’s shotgun 1 shots enemies with a close ranged shot of the shotgun and has a much faster fire rate.

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The katana is an impractical weapon… but you can’t help but use it because it is so cool!

In fact I’d say with the exception of the Shotgun from Serious Sam (the first one), this may well be the worst shotgun I have ever used in a videogame and I feel sorry for anyone who is naive enough to pick the shotgun upgrade first like I did because it is completely and utterly useless for the most part, especially since you will rarely want to get up close and personal with enemies in this game since they all move twice as fast as you and have very high attack speed.

The poor balancing of the weapons can make the gameplay feel a bit sterile at some points. Yeah sure there is enough variety to give it a pass but weapons like the electric mortar, while not completely useless were simply outclassed by weapons like the shock blaster which is the ultimate CQC weapon and you get the grenade launcher which is really handy at long range and is has a reasonable fire rate. the RPG is pretty good too even if it is slower as is the smart gun which is a homing weapon which shows the enemy health gauge.

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I regrettably never got around to trying out the railgun, and the mine layer gun (forgot its name) and this is because I could never afford to pick them up since the game was over before I even had the chance to give them a try. Sure I could have gone back to replay the game but I really didn’t want to go through it again. I get that the game wanted to reward players for finding secrets and trying to implement growth but it really does limit a casual players experience with the game as a whole and those impatient will probably want to move on.

In addition, these weapons are all acquired through the upgrade terminal, this element of choice can make for a very mixed experience for the player depending on which weapons they choose to start with. If they pick the grenade launcher and the shock blaster early, they are more likely to have a much easier time than if they picked the shotgun first. While I do appreciate that the developers were trying to implement some level of growth in the game, weapon modes were not the way to go I’m afraid… now upgrading those weapons is a whole different story. There are also combat gear upgrades which affect things like shields, radar and ammo capacity, some are more useful than others.

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Bosses are a mixed bag. Then again, Painkiller wasn’t much better in this department. The second boss of the game is an absolute pain in the ass to defeat simply because its attacks are completely unavoidable for the most part (even with dash) and the final phase is needlessly complicated as the boss doesn’t have a conventional health bar and if you didn’t get the smart gun early, you will be shooting for ages wondering when it will ever drop.

I will say though that later bosses were a lot less irritating… if a tad bit chaotic. I did like how you got tonnes of trash enemies to kill alongside the bosses though, it really made the boss fights more interesting than just shooting at them. The game focuses on destroying weak points and while the later boss weak points are destroyed quicker, the earlier bosses weak points take forever to destroy and it can get pretty ridiculous at times. I do think that this is partially because you have a limited arsenal and if you didn’t pick the best weapon modes first, you will have a much harder time.

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What is this?

The music in Hard Reset is pretty dull techno for the most part with a bit of metal here and there but to me it is lifeless and barely noticeable. It does its job but it just isn’t enough to really pump me up, nor is it enough to make up for the gameplay being sub-par.

Exploration in Hard Reset is decent and can be quite rewarding as there are lots of stuff to find and pick up including currency so it is a good idea to explore levels. There are plenty of interactive objects in levels such as explosive barrels and stuff and while it can be cool at times, I find that they throw in way too many environmental hazards which can really get in your way at times and cause more hassle for you than the enemy since they often detonate/discharge with a chain reaction which can deal very high damage to you.

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How do I get behind that fence? Shoot it? Nah, that would be too easy…

The story, while obviously not being the main focus of the game, doesn’t exactly go anywhere and by the time it starts going somewhere, the game is over. You learn about a lot of things but you never really get a big reveal at the end, instead the game just ends in an anti-climactic fashion as if there wasn’t a purpose to the game by the end of it. I feel like there should be more… but at the same time I’m thankful that the game ended before it overstayed its welcome. The story is presented in a similar comic book style fashion to Painkiller Resurrection which is amusing.

To be honest, I am kinda conflicted with this game. I don’t exactly want to hate Hard Reset or the Redux, I am just a tad disappointed I really couldn’t get as much juice out of it as I anticipated. What I will say is that Hard Reset Redux is certainly a playable game and a vast improvement over the original but whether or not that makes it a good/bad game depends on how much patience the player has. I believe to truly enjoy this game you will need to play through it twice since new game + carries over all of the weapons. I will say though that it is not even in the same league as Painkiller and I shall continue my search to find a worthy match-up to it. Until then, Hard Reset Redux is going on the finished pile.


Story/Plot: Mediocre
Visuals: Great
Gameplay: Mediocre
Music: Forgettable
Lifespan: Quite Short
Would You Replay? Personally, no but if you do manage to enjoy the game then it has a new game+ so maybe.

Overall: Mediocre

Value: £5.00

Such a great shame really. I wanted to score this game a “Satisfactory” at least.

How to control your backlog and spending habits in gaming

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As a reviewer, I often find myself overwhelmed with the responsibility to buy and play lots of different games and as such I am left with a huge backlog of games just lying around waiting to be played… but then a new game catches my attention and I drop everything just to play it. Then I get fed up again.

Now you must understand that I have been writing on the Destructoid C blogs for 3 years now. I used to be a proactive writer, I would take a pick out of a game that took my fancy and just throw out a review. However, the quality of them was appalling among other things. To make a review is pretty easy if you think about it, all you need to do is write what you’re thinking. However it’s not easy to make a solid review. In fact the moment you start improving as a reviewer is the moment when you start to realize that it is hard work.

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Sure there are a lot more harder things to do but reviewing is considered a hobby to me. Unfortunately with this mindset, I have to become a lot more close-minded. Since this isn’t my job, I’m not going to play every single game on the face of the earth and throw out a review… though I may occasionally try something new, I want to stick to writing about games that I am passionate about or manage to gain my full attention and considering the fact that the gaming industry is changing for the better, I have to change to adapt to that, as a writer.

In any case, how is this relevant to controlling your backlog/spending? Well you see in the latter half of the seventh generation, I hit a massive burnout. Games just stopped coming out (games that I cared about anyways) and I had to change myself as a gamer, I had to be open-minded and explore new areas of gaming which I hadn’t before. In a way, I had grown as a gamer, I had grown away from my nostalgia barrier that led me down a narrow path in gaming. I feel better as a gamer for doing that and to be honest, I don’t think I would have become inspired to write without that.

With this however came its own issues. Though I am often careful with my money, I came to the point where I simply couldn’t turn down a cheap deal. If there was a game that interested me even a little, I would buy it without a moment’s hesitation. This had it’s fair share of ups and downs. I got to discover new games that I otherwise would have never tried but I also picked up some dreadful games that I simply got tired with.

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Despite what many people believe, I played Painkiller on a whim and guess what? I loved it!

I’m a cynic, I hate what the gaming industry has become and this changed my perception on gaming but it was more than just that, the industry’s change affected the games available. It is the end of 2016 now and games have been great this year but the past few years have been utterly dreadful, it was like a gaming drought. Trying to find a top quality game was a nightmare. Many of the top rated games I have reviewed are from past generations. Those days were good, it wasn’t until 2010 where things started going wrong.

I still say that 2011 was the worst year for gaming since the videogame crash, only 1 game released in 2011 managed to entertain me and that was Kirby’s Adventure Wii. Everything else was horrifically bad or just mediocre. 2012 wasn’t much better, Farcry 3 was probably my game of the year and that’s not saying much considering the fact that the game was an open world shooter with a dubstep soundtrack… ehhh.

The biggest question was “where are all the JRPG’s”? We had our Tales, we had our NIS shovelware along with a few others which were equally as bland. Seriously why do the Hyperdimentional Neptunia games still sell? Those games depress me because they take away all the passion and the effort that went into old school JRPG’s and instead these games are released every single year and as such the quality of those games takes a nose dive (at least in my opinion).

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Sure Exist Archive may have re-used assets and all that but at least they were trying. Most JRPG’s of recent years don’t even feel like they are trying to impress us. Someone has to give all those lazy JRPG devs a boot up the ass so we don’t get shit like Time and Eternity anymore, that game was an insult to all JRPG fans.

Sorry about my soapbox rant but I’m trying to get you to understand why I felt the need to spend money when in truth you really don’t. I was prepared to give anything a go because I was lost in the massive labyrinth of gaming. I was desperate, I needed a game, anything to keep my passion inflated, a passion that I knew still existed after I was reminded by Grandia 2. There was still something there… the world just moved on and abandoned passion but I hadn’t given up, even now I’m still confident that we will someday see rainfall again in the gaming industry, Star Ocean 5 gave me hope, hope that I had been praying for years.

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Grandia 2 re-ignited my passion for gaming

In fact it amazes me that games such as Halo can be considered classics now, yes I’m talking about Halo 3. How can a game like that be considered a classic by today’s standards I cannot fathom… but it is, it has been nearly 10 years since it was released. The state of the gaming industry completely blinded me of just how much time had passed, it was a depressing time for me and possibly for many others. Heck I was on the “Gaming industry is dying” bandwagon at one point, even people like Razorfist mentioned it in one of his videos during the dark days of the year 2013… that was a terrible year for a lot of reasons… and for gaming also.

Now that we have hit the eighth generation, as bad as the modern consoles are, there is still hope for change. A fresh start, something the industry has needed for a while. Now it has come to the point that there are far too many games coming out that I simply can’t keep up, I just have to buy them all, I owe it to myself and the readers to do so… or do I?

Not only does buying lots of games cost money but the more games you buy, the less invested you become in them. Here’s one of the reasons some of us younger gamers are possibly suffering from this gaming “spending spree” and what we need to do to prevent it is:

1. Think back to when you were younger…

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It sounds so simple doesn’t it. For some, it may work better than others. If you were spoiled as a child, this may not be the way for you, if you are an older gamer, this may also not be the one for you but if you are in your 20’s like myself and think back to your childhood, you will remember the small selection of games you owned and how dedicated you were to finishing them. They were all you had and you made the most of them. Be is Pokemon Red/Blue Legend Of Zelda Ocarina Of Time or for the older gamers perhaps it was Castlevania.

We valued our games back then because we didn’t have the ability to purchase them ourselves, we were funneled gifts from our parents at xmas or our birthdays and those were usually videogames (for those who were lucky). We were all excited back then. I remember the excitement of getting not only a Gamecube for my birthday but also A Playstation 2. Those were the best consoles I played in my life (well besides the SNES which was before my time but we’re talking about my childhood here). I had so many great moments on both systems, especially the Gamecube. There were so many games to play… but I couldn’t play them all. All I had to play was Smash Bros and a few other games. It wasn’t until way later where I looked back and tried out other games such as the legendary F-Zero GX.

So try to remember those moments and be responsible for your spending. I don’t care how well off you are. Be responsible for the psychological impact that buying tonnes of games brings and try to pick and choose your games. I know it’s hard for the more dedicated individuals out there such as myself but remember, gaming isn’t going anywhere, you can always pop round at a later date and play them when they’re cheaper, sure you’ll miss all the craze but for single player games especially, it may be for the best. However you might want to:

2. Avoid using digital distribution services like Steam/GOG/Humble Bundle

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My Steam Library is chock full of unfinished games

Ah the temptation of steam sales. That moment when you realize just how cheap games can be. The moment when you find out that just about everyone can be a gamer regardless of how poor they are. Not only that but you can also help charity’s through gaming too? It sounds like heaven doesn’t it? Well… it’s kinda cool at first, however you don’t want to overdose on this trend. Remember, these are digital games, they cannot be sold off when you’re done with them (though you can refund them on steam but that’s not what I’m talking about) nor can you keep them on your shelf as memorabilia. These games are the equivalent of an economy flight to Benidorm, a cheap break-away but it gets old after a while.

As a PC gamer, reviews are more important than ever because there is so much choice. However you cannot just read reviews that say “this game is awesome” you have to be 100% sure that you are prepared to play the whole way through because only then will you get your money’s worth. If it helps you can:

3. Play games with a shorter length

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Need For Speed Carbon may be short but it keeps me engaged better than any other game in the series.

For the casual audience, this is your best bet. Games like Child Of Light are great, yet small diversions away from the gaming ghetto bringing back the quality of old games at the cost of its length. Sure I would have liked it better if the game had an epic final dungeon at the end but to be honest, I was glad that it was short. It gave me the quality I was looking for without the investment required, plus it was a challenge.

However it can be difficult to know when games are short or not. If you’re looking for more detailed information on length for any game I reviewed, just leave a comment. I will tell you a more detailed explanation. For the most part I will only cover it if it’s relevant to the game overall such as Exist Archive: The Other Side Of The Sky. However, I have and can not play every game out there so relying on me isn’t always the best bet. I can only try my best after all. As such one thing you really need to do is:

4. Do your research!!!

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Spec Ops: The Line wasn’t a bad game, it just wasn’t for me.

Do you really want a game? Do you want it enough to work for it? To find out if it’s really worth your hard-earned money? Reviewers like me exist for a reason, demos exist too, so do forums and wiki’s. Look up everything you can about the game. Watch lets plays if you have to. I’ve always had a saying that you shouldn’t just read 1 review, you should read 50 because every review is different, if there was truly a definitive review out there, I wouldn’t be writing reviews to begin with.

If you aren’t wetting your pants with excitement, consider waiting. Sure you might not get that pre-order bonus but chances are it will be available as paid DLC later on anyways and if not, it’s not like you missed much. However wasting £40.00 on a game you get burned out on isn’t worth it and you want to get the most out of your money. You may also want to consider doing some price comparison, if you can find the game considerably cheaper elsewhere, you may re-think whether or not the game is worth giving a go, however don’t forget that price isn’t everything and that you also have to control your backlog. Make sure it’s a game that you can dedicate your time to finishing, it doesn’t matter how long it takes, just finish it!

Finally the last and most simple way is:

5. Take a break from gaming

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This doesn’t mean you have to quit gaming, maybe your gaming lifestyle needs adjusting… or perhaps you need to bring a few friends over or just consider doing something else with your time for a while. Consider what I do as being a “productive gaming hobby” I’m not playing anything as I write this, I’m doing this simply because I would rather spend my time writing rather than gaming right now. Even the most die-hard gamers know that gaming 100% of the time isn’t fun, you have to break it up. I don’t care how you do it but you need to change every so often. Heck it could be as simple as playing 2 games as once and going back and forth. Be warned though as this can cause more backlog issues. As such, Pick a game that you have already beaten and try replaying it again. That way you can play both familiar and new games so you have a mixture.

Variety is the spice of life, its never fun to be doing 1 thing constantly every single day, though some people would disagree with that (I.E MMO gamers) but the majority of gamers want something more from gaming rather than something to sink time into. Games need quality to make the experience memorable. It’s why I hate on games like Legend Of Dragoon so much (you probably won’t know that unless you read some of my old Destructoid blogs though), that game was ridiculously long. It wasn’t a bad game by any means but it over-stayed its welcome. It took years for me to finally complete it. Never again. Oh and also:

6. Know your limits

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I want to play God Hand, I really do, but if it’s going to be another masochistic game then I’m just going to have to pass up on it, at least for now. Sometimes you just want a nice relaxing game that you can just pick up and play rather than something which is going to kick your ass on a consistent basis. Think people! Before you pick up Dark Souls 3, think for a moment, are you truly prepared? Do you truly seek a challenge? Or are you simply starved for a new game and like the look of it? If the latter, put it off. I swear if you can’t handle those types of games it is often the best idea to just save them for later. There’s a time and a place for game like that, moments when you feel like you’re up for a challenge.

Games like God Hand and Devil May Cry are designed with replay-ability in mind, they are designed for players who want to invest time into the meta-game and constantly learn. F-Zero GX is the same, by all means as much as I love to preach about it, don’t just dive straight into it if you aren’t ready. F-Zero GX may be the best racing game ever but to truly embrace the awesomeness that F-Zero GX is you must develop patience and determination to get through it. Until you attain those qualities you are unfit for the task. Playing F-Zero GX is a reward in itself, a reward you should savor for a time in your life when you’re feeling like a winner. A time where you’re motivated to experience a true adrenaline rush. Of course you don’t want to hold off on getting F-Zero GX by any means, get it as soon as you are ready for some hardcore action. Heck if you really can’t cope with hard games, just play it on Novice. It’s not that hard.

So keep this in mind when you are considering purchasing games. Don’t just purchase something because everybody else is playing it. Find out whether or not the game is going to be valuable to you first. Read reviews (not just the ones on mainstream sites like Destructoid/IGN), research as much as possible, pay close attention to trailers and you may notice a few things that may alter your experience for better or worse.

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Don’t make the same mistake…

Have a great new year everyone… and don’t forget to keep your wallets sealed during the January sales unless there is something you absolutely must have.

Why Is Futuristic Racing Not A Genre?

Why Is Futuristic Racing Not A Genre?

Futuristic Racing is a label given to high-speed hovercar racing games such as F-Zero GX and Wipeout… but does this label have any real meaning? If they are not futuristic racers then what are they?

Special thanks to CrazyGameNerd for letting me use some of his amazing footage, link to his channel below:
https://www.youtube.com/user/CrazyGameNerd

 

 

Painkiller Review

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Have you ever had those moments where you are just fed up with the ever-growing complexity and heavily story driven titles of the modern era and you want something which goes back to the roots of gaming and revitalizes the simplified formula of the FPS genre? Luckily for you, the gaming gods have brought fortune upon you this day. Big guns, big bosses and big levels filled to the brim with cannon fodder, just waiting for you to bring them pain. This is Painkiller, Painkiller is nothing else. Painkiller is a game where you walk the path to hell and leave no survivors in your wake.

The story of Painkiller is simple, you are a bad motherfucker who has been ordered by god himself to slaughter the demonic generals, luckily for you he gives you a licence to kill so of course you pick the easier option. Total genocide, yes you heard me. You are going to deliver the entire demonic race their last requiem in the form of lead… lots and lots of lead. Now you know the story of Painkiller, you are free to press the “ESC” key with every wonderfully voice acted cut scene to save yourself the needless exposition you so tire of and don’t worry, the story doesn’t even make much sense anyways so you’re not missing much, they just decided to incorporate a free B movie in with the whole package, feel free to watch it if you like but it has nothing to do with Painkiller.

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Eat my shotgun you whore!!!

So with all that aside, with everything Painkiller has to offer does it manage to deliver a solid ass kicking experience worthy of being a timeless first person shooting experience? Hell fucking yes! The core elements which make Painkiller so great are not so simply defined in one word. After all, a game such as Painkiller cannot possibly have a straightforward explanation as to why it is one of the greatest shooters of all time and quite frankly there is a lot for me to cover in just the gameplay elements alone.

For starters, one of the first things you will notice almost immediately in Painkiller is the movement… that is if you have played an old school first person shooter before. If you haven’t, don’t worry you’ll master the technique in no time. It’s called bunnyhopping. Bunnyhopping is the ability to essentially increase movement speed by jumping allowing you to dodge bullets and weave through your enemies as you gun them down. Now bunnyhopping is very easy to learn but difficult to master. This is what separates the men from the boys in Painkiller. You see in Painkiller, bunnyhopping is a big deal.

 

“Painkiller is a game where you walk the path to hell and leave no survivors in your wake”

 

Unlike most first person shooters, Painkiller takes bunnyhopping to the next level as it pretty much doubles your movement speed. This means that as long as you are moving, you are nigh untouchable. Of course you will still have a lot of enemies to contend with and you will still get hurt… a lot but bunnyhopping effectively will minimize the pain you receive allowing you to deal more pain in return. This leads to some crazy looking gameplay which is a feast to the eyes and is without a doubt the most satisfying experience you will ever have in a first person shooter.

The game starts off quite simple as you are pitted against only melee enemies who are harmless from a safe distance, however they will pose a threat to you if they get close. The levels will slowly become less open and more closed in forcing you to manage your movement more diligently. This means lots and lots of bunnyhopping, using your increased level of agility to avoid their lethal attacks, get behind them and introduce them to your makeshift barrel blaster.

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However things begin to get tougher fast. Eventually enemies will begin to fire projectiles at you. This is where things begin to get tricky. Enemy projectiles can be avoided however it is not at simple as just weaving through dozens of melee enemies gunning them down one by one. This time you will need to fight fire with fire and bring out the trusty stakegun taking them out from afar before they get another chance to gun you down. Best of all, after you’ve stuck their corpse to the wall, you can pull out your trusty painkiller and launch it at them repeatedly in order to mug them of their demonic riches in the form of jewels which come flying out of their ass each time you pull the trigger.

As you can see, the arsenal of weaponry available to you is far from the conventional military apparatus. You are granted weapons worthy to only the most fearless of genocidal psychopaths, each with their own unique function which allows you to take those pesky demons by surprise. The Painkiller is a weapon which you can always rely on. At first glance it is almost identical to Link’s iconic Clawshot from the Zelda series but then… wait, hang on a minute, Painkiller came out in 2004, Legend Of Zelda: Twilight Princess came out in 2006 so technically the Painkiller came first so suck it Nintendo and suck it hard.

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Anyone up for some laser tag?

Of course there’s more to the Painkiller than meets the eye, sure you can launch it just like the Clawshot in Twilight Princess but it also doubles as a portable blender which you can use to slice and dice your enemies and make delicious demon smoothies. OK, I lied, they’re not delicious, they’re disgusting and that’s why they all need to die.

Naturally like any first person shooter, you’re going to need a real gun and boy do you have some serious firepower in your arsenal. The first being your weapon of choice for a huge portion of the game, the shotgun or as I like to call it a double-barreled massacre device designed with the sole purpose of deporting demons straight to hell. As an added bonus, this double barreled recipe for disaster comes with a buckshot duplication device allowing you to shoot a single shell out of two barrels. Better yet your destructive double barrel slinger of doom is fitted with liquid nitrogen so that you can shatter them in a single shot.

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Later on you will acquire the legendary stakegun, a weapon originally used to kill vampires. Well guess what? It kills demons just as effectively if not more. You can use the stakegun from any range and impale their worthless bodies with a pointed stick burning as it approaches them at an insane velocity which will cause so much shock and pain towards the enemy that their limbs will come flying off the moment the hit connects. If you’re lucky, you can also impale them to the nearest wall and keep them as trophy’s. In addition, your makeshift stick launcher is fitted directly onto a grenade launcher so that you can bring fireworks to the party, just fling it in the direction of the nearest group of demons and watch their body parts soar.

Of course there are other weapons available to you but I will not spoil the fun for you, have fun discovering them for yourself. All you need to know is that you’ll be well equipped for your journey along the borders of heaven and hell which spans across 24 levels filled with dozens of enemies, destructibles and secrets for you to discover. Though these secrets serve as a distraction from all the intense action you will be facing, they only go towards helping you increase your body count within the realm of purgatory. Put simply if your finger isn’t constantly tapping the lmb and the space bar, you aren’t playing it properly.

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With all that said however, purgatory is home to some iconic landmarks that you will pass through on your journey. Purgatory is home to many historic locations which have found themselves sealed within due to their connection with implications that were caused there in the realm of the living. You will pay a visit to many forsaken lands and bear witness to the remains of the terrifying tragedies which partook there. Other locations will have you gaze in awe as you embark across forbidden and unholy lands of grandeur. Every place has its own story to tell, a story left unwritten, a story that guides you along a linear path and to your destiny. You cannot control the path destiny has weaved for you, you can only control the field of battle. That is the fate of all who pass on to the realm of Purgatory. It is up to you to piece this story together… that is when you aren’t fighting for your life.

You will find yourself isolated in these desolate lands as very few are fated to walk the path to heaven or hell and many of those who are misfortunate enough to do so often fall into damnation. With only you and your destructive arsenal at your disposal, you are left with no other choice but to keep on killing because everything is your enemy in this game and everything must die no matter what. How you go about doing these deeds is up to you. Though the demons are greater in number, the odds are in your favor. The path will open up with every foe you slay and it will guide you to your next destination, you will never lose your way in Purgatory… but there is no escape.

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Uh oh… looks like we angered the locals…

Every demon you slay makes you stronger. Every soul you consume gives you life. You will kill your enemies and devour their souls to become stronger and when the time comes, they will become the prey. If you just happen to acquire 66 souls you will receive the ultimate power known as demon morph. A power which will grant you with a powerful scream, an echo which tears apart all the unfortunate victims who dare to oppose you. To add insult to injury, you are also granted temporary immortality so the more that oppose you, the more devastating your powers will become.

Did I forget to mention that Painkiller is accompanied with a badass heavy metal soundtrack? Of course it is, what else are you going to listen to as you gun down masses of demonic fodder? The music is quite possibly the lifeblood of Painkiller, together with the endless, chaotic and downright sadistic gameplay it makes for an exhilarating experience. There are countless metal tracks to listen to with many different styles to choose from. I am no expert but I’m pretty sure any metal-heads out there will be able to appreciate the level of diversity in the music of Painkiller.

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The music is so good it makes me wanna do this.

As you can see, there is a lot to like about Painkiller, most would say that is perfect in every way. Unfortunately, as good as it is, Painkiller does have one notable flaw. The boss fights in Painkiller are huge and very powerful… too powerful. While some bosses are great, others are too great. Certain bosses are immune to bullets and require you to find their weakness.

Some bosses can also deal a lot of damage to you which can sometimes be difficult to avoid. This can often be troublesome when you are low on health and as it is impossible to acquire souls in boss fights it can result in a lot of cheap deaths. Nobody said Painkiller would be easy… this is purgatory after all. Luckily for you, tarot cards give you superhuman strength enabling you to kill most bosses is under 2 minutes.

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I think I’ve found your weakness buddy

To walk the path of Purgatory is to walk the path of judgement, your only hope is to kill everything that moves but no hope will ever be enough, you will never find the true path to heaven, the only known thing that lies in wake is your demise but how long will you survive the endless gauntlet of purgatory? Will you ever find a way out of here? Or have you been subjected to eternal damnation? Though you may never find an answer to these questions there is one thing for certain, many demons will be harmed in the process and you will keep on fighting till every last one of them is dead. This is Painkiller, this is your destiny, our destiny, we must all walk this path in life, the only question is, when will you walk the path of damnation?

Quite frankly there isn’t a better time to start, pick up your copy of Painkiller right now, whether it be a physical retail copy, a digital Steam copy or a DRM free digital copy. It matters not how you approach it, all routes lead to the same path and you will follow that path until the very end. Will you survive? Or will you be damned forever? One thing’s for sure, if you don’t start now, it may be too late for you, you must play this game and you should play it as soon as possible for everything is at stake, this game is the definitive fast paced, adrenaline inducing first person shooter and if that sounds even remotely interesting to you, it should be illegal for you not to play this game.


Plot/Story: Wait, Painkiller had a story? Sorry I completely forgot, what is this story?
Visuals: Exceptional
Gameplay: Exceptional
Music: Excellent
Lifespan: Decent Length
Would you replay? Hell yes (I put emphasis on the word “hell” for a reason)

Overall: Exceptional

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For a more serious, in-depth analysis of the game, watch this video.

Value: £40.00+

Purchase Painkiller (PC DVD)

Why do we have little to no power over ethics in the gaming industry?

Why do we have little to no power over ethics in the gaming industry? Part 1:

Why do we have little to no power over ethics in the gaming industry? Part 2:

These are the most important videos I will ever make as I discuss the roots of my cynicism and the roots of the problem. This has been something that I want to get off my chest for ages and it concerns not only publishers but also the people who purchase the games, the consumer-base.

I attempt to break down the consumer-base into several categories of gamers with names invented by yours truly and explain the cause of all this. There will be opinions and many of those opinions will be generalizations, I’m a judgmental person by nature so don’t take offence.

In addition I ramble about other topics that connect to things. To make a few things clear though. When I mentioned about the price of airlines being more competitive than videogames, I was talking in terms of brand you game releases since the vast majority of videogames are priced at £40.00 at launch. This is because there is no price competition and since it is so hard to decipher the value of videogames we end up buying the games at a price that more often than not isn’t good value for money.

The point I am trying to make is that each videogame has its own monetary value dictated to us by the manufacturer (i.e the publisher) and we have no control over these prices at launch… unlike other industries. As such it is important for us to recognize the value of videogames and decide for ourselves how much we want to pay for our games.

Ultimately the goal of this video is to remind people that they ultimately have the power to control the industry but we must work together to enforce that power. If we stand by our principles, things will change. Sadly and this is where the title of this video comes in, that is nothing more than a pipe dream because of how divided the consumer-base are.

I cut both video’s in half, sorry they are long but if you could at least watch one of them I would appreciate it. If it sounds up your street, watch both of them.

Need For Speed 2015 Review

Oh boy… where do I even begin with this game? First I’m just going to say that Need For Speed 2015 is the best NFS game in the past decade but I shall cease my praises there. Why? Because Need For Speed 2015 is a train-wreck… or should I say “car-wreck”.

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Now before we get to the meat of the problem, I want to talk about my history with the NFS games. Now I started with Underground 2, not the best game in the series I must say but it does hold a lot of merit. For one it had some very deep tuning and some of the race events such as URL’s were pretty fun… whilst others such as street X and drags… not so much, not to mention the annoying rubber band AI in every race. However the car customization and the free roam more than made up for its shortcomings, plus aside from the scummy AI, the races were mostly enjoyable.

Then we got Need For Speed Most Wanted, arguably a step back from Underground, especially in the customization department. The AI was better but the handling of the vehicles was far worse. Every single car in that game handled like a truck going at high speeds and they might as well be trucks seeing as half the time is spent smashing up cops getting milestones. Speaking of the cops, they were everywhere, you couldn’t free roam without triggering  a pursuit, it’s near impossible. Where the game ultimately flopped for me was the lack of tuning and customization. However I will not doubt that Most Wanted had some crazy pursuits and was damn fun the whole way because of them and the races were still not all that bad.

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Then we had Need For Speed Carbon, the follow-up game to Most Wanted and my favorite game in the series. This game seemingly did everything right. The cars handle great and the handbrake lets you drift around like a god. Races are fun and the enemy racers do not have rubber band AI, this is proven by the fact that your crew member ally does have rubber band AI, presumably to keep up. Sure it can be annoying but it does help you most of the time and it is funny to see them crash at random and somehow catch up to you in seconds.

The pinnacle of what made Carbon so great wasn’t just the racing, it was also the customization. Carbon let you place unlimited vinyls on your ride and gave you autosculpt which let you adjust the body parts on your car to make it truly unique. Now while they didn’t have stuff like wing mirrors, spinners, neons, lights, hydraulics and trunk decor like they had in Underground 2, they still had a great assortment of options and the fact that you could actually apply and fully adjust limitless vinyls more than made up for it in my opinion though I do not discredit what Underground 2 did in terms of customization and it still holds up today… but so does Carbon… in a different way.

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Now Need For Speed 2015 strives to take the series back to its roots and it does just that which I will give credit for. However, the execution is absolutely downright atrocious. Before I want to bring up the design atrocities however, I wish to talk about the biggest atrocity of them all, the always online DRM, courtesy of Electronic Arts of course.

Now what makes always online DRM a big problem… other than the fact that it makes the game impossible to play without internet? Simple, what happened to Need For Speed World? Can you still play it? No you can’t, why? Because it had always online DRM that’s why… but that is the very nature of all MMO’s so it is somewhat expected to have it. However Need For Speed 2015 is not only a multiplayer game, it is also a single player game and as someone who bought this game second hand for PS4 and doesn’t have PlayStation plus, naturally I’m going to be playing by my lonesome.

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Thankfully there aren’t any microtransactions this time round. I guess EA couldn’t profit from them enough and got complaints. Still, the always online DRM is not a good trade-off

However Ghost games reassured us that you do not require a PlayStation plus subscription to play alone so it’s fine… no it’s not! The fact that the game doesn’t require PlayStation plus to play it alone is not “acceptable” it’s to be expected because if they did make you pay for PlayStation plus then they’d lose money since people like me without a PlayStation plus subscription couldn’t play it anyways and considering how crap this game has been, perhaps it would have been for the best. Then again If they did charge for PlayStation plus to play this game solo then I would have been even more pissed off simply due to the fact that it actually happened in the first place and it would encourage Sony to encourage other third parties to do the same with their games to force their shitty service down our throats.

However we are getting side-tracked here, the core of the problem is the always online DRM and the fact that it gives Electronic Arts the power to shut the game down after 30 days notice which we would have absolutely no control of which is the most unethical thing Electronic Arts could possibly do. Seriously I would take microtransactions any day over always online DRM for this very reason, I don’t want to be left with a disk that serves as nothing more than a coffee coaster later down the line. I want a game which I can play time and time again, like Need For Speed Carbon (which I still play by the way).

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The worst part of all this is the simple fact that the car customization, while somewhat limited is actually pretty damn good. It took the limitless vinyl options from Carbon alongside the cool body options from Underground 2 and melds them together. Sure the system isn’t perfect as there is no real symmetry as to speak of rather you can simply copy one side of your car to the other side but when designing cool hoods you really have to be accurate because there is no symmetry option like in Carbon. Also autosculpt is nowhere to be seen which is a shame. Add to that the fact that many of the best cars have next to no customization and you have some reasonable car customization which can be a lot of fun.

However, all this is single-handedly crushed by the always online DRM. Why? Well lets look at it like this. You spend hours of hard work trying to make the coolest looking car and suddenly, EA announces that they’re shutting the servers down. Thirty days later, all your hard work goes down the drain and your game disk is a coffee coaster, anyone up for a game of frisbee? Bonus points for those who manage to hurl it into the balls of the person who decided that always online DRM was such a good idea.

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Now that all of that has been said, let’s talk about the gameplay which is complete and utter trash. Here’s why. Remember Burnout 3? It was a fun game that let you smash into cars and send them into walls where they go flying in the air. That was fun and all… until you crashed. Now to make things less gloomy, Burnout 3 let you control your car as it flew up into the air allowing you to land it directly in front of an enemy car which would give you an aftertouch takedown and refill your boost bar for a second wind.

Sadly the same annoying crash cam is in Need For Speed 2015 (and has been used in other games in the series which are far worse) and all it does is bugger up the races to the point where the player simply gets frustrated. Now before you start blaming the Burnout series for starting it all, remember that this is Need For Speed, not Burnout. Burnout’s mechanics were designed around the crash cam and made things fair for those who crashed a lot and the fact that you could control your crashes and move your car and get takedowns mid-crash made them less annoying since you could bounce back easily.

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You’ll spend a long time in first place… until you crashed then you’ll be pushed all the way to the back of the pack.

In addition, the boost system allows you to easily catch up to enemies fast so you can take them down and have them crash instead. It’s more of a Mario Kart style experience in the sense that it’s all random nonsense but that’s what it’s supposed to be. It’s random but fair and very rewarding to those who enjoy smashing up other racers.

In this game however, you can’t even take other racers down and the crash cam has no interactive options whatsoever and all it serves to do is to put you 4 places behind instantly, usually straight to last place unless you are very lucky. This is because of the horrifically infuriating rubber band AI, I cannot stress how annoying the AI in this game is, it’s super easy to pass but if you make a mistake, you are way behind them. In other words, just keep driving fast and they’ll never catch up to you… unless you crash in which case they will all catch up to you. Certain events on the other hand do have pretty frustrating AI in the sense that they are nigh impossible to pass. Fortunately with the right vehicle and tuning you can speed past them with minimal effort.

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Once again, like in Carbon, the Dodge Viper is the king in this game, it’s fast, accelerates well and its handling, being fully customizable and all handles pretty well. However it doesn’t matter how fast your car is. One traffic car or bollard will send you straight to last place. You may also be sent to last place if your car hits a railing on its side at high speeds. The silly thing is in Need For Speed Carbon, not only does none of this happen but if it does you could easily maneuver out of it and stay in top position.

“You spend hours of hard work trying to make the coolest looking car and suddenly, EA announces that they’re shutting the servers down”

Ghost decides that instead of having a panic button or letting the player maneuver out of there themselves, they instead have to watch a short clip of their car spinning out or rolling over… even when it’s physically impossible to do so. If your car touches a railing at high speeds it will crash even if it just slightly clips the wall a little, it’s not like you can just stabilize your car, the game makes sure you lose control of it in favor of its epic crash scene that no one cares about.

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The crash cam is so blurry it simply isn’t worth showing it

I mean it doesn’t surprise me considering the fact that Ghost is made up of former Criterion devs but can they really be this stupid as to put it into Need For Speed 2015 after the poor reception Need For Speed Most Wanted 2012 got for doing the same exact thing? Yes they can be and they are.

Now I’m not going to discredit the effort the devs went into to truly making this a Need For Speed game worthy of anyone’s attention and sure it does bring back the good ol’ Need For Speed style but not in the way we had hoped and this is simply due to the fact that Ghost weren’t paying enough attention to the fan base and insisted on carrying on with what they did with Most Wanted 2012 and bringing back the horrendous crash system and also by their lack of effort on designing good AI that isn’t cheap.

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The world map is still large and there is a little bit of exploration value to be had. There are also plenty of race events, too bad they all suck.

However I can’t put the full blame on Ghost games, sure they are a little bit stupid but that’s only because they decided to work under Electronic Arts, a company that is far from stupid. Seriously if you’re stupid enough to work under such a shitty publisher, it is no surprise that you would make so many stupid design decisions with your games. Ghost games aren’t the biggest culprit here though.

The biggest culprit and the very reason why I bought this game second hand is Electronic Arts themselves which suffice to say, just happen to be one of the worst things that have happened to gaming period and one of the scummiest publishers too. Fuck Electronic Arts and if you bought into their EA access bullshit then you are a severely deluded individual and you really have no right to complain about how terrible this game is.

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Fortunately for me, I couldn’t give a damn when I reviewed this game because people deluded enough to buy the game day 1 aren’t even worth my time. However my apologies to those who have been waiting patiently for this review. Please understand that I didn’t want to waste too much of my personal funds on this game and don’t think I’m going to suck on EA’s dick for a review copy, sorry it’s not my style. So hopefully those who have held off on the game for this long are reading this and can be reassured that their patience shall be rewarded because it is highly likely that you won’t be buying this piece of shit game and if you don’t I don’t blame you. If you’re curious I cannot stop you but I do believe that your enjoyment won’t be much better than mine.

Now I’m not going to lie, the game does do things right, it does. However the issues the game has are just downright unforgivable and being an Electronic Arts game, it doesn’t deserve your time or money. Whether you want to buy the game or not is up to you, I’m just telling you what you’ll be in for when you do and that goes for all of my reviews. However for the love of god, I beg that you do not buy this game digitally or on PC because that means more money goes to this scummy publisher.

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Oh don’t think I’m finished yet people, I’m only just starting to rip this game apart. The storyline of this game is an absolute joke and not in a funny way. You will cringe as you watch all of these terrible cut-scenes and it’s not in the same cheesy yet charming way that Need For Speed Most Wanted and Carbon did, instead it throws a bunch of unlikable characters at you who you don’t grow invested in and they do nothing but throw “bro” culture down your throats and make all kinds of cheesy gestures and fist bumps when you really don’t give a fuck.

You see, Need For Speed Most Wanted’s story worked because people didn’t play nice. The characters, save for a few were a bunch of ghetto punks who want you out of town and want you out of their territory this threatens the player into wanting to be the best racer they can and prove that they are better than those punks. Many of the best Need For Speed games followed this and while it is an overused concept, it works and it works really well, it motivates the player and motivation is the goal of every videogame storyline, at least based on my philosophical viewpoint.

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The story of Need For Speed 2015 doesn’t seem to have any purpose, it’s just there for the sake of being… there. Sure having real race car drivers is cool and all (even though I’ve never seen or heard of any of them being not into cars and all that) but is it really even needed? What is my motivation in the story? To race with my cool “bro” friends and being told how sick I am when I win a race after retrying it countless times to actually get the win due to the shitty crash cam? Hell no. Now that’s not to say that this is all there is to the story because it’s not. There is a separate side-story called “Eddies challenges” where they bring the main villain from Need For Speed Underground back to challenge all the racers in Ventura Bay (the fictional city of the game) to several races where they all race against him in the finale.

Now in theory this is just what the game needed… except it isn’t. In fact it’s the complete opposite. Eddie is about as threatening as a stick insect, while he does make some derogatory statements towards you and the other racers, he does so in a way that is so cliché and boring that you really don’t give a shit, he was a rushed baddie who didn’t really end up being that much of a bad guy by the end. In fact in his losing speech when you beat him, he is actually a good sport… unlike Razor who threatened to hunt you down and refused to give you the keys to your BMW M3 GTR which he took from you at the beginning of the game. It really makes for a lame villain who is completely forgettable. Even Darrius, as lame as he was compared to that of Razor was more interesting and memorable. Even Caleb was more memorable. Even the original Eddie from Underground was more memorable.

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This is made so much worse by the lack of boss races in the game. Sure there are 1 on 1 races but you can hardly call them bosses. There are too many of them littered everywhere to be called a boss race and even the final race with Eddie, you are pitted with several other racers and Eddie just happened to be in last place the whole race. So much for him I guess. On the plus side you do get his Skyline for beating him. Too bad it’s useless since you can’t customize it like you could with the boss cars of Most Wanted and Carbon. Plus by that point you’ll have already got yourself a Dodge Viper or a Ferrari so you really don’t need his car, same goes for all the icons cars which are all shit except from Moroshi’s Lamborghini which I will admit is pretty cool looking, too bad he can’t drive it for shit, I saw his car crash into a wall more than any other car.

Cop chases have returned and quite frankly they shouldn’t have bothered putting them in. The cops in this game are nothing more than a nuisance, if you’re driving a reasonably fast car, you can outrun them in seconds. If not then don’t worry because the cops are not very aggressive and are very easy to trick. In fact the cops are so bad that I had a lot of trouble doing the outlaw missions simply because I couldn’t keep the cops on me for long enough. I had to sit there and wait for the cops to come for me just so they could catch up.

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This is literally the highest level of aggression you will ever see from the cops in this game

On higher heat levels, the cops deploy roadblocks and spike strips. Roadblocks are pretty lame this time round, many of them consist of nothing but weak barricades you can break through like paper, others are unbreakable and will cause you to smash your car. At the highest heat levels there are spike strips around and while they aren’t that annoying in pursuits, they can be very annoying in races since they slow you down to a crawl and it’s very difficult to notice them because the roadblocks aren’t easy to see this time round since there is basically nothing there.

I miss the ability to smash cop cars and smash into pursuit breakers to shut them down. Now cop cars cannot be immobilized and if you hit one you are better off colliding into a wall because it doesn’t do anything to them. All you can do is run away, what’s the fun in that? To make things worse, each time you encounter a cop, the screen flashes red very fast, this is an epilepsy waiting to happen. The annoying thing is that it happens all the time and it doesn’t feel good on the eyes. Couldn’t they have found a better way of alerting the player that cops are nearby?

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And finally the visuals and the music. What is there to say really? The cars look good I suppose but this was to be expected from a AAA racing game in 2015. The music is forgettable though they did bring back a few oldies from other NFS games in Eddies challenges including tracks from Carbon (not the licensed tracks). The environments just feel all blurry with all the rain. It just isn’t tasteful to me and it doesn’t make any of the locations stand out. I miss all of the cool neon lights from Underground 2 and Carbon it made the cities more memorable. I can’t say that Ventura Bay is anything close to the word memorable. I will say though that it is still better than shitty Fairhaven from Most Wanted 2012.

So overall what should I say? Should I say that I’m disappointed or should I say that I saw this coming? Because the answer is both. I knew this game would be a train wreck but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s a train wreck. It just goes to show that you can’t trust EA’s game’s anymore, they have been milked to death and I just hope that some Indie dev will one day get the funds to be able to get the licences for some real-life cars and bring us a street racing game in the same vein as this one. Otherwise we can only rely on Rockstar (because Juiced and all the other street racing games don’t have free roaming), the sole competitor of Need For Speed and believe me, with GTA Online in the state it’s in, they haven’t been in my good books recently and to me it just seems that they’ve given up on the Midnight Club series.

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Just as long as there are no microtransactions or DRM I’ll be happy, just give us another Midnight Club game Rockstar, I’m all for giving people second chances and I will give you another chance if you would stop milking GTA to death and start to make some more Midnight Club. Otherwise I’m going to miss the street racing genre. It is one of the most fun sub genres of the racing genre and it’s sad to see it fall beneath EA’s greed.

I would give this game a more lenient score if it wasn’t for the always online DRM because it does do some things right but the always online DRM single handedly destroyed all the respect I could have had for this game. Rest in peace Need For Speed, you were fun while you lasted… but your body has rotted in the morgue for long enough, it’s time to put you in your grave… for good this time.


Story/plot: Awful
Visuals: Decent
Customization: Good (this score is rendered worthless when you consider the DRM)
Gameplay: Bad
Music: Forgettable
Lifespan: Decent length
Would You Replay? No and if I did I’d have to do it on a separate account because of the DRM.

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Overall: Pretty Bad

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Value: £0.00 (when the servers shut down, your disk is a coffee coaster)

Why Do I Support #Performancematters

Here’s a detailed look on the strike and my thoughts on what is going on and what I personally believe from a consumer’s perspective which outcome would be of the greatest benefit. There are a few inaccuracies in the video such as mentioning 2K games when I was talking about the Duke Nukem anniversary remaster which is apparently not true. Apparently Gearbox were solely responsible for it.

In addition, subsistence farming is the word I was looking for when describing farming. The point I was trying to make is that the game is their idea, not the publishers and they are making the game to bring about their vision using the publishers to fund their project. Probably not the best example but that’s the only thing I could come up with at the time.

Ultimately I do support the strike and even though there are some potential issues that could come from this strike, I believe in the long run that it will be for the better. To me, this goes beyond merely the voice actors themselves, this concerns publisher ethics in general and if they are forced to make more ethical decisions with voice actors, it will essentially make a point. The fact that people are even opposing them is enough to give credit to this strike.

Oh and for those who do not know, the union which organized the strike goes by the name of SAG-AFTRA. However many voice actors/actresses have banded together from outside the unions to support this, others are undecided on it. The terms are simple. Voice actors want a safer work environment, they want to be more informed about their roles and what they are working on and they also want residuals to be paid out so that they can earn money that other actors do for other media.

Most publishers and developers have agreed to these terms and the strike is only occurring because of a small group of big name publishers, namely EA and Activision (no surprise there) are too stubborn to let the unions have their way.

A few things have happened after the recording. The publishers have brought lawyers and have claimed that voice actors make only a small percentage of a game’s total assets. However, let me remind you that Publishers contribute almost zero percent of a game’s total asses and in most cases it pretty much is zero. So who deserves the money more?

As for developers, regardless of what happens, they aren’t getting anything out of this, they’re still going to struggle no matter what the outcome.

Make your own judgement but please be civil and understand mine. Plus please understand the situation fully and provide more information if you can. Leave me your thoughts on this topic. Are there any voice actors you particularly like? If so, mention them in the comments.

Duke Nukem Forever Review

It’s been 20 years since Duke Nukem 3D and as such Gearbox have decided to re-release it. However the Duke Nukem series hit an all time low as far as ratings were concerned with it’s latest installment Duke Nukem Forever. As such I thought I’d dive straight into it, yet another Humble Bundle game that came with The Darkness II.

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Now I haven’t played much of the Duke Nukem series. I remember only playing a demo of Duke Nukem 3D which was a pretty sizable demo. Should I have picked it up? Maybe… however I ended up getting this instead. Regardless I had fun playing it back then. It had some cleaver secrets and some pretty well designed levels for its time with lots of iconic venues. Of course I didn’t get to play all of it but I just loved using weapons like the Ripper to mow down enemies, those were my best moments playing Duke Nukem, shooting things and exploring the levels. The same could be said about all FPS games really.

So when I picked up Duke Nukem Forever I wondered to myself “How bad could it possibly be?”. I dove straight in and was almost immediately introduced to a boss fight who couldn’t even hit me because I was constantly circling him as he repeated the same attacks over and over again. This is when I realized that Tryptych didn’t really give a fuck about the game’s AI, they added very little variation with the boss fights so much so that they felt stale and uninspired.

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That was the first thing that stuck out like a sore thumb to me, that and the simple fact that each time the bosses health bar reaches zero, you had to perform a quick time event execution sequence to finish them off. Needless to say, I didn’t know this at the time and as such I kept fighting it and fighting it till I finally realized what I had to do.

Then the game immediately dropped all of the action in favor of some walking simulation nonsense which exists solely to show just how much of an egomaniac, narcissist Duke is and how everyone and their mother knows and worships him as if he is some kind of god. Funnily enough, I actually enjoyed these sections more than I did the actual game. Why? Because of the level of interactivity in each of those sections. I swear I spent hours just drinking soda out of a vending machine just to see how much of a mess I could make on the floor. That and I love vending machines. Why couldn’t they make the ones in DOOM do something?

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Honestly I felt like I was playing two different games at some point. Watching Duke fanny around with pretty much everything is ironically far more satisfying than anything the combat had to offer, so much so that it appeared that the developers knew this and as a result they reduced the level of combat to a minimal. This time instead of fighting tonnes and tonnes of enemies, you are instead thrown into long-ass physics puzzle sections only to encounter brief combat sections every now and again and then returned to the puzzle solving and the occasional walking around and interacting with nonsense stuff. Then you’re thrown into a turret section where you are severely punished for fucking up and finally vehicle sections which were also pretty satisfying IMO.

However the meat of the game, I.E the combat is where Duke Nukem Forever falls flat on its ass. Now the two weapon limit is annoying in itself but I would have been able to cope with it if the weapons you were given didn’t have such limited ammo capacity. Honestly this wasn’t an issue back in Duke Nukem 3D due to the weapon carry limit which is arguably the biggest complaint this game received simply because each weapon has such limited ammo that you are forced to swap between new weapons every so often. This wouldn’t be so bad if they didn’t make so many of the weapons situational. The railgun for one is near useless in a game like Duke Nukem Forever as it is a single shot sniper in a game where you supposed to be up close and personal with the enemy. Even Painkiller’s sniper rifle managed to adapt to this style of gameplay but the railgun feels misplaced.

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Other weapons such as the Freeze Ray and the Shrink Ray feel needless, those weapons were originally designed for experimentation purposes to go alongside the huge roster of weapons at your disposal in Duke Nukem 3D but would I seriously swap one of them with the Ripper/Shotgun? Hell no. To add insult to injury, most bosses are immune to bullets and any other non-explosive weapon so it’s important to keep an explosive weapon with you at all times.

In addition you also have access to Pipe Bombs and Trip Mines. Trip Mines are basically useless in most encounters because the enemies just appear and you often end up blocking your own routes. there are even times where the enemy has walked directly into the laser and still lived and in the end I have to shoot the mine to trigger it manually. Pipe Bombs are still useful thankfully and can pack quite a punch against regular enemies. They can also bounce off of jump pads which look like a combination of a flytrap and a rotten cucumber.

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Movement in Duke Nukem Forever is pretty standard, you can dodge most bullets and avoid most melee attacks with ease. Explosives however are near impossible to avoid completely. I find that explosive attacks often end up being in a Leningrad esque scenario in the sense that it’s kill or be killed. Now this would have probably been more acceptable if it wasn’t for the horrible regenerating health mechanic that this game shoehorns in. I mean seriously did you need to cover at all in Duke Nukem 3D? No you just shot your way through everything and dodged everything. In this game however you are hit with high AOE blast radius attacks which deal a fuck ton of damage.

Octobrains are the worst for this because they have way too much health and deal way too much unavoidable damage with their explosive breath attack (or whatever it is) which deals insane damage. There really isn’t much balance in terms of the enemy strengths and weaknesses from what I have seen. Octobrains are pretty resistant to the Ripper, the Shotgun is useless because they like to stay as far away from you as possible, rockets and grenades are useless because they fire them back at you and the Shrink Ray is useless since you can’t squash them and makes an already small, fast moving target even harder to hit. Plus the Freeze Ray lacks the range to even reach them.

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Most enemies on the other hand will die to pretty much anything except bosses which to me feel all the same. Shoot them get into cover, shoot their minions, leave cover, shoot them again, rinse and repeat. Sure they try to mix them up with certain fights but the lack of cover makes these fights really annoying and the way you are forced to play against these bosses is just nonsense, especially in a Duke Nukem game. The new alien weapons on offer feel rather gimped in comparison to returning weapons and many of them have limited ammo capacity.  Some of them are pretty strong but  you’ll never rely on them because it’s difficult to find ammo for them and other weapons do the job better in general.

It seems what they were trying to do is make it so that certain weapons are better against certain enemies but the two weapon limit ruins this completely. It they didn’t have this two weapon limit I believe the enemy encounters wouldn’t be so uninteresting because there would be so many ways to experiment with lots of different weapons at your disposal and you’d be encouraged to try them all.

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I made a point of trying to stick with the Ripper and the Devastator for as long as I could because there would occasionally be ammo crates littered around which gave you access to infinite ammo, you would keep these two weapons around for this reason. However I found myself trying to conserve as much ammo as possible in most sections which was a pain, even trying to melee certain enemies to try and kill them. Yes that includes meleeing an Octobrain.

It just doesn’t feel right, I want to put my finger on the LMB and mow enemies down fast but instead I fire the ripper in short bursts which was not as it was intended to be used for. I didn’t get any satisfaction from any of the weapons for that reason which is a huge problem in a first person shooter like Duke Nukem Forever.

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The Level Design is decent for the most part… if a bit linear. A lot of the locations felt uninspired as opposed to that of Duke Nukem 3D. You find yourself in the same bland offices with the same bland tunnels and wreckage for most of the game, it likes to throw the same at you a lot and there isn’t as much variety as I would have liked. Granted Duke Nukem 3D has a lot of levels that look very samey the levels are only that way because of their thematic style and it is consistant. However when you are on the Duke Dome mission in Duke Nukem Forever, most of that mission is spend wandering around wastelands of wreckage and construction sites and it gets old seeing these areas when in reality you want to see what’s going on inside the Duke Dome that the level is supposed to revolve around. Funnily enough once you finally reach the Duke Dome, the level ends.

The biggest annoyance for me was the puzzles. I could cope with the rest of it but the puzzles were just boring. Some of them were straightforward and simple but just took time to do such as filling up a crane with barrels to re-balance the weight. I find that the game threw way too many puzzles at you and it’s just needless. They weren’t even that hard and quite frankly I’m pretty thankful for that. Nevertheless it’s more busywork the player has to do to reach the next shooting section and even that wasn’t much to look forward to.

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Quite frankly I had the most fun playing through the walking sim sections and funnily enough I was looking forward to see more of them but eventually there comes to a point in the game where you no longer have any of these interactive moments kinda like in Bioshock Infinite, heck It’s as if most 2K games just love to have these walking sim sections in them. This wouldn’t have been so bad if the actual gameplay wasn’t so monotonous. The sad thing is that the best level in the game turned out to be nothing more than a dream which is hilarious as it just goes to show that even Duke himself is getting bored with this game and it shows.

I spent hours playing the snooker minigame trying to get that ego boost and I ended up getting more engaged in that and all the other minigames on offer than I did with any of the shooting sections. I had a lot of fun playing air hockey and the pinball game was intense and pretty cool. There was also the whack-a-mole game in which I used far more reflexes than I did in any of the shootouts. The dream section only lasted so long though and you couldn’t revisit it or any other area like it for the rest of the game.

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Occasionally there were a few other distractions littered around levels and the odd restrooms where you could piss about in (literally) but aside from that is was just walking through repetitive levels, solving puzzles and shooting baddies, trying to keep your ammo stocked up. I swear that I spent the vast majority of the game searching for Ammo for my guns simply because I wanted to keep my Ripper in my inventory and didn’t want to swap it for anything else.

Visually speaking, the bright lighting kinda felt a mid misplaced, unlike in Duke Nukem 3D where it was always night time which added this cool lit up city vibe, Duke Nukem Forever is brightly lit outdoors 95% of the time  and it made the visuals feel lacking in the variety department. A lot of the visual appeal shown to us in Duke Nukem Forever’s original trailer showed this dark urban environment that I felt was lacking in Duke Nukem Forever.

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Bright lighting and a dark cloudy sky… not the best combination.

Only inside buildings did you ever see any dark lighting which was a shame. Regardless the visuals aren’t as bad as people make them out to be, there are some nice locations and some dull locations. I find that later on in the games the levels become really dull and samey though.

Additionally the game also seems to have a few minor characters and I mean minor characters. It’s a shame you didn’t really get to see much out of them though as Duke was the central character of the game and even though I understand that they were trying to get that one man army vibe that Painkiller gives, these minor characters just feel as if they were shoved in there in order to take the piss out of modern shooters when it only serves to make them the same… if not worse.

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It wouldn’t have been so bad if there was some banter between Duke and Dylan but a lot of the time, Duke just stands there and listens, he doesn’t ever communicate with his team when he is battling alongside them. If anything it’s a missed opportunity on Gearbox’s part.

It would have been cool to have given Duke a cool side-kick who would have given Duke someone to natter to during some of his missions rather than just nattering to himself which is quite amusing to be honest. I guess deep down, Duke isn’t much of a sociable person, if fact despite being an alpha male stereotype he appears to be socially awkward in most situations… unless he’s talking to one of his “babes”.

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Dylan seemed like a cool guy to me. Shame he was completely shadowed by the Duke.

The music in the game is pretty forgettable minus the theme song of course which never gets old. There are a lot of tense tracks that appear at random in certain sections but for the most part there is nothing but silence. There are also remixes of the Duke Nukem theme song in the ambiance as well as some classic jingles which play in the elevator which anyone who played Duke Nukem 3D will remember.

All in all as a shooter, Duke Nukem Forever works… it just doesn’t work very well. It feels like a very watered down shooter with minimal satisfaction. To be fair I can see the appeal die hard Duke fans can get from this game as Duke is still for the most part the same Duke, you’re still facing the same enemies and you still get the same legendary quotes. They just threw it all into a very bland modern FPS which tries to function more like an old school FPS at times. However it fails due to the use of modern mechanics which leads to the game being a clusterfuck at times. Still if you want more Duke Nukem, there really is no harm in playing this. It’s not the worst FPS out there and is definitely far better than the horrendous Red Faction was IMO.

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Tough choice…

I recommend trying it only if you’re a die hard Duke Nukem fan as you will get something out of it so long as you keep your expectations low but even then I really mean it, the game still feels very sterile even to the most die hard fans however I do honestly believe that die hard Duke fans will be able to appreciate this game and will definitely enjoy the many throwbacks this game has especially the walking sections since a lot of it is pretty much a tribute to Duke himself and the game still works as a shooter. For everybody else, just wait for the 20th anniversary remaster for Duke Nukem 3D.


Story/Plot: Decent
Visuals: Decent
Gameplay: Mediocre
Music: Decent
Lifespan: Quite Short
Would you replay? No

Overall: 20160920201056_2

Value: £5.00

Purchase Duke Nukem Forever (PS3)

The Darkness II Review

Well I didn’t expect to be playing this game. The Darkness II was a random punt of mine, I got it from Humble 2k Bundle so it was dirt cheap and the game looked interesting enough to get me to pick it up.

Anyways, The Darkness II is a First Person Shooter based on a comic book series which I don’t know anything about, despite all this, I didn’t have too much trouble following the story, even if it was a little crazy. The story sets you as a guy named Jackie who suffered a traumatic experience and became possessed by a powerful force known as the darkness. Naturally this makes him a badass anti-hero and like all good badasses, he is practically the Godfather of the local Mafia.

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Unfortunately for him, the darkness inside him attracts trouble and as such he has to deal with an enemy faction known as the Brotherhood who seek to harness the powers of The Darkness for themselves.

Now the only issue I have with the game’s storyline is that they don’t really build on the whole “mafia” family thing, perhaps they did in the original game but if you jumped into this game without playing the original the pacing of the game is very concise and this is very much to its detriment for newcomers trying to experience the complete story but those who played the original game might appreciate this since they don’t need all the extra exposition.

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Despite this the plot itself is very straightforward and easy to follow but for newcomers such as myself it may lack a certain level of depth that you come to expect from most games. Still, I don’t think story is particularly important in these types of games however, it’s easy to tell that The Darkness II tries to deliver a solid narrative experience and while the narrative does its job, it feels kinda rushed. Even those who are fans of the original may realize this pretty quickly as the game doesn’t last that long to begin with.

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You will frequently encounter these monologue sections where Jackie talks about himself and The Darkness. It doesn’t really connect to the story in any way though.

Visually, the game is pretty good, there are lots of vibrant colors in this game similar to that of the Bioshock series, if you have played any of the Bioshock games then you will know what to expect here. Needless to say, the game still has that dark tone in order to reflect on the whole “darkness” theme this game is going for. You can tell that the developers wanted to make you feel like the darkness and not just some random dude with a pair of handguns.

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In a way you could say that The Darkness II opts for a similar visual style to Shadows Of the Damned in a lot of ways and you wouldn’t be far from wrong. You could also say that it feels similar to Painkiller in a lot of ways however because of the focus on the narrative, the visuals don’t give the game the same feeling as Painkiller as they were opting for a completely different approach. Still I do like this visual style and it really befits the comic book world that they’re trying to replicate.

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There really isn’t much to say about the music, it was just… forgettable I guess. It’s mostly just ambient sound which doesn’t really work with a narrative driven game like The Darkness II even though I saw the reasoning behind it, it just doesn’t do anything for me, nor does it stand out. Then again, that’s just my opinion so make of that what you will.

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The game does have a few ambient quirks in the game’s hub area, the mansion and while exploring this hub is somewhat enjoyable, I wish a lot of the events that occur there don’t have any relevance to the game’s story which is a shame, I was hoping everything would tie in. It is nice that there is a cool looking hub area though as it was fun to explore.

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Gameplay wise the game is rather innovative though this is sometimes to the game’s detriment which I will get to later. Regardless there are lots of different ways to mow down your enemies. Not only do you have guns which can shoot enemies but you also have powerful demonic tentacles coming out of your body. These can be used in all kinds of different ways and it adds a lot of variety to the game and allows you to play in all kinds of different ways.

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Like with most modern FPS, there is a leveling system in the form of skill trees which you can use to put points into each of your skills. I do think the skill trees work quite well in this game as the darkness allows you to experiment with different playstyles and as such the skill trees allow you to enhance these playstyles based on personal preferences, that being said, while the skill trees do let you focus on a specific set of powers, it doesn’t take away from the experimentation the game has to offer.

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Of course the game likes to throw different types of enemies at you and each one responds to each playstyle differently, certain playstyles work better than others in certain situations. Some encounters can be dealt with quickly when the right tools are available, some can be quite tricky if you don’t know how to approach them. There is a lot of thinking on your feet in this game and this would have been great if the game wasn’t so incredibly clunky.

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First of all I’d like to talk about the controls. If you are playing the PC version, by all means play with a gamepad, the keyboard controls are poorly optimized and it shows. This game is almost as complicated to play on a Keyboard as Freespace, there are so many keys you will need to press spread out all over and this can make things chaotic in the heat of things.

This game loves to overwhelm you a lot but unlike the story, the pacing of the gameplay is actually quite slow. Jackie himself moves at a snail’s pace and though there is a sprint button, the controls are so bad that you’ll never use it effectively.

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Additionally there are a few annoying features that this game brings to the table. The first one being the heart consumption system. While this is a wonderful idea in concept, it doesn’t work very well simply due to the fact that you have to constantly press E to consume souls *cough* hearts (sorry, I’ve played too much Painkiller) and doing this in the heat of battle is essential if you want to stay alive. This means you are constantly mashing keys aimlessly to keep up with the overwhelming gameplay.

The second and quite possibly the biggest annoyance is the light system. Basically if you approach any light, your screen will blur out and you will lose literally all of your abilities (including the ability to eat hearts) for as long as you are in it. This gets even more frustrating when they throw in enemies which have torches to completely disable you. The worst part of this is that to kill them effectively you have to shoot out the tiny little torch in their hands, this can be rather irritating when you’re in the middle of a huge gunfight as you need pin point accuracy to do it.

The light! the liiight!!!

The light… the liiight!!!

The biggest problem with it though is that it breaks up the gameplay. It makes it so that nearly every 2 steps there is a light illuminating the path and it’s very difficult to tell what is light and what isn’t. Some lights can only be destroyed by destroying generators, some lights can’t even be destroyed at all. The worst part is trying to locate all of the lights as they can sometimes be in very hard to find places and of course not all of them can be destroyed anyways which is extremely frustrating since you are constantly searching for them, even in the middle of battle.

I mean sure, I do get the gist of the whole “light” idea, it fits the concept perfectly but it isn’t executed all that well in the gameplay. A lot of the times you will find the game to be a bit too overwhelming for these reasons. Jackie’s slow movement speed makes dodging bullets a pain and it usually comes down to an “act before you think” scenario, similar to Leningrad in Painkiller, the only difference being that whereas Painkiller’s gameplay is very fast paced and fluid, The Darkness II’s gameplay feels very sluggish. and this can often make the game very frustrating.

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However these flaws are still outweighed by the game’s strengths and I do think The Darkness II was an enjoyable romp for the most part. The darkling sections were a nice change of pace as they favored a more stealthy approach which I personally think that this game befit better to be honest and the game’s variety makes it really fun. if you consider yourself to be a fan of games Like Shadows Of The Damned, I’d give this a try as it has a very similar style going for it. Though the game may be sluggish and frustrating at times it manages to keep the player engaged through its variety, if you can get past its annoyances, you will probably enjoy The Darkness II’s gameplay a lot.

All in all, The Darkness II is an enjoyable romp that will last you for about 4-5 hours, its short length may be off-putting but if you can pick it up for under £5.00 it’s definitely worth a punt. I personally wouldn’t spend any more than £20.00 on this though due to its short length bit I do think you will find some enjoyment out of this.


Story/Plot: Satisfactory
Visuals: Good
Music: Forgettable
Gameplay: Satisfactory
Lifespan: Too Short
Would You Replay? No

Overall: Satisfactory

Value: £10.00

Purchase The Darkness II (PS3)

Why? Why is Painkiller my favourite First Person Shooter of all time?

I have been debating on what video content to do for the site and as such I came up with this idea. Why is a series of videos that I may release on the odd occasion about particular games and their mechanics. I will usually talk about why videogames are designed the way they are and why they appeal to us and many more.

Considering the nature of this series, It may take some time to see some uploads, there is no exact schedule or anything. This is just a way for me to discuss things vocally rather than in writing when I need to get something off my chest.

Of course I will still be doing written content that doesn’t fit in with the “Why” theme but I do this in hope that it will give the site more flavor and will allow people to see things in action as I talk.

In this episode I talk about Painkiller and why it’s my favorite FPS to date. The bulk of the video cues in at around 5:00 so skip to that point if you are wanting to see some actual gameplay.

I hope you enjoy this new format and if not feel free to leave feedback.

Apologies for my desktop fan… something you’re going to have to put up with i’m afraid :/. And yes I say “you know” a lot, I didn’t exactly have a script, just a bunch of notes so I tend to say it a lot as a means of connecting things.

Gggmanlives’ Youtube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCKlUrYO3i9MDlL45Ia6j5EA

Videogames don’t need to be perfect

Sometimes I wonder… does the name Cynical Gaming Blog hold much meaning anymore? Perhaps I should rename the site to “Rational Gaming Blog” because as a gamer, I seem to be one of the most rational gamers there is at the moment. Why is this you ask? Because I can appreciate games for what they are instead of simply berating every single little thing about them.

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What has happened to gamers these days? Have we really stooped as low as the movie industry? I made three consecutive articles a while back (two of which are reviews) and all three of them revolve around gaming related media which has recieved negative backlash from either fans or critics over something stupid like “why does this girl wear such huge underwear?” or “this movie sucks because it’s based on a series which I haven’t a clue about because I don’t play videogames so I don’t understand the story” or “Why do the character models look so ugly? This game sucks because the character models are ugly!”

Now I think one of my biggest flaws as a blogger is that I haven’t stayed true to my name as a “cynical gamer” and hopefully this blog will help you interpret its meaning. I’m cynical towards the industry, yes because publishers are ruining it (that’s a rant for another day, go watch this video if you want the gist of it because this guy sums it up in a nutshell) but I’m becoming even more cynical of the gaming community. Why? Because we let it happen, it is us gamers that let all the industry bullshit happen because we buy the games that cause the issues in the first place.

You just bought Overwatch? You’re the heart of the problem. I wonder how long it will take before they implement microtransactions… oh, wait they already did? Brilliant, one small step for man, one large step for the industry’s downfall. Lets see how long our beloved games last shall we? Gaming may be on the up now but considering how much backlash Star Ocean 5 has received by so-called fans, can we honestly expect that it will last?

Is Star Ocean 5 really that bad? Or is it simply misunderstood?

Is Star Ocean 5 really that bad? Or is it simply misunderstood?

Perhaps you were disappointed by Star Ocean 5 and while that is cool and all, it doesn’t make it a bad game just because you set your expectations too high, it has too many merits to be a bad game and I have described those merits in my review. That’s why I write reviews, because reviews are all about finding both the merits and the flaws of a game and weighing them up. The problem is that most gamers, sometimes even critics focus way too much on either the positives or the negatives that they contradict their statements completely. I try not to be one of those people. Whilst I won’t deny that I have written reviews that are absolutely terrible (my Star Ocean 2 review which written was back on Destructoid was appaling) I can definite say that I have improved over the years and I have enough experience to understand what makes a good review.

However many may be led to believe that my points are invalid due to the fact that I’m not a paid professional. Journalism goes beyond what I do, they get where they are because they have qualities which I don’t and I am aware of those qualities. That doesn’t mean that their points are any better than mine, I’ve seen some absolutely terrible reviews from critics that don’t know what they’re talking about, go look at Warcraft movie reviews if you want proof of that.
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As a result, I only read/watch reviews from independent sources such as myself because believe it or not, they do a far better job than professional critics do. This is mainly due to the amount of workload they are given whilst we independent critics have all the time in the world to make a detailed and complete review, it is something which I aspire to do, to cover everything a game has to offer and whilst I don’t always get it the first time (AKA Valkyrie Profile 2) I try my hardest to cover as much as I can about the game and even then it’s not enough. I could re-write half of my reviews and apply so much more information but I’d rather look to the future rather than look to the past. Maybe if I received requests I would go back but until then, I will move forward (unless I really feel the urge to re-write a review).

You see, most paid professionals are given deadlines and a lot of games to review. As such they can only briefly cover each one because they have to be resourceful with their time. How can you trust someone who does half a job? Don’t you want to hear the whole thing? I’m not telling you that you have to read my content and only my content because that’s absurd, so many people do a better job of reviewing videogames than I do, here’s some examples of reviewers that I watch, those guys do a far better job than I do when it comes to making reviews and you should watch them.

That little rant aside, let’s get into the meat of the topic, perfection in videogames. What does perfection mean exactly? I’ll show you exactly what perfection means:

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Ok, ok I don’t mean to be so big-headed to state that F-Zero GX is a perfect game as a fact but personally in my opinion, I think it is. Why do you think we haven’t seen a sequel yet? Because what else could they do with it?  Shigeru Miyamoto asked this very question and to be honest I can’t deny that he is right F-Zero GX perfected the gameplay formula, it perfected the world, the feeling.

Even the terrible voice acting and over the top choreography invokes the perfect style of campy charm that was intentionally designed to act as a parody of comic book tropes, an underline agenda that the game never openly admits to but as the player, you can just tell by playing the game that the developers wanted to create a comic book inspired world and rather than trying to come up with something serious, they decided to make it funny, this is made even more evident by the character bio video’s which show each character in a funny situation. The game was intended to be camp and as such the flamboyant and misplaced voice acting was added specifically to add humor to the game.

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Add to that the incredible music, visuals, 60 FPS and the countless features which exist purely to add more to the experience and you have what I consider to be a perfect game. Even Valkyrie Profile 2 couldn’t surpass it in this department but my cognitive bias puts it 1 place above F-Zero GX because I love RPG’s.

However to expect every game to be as incredible as F-Zero GX is simply outrageous. That game was a masterpiece in every single way, though it may be possible to top it, doing so would be an insane task, a challenge and a huge risk. People seem to forget that videogames are made by people. The goal of a videogame director is not to come up with as many ideas as possible because that would be foolish, their job is to be resourceful. Why do you think Star Ocean 5 was so short? It’s not because the developers are lazy, not by a long shot.

The reason why is simple. They want to filter out all of the filler in order to improve the pacing of the game. Shuichi Kobayashi (I swear I spell his name wrong every time) openly mentioned this in an interview. How can you say that’s not a good decision? He is surely giving us what we want by removing the needless filler that many games have these days and even if you enjoy filler, can you honestly say that this decision ultimately made the entire game terrible? Surely not because I refuse to believe that anybody could be that foolish.

Character development on the go. Just like one of those cereal bar commercials.

Character development on the go. Just like one of those cereal bar commercials.

One thing that I would like to mention before wrapping this up is that the things that matter to me in game design are the little things. Whether or not you pay attention to these things or not is irrelevant, it is important to pay attention to the small intricacies if you want your opinion to hold any value. If you aren’t capable of accounting for every single little detail a game has to offer then your opinion is worthless. I’m not saying that having a biased opinion is wrong, I’m saying that you shouldn’t use your opinions to give false advice.

By analyzing the minor intricacies you are able to decide more thoroughly who the game is for and who should avoid it. If you fail to do so, you obviously don’t show enough respect for the game, so why should other people respect your opinion? I don’t care if you’re a reviewer, if you have an opinion, don’t spread biased propaganda if you aren’t able to respect the game enough to give it a thorough analysis.

This however doesn’t mean you have to look at every single feature a game has to offer. Like I said, the small things matter but the big things aren’t as important when discussing a review because they are a lot easier for the consumer to see and as such they can easily judge whether or not the game is for them by just looking at it or watching a lets play on Youtube. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t cover these points however. Big things do matter, just not as much, if a game has a unique feature that separates itself from the crowd then it is definitely worth a mention. However most games use features that are set in stone.

Painkiller HD Survival

Like for example, most FPS have horde survival modes now. You don’t have to break down every single game mode to get your point across unless that game mode has issues… and if it does you have to find the problem… and thus you must delve into the small intricacies once again. Instead you evaluate the bulk of the game and judge it based off of that because if the cogs don’t work properly, you aren’t going to have a working machine, no matter what it does.

If people only looked at the big, we would only see the same thing time and time again. If you go back to my “What a rip off” article, I mention the qualities of ripping off other games. It is these small intricacies that differentiate those games from their original concepts.

As such, the tools of making a great game are applying the right tools for the player to enjoy a functional, yet enjoyable gameplay experience, you don’t have to make the gameplay spectacular to pull that off. The reason why I gave Star Ocean 5 a “great” rating was for that very reason. I had fun playing through the game despite the lack of move options and the inability to stagger enemies simply because the game was designed well enough to add an element of challenge, something which in all honesty may well be the most executed out of all of the games in the series in my opinion. Is it perfect? Perhaps not.

Break Mode

If we look at Valkyrie Profile 2 for example, that game uses break mode to allow unlimited attacks for a short period of time, perhaps Star Ocean needs to do the same thing with staggering, they tried it with Star Ocean 4 but I find that they will need to do the opposite in order to succeed. Add a gauge that when filled allows enemies to stagger or do what Valkyrie Profile 2 did and make it so that when you break off an enemy’s body part, you can make them stagger for a short period of time allowing you to combo them.

However that alone wouldn’t make the game perfect. I wrote another article before talking about how we could theoretically create the perfect action game and since Star Ocean 5 is an action RPG, this is relevant. One of the games I brought up is one of Star Ocean 5’s competitor’s, Tales Of Xillia which by holding a certain button, it changes the moveset of the character on the fly allowing for a more varied moveset. This is what the Star Ocean series needs in my opinion, however I cannot deny that Star Ocean 5 was a step in the right direction and you shouldn’t either, removing the stagger-lock was the first step to creating a better game… but it’s not a complete step. People need to realize that these things take time, tri-Ace are probably trying to find some new way to improve this as we speak. Instead of complaining about it we should see the merits of its intentions and move on.

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I’m not just saying this because I’m a Star Ocean/tri-Ace fanboy (which I am). Tri-Ace have made mistakes just like any other developer. In my opinion, that mistake was teaming up with SEGA and making Resonance Of Fate but as a fan of tri-Ace, I’m not going to discredit them just for one game because I know that they are capable of more than that, plus I know that they’re all human beings and human beings make mistakes. This is an undeniable fact, game developers aren’t gods, they are people just like me and you, so appreciate the effort they put into the game by showing a level of respect worthy of that effort but to truly respect the game, you have to look at the small intricacies that make the game so good/bad in the first place because believe it or not while most of us gamers don’t pay attention to these things, developers do, there is a reason for every single little thing they add to a game and you may or may not understand those reasons, nor will you even notice all the things they add to the game.

As someone who knows very little about the intricacies of game development, I cannot say I can completely understand everything, however I consider myself a theorist. It makes things more fun that way. I don’t need to know the exact reason, I just need to know what works and what doesn’t. That is what I do. Though I do want to explore the theory behind why certain game design decisions were made and why certain intricacies and features were included. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a while but I haven’t found a good enough format in which to do so. Hopefully one of these days, I will be able to get face to face with these developers and learn the truth but the chances of that happening are very low.

So remember, games are supposed to be as good as they can be for what they are. You can’t expect everybody to be as accomplished as Arnold Schwarzenegger and the same applies to videogames. Learn to appreciate things more rather than nitpicking about every little thing and calling it out as bad.

Warcraft Movie: My Thoughts

So I just finished watching the Warcraft movie. Needless to say I had a lot of fun watching it as it was Warcraft and you can’t really go too far wrong with it. The Warcraft movie stays true to classic Warcraft rather than World Of Warcraft which I was glad to see… though there were a few knocks to World Of Warcraft, they were very minor.

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The first thing to note about the movie is that it is very straightforward and simplistic, they kinda sped it up to keep people engaged which was a good thing. The second thing to note is that the movie is very graphic and pretty dark for a 12 rated film which is great considering the fact that it stayed true to the Warcraft novels which were dark to begin with.

The characters didn’t disappoint, Durotan was as you would expect him, you get to see him a lot in the movie and you get to see many different sides of his character which was nice. Lothar gets a bit more exposure in there too with more plot relevance than he had in the original games. He and Durotan pretty much steal the show, though Khadgar makes a few appearances as well and acts as Batman’s Robin toward’s Lothar.

Orgrim Doomhammer returns, he’s just as badass as he was in the books but we don’t see too much of him at this point, he does play a role but it’s not as major as Khadgar so he is kind of a temporary side kick. Instead, Garona plays as Durotan’s sidekick even though they barely had any relevance to one another in the lore which is interesting. This brings me to another point.

The lore in the movie is different, most of it however still ties in to classic Warcraft and there are Loopholes which tie it in to Warcraft Orcs and Humans, I’m not going to say too much due to spoilers but things change in the movie, I believe these changes were directed towards the general public rather than Warcraft lore nerds since they wanted to give the movie a somewhat satisfying conclusion and they wanted the viewers to become invested more. So they changed it up to give extra investment to certain characters.

I will say that for the most part however, these changes are actually for the better as they made things a bit more interesting. On the other hand it causes a few plot holes. We get to see a lot of fight scenes, most of them are large-scale battles (in classic Warcraft style) there are also a few duels AKA mak’gora which adds a bit more focus in the choreography department. For the most part though, a lot of the action is pretty chaotic and difficult to take in though it was always satisfying to see Orgrim casually bashing people with his hammer with no fucks given, like a boss.

Naturally Blackhand plays a part, he’s slightly different now, rather than being ruthless dictator like he was in the books, he is a little more rational this time around but he is still rather brutal. Interestingly enough, they chose to keep him clean of the fel magic for some reason, this seemed somewhat out of character but it was replicated by his new attitude. Blackhand is very much like Orgrim Doomhammer in the sense that he is conflicted about Gul’dan’s actions but sees no other way around it. You never get to see his daughter, Griselda though. It would have been interesting to see how that would have worked out with this new personality he’s got rockin’.

Gul’dan is pretty much the main villain of the story and he is very different this time around. Rather than being a silver tongued schemer, Gul’dan is very much like he was in World Of Warcraft: Warlords Of Draenor in the sense that he is a lot more forward and up-front rather than hovering around from behind the scenes observing his grand plan from the background like he did in the lore. You could say he has basically replaced Blackhand’s role completely which kinda simplifies a lot of things but it’s really not Gul’dan. Nevertheless he’s still a great villain and he has a lot of badass moments, you thought he was starting to show his badass side in Warlords Of Draenor? Ha you’ve seen nothing yet.

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Medivh was a pretty great character this time around, I like the way that they dealt with his character though the whole fel thing was a bit unusual as it came out of nowhere (I’m not going to spoil precisely what i’m talking about). We do get to see him do some cool things though. In a way, I’d say Medivh kinda replaces… nah I’m not going to say it because it’s a spoiler but if you know the lore, you probably know what i’m referring to.

I will definitely say however that I like how Medivh was portrayed in the movie better than the actual book which surprised me. In this you get to see a lot more of his unexpected character quirks than you did in the movie. He is also very protective over the human lands this time and takes his role as guardian a lot more seriously than he does in the book where he seems somewhat annoyed at the constant pestering of the humans for help and would rather keep himself to himself.

One thing that did disappoint me though was the ambiance of Karazhan, I guess I was expecting something a bit more ominous… I don’t know but it seemed like just a normal tower. The Dwarves make a brief appearance but the lack of a Scottish actor felt kind of off. I mean come on guys, it’s only CGI, get a Scottish actor to do the role, we identify the Dwarves with that Scottish accent as it gives off that Nordic feel which feels close to its roots (since the Dwarves are based off of The Lost Vikings) but it’s only a minor issue.

I also would have liked certain things to remain true to the lore such as all the orcs being green due to the dark magic taint that occurred in Draenor before the first war ever happened. Instead, Gul’dan just shoves magic up their asses and turns them green immediately, a bit late for that aren’t we Gul’dan? It felt rather inconsistent and awkward that all the fel orcs were completely irrelevant to the plot and were just there to add a backdrop (including Grom Hellscreem, yes he is there). You would think that Blackhand would have been one of the first to volunteer to drink the fel blood but it seems that he is instead commanding a bunch of steroid infested orcs and still manages to upstage all of them in combat… but this is Blackhand so why am I surprised?

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The choreography was simple but good, all the hits connected well and had a good punch to them which made the fight scenes appear more gruesome. There was a lot of effort put into the sound design in the movie and the ambiance, you get to hear a lot of screeching and it gives the orcs in particular a very intimidating feel. Put simply if you’ve only play Warcraft 3 or World Of Warcraft, you might be a bit surprised as to just how intimidating they are. They are menacing and it’s sometimes difficult for Orgrim and Durotan to stand out amongst all the screaming of the orcs but they surprisingly manage to.

Seeing some of the imagery as it was conceived in the books brought to life was actually very frighteningly accurate and I really think they managed to capture those points quite well in the film which helps the viewer feel a lot more invested in the story if they haven’t read the books.

Put simply, Legendary thought of everything with this movie… but they focused mainly on the important parts of the story and building its foundations on it rather than looking at the broader picture and trying to level it all out with the rest. I think this decision was for the best. As much as I’d have liked to have seen the shadow council, the ogres, Mannoroth and maybe Kil’jaeden. I’m pretty satisfied by what was offered and it was really worth watching for what I was shown.

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There is also one thing with Medivh that I won’t spoil but we get to see something that we have never seen in any Warcraft game before… beyond concepts of course. All I’m going to say is, it’s a bit small but for understandable reasons. However it is still pretty awesome and I’m so glad to finally see it, worth watching for that alone if you ask me.

So all in all, the movie is a must watch for Warcraft fans. I believe others who aren’t too invested in the Warcraft universe will enjoy it too since the story simplifies itself and changes things up to explain things better and get people’s investment quickly. Even if you aren’t a fan of Warcraft, you’ll either be invested in this film or it’s just simply not your kind of thing.

Though I did mention my hiatus in a previous post, I took it down since I made this closely afterwards. I may try to do something in the summer but there’s no promises. I can only hope to be back in winter.

Star Ocean: Integrity And Faithlessness Review

Ah finally I get to reveal the truth about this game. After all the negativity and all the incessant whining from Japanese fans over a pair of underwear, we can finally get down to business. Star Ocean 5 is indeed the return of tri-Ace and Square-Enix’s relationship and I can say with confidence that it doesn’t disappoint. As a fan of tri-Ace, I commend this game for its efforts to bring the JRPG genre back to life.

Now with all that considered, let’s get straight to it. Star Ocean 5 is basically a giant floating blob of fanservice to all Star Ocean fans, this can be interpreted both positively and negatively but I see it in a positive light, there are tonnes of throwbacks here and there and you can see that the devs are trying hard to bring that Star Ocean magic back into the series.

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Welch returns to cause some more mischief…

However things could seem a little too familiar, many of the enemy designs resemble past Star Ocean games and also many of the music is re-used from previous Star Ocean games. Personally this didn’t bother me so much as I like to listen to old Star Ocean music. The enemy designs didn’t bother me much either, it merely helped maintain that Star Ocean feeling.

Another thing you will notice very quickly is that many of the moves from previous Star Ocean games return. Pretty much every attack in the game is re-used from older Star Ocean titles. This isn’t exactly a bad thing since the Tales series does exactly the same. And several attacks look slightly different from they used to.

 

“Star Ocean 5 is basically a giant floating blob of fanservice to all Star Ocean fans”

 

That aside, let’s get into the bulk of the game. The story is in Japanese so I didn’t understand a word of it, the cast of characters are quite different this time round. Many of them are highly experienced combat veterans which is a nice change from the usual teenage kid saves the world having had zero combat experience (I’m looking at you Fayt Leingod) and it really gives the cast a strong feeling of importance as if they belong in the story as opposed to being put there due to circumstances in the plot.

The story revolves around planet Faykreed, a single planet. I can see why they went with this though and I believe the plot is the main reason why. The game starts off almost immediately in a conflict which expands over the course of the game, the game revolves around this conflict and as such it’s befitting that the story revolves around a single planet for that reason. As a result, the scale of the game’s storyline is a lot smaller than Star Ocean Till The End Of Time but the execution is done rather well.

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“Who ate the last piece of my pie? Was it you!?”

This brings me to the seamless cutscenes. This is where a double-edged sword comes into play. On the plus side, the cutscenes blend in really well with the gameplay rather than taking you out of the gameplay experience in a way many traditional cutscenes do. On the negative side, due to the third person perspective of Fidel it can be difficult to position the camera in a way that lets you focus in on the cutscene. In other words it’s trying to create a Half-Life effect by essentially putting the player into Fidel’s shoes and watching the story from his perspective rather than watching a traditional cinematic cutscene where the player feels detached.

As such, the seamless cutscenes are somewhat of an acquired taste. As you go through the game you grow to appreciate their significance more once they start playing around with new ideas. The game likes to throw them at you quite often and during these scenes you can walk around so long as you stay in the designated area. However there is a new emotes feature you can make use of which is a nifty novelty. The devs obviously intended for the players to make their own fun with the cutscenes and offered tools to do it with. The question is, is it enough to keep the player’s interest?

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The answer is simply… it depends. Whilst many of us appreciate the flashy CGI cutscenes, those that don’t can usually skip them. The biggest problem with the seamless cutscenes is the inability to skip them. This can be troublesome at certain points but for the most part they aren’t long drawn out and if for some reason you’re getting bored watching them, you can force Fidel to do all sorts of nonsense to keep you amused. Personally I had a lot of fun with the emote system but considering the fact that Star Ocean 5 isn’t an MMORPG it could be considered to be somewhat out of place. Then again we are talking about Star Ocean *wink* *wink*.

Another thing that sort of feels very MMO esque is the questing system. Like the seamless cutscenes, these side quests have both positive and negative implications. The obvious negative implication being the fact that questing can be kinda bland. On the other hand the bulletin board keeps everything together in its respective area which cuts out all the monotonous running around town in search of quest givers or trying to find that particular NPC you need to give that item to.

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There’s so much content in this game that you’ll never be board.

One thing that may bother people is that many of the content acquired throughout the game is locked behind sidequests. This includes skill books which are used to learn new battle skills and item creation professions. As a result you will have to spend a lot of time backtracking to different areas fighting mini-boss encounters and finding certain items to obtain new skills and abilities. So to get the most out of Star Ocean 5, you will have to spend a considerable amount of time doing side quests and backtracking. Then again, Star Ocean has always features a lot of backtracking through its private action system.

Speaking of which, private actions return but this time they are a lot easier to access. To access private actions, you merely need to approach a whistle icon in town where your party splits up and by approaching that party member, you trigger that private action. You no longer need to leave town or use a guide to find private actions though you may still want to use a guide to get certain character endings. I personally tried everything in my power to get any ending besides Miki’s, needless to say, I failed and ended up paired up with my least favorite character, looks like the Japanese language barrier trumped me that time.

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Miki appears to get very excited when you trigger her PA’s, shame I don’t feel the same way…

In addition to traditional private actions, certain private actions trigger on the road, kinda like skits in the Tales series only this time you don’t have to trigger them and watch a bunch of character portraits chatting amongst themselves. Instead the private action plays out as you are moving, kinda like seamless cutscenes but you are free to move and even battle during them. Obviously battle will cancel them out. As such you can enjoy these PA’s at your own pace and if you so wish you can take a break from exploring to see their expressions.

Item creation is back and is better than ever. Star Ocean 5 has in my opinion the best item creation in the series. Whilst it mostly sticks to Star Ocean 4’s item creation at first, over the course of the game you will unlock the classic Star Ocean 1 and 2’s item creation… with a twist. As such you get the best of both worlds here. The regular item creation is just like Star Ocean 4’s only this time you no longer have to visit Welch every time and can perform item creation straight from the menu which is handy. Also you don’t have to spend SP on invention or find recipes any more, rather you learn new items by simply making them.

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At first all the items are hidden behind question marks so you don’t know what you’re getting but once you unlock it will reveal what it is and you can make more of it should you wish at any time. Like Star Ocean 4, item creation requires you to gather certain components and use them to create a single item. Over the course of the game however you are able to unlock a new item creation system called the lottery.

The lottery is basically Star Ocean 1 and 2’s item creation where you put items into a pot and get a new one out. This time however you can use just about any item you please and you use up to a combination of 6 items from your inventory. You can have them randomly picked for you or you can choose them manually. Once you’ve selected your items, you can throw them into a pot (or in this case a bunny) to obtain a new item. However be careful not to throw important items in as they may be lost forever and you never know what you’re gonna get, it’s completely random depending on the items you use. The lottery system is fun to experiment with and you may end up getting an item that you can use in regular item creation to create the item you wanted. If you’re lucky, you may also get a new piece of equipment that is better than the one you had before. Of course you will get duds a lot of the time but that’s why they call it a lottery.

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Up to six items can be placed in the pot. Choose wisely!

Item synthesis is back also but is split up between multiple skills, one for weapons and armor, another for accessories. Like Star Ocean 4 you can apply factors to your equipment using any item in your inventory or combine certain items together to create a new and improved one. The system is very much the same as previous titles and whilst it may be nothing we haven’t seen before, it’s still refreshing that they brought it back in all it’s glory. As such there are many customization options for equipment available to you.

Visually, the game is fantastic. Whilst the overall aesthetic style is inherited from Star Ocean 4, there have been some huge improvements made. For starters, the first thing I noticed in the game was how impressive the game’s draw distance was. Whereas Star Ocean 4 tries to cover up a lot of its empty backdrops with white fog and clouds, Star Ocean 5 adds more detail to the game’s environments making them more vast and as such is contributes towards improving the game world’s sense of scale.

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Considering the fact that the majority of the game takes place on one planet though and there aren’t too many areas on that planet, the game’s world isn’t as large as the visuals would lead us to believe. However each location is very detailed.  I found it quite odd that the desert area had constant rain though. Isn’t a desert supposed to be piping hot and dry?

The character designs have been outsourced and are designed by freelance artist Akira Yasuda, who is recognized for his work on the Street Fighter games and they look great. The main character, Fidel is probably the best designed protagonist I’ve seen in a while in terms of visual appeal. Victor looks pretty rad too. The character models are a mixed bag though, Some of them are great, others are a bit off. Emmerson’s head looks a tad too small outside of the CGI’s and Miki… well she looks odd in general. Fidel still looks fine though as does Fiore.

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Overall I’d say the visuals are pretty impressive, at least compared with most other JRPG’s these days. I think they made a good decision to keep the choice of art style colorful and vibrant rather than trying to make it look realistic. It really gives it that Star Ocean flair. In addition, unlike Star Ocean 4, the characters don’t look like weird dolls anymore (aside from perhaps Miki).

Visuals aside, lets talk about the combat. Tri-Ace made the huge mistake of returning to Star Ocean Till The End Of Time’s horribly archaic battle system. Thankfully that’s the only word I could possibly use to describe the battle system of Star Ocean 5. It’s not all doom and gloom though, there has been some improvements. Now in case you don’t know, Star Ocean Till The End Of Time’s combat was abysmal. With the horrible CP cap, difficulty spikes aplenty and of course the dreaded MP death along with the HP cost for special attacks, Star Ocean Till The End Of Time gave me an experience best forgotten, gameplay wise at least.

Star Ocean 5 attempts to fix the system and it uses many simple yet effective methods in an attempt to do so. One method is to simply allow normal attacks to cancel into normal attacks. This way you aren’t stuck with only special cancels. This adds a little more depth to the gameplay as certain specials are long drawn out and you may wish to use a faster normal attack instead, especially if you think the enemy is about to attack you.

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Another improvement is the balancing of the characters. No more useless characters like Adray or Mirage, every character is useful this time round. In fact I found myself switching between characters a lot and thankfully due to the game’s guard system, this worked like a charm. What is the guard system you ask? Remember the fury gauge in Star Ocean 3 which let you guard attacks when it was at its max? Well that awful feature was scrapped and replaced by simply adding a manual guard function. This allows you to block weak attacks and almost all magic attacks which is pretty nifty if you ask me.

Once you have guarded and attack you can unleash a guard counter by letting go of the guard button right after being hit. There is a reasonable time frame but you have to let go of the guard button almost immediately. It does take a while to get used to but once you do it becomes a really fun mechanic and adds a fun new approach to battles. Rather than playing 100% aggressively like in previous Star Ocean games, you can now experience a more defensive style of play. Whilst Star Ocean 4’s blindsides were cool and rewarding, they were rather easy to pull off as you could pull off a blindside before an enemy could get a chance to hit you. In Star Ocean 5 however, guarding requires a lot more precision.

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You see by holding down the guard button, you can maintain a guard for as long as you want. However the enemy will usually read this as an opportunity to hit you with a strong attack. If you are hit with a strong attack whilst guarding your guard breaks and you lose a portion of your reserve gauge. So it’s important to read your opponent carefully and guard their attacks only when necessary. Enemies with blue auras around them are often preparing to attack you with a strong attack so be sure to move out of the way if you see one coming your way.

The reserve gauge is essentially the replacement of the bonus board. However, like in Star Ocean 3 it is a bar this time round. The reserve gauge is accumulated simply by attacking enemies. However it is depleted if you get guard countered or ko’ed. It may also be depleted if you are attacked during an attack animation. Accumulating additional reserve rewards you with bonus experience, sp and fol.

Once the reserve gauge fills up one of its bars you are able to unleash a special reserve rush attack. These attacks are basically the Star Ocean equivalent of Valkyrie Profile’s soul crushes and deal devastating damage to enemies (aside from Miki’s which heals the entire party). It’s cool that they implemented this feature as I always loved the soul crushes in Valkyrie Profile and it’s nice to see a similar concept used in Star Ocean.

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Like in most JRPG’s, it’s important to give the character an extravagant pose before using their ultimate attack. Just so you know that shit is about to get real.

Unlike Valkyrie Profile however, reserve rush attacks don’t show up on a separate screen. Instead they blend into the rest of the battle allowing you to keep the fight going as the reserve rush piles damage into the enemy. As such you could say that reserve rushes are the polar opposite of rush combo’s from Star Ocean 4 as instead of simply showcasing regular attacks on a separate screen, you are able to use unique attacks on the same screen.

The biggest change however is the fact that you control 6 party members in battle and as such you can swap between all of them to make unique combo’s. I personally didn’t have a main character this time round. Instead I cycled between characters and used each one periodically. I mostly stuck with the three dudes: Fidel, Victor and Emmerson though I occasionally swapped to the ladies for some support when needed.

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This brings me to another issue that was fixed from Star Ocean 3. Usually when you switched characters, the character would run up to the enemy in order to perform an attack. This could not be canceled out. In Star Ocean 5 however it is possible to cancel this run up through guarding which cancels out the attack completely. This is extremely handy and can be a life saver at some points.

Another improvement is the removal of boss staggering. Though this could be considered a negative. Bosses will no longer be interrupted by attacks. However with proper usage of the guard mechanic, it’s not likely that they will be able to hit you with a quick attack unless you let them but this is where the strategy comes in. You have to be able to read what the enemy is about to do. As for weak attacks, they aren’t used to interrupt bosses, rather they are used to exploit short counter windows. Strong attacks are used for the same purpose as always, to break down shields. As such, dodging and positioning yourself is very important and you can use it in conjunction with weak attacks for some quick hits.

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This means that you can no longer stagger lock bosses which was an issue that plagued the rest of the series. Now you have to think a bit more and use counter windows to your advantage. On the plus side, this feature only serves to make cancel bonuses all the more rewarding. If you can get a 200% cancel bonus on a boss without getting hit, good job but it’s not that easy. In Star Ocean 3, you could get cancel bonuses easy, all you needed to do was button mash and spam. In Star Ocean 5 however you have to be more calculated as enemies can hit you mid combo which causes your reserve gauge to decrease so you have to be careful with how often you stack attacks and wait for a counter window.

As a result there is a lot more thought process behind Star Ocean 5 compared with the rest of the series, even with the game’s rush mode, Star Ocean 4 still had the ever exploitable staggering but only for a certain period of time. However when an enemy entered rush mode you would simply run away from it until it’s rush gauge depleted then you would wail on it again which was kind of an exploit since the rush gauge was somewhat flawed even if it was a better concept than Star Ocean 3’s fury system.

So Star Ocean 5 manages to do a lot of things right with its battle system despite it’s limitations, so much so that many of its shortcomings are outweighed by the good parts. Needless to say however, the combat system remains somewhat archaic to a degree considering the fact that we’re still using MP for specials (well at least it’s not HP like in Star Ocean 3) rather than AC like in the Tales series. In other words, the Star Ocean series has a bit of catching up to do to keep up with this generation’s standards.

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All that aside however, the combat is still just as fun as the rest of the series, you could even consider it to be the best in the series. I would personally mark it on par with Star Ocean 4’s battle system. I think any Star Ocean fan will find enjoyment out of this system. If you can have fun by simply replaying old Star Ocean games, you will have so much fun with this game, especially if you enjoyed Star Ocean Till The End Of Time.

Now I want to touch on seamless battles a little bit. When you get into a battle, there are no transitions. Instead you are given the option to either attack or block to initiate a battle. If an enemy hits you, you will get surprised and the battle starts so you must be careful as you approach enemies and make sure you get the first move. Once the battle starts, a red ring appears around the field, running into that ring allows you to escape battles but there’s a timer. One thing that could be considered a minor annoyance is that when playing characters other than Fidel, they may end up outside the ring at the start of the fight, setting off the escape counter. It’s only a minor gripe though and if you do run away you merely have to wait some time to re-initiate the battle so it’s all good.

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When the battle ends a results screen appears in the top right of the screen and you are immediately free to move. There is no fade out or loading screen’s in between battles, they start almost immediately. Certain battles may even take you off guard at some points as they are blended in with the seamless cutscenes. Certain battles will give you specific objectives where you have to protect someone as well and as such, battles can get quite difficult later on in the game.

In addition you may occasionally be accompanied by guest characters who will help you in battle. This brings me to what is quite possibly my favorite feature in the game, war battles. War battles are a somewhat frequent occurrence where large scale battles take place in a designated location.

During war battles you can freely move around the map as the battles are waged and can engage into battle simply by getting in range of the enemies and instigating them by using either the guard or attack button. In other words there are several battles going on at once and you are accompanied with NPC soldiers to assist you, very much like the siege of Castle Prevant in Infinite Undiscovery only on a much broader scale. These battles are quite the spectacle and really show off what the game’s seamlessness is capable of as it makes the battles feel more exciting.

Another new feature is the roles system, this allows players to not only provide certain bonuses but it also allows players to alter the character’s AI behavior in battle. As such the AI is vastly improved from Star Ocean Till The End Of Time and no longer will you have to put all characters on manual control due to the fact that the AI likes to recklessly charge towards an enemy. One of thing things that annoyed me the most with Star Ocean Till The End Of Time was the simple fact that Sophia’s AI had to be one of the worst healer AI i have ever had the displeasure of witnessing in a JRPG.

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There are 5 categories for roles. One for offensive, one for defensive, one for healing and one for support. The final category is just for stat boosts among other things that do not affect your character’s AI.

Roles can be used for more than simply changing the AI behavior, certain roles have specific abilities that apply certain effects to the characters in battle. These effects can be pretty dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing. Certain roles offer great benefits but can impair the character’s judgement which makes their AI less effective, other roles encourage the AI to do specific actions which may or may not be helpful. Other roles such as altruist exchanges all EXP gains with SP gains which can be problematic if you somehow forget that it was equipped and start wondering why your characters are gaining 0 EXP (this happened to me before). Put simply, roles in Star Ocean 5 are like sealstones in Valkyrie Profile 2 taken to a whole new level of dangerous.

Now as I mentioned before, the music of this game includes tracks from Star Ocean 3 and 4, if you haven’t played those games I urge you to give them a try (even though Star Ocean 3’s gameplay is godawful, it’s worth it for the story). The music from those games are as good as ever and with the exception of a few tracks, the majority of the tracks tie in well with the game

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As for the new tracks, Motoi Sakuraba has put a lot of work into developing new ideas for his future projects as shown in Exist Archive. The soundtrack of Star Ocean 5 is a little bit more familiar though and really gives off that Star Ocean feeling. You’ll realize very quickly that the music maintains the series the standard of quality the series is known for and while there isn’t as much of it as we expected (Sakuraba is a pretty busy guy these days, seriously they should get Noriyuki Iwadare to work with him as he did the music for Radiata Stories and the legendary Grandia 2) the music we got is top notch.

You can feel the effort that was put into the music and you can also feel the struggle that Sakuraba has gone through to make the soundtrack as good as it can be. I think by now, music composition has become more of a challenge than ever for Sakuraba as he has a lot of reputation behind him that he needs to maintain and this means experimenting with new ideas and new approaches.

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It’s amazing how the soundtrack manages to remain so familiar but feel so different at the same time. The mixture of Violin, brass and alluring techno is the style Motoi Sakuraba went with for this game. The brass often stands out as being somewhat overpowering whereas the violin is very technical. The techno really brings out the sci-fi effect, especially when accompanied with the brass.

As will all tri-Ace games, there’s a bonus dungeon at the end and like the other games in the series there are two more unlockable difficulty levels for completing the game. The game itself is rather short but doesn’t outlive its welcome. There are several diversions available throughout the story such as the cathedral (the replacement for the series’ more conventional arena) which pits you against a gauntlet of enemies and finally a boss to obtain a reward at the end. There also of course plenty of side quests to do via the bulletin board and private actions. As a result you’ll generally spend around 40 hours or so which isn’t bad by any means.

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Those intent on rushing through the main story may be disappointed by the game’s length. I’d say the main story is on par with that of Infinite Undiscovery’s main story in terms of play time so if you don’t mind a short JRPG, you should be satisfied with what this game has to offer. I for one am glad the game was short as it meant that I could get to this review a lot quicker. Still I took my time and played through around 37 hours worth doing sidequests and stuff and had a lot of fun doing so, so much so that I was getting a bit lax on my analysis hahahaha. It is a long time since I’ve enjoyed a proper Star Ocean game, I wanted to make the most of it and I got what I came for.

So if you’re wondering whether or not Star Ocean Integrity And Faithlessness is for you, it all depends on what you’re looking for in a JRPG. Are you looking for a long adventure with lots of filler? You won’t find it here. If you’re looking for a game that’s short but sweet and intend to play through some of the game’s side content, I’d definitely recommend this game to you. In other words, Star Ocean Integrity And Faithlessness is the opposite of Exist Archive in the sense that rather than trying to shove as much filler into the game as possible, it aims to bring top quality content in small quantities to keep the budget costs down.

As such I believe they made the right decision with this game and though many will disagree with me, I think that Star Ocean 5 is a top quality game that didn’t get enough time to blossom but it’s definitely on the right track and I can see a potential for a Star Ocean 6 in the making. So just ignore all the irrational hate, give this game a go and I promise so long as you don’t set your expectations too high, you will enjoy this game a lot.

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Plot/story: Satisfactory
Visuals: Exceptional
Music: Great
Game play: Great
Lifespan: Quite Short
Worth replaying? Yes

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Overall score: Great

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For more about Star Ocean 5’s story click here warning: may be small gameplay related spoilers!!!

Value: £40.00+

Purchase Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness (PS4)

Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria Review


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There comes a time where the excitement and wonder of playing videogames begins to waver. As we experience more and more games, our tastes become more refined as do our expectations. It is very rare that a game manages to truly live up to the expectations of a seasoned gamer and when it does, you know you have picked up a true gem of a game. That’s where Valkyrie Profile 2 comes in.

Nostalgia is often the driving force when it comes to deciding on a player’s best experiences. We all look back at the good times… and the bad but it all translates to good in the end because they were an experience. My childhood was spent playing games such as Pokemon, Final Fantasy and Super Smash Bros Melee, looking back my childhood was pretty shallow compared to what I experienced in my later years. Even though I am merely at the age of 23, Valkyrie Profile 2 wasn’t a childhood game, I played it in my late teens. I had already played countless other games beforehand and I was beginning to grow tired of modern gaming.

So I made the decision to go back to the good old days and play some of the games I missed out on in my youth. In doing so I realized that there was more to my distaste of modern gaming than nostalgia, there is something missing in gaming today. I realized that I missed out on so many gems that went under the radar, some were better than others but I soon realized that I had missed out on so many amazing games that I wish I had experienced as a child. Then I found it, A game that went above and beyond my expectations. A game so breathtaking that it put all of my childhood games to shame. Little did I know that it would forever be engraved on my very soul. Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria currently stands as my favourite game of all time and it’s my job to explain to you why I find it to be the greatest game ever made and man this is going to be one hell of a challenge to review.

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So lets start with the logical observation. Unlike the first Valkyrie Profile which was a cult hit, Valkyrie Profile 2 was shadowed by its predecessor in every single possible way and was considered a “massive disappointment” by many fans of the first game. I’ve never seen a game that has been nitpicked as much as this game. It’s a game that literally did no wrong (at least to me). Seriously just picking out flaws in this game alone is like finding a needle in a haystack and yes there are flaws there but personally I find that they do not hinder the game’s experience in any way.

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So what did the game do to make people dislike it? Well for starters, Valkyrie Profile was a very good game… I say that loosely considering the fact that it was a hugely flawed game, an acquired taste you could say but the flaws in that game stuck out like a sore thumb. Nevertheless, Valkyrie Profile managed to gain a cult following who appreciated the games design choices for its originality and also appreciating the emotional impacts and deep undertones that made the game feel unlike any other.

Valkyrie Profile was unique and to see it become a traditional JRPG was ludicrous. People refused to accept that an 18-year-old midget princess with social disorders replaced the almost stereotypical stoic goddess that was Lenneth but if you look back at Lenneth, as cool as she was, her stoic disposition really took a toll on her character as a whole and her development arc was blatantly forced. I just think the game was rushed by the end… but then again even Valkyrie Profile 2 suffered a similar fate by the end though looking back, I found that Valkyrie Profile 2’s story as a whole was better structured and was better executed than its predecessor.

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At first sight, it’s understandable how someone can detest the idea of Alicia being the main character. She appears to be a stereotypical bimbo at the start of the game which is ironic considering the fact that I found that her alter ego, Silmeria fit that category far better in the long run. Over time however, things began to make sense and I did start appreciating Alicia as the main lead and became to understand the developers reasoning behind this choice, it was all about perspective and that’s what led to the biggest change Valkyrie Profile 2 made, the fact that it followed a more generic narrative structure but despite popular belief, this change was completely vital.

Lets face it, Valkyrie Profile was an unpolished masterpiece. Horribly unpolished might I add. Had the developers put more TLC into the game’s execution, it could have become the masterpiece that was Valkyrie Profile 2 but it didn’t and remained nothing more than a cult hit. Valkyrie Profile 2 barely got together a cult following but nowhere near the same level as Valkyrie Profile. People who hated Valkyrie Profile avoided it and people who loved it… also avoided it… it was an inevitable flop that went down with a huge bang that no one ever saw. Basically Valkyrie Profile 2 is the most under-appreciated video game ever made.

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Now as someone who disliked the direction the first Valkyrie Profile took, I played a few more tri-Ace games and realized that they were by the same people who did Valkyrie Profile. So surely I should give the series another chance and I picked up Valkyrie Profile 2 on a whim. It could have been another horrible experience but I had a small glimmer of hope that they changed it and thank god they did.

 

“Valkyrie Profile 2 is the most under-appreciated video game ever made”

 

Gone was the open-ended story line concept which sucked just as much ass as Big Rigs Over The Road Racing, Gone was the ever punishing period system which punished player choice and exploration and in with the old school narrative structure we all know and love. Vanilla storytelling has never been so bliss and to be honest, it was quite refreshing seeing the Valkyrie Profile series’ story line told in this new direction. You got to actually experience the story line directly as opposed to just watching some random scene which holds no relevance to the plot whatsoever only to be thrown into the next dungeon, rinse and repeat. It was a horrible… seemingly repetitive formula which bogged the first game down.

Valkyrie Profile 2’s traditional approach may not have been perfect though. Early on in the game, you are presented with quite possibly the worst macguffin trope ever conceived to man and I honestly don’t mind macguffin tropes so long as they don’t take up too much time and aren’t too predictable. It’s easy to just sit there and say “this game is boring, give me a better plot” but as bad as it was, it didn’t seem to hinder the game’s pacing half as much as Valkyrie Profile’s entire story line and strangely enough, it really didn’t impede on the overall experience. In fact I believe the slow pacing was actually needed. Why? Because it allowed you to take everything in.

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That’s right, Valkyrie Profile 2 is the best looking game on the PS2, still holding up today as one of the most aesthetically appealing games ever created. The visuals are crisp and are loaded with glittering particle effects to add that extra sparkle. It’s easy to tell that a considerable amount of effort was put into the game and there are a lot of minute details that are easily missed the first time round.

So to put it simply, the visuals are a step beyond sublimity but the game’s incredible soundtrack just happens to be even better. The two go hand in hand to provide the player with one of the greatest gaming experiences you could possibly imagine.

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As I have said before in my original review of this game back on Destructoid, Valkyrie Profile 2 is a work of art in motion and not just visually but musically as well. If you can appreciate music and visuals, then this might possibly be your dream game and I damn well love some good music and visuals.

Seriously if I listen to the game’s soundtrack on Youtube (which I do way too much) I start to get addicted to listening to it and think to myself “fuck it, I’m going to listen to it all over again from beginning to end” and after listening to it all over again, I realize that I’ve just spent hours simply listening to the same songs over and over again.

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Listening to the music in Valkyrie Profile 2 is just like eating a full bag of Doritos, I just can’t get enough of it, it’s like a drug. Captivating is probably the most fitting word to describe Valkyrie Profile 2’s soundtrack. Heck I’ve spent more time listening to the game’s soundtrack than I have actually playing the game. I sometimes even listen to them whilst playing other games, particularly open world RPG’s where they are surprisingly fitting.

 

 “Valkyrie Profile 2 is a work of art in motion”

 

I find that the music of Valkyrie Profile 2 has a much greater purpose beyond simply being enjoyable. The music of Valkyrie Profile 2 has a purpose beyond merely engaging the player, it also helps build up the game’s abstraction. In fact the music in this game somehow tells a better story than its dialogue. I don’t know whether or not Motoi Sakuraba was aware of this, perhaps I’m looking into it too much. However many of the dungeon music in this game not only the perfect ambiance but also manages to illustrate the significance of the area you are in.

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It is implied that many of the locations you visit in Valkyrie Profile 2 have historic connections with a lot of the game’s lore and whilst I cannot discredit the visual department for doing its bit, the music certainly does it part in building up the abstract background of the game’s story line just as well. I swear I could analyze many of the game’s songs and decipher their hidden meanings but I’d rather let you, the player experience that for yourselves.

A recurring theme surrounding Valkyrie Profile 2’s abstraction and story is history. The game takes place many years before the events of Valkyrie Profile and puts you in the perspective of a Valkyrie who can read the psychic energy of objects allowing her to read into the past. Hence the reason why this game’s story focuses a lot on abstraction rather than what’s actually going on in the plot. This is likely one of two main reasons why most JRPG fans are turned off from the game’s story for they fail to recognize this abstraction.

Silmeria's object reading opens up a whole new dimension within the game's storytelling.

Silmeria’s object reading opens up a whole new dimension within the game’s storytelling.

Somebody mentioned in an article that Valkyrie Profile 2 tells a better story in its world and setting than it does in its narrative. This is 100% the truth. The narrative in Valkyrie Profile 2 isn’t bad by any means but as I have mentioned before, the narrative doesn’t even compare to the likes of games such as Grandia 2 as it is somewhat flawed at certain points. That is because narrative is not the focus of Valkyrie Profile 2 whereas the first Valkyrie Profile had quite a lot of narrative, some more trivial than others but there was plenty of it nonetheless.

Valkyrie Profile 2 decides that rather than telling you the story it wants the player to explore its world and uncover the story for themselves. Sadly, most players aren’t patient enough to do this and as such, I find that the story of Valkyrie Profile 2 was horribly misunderstood. Nevertheless, the music of Valkyrie Profile 2 creates a solid ambiance that will pull you into its world.

Rather than simply plundering people's hoses for Loot, Valkyrie Profile 2 often has readable books where you can learn some of the lore.

Rather than simply plundering people’s houses for Loot, Valkyrie Profile 2 often has readable books where you can learn some of the lore.

As such, I’ve come to the conclusion that Valkyrie Profile 2’s soundtrack works with everything and just makes everything better. Seriously you should listen to some of the songs whilst playing Skyrim or something, it will make the experience so much better. The fact that it manages to capture such a perfect ambiance to the world makes it so ideal to listen to whilst playing open world RPGs as it enhances the experience of exploration. I listened to the soundtrack of Valkyrie Profile 2 whilst playing Two Worlds 2 and whilst the game was good (at least to me), I doubt the experience would have been the same without the music of Valkyrie Profile 2 playing in the background.

As for the game play. It doesn’t disappoint, like the first game, it is a side scrolling RPG, probably one of the biggest reasons why it got overlooked but it’s part of the series’ charm and couldn’t be ignored. In any case, the visuals more than make up for it.

As with most side scrolling games, Valkyrie Profile 2 experiments with platforming with the use of photons. For the most part, the game’s platforming sections are pretty simplistic and the game tends to focus on thinking rather than reflexes.

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Photons can be used to crystallize enemies to immobilize them, however if you shoot a photon at a crystallized enemy, you will swap places with it. This mechanic is the most common element of the game’s platforming as it revolves around swapping places with enemies to reach certain areas.

If anything, the side scrolling sections are less about platforming and more about puzzle solving. I often joke about how Valkyrie Profile 2 experimented with the portal gun idea before Valve did with their release of Portal as it is essentially the same idea with photons except it uses enemies instead of walls. Overall, the platforming sections are a cool distraction, but the real meat of the game play is in the battles.

Valkyrie Profile 2 keeps the same style of combat as the first game but expands on it greatly. In battle, you are actually able to roam around a 3D battlefield… oh the irony. This opens up a completely new approach to battles and applies more flexibility and depth to them as a whole.

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Like the first game, characters are set to face buttons, they are your choice of attacks. Rather than just giving you a set of special attacks for each character, picking one and letting the computer play the rest, Valkyrie Profile 1 and 2 have you playing as all the characters at the same time and each character represents a certain move set which can be customized at will in Valkyrie Profile 2 (which was limited in the first game). This is where Valkyrie Profile 2 succeeds where other ARPGs fail, the ability to be in control of everything on-screen at all times. So if you make a mistake it’s your fault.

Valkyrie Profile 2’s battle system is unlike any other JRPG and can take a while to get used to. It can also feel quite repetitive at the start but once the training wheels are off and you obtain more characters, the real action starts. Honestly when I replayed the game and just had Alicia and Rufus I felt like the game removed so much. That’s because the combat improves over time but eases you into the basics and you better appreciate that as the game is very deep. Sadly it can put a lot of newcomers off, particularly impatient ones who judge the game at first sight.

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A lot of people say that this game is really hard. I honestly had no trouble playing through this game. It’s a very deep game and you really need to pay attention to the tutorials, get the right skills and understand seal stones as this game requires a lot of preparation. Valkyrie Profile 2’s game play is all about thinking outside the box. Whilst there is some strategy involved during game play, it matters little if your characters are under equipped, you’re going to get a spanking if you’re not prepared.

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Then again, if you do come prepared, you might find the game to be way too easy. This is because Valkyrie Profile 2 is so easily broken, it’s ridiculous. It’s all about knowing how the game works and if you want to play the game the normal way, the difficulty might be tough. However if you’re into power leveling and gearing then this game can seem be a bit too rewarding.

 

“This is where Valkyrie Profile 2 succeeds where other ARPG’s fail, the ability to be in control of everything on-screen at all times. So if you make a mistake it’s your fault”

 

There are a lot of ways to play this game and it can seem a little daunting at first but experimentation is key. Valkyrie Profile 2 is all about finding the best play style for you and maximizing it to its full potential, though it is encouraged to switch on the fly. For this reason, gaining experience matters little in comparison with equipment and skills.

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Each character has their own set of attacks and they learn more of them as they level up. Considering the fact that Valkyrie Profile is not a Tales/Star Ocean game, the move selection in battle is limited (and linear) for each character simply due to the fact that you are controlling everyone in the party (though you can learn the scramble attack skill to mix things up). You’re not picking out moves, you’re picking out characters and developing moves from the characters you like in order to enhance them, you can then change-up their moves later after you’ve developed them, either that or swap them out for a new character and equip that character with the armaments from the other character to make them just as powerful.

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Characters learn skills through battling, the amount of battles required depend on the character’s level. So it’s important to learn new skills as early as possible.

Utilizing all of your character’s skills and abilities is the name of the game here. Most battles revolve around timing your attacks in order to acquire bonus experience via magic crystals as well as increasing your AP reserves via gems which lets you use more attacks. Whereas some characters are best at dealing direct damage, others are better at generating extra hits which can not only help gain more gems and experience crystals but it can also generate more heat allowing you to perform soul crushes which are a signature move each character has which can be chained with other soul crushes to deal a tremendous amount of damage towards the enemy. In addition, the higher your hit count, the higher the damage you deal.

That’s not all, enemies can also lose body parts when they attack in a Monster Hunter esque fashion in the sense that breaking off enemy body parts often rewards you with loot such as accessories which you can use to learn skills and improve stats. Additionally, breaking off certain body parts changes the behavior of the enemy, if you break off their weapon for example, their range will be limited.

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Shopping in Valkyrie Profile 2 is like Monster hunter. Basic armaments can be bought with cash, more powerful items need additional materials to be created. You do however get a return on your materials simply by trading them for OTH.

The biggest reward for breaking however is break mode. Break Mode allows the player to attack freely without expending AP so you can button mash to your heart’s content. The strategy guide mentions that break mode occurs randomly and the rate that is occurs accumulates by 5% per break for each character and the occurrence rate starts at 70%. Pretty deep stuff huh?

Allow Lezard Valeth to demonstrate the many benefits of breaking

It is often important to experiment with different attacks in order to hit a certain body part and acquire certain items early on in the game which can be used to learn skills quickly. This is important if you want to have an easier time with this game.

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Magic is visually spectacular, however many of the enemies have high resistances making mages fall short of other characters in the damage department. Possibly an oversight by the developers.

Visually, the combat is spectacular. The animations are very detailed and encourage a steady flow of combat. Like I mentioned previously, timing your attacks is important and can be very rewarding. However if you miss an attack, it could prove detrimental so it’s important to stay focused on the action, however it never becomes too hectic and can even be somewhat relaxing due to it’s pacing. The soul crushes are also a treat for the eyes and can be extremely satisfying to pull off. All in all, Valkyrie Profile 2’s combat is not only intricate in its mechanics but also in spectacle.

However, Valkyrie Profile 2 offers a variety of features which enhance the possibilities in combat. Sealstones are powerful tools you can use whilst traversing through dungeons to empower or weaken the holder.

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Sealstones can be purchased with Magic Crystals which are rewarded for hitting enemies in a mid air combo in battle. Allowing you to keep them permanently.

By holding a sealstone, the effects of said sealstone are bestowed upon the entire party. As such you may find some sealstones to be detrimental in battle. However if you place it on a dais within the dungeon, all the enemies in the area will be under the effects of the sealstone. Sealstones have multiple uses, you can use them to assist you and you can even use them to deliberately handicap yourself for challenge runs, if that’s what you’re into.

Furthermore, the game has up to 50 difficulty levels which can only unlocked with each play through (complete the game on 1 difficulty, unlock the next difficulty etc). Each difficulty multiplies the enemies stats depending on the difficulty making this game quite possibly one of the most challenging rpg’s out there. If you are a perfectionist you will spend a long time on this game.

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Valkyrie profile 2 also has a bonus dungeon that not only deliberately butchers the game’s storyline (typical tri-Ace trend) but also provides a real challenge for the dedicated players. The bonus dungeon has 5 floors each packed full of mini-bosses and tough super-bosses and lots of loot. Much of the side content takes place here and the developers worked hard despite having limited resources to make it a somewhat interesting bonus dungeon compared to the conventional bonus dungeons many rpg’s implement which tend to be rushed, dry and tedious.

Valkyrie profile 2 carries on the trademark super-bosses of the tri-Ace games as well as adding its own, allowing players to recruit otherwise inaccessible characters in the main story. Sadly most of these characters have already been playable beforehand so you won’t find many surprises here except maybe for one but you’ll have to wait and see.

There is a lot of depth provided by this game’s lore. You can collect einherjar by interacting with weapons littered around dungeons and they will fight for you, essentially giving you another character to control in battle. Each character comes with a bio which can only be read in the status screen, some characters relate to one another, it’s funny when you learn that one of the first einherjar you get is one of Alicia’s ancestors. Now this is one of the game’s biggest controversies and what gives the game so much hate. The first game practically revolved around einherjar which are basically warriors risen from the dead to fight for Odin.

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In Valkyrie Profile, you can view the death scenes of each character during intervals. This is where the game’s abstraction is rooted, a series of short stories involving character deaths who will eventually become a member of your party and from that point on, you never see or hear from them again, except in battle or the sacred phase (which shows brief conversations between characters that aren’t really all that big of a deal and to view them, those characters have to be removed from your party). So essentially Valkyrie Profile had absolutely no character interaction outside the sacred phase and at a certain point you are expected to believe that they have grown attached to her which is total bullshit if you ask me.

Now the second game replaced them with a brief bio and people hated this despite the fact that the einherjar in Valkyrie Profile 2 took a backseat role which to be honest is quite relieving as it allows you to experience a more direct storytelling approach with a bit of character interaction and even though it’s not as deep as other games of the genre, there is some character development to be found here. I do believe the cutscenes do a good enough job, at least enough to motivate the player. People who expect strong character arcs may not find it in Valkyrie Profile 2 (or any JRPG for that matter, go play Warcraft 3 if you want serious storytelling) but it doesn’t make the game any less enjoyable. If you prioritize gameplay and just about everything else over story, then you will adore Valkyrie Profile 2.

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Then again, there is a lot of attention to detail when it comes to the einherjar backstories in Valkyrie Profile 2, it’s just a different kind of approach which requires more reading than watching. If you take the time to read all of the character bio’s in the game, you will find out about a lot of events which occurred many years before Valkyrie Profile 2 and it’s quite interesting to say the least. In fact some of the einherjar are connected and will occasionally share a battle quote with each other relating to their backstory which symbolizes that the einherjar, though backseat characters are actually part of the game’s lore. I personally believe that the attention to detail makes up for the lack of einherjar stories as just like the music, it contributes to the game’s abstraction. it’s obvious that the developers didn’t rush this design choice, it was just changed to reflect on the game’s storyline.

One word that defines the experience of Valkyrie Profile 2 overall is sophistication. Though I have mentioned the visuals previously, I find that sophistication is the core of all aspects of Valkyrie Profile 2. Not only does its focus on history carry a lot of sophistication within itself but just about everything from the subtle yet somewhat simplistic story, the unbelievably sublime soundtrack, the crisp yet somewhat achromatic visual style and even the pacing of battles feels sophisticated as the game encourages times button presses rather than reckless button mashing.

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In fact this game is so sophisticated, it is difficult to believe that it is a tri-Ace game at times considering the fact that many of their games often try to follow a more generic anime style route. I find that Valkyrie Profile as a series stands as tri-Ace’s true claim to fame personally because as enjoyable as the Star Ocean games are, they don’t manage to capture half the depth the Valkyrie Profile games do and each installment seems to follow the same formula… just with a different method of conveying that formula.

Part of what makes the Valkyrie Profile series in general so iconic is the simple fact that it stands out as being sophisticated but the first Valkyrie Profile, despite it’s plot and setting didn’t manage to capture as much sophistication as the sequel simply because of it’s ridiculously flamboyant voice direction, the enjoyably dynamic, yet unsophisticated soundtrack and it’s focus on delivery through exposition, which despite being presented and performed very well, fell flat on its face in the end simply due to the fact that it was not only rushed by the end but it also felt as if they shoved way too much forced exposition down the players throat leaving them confused as to what relevance each and every moment of the game’s story had.

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Valkyrie Profile 2 didn’t have this problem. Whilst Valkyrie Profile was undoubtedly sophisticated to a degree, Valkyrie Profile 2 seemed to have perfected the sophisticated feeling that they were trying to convey in the first game but with a completely different approach. Rather than hurling tonnes and tonnes of exposition down our throats it instead focuses on building up its world and lore through abstraction rather than narrative. In my personal opinion, they did a better job conveying the game’s lore through abstraction rather than exposition.

 

“One word that defines the experience of Valkyrie Profile 2 overall is sophistication”

 

The beauty of Valkyrie Profile 2 being a sequel is that the first Valkyrie Profile already explains so much that they had a lot of room to focus on abstraction. Personally I think they simply took an opportunity and ran with that expecting players to appreciate it. They were sadly wrong for the most part. However I for one can see the beauty in the game’s direction and as a result it made me love the game more than any other.

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“I know you are there… come out and play”

Ultimately though, the storyline can be enjoyable but it doesn’t satisfy all tastes and it’s narrative, though it is enjoyable to a degree feels rather simplistic, though the delivery of the narrative is done in a fashion which befits the sophisticated style of the game. The voice direction is very direct in its approach and the pauses in cutscenes helps tell the story in a clearer fashion rather than coming across as convoluted like the first game. There are a few lip sync issues here and there along with a few other oddities in the cutscenes but they are barely noticeable most of the time and when it is, the voice performances more than make up for it. Those who can appreciate the direction of the narrative and aren’t concerned by the very minor flaws in the game’s story will have a good time whereas those who are dissatisfied with the simplicity and are unable to appreciate the game’s focus on abstraction may find the story quite boring which is understandable.

As such, if we speak from a broad perspective, Valkyrie Profile 2 is the opposite of Warcraft 3, the story is serviceable but the rest is absolutely brilliant. It brings together everything that makes a JRPG experience so enjoyable. I encourage anyone with an ounce of taste in JRPG’s to give it a try, just be sure not to rush through it and take time to appreciate what this game has to offer. Oh and Valkyrie Profile 3 needs to happen, get on that shit tri-Ace, I know you’re busy with Star Ocean 5 but please do not forget this legendary series. Honestly all of the Valkyrie Profile games are legendary though Valkyrie Profile 2 holds that special place in my heart that no other game has. If you’re going to play Valkyrie Profile 2, you may as well play them all, yes that includes Covenant Of The Plume.

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Subtle and sophisticated, Valkyrie Profile 2 is not just your run-of-the-mill JRPG experience, it’s Michelin star quality gaming at its finest and as a result, it deserves a star of its own, a symbol that this game is phenomenal, something which I can easily recommend to all fans of JRPG’s because if you don’t enjoy this game, you’re not a true JRPG fan. As such This game gets my gold star of awesome and I do not give them out lightly. Reviewing a game like this is quite daunting, after all, a game as classy as this deserves a review of equal standards and though that feat is a tough one to meet, It won’t stop me from trying.

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Plot/story: Great
Visuals: Masterful
Music: Masterful
Game play: Exceptional
Lifespan: Decent Length
Worth replaying? Maybe

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Overall score: Masterpiece 

Gold Star Of Awesome

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Value: £40.00+

Purchase Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria (PS2)

Warcraft 3 Patch 1.27

Warcraft 3 patch notes

Looks like there’s a new patch for Warcraft 3 The Frozen Throne, Here are the contents. It appears that MAC users will have an easier time playing the game. As for Battle.net, I think the maphacking community are probably shitting themselves right now, they actually have to play the game without hacks :o.

I honestly never imagined Blizzard would step foot back into Warcraft 3 Battle.net ever again. I doubt they’ll be able to fix the smurfs, the godawful hosting system or the horrible community though. It will be a shame. I wonder if the classic game’s team have the balls to moderate this game like the GM’s do in WOW. I mean we’re talking about Battle.net here, the 4chan of online gaming.

To be honest, with this new patch, I think Battle.net has lost it’s identity. Without maphackers it just won’t be the same. Who else are people going to blame for losing because someone had a sneaky shade in their base? What else is a BM player gonna blame when the enemy heard them wind walking into their base and decide to base camp?

It also kinda sucks that I lost all of my replay footage because of this patch… damn… there were some good times had playing on Battle.net even if it is a scum filled shit hole, it’s a place of freedom and liberty, a place where you could switch off your adult brain and enjoy some childish banter in games such as:

God I just love this game for so many reasons…

The fact is, playing Warcraft 3 Battle.net is a guilty pleasure of mine, sure I suck at the game and I get ridiculed for it on a daily basis but I also like the fact that there is freedom to give them some of their own medicine.

Trash talking is the name of the game, I sometimes look at myself playing Warcraft 3 and I think to myself “this is just so painfully absurd but I just love every little bit of it”. There is nothing more fun that just randomly trash talking the enemy to invoke an argument and watching people get enraged. I find Battle.net give me agency to let loose my inner 12 year old, something I just love to do, I love being an immature child, it’s more fun than being a sensible adult. Battle.net takes away all the responsibilities of being grown up and flushes it down the toilet.

I don’t have to hold back on saying something just because it isn’t politically correct, I’ll just say it. If I think you’re a moron, I’m going to say it but deep down, I don’t mean it, it’s just some silly childish banter. Games like Mafia allow people to act like children again, it brings out the worst in people and I love it. I love the hate, I love the rage, I love the heated arguments this game brings.

Mafia is a masterpiece of game design for this reason… even though it is just a mod. It’s a game which revolves around trolling people in a light-hearted manner. If I want to name myself Adolf Hitler, I can without having a profanity filter like Town Of Salem does. Seriously fuck profanity filters. They’re stupid pieces of shit. If I really gave a flying fuck about profanity filters do you really think I’d be swearing right now? Of course not.

Of course Battle.net has it’s fair share of obscenities with games like “The Rape Game” and “Revenge Of The Niggers” but what do you expect? Warcraft 3 is no man’s land, if you live in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, then you’ll know exactly what I mean. Freedom brings both good and bad. Look at Farcry 3 for example, people can smoke whatever dope they want out there but at the same time there are shitheads who will exploit the freedom and attack others and sell them as slaves.

As such if they did for whatever reason decide to moderate Battle.net, it would completely lose it’s identity. It’s like if Russia took over Rapture in Bioshock and made it into a communist society.

In any case, It seems that Blizzard are still interested in this wasteland of a game and as such I can only help but wonder what their intentions are. Will we see more patches in the future? Will maphackers be gone for good? What about the community? Will it be the same snobby elitist cunts the dominate the food chain above all the angry infants or will we see a more civilized community? Who knows what the future holds. Lets just say I’m pessimistic, Battle.net is beyond saving if you ask me and besides, what else is a cynical individual such as myself going to think about the future? We’re talking about Battle.net after all.

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In other news, Microsoft are at it again with their new universal windows platform. In addition, they are trying to push Windows 10 so badly that they make it automatically install for all Windows 7 and 8 users. Fortunately as a Windows 8 user, I disabled it. Windows 8 is bad enough Moneysoft, no thanks. STOP TRYING TO CONTROL MY GAMING!!!

Exist Archive: The Other Side Of The Sky Review

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In case you’re wondering what I’ve been busy doing in the past few weeks, I’ve been playing Exist Archive The Other Side Of The Sky, a game developed by tri-Ace. This game is a Japanese import I have been eager to pick up since it was announced last year. Exist Archive presents itself as the spiritual successor to the Valkyrie Profile series, a series which spawned the legendary Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria, my favorite game of all time and naturally I have waited for a sequel (or in this case a pseudo sequel) to this wonderful game for years. So does Exist Archive manage to deliver the same amount of quality that Valkyrie Profile 2 managed to capture?

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Well I’m going to get straight to the point and put it bluntly. The answer is unsurprisingly no, it doesn’t. So how much quality does this game deliver to us, the player? Well that’s what we’re going to look into right now aren’t we.

Now before I start I want to make all of you aware that comparing Exist Archive to Valkyrie Profile 2 is just plain unfair. How could I possibly compare such games? I mean, Valkyrie Profile 2 is a masterpiece, how could that game be topped? Oh and I’m not saying that as a close minded idiot who is blinded by nostalgia, I’m saying it as a rational individual who is well aware as to how quality is measured up and I will tell you one thing. Exist Archive doesn’t seem to realize that sometimes, less is more but believe me, if I told you I didn’t get my money’s worth out of it, I’d be lying. Exist Archive is an excellent attempt at not only reviving what seemed to be a dead franchise but also refining it to a degree. It’s one of those games that tries it’s damn hardest to squeeze all the juice it can from what little it has.

Mmm... juicy goodness

Mmm… juicy goodness

However we have to remember that tri-Ace are not independent developer’s like they used to be, they are a subsidiary now. Not only that but all of their games with the exception of maybe Judas Code has been published under other companies, like most game development teams so forgive me for having very little sympathy when I say that Exist Archive could have done a lot better.

Or could it? This is a tough question isn’t it. We now find ourselves in a whole new territory as Japanese publisher Spike Chunsoft has taken the reigns. Now I don’t know very much about Spike Chunsoft (which is probably for the best since most publishers I know are just plain savages towards consumers) aside from the fact that they’ve published handheld games such as Pokemon Mystery Dungeon.

 

“It’s one of those games that tries it’s damn hardest to squeeze all the juice it can from what little it has”

 

However with this new, lesser known publisher at the helm, it is very difficult to set our expectations high for lesser known publishers tend to be financially unstable. As a result, to expect a localization for this game is absolute fucking bonkers so I bought it off of Play Asia anyways so that I could take a gander for myself and write this review in hopes that I could re-live the experiences of the Valkyrie Profile series once more.

So before I get on with the more intricate points in the review, I want to briefly cover the story. Now first of all, I don’t understand a single word of Japanese and although some of the cutscenes manages to make me chuckle somehow, I still don’t really get what’s going on. However this is not to the game’s detriment rather it is my own detriment. As such I can’t really recommend this game as a whole to those who cannot speak the language.

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The premise (from what I can tell) seems to be the JRPG equivalent of a fantasy world reality TV show which throws a bunch of school kids (and a few older folks) into a fantasy world where they must survive the harsh wilderness infested with monsters designed to look like cutesy chibi plushies (well… some of them). Take this for what you will but I cannot deny that it’s quite an original story concept for a JRPG, somewhat ambitious one could say.

Nevertheless, I find the execution of the early game plot to be somewhat repetitive as it revolves around a recurring plot device known as existence crystals and you will have to collect them in order to move on with the plot. Even though the plot is pretty bog standard and repetitive early on, there are plenty of scenes involving character interaction throughout the game to keep things fresh. Much like in the original Valkyrie Profile, Exist Archive doesn’t focus too much on its over-arching plot but unlike Valkyrie Profile there is plenty of character interaction to be had and you can learn more about the characters over the course of the game.

Now there is a bit of abstract in the game’s story. It seems they took a page from Valkyrie Profile 2’s book which is admirable. There are optional existence crystals you can interact with in dungeons for some extra dialogue revolving around what appears to be flashbacks of the other characters. A rather innovative and ambitious attempt at developing the characters for sure though as to how well it does, I cannot say. It is nice that they’re there though and they appear on your collections screen.

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Existence Crystals are essentially the JRPG equivalent of audio logs though to be honest I think it’s mostly used as a replacement for Valkyrie Profile 2’s einherjar. They are also fully voiced through the PS4’s controller. An interesting idea for sure though I kinda feel sorry for those who want to record footage of the game. Nevertheless you have gotta give it to the developers for making the effort as these scenes don’t seem to be half-baked.

So overall, regardless of my feelings of the game’s story as a whole, I’m going to abstain from making any judgments on it due to my complete and utter lack of understanding of the Japanese language. I do apologize if this bothers you but at least you know whether or not it’s worth importing or not if you don’t understand Japanese.

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Visually the game is quite stunning, once again they have taken a page from Valkyrie Profile 2’s book with this one. The level of detail in many of the locations is staggering. The backdrops are also incredible to look at. The enemy designs are quite unusual. One of the enemies looks like Solo from the new Strider, another enemy looks like Ardjet from Zone Of The Enders. There are quite a few enemy designs despite many people’s complaints. Some are better looking than others.

Exist Archive suffers from what I like to call Final Fantasy II syndrome, no I’m not talking about the repeated usage of spells to make them stronger and level up, I’m talking about the shameless re-usage of enemies. Like one minute you’re in a boss fight against an enemy, the next minute that boss fight becomes a regular enemy in future encounters, usually re-skinned.

In fact I was shaking in fear once I saw the enemy that looked like Solo in a regular battle as that guy kicked my sorry ass when I fought him the first time. Then I kicked his ass and I wondered how he had gotten so weak. Needless to say, he was just a re-used asset. Well Tales Of Phantasia did it too and I didn’t complain so I don’t think it’s too much of an issue.

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The biggest problem with Exist Archive’s visuals are the character models. Though to be honest we are digging knee-deep into the realm of controversy when we talk about this. A lot of people shunned this game at launch for its Xbox Live Avatar compatibility. I don’t know why people showed such disdain at this somewhat innovative feature which allowed me to bring my now short-white haired Xbox live Ava- oh wait… this is PS4 isn’t it? How!? Sony, you have a lot to answer for, you stole Microsoft’s idea didn’t you! On second thoughts… why am I rooting for Moneysoft when I despise them so much?

In all seriousness, let us take time to celebrate the long-awaited return of big head mode! Remember those times where you could enter a cheat into the game and when you activated it your character’s head was puffed up like a balloon? Well tri-Ace saved us the trouble and gave us this feature right off the bat. Thanks tri-Ace, you know what we gamer’s want. I’m not going to touch on the character models any further because… well I don’t mind them. Do you know why? Because I don’t nitpick every single little tiny thing about a videogame and base my judgement solely on it! You got that? Good, let’s move on.

It's morphin' time!

It’s morphin’ time!

The music in Exist Archive feels somewhat unusual compared with Motoi Sakuraba’s usual work and this is definitely not a bad thing. There are some nice tracks in there, some even reminiscent of Valkyrie Profile 2’s style. The music that plays in the main hub area at the top of the tower is very relaxing. The dungeon music seems to follow the first Valkyrie Profile’s style in the sense that is dynamic and somewhat catchy.

The only issue I have with the game’s soundtrack is… well, there’s just not enough of it. The bonus soundtrack that came with the game has 11 tracks in it, that’s almost half the number of tracks found in the game itself. This is quite worrying. However quality over quantity comes to mind here and I will say for what it’s worth, the soundtrack is very enjoyable nonetheless.

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Speaking of quality over quantity, this game doesn’t seem to realize when enough is enough when it comes to filler content. I swear you will go through so many dungeons in this game and since the dungeons themselves are mostly re-skins of other dungeons, this can quickly become quite dull at times.

Now to add to this, it is also impossible to save inside a dungeon, rather the game expects you to get through it in one sitting. This can be a bit of a pain for those who have OCD when it comes to fighting every single enemy in the dungeon without a break and after doing it for a significant amount of time, it does get quite tiring after a while. Heck I still haven’t finished this game yet whilst writing this.

You can leave the dungeon at any time but if you do...

You can leave the dungeon at any time but if you do…

However I decided to make a start on this review and finish it off when I have finished the game. By the time this review is up, I will have already finished it, so bear in mind that I never review unfinished games… OK, I lied, I did it once with Warhammer 40K Space Marine but I got to the last boss in that game and could never beat him. I promise not to do so again if I can help it. In any case, this game has a lot of content available and it can be daunting to try and get through it all.

Now to end this review on a high note, the gameplay of Exist Archive is where I really start singing praises. Exist Archive’s battle system is reminiscent of the original Valkyrie Profile but with a few ideas from Valkyrie Profile 2 thrown in there too (thank god they brought back the AP gauge, praise be to tri-Ace).

Like Valkyrie Profile, the battle system is turned based and the characters attack using the face buttons. You control every character on the field and can press the menu button (options) to use certain spells and items. Sound similar to Valkyrie Profile doesn’t it? Well the similarities end there.

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Rather than focusing on comboing enemies, Exist Archive’s battle system is more strategic and forces you to think more. Though it may lack the flashiness of Valkyrie Profile 2’s combat system, it makes up for with it’s simple, yet somewhat intricate combat system which manages to keep players on their toes. There is so much to like about Exist Archive’s battle system and so much to cover, so let’s get straight to business.

First I’d like to touch on the differences between Valkyrie Profile and Exist Archive’s battle system and this lies in the enemy placement and the weapon range. Enemies are all bunched up together. Some are more further apart from others, some are stronger than others. The gauge on the bottom left hand side of the screen (the one shaped like red diamonds) is the demon’s greed gauge. To fill it up you have to attack enemies, just like the heat gauge in Valkyrie Profile.

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Unlike Valkyrie Profile however, the demon’s greed gauge isn’t drained when you’re not attacking so rather than focusing on chaining your combo’s your focus is to target either specific enemies or groups of enemies and deal the most hits and damage.

Attacking multiple enemies simultaneously can help build up your demon’s greed faster however it may be important to target specific enemies first, particularly if they are spiked enemies who deal damage to melee. As such, each battle requires a different approach in order to bring in the best results.

Your tactical choice can depend on your setup. Exist Archive is probably the first game of its kind to offer a class system. Yes, much like Final Fantasy V your characters can change classes with other characters by gaining affection with said characters. Gaining affection works similar to private actions in the Star Ocean series… but without the private actions.

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The more you battle with people, the higher your affection grows. Eventually once your affection is high enough you will be able to share skills between your party. This is extremely handy as unlike Valkyrie Profile 2 where you had to grind for skills. In this game you pick a skill for each character and once their affection is high enough, everyone will learn each other’s skill. Pretty neat if you ask me.

Each class has its ups and downs and it’s up to the player to find the right synergy, much like Valkyrie Profile 2. Swords are well-balanced weapons, they’re pretty fast and cover a wide area though their damage is pretty average. Katana’s deal heavy damage to enemies but cover a shorter range than swords, their attacks vary in speed and their attacks require precision to get the most out of them. Whips however cover a very wide area and can also deal multiple hits to enemies, they’re great for gaining heat but they’re not very powerful.

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In addition to melee weapons, there are ranged weapons. These are mostly gun-based classes and are used to attack enemies from afar. This can be useful for breaking an enemy’s guard with a barrage of hits allowing you to avoid getting intercepted. They can also be useful at hitting spiked enemies as they won’t take damage when attacking unlike melee.

Mage classes are based on multiple elements. These are fire, ice, wind and lightning. Fire magic deals the most damage to single targets, wind magic is often best for dealing with multiple enemies. Lightning mages deal decent damage but also have de-buffs which can be handy. Ice mages have buffs and are mostly single target casters like fire mages.

Your current setup not working out for you? Time for a class change.

Your current setup not working out for you? Time for a class change!

You can’t rely on a single class type throughout the entire game, you will need to experiment with multiple class combinations and find what works for you. The class change system allows you to bring your favorite characters into the party and change their class on the fly, keeping their levels and demons greed. The class system could be seen as detrimental to those who want the characters to have more individuality but if that doesn’t bother you, it’s a pretty cool addition.

Once you reach a certain point in the game you are able to access a new feature called greed mode. I love greed mode, more games should have greed mode. Heck I think games should also provide the same level of empowerment and challenge that greed mode offers. Rather than forcing players to grind for power leveling, greed mode gives a higher rate of chain encounters. This means you have one long battle of up to 5 encounters stacked on top of one another.

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You can make this faster than simply fighting multiple battles by conserving your AP and demon’s greed for the next battle which allows you to end it quicker. At the end of the battle gauntlet, you are given bonus experience for your efforts, the higher the chain encounter, the more xp you acquire.

This can make you very powerful very quickly without the need to grind. Sadly this doesn’t manage to completely counteract my OCD when it comes to fighting every single enemy in my path. Nevertheless it is a wonderful addition to the game which more games should employ. Consider it a revamped version of Star Ocean 4’s bonus board but better in every way.

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However greed mode isn’t all fun and games. Once you are in greed mode, you are unable to heal up your party with spells/items. So you will have to survive a gauntlet of monsters without healing making it kinda like a risk/reward gimmick. It can make battles a lot more exhilarating though when you know there are more battles to come and you have to survive them all by taking minimal damage. One way to reduce damage is by guarding.

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Guarding in Exist Archive is extremely important, unlike Baten Kaitos and Eternal Sonata however, you do not have to time it perfectly. Instead Guards last for a certain period of time and continue until you are guard braked. When you are guard braked you may re-instigate the guard but only at the cost of AP. So you have to guard sparingly as it otherwise will cost you precious AP which you can use to get demon’s greed.

However Guarding proves especially useful for farming drops as there is yet another feature in the game’s battle system. The risk gauge. Your risk gauge is depicted as a number in a similar fashion to the d-ratio in Breath Of Fire Dragon Quarter. When you accumulate red gems, instead of replenishing charge time or replenishing AP, red orbs increase the drop rate of items through the risk gauge. The better you time your attacks and combo your enemies well, the higher the risk you obtain as well as the chance to gain drops.

This replaces Valkyrie Profile 2’s breaking feature which was awesome but sadly it’s no longer present in this game. Regardless, the risk gauge will carry over between battles. As such it feels even closer to the bonus board from Star Ocean 4 in the sense that if you get hit by an attack you didn’t block or get intercepted by a guarding enemy, you have a chance to get a bonus break which reduces your risk gauge and also any magic crystal XP gains to zero which you don’t want to happen.

With proper timing, you are able to intercept enemy attacks by guarding.

With proper timing, you are able to intercept enemy attacks by guarding.

As such you are encouraged to block quite often in Exist Archive, however not all attacks can be blocked through normal means. Magic attacks and breath attacks can pierce your blocks. I’m not sure but I think I heard there was a skill that allowed you to block magic attacks but I’m not all that sure as I couldn’t read the Japanese text properly. Just something to keep in mind.

 

 

“The better you time your attacks and combo your enemies well, the higher the risk you obtain as well as the chance to gain drops”

 

So all in all, the risk gauge and greed mode manages to keep players on their toes in battle and makes battles all the more intense and rewarding. In addition to drop rate increase, by increasing your risk gauge to a high enough percentage, you are also eligible for title drops. These drops are enhanced versions of regular drops which have additional factors and bonuses.

There are two tiers of these drops, title and title rank. Title rank is simply a better version of a title drop as it enhances stats or applies extra factors to your equipment to make it more powerful. As such, it’s rather satisfying and quite rewarding to get new drops. Better yet, unlike Valkyrie Profile, the weapons actually have cosmetic alterations too which is cool.

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The skill system of Exist Archive is reminiscent of the first Valkyrie Profile as it allows you to put points into skills rather than learning from equipment runes like in Valkyrie Profile 2. The skills themselves however are rather interesting. Rather than simply boosting stats, skills can be used to alter certain actions in battle. Each skill is split into categories and you can equip 1 skill in each category. For example, defensive skills alter your guarding ability and offensive skills add modifiers to certain attacks to give them extra hits etc.

Shopping in Exist Archive works like Valkyrie Profile. This would be rather sad if it wasn’t for the premise of the game. As such, it makes sense that they wouldn’t include conventional shops like other RPGs. Instead you shop in the main hub where you can buy items from Amatsume using a currency you gain from selling items you acquire from enemies (AMP). The items you can buy are mostly potions and usually outdated equipment. I kinda find shopping to be pointless in this game aside from replenishing your potion supply but at least it gives you a place to dump all your unneeded loot which is nice considering the fact that there is an inventory cap.

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Seriously of all the games to do this, why does a game like Exist Archive have an inventory limit? It’s just annoying to have to constantly be removing items from my inventory after every battle just to fit new ones in. Can’t we just have a bottomless inventory like most RPGs? I mean why does this game of all things try to be realistic when it comes to inventory storage when it has you fighting dancing plushies which explode on contact and pull out giant pots which shoot bullets at you right out of their mouths? It’s nothing more than a painful ordeal that I tire of having to constantly deal with.

Anyways back to the battle system. Like I mentioned before, you can stack up to 4 demon’s greed attacks (one for each character) and they can be activated by pressing the L2 button at any moment during an attack. Your demon’s greed is reset after every battle. However like I mentioned before, your demon’s greed gauge doesn’t reset after a combo so you can save it for when you need it, should you choose to do so. As such, unlike in Valkyrie Profile, you cannot chain your special attacks if you only have 1 crystal lit up as you can only use 1 character’s special attack. However if you rise it to 4 crystals (which is maximum) you can use all 4 of your characters attacks in any order you choose.

This can be really handy in chain encounters as it doesn’t reset after each wave. Oh and in case you didn’t already realize, yes your demon’s greed attacks are essentially the replacement of soul crushes/purify weird soul attacks from the Valkyrie Profile series and whilst they aren’t as flashy as Valkyrie Profile 2’s soul crushes, they’re still pretty cool to look at. I love how all the special attacks summon part of the god’s power stored inside each character.

Button mashing is fun... but Namero takes it a bit too far...

Button mashing is fun… but Namero takes it a bit too far…

Combat aside, the game’s platforming sections are handled quite well in this game. As you progress through the story, you will unlock more actions you can use to reach certain areas in the map (as well as other features found throughout the game).

The platforming seems to follow Valkyrie Profile 2’s style but rather than using photons to solve puzzles, Exist Archive allows you to transform enemies into come kind of boost mechanism, kinda like the cannon barrels in Donkey Kong which shoot you in the direction you choose.

Wheeee!

Wheeee!

Ultimately, the gameplay for me was the most stand-out feature in Exist Archive and that is never a bad thing. It’s a shame I was unable to truly experience the game to its fullest especially considering the story-driven nature of this game. I can only hope that this game was successful enough to warrant localizing it later down the line. There are so many scenes that looked interesting but because I couldn’t understand what was going on in them, I feel like I only played through half of a game which probably damaged my review in the process.

One thing to be aware of though is that this game is very prone to crashing/freezing. This wouldn’t be such a big deal if the game had save points in dungeons. However this can cause you to lose a lot of progress which can be very frustrating especially since many of the dungeons in later portions of the game can be very long and time-consuming. Not the best combination and it is the one thing holding this game back from getting an Excellent rating from me.

Nevertheless, this game has given me a lot to write about and although the budget constraints have caused to fall short in some areas, I still think it stands up as an enjoyable RPG and a great homage to the Valkyrie Profile series. If anything, this game is a message to Square-Enix telling them that Valkyrie Profile is far from dead and that they should continue it.

Say YES to Valkyrie Profile 3!

Say YES to Valkyrie Profile 3! Wait… hold on, did he just speak…

I strongly recommend this game if you can understand Japanese and enjoyed Valkyrie Profile. If you cannot understand Japanese and are intrigued by the gameplay, I’d say it’s worth a try too as I got my money’s worth out of it. If you’re not a fan of Valkyrie Profile and can’t speak Japanese, I doubt you’ll care to pick up this game and no matter how much I try to convince you to, If you can’t understand Japanese, there’s no point.

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Story/plot: Satisfactory
Visuals: Great
Music: Great
Gameplay: Excellent
Lifespan: Decent Length (but most of it is filler)
Would You Replay? Maybe

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Overall: Great

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Value: £40.00+

Purchase Exist Archive: Other Side of Sky

What a rip off…

 

Why do people in this day in age seem to treat the term “rip off” so negatively? I mean it’s not like I’m Jim Sterling number #356 trying to knock game publishers in the name of consumer justice… right? Right?

rip off

No, not that kind of rip off…

Ok, ok before people start throwing apples at me, let’s try to be rational about this. Jim Sterling himself is a rip off. I mean, we’re talking journalism here, In journalism you have the “yes” men and the “no fucking way” men (or women). Yes men pander to the publishers and just do as they are expected to do such as Geoff Keighley.

Why is Geoff Keighley such a successful journalist? Because he is a yes man. If he spoke out about certain publishers (lets forget the time he talked shit about Konami’s treatment of Kojima for a minute which considering Konami’s position, isn’t likely to affect him in any way, especially considering how diplomatically he put it) then he’d have nothing to cover and would lose a lot of his influence in the industry.

Then you have people like Jim Sterling, the “people’s journalist”, someone whom tries to relate to the woes of the general public at the risk of sounding controversial or radicalized. He’s a journalist who speaks his mind whatever it might be and although his points aren’t always widely agreed upon (seriously that review of Modern Warfare 3 was just…ugh), he manages to maintain a strong stature in the industry through his iron skin and his past accomplishments. His successes come from pandering to the consumer by enlightening people about the woes of the gaming industry and he does so in what seems to be an intentionally egotistical manner with quotes such as “Thank god for me”. It’s pretty obvious that Jim Sterling’s confidence in himself as a journalist is off the charts and that’s why he’s still going strong today.

But trying to be an inbetweener is futile. The industry doesn’t want original writers/journalists, they want people who can pander to a particular crowd and as such, they want extremists. Whether you want to be the ever lovable optimist or the strong idealistic pessimist is the question you should be asking yourself, you can’t be both and expect the same level of success because that’s inconsistent and inconsistency is poor journalism.

But lets stop talking about gaming media for now as I tire of hearing about it every single day. I already have the stupid SJW vs Gamergate breathing down my neck every day that the mere idea of discussing gaming politics is downright terrifying to say the least. Thankfully This article is more to do with videogames than writers, I was merely comparing myself to an established journalist.

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No… not that kind of rip off either

So I’ve used the term rip off before, even blatant rip off. However, would I say that being a rip off is a bad thing? Hell no. In fact I want to see more of it.

Videogames have been a passion for me, so why can’t they be a passion for game creators too? I mean surely you’ve been inspired by a videogame in your lifetime, I know I have. I wanted to work in-game design for a long time in my youth and for good reason too. Games are inspiring. If you’ve ever finished a videogame, you’ll know that as the credits roll, your mind is filled to the brim with ideas. Rather than watching the credits, you spend the whole time thinking about the game and developing ideas from it.

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Games like Space Engineers help satisfy my creative cravings.

With games as they are, it’s difficult not to think “What if they did it this way?” or “I wonder If I could do that?”. Inspiration goes beyond just videogames. Look at the recently deceased David Bowie for example (R.I.P man). That guy inspired countless people and has changed the way society works for the better. He was a revolutionary artist and people wanted to be like him. That is just the way things are with gaming too.

As such, how can we begrudge these people who want to bring their dreams to life? Their dreams based off of the dreams inspired through other dreams? Is it really wrong to think “Perhaps if I changed this a little, it could be like this”? I mean, if you are any kind of content creator, you will know that art breeds more art. It’s like a reproductory process. It’s like two ideas having intercourse. It is done out of passion (mostly) and it’s the same with games and other media.

So why should people have a problem with this? Because if you do have a problem with concepts ripping off of other concepts then take a good look at yourself because you yourself are a rip off, a mish-mash of genes from past ancestors. However you yourself are an individual. The same goes for videogames. Do I begrudge Warcraft 3 for being too much like Star Wars/Warhammer? Hell no. I love Warcraft lore (well I did before WOW was a thing), it is a well presented mish mash of countless stories told in a single book… only that the “Book” is technically a videogame.

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And before someone states “but this game is original, not like your crappy Warcraft game”, how do you know for sure that it isn’t based off of other media? Have you experienced everything life has to offer? Ha, you don’t live long enough for that I’m afraid. We can’t all be like Lezard Valeth and have the world’s knowledge in our hands… oh wait isn’t that character another rip off? Oh hell yeah he is and a well-known one too. He’s based off of JK Rowling’s very own Harry Potter (but with a bit of Medivh shoehorned in there too for good measure). And yet comparing Lezard Valeth to Harry Potter is like comparing a snail to a python. There’s just no similarities besides their appearance and their background.

And whilst we’re on the topic of Valkyrie Profile, lets talk about Arngrim. This character in particular is interesting and his name manages to remain relevant to norse mythology despite being a blatant rip off of Guts from Berserk. I mean, Arngrim is a badass mofo and so is Guts and they both have similar looks and personality. However if you look deeply into norse mythology, you will see a mention of another Arngrim with a similar background to the Arngrim of Valkyrie Profile, a berserker who wielded the sword Tyrfing (technically the ultimate heavy warrior weapon of Valkyrie Profile 2).

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However, the original story of Valkyrie Profile states that he owns a weapon called the Dragon Slayer which was apparently passed down by his father. This makes for a lot of interesting speculation such as “Is the world of Valkyrie Profile and Berserk intertwined?” Of course not, it’s just combining the ideas of berserk and norse mythology to make a character of their own. Though it’s pretty obvious where Masaki Norimoto’s inspiration’s came from

Speaking of Valkyrie Profile, Let’s talk about Final Fantasy XIII Lightning Returns, a game that I have secretly praised for ripping off Valkyrie Profile. However that praise still cannot get me over the fact that Lightning is the main character and that it is set in the same universe as Final Fantasy XIII. And so the director of Final Fantasy XIII thought “Let’s sacrifice originality for familiarity” and believe it or not, it worked… to some degree. However, Final Fantasy XIII Lightning Returns was an attempt to rectify an already broken series of games which should have been left behind. This I couldn’t ignore.

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However, with the release of tri-Ace’s Exist Archive. Tri-Ace were able to experiment with different ideas to make a completely different game. Valkyrie Profile was obviously partly an influence but it seems that other Japanese media had a huge influence in it as well and is probably the most exotic game tri-Ace has ever attempted at making. Nevertheless I’d rather play this game over Final Fantasy XIII Lightning Returns not because it’s original but because it’s not trying to shove an established concept into an already established world to try to compensate for the fact that the world itself sucks. As such, Lightning Returns is completely meaningless to me now.

Another example of a game that influenced many other games is Grandia 2. Grandia 2’s plot has been done to death now, so much so that its own plot comes across as cliché and generic. Games like Final Fantasy X, Tales Of Symphonia and Devil May Cry 4 may follow a similar plot formula but can we really say that they’re the same game? Devil May Cry 4 isn’t even an RPG for heaven’s sake, how can you compare it to Grandia 2? Then again, perhaps it’s not intentional. Perhaps the ideas that came up in the developer’s mind were of his own. Perhaps they never even played Grandia 2 to begin with, who knows?