Games I Couldn’t Finish – Descent + Descent II

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

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

Pros:

Lots of weapons

Enemy AI is really smart

Great visual style

Music is awesome

 

Cons:

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

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

 

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

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

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Theorycrafting – Difficulty Burnouts – Giving Players Control

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Let’s Play: Painkiller Battle Out Of Hell (Complete)

Level 1: Orphanage

Level 2: Loony Park

Level 3: Lab

Level 4: Pentagon

Level 5: Dead City

Level 6: Leningrad

Level 7: Colosseum

Level 8 Underworld

Level 9: Stone Pit

Level 10: Shadowland

People Can Fly HQ

Out Of Loony Park

 

Subscription Fees – Are they Unethical?

Recently I have been pondering over the concept of subscription fees and have been wanting to voice my opinion on them. Of course this is going to be gaming related and as such I will be bringing up the obvious bullshit, however I will also be talking about other subscription models that have popped up in recent years and I will be discussing them as well.

As we all know, subscription models are a means of charging people for time of use as oppose to charging people for a product. As a result, many subscription models are a service, many of which are a necessity for our every day life such as electricity, water and internet.

In recent years however, subscription models have become more popular and more accepted. I personally believe this is dangerous due to the exploitative nature of subscription models. For starters, many subscription payments require people to put their card details onto a website. Now you’re probably wondering how this can be exploitative and while I’m not implying that these companies are robbing people, the intent of the paid subscription model is to gain access to people’s finances more discreetly.

What I mean by this is that subscription services are often unclear as to how they are taking their money off of you. You see, many subscription services have automatic renewal such as Amazon Prime, other subscription services do not such as Twitch subscriptions. Now here’s the juicy part, what is the biggest problem with subscription models? Well it’s not the concept itself, rather it is the intent. Put simply, one of the biggest problems with subscription models is the automatic renewal. Automatic renewal is thought to have been designed around convenience. What it is actually designed to do however is to take money discreetly.

When you put your card details down for a one time payment, you never think about that transaction again. Unfortunately the same goes for subscription payments for some people as they may potentially forget that the transaction ever happened. I know this for a fact as I myself have fallen into this trap. I remember one time looking at my bank statements only to find out that I had been paying for Amazon Prime. Now I had absolutely no idea that I was paying for Amazon Prime for the longest time and if I did know I was paying for it, believe me, I would have taken advantage of it but Amazon Prime had essentially taken a ton of money off of me and I had gotten literally nothing back for it. I had essentially been legally scammed by Amazon.

Now how did this happen you ask? You know when you go to pay for postage and there’s multiple options? Well I accidentally clicked the “free prime postage” option. Now this is a very easy mistake to make as there were two free postage options and they both looked similar so I clicked the first one I saw. Little did I know that I would be signing a contract with Amazon Prime… those sneaky bastards. Now I’m pretty well aware that this was my fault and I accept full responsibility for my fuck ups so don’t think that I am whining about a past experience, I am merely using it as an example to explain to people just how easy it is to fall into the trap and if you fall into it, Amazon are most certainly not going to pull you out of it.

You see, the point that I am trying to make is that the true purpose of the subscription based model is to cause people to fall into the same trap I did. Now I’m not going to presume that everybody uses this model with that intent but I do believe that there are companies that do and as such I cannot stress how dangerous it is for people to accept them in their current state as they can be used as a means of scamming people with subtlety.

Now considering the state of the gaming industry today, the whole concept of subscription models is frightening to me. With so many AAA companies clearly having zero empathy towards the consumer, the concept of the subscription trap is likely one that shows up in board rooms quite often. I’m also certain that this subscription model actually has a direct impact on a game’s design as I have paid subscription fees for games before and every single one of them is coated in filler content. This is what I like to call “psychological engagement”, the means of maintaining people’s engagement by manipulating players into believing that there is a worthwhile reward for overcoming a tedious grind. It is this method of engagement as well as the seemingly harmless aesthetic of the games that cause people to stay subscribed to MMORPG’s.

You see, World Of Warcraft is no different from gambling in terms of how it is presented to players. Like how gambling uses fruit in slot machines, videogames use themes as a means of making players feel unharmed during the exploitation process. When people play World Of Warcraft, they are not drawn in by the rewarding element initially, they are first drawn in by the game’s theme and its aesthetic since it is the very first thing that they see in trailers and when they boot up the game.

Videogames are not predominantly a visual art form and as such, merely having aesthetic appeal is not enough, in marketing however, a strong aesthetic is considered adequate to attracting people’s attention and that’s all that matters in the eyes of publishers. When you consider the fact that the AAA industry puts more money into marketing than they do into development these days, it’s pretty scary to know that psychological engagement is a thing and that games can be sold on just visuals alone. It is this very reason why graphics are the biggest focus in AAA game design today.

As a result, companies that use subscription models can get away with making terrible games so long as they look aesthetically appealing. With that in mind, how does this apply to subscription models themselves? Do you remember the trap that I mentioned earlier? Well the same thing applies here. When you get fed up with a game, what is the first thing you do? You stop playing it. What do you do afterwards? You play/do something else. Do you think about cancelling your subscription? Maybe you do… but not everybody does. If you purchased a game with a one time fee, you can either sell the game or simply never touch the game again. With subscription based games, that isn’t enough, you actually have to cancel your subscription.

Now how does this work with the psychological engagement you ask? Well do you think that grinding is a boring, tedious and monotonous task? If so what is causing you to do these tedious tasks? A fancy new sword is it? Is it possible to question why you are doing such a task? Of course it is. So if you were to question why you are doing it and you couldn’t find an answer, wouldn’t you want to stop playing? Of course you would. Here is the problem, you have invested a lot of hours into this game and you have a lot of nostalgia for it, surely you will go back to it eventually just for a brief moment to look back at all of your accomplishments and see how things are going in the game. Unfortunately however, you terminated your subscription with the game and now you can no longer access it. As such you paid potentially hundreds of dollars for a game that you no longer have access to. How in any way shape or form can you consider this to be ethical!?

Do you now see how problematic subscription based models can be? Subscription based models are essentially a method used to blackmail consumers. This is a huge problem that cannot be ignored and I fear that this model is probably going to be more commonly used in future generation which scares me. Companies will eventually refuse to accept games as a product and will instead treat them as a service. When that time comes, we will no longer have the freedom of choice we have today. It starts with digital only games but eventually subscription models will become the norm, people will become attracted to them and in the long-term this will cause videogames to be primarily subscription based.

You might think I’m crazy for thinking these things but it’s true. With services such as Xbox Game Pass and Playstation Plus in existence, this is starting to become normality and we cannot allow this to happen. Now before I start talking about netflix style game services, I want to make it very clear that I am not against every single subscription service related to game distribution. I am merely against the ones that mislead their customers. Playstation Plus is a perfect example of a subscription based distribution model that misleads their customers. Sony claims that by subscribing to Playstation Plus, you will get free games every month. What they don’t tell you is that if you unsubscribe from Playstation Plus, you will lose access to those games until you re-subscribe. Therefore, claiming that their games are free is a big fat lie, you paid for those games one way or another.

Of course Sony are also notorious for using Playstation Plus as an online paywall which makes it an even worse form of blackmail but even as a subscription based distribution service, it is still unethical. I can’t speak for Xbox game pass but I wouldn’t be surprised if that does the same thing.

Now lets talk about another subscription based model that doesn’t mislead people. Now I know that I have talked about Amazon prime before and how I became a prime member by mistake but the truth is that I actually ended up re-subscribing to them. Why you ask? Because Superhot, a game I desperately needed for a video was offered by Twitch as part of their prime perks. Now despite how annoyed I was at myself for how I accidentally became a prime member before, once I found out how to actually de-activate the automatic renewal, I found a way to game the system. This way I could get a game I wanted for dirt cheap and cancel my subscription immediately so that I not only got the game but also got 1 month of the service with it. The truth is that I got a good deal out of it and once the subscription has ended, I actually got to keep the games I purchased.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am not shilling for Amazon Prime, sure I use Amazon Associates with my game reviews but in no other way are they sponsoring me at all. Quite frankly I had heard a lot of bad things about Amazon shortly after I purchased Superhot and as such I can honestly say that Amazon are an awful company and doesn’t deserve our support. However I consider Amazon to be a necessary evil and will continue to use them since aside from my prime situation, I have never had an issue with Amazon as a consumer.

The problem with Amazon is how it treats its employees and I believe that the way they treat their employees is wrong. As a consumer however, I am not going to crusade against Amazon because this doesn’t affect me personally. Call me selfish if you want but I will continue to use the platforms that are most convenient for me and if I will give Amazon anything, they are convenient… even if they are sneaky little bastards with their prime. They also try to sell you credit cards too, the bastards. Put simply, just be careful when using Amazon and you should be fine.

One thing is for certain though, at least Amazon doesn’t blackmail you on the same level Sony and Activision-Blizzard do… unless you care about their netflix style video service in which case… yeah, that’s blackmail but let’s be honest here, the purpose of prime isn’t to distribute videos, the purpose of prime is to cut down postage costs on items you buy as well as all the perks given to you by Twitch prime. Is it worth it? That’s impossible to say. I’d personally tell you not to bother with it but if you can find a way to exploit the model to get something you really need, by all means, go ahead… just be careful.

There is also the Humble Monthly bundle which is $12 a month for a bundle of games including free games you can play immediately. I haven’t tried this bundle yet so I have no comment on it besides the fact that I find it odd how Humble have both regular one time payment bundles and a monthly bundle. Perhaps they think that they can trap people into paying without realizing it but I don’t know. You see, I do not know for certain the intent of game distribution services in general, I only know of the intent of games like World Of Warcraft and certain distribution services.

If anyone has purchased Humble Monthly, fee free to share your experiences with it in the comments. I cannot help but laugh at the possibility of Humble expecting people to subscribe yearly… but who knows? Maybe people do. If you ask me, you’d be foolish to subscribe to Humble Monthly for a year since it is literally a gamble as you do not know what you are getting. Plus who has the time to play all of those games anyways? I can barely cope with 2 games, let alone 6 or more. Ask yourselves this question, is it worth both your time and money to pay for 1 year’s worth of Humble Monthly? Think about that.

In any case, while there may be some certainties related to subscription based models, there are still some uncertainties and as such this topic is still up for discussion, be sure to share your thoughts with me on this as I really do want to know what you guys think about subscription based models.

Blizzard’s Terms Of Service For Warcraft 3 Changed?

Could it be? Has Blizzard finally decided to tackle Warcraft 3’s obscenities? Regardless, this is truly a sad day for all of us. The very thought of Warcraft 3 Battle.net being reduced to a safe space scares me, it really does. Warcraft 3 Battle.net is notorious for having the most anti-left community ever and Blizzard appear to be pulling the switch on all of these games.

So the question is, will this mean that Revenge Of The Niggers, Trump 2016 and Sexy Chick Island will be removed from Warcraft 3 Battle.net? Now I’m not saying for certain that the TOS has changed, this might have been going on for a long time but I never actually bothered to read the TOS myself but Blizzard have now forced people to read it.

blizzard image replacement

This could be the end people, the end of Warcraft 3 Battle.net as we know it. You’d think I’d be happy about this but I’m not. Warcraft 3 Battle.net might have the most toxic community ever but one thing I will give it is that it was an anarchist’s paradise. Now that Blizzard are merging it with Warcraft 3 Reforged, they’re likely going to change all of this and if they do then it doesn’t surprise me.

With Battle.net lost, I can safely say that freedom on the internet is over now. Everything is becoming a safe space now. It is without a doubt the end of an era and though I can see how people can be angered by the content many modders have brought to Warcraft 3, I cannot possibly see this as a good thing.

Sure it’s Blizzards game, they can do what they like… but remember, this is Blizzard’s game, you know? The corporate equivalent of Satan owns this game and we all know that this is going to be a completely one-sided rulebook. Players will continue to be dickheads and assholes to one another so Blizzard haven’t really accomplished anything.

Honestly Warcraft 3 Battle.net was always terrible… but it was a so bad it’s good terrible. Now it’s just awful. The elitists will still be prowling around as always ruining the experience for new players. I think my days of playing Warcraft 3 online might very well be over.

Warcraft has seriously been fucked hard by Blizzard. I think Warcraft 3 is just going to get worse and worse from now on, there is no saving it. Warcraft is not only dead, it has been defiled by Blizzard. I’m not saying that I agree with discrimination but discrimination will always continue no matter how much you censor it.

Ar Nosurge: Ode To An Unborn Star Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ar Nosurge Review 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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


Plot/Story: Good

Visuals: Satisfactory

Gameplay: Good

Music: Exceptional

Lifespan: Decent Length

Difficulty: Easy

Would You Replay? No


Overall: Good


Value: £30.00

 

 

Theorycrafting: Why Systematic Engagement Is So Important

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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