Category Archives: PlayStation 4

Groundhog Century

So nice, if only it would end :'(

If my gaming is in a slump due to everyday drudge once more replacing glorious vacation days, The Idolm@ster: Platinum Stars does its damnedest to keep it that way. As surmised, I’ve now given it around 58 hours but pretty much nothing of any interest has happened. Going through horribly monotonic motions increases the idols’ experience and number of fans, but progress is so laughably slow that the game has regressed into nothing more than a weary battle of attrition. Should a new gig show up, you can rest assured that it’s something that won’t be even remotely beatable until 10-20 hours later. Perfect performances mean jack shit as if your characters aren’t on a high enough level, the required score limit is just plain impossible to reach. End of discussion. So, I’ve entertained myself playing through the same challenge over and over again for a couple of hundred of times, grinding slow and steady. Such wow. Much joy. Surely a few paid helper items from the store would do the trick, eh? F**k you, Project iM@S.

In a rueful fashion, the game follows a virtual year cycle advancing on a weekly basis. Skipping every possible cutscene, it’s possible to truncate one in-game year into a three hour real-time marathon covering 48 ordinary shows and four specials involving the entire cast of idols. If this cycle was realistic, these 13-21-year-old heroines would be at the peak of their careers around the ripe age of 90, and even that might take an incarnation or two. Thankfully, they’re effectively ageless. Still, at this point minor observations like that are crucial to endure the whole ordeal. You could, for example, set a daily goal of going through one in-game year (even if a quarter is already starting to feel repulsive). On Valentine’s Day, the chosen leader gives out complimentary chocolate, so that’s another potential goal to spend 39 hours or so. The pitiful selection of songs can also be raised to Legend status, which requires them to be completed 200 times each. The biggest reward of doing so is most likely that you’re never ever going to choose them again. Still, repeatedly playing the same song over and over again means that you quickly figure out that exact note when your current crew hits maximum audience zeal. Since missed notes carry no penalty, that’s when the song can be left to play itself while the player can just as well go to the fridge, take a piss, have a smoke, or spend a serious moment contemplating why they’re voluntarily submitting to this level of self-inflicted torture. Oh, and those 20 songs featured in the game? One is still locked. It’ll probably become available after 60-70 hours or something. Jesus.

All this is especially maddening as Platinum Stars is a proper rhythm game, even if awfully lightweight in content. If it would’ve rolled its ending credits after 15-20 hours and shown all that it genuinely has by 30-50 hours, it would’ve left the stage as a celebrated winner. Now it has turned into that person. You know, the one you meet by chance and who’s awfully jovial and remarkably pleasant for a while until you realize that they’re nothing more than an absolute asshole and you’re inadvertently stuck with them for life with the only way of escape probably involving a sharp ax and a manslaughter charge. I’ll continue my rhythmical journey, although it has already turned into a macabre social study of what it actually takes to finish a game that has obviously been designed around nothing else than skimming its players off hundreds, if not thousands of dollars. Bloody cynical.

Moving on would be a trigger pull away…

Ditching a game once started is always la petite mort of sorts but should that (once again) happen, at least intensive care would be close by. Mind-numbing repetition could easily be replaced either by the backlog or the five new JRPGs joining the fray; Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age, Nights of Azure, Yo-Kai Watch 2: Bony Spirits, Yo-Kai Watch 2: Fleshy Souls (dual releases be forever damned), but especially Stella Glow. That one might actually feature that strategic role-playing bliss I was expecting from Utawarerumono, which kind of failed to deliver.

Whole Lotta Nothing

This is going to take ages…

I no longer wonder in the slightest why The Idolm@ster: Platinum Stars rolled its credits when it did. After them, the game nonchalantly steps on the brakes and progress of any kind becomes a massive chore. While my original trio is now A rank, most of the others have barely half a million fans each, so I’d wager absolutely nothing of any interest will happen during the next few dozen hours. New lives have score limits that require an insane amount of grinding, leveling up characters is mind-numbingly slow, and new costumes are already but a fleeting dream. The random gifts now comprise mostly of duplicates. Money earned from the lives can be given to a local tailor who’ll combine two identical pieces of gear into one that has slightly better stats. Still, a lousy garment remains a lousy garment even if there were a dozen of them. I have now regressed into playing the same quintet live over and over again in drowsy stupor, often without even bothering to change the song. Granted, the end credits also unlock the songs’ hardest Master mode, should the player already be tired of achieving full note chains on Pro. The hardest mode isn’t impossible at all, but resorts to so many notes to hit with the d-pad that the songs soon feel more like work than play.

…and then we sell ’em additional songs for ¥1800 a pop!

But why has making progress been made so incredibly slow and the number of songs so limited? Why, micro-transactions, of course! Or, in this case, macro-transactions. Should the player happen to have an extra three hundred dollars or so (!) in their pocket, they could go to the PSN Store and invest it on 18 new songs and a bunch of new costumes and accessories. Any loose cash left after that could be spent on item packs aimed to make grinding a wee bit more efficient, priced at around 8-80 dollars each. Such shameless exploitation wouldn’t be quite as annoying if the base game wasn’t deliberately crippled to support it. With the chosen approach, Platinum Stars is still a decent rhythm game but one that leaves a shitty aftertaste. Sure, game industry ain’t charity but greediness has its limits.

Even if I’m still inclined to see everything through without spending a single yen, this blog will most likely start to move onto greener pastures; this project is one that will probably take several months, if not years.

Enlightenment

Failure is no longer an option!

Less surprisingly good evening from The Idolm@aster: Platinum Stars news. I’m actually starting to feel a little sorry for its idol girls, as they definitely haven’t deserved a gaijin producer. Every now and then they ask something from the player, giving three options to choose from in five seconds. For those of us not understanding the language, the only option is to pick something and then determine from the body language if the response was even remotely proper. Usually it isn’t. To make things even more awkward, the girls should occasionally be touched somewhere around their bodies. Shoulders or top of the head seem like safe choices to avoid any sekuhara allegations. Oh well, no biggie; their affection meters will slowly rise with successful gigs, and it’s also possible to just take someone away to spend a relaxing day in town.

I’m hardly a credible manager also because it wasn’t until today that I figured out why the score limits of some live performances were rather tough to reach. The problem originates from 40 costumes and 48 head, neck, wrist, and ankle accessories. Those are random rewards from occasional gift boxes or successful performances, and they also have a rank from F to S. I spent quite some time believing that a higher grade apparel is always better. For accessories, this is mostly true but some gigs require a certain type of costume. Using one easily yields almost twice as many points as usual, making it much more easier to perform well. Some of the accessories also provide a bonus that makes all three performers join the high-scoring burst mode rather than just the leader of the trio.

Once my first idol reached 200,000 fans and was thus eligible for B rank, things heated up considerably. At that point, the game unlocks quintet lives that make leveling up everyone slightly more efficient. It’s also when an extreme live is unlocked. It’s a performance where all 13 idols first perform a joint medley before the chosen leader does a solo performance. Success is rewarded with tears of joy to be wiped, high fives to hand out, or just random chatter before the end credits roll. After that, it’s back to business as usual. Even after ranking everyone up to B and thus witnessing the end credits 13 times straight, I refuse to consider this game played through. A couple of songs are still locked and damned if I won’t raise at least one idol to the coveted S rank. I’m probably going to regret that as even if today’s progress might sound efficient, the true grind probably starts here. Even A rank requires a million fans and by hearsay, S rank takes ten million. After almost 30 hours, I only have one idol at A, and even she has been part of my default setup pretty much throughout the game. Yay.

Earworm

At least it looks and plays nice…

After four consecutive JRPGs I suppose it’s due time to change the genre. That’s not to say I would leave Japan, though, as the next game in line turned out to be Bandai Namco’s idolful (yup, that shall be a word) The Idolm@ster: Platinum Stars. As per tradition in the series, the player once again becomes Producer-san, tasked with turning thirteen young girls into music entertainment superstars. Many of the Idolm@ster games are hardcore management sims that are hardly suitable for us without fluency in Japanese. Thankfully Platinum Stars handles management with simple mini-games that don’t take anything away from the game being a proper Hatsune Miku -esque rhythm experience.

Apparently Producer-san isn’t a very trustworthy person. At first, the player is only given custody of three idols and half a dozen songs. More of each are slowly unlocked by leveling up managerial skills. Depending on the viewpoint, Platinum Stars is either a heaven or hell for grinders. Not only do the player and the girls have a character level, each of the latter also has an idol level, affection meter, number of fans, and three different attributes related to the number of points earned by playing through songs. If that wasn’t enough, the songs themselves have a level as well, so there certainly is plenty of meters in play.

The most obvious way to make progress is to play through live shows. Three idols go on a stage together and complete either a single song or three in a row. Notes make their way towards the hit zone at the bottom of the screen, and comprise of the usual selection of those that have to be hit, those that have to be held down, and those that require a synchronized press on the d-pad. In addition, each song has a segment that requires stroking the DualShock touch pad, and a single note towards the end that has to be nailed by clicking the pad. That invokes an euphoric Extreme Burst mode, which is just a fancy way of saying that all subsequent notes reward a lot more points as long as they aren’t missed. The gig is a success if a predetermined score is met. If not, even with a perfect performance, it’s back to the earlier challenges to level up.

The level of challenge is most moderate. Even the game itself is ashamed to suggest its easiest difficulty mode by default, and normal mode is usually good for just one go per song to unlock its Pro mode. Even on that, perfect note chains quickly become a second nature. The reason for this, though, is devious. The game only features 20 songs about two minutes in length. All of them are familiar to anyone who has ever played an Idolm@ster game on PSP or Vita. Even those who haven’t will soon get more than used to them. Raising all idols from their scrubby F level to bona fide S-class platinum stars will take a small eternity. For example, it took me just shy of 18 hours just to unlock every character for playing. Some of the songs are still behind lock and key, and no one is even near the fabled S-class. According to the internet, unlocking absolutely everything would be a gargantuan effort of around 200-300 hours. This, coupled with the fact that there’s only about of 40 minutes of music, is so tragicomic that I’m actually inclined to see just how far I can go before my brain self-destructs. A penchant for girly pop is a must, given that you can easily play through each song dozens of times in a row without making any notable progress. I’m not entirely sure if Bandai Namco wanted to hug Idolm@ster fans or give them a corporative middle finger but whoever either designs or completes games like these… Phew… Mankind never ceases to amaze me.

Redemption

That… Didn’t go well.

And thus comes Final Fantasy Type-0 HD to its end. The large-scale conflict eventually reached a proper conclusion, even if the game still managed to introduce a totally surprising finale that, sadly, wasn’t entirely bereft of awkward cliches. In the end, it managed to answer as many questions as it left others ambiguous. No can do; the workings of this universe have been given way more attention than coming up with a coherent story. The action-packed missions don’t jive very well with the slightly aimless free time parts, and even if there are cinematics, many of them are often too short or just plain irrelevant. I suppose I could follow my (hurried) 25-hour playthrough with another go in order to get a better overall picture, but hunting down little morsels of information to reconstruct in one’s own head isn’t really that alluring.

That’s not to say Type-0 wouldn’t have its fair share of memorable moments. The soundtrack by Takeharu Ishimoto, in particular, is perhaps the grandest and most impressive in the history of the entire franchise. Orchestral scores backed up by a big mixed choir blare with incredible intensity, evoking genuine affection. Of course, there are also more tranquil tunes. Especially when the one linked above starts to play with your team in the middle of the battlefield following their orders while other units relay their final moments over the radio is still something that brings a lump in my throat. Heart-wrenchingly beautiful!

Thanks to a bittersweet epilogue, I even slightly miss my own crew, even if forming an actual emotional bond with any of them would have required a lot more interaction and character development. As they stand, the cadets are more or less just a group of fighters from among whom you probably choose to prefer the ones suiting your playstyle. Sure, the game is an action-JRPG, but it kind of feels like too much emphasis is on action.

Despite everything, Type-0 doesn’t shy away from blood, violence, and the madness of war, and therefore manages to leave a stark impression. Such elements are hardly essential but were they used in a “proper” Final Fantasy (read: games VII-IX), it might be one heck of a ride. Type-0 is certainly worth playing through but while it has many good particulars, it fails to make everything work in unison.

Upping the Ante

You WON’T climb away, filthy Militesi cockroach!

Whoa! When the big wheel of Final Fantasy Type-0 HD ultimately turns, it does so in a most impressive manner! If anyone doubts the influence of mere 14 teenage cadets in a full-scale war between superpowers, they would be correct. When push comes to shove, it amounts to very little. Once the conflict escalates, fair play get flushed down the toilet, and all participants resort to their extreme measures, the going gets epic. Sure, the Rubrum cadets are still in the midst of things but as the number of casualties grows to hundreds of thousands and the radio mostly relays the final moments of desperate units, it’s enough to make one’s hair stand on end. It truly is an unconventional Final Fantasy but in a touching and convincing way.

Sadly, Type-0 is also increasingly inclined to point out that it would like to be played through several times. Not only does it limit the time required to experience optional events, it rolls out more and more bosses that can probably be bested but hardly on the first playthrough. When such encounters do happen, the story will still continue after everyone in the player’s party has been wiped out but that’s hardly a source for drama. Even several side quests are so challenging that there’s very little point in trying to do them on the first run. There’s nothing wrong with replay value as such, but in this case the idea is definitely something that the game loves to shove down the player’s throat.

The other major fault with Type-0 is its lack of actual storytelling. The game shares, at least thematically, a whole lot with Final Fantasy XIII but it’s essentially more of a stage for a massive conflict than a bona fide story. Many of the terms used classify under “surely you know.” The academy library holds an encyclopedia called Rubicus, which eventually grows to cover more than several centuries of the history of this universe, but it sure could’ve used a glossary as well. The game is a little too confident that its player knows Final Fantasy lore like the back of his hand, and that proper storytelling can be replaced with just loads of text in a book. Just getting to know the 14 main characters is a matter of checking out the Rubicus for their backgrounds and motivations, as the game hardly bothers to flesh them out.

Fighting is still inscrutably ADHD. While brawling, the player can also choose to accept special orders. They are bite-sized, time-limited challenges such as besting the next couple of enemies with magic, avoiding all damage for 30 seconds, going for those sweet spots of damage, etc. Success will be rewarded with an item, failure with the death of the played character. Naturally all these orders would have to be opened, reviewed, and either accepted or declined while everything else is constantly going on, so at least us old fogies have a far better chance of preserving our sanity by ignoring them altogether. Gaming goddesses be praised that this HD remake also includes an easy difficulty mode, making it possible to push on without reactions measured in nanoseconds or being able to multitask eight different things at once.

That’s everything this summer. Really.

I’m quite pleased at how well I’ve managed to prune my backlog lately, and even more so because only one newcomer has managed to sneak in at the same time. Deemo: The Last Recital is presumably a PlayStation Vita rhythm game that relies on touch screen controls only. I probably would’ve skipped it altogether but couldn’t resist a physical copy. Even if touch screen controls don’t sound very promising and it probably won’t challenge the dominance of Hatsune Miku, it should have rhythm and that’s all I require to give it a go!

Wartime, Kupo!

The saviors of Rubrum. Hopefully, at least…

It’s hardly a summer holiday without beating at least some Final Fantasy. Since I’m now on my final week of vacation, I decided to see if Final Fantasy Type-0 HD would be it. The game is an action-packed offshoot from the main series, and was originally released in 2011 only for the PSP and only in Japan. This HD remake for the PC and current generation consoles got a worldwide release four years later. It’s not exactly a looker even with makeup but all is forgiven if the story holds up. At least for now, it seems to do just that.

It’s plain as day from the very beginning that Type-0 is exceptionally grim. The power-hungry Empire of Militesi decides to bring down its neighboring Dominion of Rubrum by blitzkrieg. After neutralizing their magic defenses, the invasion campaign proceeds swiftly, bloodily, and with no concern for civilian casualties. Amidst all the havoc and destruction, the students of Rubrum’s capital city and also its magic academy, manage to rebuff the initial onslaught. The war is soon centered around Class Zero, a group of 14 elite cadets spearheading Rubrum’s counter-offensive to drive off the invaders.

There’s no courting period whatsoever. The player is immediately given control of the entire class of cadets, so there’s plenty of characters to learn, equip, and level up. That’s why I pretty much spent the first couple of hours just running back and forth in front of the academy’s main gate, coaxing random encounters just to get a feel for each character’s strengths and weaknesses. Slow ones do plenty of damage with their mallets, spears, and katanas, the weaker ones are better off at a distance with magic or ranged weapons, and then there’s a decent bunch of multi-talented all-rounders. The real-time battles are fought as a team of three where the player controls one character and the AI handles the other two. Jumping between team members is a simple matter of pressing left or right on the d-pad, and should anyone fall in battle, they can be replaced by someone in the reserves. Care must still be taken, as casualties only revive back in home base.

The battles are fast and chaotic. One button is reserved for a basic attack while two others are for customizable offensive spells and special moves. A fourth button is used to dodge when moving, or invoking a curative or defensive spell when standing still. In small areas everyone then just runs around doing what they will while the poor player is desperately trying to keep up with everything. Individual enemies can also be locked on, which shows the fleeting moments when they are susceptible for massive damage. This usually happens right before or after they attack, so despite the hectic pace, tactical play is also very much encouraged.

For now, most of the wartime sorties have been about liberating nearby seized hometowns. This is when the team traverses to them on the world map and then cleans their streets from Militesi troops. In other words, plenty of running around narrow streets from one screen to another, swiftly beating the crap out of anything that seems even remotely hostile, and then usually taking on a much bigger bad guy at the very end. There’s very little breathing room. While the player is busy just surviving, keeping tabs on who does what where, and maybe even racing against a countdown, the operational center of the academy relays instructions that often fall to deaf ears in the heat of the moment. Accessing the main menu won’t pause the action, so even something as simple as applying antidote to a poisoned character is a real gamble in the middle of a skirmish. One item type can be set for use at a press of a button but that’s not really much.

Time between missions is, thankfully, more relaxing. After returning to the academy, the player is given a few hours of free time but they are only expended when actually committing to do something. You could, for example, spend some of that time to attend academy lectures that yield permanent status bonuses for all characters. The free hours are also good for getting to know the staff and other students of the institution, rewarding items and short cinematics that shed light into the characters’ backgrounds. Investing six hours will get you back to the world map to fight and visit liberated towns for possible side quests. Of course, there are also dungeons to be found and explored. It isn’t possible to experience every event in a single playthrough but those without shame will naturally consult the internet to see the most worthwhile ways of spending spare time.

After about 11 hours, Type-0 is definitely a very different kind of Final Fantasy, and not necessarily in a good way. My initial confusion is slowly fading, though, so it’s certainly something to get to know better. In the name of Rubrum, onwards!

The Builder Has Left the Building

Sod off! Not going anywhere before fixing that mess on the left…

Even if the Dragon Lord put up a commendable fight, peace has come once again. With challenges and everything, Dragon Quest Builders provided a merry 43-hour adventure that left a most positive aftertaste. Despite the lack of building space and the sense of urgency, the game didn’t go for strike three and I even got surprisingly used to living with its numerous minor flaws. Still, after completing four mini-stories, I’m now so exhausted that the free mode, Terra Incognita, is probably something to be sampled at a later time; even the story mode is comprehensive enough to quench a mild thirst of building stuff.

The game gets extra credit for its wonderful controls. One might think that building and, especially, managing dozens of resources with a joypad would be sheer impossibility. Against all odds, however, everything works just fine. Granted, nothing is as easy and intuitive as it would be with a mouse and a keyboard but the control scheme is still delightful. The player can only carry 15 different resources at a time but as soon as the home base gets a jumbo-sized coffer, it automatically stores everything that gets picked up. That chest is also manageable from anywhere around the world, so all resource hoarding journeys are eventually a matter of simply picking up anything that seems even remotely interesting.

Since this is a third-person view Minecraft, building stuff is slightly awkward and often requires the player to be positioned just right. Still, the outlines of anything to be placed are always visible and give a good idea on what will happen. With a bit of care, accidental placements can be avoided altogether. Then again, if that happens, it only takes a couple of swings from your weapon to return any resource or a constructed item back to your inventory.

When the hometown citizens require something a bit more complex and premeditated, the request is given as a blueprint. It’s a handy way to first determine how much space will be needed. After choosing a spot and putting it down, it only takes a single press of a button to see what the outcome should look like, and what and how many resources or items are needed in the process. Most user-friendly!

The battle mechanics aren’t particularly hot but not entirely hopeless either. It mostly takes time to get used to the pitiful range of melee weaponry. Sword slashes and mallet swings often miss even when you’re pretty certain they should connect. Inch closer, and you easily suffer contact damage. Just wielding wildly isn’t really a strategy here, given how earnest the feisty adversaries are to bring down not just your health, but also the number of your preciously crafted healing items and the durability of your weapons and gear. Instead of mindless button smashing, it’s often better to get used to dodging an attack and then delivering a couple of blows of your own. This makes the fights a bit slow but economical on the long run. In a worst case scenario, the battle is fought at home. This is when the inhabitants of your town join the fray and it usually results in total chaos where it’s hard to pinpoint individual enemies while pretty much every blow breaks apart blocks of previously constructed buildings. After a bout like that, it’s not uncommon to spend the next day just repairing the damages.

The day-night cycle is annoyingly short anyway; maybe 10-15 minutes in real-time. At night, visibility drops dramatically and pestering mage ghosts manifest to fling fireballs at your way. The most obvious plan of action would be to just call it day, go to sleep, and regain all health points in the process. However, if you’re interested in overcoming the (admittedly optional) time challenges, every moment should be utilized as effectively as possible, even if it means stumbling around in the dark with spirits hot on your trail.

In order for Dragon Quest Builders to have been legendary, it should have rolled all of its four chapters into one consistent campaign without any build area restrictions but a constant feeling of revising an existing design into ever-greater heights. Its days should’ve been longer and its nights shorter. It should’ve given players a chance to enjoy it at their own pace without that constantly nagging feeling of time passing by. Such simple (?) adjustments would’ve probably turned it into a genuine JRPG Minecraft, one that would’ve stolen hundreds of meaningful hours from its players. As it stands, it’s just a damn promising baseline that has all the required ingredients, yet makes it needlessly hard to willingly devote one’s every waking hour to the vision. Then again, perhaps it’s better this way.

Let’s Play Home(town)

The wonders of modern fantasy science!

Since I’m fashionably late to most games, it wasn’t until now that I got enthralled by Dragon Quest Builders. This Square Enix’s jovial Minecraft for (Japanese) role-playing fans has been providing constructive entertainment for 30 or so hours, and despite a multitude of problems, it’s absolutely endearing. Especially for us imaginatively challenged, its best feature is a story. It’s not much of a story but it’s still something that counts. The evil Dragonlord rules the world with his army of monsters, and mankind has regressed into nothing but dolts, incapable of constructing anything at all. Thankfully there’s a pure in heart hero (or heroine) who is given a holy task to step up to the powers of darkness. So, it’s time to erect a Banner of Hope at the ruins of a nearby town and build it back to its glory. The first recipes are handed out by a lone girl wandering in, and you pretty much have nothing but dirt, branches and leaves to work with. Still, small feats go a long way and as the population of your new home slowly rises, so does the variety of ingredients at your disposal. After only a few hours, it’s already all about cooking stations, rock walls, watchtowers, ramparts, steel broadswords, and more!

The simplest of recipes is a room, which is essentially just a space surrounded by walls two cubes high, a door, and a source of light. With suitable interior design these rooms turn into, say, an inn, a restaurant, or a workshop. Unfortunately the Banner of Hope only provides enough radiance for an area that is barely big enough to house maybe half a dozen structures, or so. Still, time sure flies by when fine-tuning even those. There’s never a dull moment, given that new residents always provide something new to investigate or construct. Every now and then you also have to defend your base from the Dragonlord’s minions.

Just when the whole town building and material gathering trips are at their finest, Dragon Quest Builders suffers its first strike. A big and awfully mean boss appears, likely laying waste to most of your accomplishments. After it has been bested and the damages perhaps repaired, a teleport appears in the horizon. It whisks you off to the next chapter, and while the scenery changes and there are plenty of new materials to gather, you’re effectively bumped back to square one. Not fun. Granted, completing the first chapter also unlocks Terra Incognita, a vast free area dedicated to nothing but constructing, but sadly it lacks the story aspect. As much as starting from the scratch can be vexing, it doesn’t take long for things to get obsessive again, and so the last moments of every chapter are just as rewarding as in the first one. The game has four such scenarios, and I’m now done with the first three. Then again, they all come with five optional challenges that aren’t revealed until the chapter has been completed, so replay value is high. This even more so, as completing those challenges will add content to the Terra Incognita mode.

The second strike comes from said challenges. One of them is always a speedrun, which requires you to complete the chapter swiftly. If it was already a bummer that you have to leave everything behind, it’s even more stressful to do it all over again within a rather strict time limit. I haven’t played Minecraft but it’s (supposedly) relaxed building of stuff that can eventually reach epic proportions. The story mode of Dragon Quest Builders seems like an antithesis of sorts; limited, fleeting, and even something to be optimized in a hurry. It’s almost like a tutorial that lasts for dozens of hours until Terra Incognita can be enjoyed to its fullest. Do I have the energy to appreciate that after a lengthy playthrough? Well, the game is still addictive as hell, so onward to the final chapter!

The Forgotten Ones

Uh-oh… The dunce is back.

This household is now living a quiet era of post-excellence. After Persona 5 left such a wholesome, indelible impression, it will probably take a bit more time for any other game to inspire again. The best I’ve managed is to return to Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Spirit of Justice, even if back in March it wasn’t particularly inspiring either. Still, I totally forgot that I had also bought its separate DLC episode, which provided closer to six hours of at least distant echoes of the series’ better early days.

It’s another murder case, of course, charging a fresh bride who also claims to be able to travel through time. Despite such a wild premise, this turns out to be an ordinary case in which logical thinking debunks the impossible. It’s a delightful change of pace in comparison to the supernatural gimmicks of the main game. It’s also a nice blast to the past as the case is being prosecuted by good old Miles Edgeworth. Even Larry Butz, the lively childhood friend of our attorneys who was last seen in the original game trilogy makes a comeback, confounding the case in his typical fashion.

Even if this sixth Spirit of Justice case is a minor step towards the better, it’s still only semi-entertaining fan service at best. The humor suffers from many characters acting a bit too unrestrained for their own good, and the asinine “…………” lines that were seriously overused in the main game make an unwelcome return. Also, those paying attention will probably figure out some of the surprises way too early, which makes addressing the wrong assumptions a bit monotonous to follow. Especially after such a long break from the main game, the episode was still decent enough to play through but it failed to leave any kind of lasting impression. A solid case but also one that manages to emphasize just how stale this once glorious series has gotten.

Meh… Meh… Meh…

While trying to find that next game that would steal my heart, I’ve sampled a bunch without bumping into anything remarkable. There was a couple month’s worth of PlayStation Plus freebies but none (of the ones that were new to me) managed to engage. As for physical releases, Little Nightmares turned out to be a gloomy Limbo clone in which a mute girl dressed in a yellow raincoat 2D-leaps her way through distressing areas while dying in many gruesome ways. I managed to stay interested for about 15 minutes, after which she plummeted into a pit of gigantic leeches that devoured her over and over again. Too macabre and depressing to be enjoyed right now, so it shall return to the backlog.

The indie darling Stardew Valley, in turn, is all about colorful and jolly everyday life in a tiny rural town. Drawing inspiration from the likes of Harvest Moon and Animal Crossing, it provides plenty of activities from farming and fishing to slaying monsters in mines and befriending other townsfolk. After 11 hours, however, I realized that it’s one of those incredibly repetitious games that make use of pathetically small incentives to lengthen the overall experience into a marathon of hundreds of meaningless hours. It is ambitious, sure, but I’ve played enough similar games to know that everything will eventually lead to just growing tired of it all. Could be fun but not right now.

My foray into AAA didn’t go much better. Horizon: Zero Dawn is a hauntingly beautiful third-person post-apocalyptic sandbox full of robotic animals and humans, who have regressed into spear and bow wielding hunter-gatherers. Even if the science fiction overtones work wondrously and the game skillfully combines Witcher, Uncharted, and Tomb Raider, it somehow failed to captivate. I guess the first five hours just had too many similarly looking NPCs spouting mythical nonsense or something. There’s plenty of potential, though, so this one (too) certainly deserves another go when the time is right.