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.
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.
Gigants have been bested not just in Tokyo but around the world as well. As it turned out, Ray Gigant wasn’t just an Ichiya Amakaze parade. As the story progressed, a couple of other Yorigami adopters were eventually located in England and the Caribbean. I kind of wish they weren’t, though, as the heroes were a remarkably dysfunctional bunch of people. The trio of a dunce, a psychopath, and a bimbo only interacted by bickering, ragging, and wallowing in self-pity, on top of which they all had a nearly identical story segment. After slaying a few Gigants, everything starts to go horribly wrong and someone dies. As the characters are repulsive and hardly ever get along, there’s very little drama even the first time around, let alone third.
Things didn’t get much better with dungeon crawling. The initial uncluttered mazes were eventually replaced with a jumble of hidden walls, teleports, and pits all aimed to make progress as arduous as possible. Since there are no random encounters, it’s still fairly swift to get through everything, and Ray Gigant is not nearly as sadistic as many other games in the genre (cough, Dungeon Travelers 2, cough). Still, dungeon design especially towards the end is as unenthusiastic as it comes. The game does feature a handy auto-pilot that enables you to quickly move to a map square visited before but even that gets so confused by teleports and conveyor belts that it eventually turns useless.
Fighting is the only part Ray Gigant almost gets right. The bigger the Gigants, the more awesome they look, and even if the game is relatively easy, slowly chipping away bosses’ massive health meters is always at least a little bit suspenseful. The final boss, though, was cheap beyond belief. About halfway into the fight, it put up such ridiculously heavy defenses that almost nothing seemed to work. In the end, I had to repeat the same boring move macro for almost an hour with even the biggest special attacks dealing only a paltry amount of damage. Even if he fell in the end, it was a dreary battle of attrition.
Thankfully Ray Gigant at least knows how to be moderate. Unlike most JRPGs, the whole adventure took only about 25 hours, and for the most part there were so many good bosses that the overall experience was at least slightly above average. Sure, its story is pointless drivel and there’s no character chemistry whatsoever, but at least everything moves at a brisk pace. On whole, the game is a passable light version of dungeon crawling. It doesn’t come even close to the undisputed (not negotiable) king of the genre, Demon Gaze, but it’s still a decent effort, especially for a lowly budget release. If nothing else, at least its brittle shell hides some neat and original ideas.
Halfway down this week I would never have believed just how big Persona 5 can be. Last time I expected to be on the final straight and wondered why the adversary I thought to be the final boss didn’t really exude an aura of epicness that they often tend to do. It ended up being no wonder at all, since after that the game kicked into serious high gear, featuring massive events and growing into a crescendo that almost felt ridiculous yet absolutely awesome. The last 15 hours were full of drama, suspense, a fantastic (actual) final boss, and an epilogue beautiful enough to get even the eyes of this cranky codger a little misty. Damn I’m going to miss these rascals!
At that point, I had already been playing for 77 hours. Even following a walkthrough, I managed to mess up my in-game schedule and miss out on some juicy tidbits here and there. Thus, there was no choice but to begin anew. Even if NG+ features a hidden boss, one new Persona, and a chance to get romantic with someone else from a selection of nine characters, that’s pretty much all there is. Thankfully money, personas, and social skills from the first playthrough carried over, so round two was mostly just fast-forwarding already seen scenes, enjoying plenty of extra time to do things, and completing a full 191 Persona compendium. The platinum trophy unlocked at 112 hours and I’m now dead tired but happy. Persona 5 would be even better if it allowed everything to be experienced in one go but the rerun was still fairly enjoyable.
Just like with its predecessor, the most memorable thing about Persona 5 is its sincerity and warmth. This is mostly thanks to the main characters who are more just everyday youngsters than they are actual super heroes (aside from the talking cat, Morgana, of course). The character chemistry is exemplary, and the game usually steers well clear of implausible conflict scenarios just for the sake of drama The Phantom Thieves are simply a bunch of extremely good friends who get along exceptionally well, overcoming all hardships as a team. This good vibe carries over to the player, too. I rarely get emotionally attached to game characters but this gang turned out to be people I came to genuinely care about and root for.
If anything is at fault with Persona 5, it’s because of its publisher. On PS4, it’s delightfully easy to grab screenshots and video clips for your own amusement, as long as the game allows it. Most of them do. Atlus, however, abhors spoiling jerks so much that it often restricts these features. On Utawarerumono, capturing content was disabled after the first 15 hours and on Persona 5, that happens after five minutes. Their products and their rules, sure, but it’s still a pretty drastic measure, especially as it can be circumvented with an ordinary capture card. The policy is more akin to taking a holiday abroad but having to leave your camera at the customs.
Still, it’s hard to be angry at Atlus. Persona 5 is a masterpiece that easily exceeded all expectations. It has to be a pretty darn impressive release to top this one by the end of the year!
I guess I should have known that the very second I claim Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception not to be a harem adventure, Haku’s troupe is complemented by a couple of unabashed harem beauties. Thankfully Haku is such a genuine gentleman (no, he really is!) that the adventure still managed to continue in a fairly chaste manner. After almost 30 hours of lull, the story finally caught wind in its sails. That long sought gust was a little too rowdy, though, as the next 12 hours featured not just more characters but also a couple of sizable border wars and plenty of political scheming. As far as pacing goes, Utawarerumono is all over the place. It first spends a ludicrous amount of time just lollygagging before putting the pedal to the metal with loads of epic moments conveyed in rudimentary 3D scenes that require plenty of forgiving imagination to work out.
In a way, the game is still hard to put into words as even after those 42 hours, I’ve only experienced the first half of the adventure. After kicking into high gear, the game more or less just ends, leaving behind a number of (partly painfully asinine) cliffhangers for Utawarerumono: Mask of Truth to follow up on come September. I should be a little annoyed with this twosome as it really feels like just trimming excess fat would’ve made it possible to tell the whole story in a single, more refined manner. Still, can’t say for sure until experiencing the other half, so I guess I have to give Mask of Deception a hall pass for now. Maybe its follow-up will focus on the cavalcade of characters that now felt way too numerous and largely underutilized.
To end on a slightly brighter note, I still admit that I’m intrigued by the fates of Haku and Kuon. Also, the frequency of the strategic battles towards the end almost felt normal at times. Big thumbs up for the final battle in particular, in which damage both given and taken was just plain brutal. While this might be my last endeavor into Japanese RPG stories cheekily split into multiple games, I guess my wallet still wishes to have an audience with Mask of Truth.
If this wasn’t much of a week then Rise of the Tomb Raider: 20 Year Anniversary at least follows suit. Even if it was still a cautiously entertaining adventure just last weekend, its latter half stumbled on so many clichés that it would have needed to be a self-conscious parody rather than a solemn action-adventure to work. It’s a real shame, too, considering that tech-wise Rise of the Tomb Raider is still nigh on impeccable. Both the overall imagery of the game as well as the detail of its heroine’s animation are absolutely spot on. When Lara admires the exceptionally gorgeous views, or quickly dries her ponytail after a quick swim, those are the moments when the player probably feels most in sync with the character. Movement is fluent, bullets fly true, and the environment is discreetly graceful at pointing out ledges that can be grabbed, vertical surfaces that allow an additional step, or cliffsides that can be leaped onto with a couple of climbing axes.
Even if the staff of Crystal Dynamics seem to be on the level from a technical perspective, the other aspects making up a game are a bit woeful. Two religious extremities – one strong but evil, the other weak but good – vying over an ancient secret really is a piss-poor motif to begin with, but it’s ten times worse approached seriously. Sure, Indiana Jones fights Nazis and Nathan Drake has his own treasure hunts, but at least those two know how to laugh at themselves. Lara does not laugh. Even if Rise of the Tomb Raider no longer treats its heroine in such a repulsive and sadistic manner than its predecessor (Tomb Raider of 2013), there’s still not even an iota of British charm present, as much as a treasure trove that would be. No one ever smiles, except maybe by accident, and when awfully stereotypical characters constantly end up in awfully stereotypical situations while spouting lines like “You do what you must”, or when Lara is sitting at a campfire, having a personal crisis of how awful it is for the good in this world to witness death and violence… It’s just plain cringe-worthy.
As for gameplay, it has similar problems. Whenever Lara can choose a stealthy approach, picking off her adversaries one by one from the shadows, the game shines at its brightest. To counter these occasions, however, there are tons of moments when you’re swarmed by alarmed bad guys and left with no option but to survive. At times, an endless rain of nades would put even Call of Duty in shame, and when all else fails there’s always the tired old cliché of slow but heavily armored baddies to fall back to. Rise of the Tomb Raider never finds a good balance between these two extremes. It’s either an enjoyable stealth encounter or a shockingly loud and chaotic skirmish but rarely ever anything in between. Towards the end, all gauges are turned up to eleven and everything is so flashy it no longer even matters anymore. Just a ridiculous barrage of unnecessarily dramatic explosions and close calls that are there only for their own sake (incidentally something that hampered the previous game, too).
I beat the game in 20 hours, including one of its story-driven DLCs, which was pretty much more of the same but with a hugely original twist of added chaos via psychedelic hallucinations. Oh FFS, game designers, get your act together already. If this is AAA, I’m happy to stick to the sidelines.
Speaking of which, even if this time of year doesn’t sport that many new releases, a couple still caught my attention. Little Nightmares is, apparently, some sort of a dark puzzle-platformer that probably would’ve flown right past my radar without plenty of positive hearsay. As for Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception, it’s something I’ve briefly covered already, and really a game I’m really looking forward to. Now if only I could get that one remarkably time-consuming and, at times, aggravating DS puzzle game done and dusted… If anything, I’m thankful of not having to cover these as work.
The past week has been a dull display of nothing at all but at least I now have a little four day mini-vacation to enjoy. It could’ve started better, though. I finally waded my way through The Silver Case, and even if it’s probably not appropriate to question the genius of Goichi Suda, his early works sure were remarkably awkward. The game promises to be a stylishly dark, dreamlike serial killer mystery but by the halfway point, everything more or less crumbles into dust. What began as a gripping story slowly and painfully transforms itself into a disappointingly pompous metaphysical hodgepodge that ends up making very little sense even for those paying attention to it. The characters and their interaction, once the most stellar part of the game, are nonchalantly tossed into the maw of chaotic storytelling, and the last few hours are pure abstract.
As well as the bloated story, the rhythm of the game is all over the place. Each location, with its day and time, is always introduced with a little CG animation that lasts about 10-15 seconds. At first this feels like a neat little nuance but since you end up traveling between various locations for hundreds of times, such scenes soon become incredibly aggravating. They’re unskippable, of course. Deliberate, almost impish prolonging of the adventure is evident everywhere else as well. You’re sent running back and forth in staircases, forced to investigate several areas identical with each other, spend time on the world’s tardiest escalators, etc. The game took me about 13 hours to play through but I dare say that with a more honest design, it would’ve been possible to trim up to five hours without negatively affecting the overall experience. Quite the opposite, in fact.
All this is a real shame, as The Silver Case also knows how to be truly excellent. After clearing a chapter as a player, you can then experience the same events from the viewpoint of the journalist Tokio Morishima. Two protagonists, both interested in the same murderer, means that their paths cross multiple times, and their individual story halves complement and deepen each other nicely. I was also smitten by the game’s way of dealing with the internet and its impact on mankind. For a 1999 release, some of its observations are now, 18 years later, delightfully current and pertinent. Also, as I’ve said before, the characters and their dialogue are awesome for a while. Thankfully the ambient, cool instrumental music keeps its charm throughout the game.
Even if I’m inclined to say that The Silver Case is just plain bad on whole, it wouldn’t be the full truth. It’s cumbersome and crude, sure, but it’s also irresistibly uncompromising in a manner that almost feels arrogant. Personally, I’ve come to prefer Suda’s later works, such as Lollipop Chainsaw and the really most dashing Shadows of the Damned, both of which strike a much better balance between his playful anarchy and being games with actual gameplay. Even as a visual novel, The Silver Case feels lacking, but perhaps mostly because the genre has already given birth to so many other perfectly impeccable scions. Maybe this one would’ve been more impressive back in 1999 but as a re-release, it’s mostly just an interesting curio by an interesting designer.
The beginning of this Saturday has been quite jovial. I chose to play Type:Rider, which is a French 2D art platformer that was included in this month’s PlayStation Plus pile. It touts itself as a typographical video game, and it stars a happy little umlaut (or perhaps it’s a colon?) that rolls and jumps its way through mankind’s character, font, and printing history ranging from ancient cave paintings to modern day digitization. Along the journey, there are plenty of famous typeface letters to collect, including asterisks that open up really rather interesting little articles about the pioneers and innovations of the printing industry. It’s fun and educational; not bad!
The minimalist, stylishly designed stages are full of woodcuts, lithographs, posters, and typefaces. Traversing them is all about honoring the laws of physics, except when they make you curse physics altogether. The player’s two rolling dots are capable of jumping and rotating in the air but it’s quite tricky to keep them in perfect control. Inertia is your best friend but when it either runs out or there’s too much of it, you usually take a wildly spinning plunge into oblivion. Thankfully there are loads of checkpoints, and the game isn’t that challenging to begin with. Every now and then, there are also lightweight puzzle rooms where you have to free a third dot and then push it to a pedestal that enables you to proceed.
All the collectible letters can be found with relative ease, and even if you go after all of them, the game shouldn’t take longer than about two and a half hours to complete. One hour more, and I even managed to unlock all of its trophies. Those who want more can still improve their automatically tracked completion times or head to a separate speed run track that provides considerably more challenge for competitive gamers. Also, each stage has been split into four sections, each of which can be warped into via the in-game menu. In this game, reliving its best moments or practicing its slightly more challenging parts is remarkably quick and easy.
Even as a little snack, Type:Rider made me smile a lot. It’s original and stylish in a way that many French game developers seem to handle so eerily well. Sure, it’s also short and easy but then again, it never outstays its welcome, and it’s actually quite relaxing to play a game that isn’t constantly trying to make its player lose their cool. What a delightfully entertaining morning this has been!
After an additional five hours or so, I’ve completed all songs of Taiko no Tatsujin: Dokodon! Mystery Adventure on Normal. 59 of them with a full combo, 11 others in a less-stellar fashion. There might still be a few more hidden songs but I think I’ll let them remain hidden. The song selection was, once again, a delightful mixture of all sorts of stuff, even if nothing was exceptionally memorable. As for game songs, the Kirby and Ace Attorney medleys were nice, and some of the Namco original tracks were just as silly as they were awesome. The jpop and anime picks, however, came off surprisingly generic. Then again, we all have our own taste in music, so the game still deserves praise for its diversity.
On whole, Dokodon! Mystery Adventure is probably just as comfy and familiar to hardcore fans of the series as it remains slightly more unconventional for the rest of us. The video above sums it up quite nicely. If you truly want to excel in Taiko games, you need A) a flat surface, B) willingness to embrace the touch screen , C) two styluses, and D) the soul of a drummer. If you prefer the casual, traditional way of holding the console in your hands and using your thumbs and index fingers to hit the notes, it’s a perfectly viable style on Easy and Normal but not so much on the two harder difficulties. The series is simply designed to be experienced in a way that is eventually way too fast for finger reflexes alone.
That’s actually both the main strength and weakness of the whole series. Taiko games require a unique playstyle. Eventually mastering it is probably highly rewarding but unless you dream of becoming a drummer, or are willing to dedicate your life to master a single series, it’s not even remotely as exciting. Each to their own, of course, but I still prefer an everyday eight button Hatsune Miku experience to pure two note divinity, even if the latter is bloody impressive when showcased by a skilled professional. As such, this is a game that can easily provide hundreds of hours of entertainment but it’s also a game that can be experienced in a jiffy, still appreciating its songs, replaying at least some of them just because they’re fun, and finding nothing genuinely wrong with the gameplay, either. For the sake of diversity, though, I’ll now take my 17 hours and, having once again satisfied my hunger for rhythm, rush towards new experiences.
The game flood of early 2017 is starting to recede but while I was busy with one, two others still managed to sneak their way in. Of those, The Silver Case is a remake of a PS1 adventure from 1999. The reason for its comeback is undoubtedly its delightfully strange writer and designer, Goichi Suda. The Silver Case was his debut into the gaming industry, so it’s rather interesting to see just how eccentric it is. If I had to wager, I’d say extremely. The other game, Stardew Valley, is more or less about a single person as well. Eric Barone developed this Harvest Moon -esque agriculture RPG all by himself, and it has received nothing but praise from multiple sources. Since it was finally deemed worthy of a physical release, too, I’m definitely excited to give it a go.
This lazy Sunday has been all about extravagant nothing. My only accomplishment has been grabbing the last few trophies of a two-year-old indie 2D shooter Shütshimi: Seriously Swole. It’s yet another fake retro style release that was given free to PlayStation Plus subscribers a little over a year ago. Back then, its humorous angle was much appreciated but since the game always felt awfully challenging, it ended up being something I played on and off in little bursts over a long period of time. Apparently each session still taught me something, as I finally managed to complete the damn thing. To be precise, I actually finished it last week, triumphed over its boss rush mode last Friday, and spent today cleaning off its remaining few trophies.
Shütshimi’s take on shoot’em ups is amusing and brisk. You play as a totally pissed-off gold fish that defends its home waters against all sorts of maritime nasties, be they laser-shooting sharks or even underwater bears. Each stage only lasts about ten seconds, and between them you get to quickly choose between three random bonuses. Some of them are genuinely useful (say, a protective fish bowl, extra arms for additional damage, or a bouncy castle where everyone plays nice), others mostly cosmetic (a huge pile of hats), and the rest downright nasty (inverted controls, twice the size, or plenty more enemies to kill). You only get a few seconds to choose between these verbosely described bonuses, so it’s either a matter of blind luck or getting good enough to spot the ones that are practical or, in the worst case scenario, at least remotely less annoying.
At first, Shütshimi seems easy and relaxed. Every five enemy waves, a brutal boss appears. You shoot them for as much as the time allows, and if that’s not enough, it’s another five waves to survive to continue from where you left off. Even if no stage lasts longer than those ten seconds, it’s often long enough for the enemy hordes to flatten your stalwart gold-scaled hero and, since the game plays like a dream, you always have no one but yourself to blame. It probably doesn’t take longer than an evening or two to deal with the three main bosses of the game, but when you are then challenged to beat their advanced forms… I haven’t kept track of time spent with this one but as mentioned, it’s a game that has been steadily bugging me for a year or so.
While the indie scene is hopelessly crammed with these pixel-art forays, Shütshimi was a pleasant little surprise. It’s a simple, challenging game that I ended up coming back to over and over again, just like back in my youth when some games were equally brutal and yet somehow inexplicably compelling. I guess that’s the best recommendation I can give.