Friday, March 31, 2017

Game Time - March 2017

Here we are on the precipice of April, and 2017 is already shaping up to be an incredible year for video games. However, I feel that while March had some incredible highs for me, there were also a few lows. To start, the Nintendo Switch came out alongside Zelda: Breath of the Wild. I love Zelda with very few caveats. Nintendo took a rick and tried something new. The payoff was a video game that's completely on another level. I recorded a podcast with my thoughts on the game, but it's always good to document them in text form as well.

Then there was Horizon: Zero Dawn. It released on the last day of February, so I only played it for a few days before moving over all of my time to Zelda. What's a bummer is that I don't know if I'll ever go back to it. Personally it didn't really grab me, which seems to go against the grain.

Finally, we have Mass Effect: Andromeda. This game causes me to get upset just thinking about it. It has so many issues, but somehow I can't seem to pull myself away from it. Perhaps my love for the original trilogy is clouding my judgement?

There's a lot to talk about, so let's get right into it. It's game time.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Nintendo is a company that is famous for rehashing a lot of its ideas. While that has brought them a lot of success in the past I feel that myself and many others have been craving something new. I got my first taste of new Nintendo goodness with Splatoon and now they have followed it up with Breath of the Wild. Initially I was skeptical that Nintendo would be able to pull off a compelling open world, but somehow they nailed it.

See that mountain? YOU CAN TOTALLY GO THERE!

I feel like I say this all the time, but Ocarina of Time is the game I can point to as the one that got me to continue playing video games. The sense of adventure I felt while traversing that world is something that has stuck with me. Now they have replicated that with Breath of the Wild. You can go literally anywhere in the game with some effort. If you can see a place, then you can definitely go there. Link can climb up almost any surface, and stamina is essentially his only limitation. The world is vast, and filled with areas that are exciting to explore. While there certainly is a lot of empty space, there are also many hidden villages and treasures to be found.

In terms of combat and plot, Breath of the Wild isn't spectacular. At first the weapon durability annoyed me, but in the end I grew fond of it. Since every weapon is breakable it encourages you to use a ton of different kinds. It's functional, but exploring the world was the main draw for me. If you want to hear me babble on for close to an hour about the game and all of its systems I recorded a podcast, which you can listen to here.

Horizon: Zero Dawn

Have you every felt left out, because you don't love something that everyone else loves? That's how I feel with Horizon. Initially I was super excited to see Guerilla games making something new. The reviews hit a bit early for the game as well, and they were all glowing. I still hear people talking about Horizon with a reverence that I don't know if I'll ever be able to understand. I would have chalked it up to being tired of open world games, but then Zelda came out and I absolutely loved that. I feel like I'm missing out on something and its very frustrating.

Horizon centers on a girl named Aloy who is born as an outcast. At a young age she finds a device called a focus, which is essentially a Bluetooth earpiece that shoots AR things around that explain the world to her. The world of Horizon takes place after the apocalypse where machines have taken over and humans have gone back to a much more tribal state. Things like the focus that Aloy found are considered forbidden relics from the metal age of humans past. The people of the world seem to believe that humans in the past ruined the world. I find all of this to be interesting, but in what I played it never really took off.

I hope you like shooting robots with a bow.

The gameplay takes place in third person and focuses around a bow. You can get different kinds of arrows, which will affect the machines in different ways. You gain other tools as well, but the bow seems to be the number one way to take down your foes. The combat seems to be the thing that most people praise above all else, but I personally find it to be tedious. Where I am right now the bow does too little damage, so I find myself running up to enemies and using a melee attack until they die. Eventually I'll get back to this game, because I honestly feel like there has to be something I'm missing. Hopefully the plot picks up in a way that I can get behind.

Mass Effect: Andromeda

I love the original Mass Effect trilogy. I'd be willing to go so far as to say that Mass Effect 2 is one of my favorite games of all time. As a huge fan of Star Wars it was awesome to see Bioware essentially create a new Star Wars RPG without the Star Wars license. I immediately found myself enamored with the universe and its characters. Yes, the ending of Mass Effect 3 is awful, but it was not enough to taint the journey I had along the way.

Now we come to the 4th entry in the franchise, Mass Effect: Andromeda. If you've never played the original trilogy then the conceit of Andromeda might not make sense to you. Without spoiling the whole plot, let's just say that things in the Milky Way went sideways, and a few of the races decided to try and settle a new galaxy, Andromeda. A little bit of me feels for Andromeda while it's being railed on by almost everyone. When you're making the 4th thing in a franchise beloved by many, it's automatically going to be hard for it to succeed. Even if the work stands on its own it will always be held up against the original trilogy. Despite that, Andromeda feels like a straight to DVD sequel that no one really wanted.

All the familiar elements are here, but it just doesn't feel right.

If Andromeda felt new, I would feel a little more hesitant to criticize it. The main issue I have is that every character and many of the locales are trying to be things from the original trilogy. For example, the Citadel was a space station in the Milky Way where many alien races gathered. It was a central hub where you got to experience all kinds of interesting scenarios. In Andromeda it's the Nexus, which is almost the EXACT same thing as the Citadel! The characters are the same, they each fit into an archetype of characters from games past. So far I've had fun talking to them, but no one seems particularly interesting. Hell, even the plot is about finding ancient alien tech again.

The one praise I'll give the game is that the combat is fun. It's essentially the same third person shooting of the original trilogy, but it adds a lot of mobility through the jet pack. You can jump and dash, which adds an additional layer to combat scenarios. It's fine, but that might be the only place that the game is "fine." I feel bad saying this, but Andromeda is the buggiest AAA game I've ever played. Yes, some of the animations are bad. I don't think that's a bug though. I've had issues ranging from not being able to talk to someone because their prompt won't show up to not being able to interact with literally anything in the game. It's crazy. Most of it is the kind of stuff that would never get through QA. I had the game literally become unplayable, how is that okay? Even with the bugs aside, the underlying game seems uninspired. I'm going to see it through to the end, but that's really only because of my love for the franchise.

IT'S HAPPENING!

My level of excitement if through the roof today! Persona 5 comes out in four days! I have been waiting for this game for years. Usually games I wait this long for don't live up to my expectations, but I knew from the very first trailer that Persona 5 was going to offer everything I wanted from it. I have been craving a JRPG with a compelling plot for a while now and now it's finally here.

There's a slight chance that I'll talk about something other than Persona 5 next month, but like I said it's a very slim chance. The estimated time to beat is currently hovering around 150 hours so I don't know that I'll have much time to do anything else. Find out what happens next month!

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Podcast Episode 25 - Breath of the Wild

Who's ready to get wild? I have once again recorded a podcast. This time it is about the brand new Zelda game Breath of the Wild. Enjoy it!

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Game Time - February 2017

Normally I find a break in my free time to write these at the end of every month, but the past few times I have had to stop playing a dope video game in order to do so. You might see that as a complaint, but it's definitely not. All it means is that awesome video games have been coming out at a rapid clip!

I only played two new games in February, because the ones I played in January were super long, and I had to continue playing those as well. I ended up beating both Gravity Rush 2, and Yakuza 0. They were both excellent and I would highly recommend them. I'm only going to talk about Yakuza 0 again this month though, because a lot of interesting stuff happened after my initial few hours with it.

Like I said last month Digimon World: Next Order came out the last day of January and I played it a TON. I thought the original Digimon World was super cool and ahead of its time, and this new game continues to be super great! 

As a surprise to me I also ended up playing all the way through Night in the Woods. I did it in two play sessions, because I was so engrossed by the world. I found out about it a few months ago from an ad on the PlayStation blog, but completely forgot it was coming out in February. Lucky for me I had some credit sitting on my PSN account, so I was able to pick it up. 

It's game time!

Yakuza 0

Last time I talked about Yakuza 0 I had only played a few hours of it. Now that I have completed it, I can say for certain now that it is my favorite Yakuza game. The story picks up quite a bit, and it doesn't have the insane pacing problems that a lot of the other games have. The previous Yakuza games were much less savage than this one. I think that the 80's setting allows the story to be a little bit more vicious, because Kiryu and Majima are technically not fully established at that time. Like the previous games in the franchise it goes on for a long time, but unlike the others I never found myself lamenting that it overstaying its welcome.

The main reason I'm writing about this again is because I had not played the two central mini-games. When you're Kiryu you become a real estate mogul. The goal is to take over five areas of Kamurocho that are being held by a group called the Five Billionaires. You do this by going around to buildings to purchase them. You can then upgrade them to raise their profitability. This is almost done entirely through menus. Since there are five districts you need to assign them managers and bodyguards. The managers will raise or lower the profitability of an area, while the bodyguard will keep thugs from stopping your progress in money collection. It sounds complicated at first, but once the initial setup is complete all you do is wait for a bar to fill up and then collect your money. This allows him to get stupidly rich, which makes it very easy to upgrade all of his combat skills. 

Buy ALL the real estate. 

Majima's mini-game has him managing a cabaret club (Hostess Bar). In order to do so you need to recruit ladies from around the city to work for you. Once recruited they will have stat values, and abilities that can increase as you use them for work. This game is a little more involved, but you are locked into it for around five minutes at a time. There are six tables in the club and people come and sit down. You assign them a hostess based on their likes, and the more they like them the more money they will spend. Issues can arise, and you have to help the hostess by guessing the correct menu option. It's not super deep, but it is definitely more involved than Kiryu's. However, he makes waaaay less money. They're both interesting additions to an already feature rich franchise. Like I said, if you have liked any of the previous Yakuza games you have to play Yakuza 0. 

Digimon World: Next Order

Last year I played the original Digimon World for the first time. In fact, I recorded a podcast about it. In my opinion it was way ahead of its time with a lot of the elements present in it. Digimon World: Next Order is essentially that same game from many years ago, but with a ton more in it. As someone who thought the first game was really cool, I really like Digimon World: Next Order. I found myself with the two days following the game's release. This led to me playing it until 6AM two consecutive days in a row while drinking way too much Red Bull. Now that I work full time I tend to not do that kind of thing much anymore, but the game's core loop took a hold of me in a way I didn't expect.

In Digimon World you raise a Digimon from its inception to its death. In Next Order you raise TWO Digimon at the same time. It doesn't sound very different, but it makes things a little more complicated. Both of the creatures won't necessarily like the same foods or sleep at the same times so it adds new challenge to the old formula. Outside of that it's essentially the same concept as the original game. Your Digimon need to eat, and go to the bathroom. If you don't take them to the toilet they'll go right in the ground and if you don't feed them they'll get angry. In order to train them you take them to the gym and pick the stats you want to increase. It's kind of like Monster Rancher if anyone has ever played that. Days are limited, so you have to manage your time between training and exploring.

Now you have TWO Digimon!

The world is huge and very fun to explore. As you traverse you'll find Digimon who used to live in the main city. Most of them can be recruited by meeting certain objectives. Once they go back to the city they will open a shop, or offer some type of service to you. I love this kind of mechanic in games. The thing that bothered most about the game was the combat difficulty. It starts off fine enough, but by the end game enemies are so strong they're almost impossible to defeat. Even with almost maximum stats on both Digimon it is now a challenge for me to defeat most regular enemies. Don't even get me started on bosses... Since the battles are mostly AI controlled sometimes the Digimon do really dumb things, but that comes with the territory. With that said I still really liked the game. It got its hooks deep into me. 

Night in the Woods

I was browsing the PlayStation blog to check out the new releases and saw an article about Night in the Woods.It captured me immediately, and I decided I was going to get it. I am very glad I got it. If you haven't seen it the only way I can describe it is an adventure game where all the people are animals. You play as Mae Borrowski, a 20 year old cat who dropped out of college. She has come back to her home town of Possum Springs to find things very much the same, but different at the same time. It is an adventure game, so the crux of the gameplay is to look around the environment and talk to people. The town is small enough and the characters are interesting enough that you'll want to look at every nook and cranny. You traverse the world by platforming around the sidescrolling map. It's odd, because you never really have to platform. You can get to some special events that way, but most of the time there's really not a reason for it.

These are the central figures in the story.

This game resonated with me in a way that I definitely didn't expect. It delves deep into mental issues and depression in a way that most games don't. It's expertly written and the art is top notch. In the end I found myself wanting to play through it again, but just haven't had any time for it yet There is a ton of stuff you can miss, but it's only necessary to get a sense of the characters and the world. Anything to do with the overarching mystery you'll be funneled into eventually. It's weird, because in the end the real plot kind of let me down. What made me fall in love with the game is the way it doesn't tell you a whole lot, but fills in the gaps through dialogue and interaction with the environment. 

As usual with this type of game the story is the entire thing, so I'm not going to talk about it a whole lot more. If you're into well written dialogue and dope art, then you should play this game. I will probably write a more in depth piece on this in the future.

Switch Time

I picked up the Switch this past Thursday night, and I absolutely love the thing! I LOVE IT! It's exactly what I wanted it to be, except for the part where there are like two games I want to play on it at the moment. That means that you can expect me to talk all about the Switch and Zelda for the next edition of game time. 

Other than that Mass Effect Andromeda will be out, which I still find myself not believing. The marketing has been so sparse for it up to this point that I have yet to properly process that it's even coming out. They're ramping up the marketing now, so it's probably going to come out right on time. I am very ready for a new Mass Effect, so I bet I'll be very excited. 

I have to get back to playing Zelda for obscene amounts of time, so I'll see you next time!

Monday, February 6, 2017

Game Time - January 2017

2016 was a pretty good year for video games, but 2017 is going to be off the chain! Most of the time January is a slow month in terms of releases. Usually I would use the two months to catch up on my backlog, or go back to games I had missed from the previous year. This year I didn't get a lot of time to do that, because the releases are coming fast and furious already!

To kick off the new year I went on a trip to a fighting game tournament. Due to being on a plane I busted out my Vita and tried to see if I could finish Danganronpa 2. I started it when it came out years ago, but for some reason or another I didn't get very far. Upon returning from the trip I played it to completion. I don't think it's as good as the original, but it's still a decent product.

Halfway through the month, the new games started to flow. Gravity Rush 2 was the first one I picked up. It's a lot like the original, but better in almost every facet. The jump to PS4 did the game justice and it's doubly cool because now it will reach a wider audience. Sadly I have not finished it yet, because there is so much content and I have a problem where I need to complete every sidequest.

Yakuza 0 came out shortly after and it's just what you'd expect. It's a Yakuza game, but set in the 80's. All the goofy side missions and deathly serious Yakuza drama are back! I've had very little time to play it so far, but I have enjoyed myself so far. I set it aside to play Digimon World: Next Order, but that's a story for next month!

I've been buried in games, and I need to talk about them. However, this month I am going to try and keep each game to around three paragraphs. While I normally try and talk about each game for around sic or seven that can get a bit too wordy. I think I'll enjoy writing these a lot more when they're shorter, but we'll see!

Danganronpa 2

The original Danganronpa wasn't even on my radar when it released a few years ago. Mainly because I didn't know what it was. The cover had the franchise mascot Monokuma on the cover art. So seeing a weird looking anime bear I wrote it off as a bad game and didn't look up anything about it. Somehow I stumbled across video of it and ordered it immediately. It's a visual novel, so there's a lot of text. However, you can walk around the map freely as opposed to moving through menus. The concept is that children are being held captive in an area and if they want to leave their captor says they must kill each other. So inevitably murders occur and then you have to have a trial in order to figure out who the murderer was. This is where it turns into a more frantic version of Ace Attorney with a bunch of weird mini-games.

The first game takes place in a school, while the second takes place on an island. Danganronpa 2 is a direct sequel. At first it doesn't seem like it, but by the end there's so much about the first game they assume you know I don't know if you'd understand anything without playing it. To me, that's a bummer because I really didn't like the overarching plot of the first game. So when it carried all of that baggage over I was a bit bummed out. The part about Danganronpa I like is getting to know all of the characters and seeing their interactions. The class trials are great too. Solving the murders feels good, with the exception of a few frustrating mini-games. So when the plot dealing with the world outside the murders comes in I can't help but roll my eyes. The last chapter of Danganronpa 2 gets so far up its own ass that half the dialogue is intelligible to the average human.

Who's going to get murdered!?

If the last chapter of the game didn't exist I would recommend it to anyone wholeheartedly. However, now I have to tell people about it with the caveat that the plot falls apart at the end. I absolutely love the core of the franchise, and am glad that it is continuing into a third game. What gives me hope about the third game is that it drops all of the plot from the first two games and is a completely different things. There is still going to be kids murdering each other, and I honestly hope that's all.

Gravity Rush 2

As you may have seen I beat the original Gravity Rush in December. Gravity Rush 2 is obviously a direct sequel that takes place shortly after the events of the original. The gravity controlling girl Kat and her police officer friend Syd were caught in a gravity storm and taken far away from their home in Hecksville. Initially you don't have control over gravity, but after a lengthy intro sequence Kat is able to do almost everything she was before. I've seen a lot of people criticizing the opening, but I personally didn't really mind it. Walking around the mining town without gravity powers makes them feel all the more special when you do get them back. As the game goes on you receive two more styles that change how your powers work. I only got the lunar style, which allows you to jump ridiculously high and fly at ridiculous speeds. It's a fun addition.

Lunar Style lets you go stupidly fast.

The remaster of the original looked fine, but having 2 be developed from the ground up on the PS4 did a lot for it. Now there is much more to the world, and a whole lot more people roaming around on the streets. The new town introduced early in the game feels very lively, and looks beautiful. As with the remaster you no longer have to control anything with the gyro in the controller. You can still move the camera that way, but it would often make me spin out of control. I turned all gyro off as soon as I could in the menu.

With that said I think that the game feels better as a whole. Now that it isn't designed around a Vita specific feature it's much better off. The game seems better as a whole outside of control as well. It characterizes all of the characters worlds better than the original, and actually tackles classism in a tactful manner. I've already played it for a long time, and I don't think I've even halfway. Whether or not the game can continue to hold my attention until the end remains to be seen. The developer said that this game would end Kat's story and as of right now I don't have any idea how they can do that. I guess a lot more has to happen in the story still. I just hope they don't cram it all in very poorly at the end. Video games tend to do that.

Yakuza 0

Yakuza has always been a niche franchise and I don't really know why. Yes, it's very Japanese, but it has a lot of things that popular western developed games have. It's one of the earliest open world franchises I can think of. I mean, sure, the world is just a sub-section of a city, but it's still open. It took me until Yakuza 3 to get on the train, but ever since then I've been singing the praises of Yakuza everywhere I can. So I find it very odd that now that this entry is being widely praised here in the U.S. Perhaps it's because it's a prequel? I guess coming into a franchise five or six entries deep is a bit daunting, but the gameplay stays largely the same between them all. Regardless of how it happened I'm not complaining, because maybe now we won't have to wait years for each new entry to be localized.

I was going to pass on Yakuza 0 until I say this image. No joke.

So now you're saying what is Yakuza all about? Well, it's about Yakuza, the Japanese mafia. They're tough guys who take no guff and have tattoos that cover most of their body. You play as Kazuma Kiryu in all of them, however in Yakuza 0 you also play as Majima Goro (Another series regular). Yakuza is essentially the evolution of old school beat-em-ups like Streets of Rage. You get into a fight and just beat the living hell out of your opponents. You can grab weapons and your opponents with them, or just throw a flurry of blows and grapples. Eventually your character have blue flames emanating off them, which allows you to push triangle for a heat action. These actions are brutal finishers that do a ton of damage. They're all over the top and a pleasure to see every time. The combat has been largely the same for a majority of the franchise so its refreshing to see Kiryu get some different styles to use. It seems that there are four styles and I've gotten one that allows me to punch people so many times they can no longer block. It's awesome.

I'm only around 2 hours in, but this feels like some Yakuza ass Yakuza. I have seen a lot of melodrama, and even a few men take off their shirts before challenging me to a fight. It's all happened before, but it's still fun. The fact that it's set before all the other games during an economic boom is Japan is really cool. Everyone has a ton of money and is trying to make their mark on the city. So far everything has been pretty tame by Yakuza standards, but I'm sure it'll ramp up as I get farther in. I guess what I'm saying is that you should really check out Yakuza. There's never been a better time to get in on the action.

All I can see are Digimon

On the last day of January Digimon World: Next Order came out and It's pretty much all I've been playing since then. Something about it grabbed me in a way that I could not shake off. Following its release I had two days off and I completely destroyed my sleep schedule by staying up until 7 AM two consecutive days. So next month you can look forward to me spouting off all about what a wonderful game it is.

Other than that the only other game due out in February is Horizon Zero Dawn, the much lauded robot animal hunting game from Guerilla games. It's nice to see them making something that isn't Killzone for once, especially something that looks really cool.

I'm sure something else will pop up for me to talk about, but I'll have to wait and see. I've had a fun time chatting, but it's time for me to get back to Digimon now...

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Podcast Episode 24 - Nintendo Switch

In this episode of the podcast I talk about my thoughts on the Nintendo Switch presentation and the console's impending launch!

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

What I Watched: Gravity Rush Overture

What I Watched is a series where I tell you about the video game related things I have been watching. This covers everything from documentaries to anime. 




I've been on a bit of a Gravity Rush tear over the past two months. I played all the way through the remaster of the original, and now I'm working my way through the newly released second game in the series. Last month I was loosely aware of the fact that Sony was producing an anime short about the franchise, but I paid it no mind. It turns out that I should have, because it covers the gap between the first game and the second.

It was released in two parts. Overture Face A, and Overture Face B. The first part was around seven minutes long, while the second part was around nine. The animation is very odd. It does what a lot of new anime does, where the art style looks almost CG as opposed to being drawn. Since I'm not anime art expert it could be completely CG for all I know. It looks really good in motion, but there are times where it looks really stilted. Almost as if it was meant for 60 frames a second viewing, but it was being output at 30. However, I am led to believe that it is a stylistic choice, because they use it for some visual gags in the opening of Face A.

As I said previously the purpose of these two short animations is to bridge the gap between the first and second game in the series. For those who are unaware the second game begins in an entirely different place from the first, with little to no explanation. Kat and her police officer friend Syd have found themselves in a mining settlement working to earn their keep. I am close to halfway through the game, which is roughly where Face A takes place.

Face A

There's not a lot to Face A, other than to show that Gravity Rush would make a super cool anime. For some odd reason it begins around  quarter of the way through Gravity Rush 2. It starts off like most anime comic relief where Kat is trying to get some food. She is offered a meat skewer for half price and she takes it. Just then the evil monsters of the world called Nevi attack and her food is taken from her. She then fights them in spectacular gravity defying action to try and save her food. The other gravity shifter Raven shows up as well as Syd. Together they defeat the Nevi menace and reflect back on what brought them to the city of Jirga Para Lhoa.

Face B

Face B takes place very shortly after the original Gravity Rush ends. Kat and Raven are chilling in their sweet pipe room and eating a ton of pretzels. They lament over the fact that many of the orphans they saved have been disappearing without a trace. A gravity storm alert goes off and the two go to check it out. When they arrive they come across some powerful new enemies. In the end they win, but a gravity storm appears and separates them.

Overall

I apologize for pretty much describing the entire plot, but there wasn't a whole lot to it. In fact I was kind of disappointed with the whole thing. When I realized there was some story in between the two games I wan't expecting that half of the thing describing it would be about a skewer of meat. Then the part about the extra story is so think that there's almost nothing to it.

The music is ripped straight from the games, so that's great. The animation is top notch as well, and proves that Gravity Rush could stand on its own if it was made into a full fledged anime. In the end though, I just found myself wanting to play Gravity Rush 2 in order to get the story. One of the coolest thing about it is that it doesn't have actual voice, and still uses the French inspired gibberish of the games.

While I do think that Gravity Rush Overture has merit, I don't really understand why it was produced in the first place. I guess it drove awareness for Gravity Rush 2, but it's not the companion piece it could have been. On the plus side it's very easy to watch, because it's right on YouTube.

Memorable Melodies: Gravity Daze from Gravity Rush


Song: Gravity Daze
Composer: Kohei Tanaka
Games: Gravity Rush 1 and 2

Over the past few months I have been playing a whole lot of Gravity Rush. When I initially got a Vita I tried my best to play it, but controlling the main character Kat in the air with the system's gyro was not my style. During a sweet PSN holiday sale I picked up the HD remaster for PS4 and got hooked. One of the things that drew me in was the catchy tunes on the soundtrack.

I am now playing the second game, and some of the tunes from the original return. The one I chose for this week's memorable melody is the main theme of the game. On the soundtrack it is called Gravity Daze, which is the Japanese name of the franchise. It plays on the main menu of both the first and second games and it always gets me pumped to mess around with Gravity.

It starts off as a sweeping symphony, and then turns into an almost reggae-like mellow jam before returning to its original form. It's a bit all over the place, but so is the game. You're controlling gravity in order to "fall" into the sky. It's all a bit weird, but that's what I love so much about it.