Thursday, May 3, 2018

Game Time - April 2018

Game: Ni No Kuni 2
Developer: Level-5
Platform: PS4

Ni No Kuni 2 is one of the first games in a long time that has made me feel like I'm crazy. It reviewed super positively, and pretty much everyone was singing its praises. I did beat it, but I didn't enjoy it very much. The combat never got much more exciting and it certainly never got any deeper. I was hoping that by the end of the game any of the characters would get worthwhile or meaningful development. That didn't come to pass either. It's weird, because on the surface it is a great game. It starts strong, and introduces tons of systems that seem interesting. However, like I said last month it's a jack of all trades, master of none scenario. There is a lot going on, but no one thing is focused on and almost all of it fell flat for me.

This isn't to say I think it's a bad game, I just don't understand the effusive praise and everyone treating it like it's the best thing to happen to JRPGs in a decade. It's fine. One of the things that I couldn't get over was just how easy it was. I saw all kinds of things online about people suggesting to use weaker characters, don't level, and pretty much don't use the tools available to you and it'll be a much more "fun" experience. I'm going to come right out and say that if your game is so easy that I have to actively try to handicap myself and not interact with all of its systems then it was poorly balanced. 

In the end Ni No Kuni 2 just didn't grab me like the original. To me it was noticeable that Studio Ghibli was no longer involved. The game borrowed the Ghibli style, but when it came to voice acting and animation it just didn't feel right to me. The original game built an interesting world that felt like there was a lot of thought put into it. This game flies through everything and TWO of the continents don't even have anything on them aside from monsters. I don't like being that guy that dunks on the thing everyone is happy about, but I just don't get the praise. It's fine.

Game: Yakuza 6
Developer: Sega
Platform: PS4

At this point I have played every Yakuza game except for Yakuza 2, and the non-canon Yakuza Dead Souls. So I know a thing or two about Kazuma Kiryu and his crazy antics. It's wild that all he ever wants to do is leave the Yakuza, but somehow he just gets roped back in over and over. Lucky for Kiryu, Yakuza 6 will bring his saga to a close. I have greatly enjoyed my time with it so far. 

Last year the excellent Yakuza 0 came out, which got a lot of people on board in the West. In my opinion this caused a few problems, mainly with the character of Goro Majima. He's essentially a different person in 0, but at the end they give context to how he acts for literally every other game in the franchise. I also feel like 0 does a poor job of making people like Kiryu, which is a shame because he is the protagonist of every other Yakuza game. However, the roughest part is that people will most likely have played Yazkua 0, and the remake of 1 and then jump right to 6. This sucks, because so far there have been a ton of callbacks and characters from the rest of the series. Hell, even some of the main characters from Yakuza 4 and 5 wouldn't even be known.

Yakuza 6 may also leave a bad first impression, because it's running on a different engine than every game prior to it. It's vastly improved, but as with all things moving over to a brand new engine it loses some of the complexity it had built over time. While Yakuza 0 and Kiwami introduced multiple fighting styles and a myriad of moves, Yakuza 6 only has one style and it plays more like a standard beat-em-up. There are a few moves to learn, but you can get away with mashing like an idiot. I really like Yakuza 6 so far, but I have a feeling that it may fall flat for people who weren't there for the rest of the series.

Game: God of War
Developer: SIE Santa Monica Studio
Platform: PS4

I borrowed the first God of War from a friend around the time it came out, and got about halfway through before dropping it. The gratuitous violence felt unnecessary and I didn't find Kratos to be an interesting character. I tried again with God of War 2 and similarly dropped it. God of War just wasn't for me, but when Sony showed they were releasing a new God of War based around Norse mythology it piqued my interest. Something about Norse mythology has always interested me. 

I didn't really know what to expect of this game going in, but I ended up absolutely loving it. The combat was more fun to me, the violence was toned down a bit, and Kratos was actually an interesting character. It's been interesting to see video games grow up as a medium. A lot of the people who were there at the beginning have kids now and that's been showing up more and more in recent releases. The crux of the new plot is that Kratos moved far to the north after he killed the Greek pantheon and ended up having a child. The game opens shortly after his new wife's death where Kratos and his son Atreus are setting off to scatter her ashes from the tallest mountain in all the realms. It's a simple enough premise that quickly turns into a much more daunting task than it seems.

As is to be expected you're going to come into contact with all sorts of creatures and gods. This time around though the plot is less about murdering everything and more about Kratos and his son bonding. It becomes clear early on that Kratos wasn't around much and his son resents him for that. There is a lot of conversation and most of it is very well done. The combat is much more my speed too. It's a little more deliberate than the older games. Kratos now wields a magical ice ax that he can throw and recall at will. At first blush the combat seems simple, but as you learn more moves it gets quite a bit deeper. In the end I had dozens of moves, but only was using a handful I liked. It offers a lot of depth for those who are looking to use it, but you can get by with the basics if you need to. I absolutely loved this game, and am excited to see where the take the franchise next. 

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Game Time - March 2018

Note: I have been struggling to think of a new format for the monthly edition of game time, but I have finally settled on something. I'm tired of regurgitating story and gameplay descriptions. With that said the format won't change too much, but the text will be a lot more personal. I'm also going to try and do away with the intros and outros because I never knew what to say anyways. 

Game: DJMax Respect
Developer: Neowiz MUCA
Platform: PS4

The DJMax franchise has been around for quite a while, but only a handful have been released in the U.S. DJMax Respect is the first one to be released here since 2012 if you exclude mobile releases. What's cool about Respect is that it pays homage to all of the previous games in the franchise. The opening to the game is a spectacular animated scene that depicts all the previous DJMax games as grave stones that are being revived. Then to enter the game you need to press X to pay respect. It shows a love for the previous games in a way that I would never have expected.

This franchise can be notoriously difficult. Much to my dismay they even marketed it as "the Dark Souls of rhythm games." While I don't think it's impossibly hard it definitely has been giving me a hard time. Each song can be played with 4, 5, 6, or 8 buttons. As you'd imagine the songs get harder with more buttons, but I'm finding it fun to learn. I can do pretty well with 4 buttons, but 6 buttons is kicking my butt. Normally the repeated failures would make me frustrated, but I've persevered and am actually getting better. This game has given me skills that I can take over to other rhythm games too. I never really understood why people cranked up the speed of the notes in game, but it actually helps to space them out so you can see what's coming next. It's incredibly helpful, so now I try to play everything at 2X speed. At first it's really jarring, but now I can actually tell what buttons to push in super fast paced sections. 

It's really cool to see a developer make a product that shows a love for all the previous games in a franchise. At first I thought that Respect was just another one of their random subtitles like fever or Technica, but it's actually all about paying respect to the franchise. I am having an absolute blast with this game and will probably keep trying to get better at it. It's going to help when four DLC packs come out next Friday.

Videos: DJMax Respect - The Lowest Level Play
              DJMax Respect - Let's Get Good

Game: Ni No Kuni 2
Developer: Level-5
Platform: PS4

I absolutely loved the original Ni No Kuni. It came out at a time in my life when I could properly enjoy it because I was fresh out of college and didn't have a job. It left a lasting impression on me, so when the sequel was announced I got super excited. I'm currently playing through it right now and I think it's fun, but it's not blowing my mind like the original was.

Instead of the semi turn based combat of the original the sequel employs a much more action oriented system. It's more engaging in theory, but it ends up being too easy. I've seen people recommending to not use all of the tools at your disposal to make it more challenging, which is a ridiculous notion to me. I like being powerful, but at a certain point I'm just massacring enemies with reckless abandon. The part I'm digging the most is the kingdom building portion. The main character Evan was overthrown in the beginning so the entire crux of the story is that he's building a new kingdom called Evermore. You go around the game and recruit citizens to come and live with you. They have special abilities that take effect depending on what buildings you put them in. It's a cool system that gets a little bogged down by real time counters. Luckily the longest counter I've seen so far is 50 minutes, which flies by because there is so much to do.

What gets me about it so far is that I come to RPGs looking for an engaging story and well developed characters and so far Ni No Kuni 2 is not delivering that at all. So far it's moving at a lighting pace and none of the characters are really receiving any development. I love level-5 as a developer, but they have a real jack of all trades, master of none thing going on. They build huge games with tons of content, but no one thing stands out above the rest. They make such colorful and and fun games so it bums me out that they try to cram so many things into each one. I'm all for more content in games, but if it takes away from the quality of other content is it really worth it? Who knows, maybe I'll get to the end of this and feel differently, but right now I'm just having mindless fun.

Game: A Way Out
Developer: Hazelight Studios
Platform: PS4

The first game from Hazelight was Brothers - A Tale of Two Sons, which received critical acclaim. I never ended up playing it, but heard nothing but positive things about it. It was trying to tell an emotional story, which isn't always the easiest thing to do in video games. I first became aware of the studio's second game A Way Out at EA's E3 press conference this past year. However, I think most people became aware of it  during the game awards when the director Josef Fares got a little rowdy and started yelling "fuck the Oscars." I just finished A Way Out a few hours ago and it definitely wouldn't have won any Oscars.

I am still trying to fully process my feelings on this game. It's ambitious as hell, but it just doesn't work as intended. The entire game has to be played in co-op, so the game takes place entirely spit-screen. During certain scenes the screen real estate will change depending on which player has the more important thing going on. It's a cool effect, but it makes the actions of the other player seem meaningless. In fact, most of the actions feel kind of lifeless and meaningless. It starts out as a simple adventure game with the most basic button prompts, but by the end it's a poorly controller third person shooter.

It was a fun experience, but a lot of the game seemed to miss the mark. You can't have a super emotional game that's supposed to leave a lasting impact on the player with the quality of voice acting in the game. A lot of the line deliveries fall flat, and it's a huge bummer. It also doesn't help that it has a lot of goofy video game stuff in it. Janky looking walk animations are enough to take you right out of an "emotional" scene. It was around a six hour experience that I enjoyed while sitting next to a friend. I don't really know that it left a lasting impression, but I think that the kind of cinematic approach it was taking is admirable. It's cool, but don't playing it expecting some kind of life changing story.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Game Time - February 2018 - Monster Hunter World End Game

Note:In my attempt to think of a new format for the monthly edition of Game Time I completely forgot to write one up for February. One idea I had was to write something more in depth about my thoughts on a game as opposed to regurgitating what it is. So I'm going to try that now. Today I will be talking about the end game content of Monster Hunter World.

I want to preface this entire thing by saying that I absolutely love Monster Hunter World. Last time I checked I had put in 114 hours. That's a long time and sadly I think I'm about done until there are a bunch more content added to the game. So far Capcom has been doing a good job of cycling in event quests to help out with farming materials and occasionally adding new pieces of gear to the game. This past week the first major update came out, which finally added the Deviljho. It's a cool addition, because the Deviljho is a fan favorite, but it's just a single monster. I would much prefer huge content dumps to the few events and updates we are getting now.

The issue I'm facing is that there is no more reason for me to grind out materials and weapons. I personally have the best weapon I can be using, and the armor set I have is good enough for my play style. There are no more new monsters for me to see, so the only thing left for me to do is grind tempered monsters until the end of time. There really isn't a reason to though, because as I said there's nothing left to fight. In theory I think tempered monsters are cool. They're basically just more challenging versions of all the monsters in the game that drop special stones. These various types of stones can be used to augment weapons with special abilities. These range from having more defense to regaining health based on your damage. For a while I was content to grind these stones, but with no more real weapon or armor progression I quickly got bored.

Monsters are the main thing that kept me interested in the previous games. There just aren't enough Monsters for me in World. For example World has 30 monsters (31 with the Deviljho), while the game that got me into the series Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate had 51. 20 more Monsters might not seem like a lot, but it makes for a lot more variety. Personally I feel that World is lacking in monster variety in general. Recent games have added a ton of unique monsters, while a bunch of the monsters in World feel to similar for my taste. 

It's quite possible that I have been spoiled by the ultimate versions of these games in the past. I got used to having G rank difficulty monsters, so it feels weird that this game doesn't have them. The ultimate versions of these games had tons of monsters and content in general, but to be fair to World they were more like expansions. It's entirely possible that World will get a paid content update, or even an ultimate version of its own. G rank would add a new level of armor for each monster and the weapons would get even more added to their trees. It would bring back a reasonable sense of progression as opposed to the incremental progress that can be made now. 

What really bums me out is that the quality of life and engine improvements in World made it almost impossible for me to go back to the older games. World is an amazing base for the series going forward, and allowed for the franchise to take hold on a global level. I know there will be more games like this going forward and even new updates to World. While all of these things about the end game and lack of monster variety are bumming me out I understand why there isn't a ton more content. This is the first time in a very long time that the series has been on a home console and not the 3DS. They're remaking everything from the ground up, so it's going to take a bit of time for it to get to where I personally want it. 

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Podcast Episode 32 - Monster Hunter World

In this episode of the podcast I discuss what Monster Hunter World is all about and how I think it was able to succeed on a global scale.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Podcast Episode 31 - The One Year Anniversary of the Switch

The Nintendo Switch turns one year old today and I talk all about it in the newest episode of the podcast! Listen in as I talk about how I feel the Switch did in its first year and where it's going.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Plans for 2018

This blog is something that I have been consistently working on for years. I try my best to write a post at least once a month, but sometimes I just can't find the motivation. Video games are definitely something I'm passionate about, but to be honest when I come home from work I'd rather play them than sit here and write about them.

It's no secret that my dream job is to write about video games in some capacity and originally I was trying to use this as a repository of my work, but as of right now it's not where I'd like it to be. The kind of stuff that you'll find on websites that still focus on writing about video games is far above the work you'll find here. I don't think I'm the best writer, but I definitely think I can be doing better.

The only thing I've really been doing on here for a while is a monthly edition of Game Time. It started as a weekly post that I decided to pare down. Then in 2017 I decided to pare it down again, because I was writing about three games with five paragraphs of description for each. That was way too much. The worst part is that the text I was writing wasn't that good. Now that I've trimmed down to three paragraphs I still feel the same way. I just vomit up three paragraphs per game where I describe what they are and loosely give my opinion. It's just not what I want it to be.

My main goal for 2018 is to revamp Game Time yet again. Right now I just don't care about what I'm writing each month. I'm trying to fill some imaginary quota I imposed upon myself. I want to keep the Game Time posts as a way to talk about the various games I've played each month, but it might be better served in a more list-like form. Then I can have one or two long form articles about specific games each month. I don't know how I'm going to do it yet, but I have a few ideas I'll try out at the beginning of March.

The other thing I want to do is try and write more. I feel like I always tell myself this, but then as usual lose motivation. That's why I'm not making some type of personal promise or even saying I'll do that. I'm just putting it out there that I'd like to make more posts. Bringing back Memorable Melodies would be a good start. If I did that I'd probably write a bunch and have them go up as scheduled posts.

In general I just feel really weird about this blog. It should be a fun thing I do in my spare time, but in my mind I treat it like a job. I need to change my personal outlook and then maybe I can start to enjoy this thing again in the same way I used to. I just need to try out a bunch of new stuff and see where it leaves me. Thanks for taking this very weird journey with me as I try to find my place on the Internet.

Game Time - January 2018

I decided to take December off from writing and now I'm back to start 2018 with a bang! 2017 was a stellar year for Video games, and 2018 looks like it's going to be great as well. 

To start I'll talk about Xenoblade Chronicles 2, which is the last game I started playing in 2017, but the first game I beat in 2018. It's the first new expansive RPG for the Switch and it delivered in all the ways I wanted it to. 

As for some hot new 2018 releases I've got Dragon Ball FighterZ and Monster Hunter: World. Sadly I have only played a bit of DBZ, but it seems like it's actually a good fighting game. Monster Hunter on the other hand has pretty much consumed my life since its release. Boy do I love me some Monster Hunter. 

It's game time!

Xenoblade Chronicles 2

I played the original Xenoblade Chronicles for over 100 hours before getting burned out. I forced myself to do everything I saw, until I just couldn't do it anymore. I came back to it a few months later and finished it. For my initial 100 hours of play I loved that game. The MMO like combat pulled me in deeper than I ever would have expected. The real draw for me was the interesting story though. That's why I bounced off Xenoblade Chronicles X. There was barely any narrative whatsoever, but Chronicles 2 brings it back.

Xenoblade Chronicles 2 returns to the originals narrative heavy roots.

I don't even really know where to start with this game. The combat system is a more simplified version of the original with a ton of complex and slightly convoluted systems are layered on top of it. To start the original game had you using a fairly large pool of skills that once used would go into a cooldown state. Depending on your style of play you could swap out skills when you needed. Chronicles 2 cuts down drastically on the skills known as artes and each character only has three they can use in battle at a time. Each character auto attacks like an MMO and then you use skills to do more damage and inflict status effects. At first it sounds more simple until you get into the combo system.

The world of Chronicles 2 revolves around beings called blades. They are essentially sentient weapons. The characters you control are called drivers, who bond with crystals to make the blades appear. Once summoned they are bound to the driver and you can use them in battle. They each have different elements, which leads us back to the combo system. Each driver can have three blades equipped. In addition to their three skills they have a special attack that can level up from 1 to 4 by using skills. Once you use a special a combo meter will start and a branching path will appear on screen. You then need to find the next element in the chain in order to continue the combo. Once you complete a full tree which takes three special attacks an orb will begin floating around the enemy with the color of the last element you used in the chain. You can then "burst" by filling another meter. Once you do that you get a chance to break the orbs you have on an enemy in order to do massive damage.

The UI is just as overwhelming as the battle system!

Confused? I certainly was for the first few hours of the game, because the tutorials are not super great and you can't really review them. The entire system revolves around working to built these combo chains, which takes a long time. Due to that even battles with weak enemies can take upwards of ten minutes because your meant to do a ton of damage with your burst. At first it seemed tedious but once I got the hang of it every battle seemed like a puzzle. The battle system is the core of the game. Overall the game is fun, but man does it have some huge flaws. The map is atrocious, and getting blades revolves around random chance, but the entire experience as a whole was something I greatly enjoyed. It's the first real AAA rpg for the switch and it's at least worth a look.

Dragon Ball Fighterz

I'm going to be real here, I've played this game three times. Twice during betas, and once to get trounced by my brother and a few friends because I focused all my time on Monster Hunter instead. What I have played of the game is very fun though. I kind of knew what to expect from a DBZ fighting game made by ARKSYS, but I have been pleasantly surprised by it. Just like Xrd the game looks beautiful in motion and in stills it looks just like the anime. In terms of gameplay it was a lot of intricacies you'd expect ARKSYS game, while remaining assecible for the average player. If you just want to have some fun with DBZ characters you can mash one of three attack buttons to do cool looking auto combos. On the other hand if you want to go wild with super long combos you make yourself it's got you there too.

Like Guilty Gear Xrd before it FighterZ is a beautiful game. 

I'm excited to really dive in and see what the story is all about. It introduces a new Android character (21) and she seems pretty cool. You have to beat the story to unlock her as a playable character so I haven't seen much of her on streams. So far people seem to really like the game and I hope it succeeds in a huge way for ARKSYS.

Monster Hunter World

Monster Hunter World came out last Friday. I have played 80 hours since then. I have killed monsters for approximately two full work weeks now and I don't regret a single moment of it. As some of you may know I fell down the Monster Hunter rabbit hole for the first time with Tri Ultimate on the Wii-U. The thrill of the hunt caught me and since then I have put over 1,000 hours into the franchise as a whole. What's a bummer is that most of the time people are dismissive about the franchise because it doesn't do a good job of explaining a lot of it's systems and it can get overwhelming fairly quickly. Now we have Monster Hunter World, which does a lot to try and make the series appeal to a wider audience, and for the most part I think it succeeds.

I could list the quality of life changes World makes, but that's not going to mean anything to a lot of people. What I can tell you is that there has never been a time to start playing the series. For once it has a tutorial that is serviceable enough to get you into the swing of things. It is by no means perfect and misses a few things, but at least it does enough to get prospective players started.

The scale of the monsters and the world are much larger than ever before.

Just in case you don't know what Monster Hunter is, the title says it all. You hunt large monsters and use their parts to craft weapons and armor. This is all done in service of hunting more monsters! There are 14 weapon types which are all very different, and I equate them to different characters in a fighting game. At first glance their movesets seem very limited, but under the surface they are all very nuanced. Finding the true potential of a weapon is a large part of the fun I find in the game.
In previous iterations you would travel around various maps and travel through loading zones to attack monster. In World each map is one contiguous zone, and there is an emphasis on everything being more like actual nature. Everything is lush, and the monsters interact both with the environment and each other. Capcom took a calculated risk by moving Monster Hunter from handhelds to home consoles, but after selling 5 million copies worldwide in just three days I think their gamble paid off. The franchise is seeing success on a global scale like never before and I can't wait to see what kinds of updates this new formula receives. It just might be the best Monster Hunter yet.

2018 is Going to Be a Banger

Every time a new Monster Hunter comes out I get sucked in for a long time. In my extreme hype for World, i decided to import Monster Hunter XX for the Switch. Going to back to a game without all of the improvements and quality of life changes that World made has been rough so far. Despite that I've been sticking with it and continue to play two Monster Hunter games at the same time...

When I get completely burned out of Monster Hunter I'm going to transition back to playing the new Digimon game. I have a lot of thoughts about it... As a turn based RPG I like it a lot, but as a story based game I can't stand it. It's the equivalent of playing a filler episode from an Anime.

Most of the new releases on the horizon that I care about are in March. So it's entirely possible that I'll just continue to play a whole lot of Monster Hunter.