Video Game

This Is Ori And The Blind Forest (Complete)

Wrapped a few nights ago.  Ori is one of those experiences I just didn’t want to end, a rare game I was so immersed in I found myself ferreting each collectible although my need for them was well over in an effort to simply prolong my time inside.

All of what I said in my first impressions post HERE remains unchanged: the graphics continue to inspire, growing more stunning the further into the world you delve, the world still a mix of science fiction and fantasy with a dash of Nimh I hadn’t quite picked up on earlier (which does fit into the Don Bluth hints), and gameplay that blend of platforming, exploration, and reflexes.  I never found the game as difficult as I’d read it to be, and never to the point I had to put down my controller and collect myself before diving back in, though Ori certainly has its moments of puzzlement and quick-thinking.

Speaking of quick-thinking, as abilities become further available – abilities like drifting, double-jumps, bashes – your options (obviously) expand making timing critical to avoid enemies, pitfalls, and the like all while stringing together combinations of your aforementioned abilities in an effort to survive and reach out-of-the-way places.  Anyone familiar with the Batman Arkham games, odd as this comparison may seem, will be familiar with the need for proper combos as moves are strung together  effortlessly from one thread into the next.  While white-knuckled in places, there’s nothing better than the satisfied execution of a particularly harrowing sequence, and Ori is full of these narrow moments.  In fact, there are spots leading me to mark this style as one of the game’s few negatives, where a handful of “chase” sequences – traditionally on the game’s more boss-like levels – lead to a fair amount of trial-and-error Samsara(esque) cycles of death and rebirth.  Few things lead me down a path of quick frustration as a missed jump or button press not read in time forcing me to restart the rote again.  And again.

And again.

There’s something to be said for the experience and the general beauty of its presentation even these constant reboots do little to sully the over all magic.  For a game with a (virtually) save-anywhere feature, rare moments of repetition where the power is removed from the player genuinely stand out as a cheap difficulty curve.  Not a game breaker.  However, to connect this one complaint into another with my own self-made combo, I dislike Achievements, unnecessary as they care on the surface, which are practically unreachable.  I’d mentioned in the previous post hoping to 100% the game, and most of Ori’s Achievements are obtainable through skill and practice, but something like “Beat The Game Without Dying” is a lesson in wasted time.  I think my final tally hovered around 320 deaths.  Skewed, perhaps, from item-hunting and impatience, but in a game where one wrong move spells oblivion, an Achievement of immortality is a poor excuse for replayability.  Ori stands strong on its own merit without resorting to that to keep players coming back.

The map is large.  Traversing it is simple enough, especially after you become both familiar with the layout and unlock some of the quicker abilities.  Even so, a quick-travel system would have been incredibly welcome, especially when looking to grab an orb or two you may have missed or not had the means of snagging at the time.  Having to “walk” from one corner all the way to another just to pick up one missed piece can feel a little defeating.  A handful of save hubs are scattered around the map outside of those you can create yourself, these filling your soul and health, and having them act as travel points as well could mitigate this some.  In the way those “chase” sequences feel weak in comparison to the rest of the game, one might argue travel grows into a case of padding the larger things become.

I clocked in around 10 hours.  Again, skewed, but not a bad length.  Every moment save a few was enjoyable, and even dying didn’t bother me as much as it should.  Wonderful story, wonderful presentation, a perfect control scheme and progression.  2015 is early, but its easily the first must-play title of the year, if not the past few years.  Buy it.  Ignore your Starbucks for a day or two, and buy it.



Video Game

This Is Ori And The Blind Forest (First Impressions)

Having just picked this up a day ago, I’m not comfortable enough calling this an all-out review, but since it’s on the forefront of list of things I want to talk about, here we are.

The graphics are gorgeous.  While I fall willingly into the “Yes” camp in the video-games-as-art argument, anyone still unconvinced need only look to Ori.  Developed by Moon Studios, Ori’s animation is a beautiful blend of influences – Pixar, Studio Ghibli, even Don Bluth – every inch of the screen given over to life through the Narrator’s language, the use of color, environment, character movement and emotion, hinted history, and sound.  Even the translated words are handled with care, these “subtitles” at times becoming a subtle placement of wind, at others, the text within a children’s storybook.  Rarely am I immediately enthralled by any enterprise regardless of medium, but Ori struck my senses so completely and so quickly, already I feel as though I’ve missed some part of the experience during my short time in.  Not since Shadow of the Colossus (and, by extension, Ico) have I been so feverish about a game.

Gameplay is a platforming mix.  Early hours remind me of Metroid in its exploration versus barred-until-ability navigation.  Though others have certainly come before and after, gameplay is reminiscent of Mark of the Ninja and Super Meat Boy, of all things, comparisons spawned by controls, responsiveness, quickness, and unlocked skills.  I’m sure better examples exist, but it’s late and I’m struggling to find them.  I’ve read the game becomes brutal in its difficulty down the line, but a handful of hours in, I have yet to experience this.  While not a wholly apt genre relation, there are some RPG elements in the form of a skill tree with three branches allowing some uniqueness between experiences.  Perhaps this is more customization than true RPG.  Again: late.

Lastly, one final love.  I’m a big fan of world-building, as I’ve mentioned before.  Even if the fleshing-out of a place never fully comes, the hint of is enough to keep me chasing that bait.  Ori is proving a wonderful fantasy experience with sci-fi leanings, strange artifacts and ancient monuments just begging to have their histories told through the delving of every nook and cranny.  Only a handful of times have I gunned to 100% a game and unearth all its secrets, but I can absolutely see me doing so here.

Already I wish I could start my time with Ori over again and approach it anew.  At $20, it’s a must.  I’d have easily paid double and considered it a steal.  A must play.

Video Game

This Is Fire Emblem Awakening

Strategy games are not my wheelhouse.  My competency with the genre fluctuates at points depending on the sub-genre a particular game falls under, though the shortcomings I face have a tendency to be consistent across the board.  There have been a rare handful which clicked for me – Final Fantasy Tactics, Advance Wars – both of which, you will notice, are not real-time or simulations, a fact I’ve become increasingly aware of every time I try my hand at them.  It’s the number of moving parts which get me along with the min/max nature of the genre, and though I tend to be okay with these separately, when pushed together, they’re a lot like rubbing your head and patting your belly at the same time.  Something just doesn’t fall into place no matter how many times I try to fit a round peg into that square hole.  Though Awakening is my first foray into the Fire Emblem series, I’d heard enough praise to know I at least wanted to give them a go, and it appeared take-your-time versus real-time, more or less sealing the eventual deal.

It’s good.  I get the appeal.  The story isn’t anything to write home about, but it has its charm in that quirky way a fair amount of heavily Japanese influenced games will.  The strange makes it a bit of a bipolar thing, however, the backdrop one of war, death, and – as most fantasy tends to mill – total annihilation from an ancient evil, these parts juxtaposed by the goofiness of the characters in your army.  Between battles you’re able to stop by the Barracks and listen in on either conversations between characters or the solitary musings of one, both of which may yield either an item, some gained experience, or relationship boost among friends, and after checking there, you might also be able to utilize the Support ability which gives a small cut-scene as two characters improve their standing with one another, a statistic raising their usefulness in battle alongside one another.  These meetings are often silly in nature.  There’s Frederick who’s the Prince’s knight and so fastidious and particular as to remove every rock from the path prior to the army’s march, or to watch someone bathe in order to be sure they don’t catch a chill.  Lissa who cannot cook and is always trying horrible recipes on unsuspecting allies.  Kellam, dressed in tank-sized armor who no one appears to ever notice, claiming he crept up on them in spite of being right there the entire time.  Tharja, the psychotic Dark Mage in love with the main character.  Vaike who cannot stop flexing.  You get the idea.  These vignettes add a good deal to the flavor, and for a game with a permanent death option (which I used in my play-through), also lead to me making some heavier choices between who to/not to use for sake of not wanting to lose that person in case things went south.  But again, played against the attempted heaviness of the story, the result is an uneven one without either side ever really meeting in the middle or melding well.  Though I never truly would, a small part of me would almost recommend ignoring the option to speak with your team in an effort to buoy the narrative and make it more focused.  I understand the dichotomy is a part of the series’ charm, and not one I can wholly fault as I’m the target market for oddities (Catherine, by example, is one of my favorite PS3 games), only something worth mentioning for those of you heading in blind.

To touch briefly on the story rather than using broad strokes, they do an excellent job with the time travel element.  It doesn’t feel horribly tacked on, and though a large part of the narrative, it also doesn’t feel too gimmicky, oddly subtle with more of a background noise approach.  Often I find time travel in any medium too heavily explained.  Not that it’s bad to have solid reasoning to carry your audience from point A to B (or in the case of time travel, B to A) – the Star Trek reboot handled things quite well, even if there are dissenters – with a fleshed anchor, only saying sometimes less is more, as is the case here.  I’m being intentionally vague, I know.  Point being: I like its use, and it made what would have otherwise been a bland, other-than slog through bad guys/heroes/save-the-day far more appealing.  My only slight is in the enemy camp.  For a game focusing so heavily on its characters, they went full cookie-cutter with the opposition.  There is a single moment where we get life in the enemy, and for that moment, it rises above even what I expect out of other titles, but just as quickly the characters slump leaving us with generic bad guy who’s evil because he’s evil.  Yawn.

Graphics are a mix of Super Nintendo Era and typical 3DS, a bird’s eye view used as you move your troops around the battlefield.  There are a few animated clips throughout and these are gorgeous.  Many of the cut-scenes are not, unfortunately, more function over style, though I wouldn’t say the game loses any points for it graphically, but many of the parts feel recycled the further you delve becoming familiar with camera placement, sparse landscapes, and three or so characters huddled close to one another.  When one piece is so graphically stunning and the other so unimaginative, the disparity only becomes more pronounced.

I’m going to be a little inconsistent here, and for a second I want you to ignore everything I said above about too many moving parts.  Okay?  Good.  Awakening is easy.  It borders going through the motions without quite slipping over the edge, but the difficulty curve is more a straight line to slightly elevated straight line than anything.  Between Chapters which constitute the main story, there are side skirmishes available from time to time along with a side-story popping up occasionally as well, and you can also purchase an item known as a Reeking Box triggering a side skirmish wherever you choose to open it.  As a person who often becomes mired in quests off the beaten path until I’ve exhausted every avenue before plunging back into the main fray, these distractions serve only to placate my OCD and level up my characters to seeming Herculean results.  I want to say I bought two, maybe three of those Reeking Boxes in total, getting only into other fights when they appeared on my map, and even following that pattern left me well outside the enemy’s reach.  Around halfway through is when I first noticed the gap, and while there were still some elements to each battle requiring a dash of planning, there was little fear of either failure or losing a unit unless I went completely reckless, two points yanking all tension from the experience.  Awakening has a fair number of classes available, all of which are able to be upgraded into one or two different advanced classes (Fighter to Barbarian, Archer to Sniper) specializing in a certain style of play.  Further, if you find yourself unimpressed with any new units acquired either by the side missions or main story, their classes can be changed as well offering more structure for how you’d like to approach the game.  And as you level, new abilities become available to each of your characters which will also change the way you might use them in battle, this coupled with newer weapons unlocking through progression or class upgrades along with those advancements make for a healthy amount of customization.  Unfortunately, there’s very little need for it.  Oh you should upgrade, absolutely, as the advanced classes are going to be obviously stronger and allow for more options, however the abilities were never something I felt necessary to mess with.  I got them, stuck them on, didn’t try to rearrange any specific thing to again min/max, and still managed to steamroll the competition.  In spite of how prone I am to easily drowning in “too much” with this genre, I couldn’t help but feel Awakening might have benefited from more purposeful variety.  Much of what I found was simple window dressing, nothing I needed to worry about getting right or wrong lest it cause me failure somewhere down the line.  Even a narrowing of the number of ability slots each character has would have provoked more interaction, forcing me into either a meaningful decision around my desired “loadout” or, at the very least, a particular leaning toward certain unit types.  As it was, I could just roll with whomever the game selected for me and have at it.  To be fair, I did personally select who did/did not go into battle, but the argument remains the same.  Though I do tend to grind in my RPGs as is the nature of that beast, I never feel overpowered the further I venture, and though the genre has a tendency to over inflate its difficulty near the end, I would have liked a closer struggle here.

Fire Emblem Awakening is a good game.  I don’t mean to give the impression it’s not.  I’d call it worth the price of admission.  Uneven in a number of places, when it shines it shines brightly, and I’m sure those more familiar with the series will find it an easy addition to their collection.  I am tempted to go backwards in the catalog to see what nods to fans I likely missed.  A number of spots felt self-referential, and I’m a sucker for that sort of thing.  Overall recommended if you can overlook a few missteps.

Uncategorized, Video Game

This Is Tomb Raider

I’m late to the party on this one.  I kept having trouble getting into Lara’s latest adventure for one reason or another, but the third (fourth?) time seemed to be the charm.

Gameplay is a mix of linear and open-world.  Most of the open-world elements are handled in the form of collectibles and hunting down upgrades for your number of weapons.  New concepts are introduced gradually, building easily off one known thing into another (using your bow first as a weapon, next as a means to traverse terrain) which adds to the Metroid(vania) feel as further areas of the island you’re trapped on become accessible.  I’m surprised it took so long for Tomb Raider to go in this direction as it seems such a natural fit for the series.

Combat is standard third-person.  Most of the enemies are Stormtrooper bad unless they’re chucking a stick of dynamite at you, and even then their aim can be finicky.  They also prefer to run headlong into a waiting bow-and-arrow or machine gun.  Some hide behind cover, but even these pop out like clockwork.  In a game with a general focus on exploration and scaling that mountain way off in the distance with nothing but a pickaxe and piece of rope, some give can be allowed for AI which is less than optimal.  I mean, the wolves work just fine because: wolves.  Even the mythological Stormguard make sense in their single-minded duty.  But as a whole, the gunplay isn’t so much exciting as it is a break in climbing, which is a bit of a shame, as the last third is spent largely in combat with little escape.  Still, the combat could be worse, and I never had a bad time with it.  Just lackluster.

Lara suffers from Nathan Drake syndrome, a sentence I realize the irony of, in that she takes way more of a beating than seems necessary.  I get the developers are trying to convey a sense of staggering odds and human endurance – or at least I assume that’s the point – but there’s only so many falls from a cliff or crashes through a rotted village wall and rotted village floor or beatings a person can see before you realize you’re dealing with Superman.  Or Supergirl, in this case.  Though the human body is a remarkable thing, Lara Croft would have long been dead on a beach having succumb to her internal injuries.  Yes, suspension of disbelief, but I can only suspend so far until it becomes parody, and for the weight given to some of the story, I doubt parody was the point.

Speaking of story, Tomb Raider does a satisfying job blending myth with reality.  In the same way I discussed the latest Hercules movie towing that line remarkably well, Tomb Raider errs closer to the myth without making the effort too fantastical.  Lara herself seems to have a good head on her shoulders.  Her decisions are natural, plausible, fitting well with the character we’ve come to know while simultaneously being more relatable than the larger-than-life iteration we were first introduced to all those years ago.  This Lara is still unsure of herself.  Headstrong, yes, and brave almost to a fault, but caught too in the shadow of her father and his accomplishments.  In this way we see a much more vulnerable Lara whose simultaneously trying to forge her own path, a choice which works well as introduction for newcomers and good characterization for those already familiar.

Overall, a recommend.  It falls around the ten hour mark depending on how much fishing you want to do for every last collectible.  You can polish it off in a handful of evenings, and feel part of an action/adventure to boot.  Not a bad way to spend some money and time, and I’d definitely be up for a second outing, albeit it at a lower price-point.

Video Game

This Is Castle Of Illusion

When it was originally released in 1990, Castle of Illusion was a game I devoured.  Disney was in the midst of strong series of releases at the time as evidenced by Chip and Dale’s Rescue Rangers, Castle of Illusion, and Ducktales, extending onward to the still fantastic Aladdin, everything coming out of that period destined for remembrance in my own personal Hall Of Fame.  At times I’ve revisited what I’d considered to be classics, and like so many things, these held up better in the mind than in reality, but Castle of Illusion isn’t one which failed to continue the hype.  After the successful remake of Ducktales which came out recently, I was optimistic after hearing Castle was getting a makeover as well.  It took some time for me to finally getting around to picking it up (I’ve become something of a cheapskate over the years, $15 being a point I need to argue with myself for months over before caving), and I’m glad I did.  The good news is: the gameplay remains unchanged largely, and the extra polish and coat of paint only add rather than detract from the experience.  In a time when I feel bigger trumps quality within the industry, it’s refreshing to see a title live up to its legacy through gameplay, and not the flash surrounding it.

My only ill experience with the remake comes in the form of slowdown.  Crippling, crippling slowdown.  I have a machine which runs everything I’ve thrown at it which you’d think might cause it concern just fine, albeit not on the highest settings.  Even so, Castle is like watching a slideshow occur in slow motion, one of those videos where a water balloon is popped at something-some-hundredths of a second, and the liquid inside retains its oval shape before succumbing to gravity.  Initial hunts revealed this to be a common issue, and though Sega released an official patch for the trouble, my difficulties persisted.  I tried all the suggested fixes from changing the specs of my video card to finding some obscure setting to switch on/off, these all leading me toward the same issue in the end.  Best I can tell, a small pocket of performance issues remain for a handful of buyers, making me unwilling to write the experience off for everyone, only a piece you should know going in as a (slight) cautionary anecdote.  Changing the resolution did work for me in the end, though this wasn’t fully resolved until I dipped all the way down to a muddy 800×600, a trade resulting in speed over beauty.  The game itself is good enough to where I find the lack of sparkle okay, though in doing so, I do experience a bit of eye-strain not unlike having the 3D on my 3DS on for a period of time.

Castle is not a difficult game.  Mind you, I’m approaching this nearly 25 years after the fact of my first encounter, an encounter I did indeed find hard when initially played, so take that curve with a fair amount of salt.  Having said, the ramp in difficulty is well handled, introducing new elements and gameplay ideas gradually and naturally so they feel a part of the growth/progression of the player.  It’s a game where its intended audience is perfectly introduced to platformers, designed not to frustrate but rather challenge, where success is met by satisfaction over relief.  If you have younger gamers you’re searching for titles to introduce them to, Castle of Illusion is a no-brainer.  From the gameplay to the setting, all aspects are wonderfully imaginative, setting my mind racing then even as it still manages too now.  Also, to plug that other remake, Ducktales is superb.  I’d even recommend it over Castle from a personal level, though some of the gameplay concepts are a little more difficult and unforgiving than they are in Castle.  Not that I suggest dumbing anything down, only the mix of the frustrate/challenge balance is tipped closer to the former’s side.

Definitely recommended.  This is a trend I fully support continuing.

Video Game

This Is Persona Q

I’m a fan of Japanese school children.  Sounds weird when I type that out.  I’m more a fan of Japanese school children fighting world debilitating darkness, which I assume is better, though I admittedly enjoy manipulating their various social engagements while taking shopping trips to the mall.  For a mace.

Persona Q has only one of those things: the children.  If you’re at all familiar with the Etrian Odyssey series, you’ll be at home here.  I’ve not played them, though I mean to remedy that oversight, as the mix of modern and “old school” gameplay tickled my fancy in all the right places.  Having to physically draw a map in order to keep your bearings brings me back to my early gaming days.  Persona Q adopts the Etrian formula of first-person dungeon exploration, mapping out your progress, solving puzzles, and facing increasingly difficult enemies with (seemingly) overwhelming odds.  The marriage between these two series is a good one, incredibly smooth in transition given Persona’s equal penchant for dungeon exploration and stacked odds.  While the social links of the Persona series have been done away with for this outing, there’s enough nods to them and series favorites to keep fans happy.

Q takes place within the frame of 3 and 4, allowing players to approach the story from the perspective of your chosen cast.  I’ve always been partial to 3 – though 4 is great – so that’s the route I went, and I understand some story beats will be different depending on which you decide on.  Eventually, the two teams merge, and you can use characters from both in your party at will, which is great.  The interaction between the two is wonderful, poking fun at some of the overlapping similarities within the characters and titles, while also being careful to highlight their differences.  Social Links are replaced with a “Stroll” option, which are cutscenes aimed at giving a break from the dungeons by having characters spend time with one another.  Think small side-stories.  One had, I believe, Junpei trying to establish himself as a ladies man with the girls from 4, which, spoiler, he fails miserably at.

Series enemies will be familiar too.  The Shadows as they’re known here all look the same, act the same, and come beautifully animated.  Persona fusion is still a necessary aspect, one I liken to an adult (or “adult”) version of Pokemon in a strange way, breeding demons with the powers you need to overcome that obnoxious Shadow in the 3rd Labyrinth who can’t seem to stop spamming wind spells for two seconds to let me breathe.  It might be a little overwhelming for newcomers, but old Persona fans will slip right in to old habits, and old mainstays.  There’s plenty to do – side quests can easily eat up an unnecessary amount of your time – but exploring the various labyrinths and unearthing the plot in this mysterious school you’ve all been ported to will be where the bulk of your hours get lost.

I suppose one complaint could be the repetition.  It wasn’t repetitious for me, mind, because put me in a Starbucks line for more than two minutes and I’ll go Falling Down on the place, but grinding for days in the dark harvesting curious parts for a new sword does little to stir my feathers.  Priorities.  Some of the cutscenes can also be a little over-long, though that mostly falls into a “whatever” category for me.  They’ve got nothing on Metal Gear, but neither does the extended Lord of the Rings editions.

Totally recommended to fans of role playing games, Persona games, Etrian Odyssey games (I assume), Japanese kids, and fun.  And pain.  Some of that too.  I’m still working on Fantasy Life, and see myself working on it for the foreseeable future, but once that wraps, I might have to give an Etrian Odyssey game a go finally.  The number of 3DS titles I desire is getting out of hand.

Video Game

This Is Fantasy Life

I’m going to attempt to keep this short.  And concise.

Fantasy Life is the type of game you can get easily lost in, always pushing toward some next milestone of your own devising, a carrot-on-a-stick you occasionally grasp but still slips from your hand time and again.  In this, there are twelve different occupations you can take – called a Life – with  Paladin, Hunter, Carpenter, Cook, as some of your options, all easily switched after completing the appropriate quest.  It’s a healthy mix of combat and artisan.  A number of Ranks exist for each, six in all not including the two available in the DLC (Origin Island), you level by finishing tasks related to the Life you’re currently on.  For example, as an Angler, you need to capture a certain fish, as a Hunter take down a rare animal, as an Alchemist, craft a sleeping potion.  There’s a story too, it is a proper Action RPG after all, which I tend to ignore until I’ve capped each Life to the point I can’t continue and need to progress the narrative to further my distractions.  At the moment, I’m trying to craft some furniture, and need access to a certain type of tree unavailable in the areas I’ve encountered.  I’d rather create a lovely bed than fight a Napdragon, but what are you going to do?

Comparisons have been made to Animal Crossing, and the drawn line is a good one.  You have an open world you explore, a house to move into and furnish while looking forward to a bigger, better house which will also need furnished, chores to keep you occupied, personal goals to reach, errands to run for villagers, dogs and cats to adopt, stores to help stock, and a kingdom to save.  I’ve been told Rune Factory may be a better comparison, but having not played any of those, Animal Crossing is the closest title I can relate.  Even the art direction – at least in gameplay, perhaps not the cutscenes – is similar.  If you’re familiar at all with Final Fantasy XI or XIV, I would also point there in the same way you’re character moves between Jobs (Life) while being left to your own devises to exist in that large playground.

What I like most is the lightheartedness of Fantasy Life.  It’s a refreshing change to other games I’ve been working through lately, and being able to run around in what is essentially a cartoon world makes relaxing easy.  I can hop in, make some apple juice, build a set of armor, go fishing, tackle some Bounties (a stronger foe), and close up shop for the night.  There’s no grind to the game, no heavy message.  I’ve put about twenty hours in so far and barely scratched the surface.  The DLC is a no-brainer at this point, but I’m waiting to wrap everything up in the main course first.  Easily some of the most fun I’ve had in quite a while, and it’s rare when I have trouble putting down a game.  I tend to drift between a number of titles at once, and I’ve been hooked on Fantasy Life until last week when Persona Q came out.  Taking a bit of a break to delve into that (which I’ll try and talk some on next week), but already I’m itching to return to my wandering.

If Animal Crossing, PBS, Skyrim, and Final Fantasy XI/XIV had a baby, you’d have Fantasy Life.  And the baby would be beautiful, not overstaying its welcome.  Recommended for fans of good things.