In other words, what I have been doing instead of watching and writing about anime. I’ve already written a post on FFXV, which you can check out here. I’ll do a more extensive post on both NieR:Automata and Persona 5 some day. At the moment, my writing just isn’t up to par. In the meantime, I’ll briefly talk about the other games I’ve been playing. As always, there are potential spoilers in each section.
Dark Souls 3
I feel like there isn’t much for me to say about the Dark Souls series, because it has been so thoroughly dissected and analyzed by its fervent fans. If I want to add something new to the pile, I’d have to do a lot more thinking about the subject than I really want to. So all I’m going to say here is that I played through the game, and I enjoyed it. More than Dark Souls 1, I might add. I know that’s blasphemy to a lot of people, but I’ve always preferred the slightly faster gameplay elements that the third game borrowed from Bloodborne. As dumb as it might look for a character decked out in heavy armor to do 8 consecutive rolls, fuck it… this just feels more fun to play.
Side note: the Soulsborne games aren’t even the hardest games ever made. Its reputation in that regard is way overblown.
Gravity Rush 2
I really wanted to love this game. For a low-to-medium budget game, Gravity Rush 2 has an excellent art direction. Kat and the rest of the cast are also pretty charming. It’s all rather anime-ish, but not in a cringeworthy sort of way. Unfortunately, I have major issues with the core gameplay.
Look, it’s a flying game. So why can’t I fly as much as I want without limitations? But therein lies the deeper issue. There are enough stamina-refueling collectibles littered throughout the sky that I can essentially fly as much as I want… I just have to go out of my way to collect those conspicuous floating items (what are they? why do they exist?). So if that’s going to be the case, why not just simplify the issue and remove the flight stamina mechanic altogether? This might be an odd comparison at first, but Gravity Rush 2 reminds me a lot of Aion, because they are both marketed around the allure of flight. And unfortunately, flight is not infinite in both games. Like Gravity Rush, you could make it so that flight is essentially limitless in Aion; you could carry enough flight potions in Aion so that you’d never have to land. But again, this just seems counter-intuitive to idea of, well, fun. What am I playing Gravity Rush 2 — and Aion — if not to fly? And now you’re putting obstacles in my way of what I bought this for?
Honestly, I could’ve gotten past the flying issue if the game was a challenge. But the missions and sidequests were mind-numbingly easy. And as large as the world appears to be, there really isn’t much to actually discover and explore. There aren’t really any interesting NPCs to talk to. The world’s lore is underdeveloped. I eventually just lost interest in the game, and never picked it back up. If I wasn’t so lazy, I would’ve traded it in for cash by now. As a series, Gravity Rush has promise, but it doesn’t have the budget to be an engrossing game.
I guess it’s worth saying a thing or two about the game even though I intend to do a longer post on it later. This is currently my game of the year. There’s still three months left to change my mind, but it’s going to be hard to top NieR. It’s got plenty of flaws, too. It’s certainly not a perfect game nor does it even come close to being one. But NieR had me hooked from the very start. The beautiful soundtrack, the existential and anti-natalist despair of the characters, the utter mental breakdown of 9S, the way you jump between 9S and A2 as you ascend the tower in the final hour of the game, then Bipolar Nightmare’s vocals kick in. Holy shit, I haven’t been that engaged by a game since the final mission in Mass Effect 2. I’ll say more later. I promise.
Side note: I personally see A2 and 2B as two sides of the same coin, but if the waifu shit personally matters to you, I vastly preferred the A2 side.
Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir
Odin Sphere is really fun… the first time through the game. It’s still fun the second time. Third time, eh… By the time I got to Oswald, I was done. And it sucks that whenever I got used to a character, I would have to suddenly learn a whole new one. Most of all, Gwendolyn feels the best to play, so from a certain point of view, it’s all downhill from there. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy playing as the other characters, but none of them felt as natural as the main heroine. It’s really such a shame that the game is so repetitive, because I’m a big fan of the non-linear storytelling. Hell, any sort of non-linear storytelling always manages to worm its way into my heart. I also loved the art, the lore, the looming threat of Ragnarok. I didn’t even mind the awkward seed-planting mechanic. Like most JRPGs, Odin Sphere has the player wrestling with the menus just to get simple tasks done. It’s inelegant, but I’ve come to expect it now from the genre. Still, there’s only so many times I can fight the same bosses in the same levels before I just wanna quit altogether. It’s too bad I’ll never get to see the game’s ending with my own eyes. I’ll never get to see the five storylines converge. But that beats five repetitive playthroughs.
Oh Persona, Persona, Persona. In a way, I’ve grown up with Katsura Hashino’s trilogy (I consider Persona 1 and the Persona 2 duology to be its own separate trilogy). Like with NieR, this game deserves its own post, so I won’t say too much now. Nevertheless, when Persona 3 came out, I was still an undergrad. It would take another 11 goddamn years for me to finally play Persona 5. I’m now stuck in the 9-to-5 hellhole that is adult life, but I never forgot about the series. I essentially bought a PS4 just for this game. And yet, I was almost hesitant to love it. For the first four to five hours of the game, it felt kinda weird to jump right back into the Persona universe. “This intro is so long.” “This UI is so overworked!” But eventually — and perhaps inevitably — the cynicism melted away, and I found myself engrossed in yet another 80-hour adventure.
If NieR was my game of the year, it’s certainly not because Persona 5 stunk it up. It’s a very close second. After two whole playthroughs, I’ve certainly sunk more than 130 hours into this game. The only reason I put NieR above Persona is because the former elicited a stronger emotional reaction, but the latter is certainly no slouch. And sure, there are issues with the narrative. I have my nitpicks with the gameplay as well. But immediately after beating Persona 5, I went back and replayed Persona 3 (FES version), and Persona 4 (the Golden Vita version). I had to see for myself if those two were as good as I had remembered them to be. I had to see for myself if Persona 5 did enough as a sequel. By the end of my playthroughs of all three games, I’m confident enough to say that Persona 5 is my favorite. But we can get into that later.
Side note: again, if the waifu shit personally matters to you, I picked Ann on my first playthrough. Yes, Ann.
Shin Megami Tensei IV
The only reason it took me this long to get around to SMT IV is because I hate handheld gaming. I have a 40-inch TV for a reason. I want to see my game on the big screen. No, I get it. Handhelds are more convenient for a lot of people, because they can play while commuting to school or work. Unfortunately, my commute isn’t long enough for that to matter. I don’t enjoy playing games in 20 or 30 minute bursts. So even though SMT IV has been out for a long time, I never played it until now. So what do I think?
The difficulty didn’t bother me much at all, really. With the ability to save absolutely anywhere, it’s actually a moot point. People hyped up the Minotaur and Medusa fight, and I one-shotted them. The random encounters are more dangerous than the bosses, I feel, if only because they can get a random advantage against you. Anyway, the bigger issue is the story. I actually think it raises some very interesting points about order and chaos, and what would happen if you took both extremes to their respective logical conclusions. Unfortunately, I didn’t find Flynn’s companions all that memorable. The mainline SMT games have never really been about strong character interactions, but I guess I’m one of those annoying fans who still think Nocturne is amazing. As a result, I wanted SMT IV to build on that, but it seemed more content to channel the feel of SMT 1 and 2.
Most of all, I just can’t get past the limitations of the handheld, man. Battle animations are just flashes on a screen. The post-apocalyptic world can only be seen through the ugly low-resolution lens of the 3DS. I can’t even enjoy the music that squeaks out of the handheld’s tiny speakers. Oh well, at least the next SMT game will be on the Switch even if it’s a Nintendo-exclusive. The Switch hardware isn’t great, but fuck, at least I can play a 1080p game on my TV and not stare at a tiny screen in my hands. Anyway, I prematurely ordered SMT IV: Apocalypse before I had even beaten the first game. Sadly, my enthusiasm for that universe is at an all time low, so I haven’t even touched Apocalypse. Maybe someday, but certainly not before the year ends.
Tales of Berseria
After Tales of Symphonia, I really tried to embrace the rest of the Tales series. I tried my hand at Tales of Phantasia, but I honestly can’t remember if I ever managed to beat it. I bought an Xbox 360 just for Tales of Vesperia (and Lost Odyssey), but somehow, I never played more than an hour of that game. Long-time readers probably know that I tried to “LP” Tales of Xillia, but I dropped it out of boredom. Plus, text LPs are a lot of damn work, man. Xillia was in no way interesting enough to justify the amount of manpower I had to devote to writing up those posts. I ultimately only decided to check Berseria out, because, well, I could afford to. And even though I got the game back in January, it would take me months before I finally forced myself to play the game.
Berseria’s biggest problem is that it’s not a 40 or 50-hour game, but it sorely wants to be one. At best, Berseria has enough meaningful content for a 20-hour game, but people — both gamers and developers — seem to think that this is too short for any JRPG. See, I don’t think length should matter all that much. I’d gladly pay full price for an engaging experience as long as it’s more than… I dunno, five hours. I guess that’s my hard limit. Yeah, ideally, I’d want every JRPG to be the 80-hour juggernauts like the Persona series. But if I’m not fully engaged for a significant portion of those hours, what’s the point? And Berseria is full of long-ass corridors. The game’s dungeons just go on forever and ever and ever. There are hardly any puzzles, by the way. It’s just one long slog filled to the brim with trash monsters. And y’know, the Tales series is known for its button-mashing, action-like battle system, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. It’s not exactly God’s gift to JRPGs. I’m not going to say that the Tales battle system is unfun, but Berseria plays as if the battle system is the reason why I’m sitting down to play it. It’s not. The 500th encounter is certainly not as fun as the first 100 encounters, and the game doesn’t really do anything to change up the core gameplay loop. You still need to craft an interesting world and fill it with strong characters. Berseria seems content to throw its battle system at you, and half-ass everything else.
Berseria’s pretty unambitious. Yes, it’s the first time we get a heroine for a lead character. In fact, the girls pretty much carry the story, and I think their personalities balance each other well. It’s just too bad everything seems to center around Laphicet, who just doesn’t appeal to me. I don’t think I’ve ever liked a child character in any JRPG. Still, the heavy emphasis on maternal and sisterly love is at least kind of novel. By comparison, Rokurou and Eizen feel as though they’re only there to meet some sort of quota. The former is flatout comic relief, and the latter is just a walking expository device. I’ve no real problems with any of that, though. Where Berseria falls short is that Velvet’s character doesn’t go far enough. She tries hard to be a super edgelord at the start of the game, but at some rather early point in the game, she morphs into yet another generic do-good JRPG lead. She’s certainly not evil by any stretch, which would’ve made her a lot more interesting to play as. And it’s ironic how the story insists that the malaks and demons are no different from us, but we never see Velvet kill any actual humans. She only ever kills the non-humans. Whoops. The girl does go a bit mad right before the final act, but it ultimately felt more annoying than justified. At no point did I ever feel like “Yeah, Velvet’s got a point.” Then the way her character sacrifices herself at the end is… a bit gross for my admittedly western sensibilities.
Even worse than all of that, however, is the sad fact that the bad guy is completely uncharismatic. What’s his name again? Artorious? The guy is so incredibly dull and unmoving as a character that I find it odd to walk around a world in which everyone aside from your party thinks he’s the savior of mankind. And generally, villains are supposed to be people you want to stop. Outside of Velvet’s desire for vengeance, however, I felt no real compulsion to end this dude’s life. I know why Velvet wants to kill him, but I don’t personally hate him. That doesn’t mean I like him by any means, but a bad guy who doesn’t inspire disgust is a pretty bad bad guy. You can respect an antagonist too even if you ultimately disagree with them, but you don’t even get that here. Artorious and his motivations are all just kinda pathetic, and without going into too much detail, I just shook my head at the way the guy can go from loving husband to mankind’s enslaver. Naturally, he’s surrounded by equally uninspired henchmen. Melchior is so laughably generic, I think the folks behind the Tales series need to take a break to find their passion for writing back. Really. You can’t keep churning these games out for decades and not run out of ideas. Even Hashino of Persona is stepping down to let someone else helm the series. When the plot twist reared its ugly head, I was just ready for the story to be over.
The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel 1 & 2
For some reason, there’s a really vocal contingent of The Legend of Heroes fans out there on the internet. These guys seem to think Falcom employs some of the greatest JRPG storytellers in the business. Who knows? Maybe they’re right. I certainly haven’t touched the Trails in the Sky games yet. If Trails of Cold Steel 1 and 2 are anything to go by, however, the series is anime as fuck. For example, there’s a bad guy who is super powerful, but as a result, he’s super bored by everyone and anything. Look, no one’s strong enough to challenge him, okay? So your party tries with all its might to bring him down, and all this does is gets the guy’s interest. Oh no, he’s got such a terrible fighting aura now! So a character’s dad shows up, and he’s also super-amazeballs-powerful, and just like that, he and Mr. Edgelord fly off to their bullshit DBZ battle offscreen. Meanwhile, your party just stands there and goes, “OH MAN THEY ARE SO POWERFUL TOO BAD WE’RE JUST SUCKY TEENAGERS.” That’s what I mean when I say Trails of Cold Steel is anime as fuck.
How else is it anime as fuck? The evil masked supervillain in the first game is none other than your classmate Crow! Dun dun dun! He cooks up a plot to assassinate an important leader, and plunges the rest of the nation into a civil war. Not just any civil war, mind you, but a war between classes. Nobles versus commoners. And guess what? He’s on the side of the evil nobles. And guess what? By the end of the second game, your milquetoast hero is desperate to get his former classmate back on the good side. Eventually, Crow finds himself dying in your arms, and the good guys are just completely besides themselves. OH NO I CAN’T BELIEVE CROW IS DYING. HE MIGHT BE A TERRORIST, BUT UM, WE HELD A SHITTY JPOP CONCERT AT SCHOOL SO HE’S A TOMODACHI FOR LIFE. Man, fuck off.
I don’t have enough time to bitch about all the ways these two games are anime as fuck. I really don’t. I can’t even mention how the main character totally has a berserk mode that he’s too ashamed to use, but whenever his imouto — WHO HE IS NOT BLOOD RELATED TO WINK WINK — is in danger, he can’t help but let out a scream of anime anguish as his dark side takes over (“Heh, nothing personnel, kid”). Or how every female character wants his dick. Even grown ass women in the military can’t help but fall for this fucking chump. The really sad part is that the gameplay is not bad. It’s easy to horribly break the game, but I like a solid turn-based battle system. And I can even admire the fact that the NPCs have so many goddamn lines in the game, and if you actually bother to take the bajillion of years in-between chapters to talk to each of them, you can see their characters slowly develop in wholly generic anime ways. Like I said, it’s somewhat admirable.
Look. Look. Eventually, Trails of Cold Steel 3 will be localized for the west. Better yet, it’s on the PS4, so I don’t need a capture device to stream it. If you wanna see me bitch and moan about the game’s anime-ness, just wait. Hell, if the rumors are true about Falcom porting Cold Steel 1 and 2 to the PS4, you might even get to see me reluctantly trudge myself through those two games again. Gotta get that save file to transfer over to the final game, after all.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
The first twenty hours were magical. I was truly enraptured by the game.
“Oh my god, I can climb almost anything!”
“Jesus, this world is huge.”
“Wow, I can actually die in a Zelda game.”
But eventually, I saw everything, and that’s really the crux of the problem. There’s a lot to see, but I wouldn’t say there’s a lot to do in Breath of the Wild’s gigantic overworld. Unless you really love shrines. Unless you really love all 900 korok puzzles. Unfortunately, that’s not a gameplay loop that can keep me hooked for more than 30 hours, which is about when I decided to stop playing the game. My first Zelda game was A Link to the Past, so it won’t surprise you to learn that I love the previous games’ dungeons. And at first, I thought the shrines were kinda cool. I only thought this, however, because I also mistakenly believed that I had the four divine beast dungeons to eventually sink my teeth into.
“Yeah, four is a small number, but I’m sure those dungeons are pretty meaty. So it’s the best of both worlds!”
But it’s really not. The divine beasts were sorely lacking in both depth and difficulty. They each took maybe half an hour to beat, and they all looked the same. The elemental Ganons looked the same. The shrines all looked the same. Even the way you gain access to the dungeons felt samey. And it didn’t help that I loved the dungeons in the previous Zelda entries for exactly the very reason that they all felt unique and different. They were each glorious set pieces that would take at least an hour to beat if not more. The bosses, while still easy (and really, what Nintendo game is truly challenging anymore?), were at least unique in design as well. On the other hand, when I finally told myself that it was time to tackle the divine beasts, I did not expect to find myself to be done with all four of them in just a single day. C’mon, I’m not a smart man, and yet, the divine beasts never stumped me once.
That doesn’t mean the game is wrong for taking a new direction. For every person who loves the dungeons of the older games, I’m sure there’s just as many people who find the tradition stale and overdone. Breath of the Wild is a different direction for the series, and if Nintendo wants to focus on overworld exploration and shrines from here on out, that’s fine. It can be whatever it wants to be. It’s just no longer my cup of tea. But that’s the bittersweet reality with growing up. Things change, and all you can do is accept it and move on. It’s possible that the Zelda series is something I’ll have to move on from permanently.
In the meantime, I desperately want Nintendo to enable the Virtual Console for the Switch, so I can get all of the previous Zelda games on one console. It also wouldn’t hurt to replay the older Mario games too. Yes, I could buy a Wii U, but why would I go and do that? I’ve also no interest in the NES and SNES Classic editions. For fuck’s sake, I don’t want more consoles cluttering up my home.
I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to get into the Yakuza series. This shit is amazing. Okay, to be fair, Yakuza 0 didn’t hook me right off the bat. I’m sorry for any Kiryu fan out there, but he’s kinda bone-dry as a character. He’s also a bit of a walking contradiction. He insists on being a “good yakuza,” but he idolizes Kazama, who used to be a hitman. In fact, the only fucking reason Sunflower Orphanage exists is because the children of Kazama’s victims need somewhere to go. But I digress. I won’t lie. The whole real estate nonsense wasn’t exactly riveting. I wasn’t wholly invested in Kiryu’s predicament at the start of Yakuza 0 either. Where the game really took hold of me was when we switched over to Majima. I totally understand why this guy’s a fan favorite. But even better, his tragic love for Makoto sealed the deal. When the game finally tied the two storylines together, I was bowled over. Yakuza isn’t great because of Kiryu, but rather the side characters. For example, I never thought I would’ve found myself feeling sorry for Tachibana, but by the end of the story, the game had completely changed my mind.
It’s pure schlock. Really. Yakuza 0’s story is straight out of some tearjerker J-drama. I won’t pretend any of it is high art, but I fucking loved it anyway. I play these story-laden games to be moved, and Yakuza 0 did the trick. But what sets the game apart is that I got to do a bunch of kooky side quests like convincing a high school girl to stop selling her panties to skeevy men. Or running a cabaret club. Or buying a porno mag for a kid. Or beating up a bunch of thugs for stealing a popular video game from a kid only to find myself beating up the kid’s dad. Too much of Yakuza’s super sad story would’ve been cloying and tiresome. But the game treads that fine line between overwrought seriousness and absurd humor in a way that I never got too tired of either side of the divide. Really, there’s nothing else like it out there. And there’s something beautiful about a game that doesn’t completely sell itself out to its own stupidity. It’s easy to just ironically distance yourself from the story you’ve created, and mock everything about it. Yakuza earns my respect with its willingness to pull back and say, “Nah, it’s time to get back to the heavy feels.”
Well, this is more of the same except I have to play as Kiryu and only Kiryu. For some bizarre reason, the developers also gave every boss a ton of health. Not only that, they all have the ability to easily knock me down. After beating the game, I read online that I could’ve cheesed every boss encounter with some unlockable Dragon of Dojima move. I went through my first playthrough without any help, though, so I never ran into Majima enough for the Dragon stance to be worth using. And I really don’t think cheesing the game is an acceptable solution to serious flaws in the core design. Towards the end of the game, you find yourself against three enemies with handguns and huge health bars. It was a ridiculous knock-down fest that took forever for me to beat. But at no point was I ever in danger of a game over, because it’s trivial to fill your inventory with health items. So who actually thinks this is fun? I was more than ready to finish Yakuza Kiwami as fast as I did, and I find that a bit sad, because I had loved Yakuza 0 so much. I was actually excited to play Kiwami. To be fair, the game is only $30, and I got to see the events of the first game with my own eyes. Still, it was a disappointing follow up to Yakuza 0. I almost wish I had played Yakuza Kiwami first, but had I done so, maybe I never would’ve decided to try the rest of the series.
Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana
Ys VIII is a solid 8/10 game. It’s not brilliant by any means. It doesn’t do anything new or special whatsoever. The characters are flimsily developed at best, and the gameplay is rather mindless. The game features some impressive-looking beasts to fight, but this is not Monster Hunter. Unless you’re not much of a gamer, you won’t break a sweat as you mash your way to victory. The production values are about what you’d expect from a B-tier developer. Despite all of that, Ys VIII is greater than the sum of its parts. I really enjoyed building up Castaway Village. There’s a sense of progression there that’s lacking from a lot of other games (cough Zelda cough). In fact, I was actually disappointed that there weren’t more castaways to recruit. I liked seeing how a new person would contribute to the village and add to the dynamic of the small, tight-knit community. After about the halfway point, however, the rest of the castaways are pretty much afterthoughts. For example, the butler, Griselda, so on and so forth.
Still, the story was relatively interesting even if it’s full of the typical plot holes and paradoxes that always crop up when people attempt to employ time-traveling shenanigans. I also found myself enjoying the Dana gameplay portions more than Adol, especially when the former gained access to her different stances (forms?). The game is overall light on puzzles, but you get some decent ones when it’s just Dana and Dana alone. Nothing mind-bendingly difficult, but I appreciate the change of pace from what is normally a straight-forward action JRPG. Unfortunately, Dana’s myriad forms don’t carry over to present-day Dana, where she’s just another generic party member. So are there any downsides to this game? Where Ys VIII lets me down is the ending. I mean, I guess I should’ve seen it coming. At best, the Ys games are loosely connected to each other, so I should’ve known that everyone would go their separate ways once the game ended. They have to. Still, there’s just something disquieting about a community banding together against all odds to survive on a dangerous island full of freaking dinosaurs, but when the credits are about to roll, people just fuck off to their corner of the world.
There’s actually a story reason for this, and I’ll even spoil it: people literally forget that they used to fight against said freaking dinosaurs. And that brings me to my biggest pet peeve: stories that can’t help but hit the reset button. Don’t do that, man. Don’t get me invested in the game and the characters and the story, then just hit the reset button. Unfortunately, this is what you get, and even the true ending left a bitter taste in my mouth. I didn’t expect Dana to join Adol on his adventures or anything, but to turn her into yet another sacrificial maiden? To have the entire village except for Adol’s party completely forget she ever existed? The plot twist — if you can call it that — didn’t make me sad or anything. It was just annoying. Like everything I did was all due to some stupid dream, and now the dream is over and this is just yet another chapter in Adol’s life. But that’s pretty much what the ending says. By the time he’s an old man, he’s got a thousand stories to tell… so I guess the one you experience here is nothing special in the grand scheme of things.
I still got a ton of games to play or replay:
- Drakengard 3 (replay)
- Final Fantasy X & X-2 HD Remaster (technically a replay for both games)
- Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age (technically a replay)
- Nier (replay)
- Ni no Kuni
And in the upcoming months:
- Monster Hunter World
- Ni no Kuni II
- Okami HD
- Shadow of the Colossus (technically a replay)
- Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Redux
- Super Mario Odyssey
- Tokyo Xanadu eX+
- Xenoblade Chronicles 2
- Yakuza 6
There are obviously more games I want to play, but those don’t have confirmed released dates yet so I’m not going to list them. If you guys have suggestions, feel free to leave a comment. If the game was released in the past five years, I probably haven’t played it. And yeah, I still intend to write about anime when the fall season starts, but hey, if the shows all suck and I can’t find any words to conjure up for them, you can’t blame me if I just go back to playing video games and not updating. I could stream some of the PS4 games if there’s interest. Or maybe some horror games. But I doubt you guys are here to watch streams so… October 3rd is probably when I’ll write about anime again.