Fair warning, there are quite a few spoilers in this post.
Final Fantasy VII Remake
The funny thing about Final Fantasy VII Remake is that I don’t even hate the ending all that much. I’m not gonna lie, though. I’m not gonna say that I liked it. With Cloud and friends going on and on about how they won’t allow destiny to imprison them, it feels self-indulgent. It feels like the writers are making some sort of meta-commentary about how fan expectations are preventing their creativity from breaking free. So of course, I rolled my eyes at the ending… but I roll my eyes at almost every JRPG. Yes, even the ones I like! So whatever, cheesy endings don’t bother me. Unfun gameplay, however, does. And boy does FF7 Remake really let me down in that regard. It’s sad because the developers really put a lot of effort into the game’s Hard Mode, but I don’t think the gameplay is enjoyable enough for me to go through it again.
When Square-Enix said that Remake would be split in several parts, I had the same thought as everyone else: “Oh cool, they can use this opportunity to flesh out the story.” As much as we love the older games that we grew up on, the writing back then was very economical. When characters spoke, they used as few words as possible — just enough to get their point across. This is fine when you’re dealing with a straightforward story involving knights saving princesses. But when your grand tale opens with eco-terrorism, maybe we should pause to talk about what exactly we’re trying to accomplish. So of course, I was pleasantly surprised to see Tifa express her reservations about Avalanche in the Remake. No matter how much Barret tries to justify his team’s actions, they are trading current lives for future ones.
Unfortunately, not all of the changes are positive, and that’s mostly because not all of the changes are even story changes. They’re just design changes that are straight-up unfun. In the original game, Cloud and Aerith escape from the church by hopping across several rooftops. This takes maybe 30 seconds at most? In the Remake, however, their little jaunt suddenly becomes a ten minute hike. Okay, so they now truly get to have a conversation. We get to see more characterization from both characters, so I’m not so sour on this change. But then the run to Sector 5 is also one long hike. It quickly becomes apparent that everything has been turned into a hike. Wanna run from Sector 5 to Sector 7? Aerith knows a shortcut that is anything but short. And in this version, you actually revisit the sewers twice. Whose bright idea was it to redo a sewer level? Nobody likes sewer levels! Especially not in JRPGs!
Maybe if I could do any sort of exploration at all, I wouldn’t mind being forced to walk for half an hour just to reach any destination. But FF7 Remake basically consists of three quest hubs connected by linear corridors. That’s it. It felt like I was playing Final Fantasy XIII again. I truly lost my patience once I got to the Shinra Building. Sure, I too thought it was cool that Jenova wasn’t just sitting in the corner anymore. She now has her own room where she looms ominously over the rest of Hojo’s inhuman test subjects. Unfortunately, what followed was my least favorite portion of the game. The mad scientist proceeds to pit your entire party to a test, which involves splitting the group up in order to run around in (yet again) linear corridors. There’s no interesting lore to be found here. There’s no tantalizing story development or characterization to be had. It was literally just an hour of running in one direction, pressing switches, and fighting trash mobs. It was boring.
Maybe technology is holding the game back. There were lots of moments where Cloud and friends would have to squeeze themselves through a tight passageway. These are really just disguised loading screens. When I unlocked fast travel via the chocobo caravans, I got my hopes up. I thought I could now zip around Midgar and finish up all of the sidequests. And then the loading times reared their ugly heads — oh lord, the loading times! Man, the last time I had to wait this long for a map to load, I was playing Bloodborne. Current-gen consoles don’t have SSDs in them, so guess what? We’re just gonna have to suck it up, because SE also wants their seamless world devoid of screen transitions. You’re gonna squeeze through that passageway and you’re gonna like it! Anyways, I hope that Part 2 is next-gen exclusive. If they have more bandwidth to work with, maybe they won’t give us boring corridors.
There are other changes that I’m pretty lukewarm about, but I won’t go through them all. I’ll just use one example. In the original game, Cloud had to gather all of the pieces necessary to cross-dress. It’s a fun way to explore the ins and outs of Wall Market. In Remake, however, you participate in a series of matches at the coliseum, then follow that up with a rhythm mini-game as Cloud dances onstage at the Honeybee Inn. As neat as it was to see Hell House return as a boss fight, I still prefer the old way.
Persona 5 Royal
Going into Royal, I basically had three questions in mind:
- 1. Will I be able to stomach spending more time with Akechi, the serial killer?
- 2. Will Kasumi be an upgrade to Marie of Persona 4?
- 3. Will the new final boss live up to Yaldabaoth?
I think I ended up getting 2.5 outta 3. Decimals? Really? Yeah, really. Regarding Akechi, I’ll happily admit that I’m one of the haters. I simply cannot fathom why some folks insist that the boy did nothing wrong. Look, I get it. He was the bastard child; Shido had no love for him. His mother died when he was young, and he had to fend for himself. Then to make matters worse, he was essentially hand-picked to be the bad guy by Yaldabaoth. Akechi was built to fail… but boy does he run with it. I’m a self-accountability kinda guy. I like to think we are ultimately responsible for our actions. Are we born equal? Of course not. Some of us are more privileged than others. But at the end of the day, the only person pulling the trigger is you. Akechi made the conscious decision to kill all of those people, and no tragic backstory is gonna change my mind on that. So with Royal, Akechi rejoins the team during the “new” month. To accommodate the new final boss and the new final dungeon, you basically get to play through January and a few days in February. During this new section of the game, Akechi drops the pretense. He’s just straight-up a jackass, and I can appreciate the honesty. It’s like, “Yeah, y’know what? I am the bad guy, and I’m only working with Joker because our goals currently align.”
With Kasumi, I think she just highlights how poorly Atlus utilized Haru. Even though the new girl doesn’t officially join the team until the final month, she maintains a constant presence throughout the game. You actually meet her in the very first week, and her social link kicks off in May. Why couldn’t they do the same with Haru? Beats me. Gardening still remains largely useless. Anyways, I disliked Marie in Persona 4 simply because her personality sucked, and I didn’t feel the least bit sad about her situation. On the other hand, my reaction to Kasumi is almost the direct opposite. It makes me even wonder if the writers may have overcompensated, because the new girl is perhaps too polite. Whereas Marie is an over-the-top tsundere, Kasumi takes every chance to be as sweet and proper as possible. Hmm… ah well, it beats Marie’s shitty poetry any day. I do have a few complaints about Kasumi, though. First, they really should’ve had her join the team for Shido’s Palace. Yeah, they would’ve had to write new lines and redo a lot of cutscenes, but this is a full-priced game! C’mon, I paid fifty bucks for this! My second complaint about Kasumi is pretty minor. When you beat the game, you get to run around and have one last chat with most of your confidantes before leaving. The exceptions are the three new ones, and unfortunately, Kasumi is one of them. I can understand why Akechi and Takuto aren’t around, but why not Kasumi if you’re both departing on the same day? It’s just silly.
Finally, we get to the final boss. Story-wise, I like him. He’s a nice breath of fresh air from all of the other bosses. This isn’t a real problem, I suppose, but Persona 5‘s villains in general are all dirt bags for the most part. Kamoshida sexually assaulted girls, Madarame drove his disciples to suicide, Kaneshiro blackmailed kids into prostitution, so on and so forth. Futaba was the exception, but she was never a villain. We just had to slay her mental demons. So in comes the new bad guy, and he’s actually quite sympathetic. He has a tragic backstory, and as a result, he isn’t a power-hungry freak like Shido or Yaldabaoth. He truly believes that he’s helping people. It was nice to get a villain that I wasn’t quite sure I should take down. The logical argument is that his vision of the world will eventually lead to stagnation. Humanity’s knack for innovation and ingenuity is often forged through hardship, but in his world, we’re nothing more than pigs hooked up to a pleasure machine. Sure, that all makes sense in my head… but at the same time, defeating him means that everyone will lose their loved ones again. Futaba can’t have her mom back, Makoto can’t have her dad back, and most of all, Haru can’t have her father back. Of course, Haru’s father is hardly innocent, but he didn’t deserve to die. Hell, you could even argue that the new villain’s vision was correcting mistakes born from Yaldabaoth’s interference. Would Futaba’s mom still have died if Akechi had never gotten his powers? We don’t know. Maybe she would’ve lived. During the final month, the story ultimately tries to convince you that you’re doing the right thing. I suppose my brain ultimately agrees, but I’m not sure if my heart is fully onboard.
If I have any criticism for the new villain, it’s that the final battle against him kinda sucks. With Yaldabaoth, we get this cheesy sequence where all of Japan is cheering for the Phantom Thieves. As a result, Joker can summon Satanael, who then pops a cap in Yaldabaoth’s head. It’s one helluva climax. So in comes the new villain, and naturally, I’m expecting something even bigger. I really got my hopes up when Adam Kadmon showed up. Then I remembered that they wasted Sophia on Persona 5 Scramble, so story-wise, Adam Kadmon’s appearance was already rendered less interesting. Most of all, however, the final fight against him was just… weak, I suppose? First, he wasn’t a challenging boss by any means. Yaldabaoth was harder as long as you didn’t over-level. Second, what the hell happened to Satanael? Is Joker only able to use the persona once? Instead, you get some Cloud vs Sephiroth final showdown where you and the new villain just slug each other mano-a-mano without the aid of personas. Lame.
Anyways, if you love Persona 5, I think you’d probably love Royal. More story, new music that is just as good as the original soundtrack, lots of QoL features that should’ve been there from the start, so on and so forth. People will say that Royal should’ve just been a DLC, but I honestly think the changes here are too extensive to patch in. But hey, I could be wrong. I’ve never touched game development. I’m just an SMT fan, so take my advice with a grain of salt.
This post is long enough, so I’ll keep it short here. Great gameplay, lousy story. Since I had no prior knowledge of the Sengoku period, Nioh 2‘s story actually lost me once or twice. “Wait, why are we doing this again?” “Why did those men whom I’ve just met suddenly betray Oda?” It’s all loosely based on actual history, so if you know a thing or two about that time period, you might get a kick out of seeing all these familiar faces. I didn’t and the game’s sparse storytelling wasn’t helping much.
More importantly, however, Team Ninja has a lot to learn when it comes to environmental design. Take Sekiro, for instance. It’s hardly my favorite Fromsoft title, but within ten minutes of starting a new game, you quickly find yourself walking into a wide open field. The silver stalks of rice contrast beautifully against the dark night sky. On the horizon, your first (not really ’cause you’re not expected to win) boss fight awaits. Sadly, there isn’t a single boss arena in Nioh 2 that even comes close to the example I’ve just given. There are probably two levels that look decent; the rest are mostly forgettable. Team Ninja has the combat system down pat. In fact, if they try to add more complexity in a future sequel, I would even say that it’s too much. What they have to work on now is designing environments that look good enough to make players stand and look around in awe.