Julius

Your 2020 Gaming Diary

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Still working on that Pokedex in Sword and Shield, focusing on the main Pokedex at the moment and got around to evolving my Riolu. Also managed to finally catch a Turtonator. Yes, I know you can change the date of the Switch to get it to skip days but I kind of have this old school mentality that if there's an in-game clock, it's more immersive to play the game at that time and so I was happy to wait a day until Turtontator was available in the Wild Area. Even if it was only a 2% random encounter...

 

In other news, seeing as I've been playing a lot of Magic The Gathering Arena and Pokemon Trading Card Game Online... I thought I'd take it to the next level. Check this out...

 

 

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On 10/05/2020 at 4:33 PM, Julius said:

Having seen credits roll for three games since the start of the month, and with me unlikely to return to my office for work anytime soon, I'm going to try to make entries into my Gaming Diary a bit more frequently than I have been so far this year, mainly to keep on top of it. 

This is the first line of my last post in this thread, and well...it's safe to say this didn't go to plan :p it's been a crazy year for pretty much everyone, and as the months went on, I felt increasingly overwhelmed by both the pandemic and what's been going on in my work and personal life. I would sit down, start typing an update, and then quickly lose steam, which would only frustrate me further, because I love talking about games. Almost as much as I do playing them. Catching up on this thread has been on my to-do list for the last few months, and not bringing it up-to-date has pretty actively dissuaded me from playing games and, in some cases, wanting to talk about those games. It's been weird. 

But, all being well, I will have started my next-gen journey by this time next weekend, and I know that once that happens, there will be absolutely no way I'll bring this up-to-date. In a lot of cases I've been pretty active in the threads for the games I'm going to talk about, and seeing as there's a whole lot to get through, I'm probably not going to get into them as much as I might have normally liked to, but that's okay. I'm going to go through probably a month at a time, though that depends on how much I have to say. Either way, I want to be finished by Wednesday evening, for obvious reasons!

Let's get started with what I played in the remainder of May. 

MAY

VALKYRIA CHRONICLES | 2008

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Valkyria Chronicles tells the story of Squad 7 as they fight in defence of their home nation of Gallia, a neutral country in the Second Europan War (basically this alternate world's version of World War II) which is abundant in stores of precious Ragnite ore (basically this world's main energy source and healing method), against The Autocratic East Europan Imperial Alliance. Along the way, it portrays the budding and innocent romance between Alicia Melchiott and Welkin Gunther in the midst of a war which sees the game deal with heavy topics such as racism, perspective, and death, as well as shedding light on scheming politicians, the casualties of innocents, and even the history of an ancient near-genocide. It all sounds very heavy, but what grounds this game is a gorgeous, watercolour-like visual style, a solid soundtrack, and the diversely opinionated - and oftentimes amusing - cast of Squad 7. 

What makes this game unique is that, while like most strategy games it is turn-based, it makes use of a system dubbed BLiTZ: Battle of Live Tactical Zones. During your turn you start in Command Mode, and have an overhead map of the battlefield from which you can select a unit. Once selected, the battle zooms in on the selected unit, giving you control of them from the perspective of a third-person shooter in Action Mode, from which you can control their movement and take actions such as healing your allies and attacking the enemy, and you can control a number of classes and even a number of vehicles throughout the journey. This is all balanced by the Action Points available to units, which determines how far they can move before needing to take a rest, and you can't just freely use the same character over and over again during your turn, as their available energy greatly diminishes the more they are used in a single turn, forcing you to approach things with other units in mind, and having to be careful about where your units end up - because, at the end of your turn, if they're in a spot with poor cover, the enemy stand a good chance of taking them out. A number of objectives make up the story, from routing out the enemy, to securing camps over the map, to protecting certain characters as they make their way from A to B, and objectives can often change halfway through a mission (though, in my opinion, the first few times this happens leads to a pretty big spike in difficulty).

The better you perform in missions - entirely determined, unfortunately, by the fewer turns you take - the more money and experience you take home and can use to upgrade your weapons, vehicles, or even your classes through training regimens. Once back at base you can even buy newspapers, which can unlock new missions which provide more backstory to certain characters, and you can also visit the graves of your fallen comrades, or even be awarded in medal ceremonies. There are pages upon pages of character details to read through, as well as about the history of the world and the war, and these can also provide some insights into which characters might provide boosts to one another, or what their weaknesses might be (for example, you don't want to send someone into a battlefield knowing full well that they're you're putting them up against their allergies!). All of this is presented in a wonderful book, which neatly ties together the visual style of the game. 

Valkyria Chronicles is a game which is solid in almost every department, has heaps of charm, and is bound to bring a tear to even the most steely-eyed of players (those who have played the game no doubt know what I'm talking about, one of the most heart-wrenching moments in video games). It's well worth the price of admission, and I look forward to one day giving Valkyria Chronicles 4 a shot. 

A WAY OUT | 2018

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Developed by Hazelight Studios and directed by Josef Fares (AKA the 'F**k the Oscars!' guy), A Way Out is a rare example of a meticulously crafted, split-screen cooperative multiplayer game: it must be played by two players, whether they're next to you on the sofa or on the other side of the world kicking it up on Bondi (and only one of you need to own the game to do so!).

You play as Leo and Vincent, two prisoners who must first escape their new jumpsuits and then elude the authorities as they make their way back to their families, with set pieces gradually ramping up throughout the game to a climactic finish which would make Kojima proud. No, seriously. It takes a lot of what you'd expect to see in a Naughty Dog game - basic third-person shooter mechanics, ducking for cover, light puzzles and a hole lot of button mashing in order to lift things up - except, you know, it's co-op. And not developed by Naughty Dog. But still, it's very good. The split-screen aspect is especially interesting, as while at one moment you can both be playing at the same time and have one player distracting guards while the other sneaks around the corner, there are also many instances where a cutscene might be playing out for one character while it's not for the other. It makes for a very interesting balance in its storytelling. 

I sat down with my younger brother one Saturday morning and we blasted through this game, finishing about five or six hours later the same day. There isn't much else to say, to be honest: I don't think Naughty Dog-lite is a disservice to the game, and actually gives you a pretty good idea of what you're in for. But I had a blast, and so did my brother. I wish there were more games like this, and while I am absolutely up for more from Fares and Hazelight, I really think he overshadowed the game with his little display at The Game Awards a few years back, which is a real shame.

This game had plenty of twists and turns from beginning to end, and while it doesn't do much new, what it does it does brilliantly. And again: that ending. A hearty recommendation for anyone who wants a game designed for two players, because this is a real gem. 

THE LAST OF US | 2013

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It's really hard for me to take horror films seriously. Ever since I was young, having a vested interest in the filmmaking process has kept me mostly on top of it: "hey, that blood is a bit too dark, I wonder if their fake blood was drying out?", "okay, but why would you go up the stairs? Someone is clearly about to jump out [someone jumps out]", "everyone's scared of this thing? The CGI looks terrible!" Jump scares can catch me out, sure, but even when I would try my hardest to invest myself in the film's world and story, it just wouldn't click for me. 

But there's something about the interactivity of video games which flips that on its head, completely. I remember booting up the Resident Evil 2 Demo a year or two ago, walking around for about thirty seconds, and giving up. Leon, pal, want my advice? If there's a zombie breakout you turn around and walk away. And I'm sure seeing snippets of Resident Evil 4 at a friend's house, and my early childhood trauma of Dino Crisis when in pre-school/reception, had something to do with that, too. I haven't played much of anything that I'd call a horror game before. As you might know from seeing me post here and elsewhere on these forums, though, there's one thing I'm a sucker for, and that's a good story. 

Of course I'd heard of this game before playing it. A lot. Though, incredibly, I hadn't seen much gameplay of it, and hadn't had anything spoiled for me. Look up any list of Top 10 games and this probably appears in half of them. And of course I've heard of Naughty Dog, especially their modern efforts and transition to third-person action-adventure games. I mean, really: at this point, who hasn't heard of them? They're an awards darling of a studio putting out cutting edge games which are incredibly popular and critically acclaimed. A couple of years ago, wanting to get to grips with Naughty Dog's offerings, I played through Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection, and while those games have their highlights (with 2 being my favourite by quite some margin), I really didn't understand what the fuss was all about. These games were solid, but they were far from blowing me away. But I was always curious about their next game, and with the sequel just over a month away, it was time to make a decision. 

And so I decided that it was time to finally give The Last of Us a chance. 

This game starts with a bang, and within those opening fifteen minutes, you'll know whether this game is for you. The tone is set for this brutally harsh reality where only the hardened survive. It's hard watching the early hours of a world crumbling under the pressure of a pandemic (especially this year, for reasons that go without saying) which sees those infected become, for all intents and purposes, human-slaying zombies, and harder to watch is how the world reacts. 

Early on, Joel meets Ellie, and finds himself with the task of smuggling her across the post-apocalyptic that the United States has become some twenty years or so after the initial outbreak. The Infected have taken on all shapes and sizes, and so has the malice of the remnants of man. You'll find yourself stealthily trying to sneaking around, and sometimes through, rooms filled with Infected, the tension of which is further heightened by some great survival mechanics, such as how long it takes to heal yourself, reload your gun, or craft some make-shift bomb. I often found myself promptly checking, and then double-checking, my equipment after adrenaline-pumping confrontations, or when things had been quite for just a little too long that it made me uncomfortable. But there's also this puzzling, melancholic beauty to this world, the calm of which can often lull you into forgetting about the dangers which might be surrounding you. The world is so diverse, with interiors being this flat kind of drab - mostly made up of muted greys, spoiled browns, and murky greens - which only serves to amplify the bright colours of nature which have pierced through - and in many cases, overwhelmed - the manmade landscapes of these crumbling cities. 

The writing, as well as the gameplay, world, and level design, all weave together to produce this amazing pacing which is consistent throughout the course of the game. Joel and Ellie start out indifferent to each other, but gradually become accustomed to and then more trusting in the other, and it's a wonderful sight to behold, which all unfolds so naturally. Their conversation and banter throughout the game does such an excellent job of fleshing them out, and Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson did such an amazing job of carrying the brunt of it all. This runs parallel to an enticing upgrade system which sees Joel's capabilities grow throughout the course of the game, and I found myself heavily investing in Weapon Sway, Shiv Master, and Maximum Health, which had me increasingly confident in my abilities the deeper I got into the game, but it never felt easy, just easier to handle. The world itself, as I mentioned before, can almost lull you into a false sense of security, and there are some areas in particular where the tension certainly ratchets way up, such as in a certain hotel basement. Screw that hotel basement. I got out pretty much unscathed and was fully prepared and I still found myself petrified. Seriously, screw that hotel basement. Though, while there are times where it certainly offers a false sense of security, there are other times where just a returning feature of the world immediately gets you grabbing your shotgun and slowly treading through a room, such as when entering a dark hallway and wondering about how it would suck to run into some Stalkers at that very moment. 

Areas are never too large to fully explore, and so exploring every single area's nooks and crannies doesn't feel like I'm going out of the way and losing track of the main objective. Not only that, but because this is a survival horror game, by design it knows that you're going to be checking everything out, and so finding notes, recorders, etc., feels like a totally natural way to explore the world's history. It really reminds me of items and Mini Medals in Dragon Quest in this way: practically everything you find feels useful. I read and listened to everything I found, which I very rarely do outside of JRPGs that I'm adoring, and although I didn't find everything - there's one particular door which comes to mind which I didn't have the materials to make a shiv to break into back near Bill's place, and I remember early on feeling the game was pushing back hard enough to discourage this somewhat at the very beginning - I still felt completely satisfied with my discoveries. Piecing together the history of some of these places is heartbreaking. 

And then there's the change of pace exhibited at Silver Lake, where things are turned on their head, and suddenly what was manageable before isn't again. It's perfectly timed, flawlessly executed, and might just be one of my favourite "levels" in any video game. It convinced me to pre-order Part II without even having finished the game, that's how much faith I had in Naughty Dog by that point. And the game triumphantly charges towards the end from there, with all its card laid bare. That ending is what video game stories should aspire to be, putting us in the position where a choice is made and overwhelmingly fighting for and relishing in the choice the character makes. It's about empathy, and putting you in the shoes of Joel in that moment, and it is all so, so well done. As my first survival horror game, while very intense at times - almost too intense in that hotel basement - I absolutely fell in love with this game.

The DLC, Left Behind, is of course excellent too. It does nothing to take away from the main game's ending, but does such a good job in the two hours or so it takes to complete of fleshing out Ellie and her past, giving us a little bit more context for the main game, and also some insight into the origins of her love for puns. The past moments which play out mirror the point in the present in that it portrays the two moments where Ellie is about to be left alone - it could not be better named. But there's basically Hotel Basement 2.0 here, so screw that. 

Something that has to be mentioned when talking about The Last of Us is Gustavo Santaolalla's magnificent score. It's so restrained and refined, yet emotionally charged and visceral, so naturally tuned to the world and the interactions playing out on screen. There's the main theme, The Last of Us, which is so memorable for playing over the opening credits. with this steady rhythm of these powerful plucks of guitar strings; Vanishing Grace, which relies on the same melody as the main theme, but is slowed and much more melancholic in how it is subdued; All Gone (No Escape), with the swell of the straining strings of violins after this deep and steady cello really does a stellar job of setting the scene up to be as emotionally resonant as it is. From Left Behind, All Gone (Reunion) and its main theme, Left Behind, are the standouts. The latter in particular I feel is perfectly suited for what the DLC entails, this quiet strumming on the guitar before slowly builds and explodes into life with this Western-like part, I love it. 

I'm a sucker for hard cuts when it comes to endings, though, so The Path (A New Beginning) was always going to be a very difficult one for me to not find my favourite! 

The Last of Us is a testament to excellent moment-to-moment gameplay, coupled with an emotionally resonant story, a stellar voice cast, unforgettable story beats, which screams the importance of empathy. This is what storytelling in games is about, and still remains the standard by which other stories in this medium are told to this day. 

This game is a masterpiece, and very quickly became one of my favourites. 

YAKUZA 3 | 2009

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During this pandemic I have found that there is no better escape than the Yakuza series, and specifically none greater than Yakuza 3, which I will lovingly refer to as the beach/summer special episode of the series. 

Continuing on not too longer after the events of 2/Kiwami 2, Yakuza 3 sees Kiryu hanging out at an orphanage he's set up on Okinawa called Morning Glory, becoming the legal guardian of a number of children there. Everything is peaceful, and it is incredibly cosy, with a beach just across the street. His biggest worries are arguments between the kids, and it's hilarious seeing how he disciplines them, choosing to sit everyone down for debates when things get heated. He even plays hide-and-seek with them. Haruka is a big sister to everyone there, often working to find peace, and going to do daily chores. Kiryu is living a good, well-earned life of early retirement. Not too long after, though, he butts heads with a smaller local Yakuza family, and from there on finds himself embroiled in a plot to save the orphanage from being built on by a massive seaside resort, which is mysteriously somehow tied to the Yakuza and plans for a military base expansion.

Yakuza 3 remains similar to other Yakuza stories in that it is host to endearing characters, you'll find yourself back on the streets of Kamurocho and familiarising yourself once again with the area and getting used to its changes, but Okinawa provides a welcome change in that it just feels so much more relaxed. Problems are generally on a smaller scale around Morning Glory, and is a great change of pace from what we've become so typically accustomed to in these games. Substories remain these tiny nuggets which can be hilarious, charming, or full of emotional depth, and helping strangers in these games with their problems continues to be great fun. 

That all being said, I do think this game has some issues which I have to mention, though it's worth remembering that I'm playing a remaster of a game which is over a decade old. I think the main thing would be that quality of life improvements from newer entries, such as pausing in cutscenes, aren't present here, which is a shame because it seems like that would have been something relatively easy to add in here (and would've been a wise decision due to the length of some cutscenes). There's also the weird pacing of some cutscenes, which I imagine at the time of release were down to budget constraints? Sometimes a cutscene would begin with a short cinematic, before cutting away to the more typical in-engine cutscene, with text boxes and no voice acting to boot, which would then end by returning to yet another cinematic. Again, it seems like something they might have been better off updating for this remaster. To be honest, I also think that the main villain was rather forgettable, and that the Yakuza stuff going down in Kamurocho oftentimes felt more like a distraction which returned to the tropes of the series rather than the fun and refreshing time we had on Okinawa. It might have been a bit better paced if we didn't find ourselves going back and forth, or rather, just dealt with smaller issues throughout, because a large part of why the main villain seems so forgettable is because it feels like we're treading over things we've already covered in previous games. The biggest flaw of the game by far, though, is just how clunky it feels: the horizontal axis on the camera is quite sensitive and takes a bit of getting used to (with no option to adjust in the settings), and fights feel incredibly sluggish. To make matters worse, though, enemies block in this game far more than they do in any other - and yes, this is even the case for bosses, who were already notorious for having fights which went on maybe a bit too long in other games already - which narrows your options in battles considerably, and I often found myself waiting for the enemy to swing before sidestepping, unleashing a single chain of attacks, before they're blocking again and you must wait for them to hit you so that you can sidestep them - again. 

I think it's held back by it's age, with dated, slower, and somewhat clunky controls, and doesn't have the most interesting Yakuza storyline, but it still has a great cast, a fun world, and plenty of hilarious substories to experience, all of which still manage to make this game a great time. The best escape from this pandemic by a long shot. 

 

Edited by Julius
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Great read, @Julius.

I played Valkyria Chronicles for the first time back in 2018 and really enjoyed it. It has such a great story and I found the gameplay to be really unique. Also, you can break the game quite easily by using Alicia. It made getting the best ranks quite easy. :D I really need to pick up the 4th game at some point.

The Last of Us is such a great game. Everything about it just felt perfect. You mentioned the areas never feeling too large and this is a big reason why I have yet to pick up the sequel. My eldest brother is a huge fan of the original game but dropped the sequel due to how bloated it felt. I've heard others say the same. 

Yakuza 3 is the next game in the series that I need to play. I picked up the collection at Argos a few months back when they were selling it for £22.99 but I've yet to get around starting it.

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3 hours ago, Hero-of-Time said:

Great read, @Julius.

I played Valkyria Chronicles for the first time back in 2018 and really enjoyed it. It has such a great story and I found the gameplay to be really unique. Also, you can break the game quite easily by using Alicia. It made getting the best ranks quite easy. :D I really need to pick up the 4th game at some point.

The Last of Us is such a great game. Everything about it just felt perfect. You mentioned the areas never feeling too large and this is a big reason why I have yet to pick up the sequel. My eldest brother is a huge fan of the original game but dropped the sequel due to how bloated it felt. I've heard others say the same. 

Yakuza 3 is the next game in the series that I need to play. I picked up the collection at Argos a few months back when they were selling it for £22.99 but I've yet to get around starting it.

Obligatory post incoming...

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I have to because it’s true.

Other than that one incredibly exploitable flaw, Valkyria Chronicles is a good time.

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Lego Ninjago Movie

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I've been silently picking away at this between the other games i've been playing. Warner Bros Games were kind enough to give the game away for free during the first lockdown and seeing as it's been a while since I played a Lego game, I figured I would take a break from playing indie games and concentrate on finishing this off today and get it off the backlog.

I watched the Ninjago movie last year on Sky and quite enjoyed it. The game follows the movie pretty closely, with movie clips being scattered throughout the game. There are times where things are skipped though, probably for the sake of time. There's probably only so much they wanted to show from the movie without giving the whole thing away for free.

I've spoke about this in the past but I will say it again here. I used to love the Lego games. The original Star Wars, Indiana Jones and Pirates of the Caribbean Lego games were great fun. They were nice and simple, stage by stage games with little hub worlds to explore. Slowly but surely the games started to become more and more bloated and eventually they moved into a more open world type of game. The main stages were massive and then you had a huge open world to explore. The size of the things weren't the only issue. With the games becoming so large then that would mean more testing would be needed but clearly this process went out the window because the games became very buggy, especially for achievement/trophy hunters. It became pot luck whether you would be able to 100% the games without any issues.

I happy to say that this game has certainly scaled things back a lot and streamlined the game, whilst adding things to the mix. You have around 10 stages to play through and after that you get to explore each of them with any new abilities you have. Replaying the stages in explore mode combines the open world gameplay and the standard stage gameplay into one and it's a much better experience for it. One of the annoying things in the old games was that you had to play the game once, then play it again in freeplay mode and then play through the open world stuff. This trims the fat and because of this the game doesn't end up feeling like a chore to play.

The new things added to the game are the Dojos and multiplayer modes. The multiplayer modes are 4 player competitive mini games and are quite throw away experiences but the Dojos are great. These are challenges where you have to earn so many studs certain high score to unlock characters and gold blocks. If you get a gold rank on these then you will get characters that have abilities that will unlock new areas when you go into explore mode. Basically, if you play through each of the Dojos straight after finishing the game then you will be completely set to unlock everything in explore mode. Again, this has been nicely streamlined from previous games because in the past you may have been missing a certain character/ability and you would have to search through each of the levels to find and unlock who you needed.

The combat system has also been changed in this game. It's nothing fancy but it does add a little something extra to the game. If you can keep your combo going you will earn a multiplier for the studs you are collecting. Dodging, making enemies dizzy and then unleashing a combo attack will give better results and amount to a higher combo. Past games just had you run around and randomly hitting the attack button, with stud multipliers been activated by the cheats/red blocks you unlocked but with this game you actually need to try think a little about how you engage with the enemies. 

I'm happy that WB Games gave me the opportunity to play this as it does fill me with a little hope that the Lego team will implement some of the these changes into the new Star Wars game that releases next year. If they keep the level formula that they have here then it may be a day one purchase for me.

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Got a code for an early look at a unique tower defence game, with a lot more going on than a first glance suggests.

[Together] Steampunk Tower 2 (Part 1)

Old Nintendo Gamer & Son test out this action strategy tower defence game. There’s more than meets the eye with this one.

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Catch-up post #2. 

JUNE

XENOBLADE CHRONICLES | 2010

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DEFINITIVE EDITION | 2020

I'd been holding out for a few years when Nintendo announced last year in a Direct that Xenoblade Chronicles would be making it's way to the Nintendo Switch, with a fresh coat of paint and a number of quality of life improvements. 

This game starts out rough, in that it is almost overwhelming with so little progression in its opening hours. Tutorial screen after tutorial screen, massive areas where you can get lost in any direction, quest markers and green dots (NPC's with something supposedly important to say) filling up the map. I found myself questioning whether I was ready for a long haul JRPG, which I can honestly say is the first time that I've ever asked myself, especially after looking forward to a game for so long. Just give it another hour, I thought to myself.

And I'm glad I did. 

The opening hours of this game are light on story but quite heavy on exposition, but a short smattering of it later, finding myself familiarised with how to traverse Colony 9 - and the areas immediately surrounding it - and doing a couple of quests, and it all just clicks. Don't get me wrong: it is overwhelming. But once you've adjusted, once the frequency of tutorials popping up dies down a little, the quests and sense of exploration take hold, and quickly became this loop I craved to run around in over and over again. 

Experience for finding a new area. A treasure trove of experience for finding a secret area. A map which is simple to read (if a little confusing in terms of bridging levels at times), more than happy to lead you to directly to the next area to critical path the story, but is filled with exclamation marks to boot once you've stocked up on quests. You might not remember which quest you're taking that monster down or picking up that item for, but it's the perfect way to guide your wider exploration of the world and level up.

It rarely felt like grinding. The feedback loop of arriving at new settlement, talking to the locals and taking on a load of side quests, explore a new area and tackling a load of side quests, raking in items, EXP, materials, etc., is honestly one of the best I've encountered from the perspective of making you want to explore. I don't need these items, and I don't need this EXP, but it's on the way/just slightly off the beaten path, so I might as well check it out, and I would be grinding in a JRPG anyways. The UI is simple to navigate, and not having to make my way back to complete all of the side quests and being able to be told that I've completed them mid-fight is such a simple but respectful thing to do. That's without mentioning the generous checkpoints pushing you to explore, or how there aren't any traditional healing items (at least that I've come across yet) but instead your health regenerates insanely quick while exploring after a battle, and battles feel like they're in their own vacuum, like when a protagonist in an anime recovers from a fight in one episode to be back at it again against someone else in the next. And then there's jumping (or rather, falling, much of the time!) and taking fall damage which quickly recovers, but balances out the adventuring of the world with the fact that this is a JRPG. 

And speaking of adventuring, the sheer scale of this game put a grin on my face time after time, it made me feel giddy and almost like a child - you know, that sense of awe and wonder every time you saw something enormous, or cool, or remotely interesting? It's such a powerful thing for a game to put you back in that mindset, and it's one of the best reasons to play Xenoblade Chronicles. This game is MASSIVE, and it does such a great job of conveying that. Not only that, but time after time, I was blown away by just how diverse and unique locations were, massive new zones which are basically their own biomes with their own acclimatised fauna and flora, and extremely memorable by just how far this game goes with its colour palette and scale. At times, it almost feels as if it's taunting you: I mean, you bought that the world is massive, right? You'll probably buy the trees glowing at certain times of day too. I think a big part of that is the verticality of this game, and the scalability of those vertical components: climbing up vines, descending down ladders, jumping from a cliff above a massive waterfall, it's something I haven't really found as a focal point in world design in other JRPG's, or honestly, many other games in general. You see the head of that titan up above you? You can go there.

I want to share an example of the game's scale giving me that sense of awe, which I shared in the game's thread early on into my playthrough, but want to share again here, because it was probably the most memorable time it happened. 

Spoiler

After making my way through Tephra Cave, I was met by the starry night sky and looked out at the eerie piercing red of the Mechonis' eyes, way off in the distance. It was pretty terrifying. I turned and started making my way up the start of the Bionis' Leg, but before turning the corner, the sun rose and I instinctively turned back around, to be met with this wonderful view of the towering giant. 

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And later that same "day", from Gaur Plains:

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It's incredible. I lost count of the number of times I was in awe of this game. Sword Valley? The giant sword up above you, viewed from Gaur Plains? The sheer scale from the bottom of the Mechonis later in the game? It's amazing. 

And I haven't even got started on the level variety of creatures in these massive areas, which again, feeds into the feeling of this being a real, living and breathing ecosystem, and encountering a LV. 90 enemy rightly informs you that you are definitely going the wrong way - but load times after death are forgiving and very fast for a world of this size, they really want to let you loose and just explore, a far cry from what you would typically expect from a JRPG. Attacking a beast and then seamlessly transitioning into battle, the types of triggers which can draw them to you (sight, sound, being attacked), utilising Arts, preparing and making full use of Chains...the battle system is very unique, even if it does feel like its overstayed its welcome by the end of the game. 

This game is not without flaws. It has pacing issues in the second half. The story is pretty predictable...even by JRPG standards. Again, the battle system doesn't do much in terms of progressing in any meaningful way in the second half. Some quest chains are ridiculously long, or tedious, or both. Technically, not a spectacular game (frame rate dips and pop-in are consistent throughout). Some members of the cast are kind of tossed aside in the second half, which is a shame. The lack of a Photo Mode for the times in the game where you say to hell with the technical side of the game, the sense of scale is spectacular, I'm going to open the Settings, empty my HUD, zoom in until I am quite literally in the character, and the weapon on their back is no longer visible, adjust the camera - WAIT! the weapon is visible from this angle, turn slightly... - and then screenshot (and this is assuming that your Party Gauge is empty, otherwise enjoy waiting for that to drain, because for some reason it won't disappear with the rest of the HUD you just went into settings to remove). Being staggered out of the use of an Art (a similar issue I had with Final Fantasy VII Remake earlier in the year). Hilariously bad examples of clipping. And I do feel that the zones should have zoned in a bit in terms of scale much further from the end than they end up doing. Oh, and the game really pushing for you to do some crazy high-levelled quests towards the end (which I had a blast with), but then not having a scalable final boss (which, uh, given the context of what the final boss is, perhaps more than ever, makes very little sense) meaning that it's a cakewalk. 

And yet, despite its flaws, this is a game I would recommend to anyone, on the back of a rewarding gameplay loop, great world design and scale, and, you guessed it: a killer soundtrack. Yoko Shimomura, Manami Kiyota, ACE+, and Yasunori Mitsuda deliver a soundtrack which is an embarrassment of riches, covering a variety of genres, feels like it would be at home alongside some of the best and most diverse Final Fantasy soundtracks, and takes this game up another level. One such example of this is in most location tracks featuring day and night versions, which greatly fleshes out the vibe for the location, and goes a long way to defining your relationship with it; for instance, Satorl Marsh (Night) is this ethereal track filled with light piano strokes, strings, and an understated vocal element which makes you feel like you're floating in some fantasy, whereas Satorl Marsh (Day) brings a steady beat, bass, and heavier piano strokes to the forefront. Hometown feels like a starting Pokémon town in the best possible way, it captures a light and hopeful feeling extremely well; Gaur Plains is this epic adventurous track which makes you want to explore its wide open fields; A Friend On My Mind is a particularly beautiful composition, which always makes me a bit misty eyed; A Tragic Decision is an insanely diverse, rich, and haunting track; Riki the Legendary Heropon (yes it deserves to be here, it's a very silly but well composed track, plus the seriousness of the guitar is hilarious!); Thoughts Enshrined(/While I Think)The End Lies Ahead(/To the Last Battle)Ancient Mysteries with its slow and epic choir; the epic electric guitar riffs and awesome as hell trumpets in You Will Know Our Names; I could go on and on, and I'd probably end up listing half of the soundtrack, they did that good a job. However, there's a certain track which plays in an overwhelming amount of cutscenes, which builds slowly, has an intense guitar solo, a moment to breathe with a few piano strokes, and then, hits you with everything all at once: Engage The Enemy, easily my favourite track in the game. 

Xenoblade Chronicles is not going to be for everyone, and it's far from a flawless game. That being said, in a vast sea of JRPG's, Xenoblade Chronicles - with it's epic scale, world class soundtrack, and wonderful gameplay loop - is perhaps one of the most ambitious, keeping me hooked for the better part of the 70+ hours I spent with it, and I wouldn't have had it any other way.  

THE LAST OF US PART II | 2020

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There is so much, yet so little, I want to actually say about The Last of Us Part II. A lot has been said - good, bad, and even sometimes in the middle - about this game, and I truly believe that I could write page after page about this game, like so many have, and so many will. But I think doing so would genuinely rob those who have yet to play the game of one of gaming's most intriguing and most complete experiences, and if anything, this is one of those rare games I'd rather people just experience, so while the rest of this will be focused on my opinions and thoughts about the game, I'm not going to be spoiling anything. Not even in spoiler tags. 

Let me get one thing out of the way: The Last of Us Part II is perhaps one of the most intense and emotionally draining experiences I have experienced in any form of entertainment. It is unrelentingly ferocious in its violent imagery, incredibly vivid in its depiction of love and hate, and horrifying in its insight to the potential malice of humanity. Blood spatters and sprays as the enemy clutches their neck, the blood audibly gurgling in their throat, before collapsing heavily in a heap; wailing on the enemy, cutting through them like butter as your breath grows tired and your face is dyed red; the unanswered screams of the enemy looking for their friend, now face down in a pool of his own blood. Every facet of combat is visceral, from the audio design of a machete meeting the long handle of an axe as it protects its wielder, to the fluid animation as you dive into the grass after being spotted while you searched for a way around, scrambling as you reach for something - a gun, a bow and arrow, a distraction - to protect yourself with. The production values of this game are on a level I don't think we've ever seen before, with faces and the Infected looking as detailed as one could possibly be comfortable with, and it's ironic that a game this beautiful is so grotesque and unremorseful in its depiction of violence. 

The story to this game is absolutely epic, in terms of its scale, design, and structure. It does an awfully good job of putting you in someone else's shoes, making you see Ellie's perspective, but then shifting the perspective and then asking questions of you: is she doing the right thing? Is Ellie going too far? As important and as well characterised as Ellie is in this game by Ashley Johnson, a lot of the heavy lifting in this game is done by the excellent work of its secondary characters, who, like the game's story, are constantly questioning why Ellie is willing to go so far, and be so brutal. Is it love? Or hate? Which is it that is driving her in this moment? While I do think that the game can be a bit heavy-handed when it comes to its core themes at times, it does so with such ambition, and such great range, that it's hard to not praise Naughty Dog in how they wrote this game, Neil Druckmann, of course, in particular. There were easier routes to take as a writer, but above all else, Druckmann is true to this game's characters and world - for better and for worse. This all being said, I do think that while the game has an abundance of memorable and great moments and interactions, it can oftentimes feel lonely when compared with the first game, as we control the hands of a much older and much more independent Ellie. That being said, the guitar mini game (a really fun use of the touchpad, and a great way to involve us in what could have easily been a cutscene), and hearing Ellie play the guitar and sing covers of some songs - mostly when she has someone around to listen - are especially touching, and Ashley Johnson has a brilliant voice. 

And I do think that the game - the second half in particular, though it is noticeable throughout - has some serious pacing problems, and while a large part of this is down to the story structure and writing itself, it's also down to areas being much larger, too. There is an area early on where you have free reign to explore a few blocks of a city, which is an amazing and open experience, and I want to make it clear: I have no issue with that part. It made sense in that the characters were searching for clues on what to do next, stock up, and so on, that this part of the game should have been more open. But throughout the game, everything just seems much larger than it needs to be, from the number of buildings you're free to explore in an area, to the number and size of the rooms in that building, to the size of that building's hallways - it always feel like you're reaching for something, which is a little further away than it would have been in the first game. This isn't to say that areas are scarce on supplies - far from it; in fact I would say the opposite turns out to be the truth - but rather, the physical space between those supplies seems further than it perhaps needs to be. Areas are big and fill up so quickly with enemies that stocking up after a battle makes the most sense, and so the game is clearly pushing you to explore to stock back up, but it feels like you're searching multiple buildings here, whereas in the first game you might be searching only one or two. 

In terms of exploration, this means that the collectibles - which told so much of the story in the first game - are also very spread out, and while I think they did just as strong a job here with things like the safe puzzles and with other items or visuals in fleshing the world out, it all felt awfully familiar: scribbled notes, lengthy diary entries, and light puzzles. Another big part of exploration is that it all feels very natural, and gone are the white lines of the game to give you a sense of direction, instead relying more on the visual cues and logical hints the folks at Naughty Dog have left for you to follow. While it's generally very seamless, and does a great job of pointing you in the right direction, there were admittedly one or two times where I did find myself questioning if I was going the right way; as areas are generally larger and more open to exploration this time around, it meant that I would often find a way out only accessible through a short QTE (you know, the ones where you hammer square to push a door open, or triangle to pull a garage door's chain down), recognise this as being the way forward, and tap circle to back out of the QTE so that I would be free to continue exploring; this admittedly did go quite some way to breaking my immersion while looking around abandoned buildings and closed off exteriors. 

I could speak about the music until I'm blue in the face, but all you really need to know is that Gustavo Santaolalla once again knocked it out of the park, but the addition of Mac Quayle and his unique, almost Hans Zimmer-like touch with the wailing of strings, brass, and guitar blaring scenes into life, screaming at you to take action, is also excellent. It adds an entirely new soundscape to the soundtrack when compared with the first game, a whole other dimension of music to demand your attention on a whim. 

I also think that what Naughty Dog has accomplished with this game with regards to accessibility is nothing short of brilliant, and it puts many other meagre AAA efforts to shame. I found myself spending 5 minutes just looking through them at the start of the game, and I seriously do hope that it shines a beacon to those less abled gamers that there are studios who are more than happy to put in the extra time and money so that you can share in experiences those more able than themselves often take for granted - myself included. It's worth checking out this video (don't worry, no spoilers there either) if you weren't already aware of the accessibility options in this game. I really think it's worth the time to take a look so as to appreciate it, but also, I think it's just great to have that perspective of how fortunate many of us are. I know I take it for granted a lot, especially in my love of playing games, and so I hope this only continues to be something we see trend on a larger scale in the coming years. 

The Last of Us Part II is a game like no other. Heck, at times, I think it's unfair to compare it to other games, it almost feels like it's redefined what a video game story can be. Time and time again I found myself being offered a string of QTE's in important cutscenes, struggling against characters this game told me were the bad guys, but with its sense of perspective and its attempts to challenge your own desires to "be the good guy" and "do the right thing", more than once I found myself looking away from the screen, lost in this grey moral area, hesitating to press square. If that doesn't speak to the power of video games as a storytelling medium - to gain perspective, empathy, and introspective moral questioning - I don't know what can.

Yes, you have to be in the mood to play this game; yes, it is going to take a toll, in a number of ways.

But, by its end, it is a brilliantly stunning, horrifyingly human, meandering epic of a game, and despite its flaws, I implore you, if you haven't already, to experience The Last of Us Part II. 

Edited by Julius
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Pokemon Sword and Shield obligatory objective complete :p

 

 

Crown Tundra wound up distracting me from trying to do the Galaxy 2 Green Stars, need to get back to that sometime...

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In other news, been playing the usual side games as well as going back to Super Mario Galaxy 2. Man, I forgot how hard Melty Monster Galaxy is and these Green Stars are especially tricky. The third one is proving to be problematic...

 

While playing Magic Arena I decided to take it to the next level and started recording my experiences, the result is this video, the first in a multi card game experience of a Youtube series where I play kitchen table level decks online. If you think that sounds like it would be a disaster... you'd be right. But you may also be surprised...

 

 

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Managed to get a code from High Tea Frog for Ckae Bash.  They saw our demo videos and wanted a few more of the full game.

[Together] Cake Bash (Part 1)

Old Nintendo Gamer & Son take their first run through the Main Mode, Get Tasty, to see what delicious extras the full game has to offer over the demo.

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Played My Time at Portia for a while. A resource gathering, crafting game with relationships and dungeons (kind of a bit like a 3D Stardew Valley). 

 

I was enjoying it, but it definitely feels like an early access game. Some thinks are well made, others seem lazy. It only saves at the end of each day, I got fairly far into the game and had a very long dungeon. Finished it, built some other things, then the game got softlocked and I really don't feel like going through that dungeon again.

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So yesterday I finally got around to completing Mario Galaxy 2.

 

 

 

Grandmaster Galaxy was an absolute pain to get through on the Perfect Run, in spite of having seen this level done multiple times on Youtube. I grinded to 99 lives twice and still lost lives well more than idea. The main sections of particular difficulty were the flip panel sections with the shcokwaves and the end section with all the Hammer Bros. I found for most of the level if you get a rhythm goingyou can consistently pass many sections but that Hammer Bros section isn't like that an does seem to require a bit more dexterity and looking at where they're throwing the hammers.

 

At any rate, I'm probably going to move on to Super Mario 3D World and try and complete that next. At least after 10 years of starting the game I finally got round to getting 100% on it. So only 3D World and Odyssey on the list of Mario games I've yet to 100%.

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Onto the third and final of the co-op multiplayer games in NintendoLand.

[Together] NintendoLand: Zelda Battle Quest (Part 1)

Old Nintendo Gamer & Son battle their way through Hyrule. Lee on the bow (GamePad) and Morgan swinging his sword all over the place (levels 1-8).

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Played about 7 chapters of Killzone Shadow Fall and it's absolutely atrocious. Level design is a complete and utter mess, it's an absolute pain to navigate and work out where you're going (especially when the range of the grapple varies massively based on where you're "allowed" to grapple.

Combat is not particularly fun, enemies are really dull. Spawning of enemies just seems unfair (you can carefully approach areas but enemies won't actually turn up until you're in a designated ambush location). It's just not fun.

 I have zero idea what the story is about and it makes no sense. Googling previous games doesn't seem to help.

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[Together] NintendoLand: Zelda Battle Quest (Part 2)

Old Nintendo Gamer & Son battle their way through Hyrule. Lee on the bow (GamePad) and Morgan swinging his sword all over the place (levels 8-12).

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Played about 4 hours of No Man's Sky on PS5 this week to wind down in the evenings.
Such a relaxing game (aside from the first 30 minutes when it's a constant struggle for survival :D).

Deleted my base, i.e. the one you have to build for the main quest, so my mate and I will be able to build one from scratch together.
Yesterday we tried coop. Setting it up is simple: Just invite your friend.

However, the coop kinda suffers from one major flaw: Quests only progress for you. Which means you gotta do everything yourself. It kinda makes sense, given the amount of stuff the game teaches you, but it's a pet peeve of mine...

Anyways, my mate's first arrival on a planet, narrated by him and me (loosely transcribed by me):

Spoiler

 

"Ok, what the fuck?
I'M DYING, WHAT DO I DO? RADIATION DAMAGE? REPAIR WHAT? HOW?"

"Relax, you gotta follow the instructions"

"BUT I'M FUCKING DYING"

"Dude, stop screaming at me. I'm here to help." (I'm constantly laughing :laughing:)

"SHUT THE FUCK UP, THIS IS BULLSHIT.
And I'm dead. SHIT.
Ok ok, I repaired this. I NEED SODIUM, WHERE CAN I FIND SODIUM?"

"Use the scanner...the game tells you to..."

"BUT I'M DYING AGAIN!"

"Yeah...use the scanner to find sodium. That'll keep you alive"

"OH MY GOD, what is this weird creature?
Ah, there's sodium, cool. So what do I do next?"

He then proceeds to follow the quest, read up some stuff and eventually finds his spaceship.

 

This is gonna be fun :D 

Regarding Sniper Ghost Warrior 3: I think I'm halfway through the main quest.
Also found at leat 50% of the collectibles. Looks like I'm going for the Platinum after all. :p 

What do I think about the game?
Gameplay is quite fun. Very slow, but the gunplay is great. At least for the sniper rifles. Sidearms are very clunky.
Not sure if the open world is doing the game any favours. I feel like structured missions in large but enclosed areas would suit the game more.

"Hey drahkon, what about the story and characters?", you ask.
(spoilers follow...not that you'd want to play the game for the story anway...)
"Sit down and let me tell you what I know:
I play as a military/marine/whatever the fuck guy. I have a brother. I see him being taken away during a mission. 30 seconds into the quest of finding him I realized that the only outcome will be: My brother is somehow the enemy.

There are other characters in play: Some blond chick who apparently was the love of my life but something went down and fucked everything up. Other characters include: a couple of voices I hear on a communication device. Neat.

 A war is currently taking place, too. Or a fight between some factions? Or there's some bigshot motherfucker pulling some strings? I don't know, I don't care. I skipped all the cutscenes and barely listened to anything those boringass characters keep talking about.

Also: There's some weird genetic manipulation thing going on...23 society. I'm dead serious...my brother apparently is a super solider now."

Anyways, that's where I'm at with the story :laughing: 

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The Spectrum Retreat. It feels like two quite jarring games smashed together. Half of the game is about a mysterious hotel which is actually a simulation, you are trying to hack out of it while repeating the same day over and over, you have no memories and are trying to remember what happened to you (although the mystery isn't very engaging, at the start you find "memories" of medical bills relating to your daughter, and with that I pretty much had it figured out). 

The second half is a Portal-like puzzle game. The concept is interesting. There are barriers in different colours, your not-Portal device has to be a matching colour to go through (although some are bridges, so you want to avoid that colour to walk over it). You "shoot" blocks of colour to swap the colours between it and your device, so a lot of the game is turning the right blocks into the right colour to enable you to get through a corridor of barriers.

I do quite enjoy the puzzles and the concept of them. there is, however, a major flaw: soft locks. It is far to easy to mess up something in a puzzle in such a way that it's impossible to proceed (so you need to go to the menu and restart that level). If this was 100% the fault of the player it wouldn't be too bad, but often these soft locks can be the result of making a swap which means something later on in the level (which you can't see or know) needs. Other times, it's because you needed to remember a certain order from 5 minutes ago. These soft lock issues just come across as bad level design. It just felt frustrating and I didn't feel like it was worth it to try and finish it.

 

The Unfinished Swan is very charming. There isn't really that much to the game (a lot of it is kind of just walking forward), but it's very pretty to look at and is quite short, which kind of helps it. I would love an expanded take on the gameplay, turning it into a puzzle game of sorts. I was kind of expecting a bit more "trickery" as well. 

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The third and final co-op multiplayer game fully completed.  Onto the Single player games next, actually finished recording them today.

[Together] NintendoLand: Zelda Battle Quest (Part 3)

Old Nintendo Gamer & Son battle their way through Hyrule. Lee on the bow (GamePad) and Morgan swinging his sword all over the place (levels 13-14).

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Ever so slightly playing more Pokmeon Trading Card Game Online recently than Magic Arena. Got quite invested in the economy over the weekend.

 

On that note, I made a video of me actually playing with newer Pokemon cards on said online game, was released a couple of days ago! Playing my real life deck in this video. Spoiler... it doesn't go very well!

 

 

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No way, on my first try, I actually found an online game of Super Bomberman R on Switch! Took a few minutes, but considering how old the game is, and that I've never found a game on PC that's pretty good! Game's a bit slow to respond to input online tbh (although that might be cause I'm using a wireless connection for my Switch :P). But it's playable. :)

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30 minutes ago, Sckewi said:

No way, on my first try, I actually found an online game of Super Bomberman R on Switch! Took a few minutes, but considering how old the game is, and that I've never found a game on PC that's pretty good! Game's a bit slow to respond to input online tbh (although that might be cause I'm using a wireless connection for my Switch :P). But it's playable. :)

The game is currently on a heavy discount (I've never seen it so low), so there may have been a recent influx of new players.

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S4WTNIE.jpg

There it is. The second Platinum I got while playing on a PS5.

This time it's from a PS4 game: Sniper Ghost Warrior 3.

Did I enjoy it? Yes, the missions and shooting gameplay are good fun.
Did I enjoy going for the Platinum? Kind of. The collectibles were a tad annoying.

Anyways, the game is a solid 6/10. Good gameplay, but the open world is entirely unnecessary.

 

Already know what to play next: Persona 5.

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Finally got some new games to play. I have just gotten Spider-Man Miles Morales (the PS4 version).

 

Played the opening segment and a bit after that, the last thing I did was the train puzzle. So far definitely feeling similar to the original though I'm not sure about the soundtrack so far and liked the theme that plays when swinging in the first game a bit better than the first one but I guess they wanted this to be feeling a bit different from the previous game with a different Spider-Man. Also the early cutscenes have made the villain totally obvious >.>

 

I find it interesting that the new mechanic in the game is called Venom. In a Spider-Man game... wonder if he's going to show up?...

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