Classics


 

Super Metroid

Super Metroid remains one of the best designed Metroidvanias of gaming, with fantastic level design and visual distinction, as well as good controls and excellent player options. Put this alongside fantastic tone and atmosphere, and you have a game that has aged beautifully over the years.
Total Story Score: +8
Total Gameplay Score: +17

 
Spoiler Pluses and Minuses +

Story Positives:

  • Atmospheric usage of music and sound
  • Incredible, and consistent, gameplay and story integration
  • Excellent pace of events, following a flow from highs, lows, spikes, and pauses in tempo and intensity
  • Visual storytelling is everywhere throughout the game
  • The Wrecked Ship and the story it tells without a single line of dialogue
  • The fantastic visual and audio storytelling of the post-Ridley fight
  • Tourian in its entirety, with good atmosphere, distinct visuals from the rest of the game, music and audio both designed to augment the tone, and the enemies being used as a storytelling tool
  • Making me somehow care about the death of a metroid… dammit

Story Negatives:

  •  

Gameplay Positives:

  • Good usage of the demo at start to tutorialize as well as inform
  • Ceres Station; Stylized design, quiet lack of music without being silent, clear showcasing of things being wrong, first glance at Ridley. You can’t lose the Ridley fight, avoiding punishing new players too badly. The red filter (contrasting the earlier blue), fake damage from steam, music, alarm, timer, tilting, all make the player feel threatened without actually introducing legitimately difficult or irritating level design
  • Incredible, and consistent, gameplay and story integration throughout
  • Excellent use of directed level design to push the player in given directions without railroading them
  • Consistent usage of the ‘filling the cracks of explorable area’ mentality throughout the game
  • The map design showcases major items and areas, does not show everything, and also gives the player a guide on where to go
  • The mini boss serves as a good combat tutorial; He has three main attacks, one that’s designed to be dodged, one that’s designed to refill your ammo and health, and one that’s designed to just hurt you
  • The Spore Spawn is a great fight. The music compliments the constant nature of the threat of the boss, given that (unless you know what you’re doing) there’s no ‘pause’ or ‘safe’ moment. The difficulty on this mini boss is increased without being unfair, and the game gives you all the tools in the fight to defeat him
  • Kraid is just an awesome fight. Huge, great music, seemingly tons of damage coming from everywhere but actually mostly light damage or easily avoidable, and a big obvious weak point to help guide the player into harder fights
  • The music is just phenomenal throughout
  • The graphics are great and have aged well. They use color well, each area is distinct, the spritework is distinct, and there are visual indicators everywhere
  • You are encouraged, rewarded, and guided in exploring throughout the game
  • Phantoon is the first genuinely difficult boss, and serves as an exam for all the previous mini-bosses as well as Kraid. His presentation is excellent, he has only a bit of randomness to him, you have very little room to maneuver making it much harder to dodge, and he has many attacks
  • The Wrecked Ship is just great. The design of it is completely the reverse of normal; fight boss first, which changes the ship format, which leads to a good type of backtracking, and the reward from it all opens up almost the entire world
  • Ridley is a great fight. Very traditional difficulty with fast moving boss and attacks that hurt a lot, the fight is very vertical and allows for a very frenetic pace, it’s fun, there’s multiple ways to kill him, and it feels very satisfying pulling it off
  • Everything about the Mother Brain encounter, from the lead up, the bait and switch with the Metroid 1 expectations, the music during her fight being loud and bombastic and terrifying, and giving the player the rampage moment to avenge the baby
  • Massive replayability
  • Mostly excellent usage of backtracking throughout the level design, making backtracking either varied in terms of terrain, or varied in terms of path and utility for the player
  • Everything about the final escape sequence is a perfect bookend to Ceres at the beginning. It is intense, it escalates in difficulty, it is frantic and honestly difficult at times, it is wonderfully visually presented as the background and level goes more and more unstable, and once again it is good backtracking

Gameplay Negatives:

  • Some of the power ups here and there have absolutely no indication of their existence whatsoever and either require shooting everything or scanning every square inch of the world
  • The Grapple Beam has squirrely controls, is intended to be mandatory, and just generally frustrating
  • There is a lack of proper checkpointing throughout, especially in Tourian, which leads to making the game more frustrating than it should in punishing mistakes

Donkey Kong Country

While still a good game, Donkey Kong Country is mostly notable for how it would set the bar for the future games in the series. Featuring a lot of frustrating gameplay and imprecise hit and hurt boxes, the game nonetheless is still a classic net positive and is still fun to go through to this day.
Total Story Score: +1
Total Gameplay Score: +6

 
Spoiler Pluses and Minuses +

Story Positives:

  • Amusing and well characterized ending. Also, everything about Cranky Kong

Story Negatives:

  •  

Gameplay Positives:

  • Excellent music that is both atmospheric to highlight the levels, as well as enjoyable to listen to on its own
  • Continued variance and usage of music to compliment the level design
  • Significant effort done to design a very specific graphical style of the pseudo 3D, and maintain it throughout the work
  • Varied usage of gimmicks and challenges across the levels
  • Re-use of existing enemies and obstacles in new and different ways to vary gameplay
  • Music is just… that damned good
  • King K. Rool is an awesome, varied endurance fight
  • The last world has legitimately challenging, fun, and varied levels, which is a nice breather from the previous two
  • Different playstyle between the two Kongs is good, ease of switching between the two is good, and not having to rely on a given one throughout is good

Gameplay Negatives:

  • Hitboxes and hurtboxes are just too damned difficult to figure out on the fly, and are inconsistent
  • Generally bad and frustrating checkpoint placement, as well as overworld save placement
  • Camera is awful, taking too long to catch up or not showing the right things, which leads to an over-reliance on ‘gotcha’ traps to artificially increase difficulty in the middle worlds

Mega Man 7

Despite looking nice, Mega Man 7 just has not aged all that well, and relies on unusual and imprecise difficulty to elongate playtime, and generally lacks the polish and refinement of previous and later Mega Man titles.
Total Story Score: -1
Total Gameplay Score: +3

 
Spoiler Pluses and Minuses +

Story Positives:

  •  

Story Negatives:

  • Failure to follow through with story elements, interrupted character arcs, and a disappointing ending

Gameplay Positives:

  • In addition to the usual explorative power ups and items, player can improve their toolkit with an in game bolt currency, as an option
  • Excellent variety and distinction of graphics and general spritework
  • Great music… except for the shop song
  • Exceptionally precise controls and movement
  • Dynamic levels based on boss kill order, weapon usage, and player interaction
  • Level design varies and challenges in new and different ways across the original 8 stages
  • The Robotmaster fights are good, enjoyable, varied, and challenging

Gameplay Negatives:

  • Sound design is just awful across the board, but most notably with the charge shot tone
  • Unskippable cutscenes before difficult boss fights
  • Boss refights are boring and barely different, resulting in padding
  • Wily 2 has too many discordant elements in its boss fight, and the result is just lackluster at best

Golden Sun

While the story lacks any real strength or oomph to it, somehow this RPG manages to be consistently enjoyable to play, owing mostly to surprisingly excellent level and puzzle design. Sadly the approach to trash encounters is just awful, making combat boring after a certain point, and aggravating even further on.
Total Story Score: +1
Total Gameplay Score: +5

 
Spoiler Pluses and Minuses +

Story Positives:

  • Each individual region has their own story arcs, which are tightly contained, interesting, and engaging, and contribute to the feeling of being out adventuring

Story Negatives:

  •  

Gameplay Positives:

  • Animation in combat is good and interesting, and helped by pseudo-3D elements
  • The spritework in general is excellent, with good visual distinction
  • The puzzle design dungeons with Synergy as the toolkit are fun and interesting
  • Some quality of life features (ability to save anywhere, restoring MP by walking out of combat, time-based summoning) encourage the player to feel more free to use abilities, experiment, and feel less stressed
  • Usage of pushblocks to vary up dungeon design and a lack of encounters in puzzle-heavy areas contributes to enjoyable level design
  • Continued variety in puzzle design across the dungeons
  • Still continued variety and enjoyment of puzzle design across the dungeons, all the way to the end of the game

Gameplay Negatives:

  • Aggregate: The lack of any meaningful options or settings // Targeting does not rollover in combat // No memory cursor in combat
  • The trash is just awful. Encounter rate is too high, fights drag on too much and require you to pay attention too much, and the trash is not particularly rewarding in gold or experience, making the whole thing drag

Valkyrie Profile Lenneth

A great core concept hampered by constant design issues peppered throughout, the game is still fun and something I recommend everyone give a try at least once. As an aside, I would also recommend a walkthrough for getting the good ending, as it adds substantially to the story and gameplay.
Total Story Score: +1
Total Gameplay Score: +2

 
Spoiler Pluses and Minuses +

Story Positives:

  • The core concept is fascinating; gathering people up, seeing short stories of the end of their lives
  • Very unique directorial style; events being portrayed in short-hand, rather than literally, implying more than is shown on camera

Story Negatives:

  • The voice acting is just… awful. Wrong tone, wrong emphasis, wrong everything

Gameplay Positives:

  • The spritework is just fantastic
  • Additional plus for the really good spritework, combined with excellent animation
  • The combat is, for the most part, legitimately enjoyable. Smooth, fast-paced, well animated, and the hotkey system works great, as well as timing combos and other effects
  • A second plus for the combat, which is a decent way to bring player skill into turn based combat
  • The music is pretty good throughout
  • Avoiding enemies is relatively easy to do, between jumping and freezing, and grinding is generally de-emphasized
  • The inherent gameplay structure is so well designed that, despite interface, bad translation, and other issues, the core gameplay concept was quick and fluid to pick up, as well as fun to pursue
  • Aggregate: Difficulty is a smooth enough of a curve that, even while avoiding no enemies, there were no real difficulty cliffs so long as you keep up on equipment // Dying in a dungeon just costs you time, not progress, allowing you to keep experience and equipment

Gameplay Negatives:

  • There is actively misleading or poorly designed information on concepts and items throughout
  • The game heavily leans on walkthrough-itis to figure out when to do what events, what items to keep or send, how to get the real ending, et cetera
  • As with a huge majority of older RPGs, the trash design is lacking; too much of it, too required at a certain point, and just boring after a while
  • Jumping is just plain awful, which is compounded by the platforming sections
  • Unskippable cutscenes
  • Aggregate: Bugs, including one where every time Lenneth changes equipment it de-equips her skills, which is just aggravating // The map is not good, with bad color choice, visibility, and panning // Many dungeons have almost identical appearance and textures, leading to both getting lost and being bored

Treasure of the Rudras

Another fascinating entry of older RPGs and one I definitely recommend trying at least once… with a walkthrough handy. It suffers many of the same issues older RPGs tend to have, but there’s a core nugget of great concepts in both story and gameplay that make it worth trying. Sort of recommended.
Total Story Score: +2
Total Gameplay Score: -1

 
Spoiler Pluses and Minuses +

Story Positives:

  • The scenarios weave into and through each other, which not only elevates each but is generally awesome
  • Surlent’s story has actual plot twists, character development for Sork, background lore, and setting building
  • The lotus machine section of the factory for Riza’s story was cute, legitimately funny, well done, and has no penalty for screw ups

Story Negatives:

  • The ending in its entirety. Riza’s sudden turn around, a preachy message being abruptly shoved in, the awkwardness of their vision of doom, the decision to damn the planet and invalidate literally the entire game in favor of a vague ‘we’ll make it’ all just does not work at all

Gameplay Positives:

  • The mantra system is interesting on almost every level
  • A second plus for the mantra system; which rewards you for jotting down spells and prefixes, is entirely freeform, let’s you build anything at any point limited only by mana pool
  • The animations in combat are quite good, with idle, casting, attacking, and this is despite having a large cast of characters. Enemies have pretty good animations too
  • The scenario system is also good in gameplay, as choices you make and the order in which you do things directly affects how things turn out in other scenarios
  • Allowing the player to fully control the party turn order in initiative is huge, leading to a decent amount of strategy in combat

Gameplay Negatives:

  • Encounter rate for trash is too high, and trash is way too boring
  • A second negative for the trash problem; by the time you get to the second scenario, its just gotten old, plus you can’t generally auto-A through trash at a certain point in the game
  • Unskippable cutscenes
  • The walkthrough-itis is heavy in this one. Often there’s no clues at all for what you’re supposed to do, further limited by requiring you to (sometimes illogically) speak to a specific NPC to advance the script, and even further hampered by the trash encounter rate discouraging exploration
  • The entire game’s pace is just off, making it feel like a complete slog after a certain point
  • The final boss has multiple aspects which are okay individually but when combined make it awful; It’s a multi-stage fight with no pause or recovery, you have a limited inventory size and no option to refill it, the final phase has several RNG elements to it, Flow is not properly defendable, and the game rather suddenly just requires you to grind right at the finish line

Super Mario Bros

This was a very difficult game to review objectively, but per my usual approach I tried to remove nostalgia and ‘considerations of release date’ and review it as if it came out today. And while it does to many things legitimately right, it also has pretty substantial flaws that, ultimately, make it a game that hasn’t aged all that well. We did have to come up with a new concept for this review though.
Total Story Score: 0
Total Gameplay Score: +2
Cheats: No.
Total Play Time: 1 Days // 4 Hours
Time Reviewed: 5-3-2019

Spoiler Pluses and Minuses +

Story Positives:

Story Negatives:

Gameplay Positives:

  • The core music is upbeat, catchy, loops nicely onto itself, and does not get old
  • The in-game tutorialization built into the level design is great, especially in 1-1
  • The level design in general is good iterative design, varying between obstacles to avoid and obstacles to overcome
  • Aggregate: The rarity of 1-Ups makes it interesting // Multiple power ups in almost every level to help mitigate loss and death // Mid-level checkpoints in almost every level
  • Aggregate: While not the best at it, there is good replay value for people, speedrunning or elsewise, in no small part thanks to… // Warp zones, allowing for a varied experience, skipping content you don’t like, or just playing faster

Gameplay Negatives:

  • Artificial difficulty in the form of the game over and limited number of lives (yes I know there’s the trick to skip back to the proper world)
  • Sudden lack of mid-level checkpoints in World 8 just adds to irritation factor
  • The sudden and substantial difficulty cliff from world 5-1 onwards

Innovators and Codifiers: 2

  • Innovator: Of sidescrolling platforming as a concept, and bonus points for revolutionizing gaming as a whole
  • Innovator: Music innovation for making actual, good music an accepted and recognized concept in game design

The Witcher 3

What can I say? Even after repeat playthroughs, I find this game to be fantastic. Lots of good decisions gameplay wise, and a truly amazing story that knocks it completely out of the park. In the interests of total honesty, this final calculation takes into account both expansions as well as the base game.
Total Story Score: +42
Total Gameplay Score: +6
Cheats: Yes (duration and Lorerun purposes)
Total Play Time: 15 Days // 87 Hours
Time Reviewed: 7-14-2019

Spoiler Pluses and Minuses +

Story Positives:

  • Excellent voice acting
  • A second plus for the nuance of voice acting (such that one can pay attention to how people say things and, correctly, infer what they mean and why)
  • Excellent weaving of exposition into the narrative
  • General excellent graphics, both in detail and in scope, which adds to immersion and atmosphere
  • Doodad placement and usage of items, animals, and people to add to Lindblum Effect
  • Second positive for repeated and excellent usage of doodads and set design
  • Excellent and repeated usage of continuity in tying a huge number of things across the game into itself
  • Good use of the Bioware Standard animations mixed with manually captured animations
  • The approach to romance in the game is exceptional (fully optional, can ruin it completely, but also available to both sides and is satisfying and well done for both choices)
  • Substantial effort is put into varying the visual detail of NPCs to help them feel distinct (and hide the repeating faces)
  • The usage and implementation of the notice boards as a way of divulging quests, flavor lore, and fleshing out of the areas
  • Excellent usage of camera angles and directing to flesh out scenes
  • Substantial, meaty, enjoyable side quests
  • A second plus for just fantastic, well written, and fun side quests
  • Generally high quality writing, mostly in terms of dialogue (making it sound natural)
  • The Ciri sections are constructed differently in gameplay to emphasis the person constructing the story, and add to her as a person (helping the player get invested despite otherwise not seeing her)
  • Phillip Strenger, the Bloody Baron, is extremely well done. He has good voice acting, voice direction, animation. He is multi-faceted, well layered, neither a good or evil man but simply a human. The game does many things to, efficiently and in a short period of time, accent each of his character traits one after the other, helping to flesh him out in short order. And his quest has multiple paths through it, allowing you to see differing sides of him
  • The visual disparity between major zones is fantastic, and allows a neat progression narratively and thematically as you move from fighting curses and monsters, to fighting people and politics, to fighting both
  • Geralt himself is an exceptional character, with just the right balance of wisdom, neutrality, snark, kindness, wariness, and a dozen other personality traits that make him interesting, awesome, and fun to play as
  • Geralt’s voice is very well done; there are many, many sections where Geralt is talking to himself as a form of quest design and he has surprising range within the confines of his gravely voice, and the actor has gotten loads better since the previous games
  • Novigrad is very well designed (one of the better cities in video gaming); it feels like a living, breathing city with good density of activity, doodad placement, and story presentation
  • The Novigrad main story chains going through Dijkstra, Dandelion, Ciri, the play, and Priscilla are all great stuff and involve good personal moments, comical events, awesome sequences, and political intrigue
  • The ‘side’ quests of the An Crates are exceptionally well done, and for characters we’ve barely met or known does a good job of characterizing them and investing us in their plights, as well as insight into their brands of leading for the future king quest
  • All of Kaer Morhan is great, including the lead up and the ‘drunk scene’
  • The reunion with Ciri is the best scene in the game. Directing, camera work, sound design, music application, showcasing of angles, motion capture work, everything
  • The Battle for Kaer Morhen in its entirety
  • An excellent finale, multiple well-done endings, and a generally awesome conclusion to the vanilla story
  • Good world building and background info woven into flavor text of fast travel points
  • Triss is an excellent character by herself
  • Yennefer is an excellent character all by herself
  • Ciri is a fantastic character all by herself
  • Aggregate: Dandelion and Priscilla, combined, form an excellent duo of characterization and enjoyability
  • Aggregate: Zoltan and Dijkstra are both great characters, suffering only from a general lack of screen time but being excellent each time they grace the screen
  • A third voice acting plus for just awesomeness to voice acting
  • The camerawork isn’t merely good, but moves into genuinely fantastic range in the expansions, with more motion work, panning shots, and great angle usage
  • The Heist Quest in its entirety is fun, involved, and great
  • The Wedding Quest in its entirety is fantastic, and an excellent ‘breather’ quest from the normal fare
  • Gaunter O’Dimm is one of the most wonderfully terrifying, charismatic, intruiging, awesome villains in gaming in general and is wonderfully acted, animated, written, and used as a storytelling device
  • Toussaint’s visual presentation is phenomenal across the board. Color filters, usage of green, people, architecture, and the massive variance between Toussaint’s ‘poor’ vs. Novigrad or Velen’s ‘poor’, the gorgeous graphics upgrade, random dialogue as you pass, etc.
  • Regis is fantastic, especially given how relatively quickly they had to develop him, and manages a very difficult balancing point of being elder without arrogant, intellectual without irritating, and passionate without melodramatic (among others)
  • The music direction across Toussaint is substantially better than the previous two segments and is, consequently, excellent
  • Yet another plus for the amazing, wonderfully done, gush-worthy camera work
  • There are several excellent side quests in Toussaint, including but not limited to; Roach, the painer, and the bird-cursed woman
  • Corvo Bianco made for a very satisfying denoument, epilogue, and retirement for Geralt with his love and his vineyard
  • Beauclair is just as well designed as Novigrad, but arguably even better with clear visual and audible distinction between districts, as well as between it and all other towns in the game
  • A lot of work and effort is put into making even generally crappy side quests have satisfying or interesting cutscenes, with directing, dialogue, and little details (examples; furnishing the house, the three vineyards, and the Gwent tournament)
  • The little-fish Henrietta scene with the three vampires and Geralt is just joyful at every level
  • The Epilogue… is awesome, and deserves a plus by itself

Story Negatives:

  • The Crones quest arc is something I actively hate and it leaves a distaste in my mouth everytime I do it, and I also feel it doesn’t properly conclude its story threads
  • An unacceptable amount of quick that made me want to actively skip the scenes and almost made me put the game down at points
  • The excessive pushiness of Shani as a romance option (across her entire quest, no less) combined with the lack of acknowledgement of any pre-existing relationship
  • Higher Vampires are just too much, to the point where it detracts from storytelling. Nearly invincible, super strong, can regenerate from nothing, can’t be tracked or scry’d, et cetera.
  • Aggregate: There are several scenes where the presentation falls completely flat, utterly deflating the scene // Spending weeks (if not months) of time wandering around when we have access to Yennefer and portal travel is ridiculous, stupid, character-breaking, and a lost opportunity // The positioning of the random 7 Dwarves quest in the middle of the Ciri conclusion just kills the tempo and pace of the story for that section
  • Aggregate: The finale of Blood and Wine is just… rushed. They take away your 3 day timer for no reason across a single transition cutscene, Beauclair’s destruction feels tacked on and (worse) has no consequence, and the entire affair feels like fake drama // The endings compound the problem, with each feeling like bits and pieces of the choices the ending should have included, and some lacking polish where others shine in weird ways

Gameplay Positives:

  • Lots of good options regarding gameplay
  • Excellent visual presentation of information in the HUD, all of which is toggleable
  • The general design of the White Orchard is really good, especially for a tutorial area
  • Roach (Summonable, good off -road, auto-steering, multiple speeds)
  • The approach to dialogue options allowing you to decide the flavor of Geralt you play
  • A combination of options that allows you to approach combat how you’d like to; with or without prep, multiple types of preperation, and leaning difficulty
  • Gwent is fun, mostly optional, surprisingly complex, and reasonably well designed
  • A second plus for the layers and depths of Gwent as it goes into Blood and Wine
  • Proper New Game Plus is, as always, a plus
  • Various decent abilities, talent points, mutagens, synergies, grindstones, and set bonuses to allow moderate horizontal leveling customization and relative ease of respeccing
  • Excellent Level of Detail usage ot ensure gameplay remains smooth regardless of speed of transit
  • Excellent side quests, using a variety of mechanics as well as cleverly covering up ‘normal’ quest design
  • Multiple Princess Peach segments with Ciri, which are fun to play and good variety
  • In addition to being an excellent story segment, the Battle of Kaer Morhen is well done in gameplay, paying attention to previous quest decisions and choices during the battle
  • The Super Gravity Gun Moment while playing as Ciri leading up to Caranthir, and the fight with him, is awesome (especially as it was built up across her segments throughout the game)
  • The Heist Quest (with consequences, choices, impact on gameplay, and multiple paths)
  • The Wedding Quest (mostly ‘minigames’, and good breather and variety from the main game
  • The housing mechanic of Corvo Bianca gives actual gameplay benefit as well as serving as a nice gold sink in late game
  • The final boss fight with Detlaff is interesting, varied, brutal, and awesome

Gameplay Negatives:

  • Consistent audio balancing issues throughout many cutscenes
  • A second negative for lack of audio balance issues throughout the vanilla game
  • Lack of auto-run and related issues for such a massive game and area to traverse
  • Dandelion’s awful, awful voice for load screens when loading a save (made worse by the repetition)
  • Occasional, yet repeated, issues with voice clips being too loud, too often, and talking over important dialogue
  • The clunky nature of the controls themselves function against the player’s smooth actions in combat rather than in favor of them, making combat less enjoyable than it should be
  • The interface in Gwent is lacking in almost every respect, with no deck save options, filling out of cards, a clunky interface, etc.
  • Though only periodic, virtually every escort quest in the game has the usual escort problems
  • The vanilla map is just not good, being odd to control, tracking only one quest at a time, no distinguishing level range or types of events, etc.
  • The nature of and significant amount of combat in this game made me quit playing the first time through due to a combination of frustration and a lack of interest. While the combat itself isn’t particularly bad compared to many worse games, I just did not enjoy it and as such have resorted to cheating to enjoy all future playthroughs
  • Aggregate: Geralt’s movement is a bit too janky, even with alternate movement on, which can lead to occasional frustration // Similarly, there’s multiple issues with trying to talk to someone or looting something and whoops, candles ignited // A lack of a good minimap for underground areas // The inability to jump in combat can, occasionally, cause issues
  • Even the expansions have audio balance issues, to the point where I gave up and just pushed the music way down to be able to hear the characters
  • There are several frankly bad quests in Toussaint (the three vineyards and the Gwent tournament come to mind)

Final Fantasy XV

Both times I’ve reviewed Final Fantasy XV I’ve walked away with the same impression; a very good, very flawed game. There are parts I enjoy, tremendously, and there are parts that drive me nuts, and this is on both the story and gameplay axis. It is worth noting the following score takes into account all the Episode DLCs, but not the Dawn Timeline.
Total Story Score: +8
Total Gameplay Score: -10
Cheats: Yes (for Lorerun, though initial playthrough was with no cheats)
Total Play Time: 4 Days // 28 Hours
Time Reviewed: 7-18-2019

Spoiler Pluses and Minuses +

Story Positives:

  • Ray Chase does an excellent job with his role, managing to make what should be a fairly normal JRPG Protagonist endearing, nuanced, and interesting
  • Several areas are very well designed, getting across a lot of flavor lore with presentation (notably Lestallum and Altissia)
  • Altissia itself is just absolutely beautiful and interesting
  • Good flavor lore throughout in the form of random conversations, adverts, musical jingles, radio
  • Darin de Paul is just fantastic as Ardyn, and Ardyn’s dialogue is wonderfully written for the first half of the game
  • The dynamic between the main trio (minus Gladio) is just great at every level
  • The dialogue is good in general, but extremely realistic and believable especially with the main trio (and Gladio)
  • The Titan encounter in its entirety (with Gladiolus’ assistance, character bits for Noctis, foreshadowing of Noctis’ power, Lunafreya’s connection, and general epicness)
  • As usual, the music is quite good
  • The Leviathan fight is very pretty, very epic spectacle
  • Ignis’ blindness is one of the better character beats in the game, and across JRPGs in general
  • The substance and strength of the story elements and character connections between Ignis, Ravus, and Ardyn in the Ignis DLC are great
  • Substantial and actual consequence to Ignis’ blindness and people’s reactions to it
  • The manually-crafted banter between the four as a form of in-game cutscenes is great
  • Noctis is a legitimately interesting and engaging protagonist whom we get to slowly watch his life fall apart around him
  • Prompto is just amazingly human, awkward, endearing, believable, and natural
  • Ignis is the perfect lynchpin between the other two, being the cook, driver, political advisor, and loyal friend
  • Ardyn is one of the more interesting FF villains to-date, and in addition to his voice acting just has fantastic presentation value, as well as being a great Type 2 Villain
  • The final cutscene, with the final campfire, hits the feels in all the right ways
  • Aggregate: The flavor of the ‘field trip’ and camping is good, with the light music, cooking, photos, etc.

Story Negatives:

  • The main plot is… not great, and noticably lacking compared to other elements
  • The world building and setting building is just kind of absent in the game, leading to several gaping holes in our knowledge and understanding
  • The initial flash-forwards to the Ifrit fight is pointless, meaningless filler
  • The Starscourge in its entirety is poorly realized, discussed, explained, or utilized and is easily the weakest point of the entire story for me… especially damning considering it’s THE main plot point
  • The absence of information from ancillary resources in-game that really should have been present (and instead is found in Kingsglaive, Ultimania, etc.)
  • The inclusion of the ‘movie cutscene’ feels awkwardly placed, redundant, detracts from the impact of the following scene, has no context unless you’ve seen the movie, and was poorly edited
  • The position of the ‘recover the Regalia’ mission is completely off; it emphasizes the deadliness of imperial troops without backing it up, has no proper explanation for recovering the car, and generally feels off (side note; this mission would have worked better much earlier in the narrative, when losing the car and revenge against the imperials was at the forefront of the characters’ minds)
  • Lunafreya is such a massive, gaping hole in the narrative that it negatively impacts almost every connecting point
  • Gladiolus is such a drama for drama’s sakes character at multiple points, but most noticably after Leviathan and during Ignis’ blindness
  • There are several massive logic gaps in the finale, including but not limited to; a 10 year time skip for no reason, everyone going along with Ardyn’s ploys for no reason, Noctis needing to die for no reason, etc.
  • The sudden switch-flip of Ardyn becoming evil came out of nowhere and wasn’t earned or properly executed (and is even made redundant later when Bahamut forces this fate on him)

Gameplay Positives:

  • The cooking mechanic, presentation, attention to graphical detail, and general flavor and stat influence
  • The teamwork techniques are a decent way to allow multi-party control and offer good variety to combat
  • The variety of differing gameplay styles and mechanics for the DLCs are good additions
  • The gameplay of Ignis’ episode in particular deserves special mention, with varied attack ranges and styles which can be slotted in and out of combos, as well as the fun hookshot mechanic
  • Consequences of story permanently altering gameplay (Ignis’ Blindness, slowness, changing abilities, Noctis’ Armigers, Summons, etc.)

Gameplay Negatives:

  • Easily, accidentally, permanently skippable conversations
  • The Luminous Engine… and it’s many, many issues
  • The Titan fight is just… bad. It’s boring (phase 1 is pure QTE, phase 2 is just ‘hold down the button’), and it takes far too long (boss has way too much health), and it has no mechanics or significance (it also is a disservice to the song)
  • Invisible walls and the bad / irritating usage thereof in the ‘open world’ segment
  • The gameplay elements of the summons are just awful. They’re random, they function as an ‘end the fight’ button, they only activate on low health, and only in certain terrain
  • The forced stealth section with binary difficulty and no clear indicator of visibility, with associated irritations
  • Time sensitive events to progress, which require you to find a campfire and wait
  • Altissia is just a massive disappointment. It’s like being forced past an amazing exhibit on a tour while being unable to stay or do anything with it
  • The Leviathan fight is actively boring, literally consisting of holding down the attack button
  • The Prompto DLC is lacking in multiple ways (Corridor fest on foot and vehicle, gun sounds are awful, controls are lacking, combat is too easy, too many encounters, terrain is irrelevant)
  • The final boss of the Prompto DLC is juuuust terrible. It has too much HP, it’s a turret section, and has no mid fight checkpoints
  • The final boss fight with Ardyn is boring, at best. It follows the same ‘hold button’ combat approach Leviathan did, and fails massively on the potential of the fight
  • The health sponge problems are real and constant
  • There is simply too much padding in the game, in terms of number of encounters, HP of encounters, distance to travel, difficulty in traveling, etc.
  • Aggregate: The map and menu require far too many clicks to be useful and are not intuitive // There are simply too many aspects of travel and open world that are irritating (travel time, stamina bar, move speed) // The requirement of having to pay for gas which functions as a side element // The jumping Zelda Roll Syndrome is irritating for the usual reasons

Paper Mario

The classic remains so for a reason. While it’s somewhat simple, what it does it does well, and it’s easy to see why it helped establish a strong line of Mario RPGs to follow (though mostly in the handheld market). The moment this gets released on the Switch I’m buying this again.
Total Story Score: +7
Total Gameplay Score: +10
Cheats: Yes (Lorerun)
Total Play Time: 2 Days // 17 Hours
Time Reviewed: 7-20-2019

Spoiler Pluses and Minuses +

Story Positives:

  • The game utilizes a lot of tools to quickly and efficiently do something that, at the time, was brand new to the Mario franchise; world building. Friendly Koopas and Goombas, Toads from other realms, methods of transportation built into the lore, towns and villages rather than empty castles, etc.
  • The text rendering tool is a great storytelling tool, allowing the game to change how the text is rendered as a form of getting across emphasis, tone, and characterization
  • Goombario’s Tattle ability adds an absolute ton of lore to the world, having a tidbit for every zone, NPC, and enemy in the game
  • The Princess Peach segments (which also named the Loreium) are an excellent way to showcase ‘off camera’ lore and plot elements
  • Even to this day this game makes me smile and laugh
  • The entire Chapter 7 sequence, especially the ‘murder’ mystery, is just joyful
  • The Finale, final boss, playable ending, and parade epilogue are fantastic

Story Negatives:

Gameplay Positives:

  • The variable XP and 100 XP system (meaning if you’re under-leveled you get more experience to catch up, if you grind you get diminishing returns, and if you fight normally you’re always at the ‘right’ level)
  • The gameplay and story integration of actually playing as Peach helps with the Princess Peach segments
  • The smooth design of the difficulty curve is beautifully crafted
  • The smooth design of the power progression curve is also beautifully crafted, and dovetails almost perfectly into the difficulty curve
  • The reduction of stats means that each stat matters, each one is significant, for you and enemy both
  • Badges are an excellent way to vary up playstyle, allowing a lot of customization in how you set up your team
  • Timed Hits add some fun interactability to the turn based combat
  • The positional combat is wonderfully comples without being convoluted, and well tutorialized
  • The music design is good in general, and the variety helps add distinction to each region
  • The trash design is great, with very few trash fights, each fight being significant, non immediate respawning, and easy avoidance
  • Variety in partner use both in combat and out
  • Chapter 3 and 5 are both fun, with new varieties of playstyle chunked up into a 3-act structure within the chapter
  • Bowser’s Castle is a well done dungeon in general, but especially as a final dungeon… with lots of rest points, items, variety in puzzles, enemies, bosses, and great music
  • Aggregate: Many nice design features including but not limited to; hotkeys for overworld items, party member usage, indicators of how many turns buffs and debuffs last, clearness of HUD, memory cursor, etc.

Gameplay Negatives:

  • Unskippable cutscenes
  • The unnecessary backtracking at the end of chapters is not good, and is mostly padding
  • Chapter 4 is weirdly lacking in quality compared to the other chapters; it’s short, disinteresting story wise, involves a weirdly large amount of backtracking, the music is grating, the enemies are irritating, and it’s non rewarding
  • For all the good they do with party members, Parakarry is just irritating, being effectively a swappable HM and requiring you to use him often

Paper Mario 2 and the Thousand Year Door

This is one of my favorite games of all time, and with good reason. While a review with the analytical eye revealed some holes in the game I hadn’t really acknowledged before, the core goodness remains and helps elevate this above and beyond most other RPGs for me. The biggest flaw of this game is it’s locked away on the Gamecube, with no port, remaster, or remake.
Total Story Score: +9
Total Gameplay Score: +14
Cheats: Yes (Lorerun)
Total Play Time: 3 Days // 23 Hours
Time Reviewed: 7-23-2019

Spoiler Pluses and Minuses +

Story Positives:

  • The sheer amount and quality of world building and background lore Tattle adds is amazing
  • The text rending tool adds tremendous resources to determining tone and pace of dialogue
  • There is a truly insane amount of world building present in the game, connecting it to Paper Mario as well as the Mario & Luigi series
  • Lots and lots of atmosphere and tone in visual presentation
  • Chapter 4 in its entirety is just fantastic, thematically, character-wise, and world-building wise
  • The Princess Peach (and Bowser!) segments
  • Luigi’s adventures (and his companions, and the accompanying book) are just awesome
  • There is a great amount of inter-weaving characters, events, plot arcs, and world building that goes mostly unnoticed unless you seek it all out
  • Interesting, unique, and memorable characters throughout
  • Excellent visual aesthetic that doesn’t go too far but still makes the game stand out and age well
  • Chapter 6 is great, varies up the formula, adds interesting characters, continues existing threads, and is a breath of awesome
  • The finale of everyone uniting and sending their well wishes to us as we fight the Shadow Queen hits me right in the feels, even to this day

Story Negatives:

  • The thousand year gap is, as ever, not only unnecessary but actively detracts from the plot considering how many people and things had to just sit there, untouched, or undiscovered for a thousand years before stuff started happening
  • There are several points where dramatic potential is sapped by people somehow, miraculously turning out okay (Koop’s father in Chapter 1, Mush in Chapter 3, etc.)
  • Several significant character deaths are casually and pointlessly undone in the ending

Gameplay Positives:

  • The positional combat is, as per the previous game, awesome and well varied
  • The leveling system is just as good as it was in Paper Mario
  • The power progression curve is very well designed, especially with regular gameplay boosts at story beats
  • The difficulty curve is astonishingly smooth, with very few bumps outside of optional combat
  • The reduction of stats mean every stat matters substantially and makes turn tactics relevant
  • The badge system gives tremendous customization and options to the player in how they want to play (a few sample builds; Item heavy, Partner heavy, Full Defense, Berserker, One-Hit-Wonder)
  • Timed Hits, which are fleshed out even more than the previous games by more varieties of QTEs and the added benefits of Stylish and Perfect Counters
  • Variety of partners, in combat and out
  • Several noticable improvements to the systems of the first game help elevate the complexity and enjoyment; Stylish attacks, First atrikes being a full attack, Enemies always giving at least 1 experience, Faster leveling speed, More levels to work with, Many more things to spend coins on (improving overall value of coin)
  • The action commands are far more engaging in general, allowing more interaction and variety in combat
  • Chapter 3 adds wonderful variety to the combat section of things, via the victory conditions and the manually crafted encounters requiring a variety of strategies, complimented by the game allowing you to restock, heal, rebuy, and redo your setup completely in between fights
  • Chapter 3 and onwards noticeably change up the formula of each chapter gameplay wise, in a good way
  • The music is generally good to great throughout
  • The final dungeon, while lacking in the music department, is well designed gameplay wise and serves as a good final exam to everything thusfar
  • The last few boss fights are well designed, brutal, and awesome

Gameplay Negatives:

  • Unskippable cutscenes
  • The action commands are far more mandatory in this game, meaning for basically every encounter unless you are substantially stronger than your enemies you really have to think about each fight (aka Factory Worker Syndrome)
  • Chapter 2 has several significant issues, including but not limited to backtracking, irritating music, frustrating enemies, and Puni mechanics which are both lacking and irritating
  • Chapter 4’s EXCESSIVE backtracking is just awful, going back through the same area no less than five times minimum, with difficult enemies that are hard to avoid and no variety in terrain or puzzles
  • There are just too many sections of excessive backtracking in general, even in otherwise good areas
  • Chapter 7’s General White Backtracking Quest is awful; few hints, irritating absence of shortcuts, and just arduous to an extreme (with shortcuts, Yoshi, and knowledge it still took 20 minutes)

Super Paper Mario

I remember the story of this game fondly, and with good reason… even though it has severe pacing problems and a lot of padding. But I had forgotten how basic and generally not-fun the gameplay was. Still worth at least a once-through if you can get ahold of a copy, and unafraid to pull punches in its narrative, but good lord this was a slog.
Total Story Score: +7
Total Gameplay Score: -11
Cheats: Yes (Lorerun… though I didn’t cheat until the end)
Total Play Time: 2 Days // 16 Hours
Time Reviewed: 7-25-2019

Spoiler Pluses and Minuses +

Story Positives:

  • There are a lot of small points connecting the plot in the background for those paying attention, which help repeat viewings (Babylon 5 Effect)
  • The game doe sa good job of slowly building the nature and scale of the threat, visually and in terms of impact
  • Despite everything, the ‘visual novel’ sequence with Francis still makes me laugh
  • Legitimately interesting backstory
  • Increased, interesting characterization for Bowser, Peach, and Luigi
  • Most of the villains are fun and enjoyable, and recur enough to keep them involved
  • The history’s connecting points to the main plot are interesting and well thought out
  • Bowser is legitimately awesome the entire game, deserving his own credit
  • The ending, while massively cliche’d, still was satisfying for me; the ‘friendship’ that helps defeat the big bad comes from the villains, and its usage of the various forms of love is great

Story Negatives:

  • There is a weird amount of whitewashing of the enemies, making them far better than they should be given they were totally okay with killing all the worlds in the multi-verse
  • Aggregate: Absolutely bizarre pacing of events // Far too much story at beginning and end, with huge gaps of bleh in the middle // Timpani’s ‘video game amnesia’ is as irritating as it usually is in games

Gameplay Positives:

  • Each playable character is substantially different
  • The music is good throughout, to the point where I bothered to grab the soundtrack

Gameplay Negatives:

  • Presented as a platformer, but… that platforming is iffy, floaty, and imprecise
  • Combat is just disinteresting and repetitive, with very, very few enemies requiring anything beyond basic bonking
  • The ‘breath bar’ of the 3D gimmick is just awful, irritating and forcing the player to pause rather than naturally explore at their own pace (side note: The reward that removes this gimmick takes far too much time and effort to get)
  • The low-health Zelda beedleeps which are, as usual, aggravating
  • Unskippable cutscenes
  • Waggle controls which, as per standard for the Wii, are bad
  • The level design is just disinteresting
  • The level design is actively bad for every world, with lots and lots of samey empty areas with few obstacles or enemies
  • The fact that you are forced to use Mario constantly just so you can do the 3D gimmick is absolutely aggravating, especially given how often you need or want to swap to the other characters
  • The backtracking is pretty bad
  • Bad boss design across the board (boring, low windows of vulnerability, emptiness of mechanics, little skill… two of the recurring bosses are both defeated in the same manner by the same weapon)
  • The final dungeon is awful, disinteresting, and a disappointment for being the final dungeon
  • The lead up to Dimentio’s reveal is great buuut it’s not well telegraphed that it’s a game over for allying with him, and if you do you are excessively punished for it given the lack of checkpoints or saves