Classics 4


Horizon Zero Dawn

A little worse on the gameplay axis than I remembered, but still acceptable, and the story is just fantastic and absolutely worth it (especially for the grounded storytelling, world building, and a few key characters). A big word of warning; If you play this on PC there is about a 50/50 chance you will have regular and frequent crashes, so be warned.
Total Story Score: +39
Total Gameplay Score: +2
Cheats: No
Total Play Time: 4 Days // 42 Hours
Time Reviewed: 01-29-2021

Spoiler Pluses and Minuses +

Story Positives:

  1. Graphics fidelity on terrain and general gorgeousness
  2. Lighting usage and especially usage of the color red
  3. Foreshadowing is absolutely everywhere, with tons of hints and tidbits of what’s going on and why
  4. Atmosphere in the roaming, exploring sections is excellent and does a good job of selling the post apocalypse ‘reclaimed’ world
  5. Visual variety and style of the three tribes is quite excellent and distinct; between clothing and armor, tools and equipment, and infrastructure and architecture
  6. Second positive for the aforementioned
  7. Ashley Burch is a great actress in general but she does a fantastic job with Alloy in this one
  8. Rost was only present temporarily but he was quite well done as a character while he was there
  9. The world building is just absolutely engaging and fascinating. I don’t have a better way to describe it except to say that I absolutely adore the world that was built; The world that was and the world that is and the connections between the two
  10. World building / Carja (former marauders and slavers who now, by consequence, have a multicultural setup they’re trying to shuffle into an economic superpower rather than a military one, and their natural ‘castle’ allowing for force projection and multiplication)
  11. World building / Past (garbage patch, endangered dolphins, destroying cities to fight the swarms, guaranteed citizenship)
  12. Teersa is surprisingly well done of a character; Reasonable, but also interesting in how adaptive she is
  13. Honor The Fallen, the mourning quest is actually quite heart-rending and touching in showcasing how people deal with their grief, as well as being very well voice acted and strong in its individuals and, as a final bonus, it showcases the shifting politics of the Carja away from the marauding force they used to be
  14. Cauldrons are fascinating in almost every way. Visually impressive, perfectly logical in-lore, fascinating in their implications and usage
  15. The Faro Automated Solutions level. Oh my good God, Faro Automated Solutions. They reveal just enough that we can piece together the broad strokes of what happened and it is beautifully horrifying
  16. Grave-Hoard, the reality of Enduring Victory, and the General Herres’s reaction to the situation… legitimately tear-wrenching, even knowing it was coming
  17. Erend is a decent bro character and, as per usual for the archetype, bro characters rock
  18. Sylens is honestly my favorite character in the entire game. He’s mostly honest in that he just avoids unnecessary information, cares but mostly for his own sake, doesn’t put up with much but will if he has to, and is just generally fascinating, helped by…
  19. Lance Reddick, Sylens’ voice actor, is just fantastic here as he always is
  20. Avad is a surprisingly well portrayed ‘good king’, someone who wants to improve things and actively is working to and realizes that sudden change won’t work (indeed, the slow pace of change he’s already doing was already enough to lead to civil war)
  21. Deep Secrets of the Earth, and the final reveal of what Project Zero Dawn really is
  22. The reality and research of the surprisingly mundane, grounded, down-to-earth solution that Project Zero Dawn really was
  23. Honestly one of the most horrifying things I’ve ever seen in fiction is in that schooling area…
  24. …the idea of people being trapped, inches and visible, from their future and paradise while they languish under the care of low level bots that are designed to handle children
  25. And one final plus for one final reveal; The Crime of Ted Faro
  26. Ted Faro is a surprisingly interesting and fascinating character for how monstrously flawed and culpable he is
  27. The Outro is pretty cool. Those who come together based on your quests, the final communication between Sobeck and GAIA, the fact that Elisabet made her way home and died there… and Sylens’ final scene
  28. The story is, astonishingly, quite grounded and the nature of how logical and thought-out and believable it is absolutely adds to my enjoyment
  29. Frozen Wilds: Suddenly good facial and body language animation
  30. Frozen Wilds: Gildun is an astonishingly good character for being only in one (side!) quest
  31. Frozen Wilds: Supporting cast and side quests are substantially better in the DLC than in the base game (the trio, Ourea, Aratak, Burgrend)
  32. Frozen Wilds: The additional layers of CYAN and her relevance to GAIA, and HEPHAESTUS and the… utterly horrible nature of it
  33. Frozen Wilds: Noticeably improved voice acting from the vanilla game in general, most notably in the side characters
  34. The Babylon 5 Effect is real in this one, as my second playthrough really showed
  35. A whooole lot of Background Lore, mostly in the pads but it’s there
  36. Great Camerawork for most of the cutscenes
  37. Lots of Consequence Storytelling as the stakes are slowly raised and we reveal more of what’s going on
  38. Good Doodad utilization, mostly in the wilds
  39. Good Internal Continuity
  40. The Intro has several issues with it, but it does enough right that it adds to the overall positive
  41. Good Music Direction, almost entirely for the ‘ruins of the past world’ scenes
  42. A second positive for that fantastic Plot
  43. Good Story Sequencing
  44. And some really good Storyboarding
  45. There’s several Themes here (Human nature, owning up to responsibility, and the tragedy of ignorance) and they’re all good

Story Negatives:

  1. The scenes towards the end of the Proving just… sort of fail
  2. While the main plot is actually awesome, several of its specific story beats are so legitimately predictable and badly executed that they detract from the otherwise excellent storytelling
  3. The death of Ersa is, honestly, not particularly interesting and only succeeds at all because of Erand. It’s even worse because of the failed potential in her surviving while still having Erand take her place
  4. Several of the less developed characters are cliches to the point of being reductive to the narrative, which is mirrored by the weird Hollywoodization surrounding their events
  5. Actively bad lip synching and animation in most cutscenes, made all the weirder by the good animation and lip synching in others (caused by framerate issues, fixed by capping at 30fps)
  6. Actively bad animation in most cutscenes, especially in facial motion (bizarre ‘locked expressions’ for example)

Gameplay Positives:

  1. Good autosave, with lots of checkpoints and rarely screwing it up
  2. HUD (visibility, lootable objects, etc.)
  3. Arena design (Sawtooth fight) in the Intro (tutorialization and presentation of both mechanical and group fight types)
  4. Fast travel is the good type; find it, unlock it, do it from wherever, however…
  5. Enemy style and design (lots of types and fun enemies to fight)
  6. Enemy attack patterns and variety (they charge, attack with hind quarters, and hesitate, exposing weak points… etc.)
  7. Good combat kit. Knockdown, stealth hits, arrow types, traps, etc.
  8. Several legitimately well designed arenas for encounters
  9. And several legitimately well designed boss encounters (first Deathbringer is wounded, fighting a Frostclaw with the shield canceller, etc.)
  10. Good New Game + is, as always, a plus
  11. Good Animations on enemies to help you know how to deal with them
  12. Good Pacing of gameplay sequences
  13. Good Visual Continuity to help you figure out where you are and where to go
  14. Visual Distinction is quite good, despite the bloom problems, mostly in the color usage and HUD

Gameplay Negatives:

  1. Severe crash issues
  2. Severe repeated crash issues
  3. Absolutely insane, unplayable, ridiculous levels of constant nonstop aggravating ripping my hair out crashes
  4. Dialogue depth of field
  5. Fast travel irritation in requiring rations that are either time consuming to come by (defeating the point) or require grinding to bypass
  6. Cauldrons are generally disinteresting gameplay wise, and actively bad at times, being jumping puzzles with only a singular path to success even when it otherwise makes no sense
  7. Climbing is honestly kind of bad. You can only climb on very specific things and the controls have issues understanding that when you hit up you want to go up
  8. Related to climbing but there’s just a sort of jank and difficulty in getting the game to do what you want it to. Very Assassin’s Creedy
  9. HUD issues (entirely too easy to miss certain things, such as logs, either in the lack of color distinction or otherwise too limited visibility)
  10. Frankly the Outro is disappointing, which is (as I’ve often said) unacceptable. A boring hold the line followed by a normal race through the burning city followed by just another Deathbringer fight
  11. Aggregate: The tutorialization of several aspects of the intro is badly done, most notably the ‘fighting humans’ tutorial // Alloy occasionally just… talks to herself entirely too frequently and too much which actively gets irritating (such as telling me how to defeat a boss after I’ve already started doing it)
  12. A second negative for honestly the entire Outro being not only lackluster, but actively boring

Nier Automata

A bit heavy on the philosophy and the depression but ultimately a very well crafted AA production with a lot of care and quality on display. Highly recommend if you haven’t had a chance to play it.
Total Story Score: +17
Total Gameplay Score: +13
Cheats: No
*COFFEE*
Total Play Time: 4 Days // 31 Hours
Time Reviewed: 02-11-2021

Spoiler Pluses and Minuses +

Story Positives:

  1. Babylon 5 Effect with 2B, among other things. Emotions are forbidden!
  2. The Intro does a lot of quick and efficient establishing of setup, characters, and general theme
  3. General cool factor
  4. Voice acting is quite good
  5. World building via 9S slowly piecing things together, and 2B’s reactions to it
  6. World building via machine village and…
  7. …Pascal is easily the best character in the game
  8. The intro to Route B is honestly probably the most heart warming and heart rending scene in the entire game
  9. Romeos and Juliets. Pisseth off! Hahaha
  10. Side quests have some great stuff and some good character moments
  11. Surprisingly well designed tie into Drakengard and wonderful background lore dump about Project Gestalt
  12. The build up and moment of tragedy for Pascal, the machine village, and the kids…
  13. As much as I don’t like him, 9S is exceptionally well presented, especially in his excellent voice actor
  14. The Terminals thinking themselves to death, rot in hell you bastards
  15. The bots, particularly 042, are surprisingly awesome for how ‘flat’ they are
  16. The final credits sequence is a great showcasing of one of the game’s central themes about choosing what life means for yourself regardless of tangibles and accepting one another’s help, as well as giving it yourself in sacrificing your save to them
  17. Good Animation usage for cutscenes
  18. A second positive for Babylon 5 Effect cuz… there’s a lot of it and it’s very interesting the second time through
  19. Background Lore all over the place
  20. That Foreshadowing, wow
  21. Good Localization
  22. Good usage of Music Direction to augment just about every scene
  23. Great Outro… uh, all of them
  24. Lovely Visual Storytelling

Story Negatives:

  1. Some weird moments of artificial drama around ‘dying’ when they have the backups and they KNOW that, which ties into the overall problem of ‘overly dramatic’ness’ in several cutscenes
  2. Adam and Eve honestly just irritate me for all of their screen time
  3. The sitcom plot point of misinformation in Route C is sitcom’y
  4. The Pascal chain is severely hampered by the completely artificial choice at the end which completely makes the entire arc smash into a wall and fall flat on its face
  5. Aggregate: The cutscenes that are different and those that aren’t are so inconsistent in Route B that you end up having to watch everything for fear of missing things, leading to a lot of repetition // 9S is a fairly typical anime protag, but doesn’t have anything that really adds to him or pulls him up from being deliberately annoying
  6. There’s several long sections of Padding narratively, especially in Route B
  7. Issues with Visual Continuity, as the zones don’t really connect properly to each other

Gameplay Positives:

  1. Music! THIS CANNOT CONTINUE
  2. Yoshi drums with regards to songs (notably boss songs and hacking sections)
  3. Weapon variety and…
  4. …comboing weapon attacks together
  5. Bullet hell / Shmup format is well designed with the 3D format
  6. The Intro quickly and expertly establishes its bullet hell nature, both major combat modes, and includes a nice big impressive boss
  7. The Simone fight is visually impressive, fun, and enjoyable
  8. Dark Colossus fight is awesome and fun
  9. Cheat chips
  10. Customization of chips and pods for general kit
  11. Circuit fusing as alternate leveling
  12. 9S’s sections of hacking alongside 2B during the end of Route B
  13. Swap section between 9S and 2B as they fight the last two pods
  14. Good new game plus, as always, is a plus
  15. NG+ Chapter Select
  16. 9S’s final boss fight is, as it should be, unique (the hacking A2’s OS which makes the actual player’s menu screen)
  17. The final credits sequence
  18. Aggregate: Pop ups informing about reaching chip cap // The fact that chip setup is default across playables meaning no constantly swapping irritation
  19. Good Graphics fidelity throughout
  20. Between chips and acquisition thereof, there’s a good smooth Power Progression Curve
  21. Good, smooth Save System

Gameplay Negatives:

  1. No save during intro mission, aka bad checkpointing
  2. PC Port issues: Mouse controls are actively awful in addition to being objectively wrong, along with general M&K issues, keybinding issues, cutscenes having the wrong framerate
  3. Lazy difficulty, aka health and damage
  4. The backtracking in general
  5. The map is honestly actively bad
  6. Aggregate: It’s so easy to lose who’s who in several sections since 9S and 2B look near identical at a distance and in the middle of a firefight // Route B has a little bit too much repetition from Route A in it
  7. That Overworld design is… not great. Far too many sections of difficulty in just getting around, nevermind a total lack of any flow or design to it
  8. A fairly large amount of Walkthroughitis

Divinity Original Sin 2

While suffering several substantial issues which make the game drag a bit (animations, inventory management, and a lot of ‘filler’ content) this is still the best CRPG I’ve ever played, and one of the best RPGs in general. Absolutely hugely recommend for anyone interested at all.
Total Story Score: +26
Total Gameplay Score: +31
Cheats: No
*Sushi*
Total Play Time: 7 Days // 60 Hours
Time Reviewed: 02-19-2021

Spoiler Pluses and Minuses +

Story Positives:

  1. Origins intro ‘videos’, well done in animation, music, and voice acting
  2. Doodad placement
  3. Elves and the cannibalism memory thing is just absolutely fascinating and a great way to design a species
  4. The random NPCs and their little stories on Fort Joy
  5. The effort put into humanizing most of the characters, even little side ones (and Magisters)
  6. Visually impressive and generally gorgeous
  7. Voice acting
  8. Voice direction
  9. Side quests and characters
  10. The hangings, and three families which sheltered Sourcerers, all really help add to the theme and vibe of the magister oppression
  11. The usage of recently deceased as a storytelling tool
  12. The impish pocket realm, and Xantessa
  13. Sebille. She starts out violent and brutal (literally threatens to kill the PC at their first meeting) and has a great, emotional arc and is wonderfully voice acted, getting across the impact of it all
  14. The Doctor’s realm and the brilliant, Jaws-esque presentation thereof
  15. Lohse. Brilliant voice acting, a great arc of the embittered girl who desperately tries to work against those manipulating her, and concludes very satisfyingly
  16. The Doctor is arguably the best villain in the game, with one notable exception, being suitably terrifying not by virtue of being some big doom, but by his machinations and manipulations and how many pots he has his fingers in
  17. The game knows how to present horror very well. Aesthetically, presentation…
  18. …and in the concepts and ideas that make this setting as messed up and terrifying as it really is
  19. Humor! The game manages to make me laugh to this day
  20. Red Prince. He, along with Sebille, have the most complete arcs and he’s a surprisingly well fleshed out character; an aristocrat who isn’t snobbish or rude, and in fact tries to espouse to being better than he is while constantly worrying over his worth, and ultimately a good and loyal friend
  21. The Seven. Personalized mass genocide
  22. Properly built up foreshadowing to the Seven
  23. The endings, epilogues, and slides are reasonably well done
  24. Aggregate: Beast. While he doesn’t really show up until the end game, he is still an intriguing character in his connection to the Queen and the dwarven plot // Fane is, of course, the central character and doesn’t really get the development he deserves, his plight is well portrayed whenever the game manages to focus on it // Ifan has some amusing and delightful reactions to the very, very, very final scenes with Lucien
  25. Aggregate: Cows quest // Turtle in love // Poor shark // Iris // Princess Fire Slug and the Red Prince interactions // Item flavor text
  26. The second time through is very different knowing everything, with lots of Babylon 5 Effect on display
  27. Good Background Lore present everywhere
  28. Second positive for Doodad usage
  29. Game does a lot of good with Internal Continuity
  30. Virtually every area has good Visual Storytelling
  31. Easily the best World Building in the franchise

Story Negatives:

  1. The sudden and frankly out of nowhere death of Siva is honestly a weird mis-step in the story and feels forced, especially since there’s nothing you can do about it at all (other than eat her afterwards)
  2. Isbeil bullcrap. A minor villain very far into the game totally GM Helicopter’s the situation in order to force a trap that, by total plot armor, doesn’t kill us when it should, and it’s all for no good effect
  3. Most of the endings honestly feel a bit half baked compared to the main two, and the slanting of the presentation actually diminishes the enjoyment thereof
  4. While I like the dialogue in this game, the Banter of most random and town NPCs gets really repetitive really fast
  5. As usual for this type of game, not being able to bring the whole party (without a mod, that is) actively hurts the narrative

Gameplay Positives:

  1. Co-op
  2. Proper campaign co-op
  3. Actual built in mechanics to support and aid co-op
  4. Surprising number of well designed options
  5. Ease of saving and multitude of auto and quick save slots
  6. A second positive for ability to save in mid combat, mid conversation, and quickly and efficiently load
  7. GM mode!
  8. Arena mode!
  9. Mod support
  10. Full proper mod support
  11. Proper difficulty options (manually crafted encounters with different skills and AI on hard)
  12. Character creation and customization is quite good, especially for custom characters
  13. The movable terrain gimmick and its usage
  14. Alternate options for helping with dialogue that don’t just involve a charisma or persuasion check
  15. AP action economy
  16. AP movement alottance, HUD for how much what costs, showcasing exact pathfinding, mouseovers showing relevant info
  17. A very excellent tutorial section, which is fully optional, and quickly and easily introduces you to all the basics of interaction, terrain, puzzle, encounters, and dialogue
  18. Fort Joy has many, many different paths of progression through it (NINE separate exits we counted just on this playthrough)
  19. Variety of dialogue options to allow flavor of characterization in player choice
  20. Second dialogue options positive
  21. HUD information is generally good throughout. Exact information on tooltips, indicators of who is what in turn order and when a turn ends, etc.
  22. Acknowledgement of order of events in quests
  23. Easy and accessible full, free respec
  24. Gift Bags as optional mutators and modifiers to gameplay and difficulty
  25. The pyramids offer a huge variety of movement options
  26. Clear visual distinction so that despite the busy and lavish decor you can always tell what you’re looking at and what is what
  27. Each individual skill tree has useful skills and utility skills
  28. The fact is, the ridiculous majority of this game is optional content. You can simply bypass whatever you want to (except for a few) and it’s awesome having that freedom
  29. Any build is viable if the right effort is put into it, you really have to try to make a bad build
  30. Puzzle design (Impish pocket realm, final dungeon, etc.)
  31. Many side quests with many paths through them on the island
  32. The final Alexander fight is one of the better (and harder) encounters in the game. It starts as a ‘tactical’ fight against an archer, warrior, mage, and Alexander with lots of positioning, barrels, and options and then the worm spawns which is a straight stat boss (and near immunity to status effects, with high resistance to fire and poison) and challenges you in a totally different way. There’s at least 5 ways I know of to approach the fight and it’s awesome
  33. Multitude of options through Act 2 encounters…
  34. …multitude of options through Act 2 quests…
  35. …the fact that Act 2 is almost entirely optional despite containing the bulk of the quests, meaning the player can choose their path in whatever manner they want
  36. Aggregate: Dialogue log for stuff you’ve missed // Fast travel is the good form but a bit too spread out (find, from everywhere, has a menu and can be used on the map, instant, no cost, quick) // Warning before point of no return
  37. Special mention for the Enemy AI, especially on hard
  38. All Roads Lead To Rome quest design…
  39. …in virtually every quest in the game
  40. Core Combat is, at its base, just plain fun (assuming you’re into turn based combat)
  41. Second positive for manually crafted Encounter design
  42. Enemy Variety is pretty decent
  43. The Leveling is quite smooth and enjoyable, with noticeable increase in power each level
  44. Second positive for the Intro and how much it does right… I think I’ve replayed just the Intro a dozen times
  45. Thanks to the nature of the game, a lot of decent Kit for how to deal with encounters
  46. The Power Progression curve is just as smooth as the leveling curve
  47. Thanks to the multitude of options in playstyle and choices…
  48. …with how you talk, act, and do quests, the game has fantastic Replayability

Gameplay Negatives:

  1. A little bit too easy to accidentally skip or miss the optional party dialogues
  2. Forced restriction between Origin character and Custom character, and related limitations
  3. Accidental mis-clicking issue
  4. Inventory management is honestly just kind of a time wasting pain
  5. Second inventory management negative
  6. Early vendors are almost completely unmarked, making getting skills such a pain
  7. Crashing issues (9 total)
  8. Lack of option to speed up animation in combat which, after a while, really just drags things on
  9. Animation dragging part two
  10. Limited party size which, as usual, is an issue in these types of games
  11. The in-game journal is actively bad, to the point where its effectively useless and is better off being ignored
  12. A combination of the HUD not being super useful in showcasing items across party, the game shotgunning loot at you en masse, the inventory being irritating to sort, and inability to check quest reward items for other party members
  13. A combined issue of an enormous quantity of content to go through which is made substantially worse by an almost total lack of proper direction (hints, guidelines, hubs, or chains)
  14. The Isbeil bullcrap is more GM Helicoptering. The game forces you into a cutscene across the room just to ensure you lose the fight in a cutscene, then saves you in a cutscene entirely so they could set up a not-interesting boss fight which they could have done anyways, better, without the bullcrap in the previous room
  15. Aggregate: Arx flat mandates going through a rather difficult, terrain heavy fight (against an elite and repeated spawns) before being able to access the town // The level scaling has a few balancing issues periodically
  16. Aggregate: The forced ‘screw you’ in the robbery quest in the tavern // Camera issues with some terrain // The specifics of which abilities require Source (and how much) feels a bit wonky in several cases // The burning revenants. They can rez in one turn, have insane movement while in ‘dead’ form, and get back up with refilled fire and cursed fire arrows (with no cooldown)
  17. I should probably mention that the Map is actively bad. It’s hard to tell what you’re really looking at, and lacks any real notes or icons to help you figure out what’s where

Pokemon Black / White

While it still has the usual ‘older Pokemon game problems’, it’s clear a lot of work and effort was put into this one. From plot to themes to characters to encounters to pokemon designs, this game shines and is probably my favorite overall Pokemon game. Big recommend if you haven’t played it.
Total Story Score: +12
Total Gameplay Score: +21
Cheats: Yes (to avoid grind in post-game)
*Sushi*
Total Play Time: 4 Days // 31 Hours
Time Reviewed: 03-30-2021

Spoiler Pluses and Minuses +

Story Positives:

  1. Early foreshadowing of Ghetsis, N, and Plasma
  2. Themes (knowledge v. ideals, yin v. yang)
  3. Brush stroke storytelling
  4. Castelia intro, Castelia (set dressing, style, presentation, scale)
  5. Cutscene approach and direction (camera, details, blocking)
  6. The pacing of the game is actually quite good, bothering to weave back and forth between Gyms and the main plot of Plasma smoothly
  7. Bianca and her arc (coming to accept who she is)
  8. Cheren and his arc (deciding what he is and finding his core)
  9. Ghetsis’ overall characterization in absence. What he did with Plasma, the other Sages, the remainder of the Gym Leaders, and worst of all what he did to N for years
  10. Aggregate: N is actually pretty interesting and follows a (brief) arc throughout, only hampered by not seeing enough of him // The final approach to Victory Road (and usage of Yoshi Drums)
  11. Good Doodad usage, mostly in towns
  12. Good Music Direction for a lot of scenes
  13. Great NPC Set Dressing for the cities
  14. One of the only Pokemon games with good World Building

Story Negatives:

  1. Cutscene incompetence
  2. Bit of an empty text problem, with lots of repetition and unnecessary or badly structured dialogue

Gameplay Positives:

  1. There’s a good dynamic of tactics with 6 sized party and 4 moves per (Pokemon Point)
  2. Sprites are actually quite well designed, offering a lot of detail and distinction…
  3. …complimented by the animations, especially of the Pokemon themselves in battle, which keep things lively and interesting
  4. The music is pretty high quality and its usage of Yoshi Drums are on point
  5. The music is probably some of the best music in the series
  6. Decent tutorials in NPCs and design of early areas
  7. Low health music, mid-combat chatter, mid-combat camera
  8. Mid-combat info on moves and pokemon
  9. Gym designs are generally fun, if simple, dungeons
  10. The xp scaling in leveling makes for good availability of catching up brand new pokemon (or ones left languishing in the bank)
  11. QoL Features (save cursor, shortcut, touchpad controls for menuing, quick and smooth menuing, TMs having infinite use, shops upgrade with badges so you can buy anywhere, item re-use in menu, rusting grass, )
  12. General quality of encounter design
  13. Quite a few bosses are designed well, notably the gym leader fights, leading to…
  14. …a surprisingly enjoyable difficulty curve
  15. The Final Four fight gets special mention for the great variety, choose-your-own-order, and challenge of each
  16. The final fights against N and Ghetsis are brilliantly designed and properly challenging final bosses (and even have heals and checkpoints in between!)
  17. Post-game is reasonably meaty, with some fun stuff to do and catch
  18. Great Enemy AI design, a rarity for the series
  19. Pokemon themselves serve as good Alternate Leveling mechanics
  20. As with usual Pokemon games, lots of Build design
  21. A very well designed Difficulty Curve up to the postgame
  22. Second positive for some really well designed manual Encounters
  23. Enemy Variety is nice, as per usual for Pokemon games
  24. Good Fast Travel
  25. Good Kit
  26. Good penalty for failure (lose a big chunk of money and return to last Pokecenter)
  27. The Musicals are fun little side Minigames
  28. The Outro is fantastic, with the Elite 4, build up to N and Ghetsis, and the best designed fights in the game
  29. Very smooth Power Progression Curve
  30. Great Visual Distinction

Gameplay Negatives:

  1. Single save slot
  2. Forced, unskippable tutorial
  3. RNG of catch mechanics (Pokemon point)
  4. Walkthroughitis of evolving, finding, catching (Pokemon point)
  5. Unskippable cutscenes
  6. HMs and their usual mandatory nature (Pokemon Point)
  7. Encounter rate, only somewhat mitigated by Repels
  8. Grindiness and leveling issues (the game creates a finite amount of ‘good’ xp in trainers, deliberately lowers the xp gain from infinite sources in terms of wild pokemon, then doesn’t give a good counter to that until the Audino chain later and many, many pokemon require high levels to hit their evolved forms)
  9. In addition to the finite xp pool problem, once you hit post-game everything gets a sudden 10-15 level jump which creates this rather sudden barrier to progressing since the best xp is off those same people who now crush you

Dragon Quest

The classic for a reason, with a very simple plot and simple combat on simple gameplay, but very little of it is bad. Aside from a couple of grind walls and some odd graphics choices (playing the Switch version) the entire experience is quite smooth. Definitely recommend you try it out if you never have.
Total Story Score: +3
Total Gameplay Score: -2
Cheats: No
Total Play Time: 2 Days // 7 Hours
Time Reviewed: 4-8-2021

Spoiler Pluses and Minuses +

Story Positives:

  1. Adventurous tone and feel, helped by the ‘expedition’ gameplay
  2. Aggregate: Dialogue is nicely localized (love the archaic tone) // Occasional bits of mild humor // Playable ‘ending’ (barely) with new dialogue
  3. Surprisingly good Visual Storytelling in several areas, most notably the destroyed town

Story Negatives:

Gameplay Positives:

  1. Slowly expanding progression, ‘expedition’ gameplay (until the grind wall, your ‘power level’ slowly expands the areas you can reach, which slowly expands the power level, in a nice loop)
  2. Aggregate: Overworld design // Significant increases in power at each level and equipment // Helpful NPCs that give good directions // General convenience features

Gameplay Negatives:

  1. Grind curve. The game is actually quite smooth right up until you have to fight the first real boss (the Green Dragon) at which point we had to just stop playing and go grind for over an hour
  2. A second negative for honestly just an aggravating, second grind wall at the last dungeon
  3. Man, that Encounter Rate is just rough
  4. Aaand a second Encounter Rate negative

Innovators and Codifiers: 1

  1. Innovator: Effectively began the JRPG genre

Dragon Quest 2

Do not play this game. While it starts off strong, and has some legitimately cool elements, even this tooled up remastered version has one of the worst Outros I’ve ever seen in gaming. Absolutely do not recommend.
Total Story Score: +3
Total Gameplay Score: -12
Cheats: No
Total Play Time: 2 Days // 14 Hours
Time Reviewed: 4-9-2021

Spoiler Pluses and Minuses +

Story Positives:

  1. The Intro is reasonably well designed, establishing connection to 1, stakes, characters, and showcasing the seriousness of the situation quite well
  2. The surreal horror of ‘Midenhall’ and the final dungeon is still a pretty neat sequence and one of the better sections of the story
  3. Aggregate: Lovely dialogue localization // DQ Effect is on full display in several towns // External continuity (to 1) // Playable ending, and a nice happy ending to the trilogy

Story Negatives:

Gameplay Positives:

  1. Good fast travel (unlock as you go, warp from anywhere outside)
  2. The Intro is actually pretty good, with good guided overworld design and naturally locked ‘barriers’ at certain points that open up as you gain new party members, and a clear and defined goal and quest, with reasonable progression and difficulty

Gameplay Negatives:

  1. Encounter rate is honestly pretty bad
  2. Encounter rate… is really, really bad
  3. The leveling curve is smooth, but only as a consequence of a nonstop barrage of encounters, which makes the overwhelming majority of the game… honestly quite boring, as you just sort of turn off 80% of your brain to mash through. In short, it has the Trash Problem in spades
  4. The section where you can, randomly, lose a party member with very little hints or clues about how to restore them, and can do so effectively the moment you gain the ship is… not great
  5. The overworld design is actively hostile, and generally not designed (no thought put into guidance past the party members, the ship totally re-arranges the open world aspect without clues to proper order despite clear difficulty path, active annoyance in finding certain areas even in the remake, etc.)
  6. This might be one of the worst Overworlds I’ve seen in gaming, up there with Final Fantasy II (appropriately)
  7. Walkthroughitis (there are several cases of this, where NPCs kind of direct you but not really, and there’s no clear indicator of so many things)
  8. The Road to Rendarak is just awful dungeon design. Close quarter visibility with lots of ‘pick the right choice with no indicators or go back a room’ design (in multiple areas, with multiple styles) on top of being gargantuan, and a maze, and with lots of legitimate looping dead ends (very little treasure too)
  9. The grind wall right at the very end of the game is just bad
  10. The final boss gauntlet is pure bullcrap. It’s a lot of ‘difficult’ bosses in a row quite a ways from the ability to recover, but what really makes it awful is the pure RNG nature of each fight (which means things either go fine or awful), made even worse by the bosses who have Fullheal and can just use it
  11. Outro. The final dungeon is lackluster, with bad music, and the irritating boss rush, right after enduring hell, alongside the Road, and everything about it is awful
  12. Second negative for Boss design
  13. A third negative for some of the worst Encounter Rates in video gaming, often times going no more than three steps before another encounter
  14. A second negative for that entire awful, awful, awful Outro

Innovators and Codifiers: 1

  1. Innovator: Origination of Dragon Quest Effect

Dragon Quest 3

A landmark game I definitely recommend trying if you haven’t, but beware its grind is worse than both previous games combined. Still a hallmark game for many reasons, both in story and in gameplay.
Total Story Score: +8
Total Gameplay Score: -2
Cheats: No
Total Play Time: 3 Days // 24 Hours
Time Reviewed: 4-13-2021

Spoiler Pluses and Minuses +

Story Positives:

  1. Localization is on point and…
  2. …the puns and humor are awesome
  3. Local stories are neat, bite-sized short stories and tie in to the visual variety of each area
  4. The founding of Mr Redburg, the rise of the despot, and the fall into republic are legitimately amusing to go through
  5. The brickwork is quite nice, and adds to the visual storytelling
  6. The Alefgard section and the good usage of external continuity work pretty well, in addition to this being a surprisingly amusing twist
  7. Aggregate: The Intro is reasonably good at establishing the overall tone (mini-adventures, FFIII style) // The pacing of the story isn’t the best but there is a nice cadence to it
  8. Bonus points for usage of External Continuity connecting it to 1 and 2

Story Negatives:

Gameplay Positives:

  1. The Tactics concept, and its use in combat (optional too)
  2. The build party members, multi-classing system
  3. Inventory system (sortable bag and tooltips on transfers, as well as stacking and limited combat usage)
  4. Overworld design is legitimately quite good, especially with the inclusion of the map
  5. Staircase leveling as per the standard for the time
  6. Aggregate: Ease of use features // Quicksave // Heal All
  7. Good Fast Travel (even in the underworld!)

Gameplay Negatives:

  1. The total lack of information on Personalities, what they effect, and how much they do
  2. Encounter rate is, as usual, just too high
  3. Second negative for Encounter Rate
  4. And a third negative for absolutely ridiculously high Encounter Rate
  5. Orochi and Boss Troll grindwall
  6. Second grind issue
  7. The Outro… is honestly quite badly designed. The Alefgard sequence should feel like a cool endgame bit, but instead it’s about 20 minutes of content stretched across 4ish hours of grinding just to be able to cross the finish line
  8. The mega grind of post game is legitimately ridiculous
  9. Aggregate: Orochi respawning is such a dick move // Unskippable cutscenes // Trial and error dungeon design // Several moments where the game pretty much expects you to know what to do next

Innovators and Codifiers: 1

  1. Codifier: JRPGs

Drakengard

Certainly an… interesting game. Very unique in its flavor, but one I can’t recommend unless you’re already invested in the series or have the time and curiosity to spend on it.
Total Story Score: -12
Total Gameplay Score: -30
Cheats: Yes (hahaha)
Total Play Time: 2 Days // 11 Hours
Time Reviewed: 4-15-2021

Spoiler Pluses and Minuses +

Story Positives:

  1. Angelus is surprisingly interesting and awesome despite everything
  2. Ending A is nice, and Ending B is hysterical, Ending D is even funnier
  3. Manah and the Watchers
  4. Aggregate: Weapon lore // Animated chat boxes // Arioch and Leonard’s death scenes

Story Negatives:

  1. Dialogue is just all over the place, and often for the worst
  2. Inuart remains one of the worst narrative points and characters in the game
  3. Pacing issues (the story just sort of… happens, sometimes too quickly, sometimes too slowly, mostly off camera, and almost always told-not-shown)
  4. Did you know you’re evil?! Because you’re evil! You evil evilness!
  5. General character unlikeableness
  6. Cutscene incompetence… there’s a fair bit of it but it gets worst when we get to the point of failing to stop Inuart
  7. Fairy is just… the worst, and in this game that is saying a lot
  8. Aggregate: Voice Acting (probably directing) has issues at times // Ending C is just kind of… off. No build up, no payoff, just sort of there // General nonsense towards the end (admittedly hampered by the localization)
  9. While the Atmosphere and Tone are deliberate, it doesn’t make the general gloom and slog better
  10. The opening Cinematic is good… and is a total bait and switch, having effectively nothing to do with the rest of the game
  11. The game has an almost total lack of Doodad utilization, making every indoor and outdoors area look vast, bland, and boring
  12. Special mention to the Intro being generally all over the place, arguably confusing, and generally bad
  13. Second negative for story Pacing being just… absolutely all over the map
  14. And the pacing is probably bad in part because of the big swaths of Padding
  15. The core Plot is what I’d call actively bad
  16. The near total absence of World Building actively hurts the narrative, as there’s no investment and the world as presented makes no damned sense

Gameplay Positives:

  1. Some of the dragon missions are legitimately fun to play… specifically the ones in the air, not the ground support ones
  2. Chapter select and ability to swap around missions and maps more or less at will
  3. The Mother Beast fight is very creative and even gives the player some moments of respite in the middle of the ‘fight’

Gameplay Negatives:

  1. Controls on both ground and air suck
  2. Camera (distance and controls both)
  3. Brickwork is actively bad… repetitive and blurry both
  4. Music direction, especially with the repetition
  5. Render radius is actively awful and detrimental to every ground section
  6. Kit… or total lack thereof
  7. Core combat loop on ground is just one long boring awful slog
  8. Ground combat remains just terrible throughout
  9. Third negative for slog
  10. Super accurate archers who screw you over while on the dragon
  11. Indoor sections. Claustrophobic, samey textures, total lack of doodads or design
  12. Walkthroughitis is pretty bad with regards to the weapons
  13. Visual noise, especially during flying segments
  14. Only one save slot (for some reason)
  15. Grindiness of leveling weapons and the requirements thereof
  16. No mid-mission checkpoints on missions
  17. The Inuart boss fights are disorienting, boring (wait and fire), and bullcrap (especially with the RNG and the timer requirement)
  18. The Manah fight is boring, at best, and bullcrap in phase two (no real methods to dodge and hurts like an absolute truck)
  19. The ground boss fights honestly suck, mostly due to the severe issues with lack of kit and ability
  20. The sound design has issues with balancing and the specific sound FX used, as well as how they are used
  21. General grindy tedium in progression
  22. The top-down sections could have been good… but you’re limited in camera angle, it’s too close, you can only use one weapon, and they feel like pure padding
  23. The mission against the flying babies is pure agony. It’s basically everything wrong with the rest of the game in one mission; One boring enemy type that hits hard and is hard to dodge with no mid mission checkpoints and lasts way too long
  24. The Mother Beast ‘fight’ can go to hell. While I have other issues with it, the negative is deserved purely by two main points; No mid mission checkpoints and one-hit KO (also the final troll note)
  25. The Enemy AI design is braindead stupid
  26. The Camera has absolutely no idea what it’s doing, and half the time you have effectively no camera control
  27. A second negative for that awful, awful Control scheme both on ground and in the sky
  28. No thought whatsoever put into Encounter design
  29. Enemy Variety is… not, as while there are other enemy types…
  30. …most of them only show up in the late or endgame. The overwhelming amount of combat will be against the same three types of dudes
  31. The Intro arguably does its job well… by making it clear how bad this game is.
  32. A second negative for that awful, awful Intro
  33. While we’re at it, the Outro is hard to gauge (given the multiple endings thing) but each ‘final mission’ sucks for their own reasons, and the final few bosses can go to hell

Vampire The Masquerade Bloodlines

Play it with cheats. The story is phenomenal and there’s some great stuff, but good lord it falls off the moment you leave Santa Monica and never recovers.
Total Story Score: +27
Total Gameplay Score: -20
Cheats: Yes (duh)
Total Play Time: 3 Days // 24 Hours
Time Reviewed: 4-17-2021

Spoiler Pluses and Minuses +

Story Positives:

  1. Malkavian path and how it changes up dialogue, adds foreshadowing, and adds backstory and characterization to many individuals
  2. Intro does a whole lot very quickly and efficiently. We learn a lot about LaCroix, his dog, several major NPCs are introduced, we get the barebones of the concept and the initial plothook, and are given our initial investment into things
  3. Dialogue is exceptionally well written
  4. Banter between random NPCs is awesome
  5. The atmosphere of the haunted hotel is quite enjoyable
  6. Therese / Jeanette. It’s easy to see why they’re so memorable; they’re fleshed out, have a good amount of screen time, and are a fascinating look at Malkavians while being one of the earliest major NPCs we interact with
  7. Humor (especially the radio station, oh my God)
  8. Heather is interesting by herself and one of the more fascinating moral quandaries of the game, but also a great insight into Ghoulification and how messed up it is
  9. Bail quest chain
  10. Thin-blood chain
  11. Visual storytelling of LA and atmosphere
  12. Lots of gameplay/story integration
  13. Voice Acting is mostly good, with only a few issues here and there
  14. LaCroix is a wonderful villain, and well characterized throughout
  15. Grout is probably the second best designed Malkavian in the game, and following his descent through the audio logs is awesome
  16. Jack is just kind of awesome throughout, in addition to being well voice acted and well written he’s also consistently the nicest and most legit vampire we meet
  17. Music, when it’s well used, is well used
  18. Beckett is consistently helpful, engaging, and amusing
  19. The big scene with Caine (because it’s totally Caine) is probably the second most well constructed scene in the game narratively. Caine just provides a bouncing wall for all your ideas and paths, and makes clear the choices available (in lore as well as to the character)
  20. The Sarcophagus is just a great plot point; it stirs everything, and was intended to
  21. The LaCroix ending is awesome, hilarious, and perfectly encapsulates the entire game’s central focus; the Sarcophagus and the politics surrounding it
  22. The Strauss and Independent endings are still rather enjoyable, especially in how we see LaCroix brought low
  23. Aggregate: Knox is great for his limited screen time // Nines is a bit irritating but fits into his role of rebel and aggravation quite nicely
  24. Aggregate: Chunk is just precious and amazing and awesome and the best // Samantha is surprisingly engaging for being in only one scene, and doing a really good job of making you take that Masquerade hit just to avoid killing or hurting her
  25. Aggregate: Good supporting cast, including Fat Larry // Velvet Velour is one of the nicer overall vampires, has an interesting past, and clearly wants to try and improve things as best she’s able given the limitations
  26. Lots of good Background Lore
  27. Good External Continuity… like, so much of it
  28. A pretty good amount of Foreshadowing for everything going on
  29. For the most part, the Story Sequencing makes perfect sense and is well constructed
  30. The core Theme of being a pawn while a bone is thrown to the wolves works really well, and the overall work just feels like a vertical slice of VTM in general
  31. Lovely World Building

Story Negatives:

  1. The introduction of Nines cutscene is just irritating, for the usual GM railroading reasons
  2. Mid game pacing is pretty bad, but especially by the time you hit the Sewer (reasons the Sewer sucks listed under Gameplay)
  3. The Ming Xiao ending is lackluster at best, a clear ‘bad ending’, but the thing that pushes it into negative territory is how Cutscene Incompetence it is that we just sort of let that happen
  4. Several long sections of bleh or absent Visual Continuity

Gameplay Positives:

  1. Initial tutorialization is heavy, but necessary for the system and very efficiently gets across all it needs to
  2. Malkavian path and its alteration in playstyle
  3. Nosferatu path and how it changes literally how you play the game
  4. Multiple paths to multiple quests (allowing varying playstyles)
  5. Quicksaves and ease of saving / loading
  6. The Intro has some of the best designed quests in the game, and feels the most overall designed and polished, while allowing for plenty of style and variance
  7. Gameplay/Story Integration all over the place
  8. Santa Monica as hub is actually quite well designed, both in traversal, layout, and density
  9. Aggregate: While many of the bosses in this game outright suck, there are enough that warrent a boss design positive (wereshark, werewolf, and Bach)
  10. In several areas you can tell where you are and where you’re going thanks to decent Visual Continuity

Gameplay Negatives:

  1. Literally unplayable without fan patches
  2. Exceptionally buggy, bad launch, hampered by never really being patched up to functional status
  3. Sound mixing issues, and only one volume slider
  4. Combat controls are just… janky and weird and awkward and bad, made worse by…
  5. …the absolute mess that is the third person camera for combat
  6. Enemy AI is braindead
  7. NPC blocking (especially enemies at doors)
  8. Very easy to build yourself into a corner, which is especially true because…
  9. …the late game and endless combat funnels
  10. Some skills are just honestly useless (looking at you Intimidate)
  11. Buff duration and irritation of casting
  12. Easily skippable quests and sections (walkthroughitis)
  13. Getting around Downtown is just kind of a pain
  14. Boss fights in general are actively badly designed (Ming Xiao, the Tzimice, the Tzimice again, the ninth circle dude, and the Sheriff)
  15. Encounter design in general is lacking. Often large numbers of enemies in big open areas with no cover or mechanics
  16. Core Combat. You have attacks, guns, and a handful of abilities that cost too much and last too short… and that’s… it. It is exceptionally simple for how much of it you do
  17. Core Combat mk. 2 (made worse by just how much of it there is from the Sewers onwards)
  18. Stealth is exceptionally binary and is entirely too easy to bypass
  19. Lighting. I get it, it’s night, but it’s legitimately hard to see all the time, which is made worse by…
  20. …the textures, which just make things really hard to see all the damned time
  21. The You Only Die Once A Night quest is pretty badly designed. Two gates, widely spaced from each other, with no run indicator, with no mechanic to see which gate is being hit at the moment, fighting enemies that are ranged focus and have a lot of health
  22. The Sewers. Bad lighting, bad texturing, with samey corridors, with no minimap or map, with one enemy type, with virtually no itemization, entirely focused on combat, with the boss issue, layout lends itself towards getting lost, and a total lack of doodading, and the layout makes no sense in lore, and enforced slow movement, and long empty corridors, and the bullcrap swimming ‘mechanic’, plus the enemy type is specifically designed to get at least one aggravated hit in in an area with little to no healing other than standing around for literally minutes, and then there’s the timing pipe section (plus enemies designed to get the drop on you), the actual boss (which then replicates into trash mobs), and backtracking if you didn’t do it right
  23. Sewers mk. 2
  24. There is just so much wrong with the Sewers, as the above paragraph clearly shows
  25. The Outro really is just awful. It’s not as bad as the Sewers, but that’s not saying much
  26. Total lack of Fast Travel, when it probably should have had some
  27. There is a ‘map’ but it’s actually inaccurate, and generally inaccessible, and only applies to the hub areas
  28. The game hurts its own Replayability by being generally awful from the Sewers section onwards
  29. In multiple areas the lack of good Visual Continuity really hurts navigation
  30. Second negative for Visual Continuity issues