Premieres 4


Luigi's Mansion 3

While differing substantially in tone from the first game (haven’t really seen the second game to compare), this game was astonishingly well crafted and fun. Lots and lots and lots of little features that were done right, and a generally fun puzzle adventure. Big recommended.
Total Story Score: +5
Total Gameplay Score: +12
Cheats: No
Total Play Time: 3 Days // 16 Hours
Time Reviewed: 4-11-2020

Spoiler Pluses and Minuses +

Story Positives:

  • Luigi is, as ever, just amazing in his presentation and portrayal
  • Animation and graphical style are very well done
  • Doodad placement and usage is fantastic and detailed (and destructible!)
  • Sound design really adds to atmosphere and the different ‘themes’ of each floor
  • The variety and personality to the various bosses are quite fun and have good personality
  • Aggregate: Camerawork for cutscenes is quite fun // The ‘establishing Mario in contrast to Luigi’ scene was actually pretty good // The usage of King Boo as an actually villainous character works in contrast to the rest of the game

Story Negatives:

  • Aggregate: Cutscene incompetence (which hits Luigi mostly, but also Mario and crew) which also happens during… // Inconsistent usage of continuity (the Mario bit was nice but why can Luigi not jump?)

Gameplay Positives:

  • Between Gadd and Polterpup the game is nicely tutorialized and introduces concepts pretty fluidly into level design
  • Combat pacing with flashing after grabbing
  • Clear indicators of what can and can’t be interacted with (plunger ‘hud’, color coding on flash items, usage of mirrors)
  • Sound design is just fantastic
  • Cleaning mechanic is surprisingly fun and enjoyable to do, thanks in no small part to good variety of things and ways to clean
  • The piano boss was very fun, very dynamic, and had some great moments
  • Music design and yoshi drums
  • The entire movie stage and boss was quite fun and surprisingly heartwarming (and also you can be evil and kill the boss after you help him)
  • The camera is very smart about how it’s used in showing what it needs to (to guide the player) but also making sure the player can clearly see what they need to
  • Proper (local) campaign co-op
  • Variety to themes of levels as well as puzzles
  • Second positive for level design and general fun
  • The ScareScraper mode is pretty fun for what it is; full online or local co-op, randomized floors, bosses every 5, team based, etc.
  • Aggregate: Many little nice touches, including but not limited to; increased run speed when out of combat, controls persist despite animations and reactions, lip synching with babble speech, being able to interact with plenty of optional stuff just for fun, option to change movement and turning while aiming, town portals, ability to interact with items in a fairly large ‘range’ around them so no finding the sweet spot, aim assist to show what things can be fired at, built in mechanics to prevent softlocking

Gameplay Negatives:

  • Health beedleep
  • Aggregate: Gems ‘respawn’, which makes it irritating at times to tell which ones you have // Coins scatter everywhere and disappear quickly // The precision required on the musical puzzle was silly // Partially unskippable cutscenes (boss intros)

Super Mario Maker 2

While a game that doesn’t really lend itself towards streaming except in chill capacity, I still had a ton of fun with this (and played it for several hours off camera). Great options to make some fantastic levels hindered by some odd design choices and limitations, and the story mode is a great way to try out fun and creative levels as well as to get ideas for your own. Definitely recommended.
Total Story Score: 0
Total Gameplay Score: +9
Cheats: No
Total Play Time: 2 Days // 11 Hours
Time Reviewed: 4-13-2020

Spoiler Pluses and Minuses +

Story Positives:

Story Negatives:

Gameplay Positives:

  • Interface is well designed
  • HUD has a lot of info readily available easily
  • Controls are smart and quick while playing
  • Smart functionality with regards to how to interact with what
  • Combos of items and enemies leading to tons of options
  • Variety of item usage which is through the roof
  • Variety of terrain which also has multiple options
  • Showcasing of info with regards to how to see what in your level (trails, death spots, etc.)
  • The story mode’s missions are fun
  • The story mode’s missions are creative (and varied!)
  • Lots of filter options for looking up maps
  • Between speedrun categories, the Link updates and new functionality, and the Ninji Speedruns, there’s a decent amount of post launch content with meat

Gameplay Negatives:

  • Some odd limitations (such as the absence of being able to change height / width in the opposite type of area)
  • Additionally, while the missions idea is great, you simply cannot do it with checkpoints, drastically limiting what you can do with an otherwise great mechanic
  • Some small quibbles (works better with a touchpad interface, cannot search by name, controls like to lock in at times)

Crash Bandicoot Insane Trilogy

So… bit of a mixed bag here, mostly because the quality bounced around across the games. I have to admit that I really disliked the first game, but the second was demonstrably better, and I was actually enjoying myself by the third.
Total Story Score: +2
Total Gameplay Score: +1
Cheats: No
Total Play Time: 3 Days // 16 Hours
Time Reviewed: 4-16-2020

Spoiler Pluses and Minuses +

Story Positives:

  • All: Wackiness, zaniness, humor
  • All: Voice acting is consistently good throughout

Story Negatives:

Gameplay Positives:

  • All: Sound design
  • All: Animations are pretty good for what they are, both for the players and the enemies, and especially bosses
  • 1: Music
  • 1: Checkpoint, mask, and life placement
  • 2: Music
  • 2: Checkpoint, mask, and lives distribution
  • 2: Good recovery mechanics built into level design
  • 2: There are quite a few levels which either have interesting or fun challenges (if the lives system wasn’t there) and there’s fairly well done exploration built in
  • 3: Music
  • 3: Checkpoint, mask, and lives distribution
  • 3: Variety of level design and main/side objectives
  • 3: Recovery mechanics and reasonable boss designs
  • 3: Fun and interesting levels

Gameplay Negatives:

  • 1: Hitbox issues with collision on both platforms and enemies (very Donkey Kong Country)
  • 1: The hitboxes are… such a consistent, constant issue
  • 1: Memorization / Trial and Error in terms of some levels (where there’s no real time or availability to react to an obstacle, you have to know where it is and where it’s coming from)
  • 1: Thanks to the lives and restart system, the game feels more punishing than difficult, requiring you to redo portions of the level over and over (and over) which is further exacerbated by the ‘you die to anything instantly’ mechanic
  • 1: Bridge levels
  • 1: Level length is, honestly, just too long
  • 1: Actively bad recovery mechanics built into level design
  • 2: The delay in getting back into action is just too punishing; between lives, the long game over screen, losing progress, it works contrary to the overall ‘die instantly, challenging platforming’ nature of the game
  • 2: Hitboxes as per usual with the remake
  • 2: The jetpack sequences aren’t that frequent but good lord those controls
  • 3: The second race level sucks. Its controls are awful and sluggish, the enemy karts ‘bonk’ you which actually removes control temporarily, it requires high precision to get 1st (which is required), and it’s mandatory
  • Aggregate: 3: Hitboxes. Hitboxes. // Vehicle controls in general are non intuitive, awkward, and frustrating

Final Fantasy 7 Remake

I can’t summarize my thoughts on this one. Where it was good, it was great. Where it was bad, it was face palming. And I have no idea what to expect going forwards. I will say it absolutely shined in characterization and presentation of the main scenes and content.
Total Story Score: +18
Total Gameplay Score: +2
Cheats: No
Total Play Time: 5 Days // 40 Hours
Time Reviewed: 4-23-2020

Spoiler Pluses and Minuses +

Story Positives:

  • Attention to detail and brickwork in main cutscenes and primary focus
  • Doodad usage is legitimately incredible in most main areas
  • Visual storytelling is excellent, usually down to animation but also camera usage
  • Camerawork for main scenes is fantastic
  • Music direction and usage thereof is good in almost every scene
  • The voice acting is some of the best I’ve heard lately
  • …voice acting continues to be some of the best I’ve heard lately
  • The banter between the main characters is good and, further, develops across the game
  • The motion capture animation is fantastic and really helps sell the characters
  • Barret (in over his head, mask, speechifying, adorable, stupid but well written, Marlene, and a full character arc just in this game)
  • Cloud (trying to seem stoic, mask skips, dorky, struggling, and the best portrayal of Cloud we’ve ever had)
  • Tifa (everyone likes her, overprotective, pushing agenda with Cloud, vulnerable, cares, and very well presented)
  • Aeris (observant, mischievous, stronger than she looks, manipulative, and clearly in over her head with the responsibilities shoved upon her)
  • Lindblum Effect is on full display, with tons of fleshing out of the world
  • Additional Lindblum Effect as the game goes on (especially for Wall Market)
  • Dialogue is surprisingly well written almost across the board
  • All of the characterization and enjoyment of Jessie, her family, and those connected scenes are good stuff
  • Jessie and Biggs are great characters and are well used, memes aside
  • Wedge is wonderful by himself and his expanded role helps tremendously
  • Side characters with names are good stuff where they’re there (the ‘angel’, Madam M, Bob, Andrea, Jules)
  • Don Corneo is wonderfully animated and voice acted (of course) and comes across as pretty much as horrible as he needs to
  • The Honeybee Inn was just… great, the absolutely perfect slice of cheese
  • The immediate fallout of the Platefall was… incredibly well done, completely sold by the animation but mostly Barret’s voice actor
  • The overnight scene (Aeris, Tifa, Barret) and the follow up
  • Elevator scenes and the staircase sequence are both hysterical and perfectly presented
  • Shinra Tower in general is beautifully presented and has some very clear polish and shine throughout
  • Shinra Tower in how they flesh out, cover over, and explain the entire sequence so beautifully (Domino, Hojo’s disinterest, Reeve, just… everything)
  • Turks, Hojo, Reeve, Rufus are all just kind of awesome and well done throughout

Story Negatives:

  • Cutscene incompetence is something that happens far too often to ignore
  • The side quests are mostly disinteresting but what pulls them into negative territory is the presentation, which is actively detractory (bad camera, bad lip synching, bad animation)
  • Pacing issues are near-constant in how the story lurches forwards
  • Roche unnecessary and odd pacing of events (flashback timing, Roche coming in then leaving you exactly as he found you)
  • Occasional terrible graphics (badly used backgrounds, or awful resolution close ups) and generally awful brickwork where it ‘doesn’t matter’
  • Improper design and balance of background audio, both when they are talking over each other but also during conversations by main character dialogue (also anime grunts)
  • Wall Market is… just off pacing wise… and then there’s these great character moments (Cloud’s flashback with Tifa, Aeris’s childhood memories) which are incredibly badly placed
  • The audio and visual direction of the Sector 7 Platefall was… bad. Tonally incorrect, lacking any emotional punch, and far too concerned with flash
  • Ghosts… the ghosts just… detract from the story for me, even if they make sense (as extensions of Sephiroth, a form of WEAPON, or just a general arbiter of time). They’re entirely too on-the-nose and just… no
  • Zack’s inclusion actively ruins what otherwise would make a fairly large amount of sense but, more to the point, also makes the game far less accessible for new players and, on top of that, seems to have no purpose in existing (to be determined in future games)

Gameplay Positives:

  • Music is fantastic, both the original stuff and the remixes
  • …music continues to be fantastic, with multiple iterations of the same song depending on the scene and need
  • Yoshi Drums are excellent, often-times having a dungeon and combat song be the same song for areas
  • Bestiary / Scanning and related information which is readily and easily available
  • Weapons level independently but all gain SP simultaneously (separate pools), no builds but nonlinear progression, automate based on preference VIII style, and also level out of party
  • On death, go back to last battle, checkpoint, or save
  • Each character plays substantially different from each other, which can lead to some fun variety
  • Between weapon skills, materia, and weapon customization there’s a decent amount of kit available to the player
  • Rufus boss fight is easily the best designed fight in the game and, more to the point, very fun
  • Good New Game + is, as usual, a positive (complete with chapter select)
  • Aggregate: Difficulty swapping ( out of combat) // Party leader positioning into combat // Selecting options on Airbuster // Can still dodge, attack, and stagger as a toad! // Menu actions in combat are quite intuitive (hotkeys, shifting, can see enemy data without losing menu position) // Quest turn in auto warp

Gameplay Negatives:

  • Party members suck when not controlled (ATB, control, forced swapping)
  • Combat camera just has… issues with terrain and tracking
  • Issues with context sensitive areas of interaction and trying to interact with one specific thing
  • Boring difficulty / Just affects damage and HP values (for Easy and Normal)
  • Dungeon pacing is just an awful, boring slog
  • The HP barrier / stagger drain phase lock-in of bosses just gets irritating after a while
  • Dungeon pacing… combined with padding in several areas
  • The entire Outro design was kind of… blegh, with disinteresting ‘final dungeon’ and ultimately disinteresting final boss sequences
  • Ultimately combat has a lot of issues with it, including but not limited to; basically forcing the player to constantly switch characters, massive problems with stunlocking from all enemies (even trash), positional mattering but no real ability to reposition, issues with how the ATB bar fills, the ATB being used for everything rather than some things, etc.

Grand Theft Auto 5

While I think GTA 4 has a stronger, and more impacting, story… GTA 5 after replay and with analysis mode on really takes the cake. The best way I can summarize it is this is the first GTA game I’ve ever played where I enjoyed it all the way through, and never wanted to skip a mission or quit the game in frustration. While it fails at the parody and humor level for me, I still dig the main story and love the power trio.
Total Story Score: +18
Total Gameplay Score: +15
Cheats: No
Total Play Time: 5 Days // 46 Hours
Time Reviewed: 5-11-2020

Spoiler Pluses and Minuses +

Story Positives:

  • The entire Intro is fantastic, easily and effortlessly setting up Michael, Trevor, Dave, Franklin, Lamar, and expositing on the overall theme
  • Mocap and animation is top notch
  • Directing of cutscenes and usage of camera and angles is great stuff
  • As per usual for the series, the voice acting is top notch
  • Doodad placement is mind blowingly good throughout the city
  • Brickwork is top notch, with astonishing attention to detail
  • Terrain and the design thereof is memorable, well laid out, and makes the ‘non-city’ areas fun to be in
  • The city of Los Santos itself is a very well designed living breathing city
  • Exposition is really well designed, very show-not-tell, and very efficient throughout
  • The big scene where Trevor first shows up to Michael’s place and everything about it is poetry. The tension, the body language, Michael defending Jimmy, the interactions with Fabien, and Trevor only quitting his immediate* revenge rampage to go after Tracey
  • Storyboarding and sequence of cutscenes is actually very well done
  • The… torture scene is exactly how it needs to be. It is unflinchingly horrifying and brutal and makes it very clear what’s being done and how, and is probably the best bit of characterization for Haines that it could be
  • The reveal mission about Brad is just… really well done, pays off a lot of the build up across the entire game, and serves as a critical climax for the story
  • Michael’s genuine love and enthusiasm for the movie business is great, and the series of missions surrounding the shoot are great
  • Pacing is generally excellent, with no sections that go too high or too low and no filler
  • Dialogue is top notch, as per usual for the GTAs
  • Trevor is close to my favorite character in the entire series, only held back by the (in my opinion) arbitrarily gross aspects of him. He’s wonderfully acted, voiced, presented, just amazing
  • Michael is my favorite GTA Protagonist, who is understandable, interesting, multi-dimensional, and can’t quite seem to figure himself out
  • Ending C, aka the real ending, is actually quite satisfying and serves as a nice fullfilment of…
  • …the core themes of the game, which I really enjoy. Loyalty, the relativity of value, the falsehood of the ‘almighty’ dollar, all great stuff which all pays off in Ending C
  • The final conversations and general post game wrap up is good stuff

Story Negatives:

  • A degree of both shock and gross value that just pushes the lines a bit too far and hard, leading to multiple unpleasant scenes I just sort of endure to get to the rest of it
  • Lamar is… a character I want to like, but he just goes so far over the line of irritating (deliberately, but still) that he drifts into ‘get off my screen’ territory
  • Aggregate: Irritating characters which, deliberate or no, are just kind of irritating (Haines, Weston, Michael’s family, etc.) // The ‘kill Michael’ ending really just does not work // Some unnecessary drama towards the end

Gameplay Positives:

  • The Intro is extremely well done and some generally great tutorialization, quickly getting across aiming, movement, swapping, driving, etc.
  • Taxi system (summonable, can fast travel, and relatively quick, can set to specific waypoints)
  • Customization options cars (lots of options, game useful upgrades)
  • Customization options appearance (tons of options and mix and matching)
  • The in game music (not the radio stations) is good stuff, and wonderfully tuned to the scenes it plays in
  • Driving is the funnest it’s been in the series for me, and it’s legitimately enjoyable to just drive around
  • Swapping and hot swapping is a neat mechanic that’s well used in a lot of missions throughout
  • Each character’s special ability not only adds nicely to the core gameplay but also helps differentiate the core trio
  • The city design is excellent, with good layout and landmarks and flow to it
  • All roads lead to Rome mission design, where in many missions there’s plenty of ways to get to where you need to be
  • Mission variety is excellent, on-par with San Andreas
  • Mission fun is fantastic, I love doing the missions
  • Stranger missions and encounters are almost always fun and interesting and the ‘how to find them’ is better designed than back in IV
  • The rest of the world that isn’t the city is also fantastically designed and fun to cruise around in
  • Heists are fun, fun, fun and I love doing ‘em and I love replaying ‘em the other way to see how it goes
  • Aggregate: Pausable cutscenes // Fast-forwardable cutscenes and phones // Save anywhere // Flash indicator of kills // Regenerating health below 50% // Mission skip option // Replay missions option

Gameplay Negatives:

  • Aggregate: Health bar is just not well placed and hard to see, would be resolved with some HUD options // Map is… not good // Possible to permanently skip dialogue occasionally

West Of Loathing

A surprisingly good game, with legitimately good game design, fun quests, and a ton of replayability. My biggest recommendation is play it in bursts, so the constant jokes don’t wear thin on you. Definitely recommended otherwise.
Total Story Score: +3
Total Gameplay Score: +5
Cheats: Yes (walkthrough)
Total Play Time: 2 Days // 14 Hours
Time Reviewed: 5-13-2020

Spoiler Pluses and Minuses +

Story Positives:

  • Humor (what can I say, the game’s funny)
  • Ghostwood in its entirety (good lord)
  • The Gun Manor DLC was very well written and generally satisfying to go through

Story Negatives:

Gameplay Positives:

  • Leveling system is one of my personal favorite methods of vertical leveling (gain an experience pool, spend the pool directly to raise skills directly)
  • Surprisingly large amount of build options and kit for both combat and encounters
  • Animation is actually quite good and uses its style very well
  • Fast travel from basically anywhere to anywhere you’ve discovered
  • Music is pretty good (if loud) and keeps the tone going properly
  • All Roads Lead To Rome quest design
  • Substantial and fun side questing

Gameplay Negatives:

  • Forced ironman mode in save
  • Aggregate: There’s some small niggling issues with the interface (selecting targets in combat, mouseover text going off screen, inability to see the party member’s level) // Some walkthroughitis with the Gun Manor DLC (smother the chili with a pillow? Seriously?)

Persona 5 Royal

I can actually summarize my thoughts very easily here; this is a good game stretched too long. The length itself isn’t the problem, but there’s too many sections where it’s dragged out longer than it should, usually in small doses (10 seconds at a time) but done constantly. The core combat is solid, the persona merging crafting system is great, and I was very invested in the characters and the personal stories.
Total Story Score: +10
Total Gameplay Score: +2
Cheats: Yes (walkthrough)
Total Play Time: 15 Days // 120 Hours
Time Reviewed: 6-20-2020

Spoiler Pluses and Minuses +

Story Positives:

  • The implementation of Kamoshida’s role in the story is actually very well done; he is a successful hate-sink for the player. He is a disgusting human being at several levels, and is deliberately going out of his way to abuse his pathetic lot in life, and further actually goes out of his way to be a very personal problem for basically all the initial main characters (trying to expel us, ruined Ryuji’s track career plans, and trying to sexually abuse Ann)
  • Camera usage and direction. For the most part they use static shots, but they also go out of their way to use differing angles and vary up the focus
  • Voice acting is… really quite good, not just in general quality but also in showcasing added nuance
  • Voice acting continues to be excellent
  • An additional bonus for the main characters’ voice actors, especially Akechi and Makoto who are probably the best of the bunch
  • Lindblum Effect in the random people in the physical world
  • Even more Lindblum Effect throughout the course of the game
  • The visual distinctiveness of the Palaces is nicely varied
  • Yasuka is a nice touch of pragmatism and is amusing in his own right // Yoshida! He’s well written, he’s an interesting archetype (a legitimately corrupt politician who actually is reformed and trying to be better) and his story has been fascinating. Plus there’s something awesome about how he deduces who we are not by supplying us or being part of things, but simply by getting to know us well enough to do so
  • The storytelling for a huge chunk of it is very ‘ground floor’, keeping things relatively low level and relatable, which really increases my investment and general interest in the early plots
  • Futaba is generally adorable, and a great ‘younger sister’ character that automatically triggers that ‘protective / must protect’ thing, in addition to being heartwarming and having some of the most ‘feels’ scenes
  • Sojiro is just kind of wholesome, and has probably one of the most sharp arcs throughout his confidant. He’s also enjoyable to see in general, being intelligent, perceptive, and caring enough to bother in most of his scenes
  • Makoto’s story was the first one to actually make me feel; the pressure of being the tool who is hated and misused by those both above and below and having no one to really turn to is wonderfully presented
  • For the problems I have with presentation and construction, the twist around our death and Akechi is a great idea. I love the fact that it’s such a logical, well-thought-out consequence of kids who were (let’s be honest) just playing a game up until now suddenly being out-maneuvered and out-gunned, and gambling on a long shot to bypass their superior foe
  • Justine / Caroline’s ‘quests’ you do for them are well written and, frankly, hilarious
  • The twist with the demiurge and Lavenza is beautifully foreshadowed, subtlety built up, and nicely paid off
  • As much as I have issues with it, the finale and the ‘people’s combined will powers us up to defeat the demiurge’ thing is actually quite well done and (more importantly) makes perfect sense within universe
  • Character investment. While I can’t really give most of the characters individual positives, I overall grew to care about the cast as a whole and was invested in their stories and how things would end
  • The main plot of Royal is far, far more engaging and interesting and (most importantly) personal. It also brings up a fascinating philosophical question (paradise and stagnation vs. strife and progress) and leaves that question there while pointing out that the main villain’s flaw is in his execution, not his ideals
  • Credit for Royal’s Finale. I’m probably biased because I was rather harsh on the vanilla ending but the final dungeon, final boss, and usage of Maruki are surprisingly good
  • Akechi’s usage in Royal is substantially better than in vanilla, basically across the board. Perhaps this is helped by him not pretending to be anything other than what he is, but he’s a legitimate breath of fresh air in most of the scenes he’s in and also goes out of his way to be worth a damn
  • The usage of everyone’s Confidants working together to get us out of juvie and showing the consequences of those connections is honestly just really well done and had me smiling for most of it
  • Aggregate: Combo skills are just adorable to watch // Iwai isn’t quite as awesome as some other confidants, but he’s still pretty cool // Mementos as a concept is interesting and neatly ties in to the finale

Story Negatives:

  • Repetitive repetitiveness repeating things repeatedly
  • Repetition repetition repetition
  • A combination of issues collide into a negative here; First, it’s possible to be inefficient in what you raise and how, encouraging a walkthrough. Second, there’s a limited amount of time (total) to do… well, everything. And third (and most importantly) the game is really really really long, which means trying to redo the ‘path’ you took or optimize your ‘route’ is an extremely time consuming affair. And finally, on the story axis, a fairly large amount of worthwhile content is locked behind these things, making it even worse
  • Stupidity for the sake of ‘as you know’ is something that happens a bit too often
  • Anviliciousness is a constant throughout. The story has some good points, but it hammers them over and over and over with the subtlety of a thwomp
  • The artificial drama with Morgana bowing out is, as it usually is, badly handled and is clearly being done for the sake of drrraaama and padding
  • Empty Text problems are pretty consistent throughout
  • So there’s… many repeated issues surrounding the framing device. It’s not a bad idea and the twist it surrounds is actually a cool idea, but the problems with pacing, presentation, repeating itself constantly, and the fact that they try to bait and switch you like three separate times really saps the impact of the scene. But ultimately this negative is more for the framing device’s execution itself
  • The monologue-battle between Shido and Akechi was… not good to begin with but then it went on and on and on and on and ON and while it’s funny, it’s funny because it’s… bad
  • So the big confrontation scene with Akechi has actually managed to surpass the monologue-battle scene in terms of what the hell. A lot of the issues with it are, ultimately, just repeats of other problems in the narrative… but then you tack onto that the fact that it just drags on… and on and on and on, with characters repeating plot points that were mentioned mere minutes before, the game portraying Akechi as weirdly sympathetic, while simultaneously pushing the heroes to try and redeem him and get him to join, then made worse by him doing a fake self sacrifice (for no good reason)
  • So this one’s hard to explain but ultimately the SMT finale just really does not work for me and actively ruins most of the rest of the narrative. The game’s narrative and focus on individuals and really focusing on the consequences of actions helped to invest me in events, NPCs, party members, villains, and the events they went through. The escalation worked nicely and Shido was a good ‘final boss’ for us individually and as a group… and all of that gets torpedo’d by the mere existence of the demiurge and the final act of the (vanilla) game
  • Akechi’s use in the vanilla game is something I’m just not with, and I also don’t find him interesting as a character, to the point where if Shido himself had been doing the metaverse bits it would probably work better for me
  • The ‘dating’ aspects of the game… honestly kind of suck. The fact that you can enter a relationship and it never really comes up is bothersome to begin with (except for Hawaii, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, and white day or whatever), but then there’s the fact that the other characters don’t acknowledge it as even existing, and then on top of that there are several romances you have to turn down in these heart crushing scenes which A: Should never have happened to begin with (since they’d know you’re taken) and B: Never give an option to say “I’m taken” as a way to let them down

Gameplay Positives:

  • Restarts on story / major bosses (effectively mid mission checkpoints)
  • Substantial element of weaknesses as knock down = additional move which can also be baton passed, leading to some nice additional tactics
  • Knock down entire enemy = Big move, get item, or gain ability of persona plus negotiations
  • Good fast travel system (unlock specific spots by traveling there but always have large area ports, can pull it up basically whenever as long as not plot-locked, and quick and efficient interface)
  • Convenience features (equip and sell in menu, weakness shown in spell menu, Assist button, quick travel in the physical world, fast travel to safe zones in Palaces)
  • Persona leveling, merging, mashing mechanics are nicely complex and offer a fairly large amount of playstyle options for the main character
  • Time management (board game) of the non-combat section is pretty fun in its own right, and has enough HUD and interface elements to make sure you have enough info on hand to judge how to manage what where and when
  • Overall dungeon variety and puzzle design is decent, and visually distinct
  • The design and format of the non-combat, non-dungeon areas are neatly designed and fit well with the combat, dungeon side of the game. Both of them meld nicely into each other and compliment each other (though with the downside of basically mandating you do both)
  • Decently good NG+
  • Aggregate: Partial dialogue log // Auto dialogue advance option // Ability to change difficulty on the fly // Baton pass and related bonuses // Buffs, debuffs, and status effects actually being worth a darn // There are several boss fights in Royal that are… actually boss fights, with actual strategies and gimmicks worth a damn

Gameplay Negatives:

  • Combat spam is a bit silly; near-constant repeating of the same audio clips for regular, repeated actions repeated repeatedly
  • Tutorialization is pretty heavy, hard, and constant… and in some cases you literally cannot actually take certain actions until tutorialized
  • Total lack of audio options is something that’s bothersome in a game with music, voice acting, sound effects, and (most importantly) music. Further, and this is purely subjective of course, but I actively dislike the music in this game and have no option to deal with it other than simply unplugging my headphones or muting the entire game
  • A combination of issues collide into a negative here; First, it’s possible to be inefficient in what you raise and how, encouraging a walkthrough. Second, there’s a limited amount of time (total) to do… well, everything. And third (and most importantly) the game is really really really long, which means trying to redo the ‘path’ you took or optimize your ‘route’ is an extremely time consuming affair
  • Bosses… really have a tendency to drag, which wouldn’t be horrible except for how relatively basic they are (they’re effectively SNES era bosses, but taking about 5x as long as a SNES boss) and making me less inclined to play on higher difficulties for bosses because of how long each attempt takes
  • Ukumara’s Palace is… not good. The dungeon is more or less the same as many others but worse in several ways, not the least of which being far more unnecessary dialogue explaining what we’ve already seen and puzzle design that stretches a 2 minute puzzle into 20
  • Ukumara’s boss fight is just… awful in almost every way. The game already has slog problems in general, but to add onto that a timer, a ‘waves of enemies’ mechanic, and the fact that you have to kill all the enemies in only a few turns is the opposite of fun
  • Mementos is just… not a well designed dungeon. Repeat, boring hallways which look identical and have extremely similar songs, and feel like it takes entirely too long despite having the (optional) ability to one-shot enemies
  • The ‘dating’ aspects of the game… honestly kind of suck. The fact that you can enter a relationship and it never really comes up is bothersome to begin with (except for Hawaii, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, and white day or whatever), but then there’s the fact that the other characters don’t acknowledge it as even existing, and then on top of that there are several romances you have to turn down in these heart crushing scenes which A: Should never have happened to begin with (since they’d know you’re taken) and B: Never give an option to say “I’m taken” as a way to let them down. In addition to all of this, the mechanic itself is both threadbare and restrictive, effectively forcing the player to choose from very limited options in what is effectively a dating sim game (and I firmly believe these types of ‘choose dialogue options’ things qualify as gameplay for these types of games)

The Last Of Us 2

It’s hard to summarize my thoughts on this one. The game has strong gameplay core, that’s stretched a bit too long to the point where it wears thin. I’m not really invested in the plot or the characters. But I’d say I legitimately enjoyed at least half of it, and it has some of the best accessibility and difficulty options I’ve ever seen in a game.
Total Story Score: -4
Total Gameplay Score: +5
Cheats: No
Total Play Time: 3 Days // 22 Hours
Time Reviewed: 7-14-2020

Spoiler Pluses and Minuses +

Story Positives:

  • Motion capture is pretty high quality, as expected
  • Voice acting is the usual good stuff
  • Doodad placement is extremely well done in just about every area
  • Visual terrain design is excellent in the initial snowy and city areas
  • Exposition is generally well presented, with a decent amount of showing not telling (even if the showing is for… bad)
  • Joel and Ellie’s chemistry and interactions, whenever they happen, are just great
  • The museum and hotel sections with Joel and Ellie are excellent (as are all the Joel and Ellie flashbacks)
  • The final flashback between Joel and Ellie is probably the best scene in the entire game, and is the first and only time the game actually made me feel
  • Aggregate: Jesse wasn’t much, but he was likeable // The flowers at Joel’s house was some of the best visual storytelling in the entire game // The entire ‘destruction of Haven’ sequence was reasonably well portrayed

Story Negatives:

  • Idiot ball to progress plot (Tommy, Dina, Jesse, Ellie, Abby’s entire group, Abby herself, Ellie again…)
  • Drrrraaaama
  • Cutscene incompetence and uncharted railroading
  • Ignoring of nuance leading to black and white storytelling
  • Joel’s death’s execution is just not good. While I’m completely fine with Joel dying, the way they went about it was not to the level it needed to be
  • World Destruction (the opposite of world building). The game goes out of its way to actively do little things here and there that either ignore or ruin the world building of the previous game
  • Lack of chemistry between Dina and Ellie really hurts the two’s dynamic
  • Abby is essentially a non-character, which normally wouldn’t be worth even mentioning but it’s aggravating how much of the narrative she takes up and (of course) we’re forced to play as her
  • Jump scares which, as usual, are just whatever
  • Actively unlikeable characters pretty much across the board, with precious few exceptions
  • Forced and unearned emotional perspective, consistently, from both sides
  • The ‘big confrontation’ fight when Abby and Ellie’s timelines link up is… so many levels of awful I just don’t know how to describe it properly
  • The ending, in general, trips almost constantly… which is even more aggravating because it gets so close to good several times

Gameplay Positives:

  • The game has an absolutely ton of customization and accessibility options to help setup play style, especially for people with blindness or other issues
  • The game has very good difficulty options
  • Another plus for excellent options design and the option to alter it on the fly
  • Checkpointing is top notch, and even includes an indicator in the pause menu about how long it’s been since you last checkpointed
  • The Rat-King fight was actually surprisingly good. While the boss itself was just a health sponge, the boss arena and terrain were well designed to accommodate it (decent health pickups, multiple avenues with few dead ends to maneuver around it, and the boss itself can actually alter the terrain via destruction to change paths)
  • The level design has some good areas and sections, with good places to maneuver in and out of, plenty of items to use or refill on, ways to flank or be flanked, etc.
  • As always, good New Game + is a plus
  • Aggregate: Verbal indicator of ‘clear’ / Horse always ready outside wherever you are / Safe locks aren’t as bad as they could be / Placement of flingables / Chapter replay and collectible indicator / Crafting shortcuts and indicators when having enough mats / There are several encounters which are pretty well designed, usually of the same variety (which brings this down to an Aggregate) but still enjoyable

Gameplay Negatives:

  • Pacing has a general lack of good flow with entirely too many sections that just drag rather than serving as proper breathers
  • Dragon Age 2 Syndrome, which really becomes obvious by about Day 1 of Abby’s side
  • Aggregate: Combat is actively disinteresting, for the same reason it is in Dragon Quest Builders 1 // Jumping puzzles and puzzle design in general is not its strong suit

Colonel Sanders Dating Sim

It’s short, and it’s silly, and it’s funny. It’s also free. Make of that what you will.
Total Story Score: +2
Total Gameplay Score: 0
Cheats: No
Total Play Time: 1 Days // 2 Hours
Time Reviewed: 7-14-2020

Spoiler Pluses and Minuses +

Story Positives:

  • I mean, it’s pretty funny, and had me laughing pretty hard
  • Aggregate: …utterly unashamed of itself, which added to the humor // Characters… which added to the humor

Story Negatives:

Gameplay Positives:

  • The music is surprisingly decent, and well used for scenes

Gameplay Negatives:

  • The options in general are extremely lacking, especially for a visual novel

Xenoblade 2 Torna

If you like the Xenoblades in general and 2 in particular, you should pick this up. This review will probably someday be updated to also include Xenoblade 2 itself, but for now I can say this does a good job of what it’s there to do, while simultaneously bungling it. I’ve rarely seen a game that yo-yos in quality this much.
Total Story Score: 0
Total Gameplay Score: +3
Cheats: Yes (walkthrough)
Total Play Time: 2 Days // 15 Hours
Time Reviewed: 7-18-2020

Spoiler Pluses and Minuses +

Story Positives:

  • Addam himself is arguably the main character of the work, with the majority of the story focus and characterization (a lot of which is in the side quests). But he’s got some neat world building around him and serves as the focus for both interesting main plot points; Mythra and the politics
  • Political intrigue is interesting in its own right, and forms a nice backbone to the narrative
  • Mythra’s arc of developing Droid Effect as well as learning to care is interesting, and her ‘final’ scene where she laments the death of the children is actually very well done
  • Some of the side quests have decent character building, and are nice low-level, local bits of worldbuilding and characterization
  • The epilogue and ending are actually quite good with one noticeable exception
  • Aggregate: Post combat banter and the snippets of characterization it adds // The game manages decent humor now and again // Voice actors aren’t bad really, and do what they can despite the voice direction
  • Aggregate: Lora isn’t much of a character, but she’s enjoyable as she is // It’s nice seeing Amalthus as he’s still crawling his way up // Several other side characters were reasonably interesting and/or memorable

Story Negatives:

  • The voice direction is actively bad, resulting in generally bad voice acting in almost every single scene
  • Pacing of cutscenes, excessive and mis-used pauses (lots of pauses where there shouldn’t be, scenes simply take too long and have awkward moments when there shouldn’t be, etc.)
  • Lots of awkward exposition, often in places where it makes no sense (and several ‘as you knows’)
  • Empty action, with odd and often blocky storyboarding, and events not progressing logically
  • The game also manages a lot of… really awkward, cringey attempts at humor which just fall completely flat
  • The rest of the side quests’ side stories are actively irritating, sometimes to the point of being awful by themselves (like the ‘Sarah and Leo’ quest)
  • The… sudden and weird inclusion of the actual final boss fight against Gort was badly executed and timed, and generally felt like a complete mis-step in the story

Gameplay Positives:

  • Build and spend system of combat seems simple, but the fact that when you hit it it interrupts a current action means timing matters, and since all abilities are building at once it offsets the usual pacing issues with a build and spend system
  • The very idea of a backrow which also provides support, abilities, attacks, etc. is a great idea that more video games with limited party size should use
  • Swapping between characters really improves the flow of battle, by not only changing up abilities but instantly recharging specials
  • Combat flow (once it gets started) is fantastic in general
  • Blade Combos and fixed routes are great to use and build up to as well as incredibly useful when accomplished
  • The HUD is surprisingly good, especially in combat, showcasing everything you need to see very quickly and efficiently and with multiple types of indicators (shading, color, highlights)
  • Alternate leveling (milestones) is a pretty cool idea and gives a nice way to progress other than pure levels
  • Good New Game +
  • Aggregate: The built in autobattle, while lacking any kind of features or options, is still well designed // The side quests and exploration are fairly rewarding // Decent variety of options for playstyle // Custom difficulty, unlocked in NG+

Gameplay Negatives:

  • Single save slot and the usual problems
  • Gathering spam is just ridiculous, especially for how often you do it and how much it slows you down
  • Mandatory side quests in order to progress through the game
  • Side quest quality is a bit all over the place, but with quite a few more ‘bad’ quests than good, reminding me of the old style of MMO quests
  • Interface is… not great. Far too many clicks needed to get to relevant information, horrible quest log, irritating to use map, etc.
  • Aggregate: Combat spam is excessive to the point of meaningless, with any given combat devolving into white noise because of how many are talking over each other constantly // The visual chaos of battle is about equal to the audio chaos

Shantae And The Pirate's Curse

This is a fun, enjoyable side-scroller platformer that I highly recommend you play if you have even the slightest interest in the genre. It has fun levels, great movement tech, and an actual story that’s interesting. Hugely recommended.
Total Story Score: +4
Total Gameplay Score: +13
Cheats: Yes (walkthrough)
Total Play Time: 1 Days // 8 Hours
Time Reviewed: 7-20-2020

Spoiler Pluses and Minuses +

Story Positives:

  • The game is legitimately funny, and goes out of its way to make me laugh more than a few times
  • The visual variety and distinction of each island is well done and adds to the presentation
  • The external continuity between this game and the previous (and the next) really elevate the investment
  • The game is cute, charming, and has wonderful atmosphere

Story Negatives:

Gameplay Positives:

  • The animation is excellent, with tons of frames and a huge variety to every animation from NPC, to the foreground events, to enemies, to Shantae, to bosses
  • The spritework is, as usual, excellent
  • The music is Kauffman’s usual fantastic stuff
  • The enemy variety is high, and the enemy placement is well thought out
  • There are lots of little ways the terrain or areas are designed to incline you towards exploring most of the secrets and areas
  • There are several fun and interesting setpieces (such as the stealth area)
  • The level design itself is nice and varied throughout
  • A second positive for variety and quality of music
  • Shantae’s kit is great, with each move being usable so quickly and smoothly and being able to be chained into each other to really make sequences fun and satisfying
  • The game flow is phenomenal, with no real stutter, bad pacing, or other issues throughout (except for the final dungeon)
  • The platforming is designed to be pretty precise but at no point did I feel it was too much or too irritating (except for the final dungeon)
  • The boss fights were all fun, if a bit similar in approach, but they had good variety to them
  • The final boss was already fun, but when you add in the unique mechanic of firing the cannon at his face it got even better
  • Pirate Mode isn’t quite a new game +, but it’s close and having all the movement tech unlocked at the beginning is an awesome game changer
  • Aggregate: Map select indicator of collectibles // Visual and audio indicators of attacks, health, procs, etc. // Good usage of escalation tutorialization (in almost every case you would see a block, enemy, or obstacle and how to interact with it before you really had to deal with it in a hard situation)

Gameplay Negatives:

  • The final stage has issues. Lack of proper checkpoints, trial and error difficulty, start-over-from-scratch spike challenges, etc.
  • Aggregate: Backtracking isn’t the greatest until you unlock all the movement tech // The map is threadbare which is bad enough, but is lacking in some basic features (like the ‘passageways’ thing in SoTN) which actively hinders exploration // Some things are a bit hard to find without a guide (not a big deal really) // Background blurring on the graphics is irritating

Ghost Of Tsushima

While it’s not for everyone, and the game is unflinching in requiring you to always be on regarding the combat… and the third act kind of falls apart… make no mistake, this is an incredible game that I highly recommend to anyone with even a passing interest in the era, the story, the combat, or the studio. Hugely recommended.
Total Story Score: +18
Total Gameplay Score: +8
Cheats: No
Total Play Time: 5 Days // 40 Hours
Time Reviewed: 7-25-2020

Spoiler Pluses and Minuses +

Story Positives:

  • Voice acting is excellent across the board
  • Voice acting mk. 2
  • The facial capture on the faces really helps add to the emotion of scenes
  • Cinematography and camera usage is great for cutscenes
  • Lighting usage as a way to distinguish different types of scenes, weather, areas, and flashbacks
  • Color usage to distinguish areas, scenes, and flashbacks
  • The terrain is straight up gorgeous
  • A second positive for sheer beauty, good lord
  • The music is excellent and wonderfully adds to moments
  • The music dynamically changes to suit the scene and the character’s actions
  • Sound direction is stellar across the board
  • Masako is probably the most interesting character in the whole game, with an amazing actress and a lot of real weight to her arc
  • Jin, the true vulcan, is well developed, well portrayed, and follows a very logical arc of someone poisoned by war while still retaining the true core of who he is. A true Son of Mogh
  • Yuriko’s arc is good characterization for Jin and his family, but also a horrifyingly well done portrayal of dementia (and possibly a stroke) and her passing is very well handled
  • The fall of Castle Shimura is easily the best scene in the game, with fantastic showing not telling, facial acting, voice acting, and being just as horrifying as it needed to be
  • Ishikawa and the Tomoe arc
  • Yuna has a good dynamic with Jin, but her story of the regret-filled thief who was a bad person in a bad world is fascinating and well portrayed, and her rage is fully believable
  • Norio is brilliantly acted, he’s relatable, he’s a bro, he’s a warrior monk, and his arc of the dark side and losing himself is powerful
  • Despite being incredibly obvious and visible from a mile away… Taka’s death was incredibly well handled, both in the lead up at the siege to the pay off. The tone goes straight from loud to soft and handles the shift brilliantly
  • Masako’s arc and quest chain is just the best in the whole game, absolutely brilliant and horrible and dark and wonderful and arguably the only properly paced arc in the entire game
  • Khotun Khan doesn’t get as much screen time as I’d like, but he’s good when he’s there. Pragmatic, cordial, manipulative, and unflinchingly brutal
  • Aggregate: Side quest stories aren’t the best, but they’re still interesting // Ink cutscenes for the epic tales are cool and well done // Kenji is more enjoyable than he should be given the ‘bumbling fool’ approach he uses, but helped by portrayal and his infrequent helpfulness // While the main plot is thin, the central pillar of the Mongolian threat serves as a nice connecting thread for all the other stories

Story Negatives:

  • Ryuzo’s build up. Hunger or not, the whole thing just doesn’t work. It felt like they wanted to either have it be about his pride and vendetta of us as a rival (in which case the missions don’t work for it at all) or about the food (which is nonsensical given basic logic, and the fact that we raid multiple camps during the arc which have food in them visible)
  • Act 3 has generally bad pacing, most notably in the character stories
  • In Act 3 the game tries a little bit too hard to moralize, most notably about the poison we ‘invented’ aka learned from our nursemaid and suddenly evil people are using it everywhere and it’s all our fault nooo
  • Aggregate: There’s an internal politics issue that should have been far more on camera and present in the narrative rather than sneaking in twice and then at the ending // Mongol ‘threat’ issues in act 3 aren’t really well realized and emphasize the wrong aspects

Gameplay Positives:

  • Flow. The game encourages moving and doing to progress, giving you resolve and allowing you to recover
  • Resolve bar is a great build/spend mechanic, and usable to both heal and do super nukes
  • Stances offer great variety in how you strike and you can swap them on the fly very smoothly
  • Animation cancelling allows for tons of player options and rewards both reflexes and forethought in combat
  • Stealth easier, samurai is harder, forming a… gameplay morality bar instead of a story one
  • Group combat and multiple attackers at once is the bread and butter of encounter design and they do a good job of enemy variety making encounters interesting and challenging
  • Non-binary fail states for many of the missions, which allow leeway on screwing up and the possibility of recovery
  • Photo Mode has an absolute ton of great options, it’s nuts
  • Fast travel is the usual good style (explore to discover, fast travel from anywhere, and lots of travel points)
  • Lighting is surprisingly well designed. This is under gameplay because it helps increase visibility despite light or shadow, at day or night, and at no time is the lighting an obstacle to gameplay and in fact assists in being able to tell what you’re doing
  • Ghost Mode. It lets you kill people regardless of everything else while simultaneously terrifying all nearby enemies, you get it for killing leaders, and you can gain it for getting enough kills without taking damage (rewarding)
  • The usage of enemy types and positioning in the immediate wake of Taka’s death is brilliantly designed to actually reward and allow the player to absolutely run roughshod over them
  • Aggregate: Some minor QoL features including but not limited to; loot on horseback, loot while fighting, looting is instant, escorts move at your speed

Gameplay Negatives:

  • Unskippable cutscenes (mostly from duels and finishing quests)
  • Camera and collision are kind of awful, leading to many fights where I’m fighting the camera more than the enemy
  • Traversal isn’t the worst I’ve seen, but going from Point A to Point B is just kind of boring and is effectively padding
  • HUD approach is not something I’m in favor of. It’s not the minimalism, which is fine if done properly, but the specific ways they design both the bird, the wind, and the touchpad are inconsistently useful and have issues frequently
  • Aggregate: One interaction button // Forced stance tutorial well into the game with no toggle // Weirdly restrictive camera during investigation sequences and inconsistent interactable icons

Trials of Mana Remake

Most of my complaints with the story are more about the presentation than the content, and the gameplay axis is great, with lots of fun and interesting systems and an enjoyable combat loop. Could have been better, but still recommended for anyone interested in the franchise or ARPGs in general.
Total Story Score: -4
Total Gameplay Score: +9
Cheats: No
Total Play Time: 4 Days // 20 Hours
Time Reviewed: 7-29-2020

Spoiler Pluses and Minuses +

Story Positives:

  • The main character isn’t the chosen one, they just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, the element of which is an interesting aspect of the plot and the setting (since literally anyone can take or use the power of Mana… or Mavolia… as they wish, which is why the hero is the hero, and why the villains all seek out things simultaneously)
  • Doodad usage and placement is actually quite good and makes most of the areas actually look and feel like what they are
  • Party banter while exploring and advancing into new zones // Multiple enemies fighting each other more or less at the same time

Story Negatives:

  • Voice acting is… just… bad across the board. I’m pretty sure it’s on the director, but either way it’s not good
  • Voice acting mk. 2
  • Animation for cutscenes is stilted and off, totally lacking anything it needs to work
  • Empty Text which actually saps several otherwise interesting character and plot points
  • As You Know, and generally bad dialogue
  • Cutscene incompetence and bad storyboarding in cutscenes
  • Post game nonsense (incredibly weirdly timed, and total disconnect with logic, like suddenly fighting Duran’s dead father… again… without any explanation… also just running through story beats at weird times in general)

Gameplay Positives:

  • Leveling system is actually pretty cool, levels allowing you to put points directly into stats which then give you abilities (both activated and passive), and there’s a good ‘spread’ so you don’t want to just crank one stat on characters
  • Music is great stuff, and really enjoyable to listen to (and less ear piercing than the original)
  • The music really is legitimately awesome, with no songs that suck and several songs that absolutely rock
  • Option to play other origins as you meet party members
  • Core combat is just generally fun, especially for how smooth and swift it is
  • Party AI setup is pretty well done and lets you customize your team pretty well
  • Graphics are actually pretty neat and help accent the gameplay
  • Avoidance of trash fights is easy, smooth, and swift
  • Boss design (telegraphs, super attacks that can be interrupted, actual mechanics and gimmicks
  • The variety and enjoyment of boss design is well done across the board
  • Option to toggle music between original and remake on the fly at will
  • Several small but helpful convenience features including but not limited to; Shortcutting items and abilities, timers not ticking down in menus, equipping at vendors, AI not taking damage from floor effects, AI not counting for xp bonuses after battle, ability to reset class change as well as spent points, full heal option to smartly use consumables, swapping the ‘cursed’ character in the ghost ship, the cacti bonuses (and the ability to see what you’re missing on the overworld map)
  • Good new game + is, as always, a plus

Gameplay Negatives:

  • Lazy difficulty in general (increases number of enemies and health/damage)
  • Absence of co-op in a remake of a game so focused and centered around co-op play
  • The Benevodon part of the game is really just one big long padding bleh section of the game
  • Anise’s Stockade is really just… boring. It’s repeated music from other parts in the game, repeated areas with some changes, repeated enemies scaled up, and no gimmicks or design to it other than lots and lots and lots of enemies