Premieres 8


The Talos Principle

An interesting puzzle game that I recommend if you’re, y’know, a fan of puzzle games. I shan’t say elsewise since it’s best experienced pretty blind.
Total Story Score: +11
Total Gameplay Score: +13
Golden Number: 66.69
Cheats: No
Total Play Time: 4 Days // 25.84 Hours
Time Reviewed: 5-21-2022

Spoiler Pluses and Minuses +

Story Positives:

  1. The slow evolution from disinterested system to active conversation with the MLA is actually pretty cool
  2. The MLA and its storytelling approach in general
  3. The usage of seemingly disconnected logs and emails as a storytelling mechanism
  4. The slow build into and through the Tower is a good sequence
  5. Voice acting, while intermittent, is good while it’s there
  6. Serpent and its variability alone is worthy of a positive, given how it can react to you based on you
  7. The Outro is a nice, appropriate section of escalation, the two other bots, and Elohim freaking out as you go
  8. The game does a lot to foreshadow where it’s going, how, and why
  9. DLC: The message board society of Gehenna in its entirety
  10. DLC: The… hilarious but also accurate way in which robots who aren’t fully sentient and sapient and lack understanding would right shlock
  11. DLC: Underwater Knight Quest. ‘Nuff said
  12. DLC: The characters were far better defined and constructed, distinct and well written, throughout Gehenna

Story Negatives:

  1. Pseudo-intellectual gibberish in some of the earlier tidbits, while purposeful, nonetheless tends to push the player away from interaction (and is honestly nonsense regardless)

Gameplay Positives:

  1. Good tutorialization throughout the initial few levels
  2. The core puzzle loop is decent but what really makes it work is the slow escalation of tools and complexity
  3. The game is visually impressive, even though it’s essentially borrowing assets
  4. Almost all of the World A puzzles were interesting, engaging, and fun to solve…
  5. …leading to a second positive
  6. There’s some good puzzle solving tools in the game; the indicators on the signposts about what’s been done and what hasn’t (in the hub area too), the HUD and showcasing which connections are viable and which aren’t with live update, etc.
  7. World B’s puzzles aren’t quite as interesting as World A’s, but are still good
  8. World C’s puzzles really start to ramp up and get interesting…
  9. …including a lot of intermixing and other fun gimmicks
  10. There are several individual puzzles that start to get very clever in World C
  11. This is effectively an aggregate positive, but very few individual puzzles felt worthwhile to me for a full positive, but there are many individual ones that were easily part of an aggregate, therefore… this positive
  12. Generally excellent brickwork
  13. The core loop of puzzle design is quite engaging and doesn’t get old
  14. Aggregate: Decent options menu // Some good music // Underwater Knight Quest
  15. DLC: The world 4 puzzles in Gehenna get quite interesting and creative, and are honestly some of the more fun I’ve had with the puzzles in general
  16. DLC: A second positive for the world 4 puzzles

Gameplay Negatives:

  1. Main game outro (some irritations, but mostly lack of mid mission checkpoints so… have fun doing the entire thing all over again each time you screw up)
  2. There are issues with having to slog through implementation of a solution you’ve already worked out, and failure means starting all over
  3. Aggregate: For a puzzle game, which requires knowing all tools to progress, the game doesn’t tell you several things you can do // // Music has issues periodically

Psychonauts

Despite the score, there’s nuggets of a great game in here. Cool, interesting, and unique ideas with a fun and surprisingly complex story, wrapped in some truly awful gameplay. Would still recommend.
Total Story Score: +14
Total Gameplay Score: -20
Golden Number: -3.29
Cheats: No
Total Play Time: 2 Days // 14.08 Hours
Time Reviewed: 5-28-2022

Spoiler Pluses and Minuses +

Story Positives:

  1. Good opening cinematic; Good structure (premise, tone, main character, stakes, plot, in that order), and well voice acted and presented
  2. The big scene where the creature keeps trying to grab the kids, failing at it, all while Raz is mentally stalled on ‘kiss’ while Lilli is so excited about everything, is great
  3. The entire premise of the Goggalor stage is great…
  4. …but the little side tidbits with the sketches and news interviews, both for humor’s sake, gameplay tutorialization, and getting across the brainwashing tidbits, really make it shine
  5. Generally good supporting cast (Dogen, Cruller, Mikhail, etc.) which are all distinct and varied from each other
  6. Good doodad utilization in the camp areas
  7. Voice acting is pretty high quality (especially for the time)
  8. Visual storytelling of several stages (Sasha and Mila)
  9. The generally wacky, ridiculous tone and atmosphere
  10. Visual storytelling of two more stages (Gloria’s and Boyd’s)
  11. While it stumbled a bit, the finale of Edgar’s stage, how he got over his self-esteem issues, and that last little ‘ha ha’ of hearing the splat was legit
  12. The game’s better-than-usual usage and thought that goes into mental health issues is quite nice, really
  13. Raz is well written and acted throughout
  14. The game is reasonably well foreshadowing
  15. The Outro does have some good stuff though, most notably the bits with your dad

Story Negatives:

  1. The Outro stumbles several times, most notably in how rushed it wraps up, and how Oliander just sort of… is redeemed, almost off camera, for no reason

Gameplay Positives:

  1. Sasha’s stage serves as a good tutorial and escalation of the shooting mechanic
  2. Surprisingly good mid-mission checkpointing
  3. This is an odd one but the game is… inventive, and that needs to be acknowledged. While it fumbles and fails (almost constantly) the creative design on display is good, and with polish would be great
  4. Goggalor’s level is good variance from the norm, the first level that actually does something interesting with the premise, and is generally fun
  5. Boyd’s level is creative and clever, and the disguise mechanic is a neat addition
  6. Fred’s level and its board-game aesthetic is neat, but the embracing of the adventure game mechanic worked in its favor

Gameplay Negatives:

  1. The interface and options menus have… issues
  2. The audio balance issues are not great, and thanks to inconsistent volumes even in the same channel, simply fiddling with the volume does not help
  3. The first boss (the fat censor) wasn’t… great, with inconsistent hurtboxes, irritating and constantly spawning adds, long delay times in stuns, and long irritating tutorial cutscenes you can’t skip if you get hit
  4. The brain tank boss fight suffers many typical boss design issues; Overly long invuln phase, too narrow vuln phase, and frustrating controls
  5. The lungfish boss (hey, starting a trend here) is… slow, dull, and monotonous with depth perception issues and a total lack of indication of how to do what where
  6. The game’s platforming is floaty, weird, and inconsistent (as with most 3D platformers of the era)
  7. The controls are awkward and weird, very early PS2
  8. Audio spam issues are semi frequent and frustrating
  9. The camera really has issues. Often
  10. The music in general is not enjoyable, and actively ruins the mood in many areas, but what really pushes it to negative territory is how short the loops are, for nice long sections of gameplay
  11. Related to the lungfish boss fight; the hurtboxes and hitboxes are.. Actively, legitimately terrible and frequently inconsistent
  12. Lighting issues across the board…
  13. …combined with visibility issues (mostly in color usage and distinction)
  14. The game has several bugs, a few of which actively prevent progress, the rest of which are near-constant irritations
  15. The Boyd level is legit, but it’s also entirely too long and too irritating to navigate
  16. The phantom boss fight is the worst boss fight to-date in a game of bad boss fights. It has long boss invulns, it’s too dark to properly navigate on top of being visually bad thanks to the camera usage, the ‘in between’ phase of floating back up is slow and boring and easy to screw up requiring a complete start over, the adds he spawns mez to prevent you from taking action, the boss uses HP set barriers, and to top it all off he’s talking CONSTANTLY the entire fight with only about 10 or so lines so… lots of repetition…
  17. …leading to a two boss negative
  18. While we’re at it, Gloria’s stage was a neat gimmick terribly presented, making the whole stage irritating and padding’d
  19. General boss design irritation negative
  20. So let’s run through this. The final stage is unpleasant visually and audibly, but more in a screeching hard-to-see kind of way than what was probably intended. It also has long swaths of an escort quest on top of an escort quest which if you fail you start all over from scratch, and the constantly-buggy grind rails which it’s very easy to fall off of to your death…
  21. …leading to two negatives
  22. Then we have the final boss (well the first final boss) which has inconsistent collision preventing the otherwise obvious tactic, far too little vuln time, and if you try to avoid damage it actually cancels his attack (this is on top of the other issues here I’m not even getting into)…
  23. …leading to two negatives
  24. A final negative for just… everything wrong with the Outro (even the very final boss is all the previous problems combined, including audio spam!)
  25. Enemy animations are honestly pretty bad
  26. Aggregate: The map is actively bad // There’s occasional issues with people just talking over each other // Occasional walkthroughitis issues (almost like it’s an adventure game…)

Psychonauts 2

Honestly, one of the best 3D Platformers I’ve ever played. Hugely recommended.
Total Story Score: +37
Total Gameplay Score: +29
Golden Number: 211.84
Cheats: No
Total Play Time: 3 Days // 18.57 Hours
Time Reviewed: 5-30-2022

Spoiler Pluses and Minuses +

Story Positives:

  1. The opening cinematic (the ‘last time on…’) is actually really well done, neatly summarizes the previous (two) game(s), and is wonderfully visually crafted regardless
  2. Voice acting is pretty top notch…
  3. …but more than that, it’s consistently high quality
  4. The animation is excellent and adds to the scenes in almost all cases
  5. The presentation and style of the hub ‘world’ really gets across the ideas of the psychonauts organization as a whole
  6. The bonus dialogues for connecting thoughts
  7. The usage of clairvoyance as an additional narrative tool (and as neat little side jokes)
  8. There’s some… very, very dark humor in the casino level, and it touches on some very real and applicable issues properly
  9. The entire scene of infiltrating the hotel with everyone’s abilities combined was not just cool, but very well done stylistically
  10. Sam and the incredible pancake adventures
  11. The ‘everyone’s willing to do their part cheerfully’ gameshow stage is appropriately horrifying when shown in contrast to the stark, unpleasant judges constantly casting shade at the man
  12. The ‘germ city’ and its quiet, background defeatism serving as a constant undercurrent for the despair he feels at losing his love Lucrecia is great and horrible at the same time
  13. The reveal of Fullbear and the additional backstory about Muligula is actually woven quite organically into the feast of the senses stage
  14. Further, there’s some legitimately good, humorous, and touching moments throughout aforementioned stage
  15. The tragedy of Lucy and Cruller as presented in the mailroom level is surprisingly impactful
  16. The brilliant way the game makes the player hate the bugs, and actively kill them, while gradually revealing what they represent, is great
  17. The big reveal about Ford, Maligula, and us is very well built up and very well executed
  18. Okay we gotta break this one down a bit. The entirety of Bob’s world is a beautifully, anviliciously, subtly crafted metaphor for alcoholism. The waves, the islands, the isolation, the projected thoughts, the unkempt’ness, the moth…
  19. …all of this on top of subtle showing and not telling of the specifics of what happened and how, all while absolutely hammering the tragedy of each point in…
  20. …finally culminating in a fantastic boss fight and, ultimately, a reunion with Fullbear
  21. While not as impacting or powerful as the previous stage, Cassie’s stage is absolutely brilliantly visualized
  22. The yarn world of Nona was nice, but what really sold it is the emotional baggage dam keeping back a flood of tears
  23. Grulovia Land is an impressive showcasing of exactly how childish and… unwise Gristol really is
  24. Gristol himself deserves special mention for being one of the most pathetic, childish, surface-level, narcissistic, insignificant specks of a villain I’ve ever seen
  25. The construct of Maligula as the villain is actually fascinating on several levels
  26. As before, several of the supporting cast are legit
  27. Special mention to Sam, for being consistently hilarious and well written and acted
  28. The tone and atmosphere of the game is even better than the previous one
  29. Speaking of which, the game actually got a laugh out of me more than once
  30. The external continuity connecting it to the first game is well done across the board, serving to make this game even better
  31. The Outro in general is great
  32. Gameplay and story integration
  33. The usage of animation was consistently excellent for storytelling purposes
  34. Great doodad usage, as per the original
  35. As with the first game, good foreshadowing
  36. Great usage of lighting to accent scenes
  37. Story is surprisingly well sequenced throughout
  38. Good storyboarding throughout
  39. Raz grows quite a bit throughout the work, and whenever he has his moments of competence, caring, and relevance, he’s awesome
  40. While there’s nothing ‘new’ per say, the extra dialogues at the post-game and wrap up with all the characters is nice
  41. Good brickwork throughout

Story Negatives:

  1. The… for lack of a better way to put it, general mean-spiritedness of the early part of the story is a bit much. It feels like the game is just punching the player in the face, and hits a bit too close to home for anyone who’s intern’d (or gone to college)
  2. A general story negative for several elements of non-paid-off irritation, mostly in early game and mostly centered on Norma
  3. Raz has periodic moments of what I can only refer to as Marty McFly Syndrome, where he’s either stupid or actively oblivious soley to progress the plot

Gameplay Positives:

  1. Built-in cheats as accessibility options
  2. QoL features (targeting, movement assists, visibility with the figments, etc.)
  3. The first stage is immediately getting on the right foot, with smoothly re-tutorializing abilities and being an interesting stage to boot, with good escalation and otherwise a good Intro
  4. The hub world is well designed, neatly laid out, and has plenty of mini activities to occupy (both for benefit and for fluff)
  5. The connecting thoughts concept (and level) is simple, but neat and fun to do
  6. The casino level is unique, fun, well paced, and inventive
  7. The Lucktopus boss fight is fun, has good music, good variety to moveset, good telegraphs, and is intuitive to pick up and beat immediately
  8. Good autosaves
  9. The timed cooking stage is a neat gimmick but doubly interesting in how many routes there are and the fact that actual tactics takes place
  10. The entire Germ City stage and its bowling ball gimmick are actually surprisingly fun, and it doesn’t wear out its welcome like it could have
  11. The feast of the senses stages, despite their… visual issues, are still fun and creative
  12. The mailroom level is, as usual, fun (and has a great visual backdrop)
  13. Unlike the first game, the music in this one is actually quite catchy, but more to the point is A: Not too short of loops, B: Appropriate to the zone in question, and C: Enjoyable to listen to
  14. The game’s core movement is far more fluid, making platforming actually fun this time around
  15. Combat, similarly, has more options and more cross-connect, allowing for an actually fun experience
  16. The camera is, similarly, a more modern 3D camera and actually helps rather than hinders movement
  17. The variety of abilities and the addition of another hotkey help with the kit
  18. And the badges and upgrades offer small but interesting mutators into the build gameplay
  19. The entire Bob stage is some of the better platforming thusfar, made even better by…
  20. …the pseudo open world ocean exploration section
  21. Also the boss fight against Bob’s inner demons, all the while alcohol is trying to prevent us from helping him
  22. Continuing good platforming and creative challenges in the Cassie level
  23. Figments as indicators ala coins
  24. Ink and library level isn’t super great, but it is unique and the boss fight was fun
  25. The final stage/boss was well constructed; a hard hitting but no i-frames boss with multiple varying attack patterns and, thus, different methods to deal with her
  26. Gameplay and story integration
  27. Enemy variety is actually here and on point, with each enemy having their own methods (plural) to deal with them, and some small variances in how they attack us
  28. Encounter design isn’t the greatest, but it’s clear actual thought was put into it and how to mix and match enemies to work for it
  29. The game is a delight to look at, with good graphics throughout
  30. Good general guidance and flow of exploration
  31. Special mention for the excellent hyperbeam moment in the final boss
  32. Psitanium and health ups were generally well distributed and thought out
  33. The traversal in the game (mostly through the levitate and the thought connector) is smooth and enjoyable
  34. Good usage of color and lighting to have good visual distinction
  35. While mostly a thing on bosses, good animations
  36. The game’s controls earn a second positive
  37. Generally good replayability

Gameplay Negatives:

  1. The ‘Raz tutorializes the solution to you’ mechanic isn’t annoying by itself, but A: It can’t be turned off, B: It happens with increasing frequency, and C: Actively prevents other (more interesting) dialogue from happening
  2. Forced ironman mode saves are, as always, problematic
  3. The forced chromatic outline thing in the drugs levels is literally headache inducing, and there’s no option in-game to fix this (you can edit the engine.ini file to remove this)
  4. Too skippable cutscenes/dialogue (the GTA problem)
  5. There is, unfortunately, still an audio spam problem periodically

Mega Man Legends 1

An extremely flawed, unique, interesting game that’s worth a playthrough if you can get ahold of a copy.
Total Story Score: +7
Total Gameplay Score: -18
Golden Number: -6.32
Cheats: No
Total Play Time: 1 Days // 9.25 Hours
Time Reviewed: 6-13-2022

Spoiler Pluses and Minuses +

Story Positives:

  1. The game exudes a charm and light hearted tone that works in its favor
  2. This is improved by a combination of the expressions and the… ‘voice acting’
  3. The core premise and background world building is surprisingly interesting
  4. The Bonnes are, in general, enjoyable and interesting enough by themselves
  5. The general supporting cast is fun and engaging
  6. The side quests and general ‘day of the life’ stuff is pretty neat
  7. Further, the game feels surprisingly lived in for how small and early it is, alongside the way you can choose how you do certain sidequests (the ‘morality’ system)
  8. The Outro pushes plot elements a bit too far back but the ideas and hooks left about Mother, the precursors, and the Mega Mans are legitimately interesting
  9. Juno itself is a surprisingly interesting and properly creepy villain; just another program doing its job

Story Negatives:

  1. The weird fake out deaths and constant ‘defeat but fine’ problem sort of detracts from… everything
  2. The game, as many of its ilk do, suffers a bit for pushing so much of the plot to the end of the game, and the ending of the Outro is… lacking

Gameplay Positives:

  1. The kit is surprisingly good… not great, but the way they attack and their usefulness is there

Gameplay Negatives:

  1. To say ‘the game controls badly’ doesn’t really do it justice, so let’s break this down. First the movement itself is incredibly jerky and imprecise, in a game where dodging attacks and platforming exists
  2. Second, the camera literally works wrong; It won’t allow you to turn the camera while you change direction, so it’ll simply stop and start repeatedly as you’re trying to maneuver
  3. Third, the way you interact with things is the circle button, but the way you interact with everything else is the X button, leading to problems on that front (and no rebind of course), but it gets worse because you have to be facing something or someone head on to interact with them, which ties in with the camera issues
  4. While we’re at it, aiming is its own problem; it’s not great and it sometimes interprets and sometimes doesn’t, but the worst part is while you’re locked on you can’t move… and given the enemy and boss design, that’s terrible
  5. All of the aforementioned combines with some problematic enemy design (attacks that are too quick to dodge normally, little to no telegraphs, hits entirely too hard) means the difficulty curve is insane
  6. The game has a pretty lengthy and serious no music problem
  7. Jumping is… bad. Just bad. You can barely tell thanks to depth perception issues where you’re jumping, and that’s on top of the wonkiness of the jump in general and the lack of control over it in specific
  8. The save system is fairly typical for the time, but the distance between save points is a bit unacceptable
  9. Garudoriten is a problematic boss due to the many control issues, but even if you strip those away you’re left with a very boring boss fight
  10. The total lack of saves in the Clozer dungeon is made actually worse by the…
  11. …triple dog boss, which four shots you and moves so fast you can’t move and fire while dodging normally
  12. Bonus problem; the item drops have entirely too short a pickup range and, worse, dissipate very quickly
  13. The entire airship battle can go to hell. Long, no mid mission checkpoints, and made all the worse by the aiming controls which caused me actual physical pain after several attempts
  14. The Outro is not good, at best, with a boring single corridor of a final dungeon (with a grand total of two enemy types) and if we count the sub cities, boring enemy slot gauntlets
  15. Then there’s the final boss fight. There is everything wrong with the final boss fight, from the controls, to the rapid fire attacks, to the fact that he has entirely too much health, to the fact that he hits like a truck…
  16. …honestly leading to…
  17. …a third negative
  18. Audio spam is intermittent in specifics, but generally is throughout, alongside very bad audio balance and general design
  19. The game is weirdly grindy, even if you get everything, because getting those final few upgrades is not only useful but almost required for the final boss

Skyborn

A surprisingly competent RPGMaker game, with an interesting premise and some cool gameplay concepts. The encounters aren’t great and the outro stumbles a lot, but it is still worth a playthrough if you’re in the mood.
Total Story Score: +3
Total Gameplay Score: +3
Golden Number: 16.3
Cheats: No
Total Play Time: 1 Days // 9.43 Hours
Time Reviewed: 6-14-2022

Spoiler Pluses and Minuses +

Story Positives:

  1. The Intro stumbles a few times but otherwise does a good job of establishing what a prat our main character is, the background of the occupation and oppression, and the resistance and Sullivan
  2. Generally good doodad utilization throughout
  3. Surprisingly good brickwork
  4. Great visual storytelling in the initial town, primarily in the prison and the slums… immediately gets across all it needs to
  5. Sullivan and Chaska are both interesting characters in their own rights, being multi-faceted and fun (and with clearly more thought put into their dialogue)
  6. The flashback Alda has is a great peek into the tightly, barely controlled Skyborn society and how it focuses on their most recent war of conquest to the detriment of other avenues of education, and all that implies
  7. The visual storytelling of the ‘celestial district’ and subsequent horribleness of the citizenry thereupon

Story Negatives:

  1. The visual continuity is pretty lacking, at most points I feel detached, like I’m just bouncing between distant dungeons
  2. The pacing of the narrative is very strange, either dragging too long or taking too long to ramp up or being entirely too crammed, and lurching back and forth between extremes
  3. The game’s story was doing okay until it completely jumped off a cliff at the end. First and foremost the completely unnecessary addition of the save the world plot in what was otherwise a fairly contained and tightly threaded plot ruined it
  4. Finally the ending portion of the Outro is honestly so bad it circles back around to being laugh-worthy. The sudden massive power vacuum caused by the deaths of both the Empress and the Centurion just sort of being shrugged off and everyone being cool with treating humans equally, while Chaska goes off to sacrifice herself for not only no good reason but actively bad reason, and finally Ryler actually surviving for some damned reason

Gameplay Positives:

  1. The threat system is actually a neat little feature, allowing you control over what the enemies attack when and adding a nice layer of tactics
  2. Some small QoL features, including the turn indicator, the quest highlighting indicator, etc.
  3. Music’s pretty legit
  4. The save system is quick, efficient, and usable almost anywhere
  5. The encounters being visible and avoidable is a nice touch, along with the lack of respawn and relative density
  6. The ability to combo buffs and debuffs is clearly thought out and makes for some interesting tactics in combat
  7. The exp gain of explore points is a nice touch, rewarding exploration over combat and de-prioritizing grinding
  8. The augment system is actually quite inventive and has neat little bonuses instead of just stats
  9. Aggregate: Itemization isn’t fantastic, but the crafting system is nice // The tutorial room at the beginning is well designed and informative

Gameplay Negatives:

  1. RPGMaker’s control scheme, which is non rebindable, honestly sucks. No WASD, X and Z are confirm and back, back button is also the menu for some damned reason, when using a controller it won’t accept d-pad inputs and analog inputs are wrong, so essentially no matter what you do the controls suck
  2. Resolution issues are honestly pretty bad. Your options are postage stamp or fullscreen
  3. There’s an absence of information in battle which is weird. No enemy names on selection, no visible HP bars except when you actually hit them, no debuff or buff indicators on the enemies, and the battle menu is barely visible
  4. Unskippable cutscenes
  5. The enemy encounters are honestly almost entirely unnecessary, to the point where they feel vestigial
  6. The Outro is… flat, at best. Neat looking area, but almost non existent dungeon design, enemy design, and final bosses design

Fran Bow

An above average point and click adventure game, but one that must come with a viewer discretion warning. This is a horror game that touches on many, many things that can be a trigger for people, so player be warned.
Total Story Score: 0
Total Gameplay Score: +1
Golden Number: 2.64
Cheats: No
Total Play Time: 1 Days // 6.00 Hours
Time Reviewed: 6-15-2022

Spoiler Pluses and Minuses +

Story Positives:

  1. The alternate world’s representative nature of the real world is interesting, if a bit vague at times
  2. The cinematics are actually pretty nice looking and well stylized
  3. The animation for the game is really good, with it feeling very fluid despite the unique art style
  4. The world building and presentation of Ithersta (chapter 3) is quite good
  5. The dialogue is surprisingly well written; it’s not ‘proper english’ but a lot of it is written in the style a child would speak

Story Negatives:

  1. The game’s gore and disgust factor is not great…
  2. …leading to two negatives
  3. The creepy guard deserves a negative on his own
  4. The Outro is… I don’t even have words, but most importantly it doesn’t resolve or fulfill anything, so despite personal preference it fails at the task of being an Outro
  5. The Intro in general is awful to the point of being deleterious

Gameplay Positives:

  1. The way the game lets you swap between realms (drugs or no, seasons, etc.) is a neat way to layer the game in a small area
  2. The minigames in between chapters are neat little diversions and give some decent gameplay variety
  3. Some of the core puzzles themselves are reasonably well constructed

Gameplay Negatives:

  1. Limited saves and associated problems (forced ironman mode, one slot)
  2. The adventure game moon logic isn’t as bad as I’ve seen in some games, but it’s not great either

SOMA

A very good horror story wrapped in a fairly bad game. Still worth enduring the gameplay for the story, I’d say.
Total Story Score: +15
Total Gameplay Score: -1
Golden Number: 36.52
Cheats: No
Total Play Time: 1 Days // 10.17 Hours
Time Reviewed: 6-16-2022

Spoiler Pluses and Minuses +

Story Positives:

  1. The Intro does a lot well. The initial dream, the peek into the life of Simon, and the rather sudden jarring shift into Simon 2 is very well done
  2. Catherine is a generally interesting character; someone pragmatic enough to just sort of go with it, serving as a good counterpart to the more pondering Simon
  3. Generally good doodad usage, mostly in…
  4. …the underwater sequences, which are the most visually impressive bits of storytelling in the game
  5. The audio logs (irritants aside) are the usual good stuff to unfold the story of what came before
  6. The voice acting is good across the board
  7. There’s definitely some foreshadowing going on here, which is interesting since the focus isn’t on the twist, but it’s still well constructed early on
  8. Try not to be surprised, but the atmosphere of the game is pretty legit
  9. The communications dome collapsing, the revelation of our arms, and the follow-through on Simon’s slow processing of his situation is fascinating and very well told
  10. The audio design really adds to the game, especially the underwater sequences
  11. The WAU in general is a wonderfully lovecraftian form of horror; a completely uncaring, unthinking machine just doing what it was programmed to
  12. The very nature of the structure gel and all that its designed to do is honestly pretty messed up
  13. The entire walk along the abyss is just perfection, honestly, really well done and properly terrifying without being overbearing
  14. Really, the abyss deserves its own separate visual and audio storytelling positive
  15. Sarah Lindwall’s final thoughts and willful passing
  16. Story is well sequenced throughout
  17. The good parts of the Outro were good, with Simon 4 and Catherine 3 living on the Ark, and the rest of the facility shutting down after the death of the WAU

Story Negatives:

  1. Jump scares… too many and too improperly used
  2. The Outro has… issues, honestly, with its construction, tempo, and execution

Gameplay Positives:

  1. The security level, open/close doors area is probably the best designed level so far in the game, with multiple paths to progression, the option to lure and trap the enemy, and ways to evacuate if trapped
  2. Aggregate: The game has generally decent guidance and flow of exploration // The sound design is a bit off, but still helps with navigating and avoiding the creatures, combined with… // …the partially functioning ‘make a noise’ mechanic to distract

Gameplay Negatives:

  1. Sluggish controls / Shaky cam and raspberry jam
  2. Having to stand near black boxes to hear the full audio instead of being able to just record and/or listen to them
  3. Ultimately the monsters aren’t interesting gameplay wise. There’s very little you can do with or about them, very few tools in your arsenal to avoid or combat, which leads to them just… wasting your time

Valiant Hearts

A fun puzzle platformer surrounding a really, really well done take on the Great War. Hugely recommended… along with a box of tissues for the tears.
Total Story Score: +22
Total Gameplay Score: +8
Golden Number: 87.71
Cheats: No
Total Play Time: 1 Days // 7.82 Hours
Time Reviewed: 6-17-2022

Spoiler Pluses and Minuses +

Story Positives:

  1. The game practices ‘Puppy Effect’ very well; it transposes the horror and seriousness with silly presentation and moments of levity, resulting in the whole thing being weirdly well paced… in tone…
  2. …a second positive for tonal pacing
  3. The entire stage about the trenches
  4. The entire stage about the french citizenry being aided and working together
  5. The art style is honestly delightful, but also used to good effect regardless
  6. The ‘voice acting’ is harder to do than it sounds and is a great presentation of ‘language’; fully understandable without requiring ‘full’ voice acting, befitting…
  7. …the entire game’s approach to stylized representation rather than literal presentation
  8. The historical notes and associated actual history
  9. The diaries and their usage as a storytelling tool
  10. Doodad utilization is fantastic across the board
  11. Animation is honestly excellent for the general representative style of the visuals
  12. The music direction is well used both for levity and for horror
  13. Sound design universally improves each scene and setpiece
  14. The escape sequence for Karl was properly tense, properly constructed, and used music and audio perfectly
  15. Everything about Karl finally finding his family. The tension, the build up, the total lack of hesitation in giving his mask to his wife, and dragging her out
  16. The Neville Offensive is as absolutely horrific and violent and ground out, visually, emotionally, literally, and audibly as it needs to be…
  17. …earning two positives just by itself
  18. Gameplay and story integration
  19. Emile walking to his death, calmly, as a hero, honored by his fellows
  20. While it’s hard to pinpoint specific characters worthy of positives by themselves, all the characters are well presented and well characterized of themselves…
  21. …earning what is effectively two aggregates for character
  22. The game is exceptional well paced in general

Story Negatives:

Gameplay Positives:

  1. Good mid mission checkpoints
  2. The first few stages are simple, but they have good indicators and good tools to present what you should do, when the enemy can see you, etc. It’s very video gamey but in a good way
  3. The stage about solving all the mini puzzles to progress was good, but then the puzzle boss fight just capped it nicely
  4. The Paris puzzle section followed immediately by the ridiculous driving section was great fun
  5. The hints system is nicely constructed to be helpful without being intrusive
  6. The fortress infiltration and subsequent boss fights continue their puzzle quality
  7. The factory escape and tank hyperbeam moment was great fun
  8. The prison escape was good
  9. But the actual escape sequence itself was even better
  10. General puzzle design of the Somme and Mihial sections
  11. Gameplay and story integration

Gameplay Negatives:

  1. Controls are honestly pretty weird and wonky
  2. Save issues, while there’s chapter select there’s no ‘saves’ to speak of and forced ironman mode
  3. The artillery section with Emile was too irritating and too pixel perfect for how repetitive it was

Beyond Good And Evil

An interesting, quirky, weird game with a unique setting, a broken plot, and problematic gameplay. If you can get a copy running, worth it for the experience.
Total Story Score: +1
Total Gameplay Score: -9
Golden Number: -4.54
Cheats: No
Total Play Time: 2 Days // 12 Hours
Time Reviewed: 6-21-2022

Spoiler Pluses and Minuses +

Story Positives:

  1. Animation is pretty good, helping the few cutscenes it has
  2. Quicky/weird vibe is very clearly the atmosphere and tone
  3. Lindblum Effect, on foot and on water, with lots of NPCs, roaming dialogues, traffic, etc.
  4. Supporting cast is colorful and quirky
  5. Visuals of most of the open areas do a good job with selling the island nation
  6. Background world building, mostly naturally
  7. The actual lighthouse cutscene moment was actually pretty nice
  8. Jade and Pey’j are neat if simple characters
  9. Doodads are surprisingly good for an early PS2 game

Story Negatives:

  1. The game’s pacing narratively is bizarre to explain, with very off or absent story beats
  2. This dovetails with the fact that the story… de-emphasizes itself, often lacking any actual presentation at all
  3. Story sequencing is… honestly pretty bad, jumping between scenes with very little connective tissue or logic
  4. The game doesn’t really earn any of its moments or beats, no build up and no pay off
  5. Pey’j coming back to life was already a bit eyebrow raising, but the fact that it happened with absolutely no execution or presentation really hurts it
  6. The initial chunk of the Outro is… weird, offset, bonkers, and bad
  7. The final ending is a bit too blank slate with too little explained and too much ‘big reveal at the end’ waiting for a sequel that has, as of writing, never arrived
  8. The Intro is a fever dream of random events that barely connect with each other

Gameplay Positives:

  1. The first dungeon is pretty good at what it needs to do; Here’s how to fight, puzzle, and work with Peyj
  2. The first boss similarly is simple but effective
  3. The second dungeon had some neat elements to it before it hit the mandatory stealth sections
  4. The mid-mission checkpointing is actually quite good…
  5. …worthy of a second positive
  6. The music, when it actually plays, is pretty bopping (usually in combat)
  7. The mechanic of using pictures to gain money and advance both quests and plot is actually pretty neat (might be even better if combat was removed)
  8. The light mirror puzzle is surprisingly fun and interesting, probably the best puzzle in the game

Gameplay Negatives:

  1. Unskippable cutscenes
  2. General jank of controls, hitboxes, hurtboxes…
  3. …and camera, which honestly has so many issues it’d be hard to summarize them
  4. This is further compounded by the mandatory stealth sections, which already suck…
  5. …but are made worse by the repeated usage of Gotcha! in terms of how the game will make you detectable from or by an enemy it’s impossible to see until you’re already spotted, requiring retries, walkthrough, or previous knowledge
  6. The map is bad
  7. The compass is worse
  8. The No Music problem is real
  9. There’s a general ‘where do I go’ which ties a bit into the walkthroughitis problem of the non-dungeon segments…
  10. …which is made further worse by the general irritation of navigation (a combination of the map, compass, camera, indistinct visuals, and wonky facing and control issues)
  11. While I’m here, combat is in general just… not good. It’s not the worst combat I’ve ever seen, but the floatiness of the controls, the wonkiness of the camera, the inconsistency of the boxes, and the enemy design on top of area design (fighting flying enemies on a catwalk type thing) makes it all just a chore
  12. Many, many iterations of accidentally, permanently skipping dialogue
  13. Audio spam! I’m in BAD SHAPE miss Jade!
  14. The Outro sucks, while we’re on it. The Star Fox battle wasn’t bad, the final forced fight against the troops sucked, and the actual final boss was uninteresting at best
  15. The pearls aren’t the worst grind in the world, but they’re pretty bad, especially the first round of grind
  16. The game has several game-breaking bugs that can lead to ‘revert to previous save if you have it’ softlocks
  17. Several iterations of visual distinction problems ie ‘I can’t tell what I’m looking at’

Halo Wars 2

Be warned, I had substantial and repeated issues buying this game and getting it to acknowledge that I owned it on the windows store. Aside from that massive irritation, the game itself is reasonably enjoyable and a huge step up from Halo Wars 1, and would serve as a decent ‘first RTS’ game.
Total Story Score: +5
Total Gameplay Score: +13
Golden Number: 48.78
Cheats: No
Total Play Time: 2 Days // 12.90 Hours
Time Reviewed: 6-23-2022

Spoiler Pluses and Minuses +

Story Positives:

  1. The opening cinematics do a lot right; The establishment of Atriox, the setup of the scene and scenario, the new AI, and the new stakes
  2. Generally good voice acting
  3. Generally good motion capture
  4. If you remove the narration of the Atriox establishment scene, it’s actually a really good scene
  5. The Phoenix Logs add some nice background and flavor lore
  6. Isabel is almost characterized in a vacuum, but what there is is well done. The voice actress sells most of the role, as she presents a PTSD victim very well
  7. The decision to fire the carrier’s cannon on the Ark to prompt sentinel response was honestly inspired
  8. A rare but appropriate cool factor positive for the way the Sentinels used their numbers as teeth to shred the carrier
  9. Generally good doodad utilization
  10. DLC: What Could Go Wrong does everything it needs to to have giant flashing warning lights blaring the entire time about how bad an idea this all is, and boy does it
  11. DLC: Fighting Retreat continues the excellent vibe and tone of fleeing before the flood of the, ah, Flood
  12. DLC: The two brothers are surprisingly interesting and characterized despite their relative lack of screentime
  13. DLC: The sequencing of the entire expansion is pretty legit

Story Negatives:

  1. The opening cinematics do a lot wrong; Lots of empty text, hollywood overly-edited fight scenes, weirdly constructed hollywood dialogue, and several people involved holding various forms of the idiot ball (also a bit of ‘pronoun game’ AND ‘can’t spit it out’
  2. Unnecessary narration over the Atriox establishment cinematic
  3. Bad writing (pronoun game, Jason Bourne syndrome)
  4. Hey here’s a new threat that’s above and beyond anything we’ve seen before, that we’ve never heard of before but they’ve been there the whole time
  5. There are three recurring problems with the pre-rendered cinematics in this game; Excessive slow mo, excessive choppy editing, and the inability to turn on a light
  6. The Outro is weird in how unsatisfying and abrupt it is
  7. DLC: The Outro is, once again, weirdly abrupt and… not
  8. There’s issues with the game’s external continuity

Gameplay Positives:

  1. Generally good multiplayer options
  2. Firefight mode is not bad, with bonus pickups and good staggered waves, though a bit hampered by some associated issues
  3. Good co-op options
  4. Proper campaign co-op
  5. Decent tutorial for getting used to the game
  6. The first map is a decent tutorial and establishment of mechanics and unit ‘balance’
  7. Music is pretty good
  8. Mission 2 is basic but enjoyable, with good flow and distance of objectives
  9. The Cartographer mission had decent escalating mission design and nice variety of bouncing between the early Sentinels and the Banished
  10. Units are decently well designed and varied, a bit simple but still good
  11. The From The Deep mission was a better ‘hold the line’ example than the earlier mission, with multiple vectors and types of enemies and a good spread of units to counter
  12. The hold the line mission named, appropriately, Hold The Line is… not actually a hold the line mission! It’s a tower defense, but it’s actually pretty well designed. We have good lines and good spread to deal with it
  13. The artillery mission Under The Dark had some good positioning and finally used terrain and, well, artillery properly
  14. The Foundry is quite fun, giving us a super unit (which can finally step on enemies), but also requiring us to build and support it as we smash through three bases
  15. The Halo mission is a neat idea badly executed, but the neat idea is good; a domination map with widespread areas, multiple bases, and the doom sentinel wild card
  16. The final mission is a neat showcasing of units, and has some neat and mean objectives
  17. Game is generally replayable
  18. DLC: What Could Go Wrong is a well designed mission; good way to try out the new side, lots unlocked, multiple ways to either lock down or simply withstand the enemy, escorting the Scarab, and the puzzle unlock
  19. DLC: Fighting Retreat is a very well crafted, tightly executed hold the line map, not just with actual terrain usage and good bonus objectives but proper balancing of attacks and waves as well as triggers to remove padding…
  20. DLC: …earning it a second positive
  21. DLC: Light the Fuse is a well constructed gimmick mission surrounding using resources for both progression and defense
  22. DLC: The final mission against the proto-gravemind is a neat build up / encroach / boss fight mission

Gameplay Negatives:

  1. Microtransactions (blitz packs!)
  2. Blitz mode sucks. It’s a barebones MOBA style thing with cards instead of any kind of basebuilding or strategic layer, and the cards themselves feed into the aforementioned microtransactions aka ‘blitz packs’
  3. Limited options (especially resolution)
  4. Boss fights (boring HP sponges)
  5. The Halo mission is entirely too long, sloggy, and boring to really be interesting for what it is
  6. DLC: The Archive… is not a good mission. It has the potential to be good, but the wildly imprecise controls and lack of feedback issues with the controls finally come in and drag the entire mission down
  7. The AI is actively stupid. Like, “I’m being attacked but will stand here and do nothing” stupid… and that’s our units and theirs
  8. The strategic layer is … not, really, and the basebuilding is so basic as to be disinteresting and boring
  9. The terrain design isn’t, with actual flaws and bugs and never using the vaunted height advantage to any effect

Mortal Kombat 11

A very, very good fighting game, with a good story campaign and great controls, tutorials, combat, and presentation. Hugely recommended.
Total Story Score: +26
Total Gameplay Score: +42
Golden Number: 200.09
Cheats: No
Total Play Time: 3 Days // 15.62 Hours
Time Reviewed: 6-25-2022

Spoiler Pluses and Minuses +

Story Positives:

  1. The very first cinematic is quite good; It establishes everything you really need to know immediately, between Raiden, Shinnok, and the threat being faced
  2. Ending slides from Tower mode, collectively
  3. The entire sequence of invading the Netherrealm citadel and the fighting thereof
  4. The scenes where Shao Kahn returns, his fight with Kotal
  5. The follow through with Raiden, Kotal, Shao Kahn, the showcasing of connection between Liu Kang and Kitana, the caring of Kahn and Mileena
  6. The bit where Raiden is visibly bothered by his potential future, where Kung Lao visibly doesn’t believe him, it’s a great bit
  7. The backgrounds to stages add some wonderful flavor and vibe to the scenes
  8. The motion capture and animation is, honestly, top notch, easily deserving…
  9. …of two positives, if not more
  10. I have to gush about the choreography of the fight scenes. Not only is it good in general, it’s specific to the characters fighting (Liu is fast and agile, Shao swings with both hands consistently, etc.) and the camera makes sure to stay on it for the whole shot, no editing trickery…
  11. …earning a second positive
  12. The general cinematography (with one notable exception) is excellent, truly some fantastic shots and framing…
  13. …easily two positive range
  14. With one noteworthy exception, the voice acting is excellent across the board…
  15. …once again earning two positives
  16. The outworld political subplot is actually kind of interesting, following Kitana and Jade as they try to balance Baraka and Sheeva against Shao the Konquerer and Kotal the Kretin
  17. Special mention to Johnny Cage, who manages to be entertaining and humble at the same time, easily one of the best characters in the story (despite or perhaps because of his younger self)
  18. Also I really like how they use Raiden here. We see him before, after, and during his descent into harshness, how much the thought bothers him, and Epcar manages a great performance as both
  19. Similarly Scorpion manages to shine here, in both his iterations…
  20. …in fact the scene where Hanzo convinces Scorpion to turn not only makes perfect sense but is a surprisingly well done scene
  21. Okay so, it’s got its problems, but I honestly really love the montage of all the times Liu Kang and Raiden fight
  22. Honestly everything about Fire God Liu Kang
  23. The Finishing Moves deserve their own recognition
  24. But really, the Friendships are fantastic, being consistently funny and enjoyable
  25. Shang Tsung’s motion capture and voice actor are fantastic in and of themselves
  26. Shang Tsung is just so awesome in general he deserves his own positive
  27. Also Fujin is great, consistently being the voice of reason and reasonability, as well as showcasing what a REAL Jedi should be like
  28. The cinematography of the DLC continues its excellence
  29. The choreography of the DLC hasn’t lost any of its quality
  30. Much as I hate to admit it, Sindel and Shao Kahn are great together
  31. Bonus positive for portraying Shao Kahn essentially perfectly; the brute, populist, and force of will without any of the subtlety, long term planning, or other game-playing skills others on the board show
  32. The various character intros are not only interesting but varied between characters
  33. Good overall doodad usage
  34. Where it’s good, the external continuity is good
  35. The weird pseudo relentless storytelling style lends itself towards good pacing as it moves between story beats

Story Negatives:

  1. The unnecessary wobble cam in several cutscenes is honestly unnecessary and frankly a bit nausea inducing
  2. Sonya’s voice actress… really saps the nuance out of every scene she’s in
  3. The entire subplot between Sonya and Cassie is badly handled on almost every level; impact, voice acting, pacing, position, fake drama, and continuity
  4. As per usual with many, many fighting games, the Excuse Fights are as silly as always
  5. We also have to acknowledge just how ridiculous and loosely they play with the time travel rules (especially around Kano)
  6. Much as I enjoy the story, really, the Outro really sort of… falls apart. Buncha mostly mindless fights, non talk, and it just sort of stops
  7. There is just a little bit too much ‘can’t spit it out’ leading to the fights in the DLC
  8. The entire retcon around Sindel honestly not only makes her character less interesting but actively hurts previous titles
  9. The DLC Outros, both of them, are too brief and too unsatisfying for the journey that led to them

Gameplay Positives:

  1. The tutorial is good at teaching you how to play a fighting game for the first time
  2. The tutorial is even better at teaching you actual finite details about things like frame timing and delay
  3. Honestly the addition of character tutorials on top of everything else pushes this into really, really well done, in depth tutorials
  4. Decent skirmish mode options
  5. Decent array of (in game obtainable) cosmetics
  6. Good options for the practice fights mode
  7. Tower mode remains good, and with some good options
  8. Time Tower is mostly just Tower but I do like the addition of the stage modifiers
  9. I love the stage interactions and how they can change a fight
  10. Brutalities and their additional swag and challenge are nice
  11. The fatal blows system is a great risk reward as well as a way to turn around a match
  12. Johnny Cage is a good middle ranged pressure character with great comboing into and out of moves
  13. Cassie Cage follows in her father’s footsteps but manages to be even faster and better at range
  14. Liu Kang is a bit of an all arounder but can maneuver very well in virtually any direction while still doing damage
  15. Kotal Kahn is a weirdly good character, with excellent reach and closing, though slow and with bad frame delay his hits and knockdowns make up for it
  16. Scorpion remains a good character, great maneuverability both forwards and back, and an excellent mid ranger
  17. Sub-Zero is an exceptionally versatile character, with good closers, reach, pullbacks, and defenses
  18. Jade is probably the best reach character I’ve played so far, able to chain almost every attack she has from mid and able to shut down a lot of ranged area deniers
  19. Kitana is awkward to control and chain, but has great control and mid range
  20. Jax is a fantastic flow puncher, with great controlled movement and counters
  21. Frost has good closers, hampered by weird damage and weird spread and very little vertical coverage, but makes for a nice sub zero variant
  22. Jacqui is a great aggressor short range pressure character, with very low frame delay and great comboing
  23. Baraka is heavy and slow, but has great reach and some good closers to compensate, lots of downtime though
  24. Noob Saibot is insane speed and comboing, with good damage to back it up
  25. Kano is an excellent wrestler type, with tons of fluidity and subversion moves that allow him to counter or change enemy position
  26. Kabal is ridiculous in his speed, but makes up for it by being incredibly block unsafe given how long his failure recoil is
  27. Admittedly, despite being a boss-type, Kronika is a reasonably well designed final boss, without having to drift into total cheapness
  28. Robocop is kind of scary in how good he is; a heavy with damage and range and comboing, a mean set
  29. Night Wolf is probably the most all around versatile character I’ve seen, with a little bit of everything
  30. Fujin has fantastic kit, allowing him to attack close, mid, and ranged, while having closers, and being extremely fast on self canceling and having tiny frame windows to work with
  31. Sindel is nuts in her mobility and reach, allowing her to move forwards and back all while doing damage
  32. Shao Kahn is extraordinarily easy to cancel and counter… but he has intense range, speed, and power and is just great fun to play
  33. Shang Tsung is, surprise surprise, an excellent character to play as, with decent zoning and a huge amount of recovery options
  34. Skarlet is a strange example of a heavy, with tons of wind up and impact on her hits but good range to help balance it out
  35. Erron is a weird risk reward character; his basic moveset is limiting but can chain well, and his gun gimmick has tons of potential
  36. D’vorah is one of the heaviest characters in the game, very slow and very lumbering, but almost all her attacks have great range and can lock down pretty well
  37. The Kollector is a hell of a chainer, comboing almost everything he does seamlessly between attacks
  38. Citreon, surprise, is a fantastic zoner with ludicrous capacity to control the battlefield and a steep but rewarding learning curve
  39. Enemy animations are critical in deciding what to do and how and when
  40. The controls are fantastic, having just the right amount of input buffering and precision to mean that at all times I feel completely in control of my character, which is critical in general but especially for a fighting game…
  41. …earning a second positive
  42. Between modes and fighters the game is easily replayable
  43. While I’m not into the gore, the sound and impact of the fights themselves definitely have some good viscerality
  44. Despite flash, the game retains good visual distinction
  45. Good and distinct sound design

Gameplay Negatives:

  1. Microtransactions as per usual, which are pretty bad overall…
  2. …earning two negatives
  3. Unacceptable launch status

Legend of Legaia

A very interesting, very flawed game. There’s about 10 hours of great here wrapped in a 40 hour game. If you can get ahold of a copy, still recommend for the uniqueness.
Total Story Score: +2
Total Gameplay Score: -9
Golden Number: -3.94
Cheats: Yes (Bread bypass, and endgame)
Total Play Time: 4 Days // 37.37 Hours
Time Reviewed: 7-1-2022

Spoiler Pluses and Minuses +

Story Positives:

  1. The Intro stumbles a bit but nevertheless establishes us, our connection to Mei, has some cute moments, has some sad moments, and is well animated, in addition to establishing our quest and the stakes
  2. Animation is almost universally used to good effect to help sell the scenes
  3. The plot point of Castle Drake is actually pretty logical and well thought out; They know how seru-infested humans can survive, and have no other choice, so…
  4. The castle Noa segment is adorable, and does a good job of establishing her
  5. Noa is just… weirdly good throughout, in addition to being the ‘fish out of water’ she’s the most genuine and has the most character moments
  6. Surprisingly good storyboarding for the action scenes throughout
  7. There are several small (usually one ‘scene’) character stories that really help flesh things out
  8. Ratayu is a great example of quiet horror, a doomed town living under a yoke of tyranny even after we save them from the Mist
  9. The entire Sol section is another fascinating and horrifying area; a city half cut off thanks to the Mist, trying and failing to just ignore how bad things are
  10. Noa’s… adorable dealing with Grantes the ‘bad man’ and the entire “I hate pimps!” bit is great
  11. Doodad usage is pretty good throughout, surprisingly
  12. While there’s a few stumbles thanks to dialogue issues, the scene at Uru Mais is some nice backstory and even characterization for Noa and Vahn

Story Negatives:

  1. Functional if bland localization
  2. The weirdly nonsensical Saryu / Noa plot where she just… wanders off to get captured for no real reason, while no one stops her, so we can go rescue her, the most badass and powerful member of the party… just… no
  3. As the game drags on, the dialogue drifts from acceptable to… not, as empty text starts to creep in and the localization actually gets worse (just like FFVII, actually)
  4. The ‘love’ subplot between Grantes and Cara makes both a worse character by how badly the whole thing is written
  5. There is entirely too much Empty Text in the latter chunks of the story
  6. Songi is just the worst. He’s badly written to begin with and has no place in the story…
  7. …but it’s made even worse when he just sort of makes the last chapter happen for no reason
  8. The pacing of the final chapter is completely off
  9. The pacing of the entire story is off; it crunches too much in some sections and then has long swaths of nothing, and there’s no rhyme or reason to any of it
  10. Finally a lot of story sequencing is just disjointed, with no real logic or reason behind why we hit what areas in what order… it felt a lot like FFIV, ‘and now this happens!’

Gameplay Positives:

  1. Intro doesn’t have much gameplay wise, but it does tutorialize combat pretty well and ensures you have the healing items necessary to survive the first few battles
  2. The interface is surprisingly informative and helpful
  3. The HUD in combat (and while roaming) is similarly good at-a-glance info
  4. The core combat and its usage of comboing to fight is a neat addition
  5. The Spirit mechanic and how it interacts is neat too
  6. And a final plus for general complexity without complication of combat (AP, defense, attacking, MP, capturing, and fighting all coordinate and compliment each other nicely)
  7. Zeto’s boss fight is actually decently well designed; hits hard, but limited, and a nice big tell for the aoe hit, while having not too much health or defenses
  8. Staircase leveling; each increase in power is noticeable
  9. The music is, generally, good
  10. There’s good itemization in dungeons and towns for drops and chests
  11. QoL features (fast menu, shows combos in combat, combat combo memory, button hold option, enemies showing low health via knockdown animation)
  12. The game’s ‘cosmetic’ options aren’t fantastico-amazing, but they are good; the ra-seru growing over time, the different weapons, the armor kits changing, and of course the movesets
  13. Decent fast travel in the Doors of Light
  14. The game’s combat and enemy design rarely leans on pure stat blocks, meaning even despite being underleveled you can out strategize many of the encounters and bosses
  15. The ability to level up spells and increase their abilities in addition to stats is nice
  16. Surprisingly good variety of kit in the accessories

Gameplay Negatives:

  1. The seconds in minutes problem of the combat is real, no actions can be skipped and many have full animations or actual slow down…
  2. …the sheer length of this issue blooms it out to a second negative…
  3. …and a third one
  4. The first bundle of dungeons (castle, mountain, and forest) aren’t… bad in the strictest sense, but they are essentially bland padding, and it drags the whole game down
  5. The first mist generator dungeon… sucks. It’s too long, it’s too samey, and it has two hard boss battles in a row with no recovery in between (not counting saves of course)
  6. The early game hell is pretty bad, especially before you get your first character
  7. The Berserker boss is kind of bullcrap; the same health as the previous major boss, one weakness that nothing indicates, and hits like an absolute truck
  8. The game’s itemization in gold drops is pretty bad; it relies entirely too much on either grinding or bosses, and either way you just sort of stay behind the economy curve by a lot (to use an early game example, at the start of the game enemies give about 10 gold a shot, and a healing item is 100 gold)
  9. The game breaking bug of the game hard freezing after the Xain fight on the PS3 version (which is the only version we owned and were reviewing)
  10. The dungeon bundles continue to be disinteresting and at times actively hard to see where to go on the bland, samey backgrounds
  11. To contribute to the padding and slog problem, the bosses just have entirely too much health…
  12. …way, way too much health. I literally spent 56 minutes fighting just one boss
  13. The absolute grind wall of Sol is insane on multiple levels; you absolutely require the 8 loaves of bread to progress, and that means having somewhere around 50,000 gold (which is nutso), getting really good or lucky on the slots, being extraordinarily bored on the fighting game for probably close to an hour, or face grinding for well over an hour on the muscle dome in long slow boring fights… and if you fail at any of these you can lose coins and fall behind to the point where you can’t move forwards without reloading a save…
  14. …all of this is unacceptable on multiple levels, and gets multiple negatives
  15. The Delilias fights are absolutely awful. First we have Che, who is absolutely awful, with a ridiculous block chance that comes out of no where and nothing in the game whatsoever explains in any way shape or form how to bypass or deal with it…
  16. …in addition to the same problem the other bosses have of being extraordinarily boring
  17. The Lu fight has the same base problem; attack, attack, super… and that’s it
  18. The Gi fight similarly falls under the same fate… attack, attack, super
  19. The Koru bossfight is total bullcrap on several levels. The very system doesn’t support damage per turn, but the entire Koru fight is about damage per turn, and it’s a straight up kill if you don’t, so your only alternative is to go grind
  20. The Floating Castle is not good. Long, boring, with irritating encounters, multiple dead ends, and you have to run right back out on a timer
  21. Conkram is similarly a pretty bad dungeon even by this game’s standards; Go up a staircase, then down, then up, then down… and that’s literally it
  22. The Absolute Fortress (cave) is long, boring, and bad, with samey dull corridors and nothing going for it
  23. The Outro is lacking at best, with a long disinteresting dungeon of gross visuals and too repetitive of a (good) song, with a final boss fight that is weirdly easy and frustrating at the same time
  24. The late game has a lot of essentially mandatory grind; either in fishing, gold, levels, or gear, pick your poison
  25. Unskippable cutscenes

Code Vein

Anime souls… except it’s actually really good. I enjoyed this far more than I expected to, with a great party-based combat system and some excellent build variety. Big recommend.
Total Story Score: +14
Total Gameplay Score: +26
Golden Number: 106.36
Cheats: No
Total Play Time: 4 Days // 32.95 Hours
Time Reviewed: 7-5-2022

Spoiler Pluses and Minuses +

Story Positives:

  1. The Intro is better than it is not, with some anime nonsense and unexplainedness… but what it does do, as far as establishing what we can do (clearing the miasma), our act 1 enemy (Silva and the feudal setup with ‘levies’), and our initial goal (researching the blood)
  2. The voice acting in general deserves its own positive; it’s most of the ‘usual crowd’, but they’re good actors and they work
  3. The memory fight against the Queen was actually pretty damned well choreographed, especially considering how these usually go, and is a logical explanation for our Queen-gifted powers
  4. The plot point of having to split the Queen up to prevent her turbo regeneration by using sacrifices to literally contain parts of her bodies in sealed torment is messed up and fascinating
  5. The manually crafted banter from party members is pretty nice, and adds to the atmosphere
  6. The entire story arc around Kevin, a character essentially not even in the game, is surprisingly good, a great showcase of the problem with simple solutions
  7. The usage of the memory echoes as a storytelling device, while problematic, is good on the story axis
  8. The quiet despair of the blood cycle is horrifying and well constructed
  9. The ruins are a bit generic if I’m honest, but they do get across the idea of the apocalypse we’re living in
  10. Nicola and Mia’s story works better than it really should, up to and including how the two finally meet for the first time since before the game started after his boss fight
  11. The ability to rewatch cutscenes at will is, as always, a nicely appreciated touch
  12. Louis leaves relevance relatively early but remains a good character in his entire chapter, arguably functioning better as a ‘main’ character than we do
  13. Yakumo similarly never really strays from being our bro, and his backstory just adds to it
  14. I mentioned Nicola and Mia’s story, but Mia herself deserves special mention for the way she winds through her own arc, of trust, distrust, regrowth, and becoming part of the team
  15. The side quests don’t add too much, but they do add some fun character and world building tidbits
  16. The supporting cast I’m not personally mentioning are almost universally good…
  17. …enough for a second positive overall
  18. Io was pretty bland at first (and looks terrible), but her arc of slowly awakening as a person and deciding who she is is a good one
  19. For all its weirdness towards the end, the actual ending itself was legit
  20. Game does a good job maintaining good internal continuity
  21. The overall theme of decent people being stuck in bad situations and making the best of it together is throughout and honestly well presented
  22. Good overall doodad design in the hub area (and the hub area itself)

Story Negatives:

  1. The game has a small but recurring exposition problem of just laying things out a bit too much and a bit too blandly
  2. The non-manually crafted banter from party members just gets irritating
  3. There’s several examples of what I can only refer to as bad dialogue… it’s not all the time, but there are multiple scenes just sort of ruined by their manner of speech
  4. The very term ‘blood bead’ honestly irritates me for how often they use it like a proper noun rather than… anything else
  5. The game also has a weird… direction I think is the word, because it keeps emphasizing weird things and de-emphasizing others, trying to force emotional impact where there is none or ignoring where there is, and ultimately just coming across as bizarrely disjointed. This is in voice acting, dialogue, sound design, and music direction
  6. The voice… direction has issues here and there, which is related to…
  7. …the problematic localization, which is fine sometimes and awful others
  8. There are several moments in the outro which clearly start to show the seams in how rushed they were, between bad (or no) direction, camera usage, voice direction, etc.

Gameplay Positives:

  1. Usual good Soulslike penalty for failure (drop currency, recover or lose forever)
  2. Character creator has a great spread of options and variances and gradiences and so it…
  3. …earns two positives right off the bat
  4. The butterfly of delirium is a bit simple but a good way to ease into larger boss concepts and serves as a good tutorial boss
  5. The water elemental boss is another pretty good example of a patterned, mean boss with plenty of methods to maneuver around
  6. The music, when it’s there, is legit
  7. For how linear the early levels are, they interconnect quite well to the point where I never really felt lost or turned around
  8. Good, semi-full co-op (pop into menu to join wherever they are, limited by zone and scaled to host’s level, can loot but can’t rest, kick upon boss kill)
  9. The Queen’s Knight boss fight was a good variety fight, good tells and good patterns, with various recovery and vuln periods within
  10. Both of the first two Successor boss fights are simple-but-good, with good patterning and escalation
  11. The ice stage has some neat little gimmicks, good visuals, and is much better in its density than most of the previous stages
  12. The party member system in general is a good addendum to the game, the extra person serving as a great dynamic change to the soulslike format
  13. The party member revive system deserves its own positive, for a costly and difficult but possible recovery system for failure
  14. The party member AI further deserves note for being surprisingly good, capable of handling most situations and enemy types
  15. The controls are actually quite good (especially for a soulslike), very rarely feeling like I’m out of control or unaware of what’s going on or hitting the wrong button…
  16. …earning two positives
  17. The core combat is, surprise surprise, good stuff. The balance between light and heavy, moves, movement, avoidance, blocking, and parrying all makes for a very satisfying situation…
  18. …earning it a second positive
  19. The ability to swap classes on the fly is great by itself
  20. The weapon variety is excellent, varying up supers, moves, reach, range, etc…
  21. …earning a second positive
  22. The class system in general is a neat form of alternate leveling; You max out abilities to gain them outside of the existing class, and each class has its own stat focuses
  23. The Gilded Hunter is a great fight, good multiple strikes and reach but lots of vuln periods and a genuine transition break
  24. The Flame City is honestly one of the better dungeons in the game, with interesting terrain where the primary focus of encounter design is on how they interact with the hostile environment
  25. A rather enjoyable boss fight from Emily, a good combo of frenetic and well paced
  26. The dots showcasing where you’ve been, with receding size to show distance, is a nice touch
  27. The Depths are simple, but nice little optional points for loot and experience
  28. The Skull King fight is honestly the best in the game. Phases, different reaches and speeds of attacks, pause periods, not overtuned, just…
  29. …fantastic
  30. Enemy AI design is overall good stuff
  31. Enemy animations as always helpfully indicate when and how you should react
  32. Good info in game on how things work and what changes what
  33. Good itemization in spread of upgrade materials
  34. The new game plus feature is good in general, but also carries forwards almost everything (including Depths maps) and allows you to not have to select a higher difficulty setting…
  35. …leading to two positives
  36. Smooth and good power progression curve
  37. QoL features… especially for a soulslike
  38. The game is fun and interesting enough to be worthy of a replayability positive
  39. The game could have a lot more impact and cool factor, but it still does have decent viscerality to its weapons and spells

Gameplay Negatives:

  1. Usual savegame issues, as always
  2. The excessively bright light on glaring white of the Cathedral of the Sacred Blood is legitimately painful on the eyes
  3. There are, related to the previous problem, several visual distinction issues in the aforementioned Cathedral
  4. There is a pretty bad No Music problem for the huge swaths of gameplay
  5. The repeats and forced walking in the memory echoes sections suck
  6. An additional negative for the Cathedral for just general padding issues
  7. The difficulty curve is pretty wonky, with the relative quality and aggravation of bosses bouncing up and down
  8. The map map is, honestly, pretty bad
  9. The twin boss at the top of the tower has several problems going for it; First and most obviously the dual nature, which given that both can hit you regardless of range means having to keep track in a way the game’s camera doesn’t support. Second of all, the hurtboxes on the boss’s attacks are actively wrong, often-times hitting where they shouldn’t (or not hitting when they should). Third and finally, despite being over leveled and properly geared, they just have far too much health given the other problems
  10. The final parts of the game start to fall apart in interest, dungeon construction, and difficulty curve
  11. The Outro dungeon is honestly not great. It’s a drab samey castle with nothing to really make it interesting and, honestly, it’s a bit too long
  12. Sadly that last last boss fight honestly sucks. It commits several cardinal sins (undertested, overtuned) but the biggest problem is that it’s a boring ‘big swings, big damage’ fight
  13. Aggregate: One or two runback issues // The Queen’s Knight redux fight is a boring, overtuned mess // Despite the decency of it overall, the Depths gets a bit old

Hollow Knight

A very flawed but still fun game, with great combat and boss design but lacking in platforming and level design, all wrapped around an astonishingly well told story. Big recommend.
Total Story Score: +34
Total Gameplay Score: +13
Golden Number: 121.36
Cheats: No
Total Play Time: 4 Days // 30.30 Hours
Time Reviewed: 7-9-2022

Spoiler Pluses and Minuses +

Story Positives:

  1. The Brickwork is honestly excellent throughout…
  2. …easily earning a second positive
  3. Similarly the doodad usage is fantastic…
  4. …some of the better I’ve seen in a while
  5. The background lore Dark Souls ‘thing’
  6. The game is aggressively cute…
  7. …so much so I have to give it a second positive
  8. The sound design really adds to the areas
  9. And the atmosphere is fantastic…
  10. …also earning a second positive
  11. The usage of the dreamnail as a storytelling mechanic
  12. The entire Soul area is messed up…
  13. …but the corpse piles add to it even more
  14. Music direction just piles onto how excellent the game feels
  15. So this is hard to summarize, so I won’t even bother, but the game has truly excellent visual storytelling. Not just in general, but in a zone by zone basis… the Greenpath obviously is all green, but my point is there’s segments where we learn about the world, how it functioned, how the kingdom ran, what they ate, where they played, all sorts of stuff just in the visual details, most of which are in the background. As a consequence, this is a visual storytelling positive on a per-zone basis, so… Plus for Dirtmouth…
  16. …for the Crystal Peak, and its mines and victims…
  17. …for the Forgotten Crossroads…
  18. …for the Greenpath…
  19. …for the Fungal Wastes and its relentless expansion…
  20. …for the City of Tears…
  21. …twice…
  22. …the Royal Waterways and what once was…
  23. …the Howling Cliffs and the barriers of the kingdom before the wastes….
  24. …the Abyss, just… the Abyss…
  25. …okay so yeah I have issues with it but Deepnest is so damned good, starting off loud and then growing more and more silent…
  26. …until it gets to the much, much, much more horrifying sections further within
  27. The additional flavor lore added by the Bestiary
  28. The banker sequence was appropriately hilarious in its own right
  29. Hornet doesn’t get as much screen time as she should, but they use what she has well and she’s one of the more interesting and important recurring characters
  30. The fan fiction is neat but not really full positive worthy… until you add in her reactions to you, to Zote, and her drifting opinions thereof
  31. There’s a generally memorable, interesting cast throughout
  32. The characters, in addition to their adorableness, are quite well animated to characterize them
  33. Game keeps track of its own internal continuity reasonably well
  34. The lighting in several areas is exceptional
  35. Despite individual areas getting their own positives, a general plus for sound design and how it accents the narrative must be mentioned
  36. Voice acting is some adorable simlish
  37. While mostly in the background, there is a lot of worldbuilding going on
  38. The final boss fights against the Hollow Knight and Radiance practice some excellent storytelling… in fact they’re better as story pieces than as boss fights
  39. The climb out of the Abyss, the recitation from the Pale King, the door being slammed in our face

Story Negatives:

  1. The usual background lore Dark Souls ‘thing’
  2. Several bits of story are just sort of… disappointing (banishing the Grimms, several ‘lore’ tidbits after some bosses, the flower)
  3. Zote the Dope is a Borderlands 3 character; a one note irritation intended to be funny
  4. The Outro is, as per Soulslike tradition, entirely too vague and unsatisfying
  5. The other Outros aren’t any better

Gameplay Positives:

  1. The first ‘stage’ does a great job in tutorializing through gameplay and level design, quickly helping a player get into the basics of healing, currency, attacks, jumping, terrain obstacles, and progression
  2. The False Knight is a good first boss fight; relatively simple patterns but suitably punishing if you’re not paying attention, and a good sequence of attacks
  3. The first Hornet fight is a good one (outside of the audio spam), with a nice spread and reach for her attacks
  4. The Mantis Lords fight is a good example of establishment escalation, tutorializing itself within itself before moving forwards
  5. The soul master is another great example of good escalation and variety in his patterns and attacks, with built in recovery periods too
  6. Dung Defender continues the streak of good boss design, with enough variety to be challenging without overwhelming
  7. Surprisingly good visual distinction, which boils down to a very smart usage of outlines, colors, and texture resolution…
  8. …making for two positives
  9. The controls could be better, but are still quite good
  10. The interaction and usage of the mana bar, how you gain mana back, and how you can use it
  11. The music is, surprise, quite good
  12. Sound design does a very good job of telling you what’s where and how (grubs, enemies, corpses)
  13. The usage of Yoshi Drums is generally good
  14. There are several clever sections in the Forgotten Crossroads
  15. Similarly several individually good sections of the Greenpath
  16. The Fungal Wastes has quite a few neat segments
  17. The Mantis Village was mean but fun
  18. The Crystal Peak really started to get good in terms of platforming and fun set pieces
  19. The Broken Vessel is an interesting example of an area denial boss, between the adds and the dash / stomps / leaps
  20. Deepnest has some really fantastic, mean jumping puzzles
  21. Hardcore mode (Steel Soul) is a nice optional challenge mode
  22. The first Grimm fight is legit, great fluidity and tons of options for avoidance and attack, feeling cool and rewarding equally
  23. Good indicators and telegraphs in enemy animation
  24. Between charms and kit there’s some definite build gameplay going on
  25. The core combat is surprisingly simple for how complex it is, and feels satisfying
  26. Enemy variety is reasonably good, but also has good range in AI spread…
  27. …earning a second positive
  28. The twin brothers fight
  29. The paintmaster fight
  30. The Sly fight
  31. The Pure Vessel fight
  32. The Sisters of Battle fight is pretty similar to the original but the addition of the third sister is enough of a mutator to qualify for its own positive
  33. The Godhome challenge mode plus difficulty mutators
  34. The dream variants on bosses
  35. The pogo bounce does a lot to really vary up the way you interact with environment and enemies both
  36. The spells and navigation are a bit basic, but they’re good
  37. And then there’s the Charms, which are great mutators on how you play and honestly would be more positives if not for the irritation of their usage (bench required for swapping, and weird costs of some charms)
  38. The game periodically but consistently tutorializes new abilities, areas, and enemies
  39. Usual Soulslike method of retrieving corpses as penalty for failure
  40. The built-in boss pause moments are a good standardized way of giving the player a beat to do what they will
  41. The repeated usage of shortcut design just… everywhere
  42. The palace had some great platforming sections, probably the best in the game
  43. The Radiance fight is actually pretty awesome, only really being held back by virtue of the lack of mid mission checkpoints
  44. Game is reasonably replayable

Gameplay Negatives:

  1. Usual forced ironman mode save issues
  2. The map isn’t that great of a map, but what pushes it into negative territory is how you have to hit a bench to update it even as you’re exploring
  3. There is definitely a very real backtracking problem, which pads the game out more than a bit…
  4. …to the point where it never really goes away and just keeps grating on you
  5. There is a recurring audio spam problem, mostly in NPCs but also your friggin’ summon…
  6. …earning a second negative
  7. The raspberry jam… of being hit, not low health, is honestly pretty distracting and can easily make you lose where you are in a hectic situation
  8. There’s worse, but there’s a bit of a Super Metroid ‘scan every wall’ problem periodically
  9. Several segments of the game fall under walkthroughitis…
  10. …earning a second negative
  11. Okay so to type this up in full; The game has multiple issues which coincide to create a greater overall problem. While the micro level design is generally good, the macro level design is actively lacking. The connective tissue between zones, the ‘overworld’ of the Metroidvania, is too long, too involved, and too filled with irritations to traverse…
  12. …this is an ongoing problem across multiple zones across the game
  13. This is then further hampered by a simple fact that the game is huge… like, a bit too huge, physically. Zones are very long, and take a while to navigate
  14. This is then further made worse by a general lack of proper traversal tech or gameplay, so getting from Point A to Point B is simply not fun
  15. And finally, the specific placement of fast travel spots is not great. There’s not too many of them, but even worse is their specific location and placement
  16. Bosses in general have entirely too much health…
  17. …to the point of being a recurring problem
  18. The Hive Knight fight is ‘fine’ until he summons the visually indistinct, RNG octo spikes which can, among other things, spawn literally on your face
  19. Charms honestly should be split between utility and combat
  20. The flame mini bosses are just annoying
  21. Uummuu is honestly far too RNG to be enjoyable for what she is
  22. The Traitor Lord commits the biggest sin a boss can; it’s boring. Four attacks total (one of which is in phase 2 only) and… that’s… it
  23. Side quests in general aren’t great, but they can also be total bullcrap at times (looking at you, flower)
  24. The fifth and final bosh rush of Godhome is all kinds of bullcrap
  25. Marmu is… just… bullcrap. She’s so aggressively simple, yet her variable speed and random teleports just make her annoying
  26. It’s not the worst, but the game does have several moments of grind
  27. Elder Hu is yet another random RNG random boss of random random
  28. The third and final colosseum…
  29. …is such bullcrap
  30. I sat on this for a while but I think the game does deserve at least one ‘bonus’ seconds in minutes negative
  31. No Eyes is just another example of irritating randomness, but her variants actually make her worse

Outer Wilds

A fascinating and truly horrifying terror game, filled with good puzzles and bad gameplay decisions. A bit of a mixed bag, but worth it for the concept alone.
Total Story Score: +21
Total Gameplay Score: 0
Golden Number: 53.21
Cheats: No
Total Play Time: 3 Days // 19.15 Hours
Time Reviewed: 7-13-2022

Spoiler Pluses and Minuses +

Story Positives:

  1. The Intro is honestly excellent in so many ways. It starts off miniscule and local, very down to earth chat with the locals, learn about the history and space program and a few tidbits… then you get flashed by the statue, the first timer starts ticking, and you have 22 minutes to see things getting slowly worse until…
  2. …a second positive for story is added (the horror)
  3. The stars winking out of the sky one by one is honestly one of the most horrifying things I’ve seen in a video game…
  4. …I’m honestly going to give it two positives, because it is just that terrifying
  5. I will further mention that the audio and visual presentation of our own local supernova is just as awe inspiring and horrifying as it should be
  6. Giant’s Deep is so damned horrifying, between the cyclones, the deeps, and the friggin’ jellyfish
  7. The big revelation on board the Sun Station is actually a pretty powerful moment, given how everything had been building to it
  8. Just about everything about the quantum moon is exactly as horrifying as it should be
  9. The entire translation section with Solonum deserves its own mention
  10. While I’m talking about horrifying death doom, let’s mention the planet of eternal sand growth and being slowly crushed to death, metaphorically and literally
  11. Which is a good time to mention that messed up sound design
  12. The Bramble is easily just the most damned horrifying thing in the entire game, between the fog, the Zelda warping maze, and those damned anglerfish…
  13. …earning it two positives
  14. Everything to do with the ghost matter is messed up, but learning how it exploded and instantly killed everyone in the system without anyone being aware of it or even knowing their death was coming, is very lovecraftian horror
  15. The Outro manages some real feels on the music scene
  16. Excellent general visuals across the board
  17. Game does a good job of keeping track of its own timeline and internal continuity
  18. The usage of lighting is really well done in multiple ways and multiple areas…
  19. …easily earning a second positive
  20. DLC: It’s hard to over-emphasize how horrifying it is going through the holodeck zones in the Stranger, with little light and creepy sounds everywhere
  21. DLC: The summary scene showcasing… honestly everything, the entire story front to back, from the bird people to the Nomai finding the signal to how the comet destroyed their civilization to us following in their footsteps…
  22. DLC: …and in addition to all of that, the way it’s told, through the vision memory thing, first him then ours, great sequence
  23. DLC: The usage of the slide shows as a storytelling mechanism

Story Negatives:

  1. The Outro is… entirely too random and vague for vague’s sakes, too 2001 Space Odyssey (and as a personal note, I absolutely hate the ending)
  2. There’s some ‘all over the place’, ‘go find it’ storytelling that causes some issues

Gameplay Positives:

  1. The Intro does a lot right gameplay wise too; The (completely optional) showcasing of various space-bound mechanics, not starting the timer until you’ve had a chance to really explore the town, and giving you incentives to get used to flight, controls, and local stuff… which ensures enough time for the 22 minutes to pass before you get too far
  2. The usage of the probe as a snapshot and explorative mechanic
  3. The game is very videogamey (size of planets, trees and oxygen, visibility of the system, indicators of where is what) which actually works in its favor
  4. The signalscope and its range and usage is similarly a neat mechanic
  5. Quantum as a mechanic is cool in general but also leads to some neat puzzle mechanics
  6. Music, when it’s there, is nice
  7. Most areas have repeating info, but this is actually good in this case rather than bad; since it allows multiple routes with insurance to get critical information wherever you go (aka all roads lead to Rome)
  8. The quantum moon is actually a pretty neat puzzle by itself
  9. While I have issues with it (and stand by the negative already given), the Outro final rush is actually pretty legit to do
  10. The game has an attention to detail and usage of physics that deserves its own recognition and positive
  11. DLC: The light-based puzzles of the Stranger are not just neat, but fundamentally different while simultaneously not changing your base kit in any way; just reinventing it for another purpose, which is some great design
  12. DLC: The final puzzle of unlocking the gate which threw away all the keys and how you completely bypass the keys is actually pretty awesome

Gameplay Negatives:

  1. Brittle Hollow has several issues, but the biggest by far is that damned black hole. It’s such an impediment that it’s literally better to just restart the game if you slip into it
  2. The game has a… built in requirement to hit planets to be able to hit other planets to be able to hit other planets, which just sort of automatically pads out the runtime
  3. The game does not control super well on controller or M&K, and only salvages being merely one negative by virtue of some rebinding options
  4. The game has good music… when it actually plays, which is often literally seconds at a time, and very inconsistent with when and how (often only reliably when you hit space)
  5. There’s a lot of seconds in minutes padding problems in the very loop mechanic
  6. Lack of more time-manipulative abilities, leading to the Enderal waiting syndrome
  7. This is especially true in the hourglass level which is entirely time sensitive in both directions
  8. The final solution, which essentially has to be solved twice, is ridiculous just in the sense of the basic padding, but the fact that you have to deliberately remove the ability to rety before making the already arguably-a-negative bramble run is just pouring lemon juice on the wound
  9. The game in general does have a bit of a walkthroughitis problem, not super bad but it’s there
  10. There are several small but irritating… unquality of life features, like not being able to check or change the computer anywhere but on the ship, or having to repair some things inside and some outside
  11. DLC: The Stranger gets its own separate negative for padding, between the time it takes just to get back to the ringworld, the time spent getting the artifact again, the need to move slowly while on a ticking clock, the slowdown while using the lantern, etc.
  12. DLC: There’s still a few walkthroughitis problems in the DLC, but those would be mitigated… if not for the ever-present timer, which is worse than the entire rest of the game here

Hades

Probably one of the better roguelites I’ve ever played. If you haven’t played a roguelite, this is a good one to start with. The early game can be pretty rough though, and the late game is pretty grindy.
Total Story Score: +21
Total Gameplay Score: +10
Golden Number: 84.84
Cheats: Yes (tedium, plus incomplete)
Total Play Time: 2 Days // 17.57 Hours
Time Reviewed: 8-02-2022

Spoiler Pluses and Minuses +

Story Positives:

  1. You knew I was going to mention it; the Brickwork is excellent, as is the standard for the team
  2. Voice acting is generally good… no, really, across every character it’s legitimately excellent, nailing things like nuance, tone, pacing, etc…
  3. …earning…
  4. …three positives
  5. The quality of the dialogue between characters is similarly good
  6. Surprisingly decent exposition between characters
  7. Dusa is just adorable, what can I say
  8. Great doodad utilization
  9. The visual aesthetic of Tartarus is excellent
  10. The visual storytelling of Asphodel is appropriately horrifying
  11. The visual presentation of Elysium is gorgeous
  12. Zagreus is a fairly well done example of the rebellious 20 year old but without actually being irritating, a feat in and of itself, but he’s endearing and enjoyable besides
  13. A bonus positive for the sheer quantity and variety of dialogue you can get across the game
  14. The ‘big scene’ with Persephone (the… first one) is actually really quite well done and a good, touching scene
  15. Weirdly enough I do like how the game keeps content relevant across loops. While I dislike the sheer quantity and repetition of loops, I do like how there’s new dialogue, new revelations, and the like
  16. The supporting cast is really quite excellent
  17. Good background lore with the codex
  18. There’s some really good hooks early on to get you interested in what’s going on
  19. The game does a decent job of gameplay story integration
  20. Generally good internal continuity
  21. While I couldn’t do all of them on camera, I was able to look into several of the side quests and honestly there’s some really good stuff there…
  22. …easily earning two positives

Story Negatives:

  1. The pacing is very, very stop and go, with inconsistency to the point where it actually detracts from the narrative

Gameplay Positives:

  1. Yeah, you figured music would be the first positive I give
  2. The dynamic layer to the music in how it reacts to your gameplay is excellent
  3. Each weapon plays and functions very differently from the others, adding good variety
  4. Combat is very responsive and punchy
  5. Similarly controls are excellent, rarely do I feel like I made a mistake or am out of control…
  6. …leading to a second positive
  7. Where it’s good, the visual distinction is good (mostly in color selection and proper outlining)
  8. Despite being the tutorial boss, Megaera is quite well designed, with a good variety of attacks and a decent arena to fight within
  9. Decent info-in-game, especially from the various hotkey / terminology phrases and their uses thereof
  10. The build variety, while random, is excellent, as there are so many different combos and nuances to them…
  11. …easily earning two positives
  12. The enemy variety is quite good throughout
  13. The in-mission progress is actually quite well designed, one of the better examples of the genre I’ve seen; between Charon, the shops, the boons, the choices, the infernal troves, the Chaos shrines…
  14. …easily earning two positives
  15. The game is very viscerally enjoyable both visually and audibly
  16. The dual boss with the Theseus and the Minotaur is actually pretty good, with both having completely different types and denials of attack and requiring very different strategies
  17. I actually rather liked the rapid-fire Cerberus level, in fact I found myself wondering why the entire rest of the game wasn’t that way as the pacing fits the overall gameplay loop substantially better
  18. Cross-attempt progression is decent, mostly in the form of the darkness mirror upgrades, which are nice mutators in addition to flat upgrades and also inform your build
  19. A second positive for general cross-attempt progression, from the gem upgrades to the weapons being imbued with Titan’s blood to the keepsakes
  20. The Hades fight is actually quite good; most of his attacks are fair and dodgeable and have recovery periods where you can get some damage in
  21. I do like how there is some variety to bosses, attack patterns, etc. across loops
  22. The Pact of Punishment isn’t the best but it’s some very good difficulty design, offering stat and mutator options which can be individually and manually selected, which are reasonably rewarding…
  23. …earning two positives (especially for how it varies up the boss fights)
  24. Good usage of gameplay and story integration

Gameplay Negatives:

  1. Visual distinction has some occasional problems, mostly with the visual effects and overlays
  2. Early game… has issues. You start off weak, and that’s fine, but in general there’s just way too much repetition in it, between how much HP enemies have, how long it takes to redo sections, and how arduous it gets to redo Tartarus every single friggin’ time when there are multiple methods to speed up or bypass this…
  3. …leading to a second negative
  4. So, this one’s hard to explain, but the repetition is… really bothering me. I find myself completely mentally disengaged by the repeat loops, to the point where I’d rather be watching a movie or a show while playing so I can be… entertained while playing the game. There’s nothing really wrong with the game per say but the raw repetition is just de-investing me to the point of disinterest. It’s pretty bad honestly
  5. Elysium kind of sucks. The visual distinction issue layers with how several of the traps are designed, along with the worst enemies in the game (the shield guys) and the visuals in the area legitimately hurt my eyes, on top of the worst music in the game
  6. The game in general suffers from a pacing problem; ignoring the obvious lurch of death (which is whatever), the fact is how long rooms (or entire segments) take doesn’t ‘take too long’ but rather is ‘entirely too random’ and it makes some sections fine and some… not
  7. The HP Barrier problem on literally every boss is as irritating as it always is
  8. So there’s another issue I’ve been debating for a bit now and it boils down to seconds-in-minutes. I didn’t even properly process how much this bothers me until we hit the Temple of Styx and all of the sudden the game got weirdly enjoyable, and I realized what was bothering me. The rest of the rooms are just too sloggy. Enemies take too long to spawn, there’s too many of them, they have too much health, and rooms are too big. So each room is stretched, making the whole experience worse. Then you hit the Temple and all of that goes away and the pacing and flow just suddenly become awesome. This is absolutely AWFUL in a game all about redoing this over and over…
  9. …so it deserves…
  10. …a full three negatives
  11. The 10+ loops problem is its own issue. The game is neat but the stages, enemies, and core content don’t really… change, and 10 is already too many. That’s on top of the 10 having to be successful attempts, nevermind how many failures we get, and on top of that is the sheer quantity of repetition, so we find ourselves with a bit of a Dragon Age 2 Syndrome problem…
  12. …leading to two negatives
  13. The final bit of the game is just entirely too grindy, to the point where despite having more content to push through I just wanted to stop
  14. The late game grind. Nectar, need I say more

Tales Of Arise

A very good, very bad Tales Of game. If you’re interested in JRPGs in general or Tales Of games in specific, this is a pretty good entry to try out. Just be warned; the game gets noticably worse after about the halfway point, in both gameplay and story.
Total Story Score: +23
Total Gameplay Score: +2
Golden Number: 61.37
Cheats: No
Total Play Time: 6 Days // 44 Hours
Time Reviewed: 8-09-2022

Spoiler Pluses and Minuses +

Story Positives:

  1. Built-in codex (the Glossary)
  2. Zephyr’s death scene, specifically his actual death, was surprisingly well done. It was short, to the point, didn’t give into cliches or last moments, just had him flailing blind and deaf and unable to even really tell where he was as he wanted desperately to tell his son he loved him, and failing at it
  3. The animation during the in-game cutscenes is generally good, with nice touches and general presentation
  4. The Renan’s entire system of governance is very screwed up, encouraging those who are the worst to climb to the top
  5. Zephyr consistently had-brain in the face of reality, and had a lot of good scenes discussing things like dealing with post-oppression, ‘now what’, and other issues
  6. Zephyr in general was a breath of fresh air in the game, being the responsible one and the team dad, despite his related issues
  7. The entire system of how Cysloden controls its population (encouraging people to rat out each other, horrific internal corruption, systemic resignation, etc.) is really, really messed up
  8. The cutscene showcasing Dohalim’s past was actually quite well done; His friendships, his pain and dislike of being forced into the fight and the subsequent position, all very well showcased
  9. Visual storytelling of Viscint, the city that’s ‘normal medieval city’ which thanks to the context and build up of the other two zones, is practically paradise
  10. Variety in visual storytelling in the first two zones
  11. The visual storytelling of zone three and the ‘utopia’
  12. The visual storytelling of zone four and the ‘ruins’
  13. The very concept of hollowing and its connection to the setting is exceptionally messed up
  14. The third zone’s plot is easily one of the more engaging ones in the game thusfar, with engaging characters, good dynamics, and hooks and twists that turn the formula on its head
  15. I further like the structure of the third zone; it’s the same general format (town, minidungeon, town, dungeon, boss) but it’s layered in a unique way
  16. The hollowing lake is so perfectly horrifying, it’s… good lord, it’s the worst
  17. The way Alphen slowly slips into the shoes Zephyr left is really quite well done and natural
  18. Kisara’s very real rage in the wake of the reality of the loss of her brother and her lord is surprisingly well done overall; no over-acting, no over-the-top melodrama, it’s even well directed (camera angles) and well storyboarded (Alphen physically has to hold her back)
  19. Shionne finally reaching out (literally and metaphorically) to Alphen and the two reaffirming their friendship is actually a pretty good scene, especially in what it implies re; her objectives
  20. Alphen’s revelations scene is honestly silly, but what sells it are two things; first, the excellent voice acting, and second, the reality thereof. Him reacting the way he does makes sense, needing to take a moment to process makes sense, and Kisara being the one to tell him this makes sense
  21. So the general quality and quantity of voice acting…
  22. …deserves…
  23. …three positives by itself
  24. So, each Tales Of game has skits, and skits are cool, but the quality to bleh ratio has been excellent this time around, and there’s three distinct types of skits. Character skits…
  25. …which flesh out individuals…
  26. …and their dynamics to each other
  27. Then we have setting skits, which flesh out…
  28. …the rules, areas, concepts…
  29. …politics, magic, et cetera
  30. Then there’s the fluff skits. These aren’t as common or as good, but they’re still there, and they’re still good
  31. The animation for the actual in engine cutscenes is actually excellent…
  32. …earning two positives, bonus points for the choreography in the combat scenes
  33. The doodad utilization is top notch…
  34. …definitely earning three positives…
  35. The you’re not alone scene’s core nugget is actually really good, with him embracing her despite the pain, and that being what breaks through to her, and how much that means to her
  36. Shionne and Alphen have a fantastic dynamic in most of their scenes together
  37. The general party banter is excellent…
  38. …easily earning two positives
  39. Shionne herself is a fairly well done, well acted, well presented character…
  40. …earning her two positives
  41. Alphen similarly has his own foibles and nuances, really brought out by excellent acting…
  42. …earning a second positive
  43. Periodically the game does actual good exposition
  44. Law is simple, but blunt, and well presented and acted
  45. Rinwell is irritating at first, but when she has her five second character arc she becomes a lot better and more interesting in general
  46. The dynamic between Alphen and Law is great, very brotherly
  47. Kisara is legitimately the best character in the game, with complexity, nuance, layers, more than one character arc, great voice acting, and a lot of good logic and presentation…
  48. …earning her…
  49. …three positives
  50. Kisara also has a great dynamic with most of the other characters
  51. Dohalim too is one of the better characters in the game, having good layers and position in the narrative, while being well acted and having lots of good scenes to him…
  52. …earning him…
  53. …three positives
  54. The big scene when Shionne (finally) explains her motives is something we saw coming, but is very well executed; the voice acting is excellent, but what really makes it hit is the reality of its point; She wanted to die because she had to, but now she doesn’t want to but still has to…
  55. …a second positive for being the first scene in the game that actually made me feel
  56. Generally good internal continuity
  57. Game is reasonably well localized
  58. A lot of the game’s world building is background, but it’s good and I rather enjoy it
  59. I do enjoy one of the core themes; breaking walls down, literally, for groups, and for individuals
  60. Dohalim is consistently on point on Lenegis
  61. No, seriously, his scenes are mature, well thought out, and brilliantly written
  62. Further, the fleshing out of their society and how… let’s call it what it is… messed up it is is pretty well done
  63. The total lack of caring, near robot-like nature of the logs discussing how they’re horrifically mistreating people of all sides and types
  64. The way Shionne handles her curse is actually quite well handled consistently, most especially on the strength of the actress
  65. The real sight and horror of Rena

Story Negatives:

  1. The Intro has quite a few issues with it, but by far the biggest one is how ham-fisted, overt, and honestly bad the exposition is across the board
  2. The big scene after beating Balsaph is… weird. Just weirdly directed, weird music usage, weird voice acting, shouting, a week long coma… weird
  3. There are several points of the game being entirely too obvious, to the point where one could predict plot points literal hours in advance
  4. The game has a real issue with bland or bad exposition
  5. Surprise surprise, the anime gasps make a return
  6. The music direction is just… off for a lot of scenes (arguably most of them)…
  7. …earning a second negative
  8. The game just will not stop shoving the racism Renan v. Dahnan thing in our faces and it honestly grows tiresome via repetition
  9. This is made even worse by Rinwell and her constant nagging insistence on repeating it, which honestly just drags (especially in a vacuum)
  10. I have no idea what’s going on with the Law, Rinwell, villainess scene but it’s not good. It’s a big melodramatic scene (strike 1) with terrible pacing, set right after the legitimately horrifying scene right before (strike 2) and finally the villainess is just standing there watching the entire time (strike 3)…
  11. …then there’s the fact that it is followed by a better character scene (two, actually) which makes it even worse (strike 4), oh and finally the fact that it was acting like she could have actually killed the lord in one shot to begin with (strike 5)
  12. Most of the anime cutscenes are just noticeably worse in terms of direction and storyboarding (and the usual low framerate headache-inducing issue)
  13. The early awkward ‘romance’ scenes were bleh
  14. The game has a bit of an empty text problem
  15. The story’s pacing is all over the place, partially a problem with the skits but mostly just due to its own issues
  16. The story sequencing falters for several lengthy stretches
  17. The game is entirely too on-the nose, to the point of detracting from otherwise good ideas and scenes
  18. The fourth chapter is not great. It’s especially bad in comparison to the third chapter, but it’s bad all on its own; a basic one note villain they don’t use well or do anything with, weird pacing issues, and generally bad cutscenes
  19. The ‘I’m not like you’ bullcrap cutscene after the chapter 4 boss is stupid as it always is, for the same reasons it always is
  20. Also the final chapter 4 (anime) cutscene is awful. Cheap melodrama, bad timing and place for things, and of course cutscene incompetence (the entire rest of the party is just… watching)
  21. That story sequencing problem rears its ugly head again with the game starting to show its rushed and problematic development; we go straight from the ship falling into a GIGANTIC cut in the ocean to being ashore where we want to go, all of us, magically, with no explanation or reason
  22. The lip flaps are distracting during the skits, made even worse when they occasionally don’t do them and it just looks so much better
  23. The dialogue periodically has… what I can only refer to as issues
  24. A bonus negative for Rinwell… oh not for the character herself, but for the fact that someone flips a switch and she goes from “I’ll kill you” to, y’know, herself in the space of a few seconds (and during the worst scene of the game so far)
  25. The rest of the you’re not alone scene is pretty bad. Its placement is… wrong, and the presentation of it is entirely too overt, diminishing the scene
  26. The five pre-boss skits are the only bad skits in the game, and they’re just… wasted air on artificial hype
  27. The mid season cutscene is just sort of… there. It’s weird and completely screws with the tone before and after, leading to two separate tonal whiplash moments
  28. Bad time skip. It’s been a month! That’s why we’re acting like it’s been a day!
  29. Most of the side quests are empty filler
  30. The game’s pacing really starts to fall apart as we stumble and race through the sequence leading up to the ship
  31. The Empty Text problem progresses into worse as the game approaches the end
  32. The plot starts to get a little bit too derailed by the end
  33. The pacing similarly starts to get really bad, ignoring the two solid hours of exposition, there’s also just a weird tempo to plot and character points
  34. The entire space station sequence is one gigantic filler pile of repetitive filler, and similarly uses its very obvious big twists poorly
  35. There’s this thing these types of games tend to do where there’s a great, urgent event going on but everyone just sort of meanders around talking about it, and it doesn’t just kill any urgency but it’s aggravating
  36. The nonstop barrage of cutscenes is its own problem; Even if they were good cutscenes (which they are not), the sheer quantity and lack of pause in between them (often going literally just a few steps between cutscenes) is a problem. This problem is so severe and so stark…
  37. …it deserves…
  38. …three negatives
  39. The final descent in the last dungeon is no better than the lead up thereto, and has all the issues thereof
  40. Vohlran’s continued presence in the story and total lack of usage thereof is already problematic…
  41. …but him leaping in at the very end to be the final boss is awful
  42. Cutscene incompetence in the ending which leads to an almost-sacrifice

Gameplay Positives:

  1. The ‘story thusfar’ is a nice feature as it always is to remind you of what’s happened and where you’re at
  2. Legitimately good in-game bestiary
  3. The tutorials can be brought back up at any time for review and/or initial reading, fully optional
  4. Generally good overworld design for the connective zones
  5. Despite its arguable mis-use, the music is pretty legit
  6. The penalty for failure is actually really nice; you die, but you burn CP to heal and respawn, or you don’t and respawn with 1 health (also an option to retry on bosses)
  7. Bonus activities (with indicators to show what you have to do) to unlock new plates for alternate progression
  8. Good fast travel system
  9. Good HUD and general design to the map
  10. Cosmetic system and its over-ride
  11. Good save system
  12. Good autosave
  13. Good info in game
  14. Dynamic yoshi drums in the big dungeons
  15. The second boss fight was actually pretty decent, while using the ‘invuln’ mechanic it served decently as a dps check, and his move variety was decent, along with a nice usage of Indignation
  16. The artes are good kit, with a lot of variety in how they attack and what they can do…
  17. …for two positives
  18. The entire ‘combo’ system of chaining artes together for further damage, but also the fact that it encourages you to not use the same arte over and over…
  19. …which really keeps combat interesting
  20. I love the CP mechanic. Keeping it to the group was a great idea, and allows for it to be a resource pool that can be used as needed for the entire group rather than requiring individual management…
  21. …which really helps keep the flow going
  22. The varied playstyle between characters is great. It’s not just artes or aesthetics, but each character definitively plays differently thanks to their differing mechanics…
  23. …earning two positives
  24. The player AI isn’t the best, but it is decent…
  25. …further augmented by the (limited) gambits system
  26. Indicators of NPCs you haven’t talked to yet, quests, quest objectives, etc.
  27. The game controls reasonably well
  28. The game is, of course, quite visceral… visually at least
  29. Item cooldown as a way to limit item usage is good (regardless of the other item problem)
  30. The dual behemoth boss at the end of the dumb castle dungeon was actually surprisingly fun, with mixing up attacks, a choice in the focus, the two bosses complimenting each other, etc.
  31. The game is legitimately gorgeous, managing both style and fidelity…
  32. …earning two positives
  33. Surprisingly good audio cues here and there to help you know what to do when
  34. The Tormented Limbs boss fight was actually pretty decent overall, with good variety on its attacks and good animations, and none of the other usual issues
  35. Aggregate: Cooking buffs are a nice bonus way to augment // Map CP interactions are a good give and take on burning resource A to get resource B // The bonuses for finishing out a wheel in permanent stat ups, even if you don’t really want that ability, are a nice touch // Clear point of no return indicator (loses some points for happening multiple times)

Gameplay Negatives:

  1. In-game purchases and DLC as is standard
  2. The fact that the game literally shoves the DLC into your face repeatedly (even at camp!!) is insanity
  3. The fact that there’s pay to win DLC (literally purchasing levels and gald) is insanity
  4. Lazy difficulty, as always
  5. …worse, both ‘hard’ and ‘easy’ aren’t what they should be. Hard is just rocket tag and easy is just a boring slog
  6. Balsaph was a bit problematic; While the core moveset was good, he had entirely too much health (on all difficulties) but what really makes this a full negative is the second phase, where the camera control on the vertical axis was taken from me, meaning I was operating at a disadvantage to be able to see enemy attacks, dodge, etc.
  7. The fact that the difficulty options directly change how much xp (and sp) you gain (or don’t gain) is honestly aggravating
  8. Bad design to the controls of the map (ignoring the keyboard / mouse problem, it’s honestly aggravating just to navigate)
  9. The audio spam problem is definitely there (mostly an issue with repeat lines)
  10. General audio spam noise issues in combat (yes I know it’s normal, no I don’t care)
  11. Limited item cap without methods to bypass the related issues
  12. The boss health padding actually gets worse the further into the game you get
  13. The game controls… weirdly. Thanks to the fully 3D plane, but with enemies being relatively small (or having small weak spots on bosses), which means it’s exceptionally easy to either be too far away or to swing right by your target
  14. The irritating tendency of multiple bosses to ‘roar’, staggering you, and then stand there and do nothing. It’s literally just pausing the fight for a few seconds, like a kid calling ‘time out’
  15. Del Fharis castle sucks. The enemies have too much armor and too much HP…
  16. …so much so that even with the difficulty absolutely ranked down (making the enemies have the minimal amount of health) they take absolutely forever to die, dragging a tiny dungeon out to over 45 minutes long
  17. Del Fharis castle sucks. The layout is boring and deliberately repetitive
  18. Let’s talk enemy variety. In a game this long with this in-depth of a combat system, you need enemies that have good variety in their design, and good encounter design combinations to compliment that. This has neither, and so deserves a negative for enemy variety…
  19. …and for encounter design
  20. The tracking in the game is horribly bad… like, worst I’ve ever seen bad. Its hard to really properly explain in summary but attacks have an awful tendency to swing over or by or through or around the enemies without hitting them, and while there are ways to mitigate this its a nonstop problem…
  21. …earning it…
  22. …three negatives
  23. As a further aside, the controls in combat kind of suck. The fact that the camera controls over-ride facing and the legitimate best way to hit an enemy in melee is to avoid touching half the controls at all is just irritating
  24. Side quest balancing issues (over tuned or under tuned)
  25. The game certainly looks pretty and visceral, but it actively gets in the way of seeing enemy animations, which is necessary for knowing what to do when
  26. Del Fharis and the thorn dungeons both require you to backtrack through them; in the former it’s just an empty jaunt for no reason, in the latter all the enemies have respawned
  27. The game’s difficulty curve is actively wonky, more or less forcing certain approaches to combat and punishing you for doing any other setup
  28. The ‘encounter rate’ is a bit high, but what pushes it into negative territory is the excessively large collision boxes on the enemies, making them (in most cases) unavoidable
  29. Let’s just top that audio spam count at a full 3 negatives
  30. The final dungeon sucks. Samey boring corridors with enemies that have entirely too much health or armor, almost all of which are just repeats, and an unimpressive song
  31. Several of the Outro’s bosses are just kind of whatever, or actively boring (with way, way, way too much health)
  32. A final bonus Outro negative for everything just being the worst possible thing it could be; boring
  33. The New Game Plus requiring you to go find relics in post game to unlock carry forwards isn’t as bad as previous Tales Of games, but it’s still bad

Romance of the Three Kingdoms 14

An interesting series, but a terrible entry therein. Too simple, too frustrating, with some of the worst interface, HUD, and control design I’ve ever seen. Do not recommend.
Total Story Score: +3
Total Gameplay Score: -16
Golden Number: -7.46
Cheats: No
Total Play Time: 2 Days // 9.28 Hours
Time Reviewed: 8-12-2022

Spoiler Pluses and Minuses +

Story Positives:

  1. The Warlord High vibe of the tutorial is legitimately amusing
  2. The units historical usage and significance is both accurate and frustrating
  3. Visual storytelling of the map and the portraits

Story Negatives:

Gameplay Positives:

  1. Decent scenario setup options (especially the historical setup)
  2. The ‘fire and commit’ orders system is actually pretty cool for your troops
  3. The ‘limited orders per turn’ similarly makes for some interesting strategy
  4. The options for tactics, formations, and officers in leading troops is arguably most of the strategy involved and it’s pretty good
  5. Terrain design in terms of relevance, movement, and bottlenecking is actually pretty good
  6. Reasonably good save and auto save
  7. Early game is reasonably enjoyable, with some local interactions and the ‘race’ to resources, supply lines, and movement
  8. Events are a reasonable and interesting way to give the player goals and to vary things up
  9. With all the various starting dates, scenarios, and factions, the game is reasonably replayable

Gameplay Negatives:

  1. As usual, in-game microtransactions suck
  2. …but in this case they’re pretty bad (paying for in-game editing? Or the ability to use said edited data?)
  3. The tutorial is not particularly well designed; Doesn’t explain as much as it should, entirely too lacking in feedback, and possible to fail with no hint that it’s even possible to do so
  4. Mobile game-esque interface (cheap and not super informative)
  5. Legitimately bad at-a-glance information in the general HUD
  6. …two negatives for HUD
  7. Legitimately bad interface design (having to click way too many things to get to basic info)
  8. …two negatives for interface
  9. A bonus negative for how obscure and out of the way much of the controls of the game are…
  10. …by which I mean two
  11. Music is repetitive and annoying
  12. The AI flat out ignoring orders is unforgivable on several levels, and leads to the player having even less control over the game then they already did
  13. The Officer bottleneck is bad by itself…
  14. …but the fact that you have extremely little you can do about it makes it even worse
  15. The city and general strategic layer management is lacking to the point of being a joke
  16. The fact that the game flat out requires you to mentally math to figure out your resources based on vague information
  17. The icons the game chooses to show are weird and there’s some visual distinction problems related thereto
  18. The mid game starts to have issues as there’s no real additional depth or complexity to the surface-level strategy involved
  19. The late game is absolutely awful, devolving into whack-a-mole and with (again) no additional complexity added to vary anything up…
  20. …earning two negatives
  21. The absence of a proper map or minimap is awful
  22. Difficulty options literally don’t work
  23. The game falls into snowballing very easily, to the point where if you fall behind it is extraordinarily easy to stay behind
  24. Enemy AI isn’t the worst I’ve seen but it’s not good
  25. The game’s overall approach to difficulty is just frustrating whack-a-mole

Wasteland 3

Do not play the DLCs. They are absolutely terrible. Ignoring that, this is a competent if flawed CRPG with a good tactical combat system and some great quests and fun encounters. Big recommend (without the DLCs).
Total Story Score: +11
Total Gameplay Score: +7
Golden Number: 47.34
Cheats: No
Total Play Time: 7 Days // 52.45 Hours
Time Reviewed: 8-24-2022

Spoiler Pluses and Minuses +

Story Positives:

  1. The Intro starts a bit weak but gets strong in a hurry, doing a lot of legwork to establish the tone, the world, some characters, and the premise…
  2. …earning two positives
  3. The Saul museum is a really messed up, overt showcasing of how bad the propaganda machine is around here
  4. Quest design across Act 1
  5. Quest design across the Bizarre and related
  6. Voice acting is, generally, excellent throughout…
  7. …earning two positives
  8. The usage of logs and radio as storytelling mechanisms
  9. Great Doodad design throughout…
  10. …earning two positives
  11. The visual storytelling of the Colorado frozen wastes in general is quite well done…
  12. …also earning two positives
  13. There’s a ton of world building throughout, really layering on the state of the, uh, state
  14. The flavor background lore is well on display
  15. The game is generally humorous
  16. The entire Morningstar quest was actually pretty legit
  17. The entire Denver Airport segment is honestly kind of awesome…
  18. …earning two positives for legitimately interesting, earnest characters as well
  19. While somewhat… uninvesting, the sidequests on the overworld map are generically good
  20. Good supporting cast, including but not limited to; MacTavish // Flab // Dr. Breeler // Blue
  21. Morningstar and the related sequence
  22. Working Stiff quest
  23. Buzzkill quest
  24. “I hope the bombs fall! *sirens* Oh thank GOD”
  25. Dialogue is generally well written
  26. The internal continuity is reasonably well on display… not great (it forgets events or significance semi frequently) but other times it’s legit
  27. The politics of the writing are interesting when they’re done right
  28. Lucia is, arguably, the only real character in the game. She has repeated presence, the most involved quest, and a definitive story arc to her
  29. Branching Narrative (a fair few paths through the game)
  30. External Continuity (with Wasteland 2, primarily)
  31. The (various) Outros have some good stuff in them, and there’s a lot of variety to them as well…
  32. …leading to two positives

Story Negatives:

  1. DLC: Overly simplistic writing in Steeltown, which wouldn’t be bad except…
  2. DLC: …it fails at several levels of basic logic, clearly trying to showcase A while actually showing B
  3. DLC: A final negative to the DLC for honestly just falling flat on its face in several ways
  4. There is a recurring issue with the core premise wherein it insists there is no other option to the situation, in order to force ‘hard choices’, without doing anything to establish or even really dig into the situation, which just makes every other related choice fall flat…
  5. …earning two negatives
  6. Related to the aforementioned problem, the game leans a bit too heavily into trying to force choices that aren’t good without it feeling earned or natural, instead feeling more Helicopter GM
  7. Finally, the entire Gipper / Airport vs. situation deserves its own negative for how irritating and forced the ‘dilemma’ was
  8. DLC: The entirety of the Cheyenne Mountain DLC is railroaded to the point of excess…
  9. DLC: …and to the point of literally breaking logic, like literally talking to your current enemy also railroads you on the same quest your current ally does
  10. DLC: So there’s these two voices in the Cheyenne Mountain quest chain which mock and belittle you for all the choices you’ve made in the game prior to making it here. This could have worked… but it does not, for it is literally an unfinished quest with no payoff or recourse. So all it is is a massive amount of mostly unavoidable dialogue berating the player and there’s nothing you can do about it. This… sucks, on every level…
  11. DLC: …and deserves its own consideration therefore
  12. Cutscene incompetence
  13. DLC: The time dilation device is a classic world destruction scenario…
  14. DLC: …made worse by its sudden inclusion without warning or foreshadowing or even payoff, leading to underthought
  15. DLC: One final screw you from the game as you’re leaving the DLC
  16. The game has a weird tendency to just ignore internal continuity (probably a bug)
  17. The Outros have… issues with consistency and tone and other problems…
  18. …leading to two negatives
  19. So the voice acting in this game is legitimately great, but… it’s terribly utilized and directed…
  20. …meaning multiple situations in which the characters just sound wrong for the scene or situation
  21. The game’s theme (tough choices) falls on its face, hard

Gameplay Positives:

  1. Character creation options are excellent, with tons to choose from and tons of clear good builds to start…
  2. …earning two positives
  3. The Intro has some good scripted encounters, some good tutorialization across the board for all the various mechanics and skills, and some good general flow and fun to it
  4. The music, when it’s there, is good
  5. There’s a huge amount of info in game, allowing for you to know what items, skills, perks, etc. do and often plan out your builds well in advance…
  6. …leading to two positives
  7. The HUD is reasonably well designed, lots of information quickly and readily displayed, with only a few minor niggles in what you’re looking at and how…
  8. …leading to two positives
  9. The at-a-glance in combat is quite good, with the indicators on where you can move at what AP costs, what enemies you can attack from what angles at what percentages, terrain that’s covered or isn’t, etc…
  10. …leading to two positives
  11. The terrain design is generally good. Height is usually the purview of the rare platform you can stand on, but there’s good spread of interactables, cover, destructible terrain, and movement flow, as well as usually alternate routes through an encounter zone…
  12. …leading to two positives
  13. The sound design is generally good
  14. The option to just sort of loot all and loot every corpse in an encounter after encounter is a nice QoL feature
  15. The save system is quite good, with multiple quicksave slots, decent autosave, and lots of manual saves…
  16. …earning two positives
  17. The game has, as per usual for a game of this type, lots of different choices which can permanently change your ‘route’ or lock you out of actions or otherwise, leading to good choice gameplay…
  18. …for two positives
  19. Most quests have multiple paths or options for how to resolve them…
  20. …which is good
  21. Most encounters have multiple options and routes through them (including not fighting at all)…
  22. …which is good
  23. The entire Prepare/Defend/Ambush system deserves its own mention for being a great way to use and/or conserve AP at the end of combat, adding to additional tactical choices in combat
  24. Some encounter design positives. One for everything in the Intro
  25. Quest design in general (optional)
  26. Quest design in general (mandatory)
  27. The AP economy is… reasonably well designed. There’s often overflow in AP usage, but the dynamic between movement and action is a good one
  28. Enemy Variety isn’t great. What they do accomplish well is having faction variety instead, where each faction has their own gimmicks you can (and should) work around
  29. The Kodiak is amazing. Customizable, and a great change to any encounter it’s allowed in, and also not allowed in every encounter, so the manual design thereof is just fun and a nice variety break
  30. Ammo is nicely itemized…
  31. …as is gear and loot in general, keeping you in the money but not too much or too little
  32. The acknowledgement of choices and multiple paths through the Denver Airport section are neat
  33. Periodic acknowledgement and gameplay benefit of having a higher fame meter
  34. Aspen is probably one of the better dungeons in the game, with multiple routes, alternate options, and clever encounters…
  35. …earning two positives
  36. The kit in this game is legitimately good, with perks and equipment abilities and a good variety of guns that operate differently…
  37. …earning a second positive
  38. Enemy AI is generally good about what it can do and when…
  39. …earning two positives
  40. The friendly AI is generally good
  41. The perks system is neat
  42. The game has generally good Build design in how you can set up your rangers
  43. Full campaign co-op…
  44. …earning two positives
  45. Resurrection and recoup mechanic is a good gradient way to penalize for failure
  46. Power Progression curve is generally well designed
  47. The game has built in replayability
  48. The game has some decent viscerality to its combat

Gameplay Negatives:

  1. Unskippable cutscenes
  2. The inability to save in combat is ‘okay’, but the recurring tendency to not autosave after a fight can lead to some screw ups
  3. The game’s frustrating lack of music for huge swaths of it is, as usual, an issue..
  4. …especially for a game this large, with huge, huge chunks of silence
  5. The game controls… weirdly. I’d almost call it bugged, it’s fine most of the time but if you mouse over too fast or try to do an action alongside another action, the HUD and controls act off
  6. There’s definitely some kind of memory leak issue, requiring semi frequent restarts…
  7. …and it’s a nice long game, too
  8. There’s a common tendency to essentially prevent you from getting a surprise round on a ‘dialogue’ enemy… worse, most of the time your attack triggers the dialogue, and then gives them a surprise round on you
  9. As per usual with games like this, it’s a bit too easy to accidentally permanently skip dialogue
  10. The camera is clunky and awkward to rotate, which would be fine if it wasn’t so necessary for several areas
  11. Lazy difficulty options (as usual…)
  12. The game is absolutely overtuned, with enemies having too much health and hitting too hard almost across the board…
  13. …earning a second negative for persistence of the issue
  14. DLC: The Steeltown DLC’s requirement of having to dump your animals sucks for several reasons, but the biggest by far is having to traipse all the way back to pick them up again…
  15. …also the party management is honestly pretty crap. The fact that you have to, manually, walk all the way back to town in order to do anything with your party or HQ is honestly just backtracking busy work
  16. DLC: The Steeltown DLC is honestly designed… off. On the one hand it feels very clearly balanced for endgame (being a DLC), on the other hand it scales (badly) and is designed to do relatively early (at level 11) so…
  17. The inventory is clunky to interact with in general, related to the…
  18. …interface issue wherein the game ‘lags’ a bit behind everything you do. Sometimes you go to make an action and it can’t or doesn’t, or the mouseover text doesn’t prompt quickly enough, and this is on top of having bad font scaling. All of this makes the interface just kind of irritating to navigate at all times
  19. There is definitely some backtracking across the overworld, and not the good kind
  20. Oh also the inventory has an issue with no search function and the filter being too limiting, making finding specific items a pain
  21. The respec option should be a positive, but ignoring some relatively minor issues, the real problem is just how ludicrously expensive it is (especially since it’s relatively easy to screw up a build, and the guest NPCs all suck)
  22. Also respeccing erases ‘permanent’ skill ups, which is just… awful
  23. The entire Gipper v. Commune arc is too forced and has too walkthroughy of an alternate path
  24. The ‘control bug’ where you have to save and restart the game to regain control of the game showed up too often
  25. The music that plays for combat, the remixed vocal tracks, are neat and all but entirely too short a loop for how long they play for
  26. There’s an odd but recurring issue where an animation has to finish playing before anything else can happen, causing a pretty severe seconds-in-minutes issue…
  27. …leading to…
  28. …three negatives
  29. The game in general has a weird tendency to penalize you for spending points before you know what you need, with options and paths entirely locked out unless you fulfill specific requirements (like requiring 10 stacks of a debuff and then permanently killing a party member to avoid a fight)
  30. DLC: The DLC loading bay encounter sucks. Lots of enemies (at least 3 encounters worth), all at the same time, while enemies infinitely respawn, while a too-short song plays on loop, all making for one really irritating, drawn out encounter…
  31. DLC: …earning two negatives
  32. DLC: The DLC has legitimately irritating enemies; Last Standers, guys who gain the Vengeance buff (which requires an animation, which pauses everything)
  33. DLC: There’s an excessive amount of railroading in the DLC
  34. DLC: Honestly all the encounters in the DLC are bad, so here’s a bonus negative for all of them…
  35. DLC: …times two
  36. DLC: Removing Markham giving negative rep to the Marshalls makes a bit of sense… making that negative a colossal -15 is insane in ways it’d take a while to type up (most gains to rep are +1, with only a couple +5’s)
  37. The game gets… weirdly railroady, especially towards the end
  38. The friendly AI can have serious issues at times, and of course is totally out of your control (which can seriously mess up what is at its core a tactical game)
  39. Too many encounters by the end of the game
  40. The Outro is ‘fine’, but ultimately dull, which drags it down a bit
  41. Several status effects cause raspberry jam which honestly is distracting as hell

Grounded

So, you really should play this with a group, this game is not designed for solo play. And the late game has some grind issues… and getting around is kinda dull… and despite all of that, this is one of the best survival games I’ve ever played. Hugely, hugely recommended.
Total Story Score: +11
Total Gameplay Score: +31
Golden Number: 107.81
Cheats: No
Total Play Time: 5 Days // 44.44 Hours
Time Reviewed: 11-5-2022

Spoiler Pluses and Minuses +

Story Positives:

  1. Voice Acting: VA in general
  2. Atmosphere: The game wonderfully gets across how horrifying and terrifying being in the yard really would be
  3. Sound Design: The aforementioned atmosphere is definitely helped by the sound design
  4. Brickwork: Excellent brickwork in general
  5. Visual Storytelling: Reasonable visual storytelling in general
  6. Doodads: Very, very well done doodad placement throughout…
  7. Doodads: …leading to two positives
  8. Plot: Dr. Losing His Mind and his slow descent is very well portrayed
  9. Visual Storytelling: Visual storytelling of Haze Maze… absolutely horrific
  10. Storytelling Mechanics: Audio logs really help sell the backstory
  11. MSQ: Under the toolshed dungeon is all kinds of messed up

Story Negatives:

Gameplay Positives:

  1. Difficulty Options: Lots of gradients and options…
  2. Difficulty Options: …earning two positives
  3. Difficulty Options: Also you can swap in on the fly
  4. Early Game: The game does a lot right in early game. Lots of options, direction, good initial guidance, well designed intro area, survival is a major but solvable issue, etc…
  5. Early Game: …earning two positives
  6. Mid Game: Mid game isn’t as great but it’s still good, with a nice smooth incline into the harder areas and enemy types
  7. Crafting Interface: The multiple interfaces for crafting have a few flaws but they’re still good
  8. Core Mechanic: The progression has some issues later on but it’s still good overall
  9. HUD: Informative, distinct, immediate
  10. Visual Distinction: During the day time a lot of effort is made making the areas, enemies, and resources visually distinct
  11. Overworld: Overworld design, general
  12. Overworld design, pond area
  13. Overworld design, starter area
  14. Overworld: Table area
  15. Overworld: Upper left
  16. Overworld: Upper right
  17. Flow: There’s a very natural flow from areas to areas, leading to and concluding with the upper yard
  18. Exploration: Tons of things to find… everywhere
  19. QoL: The ability to build from nearby chests
  20. Sound Design: You can literally tell what’s what simply by listening…
  21. Sound Design: …easily earning two positives
  22. Co-Op: The game, of course, has co-op…
  23. Co-Op: …and full campaign co-op
  24. QoL: QoL features (build components inside recipe, loot as visible, what you can build and have scanned indicators, customizable icon visibility across map with ranges) and more I haven’t even listed here, an honestly huge amount of QoL features…
  25. QoL: …earning two positives
  26. Core Mechanic: Building is, in general, fun to do
  27. Core Mechanic: Surviving is, in general, fun to do
  28. Core Mechanic: The entire Blueprint system is a great way to be able to plan out prior to and during construction
  29. Core Mechanic: Scanning is a great mechanic. It allows you to find a lot of things you need, track enemy locations, encourage exploration and finding radar nodes, and is just sort of great in general…
  30. Core Mechanic: …earning two positives
  31. Level: The Hedge dungeon
  32. Level: The ant mazes
  33. Level: Underwater base
  34. Boss: Assistant Manager boss fight!
  35. Boss: The MANT
  36. Boss: The Mantis superboss
  37. Bestiary: Decent in game info
  38. Enemy Variety: Decent enemy variety
  39. Intro: The Intro does a lot right immediately, as part of the Early Game
  40. Itemization: While not the best (some items just drop too rarely) there is still good overall itemization in what is placed where
  41. Visual Continuity: Generally speaking one can immediately tell where you are and where to go based just on looking up and around, with clear and distinct landmarks and the sun and even just the types of terrain…
  42. Visual Continuity: …earning two positives

Gameplay Negatives:

  1. Audio Spam: Audio spam is a serious problem when interacting with either large amounts of or the same type of enemy at a time
  2. Co-Op: Multiplayer woes (connecting and in game chat) combine for a negative
  3. Co-Op: Cutscenes and interactions for main plot are done by the first person who did them, do not share, and are not repeatable
  4. Info In Game: The total lack of indicator on what plugging the Haze will do, and the near total lack of benefit from doing so, honestly just feels like a cheap screw you
  5. Padding: Travel time is awful, which is combined with the next point
  6. Traversal: Getting around is just not fun. This is combined with the obvious problems with the only tool they give us; the Zipline, which A: can be interrupted by anything in the way, B: Must go downhill, C: Is quite expensive, and other issues I won’t recite here. Traversal sucks in this game…
  7. …earning it (technically) a third negative
  8. Late Game: End game grind isn’t TOO bad… except for the massive overturning in tier 3 stuff
  9. Visual Distinction: Night-time and lack of proper ability to move forwards time
  10. Outro: So the final battle is… a massive grindfest of an assault, where they give you a pittance of resources and you spend literal hours building up for a badly designed tower defense mission…
  11. Graphics: Depth of field woes