Analyzing Games the Aether Way

If you’ve read some of my older posts, you probably know that I just love to put too much thought to many of the games I play.  Explore the themes.  Read into the little features.  Even when the developers didn’t intend that to be there.  Especially when the developers didn’t intend that to be there.  You probably also know that I am an amazing human being, and every living human either desires me or desires to be me.  You wouldn’t think that would be related to my tendencies for over-analysis, but to be honest, I don’t know how I make my magic work, so it very well could be.

Maybe you want to be amazing just like me.  You shouldn’t.  You should want to be amazing in your own way.  But if that way involves analyzing video games and other creative works, maybe I can help you with that.  Let’s take a case study, and go over the sort of unconscious method I use to dig into the plots, the settings, the themes, the meanings, the hidden little features of things in a way that makes experiencing them so much more meaningful to me.

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To play along, I ask that you give Loved by Alex Ocias a go.  It’s a quick little platformer, minimalistic, not really heavy on the mind, but it has a lot of features that we’ll be able to apply the following lessons to.  So please, if you have 10 minutes to spare, give that a quick playthrough before continuing on with the rest of this post.

Anyways, let’s get going.  You want to analyze a game?  Here’s how I do it.

1: Understand Your Filters

We’re all on our own lives here.  Every single one of us has our own backgrounds, morals, beliefs, values, set of experiences, and whatnot.  Your family, your friends, your work, all of them will have their own, different cultures.  Every one of us has our own path through life, and have absorbed so many little unique bits into ourselves that make up a huge chunk of who we are today.  And that impacts the way we view our media.

Assuming most of us here are human adults, our brains don’t experience most things in a vacuum.  Rather, our brains will process stimulus by comparing it to what we’ve experienced in the past and basing it on that.  Our past experience color and change the way we have our current experiences.  We have lens.  Biases.  Filters.

Usually, this is not a bad thing.  These lens can become overpowering, to the point where you’re primed to see something based on almost no indication and you ignore the contrary and deeper points and you end up having big, dumb, easily refuted rants about the deeply offensive targeted political statements of Princess Tutu or something, but most of the time, they’re just a thing to be aware of.  They can be helpful to you, in fact, giving you an interesting and unique way of looking at the media you’re going through.  And these change with time as well, as we all go through life.  Our understanding of the world evolves, and with it, the way we enjoy our fiction.  To make the most use of them, however, you need to know what they are and where they’re coming from.  Knowing what you connect with and why, what’s going to make the most impact on you and how it gets there, is really the prime step in going for a deeper understanding.

So, in the case of Loved, it starts of strong with just its title.  For those of you who aren’t playing along, a) c’mon, seriously? and b) Loved is a simple platformer where the narrator is continuously putting you down and ordering you to do things which are commonly not in your best interest.  Obeying the narrator adds more details to the environment and gives the interactable objects distinct shapes, but leaves the world black and white.  Disobeying adds color to the world, but leaves things as indistinct squares.  There’s only two characters in the game, you and that narrator, and you’re given very little details on either.  Because of the title, you know it involves love of some sort, and it’s clearly an unbalanced sort of love, with the way the narrator treats you, but other than that, the specific impression of the relationship between the two, that all comes from you.  So who were they?  A romantic couple?  Parent and child?  Owner and pet?  The game gives little indication.  Your sense of their relationship is going to come from your filters.

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Reaching Out on Mobile Games

I’ve invested into my gaming computer, and although I’ll never be an overclocker, I still have a pretty good rig.  With the exclusion of the Virtual Boy, I’ve owned every one of Nintendo’s consoles and handhelds.  I have the machinery to play any Playstation game I want.  The lower section of my TV stand is an absolute mass of gaming equipment, with a web of power cables that put most spiders to shame.  And yet I’ve never owned a phone that I could play any significant games on.

It just never really mattered to me.  I use my cell phone to call, text, take pictures, and idly surf the internet.  If I’m going to get games, I’d rather use a console.  It’s been rare that I’ve felt the need to even download an app, outside of the ones that are tied to my job somehow, but I’ve got my second cell phone provided by my job to handle that and make my pockets less comfortable.

I’ve had this $20 phone I got years ago, and have been really happy with it.  My service provider, however, has not.  They’ve wanted me to upgrade.  I’ve held up, until lately when they’ve announced my old, reliable phone wouldn’t work on their new network, and offered a lot of credit towards an upgrade.

So now I have a nice phone.  That can run pretty much anything.  That I never really wanted, but ok.  Now, players have denounced mobile gaming as being a haven for ‘filthy casuals’, but they denounced the Wii for the same thing, and you know, I have tons of phenomenal games for the console.  So I’m figuring there’s some real gems in cell phone gaming as well.  But I’ve been completely blind to that sphere of the craft.  So I’m reaching out to you all.  Those of you who’ve been riding the cell phone curve farther ahead of me, what games have  you enjoyed on your phone?

Eyes on The Witcher

The Witcher’s become kind of a big name in games.  One of the prime examples when you think of Western RPGs.  It’s a little weird, looking at the first game in the series, and realizing nobody expected that game to be successful.

It makes sense.  A game by a developer that had never done a project from the ground up before that goes deep into the lore of the obscure Polish novel series it’s based on that has never had any presence in the greater market?  Yeah.  That’s not going far.

Except it did!  The first Witcher game is a lot of fun!  And more than that, you can tell it’s made with a lot of love.  A lot of love by people who don’t know perfectly what they’re doing, sure, but that care for the material just oozes out.  The creators are obviously big Witcher nerds.  And more than anything else, they wanted to deliver the feeling of being the Witcher in the Witcher’s world to you.  And it makes for a good time doing so.

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So, to get this going, in this game, you are Geralt, the titular Witcher.  The game takes place shortly after the final novel in the series, in which Geralt, total badass that he is, got killed like a chump by some random farmer with a pitchfork.  Makes things a little awkward that he’s up and walking around here.  It’s awkward for the people in-universe too.  Geralt did, explicitly die there.  Then he came back to life, sans his memory.  This is a plot point.

And there, you come in.  Yeah, typical “amnesiac hero so we have an excuse to explain all the stuff to the newbies” thing, but it feels more natural here than it does in a lot of other properties.  I think the amnesia was better implemented throughout.  You are Geralt.  As a Witcher, your job is to find monsters and witch them.  Usually, there’s people who will pay you to witch specific monsters.  Sometimes, you have to witch people too, in pursuit of your goals, but never for pay.  Also, you get to carry three swords.  At the same time!

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The game’s definitely a lot more plot- and setting- based than it is combat based.  Not that there’s not plenty of combat, it’s just not where the focus is.  It wants you to feel the world of the Witcher.  Which isn’t a happy place to be.  I don’t think it goes full out dark fantasy, but man-eating monsters are a very common occurrence there, people are horrible to each other, and everyone’s survived several different wars in their lifetimes just to get to this point.  The most common enemies you face are either creatures that feed on the dead or are the risen dead themselves.  You spend more time in the grungy underbelly of the host city than any place nice, and even the nice places aren’t that great.   It’s largely typical medieval fantasy, but it’s really interesting to see it from a different perspective, filled to the brim with classic Polish folklore and beasties.  The novels originally were pretty significant for taking the classic fairy tales and giving them dark twists.  They’ve moved well beyond that, and you don’t see those elements directly in this game, but that’ll give you an idea of the level this is on.  I feel like the big strengths of the Witcher’s setting as a whole lie in its subtleties.  It’s not a big super-unique fantasy setting, but it does have some twists on it that show how much thought went into these things.  And it’s kind of neat how much of that world building got carted into this game without being super explicit about it.  I played this game before I ever read any of the books, and it never felt like I was missing out, but now that I’ve read a couple, it interesting to see the little bits they imported without ever bringing real attention to it.  Like, in the novels, the only women that ever wear their hair down are royalty, prostitutes, or sorceresses, all women who are in control of their own occupations and lives.  The game never calls direct attention to it, but they still bring that feature right over.

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The plot is… it’s interesting.  It has some depth to it, although it can be rather simple in points, but it does go in some interesting directions.  It only carries over a handful of characters and one major faction from the novels, but the style of tale it tells fits in with the original stories fairly well.  It is a bit stop and start, though.  Part of that is natural, coming from trying to carry an involved plotline in a somewhat sandbox world, while the rest is just from the plot and game structure not quite matching up.  The Act structure often brings things to a rather abrupt stop and shift, often when the transition is unexpected.  I lost out on both the best weapons in the game because the Act I was in ended without warning before I had all the sidequests I wanted to do done.  In any case, you’ll have long moments of moving slowly, before everything gets moving at a good clip once again.  I won’t call it persistent pacing problems, because it’s always at the player’s control, but you may not always elect to move through the lines as fast as you’d otherwise like.  In any case, it’s a decently ambitious plot, but the Witcher was obviously designed with gameplay progression in mind first, and story delivery second.  Still, it is multi-faceted enough to hold your interest when the plot does arise.  It plays really nicely with Geralt’s amnesia, in a way a lot of games ignore.  By that to mean, it actually addresses it more than twice.  Geralt has explicitly lost things in losing his memory, both becoming more gullible as he doesn’t have his experiences to draw back on, as well as losing track of who he is and his place in the world.  He has multiple conversations with old friends trying to figure out the role of witchers in this world that might be moving past them, and there’s some times where he has to recreate his personality and choose who he wants to be going forward.

Outside of wandering around and talking your way through situations, most of the gameplay comes through combat.  The combat engine here is really interesting to me.  It’s similar to the Dragon Age games, where all the action you’re seeing on screen are really just visual representations of a bunch of dice rolls going on behind the scenes, and a visual representation that doesn’t always match what’s actually going on.  You’ll see Geralt making some total acrobatic moves on his enemies, completely stun-locking them so they can’t even move, and his HP will still be chipping down bit by bit.

So yeah, the combat engine is interesting, here.  There’s not a lot of performance-based stuff you can do.  Essentially, once you’re in combat, there’s not a lot of choices you can make, and your skills won’t make much of a difference.  You get up to a five-hit combo with proper timing, but the timing is very easy to pull off, to the point that when you’re far enough into the game that enemies start presenting a challenge, you can get the full combo almost by rote.  You can switch styles at a whim, but in almost every situation, there’s a clear ‘best’ style to use, so you don’t get much utility out of that.  You do have some status-inducing bombs you can use to really change the tide of battle and a few spells you can mix up in combat, but other than that and your choices of target prioritization, all the other things you ‘could’ do to affect the outcome of battle take too long to have a meaningful effect. The core of the combat gameplay is going to play out as it plays out once you start the fight, and there’s not a whole lot you can do about it.

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That’s because the big meat of the combat engine is in preparation.  You may not be able to do much to change the result of a combat encounter after you start the fight, but you’ve got a huge amount of things you can do before it.  From the start, you carry at least two swords, one steel for humans and one silver for monsters (both are for monsters), each of which can be forged and reforged with a variety of buffs and effects.  Each of those swords has three styles, one for heavily armored enemies, one for evasive enemies, and one for groups, that get different moves and effects depending on the choices you make as you level up.  And then you get a huge array of potions and blade oils to add additional temporary effects to you and your weapons.  You can’t just take an unlimited amount of potions, those things are somewhat toxic, and as you take more than a handful Geralt starts feeling the sting from them, so figuring out the most effective combination of the limited amount of potions you can take is vital for success.  The game is really big on having you do the in-universe research on the monsters and situations you’ll encounter and figuring out what you’ll need to counter them.  You have to find books.  Knowing about the monsters clues you into what they’re weak to, what swords and styles are best for them, and gives you extra ingredients for making your concoctions.  Books also contain the recipes for your potions, blade oils, and bombs which prove so vital, and enable you to gather alchemical ingredients in the wild.  The in-combat gameplay is very simple, but the mental work before it is anything but, which lends to a really interesting take on the typical RPG sword and claw business.

I guess I should also talk about one of the more famous/infamous parts of this game.  So, there’s porn in it.  Not like, hardcore porn or anything, but, well, Geralt has a lot of sex.  It’s pretty integral to the lore, a chaste Geralt would be like a virgin James Bond.  In this game, when you have sex with someone, you’re treated to a really tame kissy kissy fade out like you’d see most every other time something like this pops up.  And then you get a beautifully hand-drawn picture popping up that shows you what the character looks like naked.  It’s not an omnipresent thing or anything, and, with a few notable exceptions, you can ignore the sex scenes without missing out on plot or in-game rewards, but this is before the age of bathtub Geralt, so the sexual appeal is pretty one sided.  I’m a pretty sexually open person, so getting to know what a bunch of fictional people’s breasts look like doesn’t bother me at all, but if it’s not to your taste, I can’t fault you at all for not wanting it in your video games.

Overall, the Witcher does show a lot of signs of being a freshman game.  Designed pursuing the ideal over execution, the untempered ambition of the piece, and a fair bit of jankiness that experience probably ironed out of the later ones.  For all it’s flaws, it’s a really good game.  It delivers a unique experience, and it’s totally accessible yet becomes even deeper on repeat playthroughs and after having read the books.  It’s grown a little dated, but the game was solid enough to launch a very well regarded franchise and position its company well enough to put together the closest thing Steam has to a competitor.  I enjoyed my time with it, and I look forward to jumping into future games in the series.

Ninja Gaiden

You remember those parts in the original Castlevania, where you had Medusa Heads flying at you from all over the place, spawning endlessly, all of them seeking not to wear down your life bar but to knock you into an instant death pit for the cheapest, most frustrating failure?  Did you love it?  No?  That was your least favorite part of the game?  It really didn’t make you feel good?  Well, the makers of the NES Ninja Gaiden think you love that.  In fact, they’ve developed a whole game around that mechanic.

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Ninja Gaiden hates your controllers, and it wants to make you break them all over your knee.  It was made by taking some absolute horseshit, distilling it into its most pure form, inscribing some coding onto it, and compressing it into an NES cartridge.  Ninja Gaiden despises you personally, and it wants to do everything in its power to make you feel like a worthless piece of scum.  This game thinks fair play is for the weak, and the weak are not worthy of stepping foot into these halls.  This game is hard, and not hard in the way something like Dark Souls is, where it’s actually intended for a human being to be able to beat it.

I beat it earlier this week.  And that feels glorious.

Ninja Gaiden is actually an excellent game, as long as you’re the type of player that enjoys staring down the most blatantly unfair obstacles and keeping at it until they blink.  Mechanically, it plays like a faster-paced classic Castlevania with a more maneuverable protagonist.  Enemies are constantly surging onto the screen, but anything short of a boss can be slain in a single hit, and those you can’t cut down, Ryu’s got the speed and the leaping ability to avoid.  You’re given a selection of sub-weapons that extend your attack range beyond just simple sword strikes.  It has a pretty heavy emphasis on platforming, all the while enemies are charging at you or launching projectiles.

And this game made some real achievements.  It was really advanced for its day, in a lot of ways.  For one, look at it.

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Just look at it.

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The game is gorgeous.  Way more detailed than you’d expect for most games on the NES.  They use the limited color palette very well, and it makes for some very striking visuals.

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Ninja Gaiden is also notable for being one of the first games made to implement cutscenes.  This enabled it to tell a story well beyond what you’d normally find in a game of it’s day.  Granted, it’s not exactly recreating the works of Shakespeare here, but you actually get a decently complex plot out of it, with twists every act, betrayals, murders, surprises, deadenings and re-deadenings, and the super tough ninja Ryu turning out to actually be pretty dumb a lot.

Have I made the point that this game is good?  Because I want that in place before I get into all the ways it delivers its complete bullhonky to you.

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I really enjoyed my time with Ninja Gaiden, but if you’re going to do the same, you’ll need to embrace that part of yourself that enjoys facing down things doing their utmost to ruin you and overcoming them.  Playing this game is like riding the bull, in that you’re finding yourself on top of something that’s focusing the totality of its being into throwing you off and running you through.  I said earlier Ryu can slay most any enemy in a single hit.  The game is designed around that.  Most of its enemies, it doesn’t even make them that hard to hit.  Instead, it seeks to overwhelm you with their sheer quantity, and have them come from multiple directions.  One guy in front of you isn’t so bad.  But when you’ve got one guy slowly making his way at you from one direction, another charging from behind, a third chucking axes at your from a distance, and a bird dive-bombing you, all at the same time, it gets a little more complicated.  And you’d better get used to that.

Because enemy spawning in this game is absolutely brutal.  Every enemy has its spawn point.  Cross a certain part of the stage, and bam!, they’re in your face.  And the enemies in this game are good at keeping the pressure on.  Might be that you need to back up a little to get the space to deal with them.  If you go even a pixel beyond their spawn point though, they’ll be right back as soon as you cross over it again.  Hell, if you kill them while standing on their spawn point, they will immediately pop back up and charge right back at you again.  When their spawn point is at the edge of a gap you need to leap over, that gets to be a problem.

For that matter, you know that comparison to Castlevania’s Medusa Heads here?  Yeah.  Nearly every gap has something on the other side prepped to knock you back into it.  If you play anything like I do, you’ll be losing far more to getting knocked back into a pit than you will to losing your health.  That is a frequent challenge.  Frankly, every time you see a gap, you have to wonder where the enemy is going to spawn while you’re mid jump to try and shove you back into the pit.

And sometimes it gets into straight “Screw You” territory.  One of the things that makes this game work is that it’s actually really generous with it’s check points.  Lose a life, and it only takes you back to the last stage transition you had.  Lose a life to a boss, and it’ll knock you back to the previous stage transition.  Lose all your lives, and you continue on from the start of the stage.  You’re not limited on how many continues you can have.  Each level has 3 or 4 stages, so that’ll usually have you in pretty good position to continue.  Until you get to the final boss gauntlet.  Three bosses in a row, all of which require you to learn their mechanics and patterns a lot more than any other in the game, and if you lose a single life to any of them, you’re knocked back a full three stages.  For no reason whatsoever.  This is especially ridiculous considering that as you’re playing your way back through them, there’s checkpoints inside of that span.  I swear, the endgame benefits so much from having savestates.

And you know what?  That’s all fun.  It’s fun.  I had a great time.  And I get to feel super proud and smug for having beat it.  The game tried to break me, but I am harder than it is.

Doing the Bad Ending Well: Red Dead Redemption

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The second game to fall before the might of The Quest happens to be Red Dead Redemption, Rockstar’s 2010 mix of Grand Theft Auto gameplay and the Western genre.  This game’s pretty well known, so if you’re looking for an opinion piece on it, that ground’s already covered.  If you want the Aether take in particular, I didn’t like it that much.  Even when I was in the mood for a good rooty tooty point and shooty, I found this wide open sandbox to be full of things to do but very little that was worth doing.  But that’s not why I’m here today.  I want to talk about one of the parts of the game that I did like, the ending.  And I want to talk about why I like it.  Because that’s a weird space for me.  The ending to Red Dead Redemption does a few things that I normally absolutely despise when video game endings do it, but they work for me here.  Let’s explore why that is.

Suffice to say, I am going to spoil the hell out of Red Dead Redemption’s ending.  If you haven’t beaten the game yet and you’d still like to, I wouldn’t click that ‘Read More’ button.

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Demon’s Souls

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Moving into the next stage of my quest to defeat all the games I own, I knew the first game I conquered had to be a statement piece. Something that would make all the other games of this generation, who had been previously watching from the sidelines, quake in fear knowing the unstoppable domination that was coming for them. It was very purposeful that the first game of this generation I chose to target was perhaps the harbinger of a wave of pointedly very difficult games, Demon’s Souls.

I did a bit of research online before diving into this game. From what I understood, the goal of this game was to ‘git gud’. Every single challenge everyone brought up was met with the command from other players to simply git more gud. So by my understanding, as you defeat the challenges throughout the game, you collect more and more gud, and once you collect enough of this ‘gud’, the magic governing this world then transforms your player character into an amazing asshole that posts on the internet without providing anything of value.

Hmm… maybe I’m halfway there already.

Luckily, playing the game, I found that the internet has a very different understanding of the game than what it actually has to offer.

Demon’s Souls is Dark Souls’ somewhat less cool older brother. I love the Souls series’ design philosophy, the idea of building a huge challenge, but having it all centered around the idea that no matter how skilled a player they are, with enough preparation, practice, and patience, anyone can beat any challenge therein. That’s absolutely interesting to me. Things are absolutely tough in Demon’s Souls. At no point is success a given, and there are always true threats available. But everything is made to be overcome. Things are hard, but never overwhelming.

Demon’s Souls also carries with it a very interesting variation in combat design too, one that did carry over to later games. In nearly every combat oriented game out there, offense is key. In most games, your main advantage over AI characters is not that you’re better equipped or innately stronger than they are, although that is often true. It’s that you’re more aggressive than they are. You will launch more attacks per unit of time as one person than they will as a whole horde. You will attack while dodging. You will attack while navigating obstacles. You will attack while maneuvering between cover. You will attack when you wake up, when you eat your breakfast, when you brush your teeth, when you go to work, and every single moment throughout your day, your attacks are key.

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Now Playing: Mission Complete

If I’m going to do this, I need to commit to just doing this.  While I’ve got the time here, let’s get at least one real post down.  One thing that happened over my little hiatus here, I have successfully conquered the next stage in my little quest here. For those who don’t remember, I have been on a quest to beat all the games I own, grouped by console generation. For more than half a decade, I’ve been working my way through the PS2/Xbox OG/Gamecube era. Lots of games in my collection. Many of which take 40 hours plus to conquer. And I have finally, after a lot of blood, sweat, and tears, done it. This is a big moment for me. And in celebration of it, let’s take a look back at the games I have conquered since my last check in on the topic.

X-Men Legends

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I said last time that I hadn’t played this long enough to have a solid opinion of it. I’ve beaten the game now, and that’s still true. I remember having a mostly enjoyable if occasionally frustrating time with it, but it really doesn’t leave much of an impression. Back when it was new, I remember hearing a lot of word of mouth about this game, but I guess it just hasn’t really aged well.

It does have what I’m now recognizing as a level of jank that was common with a lot of multi-platform releases of its day. Graphics a little muddy and unclear, controls a little simplified and sloppy in a very familiar way, loading a harsh and sudden stop to gameplay. It’s like these game have to take all the minor flaws of every console they’re on and port them to the others to make a game that works on all three. That one of the things I’m most glad the industry overcame in the following generation.

Valkyrie Profile 2

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I have to confess, I didn’t beat this one. This game beat me. 20-30 hours in, after getting through the slow parts of the game and reaching the point where it really kicks things into high gear again, Valkyrie Profile 2 goes through a pretty serious difficulty spike, and I ran into a boss fight I just couldn’t overcome. With the right moves, the bosses were one-shotting me. After too long of trying, I had to put this back on the shelf. Which is a pretty similar story to what I faced with the first Valkyrie Profile earlier on in this quest, come to think of it.

I feel the game’s combat system is a little too ambitious for its own good. It’s definitely unique, planting you on a 3d field where enemies only move when you do, you can see their areas of attacks in advance, and your goal is to get close enough to make a strike of your own while weaving through their danger zones. But there were too many parts working against each other for this to come through. Stages were a bit overcomplicated, which made navigating this system a pain, and the fact that your companions could both trigger attacks and weren’t entirely controllable by you was absolutely ridiculous. So many times, someone on my party wouldn’t follow through on my dash, start walking towards the rest of the group, and get every caught in an AOE attack they triggered. The system ended up being more frustrating than deep.

Psychonauts

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It’s a creative game, I’ll give it that. But I’ve noticed that if a game doesn’t control well, I’m not going to enjoy it. And Psychonauts is a pain to navigate.

It was worth going through to see all the interesting ideas they crammed in there. Their design really had a lot behind it. The worlds were absolutely interesting, and they threw some really off the wall ideas in that I delighted in experiencing. I can’t say I was really having fun with it, though. The game never felt quite comfortable to move around in, and there were several times where I tried something to get past an obstacle, failed horribly and decided that wasn’t the solution, only to look at a walkthrough later and find out that was the correct thing to do, it just didn’t work for reasons that weren’t really apparent to me. Wasn’t a fun way to get through the game.

Metroid Prime 2 Echoes

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Used to be, I didn’t like this game. I know, they named the planet after me, but flattery only gets you so far. It’s funny how much just changing my playstyle with it made a difference.

It’s an odd problem you’ll find every now and then, where the optimal way of playing a game is the most boring way of playing. If you follow along with that, the pace of the game completely grinds to a halt when you reach Dark Aether, where the best play is to avoid the damaging environmental areas and spend big chunks of time in the healing safe zones. That’s how I played last time, and ended up with a miserable time for it. This time around, I decided to be a bit more aggressive, not play it so safe, and the pacing ended up a lot better off for it.

It’s still probably my least favorite Metroid Prime game, but that’s because the series is just really, really good. Played right, it’s a pretty good game on its own. I learned from Red Metal that this game was rushed through in a crazy short amount of time. It’s miraculous how little you seem to see of that; it feels as complete an experience as anything else you’ll find.

Beyond Good and Evil

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Beyond Good and Evil is a really interesting game to me. A frequent complaint about it is how short it is. I think it’s as good as it is because it’s so short. Stretching the game out further would make it worse.

Beyond Good and Evil is a very creative game, but you can tell it didn’t have the budget it needed to fully realize those ideas it was bringing. It’s full of gameplay that isn’t exactly well executed, but comes alongside features to help mitigate it. The combat isn’t exactly well developed, so they keep it up front early on when things are simple, then move it more and more to the background as things get more complicated. Piloting and hovercraft combat aren’t super precise, so they keep the world concise, give you lock-on features so you don’t need that precision, and have several upgrades shake up the system so you don’t stick with the same frustrations long enough for them to burn. The plot is really bad, so they just ignore it for most of the… ok, never mind that last one. In any case, if it were any longer, the flaws of their limited gameplay would shine through, and it’d feel worse. As is, they always presenting new and fresh ideas, there’s a lot of variety in what you’re coming across, and you’re always have to think in new ways. I’ll take a short game that always feels fresh well over a long one that just drags on.

Level design is really top notch here. The stealth system works pretty well, too, once you get used to how it functions. The game is really at it’s best when it’s having you sneak into hostile territory, navigating your way safely through complex obstacles and avoiding detection from enemy forces. It actually loses intensity and excitement when it gets you into the fight scenes.

Metal Gear Solid 3: Snaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaake Eaaaaateeeeeeeeeeeeerrrrrrrrrrrrrrr

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I was shocked to look back over my save files, and find that I only played this game once, over ten years ago. This game made such an impact on me. I clearly remembered the order of events, quotes, plot happenings, characters, so much of it has a strong hold on my memory. I can remember it so clearly that I would never have guessed I’ve only been through it once. I guess it’s a testament to how well-presented it is, that it’s gained so much adamance.

Anyways, you know this game already. It has gained a lot of market share in the gaming sphere, and it’s well-deserved. This is one of those momentous games, one of the ones that hits it right on nearly every cylinder.

Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean

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This used to be my favorite game. I’ve beat it a bunch already, although the last time was a few years ago. Coming back to it this time around did give me a different perspective on it, though, which is really why I’m doing this whole quest in the first place.

Frankly, the game hasn’t aged well. Or maybe I’ve aged beyond it. The normal gameplay is still great. The deck-building, card-based combos, getting things to the point you can reliably double or beyond your damage by stringing the right numbers together, it feels so, so satisfying. But the slow-paced, turnbased system really drug it out of me. And I used to be enamored by the plot, and the characters. While they still definitely have their moments, I feel the years since have raised the storytelling standards of videogames, and Baten Kaitos is merely average, now.

Still, though, I enjoyed this a lot more than I did many of the other JRPGs of the time. Which is really saying something. Time has revealed a few more flaws, but it really is a gem.

Shadow of the Colossus

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The player sphere speaks of this game as if it’s a masterpiece. And make no mistake, it is. That may give you the impression that this is a flawless game. It’s not. Far from it. But that’s not the point. This is a game that, flaws and all, is still an utterly amazing experience.

You see this game pop up all the time when people talk about games to introduce non-players to the medium. Which is a big mistake to me. I mean, walk before you run. If you’re looking for an example of ludic storytelling, of a game that uses the unique features of being a game to bring you into a story and to explore it from all facets, there are none better than this. And it doesn’t require the twitch reflexes many others do that often serve as a barrier to completing a story. But it does require a level of coordination and at times, an understanding of video game logic that I don’t think someone unfamiliar with the medium will be able to muster.

I imagine it’s a very different experience after your first time through. More of the challenge of the game was in figuring out how to damage the colossi, which often relied on rather inconsistent mechanics, than it was in actually doing the deed. Playing the game already knowing how to do that with all of them, that would change things quite a bit.