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Played in 2023
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i wish i liked signalis more. but i feel like a lot of the enjoyment i got from it was just from it being in a genre i love, which is only recently getting a resurgence, and not from the choices the game actually makes.
the game is inspired by a lot of fantastic media. resident evil (the remake of 1 in particular), silent hill (mostly 1 and 2), evangelion, the shining, lovecraft, and more. i can tell because it won't shut up about it. i'm not opposed to wearing your inspirations on your sleeve, but this game does it so blatantly and so frequently that it distracts me from the game i'm supposed to be playing and enjoying, and makes me thinks of other things i like better instead. yes, signalis, i remember the part in resident evil where jill plays moonlight sonata on a piano to open a secret passage. that was a cool moment. you aren't recapturing that by putting a piano in one of the save rooms and playing moonlight sonata in the background, because it's not tied to anything, it has no relevance, you're not doing a new twist on it. you're just making a reference to a game you like. yes, signalis, i recognize the carpet from the shining. yes, signalis, i remember angela from silent hill 2. yes, signalis, i've seen end of evangelion. can we make our own thing now? the worst of it is the blatant, absolutely shameless lifting of an entire major area from silent hill, taking its mechanical gimmick, its aesthetic, and even its name. the game even has the nerve to recycle an entire major plot moment from SH2 in that area. there is a line between "cute reference" and "borderline plagiarism" and signalis crosses it.
signalis strikes me as a game made by people who like a lot of things, but don't understand why they like the things they like. they like the resident evil remake, a game where some downed enemies will eventually get back up unless their bodies are burned, and need to be killed again in a stronger form. but they wanted to one-up that mechanic, so now EVERY enemy gets up unless burned, infinite times, which discourages combat too much. stealth quickly becomes the dominant strategy, slowing the pace of the game down and leading to the player stockpiling way too much ammo and healing. by the time i reached the final boss, my item box was stuffed with dozens of healing items and bullets for every gun, and i'd never touched any of those guns aside from the pistol, and maybe the shotgun once or twice. it's not that the game is too easy once you've figured it out, it's that it's too easy to figure out. enemy encounters should be as much of a puzzle as any door code or wall safe combination.
maybe the biggest offender is the save system. resident evil requires you to spend an ink ribbon to save for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is pacing. in a game where every bullet/healing item is precious, the player is gonna wanna save often to lock in their progress. by tying your ability to save to a resource, the game keeps you from ducking into a save room every 30 seconds and slowing the game to a crawl. it also means that if you wanna savescum to try a room over and over until you can do it without spending bullets or healing, then it'll at least cost you a save ribbon, probably two since you're gonna wanna save again after your perfect run. it's another thing the designer has to balance, but the effort is worth it.
signalis takes the easy way out and allows infinite free saves. so if you wanna play safe, which you SHOULD because that's the name of the game, then you'll shatter the game's pacing by saving after every single room clear. you'll savescum rooms over and over until you get by without taking a hit, then you'll save again, and it won't cost you anything. call that exploitative if you want, but we already had a mechanic that stopped players from playing this way nearly 30 years ago in the original resident evil for ps1, and signalis fails to learn from that despite constantly referencing that game. even the resident evil 2 remake, which had free saving, still had a hardcore mode which brought back the ink ribbons. i wish signalis' hard mode did the same, instead of just lazily increasing enemy health and damage.
also, for god's sake, why do the defensive items take up an item slot? and why can't i have a stun rod and the flashlight equipped at the same time? REmake doesn't make you give up an item slot to carry a taser, and silent hill doesn't bar you from using melee weapons if you have your flashlight out. this is just a stupid, misguided attempt to make inventory management more intense, when what it actually does is make stun rods worthless to carry around, force you to run back to the item box every time you wanna go through a dark room, and make the theoretically cool in-game screenshot item a waste of time and inventory space.
the story is fine, but it takes a lot of skill to pull off this sort of lain-esque, stream of consciousness, highly interpretive storytelling, and i don't think signalis sticks the landing. there's only one Serial Experiments Lain, and that's for good reason. i'm not sure even david lynch could put "Image Intentionally Left Blank" where a cutscene would normally go and make it work. i understand the story fine, but it's trying way too hard with its presentation. simple in-engine sequences would be much more effective than the 15 different styles of cutscene this game cycles through, especially the amateurish-looking anime ones that are way too clean and pretty for such a grungy, rusty, bloody game. though i suppose i haven't seen many games before which have such explicit lesbian overtones. depending on who you are, that element might hit hard.
if i weren't such a junkie for Scary Hallway Logistics Simulators, i'd probably be more down on this game. when i actually think about it, so much bad comes to mind. but even if it's fucked up, inferior resident evil, it's still resident evil, which i'll never stop finding fun. and given this game was made almost entirely by just two people, it's a monumental achievement. i just wish it were a better game.
everyone praises hollow knight for its sheer amount of content, but that strikes me as backward. the biggest issue with hollow knight by far is pacing. put simply, the game is too long. way, way too long. let me put it this way: super metroid has about 14 core power-ups which are necessary to complete the game without sequence breaks, and that game is about 8 hours long. hollow knight has about 6 necessary power-ups, and it's about 25 hours minimum. in other words, in super metroid, you're getting a meaningful upgrade on average every 30 minutes to an hour, whereas in hollow knight, it's every 4+ hours.
in a genre centered around exploration, you need that exploration to feel rewarding. most of the time, you can get away with small rewards, like missile packs in super metroid. but the player needs to feel as though scouring areas will lead to meaningful progress, or at least incremental boosts in power that add up over the course of those areas (an individual missile pack isn't much, but 3 of them from one area is great). in hollow knight, you go massive stretches of time with nothing. even the filler stuff, equivalent to missile packs, is usually pointless. money mostly unlocks benches and fast travel points, so you could remove those fees and just remove money as a mechanic and the game would hardly change. lots of stuff you find is also only used to trade in for more money. most of the equippable charms are useless, so those are a bust. grubs also mostly only get you money, the big rewards only coming in increments of grubs rescued, and most of those big rewards are also useless (because a lot of them are also just money). at absolute best, you find weapon upgrade materials or health upgrades, which are so rare as to, again, be stretched extremely thin across the game. all this results in hours of wandering around, finding new places and seeing new things, but nevertheless feeling like you've gotten nothing done.
the game world is too big. WAY too big. ludicrously big. there is no reason for it to be this big. i expect backtracking in a metroidvania, but this is way over the line. if i know where i'm going and how to get there, it should not take 20 minutes to do so, plain and simple. this isn't helped by the controls being built for snappy, precise boss combat rather than exploration. in super metroid, you can fling samus slingshot-style with crazy momentum, use cool walljump tricks to get places faster, cool skill-based movement tricks like that. because the game is built for speed and navigation first and foremost, not combat. in hollow knight, you slowly plod along at a mild jog, no run button or anything. you have a dash, but it's short, and you have to spam it if you wanna get places. you have one powerup which is like the shinespark from metroid, but you have to stand in place and charge it, and it can only go left or right in a straight line. whereas shinesparks could go in 8 directions, be used anywhere so long as you built up the speed, and even be stored for a short time. because hollow knight is a game made by people who thought they wanted to make a metroidvania, when what they actually wanted to make was a boss rush hack and slash, so they built a boss rush hack and slash character and stuffed it into a world three times bigger than even fast fuck samus would know what to do with. complete mismatch. no wonder all the major expansion content was boss rush content.
the map system is also bizarre and bad. i'm glad they tried something interesting with it, but it sucks. not getting to lock in any of my progress in charting out an area until i've found a special NPC in each one contributes massively to the feeling of non-progress. and why in god's name do i need to equip a charm to have my position pinpointed on the map? why do i have to spend a valuable charm slot on a basic feature like that? it feels like they were trying so hard to shake up the map system and make it something interesting that they forced themselves to try and fix what wasn't broken.
the combat is simple but fun. the platforming challenges are satisfying. the aesthetics are generally beautiful, though a bit too samey. there is something here. clearly a lot of passion and talent went into this game, and i don't recommend against playing it or anything like that. but it's fundamentally and deeply misguided. the aesthetics, atmosphere, and bosses are compensating hard for basically everything else being bad and ill-considered. hopefully silksong makes serious changes.
fun game that's horribly shackled by trying to be too many things at once. when you actually get to sit down and fight bosses, the thing the game was obviously designed around, it's very enjoyable. but most of the time, you're playing Dollar Store Tenchu, cheesing encounters and minibosses with the game's broken awful stealth system.
as an action game, it lacks the sort of depth, clarity, and consistency that makes games like DMC and Bayonetta great. it's fun and rewarding to conquer bosses most of the time, but things like there being only one universal indicator for three different types of attacks with mutually exclusive counters mean hits can feel cheap. you either play aggressive like the game wants you to and accept that sometimes you'll take random hits off the enemy's erratic, poorly telegraphed attacks, or pigeonhole yourself into an excessively defensive and boring playstyle where you constantly pass up easy damage because there's a 5% chance they cancel their recovery frames into a highly punishing combo.
encounters are far too "question and answer." the solution to animal bosses isn't to form a strategy around their attacks and properties to get the edge. the solution to animal bosses is the firecrackers, because animals are weak to firecrackers and lose a ton of posture from them. the solution to the Snake Eyes minibosses isn't skill, it's picking up sabimaru, because they're weak to sabimaru's poison and get stunlocked by the blade instantly. the solution to the mega hard optional endgame boss isn't mastery of the mechanics, it's the max whistle upgrade that stunlocks it for lore reasons. these types of easy solutions make sense in the (early) souls games, where action is much less of a focus compared to exploration and outwitting opponents, but in a game closer to Ninja Gaiden than Demon's Souls, it sucks.
and what's worse is, it's not even consistent. the game will hype up the spear, emphasize over and over that it strips armor from enemies, give you the spear, and then put you up against an enemy literally called Armored Warrior who can't take health damage because he's covered in iron. the solution? not the spear. the spear can't do anything to him, because that's not the "answer" to his fight. if anything, the axe is better against him, a weapon advertised for its use against WOODEN shields (and obnoxiously, the only real way to deal with said wooden shields). and once that happens, you're never gonna trust that any weapon does what it says, or want to experiment with anything. the spear IS effective against one of the hardest bosses in the game though, if you parry one specific attack, then use the spear while the boss is knocked down, for some reason. despite that boss not being armored in any way. and that's not even getting into the hyper-specific lightning reversal move, useful in exactly three fights, one of which is basically a cutscene boss where you can't fail the reversal, and the other two have one lightning move each.
Sekiro is fun, but it doesn't excel at anything it tries, and oftentimes outright fails at things it tries. if you want an over the top boss rush swordfight game, play Furi. if you want a ninja stealth game, play Tenchu. if you want a ninja action game, play Ninja Gaiden. if you want an exploration game in a big interconnected world, play Dark Souls.