Thief: The Dark Project is a really interesting case for me.
On one hand, it offers one of the most thoughtful and well designed stealth experiences the medium has to offer, completely putting most other takes on the genre to shame nearly thirty years later. This is something particularly shocking to me, considering Thief apparently wasn't even supposed to be a stealth game for most of its development.
And... it kind of shows. The full blown supernatural levels of Thief are the biggest sticking point for a lot of people, me included. Levels like the infamous Down in the Bonehoard are very interesting conceptually, but in practice feel mechanically incongruent an a way that can really drag down the overall experience for me. It's safe to say I don't really like these levels, but the way they work in tandem with Thief's overall tone is so well executed that I could never see myself ever outright disliking them.
Thief is extremely dark, brooding, and aggressively late 90's. And when I say that, I mean in the most sincere and endearing way possible. Stuff like the opening cutscene and Stephen Russel's portrayal of Garrett have this angst to them that does an outstanding job at setting the mood for the rest of the game. That combined with the fascinating setting and killer ambient tracks elevate this game to something that me and many others will look back on fondly for more than just it's revolutionary take on the stealth genre.
When Thief puts its best foot forward, it strikes me as one of the most immersive and standout games that I've played this year, but it doesn't really play things straightforward. A decision that despite being for better or worse, resulted in a game that was able to steal my heart in spite of it all.
In a lot of circles, Trails to Azure has garnered itself a monolithic reputation as a legendary title within the genre. Suffice to say, I had some really big expectations for this game. As someone who absolutely loved both Sky SC and Zero, I was just about ready to join the choir and sing this game's unending praises.
That being said, did Azure manage to meet said expectations and fully deliver? Well, it's a complicated answer. Because while it did end up becoming my favorite game in the series, the flaws Azure and it's predecessors possess have been made more evident than ever before.
For all intents and purposes, I think Azure is a fantastic game. It's an incredibly refined experience with some of the best scenario writing and most bombastic storytelling the genre has to offer. The stakes are incredibly high and the fact that this game was even able to deliver on most of its ambitions is an absolute marvel to me.
That being said, I think Falcom can be a bit... overzealous with their storytelling in regards to this series. They're always trying to shake and subvert the foundation that the narrative rests upon. This isn't a bad thing in and of itself, but in retrospect I think they could have exercised a lot more restraint in the process.
Here's a few spoiler free examples of what I'm talking about in the context of this game alone:
Certain half baked conflicts are introduced late into the game, and swept back under the rug just as quickly as they're introduced.
Certain events are played up very heavily, but are lacking in proper consequences which fails to sell their impact.
Certain characters have their entire backstories hidden behind optional scenes that of which you can only see one of per playthrough.
There's a certain plot twist during the finale (If you've played the game you definitely know what I'm talking about) so pointless and diminishing that I've seen it flat out just kill the game for some people.
I say the word "certain" a lot here, because I don't want to sell Azure's completely off the wall writing choices as a ubiquitously bad thing. For every dubious scene or questionably unnecessary plot twist in this game, there's about five more that are completely astonishing and perfectly executed. If Azure commits to anything, it's the proposition of a narrative not content with sitting still and letting things slow down. From the Trade Conference onwards, I was on the edge of my seat for the entire game and never once was I bored.
I can't promise you'll find a perfectly written masterpiece within this game, it's got too many cuts and bruises for me to say that with good conscience. However, what it offers in spite of that is so utterly captivating and unforgettable that I can't help but completely cherish it all the same.
From a pure audiovisual standpoint, Rez is one of the greatest games ever made.
A psychedelic rail shooter where you crash through cyberspace while the best music you've ever heard in your entire life is constantly building in the backround. A synesthetic chamber of sights and sounds that jacks itself into your brain and never lets go.
The gameplay is incredibly simple, but the execution of it works perfectly in conjunction with the game's presentation in order to elevate the experience to being trancelike. Shooting down the machinations of Rez caters to this indescribable primal feeling that just feels so natural and compulsive.
While one could view it as being shallow, I ultimately see Rez as a prime example of a game being much more than the sum of its parts. It's a borderline spiritual experience. Not in spite of its simplicity, but because of it.
FEAR IS THE MIND KILLER
This review contains spoilers
I've played this game twice, and the more time passes, the more I realize that the story and everything surrounding it is honestly kinda doo doo balls.
Persona 5 is a game that tries to paint itself as being progressive and forward thinking, but ultimately just ends up becoming reactionary in the proccess. Well, I would say try, but it really doesn't. The game kinda namedrops some key words like "rebellion" and "opression", but it never really goes anywhere with it beyond "man it's kinda fucked up how that one evil guy is doing that one evil thing we gotta kick his ass." It's not a sentiment I necessarily disagree with, but I honestly just find it to be really shallow, and not interesting enough to make a 90+ hour long game out of. By the end of vanilla, good old Yaldy is spouting off some buzzwords about the "collective unconscious" or whatever, and my eyes are just rolling into the back of my head because this is the third time in a row Hashino has done this shit. It's probably even worse in Royal's 3rd semester, as the Phantom Thieves finally cement their role as the secret defenders of the status quo. Welp, there goes all of the borderline nonexistent messaging and thematic structure built over the last ~90 hours!
Beyond that, this game undercuts itself in multiple other ways. My favorite example of this first arc of the game. Basically there's a predatory teacher in relationships with his high school students, so you fuck him up and make him suffer for his crimes. This stance and message the game pushes is completely contradicted by the fact that this game lets you date one of the school's OTHER(???) predatory teachers relatively soon afterwards. Not only that, but it then takes Ann (one of the abuse victims) and dresses her up in a dominatrix fit for the rest of the entire game. The worst part is that she doesn't even have agency over wearing it either. I've seen some people pass this off as "reclaiming her sexuality" but just like, no. The game evidently doesn't take her seriously, as it makes an incessant amount of creepy ass jokes about it. I don't care if you throw some 12 hour long YouTube video at me, I'm not buying that shit. All I'm gonna say is that Epstein would've been all over this game.
On the topic of the characters, they suck so much dude. Persona 5 might have one of the most bland casts I've ever seen in a JRPG. As said before, this game is like 100 hours long, and I've played it twice. So, when I tell you that I genuinely can't think of anything remotley compelling about any of these characters, I mean it, all of them. Persona 5 also continues the awful trend of hiding key character moments and development (lol) behind optional social links. The worst part is that because they're optional, they can't be a part of the main story in nearly any capacity. The weird thing about this is that ATLUS nailed this balance extremely well in Persona 3, so seeing them completely unlearn it during Persona 4, and then continue to double down on it in Persona 5 is just absolutely bizzare to me. Witnout fail, the cast is also extremely annoying. Sure, Akechi might secretly be some "uber complex flawed character" or whatever, but that motherfucker sounds like a 15 year old on a message board trying to talk like Sephiroth. Like you cannot be asking me to take his ass seriously.
Okay, so I gave this game a 6/10. What's up with that?
In a cruel twist of fate, just about everything else in this game is pretty much great. From the frenetic fast paced combat, to the music, to the striking art style, it's all there. Admittedly, there's some pretty good reasons people don't shut up about this game, and I get it. I know I talked some mad shit about Yaldy and Maruki earlier, but they do genuinely have some very good fights that I absolutely adore, and Maruki's dungeon is fantastic. An awful story can only really dampen my experience with a game so much if the act of playing it is reminiscent of having heroin getting shot straight into my veins. If you were ever wondering why I played this game twice, this is it.
At the end of the day, Persona 5 strikes me as a game that doesn't really fully believe or commit to anything. It's almost as if ATLUS made a really good JRPG, but forgot that they were also supposed to be writing a story for it. It kinda strikes me as one of those visual novels where some really crazy shit happens, but they do the whole dramatic sing and dance of "oooohh this is what it means to live" so people just kinda get tricked into thinking it's good. Clearly it worked in this game's case, since there's legions of 15 year olds willing to sell their soul to this game. And you know what? That's fine. If I was 15 years old, I'd probably think this game is the shit too.
So yeah, Persona 5. A game I have some complicated and mixed feelings about. I don't hate this game, I promise.
Mason Lindroth is mostly known for the Hylics games, which is perfectly justified since they're great. However, in this review I wanted to highlight a smaller game of his that I think deserves more attention than it gets.
Muldulamulom is a short (like 30 minute long) metriodvania esque platformer made for the Ludum Dare 40 game jam. It's made in unity and has the same sense of style that permeates across the Hylics games.
As you would probably expect, this game looks great. Mason Lindroth's signature psychedelic claymation style is absolutely killer, and there's really nothing like it out there.
While Hylics went the RPG route, Muldulamulom is instead a platformer. To my surprise, it actually plays pretty well. The movement and animation is generally really smooth, and there's a good sense of progression throughout the game. You'll unlock new items such as bombs and a flying carpet, and the way these are drip fed to the player during the game's short runtime is pretty well done.
Muldulamulom at its core is short and sweet. With its very short length and being playable in your browser, you can't go wrong with giving it a shot. If you're a fan of Hylics or Mason Lindroth's work in general, I would absolutely urge you to play it as well.
If you're interested, I'll leave a link to the game's Itch.io page down below.
I'm not particularly a big fan of racing games. Sure, I'm always down for a bit of Mario Kart and I always tend to play a few at arcades, but I've never really been into a racing game before.
Not until I played Ridge Racer Type 4.
R4 is one of the most slick games to ever exist. When most people think of this game, the first thing that comes into mind is the soundtrack, and I can't say I blame them. Songs like Motor Species, Move Me, and Movin' in Circles are absolutely incredible. On top of that, R4 heavily benefits from its visual style and PS1 graphics. All of this comes together culminating in what I can only describe as a 2000's Playstation Summer Daydream.
A daydream in which you can pull off some of the sickest drifts and victories known to man, and enter the ultimate trance that is the Real Racing Roots '99 Grand Prix.
I'm not particularly a big fan of racing games, but Ridge Racer Type 4?
"He's the one for me."
Despite its obtuse nature and rough edges, Lack of Love is a game that I think everyone should try at least once in their life.
Lack of Love is universal minimalist storytelling at its finest. Without any words, it conveys a beautiful story that captures the essence of life through its mechanics and striking imagery.
The world is frustrating, unforgiving and cruel. It never truly makes sense beyond its primitive, biological foundation. Despite it all, we grow and change through learning to understand said world and its inhabitants. Love is the key to this. The compassion we have for one another is what keeps it going. It's what keeps us all going.
The L.O.L. project demonstrates that without love, the world is an artificial paradise devoid of meaning and dignity. It's because of this that the project is a failure, and that the world as we knew it continues to live on.
After all, to live is to love.
Touhou 6: The Embodiment of Scarlet Devil is the 1,000th game I've played.
And what could possibly be more fitting for this occasion than a game in a series I haven't played, in a genre I've almost never touched?
I don't really know what compelled me to give Touhou a shot. If I had to assume, it probably had something to do with the really cool box art and my friend pushing me to play it.
As for the game itself, I think it's really good actually. Dodging crazy bullet patterns while firing back with your own attacks is a very frenetic and intense gameplay loop that never fails to keep me invested.
This game is actually pretty damn hard too, which works perfectly since Touhou 6 has some pretty good replayability. There's two playable characters, and both of them have a bit of customization to add a bit of spice to them. Throw in some difficulties, a secret stage, and multiple endings, and you've got the complete package.
As for the visuals, I think they're super charming. They're definitely rough looking, but they have that same genuine, amateur vibe as Ryukishi07's work. The environments are really nice too, and they give the game this very dreamlike atmosphere.
When it comes to music, I mean, what do you want me to say? It's Touhou.
I genuinely had like no idea what was going on with this game's story. Not only was this because of the rough (albeit amusing) English translation, but this was my first Touhou game, so I was extra lost. I also didn't really know much about who the characters were, but the interactions they had between one another were pretty entertaining.
Overall, Touhou 6 is a pretty good ass game. You can play this on just about any PC to ever exist as well, so I totally recommend giving it a shot. You'll probably get mollywhopped, but it's a fun experience nonetheless.
"The moon tonight is red. You will know death."
When I make reviews, I usually aim to talk about games I love rather than ones I hate. Today, however, is an exception.
F.E.A.R. 2 isn't just one of the worst sequels ever made, but it's one of the worst games ever made as well. It's honestly kind of comical how Monolith decided to pretty much abandon everything that made the first game good when making its sequel.
Those well designed levels that worked perfectly in conjunction with the AI? Gone.
The raw presentation of the first game with its closed, atmospheric, and industrial environments? How gunfights would rip rooms apart with their sheer amount of chaos? The incredible lighting? Gone.
Somehow they even made slow motion lame, something that I didn't even think was possible. Now it has an insane amount of VFX to the point where it honest to god just becomes nauseating.
The difficulty balancing is also a huge issue. With normal mode being too easy, and hard mode being too hard. This became insanely apparent to me in the mech section, where said mech jumps from being Death Megatron 9,000 to a fucking paperweight.
The horror aspect of this game is also just like hilariously bad. The game just turns orange and like every single post processing effect is turned to fifty fucking million with absolutely no build up.
When playing this game, I really can't help but think that Monolith tried to make the most boring and homogenized game to ever exist. It's almost as if they realized that they had a winning formula in the first game and shot themselves in the foot with a SPAS-12 by going completely backwards.
I really could keep going on about stuff I hate in this game, but there's one last thing I wanted to talk about. If you've played the game, you probably already know what it is. If you haven't, don't worry, because I saved the worst for last.
In order to keep their game from being completely forgettable, Monolith decided to include a scene where the player gets sexually assaulted for nothing other than sheer shock value. Not only that, but they had the fucking gall to include what is one of the worst lines I've ever fucking heard in reference to it.
"You're like free pizza at an anime convention. She can smell you. And she wants to consume you."
You know, I honestly kind of hate the term "flawed masterpiece". It's extremely overused, and often times people don't even really use it correctly.
Truth be told, there's only one game I can confidently hand this fabled accolade to. Trails in the Sky SC.
Sky SC has an extremely strong foundation, beginning right after FC's devastating cliffhanger. And while the prologue to this game is extremely good, what ensuses after well... isn't. See, Sky SC might have one of the most repetitive and mind numbing first halves I've seen in a videogame. It almost entirely consists of investigating odd occurrences throughout Liberl, and finding out who's behind them. It's pretty cool the first like, two times, but it gets old really fucking fast. It's not without its pros though, as there's some really good sequences and character moments interspersed throughout the tedium. On top of that, you have consitent qualities such as the stellar world building, dialogue, combat, and music.
However, when you board The Glorious near the mid point of this game, EVERYTHING changes. Sky SC goes from being pretty okay, to literally being one of the best games ever made. The game kicks into high gear, and pays off everything both it and the previous game set up. At a certain beach scene I thought to myself "Yeah this might be one of the best scenes I've ever seen in a videogame." and then I went on to see this moment get trumped MULTIPLE TIMES during the final act of the game. All of this concludes with an ending that's just like... what the hell do you even want me to say? The back half of this game is legendary, and it blew me away in every aspect.
It's so easy for me to downtalk this game by talking about its first half, which admittedly isn't even as bad as I painted it out to be. However, I can just as easily prop this up as being one of the greatest games ever made by talking about its masterful back half. While I can't just ignore this game's issues, in the end I choose to love and embrace this game for everything it is and what it stands for.
"That's love and peace, baby."