This game is truly incredible, my favorite of all time as of right now. The best way I'd describe it is that while the specific story it's telling is somewhat standard yet perfectly adequate, the way it tells that story is where it's truly master class. For 2004, this must've been unbelievable, but it's still highly impressive all these years later. Masterful at both visual storytelling and interactive storytelling.
It's an FPS campaign on a tier that I rarely see any competitors. The graphics are dated but visually this is still unbelievably gorgeous. The facial animations especially are very well-done. The voice acting, especially for characters like Breen and Alyx, is quite good. The level design and conveyance are spectacularly masterful, and the game combines its typical sci-fi action feel with a bit of horror-esque atmosphere at times to keep it more interesting. I love all the different weapons, and the game does well to cater to however you want to approach it. The game does a fantastic job of making a mostly linear campaign feel like you're traversing all through this sprawling landscape. And I love how it all looks, the aesthetic style of the game, while going for realism, has some great Eastern European settings and tone with some really picturesque locations and great designs. New mechanics and ideas are introduced at just the right pace, and there's just the right balance of old and new in each level so that there's not too much new things being thrown at you to overwhelm you, but not too much of the same that it all becomes monotonous.
Personally I feel the pacing is amazing in the game. There's plenty of variety in the gameplay, from survival horror and physics puzzles to vehicular segments and more stealth-based portions, and it balances long segments of the game where you get to breathe and sort of relax a little more with story beats and heightened action when the slow pacing feels like it might start to get boring. It feels like the pacing changes at the right moments to avoid the game becoming too laidback or too strenuous. It ties great into the story progression, allowing enough time for Gordon to be himself and not rushing through the plot points. Aside from me wanting the ending in the citadel to be a little more drawn out and challenging, I feel it's spaced out very well at a good length. Maybe there could've been slightly less vehicle stuff and a little more at the end in the citadel, but it's not too big of a problem and I still haven't played the episodes. And while I used to not care for the soundtrack, it's really grown on me.
There are some problems with the game. Your AI companions can get in the way, sometimes characters deliver their lines too early (and some other slight acting quirks that I'm sure were part of this being very new stuff to work with in game design at the time), occasionally it's unclear what to do, there are a few brief segments that become too suddenly hard (and it can be a bit easy sometimes), and some places and props look better than others, but overall I'd say most of the flaws are minor or understandable. The ending felt a bit anti-climactic, too easy and all of a sudden, but like I said I haven't played the follow-up episodes, so maybe that too will become more forgivable.
But in summary, Half Life 2 is a classic FPS that everyone should play. It's still very impressive all these years later and has aged very well. Through every single level I found myself aware of what the designers were trying to accomplish, and you could really feel the mastery of game design, progression, and innovation in visual interactive storytelling they wanted to get across. Go play it.
I beat this game on an iPhone a few years ago when I needed games to play while I commuted to work. People love to give the Sonic franchise crap, and for understandable reason, but I legitimately enjoy the originals, and even if they're silly and poorly designed I've even gotten some enjoyment out of some newer ones. I would've definitely been a SNES kid but the Sonic games knew how to take advantage of the Genesis hardware for a great look and sound. The iOS version saves after you beat each level, and I'm pretty sure that's not how the original version worked, but on the other hand I was playing on a touch screen. Also I didn't get the chaos emeralds but I didn't care enough to do so.
It's not as good as Mario's best. There are plenty of great ideas and great style and the game is very good, but it's not as well designed as most Mario platformers. And the end is a bit anti-climactic after all the crap I had to go through to get there. But for the most part it still holds up as a great classic.
I beat this game on an iPhone when I needed games to play on my commute to work a few years back. Just like I thought it would, to me it feels like an improvement over the original. The soundtrack is better, the flow is better, the finale (which took me quite some time on that touch interface) is better, etc. Aside from the Chemical Plant Zone boss where you keep falling through the floor most of the difficulty is fair and can be overcome through trial and error and learning. And compared to the underwhelming end of the previous game, this game's end stretch felt quite challenging and rewarding. If I could think of one issue I did feel like I could skim through some of the levels way easier than some of the original Sonic levels which means I may have missed more stuff by not taking as much time, and it also means some levels might be a bit too easy to get through, but that's more towards the beginning. But that also means that the game does a better job of emphasizing Sonic's fast flow.
So overall I think Sonic 2 builds well upon what the first game did.
While this game was visually appealing, creative, and smartly designed, it also felt quite short. If it looks like something you might like you may enjoy it, and I did, but it does feel lacking in content. There seems to be some expansion content but unless it's really substantial I'm not too interested. And it's attempts at storytelling and backstory didn't impress me all that much TBH. But this game is visually gorgeous and really smartly designed. It just feels a bit lacking to me in content. Check it out if you're interested.
This is a really great game. Despite being an early 3DS game, it still looks great visually, and is one of the best games on the system to take advantage of being on a 3D-focused platform. The levels are designed to all look enhanced by having the 3D turned on.
It's a shame that there aren't more games similar to it on the 3DS, because it's a great testament to the capabilities for the 3DS to have the style of 3D platforming that Super Mario 3D World would later expand upon. And speaking of 3D World, while World's levels did feel more individually extensive and the game itself longer in length (due to being on a platform with more powerful hardware), Land still has plenty of enough content to be worth a considerable amount of time.
And it also does something that I loved in 3D World, in that at first you feel like the game flew by too quickly, but then it opens up a whole bunch more levels you can do. While the first finale was somewhat rewarding, having all these new Special Worlds to visit felt like they brought the game's length up from what would feel too short to just right. And it also helps that the difficulty increases and you need to start making considerable Star Coin requirements. So the individual levels require you to sink more time in them, and you're also forced to do some backtracking if you didn't take your time before, if you want to beat the rest of the levels. It's a great way of "padding out" the game's length in a way that doesn't feel tiresome, in a way of prolonging the fun so you don't zip through it too fast. Though I do have to say, compared to how long some of the Special World 8 Levels took me, the "true finale" didn't impress me quite so much. It would've been nice to have made the last level a bit harder because it felt like I had done worse to get to that point.
While Super Mario 3D World I feel expanded upon what was established in this game, with more content and length (and IMO difficulty, at least towards the end and because you often have to deal with other players), and the ability to play with friends, Super Mario 3D Land is still a great title, especially as a 3DS showcase. It's not quite as great as other main series Mario games, but it's still really quite good. And you won't get the same hours or nearly as much replay value out of it compared to other 3DS games like Animal Crossing: New Leaf or the various Pokémon games available on the system, as it's not too hard of a game to speed through until you get to the Special Worlds, and aside from getting Star Coins, I didn't have too much of a desire to revisit old levels, but I still definitely recommend playing it.
While I feel this game is definitely held down by some flaws and shouldn't be taken very seriously, it was still a really good and very enjoyable game.
First off, I don't really care too much for some complicated, intertwined Kingdom Hearts canon spread across many bizarrely-titled releases. I don't care for some extensive lore that a lot of people seem to take quite seriously. But as a Disney meets Final Fantasy crossover where an anime boy ventures through different Disney realms to save the world, I really enjoyed it. I think the whole framework is a little too silly to really take deeply seriously (because any world where Sephiroth exists alongside Winnie the Pooh and Danny Devito as a grumpy satyr, and the storyline involves Micky Mouse sealing away a dark horde of anime creatures is going to have some dissonance if you try to make a cohesive serious narrative about it), but, for me at least, when you just look at it as anime boy teams up with Donald and Goofy to tour through worlds inspired by Disney movies to be an anime hero and save the universe it's charming and compelling enough.
But now that I've given my thoughts on the framework of the game, it's time to look at everything else. While the platforming can be a little awkward sometimes, and the camera can have some issues (and it was weird at first to use shoulder buttons instead of a second stick, though it became natural to me), the general gameplay is quite good. Battles feel great. They've got an all-out brawl sort of feel with all of the real-time enemies fighting you and your partners at the same time, with some generally great target locking, a good sense of proper mobility and a good mix of physical attacking and magic abilities. It's a running joke that Donald won't heal you, but at least for me, whenever I was in trouble and my partners were available, they were pretty effective at helping me out when I needed it. And while it took me a little while to get used to it, the UI in this game is solid. The menus work well and the Attack/Magic/Item/Misc. system works well.
While some of the Disney universes you visit might not feel like some of the more iconic ones given how limited the amount of them are, they do a generally great job at designing great levels around them all. It would've been nice to have a few more worlds to visit, but I don't really count that as a flaw. This game in its current state did take me around 40 hours to complete, so while at the time I kind of wished I could visit a few more worlds, I think it works fine for the game's length. I think I just wanted to see what else the game could have to offer potentially. The songs in the game weren't generally quite as great as some of my favorite soundtracks but they work fine. I do remember a lot of them, but it would be nice if some of them had a little more personality and character to them. The soundtrack is no Final Fantasy VII.
And one thing I really liked about the game is that it had a sizable "home-stretch." When the Hollow Bastion opened up, I was worried the game would be over too soon, that all the progress I'd made would lead to an ending that wrapped up too quickly. But I was wrong and that was very satisfying. With both the amount of enemies that you had to get through in between boss encounters and events, and the grinding that (at least for me) I was forced to do to prepare the proper experience for leveling up and Munny for items for bosses I struggled with, the "home-stretch" feels properly padded out in length. Plenty of bosses to get through and enemies in between.
Don't get me wrong, this game is quite good, and I do recommend it, but I did have a few more gripes with it compared to my personal favorites. I've already gone over a few, but there are a few others. The Winnie the Pooh levels weren't something I enjoyed much. The way they were set up didn't play well with me. While generally the animation is really quite good, especially for the time, there are some instances in cutscenes where some of the actions characters do look a little weird. It's definitely not theatrical Disney quality. This is especially true when they try to do cartoonish actions. Sometimes it feels a little constrained in how things can't move as freely as if they were drawn. And then there are examples like a scene where Donald gets flattened on a wall when a door opens. He looks like a flat version of his standing character model, where it would've been funnier if his arms and legs were out-stretched. And while I liked how padded out the "home-stretch" was and the final boss felt padded out well as well in terms of length, it felt like some of the bosses I faced on the way to get here were a little more challenging. Maybe it has to do with leveling, and maybe I just got better at the game. I don't know. But I'm pretty sure that difficulty-wise I had faced harder before, if not in terms of sheer length. Also I didn't care much for the Gummi Ship segments at all. I put barely any attention into my Gummi Ship's construction and I barely understood what any of it meant besides shoot the obstacles, collect the things, and don't die. I was really glad when I got the Warp Drive so I didn't have to bother.
But time for my overall verdict. It didn't sell me on taking its universe as seriously as hardcore fans have, but for what it is as a singular game I really enjoyed it and really recommend it. It's not as polished as some other games I've played, and it does better in some areas than others, but it's still overall a really good game that's really fun to play. I'd recommend it even to people who aren't the type to get really into its extensive universe I know nothing about. I have a few gripes with it, but none big enough to really hurt my opinion of the game overall. I'd personally say play it if you haven't, even if it mostly appeals to the demographic that already loves it.
I have beaten Undertale three times, once neutrally, once true pacifist, and once genocide.
It could be easy for someone to say that Undertale is overrated. It became insanely popular, and as time has gone on it's sometimes been the cool thing to make fun of for some. A lot of its fans have said or done things to make others cringe, myself included. And whenever something gets popular, it becomes subject to more scrutiny, and oftentimes directed at the wrong areas to try to bring it down. And there are plenty of gaming's best that I haven't had the chance to play or complete yet. But I can confidently say that I'm not afraid to sound like an overenthusiastic fanboy when I say that Undertale is one of the best games I've ever played.
Part of the reason it's so appealing, and part of its success I'd say, is that it is a complete anomaly. A humble little indie release bursting with personality and fresh ideas, both a throwback to older games yet also entirely relevant with its style, that managed to become a mainstream success beyond many AAA titles? Market logic dictates that this shouldn't happen anymore. The big companies have convinced us it's all about multi-platform, multi-million dollar franchises you sell season passes and microtransactions and pre-order bonuses for, and many of them have been trounced by a relatively cheap release by someone who doesn't even know how to code. It's the type of game that shouldn't be this successful, and yet it feels completely relevant and almost necessary to this industry. To show that, while it is the exception more than the rule, a humble passion project coming from someplace genuine can come out and stand alongside the gigantic and heavily marketed big budget releases, sometimes even towering over them. Or at least it will remain as their releases quickly become forgotten or replaced. The Order: 1886 had a lot of people's attention when it was being developed, but how often do people talk about it now?
But moving on to the actual game itself, part of the reason I rank it so highly is that it does pretty much everything right. Granted, if it were released with a bit more of a development team behind it, maybe they could expand on the functionality of the game, but I don't really think the game needs that, and it would take away from the independent passion project charm the game has. Aspects like item limit and travel time don't really bother me in this game because it's not a lengthy experience like Final Fantasy VII. The game knows what its length is and the amount of content it has, and wisely caters the gameplay flow around it. The RPG mechanics don't need to be too complicated because that would defeat the purpose of the game. The game has a nice minimalistic approach that complements what the game is, and allows it to put more focus elsewhere, like on the story and the characters, and the importance of your philosophy on combat, whether to fight or not.
And that's something else great about the game, it's very smart in how to approach decision making. And the gameplay is designed around that very intelligently, and takes many brilliantly self-aware turns. Instead of bland good or bad choices, the gameplay becomes very different when you stray from neutral towards pacifist or genocide. Pacifist will probably make you feel better, but it's frustrating that you never become stronger, and it's tempting to give up. But when you start making friends, and save the day, it's really satisfying, and you get the good ending but you had to work for it to get there. It's not just making the right choice but being able to stick to it despite how frustrating it might be. And then genocide presents something different. Similar to how pacifist turns you into a hero that will persevere despite hardships to do the right thing, genocide turns you into an aggressive monster. Killing everyone becomes a calculated effort, where you try to maximize your rewards to become as strong as possible. You have to turn down offers of mercy and be unwavering in your cruelty. And when you face opposition, though you know they deserve victory more than you do, you need to become better and better until you can crush them. The world is scared and angry at you, changing your outlook on the world of Undertale, making you bitter and distant. Your only goal becomes destroying those in your way and getting through the increasingly barren areas. There is really nothing else to do besides this. Even though pacifist wasn't letting you get an easy victory, the world isn't just going to easily let you be a monster either, so being able to complete genocide requires you to avoid coming back to the light, being only devoted to becoming powerful enough to push back harder than those trying to stop you. The pacifist ending is what I'd call the "true ending" but completing both pacifist and genocide gives you some fascinating perspective, and the truly complete experience of the game.
The art design may seem a bit odd, especially at the beginning, but if you're like me, you'll really get into it. This game looks better to me than many of the high-polygon count yet visually uninspired AAA games that keep getting released. The art direction is creative and inspired, and full of unique style. You can see where inspiration may have come from, but it's also completely its own thing. The soundtrack is phenomenal, one of the best soundtracks to a game I've ever heard. I can remember pretty much every song in the game, and they've all been stuck in my head at some point or another. It's unbelievable how catchy and memorable they are.
While there may have been a joke or two that didn't work for me, they're isolated in a sea of brilliant comedy and gags. The game is designed in such a way that it's aware of what those who like to go off the beaten path and look around will do, and it's very clever in how it responds to that. It loves to play with convention and expectations. Its unique combination of mechanics, most specifically JRPG and bullet hell, work brilliantly. It's a great way to transform typical turn-based combat into something completely fresh and new. It's one of the most brilliant combat systems I've ever seen, and it does plenty to keep injecting new ideas into it. The characters all have great personalities and interesting quirks, and they make you wish you had even more time to spend with them than you get to, though that's a personal desire, not a flaw of the game. It's a sign the game has done its job. Plus, the story is the perfect length. It may seem short in content at first, but it perfectly pads out the length and gives you incentive to play again. Even if you've already gotten the main endings, it throws other small incentives to try to get you to play around more, and the experience is memorable enough that I could easily see players returning to the game in the future to experience it all over again.
For those of you who love it, it isn't news for me to say that Undertale is a brilliant game. And it probably isn't news to many that haven't played it that I, among many, many others, really liked it. But even if it's long been established the game is well-received, I don't think it really diminishes my personal, individual feelings on the game, and how much this game connected with me. If you haven't played it, I recommend doing so as soon as you can. More important than reading about it is experiencing it for yourself and what it has to offer.
Obviously a short (and free) and not yet full game so would encourage others to play before I say too much. A brief sample but a promising one, can't wait to see what else is in store. Does a great job continuing Toby Fox's comedic stylings and clever gameplay twists. Would love to see more done with the characters, curious about the world.
I 100% completed this game and streamed my entire playthrough on Twitch, which many of my friends tuned in for and chatted with me as I was progressing through it. So what are my overall thoughts on this game, one of the games that was most integral to establishing my lifelong love of video games, that I only ever fully completed in the summer of 2019? The core of the game still sticks out to me as ultimately fun and creative and vibrant, but there's a lot of padding when it comes to full completion, and it's very apparent that it did not get the amount of development time it needed to polish itself out.
Stylistically, this game still holds up really well. Playing it on Dolphin, it looks as much as ever like a tropical paradise, with beautiful water and vibrant, aesthetically appealing locales. It's nice how unlike sticking more closely to the archetypal worlds you'd expect in a Mario game, it's more tied around the concept of the different kinds of areas that would be found on an Italian-inspired island, giving a sense of strong theming. So much character has been given to the areas by sticking to that theme, and being able to see all the other areas off in the distance gives it a real sense of physical space. The level design is also unique, in how it went so strongly for a sense of lived in space that really wasn't attempted again until New Donk City in Super Mario Odyssey, and even then not on the same level. Delfino Plaza is an amazing concept for a hub world, with such memorable presence, and the more freeform exploratory nature of the levels encourages becoming familiar with the space from multiple angles, which was an approach I really appreciated as 3D Mario games got a lot more linear after this point for a time. The somewhat cel-shaded look is a great fit for the style of the game, and I appreciate how this was really the last mainline Mario game to stray a bit more from sticking to a set look for all the recurring elements of the Mario universe. Enemies like Bullet Bills and Bloopers look way different, and mainstays like Goombas aren't even present. And while I'd probably rank its soundtrack last among the 3D Mario games, it's still got some solid tunes.
The core gameplay also gives some great maneuverability. As a kid, I got so used to this game that Mario without FLUDD seemed naked to me. The extra reach that the Hover and Rocket nozzles gave seemed to allow for a lot more options for where Mario could reach to than in other games. Turbo is barely utilized but cool as well. But even Mario's normal movement, while very prone to slippage and not entirely smooth, is very satisfying. The ease with which I was able to naturally flick into a side jump or do a spin jump while playing with a GameCube controller on lagless Dolphin (as opposed to dropped frame rates on my original GameCube) was so satisfying. While it has its own quirks, I really enjoy the way Mario moves in this game, especially compared to how Mario starts to feel a bit more restricted in his movement in the games to come after. The objectives can also be pretty interesting, like navigating Pianta Village covered in flaming goop with no FLUDD or using dune buds against a rampaging Wiggler. It's also nice how unlike Super Mario 64, the episodes in Sunshine each tell their own little episodic (duh) narrative, reaching some sort of happy conclusion by the end of it all.
But what's wrong with the game? Essentially, it is apparent in many aspects of the game that more time was needed. Unpolished levels, filler levels, padding, repetition, and tedium. Easy to replicate bugs and "wonkiness." Weird physics. And especially the finale.
Mario games (that aren't RPG's) aren't known for their deeply engrossing narratives, but a good internal flow to the overall "plot" can help them space out properly, raise the stakes, and build to a satisfying conclusion. Among 3D Mario games I've beaten, I think Galaxy does it the best, Odyssey also spaces things out pretty well. I noticed at a young age that it's all very front loaded in Sunshine, with nothing again until the very end. There are some lengthy unskippable cutscenes at the beginning, a lot happens quickly, new levels are added quickly, and then Bowser Jr. is revealed and Peach kidnapped, and then aside from a few more levels opening up and Shadow Mario encounters, no real escalation aside from the standard bosses you can face in pretty much any order until you go to Corona Mountain. And then Corona Mountain itself is.... weak. You pass a few fire and spike panels and then get to the awful lava boat which sucks. It's difficult but because it's awful to control, not like you dealt with a real satisfying challenge. And then while in most other 3D Mario games we get some pretty grandiose showdowns, here Bowser has an awful voice and they're all in a tub and you have to rocket ground-pound a few times without getting blown up or on fire or falling to your death. So not much of an ending.
Then you get the kind of padding and unpolished and filler stuff. There's one level you go to in Delfino Plaza that literally looks like a test room. The Pachinko level and its awful physics. The acid river level, which is a pain to get to and super unforgiving. Trying to deal with the wonky physics of the Chucksters. The tense tedium of trying to get the right watermelon to the shack. Cleaning every last inch of goop on the beach. Trying to aim at targets while on a disorienting roller coaster. And of course the blue coins which add a whole bunch of other collectables to acquire. This was handled way more engagingly in Odyssey with all the ways to get Moons in a more intuitive way, and the revisited content in Galaxy with the comets provides a nice spin on the familiar. And of course the game is buggier and just doesn't feel as polished as other Mario games.
But that's the thing about this game. A lot of the content feels like it was rushed out before its time, but the stylistic atmosphere is so strong, the interesting objectives that are there give it character, and the core gameplay of moving around and using FLUDD is so solid and has so much potential. While I probably couldn't call it my favorite 3D Mario game anymore, it'll always have a place in my heart and I appreciate the creative and unique things it has to offer. I definitely recommend playing it if you never did, but you can pass on trying to get 100% unless you're really dedicated.
This review contains spoilers
Early on in this year, I beat Silent Hill 2 with my cousins, but I was busy with schoolwork, and then catching COVID in May, and just generally a lot of things happening in my life got in the way of spending the time to really get my thoughts down, because I had a ton to think about with this game.. So even though it’s been a couple months, I still wanted to get my thoughts on the game out there because of just how much there is to say about it. So here it is, my thoughts after having completed Silent Hill 2, and having plenty of time to reminisce and learn a little bit more about the game, how it was developed, and how it works.
It was interesting playing this one after having played the original, as the first one doesn't get talked about nearly as much as this one. In some areas they are extremely similar, with some similar UI and mechanics. In some areas they are markedly different, to the extent that even having played through the first one (which I feel does deserve more credit than it gets sometimes), and being somewhat familiar with some of what the game entails, I was surprised by how those previous expectations differed from how the game ended up.
I think the most striking thing for me was how both games handled the concept of Silent Hill. For one thing, even though they are both unmistakably Silent Hill, there are a lot of differences as to what that means in each game. The first game felt to me like it involved being in the actual town itself a lot more, feeling more populated as you got to meet some of the citizens of the town and their cult traditions, and with lots of enemies hunting after you. The nature of the surreal happenings seem to be manifestations from the psychic power of a girl named Alessa Gillespie, and the citizens you meet seem very surprised by what has been happening recently, and as our protagonist Harry Mason lingers more in Silent Hill he delves deeper into her creations and the messed-up backstories of the town and what the people who live in it do. The soundtrack can get very Reznor-y, very industrial and disorienting and uncomfortable, which is also represented in how the Otherworld is very industrial and rusty, very mechanical and torturous. In his own way, Harry is also subconsciously drawn to the town, but not over anything he did, but because of the presence of his daughter Cheryl and what he doesn’t know about her, and a car crash is what thrusts him suddenly into Silent Hill and left to figure out the nature of this strange town.
Silent Hill 2 unmistakably follows in the footsteps of the first, but much has changed between the games and the emphasis is very different. The very nature of the town itself seems to have changed, now being an omnipresent entity that conjures a subjective reality for the individuals who find their way here, very different from the first game, possibly as if what Alessa did to the town has taken a life of its own now. Unlike Harry who just wanted to find his daughter when Silent Hill turned out to be different from the resort town it used to be, as soon as we meet James he seems to be a broken man, returning to the Silent Hill he used to visit (but now completely different) willingly because of a mysterious letter saying that his dead wife is waiting for him in their “special place,” and referring to a promise. Considering that he even sought out his wife who had been dead for three years, and seems so willing to continue despite warnings of danger and doesn’t even try to leave, it gives the impression this is a man who doesn’t really have anything else left. He doesn’t even seem to travel in much of the main town itself. Where Harry found himself in the residential area and then managed to get to the economic center of town, James has to get to Silent Hill by a hikers path and spends much of his time near the road that leads to the more tourist-oriented part of town Harry visited. A lot of the places James visits feel more like the outskirts of town, more out-of-the-way business like a bowling alley and a nightclub, entering apartment complexes instead of houses, visiting the more historical tourist spots that generally don’t attract as much attention as the more consumer-oriented resort area. This is reflected in the map, where you can just only barely see Lake Side Amusement Park, the only visible area on the map from the previous game, which you don’t even make it far enough into Silent Hill to get to. It’s ironic, Harry was a tourist that ended up right in the middle of the town and its citizens’ dark secrets, whereas James is returning to Silent Hill but only ends up as a tourist, wandering on the fringes, seemingly completely abandoned. Even the enemies in the overworld don’t give as much difficulty, being easier to get away from than the dogs and pterodactyls and hopping creatures of the first game. And the soundtrack is notably different from the first, both of them being absolute masterpieces in their own way. The first one was more mechanical and threatening, whereas the more I’ve relistened to the second soundtrack, most of it is actually very soft, melancholic, and ethereal. The combination of the soundtrack with a Silent Hill that has generally less threat and a stronger emphasis on isolation creates a very different vibe, especially when thinking of the locales in the game, where it’s not so much the rusty NIN-scapes of the first go-around, but instead decrepit, sad, lonely places who have been abandoned by whoever had a function for them. The first game was like a gradual descent into a nightmarish hell, but the second one is more like wandering by yourself in a gauntlet you conjured for yourself, occasionally more dark and disturbing, but mainly with a lot of melancholic ambience. The first game’s soundtrack reflects Harry’s primal fears in his quest to save his daughter, while the second game’s soundtrack reflects James’ barely lucid attempts to process what has happened to him.
In retrospect, I’m so in awe of what the game accomplishes, but to be truly honest, it’s really been the weeks and months reflecting after the game, and after researching more deeply into it and its development that I truly started to grasp what makes it so brilliant. I will admit that (and probably my autism has a lot to do with this) I have a tendency to come up with weirdly rigid and completely off pre-conceptions of what things are supposed to be like before I experience them. So I could recognize early off that this was following heavily in the footsteps of the first game, but there were some decisions that I found curious initially. Why was there so much less incentive to actually explore the town? Why does it feel like I spend more time in fewer locations, covering less ground? Why are a lot of these enemies way easier to deal with (especially with the option of a new control scheme that I preferred)? Why do we spend a lot less time with the Nurses and Pyramid Head (who is definitely important but much more of a minor character than I would have figured) than their fandom prominence would suggest? The initial questions of someone coming in with certain expectations. I definitely thought it was amazing as I first played it, but true understanding of what really made it an all-time best took a little longer to digest as I thought back on it, some of which I’ll get to in a bit.
I’ve already given an outline of aspects of the game in how they contrast to the first, but it’s time to go a little more in detail, starting with the story. Taking place after the first game, but in a way that’s unclear what has happened between then and now, James has returned to Silent Hill, in the already-mentioned quest to discover why he would receive a letter from his dead wife saying she is waiting for him in their “special place.” Parking his car and continuing on foot, it’s clear that for James, answers are more important than anything else in his life right now, including his safety, as it becomes apparent early on that Silent Hill is a hostile and mysterious place now, filled with weird monsters, and of course, the ominous, foreboding presence of an entity that came to be known as Pyramid Head. He comes across other people who have made their way to the town, each approaching the town differently, as their experience with Silent Hill seems to have a lot to do with whatever baggage they bring to it. Eventually James comes across something very surprising, a woman who seems almost identical to his dead wife Mary aside from a different personality and more provocative wardrobe, whose name is Maria, and she seems to know stuff that only Mary would know. As they continue to explore Silent Hill searching for Mary and a young girl named Laura who says that she knew her, they encounter many distorted and unsettling enemies, and a lot of strange and paradoxical happenings start to revolve around Maria. And James’s further interactions with the other people who arrived to Silent Hill deteriorate as they struggle to deal with the issues plaguing them. He starts to question what really even led him to the town. He ends up at the hotel where they visited when they last came here, returning to their “special place” and discovering just why he was really brought back here. Ultimately he ends up having to directly confront his relationship with Mary and Maria, with the final outcome dependent on which ending you get, which I’ll get more into soon.
The storytelling was already pretty solid in the first Silent Hill, but it really expands here into doing some super compelling things. While the first game was also a masterpiece in its own right, its story does draw more from existing cliches, especially with the town that’s more than it seems and secret cults and demonic rituals and such. And Harry is a bit more disconnected from the things that happen, kind of an observer who ended up in the middle of the forces the town is dealing with, just trying to get his adopted daughter back, and the story never really gets more into their relationship beyond that. In Silent Hill 2, the focus is a lot less external and much more personal, and it manages to flesh out an ultimately more original narrative. Almost everything that happens in the town in the game has to do with James being there. The monsters reflect what James has been dealing with and his subconscious thought processes. It ends up being more narratively distinct from the first in how it really centers around James as a character, how he relates to his dead wife and the lookalike of her he comes across, and how he comes to terms with them. It really delves into themes of how the human psyche deals with sex and death, those themes being abstracted into the reality James experiences. It’s really well-paced in a way that makes the town feel very lived in, spacing out the more narratively crucial moments with a lot of opportunity for atmosphere and exploration. The tone is expertly handled, interweaving the different emotions James must be feeling, occasionally more viscerally disturbing and hard-hitting but with a lot of low-key ambience for reflection as well.
The characters are all really solid, each one makes an impact in their own way and none are forgettable. James perfectly embodies the mood that Silent Hill gives off in this game, dejected and deflated, coming on his own to a hostile, abandoned town for the only thing that really seems to be on his mind right now. So many other people wouldn’t have even bothered driving out to the town, but James is exactly the kind of broken person who would still go through with it, even with all the threats sent his way. I saw a video where his voice actor, Guy Cihi, says that towards the end of his difficult first marriage he had dealt with his own suicidal feelings that helped inform his performance, which I think I can feel in the very melancholic way he speaks. Maria is a fascinating enigma, sometimes an idealized version of Mary, sometimes hostile and condescending. The way her character ends up toying with James’ emotions really adds to the unsettling feeling of the general uncanniness. Angela’s instability makes her very pitiful, I was really concerned for her, which makes it all the more of a gut-punch how her demons seem to consume her. Eddie’s complete apathy to everyone else and off-kilter desire for vengeance adds to the sense that the town constructs subjective realities for its visitors, playing off of and potentially worsening their mental states. Laura can be aggravating in how she makes things harder for James, but really comes across as the innocent, naive soul that does not see the same things the adults with more baggage do, wandering the town as if nothing were really out of the ordinary. And of course Pyramid Head, who doesn’t ultimately have to actually be around a lot of the time, to still be this imposing surreal presence when he arrives, who has become an icon of the series precisely because he embodies what makes it distinct, a corrupted form of a human being with just enough odd touches that reflect the strangeness of the games. And while the voice acting is very of its time, I really liked it. I thought the performances were very fitting for the characters, especially in their uncertainty. I’ve noticed that sometimes I genuinely prefer the style of some older dubs to the way newer ones are done because even if older ones tend to be more amateur and less professional, sometimes there’s a genuine distinct personality they’re able to tap into that a more “professional” approach sometimes doesn’t, going for something that meets standard expectations but doesn’t add a truly unique, personal voice to the character. Basically, I think the cast they got did a lot to really humanize their performances.
But while the story and its characters are amazing, what truly makes Silent Hill 2 what it is, is its gameplay, the subjective experiencing of its narrative, the kind of storytelling that couldn’t be done in the same way if it was a book or a movie. And probably the most brilliant aspect of its gameplay was something that I wasn’t even aware of as I was first playing. Like many games, Silent Hill 2 has multiple potential endings, and usually games with multiple endings have set paths to align yourself with to aim for, and the most binary of them will have a good ending and a bad ending. Silent Hill 2 doesn’t explicitly ask you to pick a path to get your ending. There are no dialogue trees or morality bars. You get the ending you get based on how you played in totality. As I was playing, my cousins would often tell me to go ahead and check my picture of Mary or other weird little actions, and I was so confused by these little rituals, wondering what the point of it was. As it turns out, the game’s evaluation of what ending James deserves depends exactly on little gestures like these, whether you looked at Mary, whether James took care of himself, whether he tried to protect Maria, etc. Your playstyle is being judged by the game to determine what kind of person James is, his story is an incomplete template, it’s up to what kind of James you are that the rest of the context is filled in. When I first read up on this, I was blown away. I had no idea this had even been happening. The game had been examining how I was playing to determine my fate without my knowledge. This alone gives massive props to Silent Hill 2 for such an ingenious element of immersion.
In terms of how the game plays in the moment, it’s a lot like the first game. Combat is stripped-down and basic to reflect the everyman perspective, there isn’t much to it and it’s a bit clunky, which is very adequate and appropriate for James. His ability to move around is also pretty basic and modest, properly matching the energy of this man. With less prominent bosses and enemies that are easier to manage, as well as easier movement when compared to the first game, surviving in the game is generally easier, but the focus ends up shifting more to the experience of it all. So in a sense I feel like this almost pushes the game slightly more in the direction of walking simulator, as much as that concept would have existed at the time, while still being much more interactive and evaluative than the average one. Puzzles are still an aspect of the game, though I remember them also not being as prominent as they were in the first one. Like the first, the story revolves around focusing on clearing out one area at a time, with exploring the town at large in between, though comparatively you explore less of the town and focus even more on the specific areas. Ultimately I get the impression that compared to the more game-y original, the sequel ends up going in a more experiential direction. Slightly downplaying the more genre elements of what is expected of a survival horror game in order to more strongly emphasize immersing the player as James Sunderland, rather than the more puppeted relationship the player had with Harry Mason. And I think it ends up working in favor of the game, establishing a more first-person association to the events that are happening instead of a third-person one.
Of course, the stylistic elements of the game are also crucial to what makes it the game it is. This game’s atmosphere is so rich and immersive, it excels at engrossing you in a certain state of mind whenever you play. The graphics are amazing for the time, and I still adore the game’s aesthetics and presentation. The cutscenes are phenomenal, really well-directed, well-animated, and striking. The motion-capped performances of the actors are well choreographed and laid out. The character designs and models are super memorable and distinct, perfectly fitting the personalities they’ve been attached to. The locations are all lovingly detailed and convey a strong sense of once having been lived-in places. Watching some of the behind the scenes for the game, they talked about how the environments were designed to be both repulsive and attracting, something I had picked up on myself, that despite being an inherently creepy and off-putting place, parts of it are almost “comfy” in the weirdest of ways. And of course we have to get into the audio. This soundtrack appeals to me so much, with its generally ambient and ethereal soundscape, inspiration from trip hop and industrial, combination of engrossing atmosphere and strong melodies, densely layered with impeccable production, perfectly switching between different styles and keeping it all cohesive. I’ve relistened to it over and over in the months since beating the game, and I could easily do so again without getting tired of it. Honestly one of my favorite soundtracks of all time, across all mediums. And the general sound design is impeccable, very memorable and appropriate. All these stylistic elements given such care and craft and humanity come together to create a game that is such a complete package, and a truly inspired vision.
I struggle to even consider anything I would really think truly wrong with the game, or at least much worth mentioning. Bosses are adequate for the game but leave something to be desired, it’s not really the type of game that lends itself to complex bosses, but even the first game pulled this off generally better I feel. Combat is also more on the adequate line which does feel very appropriate, but it makes some bosses feel especially clunky. The final boss showdown feels a bit anticlimactic compared to the first game’s one, which I was not actually a big fan of fighting either but it felt more impactful. Enemies probably could’ve been a little bit more threatening. I would’ve appreciated some incentives to explore a bit more of the town proper, as spatially I felt like I wasn’t drawn into that area as much, which leads the geography to feel a little bit weirder than the first game. Some more slightly branched off content like the first one would’ve been cool, though I wonder if it would’ve distracted too far from James’ primary quest. It’s a little too easy to get disoriented when rowing the boat towards the light if you lose track of where you are. And the one puzzle that involves rotating the room, I think the concept is fascinating, but I had such a hard time trying to wrap my head around it in practice, would’ve helped if it was easier to visualize what I was doing. Off the top of my head these are the only things I can really think to gripe about, kind of a few scattered things and they don’t ultimately bring down the overall experience that much.
Silent Hill 2 will now go down as one of my favorite games of all time. Even now I’m still gripped by its characters, its story, its soundtrack, and the imagery of the surreal zone of Silent Hill. It masterfully puts the character in the shoes of James and asks you to determine what kind of James he is and what it really was that brought him back here. And it puts you in a unique atmosphere that no other series could properly replicate. Even all these years later it manages to impress and be relevant. I highly recommend it to anyone who seems interested.
It was my cousin who is really into this franchise that first got me to try playing the games myself, and I know Silent Hill 2 is the one everyone talks about, but wow, the first entry was really something on its own as well. Some awkward dubbing and lack of depth in fighting bosses aside, this game was super well-rounded for the length and scope of game it is, and I had a blast soaking in its atmosphere.
I appreciate how the industry is always pushing the boundaries of graphical capabilities, player customizability, amount of content that can be stuffed into a game, etc., but when it comes to my taste in games, I'm not always necessarily up-to-date on catching up with all the latest releases, and I tend to find myself playing a fair amount of older games at any given time. And the complaints I often hear about people talking about how "man this game used to look amazing for the time, but now it looks ugly and outdated" never sat right with me. For me, it's like technology in film. You make the best possible art with what you have available to you, and I actually find myself really getting into imagery that I know doesn't look realistic, that it's stylized, but it has character and personality. I like the escapist artifice. That's why I love the look of old games, the low-poly, the simpler textures, when used with an artist's eye, I love that look. Either the look will endure, or it wasn't that great to begin with and we were just captivated with graphical standards of the time and not artistry.
This is all to say, maybe Silent Hill is too rudimentary for some of you to get into at this point we're at now two decades out from its release. That being the start of more psychological horror in games gives it meaningful impact, but that we've come so far since then to really be worth revisiting. That it's kind of too far back into the history of that genre. I don't know. But for me, I think it holds up really well. For how long the game is and how much ground it covers, I think its mechanics work great for its heavily atmospheric storytelling. Its blocky low-poly look with very pixelated textures may be primitive to some, but I love it. I actually hope nostalgia culture gets to the point where we start seeing some games return to the stylistic trademarks of this point in time, not out of necessity but out of creative expression. Of the fixed camera angles, of a simplistic and minimalistic look. I'd love to make something that kind of goes for a similar vibe in its models to this game. I love the idea of seeing a small American town and all of the assets to be found there rendered in such a simple and minimalist look. Even with simplistic graphics, the monster designs are still properly grotesque. The low-poly pixel art look is definitely something I'm big on. And the FMV cutscenes in the game are some of the best I've seen for PS1, as I've seen some really uncanny PS1 FMV. The way the characters move, and their subtle and natural facial acting, is really impressive for the time, and still looks really good to me.
An especially strong element to this game I feel is the pacing. We get an opening that foreshadows a lot of elements but not enough to really understand the full extent of what we're in for, and we have a basic starting premise. Your car crashed and you need to find your daughter. This foggy town is a bit mysterious but nothing too crazy. And then super early on, we get just the right taste that the normalcy we came with is going to go away, as the angles start getting more off-kilter searching through the alleyway, and we hear a distorted siren, and eventually become attacked by monsters. When Harry Mason comes to and learns a little bit more about the town, we get a sense of security in the diner as he gets his bearings. But the game quickly indicates that security isn't something you can really count on for long. By happenstance, I moved to a different camera angle just as I swore I saw something fly by the window outside the diner, too quick and unclear to make out what it was. It then reveals itself, disrupting the safety of the diner and setting a precedent that this town is full of nightmarish creations that are out to get you, and they're everywhere. What's great about the pacing in the game is that while it makes it quickly, strongly apparent that normalcy is being challenged by otherworldly elements as you explore the alleyway, it brings it back to a more peaceful starting point in the diner, and then gradually ratchets up the monsters and gruesome imagery and unsettling atmosphere over the course of the rest of the game. So the point is made early on that this will be a game where creepy, bizarre things happen, but it lets the actual threat and dark atmosphere slowly increase over an extended period of time, with moments where the player is safe, but an overall increasing trajectory of threat and darkness. And the game also balances a mix between periods of time where the player is forced to explore a certain area with opportunities to be free to check out all of what the different parts of town have to offer. I know that I didn't even get to explore all of it, and I can see how a player could've had the opportunity to be even more immersed spending more extensive time just figuring out what all the locations on the map have to offer while fighting off the monsters that come, getting a feel for the layout of the roads and coming up with a mental model for it all. Obviously not a massive world, but the presence of fog, monsters making traversal not so simple, and the changing nature of the landscape add to how the physical space of Silent Hill is processed by the player.
Another thing that has to be talked about with this game is the audio. Holy crap. The dubbing isn't the best in the world, especially with awkward pauses, but the soundtrack and sound design are something else. This soundtrack has to be one of the best soundtracks I've ever heard in a game, with incredible industrial texture and dark ambient energy, and the way it's mixed in how certain melodies will fade in and out of each other depending on where you are is so seamless. The overall sound design is incredible in how it all mixes together. I've found myself becoming a little more gravitated toward more industrial, noise, and ambient music lately and this game fit that so well.
The writing is also really solid in this game, and an element that I feel holds up. What I love is that enough is told to the player to give an impression of what's happening, but it's still vague enough that it isn't completely spelled out. I did a little bit of extra reading to clarify some things for myself, but I could tell that the hooks for plot threads and character details are already there in the game. There's a lot of environmental storytelling, details when you investigate certain items that subtly all work toward telling the story of this town and its inhabitants. The characters don't talk too much about themselves and you have to infer a lot about them. You get a basic sense of who these characters are, but there's still a lot you don't know about them, and that mystery adds a lot to the impression they make on you.
The gameplay mechanics are simple, but effective for the kind of mood narrative this game is going for. You move around with tank controls, which can be clumsy, but I think they help with how the camera (which is actually relatively good compared to some camera systems of the time) changes positions often. They add to feeling like a clumsy everyman fighting normal monsters, but they do become more tricky when you're supposed to dodge and stuff in the boss fights, and I mean with the mechanics in this game it was going to be tricky to really make super captivating boss fights. The basic gameplay model is geared around puzzles and combat. The combat is simple but adequate and properly clumsy for the tension the game is going for, but yeah it doesn't allow for super interesting gameplay against the bosses. I was able to do well on ammo and health without worrying too bad for the most part on normal mode. The puzzle aspect of the game involves the more moment-to-moment puzzles you'll encounter, grabbing items and remembering details for future use later, and the more overall narrative puzzles as to where Cheryl is and the nature of Silent Hill. The puzzles can be pretty creative to figure out. I cheated on a few, but I can't remember any that were so BS that I don't think I could've figured it out on my own with enough time and the right ideas. Some are pretty clever.
I think that if you're open to older games, you should definitely give the original Silent Hill a try if you've never played it. Even with the stuff the sequel built off of this foundation, I still feel it's a solid game that holds up on its own, even if the bosses won't blow you away, and it has some trademarks of an older game with the "eh" dubbing and the inability to really control where the camera is independent of the character. The audio is unbelievably good, the atmosphere is powerful, the environmental storytelling is strong, and I think the look still holds up in its own retro way.
I have to say, in pretty much every aspect I can think of, Danganronpa 2 builds off of all of the great concepts of the original and goes further. It's more refined, the areas are more diverse, the complexity is raised, the story is even crazier, the cast is even better, the mysteries are even less straightforward, and the trials have become even more unpredictable, mentally stimulating, and go further beyond the established formula.
Danganronpa is a franchise that's extremely prone to spoilers, which is why I'd like to get to the rest of the franchise relatively soon before I get anything spoiled for me, but because of that I will be avoiding spoilers as much as possible here. So I'll be skipping out on a lot of details about story and characters that I could elaborate on so people can go into it with a sense of mystery still.
As far as I can say without spoiling either the first game or this one, a bunch of students end up on a seeming island paradise with a lot of questions as to how they got here and why they're here, when it once again gets interrupted by Monokuma, and the killing school life starts anew. Just like the first game, it's split up into chapters, involving relatively normal yet quirky school life and getting to know the rest of the cast, punctuated by unfortunate murders, investigation into all of the relevant details, and culminating in a class trial to figure out just whodunnit, full of tons of twists and turns. The original game ended with still a fair amount of vagueness and unsolved mysteries, which this game capitalizes on, even adding a whole other layer of questions and confusion at the very beginning. Even though in a sense the first game starts with a bait-and-switch, it's pretty much already known going on what that is, but this game goes even crazier with its bait-and-switch, generating genuine mystery with the sheer oddity of its introduction. Also appreciated is how it establishes a simple yet effective premise keeping the narrative moving forward. The first game having no sense of moving towards anything specific rather than just investigating and staying alive works for a first entry, but this game realizes its potential as a sequel to change things up and raise the stakes, and the sense of narrative propulsion benefits it in a way that just repeating the premise of the first game but on an island wouldn't have. I won't spoil the key story events, but I will say that while I loved the story of the first game, the way this game expands upon the mystery, breaks from its own conventions, and goes further with the established themes definitely makes it even more impressive. Like stepping even higher above an already proven proof of concept.
The cast is also generally even better. At first I was worried they wouldn't be able to stick with me as much as the ones in the game I had just beaten, and I had noticed a lot of seeming parallels between these characters and the ones from the last game. But there were more characters this time around that had a strong impact on me, and on average I'd say I probably got more out of individual characters this time around. I mean Nagito should be obvious. Visually he didn't impact me as much at first, but I think Hajime is a more interesting and stronger protagonist than Makoto was. Also thought there were lots of interesting aspects about Chiaki, Fuyuhiko, Mikan, etc. The dynamic between Monokuma and Usami/Monomi also becomes very interesting, full of a lot of mystery.
Like I said, the gameplay gets more refined, more complex, more open. It breaks away a lot more from its established formulas. Obviously it's still a very visual novel style game with most of the real gameplay in the trials, but if you understand that expectation it is very compelling. Without spoiling exactly what happens, right off the bat, on the very first trial, it's significantly more off-the-walls than the trials in the first game were, as if it's building off of that game as a starting point instead of going back to square one, which was really appreciated. And they only play with their own formula, structure, and expectations even more going forward. By the last trial it gets absolutely insane. I thought there was a lot to juggle with in terms of the trial mechanics in the first game, but then this game expands it even more. With a varied amount of mini-games that are expanded enough to add more diversity compared to the trials of the first game, but short enough that the fact they're simplistic and maybe not fully polished won't settle in too much.
Stylistically it also feels like a step-up, maintaining the same basic appealing art style while making the UI more appealing and offering a more vibrant environment that changes up the scenery more often and more significantly. I'm not sure whether or not this game has more "rooms" compared to the first one because instead of navigating hallways you basically have island hubs you lap around on with areas you visit on them, but because of that change in how you traverse them it feels much more spacious. And of course the first game was set in a closed space, so being more claustrophobic, intimate, mundane, and involving going back over old areas more often made more sense, but it's nice that the game expanded the scope to prevent it from becoming stale. And of course, the soundtrack is as solid as ever, arguably even better with the new additions, though it is missing my favorite track from the last game, Box 15.
Any gripes with the game are very minor, the mini-games aren't always super polished but they're brief and functional enough, sometimes certain models and art assets don't seem to have as polished detail but it has a generally solid aesthetic, don't really know what the pet feature added, would've been nicer if the map was easier to figure out how it was oriented, and I won't spoil which one, but I thought one of the trials was a bit of a letdown that threw out good characterization for a more generic and unexplained twist. Also make sure you play on the hardest difficulty, because the mini-games can be slightly frustrating sometimes, but the game is not very punishing at all for failure if you just restart from a checkpoint with full health back. The only truly challenging part are the mysteries, which they should be, though some answers were probably a bit too obtuse (I had to look up a few sometimes because I was just too stumped and it was taking too long).
Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair takes all the best aspects of the first game and builds off of them, expanding complexity and mystery and bending with its own rules. It's more fun to play and explore, and even more intellectually stimulating to solve its mysteries, with solid visual style and charming and compelling characters. I highly recommend you play it, but only after playing the first one.
[THIS WILL PURPOSEFULLY AVOID SPOILERS BECAUSE I KNOW THAT THIS GAME IS VERY LINEAR AND REVOLVES AROUND ITS SENSE OF MYSTERY A LOT]
In early July of 2018, I completed Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc with some friends of mine in attendance. Although I played 99% of the game myself, it was fun discussing the mysteries with other people as we were all trying to figure it out together, trying to solve what really happened and figure out the true nature of everything. It took us a while across multiple lengthy settings (believe we started the game in late May maybe?) and afterwards we split up to play the other Danganronpa games on my own (still in the middle of Ultra Despair Girls), but it was fun having that joint detective environment, coming up with our own in-jokes and discussing what we thought would happen next. So what did I think of the game? While there are a few aspects I feel could've maybe been built upon, this is a solid game that I got really sucked into and provides a great foundation for other games to build upon.
I remember when I used to see posts about Danganronpa on Tumblr several years back I had no clue what it was. It had a distinct enough art style to recognize but nothing I saw in the posts I briefly glimpsed seemed to properly suggest what the point of it was and so I didn't really bother checking it out. If I had known what the games were about, I probably would've made a greater effort to check it out earlier. The premise of Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc is that you and a group of other high school students who are "Ultimates" at a given skill are all brought to Hope's Peak Academy, a prestigious school to be a light for the future. But it then turns out that something has happened to Hope's Peak, as all of you are now trapped in a simulated school environment where the only way to escape is to kill someone and get away with it (and leave everyone else to die), with the goal being to provide a symbol of despair towards the future as opposed to hope. Your goal is to get to know the other students and try to understand the mystery of why things are the way they are, as well as properly solve any murders that happen to expose the murderers and keep everyone else from being killed.
An important thing to note early on is that this game is very linear. I don't tend to play any visual novel-esque games because they tend to be so linear, but while there are certain areas it would have been nice to have a greater degree of control or impact, the game manages to find a way to still keep itself engaging as a game despite the linearity. And this is through a combination of just enough of a level of actual gameplay and a solid narrative, characters and style.
While the majority of the story and character beats are told through linear dialogue and even clue-gathering is pretty linear, there are opportunities for (limited) exploration at certain points, and you do get a chance to learn more about the individual characters from talking with them and giving them the right gifts which is up to your discretion, and these can give you certain slight advantages. But the portion where the gameplay really opens up are the class trials. Aside from some minor rhythm and precision aiming gameplay, if you knew the answers to everything this wouldn't be much, but the fact that you're solving the mystery and can't really tell how everything all connects, this is what provides the most engaging gameplay experience. Checking your truth bullets, reading up the transcript again, trying out a combination that didn't work and keeping track of how much time, slow-down gauge, and hearts you have left is where the game becomes more interactive. It's not a very hard game with how checkpoints are and how forgiving it is with these aspects, but figuring out how everything comes together can be challenging. We often felt stumped and like we must be idiots for just not being able to come up with what seems like the right answer. It seems to be most similar to the Phoenix Wright games. I haven't played one in about a decade, but I almost feel like this game's mysteries were even harder to solve and more personally engaging than the ones I played in that game because you get to know all the characters so personally, and the answers can seem really obtuse and hard to piece together at first, with lots of situations that seem like they're going one way and then completely change. And you get to learn a lot about the characters from these cases, both the victims and perpetrators, and how the rest of the cast respond to trying to uncover the truth. This game sold me on how you can make a really compelling game even when so much of it is so linear, if you put your time and effort into the right aspects. It may limit the amount of freedom you have, but giving just the right amount of interactivity can still make it really engaging.
But what kept up my investment in solving those mysteries was the framing of it all. The world of Danganronpa is very interesting, in a bit of an exaggerated, slightly unrealistic reality, but rooted enough in a real core when it came to characters and the environments they found themselves in. I don't want to talk too much about the story because I don't want to spoil it, but the way it unravels, adding mysteries upon mysteries, the palpable dread and tension and fear of what may happen next, and how everything starts to tie together and the bonds characters form and the sides they take, it's all fascinating stuff to watch all of these characters interact as the plot unfolds. And those characters, they're pretty much all well fleshed-out, with unique yet distinctive personalities and quirks, and you feel like you get to know them so well and how they approach situations, how they interact with each other, who they get along with, who they don't, what they aspire to, etc. They may draw from archetypes, but they all become distinctive characters in their own right. It was so much fun to see them being themselves and interesting to see how the situations made them all respond. Just to list some of note, while he can be almost comically dense and submissive, I think Makoto is a solid protagonist, a great viewpoint character for this kind of story. Kyoko, while seemingly almost too good at what she does sometimes, provides a compelling counterpoint to Makoto with her dominating personality and less wordy yet concise observations. Byakuya is always insufferable to be around and I really dislike him, but he manages to come up with interesting observations and I can't deny he's a well-written character. Monokuma is just the most perfectly aggravating character, so gleefully uncaring of anyone's wellbeing yet playing under the guise of a fair and just overseer, you just grow to absolutely loathe this smug bear. And of course anyone who's seen my Facebook feed from the time should know Chihiro is my favorite character from this game. Are they one of the best, most well-written, most fleshed out characters of all time? No, but I really associated with this character, I felt like I could relate to some of their feelings of weakness and insecurity, their timid and cautious approach to others, about idolizing others and putting their needs above your own to the point of de-valuation of the self and I found them kind of inspiring. Sort of some similar stuff to Shinji Ikari, though obviously not on the same level of depth.
Style is another thing that really helps this game. It has a very distinctive art style, that provides for some emotive characters with lots of personality and some really visually appealing and memorable designs. You can just tell right away if a character is from Danganronpa, they have a very distinctive look. The game has a really interesting stylistic choice where characters are represented almost like cardboard cutouts for the most part standing around wherever they happen to be, and you can look around rooms almost like a point-and-click where you can turn the camera a bit to the sides and up and down, with free character movement whenever you're on one of the main floors themselves. Considering how most VN-style games are just static backgrounds, that added dimensionality and some element of free 3D traversal really helps sell Hope's Peak Academy as a physical space with actual geography to it that you're familiarizing yourself with its layout.
Another important thing to note is this game's killer soundtrack. I was not expecting this game to have such a stellar soundtrack. The songs are incredibly memorable, they've pretty much all been lodged in my head, they're all great, and even when I've heard them so many times before, I loved it every time they started back up again. If I were to point out a consistent theme, it would be a kind of techno vibe, often drawing from jazz for some inspiration. Box 15 is my favorite song, I've listened to it on its own so many times, and loved whenever it started back up again in-game. Good sound design in general, great voices for all the characters, with memorable and charismatic performances, and great sound effects. Whenever we pressed the button that reveals all the hints in the area, my theater room's subwoofer would just rumble with this awesome bassy sound, and the sound effect for Free Time starting was also powerful and incredible.
If I had any gripes with this game, they're not really major, mostly personal things that don't really detract from the game. Just small things really. The game can be a bit too wordy sometimes, restating what has already been said, especially because Makoto likes to be very wordy and repetitious as he talks to himself, or really talking at length on a topic that should have been covered fine enough, like with how much talk there is about despair. In some cases, it could've been benefitted by not being padded quite as much, it's already quite lengthy as it is. Flashbacks can be helpful in bringing back certain info fresh in your mind, but also got overused at some points. While it's good the game makes sure you have all the truth bullets you need before entering a case, I wish it gave you a little more freedom and didn't make it so obvious where you're supposed to gather your clues. Story events in general tend to railroad you into where your character will be when it's not free time, so it would be nice to not be stuck having to be where the game wants you to be so much of the time, but then again I guess there isn't really a ton of content that would be outside of that. I wish the whole getting to know characters thing was a little more in-depth, like if it was more than just learning some story beats and maybe could have some impact on the main game or the influence you have on certain characters, but I really don't fault the game for not doing that. Just something I think could've been cool. The feature where you would lock onto certain parts of the dialogue to hone in on them does get tedious when you have to strike up conversation with a character multiple times. Moving around in the main floors can be clunky in how it controls but I do understand it's mainly there to prevent the map from feeling like static backgrounds instead of a connected environment so I don't fault the game too much for that. I also felt aiming could be a bit clunky, at least on a PS4 controller, it seems to be better on a mouse when I played Danganronpa 2. You don't get a ton of free time sometimes, but I guess that's what School Mode is for (watched some videos on the conversations you get from all the characters because actually playing the mode seemed like it could be tedious). Sometimes the voice clip they'll play to accompany a bit of dialogue seems ill-fitting, or they'll use the same one twice in a row (think this happened with Mondo). Some elements seem confusing in where they lead, either not seemingly leading to much, or remaining unsolved mysteries by the end, but I guess later games might end up answering those.
Also what's up with that pink blood? There's one scene in particular where the blood isn't pink which makes me even more confused with why it had to be that way. Guess they got away with it the one time?
Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc can seem a bit too linear and a bit too wordy at some points, and certain aspects can seem a bit clunky/underdeveloped, but it was still a fantastic game to play through. An engrossing narrative and universe, with interesting, charming, motivated characters that it was fascinating to watch interact and try to solve the mystery of Hope's Peak Academy together, with beautifully distinctive artwork and excellent voice acting, sound design and soundtrack composition. You may be doing a lot of reading and watching, but there's just enough interactivity to give a sense of investment and personal engagement in what is happening. I definitely recommend it to everyone, and I can't wait to see what I uncover playing through the rest of the series.
It took me until mid-2018 to beat a game (not even catch all the legendaries and complete the National Pokedex because I still haven't) that came out in late 2016, that I bought as it came out. Considering I usually powered through Pokemon games pretty constantly as they came out, that should kind of give you a clue as to my level of engagement by that point in the franchise. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed a lot of this game. But it didn't grab me as much as other Pokemon games did in the past, forcing me to want to stick with them as much as possible. I'd say one contributing factor is where I was at life by that point, even Pokemon X came out when I was just entering college and very new to being an adult, and of course the others came out when I was younger and had more capacity to spend free time enraptured in a game for hours and hours like that. But that's not all of it because I had beaten some other games around the same time and played a lot of multiplayer games with my friends. It's also that from a single-player perspective, Pokemon Moon does some things right but is not as engaging as it should be. In fact, I had started getting a little more pumped about the game after I had already beaten it (or at least at the time, before I got busy with other things), with the potential of checking out post-game stuff, catching them all, battling others with my built-up team, etc.
Pokemon is a hard franchise for me to judge, because I haven't played it like I've played other games. Pokemon for me has been this game that doesn't ever really end, only when I happen to get side-tracked by something else or lose interest for a time. You have a set amount of powerful trainers you're supposed to beat, but past that point it turns into what is basically a massively-multiplayer single-player game. Pokemon Go was the perfect storm to bring its unique form of augmented reality game to life, because Pokemon as a franchise was always about doing your own thing on your own, and meeting up with other people in the real world by happenstance and interacting with them. You literally were all on your own separate Pokemon journeys and would intersect with each others', just like how the world of Pokemon is portrayed in the show. And Pokemon has this aspect of transference that no other game has come close to matching, I mean Mass Effect's continuing story concept looks cool, but in Pokemon you can literally have Pokemon you trained and raised 15 years ago and transferred over 4 games (at least) still fighting with you. There are always new trainers to meet, and you can breed Pokemon for even better and better attributes, and the progress you made in previous games can carry over into current ones if you choose to do so. This is why I played Pokemon differently, I didn't just play it as its own game where I make progress and complete it in its own self-contained story (at least not past Gen III), I played each one as the new and continued adventures of Pokemon, a new installment in this ongoing saga that I would complete and then have it become integrated into all the other games I had completed, bringing up my favorite older Pokemon to the most recent version and continuing to catch Pokemon and battle with them. It's made it a bit harder for me to evaluate them individually when I was younger, and I'm honestly considering at some point attempting to beat all of the older ones in an individual sense, ignoring the existence of the others and just beating them as if they weren't interconnected, to evaluate how they stand up on their own a little better. It could be useful because then I could go back and also try out the third versions that they would always release (the only one of those I ever beat was Black 2).
That being said, and I acknowledge I haven't spent enough time with Gen I and II as I should have to have proper experience with all of them, I think Gen VI and Gen VII have been my least favorite Pokemon gens personally. A lot of the Gen VI changes were really cool like putting the games in 3D (though part of me wishes we could still see some cool full sprites) and how they revamped some of the online stuff, and a lot of what I remember liking about Gen IV a lot also had to do with how I felt it expanded the potential of the series, but I think starting with Gen VI there were some core issues introduced into the Pokemon experience, and while I think Gen VII improves on some, some remain, and some new ones occur there. I wouldn't say any Pokemon game is definitively the ultimate one, because always I come up with something that is present in another game that one lacks, and they aren't perfect, but I think VI and VII create fundamental issues that bring down the core appeal in a way that the others didn't.
I want to start with the negatives so I can finish on the positives. The first is one of the most crucial issues, that carries over from Gen VI. This game becomes way too easy if you let it. A big culprit is the change to EXP Share, but the real issue is that both gens don't ramp up the difficulty properly to account for this mechanic. I was younger, but with earlier games I remember you had to prove you could match certain checkpoints before you could just move on to the next bit in the story. I don't think in Pokemon X I ever really suffered because of EXP Share. In Pokemon Moon, I started using it, wised up to just how easy it was making the game, and just turned it off until I beat the game. It was only at the very end of the game that there was beginning to be real challenge again because how much EXP Share boosted me, and keep in mind I wasn't grinding for battling, only occasionally giving some extra effort to catch some Pokemon (I think the way catching them also gives EXP is a cool idea but further breaks the difficulty progression). This is even further compounded by some of the other mechanics introduced in both Gen VI and VII. Amie/Refresh is a concept I like though I wish you could do more with it. Small little things like getting rid of statuses and holding on and avoiding attacks is a cool idea (but unfortunately continues to make the game too forgiving). Super Training and Pelago I think both should have been something mostly reserved for beating the game. I did Super Training just to do it in Pokemon X which made the game way too easy. I started using some of the Pelago stuff like growing berries and leveling up some of my PC Pokemon before avoiding it until I beat the game. Granted my pace became almost glacial at times during some of my hiatuses so that issue was compounded for me, but I honestly think that before you beat the game you should start with pretty much just the beans, maybe getting a few Pokemon every now and then, maybe berries. I could see it being like you're supposed to beat the game quick enough that this stuff doesn't really accumulate, but the game's already too easy. A theme I'd say with a lot of these mechanics is I didn't have to use them, but their presence before beating the game means the developers meant me to try to use them, and they break what should be a nice difficulty flow. But Sun and Moon have a unique problem when it comes to that difficulty flow that Gen VI didn't have.
I was intrigued by the concept of getting rid of gyms. They were a pretty formulaic part of the franchise, so getting rid of them could open fresh new opportunities. However, with how they ended up, I feel like keeping gyms and just maybe getting more creative with their layout would have been the best option, unless they really fleshed this concept out more. The gyms were like checkpoints of strength to indicate that you had progressed enough in fighting steadily more complex and difficult trainers, increasing your capacity to do things, and often had fun theming and nice little puzzles and stuff, almost like micro-Zelda dungeons. Theoretically, that's sort of what the trials are but they mostly fell flat for me. They sort of focus on doing certain themed activities and then fighting a singularly higher-leveled Pokemon that could call in lackeys. The activities themselves usually aren't very long and often not as interesting as some of the puzzles gyms used to have, and often feel not as well connected to the concept of building up your team. And fighting a gym leader with multiple Pokemon of their own is a lot more compelling of a checkpoint for me than most Totem Pokemon. I ended up never taking trials seriously, and I don't think it's just because of what level I was at.
Part of the issues with Gen VI were they had this cool flashy new 3D look and more intuitive online capabilities (I actually prefer its system to Gen VII's I don't understand the point of the plaza), but the navigation felt more relatively restricted, I didn't find the region terribly interesting (maybe I'm too harsh on it, not a lot of it stuck with me, I hated how the main city was set up though), story was bizarre and not fleshed out in the right ways, team and villain was pretty unimpactful, introduced the idea of Mega Pokemon I wasn't too fond of and started introducing a power creep issue, the amount of new Pokemon was a lot less than it used to be (especially with legendaries though I do understand the challenge of making so many models all at once) and characters mainly felt weak. Let's go through how some of these issues may have carried on to Gen VII.
The navigation is definitely improved upon, especially getting rid of the roller-blading ugh I just remembered the existence of that and how annoying it was. But a big issue with the game is the progression of the maps themselves. This is probably one of the most linear and least explorative Pokemon games yet IMO. A lot of older Pokemon games would have you return to old areas but have you take new routes that are opened to you, or would have you progress through them in an interesting path shape. Alola's islands seem to mainly be going from one end of the island and eventually making your way back in a very circular feeling and linear way. Maybe they're bigger than I think but the islands themselves feel very small, I don't know how they compare to the size of the other regions but Alola feels very small to me. It could just be how much they lack in explorative feel. I especially feel like traversing the water is not really fun, especially with the limits put on fishing, and I think personally that taking from Hoenn's water routes and making these islands feel like a connected chain (instead of separate hubs) with interesting and expansive water paths in between them would help the atmosphere and provide cool new opportunities. People mocked the abundance of water in Hoenn, but I loved the opportunities they provide. You can have currents, mini islands, little places to stop and explore along the way, diving areas, currents, etc. Alola has some cool theming and some interesting areas, but I don't think they're as fun to explore as they should be. Kalos' theming wasn't as strong, but it was more fun to explore in the weird way it branched out from that main central city. I don't know how fun Alola will be to go back and traverse now that the game's done.
When it comes to story and Sun and Moon, things get a bit interesting because there's parts I really love and parts that really bother me. I'll get to the parts that I love later. This game feels really short. On Howlongtobeat, it seems to be about the same length as the others, but too much of it is cutscene padding. Cutscenes can be good and I'll get to it later, but there is way too much dialogue padding in some parts, and too many little things that pad up scenes and make them go on for too long, and just too many scenes in general. Something that bothered me about this game was that mentally it was hard for me to figure out when the tutorial really ended, and that's both because of the story and the difficulty. The story has an extremely handholding approach, even to the point that now Rotom tells you where to go like this is a big open-world game. Potentially useful if I hadn't played in a while? Yes, but the structure shouldn't be so easy to follow in general. I was like "when is this game not going to have everyone guiding me on where I need to be going and what I need to be doing" and I'm not sure that point ever went away until the ending, and I don't remember it being quite like this in the older games, or at least tonally it being so handhold-y.
What the story itself is about is considerably better than the story of X and Y IMO, and I'll explain later. But I feel like the way it ends is very anti-climactic. Some of the development of the villains ends up undercooked, better than Team Flare and Lysandre, but it feels like it doesn't pay off as well as it should. The reveal of Lusamine and the Aether Foundation as the villain instead of Team Skull is a nice subversion for Pokemon if predictable. I loved Team Skull being a bunch of goofballs, but I kind of wish they had a little more respect for Guzma. He seems to really not matter as much as you'd think, and he seems like he'd have been a really compelling second villain if they could've done something different. What really disappointed me was the showdown with the final boss and with the game's version legendary. Usually in Pokemon there'll be a lot of buildup to the final pre-Elite Four narrative climax and it'll feel like a really big thing. In Ruby and Sapphire, the entire region is terraformed. In Diamond and Pearl, Team Galactic threatens to create a new universe. In Black and White, a castle pops out of nowhere. In X and Y, baffling as it is, the threat of the cannon is more tangible. In these games, it feels like they go to a weird dimension for a bit while Nihilego take up too much screentime, Lillie confronts Lusamine, there's an anticlimactic battle and resolution, and it's basically done. The Ultra Beasts themselves are such a vague thing that worked better earlier on in the story, I really wish they could've better expanded the whole concept of this dimension and what's happened to Lusamine, maybe even have Guzma be like a proper mini-boss. And unlike other games where you take on the version legendary as a conflict to basically save the world, this one it's like a polite little thing to give the legendary a chance to battle, which taking place after the resolution of Lusamine, makes it feel exceptionally weak. Then you just sort of find out the Pokemon League is ready, I guess which is standard, wish they could've made it take a little longer and harder to get there. Also Hau may be somewhat amusing but I wish he was somewhat of a challenge.
Now we talk about the power creep issue, and the amount of new Pokemon. I was a bit uneasy with what Mega Evolutions offered to the world of Pokemon, and the Z-Moves also make me a bit uneasy. First off, the animations tend to be way too long. In theory, special moves and temporary higher states can be cool but I think they throw off the balance of Pokemon. I don't hate the ideas, but they're not my favorite. If I had to pick one of the two, I'd probably go with signature moves. Once again, I like when they can add a ton of new Pokemon. I understand there exist so many already but they always do too many rehashes of concepts they've done before, I've come up with so many and seen so many Fakemon ideas in the past, there's all kinds of potential for new kinds of Pokemon to exist. More of a personal gripe thing, but still I think sometimes they could be a little wiser in coming up with new territory to cover with Pokemon designs. Also I really wish they just had a National Pokedex in the game.
Now that it seems like I have so much against this game, I want to cover what I felt are the positives.
One of the biggest strengths of this game I feel is in the improvement in presentation and in some of the characters and storytelling. This game embraces the potential of cutscenes in a bold way. Sometimes a little too much and a little too long, but characters are so expressive with their faces, and some of their dialogue is solid. These are some of my favorite characters in Pokemon games. I love Lillie, Lusamine, Guzma, Hau, Gladion, Kukui, Acerola, Olivia, and especially Nanu. These characters have a personality in their cutscenes they just couldn't have had in the previous games, especially with their model quality (makes me wish these models were on a system with a better resolution). The story works better than that of X and Y because I didn't feel much for a lot of the characters in that game. There are a lot of vibrant yet distinct and memorable characters in this game, and that's part of what shines to me the most about it. Up until the ending, I enjoy how the story gets moved by these characters, how Lillie adapts and how Lusamine exposes her true self. These are characters I enjoy getting to know and being with, which helped make up a little for the game being too easy and too linear. I also like how the Tapu legendaries are treated in such a unique way in the story, an interesting approach for legendary Pokemon. It felt like in terms of storytelling, Game Freak upped what they were capable of beyond some of the stuff they had done before, which was appreciated and I look forward to what they might be able to do with more visual and character based storytelling going forward.
The world of Alola has a pretty visual style to it, really embracing the tropical theming in a way that capitalizes more strongly than I think Kalos did for its setting. It may be linear but it's very comfortable to traverse and look at, there's some diverse types of places to visit, and everything has been designed to give a pleasant atmosphere. While it can't compete with the incredible tunes of Gen III for me, the soundtrack is very nice and also capitalizes on the theming well. There's some solid tunes there. The Pokemon designs themselves take really strongly from the tropical theming, more so than I felt the Pokemon of Kalos took from a European theme. They chose some great new inclusions (I LOVE Lurantis), made good choices in what older Pokemon they brought back to the region, and I really liked the concept of Alolan variants, how these Pokemon we're familiar with could have alternative forms based in different habitats. And it looks like unlike X and Y there are a healthy amount of their own form of legendary Pokemon to capture.
One major change they did that I did appreciate was getting rid of HM's, and using ride Pokemon instead. You still got the progression but didn't need HM slaves or giving HM's to your main team like I always did. I didn't love that it was there so early, but I think Pelago is useful once you beat the game, helping speed up the process of getting the right items and hatching eggs and leveling up PC Pokemon in the background, sort of like taking phone game mechanics but without the actual paying aspect.
While it seems like I spent so much more time on the negative stuff, I do want to make clear that I did like this game and had fun with it, and continue to enjoy it when I come back to it (maybe I'll make an addendum when I complete the post-game). I just wanted to properly articulate some of the issues I had with this game, I haven't talked to too many people about their opinions on this game but I felt I had to explain what I felt are some of its shortcomings. It can be nebulous to try to explain the appeal of the characters and the atmosphere and the core Pokemon formula. Just know I think it's a mostly good game with some unfortunate shortcomings. For Pokemon fans, I think it's worth it. For people who aren't, I'd say there may be some better Pokemon games to try out for a more compelling gameplay experience. For newcomers, I think it's a good entry way to the concept of Pokemon.
I beat this with the help of someone who used to be a good friend of mine (no longer), who was a big fan of the game. I had never really played Pikmin as a kid, though I have played a lot of bingo battle in Pikmin 3 with my sister. So I was curious what I would think about the Pikmin style in a campaign setting. I have a few minor gripes but for the most part I found this to be a really excellent game with a lot of charm and atmosphere, and I enjoyed immersing myself in its world.
Let me quickly get some of the gripes out of the way. I'm not really sure how I would've recommended to combat this, but it can be really cumbersome to control the Pikmin sometimes. They get stuck on stuff, they fall off, they don't know how to orient themselves and oftentimes it can get a lot of them killed. I don't think it's a major issue because I think it adds to the coordination aspect but sometimes there are some moments that are super frustrating because of how challenging it can be to properly navigate them sometimes. It can also be hard to aim them properly, especially if something is in the air and you have to figure out how to align your cursor right under it, it plays with perspective in a weird way sometimes. The camera can also be frustrating to work with sometimes, it can make it hard to see what the Pikmin are doing or how to throw them properly when it's locked in an awkward way. Also I appreciate the game's challenge but there are some instances where I felt like I knew how to deal with certain obstacles and they would just do something weird that completely threw me off, or certain dungeon instances would just be really unfairly challenging and I would wonder how I could possibly properly keep enough of my Pikmin alive. Like on some occasions the magma rocks would explode like almost instantly on the ground and I'd have to restart the level (My former friend said the Pikmin may have been attacking it because they were left to their own devices? Idk). Also I only played it once but I think I prefer the setup of the Bingo Battle mode in Pikmin 3 to the multiplayer mode in this game.
That's pretty much all of the gripes I can think of at the moment, onto the positives.
From Chibi-Robo and movies like the Toy Story series and A Bug's Life, I've long been a fan of the possibilities of an environment where you're really small. How ordinary locations turn into these massive environments with unique geography. Pikmin 2 definitely plays to that. The environments are so charming and beautiful to look at, and any of the design aesthetics used to populate the maps and dungeons are really pretty to look at and nicely textured. I especially loved the look of the shower tile textures of some of the dungeons, very atmospheric and aesthetically pleasing. The game creates this great atmosphere of a scavenger leader going through this world that is evocative of something I find myself thinking about a lot, which is the concept of a world where humanity existed but then is somehow gone and how all of that manmade stuff would interact with nature over time. I love that kind of stuff. This game is just so pleasant to the eye, with all the character designs full of charm, and personality in their animations. The Pikmin themselves are so charming. The sounds play well into this style as well, with great sound effects for everything, and while the soundtrack hasn't impacted me on the level of some of my favorites, it's definitely solid and atmospheric.
The maps are solid but the dungeons are the really interesting thing about the game, especially with how their procedural generation ensures you have to keep adapting to however they're laid out. This means that if you get a layout that isn't so great, you can restart and try something else out. The dungeons are something you have to commit to, so individual Pikmin are more precious and you have to plan ahead properly, however the game's use of geysers are useful because you can choose to go back if you're just not doing too hot but at the cost of your current progress. Boss battles were generally solid for the kind of game this is, the final one was especially interesting. I also like how the focus on treasures forces you to generally explore these areas to their fullest, unless you really feel like it's not worth it (and in some cases it wasn't for me, including repeat boss fights in the one dungeon). It's a good framing for an overall objective for the game, and gives it a sort of collectathon vibe. Makes it so you have extra stuff you can go for in the sake of completionism (like the challenge mode as well that I don't really have time for) but you don't have to.
Another cool thing is a habit Nintendo has of making games that push the boundaries of genre definitions, that skirt the expectations, can be hard to classify, or challenge typical genre conventions. Like Super Smash Bros. does not neatly fit into the concept of fighting game, some don't even consider it that but it opened up a new type of "party fighting" game that went on to inspire a bunch of other games to try a new style. Or Luigi's Mansion, what do you classify that as, a twin-stick shooter? Pikmin 2 is defined on Wikipedia as a puzzle game and an RTS. It's like a melding of both in a way that doesn't completely fit in one or the other. It's such a unique yet incredible take on real-time strategy with some mild puzzle elements thrown in for good measure. I'd love to see more games approach a similar take to strategy games. It is strategic but in a completely different way than say Age of Empires or StarCraft. It's the unique kind of variation that still technically fits that Nintendo is best at. You can be very strategic about who gets what Pikmin and where you're going to place them and which you're taking, and I really love that they let captains go out on their own because there were situations where I was so grateful I could just beat up and kill enemies on my own without the Pikmin.
I think there could've been a little more polish in some of the controls and maneuvering the Pikmin and there are some situations that are a bit cheap, but I generally found this game very enjoyable. Aesthetically and sonically it's very pleasant and charming, it's a lot of fun to play with the Pikmin and figure out how to best control them, the dungeons are fun to explore, and it provides a very unique spin on typical genre conventions. I definitely recommend this game to everyone, extremely charming and a lot of fun, with compelling difficulty.
[I didn't go for 100% completion but I spent significantly more time than needed to beat the game because I was just enjoying myself and going back for some stuff I missed, because I was having a lot of fun with the game.]