63 Reviews liked by HANBAGA



I've only played Doom before using mods with GZDoom. I decided to try this official release because I wanted to see what vanilla-Doom actually played like.
I was so surprised by how much I loved it. Just like in Dark Souls, you can feel the intention of the game designers in the levels. You can feel them fucking with you and laying little traps for you to run into. The feeling of opening a door and being able to predict when a trap will trigger isn't a feeling I get except from FromSoftware games.
I also loved the puzzles. They are archaic and strange, but there is a logic that you can follow. There is also so much to find. I finally found the last secret in E1M1 after playing it for years.
The only kind of bad mark against this game is episode 4, Thy Flesh Consumed. It feels like the designers kind of phoned it in and decided to make it extremely challenging. I'm glad I finished it, but I think most people can skip it unless they want to play a survival horror resource management game.

Xenoblade Chronicles is a game of unrelenting excess.
This is a big part of the game's sense of spectacle. The game's setting, located upon the bodies of two colossal titans caught in a freeze-frame of an ancient battle, is one of the most startlingly imaginative world concepts I've ever encountered. As you explore these titans you explore mammoth, gorgeous regions, the best of these conjuring up a sense of wonder (Bionis' Leg is a clear highlight for me, but I also enjoyed Satorl Marsh and Sword Valley a lot), whilst the worst regions whilst still pretty get bogged down by their sheer scale (Eryth Sea is simply just too large, whilst Alcamoth feels weirdly empty and lifeless).
For every moment of wonder brought by the game's sense of scale, there was for me alongside it a moment of frustration. The game has just so many systems to it, some of which legitimately feel good to use and are engaging; highlights are the arts system where you choose a character's moves and level them up individually, and adding gems to your characters armour allowing for personalisation with their stats (although the sheer variety of gems felt very intimidating in a bad way). The flipside is that a lot of the systems feel excessive and like you could easily get bogged down in a miasma of trying to optimise every single number; again I won't give a complete list here, but at the very least gem crafting and being able to copy across skills from other character's skill trees are systems that feel entirely excessive, and like they'd quickly turn into nightmarish abysses if you actually wanted to seriously engage with them. All of this is to say nothing of the ridiculous affinity map of the relationships of every named character in the game, or the Collectopedia (a name which unintentionally borders on self-parody) where you can stash individual copies of various collectables that you will seldom use to get rewards that you will also seldom use. It's all just so much.
I have a similar feeling towards the side quests in the game, which there are almost 500 of. There are a handful that are legitimately pretty good and help add to the feeling of the locations you've visiting or that give you nice insight into these communities, but there are also an absurd number of generic fetch-quests, item collection quests or missions to go kill a certain number of a regular enemies where the game just turns into this flavourless mush, you just ticking off boxes to make the game give you more minor rewards and small pats on the back. Again it feels like if this was more trimmed down and honed the experience with the side quests would be good, but it so easily turns into this blur where after a couple hour session of completing side quests I'd not be sure I could actually tell you what I'd even been doing with my time in any detail.
The most frustrating thing for me among all of this though is the battle system which relies on MMO-style cooldown moves. The best battles in the game are very engaging forcing you to actually figure out a strategy, but the vast majority of encounters I found essentially reduced down to just mindlessly and obediently pressing whatever attacks are ready to be used again when the game tells you they've finished cooling down; this is even worse than it sounds because moves having set cooldown times means most fights will work out as you using moves in very similar sequences over and over too. Shulk's positional moves that reward you for attacking from the side or behind the enemy help this situation a bit but not nearly enough to carry the 60 hour runtime.
Whilst I don't like this battle system particularly I think it would have been completely fine in a shorter game, but as is I felt like by 20 hours in I was already mostly done with what amounted to doing the same fights over and over and yet the game was still going to path me through countless enemies (inside the Mechonis was the roughest bit in this regard where what could have been a cool two or three hour long journey instead took several hours due to how many identical robots you're dragged past to have identical fights with).
I think, ultimately, I find myself liking almost everything about Xenoblade Chronicles other than having to actually play it. If I'm sounding really negative it's partially just out of frustration that the actual gameplay for me really didn't live up to the promise of everything else the game has to offer, rather than me considering the game at all bad. The soundtrack is legitimately great, even if the battle music specifically suffers from over-exposure, and I can see myself listening to it occasionally once I have a bit more distance from playing through the game. The world is conceptually wonderful, even awe-inspiring at times. The cast is very likeable and easy to root for.
Even in regards to the story, what starts out as a fairly typical story of revenge eventually turns into a tale of breaking cycles of violence and learning to overcome fate via communication and the power of free will. Much of the story is solidly told with some reasonably affecting emotional moments, but in the final ten hours various different aspects pay-off very well, whilst the ending itself is all at once bold, fascinating, impassioned, and in its final moments downright soulful, so much so that its hard for me not to buckle and forget how deeply frustrating and numbing much of the gameplay that got me to this point was.
It all leaves me feeling very conflicted.



A case for the eradication of art students around the world.

genuinely one of the most impressive games on the PS1 in terms of presentation. everything from the animations, music, naturalistic voice acting, settings, and so on comes together so well. a true feast for the senses. it feels so uncommon to play a game where the main characters are at each others necks like this which made for an interesting dynamic.
i even enjoyed the combat system which at a glance seemed to be more difficult than it ended up. going for most of the content in the game (i collected the rare weapons, did backtracking for optional puzzles, fought the superboss, upgraded all weapons and spells except for Revive and one handed knives, etc.) had me so overpowered that i didn't have to think much about any of the later game encounters and i could just smack or blast things with whatever spell and they'd die within two rounds usually.
the animations and loading in combat are a bit slow and i could see how playing this on actual hardware would be a bit of a slog but being able to fast forward on duckstation got around it.
absolutely deserves to be more popular than it is. can't wait to dive into the Shadow Hearts games eventually too.

Xenoblade Chronicles laps up your time with a St. Bernard’s huge, gross, slimy, wet tongue, licks your face with the residue of your lost hours still sticking to its perpetually unclean dog mouth, and then asks if you had a good time. The St. Bernard is fluffy, and the gesture is sweet, but I don’t even know how to begin answering that.
But I guess the music and world design are excellent.

Baldur's Gate 3 is the Star Wars The Force Awakens of CRPGs
Previous BG3 posts here
This probably isn't going to be particularly structured or edited or even necessarily coherent.
Spoilers for the entire Baldur's Gate series and also Neverwinter Nights 2: Mask of the Betrayer to follow
As said in previous posts, I think BG3 is a three out of five game, definitely not (to me, personally, this is subjective) the sort of revelatory RPG experience that some people have had. This user can say it because he's played most of the big tentpole CRPG releases from the past 20 years. Also I'm a born hater. Feel free to disregard me.
Biggest problem with Baldur's Gate 3 IMO: it has to be Baldur's Gate 3, the AAA CRPG here to revive an old franchise and finally bring Dungeons & Dragons back into the video game space with a vengeance, developed by Larian Studios, et cetera et cetera. The rest of my problems kind of stem from this and the development realities of making it this.
Aside: sure, Solasta (which I admit, I didn't play, sorry) is out there, but that's an indie using the 5e SRD, not an officially licensed DND product; Hasbro and WoTC weren't out there helping to market it. I am not immune to propaganda.
Here's what every tabletop DnD player knows: the low levels aren't that fun in a mechanical sense because you don't have many options. Shit doesn't get rolling until level 5 or so. You are some kind of barely competent goon who can fight rats in a cellar or maybe some wolves and goblins. The fun, other than the social aspect of playing with your IRL friends, is in the character growth; going from being Dude Ratsbane into Dude the Saviour of Baldur's Gate.
BG3 solves the feeling of your character progress stagnating mostly by trickling a never-ending stream of loot that would be completely busted in a tabletop setting. This is fine, this is what RPG video games do, it's what the other games did.
But like, narratively, BG3 is kind of a mess. The game never stops telling you how cool and awesome and special you are until all the narrative stakes and impact are completely sanded away and there's no reason to fucking care about any of it. You are simply on a carnival ride through the Sword Coast.
You start by traveling the planes in a spaceship. The companions have epic-level backstories (Mystra's ex! Decade's service in the Blood War! The Blade of Frontiers!) despite being level 1 dirt farmers. A forgotten deity hangs out at your camp so you can respec. Chances are you freed an immortal angel from her soul prison in the Plane of Shadow, then fought the literal avatar of death. As a mid-game boss fight.
...The final boss starts in a sewer.
It probably seems completely ridiculous that I'm arguing BG3 is too big and empowering. That's just what these games are like! Hell, when I first started playing I was saying the Mindflayers were the most interesting part of the game and fighting goblins and gnolls was boring. But a horde of goblins is appropriate for a level 3 party, and to BG3's credit it makes things more interesting by giving them all various class levels (warlock gob, ranger gob, fighter gob). I want to build up to the mindflayers, not fight them when I'm supposed to be worrying about goblins.
What I was actually saying in the previous post is that I wanted to see some of the weirder shit DND can do, and mindflayer stuff is a good place to start; they have big tentacle spaceships that hop dimensions! I sure hope we'll be doing things with that later!! But, because this is a AAA video game titled Baldur's Gate 3, it can't do anything with that other than make it some kind of generically world-ending threat that may shatter the entire Sword Coast - nay, all of Faerun (none of which we see!) - if not stopped by Prot'agon Ist'You the half-elf paladin and their Goth GF Shadowheart.
It didn't have to be this way... but it did, because the game is called Baldur's Gate 3. It has to be by the city of Baldur's Gate, never mind that 2 and Throne of Bhaal are hundreds of miles away. It has to be about the Dead Three still up to their bullshit, never mind that it completely invalidates what Gorion's Ward - what I, and you - did in the previous games, or how I (canonically dammit!) obliterated the final dregs of Myrkul's soul in the back half of Mask of the Betrayer.
(Aside: I fucking get it, it's comic book shit. Jaheira and Minsc can no longer be level 40 demigods who could solve this problem singlehandedly. The villains must always come back and the status quo cannot meaningfully change unless it was something that happened offscreen to set up the new edition's status quo. I get it, but I don't have to like it.)
The insistence on having the city involved (by all accounts it was a huge development hurdle) - plus Larian's Early Access pipeline (disclosure: the game was bought for me as a gift midway through early access, and I did not play or install it until the 1.0 release) - makes the game's pacing incredibly bizarre. I ain't a game dev, but it's gotta be partly because of early access right? The Druid Grove stuff is a meticulously crafted vertical slice, and then they had to bake the whole cake separately and try to make it match perfectly. The whole story just feels like it was made backwards like that.
To their credit, Act 1 - the tiefling refugees and the druid grove, leading into the search for the Adamantine Forge as a final climactic encounter - is great, obviously the most polished portion of the game (seeing as it was the Early Access stuff). This could be a solid level 1-10 module by itself with a bit of expanding and stripping out the Cult of the Absolute shit. I mean, you'd still be going into the fuckin carnival ride children's playground version of the Underdark, but if it's some long-forgotten corner that nobody gives a shit about, it could work. It'd be a great semi-freeform middle section. But in the context of how the rest of the game is... why the fuck does it start this way?
If we look at the whole game, Act 1 is a relatively freeform adventure where multiple factions are butting heads and you're trying to figure out what's actually going on, with the answer eventually revealing itself as the Cult of the Absolute. Act 2 is a climactic charge on the enemy stronghold, defended by their greatest warrior, before they can unleash their armies upon the Sword Coast. Upon learning that this has only caused things to worsen, hastening the Absolute's rise... Act 3 is about exploring a bustling city, doing a bunch of random quests, and then when you're feeling up to it you can take a left in the sewers and kill a giant Netherbrain with the powers of a god. But like, whenever, no rush. No worries if not.
The story is desperately shouting at you that time is running out and you must stop this nefarious scheme before the world ends etc etc, but yo check out this gigantic city hub map full of goofy little side quests. Don't you want to see what's happening at the ghost house or the broadsheet printer? Oh the impending Absolute threat with the whole-ass army outside? No big deal dude we swear. Steel Watch had it handled. Take your time.
(And like, yeah, yeah, Meteor will definitely crash in 7 days, whatever. It's a video game. I know.)
They could (should?) have shuffled it around, I think. Picture this: you start in the city of Baldur's Gate, doing basic tutorial adventuring, killing rats in cellars. Then, the nautiloid; you're kidnapped and infected and tossed back out on the streets and you don't know why you haven't turned. All the healers and higher level adventurers in town are gone now, recruited towards defending against some kind of approaching threat that you only hear whispers about.
Your only choice to find a healer is to venture outside of the city and brave the dangers of the realms. The city acts as a home hub zone with its own plotlines (like an evil inventor manipulating the council, hm) as you explore the wilderness nearby. You visit several locales: a nearby druid grove, housing tiefling refugees fleeing this new cult; a githyanki creche built into an old temple, in an uproar over the mindflayer threat and a mysterious McGuffin; a brief and deadly sojourn into the Underdark, where the cult has carved out a base of operations for their offensive.
All signs point towards the shadow-cursed lands to the east, where the Cult of the Absolute is headquartered. Their armies are at the city's doorstep, now. Teaming up with legendary Harpers and all of those you have helped along the way, you find a way to overcome the shadow curse, take the battle to the villains, and discover their true plot, saving the day at the last possible moment.
I feel like this makes more sense. I mean, if all those parts still have to be in there.
A more charitable take is that BG3 is trying to be imitative of Baldur's Gate 1. Once you're booted out of Candlekeep but you're still a level 1 dirt farmer, you're just in the world map. You do a bunch of freeform adventuring just to figure out what's going on, then you mount a charge on the Nashkel Mines once you discover it's core to the villain's scheme, and then you finally enter the city - a densely packed environment with all sorts of silly things happening - and foil Sarevok's scheme in the Temple of Bhaal.
But like I said above, the narrative stakes were different. It feels different. Or, perhaps what I'm saying, is that it feels the same, but BG3 either doesn't understand why it worked last time or does and is simply cursed to be a AAA game with AAA expectations for its scale.
Baldur's Gate 1, despite ultimately being about the Bhaalspawn Crisis, understood it was fundamentally a low level adventure. You fight wolves and gnolls and kobolds in the woods for twenty hours. The plot is about Sarevok's dark conspiracy to... make a shitload of money by manipulating the iron trade, causing a war, becoming an arms dealer, and fixing an election. It's reasonable that a squad of level 8 goons could deal with this. Jaheira isn't even at the level to fistfight her way up the druid ranks yet!
In Baldur's Gate 3, you go to the fucking Underdark at level 4 or 5. You spend a fair amount of time in the Underdark in Baldur's Gate 2, and (power differentials between DnD editions aside) you're probably somewhere around level 11 to 12 there - the end of the level curve of BG3 - and it's still a dangerous, intimidating location. They have fucking mindflayers down there dude. It's scary. Everyone knows not to fuck with mindflayers. Except you because you're cool and strong and have the special tadpole that gives you psychic powers instead of killing you.
I've played a lot of RPGs, I don't need to be told that my player character is cool and special anymore. Yes, it's nice that sometimes a dialogue option pops up that has [MONK] in front of it, but like, I don't care about clicking that option, I do it because it's there and it shows that the designers noticed my build, and I definitely appreciate it, but it really does nothing for me on a storytelling level.
I guess I'm just saying that I want the GM's fantasy, not the player's fantasy. If your narrative is going to be standard stuff, at least give me cool and interesting sidequests and companions.
Like, I dunno, what is Baldur's Gate 3 about? Its themes, other than being a rip-roaring Sword Coast adventure? I have to genuinely think about this for a moment because the narrative left so little impression on me. Hang on.
I guess family? All your companions have problems with their parental figures as their whole thing, except Gale who has big Divorced Guy Energy but you just know that dude calls Mystra "mommy". You do too if-and-only-if you play as The Dark Urge (aka the "I played the old games and want to make this even more like BG1 daddy" option {no judgement, this is what I picked}). BG1 was (broadly) about your status as a Bhaalspawn and as Gorion's Ward and how you would handle that legacy, which is to say, "murder bad or murder good?", so it tracks as something you'd do for a revival.
Perhaps "inevitable, irreversible physical change" (aka puberty aka growing old). Karlach's infernal engine, Gale's ticking orb, Wyll's forced TF into a store-brand tiefling. The imminent ceremorphosis from the tadpoles.
Though, no matter how much the writing attempts to position the illithid tadpoles in BG3 as a potentially dangerous, corrupting influence, the fact of the matter is that they're nothing but beneficial to you. They are your main character privilege powers and as far as I could tell there were zero negative consequences from going all-in. Kinda undercuts the whole thing.
What else? I'm drawing a blank. Proverbial deals with the devil? Not judging people based on their race?? I got nothing. Hell, why are the villains doing what they are doing other than because they are villains working for evil gods?
Ketheric Thorm is pure Dead Wife Guy. Gortash is just trying to recreate the plot from BG1 again while otherwise being a smug prick about it. Orin is Diet Sarevok to the point where the game literally digs up Sarevok and has him say as much. Absolutely zero pathos to any of them.
But I suppose in fairness, this is mass market AAA media. These are big, broad themes that are common to the human experience. Everyone's got family troubles, everyone has anxiety over the inevitable passage of time. It's Good vs Evil (but also if you want to be Cool Evil and beat up the Loser Evil people you can do that too). I get why it's like this. I just want more to chew on, something that makes me go "oh, yeah, that's some writing baby".
I can't help but think about Mask of the Betrayer, the sequel expansion to Neverwinter Nights 2 and the best of the Forgotten Realms CRPGs. The main campaign of NWN2 is as generic Sword Coast as they come: you start as a literal villager and slowly graduate to doing battle against the King of Shadows using your special Main Character Power, et cetera. It's all about something hoary like the making of a True Hero. The expansion is more interesting, actually doing things with the Forgotten Realms setting.
You wake up in a strange land: Rashemen, where Minsc is from, which is like 4000 miles from the Sword Coast. Your cool main character privileges have been violently removed, and instead you're stricken with the Spirit-Eater curse which will eventually eat your soul so that it may move to another host. Familiar enough.
The illithid perks in BG3 are cool and strong and you get a whole skill tree where you get to spec into what psychic powers you want. The Spirit-Eater has some strong powers along with a meter that constantly ticks down, inflicting worse and worse debuffs until it outright kills you... unless you consume spirits and souls to keep it topped off. Convenient that Rashemen is the land of telthor, ancient guardian god animals in an animist sense.
Your companions in MoTB also have parental issues - I can't deny that - but in more specific, thematic ways. Take my least favorite party member: Gannayev-of-Dreams, aka Gann, whose whole deal is that he's a hagspawn. A pretty hagspawn, which is supposed to be an impossibility. Gann was abandoned in the woods as an infant and raised by telthor, so he refuses to acknowledge the pantheon of Faerun. He's got a real chip on his shoulder regarding his heritage, since the hags don't want him for being a mostly-normal guy and the regular folk don't want him because he's a hagspawn (and seducing all their daughters besides). He puts up a Casanova-like front as he makes his dream visits to all the village girls, looking for love in all the wrong places while feeling like a pariah wherever he goes.
And like, sure, you could boil this down to "mommy abandoned me so now I fuck away my problems", but it's how he's written in the context of the story that makes it work. Every main quest and sidequest in MoTB ties into ideas about the masks people wear to hide their true selves, intentionally or not; faith in higher powers and what they stand for, and what might drive one to defy them; love, in so many different ways than simply romantic, and the challenge of seeing it through.
I don't get that feeling of specificity from Baldur's Gate 3. Why is it thematically important that Karlach fought in the Blood War and got an infernal engine? Her father figure betrayed her and she has a ticking time bomb that's different from the one the rest of the party has, I guess. Is this relevant to the Absolute plot? Not really other than Gortash is one of the villains; it could be the backstory of a cool barbarian lady in basically any other DND story. It is kiiinda related to Baldur's Gate: Descent Into Avernus, the 2019 5e tabletop module marketed as a prequel to BG3... which I feel like just proves my point.
Baldur's Gate 3 is a fun game! I've played it for like 150 hours at this point. It's a great 5e toybox that makes some interesting choices about how to adapt the system to a video game. Larian is good at what they do! It's probably...? the biggest profile, biggest budget CRPG ever made, a meticulously produced game. It's got that money. For the hypothetical player who knows what Dungeons & Dragons is but doesn't know anything about Dungeons & Dragons or the Forgotten Realms, it's exactly what it needs to be.
It's also not what *I* want out of a CRPG. They rarely are.

this is my favourite game in my whole life, actually, Paper Mario changed my life, I really love the mechanics and the colorful world of that majestry work, 5 stars and pa la casa muchachos.

Tears of the Kingdom marks a bold new iteration in this new age of Zelda projects that hearken back to the series roots. Many call this a flat upgrade to Breath of the Wild, and it's not difficult to see where that sentiment arrives from. Many features of the prequel have been reworked to impressive effect. The careful damage rebalancing keeps the game stable and challenging, especially when compared to Breath of the Wild. Perhaps the most notable upgrade are the four new spells -- Ascend, Fuse, Ultrahand and Rewind -- which propel the play-space to astronomical proportions. Regardless of these, I feel that Tears of the Kingdom strives for a notably different goal than Breath of the Wild, and is more successful at achieving it.
Breath of the Wild is a soulful, quiet game, asking the player to meditate on their journey with mechanics grounded in realism. The simulative aspect feels more attuned to immersion than playfulness, especially since it's rather difficult to get any of the wonky physics glitches of the Twitter-virality sort without a perfect understanding of the game rules and engine. Make a fire to stay alive in the cold. Equip rubber armor so a thundershock isn't lethal. These are the thought processes travelling through a Breath of the Wild player's mind.
Conversely, Tears of the Kingdom's mechanical layers opens up the world of Hyrule and recontextualizes it into a playful sandbox. You're not as concerned about surviving the night as you are what the next Geneva-convention-breaking gadget you'll use to terrorize local flora and fauna with. The lack of major changes to Hyrule has me floored with how this identical game world excels so well at supporting two different mechanical systems.
Tears of the Kingdom then double-dips back into the immersive quality of the prequel with the Sky Islands and the Depths, the two new world zones that exist above and below Hyrule's ground floor respectively. The Sky Islands put the players new toolset to the test with challenging vertical puzzles, while the Depths' deep dark blackness evokes the survivalist elements of Breath of the Wild.
Ultimately what pulls the whole package together is the epic journey that a newer, fresher, and bolder Link sets out on. The arrival of King Ganondorf feels appropriately daunting for a Link that has braved a whole Hyrule's worth of content before. Where Breath of the Wild feels like an underdog story, Tears of the Kingdom is a Greek epic; we stand off against horrors beyond human comprehension as a hero armed to the teeth with borderline cheat-code abilities.
There are still many flaws of the game, of course. The strongest one that comes to mind is the story, which meanders and makes meaningless narrative gestures until just before the end. The conclusion, however, is so satisfying and bombastic that it almost makes me want to retroactively forgive the rest of the game. Although it definitely left on a positive note, I would hope to see this as the element that is most developed in the future iterations of this kind of Zelda, especially since Breath of the Wild didn't have a particularly great story either compared to the previous entries in the series.
Breath of the Wild felt like one of those impossible games that despite a AAA scope and multiple hundreds of developers, managed to achieve a design elegance and artistic focus we only really see on smaller projects. Tears of the Kingdom aims even higher for a grander tale and managed to surpass it's predecessor. Despite a number of flaws I could probably count on my fingers and never reach my toes, this game is a tour-de-force of our medium and a new benchmark for AAA open-world games.

Thanks again to Pangburn for convincing me to give this another chance and thoroughly looking over my resulting thoughts.
Here’s a fun little drinking game: open up a video of Jet Set Radio’s tutorial, and take a sip for every comment complaining or memeing about the difficulty. As silly as this sounds, there appears to be some veneer of truth to Jet Set Radio’s reputation as a game where you need a “tutorial for the tutorial,” considering that more people have beaten the full story mode on Steam than have actually cleared the tutorial. As a result, the tutorial has become a microcosm of Jet Set Radio’s critical reputation nowadays when judging its gameplay: take a scan around popular circles, and you’ll find that some of the most frequently used descriptors include “jank,” “frustrating,” and “outdated.” I, on the other hand, would like to reintroduce a different descriptor to the conversation: “misunderstood.”
Back in 2017, I was similarly convinced that the game suffered from flimsy controls and level design, but the more I tinkered with it in the last three weeks, the more I came to realize its consistency regarding its mechanical intersections. Jet Set Radio eschews complex input potential in exchange for simple inputs (skating with the left joystick, jumping, and boosting) and context-sensitive movement using rails and walls for grinding. This works in its favor because the game never plants the player into situations of fuzzy context: all grindable walls and rails behave the exact same way throughout the game and are carefully spaced apart in each sub-area to allow players to naturally jump between setpieces as long as they maintain momentum. Additionally, Jet Set Radio has fairly little RNG, and what little there is can usually be mitigated. Enemy patterns and waves (the latter of which can be directly controlled via keeping an eye on the number of sprayed graffitis) play out exactly the same every time, allowing for players to minimize enemy impact. Similarly, stages have practically no moving physical setpieces outside of easily avoidable cars and trains; they are set to a consistent timer, and even if players are unaware of the exact timing, they give enough advance warning via honks upon approaching so players can jump out of the way. Again, some enemies are tougher to pin down, such as the jetpack enemies in “Fight or Flight” with their aerial pathing/tracking or the burly bodyguard enemies sometimes despawning and respawning upon aggroing them, but these are rare exceptions when considering the game’s enemy roster as a whole.
As a result of this general mechanical consistency, the game’s robust level design allows for a great degree of freedom regarding level approaches. This is where the adjacent topic of character selection becomes particularly relevant. Pangburn has brought up that this system acts as a pseudo-difficulty slider, though I would like to expand upon his point regarding graffiti. Characters with less graffiti skills will not gain as many points via completing graffiti QTE chains, but come with the advantage of requiring less sprays. This can be further exploited due to QTE consistency: spray inputs are graffiti-skill dependent and will remain the same for every graffiti in the game. As a result, players can repeat the cycle of spraying the first single input and immediately disengaging the QTE with LT. By doing so, they can “reset” the graffiti QTE and tap LT again to reenter the QTE sequence and bring up the exact same opening prompt. This allows for the strategy of “speedrunning” a graffiti by abusing the simple opening inputs of graffiti-weak characters. That said, it is every bit as feasible to use graffiti-type characters like Gum to maximize points by taking more time for full sprays, or disengaging sprays partly through and fleeing to safety once roaming enemies get close, later returning to finish the job once the vicinity is cleared.
Let’s put everything we’ve discussed to the test in the context of an example, comparing two drastically different yet equally viable strategies. Consider the Chapter 3 Kogane-cho level “Fight or Flight,” which is regarded by many to be the toughest “Jet” rank due to flying jetpack enemies that spawn at the halfway mark. Pangburn’s strategy is to commit to spraying down graffitis as quickly as possible with Mew, a technique character that is considered “graffiti-weak” (and thus has a single opening spray input). He starts by entering the sewer sub-area from the opening rooftops, which also lets him abuse an infinite grind loop within the sewers early on to rapidly build up a point buffer as a back-up. Once he’s gained enough points, he then exits the sewers into the construction area, thoroughly sprays through the graffiti there, and then makes his way downhill (spraying all the rooftop graffiti along the way) until he ends up in the residential area for the final graffiti. My game plan, on the other hand, is more committal, and involves direct enemy manipulation alongside spraying back-up graffiti as a buffer (instead of abusing an infinite grind chain) by using Gum to maximize QTE points. The pathing can be thought of as a giant loop: I start by spraying the large street-level graffiti in the rooftops area and then head to the construction site and despawn a sniper to free-up the set of two large graffiti on top of an entrance. From there, I scrounge up some more paint cans around the construction site before descending into the sewers and carefully jumping in-between two groups of enemies with their backs turned, allowing me to spray the set of two graffiti points several feet away from the crowds without them ever noticing. Finally, I enter the residential area and thoroughly spray all the graffiti there, reversing my course from that point on. All that remains are small graffiti, which makes it much easier to avoid the newly spawned jetpack enemies. Looking at our mapped routes, Pangburn and I took almost completely reversed paths, and yet both of us obtained Jet rankings. That, I believe, is the persisting strength of Jet Set Radio: its intricate yet consistent mechanical overlap allows for great depth that makes itself evident via fairly customizable routing.
While I’m confident that Jet Set Radio has great longevity stemming from its potential for creative planning, I’m unsure if every single level in the game contributes to this longevity. The Jet missions unlocked in the post-game present great opportunities for further mastery, but I do find that there’s a degree of overlap involved. For example, the Jet Crush missions are essentially replayable versions of the rival races encountered in-game. They’re justified during the first playthrough as ventures that give the player an idea of how separate sections in a level connect, but in their Jet Crush form, I find that they’re a bit redundant since nothing is changed outside of the raced character. Still, it’s certainly appreciated that the Jet Crush levels bring new content to Bantam Street and Grind Square, two levels that were without rival races in the main game. The other two Jet mission types attempt to stratify further: Jet Graffiti focuses on spraying required graffitis for points, while Jet Technique only has small optional graffiti to spray and prioritizes trick loops instead. Unfortunately, I find that they’re functionally too similar, because it is far too easy to rely on the infinite loop as a crutch in Jet Graffiti (while it is more or less the intended strategy in Jet Technique). This could have been patched up if the Jet Graffiti levels had tighter time limits to discourage infinite loop grinding. Finally, I’d like to highlight the final boss, which sticks out like a sore thumb since it relies so heavily on straight platforming over rotating gears and doesn’t present much room for planning outside of relying upon tanking damage or abusing the aforementioned single spray spam. At least the fight is over in a few minutes, but it is a pity that Jet Set Radio stumbles rather than glides at the end of each playthrough.
I’ve been thinking a lot about Jet Set Radio’s lasting significance upon the gaming community. How for every player like me, who eventually embraced the once alienating mechanics, there exists another new player who slogs through the tutorial and never picks up the game again, or an opposing retrospective that finds only disappointment upon a replay and describes the moment-to-moment gameplay as “archaic.” I can’t help but feel that most of us saw what Jet Set Radio was on the surface: a “style-over-substance” platformer & extreme sports hybrid that revolutionized cel-shading in video games and turned video game OSTs on their head. Many of the game’s future successors (including its immediate follow-up in Future) seem to have capitalized on these qualities, and while I love Jet Set Radio Future for its own reasons, I nevertheless think that it’s a shame that part of Jet Set Radio’s identity was lost somewhere along the way, becoming further embedded and absorbed into mainstream culture despite its original status as a counter-culture icon. No successor has quite captured that imperfect yet intriguing blend of arcade-style skating and robust level and setpiece design, and they’ve instead zoned in on the personality every time. I suppose at the end of the day, the best we can do to honor its influence is to look beyond the surface and highlight exactly what Jet Set Radio means to us. For me, I still can’t believe I squandered this game for half a decade, but at the very least, I’m proud to put the original alongside its successor as one of my favorite games and firmly establish Jet Set Radio as my favorite SEGA franchise. I remain cautiously curious regarding any potential future, but this time, I can look forward without any regrets concerning legacy.

Puzzle games like this, with a very clearly-defined but powerful ruleset where most of the challenge is navigating the massive possibility space, have to strike a difficult balance. If it's too easy, the game feels empty. If it's too hard, even if you can solve the puzzles you can't really understand why.
Tandis strikes this balance well. There are a few challenges where I had to use the hint functionality, but for most of them I was able to really dig in and understand why a particular sequence of transformations produced the output in question. It felt like playing with geometry, which is a great place for a game like this to land.