19 Reviews liked by Ninten
Walking placebo but the "gameplay" actually rewards mindfully walking and not staring at your screen. In that sense, this game is literally perfect at what it aims to accomplish, so that's why it gets a 5/5 from me. It's a fun thing to check up on while I'm on the train to school.
Touch grass why the fuck are you playing this as an actual game lmfao
this is quite literally a game designed to make you touch grass, no wonder pokemon go nolifers aren't having a good time. every single bit of it is peaceful and cute and genuinely great at its specific aims of getting you to go outside and meaningfully interface with the world.
Torna is a microcosm of everything I want out of Xenoblade. Rhythmic, combo driven battles with a solid endgame; perfectly sized, otherworldly environments; great music; and an appropriately weighty story with a likeable cast - who can share lighthearted moments without the tonal whiplash of XC2.
It suffers the series usual shortcomings - namely the arbitrary road blocks that punish you for skipping side content - but by comparison it's a lot more manageable here than in the larger games.
"wot if u were a boy with no personality but two hot babes fell in love with you because you were nice to them on the most basic level possible and also the hot babes were part of a marginalised group considered your property but it's ok it's not weird we promise they actually like that you are Their Master it's ok :)"
You should all be ashamed of yourselves.
I can wax lyrical about the first Xenoblade all day if you’d let me, but long story short: The main appeal of that game to me has always been its strength in weaving all of its elements (story, soundtrack, locales, gameplay, theming, characters etc.) to create a masterwork of a whole that is far more effective than the sum of its parts.
That is precisely why the second one has and will never work for me. When you develop a game that is so symmetrical in the way that all of its aspects coalesce, you can run the risk of not understanding the very structure that holds up the first game when developing a sequel. Monolith not only gravely misunderstood it but did it a disservice by following up that symmetrical masterpiece with something that I could only describe as formless and tactless.
Once those pieces don’t mesh together, that “whole” I spoke of is ruptured. That appeal is no longer present. So what did I get instead? Well I got Xenoblade Chronicles 2 — a game that you can argue is marginally better than the first in some areas, but I don’t see it that way.
None of it’s aspects have that elegant coordination from the first game that I had hoped for. Sure it looks nice. The areas are very pretty and aesthetically they may even be better than the first. The music is quite gorgeous I suppose and while the tutorials are infuriating, once you get the hang of the combat it’s fun. Though while playing I kept asking myself; where is the cohesion?
The soundtrack may be “gorgeous” but does it reflect the shifting tones and rising tension like the first game? The areas may be aesthetically pleasing but do they directly mirror the themes and ever evolving complexity of the story? They don’t. So what you get are bunch of things that are quite decent conceptually and in isolation, occasionally measuring up to the first, but hardly any of it correlates or connects in any meaningful way.
I have yet to mention its biggest sin however. The one aspect that is so poorly handled I am equally amazed and appalled that it was made by the same developers that created one of my favorite fictional works. That is — the story.
Forget about the cohesion bit for a second. Even if the game were mechanically, geographically, thematically or at all technically sound (which for the most part it isn’t lol) it would not save the travesty that is the writing. My god. Every cutscene and line of dialogue dripping with cringe-inducing cheese. Every caricature written to be as on-the-nose as humanly possible. Even when there’s a hint of an interesting theme for the game to explore, it does it’s DAMNDEST to ram it over your skull so there isn’t anything left to intuit on your own.
The central conflict, despite being somewhat interesting, has left nothing but a revolting taste in my mouth as it advocates for a lot of dangerous ideologies and world-views through its portrayal of the blades even though I KNOW that wasn’t its intention. It’s this thematic incoherency, these clashing ideas, the lack of any flow that makes this game feel like it’s essentially fighting with itself.
I’d have more respect for this game if it had just went all in with the trope-y anime bullshit instead of clumsily attempting to tell a narrative that it wants me to take seriously because I cannot further stomach this halfhearted and laughable mess of clashing ideas and themes, atrocious cutscene direction, and questionable to quite frankly problematic characterization and sexual overtones.
Xenoblade Chronicles wasn’t perfect. Though what I can say is that at the very least it had a vision. It knew what it wanted to do and did it with flying colors. What exactly is Xenoblade Chronicles 2 aiming for? WHO is it aiming for? What is its goal? What exactly is it trying to say? I couldn’t tell you, and neither can the game apparently.
I’m sorry to have this review be a comparison between the two games as I know many people are tired of that. But to illustrate why I dislike Xenoblade Chronicles 2, that necessitated a brief explanation of what made Xenoblade Chronicles tick in my eyes. And I realize while writing this that what appealed to me in the first game may not be what 2 is going for. Perhaps its appeal lies elsewhere. But after about 15~ hours I am simply not interested in finding out what and where exactly that is.
Was drawn in by the hook of this being a postal worker simulator, only to be trojan-horsed into another Netflix-brained drama. A Life Is Strange-like that has you driving around a poorly-disguised and thoroughly-sterilised simulacrum of Twin Peaks (this was made by a Dutch dev team - why not show us NL's country life instead of leaning on a well-worn setting?).
You're relatively un-fussed by any of the day-to-day concerns that would no doubt come with delivering the post in a secure and timely manner, and there are so many missed opportunities for fun little gameplay pieces - the truck doesn't take damage, you can't break the speed limit, the parcels don't arrive late, you don't have to dodge dogs - any of these little things could have injected a small sprinkling of spice into it, but the game is only really interested in telling its story. I think I wanted it to be Shin Paperboy.
I get that it's nice, sure, and there are people who really do want a depressurised and bloodless GTA driving/walking game; but without anything really driving (lol) the experience, this is basically just a series of Walking Dead-style dialogue encounters split up with a cuddly coddling truck-driver experience. Nothing ever matters, which seems to kinda contradict the game's nascent notions of changing your life. Dialogue options only seem to be there to move the chatter along most of the time, and characters often react in the ways the developers wanted them to react, rather than the ways you hoped or expected they would. The different ending options are a perfect example of this, but as the game only really has its story going for it, I won't spoil the bizarre surprises here.
The romance options are exactly what we've all come to expect from indie games at this point - utterly toothless and sexless stuff that makes the 40-something main characters behave like preschoolers holding hands on a trip to the park. You can't have a single city gal discover her first kiss is now a huge sexy lumberjack and have it only lead to a nice hug. Come on now! It's about time one of these games played out with all the debauchery of a greasy pulp paperback like A Stranger In Her Bed or whatever.
My postman sometimes come up the stairs of our building mid-joint roll, banging crap metal out of his phone speakers and huffily hurling anything marked FRAGILE onto a rough approximation of our doorstep. Now that's the delivery guy game I wanna be playing. Lemme dropkick an Amazon parcel and shag some lonely lady after I break her windows with a Hello Fresh box.
The people who were around for the original punk movement and its derivatives are in their 60s, 70s, or even 80s now - isn't that crazy? My own dad, in his 60s himself, loves to remind me that he was actually there for Buzzcocks, The Clash, and Sex Pistols. His crown jewel "I was there" story is that he saw Diego Maradona score his first ever international goal at Hampden Park and then walked down the road to see Joy Division play their one and only gig in Glasgow later that day. Imagine living through that! When I go to a hometown gig and see a grey-haired dude or two hanging around the bar area, leaning on a walking stick or trying to sneak a breather, it's a surreal reminder that the ranks of "the older generation" are quickly being filled with people who raged against the machine before it was even a band. It's fun to imagine what these folks were like when they were young - what passions and dreams they held. How do I relate myself to them, and what do they have left to relate to me?
I'm not going so far as to say that Goichi Suda and his collaborators are synonymous with the occassional old men I see propping up the bar at their local PVSSYC*NT DIY show or Buzzcocks revival tour-stop, but the long-time staff at Grasshopper are, despite their pseudo-punk status, among the elder statesmen of game developers. Suda 51 has credits on 40 games that are spanned across three decades (will he retire at 51 games and release "The Suda 51 Games Collection"?!) and outside of secretive Nintendo legends like Miyamoto and Tezuka, I can't think of many individual game designers who are sitting on such broad production prestige and history. Travis Strikes Again, is, to my mind, the equivalent of one of those old greybeards finally sitting you down at a table in the beer-soaked venue and telling you all about their good old days stories - and how they're going to try and start a new band, too, of course.
It can feel somewhat ridiculous to attribute any video game to a single creator - as people often do with Suda - but Travis Strikes Again seems well aware of this, with frequent acknowledgements of the collaborative sacrifices that game developers make to create something that's either theirs or another's. It may feel unfair to the programmers and artists and guys who man the Twitter accounts, but I feel that it's imperative for games with "independent" spirit to continue transmitting truly single-personal perspectives in response to amorphous commitee-led industry dominators like Call of Duty and Assassin's Creed, and one of the only ways to tell a personal story is to focus it on one person - often the writer, or the director. Or the guy who is both. And the guy who is both in this case has an interesting life story (that's still in development, sorry) that I'd like to hear.
Despite speaking so highly of Suda (and Grasshopper) here, I'd say it's fair to say that it's rare that I outright love any of the many games they've made. There's always some glaring, punishing flaw or Duchampian aggression against the status quo that just reminds me too much that I'm wasting precious time. Time-wasting feels like a trait that's almost exclusively reserved for video games, and perhaps it's a unique aspect of the medium that Suda just loves to take advantage of time and time again to differentiate his work from that of a movie or painting or book. But I don't often appreciate it! And while it's nowhere near as brain-mummifiying as The 25th Ward or FSR, Travis Strikes Again still likes to hold up your clock. It feels to me like the game is hamstrung by a perceived need to offer value for money - despite its attempts to stand apart as a genuine art-piece of personal history, it's still constrained on some level by a desire to be a consumable product that people can "get their $40 from" and put 6/10 or 4/5 star ratings or whatever against in a games magazine or website or review blog. It fills its levels with stuff that simply doesn't need to be there, feeling like a guitar solo that goes on too long. But that's punk, right?
The greatest artwork-transgressor is likely the combat itself. While surprisingly strategic and satisfying at times (especially in the later levels), it eventually boils down to the same patterns/plays as always, and ultimately serves as an overbearing obstacle that stands in the way of getting more personal insights and pseudohistorical musings from the remembering minds at Grasshopper. Golden Dragon GP and Killer Marathon are probably the most enjoyable Death Balls in the collection due to the generous ways they interrupt the monotony of streets of raging/geometry warsing across Pac-Man mazes, and I kinda wish the game had been a minigame collection that homaged the different Grasshopper genres. It might have been even better if Travis had just peacefully walked round an Unreal Engine recreation of Suda's headspace and history in a manner not unlike Bubsy 3D: Bubsy Visits the James Turrell Retrospective; the game is at its best when it's just sharing its secrets and fun with you.
It's cute that the Serious Moonlight section bills itself as a Shadows of the Damned mini-sequel, but how fun would it have been if they're actually tried to emulate that game's feel, even superficially? C'mon! It's Unreal! The engine that everyone and everything uses for TPS action! (Given how much this game honours Unreal Engine/Tournament, it's a shame that Travis hasn't flossed his way into Fortnite yet) Perhaps too much to ask of our developers, but I honestly feel like there's a human limit to how much mindless swinging of a beam katana one can do while waiting for their clinch super move to charge back up. I went to the UK National Video Games Museum recently, and it proved to me that there's genuine value in getting people to experience gaming history by actually playing those games in quick, sequential succession. I think an Any% playthrough of Grasshopper's entire history is maybe what Vicarious/Grasshopper wanted for Travis Strikes Again, but probably didn't have time to do. Again, video games continue to take away our time in ways other artworks don't quite manage...
It's interesting to parallel this game with something like this year's Iwata Asks book - Iwata's auto/biography has some insightful stories and letters, but doesn't truly bear any of the guy's emotion or soul much beyond vague pleasantries like "I respect the developers at Nintendo" and "Shigeru Miyamoto was my friend". Suda, by contrast, seems more than willing to (sparsely) share his silver threads of thought, often in ways that can be uncomfortable for players - the infamous "the CEO of EA is a woman-beating piece of shit because he didn't let me make my high-concept AAA RPG game wacky enough" is an ugly piece of thinly-veiled thought from Suda, but it's preferable to the Nintendo CEO's polite corporate mannerisming. If video games really want to take that next artistic step, they do need the space to let out some of the ugly problematic thoughts inside our heads (the need to "burn sadness like life-giving fuel" as Travis surprisingly says), and I feel like Travis Strikes Again is moving things in the right direction. This is arguably an art-therapy session for these old boys.
At its core, I guess that's what Travis Strikes Again is. Something that's kinda ugly and protracted and painful, but undeniably worthwhile by virtue of its willingness to be earnestly personal and transgressive. A game that isn't so much about the act of playing the game itself, but more focused on the process of putting your brain against a gamepad to see inside someone else's brain on the other side of the cartridge. It's been a long road to this point, and there's still a long way to go, but they'll keep going. 10 hours of video games a day.
In the human world,
the time for games has ended.
Nothing binds us now.
somehow one of the most miserable gaming experiences i've ever had. i'm not categorically against musou series, but the format detracts heavily from the emotional gravity of the situation age of calamity is trying to portray. this dissonance is only reinforced by the relatively mournful story moments peppered throughout the game. the way the game was marketed in comparison to how negligible the game is to the overall botw experience is infuriating. gets points for letting me play as urbosa and revali, and i wound up really loving impa (she's by far the most fun to play as)
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