It's like better Sekiro if it was also better

It's like worse Red Steel 2 if it was also better

It's like better Sekiro if it was also worse

Funny example of how too much leniency can end up being a downside, something that probably sounds absolutely insane given how much dying once can set you back, but I'd say it's the frequent checkpoints which are the real issue. Those first waves of each stage do get progressively more difficult, but there's opportunity in these bits to get a chunk of your firepower back; most mid-level sections get kinda whack when you're scrambling to even just stop moving at a snail's pace anymore.
But I still found some value in how the threat of that punishment pushes your play further, which itself is made easier when you're already maintaining so much screen coverage. A clean run is about keeping the streak going as tightly as possible, sometimes to the point that playing without deaths is easier than just a regular run-through...not sure if the 15-minute runtime vindicates or worsens that notion yet, but it's there.
Still, have to appreciate some of the regular idiosyncrasies here too: Double and Laser being mutually exclusive creates a nice dilemma between safer vertical coverage or higher damage and piercing, and the Shield's protective area is larger than Vic Viper's actual hitbox, incurring more hits than you might have otherwise. Efficiently maximizing on Shields is another fun quirk: ideally you're leaving that power-up space charged in preparation to refresh it, but it then turns other pickups into de facto enemies, something to be mindful of and avoid lest you end up rolling all the way back to the beginning of the list. Cute way to spin the main gimmick around by the end, and goes a little ways towards making the later pickup dumps less moot.

Crucially, Dos's most important change as a sequel is a better balancing of content between its single and multiplayer halves. That statement might be too early for me to personally make when I'll only ever be able to play it online through its private server, which isn't public as of the time of writing this piece, but even just the town-exclusive extra services of the first game make their appearance in the village, and their consistent availability doesn't disrupt anything due to already being balanced in some way: effective pre-quest meals require a bit of experimentation and knowledge, and the Combo Master gives you the choice to circumvent the chances of failed combination attempts (and lost time) via small fees while you work your way up to investing in each Book of Combos.
Quest accessibility also sees some improvements: all major fights are unlocked through regular play, instead of the obtuse requirements the first game had for a handful of its monsters, and some of the original's online-exclusive quests are available in the village, too, though…the funny part is that even some of this game's new additions aren't found offline, either, thoss being Rajang, Yama Tsukami, and Shen Gaoren (along with the returning Fatalis). Having not fought those monsters yet, keep in mind that none of this is tied to any given monster's "quality", even in regards to those from the first game (Lao-Shan Lung is particularly barren as a solo fight), more just that the expanded availability in and of itself a step in the right direction.
These changes on their own are good. Maybe more on the side of "less bad" as opposed to "more good", but a basic refinement of the original game's structure is welcome and valuable, especially as it creates a better foundation for all of the new additions to stand on top of.
And there are naturally very many new additions to be found, and it's fitting that the ones which remain unique selling points for Dos have to do with structure. The main one is the seasonal time cycle, which is also the biggest example of Dos's attempts to bring more simulation aspects into the core gameplay, wherein you're regularly keeping new ecological conditions in mind, and how they affect both which animals are active, and what resources you'll more easily obtain. It's a further exploration of the hunter-gatherer mindset that the series is built on, and helps to give Dos more of an experiential quality, loaded with v i b e s…or so they say.
It's not like I don't see it. Compared to even most of the series now, Dos's systems still give it more of an experimental allure, one that goes a bit to evolve past the regular gameplay at the center of everything, but while that flavoring gives it its unique identity…I'd still be spicy and say it's just that: extra flavor. Whatever you think of the original Monster Hunter's quality, namely its rather bare solo experience, I think we can agree that its systems do still function on a basic level, and I would say that still applies to Dos. Outside of the expected new additions like more fights and equipment, take out the seasonal system, the day-night cycle, village developments…and you could still call it a decent follow-up. They're still nice, just not fundamentally crucial.
And now I get to undo the plot twist, since this begs the question: is Dos still better off for having all of these systems? Do they make Dos a better game and sequel than it would have been otherwise? My answer is absolutely, much better off. It's extra flavor, but the kind that you can taste clearly and cleanly; the kind of stuff that nicely completes the palette.
The actual real benefit of most of these mechanics is in how much smoother they make the inherent grind of these games play out. Namely, by giving each season and time of day its own main items, resource gathering can become greatly streamlined through periodically funneling the player into different priorities. The warm season is easily the most advantageous to the average player because of how common honey is, and it becomes notably rare during the cold. In exchange, though, more valuable bugs and fish can be caught, instead; the more important bugs are then made into the rarity when the herbivore season rolls around, but you keep access to all environments, making it better for general gathering, or...egg deliveries, if you're into that, and also making mining less of a dilemma (humorously, in both of the above cases, the abundant item gets replaced with Insect Husks, but even those can be used in combos now, keeping them from being completely useless). Crucially, very little is made completely inaccessible, just far less common, if you spend enough time at a honey deposit during the winter, you'll maybe still come up on some remnant honey.
There's smaller things that also interact with how you manage your inventory: Melynxes can always be a problem, but particularly so in the breeding season, where they appear in high-activity areas. Where you could otherwise skip out on bringing Felvine with you, it now becomes much wiser to pay that little safety tax. Crucially, it helps that you're given an easy way to play around this idea: it doesn't cost too much to instantly skip ahead to a different time of day, or even a different season, and time slowly passes in the town, even in menus, which means there's a few times where you could let the day change without idling too much, or even at all.
All of this means that you're always free to stockpile like crazy on anything particular, and not have to worry about it running out for a while, or keep gathering in a more balanced way. Type-based item stack limits are initially something to consider, but storage upgrades are thankfully so much easier to get now (the first Organizer Guide is one-TENTH of the cost it was in the first game) that, while making the choice to sell any excess in the early game is interesting, and still a worthwhile dilemma to include, you can eventually be a little more lax as time goes on.
The end result is that gathering is, in a sense, more segmented (and more by the actual game rather than mostly player priority), but each "segment" gives out much more of its benefits than a flat system might have otherwise provided, leaving you much better off given you've played to each season's strengths. And this isn't just for the main gimmick at the center of it all, a few other mechanics help to further encourage this kind of preemptive decision-making. The fluctuating monster bounties are a way to both let you make extra bank on any given fight, and slowly keep you from monotonously grinding the same fights over and over, at least if you care about the direct payout. It's also worth noting that these bonuses exist on top of a given monster's base quest reward, and aren't the only sum you're earning: carting even once in the first game could be extremely punishing given how tight money was, but the extra cushioning this time around makes it so that one or two slip-ups every now and then isn't too big of a deal.
The new Subquests give you even more of a safety net in the event you choose to do them, sending extra Supply items to the camp immediately upon their completion, encouraging you to take that detour should you need that backup. And they come with their own money and item rewards after all is said and done, which can be greatly appreciated whenever you need them; in light of how weapon upgrades take up the bulk of your expenses, and how much certain trees can demand a lot of specific rarer materials, some playstyles can benefit greatly from taking these extra steps. Going even further, most quests let you end after doing any Subquest, letting you recuperate if a fight goes south, but it also lets gathering quests and lighter hunts exist in a way that doesn't clutter up the quest menu, just with the caveat that you'll need to be wary of whatever you chose to be out and about.
And perhaps most importantly of all in regards to monsters, a huge change this time around is that capturing is always an option, instead of being quest-specific. Most of the time you'll need to make tranquilizers and traps on your own, but having the opportunity to nab extra rewards off of every monster is just yet another example of how Dos lets you play your way into even more payouts than what was possible before.
While we're here, I have to give a mention to how well-organized the quest menu itself is, being primarily sorted by location rather than "difficulty", but you still have the option to use monster categories as a filter instead…though, ironically, this leads into what I would consider one of the game's only flaws on a fundamental level, that being how the quest rotation can periodically be even worse than the first game's. Only having 5 quests randomly cycle at a time could be annoying, but at least it's always 5. In contrast, Dos can sometimes leave certain fights out of the pool even when they'd otherwise appear in whatever time bracket you're in; the funniest example is how you can sometimes end up with Basarios being the only available fight at the volcano. Even in the context of animals in our own reality going through migrations, I don't find it beneficial as a simulation mechanic.
Equipment, on the other hand, is unquestionably improved. Better balancing's been made overall (The Sword and Shield actually does real hits on big monsters now, and Lances are much less capable of stunlocking everything), but both sword types also get some helpful key additions: the Greatsword's new charge attack rewards good timing and angling with big damage, complimenting its usual hit-and-run nature by being such a massive commitment in most situations so as to not always be the ideal option, unless your setups/reads are consistently on point; the aforementioned improvement to the Sword and Shield would be great on its own, but now being able to use items as it's still equipped makes both all of your usual utility options even more potent, and securing healing opportunities a bit easier, all the while getting you back into the fights faster than the norm…a very powerful trump card in the right hands.*
Of course, new weapons make their debut, too, and alongside the changes above, the underlying thread between it all being a stronger focus on aggression, while still being balanced by fundamental caveats:
- The Longsword can perform an infinite string, and comes with a powerful Spirit Combo, but the associated Spirit Gauge decreases rapidly, forcing you to recognize when to just take safe potshots and retreat with Fade Slashes effectively to max it out and secure its buffs.
- The Hunting Horn's two swings can also string together infinitely, and it even has its own weaker (but faster) version of the Hammer's super-pound, but buffing with songs mid-combat is risky due to its slow speed.
- The Gunlance has excellent range, and shelling even extends its melee combo potential significantly, but it can eat your sharpness fast, and longer combos only get increasingly more risky. The Wyvern's Fire can deliver big damage, and (like shelling) does so regardless of sharpness, but if shelling ate that, this move devours it, and it's always a very hefty commitment you'll have to brace for, in both startup and cooldown time.
- The Bow lets you hold charged shots while on the move, and Power Coatings are like extra butter on top, but the former abides by the same stamina management as the Hammer and Dual Blades (or an inventory tax with Dash Juice), while the latter requires either lots of combining, or frequent purchasing...yes, Dos gives you more money overall, but not too much as to make this something your wallet will ignore most of the time.
All have their respective drawbacks, as with any weapon, but they still pave the way for new offensive potential when played well. Interestingly, mobility in general is a theme with all of the other new weapons, too. Movement speed is higher across the board, and every Hunting Horn has access to the movement buff melody; even the Gunlance isn't an outlier here, with its forward lunge easily being one of the best attacks on any weapon, serving as a gap closer, combo starter, and even a slick evasive tool.
While not really an option in the early game due to a lack of slots on most gear, the new Decorations do still help to boost loadouts a touch. Armor is mainly where these are applied, but even some weapons have slots, too. Interestingly, manually removing gemstones will destroy them, which can be brutal, but I at least respect how this makes you doubly sure about the commitment. Gems already set in weapons being destroyed after upgrading, on the other hand, is an odd quirk, when armor upgrades are thankfully safe from that, but the system overall remains a good addition for providing just enough flexibility over your skill points to help make builds both more potent, and more personalized, even if the decisions are still cut-and-dry for some playstyles.
And a new Monster Hunter wouldn't be complete without new…monsters, go figure. The original lineup is more or less unchanged, for better (Kut-Ku and Khezu) or for worse (Rathalos), but the new fights remain welcome additions. Just like before, aggressive play feels like a stronger focus here, both on your end and on the monsters': Congalala's 4-hit combo leaves it wide open, but without the Negate Tremor skill, you'll have to space yourself well if you want to maximize on that recovery window; the Shogun Ceanataur's attacks get extended range once it gets enraged, which is certainly daunting, but destroying its claws can make future outbursts much less so. The new Elder Dragons are the most blatant example of this new philosophy, as three of the four have troublesome auras that must be disabled, which is primarily through damaging their heads enough to break them. Chameleos's ability still gives it an ever-present trick up its sleeve, but its own attacks making it visible gives you some leeway, and while it still has its own ways to make you keep your distance, you still have more periods of safety up against it than the others. The fight's like this constant test on maintaining your awareness of the monster's movements…a sound challenge for a combat system based on commitment, positioning, and enemy predictability, and one that makes it very satisfying to get through on your first go. Great theme, too, I like the idea that it only plays as it's enraged (if you ever come back and see this bit's been edited, it'll mean I finally fought Rajang in particular…I imagine Yama Tsukami and Shen Gaoren aren't too different in execution from LSL).
Backing up all of this is an expanded hub. I've already mentioned the Felyne cooking and Combo Master, but there's a couple of other neat extras: a mine that provides free ore, free useful ingredients from winning arm wrestles against the Master Shipwright, and several merchants, one of whom even periodically sells honey. It's all even more examples of how Dos is slightly but nicely working to make things a little smoother for you…in due time. The Shipwright and his useful rewards are available from the start, but at first, you only have about as much going on as the town of the original, with the add-ons only arriving after developing the village enough. This is done through delivering items or doing certain quests assigned by villagers, with "key" requests, marked by red speech bubbles, being made available after doing enough smaller blue ones . I say "key", but everything can be done at your own pace, especially in regards to the blue requests, where you can always wait for the next season to roll around if you're not feeling what's currently available. The lack of actual urgency does harm the tension of Kushala Daora's first appearance if you decide to be lax, but…oh well. Apart from that, there's no real plot at play here. The allure of progressing is rather just the pleasant experience of seeing this humble place grow into a thriving paradise, which is reflected in the expansion of services and resources you'll get access to by the end. Cuter details sell it more, I like how each level of the forge adds in new apprentices that serve as vendors in place of the granny. You'll have to deal with small delays in the early game, as the given vendor has to move when you want to use each service, but I think that's ok. The return to Kokoto Village is a cute time, too…though I do wish you could still access the Forest & Hills from Jumbo afterwards.
As another carryover from the first game's multiplayer, you even have opportunities to upgrade your own house…though honestly, I like sticking with the original, it has a nice cozy atmosphere to it…and there we go, there's the one part where vibes win out.
For now, at least…that's about it. I'm waiting eagerly to dig into the online aspect once it gets fully restored, but I'm good with taking a little break for the time being. Monster Hunter is certainly a long investment, no matter the game, but finally playing Dos has given me a rather pleasant take on the gather-and-hunt formula. It's smooth and rewarding as long as you put a little bit of preparation into it, taking measures to ensure that there's less wrong reasons as to why it's a time-sink.
I won't deny the little slip-ups here and there…small monsters are still crazy aggressive in big fights, climbing is still slow even with the new "sprint" option, and all of the little cutscenes when doing things in the village could have probably been made start-to-skippable. Notably, though, I think the quality-of-life in regards to the resource side of the core gameplay isn't part of the drag this time, which feels like the most crucial thing to nail, even when some aspects of it take time to get going, and some materials are still a bit tricky to get. Beyond the experiential aspect, beyond the vibes it's chiefly an excellent mechanical approach and evolution of the basic concepts established before it…an ideal sequel, through-and-through. While it may still have room to grow into something even more refined, it has strong footing to stand on, even when its flagship monster is built around taking that away from you and making you work to get it back.

Figured I could wrap up things for this one...so we're back. The mechanically-focused stuff is here: https://www.backloggd.com/u/Reyn/review/579119/
Really, one event describes everything about this game for me: Leo receives an SOS signal, a cry for help from the innocent citizens being caught in the middle of this renegade attack. In control of a super-powered robot, Leo may be capable of helping them, and this is definitely encouraged by his friend Celvice. The robot's AI, ADA, however, says to the contrary, that they can't risk extra combat given Leo's lack of experience, and as such, they should focus on the evacuation of Jehuty, their main mission.
Now, the choice is actually in the player's hand, and I want you to pretend that the game doesn't end with a Rank evaluation that factors your avoidance of these into account. Next, let's say you decline to go in to protect the civilians. You make the choice, and it's possible that you might regret it a little bit, the same way Leo might.
You later see that part of your main objective involves going back to the area in which this SOS signal originally came from. Since you're already aware that environmental destruction is a part of this game, and that areas actually stay in their same state even if you leave and come back, you're prepared to see the place in ruins, the aftermath of having to make the hard choice to focus on the more important task at hand.
You descend into the neighborhood...and...uhhhhh...all the houses and cars and light poles are still...perfectly intact. Well, that wasn't really much of an impact at all, was it.
Now, yes, it's possible that areas not having buildings already destroyed on your first arrival is an engine limitation, but that would only make the decision to go with this kind of level progression even stranger. If this dilemma is going to constantly appear, then it just feels odd that the most you'll get for passing them off is the equivalent of the game giving you a shrug.
This is the real issue at the heart of everything. I often ask myself if the thought of a game's peak potential is enough to redeem it for me, and I'd still say the answer is yes. The premise of Zone of the Enders, that of an inexperienced young boy forced into combat in a machine that could potentially cause more harm than good, is excellent. And the game CAN lean into this at points, the most prominent example ironically being the hidden Bad Ending, which deliberately taunts the player for using Jehuty's destructiveness too carelessly.
And yet...ultimately, the game doesn't usually commit to many of its goals. For the most part, it really can't. Budgetary and time restrictions can be possible explanations for this, but then you also have to wonder, if those were known issues during the creation process, would the game have been better if it was better made around those limitations?
I want to say yes, because as it stands, this one ultimately leaves me more frustrated than anything, because the blueprint of something fucking phenomenal is so clearly apparent here...but it just isn't realized...kinda stings.

Sometimes you're just gonna have to meet a game on its own terms.
Now, I've actually owned this one for quite a while, but only did my first proper playthrough of it last year or so. In the time since trying it as a kid and actually finishing it, I've heard enough to know that it's ultimately a pretty divisive game, and I can at least understand where that mentality comes from, but it doesn't feel that accurate to completely call the game a mess. If only on the notion that Oshima and crew would have tried to make a product that can reasonably function, going into this one somewhat fresh has made it easier to see how some of the "annoyances" here do end up serving you more than they hinder:
Why are rocks and other shit everywhere if they stop you from smoothly performing time-travel? Well, maybe you accidentally touched a Future sign (GoufyGogg's labeling of these things as enemy design made this entire game click with me, watch her Sonic CD video), in which case suddenly all these bumps in the road mean that not only are they easy ways to burn off that sign, but they also end up not taking too much effort. This also goes for why some stages place springs right near their Goal signs: to stop you from finishing too early if you're still learning how to route levels out. Might be awkward, but the solution always ends up being the same: just jump.
As much as you want to try and go forward, going back is also still a way to get speed. Stardust Speedway might be overwhelming at first, but getting pushed up and down and all around can still be used well in the right situation. If it drives you mad, taking it slowly at first to learn how to properly navigate between routes sounds like a good idea.
The inputting might be a bit more rigid compared to its Sonic 2 counterpart, sure, but the implementation of the Spin Dash is particularly interesting in this game since it has a direct counterpart in the form of the Peel-Out: the former is slower but more easily keeps you safe, whereas the Peel-Out gets you to sign-activation speed faster whilst also asking that you be mindful of when to jump or steer clear of enemies. Used in tandem, they both have their place.
Ultimately, out of the original Classic games, this one has the highest skill floor when it comes to needing to be able to manage speed and level knowledge effectively, which is why I'd say that, unironically, I think it's actually too easy: even later Zones have these kind of "safe spots" where you can easily build up speed in place, which feels like it defeats the purpose. If damage of any kind could rob you of a Sign proc, then that could ensure that these areas still require some caution to get to. Since the level design itself is a much bigger factor of difficulty this time around, I might even suggest that "Hard" layouts could help facilitate more use of Sonic's movement (which could be in place of the damage suggestion). Would love to know if a rom hack out there explores this.
Granted, you'll naturally look for more interesting ways to proc time-travel as you improve at handling Sonic; it's not like you have to abide by the fail-safes, just that I think the training wheels don't need to stay on for the whole ride, whilst also feeling like they're colored in neon. Rotating around a wheel in Metallic Madness and bouncing between two springs is functionally the same thing, but the former is helped a lot by being at least somewhat disguised.
Even then, it's still possible to play the game the same way as Sonic 1, if you simply can't stand the time-travelling. It helps that the Special Stages for this one are properly about handling a running Sonic; I'm very much a Blue Sphere enjoyer, but I'd still say CD handles Special Stages the best out of the Classics.
At least the one thing I don't need to debate is (sorry to that one YouTube video <3) the game's sense of identity. 30 years on and this is still the game that most proudly screams "This is Sonic the Hedgehog": Visually exciting (if still a little mismatched in terms of a complete package) with an energetic soundtrack that is rightfully unanimously agreed upon to be nothing but excellent. The US version's focus on atmosphere might undermine that, but that doesn't mean it doesn't have its fair share of funky hits (SS Present and GF clear, I have to say it, alongside some other tracks I still ultimately prefer over JP), and it's still impressive for how little time it had to be made in.
And honestly, Sonic Boom is still always going to be Sonic's theme for me. As a kid, I never actually made it past Tidal Tempest (which I hope proves that my mechanical thoughts on this game are fair), but if there's one area where Sonic CD still gets nostalgia bias from me, it's that opening. They had the cutscenes on the Mega Collection and I remember watching them nonstop; I'm convinced they actually became a part of me, not just that song...IDK Sonic is just so fucking cool, man. This is the ideal version of Sonic for me.
Should also mention that I played this game on what is arguably one of its worst versions (Gems Collection), and I still liked it. Get on my level.

I'll spare you a full repost and just link the original review here: https://www.backloggd.com/u/Reyn/review/665135/
To leave some comments on the original version specifically...well, it's still ANUBIS: Zone of the Enders. The combat's beauty was obviously nailed the first time around, and this is technically still true for the encounter design, but (and this might just be from playing the versions with the Special Edition content so much) the pacing might be a little tooooo snappy; going straight from Anubis to finding Taper is the big glaring point in my eyes. Not necessarily worse, just pretty abrupt.
Part of why the SE content works is that all of the new fights are actually pretty general, owed to the reuse of areas (the Cellar Room was a VS. Mode map in the original). There's no real gimmick to any of them, but instead they give you some appreciated space in the main game to mess around for a bit. If you ask me, it's more preferable than the Extra Missions, which usually just tend to be recycled fights anyway, only now with a best time to shoot for.
Beyond that, it's mostly some visual polish that the SE has to its name: the extra Subweapon displays in cutscenes, and, ironically, extra cutscenes in general, smooth things out a bit more. Another abrupt jump in the original game is from the Codec bit with Ken on Phobos straight into the Nepthis clones. The new cutscene alone helps it feel less sudden, not to mention the chance to nuke regular mobs as Naked Jehuty. For all intents and purposes, the endgame is the equivalent of reaching robot godhood, and getting to exercise that power is always satisfying; funny how even a non-fight can add so much to the experience.
VS. Mode's new UI and meter system also make it feel more refined...even if it's still kusoge-tier.
Still a great game, just that you can see how those extra months in the oven made it even better. Does bring the fine-tuning (or lack thereof) of some of the wackier sections on Extreme into question, though.

I've had a lot of internal debate over how to approach this, because even now I still groan a little bit that I've already stepped back on something I wanted to avoid for the longest time, but I'm coming to acknowledge that my initial mentality was probably too shortsighted. To that end, maybe mentioning Metal Gear Solid immediately will be the quickest way to get it both in and out of the discussion, because, however you got here, you didn't come in to read about that. At the same time, Konami Computer Entertainment Japan's creation of ANUBIS: Zone of the Enders didn't come out of a vacuum; it only came after years of experimentation across other projects, not even just the one that it had to bear the responsibility of redeeming. Even so, I'll at least always gladly offer the reminder that Kojima's mark on this game was not as large as nearly every other indication might lead you to believe. He got the team together, including guest artist Kazuma Kaneko, and approved the initial script that would lead to CGI artist Shuyo Murata's position as director…and that's about it. Even with his name inevitably tied to it, Zone of the Enders' status as "That other series from the Metal Gear team'' being less an indication of its expected quality, and more just some piece of trivia, is a point of frustration I still don't feel guilty about having, but ignoring that series isn't the solution either.
All of this is to say that easter eggs are debatably Metal Gear Solid's most definitive feature. While the humorous reactions are the usual point of attention, the real stroke of genius is the way that even the ones primarily based around dialogue are still only the result of unrestrained, organic interaction. Any hijinks related to bathrooms, magazines, or anything else comical aren't born from highly specialized circumstances, but rather through simply acknowledging how the general mechanics on offer might be applied in a variety of general scenarios. For all of its cinematic tendencies, the blend that MGS can strike between clean arcade immediacy and constantly active simulation is genuinely impressive. Thinking about it in this way, it's easy to recognize how easter eggs can be categorized as just another application of "depth", and in the context of KCEJ, brings up the question of what it would be like if they took this approach with something of a completely different style.
I think you can guess what the answer is.
Knowing where to start with it, though, is pretty tricky, but I think just giving an example is the best way to make the idea clear: Geyser stuns enemies as long as its beams make contact with an enemy. It can be scattered across the ground, walls, and ceiling, or thrown directly at an enemy, depending on how hard you press the Sub button. That's as simple as it can be described, and yet you'll find that it can be applied in a variety of ways. If you're surrounded, you can use it to create breathing room; if enemies are approaching, you can set it up in advance; if an enemy is actively attacking you, they'll be unable to guard against it.
None of these are a given in any situation, yet they all technically remain equally possible because there's no difference in how Geyser itself is inputted; rather, any divergence is simply from having to react to enemy behavior, which is always variable thanks to how aggressive Frames have been made this time around. Even its use in the Crevasse fight manages to be free from feeling like a rigid interaction, as it still has the ability to stun enemies who get close to downed LEVs, as it still always does. That it prompts Leo to come in to heal his friends is simply an extension of what you might have already used it for.
But outside of that, there are specific qualities that, despite seeming obvious, still feel like "eureka" moments to discover: grab a stunned enemy, and you'll find that they'll take longer to break free…which makes perfect sense. Even when grabbed, it would make sense that Geyser should still work properly, and thus its effects exist alongside those of a Grab. Taking it even further, if Geyser's beams are enough to stun enemies, and a focused throw leads to beams emitting from an enemy directly, not only is it safe to assume that nearby enemies will also get stunned, but perhaps also that you could even move the initial target around to get this result more easily. Go on over, grab that poor soul, simply move over to another target…lo and behold, they'll also get stunned. Logic simply taken to its furthest point, that's all there is to it.
For how "light" the game may appear in regards to its number of individual attacks, the way that everything can be combined together still gives ANUBIS a large amount of mechanical flexibility: wall damage, tying stun and Guards into Comet rebounds, combining Decoy with Geyser or Floating Mine, or Wisp with Floating Mine, or using Gauntlet to push enemies into any of the above…I could describe everything in detail, but we'd be here for a long time. To keep it brief, you'd be surprised how easily every single fight can change with every single attempt, even if the escorts and ranked encounters feel "rigid". Jehuty's kit just allows for so many different approaches to situations, but on the opposite side of the coin, the absolutely superb enemy design bolsters this even more. Even with the new main Frame types, the interconnectedness is still strong: the blend between a Mummyhead's long-range barrages and a Raptor's up-close pressure is only strengthened with how fast and aggressively they work in tandem with each other now, not to mention the many other possible enemy combinations on offer. CLODs are a bit extreme, especially on…Extreme, but it's hard to call their suction move and the effects it has on your movement conceptually flawed, maybe just in need of a little more balancing.
Similarly, arenas in ANUBIS manage to be well-designed despite rarely ever becoming that complicated. Rather, it's the general ways that your movement and opportunities for environmental use might be freed or restricted that makes them effective. The piston rooms, where these two sides constantly cycle between each other, become a highlight for that reason, not to mention one of the more rightfully difficult sections, where mistakes in your awareness and positioning can be instantly fatal.
Something about it all still feels like that fine line between arcade and immersion. Describing ANUBIS sometimes genuinely feels like trying to make sense of a spiderweb: the ways everything interlinks makes it both smooth and daunting to navigate. And yet, in the moment, when you're met with planning out your next target, when you make the bet to clash with a Raptor to get some Sub back, or try to take advantage of that Mummyhead trying to heal, while being aware of that Cyclops coming in for the combo; when you have to gauge how many times you can swing a Frame around, or guide enemies into the environment for that extra collision damage…it just all comes together. A constant balancing act, just in the freedom of the air.
That said, and in fairness, the bosses do suffer a little when viewed through this lens: Zakat represents them at their peak, with nearly every Sub having utility that must be managed, whilst also presenting a strong variety of different attacks that let Jehuty's movement options shine. On the other hand, though, Nepthis's constant rigidity makes its fights feel more like following a flowchart, though an opportunity to fight it in a manner similar to Neith would have made these less sour for me…well, I guess there's always VS. Mode. Even so, the boss lineup fares well because there's always something different as the focal point: Ardjet's first fight serves as a beginner's checkup for queueing Homing Lasers (or just block-tanking, I suppose), whereas the final encounter with Viola's A.I. lets you see the value of blade-crossing. Inhert leans the most into being a "gimmicky" set piece, but still offers freedom in regards to how you want to dodge around its missiles during that second phase, as well as still being a threat up close. Vic Viper, true to its origin, focuses the most on bullet hell, but also provides good rewards for being quick to take advantage of its recovery periods. To even bring Geyser back into the discussion, land one on of its OPTION orbs, and it gets disabled until it enters Flight Mode again. Perfectly in line with how it's normally used, whilst still rewarding the inquisitive player who asks if it's even possible…that's the good shit.
And Anubis ends things off on a perfect blend of the basics of Jehuty's abilities: the combination of Homing Lasers, combos, blade-crossing, and preemptive play makes for one very satisfying final encounter to go for no-damage runs on. Absolutely phenomenal visuals for its BURST, too, of course. Pure fucking eye candy.
You're probably expecting a similar bashing of the escort missions, but they're really not as horrible as they might appear. As an example, the lock-on priority for Taper during his section is tied to if he's under attack, which works in tandem with how enemies behave there: Cyclopes go for Jehuty, Raptors go for Taper. That you'll need to learn this might be what puts people off, but even just generally, throwing Geysers in Taper's direction is a mostly foolproof way to make things more manageable. And if you still can't tolerate it, there's also ways to route that section to last as shortly as possible, which is actually something that goes for the rest of the game as a whole: if you don't like an encounter, there's ways to basically instantly skip past it. I may have qualms about how trivial spawn-kills with BURSTS are, or even just the sheer power of spin-throws, but it's not like I have to abide by using them. At this point, I can make my way around every encounter easily, but the option being there is appreciable. For a game that is mind-bogglingly free of fat, even including the extra content of the Special Edition, the ability to make it even more lean is honestly pretty respectable, even if some of it may not have been intentional.
A key point in favor of the holistic experience is the better balance around the core mechanics of play, compared to how frequently the specialized moments of the first two MGS games often sidelined their main area of focus. Managing Spiders, defeating a boss only through parries, or trying to keep all those helpless LEVs from getting themselves killed are all still better tied to Jehuty's main abilities than the moments where MGS tries to lean away from its stealth, even if its best bosses are still excellent. The aforementioned Crevasse fight is a bit too randomized compared to the rest of the game for my tastes, especially on higher difficulties, but ANUBIS otherwise still stands as an excellent example of how to navigate the balance between mechanical freedom and a strong focus on set pieces. Compared to the original's unremarkable mundanity, or the general inconsistency of the team's other works, it stands as a pretty big step forward.
Outside of that, it's fun to also acknowledge how KCEJ's other stylistic traits help elevate more than just ANUBIS's mechanical scope. The studio's trademark letterboxing still provides cutscenes with that little extra pizazz, as well as having the eternally useful benefit of making subtitles consistently readable (whoever saw no problem with how horribly they're overlaid on top of ADA's interface in the Codec scenes for the widescreen ports deserves actual jail time). Yeah, the narrative is basically left to rot in English, but in its native tongue there's a little more merit to be found both in its characters and subject matter. Granted, I think even I can recognize that some of the voice work is still a bit hammy, but anything is a masterpiece in comparison to what the rest of the world was exposed to.
Either way, I trust everyone can still agree that the visuals are nothing short of marvelous: this is easily the best looking game on the PlayStation 2, and notably one that will nearly always be friendly to HD preservation. The upscaling of the animated cutscenes can be questionable, but the stylization on its own will still stand the test of time better than most other works from its era, even its brother series (and even if MGS2 and 3 also stand as technical juggernauts for their home console).
Its soundtrack is also a contender for best on its platform: the unique combination between house-like instrumentation and surreal vocals remains just as strong as it was in the first game, perhaps even more so now that it's not restricted by the dynamic layering concept the music of the original had to abide by. You'd normally call a tradeoff like this to be a loss, but somehow the sound team outdid themselves even more with this one.
That last point feels poignant to me because I think it's also emblematic of what exactly ANUBIS did for the original Zone of the Enders: the first game did actually have a tagline in Japan, located on the back of its box in the same place that Metal Gear Solid had "Tactical Espionage Action", but all it was was…"Robot Animation Simulator". I will forever have a soft spot for that game, but there's still something bleak about it being so clearly underfed for how ambitious it was, that it couldn't even find a proper identity to latch onto. Part of why my mentality about Z.O.E.'s standing with MGS has changed is that I've come to realize that it was maybe the right choice for them to make the two closer, rather than distant: come time for ANUBIS, the series adopted Metal Gear Solid's title font, its cinematic qualities, and its same approach to depth of gameplay, but I genuinely think that the most important thing of all was that it also found its own subtitle, proudly emblazoned near the end of its iconic opening. Even with the two's DNA being inextricably linked, it still finally found its footing. Not to say that the series didn't have it at all, more so that it just wasn't fully realized.
The gold was there, it only needed to be dug out more. And this time, Konami Computer Entertainment Japan came in with the mentality and capability to make that properly happen. The result: High Speed Robot Action.

Turns out parrying systems have already been solved for almost...30 years at this point. Not sure why everyone keeps trying to put them in games if it's not gonna be like how it's done here.

Drakengard 2 is the sequel to Drakengard. It features a plot that is based upon events that occurred in Drakengard, as well as featuring characters, with personalities, who were also in Drakengard. However, it also features new characters, also with personalities, who also contribute to events that occur within the plot of Drakengard 2.
Similarly, Drakengard 2 also features gameplay based on that of Drakengard. There is a mix of melee combat and dragon-riding, in which you control a character and press buttons to manipulate the movement and offensive abilities of your given controlled character, against an array of enemies. There are new things: you can now use launchers. And a parry. And a new Stinger move. You can also use items. And use more characters. And more specific combos. There's also puzzles.
Also featured is a soundtrack. And artwork. And cutscenes, with voice acting.
Definitely a video game that you can play. Its existence is acknowledged.

"You can just spam PKP in Bayo 1 and still get Pure Plat" is a good argument if you ignore that this game makes it even more potent by letting you use it in the air. But, no, the damage (which, in the first game, is actually more from needing to stay in position with your weapon of choice's Hold, than the Weave itself) was the problem.
And, I mean, if you can't even get PPs with the fastest combo in the game (and an important one, because why would you commit to long combo strings that will just get blocked), because of how ridiculously tight these Time requirements are...hmm..........

It's not like walking into the casino and witnessing addiction make people do absolutely ridiculous things doesn't cost much, either; why anyone would still endure and then proceed to try justifying the experience is beyond me.
Can definitely see the Devil May Cry and Bayonetta influence, though. Automatic Mode was such a revolution, especially when DMC1 hid it behind dying to basic mobs. In Mission 1. Like, three times. On Normal.

As much as I can and want to discuss this game down to the wire, that feels wayyy beyond the scale of what I want for my kind of work on this site. As such, I've tried to make something of a trim of a longer piece I've been working on. The following writing is just focused on the combat.
It still remains genuinely impressive that this game's foundation is as smooth as it is. Jehuty has a fluidity to its movement that is simply excellent to play with, no matter what orientation you're in. Combat is simple, but each of your offensive options are still meaningfully distinct: the regular shot applies basic pressure, the Dash attacks work as one-time enemy catchers, the guard-breaking BURST slash is slow but serves as a great combo ender, and the BURST shot is the ultimate long-range destroyer. The Grab and most Subweapons don't really see much use, either due to slow speed, poor damage output, or issues with range, but they do help add some more options (that the Subweapons are directly lifted from the enemies' movesets is also a nice touch, since it can give you a feel for what their strengths and weaknesses are…conceptually).
Unfortunately, said enemies are mostly underwhelming in their designs. Conceptually, it could be a perfect trifecta, with each of them complementing the other, but only Mummyheads remain effectively threatening at enough ranges so as to let their attacks properly shine. Despite being best at close-range, Raptors and Cyclops are still slow enough to get attacked by a spammy player, even with parries involved. In the game's intended flow of "One Squad at a time", there also aren't really going to be times where you need to be aware and react to other enemies closing in on you, not that enemies are still rather passive already.
This extends even further into how strangely easy it is to just spam BURST shots at a far range, as most enemies don't try to dodge it. Combine it with their tendency to simply float over to you if you're very far away, and this completely erases most of the difficulty (and tension) in the S.O.S. missions, too. In fairness, the "S' type enemies, who generally just dodge more all around, are pretty vigilant, and it makes them engaging to fight, but they show up too sparsely.
Going back to the enemy types, Raptors also lack good ranged options, preventing them from being the middleman of the group…until higher Level ones show up, that is. This is another element of combat that, again, is conceptually sound: higher-level enemies have more moves, and since the difficulty options directly affect enemy Levels, it directly means that you'll see larger movesets earlier on…again, the key word is "conceptually". The increments are just too far apart for some level values to matter. Furthermore, the higher difficulties still maintain the same range of levels enemies in a given area will have between each other, so even the endgame of Very Hard features enemies that are weaker than what most of the game has already thrown at you.
Jehuty can level up too, which does nothing outside of potentially making enemies die even faster, and making you die slower. Now, you can actually lose EXP, and even de-level on higher difficulties if you destroy buildings, but the entire crux of the ranking system is reliant on you not letting that happen, so it really doesn't end up mattering. If anything, it just throws the difficulty curve out-of-whack even more, especially if you actually feel like trying to grind.
The only reason that's even possible is due to the semi-open-ended structure that the game spends most of its time in…if all of the numerous, numerous complaints about the game's backtracking that have already been made are anything to go by, this idea did not work. Even as someone who knows how to optimally route out playthroughs, the amount of cutscene skips and loading times is pretty obscene. If you want to go even further, the fact that Metatron boxes also respawn alongside enemies in certain areas means that health really doesn't matter. Enemy Squads holding Metatron comes close to a risk-reward system, but you can still always BURST spam, still taking away any potential tension to health management.
For all the negativity I've been giving this game so far, it's not like it's all doom and gloom. Namely, the bosses are mostly pretty nice. Tempest takes far too long for how little it does, but the other large bosses are fairly engaging (if still time-consuming, in some form or another). Fighting Neith, however, and in both of its forms, is the standout moment for the game, mechanically. Just as with Jehuty, its limited number of attacks doesn't mean there isn't engagement to be had, as each one is different enough so as to still draw different responses out of you. Ignoring the (genuinely bold, when a sequel wasn't guaranteed at that time) decision to end the game on an unwinnable cliffhanger fight, Viola gives you the game's final moment of combat, and it does end up being a great note to end on, as you Dash in-and-out, cross blades, recognize when to go in for strikes, even collide BURST shots with each other…still a joy to experience.
Since it's still fitting here, I'm just going to use the full section from my proper WIP piece on this game to close this out:
"Even though I've only recently started trying to discuss games on this level, I already feel guilty about how cruel it can end up being, but criticism isn't just an exercise in ruthlessness. At the time of writing, this game has been with me for 5 years, and I wouldn't say it's only because I just want to lambast it. Despite everything that I think is completely fair to say about Zone of the Enders, it holds a special place in my heart: I can always come back to it, have fun, and see the gold peeking out…but I can't blame anyone who decided all the digging wasn't worth the time. After all, some of this rubble didn't need to be there in the first place."