I'm now wrapping up my fourth playthrough. With an asterisk for King of Dragon Pass, I cannot say that I have ever played another strategy game with a more engrossing narrative structure, or a narrative game with a more compelling (if very light) story-driving strategy layer.
Suzerain is as close to a one-of-a-kind experience as video games get, even as it flirts with grand strategy and VNs. I wouldn't hesitate to call it a must-play.
The biggest criticism I can bring against it, besides some copywriting and translation issues, is the almost criminal lack of a rewind or reload system—particularly for subsequent playthroughs. You can get around this with some manual save file manipulation, but these in-game tools really are long-standard for the visual novel genre and any of its subgenres at this point.
The Eternal Cylinder is very much worth checking out while it’s in free beta (just head to their website and enter your email to claim a code). All the weird and wonderful worldbuilding and sense of humor you’d expect from the makers of Zeno Clash and Rock of Ages combined with an exploratory adventure platformer reminiscent of EVO and Spore, where you eat stuff to gain new mutations and change the shape and nature of your creatures. Some light Pikmin puzzle-solving in there too. It’s a real hoot, the ever-evolving mechanics sold by the storybook-esque narration and the wonder of what oddity you might encounter next.
Excellent Sunday afternoon experience. Haven’t encountered any bugs yet despite the beta state.
I will say the actual platforming mechanics in this game are not very good—not very good at all—but thankfully you’re only actually required to use them like once or twice an hour.
A shallow, slow, repetitive, and largely RNG-driven grind. It's a strangely addictive grind, for a while—largely carried by the throwback DOS-era aesthetic and the hints of an interesting story. But eventually you realize how much the game rewards cautious, conservative, and fundamentally boring odds-based play over experimentation or strategy, and at that point the grind really starts to grind on you. I would only recommend it as something to occupy about 10% of your brain while watching TV or half-listening to a pointless conference call.
The most damning thing I can say about Ghost of Tsushima is that every time a cutscene or dialogue sequence starts I pull my phone out to scroll twitter. Just incredibly dull writing and characters. A lifeless weeaboo reenactment of clichés from samurai movie classics this game has no business trying to associate itself with.
That said, I’m still playing thirty-odd hours later. So something is really working for me here on a mechanical level. The core exploratory/combat/base-capture loop might be the most successful execution I’ve seen of the Ubisoft sandbox formula.
A lovely game with lovely characters that's unfortunately a massive drag to play. Spiritfarer is a grindy busywork simulator masquerading as a town-building sim or platformer. In reality it's a clicker game where, unlike other click games, you have to spend enormous amounts of time traveling between the things you click on. There's no challenge to any of it, just tedium and a continual test of patience.
I stuck with it for >5 hours expecting it to get better as I unlocked more features. Instead it only got worse as I uncovered more of the world and was forced to spend more and more time on mindless errands which in turn only unlock more mindless errands. The game occasionally rewards you with cute bits of character dialogue, but those are a few and far between compared to the amount of time you'll spend operating click-to-complete chore machines and engaging with possibly the most annoying fishing minigame I've ever encountered.
I've heard there's a beautiful ending, and it saddens me to say I won't stick around to see it. When I saw the average time to main story completion on How Long to Beat was 24 hours, I nearly died.
Weird game to rate because I have a lot of complaints and don't love it. But it's also clearly the best fitness game ever made, and the only one I've stuck with for months. If you want a pretty decent video game that is also a pretty decent daily exercise routine there's really no competition.
Cute but unchallenging and insubstantial. Levels are too short, meaning about half your time is spent on the interstitials between them. The simplicity of the central hole mechanic doesn't scale in the same satisfying ways as that of Katamari Damacy, Donut County's most obvious source of inspiration. You're always doing the same thing in the same way with little additional challenge. So despite the game's extremely brief length, it gets old quickly.
The soundtrack's got some great stuff going on though — especially that post-level recap beat.
I kept waiting for the “real” game to start, because it was pitched to me as one of those “I wouldn’t want to spoil what this game really is” titles in the vein of Frog Fractions or something. It’s not. What you get in the first village is more or less what you can expect the rest of it to be: a not particularly challenging platform adventurer with an ultraminimalist aesthetic and affectation you’ll either find cutesy or grating (I was somewhere in between).
I appreciate the anti-capitalist themes and some of the humor, but there wasn’t enough weight to this world or its characters to keep me invested in the mechanics, which put me off pretty early. I felt like I spent most of my time wandering around looking for objects I’d missed, hopping consequence-free (except for the consequence of missing a high jump and having to make a long walk back) from cloud to cloud around largely empty environments. Ultimately there’s not a lot of “there” there.
A richly detailed and fascinating world whose exploration is marred by a lot more horrendously dated and tedious combat than I'd remembered.
Reading, looking at, and listening to this game are all wonderful experiences. Unfortunately the worst part about Planescape: Torment is playing it.
Unfinished and flawed in some core regards, it's nonetheless hard not to love Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver at least a little bit. This is an action game before its time: cinematic, story-rich, and awing in a scale that pushes the hardware of its time to their limits. It's impossible not to see flashes of both Dark Souls and God of War in Soul Reaver's DNA now.
The writing and worldbuilding are equally rich in their attempt to build an epic both gothic and Miltonian in tone and themes. The quality of the voice acting was peerless in 1999 and still impressive as hell today; there's never been a narrator more suited to a story like this than Tony Jay. Other aspects of the game's presentation do their best to rise to these standards, and while the primitive PS1 graphics engine can't quite produce emotive characters on this register, it produces a convincing impression of both them and the colossal, decaying landscape and swooping camera. The Dreamcast port helps a bit with its smoother framerate and detail, but in some ways that just emphasizes the muddiness of the texture work.
More dated than the visuals, arguably, is the gameplay. It's mash-to-win combat and block-pushing puzzles all the way down here, and while the game's dimension-bending design and puzzlebox bosses can be uniquely clever, they also get tiresome really quickly. God of War would improve on this formula by finding a way to make mindless combat so kinetic it becomes engaging by sheer force of spectacle; Soul Reaver cannot. Every enemy is defeated by mashing square, then either impaling them with a weapon or throwing them into one of any number of vampire-killing environmental hazards.
More egregious than any other flaw is the one that most betrays Soul Reaver's ambition: the story is unfinished. Soul Reaver doesn't just end with a sequel hook; it ends without any kind of conclusion to its narrative at all, at what clearly was intended to be the middle act climax of the game, not a finale. Luckily there are sequels. Less luckily, their returns are diminishing, as the Legacy of Kain series falls further and further into history with its failure to improve on the core mechanics. It would take a full decade for another action RPG set in a ruined, decaying world of the undead to do the epic tone established here justice.
Dragon Quest XI is an aggressively uninteresting game. Like I realize this series is all about nostalgia, and that DQ1 practically defined the genre, but good lord — this might be the most generic JRPG I’ve ever seen. It’s a NES game with voice acting (though it is cool they happened to include an 8-bit mode I’ll never use, I guess). The story is an almost parodically vanilla Prophesied Chosen One Must Fight the Dark Lord After His Home Village Is Destroyed, yet after two hours they still haven’t destroyed the village or even introduced the Dark Lord beyond references to his inevitable return (which seems to bother no one much at all) (and yes they actually flat-out call him The Dark Lord).
The combat is cosmically bad; it’s DQ1-style "mash A through the menus" to grind and win. Luckily they added this cool new feature where the combat can play itself! At 3x speed! Wonders never cease.
There’s a “free move” combat mode that lets you move your party characters around the battlefield. You would think this would let you setup backstabs and blocks and stuff like a Tales Of game — and you would be wrong! It does nothing. Purely cosmetic timewasting.
Which is more or less what this game amounts to: the most stultifying, time-wasting take on the JRPG formula you can think of. You can literally auto-run from point A to B, take your hands off the controller, and let the game play itss bland-ass self for you. Why isn’t it just a visual novel at that point? Why have combat at all? Who knows. This series has millions of fans somewhere, apparently. Ask them.
So the combat is bad. The dialogue is drivel. But the music is truly awful. They added full orchestration for the Switch version and it’s still possibly the worst RPG score I can remember, all blaring obnoxious fanfares devoid of the emotion of the most forgettable Final Fantasy theme. Words can’t describe how much worse the MIDI versions are.
This game’s only saving grace so far are the Akira Toriyama character designs, yet the characters themselves have none of the life or animation or humor that makes the Dragon Ball and Chrono Trigger casts so memorable. They’re cardboard cut-out stand-ins for RPG types so stock they might as well just be named Fighter, Thief, and Village Maiden in Distress. The protagonist, ofc, is silent — not because you have any real control over the dialogue, mind you.
I can honestly say I don’t think I’ve played a less inspired RPG since early childhood. Dragon Quest XI makes The Outer Worlds look like an astonishing masterpiece of depth and innovation.
Rad music and sound design, nifty combat and item systems, and overall one of the most successful utilizations I've seen of the DS's unique hardware. It's a shame the protagonist is such a damp rag of nothing for such a long time. The game expects you to put up with its least likable character and his grating dialogue for hours and hours before he starts to grow the hell up.