Wait a minute... I made this game! How about that.

I haven't replayed this for some years, but I love its minimalism as well as how stripped back all the song instrumentation is. There's a 'novel-esque' negative space to how the game lets the player piece together what they're exploring. I don't think that was 100% intentional, but it's an effect I'd like to explore more...

The way the postgame blends into the main game is still eerie how memorable it's been, even moreso given that it was kind of added in over a few weeks near the end of development.

The puzzles and combat are kind of ho-hum, but I think are engaging enough to do the trick in terms of balancing out the more quiet, free exploring of the non-dungeon areas. At least I had the sense to not include block pushing puzzles! I feel like Anodyne still has a good direction in terms of its dungeon design, and I think the levels are creative. I've secretly been hoping to see another weird Zelda-like at some point. I like the genre.

Marina and I talk about how we sort of got 'lucky' making this with the limitations it had - the game being tile-based, and gameplay being a minimal version of Link's Awakening - meant it was relatively easy for us to put together.


The first thing to note is this game's composer, Masamichi Amano, was an actual orchestral, film and anime composer! This was his first stint in games. The music is generally excellent - a lot of times in games, classical-influenced music gets stuck in cliche (think of your typical mediocre town song from a JRPG). You can tell he's drawing on a wide range of experience and that makes it a fun listen

What's neat about Quest 64 is how it's sort of prototypically 'open world', its world an imaginative mix of MMORPG open-ness, 3D towns, dungeons translated from their 2D counterparts. Is it repetitive with its endless battles? Yes. Is it tense in uninteresting and interesting ways? Yes! There is sooo little relief going through long areas like boil hole or blue cave, where one fuck-up means redoing it...

I think the hiding level-ups around the world and towns is really neat still. Also, the game not being hampered by an equipment system helps bring the battles into focus, as does the limited inventory and items in the game creating a unique texture. There's the sense of being a young, underprepared magician.

Sure, you can also use skill points in the wrong element and get stuck with bad builds! That's kind of the fun... and everyone just does the earth avalanche + magic barrier build in the end, so...

The battle system isn't executed perfectly (lining up attacks is tough, dodging is sometimes counterintuitive), but it was experimental and pretty fun most of the time! Not to mention 'seamless'..that buzzword.

I actually think the game is quite beautiful at times, using the low-poly and texture limitations to its advantage. The beanstalk at the end of Cull Hazard, the blues of Nepty's HIdeout, the expansive caverns of Blue Caves. They have an imaginative painterly quality that would be replaced by realistic lighting half the time nowadays...

On top of it all, there's such a quietness to how you progress in this game - only getting a few lines of dialogue from bosses, kings of towns, and the game being quiet otherwise. There isn't much going on in the story, but the point of Quest 64 is the quiet, difficult adventure, and I think the bare story works well in that way.


3/15 (3)

For some reason my experience with this has soured the more and more time I have away from it. A padded out Dark Souls 3. Feels like a job. Music and storytelling are... average... feels kind of retreading the same ground.

Feels like lasting proof that the Western AAA Open World formula doesn't do anything but make these grand, overly big, 100+ hour experiences.

Points for horse double jump and the teleporter gags.

3/10/2022 (4 -> 3)

At the core of what kind of didn't land for me in Elden Ring was its philosophy of exploration - that secrets in secrets, or 'more areas' makes for more meaningful exploration. Finding secret areas in secret areas was cool... but after I found the 10th secret secret area with still no context except some item descriptions painting a brief picture of it, I felt it to be repetitive. Because you can just warp to anywhere instantly, it feels like I'm just zipping between theme parks looking for little item treats, not really like, learning or inhabiting a world. I think the high point for me was exploring Sellia for Sellen, or meeting characters before the Radahn fight, but idk, the rest I can already feel fading from my mind the way that most open world games' experiences tend to fade for me.

3/6/2022 - 40-hour update (still 4/5)

I don't have much to add but the way some of the (huge???) questlines take you through the world is still neat. I do think it's a bit immersion breaking when you have to hop to the wiki because you can't figure out a flag or a trigger, though - like when trying to find how to reach a part of an area, but you end up using a teleporter to get there later.

My overall take on the open world is that it's overall kind of... idk, it's there, I guess. In theory the open world is supposed to convey "A sense of journey", but you end up fast travelling all the time so the game still feels like "Dark Souls 3" but occasionally you have to wander on a horse.

It works fine to go from place to place and when you are searching for graces, but bonfire runs through the open world are very boring. The coolest areas are places that feel like a mix of the open world / legacy dungeons - like the Eternal City and Siofra River.

The level design is still really fun to walk around, but on a level-to-level basis, it feels pretty much the same as Dark Souls 3? I guess... there's nothing really mind-blowing about it, but it is fun. The way I'm being surprised feels a bit routine, but it's still fun.

I will say I was hoping for something a bit more exciting mechanically/exploration-wise, but at least Dark Souls mechanics are fun to move and fight with.

The world, though, really feels like Dark Souls 2 in the way it connects and how you're able to jump around between branches. The way (SPOILERS!) you go from Limgrave, to Nokron, to Deeproot Depths and then the Capital city felt very 'Dark Souls 2'. But level-design-wise... yeah, Dark Souls 3.

---
25-hour update (increased to 4/5)

Most of my points are the same, but what I've changed on the most is the story, which finally clicked. The statement about the world lore being vague isn't really true - it turned out that NPC Questlines are the intended way of learning about stuff. It's possible I took a while to realize this bc my playstyle was to run around the whole map first.

The game uses questlines - which seem far and few between, but significant - to get you to go to certain areas you might otherwise ignore. In my case, I was doing a sorcery questline to help out my teacher, and it took me to a sorcery town and some caves I'd otherwise overlook. I also met a few other characters along the way, and ended up learning more about the relation of some sorcery schools and the main center of sorcery academia that were otherwise very vague beforehand.

I would assume that there are other questlines for other classes that I haven't found because I'm focusing on sorcerer stuff.

But I thought the way Elden Ring uses these JRPG-esque quests to create a little narrative of otherwise-scattered areas was really nice, and felt like a justified and interesting use of the open world. It feels like much more of a foothold in the world's backstory than were in other souls games, I think because they're driven by characters who are firmly planted in Elden Ring's world.

Sometimes the quests lack a few hints, so I'm wondering if the game did anything to help with that or if some quests are just meant to be really obscure.

The result is nice - if you're in an area with no context, you still get a fun landscape to explore with varied enemy placements (that may or may not be frustrating...see original review). If you're there for a quest, you get that plus some further explanation for the area. This sort of layering is in most open world games (and in fact has sort of existed in prototypical, janky and not-great forms in games like Saga Frontier or Legend of Mana), but usually there's a much bigger contrast between the "Here for business" and "Here for fun" modes.

I guess I can understand the open world size more - while I still don't like scouring for areas, maybe that wasn't really the way FromSoft was intending you to explore, maybe it was meant to be more of an even mix of self-exploration and lightly-guided questing.

ORIGINAL 3/5 REVIEW
(20-hour review, having seen most of the open world areas and a few legacy dungeons)

Essentially Dark Souls 4, a longer Dark Souls game with an at-times distinct (relative to DS1-3) sense of exploration and the same frustrating and sometimes satisfying, Takeshi's Castle/MXC philosophy of difficulty design and reward.

Story and Art

Elden Ring (ER) drifts further towards TTRPG/DnD-esque storytelling than previous souls game. The game is very nonlinear, so it's more fun to roleplay as a character with certain aims and priorities. Unlike previous Souls games, players probably won't see all the places in ER.

20 hours in, the lore feels a bit vaguer and more scattered than before, it's harder to connect the pieces because of how far places are. There's still the Souls-style environmental storytelling of "something bad happened here." From what I can piece together the narrative themes don't push beyond the usual fromsoft dark fantasy genre bounds of tepid takes on
"Power" and "Fucked Up Dudes". I didn't have high expectations here with ER, but it's kind of disappointing nonetheless.

The visual setting is more Dark Medieval Fantasy. The areas are all cool in their own way, but the theme overall feels a bit well-worn...? Not sure.

Open World/Dungeon Design

The horse double jumping is really good. Actually this is like my favorite part of the game...

There's less of a sense of physical intimacy to the open world. The open world sections leave impressions but they're fairly vague - "I went through a misty forest", not as specific as say, the connections of DS1's forest to undead burg, etc. The impressions they leave aren't much stronger than those that the typical open world games leave (Genshin, BotW, Far Cry, etc).

Finding small/medium dungeons on the open world is cool, though, even if they begin to feel formulaic after a while (go through a bit of a level, find a hard boss, deal with a bullshit challenge or two, die a few times, find some loot).

Dungeons in this game come in S, M and L sizes. 20 hours in, it seems the S dungeons follow one of the following styles: Mines, Towers, Castles, Nature Caves, Tombs. The open world is split roughly into 6 big areas, each containing a few of these S dungeons.

The harder the open world area, the longer/harder the S dungeon. If you play a bunch of the same category in a row, they can feel samey, but you don't usually encounter enough in a row for that repetition to be felt.

M dungeons - I've only gone through one, Castle Morne - are more significant in size, kind of like a Dark Souls area. I haven't done enough of them to suss out patterns, but they have a few bosses probably. It does feel a bit "agh" when you finish one and get a cool weapon that isn't in your class. So actually in some ways, it's not exciting to find medium (or small) dungeons because it might just be an hour or two wasted.

L dungeons are huge - about the size of 3-4 Dark Souls areas. I've only explored one so far (the academy) though I'm aware of where most of the others are. These basically feel like Dark Souls, except without the tight-knit world context. So they feel sort of like 'really big dungeons'.

I like the idea that I can sort of look at the enemies near a dungeon and vaguely guess what kind of loot I can find - and sometimes be right! It's easier for that guess to be 'correct' for bigger dungeons, but it feels more random for smaller dungeons.

The open world, though, feels a little big. Not to a painful extent, but there are moments of 'guess i need to ride around scour for stuff!' There's lots of crafting resources scattered, but so far most of it feels pointless depending on your build, and it's hard to find the right recipes anyways. I can't imagine how I'd find a crafting ingredient I need without meticulously noting down where I found every item each time I need it. The game is still very wiki-brain, where you will end up looking stuff up and possibly spoiling yourself.

The positives of the open world is that the world really does feel like A Kingdom, where stuff is North of Stuff or Far South, etc. which is why I'm hoping the lore pieces itself together more.

I like the little notes that hint at places you should look for. Quests where you have to explore for forts on different sides of the map were neat.

ER's open world doesn't stray far from the usual formula, but it does feel a bit more compact than the average. I think there's room to be more compact, although the 'texture' of riding your horse to look for another dungeon is nice, you still do have those moments of riding as fast as you can, ignoring everything and trying to reach Point B. The open world was also used well to subvert Dark Souls' structure - letting you skip bosses, pretty much the whole game so far? Is a really good call. It turns the L dungeons into these things that feel exciting to think about exploring.

The best moments of the open world are when it feels like a mix of regular Souls, with some gimmicky setpiece - like scrambling for ladders in the mountainous area, or avoiding fireballs while crossing a bridge. The worst are when, well... it feels like an open world game LOL

Level Design

Nothing has changed in the Level Design from Demon's Souls. Essentially every single level works the same way: hard placements of enemies, either in a funny interesting way, or a chaotic difficult way. You figure out how to best get through it by dying a lot, poke out from the main path to find loot, most of which you won't need.

The design is kind of janky in this sense - there's a lot of cheap deaths from difficult camera angles, bizarre enemy movement that requires memorization. Respawn times are slow and checkpoints are brief, which means retrying a segment of a level can get really boring. FromSoft has convinced an entire generation of players that this is Good, though, so oh well.

Level design having friction IS good for increasing the sense of meaning from exploration, but like other Souls games, ER's level design usually stands partially in frustrating territory, and rides its coattails in order to get people to overlook it.

But idk, having played every souls game.. it really does just feel like 'more souls' - like another volume of gag manga, or another joke book, another season of a long running anime series.

Combat

Lots of customization is nice. Gathering smithing stones is perfunctory and requires wiki-diving. That system really should be rethought - make it more like Golden Seeds, where once you find a smithing stone you can 'respec' it into other equipment. That would reduce the need for the sort of farming-esque dungeons like the mines.

Stat Respec should be easier and not item-limited. It would be more fun to be able to try out new weapons I find.

Combat is the same as souls. Jumping is a nice addition, but the same problems of weird camera stuff, difficulty to judge depth, some enemies being really huge, still exist. Most combat is about memorizing enemy behavior and rolling at the right time. Idk. It feels okay to play but the retry times are still really long and annoying.

Why does the game STILL not show you what a maxed out weapon's stats are? Gacha games have done this for years, and it's ridiculous to have to spend money on upgrading a weapon just to see its scaling sucks more than another similar one.There should be a simulator room or something.

Quests

I think ER should have a Quest Log. I mean, (Spoilers) some missions DO put markers on your map! The thing is, ER honestly doesn't have that many quests to begin with, so Quest Logs wouldn't hurt the experience in the same way they do to a game like Genshin or BotW. The "problem" of Quest logs isn't their existence, the problem is that Quests are used to add perfunctory content to a game whose base systems aren't very interesting on their own. ER's base systems and combat are fun, so they don't have this problem.

Other

The map marker system should allow text input.

The multiplayer is still terrible to figure out at first! The message system sucks now because most messages are memes, so I don't even use it.

There's no excuse for a lack of accessibility options around difficulty except for stubbornness. Honestly, these games aren't even that hard to begin with so why not add them? People who don't want it won't use it, etc.

I feel like this game just EATS up time. Really most of the time you aren't doing anything hard, you're just walking or riding around a place. This is really an AAA problem in general, but it kind of freaks me out how these games are designed to be so smooth to swallow and consume.

OVERALL

I'm enjoying playing Elden Ring, but its fun moments of exploration are cancelled by its frustrating and bad moments motivated by the same design philosophy. Much of the design decisions feel thoughtlessly imported from previous souls games - the item lore system's organization, the multiplayer, level design and combat philosophy. You can spend an hour having fun exploring for dungeons or new places, but you can also spend an hour repeating a pointless mini-dungeon due to frustrating level design.

The open world is probably the most interesting AAA open world I've ever played, but it's still kind of overly big feeling at times. The exploration also feels somewhat.. empty after I've done it. Like finding new places is super cool, but it's always like... 'fucked up dude's castle' or something. I feel like the limit of medieval Souls and AAA Open World is being reached here, and while it's obviously very satisfying for many, something about it feels lacking for me, despite my at-times enjoyment...

This is definitely one of the go-to reference points for open worlds, but at the same time, the game doesn't feel as groundbreaking or inspirational and quirky as Dark Souls 1 did.


Hey, I made this game... nice...
...It's been a long time since I played it, actually. The way it pivots from a traditional, straightforward adventure, to small 2D worlds that defy expectations of the opening hours, to thought-provoking revelations of Nova and bizarre turns in the Outer Sands! Is pretty unique to think about. Actually I learned a lot from playing this game too, since I didn't write most of the script.

My only nitpick would be that there should have been 3 NPCs in Cenote, not 4! I think that part of the game goes on a little too long.


In summary: https://twitter.com/han_tani2/status/1529794146617421824

(Edited to add some positive things about the spatial concepts of the dungeons and towns)

Would you put a health bar into a 3D block / hidden object game, so if you die at the end of three puzzles, you have to redo all of them? Probably not!

Now imagine that there was a game that did this - and in fact, it sold well - not only that, but it became so unimaginably popular, that its idea - adding a health bar to a 3D puzzle game - became considered 'good practice' in thousands of games, and in fact, this game went on to have dozens of sequels with the same idea: put a health bar in a puzzle game.

Ocarina of Time strikes me as absurd. Having played through the water temple, there hasn't been a single truly interesting idea in any of the dungeons. The base mechanics are so flat and uninteresting - imprecise combat (even with the Z targeting), finicky auto-jumping, slow climbing, a camera that almost always points into the ground, and the need to walk slowly everywhere. When the atmosphere and setting do work, it feels more like a welcome distraction against the task of trying to play through the game.

Every room in OoT boils down to:

- Get oriented, see the obvious thing you need to do, and then do it.
- Sometimes doing it is hard: you might die (often from an enemy that's incidentally in the room, and not the conceptual focus of room puzzle), you might fall and need to re-do rooms. Sometimes it's slow and boring: you need to push a block around some ice.

(One room in the Water temple carefully makes you shoot a water-level-changing crystal 5 times to make it through. Nothing about this idea is interesting, the solution is obvious from the get go!)

Or worse, it might be a combat room, where you're subjected to a camera and combat system that's impossible to aim with, with enemies whose design concepts tend to be "invincible 90% of the time, maybe vulnerable in a weird, awkward window".

Every dungeon is dozens of these rooms stitched together, in a way where it's easy to miss a key you need, only to find you need it later - after completing 10 minutes of boring puzzle rooms. Then, you get to backtrack, and do the boring puzzle rooms again.

In this way, OoT feels like it was a 2D Puzzle game on paper, naive concepts hackily translated into 3D with a combat system grafted on.

Each new item you get is a failed answer to 'how do we make this interesting?' Pointing your bow around the room, bombing a dodongo, equipping the iron boots over and over. These new items are never fundamentally interesting, they just create a new paint job for a switch sitting on a ledge.

To OoT's defense, I think it succeeds with interesting spatial setups and dramatic pacing (deku tree web, etc, water temple water level) but the moment to moment execution of how you traverse those setpieces just really doesn't work. It's super cool to think about the process of climbing to the ceiling of the Fire Temple, but it's kind of shrug when you think about the moment to moment process of getting there.

The layout of the world is cool (on paper), it's just a slog to walk across. Likewise with the execution of the towns like Zora's Domain or Goron City - they're neat to be in, up until you need to Do Something.

If you knew exactly what to do and when to do it (to avoid backtracking or costly dead-end-investigation), I think this game would be a lot more tolerable. I can see why it became people's favorites if you're intimately familiar with it - breezing through dungeons and slowly making progress is actually a little fun.

Unfortunately (for this review) it doesn't make sense to review something in such a context of having played it 10 times...

--

In some ways, OoT fundamentally feels like a mix of Hidden Object games, the puzzle genre, and even mystery games/JRPGs. It's less a visionary step into 3D than it appears, it's more a hackjob of genres whose saving grace was the production value, hang-out-vibes and atmosphere.

It's very easy to get stuck or lost in the sections between dungeons. E.g., stopping the goron and waiting a minute for it to uncurl, in order to get into the entrance to the Fire Temple. And it's all hampered by slow movement and easily getting disoriented, making what might be a fairly straightforward puzzle into a nightmare.

--

What angers me about this game the most is how much Nintendo - and nostalgic developers - doubled
down on the travesty of mechanics the game has. Having a terrible core moveset, tons of stupid items with one-off uses has become 'good practice'. You can probably find a dozen youtube videos on what makes OoT's dungeons "work". None of the fundamentals here are 'good' - they're merely passable ideas that can become palatable through fancy art or story design.

To me, every game reproducing these ideas feels like a child-like grasping at recreating the magic of childhood favorite. And they ironically miss the point: what does manage to work about OoT is NOT those fundamentals of bad puzzles and combat and poor level design, it's the atmosphere and tone, it's the fun of uncovering a dungeon.

Even future Zelda games do this. I don't know how they became so fixated on this uncomfortable mix of tedious puzzles and sloppy action.

Most of what is required in OoT to progress the game is at best calmingly repetitive (it can be fun to breeze through a dungeon and slowly uncover its treasures), and at worst offensively tedious.

What's good about OoT is the strange NPCs, the quiet little subplots on how parts of the world change over time, the random horror, the way you can kind of just hang out and roll around in it. The sense of inhabiting a grand myth. But even that, to an extent, feels cheapened by a story that's too willing to make everything you do as an adult easily fix every single problem. The Kokiri Forest comes back to life! All the Gorons are safe! Zora's Domain melts!

As far as Japanese Anime story set-ups go, Young Link's stuff was not bad. But the follow through in Adult Link's repetitive romp through dungeons, at least through the Water Temple, feels like it's just going through the motions.

--

Overall... the execution is really messy and it's hard to give that anything above a 2. But the atmosphere is well-done, so I feel like it deserves at least a 3...




Good example of a game that is badly in need of both design craft and narrative theme. On paper, the game sounds interesting enough: revive a town through shops and farming, adventure the nearby landscape with shopkeepers, dive into dungeons..

Customizing the town (at least a few hours in) only involved placing a few shops and some other items to optimize their income. Restocking shops involves a process of farming for particular materials, walking into the shop and restocking. As the game gets bigger you have more shops to restock. I guess the idea is that the player was supposed to be sort of a supplier for the town, but the NPCs' dialogue didn't feel particularly interesting.

Made worse is that grinding for these items is a little boring. The combat isn't that interesting, the environment you find enemies in ranges from empty large maps to dungeons filled with boring mechanics reminiscent of the 3D Zeldas' boring puzzles. So if you need to restock, it means going to a dungeon and finding an enemy that you easily kill. Because there's SO MANY materials, I would assume this kind of gameplay loop would occur a lot through the game.

The dungeons are bad - for some reason the Zelda Items needed to do the (boring) puzzles are tied to party members, so you need to bring a mining person to mine ore, etc... puzzles seem simplistic or perfunctory, the combat doesn't really use 3D in an interesting way...

So overall, you have a combat/exploration loop whose combat isn't fun, nor exploration interesting. And that feeds into a town management loop, which is tedious, simplistic and slow (to farm you have to walk to the farm screen...load.. etc). The Town is 3D and explorable, but there isn't much to explore or see (like in a harvest moon town), it would have felt more efficient to merely make everything into menus? Or to shrink the size a lot more or improve fast travel.

Simple town management could be cool, but it would only work if it was feeding into an adventure experience with more well-designed and interesting things, or narrative hooks. But Ever Oasis feels like spending time in one flat system in order to make the numbers in another flat system go up.

I think the number of shopkeepers could be way lower. Lean into making them actually interesting characters, tie them to the environment in some way so that there's a desire to go out into the world. Create some kind of motion that makes it actually interesting to run around. Make the shops interface in more interesting ways with the combat/exploration systems, etc...

Ever Oasis reminds me of why 'lots of game systems!' games can fail, in that if none of them are given ample design thought, there's a risk of nothing interesting happening - sure, the systems feed into each other and make numbers go up, but there's not much meaningful outside of that. (And there's already a genre for 'number go up' that streamlines and gives lots of thought into making number go up - clicker and idle games!)

Anyways yeah. I guess I like the spirit of this game, but it doesn't do anything particularly well, which is sad. I think the setting of exploring outwards from a town, going to the countryside, etc, is really interesting!



One of my earliest memories of this was renting it, loading up a save file at the last boss and letting the music loop. It's interesting - "Fight Against Smithy, Who Likes Transforming", is arguably a sped-up techno-influenced song (try slowing it to 75% speed), in the way that Kirby Super Star's Cocoa Cave is. I feel like that kind of stylized experimentation is getting rarer amongst game music nowadays, sadly... but that aside!

I replayed a lot of this last year. There's nothing really to the battle system, and it does feel dull after a while, but overlooking that, the pacing of the game's dungeons and scenarios feels breezy despite the 10+ hour playtime.

The story is serviceable, the subversion on Bowser's character is amusing, as is Mallow's arc. Mario's gestures are humorous, making great use of the limited visual vocabulary they had. But depth isn't really the point... it's just a very chill, cozy game to hang out in with some great art direction. The small details with the hotel, bizarre minigames that lead you to new areas, those details all work great here without feeling like they slow the pacing.

You can see a lot of this design thinking in future paper mario games - Origami King comes to mind. But I feel like those games are hampered by slower pacing, and some kind of restrain on creative control (endless Toads).

The influence of future love-de-lic (and alphadream) members is noticeable here in the game's eccentricities. I think it's a great testament to how letting AAA games be a little weird can actually lead to other interesting games down the line!


Gave up at the final boss, but I really liked the arcade-esque difficulty of this game before dodge rolls came along and poisoned every single action game ever.

Most bosses feel unique and require you to pay attention to the moves, usually there's something really subtle about how you need to move to avoid the attacks. Things like bullet movement or boss limb movement actually matter since you need to not touch them! (Vs. just roll through it)

I like that harder difficulties add in new moves, too. The dungeons are simple and some have a few platforming ideas to them, they generally had a good pacing even if the structural ideas weren't that profound. I guess if I have a complaint it's that due to the leveling system (which mainly serves as a kind of dynamic difficulty for bosses - if you're too weak, grind a bit to have an easier time). The regular enemy designs are all neat too, but I feel they rarely get to shine because you're either too low-level to engage them safely (there are like, no checkpoints in this game so you almost never want to take risks in the long dungeons). OR, you easily outlevel and just spam your way through fights.

In that sense, this feels like an arcade game that's kind of ruined by RPG mechanics - even if you try to engage the enemies in a fun way, you naturally level up and everything dies too easily. I think every Ys game has this same problem. Sure, you can feel more powerful as you level up, but I think they could have limited that to just the bosses (some kind of thing you can grind for to power up slightly if you really want a slight edge against the bosses).

All the bosses were cool, but bosses have a few issues - like ones who don't have openings until you get a certain sequence of random moves (final boss!) - these are kind of tedious to fight because there's a lot of waiting.

This game has a ton of additive-blend particle effects, which makes reading the arena particularly confusing, especially when the attacks use huge particle effects - the hitboxes are vague and imprecise and you have to just intuit where you're moving (the fire serpent felt particularly bad here.) I also don't like the 'really fast rat human' type bosses like Chester 2 where you either boringly skirt around ridiculously fast attacks until you get a tiny opening, OR you just grind to get more DEF/HP and spam attacks when you know you won't take as much damage.

There's an unpleasant imprecision to flashy boss attacks - part of why this game is so fun is that enemy attacks and the top-down 3D perspective feel really readable - and those flashy attacks feel like they go against what makes other parts of the game good.

Anyways, I like this Ys the most out of the top-down 3D ones (Oath, Ark, Origin). I wish there were more made like this! (Rather than going down the dark, RPG-heavy dodge roll path, like Celceta, 7 8 and 9 did... not really interested in playing those (I played a bit of 8))


EDIT: (See bottom. Finished the post-game)
--
Finished the first playthrough. There's a lot of extra story stuff in the 2nd playthrough, so I want to do that at some point.

Overall this is a pretty brilliant and personable feeling children's adventure game. You live in a place called Color town - which is a 3x3 grid of different villages, with separate themes: "Old Japan", "Modern Japan", "Future", Desert, Downtown, Jungle, etc. In order to have the carnival, the town needs a lot of power, so it needs 8 stars - which you have to get from the dieties at each of the 8 towns' shrines. To get the stars you need to give them their desired offerings (a red hat, a laptop, etc), and finding those items is the meat of the gameplay.

Finding the items involves meeting shopkeepers, doing simple minigames or tasks, and exploring the townsfolk's home pages, sometimes looking for clues on who to give what item, or how to do something (e.g. there's a minigame where you need to cook a dessert, so you need to do some reasoning to find a recipe for it in the game's internet).

Exploring characters' home pages is pretty fun - they link to each other's, so you can see who's friends with who. People even have little blogs, so you get a sense of their humor, quirks, personality in a rich but succinctly stated way.

Every NPC in the game (about 70 in the first playthrough, and about 50 more in the 2nd) can be invited to the carnival - sometimes through just speaking to them, or by doing other things first (often bringing an item, or clearing some other condition). Since every NPC is named and has a unique design, it's actually manageable to faintly remember each person's job or role.

I loved the little stores and shops - you can't buy stuff, but you get a sense of the types of places in a 70s-90s-inspired japan. Dagashi stores, shoe stores, libraries, tailors, fireworks, bakeries, etc.

Anyways I love the scope of the game - the first playthrough took me about 8-10 hours, which is a reasonable length. Some repetition does set in by the end (e.g. in each of the 8 towns you need to answer a 5-question quiz about the town in order to get the golden star - which can be kind of cute at first but eventually feels repetitive), and there start to be a lack of any interesting item puzzles, but for the most part it's a strong game, and it's fun to just poke around and read the webpages. Or to receive e-mails or BBS requests from people.

The 2nd playthrough involves a lot more puzzles relating to the webpages (e.g. finding hidden links, solving quizzes), so I'm curious about that.

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Other than that... the game features a lot of "Monpi", these monster/object humanoids. E.g. a talking eggplant. They're quite quirky and represent maybe a relation to the lives of inanimate objects? There's some 'lore' to the world of Uki-Uki regarding these natural ecosystems outside the borders of the town you never visit. Like a lush jungle, or a mountain range with no humans, or a desert that was once an ocean. They're not the focus of the game, but they give this simple depth of fantasy to the game's atmosphere that's appreciated. In some ways, the 2nd playthrough of the game can be seen as trying to 'mix' this inaccessible world of the Monpi with that of the humans.

Finally, this game was directed by Noriko Miura, older sister of famous manga artist Sakura Momoko. I wonder what she's up to now! Seems like she didn't do any games after this, unfortunately, although the studio, indieszero, did go on to make some cool games (electroplankton, sennen kazoku).

Makes me pine a bit for this era of Nintendo games, where around 40 people would make a short and unique game. Oh well!

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POST-GAME ADDENDUM

The post-game is a fairly different-feeling experience. What happens story-wise is that you are chosen, once again, as the carnival organizer. This time though the goal is to have a night carnival! Luckily everyone you invited last time is still up for it. What happens this time around are the following:

- Under-construction webpages of monpi are now open, and thus there are a couple dozen more monpi you can invite
- There are more monpi to chat with (chat works by choosing between two conversation options until you manage to invite the monpi - it's fairly trial and error to pick the right choices)
- Various new events are triggered once you've invited the correct monpi.
- These new events include interesting things like: visiting the "hidden sides" of the towns' webpages to find clues that will open up a storeroom under a statue (Which gives you confetti for the fireworks lol)
- Finding a hidden maze underneath a "stone circle" in the town square. Here you meet a queen who allows the carnival to happen at night. There's a (simple) mystery hunt to open up this area involving angel NPCs and new links on monpi's webpages
- You start to get deliveries from Monpi, which can be used in small quests. Likewise, a big sidequest involves collecting candy box stickers to mail in for prizes.
- You're free to explore all 8 towns from the start.


Despite some of the events and the newness of some monpi webpages, it's more repetitive than the first playthrough. Because you don't have the discovery of new shops and towns to balance out the simple quests, you're pretty much doing simple fetch quests in between meticulously sweeping the web for monpi pages.

The monpi have an assortment of webpage-based minigames to play - they're often luck based, stuff like, "Simple Blackjack" or solving a timed maze, or a sliding tile puzzle. There are some that even require coming back on multiple days, like planting and watering a seed. The worst require massive amounts of luck (winning blackjack 5 times in a row) while allowing you only one try per in-game-day, meaning they're missable.

Overall it's something I think I'd have liked as a kid, but I really was just grinding by the end for the sake of it.

In the end though, you're greeted with an even livelier carnival than the first round! That was kind of neat.





Cool interactive fiction that is the fallout of what one could see as an large-scale JRPG where the heroes failed. Instead of being told from one perspective, we get to hear about the failure of this quest from 5 different perspectives (each told with a different grammar of interactive fiction). What results is a number of conflicting, emotionally varied stories, revealing different facets of characters. A cool experimental work!


I wrote about this game a few years ago, idk if I agree with everything but it might be interesting: https://meloshantani.wordpress.com/2017/10/27/banjo2/

Last I played this (2017) I liked it! Good balance of levels that manage to stay navigable, reasonable # of goals and things to find, some fun revisiting with abilities, and the hub world's secrets are still neat. Some recent indie collectathons (like hat in time) feel like their movesets are too acrobatic, causing their levels to balloon confusingly in size by mashing together Super Mario 64 acrobatics-ism and Banjo-Kazooie-collecting-ism. The relative slowness of banjo works to the game's advantage, keeping them manageable. I think Banjo-Tooie had some problems with levels getting too big or having too many screen transitions.

The later levels in Banjo do get a bit unmanageable if you're trying to 100% notes, but outside of that goal it feels fun to learn about the levels and get around.


I don't really play procedural run-based games, but I heard this is one of the best so I played a few hours. I did the 'first steps' of beating Mom, and then completing another run and beating the Utero level. It seems there is at least another 10,000 hours of gameplay. I might play other characters or try challenges.

I think it feels strong in how you're always betting whether the risk of uncovering a new room will bring enough rewards, but I also think the core of it (this intentionally imprecise teardrop firing mechanic) ends up feeling a bit repetitive.

I appreciate that the core motion and attack mechanics can be tweaked in tons of ways to be slightly better or worse, and hence, the appeal as a procgen game.

That being said, even though I know I'll have a different experience each time I play, there's still something very samey to it no matter what.

I guess that's where I differ from other fans of the genre. I do think it's neat how there are obscure secrets and branching runs (reminds me of the arcade shmup genre), I suppose in some ways the modern indie roguelite is a continuation of arcade action. But I think in BoI (although it feels like one of the better ones) still does feel like this experience of starting very weak then hoping to become a very powerful build by the end, the chances of trying your luck. Going through rooms feels like going through the filler rooms in a Zelda game.

Overall, it feels like the experience of having the same sandwich spiced a randomly different way. A nice sandwich, but still a pretty plain one...

The most powerful idea of roguelites to me is the idea of hiding secrets amongst a texture of randomness. I think it's cool how deep the secrets in BoI go.

Although as a designer I feel kind of iffy about inherently making my game sorta repetitive and meant to be played over and over for 1,000 hours. But I like the idea of getting to become familiar with a 'space' by seeing it in randomized parts. Maybe there's a way to distill the randomness/replayability procgen strength of stuff like BoI into a shorter experience, who knows... it'd be cool to leverage that into a somehow more straightforward narrative game.



One of my clearest, earliest memories was playing the Metaknight game around its release before my family made a cross-country move in 1996. It's interesting to see this came out in September of that year, so I can almost pin the month we moved despite forgetting otherwise.

Modern Kirby feels a bit perfunctory to me, drawn out. I like how short and sweet each game in Super Star is, the different textures they give while borrowing from the same mechanical set.

My favorite is Great Cave Offensive... just a cute adventure into some really bizarre spaces (the caves leading to the castle, which connects to outer space, and this fantasy-feeling kingdom is a poetically beautiful set of levels). That the game lets you openly explore them, letting the spaces breathe, no map to guide you, feels pretty miraculous.

That and the game is full of genius music! The goa trance-inspired Cocoa Cave is a favorite.


Really beautiful structure to uncovering the depths of the island. Finding new entry points, realizing that it's one huge, interlocking network. A shame we don't see much more of this dungeon-crawling-influenced, platformer-esque type of design for 3D games.

Amazing contrast between friendly surface areas and the droney ambience of the underground - feels reminiscent of Dark Souls's approach to ambience 14 years later. The way Roll's radio-filtered voice comes in at the right times to describe stuff works really well to punch up the anime emotions or atmosphere.

Once you got used to it the controls were actually pretty cool. There's a bunch of things that could have been ironed out without losing the combat's identity (in particular, the ability to aim without auto-lock on would have helped a lot. Likewise, a faster camera speed and bigger FOV in boss arenas).

Uncovering dungeon maps slowly and finding treasure is fun, even if it's pretty easy most of the time and you don't need most of the treasure.

It was also fun to hop around the towns and occasionally run into random quests. Really fun atmosphere there.

Overall a really interesting world structure, interesting that within a year or two, Ocarina of Time would come out.

Weak Points:
- The pirate fights were.. acceptable story-wise (I think it got old after a while though), but from an execution standpoint they were sometimes unwelcome and sloppy. In particular parts of the air fight and the sea fight - neither were mechanically interesting, and took forever. (Taking down their airship was a little cool, though - that's the kind of setpiece fight I think Works, since it's not really hard but it feels really cool).

- Special weapons ended up being underutilized. I didn't make a handful of them and pretty much dropped everything for the buster around midgame.

- The buster's range is overpowered - it ends up flattening many of the enemy designs

- The regular enemy designs aren't that interesting - the camera system struggles to reasonably handle 2-3 quick enemies. Encounters can be fun (circling and stopping to shoot at the right time), but some enemies involve just waiting around for them to drop their shield.

- Game was obviously rushed at points - the final dungeon in particular was a lot less interesting than the 2nd and 3rd sub-gates. The sub-cities definitely felt like they were going to have more narrative significance, and the drill ability didn't amount to much (there wasn't much reason to use all those shortcuts between the subgates by the end of the game.) Perhaps, too much budget spent on pirate fights...