289 Reviews liked by thecasccas
As rickety and often barely functional yet ultimately powerful as its titular protagonists. Less than an hour into this replay, I got stuck inside a door and had to reload a save to get out, had a guard I’d intimidated into passivity turn hostile again when he rounded a corner and witnessed an unconscious, bedridden patient aggressively A-pose when I fed on his doctor, but as ever, I stick with it regardless because virtually everything else about the game is so enthralling. The ladies call it “oh God!,” but you can call it Vampire the Masquerade – Bloodlines.
Paradoxically, VTMB’s main strength is probably its immersion. No amount of glitchiness could be enough to prevent anyone from feeling smothered in the atmosphere of dark urban decay it depicts, even after several playthroughs; this was my fourth since I was little and I still find myself wary of areas which I should know by now have no enemies or other dangers, because (appropriately, considering the game’s premise) there’s always a pervasive sense that there could be. Something less obvious that contributes to this is the fact that it’s one of few RPGs with a contemporary setting – it’s easier to feel on edge when familiar locales like a beachside hotel, a hospital or an arcade are supernaturally twisted into something uncomfortable. These aspects join hands with a soundtrack which sounds like what you’d see if you peered into the mind of any of this portrayal of LA’s aimless drifters, grungy ambient sound effects, imposing neo-Gothic architecture and some lovely, imagination-sparking skyboxes to make each of its four small but dense hub worlds that much more of a joy to explore, even when the later portions take their infamous downturn in terms of options for resolving quests and general rushed-ness.
It's a pity that the endgame’s so combat-orientated given that the combat system, despite being somewhat flexible and satisfying in small doses thanks to some of the more out-there vampiric powers, generally isn’t engaging enough to maintain long-term interest. One area in which VTMB never falters, though, is in terms of character interactions. Stellar voice acting and facial animations unique in their sheer expressiveness, true even of NPCs which most players might never even encounter, don’t just bring its cast to (un)life but also make the dialogue system feel more natural, too. As in the first two Fallout games with which Troika shared several staff, NPCs’ demeanour towards you is telegraphed diegetically via their facial expressions and, although speech checks are highlighted by a bunch of fancy fonts, there’s no indication of whether you’ll succeed at them or whether doing so’ll even result in a beneficial outcome. Only on my third playthrough did I learn that you can lock yourself out of getting the Downtown haven if you’re too cheeky to LaCroix, with no warnings next to any of the dialogue options that result in this. It’s all too rare and all too cool that an RPG pulls the rug out from under you like this and lets you get whisked away on a domino effect of your poor decisions, however minor they seem at the time.
What accentuates this even further is the diversity between the clans you can pick at the start. Playing a Malkavian or Nosferatu in particular’s so differentiated from those with their heads and/or skin screwed on that it’s almost like playing the game for the first time again; as above, it wasn’t until this replay that I learned you could skip the tutorial and miss out on a free lockpick until I realised the hard way that I don’t have as good a grasp on the voices in my Malk’s head as I’d thought. It occasionally feels like every character needing to be voiced restricted the lengths Troika could go to in integrating unique interactions for these oddball clans, but the fact that there’s one entirely optional clan which alters every single line of player dialogue in the game and at least one other which fundamentally changes how you have to navigate the hubs is really impressive, no less for the restraint this must’ve taken than for its impact on gameplay and replay value – again, reminiscent of low-INT builds in Fallout 1 and 2.
You’ll probably have noticed that this review’s got a consistent thread running through it of getting slapped in the face with things I didn’t know were in the game before, and that’s because a core draw of VTMB is discovery. It’s why I’ve not dug into how juicy much of its dialogue is, the surprising amount of other World of Darkness tabletops it draws from beyond just Vampire or the frequency with which it reminds you what a vivid imagination its character designers/artists have, because it all deserves to learnt firsthand. That said, I did make a tiny collage to drive home the latter point: these four characters all live on roughly the same street. The amount of effort it must’ve taken to conceptualise a cast so varied’s almost as mad to think about as the fact that VTMB is old enough now to arguably function as period piece.
This being as true of the time in which it released as of its contents is what led to this revisit in the first place. Having played and enjoyed Cyberpunk 2077 and Starfield in quick succession, both of which feature only about as many bugs across an entire playthrough as any individual hour of this (if even), I find it hard to imagine a world where the public wouldn’t sentence VTMB to the same death-by-hyperbole if it were to come out now, without the reputational fortune of being long solidified as a cult classic for epic gamers only. It turns out that releasing in the same week as Half Life 2, MGS3 and Halo 2 was a blessing in disguise, if only because this was well before the Camarilla saw fit to punish us with social media monetisation and how it's helped foster vague, directionless outrage about games most of those perpetuating it have no intention of playing anyway as its own micro-industry.
Forever glad that people were able to see the forest for the trees in this particular case, for whatever reason, and recognise that not even bugs on the level of crashing the game when you press the screenshot button or a penultimate boss in three out of four story routes constituting what may genuinely be the worst boss fight in any video game are enough to sink the one-of-a-kind RPG that VTMB is. Take the plunge into its supernatural underworld, look forward to making mistakes along the way and remember: don’t open it.
VIDEOGAMES ARE BETTER THAN ART
IT'S NOT KINO, THIS IS LUDO
THE ART GIVES YOU DEPRESSION, VIDEOGAMES GIVES YOU POWER. DETERMINATION. USE THAT POTENTIAL TO BE BETTER.
"I hope you carry this power with you" OF COURSE YOU WILL, CARRY ON PAL.
yeh i liked this game.
i thrust awake in a cold sweat beneath the quiet roof of my sengoku ranch. i remember that the deed is nearly complete - i'm on the brink of the backloggd alignment lock
the panting starts. then the puke; panicking over what i must do. i reflect on what has brought me to this point. the truth sets in
humans are given two choices in the fleeting existence they call life:
1. they rate kichikuou rance with a half star. completion status: abandoned. review roughly reads, "dont let rance fans near children" or, "i feel like a worse person for playing this". these people absolutely rule at parties and you should unconditionally take everything they say completely seriously
2. ten out of ten. reasons enigmatic. their thoughts may be more driven by seemingly sociopathic notions regarding how their life was changed by a fun strategy game with cartoon humor about a guy who does bad shit for women, money and power. there's a good chance these ones aren't getting invited to the aforementioned parties
this is where i forge my path; where i shall walk the road to dawn
...in all seriousness, i'm pretty amazed that something this meticulously detailed came from an eroge company - let alone in 1996. there are so many moving parts and interlinked events that it borders on overwhelming. tons of characters too - many of which you even won't meet because of how structurally dynamic everything is. seemingly whimsical decisions could have lasting consequences, be they positive or negative. it's all so thorough that looking up just about anything in a guide seriously compromises the overall experience
alicesoft's sheer fuck-it-we-ball energy is impossible not to respect here. they crammed every ridiculous idea they had for the series at the time into one sprawling what-if finale and somehow it actually worked. that said, since it's a rough summary for five games that at the time didn't even exist, the narrative feels a little rushed even though it clocks in at 40+ hours. definitely left me wanting a little more from the antagonists and world, but that's what the hundreds of hours worth in sequels is for, i suppose
look - if you think crassness is funny and you've remained skeptical of this series as i have for so long, i'd suggest considering it. if you're on the "i'd never play that shit" side of the spectrum, then you've already made up your mind and that's fine too
if you think this game's bad mechanically, however: skill issue, filtered and so on
71 Lists liked by thecasccas
by railgun233 |