Hello. I am Vincent Leeuw and this is my personal blog.
Brando made a little video about Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner - MARS (PS4) and that was basically the parting shot to dive into the game myself. Having last touched it during its launch, I remember it being insanely difficult. It still is, but that's only the case if you are playing to defensively. Give it your all and go in guns blazing, and the game drops its difficulty a bit. Good times.
In terms of graphics this game is The Wind Waker of PS2 titles. Its pure style is simply unmatched and gels incredibly well with the angular mecha sci-fi aesthetics. The soundtrack I already enjoyed more times than I can count, so everything's just dandy in that department. If there's one glaring problem: it is that the animated cut scenes are of a very low resolution. It's also clear developer Cygames didn't have access to any of the cutting edge 4K AI upscalers, because the current look of the scenes are akin to switching back to a CRT TV.
Also, while the combat is nice, it does have the same issue as Final Fantasy VII Remake, in that it's doing its best to not let you experience normal combat sequences. There's always some wrinkle in the proceedings coming your way and the result that you can only truly enjoy a longer period of plain combat - allowing you to actually get to grips with the systems - only half way through the game. Slightly infuriating, but it does highlight its focus on replay sessions. Once in fights proper, aggressiveness and sub weapons is key. And fun. This is fast, furious, and has all the energy of a Trigger anime.
You know, Mystic Quest (Collection of Mana) (NSW) is old. Really old. Old enough to be suffering of reverse difficulty syndrome: this is immensely difficult to start with, but it then becomes almost too easy as you progress and level up.
The story in this game really takes a pounding due to the limited space available on a Game Boy cartridge. You might as well ignore the presences of a story altogether. A lot of details definitely got lost in translation. As such, it’s pretty hard to see how this was the start of the Secret of Mana series. But sure enough, it still is just that.
It’s fun in a mindless way, but very hard to recommend apart from getting some historical context for a much better game.
“Sunsoft is back, baby!” The announcement trailer was rather enthusiastic, but to be honest, I am pretty giddy about it. Not only is the new Sunsoft bringing back Ufouria: The Saga/Hebereke - one of my favourite NES-era metroidvanias - they are also re-releasing the “one that got away”: Gimmick! Special Edition (PC) courtesy of Bitwave Games.
Previously this particular Sunsoft game for the NES was only released on Famicom in Japan and outside of it, exclusively in the Nordic countries for… reasons? Considering Sunsoft’s track record it is kind of strange only the North was able to play Gimmick! in Europe, but Ufouria already showed that limited releases weren't that strange a tactic for the company so here we are.
Being able to walk about the Tokyo Game Show, it would be rude not to give Gimmick! a try. And luckily playing the game is a joy. To start with, it’s a tricky NES platformer, but now includes rewind options to keep it accessible enough. In the game you play a green Kirby-esque character that can charge his attack to prepare a throw-able star. Release the button and you throw it as a projectile. Combine with some platforming challenges, and levels that lock you into a certain cycle until you find an exit-branch, and you’ve got a solid 90’s platformer.
It’s very simplistic but because of the tight platform physics the platform sequences are the actual star of the show. The rewind option is definitely a boon though. I kept getting trounced by the first boss and even finding the correct time to rewind back to proved to be a challenge!
All in all a very welcome re-release and definitely part of my wish-list together with Ufouria.
Another game that’s high on my wish-list is Animal Well (PC). Yes, it’s another metroidvania - sue me. This one is a bit more compartmentalized in that the various screens/areas all contain bespoke environmental puzzles you need to solve and pass, sometimes granting you access to a new skill that promptly becomes another part of the puzzling.
It looks gorgeous with a dark neon aesthetic and your own character being a bit of an adorable blob contrasted against ever more complex creatures.
Playing this at TGS gobbled up time like it was nothing and had I been there without any further commitments, I probably would have ran it through in its entirety.
Alas, those commitments pulled me away from the stand, but at least it cemented in my mind that I positively need this game on Steam Deck (or any other console for that matter).
Back home, some demos were dropped onto the PlayStation Store. Among them Valkyrie Elysium Demo Version (PS5). Right from the announcement some months ago, it was very clear this was going to drop turn-based RPG battles in favour of an action-RPG approach. My mind instantly saw this as Square Enix trying once more to pull “an Automata” on a dormant franchise.
After playing the demo, I can confirm this is exactly Valkyrie Elysium seems to be aiming for. It’s a bit more streamlined, but the way it managed to translate the Einherjar system into an action-RPG move set is pretty neat. It feels a bit like a summon system (from say, Final Fantasy) which allows you to fool around with elemental attacks. Of course, it’s a modern Square Enix title, so this also means elements and damage can be exploited to stagger (or in this case, breach) the hell out of enemies and bosses.
I’m still not completely convinced by Square Enix' reliance on the "Stagger Time Battle" system as they've added it to just about every one of their games, but at least it gets the job done. Having multiple Einherjar allows for some creative combining and there's far less of a focus (so far) on having to stagger an enemy through them; if you do so, it feels like a bonus rather than a requirement. Having the Einherjar also function as traversal skills is a bit less solid though, coming across in the demo as a forced idea rather than something native to the game’s flow. Maybe that’ll become better as the game opens up.
Still, it’s a positive for me and in that respect Square Enix did successfully pull “an Automata”. On the wishlist it goes.
The summer vibes are strong in Shin chan: Me and the Professor on Summer Vacation -The Endless Seven-Day Journey- (NSW). Just the opening itself and the loading screens evoke a sense of calm not unlike a Ghibli-feature. Only for Shin-chan to crash into it with a healthy amount of butt puns. It just wouldn’t be Shin-chan without it.
Which is also a bit strange. This is the first western release of Boku no Natsuyasumi, itself a summer vacation simulator developed for and released a tad earlier on PlayStation than seminal slife-of-lifer Animal Crossing for the Nintendo 64. Whereas Boku has become a bit of a PlayStation mainstay in Japan, it never ventured beyond its borders. While Animal Crossing slowly garnered an audience in the west and veritably exploded as its latest launch coincided with the start of the 2020 pandemic.
The two series have a lot in common. In both you are locked into a small town, whittling your time away with everyday tasks, activities, and generally hanging out. Though like Moon, Shin chan is “stamina-based”. You faint from hunger if you travel too much (counted in screen transitions) and lose a chunk of time for that day. You can refill stamina by snacking, which is a bit of a weird message for kids I guess. And while the game starts with you staying in the town of Asso (yes, I know) for a week, the Shin chan component quickly removes that limit (as the title implies).
What follows is a kind of puzzle-ish visual novel, with the space between the major beats filled up with light exploration, fishing, catching bugs, and communication with the townsfolk of Asso. And oh my god, does it capture the Japanese summer vibe. From ever-present cricket noises, to nostalgic sunsets, to the cosy presence of other people, this is entirely wholesome.
Speaking of Japanese, there are a lot of Japanese based puns in this. The most obvious one involved the mailbox, which had a sign for “beef” on it, alluding to the Japanese post office sign looking similar to the kanji for cow. Sometimes the joke translates, other times it just awkwardly hangs about, and yet other times it’s a complete wash. It made me appreciate the momentous task of translating Animal Crossing even more, as it's nigh impossible to pick up the cultural origins of the Japanese language in that game.
The Shin chan shenanigans are often at odds with the more serene Boku-atmosphere of the village. As such, I do wonder if this would have been better without the license. Only to realise that has always been the case before, and we are slightly unlucky that the first western game in the series just happens to be the fresh new crossover one. You will simply have to enjoy the contrast.
With Cult of the Lamb exploding on the interwebs, I ventured back to Massive Monster's previous game: The Adventure Pals (NSW). This on its surface is a by-the-numbers platformer, but dig a bit deeper and it's a really good mechanical platformer. The following might not be logical to younger readers, but it's like a new McDonaldland, general Ocean platformer, or Sunsoft title. It's greatly polished, has a couple of genre tweaks, and - as a bonus - is also really funny.
The absurd sense of humour is pretty out there, but manages to pull everything together. You'll be freeing people from hotdog-monsters in no-time, while force-feeding cupcakes to cats. That said, if wacky humour isn't your thing, this'll instantly grate.
The game has a nice pace and cuts the various levels into bite size pieces. Most importantly though, the feel is effortless and convincing. Again, the closest I can get to describing it is uncovering an old NES-classic. After completing it, I did feel a need to go back and uncover all its secrets. Highly recommended and often dirt cheap when on sale.
As great as The Adventure Pals was to experience, so excruciating it was to experience Whipseey and the Lost Atlas (NSW). Look, obviously its creators have a love for Kirby. It's hard not look at this and see it for the clone it is. But whereas Sakurai had very distinct ideas about how and why Kirby is as it is, Whipseey is more of a proof-of-concept.
Every level is more or less centred around one type of challenge, it then repeats this challenge ad nauseam and... that's it. On to the next level. This in itself would be fine, but at one point it presents you with one pixel perfect jump challenge that it then repeats multiple times in succession. It doesn't have any leeway, it doesn't allow for ways to circumvent it, it's just the same jump and attack a dozen times. Screw up and you lose a life. It's maddening, frustrating, and at times feels like a kusoge. Which is entirely at odds with what the game so clearly wants to be. I did not enjoy completing this.
Chalk up another game I started and forgot to complete on Switch: Untitled Goose Game (NSW). It's also a nice palate cleanser after Whipseey, if only because frustration acts as both the mechanic and the reward of this game.
Frustrating the villagers get you further into the game, but figuring out how to do so is often frustrating. It might not always be clear how you can proceed. Which is exactly why I left the game at the spot I did: I was stuck at the pub trying to figure out how to manipulate the bucket.
Luckily that turned out to be quite simple, and after that it's just a victory lap with the ending being a truly delightful capstone. Enjoyed it, even though stealth gameplay is usually not my thing. I guess it helps that the stealth here is very light.
Oh boy, I completed Cyberpunk 2077 (PS5) and that ending did not satisfy.
First of all, even though I thought I was maybe halfway through one of several story arcs, it turned out I was basically one mission removed from completing the game. Basically, I could have completed this a good 20 hours ago, hadn't I focused on grind quests. This genuinely shocked me, as the main story turns out to be so... minimal, that you can't help but wonder why CD Projekt RED created an absolutely humongous stage if the play it's been made for is so tiny.
It's also at the very end that the game dares to venture into the philosophical realm of Blade Runner and Ghost in the Shell. Sadly, it doesn't do anything interesting with it. It's only presented as is and has little to no bearing on your journey, let alone a climax. No seriously, the finale is an annoying repetitive half-an-hour sequence that you really just want to end. Final choices be damned.
The addition of Johnny Silverhand also feels exactly like that. A last minute stunt-cast role for marketing purposes. Looking back on it, Silverhand shouldn't have been in the game; his space instead being filled by Jackie. Which not only would have been more impactful, it would also have made much more sense in the end. The Relic was obviously a prototype, but why on earth did it already contain Silverhand? Not even the game cares, and it just tosses Silverhand out of the story at one point. Had this been Jackie in the aftermath of the events transpiring early in the game, everything would have been much more meaningful, and - dare I say - emotional.
Apparently there's a hidden ending that involves Silverhand more, but with him being presented as the main drive of the game, it feels like an afterthought. Sadly, I think I'm pretty much done with this game and don't have any intention of finding out.
The grind is strong in Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition (NSW). I’m kind of zoning out of the story; just hovering up loot and quest logs is pretty much the gist of this game for me at this point.
Although I never completed the game, there are some story beats here that seem to lead into obvious twists. I never checked whether those would turn out to be true or not, but hey, no bodies, no deaths, right? We'll see down the line if I'm right, but after the Colony 6 mines it becomes very difficult to ignore.
Speaking of the Colony 6 mines, I bumped into a weirdly censored/sanitized scene that marked all the blood as black-ish blots instead of red. Not entirely sure why. Might be a ratings thing, but it's so hard to see, you might mistake it for a bug that whatever is supposed to be so horrific is pretty much invisible.
Another pet peeve is that while the themes are obvious retreads from Xenogears, I feel the robotic designs really don’t gel with that. I'm guessing they wanted a really different style from the mecha designs in both Xenogears and Xenosaga, but this feels steampunk. A wrong kind of steampunk. The Mechon come across as toys or clockwork Fabergé eggs rather than weapons capable of genocide.
That might be a plot point really for all I know, but there is a distinct difference between the mechanical constructs of the Homs and the 'mechanical life' represented by the Mechon. Based on the initial conflict presented in the intro this has to be deliberate. Yet, it doesn't really make the designs any more palatable. I really miss '80s robo-chunkiness.
On a more positive note, the new markers on abilities that highlight when and where they are effective, make the combat more enjoyable. I still miss a lot of combat feedback, but these markers at least make skills more effective. In the previous versions, you just had to figure from the damage output if the skill was applied effectively or not.
And that's it this week. I haven't had much time to play games and I don't think that'll change in the coming week, but let's see what happens.
There’s a distinct section of the game that feels longer than it actually is, which comes down to finding a couple of drone abilities in quick succession. It's also where the game basically limits your abilities and then requires the new abilities to break out of the cordon sanitaire the game has erected.
It's kind of telling that the game has more free-form exploring in this section, than other metroidvanias have in their entirety. Regaining access to the previous areas is also a double joy because of it.
And yeah, my mind is still reeling from the franchise implications of this instalment.
I like off-beat games, but man, MOON (PS4) is OFF. BEAT.
The premise is nice enough a twist: you are thrown into a JRPG and you find the "hero" killing off the local residents as they are "monsters". Your job is to rekindle the love in this world by rejoining the lost souls of the residents with their dead bodies.
This involves a lot of stuff that's off-kilter, confusing, and charming all at once. The game itself isn't difficult but like stable-mate Chibi Robo, MOON limits your activities per day by letting your stamina slowly tick down. Levelling up and finding food to sustain yourself allows you to eke out some more time in a day and potentially save a couple more souls.
Regardless, you'll soon be optimizing your routes as you steadily explore this world and find new obstacle to try and fix within a day. I normally hate time limits in games, but somehow MOON makes it charming.
Would you look at the time? Owing to an off-hand mention of Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition (NSW) on Twitter by BrandoSP, I realised I still haven't completed this monster. I started it on Wii and bowed out. Then I started it anew on Nintendo 3DS and bowed out at twice the time I put into the Wii-version. So now the Switch version is installed and... third time's the charm?
It's not that I don't like the game, but the MMO-inspired combat system is much more enticing on paper than it is in action. It - of course - features its own interpretation of Square Enix' Stagger Battle System, but the weight behind combat and moves is still incredibly flimsy as the MMO-sauce does not allow for combat flow to be disrupted.
You've got a ton of skills, but all act out the same way: tiny animation on the spot, numbers pop-up, and maybe a status is applied. We've come a long way in the wrong direction from letting skills and special moves partially define a character like in Chrono Trigger.
Still, like an MMO this does hit the RPG grinding spot quite well, so it's a good time waster in the same way that replaying Final Fantasy XII felt like a nice soak in a warm bath.
The updated character models are odd though. Or rather, Shulk's is odd. He feels like a completely new character got rid of the old Shulk, stole his voice, replaced him within the world, and acts like nothing even remotely weird has happened.
Good thing I'm here to notice it. No? Anyone?
It's good to be back. When Axiom Verge 2 (PS5, SD) released last year, I felt it got unfairly ignored because it had less of a Contra-vibe compared to the first. That instalment presented a veritable weapon extravaganza to the point that it felt like overkill. Somehow, the “shooty-shooty-bang-bang” players really started to hammer on this one, while the more appropriate Castlevania-crowd didn’t even look at it. It's so strange. Because, AV2 really is the Castlevania to the first one’s Metroid and deserves a lot more recognition.
Those differences don't bother me in the slightest. On the contrary, I really love the game's approach to accessibility, making this as easy or as difficult as you wish. Hell, because you can make yourself invincible, you can even change the genre from metroidvania to a 2D-Myst in a fashion.
I also like (for now) how the game is not as ingrained as the Metroids I've played, so there's still a bit more to explore and uncover than usual in replays. Regardless the game remains mesmerizing, and I look forward to replaying this yet again on Steam Deck after completing the PS5-version.
The other thing I played last week was The DioField Chronicle Demo (PS5). And this one is a proper odd duck.
First off, the presentation. The intro and soundtrack really, really want to channel Game of Thrones vibes, but it just doesn't get there with 3D-graphics that look like an upscaled PS3-game. There's some weird generational uncanny valley stuff going on here.
But it's the game itself that confused me a bit. With the GoT vibes and a Final Fantasy Tactics-like tableau of political scheming in the foreground, you do expect something a bit chewy. But nope. This is a straight MOBA ✕ JRPG mix-up instead. Take your party of four and brute-force your way through enemies. Input speed is incredibly important here, even with the game's option to halt time when selecting commands. And while normal mobs are easy enough, bosses can wipe you in mere seconds, and I'm really not sure I'm liking the pendulum swinging about this wildly.
As mentioned, the story feels like it wants to be all big boy politics, but instead it comes across as severely summarized. There's little to no character development; no bonds being built or broken. Instead, it leans heavily on "while the screen faded to black, this and that happened" scenes and it glosses over so many things that your units characters responding to each other becomes more disingenuous as time moves on. It'll then display the next mission with the same sophisticated fantasy politics pretence once you select a new mission, but blimey that'll grate real quick without anything to back it up.
As a final oddity, the game seems genuinely designed with touchscreen controls in mind. That in itself doesn't have to be bad, but there are also three - what look like - "premium" currencies displayed next to my normal currency in the menu screen, and I'm very worried about what that might mean. Have Square Enix launched this demo with monetization turned off? Is this meant to be free-to-play mobile MOBA game to start with? Why will the full game be 60 euros on consoles then?
In the end this left a very bitter aftertaste and I'll be skipping the full game's release until I get hold of some proper reviews and impressions, because I'm not sure this duck actually quacks.
Last week there was EVO in the air, so I gravitated towards an old friend: The King of Fighters '98 Ultimate Match Final Edition (PS4, SD). Apparently, my old Steam-copy got upgraded to the latest version and that prompted me to get it on my TV as well in the form of the very new PS4-version. So here I am shinkukatategoma-ing all the weak peeps with Benimaru.
It is kind of weird, but together with Street Fighter Alpha 3, KOF'98 ranks amongst my favourite fighters. And I am not alone. This game simply won't die, and despite there being various other KOF titles, '98 seems to pop-up every few years. Feels kind of nice for the ol' game to still be held in such high regard.
After '98 the series sees to have gravitated even more towards a seinen anime feel, sometimes even dabbling in some shonen stuff and it never really clicked with me again. On the flipside, when I initially got my own copy of KOF'98 on Dreamcast, it and my love for SFA3 made Capcom vs. SNK: Millennium Fight 2000 the most hype thing in existence. And this was many years before Marvel/Disney made crossover fashionable. The intro of that particular game still gives me goosebumps:
But yeah, that was it for last week. Too busy with Dungeons & Dragons prep work, actual work projects, and meeting up with friends and family. The coming week should be much more interesting.