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.
I went and completed Axiom Verge 2 (PS5, SD) within 5 hours and apparently that's an accomplishment of sorts. Didn't expect a second set of trophies as well, but here we are.
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.
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.
An impromptu Friday-evening barbecue session was topped off with a bout of multiplayer Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder's Revenge (PS5) on Gnarly difficulty. Which, let's be honest, wasn't exactly a walk in Central Park. Actually, that's where we had to call it quits as our credits ran out.
Despite that, it's a delightful chaos in multiplayer with a few mechanics thrown in to keep players interacting with each other. A round of tactical high-fives before munching on pizza seems almost mandatory at this difficulty level.
It's hard to overstate how much Tribute has nailed the feel and function of this game. It may not be a huge sprawling title, but it knows exactly why it's here and what it must do. I can imagine this one sneakily crawling up the GOTY lists of many a player.
Annapurna Interactive once again presented a great showcase last week, which reminded me of the fact that 1. Hohokum (PS4) exists, 2. I have owned this since its initial PlayStation release, and 3. I still had not even touched the game. Well, that was easily remedied.
A few hours later I was completely entranced. The game feels like an odd mixture of LocoRoco, flOw, and Flower. You're constantly exploring, trying to find triggers and objects to interact with. There's a childish use of colours and forms that reminds me of Sesame Street's abstract television sequences or (for Belgian and Dutch readers) Tik Tak. However it never stoops to being dumbed down and maintains an element of intrigue and delight throughout.
Should have touched this much, much earlier.
After visiting the Eye in Citizen Sleeper, I wondered what Night City would now feel like in Cyberpunk 2077 (PS5). The answer: a bit more bland than previously experienced. There are some vistas where you can look up and get the idea you are in a dystopian sci-fi metropolis, but I fear Night City is a just a bit too empty to make that part of the equation work. Leaving a lot to the imagination in Citizen Sleeper is clearly working out better. Quelle surprise.
On the questing side, it’s starting to grate that the answers you choose in conversations often don’t correspond to the replies your V actually gives. Is this a metaphor for how difficult it is to truly communicate with fellow humans, or the result of too much textual fiddling on the development side of things? We may never know. I do know that as a result my V has often responded way harsher than I intended. That it matters not one iota is maybe more damning.
Still, the main quest arcs do a lot of the heavy lifting here and I'm still on-board. Kudos for that.
The Eye in Citizen Sleeper (SD) has more or less become my second home. No really, at one point I got the opportunity to build a little place for myself in the game's space station situation and the sense of accomplishment and careful belonging washed over me. Only for the soundtrack to kick in with its gentle warm dark vibes.
Yup, still totally in love with this game. The characters and story arcs keep coming, and while you can potentially deflate one pressure point on your chances of survival, you're bound to see one or more pop up later down the line. Every exit has a new maze to run. Every positive emotion a potential negative consequence. It keeps the choices in the game meaningful without feeling too bait-and-switchy. Are you sticking to your guns, or do you go full opportunist? Great to see how the early choices to just survive slowly give way to more complicated ones, even though the game remains as easy to play regardless.
Yup, just get it.
Oh hi. Here's the third chapter of DOOM (PS4). And oops, how about chapter four as well?
Yup, after Saturday's trek, I basically unwounded on Sunday by blasting through the rest of this game. It's great to see the mazes become more and more complex. Going from mindless blasting to carefully sacrificing health and resources to finish up the exploration side of things, provides a nice sense of escalation.
That said, it does become a bit clear that while chapter three has some nice level designs and the occasional dud, chapter four becomes mostly filler. There's a general sense of trying to blow the player's mind with edge cases within the game's design and engine, often bordering on speedrunning tactics. It generates some smiles, but can feel a lot more unbalanced at times.
Oh well, on to part deux.
I really couldn't believe it when I saw this fly by: OMG! A new Starwing?! (Yes, you read Starwing. I kind of dislike the StarFox name.) And after downloading it I can confirm that, yes, Ex-Zodiac (SD) is pretty much a proper Starwing 2.
Despite still being in early access, this game is super slick. Controls are instantly familiar, complete with barrel roll deflections. A nice tweak is that the game has homing missiles akin to Panzer Dragoon's lock-on system. It took me a while to realize that picking up Extra Missile power-ups actually increases the amount of targets for this lock-on feature!
Which is sorely needed. Though you can feel the difficulty curve melting with each replay, it can be quite brutal if you don't use all the features at your disposal. It can also do a bit better with feedback on your hits, incoming damage, and deflections in my opinion.
Despite all that, it's marvellous this is in early access, it feels pretty much feature complete. It even has a Space Harrier bonus level for heck's sake! The one thing that truly annoys though, is that even though there's a lot Starwing style bweep-bwaap-buup banter, the game doesn't really provide any breathers in between action scenes, giving you very little time to even read the text boxes. Maybe that'll become better with training.
I've wanted to visit the Pyramid of Austerlitz for quite some time now. It's only 10 kilometres from where I live, but I wanted to go there in the form of a mini-hike through the Den Treek estate. It's a private estate made up out of heath and forest, that nonetheless has been opened to the public. It's connected to the much smaller Nimmerdor estate in the south of Amersfoort by a bridge crossing the A28/E30 motorway.
The Pyramid itself is situated to the south-west of the Den Treek estate and thus I'd be able to walk there without crossing too many highways. Yesterday I finally also had the time (and the perfect weather) to actually make the trek.
The landmark is odd to say the least. It's built out of several layers of turf and has a obelisk-shaped beacon on top of it. It was built during the Napoleonic era - when the Netherlands was governed by Napoleon Bonaparte's brother Louis acting as king - by command of a French general Auguste de Marmont who wanted to keep his soldiers occupied. The design was inspired by the Great Pyramid of Gizeh, which he witnessed back in an earlier campaign in Egypt.
Of course he didn't name it the Pyramid of Austerlitz. He named it the Pyramid of Marmont or Mount Marmont. That changed when Napoleon Bonaparte achieved a victory in the actual Austerlitz in the south of Germany. Louis Bonaparte paid tribute to his brother by renaming the nearby trading post and encampment to Austerlitz and the landmark itself to the Pyramid of Austerlitz. Much to the chagrin of Marmont.
These days, it's a curio in the Dutch landscape. We've never been a people to build such landmarks (even "our" palaces were mostly the work of Louis Bonaparte) and especially the pyramid shape is almost alien.
It does draw its fair share of families, due to the nearby luna park and restaurant. Which is exactly how I know and remember the spot. Especially the tiny train ride. I've been there a few times as a child and loved the train ride. But that's not my main memory of it. That came a few years later when I was learning about mathematics.
I had no issues with addition, subtraction, and division. All three came natural to me. Multiplication though… Oh boy, that just didn't fly with me. Which is kind of funny considering division was such an easy concept to me. I struggled with it a lot, and my mother patiently tried to explain it over and over through a collection of little math-booklets which I also liked. However, to actually get the fourth and final book about multiplication in the series, my mother wanted me to grasp the concept of multiplication first.
That took quite a while, before somehow it clicked in my brain that multiplication was - indeed - the inverse of division. I vividly remember exclaiming (without much rhyme or reason I might add) "oh, like when you ride the Pyramid train two times!" That must've confused my mother a bit, but the result was me getting the fourth booklet. Regardless, the train got stuck in my brain as the Multiplication Train thereafter.
Another stretch of land to the west of Den Treek and to the north of the Pyramid is de Leuderheide (Leusden Heath) which is a military proving ground (the French were apparently on to something). Because of it, it can still be littered with all sorts of explosives and is off-limits to the public. Around its circumference you can find signs like the one above warning people to not enter the area. Sad times. Would've loved to explore that area as well, but I'd rather keep both my legs attached.
There's also an additional warning about live exercises being conducted whenever the sign flies a "fireball" next to some red (metal) flags. I vaguely remember seeing one of those "fireballs" as a child, but I can only describe it as a ball with a pennant attached and even that is more of a guess.
While on the way toward the Pyramid I mostly hugged the highway alongside the Leusderheide, on the way home I dived into Den Treek proper. In its south is a large patch of heath, with inexplicably the road sign above planted smack in the middle of it. It says:
Wijk bij Duurstede (Hamlet near Dorestad)
4 hours going
Amersfoort (Hemur's Ford)
2 hours going
Wijkerweg (Hamlet Road)
It seems the road I was following used to be a road connecting both towns of Wijk bij Duurstede and Amersfoort. A surprising realisation, as I'm so used to the highway being the connective veins between places, I completely forgot roads like these used to be more common and more travelled in the days before Saint Asphaltum graced us with their presence and promotion of automobiles. I should check if the road towards Wijk bij Duurstede is still intact. Would be a nice follow-up trip to go there by foot.
The rest of the journey through Den Treek was real nice and relaxing. The warm sandy heath, giving way to a fragrant pine forest, making it like I was walking through a large public sauna.
About 20 kilometres into my trip I started seeing more familiar terrain and finally reached the Vogelplas (Bird Pond) and the surrounding heath with its small clumps of trees.
In the end, this was an easier trek than anticipated and I'm looking forward to extending my reach a bit. Having walked 22 kilometres in total, it's not even a full stage of the 4Days Marches but hey, not bad for a spur-of-the-moment attempt. Maybe next time I'll visit the Soesterduinen (Soest Dunes) once more.