I've finished 59 games this year (including replays), and wanted to share my thoughts about some of them.
Not ALL of them get detailed thoughts, but it ended up being a MASSIVE post anyway. I thought about actually splitting this in 3 posts, but nah. No one will read this shit regardless, so what the hell. I've separated them in:
- The Bad: games I've disliked
- The Good: game that I've liked
- The Ugly: somewhere in between: don't outright dislike them, but they have tons of issues that ultimately sour the whole thing
Mega Man X6: This was a replay actually. Let me be clear, X6 isn't a good game by any stretch. It very clearly was not playtested, beating it with non-armor X is virtually impossible, etc, etc. BUT, if you know how to avoid the bullshit, it's still Mega Man X and with a killer soundtrack And imagine my joy when I found out there's a "Tweaks" patch that removes all the bullshit you could possibly want. X6 is like my third favorite in the series, even if it has a huge asterisk next to it 8/10
Radiant Historia: If you like JRPGs, I see no reason to not give this game a try. To be fair, most would describe the writing as "simplistic", "too basic" or "shallow", and I wouldn't really disagree: while the cast is well characterized, that characterization is very much basic stuff, almost one-note. Some poorly written dialogue here and there, and the way every character immediately gushes all over the protagonist is a bit annoying, but the story overall gets a thumbs up from me, the characters, as basic as they were, were fun and memorable enough to follow, and the time travel plot is interesting enough (though it did get kinda dumb at the end, but you know: time travel).
The battle system is plenty of fun, you can swap your turn's orders at will, and that's important because enemies positioning is important. I won't explain it in detail, just say that, while not super deep and strategic, is plenty good fun for turn-based fans.
Aside from that, the soundtrack is fine but very very short. You will get sick of hearing the same tunes throghout the whole game. 8/10
- Dark Souls: My only complaint is how gimmick-y so many of the areas are. Tomb of Giants is pitch black, Lost Izalith has headache inducing seas of lava, Crystal Cave has invisible floors, Blighttown has the series trademark swamp, yikes. The Tomb of Giants has further convinced me that playing Souls blind is not for me, I'd probably have the most miserable time in that place without knowing to bring a light source beforehand.
Some of the bosses are also too gimmick-y and even lazy. Ceaseless Discharge and Moonlight Butterfly are unexplainable to me, they just repeat the Asylum Demon three times, Capra Demon is just thrown into a narrow alleyway with two dogs to make it "difficult", and Bed of Chaos needs no more words
I'm not saying I want every boss to be like Ornstein&Smough or Artorias, that sounds pretty exhausting. But you know, Priscilla is kinda gimmick-y and it's fine, so are Seath and Gwyndolin. More of that, less of… Asylum Demon But On Fire This Time. It's also kinda funny how the DLC is locked behind the most unintuitive series of steps imaginable. FromSoft, ladies and gents.
Other than that, yeah. It's Dark Souls, you're sick of hearing about it. Should be noted, it's not my first contact with the series, I've beaten Demon's Souls before. 8/10
- Castlevania: Symphony of the Night/Aria of Sorrow/Order of Ecclesia/Portrait of Ruin: Symphony was a replay, because it's damn Symphony of the Night. And I can confirm it was pretty much lightning in a bottle, thanks to the unmatched pixel art and soundtrack, and the sheer number of stuff you can do. That being said, the inverted castle still sucks, but it's fun to just move Alucard around, so it gets a pass. It's like a 7 or 8/10, while the first castle is a 10/10.
The other three are still great stuff though, even if the true final boss of Aria is locked behind RNG (and some cryptic shit, but it's no big deal in the age of the internet), and that's always fun huh. I like that all three have their own flavor. Aria is closer to Symphony, Order's structure kinda reminds me a bit of Demon's Crest and Portrait's mini stages inside the bigger level is pretty cool. Also, all three games do bosses better tham Symphony, they somehow manage to all be great, intense fights. Aria's Death, Order's Dracula and Portrait's Dracula+Death would probably be my standouts. Let's be honest, bosses in Symphony, gameplay-wise, are auto-pilot affairs, due to how many options that game has. A double-edged blade I suppose.
No I didn't play Dawn of Sorrow. No reason really, I just didn't. 8/10 for all three of them. As a sidenote, Aria's story is hilarious. "You're in Dracula's Castle!" / "Wait, I'm in Europe?!". Goddamn, that's so dumb.
Castlevania II: Belmont's Revenge: I'm actually a bit mixed on this one: the levels are all plenty of fun. Well designed, keeping your very limited mobility in mind, never overstaying their welcome, and the God-forsaken stairs are replaced by the much better ropes. What sours the deal a bit for me are the final bosses: they're terrible. The first one just keeps you at the mercy of the AI, even in TAS (supposedly the most optimal way to play the game), it's just a war of atrition. Bad. And Dracula is a memory game. Just memorize shit while dying over and over and you win. I don't know, maybe they ran out of time and couldn't design the final bosses. But thanks to the levels and the great soundtrack, I'm giving it a thumbs up. 7/10
Ninja Gaiden Sigma: This one is pure power fantasy distilled, what a damn good hack and slash.
Though… I feel like the difficulty is actually holding this game back a bit. Here's the thing: I actually finished it on Easy (aka "Ninja Dog"), but there's not really a difficulty selection – if you die three times, you get a (vague) message that you can lower the difficulty.
This is a game that requires A LOT of the player. I was 8, 10 hours in, and still discovering new cool shit I could do. The AI is super aggressive, a bit unpredictable, and dish out a lot of damage – there's just very little room for error.
All Easy mode does, is just give you more room for error – it's not actually "easy", it's more like "normal". By playing it, I was becoming more and more comfortable with the game, to the point where I actually wanted to try Normal mode again. Unfortunately, there's no way to change back, and the only option is to restart the game from the beginning. Having either the option to change difficulties on the fly, or perhaps a dynamic difficulty like RE4, would greatly benefit the game.
I'm not even sure I'll try Normal mode on replays, as I'll need some time to get comfortable with everything again.
As a sidenote, the extra Rachel levels in this version hurt the pacing a little bit. I got used to it (and her over the top design), but it was weird. 8/10
Onimusha 3: Demon's Siege: All I have to say about this one is that the cutscenes are baaaaaad (except the CGI intro, that shit is awesome). The premise is the fun kind of stupid (time travel! With a magical pixie!), but they play it way too straight with the melodrama. Everything involving that little kid was bloody awful, and I was terribly disappointed that they faked out his death at the end. 8/10
Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag: Gameplay-wise, it's Assassin's Creed, now with sailing. If you enjoy mindlessly checking boxes in these super shallow Ubisoft sandboxes, it's more of that. I find it relaxing.
Story-wise, this thing is super incompetent and boy do I have a lot to say about it. The way it feels, it's like they wrote the bullet points, but then couldn't be bothered to properly connect them, and just did the bare minimum. And it greatly annoys me, because this could have been a simple, easy to enjoy story. Instead it's just a series of barely connected events. This isn't a story.
Stuff just… happens in this game, there's ZERO impact for anything. Side characters are introduced, you spend a couple of missions with them, then they just vanish, and maybe come back hours later to, more often than not, be immediately killed. Every single time, my reaction was just "Oh. Okay"
Sadly, this also extends to the main character: Edward's arc is amazingly truncated. This story apparently spans like six years or so, but I didn't even realize it was that long until some character acknowledged it. That's because the only indication that time is even passing, are the dates that appear on the beginning of sequences, which are so easy to forget or just plain ignore. And the reason I say that's the only indication, is because Edward does not change AT ALL.
You know where Edward's character is going, and you spend the entire game expecting him to start getting there, yet they only actually start doing something when you're like… 99% through. For pretty much the entire game, Edward is exactly the same person, until there's this one single event, where he actually goes "wow, time to change!", with all telling, and no showing. There's this one thing that happens at the very end that I think should have this big emotional impact, but I don't care at all, because it's just not earned.
I can only assume they didn't actually care about the narrative, especially since the story-gameplay segregation is at an all-time high here. When you begin the game, Edward isn't even aware that Assassins are even a thing, yet he can do anything that an endgame Ezio could do. Fully proficient with the hidden blade, leaps of faith, it's all here.
The funnier part is the Assassination Contracts, which are available from the get-go. But Edward isn't introduced to them until like halfway through, so you'll have one character explaining to him what are these contracts, and the player has already done like ten of these things by this point.
It actually makes for better pacing, gameplay-wise, than previous entries, though it's even slightly incosistent at that: the rope dart is only available at the last few missions, for some reason. 7/10
- Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne: This game kinda has 3 or 4 distinct parts for me:
Early game, when I was still learning. Few skills, HP and MP are fairly valuable resources. It's tense, but rewarding – except for the damn recruitment mechanic. It's pure RNG, and at this point it's a fucking nightmare. I'd constantly waste items and money (which are fairly limited at this point), only for the demon to go "lmao fuck that" and leave anyway. Just a bad mechanic all around.
Mid game I had more skills. I think I had Daisoujou (with Makatora) at this point. If you don't know what that means, it's virtually infinite MP (and HP, consequently). This made me play in a different style, being far less cautious. It was quite satisfying.
Mid-to-late was annoying because I had plenty of skills to transfer in fusions, and you can't choose which skills are going: it's randomly decided for you, and you need to leave and reenter the screen until you get the skills you want. Obviously, the more skills you wanna transfer, the harder it will be to get the specific combination you want. It's all down to luck. To make matters a bit worse, every fusion has a chance of going wrong. It's really small, but it just so happens that there was one time, after going back and forth to get the my desired skills, the fusion went wrong, gave something else, and I had to reset and do it again. Lovely. On the plus side, recruitment is a bit of a non-issue at this point.
And finally, late game. I no longer had to transfer skills, was already satisfied with my party, so all RNG bullshit was gone, finally. I really enjoyed the endgame. Though going through the final dungeon without a map/guide sounds like a fucking nightmare, God bless the internet.
My only real complain of this game is the RNG. Fusion is about RNG, recruitment is pure RNG, once in the early game, I had like 4 consecutive "New enemy appeared!" (basically, you defeat all the enemies, but you get a new party of enemies and the battle keeps going). I somehow didn't die, and that would make me lose quite a bit of progress. RNG fucking me over again.
Other than that, mostly nitpicks:
- the Kagutsuchi mechanic has an execution I didn't care about. Just run in circles until you get the phase you want. Cool…?
- Getting Pierce on a non-protagonist demon is unnecessarily convoluted. I didn't do it, but just looking at how to do it exhausted me. If the true final boss was harder, I'd consider it an actual complain, but I didn't have a lot of issues with him, so nitpick it is.
- I had zero investment in the story. But it's so non-intrusive, that it'd be pretty dishonest of me to hold it against the game.
To me, it's like a 9 or 8/10 game. If the remaster adds the option to choose your skills in the fusion, count me the fuck in. If not, I'll have zero interest in it, it makes much more sense to emulate the game then.
- Devil May Cry 3: Special Edition: DMC1 felt a bit archaic and took a few missions to click, and had a really confused tone, though I ended really enjoying it. DMC3 however is exactly what I was hoping for: ridiculous, over-the-top, with cocaine-fueled combat and crazy coreographed action cutscenes. The only thing I don't understand is why the hell I can only switch weapons at the statues. Every hack and slash I can think of (including DMC1!) allows me to switch them at the pause menu, so it just feels arbitrary as hell.
The camera has the 2000s seal of quality, the two styles you unlock are kinda worthless because you can swap them at the statues, the worm boss is lame (good ol' "hit it and just wait until it allows you to hit it again" design, every hack and slash has at least one of these for some reason), and half the secret missions fucking suck ("Stay in the air for 20 seconds!", sure), but that's about it. This was one of my favorites of the year. I'm actually a bit hyped for the PC version with the Switch Styler mod.
- Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones: Not my first time actually, I played this one way back on the PS2 – it was actually the first game in the series I've played. Though I believe it's my first time actually completing it, I never got to the end on the PS2 for one reason or another. I actually prefer this one over Sands of Time, mostly due to combat. Sands' combat is soooo lame, this one is slightly better and I can avoid it at several points. Is there nostalgia involved? Maybe, but it just delivers what I expect from the series: fun platforming. That's all I ask. There's also much less of an emphasis on the dull combat, in part thanks to the inclusion of the stealth kills – and since I'm a sucker for stealth, I greatly enjoy it. The bosses (of which there four I think) are all cool, choosing to focus on other aspects of the game and not the combat. That's smart, but one of the bosses is a traditional "boss arena" against two guys and WOW: this game's combat system is not good enough for that, sweet mercy.
About the Dark Prince: the health-always-depleting thing is kind of a non-issue, because the game bombards you with enemies and vases, all of which replenish your health while transformed. My issue with it is another: I don't see much of a point. Those sections are fairly short and sporadic, and I can't help but feel it'd make much more sense to either let the player transform at will, or give the chain as a permanent upgrade to the Prince, so that you can incorporate it on the level design as a whole. Apparently, this game was made in only 12 months, which would explain quite a bit.
Just as a closing thought, the Prince's arc is basic as shit, but satisfying. That applies to the whole plot actually, and it delivers a rather satisfying conclusion to the whole trilogy.
Halo: Combat Evolved: Holy shit is this game repetitive. The gunplay is still fun, but I honest to God felt like I was going through the same rooms over and over again at times. Just couldn't take it anymore. Don't know if I'll try the rest of the series eventually
Painkiller: Black Edition: Looking for a fast-paced, action-packed FPS, I tried this one. It… wasn't quite what I was looking for (I think I had Black, Doom and stuff like that in my head) – it's pretty much just an arcade shooter, you get thrown into a level/arena, kill everything there to proceed, repeat. That sounds like good mindless fun, but the weapon selection was seriously lacking. It was taking forever to unlock new weapons, so I used a cheat just to see what else there was. I was unimpressed, to say the least. It was just 4 bucks though, so eh.
Prince of Persia: Warrior Within: I had played Sands of Time and The Two Thrones before, both of which I enjoy, so it seemed like a safe bet I'd like this one too, yet here we are. I kinda got used to the drab art direction, annoying soundtrack, sleep-inducing color pallete, crude and basic as shit script, all of that. The level design doesn't do it for me though: this game has one giant "world" you have to keep going back and forth to progress. Now, I don't mind backtracking – I love classic RE and metroidvanias – but it's executed very poorly here. Your map sucks, every area looks the same, so it's not always clear where you have to go. That, and they decided to double down on combat, the absolute worst part of this whole trilogy. So that was nice. To be fair, I did read people say that it's actually just a straight path and hard to get lost, so it could be that I'm an idiot. I'll concede that, but I still think the execution is seriously lacking.
The sound design is also super irritating – the Prince will constantly yell "AaaaAAaa" when you attack, enemies repeat the same generic grunt every time you hit them and… "Pain is pleasure!". Yikes. Everytime I read people arguing this was "the best" about anything in the trilogy, I'm dumbfounded. Opinions I suppose.
- Resident Evil: Revelations: Ooooh, this one. I had an RE marathon this year, and Revelations seemed interesting enough – I distinctly remember people lauding this as a "return to form" back when it came out, though I'm now convinced that the franchise was sunk into such a blur of an action-fest, that anything remotely resembling survival horror was seen as a breath of fresh air. Brace yourselves, I have a lot to talk about this game.
I… really didn't like Revelations. It really, really wants to evoke the classical REs and in some, very brief moments, it kinda succeeds: getting to the ship's main hall is a great moment, and I remember thinking "ok, this is it, this where the game actually begins". Nope. Here's the thing: * No inventory management. No no, instead you get a limit of 5 herbs you can carry (can't combine them, don't get any crazy ideas), and a limit on how much ammo you can carry on each clip. This game drowns you in resources, BUT you can't pick anything up because you're most likely full. So you have to leave a lot of stuff on the ground because the game decided you can't have them. It's "resource scarcity" by artificial limitation, and it is utter crap. * There's "item boxes". Though not really. They look like them, but it's just for changing your guns. * Puzzles, heh. Instead of a stone to move a statue to get an amulet to open a box to get the key to the other side of the room, complete with ridiculously convoluted contraptions that should not be in a cruise ship, it's just go this way, kill a bunch of enemies, maybe a boss, get a key, go back and open the door.
You know, just like RE4 and 5, but… without the fun action. You know how satisfying it is to land a headshot in RE4, 5 or 6? Forget that, gunplay is now super unsatisfying and lacking any oomph. The enemy designs are all incredibly boring. And the first boss, good lord. It's like the tight corridors of RE1's mansion, but now with infinitely respawning enemies and a bullet sponge of a boss! Also, forget about killing enemies to get money to upgrade your weapons. That gameplay loop was too much fun I suppose.
The game also punctuates the already boring Jill sections with amazingly bland corridor-fests with other characters. Think of the most drab third-person shooter, and here it is. I actually youtube'd the rest of the game, and found out there's a turret section later on. I'm not really surprised come to think of it. Man I haven't even talked about the scanning mechanic, the most pointless thing I've seen in a while. I still don't understand what they were going for.
The best way to describe this game, is that it feels like a random mid-budget third-party company attempt at replicating Resident Evil. A bootleg in other words. It fails at being a survival horror, it fails at being an action game. Nobody wins here.
Oh, and the story is stupid. Not fun stupid like RE4 or 5, just dumb really. RE6 is the better game, just saying. To me, it's a race to the bottom with Warrior Within for the game I disliked the most in 2020.
- Eternal Sonata: Speaking of dumb stories! Guys and gals, this is my golden standard for terrible writing. You know that rule, "show don't tell"? Whoever wrote this never heard of this – every single cutscene consists of the characters saying out loud how they feel, and how current events have changed that. This all culminates in a death scene (of a character introduced like 30 minutes earlier), where she monologues for ten minutes or so, telling us everything that's going through her mind. And, there's a flashback of a scene we just saw 5 minutes earlier. It's not hyperbole, it actually happens exactly as I'm describing.
You couple that with terribly directed cutscenes (it's all close-ups on the character's awkward models, with zero dynamism or excitement – think the Star Wars prequels), and following this game's plot is almost torture. The best way I can describe the quality of animation, is by saying that someone took a bunch of PS1 models, increased the polygon count, polished it a little bit and called it a day.
The battle system is fine, but not good enough to carry such a bad, bad narrative, getting mighty repetitive in no time. It's a damn shame, as I quite like the game's art direction (some cities and vistas are downright gorgeous) and the soundtrack is actually really great.
- Tony Hawk's Project 8: I'm a big fan of the series, having tons of nostalgia for Pro Skater 2, and American Wasteland in particular. I remember playing P8 on the PS2 back in the day and enjoying it, but never beating it. I can see why, as the PS2 version's level were clearly not retooled enough for the different engine, leading to some very very wonky physics. As for the HD version, there's stuff to like: the every level is interconnected thing is really really cool. Going from one level to the other in one big combo (without the loading corridors of AW) is tons of fun. Sadly, there's a bunch of things here that drag the whole thing down, making it ultimately annoying:
- The ragdoll physics missions are awful. Just bad.
- The engine is clearly not quite there yet. They're going for more "realism" while still trying to keep the arcade-y feel, leading to this weird hybrid. Everything feels harder to do than previous entires
- And worst of all, the framerate. We're down to 30FPS here folks, and it makes a world of difference. You could get used to it, but there's also slowdown. Very frequent ones, I think this bitch gets to 15FPS sometimes.
I really wanna like this game, but it was very clearly rushed, and it's difficult to say I do like it.
Mega Man Zero 4: Zero 1 was, at best, mediocre. Zero 2 and 3 are great. Zero 4 is quite pedestrian. Level design when not incredibly mundane, verges on annoying. That is until you upgrade enough to get QUADRUPLE health with DOUBLE defense. Then it becomes super fun just because you're breaking the game in half. Overall though, the devs were clearly on auto-pilot making this one. Meh.
Sonic Heroes: Not sure if I can say I liked it or not. It kinda just clicked with me, but man does it feel like this game is gonna fall apart if I jump at the wrong pixel. The physics are unpolished, the design feels off, but the core gameplay and aesthetic are nice. This was clearly rushed and needed a few more months in the oven. That, and get rid of the other three teams, which are all the same exact thing. I just beat Team Sonic because fuck this shit.
Onimusha 2: Samurai's Destiny: this one loses quite a bit momentum. At first, it's more of the same of Onimusha 1, one of my favorites on the PS2. Then it just gets steadily worse for a couple of reasons. First, the village that serves as your hub of sorts just served to break the pacing for me, and it's abandoned halfway through the game never to be seen again, so it also feels super pointless. And the friends mechanic was poorly executed for me: there's no indication of anything, and it only serves to lock certain portions of the game behind RNG and dumb luck basically. I think it's supposed to increase replay value, but the idea of replaying the game just to see these minor changes in some levels isn't exciting enough for me. Ended up leaving the game feeling it was just fine
Splatterhouse: Yet another rushed game that needed more polish, huh. The first impressions are pretty weak, the middle chunk is quite strong, but the endgame is very underwhelming. I'm not even sure how to elaborate on it, it's just a very uneven game with some really cool highs (like the mutant gorilla or the dude with the chainsaw).
Dragon Age Origins: Leliana's Song: Just played this one for the armor it unlocks. It's the most passable thing I can think of. It's super short, feels inconsequential as hell (Leliana already tells you all of the game's plot in the main campaign, and nothing is really added), the characters are weak, and the choose-your-own-answer mechanic feels like a gimmick here, since Leliana is already an estabilished character. Do I wanna say this… or this in a slightly different wording? Maybe it's not fair to compare the writing to the main game, but it's inevitable.
Super Star Wars: The only reason I had fun and beat it, is because I abused the hell of save states. This game is completely bullshit, difficulty-wise. Cheap enemy placement, leaps of faith abound and beginner's traps everywhere. The Death Star trench run at the end is completely unforgiving. Don't play this without save states and/or rewinds. Just… don't. I'm actually surprised this is seen as such an all-time classic.
Ghost Rider: I actually had to play this because I lost a bet and you know what, it was fine. I'll most likely never revisit the game, but I don't regret spending time with it.
You play this game for 2 hours and then youtube the credits, and it's the exact same thing, it shows EVERYTHING it has to show in that time. Linear stages that make FFXIII look like Minecraft, with a bunch of enemies you're forced to kill every 5 minutes or something. And this game loooooves using these freaking bird enemies that are just the worst, they're boring AND annoying to fight.
It also throws at you enemy with shields that you gotta get a ranking to actually break. You know DMC's, A, B, C ranking? It's the same, only it's D to A, then S then V (for VENGEANCE heh), and the shields for the latter half of the game are all for V ranking, which is kind of a pain. So all of this means that combat is actually kinda exhausting towards the end.
There's motorcycle sections to spice things a liiiitle bit. It's kinda like Road Rash, I guess? These are the jankiest part of the game, there's just something weird about then.
The pacing of upgrades is also strange, you get more than enough points to buy EVERY upgrade after like… 1 hour of gameplay. Not hyperbolic, very literal. And upgrades are all extra moves, though I will say the game's combat is sufficiently flashy to disguise the shallowness. There's no upgrade for story progression or new weapons or anything to speak of.
They couldn't afford Nic Cage's likeness though. Shame.
It's better than a game based on the freaking Ghost Rider movie has any right to be, you can tell the devs reeeeally cared about it, but there's only so much you can do.
Entertaining enough and that's about it.
Also, it's also surprisingly good looking for a PS2 game based on a shitty movie based on a character no one cares about.
Also also, they couldn't decide if they wanted a fixed camera angle, or a controllable camera. So it's a kinda-fixed camera, only you can re-center by pressing R3, but enemies are constantly off-camera because they didn't just lock it to a proper position, AAAAH.
If you for some reason wanna see everything I've beaten this year, here:
If you read all of this, thanks for your time and happy 2021!
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