Thoughts on Until Dawn

My girlfriend is an interesting character. She has shown no interest in playing video games, nor does she particularly enjoy horror movies, but for some reason she enjoys watching me play horror games. This started when I was playing through Resident Evil 7, and since then when I end up with a new Horror title to play with, she wants to watch. It works for me, and it gives us something else to bond over, even if the game isn’t particularly good.

Last month, Until Dawn was part of the Playstation Plus monthly free lineup, and I downloaded it without knowing when I’d get around to playing it. I had heard decent things about it back when it released in 2015, but it was never a game I felt I had to have. Having actually played quite a bit of it now I can say that it’s an interesting title, but I’m glad that I didn’t pay money for it.

That isn’t to say it’s terrible. It’s chock full of cliched horror tropes, the voice acting and character models are fine, and it has some jump scares and gore to boot (plus lots of talk of sex, though that typically means someone is about to die). Despite being full of these cliches, it manages to mix themes from several horror movies that we’ve seen over the years, and there are some interesting sub-layers that I would assume make for a more complete experience.

You remember that movie “The Butterfly Effect?” That is one of the main sub-themes of this title. The Butterfly Effect is a principal that goes like this: A flap of a butterfly’s wings can lead to a string of events that cause a hurricane elsewhere. This game splashes this concept throughout, and you choices in individual scenarios change the narrative of the game. Like TellTale games and other titles where “choices matter,” it’s apparent that there are likely multiple endings and ways that things can go with this game.

I powered through the first 6-ish chapters and have found the story line to be intriguing, if not a bit vague and confusing. Scenes between “episodes” have a mysterious figure being seen by a therapist. I won’t spoil anything here but the mystery man plays a major role in the story. I’ve made choices and people have died. I’ve made choices and people lived. Various innocuous actions have various consequences. It’s definitely more of an interactive narrative than a Resident Evil or Silent Hill game, combat is next to non-existent and there is more time spent chatting and watching cut scenes than actually playing. Of course there are plenty of QTE’s as well, which fans of horror/adventure games will be used to. Honestly, if you play TellTale or similarly styled games you’ll probably enjoy this one. As long as you can get past the terrible teenaged drama these kids bring upon themselves.

As I haven’t finished the game yet I can’t say if the ending will make me want to play through again for a different one, but I will see it through to its end. If you got it for free like I did, you should at least give it a whirl. Otherwise I’d recommend waiting for a sale, as it’s not really worth a full $60. Still a mildly entertaining diversion.

I Am Setsuna — The Beginning

I am Setsuna._20160721002133

It didn’t take much to convince me to pick up I Am Setsuna. No, I hadn’t even heard of it until a day or two prior to its release, and even then this is usually the sort of thing that I tend to avoid. I don’t typically buy day one releases for games I’ve never heard of, and I have definitely strayed from the JRPG path for years now. There was a time when I bought Final Fantasy games on day one, or when I thought JRPGs were better than American ones. Most of the RPGs coming out of Japan for the last decade or so have looked pretty “meh” to me, so I’ve not really paid attention to the genre.

I Am Setsuna used just enough keywords to get me to take a second look. It was published by Square Enix, and was said to hearken back to the Squaresoft days when JRPGs were all the rage on the SNES and even moving on to the original Playstation console. Tokyo RPG Factory was introduced semi-recently as being the future of classic JRPGs utilizing modern technology — essentially “Squaresoft the next generation.” I remember hearing this news but not being very excited about it, mainly because I had basically avoided any new JRPGs for a long time. There was hope though, that games from that era could be similarly made with today’s technology and we’d get some modern classics out of the deal. Lastly, it was said that I Am Setsuna is a “spiritual successor to Chrono Trigger,” which is arguably one of Squaresoft’s most beloved titles. I was sold after reading a couple of articles and watching some video. Plus, it was nice to see a new game release for less than $60 — $40 is a nice number that feels like my own personal spending sweet spot.

This isn’t going back to the 16-bit glory days completely, but the aesthetic and design choices feel very much like a console game from the early 90’s. Since release, there have been plenty of reviews popping up, and the general consensus is that the game is nearly a modern classic, but there are some downfalls. I have noted the general sense that people dislike the world design, think the music is too repetitive, and some even say the graphics look like shit. Systems are not fleshed out enough. It doesn’t really feel like Chrono Trigger.

Some of these complaints have some merit. The world is covered in snow and seems to be in perpetual winter, just like the North in Game of Thrones. This means the map largely looks the same and so far most outdoor areas feel similar. The music is sort of repetitive, in that they only have a piano player and he is constantly playing, but really, have you not turned off the music in FF games because it’s the same damn songs every fight? The same goes for MMOs and most games really — music is repetitive but usually you’re not paying attention. Graphically, it’s not ridiculously good looking; it does have a stylized retro feel but it’s still true 3-D and it runs smoothly the whole time. I have yet to see a single framerate drop. Honestly it’s optimized and looks good, even if snow gets old after a while. I’ll agree that the systems can be a little convoluted, and that I still haven’t figured out how to use “momentum mode” or seen a “flux” happen yet. One review I read said it was completely unnecessary to even figure this out. There are trophies for using these things though, so might as well right?

The largest similarity between this game and Chrono Trigger is the fact that the combat essentially plays out the same, and there are some abilities that can be comboed together to create new abilities. You have a three person party, and each character has their own niche abilities. However, it seems that like the materia system from FF7, you use a material called Spritnite which can be slotted into talismans with varying amounts of slots and passive effects. I’ve gotten to a point where each of my characters has multiple abilities slotted, and combat has been a snap. I’m sure things will get more difficult eventually, but even after facing a few bosses, I haven’t even come close to dying.

Is I Am Setsuna a modern classic? No, I wouldn’t say that. Is it a solid JRPG experience that evokes feelings of nostalgia and makes me yearn for more classically designed JRPGs? Hell yes. It hits most of the right notes, has many of the same feels, has an interesting-enough storyline, and combat that is somewhat satisfying without being overly boring. I’d recommend it to anyone who enjoys a decent JRPG, and enjoys a text-driven narrative with an active time battle system. It’s good stuff, and makes me want to go finish off that copy of FFIX I bought a couple months back.

It’s my opinion that I Am Setsuna is a great first offering from a new studio. I think further iterations will produce a modern classic, as the team seems to be on the right track. For posterity, here’s some screens of what I’ve been through so far, but keep in mind there may be some light spoilers.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Uncharted 4: Complete

It’s been a while since Uncharted 4 released, but I finally finished it off. I made a screenshot dump post a couple of months ago, when I thought I was over halfway through the game. Going by number of chapters, I was actually over halfway through the campaign, but the last few chapters felt much more stretched out, as the game begins to open up with exploratory levels and vehicle travel. This isn’t something that’s new to the series by any means, but Uncharted 4 was much more expansive than its predecessors. Or at least, it sure felt that way.

Keeping with my vow to start blowing through my backlog, after realizing that I hadn’t beaten many games at all this year, I’ve already completed two more and made progress elsewhere. At the beginning of this month, I managed to complete the new DOOM, and now Uncharted 4 can be struck from the backlog list as well. I did already add another game to my collection since the steam sale though, so this is only a minor step in the right direction, but it is progress nonetheless. Unfortunately No Man’s Sky comes out in just about 3 weeks, so my backlog is going to collect dust again rather soon as I dive into that, but this is a story for another day. Back to Uncharted.

Honestly, there are so many improvements in this title it’s hard to know where to begin. The controls are intuitive; the climbing, jumping and rolling mechanics are all very sharp. The cover system and gunplay are spot on. I never felt overly challenged, despite going straight to hard difficulty for my first playthrough. The graphics are incredible, and smooth throughout. The action sequences are absolutely ridiculous, but that’s definitely nothing new for this series. It’s just so much prettier and smoother that it feels like a huge step up for the IP. It is unfortunate that the subtitle is “A Thief’s End” and this is the last we’ll be seeing of good ol’ Nathan Drake. He keeps his sense of humor to the very end though, and that’s where this game really shines.

The writers at Naughty Dog should feel proud. Not only did they make Nathan a more mature and responsible guy, but they made him more loveable, and there were so many points in the game oozing with real emotion, and that’s not easy to do in a game with a “meathead” protagonist. No, I don’t think Nathan Drake is a meathead, but I’ve heard the argument plenty of times anyway. Overall the growth of the characters and overall charm of the narrative pulled me in deeper than I thought I could go. And of course, there’s plenty of death and destruction to go around.

My only complaint with the game? The goddamn sword fight finale. Holy shit I had to do that so many times before finally getting through. In a game that is primarily about gunplay, WHY would you make the final encounter end with a sword fight? And an annoyingly implemented QTE one at that? It really is a minor complaint, but holy fuck was I screaming at my TV before I completed the game.

Having now played through all four games, I would still rate this one the highest despite the fact that I thoroughly enjoyed all of them. 9.5/10 Here’s some screens of the latter half of the game. They might be a little spoilery, but hey, the game’s been out for two months. Enjoy.

Uncharted 4 Screenshot Dump

Just a short post today, as I wanted to get something else in before the end of the month. I’ve mentioned it several times already, but I’ve been playing Uncharted 4 quite a bit lately, mixed in with a few other larger titles. Uncharted 4 is really a great looking game, Naughty Dog have really made the PS4’s potential shine, though I’m sure they’re basically maxing out what it can do. Nonetheless, it is a beautiful game to behold. The addition of a photo mode in this sequel has given the opportunity to exploit the fact that I can take screenshots on my console as a built in feature. I’m still a little tickled by that, despite the fact that it’s been possible on PC for ages. Still, I wished for the feature on PS3, where  I typically took shitty cell phone pictures of my TV. But I digress.

I wanted to share some of the beauty that is Uncharted 4. There shouldn’t be anything too spoilery in them, but there are a few trophy unlocks and blurry action shots, just for good measure. Have to take the good with the bad, I suppose. Let’s take a look:

Beautiful, no?

Stories: The Path of Destinies

WebsiteBG

I love it when a great indie game comes out of nowhere and ends up being fantastic. It’s not every day you discover a game that you hadn’t ever heard of before that moment. You guys know me by now, I try to keep my ear to the street about gaming releases, indie or otherwise — but Stories: The Path of Destinies caught me entirely by surprise. I was browsing the Playstation Store a couple of weeks ago, and was checking out new releases. I ended up looking at pre-orders too, and this title caught my eye. I realized later that it also released on Steam, but I had already pre-ordered on my PS4 at that point, so I awaited it’s release for the console. The night it was playable, I jumped in, thinking to myself that I’d only play for twenty minutes or so and then I’d probably wander off to do something else, as is my typical behavior. But something special happened.

Stories is a game about a Fox. Well, actually it’s about a book. Hmm… it’s also about time travel. You know, it’s kind of hard to describe accurately. But mechanically speaking, it’s an Action RPG. You move with one stick, you attack with one button, you get some other abilities mixed in and can spend skill points to improve your abilities. I would generally and favorably compare it to titles such as The Legend of Zelda. Where it differentiates itself from the standard hack n slash of games like Diablo, is by having a very involved and confusing storyline that makes more sense as you play the game. There are meaningful choices and consequences. You can die, but you can’t die. I can’t say much more or I’ll ruin the story for you. Let’s just say that when it feels like the game is going to end, there’s still much to do.

You start off the game in a flashback of sorts, and you are set by a dying woman to look after her son who has a very powerful book, and from there your adventure begins. From there I really can’t say anymore, because there are too many cool spoilers. The story is very well done, and I really liked how the developers handled sticky situations with meaningful consequences, but nothing that will ruin the experience. The combat is another high point, as it feels very much like the Batman Arkham games, with a combo system and various learned abilities that really let you mix things up. It’s more fun than most ARPG combat by a mile, but it’s also more spread out between other obstacles, treasures, puzzles and of course, story bits. There is light crafting, in that you collect essence and ore, and can use that to upgrade your “hero sword” into other forms. They are all elementally based and have varying effects, along with working as keys for various doors. Don’t worry if you don’t have the right sword for a door in the early parts of the game, you will revisit old areas later on. There are also gems to discover that provide some nice passives. All in all, it feels very juvenile at times, but still handles adult situations very well. I’ve enjoyed every bit of it, and I haven’t even seen all there is to see yet.

I highly recommend this title to anyone who is fond of story-driven action RPGs and meaningful choices. It’s fairly kid appropriate, and inexpensive to boot.

Here’s a screenshot dump from my PS4, which automatically takes screens when you earn trophies. As a result some of them aren’t the greatest pictures, but they will show off a myriad of features of the game that I have mentioned here.