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May Bonus Review: Sonic Chronicles- Dark Brotherhood

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Bioware has been having a hard time lately. EA has virtually run the developer directly into the ground and, after the disaster of Anthem, they may very well be on the chopping block. But before they sold themselves to EA, they were good right? Well, let’s look at the last game they developed that wasn’t published by EA. A Sonic RPG for the Nintendo DS.

Story:

So, Eggman has gone missing and is presumed dead. I’m sure that will totally stick for the entire game. In this situation, Sonic gets contacted by Tails and told that the chaos emeralds have been stolen & Knuckles is a prisoner to a mysterious group called the Marauders. Sonic has to go on a journey with friends, and foes against the Marauders, including a mysterious Echidna named Shade.

The story isn’t bad. It’s just not very interesting. It’s one of those kind of standard “hero works with his villains against a new common foe” types of stories. Bioware tries to spice it up a bit with some dialogue options and relationship building, similar to what you might see in Mass Effect except it really doesn’t make any difference and it’s a lot less interesting.

Characters:

We’ve got Sonic’s usual gallery. Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, Emo Sonic, Rouge, A random robot, Cream, Amy, Eggman, & that shitty obese cat no one likes. They’re joined by Shade the echidna. A classic character so beloved, she’ll never be in anything else.

I say that, but Shade is a decent enough character. The Marauders in general aren’t bad. Although they were similar enough to some of Penders’ comic creations that he filed a lawsuit for infringement.

Gameplay:

This is where Sonic Chronicles really suffers. A relatively lacklustre story might be excusable if the game were fun to play. Unfortunately, this is one of those DS games where the touch screen controls are shite. The over world can be counter-intuitive to navigate at times. The worst part, however, is the combat. Your special attacks require a combination of touching the right spot with your stylus and dragging your stylus across the touch screen. Not only is it really finicky, but some of the abilities demand such a degree of precision and flawless execution that they’re not even worth trying to use. The healing abilities, especially Cream’s, are the worst in that regard.

The final boss is the worst. You have to do a long chase sequences where you have to touch your party to leap over obstacles and it can be a slog because if you hit an obstacle you lose progress and there’s a delay to your inputs. The characters don’t just jump immediately. Which means you have to get used to the timing. This all contributes to make the game decidedly not fun to play. Its one saving grace is that its difficulty level is so low that you can make quite a few mistakes on account of the terrible touch screen controls and still manage to win handily.

Art: 

The art style isn’t bad. The characters, cut scenes and everything look fine. And I can’t really fault Bioware’s efforts in that regard. It might not look as smooth as the actually polished Sonic titles of the time, but they were also on console and this is on the DS.

Sound: 

The music by Steven Sim & Richard Jacques is pretty good. The OST is honestly the element that holds up the best. Is it going to match the classic scores of the Megadrive? Probably not but it’s a worthwhile effort and the sound effects are fine.

Areas of Improvement:

  1. Make the combat more traditional turn based. While I appreciate that giving players a more active impact on combat can be a good thing (one just has to look at Legend of the Dragoon, The World Ends With You or even Mass Effect) it doesn’t work here. Bioware clearly had no idea how to use the Touch screen for it. Which is what hurts the game more than anything else. A more traditional turn-based system would have been much more seamless and a lot more fun.
  2. Get rid of the chase sequence in the final boss fight. Again, this is an element that’s really not fun and is more frustrating to deal with than anything.
  3. No Big the Cat. Seriously, no one likes this character. He’s the worst part of the cast in any Sonic game that features him. You could replace him with any one of the Chaotix and it would be better.

Final Thoughts:

Sonic Chronicles is an unfortunate entry in the franchise as a whole. It may be better than actually broken games like Boom or ’06 but its garbage controls are some of the worst touch screen controls out there and its lacklustre narrative doesn’t do it any favours. Ultimately, I’ll give it a 4/10. It’s not an RPG that’s worth picking up.

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November Bonus Review: Detroit- Become Human

Let me begin by just outright saying that I don’t like David Cage. As a writer, I find him pretty damn terrible and every time he talks about his work he comes across as either a pathological liar, someone with his head so far up his own ass he’s getting his food back before it can digest or both. Now, you might wonder why I’m going to talk about one of the games he wrote if I think so little of him.  Well, it’s because I have a lot of problems with this game and it’s been out long enough that I think I can vent about them without all the rabid fans going mad. Plus I don’t do game reviews often so, when I do, it’s always a game that’s been out for a while. I’ll warn you before we get into the gritty details, there will be spoilers.

Story: 

The set up is old hat for science fiction. Androids are an accepted part of daily life but some are gaining emotions, breaking free from their programming and starting to demand rights. We follow three different androids, Markus, Connor and Kara, on their separate but connected paths. Markus starts out serving an elderly artist before becoming robot Jesus. Connor is tasked with finding these deviants and putting a stop to them before they start voting, getting involved sexually with our flesh and blood women and shopping at our organics only stores. Kara is a house keeping android who runs off with a small child to stop her being abused. But it turns out the child is also an android so don’t worry about any “can an android love a human as its own?” story lines. That might have been interesting, if it were written by someone with writing skills.

My first big issue with the game’s story is just how trite the whole narrative is. We’ve seen the “what if AI was sapient” question addressed in a billion different works of media. And every single one of those has done a better job with it than this game. Some big examples have been, but aren’t limited to, Star Trek: Next Generation, The Stories of Ibis, Eve no Jikan, DC’s Metal Men, Astro Boy, The Hitchiker’s Guide, Doctor Who, Red Dwarf, Xenosaga, Transformers, Voyages of the Cerberus, The Twilight Zone, Marvel’s Vision, Blake’s Seven, Steel Angel Kurumi 2, Overwatch, Megaman and so many others I could put together an absurdly long list but I’ve made my point.

What especially annoys me about Detroit in this regard isn’t just that it uses a major story element that’s been done, it’s that David Cage talks about it like he did something completely new and absolutely unheard of. And not just because he deals with sapient machines but because they’re the good guys, for once. You know, if you ignore literally everything I just listed.

Another aspect of the game that annoys me is the heavy-handed slavery metaphor that immediately falls apart if you put ten seconds of thought into it. Because white people did not build black people in a factory nor have black people ever been emotionless.  Frankly, it’s a pretty insulting comparison. David Cage also likes to push this idea that the “proper” way to strike back against an oppressive group in power is through non-violent protest. The only way to save all the named characters you’re supposed to care about is to be non-violent. Which is nonsense. Peaceful protest has its place, but it isn’t easy or relatively painless by any means.

Another annoyance is the Public Opinion system. Throughout the game what you do impacts public opinion but it barely matters to the story. There are all of two characters who will act differently based on public opinion and you don’t see any other impact from it. The story is also full of things that are just stupid. For example, the androids have LEDs in their necks that basically serve to show when they’re getting distressed. Almost like this was an old B-movie where the lead actor can’t emote so they come up with some plot device to do it for them. What’s even dumber is that we find out androids can remove these lights and change their hair colours in order to better pass as human. So, why doesn’t every deviant android do that immediately? Seriously, these things are supposed to be smart but they can’t be bothered to take some simple, obvious steps that would help keep them safe? They deserve to get caught and deactivated.

The only narrative thing I’ll give Detroit some credit for is that it actually has choices that matter. Which does give it something when compared to, for example, a Telltale game. Although you probably won’t want to take more paths cause they’re all badly written.

Characters:

Like the narrative itself, the characters are based off of old, boring stereotypes without anything to make them interesting. Markus is the “saviour” who gains the mysterious power to awaken other androids and has to lead his people to… Silicon heaven, I assume. Where they can hang out with all the calculators. Connor is the eager young recruit. Kara is the motherly woman. Hank is the grizzled old officer and so on. I’ve felt more of an emotional connection to the plastic toys I’ve found in kinder eggs.

Gameplay:

Like most Quantic Dream games, the gameplay is very minimal. You go to places, examine things, do busy work (like laundry), make decisions and there are some shitty quick time events. It’s like Cage wanted to make an animated film but didn’t want every single Razzie so he begrudgingly made a game instead. So, it’s exactly what you expect from Quantic.

Art:

Here’s the one element I can give some actual praise. The artwork in this game is very well done. It uses a realistic, motion-captured style and, unlike any other aspect of the game, actual effort went into making the animation flow smoothly, putting in nice backgrounds and just making it visually appealing. If you paired this artwork with a narrative that wasn’t complete trash and compelling gameplay, you could have a real winner.

Sound:

The music is decent enough. In terms of acting, you can tell that the actors are trying. I can’t say their performances are good. If they had characters with some level of depth to them, they might be able to display emotions and have strong performances instead of an emotion and having kind of sub-par performances. I’m sure part of that is David Cage’s directing since he’s awful at that too.

Areas of Improvement:

Now comes the time where I list three ways the work could be improved, and I am spoiled for choice here because there are so many awful aspects to go after.

  1. Tone down the message for some subtlety and nuance. I know that those are two terms David Cage will never comprehend, but for an example of what I’m talking about watch the Next Generation episode, Measure of a Man. In which Data’s rights are at stake and Picard defends those rights as well as his status as a sentient being.
  2. Alter the gameplay. As it is, Detroit is basically a shite visual novel with QTEs thrown in. I would say either throw out the busy work & QTEs and make it a straight up VN since those gameplay elements are just obnoxious or put in some gameplay that can fit with a story that has branching paths. Maybe an action RPG since several of those do have choices that matter. And get rid of the QTEs and busy work while you’re at it.
  3. Develop the characters beyond stereotypes. As the game is, we’ve seen all of these characters. We’ve also seen them all used as a base for complex characters. Which Cage might’ve done, if he wasn’t a complete hack.

Final Thoughts:

Ultimately, Detroit: Become Human is tripe. The story is a complete mess riddled with clichés on one end and idiotic nonsense on the other. The gameplay is horrid. The characters have nothing to them and it’s just a generally bad experience. A bad experience that looks quite nice but looking nice kind of becomes meaningless when that’s all you have working in your favour. I give it a 3/10. And the only reason I’m going that high is because of the art. If the graphics weren’t so nice, I’d take two points off of that.

December Bonus Review #5 Dragon Quest VII

I’ve reviewed exactly one game before this, Nintendo’s  Miitopia. I was less than impressed with it. To end December’s bonus reviews, I thought I’d go with a game franchise that’s near and dear to my heart, Dragon Quest. We’ll be basing our review on the 3DS remake and not just because it’s the version I was able to buy legally since the Playstation version wasn’t released here. We’re also doing that one because it’ll probably be the easiest for you all to find at a reasonable price.

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Story: 

We open on the small island of Estard. Our protagonist, I named him Lulu, is the son of a fisherman. One day, his father brings home a mysterious map fragment. This leads him and his childhood friend, Prince Kiefer, on a quest to open up the door to a strange shrine. They’re quickly joined by their friend Maribel. The three activate an ancient pedestal that leads them through time and space to an island they’ve never seen. They quickly discover that the world was once populated by a great many islands that were, through various machinations of the demon lord, lost. They also discover that through travelling back to pivotal moments they can restore the islands and reshape the world itself. Which may eventually earn them the strength necessary to defeat the demon king himself.

I have two issues with the story, neither of which is a major deal. They’re more of small annoyances. The first is the lack of player agency on the ending. Throughout the game, they ask Lulu questions about things like his plans for the future and how he feels about Maribel (if you’re me you always answer positively because Maribel is amazing) but, ultimately, your answers don’t matter in the slightest. Honestly, this game would have benefited from multiple endings based on your answers. You see the same basic issue with Sir Lysalot, a fraud who you have no real choice but to cover for because the game won’t let you expose him and believe me, I tried. The second issue is also with the ending. So, you get to the end and your party goes through a long victory tour where you stop at various places and find the people you need to talk to to move on to the next place. It gets pretty tedious and, honestly, this part really doesn’t need to be interactive. It actually gains nothing from having you play through it. They could’ve made it quicker and cleaner by just showing the important conversations and then automatically moving you to the next spot.

In a strange way, this narrative reminds me of Doctor Who back when Doctor Who was good. I suppose it’s the journeying through time and space aspect. Plus there’s always some new problem to face our heroes. I actually really like that story set up. I also appreciate that the various islands you go to provide different kinds of obstacles. It’s not always going through dungeons and fighting the big bad. Sometimes it’s more about information gathering or puzzle solving. Which leads to some nice variety. I also like the way the reborn islands differ. In some, you’ll find that your party has become heroes of lore. In others, you’ll be forgotten. In one case, you’re even vilified. And in all the cases the response tells you something about the culture of the island’s people. It’s actually a really effective way to do some world building.

Characters:

Lulu is pretty much like every silent Dragon Quest protagonist. He’s there as the character you project onto. The antagonist is the same kind of thing. He’s the bad guy who wants to exterminate the Almighty and rule. It’s the other playable characters who keep things compelling. Maribel, Aira, Gabo, Melvin & Kiefer all have a strong sense of personality and some interesting arcs. Even some of the more minor characters like Estard’s king or Sefana have a nicely built sense of character.

Honestly, it’s like a lot of other games in the franchise. Provide the kind of blank slate protagonist you get to make decisions for and the big bad who’s just evil while putting effort into making the rest of the party and a bunch of side characters interesting to compensate.

Gameplay:

if you’ve ever played a Dragon Quest title, you know the basics of how the controls work. You’ve got the usual turn-based combat with the usual interface and menus. It also uses the mechanic that the newer games are fond of where monsters appear on the world map and you get into battle by running into them. There are two things that separate VII from a lot of the other games in the franchise. The first is the mechanic of travelling to the past. Which is used to great effect and there are several instances where you need to go back to a specific place in order to find something or get help from a particular person. The second is the job system.

VII isn’t the only game to give you vocations, but it does execute them in an interesting way. Each vocation has levels of mastery where you earn new abilities, some of which carry over. And you gain that in addition to ordinary levels. So, you don’t have to significantly weaken yourself to start a new path. It also features prestige classes, which require certain conditions to change to. Mastering certain classes or gaining specific skills. Perhaps most interesting are the monster vocations. Throughout the game you find monster heart items that enable your characters to take on the aspects of that monster and these come with their own levels of mastery.

In terms of difficulty, VII is pretty challenging. There are times when you may want to pause in your quest to grind up some levels or just go out exploring and gain some more experience in the process. This game does have a massive map with a lot to do in it.

Art:

The designs are what you expect from Toriyama. They look pretty damn good. The 3DS version also updates the sprites when moving across the world map so that they look considerably better than the old school PS versions. One unfortunate side effect of that, however, is that the map itself and the boats you encounter look a bit blocky. The special attacks are also a bit lacklustre. Overall, though, the game does use the 3DS hardware pretty effectively.

Sound:

You’ve gotta give Sugiyama Koichi credit. He’s pretty much done the musical score for every Dragon Quest game and they’ve always been excellent at complementing the atmosphere and just being really good. The sound effects are pretty standard fare.

Final Thoughts:

Dragon Quest VII isn’t the best game in the franchise. It has some things that could definitely be done better. That being said, it’s still an excellent game. If you’re a fan of turn-based RPGs, like I am, then you’ll probably enjoy it quite a bit. The mechanic of going through time and space is really good. The characters have strong senses of personality. The soundtrack and designs are oh so good. My final rating is an enthusiastic 9/10.

Five lesser known Video Games you should find and play

It’s been a while since the last time I talked about video games instead of anime, the other time being my list of characters I’d like to see in Smash. This time I thought I’d talk about some more obscure titles, maybe you’ve heard of them and maybe you haven’t, that you may not have played but you should. These aren’t in any particular order and I’m not putting anything on this list that comes from the current gaming generation. With that in mind, here are the titles.

  1. Fire Emblem: Gaiden (NES

    This is one you’ve probably heard of since the Fire Emblem franchise has gained some prominence in more recent years with Blazing Sword and the titles following that one getting international releases, mostly. That being said, this one you probably haven’t played since it’s never been released outside of Japan. It was the second instalment in the franchise and featured some unique elements. For example, you follow two different parties of characters with narratives that are connected but stay separated for quite a while. It was also the first FE title to have multiple classes that a given character could promote into, a feature that was revived in Awakening.

    If you can find a fan translation of it, I suggest playing it. If they release it in your language on the virtual console, I also suggest playing it. The unique elements work well and it has aged very strongly, maybe not graphically but in terms of everything else.

  2. Alisia Dragoon (Mega Drive)

    In this platformer you take on the role of Alisia, a young sorceress with lightning magic. With companion familiars by your side, you battle your way through a series of challenging levels with really well drawn battle animation. It was also one of the first games to feature a female protagonist, which is pretty cool. Unfortunately, this game didn’t get much marketing attention and didn’t sell well. I still highly recommend finding and playing it.

  3. Threads of Fate (Playstation)

    Don’t ask how I know about this one when it was never officially released here. *shifty eyes* Threads of Fate was a Square title from the late 90s. You can choose one of two protagonists each searching for the same powerful relic. Rue is an altruistic young man who wants to revive his dead friend. Mint is a princess who wants to take her throne back and rule the world. The story is really immersive and unfolds differently for each character, adding a nice level of replay value. The game also has a really good sense of humour and Mint is a delightful character. The game has a great battle system and wonderful music. I understand that the game is available on the PSN if you live in North America. If you’re a European you may have to use other methods. Don’t judge me, I’d buy it if I could.

  4. Darkened Skye (Gamecube & PC)

    Darkened Skye is an advertising gimmick made to promote Skittles candies. With that in mind you may be wondering why I’m suggesting it. Well, in spite of being blatantly about the advertising it’s still a good game. Mainly because it unashamedly owns up to what it’s doing and focuses on having fun with it. It makes fun of game tropes, advertising and itself. The whole game has a really tongue-in-cheek sense of humour that’s actually quite endearing. And that’s why I suggest playing it, because it’s a fun, goofy game.

  5. Oni (Playstation 2 & PC)

    Oni is an interesting one. It was brought to us by Rockstar and Bungie. It uses a very anime inspired style for its animation and design aesthetic. It’s blends cyberpunk and dystopian elements to great effect and has a really complex combat system. Everything about this game just provides you with really good interactive cyberpunk. The only thing I didn’t like was the voice acting.

    So, those are five games I recommend finding and playing. Maybe I’ll do another list like this some time in future. Feel free to leave a comment with some lesser known games you think people should play or to make comments about my choices.