A kingdom reborn…
The original Ni No Kuni, Wrath of the White Witch, is not only one of my favourite games on what is arguably my favourite Sony console, but it is arguably the greatest modern JRPG in recent memory – ranking meteorically high amongst the small repertoire of contemporary greats. With its brilliantly realized world – complimented with gorgeously animated sequences produced by the masterful Studio Ghibli –, an exquisite musical score co-composed by the brilliant Joe Hisaishi, a Tales meets Pokémon battle system, and a surprisingly poignant narrative that resonates on multiple accords, Wrath of the White Witch is a rare treat of an RPG that never fails to impress. Its sequel, Revenant Kingdom, takes a number of steps forward -establishing some new ideas while polishing the original’s foundation – but questionably stumbles in other areas, arguably taking a few steps backwards. Studio Ghibli’s involvement is objectively non-existent, exposition is divulged in extensive text-based dialogue sequences, the intuitive hybrid active/turn-based system is entirely replaced by a simplistic, yet fun, action-based combat system, and its narrative is disappointingly shallow in comparison to the original’s emotional brilliance. Despite its disappointing nature, Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom is an undeniably fun experience that is exceptionally beautiful and surprisingly engaging. Revenant Kingdom never reaches the resonating heights of its predecessor but manages to establish an aura of its own, thanks to its fantastic world-building and unexpected level of gameplay variance.
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A human experience – engrossing, yet flawed…
Upon completing my first 10-12 hour playthrough of Quantic Dream’s latest, Detroit: Become Human, I had experienced a wide array of different emotions and levels of intrigue in an engrossing cinematic experience that notably fumbles but succeeds in many ways. The selfless sacrifice of one character proved to be a surprisingly poignant moment, given how I struggled to find any empathetic value in their relationship with one another. A rebellion with a just cause to advocate their sense of being and self-actualization in a pacifist orientation proved to be a taxing, yet ultimately satisfying ordeal. The buddy cop narrative of friendship, betrayal, and loyalty retained the highest level of consistency, resulting in a story-arc that was riveting from start to finish. My plethora of dynamic choices led me to these final moments; with each choice stemming a branching pathway, the sheer number of different storylines, narrative combinations, and chapter variations is downright staggering – everything is impressively laid out via Detroit’s engrossing Flowchart system. It wasn’t until I finished Detroit for the second time, opting to use polarizing choices, that I truly understood its level of outcome variation, resulting in anything from minute variations in dialogue to entirely new chapters and/or set pieces. Detroit: Become Human does stumble more often than not, preventing it from becoming the “great” experience it could easily be. Pacing issues, divisive writing, monotonous chapters, and certain levels of inconsistency plague Detroit, and while its explorative/QTE based gameplay is undoubtably the most refined and intuitive of Quantic Dream’s repertoire, these negative qualms ultimately detract from Detroit’s overall positive experience. While it never reaches the heights of Quantic Dream’s pinnacle experience, Heavy Rain, Detroit: Become Human still manages to deliver an engrossing experience that offers an unparalleled sense of player choice and narrative variation.
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Appeasing the gods…
God of War will stand as one of greatest reinventions in gaming history, breathing distilled life into a dormant franchise and reconstructing the preconceived notions of an established anti-hero. God of War is a brilliant thought piece that blissfully ripens with each passing moment, embodying the very foundation of the snowball effect. Its true brilliance lies within the sum of its parts and how each element is seamlessly weaved to craft an impeccably paced experience that rivals the meteoric heights of literature’s finest. Each exceptional element stands audaciously on its own but are beautifully accentuated as an ensemble, personifying a melodic orchestra of sorts. From its profound deconstruction of the familiar, redefinition of established characters, and completely revamped combat system, God of War is a blissful experience that constantly evolves and is exquisitely surprising. Its effortless transition from tranquil exposition to impeccably constructed gameplay is a pristine work of art, encompassing its creative theme of seamless harmony. Whether if you bask in the glory of its exceptionally gorgeous world, delve into the tantalizing water of its Norse mythology, deviate the beaten path in a rewarding sense of exploration and discovery, or partake in one of the most brutally satisfying combat systems to ever grace the medium, no single piece of the puzzle ever outshines God of War’s greatest triumph: its poignant story of paternal love, acceptance, discovery, and redemption. God of War is indicative to the strength of the single-player experience and their importance to this growing infrastructure, a bold proclamation to their sense of hopeful permanence. Its enriching sense and scale of world building, level design, and creative direction is an exceptional achievement that rightfully surpasses the likes of anything that came before it. God of War is a masterpiece in every meaning of the word, as it impeccably redefines the conventions of this established series, crafting a new powerful identity that is quintessentially more resonant and accessible, all of which is captured in one continuous camera shot of glory.
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An inspirational climb to greater heights.
January has never been a heavy hitting month for video game releases – it functions as a relative calm before the storm. However contemporary showcases have proven to be a delightful exception to the rule, transcending January into a mainstay of quality. January 2013 saw the release of one of the best modern JRPGs in recent memory, Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch and January 2017 introduced the franchise resurrecting Resident Evil 7: biohazard, a franchise reviver and one of the best games of 2017. This past January also had a masterpiece simmering under the radar, the independent platformer with tremendous heart, Celeste. While its sense of scale is rather diminutive compared to the previously mentioned January entries, its level of quality never faltered, making it an undeniable front-runner for game of the year. Plated with its impeccable level design, brilliantly simple mechanics, and slew of deviating paths and hidden goodies, Celeste transcends into a remarkably defined staple of the modern 2D platformer. Its pitch perfect gameplay and refined mechanics are enhanced by its impeccably crafted pace and gameplay implementation, introducing new twists and turns at every corner, significantly upping the ante with each new chapter. Aside from its mechanical prowess, Celeste boasts one of the most beautifully crafted narratives to ever grace the gaming sphere, a creative element typically undermined or absent in mainstays of the genre. Celeste’s inspiring coming of age story is a breath of fresh air to the expanding portfolio of 2D platformers. While these two fundamental structures of Celeste are inherently separate, both exude an unparalleled level of quality, becoming prime examples of their craft and are seamlessly harmonized as a result. Celeste is not only a remarkable start to the new year, it is arguably the best modern 2D platformer, standing tall amongst the meteoric heights of Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze and Ori and the Blind Forest.
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Reach for the moon…
The Super Mario series requires no introduction; to say that it is synonymous with the video game medium would be an immense understatement. Its cadence to this unanimous praise is heavily warranted as the Super Mario series is game development at its finest. One staple and undisputed fact that has remained a constant of sorts for the legendary series is its profound sense of unadulterated fun; no other series is able to emit an equivalent sense of elation or wonder. However, Mario’s strongest backbone and alluring element is its ability to adapt and evolve. The core ingenious structure has remained intact for over three decades, with innovative ideas and constructs implemented into each new iteration of Mario. It’s a successful formula that rightfully acknowledges and respects the past, but also leaves way for innovation and improvement, encompassing a disposition for unpredictability and audacity. Super Mario Odyssey is a prime example of Nintendo’s pristine ability to take the familiar and beautifully mold it into something brilliantly exotic. In a lot of ways, Super Mario Odyssey is a renascence of the 3D sandbox platformer, however this magical adventure is far more than the sum of its parts. It redefines the structure of the series in terms of its gameplay variance, level design, and progression structure, while paying homage to its roots and acting as a celebration of sorts for the beloved franchise. It’s a delicious adventure that is equally parts exploration and platforming, and is chockful of enticing secrets and goodies to discover. Super Mario Odyssey is an amalgamation of each minute element that validates the series’ perfect standing; this foundation is enhanced considerably through Nintendo’s ingenious use of inventive concepts and implementations, crafting an experience that is constantly evolving in surprisingly brilliant ways. It’s an unabashed masterpiece that surpasses the insurmountable standards set by the Mario franchise. Super Mario Odyssey is the definition of perfection and is a glorified testament to Nintendo’s unparalleled sense of creativity and innovation.
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The way of the Samurai is glorious…
The trials and tribulation of the Souls’ series is a rather novel experience for myself, as I originally dipped my toes into this amalgamation of impeccable construct and design with 2015’s Bloodborne. Its exquisite Gothic, Victorian setting was unquestionably appealing and its faster, visceral combat improved on Dark Souls’ meticulous combat design. Dark Souls III continued to expand on this concept by notably increasing the speed of the series’ combat design, while maintaining the inert core of the beloved franchise. However, Team Ninja’s conspicuous take on the established Souls formula is arguably the best iteration yet. Nioh’s dynamic combat is practically flawless, with its innovative stance and Ki (stamina) recovery system acting as the glorious cherry on top. Its level of difficulty is relatively on par with From Software’s repertoire, but enemies rely on the same defined rules and mechanics as the player, incorporating an additional layer of fairness. In regards to level design, Nioh follows the immaculate steps laid out by Dark Souls developer, From Software; Nioh is beautifully atmospheric and chock full of impeccably designed shortcuts, secrets, and other hidden goodies, imploring that key sense of exploration and back-tracking. Its fictitious take on the late Sengoku Period is exquisitely beguiling; from the charismatic encounters with historian legends such as Oda Nobunaga or Tokugawa Ieyasu, to the exhilarating key moments in history such as the Battle of Sekigahara, Nioh is an intriguing period piece that is surprisingly informative as it is entertaining. As an action RPG, Nioh is an absolute triumph in game design and player accessibility, as its level of flexibility and gratification is beyond dynamic, catering to an abundance of different preferences. Nioh takes the basic foundation of the Souls formula and expands it exponentially, incorporating dynamic systems to create a novel gameplay experience that surpasses anything that came before it. Continue reading “Nioh Review”
Ink-credibly off the hook!
The original Splatoon on Nintendo’s underappreciated Wii U, was a fresh coat of paint to the banal online shooter realm, and a remarkable testament to Nintendo’s ability to branch off from their established repertoire of success and comfortability. Its unadulterated addictive nature cultivated one of my favourite online experiences in recent memory and its easily accessible structure outweighed any notable limitation, especially since the Wii U was Nintendo’s inaugural foray into the online space of gaming. Nintendo’s sequel to the colourfully delightful shooter is arguably the most fun I’ve had with their hybrid console and is without a doubt the best online game I’ve played all year. Splatoon 2 might only implement incremental changes to the formula, but notable design contributions polish this exquisite sequel off to a pristine shine. The moment to moment gameplay is riveting and polished to a glorious T – evoking an imperative sense of cooperation and variance -, the gear system is revamped to accommodate idiosyncratic playstyles, its inherent addictive bite-sized nature is retained on all fronts, and it’s all wrapped up in a gorgeously vibrant world that is oozing with Nintendo’s renowned sense of charm. The newly introduced cooperative mode, Salmon Run, is a welcome addition to Splatoon’s addictive repertoire and is arguably the best mode in this glorified sequel. While Splatoon 2 has its fair share of notable and subtle improvements, it still manages to fumble every now in then, with similar discrepancies that hindered its predecessor. Seeing how the Nintendo Switch has been a prominent device that restores the remnants of local multiplayer goodness – as is such with the excellent Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and ARMS – the absence of any form of split-screen multiplayer in Splatoon 2 is a tragic missed opportunity to say the least. Despite notable disappointments, Splatoon 2 is still an excellent sequel that embraces the fundamentals and success of the original, while adding a few variances here and there to spice up the formula. Splatoon 2 is easily one of the best games of 2017 and is undoubtedly the freshest online experience that Nintendo has cooked up.
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*This review originally appeared at afterstorygaming.com*
A “bona fide, Monafied” masterpiece
While my thoughts on the Shin-Megami subseries may emit a questionable sense of bias, piercing through any form of clouded judgment was surprisingly trivial as Persona 5 is an absolute delight, regardless of my attachment to the series. As I’ve mentioned profusely, Persona 4 Golden is my favourite video game of all-time, and my biased standpoint stems from the sheer fact that this experience saved my life. With that rather audacious statement declared, expectations for its sequel were undoubtedly and unfairly monumental; Persona 4 was an enlightening experience that impeccably resonated with every beat of my contemporary life at that point in time. Persona 5 is not nearly as masterful as its predecessor, but one must understand that it was never going to be nor does it need to be. Persona 5 is an intricately designed experience that exudes an unparalleled aura of stylistic charm, with its immaculate presentation placed in a profound echelon of its own. While its pivotal narrative lacks the grave and brutal nature of its predecessor, it still manages to weave elements of moral intensity, corruption, unity and friendship, throwing in plenty of twists and turns that construct a sound and compelling narrative that is arguable the best in the series. While dozens of returning elements foster the core structure that we’ve come to expect, welcome new additions are added into the mix to create the most streamlined, accessible, and smooth Persona experience to date. Character development and gameplay are seamlessly entwined with each element inherently affecting the other, the simplistically complex battle-system is a refined work of art that bears an untouched stylistic aesthetic, and the excellent new Mementos system provides a refreshing approach to longevity and level grinding, justifying its questionable existence. While Persona 5’s characters aren’t nearly as endearing as the exquisite cast of Persona 4 and the typical sense of dread and impending doom is questionably absent for most of the journey, Persona 5 is undoubtedly the most polished entry in the series as its intricately designed gameplay systems and captivating narrative points are stellar examples of this genre’s iconic framework and impressive capability. It might not be the life-changing experience that its older brother delivered, but Persona 5 is an excellent standalone experience that is extraordinarily gratifying for all who wish to partake in this exquisite journey – it is a bona fide masterpiece.
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Patience is a virtue…
Very few games manage to transcend its predictable structure into a peculiarly constructed being that constantly shape-shifts both narratively and gameplay-wise. Those that attempt to embody this bizarrely delicious concept tend to fail, with the story layering multiple convoluted pieces that simply don’t make sense or bleed pretention, and/or its genre hopping implementation is rendered to a “jack of all trades, master of none”. Nier: Automata is the beloved exception to the rule. It is a robust experience that executes an impeccable variance of the new game plus system, a well paced and mechanically sound example of the seamless transition between different game genres, and incorporates a gripping narrative that is equally provocative as it is convoluted. While a plethora of technical issues and its underdeveloped open-world hold Nier: Automata back from being the underrated masterpiece that everyone claims it to be, it is still an exuberant experience that has the foundation for a masterpiece, simply lacking the required polish and design to reach such meteoric heights. Nier: Automata is a peculiar experience to critique as it’s constantly changing and evolving, with each new playthrough providing a sliver of reflection; my impressions of trepidation upon viewing the ending of Route A were completely different compared to my unanimous praise of Route C and its subsequent endings. It’s a fluctuating experience to say the least, but one that constantly propels the importance of the ride as opposed to the destination. It’s an arduous journey, not in terms of mechanical difficulty, but in perseverance and tenacity; the hunt for truth is a riveting force of propulsion, one that emitted a rewarding sense of satisfaction, despite my personal qualms with Automata’s certain limitations and design choices.
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