Crimson Shroud is a small scale 3DS game developed by Yasumi Matsuno (Vagrant Story, Final Fantasy Tactics) during his brief stint at Level-5. Sadly his stint was so brief that all they managed to churn out was this high concept ‘table top’ RPG. It’s also pretty good. The game takes place on the map of a palace, navigating locations you select with a pointer, moving your character ‘pieces’ as you progress. Some locations simply offer narrative advancements, while most of them engage you in a fairly standard turn-based battle.
Tactics Ogre, Final Fantasy Tactics, Vagrant Story and Final Fantasy XII all set a thematic precedent for what you can expect in Crimson Shroud. Like all of these games Shroud is saturated with complex ideas and familiar themes. While the scope is clearly much smaller I still think they managed to create an abridged version of the amazing RPGs these creators are known for. I really enjoyed it and I think it’s safe to say if you’re familiar with the previous works mentioned then Crimson Shroud will make you feel right at home.
Did the gambits from Final Fantasy XII confuse you? How about the multitudes of unclear stats/abilities/systems from Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together? The weapon melding from Vagrant Story?? If so, avoid Crimson Shroud. No-one seemed to think it was appropriate to minimize the complexity to match the miniature size of the game. It’s saturated with ideas that feel disproportionately complicated compared to the 6-8 hours your’re gonna spend with it. But this is exactly my thing, and why I keep coming back to it all. The game within the game.
Since there are no actual character levels, Crimson Shroud forces you to place an unhealthy level of importance on the weapon and item drops you get from the few battles you’ll face. Take into account that said drops are reliant upon how well you perform in said battles and you find yourself in a situation where you absolutely must be paying attention to every single thing you do. Accidentally not choose the key item that’s required to advance in chapter-2 from the performance based loot screen after a specific battle? Well, fight that battle again. And that’s if you EVEN KNEW WHAT YOU WERE LOOKING FOR IN THE FIRST PLACE, which you won’t because the game never tells you. All you really get is an extremely vague hint about what you’re looking for and are required at this point in the game to understand the obscure rules to the battling and loot drop systems in the game. I personally replayed a couple battles simple because I didn’t understand that I was looking for an item to unlock a door, and when the item did drop I didn’t even know what it was. Looking around for other opinions online I ran into more than a few others sharing a similar experience. Not a game-breaker by any means, more of a minor complaint. Trial and error, RNG and a devious GM can all be enjoyable parts of a table top experience. I chalk a few of these decisions up to the game concept and I find that to be incredibly compelling, if not skillfully implemented.
Many Matsuno’isms are healthily intact in Crimson Shroud. Here’s what to expect:
– Hundreds of different pieces of equipment, items and spell scrolls (character-specific and general) that drop at different rates from different battles. Similar pieces of equipment can be melded together infinitely to create a stronger versions of that specific item (Falchion + Falchion = Falchion +1, etc.) You can also meld equipment with spell scrolls, which upon equipping to a character will allow them to use the spell.
– Rare drops that unlock certain chests, doors, areas that are both required and extra. Methodology for acquiring rare drops usually involves killing specific enemies that may or may not appear during a battle depending on what order you kill your enemies in.
– A robust character stat system that contains all the variety and ambiguity you could ever ask for. I still don’t know what exactly affects what when it comes to: ATK, DEF, STR, VIT, DEX, AVO, INT, RES. How to assign your gear and what stats to focus on for each character is a mini-game in and of itself. You’ll have to work at it, analyze it and through trial and error find what works best (and even then you may not even know exactly what you did to get the results you ended up with).
– Characters have specific skills that you obtain after certain numbers of battles. This is the closest thing to traditional leveling up in the game. You will get the chance to choose a new skill after most major battles and after reaching certain numbers of battles. After two play-throughs, I still don’t think I’ve seen the end of the skills.
– The order at which you progress the game from area to area can alter your experience. For instance, if you go to one area before another, you may find that things are slightly different that in you were to do them in the opposite order. There aren’t many opportunities for this in the game, and even when there are it’s subtle. In chapter-1 if you go to a certain area first there’s a harder battle than if you were to go somewhere else first and there second.
– A New Game+ that’s damn near a whole new game. No one should really only play this game once. The second game contains new and stronger items in the chests, new fights and boss fights, new areas, stronger enemies and a real ending to the story.
All of this amounts to a level of complexity and content that you wouldn’t (and kinda shouldn’t) expect from an $8 downloadable mini-game that’s one fourth of a collection.
I would actually argue that the story and characters here are some of the most interesting to come out of a Yasumi Matsuno game. Not having any true Ivalice material made Crimson a bit more fresh for me. I mean, there’s no huge distinction between this and anything else that took place in Ivalice (artistically or thematically) but it’s impressive that they went about crafting an entire world and parts of a greater mythology just for the sake of presenting a more complete story.
The trio of Giauque, Lippi and Frea are compelling antagonists in a story that’s clearly much bigger than the events in Crimson Shroud. While they do generally fulfill standard heroic archetypes, our main characters are still fleshed out enough to not feel stale. The dynamic between them as they progress further into this unknown castle just feels genuine somehow.
Much of this is due to the sheer volume and quality of the text and writing. Alex O. Smith’s localization achieves the typical high standard, effortlessly weaving fantasy elements into realistic intrigue. The narration takes the form of an overseeing entity, a GM type, who goes to appreciated lengths making sure every detail is dramatically fleshed out. This goes a long way to help the player visualize the events, as the game engine itself only presents motionless game board pieces for the characters. This aesthetic (which at first seems like a bummer) is brilliantly presented. The models didn’t feel lifeless to me. The character interactions and subtle battle effects did wonders, filling them with life. In the end it all feels just how I imagine they envisioned it to feel (like a board game), and that’s most definitely a victory for them considering the assets they were working with.
Without the artistic brilliance, depth of storytelling and quality of writing all of this could’ve easily been a boring hack-job of an idea. Thankfully it comes off more like reading a well-written fantasy novel where you always feel like there’s a wealth of mythology waiting around every corner. I’ll stay away from spoiling anything story-wise because I think the first ending is more interesting, but I feel confident saying that playing through a second time is a requirement considering it provides a slightly more enhanced version of what is actually transpiring in The Palace of the Rahab.
Based on everything I’ve described here it would be a safe guess to assume this game will can only be enjoyed by a pretty specific crowd with particular tastes. But I’d actually say Crimson Shroud can reach more than the RPG family. Since visual novels have exploded in popularity and board games retain their niche, I think a hybrid like this still has a place in a lot of gamers libraries. The package itself is polished (the music and art are design are both un-fucking-believable), has AAA developer pedigree and the story is well worth hearing. If YOU’RE ALREADY an RPG fan who hasn’t checked this one out yet, literally no reason not to. Your time and money are well-rewarded by this secretly cool little experience made by a guy who might not ever freely make a game again.
17. Crimson Shroud Maybe I am the biggest Matsuno fanboy out there but the miniature size of this game just can’t elevate it into the realm of competition with other, full-sized games…much less big RPGs like Radiata Stories. It IS better than the worst Zelda game though.
This version of Zelda is definitely not the one you know from recent entries. It’s an ‘open air’, choose your adventure kind of Zelda. The narrative starts out as compelling as ever and then abruptly drops your ass out into the wild void of busywork. The sheer volume of freedom right at the outset is inspiring and unlike anything I’ve played. It takes your breath away in it’s simplicity. You walk to a tree or a cliff-face and start climbing not because a tutorial told you to but because you just know you can. You grab an apple out of said tree because it feels like you should. It’s intuitive, engaging and awe-inspiring. It’s the epitome of the silly claim “see that mountain, you can go there”. And that’s where this game really shines. Everything feels so effortless at the beginning, in that way that only a game that’s been meticulously and thoughtfully crafted by experts can. You kinda know that the whole world is a video game constructed by people for you to play because you’re a human with a brain holding a controller but you really feel that you’re simply Link, wandering this ancient Hyrule. It absolutely encapsulates you. In these ways, BotW is an unbelievable achievement and success. Almost every inch of the world is at least somewhat interesting, the controls are wonderful and random exploration turns up almost unlimited rewards. The feeling this game gives you will carry you extremely far in BotW, maybe forever.
And what’s so wrong with that? I mean, as an open world exploration game…nothing. Those qualities are excellent. They’re so great in fact, that my personal grievances for this particular Zelda didn’t develop for many hours. It wasn’t until I finally set my sights on the final battle that my negativity matured into a strong opinion. I even remember my exact tipping point. There was a moment of clarity when I realized that, after completing the fourth ‘dungeon’, I just couldn’t bring myself to repeat another session of: 1. unlock a new tower 2. scope out the land and mark interesting locales/shrines I could see and 3. wander generally towards my markers whilst getting distracted every 10 ft and never actually arriving at my goal location. It became tired, a chore even. With little to no narrative left to speak of, the force driving my exploration was suddenly absent. The little quirks and repetitions became more hollow. The fucking STORMS and RAIN became MORE ANNOYING. The constantly breaking weapons and seemingly endless korok seeds made me feel like I was running on a treadmill indoors, not taking the final hill as I approached the goal line of a marathon.
Naturally I felt inclined to conquer the last bit of story left, the ever-looming and mysterious Hyrule Castle. And then I snapped. Just as I had finished my hour of preparation and began my final hike to the castle…food and equipment all meticulously arranged and at the ready… a lightning storm began. Poetic? Not exactly! The absolute fucking maddening task of OPENING MY FUCKING MENU ONE MORE FUCKING TIME to UN-EQUIP ALL MY METAL SHIT was enough to tweak me. Could I have slept at an inn? Sure, why not? But that was so far beside the point at that particular moment in my Breath of the Wild experience. Also, that’s simply another rigorously stubborn, time consuming design choice that forces the player into a rigid workaround for the inconvenient crap the game throws at the player. So I do the menu shit, it’s quicker, and get Link so his ass doesn’t get fucking blasted by lightning and I start running. Soon enough I run across a cliff that’s my most direct path forward at the moment. Well, we all know what good climbing in the rain does! This was my moment. The things I found novel and interesting at the beginning had now sent me into a rage. I literally just wanted to get to the end and the game wouldn’t let me. I felt like I was going to be stuck in fucking Hyrule for another five hours and, in that moment, nothing felt worse. Of course I made my way through, ignoring the splendor and design of Hyrule castle and quickly ascended to the promised place where I easily ganked the dumbass robo Ganon and his over 9,000 pig form in what is easily the most underwhelming final boss scenario is Zelda history. Thank god that shit was over. Turned it off, put the disc back in the case and filed it away for good.
After roughly a hundred hours or so Breath of the Wild taught me a few things. The most important of which is I don’t ever want to be held hostage by a game. Which is decidedly different than holding myself hostage, something I frequently do and enjoy. You like finding these cute little seeds? Well there’s 900, so good luck. Shrines are kinda fun right? There’s not quite 900 but boy it’s sure gonna feel like it after you’re in your 75th one that looks identical to the 74 before and after it! You want to fully upgrade all of your hearts like every other Zelda game ever? Don’t spend orbs on your stamina bar then, because you can’t max both. The game expertly dangles prizes in front of the player only to slide them out of reach every time you get a step closer. The formula they’ve dreamed up is both maddening and addicting. It employs a collect-athon mindset in a RPG framework that both seem to be at odds with the open world philosophy. I can’t continuously be expected to feel engaged with messaging consisting of “the reward is the exploration of the world itself” when I’m on seed 658 and I feel like I’ve checked every area already. And when you learn that the prize for finding all 900 is a worthless joke item, you feel like you wasted your time. I wasn’t doing that just to collect seeds assholes. It isn’t funny.
Secondly, I guess I want my Zelda games to have more story, dungeons, GanonDORF (remember him??) and maybe the FUCKING TRIFORCE than I got in BotW. A good chunk of the story is told through memories (because Link has amnesia) that are triggered by special locations you have to go out and find. It’s a great idea in theory. Everyone will experience the narrative in a slightly different order, some people will see less…some more. Honestly, the memories were probably my favorite part of the game. Searching for them based on visual clues with the promise of a narrative reward was, I think, the closest this game gets to being an actual Zelda. The backstory is interesting, the old heroes are dynamic and the bond they all share (or what little is shown of it) is compelling and heartfelt. As the memories begin to weave into the present world, it elevates the new characters to a height they wouldn’t be able to achieve on their own. Because memories are one of the only things in the game that are limited in quantity (there’s only 18!) it gives them a more special feel compared to everything else. Uncovering one is much more fulfilling than hundreds of korok seeds, making them even duller in comparison. I wish similar restraint was used in almost every other aspect of the game.
That isn’t to say the story is a home run though. There’s no real baddie to speak of. No face to the danger other than a giant monster with no real emotional consequence. In fact, across the whole game there’s very very little in the way of a personal ultimate objective. Yeah, Ganon is a big evil spirit monster and the four little versions of him that serve as bosses at the end of the dungeons serve their basic purpose, but Zelda games are built on emotionally driven showdowns. Instead it seems the game nudges you toward the climax environmentally, fitting the design concept, but not nearly as compelling. Hyrule castle is covered in black goo and sits in the middle of the world. Okay, well I guess that’s the objective. I feel like they were going for a more natural and intuitive approach to suggesting how to tackle their game instead of guiding you along a path. Sadly, moments like Ganondorf galloping out of Hyrule Castle’s gate on a stormy night and imposing his fucking terror on little kid link in Ocarina aren’t even attempted. That thirty seconds have more impact on the player and expresses more atmosphere than BotW’s entire geographical world could ever hope to achieve. After going through four dungeons with nameless mini Ganon clones you knew exactly what you were going face in the castle: a big stupid Ganon that has no impact on anything other than being the biggest monster in the game.
I have many other small complaints…the game suffers from a litany of quality of life missteps that make certain things a chore (that could be fun). I already mentioned constantly swapping equipment, how about equipment presets for certain environmental situations? Many things you have to do repeatedly are three clunky menus deep and it just fucking wears a person down. Ubisoft towers suck…Nintendo should be able to do better. Rockstar employs a fog of war style map reveal in GTA V, why not copy that? Weapon durability is fine for a while until it’s not. The pressure of being in the middle of a tough fight and having your weapon bust is intense the first five hundred times, less so after that. A recipe catalog would be amazing and should be in there. My list goes on, honestly.
So, a mixed bag it is. I like a lot of things about the game and I don’t like a lot of things. And some of the things I really liked…I started to really not like over time. By the end, so many things moved into the “not like” category that I ended up with an overall negative opinion brightened a bit by the things I was still really impressed with. The art style is cool and the world is really inspiring. I’ll never forget wandering into new areas and the sense of exploration I felt, or the freedom. This version of Link and Zelda are great and the NPC characters are too. It just didn’t feel enough like Zelda to me. I know, I know…it’s okay for things to change and evolve. Trust me, I get it. I just prefer my Zeldas to be more Wind Waker and less Metal Gear Solid V. I want real dungeons, real villains and real triforces. Maybe on their next attempt they will stick with the majesty of what they created here and plug back in some of the traditional elements that were left out.
-LIST UPDATE: THE LEGEND OF ZELDA: BREATH OF THE WILD-
17. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild BotW is an impressive new take on the open world genre with little else going for it. The story is the worst in the series and the enormous amount of busywork and lolopenworld stuff just isn’t all that acceptable to me, especially coming from a company that has made a name for itself by ignoring modern day gaming tropes and usually inventing their own shit.
To me the Xbox 360 will always be the first ‘next generation’ experience, and almost all of that has to do with Dead Rising. It released shortly after the retail debut of the new Microsoft console and, in my mind, delivered on every promise of the mid 2000s. It had a sandbox gameplay style that didn’t simply boast about it’s size, polygons or fit and finish. Oh, it did have those things! But it also focused on true limitation-breaking innovations. Dead Rising has a -still- unprecedented level of interactivity with the world. Almost fucking everything is a weapon, for instance. I might even go as far to say that the -modern- sandbox game owes a lot, if not everything, to this unconventional hit.
By now everyone knows who Frank West is. His shtick is tired after all these years of reboots and remodels, yet the original character holds fast as one of the best every-men to ever every-man. He was a little husky, pretty sarcastic, kinda cool but most of all he was hairy. Such lovingly modeled body hair. One of the great things about Dead Rising is its downright RPG treatment of Frank. At level one Frank is a borderline bumbling idiot. He walks SO SLOW and gets grabbed by what feels like every zombie in the mall. By the end, though, he’s a zombie murdering super machine that literally can’t be stopped. He’s a god damn super speed ninja train, dropping suplexes and punching through zombie chests like it’s easier than breathing. I love that! It’s borderline alarming how fast he walks at level 50. It’s a nice spin on the classic RPG trope of an innocent young adventurer transforming into a fucking god-slayer on his journey. It’s not strictly stats with Frank either, though. His personal metamorphosis from a slick photographer into a hero is endearing. The guy survives so much insanity that you can’t help but to love him in the end.
Which wouldn’t even be possible if the developers didn’t put a weird level of detail and thoughtfulness into the story. Just when you think Dead Rising is going to be all hokey winks and nods to zombie films, it slowly turns into it’s own story about politics and corruption. A lot of games try really hard to pull off a rewarding humor/serious balance and fail. Metal Gear Solid games toy with this a lot, to some success. But I feel like there’s something that’s specific to getting zombie stuff just right. The campy and gory history of zombie films is well-respected…and hard to duplicate. Somehow Dead Rising did it! Take for instance the psychopaths. They’re regular old folks, either mall shop employees or just mall visitors whom the events of the day have had a severe emotional or mental impact on. Suddenly your standard american hardware store guy is a fucking navy seal extreme hunter who’s merc’ing people and zombies left and right, with a machete no less. Wacky? Yes, but, also like, kinda realistic? You can understand how under this most horrible set of circumstances a Vietnam War vet might find himself back on the battlefield and unable to distinguish his awful memories from reality. The game takes the time necessary to explain why Cliff Hudson lost his shit and the player is treated to a level of sincerity that almost doesn’t really belong in a game of this nature. Some of the scenarios are goofier than that, but they’re all fun and rewarding in the same way.
Trying to rescue survivors can be equally interesting. There are living people out there and Frank will hear or see them randomly, stuck in a jewelry shop or locked in a roller coaster car gone haywire. The methods required to get them back to a safe zone are varied, usually frustrating and horribly difficult. But god dammit if I don’t want to save every last one of them…even today their situations burn bright in my memory. The Japanese guys in the book store who require you to hold a translation booklet while you talk to them. The old couple at the very beginning separated simply by the corner of a building who lovingly embrace when you point out the obvious. The limping woman wandering across the outdoor park while maniacs in a turreted jeep try to gun her down. Everyone is traumatized and has a personal little story as to why, apart from the zombie apocalypse of course.
Not that I’m calling the narrative Shakespearean or anything. There’s just more to it than necessary. Dead Rising could’ve released with a simple story that just focused on the gore and told a few jokes along the way. Instead took it far beyond the “get people out of the mall and take the chopper to safety in 3 days”. Things escalate and the game changes quite a bit. Special forces get involved and a face to the new threat emerges in the form of a military hard ass (a guy you eventually have a showdown ON TOP OF A TANK with). Along the way to that ridiculous finish your goals become much more serious: finding a cure for the bite and exposing not only the origin of the outbreak but the corruption that lead to it’s cover-up.
All ON A TIMER no less, a concept I usually hate. Thankfully Dead Rising found a way to make a ticking clock an asset instead of a limitation. They did this by not punishing you too strictly for dying or having the timer run out. If you die without a save Frank starts his journey from the beginning with his levels and experience intact. Which is sweet because with your upgraded self and the repetition of having to do things multiple times (at least I did…) you can usually breeze back to the point of death much quicker than the previous attempt. Couple that with your ever-growing knowledge of the mall/locations for favorite weapons and these replays can sometimes feel even more rewarding than the first attempts. If you do happen to miss out on a timed story mission and are still alive, the case is closed and you can continue bangin’ around Willamette until your chopper arrives in 72 hours, which is kinda cool too. Replayability is a major selling point in Dead Rising and the manner in which they’ve installed this particular virtue leads players to discover more each time they enter the mall. I recently replayed the HD re-release on my PS4 and still unearthed new shit despite pouring tons of time into the original.
If you somehow haven’t made it around to Dead Rising yet, I highly recommend it! It’s a game that blew me away back in 2006 for it’s next gen content in a way that I personally feel hasn’t ever been duplicated. Which is weird. It’s such an interactive game that even its own sequels struggle to emulate the complexity or feel (or graphics). The weapon selection is incredible, the physics are really impressive and the writing/voice acting quality is surprising. Oh hey, did I mention there’s a picture taking mode? Yeah! It’s pretty fun and not a stupid throwaway function like it is in every game before or after. Now that I’ve written this I’m actually kind of surprised that very few games were able to capture the essence of what made this game so great. Where are the copycats? Maybe Dead Rising is better as lightning in a bottle.
11. Dead Rising DR is probably one of the best action sandbox games I’ve ever played…but…from here on up there are some heavy hitters and a lot of great RPGs. Not quite a strong enough showing to crack my top ten. I love this game though.
A little background on myself first: I really like Final Fantasy. I’ve beaten basically every entry and they’re all close to my heart in one way or another. I played both XI and XIV for multiple years each. A new FF is something I don’t miss out on. I can be critical of some of them but am mostly complimentary. My favorites are XII (read my review!), VII, and IX and I think both MMOs are excellent in their own ways. The NES and SNES games are classics, so I WILL PROBABLY COMPARE XV TO PAST GAMES IN THE SERIES. I THINK THAT’S APPROPRIATE. I’M SORRY IF YOU DON’T. Eventually I will spend many hours writing down my thoughts about all of them and not just because I’m nostalgic but because they are great games.
But this fucking thing has been a fucking chore to write. Kinda like playing the game itself! I didn’t like Final Fantasy XV one bit and I really (really) wanted to. It is an enormous disappointment to me on multiple levels. I feel beat down and tired, not just from playing but from the exhausting narrative churned over and over for the last six years about this games development. I don’t get off on compelling boring details of a scorned director moving on from his masterpiece spin-off that spun-off for far too long without progress. I do care that a NEW director who’s magnum opus is the unbelievably mediocre Type-0 was given the keys to the kingdom and immediately set his phasers to kill anything unique about what he inherited with Versus XIII. But they did it…right???? It’s a miracle the game even released!!! We should be thankful!!!
When Final Fantasy XV opens, you’re treated to about two seconds of a cutscene and then you’re dropped absolute-zero cold into the open world. Where’s the introduction area? Where’s the slow build, tutorial-laden and foundation-placing first few hours that is a hallmark of this series? Remember Midgar? Remember Balamb garden and the Ifrit cave? Remember Zidane and crew’s elaborate stage play hoax to capture a princess? Remember Zanarkand? Tabata doesn’t! There’s absolutely no introduction to any of these characters or anything that’s happening in the world and no history of any of the events that led us seemingly halfway into a conflict before you even boot up the title screen. Don’t say Kingsglaive either. That garbage doesn’t count here. None of the multimedia shit does because those aren’t this. They’re cash grabs and promotional hype machines that someone thought we were all dumb enough to buy into. There is literally no reason whatsoever that Kingsglaive shouldn’t be the opening of this game (oh wait…apparently it used to be!). It is profoundly important to the overall narrative and it’s simply unacceptable that it was maneuvered into becoming a feature film with a separate cast of characters. The implication that a person needs to watch Kingsglaive before ever booting up FFXV is an insult to the people who spent money on it.
Out of the gate, nothing about Noctis’ crew or world was stimulating to me. Nothing felt iconic or unique. Midgar, for instance, is unbelievably memorable in Final Fantasy 7. FFXV has no Midgar. And perhaps much of that has to do with the setting itself and where the narrative takes the characters on their journey (spoiler alert: NOWHERE). The game opens as the bros are broke down in the desert and have to walk to the nearest gas station. Simply Iconic. The desert… is… a desert and the gas station is………….. a gas station. I know this is a fantasy based on reality or whatever but no reasonable human in history can sit around and expect ME, a die-hard FF BOBO, to be blown away by the realistic ‘reinvention’ of my FANTASY series into something that closely mirrors the most boring, unoriginal locales in actual real life. In fact, I have a Super America just a couple blocks down from me. In FF7, Midgar was a place people lived and died. I walked the slums, met the people and heard about their lives. I witnessed first-hand the depression Shinra’s presence had flooded everything with. There were ugly places and pretty places. There were giant magical mako reactors spewing neon colors out into the air and an evil headquarters that ominously lorded over everything from the center of it all. I spent the first many hours of the game exploring, fighting battles, doing mini-games and learning about the world as it methodically introduced me to key elements that would set everything else in motion. In FFXV I walked to a Super America and immediately started taking fetch quests from a mechanic in pink lingerie and booty shorts. So I wandered off into the boring ass desert for about 10 hours finding shiny knickknacks for random people that have zero consequence because the game seemed to want me to.
And in this place called Super America I felt my first pang of something I would later come to realize was anger. This wasn’t going to be Versus XIII. Okay, that’s fine. We didn’t actually know a whole lot of concrete shit about that game anyway. And I’m not a Versus XIII/Nomura mouth-breathing idiot so that’s not my agenda here. At this point in my experience I was secretly still apologizing for the game and hoping I could find something arguable to latch onto so that I could feel like I did’t get duped (again) by Square Enix. Well that ‘something’ never really showed up, as hard and as long as I looked for it. What the problem is, and it’s very very early on in Final Fantasy XV, is that it feels as though so much was re-arranged and cut that nobody was able to assemble the pieces they wanted to keep back into something that was fun or made sense or respected the player. A vision of a wildly innovative and ambitious AAA console game that we certainly got glimpses of was robotically taken apart and released as something the new devs knew how to make, a handheld quality game. The cutscene direction is an abomination, characters literally standing around yapping at each other back and forth, camera set almost exclusively from the waist up. The combat never really requires you to learn much over time or evolve strategies/characters, as holding ‘attack’ and ‘defend’ is basically enough to get to the credits. The atmosphere that I think we’re supposed to feel as the player (looming catastrophic war/danger/takeover, sadness at the loss of the main characters HOME TOWN AND FATHER) is a million percent absent in the game and honestly never really explained in earnest. And those criticisms can’t be as easily lobbed at a handheld effort because, well, there are limitations and we all understand that. Unfortunately for FFXV, it’s supposed to be the marquee title for the next generation of a franchise and company that basically INVENTED THE FUCKING MODERN RPG. Nomura seemed to understand that because he took 1000 years to create some super-game that was never, ever, ever, ever going to work. He finally got his shot at directing a mainline FF and the weight of the series history and future expectations combined with the freedom he somehow earned caused him to get x-zoned to the void.
So, dink around at the gas pumps for as long as you fucking want because the game is devoid of any pacing or structure. OR start following the story scenario and pound through about 15 chapters in an hour. You decide! It’s open world! You choose how to play! According to HowLongToBeat FFXV takes an average of 27 hours to complete, which I’m betting is generous if you mainpath like a mofo. So that’s embarrassing. I’m currently 54 hours into Persona 5 and all in-game signs seem to be telling me I’m about 40% through it. Just sayin’.
So I did hang out in the first couple chapters for really fucking long. I was exploring and taking hunts, trying to find the substance. See what this game was all about. I was still bright-eyed and bushy tailed. Slowly I came to realize that the ‘hunts’ are just groups of regular monsters that NPCs are being hassled by, and the Head Chef at the diner??? posts the bills. This isn’t my beloved FFXII system of hunts (a shame to even comparing the two). Those were all unique, mid-boss level super-mobs that were harder than your average fare. Until you got to the later ones, which actually weaved themselves into the story and world and enriched the game itself. Hunts in FFXII were hard and worth doing, and rewarded you with actual useful things beyond rewarding you with interesting side-stories and fleshed out lore. The exploration is basically one giant area consisting of about three biomes (being generous). Traveling by foot is impossibly slow, traveling by car is on the rails, calling for a chocobo 1. costs money and 2. controls unbelievably bad and 3. isn’t that much faster than running and 4. adds basically nothing to the game other than “Look, chocobos! It’s Final Fantasy!”. Fast travel is the only way to travel effectively in FFXV, which actually isn’t a shame because you’re not missing out on anything except maybe casually listening to iconic FF themes on the car radio and hearing underwhelming banter between the bros. And it’s not even that effective because of the 3 minute loading screens when you do it.
Speaking of the size of the world and the ‘open’ aspect and MMO nature of the structure, this game definitely doesn’t innovate. The world design suffers from a very common trope that seems to have plagued this generation of open world games. It has never before been so evident that the world was built first and the characters and story were pasted onto that. It is SO big, yet somehow small and limiting. They didn’t even pretend to achieve the “See that mountain? You can go there!” bullshit. It’s just all kinds of invisible walls, unreachable scenery and missed potential. But hey, it’s fuckhuge so I guess there’s that. Should I mail SE a ruler so they can just get the size comparisons out of the way before anything else stupid happens?
My problems with the narrative of Final Fantasy XV are numerous. So numerous that I’m going to have a hard time expressing them all. When I start playing a video game where characters, less than 30 minutes in, are talking to each other in a manner which indicates they have long been friends and are already in the middle of an adventure I expect to be fucking included somehow. There are numerous ways this could be accomplished. Flashbacks! Character specific side-quests! CUTSCENES! Look, I’m not stupid. I understand that the bros have been bros for a while and are going on a road trip. Great! How did they become bros? Who’s who? Are they royalty like Noctis? What’s their relationship to Regis, servants? Do they know Luna? Does Noctis know Luna? Is this an arranged marriage? Is he excited about it? Are there political ramifications of this marriage? Are these really Noctis’ friends or are they bodyguards? Are they the Kingsglaive? I never felt included or even educated on the context of the situation. Also, almost none of these questions are answered fully and the ones that are, just barely are. Which is incredibly alarming when the mantra of your entire video game universe is a road trip, a thing that universally lends itself to unbelievable opportunities for narrative embellishment.
Noctis is not a silent hero, he has a personality and a story. I’m nothing like him because I’m a 32 year old married guy with a kid living in Minnesota. He also doesn’t embody some kind of interesting fantasy for a person like me anymore either. I’m not 16, I’m not fucking emo and going on a journey to fucking discover myself for 18 millionth time is about the most boring thing I can imagine. Therefore I stupidly expected that the developers would cast me into something akin to a 5th bro, like I was along for the ride. Nope! Noctis is the point of view character. He’s clearly the only character the game gives two shits about and whom literally everything revolves around. Because of this not only did I, as the player, feel like I was just watching something happen instead of making it happen, I found it really hard to get invested in him or any of the bros. This is a subtle thing that I think gets lost in a lot of games. If you build your game around a silent hero the insinuation is that they’re devoid of just the right amount of personality so you feel like you are that character. If a game has a voiced character with a personality, I tend to feel that the best approach is to make his/her story NOT a stereotype so even though the player is an observer, they’re at least observing something maybe unique to other things they’ve played. Chrono Cross is a superb example. Serge has a name, a home, a family. People in his village have known him since he was a child. They speak to him with familiarity right from the get-go. You wake up in the morning, bang around Arni Village for a bit and talk to anyone and everyone you want to. He doesn’t say a word, though, and because of that you feel personally involved. You spend an hour or more seeing these villagers talk to him (me) about their lives and wish him well and whatever else. You can recruit your first party member, the village dog. By the time you’re ready to take off you have obtained a feeling of, okay, let’s go out there and start this adventure together. You, AS THE PLAYER/SERGE, are invested in it all. As a 32 year old etc etc, that’s a much more compelling scenario for me. A good example of the opposite would be Squall from FF8, who isn’t silent. He’s moody, hard to get close to, generally unlikable. But because of an interesting game design choice we are able to observe his thoughts and feeling privately from every other character in the game. The thought bubbles that express Squalls thoughts in between dialogue bubbles are a genius implementation of an idea strictly created to get the player invested in in him. It works really well. You may hate him, you may not desire to be like him of live the fantasy in his place but god damn is it compelling to hear a characters thoughts. Instead of that, FFXV decides to go with a camera on the trunk approach and you kinda just sit around and watch as these four dudes do mundane shit out in the desert.
Fuck this, here’s a few quick statements about other things that were disappointing. The music was average, bummer. Couple of good songs but very little of what I’ve come to expect from Yoko Shimomura. The combat is a complete mess. Attack and dodge, attack and dodge, perform CRAZY COOL TEAM SKILL, attack and dodge, attack and dodge. The flashiness is a fresh coat of paint covering up a boring battle system. Not into it at all. I can’t believe FFXII was WRECKED for being “AUTOMATIC” but this game is somehow mildly heralded as some renaissance for RPG combat (when it has QTE boss fights (((((((final boss fight)))))))). It’s maybe the easiest game in the series, and absolutely the most mindless. Having no other party members works great if you focus every attention on the four you have, but alas, you don’t get any other party members AND there’s ZERO focus on anyone but Noctis. Character story side-quests as paid DLC? Come on. You can’t have Gladio disappear for a while, come back with scars and just never EVER talk about it once. I find that to be really shameful and obvious. Ruined world scenario after Noctis sleeps for ten years is a, gasp, GREAT IDEA, but then you can’t go anywhere or do anything or see anyone, including story NPCs that are STILL ALIVE AND PRESENT…WHY NOT???? The most interesting thing that could possibly happen in this game and you are literally forced to go straight to the final area without any single option to do anything else. I guess Tabata never played any of the old games where bad guys actually destroy the world and it’s like a whole new game, that you get to play! Chapter 13, you all know. Hot garbage, worst segment of a game I’ve played that I can honestly remember.
There were a couple things I thought were kinda cool too. Dungeons just being out in the world that you can stumble across were awesome. The dungeons themselves are designed much better than the rest of the game for some reason. They’re unique and have platforming and puzzles that are absent from everywhere else in the world. The graphics were at times stunning. I actually like the train ride second half. The game felt much more focused and story driven. The pace was better and it actually felt like there was a structured ramp-up to the final moments. The linearity provided the game with something that until that moment I didn’t know it needed. I like that you could change outfits and they were like, dressed up or down versions of their regular outfits.
So, you know how in reviews sometimes a writer will say something like “the game has flaws but they don’t mar the overall experience “? I’m going the opposite with this one. This game sucks. There are some nice touches, a couple good ideas here and there but I kinda feel like some of what I enjoyed was carried over from the original vision. The good things in this game do nothing to improve the absolutely awful everything else. They get lost or obscured and it’s not even sad really because that would be admitting there is something here to salvage or build on. I say move on entirely and start fresh with a new team and a new attitude. Which they won’t do because the game was a commercial success and a mild critical success, somehow. I’m gonna go ahead and say that Final Fantasy XV is the worst game in the series to me, a placement I thought XIII had an iron death-grip on. -LIST UPDATE: FINAL FANTASY XV-
I spent a lot of time writing out this long-winded diatribe about how overrated Batman: Arkham Asylum is and that if you take Batman out of it all you’d have left is a generic action game. After some thought I’ve come to the conclusion that the game is actually good and my cynicism was getting the best of me. The story is fun and I love the animated series voice work. I dislike the Gears of Arkham graphics and character models but I love the actual art work and characters. I was really torn. So, I chewed up and spit out my original hate-filled draft and have swallowed my pride to write a much more positive and respectful review of Batman: Arkham Asylum. I guess it’s a good game.
The pacing is bang on, the RPG Lite elements of building a better Batman are rewarding…all built around a sublime combat system that blurs the line between action game and brawler.
What really sticks out to me about Asylum’s combat is the visual flair and sound mechanical execution. If you’re anything like me (rigidly formulaic) Arkham Asylum offers you the opportunity to approach every group of thugs the same way. Jump into the fray, wait for guys to smack you and conveniently counter with slick button presses until they’re all knocked out. Simple, effective and maybe a bit soulless. For me, that was nirvana. The idea that I could almost rhythmically respond to assailants to create this almost dance-like visual presentation of a bunch of guys getting beat up by a superhero is something that appealed to me. Not every game needs to be Tactics Ogre. I don’t mean to call Batman: Arkham Asylum an easy game, per se, but there’s a fluidity to the combat that makes it feel user-friendly. I believe that its structural simplicity encourages people to try and master it.
Which I never did and have no interest in. And that’s fine I think. Who cares if you want to master it, complete all additional modes and get high scores and be amazing? The complexity and difficulty is there if you want it, but easy to avoid if you don’t. The cliche phrase would be ‘easy to learn, hard to master’, right? Perfect example. Just because I wasn’t really ever concerned with heading into all the additional battle and stealth arenas to obtain completion percentages doesn’t mean those modes aren’t worthwhile. They just require a little more effort than ‘press Y to counter’ and as soon as I couldn’t float through a challenge within five tries I put it down. Luckily for me, eschewing additional modes hardly trimmed any fat from the meaty experience that is Arkham Asylum.
Sadly, many write-ups presented the idea that this game was “atmospheric”. The specific time frame in video game history that saw Asylum released made it easy for reviewers to frequently cite this description. With other experiences like BioShock around, we were force-fed the idea that video games were in the midst of some sort of ambient renaissance, suddenly presenting alternate worlds that immersed us just SO FUCKING HARD that we forgot we were ever sitting on our couches staring at a television. Most of my vitriol about Asylum was born from this short-term memory loss approach that the community took. Games have given us splendid worlds to explore for decades now. Asylum is not the first. And it’s hardly the most atmospheric. What the fuck does atmospheric even mean? It was cop-out buzz language that made the average fan think they were wading into ‘games-as-art’ territory, another cringe worthy piece of English that instantly became overused and therefore meaningless.
I battled my own hatred for Arkham’s reviews so desperately that the clear virtues of the game were lost to me…for a long time. Now, though, I can describe in my own words what I feel the weird atmospheric comments were referring to. Arkham Asylum’s world is well conceived. It flows, makes sense and is fun to explore. There are lots of nooks and crannies, lots of secrets to find and puzzles to solve. The island is well-populated with interesting set pieces that fit together nicely and the simple but effective ‘unlock new gadget -> unlock new area’ works well and is logically implemented. Finally, the cute easter eggs sprinkled around complete the setting, making it incredibly recognizable as a Batman experience. When I think atmosphere…Silent Hill comes to mind, or Demon’s Souls. Not Batman: Arkham Asylum.
Out of respect for myself I should point out that I was legitimately disappointed in a couple aspects of the game. The boss fights are dismal, repetitive, lack creativity. Oh! Another hulked up Bane’oid? Cool. In a related complaint, there’s little variety in the in-game character renders too…does every single NPC in Arkham need to be a beefed of Gears of War superbro? Some police officers out there (and even Commissioners!) are, like, regular sized dudes. I get that it’s a video game, I really do. But you’re reaching by talking about atmosphere and immersion if literally every single male body is the same, even in a video game. Obviously there aren’t enough heroes or villains, either. But I’ll let that one go considering this was the first good Batman game in forever and I’m sure it was a bit of a leap for Rocksteady to go from literally nothing to a triple AAA developer working on one of the biggest licenses in the world.
At the end of it all I must say, Arkham Asylum is a really great game. It effortlessly combines fun combat and an interesting world to move The Dark Knight himself seamlessly into the video game space. History has shown this to be no easy task, and kudos must be officially presented. Rocksteady even took a risk or two with the narrative, putting old Brucey in some interesting Scarecrow related content that was pretty unexpected at the time. My only regret is that I wasn’t able to fully enjoy my first impressions as much as I could’ve if I wasn’t such a cynical asshole.
I’m a guy who plays video games, likes them and sometimes I think I have something insightful to say after I’m done. I mostly started this site to reflect on my gaming experiences but to also use those reflections to compile a ranked listing of every game I own (or have beaten) because reasons. It’s fun. I’m learning a lot from it. For instance, this process has helped me solidify that Vagrant Story is my favorite game ever, and the best game ever. The act of breaking down my opinion in words really validated a strong feeling that I already had, but maybe couldn’t explain or even argue until after I did this.
I also found out that I think Resident Evil 4 is a better game than Radiata Stories, for example. I guess I knew this long before I started a damn blog, but for my own weird reasons it does something for me to have a permanent listing of my own opinions. As the list grew things shuffled around in interesting ways, to me. It’s organic, sometimes anything can happen. I don’t necessarily appoint a game “To The Top Five!” before I write a review. I frequently surprise myself with placements, and the surprises seem to always happen after I finish my write-up, when it really hits home just how much I like or dislike a game.
Anyway this is all incredibly selfish. I do it for me. I don’t consider myself a good writer…I think some of my opinions and humor are childish and unfunny. I’m frequently embarrassed about some of the shit I’ve put in here. I don’t aspire to be a games journalist, have a ‘respected’ opinion or be a reliable ‘source’. Games are my hobby and writing stuff about them is rewarding, that’s it.
The main chunks of content on the site are the game reviews themselves and the master list where every game is ranked in relation to every other game. Simple enough I think. Oh and I like video game art a lot. You’ll find a lot of art here.
Playing Xenoblade, while incredible, has had the added effect of reminding me a lot of Final Fantasy XII. This is no bad thing. I have already reviewed the game on this blog but as with many of my creative endeavors I find that over time I want to add or revise things I once considered ‘complete’.
In regards to FFXII, I may have written a bit more about Lord Rasler Heios Nabradia. He, for lack of a better description, was the character that never was. His duties included marrying our main character and dying…all within the span of the opening cutscene. What I find extremely interesting about him (besides from how ridiculously BAD ASS he looks) is just how damn important he is to the story.
How the hell is this character, who is in so little of this game, as memorable or effective as he is?
Well I’ve come up with a couple reasons that I think are pretty important to discuss that should also help further support why I think this game is incredible.
|Setting a tone|
I don’t know if I can name a game that sets its tone better than Final Fantasy XII. The god damn OPENING CUTSCENE depicts an assumed main character easily struck down in battle. Just before, we saw this same guy marrying our main character. The intro ends with the Empire’s airships advancing over a bloody battlefield where crows are picking away at dead bodies.
I won’t bother to equate Rasler’s death to something like Aerith’s but having this event take place at the beginning of our tale serves to set pieces in motion in a very interesting way. It’s the backdrop for our story, and having something this dramatic depicted before we actually take control changes the atmosphere of the entire experience. Here I’m introduced to a gallant and handsome knight who’s taking freedom upon his back, riding out to meet his would be conquerors. Instead of returning home to present his bride with victory, Lord Rasler is struck down in the chaos by what appears to be a random enemy and the battle is lost.
The implication of this event is that the player really understands the seriousness of the world, or the reality of it. Few other games would take this step to engross the audience. The expectation and understanding from this point on is that no one is safe. Young and strong heroes with everything at stake do not necessarily guarantee victory in this particular universe.
|His relationship with Ashe|
Ashe could be called the main character of Final Fantasy XII. Her motivations and personal plot are as closely related to the main narrative as anyone, and her love for Lord Rasler is an integral part of it. He was her husband and true love, but also heir to the neighboring state of Nabradia. Their coupling was, in addition to it’s sincerity, a political union providing a unified front geographically centered between two aggressive nations.
After Rasler’s death Ashe not only continues to legitimately mourn him but goes as far as to wear her wedding ring up until and throughout the game itself. The ring is of major importance to her, but from a storytelling standpoint it’s critical. In the one scene depicting Ashe reminiscing about her lost love to Balthier she clutches her wedding ring thoughtfully. This subtle moment relays a feeling that Ashe just can’t really let it all go, that her stake in the struggle is much more personal and perhaps vengeful. Without a scene like this and an actual face to her passion you could easily accept that Ashe rebelled for simpler reasons: freedom, justice and the like. Instead the more powerful and overriding emotion is love and the pain of losing Him. Balthier seizes this moment brilliantly and demands that he be allowed to carry the ring, this thing that’s much heavier than its actual weight. In realizing its importance to her and promising to return it when all is said and done he’s doing his best to guarantee that they all succeed…knowing her connection to the physical item (and by association her memory of Lord Rasler) will push her even harder to persevere. This is incredible storytelling, yet some reviewers had the audacity to declare that Final Fantasy XII was somehow lacking in character development.
I suppose the worst of it is that I just really fucking wanted Rasler to be a playable character. Instead, his existence is dangled in front of my face like an unobtainable carrot. There’s even a message in that, I believe. In allowing us to only witness a snippet of this young man’s heroics we are put in a position to appreciate the characters we do have. If Yasumi Matsuno is willing to kill off the coolest looking character before the damn game even starts then I know I’m in for way more than the standard RPG fare. And I do believe the rest of the game followed suit. So here’s a salute to Lord Rasler Heios Nabradia, arguably the most meaningful ‘character that never was’ death in the history of video games.