Category Archives: Video Games

Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night Review

One of Konami’s most treasured video game franchises is Castlevania. Gamers have fond memories of these games from way back in the NES era. Then Konami decided that the best thing to do with the franchise is to make a bunch of pachinko machines and mobile games nobody wants (the Netflix series was good, though.) Koji Igarashi, a former Konami programmer and producer, decided to make a Kickstarter for a Castlevania-like game called Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night. The original goal was $500,000 but it amassed $5.5 MILLION! Was it worth it?

YES, A MILLION TIMES!

During the Industrial Revolution, Mirium, an orphan who has the alchemist curse which causes the body to crystalize brought on by a ritual performed by the alchemist guild, goes after her friend Gebel who is trying to summon demons to destroy the world.

While not a particularly strong story, there are plenty of memorable characters and the setting is awesome. While it’s not Dracula’s Castle (trying not to get sued by Konami even though Dracula is public domain) there is still a castle filled with all the horror monster we know from Castlevania.

The gameplay itself is the usual Metroidvania game Castlevania fans love with a few tweaks. There’s item/weapon/armor crafting and shards. Shards are basically magic that you acquire from enemies. They get stronger by upgrading them and by how many you have. While there are a lot, you’ll on;y stuck with a handful of the ones you need to get through the castle and whatever attack spell you prefer. There are also familiar shards that summon a familiar to help you. These familiars do decent damage depending on which ones you use and its level.

As with previous games, there’s a lot to explore with a ton of secrets that require different shards to find. These secrets aren’t crazy hard to find as long as you do a bit of exploring and attacking every wall.

There was only one part of the game where I got and many others got stuck. Turns out you need to defeat a fish enemy in the underground area to get a shard that allows you to swim. Other than that, it’s pretty easy to know where to go next.

The bosses are the best thing about the gameplay. They are some of the most creative you’ll ever see in any Castlevania game. From a female vampire who fights with a parasol to a fricken SLOT MACHINE (!) there’s a ton of variety. They’re also super challenging so don’t expect anything easy.

Graphically, the game has a beautiful style. Not like the best graphical game but in terms of art direction. The enemies, characters and locations have this great look to them that it’s pretty hard to describe in words. OR course, there are the generic monsters that look bland but that’s to be expected.

Sound-wise, the music is OK. Not as memorable as the previous games but there are some tracks that are worth listening to. There’s the option to choose between English or Japanese voice acting. Both have their strengths and weaknesses and it really all goes down to preference. In the English version, Zangetsu is voiced by the legendary David Hayter.

Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is well worth the $5.5 million that backers gave to the Kickstarter. While the story is and sound are OK, the gameplay and graphics more than makeup for them. This is the Castlevania game fans wanted and it on;y took one Konami’s employees to quit and go out on his own to make it.

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Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem (GameCube) Review

Have you ever had the feeling that there are beings that you can’t comprehend out there who are fighting each other for supremacy? Well then, you have just experienced a phenomenon we in the industry call Cthulhu syndrome. Ever since HP Lovecraft’s The Call of Cthulhu in 1928 was published in the February 1928 issue of Weird Tales the Cthulhu Mythos has been used in a ton of movies, novels, and even video games. One of my favorite and most creative uses is the 2002 Nintendo Gamecube game Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem.

Alexandra Roivas is called to her uncle’s mansion in Rhode Island after her grandfather is mysteriously murdered. After finding a book called The Tome of Eternal Darkness where she finds that humans and ancient gods have been having a secret war with each other for eons.

That’s where the Cthulhu mythos comes in. The game’s story has humans going against ancients that are super creepy looking and can even destroy humanity if they wanted to (and they do.) The characters themselves are hit or miss. Alex, of course, is there throughout the game and you do learn more about the Roivas family and how Alex is reacting to each new revelation. Then there are the characters that you forget like Ellia and Paul Luther.

One of the original things about this game is that as you progress you take control of twelve different characters from different years and countries, each with their own strengths, weaknesses and weapons. This does bring up the fact that the earlier characters are harder than the later characters because they don’t have access to the spells as the later characters do. Also, your best weapons are melee weapons because this game allows you to target enemy limbs which temporarily stun then and take away much of their arsenal.

That doesn’t mean the game itself is easy. There are still plenty of puzzles that you need to solve and there certain battles where you fight two super tough enemies. Hell, there’s one that’s a gauntlet.

Now, for the thing the game is well known for: sanity effects. The game has a sanity meter that goes down every time you see an enemy and restores when you finish off an enemy or cast a healing spell. The lower your sanity meter is, the more effects you encounter (and some that are scripted.) Of course, if you want the full experience of the game, keep the meter low but remember that you will lose health when your meter is zero.

A game can’t be called a game if there aren’t any graphics. For a Gamecube game, Eternal Darkness looks amazing. The character designs are great for their time, the backgrounds, especially the Roivas mansion, look great. The only problem is you will be revisiting the same four locations: Roivas mansion,  a temple in Angkor Wat, a temple in Persia and Oublié Cathedral. You do see how each setting changes as time goes on, however.

As far as the sound goes, a great horror game needs a great soundtrack. The music that plays throughout the game gives great atmosphere and each location has its own music. I’m not sure if Oublié Cathedral has music playing or it’s so forgettable that I forgot it exists.

“What about tank controls,” you may be asking. This game doesn’t have em. Hell, there are shortcuts for the spells which is an added plus. You don’t even need to hold down a button to ready your weapon to attack, but I don’t recommend that at all. It does get old whenever you have to open the menu to change weapons and use items, but it’s not that big a deal.

Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem is an awesome Gamecube horror game that’s sadly now getting the attention it deserves. There were a sequel and prequel planned, but both are now kaput. If you can find it for under $50,  give this game a chance and play it during this Halloween season.

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Home Sweet Home (PS4) Review

Have you noticed how a lot of horror games coming out today are first-person stealth games? Well, here’s another one for you by Thai developer Yggdrasil Group called Home Sweet Home.

Tim awakens in a weird, dilapidated apartment building and needs to find a way out and find his wife Jane. What awaits him is a ghost girl armed with a box cutter and other monsters straight from Thai mythology.

So it’s like Silent Hill 2 that takes place in Thailand and without the town and the wife is still alive.

The setup is great seeing as how East Asian horror does tend to bend on the paranormal side that often turns deadly and will find fuck you. Hell, the locations are creepy in and of themselves which is heightened by the fact that you have no weapon.

Of course, since this is stealth, the scares do start to wane thin come the end of the end since you’re expecting the ghost girl to pop up at any time. The areas that the game does shine in terms of horror are when you’re completely in the dark and you need the flashlight to see anything.

That doesn’t mean the story isn’t scary. If you bother to collect all the notes, pictures and newspapers the story will slowly open up to reveal a rather depressing story of young love and what caused  Jane to go missing.

Gameplay-wise, it’s the typical move the character and press this button to interact with items. Not to mention lots of running away, hiding in lockers and behind anything and some simple puzzles. The puzzles themselves aren’t complicated and the answer is usually obvious or there are clues strewn around the levels.

Graphically, the game does look nice coming from aa small studio. The girl looks scary enough and the one big monster in the game is creepy as all hell. The locations do have a lot of hidden details that if you don’t pay attention you’ll miss it. The one major thing wrong with the graphics is the design of Jane. In the picture she looks Thai but her gameplay sprite looks Western.

The sound is a mixed bag. The music that plays whenever an enemy is nearby does sound scary with a nice hint of Thai music thrown into it. The voice acting is OK though not horrible enough to complain. The thing that will grate your ears is the constant sound of the box cutter going up and down whenever the ghost girl is nearby. You will hate hearing that sound not because it’s creepy but because it will get annoying.

Home Sweet Home is a decent enough horror game with plenty to like but it does wane in quality once you get closer to the end. With a sequel planned and a trailer already out it is worth playing this game if you like Thai horror and because the sequel looks to be even creepier than this one.

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Walking Simulators: Should You bother Playing Them?

One of the newest video gaming genres is the walking simulator. It is exactly as it sounds: You just walk all over the game’s world clicking on things or going to a certain place and a cutscene starts. It’s basically a movie that you have to work to get the story. Yes, the gameplay is basically non-existent, which means the majority of gamers will just avoid them like plagues.

So, what caused me to talk about walking sims? I finally played one: The Town of Light.

You see, what made me buy this game (it was only $10, don’t worry) was the plot: a woman with a mental disorder returns to the closed down mental hospital she was committed to in order to remember what really happened to her and her friend. It’s also based on an actual Italian mental hospital and events that happened there.

Right off the bat, you can tell the storytelling is going to be her narrating everything. This could work if done right and it was done OK in this game. Yes, the things that happened to her were messed up, but how much of it really happened. Not to mention that despite the game having multiple story routes, the ending is the same and it is pretty messed up.

The only way I can think of that walking sims can actually be remembered is with strong storytelling. That’s basically all that these games can offer. If the story sucks, why bother? There are plenty of games that have great stories that have even spawned comics, novels, animated series and tons of merchandise.

Of course, gamers avoid these games because, well, are they really games? Technically speaking, yes. You need a human to control a character in a computer-generated world in order for something to happen. However, the lack of anything that can be considered gameplay is nonexistent.

Of course, the odd person will defend them saying how come people bash walking sims and not visual novels? Simple: visual novels usually have some type of gameplay element. Hell, Phoenix Wright has collecting evidence and then the trial part, Danganronpa has, well, the same thing but a lot more complicated and the first Corpse Party has you collecting items and running away from ghosts, a maniac and in one part a child molester. Same thing with point and click games: you collected items that you need in order to solve puzzles and then question the developer’s sanity when you find a puzzle that requires you put an octopus in a toilet, use prunes on this one guy which causes him to run to said toilet where he gets raped by the octopus and you getting his belt buckle. If you think I’m making this up, go play Discworld for the PC and PS1.

So, should you play a walking sim? If you just want a story where you control a character and you have to work in it by walking around a computer-generated world, then yes. If you want to play a game, look somewhere else. Do walking sims have a place in gaming? Absolutely! You’d be surprised what has fans nowadays and these developers have found that (small) audience.

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Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc Review

Danganronpa is one of these newer visual novel games that have exploded in popularity. I have seen pictures of Monokuma (the series’ main villain) all over and Loot Anime even gave out a the same tie one fo the characters wear in the game. Of course, being a cat with high curiosity, I decided to test fate and get the first game, Trigger Happy Havoc, from Gamefly and give it a shot. There’s plenty to like and plenty to hate.

First, the good stuff. The plot and background are amazing. A bunch of teenagers who are “the ultimate” in a certain field is sent to this prestigious school because of their talents. In reality, this school is actually a prison set up by a bear named Monokuma who tells them that they are here forever and the only way to leave is to kill one student and not get caught.

That right there is intriguing. There is so much that can be done with that idea. There are some points where we do see some good stuff come out of it. The characters, for the most part, are interesting. The best of the lot are Sakura, Aoi, Kyoko and Hiro. There was a lot of thought put into these characters that you care a lot about what happens to them.

Sadly, the other characters aren’t as interesting. The majority are killed off before they get any kind of development whatsoever. The absolute worst  is Byakuya. I don’t care what kind of half-assed development he got; I just wanted to see that stuck up, egotistical little shit get killed in the most horrible way possible.

Visually, the game looks unique. Each character has a unique, memorable look to them, even Monokuma who’s just a black and white teddy bear. Sadly, the school itself looks generic. Nothing about it stands out which is sad because you will be doing a lot of exploring around. You will forget where everything is because these locations don’t stand out at all.

This is also the game’s biggest weakness: the gameplay blows, especially the trail portions. There are three parts to the game. The first is exploration where you have free time to talk with any character to gain new abilities and SP. You can even give them gifts to increase your relationship with them. If you’ve played any dating sim, you know how this goes. The second part is investigating each murder where you’re being led by the nose to each location to find clues (or “truth bullets” as the game calls them.” Finally, there’s the trial. This part is just one gimmicky mini-game after another. All of them suck. Why is there a rhythm game  in a trial? Hell, once you get a certain skill this rhythm game becomes a no-brainer.

The worst part is the twist at the end that explains why they’re trapped in the school. I don’t care what anybody says, I did the Nostalgia Critic’s “this is stupid” bit when I saw that. It’s not just normal stupid, it’s so stupid for words that I just stopped caring about the story after that. I just wanted the game to end. Now.

While the  story and setting are great, the ending ruins it. Not to mention the horrendous gameplay isn’t worth your time. Just watch the anime, you’ll get the same experience without the gameplay.

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Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward Review

If there’s one video game genre that’s about as obscure as they come it’s visual novels. For those who don’t know, visual novels are exactly what they say on the package: they are novels that have visual elements (character designs, backgrounds, voice acting, music, etc.) You need to be one crazy person to play this instead of a “real” video game or read a real book.

I am one of those crazy people.

In the visual novel circles, I’m considered a noob because the number of visual novels I’ve played can be counted on one hand. The few that I have played were quite enjoyable. That all changed when I played Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward.

Before I continue, I want to make two things clear. 1. I have played 9 Persons 9 Hours 9 Doors and enjoyed it immensely and 2. Since this blog is geared towards the literary persuasion, I am only going to touch upon the story. Thus, if you want to know about the puzzles, look elsewhere.

The story is about Sigma who wakes up to find himself in a strange room. The last thing he remembers is that he was starting his car outside his college when a white smoke knocked him out. A woman named Phi is also in the same room with him. After escaping the room, they find seven other people and are told by a computer program named Zero Jr. that they are in a game where each of them has to go through various doors and get the numbers on their watches to nine or higher to escape.

This entire plot, like the first game, is pretty much the plot to Saw 2. The difference between Saw two and this series is, well, everything. Better storytelling, characters, puzzles, pacing, setting and the characters aren’t a bunch of blithering idiots. I will defend 999 to my death and say that what Saw 2 tried and failed to do 999 did so much better.

What I won’t do is defend this game. The story has some great moments, but overall it wasn’t as interesting as 999. You see, Sigma and Junpei from the first game are pretty much the same character in terms of personality. This goes down to them both having impeccable memory, math skills and are perverted to a fault. Hell, they even share some story elements together like that whole multiple timelines thing.

That right there is this game’s major fault. The jumping back and forth through time, different outcomes are what gives some sci-fi readers headaches. Time travel is a major pain in people’s brains. Back to the Future may be about time travel, but they kept the multiple timelines thing to a minimum. Here it just gets way too confusing.

The characters also aren’t as interesting as 999. They do have personalities here, but at the end f the day the 999 characters just seem more memorable. Even Clover, who makes a reappearance in this game, has had her personality nerfed to something completely different.

I’m not saying VLR is a bad story. It has its moments, but overall it’s just not as interesting as the game makers make it out to be. This is more of a rental than anything else. There is a third game announced which hopefully answers some questions this game created. Especially after that horrific ending.

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Can Video Game Stories Be Considered Literary?

It’s a conundrum that has plagued mankind for over twenty-five years: can video game stories be classified in the same category as novels and movies? The earliest game stories are nothing more than bad people are doing bad things and you must kill them with the occasional princess to save. Once RPGs (that’s Role Playing Games for you non-gamers) came along things got a lot more complicated.

So, can these stories literary? First, let’s look at what literary means. Here’s the Oxforddictionaries.com definition:

1. concerning the writing, study, or content of literature, especially of the kind valued for quality of form.

2. (of language) associated with literary works or other formal writing; having a marked style intended to create a particular emotional effect.

With the first definition people will dismiss video game stories as not literary. The second definition makes this argument a bit complicated.

The problem comes when you look at stuff like many platformers and especially first person shooters. These stories tend the be the basic run of the mill “kill them all” or “save the world” stories. Basically your typical summer blockbuster. Many gamers are OK with this since they are not all that interested in story. Which means that the answer is still no.

On the other hand when you look at many story heavy games you’ll see some deep stuff. Many of these are RPGs. Let’s take Final Fantasy VI as an example. At its surface it’s basically a save the world from the evil clown bad guy who became a god just to destroy the world story. Once you dig deep enough you will find layers. These characters have internal struggles, there’s symbolism and best off all a ton of development. You can easily write a book about every character’s story and their experiences.

To use a controversial example let’s look at the Meta Gear games. Yes, the solid games have insanely long cut scenes and some of the story (Especially Metal Gear Solid 2) makes little sense, but again, layers, symbolism, ETC. There is a heavy anti-war message, characters that are fighting for different reasons, freedom VS absolute control from the government and even family values. Some people will say that a lot of the character development is done in an overly melodramatic way, but so does every single Oscar bait movie. Look at Citizen Kain, Ben Hur, The Ten Commandments and the Godfather. Lots of melodrama in there and movie consider these masterpieces.

A more recent example is The Last of Us. On the surface, the game is nothing more than another zombie movie (shut up, those monsters are zombies. They are reanimated corpses that came to life via a virus, the hunt humans in hoards and they infect you if they bite you. They’re zombies.) Once we look at the characters things get complicated. This game has the same qualities as the games mentioned above.

And with all three games, people have said they cried at the end.

That is one of the hallmarks of great storytelling. If it can cause you to show an extreme emotion then the writers have done a good job. Kojima, SquareEnix and Naughty Dog have done that. Not to mention games like Shenmue, the Persona games, the first four Silent Games and many others have succeeded in this.

The thing that people have problems with these stories is the “game” label. Roger Ebert has even said that games can never be art. He is wrong in the way that video games, movies and novels are two completely different mediums. What works in novels can’t work in film, what works in film can’t work in novels, and what works in novels/film can’t work in video games and vice versa. Yes, there have been cases where this wasn’t accomplished, but there are many where it was like the above games, Okami, Journey and even the Legacy of Kain games.

It is true that many video game stories are not very good or mediocre at best, but there are plenty that are well written and will move you. These are becoming exceedingly rare nowadays, but they are out there. So in conclusion, yes, video game stories can me literary if done by the right people. Video game stories can be much more than the sum of their parts, they have been and there will be people who will continue on in that tradition.

 

 

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