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Nocturne's Game Reviews- for when he's bored

Started by mikey, January 21, 2015, 07:25:04 PM

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Size equals twenty-four point DARK SOULS slash size
Unfunny Subtitle

Spoiler equals summary

The Dark Souls community is actually a singular massive circlejerk that enjoys pretending their mediocre game is somehow the definitive most challenging game of all time and the pinnacle of rewarding mastery.

Try jumping.

Slash spoiler





Not Sure Why I Caps-Locked the Title

Spoiler-free summary:

Dark Souls is worth playing.  As far as I can tell, the remaster sure doesn't feel like a remaster and most Dark Souls fans agree, I think.  The only thing the remaster really does is upgrade the graphics and let you play Dark Souls on the best console.  It's also got DLC in it somewhere but somehow I missed all that completely.  Anyway, I think we can all agree that Dark Souls' reputation for being a difficult game precedes it.  I'm here to tell you that it is not a difficult game at all.  I may not be a credible source on many things, but if Mikey says a game ain't hard, that game probably ain't hard.  That being said, Dark Souls does suffer from high complexity in ways that I personally feel inflates its barrier of entry.  While playing, there were many facets of the game that I outright ignored because I had no way of understanding how it worked (sorcery and pyromancy, for example), there are many items that don't give you nearly enough context as to what they do, and as far as I can tell there is no way of knowing what each number in the menus actually means, and Dark Souls is enough of a stat based game for it to negatively affect gameplay.

For me, one of the reasons Dark Souls got me to keep playing is the visuals.  I've never seen a game with such beautiful locations.  The aesthetic of each unique area is on par with Zelda games (!) and the areas that I really liked I wanted to fully explore, whereas the areas I hated I really hated.  We'll mark that down as a good thing.  Exploring these areas was both viscerally satisfying and mechanically rewarding, and overall I think the spread of hidden secrets is well balanced.  By far the most common item you can find is a "Soul of a [adjective] [noun]", which can be tuned to drop a different number of souls depending on which kind you find.  This helps keep items feel rewarding and not too same-y.  On the more artistic spectrum, there are many locations to find that offer less tangible rewards, like a beautiful scenic overlook.

The characters are amazing, the story is... not?  Maybe?  The joke is that you can play through the whole game and not have any understanding of the story whatsoever, which is more or less what happened to me.  Don't worry, still staying spoiler free for now.  I'm told that the story is intentionally obfuscating, so take that as you will, but by and large the story feels extremely detached from the game; that is, progress in one does not have an affect on progress in the other and I didn't really enjoy that concept.  The characters, though... man.  Dark Souls treats NPCs in a weird way- you can find a character in multiple different places throughout the game and kind of "progress their story", or you can ignore them, or you can even kill them!  Killing them grants their armor and weaponry, which is AMAZING, but I have never ever felt so bad about killing NPCs as I have in Dark Souls.  Where Dark Souls fails with story and gameplay compatibility it surely succeeds with character and gameplay compatibility.

The gameplay itself is full of both hits and misses.  The two-handed weapon system allows for a lot of depth while being mechanically intuitive- left trigger controls left hand, right trigger controls right hand.  This allows the devs to up the complexity a bit in order to add depth to the combat, because players will typically be able to understand it swiftly.  Outside of that, the different kinds of attacks that can be performed outside of weak attack/strong attack feel a bit shoehorned and are rather difficult for new players to pull off consistently, requiring you to kind of "flick" the joystick in a direction, like dashing in Smash bros, but infinitely more finicky.  Despite that, the combat still remains a highlight of Dark Souls in my mind, largely due to the depth as well as the variety in enemies.  I think the two-handed system had one mistake in implementation- you can't be left handed.  If you put a shield in your right hand and a weapon in your left, the shield is used to attack...  Handedness could actually be extremely relevant in a game like Dark Souls, since I find certain attacks start punishing you for favoring rolling in the same direction every time.  The dark side of the gameplay is entirely localized within the sequences of the game that play like a platformer.  Each area between bonfires is the "level", and when your goal is to get from point A to point B, you start developing a path through the "level" that factors in enemy placement, etc. and ends up being rewarding, but is also just... not good?  The platformer-esque sequences are by far the hardest part of Dark Souls and it's not because they're difficult, it's because they're full of bullcrap.  There's no way to go deeper into that without spoiling anything.

The boss battles were extremely varied, which itself is likely a good thing, but the boss fights were all extremely hit or miss.  Some of the fights were just intentionally diabolical and unfair, whereas some of them felt fair and, while challenging, not impossible.  Oh, and some of them were just easy :^).  If you are wondering what I mean by "fair" and "unfair", there were certain points while fighting bosses in which I would die and I simply couldn't tell how it was my fault or if there was any way for me to not die there.  In contrast, some fair fights left me feeling more confident I could win every time I died, because I knew exactly how to avoid the attack for the next time.  While a significant majority of boss battles simply rely on you hitting the boss anywhere enough times, a small handful of them feel like "organic Zelda bosses", which is how I am describing them right now, but I will go more into depth on that when I enable spoilers.

Overall, had I reviewed Dark Souls with my old grading system, it would surely get an average aggregate score, but certain facets of it, such as the visuals, the combat, the bosses, and the characters, would be home runs and the game would really be held back by its negative aspects, like the complexity/barrier of entry issue, the platforming, and story opacity.  Despite being an "average game", the things it does well are worth experiencing, and if you are even mildly interested in experiencing Dark Souls, I highly recommend picking it up for any price.


Pokemon S
The Joke Is That Things Are Missing

I spent the better half of a quarter hour (and that's a lot of words, so you know it was a long time) trying to come up with the perfect metaphor to explain Sword and Shield to the average gamer.  It's... not worth the time it takes.  Coming up with a metaphor that is, not the game itself, which absolutely has to be clarified.  Look out!  There's a runaway Segue!  The first thing I think should be pointed out is that Pokemon Sword and Shield are structured pretty neatly into three parts in Gyms 1-3, 4-7, and 8; sort of a three act play:

  • Part the First: In Which You Receive Your Starter and Embark on a Most Perilous Journey (Exposition)
  • Part the Second: In Which Hop Becomes a Floppy Pig Skin (Rising Action)
  • Part the Third: In Which Rose Becomes a Floppy Pig Skin (Climax, Conclusion)

When you point out this structure, it reframes the story in a way that focuses on characters and relationships, primarily Leon and Hop, Sonia and Leon, and Bede and Rose.  I'm glad I didn't jump to my computer to write a review immediately after completing the game, because A) the postgame changes the texture of the story in a relevant way, and B) giving me time to chew on the game and talk to others made me stop and think about the things that I was previously taking for granted.

During my playthrough, one of my loudest complaints was directed at the clear lack of a story.  And I don't mean to say there was no story, but rather that the kind of story I find compelling seemed to be happening to Sonia and Leon, not the protagonist.  Whenever Sonia did appear, nothing she even had to say was nearly as intriguing as I think it ought to have been.  Its presentation is almost that of a Mystery Dungeon story, where the character is presented with this strange concept about themselves that drives much of the early game story.  The presentation is there, but the depth isn't.  Naturally, my complaints were alleviated to an extent by the untimely appearance of dad bod Rose and the Rampaging Legendary.  My mistake was thinking that this was the story in play.  It wasn't.

Pokemon Sword and Shield's story is driven by the characters- Hop, Bede, Marnie, the gym leaders, Leon, Sonia...  There's a reason the game has no Elite Four- it's focusing on the characters that they've already presented.  With that in mind, there are still some criticisms.  First, the gym leaders have so little dialogue that without reading the League Cards they give you it's hard to know they have a personality at all.  The game's script, and to an ironic extent the focus on Gym Challenges themselves prevent the characters from interacting with the player in a way that gives them any sort of depth.  On the other hand, the script spends a remarkable amount of time devoted to Hop and the two new Gym Leaders.  Bede's initial portrayal is that of a stereotypical holier-than-thou rival who thinks you aren't worth his time.  Throughout the second act, the rising action, Bede as a character is given more depth when it becomes apparent that his hunt for the Wishing Stars was encouraged by Oleana, unbeknownst to Rose.  From Bede's perspective, then, Oleana destroyed any chance he had at achieving his dreams- Bede is an orphan, essentially raised by Rose.  He owes everything to Rose.  It's a surprising amount of depth dedicated to a character trope usually not invested in.  Bede's character arc is resolved by another parental figure replacing Rose, with Bede becoming the Fairy-type Gym Leader and allegedly mellowing out a bit.

To Hop, his entire world flips upside down after his loss to Bede.  To him, it's not about winning or losing- it's about his big brother's reputation.  His entire motivation in the first two acts is centered around the desire to uphold that reputation.  As soon as he fails to do so, he stops battling out of fear.  It's a relatable emotion and even situation that Hop experiences.  He starts grasping at straws trying to find footing, challenging you with all sorts of different gimmicks and team rosters in a haphazard style.  By the end, he realizes that it's better for him to stick to his guns and re-establishes his precious Wooloo (now Dubwool) as a cornerstone of his team.

Meanwhile, Sonia gets to have all the fun exploring the hero of Galar, The Darkest Day, and Dynamaxing, which all has potential as a storyline, but for some reason you're hardly involved in this parallel story.  Instead, Sonia's (and Leon's) path just intertwines with yours every so often.  Enough for her to give you some nugget of knowledge that kind of just seems self-explanatory.  It never feels like Sonia has anything important to say.  Near the end of the second act, when Leon and Sonia apparently become aware that Rose is attempting to harness Eternatus' power, you get turned aside to complete your Gym Challenge while Leon and Sonia handle it.  I think pretty much everyone would prefer helping them out to battling another gym.

Surprise!  Rose, the wealthy industrialist CEO of Corporation Incorporated is the villain!  His goal?  To avert the impending energy crisis about to hit Galar in a mere 1,000 years.  Currently, energy is nonrenewable, but I guess if you harvest a Pokemon's energy it's okay.  For the future, right?  This storyline has more ham than my mom's freezer after grocery day.  Watching everything spiral out of control during the second act while being told to continue on with your Gym Challenge was no doubt my least favorite part of the game.  Things Are Happening, and you aren't a part of it.  I don't think there's any point in griping about how mediocre all this is, because it's blatantly mediocre, and I was just happy it showed up.  I'm a kid like that.

Story problems aside, Galar's world-building is top notch.  The Gym Challenge is embedded in every fiber of the region, much like it is the story.  Taking several cues from the popularity of soccer in England, the Gym stadiums are modeled after soccer pitches (I know I always made a connection with the ring in the center as a kid), and during the opening ceremony and the Gym Leader battles, the stadiums are packed with a crowd that almost feels real- they even start chanting when the Gym Leader is down to their last Pokemon.  You could even argue that stressing this importance is the reasoning behind the player being forced to continue with the Gym Challenge rather than help investigate the Dynamax occurrences (...aside from the fact that you do exactly that as part of the postgame...).  Speaking of postgame, I feel that it would have served the game as a whole much better if it were to occur during the midgame that I felt was relatively dry.  Since the story is focusing on things around the player rather than the player themselves all you're really left with is a stint of gameplay that gets pretty repetitive- go to new town, fight Gym, battle Hop, go to new town, fight Gym, battle Hop, etc.  And to be fair to the Gyms, the missions inside are fun and impressive, without being frustrating or too difficult.

As well-built of a world Galar is, I would be remiss not to mention the Wild Area- a massive plot of land sprawling underneath the routes you travel on during your adventure.  To someone who finds appeal in the very act of obtaining Pokemon, the Wild Area, complete with its unpredictable weather, constant rare spawns, and of course max raid dens, is a paradise.  It also serves as quality postgame content- being able to challenge 5 star raids in the hopes of a Hidden Ability and stronger Pokemon to build a team and take on friends, strangers, and the Battle Tower alike.  The Wild Area successfully delivers on the concept of The World of Pokemon- simply having models appearing in the overworld is a wonder.

Where Sword and Shield are lacking, however, is the polish.  As great as the Wild Area is, performance issues such as frame drops and Pokemon AI acting strange are all too common.  While the game adds many more unique animations, some animations look strange in context, and there are some instances in battle where I think including an already-existing animation would overall make the moves look smoother.  Inteleon using Surf comes to mind- I think it would look a lot better if it were to play the enters-the-battlefield animation rather than simply hopping up over the wave.  A cutscene close to the endgame isn't even animated.  A weird motion-blur effect persists throughout the Wild Area, leaving everything fuzzy.  The Rotom Bike controls are awkward and feel too bound-by-realism.  A mouse can briefly be seen during the credits.  Even small issues like this will break immersion and leave a negative impact on the player.  The overall quality of the game suffers from what seems to be scheduling issues and a concentrated effort to find small optimizations and time-saves to keep the game's release on pace.

As far as gameplay is concerned, Pokemon of course utilizes 1-on-1 (or 2-on-2 in some instances) turn-based gameplay that I think keeps it more engaging than traditional RPGs.  You aren't cycling through each phase with so many combat options- it boils down the gameplay to its simplest concept and I appreciate that.  The gimmick mechanic of Dynamaxing is novel, but wears its welcome far too quickly.  It does present a notable challenge when each Gym Leader has their own Dynamax Pokemon, but having the mechanic available for any Pokemon makes it feel bland and uninteresting, even when limited to specific battles.  Traveling the overworld is far less cumbersome without random encounters along the way, and I found that catching wild Pokemon was a struggle due to them keeping up with my party's level, often needing to camp out when possible and sometimes even blacking out just because of how hard to catch some Pokemon were.  On the other hand, Trainer Pokemon were lower level than the wild Pokemon and just existed to keep my team above the level of the wild Pokemon.  The Gym Battles, too, were a notably lower level than my team, but still presented a challenge when I didn't have a clear type advantage.

Overall I still can't quite find the words to explain what Sword and Shield does.  They have a clearly idealized concept, and they executed on it well enough for the game to be... fine, I guess?  I specifically avoided making any direct comparisons to older games throughout this review.  It's hard to look at previous games that are so lauded and then come back and make comparisons to see that well-received concepts are eschewed in favor of something new.  I find myself coming back to previous games, even with their individual downfalls.  The final removal of HM moves doesn't sit well with me, despite the constant complaints of their existence.  It's cool that Game Freak is experimenting, and Sword and Shield, as an experiment, serve a purpose, but when people want more of the same, I think it's better to deliver on that expectation.  As a game it's completely middle of the road- it's not iconic or genre-defining in any way, but it's still a worthwhile purchase for most fans of the IP.  As a Pokemon entry, I can only hope it's just a way for Game Freak to test the waters for an upcoming release, but I fully expect that Game Freak just fails to deliver the magic of past entries that we grew up with.


Basically how I feel—storyline was lame fluff except for the really pretty great arcs for Hop and a Bede, and to some extent Marnie and Sonia. The story was really short, even though I took my time to explore everything and didn't rush. But I don't know if that's a huge deal.

The thing that's more infuriating was not being able to turn off the Exp. being distributed to all party members. I know that people like playing that way, and that's fine, but the only thing that made that new Exp. Share mechanic work was the option to not use it. Even doing my best not to grind or catch too many Pokémon (which I already shouldn't have to do), I was grossly overleveled by the end and 1HKO all of Leon's Pokémon, and even Hop's in the postgame final fight.

But hey, at least the new Pokémon are really cool and quirky for the most part. I'm not a big fan of the early/less memorable ones like the Rookidee, Yamper, and Nickit lines, but aside from that basically every new Pokémon was interesting, quirky, and extremely charming. I ended up swapping my team members LOADS of times just because I kept finding new ones I just HAD to put on my team.
Quote from: Tobbeh99 on April 21, 2016, 02:56:11 PM
Fuck logic, that shit is boring, lame and does not always support my opinions.


I actually blacked out to Leon my first try- his level spread was pretty comparable to mine.  I thought I caught a lot of pokemon but you must have caught even more if you were that overleveled.

With the new exp share system I'm wondering if they should really turn down the exp from catching Pokemon or even remove it altogether.  That way they can set a baseline of how muc exp is actually given out by trainers and how much people need to grind if they want levels to match.