Quarantine Catch-up

It has been a time, hasn’t it? This quarantine business seems to make for a great time to catch up on blogging and *gasp* maybe even start posting more regularly again. Up to this point, however, I have had to transition the course I’m teaching to online, play Animal Crossing: New Horizons and… well… I guess mainly just those two things. So I aim to follow through and use the coming weeks to produce more blogging content. I’m still mostly doing it to track thoughts about games I play, but I also just like doing it. Plus, I passed my dissertation prospectus defense recently and I might start using this as a place to work out some ideas (my dissertation is on Japanese video games as cultural products). I mean, I kind of do that when I write about the Japanese games I play anyway, but maybe I’ll post more explicitly analytical stuff.

As for this entry, it’s your run-of-the-mill catch-up blog. I’ve played more than what is listed here, but I am skipping my ongoing multiplayer adventures with Stardew Valley and Red Dead Redemption 2, and games that I have yet to play much of, like Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle. And though I have spent 115 hours in New Horizons since its release just twelve days ago, I am still entrenched in it so I will post a more thorough, standalone blog about it later. I feel I absolutely have to write this post now, because I picked up my copy of Persona 5 Royal yesterday, Resident Evil 3 comes out tomorrow, and Final Fantasy VII Remake lands in a week. I can’t imagine not wanting to dedicate a post to each of those, so let’s quickly cover some ground before I start down that path.

Yakuza 0

It seems a shame to quickly cover Yakuza 0, though, because I spent so long with it and loved it so much. I had originally planned on dedicating a chapter of my dissertation to both the Yakuza and Persona series, but to appease my committee, who thought my scope was a little too ambitious, I yanked Yakuza and am just going with Persona, since I have already played most of those games. Still, in the last year I’ve collected every mainline Yakuza game in preparation of studying them, so I decided to play them anyway. I chose them for study because they are set in modern Japan and have a reputation for being “very Japanese.”

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And “very Japanese” they are. Japanese games that are exported to the West have a history of downplaying or outright erasing cultural markers to make them more palatable for a global market, but recently that has changed. Yakuza 0 (and the rest of the games in the series, I presume) proves that, highlighting numerous staples of Japanese culture: karaoke, sushi, takoyaki, the yakuza itself, video games, English loanwords, fishing, and much, much more. So it makes for a valuable text in terms of games that reflect Japanese culture, but that’s not why I loved it. I probably don’t have the time or space to dedicate to everything I liked about it, in fact, because there is so. Much. To do. There are minigames for singing karaoke, hitting balls at the batting cages, bowling, racing cars, crane games, actual Sega arcade games, card games, dice games, dating, and more. Just when I felt hooked in the story, which is superbly written and impressively voice acted, I’d find myself trying a new minigame and spending hours on it.

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My favorite was managing the Sunshine Club as Majima. It seemed a little overwhelming at first, and I never would have expected to spend so much time on it, but I could not stop myself. I liked recruiting and training new ladies, managing customers in real time, facing each bizarre club owner, and the drama that unfolded at every step. There are also many simple moments I loved in the game. Like when you go to a telephone club to talk to and possibly meet a girl, and Kiryu, a stoic and seemingly Very Serious Dude, yanks the telephone receiver dramatically to answer before bringing it to his ear with an excited flourish and saying “moshi moshi.” Or the ways either character excitedly interjects and sings along when someone else is doing karaoke. Or Majima’s masterful manipulation of a rowdy customer in his introductory cutscene. There are lots of little things to love about this game. There are problems, too, like the use of queer/trans people as the butt of jokes, but that’s par for the course with many Japanese games, unfortunately, and it could have been worse, to be fair. In the end, I was pleasantly surprised by how much this game enraptured me.

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Luigi’s Mansion 3

I remember playing the original Luigi’s Mansion at a pre-release party for the GameCube and being so impressed with the graphics and physics on display. The newest entry in the series isn’t exactly breaking any ground in the graphics department, but there is enough style in the environments and creativity in how you use your ghost vacuum that it still stands out, in a way. It is a very cute game and not very challenging, so it made for a nice, relaxing experience. After that initial preview session of the first game, I never ended up buying it, so this was my first Luigi’s Mansion game and I can definitely see the appeal. As a fan of spooky stuff, even if it’s on the cute or silly side, I will probably go back and check out the last two games as well, at some point.

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Call of Duty Modern Warfare

I have always liked the single player Call of Duty campaigns. I mean, there are annoyances, like how the sound mixing always seems to be intentionally bad to simulate the noise and confusion of the battlefield, but overall the campaigns I’ve played have always been very slick and highly produced, making for a fun and exciting experience. That was the case with this remake of the first Modern Warfare, in spades. I confess to not remembering the first game’s plot all that well, but so much of this version seemed fresh and new. The controls were as tight as ever, but one of the things that really stood out was the gameplay variety from mission to mission. The developers have been mixing different mechanics in missions for a long time, but it felt more fluid and natural than ever in this game. Switching from ground combat to drone strikes, or support sniping to trap setting was quick and easy, which made so many of the missions feel varied and fast paced but not needlessly stressful. In previous games, there would be like two or three missions where I’d think “I want to play that again right now,” but in this game I felt that way after most missions. The game deals with some pretty bleak aspects of war, and although there is some fair criticism about gamifying warfare, I also think games like this can be effective rhetorical vehicles for provocative topics that are rarely experienced with much immersion. It can also be used to gloss over or misrepresent actions and events, of course, as this game does, but that didn’t affect my enjoyment of the stellar gameplay and level design.

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Ace Combat 5: The Unsung War

As much as I loved Ace Combat 04 way back in PS2 times, I bought and never played more than a couple of missions of its sequel, The Unsung War. I don’t remember why. It has many of the traits that made its predecessor so good, most notably its controls, so I can’t fathom why I didn’t dive in with every expectation that it would be great. My preorder of Ace Combat 7 came with a digital copy of this game for PS4, slightly more polished, and I finally decided to give it a shot. And, to the surprise of few (meaning, uh, me, I guess), I loved it. Granted, the graphics are rough, even with polish. The ground in particular is a blurred mess at the best of times. But the controls, story, and character interactions were about the same that I fell in love with in 04. The addition of a strong female character, Kei, was cool enough, but she is voiced by Karen Strassman, who also voiced Aigis in Persona 3, which made it even cooler. I loved her work with Aigis, so it was nice to have her as a wingmate on every flight.

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Creed: Rise to Glory

Maybe I’m breaking my own rule by writing about Creed, because I haven’t finished it yet, but I always feel compelled to write about VR games because my experiences with them are usually unique to the platform. Such was the case with Creed. The way the game is set up, after the initial story introduction you go through a training session that consists of several microgames (swinging your arms to run on a treadmill, punching a ball and dodging when it springs back, hitting precise points on a punching bag, etc.), then you go on to a fight if you score high enough in training. I completed three training sessions and three fights. While there is certainly something missing in games that simulate fighting (impact, for one), this was a pretty visceral experience. My brain wasn’t tricked into thinking it was real, but I did find myself ducking, weaving, and punching with more ferocity when I felt like I might be in trouble or at risk of getting knocked out. By the third fight I was, to be honest, pretty tired. Sweat was beading on my forehead. But I felt so good about winning the first two fights that I really wanted to try my luck on the third fighter, who actually looked really tough. And he was. I found myself blocking a lot more, only going for combos when it felt somewhat safe, and I still managed to almost get knocked down a few times. I knocked him down once but he was still coming at me with fierceness. I started to feel like I was going to lose. The sweat was more than beads now. I was getting demolished and I began feeling desperate. I finally caught him in a combo and he staggered. I reacted instinctively and quickly stepped toward him to unleash as many hard and fast punches as I could. There was no coffee table in between us in the ring, but there certainly was a coffee table in my living room, and despite it being a good two feet away when I started playing, I stepped into it – hard – when I pounced on my opponent. I won the fight, knocking him out, but I had a small gash and a large bruise in reality to show for it, not to mention sore arm and back muscles the next day.

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Focus on You

This VR experience was not quite as visceral. I hadn’t read much about Focus on You, but it was described as a dating simulator in VR, and I mistook it for being Japanese in origin so I thought it might be important to look at as an example of the popularity of dating games in Japan. The developers are Korean, though, so it was not a game I could use for my dissertation. Still, I won’t deny that I am a fan of dating games (although I haven’t quite gotten into the longer, more text-heavy dating “novel” games), so I tried it just for fun. It’s not a bad game, I don’t think, but it’s a very minimal experience. You court a single girl, in only a few encounters, and none of it was particularly compelling. I would love to see them continue working on the idea, and maybe eventually they or someone else could release more fully-featured dating sims, but overall it was pretty disappointing.

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Assassin’s Creed III Remastered

Speaking of disappointing – ooh, diss – I was confounded by how sloppy and buggy the remaster of Assassin’s Creed III was. After playing and loving my first AC game, Black Flag, I went back and played AC, AC II, Brotherhood, Revelations, and, later, Syndicate, Origins, and Odyssey. My affection for all of those games ranges from “really liked” to “loved,” so I’ve always had the remaining games on my to-play list, even though III and Unity both have reputations for being quite buggy and broken. Well, I thought, surely they must have ironed out the wrinkles and straightened the kinks in a high profile remaster. Nope. Very early in the game I encountered a bug where the scene transition music kept playing, drowning out all other music and sounds. I didn’t realize what was happening at first. I just thought they’d chosen very somber, ambient music for exploration. Then I entered a cutscene and I couldn’t hear what the characters were saying over the droning horns. When I looked it up on the internet, I found threads confirming that it was a bug… threads dating back to the release of the original game. This was a known bug that not only went unfixed in the original release, it went unfixed in the damned remaster. And that wasn’t the only one; it was just the first I ran into.

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Having said that, some of what I love about the AC games was present, though it was hard to go back to what now feels like rather clunky combat mechanics after playing the newer entries, and the enemies seemed abnormally dull. There is some interesting storytelling with American Indians, though, and I would love to someday do some research and write a paper about the various depictions of Native people in video games. I can’t say I didn’t have some fun with this game, but overall it’s very clearly my least favorite in the series.

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I don’t want to end on a down note, so I will briefly say that I am so excited for the very small window of gaming that we exist in at the moment. The world is in turmoil, yes, but Animal Crossing New Horizons, Persona 5 Royal, Resident Evil 3, and Final Fantasy VII Remake are among my very most anticipated games of the last few years, and they’re all coming out within three weeks of each other. New Horizons, P5R, and FF7 are sure to be massive, massive games, too, and if I play RE3 as many times as I did RE2, I have a very full, very exciting, and very nerdy couple of months ahead of me. Insert smiling nerd emoji here.

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