A Summer of Reflection

Welp, between finishing up a summer semester, spinning up two fall courses, keeping up with the podcast, and, well, life, I haven’t had as much time to write here. That little voice has been nagging at me, though. “Why haven’t you posted?” “If you wait too long, there will be too much to catch up on.” “You are a worthless human being.” “Remember that time in third grade when you were in library class and everyone was lined up against the walls for an activity and you felt sick but the library teacher wouldn’t let you go to the bathroom so you threw up in front of everyone and then the teacher yelled at you to go to the bathroom so you ran out of the room and were puking as you ran down the hallway, legs spread wide to avoid the vomit?” Okay, voice, I get it, I’ll write an update post.

The truth is, I’ve been replaying some not-so-old favorites, so I haven’t exactly felt the same kind of pull to document my thoughts. When I play a new game, I like to write about it to sort through and preserve my initial feelings about it. That was the primary reason for starting this blog, after all. Much of this summer has been spent with familiar friends. I replayed the entire trilogy in Mass Effect Legendary Edition, Final Fantasy VII Remake, I got the platinum trophy for Arcade Spirits and Doki Doki Literature Club Plus!, and I’m currently playing the new Quake remaster and Persona 5 Royal. Yes, again. Get off my case. I have played some new games, like Microsoft Flight Simulator and Mario Golf: Super Rush, but I’ve mostly felt empowered for the first time in a long time to go back and replay older games this summer. It probably sounds silly, to some extent. I can do what I want with my time and I’m not required to keep up with the latest releases due to my job, so what’s the big deal about replaying old games? Well, for me, it’s our old, dear friend: anxiety.

Everyone’s anxiety manifests itself in different ways, and it’s only been in these last couple of years that I’ve come to know my own. One of my manifestations is the need to move forward, always. I think grad school is partly to blame for this, with its insistence that you are always working, studying, being “productive.” Internally, I’d look at all the things I haven’t done and feel ill. How many books should I read to be considered an expert on something? How many movies have I not yet seen? How many video games? Checklists of things formed in my subconscious. If I checked a box, meaning I read, watched, or played something new, I felt a sense of accomplishment. I was making progress. I was growing, learning, being some form of “productive.” Conversely, the thought of revisiting something made me feel anxious. I would have an urge to rewatch a favorite movie and immediately squash it. It felt wasteful when there were so many movies I hadn’t seen yet. The same for games, so for the first time in a long time I was actually keeping up with new releases, not out of a desire to be “in the conversation,” but to check those sweet, sweet, internal boxes.

Something changed this summer, though, and it makes me hopeful that all of the work I’ve put into addressing my issues with anxiety is paying off. When Mass Effect Legendary Edition was announced, I was as excited as anyone. But I worried that I would buy it at release, then just not touch it for months. When my friends said that they, too, were planning on playing it at launch, I had more of a reason to force myself to play it. I was happily surprised, then, that I felt no stress or anxiety when I booted it up. Just the rosy glow of nostalgia. Playing through the recently released Final Fantasy VII Remake Intergrade should have been even more likely to cause me stress, because I just played through that game last year. Nope. I played through the story again, plus the new content, and I never felt rushed or guilty. And so the summer went. I feel ready for the new flood of games coming this fall, but I’m glad I spent my summer revisiting old favorites. I don’t have time to write about my time with these games in-depth, but here are some “brief” little tidbits.

Microsoft Flight Simulator

I finally have a game for my Xbox Series X! When I saw the trailer for this game at E3 2019, I was so excited by the idea of being able to fly anywhere in the world, which is rendered in its entirety using Microsoft’s Bing Maps and Azure AI. That idea, that I could fly over places both foreign and familiar, was too cool to pass up. I didn’t have a PC that could handle it, but when it was announced for the Xbox Series X, I knew I had to have it. And I do. And it’s great. Well, the tutorial could use some work. They walk you through a series of simple tasks to familiarize you with flight controls, navigation, takeoff and landing, and more. But this is a complex game, and they sometimes just leave steps out. So I would be in the middle of a tutorial, following every step they walked me through, then a prompt would pop up like “flip the clapback switch before throwing it back” and I’m like “uh, the what switch? Did we cover that? Where is it?” I eventually got the basics down, enough to fly pretty well with some of the game’s assists on.

And that’s how I like to play the game. I tried flying without any assists and almost immediately got an alarm about mixed fuel, which we never covered in the tutorial. I was like nope, no thanks, I’m okay with using assists. That first flight was exhilarating, though. I wasn’t sure how I’d fare on my own for the first time, so I charted a flight path that departed from and returned to an airport in eastern Australia. I took off, cruised north along the coast, looked out at the beautiful city and scenery, and returned for landing. It was a simple thing, but also thrilling. It reminded me of the first time I flew in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. It was the first big, open-world game I’d played where you could find a plane, hop in, take off, and land somewhere else, all with no loading screens. I found a crop duster, got up to speed on a dirt airstrip, and took off. The plane wobbled so much and I was sure I’d crash it, but I got it under control, flew to a nearby beach, and landed safely. There is something about that experience that really hits me. It somehow feels more “real” than so many other video game experiences. It did then, and it does now, in Microsoft Flight Simulator.

I’ve logged a little over 100 hours so far, mostly spent visiting places I’ve lived or places I want to go. I took off from Maxwell Air Force Base, where I was stationed for most of my time in the Air Force, I visited Chicago and looked for my first high school, flew over the places I’d visited on my road trip to the West Coast, skimmed the naval base in Bahrain, and more. My second flight was from a grass field less than two miles from my house to a small airport in Storm Lake, Iowa, where my friend just moved to. The buildings, roads, and other land features aren’t perfectly rendered, but they’re mostly recognizable. I could very easily make out the buildings I worked in at Maxwell AFB but my house and the courthouse I currently live behind are virtually non-existent, for example. Still, I am really digging the ability to visit places like Japan, England, Africa, and more, especially because I have no idea when I’ll get to do so in reality. I look forward to many more hours in the sky with this one.

Mario Golf: Super Rush

I was so excited for Mario Golf: Super Rush. Like Microsoft Flight Simulator, I was surprised by how hyped I was when it was announced earlier this year. It had been a while since I’d played a Mario Golf game, and I recently got back into Everybody’s Golf, which is so much fun. Ultimately, I’m pretty disappointed by it. To be fair, it’s not like I’ve played a ton of it yet. I’ve played through the tutorial, the first story match, and a few solo courses. I can see how this game might be fun with friends, but it’s not super satisfying to play solo (yet, anyway). My biggest complaint is how the game feels, which is subjective, of course. After having played so much of Everybody’s Golf, which has the exact perfect mix or realism and silly, cartoon fantasy for me, I don’t care for how intangible the ball and courses feel in Super Rush. When I hit a ball in EG, it looks, sounds, and feels like I hit a ball. The ball has depth and travels in a way that feels real. I look like a dopey, cartoon-y version of myself, and there is a big, silly mountain shaped like a man’s head in the far background, but the gameplay feels real enough to be satisfying.

When I hit a ball in Super Rush, it feels like I tapped a button and a flat, white dot is moving over a flat, colorful facsimile of a course. The ball doesn’t feel like it has weight or depth, so it ends up feeling like I’m playing one of those old school golf games on the NES or various handheld systems. I’m not looking for ultra realism here. I didn’t go into this expecting Tiger Woods: Mushroom Kingdom Edition. But when I look at how good the production values were for something like Mario Kart 8, I can’t help but want other Mario games to at least attempt that same level of polish and depth. I wanted a Mario Golf game with tons of fun characters and courses. The courses that I’ve played have mostly been uninspiring. The opening course in particular is dull and confusing. It’s supposed to be a beginner course, but why not have it be a Mushroom Kingdom course? And why are all the holes so tightly woven together? For the “Super Rush” mode? The Mario games have so, so many amazing levels that you could use for a golf game, but we see so little of that same inspired design here. I don’t mean to sound so negative, and I do still plan to continue giving this game a shot (maybe if I play with friends I’ll have a better time), but this was the first time I’d picked up my Switch in a while so the sting of disappointment was a little harsher than it might have been otherwise.

Fortnite

Speaking of disappointing, my friend Tab and I were very excited to attend the much-hyped Ariana Grande concert in Fortnite, but we walked away confused and a little underwhelmed. Neither of us would call ourselves Ariana Grande fans, but we’d heard so much hype about the Travis Scott Fortnite concert that we wanted to check out what seemed widely considered to be a true spectacle. It also gave me a chance to wear one of the [too many] awesome skins that I’ve bought over the last two years and have never touched. I chose my homegirl, Chun-Li.

The “concert” seemed like a recorded medley of music that played to pre-rendered/animated scenes with a large Ariana Grande moving through various colorful backgrounds. I guess I should have had my expectations in check, but I was expecting something like, oh I dunno, a concert? Not a music video. Still, the visuals were pretty cool and seeing a gigantic Ariana Grande stomping around was kind of fun. After a certain point, we were zapped back into the main map and weren’t sure if the concert was over. We were able to fly around and go through rings to collect points… but that was it. There was no indication of what was happening or whether or not the concert was over, and eventually we were just kicked from the server. It was a confusing and abrupt end to a dazzling but underwhelming “performance.” But, hey. I got to be Chun-Li and fly through a bunch of pink clouds and rainbows. I wouldn’t call it a complete waste of time.

Doki Doki Literature Club Plus!

I’ve written about Doki Doki Literature Club! in previous posts, and I’ll repeat what I’ve already said once again: If you haven’t played this game, it’s free on Steam so I encourage you to give it a shot. It defies expectations and challenges convention, so it’s best to go into it without any knowledge about the plot, themes, etc., which is why I’m always hesitant to talk about it in almost any capacity, regardless of overt spoilers. I will avoid those kinds of spoilers here, but if you have any shred of interest in a unique game that is made to surprise and provoke serious thought, don’t read anything else on it and just check it out.

Alright, preamble aside, I have not been shy about my love for this game, so when Dan Salvato tweeted that a deluxe, expanded edition of the game was coming to consoles, I pre-ordered a physical copy immediately. I paid for the pack of art and music that was released alongside the free Steam version of the core game back in the day, so I’ve already supported the dev team in that way, but this is the kind of game I want on my shelf. The cover art is beautiful, and I can’t wait to see the pack-in content (I played the digital version and am waiting for the physical edition to release). I won’t say much about the core game other than it was very fun to play through the game and get the platinum trophy in beautiful HD. The thing I want to comment on is some the new content that comes with this version of the game. The reveal announcement said there were “six side stories” that expand on each character’s personality and relationships more, but I think they undersold this content. What you get is more than “side stories” – you get a pretty thorough origin story for the club and every character. It’s hours of content, and it presents an expansive, substantial foundation for the core game. The core game still stand on its own just fine, but if you really want a full sense of these characters and the setting your character is walking into at the beginning of the core game, this added content is indispensable. I love this game even more now.

Final Fantasy VII Remake Intergrade

As with DDLC+!, I bought the PS5 version of Final Fantasy VII Remake Intergrade in part to play the new content, but also to experience a game I already love on my shinier, newer console. Playing through the core game with my old save file and stats was a breeze and allowed me to enjoy the story and enhanced graphics without having to worry about grinding or seeking out weapons/materia. I nabbed a few more trophies, like the one where you get Cloud, Tifa, and Aerith to each wear three different dresses during the Wall Market section of the game and the one where you defeat Bahamut and obtain his materia. Let me tell you, summoning a Bahamut later in the game, fighting some of the final bosses, was rad. And, of course, I spent more quality time with my number one FFVII bae, Jessie.

As for the new content, with Yuffie, I had a really good time with it. It wasn’t as impactful for me as the core game, of course, but I found the combo-based combat to be a lot easier and more enjoyable than I’d expected it to be. Yuffie was a very fun, cute, lovable character, and I thought her seemingly carefree attitude provided a ton of levity to the ending, which offered a look at the core game’s final moments from a different perspective. Somehow it felt even more heartbreaking from Yuffie’s point of view. I also liked some of the new characters introduced, the expanded look at characters from the core game, and I was very excited by the post-game scenes showing the main group from the core game leaving the city and traveling through the desert. It made the next installment feel so close, even if it is potentially still very far from release.

One Night Stand

One Night Stand is a short visual novel that puts you in the proverbial shoes of a man who has woken up in a stranger’s bed with no recollection of the night before. Through exploring the environment and talking to the bed’s owner, a young woman, you have to piece together the events of the previous evening and your relationship with this stranger. You can only choose to explore so many things each run (so, you might only get to investigate two of the eight or so items in her bedroom while she’s making you tea, then the story progresses), which means there are several paths through the game and multiple endings. These multiple paths aside, the main thing that distinguishes this game is its art style, which appears hand-drawn and rotoscoped. The game didn’t fully click with me, but I enjoyed it enough to play through all of the endings which didn’t take very long. There is some clever writing and a few funny bits, but I think the art style was, in part, why I didn’t get into it fully. Still, it was a pretty decent way to spend a few hours.

Arcade Spirits

I spent more than a few hours with the console release of Arcade Spirits, however. As with DDLC+!, I first played this game on PC and I loved the colorful cast of characters and fun retro game-themed storyline. It’s a silly, flirty game that doesn’t take itself too seriously, and it was much lengthier than I’d expected. So, of course, when it released on consoles at the beginning of the summer, I yoinked it right from the PlayStation Store and decided to get the platinum trophy for it. This meant a considerable amount of replaying, but it allowed me to explore relationships with everyone. While I have yet to play a dating sim (or game with dating sim elements, like the Persona games) that really and truly makes the dating/relationship more of a focus than the story, Arcade Spirits comes closer than most. In Persona 5, for example, your relationship with your chosen partner is a very, very minor plot point that’s only explored in a few short scenes. In AS, scenes with your partner are written with a seriousness that gives a lot of weight to your decisions, and they feel more substantial.

I’d like more, of course, but I appreciate how deeply they allow you to explore these characters, regardless. Without spoiling too much, there is a character that’s struggling with gender identity issues, and I’d never have known that without dating them. The game is a fun, relatively “light” romp, but it does touch on some interesting social issues like gender and sexuality. I love the art style and character design, though I do hope there are more options in terms of main character appearance in the sequel. I appreciate that they allow you to make a character to vaguely fit any gender, but it winds up making every MC looks similar and not very much like the player. If I can name the character after myself and make choices about how I look, I want a character that looks more or less like me, and that’s not possible in this first game. That small quibble aside, I was more than happy to play this game multiple times through and spend more time with the crew at Quarter Up (the name I gave my arcade). I can’t wait for Arcade Spirits: The New Challengers, coming next year!

Sakura Succubus

I picked this game up in a PSN sale which, I have to say, have gotten so much better over the years – they went from the occasional 30% off discount to regular 30-70%+ discounts of games of all types, much like Steam sales. I’m here for it. I’m also here for the kinds of cheap, pervy dating sims that are also, like a good flash sale, making their way from Steam to PlayStation and other consoles. Having said that, this game was just alright. It wasn’t especially pervy and the writing was pretty terrible. I give developers a lot of credit, because by all accounts making any game is a long, difficult process. But writers have long been excluded from game making because, in part, everyone thinks they can write. You just come up with ideas and write them out, right? Why pay someone else to do that for you? Because, as we’ve seen throughout most of video game history, writing interesting, funny, rich, sexy, cool, etc. characters and compelling stories is not easy.

And, yes, maybe the player isn’t drawn to a game like this because of the story or characters. Maybe they just want to do some puzzles or, as is the case here, see some anime tiddies. And that’s fine. But why make your game less than when it could be more? You can have both. You can satisfy the tiddie lovers and players who appreciate a decent, charming, playful story. The writing in this game is bad on a story and sentence level, and it made me wish I had the opportunity to write games. I am a defender of smut, and I won’t say I didn’t enjoy this game at all, but I guess I just wish people took even smut more seriously. When we give into the narrative that sex-related media is “just smut,” it keeps sex and sexuality in the shadows, something that we should be ashamed of. To this day, games with sex in them are often scrutinized more closely and criticized for being exploitative (which, granted, some are) and “pervy,” which even relatively reasonable people don’t want to associate with. And, yes, that’s their problem, to some extent, but I guess I just want sex to continue to be destigmatized, and I think one way we can do that is by treating it as more than just something to pump out (pun not intended) for people to use to pump out (there it is) to. That’s not even a real phrase but it felt right. How did I get up on this soapbox for a dumb game about anime tiddies? Sorry! I’ll move along.

Quake Remastered

I haven’t played much of the newly released remaster of Quake on the PS5, but one of the first things I found in the game was the nail gun and a box of nails. Right there, in front of my eyes, was the Nine Inch Nails logo. I was more excited than I should have been, and a wave of nostalgia flowed through me. You see, my friend Ron and I are big NIN fans, and back in the day we went on a wild goose chase for a copy of Quake 64 because we’d read that NIN had not only done the game’s soundtrack, their logo also appeared on the nail gun weapon and its ammo boxes. This was sometime between the release of Quake II for the N64 and Quake III, I think. Neither of us had a PC capable of running Quake, so we set out on a number of mall and game store adventures over the course of days or maybe weeks (I can’t quite remember and time is a funny, mysterious thing now). We finally found a used copy of it and were so excited to rush home and hear those sweet, dark tunes and see the clever nod to the band logo.

We raced home, popped it in the N64, and… were not completely blown away by the music. Maybe it’s the N64’s poor sound quality, we thought. Or maybe Trent Reznor just kind of phoned it in? Then we found the nail gun and there was no NIN logo. M-maybe it’s just on the ammo boxes, we reasoned, starting to lose hope. We found an ammo box and there was no logo. We were kind of crushed. It was, as Ron pointed out on a recent podcast episode where we talk about popular music in games, our first encounter with the complicated mess that licensing things like music across multiple platforms can be. I still enjoyed what we played of Quake 64 then, and I went on to love Quake II and Quake III Arena, but I never went back and played the PC version of the game. That’s why, on entering a secret area and gazing upon the NIN-branded box of nails for my trusty nail gun in this PS5 version, I smiled and remembered the fun but ultimately disappointing adventure Ron and I shared. I’ve only played a few levels so far, but the gunplay is simple, smooth and fast, much like…

Back 4 Blood (Beta)

…the gunplay in the Back 4 Blood demo, which I played a ton of with Ron and Tab over these last few weeks. Okay, so it’s a different kind of “simple” than an old school FPS game, but I was pleasantly surprised by how unobtrusive the card system I’d heard so much about was. When I heard that this game was a spiritual successor to Left 4 Dead, made by the actual dev team, I was very excited. When I read that it had a card system, my excitement was immediately buffered by caution. Card systems just aren’t my thing, so I worried that this new system would interfere with the fast-paced, frenetic gameplay I loved in the original games. My worries were pretty much unfounded. If you want to play this game and never worry about the cards, you can. The cards add bonuses, but their implementation can be as simple or complex as you want it to be. You can ignore them and just play, you can just pick cards that have obviously attractive perks (like +5 health or 20% ammo capacity), or you can go through and build a deck with a specific role in mind and coordinate with teammates to fit different play styles. You can build a deck that puts healing perks early so you can be the team healer, you can make a different deck that prioritizes ammo and support perks so you can play backup for a healer and heavy hitters, etc. Or you can all just build whatever decks fit your playstyle and not worry about roles. I found it more than unobtrusive – it turned out to be pretty cool.

We played through the available campaign act several times, and other than a few small complaints (AI is dumb and kind of glitchy, the shared currency system could be better explained, etc.), I had a blast. The zombie (I’m sorry, “Ridden” *massive eye roll emoji*) hordes aren’t quite as massive and intense as those I remember in L4D, and some of the special zombies aren’t quite as memorable, but the gameplay remains just as satisfying as it was in the previous games. Fighting our way through crowds of undead to find ourselves in a house where we know we’re going to draw a horde, setting traps and strategizing the best way to account for the many directions they might pour in, and then losing our shit when it all starts to fall apart… classic. I can’t wait to play more in October.

Persona 5 Royal

I mean, if you’ve kept up with my blog in any way, you might be sick of hearing about Persona 5. I loved that game and the many Persona games I played after it so, so much, and I’ve made no secret of that. I beat the original P5 three times, and though I only beat Royal once, I did get the platinum trophy for it. So why revisit such a massive, time-consuming game? Well, part of it has to do with the preamble for this post – I had played several of these old, favorite games over the summer so I felt like I could actually play through P5R without the kind of guilt and anxiety that would normally come with replaying a huge game like this. So, you might call it a test. A test that I passed, I would say, because I just maxed my characters out at level 99 and am about to enter the endgame for the base game’s story, and I’ve enjoyed every second.

The only difference with this playthrough is that I’m romancing Makoto. I’ve dated Ann, Kawakami, Futaba, and Kasumi, so Makoto was next on my list. I did realize at one point that I’m going through a whole heck of a lot just to date one character, but I don’t mind it. I love this game. I did make a save before my first opportunity to romance a character, though, and am planning on a run in the future where I romance everyone. I know I’ll get yelled for it later in the game, but I don’t know that I’ll have time to play through the game five more times to individually romance the remaining ladies. Anyway, I’ll shut up about this game (for now) because I’ve yapped on and on about it elsewhere, but I’m once again very happy to be spending time in Tokyo with all of my fictional, virtual friends.

Mass Effect Legendary Edition

I will also keep my discussion of Mass Effect Legendary Edition short, because I recorded a four and a half hour podcast episode about it with my friend Paul. Four and a half hours, I said! It was a beast of an episode, but we walked through each game and talked about ways in which this experience was different than our first playthrough of the trilogy (at launch), who we romanced, favorite characters, the DLC, and much, much more. To be honest, I’m a bit ME-chatted out for now, but aside from linking you to the episode in case you want to hear me and Paul blather on for hours about it, I will share just a few thoughts and more than a few screenshots.

Let’s start with the biggie: romance. Tali is my girl, and in my first playthrough of the trilogy I pursued her without hesitation. I’m sure I’ll write a Gaming Crushes post on her at some point, so I won’t go into all the reasons I think she’s great here, but I will say I was so sad in the first game when she wasn’t a romance option. So, I went with the only other real choice in that game: Liara. I did the same in my Legendary Edition playthrough, because I still couldn’t bring myself to date the openly xenophobic space racist, Ashley. I wanted to change things up this time through, but I couldn’t bring myself to not date Tali in Mass Effect 2. I was a bit of a slut, though. Before I dated Tali, I hooked up with both Kelly Chambers and Liara, because you can do so without entering a relationship with them. I don’t find anything wrong with that, though, so if you try and slut shame me I will quickly remind you that I am a cool dude who is currently talking about sleeping with fake women. Take that.

The third game is where things get interesting, though. I slightly regretted not shaking things up and dating someone new in ME2, so I was determined to find a new bae in ME3. I began, as always, strengthening my relationships with everyone and flirting here and there, when I was interested in someone. Who might I go for this time? Miranda really redeemed herself and went through a transformation of character and conscience between ME2 and ME3, so maybe her? Kasumi is amazing and I loved her right away, due in no small part to having not played her DLC back when I first played ME2. Diana Allers was modelled on and voice by the very attractive Jessica Chobot, so maybe her? Or my old fling Kelly? As it turns out, many of those options (and more) were locked out for me. I’d forgotten that you couldn’t romance characters from ME2 in 3 unless you’d also romanced them in the previous game. I was able to hook up with Diana, but it wasn’t a serious romance. So my options, near the end of the game, were limited. Look, I dated the space racist, okay? Don’t judge me! I’d heard that she improves after the first game, and… well, that’s technically true, I guess, because she’s no longer overtly racist. But she never has a moment where she’s like “man, I was an idiot back in the day, aliens are actually pretty cool,” so I ended up feeling like I was trapped in a loveless relationship of my own design. She would embrace me and playfully slap my chest armor, saying some flirty thing, and I would just stare soullessly into the distance, wondering what might have been if I’d just dated Miranda from the start in ME2. Sigh.

Anyway, I did really enjoy some of the DLC that I didn’t partake in back in the day. The Leviathan DLC was amazing. I loved the image of the huge, Reaper-like Leviathans rising from the deep. I was disappointed that we didn’t see them show up later, smashing headlong into Reaper ships, but they were cool nonetheless. I did, however, literally shout in glee seeing the scene where the thresher maw queen took down the Reaper. I’d forgotten about that scene, but it was one of my favorites in this playthrough. Anytime you turn a long-hated and strong enemy against a new and stronger enemy is gold to me. I also loved the Citadel DLC, and having the opportunity to party with all of my space besties before what would potentially be a true suicide mission was amazing. The writing in much of the DLC was also superb. Lastly, and briefly, I’ll just say that I did feel differently about the ending of ME3 this time around. I had felt resigned to no more Mass Effect games when 3 first dropped, so although the definitiveness of the ending made me sad, I accepted it with little trouble. This time, knowing what was to come with Andromeda and the upcoming ME game trailer, I was a little more irked by how rushed it felt. I chose the Synthesis ending back in the day, because it felt like it was the “right” ending, but I didn’t like that every being would lose its individuality. I chose the “good” Destruction ending this time, because it was the only ending where Earth, the Normandy, and (most importantly) Shepard survive. I felt very close to my character and friends this time (probably from playing the games back-to-back), so I really wanted the ending where the most people survived. But I sacrificed EDI (my love, who I would have 100% romanced if I could have), Legion, and all of the Geth who I’d fought so hard to save from a war with the Quarians. Ugh. It was very annoying.

So, ultimately, I had a wonderful time revisiting these games, and if you’d like to hear me get into far more detail, check out the podcast episode linked above. We get really, really in the weeds, and I still feel like we could have said much, much more. I’ll try and be better about writing more frequently, but I am currently working on my dissertation, too, which is going to take up massive amounts of time in the coming months. So, until next time, here’s more Mass Effect Legendary Edition screenshots.

Spring Cleaning 2021

I just wrapped up the spring semester last week, and as usual, it was a bit hectic. I’d planned on keeping up with these posts, especially because I’ve recently played some games that I had lots of thoughts about, but ‘twas not to be. So, given that two of my most anticipated games of the year are coming out this week and next (Resident Evil Village and Mass Effect Legendary Edition), I figured I’d do a spring cleaning, as it were, and just jot down some brief thoughts about the many games I’ve played since my last post. These aren’t even all of the games, actually. I’ve continued to play Ghost of Tsushima and Minecraft with friends, I played a bunch of VR games with my family, and I’m finishing up a platinum trophy run of Arcade Spirits on PS5 since I picked it up on sale and was itching to replay it anyway. It’s been fun seeing the other romance options, but Naomi is still #1 bae. I just read that the sequel, Arcade Spirits: The New Challengers is coming out early next year, so my hype for that will slowly be rising. Anyway, let me stop jabbering and get to… more jabbering.

Life is Strange 2

When I saw the trailer for Life is Strange: True Colors in March, I was reminded that I’d never gotten around to the second game in the series. I played and loved both the first game and Before the Storm, and I’d purchased LiS 2 in a sale, but I just never played it. Given that I’m writing this, I think you can guess that I ended up giving it a shot. Wouldn’t that be the worst twist? Write out a whole prelude about how I’ve been meaning to play each of these games and then just move on. No, no. I did play it, and I mostly really liked it. It follows the same formula of the previous two games, including having your character keep a journal. Where Max was big on snapping photos in the first game, our new protagonist, Sean, will find a quiet place to sit and sketch his surroundings, which you do several times throughout the game. You also collect little trinkets and sometimes if you investigate something in the environment while you’re exploring, Sean will write about it or add a little sketch to the journal. I love these kinds of charming details in these games. It goes a long way in developing these characters and complicating the story that is more directly told via dialogue and cutscenes.

There was a lot I liked about the game, but my main complaint has to do with just how much of a bummer the story was. I wouldn’t hold that against it in an objective review. Some of my favorite stories are tragedies. I think the game says some serious and important things about timely issues, like racism, the US justice system, homelessness and more. And I think it handles those issues pretty well. But, I tell you what, it makes for a depressing ride. The narrative structure is what I’ve come to call “tiered tragedy.” I don’t know if that’s a real phrase, but I couldn’t get it out of my head as I was playing it. The other games in the series might also be called tiered tragedies, as would something like The Walking Dead. In these kinds of narratives, our characters never seem to catch a break. There is a tragedy at the very beginning of the story (a popular girl goes missing, a father is killed, a zombie apocalypse), and our characters are ushered from one tragedy to the next, seemingly endlessly. They can never really catch a break, because any time they find some time to rest or begin to rebuild their lives, the narrative structure demands that they encounter a new tragedy, probably worse than the others. In LiS 2, this meant that no matter how hard I tried to make Sean a good brother, an honest survivor, a heroic figure, I seemingly just kept being punished for it. And, like I said, I wouldn’t say that this makes it a bad game. It just left me feeling kind of defeated in the end. There is no “happy” ending, as I verified by looking them up after I finished the game and got a pretty sad ending. Turns out it was one of the better ones. There is definitely a place for stories like this in games, though, and that sense of hopelessness may very well have been a part of the point of the game. These characters, Sean and Daniel, are not only burdened with being Hispanic during a time in the US when a violent, vocal minority despises them, they’re further  marked by this new tragedy that makes them orphans, criminals, and transients. What kind of life do they have ahead of them, even with the “happiest” of endings? But, again, maybe that’s part of the point. It’s hard to succeed and overcome tragedy when the system fails you again and again.

Fallout: New Vegas

Fallout: New Vegas was another game I’d been meaning to play for quite some time. “Some time” being, uh, just over a decade. Jesus. When “newer” games on your backlog are ten years old, you know with some certainty that you’re getting old. Sigh. Anyway, I absolutely loved Fallout 3 when it came out, and I spent many an hour scouring that game’s fictional Washington DC/Virginia wasteland. I collected every bobblehead, did every single mission I could find, and squeezed every ounce I could out of the story and world. So, playing New Vegas seemed like a no-brainer. I was a little worried that it was being developed by Obsidian, which by that time I’d only known as the developer of the very good but very buggy Knights of the Old Republic II, so when the reviews for New Vegas started coming out and reviewers complained about the many bugs, I grew even more worried. I hated the idea that I might encounter a game breaking bug 20 hours in. My friend, Ron, did play it at launch, and he reported that he encountered something very much like that. So I put the idea aside and told myself I’d come back to it after it was patched. And I did! Plus… an extra decade.

Anyway, let’s get to the game already. Like Fallout 3, this was a huge game, and I spent a lot of time with it. I didn’t quite exhaust every side mission and collect every snow globe, but it was pretty close. I started playing on my old PS3, but I ran into some technical issues with it so I switched over to playing it via PlayStation Now on my PS5, and near the end of the game I was plagued by some very annoying hitching. Between that and the encroaching release of Resident Evil Village, I sort of rushed through the final stretch of the game. When I started, though, I was at first a little put off by the graphics. Well, not the graphics. The movement. The game seemed very dark, and there was a certain amount of motion blur that made me feel… odd. I’d never run into that in a game before. I turned the brightness up and decided to press on, and I’m glad I did. As soon as I began doing quests for the townsfolk in the opening area, I could sense that same magic that I’d loved about Fallout 3. Roaming the desert, helping friendly strangers, sticking it to the scum that would take advantage of the less fortunate, stumbling upon stories and relics from people that died long ago in the war or shortly after.

This game, more than the other two I’ve played, really plays up the concept of factions and their conflicting motivations. There were so many factions, major, minor, and even medium, and I truly had a difficult time choosing how to deal with some of them. I supported the NCR from the beginning, but I found myself trying to be at least somewhat diplomatic with the other factions so that they wouldn’t stand in my way at the final battle with Caesar’s Legion. Sometimes that meant actually helping them out, and sometimes that meant killing or ousting the current leadership and inserting someone who was easier to influence. It was much more complicated than I expected, but I appreciated it. The final battle could have been a little more engaging, but overall I loved this game, as I could have guessed I would. Oh, and for my primary companion, I went with Veronica as much as I could. Who doesn’t want Felicia Day following them around, punching heads off and quipping wise? As for my second companion, I switched pretty regularly between ED-E and Rex, a very good boi.

Emily is Away ❤

I was looking forward to this game from the minute Kyle Seeley, its developer, announced it. I loved the first two games in the series, Emily is Away and Emily is Away Too, in part because of how they tapped so directly into my nostalgia by taking place entirely in AOL Instant Messenger chat windows. The third game takes place in a fictional version of Facebook (Facenook) in 2008. Setting aside, the game’s narrative plays out just as the previous two did, via a series of chats with other characters. I named my character after myself, selected the pixelated profile picture that looked most like me (which wasn’t very close at all – I’d love future installments to allow actual character creation, but given that one dude makes these, I doubt it will happen), and jumped in, ready to find love… I hoped.

I don’t want to spoil much of the story, but I will say that I liked the writing a lot. The interactions seem very real and believable, and there were so many scenarios that seem ripped straight from my early years on social media. It’s what these games are really good at. They simulate memories that I’d nearly forgotten all about. There is something exciting and visceral about flirting with these virtual characters, in part because they stimulate real feelings I once had doing that exact thing. Unfortunately, as with the other two games, warm and fuzzy flirtation isn’t the only mood the game simulates. As I said, I won’t spoil anything, but there are several endings, and after my first playthrough I was bawling. I was hurt, and it felt a little too real. Just as with the happy emotions, I was all too familiar with the sad feelings of distrust, inadequacy, rejection, and abandonment.  I felt like I’d done everything right, and yet things just didn’t turn out my way. And that was the most painful part, I think, because that’s the kind of thing that goes through your head when a real relationship falls apart. In both cases, I was left looking back and wondering what I did wrong. Maybe if I’d done this different or said that another way… but that kind of thinking, as it is in real life, changes nothing. You have to move on. So I did. My second playthrough ended much, much better. Fuck Emily. Evelyn 4 ever. That should be the next game’s title.

Peggle 2

I don’t have much to say about Peggle 2. I played and loved the first game, and this entry is more of the same. The concept seems so simple, but there is a surprising amount of skill involved. Yes, you basically just launch a ball into a screen of pegs and hope for the best. But once you start getting the hang of it, you begin to see better and better ways to aim your ball, resulting in awesome chain reactions that result in those oh-so-satisfying endings that the series is known for. The new Peggle Masters are just as cute and charming as the first game’s, with Luna being my clear favorite. So spooky and cute. These games are old and I decided to play this one for the first time on a whim, but I do wish PopCap had churned out a couple more over the years.

Tender

Tender is an iOS game that simulates the dating app Tinder. You eventually learn that you are a human that’s travelled to an alien planet in search of… love? Maybe? You swipe through a variety of quirky, hand-drawn aliens, each with a short bio. These profiles aren’t as expansive as real dating profiles, but you see some familiar lines and attitudes. If you match with someone, you chat with them in much the same way as you do in Emily is Away. You choose between 2-3 dialogue options, and then tap your phone to pretend to type it out. If your conversation sparks interest, the other person (?) proposes a date, which you schedule in real time, meaning you have to actually pick up your phone and virtually meet the person at the time and date that you selected. If you forget, they understandably get pissed. It’s a very cool and interesting concept, and there is lots of cool and unique artwork in the game, but ultimately I walked away feeling underwhelmed. Part of the reason for this was that, of the eight or nine characters I chatted with, none of them went particularly well. What’s worse is, apparently the game asks for the name of your real life ex at some point (which I had forgotten and had to be reminded of by Tab, the friend who recommended the game) and it introduces them as one of the characters you can swipe on and romance. Not realizing this, I thought the name was a coincidence and swiped right on her. I then had to virtually chat and romance (and, ultimately, try and fail to reject) my ex. Not cool, man.

Layers of Fear

I love horror movies and games, but something the two share is that there are plenty of crappy releases of each. I don’t think it’s a bad thing, because there are some people who voraciously consume any and all horror, regardless of quality, and more power to them. I just don’t have the time to check everything out, and some of the bad stuff is, like, annoyingly bad. So, I was I hesitant to try Layers of Fear until I heard Brittney Brombacher recommend it on the What’s Good Games podcast. I’ve listened to that podcast enough to know that Brittney’s tastes pretty closely align with mine, so I figured I would give this game a shot.

While it does have the hallmarks of B level horror (less-than-stellar voice acting, cheap scares, weak writing), it also plays around with environment and expectations in some cool ways. I really like when horror games mess with perspective, perception, and other visual components. It’s why I loved Eternal Darkness on the GameCube so much, and why I’ve wanted them to make a sequel. LoF starts out as a pretty standard spooky-mansion game, then devolves more and more into an exploration of nightmare imagery. While I did appreciate the mind-bending visual puzzles, I was also a little sad that the story was told in an unsatisfying way, seemingly in service of the visual spooks. Where the story ended felt very different than where it began, so I almost wonder if they had given us more chances to revisit the mansion in its original state, knowing what we know later in the game, if the story’s conclusion would have felt more grounded. Maybe none of this makes sense if you haven’t played the game, but I’m trying to avoid spoilers, since this game is a mystery, too.

Sakura Succubus

I was tipped off to this game by that same friend, Ron, from the famed New Vegas blurb (above). “Play it and tell me how it is,” he said. Fine. I’ll play the erotic hentai game. For you. For friendship. Okay, so maybe it’s for friendship and maybe it’s because I’ve played a few other sexy-type games. Either way, I played it and was mostly disappointed. It’s rated M, but it’s hardly all that scandalous. It’s suggestive, at best, and despite the game’s tagline of “There’s no shortage of women to woo!”, there are only three. Three women to woo. If that’s not a shortage, it’s gotta be pretty close. I mean, granted I am single, so three women is a surplus to me, but in terms of a fantasy dating sim/visual novel, I’d count three as a shortage.

I didn’t hate this game, because it did have a few funny lines and some of the art was pretty decent. But that’s about all I can say about it. The reason I tend to avoid many visual novels is that they rely almost exclusively on two things: writing and art. There are rarely any gameplay systems or puzzles or even very much in the way of animation. They’re mostly static images and text, so if those elements aren’t interesting, impressive, or engaging, I get bored very quickly. This is where my main issue with this game lies. It has an interesting enough premise, and some of the static images are cool, but there isn’t very much variety in terms of different character poses, expressions, or minor graphical variations, and the writing is pretty bad. I don’t always like to criticize writing in games, because it’s historically been less than impressive to begin with, but the writing in this game contains the kinds of things they tell you not to do in writing classes and workshops. You’ll click through a scene, then the next scene begins with your character waking up and walking you through what you just did. Like “My memory’s a little hazy, but I remember talking with that sexy lady at the bar, and I followed her back to her place where she seduced me, and then I…” We just did that! Why do me need a recap! There is also a lot of unnecessarily elevated adjective work. It’s one of those things they try and break in novice writers. If you mean “face,” you should probably just say “face.” Put the thesaurus down. No one calls it a “visage” anymore. I’ll end on a positive note and say that this was the easiest platinum trophy I’ve ever gotten, though. I literally just clicked through a story for a couple of hours and *badoop* Platinum Trophy Unlocked.

Resident Evil Extravaganza (Resident Evil 0, Resident Evil Code: Veronica, Resident Evil 4, Resident Evil Village Demos)

In a previous post, I mentioned that I’ve recently felt like I could revisit old games without feeling like I was wasting my time (thanks, anxiety). Because of that, I decided to go back and finally, finally finish Resident Evil 0, the only mainline game in the series I haven’t finished. I’d started it twice and never got past the first or second boss, respectively. I think part of it was that I wasn’t a fan of switching characters frequently or the new inventory system, so for this run I decided to use a guide and lower the difficulty to easy. I probably could have just stuck with normal because it ended up being very easy with the guide, but I was able to blaze through the game and I’m glad I finally played it.

One of the things that really struck me about this entry was just how gorgeous it is. I played the HD remaster, sure, but the graphics were only scaled for HD, not reproduced. The move to fully 3D environments in Resident Evil 4, which came out right around the same time as this game, meant a sacrifice of highly detailed, pre-rendered backgrounds for more free mobility and camera movement. It was a good choice, to be sure, but there is something very cool about such an old game looking so good. At the time of those games’ release, gamers were pretty insistent on games being fully 3D, gorgeous, and highly realistic. Tides have changed since then, though, and I wonder if Capcom could get away with releasing an old school, pre-rendered-style ­Resident Evil game. Not a mainline entry, because people would probably lose their shit, but a throw-back side story. These screenshots don’t really do the game justice, but the lighting, shadows, and particle effects were especially impressive. The little leech eggs looked so gross and gelatinous and cool! A weird thing to get excited about, maybe, but you weren’t there. You had to see them in all of their jiggly, glistening glory.

Beauty aside, I did end up liking this one. It, like RE4, is where the series really starts getting into some of the batshit melodrama that would climax in RE6, but it also had a lot of fun stuff from the original games, like shuffling zombies, zombie dogs, big, creepy mansions, and more. Plus, it stars Rebecca Chambers, who I was always hoping to see more of after her brief appearance in the original game. She isn’t always given the same love as the other series mainstays, but I really hope she turns up again soon. Maybe Chris really will turn into a werewolf in Village, as Capcom has been teasing (probably misleading), and then he’ll attack Ethan and we’ll be like “no way!” but then right before he chomps his face, a huge syringe will plunge into his shoulder, and the camera will cut over to Rebecca, who will tilt her glasses down and say “who’s the Alpha now?” Because, you see, she was STARS Bravo Team, and Chris was STARS Alpha team… never mind, let me move on.

After having such a good time with 0, I had a hankering to play Resident Evil 4, even though I’ve played through it several times on both the GameCube and the Wii. It was… uglier than I remember, heh. Where 0’s HD makeover highlighted the benefits of static backgrounds (more processing power available to render the 3D models and other things), RE4’s makeover made some things look better (character models), but some things remained very muddy (environmental textures). It was still great fun, though. I remembered, as I was playing, how exciting and different this entry felt when I first played it. I was also reminded of how Capcom ran with some of the more action-oriented aspects of the game with RE5 and RE6, though. Some of the shooting and the action was fine, but what I liked about RE4 was less those elements and more exploring a spooky village and then an elaborate, deadly castle. Sound familiar? As long as there aren’t too many roundhouse kicks in Village, I’m hoping it takes the best elements of RE4 and RE7.

Deciding to stick with my Resident Evil kick, I chose to play through Resident Evil – Code: Veronica X, since I barely remembered it after playing it a little on a friend’s Dreamcast, and then all the way through when it first came out on the PlayStation 2. I remember thinking it was okay but not great back in the day, but I’ve since seen so much love from some corners of the RE fandom that I was convinced I must have been missing something. I mean, I like Claire a lot, so it is cool that she has (mostly) her own game, but after replaying it now I think my feelings are about the same. I began to get annoyed at having to backtrack in the last half of the game, especially with the annoying moths, who would not only poison me, but also force me to stop and endure the injection animation. This game did introduce semi-fully 3D environments, though. Partially-3D, I guess? So it was visually impressive for its time, but it didn’t have the brand-new excitement of the very different RE4, and it also didn’t retain the same retro-feeling magic of RE0. Plus, there are some very overt issues with gender, which was a little cringey. So, this is certainly on the lower end of my list of Resident Evil games, but I wouldn’t say I didn’t like it. It had enough REzzy charm for me.

And, of course, I have been playing the Resident Evil Village demos as they’ve been made available. I didn’t make it through the Village demo the first time I played it, even though I was trying to be pretty efficient and not linger too much on gawking over the beautiful environment. I made it through the Castle demo a time and a half on my first run, though, but much of that showed up in the MAIDEN demo so it wasn’t quite as exciting. With the 60 minute demo of both sections, I was able to make it through all of both areas. I’m sure I’ll have plenty more to say later, after I’ve played the actual game (out tomorrow!), so I’ll just leave you with some of the screenshots I took of the demos. I’ll be playing Village all weekend, so get ready for a big ol’ post about that soon, too!

I was obsessed with this corner. Look at how the light lands differently on the cloth of the curtain, the wood from the wall, and the metal of the gun. *heart eyes emoji*
More *heart eyes emoji*
Is this a Deftones album cover?