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[Review] Star Wars: Episode VII

I guess I should say that I’m going to be doing a fair bit of spoiling here. But I don’t know what’ll get shown in the “previews” in various places, twitter, facebook, what have you. So what we’ll do is I’m going to talk about some other things first and THEN move into my thoughts. I don’t like going to movie theatres. They are just the most awful experience for me. This isn’t entirely on other people but it does spawn from their actions. I’ve mentioned this before but I just can’t not hear other people talking. When I’m in the mall and walking around I’m hearing just about every conversation going by. If I’m at work I’m getting bombarded by every inane conversation going down around me. Whether or not I “keep” the conversation running in my mind is another thing. Sometimes I decide that it’s boring and try to tune it out, but I usually fail. This is why I love headphones, they let me work. I don’t know how many other people have this issue but I can’t believe anyone gets anything done in an office environment. It’s just awful.

So in a movie theatre I’ve got one goal. I want to fall into the film. Once I start watching a movie I basically disembody. My attention is not so much focused on the film as it is within the film. Whenever a noise perks up it throws my body spatially back to where I’m sitting and it’s a bit like being in a car accident (I’ve been in a few). I’m started and annoyed, and naturally it’s never anything of value. If I am to truly enjoy a film I need silence. It’s one thing to laugh at funny parts, to gasp at scary or sad parts, or anything else like that. I’m not a robot, I think, I react to those moments too. They also take me out of the film momentarily, generally with a wrench to my heart or some other kind of punch depending.

When I can’t do this, when I can’t fall into the film, it’s miserable for me. Every minute that passes I get angrier, and angrier. Each person that talks becomes the newest source of my ire and I end up liking them less and less as a human being. In all the films I’ve gone to see with Liz I can’t recall a single thing ever being said by any person that added to the movie. It’s always something that could have waited until after. Each time it ruins the scene. Millions of dollars go into making these scenes have punch, to be funny, emotional, scary, what have you. They have people working long hours and under stressful conditions to make it all “work”. Then strangers basically shit all over it because they can’t keep their mouths shut for a couple hours.

For me Star Wars 7 was basically ruined as far as the above is concerned. I wanted to go see it and be immersed and I had to sit through people talking through every quiet scene. Exclaiming things that didn’t need exclaiming or just straight up ruining the tension by talking about what would be happening. It’s sad too because I feel like it tainted my opinion of the movie as a whole. I wonder how I’d feel about it had I gotten my time. I really wish movies were available at home on release. I just can’t deal with theatres anymore. I pay a lot of money to basically have strangers shit in my lap. That’s not my thing, I know some people like it, but I’m not a fan.

Now that I’ve ranted a bit I’ll talk about my feelings on the movie. I guess we’ll start with how it sounds and work backwards towards the plot. The sound design is astoundingly good. Whenever the movie was loud enough to drown out the people around me I could really taste the excellence. All of the music was excellent. Throughout the entire film I was thinking “I’d listen to this soundtrack anytime.” Actors wise everyone had delightful voices, I’m not saying that’s part of “sound design” per say, but it is easy to make a film bad by having one too many Bobcat Goldthwait’s in it. All the aliens were great, all the people were great, and all the SFX were great. Every blaster sound was crisp and sexy and every ship sound was awesome. This movie tickles my ears.

Visually the movie is stunning. That’s kind of a given these days I guess. But everything looks awesome. The blasters are cool, the locations are cool, and the…well…the cool is cool. The Starkiller base was awesome and I found myself instantly attached to it. “This is cool! This is like the most ominous thing I’ve ever seen!” When that ship destroyed the Republic after charging its weapon from a god damned sun I was like “Oh shit. I think I’m sold.”

That love was short lived. The pacing was off the chain and not in a good way. If they showed you something it was destroyed seemingly moments later. Beautiful Thai inspired structures housing lots of neat new aliens? Done. Five entire planets? Here and gone in almost the same minute. A planet converted into the raddest damn weapon ever in cinema (that I’m aware of)? Here and gone before it even gets to fire a second time. I’m surprised the Falcon even survived a scene. It seemed like they were dead set to just race to the end of the movie with no regard for anything along the way.

This was a bummer for me because the movie sort of treats you like a passenger. You, along with Fin and Rey, are basically fans of Star Wars that are being introduced to the world at large. You don’t belong here. As is made abundantly clear with both of them (and the audience…in my experience) losing their minds each time a keyword from the original series is prodded. Oh my word! THE Han Solo?! THE Millennium Falcon?! THE Luke Skywalker?! THE Darth Vader?! C-3PO! HOLY SHIT IS THAT R2-D2?!

You are all wondering this brave new galaxy, visitors who want to basically absorb everything around you. This beautiful world that reminds you of a better time. But each time you get settled into a location it is obliterated utterly. I can only hope that this pacing won’t carry into the 8th and 9th films because it’ll be a tough pill to swallow. I don’t think I’d be able to marathon 3 films that move along at such a breakneck pace.

The acting though is pretty damn good throughout. Fin is wonderful and I’m kinda sad someone like him hasn’t been in all the movies. Rey is cool. Once they got over the “I’m a strong independent woman that don’t need no man.” thing they did in the beginning I liked her. I’m not saying that’s a bad message to send people, but the way they presented it was a bit uncomfortable. You’ve got Fin, someone whose been abused and controlled all his life, scared and alone meeting the first person who has ever shown him any level of interest. The first person who has ever treated him like another person. Of course he’d be clingy! This isn’t about the patriarchy, these are the actions of someone broken. Once they stopped the whole “Look the man is trying to save her but she’s the strong one.” and moved onto teamwork and both of them growing as characters I was much happier. I worried the entire film was going to be about Fin being awkward and her being grumpy at anything with a Y Chromosome.

I was more disappointed with the arrival of Han Solo. I don’t think a single person on this Earth expected him to survive this movie. It really felt like he was introduced for no better reason than to kill him. I’ll explain in a few paragraphs (if that far) what I’d have preferred they done but ultimately its over now. Because it was so glaringly predictable it lost a lot of the punch that could have been achieved. It’s like seeing a horror film where one person is a famous actor and everyone else is a nobody. You won’t be surprised when other characters die, they are only there to die.

Up until he dies his acting is spot on though. Harrison Ford is a wonderful actor. I don’t know if he’s a nice guy or anything but his acting abilities have never disappointed me. He just comes across as a really fun, really neat person.

Carrie Fisher did a great job as Leia again. Her position at the head of the rebel army seems real fitting. I’ll be honest, even with people tearing me away from the movie she was able to nearly get me wet in the eyes at least once. I really felt like she was heartbroken with her son. Kylo Ren is pretty much fine with me. Adam Driver does a fine job as the villain, again, in a moment I’ll talk about how I wish they handled him, but ultimately he’s just fine. When he stopped that blaster shot in the beginning I was like…holy shit. This is the raddest thing I’ve seen (this is before the Star Killer base, naturally). His lightsaber is cool to me and it really does show he’s learned from his ancestors. His grandfather lost his hand (and…well most everything else), then his uncle lost his hand. He’s not interested in getting his hand sliced off.

The fight scenes were real good! Now that I’m thinking about it. Rey versus Kylo was a delight for me. As was the shorter fight between Kylo and Fin. And lest we forget the Fin versus Fwip Stormtrooper. “TRAITOR!” That guy, whoever that was, pretty cool!

Anyways. Let’s talk about what I wish had been different and then close out with my concluding thoughts on the movie.

Firstly, when Kylo stops that blaster shot in the beginning I was floored. That was just so cool. But I think it would have been pretty great to show us just how ruthless the First Order are. When they bring the guy up who shot the blaster they should have walked him up to the blaster shot and slowly pressed him against it to get information. Then, when he doesn’t crack, they walk him off with them (as they did) and then the blast continues onwards and hits the fountain like it did in the original. This would have been really tense and fairly clever.

The next thing is the Starkiller base. This was a profoundly interesting set piece and a genius idea. If the planet the rebels are on was destroyed their organization would be relegated to the stars. A mobile enemy is far more dangerous than one that is grounded. Additionally this would mean the star the Starkiller base is around would be depleted (as it was drained to a dark husk, somehow, in the film). So the base would need to move. This provides you with a really cool impetus for the second film. Especially if we find out that the rebel base that IS hit is not the main one. Perhaps via bad information or maybe the rebels knew they’d be followed. So basically, we keep thinking the rebel base is going to be obliterated in this movie and then after the blast is fired the rebels watch a far off planet explode.

In either case, that would have been fun for me. Really tugging people along and not giving them a hint to what was coming until after the big moment has concluded.

Nextly, Han Solo and Kylo Ren. What would have been really clever here is to make everyone think that Han Solo is going to die (as we all did anyways) and make it really seem like he will. Then we get to that “will they, won’t they” moment. We hear the lightsaber flash on, maybe Chewie screams or something. Fires at Kylo who jumps back revealing he turned on the saber in Han’s hands. Han holds onto the saber, the burning blade from it mere inches from his heart. He looks up to his son and realizes that he teeters on the edge of light and darkness (much like Luke, or Darth before him). Another blaster shot from Chewie, Kylo tugs the saber from Han’s hands and slashes the blaster shot out of the sky. It explodes blinding him for a moment. When he regains his vision Han has backed out with Chewie.

Enraged by his failure, Kylo goes after Rey and Fin, just as he had before. But instead of having a tough time fighting because of his injury, he has a tough time because he is furious with himself. Furious at his weakness. It clouds his vision and hinders his control of the force. Ultimately this weakness is what leads to him losing to Rey. He sees this as a sign that he must kill his father, that his decision not to is what lead to his facial injury.

Additionally this startles the audience because EVERYONE thought Han would die! If he didn’t see it as a sign to kill his father it could be a great turning point for him in Episode 8. During an altercation of some sort he accidentally wounds his father. Holding him in his hands, just as Luke had Darth, but instead of this being the moment of his father’s salvation, it becomes his damnation. Turning him to the dark side, truly.

That’s all I remember from the film that bothered me, not much really. And nothing I said above is “better” objectively. It’s just things that would have been better for me. My experience at the movie theatre was bad, arguably terrible. But my current feelings is that the movie was good. I feel like a movie feeling good, when my time watching the movie is terrible, suggests that the movie was otherwise great. It’s not the best film I’ve ever seen, and I don’t think it’s the best star wars ever made (since its basically a retread of Episode 4), but it is leaps and bounds better than the 1st prequel film.

The action was solid, the actors were solid, the plot was solid. Everything about it felt impassioned and almost no scene was plagued with data. Lucas had a big problem with thinking “more == better” when really too much data leads to a difficulty parsing out the noise. Before you know it you aren’t sure who to be listening to, who to be watching, or even why you are trying. It feels disrespectful to the viewer. All the remasters of the original films came across to me as a direct insult to anyone they were marketed to. Suggesting that we couldn’t handle the more reserved original releases or that we need things to constantly be in our face to remain focused.

The prequels pushed this further. Everything felt loud and childish, obnoxious and rude. This movie was loud and boisterous when it needed to be and quiet and contemplative when it needed to be. The pacing was still too fast but I never found myself insulted by the movie. It wanted me to have fun, and it was a fun film. I’m going to give it a great but it’ll be sorta limited to the time between now and when I get to “really” see it on digital release. Once I can watch it without people invading my space or my mind I’ll know for sure.

By | 2015-12-28T22:27:51+00:00 December 26th, 2015|Great Things, Reviews|Comments Off on [Review] Star Wars: Episode VII

My Top 12 Games of 2015: #01 Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt

I’m sure this surprises nobody. Loving this game is almost a cliche, but much like most well loved things there is a good reason behind it. Over the years there have been few gaming certainties for me. Nintendo generally will provide me with good games, Blizzard will entertain me with fun stories, and CD Projekt Red will release a game that is better than I expected a game could be. I’m not a cynical man, I actually enter into most things with what I call Optimistic Realism. Basically I expect nothing but not less than nothing. This means that generally speaking I walk into experiences happy.

This game started out strong for me. I’ve always appreciated the non-American aesthetic of these games. A lot of American companies, or companies marketing in America, are strongly hindered by what is acceptable here. What is left with usually feels forced if it is anything but a feel good romp. As if the authors were tip toeing around an army of glass humans. The Witcher series doesn’t do this which is something that I appreciate deeply. The joys and ills of humanity are on full display in their games. Sometimes awful things happen to people who don’t deserve it. Sometimes wonderful things happen to awful people. You’d be hard pressed to find too many games, serious or no, that actually reference the horrors of war. Rape, pillaging, torture. I’m told that Spec Ops: The Line is up there, a game that just kinda tears away at your hope. I’ve not yet played it sadly.

When I play a Witcher game I genuinely don’t know what will happen to anyone. There is no limit to the tragedy and because of it I find myself genuinely worried about them. Apparently this is what makes Game of Thrones so popular (I’m just getting into GOT, so again, guesswork). It also helps that CDPR have some astoundingly good writers. Witcher 1 was fun for me, Witcher 2 was amazing, and Witcher 3 just destroyed me. Every single character I meet, every single quest I take, it all feels alive and genuine. These characters are deep. They have problems, joys, sorrows, problems and victories. Every journey I take with them feels thoughtful and powerful. The content here is rich and varied.

Visually the Witcher 3 is stunning. One of the best looking games I’ve ever played. At max settings it does hit the upper limit of what my PC can handle but turning them down just a tiny bit and it runs at a silky smooth 60 FPS. This is actually kinda important to me because the combat is pretty fluid. If the framerate chops the next thing that’ll be chopping is your head when a monster bowls over you. I tend to choose the hardest difficulty mode in games when I play them, this was no exception. But it means that you really really need to be paying attention. Parrying is vital, dodging is vital, and understanding when to do which is genuinely the difference between life and death.

You can fight things many many times your own level in this game and survive if you have the patience and the skill. That’s a great feeling. But it also means that sometimes I try really hard to do things far far too early. That’s alright though, Witcher 3 gives me the ability to destroy myself and I appreciate that. I’ve already mentioned that I love the story, and now we’ve talked about how the combat is slick. What next?

Well the crafting and side options of course?! The crafting in this game is great. It’s not very complicated but it is more like a “character upgrade” system than a crafting system. You make potions once and then have them for the rest of your playtime. You have a limited number of uses per “rest” period but still. Because of this I look at crafting a bit like completing a checklist and that’s always cool to me.

Crafting equipment is pretty simple (made simpler with the new checklist system where), you can favorite an item and in shops it’ll highlight the stuff you need. Similarly it gives you a good readout of what the items do so that you can compare them with what you’ve got. Also, personally, I’ve yet to find an outfit that didn’t look awesome. The weapons are also a breath of fresh air. Witcher 3 has a fair number of weapons to collect or create.

Once you’ve set aside the awesome quests, the great visuals, and the neat equipment what are you left with? Damn good music and sound design. Everything in this game is crisp and sexy. They put a lot of effort into making the game engrossing and, at times, literally entrancing. I find myself inside of my monitor while I play. My mind taken away to some magic foreign land. Albeit this is a land I’d never, ever, ever, want to visit, but I’m there regardless.

Even outside of the game the company never ceases to amaze me. They had a bunch of free DLC, only to be followed with one of the best DLC offerings I’ve seen in years (which’ll likely get shown up by the one following it). I even bought their Gwent Physical Cards and those are top quality! It’s like this company is incapable of abusing my trust or releasing shit. I’m not complaining, obviously. I do hope that CD Projekt red continues on into the future and I’ll be there to snap up anything they make. They’ve made my year and shown me that it isn’t unreasonable to expect greatness for a reasonable price.

This is an RPG on the scale of anything I’ve ever played before, perhaps larger than anything I’ve played prior (in the genre of RPG) and it never stops being astounding to me. The inventory management system was, at last glance, not the greatest but it has gotten better. Other than that trifling complaint I can genuinely come to you with nothing but praise for the Witcher 3. It made me a happy fella and I’m likely to be playing it again when you are reading this.

By | 2015-12-24T17:42:48+00:00 December 24th, 2015|Great Things, Reviews|Comments Off on My Top 12 Games of 2015: #01 Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt

My Top 12 Games of 2015: #02 Cities: Skylines

While this is was #5 on my list it is probably my favorite city builder ever created. I might as well say it is. I can’t think of any other game that allows me to be the mayor of a city this vast, with persistent people, and just a general feeling of wonder in the machinations of man. Even before you start modding this game it is the strongest city builder I’ve ever played. As EA slowly dissolved any quality remaining in Maxis I began to scratch at every possible alternative that came about. Each time hoping for some depth but finding my nails finding the base just beneath a thin coat of paint. It wasn’t until EA released the last SimCity that my heart was truly broken. It felt like the last nail in the coffin, there would never be another game that captured my imagination like Sim City 2000. And then, like a bolt from the blue, Cities: Skylines arrived. It was so sneaky that I barely knew anything about it.

They didn’t have monumental marketing budgets or crafty YouTube videos giving me the false idea that their game would give me the world. And prior to this game I hadn’t really been a huge fan of Paradox. I didn’t hate them but most of their games just kinda were. I’d play them, like them, and move on. But this, holy shit people. I don’t even know where to begin. The first wild news is that this was made in Unity. This is a level of quality that I can’t even expect from proprietary engines. It isn’t until you get to a 25 square sized city that you start finding the upper limits that the engine can handle.

And frankly, even a single square appears to dwarf what SimCity could accomplish. It was remarkable to see this game so soon after EA/Maxis had said “What we’ve done is literally the peak of city building. Games must be this small because PCs can’t handle it.” Well here I am, many mods later, with a city that doesn’t unload anyone from the streets until they reach their destination. No matter how large I build it my computer seems just fine. I can follow Jim Starling from his small home in the suburbs to his job as a chicken sexer at the local farm. That is, Jim determines the sex of chickens, he doesn’t sex with them. At least not since the jail time.

I don’t have their latest expansion but I hear good things about it. The day/night cycle was added to the base game and when night time hits the city looks like some kind of christmas miracle. Glowing lights filling out the pitch darkness of a cloudless night. You can take the camera at some pretty dynamic angles and see a city you’ve build from all sorts of new angles. Each one giving you an appreciation for what you’ve done and the magnitude of your influence. I feel grander in this game than I ever did scouring the hollow galaxy of SPORE.

You can even attach your camera to a person and follow them through their life. A slow commute, perhaps a hearse collecting folks who underestimated the veracity of the “tummy buster” burger at the local Binges Burgers. This game is similar to Fallout in that it allows for incredible levels of control for modders. But I would argue that on a quality level it is far beyond that of an open heart demo. This is a complete experience crafted by a team that I genuinely believe cares. They didn’t produce a product, they made a game. A top notch, high quality experience that will stand the test of time.

Honestly I originally had this at #5 but the more I wrote about it the more I realized that this is easily #2 on my list. There is only one title this year that hit me harder than Cities. And there is only a day left to find out what it is! This was most certainly a treat and I do hope that soon a few copies of this will be ending up under the tree for folks all over.

By | 2015-12-23T18:43:00+00:00 December 23rd, 2015|Great Things, Reviews|Comments Off on My Top 12 Games of 2015: #02 Cities: Skylines

My Top 12 Games of 2015: #03 Metal Gear Solid 5

This was almost my Game of the Year. You might be wondering how it ended up then at #3. It’s time for a short story I suppose. I’ve got a Platinum on this game, played it absolutely to death. But the last half of my experience was desperately lacking compared to the first half. I’m about to go real deep into spoiler land, so run away now. I’m serious. This is me giving you time to run. Your eyes are going to want to keep reading but you really shouldn’t. Unless you want to, then I’m fine with you being here. Consent is important. Still reading? Alright, here we go. This ain’t no Apple TOS, I’m giving you a chance to backout before I start opening up with Windows every damn time you update me. Alrighty. So in Metal Gear Solid 5 you are introduced to a character named Quiet. You might not be aware of this but I’m one of those folks that liked her character. I’m not going to defend it because I don’t think it is something that needs defending. I expressed previously why I thought the criticisms were weird (since folks were chill with a guy breaking the laws of physics and a kid flying around) but ultimately people who hate are going to hate. It’s part of their DNA and I can’t (and won’t) deprive them of the easy endorphin rush.

My problem with Quiet was her absolutely awful conclusion. First you are given the worst mission in the entire game. It’s a horde mode with you against a bunch of tanks. It is fucking awful. There are 0 redeeming qualities for this mission. This mission is the worst thing to ever happen to MGSV. I actually really liked the regular ending, so I’m not in the camp of people who were angry with it. When I finished that “real” ending I felt like I had played my GOTY. If only barely, but then I got to this POS. It ruined me. The problem with bad final experiences is that they taint your memories of the whole adventure, at least that’s the case with me. And then, after finishing this awful mission (which took me an hour or so of retries), Quiet is given a really contrived POS sequence of events that lead to her “leaving”. It makes no goddamn sense. I could go on and on about why it was awful, but generally speaking, much like people who hate Quiet, those that like the mission won’t care what I say. So we’ll just leave it at me hating it. I then spent the next couple of days 100%ng the rest of the game. But I did it without Quiet.

I legit like her. I think her character was fun story wise (minus the ending), I liked her functionally, and all the in between therein. I don’t have sexual hangups so for me there was never an issue. We were a team and together we were death incarnate. The game got absolutely no harder without her, it just got less fun. And worse I knew that on PC I could have modded her back in. Recently they patched a way to get her back into the console version. But for me it always felt like an oversight. As if they forgot to put in that feature to begin with. So I spent the rest of my time playing with her lullaby playing in the helicopter. That way whenever it came to back me up, or save me with an extraction, I’d hear her on the way in. Kinda sappy I know, but all the missions we had gone on had really gotten me attached to having her on my team.

And no, the “Phantom Pain” of her leaving is not really a funny joke and it’s not a clever observation. Had her exit from my game not been full of plot issues and actually felt meaningful I might have felt like it was worth it. As it stood it felt like they removed a game mechanic by accident and nobody in QA noticed.

Anyways, now that that is out of the way. Let’s talk about all the things I liked about this game. Firstly the introduction to this game is stellar. I literally got ill when I first played the game. It might have been coincidental food poisoning but holy shit did the introduction hit me hard. I actually played Ground Zeroes straight into this (same day), having not played GZ at all before that. So exploding uterus bomb really hit me hard. I was like “Jeebus, what happened to me being a badass who never fails! I’m failing! Help me baby jesus!”

The next thing I noticed, after the initial stomach punch of an introduction was just how gorgeous this game is. Aesthetically and graphically it’s just one long pant tightening experience. The Fox Engine is truly a thing to behold. I was never not amazed by the game. It felt fluid, cinematic in the real sense (not that shit that people try to pass as cinematic in marketing releases), and kept me thoroughly engaged. I wasn’t just playing this game I was >living it<. I can vividly remember the smell of military fatigues and they kept coming back to me each time I’d play this game.

I liked all but one of the missions. Even those that had me repeating certain levels but with limitations were cool. Redoing missions for sub goals was cool for me too. I loved trying to figure out how to accomplish things and I almost never needed to look at a guide (the collector’s guide for this was excellent btw, highly recommended even if only to read and plop on a shelf).

It saddens me that this game didn’t get the time and funding necessary to be “Complete”. What I experienced was on the precipice of being almost life changing for me. The way this engine handled so much at once reminded me a lot of my first time playing GTA 3. Just being in awe that a console could handle so much. To think that a world could be “this big”. It was all too much for me and I adored it.

I loved those moments when the story started to come together and even little things you thought were meaningless from earlier ended up being meaningful. For me the actual phantom pains came from the story itself. The ways that conclusions didn’t really have the punch you hoped for. How the war itself ultimately lead to lives being lost without any real victory. Even at your most powerful you still felt weak.

Knowing this was the last proper Metal Gear was something of a bittersweet experience for me. I know that Kojima wanted to do other things but I’ll always have fond memories of this series. For him it might have been another job he didn’t want to spend his whole life doing but for me it was a journey that I wanted to travel along forever. MGS was a bit like a family companion. You get them knowing that someday they’ll be gone and it’ll break your heart. But you tell yourself the journey will be enough to compensate for the inevitable heartache. But like I said earlier, that bitter ending always taints the former memories for me. Only with time do things mellow.

MGS V is excellent to me. I feel like a better person for having played it. I know some people hate it with a passion, but for me it was an experience I’ll probably never forget.

By | 2015-12-22T22:00:53+00:00 December 22nd, 2015|Great Things, Reviews|Comments Off on My Top 12 Games of 2015: #03 Metal Gear Solid 5

My Top 12 Games of 2015: #04 Xenoblade Chronicles X

This one will be the roughest of my reviews because it is one of the more recent titles I’ve been playing (I think the newest on this list) but I’m pretty confident in where I’ve put it. It becomes increasingly complicated because I don’t have my video capture device hooked up to the Wii U yet. This means we won’t have any lovely pictures today! How droll. Ah well, such is life. I’m not sure where this review will go, so we’ll just wing it and see what happens.

First off, this game is not perfect. There are some things about it that I find borderline infuriating. Let’s talk about these things. The first is that the music is loud as fuck. It’s always running at 1000%. I’ve never played a game that had its music this loud for this long. And not only is the music loud, you can’t turn it down, and furthermore the music is louder than the people talking. Luckily this game has subtitles, but wait! The subtitles are choppy white text on multicolored backgrounds. Apparently nobody told them that adding a black border would make it actually legible. Impossible to hear often, impossible to read often, it makes me wonder why I even bother paying attention to the story.

As a soundtrack the music isn’t awful. But they break a lot of rules in this game. Music with lyrics repeats over, and over, and over, as you move from scene to scene in the city. It quickly eats away at your mind and threatens to erase all you hold dear. The next flaw is that the items you collect in game don’t get added to a repository that will later tell you exactly where you can collect them if you need them for a mission. This seems like a small oversight but this game is massive, not knowing where “Spherical Pant Cleanser M1” is and needing to find it always necessitates a google.

Next we’ve got the problem of affinity missions. So if you start one and it’s finding a Spherical Pant Cleanser M1, you are proper fucked. Because until you find that you can’t do any other affinity or story missions. Sometimes it’ll ask you to do something WAY beyond your abilities which then leaves you locked out of the rest of the game. This is awful design and whoever did it should probably get a spanking. But the angry kind, not the naughty kind.

Normally these things would be the death knells of a game for me. I don’t think anyone playing this game has trouble finding things that make them absolutely furious. But somehow I still really really like this game. While it sucks in so many ways it excels in so many more. Firstly the actual world is positively stunning. This is the most aesthetically pleasing game I’ve played in a very very long time. The creatures are imaginative, the environments are vast and colorful, and the vistas seem to go on forever. Each time you see something amazing you realize “I could go there.” This game has little in the way of set pieces, everything feels functional and amazing. I often run around with my camera zoomed in real close because I love the feeling of smallness.

Creatures in the zones are varied. Just about every place seems to have low level and extremely high level creatures. This makes adventuring feel a bit dangerous and exhilarating. You never know if that bulge in the ground or that plant in the distance is really safe, or a burrowed creature ready to strike. I’ve walked up on quite a few “safe” things only to find my characters head getting punched out their ass.

The game respawns you back at the last fast travel point you walked to (or the last named location you walked by). It also heals you after each fight that you survive. This keeps the game moving and makes the act of exploring something that is encouraged. Maybe you SHOULD try fighting that super strong monster, maybe you’ll win? The game wants you to try and that’s a great feeling.

Eventually in the game you’ll find yourself getting a large mech called a “Skell”. I only got this recently and I absolutely love it. It is at this point that the hundreds of thousands of credits I had amassed went to work. I decked out my Skell with all the coolest stuff on the market. The giant “buster” sword on my back makes short work of most foes at the moment. Additionally the “cockpit” mode is a moment of awesome that sadly I can’t just leave on. It’s like they want to tease me with a superior viewing angle. “This could be yours, but it was designed by the guy who implemented the music, so you can’t have it.”

Skells are a bit more dangerous than other content. You can (from what I understand) actually lose them if you fuck up in combat. This does put me a bit on edge but thus far I’ve had insurance that covered it when they broke. I’m not sure how many “insurance” I have or where to get more, I should probably check later.

That’s another part of this game that I love. I don’t know basically anything about it. The game doesn’t hold your hand at all basically. It makes you work for every piece of information and you learn as you play. I love games like that and wish more games had a “Xenoblade” mode where they don’t caudle me like some kind of invalid. Sure this means that sometimes I ruin myself but there is almost nothing you can’t recover from in this game. This speaks to me on quite a few levels.

The story isn’t awful. It reminds me a bit of Hitchhiker’s Guide with the introduction. For some reason this time around the loss of basically everything didn’t feel quite so heartbreaking to me. When I read HHGTTG I remember thinking “Why care?” Earth means a lot to me I guess. I currently live in “Old” LA and I’ve got to tell you, if New LA is anything like Old LA there is little reason to save it.

Oh shit, so I just went to Pieology. I really don’t remember what I was saying. Let’s see…Skells, City, LA Sucks…Ah! Right. So the quests are actually pretty fun. I know they are mostly “find this” or “kill that” but the dialogue for a lot of them is actually pretty neat. You meet a lot of characters that each feel like someone you’d meet. Some are nice, some are assholes, some are cultists. You know, just the usual suspects.

This game has a lot wrong with it. But it also has a lot good with it. And I genuinely think that the good is so delightful that it outweighs the bad. This, for me, feels like a real game. This isn’t a product, which was a praise I gave to a previous title. As you play it you feel that it was designed by people who wanted to have fun and wanted their players to have fun. Even some of the awful design flaws seem to come right out of late 90’s early 2000’s game design. Sure, I’d have preferred they actual QA the blasted thing and have sound controls, but I’m willing to accept a little bit of poop if it means I’ll get an amazing overall experience.

Xenoblade at its worst is better than most of the games I play at their best. That might be a slight exaggeration but it’s not often that I drop everything else I’m playing to play something. So yeah, this is a game I keep coming back to. I could totally see myself coming back to it again in the future. By that definition it falls into the spectrum of great games :).

By | 2015-12-21T23:53:09+00:00 December 21st, 2015|Great Things, Reviews|Comments Off on My Top 12 Games of 2015: #04 Xenoblade Chronicles X