Hollow Knight

As Metroidvania games go, Hollow Knight is among the best I’ve played and certainly the best one from the last few years – and I say that as someone who plays a lot of them. It is certainly not the best for everyone – the high difficulty level of the combat and the punishing nature of failure can be a turnoff if you like breezing through games, and the very open approach to progression and lack of direction can be frustrating if you’re more comfortable with linear games. Hollow Knight is a game that rewards mastery and thorough exploration, a game that throws difficult challenges of different types at you and gives you the option to find others that are more suitable for your playstyle so you can better prepare for the ones that are not.

Strictly speaking, you’d be hard-pressed to find anything that’s particularly unique about Hollow Knight – it brings a lot of Dark Souls elements to a Symphony of the Night- style game, but none of the abilities or other mechanics feel particularly game-changing by themselves. The art and story are essentially insect spins on the old “exploring a ruined underground society” trope that is over-represented in the genre. Thinking about it, I’m not sure this is a meaningful complaint though – some Metroidvania games add gimmicks or throw in other genres, but very few introduce changes that truly change the form of the game. And Hollow Knight does everything so, so well – the art, story and characters make every area genuinely inviting to explore, the abilities and vast amounts of different enemies make the combat a pleasure to master and the variety of the areas make exploring optional content a pure joy.

It is unusual for Kickstarter games to be larger than you expected, but Hollow Knight is a massive experience and not one bit of it feels out-of-place. 2017 has opened up to a very strong start for games and it’s not looking like it’s about to let up.

Posted on Mar 20/17 by Saint and filed under Reflections | No Comments »

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Final Fantasy XV

It is kind of funny how Final Fantasy – always a game admirably trying to reinvent its own systems – started a departure from the style of having an open overworld with an ultimately linear story with FFX, and then bounced back and forth with FFXII offering a lot of alternative paths and sidequests but FFXIII being almost completely linear to an extent none of the prior games had attempted. Then again, FFX started the trend of spinoff games (arguably this started earlier, but those games either came much later or did not see global recognition until many years after their initial releases), so it is difficult to make any sweeping statements about the series at this point – FFXV started its development life as Final Fantasy Versus XIII and I remember seeing the trailer for it at E3 2006 – guns, enchanted swords and everything. Not sure where I’m getting with this other than saying that Final Fantasy XV is a very open game.

Whether this works is up for debate. The story feels a little bit more personal and more urgent than in FFXII, but it is also more about obscure mysticism than political manipulation. So in that sense it is more difficult to get into – it is hard to feel the gravitas of the events of the early game when you’re essentially running around camping, fishing and taking pictures more than anything else. FFXV is very much a sandbox game with very sandbox-y mechanics, and it tries to combine this with series staples like hidden dungeons and incredibly difficult bosses. It kind of works, but you can feel that it’s something of a first foray into the gametype – the combat system is fast but often lacks the precision of its predecessors, the dungeons and missions frequently force you to re-do traversal puzzles for little reason and you typically spend more time getting to and from the sidequests than you spend actually doing them. This worked well in Grand Theft Auto V since there was a lot of gameplay in driving from point A to point B, but since Final Fantasy does that for you it mostly feels tedious. Interestingly, it goes in the opposite direction of earlier games by being very open for the first two thirds but linear in the last, this doesn’t really work for it either as it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the scope at first and then disappointed that once you’ve gotten used to it there is little more than a drawn-out QTE left.

That said, many elements are good. The art is, much like prior games, brilliant with a distinctive and fantastic style to it. The fighting is varied and, despite moments of drudgery when you’re outmatched, fast-paced and intense. The minigames and progression systems are well executed and the endgame content is tough and gives you reason to learn the systems and go through some of the tougher grinds. It moves even further away from the style of game the series was known for in the 90s, but constant change has always been one of Final Fantasy’s strengths even if the individual entries don’t always resonate with everyone.

Posted on Mar 08/17 by Saint and filed under Reflections | No Comments »