NieR: Automata

Deliberately breaking the fourth wall and integrating the tropes and support mechanics of games is becoming so common these days that there’s plenty of material to compare just that element to. OneShot was built around the concept and executed it remarkably well. Undertale used it for narrative purposes but left the game mechanics of its JRPG – bullet hell – hybrid more or less intact. To be fair, NieR Automata seems to mostly use the same system as the original NieR which came out before those games, but it still feels like it detracts more than it adds. To its credit, NieR’s handling of the fourth-wall-breaking moment doesn’t detract from its story (like I would argue is the case with Metal Gear Solid), but it also doesn’t add so much that it excuses the inconvenience added. In short, NieR does not autosave but includes a Dark Souls-like system where death simply means you need to retreive your body – they then remove this system as a plot device and suddenly you’re punished for not saving manually.

That’s not all there is to NieR, though, and the game it is based on is a very enjoyable action romp that switches between 3D movement, top-down arena shooting and sidescrolling action – it is mostly seamless, but ultimately does not add a lot. The action is solid and the dodge and combo mechanics together with the wide variety of customization options keep every fight interesting. You can cheese a lot of encounters by keeping a safe distance and shooting, but mixing different approaches is a much faster approach and the game includes enough challenges where speed is of the essence to keep it varied. In terms of the larger scope of the game, it contains your garden variety sandbox quests and is slightly too much on the filler side of content, but at least the game doesn’t really prod you to complete things and the exposition you get from doing it is usually interesting.

On the topic of narrative, NieR Automata has plenty of twists and it walks a fine line between not being too obvious about them (at least not all of them) but still have them make sense – this is extra impressive considering it ties into the established lore of the previous games and I managed to pick up on that without playing them. It also has overly earnest anime characters that fall apart in theatrical ways, tolerance of that seems to be highly personal but it ruined a lot of it for me. Overall, the thing the game most suffers for is being open – there are a lot of invisible walls and really shaky platforming involved – but there is a solid action game there with an interesting story.

Also, Sunset – it was released more than two years ago now, but I am lazy.

I feel like Tale of Tales bit off just a little bit more than they could chew with this game – the concept is neat and the way the communication progresses between the two main characters is unique, but a lot of the story and player agency gets lost due to the restrictive mechanics obfuscating what is actually going on in the world outside and what choices you are actually making. The game barely uses the time limit so I feel like ditching that and adding more explanation to some of the critical steps would be an improvement, but the limited interactions and presentation make it hard to sell the story and some pretty glaring visual and continuity bugs take you out of the experience.

Despite this, Sunset is a pretty neat walking simulator, but it feels like it should have been better.

Posted on Jun 27/17 by Saint and filed under Reflections | No Comments »

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E3 2017

Kind of late to the party, admittedly, as E3 was more than a week ago now. I’m not really interested in publicly musing about the announcements themselves – all of them are online for anyone to see and make up their own mind about.

The show itself has always been a weird thing – a joint press event for the gaming media from before when the individual publishers had enough pull to get any attention, it fell off the map when the publishers did get big enough to put on their own shows. It then came back, and it’s never been entirely clear why – it seems some big actors agreed with this and simply neglected to have any E3 presence whatsoever. Last year had EA drop out and hold their own event open to their fans, this left the show floors fairly empty and in 2017 E3 was opened to the public. To be fair, it was kind of always open to the public if you had a thousand dollars and could be bothered to set up a blog, but this year the pretense was dropped and the price was dropped to something more akin to what you’d pay to attend a convention.

That said, I like E3. For all of its superficial glamour and questionable marketing practices, it was always a good time to walk around and get some hands-on time with the upcoming selection of games. It was something of a limited preview and I never understood why I got invited in the first place – to some extent neither did others, and a lot of E3 remains hidden behind closed doors, available only to the media. It used to be that even if the bigger games had long lines if you wanted to try, there were always free stations for some of the less highly publicized stuff you could try at any time. Not so this year, as the amount of people guaranteed that no game could be played if you weren’t prepared to wait for an hour.

So I kind of miss what E3 was, but I know full well it made no sense for it to remain exclusive.


Posted on Jun 26/17 by Saint and filed under Gaming culture | No Comments »

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Mass Effect Andromeda

With so many games adopting sandbox qualities, figuring out just what parts of a game to actually experience becomes a skill in itself. In the ideal case the core gameplay is so good that even completing mundane tasks is rewarding for a very long time, but it is starting to seem like there is an increasingly long tail of content where developer resources are diminishing as the potential players do. Horizon balanced this very well with a good number of side content that was done before you got tired of outsmarting robot dinosaurs. Mass Effect Andromeda has a little too many things going on for its own good.

Mass Effect has always been light on the main story and heavy on the optional content, but it feels like the line between the high-tier content intended for everyone to play through and the things specifically for the completionists is getting blurred. It is still fundamentally a roleplaying game and it will pester you to do favors for everyone you meet – as most of the smaller sidequests involve hopping back and forth between planets and occasionally shooting some cannon fodder, it becomes boring pretty quickly.

Still, Mass Effect is helpful enough to sort the quests you receive roughly into categories of production quality so you can skip out on the less enticing content, and like the previous games it is light enough on punishment that you are encouraged to live with your decisions rather than load an earlier save and try to optimize your route. And the main quest manages to feel like a fresh direction for Mass Effect that goes to really interesting places.

There’s a really great game in there, but there’s also a lot of decent to mediocre game on top of it. Which is a weird thing to complain about, I guess, that the core game is so good that you wish the clearly labeled filler parts were just as enjoyable.

Posted on Jun 01/17 by Saint and filed under Reflections | No Comments »