Frivolous Waste of Time

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Archive for the tag “rpg”

I Am Setsuna for Switch, PS4, PS Vita and PC

I’m really into the idea of Tokyo RPG Factory, a smaller studio within Square Enix who will make shorter, more compact classic JRPG experiences. However, their first result leaves a little bit to be desired.

I Am Setsuna’s protagonist is Endir, a mysterious masked protagonist who is sent to kill Setsuna, a young woman who has been chosen as a human sacrifice to keep the hordes of monsters which threaten their world at bay. Instead of killing her outright, Endir joins her on her pilgrimage to the Last Lands, where she must die, although this being a JRPG there have to be a lot of distractions along the way, whilst meeting a colourful band of characters. The best thing about I Am Setsuna is the premise itself, and the mournful, melancholy tone. The idea of your quest being to escort someone to their death is brilliantly dark, but the game fails to explore it with enough nuance.

I Am Setsuna’s combat is mostly inspired by Chrono Trigger, and is mostly fine. There’s a gauge that increases and when full you can perform an action, such as attack, use a special move or an item. Certain special moves can be used in conjunction with each other to form combos, some of which are deliciously overpowered, although this led into an issue I’ll discuss later on. You can also wait on your turn to boost up a second gauge, which allows when full allows you to boost the power of your attack or technique. It’s a simple matter of deciding whether to launch fewer more powerful attacks or more frequent weaker strikes, but particularly during boss battles the decision stayed interesting. Still, I didn’t find the combat particularly engaging, particularly coming straight from the much more fun Persona 5.

Outside of battles you’ll follow your standard structure of wandering between dungeons, towns and the overworld and there’s little of note mechanically outside of the combat. There is an interesting method for unlocking new techniques, involving selling particular monster parts to be able to access them. Killing monsters in different ways give different paths; if you chip away the tiny bit of health with surgical precision, you’ll get something different to if you overwhelm them with a massive strike. It’s an interesting idea but in practice isn’t particularly fun and I found myself wishing that this game had a simpler approach to upgrades and its economy.

Confession time: I didn’t finish I Am Setsuna. I got 4/5 of the way through which is, in my opinion, enough to form a judgement, but I didn’t finish. I ran into a boss for which I was staggeringly underleveled, having essentially managed to sweep away all fights beforehand. Upon looking up the recommended level I was aghast to see that I was a full 10 levels below where I needed to be I was aghast. I was not going to use my precious time to sit and bloody grind. Grinding may have been a part of old school JRPGs, but they’re a failure of design and have no place in modern gaming. I couldn’t help but compare it to the smooth and satisfying increase in difficulty in Persona 5, the fact that I never felt the need to grind once and comfortably completed the game, and get quite irritated. I suppose I could have whacked on a podcast and mindlessly killed monster penguins for a couple of hours to get my level up but, well, why the bloody hell should I?

It’s a shame because I liked the world they created. It’s all quite same-y, with a snowy and beautifully bleak aesthetic throughout, but it’s very effective. Comfortably the best thing about I Am Setsuna is the gorgeous soundtrack, with every single one being a simple piano piece. Where JRPGs are known for grand scope and orchestra, I Am Setsuna’s restraint here is genuinely revelatory. The simplicity and beauty of the single piano, arguably the most versatile instrument around, provides one of the most interesting soundtracks I’ve heard.
Unfortunately, the rest of the game can’t match that piano. It was a decent enough JRPG experience I would have been happy to play to the end. There are games out there I like so much I’d grind for if absolutely necessary, but I Am Setsuna is not that game.

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Dark Souls III: Ashes of Ariandel DLC for PS4, Xbox One and PC

I really enjoyed Dark Souls III, but as a Bloodborne man at heart Dark Souls III spent a lot of it’s time lurking in its shadow. I took a while for me to go for the Dark Souls III DLC and I’m glad I did. Ashes of Ariandel is the first of the two DLC packs, binging us to a new location, with new things to find and monsters to be murdered by.

Ashes of Ariandel opens with the Ashen One transported to the Painted World of Ariandel by the mysterious Slave Knight Gael. The snowy and pristine land, held within a painting, has been infected with a strange rot, with conflict within Ariandel about how to deal with this threat, burn away the rot and begin anew, or allow the rot to continue. Dark Souls is always going to Dark Souls so Ashes of Ariandel is as cryptic as ever, but this DLC does operate as an interesting microcosm for the main thrust of the series, about whether or not to link the fire.

Ariandel itself is a beautiful location, although I do generally feel that the series fares better when in city environments, allowing more complex geometry and clever pathways than will occur in a natural environment. Ariandel is still fun to explore, but it does lack some of that cleverness of world design which is my favourite thing about the series. There are a range of fun and challenging enemies to fight, such as wolves or the twisted Corvian bird people. One potential disappointment is the lack of boss fights; there is only one mandatory one at the end, with another that is optional. The optional fight is fun, but doesn’t really do anything which hasn’t been done in other boss fights throughout the series. The final boss fight is a bit more interesting, a multi-stage monster of a fight with three distinct stages, and health bars. It’s utterly brutal and at times felt a bit cheap, but at its best it reminded me of the superlative Maria boss fight from the Hunters Nightmare DLC for Bloodborne.

Ashes of Ariandel isn’t massive and doesn’t really represent the best of the series, but Dark Souls III is so solidly constructed that just adding more isn’t really a problem. On its own it may be a bit unsatisfying, but taken within the grand swatch of the game it’s difficult to fault it too much. If you’re sold your copy of Dark Souls III, Ashes of Ariandel isn’t a reason to rush out and buy a new one, but there are far worse ways you could spend your time.

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Mass Effect: Andromeda for PS4, Xbox One and PC

Genuinely bad AAA games are rare nowadays. Your annual Call of Duty is probably always going to be at least competent and well put together; so much money is poured into these things that the most common issue is blandness, rather than actual disaster. Actual disasters are few and far between, with Assassin’s Creed: Unity being one of the few that springs to mind. Mass Effect: Andromeda is one of the roughest, most frustrating AAA games I’ve played in years. Unlike some of the more hyperbolic reactions it has garnered, I don’t think it’s awful. There are things to like here, but troubled game development is writ large over almost every part of the game. Some rough AAA games such as Final Fantasy XV can be so oddball and weird that they loop round to being loveable, despite their flaws, but Mass Effect: Andromeda is simultaneously too ambitious and conservative in design to achieve even this. Mass Effect: Andromeda has its moments, but it’s difficult to view it as anything but a failure.

Sidestepping the endings of Mass Effect 3, Mass Effect; Andromeda takes place 600 years later, in the Andromeda Galaxy. The Andromeda Initiative sent forth massive arks of Milky Way species in stasis, to awaken in their new home and establish a new frontier. Upon arrival, the Initiative discover that the Heleus Cluster of the Andromeda Galaxy is more dangerous than they thought, with a mysterious phenomenon known as the Scourge damaging the ark ships and a hostile alien force, the Kett, determined to wipe them out. Commander Shepard is gone and replaced with Pathfinder Ryder; the Pathfinder is the one who is in charge of scouting planets and establishing new outposts. Only the human ark, the Hyperion, as well as the central hub of the Nexus, have made their way to the intended destination. Ryder must set out with a new crew and her ship the Tempest to establish new homes for the Initiative, fight the kett and find the missing ark ships.

Andromeda’s story stumbles out of the gate. It attempts to take the series in a whole new direction, but in the process forgets what people liked about the original trilogy. The original trilogy had a brilliant sense of humanity as the new kids on the block, the upstarts. There was a real sense of defined history which impacted the events of the story: the Rachni Wars, the Genophage, the Quarian creation of the Geth. The setting felt full and alive and engaging. Mass Effect: Andromeda goes for a more Star Trek approach, focusing on exploration and discovering new lands. Without this sense of culture and society, the whole setting feels unbearably bland. Everyone keeps going on about how utterly alien it is, but it’s no more unique than anywhere from the original setting; we still have an ice planet, a jungle planet, a desert planet etc. The returning races from the original trilogy are the Asari, Salarians, Turians and Krogan. A lot of the weirder and funnier species make no appearance, such as the Quarians, Hanar, Elcor or Volus. The new species don’t exactly fill the void; the Kett are mindless and lack in any sort of personality. The Heleus natives, the Angara, are generally likeable, being built on empathy and emotional connection, but really they just feel like a combination of the original Council races. They have the empathy of Asari, the intelligence of the Salarians and the battle-prowess of the Turians, but I don’t think people are going to be clamouring for the return of the Angara whenever this series comes back. The new galaxy setting had the opportunity to double down on some of the glorious weirdness from the original trilogy, but ends up as far more conservative.

There’s little sense of narrative drive, with frustratingly vague goals. This may be a consequence of the open world approach taken, but Dragon Age: Inquisition did the same thing and I felt still managed to tell a coherent story. Where the original trilogies had an unknowable and terrifying foe, the Reapers, lurking in the background, it was fronted by believable and engaging villains, with even forces like the Geth and the Rachni imbued with depth and clear motivation. The lack of an engaging antagonist makes the whole thing feel directionless. I overall liked the new crew, particularly the elderly warrior Krogan Drack and the Angaran charmer Jaarl. Still, when you look back at the squad in Mass Effect 2, possibly the best team of characters I’ve seen in an RPG, they never come close to the same status. The voice acting is generally good, but the writing is much more mixed. Outside of some core main characters, there are dozens, perhaps hundreds, of entirely forgettable quest givers and NPCs. Much was made of Hainly Abrams, a transgender woman who within seconds of meeting reveals that she is trans, as well as her deadname. Transgender representation in games is a good thing; Bioware themselves pretty much nailed it with Krem in Dragon Age: Inquisition. Although the dialogue has been altered and patched, it reveals how utterly shallow these characters are. I could tell you much more about Krem than the fact he is trans, but with Hainly Abrams I could tell you nothing else about her. So much of the writing is entirely shallow, with characters I spent hours with but could tell you almost nothing about. The best parts of the game are the loyalty missions and there are some lovely character moments, but we lack the tension and conflict which undercut the ‘BEST TEAM EVAR’ dynamic if the Normandy. One area that did work for me was Ryder herself. She’s a bit more of a defined character than Shepard and you can’t really be a complete bastard, but that wouldn’t have been appropriate for the story told here. More often than not, Ryder is sardonic and irreverent, but never irritating. Overall, I think I liked Ryder more than Shepard but unfortunately the people she was interacting with were never as good.

I normally mention technical issues towards the end of a review, but they have to be brought to the forefront here. Now, I’m played this game a couple of patches deep, so the now infamous animation issues weren’t quite as pronounced as they were at launch but, well, they’re still not good. Almost every scene is undermined by them; the characters always look off, never quite seem right, in the way they stand, the way they move, their facial expressions. I’ve read and watched a lot of interesting stuff about this and I totally appreciate the nightmarish complexity of a dynamic animation system a game like this requires, but taking into account the reasons why this problem exists doesn’t actually stop it from being a problem, as sympathetic as I am for the fact that this likely was not the fault of the animation team themselves. There are major issues with the plotting and writing already, but even the stronger scenes (and there are plenty of good ones) are undermined by the animation issue. I suspect that the issues are more fundamental than any patch can solve.

The core structure to Andromeda is very different to the previous games, and resembles Dragon Age; Inquisition more than anything else. Now, I actually really liked Inquisition, although I’m aware that a lot of people didn’t. Sure, not every side quest was a winner, but the focus on exploration was well married to a central plot and I liked the variety of zones. It got blown out of the water by The Wtrcher 3 a few months later, but I still feel that Inquisition is underappreciated. Andromeda attempts the same structure, but is less successful. There are a handful of explorable worlds, which are usually pretty big. All but one use the Nomad, a replacement for the Mako from the first game, an all-terrain vehicle which lets you race around the planet. It controls pretty nicely and has quite impressive grip for more vertical movement, particularly after a few upgrades. Most of your time in the game will be spent getting a mission, driving somewhere in your Nomad, shooting some stuff, and returning. Mission variety isn’t great, but I did like how the game makes it very clear which missions you can avoid. The missions are categorised four different ways; main story quests, loyalty quests/quests attached to a particular supporting character, Heleus tasks which see you improving the different planets, and ‘additional tasks.’ Do the first three, but ignore the ‘additional tasks’, there’s almost nothing worth doing there. I wish more games made it so clear what was filler; one thing I hated about Fallout 4 was the way I would feel tricked into doing boring procedurally generated quests because they were sorted alongside proper ones made by an actual game designer. If you take this approach and ignore the boring missions, the issue of padding and filler becomes much less egregious.

Possibly the only unqualified success of Mass Effect: Andromeda is the combat; it may initially look similar to the original trilogy, but this is mostly superficial as this is most certainly not a cover shooter. It took a while to adjust, but this is a combat system which relies on constant movement and momentum. I went all in with biotics and shotguns, so my approach was largely based around teleporting across the environments and blasting enemies up close. With some cleverly placed upgrades, you can almost break the entire combat in some quite pleasing ways. It stopped being challenging in any way after a few hours, but as a sheer power fantasy I never quite got tired of it. I don’t know how fun other builds are, but I can’t recommend a biotic/shotgun build more highly. My enjoyment of the combat helped to alleviate a lot of the pacing issues; sure, the side quests mostly are of a ‘go here, kill this’ variety, but that never really bothered me.

Mass Effect: Andromeda is a disappointment; it has some strengths, but it’s clear that it’s fascinatingly troubled development has left it damaged in a way no patch can fix. There was a lot of potential here, but I think now the best thing that Bioware could do is give it a few years, then return to the Milky Way for an actual Mass Effect 4, leaving Andromeda as a spin-off. I didn’t have an awful time playing this game, it’s OK, but when it was released in the same month as Breath of the Wild, Nier: Automata and Horizon: Zero Dawn, OK isn’t good enough.

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Deus Ex: Mankind Divided – A Criminal Past DLC for PS4, Xbox One, PC, OS X and Linux

The second DLC for Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is much meatier than the first and stands out because it offers a much more interesting setting and premise, which feels distinct from anything in the main game, something which could not have been said for the competent but familiar first DLC, System Rift. A Criminal Past starts out very interesting and takes the turn which makes it become much less interesting, but it stays engaging throughout.

A Criminal Past is framed as a therapy session for Jensen at TF-29, as he recalls a mission from before the events of Mankind Divided. He is sent undercover to infiltrate a state of the art prison for Augs, to extract a deep undercover agent who is feared to have gone rogue. Upon arrival Jensen quickly finds himself caught between the callous and sadistic warden Stenger and the charismatic leader among the inmates Flossy and it isn’t long until things escalate out of control. The setup is interesting, but a found myself zoning out of a lot of the story stuff, hitting essentially similar beats to everything we’ve seen before.

The prison setting, seeing Jensen stripped of his Augs and forced to rely entirely on his wits, was interesting in theory and starts out very well. The prison is split into two blocks, with those in one wearing red and the other in yellow. Jensen starts in red but must make his way over to yellow, where you could sneak around or you could simply steal a yellow uniform and walk around freely. There was an indication that there would be some interesting mechanics about having to follow the routine of prison life for a while to find your target, but things go wrong almost immediately and the setting quickly become much like any other Deus Ex location. Much of the DLC takes place during a riot, which is frankly much less interesting than the social stealth elements of the early section. Perhaps I was expecting too much, but there are DLCs out there that do fundamentally interesting and different things with the base game and A Criminal Past initially seemed like it may be doing the same. Instead we have a competent enough Deus Ex experience that offers more of the same.

The future for the Deus Ex series is uncertain at the moment, so A Criminal Past may be the last we see of it for a while. It’s a decent enough experience, and certainly beats the much slighter System Rift, but it doesn’t follow through on it’s interesting premise and ends up feeling like a missed opportunity.

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Deus Ex: Mankind Divided – System Rift DLC for PS4, Xbox One, PC, OS X and Linux

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided didn’t exactly set the world on fire and I was lukewarm on it too. It was a decent enough experience, but it felt ultimately lacking. Oddly enough, System Rift in its microcosm helped me to appreciate Mankind Divided a little more.

System Rift sees Adam Jensen contacted by former colleague from Human Revolution Frank Pritchard to execute a data heist. It’s your standard Deus Ex plot and could have been one of the meatier side missions from the main game, but it contains a few twists and turns and has a bit more to it than you might expect. It doesn’t tell a vital story to the Deus Ex canon but it’s DLC so it probably shouldn’t.

Aside from some brief prep work, the vast majority of System Rift lies in the heist itself, which is a lot of fun. For all Mankind Divided felt a bit undercooked, the core mechanics really are bloody solid. As a stealth-RPG, it’s difficult to fault. System Rift is largely vertical in construction, as you make your way upwards through a facility. The only real gameplay change lay in heat sensors, which require you to mask your body temperature by hiding next to other heat sources. It seems at first like this is going to be a bigger deal than it is. You rebuild your Jensen from scratch, so it’s easy to min-max your way into an unstoppable killing machine/hacking ninja, whatever suits your preferences. Again, System Rift offers nothing more than more Deus Ex, which I didn’t realise I wanted until I started playing.

It’s not a long DLC by any stretch, but if picked up on a digital sale for a couple of quid like I did it’s hard to fault. It’s a really solid couple of hours if you fancy dipping a toe back into the Deus Ex universe, but you won’t exactly be missing out if you give it a miss.

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Pokémon Sun and Moon for Nintendo 3DS

With my Switch pre-ordered and all eyes upon Nintendo’s (hopefully) glorious handheld/home console hybrid future, 2016 was largely the death knell for both the Wii U and the 3DS. Where the final Wii U game I’ll buy was the likeable but largely forgettable Paper Mario: Colour Splash, the Nintendo 3DS went out with a much bigger bang: Pokémon. I know that the Game Boy existed prior to Pokémon, but for me it is the series which has defined Nintendo’s handhelds. It therefore seems fitting that what is probably Nintendo’s final pure handheld ends with the latest instalment in this now venerable series with an entry which shakes up the formula to the greatest extent seen in years.

Pokémon Sun and Moon take place in the Hawaii inspired Alola Region, which is structured differently to other regions seen previously. Where in all previous games a rigid structure of collecting eight Gym Badges before challenging the Elite Four has been enforced, Alola instead sees children sent across the four islands of the Alola Region to complete a series of Trials before confronting the leader of the island, known as the Kahuna. This being a Pokémon game there is also an evil team with nefarious aims; this time it is the unbelievably silly but oddly lovable Team Skull.

Pokémon games aren’t exactly known for their story, but since Black and White there’s been a marked improvement and this continues in Sun and Moon. The story goes to surprisingly epic places, from parallel dimensions to personal family struggles. Pokémon Sun and Moon has actual honest to God plot twists and it’s clear that real effort has been put into the writing and localisation. It’s quite funny at times, as most localised Nintendo games generally are these days. Look, I’m not claiming that Sun and Moon are particularly complex, but there’s a genuine narrative impulse to keep on going, something which could not really be said about most past Pokémon games. I particularly liked the dopey and loveable Team Skull, easily the most (only) memorable team since the original Team Rocket. They’re so…silly, with their juggalo aesthetic and white boy hip-hop hand waving. They’re so desperate to seem tough and scary but so not. The world of Alola feels alive and vibrant in a way previous settings haven’t.

Whilst a lot of the trappings have changed, the core gameplay is still much the same as it was 20 years ago. There are lots of big sweeping changes, but the ones that made me happiest were the simple quality of life fixes. When choosing a move, you can now see whether it is effective/super effective/not very effective beforehand, meaning that memorising type charts is a thing of the past, and any changes to stats like attack or defence are tracked and easy to see. There will doubtless be people why decry this as dumbing down, but memorisation was never an interesting part of the Pokémon tactics anyway. A pointless barrier is removed. There are all sorts of little changes like this, such as being able to add a new Pokémon to your party immediately upon catching them. Pokémon has been full of little niggles for years and Sun and Moon obliterate a large number of them. Bigger issues are fixed too; HMs are finally gone, replaced by the Ride Pager which summons Pokémon to do the same thing. Rather than teaching a Pokémon to Surf, you summon a Lapras to carry you. Rather than learning Rock Smash, toy summon a rideable Taurus who can do it for you. The days of having to lug around a Pokémon with ‘Cut’ and ‘Strength’ and all the others are finally gone and good riddance. Another nice change is an expansion of the Pokémon Amie feature from X & Y, which saw you directly petting and feeding you team. Now called Pokémon Refresh, after every battle you can cure any status ailments and boost their affection, which drastically quickens their rate of experience growth. The virtual pet element of Pokémon has never been stronger than it is in Sun and Moon.

Other changes include the addition of ‘Z-Moves’, which largely replaces the previous games’ Mega Evolution. Z-moves can be used once per battle and are essentially super powered version of regular moves. They’re…fine I guess, but don’t feel nearly as interesting or game changing as the previous generation’s Mega Evolutions. The new trials which replace Gym Battles are generally fun and varied, although not that far removed from the simple puzzles which you would often get in previous games’ gyms. There is one addition which I really hated and that was the ability to wild Pokémon to call for help, summoning in another monster. You can’t capture Pokémon with two on the screen at once, so you have to knock one of them down. The real problem lies in the fact that it doesn’t take up a turn to summon a new Pokémon, meaning that battles can get incredibly protracted and there’s essentially nothing you can do about it, as every time you knock down one Pokémon a new one is immediately called in. This mechanic is used to interesting effect in Totem Pokémon battles, which see you battling powered up versions of regular Pokémon during some of the Island Trials, creating some gloriously tense and challenging encounters. The problem lies when the random Zubat you encounter in a cave starts doing that and you’re stuck fighting Zubats in the same battle for five bloody minutes. It’s an annoying blight in an otherwise extremely solid game.

As for the Pokémon themselves? Sun and Moon may very well be my favourite generation in a long time. There are lots of brilliant brand new Pokémon with some interesting type combinations. For example, my adorable grass owl starter Pokémon Rowlet eventually evolved into the mixed Grass/Ghost Decidueye, not the Grass/Flying I was expecting. One of the absolute best additions are the Alola Form Pokémon, which are Gen 1 Pokémon redesigned and given a new type combination. For example, the previously fire type Vulpix/Ninetales become Ice/Fairy. My favourite of these was the incredibly adorable Alolan Raichu, who is now Electric/Psychic and surfs on his own tail. I wasn’t convinced on the concept at first, but now I see it as clever merging of nostalgia with invention. Some of the most unique type combos can be found in these Alolan forms and they play very different roles in the party, but they nonetheless feel familiar and tickle you right in the nostalgia. I played Sun and Moon entirely with new Pokémon and Alolan Forms and felt no temptation to go for any of the old ones.

Sun and Moon are easily the most beautiful Pokémon games ever made, with gorgeous environments and brilliant character designs. The music is solid too and the genuine sense of atmosphere created on the dinky little 3DS is impressive. By far though, the best part is the Pokémon themselves. They are best seen in the Pokémon Refresh mode. Every single Pokémon has several unique animations which are truly brimming with character. Some like to be rubbed certain places and not others; Pichu’s bereft face every time you rub it somewhere he doesn’t like never failed to get a reaction from me. The thing that blows my mind is that there are 802 Pokémon and that’s not even counting alternate forms, which likely add at least another few dozen. Every single one is given this level of love and attention and the work involved, as well as fitting it all on the cart, is truly impressive.

There are lots of other features I haven’t mentioned; like the whole series, this is a very feature rich game. There are whole mechanics and systems I essentially ignore as I’m here for the core gameplay of collecting, battling and levelling up, but as always there’s so much here for you if you want it. Pokémon Sun and Moon has a couple of niggles, but all round it’s a hell of an achievement. It’s the perfect swan song for the 3DS, a console I’m really going to miss. If you like Pokémon you’ll get this anyway, but if you haven’t played Pokémon in a few years and want to get back to it, this is a pretty damn good place.

 

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Final Fantasy XV for PS4 and Xbox One

I’m not what you’d call a massive Final Fantasy fan. I’ve only played 1-4, then 8 and then 13 of the main series, although I’ve spent more time with spin offs like Tactics Advance and Crystal Chronicles. Final Fantasy XIII was one of the worst games I’ve ever played; I hated its linearity, its lack of respect for the player and its bland protagonist. I was therefore quite intrigued by Final Fantasy XV, which looked set to reverse all of these problems; a big open world, more challenging quests and a group of loveable boy band protagonists. Final Fantasy XV has all of those things and I frequently loved it, but it shows too many scars from its troubled development to be a classic.

Final Fantasy XV follows Prince Noctis of Lucis, a land which is one of the last hold outs of independence from the conquering Niflheim Empire. The city is protected by the magic of the King, Noctis’ father Regis, who maintains a great shield protecting the capital city of Insomnia. An ambassador from Niflheim has come to offer peace and end a war that has blighted the world for years and King Regis agrees. A condition is that Noctis is to be married to his childhood sweetheart Lady Lunafreya of Tenebrae (a protectorate of Niflheim), as a political union. Noctis, alongside his friends Gladiolous, Ignis and Prompto set forth on a roadtrip to the relatively neutral city of Altissia for the wedding. It is not long before events are complicated and Noctis is plunged into a conflict which threatens the entire world of Eos.

The story for Final Fantasy XV is, unfortunately, an incoherent mess. If you thought the second half of Metal Gear Solid V (a game FFXV shares a lot in common with) shit the bed, you ain’t seen nothing yet. The immediate problem is that it is almost impossible to work out what is going on if you haven’t watched the spin off movie Kingsglaive, which takes place parallel with the opening chapters of the game. For some reason FFXV seems entirely unwilling to give the player backstory; I guess it’s trying to avoid classic exposition dumps, but anything would have been better than this. I dutifully watched Kingsglaive (not an experience I can recommend) which did finally explain what was going on, but I shouldn’t have had to in the first place. Things only get worse as it goes on, with new characters introduced and abandoned with no explanation, shockingly underdeveloped villains with impenetrably bizarre motivations and sudden, disorienting lurches in time and place. Some of these characters are likeable and I’d have loved to see more of them, but there just isn’t enough story here. By the end I had almost no clue what was happening, with major plot twists announced and then never spoken of again. There are some interesting ideas here, particularly in the intriguing and charming main villain, but pretty much every element is shockingly underdeveloped.

The thing is, for all these flaws, there is one element of the story which the developers absolutely nailed and that is the relationship between your four party members. Where Final Fantasy games have tended to have sprawling parties made up of members which join throughout the journey, in FFXV you start and finish with the same core four, outside of a couple of brief guest appearances. I was surprised to see an all male party in this day and age, but after playing the game it feels like a legitimate creative choice. The lovely boys of FFXV are pretty much the least toxically masculine bunch of lads I’ve seen. They clearly love and support each other throughout the entire story, to the point that any tiff is a bit hard to watch. It’s hard not to get attached to this lot, even though they can’t be called complex characters by any means. The tough guy with a heart of gold Gladiolus, the wise-cracking but insecure Prompto and the responsible and fastidious Ignis are characters I became really fond of by the end, with the best moments of writing to be found in their little joke-y asides to each other as they adventure around Eos. One of the most charming details are the passive skills each party member has, distinct from combat. Noctis can fish, Gladiolus can scavenge, Ignis can cook and, best of all, Prompto can take photographs, which was displayed at the end of each day. These skills develop over time, so watching Prompto’s photos get better and better is really charming stuff. The lighter, road trip stuff works really well, but does feel completely at odds with the oppressive ‘evil empire’ narrative looming over everything. FFXV has an interesting approach to open world design mechanically, but it’s story is not built for an open world at all. That said, few open world games do pull this off, with only The Witcher 3 coming to mind as one that does.

FFXV ditches the turn based battles entirely for something much more engaging. All battles are in real time. Holding one button attacks, whilst holding another allows you to dodge. Noctis is the only playable character and can equip four different weapons at once, which can be switched on the fly. Different enemies are weak to different weapons. Noctis also has the ability to warp around the area, sometimes to strike directly into foes and sometimes to reach high ground which speeds up health and MP regeneration. Alongside this, Noctis can also activate techniques to be used by one of his three bros. Positioning is key, as back attacks (as well as parries) can trigger link strikes where Noctis double teams an enemy alongside one of the team. All these elements combine into a system which is fast, frantic and really engaging. It looks hack and slash-y at first, but that will get you obliterated later on and you have to play more defensively and intelligently. Constant motion is key, with magic functioning like a grenade. There are a lot of complex mechanics at play, but they all feel valuable and build towards a genuinely unique and engaging battle system. One flaw is that it perhaps isn’t quite visceral enough, with strikes having that weightlessness which usually comes with MMOs. More visual and audio feedback to make the strikes more satisfying would be icing on the cake, but the cake is still delicious. Delicious FFXV combat cake. Unfortunately, the camera really suffers in indoor locations like buildings and caves and is really made for wide open spaces where you can zip all over the place. Precise placing becomes pretty much impossible and in a lot of these encounters all I could do was spam potions to stay alive.

As is usually the case with these games, the core gameplay mechanic is the combat, but FFXV offers a first for the series in their first truly seamless open world. The world is vast and beautiful and isn’t bound by traditional Western fantasy tropes. In fact, the setting is bizarrely modern for the most part, with mobile phones and cars and advanced technology. I’m a real fan of this sort of science-fantasy setting and wish we saw it more often in games. As strange as it all is, it works in practice and Eos is a genuine pleasure to explore. The landscapes vary from desert to lush plains to rocky volcano, with a good variety of scenery. The game reminded me a bit of Earthbound, in that it evokes 1950s Americana without really understanding it, a style of world building I find oddly endearing. You’ll be exploring on foot, on a chocobo or by your fancy car. The diving is extremely limited, you can’t go off road so generally it’s better to just let your buddy Ignis drive and take in the scenery, all whilst listening to your friends babble away to each other or classic Final Fantasy tunes through the CD player. I quite enjoyed the long drives for the scenery, but if this sort of thing would bore you it could be a turn off. When you’ve been somewhere once you can fast travel, which is somewhat hindered by lengthy load times. Night is dangerous in Eos, so you can stay at motels or caravans or camp in the wilderness, where Ignis can cook you a nice meal (if you have the right ingredients) which offer significant buffs for the following day. There’s a unique rhythm to FFXV that I haven’t seen in other open world games and it evokes the feeling of a road trip with friends very well.

Alongside the lengthy main quest, there are a plethora of side quests, most of which are unfortunately quite bad. The Witcher 3 spoiled me for good quests, but even Skyrim and Dragon Age: Inquisition had better side missions than this. They’re generally repetitive ‘go here – kill this’ or ‘go here- collect this’ affairs. I actually don’t always mind this if it’s wrapped up in an interesting side story, but FFXV’s side missions are so mundane it’s almost funny. There’s a very lengthy quest chain about acquiring vegetables for example. Sometimes these quests will lead you to optional dungeons, which are actually really cool. This is frustrating as there’s no way of knowing which quest chains will eventually become worthwhile and which will stay boring forever. I’m sure I missed some decent content because I couldn’t bear to do another fetch quest. I actually preferred the straight up bounty hunter mission, which simply send Noctis and crew to go kill some monster then come back. The monsters encountered are often rare and these provided some of the more memorable encounters, whilst containing no story at all. I did a fair few side missions because I liked the world and wanted to spend plenty of time in it, but after I finished the main story I couldn’t quite bear to do any more. FFXV has an open world, but in many ways it isn’t designed as an open world game and this is typified through the side missions.

FFXV has the opposite structure to FFXIII. Where FFXIII was linear for the first half and then apparently opens up in the second (I never could make it that far myself), FFXV tears you from the open world in the second half of the story. You can return through hilariously convoluted means, but from a story perspective you’re out and the rest of the game is pretty much linear. It is here that the game falls apart to a spectacular degree. Other games have done this before; Metal Gear Solid V also had a strong first half that fell apart in the second, but at least the core mechanics remained fun even if it was repetitive. Since the second half of the game is mostly set in closed, cramped locations, the previously mentioned camera issues come to the fore making almost no combat encounters in the second half as fun as those in the first. FFXV throws you into some bafflingly awful moments, compounded by the fact that the story utterly collapses at this point too. A truly dreadful boss encounter and a stunningly ill-advised stab at survival horror stand out as memorably awful, but the whole thing isn’t good. The actual final hour is pretty cool, with a great boss fight and a cool location, but overall the whole second half is disastrous. Where the first half is a flawed but loveable diamond in the rough, the second loses everything that makes the core flaws of the game bearable.

Similarly, to The Last Guardian, FFXV shows its age in some places and it’s clear that this is a game originally intended for the PS3. The character models for less important NPCs are pretty poor and a lot of the animations very stiff and awkward. The environment is gorgeous with a genuinely unique setting, but significant texture pop in and an overall fuzziness to the visuals don’t allow it to shine as well as it should. I actually love the visual design for this game and these flaws don’t really hold it back from being a spectacular game to take in at times, but some of the visual impact is undeniably robbed. The voice acting is good for the core four boys and much of the supporting cast, but some of the NPC voice acting is hilariously bad. There doesn’t seem to be any connection between how characters look and how they speak. Although the setting itself feels like a well thought out and plausible, the characters in it really don’t. This would be fine if, instead of believable characters, we had grandiose and silly characters instead, but we don’t get that either. There’s a bizarre sense of lavish attention to detail in things that don’t really matter, such as the wonderfully rendered and believable food, but ignoring things that really do. The music is lovely, obviously, although the excellent main theme isn’t quite heard enough. It would only kick in sometimes whilst in the field and is interrupted with every combat encounter, meaning that it’s impact is robbed by the less memorable battle theme.

FFXV is a frustrating and disappointing game with an undeniable charm. I’ve made the comparison a few times, but FFXV made me think of Metal Gear Solid V a lot. Both were heavily delayed entries in a long running, beloved series. Both were awaited with rabid anticipation. Both are known for convoluted storytelling and melodrama. Both released essentially unfinished, with clear scars from where content was cut. The thing is, I still maintain that for its flaws Metal Gear Solid V is a genuinely great game, even a masterpiece. I can’t quite say the same for Final Fantasy XV. I’ve enjoyed my time with it and I don’t regret it, but this is nowhere near the experience it should be. That said, I love the basic idea of a road trip game and the world itself and I hope they learn lessons from this game and release a sequel. Maybe an all-female team next time?

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Paper Mario: Colour Splash for Wii U

Paper Mario: Colour Splash is a game so infuriating that if made by any company other than Nintendo it would be unplayable. The core combat mechanics are utterly miserable, but this game is just so damn charming.

Colour Splash opens with Princess Peach coming to Mario’s home with a strange letter; a letter made from the body of a Toad which has been drained of its colour telling her and Mario to head to Prism Island, a land obsessed with colour. Mario and Princess Peach set out to the island, to find the main city of Port Prisma drained of colour. Mario awakens an anthropomorphic talking paint bucket named Huey who tells him that the Six Paint Stars which…I dunno, do something good for the island, have been scattered by an evil force and he and Mario must set forth to gather them and save the island.

The story in Colour Splash is a major improvement over Sticker Star, but it’s still very straightforward. Nintendo’s sad purging of their more subversive plot elements is in full force here; the goofy Bowser of the early Paper Mario and Mario & Luigi games is back to being a generic villain and Princess Peach is back in full on damsel mode. I say this in every Mario RPG review, but I really miss the much improved characterisation for these characters from A Thousand Year Door. Miyamoto’s bizarre insistence on new Mario RPGs not adding new characters or elements is certainly a creative straightjacket, but this is not an excuse for the unplumbed areas of Mario history ignored in this game. Pretty much every supporting character is a Toad, but with so many weird characters in their back catalogue I can’t help but wonder why. Where are Paper Wario and Waluigi? Even Luigi, the best character in the Mario series, barely gets a look in. If the Paper Mario series must be pure nostalgia bait then so be it, but with such a deep pool of Mario history to draw from Colour Splash seems content to splash around in the shallows.

The thing is, as frustrating as this all is, the writing/localisation is actually really really good. Colour Splash is genuinely really funny. I don’t know whether more praise should be given to the original writers of the localisation team, but either way this is a consistently hilarious game. The Toads may be generic in design, but there are some amazing little characters which pop up along the way. My favourite was a very minor trainspotting Toad who follows you for a series of train based levels who slowly breaks down about how pathetic his life is. The writing also avoids becoming too laden with memes and internet references, which some Mario RPGs have been guilty of in the past. The inherent silliness of the Toads is explored to full comic potential. It can be oddly heartfelt at times too; I rolled my eyes when I first saw Huey, assuming that he’d be another in a long line of forgettable Mario RPG sidekicks, but I actually really liked him. Still, very solid writing can only get you so far when the core story frame it’s strapped over is so lacklustre. It seems silly to complain about story in a Mario game if they hadn’t done so much better in the past. What changed? Why won’t Nintendo tell an original story in the Mario universe anymore? I genuinely don’t understand and it makes me sad.

Colour Splash is mechanically very similar to Sticker Star, the worst Paper Mario game. You will be exploring a series of discreet, linear levels on a beautiful world map to pick up stars at the end. Outside of battles, Colour Splash is genuinely joyful to play. The mechanics aren’t complex or anything, but the world is beautiful and fun that it’s not at all a problem. The only real new mechanic is the ability to fill in spaces drained of colour with your hammer, but this is mostly optional thankfully. There is a wonderful variety in the levels; almost every single one brings in a new idea, with that wonderful refusal to sit on its laurels which is Nintendo’s trademark. In terms of puzzling the only main element is the acquiring of Things, objects from our real 3D world which Mario can use in his 2D paper world. For example, a fan can blow a damaged ship back to land or a hairdryer can melt a block of ice. These are pretty simple for the most part, but fun whenever they come about. Towards the end, Colour Splash becomes very obscure in how they expect the player to progress, which can be frustrating and puts a lot of arbitrary blocks in your path. Stuff that I expected to be boring side missions I could ignore latterly become vital to the main game, often hours and hours later leading to a maddening sense of trying to work out what you missed. There’s too much busywork and padding in this game, although the most egregious offender I have yet to even mention.

The combat in Colour Splash is boring, pointless and easy. Sticker Star’s stickers have become cards, but the principle is the same. Rather than a set of moves to choose from, Mario instead plays a card which activates a move, such as a jump or a hammer attack. At first you can only use one at a time although by the end you can use four. The combat itself isn’t fun; there’s no strategy beyond ‘don’t jump on the spiky thing’ and simply feels like a war of attrition. Experience points are still gone; there is no levelling up or tangible sense of progression. Turns out that the removal of the satisfaction of levelling up makes turn based battling pretty much unbearable. Even worse is that when the cards are used they’re gone, meaning that it in the player’s interest to avoid battles at all cost and that when you do end up battling it’s frustrating and annoying. This is the second game Nintendo have released with this system and it just doesn’t work. I actually get Nintendo’s reasoning behind stripping out the RPG elements from Paper Mario; with Mario & Luigi now their main RPG series it makes sense to send Paper Mario in a different direction. The thing is though, they already did that successfully in the underrated Super Paper Mario on the Wii. That game stripped out a lot of RPG elements and it was still great because it didn’t hamstring itself with random battles which clashed with everything else the game was about. If Super Paper Mario was the future of the series rather than The Thousand Year Door, I could live with that, but the fact that Sticker Star seems to be the path the series has set itself upon really sucks. This game would have been much better if it contained no battles, even if it was half the length.

Despite the negative tone of the last bit, Colour Splash is a better game than Sticker Star. As bad as the battles are, pretty much everything else is lovely. Colour Splash is one of the most beautiful games ever made, which sounds like hyperbole, but it really is. The Paper Mario series has always been lovely, but the Wii U is the most powerful console the series has ever appeared on and it shows. The vibrancy of the colour and level of detail is a series best as is the variety of environments. The music is very good too, although the battle theme got pretty old by the end. There’s so much love and attention to detail in the visuals, the sound and the writing that it’s really sad that the same level of thought wasn’t given to the battles.

I don’t really know if Paper Mario has a future after Sticker Star; I hope it does, but Nintendo really don’t seem to know what to do with it. Paper Mario needs to decide whether it wants to be an RPG or not, because the RPG-lite approach just isn’t working.

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Deus Ex: Mankind Divided for PS4, Xbox One and PC

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is a strong release surrounded by little irritations. On a mechanical and level design basis this is possibly the best that Deus Ex has ever been, but in many other ways it’s hard not to feel that Mankind Divided is a bit lacking, holding far too much back for a sequel or, worse, DLC.

Mankind Divided takes place a couple of years after Human Revolution, with our reluctant augmented hero Adam Jensen now working for Interpol in Prague. However, he is a double agent, also working for the hacker group known as The Juggernaut Collective who seek to expose the Illuminati Jensen discovered in Human Revolution. The Incident of two years before, where every augmented person in the world was thrown into a murderous rage by a force beyond their control, has left a world deeply distrustful of augs, with Prague being among the most repressive places, descending into a police state. A run in with a mysterious group of mercenaries in Dubai and a terrorist attack on a train station sees Jensen thrown back into the fray, with the future of all augmented people at stake.

I’ll say this for Mankind Divided’s story; it is ambitious. Much has been made of this games politics and the controversial adoption of the language of Black Lives Matter and apartheid, but I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong in using science fiction to hold a mirror up to the world; arguably that’s what sci-fi is for. That said, Deus Ex pretty much completely bungles its lofty aims. There is a clear attempt to make the player understand what it means to be an oppressed person; as you wander the streets you’ll suffer many slights such as abuse in the street, police harassment and ‘aug only’ train carriages. The latter is really interestingly handled because your HUD always leads you onto these carriages, although you can just choose to get onto the ‘normal’ carriages anyway. Having the actual HUD conspire in the oppression is really interesting, but the clever handling of this situation pretty much begins and ends there. The big problem is Jensen himself. I’m a straight white male living in the West, I don’t know what oppression feels like. I can hazard a guess however that it doesn’t feel like being a heavily armed cyborg killing machine. Deus Ex plays into being a power fantasy; getting stronger and stronger as Jensen is very satisfying, but this runs directly counter to the feeling of oppression we’re clearly meant to experience. This makes the whole thing seem shallow and very surface level. However, before I lay into this game too much I do want to say that I like that they tried to do more with the AAA narrative, a space which seems determined to be as apolitical as possible even whilst pumping out extremely political games like Call of Duty.

Unfortunately, the narrative problems with Mankind Divided don’t end there. Put simply, this game doesn’t really have an ending. A conspiracy is hinted at but very little is revealed. There are several plot threads which just drop off, either for a sequel or for DLC. There is nothing wrong with teasing a sequel, but the story presented must in itself be satisfying. Serialised storytelling works for TV shows where you have a new episode every week, but for games which may have a 2-4 year gap between them it just doesn’t work. The consequences of your choices are handled in an almost hilariously poor fashion, with a TV presenter literally talking to the camera for five minutes explaining all of your choices and then a cut to credits. I could not believe it. There is good stuff here, particularly in some interesting side quests, but Mankind Divided is left feeling like a transitioning story between the globetrotting grandeur of Human Revolution and a larger scale sequel in the future, but not memorable in its own right.

Thankfully, the actual minute to minute gameplay of Mankind Divided is superb. Although I’m sure it’s possible to play this game as a guns blazing killing machine, I played as a stealthy hacker type and this remains hugely satisfying. Jensen feels comfortable to control in a way he didn’t in Human Revolution. The augmentations from the previous game return; you have the classic Mega Man/Metroid problem of losing all your upgrades at the beginning, but for whatever reason it didn’t feel too irritating to me. You also have a whole load of new augmentations, a lot of which are aggressive and murder-y and so didn’t really suit my playstyle. I really only used remote hacking, which is really useful and a paralysing laser beam thing which suited my non-lethal ways. The dreaded outsourced boss fights from the last game are thankfully gone. In fact, Mankind Divided only contains one boss fight which is hilariously easy. I don’t think this is a series which needs boss fights at all; if given the option I always talked myself out of any situation anyway.

Mankind Divided is a much more focused game than its predecessors, which generally featured a couple of hubs. Prague is the sole hub setting in Mankind Divided, although you will make three jaunts off to more linear areas outside. The first of these areas, an augmented city/concentration camp, is fascinating and compelling; I could have played a whole game set there, but the following two aren’t quite as interesting. Prague itself is a great hub, with three phases throughout the story; day, night and curfew lockdown, the latter of which is deeply irritating as you have to sneak around to get anywhere, even travelling between side quests. Oh, and those side quests! While they’ve always been present in previous games, it was always the main story which stuck in my head, but the side quests in Mankind Divided are excellent, arguably the best part of the game. Don’t miss a single one. Overall, this is actually quite a short game, definitely the shortest in the series. I don’t really think this is a problem, if not for the fact that it’s hard to shake the feeling that things are being held back for DLC. I got an extra mission as a Day 1 purchase reward thing, which in the end felt quite substantial from both a gameplay and a story perspective. IT SHOULD HAVE BEEN PART OF THE MAIN GAME. The missions that are there are superbly designed, with a genuinely open structure. If you only ever follow the HUD markers, you’ll miss stuff and often get lesser outcomes in the missions. Ignoring the HUD and experimenting often pays off in a way which is quite rare in open world games. Even in games I adore like The Witcher 3, each mission plays out in a linear fashion with little real choice from the player, but in Mankind Divided you can really get quite clever with the immaculately designed environments.

The environments in Mankind Divided are beautiful. Prague is the best hub in the series, with a wonderful combination of classic architecture and over the top sci-fi silliness. Exploring the city streets is hugely atmospheric and the general visual design is very strong. The same cannot be said for the character animations, which are stiff and awkward. The voice acting is a mixed bag too; there’s some good work here, but also some irritatingly bad accents, particularly some awful grating English ones. The original Deus Ex had some shocking voice acting too, but at least there it was hilariously bad (I’ll never forget that Australian bartender) but here it’s just annoying. The music is a bit of a let-down too; Deus Ex has one of the best themes in gaming so bloody use it! The moody electronica is gone and replaced with nothing memorable. I hope that in the inevitable follow up the same attention to detail is given to the other elements that was given to the environments.

Mankind Divided reminds me a bit of Metal Gear Solid V; a really good game with rock solid mechanics which just ends up feeling…lacking. I appreciate what’s there, but it’s difficult not to feel like it needs a bit more. Hopefully next time Square Enix divert resources away from microtransactions and pointless free to play game modes and put everything into making the best Deus Ex game they possibly can. I wouldn’t count on it though.

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Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright for Nintendo 3DS

I love that Fire Emblem, one of Nintendo’s historically underrated franchises, has had a resurgence of late. The much better than expected sales of Fire Emblem: Awakening have seen us given not one, not two, but three new Fire Emblem games. I was cynical about the split of Fates into three parts initially; I’m of the opinion that if any company tried to pull the two game Pokemon thing Nintendo have been doing for years they’d be rightly criticised for dodgy business practices. However, after playing Birthright I can see that this comfortably stands alone as its own game as well as leaving me hungry to jump right into Conquest.

All versions of Fire Emblem Fates follow Corrin, a young prince or princess of the dingy, militarily aggressive nation of Nohr. I’m going to refer to Corrin as female for this summary as she was in my game. Corrin has been kept in a Nohrian fortress all of her life, but upon coming of age is sent by the King Garon to investigate a fortress held by the rival nation of Hoshido, near their border. On that mission Corrin is captured by Hoshidan forces and brought to their capital, where she is revealed to be a long lost child of the Hoshidan royal family, kidnapped by Nohr as a child. The Nohrian forces led by Xander, Corrin’s adopted older brother, comes to take her back and the Hoshidans go into battle to defend her, led by her real brother Ryoma. It is here that Fire Emblem Fates splits into its three separate paths. Birthright follows the path of Corrin joining with her birth family, the Hoshidans and taking the war to Nohr to defeat King Garon’s imperial ambitions, fighting her adopted family along the way.

Birthright only tells one third of an entire story, so doesn’t necessarily feel particularly satisfying in its own right, particularly compared to Awakening. The supporting cast contains a few of the interesting eccentrics which Awakening did so well, but there really aren’t anyone has memorable as characters like Tharja, Donnel or Kellem. The characterisation in these games is at its best when it’s big, unsubtle and silly, with a few too many characters in Birthright attempting to be a bit more nuanced which doesn’t really work as the writing simply isn’t strong enough to support it. Easily the most interesting element is the betrayal felt by her Nohrian family that Corrin has chosen Hoshido. Birthright definitely has some cool moments, particularly towards the end, but all told this third of the Fire Emblem Fates felt very safe and conservative. That said, from all I’ve heard this is intentional as Conquest and Revelations move in more interesting directions and that Birthright in some ways lays some groundwork for the other games. I hope this is true because on its own merits there isn’t a huge amount of interest here.

Birthright is structured in a very similar way to Awakening, with Conquest apparently being more similar to the older Fire Emblem games. The core mechanics are essentially unchanged, with the beefed up support system from Awakening making a grand return. Building relationships between the characters remains one of the greatest joys of the game, with the return of children of characters being recruitable. The plot reasoning for this is iffy, but it’s undeniably satisfying populating your army with your offspring. I love turn based strategy games and Fire Emblem is among the very best. The core strategic weapon triangle combat is the same, although things are complicated slightly the addition of shurikens for the new Ninja class. Birthright has fairly simple mission objectives, with almost all being about killing the enemy forces, which is fine as there are some neat level designs. The core mechanics of Fire Emblem are so damn satisfying that there don’t need to be many changes. A neat addition are ‘Dragon Veins’, which Corrin and members of the Hosihdan royal family can activate in a map to alter the terrain, such as releasing toxic gas which weakens enemy stats, or creating a bridge to allow you to flank the enemy. It’s a really cool addition which adds a nice extra tactical layer on top. There is an ability to create your own castle between missions, which feels a bit undercooked and superfluous. There’s potential there that it would be nice to see expanded in future games, but it didn’t interest me here

There are a lot of quality of life changes, like adjustable difficulty modes and the ability to turn off the infamous permadeath. People have been describing this as the easy one, which makes me want to weep as I found it quite hard. That said, I did play it on the Classic permadeath mode, as it just wouldn’t feel like Fire Emblem without it and I refused to let anyone die. I like that I was able to adjust not only my own level of challenge but also my own style of challenge. Purists will bitch and moan but I don’t care, play however you like. Returning from Awakening is the ability to grind and level up outside the core missions. All of these changes make this the most accessible Fire Emblem yet, which is a good thing. Nothing is sacrificed or ruined from the old games and now more people can get into it; it’s a win-win situation.

Birthright is visually similar to Awakening, with impressive looking battles and a clear and uncluttered UI for the combat. The Hoshido characters are more influenced by Japanese culture than the more Western Medieval fantasy styles of the previous games. This means there are a lot of cool new looking classes with some really neat animations. The voice acting is generally decent, although I would have liked to see it used more extensively. I suspect that this may have been a pretty massive burden on the memory for a little 3DS cart, so I get why it’s not there, but it still felt like a bit of a shame. The music is good, although not quite as good as in some of the previous games. I like the amount of customisation available, from different angles to the battles and a range of difficulty options.

Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright is a good game which nonetheless left me a bit wanting. It didn’t grab me nearly as much as Awakening, particularly in terms of the characters and range of classes. I have heard many call this the weakest of the three Fates games, which I hope is the case as I leap headfirst into Conquest.

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