Lucien’s Review: Ghost of Tsushima

Thus far, 2020 has been one hell of a year.  There’s a certain feeling of finality to it, if you ask me.  It feels like everything is coming to an end.  We have social media collapsing as it shows its true colors of being pro-rich and anti-public.  We have the Trump administration falling apart.  At this juncture, it’s going to take Trump absolutely demolishing Biden for him to even have a chance in November.  His cult can’t salvage him from the trash fire that is how he handled COVID-19.  Speaking of, that’s another thing.  It feels like the end of the world as we knew it, thanks in large part to this plague.

For gaming, this has been an interesting year.  For me, it started off great, with an expanded version of my favorite game of 2017.  Then a game I was hoping would be great turned out to be a narrative disaster, shitting on characters I loved from one of my favorite games.  Now we get to a summer release that really is outshining its contemporaries right now.  After the bitter taste in a lot of people’s mouths that was The Last of Us: Part II, in comes a game that is a love letter to samurai films from back in the day, and in my opinion does it so much justice.  I love this game so much, and now we’re going to talk about it.

The story of Ghost of Tsushima goes that the Mongol horde invades the Japanese island of Tsushima.  Jin Sakai is one of 88 samurai who ride out to meet them, in a battle that is a massacre.  Jin survives, thanks to the help of a thief named Yuna.  When he tries to maintain his Samurai honor, going to face the Khan again, he is brutally defeated, thrown off a bridge, and left for dead.  Realizing that the way of the samurai isn’t going to give him victory in this conflict, Jin decides to take another route.  He becomes the infamous Ghost, a warrior of shadows, a knife in the dark.  With this new way of battling, he begins his mission to get revenge on the Mongols, and save his people from them.  Along the way, he learns that to become the hero he needs to be, he may end up becoming an even more dangerous monster.

The first thing to talk about with this game is the visuals.  This game is gorgeous!  I cannot even begin to explain how beautiful the visuals are.  Sucker Punch really went all out on the visuals, and it pays off dividends.  I can’t think of a single area of this game that isn’t gorgeous.  The thing that really strikes me is the usage of color, and the way they are able to make it pop.  The first time I went to the Golden Temple, I was in awe of the dappled yellow from the trees there.  Or the foggy moonlight in the swamps.  Even the bitter cold northern regions are still beautiful, in their way.  Each section of this game has its own unique look, and the way they bring that to life is fantastic.  You even have haiku minigames that you participate in that seem to be done just to make the world come to life, with the soothing score of this game in the background.

Another thing I wanna mention is the narrative.  One of the things I like about this game is how mature it feels.  There are some serious subjects at play.  One of the biggest is the contrast between the man that Jin was raised to be, and the man he is becoming as the Ghost, along with what that is doing to him as a person.  You also have some dark and gripping story-lines that you partake in.  Then there was one that I won’t spoil, but it involved a caretaker of his, and how that concluded actually had me crying.  Not joking, I teared up.  The way they ended that, with no resolution, it felt so heartfelt.  There is a certain amount of restraint with the characters and the narrative.  One that feels fitting for the tone.  Samurai in this game are about restraint and keeping one’s emotions in check.  So Jin exercises that, wherever possible.  It makes the scenes where his composure breaks that much more intense, because you get used to how reserved he is.

The thing that makes this game, though, is the combat.  A lot of the reviews I am seeing point out that there are two major ways to play.  The first is as a Samurai, which involves good sword-play, parrying, dodging, and as you level up, you gain new Stances.  Each one helps you fight a different kind of enemy.  Each of these stances can be changed in real time, so you don’t have to interrupt the flow of battle when you are taking on a lot of enemies, or participating in a big set-piece battle.  You can also play as the Ghost, which involves stealth and using the tools of your ninja trade.  One thing people have commented on is that the AI in this game is dumb as dirt, so cheesing enemies with stealth isn’t exactly hard, and I would be lying if I didn’t agree.  Still, that being said, I love it.  Stealth is my major way to play, and it never stops being fun.

However, one thing I don’t see is that the game gives you the freedom to mix and match skills to craft a battle style you want.  You can have a little bit of everything, and it feels good.  To be in the middle of a big set-piece battle, throwing kunai and using black powder bombs.  Just like the stances, these weapons can be changed in real time, so you have access to all the tools you unlock.  That really lets me craft the Ghost that I want to be.

I want to take a little moment to comment on some of the controversy that seems to be surrounding this game.  Seems that the western games media has decided to white knight for a community of which they are not a part, and lament that a game about samurai was made by western developers.  At first, the coverage was how offensive it is to Japanese people.  However, this game is selling so hot in Japan that they have run out of copies for sale there.  All their press are in love with it.  Then the commentary turned to how this game supports “Japanese imperialism,” which sounds a touch bit racist.  Not to mention how Asian Americans are offended by this.  Do these people not know that the world is not America?  Not to mention, not all Asian Americans have Japanese heritage, and I have seen that the various Asian groups here tend to take their heritage seriously and don’t like to be lumped in with others.  Overall, this controversy is stupid.  This game is a love letter to a style of film, and it is absolutely clear that there was nothing but respect for the culture they were looking at and a desire to make the best game they could.  I commend Sucker Punch for how hard they worked to make this game.

There is a part of me that thinks that some of the controversy with this game is due to salt about how The Last of Us: Part II was received.  I keep seeing that game mentioned in articles condemning Ghost of Tsushima, to the point that it is now very noticeable.  A game that is pro-progressive in all the ways big games media likes is divisive in all the wrong ways by the fans of the original, while a game that doesn’t play politics and just strives to show affection for a culture and a style of filmmaking that it emulates perfectly is a smash hit in all ways.  I can see why some outlets would be salty.

Overall, while this game isn’t perfect, and the early sections of the game before you gain new skills and level up can be tedious, the narrative is gripping, the characters are interesting, the setting is glorious, the combat is slick, and I cannot recommend this game enough.  If you love samurai films of yore the way that I do, then you owe it to yourself to pick up this game.

Final Verdict
8 out of 10

Peace out,

Maverick

Lucien’s Review: Persona 5: Royal

For those who don’t know, my favorite game of 2017 is Persona 5.  I said in that review that it was the greatest JRPG ever made, bar none.  So when I saw that they were making a version of the game that is essentially the same game, but with even more content packed in, you cannot imagine how stoked I was.  The original game already had over 70 hours of engaging content in there, so to add in even more sounded like an absolute god-send.  It made it clear to me that 2020 was going to be a gaming hallmark year.  That may not be the case with the plague that’s currently keeping the globe in perpetual limbo while the orange retard in office decides when to send everyone back to work because fuck it, die for the economy.  Still, this game has come out, and let me tell you, the bar that Cyberpunk 2077 has to clear has never been higher.  I love this game so damn much.  It takes all the rough edges from the original game and smooths them out. Lots to talk about, so let’s get into it.

For those who didn’t play the game the first go-around, now really would be a great time.  Especially if you are trapped indoors because of the plague.  What was once a massive game is now so big that I can’t imagine what else they could fit into it.  It’s stuffed to absolute capacity with content.  More content than anyone could realistically know what to do with.  It’s kind of daunting, for those who have very limited time.  However, for those who already have the original game, should you take the plunge of paying nearly full price for basically an expansion?  Honestly, I have to say, that’s up to you.  I am not regretting my purchase.  Especially in this climate.  But some of you may have much tighter budgets right now, so I leave the concept up to you.  As I describe this game, maybe you can make up your mind.

A basic rundown for whoever may not have played the original.  The plot goes that you are nameless protagonist who has been accused of a violent crime and sent away to serve probation after being convicted.  You’re in the city of Tokyo, trying to stay under the radar and serve your probation out, then go home.  However, a series of circumstances have you getting sucked into a cognitive world called the Metaverse, and awakening your inner trickster, and from there becoming a thief who steals the dark desires away from people who are screwing up the world.

I don’t know if I mentioned in my review of the original game, but the way you are going to actually enjoy this game is if you are the type of person who played the Mass Effect games and your favorite thing was talking to your squadmates.  Because while there is some amazing action, the VAST majority of what you will be doing in this game is talking to people.  The story of this game is verbose, to say the least.  For those who like JRPGs, it’s got most of the trimmings of such narratives, with a more mature edge.  Actual violence, deaths, and some dark subject matter.  But it makes the relationships you forge that much better.

All the same things about the last game are true about this one.  The visual design is the best.  If anything, it’s only gotten better here.  On my PS4 Pro, the color pops!  What’s more, they have updated lots of the visuals so they are buttery-smooth and even more distinct.  This game has so much of its own style, both visually, musically, and even in the writing of characters.

So, rather than retread old ground and talk about how great all the things in the original game, let’s talk about what’s different.  Because there is a lot to talk about.  For starters, there is the addition of a couple new characters.  The first is a young gymnast named Kasumi.  At first, you are a little confused, but eventually she gets weaved into the narrative.  The second is a counselor character named Maruki.  Just like Kasumi, I was a little confused at first.  But stick with these characters, because MUCH further down the road, they enter the story in one of the most engaging ways ever.  But we’ll get to that.

Another thing they changed is the growth of the relationship with Akechi.  It was a big complaint I had, how paper-thin the relationship with him is in the original game.  Here, if you want to unlock the best story with him, you have to actually work at it.  Same with the former two characters.  There is a HUGE narrative reason to actually build up all your relationships.  More than there was in the original.  My favorite scene is when you build up the relationship with Akechi to a certain point and there is some genuine relationship-building between them that does admittedly make his betrayal of him later a little weird.  That’s not a spoiler, by the way.  It was in the original.  Plus, during the part of the story that I’m dying to talk about, the dude comes back and he just grew on me so fast.  Anti-hero Akechi is just my favorite thing ever.  He’s such a sadistic asshole, but you can’t help but love him.  He became a fixture of my party very quickly.

There are also some little things that were added, like a couple new areas, like Kichijoji, which becomes a fun stomping ground with games you can play with your teammates that comes into play in actual battle.  Then there’s the aquarium, which is nice to look at and a cute date spot.

However, the biggest addition is a whole new segment of the story that was added on.  I’m not spoiling anything by saying that.  The marketing for this addition said that they would be adding the third semester from the end of the last game that was cut out back into it.  And holy shit!  This stuff is awesome!  I mean REALLY fucking awesome!  Part of me desperately wishes that the initial ending of the game was scrapped and this was put in.  It is so much more engaging than the initial ending was, with a plot involving a character that is both dark and makes you think.  Plus, it was where my adorable bromance with Akechi started.  And it’s where a ton of weebs will get to have all the shipping art they want to make of two characters.  Won’t spoil who.  The story is dark, engaging, and adds a whole new depth to the Metaverse that is actually really fun.  Plus, we get to learn about a bunch of characters.  I will say that the way that it ignores the relationships you’ve built in terms of romance is a little frustrating, but whatever.  That’s a nit-pick.

Overall, this game really is the original, but with more stuff.  It takes some of my biggest gripes, like how you would have that damn cat telling you not to craft things after a mission when it was just wasted time and got rid of that.  There is a whole new element.  For those of you who loved the original but have a stretched budget, you may want to wait until it drops in price, because how much mileage you get with the additions may very.  But for me, I think this game is even better.  Now more than ever, it’s the greatest JRPG of all time.  It’s now one of my favorite games of all time.  I love it, from the bottom of my little black heart.  Hopefully all of you do too.

Final Verdict
10 out of 10

Peace out,

Maverick

Lucien’s Review: Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order

What an absolute marvel this game is.  To think that game in this franchise with EA’s name on it is so fucking good!  It blows my mind how this game feels more like Star Wars to me than anything since Revenge of the Sith.  So much of what has been missing from Disney’s absolute abortion of this franchise was in this game, and it’s amazing.  The story simple, with likeable characters, good gameplay, fun set-pieces, and that visceral feeling that I have been so missing from this franchise’s films.  I have so much to talk about with this game, so let’s not keep you all waiting.

The plot goes that Cal Cestus is a lone Jedi hiding after the purge following Revenge of the Sith.  Burdened by guilt he feels, and fear of those hunting him, he makes a living as a scrapper.  However, after using the Force to save a friend, the Inquisitors are on to him and a new potential ally emerges to help him.  It’s a plot that actually feels like something from Star Wars, and that’s only the beginning.

Most of what I have to talk about is how much I love how great this story is and how well it’s told.  But to talk about some other stuff before I gush, the gameplay here is challenging.  This game is basically Dark Souls mixed with Star Wars.  It’s challenging, to say the least.  But for those who like that style of gameplay, it’s good stuff.  Mixed in with that is a lot of puzzle seeking.  This is a metroidvania style game, in the purest sense.  Back-tracking and revisiting world with new powers to find secrets is fun.

It’s worth mentioning that this game has NONE of the EA bullshit staples.  NO microtransactions.  None.  Nothing blocked off behind paywalls.  It’s a complete game, from start to finish with no nonsense.  What a magical thing.  To say that about an EA game just blows my mind.

Another fantastic thing is the visuals.  Every world in this game is unique, and they all have their own visual style.  Sometimes you just sit back and take in the scenery.  It was a wise decision for them to use the Unreal Engine.  Plus, for some truly fantastic boss fights, you can get sucked into the set-pieces.  My favorite was with the AT-AT walker.  It was in the E3 demo, but so what?  Fantastic stuff even without it.

Then there’s the music.  At times, it can seem a little standard for a video game, but then there is some of the FANTASTIC uses of original film score, and set-piece music that makes everything pop.  Which is where we get into the gushing.

Where has this kind of story been in this franchise?!  Oh my Groj!  A simple premise about a tortured hero being called to adventure, with companions who all have their flaws.  The group of them gradually overcoming them over the course of the adventure.  This is what a good Star Wars film should have. And it’s something that ALL of Disney’s films have lacked!  Rogue One came the closest, and what do you know, it’s my favorite of the Disneyverse films.  This feels like it belongs in this franchise so much.  I’ve missed having a story that hits this close to home in the Star Wars universe.  Cal is a likeable protagonist who grows over the course of his journey.  Cere is a tortured companion who overcomes her pain in a believable and likeable way.  She doesn’t feel like some token black character the way Finn does.  Mirrin is a cute and likeable obvious love interest for future games, but you are okay with that because her and Cal have good chemistry.  Greez is kind of an asshole but you like him because of it.  And BD-1 is fun and cute.

But one thing that this game has that the films have been missing for so long is the visceral feeling!  When you are fighting some of the bosses, like the Second Sister or a secret boss that I won’t DARE spoil if you haven’t played it, and you see these character attacking each other, you can feel the emotion.  Sure, the pacing is fast, but it doesn’t have the cheap choreographed feel the prequel trilogy had so much.  When characters are going at it, you feel their passion.  When they are afraid, you can see it.  Where was that in ANY of the fights in the Disneyverse trilogy?  No-fucking-where!  Those movies suck.

I remember when this game was first announced, how skeptical everyone was.  The SJWs being all butthurt that the protagonist is a white guy.  Well, having played the game, I can say that they can all shut the fuck up.  This was a great game.  If there was something I’d say as a detraction, it’s that it’s a little short, and there could have been some more enemy variety.  Still, those are nit-picks.

Overall, this is a fantastic game.  It is the first time, in years, that I’ve felt like I’m playing an actual Star Wars game and seeing a real story in this franchise play out in front of me.  If you are like me, and so dejected by this franchise’s films, you owe it to yourself to pick this title up.  I really did feel like a Jedi Knight.

Final Verdict
8 out of 10

Peace out,

Maverick

Lucien’s Worst Game of 2019

I sometimes don’t have a lot to say in a worst of the year post, because the fact that my finances are always pretty stunted, I am always having to measure what games I buy.  As such, unless something looks pretty awesome, I don’t buy it.  However, this year had one that really stuck in my craw.  A game that could have been something amazing, that SHOULD have been something amazing, but turned out to be a giant pile of trash that spit on its legacy.  For those who are salivating thinking I’m talking about Death Stranding, don’t.  While that game does have a ton of problems, I don’t hate it.  Some of you who read my site regularly will probably know which game I’m actually talking about.

Recently, I talked about how I am kind of done with nostalgia culture.  Well, there are things that I am genuinely nostalgic for.  So many people talk about this thing or that thing ruining their childhood.  I have that thought when I saw the post talking about how Disney is going to do a live-action version of A Night on Bald Mountain from my favorite film of all time – Fantasia.  The game that I hated most this year actually did shit on my childhood a little.  It hurt me as I got to the end and there was one thought in my mind – that’s it?!  Seriously?!  Got a lot of rage to unload here, so let’s get to it.  The game I HATED most in 2019 is…

Kingdom Hearts III

It kinda blows my mind how bad this game is.  How it can take a formula that has been done so well before, even in some of the more cash-grab games, and take such a dump on it is kind of impressive.  How do you fuck up a formula where it’s been done so well in two mainline entries?!  Was this a deliberate choice?!  Did Tetsuya Nomura just think to himself, “fuck Square Enix, I’m just gonna shit this out and give it to the fans because they wouldn’t let me make the Final Fantasy versus XIII game I wanted to do.”  By the way, that’s the truth.  They didn’t let him do that.  Why?  Because Square Enix wanted to market the game in china, and they didn’t like the focus on a god of death.  So they had to dumb it down in order to make the game sell in the place that now more and more companies are bending the knee to.  But I digress.

Every single part of this game feels rushed.  All of it feels like things were just being done in order to be finished with it.  Like nobody wanted to be working on this game, but were obligated to do it.  Maybe it’s because more and more games are coming in below projected estimates for this entertainment giant, and they figured that they needed something to just rake in the cash.  If nothing else, Kingdom Hearts fanboys/girls are pretty die-hard.  Still, while playing it, I could never escape this feeling that they were just looking to be finished with it.

I can guess why.  Part of me feels like Disney got their grubby fingers into this and were forcing the company to pimp their biggest stuff in order to get the licenses to work with.  Fan favorite worlds?  Nope!  That would detract from Disney’s marketing their newest and biggest stuff to the gamers.  Actually having Final Fantasy character?  Fuck that!  That will detract even more from it.  Even though they could EASILY have just taken characters from their library and integrated them into Disney worlds, that would also have detracted.  I don’t know where the fault lies for how rushed and poorly paced this game was, but I want to call out the person responsible.

Nothing in this game feels engaging.  Sure, we had all the fan callbacks with every fan favorite character getting screen time.  But we don’t care about any of them.  After this many years with the franchise basically being on ice, nobody gives a fuck about anything that happens here.  It looks very pretty, but feels unbelievably hollow.  Just a lot of spectacle.  The plot felt like it was going nowhere.  The characters had no investment.  It was all just playing out a string.

Why did they not let us visit ANY of the worlds we loved?  Hell, your time in 100 Acre Wood felt like something tacked on just to make fans happy.  Why?  Just another rushed world where you are in and out before you even know that something happened.  I don’t get it!  For everything they got right, like putting tons of people in worlds that were supposed to have them, they made the areas with people just afterthoughts.  Nomura’s last project, Final Fantasy XV, feels like it was half-done.  This was feels like even less than that.  And I hear that his next one, the remake of Final Fantasy VII is STILL being released episodically, with each one basically being the size of a AAA game by itself.  Screw that!  Is that the future now?  Don’t have your game done, you can just release a full-priced game that is a third complete and then release two other full-priced expansions?!  I’m not doing that!  I want to be excited for that game, but the more I hear about how they are releasing it, the more I realize that I’m just not.  It looks beautiful, but it’s coming out one third done.

This game’s biggest failing to me was that it was boring.  With the exception of the Toy Story world, which got me invested just because it had that iconic music and characters I grew up loving.  I’m surprised they couldn’t have at least gotten Tim Allen to do the voicework for Buzz.  I mean, how much is that guy’s cost really at these days?  He ain’t that high on the hog anymore.  Still, there were worlds where I should have been invested, and I just wasn’t.  Like the world from Big Hero 6, though admittedly, that one got the closest.  And Pirates of the Caribbean world was fun to return to.  The part of that level where Jack is teaching Sora how to be a pirate, and you find out it wasn’t really him was pretty great stuff.

When trailers for this game came out, everyone thought this was going to be a tour de force for the franchise.  Instead, it was a game where everyone involved just wanted to be done.  You can feel it in every second of rushed dialogue.  And you know what, that bums me out a little.  So much more could have and rightly should have been done.  Let the creative energy flow.  But then Square Enix wouldn’t have gotten the easy money.  It breaks my heart.  I was hoping for more, and instead I got less.  Then we find out that more games are coming out in the franchise.  Nope!  I’m done.  Just fucking done.

Until next time, a quote,

“This sucks.” – Beevis, Beevis and Butthead

Peace out,

Maverick

Lucien’s Best Game of 2019

As the year is wrapping up, it’s time to think about what came out this year.  It was a very ho-hum year for gaming.  Whether it be games coming out later than expected, or ones delayed until next year, it seems that 2019 is the year that is gearing up for the swan song of yet-another console generation.  Next year has so many games with confirmed release dates that are going to blow the effing minds out of people, and it’s clear that major companies all want to finish as strong as they possibly can.  With that being said, what is the game that has most stood out to me this year?

I will say that 2019 is the year of sleeper hits.  Games that came out of nowhere and really impressed me.  AA projects that were more reserved, and as such made the most of their limited resources.  The game that has stuck with me the most out of those is the one on this post, my favorite game of 2019.  So, without further ado, my favorite game of 2019 is…

Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown

Just recently, I caught up on all the extra mission DLC that was in the Season Pass I got for this game, and man that was fun!  For those who were unaware, I think that fighter jets are the raddest thing ever.  It’s the reason that Top Gun is such a guilty pleasure to me.  As corny as it is, the film had jets being awesome fighter jets.  So when I saw the trailers for this game, bringing flight sim combat back to a new generation of gaming, my thought was – oh hell yes!  Give me the most beautiful fighter jet in the world – the F-22 Raptor!  Then it got released, and all my expectations were blown out of the water.

I will say that there was nothing about this game that was subtle.  The characters aren’t subtle, the action isn’t subtle, and the plot is as bombastic as it gets.  But man, getting into the cockpit of a fighter jet is oh so satisfying in this game.  Whether you choose to play this like a classic arcade fighter sim, or go very realistic with it, this game has a ton of neat mechanics for you to work with, all of which are super fun.  For my part, because I grew up on fighter games like Star Fox 64, I tend to play it in an arcade way.  But it doesn’t take my appreciation for the kind of game it is away.

Everything in this game is smooth.  Flying is smooth.  The framerate is high on my PS4 Pro, which is essential for a game where you are flying through the air and taking on enemies in fast-paced dogfights.  Every jet has its own personality, and getting to know them all is part of the fun.  While the Raptor is my girl, there are plenty of other jets I love.  Most notably, the F/A-18 Super Hornet (Navy love, Hooyah!), the F-35 Lightning II, the F-14 Tomcat (RIP, you beautiful jet), and the F-15 Eagle.  Each of them is fun to fly.  Dog-fighting is great, keeping on the tail of your enemy until you get missile lock, then waiting until they aren’t in a position where they can maneuver around your shot and taking it.  There’s an art to being great at this game on high difficulty.  It’s magical.

Sure, the story of this game is dumb.  I found that while I was playing the DLC, I got so much more into the story.  Not just because it was during a part in the main story where I loved the characters, but also because the narrative in the cutscenes corresponded with the narrative during gameplay.  It made it connect so much more, whereas in the main game, it seems so disconnected from whatever you’re doing.  Perhaps they can learn from this in whatever the next iteration of the franchise is.

If you love fighter sim combat games the way that I do, you owe it to yourself to play this game.  It flew under a lot of radar, and it is a throw-back to a style of game that is pretty much dead.  It’s so strange to me that a lot of my favorite games in recent years are unsung heroes.  Back in 2017, it was Persona 5, a AAA JRPG.  The fact that such a thing exists and was as spectacular as it was astounds me.  In 2015 it was Life is Strange, an episodic game with a style and attitude like an Indie film.  Were it not for how the last episode ended, it would be so much more loved by me.  There are games that are doing some neat things, and I like to see that Sony is helping to foster this.

Hopefully this isn’t the last time I will see this franchise take flight.  I can’t imagine what the next game will be, but I will be there to get behind the wing of my jet again.  See if Raptor and I can’t do some crazy stuff again.

Until next time, a quote,

“What happens when two singularities go up against one-another?” – Analyst North, Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown

Peace out,

Maverick

Lucien’s Review: Death Stranding

After years of waiting and being teased along, with Kojima never revealing more than he wanted to about it, his first project after breaking away from Konami has finally been released, and man does this game leave me with a whole bunch of mixed feeling.  When I saw the polarizing nature of critics who first reviewed it, I knew that there was something special about this game.  After all, it isn’t the first time Kojima has done this.  When Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty came out, critics were unbelievably harsh to it.  It’s a testament to his dedication that Kojima decided to own the backlash instead of running from it.  Right out of the gate he said that this isn’t a game that everyone is going to like, and I can see why.  This game has some genuine moments of brilliance that are fun as fuck, in a narrative that can get pretty heavy.  The problem is that it also has some really ugly bits that hold it back from greatness.  Let’s talk about it.

The story goes that some time after a huge event called the death stranding, the world of the dead was able to get mixed in to the world of the living.  The results of this have been catastrophic, as humanity is teetering on the edge of oblivion.  The story follows a man named Sam, played by Norman Reedus.  He makes deliveries in this wasteland, as he has a hardcore phobia about being touched.  An organization called Bridges shanghais him into helping them with their mission of reconnecting the country, but he has his own reasons for going along with it.  What follows is a bittersweet story of loneliness and connection.

Here’s my statement about this game, if you don’t want to read all the rest of this.  When this game is fun, it is really freakin’ fun!  There are some spectacular boss fights and some hardcore terrifying set-pieces in an in-between world that Sam gets whisked away to, where he sees one of the true architects of the reason the world is going to shit.  The problem is that when this game is not fun, it REALLY is not!  There are some horrifically-repetitive missions that have you wanting to tear your hair out.  For those of you who want to stick with me, I will get into specifics.

The central plot of this game seemed like a complete red herring to me, and kudos to my instincts, because I knew that there was more to it than just getting Amelie away from the Demens.  One of this game’s strong-points is that there the central cast all has their own agendas, and this fact often finds all of them in a really horrible situation that there seems to be no escape from.  When you finally get into the plot, and really start breaking things open, this game is so damn fun that it’s hard to describe.  Throw in a genuinely hate-able villain like Higgs, brilliantly voiced by Troy Baker, along with Mads Mikkelsen, whose villain character is not as simple as one person, and you have a conflict that is pretty fantastic to dig your teeth into.

Then there are the boss-fights.  Right from the first, I knew that I was going to be in love with this game and how they did these battles.  Every boss is creative, along with how you take them on.  It keeps you on the edge of your seat because Sam isn’t a super-soldier.  Being stupid can cost you pretty quickly.

You also have some beautiful venues to explore, which makes some of the more zen places where you are on the move that much more engaging.  I remember when people were talking about how this game was going to be a walking simulator, and you know what, the areas where that is the case don’t bother me.  Not at all.  Something about traveling through a beautiful and barren landscape with the game’s soundtrack coming on is really peaceful to me.  Though, this ties into one of my biggest gripes with the game.

As I said, when this game is not fun, it is REALLY not fun.  Here’s the issue.  This game has you playing as a delivery person.  Which means your primary mode of getting from A to B is because you have stuff to deliver for the various parties you want to bribe onto your side.  More often than not, this isn’t so bad.  The issue is that your journey to reconnect the world is so often hindered by the endless BTs that drift around and consistently make your life harder when you are trying to do your thing, and make something that is already not a short task due to how big the game’s world is take that much longer.  It’s draining.  One mission in-particular where I had complicated task after complicated task for this asshole who was being a giant dick-mule to me had me wanting to go beat him to death.

It’s a fact that this game’s narrative can get bogged down by the central elements.  The red herring nature of the central conflict is also something that drags its ass getting you to it.  Finding out the truth about Amelie and what Sam’s connection to it all is genuinely engaging, but it doesn’t help that Sam is a bit of a wet blanket through a huge part of it.  Reminded me of Keifer Sutherland in Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain.  You just thought to yourself – when are they going to give this guy a personality?  Like I said, you do get there, but the journey takes far longer than it should have.  Kojima easily could have cut a couple hours out and made the pacing so much better.  Because I do love when you finally get to the plot because it is pretty hardcore.

Overall, this is not a perfect game by any stretch.  I get why lots of people don’t like it.  But for me, I think that it’s pretty engaging stuff.  Were it not hindered down by some genuine problems, I think this game would have been among the all-time greats that I’ve played.  Definitely glad I got it, and for those who can look past the pacing issues and some of the more tedious missions, I think you will find a lot to like here.  I guess I’ll leave it at that.

Final Verdict
7 out of 10

Peace out,

Maverick

Lucien’s Review: Barber of Seville (Anchorage Opera)

There are nights where I wonder why do a review for an event where the shows are almost over, for a very limited audience of people, few of whom probably will have access to it.  But as I left the performance tonight, feeling thoroughly entertained, I heard two old-timers talking to each other. One remarked that the show was predictable and the plot had no surprises.  When I heard that, I thought to myself – what exactly were you expecting?  You watch opera for the same reason you do Shakespeare – to get wrapped up in the performance and emotion.  To get carried away by performers bringing characters to life on that stage.  And never has what Hamlet said to the actors come more to mind than tonight, with one HELL of a show.

Over the last few several years, I’ve been to some great performances by the Anchorage Opera.  Both locally and from outside, they have gotten some incredibly talented people to put on immeasurably good shows, and to my eyes they only get better.  In a couple years I am leaving this state to further my career somewhere with more opportunity and less oppressive dark and snowy winter.  One of the few things about this rather disgusting city that I shall miss is the Anchorage Opera.

My favorite kind of opera is comedic.  There’s only so much I can watch something that is a giant dirge without feeling like I’ve seen it before.  But in comedy, there is so much more engagement that I get.  Tragedy has its place, but when I am watching a live show, it isn’t the kind of thing I want to sit through.  And we’ve hit what is currently the high-water mark as far as these go.

The Barber of Seville tells the story of a Count who is looking to woo the young ward of a doctor named Rosina.  However, the Doctor is keen to keep the young woman for himself.  But with the help of the greedy but immeasurably clever barber named Figaro, he can have young love prevail.  Yes, as the aforementioned guy said, the story isn’t that complicated, but it’s all in the performance.

When I say that the Anchorage Opera has consistently been improving as I’ve watched it, I mean that every part of it has.  They always opt for very simple set design, and consistently it works to their advantage.  Here they had fantastic use of lighting.  Sometimes it set the mood, sometimes it was the time of day.  And there was even a time where it was part of a gag that the scene was doing.

Now we come to the point that everyone wants to hear about – the performances.  I cannot begin to tell you how much every single role in this show was on point.  There wasn’t a wasted note.  Every single character was brought to life excellently by people who clearly were putting their heart and soul into it.  In prior shows I’ve seen and reviewed, there has been a strange habit of someone stealing the show.  There was no such issue tonight.  I can’t think of anyone who fell flat.  The Doctor and Don Bosillio as the villains, Rosina and the Count as the young lovers seeking their happiness.

If I had to say who was the best out of all of them, I gotta give it to Figaro.  The person who was doing this role was in the zone tonight.  Maybe it’s just because this character is written to be one of the key humor points and ways to keep the plot moving forward, but it takes the right kind of person to bring this character to life the way that Alex DeSocio did.  As I am to understand it, he’s no stranger to this role, and it’s not hard to see why.  Every time he was on stage, he was the center of attention.

But don’t let that make you think the rest of the cast was sub-par.  That would be a disservice to every fantastic performance I got to see tonight.  This was a performance like I won’t forget, and it’s a credit to their stage acting that they can make something in Italian put the audience in stitches.  The comedic timing was fantastic.  There were even a couple points where they took a cue from Zucker Brothers movies and had something funny in the background while something serious (or as serious as things get in this production) is happening in the foreground.

Overall, this was a masterpiece of comedic opera.  I haven’t seen anything like it before, and I wonder if I will again.  I do these reviews because Anchorage Opera is filled with some incredibly dedicated people, and I genuinely do hope that they are able to stick around for many years to come.  Hopefully there will continue to be an audience of people who can appreciate it.

Final Verdict
10 out of 10

Peace out,

Maverick

Lucien’s Review: Kingdom Hearts III

This review is going to be a little bit different than my standard reviews.  Instead of talking about elements of this game, I’m going to talk about how much I absolutely fucking despise this game.  How much I think it’s a giant piece of shit, and how much it frustrates me that this is the end of a franchise.  I remember talking about Mass Effect 3 and Life is Strange and how the endings to those frustrated me.  But here’s the thing – the ends of this games frustrated me so much because they were SO good leading up it.  Everything before the Victory Fleet goes to Earth in Mass Effect 3 was perfect.  Simply, absolutely perfect.  Everything leading up to the lighthouse in Life is Strange was fantastic.  Both of those games just died right at the end.  Where the creative energy of both just expired.

Nowhere is the expiration of creative energy more apparent to me than in this game.  I am almost shocked how unfathomably bad Kingdom Hearts III is.  And it isn’t at the end.  This game is just so boring!  I remember when Kingdom Hearts II came out.  I still have my old PS2 copy of it.  That game was a fantastic sequel.  It felt like coming home to old friends while meetings some new ones.  Every single world you explored was interesting, and getting to see characters that we had come to like again was just great.  The plot had this great forward momentum.  Sure, some levels weren’t especially interesting, but that’s okay.  You got to enjoy the ones that were.

Plus, the gameplay was refined.  We had these great setpiece moves during boss fights.  There were the alternate forms where you could dual-wield keyblades.  That was fun.  New enemies were introduced, who were a unique challenge.  New worlds, some with neat gimmicks that you could dive into.

None of that was in this game!  Not one tiny fucking bit!  The lack of anything to pull you back and make you feel the nostalgia and eagerness to get into a story is there!  How did this happen?!  How did they make a game in this franchise that has every single element wrong?!  Nothing is right!  They even fucked up the gummi ship stuff!  I am blown away that that is possible!  The template for doing all of this stuff was right the fuck in front of you!  How did you get it this wrong?!  Fucking how?!

For starters, I guess they just forgot that part of the draw with this franchise was that it was Final Fantasy mixed with Disney.  The former was completely not represented in this game!  Where’s Cloud?!  Where’s Auron?!  Where’s Leon or Yuffie or maybe some characters from games we haven’t seen.  Wouldn’t have minded getting to chill with Lightning, or Noctis.  Maybe see some of the 2D era characters make an appearance, like Edge or Yang or Shadow or…you know what, this list would go on all day.  Did Square Enix just forget where this franchise got its genesis from?!  I hate this game so much.  And this is only the tip of the iceberg.

Remember my point about how the last sequel felt like coming home to old friends while meeting new people?  I figured a game in this franchise that’s the last would be like a huge symphony.  A massive production of worlds and characters that we could see all our friends, for the last time.  Closing out this huge adventure with everyone.  A franchise this epic, didn’t it deserve that?  Oh right, can’t do that.  Then they might have had to scale back on how massive the worlds are.  Why use space in a smart way, when you can just make less worlds bigger?  That sure does sound like fun.  Hell, that’s not even a good excuse, with how big some games are these days.

There is NO point in this game where it feels like you are meeting old friends.  Like you are coming together for one last ride.  That’s what this game should have been.  Going back to Radiant Garden and palling around with all your old chums.  Maybe have new Cloud in it, along with his crew.  Not a single old world, outside of Olympus.  Yeah, because that’s the place you wanted to go.  Oh wait, there was a short (and I do mean SHORT) visit back to the 100 Acre Wood.  So you could see the fun crew from that world for a little bit, until that’s over with and you never see any of them ever again.

While I bring up how short I was in 100 Acre Wood, let’s talk about the pacing of this game.  I cannot believe how poorly paced it was!  Every world felt like they were in a rush to get it done.  That’s how I felt about this whole fucking game, if we’re being honest.  Like they were in this huge rush to get to nowhere.  Like, by the time you get to the Keyblade Graveyard, it felt like we are at the halfway point, not the end of a huge saga.  When I finally understood that we were at the end, I was in shock.  Like, seriously!?  This is it?!  Where’s the Final Fantasy characters?!  Where’s getting to go to some of my old stomping grounds?  Where’s any of that?!  Why does this game feel half done?!

You know what, I got this EXACT same feeling from Final Fantasy XV.  So, you get to that water city, and then all the sudden the whole pacing of the game just goes to shit.  Like they were eager to get it over with.  That was another game from Tetsuya Nomura.  Makes me wonder – who’s at fault for this?  Was this Nomura just running out of creative energy, or is this Square Enix’s fault for rushing things?  I don’t know where the blame for this giant pile of shit goes, but somebody clearly needs to be given a talking to.

Oh, and can we talk about the endless fucking cutscenes?!  This was Metal Gear Solid 4 levels of bad!  They never end!  It wouldn’t be so bad if the plot was engaging, but it’s not!  Don’t even get me started on the terrible scenes in the Frozen world where you have the god-awful songs from that shit-tastic movie playing in-game, and the game acknowledging that they happened.  Like, seriously?!  You’re not weirded out that a song happened and an orchestra magically is making music out of fucking nowhere?!  Ugh!

This game sucks.  I got nothing else to say.  It sucks ass!  Not a single thing in this game isn’t bad.  Aside from the Toy Story world, where I actually did feel some nostalgia for my childhood.  The one bright spot in a giant turd pile.  I’m done.  I’m done with this franchise.  It’s dead to me.  Square Enix is really going to the dogs lately.  Nomura is now heading up the remake to Final Fantasy VII, and I gotta tell ya – I’m worried.  Will this be another instance of things going to shit.  Apparently there’s a secret ending that hints of this franchise continuing.  Fuck that, I’m done.  It’s dead to me.  Some of my childhood died here.  This company is going to shit, and I don’t know what it will take to make it better.

Final Verdict
2 out of 10

Peace out,

Maverick

Lucien’s Review: Borderlands 3

So…this game has problems.  Following up arguably the greatest looter-shooter of all time, Borderlands 2, is no mean feat.  I don’t envy the people who had to follow up that task.  The concept for this game has genius wrapped all over it.  You’re going from planet to planet, opening vaults and working to stop some hardcore villains, while there is a big corporate war going on too that you get dragged into.  That has perfect sequel written all over it.  And while I don’t think this is a bad game by any measure, it’s not the game I was hoping it would be.  It really does feel like more of the same, and while you’d think that wouldn’t be so bad, the utterly lackluster story and character is what sets this apart in how much it doesn’t live up to the last game in the series. Let’s talk about it.

Instead of Handsome Jack, now we’ve got some new douchebag villains to contend with – the Calypso Twins, and their nefarious cult, the Children of the Vault.  They want to open the vaults for unknown reasons, and you are going to assist them in doing so, as one of four brand new vault hunters.  We have worlds to explore and old friends to reunite with.  Time to get the looting and shooting going!

Like I said, this isn’t a bad game.  On a lot of levels, it’s pretty great.  You have some really refined shooting mechanics.  At least, to a point.  Can I just point out how utterly nerfed the shotgun is in this game?  In the last one, this weapon is the close-range murder machine.  You get up close and personal with this thing and cut your enemy down.  In this game, they feel so weak.  Sure, enemies fly around, but the damage level is such a freakin’ joke.  That aside, this game does have some great shooting.  Gunplay is slick, and so is using your abilities.  Which is good, because that’s pretty much all you do.  No surprise, right?  Well, kinda.

I will say that the main characters are a LOT talkier in this game, and that isn’t a bad thing.  Giving your characters actual personalities to play off those they interact with is genuinely enjoyable.  It makes the amount of time you spend doing the same thing, over and over again a little more enjoyable.  Which is where I get into my gripes.

The story in this game is garbage.  Hands-down, it’s bad.  Well, not so much bad, as unrelentingly boring.  There are never any stakes to this.  This is why I say that following up one of the greatest looter-shooters of all time works against this game.  Borderlands 2 had a captivating narrative.  The goal was simple – kill Handsome Jack and save Pandora.  The entire plot centered around the villain, and as such he had to be a pretty damn good villain in order for us to really want to make him dead.  Tribute to the creators of the game, he was.  One of the greatest lovable villains of all time.  Might make a list of those somewhere in the future.

In this game, they take you from one world to the next, but there is NEVER a sense of growing stakes.  By the time I realized that we were coming up on the end, I was thinking to myself – really?  Well, I guess that’s what we’re doing now.  And we were.  Which was it.  My disappointment cannot be measured in words.

One of the most marketed thing in this game was that you’d be getting two games worth of the gang (and a Telltale series) back together to go on one last big rodeo to kill the baddest mother-fuckers not just on Pandora, but in the universe.  And it doesn’t work!  Why?  Because you spend so little time getting to know them.  Sure, there are some fun interactions.  Zer0 being in the employ of the head of the Atlas Corporation and his haiku speech about enemies was pretty great.  But the reunion with Tiny Tina was rushed.  Same with Mordecai and Brick.  The reunion with Maya was basically just the plot doing what the plot does.  But where is Axton?  Where is my home-girl Gaige?!  This game has you spending a decent amount of time working with Hammerlock, and it does give his character some level of conclusion.  This was the key aspect they marketed on, and it fails spectacularly because of how uninvested the story feels in anything that you do with these people, outside of the events on Promethea.  That area had real stakes.  It was the one and only section of the game where you felt some actual conclusion to what happens.  At least until you get to the vault and the villains come back into the story.  And on that note…

The Calypso Twins suck.  Handsome Jack was lovable.  You liked how much you hated him.  He was such an asshat, doing these things to just fuck with you in little ways that left you really annoyed.  There were the big moments like where he kills Bloodwing and Roland, which were used well to bring the tension levels back up.  In this game, we get two absolute assholes who are the most annoying jack-offs ever.  There were several scenes where I was screaming at the screen to let me right when they are fucking up my day and there is no good reason why I can’t come into the fight and blow their annoying heads off.  I don’t love to hate these two.  I just hate them.  It’s ironic because I loved the hate the head of the Maliwan Corporation, when he is being a douche on Promethea.  Again, ties in to that section of the game feeling like it actually ends.

All this complaining, you probably think I hate this game.  I don’t.  I really, really don’t.  It’s just frustrating to see so much potential wasted because the game didn’t want to really take a chance and do something special with the concept it had.  Maybe the DLC sections will round this out.  I’m hoping that brings back characters that I love.  For real, where are Axton and Gaige?  Those two were my jam!  It’s frustrating to see a great concept ruined by disappointing execution.  Here’s hoping I’m right about the DLC.

Final Verdict
6 out of 10

Peace out,

Maverick

Lucien’s Review: Avengers: Endgame

The end of an era.  The final film in a saga that spans twenty-two movies.  Everything led up to this.  And I gotta say – it ends on a high note.  It’s hard to push the envelope after the last film.  Infinity War set the bar so high that this film could never surpass it.  That being said, the film does live up to it.  The highest compliment one can give a movie like this is that it lives up to the expectations that we all had.  Bringing the end to a film saga the likes of which we have never seen before, and for my money will never see again.  I said a while back that when this film came out and I saw it, that was it for me and Marvel.  Meant it.  The only thing I want to see now is Guardians 3.  After that, I have no desire to see what’s next from Marvel.  It’s sink or swim for this franchise now that the Avengers saga is done.  And if the end of this movie is any indication, it can only go somewhere stupid.  Let’s talk about it.

You all know the plot.  After Thanos snapped his fingers, he destroyed half of all life in universe.  Now it’s up to what’s left of the Avengers to find a way to make things right.  What follows is a pretty fantastic bookend to all the build-up we had.

My favorite parts of this movie were early on.  It opened with a truly fantastic scene with Hawkeye’s family disappearing.  It sets the stage for his personal drama really well.  Seeing what happens to every character when they are at their lowest point is just exceptional.  The reunion between Stark and Rogers was everything I hoped it would be, and more.  Don’t get me wrong, the rest of the movie was pretty fantastic, but that stuff early on was gripping.  It’s great to see all these heroes who we’ve seen be powerful as fuck up until now pushed to their breaking point.

It’s hard to talk about this movie, honestly.  See, you already know that the acting is pretty phenomenal across the board.  Visuals are incredible.  Soundtrack is really great.  So I decided that I’m going to preface my next point that I really liked this movie.  It closes things out on this storyline in a way that no other film could.  And with that said, I’m going to talk about some stuff that bugged me.  Because there’s an angle where I have lots to talk about.

First, I’m genuinely glad they kept Captain Marvel out of this film for most of it.  Because the comparisons between her and Superman are apt.  She’s OP as fuck.  Like, to the point that it’s genuinely boring when she enters the fray because you know that she’s going to win.  Watching Thanos kick her ass was actually kinda fun.  I bring this up because there was one scene in this movie that made me visibly cringe – the chick squad charge.  That was awful!  I swear, they might as well have had “GIRL POWER!” on the screen the whole time.  It was just as subtle.  I don’t blame the directors for this.  I get it – Disney wants to promote diversity.  But that didn’t stop it from being one of the cringiest things I’ve see on screen in a VERY long time.

Also, Bree Larson can’t act.  Her face has zero emotion.  She’s almost as bad as Daisy Ridley or Hunger Games chick in being a stoic, bland, unemoting female character.  I’ve figured something out.  See, a lot of people in Hollywood think that the strong male hero was a bland, boring character who just kicks ass.  When that wasn’t the case.  Sure, we’ve had a lot of stoic male characters in 80’s action movies, but here’s the thing – they had personality.  Watch old Ah-nold movies.  He was a stoic badass, but he had personality to make up for that, and cheesy one-liners.  Bree Larson had…um…something?  I’m drawing a blank.  Describe Captain Marvel’s personality in this film in a way that doesn’t require you describe what she looks like, what she does, or her role in the film.  The Red Letter Media Test.  You can’t do it.  This character is the most boring thing ever.  And given how I’ve seen Bree Larson act about all this off-screen, it’s clear that this woman needs to get her head out of her ass.  She’s clearly enjoying the smell of her own farts way too much.

Lastly – why was Falcon made into the new Captain America?  Yeah, I know – diversity.  I get it.  This is not rocket science.  Disney is all about this shit now, so of course their next Captain America has to be a diversity thing.  Here’s the problem – Falcon isn’t a super-soldier.  He’s some guy.  Just some random guy with no superpowers of any kind.  I think back to that fantastic scene in Winter Soldier, where Bucky and Cap are fighting, and he takes his shield.  The scene was a FANTASTIC set-up for him becoming the next Captain America.  And that makes sense, because he went through the super soldier project with Hydra.  I guess we can chalk that up to another fantastic scene from Winter Soldier ruined by Disney down the road.  Like the line about Nick Fury and his eye with that fucking cat in Captain Marvel.

Those are just nit-picks though.  Overall, this was a great film.  A perfect way to bookend the franchise, and that’s it for me.  The next thing I do will be to make a Top 10 of my favorite MCU characters, and then check out.  Disney has taken this franchise as far as it can possibly go.  The only place now is somewhere stupid.  Jay on Half in the Bag made a great point about this franchise in their video about Comicon 2019.  Marvel should have taken a break for a while.  But Disney couldn’t do that. Then they’d miss out on that sweet Marvel movie cheddar.  And if Disney doesn’t get their money, the whole company will collapse.  Or the studio execs there might not be able to get another yacht.  The poor dears.  As for me, nope.  This franchise cannot go higher than this point.  We’ve reached the high-water mark for the MCU.  It’s all gonna be downhill from here.

Final Verdict
9 out of 10

Peace out,

Maverick