SIONR: The Failure of Final Fantasy XV and a Road Trip Game Done Right

It’s no mystery that I view Final Fantasy XV as a game with a good idea, but a bad execution.  The problem is that the game devs decided that they were going to go the typical Final Fantasy game route and make it about saving the world.  Failing to realize that what drew people in was the theme song that was horribly misused in the actual game.  This game was marketed as Noctis and his friends going on a road trip in a fantasy world that is very similar to our own.  And I think that was a great concept.  If they had just gone all the way with it, that game could have been one of a kind.  For a while now I have been thinking of how this idea could be done correctly.  Let me share what I came up with.

For starters, there cannot be a plot outside of the road trip.  It would have to be a very small story.  No saving the world.  Maybe thwarting some threats that are posing a danger to the places that the party comes across in their travels, but that’s it.  You can even have the world’s politics play a part in it, but that has to come secondary.  It’s just an element of setting, not a core plot element.  But it should still be a part of things.  After all, you want the world to seem believable.  If the game’s world doesn’t feel like one that you can live in, then it is not doing its job in immersion.  However, none of the choices you make in a road trip game can affect politics on a large scale.  Maybe you can change a village or town or even part of a city’s mind about your group.  Maybe make it some kind of ethnic conflict.  But at the end of the game, the politics are what they are and there’s nothing you can do about it.

Next up, the stuff where the car is basically driving itself and you are just along for the ride actually didn’t bug me.  However, in order to do this concept better, I have some tips.  First – make a larger music selection.  Give the world some personality.  Make radio stations that play various kinds of music and add to the world by injecting some diverse opinions into the mix.  Maybe have one station who is very much a friend to your characters nation and political views, while having another that is very much opposed.  Run the gamut of political ideas, all while having lots of music that makes you feel like this is a real place.  Not just stock music options and soundtracks to other games.  Hell, the didn’t even do that right.  I mean, if you’re going to get soundtracks you can buy, why not have the whole thing?  And why not make it like when you are making an iTunes playlist and pick the songs you want to hear?  So many small details about this game that could have been done better.

Second – ditch the open world.  I am honestly getting tired of huge worlds that feel like there is no one living there.  Instead, why not make it so you have large levels at various places in the journey?  Open levels on your journey, rather than vast spaces that feel like not one person has ever lived there.  Since you are traveling in your car, that would allow you to make the set-pieces of driving and taking in scenery, characters talking, and the ambiance that much better.  However, too many games have vast open spaces that are just so boring.  I may be in a minority here, but a game that did this concept flawlessly was Uncharted 4.  Instead of being one massive open world, they allowed you to explore large contained areas at your own pace.  For a game about a road trip, with the idea being characters exploring what they come across, that seems much more fitting.

Third – immerse your character in the world.  Take a few cues from Persona 5.  Let your characters buy food at the restaurants they come across.  I wanna be able to buy their world’s version of a juicy burger at the gas station diner.  Or have some fancy meal at an upscale restaurant in some tourist trap city.  Maybe even take in a bowl of ramen or whatever the noodles of that world are.  Little touches like that go a long way.  When I am chilling at a hotel room or something, let me watch movies, read books, of something else that gets me involved in the area.  Maybe have doing that stuff help your character level up stats or something.  Give some incentive for taking the time for this.  Persona 5 had hilarious rip-offs of big movies that were terribly acted on purpose, but it was still so fun to do because you had fun laughing at the ridiculousness of a Batman knock-off talking about desserts.  Give the player incentive to learn about the world.

Fourth – side-quests, and don’t just make it busy work.  Have party members want to do stuff in towns, or developing relationships with random npc’s leading to bigger payoffs with fun missions that can either be difficulty challenges or give you special stuff.  Take some cues from The Witcher 3 and make the side-stuff just as interesting as the main stuff.

Finally – make the game feel like it’s a story about the group on the road trip growing as people.  A kind of coming-of-age story.  Maybe make them a touch older and have some ideas about the nature of growing up and having to be adults.

Final Fantasy XV had a solid concept, it just didn’t go all the way with it.  More than anything, that’s what frustrates me as a gamer.  A wasted good idea is the very worst, and too many games are guilty of it.  But what about you?  Agree or disagree with my assessment?  Let me know down in the Comments.

Until next time, a quote,

“I take to the open road, healthy, free, the world before me.” – Walt Whitman

Peace out,

Maverick

Critical Examination: Realism vs Style

Quite recently I have been playing Persona 5, and man am I in love with this game.  This game has taken the title of best game for me quite handily.  Sony seems to be eager to come out of the gate swinging with some very polished games.  First it was Horizon: Zero Dawn, now it’s Persona 5.  And given some of the exclusives we have to look forward to in the future, I am excited to see what happens next.  The thing to know about this game is that it is DRIPPING with a style all its own.  The punk aesthetic, vibrant colors, and jazzy soundtrack all mesh so well in immersing me in this world.  I feel like each of the Palace worlds was a place that I would at least like to see once.  Style was oozing out of every pore in that game, and bless it for that.

We live in an age where it sees like every game company is looking to go more and more into the realms of realism.  Seems like there is an arms race to get past the uncanny valley of a game that looks so real that I can’t tell the difference between it and reality.  However, there are pros and cons to both sides of that.  This is something that is being lost on people.  Let’s dive into this and show these elements in respect to one-another.

Pros: Realism

When I think of games that have embraced realism so heavily, two that come to mind immediately are The Last of Us and Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End.  Both games had incredible detail put into every element.  Naughty Dog has gotten something of a pedigree for games that are insanely detailed and have characters who feel believable.  This could only be possible with effects that fight that Uncanny Valley I mentioned earlier.  I could get lost in every environment in those games.  They were visual masterpieces, which I can and do replay over and over just for how beautiful it is to go through.

There is also the element when you are looking to capture how grim something is.  A war, for example, can be brought to life much more horrifically when you bring it into the realistic space.  Fear is also more palpable.  I played the PT demo like some of you, and holy shit!  The realistic nature of that is what made it so unnerving to play.  I had the shit getting scared out of me because it felt like I was really in that hallway, with that ghost who was after me.  And fuck that telephone!  Gave me a fucking heart-attack.  It’s hard to imagine such a game being done any other way.  Although, Silent Hill 4 did the concept pretty decently, for the part of the game where you are trapped in the main character’s apartment.

Pros: Style

Style allows a game world to feel unique.  When you want to create an atmosphere in a game, it helps when you have a universe where the rules of it feel unique.  As a frame of reference, let’s take a look at Persona 5.  This game is about youthful rebellion against authoritarian rule-making.  Every element goes along with this.  The vibrant use of colors in every regard, even the menus, makes you see this aesthetic.  Like watching a punk rock music video from the 90’s, and with the jazzy soundtrack to boot.  Everything goes towards making you feel like this world is all its own.  Plus, the style helps tell the stories of the protagonists.

Another game which had a unique style to see it was Life is Strange.  While the ending to that game was bullshit, it was still pretty awesome to play.  Part of this was because the style felt like a teen comic.  While the facial animations could most definitely used a lot of work, you still get invested because these characters have personality that goes along with the soft colors and pastel look.  It’s a game which uses that aesthetic to compel you to slow down, take your time, and investigate things.

Then it can be something that assists gameplay.  Look at Mirror’s Edge for that.  The world of that game was drenched in white.  It made the colors in it stand out so you knew to pay attention to them.  Not to mention that it made the authoritarian nature of the government more apparently.  The world is white, they are always in black and blue.  Their color tells you how you should see them.  It’s not the most complicated method of story-telling, but it gets the job done.

Something that you also have to keep in mind is that style is easier to do.  Games that go for realism take longer to get right.  And in a gaming market where people are demanding games quicker (I have no idea why.  I have no problem with delays to get it right), this ends up with a TON of bugs.  Style has no such limitations.  It can be done much quicker and use a smaller budget.  Which brings me to the cons.

Cons: Realism

There is something to keep in mind when you have games shooting for that Uncanny Valley – they have a bad habit of having bugs.  A TON of bugs.  And with the rush I said before, more and more games are being shipped with bugs that the industry calls “known shippable.”  Hell, when Naughty Dog was working on Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception, they found a bug in the game just three days before shipping that would have crashed the PS3 console.  Thankfully they were able to patch it in time, but you see what I mean?  Going more and more real means that if you don’t want a game to have a shit-ton of bugs, you have to devote more and more time to it.  For me, that’s fine.  I wish more developers would take the time to hold back and get it right.  If anything, that is rewarded with player loyalty as we feel the developers want to take the time to make us happy.  Granted, that can go both ways.  Just look at the backlash with all the delays of Mighty No. 9.

Another thing is that games that shoot for that point are often pretty ugly.  People complain that games have way too much gray and brown in them, well, that’s part of the fact that they are shooting for realism.  Most apartments have white walls and tan carpets.  Most cities are gray and dismal.  Not everywhere can be Seattle or Tokyo.  So your palate of colors gets very limited the more realistic you shoot for.

Cons: Style

The biggest problem with a game that has a unique style is that you are almost certainly condemning it to be niche.  Remember all the games I listed above?  From Persona 5 to Mirror’s Edge, one thing they have in common is that they don’t appeal to a mass market.  There are so many games I can think of with a fascinating unique style.  Flower, ABZU, The Wolf Among Us, Journey, Borderlands, and one thing they all have in common is that they are niche.  Borderlands is the most mainstream, but even it doesn’t have the mass draw that other games do.  For whatever reason, people are just drawn more to the realism side of the spectrum.  Something I will never understand.

Then there’s the fact that the Uncanny Valley of facial animation is lost on you.  Without exception, it’s gone.  With realism they can use motion capture tech, and it is getting better and better at making facial animations that look like real people.  Stylization has that concept forever beyond its reach.  After all, if the feature of a character are off from normal people, you can’t believe that they are real when they talk.  It’s like how a cartoon can have good lip-synching, but you still know it’s a cartoon.  That’s just how it goes.  But that’s no excuse to skimp on the facial animations.  I’m talking to you, Life is Strange.  So many of the more emotional scenes in that game would have been better if we could see the character’s emotions better.

So, which side are you?  Let me know in the comments.

Until next time, a quote,

“Style – all who have it share one thing: originality.” – Diana Vreeland

Peace out,

Maverick

Lucien’s Review: Persona 5

First things first – fuck Atlus for their stupid policies about people live-streaming this game.  It’s bullshit, and I guess they don’t like free publicity.  Nintendo should tell them how well that is working out for them.  That being said, hopefully this company’s asinine decision doesn’t ruin your drive to play this game, because this is one HELL of a JRPG.  I haven’t played a JRPG this fun in years.  With how this genre has scaled down to the point that it seems like it’s on life support, for a game this good to come out is truly a marvel.  This is my first game in the Persona series, and hot shit.  This game is nigh flawless.  There is one major thing that just eats away at me, but we’ll get there when we do.

Never has the idea that delaying a game until they get it right hold more weight than it did here.  I am so glad this game got delayed.  The polish on this final product is fantastic.  This game is incredible, and I cannot recommend it enough.  Sony really is putting their best foot forward lately.  Seems they are aware of how they are not doing so well, but they have come back swinging this year with two exclusives that are beyond the pale.  And if this is a sign of things to come, I am so stoked for the other exclusives of theirs that I am waiting for.

This game has you playing as the Phantom Thieves, a little band of high school kids (of course they are) who are going into a parallel universe to steal the hearts of people twisted by their own desires.  This game has a lot of REALLY dark themes, and not once do they shy away from it.  In fact, the way this game tackles the dark subject matter head on is actually pretty impressive.  I expected them to get kind of antsy about going this deep into the scary stuff.  But nope!  Not once do they shy away from the twisted shit that is in this game’s villains hearts.  Not to mention some of the darker implications of what you are doing to these people stealing their heart’s treasure.  The moral implications of some of what you do can get a little disturbing.

Which brings me to the acting.  A game this twisted can only be sold with great performances.  Every role in this game is fantastic.  Your character is a silent protagonist, which admittedly isn’t as fun as I would like, but I can overlook that with a superb cast of supporting characters, all of which have their own personalities and quirks that they bring to the table.  Not to mention the relationships that you build up over time and how your actions with each character can change all sorts of variables in the game.

So let’s talk about the visuals.  Oh my Groj!  This game looks amazing!  The use of color is fantastic.  The punk aesthetic that they were going for is all over this game, and bless it for that.  I love every second of the visual candy that I see.  The real world is even pretty nice, with every area having a lot of personality.  But the Palaces are where the game shines the most.  Each one is unique and has a design that will blow you away.

The thing which will make or break this game for a lot of people is the combat system.  If you don’t like turn-based strategic combat, you are going to hate this game.  It’s that simple.  Fighting in this game took me back to Final Fantasy X.  Every move is a carefully planned decision, paying attention to your enemies, your stats, and what Personas you have equipped.  Which brings me to the primary way you will be fighting.  Each of the side characters can only have one Persona, which is fine.  The idea of micro-managing an entire team of interchangeable Personas gives me a headache just thinking about.

You have a TON of customization options in this game.  Whether it be the skills you teach your Personas, the Persona crafting system which has some dark implications on its own, or the customization of your characters and the sheer amount of items there are to collect, you will never find yourself in a position where you don’t have options to play with.  The sheer amount of stuff to do in this game is incredible.  Which brings me to my one and only beef with it.

For coming so close to a perfect score and crashing on this, it is a little frustrating.  This game has a time based system, and here’s the problem with it – the game will often fight with you about it.  Instead of allowing you to make use of your time as you see fit, there are so many points where the game will fight you.  Why can’t I spend a little time at the gym and a little time at the baseball cages?  Why can’t I do a little studying and then catch a movie?  This game’s limiting factor in what you can do is so frustrating.  This is made all the worse because leveling up your personality traits is a HUGE part of this game, and you don’t get the time to really do a lot with it.  I don’t like when this game fights me, and it does that a lot.  To some this might seem nit-picky, but when I have the option to eat ramen and then chill at a bathhouse, I don’t want to have to choose between the two when I could so easily do both!  It is so frustrating at times.

This is not a game for everyone.  The pace is slow, and you will find yourself wishing you could get more side-tracked with stuff.  It doesn’t help that leveling up your personality traits is so fucking inconsistent.  If only I had more time to do the stuff necessary!  But if you love JRPGs, then you owe it to yourself to play this game.  It is a cut above its contemporaries, in every way.

Final Verdict
9 out of 10

Peace out,

Maverick

Top 10 Most Anticipated Games of 2017

While 2016 was a bit of a slow year, 2017 is looking to be trying some new stuff.  This is a year full of IPs, sequels to games that weren’t super successful, and games that haven’t been confirmed for 2017, but I am reasonably confident will be coming out this coming year.  Call it gut instinct.  Wish I could put The Last of Us: Part 2 or Death Stranding on this list, but I know for a fact that they aren’t coming out this year.  Some of these are games that were pushed back from last year, and some of them are games that nobody saw coming.  I am excited to see what happens this year, so let’s not waste any time.

What Remains of Edith Finch10. What Remains of Edith Finch
Yes, we’re about to have your moment where you groan – I am a fan of Indie games.  That’s right, I like games that are typically not liked by the normal gaming scene.  The company who made this game, Giant Sparrow, made one of my Indie games – The Unfinished Swan.  A game about a fairytale telling a tragic story about a boy who loses his mother.  This game is keeping a similar storybook style, but this time telling the story of Edith Finch, who is returning to her family home to unravel the mystery of why the family always dies in their enormous house.  Gameplay segments have shown flying a kite, playing as a baby in a bathtub, and even a cat climbing a tree.  This game will have a dark edge, and I can’t wait to see more.

Yooka-Laylee9. Yooka-Laylee
After a year with things being pretty quiet, we finally got to see some gameplay that isn’t alpha stuff.  This little Kickstarter-funded passion project by the dejected devs who worked on Banjo Kazooie just looks better and better.  Like an homage to past games, they even have the cute little language that they used in the original games.  I am so excited to see what stages they come up with.  If it’s anything like that casino in the newest trailer, then this game will be a call-back to the best that the medium has to offer.

Kingdom Hearts 2.88. Kingdom Hearts 2.8: The Final Chapter Prologue
The final piece of the plot before the final game is revealed, this game brings forth the remastered version of Dream Drop Distance, which I have been DYING to play.  We also get a very cool intro to the gameplay style of Kingdom Hearts III with a segment where you play as Aqua, traveling the Realm of Darkness.  Of course, there is also a third segment that is literally nothing but cutscenes.  That will undoubtedly bug me, but it’s all going to be worth it for the first two.  The newest trailer has my mouth watering at the worlds you will explore with Aqua.  If that’s the kind of visuals that we can expect in the newest game, you cannot begin to understand how excited I am.  We desperately need a new trailer for the final game, along with an intro into some of the worlds.

persona-57. Persona 5
A game that was supposed to come out in 2016, it got pushed back.  Unlike some people, I am all for that.  I am glad when they have games pushed back, in order to get everything right.  New gameplay has shown that this game is all about using spirit creatures as proxies to fight.  Reminds me Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch in that regard.  Fine by me.  The game has a colorful style, beautiful character design, a world that looks fun to explore, and on top of that, combat that looks active and vibrant.  There has been a woeful gap in truly stand-out JRPGs in the last couple years, and I want that to change.  Hopefully this game will be leading the charge!

styx-shards-of-darkness6. Styx: Shards of Darkness
You know what I miss?  Stealth games?  You know I also miss? Stealth games with a protagonist who is fun, unlike all the gruff heroes who can do the stealth thing, but got no problem killing everyone when that doesn’t work.  When I played Styx: Master of Shadows, I thought two things.  First, this game’s loading screens are bugging the fuck out of me.  For a game that is all about trial and error, having to sit through those loading screens was more than a little frustrating.  Second, finally, a stealth game that is true to the name!  So many people were bitching that you couldn’t fight.  Well yeah!  You play as a little goblin-man!  He’s half the size of everyone else.  Of course he is kind of fucked if he gets busted.  But it wasn’t just that.  Styx was a fun character.  He was foul-mouthed, vulgar, and actually enjoyed being a thief.  Plus, the world had such interesting lore.  The original game wasn’t perfect, but with the stealth genre dead, I am so glad that we have a series coming up to bring it back to its roots.  Can’t wait to see what happens next.

nioh5. Nioh
What do you get when you combine the difficulty of Dark Souls with the weapons and aesthetic of the Samurai and monsters that take from Japanese mythology?  You get one badass-looking game!  Everything about this game screams that it will fit right in in the pantheon of games loved for their brutal combat and their rich lore.  I will say that the fact that the protagonist looks so much like Geralt is a little weird, but I am willing to give it a chance.  This is a game that seems to be flying under the radar with people, and I’m not sure why.  Maybe because of the people who say that it’s a Dark Souls knock-off?  They don’t know what they’re talking about.  However, the proof will be when we get to see the game for ourselves.

uncharted-the-lost-legacy4: Uncharted: The Lost Legacy
After the end of Uncharted 3, part of me was kind of wondering what Chloe was up to.  You see in the newest game that she invites Nate out on a treasure hunt, but he says “no way.”  In what is probably the most gorgeous reveal I have ever seen, we see our girl is back in form.  This time, she has teamed up from the rather affable mercenary from the last game.  Sure, we wanted to kick Nadine’s ass, but she wasn’t all bad.  Just a merc trying to get by.  Now that her whole endeavor has fallen apart, she’s out to get rich quick.  The two girls are now out to find their own fortune.  Is this a DLC or a full-blown game?  Not sure, but either way, I am excited to see what Naughty Dog is going to tide us over with until The Last of Us: Part 2.

Horizon Zero Dawn3. Horizon: Zero Dawn
It got delayed quite a bit, but you know what, if the goal is to make the game as complete as possible, I am all there!  Originally debuted a couple years ago, we finally have a release date for it.  Won’t have to wait long.  I am all about this game.  A post-apocalyptic game about a redheaded huntress who is stalking the wastelands for parts by the mechanical beasts who roam the world.  There is a story behind all of this madness, and it’s clear from the trailers that this girl is out on a mission to go figure out that story and get the truth behind her ancestry.  With the same girl who did the voice of Chloe Price in Life is Strange, I am so excited to see what happens with the narrative of this game.  The gameplay has been pretty flushed out, so now I want to know where the story goes.  Traveling around, scavenging parts from robots is fun and all, but I want to get to know this world, and the people in it.  We’ve seen that conversation options are a thing, a la Mass Effect, but I’m not complaining.  There is also the fact that there are ancient machines with untold dark powers and dark purpose.  What does it all mean?  Where did the people go?  So many questions, few answers.  Can’t wait.

god-of-war2. God of War
This game was just announced, and I have no reason to expect that it will be released this year, but call it a hunch.  Something about the reveal and how far they are into it gave me the impression that the game isn’t that far down the rabbit hole.  A soft reboot of the God of War franchise, this game is a continuation of the story.  I am dying to know what happened to Kratos after the end of the third game.  How did he get into a land of Norse mythology?  Who is this kid who is clearly not his biological son, but whom he is treating with all the love and compassion that a Spartan would his son?  They make it sound like he had been fighting in this land for some time.  Why?  What purpose guides Kratos?  He says that the boy and him are going to be fighting together against the Gods.  What new gods has our favorite god-killer gone and pissed off this time?  Lots of questions, few answers.  As I said, no confirmation, but a gut instinct that the game is coming out this year.

And the game I am most excited for this year is…

detroit-become-human1. Detroit: Become Human
Another game that I have no confirmation that it will be coming out this year, but call it a decent hunch.  Announced two years ago, we first got to see the breath-taking spectacle of the world of this game.  Centered in the city of Detroit, it seems to follow the stories of a series of androids living in a world where they are treated as second-class citizens.  The first trailer showed an android who has learned how to hide what she is.  The newest one shows an android created specifically to be used in hostage negotiations.  At first, his mission is an outright failure, but the trailer shows that you can go about it other ways.  By taking in clues, you can tailor your negotiation to best deal with the deranged android.  It also shows that there are plenty of ways to save the little girl’s life.  The very best way shows that even when you do everything right and she is saved, the police still kill the android.  He calls you a traitor.  The last game by Quantic Dream was my second-favorite game of 2013.  I have nothing but high hopes for this one.  Let’s see what it’s got.

What about you?  What games are you most excited for?  Let me know in the comments

Until next time, a quote,

“It’s up to you how this story ends.” – Connor, Detroit: Become Human

Peace out,

Maverick

Lucien’s First Take: Persona 5 Gameplay Trailer

In the world of gaming, you almost never meet a casual fan of the ‘Persona’ franchise.  You are either completely in love with it, or you totally don’t care/know about it.  There isn’t a lot of middle-space in that.  I am a fan of JRPGs, and have been hearing about this game for a while.  What I have seen has intrigued me a little, but it never really got me that attached.  Then I saw this trailer.  This awesome trailer that had so little, but said so much.  It’s telling how good a trailer is when you can get someone who is on the fence to be ready to throw money at a game.  Now I just need a release date and we’re set.  Oh, you all should see the trailer too, long as we’re here.

The first thing about this trailer is that this game OOZES with style.  The vibrant music, the color scheme, the neon lights.  Style is something that nobody can deny that this trailer has, in droves.  Enter a masked, enigmatic protagonist and you’ve got yourself a damn good hook!

Who is this masked man?  What is he fighting against?  They show a man who I assume is a villain character.  He’s not the most imaginative.  He looks about as cartoon-y as a villain can get, and he is chewing on his finger, which I can only assume is a substitute for chewing the scenery.

As for the style, the art style of the world appears to be street art.  From the colors to the font to just the way that images are shown.  It’s made to look like a mix of anime and graffiti.  Not gonna lie, that’s pretty freakin’ cool.  In fact, this actually makes me think of a punk style comic book.  Yeah, there’s a motif!  This game looks and feels like a comic book.  From the menus, which mix both the graffiti and comic book aesthetic almost-perfectly, to the battle system, which only needs the cliche sound-effect markers in each attack to make the look complete.

This looks really cool, and it has got my attention.  I don’t get hyped for a game much, but this one has my attention.  We’ll see whether or not it can deliver, assuming that a release date is ever given to us in the near future.

Initial Verdict
8 out of 10

Peace out,

Maverick