Side Quests, Wandering and The Wild Hunt

Its that fantastic time of year, when there aren’t a whole lot of new game releases and real life hasn’t really kicked back in. The last few months have been kind of a whirlwind in the realm of video games, so its nice to be able to catch a breath, relax, and contemplate ones backlog.

My own isn’t actually all that bad, all things considered. Sure, I never quite got around to finishing up Persona 5, which was probably my biggest gaming surprise of 2017. Not the game itself, of course. We all knew it would be incredible, no, the fact that I never finished it was what was so surprising. I was super pumped for P5, but it just kind of came at a strange time for me, and I never got there. But I’ve recently picked it up, and have been making some good progress.

There is Xenoblade 2, but honestly, I think I’m just not feeling it. Maybe I’m getting old, but that game is kind of embarrassing to play. My girlfriend is understanding of my little hobby/obsession, but Pyra and Co are kind of hard to explain. And the combat is kind of wonky. And those rabbit people are really annoying. Actually I think I just broke up with Xenoblade.

But really, whats captured me over the past week or so is 2015’s The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt. It really just came out of left field, hidden in a game folder on my PS4. I played a whole bunch of The Witcher back when it came out, all the way through. But I did that thing that I often do with games that are just incredibly dense, about halfway through I just mainlined the story until we rolled credits. And in doing so I missed a lot of the incredible side quests that are so often what people praise about The Wild Hunt. Plus this was at launch, when the game was in a much buggier state, and long before the release of Hearts of Stone or Blood and Wine.

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So with that in mind, I booted up a new game on Death March difficulty, with the idea to just slowly dip my toes back in to this wonderfully dark world. I did everything possible in White Orchard before moving onto Velen, and here was where the enormity of this game truly hit me. There is just so much to do, and it is all so lovingly crafted. The team over at CD Project Red really captured lighting in a bottle with this game, that so perfectly brings the world of Andrzej Sapkowski’s books to life, and its just works for me on so many levels. The grim-dark fantasy, the incredibly well written characters, and the surprising historical authenticity of its medieval world comes together in a very effective way, and I realised that the Witcher has completely pulled me back in.

That was around 30 hours ago. In Velen alone, I’ve come across dozens of quests I missed, whether they were involved adventures or mere roadside encounters. I reunited the Bloody Baron, and this time I slew the abomination that his cursed child had become. I knew not to release the evil hidden under the hill, and I did the bidding of the Crones of Crookback Bag, even if it goes against everything my Geralt stands for. A second playthrough has given me a lot of perspective, taking the time to encounter Letho, the antagonist from The Witcher 2, was really cool and something I had totally missed the first time around.

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And I don’t know if I will see everything that The Wild Hunt has to offer, my original goal was to just tool around until something else caught my eye. I’m already far deeper into the game than I thought I would get. Just the change in direction for me has revitalised this game entirely: I’m not here to see how Geralt’s story ends, I’ve seen at least one version of how that can go down. What I am here for is the window dressing, the fluff that I missed out on last time. And I wont pressure myself to do more than is fun for me in this strange post-holiday bubble… But Blood and Wine is meant to be incredible, and that content is only around 10 levels higher than I am now. Who knows, maybe I will actually see this whole thing through, I might even write a proper review. I hear Toussaint is meant to be lovely this time of year.

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Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony Review

All Rise

Developer: Spike Chunsoft

Publisher: Spike Chunsoft, NIS America

Reviewed for : Vita

Played: 40+ Hours

 

With Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony, Spike Chunsoft delivers an explosive and somewhat divisive third entry in the Danganronpa series. Without spoilers, its kind of hard to describe just exactly why this game is so controversial amongst longtime fans. I wont spoil anything here, but V3 stands out as one of the best visual novels on the market due to its impeccable writing, despite ultimately falling short of true greatness due to its clunky gameplay mechanics and some pacing issues around the middle.

For newcomers, the basic concept of Danganronpa goes something like this: Sixteen Ultimate students are imprisoned together and forced into a killing game. To escape, a student needs to kill one of their fellows and get away with it. The flip side of this is that if the “blackened” (the murderer) does succeed, everyone else will be executed instead.  Once a body has been discovered, a class trial will ensue after an  investigation period. During this trial, the player engages in a bunch of mini games and shoot “truth bullets” at key phrases to progress the plot. All of this is overseen by the maniacal series mascot Monokuma, a monochromatic bear that presides over this crazy kangaroo court, dolling out his own dark brand of justice. In V3, he is joined by his evil offspring, the Monocubs.

If all of that sounds like a lot to take on, its because it is. Danganronpa has always been insane, but that’s part of the charm. Take for instance the Ultimate’s themselves. These students have hyper advanced skills in their chosen fields, whether it makes sense or not. From the Ultimate Anthropologist to the Ultimate Tennis Pro to the Ultimate Supreme Leader, each character is wildly colourful and has a lot of personality, even if their Ultimate abilities don’t actually come up thematically or in gameplay a whole lot.

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But where V3 really sells itself and its twisted world is in its aforementioned writing, which is really top notch. From the characters themselves, to the twists and turns of each of the murders and the ultimate reveals of the overarching plot itself, Danganronpa is rarely predictable, V3 in particular. Unfortunately, at least for me personally, the big twist of this entry falls a little flat, which was kind of disappointing. The narrative had me completely enthralled for around 35 hours, but sadly lost me with a reveal that I didn’t quite feel was earned, either through the narrative buildup or by the groundwork laid by past entries in the series. Now, that last point is totally subjective, I respect what the devs where going for, it just didn’t entirely work for me. I think they should be applauded for the risks they took though, as it may be one of the most ambitious endings  to a piece of media I’ve yet seen, and very unique to the medium of video games.

Well done, too, is the dialogue of characters during the free time events that occurs several times in a chapter. These give the player a chance to learn more about the other Ultimates, and if you spend enough time with a certain character you will unlock a Friendship Fragment, which can be used to buy skills for the various mini games used in class trials. I appreciated getting to know more about the other characters in the game, not only because they are all interesting, but because in hindsight some of them foreshadow future events. Remember, some of these people will commit murder, while others are potential victims. These relationships are on a timer, without explicit time limits!

I wish I could heap praise on the aforementioned mini games as well, but sadly these have always been the series weak point. I really wish that the Danganronpa games of the future would just get rid of them all entirely, they really bring nothing to the table and actually take away from the product as a whole. It would be fine if these were a once off thing, but you end up doing each one several times per trial. Spread out over the games six trials, and you’re looking at hours of awful mini games just to advance the narrative. I think, of all of them, the Non-Stop Debate is probably the best, because it has a sort of narrative focus. Characters will chime in and throw dialogue at you, and you need to “shoot” a certain phrase to either agree or disagree with that character. This is actually where the series gets its name, Dangan (bullet) Ronpa (refutation). I’ve seen it translated literally as ”winning an argument with a bullet”, which I think is pretty cool. New to the series is the ability to lie during these encounters, which ends up being thematically quite resonant with the overall story, but only occurs a handful of times.

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The games best character. Sadistic, psychotic, and incredibly entertaining!

Less cool, segway, are the other mini games. Hangman’s Gambit is literally just the word game Hangman that we all played in primary school, but you pick out moving letters with the help of a sonar. There is a minesweeper-esque mini game that is forgettable at best. Another new section is the Debate Scrum, in which two sides will face off over a point of contention by way of a word association game. Again, if that sounds interesting, it might be the first time you do it, but quickly wears out its welcome, like an unwanted house guest that moves in to your spare bedroom when you weren’t looking. But the most egregious of all is Psyche Taxi. I would audibly groan whenever this one popped up, as it meant I would be spending the next several minutes of my life driving a taxi that controls poorly down a neon stretch of highway gathering orbs that represented part of a phrase the game was trying to spell out. Its not that this segment is bad per se, it is just so aggressively bland that it might as well have not existed. Oh, and when you spell out the word you run over women who then climb into the taxi with you. Again, just unnecessary.

And despite spending so much of your playtime slogging through the boring mini games, Danganronpa V3 is, as a whole, better than the sum of its parts. While it would invariably be a better title without the dead weight of the series baggage, would it still be Danganronpa? That’s not for me to say. What I will say is that V3’s strength’s far outweigh its weaknesses, its narrative is compelling and somewhat controversial. It rewards its players with a well crafted story, and I couldn’t wait to find out what would happen next.