NieR: Automata Review

For the Glory of Mankind.

Developer: Platinum Games

Publisher: Square Enix

Reviewed for: PS4 Pro

Played: Around 35 hours, receiving endings A, B, C, D, and E, along with some post game cleanup.

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NieR: Automata is something unique in a landscape of games attempting to follow popular trends and genre norms. Much like the robotic foes you spend most of your time slicing through, Automata has been pieced together from the cast off mechanics of genres that we have come to know and love, and even those that are probably better off left by the wayside. This fusion of satisfying play styles is held together by a narrative penned by auteur game designer Yoko Tarō, and while not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, NieR: Automata is an unforgettable experience that will stay with you long after the credits have rolled on any of its many, many different endings.

Taking place in the far distant future, Automata tells the story of three androids fighting a proxy war on a ravaged Earth, seeking to reclaim it from the machines occupying it. The human survivors of this robotic apocalypse sought refuge on the moon, where they have developed elite android combat units known as YorHa. These soldiers are the eyes through which the world of Automata is seen, and through which concepts like duty, emotion and individualism are explored by the player.

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The protagonist, at least initially, is 2B. A front-line unit designed to be the perfect soldier, 2B’s journey is one of exploration, as she discover’s there is more to the machines on earth than humanity’s leadership would have her believe. Accompanying her, and arguably the true protagonist of the game, is 9S. A scanner model, 9S is the emotional link to the games narrative, and has the strongest and most effective arc by far, once all is said and done. Finally, we have A2, an outdated model turned traitor to her YorHa brethren. A2 is a little one note, and really only present for the back third of the game, but her unique mechanics are a welcome change to Automata’s combat system, especially after some of 9S’s slower segments.

One of the games major supporting characters is Pascal, a pacifist, sentient machine that has a surprisingly large role to play, even if the majority of it is spent doling out fetch quests to pad out some of the middle sections of the game. I wish Pascal was a little more interesting, but like virtually every other character you will meet, there is very little actual growth. Most end up being one note, and rather flat. This is a shame, because Nier; Automata is well written, and the world these flat, one note characters inhabit is intriguing and full of mystery.

And before we get to the thing’s NieR gets right, we do have to talk about NieR’s greatest sin. The large, semi open areas that the majority of the game takes place in are unfortunately quite boring. While there are some beautiful vistas to behold, the world is sparse, which I suppose could be intentional, as it certainly feels desolate. Unfortunately, they aren’t very exciting to explore, and are for the most part quite straight forward. While there are some locked doors that cant be accessed until later playthroughs, most of the loot found hidden off the beaten path is fairly trivial, as the materials required for upgrading weapons is dropped by enemies fairly generously. I could forgive a lot of the above, if you didn’t have to travel back to each of these bland environments so many times. For example, the factory that the opening hour of the game takes place in, has to be revisited five times throughout the course of the game as part of the critical path. It isn’t that interesting to begin with, and that’s not even including the multiple times you need to return there as part of various side quests.

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Where Automata truly shines though, is in its combat. Developed by Platinum Games, hardened veterans of the action-rpg genre, the combat is lightning fast and deeply satisfying. Playing as 2B, you are able to dual-wield any weapon in the game, of which there are dozens across four categories. For example, say you had a sword equipped to your first slot, and a spear in the second, each weapon has its own string of attack’s and can be combined fluidly with the other at any point. Further, each weapon has a differing move set, depending on which slot it is equipped to. So, a spear in slot one has a wider, more sweeping move set when compared to a spear in slot two, that consists of stabs and thrusts. Further, each weapon can be upgraded multiple times, each time adding more attacks to the combo chain and providing additional benefits, such as extra damage while at full health. There is nothing stopping you from equipping two spears either, to become a whirling dervish of death.

Each android is also accompanied by a pod, a little helper drone that supports you in battle and acts as a kind of robotic commentator to everything you do. By holding down the appropriate button, your pod will unleash a barrage of laser fire, functioning as your basic ranged attack. There are different types of pod, all upgradeable, with different methods of attack, but I found the starting unit to be the most effective. Your pod can also be equipped with various programs, that function as special attacks. Again, the default is a powerful ranged blast attack, and I found myself using it for the majority of the game. Embarrassingly, I assumed that the limited selection at shops were all the programs available. It wasn’t until I was about to complete the game I discovered exotic programs like a grappling hook that could be used in combat, or a gravity bomb that could be used to set up groups of enemies for devastating AOE’s.

Your android can be upgraded by attaching what are known as Plug-In Chips, which can be bought and are frequently dropped by enemies. These function as Automata’s upgrade system, and it is incredibly robust once fully unlocked. Like any machine, YorHa units have limited memory, and can only equip a certain number of upgrades. Once all of these upgrades have been purchased, you will have a lot of options to play around with, and you really can create a unique build or playstyle. For example, I built 2B as a real glass cannon, with multiple attack and speed upgrades, but also several chips that would not only heal me for every machine I destroyed, but also every time I even hit one. This translated into an ultra aggressive play style where I was constantly on the offensive, and the game felt more akin to something like Bloodborne. Conversely, playing as 9S, all of my chips buffed his unique hacking skill, his movement speed and his pods ranged attack, which felt like playing a ranged caster in other games.

And we should talk about the music, which is uniformly incredible. I think the highest praise I can give it, is that I listen to it out loud in my apartment when I’m working. I’m listening to it as I write this in fact. The soundtrack to NieR; Automata is, much like the game itself, loud, bombastic, epic and deeply weird. Whether its one of the booming orchestral epics that accompany boss fights, with melodic Gregorian chants that make you believe you might be fighting God himself, or any of the more stripped back tunes that you might hear in the Resistance Camp or in Pascal’s Village, the OST is fantastic, and one of the games greatest strengths.

Another strength, although not as consistent, is the games emphasis on differing game styles to mix thing’s up. You might be exploring an open three dimensional space, and upon entering a hallway the perspective will shift to that of a two dimensional sidescroller or platformer, not unlike Mario. Of course, you can still be laying down constant fire with your pod, which makes these segments reminiscent of sidescrolling shooter like the Metal Slug series. 9S has a hacking mechanic that plays out like a top down shooter, and while used in interesting ways, can become a little tiring with repeated use. Even the most mundane fights in an open area can end up feeling like a third person shooter, as the weight of enemy fire that you are forced to dodge can feel like area-denial attacks. Boss fights especially can come to resemble games from the bullet hell genre, and are truly intense in the latter stages of the game. And of course there are the flight suit segments, that play like Ikaruga or Space Invaders, with you vanquishing wave after wave of enemie fighters. A personal favorite section of mine featured a full motion FMV battle taking place in the background while you fight off enemy aircraft in the foreground, strangely reminiscent of the Battle of the Garden’s in Final Fantasy VIII, to date one of the coolest things I’ve seen in a game.

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In this way, NieR: Automata truly keeps you guessing. It’s a weird beast, that you cant ever truly pin down. It constantly bombards you with ever shifting gameplay styles, keeping you on the back foot, fighting through by the skin of your teeth. Then it might deliver a quieter moment in the form of philosophical monologue on the nature of self determinism straight from the mouth of a strange looking robot. There is the childlike sense of humor present throughout the game, with gags that sometime work, but always succeed in selling this world as alien and unfathomable. And of course I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the games insistent sexualisation of 2B to an uncomfortable degree, with the camera angle always gently trying to peek under her skirt. But aside from that last part, every aspect comes together in a way that just works. This game should be a mess of confused ideas and concepts, but aside from some pacing issues in the middle and a few too many fetch quests, the game as a whole comes together in a big way.

One of the best JRPG’s of the modern era, NieR: Automota is a flawed masterpiece that has to be experienced to be believed. It’s fantastic soundtrack complements its brilliant combat system perfectly, and guides you down the rabbit hole of its desperately compelling narrative. Yoko Taro and Platinum Games have crafted something truly unique, and like 9S and 2B themselves, complement each others strengths while masking their weakness’s. In a landscape full of sequels and stale ideas, Automata has taken something from virtually every genre that has come before, and in doing so, it feel’s like they have created something that defies definition.

Waterfield Designs Gaming Cases – Nintendo Switch and PlayStation Vita

I love gaming accessories, I really do. And for me one of the most crucial accessories a portable gamer can have is a carrying case, to keep those precious devices safe from any mishap that life might throw at you. But there are just so many to choose from, and we as gamer’s have different needs and expectations of a carrying case. There are the heavy duty, almost military supply cases that seem like they might be a little bit overkill. On the other end of the spectrum we have the more light weight cloth cases that seem like they aren’t doing enough. Then of course we have branded cases, like the awesome Breath of the Wild Shiekah Slate case.

But recently I came across a little company based out of San Francisco that go by the name of Waterfield Designs. They make bags, awesome backpacks and even wallets. And they also make GAMING CASES, and they might just be some of the highest quality gaming accessories I’ve ever had the pleasure to own. What sets them apart, aside from the high quality of their make, is that they are stylish. They look cool, which is of course hugely important. They feel adult, like I’m not embarrassed to take them out in public. And while they are a little pricey, I truly feel like these cases are a long term investment I have made that to me seems extremely worthwhile.

Lets take a look at them, shall we?

 

 Nintendo Switch CitySlicker Case

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Material:
– Full-grain cowhide leather flap
– Ballistic nylon body
– Rear power mesh pocket
– Soft liner

Weight & Dimensions:
Switch CitySlicker: 10.5″ Length x “1.5” Width x 5″ Height; 7.5 oz.

Hardware:
-Optional 1″ Heavy Duty Shoulder Strap extends to 54″
-Optional 3/8″ Leather Shoulder Strap made from full-grain leather
-Optional 3/8″ Leather Wrist Loop made from full-grain leather
-Optional Aluminum Carabiner
-Optional Brass Nickel-plated Carabiner
– YKK locking zippers

Features:

  • Protects the Switch Joy-Cons from nicks and bumps
  • Optional attachments for carrying at an additional fee: carabiner, strap, or wrist loop
  • Includes a Microsuede lining for cleaning the screen when inserted in the case
  • Pocket for screen cleaner
  • Can be inserted into bigger bags or backpacks

The Switch case is actually what brought me to Waterfield, after doing a bunch of Google sleuthing. This thing is beautiful, you can really feel the quality and it even smells great. It starts out at $79 USD, which is pretty steep, especially as I am Australian and had to pay a bunch extra to get it half way around the world.

 

 

PlayStation Vita CitySlicker Case

PS Vita Case

 

Material:
– Full-grain cowhide leather flap
– Ballistic nylon body
– Rear power mesh pocket
– Soft liner

Weight & Dimensions:
PS Vita: 8″ x 4″ x 1″; 4 oz.

Hardware:
– YKK locking zippers

Features:

  • Assorted leather flap colors
  • Rear power mesh pocket for larger items including charger

Couldn’t leave my trusty old sidekick naked while his brother got a fancy new house, could I? The Vita case is awesome too, although you can tell that this  case is an older design, its buttons need some slight pressure applied to them to seal the case, where as the Switch’s are magnetic and lock into place by themselves. At $59 USD its a little cheaper, and fantastic value IMO.

Important to note, I’m not affiliated with WF, just a very satisfied customer. Take care of your portables people, look after them and they will look after you!

K.

Blog Update 20/05

Whats going on, everybody? Thought it might be time for an update with what I’m doing here. I’ve just recently moved to Melbourne, Victoria, which is nearly the opposite side of Australia from my hometown of Noosa in Queensland. It’s a big change, going from a smaller coastal town to a very modern European style city, but I’m loving it even if it is currently freezing compared to what I’m used too!

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My first priority was to find gainful employment. I think I’ve got a pretty sweet gig lined up, so now I can switch some of my focus back to my writing here (and to PLAYING VIDEO GAMES), and start to look towards the future. The focus will be reviews, as that is the part of my wheelhouse that I’m looking to improve, and seems to be the best way to drive traffic. I’m kind of at a crossroads as to where to start though, as there are a couple of titles I would like to cover. While I will definitely try to cover newer games, there are a few older games that I’m tinkering around with at the moment, and I’d like to cover those too. Here are a few games I’m currently playing and am considering for review: 

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Persona 5

As I’ve been travelling these past couple of months, I’ve only had handheld consoles to tide me over. Now that I’m home, I can finally catch up on the big console releases that I missed, and the game I’ve been dying to dive into: Persona 5. It was absolutely worth the wait, and I am really enjoying my time with it. I’ve spent about 15 hours with it this week, but I don’t think it will be the game I review next. I want to take my time with it, and Persona games are almost designed to discourage blasting through the critical path. Its a once in a generation type of game, and I want to enjoy it at a leisurely pace.

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Darkest Dungeon

I’ve been fiddling around with Darkest Dungeon again, and ever since Red Hook released the Radiant update I’ve been thinking about playing it for review. Despite a couple of improvements that sort of make life a little easier, this is still a gruellingly difficult game and will probably require no small amount of effort on my part to see it through to the end. Super fun game though, and I think I’m up for it. Currently playing it on Vita, so I think it will be my off-game that I will play alongside something a little beefier, like…

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Dark Souls 3

I love the Dark Souls series, and while I played through Dark Souls 3 at launch, I haven’t touched it since. I think it’s time to return to Lothric, and experience the apparently fantastic DLC that From Software have released. The problem is, I will be playing on PC (with a PS4 controller) and will need to start from scratch. Strangely, I’m looking forward to returning to this dark and gothic world. It’s winter here and the weather is awful, so it just seems kind of appropriate.

 

And that’s kind of where I’m at, I’ll still be writing opinion pieces in the interim as I plug through the above games. I’ve got some cool handheld related accessories coming in the next couple of days that I might review as well, just to keep exercising that writing muscle. Let me know what you think, and feel free to recommend some titles for review, I’m open to anything!

Steins;Gate 0 Review

Steins;Gate 0 is a visual novel developed by 5pb and Nitroplus, and over the past week I powered through the 40-45 hours it takes to see its six different endings and earn its platinum trophy. It was certainly a whirlwind of emotions, and a roller coaster ride that I truly enjoyed, and I think you will as well. Before we dive into the review proper, lets get some basic housekeeping out of the way:

Firstly, Steins;Gate 0 is a pseudo-sequel to the original game, Steins;Gate. It takes place during one of the alternate endings of the original, but due in no small part to some masterful writing and the time-jumping nature of  the narrative, I consider it a prequel of sorts as well. It should go without saying then, that you absolutely should play the original game first. At the very least, consider watching the fantastic anime series. Also, considering this game features very little in the way of actual gameplay and consists almost entirely of reading a lot of text, it can be hard to discuss this title without at least referencing the events that take place within it.

And while I always do my very best to avoid spoilers in my reviews, it is virtually impossible not to spoil the events of the original Steins;Gate when discussing Steins;Gate 0. You have been warned. Got it? Good! 

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The Steins;Gate series is the tale of one ordinary mans all-out, no holds barred battle with fate and the laws of God and the universe itself. It’s incredibly in-depth narrative is not for the faint of heart, as it goes to some very dark places, but at its core is a tale of hope, faith in ones friendships in the face of adversity, and ultimately, of redemption. Like the best sci-fi, it is based in real world science, but very quickly goes off the deep end into territory that can only be described as fantastical.

So, time for some setup. In case you forgot, the original Steins;Gate story revolves around university student/wannabe Mad Scientist, Okabe Rintaro, who (with the help of some very likeable friends) accidentally invents a time machine and inadvertently sets off a chain of events that will change the world. As punishment for tampering with the laws of the universe and altering the past with an invention known as the PhoneWave (name subject to change), Okabe is forced to watch as his childhood friend Mayuri Shiina is killed over and over again, despite repeatedly attempting to fix the timeline and the events that cause her death. After a lot of trial and error, he discovers that by changing events drastically enough he can break away from his own Alpha timeline to a Beta world line, where Mayuri survives. But, in the Beta world line, it is Kurisu Makise, the genius teenage scientist (and Okabe’s potential love interest) that helped invent the PhoneWave (name subject to change) in the first place who is fated to die repeatedly. Also, in the Beta timeline, World War 3 occurs, which you know, isn’t great. The goal of the original Steins:Gate was to try and find a perfect timeline known as “Steins Gate”, in which both Mayuri and Kurisu survive and WW3 is averted, along with all of the drama that goes with getting there.

Still with me? Steins;Gate 0 pretty much just assumes you are familiar with all of the above, and drops you right in the deep end. I played the original multiple times around a year ago, and found that I needed a bit of a refresher course.

Set in the Akihabara district of Tokyo, the otaku Mecca, the story of Steins;Gate 0 takes place in the Beta word line, during the ending of the original game, but explores a different side of things. In this world line, Kurisu convinces Okabe to let her die, so that Mayuri can have a chance to live a happy life. Picking up several months later, the story begins with Okabe attempting to deal with the extreme depression and PTSD he has developed as a result of the horrendous events he has experienced. On top of that, he is wracked with the guilt he feels over not being able to save Kurisu. He destroys the PhoneWave (name subject to change) and swears never to tamper with the world lines again, and tries to live a normal life as a shell of his former self.

If that all sounds pretty heavy, its because it is. This game really doesn’t pull any punches, emotionally speaking, and expects you to keep track of a bunch of characters, concepts and timelines. All of the original game’s cast returns, and there are several new faces introduced that are integral to the plot. I suppose if the original game’s themes dealt with time travel and the effects of tampering with the past, Steins;Gate 0 deals with the ramifications of such a technology having been invented, and the power struggle and technological arms race that would inevitably ensue as nations and shadowy organisations scramble to obtain their device. An artificial intelligence known as “Amadeus” is also introduced and is pretty essential to the plot, as it possesses the digital memories of Kurisu Makise, and is the impetus for a lot of the decisions made in the game.

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All of this is presented in a series of incredibly long story vignettes. If you have never played a visual novel, the emphasis is on the “novel” part. The original game had some 40,000 lines of dialogue, and I would wager this one is even longer. While Steins;Gate 0 is available on consoles, I chose the PlayStation Vita version for the portability factor, and I would recommend it wholeheartedly. Basically, you stare at some admittedly pretty great looking characters that spout reams of dialogue at you (which is, impressively, entirely voiced but only in Japanese). The location are pretty great too, and are presented as static backgrounds for the talking character portraits. I have spent a lot of time in Akihabara, and to see locations and landmarks in this game that I have physically been to was an awesome nostalgia trip.

Not to beat a dead horse here, but I really cant overstate the fact that you don’t actually “do” a lot in this game. You have a cell phone that will occasionally ring, and you press a button to answer it, or to reply to text messages. And while answering (or ignoring) specific phone calls is actually how you access the different paths and endings that can be achieved, that is really all you as the player are required to do. For me, that was fine, visual novels are something I have grown to really enjoy but they do require a lot of patience. Similarly, being set in Akihabra, Steins;Gate 0 really leans into its otaku and anime roots, and that might be off putting for some. One of the games main characters, works in a maid cafe and wears cat ears constantly. She also finishes every sentence with “nyan”, because I guess that’s what cat-girls do? It can be a little grating, but as the quality of writing is incredibly high, I can forgive some of these very Japanese quirks. More troublesome, in my opinion, is the games treatment of Luka or Lukako as he is mockingly referred to. A male character that is described as being incredibly feminine, the jokes that are made about his perceived sexuality/gender made me a little uncomfortable. Its nothing too crude, but it is constant, and seems a little off in this day and age. Another complaint I have is there is very little indication of what kind of narrative path you are on. I straight up got the worst of six possible endings on my first playthough, and I could see that deterring some players who might not even know how or why they went down that route.

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In summary Steins;Gate 0 is a fantastic title that I really enjoyed my time with. I didn’t even mention the soundtrack, and I find some of the slower piano pieces it features popping into my brain even days after seeing the credits roll. While the game may go on a little too long (especially if you want to see everything it has to offer), the strength and originality of its narrative more than makes up for any short comings it might have. It can also be incredibly meta, in a way that is truly unique to the video game genre: as you achieve certain endings, you learn more about the overall plot, and are able to load a save file and take a different path through the narrative, just like the characters in the narrative do with the use of time travel. Its incredibly clever, and especially after unlocking the true ending, was something I really appreciated. I would recommend Steins;Gate 0 to any fan of visual novels, and the series as a whole to any Vita owner. 

Now if you will excuse me, I have some bananas in the microwave and I’m expecting a phone call. What could possibly go wrong?

El. Psy. Kongroo.

K.

 

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe Review

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is an absolute spectacle, in the best possible sense of the word. Truly a touchstone amongst gamers of all ages, many of us grew up with fond memories of earlier titles in the franchise. But this latest, and best, iteration of the series has it all with a truly monumental selection of characters and tracks that offers extremely impressive replay value. 

Even if you didn’t grow up as a Nintendo kid, there is just so much to recommend here. Visually, everything just pops right off the Switch screen, with a vibrancy and colour pallet that is never too distracting, but is certainly eye catching. And as you boost and drift your way around courses full of exploding turtle shells and rogue bananas, Mario Kart never drops below it’s 60fps, and handles like a dream.

In docked mode the game renders in full 1080p resolution, but for me personally handheld mode is where this game is at it’s best. And while you take a hit to resolution (720p in handheld mode), Nintendo didn’t sacrifice frame rate for portability. This is where the potential and longevity of the game really is, at least for me. I purchased the game digitally, and will never delete it from my Switch, simply for the ability to play a couple of rounds ANYWHERE. And if you happen to be able to connect to a WiFi network, say at your house or a local cafe, this stops being a game and becomes a platform.

Lets be honest here. The AI controlled bots you will spend your time racing against offline in single player are certainly competent, and are great to mess around with. But playing Mario Kart with friends or other players online is by now a time-honoured institution, something I take deadly seriously. There is nothing quite like wiping that smug grin off your best friends face with a well timed blue shell, or the feeling of dominating international players as a brightly coloured Shy Guy. Local co op is easy to use and feels great too, you and a friend can even play online together. I haven’t played with more than two players locally yet, but that requires your switch to be in docked mode.

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Don’t be the guy that has to play as Link. Nobody likes that guy.

I suppose I should address the elephant in the room, even if it personally doesn’t affect me. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is a re-release, a game of the year edition if you will. It was originally released for the Wii U, and is virtually the same game aside from a bunch of new characters and a revamped Battle Mode (more on that later). If you already own the game than there really isn’t a whole lot new here to draw you back in, except for the aforementioned portability. For me personally, I’m choosing to treat this like its a brand new game, because for me it is. I never owned a Wii U, and this is my first time playing Mario Kart 8. I can certainly see why some might be hesitant to essentially buy this game twice, and that’s your prerogative. But if you missed out on MK8D the first time, or like me you skipped the Wii U, this is undoubtedly the definitive version, and alongside Zelda: Breath of the Wild is an essential part of any Switch owners collection.

Now, on to some of those extras. Personally, I prefer Grand Prix to Battle Mode, but the inclusion of several new modes such as Shine Thief, Renegade Roundup and Bob-omb Blast certainly doesn’t detract from that, and is a welcome change when you want to mix things up. The inclusion of these modes only adds to MK8D’s replayability, and I’m all for that. We also have new characters such as Link and the Inklings, which are nice. In what I can only describe as a master-stroke of marketing, though, Nintendo has also included some awesome Amiibo skins for your Mii character (with the purchase of the corresponding Amiibo, of course). I’ve never really been interested in Amiibo, until now that is. I play exclusively as my Mii, and I want all of them. ALL of them.

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I suppose my only real gripe with MK8D is the fact that everything is unlocked from the get go. This might seem like the most entitled, pedantic complaint ever, but here we are. I think this was Nintendo’s attempt at extending a virtual olive branch of sorts to those who had already bought Mario Kart on the Wii U, but it seems misguided. There is a sense of achievement to unlocking new courses and characters as you progress, and I would be willing to bet money that more people play MK8D on the Switch over it’s lifespan than ever did on the Wii U. Still, its a minor issue, and at least there are kart and bike upgrades to unlock. 

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is fantastic, and really showcases what Nintendo’s first party is capable of. Its gorgeous, plays like a dream and is very nearly infinitely replayable. Coupled with the ease of use of the Switch, this is a game that is just as perfect for a long flight or car trip as it is for a night in with friends. And while it’s a slightly harder sell for people that purchased the Wii U version, this is a must have title for anyone that owns a Switch.

K.

Yomawari: Night Alone Review

Yomawari: Night Alone reads like a demented fairy tale straight out of Japanese folklore with a modern twist. The survival horror, from creators Nippon Ichi Software, immediately sucks you into its grim, dark world within moments of booting the game up, and continues to throw twisted monstrosities at you for the several hours it will take you to complete it. From its isometric view, Yomowari seems deceptively cute, as you play as an unnamed young girl with a lovingly animated red bow in her hair. This game is anything but, however, as it deals with heavy themes such as mortality, loneliness, and the supernatural.

Right out of the gate, the player is treated to an emotional gut punch in the game’s tutorial. I wont spoil it here, but suffice to say, I don’t think a tutorial has ever invested me in a character or a world so effectively. The premise of Yomowari is simple: A young girl loses her dog, and her older sister goes out to look for it. When she never makes it home, it is up to the young heroine to venture out to save them both. And they need saving, as the surprisingly expansive town they hail from in rural Japan is inhabited by scores of demons straight from the depths of hell.

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Gameplay is a fairly simple affair, and will not surprise anyone familiar with the survival horror genre. The game is broken into chapters, and each chapter sends the player to different corners of the map in search of keys and other items that will allow them to progress to the next. What makes Yomawari unique is that virtually the entire game world is open from the start, and while some areas are gated, there is a lot to see and do. You wander dark, deserted streets with nothing but a flashlight as your only protection from the evil spirits that roam the night.

And I think this is where the game really shines (pun intended). You are completely unable to protect yourself, so all you can do when confronted by an enemy is either run or hide. Some of these creatures will react (violently) to the light of your torch, and others come running at the slightest sound. You can sneak past groups of enemies, and distract them with thrown items. Its not an incredibly in-depth stealth system, but its varied enough and doesn’t wear out its welcome. Progress can be saved at Jizo statues that are spread fairly liberally across the map, and they also function as the games fast-travel points.

A flaw of this was that I never felt very punished by death. It really just meant I would be greeted by a blessedly very brief loading screen, and a short run back to where I had met my demise. Some of the games mini boss like creatures could be frustrating, though, requiring dozens of attempts, and perfect memorisation of their attack patterns. But that never took away from the genuine fear I felt after encountering some of these creatures. And I think that was because of their uniquely Japanese design. From massive tentacled beasts that would sweep entire streets with their appendages, to the souls of dead children who would attack only when you showed your back to them, the variety was quite impressive.

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But what really sold me, was realising that Yomowari has side quests, and semi unscripted events. Wandering down a particularly dark street, I came across a headless horse that galloped past me, off into the night. I would encounter the same beast again several chapters later, and while I never figured out its purpose, the horse was completely benign. I took to feeding stray cats  with some pet food I happened across, until I fed the wrong cat. After that, I swore I wouldn’t feed any animals that I encountered. I also engaged in a particularly creepy game of hide and seek with a ghostly little girl that really did just want to play. Then I came across a ringing cell phone, left abandoned in the street. What followed was probably the most chilling of my encounters, and the most memorable.

It probably took me around 5 hours to complete Yomawari, and I did it in a single sitting, but I think you could probably spend at least that long again scouring every nook and cranny. Thankfully, after rolling credits, you are able to explore the entire map (which seems to have been hand drawn by the protagonist, and suits the aesthetic perfectly) at your leisure to snap up any remaining collectables you might have missed. And you will probably miss some, as they can be fiendishly well hidden, or heavily guarded. I considered attempting the platinum trophy, it certainly seems doable, but would require a hefty amount of exploration.

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I’m very happy  with my time spent with the game. Its narrative is fairly open ended, and I immediately went online to see other peoples interpretations of certain events. And it has stayed with me, its the kind of game that creeps up on you. I will be keeping a very close eye on the recently announced sequel Yomawari: Midnight Shadows, as I cant wait to see what the team does next. All in all I would recommend Yomawari: Night Alone to anyone looking for something a little bit different. Its a short experience, but memorable, and it played exceptionally well on the Vita.

Now if you will excuse me, I need to double check my door is locked.

K.

 

 

Inspiration: Wednesday 26th April

I thought it might be cool to write a little post about the things that are inspiring me at the moment. Games and books, movies and social media, I constantly feel like I’m fully engaged. At the moment I am on holiday, and have nothing but time. So here are some things I’ve been into!

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The Imjin War – by Samuel Hawley

Lately I’ve been on a real samurai kick, its kind of all consuming. And this was the book that started it all! The Imjin War is the tale of just that, the Japanese attempt to invade and conquer China and all of Asia in the 16th century. Landing in Korea, the Japanese expected the Korean’s to simply let them march on Beijing. Instead, they would fight tooth and nail, making the Japanese pay for every inch of ground they covered. Impeccably well written, Samuel Hawley tells the tale from the point of view of the three main belligerents: the invading Japanese, the Koreans, fighting for their very survival, and the Chinese, initially dismissive of the entire affair, but forced to mobilise to stave off the very real Japanese threat. Incredibly readable, with very likeable characters and deeply informative, the epilogue in particular really stays with you.

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Samurai William – by Giles Milton

Samurai William is a book that had been on my to-read list for quite awhile now. I’m really glad I got to it, as its one of the better books I’ve read in recent years. William Adams was the first Englishman to reach the shores of Japan, in 1600. The two year journey itself is fascinating, but what follows is nothing short of incredible. Born into poverty outside of London, Adams was made samurai by Tokugawa Ieyasu, the Shogun himself. Adams taught Ieyasu about the Western world, and in return earned his trust and respect. Adams is still remembered today in Japan, there is even a district in Tokyo named after him (Anjin-cho). Also, the video game Ni-Oh is VERY loosely based on the events of the book. Its an incredible story, and a fantastic read!

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Sabriel – by Garth Nix

Other than history, I really only read sci-fi/fantasy (which is something I’m trying to change). Sabriel is a book I started reading years ago, and picked it back up on a whim. I’m glad I did too, because Garth Nix creates a really interesting unique and interesting world, in which the modern meets the fantastic. The first novel in the Abhorsen trilogy, Sabriel tells the tale of the titular heroine as she comes into her birthright as the Abhorsen, a sort of holy necromancer that banishes the restless dead that wander the world. It has a really interesting magic system involving bells, and the depiction of the afterlife (that is a place the protagonists regularly travel too) is truly unique. Really looking forward to continuing the series!

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Ran – Akira Kurosawa

I have a thing where I find it really difficult to watch older movies, basically anything pre original trilogy Star Wars is out of the question. I’m trying to break out of this though, and combined with the aforementioned samurai thing, I arrived at Kurosawa. Ran is an adaptation of Shakespeare’s King Lear, interspersed with segments based on the legend of Sengoku era daimyo Mori Motonari. It’s a long movie, but I actually really got into it. Its a very vibrant movie, with a lot of colour being thrown around. Most of the major characters have a colour theme that is used really well throughout the course of the movie. It even has pretty impressive battle sequences, Ran having the biggest movie of any movie made in Japan at the time. I’m a fan now, and after Ran I immediately moved on to…

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Seven Samurai – Akira Kurosawa

A timeless classic, and of course one I hadn’t seen. Released in 1954, this movie is over 60 years old, and is surprisingly watchable! I might sound really ignorant, but I truly thought movies of this era were unwatchable. But it turns out its a fun movie, and surprisingly really funny! The action is fantastic too, and the story has been adapted countless times: villagers, rather than giving their harvest to the roving bandits that demand it from them every year, instead use it to employ samurai to defend them. The Clone Wars animated series had a really great episode that was an homage to this, but with Jedi instead. That’s all the Kurosawa I have seen so far, but will definitely be exploring his other films.

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Persona 4 Golden

God, I love this game. Still plugging away at that platinum trophy, but I really forgot how vast this game is, and you really cant just steamroll through it. Even on normal difficulty I’m having some troubles with some boss’s, and having to grind a little. Still really enjoying this playthrough, and I’d say im a little past halfway (Void Quest dungeon). The plan is still to get a full review out, but I think I will save that until after this run, and maybe comment on the platinum process. Spoilers, its pretty difficult, and sometimes obtuse. Gotta have it done by the time I get home and start on Persona 5 though, so about two weeks left. No pressure!

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Twitter

Kind of weird thing to be inspired by, but I’ve really been into Twitter lately! I’m trying to make a conscious effort to engage with people, write some jokes and generally get involved with the platform. And while its still early days, I’m noticing an increase in followers ever since I started making a conscious effort, which is kind of rewarding in its own way. I guess I’ve never been a big Facebook or Instagram guy, so I’m seeing the addictive nature of social media. Feel free to follow me @ https://twitter.com/KhaylAdam, its mostly jokes, Persona memes and Star Wars ramblings.

 

What are you into at the moment, got any recommendations for me? Let me know in the comments below, and thanks for reading!

K.