Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony Review

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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.

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!

Shovel Knight: Specter of Torment Review

Shovel Knight: Specter of Torment is the latest expansion to the fantastic retro platformer – Shovel Knight. Much more than just a rehash of the base game, Specter of Torment stands on its own thanks to its twitchy new move-set and badass boss encounters. It is standalone, and can be played independently of the original campaign, and is provided for free by the wonderful folks over at Yacht Club Games.

Specter of Torment doesn’t reinvent the Shovel Knight wheel, and that’s a good thing. At first glance you might think that its more along the lines of Yacht Club’s first expansion, Plague of Shadows, which I personally bounced off of. Its not, and that’s largely because Specter of Torment features eight brand new levels, as opposed to Plague of Shadow’s remixed stages from the base game.

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But the real draw here is the protagonist of Specter of Torment, the enigmatic Specter Knight himself. In the original Shovel of Hope campaign, Spectre Knight was my favourite boss encounter, and its a real treat to play as him here. His move set is completely unique, and it makes navigating through these surprisingly difficult stages a delight. This is a hardcore platformer, and a major part of that is due to one of Specter Knights most important new techniques, the Dash Slash. Requiring precision timing, the Dash Slash manoeuvre is initiated in mid-air, and cause’s Specter Knight to fly through the air in a vicious diagonal arc, damaging enemies and allowing the player access to normally out of reach areas. It’s simple enough to begin with and is fun and fluid to use, but some of the later level’s demand a mastery of this technique that was surprising. I was constantly impressed with the way Specter of Torment kept this mechanic fresh and innovative throughout the 3-4 hours it took me to complete the campaign.

The music and art style are much the same as in the original, with the 8-bit tunes getting some remixes. Both are of fantastic quality, which isn’t really surprising considering the love and attention Yacht Club has evidently poured into the base game. The Shovel Knight games really are a love-letter to a genre of games they are almost single-handedly responsible for reinvigorating. The story line was nice enough, told through flashback sequences interspersed between the regular levels. Its a little bit darker than the original’s narrative, and actually sets up the events of the main game, but it isn’t quite as memorable. Shovel Knight and Shield Knights tale was surprisingly heartwarming, and while Specter of Torment tells a serviceable tale, it really isn’t the main draw here.

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Spectre Knight also receives a full complement of new abilities, or curios as they are known. There is a decent variety here, from various projectiles to the ability to fly and even summon a skeleton ally. Personally I found the healing ability to be essential, and maybe even a little overpowered, as I barely found the need to use the more offensive powers. Red skulls are scattered throughout the game that allow the purchase of these abilities, and collecting them all can be really challenging, and some are fiendishly well hidden. This all adds to the games replayability, along with a much appreciated new game plus mode.

Specter of Torment is a super fun way to experience the already awesome Shovel Knight universe. If you haven’t played the original, you really should do that first, as its the contrast with the original that makes Specter of Torment feel truly unique. And if you do own the original, then you really have no excuse not to jump back in here. The series trademark humour and heart are on full display, and here’s hoping it continues with the upcoming King Knight expansion!

K.

 

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.

 

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.

 

 

My Personal Top 5 Video Games of All Time

Alright, lets do this. If I’ve learnt anything from the video game community, nothing goes down better than a biased, subjective list of video games. I thought this might be a nice way to let people know where I’m coming from, like a gaming resume of sorts. It wasn’t easy to whittle this list down to just five, so I have taken the liberty of adding some honourable mentions, in no particular order. And of course, this list is subject to change, as there are some incredible games coming out in the near future. Keep in mind, this is more of a why I love these games kind of deal, so I wont be explaining story lines or gameplay in depth, and there certainly wont be any spoilers. So without further ado, lets get into it!

Honourable Mentions

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The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel

This game, man. So a bit of backstory on this one, I took a trip to Tokyo back in 2014, and I couldn’t turn around without seeing posters for this game (in Akihabra, at least). Known in Japanase as Eiyū Densetsu: Sen no Kiseki, everything about this game intrigued me from the get-go. The characters just seemed to pop, and from all the research I did, the battle system and adult story line told me this was my kind of game. But I don’t speak Japanese, and of course there was no English localisation at that time. So, like an idiot, I bought a copy for my Vita with that noble intention that I think all JRPG fans have at some point or another: to learn Japanese in order to play a particular game. Well, I still haven’t learnt Japanese (despite studying it at university), but luckily for me Cold Steel was released in English in January of 2016, and at long last I was able to play through this fantastic game.

Trails of Cold Steel has a lot of the cooler social aspects of Persona 4, which is something I still find novel and new. Spending time with your classmates at Thors Military Academy in between missions is a great way of mixing up the gameplay, and while admittedly it isn’t done as well as in the Persona series, its still something I appreciate. Combat, while maybe a tad too slow for such a long game, really shines. There is a lot of tactical depth in the way characters can be placed on the battlefield, and it even incorporates an upgrade system strongly reminiscent of Final Fantasy 7’s materia system, which I’m surprised we haven’t seen more games using. The story itself is right up my alley, more of a political thriller along the lines of Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together than standard JRPG fare. It might take a little too long to really get going, though, and kind of overstays its welcome,. Seriously, this is a LONG game, and while I do recommend it, this one is definitely for people looking for something substantial to sink their teeth into.

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The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Hey look, another “Legend of” game. But really, what more needs to be said about the new Zelda? Unless you have been living under a digital rock of some kind, you’ve heard about all the things this game does right, and read the rave reviews. Of course, this was slightly marred by the lacklustre Season Pass offerings that Nintendo pushed out, and occasional stuttering whilst playing in docked mode, at least at launch. Some people didn’t like this games approach to dungeons, or confining the more challenging puzzles to shrines. But really, these are minor quibbles when talking about a game of this calibre.

I’m admittedly not a die-hard Zelda fan, and I fell off the wagon a long time ago. Some of my favourite gaming memories, though, are of getting Ocarina of Time for Christmas for the N64, and playing it for what seemed like an eternity with my older brother. Breath of the Wild really brought those memories back to me, and I really enjoyed it in a way I find hard to describe. Definitely a nostalgic title, despite being revolutionary for the series. I think the highest praise I can heap on it, was the way it made Horizon: Zero Dawn (which I was playing simultaneously) seem empty in comparison. While I could see a world in which this game made my top 5 list, I think it is just too recent, and would feel disingenuous to give it a place so soon after playing through it. But with that being said, Breath of the Wild has truly set a new benchmark for open-world games, and I’m excited to see where the series goes next.

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The Last of Us

Now here is a title that I really struggled with placing. In the end, the games lower down on this list just resonated with me more personally, but I’ve got to give credit where its due. The Last of Us, a masterpiece of storytelling and gameplay from the wizards over at Naughty Dog, is an immensely important video game. When it was released, a lot of reviewers heralded it at as the title that would elevate the medium. And while a very cinematic game, TLoU is first and foremost, just that, a video game. Apparently there is a movie adaptation floating around in development hell, but I personally hope it never sees the light of day. While I could certainly see TLoU’s narrative working well as a movie, it could never do justice to the gameplay.

And gameplay truly is king here. You really feel like a survivor of this awful world. Combat, for the first time in a video game (in my experience), had a weight to it that could be sickening at times. From the incredibly gruesome death animations, to the simple act of breaking a brick over a guys head, the violence here feels dirty, visceral and a little bit too real. This was backed up by a looting and crafting loop that made you feel like a scavenger just scraping by.  Stitching together a Molotov cocktail on the fly while you run from a horde of Clickers is an incredibly tense experience, something that is helped by a truly unique world that feels like a real place. The journal entries that you come across are equal parts heartbreaking and hopeful, and are usually framed by fantastic environmental storytelling. Walking into an area and knowing something terrible has taken place is exciting, because more often than not, and with a little detective work, you really feel like you can recreate the last moments of the people that lived there. And that ending? Hot damn, I cant wait for Pt II.

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#5

BioShock Infinite

And now we come to the list proper. BioShock Infinite is a game I see a lot of revisionist history for, which is ironic, given the plot of the game. And while I can certainly see how people may have problems with its gameplay, or the narrative for that matter, for me this was the pinnacle of the series, and a truly unforgettable game. Dealing with themes like American Exceptionalism and the worship of America’s Founding Fathers as religious icons, BioShock Infinite goes to some exceptionally dark places. Its melding of real-world history in this fantastic, dystopian setting was something that really appealed to me, and its characters and storyline have stayed with me ever since. It sparked in me an interest in American history that I had never really had before, and the games take on actual events like the Boxer Rebellion and the battle of Wounded Knee are riveting, especially with the propagandist twists that are everywhere in Infinite’s Columbia.

Gameplay is what we have come to expect from the BioShock series, with gunplay and Plasmid (or Tonics) use being the majority of what you spend your time doing. But its the plot here that earns Infinite its place on my list. Its anachronistic tale of alternate dimensions and timelines is far and away the most thought provoking of any game I have played. And while I will admit Infinite’s big twist could have been more meaningful with another game or two in the series, its one that still gives me goosebumps just thinking about. And again, the world building here is just phenomenal. People have told me that they find this game hard to replay,  but I personally think this game is even better on a second or third playthrough. All of the major plot points are hinted at and foreshadowed from the very beginning, and all those strange little coincidences make perfect sense with the benefit of hindsight. Plus, this game had the Luteces, who are just the best. Constants and variables, anyone?

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#4

Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc

I never would have guessed that a visual novel would make it onto this list, but here we are. Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc got under my skin in a way few games have before. I played through this dark and disturbing tale in just a couple of sittings, which consisted of me cocooned amongst my blankets until the wee hours of the morning. And this mysterious, incredibly dark tale of murder, suspicion, and hope drew me in, until I just had to know how it ended.

While initially very trope-y, the cast of Danganronpa very quickly break from their cookie-cutter moulds, and take on a lot of nuance. You spend a lot of time with these characters, some you hate, and others you root for. And then of course you have too watch them die, one by one, inevitably, until the conclusion of the game. And its legitimately hard, seeing characters you’ve grown to care for being forced to kill each other, all for Monokuma’s twisted enjoyment.

And while others will level (fairly valid) criticisms at this title for the class trials and the kind of gimmicky gameplay found therein, it wasn’t really an issue for me. The writing was just so solid. The sequel too was fantastic, but repeats a couple of plot points first seen here, and so I have to give this place to Trigger Happy Havoc. If you own a Vita/PS4, and haven’t  played Danganronpa, you really owe it to yourself to try it out.

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#3

Total War: Shogun 2

Every computer I have bought in my adult life has been in preparation for the imminent release of a new Total War game. This series is, without a doubt, my most played. I have spent countless hours (although Steam does count the hours, to my eternal shame) across every title in the series, and I love them all, but Shogun 2 is special.

The time period in which it’s set ranges, across all DLC, from the Gempei war, the Sengoku Jidai, and finally the Boshin war of the Meiji restoration. It chronicles the rise, the golden era, and the fall of samurai culture in Japan. It is a period I am incredibly fascinated with, and that fascination is mostly because of this game. Hell, I’ve aced history tests because of my time with this title.

And that’s saying nothing of its infinitely re-playable campaigns. I’m playing through two separate campaigns at the time of writing, and considering another one for the future! Its multi-layered strategy, from building economies and monitoring taxation, arranging marriages for the heirs of your clan, to commanding massive formations in combat, is something I don’t think I will ever get tired of. Sometimes I’ll even catch myself humming some of the tunes from the soundtrack, which at this point is baked into my psyche. I cant wait to see what the team at Creative Assembly come up with next (Total War: Victoria, fingers crossed).

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#2

Persona 4: Golden

Persona 4: Golden is the reason I love the PlayStation Vita as much as I do. It proved to me that long form gaming is not only possible on a handheld but that it is actually preferable, at least to me. P4G is a monster of a game, and the ability to pick it up and play through a week or so of in-game time lent itself perfectly to the Vita, and is largely responsible for the amount of time I have sunk into this game. Two full playthroughs and I’ve just started a third: still trying to get that platinum!

More so than narrative it’s the characters and their development over the course of this game that has earned it a place on this list. P4G’s characters really come alive in a way I wouldn’t have thought possible. Maybe it’s because of how long you have to get to know them, or that each is given their own private story arc in their respective Social Link, but Golden’s cast stand out more to me than any other. And that isn’t to say that the storyline of the game isn’t interesting, it certainly is. I love a good murder mystery and the supernatural twist that Persona games are known for really compliments it. But it’s Yosuke, Yukiko, Chie, and all the rest that really give this game its heart.

And that’s without mentioning the addictive Persona collecting and fast-paced traditional turn based gameplay which somehow doesn’t wear out its welcome despite repeated playthroughs. It will be interesting to see how I feel after playing Persona 5 as a lot of people are saying it’s an improvement in every regard. If that’s true then it would have to be an incredible game, and certainly worthy of a place on this list!

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#1

Final Fantasy VIII

And here we are, where it all began. I played a lot of video games before playing Final Fantasy VIII, but it wasn’t until I played it that I realised what their potential could be. That they could be this massive, and this immersive, was completely new to me. That they could look this good, or be this deep (I mean, for 1998) was truly eye opening. It was also the first JRPG I ever played, and there is a lot of nostalgia involved. But man, it was just so COOL to teenage me. The story, spanning multiple continents (and multiple DISCS!!!) absolutely blew me away. Witches and their Knights, floating schools for mercenaries, monsters falling from the moon. It all sounds like a fever dream. But it really made an impression on me, and that’s why it earns the #1 place on my list.

Now, I don’t have total fanboy blinders on when it comes to this game. I am aware of the criticisms, and I share some of them. The junction/draw system can be tedious, and Squall is kind of a jerk at times. But there is just something about FFVIII. It came along at the right time in my life, and introduced me to what would become my favourite genre. I appreciate that it’s not the most popular Final Fantasy title, in fact it seems downright loathed by some, but that’s never bothered me.

I replay this game fairly often and I really hope there is some kind of HD remaster for it one day. But the odds aren’t great, lets be honest, and I’d prefer Square Enix work on new titles. Still, Final Fantasy VIII is my favourite game of all time, and I doubt that will ever change.

 

So that’s it, that’s my list. Thoughts? What are your favourite video games? Let me know in the comments below, or just lambaste me for loving FFVIII, I revel in it. As always, thanks for reading!

K.