Site-Wide Activity

  • Some Metroidvanias and some more standard platformers. Inside: Even the Ocean, Xenodrifter, Gato Roboto, RONIN.

    Even the Ocean
    Puzzle Platformer

    A story-heavy puzzle platformer about an environmental […]

  • Sekiro is a game by the creators of Dark Souls. I gave it a try because Roarke said it fixed my complaints with Dark Souls. I would say it mostly does, but it also has problems of its own.

    The first, and […]

    • You’re missing a lot, yeah. The story is extremely steeped in Japanese and Buddhist mythology and history, and especially Shinto vs Buddhism.

      For one assertion that he should be ‘a samurai with some ninja training’ actually just makes extremely zero sense, since like… that’s what a freakin’ shinobi is already. They’re Samurai caste who gave up their honor for the sake of their loyalty. The other way around doesn’t make sense for the game, because the reason he is that is because he’s meant to be a powerful direct-combat warrior who uses lots of under-handed tricks and stealth. This is actually historically accurate for shinobi in the time period. It’s stylized up, sure, but yeah that’s the point. So the “Heh, DOESN’T KNOW THEIR OWN HISTORY” is funny.

      The reason why immortality is bad is because it is literally eating up the land. Kuro’s immortality is not a perfect blessing that brings happiness to all. You are actually fine with ressurecting in mid-battle because you are using your own, or the life-force of the people you have slain in battle. But when you die and are sent back to a statue is because Kuro had to drain the land of life-force to bring you back. That’s the problem with it. It’s bad because it is directly connected to the life-force of the land, and every time it is used, you’re draining innocent people of their life-force and making them sick by rotting the dragon-tree that keeps the land alive. So yes, while Genichiro only wanted the power to save his people, it would have killed them in the long run. So Kuro wasn’t being a ‘whiny little brat’, selfishly trying to get rid of immortality. He realized he was being a literal leach on the land and decided to stop it for the greater good. He IS saving them from a long-term hell. Which is funny as he’s not even the lord of the land. Genchiro kidnapped him to use his powers for his own ends. He has no reason to help then, they literally want to abuse his power that is also ruining the land to help them defeat his country.

      As for the centipedes, in Buddhism they represent uncleanliness and corruption. “Why would a Buddhist want immortality?” Because he’s a Buddhist, not Buddha. Enlightenment is moving beyond desire and need. These monks have fallen entirely away from enlightenment, which the desire for immortality highlights.

      Relatedly, the Divine Child’s entire thing being in the corrupted temple but completely untouched by the corrupted monks is extremely Shinto vs Buddhism because the boss fight you do to get to her represents the Shinto virtues, which presumably these evil monks have no chance in fulfilling.

      • For one assertion that he should be ‘a samurai with some ninja training’ actually just makes extremely zero sense, since like… that’s what a freakin’ shinobi is already. They’re Samurai caste who gave up their honor for the sake of their loyalty.

        I’m gonna have to pull a [citation needed] on that, because everything I’ve read says the opposite, that ninjas were trained and employed specifically as stealth operatives, who did stuff like disguises and assassination instead of busting down the front door and murdering everyone in sight. Even if what you say is true, that’s not how Wolf is presented; he’s a peasant orphan, not someone born into knighthood.

        You are actually fine with ressurecting in mid-battle because you are using your own, or the life-force of the people you have slain in battle. But when you die and are sent back to a statue is because Kuro had to drain the land of life-force to bring you back. That’s the problem with it. It’s bad because it is directly connected to the life-force of the land, and every time it is used, you’re draining innocent people of their life-force and making them sick by rotting the dragon-tree that keeps the land alive.

        You’ve contradicted yourself in the same paragraph — it only drains innocent people when it’s overused, not “every time it’s used”. The Dragonrot is only a problem because they’re in the middle of a civil war. If Kuro had let Wolf spirit him away like Wolf originally wanted, the war would have ended while they were in hiding and they could live a peaceful life afterwards without dying repeatedly to cause the Dragonrot. The only reason the Dragonrot spreads is because Kuro sends Wolf on deadly quests in order to sever immortality.

        The whole thing is the same logical fallacy I see so often: It ignores the status quo when criticizing the alternative. Death really sucks, especially when you’re in a civil war where people are constantly dying horribly. The alternative to the Dragon’s Heritage isn’t some perfect world where nobody suffers. Both options have flaws, but the story takes it as a given that the status quo is better instead of doing a fair comparison.

        Part of the problem is that I think the designers goofed on making the Dragonrot less scary than I think they intended; Emma makes a cure almost immediately and dragon blood droplets are so plentiful I was never in any danger of running out, even though I died a ton. It hardly feels like an unstoppable evil. If the price of defeating death is popping a few dragon blood droplets occasionally, that seems a perfectly fine trade to me.

        Enlightenment is moving beyond desire and need. These monks have fallen entirely away from enlightenment

        Yes, I know, but why? What prompted them to desire immortality in the first place? I’m always baffled when dualists seek immortality — if you already believe you’re immortal, what’s the point of prolonging your Earthly life? The only explanations I can think of are either that they had already done so many bad things they were certain they were going to turbohell (which must be extremely turbo, because turning into a decrepit mummy overrun by vermin is already its own kind of hell), or they were actually monists who didn’t really believe they had reincarnating souls.

    • Not every single shinobi was the same at all times. Shinobi who were expected to guard lords or do general battle were trained in a lot more straight-forward combat, with the expectation that they’d use their stealth training to help them slip into the enemy compound easier. There’s stories of shinobi replacing the defenders of a castle mid-battle to take the castle.

      He was adopted by Owl, who would be of the samurai caste, or at least willing to give him a warrior’s training, considering he had been training him to be a murderous psycho.

      Being able to cure Dragonrot relatively easy gameplay-wise (there’s only 15 of them in the entire game, and they have a dual-use of allowing extra resurrections in battle) is likely due to the fact that Dragonrot can be debilitating, and you gain a Dragonrot every 10-20 deaths.

      Also take Kuro and go… where? Ashina is blocked off from the rest of the world by the Interior Ministry, and also everything has happened explicitly to get Kuro simply because of his powers. Hell, his estate was razed and his family wiped out by men (like Owl) working for both the Ashina and Interior Ministry. And if he tried to save everyone by spreading the immortality around, then it’d just be draining the land and making everyone horribly sick that much faster.

      Also relatedly, that is why the soldiers at the start don’t bother killing Sekiro. He’s already immortal by that point, so they were content to let him just waste away.

      As for the monks, it’s a pretty important thing in Buddhism that even if you intellectually know that you shouldn’t want immortality or need it because you’d have what’s more important if you discard your desire for it, but that emotionally that isn’t so easy.

      Also they know extremely well that they would not be receiving immortality if they gained true enlightenment. You’re striving to leave the world, to escape immortality and reincarnation. But these men were afraid of death and the end of it all, so they desired immortality. That’s classic Buddhism there.

      • Not every single shinobi was the same at all times.

        So your previous sweeping statement of “that’s what a freakin’ shinobi is already. They’re Samurai caste who gave up their honor for the sake of their loyalty” was incorrect, then. A lot of what we know about ninjas is mixed up with myth and hearsay, especially in modern pop culture, to the point it’s hard to pin down a hard definition of what a ninja was or did, and that it probably spanned a wide variety of roles. I’m fully willing to believe that some ninja were former samurai who abandoned the bushido code, but that definitely was not the case for all or even most of them.

        And this is all rather beside the point, since as I’ve said the designers were clearly not concerned overmuch by historical accuracy. That’s not inherently wrong, but if they’re using the pop culture idea of a ninja, Wolf just does not align with it. Insisting this sworn bodyguard whose idea of stealth amounts to “crouch behind cover, but if that doesn’t work, screw it, just murder everybody in sight” is a stealthy assassin is just ridiculous to me.

        Being able to cure Dragonrot relatively easy gameplay-wise (there’s only 15 of them in the entire game, and they have a dual-use of allowing extra resurrections in battle) is likely due to the fact that Dragonrot can be debilitating, and you gain a Dragonrot every 10-20 deaths.

        Yes, and…? This is a company that built itself on diegetic gameplay mechanics. They clearly didn’t compromise on any of the other horrifically punishing gameplay mechanics in this or the Soulsborne games, so if their intention was to convince us Dragonrot was worth giving up immortality for they shouldn’t have compromised on that either.

        Also take Kuro and go… where? Ashina is blocked off from the rest of the world by the Interior Ministry

        I’m expected to believe a ninja can’t sneak someone past a blockade? Even if Wolf screws up and needs to fall back on his personal idea of “stealth”, you carve your way through the Interior Ministry in the final act of the game anyway, so he could absolutely murder his way through the blockade. And if he can’t, this same logic applies to Kuro in the Purification ending. If it’s not possible for Kuro to live safely in obscurity, then the real Purification ending is that Kuro gets captured and murdered five minutes after the credits roll and everything Wolf did was for nothing.

        Also relatedly, that is why the soldiers at the start don’t bother killing Sekiro. He’s already immortal by that point, so they were content to let him just waste away.

        Okay, but why didn’t they block the well, like the Interior Ministry does in the final act?

        As for the monks, it’s a pretty important thing in Buddhism that even if you intellectually know that you shouldn’t want immortality or need it because you’d have what’s more important if you discard your desire for it, but that emotionally that isn’t so easy.

        Okay, but what was the desire that drove them to immortality in the first place? This is circular logic. The evil people want immortality because wanting immortality is evil? No, people don’t work like that. You want immortality for some reason, either because you fear death or because you prefer living on Earth to an afterlife. We’re not told any of that, we just see a bunch of mummies sitting around doing nothing. The Holy Chapter: Infested item seems to indicate that even they don’t know and that becoming infested wasn’t their own choice. It feels like there’s a lot of information that’s just missing.

        And escaping reincarnation and entering nirvana is a voluntary decision — it’s pretty key to Buddhism that the enlightened can turn back and stay in the world if they want to. So I don’t understand how they could be afraid of exiting reincarnation, like, accidentally. The only way what you’re saying makes sense is if they don’t believe in reincarnation or immortal souls at all, at which point they’re atheists, not heretics.

        The whole thing frankly feels like the same level of nuance we give to Satanists in our pop culture. “These people are evil because they reject our dominant cultural beliefs. What are their actual beliefs? Doesn’t matter, they’re just Evil.”

    • He’s a shinobi, not the literal hundreds of shinobi and soldiers that the Interior Ministry have, much less the dozens of nightjar shinobi that might still exist and wish you to kindly stop. Yeah sure you can beat an Interior Minstry guys in a one on one or one on two fight (and not easily, either), handling all the Interior Ministry shinobi at once isss a different story. Also, while he is a shinobi, Kuro isn’t. If the Interior Ministry had been so easily beaten, then Ashina would not have been doomed to lose its war without Kuro’s power.

      “Yes, and…? This is a company that built itself on diegetic gameplay mechanics. They clearly didn’t compromise on any of the other horrifically punishing gameplay mechanics in this or the Soulsborne games, so if their intention was to convince us Dragonrot was worth giving up immortality for they shouldn’t have compromised on that either.”

      Well think about this: Just one person being given the immortality is enough to stress the land enough that it is rotting. The Dragon that grants his power to Kuro is dying from the rot of sustaining just Kuro and Wolf, and it is implied that sustaining just ONE person keeps the dragon from renewing itself, because it is still missing the Aromatic Branch that had been cut from it. So while Kuro and Wolf hanging out and being alive might not immediately rot the land fatally, the land was already decaying.

      “And if he can’t, this same logic applies to Kuro in the Purification ending. If it’s not possible for Kuro to live safely in obscurity, then the real Purification ending is that Kuro gets captured and murdered five minutes after the credits roll and everything Wolf did was for nothing.” Kuro can live safely in obscurity after being purified because his power is no longer a beacon drawing everyone towards him and killing each other. Because that’s why his family was massacred and Ashina began their rebellion, all because of his immortality.

      “Okay, but what was the desire that drove them to immortality in the first place? This is circular logic. The evil people want immortality because wanting immortality is evil? No, people don’t work like that. You want immortality for some reason, either because you fear death or because you prefer living on Earth to an afterlife. We’re not told any of that, we just see a bunch of mummies sitting around doing nothing. The Holy Chapter: Infested item seems to indicate that even they don’t know and that becoming infested wasn’t their own choice. It feels like there’s a lot of information that’s just missing.”

      They aren’t evil because they want immortality. They’re evil because they let their desire for immortality consume them and did evil things in the name of sustaining their immortality.

      “And escaping reincarnation and entering nirvana is a voluntary decision — it’s pretty key to Buddhism that the enlightened can turn back and stay in the world if they want to. So I don’t understand how they could be afraid of exiting reincarnation, like, accidentally. The only way what you’re saying makes sense is if they don’t believe in reincarnation or immortal souls at all, at which point they’re atheists, not heretics.”

      Again, this is the difference between intellectually understanding something and emotionally understanding something. I intellectually understand that most spiders are harmless and are more afraid of me than I am of them. Emotionally I will stay as far away from them as possible because I am actually more afraid of them then they are of me. So while these monks seek nirvana, they are afraid of it, they are afraid of death. This is normal. Even if you are a true believer in something, you can still have natural doubts and fears. These people learned that a form of immortality existed and was within reach, and they regained the desire for life. If this seems awfully cynical on the part of the monks? Well, the game has an extremely cynical take on Buddhism. As a note: Their mummified states actually are references to real self-mummifying ascetics.

      • Re: beating the Interior Ministry, you kill literally dozens if not more over the course of the game, including not just the ninjas but also their armed warriors. Yes, you can’t take on a whole army at once, but Wolf’s entire fighting style is to pick them off one by one. Also, he’s immortal and they aren’t. Given what the player is capable of in regular gameplay, breaking through the Interior Ministry’s blockade seems totally doable.

        Kuro can live safely in obscurity after being purified because his power is no longer a beacon drawing everyone towards him and killing each other.

        Wait, what? Are you saying he’s supernaturally broadcasting his powers? Where is that explained? Just because he no longer has his powers doesn’t mean the whole world is instantly informed of that fact. As long as people think he has his powers, they’re going to keep seeking him, and probably kill him when they find out he doesn’t have what they want.

        So while these monks seek nirvana, they are afraid of it, they are afraid of death. This is normal.

        No, that does not make any sense. You don’t enter nirvana until you want to. If they’re so afraid of it, they can just choose to continue reincarnating. The reason death is so scary is because it’s not a choice and you can be pushed into it involuntarily. That doesn’t apply here.

        Given the text of Holy Chapter: Infested, it sounds more like they decided the route to enlightenment was Earthly immortality rather than a cycle of reincarnation. That would certainly make them heretics, but it’s also so far removed from anything in real life I don’t see how it’s saying anything meaningful.

        Well, the game has an extremely cynical take on Buddhism.

        I thought the entire theme of this and the Soulsborne series was the Buddhist desire to escape reincarnation in favor of oblivion? The creators clearly believe very, very strongly in Buddhist philosophy. Or are you saying they’re cynical of institutional Buddhism specifically and believe it’s strayed from the pure roots of the religion, i.e. Senpou Temple is their criticism of modern institutional Buddhism?

        • Kuro apparently does basically broadcast his supernatural powers. It’s how people got wind that he can make people immortal and wiped out his family’s palace. He wasn’t like, making people immortal or being killed on the regular.

          Sekiro’s based on various Shinto-Buddhist-influenced tales like Blade of the Immortal, where the reason why immortality takes the form of centipedes and the like, since that is how you gained immortality in Blade of the Immortal.

          But I am actually saying that Sekiro is a very Shinto look at Buddhism and the institution being corrupt is definitely part of it. It’s wrong to say that reaching nirvana and oblivion is the goal of all of the games. I think a much more central theme to the stories is the pursuit of becoming greater than human and what one must do or suffer for it. Bloodborne’s true ending, for example, revolves around bringing humanity to its next childhood as Great Ones, with the protagonist as the leader, but the cost of failure is losing vital pieces of one’s humanity in the process. Part of this is always the cost of immortality, because human bodies are not normally equip for immortality or for being deathless.

          • Kuro apparently does basically broadcast his supernatural powers. It’s how people got wind that he can make people immortal and wiped out his family’s palace.

            I don’t see any evidence for this. He lived at the Hirata estate for several years, and only got targeted because a trusted confidante sold him out. Even during the raid on Hirata, I don’t recall the Interior Ministry soldiers mentioning anything about the Divine Heir, so it’s possible they don’t know about him at all. The only other person who fights over him is a member of the Ashina clan, who already knew about his powers. We also don’t get any mention of people fighting over his predecessor.

            Based on what we see, it looks more like he had all of two bad experiences of people fighting over him (Owl and then Genichiro), and generalized that to assume people were going to fight over him forever. But both of those two people knew about his powers already. There’s no indication he couldn’t hide himself.

            Re: Themes, I haven’t looked at Bloodborne, but the theme of all three Souls games is pretty blatantly about preserving vs. escaping cycles of reincarnation. And regardless of those games, Sekiro takes a very firm “immortality and transhumanism bad” stance with no further nuance, as I complained in the review.

            But I am actually saying that Sekiro is a very Shinto look at Buddhism and the institution being corrupt is definitely part of it.

            I’m curious, then, because I wasn’t aware there was such tension between Shinto and Buddhism. Can you elaborate on this?

    • Glad you like the mechanics, barring the camera and some imbalanced abilities. I personally think the biggest drawback is not that they’re imbalanced, but that you can only equip one ability and three prostheses at a time. Sekiro should have gone full character action like DMC5 so you could use your situational stuff without having to go through a menu.

      No comment on the story or characters; they’re just vehicles for the mechanics.

  • Slay the Spire is a deckbuilder roguelike I decided to check out after hearing a lot of buzz about it. It’s a very beautiful game that is rendered unplayable by its overwhelming randomness.

    I can’t beat […]

    • I mean, I don’t want to leave feedback on this post that is just essentially another useless guide, but I do feel like I have to defend StS here, because I never found it ridiculously difficult or unfairly luck-based in 400 hours except on some of the highest difficulties, where you really can just die to a bad seed. I don’t know if you can call it unintuitive in a card game to not take cards that don’t fit your deck; that has literally been the philosophy of card games since Magic. The store even has a ‘Remove Card’ option that is worth every penny since it lets you remove the basic Strike cards that, yes, bloat your deck (in addition to its more obvious use removing Curses).

      Like, you accurately point out what makes the game hard, your draw on any given turn and the resources offered to you *are* RNG, but then you’re ignoring the tools the game gives you to succeed: ways to tailor your deck so that you are not likely to draw dead hands. The two biggest tools are keeping your deck small and taking cards/relics that allow you to draw more cards per hand. Card draw is the strongest thing in the game because consistency is the strongest thing in the game.

      I’m sorry the game didn’t click for you, but I definitely feel the need to say for everyone else: Slay the Spire is the bar for deck-building roguelikes, and probably card-based video games in general. The characters each have a wonderfully designed card pool of their own; the four all feel incredibly unique to play. The game is turn-based but very nicely paced because all the action happens on your turn; enemies show their intention to attack/defend/buff/debuff very clearly and your puzzle each turn is how you’re going to deal with that using your cards. The card/relic tooltips and interactions are consistent and straightforward; the order in which events or effects resolve or conflict makes logical sense for both you and enemies. I think I’d sum up the design for their system as ‘robust’. It is very good at supplying you the information you need to learn its system.

      • Like, you accurately point out what makes the game hard, your draw on any given turn and the resources offered to you *are* RNG, but then you’re ignoring the tools the game gives you to succeed: ways to tailor your deck so that you are not likely to draw dead hands.

        What makes you think I’m ignoring that? That’s the first thing every guide mentions. It doesn’t save you from getting dead hands, or the fact that a single dead hand can end your run. (And the shopkeep removal is bad design, because it’s so overvalued players almost always have to take it, leaving little money for its other services.)

        taking cards/relics that allow you to draw more cards per hand

        And how am I supposed to do that when I have no control over what cards or relics I’m handed, exactly? If we could actively pursue specific goals like I said, this would be good advice, but that’s not the case.

        That’s really the summation of the game: It’s great at supplying you with information, yes, but it doesn’t let you act on it. It doesn’t matter how well you understand the game, if the dice don’t want to give you any viable options, you don’t get any viable options.

        I don’t know if you can call it unintuitive in a card game to not take cards that don’t fit your deck

        how on Earth is “you’re supposed to ignore the rewards the game offers” not unintuitive

        I don’t care if it’s “the standard” for card games, you shouldn’t have to be familiar with the genre in order to understand how to play a game. That’s the tutorial’s job.

    • – how on Earth is “you’re supposed to ignore the rewards the game offers” not unintuitive

      The same way you’d ignore an axe if you’re playing a sword class in a different game. Same way you ignore strength bonuses on a dexterity class. If anything, picking up random stuff just because it’s on offer in a card game explicitly designed around building a deck sounds unintuitive to me.

      Roguelikes are stuffed with the principle that not everything you pick up is going to help you win; it’s up to you to make the decisions about what to use and what to leave behind. In the early game you take cards almost all the time because anything is an improvement over Strike/Defend by design, but then later on you have to be selective and take only what helps your deck. And if that means pressing the ‘Pass’ button on a card reward, so what? There are like fifty floors to a game, and generally around 35 will offer card rewards. You can expect a fair proportion of those to be good; you can’t expect them all to be good enough to keep adding cards. You’d end up with a 40+ card deck, where most would say 30 is around the biggest deck you should aim for (and this is after removing all the Strikes you can). Please understand that the game doesn’t want you to have 50 good cards and never shuffle the deck; it wants you to have 10 good cards and 20 decent cards, shuffling through them frequently.

      I dunno. Maybe I’m just unable to relate to a new player since it’s an old game and I have all the assumptions baked in at this point. I know it didn’t take me anywhere near forty hours to get my first win, probably not even four. You can make consistency happen, and you do have agency. Even acknowledging that the RNG can screw you, it’s nowhere near bad enough to screw you for every single run on base difficulty. Leaving The Heart(which is intended to be an optional superboss) aside, the balance generally lies in the player’s favor. Sorry you had a bad time with it; that sucks.

      For everyone else, I heartily recommend Slay the Spire and FTL: Faster Than Light, which is another node-to-node roguelike with random challenges and rewards. Spaceship combat instead of cards. Both are sort of equally seen as classics. I’d argue that FTL is more replayable but StS is the better game.

      • The same way you’d ignore an axe if you’re playing a sword class in a different game. Same way you ignore strength bonuses on a dexterity class.

        Those examples typically don’t actively punish you for picking them, though. And a good roguelike should provide a use for everything it gives you even if it’s not directly relevant to your build, because that’s the only way to be fair with random drops. (Mechanics that encourage you to have an alternate weapon in reserve, or the ability to consume weapons for strong single-use actions, etc. Many games do this.) If you’re playing a sword class but all the game gives you are axes, what are you supposed to do with that? How is that any fun?

        And if that means pressing the ‘Pass’ button on a card reward, so what?

        Then you’ve wasted your incredibly limited resources for nothing, that’s what. Taking a risk on a monster or elite only to get effectively nothing is absurdly cruel and punishing. Risk/reward becomes broken when the reward can vary from “gamebreaker” to “nothing”.

        Even acknowledging that the RNG can screw you, it’s nowhere near bad enough to screw you for every single run on base difficulty.

        It should not screw you on any run. Losing an hour-long run through no fault of your own is not fun and provides no learning opportunities.

        Everything you’re saying would be reasonable if the game was slightly different — if there wasn’t lasting damage so you could absorb bad luck with less consequence, if trimming your deck wasn’t so inordinately difficult, if rewards were more balanced (seriously, the balance on boss relics is awful) or if you at least had more control over what rewards you pursued… There are a lot of easy things the game could have done to mitigate its problems, but it didn’t.

        (To clarify, I’ve won Act 3, just not the Heart. But the highest Ascension I’ve been able to beat is 2, and even that was very difficult.)

    • I mean, I liked Inscryption fine. There’s no lasting damage, so small misfortunes don’t escalate, and there’s only really one type of card so bad draws and deck bloat don’t hurt you as much. My problems with StS really don’t seem like insurmountable elements of the genre; I’ve already forwarded several small changes that would have mitigated my issues without changing the nature of the game.

      Also, I want to reiterate, the randomized final bosses are terrible design. Instead of being a consistent challenge to your strategy, it makes the final challenge wildly varying in difficulty. And again, this had an easy solution: Always make us fight all three, thus preventing anyone from coasting to an easy win because the game happened to play paper to their scissors.

    • Act replied 1 month ago

      StS is a blast, I love it and definitely rec it.

      I feel like this review is missing some acknowledgement that what you want out of a game like this is not what most people want, or are getting out of it.

      Like, “the most common advice in guides is to not take cards when offered unless they fit the particular build you’re going for, which is incredibly backwards and unintuitive” is a really bizarre complaint, straight up. As long as deckbuilding strategy has existed, one of the central tenets has been that not all cards are created equal and you should be judicious when choosing what goes into a deck, and this is a feature, not a bug. There’s actually some really interesting content out there about game design in Magic: The Gathering (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0l5Xim4JmIg, and also everything Spice8Rack has ever done because he’s the best), and the really abbreviated version is that undesireable cards are one of the ways that card games train you how to play them; they also sometimes exist to counter very niche but potentially gamebreaking strategies. The idea that not all cards belong in a deck has been around literally since deck strategy was invented, and I think it’s absolutely an idea a deckbuilder can take for granted… and even so, it’s one of the tips written into the game’s loading screens. If you’re super unfamiliar with deck strategy I can see how it might not seem obvious, but I don’t think it’s a design flaw to assume that most people know that at this point, or that once it’s pointed out people will be able to make use of it as advice.

      I also think you have a much, much lower RNG tolerance than most people. RPGs and roguelikes are sometimes puzzle games where you can “figure out” how to win, but deckbuilders never, IME, are, and that’s not a design flaw, it’s part of what makes them fun. I honestly hate the idea of every run having a ‘winnable’ path, that sounds awful, lol. It’s just not why I play these kinds of games.

      Like, okay. I really love FreeCell. I like that every game is winnable, as opposed to other forms of Solitaire, which are a crapshoot. I play a lot of FreeCell in waiting rooms. But the reason I do that is that FreeCell isn’t a strategy game like, say, Klondike, it’s a puzzle game. You don’t really have to think about it because you know going in there’s going to be a way to win and once you understand the game you’re going to find it pretty much without exception.

      That’s not why I play strategy games. The whole reason they’re fun is because of the RNG, of having to be on your toes, and not knowing if any single strategy will work out. And yeah, you won’t always win, but it’s the journey, not the destination. Some of the best Magic games I’ve ever played were ones I lost, because I spent the game trying to roll with the punches and watching strategies unfold. It’s why you shuffle a deck and put it facedown instead of looking at the order and then declaring the one with the best-ordered deck the winner. Most of the time, the best player will win, because the best player isn’t just the best deck constructor, but the one who can roll with the punches of a bad shuffle the best. And sometimes the best player loses because luck isn’t on their side. And not knowing what’s going to happen is what makes it exciting.

      And this is also true of RPGs and roguelikes, honestly. Like, I remember you being upset that Dragon Quest battles rolled initiative on top of speed, which is fine, you don’t have to like that system, but that’s not a flaw of the design, it’s a purposeful choice. I genuinely love the initiative roll, because I don’t want an RPGs where I know going in if I’m going to win the battle or not. I want to have to think and be clever about it. That’s the core of what a strategy game is. Otherwise it’s just a puzzle game. Which is fine, that kind of gameplay isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. But for me — and lot of other people — that’s not always what we want out of a game. And again, rolling for initiative is not a new thing; it goes back to the first tabletops. Because for many, if not most people, without some chance, it’s not really much of an adventure.

      Broadly, a lot of the complaints here are just… things about deckbuilding. And like, that’s 100% fine, not every genre is for everyone, but I think framing that as a badly designed game instead of this genre just not being your thing is kind of odd. This game is basically the gold standard for deckbuilders right now, and not looking at it in either the context of what that means *or* the context of “this experience was a new one and/or it just isn’t for me” feels a bit weird to me.

      Also without bad cards I wouldn’t be able to build weird, janky Commander decks and that would be a tragedy so they need to stay.

      • Yeah, I found this review a bit puzzling (even not having played Slay the Spire myself, I know it by reputation), and it seems to come down to “I don’t like this genre”. Which is a perfectly fine thing to say, but seems odd in this context.

        I am not sure I entirely agree with your analysis of what differentiates a strategy game from a puzzle game, because these boundaries can be fuzzy, but there is definitely something important there. I do think it’s important to note that different sorts of randomness don’t feel the same in gameplay despite the fact they might be nearly identical under the hood (Mark Rosewater has written a lot over the years about how ‘reveal the top card of your deck and check some property of it’ feels less ‘random’ in a card game than ‘roll a die to determine this outcome’, even if you make them have identical probabilities). But to someone who isn’t used to those card game conventions, that distinction might not feel different.

        Also just have to say, Spice8Rack makes some of the best content on the internet and I wholeheartedly second this recommendation.

      • Who’s your favorite character? I think it’s The Silent by a fair amount; the dynamism of that deck feels like a step above everyone but The Watcher, who is cool but not really my style.

        The Watcher is kind of interesting because she was added after The Heart and the Ascension levels; it feels like she was the only character truly intended for that difficulty level from the beginning. The Ironclad/Silent got noticeable buffs over time as the newer content was added, which I appreciate.

      • There is a very big difference between “Variance prevents things from becoming a solved game” and “Variance determines whether you can win at all.” If runs were extremely short, maybe, but I genuinely do not understand the appeal of a game where you can invest over an hour in a run and then lose because of something entirely out of your control. It never mattered how skillful I was in my strategies in this game — and I was skillful, I followed all the guides’ advice and capitalized on synergies as much as possible — all it took was a single bit of bad luck to make everything fall apart, every single time. The room for error was too low.

        And I still don’t understand why people keep saying these are all interminable elements of deckbuilders when I forward multiple ideas in the review that I believe would have improved the experience without changing the genre. To me, the point of roguelikes is to provide a similar experience as their non-roguelike counterparts, with the purpose of the randomness being to provide a theoretically infinite variety with procedural generation. The randomness doesn’t have to be part of the moment-to-moment gameplay any more than it does in non-roguelike games.

        • The room for error is not really that low. If you’re somehow being destroyed by a ‘single stroke of bad luck’, then that is you being bad. And I say this from a lot of experience of being bad at the game. The main thing I think should be changed is them not revealing who the final boss is until you get to Act 3. Largely because act 3 is a bit too late to change your strategy. Now, you can just still win by just playing your strategy so hard it doesn’t matter, but you’d have to have really synergized for it.

          I also don’t really care for how “just get rid of all of your cards but a couple that are super powerful and a way to play them infinitely”, but thankfully the higher difficulty levels make that impossible.

          But a big thing you need to understand is: You don’t need a perfect deck. You can take cards as long as they fit in with what you have. A major important thing is to identify early cards you are finding that can be used to build something and then pick up anything that can support that.

          From the sound of it you don’t seem to be playing nearly skillfully as you think if just one bad draw is killing you. I get that it’s frustrating when you don’t know how to roll with non-ideal draw, but you can always bounce back if you’re good enough. I’m generally not good enough, but I’ve gotten wise enough to at least see how I could have done it in hindsight.

          Also, a lot of people have tried to change the formula and it typically doesn’t go well, which is why people are a bit leery of people going “As someone who can’t win the game, why can’t I change THIS so I can win?????????”

          Also about Inscryption, that’s not very Roguelike-y. Like the biggest thing is that Inscryption has no resources to manage long-run. Teeth don’t really count. It’s basically set up so you can win and progress because the card game in each section isn’t the point of the game, but a means. It’s still good, though.

          • If you’re somehow being destroyed by a ‘single stroke of bad luck’, then that is you being bad.

            I am deeply curious what brilliant strategy you are using to not die after drawing zero block cards when the enemy is readying a supermove.

            Also, a lot of people have tried to change the formula and it typically doesn’t go well, which is why people are a bit leery of people going “As someone who can’t win the game, why can’t I change THIS so I can win?????????”

            Examples?

            Re: Inscryption, the base game isn’t Roguelike-y, but the recently-released Kaycee’s Mod is.

            • There’s a few things: If you know you are defensively weak, buy them from the shop. Getting rid of Strikes/Defends actually shouldn’t always be your first priority. Sometimes you need to keep your Defends. Or you get one of the Relics/cards that rely on Strikes, suddenly you have a very good reason to keep them. If you see Block cards in the Shop, take them. Defensive relics too. Tori’s Gate, Tungsten Rod, and Calipers are good for cushioning bad turns. If your HP is bad, Rest at campfires. The guides probably tell you not to, but on the low Ascensions there’s no reason not to if you are in trouble.

              Also take defensive potions. Fairy in a Bottle, Skill Potion, or Block Potions can be stocked up on for turns where your draw is bad.

              It is a genuine skill of the game to be able to handle situations like that. It’s how those people can streak an immense number of times on Act 4 Ascension 20. This is why I don’t say ‘you’re bad’ in a way that you should feel bad about. I’ve seen enough high-tier play to understand that until you have a feel for getting out of bad situations like that without dying, then you’re not good at the game yet. I’m not good at the game, sadly.

              Kaycee’s Mod still isn’t QUITE there, but it is more Roguelike-y.

              But uh, a good example is Vault of the Void, which gives you a hard limit of 20 cards in your playing deck, and you can swap between them at will between battles. I don’t really like it though, because the rest of the mechanical changes with it make it unlikable to me, like the idea that damage is a ‘future’ thing that comes the next turn, but you can’t kill enemies to stop the damage from coming. The art is also shockingly terrible. It’s not that it sucks innately, but there is very little correspondence between the card art and what the card does/or its relationship to the character.

              • Every single one of the “strategies” you list are random drops. Shop cards are random. Relics are random. Potions are random. Skill doesn’t factor into that. If you get lucky drops, then yes, you can bounce back from unlucky draws, but if you don’t you can’t. You need lucky setups in order to play skillfully at all. As I’ve already said, this has an easy fix: Let us see in advance where relics are on the map so we can strategically pursue the ones we need.

                If you see Block cards in the Shop, take them.

                And this doesn’t actually fix the specific scenario I outlined. As long as there are fewer than n-5 block cards in your deck, there is always a chance of drawing no block cards. Unless you keep an extremely lean deck or add nothing but block cards, that chance will only get higher as you play.

                I will have to look at Vault of the Void, it sounds like it does several of the things I’ve outlined.

    • I reviewed Inscryption previously. The first third is an actual roguelike, the other two thirds are as you describe. However, people got angry enough at this false advertising that the developer has since released an alternate game mode that’s just the roguelike portion.

    • Roguelikes are all about making the best of a given hand. If everything was predictable, then it becomes an act of memorization or literally following a walkthrough. There is enough given guaranteed given power in any run that you can make a significant difference in the choices that you made up until that point. (Camp vs another elite.)

      Per VOTW, I’ve heard that since everything is set, all people need is a guide since victory can be foreseen.

      Have you heard of Arcanium: Rise of Akkhan? Poorly balanced in my opinion, allows people to choose a set of cards from what they’ve amassed so far. Too easy with certain compositions.

      For skill-expressive roguelikes, there’s always Hades.

      • Vault of the Void has real issues, and it’s one I care for the least.

        Slay the Spire is interesting because it is very skill-expressive, which is how people can streak Act 4, which I think is insane.

        By the way, probably should give the official expansion mod a try, it adds a lot of much stronger characters who are probably easier for beginners.

  • Inside: Rogue Legacy, Reventure, Chronicles of Teddy, Path of Giants.

    Rogue Legacy
    Roguelike/Platformer

    A roguelike with a heavy macrogame component. You play as a heroic lineage attempting to conquer […]

    • “It also has a very tasteless depiction of disability. A main feature is that heroes all have randomly-generated traits, and this includes things like ADHD boosting your speed and OCD giving you bonuses for smashing objects. Maybe this wasn’t deliberately malicious, but it’s impossible to tell when so much of society unironically considers disabilities a joke.”

      For what it is worth they got better in Rogue Legacy 2. There is no ADHD and OCD got renamed. So I think it is safe to say it wasn’t malicious.

  • Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is an auteur project by the creator of Symphony of the Night after he left Konami. Like many SotN fans, I was excited for it.

    This is porn. Having played Order of Ecclesia, I […]

    • It is very awkward that of all posts, this would be the one that reminded me this game exists. Despite everything you’ve said (which is, for better or worse, accurate), I looked into it a bit more and decided it might be worth trying in spite of this. I’m not going to encourage anyone to seek it out, and it has a lot of problems even beyond this skeevy stuff, but there is some decent gameplay and atmosphere to be had if you can look past it. I had been in a Castlevania kind of mood and this does scratch that itch (I got it at 60% discount, I would not have paid full price for this).

      First off: there’s an option in the menu to disable the “get new shards” animation (along with the associated screaming), and I cannot overemphasise how much this helps. I don’t think I would have been able to play the game without this.

      Second: you can, eventually, get an alternate costume for Miriam. It’s not perfect (it’s still a dress; especially given all the sliding and kicking she does, she really ought to be wearing trousers, but at least the alternate one is longer and has most of her legs covered by long boots), but I thought it was a significant improvement. At bare minimum, it goes up to her neck, and also keeps the odd glowiness of her legs from drawing the eye as much against the dark backgrounds. Unfortunately, it requires having the DLC package installed and can’t be acquired until something like 75% through the game.

      (I have some… questions… about Miriam’s default outfit. When you get access to the cooking system, you can see her turn her back to cook, and it turns out the dress is backless so you can see she has a giant crystal rose growing out of her back. Which, fine, that’s an actual physical change from the experimentation… but the lacing in front, and her proportions, imply the dress is corseted. How does a backless corset even work? It makes no sense.)

      I think the game unfortunately puts its worst foot forward, with the design issues you’ve highlighted in the ship and the gross sea-monster boss. Most of the other boss designs were inoffensive (with the exception of “Bloodless”, who is basically anime Elisabeth Bathory so you can imagine there’s some sexualisation there; though, frankly, that was handled more tastefully than I expected going in). I don’t understand why the ship sequence wasn’t better polished, especially since it was the demo. Most of the later environments looked better to me (though the stairs in the save rooms never do make sense).

      Also, while her idle stances never improve, I did think Miriam’s animations were a bit better with swords, greatswords, and katanas, which I spent the majority of the game using. Boots and daggers are the worst and it’s a bit unfortunate that’s what they chose to start her with. (It may have also helped that I played on Nintendo Switch in handheld mode, the small screen makes it easier to not look too hard at the animations.)

      My biggest complaint, if anything, is how grindy the game ends up being. In addition to all the shards (some of which have incredibly low drop rates), enemies drop all kinds of materials for the alchemy and cooking systems, which you use to make equipment and recovery items, and then you can also upgrade each shard (both by getting more copies and by doing alchemy, which requires loads more materials). It’s very tedious and unnecessary. I often enjoy systems like this (and I enjoyed aspects of this one), but it’s overcomplicated and not rewarding enough to justify it. Admittedly, I did think it was cute they had new food items give a permanent stat boost the first time you eat them, and justified it by saying a varied diet fights malnutrition.

      There are also skills you can learn from various weapon types and books in the environment, which of course require using fighting game inputs (which I’m not good at). This is neat, and some of them really do help make the combat more interesting… except, of course, they make you grind a ‘mastery’ bar by using them on enemies, and arbitrarily only let you use the skill with a small subset of weapons until you’ve filled it and can then use it with any weapon. This was totally unnecessary and created more tedium.

      There are lots of one-off wacky abilities and interactable environments, in a way I associate with Symphony of the Night, but a lot of it just ends up feeling overdesigned (but not necessarily polished). Questionable design decisions abound.

      A few notes on plot and characterisation:

      Personality-wise, Miriam is walking a fine line between ‘generic determined videogame protagonist’ and ‘Strong Female Character ™’ and I don’t know where I think she falls on that axis in the end. She’s more generic than she ought to be, given everything she’s supposed to have gone through, but that’s about the worst I can say of her.

      The plot is largely an Idiot Plot. There’s a mysterious old man (who is apparently Miriam’s former mentor) constantly speaking cryptically about how he has to find the Evil McGuffin Book and refusing to explain why, in a way that’s obviously designed to make him come across as villainous so you end up fighting him. There is no reason for him to speak this way except to foster the misunderstanding for the sake of plot (and, despite the game later trying to claim he wasn’t trying to kill her, just frighten her off, if you lose the fight with him Miriam still dies). This, of course, finally gets resolved in a scene where he dies and points you at the real villain; it’s just stupid. The rest of it is, by and large, typical Castlevania stuff, it’s fine but fairly bland (and some questions, such as ‘so why is it a castle?’ only make sense in terms of this being Castlevania with the serial numbers filed off).

      And, of course, the real villain ends up being a female NPC who’s been helping you most of the game but was actually lying and manipulating everyone. Of course, this is resolved by male NPCs figuring it out offscreen and telling you; Miriam’s role is largely reserved to ‘go places and kill things’.

      So, uh, final verdict? Very much a solid ‘meh’, though it was better than I expected given this. I don’t think anyone’s missing much for skipping it, especially given a lot of the skeevier elements. I will emphasise, again, all of the criticisms you’ve made here are valid. But I can’t say I didn’t enjoy playing it, nor that it didn’t remind me of the better Castlevanias.

    • SPOILERS AND STUFF:

      Ritual’s sister series, Curse of the Moon actually has a lot more about that NPC, and implies that the plot shown isn’t quite as straightforward as it seems.

      Also as for Alfred, he actually explains why he wasn’t so forthcoming earlier: Because Dominique was Miriam’s friend, and Alfred knew what she was up to (and she had already turned Johannes against him) so he was kind of trying to figure out how to scare Miriam and Johannes away and hopefully not have to kill them. He wasn’t super successful.

      As a note, Johannes is not Miriam’s handler, but basically her father. He raised her when she was young and cared about her which is why he is helping her now. He’s not a member of the Guild and hates them for what they did to Miriam (which is why it was so easy for Dominique to turn him against Alfred!)

      • (Also it’s implied that the reason why it’s a castle is because it is where the Guild did the summoning that caused everything in the backstory… which is also Dracu–I mean, O-D’s Castle, who was implied to have been defeated by the guild and bent into servitude to them.

    • Oh yeah, it’s funny you mention that all the men are dressed in three layers, since the only playable male character is completely shirtless in a sexy way.

      • Interesting. Does he also moan sexily when penetrated by shards?

        ETA: If this is who you’re referring to, he is… not very shirtless. His coat covers his entire right side, and his left is covered in decals from his arm prosthetic. It’s definitely not on the level of, say, DMC3 Dante. I can see people finding him sexy, but it looks more to me like the shirtlessness is to show off his macho scars and muscles.

        • He actually shows off a lot more skin in gameplay, since he is shirtless for the same basic reason that Miriam’s clothes show off her back – his fighting style requires unrestricted movement with his sword arm.

          https://img.gamewith.net/article/thumbnail/rectangle/9949.jpg

          So he ends up with his coat hanging like 80% off him while he’s attacking.

          He doesn’t have Shards though. He plays completely differently from Miriam, and is a straight-forward swordsman. All the unlockable characters don’t have much gameplay in common with Miriam, actually.

          Also the prequel/sequels Curse of the Moon 1 and 2 are interesting since they actually deal with various ramifications and possibilities of the Ritual of the Night plot. For example,

          Spoiler Inside SelectShow

  • My investigations into the mons scene continue, this time with Digimon. This is the most Pokemon-like Digimon game I’ve seen: You can raise any digimon you see and the pet sim elements have been removed to focus […]

  • Monster Rancher 2 is an old game Farla and I played when we were kids. I decided to pick it up again to examine it with fresh eyes as part of my mons exploration. (I skipped the first game because sources tell me […]

    • The mix breeds were quite cool, though a lot of their benefits, such as techs and guts gain, are too obfuscated to really appreciate. I was very impressed by how much work went into their designs to make every one look unique instead of just a lazy palette swap.

      It sounds unfeasible to work on a larger scale. I believe Monster Crown tries something similar, but I haven’t played it yet.

    • I played a couple Monster Rancher games way back in the day. My favorite part was always the monster-generation system, whether you’d be entering code words or using CD’s or whatever and seeing what monster would pop out. The actual training bit was too tedious for me, though, and I really disliked that the monsters would age and die, for me usually just when it was starting to actually do well in tournaments. I think virtual pet games are not for me! :P

      • It’s a shame that technology has made CDs obsolete. It was a really cool idea and I liked how they even integrated it into the lore.

  • Yet another seemingly cute game that’s actually grimdark depressing. Maybe we should be concerned that’s become so common? This one is at least up-front about it: You play as someone who guides dying spirits […]

    • I dropped this game around the first old lady, pretty much for the reasons outlined above. I liked the first couple characters; the gluttonous frog uncle and high-strung deer best friend were cool (even if they, too, fell prey to their journeys being negative). The old lady though, just made me, like, stop and wonder why I was enduring semi-fun platforming and resource collection. The cat, I suppose. There should be more cats like the Spiritfarer one.

      • In retrospect, the character quality is extremely frontloaded. The first characters, with a direct connection to Stella, are the best ones. I expected them to stick around the longest since their departures would be more emotionally significant and you want to build to that kind of thing, but no, they’re shuffled off the stage almost immediately to be replaced with progressively more boring and unlikable characters. (I suppose Atul does stick around a bit longer, but he also has the most unsatisfying ending.)

        • I could believe that. I know I can’t fully judge the game’s writing and characters since, like I said, I pretty much stopped playing half(?)-way, but I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that it doesn’t get any better than where I left it. There’s only so much you can do with that premise as executed. Maybe a more uplifting version of the game would be taking place in a halfway house instead of a hospice or something.

          Crushed to learn Atul has the worst ending; I’m pretty sure he was still around when I bounced.

          • You can’t even take Atul to the Everdoor. After you complete his quest, he just disappears and you never see him again. According to the artbook, this is because the real Atul similarly disappeared when Stella was young, and since the game is her dying dream, the spirits are all just pantomiming her experiences instead of actual people.

  • Reviewing a few games I picked up recently. Mostly disappointments, but there was one good Metroidvania.

    Inside: START AGAIN: a prologue, reigns, The Treehouse Man, Monster Boy and the Cursed […]

  • This is everything I wanted Torment: Tides of Numenera to be.

    Disco Elysium is an RPG with no combat system. It has every other part of an RPG: levels, skills, equipment, and items. But instead of combat, […]

    • Disco Elysium confirmed best game. It raised the bar way too high, though. Like Arcane. Has anyone watched Arcane? It’s really good. I don’t care about your beef with LoL or Riot, watch Arcane.

      And play Disco Elysium.

    • Disco Elysium is dope as fuck, and one day I’ll overcome my desire to do everything right in an RPG, embrace being a walking human disaster and actually progress past the first day.

      Until then, I’m reading Mare Internum – https://forums.sufficientvelocity.com/threads/mare-internum-an-exalted-quest.96673/ – , a forum quest set in the setting of Exalted that utilizes DE approach to mechanics (skills and thought cabinet works more or less the same, etc.), but adds a twist that the next action of the protagonist is determined by the first person responding to the thread, simulating the working of an unhinged mind. It stars an amnesiac dragonblooded disaster lady with very strong opinions re:boats vs ships.

      One of the more memorable moments was a legendary Integrity success, which allowed the protagonist to realize that the number of soldiers she’s attached to has increased by one even though other characters (and her own skills other than Integrity) assure her that no, it was always that way. For the players, that screams Sidereal infiltration. In-universe, it’s a clear sign of a decaying brain as she runs around trying to find an imposter among people who are completely sure they’ve all known each other for years.

      • one day I’ll overcome my desire to do everything right in an RPG, embrace being a walking human disaster and actually progress past the first day.

        LOL. What’s funny is that the game is actually very accommodating behind the scenes; there is only one skill check in the entire game you’re required to pass, and failing certain checks can lead to equally interesting scenes and sometimes even better outcomes. (Memorably, the Suggestion check to flirt with the lady in the opening is pretty unremarkable on a success, but produces one of the funniest scenes on a failure.) This reflects the fact that failure is an important theme in the story itself.

        So yes! Embrace failure and be a human disaster! In many ways the game is more fun if you do.

    • Maybe. Admittedly, I wasn’t a huge fan of the Jamais Vu update. A lot of the new scenes felt silly and unnecessary even by this game’s standards, especially the ones about annoying or pressuring Kim.

    • I’ve been very curious about this game for a while–been waiting on a physical Switch release to pick it up. It sounds super up my alley. Glad you enjoyed it!

  • Act wrote a new post, Rune Factory 5 3 months ago

    Rune Factory 5 is a game so incredibly disappointing that I have come out of retirement to complain about it.

    The way I would describe this game is: It’s like no one at the developer was familiar with crafting […]

    • I just saw an ad for RF5, and it just looked like the most boring, generic JRPG-style thing. I would have guessed that someone saw Genshin Impact/Atelier and basically tried to ape that.

      • That’s a good point, I haven’t played Genshin so I didn’t think of it, but that has to be a factor here as well.

    • <3

      I miss it sometimes, but I mostly prefer my life without all the hate mail.

  • Paper Mario: Sticker Star

    It is as terrible as the prophets foretold.

    Sticker Star feels like it belongs to a completely different series than its predecessors. The gameplay and writing have both been […]

  • Monster Sanctuary is a cross between a monster catcher RPG and a Metroidvania. I am interested in both of those things, so I decided to check it out.

    This game is better than Pokemon in every conceivable […]

  • An eclectic mix of games I’ve tried out recently but didn’t have enough to say for a full post.

    Inside: The Swindle, Sundered, Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair.

    The Swindle
    Platformer/Stealth

    I […]

  • Sorry it’s been a while! I’ve been distracted by all the other games that have come out recently. Only three games on review this time, but I had a lot to say about each.

    A Short Hike
    Walking […]

  • Yes, after playing several of its imitators, I finally got around to the original, only 10 years late!

    After all the hype, I found it… underwhelming. My biggest takeaway is that the Soulslike imitators vastly […]

    • Dark Souls really is a billion years old. I’m not surprised to hear that it hasn’t aged super well, particularly since it spawned a million imitators; even the small fraction that really learned from DS’s mistakes became superior.

      People revere the original Dark Souls, but I’m more a fan of Dark Souls 3, the most recent iteration. That’s the one where I’d say the design and gameplay are just about perfected, and the quality-of-life has taken such leaps as “go from any bonfire to another at any time” i.e. basic fast travel. I don’t really want to go in-depth about it, though, because judging by your specific criticisms, there’s another From Soft game I should be hyping: Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice.

      I could almost go down the specific checklist of your complaints and how well they’re addressed in Sekiro.
      – 3D environments with pitfalls not good? Sekiro is built for that kind of verticality because you’re a ninja who magically takes almost no fall damage.and can grappling hook around. Even bottomless pits only remove about half your life
      – Checkpoint Fast Travel in addition to the trademark “door that opens to where you’ve been before” fix the awful need to run around to get everywhere
      – Sekiro gets rid of all RPG stats except for HP and Attack Power, both of which are gained from pickups and beating bosses. Experience goes to skill trees
      – Sekiro’s combat is just straight-up sword-fighting (with some bonus ninja tools). No backstabs outside of genuine stealth, and parrying with your sword is far better than dodging because it actually helps you kill enemies faster
      – Speaking of stealth, that plus Sekiro’s general speed and maneuverability make it easy to run past enemies to get to where you died before (in most cases)
      – The story is simple but pretty well-done and features characters with names and… character. It’s also expressed mostly through dialogue rather than item drops

      Finally, while this isn’t in response a specific criticism of DS, Sekiro has a resurrect feature that lets you pop right back up the first time something kills you, which is really nice for maintaining the flow of a game like this even if you do decide to go back to the checkpoint to top the resurrection back off. In conclusion, Sekiro is everything an action game could hope to be, though I’ll have to see if Elden Ring unseats it.

      • Huh, interesting. A game design channel I follow preferred DS1 to its sequels, but they liked a lot of the same things I hated. Maybe I’ll give DS3 a try someday. What about Bloodborne, how does that compare?

        I’ve heard of Sekiro, but never looked into it. Does it have a similar open-world structure? I’m not as interested in a straight linear action game.

        • Sekiro is no sandbox, but it doesn’t lead you by the hand, either. I’d say it’s about as linear as DS was, if not less.

          I never played Bloodborne to the end because lolSonyexclusive. Heard good things. I know that it’s somewhere between DS3 and Sekiro in terms of how fast-paced the combat is, with Sekiro being the fastest.

        • Bloodborne’s storytelling is even more opaque than Dark Souls III (the only Dark Souls game I’ve played), the plot and much of the information about the setting is hidden in item descriptions, but it makes sense considering the genre. It’s a lovecraftian horror story pretending to be a gothic horror story, full of ancient cults, raving madmen and such, everyone who understand wat’s going on is dead or insane or a squid. In a way, trying to figure out the story *is* the story.
          Gameplay-wise: fighting is more agressive than DS. Your character has only six relatively straightforward attributes. There are less weapons (and spell) than in DS but they tend to be much more unique.

      • Sekiro’s combat is so good it actually makes the other soulsborne games’ kind of silly retroactively. The devs finally figured out that parrying and blocking are basically the same thing, so attempting a parry is no longer this gambling move which makes or breaks a fight. They reduced the i-frames on the dodges so you actually have to dodge away from blows instead of into them. The result of this plus the perillous attack system makes fighting much more interesting because it’s no longer a timing based mini-game where you win by dodging at the right time.

        • Well, Sekiro benefits from being a wholly single-player experience. They didn’t have to balance the combat system around PvP or netcode. It makes sense that they were able to hone the combat system as far as they did without the extra baggage. It still does kind of boil down to a timing based minigame where you win by parrying all the time. That said, Sekiro has some incredibly organic swordfighting because bosses actually respect your attacks nearly as much as you have to respect theirs; you can even get fighting game-style situations where you and the boss will psyche each other out and cancel your attacks to block. You are encouraged to use your offense to blunt the enemies’ onslaught.

          I really liked Dark Souls III PvP; you could feel the variety in playstyle and equipment the game was tailored to support. I very much hope Elden Ring continues in that vein.

          • There’s a lot of attack where you can’t parry or you can’t dodge, or you can neither and must use a specific counter, or you can parry but it’s better to dodge-attack to bleed out your opponent before doing poise damage (the Lady Butterfly fight basically exists to teach you this), whereas in DS3 and Bloodborne the i-frames were so extensive that I feel like 95% of the time you were fine if you dodged at the right time, not even in a specific direction, so finding the right tempo to dodge and light attack was sufficient for most of the fights. It’s not like it was bad or anything but Sekiro is so much better on that front.
            I am not really sympathetic to concessions on gameplay made for the purpose of PvP, because I only do single-player, the way God intended.

            • Yeah, I mean it’s less one-note than Dark Souls with the perilous attacks, but the vast majority of fights will still come down to parrying combos while looking for the opportunity to light attack. What truly sets Sekiro apart is the pace: throwing away the stamina bar and replacing dodge rolls with the parry system gives the combat a more high-tempo and consistent flow. Speaking of stamina, I do actually like the Dark Souls stamina system and the fact that it’s governed by an actual stat, like equipment load. Sekiro is a better action game than Dark Souls, for sure, but after going back to DS3 I found I still had a great appreciation for the slower game.

              Lady Butterfly was an interesting boss because at first I did chip away at her health, but as I got better and came back on an NG+ she was the first boss that I beat with relentless aggression. When you manage to stay in close quarters and force her into parry rallies, her rotation becomes a lot more limited and manageable. This works with a lot of bosses, with exceptions like the terrifying Father (Owl) and Sword Saint Isshin fights. Those two are better at creating distance and putting you on the back foot, enough that I still occasionally beat them through health.

    • Elden Rings is pretty good, It has the Dark Souls combat but feels smoother and less janky overall. Also has a very expansive open world with plenty to explore.

      • Elden Ring is really fucking awesome. That said, I do have a few criticisms. My biggest complaint so far is that you’re railroaded more by upgrade materials than by the story; early smithing stones essentially disappear from the game outside the first two regions, so you’re forced to go back or look up the location of the item that allows you to purchase them from a vendor. Then I found that I actually *skipped* whatever slice of the game has higher mid-tier materials, and went straight to the high-tier, so I can’t bridge them unless I find the earlier ones.

        The team has mostly done very well translating their formula to open world; I really have very few complaints about the game overall. It’s very noticeable when a crucial element breaks the flow of gameplay like this, in a way that facing difficult enemies wouldn’t. I hope for a patch to change it, but barring that I’ll have to just look up the vendors that sell upgrade material and beeline to them in future files.

        • To be fair, the item that lets you buy them is in a cave right next to where you start the game. Also, there’s a vendor that sells them, too, without needing the item.

  • Even worse capitalization sins than usual, the continuing adventures of isekai, Arceus, and some actually good stuff.

    https://www.fanfiction.net/s/14029347/1/Pokemon-Mystery-Dungeon-Heroes-of-Light […]

  • A batch that’s heavy on the unfortunate implications and questionable decisions.

     

    https://www.fanfiction.net/s/14025914/1/Life-As-A-Undercover-Maid (0)

    You wouldn’t capitalize animal or mouse or dr […]

    • It seems like the Starfall story is highly influenced by the leaks, but I wouldn’t go into detail here. I would guess the Pokemon Fanfiction category will be very interesting after this month. It’ll definitely be more Isekia than normal. Should I be worry about spoilers?

      Speaking of Isekia, I suppose it’s pleasant that Gamer style fics aren’t common at this point.

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