Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Variety Hour | Eating My Words

Some brief updates and musings on a few of the rabbit holes I've jumped down over the past few month.

Final Fantasy XV



More ironic than a franchise called “Final Fantasy” being one of the longest-running gaming franchises in existence is this new endeavor Square-Enix has made to stubbornly turn entry since XIII into its own platform. Though some good came out of the weird mess that was who-knows-how-many-games-with-Lightning, there’s clearly something counterproductive at work here, and it’s something SE refuses to acknowledge. FFXIV I will give a pass because it’s an MMO, but I’ve already started to see the signs in FFXV’s production as well. I still plan on giving the game a chance whenever it releases, but I stopped actively caring about it years ago, along with Beyond Good & Evil 2 and The Last Guardian. There’s a reason why plenty of us are so enamored with Final Fantasy XIV and it’s because it’s actively showcasing what made the series unique and loveable before X happened, which is the point where the series began relying on a weird and heavy-handed gravitas it never earned in titles past IX (again I’m exempting XI and XIV because their natures are very different). Right now, XV looks like it’s going to be the same mess that XIII was initially, which isn’t surprising but kind of sad, especially since Square clearly is reacting to this (even if they don’t realize it), by doing this platforming of single worlds and things like dragging VII out of its casket for a remake. At this point I wouldn’t be surprised if I wound up enjoying World of Final Fantasy more than whatever XV eventually presents as, hell I wouldn’t surprised if I enjoyed Heavensward’s next patch more than I do XV.




No Man’s Sky



With No Man’s Sky, I’ve fallen into the camp of “they gave us pretty much what they said they would” (i.e. I'm a reasonable person with enough sense not to take everything the developer says on a game still deep in its development as etched in stone) with a notable side of apathy for it. For the time being, I’m still playing it for a couple of hours a day, but I can easily see myself dropping it soon and never playing it again unless more flavor is infused into it. As it is, the gameplay loop is extremely shallow and becomes stale rather fast. All I ever really wanted from this game after first hearing about it was Metroid Prime’s scanning component thrown into a vast exploration pool. While that’s actually there on paper, I also factored in that the animals, NPCS, and flora are all feel the same, and the story beats have so far only gone down one of three or four copy-pasted scenarios[1]. The narrative is rote and vague at best and in the self-involved manner I sort of find irritating (i.e. I go out of my way to ignore unless it's actively staring me in the face). After twenty hours of wandering around in space, the novelty of what the game’s doing behind the scenes (technically speaking) wears off fast.  I can’t honestly say that I’m disappointed with it, but I am surprised at how quick my feet touched the bottom with it.

Batman: Arkham Knight



I know why I bought this on Steam (it was on sale for like twelve bucks), but I don’t know what actually compelled me to play through it over the past week. It did remind me of everything I love about the Arkham Games, but that of course comes along with everything I didn’t like about them as well. The most grating of the latter is the rubber-banding of the game’s general challenges and difficulty, as well as the Riddler’s presence across the entire game. As many negative things as I heard about the Batmobile and how deep it’s embedded into the playstyle of this one, I honestly enjoyed screwing with it more often than not. Where the “Arkhamness” comes in for example is when game increasingly dumps more and more drones on you to shoot where the only variance is the venue in where you fight them.  It’s also hidden behind narrative context via radio chatter, so it’s easy to miss just much padding is there, especially towards the end of the game where they hike up the artificial difficulty for the sole purpose of preventing you from burning through the rest of the game.

It also introduces more and more enemies that circumvent your strengths (again narratively there’s a good reason for this, which muddies the point) which don’t go far in terms of creating a new dynamic in play as much as they serve as a new annoyance to put up with. Speaking of padding, nothing embodies that more than the Riddler, who in the prior two games I was easily able to ignore entirely. In Knight, it’s a little harder because not only does he kidnap a major character for you rescue, you’re required to do random trials in order to free them. There are also green-soaked nooks scattered all across Gotham that the player is supposed to solve while the Riddler frequently hops on the city’s broadcasts to goad them along. The game also locks its dinky two-minute “true ending” behind wasting your time tracking every last one of those asslets down. Still, for an open-world Arkham game, this one was leagues above Arkham City, which I’d definitely qualify as THE title in the series that most aggressively tries to waste the player’s time. If there were more focus on developing new dynamics on the predator style play that made me love the more tightly-focused Asylum so much, it would be my favorite in the series, but often the open world trinkets and aforementioned rubber-banding gets in the way of that happening.

Pokemon



Turns out I’m going to have to eat my words when I said I was going to swear off generation VII of Pokemon. I’ve spent probably the last month riding the backwave of the Pokemon Go wave by replaying through Pokemon Black and White 2, Pokemon Diamond, and Pokemon Alpha Sapphire (also gave me a chance to update my Living Pokedex[2]). The real catalyst for my renewed vigor in the franchise came when more details began slipping out about Pokemon Sun and Moon. Turns out Game Freak waited until I was damn near ready to seal away my interest in a tomb for an entire generation of games to finally offer up some significant changes in the formula. While Pokemon has seen some incremental changes over the past twenty years, it’s still managed to remain stringently tethered to the same base structure. Plenty of their systems that do see significant change or innovation are relegated to individual gimmicks between individual generations, which are quickly discarded when the next one surfaces. Now, not only do Sun and Moon seem to be doing away with the core layout of the game, there’s also the fact that Generation VII is likely to see the Generation IV remakes in however we’re meant to revisit Sinnoh (my favorite region in any Pokemon game[3]).

Even the story looks to be getting a facelift, which most sensible people shouldn’t care about with a Pokemon game, but Pokemon’s schizophrenic nature is one of the most beautiful things about it for me. One second you’re an idiot child that will be abused with forced tutorials to navigate a two-button game, the next you’ll find yourself engaging with the inner turmoil of a dead child looking for solace[4]. Game Freak also finally seems to be leaning into the 3D perspective of the world while offering up more ways to differentiate the Pokemon that already exist rather than just throwing on another hundred and calling it a day. Generation VI does this somewhat, but in a far more half-measured way, like they were dipping their toes in the water. All of this could just as easily turn out to be a smokescreen with the same shit behind it, but as of this post I’m actually excited for a new Pokemon generation to get started now, which hasn’t been the case for me since Generation IV.



1. Now that I think about it, Metroid Prime might actually have more to say in its universe than NMS does for its own right now.
2. http://bulbapedia.bulbagarden.net/wiki/Living_Pok%C3%A9dex
3. Though I’m much more open to them holding off those remakes until the NX takes whatever form it’s going to, as from what we know now, it will be converging Nintendo’s home console into their handheld, which actively forces them to make a Pokemon game that’s larger in scope.
4. http://bulbapedia.bulbagarden.net/wiki/Strange_House