Happy New Year everybody! I took a couple weeks off from the weekly updates for the holidays, but have no fear, it’s back. I’ve played a lot of games lately, so instead of talking about what I’ve played this week alone I’ll cover what I’ve been playing over the last few. I played Yakuza 0, Xenoblade Chronicles 2, Xenoblade Chronicles X, and Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning.
Yakuza 0 (PS4 Pro)
This came out almost exactly a year ago, and I just managed to pick it up in one of the many sales that happened over the holidays.
Boy oh boy. What a game.
This is my first foray into the Yakuza universe, and what an excellent first entry it is. It’s a soap opera/brawler/crime drama set in 1980s Japan. You play a young Yakuza member, framed for a murder he didn’t commit and trying to prove his innocence. It is well acted, well written and fun to play. The combat is difficult and fun, if not perfect.
I have little to complain about so far. There’s a big combat sequence towards the beginning that pits you against a huge amount of enemies that is a little too difficult for where it is in the game, but it’s a huge spectacle and it forces you to “git gud” in what my friend described as an almost Dark Souls-esque way. The side quests are hilarious and well written, often putting your very serious, honorable “thug with a heart of gold” character in bizarre and goofy situations. One side quest had me fill in for a producer of a commercial, and the main character’s thuggish nature and lack of experience made for some hilarious hijinks. All of this is punctuated with well-acted, melodramatic and action-packed cutscenes that are some of the most ridiculous, awesome, action movie drama bullshit I have ever seen. It’s a spectacular game, one I wish I had played when it came out so it could have made my game of the year list. I recommend everybody try it, though it is entirely in Japanese with subtitles, so if that dissuades you be aware. I mean, it’s a Yakuza game. What do you expect?
Xenoblade Chronicles 2 (Switch)
If you were to graph my interest in Xenoblade Chronicles 2, it would start off very high, taper down to almost zero as the release date approached, then rocket to new heights as I watched people actually play the game. There’s something about the presentation about the Xenoblade sequels that really speak to me. In Chronicles X it’s the bizarre, bombastic soundtrack coupled with the huge and impressive landscapes, and in Xenoblade Chronicles 2 it’s the more personal storytelling coupled with a quieter design aesthetic, both gameplay and artistic, that reminds me of PS2 era RPGs in the best of ways.
Don’t get me wrong, Chronicles 2 still has a great deal of bombast, but it’s mostly relegated to heart thumping and well choreographed action sequences that bookend each of the game’s main story chapters. In between you get chances to talk with townsfolk, bond your main characters (all of which are incredibly charming, even the mascot character) and go on quests across the backs of massive Titans, the creatures on which all of the game’s main areas are set. The scale is massive and very impressive for the little Switch, and the game looks beautiful. Except in handheld mode. In handheld, the resolution takes a horrendous dip. I honestly don’t normally notice or care that much about resolution, especially on a smaller screen like the Switch’s, but this game gets so muddy that one has to wonder about whether or not they should have dialed back the visuals a bit to make it work. Still, it won’t deter me from bringing this game on my upcoming flight to New York.
The combat is much the same as it was before: once you’ve aggro’d an enemy, you press a button that causes your main character to start auto attacking. Auto attacking causes your special moves to build up, and once those meters are full you can use those special moves, which cause a great deal more damage than the auto attacks. There are some key differences between X and 2, however. Unlike X’s MMO-esque bar of attacks to select from using the thumbstick during combat, those special attacks are delegated to the buttons on the controller, a much smoother combat experience. Those special attacks now build up a bar on a super move, activated by pressing “A;” if you land a special attack right when you land an auto attack, it builds up your super meter faster. Activating that super attack starts the potential for a chain of flashy attacks from you and your teammates, and if you can pull off the final move on the chain, you deal absolutely massive damage. Pulling off those combos is the key to performing well at the higher levels of the game and, while I have yet to actually need or even reach the highest level of combos it is still incredibly helpful and fun to pull off.
Like Xenoblade Chronicles X, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 doesn’t do a great job of explaining those systems to you, however. It took me two youtube videos to understand the combo system I described above, and it’s not even that complicated. The game dumps a huge amount of info on you right at the beginning, and frankly doesn’t describe its systems well. Much like X, there are many interacting systems here and multiple layers of menus for multiple types of leveling. Thankfully, where X has a huge amount of visual info to take in on screen at any given moment, which makes things much more difficult to digest, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 has greatly streamlined its visual design, making it much easier to wrap my head around everything that’s going on.
It’s a fantastic game so far. Some of the side quests are tedious in that grand JRPG kind of way, and the voice acting is hit or miss, but the setting and characters are phenomenal, and it’s got so much visual charm. The visual design is cohesive in ways that Xenoblade Chronicles X is not. I love the game so far, and I can’t wait to dive back in.
Xenoblade Chronicles X (Wii U)
I still find myself drawn back into this wonderful game. My opinions haven’t changed too much from my previous week’s. I will say, playing Xenoblade Chronicles 2 made me remember how slapdash a lot of the character and visual design of X is. A lot of the alien races feel completely random, like they didn’t all come from the same game. Given where the story is going I think it’s probably by design, but it doesn’t help that the character design in general is somewhat ugly. Still, there’s a lot of imagination at play here, and the splendor of the setting goes a very long way in helping with the randomness of the character design.
I can’t exactly tell why I love this game so much. Parts of it are incredibly frustrating: I just completed my least favorite mission in the game, one that almost made me quit the first time. You have to weave your way through an enemy camp, avoiding much higher level enemies than you, and if you get caught there isn’t anywhere to run and hide. Almost the entire area of Noctilum, a sizeable chunk of the game, is a tedious mess to try to get through. The structure of the game reeks of MMO design, a design structure that I generally dislike. Yet I can’t put the game down.
I think it’s that the game has spunk. That’s a dumb way of putting it, but you can hear it in the game’s soundtrack, and you can feel it when you’re traversing huge plains, weaving between titanic monsters that would destroy you in one hit if you got close. The sheer size of the landscape, and it’s inherent alien-ness, and the same qualities of the flora and fauna, all add up to what is an incredibly engrossing, albeit frustrating game. If you like RPGs give it a shot, although I think it takes a bit to acclimate yourself to it.
Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning
Ehhhhhh. I bought this game on an impulse because I heard that it was like Fable, but with better combat. The combat is pretty interesting, for a bit, but what it lacks is any of the charm and character that Fable had, especially the first one. The world they designed is beautiful to look at, but it feels empty; most of the characters talk your ear off, even the side quest characters, and they go on and on without anything meaningful to say. The combat is interesting, but it can’t carry an entire game if I find the setting and world uninteresting.
This all sounds super harsh, maybe, but it’s not a terrible game. I totally get why it resonates with people, but I’ll take Fable over this any day, mediocre combat system and all. Albion is a place that I love to get lost in. Kingdoms of Amalur just lacks the soul that Fable has, in my opinion.
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That’s pretty much all I’ve been playing lately. Skyrim still hovers in my consciousness, but the amount of newer games I have to play make me feel a bit guilty about going back to Skyrim again and again. I definitely will soon, and when I do I’ll write about it. Until then, thanks for reading, and Stay Optimistic!
Have any suggestions for games you’d like me to play? Let me know in the comments below!
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