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Rate the last game you played

The #1 Deerling Fan!
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Child of Light, 9/10

Seriously, why doesn't this game get more love? It's so beautiful, breathtaking, and awesome!
 
Violet Detector
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Metroid Prime, 9/10.
Pretty fun game overall. Soundtrack is amazing too.
 
I will burn my dread!
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Yesterday I finally beat Yume Nikki, although it's been one of my favorite games for years.

I first played Yume Nikki when I was a teen-ager, maybe a year or so after I joined this place. I was intrigued by the somewhat mysterious air it has to it, both in-game and in the real world - since its as-yet-unidentified Japanese creator "KIKIYAMA" created it in 2004 in RPG Maker 2003 despite it not being an RPG, updated and revised it until version 0.10 in 2007, and then stopped. KIKIYAMA has been known to respond to e-mails in Japanese, most recently in 2011 from what I can gather, and the official Web site he/she created began selling official merchandise in 2013, but his/her personal details remain unknown. Clearly this is a person who did not create a game with success or notoriety in mind; his/her only goal was to make a good game that players can get something out of. He/she has explicitly stated on the Web site (which he/she may or may not have brushed up as recently as last year) that Yume Nikki has no definite purpose or point, but I am a stranger from the other side of the planet playing an English fan translation of KIKIYAMA's game and I've certainly gotten a lot out of his/her creation.

I mentioned that Yume Nikki is not an RPG, but it really isn't much of anything in the game-play department. I would call it an adventure game, but certainly a very minimal one. The setting is as such: You play as a girl named Madotsuki who refuses to leave her apartment, only wanting to venture out on to the balcony and sit around, play her Famicom, write in her dream diary (Yume Nikki is Japanese for "dream diary"), and go to bed, where the real game takes place in her dreams. The only real form of game-play is collecting all of the Effects. Effects are sorta like power-ups, which are unlocked by interacting with certain NPCs tucked away in disparate planes of Madotsuki's dream world. Most of these Effects give Madotsuki a unique ability activated by pressing the 1 key, but most of these "abilities" are useless, and a couple of these Effects don't even change Madotsuki's default "ability" - sitting down on the ground. All of the Effects except one can be acquired in any order, meaning you can "beat" the game without ever equipping an Effect save for once. That one occasion where using an Effect is necessary isn't some epic end-game event that gives you the Super Special Awesome Fierce Deity Final Effect - it's just dousing a fire in a hallway so you can go through the doorway and pick up an Effect that turns Madotsuki's hair into poop.

The majority of the game should be spent just walking around and enjoying the scenery of Madotsuki's dreams. It's not randomly-generated, it's just a labyrinth of doors, portals, and expansive, mostly empty, looping environments. Without a guide, you will learn to spend a huge amount of the game doing this: 1) enter a new area; 2) pick a direction and walk until you find a land-mark; 3) walk past it and loop around the area once until you walk back to the land-mark; 4) turn and walk in a perpendicular direction until you see something interesting; 5) walk past it and loop back to your land-mark; 6) go back to the original direction you walked until you find another land-mark; 7) rinse and repeat until you've seen everything in the area; 8) try to remember the locations of the interesting things you want to interact with. This is a game-play flow that tires many people, who wish Yume Nikki were a more expedient experience, with less empty spaces between interesting things.

So why do I like this game so much? Because the weird structure of the game, the weird design of the areas, the weird sights to see and sounds to hear create an atmosphere richer than many games out there. The bewildering game design makes the game sorta feel like it's not a game as much as a real place that Madotsuki is exploring and getting lost in. Of course complimenting a game for being designed inconveniently is incredibly pretentious, but like I said, I'm talking about atmosphere, and atmosphere is what I love about Yume Nikki. The game is essentially a huge non-linear sand-box to play around in, and the Effects are your toys. Because of the large amount of time spent not actually doing anything, when I actually did equip a certain Effect to try some new interaction and something actually did happen (i.e. I saw something I hadn't seen before), it created a mixture of surprise, satisfaction, and trepidation.

The atmosphere I've spoken so highly of is not an atmosphere of happy fun times, like Mario or Pokemon, or an epic fantasy adventure, like Xenoblade or Elder Scrolls - the atmosphere of Yume Nikki is lonesome and creepy. Much of the sound-track is nothing more than drones and unorganized noises. Many of these worlds have no real ground, just blackness where pictures of vaguely Mesoamerican-style monkey-looking things scroll slowly far below. Many of the structures in these worlds are alien and nonsensical, and most of the inhabitants of these worlds are inhuman and any attempt of communicating with them is unintelligible. There are precious few areas of the game that take on an appearance very close to Madotsuki's reality, and these areas are where some of the only upbeat-sounding music in the game can be heard, making these areas almost peaceful, like Madotsuki has hope of overcoming whatever torments her in real life enough to make her a shut-in with constant nightmares. Even in these areas where she finds familiar things like cats and humans, however, one constant permeates the entire game: Madotsuki can't communicate in any substantial way with anyone. There's no dialog in the game at all, except for some NPCs in an area meant to look and sound like a Famicom game who communicate in random numbers, and many players end their interactions with NPCs in the only way that creates a tangible result - stabbing them to death with the Knife effect. Basically, nobody in Madotsuki's dreams is happy to see her. When I described the atmosphere as "lonesome", this is what I meant.

I don't know why all of my posts in this thread get so long, I'm sure it annoys people, but to wrap this up, I'll say that Yume Nikki is special to me, even though it's barely a game, because of the atmosphere. Sometimes when I feel sad, or lonely, or bewildered by my real life, I want to play a game that's upbeat in tone, but what usually happens with me is that misery loves company and I want to play something downbeat and dark, and Yume Nikki perfectly fits that bill. Yume Nikki has kept me company on many nights where I felt unhappy, just getting wrapped up in its atmosphere, and that's why I love it so much. Hope this wasn't too much of a bore to read.

Number rating, uhhhhhhhhhh, uhhhhhhhhh, let's go with 9/10
 
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South Park The Fractured But Whole (PS4) 9/10
Another outstanding game from Matt Stone and Trey Parker. It was exactly like being in an episode of the show, even more so then the last game. The collectibles were doubled while still being relevant to past uh..."lore" in the show. Its absolutely amazing that they used actual fanart for the yaoi collectibles. As hysterical as the yaoi collecting was the best collectible is the Coonstagram followers. I ended at like 96 but there are supposedly 130 total? Combat was super fun with the addition of knock back, pull forward, and the active time attacks from bosses. The story was insane with how far into the deep dark recesses of the show and how it altogether ended. After finishing the final fight it ends like an episode of the show with even the freaking show credits rolling! So long story short if you really enjoy the show and you've watched it for a long while you should like the game. If you aren't a fan of the show you wont really enjoy it. If the game had any replay-ability for anything other then the "Tolken Experience" trophy it would be a solid 10.
 
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Yomawari Midnight Shadows 8.5/10

Two seperately controlled characters means twice the fun but it also means twice the deaths
 
Ducks
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Last week I happened to purchase Codename: S.T.E.A.M. on sale to tide me over while waiting for Ultra Sun/Ultra Moon and I've put a fair amount of time into it... As for what I thought of it, well, I should probably get that out there before Iget stuck into some Pokémon, shouldn't I?


Now, as for what drew me to S.T.E.A.M. in the first place, it should be one of the first things that draws your attention - its unique art style. Unique how, you may ask? Well, it appears to be imitating the style of comic books, which it does with some cleaver use of cell-shading (which helps aleviate the 3DS's grahoical limitations a bit), as well as cleaver use of onomatopoeias and speach bubbles - and, heck, each shot in a cutscene is frames like a pannel from a comic to further sell the illusion, and it certainly works.

Also, as you might be able to gather from the title, there is a steampunk asthetic throughout the game, which is also not something you see that often... And it's a shame too, since the semi-archaic technology and general steamy air meshes strangely well with the aforementioned comic book style. So, if you like either the art style of comic books or steampunk-related things, then you'll probably have a good time with this game.


On the note of the whole comic book thing, that's as good an excuse as any to talk about the story of the game, and, unsurprisingly, it is like something one might find in one such comic book - literally, since the game opens with a shot of a comic bearing the game's title being opened, which then zooms in to the tale within, one of various fictional heroes from 19th century American fiction banding together to battle eldrich horrors from beyond the stars.

...No, I'm not making that up, that's actually what happens - aliens attack Earth, and two survivors, war veterans Henry Flemming and John Henry, eventually meet up with the titular S.T.E.A.M., an organisation lead by Abe Lincoln that 'exterminates the alien meanace' with the latest and greatest steam-powered technology. Once again, I'm not making this up, and it gets even more insane from there, almost reaching Bayonetta levels of over-the-top at some points, and even if this wild ride has as much deapth as your average superhero comic, it's still an enjoyable ride nonetheless.

Additionally, I should probably mention that, in adition to being rather over-the-top, there's probably enough cheese to fill a Monty Python-esuqe cheese shop, which might stem from the voice acting, general insanity of the plot, the catch phrases and the one-liners... Mainly the catch phrases and one-liners. Not that it bothered me much, it's mostly the good kind of cheese that added to the comic book asthetic even more 'far as I'm concerned, but it is still worth noting in the event that stuff bothers you lot.


On the note of voice acting, that's as cheesy a segway as any to talk about sound, and I quite enjoy the sound design of this game. For one thing, cutscenes are fully voice-acted (rather well for the most part), which is nice, and there's quite a lot of it during gameplay too... Perhaps a little too much, as, it's all well and good for your character to let the team know they've spotted an enemy, sometimes it can even be helpful, but it starts to get old really quickly, even if the quality of those voice clips is pretty high... Eh, at least the one-liners don't really get old, I guess.

Continuing with some good stuff, I do rather enjoy the sound effects this game has to offer - most of them that is, the sound of the aliens' projectile weaponry is kinda meh and some enviromental sounds are a bit weak. But other then that, the sound of alien foot(?)steps as they skuttle around is appropriately ominous, the individual footsteps and grunts/pants your team members make when moving does a pretty good job of reenforcing their character or something (as well as changing to fit the terrain, which is neat), the general clicks and clacks the menus make give you a good steampunk vibe (or something) and the sound of your weaponry varies from satisfying to really satisfying to mildly satisfying to pretty friggin' satisfying. Oh, and I probably won't get the 'spotted' sound effect out of my head for a while, just saying.

As for music, well, most of what you'll be hearing are battle themes, which tend to be some pretty good mixes of rock and also various other generes/instruments every now and again (I think the term is 'symphonic rock', though I could be mistaken), that or the theme for when the aliens are doing their thing, which is much more on the techno side, or various other generes that give their themes a certain otherworldly feel...

Needless to say, some themes are better then others, but there really aren't that many memorable songs in the game (that or I didn't really pay that much attention to the music in general... probably that one), but there is something that I did enjoy - the music actually changes to fit the pace of the battle, switching to faster or more intense tracks when the action's heating up or slowing right down when not much is going on. Probably why most of the music wasn't that memorable, or something, but I do rather like me some dynamic music, so I'm OK with it.

Well, most of the music isn't memorable. Then... there's this cheese. And that's not even the full version...


...Anyway, it's been quite a while and I haven't actually gone into gameplay yet, so let's do that. For those unaware, this game was developed by Inteligent Systems, those blokes who made the Fire Emblem games - and much like those, S.T.E.A.M. is a turn/grid-based strategy game. However, there are a few things that set it appart from Fire Emblem, the first of which is that it's also a third-person shooter.

What? Think I'm joking? Well, I'm not - this may seem like another bout of insanity to go along with the rest of the game, but it actually works surprisingly well most of the time - instead of selecting where your unit will move and who they attack with a cursour, you do so by actually walking around the grid-based space and actually aiming at your target via the touch screen (or the New 3DS' second circle pad), which some may say is a tad more immersive (or, at the very least, interactive) than just pointing and clicking. For better or worse, since you can wander into the an enemy's ambush without realising it, being unable to spot them around a corner or behind some obstacle or other, and there are enemies designed to be hard to his, but I digress.

...I probably shouldn't keep comparing this game to Fire Emblem throughout the rest of this post, should I? Eh, I guess I'll stop now and start talking about something else I rather enjoyed - the veriety of weapons available. You see, each character in this game each has their own unique weapon, and unique is indeed the right word - while some just have standard guns, you also have characters with rocket launchers, cartoon-esque 'punch-guns', lasers guns and even a weapon that lets loose a robotic, exploding penguin. So yeah, there are some pretty interesting weapons in this game, and an equally interesting amount of playstyles. Especially since each character also has their own Ability, which can be passive effects/buffs or mobility aids, and a Special, an attack that each character can use once per map, most of which deal damage in various configurations, though some have other effects too I guess. Oh, and there are some sub-weapons that pretty much every character can use, which you get by collecting Medals by defeating enemies or just laying on the ground, so if you don't like their weapon by itself then you still have some other options.

Speaking of, this game has a chapter-based system, where each chapter has between one and three maps, each with their own objectives - a lot of them are reaching a specified goal zone, but there are some where you have to defeat all enemies, best a certain/all foes, or, on occasion, find a few things of objects scattered through the level... And I'm not sure I like this system, as while the ability to tell a tale across multiple chapters has its benafits storytelling-wise, there is also the fact that if you rather like a particular map and want to replay it, you do have to sit through several other maps you might not like as much. Eh, a minor issue, it 'tis one nonetheless, since there are extra challenges available once you complete a chapter.

Oh hey, I probably should talk about the steam mechanic, since it's in the name of the game and all that. You see, pretty much everything you do in battle - in other words, moving and shooting - inolves using steam, and this steam is a limited resource, with you only getting so much of it at the start of each turn, forcing you to choose between moving as much as possible, moving a little and then shooting, or just shooting as much as possible and also moving if you have some left over maybe. However, it steam carry over between turns, and that also creates an interesting dynamic between waiting 'till the next turn or doing as much as possible this one. Slightly less interesting when you consider certian weapons can take advantage of the Overwatch mechanic, which lets your characters shoot during the enemy's turn if any enter their line of sight and they have enough steam to fire, but still.


...Eh, I think I've rambled on enough about this game in general, so I'll cut myself off there and talk about a few small things I noticed before the final score, starting with the Amiibo support - if you have a New 3DS/NFC Reader and scan a Fire Emblem Amiibo into the game, then you will get the character said Amiibo depicts, each with appropriate combat abilities and even some relevent theme music. Of the four, I'd say Robin is the best, with Lucina at a close second, mainly due to the fact that Robin's attacks and Lucina's sub weapon actually have range and damage, while Marth only uses swords and Ike does have a projectile, but it costs way too much for the amount of damage it does. Oh, and if they die then, in true Fire Emblem fassion, they're no longer playable, at least until you either scan them back in or reset your game (before you finish the chapter, since it saves afterwards), that too.

On the note of characters, I would like to mention that there is one secret character, one who isn't even listed in the credits. I won't mention how to unlock it, but I will say that it is worth doing so, since it is one of the best characters in the game, for one particular reason.

Also, there are some benefits to making this game a third-person shooter - for one thing, the enemies can actually surprise you if you don't know where they are, which can create an interesting dilema if, say, five enemies you didn't know were there suddenly round a corner up ahead and start charging in your direction or something. Another is that it doesn't break the immersion of like, say, an Archer or Mage shooting through a wall in Fire Emblem, and unlike that game, they can actually hide things around the place, such as collectable Gears that allow you to get better stuff or little amusing headlines on billboards scattered around the stages. Oh, and they can create some pretty detailed or awe-insipring setpieces, that too.

This game does have multiplayer, but I don't know anyone who has it and there probably isn't anyone online, so I can't exactly try it out unfortunately.

And finally, I don't think I mentioned it earlier, but there are some sections where you take control of a steampunk mech - I told you this game reaches Bayonetta levels of absurdity - during which the game becomes a first-person shooter. Appart from the first time you see one, they are my least favourite sections of the game, despite the cool concept.



Anyway, as for a final rating, the whole 'playing through a comic' thing is a pretty cool idea that they utalise fairly well, the cel-shading almost makes up for the 3DS's reputation when it comes to graphics, the insanity that is the game's 'plot', while not exactly a work of Shakespear, can be rather amusing because of how insane it is, the gameplay, though a tad strange, works surprisingly well, the music is hit-and-miss, and I would certainly like to see some more steampunk games in the future. Overall, I think I'd give it a 7/10. Though if you aren't sure you'd like it, there is a demo on the eShop you can try out - as I did around the time it was going to be released - so feel free to do so if what I've said here appeals to you in any way.
 
Violet Detector
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Corpse Party: 8/10.
I was expecting a bit more based on this game's reputation, but I still found it fun. The characters were mostly enjoyable and the horror itself was pretty great.
 
I will burn my dread!
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I beat a high-priority game early in the month, and as excited as I was to talk about it, I kept on putting it off for no reason at all, until days turned into weeks, and just like that, I now have three games to talk about. I figured since it is the season of giving, I'll bless you all with an even longer post than usual! Consider this my big end of 2017 blow-out triple-post. I'll wrap up my presents in spoiler tags, but only because it's Christmas. When the new year comes, it's back to wallposting for me.

Nier: Automata

This game has a clear artistic mission, and there are not enough games with this noble of a reason to exist. I'm grateful that in a year so saturated with loot boxes and studio shutterings, there's still a place for people like me to get their hands on a game like Nier: Automata. I played the first Nier a while back, based on glowing recommendations from the Internet (describing Nier in basically the same reverent tone that I describe Automata), but an incredibly tedious game-play flow burned me out of that game. When I heard about this sequel, with the creative mastermind Yoko Taro at the helm and the king of flashy action games, PlatinumGames, doing the game design this time around, I had high hopes that this would be the Nier game I wanted originally.

Well, my hopes were met, to say the least. Automata irons out the wrinkles in Nier's cloth and reveals the good action game that was hidden underneath. Now, truthfully, the combat is not as complex as other PlatinumGames games, so if you just want a flashy anime-as-heck action game you're better off elsewhere. However, the reason I'm so happy with the more stream-lined game-play is because it gave me a smoother path to take this game to completion, whereas I couldn't muster up the patience to slog through the first game. Actually, Nier: Automata even offers the best of both worlds, because the story as well as the game-play is more satisfying than the first game to me.

The setting of Nier: Automata is really fascinating, but it's built on the set-up and events of the first Nier and it would take way too long to sum up in a way that would hook someone who's unacquainted. It involves mass extinction, the separation of souls from bodies, AI singularity, and an alien invasion. It sounds a little ridiculous, but it comes together very nicely to create a game world that's almost intimidating in how much history is behind it. All this back-story leaves the world presently with androids, created by humans, fighting an amaranthine war against the less-advanced but more numerous machines left behind by the now-extinct aliens. The history of this world spans tens of thousands of years, but it's all just a set-up for the drama of the characters 2B, 9S, and A2, who are android soldiers.

One thing I love about the story is that 2B, 9S, and A2 aren't really special among androids. They're not Chosen Ones, they're not part of a prophecy, they're not peerless prodigies, they're not part of a special blood-line (obviously cuz they're robots), they're just soldiers. Yet, their adventure is very broad in scope, and the story of Nier: Automata is a long contemplation on your typical "existentialist" topics - consciousness, community, identity, sex and violence - that feels appropriate and never exceedingly convoluted. The cherry on top is just how Automata tells this story, and makes it personal, in a way that only a video game could. Yoko Taro has a deep bag of tricks that he employs to great effect throughout this adventure.

You'll have to see the credits five times before the story is really over - in other words, you progress in a linear fashion through Endings A, B, C, D, and E. People seem to get confused by this fixture of the Drakengard series, but just think of Endings A-E as "the whole story" and it's simple. I think Taro's intention with this structure is to make you, the player, feel like you're desperately trying to make a happy ending for these characters, and if that was his intent then he succeeded. I brought it up here because it's just one of the many ways Nier: Automata tells a story unique to the video game medium. Play the game yourself and you'll understand what I mean perfectly well.

Finally I'll talk about the ending (Ending E). I won't give away what it is, but I'll just tell you that it had a great emotional impact on me. If you can't tell by my description of this game so far, it's pretty dark and depressing. Weirdly, though, the grand finale filled me with an emotional that I wasn't expecting - joy. Not catharsis or relief, but giddy, child-like joy. I played through that final sequence with a smile on my face that was totally subconscious, like the kind of smile I got playing Super Mario 64 when I was seven years old. This game reminded me why I love video games.

10/10

Undertale

I hate playing games on PC, so I wasn't motivated to purchase and play this game until it was brought to PlayStation earlier this year. I started and beat it (and got the Platinum trophy, take that PC elitists!!!) in about four days, and it was really refreshing to play a game so short yet still effective. Of course, this game has garnered a reputation over the years for its fan base, with a large demographic of DeviantArt and Tumblr types, but that didn't really bother me and I can now say I'm glad I finally got a chance to play this thing.

Being such a short game and yet relying so much on the player's attachment to its characters is a little counterintuitive, but Toby Fox does a good job of it. Part of what makes Undertale effective in this regard is that a good portion of the character interaction is optional (and if you're doing a Pacifist run, you obviously care enough about the characters to do the things required in that route). You can kill anybody if you so choose, and you'll face consequences for it, but even if you keep them alive you don't have to let them talk your ear off if you just want to get on with the story. If you do want to spend more time with a character, doing optional interactions with them feels all the more meaningful because you chose to do it. The story changes in considerable ways depending on who's dead and who's alive by the end, and it's in this way that Undertale creates depth; think of it as sorta like "vertical" depth where most games have "horizontal" length, if that makes sense.

I did the Pacifist run, although I mainly just did it because I was aware of it thanks to the Internet, and there were a few characters I probably would have killed if I didn't stick to such a rigid, inflexible mission statement from the beginning of the game, knowing for a fact that the game would accommodate flower-child idealism. I'm kinda uncomfortable with the idea that this game might be giving sensitive Internet kids the idea that they can get past any obstacle in life if they just "kill 'em with kindness!"

This game is obviously attempting to harken back to the 16-bit days with its retro art style, which is over-done but done well enough here. Despite its obvious influences, I wouldn't call Undertale an RPG, since the battle system is actually a bullet hell. It's pretty nonsensical, but fun. One thing about this game that I have no reservations about is the music. Toby Fox is known for doing the sound-track to Homestuck (another IP popular in the DeviantArt/Tumblr circles, fittingly), so it was a pretty safe bet that Undertale would have pretty great music. The Pacifist run final boss music does an amazing thing; it's the first "final boss music is heavy metal for no reason" kind of track in a video game that I've actually liked.

I think this game deserves more thought than I'm putting into this review, and it deserves your attention if you haven't played it already. Over-all, it can get melodramatic, but for every moment like that, there's two that are genuinely funny, or sweet, or even chilling. Avoiding spoilers like the plague for two years was worth it.

8/10

Silent Hill 2

Much like Nier: Automata, Silent Hill 2 is a game that blows its predecessor out of the water in every way imaginable. The first Silent Hill, on PS1, was and still is acclaimed for its thick atmosphere and horror that is cerebral and not cheap. In those two respects, I agree. However, I went into that game expecting a better story than the one I got. If you ask me, the first Silent Hill tells a really pointless story about a bunch of uninteresting characters being tormented by a bunch of trite Satanic cult mumbo-jumbo. Silent Hill 2 was made by the same crew, but it's like Team Silent suddenly decided to take their horror series above the crowd of simple spooky tone pieces and turned Silent Hill into art, with a statement to make and the story-telling tools to make it.

The town of Silent Hill has gone from a sleepy lakeside village with a cult problem, to an omniscient, almost sentient force that lures people in and punishes them for their misdeeds. Protagonist James and his interactions with supporting cast Maria, Laura, Angela, and Eddie feel like a tightly-written play, where every conversation has a reason for happening and a meaning underneath. The monsters James fights are tailor-made to represent specific regrets inside of him, like the town isn't just infested with creepy crawlies, but personally tormenting James. Pyramid Head is a masterpiece of monster design, not just in looks but in its placement throughout the story. Pyramid Head is presented in a way that is never manipulative or cheap (i.e. jump scares), but always terrifying. The lesser monsters are all tense encounters in their own right, but I just think Pyramid Head in particular is beautiful in how scary it is.

Speaking of beauty, this game is very good-looking. Real-time shadows, a noise filter that enhances rather than cheapens the atmosphere, high-quality textures and character models, and intimately detailed environments all sucked me in and allowed me to become even more immersed in the game's chilling atmosphere. The music by Akira Yamaoka does a perfect job of underscoring the tone, whether it's quiet or furious. The voice acting, admittedly, is pretty hokey, and I don't buy the argument that this was on purpose. It's just not a big deal to me, since literally everything else about the game is so perfectly done. Such goofy voice acting in the middle of masterful graphics, music, and atmosphere, actually, kinda creates levity, and in that respect it kinda works at doing its job of making me relieved to see another soul in the bottomless pit that is Silent Hill.

I only wish that I could have played this game sooner, because I can only imagine how stunning this must have been in 2001 when it was released. Although, even today, a game that treats the audience like mature adults and tells a story with meaning is not exactly common either. This game is a tour-de-force, a treasure, and starting next year, a new Halloween tradition for me!

10/10

I feel a little bit uncertain about all of these ratings, but when am I not? Here's to good games in 2018!
 
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Harvest Moon Light of Hope (Switch) 5/10
While I liked it better then the two games Natsume put on the 3ds its still just not worth the money to me. The game itself is just way to EASY. I beat the main story in 10-12 hours. It consisted of me getting base level crops/fish/animal byproducts and give them to a specific person. The story was also really thin and un-engaging. The lack of crop variety was also lame. I don't care if they have tons of "mutations" I'm still just farming a ton of cabbages just in different colors. This is also the first Switch game I have played where the graphics are worse on full screen mode instead of handheld. All in all it feels like a supped up phone game that's made for players new to farm games. The co-op is cool but not enough to make up for everything else.
 
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Just finished up Nioh. Haven't played any DLC yet, but I think that's enough to be able to review the game. First off, I'd like to say that it's a pretty interesting take on the Dark Souls formula. It ditches the knights in armor and dragons in favor of an eastern setting, in an alternate version of the Warring States period in Japan. As such, weapon and equipment selection is a bit different. Unfortunately, there isn't as much diversity in the equipment and weapon selection as in Dark Souls. All weapons have the same moveset too, which is based off of skills you learn for a particular weapon. The skill selection is nice, and it adds another layer of fun to the combat. The combat is this game's strongest point in my opinion. It's fast, satisfying, but also really punishing if you don't manage your Ki. (Essentially this game's version of Stamina from Dark Souls.) Unlock in Dark Souls, you get punished much more for running out of Ki/Stamina. If you're hit while your Ki is out, you'll be staggered for a good amount of time and thus open to almost any attack. This applies to your foes as well of course. If you're facing a human enemy you can make an active effort to deplete their ki by hitting their guard with heavy attacks or just heavy attacks in general. This will lead to them being staggered, which opens them up for a finishing blow. Yokai work a bit differently. Their ki doesn't replenish over time, but they don't get staggered in place when they run out either. Instead, you can safely combo them until they place until they summon a Yokai Realm under their feet and regain their ki. Standing a Yokai Realm halts your own ki regeneration, or just severely slows it if you have resistance to it. Yokai are generally the most dangerous enemies you'll face of course.
Ah, but I'm rambling now. As far as gameplay goes, it's pretty amazing. Whether it be human or Yokai, the combat is really fun. The setting is cool too.
The main downsides to this game are its borderline incoherent story, inconsistent difficulty (particularly later in the game), and the lack of equipment variety. Given that Nioh 2 was announced, I hope it has a few more in the way of customization options. That said, this game isn't bad at all. If you liked Dark Souls or Bloodborne, I think you'd like Nioh too.
8/10.
 
I will burn my dread!
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Since my last post I’ve finished 3 games (two of them were very long JRPGs, so cut me some slack):

Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth

I bought this game on a whim because I managed to find it at a price that I knew I wouldn’t see again (and I haven’t), but I was fully aware of its status as the butt of jokes among Persona fans. Persona 3 and 4 are a couple of my favorite games ever, especially the former, but that’s because those games are mature and show integrity in their story-telling (for the most part). Mashing the casts of the two games together because the fans will eat it up is pretty much the opposite of integrity, so I didn’t expect much going in. I got a little bit more than I was expecting, though.

Persona Q transplants the casts of Persona 3 and 4 into an Etrian Odyssey game, which means that the game-play to story ratio is pretty slanted toward game-play, and while there is a hefty amount of dialog as typical of Persona, there’s also just a lot of dungeon-crawling game-play. If you want to both read all of the optional character episodes and do all of the optional side quests, as I did, you’re looking at a surprisingly massive game. Persona games are very long because they have a lot of story, but Persona Q’s length comes from unwinding the large knots that make up the game’s four main dungeons. This is a good thing because the dungeon-crawling is very good and the story is very... well... if you’re expecting a Persona kind of story you won’t get it.

It’s pretty weird to market a game to fans of these characters and then neuter the characters of their depth, but that’s what happened here. Everyone in this game feels like a caricature of their real personality, and they look like caricatures too, but the difference is Shigenori Soejima (the man who chiefly designed these characters in the first place) does a great job of “chibifying” them to look better on the 3DS’s tiny screen. The Flanderization of their personalities, on the other hand, is not so cute. If it’s supposed to be funny, I didn’t get it.

Some don’t get it as rough as others, but severe casualties include Akihiko and Chie. In their original appearances, Akihiko is a quiet but strong young man who is very serious about making sure no one he loves gets hurt like in the past, and Chie is fun-loving and energetic but insecure about being seen as “just another one of the boys”. In this game, they are now PROTEIN PROTEIN TRAINING MEAT I LIKE MEAT I LIKE VARIOUS TYPES OF MEAT SHALL I LIST THEM ALL PROTEIN PROTEIN TRAINING DAE TRAINING?????? Those two get singled out a lot by fans, but I’d also like to be a little original and point out others who get the short end of the stick - Mitsuru and Naoto. Once again, originally, Mitsuru and Naoto are rather humorless people, but Mitsuru also exudes confidence in the way she doesn’t always do the first thing that you’d expect of the “motherly” anime heroine, and Naoto has a laundry list of insecurities and hang-ups she’s getting over. In this game, they both act like wet blankets who speak in only the most formal language they can think of, myes quite indeed my good sir.

That’s enough nerding out about these characters, since only a minority of the time in the game is spent listening to them. The rest is dungeon-crawling goodness, and it’s very good. These dungeons are honestly some of the best I’ve ever gone through in a JRPG. Now obviously this game has much more of a single-minded focus on the dungeons than other JRPGs, but I still think JRPGs can learn something from Etrian Odyssey. These aren’t just bogs of poison squares and random encounters that you want to slog through as quickly as you can before you fall asleep (because you’re only being engaged in your lizard brain). These dungeons make you think, plan ahead, predict what’s around the corner, and of course, diligently draw your map on the bottom screen of your 3DS, like playing Wizardry on DOS with a pencil and paper by your side.

On top of great dungeons, this game has great combat, too. It’s an effective blending of the Boost system from Etrian Odyssey and the One More system of Persona. If a party member hits an enemy’s weakness, they go into Boost mode. They lose the Boost if they get hit later that turn, but if they make it to the end of the turn with Boost, they can act first next turn, with slightly bumped stats and no SP (Mana) cost. If a majority of party members are Boosted at the end of a turn, you can do an oh-so-satisfying All-Out Attack, just a sweet bonus for playing your cards right (figuratively - this isn’t a card game, don’t worry).

The game is decently difficult, too. It all feels a little bit more reliant on luck than Persona proper, but it’s still a cut above most other JRPGs, since it gets you thinking about moves other than your strongest attack. During dungeon exploration, combat is something you’re trying to do as efficiently as possible so you don’t lose any SP, and during boss fights, combat feels like a delicate balancing act building up to that one crazy turn where everybody can take the safety off of the big guns. Most of the bosses skimp out on difficulty, but the final boss was grueling and extremely tense. So between great combat and superb dungeon design, it’s a good thing that this takes up most of the game.

One last note on the story, though, is the part it does pretty well, and it comes from an unexpected place. The two DeviantArt OCs of the game, gloomy cape-wearing emo boy Zen and bubbly ditz Rei, do not make a terribly good first impression, even if Keith Silverstein and Ashley Burch are very good actors. However, a twist very late in the game gives a much-needed emotional center to the plot. It comes slightly out of nowhere and may feel unearned to some players, but I was personally pleased with the sudden shift in tone, since MEAT PROTEIN SENPAI-KUN was really not cutting it for me. Additionally for that reason I would have liked if it were established from the beginning and meditated on throughout the game, instead of being the big twist that the game builds up to simply by making Zen and Rei be all mysterious. The subject matter is very difficult for anyone to tackle, especially a game like this where I didn’t come into the story expecting it, but like I said, Keith Silverstein and Ashley Burch are very good at what they do.

At the end of it, my final thoughts are something I never thought I’d be saying: I want Persona Q2 to ditch the Persona characters and just feature a bunch of OCs.

7/10

Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 2: Innocent Sin

It was finally time for me to go backwards and see what Persona was like before the third game really changed things up. I’m glad I did it, but more for the history lesson than the game I played.

Persona 3 made huge changes to the series and firmly established the identity it has today. The three biggest changes are Social Links, the calendar, and the One More combat system. The One More system is adapted from the superlative Press Turn system debuted in Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne (which makes elemental weakness the crux of combat, now much more thoughtful than simply spamming your beefiest attack), Social Links are extended side plots that really helped make Persona more about the characters (which is the point of Persona’s existence in the Megami Tensei stable), and the entire game running on a day-by-day calendar is a great framing device to ground the whole package with. So basically, Persona 3 introduced just about everything that makes Persona so unique among video games. Persona 2 is a Persona game absent of these things. The result is a game that feels much more like an ordinary PS1 RPG.

Don’t get me wrong, Persona 2 has a story and atmosphere that are very unique, especially for the time. However, it just doesn’t have quite enough going on, and the game-play is a serious drag. Like, oh my god. Let’s get that part out of the way first.

Remember when I contrasted Persona Q’s dungeons with “bogs full of poison squares and random encounters”? Well, remarkably, thanks to that game’s existence, Persona is now a series that contains both some of the best and some of the absolute worst dungeons I’ve ever experienced. Innocent Sin throws every single last terrible, lazy, low-effort nuisance in the big book of JRPG no-nos at the player. Man, it throws the whole book at you. Poison spaces, teleporters, conveyor belts, collapsing spaces that drop you down to the previous floor, the works. Worse than any of the rest, however, are hazards and booby traps disguised as normal spaces or chests. This stuff is one a whole other level of frustrating. What this encourages the player to do is, rather than explore the dungeon, blast through it as quickly as possible so they can pretend it doesn’t exist. That’s certainly what I started doing after a while of having my exploration punished like this. The “reward” for enduring these tests of patience is dungeons that are barren and boring anyway. These dungeons epically, royally, monumentally suck.

Combat is better, since it’s not the worst, but it isn’t much to write home about either. Basically the things that Megami Tensei had going for it from the start in the late ‘80s is the monster-collecting aspect that it did long before Pokemon, and the slight step up in difficulty which made things like buffs/debuffs and status ailments/cures more important than they are in a lot of other JRPGs. Innocent Sin, however, swaps out the difficulty for tedium. You’re definitely going to get through these fights, just after a whole of spamming your strongest attack. At least there’s still Persona collecting, but this feels half-baked because the difficulty isn’t there to justify the complexity. Even the best ‘90s MegaTen combat doesn’t hold a candle to Press Turn, and One More by extension.

So I wasn’t playing Innocent Sin for the game-play, I knew that going in. So I was totally willing to give the story my undivided attention, but like I said, even that part doesn’t compare to later games in my eyes. It feels like a Persona story, being about matters of the subconscious and personal rather than ideology and politics of Megami Tensei, but it doesn’t have the characters to back that up. It’s a shame, because a lot of effort has gone into making the setting of Sumaru City feel lived-in and real. You can chat with your party members pretty much everywhere outside of dungeons, and they’ll have new things to say all over the map very frequently as the plot chugs on. The plot itself is very convoluted but it’s clear a lot of thought was put into where it goes and how it gets there.

The story is built on a simple hook: what if rumors came true by virtue of being believed? I could see this premise being taken to an insane extreme, and the game really does go there. Terrorism, ancient aliens, bizarre New Age cults, and LITERALLY HITLER all get implicated in the plot (it’s not every day someone says “literally Hitler” and means it). It gives the game a delirious, fever-dream atmosphere that keeps getting crazier until it explodes at the end.

However, the game relies on its characters, and they’re not up to snuff in my eyes, at least not enough of them. The protagonist has an interesting justification for his being a silent protagonist, but... he’s still a silent protagonist. Maya and Lisa are great (Lisa’s obsessive crush on Main Character-kun is played completely serious as if it’s endearing and not really lame, but other than that I love her character a whole lot, it’s really unique besides the one massive cliche, trust me), but Yukino inspired a whole lot of nothing in me, and I’m sad to say I was annoyed by Eikichi and Jun. It’s a shame, I really wanted to like this cast more, but I can’t do it.

One thing I’ve neglected to mention is that Persona 2 is comprised of two games, Innocent Sin being the first and Eternal Punishment being the second. I would have jumped right into Eternal Punishment were it not for this first game’s awful, awful, awful dungeons souring me on it. So, it’s easily the weakest Persona game I’ve played, but it’s still a really unique game, the kind I like seeing in the sea of boring, predictable RPGs-by-numbers.

7/10

Wolfenstein 3D

There’s not a lot I can say here that hasn’t already been said by someone ten or twenty years ago. It almost single-handedly innovated the first-person shooter genre, it popularized the “shareware” business model, which still influences the games industry today in the form of demos, and it gave players with even a middling PC in 1992 the opportunity to brutally kill hundreds and hundreds of Nazis. Id Software’s approach to violence and story-telling in video games is very immature, but without Wolfenstein 3D, without Doom, and without Quake, video games simply would not be the same today, for better and for worse.

Now, between the three games I mentioned above, Wolfenstein is the weakest, as it should be since it’s the oldest. Unlike Doom and Quake, however, Wolfenstein isn’t quite as easy to get back into. BJ Blazkowicz must have thunder thighs (and indeed he does, the old meathead) to run at the speed he does and then stop instantaneously. The combat in this game as a result feels pretty hurky-jerky.

Still, it’s a wonder that the shooting feels as decent as it does considering it was one of the first games of its kind ever. Not many games stick the landing so confidently. Invisible factors like distance and bullet spread make the shooting feel not too easy, which means killing Nazis feels that much sweeter. Finding the chain gun and hearing that little tune as BJ’s face glows with that devious grin makes you feel like you’re about to open a can of whoop-ass. That BJ, he’s so mischievous.

Speaking of difficulty, some of it feels good but an alarming amount is cheap, got in the form of manipulative level design. You may have just killed 50 Nazis in front of you, but you move forward and you get blasted by one that was waiting for you, unaggro’d, around the corner, and you know they put him there just to piss you off. The more egregious no-no that this game commits, however, is mazes. Long, narrow, confusing, infuriating, boring mazes. After moving on from the Original Missions (episodes 1-3) to the Nocturnal Missions (episodes 4-6), it felt like I was playing Kaizo Wolfenstein. It simply wasn’t fun. When I play this game in the future, I’ll most likely just be sticking to the Original Missions. It’s cooler that way anyhow because it ends with you killing LITERALLY HITLER. That’s a lot less shocking coming from this game, I just wanted to say it again.

I feel uneasy giving Wolfenstein 3D a number rating since its historical signifigance outweighs its actual fun factor when replaying it today. Let’s say 8/10, held back by a juvenile approach to violence and some maze levels that suck the joy out of a play-through.
 
Prime Minister of Shoyo 昇陽国内閣総理大臣
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This is a repost of my review in Serenes Forest Forums of the following games:
  • Persona 4 Golden (the updated re-release of Persona 4)
  • Persona 4: Dancing All Night
My verdict - buy both and a PS Vita at full price.

Persona 4: Golden (PS Vita)
Main Story
Synopsis: So you are a high-school student sent to live with your uncle (who is a detective) on your mother's side in the sleepy Japanese town of Inaba, while your parents are working overseas. Rumor are abound that on a rainy midnight, the TV in your house turns on and you get to see your soulmate on the screen. Meanwhile a series of bizarre murders and disappearances is occuring around town. You, and two of your new classmates try out the rumors to the test, and it turns out you can enter the TV via the screen. You find out that there an entire new world inside the TV. Could it have something to do with the murders and disappearances?

In many ways, Persona 4 Golden was the story that hit almost all of the high notes for me. The main story was a perfect example of how a lighthearted story can nevertheless be a thought-provoking one. On the epic scale, there was an important story to learn about how it is easy to be caught up in the rumors and gossip fed by the media (and the TV in particular, being the plot-driver in the game), and how the main characters struggle and overcome the deception that comes with the TV. One climatic scene (which potentially leads to the bad ending) is noteworthy, as it particularly relates to the portrayal of suspects in a crime. Unfortunately, Japan has a particularly strong attitude towards "guilty unless proven otherwise", arising from honor versus shame, which Atlus questions in the story. (Although, if Michael Jackson and others are any indication, North America and Europe aren't free from such prejudices either.) Interestingly, the same thing gets revisited in Persona 5, except from a legal point of view, where Atlus questions the often rigged criminal court system of Japan, which has a 99.9% conviction rate, compared to 90-97% of various European and North American countries. It is only the heroes' efforts in digging deeper and not trusting the rumors of the media's portrayal of the serial murders that they got to the final boss, and it shows that we need to draw our own conclusions instead of having the media do it for us.

Another highlight of the main story which is also related to the next argument below is how the power of friendship is portrayed. While the story is presented optimistically with the main party being good friends, they all actively work towards a common goal of identifying the serial killer - showing the importance in actually putting in the effort to achieve the end goal. Another aspect done right was that the same power can end up being harmful in the wrong circumstance:

In the same climatic scene previously mentioned, your friend insists on playing vigilante, on the first suspect you discover, which actually leads to the worst ending. Your previously kidnapped niece dies, the killer gets away, and a lot of questions remain unanswered. And the ending also implies that your friends have become distant to each other.

In saying this, there are some areas that could see improvement. Persona 4, being a JRPG, isn't entirely free on some of the negative aspects of anime jokes (including an infamous accident between the two genders in a hot springs), sadly didn't get adapted out in Persona 4 Animation. Thankfully, they are mostly confined in the more comedic chapters while the main story is quite serious (if still fairly optimistic). Another thing worth noting is that I was able to find very few plot holes in the story. There is a seeming plot hole that some people talks about, but it is a plot point that is actually justified when you spend some time thinking about it, which I shall elabourate in a later post.

If there is a game showing why fake news is a real threat, this is the game.

Characters and their arcs
On the more mundane side of the story, if Atlus was trying to make me relive my high school years in Japan, it has been quite sucessful. Whether you are exploring the world inside the TV infested by the Shadows materialized from the collective subconcious, or you are at class listening to your teacher, you will be spending time with people. Persona has a variation of the dating sim system called the Social Link, which both provides character-specific arcs and various gameplay/battle bonuses like Fire Emblem's support system. Almost all of the people that the player character (canon name: Yu Narukami) befriends have their own stories and struggles to tell, which might as well be from real life. And in relation to me previous point about searching for the truth, many of said characters are actually different to how they are portrayed in their TV footages. Spoilers below:

For example, Yosuke Hanamura, who becomes Yu's friend and earliest party member, struggles in fitting into rural life. Yukiko Amagi, another classmate who is the daughter and inheritor of the family that runs the famous local ryokan, struggles with what she thought as the lack of her choices in her life. Kanji Tatsumi the school's delinquent, struggled with his gender expectations imposed from others and got the wrong idea of masculinity, which led him to his delinquency.

Everybody has their stories and their struggles to tell about, and it feels like I am talking to a friend or a family member in real life. And if there is one thing that all of the stories argue, it is of the importance to being honest with yourself, and it is through this that you will be able to move forward. Particularly, in at least two characters cases, gender roles are brought into question; one of your underclassman learns that there's nothing wrong in liking hobbies that are considered to be associated with the opposite gender. Another, who is working part-time as a skilled professional on top of being a student, realises that it is not her problem that she, as a girl, would be disrespected at work - it's society's misogynistic views that is the problem, and keep in mind that Japan's gender gap was ranked one of the worst according to The World Economic Forum in 2017.

The first one is the aformentioned Kanji Tatsumi, whose family runs a textile shop, and who likes knitting and dressmaking. Second is Naoto Shirogane, a young genius detective, who, like Portia in Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, initially dressed and acted like a boy in order to not have to face misogyny from the local Police she works with.

Of course, like all games, there are some areas that end up being flawed in the storyline. The aformentioned former has some unfortunate implications with his gender identity that ends up being used as a punchline a couple of times in the story - perhaps not helped by the fact that his sexual orientation has been made ambiguous to this day. The aformentioned latter, on the other hand, ends up being the closest to being a Mary Sue, due to her struggles not being all that apparent in her social link.

I'm talking about Naoto here, as her struggles with her being female (and therefore her gender representation in her work) did not seem to be examined all that much. Instead of a social link that focuses on Naoto playing through a detective game and rediscovering her passion for her detective work, it would have been better to focus on her interactions with Uncle Ryotaro (detective and Yu's Uncle) and other officers, how Naoto gets heard in the police department, how Ryotaro relate to Naoto and other officers, and how both battle against the ageist and misogynistic attitudes of their colleagues.

Overall, however, the majority of characters are very well-rounded with realistic stories that showcase some of the issues that Japan faced back in the late 2000s and early 2010s. All in all, I am looking forward to what Persona 3 and Persona 5 has to offer in the story and characters departments.

Gameplay
Gameplay is a mixture of standard RPG with the TV world as the dungeons, with dating sims in the real world. The former isn't much different from your standard RPG, as the battles are turn-based, although with some variations. The trick is to aim for the enemy's weakness or a critical hit, which makes the enemy trip and fall down and allow you an extra turn.There are other further advantages for attacking the weak points including bonus actions from allies. Due to the extra actions you can create, most normal battles can be finished within 1-2 turns on the lower difficulties. The reverse is also true, where enemies can take advantages of your weaknesses. Each characters are given a persona that they can summon for skills, and said personas are metaphysically linked to the the playable characters with their different status and elemental attributes. Yu (the hero) can use multiple personas with different attributes, elemental resistances and weaknesses.

The good news is that the battles are generally very quick, and levelling up - at least on the lower difficulties - is also generally stress-free, which I appreciate, as I don't have the time or the will to spend countless hours grinding. This is in contrast to the recent Pokemon entries, with the movepool and Pokemon variety has widened considerably as to throw me off in type matching for wild battles. It came to the point where I keep holding off playing Pokemon Sun, as the amount of time for wild Pokemon battles and level grinding have become more than what I'm willing to spend nowadays, and this is around the second gym equivalent I am talking about.

Back onto the topic, the bad news is that the dungeons themselves can look quite repetitive, with little in the way of visual interest - although I personally did not care too much about this. As in Shin Megami Tensei, Yu's multiple personas can be fused to create stronger/higher-levelled personas, which is practically required to keep up with the level curve.

While all of this sounds complicated, this is more than helped by having five difficulty levels you can choose at the start of the game, with the lowest difficulty option particularly suited for beginners, or for those that want to focus more on the story, while the highest difficulty is for veterans who had prior experience with the Persona series and want an extra challenge.

Outside of the TV world, you spend your time at home, school, and generally around town. Barring certain mandatory events that come up, you have choices in how to spend your afternoons and evenings. Do you want to spend time studying in the library (in the afternoons) or at home (in the evenings) to raise your knowledge and keep on top of exams? Or do you participate in your sports/cultural club to make friends (and raise your Social Link; explained later) and train being more diligent or more expressive in your emotions (raise your Diligence/Expression)? This is one of the few gameplay elements that are integrated into whatever slice-of-life story you want to create for your player character, and you have a lot of options you can make in spending your school days. Out of the above, Social Links play a large role in both telling the minor stories of the different playable allies and supporting characters, and providing various gameplay bonuses so it is recommended that you prioritize talking to your friends whenever you can.

Generally speaking, as my first Atlus game ever, I found the whole system to be easy to pick up and get going with. There is a lot of railroading in the first in-game month (or roughly speaking, the first 10-15 gameplay hours without skipping), but I did not mind any of this as the interesting story kept me hooked. The game is generally good in giving you a wide margin of error in not screwing up your gameplay (which includes meeting mandatory deadlines for rescuing people from the TV World), and gives you opportunities to save during mandatory events as well. One warning could be that there is one social link and a couple of storyline branches selections during December in-game which I would recommend using a guide to access the best ending, but otherwise the game is easy to get through without one.

Graphics and Music
The graphics and the music also deserves praise here for adding much to the story of Persona 4. Much of the depicted scenes are very detailed, which allows me to immerse myself into the story and believe that Inaba actually exists in Japan. It is one of the most obvious testament to how Atlus put in a lot of effort into the game. The music is also worth listening, due to its usage of popular music that I feel is quite unique. The incorporation of various genre elements (jazz, hip hop, funk etc) into the urban popular style of Persona's music is both different to the symphonic music heard in most JRPGs, or the J-Pop music heard in Japanese popular culture in general. All in all, the audiovisual aspects of the game further contributes to the already strong story Persona 4 Golden Provides.

Conclusion
As I said before, my first Atlus game I experienced is an experience that I have zero regrets with. If anything the only regret I have with this game was to not experience it earlier. Persona 4 Golden both succeeds as a relatively lighthearted entry into the Persona (and maybe even SMT) series, and as a nevertheless thought-provoking and coherent social commentary of how we can over-rely on the media. To the people who are on the fence about the greater Shin Megami Tensei franchise (which the Persona series is/was a part of), I definitely say jump straight in with this one first, then move to Persona 3/5 and other entries when you have the chance. To the people who previously played the other series entries, I will also recommend giving a try with at least one playthrough for the main story.
Persona 4 Golden - Verdict: A definite buy, full price
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Persona 4: Dancing All Night (PS Vita)

Last month saw the first anniversary that marked the beginning of the MeToo movement, which were the sexual violations accusations towards Harvey Weinstein. From there, the #MeToo movement spread amongst women in showbiz across the United States and eventually other countries as well. It highlighted how women in showbiz can be vulnerable under sexual exploitation in Hollywood, and encouraged women to speak up against it. Japan did not see the same level of activity in the MeToo movement, where the wrong kind of conservatism prevails in my home country. However, there are three cases that spoke out against it (and possibly more that I am unaware about). The first, and ongoing one is a journalist named Ito Shiori who was raped by a senior journalist. The second, and more relevant to this, was Perfect Blue, an animated movie which is a story of an ex-idol's desparate attempt to further her career in showbiz, and discussed sexual exploitation in showbiz years before MeToo did. The third one, which basically dropped the same anvil as the second one (albeit in a much more family-friendly manner with a happier ending) was Persona 4: Dancing All Night.


The Gameplay
Persona 4: Dancing All Night is a rhythm and dancing game with a "Where are they now" story after the canon epilogue of Persona 4 Golden. As a persona who has only passing interest in dancing games, this was perhaps the only one that I actually was interested in, and played fairly extensively. And considering that, the game was easy enough to get used to. The interface and controls were intiutive, with the notes spreading outwards, indicating which outer buttons on the PS Vita I need to press or hold down, and it was easy to follow the notes. You can play the various songs from various Persona 4 entries, with many remixed by various Japanese artists, in which they appear at certain points in Story Mode, or as a score attack in Free Mode. Bonuses for high scores and story mode progressions appear in the form of extra costumes which you can buy using in-game currency in this game's versions' Tanaka's Amazing Commodities, or pay and download via DLC.

As for the difficulty of this game, it is very easy to get used to (as mentioned before), yet very difficult to master. There are four modes in score attack, which are Easy, Normal, Hard, and All Night. Easy is very much for beginners to the genre, while Normal is also managable. The former two settings are also the modes available in Story Mode, which means that you can enjoy the story without having blisters on your fingers. On the other hand, Hard is quite challenging, while only the best rhythm gamers will be able to even have a go at All Night, let alone master this difficulty setting.

So far, this sounds like what a good rhythm game should be. So why did I pick up this game and not, say, Dance Dance Revolution, or even Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight?


Story Part 1: Overview
What Persona 4: Dancing All Night had which others lacked is a story - while less substantial than the main game, was nevertheless a story very much worth watching, and was the main reason I got into this game. So Rise Kujikawa, the J-Pop idol who went back to the city (presumably Tokyo) after her adventures in Persona 4 (Golden), and was going to join an all-star concert with the upcoming Kanamin Kitchen as her comeback debut. And she wants Yu Narukami and his friends from their old school (who all solved the serial murders together) join in as backup dancers for her debut. However, the game soon takes a darker turn which focuses on the other idols gone missing, and it is up to the Yu and his Investigation Team to solve the case. Yes, sure, there is quite a lot of fanservice in this game, but the story is much more than that; it probably helped me appreciate some of the basic aspects of the MeToo movement, and Atlus should be commended for not shying away . Zhiqing Wan has wrote a review that I almost wholeheartely agree with, so expect a number of quotes from her. (I strongly urge readers to read her review too.)

One of Dancing All Night's discussion is the dark side of people's true self versus people's perceptions. Wan wrote:

Dancing All Night follows a slightly different path and instead deals with issues like meeting the expectations of others, and putting on a façade or adopting an entirely different personality so as to be accepted by the majority. Suddenly, the very notion of bringing pop idols into the silly mix of jumping into different dimensions and ‘dancing’ Shadows to death seems completely rational and not out of place at all.

[omitted]...Dancing All Night brings back the personal connection we all felt when we played the original Persona 4 for the first time back on the PS2. How many times have we felt unappreciated or unloved for being ourselves? And how often have we tried to change who we are just to fit societal expectations? Persona 4: Dancing All Night tackles these questions with finesse and, just like Persona 4, proves to be a very human game that we can latch onto easily.

I can very much relate to the above paragraph that Wan wrote, as I had a similar issue with my classmates. Back in 1997, my family and I returned to our hometown of Tokyo from San Francisco, where my dad worked as a bank's branch manager. And the conformist Japanese classroom was as such that I felt punished for acting assertive or even honest, whether it was through the regimented curriculum, or the bullying I experienced from my classmates. It felt like Atlus questioned the usage of tatemae (the veneer we all have in our lives) versus honne (our real opinions) in modern Japanese society, and how we should be not afraid to be more honest with ourselves.


Story Part 2: J-Pop Idols and sexual exploitation
The other moral that Atlus explored was the lives of Japanese pop idols. This is the industry where older people (mainly men) are attracted to the idols, which we see has some of the strictest lifestyles of Japanese professionals (both private and public). Wan described it succinctly here:

As happy and cheery as the game’s box art looks, Dancing All Night doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to exploring the lives of Japanese pop idols either. There are a few narrative sequences in the game where we get to witness the emotional turmoil of the four Kanamin Kitchen girls, and the struggles they face within the industry. These sequences are all incredibly stylized within the game, of course, but just like in Perfect Blue, it’s shockingly easy to draw parallels between the in-game events and real life itself.

The story's critique got me curious and I had a look at some of the stuff that idols had to go through. Many of the idols have to follow codes of behaviour that demands a high level of politeness and purity: the extent that bans having boyfriends and requires prior permission to marry. One idol member from AKB48 shaved her head and made a public apology for going out with a boyfriend - something many of us do as part of our teenage lives. Even worse, unlike stars on the Disney Channel which at least has the justification that they are starring on a children's show, the situation surrounding the J-Pop idols are basically the hypocrisy of the managers and audiences alike. Hannah Lee, a Law/Asian Studies student from Australian National University writes, for example:

Most fans who follow groups like AKB48 are middle-aged men. The idols themselves are teenagers, who begin performing at around 13 years old. Idols are often presented in cute school outfits and perform in synchronised groups. Whilst sexualisation of women is not limited to Japan, Japanese idol groups specifically pander to a young girl fetish, which is encouraged for the sake of record sales.

But what young girl would ever consent to this? If consent is ‘free and informed’, there is simply is no way that a girl, at 12 years old, can knowingly consent to being sexualised by men four times her age.

Equally disturbing is the fact that this idol fad came as the counter-response to the first wave of Japanese feminism in the 1970s (referenced from the link). Japan Subculture Research Center describe's AKB48's founder, Yasushi Akimoto, as follows:

Yasushi Akimoto was a Zegen [sex merchant] with a vision – having never been popular in high school himself, he recognized the deep sexual frustration and vast need for sexual fantasies festering in the educated and dateless Japanese male. When he came out with “Onyanko Club” in the mid-1980s, people were blinded by the sheer genius of this man. Here he was, peddling quite ordinary high school girls on TV, who all got up on the studio stage to teasingly sing “oh please don’t take my school uniform off, no-no-no!” to an audience who could never hear such titillating pleas when they were 18 so was totally stoked to hear it now, from a gaggle of winking girls all beckoning SIMULTANEOUSLY.

And perhaps not as obvious, but also a question that I have is this: Why do many Japanese VAs for anime tend to voice female characters like chipmunks when the majority of females in real life don't sound like the saccharine, cutesy voices? The only times I remember hearing pitch ranges that are not absurdly high in Japanese animations are perhaps Naoto or Yukiko in Persona 4, or the Japanese dubs from Disney.

Through many of the articles, I now understand why Atlus was so critical about the idol industry. And the above mentioned are just the articles written in English - there are more on that on Japanese news sites. As for myself: While I enjoyed watching the so called gravure idols in their swimsuits (and to some extent still do), this has made me have second thoughts about the stuff they possibly have to go through. The game (and the subsequent research) was quite enough to make me feel uncomfortable about myself, and acknowledge that I have my fair share of misogyny that I may have contributed.

And my thoughts do not end here. While Atlus was warning people about the dark side of the idol industry in particular, it was perhaps also warning us about the dark side of sexual exploitation in showbiz in general. And this game was released a couple of years before the Weinstein scandal had its cover blown in 2017. Granted, it probably did not have the effect in kicking off the MeToo movement anywhere near the level of other factors, and it definitely has not in Japan, sadly. But I cannot help but think about how the release had such perfect timing.


Story Part 3: Other comments

There are also some interesting tidbits to read from the characters speeches as well. The characters don't get much character development per se, partly because the story only takes 2-3 in-universe days at most, and also because I think, understandably, everyone in general wants to be more like silly, carefree teenagers after their harrowing work in solving the serial murders in the prequel. This particularly applies to Yosuke, Chie, and Yukiko, as they are in their final year in high school and will be having their university/job entrance exams soon - this is their last opportunity before they need to get serious again.

However, there are many retrospective reflections that come into play when they interact with each others, and with the idols they are saving and befriending. Many are very heartwarming and awesome to see, precisely because of how they reflected upon their own issues, and how their generally honest interactions with each other over the past year in the prequel strengthened their friendships, and how they became more confident with each other. And for that, there is Persona 4 Golden which is the prequel (and the main story) everyone should play before this game, as they won't be able to appreciate Dancing All Night's story otherwise. (See here for my reviews of that game.) Both this and the prequel are on PS Vita, so if you can play this game, you practically have no excuse to get Golden! Special props goes to Uncle Ryotaro and Nanako Dojima:

Back in Persona 4 Golden, Ryotaro was unable to come to terms with his late wife (killed in an hit-and-run accident) and how he has to raise his daughter Nanako on his own, therefore himself emotionally fleeing into his work as a detective. Nanako, on the other hand, was lonely at home, having to do many of the house chores by herself, until Yu and his friends started to befriend her. Here, Ryotaro does his detective work just as his duty, and yet still enjoys his time with Nanako. Nanako, on the other hand, fully trusts her father, and is even befriending Kanami the idol.


Conclusion
So there you have it. If there was a game that not only wrote a story worth reading, but highlights some of the social issues Japan's biggest fad has tucked away conveniently, this is the game. I encourage everyone to either borrow a friend's copy of Dancing All Night (or even better buy a copy) and look up "the dark side of japanese idol industry". I'm not sure how I myself can do to address the issue that Dancing All Night rightly raises apart from acknowledging my contribution to misogyny, but at least I can say that Atlus has done a great service in raising the social issue, and they should not be ashamed for it.
Persona 4 Dancing All Night - Verdict: A definite buy, full price - but play P4 Golden first!
 
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Thanks to the poster above for allowing me to write another wallpost guilt-free! I've finished a bunch of games since making my last post, but I'll limit it to a few.

I have brief thoughts about Doom, Doom II, and Doom 3, since nothing I say here hasn't been said before in the past 15 years, so I'll combine it all into one spoiler:
Doom is a classic, and unlike Wolfenstein 3D, I actually have a lot of fun going back to it. I love this '90s school of first-person shooter level design, the collecting of key cards and all. Some people complain about key cards, but honestly, I like that approach a hell of a lot more than the very strictly guided shooting gallery that shooters have become since they tried to be like Half-Life and failed. Doom, in contrast, makes every level feel like a demented Lego set. There is obviously a path that the designers want you to go down, but the road there is wide, with plenty of little pockets and corners for tense combat encounters (not to mention well-designed enemies), and the road isn't a straight line. On normal difficulty (in its own language, "Hurt Me Plenty"), the game is just about right, not oppressively hard but not mindlessly easy. If Goldilocks were a little bit edgier and wanted the first-person shooter that was "just right", Doom is the one.

Doom II can go to hell, ha-ha but seriously. I had a pretty miserable time playing it, to be perfectly honest. Maybe this'll get me called a little baby who needs to pick "I'm Too Young to Die!" next time, but Doom II's level are basically what happens when somebody wants to make Doom levels for somebody who's a seasoned vet and needs a stronger kick in the balls for their fix these days. I'm sure that's how a lot of people think of Doom II, but for my money, it's just not fun. Some of these levels are deliberately obtuse, rather than being legitimately complex. It's never on the level of Wolf 3D's Nocturnal Missions, thank the heavens, but the game kinda breaks its own rules, particularly when it comes to enemy placement. The game introduces some new enemies, establishes the situation which creates a fair fight with them, and then later in the game puts them in a situation where they clearly have an edge over you, like they can't handle a fair fight so they have to play dirty. Chaingunners in straight hallways, Arch-viles in wide open spaces with no cover, Pain Elementals... just, Pain Elementals, always, because they spit out Lost Souls, one of the rare enemies in Doom that is more annoying than fun, and then explodes into three more of them when they die. It's difficult, that means it's fun, right? No, Doom II, throwing a million of every enemy in the game at me as a lame excuse for a final boss is not fun.

Doom 3 is an admirable attempt to not just make another Doom, to give the series a unique twist, but the result is a decent first-person shooter struggling to escape the confines of a Z-grade fake horror game. I like when a series changes things up over the years, but this was a failed experiment. Every time Doom 3 kills the lights so you literally can't see your gun in front of your face, blasts you with a loud noise as a surprise enemy jumps down from the ceiling, or puts an enemy right behind a door so you have to take a pesky little hit at random intervals, I don't get scared, I don't even get entertained in a B-movie kind of spirit, I get annoyed. The most comical "scare" of all is when the game stops you in your tracks and forces you to behold, the horror as the room turns red and gets a bad film grain filter, and the walls ooze with blooOOooOOooOOooOOd! OOooOOooOOOooooOOOh! Every attempt to be a horror game falls flat on its face in the same way that a bad horror game falls on its face. Also, an unusual amount of enemy types are very indistinct, so the end result is... I think I'd rather play Doom II. But of course, the first Doom exists, so I'm just gonna go play that one. If Doom is a 9/10 (Quake is a 10), then Doom II is a 7/10 and Doom 3 is like a 5/10.

Fallout 3
This game is filthy with glitches, some of which are catastrophic, it's ugly, the combat feels like you and the opponent are slapping each other with wet spaghetti, and the story is dumb, but I still had a ton of fun. It's hard to describe. If Doom is like a tightly-designed Lego set with clear instructions finely tuned for fun, Fallout 3 is like a kid's huge Lego world that he's built over the course of like a whole summer - all the buildings are made of mismatched multicolored Legos, some of them got chewed up by the dog a little bit, some of them are Mega Bloks, but this kid put a lot of effort into this little Lego world and he knows what every Minifigure is doing at any given point. Now, back in 2008 when this game came out, I can totally understand the frustration of people who felt insulted by Bethesda taking the iconic factions of Interplay's Fallout setting and reducing them to "Brotherhood of Steel = good, Enclave = bad". The Interplay Fallout games have a huge amount of morally gray areas, in both the side quests and the main quest. In the older games, people could debate whether the Brotherhood, prioritizing the preservation of technology, was better for the human race than the Enclave, committed to bringing back American society and values as closely as possible. In Fallout 3, the Brotherhood is the light and the Enclave is the dark. It's absolutely dumbed down, but you know what? I love the Fallout setting, but I'm not always in the mood for a game that's morally gray. Sometimes I really do want to be the good guy and beat the bad guy, and to do that in the world of Fallout is fun. Back in the late 2000s, long-time Fallout fans had a right to be disappointed, but in 2010 Obsidian put out New Vegas and that was much more like a classic, more intelligent Fallout story in the first-person Elder Scrolls style. Back to Fallout 3, the side quests are the real meat of the game. The way that I allocated my stats, and my individual interpretation of the set-up of each side quest, meant that I played through side quests differently than my friends may have, and we can share stories about the approach each of us took, and how the quests changed with our decisions, how the game accommodated for each of our play styles.

This is the game that I watched YouTube videos of when I was a kid who didn't own the game or any platform that could play it. I would watch videos of all the side quests, and all the different approaches and outcomes to the side quests, I'd watch multiple Let's Plays and be in awe, like this was the most magical, most incomprehensibly massive game ever. Now I've finally satisfied the kid in me and played the game that fascinated me when I first started using the Internet. It is far from the best game ever, not even close, but it's fun. It's just fun!

8/10

Silent Hill 3
This game starts with a dream sequence which gives you almost all the weapons in the game for a few minutes. Included in that list of weapons is a submachine gun and a katana. I felt a sense of dread, I thought to myself, "Oh, no, is this where Silent Hill gets stupid?" I already was nervous going into this one, because it's a sequel calling back to the events of the first Silent Hill, which is a game that I sadly don't like very much. Thankfully, my instinct was wrong, and Silent Hill 3 is almost as good as Silent Hill 2, which is to say, it's an extremely good horror game.

The combat is pretty similar to 2, which is to say, it's clunky and cumbersome. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, since a Silent Hill game with sick aerial juggles and perfect dodges and stuff would be a betrayal of the series' tone, a tone that not many video games match (actually creepy). This is not the point where the series goes full Resident Evil 4, so no worries, Silent Hill 3 is still dark and unsettling to the core. In fact, while I don't like the story quite as much as 2's, I would say 3 is scarier on a base level. The enemies are much more creatively designed, the music is even better, and the dark depths that it goes to are more abstract but almost worthy of rivaling 2's darkest points.

The big reason I don't like the first Silent Hill is the nonsensical things that you're required to do in order to get the Good Ending. Silent Hill 2 solved this problem by making none of the endings necessarily good or bad, and 3 eliminates this issue by giving everyone the same ending on a first play-through. Not as elaborate as 2, but better than the first game's ridiculous path to the only satisfying ending. The other thing that I didn't like about the first game was the involvement of the cult in the story. I like Silent Hill as a deep dive into the motivations, desires, and world-view of some damaged people, and the first game only does this halfway, and the other half is some stupid spooky cult that I don't care about. 3 does involve the cult in the story, but there's more substance on top of it, subtext about abuse and trauma and faith and all that good heady stuff.

In short, I was worried about Silent Hill 3 being the point where the series jumped the shark, but it is decidedly not. I loved it, start to finish, and it stands not quite as tall, but toe-to-toe with the previous game. Plus, Heather is really cool.

10/10
 

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Child of Light 10/10
Metroid Fusion 10/10
 
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Icewind Dale

While this wasn’t the last game I played, and after a number of tries over the last few winter seasons (and a long while since my last review), I finally managed to beat this challenging game legitimately and wanted to do a review of it for quite some time

Icewind Dale is a high fantasy computer Role-Playing Game (cRPG) developed by the now-defunct Black Isle Studios - which was a division of Interplay, and was later reformed by many of the same developers into Obsidian Entertainment, if that name sounds more familiar - for PC. It is set in the famous Forgotten Realms campaign setting of the Dungeons & Dragons license, particularly in the frigid, northernmost region of the Sword Coast on the western side of the continent of Faerun called - you guessed it - Icewind Dale.

Icewind Dale was built on a well-known game engine called the Infinity Engine, which was originally used for BioWare's Baldur's Gate, and was licensed by Black Isle for their own D&D-licensed RPGs for use, as well as Planescape: Torment. All three games (and two respective sequels) had similar gameplay in style. While Planescape: Torment's main focus was in telling a story, with Baldur's Gate balancing storytelling with challenging gameplay, Icewind Dale, in contrast, was designed primarily as a combat-oriented dungeon-crawler. That was where IWD set itself apart from its peers. Combat itself is a pause-n-play, round-based tactical affair, similar to something like Dragon Age: Origins, Final Fantasy XII, or, of course, the aforementioned Baldur's Gate, with one round being equivalent to seven seconds in real time.

Rather than create a single character like in similar cRPGs, in Icewind Dale the player builds the whole party. You select the race, class, alignment, voice set, and even personal biography that can be edited for your own preference, among other customization options. Ideally, the best course is to have a variety of classes for the party, to cover all the bases and be prepared for anything monsters will throw at you. Having at least one Fighter, if not at least two, a Thief to detect & disarm traps and open locked chests and doors, along with a Mage for extra support and magic damage should serve well. You can make one char or as many as six, and total experience gained throughout the game is divided by the number in the party. That means that if, for example, the slaying of a certain monster grants 600 exp., each character in a six-party team will gain 100 exp. per instead of the full 600 to make building a different number of chars more balanced. Dual-classing is also possible.

The story is... nothing too special, but not really that clichéd , either. It may feel like just an excuse to go from dungeon to dungeon - and in a few cases that may be true - but it is good enough to keep you engaged and does piece together basically everything in the end. But what makes the plot stand out is the narration: You (the player) are told a story by who appears to be a historian (voiced by the late David Ogden Stiers) through a book that he chronicled for his own reasons.

Special mention also goes to the soundtrack, composed by the famed Jeremy Soule, who is most famous for The Elder Scrolls series, but has also done titles such as Neverwinter Nights, Secret of Evermore, Total Annihilation, Knights of the Old Republic, Guild Wars, Harry Potter games, and others. Through the ambient music, I could FEEL rather than just HEAR the atmosphere of the Frozen North. If you want to know what I mean, listen to a few of the themes, and tell me you can't feel the cold atmosphere of the quiet little of village of Easthaven yourself, without even playing the game: Or the warm village of Kuldahar under the Great Oak: The only downside is that all the themes are too short and never seemed to loop again in most areas until exiting and reentering said area. I also noticed very few battle themes... in a game that's combat-centric. :confused_emoji:

In addition, there is also an expansion pack called Heart of Winter (as well as an expansion pack within that expansion pack called Trials of the Luremaster that I did not try myself :oops:), which is an additional mini adventure that takes place farther north of the Dale and can be done after a certain point during the main campaign before the final area, or can be played on its own - just make sure you import a high enough level team of chars to tackle the expansion, as it would be absurdly difficult, if not impossible, without a party that's at least around level 10 and already equipped with good gear. There has also been a more recently-released Enhanced Edition of the game by Beamdog, which adds more class kits, more weapons, and a quest-log, in addition to the journal, which will keep track of which quests you have completed and which still can be done.

On the whole, Icewind Dale is a challenging, tactical dungeon-romp that can be fun for those who enjoy dungeon-crawlers, on an engine with visuals that still look gorgeous today (albeit, at a lower resolution), with a plot that's nothing outstanding but will leave bread crumbs along the way to keep you engaged with what will happen next, and a nice atmosphere accompanied by an equally ambient musical score - but it's not for everyone. The game is harder than your average console RPG and uses the Advanced D&D Second Edition ruleset, which is a dated system that might seem confusing for those who are unfamiliar with the ruleset. For example: the THAC0 system - look up what it means so you won’t be confused when the rating number drops, not rises, when equipping a better suit of armor for your chars. The game is especially difficult at low levels, where you’ll be relying more on the hit-dice RNG than anything else. I might first recommend Baldur’s Gate or Planescape: Torment (the latter of which I’d highly recommend in particular to everyone, regardless) to be more familiar with the 2E AD&D before building a whole team of your own in IWD. Also, because you create your whole party from scratch, there’s no party banter of any kind, unlike BG or PS:T… or a lot of other RPGs from Bioware and Black Isle/Obsidian, if that is a big draw for you.

Still, once you wrap your head around the mechanics, Icewind Dale can be an enjoyable game to play, if maybe a slog at times, due to the constant combat through areas that comprises the bulk of the game. The icy atmosphere of the Dale makes it a great choice to play during the winter season, particularly on a snow day. ;) While the game can be easily purchased for PC, it should also be worth noting that the Enhanced Edition of this game, as well as everything else that Beamdog remastered, has recently been announced to be re-released on all three major consoles sometime this year, for those who prefer consoles.

8/10
 
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I'm a fan of real-life escape room games and I've solved almost all local rooms in Calgary. I just solved "Jurassic Escape" room inspired by Jurassic Park here https://www.escape60.ca . The decorations were bloody scary and realistic, storyline was great too and our team had only an hour to unlock the door and escape from that terrifying room. Awesome game, I give it 10/10. I'm planning to solve all rooms in Escape60. It's gonna be awesome!
 
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