I rarely played video games before 2017, but with this new graphics card integrated laptop- I tried my hand on some not-so-graphics-intensive stuff (hoping that my laptop didn’t catch fire) and ended playing four times as many games I play in a year on average. Just note that the games I played in 2017 doesn’t necessarily mean that they came out in 2017.

Hollow Knight (I haven’t completed this one yet)

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This is a metroidvania-like game, and of course, this is my first game I played from this genre. Took me 8 hours to get to and beat the Hornet (I’m pretty bad), and I haven’t gotten back to it for 2 weeks now. The background art is great and I really love the color gradients; the score enriches the atmosphere and the controls are simple (just my type of a game). The only complaint have for the game is that the hit boxes are hard to estimate because the bosses have soft, rounded outlines, but that’s probably because I haven’t played this type of game before.

I don’t really care about stories in a game, save for a few exceptions where the story is compelling enough to warrant my attention; and Hollow Knight doesn’t waste many dialogue lines and time on plot exposition and such. Then again, lore videos are a different beast, and I often go out of my way to watch them if I really like the game.

Doki Doki Literature Club (Definitely made my heart go doki doki at some points…)

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I never played a visual novel to completion before, and when I saw the promo art cover I wasn’t really interested- the character designs look so rigid and generic, and that’s everything I need for getting initial impressions for VNs (I know, I have a really thorough method of picking video games). But playing this turned out to be a truly unique gaming experience, where at points the game genuinely freaked me out.

Uh, warning- I will be spoiling this game from now on, so if you want to play the game in the near future, don’t read the subsequent paragraphs, I don’t want to ruin your potential gaming experience… before the game ruins you! Just messing around. Seriously though, I highly recommend playing this one, it’s a very unique game and it’s free.

I heard that things go left in some point in the game, and before I sunk myself in the sea of spoilers- I downloaded the game. The first 90 minutes or so were boring and repetitive, except when Yuri came on screen and I could feel growing attached to her- after all, nothing gets my socks off more than an edgy, pretentious goth girl (lol). Sayori’s death was surprising, but I didn’t care about her as a character- she was just annoying. The game then started glitching out, and instead of using redundant cheap jump scares- the game mixes it up and uses various visual and audio distortions… and still indulges in some occasional jump scares. The revelation of Monika being the auteur was predictable but the game, or rather she, did managed to make me shift in my seat uncomfortably with the littlest of things- like manipulating my cursor, bringing up my real name out of nowhere and editing save files. It was great.

This game is dense with background information I was too scared shitless to pay attention to. But I have a habit of going to Youtube to watch people talk about the games I played- and sure enough, there’s a vast sea of ‘lore’ and easter eggs in this VN, and whether it’s intended or apocryphal- it’s interesting nonetheless. The only notable gripe I have about this game is that it doesn’t really delve into dealing with depression, self-mutilation or whatever Natsuki was going through (I only care about Yuri)- they seemed more like detachable character traits rather than problems that the characters deal with. Then again, Monika is the one muddying the water- making my complaint not as concrete. Basically, this game is great, it’s got all its potential covered thanks to Monika. She is the game, people, she beat you.

Wait, let me share a couple of dem crazy Doki Doki memes before I go go go: here’s one about Sayori and here’s one about Yuri. Fair warning- they are pretty insensitive.

NieR: Automata (YOU THINK GAMES ARE SILLY LITTLE THINGS?)

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I started playing this back in March and got back to it two weeks ago. My initial impressions on finishing Route A wasn’t overwhelmingly positive- I was left with a lot of questions and, unfortunately, I got bored of the combat mechanics. 9S’s perspective on the story really brought this game to a more positive light. With the overpowered, yet fairly engaging bullet-hell style hacking mechanism integrated with Nines’ fighting mechanics, I found the combat enjoyable again. Not only that, the questions left unanswered, especially about the machines, got explored through aptly placed flashbacks. I thought that the repeated story would bore me- but it instead added to the experience and made me invested in the story. It was really interesting seeing a perspective of an android with expressive human traits as 9S does.

I care about narrative in games? Pfft. No wa- then came route C and D. Something happened concerning the central characters and it subverted my expectations on its plot progression. The pods that I thought were just weapons with an AI interface transformed into caring, central characters. The consequent endings are touching in their own ways. I initially went for ending C, because I wanted to know more the lately introduced A2. I later went to chapter select and did ending D, which extends to ending E. Ending E is beautiful, a bullet hell battle with the credits and with ‘Weight of the World‘ as the backing track made me get a lump in my throat; the game truly transformed into an unexpectedly fulfilling experience at that point.

NieR Automata is a weird game looking back at it- it is filled with moments where the game shape shifts from simple platforming to bullet hell shooter to a hack-n-slash action game. The world setting is desolate and yet so busy with side quests and various other RPG elements. That reminds me, even after 22 hours I put into the game- I have yet to check out a lot of side quests (I have only done like 2), and I heard that some of them are worth trying out. So I probably will get back to this game in the nier future. (that was just disgusting how I italicized that, but I’m gonna roll with it). The soundtrack features a nice mix of oriental and western orchestral music.

I loved the characters: 2Bae is just one of the best looking female video game characters ever (her android ass is an eye magnet) and her transformation into a human being was just heart-tugging, 9S was an annoying sidekick at first but he turned out to be a really well written character, A2’s berserk mode is what I want to go in when writing long blog posts, although I really didn’t get her character arc, Pascal and his village is really interesting and adds a lot to the thematic narrative of the game- existentialism.

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I think NieR Automata ends up conveying a positive message about nihilistic existentialism- you give your life meaning, and do what you want because nothing really matters. That’s beautiful, and so is this game, and so are you.

What Remains of Edith Finch (Minimalistic yet ambitious mechanics)

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This one is like an interactive novel (or film?) following Edith Finch as she visits her family mansion, the sole surviving member of a large family, to try to uncover what curse caused her family members to die one by one over the short span of years. I initially thought it would be a horror story, but it ended up being more of a collection of poetic character studies. Basically, this whole game is a flashback that branches out to more flashbacks- a flashback-ception.

The game is laden with vivid, colorful imagery despite the house being abandoned. The house layout is really meticulously designed, making the experience of exploring it fantastical yet realistic. Each character sequence is different in its narrative style and medium- they have imaginative designs and engaging scripts. My favorite character sequences were Lewis’, Molly’s, Walter’s and, of course, Edie’s.

Lewis’ sequence is the last and the longest character flashback in the game where he lives in a fantasy game to escape from his monotonous, depressing reality of chopping salmon all the time- even though, the visual tone was rather uplifting, but when he reaches his end goal in his fantasy world- it ends up being a metaphoric representation of his suicide. That whole sequence is craftily directed and the game goes meta for a while there.

Molly’s flashback is the first character flashback, and hers is one of the most adventurous- where she turned from one animal to another in her dreams- because she was only six years old when she died- so she wasn’t familiar to idea of being poisoned and dying.

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Walter’s flashback was one of the early ones where he was portrayed as a traumatized shut-in, because he was present in the house when his sister died. He is a clear example of a family member who was clearly deluded by the idea of a curse running in the family; and he fought against it, by trying to escape out of the Finch dwelling- only to get run over a train. It was heart-wrenching.

It was pretty obvious by that the curse was an apocryphal idea perpetuated by Edie and that some of the deaths were really because of bad luck, and this affected the psychology of some of the family members and they normalized death. It can also be inferred that Edie purposefully worsened circumstances for some family members to keep that delusional idea of a curse alive. She was senile.

So, even if the character flashbacks are, at first, their own beasts of disparate narratives- because they actually bleed into each other’s narratives in interesting ways. And because of that, I don’t think the characters are just a mixed bag of perspectives, rather they are written pretty thoughtfully and interconnected to make playing this game a short yet fulfilling experience for me. The game could have easily been a cheap horror or a Final Destination-style game, with overwhelmingly emotional content and dimmed lighting. Instead, the game presents the player with a newly furnished house and character narratives with its emotional expression adequately nuanced so that it becomes the player’s job to draw the intended tone from playing the game.

Cuphead (I still can’t stop playing it)

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Cuphead’s art style is eye-catching and favorably color-schemed. The rubber hose animation, reminiscent of animation in the 1930s, made me worry about hit box placements because the characters didn’t exactly stay still, but I was proven wrong- because the controls are really accurate and sensitive, and the bosses took up a large portion of the screen- making their hit boxes large enough to not worry about aiming. Cuphead is a fairly simple game consisting of a diverse style of Boss Battles and Run ‘n Gun levels.

Did you know? It’s just like Dark Sou- I mean, a dumb meme. Cuphead is difficult on a mechanical level- the game demands constant attention, quick reflexes and pattern learning. So I had to die at least 10 times to learn the attack patterns of a difficult boss, and it was up to my skill from then on (which I obviously lacked- it took me around 20 hours to finish the game on my first playthrough). Failure is part of the game, but if one is persistent enough- anyone can get over the hurdle. But the good thing is that, even though the game is difficult, a boss battle typically lasts from 1.5 minutes to 3- so the game doesn’t punish the player. I just simply had to hit retry to get back on the grind.

Cuphead’s soundtrack is a fun bag of musical treats- ranging from smooth jazz to energetic brass sections. I love brass in music, and because of that strange musical obsession “Floral Fury” became the best track from a game I have heard this year… and who can ever forget Cagney Carnation’s jazz hands.

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Speaking of which, the boss designs are really imaginative, from fighting a psychic carrot with a third eye to shooting drunk wine glasses- the boss designs fit the cartoon aesthetic of the game perfectly. Each boss battle is different with altered mechanics but in the end, you have to shoot them enough to win. Here’s a couple of bosses I really liked-  Phantom Express, because its where the parry mechanic becomes unavoidable and the attack variation is revved up to a max in this one. Hilda Berg comes to a close second, I love her soundtrack, and her transformations are really well animated and it blows up to epic proportions when she transforms into a moon.

Sure, the game was buggy at certain points when I first played it, but it has been greatly improved with the release of a new patch last month. It’s not a perfect game, neither does it have a riveting narrative- it’s just addictive.

And even though this game is so addictive in a masochistic way, it gives me that surge of dopamine when I beat a boss; and that made me to start practicing it for deathless runs, just to feel better about myself- I can’t believe I just typed that without any self-reflection. Anyway, the replay-ability value of this game is great, and I have played over this game so much that I can just casually play a boss to de-stress myself. It’s really awesome how this game has transformed from being an annoyingly hard game to a chill, musically stimulating pastime. And that’s why Cuphead’s my favorite game that came out in 2017.

Dark Souls (An unforgettably grueling yet rewarding experience)

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When I first picked up Dark Souls, my initial impressions were- uh, the controls are bit clunky but the world seems interesting. Little did I know that I would embark on a month long journey to the depths of hell.

That doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy playing the game, the world of Lordran engulfed into their undead world, the absence of any BGM and the interconnected worlds. The level design in the first half of the game is so well planned out that I navigating through them doesn’t need loading screens- it’s great.

Character controls feel clunky and heavy, which creates a latency between character movement and input- but this heaviness in its controls differentiate Dark Souls from regular hack and slash games. The absence of combos make the combat more strategical and less about button mashing. I like my games to have simple controls, and that’s one of the reasons I haven’t played many fighting games.

Dark Souls is hard, punishingly hard. The only save points are bon fires, meaning if you die in a boss fight you have run past spawn enemies to the boss again. Estus flasks, which are healing items, only refill when you rest at the bonfire. Weapons get worn out. Basically, it’s a game that keeps you on your toes and never tells you to quit. This is a rather contradictory message to infer from the game given its  dreadful, dead environment the player’s character is in. Dark Souls is a game barren of characters; save for Solaire (best bro in a game ever), most of the characters are ambivalent in their behavior towards the player’s character. It’s a cold world out there in the game, and you have to persevere.

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The bosses in the game are usually gigantic with sinister details, except for Gwyn- who was basically the better version of my character (even though I was levelled up to 89, which took me hours of grinding). The boss fights are the only segments of the game where BGM is present- and they are rather theatrical pieces of music, my favorites are Gwyn’s theme (a simple yet touching piano solo) and O&S’ theme (the most memorable one for me, because boy oh boy I was stuck on them for a long time (5 days); I was just levelling up my character and putting those souls into strength and endurance; and soon enough, I got enough damage to  beat them fairly quickly. This is what I like about this game- sure, its pretty skill intensive but anyone can grind their way through if they put in the time needed. It took me 72 hours to beat the game.

Dark Souls is a very silent game, not only in terms of the BGM, the script is minimal and most of the information about the world can be read through the item descriptions. This vagueness in its story made way for people to create lore, and personally I really like listening to them, Vaati Vidya’s poetic voice was soothing to listen to as I learned more about Lordran and the bosses.

Despite the game being a grueling experience- the silence while I trudged through the darkness of Blighttown and Tomb of the Giants filled me with dread and Gwyn’s quick attacks leaving me with despair that I will never get to the end- I still managed to get to the end. I was surprised that instead of breathing a sigh of relief, I was pumping my fists in the air- a game made me feel accomplished for the first time (as trivial as it sounds). And what an immersive experience it was. Alright, that’s enough redundancy for this paragraph.

I believe Dark Souls is an allegory of the depressing side of life, and how one must persevere through it until the clouds clear- and even if they clear just by a little bit, it should be acknowledged and celebrated. Because you always have to move on.

You only go hollow when you quit.

Either that makes sense or I am just a deluded fanboy. But I think it could be a bit of both.

That’s all. This has been the first time I have tried my hand on writing about video games, hope it has been at least readable. The next post will most likely be about my favorite anime openings and endings of 2017. Till then.