Also available on PlayStation 2, PlayStation 4, and Windows
Shin Megami Tensei is one of my absolute favorite series. My buddy Pat talked me into buying Shin Megami Tensei IV on 3DS in college, and that pretty much cemented him as a guy who knows what he's talking about. I hadn't played Nocturne before this HD remaster, but much to my shame, my PS2 copy has been sitting on my shelf for about five or six years just waiting to be played. Sorry, buddy, but your better looking younger brother took your place.
Without spoiling anything, the basic premise of Shin Megami Tensei III is that a cult ended the world by starting "the Conception," and you go turned into the "demi-fiend," a being who isn't totally human but also isn't totally demon. Like Inuyasha but edgier and without a crush on a 15 year old. You have to navigate through post-apocalyptic Tokyo as different demon factions fight for a resource called Magatsuhi to bring about their "Reason," or what they want the new world to be. Do you side with one of these factions? Do you tell everyone to shove it? Do you live solely to cause chaos and bring misery? Depending on some of the actions you take throughout the game, you've pretty much got the freedom to make that choice for yourself.
For being an old sixth generation game, this HD remaster looks fantastic. Well, for the most part. As is the norm with HD remasters, the pre-rendered cutscenes look like hot ass because they're 480i cutscenes in a 4:3 ratio in a game that's otherwise 1080p in a 16:9 ratio. I get it, it's cheaper and easier to just use the original cut scenes rather than remake them in the proper resolution and aspect ratio, but man, it's jarring to see the pretty game and then BAM, everything you tried to forget about the mid 2000s that didn't have the last name Bush, Cheney, or Rumsfeld. There's also some weirdness going on with the background music. In the overworld, in menus, and in in-engine cut scenes, the music sounds fantastic. In battle, though, it sounds bizarrely muffled and tinny. I have no idea why they'd do this if it's intentional or how it got past QA if it's unintentional, but to my admittedly amateurish ears, it sounds like they used the super compressed audio files from the PS2 version for JUST the battle music and used higher quality files with less compression for the rest of the game's music. It's bizarre and jarring in its juxtaposition, but it doesn't detract too much from the experience, and even if it's unpleasantly muffled, the music is awesome regardless.
Now as for the gameplay for those who haven't played a main series SMT game, it's a monster collecting JRPG. Think Pokemon but edgy and you collect demons and angels instead of cute animals. There's also a good bit of dungeon crawling and exploring involved. You can fuse these demons into stronger and different demons. The vast majority of these demons are from real world mythologies, and the use of Judeo-Christian mythology is always especially interesting to me. Some of the bosses you might recognize are Thor, Beezlebub, Baal, and Metatron, and there are loads of other demons from mythologies all over the world. The game certainly isn't an educational game as there's no mythology being taught, but it is a great way to see just how varied mythologies throughout history have been because most of the visual depictions of the demons are at least fairly close to their depiction in myths.
My favorite thing about Shin Megami Tensei unlike its spin-off series, Persona, is how DARK it is. I admittedly have not played any of the pre-6th gen SMT games, but having played 3, 4, and 4 Apocalypse, they're all super dark in tone, and I absolutely love it. Existence sucks, we're all screwed, and happy endings are a lie. It's a glorious break from the usual "hero saves the world" storyline in most JRPGs. It's definitely not the only series that does dark hopelessness well, but I would argue that it's the one that does it well the most consistently. I didn't enjoy 3 quite as much as I did 4 or 4 Apocalypse, but by no means is that a strike against 3; it's an absolutely fantastic game.
Unfortunately, though, there are some performance issues that need to be mentioned. I've already talked about the ugly 4:3 cutscenes and the weird compressed sounding music, but there are some pretty major frame rate drops and stuttering issues in parts of this game at least on Switch; I can't judge it on PS4. It's most when there are fog effects which, admittedly, is where most games on most platforms tend to stumble performance-wise. Still, it's disappointing to see the frame rate stay pretty reliably around 30 fps and then tank to the mid to high teens for a few seconds when you get to a foggy area or one with other more advanced lighting effects. This issue is also visible in some of the in-engine cutscenes; towards the end of the Diet Building dungeon, there's a scene where you can watch the background behind the speaking character just churn along at like ten frames per second. Fortunately, as a turn based game, this never affects gameplay, but it's definitely a bit disorienting and disappointing when you do run into the performance hiccups.
Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne is an absolutely fantastic JRPG and for me personally served as a great appetizer for the upcoming Shin Megami Tensei V that is (theoretically) releasing later this year. The HD remaster definitely isn't perfect, and it's obvious that Atlus cut a few corners on it, but the core experience is fantastic and includes the Maniax content (although Dante from Devil May Cry is paid DLC), and most of the remaster is solid in spite of those few cut corners. It may not be perfect, but it's still an absolute must-play for fans of dark apocalyptic stories or deep content-rich JRPGs. I'm not going to say that there's no reason to play the PS2 original as nostalgia can enhance an older gamer's enjoyment a lot, but the HD remaster is absolutely the way to go if it's your first time playing.
My Rating - 4 Neps
Also available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch, iOS, Android, Linux, and MacOS
Planetscape: Torment was a gift from my friend Aaron after he read my review of Torment: Tides of Numenera. As I said in that review, I'm not a big 90s style CRPG fan, and unlike Tides of Numenera, this one is past old enough to drink in the United States, so I was more than a little hesitant going in. Planetscape is definitely a lot rougher around the edges than Tides of Numenera even with the "enhanced edition" that added some minor upgrades, but as with Tides of Numenera, the game grew on me over time.
Planetscape: Torment is played from a top-down perspective where the player clicks to move characters around the world, attack enemies, talk to NPC, and interact with objects. This is honestly one of my least favorite control schemes, but it works decently. The premise of the game is that your main character, a man who cannot die named The Nameless One, wakes up in an area called The Mortuary with no memory. He awakens near a floating talking skull named Morte who decides to tag along to help him escape. His back is covered in tattoos which Morte reads for him; it tells him to seek out a man named Pharod to ask about his past. As you cannot, die, every time your HP hits zero, you just wake up back in the Mortuary with no real death penalty aside from having to walk back to wherever you were.
As you explore the city of Sigil, you can take on a number of side quests, interact with a variety of different characters and factions, and recruit people to your party. There is a TON of lore and small tidbits of story to be gleaned from these NPC conversations, but truthfully, I found most of the ancillary stuff to be relatively uninteresting. I might have appreciated it more if I'd had any familiarity with the Planetscape D&D campaign setting, but as a Dungeons and Dragons virgin, a lot of it felt like pretty generic sci-fi fantasy dialogue to me. The main story, however, I did find fairly interesting, so I paid much more attention to the dialogue and text relating to that.
With the exception of some parts in the latter half of the game, most everything takes place in and around the city of Sigil. I'd have liked to have some more varied areas to explore, but there are enough sections of the city that the game never feels cramped. The visuals are solidly okay with a few sweet craptastic late 90s CGI cutscenes; the music, on the other hand, was rather impressive as was most of the voice acting. It set the tone and mood of the game nicely, and for a game with a tone as dark as Planetscape, that's important. I may not personally have been as enamored by the game as traditional CRPG fans usually are, but the dark themes of the game and brilliant writing have to be acknowledged regardless of personal tastes. The element of choice also needs to be pointed out and praised especially given the age of the game. There are seemingly countless choices to be made during the game. Some of those choices have major impacts on your game down the line, and some of them change literally nothing; with no way of knowing exactly which choices will have major consequences and which won't, you have to make your choices carefully and keep in mind the way you want to play and the type of character you want The Nameless One to be. That aspect of player choice and agency more than anything kept me interested.
Planetscape: Torment is not my type of game, but I can recognize it as an excellent game despite that. My biggest issues with the game were a handful of random crashes that I experienced and some things that I felt were a bit unnecessarily and overly cryptic. Half of those cryptic things weren't even puzzles I was too dumb to figure out but interactable objects or doorways that I didn't notice because the muted color scheme and dull building designs. Fortunately, though, little criticisms like that are all I can really levy against the game; as far as writing, character design, and thematic presentation go, the game is superb. The CRPG sub-genre just isn't my cup of tea. For those who are into that type of game, I doubt you'll find many better than this one.
My Rating - 4 Nep
Also available on PlayStation 4 and Windows
Did you ever wonder what the result would be of an unholy union between a fishing game, an RPG, and a visual novel? No? Well, here's the answer anyway. Reel Fishing: Road Trip Adventure struck me as a bizarre sounding game when I first saw it on Play-Asia's website totally unaware it had gotten a North American retail release. It seems like it's always on sale on Play-Asia, so I picked it up for like $10 figuring "For that price, how bad could it be?" As it turns out, it really not bad at all! I mean, I'm not sure I'd call it "good" per se, but it's a lot better than I was expecting.
You play as a trio of college students in their university's fishing club trying to decide what to do a report on. They're wandering through a local museum when they see a painting about an "elusive fish" that catches their interest. They end up chatting up a guy who knows the artist and go to meet him and ask him about the fish. That turns into an extended camping and fishing trip for them as they try to clean up the waters around the mountain village where the artist lives in hopes of coaxing the legendary fish to come back and show itself. The story is told in anime-style dialogue boxes like a visual novel, and each of the three characters have a level and gain experience. Sean, the plucky and kind of dumb character, is your main fisherman and gains experience for each fish you catch with his ability upgrades making it easier to catch said fish. Neil, your nerdy geek character, can craft new lures, reels, and rods for you and gains experience from gathering materials as you fish and from crafting new equipment; his abilities expand the array of equipment you can craft and allow you to upgrade that equipment. Alice, the token girl of the group, cooks your dinners and snacks and gains experience from that cooking to let her unlock new dinners and snacks to prepare. Because of course the woman does all the cooking. Way to be woke, Natsume.
The game can feel a little repetitive at times, but I actually found myself enjoying it a LOT more than I was expecting to. Once you get into the swing of things, the fishing is a lot of fun albeit arcade-y and simple (which is perfect for me). My biggest complaints are that the game doesn't look impressive in the slightest. To be honest, it looks like an upscaled Wii game. Textures are just downright ugly, and the only thing that looks like it's even from the early HD era let alone the Switch and PS4 is the water which, admittedly, does look rather nice. My other big complaint is the writing; it's dreadful. Dialogue feels stilted and awkward a lot of the time, and I can't help but wonder if part of that was due to lazy or careless translation. Still, though, while the game may not look very good and have a garbage story with flat characters, the actual fishing is pretty fun, and that's what matters. Just don't expect a lot of depth here; there are only about 20 different fish in the game.
Reel Fishing: Road Trip Adventure is definitely less shovelware than I was expecting it to be. It's definitely not a "must-play" or a central collection piece, but it's a fun little fishing experience if you're into fishing games but don't necessarily want the complexity that more simulator-style games have. It's usually like $15 or less on Play-Asia, so next time you're over there importing games, go ahead and throw it in your cart. The Asia English version seems to be cheaper than the North American version or at least was when I ordered it a few weeks ago. It's no killer app, but it's a fun time.
My Rating - 3 Neps
Also available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Android, iOS, and Windows
Blackjack is one of the iconic gambling card games. It’s super simple; keep drawing cards until you get as close as you think you can to 21. If you get closer than the dealer without going over 21, you win; if the dealer or if you get over 21 (bust), you lose. What if you took that simple but iconic card game and merged it with an iconic fighting game like Street Fighter II? Enter Super Blackjack Battle II Turbo: The Card Fighters, the game that no one asked for and fewer people needed but we got nonetheless.
The character select screen looks pretty much exactly like Street Fighter II. You have a variety of characters from all over the world from whom to choose although it is worth noting that your character selection makes absolutely no impact on gameplay. The game from there is just different blackjack matches against random characters in different themed casinos all over the world. To win, it doesn’t matter how much money you have as long as your opponent hits $0 before you do. Whether you win with $10,000 or $50, the outcome is the same.
The visuals definitely harken back to Street Fighter II on Genesis. Beyond the allusion to that classic fighting game, though, there’s nothing particularly noteworthy or memorable about it. The characters all feel pretty generic and don’t have anything interesting to make them stand out. They’re just bland. Not bad, mind you, but not especially good. It feels like the game was made specifically for the sake of “lol it’s like Street Fighter but it’s blackjack!”
Super Blackjack Battle II Turbo Edition: The Card Fighters is totally competent as a blackjack game, but it’s nothing special. It’s not like how Golf Story was a golf game but went far beyond that; this is a blackjack game, and it stays nothing more than a blackjack game. I got it on sale for $1.99 which is a fair price in my opinion, but it normally goes for $7.99 on the eShop, and it’s definitely not worth that much. $2.99 is about the most I could recommend paying for this one. It’s totally okay, but it’s not going to give you more than half an hour of entertainment unless you’re a SUPER hardcore fan of blackjack.
My Rating - 2 Neps
Before there was BitTrip Runner, there was Pepsiman. Pepsiman is approximately 75% of the reason that I got an Xstation ODE for my PS1. I'm not kidding. I REALLY wanted to play Pepsiman on authentic hardware. Was there something keeping me from just emulating it? No. Did I think this was going to be a legitimately good game? Of course not. Did I make it my mission in life to play it anyway? You bet your Pepsi-chugging ass I did.
Pepsiman may not be a good game per se, but it's definitely not a bad game. Actually, it's probably exactly what BitTrip Runner would be if it had been made during the PS1 era. It's an obviously low budget game, but the developers ended up using that to the game's advantage by playing up the low budget charm. There are four stages each consisting of three parts. The first two scenes in each stage are your usual runner levels where you run straight through a world dodging obstacles that appear by either moving to the side, jumping over them, or sliding under them. You can also do a very brief boost run and smash through some obstacles, but that's not necessary until around the second half of the game. The third part of each stage involves running towards the screen rather than away from it as you try to outrun some giant thing chasing you. If you've played the original Crash Bandicoot, then you know exactly the kind of thing I'm talking about. These were always the hardest for me because running towards the screen means you have very little time to react to oncoming obstacles since you can't see them off in the distance. Fortunately, if you run out of lives and get game over, you go to the main menu where you can save your game and restart from the last scene with a default of three lives.
Between each stage, you're treated to a glorious live action scene of an overweight American drinking Pepsi. That's it. That's the whole scene each time. A fat American sitting in a chair watching Pepsiman on a TV and drinking Pepsi. Sometimes he's eating pizza. Sometimes he's double fisting Pepsi cans. But he's always drinking Pepsi. This is hilarious to me for a few reasons. First and foremost, he looks like me in 20 years. Second, he's speaking English with Japanese subtitles despite the fact that this game has never been released outside of Japan. Third...I mean, dude, he's just sitting there butt chugging Pepsi. It's so random. I must admit, though, despite how charmingly low-budget this game is, it's better than I expected. Each level is pretty different from the others, and it's got a much smoother difficulty curve than most games of the era. The beginning is pretty easy while the end of the game is legitimately tough, but there's not difficulty spike. It's a nice, smooth, transition. In that regard, it impressed me more than some bigger budget games of the era.
Pepsiman isn't a long game, and it's not a terribly impressive game, but it is a fun game. For a branded game that exists solely to advertise a soda, it's way better than it should be. It feels like the 5th gen McKids for being way better than an ad game ought to be. That's not to say that it's amazing or worth going out of or your way to play, but if you're into goofy meme games, this is about as good as gets. It's short, it's tough towards the end, and it can get pretty frustrating, but I still had fun playing it and don't regret the few hours I spent with it. It's a shame that it never got released outside of Japan; it feels like the type of game that would do reasonably well as a cheap digital game if re-released today just for how random and goofy it is. I can't recommend anyone go to any lengths to play this, but if you happen to have a PS1 emulator downloaded on your PC or have an ODE in your PS1, it's worth finding an ISO and playing around with. There a certainly worse ways to spend an afternoon.
My Rating - 3 Neps
Also available on PlayStation 4, Linux, MacOS, and Windows
Torment: Tides of Numenera is a CRPG (for those not into RPG sub-genres, it stands for computer RPG; it's sometimes called "Western RPG" to differentiate from JRPGs), and that's a genre that are really hit-or-miss with me. Modern 3D CRPGs like The Witcher, Fallout, and Mass Effect are games I absolutely adore, but 90s style ones like the original Fallout or Wasteland are a lot harder for me to get into. This is one of the latter 90s style CRPGs, and it definitely took me a while to get into Torment. Once I got a feel for it, though, I really got into the game, and I was glad about that because this one was a gift from Colin, and I'd hate not to enjoy a game that was given to me as a gift.
You start off the game miraculously surviving a plummet to earth from what seems to be either a space station or moon in orbit. You have no memories prior to waking up mid-fall, but you quickly learn that you're a "castoff," a body formerly inhabited by someone called the Changing God, a person who has found ways to transfer his consciousness from one body another. You also quickly learn that you and your fellow castoffs have a particularly strong connection to an unseen force called the Tides and have the ability to affect the world around you in a variety of ways. You quickly meet your first two companions and they agree to help you seek information regarding how to repair the damaged "resonance chamber" next to which you awoke.
From there, you journey from location to location completing quests, interacting with new characters, and the learning more about the Ninth World and the worlds that existed before it. My biggest gripe with the game is my usual complaint about 90s style CRPGs - the combat. I found it cumbersome and uninteresting. The character interactions, however, I found to be extremely enjoyable. Fortunately for me, the game really emphasizes giving you control over how your character approaches situations, so with just one exception, I was able to either quickly escape from or avoid every single fight in my playthrough including the final boss. I could have fought tons of battles throughout my playthrough, but I focused on my character's Persuasion and Intimidations skills and managed to talk my way out of almost everything. That level of player choice - to use the sword or your wit - is one of my favorite things about RPGs, and it really redeemed my enjoyment of this one.
Visually, the game looks fine. It's not going to impress anyone, but it certainly doesn't look bad by any means. The environments are all detailed and well done, and that's the most important thing in these games in my opinion. The star of the show here is the world-building, and that's expertly done in Torment. There are a lot of choices that affect the path your story takes, so there's a ton of replay value, and there are more companions than you can have at one time. Given that these companions affect the conversations you hear and can have an impact on how other characters interact with you, there's definite incentive to do future playthroughs with different party compositions. The best part of the game for me personally was being able to avoid conflict entirely through speech skills. That's a really nice touch and definitely helped my RPG immersion.
Torment: Tides of Numenera is solid fantasy sci-fi CRPG that I ended up enjoying a LOT more than I expected to. It's a genre that I frequently dislike when it's the 90s style like this rather than the 2000s style like Fallout 3 and Skyrim, so I was pretty unsure about it at first, but it definitely grew on me pretty quickly. It only took me about 15 or 20 hours to go through, and it was absolutely worth it. There were a few bugs, but none of them were major or game-breaking; it was mostly just some missing text that left speech bubbles just saying "Error." The world and story are pretty deep, so if you're looking for a light or largely mindless adventure, look elsewhere, but if you want depth, moral dilemma, and deep lore, then this is definitely the game for you.
My Rating - 4 Neps
Also available on 3DS, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Stadia, and Windows
I'm blessed with some really great friends, truly. In addition to my friends over on Racketboy, I've also got some amazing friends in the #SwitchCorps Twitter community, and it's that community that starts this particular review. the 2020-2021 school year was extraordinarily rough for teachers all over the United States as we had to adapt quite abruptly to an all-online teaching format for which we were never prepared and deal with the emotional whiplash of being praised as heroes with one breath and damned as lazy good-for-nothings in the very next breath. It was with all this in mind that one of my SwitchCorps friends, K-MO (after whom I named my Hero in my playthrough) decides to up and order me a copy of Dragon Quest XI out of the blue. Obviously this meant more to me personally than I can put into words because of how BRUTAL the verbal attacks on my profession got after the first of the year, but it also really reinforced the fact that online friends are EVERY BIT as genuine and there when you need them as "real life" friends not to mention that it's because of him that this MASTERPIECE of a JRPG is on my shelf. So this review is definitely dedicated to him.
I've got to be honest that I'm a bit of a Dragon Quest neophyte. I played Builders and Heroes within the past few years, and I've played the original on NES, but that's it. Everyone kept talking about how great XI was, though, so it had been on my to-get list for a while, but I just never pulled the trigger. Within twenty minutes of starting the game, it immediately became apparent to me why everyone raves about this game. The best way I can think to describe it an absolute perfection of the classic model. It's very much a classic JRPG but polished to perfection with all of the quality of life improvements you'd expect of a modern JRPG. Driving home the point that this is, at its core, a classic JRPG is the 2D mode that you can toggle to play the entire game as a pseudo-8-bit sprite based JRPG à la the four classic NES Dragon Quest games (or Dragon Warriors as they were called in the United States back then). Other than being slower paced and having random encounters rather than avoidable overworld encounters, the game itself remains the same. Think the graphic shift in Halo Anniversary but cranked up to eleven...thousand.
The story involves the Hero (you know, that guy from Super Smash Bros) as he comes of age and discovers that the weird birthmark on his hand is actually a mark signifying that he's the reincarnation of the legendary Luminary, a chosen hero fated to defeat the returned Dark One. I absolutely refuse to spoil anything for the eight or nine RPG fans out there who haven't played this game yet, but what starts ordinarily enough turns into one of the best 100 hours you'll ever spend with a single-player game. For those of you who, like I did, are thinking "Okay, but 100 hours is just if you're a completionist, right?" No. No it's not. I only did like a third of the side quests, and my final playtime still clocked in at about 96 hours. You *could* stop at the first credit roll at the end of the informal "Act 2," but that's only two-thirds of the game; the "postgame" isn't so much extra epilogue stuff as much as the actual last third of the main story, and that's straight up another 30 hours, *maybe* 20 hours if you rush.
There are a total of eight playable characters - the swordsman Hero, the rogue Erik, the sorceress Veronica, the healer Serena, the mage Rab, the ultimate Dragon Quest waifu Jade, the gloriously flamboyant showman Sylvando, and the other one. We'll leave it at that. Each of these characters can be developed into a fighting style of your preference to a certain extent. Do you want Jade to use claw gauntlets or spears? Do you want Sylvando to use a whip or a sword? Do you want Serena to use a magic wand or a spear? You can't just throw weapons willy-nilly, but you do get a couple options for each character. It costs some gold to do so, but you do get the option to respec your characters, so if you decide you're not so crazy about that particular weapon type for that character, you can redistribute their spent skill points into skills for the their other weapon option.
It's clear that the development team went for performance and artistic flair over cutting edge graphical fidelity. Other than the normal resolution drop, the visuals differences between PS4 and Switch are so minimal that you practically can't tell without a side-by-side comparison which is both a testament to how well the development team has learned the Switch's hardware as well as how competently ported from 3DS it was that it looks as good as it does given its last-gen handheld roots. Frame rate drops were extremely minimal and uncommon in my experience, and I don't recall a single crash. Autosaves are frequent in case you do realize you've made a major mistake although not so frequent that you should rely solely on autosave. One of my favorite aspects of the game is actually the music. The orchestral soundtrack is absolutely phenomenal, and while you have the option to switching to the standard non-orchestral music, I'm at a loss as to why anyone would ever want to. The orchestral music is some of the best music I've ever heard in a JRPG and is every bit as enjoyable to listen to as the game is to play.
As with most RPGs, what really makes Dragon Quest XI stand out from the crowd is the writing with respect to the characters. Every character is brilliantly written and developed over the course of the story especially if you take the time to do their side tasks and quests. You really get the sense that a lot of love was poured into the script for this game as well as the voice acting as the entire package is virtually flawless from start to finish. My *only* complaint about the game is a completely subjective one - it's too damn long. It's an absolute masterpiece of game, and I adored it, but I had to take a few breaks to play through other games because I just got so burnt out. For a regular non-completionist playthrough to take me nearly 100 hours is excessive. To be sure, no one will ever accuse this game of not being worth your money for skimping on content (looking at you, Ultra Street Fighter II), but good lord, it's a damn behemoth of a game. I personally think 30 to 40 hours is the perfect length for the core story of an RPG, and 60 isn't uncommon, and that's totally cool for a beefier RPG experience, but 80 to 100 hours is just gargantuan. I'd rather they give me too much game than not enough, but damn dude, this is a LOT of game. Still, though, considering that my only complaint essentially boils down to "they gave me too much product for my money," it's not really something I can justifiably hold against it.
Dragon Quest XI is a masterpiece in every sense of the word. The visuals exemplify the idea that you don't need top of the line graphical fidelity to make a game look beautiful, the soundtrack drives home the impact that orchestral music can have on enhancing a gaming experience, the writing is superb, and the voice acting is top notch. This is everything you love about classic JRPGs from the late 80s and early 90s without the things you hate and brought into the 21st Century and modernized for today's gaming expectations. I truly can't find a single legitimate flaw with this game. I'm so grateful to K-MO for being such an amazingly thoughtful friend, and I'm so lucky that his pick-me-up gift was such a stellar game. It may have lasted longer than I would have ideally liked, but I can't think of a single JRPG more deserving of such an obscenely long playtime. No matter how you game - even if it's on that laughing stock of a platform Stadia - make sure you don't sleep on Dragon Quest XI if you haven't played it yet. It's a hell of a time commitment, but I promise that it's more than worth it even if you have to play it in small bites throughout the year.
My Rating - 5 Neps
Also available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Stadia, and Windows
A note first off - I don't care how Capcom stylized it; I reject the number drop from the title and personally insist on calling the game "Resident Evil 8: Village." It used the same color change for the "VIII" that the previous game did for "VII," and that game was officially "Resident Evil 7: biohazard," so I'm putting the 8 in there where it belongs. Anyway, with that said, Resident Evil 8 is a direct sequel to Resident Evil 7 taking place three years after the events in Dulvey, Louisiana. The first person perspective is retained, and Ethan Winters returns as the game's protagonist.
Ethan Winters and he and his wife, Mia, have been put into a sort of witness protection by the BSAA and moved to Eastern Europe (I think Romania) to try to keep them safe from the global bioterrorist group responsible for the Dulvey Incident. Everything seems fine aside from some probably run-of-the-mill marital tension between Ethen and Mia at the beginning of the game until BLAM Chris Redfield bursts in, fills Mia with bullets, and kidnaps Ethan and their six month old daughter, Rosemary. Story things happen, and Ethan eventually finds himself alone in a quaint village filled with monsters. Thus begins his quest to rescue his daughter, avenge his wife, and find out what the hell is going on with Chris Redfield, the BSAA, and this monster-infested hellscape.
As Ethan makes his way through the village, has to contend with five main antagonists, Mother Miranda and her four "children" - Lady Dimitrescu for whom the entire internet is horny (and no, she is NOT a vampire; the game makes that explicitly clear and has only one element that even remotely hints at possible vampirism); the creepy doll-maker, Beneviento; the stage 12 cancer patient, Moreau; and my personal favorite, the engineer Karl Heisenberg. I liked all of the antagonists, but I thought that splitting the attention between five "big" antagonists rather than having one recurring big baddie like Nemesis or Mr. X made each one feel a bit less impactful.
Let me state first off that try as I might, I'm not going to be able to be 100% objective with this review. I'm a huge Resident Evil fan and have been since high school, and there are a few things about this game that just kind of rubbed me the wrong way. The first of those is the overall feel of the game. It's obviously trying to be a next-gen Resident Evil 4. It takes place in a primitive village filled with violent creatures, there's an insane cult, the goal of the game is to rescue a kidnapped girl, and it's noticeably more action-oriented than its predecessor. Oh, and it has a nearly identical style of inventory management system and mysterious shopkeeper. Now none of that is actually bad, but my issue is how on the nose it all is, and I'm fully aware of what a monumental nitpick that is. It's just that after how huge a departure 7 was from the rest of the series, I was a bit disappointed to see 8 basically boil down to "4 in first person with a worse protagonist." It was an instance of the game doing everything right on paper but just not quite sticking the landing for me personally.
The biggest disappointment with the game for me was that I honestly just didn't find it that scary for the most part. The village itself is definitely creepy, and House Beneviento legitimately scared the hell out of me (there was some obvious inspiration from PT), but beyond that, it was kind of meh as far as "horror" goes. I didn't find Castle Dimitrescu particularly scary, Moreau's area wasn't scary at all, and Heisenberg's factory was kind of average-level creepy with a couple of jump scares. I feel like that's where 8 missed the mark with mimicking 4; Resident Evil 4 stayed genuinely scary in my opinion, but 8 leaned just a little too heavy on the action to the detriment of the horror. The last 30 or 45 minutes of the game genuinely felt more like Call of Duty Zombies than Resident Evil. Again, I know I'm nitpicking here, but horror is my favorite genre, so it's hard for me not to.
I've nitpicked and criticized a lot, but there are some things that even I couldn't find fault in. The game looks fantastic, for one thing. I thought RE7 looked great, but playing on PS5, Resident Evil 8 just looks phenomenal. There are a few textures here and there that left some to be desired, of course; the torn sofa cushions in the village look legitimately terrible and like an upscaled PS3 texture. By and large, though, it's really impressive visually, and the sound design is superb. The sound effects are done extremely well - something that can really make or break a horror experience - and having RE7's version of Go Tell Aunt Rhody start playing quietly in the background at various points tied the ambiance together nicely. The voice acting, as well, is top notch. The only fault I had with the voicing is that Rosemary's crying sounded nothing like a real baby would in that situation; just passive whining rather than full on screaming you'd actually get from a baby. Having dealt with an actual baby before, it was unrealistic enough to break my immersion a little bit in the game's opening. That's really my only complaint, though.
Resident Evil 8: Village is a solid follow-up for 7, but it doesn't quite live up to the Resident Evil name the way its predecessor did in my opinion. It went a little too far in the action direction and left a bit to be desired as far as horror goes. It's a fun game, and there are definitely parts that had my heart racing and my palms sweating, but overall, it was about on par with Resident Evil 6 for scaring me. I do consider it a must-play for Resident Evil fans and survival horror fans, but if you're expecting it to be as consistently creepy and keep you as on-edge as Resident Evil 7 did, you're in for a let-down. Capcom has always had some trouble finding that proper balance between horror and action with Resident Evil - I still scoff whenever someone mentions Resident Evil 5 - but I would definitely say this is the least offensive example of a horror game leaning too hard on action.
My Rating - 3 Neps
For 22 years, every millennial Nintendo fan has been waiting for a new Pokemon Snap game. It seemed odd that the Wii never got one. It seemed weird that the Wii U never got one. It seemed downright bizarre that the 3DS never got one. At long last, though, on the Switch, a dream 22 years in the making as been realized. We finally have New Pokemon Snap. Stupid title aside, this game is everything I had hoped and prayed that it would be.
In terms of the basic game mechanics, this is pretty much exactly like the original Pokemon Snap but smoother, modernized, and streamlined. You can zoom your camera, you can take pictures, you can throw apples, you can throw a non-edible projectile, and you can zoom. You can also play a flute of sorts and - after you beat the story part of the game and see the credits - you can enable burst fire to take three, four, or six pictures in rapid succession with a single button press as opposed to just the one picture. It's a still a rail shooter at its core, so you don't get any free movement, but even if you didn't go into this game expecting that to be the case, you get used to it pretty quickly.
The story has you play as a young aspiring photographer who travels to the Lental region to work with Professor Mirror (it bothers me more than you would think that his name isn't a type of tree) to help him work on a ecological survey of the region. He's also assisted by a young girl named Rita, Todd from the original game, and Todd's annoying apprentice, Phil. You go through each of the region's six islands (a total of twelve locations) taking pictures of the Pokemon there and investigating the "illumina" Pokemon, powerful Pokemon which exhibit a strange bioluminescence ability. Each Pokemon you photograph gets entered into your Photodex, and each Pokemon has four types of poses you can photograph denoted by one to four stars. The number of stars have no impact on the photo's score, but the score will determine whether the photo is awarded a bronze, silver, gold, or diamond star. That's my first complaint with the game - it can be difficult if not nearly impossible to tell exactly what the game wants you to photograph the Pokemon doing in order to get each of the four star categories. Most of them I just stumbled upon, but there are a still a lot that are blank in my Photodex because I got frustrated and gave up on figuring out.
There are a total of 214 Pokemon in New Pokemon Snap of which ten are legendary. As far as I'm aware, the legendary Pokemon aren't available until after you beat the story portion of the game and see the credits. Each of the areas you can explore has a research level from 1 to 3 (you can level up from 3 to MAX but it doesn't seem to change anything), and the higher the research level, the more Pokemon will appear. While I still have a couple areas at level 2, you'll need at least most of them at level 3 in order to photograph every Pokemon in the game, and if you're anything like me, you'll want to photograph them all. The models are absolutely gorgeous - especially the illumina Pokemon - and while the character models in Sword and Shield looked fine in my opinion, New Pokemon Snap really harnesses the full extent of the Switch's power to make these Pokemon as good as they can.
While it's pretty limited and only functions as a leaderboard and for picture sharing, New Pokemon Snap does have online connectivity. You can compare you Photodex rating with the other players around the world, the other players of your language, and the other players on your friends list. You can also edit pictures saved to your album with borders, filters, and art and upload those (up to six at a time) to your profile for the world to see. Other players can give your pictures "Sweet" awards; these don't do anything except make you feel nice, but it is cool to see which pictures of yours catch the interest of random folks online. You can also customize your player icon, your badge, and your catchphrase. At a certain point in the game, you can enable the option to have Professor Mirror automatically upload his favorite pictures to two additional slots on the side of your profile although I never did figure out the criteria for what he considers worth uploading. You can see a screenshot of my profile below for reference.
New Pokemon Snap may not be a perfect game, but it's damn close. It's definitely everything I ever dared to hop a second Pokemon Snap game would be. Pokemon spinoffs are rarely big enough to be considered "system sellers" on their own, but honestly, I had enough fun with this one to be willing to say that it deserves the title. It took me right at 26 hours to clear the game to credits (although I did admittedly spend six or seven of those hours obsessive-compulsively scouring the first area until I gave up on completing every optional request the game throws at you) and additional four or five hours to hunt down the legendary Pokemon and the last couple that were missing from my Photodex. It may not be the longest game in the world, but it took me longer to reach the credits than Pokemon Shield did, and it's significantly longer than the original Pokemon Snap. If you're a fan of Pokemon, you absolutely have to at least check this game out. The rail shooter genre isn't everyone's cup of tea, but there's an enormous amount of chill fun to be had here.
My Rating - 4 Neps
I'm a teacher.
And I like to play video games. I like to collect video games. I like to talk about video games, and I like to write about video games. During the day, I teach high school history; during the night, I spend my spare time gaming. Then I write about it.