Solasta: Crown of the Magister (PC)

Time to relieve some of 2020’s backlog. This was one that I didn’t have rated as game of the year material so put it on the backburner whilst I played The Last of Us Part II. With resemblance of normality restored after the Christmas period it’s back to it and with it one that may have slipped under most people’s radars. The game comes to us from Tactical Adventures; an Indie Developer from France. After a successful Kickstarter campaign they bring to us Solasta: Crown of the Magister which is currently on Early Access on Steam.

Solasta is an table top adventure based in the mythical land of Solasta. You create a party of 4 adventures and send them out on various adventures encountering different creatures, beasts and monsters. The game has been licence to use the Dungeon & Dragons 5th Edition rule set which gives it an ere of familiarity to those who have played D&D before.

My experience of the game was very polar, there was lots I enjoyed about it but then a lot that I didn’t like too. Starting with the positive, the combat. The combat is tight and well constructed. It’s turn based in the style of XCOM but with Wizards and fireballs instead of aliens and grenades. It works very well and feels true to the rule-set. Another positive I took away from the game was how well presented the environments were, especially some of the lighting effects and rendering. The light being cast by campfires or torches especially in some of the darker environments feel very realistic. I was running the game on my slightly dated gaming PC (4th Gen i7, duel GTX1080) and it was looking brilliant.

Sadly though we come to the less brilliant parts. The character creation is very limited. I went into the game with a rough idea of the party I wanted. An Half-Orc Barbarian, A Half-Elf Warlock, A Halfling Bard & A Human Rogue. Although I managed to get the Rogue the game does not allow for the Barbarian, Warlock, Bard & Druid classes. The Sorcerer is not currently available but will be available as free DLC when the game is released. As far as races goes, only the common races and half-elves are available (Humans, Elves, Dwarves, Halflings), so no Half-Orcs, Teeflings or Dragonborns. Even the races that you can choose have limited choice. For example, there is only 2 choices for Dwarf beards. I’m going to put this down to the game still being on Early Access but I’m hoping for some more customisation options before it’s release.

Another thing I didn’t enjoy was the dialogue and animation. The dialogue felt cheesy and cliché. With it being a French studio maybe the writers weren’t native English speakers but in any case it ruins the immersion, as does some of the animations. When a characters mouths are moving and they don’t match to what they’re saying you get a sense that things are off and stops you getting absorbed into the game. Again this could be a localisation issue.

Overall there are some nuggets of brilliance in the game but overall the game still lacks in a couple of areas, but given that it’s still in early access there is still time to fix these issues, so watch this space.

If you like what you read and would like to support further pieces then feel free to subscribe to my Patreon or Buy me a Coffee. Your continued support will be most appreciated. Also for regular updates please like and follow me on Facebook & Twitter.

BONUS CONTENT: Looking Back at Final Fantasy X (PC, PS2, PS3, PS4, PSVITA, SWITCH, XBOX ONE)

With the release of the new Final Fantasy XVI trailer I can’t help but think about the series as a whole as well as my favourites of the series. I struggle to pick which is my favourite, that would be like picking a favourite child. I would never be happy carving a hierarchy into stone, solemnly decreeing that this is the definitive order and so shall it be for all time. I would probably make my list out of water as like water my opinions are fluid, constantly shifting from outside influences. Sure some titles will remain in familiar territory. Using the Premier League as a metaphor, FFXIII will always fall around the back of the pack and fight against relegation, FFXV despite soiling it’s underpants in the final third does enough to hover around mid-table with the likes of FFV, FFXII & FFIX, although the latter 2 do make it high enough now and again that they could qualify for the Europa League and the top spot is usually fought over by FFVII, FFVIII & todays subject matter FFX.

Final Fantasy X tells the story of Tidus (whom I always pronounced as Tie-dus, it was years later when I watched a making of documentary that it was pronounced Tee-dus), a young blitzball player from the large city of Zanarkand. His home is attacked by the gargantuan being known as Sin. After the attack, Tidus finds himself lost hundreds of miles from home. A chance encounter with the summoner Yuna and her guardians finds Tidus a way home.

The game really made you invest in and bond with the characters which makes the stories twist and the end that much more heart wrenching. As previously mentioned the world was also full, vibrant and rich, oozing with culture and lore. This is even before I mention blitzball which I spent more time playing than I care to remember. I would have loved blitzball to have been release as a FIFA-like spin off. Graphically too, FFX was a huge step up from the previous console generation and truly showed off the capabilities of the PS2 at the time.

Final Fantasy X may be a game that fights for the top spot but that doesn’t mean that it is without it’s flaws. It was the first Final Fantasy to ditch the world map for a series of smaller locations which made the world feel small and far too linear, not to the extent that XIII did but it was still an unwelcome change to the series. Also the sphere grid levelling system meant that because everyone can learn every skill & ability each character looses their unique feel in battle later in the game, with Overdrives and Yuna’s summon ability the only unique abilities left. This is not to mention some of the cringe worthy dialogue (The laughing scene in particular).

From the outset you can tell that Final Fantasy X is a very different breed from the Final Fantasy games that came before it. The use of voice overs, mo-cap & skeletal animation & 3D backgrounds being the most noticeable. This huge evolutionary leap is due in part to the series’ jump from the Playstation to the Playstation 2. The massive increase in hardware capability gave Square that unrestricted creative freedom to take the series away from the tried and tested Final Fantasy model. Although this does mean a few classic flavours of the series get left out in the cold, this however is the price of progress and whether you like it or not it’s happening. I brought up this same point in my Final Fantasy XIII review all those years ago and although I am for the evolution of the series and it’s modernising to introduce new players to the franchise I still yearn for some of the classic characteristics to come creeping back in, mainly a full explore-able world. We’ve not had one of them since FFIX. Imagine if Final Fantasy XVI comes with a modern fully rendered 3d world to get lost in, full of secret locations and optional cities and towns? If it does I think I will genuinely loose my shit.

BONUS CONTENT: Dungeons and Dragons and My New Perspective on Baldur’s Gate 2.

Despite the disadvantages that a global pandemic has on interacting with new people, I have been getting into Dungeons & Dragons. I have played a few sessions, even playing as Dungeon Master on some occasions and I have revelled in the experience, but what was I to do in the periods between? This is what drove me to revisiting Baldur’s Gate 2.

Baldur’s Gate 2 starts with the hero of the pervious game and a few companions captured by the elven mage Jon Irenicus in order to use his powers as a Bhaalspawn (A child of the God of Murder) for his own evil deeds. The player and his party must escape from Irenicus’s clutches and stop his horrible doings. Although between these two point a vast amount or very little can happen depending on the players actions.

I’ve never played the first Baldur’s Gate, opting to jump straight into the second instalment. I believe I first played Baldur’s Gate 2 in 2008/9 and I must admit I struggled in getting to grasps with the games lore and mechanics since I came in all fresh faced and bushy tailed. Although now coming back to it after a few D&D sessions I have a much clearer picture of the world and it’s workings (I originally didn’t get what the whole d4, d6, etc. thing was, I do now). To be fair I have been playing the Enhanced Edition recently which does have a few extra bits but for the most part it’s the same game.

My time learning how to play D&D has been a revelation in regards to my experience with Baldur’s Gate 2. The extra background knowledge meant I could properly tweak each party member to use specific gear and properly strategies combat so was no longer relying on blind luck and determination to get me through the game, this in term gave me a greater respect and appreciation of the game which is more than deserving of the critical acclaim it got at release all those years ago. The world is massive with so many side quests to do and different people to meet. The story is a true epic and with the Enhanced Editions graphical upgrade it doesn’t feel all that old despite turning 20 this year.

I’d defiantly call it a must play for any D&D or Western RPG fan, although since it has been out for the last 20 years I can imagine all D&D & Western RPG fans have already played it. It certainly makes me more excited about Baldur’s Gate 3 which has been on Early Access on Steam for a while now but at £50 for a game that’s not complete yet, it’s still a bit rich for my blood.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (PC, PS4, SWITCH, XBOX ONE)

This review has been sitting in my drafts waiting for a slow day for the past 3 months. However now that the games are starting to dry up So with that lets get down and dirty with our Witcher (in all aspects of the term).

In The Witcher 3 we return to the story of Geralt of Rivea, a witcher which (for those of you who don’t know) is a monster hunter for hire. After reuniting with his on-again-off-again lover, the sorceress Yeneffer. She tells Geralt that he has been summoned to an audience with the Emperor Emhyr ruler of the Nilfgaardian Empire. The Emperor tasks Geralt with finding his daughter Siri who is being pursued by the Wild Hunt. Given that Siri is also Geralt’s adopted daughter after having been awarded her when he evoking the Law of Surprise after saving Emperor Emhyr’s life in the past, he accepts. Geralt then travels the land picking up Siri’s trail and confronting the Wild Hunt on the way.

As previously mentioned in my Metacritic post all those moons ago, I didn’t have a lot of past experience with The Witcher series before playing the game, a couple of hours with the original game and binging the Netflix series. So I knew enough to get me through the first module but no where close to achieving my Bachelors in Witcher Studies. This was fine however, the game seems to understand that it was going to bring in new players to the series so the game includes a handy glossary detailing important people, places and events for the unknowing, forgetful or slightly confused. It broke up the flow of the game a little, like having to stop and read the ingredients list of each item I put in my trolley when I do my monthly shop, but the upside was I didn’t feel as if the game was shunning me for not being one of the cool kids. This is also true with the first area of the game being one long tutorial detailing every mechanic of the game and giving a feel to how the rest of the game was going to unfold.

All this contributes to one of the strongest aspects of The Witcher which is it’s ability to create an interesting and engaging gaming experience. The world is teeming with background and lore, which makes you want to explore each of the small villages between Novigrad and Babylon in order to learn more about the world, as well as finding more quests and things to do/kill. Truly immersing you into the Ronin-esque lifestyle of a witcher. Strolling into town, bartering your loot, tracking down the local monster that’s been terrorising the locals, kill it, mount it’s head on your horse, get paid then mosey on out of town without nary a wave or tip of the hat. Along with the addictive card game of Gwent and the treasure hunts; The world is packed full of things to do and see. Plus if you ever get tired of dicking about there is always the main story which is encapsulating and very well written, everything about it from the characters you meet to the monsters that you slay feels like it belongs in the world, nothing feels out of place.

That being said, just like every time I go out for ice cream, it is possible to have too much choice. The combat is a good example of this. There are so many bells and whistles that just serve as extra baggage. There’s a whole assortment of potions to brew with various effects as well as a multitude of spells and sword techniques to master. However, I managed to get through most of the game using mostly quick attack, dodge and the fire spell. If I needed healing I’d had enough food I’d bought from my travels between inns to open a small chain of restaurants. It must have got to the point that by the time I got to the end of the game I must have eaten enough roast chickens to label them an endangered species. Although I did start to use the weapon oils around the end of the game, mind you it was only because it wasn’t until I’d upgraded them to max level that they really had any major effect. Whist I’m ranting a bit, what are Geralt’s swords made of? I know one is supposed to be steel and the other is silver but given how quickly they break they might as well be made of polystyrene wrapped in wet newspaper. To finish off my list of gripes I have about the game, there were one or two technical issues I had with the game bugging out now and again, mind you they were no where near in number or severity of that of Fallout 3 (which is my go to example of buggy games) but there were enough to get my dander up.

Besides my small tirade of niggles the game really is one of the pinnacle open-world action adventure RPG’s, which is quite the praise especially given how dense I mentioned the genre is in my Horizon Zero Dawn review. It delivers the goods exactly where it needs to and does it with such gusto it’s not hard to see why people are calling it “The greatest game of all time”. I disagree with the statement but I’d defiantly place it much closer to the top of the list than the bottom. Overall I don’t think I could have bettered the levels of enjoyment I got from The Witcher 3 for the £13 I spent on it, except maybe with the exception of some Nitrous Oxide and the Black Books box-set.

Hades (PC, SWITCH)

I almost yearn for a day where games stop being about ancient Greece and the mythos surrounding it. Sure I understand that it’s culture and it’s stories were very well documented and preserved, making it a very easily accessible idea barrel for writers of all kinds. However, when the same games are set around the same fables doing the same thing it makes the whole pot a bit stale. Hades on the other hand, does things a little different.

In Hades you play as (as you would expect) Zagreus (got yah!) the son of Hades who has grown tired of lazing on his father’s infernal sofa eating Doritos and playing GTA and instead wants to go outside to play with all the other deity atop of Mount Olympus. Hades (the god, not the place) is very nonchalant about Zagreus decision to leave, probably because he believes Zagreus will give up trying to cut through the legions of the damned that guard the way. This is because Hades is all in favour of serving life lessons, he could just tell Zagreus no and send him to his room with no dinner after Zagreus tells him that he hates him and that he’s an asshole but nobody would learn anything, Zagreus would just hate his dad and still hold a desire to leave. However if he lets Zagreus try to leave only to find how difficult it is to do and have him return home with his tail between his legs, then that desire would be gone. Anyway, enough of deity parental strategies and lets get back to the game.

First things first, I love the art style and visuals of the game, it makes it feel like an animated heavy metal music video which scores many bonus points in my book. I also very much enjoy the looping gameplay mechanics the game offers. It seems to play with the idea that everything in the underworld is already dead, therefore cannot die. So each time you do “die” you get revived back in daddy’s lovely country villa with all your level ups intact and all the previously defeated enemies re-spawning. That’s great because it means that with each death the difficulty curve flattens a bit making the difficulty feel a bit more adaptive meaning you’ll never find yourself getting stuck at the same place for too long. The not so great thing about it is the slogging through of early areas to get back to where you were previously. What does make it interesting is you can randomly encounter other deities along the way who will lend you special powers to help you through your journey, These powers however do disappear when you die. The rouguelike-ness-ness-less-ness of the game means the maps regenerate every time you die too which in turn randomises the enemies and the other deities you meet. This keeps the game feeling slightly fresh as each play though is unique to the one before, even if only slightly. The gameplay is by far some of the best I’ve experienced this year. The controls felt very fluid and I could easily get Zagreus to do what I wanted him to do when I wanted him to do it. I could start firing a volley of arrow at my target and in an instant dodge any incoming attacks. This fluidity of controls becomes very important as the number of enemies increases.

If I have any gripes about this game it would be that the mechanics and rewards can be a bit overwhelming when first starting the game, it’s attempts to educate the player fall a bit wide of the mark but once you start playing the game and experimenting around with different types of weapons and level ups then they become a little less daunting and the variety that it creates adds to the games charm and fun. Later on in the game as you come across more enemies in each room the visual effects can obscure the view of the player somewhat and yes I am scraping the bottom of the niggle barrel to find something less than good to say about the game.

Overall Hades very much has a “Just one more” factor on it’s side which will keep players engaged for longer and longer the more powerful you become and the further you travel. It is most defiantly a game I will most defiantly continue playing after I finish my review. It also great for both those all day sessions and those moments where you only have a few minutes to spare whilst you’re waiting for your lockdown banana bread to bake.

Vigil: The Longest Night (PC, SWITCH)

Before we begin I’d like to thank the guys over at Another Indie for sent me a copy of the game to do this review for them. It’s the first game I’ve been sent to review, which makes me feel more like a professional than a hobbyist, so to me it’s quite a big deal. In return for their generosity I’m promising myself not to fuck this up. So, here goes.

Vigil tells the story of Leila, a more than capable Vigilant warrior. Who upon arriving back in her home village of Maye after years away discovers her sister to be missing and as such sets off to find her. Whilst there Leila discovers that all is not right at home. Shadowy figures appear and terrible happenings occur to which Leila must get to the bottom of in hopes that it will reunite her with her sister.

One thing I would recommend is if you are playing it on PC like I did, use a controller. The game feels like it wasn’t designed to be played using a keyboard, I felt like I was all fingers and thumbs a lot of the time, especially when trying to access my equipment or levelling up. After a while I managed to get to grips with it but I did have to change the dodge button because I found my game would minimize when continually mashing it with Windows asking me if I wanted to turn on ‘Sticky Keys’ which got quite frustrating, especially during boss fights.

There are 2 major niggles I have about the game that I found hard to overcome. The first of them is the map, I look at the map and the term, “Cluster Fuck” comes to mind. Speaking of cluster fucks this brings me to my second niggle, the story telling. I felt like a lot of the story was lost beneath a bombardment of text boxes. I get where the team were going with this, flesh out the world with lots of decryption in a Dark Souls-ish way but I don’t know if it’s a problem with me or not but I don’t think Dark Souls games tell a good story and Vigil suffers in the same way. Both games do a great job at crafting and defining the world in which the games are set but I did spend most of the game wondering around the map wondering why I was doing any of it.

Now lets get into what the game does well, first of I really enjoyed the art style, it resembles Briad if it were made by Tim Burton, both beautiful and grotesque in equal measures. I thought the animation of Leila was quite fluid but the enemies in comparison seemed a little clunky at times which impacted my ability to get immersed into the experience. I compared the game to Dark Souls earlier and in a true Dark Souls-esque manor, I died and I did so a lot. When quick loading it never took very long to get back into the game which is a positive but especially with the first boss I found the nearest save point was quite a ways from the boss fight itself meaning I had to needlessly repeat the same section over and over again. Having save points closer to the boss fights would be a huge improvement in my belief.

Overall if felt like I experienced a game of two extremes. The visuals and the attention to detail on the graphic art are brilliant but then on the other hand the story was so confusing and poorly told it might as well have not existed. It’s all shirt, no pants; Just like Winnie the Pooh. However; Despite all the negative points I’ve made the game is engaging and made me want to play on. It’s nowhere near a perfect game but it’s still an experience worth having if you enjoy a darker gaming experience. Well done to the teams at Glass Heart Games and Another Indie for a job well done and I wait eagerly for your future endeavours.

Horizon Zero Dawn (PC, PS4)

Last week I mentioned in my IMDB “Must Play” post that Horizon Zero Dawn is a must play on PS4. Upon reflection I thought that this would be a good opportunity to evaluate on this statement. Also taking into account that the game was released not too long ago on PC, It does make the review a bit more relevant, so without further or do lets get on with it.

Horizon Zero Dawn tells the story of Aloy. A young female hunter who’s tribe is attacked by a cult wielding corrupted machines called Eclipse due to her resemblance to an old world scientist. It is then that she is told of the strange circumstances of how she came to the tribe. Aloy then sets off to discover her past, what part she plays in the fate of the world and the truth behind Eclipse and what they are planning. Throughout her journey Aloy must face the perils of the environment, savages as well as that of the robotic wildlife roaming the wilderness.

The game set less in a post-apocalypse world and more of a post-post-apocalypse. The world is bright, luscious and vibrant, with wildlife galore. Although to be fair not all of it is made up of flesh and bone, but we’ll get to that later. The scenery is varied (maybe even too varied) as in easy access by foot we have rolling green fields; towering, snow capped mountain ranges; vast, rocky deserts; dense, thick woodlands and overgrown, old world ruins. With how visually stunning the environments are I can’t help but think the game is just showing off wanting to show off it’s range of landscapes.

Like most AAA games these days, Horizon Zero Dawn is an open-world action adventure with RPG elements. This means you know what to expect, optional side-quests, collectables, crafting, un-lockables, combat choices so on and so forth. Although as far as combat choices go, you have 2. Either put your stats in ranged and stealth or die a lot. Although to be fair I thought this would have been a given in any game involving fighting large robots. Anyone that thinks it’s a good idea to charge at a towering robo-saurus is either a psychopath, completely fearless, a moron or d) all of the above.

Speaking of our heavy-metal adversaries. They feel very much like the selling point of the game. The meat between the bread and butter in our open-world action adventure with RPG elements sandwich, sadly though it’s not quite enough to make us a hearty lunch. As much fun as it is to separating a Thunderjaw from it’s beloved disc launcher then proceed to give it a taste of it’s own medicine it’s hardly enough to hold the game up. The story as intriguing as it is, is just bland. The same way as finding a hobnob in your pack of rich teas is intriguing but it’s hardly going to get you a New York Times best seller.

The main problem that Horizon Zero Dawn faces is that although it is a good game, it’s not a great game. What the game does well has been done better by other games before it. It just can’t compete with games like The Witcher 3, Mass Effect or Zelda: Breath of the Wild which stand head and solders above other games of a genre so dense it’s close to critical mass. The game is at it’s best when it’s not trying to be another face in the crowd. When you pull off a perfect slide dodge followed by an instant kill shot or scraping together the last of your resources to finally take down that Stormbird that’s been holding up your progress. Those moments are unique to this game are when it comes alive and reveals it’s true colours. So I guess the moral you can take away from this is that it’s best to be yourself rather than a knock-off of someone else.

Final Fantasy VII Remake (PS4)

Now for anyone who knows me on a personal level you’ll have some idea of how excited I was for this when it was teased all those years ago back in E3 2005. Despite all the “will they, won’t they’s” for the following 10 years after that before finally being announced that it was happening in 2015 to it’s release a few months ago. We finally come to the moment. Final Fantasy VII: The Remake.

Just before you proceed, thought you ought to know There will Be Spoilers.

As I mentioned all those years ago when I originally did a look back review on the original Final Fantasy VII. The game holds special meaning to me, as it was one of the games that I have replayed and re-bought on several occasions, I can’t recall the number of summer holidays where boredom would set in and I’d fish the game out for another run. So to play through the same experience with a current-gen overhaul could only enhance the experience, it would but that’s not quite what’s happened.

As far as I see it there are 3 types of remakes:

  • Remaster: Where it’s the same as the previous game but with graphical upgrades (e.g. Command & Conquer Remastered)
  • Re-imagining: Where the game significantly overhauls the game-play or story but follows common motifs(e.g. Resident Evil 3)
  • True Remake: Where the game is rebuild using more modern means to resemble the original, possibly with a few minor tweaks or improvements (e.g. Crash Bandicoot N.Sane Trilogy)

Using this as our guide I would put FF7R into the Re-imagining category. I understand that this decision was done as a true-remake would alienate new players to the game, but it does mean that to fans of the original game, more of it feels new than nostalgic. For example the bombing run at the beginning gave me chills of nostalgia but later on before the second operation I felt annoyed and disheartened. In this section you have to infiltrate a Shinra warehouse with the help of Wedge, Biggs & Jesse. This section was so disjointed and felt out of place with the rest of the game. Although learning about Jesse’s past and her motivation to join AVALANCHE was refreshing. However Roche annoyed me to no end. He felt like that guy that always tries so hard to be cool in order to be liked that they come off as obnoxious and arrogant, dancing around with all the subtly of a fireworks factory exploding on what might as well have been a motorbike made of flubber given how many time it defied the laws of gravity. The section ends with another terrorist cell appearing and taking Wedge, releasing Wedge, Biggs pulling down Wedges pants and staring at his ass (yes this does happen) and then the group parachuting back into the slums within the space of 10mins.

The combat system is a change that doesn’t offend me. You get to do physical attacks in real time but in order to use magic, abilities and the like you need to fill your ATB gauge before you can use them. This system felt a lot more organic but I must admit that the friendly AI could do with some improvement. A lot of the time they don’t act with any kind of sense of urgency, It might just be me misjudging the situation but I would have thought the fact that they were in a life or death situation would bring about some sort of sense of self-preservation. Apparently not.

The game ends when the gang prepares to leave Midgar and set off into the world. For anyone who hasn’t played the original this point is about a third of the way through the first disk. Given that the original game is 3 disks we are probably about 10% through the game as we know it. The game feels like it’s far too excessively padded for it’s own good, if some of this was thinned down I recon the game could have got us to the boat out of Junion without feeling rushed. Then again I suppose in doing this Square-Enix have created an audience for the next 7-8 instalments of the game that will be coming our way if the amount of faffing about remains the same. I thought the whole point of episodic games were so that shorter games could be released at lower prices and more frequently, Square-Enix has so far missed all 3 of these targets and has missed them hard. So as it stands if the next instalments are just as padded as this one we can see the whole development time being about the length of the Bronze Age, the game would take an average person their entire life to complete and would cost somewhere comparable to the debt of sub-Saharan Africa.

On a final note, I can see glimpses of the game that I loved so dearly though it’s obscured by excessive padding and needless content that adds nothing/very little to the story or depth of the game. It doesn’t improve anything, it doesn’t add anything and that infuriates me. In fact the part that received the most of my ire had to be the dance-off between Cloud and Andrea at The Honey Bee Inn. I mean WHAT THE FUCKING FUCK JUST HAPPENED!? The section was so out of place and so infuriatingly needless I had to quit the game afterwards and fold some washing to take my mind off it. I didn’t play the game for the rest of the day after that. If I’ve learnt anything from playing games as long as I have it’s that if a game does something to make you not want to play it, then it’s doing something wrong. I would love to have been in the committee meeting where that idea was brought to the table so I could shut it down with as much flying furniture as I could muster before it got traction. I’m not against mini-games, like the squats. They make sense, Cloud would have trained hard in the military so would be physically fit enough to do a series of squats without problem, but where outside the realms of Greace and Foot Loose would Cloud learn how to dance so professionally? What will he surprise us with next? My money is on a fishing mini-game being inserted somewhere before the end of the story. Why not? It’s only gotta be copy and pasted from Final Fantasy XV.

Stardew Valley (MOBILE, PC, PS4, PSVITA, SWITCH, XBOX ONE)

I’ve been trying for the past week to come up with a topic to talk about, I’ve started a couple but never managed to get written down enough to be happy with. I have just started playing the remake of Final Fantasy VII but I’d like at least a couple of weeks under my belt before I let the world know what I think of it, therefore we head as close to casual gaming as I am happy to go. I speak of the wonderful pixelated paradise that is Stardew Valley.

Now anyone that’s played a classic Harvest Moon game will know how this goes. You’ve left your hectic, stressful life in the city behind and inherited a farm from a dead relative (usually Grandfather) in a small, remote country setting and it’s up to you to fix it up in order to find the good life. Growing crops, raising livestock, making cheese, keeping bees, getting married, having kids etc. Essentially things you’d rather be doing then questioning where you went wrong in life (I know I do). It mimics Harvest Moon down to it’s underpants then adds it’s own modern elements such combat as well as mining and crafting elements.

The game itself seemed to press all the right buttons in my frontal cortex to keep me engaged for more hours than I care to remember. You could spend the rest of your life and then some imagining, designing and maintaining your own little slice of paradise. If you are one of those 100% completion nutters you best get a shortcut to the wiki on your favourite browser as you’ll soon find the scope of the game to be vast. Between becoming best friends with the whole valley, completing all the collections, exploring all the caves and extra areas the game will keep you entertained for years and given how cheap the game can be bought for it’s defiantly value for money.

I played the game originally on the PC a few years back and more recently on mobile and I do find the mobile version easier to put down, not that there’s anything wrong with it, it’s just literally easier to put down and walk away from. I can sit there for a few minutes on my phone whilst on the toilet, play though a day or two before my legs get numb and I have to get on with the rest of my day. The PC version on the other hand gave me a case of the “Just-One-More’s” where I would decide to play for an hour or so before breakfast only to walk away when the sun has gone down and it’s time to go back to bed.

Now for a final thought. There are very few things that get under my skin when it comes to Stardew Valley, I think my biggest niggle with it is that it’s too easy to make money and the whole thing becomes more of a vanity project rather than a challenge. Maybe if I had to keep some of my crops and produce aside so that the player didn’t starve then the game might have provided more of a challenge. I know that each in game action costs stamina but you can replenish said stamina at the days end or by taking a dip in the spa so the whole thing become less of a hindrance and more of a minor annoyance. It seems that world hunger was solved by stopping people from needing to eat but then again if that was true why is there still a market for my goat’s cheese?

Persona 5 (PS3, PS4)

Now this really is an out of date one. Given that the game was released 1) Jointly for the PS3 and PS4 2) Over 3 years ago worldwide 3) Even longer that that in Japan & 4) We’ve seen a re-vamped version released in Persona 5 Royal since then. However, it’s what I’ve been putting my time into recently so you all get to hear about it. I take you now to the Metaverse, It’s cold, it’s dark, it’s lorded over by people with their own agenda. Who can save us but a group of High School students and their cat aka The Phantom Thieves.

I for one do enjoy JRPG’s (at least the ones that make it this far west), although I must confess I haven’t really played many outside of the larger franchises (basically anything made by Square-Enix). I had heard of the Persona series before this but never actually played one until now. I saw it on sale on the Playstation Store, took a leap and I am glad that I did. Despite how much of a slog the game felt at times I was truly driven by the story and the asthetics.

The game centres around the mute, unnamed, leader of the gang refereed to as ‘Joker’. After being put on probation for a crime he didn’t commit, he’s shipped off to Tokyo to live with a family friend, he enrols in Shujin Academy and whilst there he discovers the Metaverse, the ability to user Persona’s (a manifestation of a persons personality, granting them power in the Metaverse) and the people who use the Metaverse for their own selfish gain. It’s up to Joker and his Scooby Gang to right the wrongs of these evil doers and bring them to justice.

The game is very much split into 2 parts and as the game progresses you jump between the two. In the real world the game is a life-sim, where you go to school, hang out with friends, go shopping etc. It is here where you’ll be spending most of your time, gathering information on bad guys in order to gain entrance into their Palaces (their own little corners of the Metaverse). The sections in the Metaverse are where the action happens and where you fight the bad guys. Like any JRPG worth it’s weight in salt it’s purely turn-based combat. The combat itself is fairly balanced, each character has their set elemental strengths and weaknesses and with a good mixture of elemental enemies in each palace without excessive grinding it’s never a complete “walk in the park”. However Joker’s ability to switch Personas means that if you have a good mixture of different elements and enough items to keep replenishing his SP then battles can become quite one sided.

I really enjoyed the art and aesthetics of the game, despite being released for the last console generation the anime art style prevents it from feeling old, in fact there were a few times I forgot this. Warning, don’t mistake the cute anime style to mean that it’s a kids game. The casual swearing, hyper-sexuality of some of the characters and the literal penis monsters will tell you it’s not (yes you read correctly, there are literal penis monsters). The soundtrack too has a kind of cult classic vibe to it, I find it hard to put into a category but if forced I’d say “Soul” but I’m not happy doing so. It’s very memorable and almost makes everyday life seems cool.

Now for my final thought. My main gripe with the game has to be the length of it. Now don’t get me wrong, I like length in a game as much as the next person so long as the gaps are not padded out with papier mache. I must have easily put 100+ hrs into the game before I beat the final boss but I recon that with a good editor that could easily have been halved. Also whilst I’m at it, the number of times I’ve been going through a story phase only for it to abruptly stop at days end so I can tuck Joker into beddie bies really annoyed me, needlessly breaking the flow of the game. Then again I supposed if did that it would technically be classed as a visual novel rather than a game. Still despite that I put in the hours needed to reach the end because I was genuinely interested and wanted to keep going until the end.