Hitman Episode 3: Marrakesh Review

In the three episodes of Hitman we’ve gotten so far, they’ve all been set in very diverse locations. I don’t mean only setting wise, each of the three episodes gives us very different play styles that fit according to each location. In Paris, it was all about infiltrating a runway show. It had quiet outskirts and a very dense center, this allowed the player to do all of their dirty work on the outskirts and plan their way in. Sapienza was very sparse and had a lot of hidden entrances, this time the player could explore the vast setting of Italy and really plan how they got the job done. In Marrakesh, the area is as dense as it could be and it makes you react quickly and improvise frequently. Marrakesh provides the most unique experience while giving you plenty of options to dispense of your targets, making it the strongest episode of Hitman so far.

When you start your mission in Marrakesh, you immediately realize that this isn’t the traditional in-and-out hit. Both of your targets are in two heavily guarded areas on opposite sides of the map. You quickly realize that you won’t be able to get away with that much when the whole area is filled to the brim with witnesses.

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As you start exploring and plan your infiltration a lot of “opportunities” will arise. Opportunities are Hitman’s way of telling you that there might be a way in if you follow through with what’s going on around you. Opportunities are multistep processes that will eventually lead you to your target. This time around the opportunities let you do some incredibly fun things. One of them you get to pretend to be a masseuse and snap your targets neck while massaging him. While in another one you can pretend to be a cameraman a drop a giant moose on your target. However, my favorite of the opportunities involves shoving a toilet onto your targets head. I won’t ruin all of the fun for you but trust me, it’s pretty damn awesome.

Source: Namelessdreadx37x

 In the other episodes of Hitman you don’t necessarily need to complete the opportunities because of the open nature of them but Marrakesh provides a much more tight and controlled experience, which I ended up liking a lot more than Paris, for example.

The opportunities also make replaying Marrakesh more fun than ever. In previous episodes the opportunities were often left to the side and it wasn’t that fun to see them through. This time around I ended up playing the mission multiple times just so I could see how each of them played out. Each of them have some bizarre and fun twist in them like the ones I mentioned earlier.

Exploring the areas of Marrakesh also end up being more interesting because of the nature of the mission. When going into places you’re never guaranteed to get away with anything. There’s always someone around to ruin your plan making your windows to get stuff done a lot smaller and a hell of a lot more satisfying when it all falls into place. This also makes it so you can’t necessarily brute force your way through the mission like you could in the other two episodes.

Bravely Second Review: Go for the Gravy!

Bravely Default surprised fans and critics alike as this handheld experience was the best example of a quality JRPG in years. It prompted Square Enix to reevaluate their design philosophy and upcoming releases. So how does this Bravely Second stack up? Find out next week!

As this is my first review I’d like to explain how I analyse games. I primarily look at games from three major perspectives: Narrative, Gameplay and Aesthetic. Narrative representing the greater story told as well as the ways the story itself is presented. Gameplay representing the interactive elements the player takes part in.  And Aesthetic representing the visuals, art style, sound design and soundtrack.

Story:

Your four heroes.

The story of Bravely Second follows Yew Geneolgia, heir to an influential religious family and his quest to live up to his family name. On the brink of a peace treaty between the Duchy of Eternia and the Crystal Orthodoxy an anarchist by the name Kaiser Oblivion kidnaps Agnes Oblige, the leader of the Orthodoxy. On his quest to save her, scared and alone Yew meets: Edea, daughter of the Leader of Eternia. Magnolia Arch, Ba’al Buster from the Moon. And Tiz Arrior, farm boy turned legendary hero after the events of the prior game in the series. Together Agnes’ Ba’al Busting Avengers face giant monsters known as Ba’al and the Kaiser Oblivion’s fearsome allies.

An adventure that will take them to the ends of Luxendarc! And Beyond!

Sounds pretty generic right?

The saving grace of this game’s narrative are the characters and how the game really doesn’t take itself all that serious even if when you think about it, some really awful things happen during the course of its 40 to 50 hour run. I wouldn’t say the characters are particularly well written, Magnolia constantly flops between complete badass super-spy, saucy seductress and naive teenager all throughout the story. But, at the end of the day the characters are written so earnestly that you can’t help but crack a smile and some of their antics. Their official group name is “Agnes’ Ba’al Busting Avengers” for Pete’s sake. A name they and many others refer to them as in earnest.

The best example is this silliness is in the line “Coup de Gravy.” Magnolia being from the Moon, speaks French. (Obviously) And when Yew hears this he combines the phrase “Coup de grace” with his love of food, notably gravy, into a term that would be repeated at even the most dire and serious of moments. “Coup de gravy.”

Speaking of food, the characters in this game talk about food alot. Like an insane amount, I’d say one-fourth of the game’s total dialogue is about food. And that has to be the best part of the writing in this game. Nothing humanizes a character better than knowing what they like to eat. Not only do they flesh out characters with these campfire chats they world build as well. The characters will comment about the local food or combining dishes of different regions.

It’s brilliant.

The precedent was set for strange meta story telling in the prequel and Bravely Second does not disappoint in that regard. I won’t go into too much detail, butitssick.

Overall if you can handle some of your standard anime cheese, like “MY FRIENDS ARE MY STRENGTH!” and “YOUR HUMANS AND YOUR LOVE MEANS NOTHING TO ME FUFU!” Then there is absolutely no reason to skip out on this one.

Gameplay:

Bravely Second’s gameplay is easily its strongest aspect with combat so engaging you won’t even mind grinding. Bravely Second is your standard turn based, 4 person party JRPG with a few unique twists, namely the Brave/Default system. First, whenever you take an action you can spend something known as a Brave Point(BP) to do that same or another combination of actions up to 4 times in a single turn. This is known as the “Brave” action. Secondly, instead of your defend or block action you have the “Default” action. This grants your player additional defense for that turn and grants you additional BP. If you start your turn with negative BP that turn is skipped and you gain 1 BP per turn until you are positive. So as the player you must manage knowing when to Brave and when to default. While seeming somewhat straightforward this is a very complex system that will probably take you a good amount of your time with the game to truly wrap your head around. But when you do you will discover that Bravely Second has the most well crafted and engaging combat system in JRPG history.

That’s right! I said it!

To help with the learning process here are a few examples of optimal use of the Brave/Default system:
– During exploration your may want all your units to Brave for the full amount to clear the battle quickly as there will be no consequence to having negative BP.
– Oh shit! Healer’s down and not only do  you need to make sure he/shes’s both back up but you also need him/her to be able to survive the monsters next attack! So, you Brave and throw both a phoenix down and a hi-potion their way.
– You’re party is low and you’ve examined the boss and you see he’s at low health as well! You make your healer cast some spells to stabilize everyone to the point when you feel confident you won’t get wiped! You have your tank protect the healer while this is taking place cause if they go down your screwed! You have your two other units default so your healer doesn’t have to spend additional BP reviving them and so that they can potentially fully brave two turns in a row finishing off the boss. Woo! Get it?!

Next is the Class System. As you journey through Bravely Second you will unlock classes and these are not specific to any character so you’re free to mix and match as you please. As you gain levels within that class you gain new passive and active abilities. You can then equips two class sets of actives and you can equip passives from any class. Seems pretty straightforward but what makes this such an excellent system is the ludicrous amounts of synergy between the classes.

Each time you gain a new class you gain potential for new strategies and synergies!

For example lets look at the wizard class. The wizard’s specialty is known as “Spellcraft.” Spellcraft allows you to manipulate ANY spell in special ways such as: casting it at the start of a turn, casting that spell as an AOE, casting that spell to proc at the end of turns for several turns, and much more. Combine all that together and you get one of the most satisfying progression systems in any RPG.

Here’s what a pretty basic character build might look like.

Magnolia:
Main Class: Knight – Throws themself in front of enemies attacks with large defensive statistics.
Sub Class: Swordmaster – Abilities that increase aggro and retaliates after being hit.

Passives:
Counter:(Swordmaster Passive) Chance to retaliate when hit by a physical attack.
Stand Ground:(Freelancer Passive) Chance to live with 1 HP when dropped below 0.
Counter Amp:(Swordmaster Passive) Increase counter damage.

This build fits neatly into the “Tank” archetype having high defenses, actively defending allies, and benefiting from doing so. And on the off chance you do fall you’re using someone from a third class, Freelancer, to help you as well.

Here’s what the Core Gameplay Loop looks like:
– Plot directing you to a dungeon
– Traverse landscape to arrive at dungeon
– Solve Dungeon’s puzzles whilst handling the new combat encounters within.
– Encounter Boss which unlocks a new class
– Explore potential synergies between new classes and old.
– Reach new town and buy new gear.

Aesthetic:

Bravely Second sports nearly identical visuals and art style to its predecessor. In other words its one of the best looking games on the 3ds. The game combines chibi character models and beautiful backgrounds that resemble water color paintings. This perfectly represents the world of Luxendarc which is both charming and beautiful.

But forget all that ’cause this game’s soundtrack is fuckin’ bonkers.

This is the general boss theme. What? Who? Why is it so intense? Who is this for? Why does this cute ass game where we say shit like Coup De Gravy has such an intense boss theme? I don’t know and I don’t care, because I love this song.
The soundtrack isn’t all heavy guitar as the comment sections say, there does exist some variety. While I do agree with alot of the sentiment that the variety of instruments in the Default’s OST was preferable, all that matter in the end is, “Are these tracks fuckin’ tight?”

And the answer is a resounding yes.

But there is a serious amount of guitar, and depending on who you ask may or may not be the best thing ever.

The only problem with this soundtrack is sadly a lack of variety. While I love that first theme I linked you do end up fighting ALOT of bosses and there is such a thing as “Too much of a good thing.” If that boss theme was for one of the bosses I wouldn’t hesitate to call it one of my top 10 favorite tracks of all time. But the more bosses I fought the more it faded into the background and the more the magic slipped away. And this is true for a few of the themes. Especially since there are some tracks that are from the PREQUEL!

Conclusion:


In conclusion, Bravely Second is a fantastic game and one of the best on 3DS, particularly if you have no experience with its predecessor. But as a huge fan of the first game there are a lot of issues I cannot ignore. This game relies far too heavily on things established in Bravely Default. In Bravely Second you are exploring the same overworld, with a good 80% of the dungeons in the game being reused, and two members of your party are from the prior game in the series. Even a good chunk of the boss fights in the game are ripped straight out of the prequel. But at the end of the day I’m happy that I picked this one up, and I think you will too.

Now for my recommendations.

  • If you were a huge fan of Bravely Default, get this game
  • If you’ve never played Bravely Default and are a fan of RPG’s, get this game.
  • If you’re a fan turn based RPG’s in particular this is definitely worth checking out if only for it’s combat and progression systems.
  • If you were lukewarm or just liked Bravely Default, while this is a better game overall I’d say skip this one.

Fallout 4 Far Harbor Review: Far From Home

*This is a review of the PS4 version of Far Harbor and I cannot speak for the performance issues on PC*

 

Far Harbor is Bethesda’s first meaty expansion for the underwhelming Fallout 4, they had some additions like Automatron and Wasteland Workshop, but this is the expansion that everyone was looking forward to.

Taking place on Bethesda’s representation of the Coast of Maine, Far Harbor starts you right where you left off the last time you played Fallout. Unfortunately for myself, the last time I actually played Fallout before this was back in December so it ended up being a little jarring trying to remember where the hell everything is. Much to my surprise, I forgot I managed to piss off every faction and was immediately being shot at upon loading the save.

After I handled all of that, I started the expansion. You arrive at Valentine’s office and quickly learn that a girl named Kasumi Nakano is missing and you have been hired to go find out where she is. You go look for evidence around the house, and this is when I was immediately reminded that I was still playing Fallout 4.

After finding out she went to a place called Far Harbor, you follow suit and go find out what’s really going on. Upon arrival, you’re greeted by one of the new factions called the Harbormen. The introductions are quick as you’re thrown into a fight with creatures that come from the Fog. The dreaded, dreaded fog.  And with an otherwise very interesting introduction, this is also the first time you realize how much of a problem the fog is going to be. It’s not because the enemies are tough or anything, but because the frame rate drops substantially whenever you’re fighting anything in the fog. Unfortunately for the players, the entire island is covered in this fog and this makes traversal through the island almost unbearable. Which is a shame, because I really like the aesthetic of the island. It presents itself as very eerie and mysterious. Throw in some abandoned ships and sea creatures and I’ll be bound to enjoy the look.

In between meeting these factions, you get an important quest that the Children of Atom have useful information and you need to go get it. Once you get to the computer that has what you need, it sends you to this virtual world and you find out that there’s puzzles separating you from potentially having fun again. On PS4, this area runs like crap and the puzzles aren’t fun whatsoever. It’s basically just horrible filler that made me angrier at the game just for including it. It almost felt like the game was wasting my time. Just take a look for yourself.

Source: HarryNinteyFour

The other two factions you meet along the way are The Children of Atom, who are nuclear energy addicted crazy people with no real relevance to the storyline and Arcadia, who are a group of Synths. Most of the important quests are linked to Arcadia as DiMA, the lead synth is the character you’re dealing with a lot of the time. None of the newly introduced characters are necessarily interesting either, most of them are one track minded and don’t add anything to the story other than “I’m a synth and synths are great” or “I’m not a synth and I hate synths” until much, much later in the expansion.

However, every character in this expansion seems to have two things in common. One being, their hatred of the fog and the other being how much the Children of Atom suck. The game doesn’t do much to sway your opinion from this and it ultimately ends up with the player not necessarily caring about what happens to them. *HEAVY SPOILERS, SKIP A FEW SENTENCES AHEAD IF YOU DON’T WANT TO BE SPOLIED* Which is why I ended up blowing them up to smithereens the second I had the chance to. Right when I was almost finished with the game they give me this decision, so I finished all of my side quests with them and quite literally, blew them to the wind. Now, the really unfortunate thing about this is that there’s no repercussions for this decision whatsoever other than one line of dialogue. When I went back to Far Harbor, it went a little like this. The leader said my decision to do this was unbearable and wasn’t justified. That conversation ended and I started another one with the same character. She then began to praise me for all of the fantastic work I had done for them so far. It was a very polarizing minute and a half.

Since this is probably the last time I’ll be playing Fallout, there was nothing keeping me from doing whatever horrible actions I wanted to do. I feel like now, more than ever the game needed consequences for your actions but I literally eradicated an entire faction for no good reason other than wondering what could happen. *SPOILERS OVER* The finality of this expansion was something I think worked against it substantially. Even if they plan on making more expansions, which they do, they make this whole expansion feel like one last trip back to the wasteland.

Source: Kotaku Australia
Source: Kotaku Australia

The expansion ends on a high note and actually wraps the character arcs up a lot better than I was anticipating. However, they don’t necessarily give you any reason to go back to the island. It ends with you leaving in the boat that you came in with and I think it ends like this for a few reasons. One, so they can load in a whole new island because the game already runs like crap without the added island to it. And the other being because it thematically fits. I ended up finishing all of the side quests before I saw the ending and it felt like that was the way to play this properly. By the end of it I had a good sense of accomplishment in my pocket and the way it ends gave me a sense of relief. Unless you care about settlement building or want to find secrets, there’s no reason to go back after you finish the main & side quests which took me roughly 12ish hours give or take.

Stardew Valley: A Better Harvest Moon Experience than Harvest Moon

The first game I had on the Gameboy Advance was Pokemon Ruby. For many months, it was also the only game I had on the Gameboy Advance. After I had thrown about 300 hours of my life into it I started to think, “Wow. Maybe I should look into getting another game or 2 for this.” Lucky for me, my best friend at the time had been playing this “Cool new game!” called Harvest Moon: More Friends in Mineral Town. Being only 11-years-old at the time, I thought it sounded stupid and I couldn’t seem to wrap my head around how she was having so much fun with it. That is, until I played it myself. It had a very addictive quality to it—there was so much to do and you wanted to do it all. I couldn’t put it down and at the time I never quite pieced together what about it made it so charming. That is, until I played Stardew Valley.

Stardew Valley is a country-life RPG/farming simulator game made by ConcernedApe (Eric Barone) back in February of this year. More than being simply Harvest Moon inspired, Barone has said in multiple interviews that the original idea for Stardew Valley was to be something like his perfect Harvest Moon game.

The inspiration taken from Harvest Moon is clear right from the start of the game, as it shares a similar premise to most in the franchise: You’re growing bored of modern life and you’ve suddenly inherited a farm. Now go be a farmer. The originality this game has it also clear from the beginning of the game, however, as it does something that no other Harvest Moon game does despite many fans wishing it: It allows you to customize your character entirely, which is a very nice touch and only deepens the feeling of this game being so personal.

Image Source: Game Informer

Perhaps the best thing about Stardew Valley is the freedom this game allows you. Although the game encourages you to be a farmer (by, well, giving you a farm) there are plenty of other options available to the player: Mining, fishing, forging, and adventuring, for instance. Right off the bat, this game sets you loose in a world with dozens of new things to try and in any order and for however long you please. This freedom ensures that no two players will play this game exactly in the same way and adds a layer of interest to this game and discussions on it. There’s no linearity in this game whatsoever: You do what you want when you want.  As for gameplay for these different activities, it’s kept very simple and minimal—as it should be in a relaxing game like this.

If the sense of freedom in Stardew Valley isn’t the best part of the game, then the characters are. The idea of Stardew Valley is, “You’ve moved into a farm in a small town. Make a living.” so naturally, making friends comes with that—you can even get married in this game. (And for bonus points, all the marriage candidates—both men and women—are available to you regardless of your gender) All the characters are written to be both incredibly unique and incredibly realistic. The more you talk to them and give them gifts, the friendlier they’ll be toward you (as measured by the hearts in the game’s menu) and their dialogue reflects that. All the characters have different events that can be triggered when they like you enough, as well.

The events are easily the next biggest highlight of this game—every character has very unique events, all which help you learn a lot more about the character. At the same time, all of the events seem pretty realistic, and like something you’d do with a friend in real life. Non-marriage candidates don’t have as many events as the potential marriage candidates, in fact some characters only have one event, leaving much to be desired in their character development. As characters grow to like you their dialogue will change to reflect this much more friendly atmosphere you now share with them, but that still only leaves the player starving for more time with them and to know more about them.

Image Source: Stardew Valley wiki

The only major problem in the character writing in this game comes from after you get married. After you get married, you can no longer get the other marriage candidates any farther than 8 (out of a possible 10) hearts full in the menu. (If it’s not already obvious, 10 meaning that you maxed them out.) Not only this, but if you want to give any of them gifts for any reason, including their birthday, your spouse—regardless of who it is, what day it is, of anything—will get angry.

Most of this games problems lie around the same area. As mentioned before, there’s a lot to do in Stardew Valley and you’re free to do it in any time and order you so please. That said, most of it can be completed within ~50-60 hours. It’s around that time, around the ~30-40 hour mark, that you’ll start feeling bored of the game since you’ve likely discovered all the surprises and events by the time. By this time, you probably know exactly what your favorite townspeople are gonna’ say on certain occasions. You’ve probably done most, if not all, of the achievements you wanted. You’ve probably tried everything this game has to offer by this time, and the game starts to lose its freshness very quickly.

Barone realizes that this is a common complaint with the game, though: Earlier this month, he announced that he’ll be working on patch 1.1 which will give you more dialogue with your spouse, create more events with non-marriage candidates (and even add 2 marriage candidates), add more secrets and surprises to the game, and even add a multiplayer version of which we still know nothing of. Arguably the most notable thing he said he was in the process of doing was getting a console release of Stardew Valley.

In the spirit of (most) Harvest Moon games and Animal Crossing (from which it also takes a lot of inspiration) Stardew Valley should absolutely be on a handheld console—more specifically the 3DS because the layout could be transferred easily (I imagine you can just put the menu and the backpack on the bottom screen). Being such a personal game, playing it on a hi-def TV with a PS4 would feel too grandiose for the modest and charming world of Stardew Valley.

Image Source: Steam Community

With having so much to do and total freedom in when and how you’ll do it, it’s no wonder that Stardew Valley is such an immersive and addictive game. It’s a game that you can play entirely how you want, and beyond being incredibly fun, is also incredibly relaxing. It’s major flaws come in its little late-game content and the occasional bug—usually nothing major, however, there has been multiple cases of people (including me) losing their save data on more than one occasion toward the game’s beginning. As long as you back up your saves though, this isn’t an issue.

As it was intended to be, this game truly feels like an improved Harvest Moon game–so much so that it shouldn’t be called a Harvest Moon game since they have many major things that set it apart. (EX: The lack of linearity and customization options Stardew Valley has) An incredibly solid, well-crafted game, and downright charming game, I’d give Stardew Valley an 8/10: Something I’d absolutely recommend to anyone who needs to relax for a bit or enjoys Harvest Moon/Animal Crossing-esque rpgs.

Street Fighter V: Is It Finished Yet?

Ever since its release, Street Fighter V has been under fire for being an incomplete game, and who can blame anyone for thinking like this? Upon release, people who put that game into their system were greeted with barely anything to do offline. With no arcade mode, no challenge mode, a yet-to-be-added in-game shop for unlockables, and a horrible online experience for the first week of release, anyone who bought Street Fighter V in its February release had essentially purchased a $60 training mode with bad online.

What a lot of people seem to forget, though, was that a lot of the game’s major parts were to be added in March. So, now that the huge March update has happened, is the newest addition to Capcom’s fighting game giant actually worth a buy? Let’s find out.

Gameplay

Fighting games are notorious for alienating the more casual scene due to their high execution requirements, requiring a small frame of time to mix moves together into combos. Capcom noticed this trouble with the casual scene, and has increased the window for combos in this game, making the creation of effective combos much easier to do. Most bread n’ butter (BnB; basic, effective combos) combos in Street Fighter IV only had a window of 2 to 3 frames where you could input the next move before you drop the combo. In Street Fighter V, that number seems to be closer to 4 to 5 frames. On top of this, the casual audience can also rest easy knowing that even if they don’t have combos, they can still get by on the regular moves, because the damage on all attacks in Street Fighter V is huge. A few random attacks can do some serious damage if they land. The best part about these two simple changes is that even though it is more welcoming to the casual player, it also brings the competitive scene for the game closer to its roots. By making execution overall easier, in combination with the high damage from normal and special moves, it shifts the focus of the game away from having a player that has both high execution and a good neutral game, to a player that really only needs a good neutral game.

For those unacquainted with fighting games, the neutral game is the point in a match where neither player is at a clear advantage or disadvantage on screen, and both are trying to get in on each other. This point in the game relies heavily on mindgames and prediction, as opposed to execution. Lots of limb-flailing going on here to keep opponents out or to try to get in on them. Punishing mistakes, applying pressure, everything to do with fighting games outside of execution happens in the neutral game. It’s the core of fighting game fundamentals. This change to almost exclusive focus on the neutral game is a smart choice. By having the gameplay focus more on fighting game fundamentals, it helps to develop the player into someone who is better overall at the game than creating a person with a flowchart of “that one combo they found” or keeping to one singular strategy. It encourages the player to learn, because they know that all they have to know to get by is their opponent, rather than any complicated combo list, while at the same time rewarding the player for knowing those combos.

Mobility in Street Fighter V feels incredible. Everyone has the perfect amount of weight to them and maneuvering around the screen feels incredibly natural. Street Fighter V is by far the best-feeling game in the franchise, even better than fan favorite Street Fighter 3: Third Strike. That said, mobility in a fighting game isn’t really something that can be graded, as how a fighting game feels to the player is almost entirely subjective. So while I feel that Street Fighter V feels the best, this is the part that will vary the most from person to person.

Zangief Spinning Pile Driver Street Fighter V
Image courtesy of GiantBomb user DryvBy

Now moving on to the actual mechanics themselves, Street Fighter V seems to have taken the series back to basics in terms of, well, everything. No more Focus Attacks, no more supers, no more Ultra Meter. In its place, we have Critical Art (CA) Meter, and the V-Gauge. The CA Meter is used for only two things: EX attacks, and a Critical Arts. EX attacks are powered up versions of each characters’ special moves that take one bar of your meter to perform, and Critical Arts are what’s replacing both Supers and Ultras in this game. Critical Arts are powerful moves you can do once you fill up your meter. Performing them takes all the meter you have, but if landed, they can be game-changing. You can charge your CA Meter by doing pretty much anything. Attacking, blocking, getting hurt – anything.

The V-Gauge is also only used for two things: V-Reversals, and V-Triggers. V-Reversals are exactly what they say: reversals. If your opponent is applying pressure, you can spend half of your V-Gauge to push them away from you. V-Triggers are special skills you can perform when your V-Gauge fills up. These skills vary from being something simple like an increase in overall damage for a short period of time, to a special attack that can put you at a serious advantage. Because of the higher utility the V-Gauge offers, it is harder to build up than the CA Meter. You can either build up your V-Gauge by getting hurt or using your V-Skill, a special move that varies from character to character.

That’s it for actual mechanics, though. The minimal mechanics help highlight the neutral game, giving the players just enough tools to deal damage and get in, without it being so full of mechanics you get lost in the sheer amount of options you have. With less overall options, it’s easier to learn your opponents and develop strategies for their specific style of play. It sacrifices complexity for the sake of a more involved mental game, and it works wonderfully.

One last thing I’m going to mention is that the roster is incredibly balanced. Every character has high points and low points that make them each good in their own way, where even the lowest tier characters can still make top 8 in tournaments.

Street Fighter V is by far my favorite Street Fighter game in terms of how it plays and feels.

Looks/Sound

Aesthetically speaking, Street Fighter V looks fairly lacking when compared to other fighting games, such as Mortal Kombat X or Guilty Gear Xrd. Not to say it looks bad, just that it could be better. The quality of the character models is very good, and the environments are bright and full of color. The biggest issue here, though, is that the environments don’t feel like they’re a part of the game like in previous entries. This has to do with the fact that, while the playable characters are animated at a full 60 fps, the backgrounds are only animated at 30 fps. Meaning the images in the back are going to look really off-putting while playing. The stages themselves look good, but when playing through them, I can’t help but feel detached because of this weird, unnecessary difference in frame rate.

Now, onto my biggest complaint about the visuals in this game: the color of the stages. You have all of these beautiful looking stages, with all of these colors that could be used really well to make them even prettier, and this just doesn’t happen because of one huge reason:

HARDLY ANY OF THE STAGES ARE WHITE BALANCED WELL

Fang vs. Ryu Street Fighter V
Image Courtesy of EventHubs’ Jonathan ‘Catalyst’ Grey

Seriously, it may seem like a small thing to some, but god damn is it horribly obvious in this game. The colors in the majority of the stages all have this really ugly blue tint to them from lack of white balancing, as shown above. And when it’s not an ugly blue tint, it’s an ugly orange tint. All of those great colors could have been brought out so much better if they just white balanced the stages.

Now onto the sound, and I’ve gotta’ say, Capcom nailed it with the OST here. You’ve got a bit of everything, from the hype-building Rashid’s theme, Ryu’s orchestral theme, Ken’s awesome hard rock, and F.A.N.G.’s… Dubstep elevator music? Yeah I guess that’s how you’d describe it. But it’s great, I swear! Point is, this OST is awesome, and huge props to Capcom for making one of the best fighting game OSTs of all time.

Story

lol

Content

Ah, here it is. This is where all the backlash is coming from. Does Street Fighter V have enough content to warrant its price? It certainly didn’t at its release. But now that the promised March update has happened, adding in a lot of the content that was lacking in the initial release, is it finally worth a buy?

Well, let’s add it all together, shall we? The amount of content in this game is as follows: Survival Mode, Training Mode, unlockables through the in-game shop, Challenge Mode, ranked and casual online matches, quick stories for each character, access to the Capcom Fighters Network, and yes, the online is now actually stable and working pretty alright now. If you want to count it, we’re also getting a cinematic story mode some time next month.

Survival mode is the closest thing this game has to an arcade mode, and it’s not as good as one. You go through a lot of stages, each increasing in number with difficulty, and try to beat the boss at the end. To stay in the best shape you can, you can exchange points you earn for winning fights for buffs in HP, attack, defense, etc. It would be so much cooler if it weren’t for the horrible AI. It’s pathetic for the first half of survival, and then is absolutely brutal in the second half, so getting through the whole thing, even after a little bit of practice, is still horribly tedious. That said, I still enjoy the occasional survival mode, and don’t really see why people hate it aside from unlocking colors. As a mode on its own, I feel like it’s perfectly fine. The AI may be jank, but going through it once you learn the game is kinda fun. You just have to get over that difficulty spike if you’re playing on anything higher than easy.

The stories take 5 minutes per character, are pathetically easy, horribly written, and have ugly art, though sometimes comically bad. And some stories are kind of entertaining. And by some, I mean just Zangief’s.

Zangief Story Mode Street Fighter V
Doesn’t stop the art from being ass, though.

Challenge mode is the standard fighting game challenge mode, where you’re presented with 10 combos for each character that you have to pull off. You get nothing out of this aside from something to do and some help on your execution, which isn’t a bad thing. Especially since this is the first challenge mode I’ve seen where the combos in it are actually practical. A couple of the combos I came up with for Nash actually were in challenge mode. It was soul-crushing.

The Capcom Fighting Network is irrelevant if you don’t play competitively, but if you do, it’s a place for you to keep track of the top players and watch replays of pretty much any match that happened online. It’s a great way to learn more about the game.

There is plenty of content, but half of it won’t be revisited after the first play through.

Conclusion: Should You Buy Street Fighter V?

Okay, here it is, the big moment. After everything that’s happened with Street Fighter V, is it finally worth a buy after the update? Well, a used copy of Street Fighter V at Gamestop goes for about $45, and that’s the perfect price. I want to use that to prove something: Even after this huge update, with the extra characters, modes, unlockables, and everything, Street Fighter V still does not have enough content to warrant a $60 price tag. Even now that it’s price has been lowered to $50 for a new copy, that’s not going to be worth it until June, maybe. If the story mode isn’t 5 minutes like what we have now. I bought my copy for $60 on release, and I love it. It’s one of my favorite fighting games, and I feel like my money was well spent for the time I’ve put into it. But I can’t honestly recommend getting this game to anyone for anything higher than $45. I wouldn’t buy a game that was online-only for any more than $30, and with the content Street Fighter V has, it just pushes it up to $45 as a good price. It plays wonderfully, looks good, and sounds great. From the perspective of gameplay, Street Fighter V is absolutely fantastic, and if you want to play it, you should buy it for whatever price you want. But if you’re looking for content, this game just won’t deliver for full price. Get it used.

Pony Island: Not Your Typical Puzzler

Pony Island is an interesting little puzzle game. You find what seems like an old arcade machine with an AI that is alive in many respects. You’re greeted with a bubbly, happy splash screen. The AI speaks to you. It’s a setup that’s been seen before, in many games. And yet, this time it feels very different.

Ah, yes. Exactly what you’d expect! (Image from Indiegames.com)

The game starts out as a runner. You’re controlling a pony with the goal of just getting to the end. After a couple levels, though, Pony Island ramps up the satanism by a lot. And by that, I mean you become the herald for someone trapped in the game, trying to break free. Pony Island transitions into this section of the game very well. I think that for a game jam game like this, it pulls off getting into the meat of the game really well.

So, you’ve met this person via a chat interface inside this arcade machine’s computer. You’ve talked for a while. Another AI introduces itself, with seemingly more evil intentions than the first. Its main goal is to keep you in the game, to keep you playing. The first person says it’s due to errors in the game’s code, and that they’ll help you get to the faulty bits for you to fix them.

Coding looks exactly like this, I promise. Complete with ponies.
These puzzle sections are what you’re really getting at via the levels. (Image from Kotaku.)

As far as puzzles go, the coding is easy enough to figure out. There are certain tiles that will progress the cursor to the next line, to the previous line, move it between columns, or make it repeat from a certain point. The running sections are what’s difficult– turns out it’s kind of hard to focus on jumping, shooting a laser from a pony’s inorganically moving head, and dodge projectiles. Yes, sometimes all at once. This was my only frustration. It made it difficult to progress, and running through the same beginning section of one particular level was boring after the first fifteen attempts.

Pony Island doesn’t stand out in terms of gameplay. It’s very standard, and the puzzles have an interesting spin. I’d go so far as to say that while it is a video game, its main purpose was to be a medium to tell the story. As you play the game, you begin to realize that the AI with evil intentions is, spoilers, Literally Satan™. It’s designed the game to capture lost souls who may decide to play it, you included. It’s spent time reinventing the game and trying to draw in bigger crowds, even as you play. It breaks the fourth wall, but not in that awkward way that some other games would. For me, at least, it drew me in and kept me in. I didn’t even question the part where I killed Jesus.

Satanism, ho!
Yeah. It happened. (Image from Encyclopedia Dramatica.)

In summary, Pony Island is a really, really solid game, and probably one of my favorite indie titles to come out this year. While the indie scene was being overshadowed with Undertale stealing the spotlight for many Game of the Year awards, Pony Island managed to hold its own enough to garner some attention for a little while.