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Hey everyone, thought I'd try a new idea out for 2017 - hopefully it'll stick around as a new feature. Monday Musings is a feature where every Monday, I'll shoot the breeze about what I've been playing and what my thoughts are on various news and events in the game industry. It's a bit more informal than a lot of the stuff that goes up here, so hopefully it'll be different and at least entertaining to read. That said, let's kick things off with our first topic... The Star Wars cast voiced original lines in a LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens? So I've been playing quite a bit of LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens recently (which is pretty darn good btw), and noticed, well, a disturbance in the force, you could say. That is to say - apparently, somehow, some way, TT Games managed to get the main cast in The Force Awakens movie to voice some extra lines for the game. I haven't played LEGO Jurassic World yet, so I'm not sure if that it also did this, but man, this is wildly unheard of for a Lego game. Why? It might be one thing for up-and-comers like Daisy Ridley and John Boyega to do this, but it's entirely surprising for someone like Harrison Ford (y'know, only one of the biggest stars of the last half century?) to do it. "Why would the cast record lines for a lowly video game when it would normally be beneath a lot of other actors (both in prestige and pay)?" TT Games generally has been using the movie voice track for their movie adaptations of games ever since LEGO Lord of the Rings, and they do in this one as well, but my first cue that extra lines were recorded by the main cast when I started hearing Han Solo say things like... "Darn, the door is locked. If only we could access the panel to get into it," or "Hey, maybe we should press this button over there." Which is SUPER jarring when you realize Harrison Ford is actually voicing these generic hints. To TT Games' credit, they did give Ford some actual witty Han Solo-isms to say, which you'll hear interspersed throughout some of the other banter when you're playing, which was a nice touch. So how did this all happen? Why would the cast record lines for a lowly video game when it would normally be beneath a lot of other actors (both in prestige and pay)? My guess is that when they signed on to star in The Force Awakens film, there was a clause in their contract that obligated them to also do voices for a tie-in game -- in this case, LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens. ...Or maybe they really did just do it just for the money. Who knows. -------------------------------- Backlog is good, backlog is life Now that 2016 is finally over and the bulk of GP's Game of the Year event is over (we still need to put up our overall top 10 for the site), I'm actually excited to dive back in and start playing some of my backlog games again. Around last November, I had a weird hankering to finish up Lego Marvel Superheroes (so much talk about Lego games, I know), which I previously left off in the Spring of 2015. Needless to say, I beat it and was enthralled with it enough to want to 100% it, but I had to put aside once I realized I should be focusing on finishing games for that year for GOTY consideration. I still have Katamari Damacy to get back to as well which was pretty fun (and challenging), so hopefully that'll mark the beginning of me making a big dent in my digital PS2 game collection on PS3. But going back and playing these games really reminded me that it's good to intersperse backlog titles with newer ones because they kind of help give you some focus and make you realize that it's not all about keeping up with the Joneses and what they're playing. No doubt there's definitely something to playing a new game when everyone else is playing it (see: Splatoon, FFXV, Overwatch), but playing backlog games helps me realize that it's good to go at your own pace as well. Otherwise, sometimes I kind of get lost in the shuffle of just playing recently released games and -- even though I'm having fun a lot of the time while doing it -- I realize that I'm sort of forcing myself to play through stuff that I may not really want to play at that time just to justify the expense or to experience what everyone else is talking about, even if it doesn't click with me in the same way. It also shows me that I don't need to have every single game right when it releases. Given this, I'll try now more than ever to only buy the games I'm most excited about at release, and also try not to buy too many altogether at once as well. On the upside, however, I did notice that I ended up beating many of the games I bought in the latter half of 2016, especially those that I was playing in anticipation of writing up my game of the year list. This is in stark contrast to 2015 when I bought a bunch of games that I still haven't played or beaten to this day -- stuff like Tembo the Badass Elephant, Ori and the Blind Forest, Axiom Verge, Undertale (still need to beat), and others. Hoping to continue that upward swing this year! Really digging Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright right now So, to put things in context beforehand: I actually had a really hard time putting together my game of the year list this year, so much so that I actually wrote up most of it the night before it was published. It wasn't that I had a hard time thinking of games that I wanted on the list -- no, it was actually the opposite. There were too many games that I wanted to play and experience before I wrote up my list, and I just didn't know when to cut things off. I had actually only just played Abzu two days before, and Firewatch only the night before it went live. Yeah... Needless to say, I didn't truly get to let the whole experience of Firewatch set in on me after the credits rolled, and I found myself going with my gut reaction to keep Fire Emblem Awakening since I spent way more time with it. The next day, I found myself thinking about Firewatch all day long and wondering if I made the right choice. But after spending the weekend and yesterday really digging into Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright, it reconfirmed my faith in that game is well-placed. What really makes the experience for me is a rich blend of deep strategy combined with the relationships that build between different characters via support conversations (a mechanic where characters can build a relationship based on the amount of time they spend next to each other in battle). Eventually, male and female characters that reach a high enough level with each other will marry, producing a child that -- through really lazy writing -- has been raised to adolescence via an alternate realm (where time passes much faster) and will join you in your quest (after beating their paralogue chapter). If the reasoning behind that sounded dumb, it absolutely is, but the gameplay ramifications behind it are amazing because it essentially allows you to breed new units with the unique special abilities that parents have, similar in a sense to Pokemon breeding (sounds weird when I put it that way). Anyhow, I've been spending much of my time pairing up the characters to get their child characters, but also leveling up lower level characters on skirmish maps and doing the main story chapters in between as well. Some of the later chapters are challenging in a really refreshing way; like, you'll have to deeply think about where you're positioning your units before they strike whereas earlier maps you might have been mostly bulldozing through it without as much thought. You also have to make more use of pairing units together (and thus making use of stat bonuses), not only to take down tougher foes, but also to defend from them as well. Those two aspects of the game are what really makes it for me, and the main story is just the sprinkling on the top, really. I've heard complaints about the plot from others, and -- maybe it's just that I haven't gotten to the end where something happens but I think it's fine so far (I think I'm on Chapter 23?). In the meantime, if this is your first Fire Emblem experience, I'd probably recommend Awakening first, but you really can't go wrong with any version of Fire Emblem Fates. "You either die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself become the villain." I recently finished the Batman Telltale Series (yes, that was another game I didn't actually finish before I had to put up my GOTY list), and holy cow, that's a good game. They do some really unique things with the story, especially with Bruce Wayne's side of the story that keep things on the edge from beginning to end. Being Batman is great, but I'm thoroughly convinced that for a Batman story to be truly good, you need almost equal amounts of Bruce and Batman to really flesh things out. I'll save my full thoughts for a review, but I will say that you should definitely play, especially if you've been holding off of recent Telltale games. Hopefully Season 2 is a foregone conclusion at this point; we'll see! That wraps up this edition of Monday Musings! I don't know if they'll always be this long, but definitely let me know what you think below; I appreciate any and all feedback and will try to tailor future ones accordingly. Thanks for reading!
2016 was a busy year for me, what with moving to a new country and all. Unfortunately that meant that I didn“t get to play everything I wanted to this year, but despite that I still had quite a tough time narrowing this list down to only ten games. There are definitely a few games that I really enjoyed that didn“t make the cut. I won“t give shoutouts to all of them, but at the very least I have to mention Kentucky Route Zero Act IV, which after much deliberation I decided not to put on the list because it“s only a part of a game and can“t stand alone without the other acts. But all and all this was a pretty good year in video games, at least for me, so let“s dive in! 10. Hyper Light Drifter Hyper Light Drifter is a game I“ve been looking forward to since I first ran into it at PAX last year. The game“s art direction is what drew me in immediately, but after playing the demo I was even more excited to see the finished product. When the game finally came out earlier this year, I was excited to find that it had been worth the wait. While I definitely found it to be pretty darn challenging and sometimes frustrating, I overall had a great time with Hyper Light Drifter. The gameplay, although often difficult and tense, was a lot of fun and felt rewarding, featuring some very satisfying and fluid combat which was nicely complimented by great puzzles. That said, the game was certainly an exercise is resilience, and did sometimes feel quite punishing, but never so much that it pushed me away completely. But where Hyper Light Drifter really shines is in its worldbuilding. With the aid of its stellar visual design and soundtrack, the game manages to create a consistent mood that“s mysterious and often sad. It masterfully crafts a world world that succeeds in being beautiful as well as interesting, which drove me to play and explore as much as I could. All these elements helped make Hyper Light Drifter a memorable experience. 9. Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse As someone who first came to the Shin Megami Tensei series through Persona, I often find myself wishing that some other games in the series were a bit more accessible with stronger and more prominent plot and characters. While obviously not a Persona game, Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse was kind of a happy medium, at least for me personally. Apocalypse brings back the world, locations, and gameplay of Shin Megami Tensei IV with a new, stronger, and more consistent plot that intersects in interesting ways with that of the original. Additionally, various gameplay and UI improvements address a lot of my frustrations with Shin Megami Tensei IV. The most welcome addition for me, however, was a cast of much more compelling and engaging characters, all of whom are unique and full of personality. All and all, it really felt like it managed to be a new experience that took advantage of its foundations while improving and building on them. It succeeded in not feeling like a rehash, despite revisiting many of the same locations as Shin Megami Tensei IV. And it does all of it with an awesome post-apocalyptic cyberpunk aesthetic and the Shin Megami Tensei art direction that I“ve come to know and love. 8. Dragon Quest Builders This is one game I never would have expected to end up on my list but holy heck did I have a lot of fun with it. I was barely even paying attention to this game until I happened to play the demo at PAX to kill some time. Dragon Quest Builders is kind of a perfect storm of several gameplay elements that I tend to have a lot of fun with. I dabbled with Minecraft a few times back in the day before it became an overwhelming cultural phenomenon, but I was never able to stick with it for more than a few days. Although I very much enjoyed the gathering and building, I struggled to give myself something to do. Ultimately, I just found the sandbox to be too big and directionless for me to really enjoy. Dragon Quest Builders does an excellent job of solving this problem by giving the game a plot (I use this term very loosely here) with quests and objectives. When I wasn“t feeling particularly creative or inspired, I had a stream of guests to give me direction. And when the mood struck, I had the opportunity to set aside the quests for a while and create a new building or improve my town here and there. Additionally, the separate chapters provide enough variety to keep things interesting. And the game has that cute whimsical Dragon Quest feeling which just makes it feel that much more fun and inviting. It ended up being my favorite game this year for all the times I just needed to wind down and relax. 7. Owlboy My list this year seems full of games with notably long development cycles, and Owlboy is no exception. It may be kind of unfairly baised, but Owlboy“s origins definitely color my feelings toward the game. It just warms my heart when developers get to see a personal project that they“re passionate about realized, even if it takes years. Owlboy is first and foremost a really fun platform-adventure game. The mechanics are solid, the levels are well designed, and the fights feel rewarding. Owlboy also builds on its well established genre template by adding fun mechanics of its own, like flight and the ability to carry Otus“ companions to utilize their various skills. It also definitely succeeds in invoking that nostalgia for some of my favorite Nintendo titles of the past. While my taste in videogames has certainly broadened over the years, I got my start with The Legend of Zelda series, and it still feels great to master the mechanics of a well-crafted boss fight and finally get it right after several tries. While great gameplay is at the core of what makes Owlboy great, it“s certainly not the only place that it shines. The art direction and character design are both lovely. The characters are endearing in appearance and personality, and to top it all off the game has a big heart. 6. Overwatch It almost feels silly to write about Overwatch or put it on a GOTY list considering the game“s hilarious popularity, but it definitely deserves a spot on mine. Overwatch is just so darn good and so much fun, and I“m not usually one for competitive multiplayer, especially in first person shooters. As I“ve come to expect from Blizzard, the game takes many of the best aspects of the genre and perfects and builds on them. It“s a class-based shooter with so much variety that it“s easy to find something that works for you. And although I had my favorites, I happily switched between a broad list of characters between matches, unlike other class based games where I tend to perfect my role as only one or two characters and avoid deviation. Overwatch also takes some deliberate steps to take the pressure off by focusing on player accomplishments at the end of matches rather than offering a ranked KDR. It makes the game accessible not just by offering lots of ways to play, but also by giving players lots of avenues to get the hang of things in a low stress way where they could focus on improvement rather than performing well enough to avoid being singled out. It was exciting to see a lot of my friends who don“t usually go for this genre try out and get into Overwatch. On top of all of that, the amazing and diverse cast of well designed characters, the colorful aesthetic, and (notably minimal) interesting lore and character relationships just makes the game a lot of fun. Although we don“t know a ton specifically about the heroes, the shorts, comics, and quips passed between characters gives us a window into who they are. And all in all the game is just a lot of fun. 5. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Spirit of Justice The Ace Attorney games are some of of my all time favorites and their characters have a special place in my heart, so I“m always excited about a new entry in the series. While I enjoyed some of the spinoffs like Apollo Justice and Ace Attorney Investigations, I was so pleased with Dual Destinies because it felt kind of like a return to the first three games, which are far and away my favorites. It was nice to see Spirit of Justice continue in this vein while bringing some fresh ideas to the series with the cases in Khura“in and the new Divination Seances. While these cases still stick to the same structure we“ve come to expect, they change up the formula in a way that I thought was interesting and fun and require you to think about things a little differently than previous games. The game of course features the usual series staple of likable characters with horribly punny names and great character designs. Additionally, moving some of the cases to Khura“in also lets the game tackle some new and interesting issues. This leads to some excellent writing which even manages to push the boundaries of the series in a few ways, with one chapter in particular completely overturning my expectations of what was possible in an Ace Attorney case. All and all, Spirit of Justice brought something new while still maintaining the staples of the series that I love so much, making it a welcome entry. 4. Stardew Valley I have a lot of love for the Harvest Moon/Story of Seasons series (shoutout to Natsume for making this extremely confusing), so I was pretty darn excited about Stardew Valley. And for me, Stardew Valley is the perfect realization of everything good about Harvest Moon. Pretty much all aspects of the gameplay feel very well done, and make my day to day life as a farmer/adventurer/best friend to everyone in the town so satisfying. It“s addicting to the point of being dangerous, because you can lose hours to the game by falling into the â€œI“ll just play one more dayâ€ mentality. On top of that, it definitely adds a nice level of complexity to the writing and character development that I“ve never really felt was there in Harvest Moon games. The heart events feel more meaningful, and the characters have distinct personalities and backgrounds. It means that choosing a spouse goes beyond â€œdo I want to marry the mermaid or the archeologistâ€ (FYI I wanted to marry both in Harvest Moon DS). And on top of that, the game receives regular content updates based on player feedback, so it just keeps getting better. The other thing that really endears me to Stardew Valley is that it came about as the creator“s passion project which (as far as my understanding goes) he tackled almost completely on his own by learning to create his own art and music. The game is so lovingly crafted, and it“s clear that it could only be born out of a deep love and understanding of the Harvest Moon series. 3. The Last Guardian As an obnoxious Team Ico fan who“s always trying to force Shadow of the Colossus on everyone I meet, I was really looking forward to The Last Guardian. I definitely had tempered my expectations considering how long the game spent bouncing around in development hell, but in the end I really was not disappointed. The game is certainly not perfect, and as many have pointed out, it has its frustrating moments. I am absolutely guilty of having to turn it off and step away from it because Trico was just not cooperating. But I also find Trico to be one of the game“s greatest triumphs. He really does feel like a separate entity with his own personality and agenda, even when his agenda is doing everything but carrying me up to some dang ledge. The game excels at creating a bond between the player and Trico through shared experiences and hardships, and their symbiotic cooperative relationship feels like something unique I haven“t experienced before. I definitely applaud the developers who perfected Trico“s behavior. The game is also reminiscent of Team Ico“s previous games, Shadow of the Colossus and Ico, in more ways that one. It“s definitely a contemplative game, with the moments of calm far outweighing the moments of tension. The level design is both well executed and interesting, and the art direction is beautiful. The game excels at teaching you about its world and characters through small thoughtful details in things like the way characters move and interact with the environment. And as we“ve come to expect, the game has a strong emotional core and a story that many players will find quite moving. Of course, it also has some of the studio“s less stellar staples like awkward movement and controls, but the positives far outweigh the negatives. 2. Final Fantasy XV If you follow me on Twitter, you know that I was kind of taken by surprise by how endearing I found Final Fantasy XV. As a fairly invested fan of the series, I never would have requested an entry centered around trendy rich boys taking a roadtrip across a fantasy version of middle America, but here we are. Something that“s always endeared me to the Final Fantasy series is its willingness to try things out and do whatever the heck it wants, and Final Fantasy XV is certainly no exception. To start out with the bad, the main plot of the game definitely leaves something to be desired. It“s not incredibly interesting, it doesn“t flow very well, and I often found myself confused and wondering if I had missed some bit of context that would help me understand what was going on. I think some of this can be attributed to trying to fit it into the game“s open world structure, but the plot and its delivery feel like a bit of a mess even after taking that into account. My other complaint is that while the combat is definitely fun and satisfying on top of looking real cool, it“s lacking in strategic depth. However, this doesn“t stop the game from having some really awesome fun boss fights. The thing that really endears me to Final Fantasy XV is its characters and their journey together. Even though the main plot didn“t really do it for me, all the little character moments and interactions really did. I loved the little incidental conversations between the characters, camping at night and picking out meals for Ignis to cook, and going through all of Prompto“s pictures at the end of the day. Driving or walking around the beautiful world feels peaceful and reflective, and I think going through the day to day of this journey with the four characters let me get to know them in a different way than I“m used to. You get the sense that you“re really on a journey with four friends who care a lot about each other, and in that way the game shines. Plus the game has a heavy dose of the kind of dorky weirdness I“ve come to love in Final Fantasy games. So ultimately while imperfect and rough around the edges, Final Fantasy XV was just a lovely experience and certainly a lot of fun. 1. Firewatch Every year or so there“s a game which I am gifting to my friends out of the kindness of my heart so that they feel obligated to play it and talk to me about it. This year, that game was Firewatch. There were a lot of things that made Firewatch for me. First of all, it“s gorgeous. The art direction is incredible, and I appreciated all the time the game gave me just to wander through its beautiful recreation of the Shoshone national forest. Growing up in the Pacific Northwest I spent a lot of time outdoors, and, even though it“s set in Wyoming, the â€œhikingâ€ in this game felt so nostalgic to me. The writing is where Firewatch really excels though. It deals with the pretty unglamorous lives of real people, focusing mostly on Henry, a middle aged man who“s reached a difficult crossroads in his life. It touches on a lot of subjects I find are rarely visited in games, which I thought was refreshing. Henry is definitely not your average protagonist, and his efforts to escape his life by taking a job as a park ranger out in the wilderness isn“t your average premise. In addition to Henry“s story, you get to piece together the stories of previous fire lookouts as you find traces of their lives left in the park. Every single story told in the game has a strong emotional core which makes them all feel very worthwhile. The way the story is told through walkie-talkie conversations between Henry and Delilah is kind of delightful, and the writing feels both genuine and natural. I got so wrapped up in Henry“s relationship with her and with the game“s central mystery that I beat it in just two sittings, which is quite unusual for me. I also appreciate that between important conversations, you usually spend some time hiking in silence to let you process what just happened. If you“re thinking of playing Firewatch, I“d recommend not reading this last paragraph since I“d hate to color your expectations. This is where I expect my opinion diverges from many others, but the ending was what really cemented Firewatch as one of my favorite games, because I felt incredibly let down. I found myself so invested in the mysteries and in my relationship with Delilah that when things didn“t play out as anticipated I was disappointed. But I thought about it a lot (I mean really a lot) and realized that the game had intentionally manipulated me into thinking the story was something that it wasn“t, and in doing so, had really succeeded in making my experience as the player mirror the experience of the protagonist. That helped make the game“s conclusion much more meaningful and poignant.
Firewatch has been a critically acclaimed indie title since its release earlier in the year, and now it looks as if the developer behind it, Campo Santo, is looking to expand its portfolio beyond video games. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the studio is collaborating with production and financing company Good Universe to develop new games and movies, and the first of their new projects will be a film adaptation of Firewatch. Though it was generally well-received, one of Firewatch's biggest criticisms was that it was too much of a "walking simulator"; a sort of label for games that have little actual gameplay but rather have an emphasis on telling the story by (for all intents and purposes) walking forward or to different areas in the game world. A film version would certainly help alleviate this feeling, so it's great to hear that people will be able to experience the story by simply watching it in the future. No release window for the Firewatch film has been announced at this time. Source: The Hollywood Reporter (via Polygon) Are you interested in seeing a film version of Firewatch?