Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves…
Rarely does a video game narrative expect anything of the player; the only instances of narrative projection would be the commonly used system of player agency, which inherently feels false and formulaic. Video game storytelling is a rather structured organism which rarely falters off the beaten path. The Last of Us Part II is the exception to the rule, as it is not only told in an unconventional and unpredictable manner, but it also challenges the player’s own sense of righteousness and perception. It capitalizes on this brilliant sense of emotional struggle and turmoil, perpetuating an enthralling narrative that projects our own ability (or inability) to love, hate, empathize, and forgive. The Last of Us Part II is a profound realization on reflection and requires far more empathy and perspective than the status quo, which is understandably difficult to digest. It is a relentless experience that is psychologically exhausting, placing the characters we love in horrifically brutal and uncomfortable situations, and having them do unspeakable things that undoubtedly churn our stomachs. It not only focuses on the dark and brutal nature of this realized world, but also its lush beauty and poignant moments of hope. Naughty Dog has a clear intent of telling their story, and we are only here for the ride. Further accentuated by its unbelievably immaculate performances, unprecedented attention to detail, exemplary level of graphical prowess, exceptionally brutal combat, and a somber – yet ominous – score that pierces the soul, The Last of Us Part II is an ambitious work of art that serves as the new gold standard for interactive media. It is a profound piece of storytelling that could only be this effective and prominent in the medium of video games. This is easily Naughty Dog’s greatest game, and given their illustrious pedigree, that statement holds significant weight. The Last of Us Part II is a phenomenally well-crafted masterpiece, and its greatest achievement is how effectively – and unexpectedly – it sways your perception, exemplifying a provocative test of empathy.
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An amazingly woven web!
Spider-Man is my favourite super hero, and my affinity to Insomniac Games is similar to the nostalgic attachment many have with Nintendo. I grew up with these two major entities, both of them shaping my sense of identity and fostering this current passion of mine – Spider-Man: The Animated series and Spyro the Dragon were the definition of my childhood. The collaboration between Sony, Marvel, and Insomniac Games is nothing short of a match made in heaven; this amalgamated passion project is a conspicuous labor of love and is one of the best representations of everyone’s favourite webslinger. Marvel’s Spider-Man is a testament to Insomniac’s pristine quality and unparalleled level of passion, for their “underdog” pedigree is a perfect match for the thematic nature of Spider-Man. Insomniac Games has not only crafted one of the most satisfying gameplay experiences in recent memory, but they also created one of the most empathetic and emotional Spidey stories in the character’s on-screen history. While its narrative may fall onto familiar territory every now and then, it’s constantly filled with surprising twists and turns that range from the notably delightful to the undeniably heartbreaking, drastically flipping any preconceived notions of the established universe. It’s a fantastically well-told story that soars meteorically due to the excellent cast of characters and the strong performances behind them. Insomniac’s notable level of care and polish is also heavily reflected in Spider-Man’s gameplay, with each element striking a resounding, yet harmonious balance. Web-swinging and traversal is unabashedly invigorating, but also bears certain therapeutic tendencies. Combat is accessibly simple, yet has a profound layer of depth and complexity, which results in a brilliant system that oozes an unparalleled sense of style and fluidity. Each element is seamlessly weaved into a wonderful web that provided endless entertainment while providing an emotionally rich story that rarely pulled its punches. While a few derivative design choices and repetitive elements slightly hinder the core experience, nothing fully detracts from what is one of the most captivating and addicting experiences of the year. Marvel’s Spider-Man is without a doubt the best Spider-Man game ever created; its Insomniac Games’ best work to date, and one of the best superhero games of all-time. It’s remarkably spectacular and undeniably amazing.
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A path worth traveling…
Square Enix’s inaugural foray onto the Nintendo Switch immediately captured everyone’s attention during its reveal early last year; with its pristinely crafted art-style, ode to traditional RPG design, and blissfully whimsical musical score, there was simply no shortage of interesting components to anticipate. Octopath Traveler is a gorgeous amalgamation of the RPG fundamentals of yesteryear and a conscious effort of modern polish and refinement. From a gameplay standpoint, Octopath Traveler is an excellent ensemble of the finely tuned elements you’d expect from a Square game – the addictive “break” mechanic alleviates the monotony of rudimentary battles, while the job system adds a significant layer of versatility and player flexibility that’s seldom found in the genre. With Octopath Traveler, you will undeniably come for the exuberant pixel art and the emotional musical composition but will ultimately stay for its addictive gameplay and simplistically complex battle system. To describe Octopath Traveler’s characters and narrative as disappointing would be a disservice to the emotional dissonance experienced throughout the 60 hour journey; there is a strong disconnect and lack of empathetic value as each character’s story is purely isolated, with characters having little no interaction with one another, resulting in the worst display of character development I have experienced in a video game. While some stories bear more emotional weight than others, they are still disjointed and uninspired, and pale in comparison to the simplistic standards of storytelling for any medium. Its narrative structure also struggles to find a sense of cohesion and focus, constantly fumbling on its isolated and disjointed nature. Octopath Traveler’s encompassing narrative is its biggest failure, and while its gorgeous ambience and finely tuned gameplay alleviate its shortcomings and carry the overall experience, its disjointed and apathetic structure leave a bad taste that simply never goes away. Negative qualms set aside, Square’s latest may not be their greatest, but it’s still an experience worth traveling.
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*This review originally appeared at wizarddojo.com*
Appeasing the gods…
God of War will stand as one of greatest reinventions in gaming history, breathing distilled life into a dormant franchise and reconstructing the preconceived notions of an established anti-hero. God of War is a brilliant thought piece that blissfully ripens with each passing moment, embodying the very foundation of the snowball effect. Its true brilliance lies within the sum of its parts and how each element is seamlessly weaved to craft an impeccably paced experience that rivals the meteoric heights of literature’s finest. Each exceptional element stands audaciously on its own but are beautifully accentuated as an ensemble, personifying a melodic orchestra of sorts. From its profound deconstruction of the familiar, redefinition of established characters, and completely revamped combat system, God of War is a blissful experience that constantly evolves and is exquisitely surprising. Its effortless transition from tranquil exposition to impeccably constructed gameplay is a pristine work of art, encompassing its creative theme of seamless harmony. Whether if you bask in the glory of its exceptionally gorgeous world, delve into the tantalizing water of its Norse mythology, deviate the beaten path in a rewarding sense of exploration and discovery, or partake in one of the most brutally satisfying combat systems to ever grace the medium, no single piece of the puzzle ever outshines God of War’s greatest triumph: its poignant story of paternal love, acceptance, discovery, and redemption. God of War is indicative to the strength of the single-player experience and their importance to this growing infrastructure, a bold proclamation to their sense of hopeful permanence. Its enriching sense and scale of world building, level design, and creative direction is an exceptional achievement that rightfully surpasses the likes of anything that came before it. God of War is a masterpiece in every meaning of the word, as it impeccably redefines the conventions of this established series, crafting a new powerful identity that is quintessentially more resonant and accessible, all of which is captured in one continuous camera shot of glory.
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*This review originally appeared at wizarddojo.com*
An inspirational climb to greater heights.
This past January had a masterpiece simmering under the radar; the independent platformer with tremendous heart, Celeste. While its sense of scale is rather diminutive, its level of quality never falters, making it an undeniable front-runner for game of the year. Plated with its impeccable level design, brilliantly simple mechanics, and slew of deviating paths and hidden goodies, Celeste transcends into a remarkably defined staple of the modern 2D platformer. Its pitch perfect gameplay and refined mechanics are enhanced by its impeccably crafted pace and gameplay implementation, introducing new twists and turns at every corner, significantly upping the ante with each new chapter. Aside from its mechanical prowess, Celeste boasts one of the most beautifully crafted narratives to ever grace the gaming sphere, a creative element typically undermined or absent in mainstays of the genre. Celeste’s inspiring coming of age story is a breath of fresh air to the expanding portfolio of 2D platformers. While these two fundamental structures of Celeste are inherently separate, both exude an unparalleled level of quality, becoming prime examples of their craft and are seamlessly harmonized as a result. Celeste is not only a remarkable start to the new year, it is arguably the best modern 2D platformer, standing tall amongst the meteoric heights of Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze and Ori and the Blind Forest.
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*This review originally appeared at wizarddojo.com*
Reach for the moon…
The Super Mario series requires no introduction; to say that it is synonymous with the video game medium would be an immense understatement. Its cadence to this unanimous praise is heavily warranted as the Super Mario series is game development at its finest. One staple and undisputed fact that has remained a constant of sorts for the legendary series is its profound sense of unadulterated fun; no other series is able to emit an equivalent sense of elation or wonder. However, Mario’s strongest backbone and alluring element is its ability to adapt and evolve. The core ingenious structure has remained intact for over three decades, with innovative ideas and constructs implemented into each new iteration of Mario. It’s a successful formula that rightfully acknowledges and respects the past, but also leaves way for innovation and improvement, encompassing a disposition for unpredictability and audacity. Super Mario Odyssey is a prime example of Nintendo’s pristine ability to take the familiar and beautifully mold it into something brilliantly exotic. In a lot of ways, Super Mario Odyssey is a renascence of the 3D sandbox platformer, however this magical adventure is far more than the sum of its parts. It redefines the structure of the series in terms of its gameplay variance, level design, and progression structure, while paying homage to its roots and acting as a celebration of sorts for the beloved franchise. It’s a delicious adventure that is equally parts exploration and platforming, and is chockful of enticing secrets and goodies to discover. Super Mario Odyssey is an amalgamation of each minute element that validates the series’ perfect standing; this foundation is enhanced considerably through Nintendo’s ingenious use of inventive concepts and implementations, crafting an experience that is constantly evolving in surprisingly brilliant ways. It’s an unabashed masterpiece that surpasses the insurmountable standards set by the Mario franchise. Super Mario Odyssey is the definition of perfection and is a glorified testament to Nintendo’s unparalleled sense of creativity and innovation.
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An exhilarating knock-out…
Nintendo has been knocking it out of the park as of late; through the release of the masterful Breath of the Wild and the forever endearing Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Nintendo welcomes a new addition to the their collection of fantastic IPs and their ever growing lineup of excellent Switch games. I have to be honest with all of you, I was not impressed with ARMS when it was originally revealed back in January. Gimmicky motion-controls have never been my cup of tea, and the questionably marketed reveal trailer showcasing a man in business attire fighting against a Japanese school girl was laughable at best. However, after a few Nintendo Directs showcasing the game’s surprising amount of depth and a plentiful amount of hands-on time with the Global TestPunch, my perception of Nintendo’s newest IP took a sharp 180. The Global TestPunch proved that this bizarre complex fundamentally works and it’s ridiculously fun and addictive. While the TestPunch featured a considerable fraction of content, the final product adds an exceptional bevy of different modes and unlocks to keep this addictive experience vigorous and constantly on your mind. While its single-player portion is rather shallow and is undoubtedly a secondary point of concern, both online and local multiplayer are extremely robust and are the fundamental crux as to why ARMS is such a delight. The nuanced gameplay, robust catalogue and combination of different weaponry – which are called ARMS to little surprise – slew of varying idiosyncratic game modes, and a constant stream of new dedicated content within the coming months, ARMS is an absolute knock-out of a gem and is arguably the best motion controlled game I have ever played.
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A “bona fide, Monafied” masterpiece
While my thoughts on the Shin-Megami subseries may emit a questionable sense of bias, piercing through any form of clouded judgment was surprisingly trivial as Persona 5 is an absolute delight, regardless of my attachment to the series. As I’ve mentioned profusely, Persona 4 Golden is my favourite video game of all-time, and my biased standpoint stems from the sheer fact that this experience saved my life. With that rather audacious statement declared, expectations for its sequel were undoubtedly and unfairly monumental; Persona 4 was an enlightening experience that impeccably resonated with every beat of my contemporary life at that point in time. Persona 5 is not nearly as masterful as its predecessor, but one must understand that it was never going to be nor does it need to be. Persona 5 is an intricately designed experience that exudes an unparalleled aura of stylistic charm, with its immaculate presentation placed in a profound echelon of its own. While its pivotal narrative lacks the grave and brutal nature of its predecessor, it still manages to weave elements of moral intensity, corruption, unity and friendship, throwing in plenty of twists and turns that construct a sound and compelling narrative that is arguable the best in the series. While dozens of returning elements foster the core structure that we’ve come to expect, welcome new additions are added into the mix to create the most streamlined, accessible, and smooth Persona experience to date. Character development and gameplay are seamlessly entwined with each element inherently affecting the other, the simplistically complex battle-system is a refined work of art that bears an untouched stylistic aesthetic, and the excellent new Mementos system provides a refreshing approach to longevity and level grinding, justifying its questionable existence. While Persona 5’s characters aren’t nearly as endearing as the exquisite cast of Persona 4 and the typical sense of dread and impending doom is questionably absent for most of the journey, Persona 5 is undoubtedly the most polished entry in the series as its intricately designed gameplay systems and captivating narrative points are stellar examples of this genre’s iconic framework and impressive capability. It might not be the life-changing experience that its older brother delivered, but Persona 5 is an excellent standalone experience that is extraordinarily gratifying for all who wish to partake in this exquisite journey – it is a bona fide masterpiece.
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The open-world genre has always been a perplexing beast as most titles struggle to find a harmonic balance between the interminable desire for seamless quality and quantity. Most popularized examples simply litter their sandboxes with menial tasks for the sole purpose of longevity, while others have a profound sense of world-building that never appropriately warrants the use of open-world fundamentals. The Legend of Zelda series has always embraced the essential nuts and bolts of the open-world genre, but its explorative world has always felt dissociated from the core innards of the experience. The latest entry in the three-decade long running franchise is said to rethink the conventions of the Zelda series, offering new implementation of player freedom. Breath of the Wild is not only a reinvigorating surge of pulsating energy into the Zelda series, but a masterful reinvention of the open-world genre as a whole, incorporating elements of fundamental realism and meaningful progression that were simply not present in the examples of yesteryear. With a core thematic imprint of discovery, Breath of the Wild’s sense of unadulterated curiosity and exploration is second to none; every minute detail serves a resound purpose and each structured piece of this exceptional puzzle seamlessly blends with the overarching world. Breath of the Wild is simply the most cohesive title in the series and an impeccable example of the aforementioned harmonic balance in the open-world genre. An embodiment of the imperative first steps of a console generation, while simultaneously striking a notable chord as a renowned swan song, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a masterpiece in every meaning of the word.
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Rising from the dead…
*Since I do not own a PlayStation VR, this review will not cover any virtual reality component of Resident Evil 7.*
The Resident Evil series has been a victim of its own success over the recent years, having struggled with multiple identity crises and fundamentally losing the particular elements that fostered the survival horror genre. Capcom’s latest entry into the series is a bipolar experiment as its perspective and overall tone are a relative far cry from the series’ renowned tendencies; while it rekindles certain gameplay and design elements that are not only reminiscent to the series’ golden age, but seamlessly blends the core fundamentals of the genre and the powerless implementation that has been popularized in modern survival horror game design, ushering a harmonic balance of the new and old. Resident Evil 7 is a resounding renaissance that acts as a true return to form for the series and establishes a new successful era for, what many would’ve considered, a fatigued franchise. It’s an engrossing experience that is exceptionally well-paced, with each key moment and discomforting setting serving a resilient purpose. Resident Evil 7 trades off its recent predecessors’ reliance on redundant action for a methodical approach to horror, rightfully returning the series’ key ability to instill fear through its haunting environment and impeccable sound design. It’s a terrifying ride that will undoubtedly send bracing chills down your spine, arguably attaining the top spot as the best horror game of the current generation. While it never reaches the meteoric heights of the Gamecube remake of the original or the masterful Resident Evil 4, Resident Evil 7: biohazard meets the established gold standard of the series and exceeds most contemporary expectations as it is the best Resident Evil game since the aforementioned fourth entry, and a textbook example on how to properly revitalize a dying franchise.
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