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*
An inspirational climb to greater heights.
January has never been a heavy hitting month for video game releases – it functions as a relative calm before the storm. However contemporary showcases have proven to be a delightful exception to the rule, transcending January into a mainstay of quality. January 2013 saw the release of one of the best modern JRPGs in recent memory, Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch and January 2017 introduced the franchise resurrecting Resident Evil 7: biohazard, a franchise reviver and one of the best games of 2017. This past January also had a masterpiece simmering under the radar, the independent platformer with tremendous heart, Celeste. While its sense of scale is rather diminutive compared to the previously mentioned January entries, its level of quality never faltered, 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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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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The illustrious year of 2017 is upon us and a proper moment of reflection is in order; 2017 will be a bountiful year and hopefully deliver a slew of fantastic new titles ripe with limitless potential. All three major parties – being the Big N, Sony, and Microsoft – have their own particularly unique plans for the New Year, each filled to the brim with their own resounding highs and unfortunate lows. Nintendo has an innovative console/handheld hybrid on the horizon, Sony is assertively pushing their bevy of exclusive content throughout 2017 and beyond, and Microsoft suffered an insurmountable blow with the cancellation of Scalebound, which was my most anticipated Microsoft exclusive of 2017. Let us begin with the most pertinent publishing company of the three shall we?
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