My Thoughts on The Last of Us

I think I am quite unfair sometimes dismissing a game because of its popularity.   Back in 2013, there was this huge hype about The Last of Us. At that time, I was too busy playing Dark Souls II to drop the game to see what the hype is all about. Thanks to my purchase of the PS4 back in 2015 (the main reason I bought the console was for Bloodborne), it came with a digital copy of The Last of Us.  I decided to give the game a whirl because I want to challenge my preconceived notion about the game.

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To my surprise, I must admit, I did enjoy the game to some extent.  The biggest strength about the game is the father and daughter like relationship.  I found the father and daughter bonding between Joel and Ellie more believable than the father and daughter relationship I saw in Resident Evil Revelations 2, The Evil Within 2 and even Nier Gestalt (another topic I will go into detail at a later time).  Partly it’s because Ellie was side by side with Joel most of the time so I saw the father and daughter relationship growing closer.

Even in combat, Ellie is not useless like Sheva in Resident Evil 5.  Throughout the game, teamwork is heavily emphasized in order for the two characters to survive. The most memorable part in the game to me is when there was a switch from Joel to Ellie. At that point in the game, I didn’t know if she was all alone, until later, I found out that she was nursing Joel back to his health.  I was relief. When she drove the bad guys away from harming the injured Joel–that’s when I began to sympathize with Ellie because I would do the same for my dad without a doubt. I felt Ellie’s urgency to protect Joel. When the role was switched to Joel, I felt the very same urgency to protect Ellie from David, the potential rapist. That part really did strengthened their bond and implied how much they need each other to survive, but more importantly, how much they trust each other.

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As Joel and Ellie relationship deepened in the game, I felt sympathy for them. So towards the end of the game, my reaction when I had to shoot the doctor to save Ellie was plausible even if Joel was seen as a monster. Similarly,  Ellie is not that innocent and saintlike either when she hesitantly accepted Joel’s answer about the fireflies. For one, she trusts Joel with her life and grew attached to him. She couldn’t bear the thought of losing him, as we saw in the earlier scene where she threw a little tantrum and ran off with the horse.  But at the same time, she felt tremendously guilty for not being able to save human lives as she mentioned her best friend was the first to go, and of course there was Tess.

The story aimed at taking the realistic approach in life, depicting real human behavior. Every day humans make sacrifices and face tough decisions. With a stern face, Joel already made the decision to carve his own fate.  Any normal human being who underwent a traumatic event will never be the same.  He never recovered from the tragedy in the beginning (losing his daughter) but at least he has someone to fight for, which is Ellie.  It makes perfect sense why the title is called The Last of Us.   The game is about two people who lost everything–and they are not willing to give up on each other even at the expense of saving humanity.  From my understanding, the writer is trying to write an epic script where all human beings can relate to.   Joel is considered a romantic, chivalric modern day man who embodied the utmost masculine energy.  Ironically, some people argued that he is a bad guy.  It appears the writer must have agreed with the ancient thinkers that humans are fickle.  Joel is neither good nor bad.  But the moral of the story is not what bothered me.  The heart warming story and gameplay weren’t properly stitched together to bring out that quality game experience.  The game feels like a book, but plays like a movie.  There’s nothing really exciting about the gameplay.

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Typically,  I am not much of a stickler for story in video games.  Most of the time, if the gameplay is fun enough I will keep playing even if story is lacking.  The gameplay in The Last of Us is very stale and tedious. There were only two instances I thought was exciting.  One part is when Joel got separated from Ellie for a brief moment, forcing him to dive into the water and navigate in the dark enclosed area to find a keycard. In the area, there were clickers.  At first, I was a little nervous as I dislike dark places, filled with lurking monsters, but as soon as I realized I have many different types of weapons, my nervousness went away as there weren’t many obstacles to overcome in order to reunite with Ellie. I blasted the enemies away with my shotgun.  Once I obtained the key, I bypassed all of them and got out quickly.  Not much of a challenge there.  The other part is when Joel was hanging upside down shooting the infected. That part reminded me of a section in Resident Evil Revelation, where Chris Redfield fell from the cliff and was pinned down to the ground, having to defend himself from the approaching wolves while waiting for Jessica to make her way down to help him. The only difference between the two games, is that Last of Us gameplay is forgiving. The game autosaves frequently.   So if you die constantly, it puts you in a decent spot in the game to try again. If you get stuck in the game, push L3 button when it appears. This will give you a hint.  The game is very generous, but that consideration actually kills any challenges that the game has to offer, and what is even worse, it makes the gameplay become dull quickly as gameplay becomes predictable.  I think I would be just content watching a movie version of the Last of Us than go through all that unnecessary trouble.

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Honestly, I don’t have much to say about the gameplay in The Last of Us.  It’s very basic and simple. There was a lot of sneaking, hiding,  and some shooting.   There were plenty of  beautiful scenic areas in the game which stirred up some personal old memories, which I rather forget. Despite my personal little discomfort, the realistic setting in the game aligned well with the mature undertone of the game.  I didn’t mind the flow of the game.  I could play the game at ease during the weekdays.  I even completed the game on normal difficulty when I thought I was playing on easy mode the whole time.  Although I am not going to lie, there were a few times I died in the game.  The controls don’t feel as fluid as other games that I’m used to, which made the gameplay experience frustrating.  I admit, I  was swearing at the last section of the game when I was unfairly ambushed with flying bullets.  I rarely get mad in games by the way. The last section made it difficult to explore without getting spotted.

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To summarize my experience, the game felt very genuine to me as it amplified the American identity–a free and rugged individual who has a choice.  Is that a good thing or a bad thing? That’s for you to decide.   The more I think about it, the game is just a political statement more than anything.   I was entertained while the game last, but not entertained enough to demand for a sequel.

My Thoughts on Rule of Rose

Some people have the tendency to gravitate towards a tale that makes them weep instead of ones that brings them joy.  If we take a step back and look at ourselves, we are a strange creature that innately want to be happy, but find comfort in bittersweet tale.  Perhaps, some of us are attracted to such entertainment because it acts as a mere reflection of our own psyche.  We want to fix something that is bothering us so we evaluate the little things that trap us in a psychological loop.  It’s almost a never ending loop until we find the answer that has been buried deep within us. Some painful childhood memories are better off suppressed.

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                        Picture Source

Yes, I’m speaking of Rule of Rose, a psychological survival horror game released back in 2006 for the Playstation 2.  Player experience the perspective of an orphan named Jennifer with her pet dog Brown as they unravel a suspense, sorrowful tale.  I highly do not recommend this game to those who have a deep love for animals. The game actually brought some great discomfort to me even though it has a good moral message–for those who are passive and/or those who were bullied in their youth.  It forces me to think about society in general–the relation between children and adults.  Now, I understand why this game did not get a release in North America.  Some of the themes are questionably cruel and not suitable for young people.  Even the older audience might find the game hard to comprehend.  I went to bed feeling as if my heart has just gotten broken after completing the game.

The game is artistically crafted and designed in a way where all things have a purpose including the monsters design.  Yes, gameplay and story are intertwined.  At one point, I was so frustrated with the gaming mechanics, but learned to appreciate the game design as I realized the order of finding weapons in the game (e.g  fork, kitchen knife, butcher knife, shovel, axe) gradually became more menacing as the undertone of the story deepen.   Gameplay wise, it’s far from being monotonous.   Exploring/investigating, in my book, is a type of gameplay.  Brown, Jennifer’s fury companion, is a great hunter and protector.  If you are the type that like to play detective, this game is a good treat.  You get the bigger picture of the whole game in the end, if you get the good ending that is.

The game overall, is quite well-balanced in terms of story, gameplay, music and visual.  I would consider the game on par with Silent Hill 1 and Silent Hill 2, which are great games! I plan to re-play the game.  Artistically, I’m quite fond of the atmosphere and the way how the story unfolds.

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Rule of Rose is the type of timeless game that is on equal level with great books.  It is a good representation on how the medium can be viewed as a mature, artistic expression that has the ability to dive into the human soul.

P.S

Now I really need to go find myself a pet dog–hug it and tell it: “I love you, and will always protect you until I die!”

 

 

Detention: An Indie Horror Game

After feeling disappointed with Evil Within 2, I decided to look for a new horror game to forget that horrid game.   I found Detention, watching a Youtube video clip, and so I gave it a shot.  I am not going to lie: survival horror/horror is my favorite video game genre and there is a good reason why.  But let’s not talk about that–leave it for another time. Let’s talk about the game.

This game is indeed creepy without the flashy stuff we see in AAA games.  You play a female protagonist, a teenage girl  who is undergoing personal hardship.  Like the protagonist,  I can recall experiencing that familiar overwhelming sadness when I was a teenager. I think it was so bad that the counselor and the school nurse had to check my wrists to see if I cut myself. Looking back, I think it was a typical thing for a teenage girl to go through (damn you hormones!).  So yeah,  it’s kind of nice to play a character that I can relate to and one that is realistically feminine.  A lot of games I’ve enjoyed  in the past were largely male-based.  I have my reasons–that too, I will tell you readers at a later time. 

I won’t say much more about this game because I encourage you to check it out for yourself. Oh, and one last thing I do want to point out  about the game: the storytelling is ambiguous but not overly complex. The game has enough suspense and plenty of symbolic meanings, which I like very much.  There are 4 chapters and it didn’t take long to beat (around 2-5 hours). I think there are mutiple endings, so replay value is good.  

Overall, I’d like to say great job RedCandleGames for crafting a pleasant horror game and for keeping me entertained during these winter evenings.  

 

The Evil Within 2: Not My Cup of Tea

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 I deleted my old post because I got so upset, and then restored and revised it since I do have something to say about the game.  The game had a lot of potential, but unfortunately it wasn’t what I was hoping for. 

Call me picky when it comes to survival horror games, but I believe concepts do play a major role in horrifying audience.  Take for example, Silent Hill 2 will always be my favorite survival horror game because the developers know exactly how to define horror and  create a game which still haunts me till this day.  I learned to love the fog in winter because I experienced the chillness in Silent Hill. But this post is not going to be about the survival horror genre or Silent Hill games.  This is about The Evil Within 2 and my thoughts on it. Please keep in my mind, I am speaking from an artist perspective and from someone who dislike movie-like games. 

With any artistic medium ( I think some video games are a form of art), it’s wise not to imitate even if you are under the spell of nostalgia. I am not a fan of imitation.  You can  admire a successful game that haunts people–but reinventing the same thing doesn’t frightened people (at least for me) because we already walked that path before. The Evil Within 2 feels like a confused horror amusement park.  It cannot decide whether it wants to be an action or horror game. Hey, some people might like this game for the way it is and good for them. Personally, I don’t like games that feel generic.

What disappointed me about the game is its strong opening. The game introduction was atmospherically scary. Yes, there was a little chase here and there. Fun for a bit, but then it got sloppy  as soon as all the suspense is dispersed and the climax is reached. From there on, I found myself playing a cheap thrill. If gameplay is lacking then I expect a decent story, but this game has neither of them. The game design feels unpolished.  Why recycle boss enemies once it has been defeated? Why do I need to level up my skill trees in order to make the game a bit more fluid? There is some obvious technical issues with the game, especially in combat.  The cheesy dialogues amplify the  cliche plot.  I started asking myself, “Why I am playing this game?” I forced myself to complete the game anyway because I hate not completing games. I would have enjoyed the game more playing as Juli Kidman because she is an interesting character. 

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I enjoyed the first game even though it was not perfect. So I was hoping The Evil Within 2 is more of a refined version of the first. Sadly no. The only thing that Evil Within 2 has is a simplified story.  You  play as a detective who is given the chance to save his daughter.   In my honest opinion, the game failed to horrify and tell a good story because its attention was focused on trying to be a movie.

So no, I do not recommend this game if you have particular taste for horror games like me. I prefer the earlier Resident Evil games over The Evil Within series now that I have finished the game. This game is designed intentionally for the mass market (movie watchers), and there is nothing wrong with that. This game is just not my cup of tea.

 

My Notes on Fragile Dreams: Farewell Ruins of the Moon

I highly recommend playing the game before reading this post.   My intention is to share my interpretation of the game which may differ from yours.

I bought this game seven years ago and I finally beat it. The content of this game is quite mature but with light gameplay, which is both suitable for adults and children.  Perhaps, I am a child at heart but I really prefer the simplistic gameplay approach, especially when the story is the focal point.  Fragile Dreams: Farewell Ruins of the Moon is about a boy’s journey towards finding warmth in the post-apocalyptic world. It has a typical story but it took advantage of the video game medium to produce a unique experience.

 

What I enjoyed about the game is that beautiful and atmospheric.  I found some of the enemies quite interesting and eerie, although this game is not a horror game.  I might do a separate post about this topic for in depth analysis.  Gameplay wise,  I personally think it’s a child version of Dark Souls.  In fact the bonfire and some enemies do have a strong resemblance to the Souls series. I don’t know much about the background for the development of making this game, but perhaps Fragile Dreams: Farewell Ruins of the Moon  had some influences on the making of Dark Souls. Again, I will leave that for a different post after I gather some actual facts.

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For now, I’d like to discuss Seto’s (the protagonist) journey. Throughout the game, Seto is accompanied by caring loving companions who are not humans. About midway,  Seto comes across an interesting character named Crow, who appears to be a big tea drinker like myself based on his clothes. This section, which may seem like a side track, is my favorite part of the game.

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I enjoyed chasing and  hunting down Crow because it reminded me of  playing  hide and a seek and playing tag. For a moment, I didn’t mind taking a break from trying to find the silver hair girl. This section of the game illustrated an important point made by one of the characters, Chiyo : “It’s the sunbeams, the wind rolling over grass and the idle chit chat with friends [are] the gems of life.” That moment where Seto chased Crow to get his locket back is special. We must not forget during our journey to enjoy the moment we are in. That is called living.

However, the game also wanted to make an another important point:  Crow is a robot. Even if  we find happiness in the substitution of artificial life,  including digital ones–it does not replace the real life human interaction.  Thus, it’s the silver hair girl  that can offer Seto the real authentic relationship even if it involves conflict and misunderstanding between both people. And Sai, one of the main supporting characters, helped me understand that words may not always be the best form of expression, but it’s not entirely useless. Words fill in part where visual cue fails to communicate simple things such as  Seto wants Ren, the silver hair girl, to be his girlfriend. He is tired of being alone.

A little off topic here,  but I think everyone is alone because someone once told me that feelings are personal. We are so focused on our feelings most of the time that we forget other people have feelings too. There is a tendency to lack empathy for others and most of the time it’s unintentional. This lead to much hurt and destruction in the human society. The game really wanted to point out that the lack of empathy causes pain.

Overall,  the game provided a philosophical explanation for the continuation of existence, despite the dark side of humanity.  If you haven’t play this game already, check it out. And if you have played it,  let me know what you think. I’d love to hear them.

P.S

My next post most likely will be about Root Letter. I feel inspired by The Otaku Judge to get all the endings. Then I will play  Zero Escape: Nonary Games probably towards the end of this year.  

Thanks for reading! Until next time, take care guys.

 

My Notes on Nier Automata

I highly recommend playing the game before reading this post.  I will not elaborate the storyline into details.  My intention is to share my summary of the game which may differ from yours.

For those who followed this blog from the beginning probably knew that I was anticipating for Nier Automata (2017) ever since its announcement.  In fact, I was very hungry to play another game like Nier (2010)  and was hoping Drakengard III (2013) would be just as good. To my disappointment, I  didn’t enjoy it as much mainly because of the frustrating gaming mechanics ( I didn’t enjoy flying the dragon).  And yet I stuck with it because of the storyline and it’s humorous dialogue.  I have not reached the ultimate, final boss yet which I heard was difficult.

Zero_(Drakengard)I had to stop the game because I couldn’t understand  Zero’s (the protagonist) cruel intention to kill all her sisters. The character was hard for me to relate.  I was definitely playing a killer.  But after I watched Yoko Taro’s interview Philosophy of Violence, I learned to appreciate his approach in storytelling and the concept behind it.  I realized Zero’s behavior is natural, but primitive.  Instinctively we want to remove whatever is in our path.  Defeating our obstacles give us a sense of control and remove all of our competitions.  However, if we killed everyone in our way, we would end up dying alone and the aftermath would be Nier Automata.

I came to conclusion because I had to grasp my head around this killing frenzy around Yoko Taro’s games,  so I categorize his three games that I played into the following:

  • Drakengard III- killing to be the only one
  • Nier Gestalt- killing is justified as long as you think it is right
  • Nier Automata- killing loneliness

*One important thing to note, this is just my notes for the time being.  I really would like to complete the Drakengard series *

Onward to the main topic,  so when I started Nier Automata, I already knew it was about killing.  The game started off strong, which reminded me of Xenoblade Chronicles’ introduction where the characters are thrown into battle against the machines.   Once I arrived to a safe place (a city reclaimed by Mother Nature), I sensed that I was entering a world where a great civilization (mankind in general) once stood, but mysteriously drove itself to extinction.

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All we have left are machines and androids fighting one another.  In some ways, the game has a particular viewpoint about existence, which is hard not to notice if you do the side quests. It clearly points out that all lifeforms don’t want to fight all the time– they just want to co-exist. What meaning is there to killing? Why?

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The real motive behind all the killing is more than just impaired thinking– it’s loneliness.   In the end, no one stands. But the tragedy is not the cycle of destruction, it’s actually the inability to view the world harmoniously, which is probably why 2B and 9S wear blindfold. They exist to take orders without comprehending their actions.

I won’t go any further into details about the game’s concept because I am beginning to develop my own theory, which is probably not what the game intended.  I do just want to mention  my overall experience with the game is good, but it is not one of my favorites. I like the first installment more partly because of nostalgia. The game did however, made me want to play Ikaruga, which has been sitting in my backlog of games to play.

Lastly, my final thought in regards to Nier Automata,  I’m starting to understand that it’s difficult to introduce big ideas and incorporate gameplay due to unforeseen limitation (e.g, technical, budget, translation etc.).  So I really do appreciate when game developers attempt to give meaning to their creation.

Well that is it for now. Thanks for reading guys. Until next time, take care!

P.S

Think I will play Fragile Dreams: Farewell Ruins of the Moon next to clear my backlog before I jump into a new game.  My backlog began to grow back in 2010-2011 when I started playing co-op/multiplayer games. It is time to seriously tackle the single-player games list!

 

Thoughts on D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die

If someone came up to me and ask me what D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die is about, I would say it’s about letting go of the past, eating and relationships. These are the three themes I noticed quite frequently in the game and the three main ingredients that keep a person functional in the society. This game is about a broken man named David Young who is on a metaphorical journey from death to life.

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I must admit, I was a bit confused to what was going on in the game.  All I knew was the protagonist lost his wife.  So I played the game several times. Then I concluded the game is very dreamlike purposely.  One moment, we see Young falling into the bathroom, and then we see him reading a magazine on the bed casually, drinking coffee, crushing fortune cookies, changing music records, turning on the T.V, changing clothes, pushing little squirrel off the window etc.  Everything seems calm and normal.  Until Amanda, his cat, enters the scene.  Then I realized, Mister Young is not okay.  We are witnessing a man who is undergoing some severe trauma in the head!

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And so,  Forrest Kaysen, an important supporting role in the game, is there to guide Young back to life, the reality–the present moment.  If you haven’t  noticed, once Young solved a particular mystery of his past, the memento loses its special power. This is a way for the game to tell the player–mystery solved–now you can move forward into the present moment.  Have you folks  ever experienced that?   When you are bothered by the past, but there is nothing you can do to change it, but live in regret? Leave it in the past, my friends, leave it in the past. 

hLooking closely at Kaysen, he is like a philosopher and sometimes like a twisted version of Little Peggy.  Speaking with him, opens up a dialogue about eating.  It is important to nourish the body with food.  How can any person function without food?  Obviously, the game attempts to point out that people who are consumed by the past do not feed their bodies.  Why would they? They are dead inside.  So it’s no surprise to me, when Kaysen confronted Young for not finishing his meal.  Kaysen knew that Young has been drinking excessively to drown his misery, but he also wanted acknowledgement for his cooking ability.  It’s a hilarious cut scene which I could personally relate to.  I too, have a small stomach, and have a hard time finishing my meal.  So I’ll tell you a little personal story.  I once dated a Japanese man. He asked me what he should cook for dinner and I said, “I don’t like eating.” I said it because I wasn’t hungry at the time and food was never on my priority list of things to think about on a daily basis.  He got very upset. To him,  I was disrespecting life and his food.  He said we need to eat to be alive, which is true.  I should have chosen my words wisely or not say anything at all. This part of the game really highlighted the differences between Japanese and American culture on food and human interaction in a twisted way.

I know I mentioned a lot about the plot because the plot and the colorful characters are definitely stronger than the gameplay, but the gameplay is not monotonously minimal  like other cinematic games.  The stunts with Amanda and the courier are quite funny.  But my all time favorite side game is taking Philip Cheney’s quizzes. His dialogue is interesting and his villain-like approach to the quizzes made me laugh hard.  I am not surprised he is the fourth “D.”

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And yes, the game ends with a cliffhanger and is too short, but I didn’t mind it at all.  The game is jam packed with timeless human drama that made me think even after I am done playing it. It made me think about human relationships as being the most important aspect of human civilization.  We are like civilized social animals, resembling cats. According to a scrapbook article I found in the game,  cats sacrifice the lone life to move in large group.  Doing so will make them achieve social status.  Hmm…we are like cats!

Lastly, the game made me think about relationship between lovers as the strongest bond between humans. Some of us argued that we don’t need it, but I think we do.  Life seems more enjoyable despite the arguments that come with a relationship.  Losing a relationship will drive us crazy as we see it with the Marshal who chases after the courier to avenge his wife’s death.  He too, like the protagonist, is living in the past. But perhaps, Little Peggy is right: Things in the past need to stay in the past or else a person cannot move on and live a happy life.  The only thing we can do is acknowledge our mistakes and practice for tomorrow as Young once said. Overall, the game gave me a good feeling.  Most of the time,  I was laughing with the game despite its dark plot.

I am still curious–who killed Little Peggy? I’m hoping for season 2. Let me know what your thoughts are on D4 if you have played it, and thank you for reading! Until next time, take care!