AI: Somnium Files Review

I enjoyed AI: Somnium Files developed and published by Spike Chunsoft Co., Ltd. It’s a visual novel with a strong detective murder mystery with some science fiction elements. Yes, like any typical game, there is a lot of saving to do because young girls do need help even when they are bratty and acting all tough! After all, being killed by a sadistic rapist is the worst nightmare that can happen to any girl! You can’t expect a psychopath to have empathy? Do you?

Misuki praying
Poor Mizuki who is only 12, tried so hard to be strong when she is actually mourning for the loss of her mother.

Story

First off, I want to warn readers that I don’t recommend this game to those who don’t have a healthy sense of humor and who are quick to slap anything that has to do with sexuality as misogyny. Quite the contrary, the game is not even misogynistic. The sexual jokes are mild compared to what I see on Twitter and from the former U.S. president. Despite my defense for this game, it doesn’t mean I accept locker room talk. But the jokes are there to poke fun at the protagonist’s singleness. After all, you are playing as the nice, perverted guy who is possibly bi-sexual.

Date looks like a girl
C’mon, look at Date’s face (the protagonist). He can pass off as a pretty woman.

I think that is why I could laugh at the part where Date hit on the 36-year-old receptionist who looks like an idol but is too old to be one. I say as long you can afford anti-aging creams and live comfortably then you are set for life. The average women care more about their appearance and health than they actually would admit as the motivating factor to why they work on top of the fact no one wants to end up homeless. But of course, there are exceptions. So more power to the receptionist for learning how to enjoy life in the moment (as long as you live responsibly that is). It takes a lot of soul searching to find contentment.

I used to work with an older woman who said if she had big boobs she’d flaunt it off. Not to attract men, but for her own liveliness. She was drunk when she said it though.

But I do see how someone would call this game misogynist. I suppose when you analyze a piece of creative work, you got to learn how to put things into context. So don’t dismiss this game because of its humor. On a serious note, there are a lot of heavy subjects around the concept of dream, reality, and AIs and whole bunch other stuff. And what I noticed is that there is a sense of optimistic, progressive thinking about the future of society, or a sense of acceptance on the writer’s part. It’s not just the topic of AIs I am talking about, but also the LGBT community in general.This game is a product of its time.

Aiba looking content
Aiba, the AI who is Date’s detective partner, agrees that human intuition is good from time to time, which is something rational, logical AIs lack.
Mizuki at Marble Bar
Mizuki is accepting of the LGBT community but still shows a sign of uncomfortableness.

I think the balance between seriousness and humor in the game is well done, and that is what I look for when I rate a good game. Even when I completed the game (there are multiple endings) there are still many mysteries to solve and once you solve the remaining mysteries of the story, everything just blows up in your face like fireworks. Overall, the pacing of the story is nice just as much as the colorful cast. Great game for mystery fans.

Gameplay

I played the demo on PS4 so I knew what to expect when I bought the game for PC. There are some differences in terms of user experience obviously. I played with mouse and keyboard but you can also play with a controller. I just stick with mouse and keyboard. I also noticed the game on the PC tends to glitch out occasionally, but it doesn’t happen frequently when I changed the graphic setting. I don’t know what it’s like for PS4 and Nintendo Switch.

While solving a case…this happened. It’s kind of artistic!

Gameplay wise, it did great at creating urgency but can get annoying because it does not reward you based on your skills to solve a case in 6 minutes. It did however, reward you on basic arithmetic skills! You have to select Timie to save seconds from being used on the top left side of the screen. Failure to select Timie correctly and the correct choices will penalize you for using seconds in real time and some of them take big chunks!

I had crossed eyes or something when I was playing the game because I mistook TIMIE for TIME. For awhile I kept proceeding without selecting the TIMIE on top center of the screen.

I found myself several times retrying and restarting the case due to running out of time. Some cases can get pretty tough especially if you are trying to solve it within 1 second remaining to obtain one of the trophies. If that sounds complicated. Do not fret. It will take trials and errors to get it right. Getting all the trophies was worth it.

I pride myself on my determination. I did it!

Overall, I thought the mix of shooting, investigating and solving puzzles were interesting. Not one moment was I bored. The concept of pyscning into someone’s dream to uncover hidden clues seems pretty high tech and futuristic. Is it ethical? Not really! I already feel invaded by tech companies collecting my data. It’s like exposing your underwear for strangers to see. Ugh…

mercenaries hovering over to look at bra

Sound

I realized I don’t write much about sound production and voice acting. But they do make a difference in the quality of any video game. At the beginning of the game, I kept switching from English to Japanese language to see which voice cast I prefer to listen to. Eventually I stick with the Japanese voice cast because I prefer Aiba’s Japanese voice over the English voice because ironically she sounds more natural. Believe it or not Aiba is an evolved AI who has a personality of her own and who has the free agency to think for herself. It makes sense to personify her a bit even though she lives inside the protoganist’s eye and she is just an AI. She is also Date’s alter ego. But I won’t go into detail behind my reasoning. That will be another post for a different time if I decide to write about the eye metaphor.

Lastly, the soundtrack composed by Keisuke Ito is decent and the sound effects are seamless enough that I don’t even recognized the music sometimes. It’s great because I felt immersed in the game, but I can’t say I am all that into idol pop culture music though. So the soundtrack didn’t stood out to me as much as other quality story-driven games. However, I do enjoy the Ikume Shrine theme because I just like all things zen.

Conclusion

This game is far from boring and simplistic. It has good soundtrack, good story, fun gameplay and good humor. Who doesn’t enjoy laughing? It’s a great way to release stress. Time is well spent when you are doing something you enjoy especially if it is also thought-provoking.

P.S.

I was having a hard time writing a review for this game and learned that I can use some sort of structure to make my writing process easier. I don’t know if I will stick to this format though, but I did enjoy putting it together.

The Evil Within 2: Not My Cup of Tea

The spooky month is here. The world is ending. Just kidding! Looking through my blog, I thought why not revive an old blog post? I remember I was so excited to play this game that I published a review without finishing it. To my disappointment, I spoke too soon. So I revised the entire blog post a couple of times and re-published it. The game has potential, but unfortunately, it wasn’t what I was hoping for. 

I am a stickler when it comes to survival horror games since it is my favorite video game genre. I believe the concept more than the scare factor plays the most important role in developing an engaging horror game. For instance, Silent Hill 2 will always be my favorite survival horror game because the developers know exactly how to define horror and create a game that still haunts me to this day. When I see fog, I think of Silent Hill. The game is that memorable. All thanks to the game’s art direction and the superb original soundtrack (The people behind the game are quite talented). There are so many juicy symbolisms I got to get my hands on. But this post is not going to be about me ranting and analyzing the Silent Hill franchise and what makes it great. I’ve seen a couple of those insightful articles and videos about the game, so I don’t need to provide further input, or should I? This is about The Evil Within 2 and my thoughts about it. Please keep in my mind, I am not a fan of cinematic games (oddly most games are inspired by movies). So, of course, there are going to be some biases.

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, but I am okay with inspiration. You can admire a classic game that haunts people after they are done with the game, but reinventing the same thing doesn’t frighten people or set the game apart. Why? Because the player already walked the same path before.

“If there is no suspense, there’s no horror.”

I quote myself, Halsdoll, a survival horror junkie

The Evil Within 2 feels like a confused horror, amusement park. It cannot decide whether it wanted to be an action or horror game. What disappointed me about the game was 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 got dispersed, and the story reached its climax. From there on, I found myself playing a cheap thrill. If the gameplay is lacking then I expect a decent story, but this game has neither of them. The Evil Within 2 felt like someone was forced to make a horror game. He knows all the ingredients for making a horror game but doesn’t know how to improvise it to make it uniquely his signature dish. Why recycle boss enemies once it has been defeated? Why do I need to level up my skill trees to make the game a bit more fluid? What purpose does it serve? Why is the black man evil? Oh no, I hope this game is not racist. I started asking myself, “Why am I playing this game? Let’s just hold our breath and just beat the game already.”

I would have enjoyed the game more if Juli Kidman was the protagonist but then the game would not appeal to gamers who are dads themselves or to the large gaming male demographic.

Juli Kidman, posing in white blouse
Juli Kidman-pic source

The story about trying to save the daughter is a classic tale. But I wonder, aren’t there enough survival horror games with a similar plot? Why didn’t they just make a movie instead of making a game? I would have enjoyed it as a movie. Well, at least the trailer is enjoyable to watch:

Resident Evil 3 Remake Review

Two years ago, when the pandemic hit, I wasn’t really in the mood for anything zombie-related. I did recall playing the Resident Evil 2remake but it wasn’t as enjoyable. Now, that things are pretty mellow and I don’t hear constant ambulance sirens bouncing off of the city’s buildings day and night, I can say it’s safe to play Resident Evil 3 remake without feeling like I’m in the actual game, although I just realized that Racoon City takes place in the Midwest! But I am not in a metropolis. The environment I am in now is a lot calmer and quieter except for the rhythmic noises coming from the crickets. The sound made me think of certain parts in the Resident Evil remake for GameCube. And so, the waves of nostalgia hit me. I thought why not play the Resident Evil 3 remake? I heard it’s a short game compared to the Resident Evil 2 remake and it is one of the newer titles I haven’t played.

Generally, I have a soft spot for the Resident Evil franchise. I have a super soft spot for Resident Evil 3 because it was my first entry into the franchise. But I also want to point out that I just like Jill Valentine. Her story doesn’t revolve around being someone’s sister or lover. Not saying there is anything wrong with existing for the sake of others. It’s quite noble. It’s just that Jill has her narrative which belongs to her solely. Her independence makes her quite admirable. She is a member of the Special Tactics and Rescue Service also known as S.T.A.R.S, and she is on a mission. I love that kind of determination!

Time to write my thoughts on this awesome remake…

So, let’s talk about Resident Evil 3 remake and why I had blast with it. First of all, I like the character dynamic between Carlos and Jill in this remake. There is a nice balance between them. Before I go into details about the character’s dynamic, I want to talk about Jill Valentine’s outfit. If you have played the original, Jill Valentine used to go around shooting zombies in clubbing clothes. As I said before in one of my blog posts, I have no problem with women who like to dress sexy (more power to you if you feel good in your skin. I wish I had your confidence). In the back of my mind, I have always thought it was uncomfortable to navigate Racoon City, holding a handgun and wearing a tube shirt and a mini-skirt.

Resident Evil 3 ps1 Characters manual
Character profiles from Resident Evil 3 PlayStation manual

That’s quite an empowering fantasy. Realistically though, try walking like that in the city at night, you sure will get hit on by creeps. That’s why I laughed when Jill called Nemesis the creepy stalker in the game. She knows exactly the pain that women go through just for dressing nice.

Jill hiding from nemesis
Yes…..you are creepy just standing outside the building like that…

So, that’s where the remake got it right. Jill’s default outfit just seems more appropriate for the situation. The tube shirt and mini-skirt would only make sense if she was in fact in the middle of clubbing when the chaos hit Raccoon City.

Jill character model in Resident Evil 3 Remake
Not bad Not bad. Still attractive…

Speaking of Carlos Oliveira, in the original, he is an overall nice guy but a bit of a flirt. The remake, on the other hand, made him more mature, task-driven and professional. There wasn’t a moment where I thought Carlos is a sleazy player who is “good with the ladies”. Removing that cocky, playboy attitude from the original game earned him my respect. Even if there was chemistry between the two characters, which is unlikely since Jill doesn’t seem to have time for romance, the remake kept their attraction to each other pretty wholesome. I like that both characters have an important role in the story. I enjoyed playing as both of them, although Jill got more of the spotlight than Carlos. Still, Carlos makes an interesting support role. He is humble enough to let Jill take the lead but strong enough to save her when she is in need. The greatest part is that both trust and believe in each other! It always makes me happy to see good teamwork, especially revolving around the interaction between the opposite sex. There was no gender-defined roles when it comes to getting the job done, and I like that a lot.

Carlos looking over
Jill Valentine looking firm

Gameplay wise, it’s fun. Like Resident Evil 2 remake, it has the same structure format in terms of gaming mechanics. Back in the day, it was hard to move and aim when you are surrounded with zombies who want a bite out of your neck. The tank control is a challenge in itself in contrast to the over-the-shoulder view. In the remake, the zombies still bite your neck as if you are a piece of delicious meat and you have to press X to be released from the zombie. It’s just annoying, but I guess it’s Resident Evil’s signature dish. Of course, the highlight of Resident Evil 3 gameplay is Nemesis. I think he secretly has a crush on Jill. He sure loves pursuing her! The majority of the game revolves around running away from him. The final blow felt really good.

Nemesis final blow
If you can’t read the text in the picture, Jill said, “Next time take the fucking hint.” I feel your pain, Jill.

My only disappointment about the gameplay, which is only a matter of preference, is QTEs. Did Resident Evil fans complain loud enough that developers decided to take them out of this game? I played the game in standard mode. I wonder if it would appear if I play in hardcore mode. Some action cutscenes could use some QTEs. I like them because it always makes me laugh and get my heart pumping in excitement. It keeps my mind alert, but I can see how bothersome it can be for some people who only play for stories or atmosphere.

Overall, it’s a great remake. I am not sure though if I would replay the game to get all trophies and to get a better rating (I got a C for average performance). But I can see someone spending a lot of time in this game to improve their rating and unlock items despite the story being short. You can beat it under 10 hours or even less if you know where and what to do in the game. So, replay value is great for such a short game. But then again, Resident Evil games were never long but were always well thought out, and that is exactly what I love about the franchise.

D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die Review: Just Let Go of the Past

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.

David Young in D4:Dark Dreams Don't Die falling into the tub

Young lost his wife and we the players become the detective by diving into his dreamlike universe. 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 realize, Mister Young is not okay. We are witnessing a man who is undergoing some severe trauma in the head!

Amanda posing in D4:Dark Dreams Don't Die game

And so, Forrest Kaysen (please see the picture below), an important supporting role in the game, is there to guide Young back to life, back to reality, the present moment. If you have played the game, you would notice once Young solved a particular mystery of his past, the memento lose 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.

Kaysen chowing down food in the dinner scenes

Looking closely at Kaysen, he is like a philosopher and sometimes like a twisted version of Little Peggy, the protagonist’s wife. 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 attempted 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 knows that Young has been drinking excessively to drown his misery. He is concerned for his friend’s physical and mental health, but he also wants some acknowledgement for his cooking ability. Did you know it is very rude to ask for a to go box in Japan if you can’t finish your meal in one sitting? Not only do we see Young playing with his food in the dinner scenes as if food is not a valuable source, but he also makes a point about how America is the land of the free. You are not obligated to finish a meal because you have a choice unlike Japan where the behavior is frown upon because it’s a sign of disrespect not only to the Cook but to life itself. This part of the game really highlights the differences between Japanese and American culture on food and the way human interact in a social setting in a twisted way. The game is after all directed by a quirky Japanese game director named Hidetaka Suehiro who is also known as Swery.

I know I mentioned a lot about the plot because I am assuming if you are reading this review then you’re the type of gamer who appreciate a good story. The plot and the colorful characters are definitely stronger than the gameplay; however, don’t be alarmed, the gameplay is creative and entertaining unlike some other cinematic games out there where gameplay is monotonously boring. 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.”

Cheney on the plane

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!

Note: Originally posted on March 4, 2017; revised and edited on August 4, 2022

White Knight Chronicles (PS3) Review

I still remember back in 2010, I know nothing about this game. I was at the gaming department of the store and I thought the cover looked cool and I am going to have fun with it. So, I bought the game on a whim. Subconsciously, I already know that it’s a high-quality game. After all, if you are a fan of Rogue Galaxy developed by Level-5 and Japan Studio, it has that same adventurous charm. I didn’t play the game as soon as I bought it. At the time, I was a college student who was overwhelmed with intense writing courses (whoever said writing is easy should think twice). I waited until summer break to the play game. As I mentioned before in my previous blog post: Fashionable JRPG Video Games (PS3), the game has a high learning curve, and I didn’t feel like sitting hours learning the gaming mechanics when my time was occupied with school work. This is not the game you can play with a breeze if you want to enjoy the game to its max, especially for someone as thorough as me. It is a hit-or-miss game to some folks.

Initially, I thought the story of this game is generic. To some extent, yes, but I didn’t mind it so much playing the second time around. The male protagonist, Leonard is a shiny white-knight armor who has come to rescue a princess named Cisna who happens to be a reincarnation of a queen from an ancient civilization. He later learns that he is one of the 5 knights who was chosen during infancy for an ancient war that never did get resolved. I think I said more than I should about the plot but the game only takes about 30 hours to complete if you just focus on the story. It’s not so long for a JRPG and this is where it might turn off some JRPG fans who emphasize the story. Keep in mind though, there are three parts to this series: White Knight Chronicles II and White Knight Chronicles Origins (available only on the PSP). However, unlike Tales of Arise, which I thought has a mediocre story, the game has so much to offer in terms of gameplay and stage designs, which often go unnoticed by video game reviewers because most people review games from a player and not from a creative perspective. Some of the stages reminded me of going through a maze. It’s pretty massive for those who love to explore. It’s a puzzle in itself. Its biggest selling point, however, is the ability to create your hometown and upload its online server for other players to visit, join and create quests. For someone who doesn’t play MMORPG, it was exciting. I get to meet other random players.

I have never played Monster Hunter, but it is sort of similar to that. You grind to get rare drops to enhance your armor or weapon, and oh boy when you do finally get the rare drop from so many attempts, you get that adrenaline rush. I wonder is that the same feeling that gamblers experience? Anyway, you can see how addictive the game is. Sometimes not for the better. I had to say NO to online games because of this game, which apparently, I didn’t play many of them beforehand, but it only takes one to let me know if it’s the type of game I want to invest my time in. Also, the social part of the game can be quite entertaining because we all know that players are more unpredictable than playing with an AI. The downside is that time is precious and I got other games to complete, which is why I tend to stick with single-player games.

For some JRPG fans, this is a terrible game, but for a few of us–this game is really fun. It’s a hybrid game: half single-player game and half-multiplayer game. It’s an interesting concept for the Playstation3 that offers a seamless, relaxing game experience. The combos and moves are pretty fun to execute. It also has an excellent soundtrack. On top of that, the cutscenes are far more charming and impressive than in Tales of Arise. I hope someday, this franchise would return. It has a lot of potential and it’s a work of art.

Last of Us Remastered Review (PS4): A Good Father and Daughter Relationship Video Game

Sometimes when a game is overly hyped, I can fall into the trap of dismissing a game entirely due to 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. Is it a masterpiece?

To my surprise, I must admit, I did enjoy the game to some extent.  The biggest strength of the game is progressively watching the father-and-daughter-like relationship grow.  I find the bonding between the main protagonist Joel and Ellie more believable than the father and daughter relationship in Resident Evil Revelations 2The Evil Within 2, and even Nier Gestalt (another topic I will go into detail at a later time).  As the saying goes, “show but don’t tell” is a popular saying when crafting a good story. The same rule applies to video games.  The presentation in Last of Us is cinematically engaging. Throughout the game, Ellie is seen side by side with Joel most of the time, allowing the audience to feel close to the characters over time. Even in combat, Ellie is not useless like Sheva in Resident Evil 5.  Throughout the game, teamwork is heavily emphasized for the two characters to survive. The most memorable part of the game to me is when a player has to switch from Joel to Ellie. At that point in the game, a scene takes the player into the future without giving many details of what has happened from the previous dramatic scene where it appears as if Joel has been shot (my memory is getting fuzzy here, I played this game back in 2018). I couldn’t tell if she is all alone until later, she is seen nursing Joel back to his health. That section of the game gave me a sense of relief. I didn’t realize I was becoming emotionally invested in the two characters’ relationship. I wanted to see them succeed.  I wanted to see them survive.

Ellie with a cross bow in Last of Us

Another section of the game that is memorable is where Ellie has to drive out the bad guys away from harming the injured Joel. I know I would do the same for my dad without a doubt. There is that urgency to protect. When the role is switched to Joel, likewise, I feel the very same urgency to protect Ellie. That part of the game did strengthen their bond and implies how much they need each other to survive, but more importantly, how much they trust each other.

Joel and Ellie petting a Giraffe

As Joel and Ellie’s relationship deepens in the game, it’s not hard to empathize with the characters. Toward the end of the game, I suppose the game has already turned me into a monster. The only option given to me is to shoot the doctor if I want to save Ellie. Similarly, to Joel, Ellie is no saint either when she hesitantly accepts Joel’s answer about the fireflies. For one, Joel is all she has in the world. She couldn’t bear the thought of losing him as we see in a scene in the game where she throws a little tantrum and runs off with the horse.  But at the same time, she feels tremendously guilty for not being able to save human lives as she mentions her best friend is the first to go, and of course there is Tess, an important character who has died in vain along the way for the sake of humanity.

Joel and Ellie bonding

Presentation and story-wise, this game gets a decent grade. The story flows well, however it has been told several times. What it excels at is speaking to humans on a primitive survival level, drawing out what matters most to the heart. Every day, humans make sacrifices and tough decisions. With a stern face, Joel already decided to carve his fate.  Any normal human being who underwent the traumatic event of losing a loved one will never be the same.  He never recovered from the tragedy of losing his daughter but at least he has someone like Ellie to fight for.  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. And as f*cked up as it sounds, the argument made in this game is pretty valid to me. Is a strong family man such a bad thing in society? I rather have that than a narcissistic, ambitious father who treats his children like second-class citizens. 

In terms of gameplay, the gameplay is cheap and unoriginal, which makes the entire game feels like a book, but plays like a movie.  There’s nothing really exciting about the gameplay. Typically, I am not much of a stickler for stories in video games.  Most of the time, if the gameplay is fun, I will keep playing. After all, I bought games to play.  The gameplay in The Last of Us is very stale and tedious. There were only two instances I thought were exciting.  One part is when Joel is 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 are clickers.  At first, I experience a little nervousness because nobody likes dark places filled with lurking monsters! But then, I realize I have many different types of weapons so my nervousness instantly goes away as there aren’t many obstacles to overcome to reunite with Ellie. I blast the enemies away with my shotgun.  Once I obtain the key, I bypass all of them and quickly get to a safe place.  Not much of a challenge there.  The other part is when Joel is hanging upside down shooting the infected. That part reminds me of a section in Resident Evil Revelation, where Chris Redfield fell from the cliff and is 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 the 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 the L3 button when it appears. This will give you a hint.  The game is very generous, but that consideration kills any challenges the game has to offer, and what is even worse, it makes the gameplay becomes 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 those unnecessary troubles. On the positive side, there were some breathtaking, beautiful wild scenic landscapes.  I am not complaining much.  It’s a nice little escape from the noisy city life I was once used to.

Joel and Ellie riding horses

Overall, the game feels genuine as it amplifies 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 going against big pharmaceutical companies.   I was entertained while the game lasted, but not entertained enough to demand a sequel.

Note: Originally posted
July 1, 2018; revised and edited May 30, 2022

Tales of Arise Review: A Pretty Mediocre Game

I was watching Bambi, the Disney cartoon, and I am reminded, “If you don’t have anything nice to say then don’t say it at all.” But I sort of disagree with that statement. Agreeing for the sake of keeping good company is a bad thing for mental health even if your opinion goes against the consensus. After all, the game did preach to the audience that we shouldn’t be slaves to someone’s ideas (critics). I wouldn’t be creating this blog if I didn’t somehow feel like it’s the only safe place where I can voice my opinions. I do this on my own terms as a gaming enthusiast. In all of my posts, I have been very civil about my dislikes and likes. And sometimes, I do feel bad for not liking a certain aspect of a game, film, or book because I know that it’s easier to critique than to create. However, I still stand by what I believe: Tales Arise is just a pretty mediocre game.

First off, I won’t go into lengthy details and point out all the things I didn’t like about the game because anything that is considered unpleasant means work to me, and I don’t want to do that unless I get paid to critique. Instead, I will talk about the positives. Where Tales of Arise shines is its powerful political statement: It stands for friendship, warmth, love, freedom, and all the good things people seek in life. On top of that, it has an epically beautiful open world. What more can you ask for in a JRPG? Well, this is where it becomes a matter of taste and preference: If video game is art, then I didn’t feel a connection with this artwork. I prefer the works done by the folks on Tales of Xillia and Vesperia more.

While playing the game, I had to remind myself that it was the franchise’s 25th anniversary and there is something to celebrate. The entire game is just epically flashy from the dialogues, cutscenes, battles, music to the overall atmosphere. It’s undeniably a well-polished game that went as far as giving out an epic speech about liberty and freedom and challenging the very existence of one’s being in the universe. And yet underneath it all, Tale Arise is really nothing new in the JRPG department. It’s just a really pretty game to look at with polished gameplay (if button mashing is your thing, that is). But it made me wonder if it was directed by a different game director, would I have enjoyed this game more?

Would I recommend this game to those who have not played Tales games? Yes and no. No, if I were a 14-year-old girl and this was my first JRPG, I probably would not have liked it. It feels as if I was sitting in Sunday’s School class being lectured on morality, but yes, if you want to play a high quality JRPG. It’s really a pretty game and I can see the huge effort put into it. However, it’s definitely not the game for those who want to escape into solitary away from society; who are looking for some good humor to laugh at life itself; who want superb storytelling; and/or most importantly to a gaming enthusiast like myself, a fun innovative gameplay.

Since I like to leave on a positive note, one thing I like about this game is the message that you don’t have to walk alone all the time. Needing one another is not a form of weakness, it’s a form of strength. Life is so much better when we are in pairs. Don’t be the lonely villain who is full of hatred.

Spirit Hunter: Death Mark Review (PS4)

I finished playing Death Mark (PS4 version), a visual novel game. I was pleasantly surprised by the game because I didn’t expect what I was expecting. No, this game did not give me the chills, did not mess with my mind, or give me a cheap haunted house thrill. Instead, the game left me pondering about Japan’s society as a whole. There were many mature themes posed in the game. It’s not a bad thing because it made me think.

There are 6 chapters total in the PS4 version (I don’t know about the vita version). The content of the game is decently proportioned (not a fan of playing long games due to having adult life’s responsibilities). The story flows well into each chapter. One thing I enjoyed about the game is the characters’ illustrations. All of them are interesting, including the monster designs. And of course, the sound production most often goes unnoticed but it matters a lot in horror games. In the game, people just keep popping up in the mansion at night. The mansion resembled the mansion in Resident Evil. Unexpected visitors arrived at the mansion after obtaining a mysterious mark. To get rid of the mark they must defeat the spirit that gave it to them in the first place. Time is ticking. So there is some urgency in the game; your life and those around you are on the line.

Oddly, the gameplay reminded me of a guessing game. You have to read between the lines to answer the questions correctly. You can see honne tataemae taking effect in the game. If you don’t know what honne tataemae is, it means knowing how to read air. For instance, in Chapter 2, we find a suicidal man in the woods, on the verge of killing himself. The player is given a selection of choices to answer his questions. Given the situation, you don’t necessarily speak what you think, which is very Japanese, although I heard that the idea of honne tataemae originated from China, but don’t quote me on that. Basically, you don’t speak your true thoughts around strangers. In this section of the game, I suppose lying to him is the better route–just so we can keep that harmony because the average American person would have responded in this way: “Yeah you got it rough. Your life sucks, man. You should chase after your dreams and not live for someone else, especially for a h0e.” And the suicidal man would reply: “Thanks man, for making me feel better. Now I want to go kill myself even more.” You get my point, I hope.

Due to the cultural context, I have found some of the choices sorts of irrelevant from time to time and wouldn’t say the gameplay is its biggest strength. After all, this is a visual novel (don’t worry visual novel fans, I am not discrediting it as a game). The game, however, is engaging enough to keep me “flipping the pages”. The player must read the text in each chapter carefully. Reading the text in each chapter closely provides clues on how to defeat the boss. The gameplay style is not for the adrenaline junkies who are used to relying on their reflexes to push buttons to get by. Instead, the game leans toward using detective skills, which oddly makes it a relaxing horror game to play. This is the type of game that would be fun to play with a group of female friends or with your significant other, or alone in the dark is okay too.

Overall, I enjoyed the game. My only gripe about this game is the portrayal of women. Then I can’t complain too much because the story is told from a male perspective and is intended for the male demographic. Patriarchal society likes to think frail women are not just physically weak, but also in mind and soul. So, there’s a little bit of a sexism undertone–a mistrust toward women in the game. But that’s okay. I’ll just sit still like the evil doll I am and watch Satoru Mashita go through all the trouble for laughs and giggles. After all, this is Japan we are talking about. Nonetheless, it’s a good horror game.

 Note: Originally posted in 2019. Revised 4/11/2022.

Lorelai Review

It’s good karma to give back to the universe by writing reviews and why not write one for Lorelai, a game released back in 2019, developed by Harvester Games, published by Screen 7. So let me spread the news about this game!

Great indie horror games that deserve more attention

This game may not be flashy and sophisticated like those Triple AAA titles, but it sure has a lot of soul and depth than a lot of these pretty-face remake games (I am referring to Final Fantasy VII. Better not throw eggs at me now). I suppose saving time and energy by making remasters and remakes than coming up with something original is the wiser route to avoid commercial failure. Well, I am not entirely against the business practice. Look at the Shenmue series for instance. It’s one of my favorite games and in terms of grandness, this game blew my mind away. However, sadly, it was a commercial failure. Creating new things is quite risky even if it sounds like a good idea. But let’s get this straight, I am not comparing Lorelai to Shenmue. No way! My point is that I am quite sad that passionate video game creators often don’t get enough recognition even if they put all their heart and soul into making a video game. Clearly, the creator of Lorelai has the ability to make things interesting, but without advertisement–sometimes good things will never be known because if there is one thing this game has that other popular gaming titles don’t have is taking risks. Aren’t gamers a bit of a gambler themselves? It’s no fun to play it safe all the time (wow, I sound so dangerous).

Minor spoilers alert!

So, I will tell you why I like Lorelai and why you should play it too! One, Lorelai, the protagonist, is not a princess because we all know that princesses rarely do the saving in video games. She’s a fighter, which makes perfect sense since she is “a powerful unstoppable being”. Hey! Anything that endorses female empowerment is cool in my book because I like feeling strong.

Playing Horror Indie Game

Secondly, this game is funny! It tackles real life, mundane situations without sugarcoating the brutal truth about how “life is so fu*king hard” without being overly dark even though it’s a horror story. I must admit that the gore is it bit too much for my liking. I rather stare at pretty flowers, but I kept playing this game anyway because of the metaphors and the symbolism. Some of the scenes in this game kept me intrigued and curious because we all know that we don’t always need words to tell a story. For instance, I like how Lorelai’s father is referred to as a scummy pig. In one part, Lorelai has to put a pig’s head on her stepfather’s headless body and then electrocute him with a blow-dryer in the bathroom. I found that scene quite satisfying and a bit disturbing. I can only imagine how often her perverted stepfather walked in on her multiple times while she was taking a bath for Lorelai to wish him a painful death. It’s this type of visual cues that keep the game interesting. I wanted to see her get away from that pig as far as she can with her baby sister even if it was in a dream. The entire game felt like I was going through a surrealist painting.

Strong female protagonist in video game

In the game, Lorelai dies but comes back alive to kill the Queen of Maggots. Along the way she meets interesting people. My favorite chapter has to be Chapter 2 where Lorelai goes to work as a caregiver at a nursing home. It’s a sad but funny scene. My least favorite chapter is when Lorelai tries to break the chef’s spirit at the request of the Queen of Maggots. But there’s an option to save the character as well. I only did it to get the trophy. Why not? It’s achievable and plus I like to extract everything I can from a game.

Strong female lead in video game

Overall, I enjoyed this game. It’s like diving into a friend’s mind and having a personal conversation with someone who knows what it is like to struggle in life. Someone honest and not overly optimistic about living in the clouds (I have nothing against girls in mech suits like in Sakura Wars, it’s just a matter of taste). Someone who can pick herself up and laugh at reality and all of its ugliness because the world is filled with routines and uncertainties. Lorelai is that game. It’s horrifically funny while at the same time adventurous, uncomfortably depressing, but nonetheless charming. There’s plenty of humor mixed with horror and a bit of romance in this game. Just my cup of tea, and hope it would be yours as well.

Remothered:Tormented Fathers Review

So, these past few days I have been playing some indie games, trying to give the smaller titles a chance to be recognized. Plus, I sort of got addicted to browsing games on Steam and added a few games to my Wish List. I will tell you what I find at a later time. For this post, I want to write a critical review on Remothered: Tormented Fathers, developed by Stormind Games, and published by Darril Arts, released in 2018. I enjoyed the game very much.

I bought this game a couple of years ago. It was one of the first games I bought on Steam but never got around to playing it. At the time, I recently had purchased a new laptop specifically for gaming and writing. Unfortunately, my laptop is not strong enough to run the game. The game crashes two times but I managed to beat it by quitting the game frequently for it to cool down. Oh, the experience was painful and it would have been better if I were to play it on PS4. I could have purchased a copy for the PS4 as I did with Tokyo Dark (you can find my review here). Instead, I stick with the PC version, risking my laptop blowing up in my face. I am just being dramatic. Actually, I have a high tolerance for minor nuisances. Rarely do I get mad if I have a bad user experience, but I can see how this can be a glaring problem for some people.

A Classy Survival Horror Game

But let me tell you. This game is pretty intense. It’s that scary because you are being chased by a barely-naked old man who is wearing nothing but a butcher apron. The most difficult part of the game is trying to explore without being seen. Play with headphones is recommended. The sound effects are on par and intense with the sound from the Silent Hill 2 game. Don’t think about lowering the volume because you would need to listen to the psychopath’s footsteps and his humming of Old MacDonald a farm song, which ties into the story. It’s like a game of stealth and hides and seeks, which I enjoy. The little girl in me never dies. I like to hide and seek games in horror style. I even found myself starting to sing along with the psychopath:

Old MACDONALD had a farm

E-I-E-I-O

And on his farm he had a lamb

E-I-E-I-O

With a baa baa here

And a baa baa there

Here a baa, there a baa

Everywhere a baa baa

Old MacDonald had a farm

E-I-E-I-O

Lyrics source: Musixmatch

If you enjoyed the Clock Tower series for the PlayStation, you will appreciate this game. The difference is you play as a strong, professional woman in her 30s by the name of Rosemary Reed, which I find the game to be refreshingly intelligent and classy for its kind. The balance between gameplay and story is sophisticated. It feels like a cinematic game but it’s not. A few cinematic cutscenes between the story and gameplay give me enough room to breathe without feeling overwhelmed. The story is full of suspense enough to keep me on my toes but unfortunately failed to captivate me. The plot is not very clear. I still have questions about who did what and what. Perhaps a second play-through would dispel my confusion. At times, the dialogues between characters tried to be too deep that they felt a bit staged rather than immersive. This resulted in a disconnection between me and the story. But honestly, I could care less what is happening because I grade survival horror games based on gameplay not story. If I want that experience, then I’ll just watch a horror flick as a passive observer. Still Remothered: Tormented Fathers is still a good game. The strongest point of the game is odd, its presentation. I felt like I was playing inside a film. Artistically, that’s a good thing.

Gamplay in Remothered Tormented fathers

I could drown myself inside the mansion for hours because the sound of high heels is quite soothing against the creaking floor. The lighting in this game is beautiful. There were certain shots in the game I really admire. Just look at how beautiful Dr. Reed is skipping into a nightmare in the picture below.

Classy Survival Horror Game

She is so dedicated to her job that she is willing to risk her life. She’s so brave and a tad bit crazy. But who am I to judge? I suppose I am just as crazy as she is to find her admirable. After all, I am playing a survival horror game here. Throughout the game, it was so difficult not to laugh nervously when the psychopath from the mansion kept mumbling in the background something along the line: of “This place is not open to the public!” and “Are you working overtime?” Strangely, these little minor details make me appreciate the aesthetic of the game as an art piece in itself. For one, a professional eloquent woman like Dr. Reed is quite attractive. Female protagonists don’t always have to be young Barbie dolls like in Haunting Ground, a PS2 game developed by Capcom, to mesmerize the audiences. However, there were a few minor issues that were a bit of an eye sore—the protagonist’s facial animation which looked more theatrical than natural, and her internal dialogue: “This can’t be real”. I often wonder why she was so persistent to trespass a private property in the first place only to find her desperately trying to get out of the mansion. Perhaps, I just didn’t find the plot convincing enough, or else I wouldn’t have had this question in the back of my mind. The game has potential in the story department and the pacing of the game could have been extended. So, it wouldn’t feel like the player rushed into a nightmare—only to want out as soon as possible.

Gameplay-wise, the game is pretty straightforward. The horror takes place in the mansion and if you follow a guide, you can beat the game in 1 or 2 hours. Running time is similar to that of a film. But quite frankly, I am not against it. It took me over 10 hours to complete the entire game because of trial and errors and obtaining all trophies. My only big complaint about the game is that the gaming mechanics can be quite frustrating sometimes. Do expect to die frequently. I rarely use any of the diversion items in the game, which are supposed to distract the psychopath. Perhaps, it’s my fault that I couldn’t read the in-game description correctly, but I just had no time to read or learn how it works when I am busy trying to run and hide from my pursuer! The entire structure of the game revolves around hiding and seek and some QTEs (quick time events) which can be frustrating for those who don’t have high reflexes. Some gamers are dissuaded from continuing the game when they keep seeing the Game Over screen as opposed to someone who sees it as a challenge. Luckily, this game doesn’t acknowledge the player’s failure, it just reloads from the last autosaved saving point. Finally, while hide and seek is the main gameplay concept, I find it a bit annoying that the enemy seems to appear from one place to the next conveniently. Players would naturally assume, it takes a certain amount of time to walk from point A to point B. Apparently, the enemy doesn’t follow the same physics rules; I don’t believe it’s the game’s intention to make the enemy a supernatural being either. There were times when I would hide in the closet, waiting for the area to be clear of the enemy, but it always seemed like the enemy was nearby no matter what floor I was on in the mansion. When it comes to technical aspects, it needs some work, however, for the most part, the game’s concept is great!

I remember now why the game started with Dr. Reed smoking. Smoke while you can because you are going to be underwater for quite some time until you get another break!

Dr. Reed smoking in survival horror game Redmothered: Tormented Fathers

Overall, the game is good. The concept is intelligent. As a survival horror game fan, I enjoyed it and wish I had a physical copy of the game to put beside my collection of horror games, which sadly, aren’t many. Finally, I will tell you why I enjoyed this game, after all, I am a bit of a wordsmith: Dr. Felton, the psychopath in this game is pretty sick. He’s a sickle. Get it? A sicko. And to his question, “Is it really worth it to put yourself into this story? No, but I am grateful it’s only a video game and it was fun! Now, I will go back to singing Old MacDonald had a farm song, and go to bed happy because I found myself a good survival horror game to play.

fishingformetaphors in survival horror game