I don’t know if you’ve noticed this about recent times, but they sort of keep releasing video games! They’ve released so many video games that hit my strike zone in particular, that my normal knowledge hungry habit of playing basically everything I can get access to has made it a bit harder to sit down and write things like “features” or “reviews”. Couple that with the ever marching malady machine that is my body, and in general I’ve been having frustrations about not exactly presenting my thoughts about games in a format that isn’t rapid fire tweets at two hour intervals.
The idea for this bit is basically like, hey, I’m gonna try to spend a little time each week (maybe every other week depending on the vibes) to write a couple paragraphs about the various games I’ve been dipping into. If you’re expecting some sort of dramatic well-researched musing on the concept of what each game is, you might not exactly find it, but I figure if you know me, then you might get a gist of what a certain game might have to offer (or not).
So yeah! Here’s what I’ve been playing this week!
Super Mario RPG Remake
So I haven’t exactly been the hottest on this recent trend of complete ground-up remakes of games that we’ve been seeing in recent times. While stuff like the Resident Evil 2 remake was good, since it was absolutely a work limited by the hardware they had access to at the time, recent forays like the Dead Space remake and Resident Evil 4 had me sort of going “yeah you’re right these games own, you are just showing me an ever-so-slightly cleaned up version of it, when you could have made something new inspired by it instead!” Super Mario RPG is very much made from the same cloth as those, unfortunately, and as it stands it’s just left me wondering why the hell Nintendo wouldn’t greenlight more projects like this, and also why the hell they seemingly did everything in their power to kill the games that were trying to follow in its footsteps.
It’s not that this is a bad remake, it’s absolutely functioning as intended, and at times can look genuinely gorgeous when it comes to pre-rendered cutscenes or specific environments, but as a cohesive whole it’s ultimately a low budget remake of a game that was a much more impressive undertaking in its time. There are tiny little snags like environmental language that once conveyed a specific direction being removed haphazardly in favor of fidelity, but the real problem for me is just how safe everything about it is. Mario is as on-model as he possibly can be, despite the blobified aesthetic of the game, and the claymation-esque diorama aesthetic barely feels present, removed in favor of a cleanness that the original felt like it was actively avoiding at all times.
I’ve only gotten up to the point where you get the whole party together as of this writing, but since this “remake” is so faithful, and I’ve already played Super Mario RPG before, I’m not entirely sure if I can see myself finishing it. This is especially more likely with the endless amount of RPGs I haven’t played, and games like Baten Kaitos ain’t gonna play themselves.
Still though, it is nice to get a reminder every now and again that there is potential in Mario, as well as the medium of video games, to transform one genre into another in unique and fascinating ways.
The Last Faith
This is unfortunately a game I was hoping I’d like a lot more than I actually do. It’s not the worst game by any stretch of the imagination, but a poor Switch port coupled with some baffling and boring design decisions really drag what could be a great game, down into a decidedly mid tier.
The Last Faith is a Metroidvania heavily inspired by games like Dark Souls and Blasphemous. It wears the aesthetics of Bloodborne blatantly, but ultimately it is a lot more like the original Dark Souls than anything else. You explore a Victorian hellscape for vague reasons because “Lore”, and fight all sorts of creatures to eventually uh. Become uncursed or something.
There are a lot of Issues I have with this game, but I would like to start with a few positive points at the very least, lest I sound overbearingly critical.
The art design for environments is generally very impressive for a side-scrolling pixel art game. There’s this really gorgeous layering effect that makes the entire world feel really large, similar to how Dark Souls utilizes its low res skyboxes to suggest a world as vast as it implies. Characters are iffy, but they are consistent, and certain attack animations are genuinely on par with Blasphemous’ macabre detail if not entirely as impressive.
The combat is also a big step up for most Metroidvania games, featuring a menagerie of weapons to choose from that all feel meaningfully different. I landed on using a scythe as I usually do, but there’s a bunch of interesting options like whip swords and axes that break apart into two swords that feel like a real mold breaker for a genre dominated by “you have 3 types of beams, or a sword you might add additional hits onto.”
Unfortunately, the game has too many problems for me to truly appreciate the parts where it shines. I’ll probably get into it more later, I might even consider a full review, but the hard and fast explanation is that it’s a game that feels… unfinished. Not in the sense that it’s unplayable or unbearably glitchy (though the Switch port has crashed on me and dipped the frame rate down to single digits more than once), but more because it just feels like it’s missing a ton of tiny things that slowly accrue to a very large and exhausting pile. I sort of talked about it in this Twitter thread, so I’ll let that explain in the interim. The Last Faith is a game that’s definitely fun enough for what it is, but I wouldn’t be champing at the bit to pick it up anytime soon if I were you, especially in a world where there are two Blasphemous games.
Arknights: Lone Trail
This is the third anniversary event for Arknights that’s focused on the in-game United States analogue, and it was pretty damn good. It has everything from sad little elves, to a dog-girl embezzling funds from the Department of Defense in order to make a giant laser that will blow up the entire sky so she can go to outer space, and honestly what more could you want? Unless you also want some critique on America circa the 1960s, as well as an analysis on the politics of science and what sorts of expectations and responsibilities should be imposed upon them, because Lone Trail also has that!
Genuinely, it’s been really satisfying watching Arknights gradually make its way from a game that has really killer aesthetics and world building with a lackluster localization and exhausting presentation, to a serialized visual novel that has become so well-paced that I’m actively excited to read every new morsel they put out.
I’m also fascinated by the ending of this event, where they posit an alternate ending to Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers where instead of killing an old man you just put him in a cube. Real visionary stuff.
Alan Wake 2
Normally I would have reviewed this, but I honestly don’t even know what I’d say about it that wouldn’t read as outrageously effusive. The original Alan Wake was one of my favorite games as a child. I must have played it at least half a dozen times just soaking in the aesthetics, the cinematography, the ludonarrative concepts of the manuscript and Light and Dark, and the killer chapter end songs. After Microsoft killed any hope of an Alan Wake 2 back in the day, I wholeheartedly thought that the series would be relegated to things like Control easter eggs at most. But no! Just like with Twin Peaks: The Return (in more ways than one) we were all lucky enough to live in a timeline where somehow Alan Wake 2 got made.
I don’t want to spoil anything, because I genuinely want anyone with a passing interest in the ways that developers can push presentation in games to experience everything for themselves, but it’s just sooooooo good. Everything is sooooooo good. The improvements in basically every field… the dual protagonist switching… the constant intrusion of FMV and Sam Lake himself… it’s just such a perfect video game for what I’m always looking for in the medium. It’s the sign of a real banger when your main complaints at the end of a game involve simply wanting more, and Alan Wake 2 has me fervently awaiting whatever the hell its upcoming DLC will be.
Seriously, I beseech you… go and see the adventures of the Champion of Light for yourself. You’d be hard pressed to regret it.