Wednesday, July 29, 2020

A few thoughts on the three games I finished in April, May, and June 2020

Based on the headline of this post, some of you probably are thinking I played fewer games in April, May, and June than I did in January, February, and March.

After all, I only finished three games between April and June, while I finished six games between January and March.

The thing is, I devoted nearly as much time to the trio of titles I beat during the April-to-June quarter as I did to the sextet I conquered during the January-to-March one.

And then there's the fact that I also put more than 20 hours into the original Animal Crossing and about 95 hours into Animal Crossing: New Horizons while tackling the games discussed below.

Even if all of the above weren't true, though, I'd still be happy with my gaming accomplishments (if they can be described as such) of the last few months.

Why? Because I'm pretty sure the three titles I managed to complete between the beginning of April and the end of June will stick with me far beyond this challenging year--something I hope to make clear in the text that follows.  

Deadly Premonition Origins (Switch)

I don't think I've ever developed as strong a love-hate relationship with a game as I did during the nearly 30 hours I spent playing Deadly Premonition Origins recently.

On the one hand, I adored its characters, setting, soundtrack, and overarching story. On the other hand, I abhorred its nightmarish, claustrophobic "Other World" segments that forced me to fight never-ending hordes of groaning zombies. And I absolutely loathed the cumbersome, QTE-centric encounters with the game's Raincoat Killer that occasionally popped up during those same passages.

Although part of me thinks I would've enjoyed Deadly Premonition Origins a whole lot more if it had eschewed combat altogether, another part of me thinks it's an integral component of the game. Or at least I think it's integral to the game's off-kilter vibe. As in, I just can't fathom it being quite so breathtakingly bizarre without the aforementioned forays into its bleak and tension-filled alternate reality.

In the end, Deadly Premonition Origins' positive attributes outweighed its negative ones for me. I can't help but feel that won't be true for everybody, though--especially folks who fail to track down the game's more powerful weapons as early on as possible.

That's a real shame, as this janky, surreal jaunt to, through, and around the fictional--and fucked up, if you'll excuse my French--town of Greenvale, Washington, is surprisingly riveting if you can will yourself past its plethora of niggles and nuisances.

Disaster Report 4: Summer Memories (Switch)

Although I pre-ordered a physical copy of Disaster Report 4: Summer Memories the moment I was able to do so, I nearly canceled it a couple of times between then and when the game finally came out in early April. The reason? It quickly became clear to me (via online chatter) that the Switch port of this catastrophe-themed adventure was more than a bit rough in both the graphics and frame-rate departments.

I stuck to my guns, though, and now that I've played, finished (after putting about 17 hours into it), and thoroughly enjoyed Disaster Report 4, I'm patting myself on the back for my prescience.

Here's the thing: this Granzella-made, NIS America-published title is rough. There are times when its frame rate slows to a crawl--or worse. And its resolution veers wildly from acceptable to muddy to "did someone smear Vaseline on the screen when I wasn't looking?" and back again. Its localization is iffy, too--as in, it's not always easy to understand what the game's text is trying to convey. (Which is a problem when said text is your only hope--outside of a guide--of figuring out what to do or where to go next.)

So far, so terrible, right? Well, somehow Disaster Report 4 manages to compel, and even impress, despite its multitude of issues. I was especially wowed by how it was able to depict life during and after a disaster--an earthquake, in particular. Or maybe I should say I was wowed by how it seemed to depict life during and after a disaster? I (thankfully) have zero experience with such situations, after all.

Disaster Report 4 sure made me feel like I've experienced them, though. And not just in the obvious ways--like making me worry the ground could collapse beneath my feet or a building might crash down upon my head at any moment. It also regularly pushed me to consider what I would do if I encountered someone in peril, as well as how I might help them--or not--in such a situation. It forced me to deal with the ramifications of my decisions in those circumstances, too.

Another notable and sizable feather in the cap of this admittedly flawed release, as far as I'm concerned: I'm already itching to replay it. If that isn't a ringing endorsement, I don't know what is.

SaGa Scarlet Grace: Ambitions (Switch)

SaGa Scarlet Grace: Ambitions
is my cup of tea in so many ways. And yet I dragged my feet in terms of both buying and playing it. Its aesthetic was a big part of the problem, I'm embarrassed to admit. Before I started through its adventure myself, I thought it looked rather hideous. Most of the rest of this title was of questionable appeal, too--like its lack of towns and dungeons.

Well, I'm here to tell you all of those misgivings vanished into the ether shortly after I began playing through SaGa Scarlet Grace: Ambitions this past May.

In particular, the game's lack of explorable towns and dungeons proved to be such a positive component that I now wish other JRPGs would take the idea for a spin. It sounds strange--not to mention limiting and boring and just plain wrong--for this type of game, but SaGa Scarlet Grace: Ambitions makes it clear that nixing these role-playing staples is not only an acceptable alternative to the norm, but a preferable one if implemented thoughtfully and with care.

SaGa Scarlet Grace: Ambitions proves a few other points, too. Like RPGs don't need inns--or even healing items or spells--if they automatically heal party members between battles. Also, a bit of strategic tweaking can go a long way toward making turn-based combat intriguing instead of tedious.

The latter is especially important to SaGa Scarlet Grace: Ambitions, or at least it was in my experience. Although battles are a key element of any role-playing game worth its salt, they're particularly vital to this one. Thankfully, the tussles you're tossed into here are deep and thrilling and tough (though not cheaply so), and I never tired of them--or any other aspect of this title, truth be told--during my 97-hour playthrough.