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Final Fantasy Challenge: Final Fantasy XII the Zodiac Age Part 2: He shall defy the will of the gods, and see the reigns of history in the hands of man

I was originally going to go with a Basch quote about bearing any shame if it meant he could save even one person from the horrors of war, but I really feel like this quote from Judge Bergan, one of the few actual bit players in the game, fits this point in the game better.  I’m about at the halfway point, on my way to Archades, and I’ve reached about the most heart-rending part of the game, where Bergan tears through the refugee camp at Mt. Bur-Omisace all for the purpose of striking against the gods.

That quote up there is sort of the major theme of the game.  I’m not going to get too much into spoilers, but this is the Final Fantasy I’ve played more than most, so I know what he’s talking about and while I don’t want to give anything away, his quest is sort of noble.  It’s interesting, though, to see the lengths to which Vayne, through people like Bergan and Cid, are willing to go through to succeed at a goal that may be noble, but their methods are just brutal.  If the gods are as bad as they’re saying they are, is murdering the clergy that serves them and burning the refugees they’re trying to help actually doing anything about it?


Copyright Square Enix

One of the major themes of this game is power and its use.  Remember, the back story of this game is pretty much “what if King Arthur actually had nukes?” so the bad guys having a potentially noble goal, but are willing to murder innocent people who are just tangentially, if unwittingly, opposed to that goal is something that this game is going to explore.  The first time I played this game, it seemed like a pretty cruel thing for the empire to do, and it was carried out by this actual crazy person.  It’s a great scene, because it’s a scene that shows what Empire, or at least Vayne, is capable of, but it’s also so full of foreshadowing and really lays out the themes of the game.

Everything about this game explores power, and it ties in with the game.  The Espers I have to get are the same Lucavi demons from Final Fantasy Tactics (literally the same, Tactics takes place in the, or possibly an alternate, future), and their story, too, is similar to that of mine.  At the same time, the MacGuffin in this game are also literal magical nukes, that may or may not be made out of the souls of the dead.   To have one of the bad guy show up and exposit about it makes for a great scene, and it underscores what makes this game so damn good.

So, I’m about halfway or so though the game.  I’m on my way to Archades, and I’m going to take a break from the story to take out a few of the Elite Marks and do some sidequests.  I said before that I’m worried about playing VII and VIII because of how all of the sidequests introduce some sort of minigame (or a terrible trading card game), but I’m really glad that this game just has me use the mechanics of the game.  Mostly all I need to do is talk to a guy and get a quest, which has me fight some kick ass monster.  I guess it’s a little limited, and I know that’s why the Playstation era games decided to add those minigames, but it’s refreshing to not have to learn a completely different set of mechanics just because of one damn fight.

There are a few gimmick fights in this.  I fought some magnet monster (who I forgot to steal from again!)  that was a little weird, but it was just a cool mechanic.  It helped I wasn’t wearing a shit ton of heavy armor, so the magnet abilities, which would put a Slow-like mechanic on a guy wearing Heavy Armor, didn’t have a huge impact on me, but the fight was still challenging enough that it kind of pushed me.  It’s not as punishing as the original, and I like that, but it still requires me to work hard at the game and try to do my best.

I’ve also managed to reach a point in the game where I have two license boards, and I’m starting to get Epsers and level three Quickenings, which actually have an impact on what abilities I can get.  So, for example, because I gave Basch the Esper Mateus, he was able to get some high end White Magic, that he wouldn’t have been able to get otherwise.  The way the dual license board system works, along with the unique Espers and Quickenings, is actually pretty cool because it means my build still has a bit of differences, even with the pre-defined classes.

I’m enjoying the game more than I’ve ever enjoyed it.  The Zodiac Age is much, much improved over the original.  I had some serious gameplay issues with the original, but overlooked them because I love the stories and characters, as well as the themes it explores and the gorgeous art direction.  Now, it’s actually even more fun to play, because it smoothes over a lot of the rough edges.  Elder Wyrm was still a huge pain in the ass, with its goddamn Treant adds and Sporefall ability.  I maintain it’s the hardest boss of the main campaign because of where it is, but I’m glad I made it through on my first try, rather than having to smash my head against the wall and grind and grind and grind to make sure I have enough experience to beat him through attrition.  Thanks to the revised mechanics, I felt I was able to win more through strategy, and then shifting tactics during the battle, than just having more hitpoints and spells than he had times to hit me in the face with his fucking Sporefall.


Final Fantasy Challenge: Final Fantasy XII The Zodiac Age part 1 Don’t Believe Ondore’s Lies

Seriously, don’t.  Because that man is a master of manipulation.  I had never really considered how good he was at manipulating the events of the game to his, and to Dalmasca’s, benefit.  There are characters who attempt to play both sides, to do the whole “magnificent bastard” archetype, and too often we get characters like Senator Palaptine in the Star Wars Prequel Trilogy who can just do stuff because they know the future or they’re just so, so smart, they can predict anything.  Bean from the Ender books and Light from Death Note are similar.  I actually really dislike characters like that because their manipulations come across more as plot contrivances than the character actually being manipulative.  Marquis Halim Ondore feels legitimate in his ability to play all sides.

As a player, it’s hard to actually read where his loyalties lie.  This is my third time through, and even though I haven’t played the game in almost 10 years (Jesus, I thought i loved this game), I know which side he’s on.  I also know that at the point I’m at, having finally gotten my full party, I also know that he’s going to come across as shady for most of the game.  Having Basch pull out his sword while in his office, so they get arrested by Ghis, who has both Ashe and Penelo, was a masterstroke.  What’s cool is that this easily could have been a plot contrivance, but the game makes a point of establishing Ondore as already knowing what is going on.  He knew where Ashe was, and he picked up on the girl Larsa brought with him is important to the kid Basch and the sky pirate brought with them, so he manages to kill two birds with one stone.


Copyright Square Enix

So, why am I talking so much about Ondore?  Because Ondore is an example of how this game does good by all of its characters.  Vaan is probably the least liked character, and he does fall into a trap that a lot of anime and video game characters of that era were falling into, but in a lot of ways, his characterization is more of a commentary on that sort of anime/shonen hero rather than an embrace of it.  I notice he’s not too dissimilar from Edward Elric in that regard, in that they’re both brash, naive and a bit selfish.  Both of them, too, are kind and heroic and are interested in using their skills to help people, yes, but the first three traits are what we see for both of them right at the beginning, and they are personality traits that the work they appear in portray as downsides.  Compare to someone like Naruto (or any of the heroes in that story), their brashness, naivete and general selfishness is not rewarded and gets them, and their friends in trouble just as much.

Vaan causes tons of issues for Balthier and Basch early on, but neither of them are going to take any of his shit.  Vaan’s characterization makes him a pretty typical teenage protagonist, but the way the characters treat him and his antics show that they aren’t going to let him be a dipshit the whole game, and that’s what makes this game great.  It also helps that the characters have tons of foils both in and out of the party.  Consider Larsa, who is also naive, but his primary character trait is that he’s kind.  He expects Vayne will treat the people of Dalmasca as Vayne treated him, with kindness and respect.  There’s also some evidence to suggest that Vayne’s murder of their two older brothers was to protect Larsa from some sort of mortal danger, although the game doesn’t elaborate on it.  Anyway, because Vayne was kind to him, Larsa expects Vayne will be kind to the people of Dalmasca.  He’s 12, and it’s easy to see why a 12-year-old would think this.  He manages to be a great foil to Vaan, since Vaan’s naivete is based on something else, but more importantly, both use the story as a means to grow up and become better people, and better leaders.

I’m marching through the game at a decent pace.  This version of the game is much easier than the PS2 version, and that’s a compliment.  Too much of the difficulty in the original version of the game is because it was built with XI in mind, a game that is so insanely difficult, it’s hard to believe it was considered an easy MMORPG when it came out.  The Zodiac Age does a better job of balancing out the HP and damage of both the enemies and the PCs, making the game feel much smoother.  That doesn’t mean the game is without challenge, Judge Ghis nearly killed Balthier a bunch of times, and was only saved by a quick use of a Reflectaga mote right at the end of the fight.

The new licence board is also so much better.  Not only do the classes give each character an identity, the licences are actually better spread out, and it’s much, much easier to plan out a character.  Once I got Ashe on my team and made her a Foebreaker, I was able to get her up to tank status right away, and build her out in such a way that that I knew what I could grab over the next few levels.  I really like that most of their equipment or spells are nearby, meaning the player can focus on getting the stuff that is relevant to their class pretty easily, while the more complex or esoteric stuff comes later.  For instance, all of the White, Black and Green magick available to a Red Battlemage is all very close, but the Greatswords are further down the equipment list, closer to when the characters will be able to actually purchase that level of greatsword.

I still dislike the weird “k” they’ve added to everything.  Magick, Technicks, etc.  It’s dumb looking.  On the other hand, it’s a lot easier to get Techniques now, too, because they were in some weird places on the original licence board, and now they’re properly distributed into the different classes in such a way that they’re easy to grab, as a means to better flesh out the class.

Currently, my team is as follows: Vaan: Monk, Balthier: White Mage, Fran: Red Battlemage, Basch: Knight, Ashe: Foebreaker and Penelo: Time Battlemage.  Once I get Licence Board +, I’ll add Shikari To Vaan, Machinst to Balthier, Archer to Fran, Ulhan to Basch, Bushi to Ashe and Black Mage to Penelo.  I’m thinking I should have given her Black Mage first, then moved into Time Battlemage, but too late.

Final Fantasy Challenge Changing All of The Rules

So, I decided the worst thing to do was to follow my original plan and play through all of the Final Fantasy games all at once.  Actually, looking over my original plans and rules for this playthrough, I found that I wasn’t going to actually enjoy this.  I was looking at this like work, instead of a fun thing I can use to write about one of my favorite video game series.  So, I decided to drop all of my rules and play all of the games in whatever order I wanted to.  That order was to play all of the ones I haven’t played, but I wanted to start with XII.


Copyright Square Enix

Longtime readers know that XII is my favorite Final Fantasy game.  It’s a close fight between it and VI, mostly because both have a lot of things I like in my RPGs.  A large cast of PCs that each feel like the main character of their own story, a villain, or collection of villains, that feel real and have real motivations, tons of magitech (that’s apparently a thing for me) and a focus on a spanning political epic that effects the lives of king and commoner alike.  XII gets the nod mostly because of the sweet airships, and a kickass art book I got when I bought the strategy guide 12 years ago.  I got it for free.  I dressed up like a Black Mage for a costume contest and won by default.

Already, the Zodiac Age manages to make things better right at the very beginning.  Obviously the graphics have been touched up, but not by a whole lot.  Final Fantasy XII pushed the Playstation 2 to its limit back in the day, and it had really great art direction.  The opening mission with Reks and Basch looks great, and I forgot how good of an intro it really is.  It comes after nearly five minutes of gorgeous cutscenes that set the stage for the game, so I always remembered it being a bit slow, but the game does a good job of teaching how things work.  Plus, it does themeing really well by teaching the player about what they will be able to become by having Basch use his Fulminating Darkness on the boss.  It’s not quite on the level of Zero blasting off the arm of Vile’s mech in one charge shot, but you know, it’s going to be hard to match up to the first level of Mega Man X, the best first level of any game in the world.

The first thing I noticed is that the voice acting no longer sounds like it was recorded in a can.  The weird, mono-esque echo that plagues the original Playstation 2 version is gone.  All of the voices sound crisp and clear, and it’s surprising how good the voice acting is.  The game uses a sort of antiquated, semi-Shakespearean vocabulary and it would be easy to stumble over the words, especially since so much of this was recorded in late 2005, and wasn’t redone for the remake.  However, they all do a really good job of acting.  This shouldn’t be a thing I have to say, but 12 years ago, “video game voice acting” was kind of a joke, and if it was a Japanese game, that went double.  Hell, even Final Fantasy had difficulty with this, as even professional voice actors had difficulty with X (although not as much as expected) and XIII is such a shit show in so many ways, it shouldn’t be surprising that the voice acting is also bad.  Here, though, it’s great.  They have serious cartoon actors (John DiMaggio, Keith James Ferguson, Phil LaMarr, among many others) and the less well known actors all seem to have stage acting experience, which helps with the awkward phrasing and old-timey sort of talking.

So far, I’ve only completed the first parts with Vaan.  I’m going to try power leveling at the beginning to avoid some of the more unpleasant aspects of the midgame, but the reviews say the difficulty curve is much less shitty, and it’s easier to get both money and license points.  The job system apparently helps with that.  I’m using a guide for my job choices, since I’m tired and have a lot going on at work, and it’s apparently suboptimal (like keeping a gun in Balthier’s hands), but I’d rather have a bit of fun with this playthrough than make it work.  After all, this is about experiencing games I didn’t get to grow up with, but always did.  This is about as close to nostalgia as I can get, and I’m ready for it.  Time to beat myself up so an undead monster shows up and I can chain kill it for power leveling!  This is actually less lame than it sounds.

Edit: After a week of playing Final Fantasy XII, I’ve decided to take this out of the Final Fantasy XII playthrough section and make its own thing to stand alone.  My thoughts on XII have evolved and I have different things to say on the subject, so I’m keeping this here as a statement that I’m not going to follow the original rules that I laid out, and have decided to approach specific write ups from a different perspective.

Basically, I put a lot of stupid pressure on myself for no reason, and I’m going to ignore all of it because I hate it and want to do things my way.


Game Anatomy: Super Combos


Copyright Bandai Namco, Toei Animation, Arc System Works, and Akira Toriayama (please support the official release)

Back in high school, Guilty Gear X was my jam.  I picked it up second hand when I was a junior in high school, tired of playing Smash Bros. Melee.  I had never really gotten into Street Fighter like I wanted to, and once the shock of blood and guts wore off, I grew tired of Mortal Kombat almost immediately.  Guilty Gear, being a slick anime fighting game where the game looked and played like my favorite cartoons stuck with me, and it helped that Arc System Works gave the system a ton of depth.  It wasn’t Virtua Fighter depth, but it made Street Fighter II look like a baby’s game.  Look, that shit was important when I was 17 years old.  Guilty Gear XX, which I picked up a year later, was even better, with more complexity and cooler characters added in.  I always felt like I was getting better, like there was more to master, but eventually, I hit a wall after a couple of years of playing.

Part of this is because I never got much in the way of competition.  I’m the only one in my circle of friends who bought fighting games, and at the time, online wasn’t really a thing.  Nor were arcades.  The other thing, though, was that the depth and complexity of Guilty Gear was insane.  Arc System Works made everything more complicated with Blaz Blue, and a year ago, I even tried out Guilty Gear Xrd and felt left behind.  I had come to the understanding that depth and complexity didn’t have to be the same thing, and this is where Dragon Ball FighterZ comes in.  That is the worst title ever.

Dragon Ball FighterZ (ugh!) might be the best fighting game ever because it does something that seems like it would be counter intuitive and would cut down the games depth and skill ceiling drastically.  It makes it so all of the characters use the same inputs, and, more importantly, combos can be made just by tapping one button, or a simple combination of buttons, over and over again.  It sounds like button mashing, like the little brother system of game design, but it actually works.

The game does have a traditional combo system, yes, and it can chain different combos together, but the main bread and butter of the system is the Super Combo system.  I use an X-Box One controller, so I can tap X over and over again, which can give me a strong, five to ten hit combo, provided I keep up the rhythm.  This sounds cheap, but since I’m using X, I can generally keep the enemy staggered long enough to do the whole combo, it’s a light attack, so the damage is lower.  It’s fast, sure, but it’s also easier to block the initial attack, and because it’s so fast, if I do get blocked, my recovery is going to be slower.  A lot of this will be due to human error, because I’m likely to assume I hit before I even finish the inputs, hammering on the X button, instead of blocking their inevitable counter attack, but there are mechanical issues as well.  If I miss, I’m open, and if I’m open, they can do the same to me.

Even more, the Super Combo system looks cool.  Each attack in the string is contextual, and it changes the animation.  This means it’s much easier to get the spectacular looking combos that people see in the anime all the time.  The whole fight is literal wall to wall best of Dragonball Z, with crazy blasts and huge, multi-hit combos the whole time.  By stringing together animations, which change based on where the player is, what attack in the string their doing, and what their previous attack was, it makes the game seem much more inviting.  Yes, even the newbie scrub can do the cool attacks, which incentives the players into staying.  The simplicity of the Super Combo means that even new players can do things that look cool, which will teach them to continue to working at the game in order to do more cool stuff.

What works best about it, though, is the simplicity.  Sure, it doesn’t have the crazy amount of stuff you can do as in something like Guilty Gear XX, but so much of that extra stuff is super high level, and very difficult and finicky to input.  I’ve NEVER done a Roman Cancel in a Guilty Gear game.  I can’t even remember how to do, and even when I did, I couldn’t get it right, because doing it was so complicated.  The Super Combo system has none of that.  Much like Smash Bros., the game instead focuses on stringing together basic attacks, and making combos from that.  This means the fighting is more focused on mind games, positioning and reflexes.  Anyone can do the same stuff, and it’s all on the same layout, so who can do it the fastest?  Who can use the right Super Combo or Super Attack at the right moment?  Who better able to string a special move or Super Attack into a Super Combo?  Those questions become more important at a higher level than anything else, making the depth much more accessible and easily explored without sacrificing a skill ceiling.  Daigo is going to tear me apart, period, no matter how fast I can hammer X.

Now, the game has only been out for a couple of weeks, so it’s hard to say if this will be as successful at the competitive scene as it seems, but so far, fighting game veterans are saying the simplicity means they can do more with less.  That’s a good thing, and a good direction for fighting games to go into.


The Final Fantasy Challenge


Copyright Square Enix

So, about three and a half years ago, in the lead up to the release of Metal Gear Solid V, I decided to play through every single Metal Gear Solid game.  I had never really been a fan, kind of on the periphery of the fandom, but I was familiar enough with the characters and the story.  When I played Metal Gear Rising: Revengence, though, I decided I really wanted to play all of the games, and the release of Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes felt like as good a time as any.  I managed to make it thorough, although it took over a year and I didn’t play Peacewalker.  I didn’t have any plans to play Peacewalker, although I might give it a shot when I’ve got some time.

I won’t have time to do it soon, though, because I’ve decided I’m going to do the same thing, only with every single Final Fantasy game (except XI).  Unlike Metal Gear Solid, I’ve been a huge Final Fantasy fan since I was 11, and I’ve actually played pretty much every game in the series, except for V and XI.  However, I haven’t finished every game in the series, and that’s something I want to rectify, so over the past month, I made a point of getting a hold of every single Final Fantasy game in the main series so I can play through them over the course of the next year.  Or two.  This might take me a while.

Now, while I’m calling the game a “challenge,” the rules are fairly simple.  I just have to play and beat all of the games in the series.  I don’t have a time limit or anything, nor am I imposing any particular difficulties on me.  I just couldn’t think of a better name.  The idea is to get my thoughts on this long running series, so I’ll be blogging about what I think after I finish each game in the series.  I won’t be doing updates multiple times through each game like I did with Metal Gear Solid, since I actually have played most of these before.  This is half reexamining nostalgia, half trying to get through a giant backlog of a series I’ve always wanted to be a better fan of.

The idea came because I’ve had IX for years, but I haven’t ever finished it, or gotten very far into the game.  I loved what I played, but it was sort of a game I never had a reason to get into.  Part of it was time, part of it was incentive, but the point was, I wanted to play the game and I needed to give myself a reason.  Then, I realized there were a bunch of games in the series I never got through, and I thought “can I really call myself a fan?” and figured what the Hell, I’ll go through them again.  Plus, there were a few games I never gave a fair shake to, and people tell me I need to give a second chance.  Also, that copy of the Zodiac Age is sitting on my shelf, taunting me.

There are a few rules.  First, I have to play through the whole game, at least the main story, before I move on to the next, and I have to play them in release order.  That means I can’t play XII until I’ve completed everything through X first.  I don’t, however, need to burn through every side quest or extra scene in order to get the experience, but it is highly encouraged considering how much easier some of the end game sidequests are.  Second, I I’m only sticking to mainline games, except for XI.  There’s no reasonable way for me to play XI, so trying to write about it in a timely fashion before I can move on to XII, XIII and the later games is pointless.  Also, it’s an MMORPG from an era that is before me, so I don’t think I can appreciate it.  I also won’t be writing about XIV.  I am playing XIV, but I’m discounting it from the collection.  I may talk about it in supplemental material, where I talk about Tactics, Tactics Advance and a few other games in the series, but it won’t be part of the series either.  Third, I will definitely use a guide and I might even cheat.  Some of these games, I have beaten before and I’m more curious to see if they hold up.  I’m also not willing to deal with grinding.  If I can dump a shit ton of levels onto me, I might do that.  On the other hand, if I enjoy the game enough, I might just do it anyway.  I do know I’m not going to sit there using Draw over and over again for VIII, because that’s bullshit.  I’m also totally using New Game Plus for XV, because holy shit I would like to Platinum that game.  Finally, in the end, I’m going to give my ranking for all of the games in the series.

Personally, I think it’ll look like this: XII, VI, IX, XV, VII, IV, V, I, VIII, III, X, II, XIII.  I do know that XIII will end up in the bottom.  That game sucks so much.


2017 Biggest Disappointment: The Entire Industry


Copyright Bioware and Electronic Arts

The biggest issue with Mass Effect Andromeda was that they only had 18 months to make the game.  That’s unacceptable.  Before the game was actually in development, most of what made up Andromeda were pie in the sky ideas and a system designed to develop some planets.  The actual development, as in when they actually had a game to develop and work on and they weren’t in pre-Alpha, was 18 months.  The game came out on March 21, 2017.  Dragon Age: Inquisition’s final DLC, Trespasser, the last thing relseased by Bioware before Andromeda came out on September 8, 2015, just over 18 months before Andromeda came out.  The entire development cycle for this game, the real development for this game, exists entirely in the space since Trespasser came out.

It’s an embarrassment.  The game probably wasn’t as bad as people said it was, and considering how the original trilogy ended, it’s about the only way it could have gone, but the level of mediocrity involved in the development of this game showed that no one at Electronic Arts gave a shit about this game, seeing it only as a way for the company to shit out something attached to Mass Effect’s shitty, but surprisingly popular, multiplayer and make all the money.  The game was released in a clearly unfinished state, and not in a Final Fantasy XV way, where they keep adding features based on community content.  I mean, voice acting was cleaned up, features were put into the character creator, missing textures were put in the game.  The reason that lady looks so awful at the beginning of the game?  Because they didn’t finish making her.

There was so much shit like this all year that it’s really hard to narrow down just what’s the most disappointing part thing of the year.  There wasn’t one game, or one industry practice or one anti-consumer stupid bullshit thing that felt like it was any worse than the others.  Even things that have been bad for years, like crunch or industry working conditions, managed to come out and get bad all over again.  Not just because they were dragged out into the limelight as a part of a larger conversation in Western culture, but because there were reports of crunch being particularly bad over this past year.  The aforementioned Mass Effect Andromeda released after being drowned in it, and it wasn’t the only one.  CD Projekt Red’s current project, Cyberpunk 2077, was rocked with allegations of poor working conditions, and of course more and more news comes out of Japan every week about how the developers are treated.

They’re not the only ones.  EA famously canceled a mysterious Star Wars project, codenamed Ragtag, which led to the closing of the Visceral Games, the makers of the Dead Space trilogy.  It was a series I wasn’t a fan of, I don’t like horror games myself, but it was definitely a series that put things like quality and good player experience over trying to get more and more money and that’s something I can respect.  There’s a lot, both positive and negative, to be said about the development of Ragtag, but all of that falls into the larger picture of a bloated industry more interested in greed that still doesn’t know how to keep the ambitions of studio heads in check at the same time.

This doesn’t even get into the loot box system, which was already a terrible thing and somehow managed to become even worse than it already was.  Microtransactions and loot boxes and other ways to siphon money from players were such a pernicious and sinister part of the game’s industry for so long, it was hard to imagine them being worse, and then we got Star Wars: Battlefront II, which not only tied player advancement to a microtransaction system, these microtransactions were also done through loot boxes.  It’s insane.  Not only would one player do more damage than another, whether or not the player who’s behind can even catch up was intended to be random.  That doesn’t even sound like it’s good for long term player engagement, so I don’t even know how a greedy CEO can look at that and think it’s what will bring in the money.


Copyright DICE and Electronic Arts

I understand the appeal, form a business perspective of “games as service,” even if I think that it misunderstands the idea behind, and the potential of, interactive media.  A continuing game that can be updated, generally through some sort of paid service or expansions, rather than having to build a new game each time.  It’s why we had the MMORPG boom between 2002 and 2011, and why everyone is rushing a battle royale style game out the door now.  It’s something that could, technically, even be a benefit to the industry, were it used to buoy smaller projects, or more ambitious or niche titles, but that’s not what the industry is using it for.  Instead, it’s just a way to make games cheaper and maximizing profits.  I’m not under any illusion that video game publishers are anything other than engines to make money for the company and their investors, but that doesn’t mean that the industry can’t also have its cake and eat it too.  As we’ve seen this year, the indie scene has shown there is an audience out there for genres, titles and concepts that might not fit into the traditional “AAA” “Hardcore” market.

Not that things have been great on that front, either, since Valve has decided that doing any work to curate their storefront is some sort of cardinal sin.  Despite promising, after closing Steam Greenlight, that Valve would let fewer shit titles onto their platform, this year we’ve seen even more questionable titles, Unity asset flips and straight up scams on the Steam platform than any other year.  Seriously, last year was the worst year ever in that regard, but it grew this year.  Hell, before writing this sentence, I opened up the Steam store and the first thing presented to me was some sort of survival early access sort of game.  A type of game I don’t even play, which, if Steam had algorithms half as good as YouTube (which still seems to think I hate women because I play video games), would understand that’s not the kind of game I’m interested in.  During the Winter sale, it was almost impossible to find any good deals without the help of a third party, and I basically skipped most of it anyway, instead electing to buy a bunch of Final Fantasy games I hadn’t played so I can do a project for this blog.  It’s ridiculous.

So, as a whole, this year gave us some of the best video games I’ve ever played.  It was also a year where publishers constantly tried to shove their shit down our throats, lying to our faces and hook us into near-gambling “lifestyle” games to satisfy our own greed.  It was the most 2017 thing I think I could have experienced.


Game of the Year: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild


Copyright Nintendo

This might actually be my favorite game, ever.  Seriously, I was talking to a student today and he asked my what my favorite video game was, and without hesitation, I said Symphony of the Night, which has been my favorite game for nearly half of my life, but after I wasn’t so sure.  I love this game.  I love it more than A Link Between Worlds, I love it more than Twilight Princess, Ocarina of Time and even more than A Link to the Past.  I spent my entire spring break last year playing nothing but this, and it was a sublime experience.  There are few games I can say that I’ve enjoyed so thoroughly as the Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.  It’s the best game, at least since Skyrim, to do use an open world, with some of the best systems and mechanics I’ve seen in an RPG of its caliber.  It’s better than the Witcher, it’s better than Skyrim, it’s just the best.  I love it.

I could almost stop there, because the next few paragraphs would probably just be me gushing about how much I love the game, or how I miss not playing it, so I’m not going to go into that.  First, I’ll talk about a few of the flaws.  There’s a lot of Hyrule that doesn’t get properly utilized, there need to be more enemy varieties and a lot of the sidequests are just sort of there for the sake of having a sidequest.  Nintendo clearly knew they needed to have them, but they didn’t really know how to populate their quests properly, so we get a lot of fetch quests.  Also, shrines get boring after a while and korok seeds were a bad idea.  At least, having 900 of them was a bad idea.  That looks like “add more for the back of the box” kind of numbers rather than good content.

It’s not a game without flaws, and it has flaws other games in the genre don’t have, but I enjoyed playing this one more than any other for a number of reasons.  First, it was actually fun and enjoyable to play and explore.  Combat has a nice amount of depth without being too intimidating, giving players a lot of options, both in tactics and strategy.  Combat felt challenging when it should, and was easy when it needed to be too, and that’s a rare rhythm to find in a linear game, let alone an open world one.  I loved that I could climb and my exploration wasn’t limited to a horizontal axis.  I would climb a mountain just to see if there was anything at the top, and sometimes there wasn’t, and that was absolutely awesome.  The view, and jumping off to see how far I could parasail was enough.  Even though I slavishly followed every part of the main quest, the fact that I didn’t have to, and the game actually took this into account, is amazing.  The fact that it gave that much control and trust to the players, that they could skip any section of the main quest, do it in any order, or just take a suicide charge at Ganon if they wanted to, is something I have not seen in any other open world game ever.

Breath of the Wild is a thing of beauty.  There’s so much to see and explore, so much to find off of the beaten path.  I saw a dragon, out in the distance once, and ran off to discover what it did.  I climbed to the top of a bunch of steppes outside of Kakariko Village just to see where all the goats went.  I climbed to the top of a goddamn mountain to fight a lynel, then did a swan dive off of the mountain into a lake.  I have experiences from this game, that I can only dream about from the Witcher or Skyrim, that I could only hope Horizon Zero Dawn could live up to.

I had a horse named Paladin.  She was a white horse, descended from Zelda’s horse.  I got her from a quest.  She was both the quest, and the reward, and she helped me fight Ganon at the end of the game.  I loved that horse more than I ever loved Epona or the King of Red Lions, because she was my horse.  Her, and Warlock, my giant horse who was probably the scion of Ganondorf’s horse from Ocarina of Time, were horses I went out and found and I made stories with them.  We outran Guardians, ran over bokoblins and charged headfirst into the Ganon-corrupted Hyrule Castle.  I rode south to a beach town that I didn’t have to even go to, because it’s not part of the main quest, on Paladin and explored that place.  The experiences, just with my horses, were mine and I haven’t had anything like them, except maybe in World of Warcraft (another game where I named my special horses…).  That’s just the horses, man.

I even liked weapon breakage.  I didn’t have a big deal with running out of weapons, I loved grabbing new ones and fashioning new combat scenarios out of what I had.  I understand that’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but for me, it was perfect for the adventure.  I made do with what I could find, and what I had, and I haven’t gotten a chance to experience a game that gave me that level of trust, without also being a system’s driven nightmare to play.

I don’t know if it’s better than Symphony of the Night, but I love Breath of the Wild.  I don’t know if there will be anything else like this, that appeals to me quite in this way, ever again.  I am glad that I had a chance to experience a game like this.  I think it’s the kind of game I’ll pass on to my kids if I have children.  It’s a sandbox, but one that’s easy to understand and doesn’t punish the player.  It’s a game that reached through time and spoke to me across my whole life.  I can only think of a handful of games that ever did that, and all of them are on my top 10 list, I think.  Breath of the Wild, as some saw on my Top 10 Games of All Time list, got my number three spot.  It definitely earned it.