Breath of the Wild: a breath of fresh air

How Zelda is both new and old.


You’ve probably heard some things about Zelda‘s latest title, a little thing called Breath of the Wildreleased for Nintendo Switch. No biggie.

It’s been covered to death, and ever since seeing the E3 2016 trailer (somehow I missed the first 2014 one…?) have been very excited for the game. You may remember the Twilight Princess reveal, one of the most genuinely enthusiastic responses of a video game I can think of; when BotW was revealed last year my friends and I basically lost it in a similar fashion.

As of writing, I have yet to finish the game, but I’ve put in enough time to free all of the Divine Beasts and reclaim all but one of my memories. I have also done a little over 50 shrines and unlocked the entire map. Before the summer ends I should be ready to fight Ganon; the only reason I haven’t done so is because the lead-up to Hyrule Castle has such a heroic soundtrack that I feel morally obligated to do the entire thing in one sitting.

Anyway. It’s tough to say whether BotW is the most like Zelda or the least like Zelda. On one hand, it takes a stark departure from the somewhat linear progression that the Zelda series has used in the last few years; on the other hand, it’s so close to the original Zelda that one might consider it the ultimate Zelda game.

By which I mean its completely open world. If you recall, the original Zelda game had no instructions whatsoever; you were allowed to go in any direction from initially spawning – technically you didn’t even have to grab the sword. You could tackle the dungeons in any order you desired and secrets were unlocked by using your brain. Conversely, Skyward Sword infamously had Fi, who held your hand at every corner and turning the game more into a list of chores to do.

BotW takes the best of the original Zelda and supports and structures it with modern technology. People drop hints but never tell you explicitly how to achieve a goal. The search for the Master Sword was particularly good; through talking to four or five people, you eventually synthesize information to realize it’s hidden in the Lost Woods, and in order to navigate the Woods you need to watch the wind.

I think the reason I love BotW is how it strikes a balance between abilities and mechanics. When you think about it compared to other open-world games, it actually features fewer skills that empower the player; much of what makes the game tick is under the hood. Tiny little details, really. Temperature, weather, a true, loading screen-free open world (save for dungeons and shrines), the ability to set things on fire, etc. etc. etc. Moreover, the game puts a higher emphasis on skill. People claimed that BotW took points from Dark Souls; the Souls guys replied by saying that they’ve been taking points from Zelda. While abilities help you solve puzzles, get around, and sometimes fight enemies, much of the game is based on your personal ability as a gamer to react, empowering you and making you actually feel like the hero of legend – especially if you elect to go with the reduced, “Pro” HUD (in settings). This is further seen in the different ways you can attack a challenge. With all four abilities plus the paraglider unlocked in the first half hour, failure at a challenge means you can hit from a different angle. Maybe a head-on rush against a monster camp doesn’t work, so try swinging giant metal boulders around, or gliding in from above, or lure a Guardian over or something.

That being said, I do have a minor complaint. Where is Hyrule? There’s a massive castle in the center of the world, but what is it ruling over? I realize that there are town ruins in the vicinity of the castle, but there appear to be very few citizens. It just seems strange to have a very large castle ruling over a very small amount of people, the Calamity notwithstanding.

Though I feel BotW would have been an incredible game no matter when it came out, I think it was released at a great time. AAA gaming is taking a far more businesslike model, and each day I’m losing confidence in the entire industry as a whole. I’ve long lamented how big developers seem to be putting in features for the sake of putting them in and not for fun (looking at you, Assassin’s Creed collectibles), but in BotW everything plays a part on the overarching story of Link trying to save a kingdom on the brink of destruction. Nintendo is usually seen as being somewhat conservative and backwards in terms of game development, but ever since Iwata’s tenure as president the company has almost always been experimenting with fun. They don’t always succeed (see: Star Fox Zero), and yet they are unique in their way of at least putting that first. In that sense, Breath of the Wild really is a breath of fresh air.

War Thunder 1.67

Get your Wagner tape ready.

War Thunder‘s 1.67 update “Assault” came out last week, and I’ve been having a blast with it.

The update introduces the eponymous game mode Assault, which sees players playing cooperatively against waves of enemies. As of last time I checked (yesterday), Ground Assault is yet to be released, but Air Assault is all sorts of fun.

In Air Assault, which is currently at an Arcade Battles difficulty, eight players defend a ground target against waves of enemies. The difficulty of the AI is based on the highest battle rating (just like in PvP), and the enemy waves consist of different plane classes (dive bombers, fighters, high altitude bombers, etc.), though sometimes you’ll have to take out Howitzers on the ground. I believe there are a limited number of waves, since there is a red number in the bottom left of the screen that decreases with each wave, but I have yet to win a battle.

At any rate, Assault brings an entirely new sort of fun into War Thunder. While battling it out with enemy players is good and all, Assault allows your game time to take on a sort of story. The separation of a narrative versus a player-created story is something I’ve alluded to in the past, but in short it’s the difference between a plot created by a writer and the random events that happen within a game that define your own experiences with the game. Anyway, what I love about Assault is how much it doesn’t feel like a game at times. In Arcade Battles – or player battles in general – it’s a little difficult to really appreciate the grand scale of warfare when you realize that SPAA is actually an 8,8 or you forget what the controls are and accidentally bomb a friendly unit. The first time I played Air Assault, however, I was a little intimidated by all the enemy bombers flying in formation. There was something sobering, something epic about the scene. Now each wave of enemies spawns about 10 – 14 kilometers away from base, which means you have about that much distance to gain speed. When you enter their sights at about 700 meters (I currently use Tier II planes), the air explodes with fire. I like taking the leader head-on, then weaving through the formation to the side. Seeing those bombers not break formation and my plane whooshing past them with meters to spare is exhilarating. Then, of course, with all of the gunners at the rear of each plane, suddenly you have to contend with way too many angry machine guns, and it becomes a desperate balancing act of survival and duty; when do you keep engaging the enemy, at the cost of your own plane? When do you back out and repair for the next bout?

As fun as the individual moments of chaos are, though, the entirety of Assault gets somewhat tedious. The constant crush of defeat after defeat gets a little bit boring, and it feels a little unbalanced towards the AI (which I get is the entire point, but still). I still love engaging an entire formation on my own, and it’s fun competing with friends, but I just wish it was slightly easier to win; that way we’d be able to tell our own stories. At any rate, though, Assault is still fundamentally fun. I happen to be more of a tank person, though, so here’s hoping that mode comes soon.

Hardcore Henry

Who needs plot when you have guns

Also known as Every Shooter Ever: the Movie.


I don’t remember when I first came upon Hardcore Henry. I want to say 2012, but the first teaser I can find is from 2014. Regardless, I remember this scene quite clearly, and was very interested in the first person perspective. Back then, it was titled Hardcore; the “Henry” wasn’t added until the movie’s first full-length trailer.

Anyway, Hardcore Henry is a fresh take on the action movie genre. There’s quite honestly very little in the way of drama or dialogue or any of that boring character development stuff; Henry has blood on his hands (literally) pretty much in the first ten minutes, and it stays there until the credits roll.

More than that, though, is the first person perspective. Those who know me know that I’m primarily a shooter player; I usually put about fifty hours into the annual Call of Duty and a smattering of other titles here and there. As a result, Hardcore Henry‘s unique camera angle intrigued me. After the film came out, I remember dismissing reviews saying how the first person camera was confusing and nauseating; after all, I assumed that these reviewers simply never played a shooter.

I quickly realized that the reviewers were right, though. One thing that a lot of gamers (myself included) take for granted is view stabilization. Our brains automatically stabilize our views when running (or moving at all), and game developers replicate that in-engine. However, strapping a GoPro to a bobbing head means that the camera picks up everything, including the aforementioned view bobbing. Of course, when the actor is running this is further exacerbated, and at full sprint it becomes hard to see anything at all. I like to think I play a lot of FPS games, and yet the view bob was almost too much for me, often devolving into random streaks of color intertwined with bloody squishes and gunshots.

That being said, the movie was still a fun watch. The characters may have been boring and the view a little hard to handle at times, but the near-constant flow of gore, action, and slapstick comedy made the journey enjoyable nonetheless (quite memorable is the wrong drawer scene in the strip club). I particularly liked the music usage, especially with the random Magnificent Seven soundtrack and the last killing spree set to “Don’t Stop Me Now”.

Hardcore Henry isn’t for everyone. It’s gory, it’s bloody, it’s ridiculous, and it could legitimately incite motion sickness. But for those that can handle it, it’s an enjoyable mess of fighting and action, with few things as mundane as plot or writing or romance. Gamers will appreciate the references and elements taken from shooters, and even non-gamers who like a gory mess will still find fun.

Quantum Break

Literally running out of time.


When Quantum Break first came out, I heard some iffy things about its technical difficulties and it kind of dropped off my radar, especially because at first I thought the main character was just some unassuming middle-aged white dude (I mean, I did get two of those three correct). I didn’t really look into it too much; all I knew about it was that it had something to do with time, and that its PAX East 2016 exhibit was pretty cool.

But a few months ago, Target had a buy two, get one free deal on games so I decided to pick it up on a whim; and I’m glad I did.

Because Quantum Break has one of the most gripping narratives I’ve experienced in a long time. Its focus on time travel and loops – specifically, causal loops and Novikov’s self-consistency – helps in telling a story about sacrifice and hope. It departs from a lot of major shooter titles in its protagonist/antagonist structure; whereas something like Call of Duty might have some I-want-to-kill-everyone-to-make-a-statement guy, one can’t help but sympathize with Paul Serene, and even make you wonder whether or not Jack Joyce is really the bad guy. The way that gameplay elements would interact with the included (ish) live-action show was a breath of fresh air in the way media is handled, and the way that the game explains and deals with causal loops (albeit without referring to them explicitly by name) was simple enough in my opinion, and the way the game closed every single loop without creating any paradoxes for the sake of a happy ending appealed to my inner nerd. I particularly liked how much of the narrative was hidden throughout the world (though I hate collectibles in general), allowing for an entirely missable layer of background and lore yet still allowing the main story to come through. As Microsoft’s new IP, it was also very amusing to spot all of the Windows products in the live-action show (Windows Phone, Surface, etc.).

Gameplay, initially, was interesting enough. You’re in a normal-enough third-person shooter, but Jack Joyce has temporal manipulation powers that grant him an edge. This somewhat addresses the ever-present problem of ludonarrative dissonance, and justifies Jack’s superiority over hundreds of well-trained, elite Monarch soldiers.

By the way, can we talk about “Monarch Solutions”? C’mon, couldn’t you have picked a less villain-y company name? Jeez.

Anyway. That being said, by early to mid-game the shooting sequences started becoming stale, both in gameplay and in narrative. The introduction of soldiers equipped with chronon harnesses made the actual usage of powers a little more tempered, and made one wonder how Jack ever bested them (though, to the game’s credit, it does appear that such soldiers have less of a grasp on time than Jack does). The combat arenas had little functional differences between them, and save for introducing new enemies it felt as if once you learned how to deal with a group of enemies you could just rinse and repeat.

Which leads me to the final battle against Paul Serene. I have a love/hate relationship with this battle. On one hand, Paul himself is perhaps the most boring enemy in the game. After his display of power early in Act One you’d expect some sort of epic hand-to-hand showdown across time, but all he does is stand in two different places and have AOE attacks that are pretty easily avoided once you get the hang of them.

On the other hand, though, his instakill AOE attacks force you to move around the map, and in doing so makes at least the final battle somewhat different from every other encounter. It’s not a great mechanic when compared against other boss battles, but at least it’s different within the scope of Quantum Break.

Honestly, as a game I’m not a huge fan of how the shooter mechanics tied into the game. It’s undoubtedly a gripping narrative, and its fluid/broken timeline lends itself well to some really gorgeous moments onscreen, but I felt that if would have worked better as solely a live-action show. Yes, the way the game interacted with said show was unique and interesting; but I wonder if Quantum Break would have benefited more from a more focused TV perspective.

One final point I want to bring up: according to my Xbox, I’ve spent 9.5 hours in this game. Of those, some 90 minutes were spent watching the live-action sequences. I can’t remember exactly, but I spent between $30 and $60 on this game. Regardless of how much I did spend, that raises a question of how much value I got out of this game. In general, I start off with saying that $2/hr is a good value for a video game, then adjust that rate depending on my opinions on the specific title. Going by this benchmark alone, I’m already spending more money per hour spent in the game, and if I want to consider this a well-valued game, I’ll have to come up with some reason that justifies its price point.

The problem is, I can’t. At the same time, I can’t not. This is one of those titles where I can’t decide whether or not it was a good game for its value. Was it pretty? Yes. Did it work? Sure, apart from the annoying long load times. Was it a good game? …I don’t know. I loved its narrative. I loved its show. But I disliked the way that the actual gameplay mechanics felt a little like an afterthought, despite them being slick and intuitive. I’m not entirely sure why I feel this way, but regardless this makes Quantum Break not feel like a good game; more like a dressed-up, interactive TV show. In that sense, is it worth $60? $50? $40? I don’t know. Now maybe if I were to go back and choose other Junctions, or finish the collectibles, I’d change my tune as my price/hour ratio went down. But I don’t really see an incentive to do so, mainly because – in the theme of closed loops – I know that all choices only bend the story, not change it completely. And, as I stated earlier, I hate collectibles. So I don’t have any reason to go back and play more, meaning that I’m stuck with thinking about whether or not this game was worth my money. I might write something about this issue later, but for now it’s just something to think about.

Kindred Spirits on the Roof: Another Yuritopia

More fluffy yuri.

People who know me know about my obsession with this series. It’s fluffy, it’s cute, it’s real, it’s meaningful, it’s enticing, it’s emotional – as I’ve said before, there’s something about the series that stays with you long after finishing it.

But enough about that; I’ve written enough about all those aspects. The reason I’m writing about it again is because yesterday I finally received the official manga sequel, titled Another Yuritopia. And really…there’s not much to say about it. It’s pretty much exactly what you’d expect a KSotR manga to be, with all of the same elements that made the visual novel so adorable. The book itself comes with two new stories set in the world, and both take cues from the visual novel in their own distinct art styles (with single-page drawings from Peg, who did all of the art for the game). I particularly like all the appearances/references to all of the characters in the game; Side A, set just one year after the visual novel, is the direct sequel (Aki’s a guitarist now!), while I believe Side B to be set one more  year after that.

Side note, the two main characters in Side B appear to be character reincarnations of Sachi and Megumi based on their personalities. This is also strengthened further by their similar physical appearances.

Anyway, I won’t talk about the stories, because you really won’t care unless you’ve actually played through the visual novel. But it is out there if, for some reason, you’re as obsessed as I am and just want to continue Yuritopia.

Crypt of the Necrodancer

An innovative experience with a kickass soundtrack

Crypt of the Necrodancer may be one of the best games I’ve played in a long time.

It’s a fairly simple concept. It’s a roguelike dungeon crawler, except all game mechanics are rhythm-based: movement, combat, item usage, etc. You’re rewarded for continuous movement and staying on the beat, and you’re punished for being off-tempo or off-time.

It is through this singular gameplay mechanic that the game’s charm comes through. Right off the bat, it teaches you to identify and memorize enemies’ patterns; you have to, because the turn-based real time (for lack of a better phrase) is not conducive to random enemies like one might find in Call of Duty or any other sort of reaction-based game.

However, these patterns don’t necessarily slow down the game’s pacing; rather, in a way it actually intensifies the experience. Theoretically, you could clear a room of enemies, find a safe corner, and take your hands off the keyboard. The track continues regardless of your actions, and though enemies will still take their actions not many are actually able to break through walls. When the track ends, you’re dropped to the next level, albeit without your coin multiplier. In other words, you don’t actually need to take the risks to find the stairs; staying still is a surefire way of getting to the next level without really making any mistakes.

That being said, the game rewards you greatly for taking risks. There are secret shops on every floor (as far as I remember), and you receive many benefits for going out and exploring the unmapped areas: potentially beneficial shrines, item chests, or good stock in the shop. Killing enemies without taking damage and travelling without missing a beat continues your coin multiplier, which can help you buy the more powerful items from the shops. Considering that every zone ends in a boss, it’s not a bad idea to spend the three sub-levels stocking up and gearing up.

Those who know me know my fascination with music – particularly when part of a video game (though I’m certainly not limited to such). Previously, I’ve looked at soundtracks to a visual novel and two anime productions, but in all cases the music served as an enhancement of the experience; that is to say, while it made its respective media better it was in no way the foreground. In Crypt, that is obviously not the case. The music is not only the driving force; it also simultaneously guides and follows the story. Every zone’s music has some sort of rough theme to it, and every subsequent track increases slightly in tempo, adhering to the story while making the game progressively harder. I particularly like the Necrodancer’s battle and how the music switches for his second phase, adding a sense of desperation and chaos in the last fight.

In summary, Crypt of the Necrodancer is a refreshing dungeon crawling title. The music, while catchy on its own, is also effective in driving the pace and forcing the player to think quickly even in a turn-based setting. It’s an easy game to pick up, but a fairly difficult game to master. Its pattern-based enemies means that the game is mostly skill-based, with randomness appearing only in enemy and floor composition.

I am far from done with this game; at the time of writing, I have only finished Cadence’s and Melody’s lines, and I am kicking my own ass at trying to beat Zone 4 with Aria. If you’re looking for an enjoyable challenge, I highly recommend this game.