Game Ramblings #142 – Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin Trial Version

More Info from Square-Enix

Ramblings thread on twitter

  • Genre: Action RPG
  • Platform: PS5

The unveiling of this game did not do it any favors. The dialogue was TERRIBLE and you could die from a drinking game based around how many times they say chaos. There’s definitely some problems with the game, but behind all that nonsense there is a nugget of a fun game that could come out of all of this.

In general I’m not a fan of Souls-style combat. The deliberate pace of timing your attacks just kind of drags for me. I’d much rather hack and slash and use recovery skills to keep the combat pace up. However, this one does a couple of things that work out in its favor. The first is a reactionary block that if timed well allows the player to gain MP rapidly while avoiding damage. The second is an MP dump that increases the player’s damage and allows for a larger amount of the enemy’s stun meter to be chipped away. In general this encourages me to stay in close quarters more often than in my typical Souls experience.

That said, this still doesn’t feel like it’s at a point where I’m happy with the balance of it. The player’s stun meter and the ability to block damage are run through the same sort of pseudo stamina meter, so using the block too much is a huge risk. Being stunned on the boss fight was a huge risk of being 100-0’d in the second phase of the boss. That risk turns it into a slog where you stay back, chip away damage when you can, and just stay out of the way. That’s the part where the Souls-style combat really loses me.

In a perfect world for me, the block meter isn’t part of the stamina meter. You either do it right and get the advantage of having executed the mechanic well or you do it wrong and naturally lose some of your stamina meter to normal damage mechanics. In this setup the player is further encouraged to execute the block properly and stay in combat, increasing the overall pace of the game and preventing the sort of large passive slogs that a lot of these kinds of fights can become.

I think ultimately this is going to end up in a situation where I just end up playing on easy, which isn’t necessarily what I want to get out of this. I’m pretty fine with the actual level of incoming damage and the need to execute the mechanics cleanly, but if going to easy means I can get through fights in a more efficient manner, I think I’d lean into that. I’d rather just be able to treat a few things as smaller gameplay modifiers though, which is a bit disappointing.

This demo also feels kind of let down by the art style. This game has a lot of greys, which also includes the enemies. This left me in a place where a lot of the trash fights were me kind of taking more damage than I felt was practical, mostly because I was visually losing the enemies and missing their tells. It was frustrating to not have clear silhouettes, as that’s often a huge part of the experience of action games for me.

On the other hand, the job system feels like a huge perk for the overall meta game. There’s only a few classes to play here, but I set myself up around the use of the swordsman and black mage classes, and the differences in their combat pace and ability use felt pretty interesting to me. The fact that they have full skill trees is also pretty huge, as there’s an inherent power curve beyond simply getting bigger stat numbers.

There’s definitely a nugget of potential here though. The game is far better than its writing and even with me not liking this style of combat, I was still enjoying myself. I don’t think they’re really going to fix what I see as the major problems here, but we’ve also only seen a tiny slice of this game in both the unveil trailer and demo. Maybe other parts of the game have a better visual style and less ridiculous use of the word chaos. Even if they don’t, I’m left pretty surprised that I want to see more out of this game.

Game Ramblings #141 – Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart

More Info from Insomniac Games

  • Genre: Platformer
  • Platform: PS5

I’m not going to sit here and claim that Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart is anything new and innovative. I’m also not going to claim that it’s the best game ever. That said, I will sit here and claim that it’s the best Ratchet & Clank.

This series has always felt pretty special to me. Its mix of platforming elements and gun-based gameplay has always really hit just the right notes. For this one, it’s the return to the saga after a long time. It’s been 8 years since Into the Nexus and 12 years since the last proper full original title – A Crack in Time. What this game sees is a studio that’s spent the last bunch of years learning a whole lot of new tricks. There’s clear elements of platforming that they pulled from Sunset Overdrive. There’s the story telling that they learned in pushing forward with Spider-Man. There’s the technology that they grew for the PS5 release of Miles Morales. All tied together, it turns out a damn fine game.

A lot of people will probably focus on the rifts as the big technological trick to this game, and while that stuff can be some fucking black magic, it’s not what really grabbed my attention. To me, it’s the totality of the experience that is really the big trick. This is the first game that’s really felt next-gen to me. PS5 or Series X upgraded games I’ve played like Miles Morales or Immortals or Gears 5 just haven’t felt next-gen. They’re clearly experiences that are being held back by their ties to the previous generation of consoles. This one truly feels like a next generation spectacle. Your first time walking into Nefarious City is incredible. Switching between dimensions instantaneously while riding a grind rail feels like magic. Doing the usual R&C bullet fucking bonanza shooting at a boss feels elevated to a level that the series has never seen.

However, that’s not why I played R&C titles. Luckily, the gameplay still delivers. The thing that always worked well for me is the gunplay, and that pushes in two directions for me.

The first is that I always could find some weapons that I really preferred that I knew would return for the sequels. For me that was things like the Buzz/Doom Blades with their bouncing star blades, or the Agents of Doom which spawns AI that run at ground-based characters. I could build my style around that general set of weapons and kind of know what my pattern would be. In this case, I would throw Agents down to mop up small stuff while I then focus on larger or flying targets. These have made their return in the general case, but they’ve also returned with the weapon upgrade trees in tow. Besides adding an additional upgrade path to the overall metagame, these add nice little upgrades to your power curve, giving you a more granular path than simply leveling up your weapons.

However, the second thing was always finding which of the new weapons really supplemented my play style, and there were a few standouts for me in Rift Apart. The first is the Topiary Sprinkler. Given its name, it shouldn’t be surprising that this turns enemies into plants. This one worked into my rotation as a really powerful crowd control mechanism, since the plant conversion acts as a built-in stun. The second was the Void Repulser. This one is a general shield, but it can also be used as a sort of radial shotgun blast. When fully upgraded it can also be used to catch and throw back enemy projectiles. As a defensive maneuver that could also damage enemies, this was extremely useful in fights with a lot of smaller enemies. The final standout was the Pixelizer. This one is a pretty normal shotgun, but it voxelizes enemies. As a visual spectacle, it’s as good as any of the conversion weapons that the R&C series has had in the past.

All of this then is supplemented by an additional layer of complexity thanks to the dynamic triggers on the DualSense. The weapons all have some form of this integration, but there’s definitely some that are more useful than others. With the basic shotgun, pulling the trigger half way does a single barrel shot. Pulling it all the way fires all barrels (2 by default, 4 when leveled up). The Shatterbomb will throw out an aiming line for a half pull, with the toss happening on the full pull. The Drillhound works similarly, with a half pull doing a lock on and a full pull throwing the drill. Each weapon has its own little quirk with this half/full pull that really expands out the repertoire in ways that the series has never seen.

There’s other little details that are really well integrated with this controller. If you can’t fire at all, the trigger goes into a heavy resistance mode, which is a nice way of indicating with feel that it’s time to switch to something else. In general the haptic feedback on weapon firing and impacts is fantastic. Ratchet’s footsteps come through the left and right side rumble motors in the controller, which is a nice little way to pull you into the game in a subtle feel-based way. The controller also throws a lot of small sounds – bolts being picked up, weapons being equipped, item activations, etc – that really just work to immerse you further into the game. None of these are groundbreaking features, but it’s small immersion boosts like this that really push the next-gen feel of the game as you’re playing it.

I know I’ve gotten this far and haven’t talked about the story, but honestly I don’t think there’s much to say there. The addition of Rivet to the story feels both appropriate to this specific title, as well as appropriate to the Ratchet metaverse in a way that doesn’t leave me feeling like they shoehorned in a Lombax, which was definitely a problem I had with Going Commando and A Crack in Time. It ended up continuing the general R&C universe in a way that felt right. If there’s anything that really is a standout to me, it’s that they’ve so vastly improved the actual way they present the story since the previous games that it finally feels like a proper story, rather than a roughly narrated cartoon. I think this all comes down to experience gained in the Spider-Man games, but it’s nice to see. This ends up being a well told self contained adventure, but still advances the meta story about Ratchet and whether or not he wants to find the rest of the Lombax race, and I was left satisfied with the conclusion, while also being left in a place where there’s more to explore in future titles. It’s a nice balance of progress and cliffhangers.

Ultimately it’s not a surprise I enjoyed this game. I’ve been playing this series for 20 years and loved every title, so it was kind of inevitable. What is nice is that this feels like a proper return. It’s been a long time since we’ve had a mainline Ratchet title, and it doesn’t feel like they’ve lost what made the series special in the intervening years. There’s a good mix here of new tech, better storytelling, and cleaner general action that make this feel like a fresh next-gen experience, but they’ve also not lost what made the series special to begin with. The over the top gunplay is still as fun as it’s ever been, and that will keep me coming back to whatever they decide to do with the next adventure – potentially with a new fun Lombax and robot friend in tow.

Game Ramblings #140 – Wreckfest

More Info from Bugbear Entertainment

  • Genre: Racing / Demolition
  • Platform: PS5
  • Also Available On: Windows, PS4, Xbox One, Xbox Series S|X

You know, sometimes you don’t need something serious. Sometimes you just want to run a car straight into everything. Sometimes you just want to send your opponents falling to their doom while you go through the apex of a vertical loop. Sometimes you want to race lawn mowers around a figure 8 track. Sometimes you want to use a school bus to take out a packed field of Reliant Supervans.

Sometimes, you just want to play Wreckfest.

There’s no dressing up Wreckfest as something deep. It’s ultimately a demolition derby game with some loose variety in terms of modes and objectives. Each even is about crashing shit and winning, but when it’s done well that’s all that really need to be there. Wreckfest does is very well.

The big thing about this game is that driving is fun. It plays a pretty surprisingly good balance between being arcadey and realistic. Cars feel weighty, which certainly leans into realism. Crashing into opponents or being crashed into feels meaningful. You can’t outmuscle something larger than you, so you have to pick your battles. On the other hand, you can spin the hell out of smaller cars and take full advantage of that. That said, the game doesn’t take a realistic approach to handling at all. Braking is extremely powerful and you can drift the hell all over the place, which is a lot of fun in a situation where you’re really just pinballing off your opponents while trying to gain spots and take them out.

The destruction follows a similar pattern. On the one hand, you obviously destroy your car where you’re hitting things. Getting t-boned will leave a huge dent on the side that got hit. Repeatedly hitting people from behind will wreck their trunks and your nose. Smacking the same side repeatedly will cause tire damage. All of this starts to effect your steering, acceleration, and braking capabilities. It may take a while, but you can eventually get to a point where you damage your car too much to continue. On the other hand, you can literally destroy the car enough to where you often don’t have an engine visually, but can still drive. In being realisticish, the game lets you do stupid things with penalties that are fun and impactful to gameplay, but isn’t realistic to the point of annoyance.

On this end of things, the PS5 has some special points to consider with the inclusion of interesting trigger mechanics. Damage to your brakes and engine have a noticeable impact on how hard it is to press the trigger tied to that part of your car. It’s a subtle but nice integration of the controller’s feature set. What it ends up doing is allowing you as a player to feel how damaged your car is, rather than needing to take your attention away and look for the specific colored icons down on the screen. It’s one of those kinds of subtle features that I don’t know I want until I feel it in action, but now I want every damage-based racing game to use it. The other place I noticed the trigger manipulation is in braking. High speed and low traction areas both felt like they were noticeably changing the tension on the trigger which is a neat way to really push the out of control feel of blasting through the levels at breakneck speeds.

I admittedly started playing this one because I’m filling time trying to get to Ratchet & Clank without starting something long. That said, it scratched just the right itch. I’ve played this one on and off for years going all the way back to it being Next Car Game on Steam, but this is probably the first time I’ve really played the “complete” version of the game since it came out of early access. While it may have steered a bit away from realistic destruction physics in favor of playability since then, I think that ultimately led to a better product. Parts of the game that needed to be realistic are realistic because they are fun. Parts of the game that realism would make worse are instead arcadey to be fun. This game really just feels like it was made to be fun.

It’s generally stupid. It’s generally over the top. It’s generally destructive. It generally is complete nonsense. But it’s fun.