Yumina the Ethereal

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Ayumu is a guy that just wants to take it easy. He’s the adopted son of a body guard who put him through intense training as a kid, so for a change of pace now that he’s at the boarding school Jinbu Academy, he does his best to relax and do as little work as possible, just barely passing. His closest friend is a girl named Yumina, who is similar in that she also doesn’t know her parents, though she grew up at an orphanage. But she’s also Ayumu’s opposite in many ways, in that she puts in tremendous effort, but still doesn’t manage to pass.

Due to a series of circumstances, including those involving Ayumu, it seems that she’ll be forced to repeat a year, with absolutely nothing in the rules that gets her out of it. Desperate to get around that, she runs around school asking anyone she can for help, ultimately coming upon Kirara, a small (though it would be dangerous to call her that) and somewhat sadistic girl, who is also the head and sole member of the debate club. She says that there’s a single way for Yumina to avoid having to repeat a year. If nothing in the rules allow it, she must simply change the rules, by participating in the upcoming election and becoming student council president. Yumina, being easily led on, quickly agrees and Ayumu also joins. And later on a mysterious, strange, and food obsessed girl names Ai transfers to the school and also joins.

The complete debate club works hard on their election versus the varying other clubs in the school. However, it’s important to note that the election at Jinbu academy is very different from other elections, involving a tournament style elimination structure, and being centered around debate battles that involve Ethereal technology, which works kind of like holograms. And even beyond the issues with dealing with the various competitors they must face in the election, there also seems to be something mysterious happening behind the scenes at Jinbu Academy that seems far bigger than the election itself.

***

Yumina the Ethereal is primarily a visual novel though it does have a good amount of game play in the form of combat during debate battles and otherwise. The game play is a turn based RPG with combat during the main story as well as in a fantasy themed dungeon crawler portion called the Ordacle that exists pretty much completely separate from the main story and has a storyline that can only be told across three playthroughs. The combat is decent at best, having some unique mechanics, but not really much depth, in that there are a lot of abilities, but there isn’t a lot of variation among them. The battles can also feel very slow, even when sped up, but for the most part are paced well enough with the main story that this never becomes an issue. The Ordacle itself, was very annoying at first, because doing side quests in the Ordacle is completely and utterly annoying. Thankfully, I quickly discovered its possible to ignore them all and do your best to avoid combat in dungeons and still be perfectly fine in terms of being properly leveled. That made combat much more bearable. I would like to note that there were some elements that were incredibly annoying such as essentially being required to have certain abilities, mainly chain stasis and hydroblaster, at the right levels for certain bosses without any prior warning, wherein if you haven’t gotten the abilities yet it may require reloading a much older save. I would also like to note that an extra combat type is added about half way through that adds a good amount of diversity to the combat, which did help a good amount in preventing it from feeling repetitive, though it still ended up doing so somewhat. So all in all the game play wasn’t particularly great, but it was good enough for what it was in keeping the player involved and at the minimum wasn’t a hindrance.

The structure of the visual novel portion is centered primarily around choosing what events to do, in that you are able to do two events a day, one morning and one evening, with a limit on the number of days. These events often chain together, and hence the order they are performed in needs to be carefully considered. These VN portions can ultimately give you abilities to use during combat, but they are also the primary means of telling the story. I felt that this structure was somewhat lacking, in that it was somewhat hard to follow and quite easy to do events in such a way that it feels out of order. This was especially true if you take the Ordacle related events into account. The game is also divided into two portions, the first of which takes place at Jinbu Academy and goes through the election, and that sets the stage for the next phase, which takes place in space. Jinbu Academy is also where you choose which route you end up on in the second half, with the choices being Yumina, Kirara, and Ai. The academy portion was pretty laid back, very slice of life feeling, though there were some obvious things that were bizarre with a major mystery lurking in the background. The space portion was far more intense and exciting, being at a whole other level than the election portion. However, to go through the various routes, its necessary to go back and forth between them, which I felt was pretty awkward, though the true ending did wrap things up nicely.

The routes, in terms of my playing order, which in hindsight I think is the best order:

Kirara’s route was interesting. She’s a very interesting girl being somewhat sadistic but also gentle, though her route was also somewhat depressing. Her character design I wasn’t too fond of, and though at first I really liked her personality, to be honest that decreased a bit as the story went on . The backstory on how Galeorn became someone she despised was interesting and one of the most important plot points for her, but how she didn’t get revenge at all in the end was somewhat unsatisfying, though I can understand the point they were making about moving on. I was worried they were going to sort of end it on a cliff hanger, but they fully developed the ending with the flash forward ten years later and it was great to see everyone doing well. Her ED was also great, though it wasn’t really unique to her. Also, how she was suddenly in a relationship was really random.

Ai’s routes plot seems to take the base story from Kirara’s route, and extend it, exposing a whole host of other characters and taking things further, such that the overall lore of the universe comes together much better. The plot itself from a character development point of view was also more interesting than Kirara’s, with a plot oriented around whether she should be her own person or to continue on the goals that were given to her when she was young, which ultimately amount to chasing after her sister. The ending was where the majority of the story was told, which resulted in it proceeding very differently from what I expected, but in terms of structure it makes sense, and ultimately it came to a reasonably satisfying conclusion. Her ED was decent and fit her pretty well.

Yumina’s route is the route that takes things the furthest, in terms of lore and plot. It builds upon everything introduces in the other routes, and adds quite a bit more. It also has a lot of unique moments, such as going through everyone else’s perspectives for certain events. Yumina is also someone who I didn’t like much at first, but as her character was developed she quickly became my favorite character. She’s an airhead that pretty much derives power from her airheadedness while also being kind and overtly selfless, but learning to be selfish. Her route came to the most solid conclusion of the three, which was also quite satisfying. I should also note that this route has the most music, which was great, and her ED is both good and fitting.

The conclusion route, thats unlocked upon finishing all other routes and finishing the Ordacle, was a solid way to wrap up everything bringing everything from school and space together in one epic finale. Though not exactly, it pretty much picks up near the ending of Yumina’s route, but goes in a different direction. There’s a focus on having a lot more depth to it, that primarily manifests itself in existentialist concepts being discussed when arguing with Barais, and although that in itself was rather weak and didn’t make much sense, feeling very awkwardly put together, the emotional aspects surrounding it were reasonably strong. The ending was interesting in that it doesn’t quite end for the main characters, even though a lengthy conclusion is given for the side characters. That the story is very much still going is kind of awkward in that it clearly hasn’t reached a conclusion yet, but the characters seem perfectly happy and it allows them to stay together, which was especially nice to see in the journal, but they’re still drifting outside the universe. Ultimately, it’s a rather strange feeling to be completely done with the whole novel like that. It doesn’t feel like it’s completely over, and it makes me kind of miss them and want to know what they get up to afterwards.

As for some overall comments, the music was fantastic, which makes sense as it was a core story portion. The art was decent though not exceptional, across sprites and CGs. The character designs were decent as well. The voices were fine, though it was weird to only have Ayumu voiced in some scenes.

A VN with passable game play that has a major genre shift that somehow works pretty well.

8/10

It’s disappointed the fandisc will never happen.

Also I’m surprised they translated all the info of each skill and item. That must have taken forever and was completely pointless as few would read it. I’d rather they have just saved the time and money.

Also, it’s really hard to find good images of this game to use for the header. :/

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Rain

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Rain is a game that has a similar feeling to Ico. In terms of plot its simple in that it simply involves a boy and a girl escaping from a mysterious evil, but that’s putting it incredibly lightly. It’s not the plot that’s important but rather everything else. Just like Ico, there’s a certain essence to it that makes it feel more magical, which is why many often refer to Ico when they want to give an example of  magical. Despite there not being much of a plot and it being told through incredibly minimalist storytelling, just because of the way the game plays, it makes you very invested in the how the game progresses and especially the fate of the girl you’re chasing, to the point that eventually there’s just an automatic feeling of dread whenever you’re separated from her. All of this builds up, making the ending a very satisfying payoff. That it was able to do this in such a subtle way is the greatest aspect of the game. This is combined with a very unique aesthetic reminiscent of a rainy night in Paris with a fantastic soundtrack to match giving a tremendous amount of atmosphere.

However, I should point out that the gameplay itself is pretty weak. It’s primarily composes of traversing through the world essentially solving puzzles to keep continuing, with those puzzles being incredibly easy and not really requiring much though. Ultimately, it felt like the gameplay itself was only there to involve the player in the narrative, rather than to actually provide a challenge, so it isn’t really a game that I would call fun. The pacing is also somewhat awkward, being very slow at the beginning, and then also seeming to carry on too long at points. Furthermore, there’s also a mechanic of collectibles called memories within the game, that give tidbits about the underlying story, and that I think add a lot of value to the narrative, but are only possible to be picked up on the second play through. I feel that there was little purpose to this, as they don’t really spoil anything, and could be easily tweaked to not spoil at all, and I feel they would have mad the first play through more impactful.

A game that does a tremendous job of capturing the essence of what made Ico great, but not quite to that degree.

8/10

Batman: Arkham Origins

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When Bruce Wayne was still relatively amateurish at being a vigilante, Gotham city was a corrupt mess. It was ruled by a number of gangs, those under the Black Mask in particular, who had also bought out the police, and hence operated without any fear. However, Batman was putting a major wrench into this whole escapade. And hence, the Black Mask put up a 50 million dollar prize to whoever could kill the Batman before dawn on Christmas morning, one that assassins from all over the world and even corrupt portions of the police came to pursue. And hence, Batman’s goes out to stop and capture these assassins, deal with the corrupt police, deal with other crime throughout the city happening because of the chaos, and look into a number of mysteries and inconsistencies surrounding this whole affair. It’s a long night. Merry Christmas.

***

For some background, I played Arkham Asylum and City and enjoyed both, city considerably more so. I should also note I played these a long time ago, both within a year of release, so fatigue at being too similar to it’s predecessors shouldn’t be an issue. Comparatively I would have to say that I enjoyed this more than Asylum, but less than City, the latter of which its very similar to.

In terms of story, the development of the rough unrefined Batman was very interesting. Just as interesting if not more so was the development of the Joker, from being someone lost and simply wanting to burn things down so to speak in a literal sense, to being someone with a purpose heavily linked to his relationship with the Batman. Watching that relationship developing, as well as watching the relationship between Batman and Gordon were the highlights story wise, and the core of the actual plot. There were also a whole bunch of other villains, but because of that it felt like a lot were underused. It felt somewhat like going through an amusement park with an attraction for each villain without much consistency and coherence throughout. Still, having such a variety was still pretty cool.  In terms of atmosphere, it felt very similar to City. Gotham was much bigger, but in part because of that, it felt dead, like Arkham City. While this fit with the world of City, it doesn’t fit as well with Origins, despite the story explanation given of a curfew, it still felt somewhat wrong.

The combat was solid similar to City, flowing well and having a good amount of depth with critical hits and the gadgets, though no where near character action game level. I feel I got much more into it this time than previous entries though, solely from experience I’m assuming, but I feel there might be a bit more polish here. The purely combat oriented bosses I’ve never felt have been all that amazing in these games, and this felt about the same. The more gadget and other mechanic oriented bosses were interesting though. The Predator encounters were also similar to City, with a couple additions, but that still felt incredibly similar to previous entries.

In terms of progression, the upgrade system was cool, and the Dark Knight challenges were a nice thing to go for throughout the game while playing. An issue that I have with this game, similarly to an issue I had with its predecessor, is that there are far too many Enigma data packs. I’m the type of person that will either plan to do all of something, or feel far less motivated to do any of it, so seeing how many there were I just didn’t even try. There was a lot of other side content as well, but despite being focused around different villains or groups, the majority of it felt incredibly similar.

In terms of sound and art, it was definitely solid, some moments such as Joker’s monologue definitely standing out as exceptional, but being great throughout. The character designs they chose were pretty authentic despite some novel choices. The graphics were also solid.

Very by the books Batman game that doesn’t innovate much beyond Arkham City in meaningful ways and has a few additional issues, but is a solid entry nevertheless.

8/10

Note that I did not play any MP or any of the challenge maps.

Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance

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After the fall of the Patriots and their System, Raiden AKA Jack begins working at a PMC that takes pride in not just making a profit but also being morally right. On an assignment that should have increased stability and peace in Africa, they are attacked by another PMC named Desperado, with Raiden being defeated by a swordman named Jetstream Sam. However, Raiden isn’t done yet. He survives and gets a host of upgrades to his cyborg body, which he then uses to go on the offensive against Desperado, revealing a massive conspiracy in typical Metal Gear fashion, but sticking to his morals and principles despite what comes his way.

***

Metal Gear Solid Rising: Revengeance was a character action game that was originally given birth to at Kojima Productions, but was eventually taken over by Platinum Studios who had a good amount more experience with character action. What came out was a game that had a lot of the elements of a standard character action game, but a lot of more unique elements carried through as well. The base combat is somewhat standard for character action, the main difference being that there is no blocking, and the only way to defend against attacks is to either dodge them or parry them. I felt parrying was rather finicky, as while the attacks are advertised adequately which makes the timing fair, you also need to be moving the analog stick in the enemies direction, which was a much more annoying, especially with the awkward camera. There are a lot of complaints about the camera in this game, though this was the only place I felt it really had an impact. Another key element is blade mode, where you can control the exact slice of the blade to cut enemies and if done properly with smaller enemies regain full health. This felt like a mostly gimmicky feature at first, but was put to very good use during some of the later boss battles, and hence something that due to it’s good implementation was very cool. The bosses were all pretty great as well, though the final boss having so many pointless stages was somewhat annoying. There were actually a lot of pointless QTE like moments, because while I’m willing to forgive the annoying blade time moments, the rest like climbing up walls and such were very much unnecessary, though I suppose expected for Platinum. There was also some other elements such as platforming, though just holding a trigger made most of it auto, as well as some simple stealth, as it just has to be there in some form in Metal Gear, and a super mode called Jack the Ripper where you can easily cut down anyone. Overall, the combat was solid as should be expected of Platinum, and better than any of their other games that I’ve played, but not exceptional for the character action genre.

In terms of story, while continuing off of MGS4, it felt very detached. While it still had similar themes, the tone and style were completely different, as were most of the characters. Raiden was tremendously different. He definitely made some progress from MGS2 to MGS4, but here he gets a major shift to pretty much an action hero, possessing an anti-hero element edge in the form of Jack the Ripper, which I thought was cool though it was also somewhat strange. His cyborg design was great as well, though it certainly makes you wonder how he can keep going back to being human. The new side characters completely supporting him for the most part were very flat and boring. The key exception to that being Blade Wolf, who is originally an enemy, but becomes a loyal and pretty awesome friend. Actually, compared to his allies, pretty much all of the major enemies in this game are rather colorful and interesting, from Mistral to Jetstream Sam. Armstrong especially was surprising and while somewhat insane was legitimately awesome. As for the other returning characters, Sunny was adorable and it was nice to see her doing well. And that’s pretty much it, in that there were no other returning characters as far as I can recall. Rose and their son are briefly mentioned as being safe in New Zealand, and that’s all we here about them. The plot was incredibly cliche and completely lacking Kojima’s signature convolution that I personally enjoyed a tremendous deal, but it was somewhat decent due to the interesting bosses.

The graphics were decent enough for the time, though the art style was somewhat generic and while there were a couple stand out designs most of them were pretty boring. The random Easter Eggs were quite nice though, in typical Metal Gear fashion. The soundtrack was tremendously different from standard Metal Gear, with a lot of vocal rock, but while it was certainly different, so is the game, and I felt it fitting and enjoyed it.

In regards to DLC: Jet Stream Sam was a pain to play as, his story felt lacking, and pretty much everything was reused. In regards to Blade Wolf, he was decent to play as but still lacking compared to Raiden, but had a decent story considering the size and had at least an original boss. Overall the reuse of old content combined with being too short to really be able to learn the characters without replaying multiple times were the biggest flaws of both DLCs.

A game that is very different from typical Metal Gear of course, but still sticks to many of the themes and is overall a very solid character action game.

8/10

Metal Gear Solid: The Legacy Collection

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The Metal Gear Solid series by Hideo Kojima is one of the most well respected game franchises in the world. From its debut on PS1 all the way to it’s somewhat lack luster ending on PS4, it has continued to push the bar and consistently be excellent. The Metal Gear Solid Legacy Collection is a remastered collection of the core games in this franchise,: Metal Gear Solid, it’s sequel Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, a prequel to both of those Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, a sequel to Snake Eater, Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, and finally a sequel to Sons of Liberty, Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots. Across this collection, which spans three generations of consoles, the series shows tremendous growth and tells one hell of a story.

The first game was pretty rough all around, not just in graphics as you would expect from a PS1 game, but also in terms of mechanics. The stealth features work pretty well, and seeing as they’re at the core of the game that makes the game quite good in its own right. The combat and especially armed combat was quite finicky and didn’t feel all that refined however, which made boss battles especially annoying. The area to explore was also only decent, though the back tracking was somewhat annoying. In terms of story, it features Snake breaking into Shadow Moses to prevent terrorists from stealing a special type of nuclear launcher, Metal Gear REX. It was pretty solid with a number of interesting twists, but overall a pretty standard plot all things considered. There were a lot of great characters though in terms of design and personality, though the story wasn’t very character oriented.

The second felt like a much more polished version of the mechanics from the first for the most part. It played largely the same and was also set for the most part in a singular complex. The weapons combat was considerably improved due to using first person when shooting, which vastly improved the boss battles, and hand to hand combat also felt less finicky. The exception to that is that the game also features sword combat, which played terribly. The stealth largely felt similar to the first game but less rough with more variety. There was back tracking in this as well, but it felt less annoying, in part because the area being played in looked nicer, as well as the areas playing differently from prior traversals. In terms of story, it features Snake now being part of an NGO dedicated to stopping the spread of Nuclear Weapons, but it then switches over to playing as Raiden, another agent, who has to infiltrate Big Shell to prevent terrorists who have taken over it from causing a major ecological disaster, though things get a lot more complicated. The story was tremendously different from the first one, pulling crazy twists in terms of characters, having completely ridiculous twists in terms of plot, having way larger than life characters, and pushing forth messages about society and information that were all kinds of insane, but in the end it was undoubtedly incredibly awesome. I think in terms of story, this may well be when Kojima was at his peak.

The third is a prequel that takes place long before the first, featuring Snake’s father, so to speak, as he gets involved with a conflict centered around the Cold War. In terms of game play, its pretty different from the first two, featuring a number of features such as stamina and silencers as well as much more verticality and a different camera system. All of this makes the game feel very different, so it felt somewhat awkward at first, but ultimately I would have to say it resulted in a solid improvement to the game play in all aspects: stealth, combat, etc. The story was a lot more focused than Sons of Liberty in that it was a standard Cold War espionage flick, about US spies secretly working to sabotage the USSR and deal with betrayals, however it was a tremendously good one featuring a number of tremendously amazing characters, and a story that hit stronger emotional notes than any of the previous ones. It did somewhat lack Kojima’s unique charm though. The theme music was also great, and using it during the final battle added to it tremendously.

Peace Walker came out after MGS4, but was a PSP game and is a sequel to MGS3, while MGS4 is a PS3 game and sequel to MGS2, so it makes more sense to play it directly after MGS3. However, this results in a game that is tremendously different from MGS3. It features completely redesigned combat featuring third person shooting and very different level design. The stealth I think worked tremendously better, and felt much more precise, though I feel the boss battle game play felt very different from what makes MGS, MGS and I wasn’t much of a fan of it. It also features a game play loop with doing missions, main and side, to contribute to base and personnel management and using those to grow and evolve for later missions. It was a very satisfying to see your organization grow, though the loop eventually gets repetitive. It was also annoying how sometimes it would present roadblocks with having to wait for things to happen related to said growth in order to progress with the story. In terms of story, it features the Snake from MGS3, now Big Boss, as he creates a mercenary group that helps Colombia deal with the CIA having projects within their borders, but ultimately results in a larger conspiracy involving the birth of Metal Gear and larger organizations.

Metal Gear Solid 4 is a sequel to MGS2. It plays like an evolution of MGS3 but with some aspects like armed combat being more like MGS: PW, which makes sense as it was released between the two. It features solid stealth game play and great combat, especially the boss fights, ultimately resulting in it feeling the most polished of all the games. Furthermore, it also features the widest variety of locations that are in general a lot bigger than in any previous MGS game, and the graphics are of course also the best in this collection. The new characters and character designs are also great, and it’s quite evident that the improvement in graphics capabilities was used well. In terms of story, it wraps up the story being develop in all of the previous games with the various conspiracies and multiple conflicting factions. It was just as convoluted and messy as the second, arguably more so, but in the end it manages to wrap things up tremendously well, though the complete last story event felt quite a bit forced. The throwbacks to the previous games were also handled tremendously well, especially the return to Shadow Moses, the Psycho Mantis fight, and the final fight. The soundtrack was also excellent. Ultimately a Solid ending to an incredibly series.

A fantastic series with great stealth game play that evolves quite a bit, and a tremendously convoluted story that still manages to be amazing.

10/10

A Hideo Kojima Game