Metal Gear Solid: The Legacy Collection

mgslegacy

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

Yakuza 5

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Haruka is suddenly scouted by a woman named Ms.Park who owns an idol talent agency called Dynamo, with the condition on Kiryu he leave her life, which he accepts. He escapes to Fukuoka, where he acts as a Taxi Driver, and somewhat of a racer, separate from the life he had built over the last couple of years. However, big things are happening behind the scenes. The Omi alliance chairman is supposedly on his deathbed, and Tojo’s chairman, Daigo, disappears in Fukuoka in the middle of negotiations with the chairman of Fukuoka’s main clan. While primarily a bystander, circumstances throw Kiryu back into the conflict headfirst.

Meanwhile, Saejima decides to go back to prison to fulfill his term, with the goal of coming out ready to be a leader in the Tojo clan. However, a mysterious entity is pulling strings to make it difficult for him to leave on parole, and furthermore there are reports of Majima having been assassinated, resulting in Saejima having to escape to Tsukimino, almost dying fighting a bear in the snow, but being saved by a hunting village and becoming somewhat of a hunter before continuing on his journey.

Haruka in Osaka seems to be having trouble as well, not only in dealing with idol training and her rivals in Princess League T-Set, but also an entity that seems dedicated to stopping her and is willing to do anything in order to do it, ultimately resulting in who else but Akiyama coming to have an interest in the matter, protecting her and helping her get to the bottom of the mystery.

Lastly in Nagoya a man named Shinada, an ex-professional baseball player who was banned from the sport for cheating and now works as an adult entertainment writer with a mountain of debt, is told to find the true story behind him getting banned, which ends up throwing him and his debt collector into a mess of their own.

All of which comes to a conclusion of course in Kamurocho.

***

Yakuza is still very much like a standard Yakuza game. It’s still a heavily combat oriented game in modern Japan revolving around the stories of individual character with a much larger story revolving around Yakuza clans tying everything together. The two core game play aspects of the game are combat and exploration, with a lot of side mechanics and content as well. However, Yakuza 5 takes many of these aspects to a new level, so I’ll primarily be focusing on the major changes over the previous game.

The previous Yakuza game had four characters with their own individual stories and motivations. However, because they were all still in Kamurocho, all of them felt tied into the main narrative immediately. Yakuza 5 has them all in their own cities for the most part, and though events do eventually tie into the overarching plot, they feel a lot less connected until the ends of each characters portion where they head off to Kamurocho. The story of this game also takes the ridiculous structure of Yakuza to another level, by which I mean that while Yakuza has always heavily relied on major unexpected twists and coincidences to push forward the story, Yakuza 5 takes it to a whole other level. At some points that felt fine and I felt it fit in with the tone that it was creating, because honestly the over dramatic moments are something I actually enjoy a great deal, though at some points I felt that it took it too far, even for a Yakuza game. Character wise, I enjoyed Shinada’s story more than Tanimura, and in general I liked the new set of side characters a good amount as well. It was also nice to see Haruka playing a major part of the story, though the ending felt awkward especially in regard to her.

In terms of game play, combat is incredibly similar to the previous game. There are four characters each with their own play styles that are all variants of brawling with special heat moves with some levels of QTE and weapons, both actual and environmental, thrown in the mix. However, I preferred Tanimura over Shinada’s combat style, with Shinada’s actually feeling very hard to control well. Akiyama on the other hand I enjoyed a lot more, and he felt down right over powered when played well. In terms of exploration, since there’s a new city for almost every character (Haruka and Akiyama overlap), there’s a lot more to explore, and every location was new and interesting. And while the game does end in Kamurocho, it felt like returning to an old friend at the end, and hence that felt cool to explore as well, though I wish that there was more content there.

Something that I feel really fits into and enhanced the game is side stories. Almost every character has their own completely different side game (Haruka and Akiyama overlap here too). Kiryu is a taxi driver, and thus has side stories where he is not only a racer going up against the Devil Killer street gang, but also has to drive people to their destinations in a comfortable and safe manner. Saejima becomes a hunter, and hence has side stories where he has to deal with the wilderness, surviving the cold, collecting meat and plants, rescuing others, and mainly dealing with a bear named Yama-Oroshi. Haruka wants to be an idol and has her goal of winning Princess League and making her debut, and hence has a whole bunch of mini-games revolving around that, primarily those related to singing and dancing, that last of which Akiyama also participates in a bit. And Saejima was a baseball star that still loves baseball, or at least the batting portion, and hence has side stories revolving around proving himself to an old friend in that sense. Each of these stories are very separate from the main game, and it isn’t required to complete any of them to finish the main story, but they greatly add to the personal story that each character has in the game, while also introducing a completely new game type, driving, shooting, rhythm, and sports respectively, to each character, keeping every character fresh in terms of overall game play. I greatly enjoyed this, and hope that they keep the spirit of this, if not the actual system in later entries.

There were some other mini game additions, such as Taito and Virtua Fighter, but for the most part the majority of other mini-games are straight out of the previous game, though some of them are missing. Hence, other than the side stories, I feel the mini-games were a bit lacking, but the side stories more than make up for it.

The graphics, animation, etc. were a decent bit better than the previous game though still not exceptional. The soundtrack was a lot better though, and I enjoyed it a lot more.

An incredibly varied, but still an amazing and true to its franchise entry in the Yakuza saga.

9/10

 

Tales of Xillia

The story begins with Jude, a medical student living in Fennmont, having to deliver a message to one of his professors working in a top secret research wing. He’s denied entry, and is dejectedly walking away, when he notices a girl who is not only walking on water but seems to be breaking into the research wing through the sewers. He follows her in, after some issues, and ends up discovering a massive conspiracy, where the King of Rashugal, Nachtigal, had been sacrificing people, including Jude’s professor, in order to create a super weapon known as the Lance of Kresnik. In their world of Rieze Maxia, spirits coexist with humanity with humanity using their power in exchange for giving the spirits their mana. But the Lance of Kresnik breaks that dynamic by utilizing spirits without giving them mana, and killing them in the process. The girl who broke in was on a mission to destroy that weapon, because she explains that she was Milla Maxwell, the Lord of the Spirits, and that it was her duty. Jude decides to assist her, as it seems he has no way of getting out otherwise, and they approach the Lance, but things go wrong, Milla ends up losing her powers, and they have to escape. As they’re escaping, they get cornered, but a mercenary named Alvin, who is incredibly sketchy, comes to their rescue, and helps them get on a boat to the only other country in Rieza Maxia, Auj Oule. There Milla affirms that she will stop the Lance of Kresnik, no matter what, and Jude and Alvin decide to follow along. Hence the journey begins.

During this journey, they meet numerous characters that also join them: Elize is a lost young girl that is able to use incredible artes for her age and is always with a talking toy named Teepo, but because of this she is forced to live in a cellar and is ostracized by the rest of the town. Rowen is the old butler of the Cline family that rules over the town of Sharilton, but he’s far too experienced with combat and tactics for a mere butler, and is later discovered to have mysterious but strong ties to Nachtigal. And lastly Leia is Jude’s childhood friend who works at the inn at their hometown of Leronde, who somehow became very proficient in staff martial arts, and is the reason Jude had to become proficient in martial arts as well. Together they go through their journey to destroy the Lance of Kresnik, but ultimately get caught in multiple other conflicts such as Sharilton being oppressed, Milla getting injured and going through a difficult healing process, entering a tournament to win the rights to ride wyverns, etc. but the primary conflict tying all these together is Nachtigal invading Auj Joule and the King of Auj Oule, Gaius, and his personal guard the Chimeriad, responding in kind. However, there’s also an organization called Exodus that is not only targeting Milla Maxwell’s life, but who are actually a part of a much larger conspiracy surrounding the Lance and the true nature of the world itself.

***

Xillia has a great story, and one of the best in the Tales series so far (though I have not played anything past Xillia yet). All of the broader goals and conflicts combined with the personal conflicts of each member in the party and the various other side characters they meet create weaves an expansive narrative fitting in terms of scale to what is expected of JRPGs. It also has the sense of adventure, the cliche character tropes, the massive twists, the random tangents, the exploration, and is just the most JRPG story ever. I loved it! Though the ending wasn’t completely satisfying, in that it really didn’t feel like much was truly resolved yet, but that’s fine because there’s a Tales of Xillia 2!

On a more specific note, I loved the cast, in terms of artistic design and character profiles. There was a lot of diversity, but all of them still seemed to mesh well together and were interesting. Jude had the most development over the course of the game, so his growth in response to the world around him to slowly become dependable was his defining trait, though that also led him to being the most melodramatic. On the other hand, Milla stayed the exact same for the entire game, and her rigidness of character was her defining trait. Alvin’s defining trait was obviously how shady and disloyal he was, but he got decent backstory in regard to why he became that way, and experienced growth in that aspect. Elize’s defining trait is harder to pin down, but it was something to the extent of being alone and confused but trying her best to address both of those. Rowen’s defining trait was his experience and past, more specifically his regrets. Leia’s defining trait was her unyielding optimism, which led to her ‘playing the martyr’ to some extent. The protagonists were interesting, but so too were the antagonists, of which there were many and were just as diverse, and really highlighted the heroes. Specifically Gaius, the chimeriad, and a certain spirit acted as a complete and great foil set for the main cast. And lets not forget the rest of the great side characters either. As a negative however, because there were so many great characters this led to some extent feeling that a lot them never really got developed that well, especially in regard to some relationships.

The presentation, a term I use very broadly, this story was wrapped in was pretty good, though with some issues. The OP was amazing, and I think I ended up watching it pretty much every time I played the game. Similarly, the anime cut scenes were also high quality. The art direction of the game itself was also great. A lot of people want to see the return of cel-shading like Vesperia, but I much prefer this. Along with the beautiful and varied design work I thought it was great in that regard, however unfortunately technically it really wasn’t all that great, and I feel that really held it back the great art. Furthermore, the animation was noticeably jarring. Just in general, but especially mouth movement, the worst of which was Teepo. I understand that it’s a much lower budget than bigger games, and I eventually did grow used to it, but its still something that annoyed me enough that I felt I have to complain about it. The voice acting for the most part I think was decent. Everyone seems to hate Teepo’s, but it didn’t really bug me. Another common complaint is that Milla’s is bad when it comes to tone, but I think those complaints completely miss the point. She’s a spirit and not human, with a very different perspective on the world and hence its supposed to be very different, and I think it fit her very well. The limited number of times she really showed emotion were actually highlighted by this. I had a problem with Muzet though, who really felt off to me in the times that she tried to show high emotion.The soundtrack itself was decent, and I appreciated the diversity towards the end, but it was pretty forgettable.

Getting into gameplay, the battle system was solid. It was pretty varied depending on the character you’re playing as, though I mostly ended up playing as Jude. It was pretty fast and action packed with a reasonable amount of depth as Tales battles should be. The world was reasonably large but easy to get around in, and had strong incentives to explore in search of materials and other items. The progression system was very customizable, in terms of character progression that utilized the Lillium Orb system that allowed a character to put stats into a very nonlinear growth tree, and also in terms of items in that shops didn’t grow on their own but grew when materials were donated to them, both of which gave the player a lot of control over the way characters progressed. Though to be honest, I think I did a pretty bad job with all of it, but somehow without having to grind at all progressing through the game came pretty easily even at the highest difficult, so I feel that there ultimately wasn’t that much of an impact. Still, filling bars and watching a talent tree grow is fun in its own sort of way.

Part of the reason it was easy may be because I did all the side content as it came, and there was lots of side content. As with tales games, it was so random that it was annoying to do without guide, so I used a guide to keep track of what sub-events were available when and what their missable conditions were, and I don’t feel bad for doing so in the slightest. There was no way in hell I would have found a bunch of them otherwise, which would have been terrible because they add tremendously to the story and are quite enjoyable in their own right. Having the skits foretell sub-events is nice, but this wasn’t a perfect implementation and they still need to work on it. Similarly, the skits were also very enjoyable and added to the story subtly, but it was even more annoying to make sure to get all the skits than get all the sub-events. Still, sidequests and content are a key aspects of what make games unique compared to anime or manga, and they did a great job of improving the game in that regard. Something else that games have over other mediums is the character choice option, but that I think wasn’t handled that well. You can choose to play as Milla or Jude, but for the vast majority of the game, they’re both together. But at the same time, there are some scenes that you end up missing from the other side. I played as Jude, and I felt that I had missed some important content from Milla’s but really didn’t think it was worth playing through the game again. I mean I love the game, but I already did everything I wanted to do, and I don’t want to play it again for just a small amount of story, but that made me feel like I lost something, so I ended up youtubing it, and it really wouldn’t have been worth it to play it again just for the story, but the division itself existing still annoyed me. The characters should either be sufficiently different, or the complete story should be delivered with one character.

Overall, this was a fantastic JRPG with an expansive story and great characters as well as good combat and progression, though marred by the standard Tales issues with side-content and while it has a beautiful art style it is somewhat lacking in technical and production values.

8/10

Looking forward to the sequel.

Final Fantasy XIII-2

Three steps forward, two steps back. There were a lot of areas of improvement in FFXIII-2, but a lot of those improvements fell apart in some way.

Lets start with the battle system. The battle system has been shifted so that you have a bit more control over what each paradigm does in terms of enemy targeting. It’s also easier to use abilities manually over just spamming auto battle due to slight changes in the control scheme. There have been a lot of other small changes as well, such as launching not being as common or having as much of an effect, and thus making getting staggers less of a focus as well except for bosses. All of these lead to battles that are similar but different enough from the predecessor. I suppose I prefer this game’s battles overall, though ultimately I feel its more of a preferential change then a definitive improvement. They also fixed some obvious issues, such as the issue with the leader dying automatically resulting in a game over by having essentially two leaders you can switch back and forth between at will which leads to a lot less frustration. These leaders are essentially the only two party members, Noel and Serah, who very quickly gain access to all roles, though there are roles that each is more suited to. The third slot in the party is taken up by a monster from a paradigm pack of three monsters assigned to that paradigm. Overall, I think this is a pretty great system. There’s more flexibility overall, especially from the monster slot due to the fact that monsters are a lot more diverse than a single character with different roles. However, I have some issue with all that flexibility being given immediately right off the bat. FFXIII had a problem where it took too long for the game play to open up and give the player options. In this game the issue is that opposite, in that player may well have control of the full scope of the battle system before the end of the second area, and going forward only make slight tweaks to the strategy they have at that point. The game play is fast and reasonably enjoyable, so this doesn’t ruins battles completely, but it does get very repetitive during the trash mobs during the later portions of the game. Though not as bad as FFXIII, though this is in part because it is about half as long. However, it overall never felt like it was dragging on pointlessly as FFXIII did, so that’s perfectly fine.

Next up, FFXIII-2 is not linear. It’s not open world, but it actually has a series of locations that are relatively open and are meant to be explored thoroughly. As the game is heavily focused on time travel, most of these locations have multiple versions depending on which timelines they belong to and at which time. There are less locations in FFXIII-2 than the FFXIII, but because these areas are more open and the time mechanics allow you to revisit several versions of each area, FFXIII-2 actually felt a good amount larger than FFXIII.  The biggest benefit of this is that in the end, unlike FFXIII, in addition to the main story, FFXIII-2 actually has a lot of other content. Some of the alternate versions of areas are completely optional, and can be visited and played through in whatever order one wishes to. Most every location, both one the main path and side areas, has side quests, with many side quests involving going across regions or times. There are incentives to explore every area thoroughly as well as incentives to capture every monster in the game, including hidden ones. There are hidden non-canon endings as well as other hidden story elements. There are a bunch of puzzle like mini-games where you close rifts, though some of the mini-games get really annoying in later levels. There’s even a casino with slots and chocobo racing. The game may take less time to complete, but because this shorter length along with the more varied content leads to it being better paced, I’d definitely say that that’s an improvement.

The story is an improvement, but still pretty bad. The story now features Serah and Noel, a time traveler from the end of the world, magically travelling forward through time along side the Moogle Mog to reach Lightning in Valhalla, all while solving paradigms and facing Caius, who was seemingly Noel’s close friend at one point. Along the way they encounter a multitude of old and new interesting characters in unexpected places (and times) and slowly unravel how the timeline develops into the end of the world, and ultimately execute a plan spanning centuries to stop it, all of it coming to a pretty epic conclusion in a battle with Caius in Valhalla. It sounds  like a pretty good plot honestly. However, the writing and execution of that plot is still just as badly done as FFXIII. A lot of the plot seems completely random and makes no sense with plot devices added randomly and terms meant to sound cool used arbitrarily. Plus a lot of important parts of the story aren’t revealed all that clearly Still, I can’t say that it as bad. Better than FFXIII due to the much more lighthearted adventure type feeling the game maintains. However the ending was completely terrible. It seems to be ending well enough, but it suddenly and without warning turns into a complete train wreck simply so it could act as sequel bait. I get how it makes sense for that to happen in the overall story, but ending the game at that point just leaves a bitter taste in your mouth.

There are a number of other areas it excels in as well. The graphics are still really good with great art direction, so some areas such as the Academy are simply stunning. The soundtrack is completely bizarre at points, but somehow I’d have to say I still like it. And a lot of the other small issues from FFXIII such as the store system or upgrade system being a complete pain have been solved as well. This was a solid attempt at improvement that clearly listened to fans on what to improve, but didn’t hit its mark with all improvements, and managed to royally screw up in a couple other areas. Thus a solid improvement over FFXIII, but not a tremendous one.

I’m probably going to play Lightning Returns eventually. Not immediately, so I have no clue when, but eventually.

8/10