gaming post, review, Uncategorized

Life is Strange: Before the Storm: Thoughts

Spoilers ahead…

Life is Strange: Before the Storm was released in 2017 on various platforms and developed by Deck Nine. It is a prequel to the popular graphic adventure game, Life is Strange. The story is set in 2010, three years before the events of Life is Strange and focuses on a 16-year-old Chloe Price and her relationship with Rachel Amber, who quickly become close friends. Before the Storm is shorter than the main entries in the Life is Strange series, with 3 episodes instead of 5. It was also the entry where I actually first played it individually by episode and waited for the next, so I remember the pain of having a couple of months between episodes. With other Life is Strange games, I played them once all the episodes were already out. The concept of Before the Storm makes for an interesting prequel as it’s interesting to see Chloe’s life before Max came back into it, the nature of her relationship with Rachel Amber and to see the mysterious Rachel as her own character brought to life because we only have previously seen her in missing posters and testimonies from Chloe and others.

The story begins with Chloe loitering on her way to the Old Mill to watch her favourite band Firewalk. She cannot get into the gig, however with Chloe where there’s a will there’s a way. After getting in, she ends up in conflict with two men after accidentally knocking beer on them. Things get tense, Rachel rescues her and the pair have the night of their lives. The next day, both skip class to stow away on a train and hang out at Overlook Park, where they use a viewfinder to observe people. Rachel is suddenly upset, although does not initially disclose why and turns on Chloe. We are in the dark as Chloe is about why Rachel has changed suddenly. Later it transpires it’s because she spotted her dad, the district attorney named James, kissing another woman. Enraged, Rachel burns a photo of them, kicks over the bin and causes a forest fire that can be seen from most of Arcadia Bay. It also symbolises how intense their friendship has become so quickly that it spreads like fire. The fire from episode 1 remains visible in episode 2 and by episode 3 it has subsided into smoke.

Before the Storm focuses on Chloe and her vulnerabilities with losing her dad and Max. She is struggling to adjust with her mother Joyce’s relationship with David Madsen, who later becomes her stepfather, as their personalities massively clash. Chloe is defiant both in school and at home, but when we first see Chloe hang out with Rachel, she comes across as nervous, probably because this has been her first friendship in a while. Chloe is enamoured with Rachel and is almost blinded to it, but given the context it’s understandable. Chloe has already lost her best friend Max after she moved up to Seattle and doesn’t have any other strong friendships. The text exchanges become less frequent; however, Max is still clearly in Chloe’s mind as seen in her journal and general thoughts. In the scene where Chloe gets upset in the junkyard after Rachel leaves, Chloe smashes things she can find, including a camera which she associates with Max. Just before Max left, her father also suddenly passed away after a car accident and after smashing things in the junkyard, she lastly sees her father’s car. Throughout, she has various dreams about her father and talks to him.

Rachel has this mysterious allure about her which is what draws Chloe in so fast as she’s pretty, she is skilled academically, she is a talented actress and seemingly down to earth. From the end of episode 1 where she causes the massive fire is an immediate sign of Rachel’s unpredictable and destructive behaviour. Even before it happens there’s foreshadowing during a dream sequence Chloe has with her late dad as she sees Rachel burning. Even after playing, I still feel like there’s so much about Rachel that I still don’t know and there’s a lot of debate as to just how much of an actress she is on or off the stage and that potentially she’s a femme fatale. I believe that Rachel cares about Chloe, but she is ultimately selfish as she goes on to have relationships with Frank Bowers and Mr Jefferson, all of which Chloe is unaware about. I think not being able to see this aspect of her life in the lead up to her death contributes to the remaining mystery, but it’s clear that with the lying and drugs she later gets involved in that she inherits the worst aspects from her parents.

Chloe and Rachel’s intense friendship makes them plan to get out of Arcadia Bay together. It’s very much watching the start of an exciting relationship. With Max, Chloe had a friendship that was built on stability and longevity, the relationship with Rachel is built on unpredictability and excitement. In episode 2 where Rachel is partaking in The Tempest play (a not-so-subtle reference to the storm), she gets Chloe on as a last-minute stand in, Chloe is clearly not in her comfort zone, but does it anyway. There’s a questionable scene beforehand where there’s an option for Rachel to drug Victoria or if Victoria attempts to drug Rachel’s tea it can be switched. Considering one of issues highlighted in Life is Strange itself was young girls were getting drugged and put into vulnerable positions (as well as Rachel getting drugged causing her death), I’m surprised it takes the scene of Victoria being drugged so flippantly. With Chloe’s disdain for her homelife, for her it’s a no brainer to go to California with Rachel and have an exciting new start, even if only ever stays as a dream. Chloe remains dedicated to Rachel, even after she goes missing.

The rest of the narrative is largely about Rachel with the truth behind her parents and her life. It is very much like how Chloe’s world is quickly revolving around Rachel. In episode 3, we learn more about what happened with Rachel’s dad and the woman – it turns out to be Rachel’s biological mother, Sera. Sera was a drug addict and to protect Rachel, he paid her off to stay away. Sera, much like Rachel, was the popular girl at school. Allegedly the kiss was a kiss goodbye. It transpires that despite this, James is very much corrupt and has teamed up with the antagonist, Damon Merrick to ensure that Sera stays away after she shows an interest in contacting Rachel. Chloe and Rachel know that Frank knows Sera so they try to get information, however he brings Damon with him and after a scuffle where Rachel attacks him, Damon stabs her in the arm. In hospital, Rachel implores Chloe to find out what she can about her mother. Sera is at the Old Mill being held hostage by Damon, and afterwards Sera and Chloe talk. Sera decides that Rachel needs her father and says Chloe shouldn’t say anything.

While Chloe doesn’t have superpowers like Max, she does have the backtalk challenge. You use arguments to get your own way and this is done by paying attention to the words your opponent is using. The first time you use it is when speaking to the bouncer at the Old Mill, if you get it right then he will concede and let you in, if you fail then you have to sneak in. This time there’s no relying on rewinding and changing your answer this time. Choices of course are also crucial, one of the main choices that you can make throughout is whether you want to keep Chloe and Rachel’s friendship purely platonic, or whether to go further with it. In episode 2, before Chloe goes to Rachel’s house and have dinner there, there’s an option to kiss and I think most chose that, right? The final choice at the end after the showdown with Damon is whether to tell Rachel the truth about her mother or to protect her from the truth. I opted to tell her the truth, but as we know Rachel dies a couple of years later, so maybe it’s better if she doesn’t know?

Once the main story is completed, the fun doesn’t end there. There is a bonus episode named Farewell, set in 2008 showing the last time Chloe and Max hang out before Max has to move to Seattle and her dad William dies within days of each other. It’s nice to see a side to Chloe that is happy and carefree – although Chloe’s mischievous side is apparent as the first scene is blowing up dolls with explosives in her room. Most of the episode revolves around Chloe and Max reliving their pirate days and Max is grappling with when to tell Chloe that she is leaving as she has been putting it off. When Chloe does find out, it turns out she already knew and she is incredibly gracious with the news and she is a really good friend to Max. They plan to enjoy their last day together and her mother Joyce walks in with the bad news about William. They have the funeral and Max leaves, leaving Chloe behind a heartfelt recorded message. I think this marks the start of when Chloe’s attitude changes, it’s clear the rebellious side was always there but through the trauma it escalates.

Life is Strange: Before the Storm very much respects and is faithful to the source material in which it came from and expands upon that universe. Chloe is an interesting character and I think picking Chloe and Rachel’s relationship to focus on was the obvious choice. I just wish it showed more of their relationship closer to the run up to the events of Life is Strange itself as it left me feeling like there was more that I didn’t know. Between the end of Before the Storm and the start of Life is Strange there’s still gaps where’s there’s still questions. The only hint is the very last scene where Rachel has numerous missed calls from Chloe as she is in Mr Jefferson’s dark room. It’s a sad reminder of the inevitability of Rachel’s fate and shows her and Chloe are still close. Ultimately, you know that Chloe and Rachel don’t get their happy ending no matter what choices you make.  If you liked Life is Strange, then Before the Storm is a must play, there may be no superpowers but it still remains a very human story with relatable themes of friendship, loss, truth and lies.

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gaming post, review, Uncategorized

Life is Strange 2: Thoughts

Spoilers ahead…

Life is Strange 2 is a graphic adventure game released episodically between 2018-2019 across different platforms, developed by Dontnod and published by Square Enix. This came after the success of the original Life is Strange which was also comprised of five episodes. The story follows two ‘wolf brothers’, Sean and Daniel Diaz as they travel cross country down the West Coast of America in order to escape the law after a traumatic incident which results in the death of their father and a police officer. This event forces them leave their hometown of Seattle in a bid to reach their father’s hometown of Puerto Lobos, Mexico. It is not a direct sequel in terms of story, although it is set in the same universe and there are multiple references to the first entry throughout. With the narrative spanning from October 2016 to July 2017, Life is Strange 2 takes a look at the USA in the time of Donald Trump’s America and highlights many issues, such as prejudice, racism, relationships with the police and politics. And of course, you must make choices throughout that can affect the outcome of the story, big and small.

At the beginning, you are asked if you sacrificed Arcadia Bay in Life is Strange, depending on what you choose affects some of the story slightly. The story kicks off with a police dashcam that is out of context at this point, but it will soon be important. We are introduced to Sean, a 16-year-old who is just a normal teenager who is getting ready for a Halloween party with his friend Lyla Park who is also coaching him on how to approach his love interest, Jenn Murphy. Daniel is only 9 years old and is the typical, sweet but annoying younger brother. Together, they live with their dad, Esteban (their mother Karen abandoned the family shortly after Daniel’s birth) and everything is fairly normal. It’s a slightly slow start, but it paves the way for the pivotal scene where Daniel gets into trouble with the neighbour Brett outside, which leads to Sean coming out and getting into a scuffle. The passing police officer shoots Esteban erroneously as he arrives on the scene and this leads to an explosion killing the police officer. The explosion is caused by Daniel’s telekinetic powers and both brothers run from the scene.

It’s a tragic situation, however the plot hole I found was that Sean and Daniel are wanted in connection with the death of the police officer, but he was killed from the explosion that was caught on the dashcam. They wouldn’t know the cause of the explosion and there’s not any evidence of wrongdoing. I suppose both are kids and are scared so they run anyway. Now they are having to live on their own for the first time and Sean has to step up and be a father figure to Daniel, as well as an older brother. Unlike the first Life is Strange which was in one place, Life is Strange 2 is real travelling adventure where the locations are always different, from the Mount Rainier National Park (Washington) in episode 1, to Beaver Creek (Oregon) in episode 2, Humboldt County (California) in episode 3, Haven Point (Nevada) in episode 4 and Away (Arizona) in episode 5, for example. At the end of episode 1 you stop by Arcadia Bay which is either destroyed or intact. In these different areas you also meet different characters as you go and it symbolises how the brothers’ lives are constantly changing.

Throughout, the decisions you make impact Daniel’s morality and this will affect his behaviour which leads into which ending you get. For example, they get a dog called Mushroom who sadly is killed by a cougar. Sean can let Daniel can use his power to kill the cougar or spare it, of course sparing it is the moral decision. There are indicators of low morality for Daniel as for example, he may steal from Brody, the travelling journalist who helps you in episode 1 if you have stolen or he may refuse to help with chores when staying with their grandparents. I tried to make the best choices, but it isn’t always easy as I tried to raise Daniel well but I still got a low morality ending. There are also different options for romance. In episode 3 you can pick between Cassidy, Finn or nobody at all. You first meet Cassidy and Finn at the Christmas market near Beaver Creek in episode 2 and after Sean and Daniel have continue on from there as the police are onto them, they meet again in Humboldt. I’ve ended up romancing Cassidy in my playthroughs but it’s completely up to the player.

Real life meets the supernatural as you interact with the world around you. Sean and Daniel have to grow up very quickly which leads them to sleeping rough and in episode 3, even working on an illegal weed farm in California in order to earn money and living in a camp with other outcasts from society. It’s a sad situation, especially for Daniel as he is so young to be living that kind of life. Daniel’s superpower can unpredictable, but they do try to train his power. The unpredictability seems mostly in moments of anguish. At the end of episode 3 there is an explosion at Merrill’s, the weed farm owners house after a botched heist which left Sean with a life changing injury as his eye was pierced with glass. The way the camera panned up slowly to reveal his face was a real shock. Daniel’s power comes to a head in episode 4 after the brothers get separated and Daniel gets taken into Haven Point where the Universal Uprising Church is, a religious cult that has taken Daniel in as a prodigy as they believe his powers are a gift from God and he is brainwashed.

As mentioned, the story tackles issues of race and politics. In episode 1, Hank, the owner of a gas station accuses Sean of shoplifting and chains him up in his office while telling him that they’re the reason they need to build the wall. There’s a scene in episode 4 where Sean is driving to Nevada and parks up in the desert to sleep, he has a poignant dream about him in the car with his dad and he is abruptly woken up by two men claiming he is on their land. These are racists as Sean is asked to say things in Spanish and even to sing in Spanish which would mean he gets left alone afterwards. You can choose to refuse, but a lot of the time when I was making choices, I had to pick my battles for survival, even if it did result in humiliation which is pretty sad. In episode 5, Sean and Daniel arrive at the wall and are reprimanded by anti-immigrant vigilantes. There’s a scene where Sean is detained with a Mexican couple who are expecting a baby and hearing their story about why they want to cross the border.

There are four main endings and these are all the results of the decisions you have made throughout with Daniel’s moral status largely determining what you get. When you arrive at border you are surrounded by police and you have the final decision – surrender or cross the border. Last time, I crossed the border and got the Blood Brothers ending where Sean and Daniel are living in Puerto Lobos working in a garage being approached by gang members. This time I got the Lone Wolf ending where I surrendered but Daniel refused and uses his powers to hit the pedal of the car and forcing them both through the border – with Sean fatally shot as they get through. Daniel then lives in Puerto Lobos alone as a criminal. One of the two high morality endings is Redemption, where Sean spends 15 years in prison and Daniel is raised by their grandparents. Parting Ways has Sean go to Puerto Lobos alone and Daniel living with their grandparents. All these endings have drawbacks if you’re looking for a happy ending, in each one something has to be sacrificed – although the Lone Wolf ending is the worst outcome all round.

Life is Strange 2 is an engaging and yet a pretty sad entry into the franchise as Sean and Daniel are against the odds as they seek a life of freedom from really unfair circumstances. Sean especially has to grow up quick for both him and Daniel and sometimes you forget that he’s only a teenager. It’s a wild ride with lots of drama throughout but there’s also plenty of introspective moments of sitting, or drawing the world around you in between – one way that Sean documents his journey. Brotherhood is a very strong theme and I like the symbolism of them both as wolves throughout and in each episode recap there is an animated sequence depicting them as wolves. Their idyllic dream of reaching Mexico, especially by the end is tarnished by the reality of it because even if they get there – it’s apparent their quality of life won’t be as good. It leaves a sombre feel as you connect and root for these characters who just never seem to quite catch a break. It just leaves you wishing the events at the start could be different, although I suppose if they were we wouldn’t have a story.

The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit

The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit is worth a mention as it is bundled in with Life is Strange 2 as well as being available as a demo. This short story follows Chris Eriksen, a young boy who Daniel befriends in Beaver Creek. Chris and his father Charles reside next door to Claire and Stephen Reynolds, Sean and Daniel’s grandparents. It’s set on a snowy Saturday morning where Chris taking solace in Captain Solace, his alter ego which helps him cope with the death of his mother, Emily. Charles is an alcoholic and it is sad seeing his moods constantly changing towards Chris. The more you see Charles and Chris’ interactions, the more you see why he is obsessed with superheroes. The clever storytelling however does make Charles a sympathetic character. Both are hurting and, in some ways, Chris is the one looking after Charles when it should be the other way round. Though it’s a standalone story, it provides further context for Chris and Charles who we meet in episode 2 of Life is Strange 2.

At the start, Charles cooking Chris breakfast whilst starting early on a beer. Depending on how quickly you come to the kitchen can also affect some of the dialogue of how Charles is towards Chris. Soon after, Charles not so subtly gets a bottle of whiskey before plonking himself down on the sofa to watch the big game. Chris makes Charles some mac and cheese so he has something to line his stomach. Charles tells Chris to wake him if he falls asleep and they will go and get a Christmas tree. As the whiskey is drunk, Charles falls asleep and when Chris does wake him, immediately he falls over twice which is heard by the Reynolds which leads to Claire knocking on the door with concern. After this, Charles has an outburst blaming Chris for Emily’s death which leads to Chris running to his treehouse and falling as his climbs up, this is where the scene from Life is Strange 2 comes into play as Daniel uses his power to save him from having a hard fall.

The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit is worth checking out as an extra to Life is Strange 2. The narrative is relatable for many because it’s a subject matter that has affected people and will continue to still affect people. Themes like grief, alcoholism and having to be the one to look after a parent. Chris can help out with chores that have not been done by his dad – he can put laundry on and he can shovel the snow outside. But in a more light-hearted manner, he can get things together to make his costume which can carry over into his appearance in Life is Strange 2. However, it is sad and concerning that can even steal one his dad’s cigarette’s that he can attempt to smoke in the treehouse and even make crushing one his dad’s many beer cans into a game. Captain Spirit shows what a difference it can make to have something to hold onto and it does make you wish for the best for both Chris and Charles, who both have different ideas of escapism.

gaming post, review, Uncategorized

Animal Crossing: New Horizons: Thoughts

Animal Crossing: New Horizons was released in March 2020 on the Nintendo Switch. This proved to be a very problematic time in the world as everywhere was starting to go into lockdown. While I was diving into my Final Fantasy games at this time, a lot of people turned to Animal Crossing: New Horizons as a means of taking their mind off the pandemic. Animal Crossing is a life simulation game played in real time where your customisable character moves to a deserted island and you help build your island into a society. Immediately you get the deserted island feel as you even start off in a basic tent with limited amenities, but in time you do later get a house. You have the freedom of developing the island and encouraging other villagers to move there and to expand your world. I had previously played Animal Crossing: Wild World on the Nintendo DS which I spent many untold hours on and loved it. I was after a cosy, relaxing game to play where you can dip in and out and this is where Animal Crossing is perfect for it.

While New Horizons feels similar to before, this entry feels more purposeful as you now have to craft items using things like wood, rocks and anything that can be found. Crafting is new to the series and it will provide you with tools like axes, nets, fishing rods etc. and even furniture. With time you can also upgrade these tools from flimsy (which will break easily) to something a little sturdier. Later you get more of these ‘recipes’ so you can craft more things. If anything, with all these crafting options I find I go to Nook’s Cranny far less than before. Another new feature is the ability to scuba dive which is pretty cool. As with Animal Crossing, there’s a lot of the old staples to do, you can collect fish, fossils and bugs to hand into the local museum, decorate your home and upgrade it once you have the funds and go shopping. You now have Nook Miles that you can redeem, which like bells work as an additional currency. These are mainly achieved through achieving goals, usually it’s doing an activity a certain number of times, like catching X number of fish.

It’s a slow start as the island you’re on is a blank slate and it is up to you as the Resident Representative as deemed by Tom Nook to make it more attractive for new residents to come and join you as you only have two neighbours at the start. Even when you have the first couple of extra houses that can be built you have to craft interior and exterior items for them. Some of this can feel a tad tedious, but nothing too terrible. One of the ultimate goals is to get famed K.K. Slider to perform on the island, but first you have to get an improved star rating which involves getting more villagers, less weeds, furniture placed outside and so on. There’s a lot of room for customisation here. It is not a structured game in a traditional sense, but it is perfect if you’re looking for a game to just dip into during any downtime. Because things such as houses being built take a day, things needing to regrow etc., you’re not encouraged to be playing for hours on end. Which I think is great as it adds to that chilled vibe.

A major part of the game is the residents that inhabit your island, they all have their little quirks and personalities – one of which I have is Merengue, a pink rhino who is very sweet indeed, her horn is made from a strawberry and her head is topped with cream. All the villagers have their own little quirks, some might give you items or teach you a reaction which are a selection of expressions that you can use and this is based off the personality of the resident who teaches you. You have to be best friends with the villager for them to do this, so it is always important to talk to your neighbours to have that rapport. Other key residents are of course Tom Nook who runs the Resident Services building, Isabelle the resident secretary and Blathers, the owl who runs the museum. At one point you set up a camp in order to attract new visitors to the island which will then hopefully move to the island as long as you have extra plots available. It all helps to expand the island around you and making it a more attractive place for more residents to live in.

The world is bright and full of character, helped by its detailed graphics. It encourages you to use your imagination to create the sort of world you want. There’s just something exciting about planting a little garden with your seeds and waiting until the next day to see if they’ve grown. Trees sway in the wind and the weather can change. The game changes with the seasons, even down to the detail of which hemisphere you live on in the world. It recognises holidays, for example it was recently Halloween so the music was different and even got a pumpkin head from Jack and scared villagers into giving me candy in the process – mwahaha. Colours of the trees even differ depending on what time of year you are playing. Different fish and bugs appear during the year and different characters pop up at random times too. For example, Wisp, the ghost who sometimes pops up at night time will shed five parts of his spirit across the island in fear and you collect the different parts. The fact that the island never stays the same keeps the player coming back and that’s why many play over long periods of time.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons is largely the same as its predecessors at heart. The main change is that you arrive at a deserted island, rather than one that is already established. New Horizons attempts to breathe new life into the series with new elements such as the crafting, but the core gameplay is very similar to before. There’s an online aspect too that connects you to other players islands – that would have been especially nice to do when we were in the throes of the pandemic, creating a sense of community when it wasn’t possible in person. It’s also just so easy to pick up and play which would appeal to a wide audience, including non-gamers. Even if you take a break from it, the door is always open in your island to come back (though you may need to pull a few weeds out first). Not all games need to be super competitive to be fun, sometimes we just want to be whisked away into our own little world that we can cultivate and grow and for anyone wanting a change of pace, Animal Crossing: New Horizons is the one.

gaming post, review, Uncategorized

Life is Strange: Thoughts

This action will have consequences…

Spoilers ahead…

Life is Strange is an episodic graphic adventure game released in 2015. It was developed by Dontnod and published by Square Enix. From this release, began a series that became very popular with a dedicated fanbase. I can honestly say it’s the game that I always wish I could experience for the first time all over again. Life is Strange is a series that transcends traditional gaming as it’s very much point and click and decision based. I honestly think it could easily appeal to people who aren’t even into gaming. When I played it back in 2015 after playing the demo of the first chapter on a whim, I had no idea how much I’d love it. I discovered it when the finale was on the horizon and I was so glad to be able to play it consecutively as it was released in five episodes. It was also downloadable only to begin with, but they did release a physical limited edition which I am happy to say I own. Life is Strange is very narrative driven and kept me invested throughout. It delivers on characters you can connect to, plenty of twists, shocks and does it well.

The story is set in October 2013 where a mysterious storm is hitting the town of Arcadia Bay, Oregon, USA. Our protagonist is an 18-year-old student named Maxine Caulfield, better known as Max, a photographer who attends Blackwell Academy. It all starts off very much as the regular high school story with its cliques and dramas. However, this is quickly set apart as Max discovers she has the power to rewind time and alter consequences, creating a butterfly effect. Max first uses this power to save her old friend Chloe Price was fatally shot in the girls’ bathroom after a scuffle with bad boy Nathan Prescott. This moment creates the consequences which sets out the entire story, even if it isn’t initially obvious. The story is interactive, with choices being important. I really like this idea because it’s easy to relate to real life – of course what you say and do will create differing effects depending on what choice you make. However, Max has the advantage of potentially changing the outcome if the first one isn’t as desired. It’s a bit of a fail-safe, expect when there are instances where it doesn’t work or the power has been overused.

What I like about Life is Strange is it represents the time that it was made in. We have themes such as viral videos, pop culture references, just hearing words like ‘selfie’ and even ‘twerk’. It also deals with a lot of serious issues such as suicide and bullying. While the story is centred around a supernatural ability, it’s within a relatable setting. I found the characters to be relatable as well, Max is the underdog at Blackwell Academy, who is nerdy and shy to begin with but as the story goes on, we soon see her character develop as she becomes a lot more fearless. Her loyalty to Chloe is also very endearing. Chloe is very flawed and clearly has abandonment issues following the death of her dad 5 years previous and Max’s previous abandonment with moving to Seattle, but she has a vulnerability behind the cool façade that makes her likeable. Chloe has some very honourable traits such as her loyalty to her friends, to Max and to the missing Rachel Amber – a character with a lot of significance despite not being seen in the main game aside from all the missing person posters Chloe had put up.

The story has a lot of dark turns. For example, in episode 2 where fellow student and religious girl Kate Marsh has a video of her kissing a lot of guys while intoxicated gets leaked onto the internet it all proves too much and she goes to throw herself off from the top of the girls’ dormitories. Here Max is unable to use her power and she has to try to say the right things in real time to convince her to not jump. The first time I played it, I went into it blind and I didn’t say the right things as she did jump. It was pretty terrible, especially as I found out afterwards that she could have been saved and managed to save her the second time playing. The little shrine to her outside her dorm if she does die really hits home the significance of the loss. Another very dark scene is the grim discovery that Rachel has been buried in the junkyard. It wasn’t much of a surprise that Rachel didn’t turn up alive and well, but seeing Chloe and Max’s horror and Chloe’s pain at the realisation Rachel was dead was awful.

Soon enough, the consequences of time travel become more apparent. In episode 3, Max goes back in time right before Chloe’s father William gets into the car which leads to his death. She manages to hide his car keys, forcing him to take the bus and therefore he lives which then places us into an alternative time line. Max is still at Blackwell but she is in the popular crowd with people like Victoria Chase (think the Regina George of Life is Strange). However, this changes other people’s lives. There’s a big cliff-hanger when Max knocks on the door to Chloe’s house and William answers it. You see a shot of a wheelchair coming towards the door, the camera lifts up and you see the result of changing the past. Chloe is now paralysed and slowly dying. My mouth was pretty much wide open when I saw that and it really was like the cliff-hanger at the end of an episode of a TV show. It’s the realisation that with all the good intentions of saving Chloe from the pain of losing her father, she is now very disabled and her family are struggling immensely with paying for her care.

From the beginning, one of the trusted figures at Blackwell Academy is photography teacher Mr Jefferson. Towards the end it transpires that he is the main antagonist and takes part in drugging girls and taking photographs of them while they are vulnerable in his bunker, also known as the ‘Dark Room’. Up until this point, Nathan Prescott who shot Chloe at the start was shown as the main antagonist, but we learn that he is Mr Jefferson’s puppet. It’s all pretty sick as we are presented with Max being his next victim, but it serves to explain what happened to Kate being intoxicated that fateful night with the viral video and also Rachel’s death is explained through the inexperienced Nathan giving her an overdose. Everything comes together and it’s at this point we see how far things have gone and Max is trapped in a nightmare, which is a bit of mind screw. The time loops get very creepy and trippy! I hate the part where you’re in the dark and you’re trying to hide from Jefferson as he tries to find you with his torch – nightmare fuel and probably the most stressful part of the game, gameplay wise.

At the end you make the biggest decision. Life is Strange is set over the course of a week and the story begins, and ends, with the storm in full force, caused by these changes in time. The final decision is whether to sacrifice Chloe or Arcadia Bay (meaning many more lives lost). You can opt to save Chloe and let Arcadia Bay get destroyed by the tornado. It was a tough, but I decided to sacrifice Chloe which I think is the morally right thing to do. The story goes back to the beginning and Max has to hide and listen to Chloe being shot without being able to do anything to help this time. It’s so chilling and horrible. I’m sure many would argue that after all that they’ve been through, surely you can’t let Chloe be sacrificed… but with the times she nearly dies throughout and has to be saved, I can’t help but feel that fate seems to try and erase her out, even Chloe herself says her fate is just being delayed. No matter what your decision is, you will be reeling from it. It is a sad, but inevitable conclusion, at least to me.

Life is Strange is a unique experience as an interactive drama and I am glad to have been on the journey with Max and Chloe. It leaves you with that empty feeling afterwards and nothing will replicate playing it for the first time. Having Max’s rewind power gives food for thought as to how you can change how conversations and situations play out. Even for the more trivial things, like you could get yourself out of a tricky situation or even having the correct answer in class if you weren’t listening the first time, just like when Max first realises her power. However, it does show that nothing in life is for free and the consequences will always catch up. The soundtrack is very indie and fitting with lots of vocal songs, from the To All of You at the start to the emotional Spanish Sahara towards the end. The instrumental Golden Hour which plays on the title screen is my favourite track. Life is Strange is a game I like to come back to every now and again, there’s plenty of replay value with the different choices you can make so it’s never exactly the same each time.

day out, diary entry, Uncategorized

Theme Park Days Out: Drayton Manor and Alton Towers

Recently I went on a couple of day trips to two theme parks; Drayton Manor and Alton Towers. I had managed to go through the majority of my 20s without even so much as going to a theme park as I last went to Drayton Manor in 2013 and Alton Towers in 2011. I had been to Drayton Manor quite a few times in the past, particularly when I was younger going to friend’s birthday trips and school trips. Alton Towers I think I went to once or twice when I was really little and then once again in 2011. I’d been wanting to return for a while and finally I did it, within about 3 weeks of one other!

Drayton Manor

Drayton Manor is my local theme park about 10 minutes away now and it was about time I revisited it. That morning the weather was rather hit and miss with plenty of rain early on. Luckily by 10am when we left, the rain seemed to have subsided. We went on a Monday in order to beat some of the crowds as theme parks can be notoriously busy over weekends and school holidays. As it happened, we were in luck – because the park was pretty quiet and most rides we could simply walk on. I remember on previous visits during peak times spending ages queueing for rides so it was well worth taking a day off work just to go on a weekday. It really helped us make the most of the day.

Rather than going through the main entrance, we entered through the park’s new themed area called Vikings with new rides too. We went straight to the Jolly Bucaneer in the main bit of the park to ease ourselves in as it had been a long time since I had gone on a ride. After that, we went on the Bounty Pirate Ship – a swinging boat overlooking the main lake so all very on theme. We went back on those later in the day too. At this point the sun was starting to peek out, so weather wise the day wasn’t too bad other than a tiny bit of rain. Throughout the day we went on other rides like Flying Dutchman, Wave Swinger (x2), River Rapids, Drunken Barrels, Accelerator, Jormungandr (x2, previously known as the Buffalo rollercoaster), Thor (x4) and Loki (x3). Thor and Loki were new rides for Vikings and they were seriously fun. The thing that freaked me out slightly about Thor was how far it looked like it was coming away from the track!

These days, Drayton Manor tends to have less thrill rides as they seem to be heading for a more family friendly vibe but some thrills still remain. As it was so easy to walk onto rides, I started pushing myself a little further, so I took myself on the gyro-swing Maelstrom (x2) alone which was so much fun. I think the ride looks slightly scarier than what it is. I also went on Shockwave, best known as Europe’s first stand-up rollercoaster and it was my second ever time on it. There weren’t many people so I decided I should take the opportunity to go on the front row! My god it is not a comfortable ride though, my head was banging about on the restraints for a lot of it. It’s a good way to give yourself a headache – I remember my head hurting after going on the now disappeared G-Force back in the day. That alone makes it off putting, but it could have been where I was positioned. I didn’t really plan to go on it but I thought it would be a shame not to as there was no queue.

My partner had been encouraging me to go on Apocalypse as it is due to close at the end of October. For anyone who doesn’t know, Apocalypse has been at Drayton Manor for a long time and for as long as I can remember it is just part of the backdrop. I was always intimidated by it as a kid and when I was about 18, I went on it for the first time with my two friends. There’s a sit-down option and stand up, unfortunately they’re only running the sit-down option at the moment so that was what I went on. I waited about 15 minutes as only four people were getting on at a time. I got on and the ride slowly takes you up, giving you amazing views over the park and beyond but honestly, I was wondering why I had done this to myself so I hadn’t really taken it in. It’s a free fall going at 50mph for 4 seconds so it’s pretty thrilling! I was glad I did it though, especially knowing it was my last chance.

We went on good old Stormforce 10 together and I’m so glad it was one of the last rides we went on because I got soaked. And when I say soaked, I mean the whole way through my clothes, pond water in my face and hair. Needless to say, once I got home the first thing I did was have a shower. It was really good fun though and it’s the bigger ride at Drayton Manor that I’ve been on the most throughout the years. It’s like the day isn’t complete until we’ve been on Stormforce 10. I do seem to be prone to getting the most soaked though. I remember one time I even had strangers laugh at me because I got the most wet out of everyone on the ride. Still, I think it’s one of the best rides at the park. Depending on what the weather is like and how well prepared you are, it’s not a ride I would try first.

As we had so much time due to the lack of queues, we had a walk round Thomasland which is a really great area for little kids and they even have little shows throughout the day where the Fat Controller sings. It’s all very wholesome and must be a great experience for the kids who love Thomas the Tank Engine. Drayton Manor is also home to a zoo which was nice to spend an hour or so walking around and there’s even a Dino Trail towards the back. It’s not the greatest zoo but it’s a nice little extra and we took the Thomas Train from the zoo back to Thomasland. I think we must have been the only people on it without kids but it was all good fun. On previous visits I didn’t even have time to visit the zoo so it shows the difference coming on a quiet day.

Coming back to Drayton Manor after the best part of a decade was so much fun, especially with the added bonus of not having to worry about spending half the day queueing. I really don’t want to leave it as long for next time. The park is fairly compact so it’s easy enough to walk around and see everything. My favourite bit of the park is always the lake where you overlook Stormforce 10 and Shockwave. I do wonder what they will do with the area round by Apocalypse once it’s gone as it’s such as iconic part of the park as it’s one of the things that I think when I think of Drayton Manor due to its standout nature. It’s definitely worth a visit and if you can go during a weekday then even better as I think I got so much more out of this than probably in previous visits. I even felt slightly sick towards the end which I think also shows that I got on more rides than usual! All worth it though.

Alton Towers

Alton Towers is about an hour drive away from where I am, so it’s a bit further out but not too bad. I had been wanting to return for quite a while now as I really enjoyed it last time and I honestly can’t believe it was 11 years ago now. Tickets aren’t cheap though so we used the Cadbury 2 for 1 offer which extends to a few various attractions so well worth it as you may end up paying best part of £100 just for two people otherwise. I had high hopes for this trip as Alton Towers has always come across as the quintessential theme park in the UK and ultimately, I still think it is. We walked from the car park to the Monorail into the park where there was a bit of a queue but after a while we were on our way. We also came right before Scarefest so the Towers Street area where you first walk in was decked out with pumpkins and other decorations. It’s a nice part to walk into as it’s very colourful.

The park wasn’t as quiet as I had hoped, but then I think I had been spoiled by Drayton Manor. I’m glad I didn’t go on a weekend though as queues for some rides can peak to over an hour. Some of the rides didn’t open until 11 either. We first went on the Skyride which is the cable car, connecting different areas of the park. The views as it took you over the gardens and the Pagoda with the fountain were absolutely gorgeous as we were lucky with the weather as it was sunny. It was October and I was happily going around in a jumper and jeans. We got off and had a wander around the gardens. The shining sun brought out all the autumnal colours. As walked back over, we saw the outside of the Towers themselves. There are so many areas to walk around like the Haunted Hollow – a creepy woodland with many weird and wonderful monuments of those who served the Towers over the years… I like how there’s all themed areas like the Dark Forest, X-Sector, Mutiny Bay, Forbidden Valley and Kantaga Canyon.

We walked so much that day, doing nearly 10 miles of walking in total. We walked over to the Katanga Canyon area and went on our first rollercoaster, the Runaway Mine Train. We could walk onto this which was great so we went on three times over the day. It’s a bit like the Buffalo rollercoaster at Drayton Manor, but definitely faster and more exciting. It’s quite rough when you go into the tunnel though! It did make me laugh how the operator would have to say ‘Choo choo’ enthusiastically at the end of each thing he said, I wonder how many times he would have to say that in a day. We also went on Congo River Rapids twice and it is very similar to the Drayton Manor counterpart, except you get less wet and being a bit older now I’m actually glad of that. I liked how it ran alongside the Runaway Mine Train though so people would wave at each other from the two rides which was amusing.

Other rides we went on included Funk’n’Fly which is an 80s retro themed spinny flight ride. It was pretty fun although my neck hurt a bit after getting off. It comes off as a bit of a fun fair ride so while it’s fine, it was nothing too special. This ride is where Ripsaw used to be which was a seriously cool ride, it’s a shame it’s gone as while Funk’n’Fly was nice enough, Ripsaw was a lot more interesting! We also went on The Blade twice which was located nearby, which is very much like the Bounty Pirate Ship at Drayton Manor. We also went on Spinball Whizzer, which last time I went on it was branded as Sonic Spinball as at the time Alton Towers had a partnership with SEGA which even extended to having a Sonic themed room. It was a fun coaster that twists constantly as you go around the track and it even changes rotation which led to it feeling pretty rough at points! It was a fun little thrill though and I certainly felt like I’d been in a pinball machine afterwards.

Didn’t really do any of the thrill rides this time as queues were about half an hour or so on average and I didn’t want to queue on my own. I remember last time going on Rita, Thirteen, Nemesis, Galactica (previously known as Air) and Oblivion. I remember finding Oblivion terrifying, especially as it hangs you over the drop before going down into the tunnel – I recall getting sprayed with water/mist down there too. Air/Galactica was super fun as it’s like you’re flying. Nemesis was pretty cool and after this season it’s closing for a year so it can have a retrack. Thirteen’s straight through the floor drop was a pretty unforgettable twist. Rita is a good gateway to thrill rides I think as there’s no inversions, just a very quick acceleration at the start. There is also The Smiler with 14 inversions and has a very unsettling theme with creepy and surreal music that stays in your head. The Wicker Man looked really cool with its fiery effects against the wood.

Towards the end of the day, we took the Skyride back to the Towers Street at the start of the park. I really wanted to get a little Alton Towers magnet from the shop but it was unbelievably hard to get a simple bit of merchandise with just the logo on as a lot of it was specifically ride themed. I still have my two trusty Alton Towers mugs from 2011 so I’ve just settled with them. Alton Towers is so vast so it does feel impossible to do everything in one day and I definitely don’t feel like I covered anywhere near as much ground as I did with Drayton Manor, which is rather compact in comparison. There is certainly a lot more to Alton Towers than just thrill rides though and it has things for the younger audiences with CBeebies Land and The World of David Walliams. Alton Towers is a good theme park, although it doesn’t feel quite as world class as it once was somehow. I’m glad I went though and would definitely go back.

gaming post, review, Uncategorized

Harvestella: First Impressions

Harvestella is a life-simulation RPG published by Square Enix and is due to be released on the Nintendo Switch in November 2022. It feels like a classic RPG with treasure chests, world map and crystals such as the overbearing Seaslight which governs the seasons, but with a farming twist. You play as a silent protagonist who you can create, making them male or female and there’s even a non-binary option. Despite this, the character ends up looking rather similar whatever you choose – which is skewed towards being female. Still, it’s a step towards being inclusive in our ever-progressive world as you can have yourself referred to as they. You can also name your character which isn’t as a common in games these days so it definitely does feel like a throwback to older RPGs. There are the farming mechanics where you can grow fruit and veg, go fishing, crafting etc. Harvestella works on a time management system, so time is always ticking and so the demo allows you either 15 in-game days or completing the first two chapters.

Story-wise, the protagonist has the classic RPG trope of amnesia and awakens during the height of a phenomenon called Quietus. I actually learned a new word here as it means ‘death or something that causes death, regarded as a release from life.’ The protagonist awakens on a hill near Lethe Village, the first place that you visit and the local doctor known as Cres comes to your aid. Soon after, a mysterious meteorite strikes the ground and inside is a wounded Omen, armoured beings that are seen as a threat. Despite this, the Omen is brought in and treated and turns out to be a girl named Aria who is from the future. Cres suggests farming crops in order to earn money and this is where the farming element comes into play. You live in a vacant house in Bird’s Eye Brae near the village. It feels like a nice, simplistic life as you wake up, tend to crops, go to the village and go to bed once it’s dark. If you stay up until midnight you will collapse and you will have to pay a fee so time keeping is important.

Visuals are eye-catching – being very vibrant, colourful and glowy. Lethe Village is a traditional countryside medieval-looking village, which is very fitting with classic RPG aesthetics. In particular the visuals look great by night. Higan Canyon is the last area in the demo where you search for Aria in the story and this looks very autumnal and pretty. These areas are all nice to wander around in, however I’ve been used to playing really open world games lately so the invisible barriers you come across to ensure you don’t go into certain areas felt a bit strange. The days also go quick so it does feel like you’re being railroaded into following the correct path, at least at the start. You also can’t manually save until Chapter 2, which feels like a really long time. Battles are in real time with a simple enough battle system to use and enemies seem easy to enough to defeat. You even have a boss fight with a unicorn! There are jobs as well as skill trees to use. A job system is always a plus point as it always offers customisation for battle.

Harvestella has made an interesting first impression as a mixture of a life-simulation, farming and RPG game all in one. It clearly has potential and so far, it seems fine, but I’m not sure if it will go down as one of the greats. At the start it gives off the vibe of having a simple life of cultivating crops for money and seeing what has grown the next day. At the same time, you’re traversing potentially dangerous lands and using crafting skills in a practical sense e.g., repairing ladders in order to make future visits easier. While it’s nice to be able to customise your character to an extent I’m not sure it goes far enough and I’m also not sure how well silent protagonists stand up these days either. As you are a silent protagonist (other than odd grunts) there are still dialogue options, although I am not sure how consequential these are. There’s not much other voice acting either. Despite this, it does have its own little charm and it’s a nice little throwback to older RPGs.

day out, diary entry, gaming post, travel experience, Uncategorized

Final Fantasy 35th Anniversary Distant Worlds: music from Final Fantasy Coral: Thoughts

It’s been five years since I saw Distant Worlds in concert for the first time and five years later, I made it back to the Royal Albert Hall in London on the 1st October 2022 to do it all again. Conducted by Arnie Roth and performed by the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra, it was a wonderful experience hearing all my favourite tracks from Final Fantasy beautifully orchestrated live to celebrate the 35th anniversary of the series. In 2017, composer Nobuo Uematsu himself was there as a special guest and while he was absent this time, we had Yoko Shimomura, who composed for FFXV. Rikki, the singer of Suteki da Ne from FFX also made an appearance to sing. I went to the Saturday matinee performance, but there was also a Saturday evening performance and a Sunday matinee. Honestly, I felt lucky that I could even go as unfortunately train strikes were scheduled on that day so we had to change our travel plans around, but we still made it which was the main thing.

The first half of the concert was music from Final Fantasy I-VI. It was a real celebration of the classics with medleys and all the game footage was taken from the recent Pixel Remasters. My minor gripe with the actual displays is from where we were sitting which was at the back more on the left-hand side and some of the hanging speakers were obstructing the screen a bit. Not massively, but say when the footage had text boxes on the screen, I couldn’t fully see them, for example. It was great to see some of the classics get some love though, some of my favourites were the Red Wings Theme from FFIV as well as A New World from FFV. I enjoyed hearing The Veldt from FFVI too – I didn’t expect to hear that one. Kids Run Through the City is a previously unheard Distant Worlds classic that I remember hearing in FFVI quite a bit. Tracks like Eternal Wind from FFIII were as gorgeous as ever and the new battle medley was great – FFV’s battle theme is one of my favourites from the whole series.

After the intermission, the Maida Vale Singers choir joined the show and the second half kicked off with Liberi Fatali. This threw me a little because they went with FFI-FFVI consecutively I thought that was the theme, but then it clicked that they were probably celebrating the originals in particular. Having said that, each numbered entry had at least one track played so this was a good all-rounder for celebrating the series. Aerith’s theme played along with a lot of clips of Cloud and Aerith – I wonder if whoever was putting the footage together is a fan of Clerith! Flash of Steel was good, serving as one of the more memorable tracks from FFXII. I also loved Blinded by Light from FFXIII; the arrangement felt so epic. Rikki, the original singer of Suteki da Ne came on in a traditional looking dress which would have easily fitted in with FFX’s world and her voice as she sang the classic is still as good as it was then. The background as she sang showed clips of the original kiss scene between Tidus and Yuna which was very fitting – even 20 years on, the cinematography of that scene still looks brilliant.

The Main Theme of Final Fantasy played with the credits done in the style of the end screen of FFI. I was sad to see it was starting to come to an end, but I absolutely loved the way they incorporated the choir for this rendition of it. The encore consisted of the classic Zanarkand, played as beautifully as ever and sounding just like the recorded version and last, but by no means least was One Winged Angel as the final song. The lights in auditorium fittingly went red as One Winged Angel sounded as menacing as ever with plenty of clips from Advent Children playing alongside it. It was a great ending. I was thinking about some tracks I’d love to hear live in the future, perhaps something like Maybe I’m a Lion from FFVIII, or Dancing Mad from FFVI. Maybe even something not from a numbered title such as Noel’s Theme from FFXIII-2 or 1000 Words from FFX-2, that would make a good vocal theme addition. It would be nice to hear some tracks from the sequels, maybe in the future.

The Royal Albert Hall is a great venue for Distant Worlds and it really adds to the grandeur of it. The set list was varied and captured the essence of Final Fantasy throughout the years. It was also great to see a variety of people attending the concert and I even spotted a few cosplayers. I saw a cosplay of FFVII Remake Aerith in her red dress along with Cloud and with them, Tseng and Cissnei from the Turks in the lobby before the show began. It all went by so quickly – the intermission came in no time and the second half went fast too. I know I’m gushing but I genuinely felt emotional at points as so many of these tracks I’ve been listening to for about half my life. I think I also have an even greater appreciation as I’ve (fully) played more of the series since the last time. I also got some merch afterwards and came away with the FFX soundtrack and Distant Worlds II CD, so I was happy. It was a fantastic experience and I am so excited to see Final Symphony in Birmingham next year.

Set list:

  • FINAL FANTASY I~III: Medley 2002
  • FINAL FANTASY III: Eternal Wind
  • FINAL FANTASY IV: The Red Wings ~ Kingdom of Baron
  • FINAL FANTASY IV: Main Theme of FINAL FANTASY IV
  • FINAL FANTASY V: Home, Sweet Home ~ Music Box
  • FINAL FANTASY V: A New World
  • FINAL FANTASY VI: Phantom Forest ~ Phantom Train ~ The Veldt
  • FINAL FANTASY VI: Kids Run Through the City
  • FINAL FANTASY I~VI: Battle Medley 2022
  • FINAL FANTASY VIII: Liberi Fatali
  • FINAL FANTASY XI: Ragnarok
  • FINAL FANTASY VII: Aerith’s Theme
  • FINAL FANTASY XII: Flash of Steel
  • FINAL FANTASY XV: APOCALYPSIS NOCTIS
  • FINAL FANTASY XIV: Torn from the Heavens
  • FINAL FANTASY IX: Not Alone
  • FINAL FANTASY XIII: Blinded by Light
  • FINAL FANTASY X: SUTEKI DA NE (Isn’t It Wonderful?)
  • Main theme of FINAL FANTASY

Encore:

  • FINAL FANTASY X: Zanarkand
  • FINAL FANTASY VII: One-Winged Angel
gaming post, review, Uncategorized

Xenoblade Chronicles 3: Thoughts

Some spoilers ahead…

Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is the latest instalment in the ever growingly popular series. Originally stated for a September 2022 release, it came out in July on the Nintendo Switch. I’ve spent the past few weeks experiencing the world of Aionios; where the Bionis and Mechonis from Xenoblade 1 and Alrest from Xenoblade 2 are fused into a new world in the future. There are two nations named Keves and Agnus who are locked in war together with wanting to expand their own lifespans. Keves is reminiscent of Xenoblade 1 and Agnus resembles Xenoblade 2. There are six main characters; Noah, Lanz and Eunie from Keves and Mio, Taion and Sena from Agnus, alongside their Nopon friends Riku and Manana. In this world, humans only have a life span of 10 years with each year being referred to as a ‘term’, at the end they will have their Homecoming. Once they die, they are reborn again and the cycle continues. Somewhat similar to Blades being reborn without their memories once their Drivers die in Xenoblade 2. Despite the references to the predecessors, it is fine to play Xenoblade 3 without having played the others although you get more out of it if you do.

The two protagonists of the story are Noah, from Keves and Mio, from Agnus who are both off-seer soldiers who play a special flute to send the dead husks as a ritual. Noah and Mio’s teams at the beginning fight each other, which is stopped by an older man named Vandham who advises that he knows the true enemy. He activates the Ouroboros Stone which causes Noah and Mio’s bodies to Interlink and they transform into Ouroboros. The same happens for Taion and Eunie and Lanz and Sena. This concept of transforming into Ouroboros can be done in battle too. The two teams join together as outlaws and enemies of the world, liberating Colonies as they go along by destroying their Flame Clocks which will free them from the war. The antagonists are the Consuls, who transform into Moebius – a similar being to Ouroboros. These Moebius also include N and M, who are physically identical to Noah and Mio and are the original versions of themselves who choose to live in the ‘eternal now’ and are a symbol of regret. The two nations also have queens, the Kevesi queen Melia and the Agnian queen Nia, both familiar faces from the series.

This game is character driven; the main cast have plenty of interactions with each other and feel grounded. There are many RPGs where some party members barely interact. This party feels very cohesive. Every character is distinctive and rather likable – emphasised by how well they all gel. Noah reminds me somewhat of Shulk with his kindness and passion to protect those he cares about, Lanz can be brash but I warmed to him, Eunie has sass with her sharp tongue and Cockney accent, Mio is compassionate and empathetic, Taion is very astute and analytical and Sena is chirpy but has insecurities about being herself. I’m a fan of the love story between Noah and Mio and the scenes at the end of Chapter 5 where the party are placed in prison separated from Mio is heartbreaking. You see Noah’s desperation and breaking down in the prison cell. We see the bloodied grazes on his knuckles as he tries to force his way out despite it being futile. Noah’s voice actor Harry McEntire is great but he really knocks it out the park here and captures the range of emotions. The animations also really do capture Noah’s pain and his very human emotions.

As is signature for Xenoblade, there are a variety of different open world areas to travel in. Some will sound familiar with context for XC1/XC2. Early on you visit Colony 9 – one of the first areas from the original Xenoblade, however this iteration is different to how it was before. Millick Meadows are from the remnants of Gormott and the Bionis’ shoulder, Rae-Bel Tableland leads to the entrance of the Urayan Tunnels and we know Uraya from XC2, the Maktha Wildwood is a combination of the Morytha and Makna forest, Erythia is also a combination of the Eryth Sea, the Leftherian Archipelago and the Spirit Crucible Elpys and Keves Castle was originally Alcamoth. The world building itself is a little less pronounced as you’re not actively looking at massive titans this time, but it is interesting to see how both worlds have formed together. You can still fast travel around the world as there are so many different regions and you can even traverse the seas with a ship provided by Samon the Nopon. Graphics are pretty good but not perfect, there’s the odd pop in and some clipping with animations like Mio’s long hair cutting into her clothing for example.

Cutscenes are lengthy – sometimes when you’re going from A to B you may stop and this will trigger yet another cutscene. I saw on YouTube there are over 19 hours of cutscenes and this is not surprising. Even from the start, the cutscenes set the tone of the endless fighting and death that comes with it. Other notable cutscenes other than the aforementioned prison scene is when the party are in the City. Monica, Vandham’s daughter shows them what the normal progression of human life looks like. Much unlike their lives where they are soldiers brought up to fight and only live for 10 years before being reborn. They’re shown the maternity ward and see a baby for the first time. Seeing their reaction to the miracle of life is endearing as the baby grips onto their finger – especially Taion, who is in awe by it. Seeing the previous life cycles of Noah and Mio/N and M at the start of Chapter 6 was interesting too, including one where they have a baby son together amongst other scenarios where Mio always dies first as she is older, emphasising that inevitability. There’s also several flashbacks of Noah and the others as children.

The battle system is accessible and easy to navigate making it perfect for newcomers. The basic combat is automatic same as previous games, there are standard arts that you can use where you can use these as they charge up and also fusion arts. Keves arts and Agnus arts recharge similarly to their respective games too. All six characters fight together at once and you can swap between characters to control in battle and on the field. Sometimes it does feel like there’s a lot going on the screen. My favourite addition to this is the class system as I always love a good job system in an RPG. Each character has a default class which has an associated outfit and you can switch between these, for example Swordfighter, Medic Gunner, Tactician etc. In pairs, characters can change into Ouroboros in battle which deals out more damage than if the characters were fighting individually, once it overheats the characters will separate. Heroes allow players to incorporate a new member into their party and many of these are acquired through sidequests. Chain Attacks kick in once the meter is charged and they are extensive as everyone gets a chance to attack.

The soundtrack includes familiar composers like Yasunori Mitsuda are back. Overall, the soundtrack is good and there are standout tracks, though some tracks did fade into the background. The poignant theme A Life Sent On plays a lot and this is played when Noah and/or Mio are playing their flutes to send the dead. There’s a gentler variation of Drifting Soul from Xenoblade 2 plays as Nia’s theme which was a nice throwback. The Kevesi battle theme which is one of the first battle themes you hear and it is a banger, I am a fan of this trend of jazzy battle music in the series – I didn’t get bored of this one. There’s also a vocal theme during the prison scene, A Step Away which conveys the strong emotions of Noah, Mio and everyone else. Battle! Vs. Moebius is a seriously epic boss theme and it sounds like a final boss theme, except it’s not. Remnants of Memories which plays when N has to leave his child really hits home the sadness of it all. The ending theme as the two worlds part Where We Belong is pretty emotional too, especially with the lyrics and everyone saying their goodbyes.

Running around, you will hear the same post-battle dialogue over and over with Eunie saying “Hear that, Noah? Lanz wants something a bit meatier!” and Sena declaring that she is ‘the girl with the gall’ continually. This was something I picked up on when playing Torna and it has returned. Also similar to Torna, is the return of the camp sites. Here, Manana can cook dishes which enhances the party stats for a period of time. There are also canteens and if you order the food there then Manana can learn how to make it. You can also discuss things with party members, some will open up a sidequest and some will give you tidbits of info and EXP. There’s no real need for Heart to Hearts anymore. Certain NPCs will be discussing things and if you listen in and gain the relevant bits of information then this can trigger discussions. You can also clean your clothes and if you don’t you will notice your characters clothes getting dirtier. There’s gem crafting and levelling up bonus EXP. Subtle quality of life improvements include being able to pick up items while in battle and even being able to fight while in the water.

Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is a massive adventure and certainly the most refined of the series, taking the best from both entries before it. For me, 2022 has been the year of playing Xenoblade. Before this year I hadn’t played any of them and now I’m basically caught up with the main series. The world of Aionios is huge and there is so much to do, with an expansive story and so many different sidequests. If you’re expecting a lot of throwbacks to the past two games then you’ll find some, but most of them are fairly subtle e.g., when Noah and the others are seen as fog, a concept in Future Connected. There are more obvious references like Melia seen having possession of Shulk’s Monado REX and THAT photo with Rex and the party from Xenoblade 2 at the end. This is my number one Xenoblade game – I love the characters, it has my favourite love story in the series and I really enjoy the gameplay and story. The original Xenoblade Chronicles isn’t far behind it, but this has the edge over it. It’s been a journey and I look forward to the DLC and what’s next for the series.

gaming post, review, Uncategorized

Live A Live: First Impressions

Live A Live is an RPG released on the Nintendo Switch in July 2022. It is a remake of the original 1994 title for the Super Famicom which was only released in Japan. For the first time ever, it is now available to audiences in the wider world. The game is now voice acted and updated in 2D-HD graphics with detailed pixel art and presented in diorama-like settings. It’s an anthology of different self-contained eras across history; Prehistory, Imperial China, Edo Japan, Near Future, Distant Future, Wild West, Present Day and Middle Ages. I heard about this recently and after learning there was a demo, I had to check it out. The demo allows you to explore three areas; Imperial China: The Successor, The Distant Future: The Mechanical Heart and Twilight of Edo Japan: The Infiltrator. You can do these in any order, but this was the order I chose. Each section takes no more than an hour to finish.

The Imperial China era introduces you to Earthen Heart Shifu, an old master who is looking for disciples to eventually become his successor. He first comes across Hong, a hungry thief who is first seen stealing from the restaurant, after he meets Lei, a lively bandit who is found in the bamboo forest and then Yun, a shy and cowardly young boy. I liked the range of areas you see in the short space of time, like the bamboo forest with wild tigers prowling ready to chase, the busy Yunfa Market and the quaint Wong Village. The battles take place on an isometric grid and the effectiveness of your attacks depend where on the grid you are, if you’re well placed you can attack several enemies at once. If you use an elemental move then this can alter the grid too and your character can even sustain tile damage from it, so your position matters.

Next up was the Distant Future chapter. I thought as it was a bit different this would be a good place to break up the gameplay. To be honest this was probably my least favourite out of the three parts, but it was alright. It begins with a group of cryogenically frozen humans on a spaceship called the Cogito Ergo Sum. One of the humans on the spaceship is a man named Yoshiyuki Kato, who has built a bot named Cube. The bot looks a bit like a strange egg, lacks the ability to speak, but he tries his best. I did feel sorry for it at points as it didn’t seem to be treated the best by all the crew.  Interestingly, this part actually has no combat, although it does include an arcade mini game Captain Square which does involve combat and as with other battles in this game, it is still grid based.

The Edo Japan era introduces us to a young ninja named Oboromaru who is part of the Enma clan. He is tasked with infiltrating Ode castle. Stealth is a big part of this mission as this fortress is heavily guarded and Oboromaru can make himself invisible to anyone who spots him, allowing him to get away safely once their attention is diverted. There are also two ways to play this, either going in and battling (meaning killing) or avoiding battle. When you defeat an enemy, it will tell you how many kills you have so it is discouraged. You also have to remember passwords to use around the castle and when the bell chimes, the password has changed. This story was pretty cool, but I think out of the three parts that I played, I liked the Imperial China one the most. My main impression overall is how each section has something different to offer. It’s also unique in that it is set in real life places.

Live A Live sets a good impression and would suit anyone who has an interest in classic RPGs. What sets this apart is that it’s not one grand story, it’s several stories all with their own settings and characters. Admittedly, I wasn’t aware of Live A Live before this remake, but the obscurity of it is intriguing. It also makes me wonder if it was an inspiration for Octopath Traveler as that is based on individual stories and graphically, Live A Live appears akin to it. The musical themes are apt too, I like the theme War in China. On that note, the game’s soundtrack was actually composed by Yoko Shimomura, a familiar name in the RPG soundtrack world. Live A Live doesn’t have easy competition, coming against other RPGs like Xenoblade Chronicles 3 being released in the same month, but it appeals to the retro RPG fans so it will easily have its own solid fanbase.

gaming post, review, Uncategorized

Xenoblade Chronicles 2: Torna – The Golden Country: Thoughts

Xenoblade Chronicles 2: Torna – The Golden Country was released in 2018 for the Nintendo Switch as an expansion to the original Xenoblade Chronicles 2, which was released in 2017. It was released as DLC, but the game can be played as a standalone entry. It is an entirely new story that features characters that were only touched upon in Xenoblade 2. Torna takes place exactly 494 years before Xenoblade 2 during the Aegis War. The story expands upon characters seen in Xenoblade 2 such as the Blades Jin, Mythra and Malos, but it also expands on characters who were only seen in flashbacks, such as Jin’s original Driver, Lora. She is the Tornan Driver protagonist who meets a tragic end with her untimely death. Addam who is Mythra’s original Driver also plays a big part in the story and Hugo, the Emperor of Mor Ardain is also one of the main Drivers who is accompanied by Brighid. From playing Xenoblade 2 we know what becomes of Lora and Jin, but Torna gives us a reason to understand and grow more attached to these characters.

The story follows Lora and Jin and the overall quest is to defeat Malos. Lora is the Driver of two Blades, Jin and Haze. She has an especially close relationship with Jin and she is often said to physically resemble Haze. Lora is mature and shows kindness despite the hardships she has been through. Lora and Jin go back 17 years and she was only 10 when she became a Driver. Jin protected her from an abusive man named Gort (who is Lora’s stepfather… I think?) and they became allies. Lora and Jin’s story is poignant and tragic as her fate is a foregone conclusion, but it’s good to see their story expanded. It certainly makes Lora’s original death scene hit harder. It is also interesting seeing Jin before he becomes an antagonist. Torna concludes with the battle against Malos where Mythra’s power ends up destroying the Tornan Titan. Malos is defeated, but at what cost. Ridden with guilt and turning into Pyra at the end, Addam takes her to the ship to be sealed away. In the last scene, we see Rex walk in 500 years later and that’s where Xenoblade 2 begins.

This chapter in the history of Alrest includes new environments to explore in which are in the grand, stunning, Xenoblade style that we associate with the series. In fact, these sorts of environments are one of the first things I think of when I think of Xenoblade. You traverse varied areas, mostly green but also sandy desert areas as well as some areas with rainfall. You get to see areas of Torna, for example Auresco, which is the royal capital city of the Kingdom of Torna. There are also familiar names such as Gormott, one of the earlier locations of Xenoblade 2 where here you see an older version of it. You can also see how areas differed back then, for example Torigoth here is a village and a minor location, not the capital of Gormott, which you see in Xenoblade 2. The soundtrack as per previous Xenoblade titles is very good and fits the scenes perfectly. The main battle music is very funky too, a lot of the time I get bored of battle themes because I hear them so often but this doesn’t outstay its welcome. I also really like the themes The Beginning of Our Memory and Auresco, Royal Capital.

The gameplay remains fairly similar to Xenoblade 2, but new mechanics are introduced in the battle system which makes it better and faster. The playable characters are divided into Team Lora, Team Addam and Team Hugo. You can now switch between playing as the Driver and the Blade with ease as well as playing as different Drivers and Blades, allowing for more variety and freedom. There are camps where you can craft food and items and see extra dialogue between characters as they chat. A lot of the content is based on completing side content by talking to NPCs, you have something called Community and to raise your Community level, you must complete side quests which involves helping people. This is fine, but the game can grind to a halt story-wise as you cannot progress until your Community level is high enough, you need to get to level 4 to face the final boss. Some dialogue as you walk around can also get very repetitive when you obtain items “Aren’t we intrepid?”, “This is becoming addictive” and “The suspense is killing me”. Be prepared to hear this a lot from Lora.

Xenoblade Chronicles 2: Torna – The Golden Country builds on the lore of the main game without being alienating to newcomers. I had touched upon Torna when writing about Xenoblade 2, but I wanted to go back to Torna in further depth. It isn’t as long as a full Xenoblade Chronicles entry and it can be done in approximately 12 hours or so, depending on how quickly you go through it. This is a fine expansion and it does give you a greater appreciation for the characters of Xenoblade 2, especially ones like Mythra who play a big part in the original story. I liked seeing the lead up to her becoming Pyra. I also find Lora a more interesting lead than Rex, partly because she doesn’t fit the typical mould of a JRPG protagonist as she is 27 years old which is unusual for this genre which leans towards younger protagonists in their teens and early 20s. It would be great to see more slightly older protagonists as now I’m older it would be nice to see some characters of a similar age. If you want to play Xenoblade but in a smaller chunk (because let’s face it, they’re large games), then this is the way to go.