Despite having a relatively large video game collection, there are still tons of games for me to play, complete and more. Throughout 2020 I was able to finish at least 23 different games (technically less than that but I’ll go into more detail). I know many folks throughout the world only have the time to finish one or two, or have the opportunity to finish tons, in the end it’s all about whether you enjoyed your time playing these games.
I have compiled my thoughts over on Anime UK News but this post is essentially a collection of my overall thoughts for each game and what I thought of them. It’s long but I didn’t want to trim down my thoughts as some of this info might make you interested in these titles.
Kingdom Hearts III ReMIND
After the widely anticipated instalment Kingdom Hearts III, which had a pretty disappointing story and structure but a strong gameplay, Square Enix released an expansion called Kingdom Hearts III ReMIND. This is essentially their modern take on the Final Mix releases they have done for a few of their titles years back, and I had decided to revisit the game and surprisingly I put a lot of hours into it.
This completion was split into two parts. The first part is going through the rest of Kingdom Hearts III‘s content in terms of the trophy completion; mini-games, treasure chests, lucky emblems, cooking, synthesis, and gummi ship. In my first playthrough in 2018, when the game came out, I spent roughly 25 hours playtime. And after going over the additional content and acquiring the Platinum trophy, the playtime went to 54 hours (29 more hours spent). That’s a lot of hours spent but I actually enjoyed the game a lot more with this additional time.
Now the reason why I did that step first is because Kingdom Hearts III ReMIND has a few interesting inclusions to the base game. In addition to the additional story to help go through the final act’s plot holes and such, it also comes with LIMITCUT EPISODE which is essentially the game’s Data Boss fights which were extremely challenging even on the highest level (Level 99) and regular difficulty setting. I was able to defeat all 13 fights but then you have the SECRET EPISODE which is also challenging. Sadly I never put the extra time to defeat the secret boss but it does provide an alternate ending which makes me more excited for future games.
Overall Kingdom Hearts III ReMIND is a solid expansion for the base game. It offers a number of added content but I disagree with the price point of £24.99 ($29.99). I feel that this should have been priced at £14.99 ($19.99) instead. Aside from that, the package is worth a try if you want some new challenges.
Final Fantasy X HD Remaster
In April 2017, I had the opportunity to pick up a rare out of print steelbook for Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD Remaster. I had never played any of the Final Fantasy titles with the exception of the Nintendo DS version of Final Fantasy III (which I barely got through due to the difficulty, it’s not for first-timers), Final Fantasy XIII on Xbox 360 (I did get quite far into the game, but once I got through the linear part, the open-world part broke me) and Final Fantasy XV on PlayStation 4, so going through Final Fantasy X for the first time was both nerve-racking and exciting. The former reason is that I was worried that the core gameplay would be too complicated for me, but thankfully after playing the game, it was better than I had expected.
Final Fantasy X was released for the PlayStation 2 back in 2001, and was remastered for HD platforms as Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD Remaster, with the PlayStation 3 and Vita versions released first before another tweak for the PlayStation 4 and other platforms. The remaster contains both Final Fantasy X International and Final Fantasy X-2 in a single package, but for this case, I wanted to only focus on the main instalment; Final Fantasy X itself.
The gameplay for Final Fantasy X is the classic traditional gameplay of turn-based combat. You have three people on your team going up against enemies throughout the game and basically take turns. Much like a number of other RPGs, the people in your team during the combat segments are the only ones who will earn experience, but in this game, the level up system is very different. I did like how you can swap characters during combat and have time to plan and strategically tackle the fights which weren’t always the case in earlier instalments.
This game’s level-up system has no mention of ‘Lv 99’ etc. and focuses solely on earning AP. AP will allow each member of the team to take a slot on their sphere grid which covers HP, MP, Magic Defence, Defence, Abilities, and more. Each character can essentially consume the whole grid and not worry about any overlapping, but like the traditional level up concept, the more AP you earn the more experience is needed before you can acquire them. Each character starts off with their own mini circle where you have a general idea of what skills they will take but over time you will eventually share them around which is handy for tougher battles.
The main portion of Final Fantasy X is very linear. You go through each area fighting enemies along the way as well as watching the story progress with the boss battles that appear. Just before the final area appears, you will eventually unlock the iconic airship that is a flagship of the franchise that will allow you to backtrack and fight earlier enemies, tackle side-quests, any collectible Al Bhed books you can find, as well as the monster arena which is very useful for gaining more AP.
The progression of the story was much quicker than I had anticipated, however, the final couple of areas resulted in a massive difficulty spike so I had to spend a lot of time levelling up the sphere grid for each of the characters. Just before the final area I also decided to spend an additional 15 hours playtime going through the side-content. I collected all 26 Al Bhed books, trained the Chocobo, gathered most of the monsters for the Monster Arena, acquired all of the summons and even grinded to the point where I had Triple AP weapons for most of the team. This stuff is great but very time-consuming so eventually I went straight to finishing the story. Overall playtime was about 54 hours in total (average estimation is around 45-49 hours).
So, now the question a lot of you reading this are probably wondering what I thought of the game in general. To my surprise I really enjoyed Final Fantasy X. It’s a classic game that I wished I had played when I was younger and the story is pretty good (but quite daft because it’s all about defeating Sin and it’s just so weird to hear that name). The English dub is stupid but loveable, I mean it has Tidus’ iconic HA HA HA HA moment that everyone just loves because of how weird it is. Auron is pretty cool and I can see why he was included in Kingdom Hearts II‘s Olympus section.
The only criticisms I had for Final Fantasy X was the occasional difficulty spike near the end and the controls for Lulu’s special overdrive move don’t connect properly as it requires you to rotate the right stick which won’t work at times. I also wished the game had skippable cutscenes for aspects like repeated moments like summoning, and a Boost Mode would have been handy for the console versions (this option is included in the PC version).
Regardless of my criticisms, I loved my time playing Final Fantasy X and I recommend it. From what I have read, the PC version is the better experience thanks to Boost Mode but the PS4 version is still a solid option if you prefer that route.
Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age
In July 2017, the same year I picked up Final Fantasy X/x-2 HD Remaster collection, I received Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age as a late-Birthday present. Admittedly I did not start this game until after being heavily invested in Final Fantasy X and wanted to fill the void with another mainline title.
Final Fantasy XII was released for the PlayStation 2 back in 2006 for Japan & US and 2007 for EU & Australia. The game was re-released in Japan not long after with a feature called the International Zodiac Job System. This version was used for the remaster under the name Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age for PlayStation 4 followed by current-gen consoles later down the line.
It came to my surprise to discover that Final Fantasy XII used a different gameplay system compared to the previous instalments (not including the online game Final Fantasy XI), it’s an action-based role-playing game that features a number of tweaks to the system. The first is the inclusion of Gambits, that allows you to manage the setups for your AI teammates and have everything prepared automatically during combat. The second is the License system, which brings back the Job aspect of the franchise but allows you to customise which path your characters should take. Each character can have at least two jobs (the first is chosen immediately as they become playable, and the second is available after a certain point in the story). This is actually pretty cool as it allows for replayability since every character has different stats and skills. There was a patch that came after my playthrough that allowed the option to reset the jobs you selected. Like Final Fantasy X, the people in your team during the combat segments are the only ones who will earn experience. It is actually more tedious this time around but the license points will count for each member so you can improve their jobs even if they aren’t being used for combat.
While I really enjoyed Final Fantasy X‘s combat, Final Fantasy XII is a frustrating one to explain because the game’s biggest issue is the large amount of padding there is for story progression. You will spend hours trying to proceed and even though teleport crystals are available to skip big portions of the travel, this will give you a disadvantage because the enemy’s levels spike up a lot as you progress so it is better to grind and take the long journey than to speed up.
I wasn’t a fan of this, because when you look at Final Fantasy X as an example, that game handled progression a lot better due to its level up system grid being more flexible and even though swapping characters around was recommended, that was good because each character can be utilized whereas in Final Fantasy XII it basically boils down to who can kill the enemy the quickest and stay alive the most in the end. The saving grace for the padding issue is thankfully the inclusion of the Speed Mode, which will make the game 2x and 4x faster. I used the 4x option and it just helps. As such the story took at least 36 hours of playtime at level 55 for most of the characters.
Despite my dislike for the padding and combat, the world of Ivalice in Final Fantasy XII is really cool, very well done and the characters are all likeable. Vaan I know gets a lot of flack but I didn’t mind him as the story progressed. Balthier is actually my favourite of the group, partly due to his English voice which fits his character, and I liked Fran as well and I can see why her race became a popular one among the community. The story overall was solid and while the final act was okay it did not feel as though it had a memorable villain compared to other games in the franchise.
Overall, Final Fantasy XII is not a bad game by all means, it’s a good game with a couple of issues that may ruin the experience. The story, characters, world-building are all superb, but the combat is alright with a lot of frustrating aspects here and there. Heck, the menu setup is so off-putting that I couldn’t tell if I could use items and magic during the menus or not compared to Final Fantasy X and Kingdom Hearts. Also, those bloody traps are just daft.
Many years ago I tried out the demo for Ys Origin. I was pretty curious but never managed to finish it because the boss kept defeating me. Fast-forward to March 2017 and I acquired Ys Origin on the PSN store for PlayStation 4 thanks to Sony’s Third Party Productions and publisher DotEmu. Due to the recommendation that Ys I & II should be played first, I put the game on-hold ever since. Fast-forward once again to March 2020, and I finally started played it properly.
Ys Origin is an action role-playing game that takes place 700 years before the events of Ys I, following a different group of characters and the whole game basically taking place in a tower full of dungeon style levels. Each level has enemies that you need to whack and along the way, acquire new items to support your character as well as gaining access to higher levels whilst defeating the bosses of each area.
Ys Origin has the unique take of including three story campaigns. Yunica, Hugo, and Claw. Yunica and Hugo are both very similar in terms of story but they have different gameplay movesets; Yunica is a mix between close combat and long-distance attacks, and Hugo is more focused on long-distance attacks. The third character Claw is unlocked after finishing the other two’s campaigns and is more focused on close combat which can increase the challenge if you want to play on higher difficulties. I finished each character on Normal difficulty and actually found Yunica to be the hardest overall while the other two gradually getting easier as you progress through the tower.
In addition to the usual combat, every time you hit an enemy the XP multiplier increases until you reach x1.99 and you can keep that going as long as you find an enemy and whack them a few times (getting hit by an enemy won’t lose the streak thankfully) and there’s also SP bonuses that you can unlock such as reducing effects from poison, better protection on armour, speeding up recovery and more. The highest level you can reach is 60 and I got as high as 50 before finishing the campaigns.
Overall, Ys Origin was a solid game to play and great fun. The only negative I have is that because you have to playthrough each campaign to finish the whole story, that means replaying the same levels three times which can be draining at times. Thankfully the campaigns are relatively short with an average time of 5-7 hours overall for each one.
Classic DOOM, DOOM II and DOOM 64
Back in January, Bethesda and id Software released a new patch for the classic DOOM and DOOM II games on current-gen consoles, which offered a number of changes that have now officially made these ports to be the best version outside of PC. Better frame rate, better weapon select, quick save support, and also add-on mod support depending on availability. As such, I downloaded both for £3.99 each and played them over a weekend. I won’t talk too much about these two because I had already beaten them in the past. But what I wanted to talk about the most is the release of DOOM 64 which came out on the same day as DOOM Eternal for current-gen.
DOOM 64 was released in 1997 exclusively for the Nintendo 64 and many people thought it was a port of the original two DOOM games like the PlayStation and other consoles. This is actually not the case. DOOM 64 was developed by Midway (known for Mortal Kombat) and is a continuation of the events of DOOM II: Hell on Earth. This is a very interesting game for a number of things. The first is that this is not the same as the others, and what I mean by that are a few things – tone, music, presentation, game design, and weapons.
Tone & Music – This is a very dark game, most notably by how you literally cannot see a thing unless you increase the brightness, which unfortunately I recommend you sort out the first moment you start the game because the low visibility ruins the gameplay a lot. I can see what they were going for but it overstays its welcome fast. The music is also a gloomy ambient experience which is similar to the original PlayStation release, and notably, both were done by the same composer.
Presentation – The graphics in this game are really good and intriguing for its age. The demon designs have a clay-like design to them which does look inconsistent when you look at the earlier games, but they look great in the end and I have no issue with them.
Game Design – There are around 39 levels in this game. 25 main levels, 4 secret levels, 4 fun levels, and 6 lost levels. The lost levels are a new addition to the 2020 release of the game (much like how the Lost Mission was a new addition to the BFG Edition of DOOM 3). The concept of the levels is similar to the previous game but the environment does change a lot more and there are tons of booby traps around which can throw you off a lot. A bit annoying if you ask me, but a nice change of pace in parts and adds a sense of horror to the player.
Weapon – The main weapons are back and you even get the shotgun pretty quick when you start. The new addition is the Laser Gun which can be powered up and become a much deadlier weapon if you can locate and acquire three Demon Keys that are scattered across three secret levels. These keys are also integral in making the fight against the final boss easier.
Overall, DOOM 64 is a solid addition to the franchise and despite not being developed by id Software, it is officially part of the canon and now makes DOOM (2016) and DOOM Eternal officially a continuation of the earlier games. Don’t sleep on the game because it offers some great content and you don’t have to worry about any Arch-Viles because they aren’t in it thankfully.
Final Fantasy VII Remake
Prior to playing the remake, I had never played the original Final Fantasy VII before and was excited enough to acquire the first instalment of the Final Fantasy VII Remake series by Square Enix. The first instalment is a remake of the first 33% of the first disc (of three) from the original PlayStation release, and there was a lot of effort put into this.
Final Fantasy VII Remake has switched from traditional turn-based RPG gameplay to action RPG in a similar way to Final Fantasy XV (both of which Nomura worked on), however, what makes this gameplay so unique is the Active Time Battle mechanic (known as ATB). ATB was in the original and is back as a cooldown of sorts. Basically you need to keep approaching the enemy or are able to wait long enough to fill a bar or two. That bar can then be used to activate an ability skill, magic skill, item or a summon. Magic still requires MP but will use up a bar regardless. Summons and Limits are also in the gameplay but they take time to be used, but the latter does not affect the ATB bar usage.
Materia plays a huge part in managing your abilities and skills for each character. In every battle you earn AP and this contributes to slowly filling the star completion of a materia, but in return, it will unlock more power and useful supporting abilities. For instance, a Fire materia starts off with Fire but as you fill in the AP amount, you will eventually unlock Fira and Firaga. Other examples include Poison, HP Up, MP Up, Assess (which scans an enemy’s weakness), Magnify and many more. You can swap materia around between each character which you will probably need to do a lot in the latter half as you will have one on one (or two on one) boss fights.
Weapons can be levelled up as well. You have the option to have the game automatically fill in the SP for you or you can manually choose which abilities you would like to use, for instance, Attack Power, Magic Attack Power, and Percentage Damage for Magic. Each weapon also comes with a special ability that upon usage will permanently stay with you so you can switch to different weapons without losing it. For instance, Cloud’s Infinity End, Barrett’s Maximum Fury, Tifa’s Starshower, and Aerith’s Ray of Judgment are all my favourites in terms of doing massive damage at boss fights.
Final Fantasy VII Remake‘s action combat is surprisingly really well polished. Attacking enemies hasn’t been a complete issue but while there have been times where it can be challenging, it’s basically all about being tactical and switching characters to balance the fight. When pressing Command, time slows down which gives you a bit of a breather to choose your next move. You can also pick what move your teammate should do without playing them which can make battles a lot easier especially as they don’t activate their move unless they have reached their opponent. Especially as for your own character, the move will start immediately and the enemy would run away at the last second if you are not careful enough. During every battle, if you can exploit their weakness, the pressure bar will slowly fill, and once it has been filled completely it will activate stagger mode. Stagger mode is where you need to obliterate your enemy to take them down sooner.
Final Fantasy VII Remake offers a bunch of side stuff from side-quests where you speak to people, sometimes fight enemies or acquire items, and in return get rewarded. There are also some mini-games available from darts, exercising and a really fantastic rhythm segment that I won’t spoil but it makes me wish it could come back in some shape/form as a Theatrhythm instalment. If you do miss out on collectables and side quests they will be accessible again through Chapter Select upon completing the game’s storyline. You will need to use Chapter Select anyway because two side quests are only accessible through that method.
Let’s talk about presentation, this is a well-presented game with a ton of good looking surroundings. The character models look great and they attempted lip-syncing across both the cutscenes and general dialogue throughout. The skybox in some parts does look very noticeable so it can be very off-putting but the areas around you like buildings and characters are polished. Like some had noticed, I also spotted texture issues which often looks weird.
The music offers an interesting variety with traditional orchestra and various genres that can be heard as you walk past a vending machine. The vending machine is where you can buy items, weapons, armour and accessories, and they are located next to a bench which restores health and magic. You can save manually anywhere you go and when you load the game you are back in that exact same position so you don’t have to worry about revisiting a cutscene or something like a lot of games do.
Now the one that will get people talking about the most (outside of the game’s final act) is the length. I have spent additional time going through the side quests and mini-games, and as such it has taken me 35 hours 43 minutes to fully finish the main story with an additional 2 hours to sort out the last two side quests. There are multiple choice dialogues that can offer some effect in the storyline and especially the final act’s fights so choose a bit carefully as you progress.
Overall, Final Fantasy VII Remake is a well-polished and almost perfect introduction to the project. The gameplay is great, the presentation is lovely but needed a bit more polish, the side stuff is a nice feature, and the final act offers more questions than answers for everyone. The story overall feels like a Season 1 of an anime than an Episode 1. Do I recommend folks to get this game at full retail price? Considering how much content is placed in this game I say yes but only if you don’t mind linear aspects which this game does have a lot of. I got my money’s worth after spending £80 on the Deluxe Edition and I look forward to the next instalment of the project.
Final Fantasy VII
After playing the remake and thanks to those who voted in my Twitter poll, I finally checked out the original 1997 version of Final Fantasy VII, using the PlayStation 4 version for my playthrough (which is a port of the PC release).
While I did watch the sequel film Advent Children about 40 times when I was younger, never once did I consider the original. I think the issue was down to the gameplay which may be the reason why I never bothered with it, even though I have played through games that were similar back in the day like Chrono Trigger (I never finished it but I quite enjoyed playing this on the Nintendo DS).
Final Fantasy VII is the seventh major instalment in the franchise. It’s a traditional turn-based type game where you control three characters in a battle that is timed so you have to take action in a quick but tactical matter. Most fights can be done by simply selecting Attack but there are moments where Magic and special individual abilities called Limits would be used. The Materia system is really good and I like being able to customise and share the abilities and skills between the characters, though I wish I was able to customise the Materia when I’m in the dungeons and be able to acquire the materia that characters not in your party have. For instance you equip them a Restore materia, but then they are away for a while which means you lose out on that and potentially screwed the progression (thankfully this complaint has been amended in the VII Remake version).
Final Fantasy VII‘s original release was split across three discs and each disc basically covers a good idea on what the story covers. The first disc focuses on Midgar, the game’s first chapter of the story which takes around 5-6 hours depending on your speed, before eventually going out into the open-world that is traditional in the world of Final Fantasy. You start off walking around but later down the line additional options become available that makes travel much easier, such as riding Chocobos to using a vehicle.
Random enemy encounters are a thing in this game and honestly, I wasn’t that bothered by it because the gameplay is very quick and fast-paced which is a surprise. As mentioned before, if you are levelled correctly, a majority of the fights can be sorted by using Attack only and maybe a Limit break or Magic that can hit every enemy in the battle at once. The boss fights are quite challenging and it’s always recommended that you are prepared especially as some enemies can sneak in a quick easy blow that can knock out a party member.
Outside of the story, there are a couple of side-content available. There’s a location where you can do battle arena stuff, bet on Chocobos and play random mini-games that would allow you to earn some items. The battle arena is also essential if you wish to acquire Cloud’s final limit break. In addition to the side-content, you can also get two more party members; Yuffie followed by Vincent. Both of these characters have special requirements but are worth going through as each of them also has their own side-quests that add more background to the storyline.
Overall, after spending 35 hours playtime, getting to level 70 as Cloud, acquiring every limit break for each character and getting some of the unique materia available, I had a good time playing Final Fantasy VII and I can see why this game is beloved by many fans over the years. If you go for the current-gen versions you also have access to 3x speed mode which I highly recommend enabling to speed up the pace as it can take a while to get through some parts of the dungeons. There’s also a Battle Enhancement Mode which I did use only for the limit breaks due to the requirements to spend like 70-80 kills per person twice to unlock limit breaks which can take multiple hours.
The second game in the Killzone franchise and one of the earlier games for the PlayStation 3. It’s a pretty simple first person shooter and while it was entertaining at points, the game is pretty dated and very buggy. There’s a lot of loading times and a major bug crash which will occur after the player drops from a bucket of sorts on Chapter 7 and the only way I could pass that point was by going offline and removing the game data.
The final chapter’s boss fight was a sponge-fest which is one of my least favourite aspects of the FPS games and overall it’s okay but could have been better. Going to keep it brief since there’s not much to say.
Persona 4 Arena Ultimax
It’s been six years since I last played Persona 4 Arena and while I liked the combat, the story was a mess due to continuity issues with each story mode, so it was a nice surprise to find Persona 4 Arena Ultimax to be a lot better in that department.
While it’s basically a fighting game with characters from both Persona 3 & Persona 4, considering the first game focused more on the perspective of the Persona 4 characters and world, Persona 4 Arena Ultimax instead puts the perspective more towards Persona 3’s characters and world which was pretty cool to see considering how the game takes place after the events of Persona 3.
The villain introduced in Persona 4 Arena Ultimax was alright and pretty much wraps up this fighting game storyline. It’s an alright story overall but I found it to be pretty forgettable so I skipped a fair chunk of the dialogue. That being said, the gameplay is still pretty fun and while the final boss in the story mode is daft, it’s overall a decent experience.
.hack//G.U. Last Recode
.hack is a franchise that I had been aware of ever since I first got into anime. I knew about the show .hack//SIGN but the video games on PlayStation 2 were the ones that I was more curious about for the most part. Though at the time, .hack was quite rare to own and the second series .hack//G.U. was never released in Europe. Fortunately, with the 15th anniversary of .hack, we finally got .hack//G.U. in Europe with the HD remastered collection .hack//G.U. Last Recode by Bandai Namco and CyberConnect2.
.hack//G.U. is split into three games during its original release, with a fourth game added for the Last Recode collection. .hack//G.U. Vol.1//Rebirth, .hack//G.U. Vol.2//Reminisce, and .hack//G.U. Vol.3//Redemption follow one massive storyline that covers a lot of content, especially with its story and characters as you progress. .hack//G.U. Vol.4//Reconnection serves more as an epilogue to the story and wraps up one of the story elements kept ambiguous in the original trilogy.
The story overall for .hack//G.U. is one of the strongest aspects of the game series as a whole, with a lot of interesting twists, surprise cameos and great character development throughout with our main character Haseo. The rest of the cast also share some spotlight though there are some that could have been kept off-screen. I should also point out the artwork is done by both Seiichiro Hosokawa and Yoshiyuki Sadamoto, the latter of which worked on Evangelion, Nadia and the recent anime series Great Pretender.
Before delving into the gameplay I want to give a shoutout to .hack//G.U.‘s music score, which is in my opinion the best part of the game series by far. Composed by Chikayo Fukuda who had worked on Capcom & CyberConnect2’s under-rated classic Asura’s Wrath, her music throughout this game adds a lot of atmosphere and tone to the story and characters. “Ovan’s theme”, for instance, creates a mysterious aura to the character which works really well and makes him more memorable. Other highlights include “Flying Dawn”, “Welcome to The World”, “Hulle Granz Cathedral”, “Morrigu Barrow Wall”, “Lose Resolve”, “Beyond the Steep Mountains”, “Illusion of the Eight Phases”, “Shallow Dreaming”, and “The Hope of Dawn”.
.hack//G.U. is an action role-playing game with an MMO feel to the design. As Haseo, you play ‘THE WORLD’ (pronounced the same way Dio would say it) where you can interact with other players, go on quests using a special keyword system (take 3 keywords and 1 server type to create a dungeon), take part in a battle arena, buy items and weapons, and even assist NPCs by collecting mini-monster animals and other creatures. Every now and then you’ll get an email which requires you to log out of your game. To me, this is what makes .hack stand out from other JRPGs because it’s a very unusual mechanic to have. When you log out, you can access a forum, news, fanart which can be set to your background, emails and also a Crimson VS mode which is a card game that plays in the background while you go through the MMO game normally. Crimson VS is actually pretty entertaining though it does rely on some luck if you want to collect all of the cards. You can also view cutscenes and set BGM to the menu while you are checking these features.
My main criticism with .hack//G.U. are the dungeons themselves. The concept is perfectly fine by all means, the idea of going through the dungeon to defeat a monster or reach the treasure chest. The issue that I have with the dungeons is the plain, linear and tedious designs that lack quality in comparison to the town worlds that .hack provides. When I kept playing, I couldn’t help compare the dungeons to the very first Hyperdimension Neptunia game on PS3 which had this exact problem. If this game had the level design that Sword Art Online games have had, I reckon this would have made .hack much better and Iooking at the reviews I can see why this game got just above average reviews.
The combat itself is pretty decent but it can start to tire at times which is why I often take more breaks than progressing when it comes to this game, which is a shame because everything else is very strong in quality. It’s quite possible that the developers didn’t have much budget to go around. Another slight criticism is the cutscenes. This has the Kingdom Hearts style of presentation where you have characters interact in basic fashion and the occasional smooth animation which I really love. I just wish that the developers tweaked the cutscenes so that you can actually have their mouths move in the basic layout because it does look pretty awkward in a number of places. Outside of that, the animated cutscenes do hold-up pretty well with the remaster and are not rough or upscaled to a messy degree. Unfortunately, the animated cutscenes in .hack//G.U. Vol.4//Reconnection feels out of place when you look at the previous three games in the .hack//G.U. series, especially when you have very choppy framerate which feels quite jarring with 3D models.
The progression for .hack//G.U. is at a pretty decent length. Each volume in the main trilogy is estimated to take 20 hours each, though I managed to spend at least 16 hours for .hack//G.U. Vol.1//Rebirth, 15 hours for .hack//G.U. Vol.2//Reminisce, and 17 hours for .hack//G.U. Vol.3//Redemption which is pretty good considering most of the non-story content was also being covered along the way. There is plenty of post-game content available and a ton of rewards especially when you carry over the save data file from one game to the next. Since .hack//G.U. Vol.4//Reconnection is more of an epilogue, it will take at least 2 hours overall which is short but perfectly fine by me since the main trilogy ends on a pretty solid note overall.
Overall, .hack//G.U. Last Recode is a welcoming package for newcomers and die-hard .hack fans. This is my first time delving into the franchise and I was able to understand what was going on despite the fact that this takes place after the events of the first .hack series. The package also comes with a Terminal Disc which recaps the events of the first .hack series and a Parody Mode where both the English and Japanese voice cast have some fun with select scenes. The trophies in this game are mostly easy to acquire with a few that will require some grinding if you have extra time.
Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth
I finally played a Digimon game, and one that I had bought in April 2017 (yes I remember the day because I picked it up alongside Berserk Musou when I handed in my dissertation at the final year of my BSc degree). It took a long while and that came down to the estimation of the game’s completion. This is a pretty big game and folks said it would take at least 50 hours or more to finish it.
Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth is a turn-based RPG that plays quite similar to the Persona series. You control a group of Digimon in combat and each Digimon can have different elementals but also types (Data, Vaccine, Virus) and these components can be better than the other and vice versa. It does take a while to get used to it, but once you figure it out it can make combat pretty smooth to progress. The difficulty is pretty decent and it’s only when you have Digimon that don’t cover every type is when you start to struggle because getting double hit by an attack can easily K.O. your team. Now unlike Persona, Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth allows you to have 11 members in your party and when your main three get taken out, the remaining 8 can help step in so combat continues.
Outside of combat, we have some pretty decent dungeons though it’s very recycled and not as appealing as other games, I would say this was designed better than .hack//G.U. at least in terms of navigating. There is also the real world where you can interact with characters and take on cases. These cases are where the game starts to lose its pace and the red cases, in particular, are technically story but also feel like padding and filler to the main overall plot. I only took part in all of the cases up to near the end game in order to get my Digimon team to become stronger.
Devolving and digivolving is a common tactic needed to improve your Digimon crew and while it’s not as complex as it sounds, it can mess up your plans if you don’t do it carefully, because they will reset to level 1 which in return can create unbalanced difficulty segments in combat. There’s also the DigiLab where you can do the evolving but also take part in mini-dungeons and DigiFarm your Digimon for levelling, better abilities or searching for items and cases.
Overall, Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth is a pretty good game overall and a surprisingly dark story for a franchise that is usually children-oriented. It did the job in getting me interested more for the franchise at least. I will definitely pick up Hacker’s Memory later down the line.
Zero Time Dilemma
In 2018 I bought the Zero Escape series and went through The Nonary Games collection before the end of that year. For some reason I never started the third and final instalment in the series, so I eventually played it and acquired the Platinum trophy along the way.
Zero Time Dilemma is an adventure visual novel game where you follow a group of characters stuck in a deadly situation where choices matter and the puzzles have to be solved. These puzzles are pretty great with a lot of thinking and fun little challenges to solve. Along the way, you also have to make a decision to do this or that which can cause big consequences. Zero Escape uses this tactic to tell its story and it eventually starts to get overcomplicated and although the conclusion is somewhat satisfying, it does feel like they are just bullshitting its way for the sake of it.
Zero Time Dilemma‘s biggest issue I feel is the animation which is very low budget and jarring, which is a shame because the voice acting is well done and they brought back characters from the previous games into the mix. You do need extensive knowledge of 999 and Virtue’s Last Reward before jumping in this title because of the story.
Overall, Zero Time Dilemma is a good adventure and a solid 15 hours playtime to complete the whole game. I loved how the story is told with cutscenes rather than on-screen text like the previous games were which makes it feel more anime than the usual. The story is over-complicated but at least it tries to wrap up the threads that were provided in previous games.
Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana
Back in 2018, Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana was one of the rarest PS4 games out there (not anymore because it got a second print) and it took me a while to find a copy. However, I held off starting the game because I wanted to play a couple other Ys titles first – which I eventually did with Ys I & II Chronicles and Ys Origin. As I had some extra time to spend for a much larger game, I decided to finally delve back into the world of Ys once again.
Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana is one of the newest instalments in the franchise, taking place between the events of Ys V and Ys Seven, and this is one hell of a solid venture. In fact it’s almost a perfect game. Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana is an action RPG that is well executed in gameplay, exploration, characters and most importantly getting invested into the story and world. Adol is Adol and he loves adventure so his character works well as per usual. The real challenge is the position of best girl because I am torn between Laxia and Dana, both have their perks. Dana herself does get a lot of interesting backstory with a conclusion that is honestly heart-breaking. Like previous Ys games, you can control multiple characters (three characters in a party at a time) and I actually spent enough time to go through each one and they were well-balanced for combat. I thought Hummel would be useless, but his special skills made up for the combat.
Yes, you can even fish in this game and it is fun, a good balance of controls and time so it doesn’t feel wasteful. The difficulty of the game overall on Normal mode is solid, you can level up at the right pace and defeat enemies without having to needlessly grind each time. Every so often you would eventually have to deal with a Raid or Hunt which is pretty fun, but could do with some more variety in the level design. The quests themselves are a solid mix of story, fetching and challenges like nightime variations with more difficult enemies. While the combat is great, I do wish you could customise the special extra skills because outside of Dana in a specific case, the rest of the cast only have 1 extra skill.
The story is quite lengthy and I spent 52 hours in total for a 100% completion state on almost everything (missing items and MAX skills on my part). The Platinum is technically easy but it depends on whether or not you wish to pursue two big playthroughs for the easier outcome as one of the trophies requires you to play the game from start to finish on Nightmare difficulty with the True Ending route which requires 200 reputation on the PS4/PC/Switch version (150 on Vita). But it’s worth it as there’s enough content to keep you engaged all the way.
Overall, Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana is a great JRPG and a strong introduction for newcomers of the franchise, though I do feel that folks should check out the older games first to get a proper feel of what the franchise has to offer and how it evolves over the years.
Dynasty Warriors Gundam 2
So Dynasty Warriors: Gundam was my gateway into the Gundam franchise and over the years I managed to go through the third game and the fourth game (Gundam Reborn), but I never managed to check out Dynasty Warriors: Gundam 2 until recently.
Usually when it comes to musou games I mainly focus on the Story mode before going into the others, and in this instance it’s not technically a completed game. I did finish the story mode as it covered Mobile Suit Gundam, Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam, Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ, and Mobile Suit Gundam: Char’s Counterattack, all of which I have watched prior but I decided not to pursue the Mission mode aspect because it also featured characters from other franchises like Wing and SEED.
There’s no major spoilers but it is a spoiler in terms of character appearances, their actions and references. The other factor is for some reason Dynasty Warriors: Gundam 2 is the hardest one in the musou series because the difficulty in this game is so unbalanced that it honestly ruined the enjoyment that I had with the series. Simply put, it was an okay time but it wasn’t as fun as the other instalments. Even on the easiest difficulty you can get killed quite easily which ruined the pace and why I didn’t look that much into Mission Mode (I did try it but I died after a very long mission and it wasn’t worth revisiting).
Overall, it’s an okay game but I recommend the other Dynasty Warriors: Gundam games instead.
Tales of Xillia 2
In 2017 when I first started the ‘Operation PS3 Haul’ I imported Tales of Xillia 2 as I wanted a regular physical copy (the European version was a steelcase only release). It’s a sequel to Tales of Xillia that is set one year later and has a different protagonist in the spotlight – Ludger. Though despite the game focusing on Ludger, you do have Jude, Milla and the rest of the cast returning as party members.
Tales of Xillia 2 is probably one of the most surprising experiences I have had with the series because the story itself is pretty solid. In fact I would say it’s probably better than the first game because it feels like it’s leaning towards filling the blanks that was left behind and has a conclusion which isn’t perfect but was better than the first. In addition, Tales of Xillia 2 introduces branching dialogue choices and multiple endings which were pretty great inclusions and if you complete the character episodes you also get more additional scenes that adds a bit more context to the situation.
In-between each story chapter is a bunch of side-content where Ludger & co. have to repeatedly pay back debt which is required to move the story forward. As such you have to do random stuff to earn money and there’s also cats that you can collect. The cat stuff unfortunately loses its potential because only one cat can be dispatched at once which is annoying and also pointless padding to the mix. There are also elite monsters that you can fight which is pretty good and sometimes when you see them from a distance they can be scary because of how large they are compared to the size when you fight them.
Overall, Tales of Xillia 2 is a pretty solid experience. The story is definitely its strongest part though the ending is hit or miss in my opinion, but the journey was great. Ludger is technically a silent protag which makes sense but could have been voiced more.
Deadly Premonition: The Director’s Cut
To celebrate the month of Halloween I had decided to play Deadly Premonition which is a very unique title from the seventh generation era, a game that was initially going to be released on PlayStation 2 was revamped for the Xbox 360 (and later on PlayStation 3). The issue is – the game’s core aspects didn’t get an update. This is the definition of a small budget title – dated graphics, shoddy framerate, stiff animation, and moments that make you assume it’s going to crash at any moment. But there’s a charm to Deadly Premonition that manages to keep you engaged even if those issues remain throughout.
What makes Deadly Premonition so memorable is its main character York, his buddy Zach and the story itself which is full of unpredictable moments and a rather solid conclusion overall. The game is heavily inspired by the Twin Peaks franchise and even shows off some pop culture references when you travel around the town. This is an open world adventure but also a survival horror with Resident Evil 4 style controls that for the most part are pretty effective. The action sequences do have some issues, for instance shaking the left analog stick in some parts is not my cup of coffee, but the rest like pressing Circle or X & Square after another works perfectly. The stealth segments you have by holding R2 also works pretty well and can be pretty suspenseful when you realise it’s game over otherwise.
The Xbox 360 version had different difficulty settings, but the Director’s Cut on PlayStation 3 does not as it’s one reasonably balanced experience. You can still fail but the gameplay is much easier to progress and has enough of a challenge in parts. The most challenging moment I found is quite honestly the side-quest where you drag an old lady with a pot from the Mansion back to her home – and you can’t complete it unless you have a faster car which can often make you spin 360 out of nowhere due to the controls.
Deadly Premonition‘s story is split into different episodes and chapters. The story portions are for the most part quite short but there’s a lot of side content you can do in-between and there’s no punishment for having the main character wait hours to days to do a specific task. That’s right this game has a system where certain buildings or individuals aren’t available to view or speak to unless you are at the right time or weather condition. This sounds annoying but honestly it’s a pretty cool feature to have as it makes you tackle other tasks while waiting for the time to pass by. Though if you want time to pass by quickly, simply go to bed or smoke to get the right moment. There is also a health system where you need to keep the character awake and eating but this won’t affect you too much and primarily will only affect your progress with the side-quests due to the different time meetups. If you accidently miss a side-quest or collectible trading card, you can revisit the chapter after story completion but you won’t be able to save your progress at the phone booths – instead you need to finish the chapter to save the progress.
The game’s overall story is roughly about 13 hours of playtime while the additional side-quests adds another 12 hours. The trophies in the Director’s Cut are very easy as it’s just story and side-quests, so if you want to get a Platinum trophy this game is perfect. There is a glitch that appears during specific story segments where a key item can disappear if you save and quit afterwards (this is called the Disappearance Key Glitch online). I played it safe by finishing the chapter so I did not get this issue, but it’s a heads-up warning if you want to 100% the game.
Deadly Premonition is the definition of bizarre, and despite it’s aging look it’s still worth checking out. While the game is available on Xbox 360, the director’s cut version is the better experience and I recommend going for either the PlayStation 3 or PC/Steam version due to the tweaks in gameplay and additional content. This game and its sequel are also available on Nintendo Switch.
Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization
So I’ve had Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization in my collection since December 2018 and surprisingly it had taken me this long to jump in. Eventually I finally played it and spent roughly 7 days going through the main story with around 35 hours of playtime.
Considering Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization is a continuation to both Sword Art Online Re:Hollow Fragment and Sword Art Online: Lost Song I honestly can’t remember what happened with the latter, and thankfully going into Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization at least doesn’t require that much knowledge outside of knowing that Seven (the idol scientist girl) makes an appearance as well as one other character who is actually part of the Warriors of the Sky DLC update. Now I have decided to hold off on the DLC stuff as I want to get through my other games as much as possible, so in the meantime in terms of completion I have only finished the main story.
Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization is very similar to Hollow Fragment in terms of gameplay. You have an Aincrad style adventure but rather have multiple floors its multiple areas within one floor which are quite large and have a variety of enemies and mini-tasks that you can do along the way. The combat is also very similar but you have three characters that can tag along, there’s no game over as you can respawn at the “Town of Beginnings” area if all four members lose their HP, and you can even team up with non-SAO characters. Apparently you can customise your teammate’s weapons but I have never been able to do that, that being said they do level up pretty well so they did their job without too much hassle.
In terms of the story, it is pretty simple but I wasn’t that invested in the non-story dialogue so I skipped them sadly. Though one that caught me off guard was Kizmel, who is a character from Sword Art Online: Progressive, and she can join your team but disappointingly does not have special anime images on the top corners like the others during combat. You can romance her interestingly but the romance stuff can take a long time like Hollow Fragment‘s system. Basically if you’re a Silica-stan and always wanted to carry her around, you can do that in this game.
The difficulty for Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization is pretty solid. You can traverse through the game without having to grind and if you really wanted to level up fast, every now and then you can encounter super high levelled enemies. The skill tree does have special abilities like Extra EXP (which is back from Hollow Fragment), Restore SP, Restore HP, and more. I have tried out two weapon types; the Sword and eventually the Katana which I found to be pretty solid in its attack patterns. The boss battles are alright though I was over-levelled so they don’t last very long but it’s got some good stuff if you want a challenge and are under-levelled.
Overall Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization is a solid game overall for the SAO fans. It’s very similar to Hollow Fragment but it’s pacing is quite decent in general. You do have additional story content via DLC if you want more, but if you held out you can get all of it together in the Deluxe Edition on PSN and Nintendo Switch.
Yakuza Kiwami 2
Since I was busy sorting out my Autumn 2020 anime simulcasts, I wanted to play and finish a game before the year was over, as keep the usual one game per month trend going, I decided to take a step back by focusing on a shorter title for a change. That ended up being Yakuza Kiwami 2, a remake of the original PlayStation 2 game released in 2006. Yakuza 2 was known for being one of the best games in the franchise, up there with Yakuza 5 and Yakuza 0, so it was interesting to finally sit down and try it out.
Yakuza Kiwami 2 was released in 2017 (and 2018 for the west) and uses the Yakuza 6 game engine for its gameplay. There were a lot of gameplay changes in this one compared to my experiences with the other Yakuza games, however, saying that I did not start Yakuza 6 until after I finished this game as I wanted to go through the missing gaps of knowledge I didn’t know for Kazuma’s storyline given that it is the final one with him taking the main role.
Graphics for Yakuza Kiwami 2 is pretty impressive compared to the previous engine and the gameplay is still strong. The transition from walking around to random combat segments in the cities is better than before, though the game does suffer from loading issues on the base PlayStation 4. The EXP system feels much easier than before as you can grind it by simply eating tons of food which can give you stats every time, which I actually like because it helps keep you up-to-speed with the difficulty without wasting time grinding.
The substories are as random and amusing like the previous games. The game does a pretty good job guiding you on where they are on the map and I was able to get through a majority with the playtime I had. The story is a good length given it has taken me around 19 hours in total doing almost everything (there’s still stuff I haven’t done but getting most of the skills acquired and most of the substories is a pretty good pace).
Yakuza Kiwami 2 also included a mini campaign dedicated to Goro Majima, Kiryu-chan’s buddy and it’s very straightforward but nice none-the-less. Not as expansive as Kiryu’s main story or Majima’s gameplay in Yakuza 0, but good fanservice overall. It also provides closure to a character from another game that I won’t spoil, which is heart warming in a way.
Overall Yakuza Kiwami 2 is a great game. I have heard there’s a lot of cut content this time around compared to the first game’s Kiwami remake, but for what we have so far it’s a solid experience. The villain I knew was one of the most memorable in the franchise and he stands out really well especially with the voice-work. The story does feel like it has taken a halt at parts but it makes sense in the end-run.
And that concludes my list of video games I played throughout the year of 2020. As I have mentioned briefly above, I have started Yakuza 6 which will be the first game of 2021 in my long backlog. I have mostly Japanese games because those were the ones likely to sell out over the years and it’s a mix of remasters, cult classics and new surprises. I will go for the Western games don’t worry, it’s just those ones last a lot longer in the gaming scene so I am in no rush whatsoever. Also don’t expect any Nintendo Switch or PlayStation 5 games in 2021’s gaming list as I do not currently own those consoles yet.