I am the Moon Lord!

In my desperate, post-Slay the Spire doldrums, I decided to go back to Terraria, another game I’ve spent hundreds of hours on already. The last time I played, I tried to get to the Moon Lord and failed miserably. Details are poorly stored in my memory banks, but I think it was a mix of playing the game a) solo, b) on expert difficulty, and c) with a penchant toward less productive (for monster slaying at least) character builds. I remember getting demolished during all of the game’s Hard Mode exclusive events.

This return was different. I didn’t play on Expert. My previous world had been lost to reformatting, but my character was stored in the cloud. In my new world, I was a god for quite some time.

I did struggle a bit on the mechanical bosses. I had inherited a good setup for killing lots of enemies simultaneously, but the build had little to no single target damage. I had to rethink and rework my approach. I eventually settled on a ranged build (using a bow or gun, whatever I had that was better). From there, rather than be demolished, I became the demolisher.

I rapidly found where I had left off: post-temple but pre-Moon Lord. At a certain point, the power you can amass with just a little effort in Terraria sends you rolling downhill at whiplash speed. After some initial hiccups, I reascended to godhood …

… until I finally met the Moon Lord.

For those of you unfamiliar, the Moon Lord is Terraria’s (current) final boss. He’s a Cthulhu-esque monstrosity that takes up the majority of the screen and has two distinct phases. In phase one, you destroy the eyeballs in his hands and the one on his forehead. In phase two, you destroy the one on his chest. With my ranged setup, I was consistently able to get to phase two, but I never survived it for longer than a few seconds before dying.

Unfortunately, dying to the Moon Lord when solo means he flies off, and you have to resummon him. Resummoning him means doing a map-spanning event to slaughter around 400 semi-challenging enemies. It’s a time sink!

When I picked the game back up, I had intended to get all the achievements done. After playing for a bit, I did get a few more done, but there are some that I just can’t get interested in (mostly fishing related). Still, the Moon Lord had to die, regardless of all else.

I tried a few more times with different ranged weapons/builds, but nothing worked. Rather than continue to beat my head against a wall, I instead decided to cheese the boss with a build specifically chosen to outlast, rather than outplay, him.

It worked and I am done.

I absolutely still love Terraria. I do consider it one of the best games ever, and it holds up every time I revisit it. Sure, sometimes it feels a bit cheap for my liking, but that’s more due to the game’s open-ended design rather than its strict focus on punishing anyone. That you can farm or innovate around bottlenecks is just one of its many, many charms.

Also, it is embarrassing to admit this (for the wife, not me), but after vanquishing my fiercest foe, I ran out, mooned her and yelled, “I am the Moon Lord now.”

Why did she marry me?

Dungeons & Dragons (& Dinner)

Well, it finally happened: I am a Dungeon Master running a D&D campaign.

In addition to our regularly scheduled weekly game, we decided to start an irregularly scheduled side campaign (mostly to fill-in when our other party member is unavailable). The sister’s boyfriend is the DM of our primary campaign (and has been for a few years now), so he was excited to get back in the PC chair again. I wanted to practice DMing with something longer than a one-shot. Its working out.

We decided to run D&D 5th Edition’s Waterdeep: Dragon Heist. I admit, I bought the book (and the sequel) long before there was any guarantee of me running it. As the summary states, Dragon Heist is a “treasure hunt set against an urban backdrop”. That’s instantly appealing, as is its levels 1-5 target, especially for my novice DM skills.

In two sessions, we’re off to a solid start. We’ve got a streetwise druid, an up-and-coming paladin, and a bard whose latched onto the pair in hopes of a song. I’ve had a blast sticking to the script, albeit it with my own slight tweaks to impart a little more humor. DMing with actual material to follow feels a bit like wrangling a tornado at times, but that too has (thus far) been appealing to me.

In addition, as is customary, I’ve cooked dinner as well. When it was just family playing in our primary campaign, the Mrs and I would host and I generally would cook. Now that we’ve added others, I cut out the cooking because it was going to get expensive.

I haven’t missed cooking, but I do miss have a reason to cook something “different”. While I rarely fall into much of a routine with just the Mrs and I at home, adding two more to the table gives me an opportunity to put on more of a show.

Enter the de-boned turkey with sausage stuffing:

20200118_191248.jpg

Presentation wasn’t perfect (I should really learn a butcher’s knot) and I got it a touch overcooked for my tastes, but everyone enjoyed it. I served it with Mike’s Hot Honey glazed, roasted potatoes, radishes, and Brussels sprouts, as well as black-eyed peas. All-around, a very filling and satisfying meal.

I doubt I do anything else like this anytime soon. Our next session is tentatively scheduled for pre-Royal Rumble this weekend, so I am imagining wings or pizza … or both.

Slain the Spire

slain
After 970 hours, I have slain the spire and achieved everything.

I previously wrote about Slay the Spire for GameSpace (thanks again, Bill) two years ago. I loved it then, and that love  never stopped. I am not an achievement-seeker or a completionist at heart. However, I never mind doing either as a side effect of playing a really good game.

Ironically, in my byline for GameSpace, I mentioned my chasing of the platinum trophy in Binding of Isaac: Rebirth. I accomplished that a while back, and walked away from the game completely afterward feeling really good about myself.

Slay the Spire occupied the hole left by Binding. It was the game I played to get away from playing other games. It was what I used to relax (yes, as strange as it sounds, I find roguelites to be very relaxing). A game or two before bed? Sure. Before work? Only if I dare.

To accomplish all achievements on my Steam copy of Slay the Spire, it took me 970 hours. That’s more than a month (approximately 40 days). Considering I bought the game in December 2017 for $16, that’s roughly 60 hours per dollar spent. In other words, with one purchase, I bought 16 copies of Final Fantasy VII.

I can’t tell you how much time I spent playing Binding since that was on my PS4, but I am sure it was similar (if not more). The next closest game on Steam, just in terms of time played, is Terraria with a bit over 300 hours. I am glad I cannot look up total time played in something like World of Warcraft …

Earlier this month, I gave myself an ultimatum: finish all achievements or uninstall at 1,000 hours played. I am glad I made my goal because I am sure after a month or two away I would be lured back in to keep trying. The Eternal One, the game’s achievement for unlocking all other achievements, has been done by just 0.7% of Steam Slay the Spire players. That’s a hell of a lure when it is in reach.

Combine that with my platinum trophy in Binding of Isaac: Rebirth, and I feel like a really rare creature right now.

Sadly, as eternal as it has been, I do feel the need to walk away from Slay the Spire, even with a new character set to come out in the near future. I am going to pre-order this sweet t-shirt first though.

To MegaCrit, the game’s developer, thank you. It is a little scary admitting I put 40 hours into “just a game” out loud, but there were days (and nights) where I needed something like Slay the Spire to just chill. Life, responsibilities, things outside my control: they all took a step back while I hoped to draw the perfect card or loot a useful item. Never to a self-destructive level, thankfully, but enough to continue surviving adulthood and all its ills. Whatever you make next, I am buying.

To anyone else who may be interested in Slay the Spire, go for it. If you want to ask me anything, feel free. Just remember: it took me 970 hours to get here. I am persistent, not an expert.

A Brief Journey in World of Warcraft Classic

Few genres are as nostalgic for me as the MMORPG. While EverQuest and Ultima Online remind me of summer, I strongly associate World of Warcraft with Christmas break. In a bid to recapture some of that glory, I felt a bit weak during the holidays and resubbed so I could try out WoW Classic for the first time.

Old is New, New is Old

Before I caved, I tried giving EverQuest (via Project 1999) another go just to see if that might tide me over long enough to get past the “I want to give Blizzard money” phase of an obvious sickness.

It didn’t. In fact, it made things worse.

Truly, and not just on a purely nostalgic basis, I miss the pacing of MMOs of yesteryear. While some genres I feel have not aged well (like the Western RPG ala Baldur’s Gate), the humble “relaxed-but-not” and “social-but-not” MMO still has a place.

You Make the Game, Not the Other Way Around

Like EverQuest, there’s an automatic breeziness to World of Warcraft Classic. After creating a character, the game does little to hurry you along, outside a few quests here and there. For most classes, the speed of combat is tied exclusively to your health and/or mana bars holding up.

Unlike EverQuest, it feels possible to succeed early on in WoW, and less likely to be overwhelmed (outside of early cave sections). Its a relaxing pace, and, had it been fresher content, I might have been more entranced by it.

I poked my head in on my characters of current WoW. The comparison was stark, to say the least, as I quickly felt overwhelmed by multiple bars, abilities, pop-ups, world quests, etc. It has been a while since I played WoW on even a semi-regular basis. I could probably figure all these things out again, but I kinda wish it wasn’t a requirement.

Not Sticking the Landing

As much as I applaud the easy going nature of MMOs of yesteryear, neither re-hooked me. That’s not exactly a fault – I don’t feel cheated of my $15 dollars, for instance. That’s cheaper than a lot of museum visits, and that’s how I treated my time.

Both my brief tour of EverQuest and World of Warcraft Classic do confirm one thing for me: I want a new MMO like these games. There’s a lot to love about Final Fantasy XIV, but once I hit max level, that locked-in-feeling sets in with the gear grind. I hate it.

I used to be able to play MMOs in a far more serious-casual manner. It rarely mattered that I accomplished anything noteworthy as long as I enjoyed the journey. There were always things outside my reach that inspired me to stretch a bit further, or just appreciate the success of others. I felt comfortable switching between winning a PvP duel, deep diving into a dungeon, or worrying over house decorations.

Most of the fun was making friends along the way, not upping a gear score.

You can still make friends in MMOs, of course, but its a lot harder when everyone seems so busy all the time.

Vagrant Story, 20 Years Later

Screenshot 9.png

There are a few facts about me that you must know before this article makes sense:

  • Final Fantasy Tactics (FFT) is one of my favorite games of all time.
  • Anything even tangentially-related to FFT is instantly of interest to me.
  • In and around the year 2000, I was a Squaresoft fanboy, and I bought almost all of their Western releases based on the box cover and their company logo alone.

Vagrant Story is an “action” RPG for the original Playstation. Published by Squaresoft in 2000, Vagrant Story is set in the Ivalice Alliance series, a bit of trivia it shares with Final Fantasy Tactics and Final Fantasy XII. Like those two games, Vagrant Story was also directed/produced/designed by the legendary Yasumi Matsuo, the creator of Ivalice itself.

In addition to its relationship to one of my favorite games of all time, Vagrant Story reviewed really well at the time. Glancing through the Reception section of its Wikipedia article, including a 40/40 from Famitsu, a 9.6/10 from IGN and GameSpot, and a 9/10 from EGM (R.I.P.).

And, after booting up the game in an emulator recently, I do not see any kind of perfection whatsoever.

Screenshot 8.png

For the last two decades, my only memory of Vagrant Story was my complete inability to beat a ghost monster you encounter within the first hour or two of the game. In returning, I wanted to see what I missed by allowing myself to quit the game in frustration. After all, its an undermentioned classic, right?

At first, Vagrant Story got a lot right. For starters, the atmosphere is top notch, and kind of terrifying in its own way. Like Final Fantasy Tactics, there’s a lot of political intrigue, but there is also a presumed Big Bad who refuses to die, even when he takes an arrow square in the chest. Once the game actually begins, you’re greeted with a dank wine cellar, almost no music, and a mix of classic Gothic video game enemies (bats, wolves, corpses, skeletons).

Screenshot 4.png

Now, maybe this is an unfair comparison since I only have a passing familiarity with the series, but I instantly thought of Dark Souls when I first started out in Vagrant Story. It has that same unsettling emptiness to it. Plus, the bosses I have seen so far have been fairly large in size (at least for the era).

The wife saw me playing the game and snickered at how it looked, but despite the polygons and artifacting (and with the emulator’s help), there is beautiful art buried beneath it all. Hiroshi Minagawa has the credit for artist here, and he has worked on some of the best games of all time (including this year’s excellent Final Fantasy XIV expansion, Shadowbringers). It shows.

Screenshot 5.png

Now that the positives have been had, let’s talk about why I am hating this game and may not continue playing it.

It’s a Box Puzzle Game

I cannot recall the last time I played a true box puzzle game. I am so vague on the concept now that I am unsure if it is a true sub-genre of gaming or a weird dream of mine.

Ask yourself if this sounds familiar (and infuriating):

In each room, there is a door to the next room. To reach that door, you must stack boxes in the appropriate manner. Due to the limitations of how you can maneuver boxes (and related objects), each room plays out like a small puzzle. If you fail or mess up, you have to leave the room and come back to start over again.

In two hours, I have had to do these puzzles at least ten times now. They are not memorable, interesting, or welcome. The game may eventually drop them, but their frequency (and simplicity) early on does not bode well.

Screenshot 1.png

“Action” RPG

I don’t think anyone makes RPGs like this anymore. Owing a lot to Parasite Eve, another Squaresoft game of the era (and another I couldn’t get into), Vagrant Story is a real time-and-pause game. In other words, you run around in real time, but when you attack, the game pauses so you can target the right enemy and/or a specific body part of that enemy.

I suppose V.A.T.S in Fallout is similar, but here it is an incredibly unsatisfying experience. There’s no tracking on your attack swing cooldown, so after each attack sequence, I am rapidly pressing the button to get another attack in before the enemy can. There’s also a range component, including melee weapons with variable ranges, so combat consists mostly of spamming attack button at max range, pause and choose target, let animation play out, move a few steps, and repeat.

There is another aspect to the game that I have yet to master: chaining abilities. This is a classic gaming experience, so there are zero tutorials, but this last time I played, I started to figure it out. Basically, you map different reactions to different face buttons on the controller and, whether on defense or offense, timing your button press right activates the reaction.

It is a nice way to add a little more action to the experience, but it feels clunky especially with slow animations and …

3D Cameras on the Playstation

Since each room is a smallish 3D box, there’s a classic PSX-era platformer feel to the camera. It even has “shoulder buttons to rotate”, though I have started using the game’s weird first person view as a quick turn.

Like other games at the time (and, to be honest, for another decade), Vagrant Story has a terrible camera. When you add in the need to place boxes all the time or “real time” fight enemies, there have been a few occasions where I was staring at the backside of a horrible drawn texture while something was happening out of sight with my character. It dates the game more than anything else.

Screenshot 17.png

But hey, I finally killed that Ghost. Maybe I will finish the game in the next 20 years.

Dropped Games (December 2019)

Time is precious. When it comes to playing video games, there are too many to waste time on any I am not enjoying. Each month, my backlog has a few casualties – games I consider “dropped” – where I’ve put in enough time or made the realization that I am not having fun.

In December, I dropped three games:

  • Disco Elysium (PC, 2019)
  • New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe (Switch, 2019)
  • Baldur’s Gate Enhanced Edition (PC, 2013)

Disco Elysium (PC, 2019)

At $31.99 on sale, that was still a splurge for me. Disco Elysium caught my attention because of comparisons to Planescape: Torment, one of my favorites. Like that game, it mostly revolves around dialogue and dialogue choices, rather than any actual combat. All of that is true, but no one told me I would feel gross playing the game.

Almost immediately, Disco Elysium gave me a similar vibe to Hotline: Miami. There’s a certain intangible quality about either that leaves me feeling gross, disgusting, and disturbed. I am not against this kind of subject matter, and I am especially fond of dark humor, but both just felt too wrong for me to keep playing.

That’s not to say whether Disco Elysium is good or bad. It just was not for me.

New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe (Switch, 2019)

I picked up New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe back in March of this year. At the time, I was wanting some classic Mario action. I never really bothered much with other games in this particular offshoot of the Mario franchise, so I thought this was a good place to start.

Despite wanting a Mario game, I could never get into this one. The jumping felt all wrong to me. With every character, I felt like I was floating, and platforms felt far more slippery than I am used to. When compared to other platformers I’ve finished recently (Hollow Knight and Celeste) this one felt off. When compared to other Mario games I’ve finished recently (Odyssey, 3D World, 3D Land), it just wasn’t a good representation of the plumber.

Baldur’s Gate Enhanced Edition (PC, 2013)

When I was younger, before MMOs got their hooks into me, I mostly played WRPGs like Baldur’s Gate, Icewind Dale, and the previously mentioned Planescape: Torment. I have a fond memory of the genre and its many classics.

Returning to Baldur’s Gate quickly reframed those memories, however. I remember the game being challenging, but upon my return, I realize it’s more dull than anything. If this is a true reflection of the Dungeons & Dragons rules at the time, I am glad I started playing with 5th Edition because combat in Baldur’s Gate is a series of many misses until one or two hits kills something. Its dull.

Worse, I had forgotten how slow it is to move around in games like this. Younger me had infinite more patience than my modern day, coddled self. Everything about Baldur’s Gate is slow, awkward, or designed intentionally to waste time rather than enrich it.

I bought Planescape: Torment Enhanced Edition a while back. I haven’t played it yet, but after Disco Elysium and Baldur’s Gate, I am worried that part of me is lost to time, and that I won’t enjoy it anymore. I really hope not. I am still desperate for a D&D 5E Planescape source book. I loved and still want to love that setting.

Two More Finished: Sayonara Wild Hearts & Celeste

If you haven’t already seen my Year 2019 in Review post, check it out here. Since writing and publishing it, I had a little extra time off, and managed to finish two more games: Sayonara Wild Hearts and Celeste.

Sayonara Wild Hearts (Switch, 2019)

Sayonara Wild Hearts is a difficult game to classify. Rather than pick a genre, I’ll just say it is an on-rails high score generator set to a great pop soundtrack. More importantly, despite finishing the game in roughly an hour, I immediately bought it for a family member, and forced the wife to give it a try when she got home from work.

Even now, I kind of want to play it again. It was an absolute blast. I thought the mechanics would get old, but each series of levels varies things up just enough to keep me engaged.

Plus, I loved how accessible a game it was. I can certainly player harder, so called “core” games, but Sayonara was an instant re-buy and recommend for me because it doesn’t require the player to master the game. If you die enough times, the game asks if you want to skip the section. If don’t skip it, then dying never cost me more than a second or two to retry where I failed.

There is the aforementioned “high score generator” but it is solely for fun, not gating. You can complete the entire game, whether you suck or excel at it. Not every game needs to be so straight-forward, but it’s a great kind of experience to have for people just getting or relearning their love of videogames.

I am slotting Sayonara Wild Hearts in at #5, tied with Ghost Giant.

Celeste (Switch, 2018)

I have wanted to play Celeste for quite some time now. I bought it a few months ago but didn’t immediately get into it. After fooling around in Shovel Knight again recently, I had the urge to play a platformer, and I decided to play around with Celeste some more.

Unlike Sayonara Wild Hearts, Celeste is a difficult game. Long-time readers may not associate me with these kinds of games, but when the game is good and well-designed, the difficulty stops mattering as much. Celeste is nearly perfect.

Celeste is a straightforward platformer, where you play as Madeline, a girl battling her own depression (literally at times) who feels compelled to climb Mt. Celeste for reasons.

My favorite thing about Celeste, and the main reason I didn’t give it up, was its design. Though frustratingly challenging at times, the game never tries to cheat or punish you. Each screen plays out as its own stage, and its easy to figure out what you need to do long before your fingers can pull it off. I never felt stuck and dying always put me where I needed to be to immediately try again.

To me, that kind of design makes me feel respected as a player. I still feel challenged, but unlike classic NES games, I’m not stuck with a game over and restart for my efforts just because I haven’t gotten “it” yet.

On top of a well-designed and lovingly crafted game, I found myself quickly pulled into the narrative of Celeste. As someone who has battled depression before (not severe, thankfully), I like when video games are written as elaborate metaphors for coping and self-growth. Its an excellent medium for exploration of these topics, especially done respectfully and with the appropriate intention. I wanted Madeline to succeed, both because her success was my own (me nailing that hard series of jumps) but also because her success meant she, as a character, was approaching a more stable point in her life.

Celeste is on par with Hollow Knight, another platformer that I found intensely enjoyable despite the challenge. I wanted to slot it in at #4, tied with Astro Bot Rescue Mission, but since that game was also a platformer and I found Celeste a more compelling representation of the genre, I am giving it the #4 spot all too itself.

My Final List for 2019

  1. Alliance Alive HD (PS4, 2019)
  2. Forager (PC, 2019)
  3. Snipperclips: Cut it out, together! (Switch, 2017)
  4. Horizon Zero Dawn: The Frozen Wilds (PS4, 2017)
  5. SEVERED (Switch, 2017)
  6. Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night (PS4, 2019)
  7. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End (PS4, 2016)
  8. TIE FOR 10TH – The Outer Worlds (PC, 2019)
  9. TIE FOR 10TH – Pokemon Shield (Switch, 2019)
  10. Hades (PC, 2019)
  11. Pyre (PS4, 2017)
  12. TIE FOR 6TH – Sayonara Wild Hearts (Switch, 2019)
  13. TIE FOR 6TH – Ghost Giant (PSVR, 2019)
  14. Astro Bot Rescue Mission (PSVR, 2018)
  15. Celeste (Switch, 2018)
  16. Slay the Spire (PC, 2018)
  17. Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers (PC, 2019) – My Best Game of 2019
  18. Golf Story (Switch, 2017) – My Game (I Played In) of the Year 2019

My 2019 in Gaming

After seeing Belghast (Tales of the Aggronaut) do it, at the beginning of the year, I created a spreadsheet to help me keep track of all the games I played. Here are the categories I landed on:

  • Own – Easy enough: games I own (and intend to play) but haven’t played yet.
  • Playing – Games I am currently playing.
  • On Hold – Games I was playing that I have placed on hold. I mostly used this one to feel slightly better about games I knew I was going to drop.
  • Finished – Games where I felt like I got all I wanted to get out of them. For the most, that meant some kind of end screen, but not always.
  • Dropped – Games that I stopped playing and never finished.
  • Wishlist – A category I used track games I wanted. I swore I would only buy games that had been on this wishlist for a month or more, but that quickly fell apart.

At the time of writing this, I am at 26 Own, 3 Playing, 1 On Hold, 16 Finished, 9 Dropped, and 5 Wishlist. We’ll ignore everything but Finished and Dropped for the rest of this post.

In order from least favorite to most, here are all the games I finished:

16. Alliance Alive HD (PS4, 2019)

Do not recommend. The wife said it wasn’t fair to include this game in the “finished” column since I quit it on the last possible fight. In all honesty, I am surprised I made it that far. For all the reviews that sold me on it having similarities to Bravely Default, I only found a bland JRPG.

15. Forager (PC, 2019)

Do not recommend. I was utterly hooked on Forager when it first came out, but its an incredibly shallow game. I recently read an internet comment about Diablo-likes where the person said they felt “dirty” for spending so much time on an otherwise bland genre. Forager isn’t a Diablo-like, but that feeling applies here.

14. Snipperclips: Cut it out, together! (Switch, 2017)

Recommend with qualifications. Snipperclips was a fun coop experience for Diane and I, though we had long breaks between beginning it in late 2018 and finishing it in late 2019. It was also surprisingly short, even with the year break. Good for coop only.

13. Horizon Zero Dawn: The Frozen Wilds (PS4, 2017)

Recommend. I sold my copy of Horizon Zero Dawn before its one and only DLC hit. After tracking down the Game of the Year edition for a fair price, I went back. Horizon was already a game I platinumed, so more of the same was absolutely more of what I wanted.

12. SEVERED (Switch, 2017)

Recommend with qualifications. SEVERED is a unique experience, to say the least. After seeing it originally on the app store, I waited for it to come to Android, but it never did. When I had a chance to play it on my Switch, I jumped at it, played it for about an hour, and then forgot about it. Once I finally got hooked on it, I realized it was good enough, but nothing amazing.

11. Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night (PS4, 2019)

Do not recommend. In a post-Hollow Knight world, Bloodstained needed to be perfect to compete, and it just wasn’t. For me, it was the worst parts of the Game Boy Advance Castlevanias (mostly convoluted anime stories) with nothing particularly noteworthy about it.

10. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End (PS4, 2016)

Recommend. Uncharted is one of those series I like in small doses. As the oldest game on this list, I bought it cheaper, but also just after marathoning 1-3. It was fun though I am especially burnt out on the series now.

08. TIE The Outer Worlds (PC, 2019)

Recommend with qualifications. Like Pokemon Shield, The Outer Worlds turned out to be a disappointment in the end. Its still a good game, but far less than I wanted (or expected). You could do worse, as far as RPGs go!

08. TIE Pokemon Shield (Switch, 2019)

Recommend with qualifications. Like The Outer Worlds, Pokemon Shield turned out to be disappointment in the end. I was never bothered by nonsense like “Dexit”, but I was hoping Game Freak might play it less safe with their first main series console generation. Instead, they played it really, really safe.

07. Hades (PC, 2019)

Recommend. Hades was awesome when I first played it, if a bit too hard. Its only improved since, and do intend on returning, but for now I fondly remember it.

06. Pyre (PS4, 2017)

Recommend. Pyre was so cool. I fell in love with the setting hard. I actually bought it around the time it came out, but I kept putting it off. I would love to see a sequel someday, but I am obviously happy Supergiant went on to make Hades since you just read my thoughts on it.

05. Ghost Giant (PSVR, 2019)

Recommend. Ghost Giant is less a game and more an excuse to cry uncontrollably in your expensive VR headset. I actually thought the gameplay was pretty boring, but damn if it was not a totally charming experience regardless. Easily my emotional gaming experience of the year.

04. Astro Bot Rescue Mission (PSVR, 2018)

Recommend. Astro Bot Rescue Mission, like Super Mario 3D Land, is one of my favorite platformers of all time. Its also one of the best VR games I have played that didn’t involve repetitive gameplay.

03. Slay the Spire (PC, 2018)

Must play. This one feels like cheating because I marked it as “finished” in February and picked it up again a few months ago. At this point, I am maybe 60 hours shy of hitting the 1,000 hours played mark on Steam. Slay the Spire is a rogue-like on par with Binding of Isaac: Rebirth, a game I obsessed with for years.

02. Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn (PC, 2013 – Present)

Must play. Before 2019, Final Fantasy XIV and I had an on-again/off-again relationship. Now that I have finally gotten a character to max level in current content, I think I get it. This is the MMO I will go back to now, regardless of what happens in World of Warcraft. I marathoned the base game and all three expansions over eight continuous months this year. Of all the games on the list, this is the one I played the most in 2019.

01. Golf Story (Switch, 2017)

Must play. Golf Story was a bit of a sleeper hit for me. I bought it cheap after seeing a few recommendations but kept ignoring it. One day, when I was sick and staying home, I decided to finally give it a go. I didn’t put it down for a few days. Its sequel, Sports Story, is due out next year, and it will be a day one buy for me.

Dropped Games

In the Dropped category, we have:

  • Bloodborne
  • Divinity: Original Sin 2
  • EverQuest (Project 1999)
  • Hellblade Senua’s Sacrifice
  • Iconoclasts
  • Nuclear Thone
  • Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice
  • Super Smash Bros. Ultimate
  • Warhammer: Vermintide 2

I have decided Dark Souls likes are not for me – Super Smash Bros. either.

Hellblade was interesting, but a bit dull and I forgot I was playing it. Nuclear Throne was heavily recommended, but it did not grab me.

Both Divinity and Warhammer were “play with a friend” games, but after a few sessions for each, we stopped.

EverQuest should’ve probably been treated as “Finished”, since I got about what I was expecting. I kept intending to play it more – and I was actually enjoying it – but I am just not setup to play something that slow.

The Outer Worlds (PC, 2019)

After two playthroughs, I am ready to pass final judgment on The Outer Worlds – and move on.

The Outer Worlds is the latest RPG from Obsidian Entertainment. Of the entire Fallout series, their turn with Fallout: New Vegas is likely my favorite. The Outer Worlds stands on its own, but it shares similar gameplay and sensibilities.

In The Outer Worlds, you play a recently unfrozen member of the colony ship Hope. You are taken out of cryosleep by a science named Phineas Wells. Wells is wanted for crimes against the colony and its leaders, a Board made-up of the colony’s corporation heads.

Screenshot 6.png

At first, I was quite taken with The Outer Worlds. New Vegas (and much of Fallout’s brand of retrofuturism, in general) worked best when it managed to combine the darker edges of science fiction with absurd characters, situations, and anecdotes. These games like to take seemingly reasonable ideas from politics, science, and philosophy and take them to their (mostly) logical extreme.

Likewise, The Outer Worlds is all about corporations and capitalism run totally amok. In breaking off from our real world timeline prior to Teddy Roosevelt’s trust busting ever happening, corporations have taken complete control of society and replaced government and economic with bureaucratic nightmares. People live and die as indentured servants, and are so indoctrinated at such an early age, that they recite corporate mottos, jingles, and advertisements with the ease of a minister reciting a psalm.

From the start, I loved the setting. Early on, there is a quest involving a suicide. The coworker that found him was forced to pay for his required burial expenses because she discovered. Second, the colony had to cover it up, because a suicide is technically vandalism of company property (that property being human) and if it were known, then the whole town would be forced to pay for it – something it cannot afford.

Screenshot 2.png

Its stories like these that set The Outer Worlds apart, but after a strong initial outing, I found the game dwindled in its impact. The setting remained unique and there were interesting characters, but it all felt neutered somehow, not unlike Fallout 3 and Fallout 4. Obsidian still has plenty of talent – or else I wouldn’t of finished this game twice – but Chris Avellone was sorely missed. All of the social commentary was there from the beginning, but the overall story, including Phineas Wells and the Board, really ended up missing the mark for me.

Gameplay-wise, the game was passable. The perk fill-in is filled with lame rewards, and the game never feels very challenging. I did try it on a harder difficulty, but like most games, all that did was make everything a bullet sponge rather than add any need for tactics or strategy.

In my second playthrough, I created a melee brute who was comfortable murdering people to get quests done quickly. By holding the sprint key and ignoring most enemies (save for the few innocent people I had to murder), I managed to finish the game again in four hours. There’s plenty of content to mess around with, and likely many things I missed, but the game felt smaller than any I played like it. It didn’t help that melee combat was about as good as Morrowind’s (which was okay back in 2002).

Screenshot 5.png

After both playthroughs, there were still some locations on the map I could not visit. It turns out these places are unavailable. There’s also not a very deep series of quests for each companion (though the few I did were worth the trouble), and the game lacks an equivalent to the faction-specific quest lines of the Elder Scrolls series.

Though there are a lot of pieces of The Outer World I enjoyed, they never really came together to finish the puzzle I was hoping to solve. The game is inferior to New Vegas in every way, and despite being more a more topical commentary on today’s economic and political climates, that could all probably be best experienced by watching someone else play the game instead.

Ghost Giant (PSVR, 2019)

In a recent group chat with close friends, the question was asked, “Which Pay-Per-View would sell better: Batman versus Captain America or Goku versus Superman?” Of the four of us, we were evenly split and equally set in our reasons why. 

For me, I voted Batman versus Captain America because, to borrow from wrestling, Goku versus Superman has no heat to it and, despite agreeing that it would be an epic spectacle, I could not come up with a reason to care about the fight. Contrast that with the battling ideals of Captain America and Batman, and it’s easy for me to see a story that makes that fight even more intriguing.

That is a long way of saying some people value spectacle over substance. There is nothing wrong with that, but I almost always choose the thing with something to say over the thing with a lot to show.

When it comes to videogames, especially talking about video games, most of the conversations we have are about their most spectacular elements. We hype up graphics and frame rates, we talk about the importance of draw distance, we gawk over animation quality, etc. Often (and I am guilty of this myself), we forgo an uglier, better game for a prettier, worse one. Yet, in our modern era, I am finding more and more games with things to say (regardless of their appearance) are finding a foothold.

This brings me to Ghost Giant, a game for Playstation VR I recently completed.

In Ghost Giant, you play as a giant ghost. You awaken one day in the forest to the sound of a crying boy named Louis. At first, he is surprised by your presence, but you quickly become friends. As the game progresses, you learn that only Louis can see you, and that he desperately needs your help to get sunflowers planted at his mother’s farm. 

Gameplay is a blend of point-and-click tropes with puzzles and a storybook diorama-esque feel. It was not my favorite part of playing Ghost Giant or even the reason I finished it.

For me, what made Ghost Giant click was the story. Louis feels all alone because he is alone. He managed to ruin his friendship with his only friend, and his mother is clinically depressed. Louis has taken her depression and inability to get out of bed on his own two shoulders. Like her, he refuses to seek help because he fears she might go away. It a tragic, heartbreaking piece that, even with a happy (but realistic) ending, left me crying inside a VR headset – not recommended.

Obviously in Ghost Giant’s case, it does a good job with presentation (spectacle) but excels most at story (substance), and neither of those things are mutually exclusive, but I love that games like this exist. 

I can have a ton of fun in the latest Mario or Call of Duty, but, as with every other medium – books, movies, television, music, you name it – I really, really dig something that can make me feel on spiritual level. I love walking away with a new perspective or feeling drained from the inside out. Just like finishing a good book, Ghost Giant weighed on my mind for many hours after finishing, and, nearly a week later, I can still recall the emotions it conjured up within me. Video games are largely accepted in the mainstream, but it’s these kinds of experiences I wish more people who do not play games would think of first. Or, better yet, experience for themselves.

Sure, books (and other mediums) can accomplish something similar, but each does so in subtlety different ways. Nothing reminds me of being human more than something like Ghost Giant, a game about a ghost who talks to animal-people. The gameplay, however inaccurate and frustrating I found it be, still managed to make me feel like a larger-than-life being helping a little boy through a traumatic time in his life. And that’s pretty damn cool in a way only a videogame can pull off.