Review: Yakuza 5

Review: Yakuza 5

Platform: PS3

Hours Played: 50

Developer: Sega

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If you’ve played a Yakuza game before, then you probably already have an idea of what to expect. A brewing conflict within the Tojo clan leads Kiryu and pals to investigate the whereabouts of a missing Daigo Dojima, sixth chairman of Kiryu’s former clan. Kiryu continues to elude his former life as a Yakuza, but members of the Tojo clan continue to harass him as he saves up money to support his self-made orphanage back in Okinawa.

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The story of Yakuza 5 is split into multiple chapters, each one focusing on a single character and their personal story. This is almost identical to the way Yakuza 4 handled its story, which isn’t a knock against the sequel at all – it worked in the previous entry, and it works just as well here. Each character focuses on one or two old and new open-world areas that present a host of sub-stories to complete, numerous shops to explore, and loads of minigames to play. 

Yakuza 5 starts off strong, giving players an entirely new city to explore in the form of Nagasugai. This is probably my favorite among the new areas, as it provides a layout distinct from each of the other locations. The other cities aren’t quite as interesting, with sub-stories that I didn’t latch on to quite as strongly as those in the first city. Still, each of them provides a distinct area to explore, giving each character a substantial amount of things to do.

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Most of the side stories on offer here are fun, satisfying, and feel like worthwhile additions to break up the tried-and-true formula. Kiryu’s driving segments are a standout in my eyes. Instead of focusing on fast-paced races, certain segments of driving have Kiryu taking care to follow the rules of the road. Pedestrians crossing the street, using turn signals to deliver passengers to their destination, and not starting or stopping the car too abruptly are all factors that are taken into consideration while acting as a taxi driver. You’ll be given a grade at the end of each mission depending on the customer’s satisfaction in your driving abilities. I found these missions very refreshing. As mundane as it might sound, acting as a careful driver and being awarded points for your attentiveness is an oddly satisfying experience. There are still some missions that allow you to drive as fast as you’d like in a race against other street racers, but I found these a little more dull than the taxi driver segments, despite the game desperately trying to make them exhilarating.

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I found the story itself in Yakuza 5 to have some hits and misses, yet still remain a positive experience. Among the misses in this tale would be Saejima’s story as well as Akiyama’s. Both of their stories function quite similarly to Yakuza 4, almost too much so, giving me a very small sense of character development in either of them. Their progression has already been shown in Yakuza 4, and 5 doesn’t expand on that progression in a meaningful way. While both characters remain likable and charming in their own way (especially Akiyama), their inclusion in the story feels a little bit forced, with Saejima’s chapter feeling largely separate from the larger plot. Still, they were never an annoyance to deal with, providing some very memorable scenes that have stuck with me long after finishing the game.

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Not a whole lot has been added to Kiryu’s character development, besides the fact that he will do anything to protect the children back at Sunshine Orphanage. I guess that’s fine, despite it feeling rather shallow. Much like Yakuza 4, this story isn’t entirely focused on Kiryu, so this didn’t strike me as an issue.

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In a move that shocked me upon its introduction, a chapter of the game is devoted to Haruka Sawamura, the young orphan girl raised by Kiryu in the first game. She’s pursuing her dream of becoming Japan’s next big pop idol, and she does so without raising her fist in battle.

 

When video games manage to avoid violence as a means of progressing the narrative, I’m often impressed. Most video games rely on some form of combat to move the story forward, and the Yakuza games are perhaps the most blatant culprit. Seeing an entire chapter dedicated to a character that never fights is a risky move, and I think it pays off quite nicely. Haruka’s story is rather light-hearted in the beginning, eventually growing more disturbing as the true nature of the idol industry rears its ugly head. It ties well into the overall narrative, and gives me even more of a reason to respect Haruka’s character. She’s way more likable as an up and coming star than she ever was as a small child in her original appearance.

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The chapter that stands above all others is, by far, the story revolving around series newcomer Tatsuo Shinada. He’s a former baseball rookie that ran into some bad luck on the field, forcing him to retire the bat. Even though I don’t personally relate to Shinada and some of his quirks, his progression is satisfying. Watching him become a better person, despite his status as an adult writer, made his story very memorable. Add in a wonderful finale to the chapter and a clever way that his story ties into the overarching narrative, and Shinada’s tale becomes one of my favorites in the entire series. I hope he doesn’t return in future installments, unless by cameo, because everything about his story feels complete.

 
Like previous titles in the long-running franchise, Yakuza 5 is a massive game. The amount of side activities, bonus content, and areas to explore in addition to the lengthy narrative is staggering. I played through the entire main story and completed a good chunk of the side missions, clocking in around 50 hours of game time. By the end, I was greeted with a statistics screen that told me I finished about 20% of the game’s content. In comparison to other Yakuza games, that playtime sounds about right, but it’s still impressive how much there is to do in each addition to the series. As soon as Yakuza 5 Remastered hits PlayStation 4 (whenever that will be) I’ll be there day one to relive the action.

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An All-Digital Future – Short Thoughts

Hey folks, I recently finished one of my summer 2018 courses and wrote a short paper about my thoughts on digital distribution in the near future. I figured I may as well throw it on here, because why not?

 

On June 25th, 2018, an article about the future of digital distribution in video games was published via Barron’s Next, a subsidiary to Dow Jones & Company Inc. The article is titled “Video games: Here’s When Sales Could Go All-Digital.” The author of this article, David Marino-Nachison, explained that analysts at PiperJaffray, an investment bank and asset-management firm, predict that digital distribution will control 100% of the market by 2022. A quote from the investment company is offered, “It is a certainty that video games will be approximately 100% digital in the coming years… While exact timing is hard to pinpoint, we think 2022 is a realistic expectation.”

 

This article contains a lot to unpack. For starters, I’ll share my thoughts on the prediction given to us by the analysts at PiperJaffray. They believe we’re seeing an all-digital future in video game software sales, and while I agree with this prediction arriving in the far future, the idea of it becoming an exclusively digital landscape in just four years is, frankly, an absurd notion. In other entertainment industries including music, movies, and television, digital distribution is a popular and encouraged method of purchasing content, but it is not the only method. All of these other forms of entertainment offer physical distribution for people that wish to have a hard copy of their software. The backlash from eliminating physical distribution would hurt the video games industry and its fans. The people that rely on second-hand software to play new releases would be abandoned, making them more likely to avoid purchasing new video games in the future.

 

While digital game sales have been on the rise in recent years, there are still plenty of people sticking with physical goods. There are a number of reasons for this behavior. For starters, many people enjoy having a box to display in their collection. Digital content is not too enticing for collectors who feel a sense of satisfaction in their displayed media. A digital license to play games just doesn’t stand up against the comfort in owning a disc that will not contain the risk of an expiring license to play. In addition to this, most physical games continue to sell for cheaper than their digital counterparts, often making them a cheaper solution than downloading a game. Video game creators have made great strides in this field in recent years, offering all sorts of limited-time sales on digital games, but more often than not we are still seeing physical games being the less expensive option.

 

People don’t usually enjoy being restricted from choice. An all-digital future is strictly anti-consumer, as it is limiting the choice of how to purchase content. That being said, this is the path that most publishers would like to see the medium go. After all, stores such as Best Buy or Walmart are just the middlemen in the transaction of game sales, and game publishers want that middleman out.

While there are many people that care for the sustainability of physical media, there are also plenty that do not care one way or the other. The Entertainment Software Association, an organization that tracks video game sales in a month-by-month basis, reported that digital game sales accounted for 74% of the industry’s profits in 2016. This includes specific software that lacks a physical alternative. However, that is still a massive chunk of people resorting to digital marketplaces for their video game buying habits.

 

Unfortunately for some video game fans, an all-digital future is not so feasible. Video game file sizes have grown exponentially over the past few years, with certain titles such as Gears of War 4 reaching an install size upwards of 80 gigabytes. The United States continues to lag behind other countries in internet speeds, not to mention the data caps that people in the midwest states are imprisoned by, and an all-digital future must sound like a nightmare for some people.

 

Hope you all have a great week!

  • Matt

Spotlight – The Leviathan Axe, God of War

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The Blades of Chaos from the original God of War are a legendary set of weapons. Their design is sleek, stylish, and provides a satisfying array of combo attacks to unleash on enemies. They’re so good, in fact, that up until 2018’s latest release in the series, the Blades of Chaos were Kratos’ main method of defense across six different games since the first God of War in 2005. Other weapons were introduced in later entries, but none of them stole the show quite like the Blades of Chaos did.

blades of chaos

In 2018’s God of War, this is no longer the case. The latest God of War introduces the Leviathan Axe, a weapon inspired by Thor’s hammer Mjolnir and other elements of Norse mythology. The special moves offered by this axe all center around one core idea: being able to recall the weapon at a moment’s notice.

 

At first glance, the Leviathan Axe is rather straightforward, delivering an expected array of attacks. R1 is the light swing, and R2 is the heavy swing. These can be chained together in different combinations to deliver unique moves, similar to other action titles. The real fun begins when messing around recalling the axe back into Kratos’ possession.

 

The triangle button on the PlayStation 4 controller is the dedicated axe recall prompt, and it works wonderfully. Kratos can throw the axe in a light or heavy throw, and call it back to him at any point. This gives opportunities to take down enemies using ranged moves, but it also provides some really fun methods of closing in the distance to an enemy during a fight. Throw the axe at an enemy, watch the weapon’s frost-abilities freeze that enemy still, and run up to finish them off with a series of punches and kicks. Or, run head-first into a battle, and recall the axe while in mid-air to deliver an earth-shattering strike as Kratos swings his weapon downward.

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There are more opportunities like this available in God of War, and most of them work quite well. It took me a while to get a hang of this new style of combat that differs greatly from previous games in the series, but it has quickly become a favorite of mine. The satisfying rumble of the controller as the Leviathan Axe returns to Kratos never gets old, and it’s just one reason why I decided to play through the game a second time.

 

I decided not to write a full review for the game because, well, I don’t really feel like it. I just wanted to shine a quick spotlight on the Leviathan Axe, one of the coolest new weapons in recent memory. The game is superb, with only a few minor quibbles I had during the experience. As a whole, though, it delivers a tale that I won’t forget any time soon. 

Short Review: A Quiet Place

Hey guys, here’s a short review I wrote for my college newspaper. Enjoy! Thank you for reading.

Review: A Quiet Place

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In today’s bloated landscape of horror movie flicks, an effective gimmick goes a long way in helping a film stand out from the crowd. It’s good news, then, that the silent tension found in “A Quiet Place” is justified by the film’s setup.

 

The premise of “A Quiet Place” is simple. A small family of five are among the few remaining survivors after an unknown attack on humanity wipes out modern civilization. The father of the family, Lee (John Krasinski) and his wife Evelyn (Emily Blunt) survive each day making as little noise as possible, teaching their children to follow in their footsteps. Any significant noise brings trouble not long after, and the film revolves around how the family takes measures to stay quiet, and thus, be safe.

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In some ways, “A Quiet Place” echoes “Don’t Breathe” a 2016 horror movie that emphasized the characters making as little noise as possible. It’s a smart technique for building tension; after all, the best time to scare the audience is when the movie is silent, and in both of these films, surprises can lurk around every corner.

 

Unsurprisingly, there are jump scares to be found in “A Quiet Place”. Coming from someone that finds most horror movie jump scares to be poorly handled, I never found any of the ones in this movie that obnoxious. They felt appropriately timed, for the most part. In their absence, though, was left a feeling of anxiousness that lasted nearly the entire watch. This feeling of dread persisted the whole movie, and I loved it. It helps that there is barely any spoken dialogue in the film, with each of the characters relying on sign language and whispers to communicate. When sounds do show up, they’re made all the more frightening by this lack of conversation.

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Each of the actors perform well on-screen. Any fear of annoying child actors are quickly put to rest, as each of the kids also provide a solid performance. Only one family member has a full character arc, but it’s focused and well written. Every actor behaves as you’d expect, with no “Why would you do that?” moments of frustration that can sometimes pop up in horror movies, when the audience questions the protagonist’s motivations.

 

There isn’t much of a backstory to be found here, which for some viewers may be disappointing, but I think the audience was provided enough information to come up with an interesting precursor of events ourselves.

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My only big criticism shows up in the final ten minutes. The ending felt abrupt, with a finale that feels a little forced and out-of-place from the rest of the film. I also wish we saw more interaction with other survivors, as the story relies almost entirely on the family’s survival. Still, it provided a complete package, avoiding any silly cliffhangers or indication that a sequel MUST be created. I’d say “A Quiet Place” is among the more memorable horror films I’ve seen lately. With a cast that plays their part very well, interesting set design, and some set pieces that keep the movie tense all throughout, I’d recommend this one to anyone that is even slightly interested by the movie’s premise.

Review: Burnout Paradise: Remastered

Review: Burnout Paradise: Remastered

Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC (arriving later)

Hours Played: 10+

Developer: Criterion Games

Burnout Paradise

In the world of video game racers in the mid 2000’s, the “Burnout” series was king. The arcade racing genre had heavy competition in the form of “Need for Speed”, “Midnight Club”, and “Ridge Racer”, but 2008’s “Burnout Paradise” marked a peak for the genre.

 

“Burnout Paradise” abandons linear race tracks, opting for an open-world environment where players can explore a large city of their own free will and take on multiple types of unique challenges. It allows players to drive around the game world, discovering shortcuts and other hidden areas while unlocking new cars that offer better performance, where they can then compete in online multiplayer against other players in a number of different races. All of this is possible while still offering satisfying high-speed gameplay that gives an incredible sense of movement. Even with all of the additional game modes included, driving around the game world of your own volition is exciting; with a number of collectibles to gather in the form of breaking billboards, discovering shortcuts, and performing large jumps, the additional game modes are just icing on the cake.

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The game was met with critical acclaim, garnering an average of 88 out of 100 on the aggregate review website Metacritic. As expected, the remaster offers mostly the same experience as the original game’s release. Running at a higher resolution and on modern hardware means the game looks better than ever, all while running at a smooth 60 frames per second.

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The “Burnout” series is known for its high-fidelity crash systems, where the sheer level of detail put into car crashes is staggering. Every crash plays out in slow-motion, zooming in on cars that literally break at the seams when they collide with each other or obstacles. It gives failure its own minor reward in the form of well-choreographed car crashes, with a respawn timer that feels fair.

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Returning to the experience years later, it hit me just how well “Burnout Paradise” has aged since its original release a decade ago. The game world’s city and forest areas flow well, feeling like a cohesive environment with meticulously placed shortcuts and well-designed streets. It’s obvious that the team at Criterion Games worked hard to create a fun world to explore, with no single area noticeably worse than the other. As mentioned earlier, the remaster includes all of the add-on content that arrived after the original game’s release, the most hefty of this additional content being the ‘Big Surf Island’ add-on. This add-on inserts an additional island area to the game’s open-world, offering even more streets to explore and high-flying jumps to pull off. It doesn’t feel quite as well-crafted as the original game’s areas, with some weirdly-designed shortcuts, but it is a nice addition to the overall package.

 

Perhaps the most relieving news that “Burnout Paradise: Remastered” received leading up to its release was the announcement that the entirety of the original game’s soundtrack would be returning. The game offers a large number of songs across a variety of genres; from rock artists like Guns n’ Roses, Seether and Alice in Chains, to fan favorites in the form of Avril Lavigne and songs from previous “Burnout” games, there’s something to make everyone happy while cruising around paradise.

 

Rating: 5/5

Despite Low Expectations, Metal Gear Survive Disappoints

Normally I don’t like sharing my opinion of a game before I’ve given it a try myself, but now that the full release of Metal Gear Survive has hit store shelves, I have to share my thoughts. Amidst the controversy the game has received surrounding it, I’d like to comment on the actual game itself.

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I’ve been a Metal Gear fan for a long time. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed each of the mainline games (although I still have to get around to Metal Gear 1 and 2), and absolutely loved the fantastic side entry Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance. The first Metal Gear Solid remains my favorite in the series, but each game brings something new to the table, expanding on the previous game in a way that has impressed me each time.

Metal Gear Solid

Metal Gear Solid (1998) was an early look at quality voice-acting in video games, and offered a complex and thrilling story. Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty (2001) introduced a new protagonist, to everyone’s surprise, and included a staggering attention to detail (melting ice cubes, anyone?) to compliment the main story. Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater (2004) put players in control of the long-dormant character Big Boss, and expanded on the stealth options of its predecessor in a drastically different environment. Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots (2008) offered beautifully choreographed cutscenes and a wacky storyline that aimed to offer closure on the series’ biggest questions. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain (2015) put players in the shoes of Big Boss once again, giving them unprecedented freedom in an open world environment to tackle missions in any way they wanted. It is a game series that has embraced change, unafraid to tackle new ideas while keeping certain positive features from previous entries that worked well. Even if the overall story is a bit of a mess, Metal Gear is one of my favorite game series of all time.

 

Metal Gear Survive is not a Metal Gear game. It offers similar movement and combat mechanics to The Phantom Pain, but places enough twists on them that don’t work in its favor. Melee combat is clunky and unsatisfying. The survival angle is emphasized to the nth degree, forcing a food and thirst meter (features that I personally dislike in most games). It also foregoes any interesting plot points that may have given long-time fans any interest in the game’s narrative.

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Like I mentioned earlier, I dislike giving my full thoughts on a game if I haven’t played through it; but I’ve played enough from the open multiplayer beta and heard plenty of hands-on impressions that I think I’m good to give my thoughts on the game. Metal Gear Survive is the result of a publisher hoping to turn a quick buck on a successful franchise, while putting in as many uninteresting ideas as possible into the final product. Unfortunately for that company, it doesn’t appear the game is doing too well. From all of the material I have seen and heard about Survive, only a single thing has made me curious about the game, that thing being the Lovecraftian monster that appears in the late game. From what I’ve heard, however, that aspect goes largely ignored, and the plot doesn’t move anywhere interesting with it.

MGSV boat shot

I think it’s safe to say that Metal Gear is dead. It had a great run, with some absolutely amazing games that I will never forget. It’s too bad series creator Hideo Kojima didn’t get the chance to finish the entire story of The Phantom Pain, but that’s an entirely different story.

Review: Celeste

Review: Celeste

Platforms: PS4, Switch, X1, PC

Hours Played: 14

Developer: Matt Makes Games

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There are a lot of people that deal with anxiety on a daily basis, and not a lot of video games that discuss the topic. In fact, not a whole lot of games tackle mental health, although some notable releases like last year’s “Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice” do make it a central plot piece.

 

“Celeste” handles anxiety a little differently, with a central character inhabiting the player’s anxious thoughts and struggle with panic attacks. The game is a side-scrolling platformer where you’ll run, dash, and jump your way through levels room-by-room, with story segments that provide context to each situation. The game controls like a dream, not unlike developer Matt Thorson’s previous work, “Towerfall Ascension” which featured similar mechanics of movement. The control options in “Celeste” are simple, with only four commands: run, jump, dash, and grab. Through the advancement of the story, the game will teach how each one works with each other, never feeling like a chore or rushing through how each mechanic works.

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The player controls Madeline, a young woman that journeys to Celeste mountain, hoping to reach its summit and find answers about herself. Cutscenes play out during and in-between chapters, with each one serving an important part of the narrative. One of my favorite features is the ability to choose whether Madeline continues to converse with the rest of the cast; not unlike a story-driven RPG, sometimes there are multiple dialogue options that appear, with the option to pursue them or ignore the plot entirely. Learning about Madeline’s past through bits and pieces of her dialogue is rewarding, and I was genuinely invested in each of the characters and their struggle on the mountain.

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The clean character portraits that appear on screen when a character speaks juxtapose the pixel-art visuals, which at first feels at odds with one another, but I grew to appreciate the way they intertwine. Each character has a unique personality and voice (spoken in cutesy bleep-bloops during narrative sections) that I dig, and none of them felt out of place. The cast is compact and likeable, each serving an important part of the story.

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The score is also a delight, offering upbeat and adventurous tunes in the beginning, delivering more somber tracks at the appropriate story moments.

 

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed my time with “Celeste”. The game is charming, has great platforming elements that expand on themselves in fun and surprising ways, and includes some of my favorite end-of-chapter jingles that I’ve heard in quite some time. I never found the main story levels too difficult, but unlockable hard levels called ‘B-side’ levels provide a hefty challenge for those that seek it. If you’re a fan of platformers, this one is worth a look.