What game are you playing?

I just finished Oxenfree, and… yes. I don’t know if I would’ve even started the game if I’d known that Night School also developed Afterparty, a game I bounced off hard when I tried it last year. I’m glad I stuck with Oxenfree, though, even if my takeaway mostly ended up being an extended rumination on the importance of good voice direction.

Given the game’s perspective – side-on and for the most part showing the characters from far away – there’s a natural distance in the way the devs present their story. Which, visually, works fine for me. What ends up being a problem, though, is that this same distance is present in the voice acting as well. The story is character-driven, the writing intimate and funny enough to make me care about and relate to the teen cast. The script feels like it wants me to invest in the increasingly harrowing situation these people find themselves in; the aforementioned visual distance perhaps intended to take some of the edges off the horror (as well as keep the dev time and costs down, animation wise).

If the decision also to keep the edges out of the voice acting – which, even in the most stressful parts of the story, feels quite measured and detached – was motivated by that same desire to keep the horror to a manageable level, I can sort of understand it. Even so, to me, the end result comes across either as an error in judgment or, even worse, indifferent voice direction. The performances are all competent and of a piece, but in this case, the steadiness and uniformity actively take away from the impact of the story. Casting adults as adolescents is a practice as old as theatre, but it doesn’t work if the director is unable to lead them into that teenage state of heightened emotion (whether restrained or unleashed). The characters will just end up sounding like adults. Also, when the story is full of incredibly stressful situations that seem to have these teens fully freaking out and distressed in the script, but the actors rarely convey anything beyond irritation or befuddlement on the emotional scale, it saps the overall impact in a way that ultimately (to me) makes Oxenfree much less than it could have been.

I have no way of knowing whether the choices made in the recording studio were the result of a conscious decision on the part of the devs, or if their voice director was inexperienced, not keyed enough in to the story, or what. Either way, it’s just about the perfect example of the impact voice direction can have on a game, for better or, in this case, worse.

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Been playing a little bit of Final Fantasy XV, which I played and finished at release, and returned to in 2019 to do the 3 DLCs. My reason for going back was because there were a few things that I didn’t do that I wasn’t in the mood for doing back when I did the DLC stuff, and thought I might as well check them out now. This included ~deep breath~ defeating the adamantoise, getting my fishing to level 10 including finding the legendary whale named Bismarck, completing the last 3 multi-level dungeons I had left which included the one that is 100 floors and another where item usage is banned, partaken in a few timed quests, tried out the new cross-chain attack, as well as the revamped “advanced” magic and the new armiger system, upgraded the Regalia into an off-road vehicle, beaten Aranea at camp at highest difficulty, gone through the new Insomnia Ruins area and done all the quests there, and played through the crossover quests with FFIV and Terra Battle. What I got left is to grind to the new level cap of 120, and then trying my hand at the new superbosses they added.

Sidenote about the Terra Battle crossover: I have a weird sense of sadness from interacting with a character who came from another game that is now longer available to play. Like the only thing left of her is in this one single quest.

I’m a little late to the party, but last week I started Hades and immediately fell in love with it.

Hades Spoilers

After getting a handle on the controls, the 7th run was where I truly got into the flow of things, and after using my newly acquired shield, got all the way through Asphodel, into Elysium, but died at Theseus. After dying a few more times to him I got to Hades on my 13th try but died. On my 17th try I got Hades for the third time and beat him! . . . only for him to shift onto his second health bar. After losing to Hades a few more times, on my 22nd attempt:


haha rail go brr

This was immediately followed by my second win:

And after losing twice more - I still have a bit of trouble with Theseus and the enemies in the Styx - I got my third win today:


This was my first time getting a Heroic boon, I found a legendary boon in an early run but I don’t remember what it was. A few details: using all 3 casts with the Flood Shot and Duo shot did 666 damage to Asterius and 750 to Hades, and the main way I cleared rooms was spamming the special for the bow for the Doom damage (not pictured, an Abyssal Flourish boon I got from Chaos that gave me +92% damage) which was doing over 200 damage each time it triggered. Additionally, I had 17.5% bonus damage from Pierced Butterfly.

Something that also happened on this run was that I bought the anvil to swap out weapon upgrades, and got Flurry Shot and Chain Shot, which combined with Deadly Strike for the crit felt really good to use, but wasn’t the best against Hades since the range of the arrows was so short. But between this and the Doom strat, the flaming skulls melted really quickly.

Before beating Hades for the first time, I found the Hermes boons of increased movement speed and additional dashes to be amazingly good. I want another go with them to see how good they really are now that I know I can finish a run.

BTW, you ever play through a whole picross puzzle only to break the last block instead of painting it, nullifying your no-error clear? sigh

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I have begun Demon’s Souls Remake, after staring at it for two months and waiting for the moment that felt right. And then it was 2am tonight and I’d finished my NG+ run of Dark Souls and finally bought PS Plus to see what all of Control’s raytracing was about before it left the free games pile and I no longer had any excuses.

Anyway, my first thought after playing for about 40 minutes is that, damn, this is a lot of fun. This is the last game in the Souls/BB/Sekiro lineage that I haven’t played, and I’m enjoying it. Using items to heal feels a bit like blood vials, but the lack of checkpoints/bonfires and the expectation of a refresh makes it weirdly more tolerable. I’m going for a combo of magic and melee and WOW is that fireball powerful. They weren’t kidding.

This is also the first designed-for-PS5 game I’ve played beyond Astro’s Playroom, which means that whoa the Dualsense’s feedback and speaker are actually being utilized! And it’s real neat — especially the way it starts to buzz when a nearby enemy begins loading up a firebomb. Adds this fascinating tactile dimension that feels oddly appropriate for these games.

With all that out, my final, overarching thought was also that, suddenly, this series makes sense. This is the game that Dark Souls 2 is actually a sequel too. The vibes are uncannily aligned — the weird dreaminess, the peaceful hub, the opening cinematic, the half-health-when-hollowed mechanic, the combat speed that feels almost exactly at DS2’s level… this is it. I feel like I’m home.

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Started up Valheim. Seems really cool.

I must build a boat.

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Your Demon’s Souls comparison to DS2 is making me excited to get to that game once I finish Dark Souls. Don’t get me wrong, I’m liking the game just fine, but after coming from Demon’s it almost feels like going from Arkham Asylum to City. Sure, the latter is bigger and more refined, but with the added scope and open exploration there’s a sense of bloat here and there that make me long for the more directed experience of the respective first games in the series.

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I’ve been playing Curse of the Dead Gods. I really loved all aspects of hades Hades, and was looking for something else to scratch that itch. Curse doesn’t bother with anything resembling storytelling, which is likely for the best, but the game play is really fun. It’s a similar isometric dungeon crawling rogue lite, with art that resembles darkest dungeon.

The general loop is that you select a level, choose an initial weapon set, and then go. The mechanic of clearing a room, then selecting what kind of reward you want from the next room from a set of options is essentially identical to Hades, but things play out differently. There are random drop items, which means that you may completely switch up your playstyle halfway through when you get a mace that replaces your throwing knives. The same sort of thing could happen in Hades with certain boons, but its a nice, different take on variation within a run.

The combat is the entire game, so it’s good that it feels so good. It’s slower and weightier than Hades. The weapons always feel like they have a big impact, even when you aren’t doing much damage to a more elite enemy. (In particular, whips are dope, and always feel great).

There’s also a stamina element that is easy to compare to Dark Souls – but I think is actually pretty distinct. It’s the element that I feel most conflicted on. On the one hand, you can regain stamina by backing out of combat and waiting, but you can also regain stamina by killing enemies, by performing a “perfect dodge” or by countering an enemy’s attack. Paired with the “greed kill” mechanic that gives you more rewards for staying engaged in combat, you are really incentivized to stay in the thick of things. It’s a good risk/reward system, but I personally find it a bit frustrating because unlike a Souls game, it means that you don’t really have the time and space to get a combat rhythm. Instead, you’re supposed to just stay in things. That’s fine, but it does make it frustrating when you miss-time a block and suddenly not only do you get hit, but you’re out of stamina, so you can’t dodge out to safety. Because the stamina can be regained in combat and will be fine most of the time, I find it hard to actually track when I’m actually dangerously low on stamina.

Anyway, the key thing is that it’s fun, and scratches the itch if you’re like me and played Hades to exhaustion, but pine the feeling of another good, challenging run.

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So idk if this will prove to be poor judgement on my part or whatever, but…I bought an Oculus Quest 2.

I had written off VR for a long time as something I’d never be interested in. My only experience w/ it was playing a PSVR at a friend’s house years ago, and while I enjoyed it fine, I couldn’t see myself wanting to deal with it in my own life.

My experience w/ the Quest 2 has totally changed my mind. Being totally untethered, w/ full room-sized tracking built-in w/ no extra sensors or whatever, in such a nice high-res headset that doesn’t make me feel nearly as much like I’m staring down a paper towel tube, has brought me around. It’s just so fun and I really appreciate the relative lack of friction in such a simple setup.

The main things I’ve been playing natively on the Quest itself are Beat Saber, which is exactly as fun as you may have heard and absolutely feels rad to play, Robo Recall which is a really fun little overwhelming mayhem shooter that doesn’t take itself seriously and that lets me pull the arm off a robot and smack it with it while shooting another robot w/ a shotgun I pulled from my back, and Until You Fall which is a very slick little sword-based roguelike with great combat feel and a very slick neon synth aesthetic. My spouse has also been playing a bunch of Synth Riders which is in the same general ballpark as Beat Saber but w/ several different kinds of mechanics. What’s been rad about all of these is how much of a workout they give us - we end up sweating after a play session and it feels genuinely good.

And I’ve installed Virtual Desktop and its wireless streaming plugin, so I’m able to wirelessly stream Steam VR games from my PC. I can’t believe on a basic level that it works at all, let alone that it works really really well. I’m fortunate to have good home wifi so like…it just works? Pretty much seamlessly? The fidelity is quite good, the lag is so small as to not be a factor in the games I play (Virtual Desktop measures it as, like, 15-20 ms), and being totally cordless even playing PC Steam VR games is just wild. Here I tried the Bethesda ports - Fallout 4 VR and Skyrim VR - before doing much else, and while I appreciate the sheer scope of them they aren’t exactly great VR ports. Too much abstraction from the 1:1 physicality you expect from VR (I realized things were gonna feel rough when Fallout wouldn’t let me just reach out and spin the baby’s mobile but instead still puts up a PRESS A TO SPIN MOBILE prompt), some rough controls, etc. so I’m not too taken w/ them. I’ve dabbled in Blade & Sorcery a bit and appreciate its feel but I’m not nearly VR acclimated enough yet for it to not wreck my stomach. But…heck, y’all…Half Life: Alyx is the real deal. It’s fantastic so far and shows what a big-budget VR game could be. I adore it! It’s gorgeous and impressive and extremely well thought-out as a VR experience. And playing it totally untethered is a treat. I legitimately forget I’m not in City 17 at times.

So yeah…I’m a convert. I look forward to being able to take advantage of and try more different movement types without feeling ill, but so far it’s been a really great experience otherwise.

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I decided to finally rectify a gaming blind spot - Dark Souls.

Maybe ‘blind spot’ is a slight exaggeration - I previously played it on the 360 back in 2012, and enjoyed what I played enough to eventually play and finish Dark Souls 2, Dark Souls 3, and Sekiro over the years. I also started Bloodborne at one point, but fell off - the frame-pacing felt so off-kilter, and I also have a pretty bad case of arachnophobia that some of the enemies in that game trigger really hard.

Anyways, I previously played DS1, but only up to about Anor Londo - I then came across some very mean archers who killed me countless times, and I never came back. Well…I came across those same archers again, and they killed me countless times again! But I eventually succeeded in getting past them, and then proceeded to get stomped on by Ornstein & Smough for the better part of a week before finally succeeding on the back of a co-op summon. But I’ve now beaten The Four Kings, I’ve reached the Bed of Chaos, and actually feel like I’m going to be able to see this thing through. The game is still good all these years later, though it’s also made me appreciate the changes From have made to the formula over the years. At this point, Sekiro is still probably my favorite of their games.

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The Anor Londo boss bros can kick rocks! Currently stuck on that particular wall myself.

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I think the Quest is probably my favorite VR headset to have used. My roommate has one and it’s just great that you can take it out and use it without having to worry about setting up your computer. Plus it’s easily portable so you can take it over to family holidays.

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I have no shame and summoned for O&S after 5 attempts. It just wasn’t a fun fight.

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No shame in it IMO! I probably died to them 20-30 times. I progressively got better at it, eventually somewhat reliably getting to the 2nd phase, before getting skewered one too many times by Super Ornstein. I just got tired of how tedious the first phase is with trying to sneak in hits and summoned. When you have someone else to draw aggro, it’s way easier to take them down, as individually, they aren’t that tough to block and dodge. It’s when you think you have an opening, and Ornstein then skewers you from halfway across the room through Smough’s body that just absolutely sent me over and over again. Fuck those jerks.

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that fight is like half the reason i switched off the music entirely in that game. it’s seriously ten times more stressful than the boss.

doesn’t fix how tiresome it is waiting for them to let you have a turn, though.

e: actually, now i’m remembering it wasn’t bad on a bow build, of all things. eliminating distance as a factor gives you a lot more openings to hit them.

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…I should probably try to avoid suggesting that Dark Souls 2 isn’t also a bit bloated, because it definitely is, though not in the same way DS1 can be. In DS1 you can ignore something like half of its areas and still successfully finish the game; DS2 (at least on a first playthrough) has a much clearer, more linear, more directed critical path, with little optional branches breaking off of it and less of that open-world feel. From what I’ve played so far of Demon’s Souls, it feels like it met them halfway in that particular aspect, whereas all its atmosphere and narrative and area design reminds me heavily of DS2.

And now that I’ve slept on it, what might be most surprised to me is the speed. I was assuming these games just got faster over time, but what I’ve now found out is that Fromsoft started with a fairly fast game — not quite Bloodborne, but still very quick and fluid — and then went and made Dark Souls 1, which in comparison makes every movement feel laborious and syrupy, and which they never even came close to again. It’s weird that in the end Dark Souls itself might be the most different game from all the others.


O&S talk — I was struggling with them a ton at the start of the run I had been on for the last couple of weeks (since I dropped it two years ago precisely because I didn’t feel like dealing with the archers again), until one fight where I figured out how to orient myself against a pillar so that Ornstein couldn’t quite reach me and I could whale away at Smough. Those pillars are wildly important in that fight. (That said, me having a fully upgraded Black Knight Halberd may have had something to do with my ability to win that fight too.)

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I too have just started the Demon’s Souls Remake and I adore it so far. I love the way they utilize the controller, both the vibration and the speaker. I started both a Royalty and a Temple Knight character and still haven’t decided which one to stick with. Although grandpa Temple Knight has a special place in my heart right now, I keep hitting stuff in Boletarian Palace that makes me think, “…this sure would be easier with Soul Arrow.”

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Ah, ha, yeah, I almost feel bad for going full glass cannon magician and dumping points into Int/Magic but man it kinda feels like that’s how this game was meant to be played? There are so many ranged enemies and I feel like I’d be having such a frustrating time if I’d gone pure melee. Funnily enough, this is more or less the build I used in DS2, which is fitting, because this experience reminds me so much of it.

I also may have broken early Demon’s Souls’ difficulty curve a bit by doing Prison of Hope (3-1) immediately after beating Phalanx, which was brutal but worth it because oh boy does Soul Ray just shred everything. Then grabbed the Crescent Falchion in Shrine of Storms for overkill. I burned the dragon in 1-2 down with Soul Rays in about five-ish minutes and just waltzed up to Tower Knight. Then finished the Smelting Grounds without dying once. The Shrine of Storms has been a bit harder so far, but the good kind of hard. But that’s what’s cool about these games — it’s absolutely fair to play them that way.

Also I gotta say, it is really, really cool coming back to this game after having played all the others, because I can see all the little pieces that split off into all of the other games. It’s pretty clear to me where blood vials came from now, and apparently “mystic woman who transmutes your souls into power” is a trope older than Bloodborne too? The weird dreaminess of DS2, where its areas, despite being linked, seem to have no spatial relation to each other feels like a natural development of these five realms. The Nexus feels like Majula — this strange, peaceful, slightly uncanny hub that slowly populates as you meet and rescue more and more people, without any of the deep melancholy of Firelink. Hollowing works like a combination of DS2 and DS1, but I love that it’s flipped to only allowing you to be summoned when in soul-form because it makes both forms feel like they have their advantages. World Tendency feels like the precursor to Dragonrot, and from what I’ve seen there’s even a miracle that basically mimics Sekiro’s resurrections? And the level design reminds me so heavily of things like the Painted World or Research Hall or the Ringed City or Hirata Estate, in that it’s so… concise? Self-contained levels definitely have a way of cutting out all that bloat that, until now, I didn’t realize I minded as much. (Also, hey, narrative justification for fog walls!) It’s like for each subsequent game they said "alright, let’s take this thing from Demon’s Souls and built an entire game out of that. I love it.

It’s also — and this was something I realized in the midst of the Smelting Grounds as a switch redirected a bunch of water into a lava pool to open up a new path — about as explicitly Zelda-like as a game can be without having The Legend of Zelda stapled across the front? Souls always reminded me of Zelda to a big extent, but there was still some separation because of the labyrinthine world. But with these levels all being self-contained, they just feel like the best Zelda dungeons I’ve ever played, just with keys replaced with shortcuts and the overworld replaced with a hub.

Anyway, I’m having the time of my life.

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I have a similar post from a few weeks ago. I love my Quest 2. It’s so easy to set up whatever space you happen to have. My PC is too old to stream games, but I’m feeling the pull to upgrade. I really, really want to play some VR SW: Squadrons, HL: Alyx, all that good stuff.

I feel like the Quest 2 is a bit of a game changer for VR. They’re selling well and games on the Oculus store are reportedly making good money. VR isn’t going to change gaming forever, but it seems to be a comfortably growing niche.

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So I leaned heavily into my Royalty character in Demon’s Souls, and yeah, I’m really loving it right now. It’s a different kind of tension playing with this character then my Temple Knight, where I can take a hit or two while learning an enemy’s moveset and keep trucking. My Royalty character cracks like eggshell whenever she gets hit, so I have to be a lot more careful. I’m also still forcing myself to engage with melee combat so I have it available as an option, swapping over to my scimitar and trying to hit those parry windows when I’m up against just one or two melee enemies. Still, magic is so satisfying in this game because of the haptic feedback you get when casting spells. Really makes you feel like a badass.

I’m just about to tackle the 1-1 boss, and I feel like I really thoroughly explored the level leading up to it. I rescued a fella from some baddies, so I’m looking forward to seeing what develops with him. So far I’m really enjoying this game!

Oh, and also, I killed the red-eyed knight after about 10 tries. Fuck that guy and good riddance. I laughed when the door behind him was locked.

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So I just completed Umurangi Generation, and I absolutely loved it. There are a lot of things that I could single out as praiseworthy here, but one particular note that I made while playing was how much the levels made me appreciate the beauty of small, purposefully crafted spaces in games.

It was an interesting contrast to Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, another title I recently completely. Odyssey has a gorgeously rendered, massive world, but while I thoroughly enjoyed my time in it, I also struggle to actually remember any specific locations. Everything just sort of blurred into a mass of visually stunning, but mostly empty vistas. Umurangi Generation, on the other hand, puts you into a series of discrete, small spaces, each of with left a distinct impression on me. It helps that the concept of the game forces you to investigate these areas thoroughly, taking in tiny details in things like item placement and flavour text. After playing some more open titles, it was nice to be reminded of how much value there is in dense, evocative, small-scale level design.

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Been having a slump where new things just aren’t clicking, so taking a break from other games for an old favourite: Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance. I miss some of the mechanical improvements in future games, but the characters are the best in the series, as is the worldbuilding, and it’s well worth every time I have to redo a whole level because Soren died to be back in this story.

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