Jerec's Games of 2020
January 01, 2021

My gaming time in the last six years was drastically cut down. Being an adult with a full time job, living on my own, didn't always leave a lot of time for games. I might get a couple of hours in on a weekend. It took a special game to actually get me playing in the evening after work (I generally just watched TV shows until it was time to sleep).

Disco Elysium (PC)

I bought this right at the end of 2019, and enjoyed playing through it for a solid two weeks or so. I enjoyed a lot about this game - the world presented here is very rich and full of texture, even if we only get a fairly small area to explore. You play an amnesiac detective, and even though I groaned at that idea at first, they really played to the strengths of that premise, allowing you to build your character how you wanted to. What sort of detective is he? Does he rely on his strength or his wits? You can even choose your political beliefs. At the start, you get to assign your basic stats and a few starter skills, but in dialogue throughout the game, more options are unlocked. It's an interesting middle ground between playing a blank slate silent avatar character and playing as a written named character. The closest I can think of is something like Commander Shepherd in the Mass Effect trilogy, but with way more depth. Imagine Mass Effect without the paragon/renegade system, but if every dialogue choice quietly influenced your character's ideological beliefs and values in the background, in a whole bunch of different ways.

The case is interesting. There's usually a few methods to discover various facts about the case, and some can be missed. I remember playing for about six hours straight when I realised I must be approaching the ending. It was a gripping experience that wouldn't let go. If I had one criticism, I could see the game and the narrative butting heads a bit. It isn't actually possible to solve the case until the endgame, which makes sense from a narrative perspective, but not so much from a game perspective. It's a minor gripe, and one that I do understand. I feel like the game starts out fairly open ended - you have a few days to complete various tasks surrounding the case, and you can take on side quests (much to your partner's annoyance), but the noose begins to tighten towards the end. The ending really left me wanting more of this detective and this world.

I was planning to replay this recently, then I learned about the Final Cut coming as a free upgrade in a few months, which should polish the game and add some new content, so I'll wait for that. I also hope we get a sequel sometime.

Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order (PS4)

Started late 2019, took a break and finished it in early 2020. It feels like forever since I played a good Star Wars game. I thought this game was well crafted (even if some of the locations get a bit confusing in their labyrinthine designs). The main character of Kal is pretty good. Took me a while to stop seeing the red headed kid from Shameless, though. It chose a good setting - about a decade or so after the Jedi purge in Revenge of the Sith, in the early days of the Empire.

I liked the character work - Kal was a child during the Jedi purge, and carries with him a lot of trauma. Same goes for his master. Kal's got a cute droid that provides some fun abilities in combat - I like that Kal's arsenal is a mix of Jedi techniques and force powers, and also some droid assisted skills. The ship's pilot is grumpy and amusing. Another character is interesting, but joined the crew quite late so I'd like to see more of them. I could see these characters coming back for another story. They hit onto a good formula for Star Wars - a small crew in a ship flying around solving problems on different planets. It worked well for Star Wars with the Millennium Falcon (Han, Chewie, and a combination of Luke, Leia, C3PO, R2D2, Lando) and Star Wars Rebels.

Gameplay wise, it reminded me most of the modern Tomb Raider games, but with lightsabers and stormtroopers. This Star Wars story helped soften the blow of the garbage Rise of Skywalker movie which came out around the same time. This and the Mandalorian. Star Wars films might not be doing so well, but the franchise lives on in other ways.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons (Switch)

Review

I'm still playing this a bit each day.

Final Fantasy VII Remake (PS4)

I couldn't believe this game actually released. I'm still not entirely sure how I feel about this, so I haven't managed to write a review. I really enjoyed the vast majority of this. I was always aware that a 4-5 hour section of the original game was being expanded into a 35-40 hour story. I appreciated how much extra work went into fleshing out the characters, particularly Jessie, Biggs, and Wedge. Getting to spend more time with these characters was great. Getting to explore more of Midgar's undercity and take on sidequests really helped expand this world that we blitzed through in the original.

Bringing Sephiroth into play earlier makes sense for this game, since we're not getting the complete story here, as opposed to how he was held back in the original. Just about everyone knows he's the villain of this story so there's not much point hiding it.

The last couple of hours, though... Okay, I understand that they couldn't really end the game with the highway chase and that monster truck boss, but what happens after that is the typical Square-Enix convoluted bullshit that looks pretty but makes no actual sense. I've got no idea what to expect of the next game, but it sounds like it won't be a complete retread of the original.

Graphics are inconsistent. A lot of it looks really good, but then there's some dodgy assets that stick out like a sore thumb. The battle system is a lot like Final Fantasy XV, but further refined and overall enjoyable.

Persona 5 Royal (PS4)

I'm a huge fan of Persona 5. I wasn't sure I was ready to replay this, but I suddenly had a lot of time on my hands, so I went for it. Since it was a replay, I used a guide to maximise all my social links this time around, and to make sure I hit all the flags to get to the new content. Royal improves on the original Persona 5 in every way except one (all of the boss battles have been reworked, which is fine, except for one boss battle that is the most frustrating thing imaginable). It addresses some complaints from the original, such as Morgana telling you to go to sleep. Now on days you can't leave your room, you can at least craft infiltration tools, or study, or read, so the time is not wasted. This is good, because there's a few more social links and more activities to do, so you do need to manage your time well.

The new story content and characters are integrated well into the existing story, which does mean it's worth a replay. The new villain is an excellent counter to the message of the original story, and everything involving that was brilliant. I'm being vague because spoilers. I think I didn't review this because most of what I want to talk about is late game stuff, where I'd rather do an analysis than a review.

The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel (PS4)

I had this on the Vita, and got a couple of chapters in years ago before realising I was missing HEAPS of stuff by just playing the game normally, so I quit. I picked up Cold Steel I & II quite cheap on the PS4 earlier this year and decided to replay it. With a guide opened pretty much the entire time (because to get things, you often have to act counter intuitively - when you're told to go somewhere, the guide says go somewhere else first because there's a scene or a treasure or even a quest that can only be obtained in a very narrow window of time). I really got drawn into this world and the characters. You play as Rean, an RPG protagonist with a secret, as a member of Class VII at a fantasy military academy. All your classmates have their own secrets and prejudices. I liked that Rean is initially only friends with two other students, but as they go on school field studies and explore the world and get into trouble, the characters all start forming bonds with each other.

Combat is your standard turn based, with some tactics around positioning your characters and unleashing skills around the right time. There were some really challenging boss fights throughout, but fortunately you can retry any battle if you die (and can temporarily lower the difficulty if you're having trouble getting through certain fights).

The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II (PS4)

I immediately jumped into the sequel and am currently half way through. I put a pause on my progress, since it's becoming more apparent that I need to play the other Trails games to really get the full story of what is going on here. Cold Steel focuses on the Empire of Erebonia, but there's multiple games centred on neighbouring regions of Liberl and Crossbell...

The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky FC (PC)

I'm in the final dungeon of this. Estelle and Joshua make a really likable duo as the travel around the Kingdom of Liberl on their journey to become Bracers (basically RPG protagonist as a profession - going around to different locations and undertaking side quests and generally getting involved in things). There's a colourful cast of characters that come and go along the way. The story is pretty light, though it becomes more obvious bad things are going on in the background. Like Cold Steel I, this game is a lot of setup for the sequel. I noticed how this game and Cold Steel do a really great job of introducing you to the world - the cities, the people, the technology. Most sidequests have some piece of worldbuilding attached (although some quests are just about killing a big monster).

I'm going to be stuck in this Trails series for quite some time. I've got the Sky trilogy ready to go in Steam, and even have the first Crossbell game installed with a fan translation patch, as the game hasn't been localised.

Horizon Zero Dawn (PS4)

I started this earlier in the year. I think I'm still in the prologue/tutorial phase. Will hopefully get back to this.

Spider Man (PS4)

Ditto. I had this and Horizon in my collection because they were well reviewed and cheap, and hearing about their sequels in the PS5 showcase made me want to finally give them a try. I'm not particularly good at either of these games, so I guess I'll drop to the lowest difficulty and play for the story.

Steins;Gate My Darling's Embrace (PS4)

My obsession with this franchise (and visual novels in general) continued last year.

Review

Steins;Gate Linear Bounded Phenogram (PC)

This game is unfortunately bundled with Steins;Gate ELITE (which I have not yet played through). It was finally cheap enough in the July steam sales last year. Phenogram is a full VN in its own right, clocking in at around 40 hours. It is made up of 13 short story visual novels, each focused on a different character. They tell stories of alternate discarded timelines, or fill in some gaps in the original narrative (as the original Steins;Gate was only told from Okabe's POV). There was a lot of variety in this package, and I enjoyed most of it.

Chaos;Child (PS4)

I mentioned in my review that I tried to play this without knowledge of the Japan only Chaos;Head. I watched a no-commentary playthrough of the fan translation on YouTube (since the install process seemed a bit complicated). I really enjoyed Chaos;Child a lot more once I understood the context.

Review

Robotics;Notes ELITE (Switch)

I am planning to review this one soon, I think. It's another Science Adventure. This was one long Visual Novel. It was slow paced to begin with, but the characters and the story really drew me in. Interestingly, it is set in 2019 (though originally released in 2012) and is written like a near future story, although for western audiences, it's only the recent past. There's some technology the story uses which is a bit sci-fi, but conceivable. This story throws so many things together - Robots, Space launches, conspiracy theories, urban legends, google maps with the serial numbers filed off, augmented reality, Geotagging scavenger hunts, karate, fighting games, and somehow makes it all work together.

Robotics;Notes DaSH (Switch)

The sequel was also released at the same time. I'm not quite done with this one. I've just unlocked the final route and will begin on it soon. This one stars Daru from the Steins;Gate games, making it a really fun crossover. The stakes in this story aren't as high as the first one - it focuses a lot on character development and fanservice, and has made me laugh out loud on quite a few occasions. Coming off Chaos;Child, which is probably the bleakest and darkest title in the series, these Robotics;Notes stories are a much sunnier experience.

The Outer Worlds (PS4)

I think I started this in late 2019 and put it off for Jedi Fallen Order, then Disco Elysium. I finally got back to it in 2020 and finished it off. It feels like a mix between Fallout, Mass Effect, and the film Idiocracy. It takes quite a few shots at capatalism and corporations, but then Disco Elysium came along shortly after this and did a much better job of it. It's not quite as hypocritical as Cyberpunk 2077's anti-corporate message, at least.

It plays well - the combat is about what you expect from an open world RPG third person shooter. There's a variety of abilities to shake things up. Your party members are interesting and well written, and you get to talk to them and learn about them a bit more.

I appreciated the way the game approaches choices - the first big choice on the first main planet forced you to really consider the consequences. Neither option was presented as good or evil, both had their ups and downs, and then there were also additional compromises that could be made. I appreciated that it wasn't just a black or white choice. There was nuance, which is one of the things that Fallout New Vegas did better than Fallout 3 or 4, confirming that Obsidian seems to understand this genre a little better than Bethesda.

Xenoblade Chronicles Remastered (Switch)

I love Xenoblade, but this is the first time I've beaten it. It's always been a very big, ambitious game, that has twice released on the wrong system. The Switch is the first time it's really felt at home. The game finally done right, as it were.

The Wii was built as a casual system. It forced you to use a Wii-mote at all times. It dangled uselessly from the classic controller you really needed to play Xenoblade. The 3DS version felt like trying to look at a sprawling vista through a really tiny window. The UI was way too cluttered. Over the years, I'd had a few goes at finishing the game, but never getting there. I was close to completing it on the 3DS when the Switch version was announced, and I decided then that I would just wait and star over (again) and play it in HD on the big screen.

The world, the characters, the combat, this is one of the most engaging RPGs I've ever played. The music! Such an amazing soundtrack! The soundtrack of 2020 for me has been a mix of Xenoblade and Persona 5.

Faerie Solitare Harvest (PC)

I put a lot of time into the original Faerie Solitaire years back. This is a different twist on the formula - you need to match cards to remove them from the board or the deck. If you match the same colour cards, you can build up combos to increase your score. You can also unlock upgrades to modify how the game plays, to improve your own tactical advantage. It's simple, addictive fun. There's also a depth of lore to unlock, though this is seperated from gameplay so if you just want to blitz through the card levels, you can. You'll unlock bits of lore, which add short stories and snippets to your library. Nothing that oustanding so far, but it does add a bit of texture.


I Love You, Colonel Sanders! (PC)

KFC has had an interesting year. I think they must have hired a marketing genius. Between this free visual novel/dating sim, the lifetime movie, and the KFC console they unveiled recently, they're really trying to grow their brand in unexpected directions. I didn't get very far into this. The writing and the artwork isn't great, and even in a year where I'm unemployed, asking me to invest time in something like this is still a tall order. Maybe sometime. In terms of visual novels, it's had some stiff competition for my time.

Among Us (PC)

I got into the Among Us craze briefly. The social aspects of this were entertaining, and I enjoyed the bluffs and double bluffs and mindgames associated with it, but after a dozen games, the maps and tasks did get a bit samey. I wasn't quite brave enough to deal with randoms, but at the same time, playing with the same group of people... you eventually pick up on their ticks. The game itself is supposed to be text only, but we were playing with voice chat and Discord. We all played by the rules and didn't speak until the meetings.

I'll happily play this again when the mood strikes. I hear they've added (adding?) a new level sometime, and improving other aspects of the game.

Persona Q: Shadow of the Labryrinth (3DS)

I restarted this but still haven't gotten very far. I'm not sure this first person dungeon mapping Etrian Odyssey style gameplay is for me. But I'm a sucker for all things Persona, and want to get the full experience.

Fantasy Life (3DS)

I've played a few hours. A few agonisingly slow hours. Why is everything in this game so slow? It's written like Baby's First RPG, but then the action RPG combat is surprisingly tough. Dunno, just not vibing with this.

Radiant Historia (3DS)

I like this, but I haven't played all that much. It could just be that I'm not enjoying the 3DS as a system these days, since I prefer to play on a big TV. Oh, if a Switch remaster was announced, I'd be all overthis.

mini Trains (Switch)

Only played a few levels so far. It reminds me a lot of the old Dream Pipe game, only with model trains. You gotta plot the tracks from station to station, hitting certain markers, so the trains can get to their destination. Interesting visually, and a decent amount of fun.

Urban Flow (Switch)

A game about traffic management. I tried this on the big screen with a pro controller, but I think this might be more intuitive in handheld mode using the touch screen. You need to operate traffic lights to let traffic through various intersections without collisions or making people wait too long. You only need to survive each stage for a short time, though.

I'm thinking a more fun version of this game would be to program the sequence of lights/timing, then watch it play out in real time. As it is, managing multiple lights manually does get the heart rate going. Decent game I'm going to play more of.

Smash Bros Ultimate (Switch)

I go back to this from time to time, usually when a new character is announced. 2020 added Byleth, Min-Min, Steve from Minecraft, and Sephiroth. I'm interested to see who we get next.

Return of the Obra Dinn (Switch)

I've played a bit of this so far. I'm not enjoying it as much as I was led to believe based on the critical reception. I can see what the creator is trying to do, and I think it could be fascinating. I just need to give it a bit more time, though.

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe (Switch)

I played the hell out of the Wii U version, and picked it up for Switch later on, but realised I'd barely touched it. I've been working my way through the single player GP. Pretty fun. Except when you get pummelled with items even though your driving was perfect.

Letter Quest Remastered (Switch)

Fun time waster. The concept of creating words from random tiles to progress in an RPG-like fashion was too good to pass up.

Super Mario 3D All-Stars (Switch)

I played right into the FOMO. I haven't delved into this much. Been playing a bit of Super Mario 64. It's just as janky as I remember.

Clubhouse Games (Switch)

The DS original was a multiplayer favourite for me and some of my friends. I don't know how a Switch version released 13 years later is actually worse at multiplayer. Only a tiny handful of games are available online for 3-4 players, so you're mostly limited to playing against one opponent at a time. I do enjoy the selection of games on offer here. The Mahjong levels are particularly good. There's a lot to work through. But it feels like this package lacked the care and attention that the original version on the DS surprisingly had. I don't regret buying this, but I do wish it had been better.

MISC

Anyway, aside from that, I've also played various Picross games on Steam, Vita, Switch. Haven't felt like reviewing them. I reviewed the Zelda themed one as a bit of a joke, but I'm not sure I could make a habit doing that. I also put a lot of time into Coloring Pixels on Steam. Not really a game - you just click on numbered pixels with the correct colour to complete the picture. Kind of relaxing. A friend gifted me the Advent Calendar pack so I was enjoying that throughout December. Still got a decent amount of free content to work through, but I'm not sure I'd actually buy any DLC packs for this.

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EmP EmP - January 02, 2021 (06:39 AM)
A lot of people I know have turned to visual novels this year -- people who as little as a few years ago would deride them as worthless media. Half the VNs I read are thrust upon me by Jason "No tits, no readership" Venter, but it's a genre I'm slowly learning to accept more and more. I do have a lot of Steins;Gate to catch up on when I can find the window. I'm not sure where they are with the anime adaptions, but I refuse to watch one before I've read the source material so I can scoff like a good hoity elitist.

Maybe 2021 will be the year Jerec beats Vacant!
jerec jerec - January 02, 2021 (01:32 PM)
Steins;Gate and Steins;Gate 0 are the main stories, and have anime adaptations. The various spin-offs don't.

Man, I can remember a time not too long ago where I was some anime dismissing anti-weeb.
overdrive overdrive - January 05, 2021 (07:28 AM)
I'm in the third chapter of the first Trails of Cold Steel via PS Now. I really dig the story and its complexity where it feels like there's this really big picture, but you're only getting tiny bits of it at once, so it feels like you're gradually learning about the world as the kids do. Which is helped by the many class/nation backgrounds. With someone like Caius, who is from another country, around, those "as you know" bits of exposition feel more natural because he's one who likely wouldn't know.

Combat's a bit funny. Regular encounters can be made super-easy most of the time by just luring the enemy to chase you, waiting until they stop and then running at them while they're going back to their original position to stun them and back-attack them for either a double or triple advantage. Yeah...either normal battle order OR one where you get 2-4 turns before any enemies even get to move; not exactly a tough choice! And that strategy seems to work on most enemies...these rat-dog things in the third floor of the Old Schoolhouse are the first ones that are quick enough on the map to not let me do that most of the time.
jerec jerec - January 05, 2021 (11:44 AM)
I always try to get the advantage in combat, because I like that you get EXP multipliers for playing well, such as not getting hit, or wiping out your enemies in a single turn. It does get tougher as you go along, such as more enemies that you can't easily ambush, and enemies you can't stagger. But at the same time, the game unlocks more tactical options as you go (and even more in Cold Steel II - which feels much easier, tbh. But maybe I'm just better at reading the battlefield, utilising all the skills at my disposal, and optimising my orbment configs).
overdrive overdrive - January 07, 2021 (05:28 AM)
Might be the latter. I know that after getting wiped out by that third floor Schoolhouse boss, I went online and the general vibe I got was that familiarity and proficiency with the battle system were the key. People were either saying it's brutal or saying it's not that tough if you know what you're doing, with no real middle ground. And I will admit that I haven't really gotten overly tactical yet. If I have Elliot, I use his auto-regen Craft; with Rean, I know his first Craft can delay enemy turns and, uh, Fie gets a lot of turns because she's quick. Didn't really need to know much more to get through the first two chapters, even if it took a bit of adjustment during C2's field study because you don't have Elliot around to auto-regen you early in every remotely tough battle.

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