Octopath Traveler and the Never-Ending Quest to Find Yourself

Credit: Octopath Traveler. Screenshot by me. Traversing a rich world in “HD-2D.” Finding your path is part of the game.

I downloaded the demo for Square Enix’s Octopath Traveler shortly after getting my Switch as a graduation present last May. I loved it, but did not take it seriously until November. I finally finished the three hour demo, and for once believed a game was worth $60. Over the course of the next couple months I played it about one hundred hours.

Every minute of the game was delightfully devoured. Even the grind sessions I found a relaxing time to throw on a podcast, or album. This turn-based RPG released in 2018, yet is retro with modern twists, in graphics and gameplay. It has an enchanting, nearly ninety song soundtrack. There is so much to love about this game, if you want to know more please go into the Archives and read my “Overdue Review.” What I want to talk about right now is how this unsuspecting game shaped my life following the beginning of my playthrough.

Octopath Traveler dominated my attention. An elegant battle system and eight individual, unique story arcs kept me playing towards the next thing. Whether it meant grinding for hours to beat a boss, or finally defeating said boss after nearly an hour in a single engagement with them. Moments where I literally would jump from my seat with joy, celebrating a well earned victory. Memories that make this game of my new favorites ever.

The issue was, it is such a long game. I like to keep my blog updated on what I have been playing, I had only been doing reviews up to then, and it was going to be a while before I was ready to give any verdict on the game. I had marathon ran shorter games before, such as all three BioShock games within a week in September. So, I had to do something different. I always have multiple games in rotation, even with one as addictive as Octopath Traveler. I made a “Checkpoint” post that started with a little bit about what was currently happening in my life, followed by a brief rundown of a few of the games I had been playing.

Credit: Octopath Traveler. Screenshot by me. A glimpse of the battle system.

Since then, I have done more Checkpoint posts, especially needing more content after getting hooked on another long JRPG, Dragon Quest 11. These posts inspired me to branch out further, into a post that was just pure personal philosophy. I have talked in the past about doing mental health breakdowns of games live on Twitch, but being unable to do that right now, I thought, why not try it in a blog? The stage seemed set. I was very happy with the initial result, so much so, within a week I had posted another. Then another one. The reaction was unlike anything I have ever written. Not only was my audience engaged, I was finally doing the type of literary journalism I have put so much effort into developing.

So much in life can have cascading consequences. I discovered a game I thought was neat because of a free demo, it ended up being in my top games of all time and in a way it pushed me to start doing journalism that truly made me deeply proud. Whether I get paid for it or not, this is where my passion lies. Literary style games journalism that speaks on something I feel very strongly about, mental health. Good and bad things can knock down other dominoes in your life. You don’t know what those dominoes will be either. One can lead to the other, and often there is just no way to really know until you get into it.

I found myself identifying with each of the eight playable characters in Octopath Traveler, in different ways. I see myself in Tressa’s eager optimism, Olberic’s unbending resolve, Alfyn’s often stymieing compassion for others, all of them had parts not just of themselves that resonated, but within their stories. Each character has a separate story, and they all had beats with which I think a lot of people could sympathize. Like the trials of Ophilia and Lianna’s friendship. Plot details can remind us of our own struggles.

Credit: Octopath Traveler. Screenshot by me. Ophilia is exactly the type of healer you want in your corner.

Identifying why certain things resonate with me is helpful to understanding who I am. Octopath Traveler has characters that are a bit generic, but their stories are well told. Why did I choose Cyrus, the Scholar as my first protagonist? There was the practical application that, hopefully, I would learn a lot about the lore of the fantasy game world. But even this application illustrates another, perhaps more powerful motive: the passion for knowledge.

The passion for knowledge had pushed me almost solely through school up until college, when after I wasn’t satisfied with what I was learning at first, I dropped out. I think I learned a lot in the work force instead, but the next time I went to school it was a combination of intellectual pursuit and practical job-related purposes. I studied science at community college, then discovered my strengths lied in English, not science, when I went to a four-year school.

At community college, a teacher gave me a copy of Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson. I enjoyed the tale, and writing style. Then at my four-year I decided to pick journalism specifically, out of all English degrees, after it was pitched to me as a storytelling degree. I ate up every lesson on literary journalism. It seemed to be the type of writing I was born to do. It is creative and personal, yet informative and relevant. It can be a revolutionary vehicle for incredible new writers.

This blog may not shatter the mold, but it is a work in progress. Even after one hundred hours in Octopath Traveler, there is still a lot I have not done. I am constantly thinking about how to do better, or what to do next. Media doesn’t have to come right out and tell us how it will impact us, and even if it wanted to it really could not. Everybody is going to perceive it differently, so the search to find what suits you is as never ending as the changes you go through.

Credit: Octopath Traveler. Screenshots by me.

Shifting With Change in Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit

Credit: Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit Remastered. Screenshot by me. Sometimes things go wrong, it is important to accept it as part of life. Screens from Switch and Xbox One.

A year ago today I reviewed the 2020 remaster of Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit. From the jump in 2010, this was a fan favorite Need for Speed installment. It drew upon a rich history of racing and police chases to give us a game that is approachable with its arcade style, but as you reach higher levels the game expects you to do more with more. I have always been known to have a tough time with change, yet I find a high octane joy ride where things are always changing, big and small, gives me comfort to press on with whatever is making me uncomfortable.

The fact that change has always upset me makes me think it is just part of who I am. Anxiety is strong in my family. It is also a negative symptom of schizophrenia. From an early age, it seemed anything new upset me. Things that should’ve been enjoyable, even. I do not play video games nearly as much as I want to, often because of some negative feeling attached to them. Most games I enjoy alleviate this free-floating nervousness for me somehow.

Change is a natural part of life. All of life brings experience, which heralds evolution. Learning is a form of transformation. Sometimes, it is tempting for me to remain stagnant and do nothing. These are the moments we need to find the motivation to get through as much as possible. Catatonia does nothing for anyone least of all myself. I accept that to a degree it is also natural to be afraid of change. As long as you are afraid because you know the importance of doing the right thing, you are unlikely to make a truly unwise choice.

Credit: Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit Remastered. Game clip by me. Sometimes you just manage to slip through disaster with skill and luck.

I also am experiencing change through this game due to changing consoles. When I originally reviewed this remaster in 2021, it was on Xbox One. I since bought it on my Nintendo Switch and have been playing it there. Xbox is the clear victor of the two when it comes to this game. The visuals are better, and most importantly, the controls are superior. Precision joysticks and triggers with less dropped inputs. Nothing is worse than being in the heat of a race and the controller forgets you’re pressing the gas. I am still having loads of fun on the Switch, the heavy arcade style does hold its own on the platform.

In NFS: Hot Pursuit, there are parallel careers: Racer and Cop. Each has a number of event types, from standard races, to Hot Pursuits for each side where you are equipped with pursuit equipment such as spike strips, EMPs and more. Sure, it is disappointing when you spend the last quarter of a Hot Pursuit chasing one racer, only for them to get away. Yet, the several busts before the final were immensely gratifying, the entire chase was pulse-pounding, and now I have a solid amount more experience that could grant stronger equipment.

These positives encourage me to want to work toward a gold in as many events as possible. I can overcome my reservations because I know I will be rewarded, even if only with the simple pleasures of the driving fantasy and mechanics. Each attempt is unique. You never know when the enemy will cleverly place a spike strip or how well you will slip roadblocks, for example. Every event is different in terms of how it goes down. This diminishes the fear that the failure I just experienced may not be how my next try goes.

Credit: Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit Remastered. Screenshot by me. Rapidly changing conditions can make small things seem huge, and the important things small.

In many games, anxiety is part of the draw. From horror games, to games like Dark Souls, and even racing games. Getting your blood moving is why you pay the price for admission. It is a thrill ride. There is an element of fantasy, because you’re doing things in car you would never do, and the gameplay reflects this element. The overall experience is designed to be the most fun, not the most realistic. I don’t think a half hour of the game counts as cardio, but you know you’ve played as you try to manage stress within the race, and when your heart rate continues to soar after the end.

The pressure associated with playing a lot of games can keep me away from them at times, it can also draw me to them. The shifting dunes of life may start to mount, and the game may start to seem insignificant. You then turn to it for joy and release, knowing that if you put forth the effort everything will be okay. The time investment into an event is typically not too grand of an ask. Drifting through turns, evading cops, dodging about traffic, there are powerful feelings of control. Feelings that manifest truth in the form of medals in the game, and experience in both the game and life.

Even good things cause apprehension for many. I still get it before every swim practice, even though it is something I absolutely love doing. Not only that, all the effects from doing it are positive. Still, general anxiety attaches to everything and poisons it. This drowning feeling can make me catatonic. In the end, swimming helps my mental health. I can tell I am happier for going through with it. The same is generally true for NFS: Hot Pursuit sessions. Even if I lose, it is an entertaining game to play.

As I transition from college into a real job, I lean on games to keep me sane. It will be simple treasures like Need for Speed that bring me the most peace. I normally play a diverse array of games, and I’m sure that will be true, though I am more inclined to want to bash some cars around at high speed. No plot, the most basic of contexts, the focus is all on fun. Right now, I need to learn to accept defeat sometimes, knowing it will make me stronger for the next race. Work with the tools and abilities I have to get my life moving.

Credit: Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit Remastered. Screenshots by me.

Co-Occurring and Cooperative: Addiction, Anxiety and Borderlands

Credit: Borderlands The Pre-Sequel. Screenshot by me. The environments and art style of the FPS/RPG hybrid are just a couple of the ways these games stand out.

The Borderlands games played a pivotal role in my recovery with a co-occurring disorder. As you can hopefully imagine, a co-occurring disorder can be as difficult as it is complex. The National Institute on Drug Abuse suggests that someone with anxiety is twice as likely to develop addiction of some form. I was given books on addiction, and booklets on co-occurrence specifically when I went to treatment for my schizophrenia. I still own the Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous bibles. They give me guidance when I’m thinking about friends who may be losing their way.

There are three things a video game can do for you when you’ve had a co-occurring disorder like mine. Empowerment, comfort and socialization. I have a rich history with the Borderlands series, I even did a review of the first game in the Archives; just to talk more about a game for which I have an undying love. Borderlands came to me at a very powerful time, and though I wasn’t yet dealing with addiction, I was struggling with my emotions and developing bad patterns.

Then it seemed everyday everyone around me were doing copious amounts of alcohol, reefer and even cocaine, the latter I completely stayed away from when I saw how it was treating my friends. But there was one constant pillar in my best friend and I’s relationship no matter how bad it got: Borderlands co-op. When we met, we had both already played extensively with another person, so we were equally experienced hitters coming into the ring.

I fought hard for a title that remains disputed. He had a competitive spirit that was a unique kind of fun. Myself playing as Mordecai, sniping one of his kills with my rifle or Bloodwing, then seconds later apologizing when I need him to burn his Roland shield to protect me. Doing something like that energized him to want to step up, charge ahead while the shield is deployed and execute all the enemies, while all I can do is hide.

Credit: Borderlands 2. Screenshot by me. Borderlands is tremendous, and has had a significant impact on me.

Moments like this are great fun and Borderlands delivers them in droves if you play with friends. You can play with up to four people, the game upgrades the enemies depending how many players there are, and it gets absolutely wild. The graphics are so cool and functional. The cartoonish style turns some people away from this game, but I plead with those people to give it a chance. It is an incredible FPS/RPG hybrid series. I own them all on both my consoles, and play them all on them as well.

The gameplay is fantastic. Tight shooting mechanics, interesting loot system with millions of unique creations, often funny dialogue, endearing atmosphere, there is so much to love about Borderlands. Even solo it is worth playing through with some of the multiple characters each game has, as each character has different skill trees and equipment options. I never tire of the formula.

Playing Borderlands kept us from using our substances of choice quite a bit. It also fostered trust and brotherhood, when we weren’t talking about the game we were talking about life. We were able to focus on an alternative stream of rewards. One that is better when the player isn’t heavily inebriated. Eventually our demons still caught up with us and we reformed, but in the decade plus since, Borderlands never went away.

My anxiety is persistent. It is a negative symptom of schizophrenia that is tricky to medicate. Borderlands has brought multiple releases, in turn bringing much release, with content I am still exploring in the twelve years since the original. Critical acclaim has come to all. Very well deserved in my opinion. The old ones withstand the test of time to this day. I bought the Nintendo Switch Borderlands Legendary Collection, and they even hold up excellently on the unsuspecting platform.

Credit: Borderlands The Pre-Sequel. Screenshot by me. Sometimes our problems can seem overwhelming, but working together you can find peace.

I know Borderlands 1 so well I can look at a quest log anytime and know the most efficient order to do the quests. I build a high level, well thought-out character who dominates the battlefield. Feelings of power bring satiation, like seeing the “Level Up!” arrive on screen right as you skillfully cap the last enemy. It also brings empowerment, in spending that level up skill point in the way that best suits your playing style; making you believe you are strong and have the ability to make good choices. And of course, the moments you shared striving for a grand victory with someone.

These are simple examples of the power video games can give us to overcome weaker versions of ourselves. Even a plot as dumb and intentionally hilarious as Borderlands can make you have introspective or philosophical thoughts. What did we expect to find in the Vault? What are the true contents supposed to represent? What does it say about capitalism to buy guns and healthcare out of the same vending machine? Does Claptrap have a soul?

Satiation gets you through your co-occurring disorder for now, empowerment gives you strength for later. The relationships we build playing can survive better than most, and aid us throughout life. There is resonance beyond the simple time we wasted looking at a toy. It is so much more than simple fun. The right game at the right time can be profound, I’m sure there are endless gamers who can attest to this sentiment. A dark time when that bright screen was powerful. I have been a gamer since I was old enough to hold the controller of our Nintendo Entertainment System, and I have always had an emotional bond with video games.

I am looking forward to the Borderlands spinoff “Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands,” releasing March 25th, and the upcoming movie from director Eli Roth, expected this year. Both hold a lot of promise. This is a time of great anxiety. It is nice to sometimes both distract yourself with fun, feel badass, and have a deep bonding experience with people that is lighthearted and driven by fun. Comment what game helped you cope with something you were going through!

Credit: Borderlands, Borderlands 2, & Borderlands the Pre-Sequel. Screenshots by me.

BioShock Infinite and The Power of Recovery

Credit: BioShock Infinite. Screenshot by me. A strictly forbidden shrine in the fictional city of Columbia, where the game takes place.

I am just beginning another playthrough of the third installment in the BioShock series, 2013’s BioShock Infinite. I reviewed this game along with the two others last September, when I got the remastered collection on Nintendo Switch. Check out those reviews if you haven’t already. And stop reading now if you are concerned about spoilers. Anyway, I cannot stop thinking about this game. Rarely do I give a game another go after beating it, to be honest, but this game keeps me coming back for more.

Not only is Infinite incredible fun, with excellent gunplay and amazing powers, but equally important is the plot. Infinite follows Booker Dewitt, in the year 1912 going to a secessionist city in the sky where a woman is being held captive. The information you’re given at the beginning: “Bring us the girl, wipe away the debt.” Not the most inspiring orders or backstories, but just fine for Booker, who is a memorable roguish type. The protagonist even having a voice is something for a first-person shooter.

I was diagnosed schizophrenic at the age of 23, following a nervous breakdown from overwhelming stress and critical lack of self care. I was in and out of the hospital three different times over the next four years as we struggled to find suitable medication. I’m happy to say I have been incident free since starting my current medication about six years ago. It is a miracle medicine I take as an injection once every three months, never missing a dose this way. During the dark period, I experienced psychosis extensively. Some of these delusions were playful in nature, others were darker, even disturbing. I found myself becoming something I couldn’t identify.

In one universe, Booker goes through with his baptism and becomes the evil Zachary Comstock, in another he doesn’t go through with the baptism. Comstock discovers Booker destitute with his baby daughter after using interdimensional travel, and convinces Booker to sell Comstock his baby daughter. You eventually discover the “debt” owed by Booker was his way of repressing the memory of selling his daughter away, and focusing on rescuing her from her prison.

Credit: BioShock Infinite. Screenshot by me. The city of Columbia, where Comstock has monuments to himself.

I believe the meaning of the end is Booker is delivered to a universe where he accepts baptism, but this Booker drowns in the process. This prevents any universe with Comstock founding his fascist city in the clouds, but not any universe where Booker still exists. Comstock, I think, is meant to be a monument to sin. Something Booker is no stranger to, but the point is there are levels of sin. And you can make choices that prevent future issues. Basically everything you see in the city of Columbia is some kind of abomination. Whether a demented museum exhibit dedicated to his exploits at the Boxer Rebellion and Wounded Knee, to a segment of the game that is literally a horror game with ghosts, to scientific abominations like the quantum particles that keep the city afloat, portaling between universes or tonics that give you super powers.

Elizabeth, your daughter, spent her whole life locked up in a small tower. Constantly being watched, unbeknownst to her. No contact with the outside world besides books, and the ability to open portals to other universes that kept her under lock and key. From the beginning, her understanding is that her ability is some form of wish fulfillment. When you are low on health, she opens a portal to some medkits, when you cannot possibly complete the story objective, she takes you to a universe where you can. She eventually has the barriers holding back her power destroyed, and finds she is actually omniscient. Able to see into any reality.

These barriers coming down is how diagnosis felt to me. Even though it was a long road ahead, sitting there and hearing those words meant coming home from a war of uncertainty I had been fighting my whole life. I have always remembered having mental health issues that have manifested themselves in diverse ways. Difficult to diagnose. There are infinite universes of possibility with how your mental illness will affect you specifically. The solution, as Elizabeth knows, is staying away from universes where you become a version of yourself you hate. For me, this means regular check-ins with both my psychiatrist and therapist, as well as taking my medication regularly. On top of other general self care things.

Credit: BioShock Infinite. Screenshot by me. Regular exercise may surprise you by improving overall health, including mental.

At one point, Booker asks Elizabeth, “Do you really think a dip in the water is going to change the things I have done?” As if to say, of course it will not. The key is to foster universes that can live with those things. Booker spoke something similar to Elizabeth earlier when she asked him how he deals with everything he has been through, to which he replies he does not, he just learns to live with it.

This struggle is the story of recovery. There’s no magic river that is going to wipe away what you’ve experienced, or what you are, but you can fight for a universe that you can accept. It may not always feel like the universe accepts you, but I think of diagnosis as a medal on my uniform and treatment my shield. When Booker and Elizabeth enter a particular universe, they find that in this one, Booker died a martyr in the anti-Columbia/Comstock revolution. Your Booker is so puzzled to find the posters saying he is martyr, because he would never lay his life on the line for anybody.

Sometimes I look back on my journey see amazing progress. I have been very depressed, anxious, paranoid, and overwhelmed by feelings that are hard express. Nowadays I am pretty chill. I find enjoyment in every day, I surround myself with things that are positive, and I am always staying in treatment to keep healthy. It might have all been for my own gain ultimately, but that doesn’t defeat the sacrifice I have made. Much like the “revolutionary” Booker Dewitt. I identify with Booker Dewitt, as we both see our history as the debt I have to pay to myself for knowing how it feels to be truly lost.

Mental health analysis of video games is my number one passion. I intend to do this frequently on Twitch as soon as I can afford a decent setup. My old Mixer setup just doesn’t cut it anymore. I love sharing my story, and the little bit of knowledge I gained studying psychology on the side at university. There’s still so much more I could say about this game; it resonated deeply with me. Please leave a comment to tell me how you feel, go check out my reviews of the BioShock collection, and play it for yourself if you haven’t.

Credit: BioShock Infinite. Screenshot by me. The initial baptism at the entrance to Columbia, in which Booker goes through the motions to gain entry.

The Philosophy of Extraordinary

The Winter Olympics has me thinking. Here’s one law I will actually stand behind: extraordinary things never come about as the result of a singular brushstroke. It takes a cascade of significance and effort to achieve something profound. Whenever you hear of somebody doing something incredible, when asked how they got there, the answer is never one thing. It is always a number of factors coming together to make their moments possible.

I seem to see so many people that search in error for perfection. Perfection is an illusion. The scales are constantly changing. So how do you guide yourself? Seek the extraordinary lifestyle. Cultivate as many positive things as you can that point you towards your goals. It will always take more than one thing to make it, so the more irons you can manage to keep in the fire, the more likely they will all register success. As always, avoid burnout. Like I said, as many factors as you can manage.

If you are like me, and want to leave a mark, goal setting is very important. Setting good goals will help you reach drastically higher. I learned this in Sports Psychology. It is vital to set realistic goals, but also ones that are worth reaching. You might be one big, but achievable goal away from amazing yourself. Have short, medium and long term goals as well. Allow some fluidity to them.

You may also find yourself reaching milestones you never set. The universe is chaos, and chaos means change. Cultivating positivity in your world is the best effort you can make to try to control what is madness. Planting good seeds is great; having strong soil is helpful too; so is a friendly atmosphere, but having good seeds, land and environment is unbeatable.

Extraordinary things are like plants. They have needs, but many will thrive even if neglected. Be a special plant, one that gets maintained and adored not poisoned or pulled. Sure, species of the latter will ultimately survive because that is what we are made to do as organisms. However, in a modern world there are things one can achieve outside mediocrity. We live in a hyper-connected world, meaning your ability to reach the people you want to reach is beyond anything humans have ever imagined.

One of my favorite moments in the game Octopath Traveler [SPOILER WARNING] was when Tressa, the Merchant realized her most valuable treasure wasn’t the shiny gem she fought for, but the stories she had recorded along the way. These stories meant the world to a young princess, who was physically disabled and unable to see the world for herself. Not just the stories we sell, but the stories we make are the truest treasure. What story do you want to tell? It will be told when you are gone, to be sure.

The consequences of our actions have reach far beyond the self. When you see what a deeply positive or negative difference you have the capacity to make in the world around you, it is hard to question my argument. Cultivating extraordinary has an impact far beyond, and far more significant than what it will do for you. You may touch someone’s life in a way they’d been searching forever to find. People don’t forget things like that, whether they knew they needed it or not. And whether they’re conscious of it or not, it can still be true.

So whatever it is you dream of doing, take any steps you can. If it is worth striving. You’re going to suffer either way, you might as well be trying to live the life you want. The madness will always be madness, treat yourself to some joy. Since I started swimming again, so much more positivity has come my way. It is one of my dearest passions, and recently I’ve reached major fulfillment I never thought swimming three times a week could achieve. Goals related to swimming, but not the benefits I get from working out.

Thank you for reading. I wanted to do a very different sort of post, and possibly more oddities in the future. I always keep irons in the fire. Some are just tentative, brewing, or I’m hoping to pitch them somewhere else. Like and/or comment some insight. I would love to hear from you, the reader, on any of my posts.

Checkpoint 2/7/2022

I am taking a blogging class at my old community college. Online learning is a lot different, I barely caught any of it as I had finished classes shortly after the pandemic started. They were such a poorly thought out dirge back then. This class is so much smoother, and I like any class where I can actually use the knowledge.

The second half of this class is going to be about podcasting. I still don’t know how I feel about doing a podcast. I prefer either writing or live streaming. Podcasting seems like streaming without the social factor, the pressure and excitement of being live, and I just don’t know if I would be any good in that format. Comment what you think I should talk about on my experimental podcast!

The job search is a bit depressing. Trying so hard to nudge my way into writing about something that interests me. I am thinking about getting a seasonal part time job just to afford a proper streaming setup. But, that is also one more thing to have to consider when I move; something I’m already dreading. Streaming is just so important to everything I am trying to do, I am missing out so much by not doing it.

Onto what I have been playing. All these games have been on the Nintendo Switch. The first game I want to mention is a review you will likely see sometime in the future. Borderlands 2. This game came out ten years ago in September. It still holds us marvelously. The drastic difference in playing on Nintendo joy-cons versus any other controller is profound, however. I’ve been playing this game since launch, but never got into all the DLC. Borderlands 2 is one of the greatest shooters, if not greatest games ever, in my opinion.

Credit: Borderlands 2. Screenshots by me.

The next game I have been playing is a little bit of Saints Row 4, originally from 2013. This is when I need a sandbox with lots of neat tools. The story of the game is completely off the rails of how the series began, but it is keenly aware, and manages to be a respectable game in its own right. There is a series reboot in the works that has me quite excited. Saints Row is a third person, open world action series with a quirky sense of humor, and some cool super powers.

Credit: Saints Row 4: Re-Elected. Screenshots by me.

The final game I want to mention has also been taking up most of my playing time. Dragon Quest 11 S: Echoes of An Elusive Age. This is a turn-based RPG series I had never heard of until I saw this game on Twitch when it launched in 2017. After my deep love for Octopath Traveler, a turn-based RPG seen in past posts, I decided to let Square Enix impress me again. And impress me they have. I’m almost thirty hours in and absolutely loving it so far. The “S” edition comes with some really neat features as well.

Credit: Dragon Quest 11. Screenshots by me.

Retro Review: Final Fantasy 8 (2019 Remaster)

Credit: Final Fantasy 8. Screenshot by me. Picture from an in-game cinematic.

I first played Final Fantasy 8 when it released in 1999. I was only ten years old, and the complex JRPG was too much for my tiny brain to comprehend. Although, I did think it quite cool at the time. So, when I wanted a new turn-based RPG to play, I found the 2019 remaster on sale for $10. And after more than twenty years of gaming between then and now, I can tell you this game is every bit as inaccessible as it was when I was a child. The miraculous story telling does not save this convoluted mess from being just too off the mark to recommend.

The remaster, made in collaboration with Dotemu and Access Games, spruces up the visuals, making the graphics more sleek and prepped for HD. When FF8 came out, originally released by Squaresoft, it was top of the line graphics. The art style is interesting enough to entertain the eye most the time. I did not think the game was ugly, even being more than two decades old. There are a few other changes to the remaster. Quality of life upgrades like a 3x speed option, the ability to turn off random encounters and a mode that buffs you in combat.

Even with these buffs I had no interest in completing the final boss. What should be the pinnacle of the game in story and gameplay is actually a towering monument to this game’s failures. The game uses a combat system that adapts to your level, but these adaptations are extremely inconsistent and unhelpful. And what good is this system, if I still have to grind until there is absolutely nothing left to be gained?

Credit: Final Fantasy 8. Game clip by me. Calling in a guardian to win the fight.

I used guides often, as finding out what to do next in FF8 can be hazy. Often resorting to walking up to every object in the room from every angle and mashing the ‘interact’ button until something happens. My guide showed me the correct way to complete the final boss, only to find that I don’t have the two very specific spells required to make this fight even remotely possible. There are super questionable mechanics throughout this game. The end boss just has features that boggle the mind as to why anybody would think this was fun.

Guides could only do so much without laying out every little detail of what to do, especially in a game designed to be highly open ended. The difficulty is raised so poorly. For almost the entire game, you can coast by on spamming your guardian spirits, something that wasn’t fun from the jump. And through being relegated to cheese tactics we are supposed to somehow gain not only an understanding, but an appreciation for how important it is to stack your characters as much as humanly possible. The game doesn’t make grinding appealing. It all seems like it is for nothing, until that one fight arrives where you can use that one random spell for max effect.

FF8 follows the exploits of a band of mercenaries, raised from youth for combat. Our heroes get hired out to support a rebellion against evil forces that seem faceless at first, but the situation becomes much more complicated and intricate as the tale proceeds. Squaresoft really flexed the story telling elements of their game building here. It is nearly worth playing just for the story. Nearly. There were a handful of fun fights in this whole game. Two of them didn’t come until the very end.

I’m not sure how this game ends. Which is a true tragedy, because I was really loving the story. The final part of this game just sucks all the joy out of the experience to a point where I feel like the closure of the plot could only be further insult. The first half of the game had some incredible plot dealing with issues like fascism. A beautiful love story unfolds as the game progresses. I suppose I will resort to watching a video of the ending of a game I played well over thirty hours, and I cannot think of anything sadder.

Credit; Final Fantasy 8. Screenshot by me. My favorite battle in the game.

I love turn-based RPGs, and I deeply wanted to love FF8. I had such high hopes that I would come back to this game after twenty years and finally appreciate its glory. This just isn’t how it went down. All the way up to the end boss I was in denial. The more I leaned on the remaster enhancements like 3x speed and combat buffs to get me through boring phases, the more I knew I wasn’t really enjoying myself. These upgrades are the only way I could potentially go back and beat the final boss, but even then it would be such a slog it doesn’t seem remotely worthwhile.

I also bought Final Fantasy 9 on sale, which I dabbled with as a kid as well. I’m again hoping for great things, I won’t trash the follow-up just because the predecessor was ugly and weak. That may be a while down the road however, my next turn-based RPG will be something away from the Final Fantasy series just to keep things fresh. I recently bought both South Park: Stick of Truth and Dragon Quest 11 on sale so I will likely give one of those a shot for a time.

It pains me to say I cannot suggest Final Fantasy 8. While if you like masterfully crafted stories you may find some enjoyment, there are so many flaws in this game and they feel relentless. The difficulty curve, the atrocious quick-time events, the sloppy combat system, there is so much chaining FF8 down and keeping it from being special. I think if they ever give it the full remake treatment like they are Final Fantasy 7, it could definitely breath some new life into the corpse. I just think it unlikely. If you’re looking for a top tier turn-based RPG, go into my Archives and check out the Octopath Traveler review.

Credit: Final Fantasy 8. Screenshots by me.

Retro Review: Bulletstorm (2019 “Duke of Switch” Edition)

Credit: Bulletstorm. Screenshot by me. Taking in the view after a checkpoint.

Happy New Year! I picked up several games in the Nintendo eShop “Black Friday Sale.” One of those is the 2011 first-person shooter Bulletstorm, from Polish developer People Can Fly in collaboration with Epic Games. Bulletstorm is a wildly over-the-top sci-fi tale of a disgraced special forces team, who get stranded on an alien planet overrun with maniacs, while trying to pursue the general responsible for making them unknowingly do atrocious things. I got the game for less than $10 on my Switch, and there are remasters available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC.

The story is full of extremely crude humor and is weak overall. The plot is not what keeps you playing Bulletstorm. That would be the gameplay. To buy ammo and upgrades for your weapons at checkpoints, you will need to execute sophisticated and skilled kills on your enemies. You get points for doing things like killing two enemies in one pull of the trigger, headshots, kills while under the influence, all kinds of things. You can spend those points at shops.

This is an enormously satisfying gameplay loop. You are discovering new ways to kill all the way through the end of the game. After completing the main story you unlock “Overkill Mode,” where you can have all the guns from the beginning, instead of only three at a time and picking them up as you progress. I’m sure I will come back to this mode at some point and find even more ways to take out enemies.

Credit: Bulletstorm. Game clip by me. A segment from a first attempt at a brutal endgame sequence.

This game is not without its flaws. They are many and some troubling. In particular, for me, is the sniping. The sniper rifle is so jank, an absolute torture to use, and it seems like the developers realize this because it is the only gun that has sections where you are literally forced to use it. There are quite a bit of bugs, especially for a remaster. The lack of a jump button hurts more than you might think. You are often forced to scale obstacles, but the command, and point of interaction for these obstacles are often inconsistent. Some enemies are less fun to fight.

The Nintendo Switch, “Duke of Switch” edition is the same remaster with one fairly interesting bonus: you can swap out your character for Duke Nukem at anytime. Everything else in the game is the same except Duke Nukem is now swapped lives with Grayson Hunt and trying to get through the events of Bulletstorm, with unique and often hilarious voice lines performed by Jon St John. It may seem like a minor boon, but as I said the story and humor of the game itself is a bit stale, so being able to swap in Duke perks up the experience a bit.

This remaster looks wonderful. Environments are interesting, crisp and filled with lethal treasures. From giant cacti to kick enemies into, to grand waterfalls and cool sci-fi tech. The guns look cool, and there are a good amount of them that all do different things. I particularly enjoyed the pistol, which has an alternate fire that shoots a firework. Some animations were a bit odd, and levels do become a little repetitive. There is not much to be said for the soundtrack, battle and cinematic music is solid, just not particularly memorable.

I beat the campaign in slightly over ten hours. This felt like enough. I honestly believe it was dragging on by the end due to the nature of the story becoming tiresome. It was plenty of time to get satisfaction out of the combat. It gave me time to be creative, while also peppering in more scripted sequences. The more heavily scripted the sequence, however, the more hit or miss it tended to be. At times this felt more like a situation where I was being forced to endure the game, and less responsible for my own fate based on my skill and creativity. As I said before, the Overkill Mode does spice things up enough to make me interested in playing through this again, even if only somewhat.

Credit: Bulletstorm. Game clip by me. Early gameplay. You see the “leash” used here.

Throwing things around is a key mechanic in this game. Whether mega kicking enemies or explosives away, whipping them at yourself or in the air with the “leash,” or sliding endlessly until you hit an enemy and send them flying, shaking up the scene in Bulletstorm is the key to victory. The game insists you be ruthless. Your ability to maximize your score, while also balancing your own health and managing enemies will determine your triumph or defeat. I only really got stuck on a few parts, excluding the agonizing sniper sections. Movement is helpful, but cover is better and should be your first choice, unless you’re really feeling ace this battle.

Bulletstorm is a neat game that is worth playing. I just wouldn’t pay too much for the experience, as it is deeply flawed. I’m glad it got the remaster treatment, as I played this when it initially came out and enjoyed it then as well. I slogged through the low points then the same way I did now, by being so rewarded by the high points. It is campy, simple fun that gives you virtually everything you could want from an FPS. Even if just an average game overall. There are so many gameplay options, and they were smart to focus on the mechanics for a game of this type.

I would say if you like first-person shooters that don’t take themselves too seriously, try to find this one on sale. It will be a similar experience whichever platform you enjoy them on. I even liked the Switch version, which again, comes with the Duke Nukem mod. The remaster on other platforms is called the “Full Clip” edition. I know I was rather critical of this game, but don’t let that discourage you from finding Bulletstorm for a good price somewhere.

Credit: Bulletstorm. Screenshots by me.

Checkpoint: December 17, 2021

Instead of trying to pick out one game to review before Christmas, I thought I would do another Checkpoint blog to give you an idea of what I’ve been playing, and some insight into my life. I’m excited for the holiday, as I will have the opportunity to see all of the important family. One of my brothers who lives a couple hours away is bringing his new dog, Kazak, to visit and I’m looking forward to seeing him. I think his wife will like the gift I got her in our exchange a lot.

The approaching new year brings introspection. I am so much better off now than a year ago. I am in immensely healthier physical condition, emotionally I am balanced and mentally I am doing as good as ever. My therapist pointed something out that I thought we were a lot further away from, but being honest and forthcoming about my feelings as I felt them got me the progress I wanted. It made me feel great.

Now that I have gotten so much physically healthier by dieting and swimming three times a week, I am getting back into a rhythm of doing things. I think I may sign up for a class at the local community college from which I graduated, studying blogging and podcasting. I have a healthy start on my blog here, but podcasting would be fun to explore. I can think of various ways to tie in gaming to that sort of medium, and have fun with it. It is only a month class, and fairly cheap.

Still not even a nibble on the job front. I anxiously job search throughout the week, hoping something new will pop up. I so deeply hope I can find gainful employment soon. I hate my life feeling like it is on pause, which is why I’ve tried to take control how I can lately. I am starting to feel like I’m hoping for too much out of a job. I wish I had more guidance, but it is such an evolving market. And I have such a distinct voice that I want to be heard. I think I could not only be a valuable asset as a writer, but as an overall personality. My mental health insights into gaming are so needed in the space right now, and I just want to opportunity to be what I know I could be.

Now, let’s get down to games. The biggest game I have been playing is the game I most recently reviewed: Octopath Traveler. I highly recommend you go read this review if you have any interest in a masterfully crafted turn-based RPG. I was a bit over fifty hours in, with one out of eight campaigns complete, when I wrote my review. I have now played over ninety hours, and beaten all eight campaigns. They were each an absolute delight. Individually unique and relatable. The lore of the world and stories is so rich. I truly cannot say enough about my love for the experience I have had with this game, and there is still much I haven’t seen.

Credit: Octopath Traveler. Screenshots by me. Ending frames for each character in the order I beat them.

Another game I have been playing that is just stupid fun is Bulletstorm. Originally launched in 2011, there has since been a remaster, which I picked up for about $9 on the Nintendo Switch Black Friday Sale. One of several games I picked up with an early Christmas present in the form of a $50 Nintendo gift card. Also available on PlayStation, Xbox and Windows. Bulletstorm is a first-person shooter from People Can Fly and Epic Games. The brains behind this beauty are responsible for the hit series Gears of War, and that same attitude comes through here. You refill supplies at stations by spending points you get for respectively awesome kill methods. Kill with skill, they say. So bonus points for headshots, environmental kills, etc. Not a perfect game by any means, but fantastic fun factor. The over-the-top style works when it does, but as this game experiments heavily, it won’t always turn out well, unfortunately.

Credit: Bulletstorm. Game clip by me. This game is full of cinematic action sequences that often feel like an amusement park ride. Here I use only some of the powers with which I am equipped. There are an incredible amount of kill variations.

The other game I will mention that I have been playing is Subnautica. Available on Mac, Windows, Xbox, PlayStation and Nintendo Switch, and launched in 2018 by Unknown Worlds Entertainment. I also picked this one up on sale, after seeing it extensively on Twitch. It just looked like the perfect exploration and survival game. Just you, crashed and stranded alone, on an alien planet in the middle of a vast ocean. Build the things you’ll need to survive, from oxygen tanks, to salted fish, underwater bases, vehicles and more. Your goal: get off the planet. Subnautica has a brilliant way of unfolding that always has you upgrading. The feeling of being in an alien ocean produces so many emotions. Joy, terror, curiosity or even just generally being disoriented. There’s treasure everywhere you look, even if only for the eyes and ears.

Credit: Subnautica. Screenshots by me. A few images of a vast and diverse ocean.

I will be back with more content soon. Perhaps more reviews, including games you saw here. Or, maybe more posts similar to this one. If I take the aforementioned class, I may be doing even more interesting things. So, follow me everywhere you can find SchizophrenicDerek.

Overdue Review: Octopath Traveler

Credit: Octopath Traveler. Screenshot by me. A mixture of old and new graphics, in a style known as “HD-2D.” I cannot capture videos from my Switch with this game, sadly, so only screenshots for this review.

If you read this blog regularly, you know I never pay full price for a game. Still, $60 seemed like a worthy price after playing the three hour trial version of Octopath Traveler. I played it on the Nintendo Switch, which it originally launched on in 2018. It is also now available on multiple PC platforms and Xbox including with Game Pass. It is a turn-based role-playing game done in the spirit of Super Nintendo classics like the Final Fantasy series. A strong sign I was in for something good was it being developed by Square Enix, the company that created Final Fantasy. After a bit over fifty hours, I have scratched the surface of this game and had an absolute blast throughout the journey.

Octopath Traveler uses an aesthetic known as “HD-2D;” a mixture of pixelated retro and more modern graphics. It is such a unique and charming art style. The adorable old-school sprites, detailed set pieces that aren’t over-repeated, cool enemies, satisfying skill effects such as calling in lightning to strike your foes, and certain environmental effects with modern graphics, like water. I’m always excited to boot this game up, in part because of how pleasing it is to the eye. The visual art style makes even the map something at which to gaze.

The soundtrack should not go unmentioned, either. Modern orchestral arrangements paint the backdrop with extraordinary elegance and inspiration. The music enchants every mood. As you explore the vast game world and it’s many corners, you’ll hear a wide variety of songs well peppered in. The game has many epic boss fights, which when you pull off a valiant triumph, the victory music truly suits the moment. Although while grinding for higher levels, at times I would enjoy putting on some of my own music to spice things up. The limited voice acting is performed with enthusiasm that enhances the experience.

Credit: Octopath Traveler. Screenshot by me. A quick glance at the basics of turn-based combat. Refined and intuitive.

When you first start Octopath Traveler, you choose from one of eight characters based on some loose information about them, who is now your protagonist. It is worth noting that once you choose your first character, they are the only person you cannot remove from the party until you finish their campaign. After you complete their first chapter, the world is yours. The other seven characters are out there for you to recruit by playing through their first chapter. You can complete any of their stories in the order you desire. I have only completed my protagonist’s plot, but I have been advancing several plot lines as they are all interesting. It is also nice to do some lower level story missions between grinding sessions as you advance your protagonist.

The eight characters by class are: Scholar, Cleric, Merchant, Dancer, Warrior, Hunter, Thief and Apothecary. I chose the Scholar as my protagonist and I am very happy with that decision. Cyrus, the Scholar, has powerful magical attacks that can deal massive damage to foes. He can also analyze the enemy to uncover their weaknesses and their health points. Enemies are weak to certain attack types, and delivering a certain number of blows to an enemy’s weaknesses breaks their guard. This opens them up to taking significantly more damage and makes them unable to perform any action for a short time.

The biggest complaint I hear about Octopath Traveler is all the grinding that is necessary. With eight characters and only four allowed in your party at a time, you will be dedicating an unbelievable number of hours getting everybody up to the levels you need them to build your party for respective chapters. Personally, I enjoyed grinding in this game as I never have in an RPG before. I’ve always been a fan of turn-based combat, and here it is done with near flawless execution. You feel stronger as your level increases.

Credit: Octopath Traveler. Screenshot by me. A feast for the eyes and ears awaits.

My Scholar was level 59 when I finished his campaign. This was almost fifteen levels over the recommended level for his final chapter, but the bosses are not for the trifling. Even at my level, the final boss took masterful strategy and a little bit of luck. The final fight took forty-five minutes, minutes that moved at a blistering pace, even during a turn-based engagement no less. I was very happy with how his tale wrapped. Each character is so special in their own way, I simply can’t wait to go back and complete more story arcs. They all tell a quality story, so far.

This will be a game that ranks highly with me, I must say. One of the most engaging and fun RPGs I have ever played. No exaggeration here, this is one of the greats. I often times have a hard time getting into RPGs enough to finish them. I found Octopath Traveler more accessible to me. The battle system isn’t overly stymieing. The more you do it and experiment, the better you will become. Another reason I didn’t mind grinding. You get a feel for individual class’ strengths and weaknesses, as you upgrade equipment and abilities into endgame. With lots of ways to build your party.

Numerous fond memories are being formed as I play. The graphical style, the music, the gameplay, everything comes together and you see the result. A perfectly balanced game, if overly focused on grinding for some players. Presented in a manner I will call genius. They created a rich fantasy world that will keep you returning, no matter how much time you have to sink in during a particular session. Maybe you just flip it on and grind some experience points and money for an hour. Or you could put more serious time in.

If you already have Xbox Game Pass for console or PC, and you like RPGs, especially turn-based, be certain to put this in your download queue. If you have a Nintendo Switch, there is a three hour demo available of the full game, from which if you then buy it you can continue from the demo save file. As I said at the beginning, I paid $60 and I regret nothing. I’m sure when I wake up tomorrow, this may very well be the first thing I boot up and continue focusing on other campaigns. Octopath Traveler is unforgettable.

Credit: Octopath Traveler. Screenshots by me.

EDIT: I have now put in almost one hundred hours into this game, and beat all eight stories. Still, I hunger for much more. There are still side missions, epilogues and more to delve into. Each campaign was very much enjoyable. Of the seventeen games I reviewed this year, Octopath Traveler may be my favorite, no small achievement. It is so satisfying in all its aspects. The soundtrack has been in my playlist non-stop. Absolutely check this game out if you like RPGs.