Overdue Review: Cyberpunk 2077

Credit: Cyberpunk 2077. Screenshot by me. Toying with the photo editor while talking to the character played by Keanu Reeves.

I have so many words for Cyberpunk 2077. I will keep it to the usual amount here, but I could go on endlessly about this game. Initially launching in December 2020 to what I’ll politely call negative press regarding the unfinished state of the product, the game so addled by bugs it was unplayable. I found it for $30 at the local game store about a year later, knowing two things: first, when the Xbox Series X edition would be released I would get a free upgrade, and second, getting a Series X was matter of time until I hunted one down. This game worked better on advanced consoles from the start, and a lot of work has been done on it since launch.

Well, about a week after my birthday, I finally got my brand new Xbox Series X home. I’ve been an Xbox gamer since year one, and I am immensely happy with my choice to save Cyberpunk for this special occasion. A marvelous game that deserved so much more than to be rushed out in time for the holidays. It has received a lot of attention since release, and there is a long road ahead for the game yet, according to Polish developers CD Projekt. The company is famous for their treatment of the Witcher series. Cyberpunk 2077 is a first-person shooter/role-playing game blended in a package grand in scope, and ambition.

Cyberpunk 2077 is an unbelievably fascinating universe. People hacking their bodies with all kinds of technology; raising all kinds of questions about the sanctity of life, and the body. Rotten corporations control the world. People over-modified develop cyber-psychosis. And you, V, are just trying to make a name for yourself in a city of sharks. I absolutely will not ruin any plot points of this game for you, because I did a good job staying away from it myself so I could experience it fresh. A cinema quality experience in a setting you can totally geek out on.

My first session I played for eight riveting hours. The only thing that stopped me was the need for sleep. I played on Normal difficulty out of the four available, and it was fairly balanced. I would like to try a higher difficulty on another playthrough to see how it is different, and if it is more enjoyable. With the deep character creator, including choosing a background, as well as a vast array of endings and side activities, there is plenty to keep you coming back after the credits roll. The shooting is fun while challenging, and the RPG mechanics offer a wide variety of playing styles delivered in a fairly approachable manner.

Credit: Cyberpunk 2077. Screenshot by me. Love the settings in this game, including this bar.

This game looks stunning in 4k. Whether playing with ray-tracing effects on, or in graphical performance mode, Cyberpunk is awe-inspiring, rich with detail and vibrant color. The neon soaked sprawl of Night City, all the way out to the desert. I even took a picture of a pile of trash at one point that I thought looked neat. The artistic direction of everything from the fashion to the cars, to the environments, it all is so on point and immersive. Night City is a large open world, with tons of interesting pockets and treasures.

The soundtrack adds another valuable card to the deck. A library of fantastic original music on in-game radios and an original score, which all sets the tone brilliantly. Dialogue is a very important part of gameplay, and the voice actors stepped up to bat. Most notably, Keanu Reeves has a major role in the game. I’m happy to say it isn’t a phoned-in performance. Reeves being an excellent choice for the character, it is nice he clearly took the role seriously. The emotion in these actors voices is palpable. Audio design all around extremely solid.

Apart from multiple ways to beat the game, there are different ways to play each mission. The best option is usually to assess the situation while considering your character build. There a handful of gun types, which have subgroups of their own, and all kinds of individual models each with unique stats. You can equip mods and accessories to gun depending on their available slots. Melee combat is also a useful element, with its own techniques and subtleties. I often attempted the stealth route, but also built myself for combat should anything ever not go as planned.

Credit: Cyberpunk 2077. Game clip by me. Fighting a boss. Picked off a minion to get a heavy weapon and unloading. A blistering assault after being on me heels the whole fight.

I must say, I ran into my share of glitches along the way. Small things like my car spawning in an irretrievable place, to some more annoying problems. These technical issues hindered my enjoyment, the only reason I’m mentioning them again. Still, nothing happened that ever made me want to stop playing the game. Just some quirky issues. The positive outweighs the negative here so much, I almost feel guilty bringing it up. There are one or two other flawed aspects, such as the way cars behave.

Available words are becoming scarce to describe Cyberpunk, so here is one word: rare. Games like this don’t come along often, to me. So much thought, effort and passion went into this experience. The result is magnificent. It is a complete mind trip into outer space, full of guts and glory. Get ready to explore ideas beyond your imagination. The storytelling is master work. Even if an individual dialogue choice doesn’t throw a hurricane of chaos theory into the whole scheme of things, and turns out to be relatively inconsequential, it still enhances role play with thoughtful choices.

I’m sure to go back and keep playing after this review. There are story arcs I want to close, and alternative endings I want to see. I may start over fresh on a harder difficulty. So far, I have played over 25 hours. For $30, I could do a lot worse. Especially with the quality of experience, and shooters are never as long as some other RPGs. Find Cyberpunk 2077 on Xbox, PlayStation and PC. If you look, you should be able to find a modest price. This game was hyped beyond belief during development, I can finally see for myself what all the excitement is about.

Credit: Cyberpunk 2077. Screenshots by me.

Overdue Review: Dragon Quest 11 S: Echoes of an Elusive Age Definitive Edition

Credit: Dragon Quest 11. Screenshot by me. Intro cinematic showing the party and Yggdrasil, the World Tree.

The Japanese role playing game is a fairly new concept to me. It isn’t a genre I have ever given much attention to until playing Octopath Traveler, now one of my favorite games. Dragon Quest 11 was an excellent next step. With a vibrant world, fun characters, cool enemy design and more to bring to the table, I can see why this game generally rates highly. The Definitive Edition brings heaps more onto an already strong deck. Released by Square Enix initially in 2017, the Definitive Edition, which I strongly recommend, rolled out 2019-2020.

Dragon Quest 11 follows the adventures of the protagonist hero, the heralded “Luminary” of legend. Meant to extinguish a supreme, malicious force of darkness, the Luminary’s path isn’t laid out like you might think. In the beginning the whole world seems against them. As you slowly build your strength and renown, more people come to the light. Including your merry band of fighters. At times the quest seems insurmountable, but with a lot of grinding and a little good luck, they might save the day.

The mechanics of DQ11 are classic turn-based RPG. Nothing too spicy here, but they do wonderful things with the recipe they use. There is the option to move about the combat space, but this does nothing other than keep you more engaged should you feel the need. I personally went with a classic line-up for most of the game. I want to focus on the best play, above all else. You’ll grind for experience and loot, something I actually enjoyed in this game. The music, while good, can be a little repetitive, so I found many of my sessions played with an album in the background.

Credit: Dragon Quest 11. Screenshot by me. Glimpse of battle mode. Wherever your encounter happens in the game world is where the battle takes place, which is neat.

I played over 60 hours just on the main story. In the Definitive Edition, there is additional in-game content such as story missions, classic Dragon Quest levels, and even the ability to play the entire game in classic 2D style. There is also extra endgame content, including new chapters that I will get to soon. In my time the story certainly had its moments, some bits that really surprised or connected with me, but overall not super impressive. Somewhat generic light versus dark, good versus evil. There is a refreshing fantastical, whimsical element to the tale that made it a nice escape.

The story does a solid job keeping the game going, which is ultimately what I wanted. The turn based battle system is so smooth, with tons of room to experiment and customize. Each character has a unique background and skill tree. I found myself eager to learn about them, and build them into the best soldier for my party. Healing proved to be a very powerful force on any team. There is no weird gimmick to the combat, and as a newcomer to the genre I appreciate that, as I think would many players. This is a very approachable RPG.

I do not remember ever needing a guide for this game. The one time I looked was to make sure I was a high enough level for the end boss, which according to sources I was more than enough. I still had a phenomenal time with the ending. Intense fight, got a little bit of good luck along the way, but that doesn’t diminish the fact I fought expertly. The satisfaction of taking down a tough boss in this game can really move you when you’ve been leveling forever to beat them. I greatly appreciate a game that doesn’t take a lot of outside knowledge to enjoy. I don’t terribly mind using guides occasionally, but the best is not needing one.

The visual style feels familiar, ultra cute and is quite appealing. In part to the distinct artistic styling of Dragon Ball’s Akira Toriyama. A mash-up of cultural influences make up the fantasy world Erdrea. From Arab style architecture, to Japanese archways, or clearly distinct European atmosphere. At the core of the story is a Norse myth, Yggdrasil, the world tree. The reverence for this tree helps unite a world with a lot of different people in it. The soundtrack is very well done, if lacking a bit of variety. I’m not saying the soundtrack is bad, just sparse.

Credit: Dragon Quest 11. Screenshot by me. Using the in game photo mode is cool, if lacking features.

I haven’t felt a lot of resonance within Dragon Quest 11, more anything just enjoying the fun times, and letting it remind me to see the world as a place of light. Sylvando reminds me it is worth fighting for smiles. Merely existing is not enough, and he will follow the Luminary to the end of all things to restore them to the world. Every character has parts that I like, for example the thief, Erik, is also incredibly noble. The old man, Rab, is so persistent. Quitting is not something he will ever consider. Not when he lost his kingdom, his kin or anything.

In the grand scheme of things, there are a few things that really impress me about Dragon Quest 11 S. First, how much more content there is in the Definitive Edition. Worth every penny. Second, how much I liked this game despite, even in thanks to, its simplicity. They pull off a lot with a rather simple formula. Third, it got me into a classic series I had no idea existed, until I saw this game on Twitch at launch. It intrigued me then, and I’m so glad I played it now.

Hope is an overarching theme in DQ11, and I have hope for the next installment, which is currently in development. No release date yet, as production is still early. I believe I will be playing the endgame content of DQ11S, and perhaps try some of the game in 2D. Both sound interesting. I have a few other JRPGs on deck to dive into, and I am looking forward to those as well. I recommend this game to anyone who is a fan of the genre, or just looking to start out. I’m a newcomer and had a fantastic experience playing Dragon Quest 11 S.

Credit: Dragon Quest 11. Screenshots by me.

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2 Remastered Defends Good Memories

Credit: Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2 Remastered. Screenshot by me. No matter the winds of time, I keep coming around to the things that bring joy.

The problems of today are far reaching. There isn’t anybody who isn’t being impacted by the goings-on of the day. War, pandemic, rising prices everywhere, it seems endless at times in scope and atrociousness. In 2004’s Marvel Punisher movie, at one point Frank Castle’s neighbor tells him, “Good memories can save your life.” She is trying to tell the horrifically traumatized Punisher to focus on the positive memories he has of his family, and his ability to make new happiness. Suggesting it could mean a very different life and outcome for him.

I played Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater when it first came out in 1999 on the PlayStation, from developer Neversoft. Pure happiness, in an innovative new game with culture Midwestern kids like us had no idea existed. Ever since, I have played nearly every release. So, when Activision developers Vicarious Visions combined THPS 1+2 remasters in one game, I was very excited. Initially launching in 2020, I picked it up shortly after it was ported to the Nintendo Switch in 2021. Such sweet nostalgia. No humble touch-up, this remaster is a love note to everybody that played those games.

A game so simple led me into so many things. It has been a constant source of joy and catharsis even in moments where I felt blinded by my emotions, it has radically altered my musical and fashion tastes, and not least of all it introduced me to this wild thing called skateboarding. I haven’t skated much since developing heel issues, but in my youth it was a helpful way to vent, socialize and just have some fun. My favorite thing to do was always bomb hills, partially because I was never any good at tricks. The adrenaline rush was so powerful, thinking about it now I can almost hear the wheels and bearings roaring on the concrete beneath me. I can feel the dynamics of the board change as my speed increases.

Credit: Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2 Remastered. Screenshot by me. These remasters are everything you could want as a fan.

The game has glimpses of intensity as well, when you’re deep into a high combo, or just about to complete a difficult objective with seconds remaining. Although, the moments that always keep me turning this game back on, long after completing the objectives, are the times where I am just idly free skating around the levels. Going for combos that satisfy me in style or point value, improvising on terrain, even simply enjoying traversing the rich arenas. Negativity fades away as I interact with these games.

The fact that I do not skate like I used to shouldn’t diminish the memories I have from when I did actively. It can be hard not to let new realities tarnish the past. Two of the best weeks I ever had in my life were spent with friends on a New Year’s trip to San Francisco. Many years later, one of those friends committed suicide. I never knew there was such sadness inside him, and it made me doubt every laugh we shared. Eventually, I had to accept that it was alright to remember those smiles fondly. If you analyze anything deeply enough, you’re bound to find blemishes. Sometimes you just need to let things be of their subjective resonance.

What it meant to you matters, because you matter. It is the principle that drives us to have tastes in art or anything. When you are in a restaurant, you order from the menu. You are far less likely to be as satisfied letting someone else order for you. So why would you let someone or something else desecrate your memories? If something has become a pillar of self-care, like the Tony Hawk games for me, I shouldn’t just stop playing them because of what is ultimately an irrelevant negative connotation. I played Tony Hawk games I didn’t like as much as others, I still keep playing new releases.

Credit: Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2 Remastered. Screenshot by me. Combo catharsis.

A lot of people might be eager to let all memories go when associations turn sour. It keeps us from having to struggle with contradiction, and helps us focus on the future. If you had a bad relationship, it can serve you to remember all the things you didn’t like; these things may completely overshadow any good. Yet, I would say you absolutely shouldn’t feel guilty for finding comfort in the storm.

Even when my mental health was in the gutter, I recall enjoying Tony Hawk games. When I was frustrated I found solace in succeeding in pulling off a huge combo. I can’t say I would’ve liked it so much if it weren’t for the polarization with other parts of my life. So does that influence mean I should stay away from skateboarding games, or by an extension of that logic all games? Of course not.

The power to live on making new choices, and assurances provided by the past. This is what good memories can do for us. It is important to remember you have joyous moments you haven’t yet lived. The THPS remasters blend everything that happy memories can do. Graphics and controls of the future, yet familiar levels and mechanics. Whether you have never played a THPS, or you played them all, you’ll feel right at home in this arcade style jam.

In times when going out and making some happy memories isn’t nearly anything easy, it is important we make the most of the moments that already live comfortably in our mind. If it helps you stay positive, engage in acts of nostalgia such as playing a game that has been there through the phases of your life. I’ve been playing Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater since I was ten years old, and I hope there are more releases to come. Whether new content or even more remasters of classic titles. Check out my review of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2 Remastered in the Archives, and comment a game that lives rent-free in your head!

Credit: Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2 Remastered. Screenshots by me.

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.

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.

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.

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.