I’m having a bout of insomnia so what better way to pass the time than to write a giant mashup review of various games I’ve kinda played lately. None of these have been played all the way through and as such it’s entirely possible my impressions might change. But probably not. Because I’m like that. Herewego!

Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn

Probably like a lot of you I remember the glory days of Final Fantasy and it’s then un-Enixed production company from the mid 90’s with more than fond memories. FFVII turned videogames from a cool thing that I sometimes played into a lifestyle for me. I loved every installment I played until I hit X and it seemed like a lot of the heart and brilliance started to be replaced by graphics and a loss of direction which was quickly followed by blundering attempts to recapture the glory days. The magic was gone, sadly, but that didn’t mean the games were necessarily bad.

Except in its original form XIV apparently was. I did not play that game. It was so bad they took it back into production for a complete overhaul. I hadn’t been interested in playing a FF MMO but this news story captured my interest so I decided I’d give it a shot. There were certainly enough positive reviews that it might just rekindle that old flame.

It is undeniably one of the most beautiful games I’ve ever seen. It’s polished to a glimmering, almost painful, sparkle in what it does well. I haven’t gotten that far in – I have chronic altitis and constantly make new characters – but there even seems to be a very old school story going on. But sadly I won’t be playing it any further because all that it’s managed to do is put the most beautiful Final Fantasy prom dress on the girl who graduated 10 years ago. I speak, of course, of World of Warcraft, the MMO which ruined it for every other MMO.

Everyone says it about every new one that comes out: we don’t want pointless fetch or kill quests as filler. Yet here’s this gorgeous game getting to to run around clicking shiny objects less than 20 ft from the people who asked me to click the and going out to find X amount of boar livers.

I wanted to like you, FFXIV, I really did!

Grand Theft Auto 5

Another storied legacy, another game where the mechanics really haven’t changed much in 10 years, and yet this game I like.

The issue with FFXIV was very much the feeling that the game was designed TO waste your time when it didn’t need to. It had a story but to get through it you had to do all this other stuff. GTA, however, is a game designed AS a waste of time. You can actively avoid doing any missions at all because the focus is on gameplay being fun. That’s not to say it doesn’t have a story, or at least characters, but I feel that’s a very separate element of this game and as there’s been a lot of controversy over it we’ll talk mostly about that. But for now, as far as the question “Is it fun?” the answer is Yes, but not necessarily moreso than any other GTA game or any of its clones (except SR4 which is fucking bonkers).

Everyone with an opinion has weighed in on the “story” and “characters” of GTAV by now. You’ve likely heard a lot of reviewers and journalists say that these characters are terrible people and that they felt bad playing them. You’ll have seen a lot of readers of these reviews loudly replying in comments about how fun the characters are and videogames don’t affect my personality but I’ll kill your children. It’s all nonsense because what it all boils down to, more than anything, is hyping the game.

You probably haven’t read anything about GTAV lately that wasn’t solidly linked to the talking point of “ooo, the people are bad!” That’s completely on purpose. The characters are very much 2 dimensional by design to get exactly what Rockstar needed from the story and the public. Franklin is a less interesting version of CJ but is just a guy in crazy situations so he can relate to the gamer. Michael is what the gamer wants to imagine they are with his slick lies and ambitions. Trevor is the cathartic hurricane of destruction that the gamer invariabl revels in. And all of them only serve the story so that bigger and crazier action sequences can take place. They have no growth. The dialogue is fantastically written which makes it easier to swallow the ridiculousness because Rockstar knew they had to get something in there to give the audience something to latch on to. Dial back the wit and the charm, though, and the game still works. It’s less funny and maybe less fun.

I’ve been up for 22 hours and I’m starting to ramble. The point is that while I like the game and am having a blast playing it and listening to the back and forth between the characters, don’t think for a second this game is anything but a skin deep crime fantasy.

The Wolf Among Us

I’ve never read the Fables comics though I’ve always been intrigued by them. I liked the idea of Fairy Tale characters existing in the real world but usually when I’d start leafing through issues my fingers would somehow find their way to a different series and I’d read that instead. That’s why I was looking forward to this game as kind of an intro and, you know what? I may just buy some comics.

I’m really coming around on these adventure point-n-clicks. Heavy Rain was the first I’d played in a long while – not really point and click cause there’s no mouse but it’s a very similar feel to these Telltale games – and now this. I like them. I wish there was a bit more gameplay to them sometimes, more on that in the next section, but they’re just great entertainment for when you want a slightly more stimulating than a movie experience.

For those who don’t know, the game is a detective story set in modern New York and all the fairy tales you know and love are dark or depressed versions of themselves just trying to get by. You play as Bigby, the Sheriff of this underground (not literally, this isn’t the Ron Perlman Beauty and the Beast) community, and you’re drawn into a crazy investigation that will intersect with all sorts of recognizable characters and some not everyone knows.

I heartily recommend it. No idea if it follows a plot from the comics or is in any way faithful to them. But given the events in just the first episode I have a feeling it can’t be entirely cannon.

The Walking Dead

Having enjoyed Wolf Among Us I remembered I had another Telltale game that I’d never played. This one’s about Zombies!

One again I haven’t read the comics or watched the show but this time the story doesn’t involve any of the big, established characters. Moreso than in the other one I often found myself itching to have a different gaming experience. I was an avid Left 4 Dead player and on more than one occasion I would have given anything to ditch procedural problem solving and quicktime events in favour of FPS shooting or hack-n-slash. But that’s not this game and was never the intention so that one’s my failing.

Honestly my review for this one would have just been included in the one above were it not for Episode 2 which I just finished playing. Episode 1 was a great zombie survival story where a bunch of random people have to come to terms with depending on each other in a very stressful situation. Episode 2 set out to really hammer home that the zombies aren’t the villains of the story and are merely an environmental threat while the true villains are human beings and the evil we’re capable of. From what I understand that’s part of the series. My issue was it was so heavy handed, obvious, and the payoff not nearly as shocking as I would have hoped that it disappointed me.

This is going to be a spoiler but frankly if you didn’t catch it immediately playing the game yourself you need to read/watch/play anything in the horror/slasher genre ever.

You meet some folks and right away you know at least one of them is bad because he looks like an Innsmouth resident with sallow skin, a hunched back, shifty mannerisms, and a sneering evil voice. It was so obvious for a while I thought he couldn’t possibly be evil because it was too blatant. But I was wrong. There’s a big reveal at the end of the second act that was also exactly what I knew it would be. As long as you’re talking to everyone you’ll know it too. That reveal also completely undermined what was supposed to be an even bigger one a few minutes later which would have been so much better without all the buildup that lat you know exactly what to expect. The end was pretty good, though.

We’ll see how the other episodes pan out. I think Wolf Among Us is much more intelligently designed as a single mystery over multiple parts where the player really has nothing to go on at this point because they haven’t even begun to drop the clues we need to solve it rather than this episode which tried too hard.

Although maybe it would have had more impact if I wasn’t a Keeper of Call of Cthulhu games….

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