My Persona 5 Diary: Part 1

I'm playing through Persona 5 for the first time and will be sharing my thoughts on the game as I go in this series. There will be spoilers in this series, but I will not go out of my way to ruin more than I have to, but the best way to watch these videos will be to either have played the game already or play along at the same pace.

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Killzone Shadow Fall: An E3 Demo Come to Life

Killzone Shadow Fall was not an amazing game. I’ve been leaning this channel more towards games that I have undying love for, but Shadow Fall doesn’t really fall in that category for me, so why am I talking about it?

Well, Killzone Shadow Fall was a launch title for the PlayStation 4, and by most accounts it was the premiere launch title for the system. Exclusive launch titles for new consoles exist largely to prove the value of new hardware. New game consoles are expensive, and they tend to come out when the previous generation of hardware has hit its groove so many people don’t see the need for something new just yet. Launch games like Killzone are meant to show people that experiences that were completely impossible on the old hardware are now possible. Sometimes we get classics like Breath of the Wild or Mario 64, but more often than not we get short, shallow games that don’t stand the test of time.

I think Killzone Shadow Fall lands closer to the forgettable side, but I’m talking about it today because it absolutely kills it in terms of showing off the PS4’s capabilities. Hell, I’m playing this on a PS4 Pro in 2019, 6 years and 1 hardware iteration after this game came out and it’s still astounding me today!

The best way I can describe this game is to ask you to think about what you’re used to seeing at E3 game reveals. You know, the ones that happen years before the game is released. These demos have tons of effects and little animation flourishes that make the game look more immersive than basically anything else out there. Then the game is released and those extra flourishes are typically removed in the interest of creating a more consistent game. Maybe we don’t need so many dust particles in those super dramatic light beams, or maybe the character doesn’t need to bounce around so much because the game will be easier to play if they move a little more smoothly.

Killzone Shadow Fall feels like you’re playing an E3 demo from start to finish. It’s full of overly-agressive animations and visual effects that likely would have been sanded down in other games, but not here. Killzone feels like an adventure in excess, and it’s kind of awesome.

  • Guns have elaborate and excellent reload animations.
  • Environments are vast, and often let you see way off into the distance to make the world feel huge.
  • Your character has very weighty movements that make the game feel very grounded in reality.
  • Character models have super high polygon counts and the cinematics make sure you notice them by putting the camera right up in their faces.
  • Lighting effects are turned all the way up to make the world look incredibly dynamic.

Even things like load times are kept to an extreme minimum. It’s a little thing, but I was super impressed with how quickly the game itself launches. Check out how long it takes to get from the PS4 home screen to the game’s menu:

Check out the video above.

When I compare this to every other game that comes out which has a long title card and a half dozen unskippable company logos that appear on game launch, this is super refreshing. Mark Cerney is out there right now talking about how fast games will load on the upcoming PlayStation 5, but Guerrilla Games did this on the PS4 6 years ago and it’s worth recognizing.

But let’s move past the visual flourishes and talk about the game itself. On the one hand, Killzone Shadow Fall has satisfying gunplay with a surprising amount of mission variety, all packed into a game that’s a pretty perfect length. On the other hand, the controls are a little imprecise, the game feels a bit old school, and the story is not very engaging.

Basically, it feels to me like every good thing I can say about this game comes with a “yeah, but” attached to it. For example, I think the guns feel really good and they all feel distinct, buuuuut the game doesn’t effectively communicate how effective you are when shooting at the enemy. Are you hitting them? Are they dead? The game doesn’t tell you very clearly either way. Each mission has a different gameplay loop, whether it be playing as a child, snaking through an enemy stronghold, navigating zero-gravity space stations, teaming up with a partner to snipe enemies in an industrial zone, or slowly picking off small groups of soldiers in an open-ended jungle environment, buuuut imprecise controls make some of these sections more challenging than they should be.

I think that you can boil this all down and legitimately say that Killzone Shadow Fall is a mediocre game that is propped up by an impressive visual presentation. I completely get that position, but I think Shadow Fall deserves more than that. It is absolutely a flawed game, but I think much like a summer blockbuster movie, the presentation could be worth the price of admission alone. Add onto that a game that I think has surprisingly good pacing, more mission variety than most contemporary shooters, and guns that feel all sorts of satisfying, and you get a package that I personally find to be a fun revisit every couple years or so. It’s not one of the greatest games of all time, nor is it even one of the best games on the PS4, but I think that it’s a fun enough game with enough moments that make you go “whoa” to warrant a play through.

At the time of recording in 2019, Shadow Fall has settled down to $19.99 and goes on sale relatively often. If you enjoy shooters and are looking for something fun with visuals you can drool over, I think Killzone Shadow Fall is worth the cost of admission.

Gris is a Mini Masterpiece

Gris came out on December 13, 2018 and didn’t really stand a chance at getting a ton of traction. It’s a short, small game from a tiny game studio and it came out right before Christmas when people are catching up on all the games they missed throughout the year. It also didn’t manage to get as much attention from the gaming press at the time because they were all full up on getting year end lists out before they took holiday break. But it’s 5 months later and Gris is still totally, absolutely, completely worth your time and money.

So obviously the big draws of Gris are its visuals and soundtrack. The game looks hand-drawn and has a gorgeous aesthetic that surely has been done before, but is completely new to me. It just looks dead gorgeous and constantly had me staring at the screen in awe as I moved through the world.

And like any game that emphasizes beautiful visuals, it has a gameplay loop that inherently makes the game look even more vibrant and unforgettable as it goes on. This is a minor spoiler, but the objective of the game is to bring color back to a colorless world. You start out in a quiet, black and white environment. You soon unlock red and the world lights up, but only the elements that are red. Then other colors come into the picture and the world you’re exploring gets more striking every time you add a new color to its pallet.

By the end of the game you’re running and jumping and swimming through a lush, vibrant world that is teeming with life and character.

The game completes the presentation package by having one of the most gorgeous soundtracks to any game I’ve played in recent memory. The soundtrack, written and performed by Berlinist, is unforgettable. The music not only matches the tone of the game perfectly, but it’s integrated with the gameplay in a way that makes sure you’re always hearing exactly the right music at exactly the right time. Considering there are few cutscenes, and even those are not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the music crechendoing right when an enemy bursts into the room or a note holding at the precise moment you jump off a cliff edge.

And that brings me to the gameplay, which is less amazing than the elements I’ve mentioned already, but it more than holds its own and is simply enhanced by the music and visuals.

This is a 3D platformer and you can do all the things you expect to be able to do in the genre. You are presented with increasingly difficult jumping puzzles, but these never get too challenging. It’s more a matter of figuring out where to go rather than actually making the jumps when you figure out what to do.

As the game goes on you get to do more than jump, and over the short 3 hour run you will have a handful of abilities that build on each other and let you do more and more in the world. It’s not a Metroid-vania by any means, but the game does do a great job of guiding you through the world so you never get lost and there are parts where you’ll return to that have new opportunities in them later in the game.

The colors that you’re unlocking throughout the game play into this as well, as parts of the game world are not available to you until their color is revealed. Once it is, you look at the world differently and will sometimes see whole new ways to move around. It’s a very clever mechanic that builds up to an ending that has you combining all the skills you have learned and colors you have revealed to perform some pretty complex, but always achievable maneuvers.

The game is not terribly difficult, and this is definitely a game that skews a bit more casual than something like Celeste or Dead Cells. You’re not going to be fighting enemies nor is it even possible to die. The game makes you feel clever when you solve a puzzle, but it’s clearly intent on you always moving forward rather than have you try the same platforming challenge over and over again.

And finally there’s the story, which is completely wordless and relies entirely on imagery to get its point across. I did not do any research on this before making this video so this could either be totally off base or literally what everyone says, but I found it to be a story about loss and redemption. It’s about a character who goes to literal dark places and strives to get out of them. Even as they are on the tip of escaping, the darkness comes back more intensely than ever. This may not resonate with everyone, but if you have suffered from depression or even generally dealt with severe sadness I think this will resonate with you. By having no explicit story or character names or anything like that, Gris allows the player to attach things to their own experiences and I think that’s a great quality in any piece of art.

I think Gris is a miniature masterpiece. It’s quite short and there is not a ton that’s super innovative from a gameplay perspective, so I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s in the top 10 video games of all time or anything, but it had more or an impact on me than most games I play. I can’t stop thinking about the visuals and the soundtrack has been on repeat while I’m at work for the past week. More importantly, it made me feel something intense. The story of Gris, as much as it has an explicit story, resonated with me at a deep level, and struck an emotional core that I was not entirely expecting from it. It pairs an open-ended story with engaging but not overly complex gameplay with and audio-visual package few games can compete with, all to create an experience that I think was criminally overlooked in 2018 and should be experienced by as many people as possible.

3 Reasons Journey is a Legendary Video Game (review/retrospective)

Warning, this video and article shows footage from the final moments of the game Journey, as well as a description of the entire arc of the game. Please continue only if you have played the game or are okay with spoilers.

Journey is a masterful game that crams more emotion and moments of euphoric gameplay into one hour than most games achieve in their 40 plus hour runtimes. On top of that, the game achieves this without uttering a single word to the player. I don’t think every game can do this, and a large part of why this game is successful is in how it embraces being different from most other games, but I think it provides some lessons in game design that lots of other game designers could learn from.

I want to talk about 3 things the game does extraordinarily well: direction, empowerment, and multiplayer.

Before I get into those, I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention that Journey has some of the most striking visuals ever created for a video game, and the soundtrack, composed by Austin Wintory, pair together perfectly to create a unique and unforgettable audiovisual experience.

But great visuals and audio can only take a game so far on their own, so let’s talk about what actually makes Journey such a special game.

First up is direction. Journey has no dialogue and there is only written text 3 times in the game by my count. One that tells you to press X to start the game, one that tells you to hold down O to sing, and one to hold X to jump. That’s it.

And in terms of user interface, well there is none. Your character wears a scarf that tells you how much more jumping capability you have left, but that’s it. There is no life bar or experience meters to fill up, and there are no maps or waypoints telling you where to go.

Despite all of these traditional elements being missing, you are unlikely to find yourself lost or wondering what to do next in this game. The game world is wonderfully designed in a way that it encourages you to always head the right direction. From the very beginning you are coaxed into moving towards a small platform on the horizon. You could conceivably walk off in any direction, but the game world does not encourage this. The dessert is beautiful, but there looks like there is nothing to do anywhere other than where you are supposed to go.

The game also uses ease of navigation as a way to funnel you towards where it needs you to go next. You can walk through the sand, but it’s a heck of a lot more expedient to slide through the sand dunes, and many of the larger areas make it so you will naturally get to where you need to go to advance by embracing the slide rather than trudging through the sand in the wrong direction.

And there there are world markers throughout the game. At a fundamental level, the game asks you to get to the top of the mountain in the distance. Again, it asks you to do this without uttering a word, but it’s very clear that is the objective.

You also are guided with things like giant scarfs that looks a heck of a lot like the scarf you yourself are wearing. These turn out to be what you use to build bridges to get to the next area. The game’s dessert world makes it easy to always find these with ease.

Other things such as conveniently placed lights help you along the way too and it all just adds up to an experience that does not feel like it’s holding your hand despite it doing a lot of work to get you to do exactly what it wants.

Next up is empowerment. Journey does a masterful job of making the most of the powers it gives you. The basic actions you can take in this game are jumping, gliding, and sliding. At the start of the game you can’t do any of these. Your scarf isn’t even there yet and the landscape is flat so you must just walk through the sand at first.

You soon get the ability to jump, which in turn gives you the ability to glide down from your jump. The initial jump is relatively small so you can’t do a ton with it, but soon you’ll be discovering extensions for your scarf with let you jump higher and glide farther. You can combine this with some larger, more sloped areas to jump, glide down, and slide you way across the world in no time. The jump is incredibly rewarding and each upgrade you get to it makes a meaningful enough difference to make you feel overpowered each time you find an upgrade.

You continue on this path for the first 2/3 of the game, getting more and more powerful and feeling like you can take on the world. But then you come to a new area that’s totally different. The sand is replaced by snow and everything is suddenly a literal uphill battle. Not only does the game remove all of the rolling hills and raised platforms you became accustomed to using to literally fly around the world, it makes the world so cold that it literally saps your scarf of all its power. Not only does your scarf constantly lose its energy, but it even slowly shrinks until there is just a stub left. That thing you put all your effort into growing as big as possible is stripped away from you and you have to push on without it.

Your power is eventually taken away from you entirely and you take ever slower, smaller steps up the mountain. The controller vibrates with every step, where previously you could run and jump without a care in the world. Now the game makes you feel every step, makes you feel the impact it has on you. You really feel the struggle of the character. You do this until you can’t make it any further and you collapse in the snow, nothing left to give.

The game built you up and then tore you down, and in its final moments builds you right back up again, this time with more power and more freedom than you have ever had in the game. Your scarf is longer than it’s ever been and the world you’re navigating has the scarf’s regenerative magic filling the air you breath. Your power is effectively limitless and you no longer have to think about what you do, you can just do anything you want. The music is euphoric here as well, which only helps to accentuate the moment.

I just love how the game builds you up wonderfully, only to tear you down, all of which makes you appreciate even more the final sequence which gives you more power than you know what to do with. This is grade A game design.

Finally we have to talk about this game’smiltiplayer, which is anything but a traditional multiplayer experience. You can’t party up or anything and it’s not even explicitly clear that these are other human beings you’re seeing in the world. There are no usernames, no voice chat, and most importantly, no negative ways to interact with each other. Again, since your only actions are to jump and sing, you can only really sing at one another, which if they are close enough to you, will also recharge their cape if they need it.

On top of this, you’ll become inexplicably attached to these unnamed wanderers. Whenever I ran into someone I would feel compelled to stick with them and help them find hidden things in the world or recharge their cape if they needed it. I’d also just stand there and sing to get their attention. And I’m not an anomaly or anything, this is how everyone I’ve played with has acted too. Everyone is nice to each other, in part because the game doesn’t give you a way to be bad, but mostly because the game puts you in a state that makes you feel like you want to have a positive experience.

Now I’m someone who always mutes other players in multiplayer games, but even I found myself compelled to interact with others in this game and even wait for them to catch up to me so we could go to the next section together. On one play-though I was with one person for a good chunk of time and I felt genuinely sad when we got separated somehow along the way. That’s really impressive for, again a game with no words.

And that’s what I think is so amazing about Journey. It’s a fantastic game that does so much right in such a small package. Despite the one hour run time, Journey is a game that stay with you long after you put down the controller. And if you don’t want it to end, the game lets you kick off a new journey immediately after your first journey ends.

Metal Gear Solid 2 Retrospective - The Tanker Mission

Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of the Patriots is on of my favorite games ever and I decided to revisit it in 2019, documenting my feelings about it along the way. This first video takes us through the tanker mission that opens the game; basically everything before we get to Raiden.

All video was recorded from my play-through on the Metal Gear Solid HD Collection, with one small bit from the official 2000 E3 trailer. Music is from the official soundtrack, and title card is from official Metal Gear art from Konami.