Spencer's Day

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Saturday, February 25, 2017

Better late than never... inFAMOUS Second Son Review!

Can you all believe I have owned, played, and 100% the ever loving daylights out of this game (and thoroughly enjoyed every second of it) and never even ONCE mentioned it on this blog? Well today I'm giving arguably one of the best PS4 games ever made a review on this very blog! What game might that be?

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Why have I never reviewed or even MENTIONED inFAMOUS Second Son at all? Well, I meant to review it back in 2015, but then Undertale happened. Then I tried to review it a few months later, but then Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth happened. And then I tried reviewing last Christmas, but then the Nintendo Switch happened. But now that the big heavy hitters of 2017 are right around the corner like Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Horizon: Zero Dawn, both of which look so good it hurts, now is the best time to review this game before those aforementioned heavy hitters make me forget to review it a fourth time.

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But what exactly IS inFAMOUS Second Son? It's actually the third title in a trilogy of games known as the inFAMOUS franchise. But I know what you're thinking. "Ugh, this game is the third part of a trilogy? Better hold off until I play the first two games so I won't get confused by the story!". Don't do that. inFAMOUS Second Son is a bit of an oddball. It's effectively it's own stand-alone game, and as someone who played this game first, I can safely say that if you DIDN'T know there were multiple inFAMOUS games, this game doesn't provide any hints of being a part of a preexisting franchise safe for some really obscure hints. But the general gist of the inFAMOUS games is basically "use parkour and matter-themed superpowers, like Smoke for example, to either save or destroy a beautiful city".

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But that's where the similarities to the previous games end. inFAMOUS Second Son stars a young Native American man named Delsin Rowe and after three prisoners known as Conduits (basically they have matter-themed superpowers like Delsin) escape from a military force known as the D.U.P. (Department of United Protection), he goes on an adventure to save his friends from death by Earthbending, acquiring new abilities on the way. But here's the catch. Just like a certain indie game I shall not name, inFAMOUS Second Son has a morality system that will result in both more refined abilities as well as two different endings, and unlike that certain indie game, this game won't punish you for trying to get the Bad Ending (if anything it REWARDS you for getting that ending, since the Evil powers are, in my opinion, more useful for combat, which is the game's strong suite).

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Now I have only one problem with inFAMOUS Second Son's story. And this paragraph WILL contain spoilers (to be fair, this is a late arrival spoiler because the game has been out since 2013), but this issue drives me insane (to remain unspoiled, skip this paragraph). Shortly before the first battle against the villain of the game, Brooke Augustine, Delsin's brother Reggie (keep in mind, Reggie is a police officer) tells him he's always been proud of him before suffering death by Earthbending. While this makes perfect sense and makes for a decent tearjerker on a Hero run (where you defeat enemies using ONLY non-lethal attacks and protect civilians to the best of your ability), but on the titular Infamous run (where you murder just about everything that moves), it causes a MASSIVE plot-hole because I really doubt Reggie, who is a FLIPPING POLICE OFFICER, would be proud of his brother for becoming a serial killer. The ONLY way he could say this and have it make sense is if he DIDN'T know his younger brother has become public enemy No. 1, and that possibility is EXTREMELY unlikely since if you start an Infamous run, the local police force will be given orders to shoot you on sight.

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But ignoring this frustrating plot hole, the story itself is actually surprisingly good. Because quite frankly, the ONLY problem with the story was that spoilerific plot hole mentioned above. All the characters are memorable and some are relatable. And something I will applaud inFAMOUS Second Son for is how it uses dark themes in it's story-telling (this is probably the reason this game is rated T for Teen lol). For example, fan-favorite character Fetch Walker used to be a drug addict and accidently killed her own brother during a drug withdrawal. Now she's going around killing every drug dealer that dares to set foot in Seattle! That's a bit extreme, but hey! Less living criminals equals lower crime rates! Utilitarian philosophy for the win! :D

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Fetch is actually so popular there's a DLC you
can buy that not only adds a few extra hours of
content, but also lets you play as Fetch!

And before I spoil even more a four-year-old video game's plot, let's move onto gameplay, and boy oh boy, I LOVE the gameplay.

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The entire game takes place in Seattle, and as a open-world action-adventure game, the open world is beautiful. As long as it's within Seattle borders, you can go pretty much anywhere. And because of the trademark inFAMOUS parkour system, you can climb up basically any wall you want, save for few... Until you gain access to some of the later abilities, which let you effectively fly ("...in three languages!"- Reggie, 2013). Speaking of abilities, I really like what they picked to base Delsin's ever-expanding repertoire of powers off of. Like, they don't seem that useful on paper (especially the Video power), but in practice are not only really cool, but also surprisingly imaginative.

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Combat in inFAMOUS Second Son is also really great. While you do have a melee weapon in the form of Delsin's chain whip (wait a minute! Delsin's weapon of choice is a chain whip... The very fisrt power he gets is Smoke... OMG! Delsin is a literal Chain Smoker!), it doesn't deal a whole lot of damage. Heck, later on it becomes impossible to even USE the chain whip due to increasingly agile enemies staying out of range. So, what's the solution to that problem? It's the various powers you get throughout the game that make me love inFAMOUS Second Son's combat. Borrowing some aspects from shooter games, each "power" I've been mentioning are basically a set of abilities that change Delsin's fighting style on a dime. From the easy-to-use, mid-range Smoke to the sniper-tastic Neon (this one is my personal favorite, partly because it's pretty and partly because I like sniping in just about any game that isn't Splatoon), to the stealth/close-quarters hybrid Video and the hilariously overpowered jack-of-all-trades Concrete. In addition to this, each power gives you the player a choice. Either take down your opponents non-fatally, or kill'em all! And the way the non-lethal powers work is also really fun. Example, shooting a D.U.P. soldier in the leg with Neon will immobilise him, but keep him alive, while scoring a headshot is as lethal as you can expect. However! Smoke allows for non-lethal headshots (the smoke works like knockout gas!) and even has a AoE stun move. All the powers perform differently, and no two feel the same. My only complaint with the combat is how you switch powers. To switch powers, all you got to do is find an object in the environment to "recharge" the desired power (smoke-stacks, neon signs, TV screens, etc.). My problem here is out of sheer muscle memory gained from games that have multiple interchangeable abilities/weapons as well, I keep pressing the D-pad, expecting Delsin to switch powers, but have nothing happen instead. I'm probably the only person like this, but still

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As for graphics, inFAMOUS Second Son is a beautiful game. All the powers are excellently animated, and the character designs are nice. I appreciate how all the main characters look like normal, everyday people and don't have weird, impractical outfits that look utterly ridiculous (*Rina, I'm looking at you). I also like how Delsin is designed to strongly resemble his voice actor, Troy Baker. Speaking of voice acting, I really like the voice acting in this game. All the characters sound natural and believable.

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I know this is a small thing, but I really like the 
lighting in this game. It makes Neon even prettier
than before!

Something that doesn't sound as good as the voice acting is the music. The music isn't unbearable, but the only pieces of the soundtrack I remember are the main theme (which is dark and ominous-sounding) and the music that plays when you fight the third and final Escaped Conduit (which is the epitome of awesome!). Everything else is just okay... But not great.

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Another thing that I am not really the biggest fan of is how short the game is. It will take you about 5 hours to beat the main story, and another 3 hours to 100% the game. Even if you add doing an alternate run (i.e. doing an Infamous run after completing the Hero run) that still is only 16 hours total, so longevity is not one of inFAMOUS Second Son's strong points.

So overall, I give this game a 9/10. A great game perfect for anyone who likes action-adventures or just want a decent PS4 exclusive game. Oh, did I forget to mention that the entire inFAMOUS franchise is owned by Sony and as such is exclusive to Sony systems like the PS family? Because it is.

*Rina is a character from the Digimon video games and I cannot take her seriously due to how silly her outfit looks.

P.S. I had the funniest reason ever for buying this game. It came out EXACTLY on my birthday, and the entire reason I got it was because I watched a trailer where Delsin uses Smoke to burn an Emoji into the side of a building, saw the release date and found so funny it came out EXACTLY on my birthday that I went ahead and got the game simply because of it's amusing (in my eyes) release date. Good thing I did, because this game is actually really good.

P.P.S. Now that I'm thinking about, the amount of profanity in this game might be the reason it's rated T for Teen... Seriously, at least one character curses in every other cutscene. Like, there's no F-bombs or anything of that ilk, but if you have watched just about any PG-13 superhero movie (such as Avengers) then the profanity is akin to that.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Undertale Revisited...

Ah, Undertale. This game was for a long time my favorite video game ever, and I still would call it my favorite, but after playing through the game with my good friend Vincent, I realized that when I first reviewed "The Friendly RPG where No one has to Die" I didn't even get any of the game's multiple endings, in addition to riding an intense hype typhoon, and since the game took the Internet by storm in 2015, I have come to the heartbreaking realization that the game I constantly sing praises of and make reference to obnoxiously wasn't nearly as flawless as I made it out to be.

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For those of you who aren't really sure what Undertale is, it's a indie game created almost single-handedly by a guy called Toby Fox. When the game launched back in 2015, it was almost universally praised by everyone, earning various awards, perfect 10-out-of-10 scores from professional journalists, and earning the second most annoyingly widespread fanbase ever (the first going to the over-night horror classic franchise, Five Nights at Freddy's).

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The story of Undertale follows a small child whose name you are NOT supposed to know until the very end of the game's Good Ending as they make his/her (while the child's gender is unknown, everyone agrees that the child more closely resembles a girl) way through an underground kingdom inhabited entirely by monsters, either befriending everyone they meet or leaving a trail of death and destruction, depending on whether you the player are trying to get the Good Ending or the Bad Ending, respectively.

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That's mostly the general plot, and while the overall story is unique and memorable, the way it's told isn't that good. Most of the story comes from loosely connected dialogue from characters that don't have much relation to one another. My biggest gripe with Undertale's story is the seemingly out of nowhere appearance of an anthropomorphic spider girl named Muffet (I see what you did there, Mr. Fox!) that literally has no impact on the story and after a surprisingly difficult boss battle, isn't seen or even mentioned for the rest of the game, save for the end credits. It's especially jarring because she even had a unique music theme (appropriately titled "Spider Dance) playing during the boss battle, and that kind of treatment is normally reserved for characters who play a major role in the story.

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Another thing I will critique is the New Home area (pictured above). This is the final area the child goes through on his/her adventure, and it leads right to the final boss of both endings. The problem? Even I will admit I found this area to be anti-climatic. I mean, it LOOKS beautiful with it's deliberate lack of color to create a sense of loneliness, and I can understand what Toby Fox was going for with this area, but not only are there no puzzles whatsoever, there aren't even any fightable enemies here either. And while one of my favorite themes in the soundtrack starts playing here (the imaginatively named "UNDERTALE"), this area gives you a massive exposition dump from either every monster you have encountered up until this point or a character called Flowey, depending on whether you've met the criteria for the Good Ending or the Bad Ending, respectively. In retrospect, this exposition dump wasn't really needed until you go into Dr. Alphys's basement, which, again, changes the story-telling method from New Home's exposition dump to a method I actually really like, reading log entries scattered around the basement, as well as audio tapes that basically repeat what the exposition dump in New Home told us, only shedding some new light (like how the first human to ever come to the kingdom of monsters died) and in a much more impactful way (at least in my eyes). To be fair, you access Dr. Alphys's basement extremely late in the game (the only reason I'm telling you all here about it is because you should be extremely suspicious of the door Alphys darts into shortly after you meet her).

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But while the main story might not have been told in the best way possible, I will say that one of Undertale's strong points is it's EXTREMELY memorable cast. Every character is unique and even the would-be generic enemies have plenty of life and personality put into them (a few stand-outs being the muscle-bound seahorse Aron and the infamously adorable Greater Dog).

But a small complaint I have is with The Big Six, a.k.a. what I personally like to call the six characters that are both the most important to the story as well as the most popular characters in the game, for varying reasons. They're by far the most beloved part of the game, earning hundreds of fans as well as tons of fanmade artwork (2017, where your game's fans do the advertising for you!). But after half a dozen playthroughs I realized that the only characters the game keeps around after their own side-story has drawn to a close are the the skeleton brothers, the chill, laid-back Sans and the vainglorious and egotistical Great Papyrus (they are both named after fonts, in case you didn't notice).

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if only the Great Papyrus knew he would become
the single most popular character in the game...

My personal favorite character, Dr. Alphys, doesn't get much screen time, especially compared to everyone else due to not showing up until you're roughly 3/4's into the game, and that leads into the second biggest problem, it's not as big a problem as the bizarre encounter with Muffet, but this game is at MOST five hours long. This makes the game EXTREMELY short and while I understand the limits of a one-man development team, a measly five hours is nowhere near enough time to give a natural course for character development and have said character development feel rushed. Alphys's romantic endeavors being the biggest victim of this (seriously, after an adorably awkward but surprisingly minimalistic love confessions to Undyne, BOOM! The Fish/Dragon Power Couple is born just like that!).

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Behold my favorite character in the game,
Dr. Alphys!

And while on the subject of characters, I just wanted to say something about the game's fanbase. You know how I said that Undertale has the second most annoying fanbase ever? Well, back in the beginning of the game's life after release some people refused to play the game because the preexisting fanbase was unbearably annoying. Partly because there are people that simply won't shut up about this game, partly because there are SOME people who love the game too much (namely all the Toriel fans who think she is attractive, despite the fact that Toriel is both an anthropomorphic goat-woman, and the fact that fact that she is literally hundreds, maybe thousands of years old), as well as people (specifically fanfic writers and comic artists) exaggerating Sans's emotional state (if you look at fan-made stuff for Sans they make him seem like a broken shell of a man who's barely holding back tears, while in the actual game he's mostly all fun-and-games, though he does imply he's a nihilist with some of his Bad Ending dialogue) So a word of advice, if you ever not played the game due to the obnoxious fans, or because of people thinking that Toriel is hot, or because of fans making Sans a lot edgier than he is in-game, now would actually the best time to actually play Undertale since the hype for it has died down, and a lot of people who used to be obnoxious about how much they love the game have since mellowed out.

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Truly, the most difficult choice I have ever 
made in my life...

On another note, something I will say positive about the game's story is it manages to make me (and hundreds of other people) feel a wide array of emotions. From laughing at the silliness that is the Great Papyrus' side-arc, to having your heart melted by the insanely heartwarming moments you have with Toriel (even IF a lot of her fans think she's hot...), to feeling the absolute horror that is what awaits inside Dr. Alphys's basement which I will not spoil for you, all the way to getting hit right in the feels once you defeat the Final Boss of the Good Ending. And this is all a good thing, because if a story isn't making feel the emotion that it wants you to feel, the story itself is bad. It's such a shame that most of the story feels so loosely connected due to the way it was told.

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Admit it, this is most adorable moment in
the game!

Now I know this whole time I've been talking about the story and characters, but how good is Undertale's gameplay? Well, your mileage may vary here. Either the gameplay is fun and innovative or it's painfully easy (especially if you played any of the games that inspired Undertale's combat system). You see, while it is very much a RPG, it borrows elements from games such as Touhou and Shin Megami Tensei (that is, dodging increasingly complex attack patterns and negotiating with enemies instead of trying to kill them, respectively), although I myself have never played either because I never heard of either game until after playing through Undertale myself.

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The game is effectively split into two parts, exploring the underground kingdom of monsters and actually battling said monsters. The combat is mostly turn-based, but it brings in a unique little twist. On your opponents turn, your character transforms into a bright red heart and can float around wherever you want as long as you stay in the confines of what is known as the Bullet Board. You use this mechanic to manually dodge attacks yourself. That's right, with enough practice, skill, and hand-eye coordination, you can beat the game without taking a lick of damage. I LOVE this system as it dumps my least favorite part of the RPG genre, having to rely on stats and random chance to dodge attacks.

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The lovable volcano Vulkin shall be our
example for explaining Undertale's combat!

As you can see in the picture above, during your own turn, you have four options. FIGHT, self-explanatory, initiates a timing based minigame to harm opponents. Depending on which ending you are trying to get, you will either spam this button to the ninth dimension and back again (for the Bad Ending) or you will never even touch the FIGHT button (for the Good Ending). ACT is arguably the most important option available to you. Clicking it brings up a list of options you can do to peacefully interact with the enemy in question, with every single enemy in the game (including bosses) having a unique set of options (of course, joke options like Flirt or Pet are shared across several enemies). Next up is ITEM, which, also self-explanatory, lets you use an item that you have currently in your inventory. Some items will simply heal you, while others will end battles early. And finally, and by far the most well known because it's the thing the game got famous for, the MERCY button. Clicking this brings up two options, Spare or Flee. Once you figure out how to successfully convince a monster to not kill you (the cue for this is the letters in their name will turn bright yellow), you can click Spare to end the fight without killing the monster. Keep in mind, you will never get XP and thus never level up, so the game will get slightly more difficult if you are aiming for the Good Ending. As for Flee, it lets you escape SOME battles. For obvious reasons, almost none of the boss battles will let you click this option.

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This is an example of an opponent's turn in action...

Additionally, all of the bosses, save for three (four if you count Napstablook as a boss, but he is more akin to a mini-boss due to how short his battle is) will alter the physics affecting the bright red heart you control when dodging attacks. For example, one boss can remove the heart's ability to float around and forcing the player to jump over attacks to avoid them, turning the game into a Super Mario Bros/Flappy Bird-esque platformer, while another boss gives you a shield but removes the ability to move away from the center of the screen, forcing you to turn the shield around quickly enough to block incoming attacks. It makes the bosses stand out and make them much more challenging (but still fun) than the regular enemies.

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Something that Undertale doesn't do that well, sadly, are the puzzles dotting the monster kingdom you explore while outside of battle. The puzzles, save for one optional piano puzzle where you have to memorize a 8-note-long melody played by a statue in one area and play the exact same melody on the eponymous piano in another area entirely (bound to be difficult to anyone who has a bad memory or simply are musically inclined enough to identify and memorize each note), are really simple and easy. And even then, the one puzzle that's actually difficult is entirely optional and the only thing you get out of it is an item that can be used to make infinite money. Which, while nice, isn't really needed to complete the game.

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And after getting all the gameplay and story stuff out of the way, let's address the graphics. Now, hear me out here. Just making a game deliberately look like a 80's era video game does not make the graphics bad. However, there are some things I love and some things I hate. I LOVE the environments and the full body sprites. I HATE the overworld sprites for characters, however. Why? The overworld sprites are literally scrunched-up versions of the full body sprites, and don't really have any expressiveness to them, save for Sans and the Great Papyrus (the former because you only see his full body sprite once in the entire game, and the Great Papyrus because he's by far the most expressive character in the game regardless of which sprite for him the game is using).

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On the subject of environments, the only bad looking area in the game is the very first one, the Ruins. Ironically, this area has a ton of purple, which is actually my favorite color, but the reason I don't like the look of the Ruins is because of how it over-uses one color (purple), and I would have personally added some other colors to break up the sea of purple that is Ruins. But every area PAST the Ruins looks amazing. Toriel's house looks so cozy and welcoming that I built a replica of it in Minecraft (this was back when I considered Undertale to be perfect in every way and I played Minecraft on a regular basis). Snowdin Town is in a state of never-ending Christmas, which is a dream come true for those of you who celebrate Christmas. but even if you don't it's nice to look at. Waterfall is simply GORGEOUS with it's clever use of bioluminescent plants and shades of blue that thankfully aren't overused. And Hotland uses the perfect blend of oranges and reds to create the feeling of traveling through the heart of a volcano, while throwing in some "patches" of sci-fi technology here and there to remind you that you are in the domain of my second favorite dragon ever (the first being Spyro!).

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And finally, let's address arguably Undertale's strongest point... The music. The game's soundtrack is AMAZING. I know music is extremely subjective, but Undertale has the best music I've heard in a video game in a long time. Heck, the only game that has better music, in my opinion, is Valiant Hearts: The Great War, although I'm biased towards that game because of it's heavy use of piano and the piano is my favorite instrument to listen to. But Undertale also occasionally uses real instruments instead of relying on it's nostalgia-inducing 8-bit chirps constantly. Some of it's songs even use both real instruments AND nostalgia-inducing 8-bit chirps at the same time! But seriously, there isn't a bad song in the soundtrack at all, but then again, music is subjective. Like I remember one time I was babysitting these three kids and I let one of them play the game and they (I'll leave them anonymous) complained that the music was annoying. To be fair, they were roughly 11-years old (I think...) and probably never played an 8-bit game before (and if they have, then sorry for jumping to conclusions).

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With all of this being said, I feel a rescore is in order. It is with a broken heart that I give Undertale, one of the best games I ever played, as well as the one video game I thoroughly believed anyone with a decent computer should play immediately, an 8.5/10. *depressed sigh*

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Now don't expect me to rescore all the games I have reviewed on this blog (that would take about 3 years), but I felt it was necessary to look at Undertale and determine (lol DETERMINATION jokes!) whether the game was as flawless as I once claimed. However! This might not be the last time I rescore a game, if I feel that the score I gave it at the time was too high or too low (although the lowest I've ever rated something was 4/10 lol), I'll play through that game again and rescore it appropriately.

P.S. I guess you could say that the child's gender is unDETERMINED!!!

P.P.S. I just now realized the two characters I mentioned getting almost ruined by the Undertale fanbase are also the characters my good friend Vincent ships together lol.

P.P.P.S. That rant about Dr. Alphys' love life was definitely DRAGON on!