Cold Steel 2 is a Travesty

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It’s wild, I used to delay on blog posts because I tried to make them gleam with the shine of professionalism. I had to give a primer on the pop culture I was talking about, establish some sort of thesis, pretend like I’m going to do this for anyone but myself and the six people that read this thing. Turns out when you forget about all that shit and realize this is a space for you and no one else, you end up writing more often, whoms’t’v’e thought! Who even cares, if Ben Shapiro gets to crap out “””content“”” then so do I.

So anyways today I wanna talk about how Trails of Cold Steel 2 is a flaming pile of shit.

“Mint,” you say. “That’s a little harsh. It has some redeeming qualities.” And that’s true, Laura is in the game, but this is a fleck of gold on a steaming pile.

So Trails in the Sky isn’t even a cult classic anymore. The cult is gone. Everyone harps about that series. That dumbass on Kotaku won’t shut up about it almost as much as Suikoden II. When I tried it I thought my mind was going to be blown. “This is a real story,” JRPG nerds told me. “This is what JRPGs are all about.”

What I got was a moderately better story than other games, with a lot of boring padding and a really good protagonist, and pretty much nothing else. I hated most of it and quit 50 hours in. Most Trails fans would argue that I was five hours away from getting to the good stuff, but I could get more (and did get more) entertainment out of the bare-knuckled storytelling of an episode of Hell’s Kitchen.

But why do I even bring up Trails in the Sky? Because I didn’t think it was going to be possible to make its sequel series worse. Kudos to Falcom for that, I guess.

The first Cold Steel gets a bit of a pass from me. It didn’t try to be anything more than the high school harem bullshit it aspired to be, complete with annoying loli party members and half-sister — or cousin, or step-sister, whatever I don’t remember — that really wants to bang your bland, potato-headed protagonist. The blonde girl accidently shows you her panties or something 5 hours into the game and there’s a big hubbub about the whole thing. You’re playing an anime, fine. The QoL stuff was actually an improvement over Trails in the Sky, with fast travel and quest indicators.

Cold Steel 2 is worse. And it’s worse because it tries to be better. Far be it for me to tell others not to improve, but when your loli ninja is dealing with the political ramifications of the mercenary group she was part of, I have to start asking questions. Questions like: “How did we get here?”

There are three answers to that.

1. It doubled down.

Cold Steel 2 saw how popular the first game was and really went ham on the bullshit anime aspects. You got more loli antics. More harem shit. Potato-Head is an infallible do-gooder. His only crimes are being bland, and not understanding that every girl in his class has a crush on him. It turns out another 75-100 hours of that sort of thing, on top of the 100 hours in the first game, can be a little grating.

2. It tried to be political.

In theory I’d be interested in the politics of Cold Steel 2. There’s a whole web of intrigue just waiting to be unraveled, for us to find out who betrayed who and how. But in practice by the end of the game, none of these political reveals go anywhere, and no questions are answered. I understand that sequels in a game happen — this one has four (IV) — but if you can’t resolve questions without leading into another cliffhanger at the end of your game, you’ve wasted your story. You’ve shown that you can’t pace things properly, that you’re making us wait for some grand unveiling that will never come. There are a myriad of videogames that have told an amazing and satisfying story in under 30 hours. We’ve already doubled the audiobook length of the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy after two Cold Steel games, with nothing to show for it.

Which leads me to my third and most egregious point:

3. THERE ARE NO CONSEQUENCES!!!

Cold Steel 2 is probably the most anticlimactic game I’ve ever played. I guess this ties into the first point, but why does no one in this series stay dead? Characters are resurrected unceremoniously all the time, leading to the emotional impact of their sacrifices being completely nullified. After the third reveal, I was mashing through the boring dialogue where everyone agrees with Potato-Head. Why should I give a shit? About any of this? None of it matters, no one has done anything that actually matters, and it’s clear everything is going to turn out fine because nobody dies.

Your actions don’t matter either. You’re a class of high-school students wanting to intervene in a war. You’re meant to be the best of the best, but you spend 90% of the time fighting robots before getting saved by the older generation that is much cooler and stronger than you, and whom I’d rather play as. About 700 times did I fight a boss, only for the boss to go full Dragonball Z and go “this isn’t the full extent of my power!” and defeating me immediately. I was yawning at the complete lack of conflict.

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it’s just like my japanese animes, and i hate it

This extends into the political aspects I mentioned. The game wants you to care about all the military maneuvering going on in its civil war, but there’s never any impact to it. This really reveals itself when there’s an attack on an entire civilian town, which ends in exactly one death and a couple of destroyed buildings. Cold Steel 2 is too cowardly to delve very deeply into the horrors of war, but postures as if it does. It can’t, because it would clash even more with the mechanics of dating your high-school classmates.


And that’s pretty much the long and short of it. It baffles me that Cold Steel gets any of the praise that it does. It’s a bloated, poorly paced mess, much like Trails in the Sky, but with the added anime tropes that Falcom had distinguished itself from in the first place. I literally can’t comprehend how you move from a character like Estelle to making a character like Millium “let-me-sit-on-your-chest-onee-chan” Orion, but I guess the weebs and squeebs loved it and we’ll be seeing more in the Trails series that comes after this one.

Tetris Effect

Hope you’re not here for balanced critique because holy crap y’all I love Tetris Effect.

The last game I played until 3AM in one sitting before Tetris Effect is Doki Doki Literature. Rather than send me into a crisis like that game did, Tetris Effect sent me to bed feeling like I’m on Cloud 9. It is an utter delight to experience on every level.

I mentioned in my Cowboy Game: Cowboy Harder review that I love examining how mechanics can impact a player. Tetris Effect is that thesis come to life. Developed by the creator of Lumines, it is a mastery of synesthesia, where every movement of a Tetris block, every flip and spin and bump and landing, is synched up with the game’s visual and sound direction. The skins you can play in defy explanation — one level will find you in a land of calm and soothing windmills, playing at a comfortable pace, while another has you stacking at lightning speed while an intense drumming track plays and flames engulf the playing area. I pushed on past my exhaustion just to see what the next stage would like, completely engrossed in shape-clearing, getting faster and more proficient in my stacking skills as I progressed. I can’t even imagine how much of a trip this game is in VR, but I can bet it’s amazing.

My favorite level in the game!

The only negative I can think of when it comes to Tetris Effect is one made entirely by choice. I don’t recommend playing the game in normal/hard mode, at least not the first time you play it, and definitely not if it’s your first time playing Tetris in general. There’s something extremely upsetting about losing in Tetris Effect, akin to getting your headphones yanked out of your ears in the middle of grooving to your favorite song. The stress of clearing lines clashes against the zen-like experience the game is going for. But like I said, that’s an optional scenario, and a recommendation from me.

Tetris is arguably the perfect game, if not the most enduring. It’s a game distilled to its purest form, one that you continue to see in your mind’s eye even as you close your eyes to go to bed after a marathon of playing – the tetris effect. That said, this version of Tetris is easily the greatest one ever made. Had it released only with its campaign mode and nothing else, it would have been worth the price. But the myriad of options and game modes makes it even more of an easy choice. There’s even a screensaver option that I’ve been using while doing my work at home.

Like I said, this wasn’t going to be an in-depth post at all. Just buy Tetris Effect if you have a PlayStation 4. You won’t regret it.

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Red Dead Redemption 2

You’re just gonna scroll by without saying howdy?

Oh God, another opinion about the cowboy game.

I know, I know, and I’m (mostly) sorry. But this is my corner of the internet, and if you’ve found your way here, you’re at least partially interested in my thoughts about Red Dead Redemption 2.

Before we start, assume that the end of every single one of these paragraphs ends with “I can’t believe Rockstar did this with all that exploited labor.” Assume that I don’t think you should buy this game at all based on this point. I got this game as a gift, but I honestly would have liked the My Hero Academia game instead if I had been asked (or Soul Caliber 6. Did you hear 2B is coming to that game? Lit).

So anyways you shouldn’t buy RDR2 because of the labor practices, but even putting that aside this game isn’t worth playing. I’ve been sitting and waiting for a game that would dethrone The Witcher 3 in terms of games that I’m not allowed to have a contrary opinion about without being harassed by “the gamerzzz” and buddy…we’ve made it.

We’ve made it because Red Dead Redemption 2 is such a dreadfully unfun experience built by a AAA studio that has managed to manhandle its way into being a high-reviewed game for no reason other than “it’s a Rockstar one.”

I have a lot of things I could say about this game, but I am lazy and also pretty much vowed myself away from pop culture critique because I find it so exhausting and boring and unpleasant and ultimately useless. But RDR2 pulled me out of retirement like a cowboy chasing one last bounty. So I’m going to focus on how the cowboy game feels a pressing need to have you exist in its world but not let you have any fun in it.

Immersion vs. Realism

One time in Red Dead Redemption 2 I got into a brawl outside a bar. We threw fists at each other back and forth, stumbling in the mud. My hat fell off at some point. When the fight ended, I could see the mud on individual parts of my character model, and bruises on my character’s face. I shrugged the fight off and hopped onto my horse, clip-clopping into the wilderness. I could hear the wind whistle through the trees, and in the distance, a gun crackling in a nearby mountain range. I could nearly feel the chill clinging to my character as he rode, the sun setting on the horizon.

These are details that made the game feel immersive. So did seeing snow billow and pack realistically, or watching my character’s beard grow over time. I point these things out because Rockstar seems to miss where immersion ends and realism beings.

Another anecdote to illustrate: I had a bounty I needed to bring in alive. I went to find the man hiding under the crook of a cliff. A scene initiated where I jumped onto the man’s horse and chased after him. It was all very thrilling. By the end of it, I slung the man over his horse, lassoed up, and trotted into the town, where I delivered him to the sheriff.

Satisfied with the night’s events, I walked out of the jail and whistled to my horse.

…Nothing.

I whistled a few more times. “Not again!” my cowboy lamented. A popup appeared in the top-left corner of the screen. Your horse is too far away. Get within range before whistling again.

I pulled my map out and realized that my horse was still at the cliff where I had first found the bounty. The only way to get to him would be to steal someone else’s horse to find him, potentially triggering a bounty, or walking. Both were options I wasn’t particularly looking forward to, so I shut the game down in frustration.

This isn’t fun. It doesn’t immerse me. Is it realistic? Sure. But it’s also boring. The term “immersion” has been thrown around so often at this point it barely means anything. Any and every element that exists within a semi-realistic world’s systems leads to it being considered “immersive.” But immersion isn’t supposed to be based entirely on realistic elements.

To compare, a game that came out before RDR2, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, does a better job of showcasing immersion without sacrificing gameplay that feels fun. Odyssey feels lived in. Its terrain is majestic and a joy to explore and take screenshots in. But I can also whistle for my horse to spawn behind me, even if he’s on the other side of the planet. I can carry a sword and a trident on my back, even though those are both extremely heavy objects. I can run without bumping into somebody and getting into my 400th fist-fight.

I’m not trying to say that the cowboy game needs to be the lesbian spartan game (although I’m not not saying that I’d rather play a lesbian cowgirl). I’m just saying that it’s possible to create an enjoyable game with sim elements to it that doesn’t require me to adhere to the exact limits of the real world. The real world is boring, it’s partly why I’m playing a videogame.

But okay. RDR2 does not entertain your notion of fun! It is a very serious, purposefully sullen and realistic cowboy simulator. Fine. But it’s not the biggest problem with the game. Which leads me to:

The Swampmonster

Lest there be any confusion, the above is what it feels like controlling your character in Red Dead (sidenote, I keep saying ‘character’ because I actually can’t remember the boring white guy’s name that you play as, sorry).

Let me give a few choice quotes from Kotaku’s review of the game:

  • The physical act of playing is rarely pleasurable on its own. It is often tiring and cumbersome
  • Pressing a button in Red Dead 2 rarely results in an immediate or satisfying response. Navigating Arthur (EN: oh! Arthur. That’s his name) through the world is less like controlling a video game character and more like giving directions to an actor.
  • Almost every interaction must be performed through the same gauzy, lustrous cling-wrap.

The game went on to receive extreme praise for its foliage because…well, of course it did.

There is a difference between oppressive gameplay and gameplay that’s simply unfun. The Last of Us is also a story about sad things, and while that game has its own myriad of issues, at least it feels good to actually move around in the world. RDR2 does not feel like that. At all. It is so much more interested in its myriad of systems, but not so much whether you can even interact with those systems with any sense of consistency.

The simple act of running requires you to click the left stick to sprint, or mash/hold the X button. It’s 2018. It baffles me that Rockstar continues to get away with its archaic, PS1 Horror Game control scheme just because you can see the individual footprints in a muddy pathway. This game is a cinematic marvel, but it just doesn’t feel good to play. I tend to not like focusing on these minute, physical mechanics that come with playing a game, preferring to speak on broader and more interesting topics, and how the mechanics of a game can interact to deliver some sort of message to the player. But it’s impossible not to. Red Dead Redemption 2 is a bad videogame, because it can’t keep up with the advances in game design that have existed since the creation of a second analog stick.

ALL THIS, FOR WHAT?

In any other industry, a thing that takes 8 years to be made, that requires 100s of hours of overtime and exhausting the human willpower of its team, would be considered an abject project management disaster. The fact that Red Dead Redemption 2 exists in the state that it does, after hearing the stories about how it was made, is a disgrace that the gaming industry will always need to answer for, but never will. Instead, it will (and has) receive a shower of praise because…it’s supposed to? Because game criticism can’t not give a Rockstar game a high score? Because gamers will lose their shit if it isn’t given a high score?

It is games like these, that are made and released and hyped up and reviewed with glowing praise the day before release, without any consideration towards its creation, or even whether the game is good, that makes me want to completely disengage with the conversation that surrounds games as a whole.

And with that, I’m going to play Gravity Rush 2 again, just because.

The Best Writing Tip I’ve Ever Gotten

I just used it again and realized how often I use it so I thought I’d post it here.

I don’t remember where I learned it but the general idea is that if you’re writing something and need to stop, it’s VERY important to be conscious of that stopping point.

In my opinion, the best place to stop is in the middle of a sentence.

Stopping in the middle of your train of thought is super helpful because your first instinct when you come back to your writing is to fill that gap in, so to speak. Jump in like this, and you’ve already made some progress! This is especially helpful for someone like me, who has a hard time starting writing but really gets into it once I find my groove.

Example of where I left off yesterday: 

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And here it is the moment I got back to my doc a few minutes ago:

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Bam! A nice brisk start that leads to an extended writing session.

Anyways, that’s my tip! Hope it helps someone as much as it’s helped me.

My Street Fighter Academia

One time I wrote fanfiction about the kids from My Hero Academia playing Street Fighter. The real reason I wanted to do this was to test out whether it’d be possible to write a story about people playing fighting games. I think it worked out pretty well, and was actually quite fun to write!


Night had settled on Heights Alliance, and with it, so did the mood of the heroes-in-training that had taken residence there. After a busy day of unpacking and setting up, the students were exhausted, scattered about in the dorm’s common area. The drowsy feeling was shattered when Kaminari suddenly burst through the door, carrying a small box in his hand.

“I forgot I brought this!” the boy shouted, snapping Deku wide awake.

“Brought what?” the boy asked. Kaminari stuck the box out, displaying it proudly.

“*Street Fighter 5*! It’s a classic, but this is the newest one. You don’t play videogames, Deku?”

“No, not often…” Deku took the box from the boy, turning it over and reading the description.

“Ah, it’s a fighting game?” he asked.

Kirishima joined the conversation, punching the air this way and that. “Yeah! You fight your opponent one on one, and whoever’s stronger wins! It’s the manliest thing there is! Eh, besides hero-work, I guess.”

Deku pulled up his phone and began to do research as the rest of the boys set up the game and booted it up.

“Who do you play?” Kirishima asked Kaminari.

“Laura!” the boy replied. “Same electricity as me!”

“Zangief for me,” Kirishima replied. “He’s the manliest guy in the game!”

Iida, having been watching from afar, stepped over as well.

“All good choices! However, Chun Li is clearly the best character! She exemplifies every aspect of a hero!”

The two boys stared at Iida. Kaminari scratched his head.

“I honestly didn’t even know you played videogames, Iida. You don’t seem the type!”

Iida crossed his arms.

“Recreational activity is just as important as training! Balance is necessary to become a well-rounded person. There’s nothing wrong with videogames now and again!”

On a nearby couch, Deku’s eyes widened.

“There’s so much depth to this game!” he said in awe, scrolling through his phone even faster and taking in all of the info.

“Crush-counters…” he muttered. Kirishima waved to Todoroki and Bakugo.

“Come play you two!” he said. Todoroki shook his head.

“I’m no good with games. I’ve never even played one. It wouldn’t be very fun for you.”

Bakugo was much more direct.

“No.”

Kaminari smirked.

“Yeah, I guess you probably wouldn’t be very good at them either, would you Bakugo?”

The boy’s nostrils flared as he stomped over to the TV.

“I’ll show you who’s good!” he shouted, crashing to the floor and grabbing a controller next to Kirishima. The two picked their characters. Kirishima made good on his comment, immediately moving to Zangief. Bakugo, however picked —

“Menat?” Kirishima asked, in total disbelief. Bakugo looked ready to shoot fire from his mouth.

“Shut the hell up! She’s the best character in the game and wins all of the time, of course I’d pick her!”

Kirishima shrugged. The game loaded, and the match began. Kirishima took the first round easily, using Zangief’s unconventional grappling moves to beat Bakugo. The boy high-fived Kaminari as the two grinned. Bakugo growled.

“We have one more round! And I haven’t played in months!”

Kirishima whirled on the boy.

“Months?” he asked.

The second round began. Kirishima was able to get a few hits in, but he was soon getting outplayed by Bakugo. The boy used Menat’s orbs to great affect, juggling Zangief until his HP quickly ran out. He won the second round just as easily. Kirishima tossed his controller aside, crossing his arms.

“Dang it Bakugo! Can’t you just be not good at one thing, please?”

Bakugo stood up, cracking his shoulder.

“No.”

Iida took Bakugo’s place. “Kaminari! Let’s have a round!”

The two started their game, Iida picking Chun Li, Kaminari picking Laura. Iida easily took the boy down, using Chun Li’s swift kicks to finish him off.

“Why did you go easy on me?” Iida demanded. Kaminari put his hands up in defeat.

“I didn’t! I just don’t play very often.”

Kirishima gave a quizzical look from the couch he was stretched out on.

“Isn’t it your game?” he asked. Kaminari waved at the boy to be quiet. Iida turned to Deku.

“Midoriya! Would you like to give it a try?”

Deku’s head shot up from his phone, eyes bloodshot.

“I still need to figure out the tier list…” he replied, zombie-like. Iida frowned at the boy in concern, before moving on.

“What about you, Bakugo? Care to try a round?”

Bakugo scoffed, grabbing the controller that Kaminari had just put down.

“Hopefully you put up a bigger fight than that hard-head,” the boy said, grinning.

The two boys settled in for their fight. It was a sight to behold, and by the end of the second round, the whole class was standing behind the boys watching. It was a close match. Iida had Bakugo on the ropes, before eventually stunning his character. The group erupted with excitement, ready to see how Iida would follow up.

But he didn’t.

“Iida, use your special move!” Todoroki shouted, now surprisingly invested in the game.

“It is dishonerable to attack someone when they are already stunned beyond movement!” Iida shouted back. Bakugo took advantage of the momentary confusion and countered with his own special, knocking Chun Li out. The class clapped as the match ended.

“That’s right! I’m the best!” Bakugo said, stamping his foot on the ground. Aizawa showed up from the hallway to tell the group to settle down, before retreating back to his room. Iida pulled Deku over.

“Come on, Midoriya! Just one match!”

Bakugo turned his gaze on the boy, causing a chill to run down Deku’s spine.

“So? You gonna play or what?” Bakugo asked. Deku gulped.

“I mean…I’ve never even played before…”

Ochako, having watched the match with the rest of the class, grabbed Deku’s hand.

“Come on Deku! You can do it!”

Deku stared at the girl for a moment. He blushed, before clenching his fists.

“A-alright! I’ll play!”

The class erupted into cheers as the two boys took their places. Bakugo picked Menat yet again. Deku scrolled over, before tapping on Akuma. The man’s red, lion mane hair and seemingly permanent scowl appeared onscreen, causing the entire class gasped in response.

“Really?”

“Woah…”

“Akuma, huh?”

“That doesn’t seem like your type at all, Deku!” Ochako said, hand over her mouth in surprise. But Deku barely acknowledged her. He brain was moving at a million miles a minute.

“The Akuma versus Menat match-up isn’t great, but Akuma is top-tier and Bakugo’s never played me before…I can use the armor parry on any orbs he sends out, and since he plays so aggressively, when he sends the orb out…”

The match started. Deku’s play was cautious as he tapped the controller back and forth, letting Akuma almost dance across the stage while Bakugo tried to get a hit in. Deku barely attacked as Bakugo whittled down his hit points, and before long, the boy had won the round. The class groaned in protest.

“Midoriya, what are you doing?” Kirishima groaned. “Get in there and fight him!”

Iida, however, gave a knowing smile.

“The match isn’t over yet,” he said.

The second round began. Bakugo began to apply pressure with his orbs as he did previously. This time, however, it seemed Deku was ready. He carefully maneuvered around the attacks, before hitting Bakugo with a super.

“Isn’t it a little early to do that?” Kaminari asked Iida as the group cheered. Iida pointed a finger into the air as he explained.

“Normally, yes! But this is Deku’s first time ever playing a fighting game. He knows that he does not have the advantage of experience. So he is foregoing traditional traditional strategy in the hopes that it will throw Bakugo off. And by the looks of things, it seems to be working!”

Bakugo got Menat back up after she was knocked down and tried to hit Deku with a quick jab, but Akuma was already in the air, using a kick to knock Menat down again. The boy continued to mix up his moves, before he finally won the round.

The class was stunned for a second, before every student was shouting in excitement.

“He could still win it!” Kaminari said, pumping his fist.

“Go, Midoriya!” Iida shouted.

The third match began. Deku was a shaking mess. Bakugo, however, was tilted in anger, forgoing any strategy he had previously and bum-rushing Akuma with Menat. Unfortunately for him, Deku’s button-mashing was a bit more controlled, and Akuma’s ability to dish out stronger damage with his random attacks overtook Menat. Deku won the last round even easier than the first.

The dorm was almost shaking from the class’ cheers, with Kaminari and Kirishima lifting Deku up on their shoulders. Bakugo jumped from the ground and pointed at Deku, cutting the celebration short.

“You might have beat me at this stupid game, but see if you can take me on for real!” he shouted. Deku grimaced.

“It’s just a game, Kacchan…” he started to say. Bakugo crossed his arms.

“Whatever! I’ll practice and beat you, just like in real life!” With that, the boy left for his dorm room. Kirishima chuckled.

“Sheesh! So competitive! Well I’m beat, so I think I’ll head to bed too. Night all.”

Class 1A began to filter to their rooms, a signal that the night was over. Iida clapped Deku on the back.

“Congratulations, Midoriya! The first time you’ve played, and you win against Bakugo! A strong showing!”

Deku put his hand behind his head, staring at the ground in embarassment.

“Ah…it was nothing…”

But that wasn’t true. For at least a moment, Deku was happy — that he won against Bakugo, and that the class had a chance to forget the stress of their training.