Archive for the Best / Worst Category

Final Fantasy VII Remake – Revisited

Posted in Best / Worst, Blog, Games with tags on March 6, 2021 by slateman

One JRPG down – another to go? And to think…I bought this game on launch day way back in 1997. Remember it vividly too. Bought in the morning alongside the strategy guide. Then had school and work all day before I could even play. It was my first Final Fantasy game and, really, my introduction to JRPGs. Dunno if I’ll have the fortitude (=patience) to complete this game but hey… 1) it’s free and 2) the music will be nostalgic-lane for me. Let’s go!!!!

Einherjer: North Star – Disappointing

Posted in Best / Worst, Blog, Music, Reviews on March 6, 2021 by slateman

My first spins of Einherjer’s latest record were underwhelming, but we all know that happens from time to time. It takes a few plays to really sink in and become the classic album it endeavors to be. However, while this isn’t uncommon, subsequent plays only reaffirmed my dismay.

The band’s breakup following 2003’s AotY contender, Blot was succeeded by a reformed union and 2011’s Norrøn, a solid, if flawed, record. With diminished expectations, I proclaimed the follow-up, Av Oss, For Oss, 2014’s Album of the Year. The pristine blend of viking, retro rock and melodicism, it was well deserving of that year’s crown.

Unfortunately, its follow-up, 2018’s Norrøne Spor left me with a tinge of disappointment. It’s hardly unfair – the successor to an AotY record is always held to a higher standard than any ol’ record. Thus, 20201’s arrival of North Star theoretically should be held to a somewhat-reduced level of scrutiny! Even with that, this new record only issues forth several memorable songs to mingle with its entirely-forgettable ones. To contrast with Av Oss, For Oss, this new record’s closer is simply unlistenable to mine ears. A few songs are worthwhile, but the true test is by re-listening to the back catalogue.

I’m not even talking classic Einherjer here. I listened to the last one – the so-so Norrøne Spor had some real bangers and ones I’ll return to. Both Spre Vingene and Døden Tar Ingen Fangar are catchy, riffy and metal-as-fuck. Moving backwards more, my aforementioned AotY still stands up, with memorable sections, headbangy choruses and viking-up-the-ass atittude.

Unfortunately, this new one only has a few I might ever wish to return to: The Blood And The Iron, Higher Fire and maybe one or two others. It’s heart-breaking and makes me wonder if the truly great album from Einherjer is the exception, not the norm. *shrug*. AotY this is not. :(

Ys IX Completed! Thoughts Within

Posted in Best / Worst, Blog, Games, Ys on March 6, 2021 by slateman

I’ve now completed the campaign in Ys IX: Monstrum Nox and also cleaned up some trophies in the process. The game was wonderful and certainly resides among my favorite entries in the storied franchise. Now is the time to look back and reflect on the good, the bad and the in between.

The story itself was just OK, with a main villain only really showing up in the last act. Convoluted as expected, I didn’t care much for the twists they introduced later on and things felt a bit drawn out in the late game. Alternately, the cast of characters were as fun as they were cliché and my son remembered everyone’s names: both normal and Monstrum variants.

Exploration was, for the most part, quite fun and I do like how they mixed things up with the city of Balduq. However, with the game being front-loaded with city adventure, it left a number of areas to the back half which felt a bit uninspired, almost as if they were just add-ons. A more equal distribution would have given the game a more cohesive feel. The gameplay itself is the real winner, with gifts allowing for easy traversal and fun exploration. It’s going to be hard to go back to prior entries given how good adventuring felt. Combat itself was a mix – it was fun and rewarding, but it was also a chaotic mash-fest on normal difficulty. The game was a bit easier than traditional entries on the standard setting but that was no downside for me as I prefer the experience over the challenge.

On the sound front, Falcom rarely disappoints. While sound effects themselves feel ages old now (Ys Seven is over a decade old and sounds are the same in some cases), the entire game had a good, punchy sound, particularly with headphones on. The big question is the soundtrack. As a collector of Falcom Sound Team JDK’s work, this is another phenomenal entry. Some songs were stuck in my head for days with upbeat, metal riffs offset by melodic piano and symphonic entries. You can’t go wrong with an Ys soundtrack and I quite enjoyed my time with this one.

Ultimately, it was a fantastic and entertaining romp. The PS5’s load times were almost nothing – often two seconds but maxing out at around five – which made the entire experience so much better. I may revisit this brief post to expand upon my thoughts, but for now it’s just a brief overview with a hefty dose of spoiler-filled images below.

New 4×4 Record! Sub-2 Minutes!

Posted in Best / Worst, Blog, Cubing, High Scores/Accomplishments on March 1, 2021 by slateman

I haven’t done any speed solving in quite some time, but after ordering a treasure trove of puzzles for Christmas, I was enjoying my 4×4 MoYu Meilong and its magnets. I realized just how quickly it turned and I thought a new record could be in sight. After an impressive 2:04 – an eight-second improvement on my existing personal best, I busted out my very first sub-2-minute run! Clocking in at 1:54.10, this was my first new record in over a year. I am certain I could improve upon it – but I don’t feel any burning need to do so. The 2-minute threshold is satisfying enough! Pretty psyched and this year marks my 10-year cubing anniversary.

Ys IX – Returning To Adol!

Posted in Best / Worst, Games, Ys on February 15, 2021 by slateman

I recently updated Game Completion Lists with one of my favorite series ever: Ys. As I purchased the ninth numbered installment (but hardly #10 overall), the Italian store clerk had to go into the back to retrieve a copy as it was not present on store shelves. He commented on how I was the first person to come in to purchase the game – and it had been out over a week at that stage.

But I don’t particularly care that the series remains a niche franchise. It’s still simply fantastic. Unfortunately, the game’s early hours left me longing – as it felt like a double-A Playstation 2 game. I didn’t care for the characters as quickly as I had in prior installments. But as my fifth hour passed, I realized this game surpassed the gameplay of all past entries. New skills opened up higher areas and the game became less flat than ever. Additionally, I’ve been playing most Ys games in the last 10-15 years on handhelds. Sure, I played Ys Origins on the PS4 – but that was a port of an older title. On the big screen, this game isn’t the prettiest, but the PS5 gives me super-fast load times and the series’ soundtrack is traditional in its excellence.

As I struggle with actually completing Ys games, it remains to be seen if Ys IX will retain my gaming gaze. For now, however, I’m thoroughly enjoying it.

15 Years Of Scrobbles

Posted in Best / Worst, Blog, Lists, Music, Personal on February 10, 2021 by slateman

I started using Last.FM back in 2005 and in the 15+ years since, it’s consistently been part of my music-playing experience. Though numbers from before then are omitted, as are hundreds from the old iPod days, I’ve still clocked in almost 80,000 plays and today I’m sharing my top-10 most-played bands. It’s no surprise that Moonsorrow sits atop the heap – they did just recently become my favorite-band ever! This means the entries go as follows:

Finland – Finland – Sweden – Norway – Finland – Sweden – USA – Finland – Norway – Sweden.

Remarkable. Oh, and Slayer sits comfortably at #11. All my stats can be found here.

Playstation: Top Games 2020

Posted in Best / Worst, Blog, Games, Personal on February 7, 2021 by slateman

Two items with which to preface this post. First, on my stats page, it says I (*ahem* my kids) played 64 hours of Bugsnax but yet that doesn’t sit in my top-three as shown here. Second – yes – that’s Skyrim as my #1 game of the year. Wow.

I love stats and despite their complete inaccuracy, I don’t care. Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla shows about 55 hours on my PS4 and then another 55 on my PS5. Don’t know how Sony tabulates their math, but it’s simply wrong. Ultimately, however, my return to Skyrim was a wondrous affair, as I mentioned several months back. The merger of pandemic lockdown and a somewhat-family-friendly game meant I totally enjoyed diving back in and getting much farther than I did nearly a decade ago. I will admit that the 60fps mod on the PS5 gives me a bit of a tickle to re-return…but for now, my backlog is far too large to do such a thing.

The Elder Scrolls was supplanted by Far Cry 5, a not-so-family-friendly game which was as much fun as its predecessors. I’ll say, I’m fairly certain my leader for 2021 is Immortals: Fenyx Rising. I suppose I could check my PS5 to find out.

Some more final stats: I earned almost 800 trophies, topping 2019’s 536 – though I had 16 platinums that year thanks to the Vita and its shovelware library. Additionally, it claims I played 974 hours compared to 2019’s 351. I have a feeling that last year’s number is a bit shy of the real one – though I did move from Sweden to Italy in 2019.

2020 vs 2019

Makaimura Returns / Ghosts ‘N Goblins Resurrection

Posted in Artwork, Best / Worst, Blog, Games on December 12, 2020 by slateman

I’ll admit I’m disappointed it’s currently at Switch exclusive, but I’m psyched Capcom has revisited this classic series. The stages are familiar but the visuals are outstanding and this new piece of art is simply remarkable. Here’s hoping for a Playstation port (along with Hades, please!)

Gaming In 2020

Posted in Best / Worst, Blog, Games, Resident Evil, Skyrim, Tony Hawk Series with tags on December 9, 2020 by slateman

Another year down and another year in which I missed out on more of the biggest titles than I played. Before hitting upon what I have experienced, I figured I’d look at what I didn’t get a chance to dive into.

  • Final Fantasy VII Remake
  • Ghost Of Tsushima
  • Hades
  • Immortals: Fenyx Rising
  • Last Of Us – Part II, The
  • Ori And The Will Of The Wisps
  • Sackboy: A Big Adventure

I’ve skipped out on Cyberpunk 2077 and some others. Of those games, my interest is genuinely piqued by Tsushima and Hades. The former will eventually be in my collection, the latter will have to wait for a Sony port. I’ve no interest in playing that on the Switch.

OK, now to the older games I’ve experienced. Titles with an asterisk are ones I’d played before. Underlined are ones I beat.

  • Death Stranding
  • Dark Souls: Remastered
  • Days Gone
  • Detroit: Become Human
  • Doom
  • Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, The (*)
  • Far Cry 5
  • Fighting EX Layer
  • Ketsui
  • Minecraft Dungeons
  • Modern Warfare 2: Remastered (*)
  • Shadow Of The Colossus
  • Uncharted 2: Among Thieves Remastered (*)
  • Ys VIII

Not forgetting Skyrim is a remaster, that’s a lot of updated old games there. I spent most of quarantine lockdown replaying Skyrim and actually progressing farther than I had during my initial playthrough back in 2012. I beat Shadow Of The Colossus for the first time, after bailing on both the PS2 and PS3 versions in years past. Another Uncharted 2 run was a reminder of how that game is still top-10 ever. (I’ll eventually get around to posting my list). Others were things I dipped my toes into but came far from completing.

Far Cry 5 was the expected, entertaining romp and I do endeavor to get back to Days Gone and Detroit. Most of these games were good; few were great. Next up: 2020 games, finally!

  • Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla
  • Astro’s Playroom
  • Borderlands 3
  • Bugsnax
  • Demon’s Souls
  • Resident Evil 3
  • Spelunky 2
  • Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2

So, obviously, I beat THPS, writing an entire chapter on it in the revised edition of Tony Hawk’s Gaming Domination. Just as quickly, I dropped off of that one.

Spelunky 2 was a frustratingly-difficult but enjoyable journey. Each run was different and my kids and I laughed our asses off far too frequently. It’s about the same as the first, but pretty fantastic and there’s zero chance I’ll ever actually complete it. Speaking of kids, they played the crap out of Bugsnax, just finishing it today. I haven’t completed Demon’s Souls and suspect that’s a long journey ahead.

Resident Evil 3 was a short affair, but one I never traipsed through on the PS1 original. I enjoyed it, beating it a few times. That’s the good, but I don’t envision diving back in, despite my enjoyment.

And then we get to the year’s best. Astro’s Playroom won’t win any awards, but damn, that was fun. It was a spectacular history lesson, peeking at Sony’s legacy as well as being a showcase of the new console and its features.

So, as of the second week of December, I am so enamored with Valhalla and its beauty, that I must declare it my tentative 2020 Game Of The Year. It’s the most vibrant and diverse world I’ve ever played in. The gameplay loop is enjoyable enough and the sound design is top notch. It’s possibly the best-looking game I’ever witnessed and the 60fps/often-4k visual upgrade has just left me speechless on numerous occasions. The dynamic lighting is superb, dialogues and story are wonderful and the scope is simply remarkable.

I suspect this opinion could change…but as of today, this is it. This could be the first Assassin’s Creed game I actually complete, much like GTA V in 2018.

Two Days With The Playstation 5 – Thoughts

Posted in Best / Worst, Blog, Games on December 1, 2020 by slateman

The day has finally come! It took about three weeks to arrive: going to Chicago, then Wisconsin, then across the Atlantic to Naples Capodichino, then to the American consulate, then finally home. After a lengthy setup process, I went into the process of downloading Demon’s Souls and Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla. While doing so, I dove into the utterly phenomenal Astro’s Playroom. It was then the console’s new features were put on display.

However, as the first day ended, it was easy to get the sense that this may be the smallest leap between generations. From the DVD drive in the PS2 to the Blu-Ray player in the PS3, to the visual leap to the PS4, this has fewer clear bells-and-whistles. But at the end of day #2, I felt clear – I love my PS5.

Load Times
Booting into AC: Valhalla took about 80 seconds and loading into the game itself, another 100. Quick traveling was a solid two minutes…each and every time. With the Activity Cards feature on the Playstation 5, I can skip that initial 80 seconds altogether. A direct comparison:

Doing? PS4 Time PS5 Time
Into Menu 80 0
Into Playable 180 50
Fast Travel 120 10

It’s that last one that’s startling – and altogether awesome. It’s between 9 and 10 seconds typically. The difference is simply amazing. Bouncing between two or three fast-travel locations saves serious time and it’s hardly enough to look at my phone before Eivor is back, ready and perched atop some chapel or archaeological site.

3D Audio
I’ve marveled at sound design in recent years, simply awed at how good gritty footsteps, rubbing clothing and rustling of leaves sound. However, running through medieval England and hearing birds and pigs, the wind and people’s voices all around me. Each came from a different quadrant, with rain realistically sounding like it was falling in so many different places at once. Just astounding.

The DualSense
I read all the reviews and heard all the praise. It was only when Astro’s Playroom resisted my shoulder triggers before releasing in a satisfying click that it felt real. When the sensation of sand and wind and ice and rocks all came through the controller, I felt that joy of next-gen. The game is fun in its own right, but the controller is the real hero here. It’s spectacular.

60 FPS
I have to admit, the 4K upgrade wasn’t as pronounced as I had hoped, but when I got Valhalla running at 60 FPS, I smiled with joy. Having the choice between the two is something I missed in the PS4 Pro era. I first appreciated the importance of the higher frame rate with Metal Gear Solid 5 but having a direct comparison has truly opened my eyes. It’s buttery smooth and the way life ought to be.

App Integration
Signing in was a breeze, installing apps is simple, notifications about app preparedness is welcome and on it goes. I’m hoping they keep up with the features and ease of use. Ideally, having snapshots available on mobile (like Microsoft) would be sensational.

The Dislikes
It looks, feels and sounds great. That’s what you want in your $500 purchase. While the system needs some work, I don’t see anything that can’t be fixed with some firmware tweaks. The UI is good, but it’s clunkier than the PS4. Fixes like separating games and media is great, but there are fewer titles in the list. The PS button menu is fast and the overlay is nice, but it feels cluttered and things like turning the console off are harder and more obtuse than before.