55 Reviews liked by Karthal_

great gameplay, great characters, great worldbuilding, and most of all just a great message to leave off such a journey with overall a perfect game in my eyes worthy of a 5/5

My game of the year. With friends the level of creativity and vastness of options in this game are insane, from having unique combat in terms of classes you choose to do, to even having different ways in which you wish to explore your own story. One of the best experiences i've had with gaming with friends ina while, and i plan on replaying the entire game again very soon, brilliant game

     'My own experience duplicated the fictional one: I'd burned out – or perhaps drowned – any lingering pretentions to savage paradises and island idylls. I was left with the safety net of an English home. Now, like Crusoe, I would go back, and like him, I would wonder how long it might last.'
     – Kevin Rushby, Hunting Pirate Heaven, 2001.
Played with BertKnot, through the PC collection.
In the summer of 1698, the House of Commons passed a charter establishing a consortium of merchants as a new East India Company, alongside the old one founded in 1600. The charter stated in particular that 'the Company [shall] to give security to bring to England all their goods, except in certain cases specified in the Act' [1]. One of the consequences of this restriction on the destination of goods was the loss of profitability for slave vessels, since it was the very low price of slaves in Madagascar that made the voyage from the island to North America profitable. The disappearance of this particular trade had a direct impact on the pirates of the Indian Ocean, who were immediately cut off from the British Atlantic. In the two decades following the charter of 1698, many pirates opted to leave for the Caribbean or to return to civilian life thanks to the wealth they had accumulated [2]. The last decades of the Golden Age of piracy were therefore not as dramatic as popular culture usually suggests.
     Echoes from the Pirate Coast
Some legends have been fostered by ancient documents: A General History of the Pyrates (1724) by a supposed Captain Charles Johnson has fuelled fiction, including Walter Scott's The Pirate (1821) and Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island (1881). In particular, the mention of Libertalia off the coast of Madagascar, a pirate colony founded by James Misson and a veritable proto-anarchist utopia, has captured the imagination for centuries. In Hunting Pirate Heaven (2001), a romantic and deliberately vainglorious voyage, Kevin Rushby sets off from Deptford Creek for the east coast of Africa in search of these fantasised ruins, accompanied by colourful companions. Rushby's humour and his interactions with the various characters subtly overshadow the narrator's intelligence: the faux-naivety is a facade, for he knows full well that Libertalia does not exist. Rushby stages his disappointment as if to exorcise an orientalistic fascination. Libertalia was surely never more than an invented counterpoint to Thomas Hobbes's Leviathan (1651), which expressed a visceral antipathy to piracy insofar as it only undermined the absolute authority of the legitimate sovereign's continental power [3].
Concluding Nathan Drake's adventures after his return to a quieter life with Elena, Uncharted 4: A Thief's End evokes similar themes. The protagonist is reminiscent of Rushby in many ways: he is an accomplished adventurer with a natural wit, set on the trail of legendary pirates almost against his will, but unknowingly enjoying the rush of adventure. After the supernatural confrontations of previous titles, Uncharted 4 opts for a more human perspective, tying its progression to Nathan's reunion with his brother. The title often manages to strike a good balance regarding the protagonist's inner conflict, but suffers from some rather awkward narrative missteps. While certain sequences are effective because of their contrast, surprising the player when they are caught up in the frenetic action that characterises the series, some ideas remain particularly under-exploited. Elena and Nadine may be presented as strong women, but they are relegated to supporting roles.
     Nathan Drake's illusory precautions
Similarly, given the game's primary desire to be a human drama, the portrayals of Sam and Rafe lack texture, with the latter especially bereft of subtlety: by establishing him as a symbol of despicable toxic masculinity, Uncharted 4 artificially absolves the other male characters of their harmful behaviour. The last third of the game is particularly unfortunate, offering an all-too-convenient way out for the various conflicts and frictions between the main characters. And while the title begins with a Nathan who has lost some of his agility and daring in his retirement years – the museum infiltration sequence works well – Uncharted 4 is too quickly overtaken by the ghosts of his heritage, and culminates in some explosive gunplay and swashbuckling, a far cry from the restraint of the hero at the outset.
The game introduces stealth sequences during certain battles, which become almost mandatory on the highest difficulties due to the sheer number of enemies. However, Uncharted 4 offers no tools to facilitate this approach. Nathan automatically hides in the tall grass, and it is impossible to distract enemies or shoot them from a distance with a silencer. The player is forced into a rather uncomfortable waiting position, unable to shoot at highly exposed targets. Similarly, the different zones do not allow for very creative play, as the actual spaces are so narrow. In the later chapters, many of the gunfights take place in corridors, effectively locking the player into a brutal frontal engagement. Worse still, some levels encourage the player to remain static, creating bottlenecks to avoid being caught in a pincer trap: by trying too hard to subvert its basic formula, Uncharted 4 ends up falling back on the same clichés – not necessarily unpleasant, but out of touch.
     Forgotten contemplation and dreams of tranquillity
These design choices can be seen as a continuation of those made in The Last of Us (2013), introducing a pseudo-organicity to exploration and progression. The game constantly attempts to offer multiple paths in outdoor areas, but fails to live up to its ambitions. Climbing sequences are as linear as ever, and the player is merely invited to zigzag between rocks and use the grappling hook to follow a well-defined path. Even the driving sections follow this pattern. Although Uncharted 4 features some stunning landscapes, it struggles to really showcase their majesty, with so much focus on finding the path that will get the player closer to their goal. The title always divides its large chapters into several micro-zones that the player can explore – to find a page of a journal or steal an artefact – but they are so enclosed that finding the way out always feels unnatural.
Progress is also constantly interrupted by obstacles that require the player to fiddle with the game's physics, be it by moving crates, using the grappling hook, driving the car or several at the same time. These activities, designed to simulate the realism of exploration, distract from contemplation, given that the title only lasts around fifteen hours. Instead of basking in the scenery and enjoying the poetry of the moment – a single sequence with Elena offers such contemplation – the title is constantly noisy. Uncharted 4 still creates an effective and entertaining chemistry between its characters, but at the cost of a clumsy demystification of its atmosphere. Magadascar, the high point of the journey, is never highlighted. A country with a largely oral tradition, it is presented only from a tourist perspective, with its market, carts and baobabs – ultimately no more than a postcard.
To some extent, Uncharted 4 is the antithesis of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker (2002). Both games use the image of piracy to describe freedom, but they relate to the world in entirely different ways. The Wind Waker is an introspection on boundless seas and a pledge for a new society where empathy must prevail over the arrogance and imperialism of previous generations. Link's adventure is a pretext for discovering the world beyond the skies of Outset Island and learning about the societies and customs of Windfall and Dragon Roost Island. Uncharted 4 is a selfish tale, centred on the Drakes, for whom the destruction of the world is of little consequence. The various pirates mentioned serve only as warnings to the two brothers and have little to say about a better world. The utopia of Libertalia is merely an ironic mirage with no real depth or value, unlike in Hunting Pirate Heaven, where it allowed Rushby to discover other cultures and realise his own orientalism. Uncharted 4 fully embraces it. The game is never unpleasant, though, and it is easy to get caught up in the drama of the narrative, the fairly well-paced progression and the sweetness of the ending; yet the overall experience is forgettable, so riddled is it with concessions.
[1] 'The Charter of the 'New' East India Company, 5 September, 1698', in Peter J. Marshall (ed.), Problems of Empire: Britain and India (1757-1813), George Allen and Unwin, London, 1968, p. 194.
[2] More specifically, piracy continued in the Indian Ocean, but against British ships. The British government offered amnesties to curb the phenomenon, but the pirates were particularly suspicious of these proposals and preferred other options. Christopher Condent preferred the French offer to colonise Bourbon Island, while Richard Taylor found refuge in Portobelo after negotiating his amnesty directly with the local Spanish governor. In other words, for them piracy was a transitional venture, designed to accumulate wealth before finding a comfortable place in civil society. On the topic, see Ryan Holroyd, 'Whatever happened to those villains of the Indian seas? The happy retirement of the Madagascar pirates (1698-1721)', in International Journal of Maritime History, vol. 29, no. 4, pp. 752-770.
[3] Dominique Weber, 'Le pirate et le partisan : lecture critique d'une thèse de Carl Schmitt', in Esprit, no. 7, pp. 124-134.

Influenced by many works of art like Studio Ghibli’s Castle in the Sky, Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Treasure Island” as well as Daniel Defoe’s “Robinson Crusoe,” Skies of Arcadia embodies a sense of adventure unlike any other. There is a great sense of freedom in this game. At a time where JRPGs were defined by convoluted lore, characters/themes dealing with moral ambiguity, and dark, harrowing settings, Arcadia would go back to the old JRPG roots and make its own mark on the genre. It doesn’t have heavy interpersonal drama or delve deep into the character’s psyche, but the simple joy of adventure. The game's sky-bound world serves as a backdrop for one's dreams and its enchanting soundtrack enhances the experience. Sometimes a game doesn’t need to be the most complex work ever created. Skies of Arcadia is a celebration for fans that adore JRPGs. There's a delight in playing this magical game yet if you delve deeper you'll find underlying complexity.
Granted, the game isn’t flawless; its random encounter rate in both the Dreamcast and Gamecube version is very high, and the combat is very slow, with lengthy animations. But, what the game sets out to do, its missteps are easily forgiven.
A game that brings out the inner child in me is truly priceless to me. I felt a tinge of sadness when the adventure in this game came to an end. The journey I experienced will always hold a place in my memories. Basically, this is a game that I'll definitely share with my children.

Shigesato Itoi's ending to the Mother series leaves off on its strongest messages to take home. I'm of a family of brothers and sisters, but most importantly I have a twin brother of my own. That made the story around Lucas and Claus that much stronger and poignant to me, not to discredit that the writing in general isn't already incredible.
From the slow corruption of Tazmily village as it conforms into a capitalist society that comes with less pros than it does take away familial strengths and bonds within the community, to the surrealist hero's journey of the seven needles, Mother 3 fantastically paces itself out and keeps the core message of family ever so strung through the whole thing.
The characters, while not so much riveting examples of three dimensional characterization, each found their way into my heart as I played through. This is a game where, though it has its lows, had a profound effect on my life for a very long time. Even when you dig to its core, to where you find that it's simple in scope and works off of a fine tightrope of emotional beats, I still think it's a shining example of video games I've ever played. I can hum most of the soundtrack to this day.
The combat may not be riveting, it taking up a huge percentage of the time playing the game and just barely good enough thanks to some great boss design, some solid enemy encounters, and the cohesive rhythm system. But still, I never lost my engagement for a single moment. I was gripped until the credits rolled and the game came up and told me that it wants the very best of my life as I did the characters at the end. And I think, I wish everyone here the best too, and that maybe if these words find you that you also play Mother 3. (10/10)

"No, never heard the name before. I'll pick my own name...and my own life. I'll
find something worth passing on."
This, is where gaming triumphed.

Dark Souls 3 is the last Souls game that I will play (until I play Sekiro next year), and man, it did NOT disappoint.
For starters, it's probably the most consistent Souls that I have played so far, both in terms of world design and bosses. It's crafted under such a nice view that you can clearly admire the detailing of everything within the game.
Another thing I should also bring in is how the overall lore connects to the previous games, and yes, Dark Souls 2 is important to the overall trilogy. Don't trust a single person who said it isn't, as it makes a nice transition into 3.
Also, the Soul of Cinder is the most insane final boss I have fought in any game. The theme song, the mechanics, and the overall tension surrounding him was just absolutely out of this world. I was genuinely frightened fighting him, but as he grew on me, things got better, and the payoff was incredible.
Overall, my only flaws would be the linearity, which wasn't even a genuine problem, and maybe a bit of clunkiness, but outside of that, this is probably my favorite Souls game, and one of my favorite games ever in general.

     Played during the Backloggd’s Game of the Week (29th Aug. – 4th Sep., 2023).
The 1990s marked a transition for the Japanese arcade market, as the historical business model was no longer viable. Technological developments by the various home console manufacturers brought fierce competition to the arcade industry, while the success of medal machines and other purikura – state-of-the-art photo booths popular with teenage girls as part of the kawaī culture – pushed the various arcades and shopping malls to target teenage and family audiences, more lucrative demographics [1]. While games such as Virtua Fighter (1993) and beatmania (1997) set trends in the arcade's last golden years that the various publishers tried to capitalise on, SNK failed to achieve structural success with its various titles, which all too quickly went out of fashion. Cool Cool Toon appeared to be one of the last attempts to stave off the bankruptcy looming after the failure of the Hyper Neo Geo 64 and Neo Geo World, combining rhythm gameplay, motion capture and a colourful aesthetic for the Dreamcast.
The Story mode places the player in the role of Amp or Spica, whose campaigns feature exclusive tracks. Cool Cool Toon aims to create a highly tactile relationship between the player and the game, making full use of the Dreamcast's joystick. Moving it to reach the different notes mimics the protagonist's dance steps. The player is constantly invited to indulge in this fantasy, just as the character immerses themselves in a kawaī world. The soundtrack contributes to this impression with its slightly dated quality: the title alternates between sweet and burlesque tracks, city-pop, disco and funk flourishes [2]. Cool Cool Toon combines, with a certain humour and a touch of melancholy, the spectacle of the boy bands and dance divas of the 1990s [3] with some musical genres that were losing ground among young people. As a swan song, Cool Cool Toon tries to conjure up an unexpected success with the home console audience, but seems to be haunted by the ghost of the past and suffers from a lack of legibility – especially during the complex sequences with sliders and half-tilts – despite some good ideas, such as modulating the difficulty during a song.
Yet there is something particularly touching about the title, which shines with sincerity through the childish speech and naive attitude of the characters. More than a story for chūnibyō, the game expresses the frustrations of a lost generation: Amp and Spica transcend class hierarchies through their talent at flitzing, while 1990s Japan is marked by growing inequalities between the winners and losers of modernisation. Contrary to the image of an atypical niche game that still persists in the West, Cool Cool Toon had positioned itself as a synthesis of Japanese popular culture at the turn of the century, without the expected success – in line with previous attempts such as Koudelka (1999) and Athena: Awakening from the Ordinary Life (1999). Perhaps Cool Cool Toon failed because it was released on the Dreamcast, because it was connected to the Neo Geo Pocket, or because it was too difficult for the average player. Anecdotally, the game's concept has been carried over into The Rhythm of Fighters (2014), although simplified by touch controls. It is difficult not to see Cool Cool Toon today against the backdrop of its context; perhaps it is this singular magic, so wistful despite its sugary colours, that makes it such a delightful game.
[1] Other factors explain the market shift. On the console manufacturers' side, technological progress and the new distribution structure – with the major studios abandoning the toy distributors and setting up their own systems – meant that costs could be cut. For the arcade, the 1984 extension of the Businesses Affecting Public Morals Regulation Act (Fūzoku eigyō torishimari hō) to include game centres, the bursting of the economic bubble, which multiplied the costs of electricity, rents and machine maintenance, meant that the risks of arcade-type services were no longer sustainable when safer alternatives were available. In general, the number of game centres has declined since the mid-1990s and their average size has increased, as the lucrative medal and prize machines take up too much space for small venues. On this topic, see Yuhsuke Koyama, History of the Japanese Video Game Industry, Springer, Singapore, 2023 [2016, 2020], pp. 109-135.
[2] It is worth noting that one of the only tracks that openly embraces a more modern feel is 'Grown Up World'.
[3] The choreography and set design of Cool Cool Toon bear a striking resemblance to the kōhai groups of Johnny's jimusho (KinKi Kids) or the idols promoted by Tetsuya Komuro (Namie Amuro). The game is also reminiscent of the very 'visual' bands and performances of the late 1990s, such as Yūwaku (1998) by GLAY. On this topic, see Fabienne Darling-Wolf, 'SMAP, Sex, and Masculinity: Constructing the Perfect Female Fantasy in Japanese Popular Music', in Popular Music and Society, vol. 27, no. 3, 2004, pp. 357-370 and Carolyn S. Stevens, Japanese Popular Music: Culture, Authenticity, and Power, Routledge, New York, 2008, pp. 53-58.

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