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Hexen: Beyond Heretic
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I love shinji mikami but I gotta say
damn bitch, you made this?
they called this shit "panic horror" and boy I'm panicking — panicking that there might be another god awful pipe puzzle from the twisted mind of shu takumi or that once I'm done collecting two of every keycard under the sun someone might ask me to build an ark
with little interest in horror or combat dino crisis bets it all on sludgy adventure game tedium and loses. it might've worked better if there was even a hint of resident evil's unhinged charisma — the weird doors, weird keys, bonkers architecture etc — but what's here is crushingly dull from top to bottom
if it wasn't for the narrative branching and crafting system I'd be hitting it with the chicxulub impactor grade extinction score it otherwise deserves, but I gotta acknowledge how cool that stuff was when RE3 made good on it later that year
reading more into the development I found that not only did shu takumi design all the puzzles, he served as the game's director before being fired after throwing the team into "uncalled for confusion" due to his lack of experience. kamiya and takumi corroborate this with the former referring to takumi as the game's director to this day and the latter alluding to mikami's role as being that of a fixer — someone brought in to get the project back on rails after much of the game had been already established
I love shu takumi but I gotta say
damn bitch, you made this?

can't shake the feeling that dragon's dogma's somewhat underappreciated. seems that even when spoken of fondly it isn't uncommon for praise to be dulled by a procession of disclaimers — that it's understood to do one or two things exceptionally well, and only those things
but behind its obvious strengths there's an rpg defined by eccentricities both large and small, one that does nearly everything askew but finds itself surprisingly successful at conjuring the spirit of adventure in its own way
the world of gransys is an open one, but both small and unassuming in contrast to its contemporaries. an earthy space dappled with forests, plains, and caves; more akin to the original baldur's gate than much since. landmarks are few and far between, subtle when they appear, and tend to be geological more often than not. simple stone formations become reminders of the path to a fortress or marsh, and cliffside vistas overlooking the sprawl below contextualize the space in the absence of larger more conspicuous points of interest. it's a dull world in the most literal sense, but wholly tangible, and refreshingly restrained
early on traversal's a slow, methodical process, but as you uncover more of the map the tempo shifts in tandem. first you write the hills and shores of the peninsula to memory, then you're given the choice to bypass them entirely through manually placed portcrystals that serve as warp beacons for fast travel. it's the perfect middleground between absolute adherence to a space and much appreciated quality of life features, and its clean alignment with the overall progression and power curve makes it particularly rewarding once you've earned the ability to set everything up to your liking
as you poke around you'll be accompanied by an odd squad of adventurers in the form of pawns — soulless beings from the rift who serve the bidding of the arisen. the first is your buddy and full time compatriot, while the second and third are mercenaries that can be rotated through on a whim as need be
I could honestly talk forever about pawns and how peculiar they are. not only will half your party always consist of pawns designed, trained, leveled, and geared by real players through the asynchronous multiplayer system, and your pawn hired to aid other players, but through emulation and observation these pawns will adapt and change over time
pawns lack their own agency and are inclined to take on the traits of the arisen, developing habits, quirks, and knowledge based on your actions as well of the actions of other pawns. actions you take influence the actions they take, and they start to grow toward having an identity and mind of their own — their personality shaped by lived experience
they may become covetous and start looting mid-battle if they witness you doing so, accumulating odds and ends of little consequence, often with odd specificity like a desire to bogart human skulls. if you call them to your side frequently they'll lean further and further into the guardian trait, a particularly sticky one that has them interrupt anything they do to remain close to you. hiring a pawn that has prior quest knowledge or has visited locations you've yet to see can allow them to point you in the right direction, while a pawn that's learned to deal with certain monsters will explain the proper tactical approach
it's fascinating, and their mercurial nature gives them a great deal of unpredictability that AI companions tend to lack. not quite a person, but the distant shadow of a person; promethean clay in perpetually warm hands. one can speak to their pawn to temporarily set them straight, or have them drink potions that cause them to lean in one way or another, but as soon as they bear witness to the actions of others there's always going to be that memetic influence pushing and pulling them away from static confines of your better interests
it's been two weeks since my witcher review and I'm already regretting saying it was the most "monster ass monster game" since TW1. while true in sheer breadth and prominence, dragon's dogma's near opposite less-is-more approach speaks truer to the essence of these creatures as full bodied living beings you could feasibly understand populating gransys. each one is imbued with a level of character in their behaviours, animations, and moveset that's several cuts above any and all competition. the bestiary isn't all that large, but pound for pound it's as expressive as it gets
one example are the ogres who lurk in mines and caverns, skulking in the dark. they'll toss their body backwards to get you off their back, do hall of fame dropkicks, and get "excited" at the sight of women. sometimes they'll even pick up a party member and run away with them
the chimera is about what you'd expect: lion, goat, snake; but seeing the tail hewn off and the goat head dangling limp as you target it piece by piece is unnerving as the lion keeps fighting long past the death of its conjoined allies
I'd be remiss if I spoiled the full details of a fairly slender group of monsters, but this applies to even the fodder enemies like wolves and goblins. there's a loving attention to detail here that makes each encounter unique, and you'd be hard pressed to find another game that brings even one of these mythological creatures to life more convincingly
of course this wouldn't mean too much if the combat wasn't as good as it is, but osmosis alone has probably quelled that concern by now. dragon's dogma's claim to fame needs little explanation, but I can't help but throw it a bone regardless
at its core is a fabulous class based system that differentiates its vocations by equipment, active skills, augments (passives), and stat growth, and then brings it all back in by allowing you to switch at a whim and mix-n-match the augments to best compliment your given playstyle
whether you're clambering up a cyclops to target its eye, notching a powershot to send weaker enemies into orbit, wielding a greatsword and chunking entire healthbars in a single blow (certainly you've seen this by now), or casting massive cyclones that vacuum up entire rooms, everything is bolstered by the level of impact and fluidity you'd expect from itsuno, along with animations and physics befitting his desire to lean further into simulationist design
hydra heads grow back, but their necks can be cauterized with fire to slow the regeneration; goblins and smaller opponents can be picked up and hurled off cliffs; gryphons can be doused in oil and set aflame to hinder flight and send them careening into the earth; and you can kill death itself with fall damage under the right circumstances. fights aren't limited to an exchange of blows, and these behaviours and environmental interactions play a leading role that breathes life into interactions that few games can contest
outside of combat you'll be mingling and offering your assistance on a variety of quests more aimed at getting you out into the world than anything else. while many or most are naked fetch quests, their brevity and general lack of imposition makes them hard to criticize too much
here you'll find some of the stranger aspects of the RPG side of things: a romance system that takes the transactional nature of these things to their most absurd endpoint; an item forging system that allows you duplicate quest items and set up NG+ speedruns or dupe questgivers; and quests that influence others in unpredictable ways or fork through actions they never telegraph directly
while it's abundantly clear this is the side of dragon's dogma that's most incomplete, it never shirks or slogs below a workmanlike quality, always doing what it needs to while hinting at those better somethings that could've been under different circumstances. this portion makes up increasingly little of the game once you've gotten a hold of things, vanishing to next to nothing during the post-game content and subsequent runs, but I found gran soren and cassardis to be quite charming in spite of everything — due in no small part to the music and earnestness of the dialogue and npcs
for the most part the story itself takes on the same qualities: never asking or telling much, content to idle along and act as a vehicle so you can build your reputation and garner the support of those in power. I can see why this would lead some to find it unsatisfying or aloof, but I strongly believe it pays off and makes good on all the promise of its opening sequences and then some by the time the credits roll. if there's anything I remembered from my crusty PS3 playthrough of the original back in the day it's where the narrative threads end up going, so if you can trust me long enough to get there I assure you it's well worth it
once you're done with the meat of the game there's the additional dark arisen content: bitterblack isle; an excellent dungeon that carves away nearly everything other than exploration, combat, and build refinement. here you'll find the harshest encounters, fanciest gear, and little else. while the game flirts a lot with horror in the base content — most notably with its pitch black nights — here it's ramped up another notch through heavy atmosphere, significantly increased danger, and several wrinkles designed to ensure you'll never feel truly at peace. its non-euclidian mazelike structure shows its constraints when it comes to recycling environmental assets wholesale, but one could easily get lost in here for a long, long time, whittling away at impossible encounters and slowly uncovering the tools to make them a little less impossible
there's a lot more I'd have liked to write about, so much to grab onto, and so much that spins my imagination in wild directions, but at the end of the day there's a lot I'd like to keep quiet about too, so someone else can feel the same way I do one day
I don't begrudge anyone suggesting the game's greater than the sum of its parts, but I suppose where we disagree is in the merits of those individual parts. for some, they're a mixed bag carried by swords and sorcery
for me?

my good friend morris requested I write a review for this after she bought it for me so I'm going to review it for my friend. she has tried to influence this review and stifle my creative voice, but I do not bend under pressure
orbo is a person but also a projectile weapon. his body is the arrow that is drawn against all evil such as draculas. pull the string taut and cast him unto enemies, cast him into the heavens, cast him with aim true and noble and climb skyscrapers and caves and other normal places bald people tend to hang out in
slide your body around like the godless physics object it is. shuffle your corporeal meat around like you're an enemy in yakuza kiwami 2. hurl and spike and spring your doomed mortal form just to feel something. stave off entropy and nihilism thru reckless, impulsive behaviour
on this wretched earth one must have the conviction to whip their bulging corpus unto hell like orbo. one must "collect the orbs" and forge an arm both strong and utile in order to open doors and attain true autonomy