A series of quiet pleasantries and detours. Soaring through the air as you feel the gentle breeze and wonder what innocuous activity or friendly-face you’ll stumble upon next. As you travel from islet to islet, you’ll come to find that this compact little province tucks away a lot to find, but not a lot of it crosses the point of being anything other than mundane. Helping someone find a replacement toy shovel so they can properly build sand castles, building up your friends confidence in their art, finding a camping permit for the poor cat who’s so deathly afraid of being caught without it. Wanna know how you’re supposed to find that permit? By fishing! Perfectly simulated in all of its uneventful glory. A Short Hike paints a picture of the end-goal, the peak, not being what’s most important. It’s the moments in between. The steps we take to get there.
None of this is better illustrated to me then when I was playing a game of Beachstickball. A game in which there’s a shared goal between two players to reach the highest score you can. It’s about as wholesome and lovely as anything this game has to offer. After finishing the game though, I found myself in the middle of a graveyard. The upbeat, fluctuating instrumental fading in favor of heavy rain and thunderous lightning. I don’t know if this juxtaposition was intentional. I kind of doubt that it was. Either way, it hit me. Standing in the middle of that graveyard really made me reflect on how these are the kind of moments we take for granted. These silly, almost child-like moments that we dismiss as a waste of time in the grander scheme of life. A lot of us are too caught up in our end-goal, or sometimes even our mortality, that we’re unable to let ourselves enjoy the trivialities. In essence, that’s what I’d like to think A Short Hike is encouraging us to indulge in more often.
And indulge I did. Those few hours I spent with it being almost entirely made up of idly chit-chatting and meandering exploration. None of it was particularly riveting or eventful, but the game-like feel still made all of it enjoyable in a straightforward, relaxing kind of way. Gliding through the air never felt so intuitive and satisfying. I also love the way the camera angles itself as to obfuscate certain parts of the park out of view; giving the players the impression of never truly knowing what they’re about to discover next. Whatever it is that you discover, all of it is a reminder to enjoy the mundanity. Take part in silly games and leisure conversations with strangers and friends alike. It’s what makes up a large sum of our lives, why not appreciate it while we can?
So, take one day at a time. And if you have a few hours to spare, go on this Short Hike. I wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone and everyone.
From the minute you boot up Live A Live it presents you with what keeps it enduring even 30 years from its initial release. Seven protagonists, all with completely different narratives and styles of gameplay. Each being representative of their respective epoch, with the order left up to the players preference. It’s an ambitious premise, so much so that even with a plethora of other JRPGs that’ve come out since, including ones that Square have made themselves, there’s still nothing else quite like it. This kind of approach isn’t without its drawbacks though. As someone who places a lot of importance on consistency, Live A Live proved to be a somewhat frustrating experience. For as novel as its structure is, it’d be Live A Live’s simultaneous biggest strength and weakness.
The ease of play is something I really have to commend. Considering that this a JRPG and it was made in a time where JRPGs were all but content forcing their players to grind, it would’ve been easy for Live A Live to have similar trappings. But it doesn’t, and not having to worry about character progression being level gated or sudden, ridiculous difficulty spikes was a real breath of fresh air. Leveling is done naturally throughout playing or the protagonist will already be leveled up to a point where I hardly questioned if I were too high or too low. I imagine that the team behind Live A Live knew that to execute a premise this ambitious there’d have to be some necessary concessions. With seven protagonists and a structure that can be tackled at any angle, there’s a lot of variables to consider and just as many that could go wrong. Octopath Traveler has already proven this. So while you won’t get the traditional joy of watching your numbers go up, the sacrifice was worth it in order to have a smooth experience.
Your enjoyment of each chapter will likely vary but one can’t deny how distinct they all are from one another. Every chapter is centered around some sort of gameplay mechanic that is appropriately fitting for the time period they reside in. My personal favorite being Oboromaru. Being a shinobi from the Edo Japan, the central mechanic is, of course, being as much of a shinobi as you can. You’re tasked with infiltrating a fortress brimming with guards and reinforcements. The coolest part is that you’re given the option to save the prisoner without having taken a single life, or you can try and slain as many people as you see fit. With every life taken Oboromaru will solemnly add to the overall kill count. He doesn’t speak much, but from the few lines he does utter you can infer that he would rather not take a life if it isn’t necessary. Naturally this made me take a stealthier approach to see if I could avoid any sort of confrontation. With the fortress crawling with guards and being as intricately laid out with as many rooms and traps as you’d expect, having a successful infiltration without killing anyone is as difficult as it needed to be.
This is when Live A Live truly shines. When the story and gameplay are aligned in such a way to where it characterizes the protagonist through its mechanics, and your personal experience is completely shaped around how you engage with them. Unfortunately only a few of the other chapters ever even approach those heights. But i’m not sure if any of them balance the story and gameplay quite as well; with some being centered around a gimmick so skin deep that it wears thin about as quickly as it was introduced, or others shelving gameplay altogether in service of the story it was trying to tell. The way Live A Live oscillates between its style gave it no real consistent base quality. How it favored one approach over the other struck me as odd when there was an already existing template within the game itself. I wouldn’t say the writing nor the mechanics are good enough to stand on their own, so it’s no coincidence to me that every chapter that leaned heavily in one direction or the other would end up being the least enjoyable.
The core combat was arguably the hardest thing for me to reconcile. It seemed interesting when it was first introduced. It’s the traditional turn based combat you’d expect from Square but placed on a 7x7 grid. Skills can only be performed at certain angles and trajectories while other skills have to be charged to be performed, akin to an ATB system. This could’ve made for very tactical and unique gameplay, but it seems like it wasn’t thought out past its conception. The grid only allowed for cheesy strategies where you take advantage of how idiotic the AI is. Camping in a spot where the bosses and enemies just aren’t able to inflict any harm to you while spamming your strongest move until you win. This is how every battle plays out, and it quickly becomes a chore when you realize that there’s no danger or stakes present unless you go out of your way to make it difficult. Not only was I able to beat the final boss in this way but I did with a SINGLE character. There should be no reason at all why even the final boss is susceptible to this.
Even with how creative Live A Live can be the final chapter was a reminder that it’s still a JRPG from 1994. I previously praised how Live A Live forgoes the number crunching and unruly difficulty spikes but that goes all out of the window for its climax. To even have a chance against the final boss you’re forced to grind and while it isn’t as treacherous as other JRPGs of its time it’s still disappointing that it had to result to this. The most disappointing of all though is how the party members you recruit barely speak at all. You don’t know how they feel about the situation, what they’re thinking, and any obstacle is met with silence or broad flavor text. Four previously defined characters essentially turning into silent protagonists. Yeah it sucks, but I can let this one go if only for the fact that implementing unique dialogue and interactions for every character with all of the limitations they had back then is an unreasonable ask. It’s just evident of how its ambition came to bite it in the end.
I know that this review slanted very negatively but that’s because I loved the high points so much that the low points disappointed me greatly. There’s a lot to love here though. The visuals are worth playing for alone. Square have fully mastered HD-2D at this point with Live A Live looking as if it’s one big detailed and scenic diorama. For as weak as some individual parts are, the broader picture is one I admire a lot. Every chapter contributing to the theme of cycles and how we fail to grow no matter how much time passes. How our capacity for hatred is a perpetual loop that is the underlying cause for all of our conflict. What I love most is how every protagonist offers their own counterpoint to this rhetoric, and through their failure they’re able to grow in their own ways. Hate can transcend time, but so can our love, our loyalty, our honor, and every other positive trait the human race has the capacity for.
Live A Live is the type of premise that could’ve only worked as a game. Even with my many problems I’m happy that it was able to exist and even more impressed that it was made under so many constraints and was still mostly successful in its execution. It’s telling that even with how neglected it was it still had a dedicated audience for decades and it continues to grow with the remake, because Live A Live is the kind of game that transcends time and it will do so for as long as we exist.
It’s my favorite time of the year, and what better way to celebrate it than to finally get into the Castlevania series? It’s a series that has always caught my eye, the Gameboy Advance trilogy in particular always looked the most aesthetically interesting to me. So in my ignorance, I chose to start off with Circle of the Moon. Now you’ll notice that it’s nearing the end of the month and Circle of the Moon is the only one out of the three I’ve completed. Despite starting it around the beginning of the month it took me some time to make my way through this. I would pick it up, then put it down shortly after. I knew I wasn’t enjoying it in the moment and I could’ve dropped it at any time to play the other two but because I am pedantic and like torturing myself I slogged through all 7 hours of it. It’s safe to say that I regret it, as even with it clocking in at under 10 hours it still managed to feel like an eternity.
If I had to pin down a single aspect of this game which caused the constant friction between it and I, it’d have to be the DSS system. On paper I don’t think it’s a necessarily bad idea. To simplify it, the enemies you’ll be killing throughput the game drop cards that have their own distinct abilities. Conjoining two cards will result in a some sort of passive skill that aids you in pretty useful ways. Enemies being the only way to receive these cards is a smart idea, as even with how tempting it is (more on that later) running away is disincentivized and if you want any of these skills you will have to regularly engage with enemies. The problem with it is that this system is entirely left up to chance. I do think that gating them behind enemies was the right move, but when the chances of actually obtaining one are as low as 2%, I don’t even think it’s worth engaging with. To illustrate how ridiculous this is, I was only able to get 4 out of the 20 obtainable cards throughout my entire playthrough. 3 of which weren’t even useful to me and one that required a minor amount of grinding. There’s a chance that you’ll be luckier than I was or are willing to grind for hours but I was neither of those, and I don’t think an entire mechanic should only be fully experienced by those who’re lucky or those who have too much free time. Now I don’t know how I would tweak this mechanic myself. Higher drop rates run the risk of the player obtaining an overpowered combination of cards which would subsequently make the game easier, but the current state it’s in isn’t desirable either. Finding a satisfying middle ground would require an overhaul of the entire game, which begs the question of if it was worth implementing in the first place.
Choosing not to engage with this mechanic and completing the game aren’t mutually exclusive though. You can ignore it completely and get by fine, but you’re going to have a much harder time by doing so. The 7 hours it took for me to complete the game were actually just in-game and I’d wager it actually took me about 15. Spending 1–2 hours just to beat one horrifically designed boss was a common occurrence. None of them were any real tests of skill but rather a test of how quickly can you kill the boss before it slowly picks away at your health with unavoidable projectiles and questionable hit-boxes. You’ll be sitting there for several minutes dishing out a paltry amount of damage to bosses that have health that easily eclipse over triple or quadruple digits. Not even mentioning the fact you’re completely robbed of any decent healing restoratives. To me this was evident of how much this game is designed around the DSS system, as if you’re either lucky or have enough time to grind you’ll have cards that can both boost your damage output and heal you overtime. Without those you’re left dying to and retrying bosses, picking away at their large pools of health for minutes on end and avoiding enemies that have placement about as well considered as this games main mechanic.
One credit I have to give to it is that the progression is fairly decent. Finding your way around isn’t any trouble at all with how nicely everything connects and you’ll rarely be questioning where your next destination is. You’ll know exactly how and where to use every power-up you come across, which seems like the bare minimum but is actually pretty easy to botch. It’s just that getting from point A to B is the most unengaged I’ve ever felt with a Metroidvania. Movement in and of itself doesn’t feel great and that is probably the one singular thing I look for when it comes to this genre. Though I’m willing to concede that when it comes to Castlevania, movement isn’t necessarily apart of its appeal. To me, it seems to have more of a focus on how interesting enemy design and placement can make getting from point A to B engaging in its own way. This is one of Circle of the Moon’s biggest failing though, as enemy placement can feel antagonistic at worst and at best haphazardly placed in order to create the illusion of difficulty. Enemies will often just be bunched together with no consideration for how it’d be an interesting challenge for the player and/or they apply some bullshit status effect that you likely can’t heal because of the horrendous drop rates. Just like the bosses, the level design presents no real challenge but is instead an exercise in how quickly it can pick away at your sanity.
There was several points where I could’ve dropped the game. Several bosses where I almost did drop it (fuck the Zombie Dragons) but for some reason I wouldn’t be satisfied with myself until I completed it. I think it’s because I at least wanted to find one redeemable aspect of it but it unfortunately never came. I struggle to call any part of this game anything beyond just serviceable and at its worst it made for one of the most unenjoyable experiences I’ve had with the genre. It felt like it deprives the player out of what should be normalcies in order to to create some artificial challenge and to force an engagement with a system that rewards mindless grinding. But even disregarding that, the moment to moment feel of actually playing is mind numbingly dull. I have faith that the rest of the series is more well put together than this, but I’d be lying if I said Circle of the Moon didn’t leave a sour taste in my mouth that I don’t think I could ever wash out.
*originally posted on my Medium, which you can read here: https://medium.com/@gilsborough17
It’s a bit of a cliche now to say “nothing is perfect” but we’re reminded of that fact ad nauseam for a reason. Nothing is truly perfect. Even so, It’s a belief of mine that something doesn’t have to be actually perfect to be labeled as such. Something can feel perfect to you. Like it had all of your sensibilities in mind while it was being crafted, and any potential “flaw” it may have can be overlooked due to how much it feels like it was specifically made for you. Despite believing that though it’s something I’ve yet to practice myself. Even my highest of favorites don’t usually go unscathed. There’s always something I felt could’ve been done better, or differently, or removed altogether. In my 20 years of living I hadn’t found that piece of media that felt like it had considered all of my strange sensibilities, and the existence of something I could unabashedly call “perfect” is a possibility I’ve doubted for some time now. Well, until I played Rain World.
I had went into Rain World about as blind as one can possibly be. All I knew is that it was difficult, apparently. “I’ve played and beaten many difficult games before, why would this be any different?”, I thought. Even it’s calming title screen had lulled me to sleep. I believed that this would be a difficult game, but it’d get easier as I progress just like everything else. That never really came true. I’d even say that the farther I got, the more arduous it became. There was a point in my first playthrough where I wandered into in an endgame area and was all but stuck there. The enemies were more vicious, the hazards more dangerous, and the area more complex to traverse. I had felt so overwhelmed by the prospect of finding a save room, much less finding an exit, that I felt no other option than to restart my progress altogether. This may seem unappealing, and for awhile it was. I was several hours in at that point and I wasn’t enjoying myself. I’m glad that the game allowed this to happen, though. Subconsciously or otherwise, those grueling couple of hours helped me familiarize myself with the punishing nature of its world and the creatures that inhabit it. Once I took a more methodical approach to exploration, my second playthrough went a lot smoother, and its when all of the pieces fell into place.
If there’s a singular trait I look for in any game I play it’s player freedom. What I mean by this is that regardless of how small, your choices will influence the game in some tangible way.. They may come with their own set of consequences but they’re your decisions to make. I’m aware that is unrealistic for most games but it’s a common trait that defines most of my favorites, so I can’t help but search for any sort of freedom regardless. It’s a good thing then that Rain World almost immediately allows for an amount of expression few other games can flaunt. Its areas are wide and expansive, but they all interconnect in some way. One area will lead to another, and that one will lead to the next. The player may feel lost this way but they’ll never be directionless. No path is the wrong path, and it insures that no matter what path the player takes, they’ll all lead to their desired destination. The path I took was more or less the traditional one, but there was nothing stopping me from heading to the final area of the game at any point. In fact, when completing the game I had looked up the area I was previously stuck in and when I found out the difficulty of it made all the more sense. It was a path that led to the final area of the game. Had I not restarted, I could’ve beaten it having only explored a small margin of it. I’m glad I didn’t though. While not a “choice” made within the confines of the game itself, the decision to start fresh was still mine to make. In the end, I’m more than happy that I made it.
While those first few hours didn’t make for a good first impression, how it informed the rest of my second playthrough can’t be understated. When becoming acquainted with the breadth of its world I had also learned how to approach it. There’re two mechanics that were initially hard for me to reconcile, that being karma and the titular rain. You’re free to explore to your hearts content, but the caveat is after an allotted amount of time there’ll be a downpour in which everything caught it in will be killed. To avoid this, you’ve got to feed your Slugcat enough to be able to hibernate in a shelter (save room) before the storm is able to sweep you up. As long as your Slugcat is well fed, every shelter you find will rank you up one Karma. This provides access to otherwise inaccessible areas. The higher you are, the more you have access to. Every time you die however you’ll lose one Karma. It was this combination of having to maintain my Karma with the omnipresent nature of the rain that made the early hours of my journey crushingly difficult. I was rushing into areas trying to find food as quickly as I could, dying almost as quickly in the process. Taking my time wasn’t quite doing the trick either, as the rain would drown me out before I could even reach a shelter. This is when I realized that there’s a balance between patience and swiftness that Rain World is asking for. This balance lends Rain World an exquisite sense of pacing, wherein the player needs to be methodical as well as efficient. Once I stopped treating the world is if it were an assortment of levels to be completed and started behaving in it like it were an actual living and breathing ecosystem, I was able to find that balance. Food and shelter are sparse, but maintain that balance and you’ll find that progressing through the game won’t be as hard as mindlessly brute forcing your way through it.
One crucial aspect to making Rain World’s ecosystem feel alive are the predators within it. There’s a totem poll in place in which you’re at the bottom of, so these predators are incessantly seeking you out, or you may happen to come across one while they’re seeking out a different prey. The key is to avoid them, but that’s easier said than done. Predators are usually more mobile than you are, or are so sizable that simply running in the opposite direction will likely get you killed. They’re also able to kill you in one hit, so any encounter with one is a matter of life or death. Trying to fight back isn’t an option either, as the first thing you’ll immediately realize about Rain World is how utterly defenseless you are. You have no means of attacking and your mobility is limited to a light hop. This fact never really changes throughout, as you don’t gain any new skills or abilities or any of the like. The only skill you’ll have is the knowledge you obtain by observing the predators that want you dead. There’s a wide variety of predators with differing behaviors and moods, and the only way to survive is to take advantage of that in any way you can muster.
Avoiding the rain, keeping Slugcat fed, and outsmarting the predators that are out to get you make any bit of progression feel euphoric. As if you are slowly coming to understand the mechanics of the world. Though even when I felt that I had a grasp on the game the unpredictability of its ecosystem made sure to humble me every so often. Most predator encounters are randomly generated. A room could have one, or two, or sometimes even three predators all at once, just for there to be none in your next run. The randomness of it all can feel quite unfair, but I don’t see it that way. Consistent enemy placement can be appropriate for any other game, but if Rain World were to reinforce the believability of its ecosystem, I don’t believe it would be here. The idea that death can be around any corner conditions the player to act like how… well.. a Slugcat would. The rain, the predators, the sparse nature of food and shelter, Karma, the tinge of randomness, and the difficulty of all of them in tandem work to reinforce the punishing cruelty of its setting, and to acclimatize the player in such a way that they act how they would if they were an actual prey is its most triumphant accomplishment.
I didn’t even dig into its gorgeous 2D backdrops, the rare but fittingly atmospheric soundtrack, and how well the story is woven into its mechanics, but if you’re reading this and have any interest of playing it yourself, I’ll leave that for you to find out. All of this is a roundabout way of saying that I’ve never seen a game have such a strong commitment to their artistic vision, to the point where it’s potentially gating off a large audience, but I couldn’t be more glad that something like this exists. Every design choice I was initially apprehensive to I grew to love and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Any issue I could possibly come up with feel pedantic compared to everything else it executes flawlessly. Every decision made was a deliberate one. and all of it culminated into a game that comes about as close to feeling like it was made for me.
learning that this game was created by a single individual put things into perspective, as I’d give it a lot more grief if an entire team was behind this. but considering the scope of the game being comparable to Super Metroid, it is decently well put together for just one person. I bring up Super Metroid as it is quite obviously its main draw of inspiration. little divergences aside, for all intents and purposes it is trying to be a spiritual successor to a degree. and it’s when comparing it to the former that Axiom Verge falls short of its own ambition. having little design flaws that trickle down and affect every other component.
exploration is arguably the most important factor to a Metroidvania, though not the easiest to flawlessly execute. every Metroidvania walk a tightrope of guiding the player through its world with an unseen hand. done through gaining power-ups by way of exploring and incentivizing the player to critically think about how those power-ups can interact with the world in order to unlock new areas. Axiom Verge could never quite pin down this balance, swinging from one extreme to the other. throughout 90% of my playtime there was no point where I had to sit and think about my next destination or how to use my current arsenal to get there. the “next destination” was always conveniently placed right next to the power-up you needed to unlock it. it came off to me more like a Mega-Man game with a coat of Metroidvania paint. until the last 10%, where it suddenly remembers the game its trying to be. ACTUALLY having you explore and parse your surroundings to figure out where to go, and this is when the game is at its best and worst in equal measure.
by proxy of exploration comes backtracking. you’ll regularly find yourself moving from one point of the map to the other. thus it is essential that the map is constructed in a way to where traveling from one side of the map to the other isn’t troublesome, and that movement is fluid enough to get to that point in quick fashion. on one end I have to give Axiom Verge a lot of credit. the transition from glorified Mega-Man to Hollow Knight was jarring, but its the shift that allowed the interconnectivity of its map to flourish. or at least… it would have if not for how excruciatingly slow your character is. this is not a problem in and of itself if there were a reliable fast travel system but that too is not without caveats. only being accessible through three sides of the map and only taking you to those three, meaning that no matter what you will have to slog your way to any specific point of interest.
this issue is only exacerbated by its enemy design and placement. most enemies here are very aggressive, with fast attacks and the capability of dishing out sizable damage. you’ll find that even the smallest encounter can be dangerous. again — this in and of itself is not an issue. its when you pair this with your sluggish movement speed that this becomes insufferable. enemies can attack you faster than you are able to dodge and there will be upwards of 5 to 15 (probably more) of them in each area. this created a cycle of me going through an area and being mauled to death, having to restart from my previous save point or barely making it by the skin of my teeth in hopes that I don’t stumble upon another cheap enemy encounter on my way. you’d think that for how dangerous these enemies are there’d be a greater reward for killing them, right? nope. its actually puzzling to me how rare it is to be rewarded for surviving these hellish encounters. most of the time you won’t even receive a healing item for your troubles. just a pointless and frantic dash to your next destination. how fun.
this makes the very act of exploring (you know, a main pillar of any Metroidvania) not all that enjoyable. even if you decide to go out of your way to do so for whatever reason you’re met with some of the most flaccid rewards I’ve ever seen in the genre. ranging from only contextually useful to inventory waste. weapons in particular are VERY hit and miss. for being the main selling point there’s absolutely no worth in about 98% of them, with the other 2% being the ones you’ll likely stick with throughout the entire game.
on just about every front I believe this fails not only as the spiritual successor it wanted to be but as a Metroidvania experience. which is a shame, considering that there were points at which I was enjoying myself. where I was genuinely impressed at how well the world is woven. the vivid pixel-art being some of the best I’ve seen period. It’s got potential, and for being made by one person this is something they should be very proud of. but as it stands I see it more as a proof of concept for a more refined sequel than an experience I’d find myself returning to.
and if nothing else — this game was excellent at making me want to replay Super Metroid again!
SMTIV acts as a sort of a transitional period for the series before it would reinvent itself once again with V. contemplating on many of the series’ staples. refining what worked and removing what didn’t. never drastically changing anything, but building on an already established base to varying degrees of success. while it has something of its own flair to set itself apart, SMTIV plays it relatively safe in the realm of SMT. I would never claim it personality-less but I would argue that in doing that its rendered itself bit of a less memorable entry within the franchise. on that same token — its intention was never to be revolutionary in a similar vain to Nocturne, but an evolutionary entry. in being (almost) purely iterative of previously introduced ideas it itself would end up being the most accessible introduction to everything that represents MegaTen as a franchise.
as brilliant as I believe Nocturne to be I can concede it is an intimidating game for most. to its labyrinthine-like dungeons, to the cruel way the game can often feel like its sneering at the player in its brutal combat, to save points being fairly distant from one another etc. these are all deliberate artistic choices that make that game as good as it is, but I’m not going to deny the convenience in being able to save anytime and anywhere you please. sacrifices had to be made however. having the option to save as often as you can is nice; the gesture is certainly appreciated. its nonessential at best though with dungeons being as simplistic and straightforward as they are. I can recognize that this simplicity may also be an artistic choice. IV isn’t as concerned with having the player constantly on edge as Nocturne was, its intention is exactly the opposite of that. I can respect and even enjoy the ease of it all to an extent though I will always miss and prefer the pervading tension of Nocturne.
that ease is carried over into the series’ most predominant feature: the combat. I’m more forgiving of this as there’s quite nothing like press turn, even in its easiest iteration. it remains fun and tactical otherwise. what I’m less forgiving of is IV’s very own gimmick: smirk. it’s just that… a gimmick. giving you or the enemy an unfair advantage in battle based on a coin flip. the fact that receiving this buff is entirely in the hands of RNG is fundamentally flawed. the game is already easy as is and the inclusion of smirk can turn it into a complete joke. god forbid a boss you encounter happen to smirk. MegaTen thrives in punishing the players mistakes, but enemies being able to wipe your entire party due to this buff is TOO punishing. to a point that it feels unfair. especially since you cannot accurately prepare or strategize around this; making the occasional encounter where smirk is involved in any capacity either underwhelming or overwhelmingly unfair depending on who it’s given to.
IV’s clumsiest misstep would be its handling of the alignment system. conceptually I find it to be fascinating. three clashing ideologies with their own benefits and drawbacks that make up the framework of the story. the one you choose will likely be the one that aligns with your own ideals. or, it could’ve been. law and chaos are easy enough to get. but you know, in a game that demands you to be morally and ideologically consistent the only way to get the one most players would align with is to rigorously follow a guide in how to make the most morally inconsistent decisions ever? that totally makes sense. funny thing is I actually find the first 2/3rds of the story to be quite good in terms of MegaTen. the characters that rep their ideological alignments make logical sense and are written with enough believability and nuance that when the time comes to side with whoever you choose it’s genuinely hard to do so. it’s just unfortunately dampened by the worst morality system I’ve ever seen implemented in a game probably ever.
as I’ve just shown, IV is a game that comes with many caveats. many of them being minor enough to where I can excuse it. with some of them being a large enough issue that it docked my score by a point or two. but none of them are enough to stop me calling this a great game. at its core its still MegaTen. the post-apocalyptic setting is an interesting subversion of what you’d typically expect from SMT. the tried and true press-turn is as good and fast paced as its ever been and it’s all elevated by Kozuka’s otherworldly composition. even if I believe that at least some creativity was lost for the sake of marketability, it’d make for a far more palatable and relaxing experience. IV was never meant to innovate. its purpose was to closely examine every aspect of the series and nip the bud of the rough edges that would plague the older titles. in ways it’d bring its own in the process, it is certainly not without its own trappings. but I would still claim it an overall success in being the most refined and recommendable entryway into it what is now one of my favorite series’.