Bio
problematic opinions (general):

-5/10 being a bad score makes perfect sense. if you're right half the time you're not doing better than a coin flip

-7/10 being bad for a major release also makes perfect sense because most people have fairly high standards when something costs both 60-70 dollars and a comparable number of hours of their fleeting, chaotic existence

-yes games can age. your immortal soul did not rate every game that will ever be made on the fucking astral plane at the moment the universe was born, your opinions are influenced by context, which is universally going to be extremely different if you play a game decades after it came out. you cannot play the same Super Mario 64 in 2024 that you played in 1996. this does not imply a verdict about whether it's still good it's just ontologically impossible for the experience not to have been profoundly altered because you have been profoundly altered and the self is inextricably part of art. you fucking donkey.

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Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir
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Drakengard 3
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Apr 07

Kirby and the Forgotten Land
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Apr 04

Unicorn Overlord
Unicorn Overlord

Apr 01

Armored Core: Last Raven
Armored Core: Last Raven

Feb 08

Armored Core: Nine Breaker
Armored Core: Nine Breaker

Jan 30

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I have to admit to having a certain bias towards Unicorn Overlord, and it's not just that I love Vanillaware. They're perfectly capable of putting out mid. (Guess exactly which games I'm talking about! If you're wrong I'll fill your bed with ants.) It's just that this is maybe the hardest Vanillaware has come for me specifically, as a person who loves old-school Fire Emblem. And also they came for me by putting Berengaria in it.

I'm going to be the smartest person on this website and not preface everything positive I say about the game with complaints about the story. Bitches see a simple, sincere fantasy RPG bursting with deliberately old-fashioned charm and be like "why did the developer forget to put in as many weird plot twists as they did in their sci-fi/mystery De Facto Visual Novel? Are they stupid?" The game is extremely effective at creating the ultra-specific vibe and tone that I associate with pre-Awakening Fire Emblem, but I honestly can't do a deep dive into my feelings about that without it becoming a long, terrible, disjointed, off-topic rant on which I've forbidden myself from going here, you're welcome. The point is, the writing (in tandem with overall presentation and particularly excellent voice direction, not that that's a thing Fire Emblem has ever had outside of maybe SoV) is in fact a huge part of why the game is an absolute delight to me. They know exactly what they're doing: feeding a niche that's been starving for years.

That said, none of them involve the words "boring" or "clichéd" but there are more interesting things to critique about the story. It is, in all fairness, a genre staple but UO does go heavier than most on being, just, relentlessly monarchist as a narrative--they're very much channeling Kaga here. (Do not be misled by my enthusiasm for specifically old-school Fire Emblem including a couple of the Kaga games, Shozo Kaga is fucking wack.) All the worldbuilding around Bastorias is also... look, we're gonna keep drawing Fire Emblem comparisons here, this was clearly an attempt at doing Tellius that falls really flat, although not as flat perhaps as a race of bunny people who were almost completely exterminated by the protagonist's own father and the one you recruit doesn't even care about that and it literally never comes up in the plot again outside of the one conversation with her and it only comes up in their supports as setup for a repetitive joke about how they want to breed a lot, get it they're bun[We apologize for this long, terrible, disjointed, off-topic rant about Fire Emblem Awakening. The reviewer has been tranquilized and will resume writing at a later date. Thank you for your patience.]

So the gameplay! Unicorn Overlord is a game with a vast breadth of different experiences you can get out of it based on what you put in. The core mechanics have a level of depth that can trap a certain kind of person on menu screens weighing their options for hours (this is a good thing), but the difficulty settings offer enough variance that you can either autopilot through it without understanding a damn thing or be absolutely required to master the system, to your preference. I didn't bother trying the lowest difficulty setting, but normal mode is already quite easy if you're getting absorbed in the strategy. The highest (starting) difficulty, on the other hand, is a hell of a jump--I think anyone who's complained about the gameplay being basic or too easy definitely didn't try changing settings. I won't pretend I stayed on it for most of the run--I basically 100%ed the game as I went along and ended up spending about 90 hours on it, which makes a challenge level at which you're routinely resetting battles a big ask. The game is also just not overly susceptible to being boring when you are having an easy time, since at least on normal you do still have to put together pretty strong units to keep cruising when you get to the later story maps. But I'm definitely cranking the difficulty up and committing to it when I inevitably replay the game a ways down the line--whenever I did dip my toe in, the tension was fantastic and all the mechanical depth felt heightened by how much more important it was to optimize.

A big reason I spent so long on the game is that even the overworld is honestly pretty great. It's shockingly big and dense. It's also just explorable enough for the process to be really addictive without feeling like a grind or a distraction from the main gameplay loop, and it's rewarding to do a lot of exploration because the economies for both gold and the secondary currency, Honors, are nicely balanced. Even doing basically everything, I never felt rich enough that I could just grab up everything I wanted in a shop without thinking about it, and it took right up until the end of the game before I had maxed out my unit slots with Honors, which freed up the remainder for weapon upgrades.

Oh, I did also really want to talk about the upgrade system! The idea of one in a strategy game sounded dicey to me when I first saw upgrade materials available in a special shop, not having encountered the game's only blacksmith yet, but I actually think it's genius. You don't gain access to the mechanic until the late game, and it accomplishes a lot of interesting things while also being rock simple: no matter which weapon you're forging, the upgrade just makes its stats equal to those of the highest tier of weapons (which can't be forged). This means getting to the smith is a huge explosion of new and powerful options, since you've been collecting weapons with useful secondary effects that fell off in terms of stats throughout the entire game--a thing that the game could do, making new equipment feel constantly exciting and juicy while maintaining an increasing power curve, because they knew the smith was coming and everything would be useful again in the end. Crucially it also rewards players with hoarding instincts, a moment of karmic catharsis that SRPG fans have had coming for decades. It's a relatively small part of the game, but it really stands out to me as a design masterstroke.

Probably the low point of the game is, just, everything related to what I guess I have to call the marriage mechanic. The fact that you can kind of a little maybe if you squint almost have Alain marry another man but not really is an extremely valid critique that I feel somewhat strangely about considering I mostly just think the game would be improved by not having a ludonarrative Marriage Mechanic at all. Sorry for still being salty about Fire Emblem, but I can just about, somewhat charitably, rate Alain average as a Lord. The last thing he needs is to moonlight as a fucking Avatar. And, true to Fire Emblem Avatar romances, even Alain's straight options that are actually explicitly confirmed are perhaps the blandest, most lifeless pieces of romance writing in the developer's catalogue. Still, as much as I'd rather just sidestep the romance, it must be said that I don't think Vanillaware realizes how gay their core audience skews, which is funny for a studio that made its name with a sexy anime opera about doomed romances between people with self-worth issues who can't decide how they should feel about their parents.

That's the heaviest ding I can give it, but I still think Unicorn Overlord is easily top three material from one of my favorite developers. It's a simple, nostalgic aesthetic experience layered on top of a vast, freeform, addictive tactical gameplay loop that can be as accessible or as crunchy as you choose to make it and, I think, will prove incredibly replayable for a game as long as this.

And don't let anyone fool you, this is peak fiction.

I had a friend once. A man I met under inauspicious circumstances. It was a trying time in my life, and at first, to be honest, I didn't trust him. An ally of necessity, not of my choosing. But if I can credit anyone with getting me through those hard times, it was him. Other acquaintances came and went, I couldn't tell if my ex was trying to help me or just using me, my second most constant companion kept getting kidnapped. But whenever I needed him, my friend was there, with a jaunty greeting and a cool new shotgun to sell me.

I lost that friend a long time ago. But recently, I've been seeing something wearing his face.

This new... "Merchant" has none of my friend's warmth or charisma. He has an oily, sneaky quality that some people seem to think is apropos. Are we really at the point of pretending Resident Evil, of all series, is too good for camp? Whatever happened to showmanship? My friend set the tone for the entire game, such was his force of personality. The only lasting impression I get from this wet blanket is of deafening, aching lack.

Also, the guy never shuts the hell up up. Who was it that decided vendor NPCs don't get enough voice lines in video games? Who decided they should periodically nag you about how long you're taking while you browse their wares? (No, seriously, what's patient zero? It's a very similar vibe to how all the companions complain every time you change your party composition in Baldur's Gate 3. Unpopular opinion apparently, but I like it when games don't make characters constantly whine at you for engaging in basic, necessary gameplay functions that should barely even be diegetic.)

When I was a child, a kind girl named Navi literally just said "hey" or "listen" about once every fifteen minutes if you were wandering around somewhere other than the critical path and she was absolutely reviled, pilloried and stoned for at least a real world ass decade. Just for being very occasionally heard. Just for trying to help. But this pod person, this soulless imposter, this fucking Cockney FRAUD stands here and belittles me every fifteen seconds for sitting in a pause menu pondering how I should spend my money in a game where scarcity of resources is a core mechanic, and gamers are silent??? The real Merchant was more than just a funny meme man, sir. He was a CONSUMMATE. CUSTOMER SERVICE. PROFESSIONAL. You really wanna bring this kind of naked rudeness with your only fucking customer? You think you've established that kind of rapport with me? You bring shame on his house.

And to all the sycophants and enablers, who settled for less and let this character assassination pass? History will remember your cowardice.

Anyway apart from that it's a great game! I was really worried about how it would sort of interact with the original in the cultural memory but I think we got basically the best case scenario, where it's a different enough beast that both versions have lasting creative value. It's not as replayable, I think--I always play a new Resident Evil early in the year when it comes out and then replay that October, but I got bored and went back to Armored Core during my RE4make replay--but the action just feels so good and Ashley is much more of a character.

I'm a retro Fromsoft fan now, nobody can say shit to me about not liking Demon's Souls.

Truly I just don't see what about it is supposed to not have been done objectively much, much better in basically all of its successors. Everybody talks about the atmosphere being so much more haunting and surreal than Dark Souls, and like, I've played Shadow Tower: Abyss and that's the game it sounds like they're talking about when they talk about DeS. When I think about what sets Demon's Souls apart visually from its successors all I can conjure to mind is every texture being greenish gray and every lighting source being horrendous piss yellow bloom. Genuinely fuck ugly game to me, and not because of the polygon count.

Combat is just straight-up bad--people don't really talk much about just how much better the basic gamefeel is in Dark Souls. Yeah, Dark is slow and, affectionately, clunky compared to a lot of games in different subgenres, but I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that it's as big a jump in speed, fluidity and depth as Bloodborne was after it. Your dodge roll, even at low equip weight, is such dogshit in Demon's Souls that in almost all situations it's unironically more reliable to just continuously walk backwards while the rock-stupid AI swings at nothing every few seconds instead of doing anything you have to react to. And of course I'd respect this game not really being focused on combat, if not for there being 18 billion enemies in every level. You might as well play Drakengard, which is at least tedious on purpose.

Of course DeS does have some weirder ideas that didn't carry over into Dark Souls (1), and I'm a big fan of weird ideas, even if the execution is really janky. Take World Tendency, easily the biggest example and the thing Fromsoft has made the fewest overtures towards continuing to evolve (although I'd argue Insight in Bloodborne serves a similar function). The ways in which you manipulate World Tendency are incredibly janky and inconvenient, especially now that the game is offline-only, but that's the kind of thing I'm eager to forgive. But the levels changing into "good" and "evil" versions based on your actions is such an amazing concept.

What kinds of things do they do with it? Well, in levels... 1-1 and 3-1, in pure white tendency (and also pure black for 1-1, it's the same) you gain access to a small new area with some important items in it. And in every other, uh, world, not level, there's one NPC you can talk to for a basic fetch quest in white tendency and that same NPC invades you in black... and...





[shuffles notes]


Okay I swear I had a list of all the other cool things that happen due to World Tendency but--hm? Oh. Huh. Hm. Hmmmm.

So, yeah, interesting but janky I can fuck with. But in order to be interesting the game has to do something. That's what kills me about Demon's Souls; I would absolutely adore a weirder, even more unforgiving ancestor of Dark Souls, but it's not actually weirder in any way that matters. All the stuff that would make it so is an empty promise, ridiculously underbaked not just in quality of life but in substance.

Also the remake is fine, I played both versions so I can say that too, I hate this game and I played it twice because I don't want hypothetical people on the internet to think my opinions are invalid why isN'T ANYONE FIXING ME