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Game Reviews

‘Final Fantasy XV’: A Satisfying, if Schizophrenic, Ride

Final Fantasy XV is just like that. It’s the American pioneer in the gold rush of the gaming world, it’s a man shaking a rusty, holey pan in a river and somehow finding something beautiful in the process.



The latest Final Fantasy has finally arrived, and after all these long years, the question on everyone’s lips is: can it possibly deliver on the hype? Well, the answer is yes, and no, and…yes.

With a game that has the kind of development history that Final Fantasy XV has attached to it comes a kind of reticence in terms of trying to peg down exactly how, and why, one feels how they do about the game.

If the ultimate question, a full decade later, is whether the game is “good” in a basic sense of quality, then the answer, in short, is yes, but that “yes” comes with a series of caveats that must be addressed in turn.

First up is the tone of the game, which is all over the place. Final Fantasy has a history of this kind of thing, with Final Fantasy VII’s central protagonist, Cloud, infamously cross-dressing to sneak into a brothel just a couple of hours before he unfolds his tragic back story to the main cast.

However, Final Fantasy XV compounds these kinds of strange and jarring narrative fluctuations by giving you free reign to an almost entirely open world from the outset. Like last year’s Metal Gear Solid VFinal Fantasy XV has made quite a shift from the series’ previous mainline title, shifting from an experience that focuses on story and scale almost exclusively for the majority of the game, to an entry that allows the player to dictate the pace and speed of the adventure with reckless abandon.

While this might sound great in principle, it makes for a slew of problems in practice. For example, if a player spends 5-10 hours cracking down on the dozens of side quests in between two major story points, they can easily lose track of what’s going on in the increasingly dense lore of the cross-media narrative in which Final Fantasy XV unfolds.

How does one make heads or tails of an adventure where you can be fishing one minute, and discussing the fate of the world the next? When you’re trying to deal with the stakes of losing your father and ascending to royal power to battle an evil empire, the experience can be very much derailed by pulling over for a selfie.

Problems similar to this crop up in every open world game to an extent, but never have they been so jarring as they are in Final Fantasy XV, first because of the series’ long-standing pedigree, and second because of the size and scale of the adventure a player expects from it.

Players expect a certain something from an official Final Fantasy installment, and as such, it is held to a different standard from not just other RPGs, or even other Square-Enix franchises, but even from other sideline, and main line, games in the franchise itself.

So where does Final Fantasy XV weigh in on the grand hierarchy of the series’ 30 year history? Only time will tell on that front, but let’s break down where the game succeeds and fails, shall we?

The battle system is as good a place to start as any. Drawing from action-RPGs in principle, FFXV‘s battle system seems to draw the majority of its inspiration from fellow Square-Enix alumni, Kingdom Hearts. The way Noctis zooms around one battle after another, crashing into and taking down enemies with reckless abandon, shows the clear influence of the original director, Tetsuya Nomura.

However, the battle system of FFXV lacks the polish that the Kingdom Hearts series learned to develop. With the camera regularly obscuring the vision of the player, and Noctis sometimes missing his objective, even on a precise button push, the battles can and will frustrate even the most stalwart of players.

This trend continues throughout several key aspects of the game. For example, a regular prompt will pop up for players to press the X/A button in order to achieve a contextual reaction such as picking up an item, or speaking to an NPC, only for Noctis to default to jumping instead.

Textures pop in and out at random. The camera sometimes focuses on a wall in the middle of a conversation. Colors blip in and out during cut scenes. On and on it all goes.

Now, in any other game these elements could easily be the writing on the wall for a clear and easy death warrant. Through some strange miracle, though, Final Fantasy XV manages to transcend it’s laundry list of regularly recurring flaws, and emerge with enough emotional gravitas to allow an almost complete dismissal of its glaring transgressions in favor of its strengths.

The stripped down nature of FFXV’s key cast allows for a level of rapport and character development that the series has rarely, if ever, seen. The bromantic nature of the central quartet lives and dies on a shorthand that almost always comes across as authentic, even when it grates. Think something like the 1986 coming-of-age drama Stand By Me as a parallel, and not a surprising one at that, as the main vocal theme of the game is a Florence and the Machine cover of the exact song for which the film was named.

In turn, the game calls back regularly to other games in the series, in its presentation, plot, and design. The villain of the story, for instance, is a clear amalgamation of classic series villains like FFVI‘s Kefka and FFVII‘s Sephiroth, while the magic system offers an obvious throwback to FFVIII‘s draw functionality. Meanwhile the four chosen warriors on a journey to regain the crystal is an assured callback to the roots of the series, as seen in FFI-V.

Final Fantasy XV skates on a clear coat with elements like these. The game knows exactly what it’s doing when it allows you to listen to classic Final Fantasy soundtracks during travel sections that might otherwise be a total bore. Yet somehow it works in spite, or perhaps because, of the obvious misdirection of strategies like these.

Though it’s far from a perfect game, Final Fantasy XV, even with its long and troubled development history, emerges as one of the best, if not the best, Final Fantasy title in the last 10-15 years.

Now, despite the fact that that statement is absolutely true, at least in the eyes of this reviewer, don’t let that set you up with false expectations. There are absolutely going to be moments when you are incredibly frustrated with this game. There will be at least one dungeon you feel is an unclear, uninspired bore. There will be at least one boss battle where you will be wondering what the hell you’re supposed to be doing. And there will be at least one moment when you wonder what the designers of this game were thinking.

BUT…and by any stretch, that’s a big “but”, the fact that you will no doubt persevere through these glaring and obvious flaws is a testament to just how well the rest of the game works. In that way, Final Fantasy XV is a truly one-of-a-kind experience. How many games could clearly and obviously ape Dark SoulsMetal Gear SolidXenoblade, and a host of others, muck things up regularly, advocate nostalgia for past games in the same franchise, and somehow still have you on their side at the finish?

Someone, or several someones, did something very right with this game, and only for that reason does it emerge as playable and lovable in spite of its many problems. You will see this game on a lot of top 10 lists at the end of the year, and if you play it, there’s definitely going to be moments when you wonder why.

However, if you’re anything like this reviewer you will emerge with a feeling similar to how you might look at a classic trend-setting television series like Twin Peaks or Buffy the Vampire Slayer. With either drama, there are going to be moments you have to forgive or bypass in order to see the big picture, and if you can do so, you will find that underneath the flaws of each one is something transcendent and truly special.

Final Fantasy XV is just like that. It’s the American pioneer in the gold rush of the gaming world, it’s a man shaking a rusty, holey pan in a river and somehow finding something beautiful in the process.

Mike Worby is a human who spends way too much of his free time playing, writing and podcasting about pop culture. Through some miracle he's still able to function in society as if he were a regular person, and if there's hope for him, there's hope for everyone.



  1. John Cal McCormick

    December 8, 2016 at 4:42 pm

    That Chapter 13 though, right? Am I right?

  2. Mike Worby

    December 8, 2016 at 5:13 pm

    It kinda just kept going huh?

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Game Reviews

‘Life is Strange 2’ Episode 5 Review – “Wolves”: A Worthy Send-off

The final episode of Life is Strange 2 may take a while to get going but it does offer a solid conclusion to the Diaz brothers’ journey.



Life is Strange 2

Life is Strange 2 hasn’t made any bones about being a political game over the course of the last year. The 5th, and final episode, “Wolves”, doesn’t just continue with this message, it doubles down, and in a big way.

Set near the Arizona-Mexico border, “Wolves” follows the Diaz brothers on the final leg of their journey. Having escaped from the cult that held Daniel up as a messianic figure in the previous episode, Sean and Daniel are camping out in a sort of pop-up town filled with outsiders like themselves.

Life is Strange 2

The location provides Life is Strange 2 with its final breath of relaxation before the story enters its high tension endgame, and it’s a much needed reprieve. Unfortunately, it does seem to go on a bit longer than the player might like, and that makes things drag a smidge.

To give you some idea of how long you’ll be spending in the village, 4 of the 6 collectibles are found here. So, yes, this starting area is the main place you’ll be spending “Wolves” in. To be clear, the area isn’t bad per se. There’s a lot to see, a scavenger hunt to go on, and a few interesting characters to speak with, including a surprise cameo from the original game. The bummer of it all is that players will be feeling the time here more laboriously simply because there isn’t much of anything happening.

Life is Strange 2

In the 2nd or 3rd episode of this story it’s perfectly fine for an extended bit of down time. Episode 3, in particular, benefited greatly from allowing you to settle into the setting and get to know a diverse and likable new group of characters. However, by the 5th episode, players will be so eager to see how things are gonna settle up, they won’t be able to get out of this area fast enough.

On the upswing, once Sean and Daniel leave the village, the story moves at a pretty solid clip to the credits. As the key art and trailer for “Wolves” might suggest, the Diaz brothers do indeed challenge the border wall in the final leg of Life is Strange 2. Where things go from there, I won’t spoil, but rest assured that Daniel will absolutely go through the crisis as you’ve trained him to do.

By this I mean, you will see the final results of your choices throughout the game, and they’re pretty impressive. With 4 possible endings, and 3 possible variations on those endings, Life is Strange 2 can ultimately play out in a variety of ways. How yours plays out will, of course, depend on the choices you’ve made and how you’ve influenced your brother throughout your journey.

Either way, though, Life is Strange 2 closes off “Wolves” with an emotionally satisfying and generally fulfilling conclusion to your journey. It might be a necessary evil that the events can’t be intense the whole way through, being that this is not an action or combat-focused game, but the fact that things take so long to get going in the final episode is a bit of a problem.

Still, fans worried that Life is Strange 2 might fail to stick the landing can rest easy. “Wolves” might not be the best, or most satisfying, episode of the series but it does what it needs to do and it does it well, particularly in the back half.

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Game Reviews

‘Yaga’ Review: A Bittersweet Fairy Tale



Yaga Game Review

Some games feel perfectly suited to their genres, as if they fulfill every ambition that their genre could promise. On paper, Yaga from the developer Breadcrumbs Interactive, should be one of those games. This roguelike RPG is meant to bring traditional Slavic folktales to life, and its procedurally generated structure allows the game to change in every playthrough, just like how the ancient fairy tales it’s based on can change in every telling. Yaga immediately shines on a conceptual level, but as a game, the most important question remains: will this fairy tale be enjoyable to play?

From start to finish, Yaga uses the rich source material of Eastern European history and folklore to create a vibrant, fantastical world. The entire game is framed as three elderly women telling the story of Ivan, a heroic blacksmith who has been stricken with the curse of bad luck. These women spin a fanciful yarn, one in which Ivan is constantly plagued by horrors from traditional fairy tales such as the hideous One-Eyed Likho, along with more realistic foes, such as a corrupt, overbearing Tsar. The game thrives on this balance between history and fantasy. Its world is filled with peasants who face daily, universal struggles with war and agriculture, while massive ogres and goblin-like Vodyanoys haunt the surrounding wilderness. This mixture creates a strong setting that finally gives Slavic history and mythology its long-overdue representation in games.

Yaga Game Review

“Take the presentation and story together, and Yaga becomes a playable portrait of the lives and superstitions of Eastern European peasants.”

The frame story always remains the same: Ivan will always have to serve his Tsar while avoiding bad luck in every playthrough. However, beyond these core details, the old women are extremely flexible storytellers, often switching events around or changing story beats entirely. In some playthroughs, you may discover a woman raising an enormous chicken; in others, you may instead encounter a band of thieves waiting to rob you. You will frequently face important decisions to make that will dramatically impact the outcome of your quest. yes, you can always break into monster hideouts with hammers blazing to slay every creature before you; but more often than not, you are also given the opportunity to peacefully talk your way out of these toxic situations. Even more dramatically, oftentimes the game will zoom out to the old women storytellers and allow you to choose how they tell the rest of Ivan’s story. Yaga is at its best when it doubles down on this player freedom. It makes every moment engaging and allows its stories to truly come alive.


Yaga’s writing and presentation only serve to make this world even more striking. It features a distinctly dark sense of humor – for instance, a man may ask you to push a boulder into a well behind his house, but he will neglect to tell you that he has also thrown his wife into the bottom of that well ahead of time. Much of this dialogue is even written in rhyme, enhancing the otherworldly, fairy tale atmosphere. On top of that, nearly all dialogue is fully voice acted, with most voice actors delivering some eccentrically charming performances that make the game feel as if it’s a playable Disney film. The visuals look like they’re taken straight out of a Russian children’s book of fairy tales, while the music incorporates traditional instruments and language into an electronic, hip-hop fusion soundtrack that captures the cultural heritage that Yaga focuses on while connecting it to modern culture. Take the presentation and story together, and Yaga becomes a playable portrait of the lives and superstitions of Eastern European peasants.

However, this leads to the gameplay. Quests may be randomized each time you play, but nearly every one of them takes the same general format. One character will request help, and then Ivan will have to venture out into the world to fight some demons or recover an item. Worse yet, the levels are just as randomized in their procedurally generated design, and not in a particularly clever way, either: most of them likewise follow the same formula, being little more than arenas full of enemies connected by copy-and-paste environments. Many paths in each environment lead to nothing more than pointless dead ends. The combat has a satisfyingly simple basis, with basic moves like long- and close-range attacks, roll dodging, items to use, and a variety of different weapons to equip, although his trusty old hammer is generally the best choice. However, while this simplicity makes the combat enjoyable on its own, there is very little depth to it, and the inherently repetitive design of the mission only serves to highlight how paper-thin combat can be. Most battles involve little more than hacking away at enemies until they die, which becomes increasingly repetitive by the end of the roughly ten-hour campaign.


At the very least, the robust customization system helps add a little intrigue to the combat. As a blacksmith, Ivan is naturally gifted with the ability to craft weapons for himself to use. By scavenging parts and items from fallen enemies and treasure chests around the world, Ivan is able to create the most powerful weapons. Crafting is simple to use yet extremely ripe for experimentation, requiring only one base item and a handful of accessories to create unique new items. With dozens of components to discover and use in your forging, there are plentiful opportunities to create the best possible weapons.

“All told, Yaga achieves a bittersweet ending: it’s bitter as a game but sweet as a fairy tale.”

The crafting system would be the standout aspect of the moment-to-moment gameplay if it weren’t foiled by another one of the game’s systems: Bad Luck. Ivan has been cursed with perpetual Bad Luck, which grows constantly throughout the game – whenever something good happens, Bad Luck is sure to increase. Whenever the Bad Luck meter fills all the way, Likho will appear and strike Ivan, generally breaking one of his weapons or stealing his money.

Yaga Game Review

On paper, this mechanic makes sense, since it prohibits the player from becoming too overpowered and also fits into the folklore style off the story. In practice, however, it is an infuriating limitation on player progression and invention. It effectively punishes players for putting thought and care into their weapon crafting and character-building – at any moment it can all be washed away in bad luck, so what’s the point? Considering how enjoyable the crafting and combat systems are, it’s a shame that Bad Luck seems to exist solely to diminish the very best parts of the gameplay, leaving the game feeling like it cripples itself.

Your enjoyment of Yaga depends heavily on what experience you want out of it. If you’re looking for a deep and satisfying RPG, then it likely won’t deliver. Although it features satisfying combat and customization systems, the frustrating randomization of its level design and Bad Luck system only serve to foil these good qualities. If you are instead looking for a faithful, fleshed-out image of Slavic cultural heritage, portraying both the harsh realities of peasant life along with its fanciful folklore, then Yaga is a clear triumph thanks to its emphasis on player choice, its excellent writing, and its beautiful hand-drawn visuals and inventive soundtrack. All told, Yaga achieves a bittersweet ending: it’s bitter as a game but sweet as a fairy tale.

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Game Reviews

‘Remothered: Tormented Fathers’ Review: I Want My Remummy

There’s merit to be had if you just want a quick bash at a quirky, indie horror game, but with so many flaws, I can’t recommend Remothered.



Remothered: Tormented Fathers Review

It feels like a while since the ‘survival horror but you can’t fight back’ genre was at its peak, especially with the recent, tradition-tinged revival of the Resident Evil series, but back in 2017 when Remothered: Tormented Fathers was being developed for PC it was all the rage. Like any indie game that’s had even the slightest amount of interest or acclaim during the current generation, Remothered has received the now-obligatory Switch port. Although its modest technical requirements clearly made a successful transition to the platform more than manageable, they don’t help to hide the game’s very obvious shortcomings.

Players take control of Rosemary Reed in her attempts to investigate retired notary Dr. Richard Felton, who is currently undergoing treatment for a mysterious disease. Oh, and he has a missing daughter that he probably murdered. The plot of the game feels a little cliché, but it’s undoubtedly its strongest facet. However, suspending your disbelief at the ropy animations and dodgy voice-acting is needed to avoid being sucked into feeling like you’re watching Theresa May running around a big mansion trying to escape from a John Cleese impersonator with his arse hanging out. Alas, I clearly failed in this endeavor.

Remothered is essentially a game of ‘go there, fetch that, bring it here, use it’ with an added element of ‘don’t let the annoying old man kill you in the face with a sickle’. Yeah, one of those ones. The story takes place almost entirely within Felton’s huge mansion, and navigating the ol’ girl is by far the game’s toughest element. It’s made especially harder while you’re constantly on edge, trying to avoid the stalking lunatic without a map, weapons, or a proper objectives system. Be prepared for your bearings to be quite considerably lost.

There are a couple of ways to avoid that face full of sickle. There’s a dodge button (provided Rosemary isn’t too tired to actually dodge), a run button, distraction items, and defense items that will automatically be used to escape a grab attack if you have one equipped at the time. Remember those crappy bits in Resident Evil 4 where you had to play as Ashley? This is like that… for a whole game.

While a little tired in 2019, there’s nothing inherently wrong with the formula of the weapon-less survival horror game – it’s just that in Remothered, it’s not implemented all that well. Enemy AI routing is weird, which should be grounds for an unpredictable fright-fest, but leans more toward the annoying and/or hilarious. It seemed like the stalkers would either sit directly outside the room I needed to enter – barely moving and refusing to be distracted for longer than a few seconds before returning immediately to their original spot right on my current objective – or simply bugger off to another floor and never come back.

Even with his penchant to completely vacate the area, and despite his advancing years, Dr. Felton possesses supersonic hearing. It seemingly doesn’t matter how far away you are – if you run in this game, he will hear you. To make matters worse, the sound design just doesn’t make sense. With every press of the run button, enemy dialogue would instantly change to indicate they’d heard you and then loud footsteps would permeate every room you enter as if they were right behind you, when they most certainly are not.

It’s either a cheap scare tactic to give the impression of enemies constantly being within touching distance, or the fallout from a combination of naff sound design and the limitations of my Switch’s Pro Controller not having a headphone port. What makes it worse is that everything is so campy that it’s seldom scary in any tangible way. When the man trying to murder you is constantly shouting about how he hasn’t got anything to eat that isn’t moldy while you hide in his cupboard, it’s not exactly bone-chilling.

As a result of the big-eared murderers and their impeccable radar tuned to the sounds of running, I spent almost the entirety of the game… well, not running. Unfortunately, Rosemary walks slower than an asthmatic ant with heavy shopping, and this made exploring the mansion a monotonous chore – especially when getting caught and subsequently having to run up and down floors to hide before slowly sneaking back to restart the investigation.

Puzzles are that old school type of obtuse where you’re tasked with finding everyday items to fix problems. The puzzle itself lies in realizing the item the developer decided should work, finding it in the giant four-floor mansion, and slowly returning to the its intended area of use without dying. For example, in order to get into an attic, you have to search rooms at random to find an umbrella to pull down the door’s previously-out-of-reach cord. It’s such a shame that Remothered eschews any type of self-contained puzzle for a string of confusing fetch quests, as everything feels more tedious than taxing.

It feels a little unfair to bemoan the lack of polish for a two-year-old indie game, but Remothered is full of niggling issues. Animations are janky, lip-syncing is non-existent, and the camera wigs out after the QTEs to fight off enemies have finished – always pointing you in the wrong direction. I also encountered a couple of game-breaking bugs where Rosemary did her door-opening animation without the door actually opening, and I couldn’t enter the room without rebooting the game. Lastly, and I don’t want to be too harsh to an Italian developer, but the in-game English is pretty abysmal, and lots of the game’s expositional notes and articles border on illegible through their poor translations.

There are some people out there who can’t get enough of the whole hiding under sofas schtick, but I like my survival horror games with better psychological tension, a (limited) means to fight back, and coherent puzzle-solving. There’s merit to be had in the game’s labyrinthine setting and short length if you just want a quick bash at a quirky, campy indie horror game in the Haunting Grounds model, but with so many flaws and such a frustrating gameplay loop, I can’t recommend Remothered: Tormented Fathers outside of anything other than morbid curiosity.

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