Forspoken Review - Forsaken

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Though it takes inspiration from isekai--stories in which people from Earth are transported to and become trapped in a fantastical world (think Alice in Wonderland but Japanese)--Forspoken ultimately doesn't understand what makes that genre so popular. Instead, it tells a largely forgettable story that sets up major stakes but fails to offer a compelling reason for why the player should care. Luminous Productions' action-RPG feels great when it allows you to really stretch your legs and magically parkour across its fantasy landscape, but combat is clunky and regular exposition too often stalls the action.

In Forspoken, protagonist Frey finds herself trapped in the magic-filled world of Athia after stumbling through a portal. There, she bonds with a sentient brace she nicknames Cuff and then encounters a group of survivors living in the last city that's free from the effects of a dangerous miasma. This blight, which Frey calls the Break, covers the land and transforms living creatures into mutated monsters. Frey is the only exception, making her an ideal candidate for exploring the Break, finding its source, and destroying it. The whole situation is an intriguing narrative setup but boring or unlikable characters let it down. It's difficult to like the standoffish and stubborn Frey, the incessantly sarcastic Cuff (who regularly quips in Frey's ear like a discount JARVIS), or any of the survivors who are all too eager to completely rely on Frey's protection from the Break while also asking her to complete boring optional tasks like going on a tour of a lifeless hub or petting a bunch of sheep.

Forspoken's story is one about belonging--finding a place you want to stay and a people you wish to protect. Like any isekai protagonist worth their salt, Frey is initially resistant to her new surroundings before discovering that she's actually ideally suited to the world she's found herself trapped in. However, it's not a world that the game is able to adequately convince the player of wanting to stay in and protect. The emotional connection Forspoken tries to establish to incentivize the player to take action--to help the people that need Frey's help--is deeply uninteresting and oftentimes head-scratching and odd. The characters don't take the threat of Athia's imminent destruction very seriously and any tension that comes from their perilous existence is repeatedly undermined by meaningless busywork they want you to do. The characters themselves are also incredibly plain with two-dimensional personalities. They have no real convictions or anything interesting to say.

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One Piece Odyssey Review - Filler Arc

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For decades, the adventures of Monkey D. Luffy and the Straw Hat Pirates have thrilled and enchanted readers and viewers across the globe. Turning such a beloved and long-running action-adventure series into game form has proven to be quite a challenge, with many developers stepping up over the years to try and gamify the magic that's made the One Piece anime and manga such a success, often to mixed results. One Piece Odyssey is the latest such attempt, and it takes the approach of transforming One Piece's dramatic battles into a turn-based RPG. While it does a solid job of getting the look and mood of the series down, One Piece Odyssey unfortunately offers little more than a very basic RPG adventure.

The game opens with the Straw Hat gang stranded on the mysterious island of Waford. Their ship, Thousand Sunny, lies in a wreck nearby and with no obvious way to repair it, the gang sets out exploring this wild new world. A strange young girl named Lim emerges and, fearful of the pirates, she removes all of the crew's strength and special powers. With the help of Adio, a rather suspicious adventurer who calls the island his home, the Straw Hats set out to recover their powers, learn the secrets of Waford Island, and escape to journey another day. Along the way, they'll also be able to relive the great adventures of the past.

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Fire Emblem Engage Review - Rings Of Power

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Fire Emblem: Three Houses was a smash hit for Nintendo both critically and commercially. While it didn't dramatically shake up the combat, its ambitious multi-campaign structure swung for the fences. It only seemed natural that Nintendo and developer Intelligent Systems would build off Three Houses' success. While Fire Emblem Engage certainly builds on the deep and rewarding tactical combat, the predictable story and repetitive side activities feel like a step backward for the long-running series.

Fire Emblem Engage follows a more traditional structure than Three Houses’ calendar-based progression. Your time is split between the tactical turn-based combat the series is known for and a hub-like area where you can interact with other characters and outfit your units with weapons and equipment. While there are multiple missions available to you at any given time, the story sticks to a linear structure as you plot a course around the map. There are no major story decisions, and apart from a couple characters found in optional paralogue chapters, everyone will recruit the same characters at the same time.

This traditional structure isn't inherently a bad thing. Some of the best games in the series follow this narrative style, and Engage's presentation and narrative are more polished thanks to its focused design. But this approach also puts the story in a brighter spotlight and, unfortunately, the extra polish doesn't hide the predictable and meandering plot, which overall falls flat.

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Sports Story Review - Over Par

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Developer Sidebar Games' sophomore effort, Sports Story, builds off the successes of its golf-focused RPG predecessor by adding more sports to participate in and additional considerations to the golfing experience. However, these efforts veer too far off course from what made Golf Story as special as it is, creating an experience that oftentimes suffocates under the bloat of too many unwanted fetch quests and unpolished mechanics. A weak story and numerous technical issues also hamper the experience, making Sports Story a disappointment overall.

Sports Story picks up a bit after the events of Golf Story. After proving to be a capable golfer, the unnamed protagonist now finds himself on the cusp of signing a contract and going pro. After going through the motions of checking into your hotel, finding new golf clubs, and acquiring a license, you head off to the countryside for a little practice. Upon reaching your destination, you find the area under the abusive thumb of the bat-wielding Iron Dragons and decide to take on the role of a detective to figure out what's going on and stop this gang from ruining people's lives.

The story abruptly shifts around this early point. No longer are you an aspiring golfer doing his best to solve other people's problems through your golfing skills; instead, you start hopping from one location to the next as a freelance investigator, aiding people in the struggles they're facing and collecting clues related to the ongoing threat of the Iron Dragons. It's not all that compelling a tale to watch unfold, especially with many of the funny and memorable characters from Golf Story either only showing up in a limited capacity or being entirely removed from the plot in favor of focusing on the bland and annoyingly simple-minded protagonist.

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