Octopath Traveler 2 Review - Go Your Own Way

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Octopath Traveler was a pleasant surprise when it debuted a few years back. Its then-new HD-2D engine was a delight to behold, and the gameplay drew inspiration from some of Square Enix's most storied franchises: a deep Final Fantasy-style class and customization system mixed with the non-linear exploration and story of the SaGa series with a dash of combat that took cues from Bravely Default. These are great inspirations to draw from, but it resulted in a game that, while excellent, seemed to be struggling for a distinct identity. Perhaps the developers recognized this as well--with Octopath Traveler II, Square Enix seems to be trying to add new gameplay elements that give the franchise a personality of its own. And, for the most part, it has succeeded admirably.

The core of Octopath Traveler II is a traditional, turn-based JRPG with many of the usual gameplay elements: towns and dungeons to explore, objectives to complete, etc. Where most JRPGs present a linear method of progression, however, Octopath Traveler takes a very different approach: You begin the game by selecting a "main" character from eight candidates. This character has their own unique background, story arc, and goals, and will serve as a constant presence throughout your playtime. After an introductory story chapter, you are then free to explore the world to your liking. Eventually, you'll meet the other seven characters, allowing you to bring them into your party and follow their storylines as well, all culminating in a finale that ties the individual story threads together.

The focus on individual character arcs rather than a huge, high-stakes threat for most of the game's runtime is refreshing, allowing Octopath Traveler II to tell a variety of intriguing stories that vary wildly in both tone and focus. Some of them are comparatively weaker, but others command and hold your attention and keep you eager for more. Agnea's star-struck search for fame is notably bland, for instance, while Temenos' investigation into a murder plot by a religious cult and Throne's quest to kill the adoptive parents who raised her are excellent stand-outs. My personal favorite questline is the story of Osvald, who I chose as my starting character--a tale of a scholar who plans a Count-of-Monte-Christo-style prison escape and revenge after being framed for the murder of his own family by a scheming colleague.

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Kirby's Return To Dream Land Deluxe Review - Kirb Your Enthusiasm

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Mario is the most versatile character in the Nintendo oeuvre, but Kirby has to be a close second. Though the pink puffball may not spend his free time go-karting or playing tennis, his catalog includes a ton of experimental games and art styles that stretch the limits of what a Kirby game can be. Kirby's Return to Dream Land Deluxe, a remastered version of the 2011 Wii game for Nintendo Switch, is in most ways a very traditional Kirby platformer. But its playful spirit, approachability, and a sizable new epilogue campaign make it much more than a retread.

The main story component of Return to Dream Land is a colorful romp as you restore the parts of an alien ship, set to a joyful and buoyant soundtrack. The adorably bulbous alien Magolor crash-lands on Planet Popstar and seeks help from Kirby and his friends. Those allies are a major component this time, because Dream Land features drop-in co-op for up to four players. You can include any number of multicolored Kirbys in your ranks, but you can also bring along other familiar faces: Meta Knight, Bandana Waddle Dee, and King Dedede. Each has their own move set--Meta Knight is more agile than the weighty Dedede, for example--but only Kirby has the signature Copy ability to swallow enemies.

Kirby's combat isn't simplistic, but it is forgiving. There's a ton of contextual moves you can do with each Copy ability, which means you can pull off impressive juggles. But the enemies aren't much of a threat, so you don't really need to master the combat. It's a different approach from some other Nintendo franchises, which use simple move sets to pull off an increasingly difficult array of challenges. This one seems more aimed at letting players meet it wherever they are.

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Atomic Heart Review - Crispy Critters

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Atomic Heart doesn't hide its BioShock Infinite inspirations. The game begins in a city in the clouds, features reality-bending and elemental powers you can employ in your fight against advanced robots, sees you scrounging for resources in an idyllic city that's falling apart, and stars an amnesiac protagonist grappling with the nuances of free will. By the time you reach the climax of the story and you're asked to visit a lighthouse, you know what's up. Where Atomic Heart most differs from its inspiration is in the lens through which it focuses its narrative, exploring concepts of free will via Soviet Russian collectivism instead of the U.S.' individualism. However, its intriguing premise is let down by a deeply unlikable protagonist and a predictable storyline that doesn't do anything interesting with its cool ideas.

In the alternate history of Atomic Heart, a scientist named Dmitry Sechenov kickstarts a robotics boom in Russia in the 1930s. By the 1950s, the working class has been abolished in the Soviet Union and completely replaced by robots controlled through a hive-mind network called Kollectiv 1.0. The game begins a few years after that, just prior to the public unveiling of Kollectiv 2.0, which will allow all humans to have equal access to the hive-mind to control robots remotely through a Thought device wired straight to their brain, as well as connect and share information with each other across great distances. Basically, it's the Internet plugged into your brain and available 24/7.

With the benefit of 21st-century hindsight, we know the Internet will not end up being a 100% good idea even if the main character Major Sergei Nechaev, an agent who serves Sechenov, fully believes in the dream of a world where everyone equally has access to each other and the wealth of information that will surely be shared. Assigned to investigate a disturbance in Facility 3826, the Soviet Union's foremost scientific research hub, Sergei is joined by Charles, a sentient glove that gifts the agent with a host of polymer-fed technopowers like telekinesis and cryokinesis, and provides a sounding board for Sergei's oftentimes annoying and borderline abusive collection of quips and unfunny comebacks.

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Hogwarts Legacy Review - Sleight Of Hand

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Hogwarts Legacy is developed by Avalanche Software, a subsidiary of Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment. The game has been embroiled in controversy due to transphobic remarks from Harry Potter author JK Rowling. Although she is not personally involved with its development, she stands to profit from its success. For more, read our in-depth article on how Rowling's comments have impacted the trans community. In this article, you will also find links to trans creators you can support, as well as charities you can donate to.

It's difficult to find someone oblivious to the world of Harry Potter. For many it was a property that grew up with them, with both the book and film series persisting in the zeitgeist for decades. It's confusing then that it's taken this long to get a game that promises to deliver on the fantasy of becoming a wizard or witch within that universe; attending classes, learning spells, engaging in mischief, and exploring the grandeur of Hogwarts Castle. Hogwarts Legacy delivers on that promise, to a degree. Its adaptation of this universe is undeniably the most extensive yet, allowing you to truly explore Hogwarts and its surrounding areas like never before. But it's also stuck too keenly in the present (and sometimes, past) of open-world game design, reducing much of what you do to repetitive checklist activities in a world that is disappointingly barren.

Hogwarts Legacy takes place in the late 1800s, although you might be hard-pressed to notice that from the way characters speak or by the clothes they wear, which look ripped straight out of the films set in the late 1900s. You play as a prodigal witch or wizard of your own creation, this time fighting against a goblin uprising led by one particularly nasty one named Ranrok. This props up a predictable and surprisingly sporadic narrative, with main beats and progression only taking place every few hours as you complete the requisite quests around them, which are often barely related. There's so little screen time for many of the main characters that you struggle to get a sense of their motives, especially so in the case of Ranrok, who only appears to deliver a line or two to some subordinates before he disappears for a couple of hours. It robs him, and the story, of any sense of emotional tension, reducing it to nothing more than "talented good student takes out bad powerful goblin" by the end.

While trying to stop a potentially cataclysmic uprising, you'll also be required to juggle the duties that come with being a newly inducted fifth-year at Hogwarts. Being both a new and older student means you get to enjoy the thrills of learning some familiar spells from earlier years, but also have access to a wide range of more advanced ones as the year progresses. The initial introduction to each class is captivating, from partaking in duels in Defence Against the Dark Arts or being subjected to a screaming Mandrake in Herbology. These are some of the moments where Hogwarts Legacy is at its strongest, recapturing the sense of wonder that has made this world so enticing to so many. The mechanical components of each class, however, fall woefully short. The small minigame used to convey wand movements for each spell feels ripped out of the series' very first video game entry nearly two decades ago, while many of the activities introduced shortly after are brief, uninteresting, and usually used as a means to fill your map with many more instances of the same thing. They quickly extinguish any glimmers of hope that the school aspect to your time at Hogwarts will be as engaging as many of these classes might seem from the outside.

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Like A Dragon: Ishin Review - Rewriting History

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Take the faces, voices, and over-the-top theatrics that have made the Yakuza franchise renowned, and transport all that back to 19th century Japan. The result is Like A Dragon: Ishin, an enticing period piece that also includes the series' action-brawler gameplay and ridiculous hijinx. Even though the context has changed, swapping the gangs of the modern criminal underworld for political factions in a tumultuous time in history, Ishin is yet another example of what developer RGG Studio does best: melodramatic storytelling.

It's been a long time coming as Yakuza: Ishin, originally a PS3/PS4 game from 2014, was not previously localized and brought to the West like other entries in the franchise. This new version lands somewhere between a remaster and remake, but it is based on older iterations of Yakuza games which makes Like A Dragon: Ishin feel dated in several respects, particularly in moment-to-moment gameplay. Still, its fundamentals are solid and the main draws of the franchise remain intact, hooking me with its characters and twists that had me eager to see its historical fiction unfold from chapter to chapter.

Instead of the glitz and glam of Kamurocho, Ishin takes us to late-Edo period Japan, around the time of the end of the samurai class and just before the country's modernization. In the same way previous Yakuza games offer a sort of virtual tourism, Ishin's vivid reconstruction of Japan's past (albeit with more creative liberties) delivers the same thrills. The streets are filled with menacing men wanting to cut you down as you mind your business strolling through the markets, restaurants and bars represent the era's cuisine, and tons of side content reflect the culture and traditions of the time. While it may not be as dazzling as the neon-lit streets of the modern day, the more low-key setting of Kyo (which is now modern-day Kyoto) is refreshing and a welcome change of pace that lets the Yakuza formula thrive once again within a framework it is comfortable with.

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