Final Fantasy 16 - Before You Buy

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Final Fantasy 16 - Before You BuyFinal Fantasy XVI (PS5) is the latest in the long-running RPG series. It makes significant changes and takes some big risks. Is it worth it? Let's talk. Subscribe for more: ▼ Buy FF16: Watch more 'Before You Buy': #finalfantasy

Final Fantasy 16 Review - On Its Own Terms

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Upon first impression, Final Fantasy XVI struck me with its darker and more violent tone than anything in the series' past. It's not just in the graphic depictions of bloody battles or godlike beings crushing each other to a pulp, but also in the explicit narrative threads about persecution and enslavement. It delves into the death and destruction that follows in the wake of all the political drama and supernatural standoffs. The brutality inflicted upon its victims is laid bare at nearly every turn, sometimes to the point of embellishment, to strike the nerves it wants to hit. But there's a thematic coherence to it all that melds what happens to the people at the ground level with the fantastical elements that steer their destinies. And within that harsh exterior, glossed with magic and aether, is a gripping story about characters clinging to their humanity, the bonds that give them strength, and the lengths they'll go to make the world a better place--all told in a way that only Final Fantasy can.

Final Fantasy has always been about reinvention and FFXVI perhaps marks the series' most drastic shift yet. The combat system veers much closer to a Devil May Cry than Final Fantasy XV or VII Remake, and is a shining example of what an action-RPG can be. Eikon battles initially seem to be just explosive set-pieces but grow into meaningful moments that are as narratively driven as they are utterly impressive spectacles. Through the awe-inspiring battles and emotional cutscenes, I found myself repeatedly asking in disbelief, "Did this game just do this?" as the soundtrack's beautiful melodies were seared into my memory. However, those peaks are also met with dated design conventions that stick out like sore thumbs, making for some noticeable lulls in the 50-plus hours I spent with the game. Still, I’ll always remember FFXVI for its powerful and stunning moments, for those are the reasons it stands among the storied franchise's best.

FFXVI is very much about the growth of Clive and the people around him, but story's initial emphasis on the nations and political structures of Valisthea set the stage for everything that follows. Valisthea is a world plagued by environmental decay and war is fueled by the hunger for resources, which in this case, are the crystals. Because they are a catch-all magical resource, those with the inherent ability to wield magic are abused, subjugated, and treated as property; tools to be used and sacrificed in service of their supposed superiors. Thus, liberation and revolution are the narrative throughlines, and FFXVI heavily leans into these themes, using them as a strong foundation to build every facet of the story and its characters.

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Layers Of Fear (2023) Review - Delusions Of Grandeur

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Bloober Team's original Layers of Fear (2016) became an almost overnight gaming sensation when its mind-bending Steam Early Access version gave players some truly imaginative sights. The sequel continued the original's themes of tortured artists, but swapped a painter for an actor, and offered arguably even more inventive visuals. Both games were, in my opinion, fine, but nothing more. Now, reborn on Unreal Engine 5 with new content interspersed with what was there before, Layers of Fear (2023) looks to be the definitive way to experience the horror series. However, its haunts remain largely empty. The new engine makes the game a visual benchmark, but it still feels more like a haunted house at a theme park, offering the illusion of danger but never something sincerely threatening.

Perhaps the first hurdle in critiquing the series' reinvention is explaining exactly what this package offers. Layers of Fear and its sequel both return roughly 80% the same as you may have experienced them before. Some scenes have been redesigned or added--or even removed, if my memory serves me correctly. Both games receive new but ultimately shallow mechanics allowing for a few combat sections in which you'll need to blast stalking ghosts with light to stall them while you escape their maze-like settings. The first game's brief Inheritance DLC is also included, and a brand-new DLC meant to wrap the series up more neatly than before, The Final Note, makes its debut.

The best part of all of this is actually the framing narrative, The Writer's Story. Built directly into the game as you progress through its connected parts, you'll routinely jump back to a lighthouse where a writer tells the story of the game's other haunted artists: the painter, the actor, and the musician. Like those in the main games, the writer is dealing with her own hauntings, and I find the format classy and quite novel for the medium. It feels like a horror anthology, such as V/H/S, only in this case, all the individual stories ultimately share a universe.

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Diablo 4 - Before You Buy

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Diablo 4 - Before You BuyDiablo IV (PC, PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X/S/One) is Activision Blizzard's latest in the long running looter RPG franchise. How is it? Let's talk. Subscribe for more: ▼ Buy Diablo 4: Watch more 'Before You Buy': #diablo4

Amnesia: The Bunker Review - Shellshocked

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2010's Amnesia: The Dark Descent altered the horror genre forever as the breakout game made in a particular hide-and-seek style. It's one which relies on a lack of combat, putting players in horrifying situations they can't win, and demanding they run and hide instead. Through countless imitators and even a few sequels, Frictional Games has had its formula repeated, but Amnesia: The Bunker is not the latest in that lineage. It plays quite differently, though it still feels like a classic Amnesia game in vital ways, and it's this combination of old and new that helps make it the studio's scariest game since The Dark Descent.

Amnesia: The Bunker is, in some ways, the Amnesia you may know already. You'll play in first-person as a character who is suffering from memory loss and must piece together their own history, as well as that of the unnerving locale in which they inevitably find themselves. In The Bunker, that character is Henri Clement, a French soldier during World War I who loses consciousness while rescuing a fellow soldier from harm's way, then awakens in the titular bunker seemingly all alone--though he will soon wish that were truly the case.

Out of the frying pan...
Out of the frying pan...

Through scattered notes, the story of the labyrinthine bunker will come into focus. It's an entertaining, albeit detail-light, saga that seems to tie directly to other games in deep-cut ways that some players will appreciate. But it's just as easy to play it and not have any context for the story at all, or take it as a standalone horror story about a man trapped in a maze with a monster. It works well enough in each case, but it does feel like there's less narrative to unpack than past games in the series.

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