Category Archives: Games

Mass Effect Andromeda – replaying a divisive game

In view of the Mass Effect trilogy remaster being released in a few months I thought it’d be nice to re-play the fourth entry in the series, Mass Effect Andromeda to see how it’s aged given some of the controversies from it’s release and that have subsequently come to light in the years since it was originally released back in 2017. I initially played it on the Playstation 4 upon release where this time I’m playing it on an Xbox Series X, though it’s not a game which has been upgraded for the new hardware.

It’s been interesting in the time after the initial release reading about the difficulties that were experienced during development, learning to use the Frostbite engine which was apparently not very well suited to this style of game so the team had to learn to use it while getting it to work which sounded like a nightmare. I’ve also read recently about how budget limitations had an impact on things like the number of new alien races included in the game and the galactic travel elements too. In some respects in seems like a miracle of sorts that the game was completed at all.

In the interests of full disclosure I had mixed feelings upon the initial announcement of the game, on the one hand more Mass Effect was definitely something I wanted but by setting it in a brand new galaxy and having it take place 600 or some years after the events of the initial trilogy I had misgivings due to feeling like I wanted to stick with stories post the Reaper invasion and to be able to continue to see characters that I’d come to love. I was also still a little disappointed with the ending to the the third game, which while the extended cut dlc did improve things it was still very underwhelming.

The most jarring change is the removal of the paragon and renegade dialogue system, you don’t get alignment points anywhere based on your actions and dialogue choices which is a bit of a shame as this was one of the things I really loved about the trilogy. That being said the replacement dialogue system offers more choices with how you respond to things, you can choose to be emotional, funny and that sort of thing, it’s similar system to Dragon Age Inquisition and it works really well in both games. Whatever other issues I have with Andromeda, I absolutely love the dialogue, it’s something that Bioware is definitely very good at doing.

Let’s start with the negatives first, the key one being it’s buggy as hell. I’ve multiple crashes so far and I’ve had instances where all the sound in the game cuts out to be replaced with just a loud buzzing noise which requires the game to be reloaded which obviously impact the playing experience quite heavily. I’ve had stupid ones like the Nomad vehicle spawning inside a building where you can’t then use it, cutscenes where people are holding invisible weapons and instances of speech starting unprompted and seemingly totally out of context all of which are irritating but thankfully not game breaking.

Human characters (with a few exceptions) look appalling, they look kind of like wax dummies to my mind and the facial animations when they’re talking isn’t the best which doesn’t help with the immersion when playing. There’s a lot of back and forth between worlds which can get a little tiresome when trying to do all the quests and some of the quests are quite uninspiring while also being unhelpfully marked meaning alot of traipsing around hoping you’ll get lucky and stumble across what you’re looking for in order to scan it and move on to the next item.

You also seem to get the same animal enemies over different planets just with a different look and name, which if talk of budget issues is true then it’s not a bad way of making your assets do more work without having to create brand new ones but also does also feel quite jarring. The inventory system is a bit crap too, you just end up accumulating loads of shite that you seemingly never actually need to use so just wind up selling and there’s not really much need to buy anything given the rate you collect items with, the only things I’ve really bought in this play through are starship models and quest based items that have cropped up.

On my first playthrough I wasn’t overly fond of the story, at times it feels like a bit of a re-tread from the trilogy with the Kett being the antagonists rather than the Reapers, they’re essentially trying to use other races to incorporate their DNA into the Kett, though their ultimate motives aren’t revealed so there’s jumping on points for a potential sequel. I appreciated it a bit more the second time round as there were just little bits and pieces over the course of the game which I initially didn’t appreciate which make it more individual. I will say that the Archon is a poorly defined main villain in my opinion though, there’s nothing done to make him anything other than pretty generic which is a shame.

Now there’s actually a lot I really like about the game too, the combat is as solid as 2 and 3 with the jump mechanic adding some variety even if it’s largely unnecessary. There’s an absolutely enormous selection of combat powers to sink skill points into so there’s alot of scope to make a very personalised combat set up. The combat you’ll encounter over the course of the game is largely pretty well paced too, they never get to a point where they’re a slog and that appreciated, though I appreciate this may not always be the case on higher difficulty settings . Also the battles against the giant architects are particular stand outs which are pretty satisfying to win.

The narrative choice to set the game in the Andromeda galaxy and the sandbox like elements of the planets you travel to allows for some really cool gameplay elements. It allows for a genuine sense of exploration and this is encouraged which is brilliant, there are quests and secrets to be found and the terraforming of the planet plays into this too. It’s one of the things I love most, I spent so much time just driving round the various maps seeing what quests I could turn up and unlocking fast travel points given how useful these always are. Honestly I loved making each planet viable for an outpost to be constructed, it’s something I’d definitely want to see more of in a sequel were one to happen.

There are some really cool moments too, the final push towards the end where you’re having to drive the Nomad to the destination to try and stop the Archon in particular stands out as you’re doing this while a battle is raging on around you. The moral choices you get to make over the course of the game are very much less black and white than the previous games too, hear it’s essentially it’s things like deciding between one group or another to leave to their deaths or to cover for someone that got people killed because she’s potentially useful or to be honest about it, it really makes you think though the fallout of these decisions isn’t always readily apparent in this game as I guess they planned for them to be more impactful in any potential sequels.

My absolute favourite part of the game though is the crew you travel with, while they’re not all as memorable as some of the crew mates from the trilogy there are some great characters here. The conversations you can walk in on between various characters really help bring them to life, as does the banter you get when you’ve got 2 team mates and you’re exploring the planets. I definitely can’t fault most of the dialogue on offer here as it’s largely superb and the different options you have for your Ryder make for a more personalised experience, you can potentially be completely serious or a bit of a joker or other options and the interplay just really worked for me.

There are loyalty missions for the team mates and then lots of little side quests for the people on your ship and these are really nice little distractions which further add to their personalities. Liam’s loyalty mission in particular is brilliant if you play it how I did as there’s a lot of bickering happening while ignoring the bad guy, who is progressively getting more annoyed at not being taken seriously and it was very entertaining. It’s helped by some great voice acting across the board, I don’t think there’s a single bad performance in there which is obviously a positive thing.

I honestly think the biggest shame about the game was how it was essentially dropped after the reception it received. All the downloadable content was canned and from what I’ve read one of the packs was going to be the hunt for the Quarian arc and that would have been cool as it in theory would have also brought back some of the other aliens that don’t appear like the Elcor and Hanar. I kind of understand there being a backlash but at the same time it’s always a shame when it basically kills of any plans for further support for a game that’s only real crime was being flawed.

And that’s ultimately the crux of the issue with Andromeda, it’s by no means an awful game but it has alot of niggly flaws which hold it back. I think the huge shift away from the setting and characters of the original games was massively jarring to people to which didn’t exactly help. I don’t know that it deserves the level of vitriol that’s been thrown at it since release, it’s fundamentally a solid game, I think my main issue with it is that it had the potential to be so much more but with that being said I enjoyed it alot and at no point during either play through did I ever consider not seeing it through to the end.

This potential is possibly the biggest shame of the whole thing, I have no idea if there will be any sequels to Andromeda but I’m now at a point where I’m torn. I’d like a sequel that follows on from the main trilogy but I’d also like a sequel here too where they tell the story they wanted to tell, with the features they wanted to include and to be given the time to iron out most of the flaws. I suspect it may not happen as I expect Bioware will opt for a safety first approach to any new Mass Effect games in future. Maybe they could change to a Call of Duty model of operating and alternate between new Andromeda and trilogy linked games but I very much doubt it.

Ultimately it was good fun to replay Andromeda, it’s definitely got me looking forward to the remastered original trilogy that’s for sure. I’ve also picked up the books that link in, one of which is apparently the story that one of the DLC packs would have used prior to everything being cancelled, so I’m looking forward to giving them a go. I guess beyond that it’ll just be a case of waiting to see where Bioware decide to take the series as all we’ve got to go on is a very vague teaser trailer that implies that things will be back within the Milky Way, so it’s going t one interesting if nothing else.

The 10 games I enjoyed most in 2020

So 2020 being what it was there was alot of time sat around when I wasn’t working. I’ve done things like watch films and TV shows and read alot but I’ve also played a hell of a lot of video games. Some of these have been online multiplayer so have given me the chance to stay in touch more easily with friends and some have naturally been story based and single player. With that in mind I’d thought I’d go through my ten favourite games of 2020, bearing in mind they weren’t necessarily released that year, it’s purely just games I’ve played in that timeframe.

Division 2 – This was picked up when it was stupidly cheap after we, as a group, had struggled to get into the original. I think this was down to us not all being the same level due to some having played it already where with this we started at the same time so progressed together. It’s actually alot of fun, there’s loads to do and it’s incredibly atmospheric in places. It looks nice and really does encourage team work as failure to work together tends to end badly. We enjoyed it so much that we picked up the expansion when that was on sale and put a decent amount of time into that too. It helped that it was a game that also allowed us to chat and catch up so it was a solid purchase all in all, would definitely recommend it.

Witcher 3 – At the start of the year I decided I wanted to play through this again, this was largely off the back of the first season of the TV show making me want to revisit the game. I invested something ridiculous like 250 hours into this playthrough taking in the main game and both DLC packs, which had quite alot of content in them. I honestly really enjoyed the stories being told and while there are generally happy endings to them you always get a sense that there’s consequences to what’s got you to this point. It’s one of those games that does a fantastic job of realising the main characters in it, Geralt is brilliant and his interactions with the other characters tend to be really well written. I’m looking forward to the Series X upgrade that’s planned so I can play through it again.

Pokemon Sword – The year started with me completing the pokedex for the main game and then as the year has gone on I’ve played through the 2 DLC packs and completed the respective pokedexes for those. I honestly love Pokemon and really enjoyed the expansion of this rather than having to shell out for a brand new game as has been the case in the past. I get far too obsessive about getting all the Pokemon but last year was probably not a bad year to have that to focus on. It’s been one of those games where it’s been great to just pick it up, catch some Pokemon and then save and exit, so it’s been perfect alongside other games I’ve been playing. I’m not sure if there’s going to be any more DLC for Sword and Shield in 2021 but I honestly sort of hope there is as I really like the region these games are set in.

Assassins Creed Odyssey – I didn’t play this much when it initially came out as I prioritised Red Dead Redemption 2, so figured I’d give it a proper go after finishing Witcher. I started from scratch and sank a hell of a lot of time into it and I’m really glad I did, turned out to be my favourite Assassins Creed game to that point as the setting was absolutely fantastic and I really enjoyed the story. I wasn’t sure how I’d like the more RPG direction of the game having not played Origins but I really enjoyed it and thought it worked well. The addition of the assassination targets and the mercenaries was quite a cool touch too. I think the only things I didn’t really like is that the amount to do is a little overwhelming and the inventory management is a ball ache but there are honestly only small niggles overall.

Story of Seasons – I always loved the old Harvest Moon games so this remake of a game I’d played and loved absolutely years ago was one I really enjoyed getting to play. It’s not the most complicated game but having played the later entries in the series that had added more and more features it was actually quite refreshing to play a more simplified game. It’s one of those games that’s pretty much perfect for just chilling out and playing with no pressure to be had. It’s by no means perfect but it never failed to raise a smile and I’m not going to lie I needed that last year. It also lets you have alpacas and rabbits on your farm in addition to cows and chickens and you can have pet penguins and capybaras which is obviously a delight.

Forza Horizon 4 – I’m utterly shit at driving games, always have been, but I picked this up when it first came out due to finding it cheap. I’d never really played it prior to starting to play as a group with my friends. I’ve gradually gotten better to the point where I can actually win races on occasion but I’m usually one fuck away from finishing nearer to last. What I have found highly entertaining is when one of us fucks up someone elses race, there’s nothing quite as amusing as slamming someone into a wall or trying to punt some on a straight so they miss a checkpoint, it’s obviously far more entertaining when it’s not me but even then I can appreciate when karma comes back to bite me even when it’s frustrating to be adrift in last place. The car collecting element obviously also appeals to me even if I know I’ll probably never try most of the cars I’ve obtained.

Golf With Friends – I thought this would be something me and my mates would play a couple of times and then never touch again just because it’s on Game Pass, turns out I was wrong and we’ve played a shitload of it. Initially we played in classic mode which was fun for mockery when someone fucked up but then we switched to party mode, which has power ups and the ability to twat into each other when playing the ball at the same time, and the entertainment level shifted significantly. It turns out it’s absolutely bloody hilarious to fuck someone up by turning their ball into a cone or an egg or some shit, it’s also even funnier when you’re doing badly to just cause chaos by just smacking into people when they’re taking their shot. It does definitely need some new courses now though as we’ve played through the current selection quite a few times at this point.

Assassins Creed Valhalla – It came out in November and I’ve sank around 120 hours into it so far, it needs patching as I’ve hit a bug that means I can’t progress the story any further and I’m not willing to revert to an earlier save as I think I’d lose about 60 hours of progress and fuck that noise basically. That aside it’s my favourite Assassins Creed game now, I like the way the RPG side of it has been tweaked and the equipment management is much much better this time round though I do think some elements around the inventory that could do with improving. Visually it looks very similar to Odyssey however the lighting is massively improved and really adds to the atmosphere, especially in the more snowy areas. I genuinely love it though I am frustrated with the bugs, it’s crashed on me a fair few times and there’s current bug I’ve hit which essentially breaks the game given I can’t progress the story any further. I will say though I appreciate the making of stealth less compulsory and allowing for more murderous rampages.

Final Fantasy 7 Remake – A game I’d been looking forward to years, the original version on the PS1 back in the 90s was the main reason for my love of RPGs, it came out not long after the start of the first lockdown. I’m not going to lie it’s quite padded given that they’ve taken what was essentially the opening few hours of the game and stretched it to 40 plus hours but I was also personally always entertained. The switch from a turn based combat to more action based is handled pretty well and was a lot of fun once I got used to it. It was just awesome getting play through with the characters again and it was nice that characters with smaller parts in the original had expanded roles and I really enjoyed that it wound up not being a straight remake and trying to do its own thing, though I’m also well aware this could wind up being a disaster later on.

Animal Crossing – I knew I was going to wind up playing a lot of this but I don’t think I realised quite how much but as it is I’ve hit around 540 hours which is more than I’ve spent on 2 full Witcher 3 playthroughs combined. I’ve spent that time catching bugs and fish, digging up fossils and making friends with my various villagers. Even when I’ve been doing jobs like sorting out weeds and fixing my flower infestation (with help, it got silly) which are basically chores, or paying off my home loans I’ve genuinely enjoyed every second of it as it’s just an incredibly chilled experience. I’ve done alot of what there is to do now, I have the art gallery to finish and some villager pictures to obtain but honestly having a game like this where I could just drop in for a quick play or hammer it for a few hours was really quite useful last year and getting to go and visit friends islands was also pretty amazing.

I’m looking forward to what’s potentially going to be out this year, I’m probably going to replay Mass Effect Andromeda to see if I judged it harshly initially and then there’s things like Halo Infinite and the Mass Effect trilogy remaster that are due out later in the year and there’ll likely be other stuff I play that I’ve had kicking around for a while. I think this will be the first year where I don’t have huge list of games I’m excited for which is an odd experience but hopefully that’ll just mean lots of fun surprises to play.

Music – pretty important for other media

Music in films, TV shows and games can be a pretty fucking huge deal, at worst it should be atmospheric background accompaniment and at best it should enhance the scene it’s being used in. I thought I’d write about a few of my favourite examples of the latter, I’ve tried to avoid spoilers as much as possible but given the fact some of these are linked to specific scenes it was pretty much unavoidable for some so fair warning and apologies. I’ve embedded Youtube videos for the tracks in question so you can just skip the text entirely if needed, I’m sure I’ll need to check in on this for broken links later on.

Promise – She-Ra: We’re leaning towards the second part of this song here, though the whole thing is pretty amazing. The part I’m referring to is used at 4 very significant points in the story and is representative of Adora and Catra’s relationship over the course of the series. The first is the point in season 1 where Catra turns away from Adora and chooses to stay with the Horde, the second is season 3 where Adora realises how toxic Catra has become, the third is the point in season 5 where Catra decides she wants to be different and kicks off her redemption arc and the fourth is in the final episode of the series at the culmination of Adora and Catra’s journey, these are all incredibly emotional moments that are enhanced by what is a very emotional piece of music.

Fireworks Festival – Weathering with You: Realistically there were a few options for this film but I went with this one due to the ethereal quality of this piece of music coupled with the scene it underpins. We’ve seen Hina up to now using her ability to stop the rain to help various people but this occurrence is slightly different though as it’s on a much larger scale as she does what she does on top of a skyscraper and she’s much more confident in herself at this point. You see the sunset punch through the clouds and and then see the city bathed in the light and then it cuts to a massive firework display over the city, it’s honestly one of the most visually stunning sequences I’ve ever seen. You also get the human element as Hina is happy to be helping people and feels like she’s found a purpose and this is when Hodaka starts to realise how much Hina means to him so it’s pretty emotional too and the music just really underpins that.

The Last Agni Kai – Avatar: This piece backs the final confrontation between a redeemed Zuko and a spiralling Azula and with this type of final battle you’d normally get quite a piece of music that tries to make the confrontation more exciting whereas here you get something that’s altogether more sombre and fits perfectly as rather than focus on the excitement of the battle it’s used to highlight the tragedy of what is actually a battle between a brother and sister and how their relationship has had to come to this point, it’s incredibly sad even without considering that they’re both teenagers and how Zuko has finally found a sense of peace where Azula is being consumed by her internal conflict.

Because She’s Rayla – The Dragon Prince: This comes at a point where main character Callum is describing how he says Rayla to someone who’s just essentially tried to steal their dragon companion from them and who Raykla has just saved from near certain death. It winds up being the culmination of them slowly realising they’ve developed feelings for each other after a fair few awkward moments, and there’s one here too just for good measure. It’s a genuinely heartfelt moment on Callum’s part and you get a sense of relief from Rayla who realises he feels the same way as her so it’s natural for it to be an emotional piece of music that backs the scene, and it’s very much that.

The Fields of Ard Skellig – Witcher 3: Something of an anomaly on this list in that it’s the only one that’s not linked to a specific scene of sequence, instead it’s background music which accompanies you when you make it to the island of Ard Skellig and Geralt continues his search for Ciri. It’s a piece of music there’s a definite sense of wonder in the music but it’s also melancholic which I think fits the the potential mindset of Geralt as a surrogate father searching for his daughter, and at this point in the game you’ve spent a lot of time looking for her.

Journey – Destiny 2: This plays right near the start of the game as you make your escape from what is essentially the last safe stronghold on Earth, which you’ve just witnessed essentially get invaded and the Traveller, which is the source of your powers, be captured which leaves you pretty much powerless. It’s a sad piece which definitely brings home the sense of loss you’re experiencing at this point not knowing who else has made it out alive as you try and get as far away as possible while trying to survive against any enemies you encounter with limited means of defending yourself. As you encounter something leading you to an end point the music sweeps as drums and vocals join and it becomes a much more hopeful and resolute theme, it’s actually one of favourite gaming sequences and the music is a huge part of this.

Lifestream – Final Fantasy 7: This game was one of my first experiences of music in a game that was on par with a film soundtrack. This is my favourite piece on a truly excellent soundtrack as it’s comes at a point where you and the rest of Avalanche arrive at Cosmo Canyon and have some truths about the nature of the world and how the cycle of life and death connects to the lifestream, essentially the living essence of the planet itself. There’s a sense of sadness to the piece as you essentially have it confirmed that Shinra, who are using mako which is basically taken from the lifestream, actually are harming the planet which up to this point is almost played off as being the mad ravings of a terrorist group.

Epilogue – Red vs Blue: It would take far too long to give full context here here but this track plays over the end of season 8 where main character Church (who is an AI it’s been revealed) goes into a memory storage device to look for someone. He decides that he’ll wait for her to find him and set up a simulation of his friends and where they’d been prior to all this so she’d know where to find him. The monologue is surprisingly touching and this piece just underscores the bittersweet nature of the ending, it rounded off the story arc that seasons 6 to 8 set out to tell pretty much perfectly.

Apotheosis – Journey: The music that accompanies the final level of Journey and the meaning of the word apotheosis he highest point in the development of something; a culmination or climax so it’s appropriate both as the lead up to the end and also because you’re about to complete your journey to the top of the mountain so it fits. The music in this game is amazing and the key to how emotional it is and this track is the best of the lot as in the penultimate level you collapse in the snow. You receive a sudden burst of life which propels you on the final stage and it’s amazingly uplifting and hopeful which is never unwelcome.

Death of Optimus Prime – Transformers the Movie: This scene was absolutely devastating to young me, and also pretty much unthinkable on reflection as it has them kill off Prime who had been the leader of the Autobots in the cartoon up to this point so was a character you’d just automatically assume would be safe but actually he’s the probably the biggest character killed in what is an absolute bloodbath. He gets to go out like the hero he was by turning the tide of the battle which was something to still, Jesus. The music to the scene is just haunting, and still to this day sends shivers down my spine as he’s surrounded by the survivors passes the torch to them but his passes just makes things feel pretty bleak at that point.

There’s a million and one music tracks that I could talk about here to be honest, and that’s not even factoring in tracks with lyrics so maybe I’ll do some more of these down the road.

More on characters I love

I’ve talked about my love for certain characters in the past and because of the whole pandemic thing going on I’ve obviously been reading, watching and playing more than I perhaps usually would as there’s not been much else to do. As such I’ve encountered new characters that I’ve taken to heart and I’ve experienced new story arcs for characters I already know and love. With that in mind I thought I’d touch on a few characters, bear in mind there’s going to be some spoilers in here.

Nightwing – It’s been an odd couple of years for Dick Grayson, he was shot in the head and lost his memory and started going by the name Ric and this hasn’t been great. In that time it’s turned out the memory issue is down to brainwashing and there’s subsequently been 2 further brainwashings, the latest of which has been done by the Joker. Thankfully we’re coming to the endgame of this bollocks and Dick Grayson will be back soon, I’m hoping that once he’s back we get some decent stories out of him re-discovering himself but at this point I’ll just be glad to see the back of the Ric Grayson story. Ultimately it’s gone on too long and barring the last couple of months has been largely pointless besides keeping Dick away from his friends family. The worst part is that apparently the post gunshot story was going to be about Dick suffering from vertigo off the back of his injury, this would have been way more interesting as it would have been the same character struggling with not being able to do what he previously could have, to be honest I’d still like to see this story at some point in the future as I honestly think it’d be fascinating. 

In the meantime though it’s just going to be nice having my favourite comic book character back, I’m hoping the return is suitably epic too. I’m also very excited with the potential stories that can come out of it, I’d personally like to see a series that initially doesn’t tie him down to one place and has him travelling around more like the Grayson series did. I’m also hoping that as part of this there will be a chance to re-connect with his friends and family as a lot has happened while during the whole Ric arc. There are characters I’m really excited to see him interact with as himself again, the obvious ones being Damian Wayne and Barbara Gordon but also people like Superman too given the connection there. I’ve also been making my way through the various books collecting older runs of the Nightwing comic which has been alot of fun as I missed alot of them as I got back into comics well after they’d come out originally and I never bothered picking up any trades until quite recently which was stupid on reflection. Still it’s been nice to have while the Ric storyline has been playing out so every cloud.

Cloud Strife – The Final Fantasy 7 remake took the initial Midgar portion of the game, which was originally a few hours long, and made an entire 40 odd hour game out of it so Cloud essentially be the exact same character he was as that would have been awful. What we got instead was a character who is starts to get invested in people much quicker than he did originally and I loved it. You see him warming up to the Avalanche members and interacting with them far more than he ever did in the first game which is fun. The interactions with Aerith are also hugely expanded on and the seeming changes to her character make this great too as she’s alot more playful in their interactions in comparison to the original game which was especially great for me as I loved their dynamic so to see it expanded and changed in this manner was a big plus for me. It’s a necessary change to his character (and to all the other characters to be fair) as dropping him into the game as is just wouldn’t have worked I don’t think.

What’s especially interesting is that there are alot more hints to Cloud not being quite right, which if you’ve played the game or read about it you know the reasons for. As the game progresses there are things that are seen that appear to be glimpses of what’s to come which is cool as you get the impression that Cloud is seeing this too. Then the game decides to basically stop being a remake and go in it’s own direction which is utterly fascinating, I mean part of me is horrified that they’re seemingly diverging from the established events of the game as it almost seems to set up 3 different timelines – the original game, what follows this one and then seemingly another one where Zack survives. It’s bloody ballsy and opens up so many possibilities for character development. Part of me is appalled that some of my favourite moments potentially won’t happen but on the other hand it also means that there are potentially new moments which this direction makes possible so I’m cautiously optimistic.

Catra – If you’d told me at the start of the year that a gay cat girl with serious mental health issues, from a cartoon that’s a remake of an 80s cartoon, would become potentially the character I hold dearest to me I’d have been sceptical at best. But here we are and it’s very much happened, I’m not sure I’ve ever encountered a character that I feel such a personal bond with. I’ve spoken about it in the She-Ra blog I did recently but her lack of self worth, her appalling decision making at times, the lashing out and putting walls up while pushing people away all hit incredibly close to home for me as they take me back to a time when I really struggled with all those things as part of what I was dealing with (or not as the case realistically was) while I was struggling with my depression. The scene where she apologises in the final season was very raw for me as it really made me think to the time where I hit my breaking point and actively tried to do something to help myself, not that I can say for definite that I’d have got to that point without the support of my friends and family.

Her redemption arc is something that to me is insanely important on a personal level as the changes she makes are ones she chooses to make. At the point she makes the initial decision she’s basically given up and expects to die but wants to do something good and protect Adora, who we know she cares about deeply. Once she’s rescued she takes steps to try and be better, there’s never any indication that she’s doing it for anyone else or that she feels like she has to, she’s decided she wants it for herself and that to me is incredibly powerful as it offers a very hopeful message to people that are struggling. I don’t necessarily believe that the arc we get in the show sees her fully redeemed by the end, there’s to much that’s been done up to that point that needs to be dealt with fully, but I always took it as this being something that Catra would absolutely deal with in due course and accept any judgement that were to come her way as it always felt to me that she had no issue trying to atone for her past actions. And this to me is what makes her such a fascinating character, you can make these sorts of connections (which I appreciate are purely opinion based) and interpret them in a certain way, and that’s exactly what she does as she’s such a well written character. I honestly hope that we get more She-Ra as I’d very much love to see more of her and how she’s navigating the world after everything that has happened by the end of the final season as it would be utterly compelling for me.

Arthur Morgan – The protagonist for Red Dead Redemption 2 had a tough act to follow as the previous games main character, John Marston was excellent. Somehow Arthur surpasses him, I think part of this is down to having a vague idea of how things have to play out going into the game given that alot of the characters present don’t appear in the first game which chronologically follows, the second game being a prequel. What you don’t necessarily realise is just how badly things are going to go for the gang you’re a member of and this comes about due to the failings of Dutch as the leader of the gang. Dutch is very much a father figure to Arthur and over the course of the game he starts to question Dutch’s motives and his decision making. Arthur initially is interesting because he’s a man of contradictions, he’s quick to anger and can be incredibly violent but he also takes issue with some of the things the gang do to get by, he also likes to keep a journal where he’s surprisingly forthright with his feelings and likes to draw.

What really makes Arthur so interesting is a character is that you have some control over how you act to other people, you can be a decent person to strangers or an utter shit. This mechanic comes into play quite nicely late in the game when Arthur gets diagnosed with tuberculosis, realising that this is a death sentence and knowing that he got it from beating a man to death he finds himself with a moral quandary and tries to be a better man. If you play the game from here on with the intention of being honourable you get some genuinely heart wrenching scenes of Arthur coming to terms with his impending death and worrying about the man he is all while trying to get John and his family out of the gang and to safety at a point where things are unravelling and looking progressively more bleak for everyone. It’s honestly some of the strongest writing I’ve seen in a game, the scene where Arthur has a conversation with a nun very late on and confesses that he’s afraid about dying is honestly heartbreaking but also incredibly powerful.

Animal Crossing villagers – I appreciate the rest of this piece is about individual characters that are complex and fit into narratives, where this one is about a collective and there’s no story behind them they’re cute as fuck and having spent well over 400 hours at this point chatting to them, doing chores and giving them presents has meant that I’ve gotten rather attached to them. There’s a good chance that this is at least partially to do with the aforementioned sheer amount of time I’ve played the game coupled with the fact that I’ve not really seen much of real people for most of the year owing to the whole pandemic thing. But it’s also because they’ll do silly little things like have arguments with each other that I then have to help them patch things up. Its silly little interactions like that the make the little fuckers as endearing as they are but then there’s little things that they do which make them individual.

Hornsby, for example, is obsessed with snacks which is something that I can definitely relate to, and then there’s Tangy who is a cat that essentially has an orange for a head, and she was one of the villagers I had on an earlier game almost 20 years ago so there’s a very sentimental attachment there. Bluebear basically wants to be a popstar and is always super cheerful which is somehow always weirdly comforting, I have friends that are disgustingly cheery and while I give them shit for it it’s one of those things it’s never a bad thing to have those sorts of friends, in real life or a virtual one. The absolute favourite resident of my village though is Kiki. She’s a little black cat and there’s a reasonable chance that she’s named as a reference to Kiki’s Magical Delivery Service, given that Kiki had a black cat in that. She’s really sweet and I’ll regularly find her sat under a tree reading or looking at flowers through her magnifying glass. She’s also sent me really sweet letters where she tell me to take better care of myself or that I deserve nice things, which have sometimes been when my depression hasn’t been great so yeah not the typical entry to this list but definitely a distinct one.

What’s nice about characters is that there’s always a decent chance that you’ll discover new ones that impact you, that you’ll get new stories for the ones you like already or at the absolute worst you can go back and re-experience the stories of the ones that don’t have new stories for whatever reason. Nightwing for example will definitely get new stories, and Cloud will get something though this could be an expanded older storyline or a brand new one, who knows at this point. Arthur probably won’t given that there was a very definitive end to his story, though they could go back to his past I guess. No one is really sure with Catra, people definitely want more She-Ra but the story that the people working on the show told the story arc they wanted to tell so what, if anything, right come next is out of their hands a little I guess. I’m highly confident that I’ll find new characters that will come to mean alot to me though, it seems to be a pretty fluid thing. And as I have friends recommend new things to me which might take me out of my comfort zone that’s only going to increase the chances of such discoveries, and discovering new things is generally a good thing on a personal level.

Things coming in 2020 I’m excited about

With 2019 done and dusted it’s time to turn our attention to the incoming goodness that’s on the horizon for 2020. I thought I’d go into some of the things I’m looking forward to as it stands, obviously this could change as I see more of stuff and it starts looking shite or new stuff comes into the picture that I’ve forgotten about or wasn’t initially aware of.

TV shows

5 – Y: This is based on the comic series Y: The Last Man and while showing as being due to land in 2020 there is no air date currently so it’s entirely possible that it gets delayed or something. It gets the nod on the basis there’s a chance it arrives this year as I loved the comic and its tale of Yorick who is essentially the last man on earth after men essentially die out leaving women to pick up the pieces of the world and the human species.

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4 – Picard: This is an interesting proposition as it brings back Patrick Stewart 20 odd years after the end of Star Trek the Next Generation. It looks like it’s bringing back a fair few characters too and as Next Generation was the only Star Trek show I was ever especially familiar with it’ll be intriguing to see what the state of that world now is and where the story is going to take it. I’ve not really seen much on it barring a couple of trailers so I’m going in pretty blind which usually a good thing as it leads to plenty of surprises.

3 – The Falcon and the Winter Soldier: The first TV series for Disney + that fits into the MCU and I think it’ll be the first thing out that directly directly follows on from Avengers Endgame. It’ll be interesting to see how this pans out as Falcon was passed a pretty gigantic metaphoric torch in Endgame which you have to assume will be addressed and bringing back Zemo from Civil War as the main antagonist has potential too.

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2 – The Boys: Season 2 will likely hit Amazon Prime around the same sort of time as the first season did as an educated guess. The main questions for me as it stands are will it diverge from the comic book it’s based on significantly and will they attempt to make the season even more violent, which you think would be hard for a show that had a super character blown up with a bomb that had been shoved up his arse. However it pans out it should be suitable bloody and ridiculously entertaining.

1 – The Mandalorian: Once the announcement was made that season 2 would land late in 2020 that was always going to be the TV show I was most looking forward to. There are a couple of plot threads carried over from the first season but there are also questions about whether any familiar characters are going to show up at all now that the main character is a bit more established, given Dave Filoni’s involvement there’s always the possibility of animated characters could get brought in on some level which has the potential to be awesome.

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Movies

5 – Sonic the Hedgehog: Is it going to be an utter train wreck is probably the biggest question with regard to the Sonic film. It’s already been delayed to completely overhaul Sonic himself after everyone collectively lost their minds about his initial design. I was always a huge Sonic fan growing up so I want it to be good, plus he’s being voiced by Ben Schwartz who was Jean-Ralphio in Parks and Rec so I’m really hoping it winds up being good.

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4 – Bill and Ted Face the Music: It’s been 29 years since Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey was released so that’s quite a big gap between that and the third film. I know literally nothing about the plot synopsis and I honestly don’t need to. Bogus Journey was the first film I ever saw at the cinema so the new one is a must see on that basis, but it’s also coming at a point where Keanu is doing some of his best work so hopefully it’ll be great.

3 – Ghostbuster Afterlife: Speaking of third entries following years after the second, this is going to hit cinemas 31 years after Ghostbusters 2. It has the surviving original stars in it and is directed Jason Reitman who is the son of the original director. The first trailer doesn’t really show a whole lot but it’s the fact that it’s a true sequel has me excited, especially as it’s getting the original team back together. That being said I’m also interested to see how they pay tribute to Harold Ramis.

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2 – Coming to America 2:Just the 32 years between films for this sequel, it really feels like a bit of a theme with films coming out this year. Coming to America was Eddie Murphy at his absolute funniest, I think he also managed to play about 10 characters or something ridiculous. I’m hoping the new film can re-capture the magic of the original, I’m looking forward to seeing how things went for the characters in that time period and also whether McDowells became the fast food restaurant to go to with their signature burger – the Big Mick.

1 – Black Widow: It’s a Marvel film and it’s set at some point before the events of Infinity War and Endgame, though I’ve not seen any confirmation of when specifically it’s going to be set. It’s also got a decent cast as you’d expect, obviously Scarlett Johansson returning but you’ve also got people like David harbour and Rachel Weisz in there too. All in all it’s an intriguing prospect for a film and at this point with the MCU there’s a pretty good chance it’s going to be fun at the very least.

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Gaming

5 – New consoles: 2020 is the year we get the new Xbox and Playstation consoles. Not a huge amount is know, though more has been revealed about the Xbox so far. I’d assume there’s going to be a lot of games being announced over the course of the year, particularly at E3 this year assuming Sony actually attend this time. I’m currently leaning towards an Xbox as it stands predominantly because of Halo, though I’m reasonably sure I’ll end up with them both at some point.

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4 – Halo Infinite: Speaking of Halo this will likely be the first time I ever get a console on day one and it’ll largely be because of how much I want to play this. The early signs are that they’re going to try and adopt a back to basics approach, even down to the music which is obviously going to be awesome if executed well. `I’m looking forward to seeing where the story goes as while Halo 5 was flawed it opened up a fair few narrative possibilities, it’ll also be interesting to see how the new Slipspace engine looks in game.

3 – Final Fantasy 7 Remake: The original PS1 release remains one of my favourite RPGs of all time so I’m naturally incredibly excited to play this remake. It’s been rebuilt from the ground up and looks like there’s going to be a more Kingdom Hearts style of combat rather than the turn based battles of the original, though apparently that option is available. It looks absolutely stunning, and from the bits of footage I’ve seen the music sounds like it’s going to be epic.

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2 – Animal Crossing New Horizons: I like Animal Crossing games, they’re just chilled out games where you get to do largely inconsequential stuff like fishing and making friends with the local animal villagers. Hopefully this iteration will offer even more things to do but frankly I’m very much looking forward to digging up fossils, catching bugs and fishing. It’s one of those charming games where it’s nice to just drop in for a quick go, dick around for a bit and then play something a bit more intense.

1 – Cyberpunk 2077: This a futuristic first person RPG from the company that made the Witcher 3 so it was always going to be pretty high on my list of games but then at E3 last year they revealed that Keanu was going to be in it and I was even more interested. It could wind up being utterly shite of course but there’s pedigree there with the Witcher games and it looks absolutely stunning, it has the potential to be the game of the year but we’ll have to see how it pans out.

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Assorted other things

4- Uncharted: I was going to add this into the movies section as it’s still showing as having a 2020 release as it stands but literally the day I started writing this they lost yet another director. On that basis I’d say it’s unlikely it’ll be out this year so it’s making this list just to see if it continues to be an utter train wreck that keeps losing directors, and you have to assume that Tom Holland is going to have to drop out at some point too if this continues.

3 – Wrestling: I’ve dipped in and out of wrestling over the years but my interest took a massive hit back in 2014 when CM Punk left the WWE. I’ve continued to follow it to a certain extent just to see what’s happening but I’ve not been tempted to watch really. That may change this year as CM Punk is working for a Fox show that covers the WWE so there’s now much more of a chance that he’ll make a comeback at some point which would immediately pique my curiosity.

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2 – E3: This could have gone in the gaming section but E3 has become a little bit more than that over the years. Obviously there’s the announcing of all the new games and such which is obviously superb or appalling depending on the announcements but it’s been more about the chatting shit with mates element that’s made it great the last few years. Be it all of us in person having a few drinks and chatting about what’s shown or doing it over a WhatsApp group it’s just become something of an annual ritual now.

1 – The return of Dick Grayson: Nightwing got shot in the head over a year ago in the Batman comics and has had amnesia, this has lead to Ric Grayson being a thing and him not being Nightwing either. This has largely been less than ideal as Ric isn’t very easy to like and it’s gone on too long really. That being said the writers have started to make this decision seem like a bigger deal rather than the shite holding pattern it’s felt like and apparently this year is when Dick Grayson and Nightwing return which is a huge deal for me.

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So yeah essentially that’s a selection of the things I’m looking forward to as the year goes on, I’ve almost certainly forgotten about stuff and there will no doubt be stuff that hasn’t even been on my radar that I’ll discover but this is a pretty solid starting point. As always I’m always interested to hear what other people are looking forward to as it might help me discover some of the things I’d not thought about.

 

My multimedia highlights of 2019

We’ve just about survived 2019 so I thought I’d do a little breakdown of my gaming, tv and film highlights of the year. I was going to to do a piece on the disappointments too but I figure I’d rather just focus on the positives. With that in mind lets get started.

TV shows

5 – Stranger Things: Season 2 was a bit of a slog in places so it was nice to see that season 3 was a better overall experience in my opinion. It tells a more interesting story and it’s better paced. Some of the characterisation suffers with certain characters but ultimately the summer setting was a great shout and it leaves enough questions hanging that season 4 is one I’m looking forward to quite a lot, whenever that lands. Also Hopper’s shirt is 100% on point.

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4 – The Witcher: A solid first season overall, based on the books rather than the games it’ll be interesting to see how this develops as more seasons are released but initial thoughts are it’s got great music and is visually impressive, and thankfully Henry Cavill makes for a pretty great Geralt which is always handy. It’s a little confusing in terms of time jumps but apparently that’s in line with the book and once you get your head round it it’s not too bad.

3 – Titans: Season 2 has it’s problems, the pacing is a little shonky and at times it doesn’t know what to do with all of it’s core cast but the season is a build up to Dick Grayson finally taking on the mantle of Nightwing which is a huge deal for me. It handles that aspect almost perfectly, the only issue I have is the change to where he gets the idea from but while it’s disappointing it does make sense as Titans has introduced Superman as it stands.

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2 – The Boys: Based on a Garth Ennis comic it’s every bit as insane as its source material. Essentially a corporation has created superheroes who are for the most part psychotic maniacs. It’s bloody and violent and has a suitably dark sense of humour throughout and everyone is clearly having a blast. The positive buzz around it was such that it got a second season order before the first season had even aired, and it has to be said it’s wound up being great news.

1 – The Mandalorian: Set after Return of the Jedi this is one of the most visually stunning TV shows I’ve ever seen. It’s clearly had a lot of money thrown at it and thankfully it would seem to be worth it. It borrows heavily from the old school samurai and western films but it turns out to be a lot of fun within the Star Wars universe. The reveal at the end of the first episode is also pretty great and amazing that they managed it, if the internet hasn’t already spoiled it for you then I won’t.

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Movies

5 – Le Mans 66: This is what Ford vs Ferrari was renamed as over here for some reason. The film is fascinating as it tells the story of Ford taking on Ferrari at Le Mans after taking umbrage at the way they were played during takeover talks. The driving sequences are excellent and the film features typically good performances from both Christian Bale and Matt Damon. It’s one of those stories I knew a little about but learning more about it was incredibly interesting.

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4 – Spiderman Far from Home: I loved the first MCU Spiderman film and this one is no exception. It acts as a nice little bookend to Endgame with the world coming to terms with the events of that films. Tom Holland’s version of the hero is in my opinion the best live action version to date and this film is just a lot of fun. Excellent performances all round and one of the best credit scenes to date which sets up the third film delightfully.

3 – Knives Out: This is Rian Johnson’s first film since the divisive Last Jedi (which for the record I liked) and it’s done pretty well critically as far as I can tell. A great cast putting in great performances and some really snarky dialogue make for a lot of fun. It also helps that it’s a decent murder mystery that keeps you guessing til the end, I thought I had it figured out a fair few times and still managed to get it wrong.

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2 – John Wick 3: The third entry in the series actually does something impressive and manages to improve on the second film, it gets the balance between the action and the plot much better. Keanu continues to impress in these films and hopefully they’ll continue to be as entering as this is and also expand on John’s back story gradually too. It’s also worth seeing for just how appalling Jerome Flynn’s accent is, I think it’s meant to be Italian but I’m honestly not 100% sure.

1 – Alita Battle Angel: I was always interested in seeing this from the first trailer, it was always going to be interesting from a visual standpoint, it just turned out that I really enjoyed the whole film overall. I think it condenses a lot of stuff from the manga books down and it ends on a cliffhanger that makes a sequel a must (but no idea if that’ll happen) but it’s my favourite film of the year and I’d definitely recommend it as one well worth watching.

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Gaming

5 – Shenmue 3: Released 18 years after number 2 came out on the Dreamcast, it’s far from perfect, the English voice acting somehow manages to be worse that what came before and it’s very much a product of that timeframe, being a bit clunky like the original games were. It looks nice and all that but it makes this list purely because it’s a game I thought would never ever be released, plus it’s not the train wreck other games that were in development for ages turned out to be, Colonial Marines I’m looking at you.

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4 – Resident Evil 2: This is how remakes should be done, rather than just an re-skin using higher definition textures on the same 20 odd year old game Capcom have rebuilt the game from the ground up, It’s visually stunning and the engine they run the game on allows for much scarier moments and shows that there’s still loads they can do with the franchise overall, It’ll be interesting to see if the Resident Evil 3 remake will be as impressive.

3 – Afterparty: One of those games where the pitch hooks you straight away, you’re trying to escape Hell but beating Satan at a drinking game. Turns out it wound up being a really fun game, the dialogue is funny and the setting is suitably odd and it all just clicks. There’s also a surprisingly sweet element to it as the 2 protagonists are forced to confront some truths about each other along the way.

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2 – Star Wars Fallen Order: To be clear there are elements I dislike such as the constant back and forth between planets, and things I despise such as the sliding portions of the game which are atrocious. That said there’s a lot to love, aesthetically it’s hugely impressive, the story is interesting and the the characters are well realised. Most importantly thought it plays decently and is just an all round decent Star Wars game.

1 – Nintendo: I couldn’t pick just one game as I’ve enjoyed Yoshi, Links Awakening and Pokemon and that’s just the games I’ve personally played. You also have things like new Luigi’s Mansion and Fire Emblem games amongst others so it’s been strong year overall for Nintendo. The regular Nintendo Directs throughout the year also point towards there being a lot more to come on the Switch so 2020 could be as good all being well.

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Obviously all of the above is just my highlights so are absolutely my opinion. I personally love to hear what other people have down as their plus points for the year as it generally leads me to some nice surprises that I wouldn’t necessarily have otherwise considered.

There are good characters and bad characters

I’ve talked about my love of a good narrative before and that’s just one example of where where good writing can elevate something, another is with characters and from a personal standpoint the key to a good character is development. I’ve had numerous issues with TV shows and the like where characters never change, they’re fine to a point but there’s no natural progression which makes me lose interest. With that in mind I wanted to discuss some of my favourite character arcs, there may be some spoilers but I will try to keep it broad and not give anything specific away.

Jaime Lannister – Full disclosure I’ve only watched the series and not read all the books, though I’m aware of some plot differences and also the fact that there’s more to come so it could all go wrong. With that being said Jaime is an absolute shit when you first meet him, arrogant, smug and lacking any real redeeming features. However after one key incident which strips away a key aspect of his character and you learn more about him and how an act that he’s reviled for may actually be his finest moment, and what you see after that is a character who is more rounded, though that’s not to say he isn’t still a bit of an arse at times.

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Garrus Vakarian – There’s a few Mass Effect characters that I could have written about but Garrus will always be my favourite due to the level of sarcasm on offer. I’ve talked about Garrus before but his story feels earned, in the first game he’s a cop who is continuously frustrated at home criminals constantly get away with things die to all the red tape so when he appears in the sequel as a vigilante who’s systematically killing gang members it’s entirely believable. And when he’s re-introduced in the third game he’s a military advisor to his people based on his experiences in the first two games and this feels like a very natural progression too, which to me makes an already likeable character that much more amazing.

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Perrin Aybara – The Wheel of Time series has a lot of characters that develop significantly over the course of the 15 books for me it is Perrin that has the most compelling journey. Perrin starts as a shy blacksmiths apprentice who is constantly worries about his own strength but over the course of the story you see him develop into a confident leader and also a wolf brother, a man that can communicate with wolves. What makes Perrin such a great character is that you seem him wrestle with very human dilemmas, and some not so human, and you seem him become something of the moral compass of the series.

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Zuko – Zuko spends the first season and a half or so of Avatar as the chief antagonist however he begins to question himself and consider the notion of whether it’s his honour that he’s looking for or whether there’s something more. He’s helped along the way by his Uncle Iroh (an amazing character in his own right) who tries to help him find some measure of peace. It comes to a head with one particularly poor judgement call and he then makes changes and becomes an asset to Team Avatar. And the beauty of this is that you continue to see this development in the follow up comics and you even get to meet Zuko as an old man with shares of Iroh about him in the Legend of Korra.

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Commander Sam Vimes – Sam Vimes is a Captain in the Nightwatch and a drunk when we first meet him and over the course of the books we see him get promoted and transform the city watch, see him get married, become a duke and have a son. The beauty of this progression is the inherent comedy to be had as Vimes adapts to these changes in his status quo while also remaining the same policeman he was trained to be. The fascinating thing about him as a character is how he fears losing control and becoming a criminal so much that there’s almost a second persona in his head.

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Wesley Wyndam-Pryce – Now we get to one of the two reasons I had for writing this, possibly the most fascinating and raw transformation of any character I’ve ever seen, and I’ve not seen Buffy to see the starting point. He arrives on Angel a geeky, clumsy man and over the course of the series he matures significantly becoming more assured in himself and a very effective leader, prioritising the greater good regardless of the consequences. He experiences a lot during the 5 seasons of the series and and no point is it anything less than compelling, in fact it’s my favourite character arc of any TV show ever.

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Dick Grayson – Dick has a similar story to Bruce Wayne in that he witnessed his parents murder when their trapeze wires were cut, Bruce made him his ward (and later adopted him) and he became Robin and helped Batman, he subsequently outgrew Robin and struck out on his own as the hero Nightwing, he later became Batman when Bruce wasn’t able it being perfectly natural for him to be the heir to the mantle. It’s clear that the growth caused problems at first but as Bruce points out at one point it was something he was prepared for as Dick was to born to be centre ring (a reference to his circus past). It’s the natural growth of character and need to become his own person that makes Dick Grayson such a fascinating character, that and his being considerably more light hearted than his mentor.

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Games Present Many Choices

I’ve just finished Dragon Age Inquisition and it was for me the game of 2014 by a considerable margin, Bioware do what they do best in terms of world building and characters but it’s some of the choices that really make it and out, and that got me thinking about games that offer choice to differing degrees as in theory it offers a degree of personalisation to a game. You have moral choices, choices that effect the storyline to a certain level, in your sandbox games there’s choices as to the order you do things in, choices on how you develop your character and even choices as to whether to play certain levels in some circumstances. I’m going to talk a little about some of these choices, which obviously may touch on certain plot points of the games discussed.

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Dragon Age Inquisition takes a slightly different approach to previous games in the series, and also the Mass Effect series, in that a lot of the choices seem to be far less black or white and far more grey, theres a definite sense that with each decision there is no definitively good or bad decision. Take, as an example, early on in the game where there is a decision to side with the Templars or Mages – The Templars were once a just group that was there to protect Mages but has been corrupted by it’s leaders and turned into an oppresive regime with anyone opposing from within being magically transformed, whereas the Mages, in the face of their oppression have turned to to forbidden blood magic and summoning demons, meeting wrongs with further wrongs. There were various points in the game where I had to genuinely take my time and weigh up the pros and cons of my decision and that was a pleasant surprise as it definitely felt more grounded.

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In terms of moral choices I very rarely make the more evil ones, I always want to be the best person I can be so I tend to make the choices that fit in best with that. There have been exceptions in the Mass Effect series where I have picked the bastard option, this tends to be throwing bad guys out of windows or avenging a friend’s death though so while not exactly upstanding behaviour it does fit in with how I see the character I’m portraying. In terms of the best moral choice in a game though that has to be Fallout 3, where one of the first towns you come is built around an unexploded nuclear bomb and you have the option to disarm or detonate it. I always disarmed it but I’ve seen the videos of the detonation and it’s visually stunning but has the downside of closing off a hefty chunk of content available to you as the town in question is something of a hub early on.

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A slightly different approach to choice is provided by Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. You actually have the option of playing a level or not. This is due to the content of the level and the outcry that followed it upon the games release. In the level you play as an undercover agent in a terrorist group and the aim is to slaughter the people in a Russian airport, now the vast majority of these people are unarmed civilians so I personally found this level intensely uncomfortable however it’s actually a key point in the plot as the terrorist know you’re undercover and at the end of the level shoot you dead, leaving America to be held responsible for the act and Russia subsequently declare war on them. There is definitely an element of the choice being more a case of being reactionary to a media backlash but it doesn’t change the fact that there is the option to play the level, and if slaughtering hordes of unarmed people is something you’re not comfortable with then at least it’s optional.

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There are games the take the concept of choice and turn it on its head in service of the story, case in point being Bioshock. Bioshock gives you the impression that you’re free to do what you want for a large portion of the game however you get to a point in the story where it’s revealed you’re actually being controlled by a guy you had thought was helping you up to this point, who is revealed to actually be the main villain of the game. He uses a trigger phrase (Would you kindly) and orders you to beat the head of Rapture to death. It’s shocking for it’s violence but also hugely so for the implications it gives to your actions over the course of the game up to this point as you realise you actually had no choices, it’s a remarkable sequence and the highlight of an exceptional game.

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Of course sometimes this goes horribly, horribly wrong. A case in point for this is the ending for Mass Effect 3 (I know, I know, I bang on about it constantly) which took a series that was full of choices that had genuine weight to them and basically invalidated them all with a final choice the results of which boiled down to what coloured explosion you got. The choices didn’t feel organic, more of a deus ex machina but were compounded by the fact there was no epilogue and as a result no closure at all. This was remedied to an extent by free DLC brought about by fans of the series basically collectively asking “is that it” though obviously with far more vitriol. And there in lies the crux of the issue, fill your game with interesting and intelligent choices and people will notice if you crap out at the end.

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So overall choices can be a good thing in games, if done correctly and intelligently, as it gives the player the opportunity to personalise their experience, and it also makes for interesting discussions on the basis that people have experienced different things which may then inspire you to play a game differently next time around or be like me and stick fairly rigidly to the fact that you make certain choices in certain situations regardless.

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Video Games – My favourite examples of writing

I like computer games and I like a good story, luckily over the years I’ve come across a variety of games that have epic stories. As a growing medium it’s been fascinating to see how clever the writing can be. Unlike a film which is usually a couple of hours long most games have a story campaign which is a lot longer, and that’s without getting into sequels. So how do the developers ensure that they hold your attention for the span of this? Hopefully with a well written story, expansive world and lore, interesting characters and the occasional intelligent plot twist. With this in mind I’m going to chat about a few characters, plot twists and games in generally that I consider to be particularly well written, there’s likely to be some spoilers though so bear that in mind.

Characters:

Garrus Vakarian: Mass Effect series – To be fair this could be a list sole of Bioware characters but Garrus gets the nod on the basis that he starts of as basically a space cop but in the second game he’s become almost a space Batman. Tired of the red tape preventing justice he’s taken to dishing it out himself along with his trusty sniper rifle. It also helps that he basically gets all the best lines and has a good grasp of self deprecation.

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Glados: Portal series – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q5kkwermfs4 watch this, it’s ok I’ll wait. Done? Good, and this is just a small portion of the brilliance of Glados over 2 games, genuinely one of the funniest characters in a game ever. Also special mention to Cave Johnson who is also very funny.

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Cortana: Halo series – You control a indoctrinated, genetically modified super soldier who doesn’t speak much therefore Cortana has a key role to proceedings as she provides exposition and also something of an emotional core to the game. She’s an AI based of a living brain therefore she’s smart but she’s also funny and full of personality, and this creates an interesting dynamic as she’s far more human than the player character despite of her being an AI.

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Leon Kennedy: Resident Evil 2 – Leon has been in a few Resident Evil games but it’s the second where for me he’s at his best. He arrives in Raccoon City for his first day on the police force but it turns out to be in the middle of a city wide zombie outbreak. He’s just a regular guy doing his best to keep it all together, help people where he can and try and get the hell of Raccoon City, he knows he’s out of his depth but he soldiers on regardless.

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Nathan Drake: Uncharted series – A loveable rogue of a character with a penchant for getting himself into situations that look like they’re going to end badly. It’s is interplay with his supporting cast and the fact that no matter how ridiculous he situation he finds himself in, he’s always a compelling character and is always seems to have a quip for anything thrown at him.

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Games:

Metal Gear series – Hideo Kojima loves a convoluted plotline (Metal Gear Solid 4s use of nanomachines to explain pretty much everything) however the basic story of the series is a very strong one. It’s essentially something of a tragedy as you follow Big Boss changing from a hero to a villain due to a series of incidents where he is used by people in power and then you witness his legacy via his 3 clones: Solid, Liquid and Solidous Snake. The latter 2 being villains and the former attempting to save everything. It’s all a bit overblown at times but it’s made by how well realised Big Boss and Solid Snake are.

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Assassins Creed 2, Brotherhood and Revelations – The key plotlines to each of these games are all compelling however there is so much than that. Over the course of 3 games you get to witness Ezio (easily the most likeable character of any Assassins Creed game) deal with loss, revenge, finding a cause in the assassins, accepting leadership, and ultimately coming to terms and moving on and this follows Ezio from about 17 up to his 60s and it’s always fascinating.

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Shenmue series – Shenmue is frustrating in that the story may never actually be finished, but in the meantime it’s a tale of revenge. Ryo Hazuki witnesses his father’s murder and vows to avenge him. This takes Ryo on a journey that leads from Japan to Hong Kong, where he makes new friends and adversaries alike. As the game progresses it becomes clear that there’s more going on than initially seems to be the case, though this is pretty much the point where the second game ends. DO yourself a favour though and play subtitled versions if you can as with most cases it’s better than the dubbed version.

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Suikoden – The oldest game mentioned on the list and based on a Chinese novel, it charts the course of a young man who is driven from his home by a corrupt empire and inadvertently becomes the leader of a rebel army trying to overthrow said empire. Over the course of the game he meets numerous people and must contend with numerous tragedies, including battling and ultimately killing his own father who is a general for the empire. It follows the RPG trope of a silent protagonist and yet this never gets in the way of the narrative which is gripping from start to finish.

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Dragon Age Inquisition – The main story is fairly generic save the world type stuff however Dragon Age makes the list on the basis of how well realised the world is, Bioware know how to build a world and provide backstory to it while also moving it along and opening up possibilities for future instalments. It also benefits from having a truly diverse and interesting group of characters, each with their own quirks and personalities, to provide a foil of sorts to the player character. I spent 120 hours playing it and the only reason it wasn’t more is that I wanted to finish the main story.

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Twists (spoilers, obviously):

Final Fantasy 7 – You spend a portion of the game believing that Cloud was a member of an elite military group and that events up to the start of the game happened in a certain way. As the game progresses there are hints that Cloud may not actually be the most reliable narrator, and when the truth emerges it’s actually quite tragic as he’s injured in a attack on his hometown, experimented on, rescued by his best friend who dies saving him and due to the trauma of all of this assumes aspects of his friend’s identity. It’s a massive oversimplification but it was one of the first instances of a game having complex characters and definitely got me into RPGs

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Mass Effect 2 – So you’ve spent the first game killing various alien species and a giant sentient killer spaceship, so how does Bioware reset your character to serve the narrative? Simple, they kill you off in the opening 10 minutes of the sequel and then resurrect you after a time jump of 2 years. Ordinarily I’m not a fan of gimmicky plot devices however in this instance it works really well and was genuinely shocking to boot.

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Red Dead Redemption – A game with an unconventional ending, you spend the game controlling John Marston as he tracks down members of his former gang and kills them at the insistence of government officials blackmailing him by threatening his family. He does this and returns to his farm with his family where he thinks he will get to finally live in peace, only to find this isn’t the case when said government officials arrive at his home a group of men and shoot him dead. It’s powerful and made more powerful by the epilogue where John’s now grown up son tracks down the man responsible and kills him, meaning that John’s attempts to keep his son from the life of an outlaw have been in vain.

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Bioshock – You’ve spent the early parts of the game following the direction of a cheery Irishman called Atlas has he helps you find your way through the the underwater city of Rapture, using the phrase “would you kindly” as a prefix to most of his utterances which you don’t think anything of until you meet Andrew Ryan and Atlas essentially asks would you kindly kill Andrew Ryan. At this point it’s revealed that Atlas is in fact Frankie Fontaine, a man trying to seize power and using you to do it via a mind control trigger phrase: would you kindly. It’s brilliantly executed and adds so much context to the early parts of the game.

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Knights of the Old Republic – For me one of the greatest twists ever, all through the game characters talk about Revan and how he was a Sith lord to be feared and nearly brought the galaxy to heel, only to be seemingly killed by a Jedi strike team and his apprentice, Malak, turning on him. This continues until about three quarters of the way in when you confront Malak who reveals that you’re actually Revan. It was totally unexpected and added a layer of context to proceedings, and if you played the game through again then you would notice lots of little nods and comments that hinted at the reveal that now made perfect sense.

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Obviously all of the above is entirely subjective, and is entirely my opinion. If you happen to read this and have your own opinions feel free to comment and offer your own favourites as I would be genuinely interested to know.

The Nintendo 3DS

This was originally posted about 6 months ago on Gamepad Glory, I’m just reposting here for my own reference
I have now owned a 3DS for about 3 months now and have had the chance to formulate an opinion on it, I didn’t buy one earlier as there is always the suspicion with Nintendo that there will be an updated version of the hardware at some point and there was barely any games available initially. The first point proved true as Nintendo released an XL version of the machine which is physically larger and has larger screens, this is the version I got. And in terms of the software, there have now been a number of titles released and there is a significant number on the horizon too. I have one or two minor grumbles about the machine, the first being that for me the 3D is an irritation, but that’s really a meaningless complaint as it’s entirely optional and it operates via a slider meaning that you can find a setting that works best for you and I suspect my issues with the 3D are predominantly down to the way I sit when I’m playing. My other complaint is the selection of titles on the Virtual Console, the majority of games available so far are Game Gear and Gameboy games, there seems to be a segregation where 3DS gets handheld titles and the Wii U gets home console games, again though this is a minor complaint, mostly born from the fact that an English language translation of Earthbound has been announced for the Wii U’s virtual console. I will say that the cost of digital versions of the game are about the same as you would pay in a high street shop and only marginally more than most online retailers, which is actually something of a first when you consider that this has always been a problem with digital releases. Memory wise my machine came with a 4gb SD card which the system uses to save any downloaded games and DLC, this is fine as a starting point as DLC and DSiware games don’t take up too much space however a digital version of a full game can take near to 2gb up, with that said the cost of an SD card is pretty negligible so shouldn’t represent a problem in the grand scheme of things. The system also has a feature called Spotpass which from what I have experienced allows you to share your Mii with people who you are close to if you have the feature activated and the system in standby mode, this also seems to allow certain functionality within games too though I haven’t witnessed this much, and another one feature where walking while carrying the machine in standby mode will generate play coins which can be used in certain games for different things, for instance in Animal Crossing you can purchase fortune cookies which produce fortunes that can be exchanged for rare items. Battery wise I seem to get around 4 to 5 hours out of the machine, which isn’t the worst I’ve ever experienced especially, but the machine doesn’t come with a power adaptor bundled with it for some strange reason, meaning that you have to purchase, or if you have a DS lite or any models afterwards you can use the same power adaptor. With all that said it’s the games that really make a machine so with that in mind I’m going to write a bit about the games I’m looking forward to and the ones I currently own.
Games I’m looking forward to:
Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds – While it’s not the HD remake of Majora’s Mask that I desperately want, it is the sequel to Link to the Past which is my second favourite Zelda game. I’ve only seen one screenshot so far but I will be looking out for this one to see if it can offer the same kind of epicness as it’s predecessor.
Yoshi’s Island – For some reason I’ve always preferred the Yoshi platforming games to the equivalent Mario ones as I find them to be more fun and better looking, so I’m looking forward to this one to see if will be as good as the ones before it.
Fantasy Life – This has been billed as a cross between Harvest Moon and Animal Crossing which are both series that I adore, and it’s made by Level 5 who make the Professor Layton, Inazuma and Ni No Kuni games so it should look absolutely stunning and have some interesting gameplay features.
Mario and Luigi: Dream Team – Assuming it’s like the previous entries in the series then it will be a combination of RPG and platformer and will be great fun to play. I’ve really enjoyed other entries in the series so this one is definitely on my radar.
Hometown Story – From the creator of Harvest Moon and set in the same game universe, this is definitely one that I’m curious about as I don’t really know much about it at all. I will be keeping an eye on it though to see if it’s a game that will generate the same level of interest as the Harvest Moon games always have for me.
Mario Party – This one will be interesting to see if there is a good and varied selection of mini games, and if so then hopefully friends who also own a 3DS will in turn purchase so that multiplayer can be enjoyed.
Pokemon X and Y – When the new Pokemon was announced that was the point where I decided to get a 3DS, I’me really looking forward to it and seeing what tweaks they’ve made to the system and also seeing what new Pokemon there are.
Games I’ve played:
Animal Crossing: New Leaf – The Animal Crossing series has always been pretty chilled out and just allowed you to fish, upgrade your house and collect furniture at your own pace and while this one also allows you to do that it also changes things up a little by making you mayor of the town. This allows you to customise the town to suit you, be it building things requested to you by residents or changing the opening times of shops. It works really well and is one of those games thats good for a quick go here and there or a prolonged fishing or bug catching session, and the multiplayer works quite well too.
Fire Emblem: Awakening – A phenomenal tactical RPG, this requires a lot of thought and strategy in order to progress and while it can be a little difficult at times it also feels really rewarding when you make it past a particularly tricky battle. It also has different difficulties depending on the challenge you want with the easier mode meaning that units stay dead on the harder mode or are resurrected upon successful completion of a battle on the easier mode. There is also a wealth of depth to the game by allowing units to build up support with each other and in some instances certain units can have kids together which offers up even more tactical options.
Luigi’s Mansion 2 – This is a really fun game that should actually be a bit more frustrating than it is as there’s a lot of backtracking in the locations that each level is set in, however it makes it work by offering up collectibles and different ghosts as well as clever use of upgrades that makes sure that the backtracking feels worthwhile.
Harvest Moon: The Tale of Two Towns – As a Harvest Moon fan I had gotten a bit bored with previous entries as there was never a lot different, this one makes one very key change in that you have to pick a town to live in and in doing so this directly impacts your farm as one town specialises on livestock and the other in crops. You can move as the game goes on though so you can get the full experience but overall it’s a fun little game that requires planning to get the most from each in game day.
Theatrhythm: Final Fantasy – An odd hydrid of RPG and rhythm action game that uses songs from each of the first thirteen core entries in the Final Fantasy series, gameplay is relatively straight forward though pretty tough on harder difficulties, but as a fan of the series for the most part it’s fun and provides an awesome amount of nostalgia as well as having a huge amount of unlockable content and the levelling up system is fun too. There is also a large amount of songs to download, each costing 90p, my only complaint would be that from a personal standpoint some amazing songs aren’t in the game.
Virtue’s Last Reward – I bought this after reading good things and from playing it the game feels like an interactive novel of sorts, the puzzles feel a bit like a point and click adventure in that they don’t always feel very obvious but then that encourages you to think, there is definitely an intrigue to the game that makes it more engaging to play.
Crush 3D – A combination of platform game and puzzle game, the concept of the game is collect all the items in a level and each the exit but this is only possible by moving the camera into one of 5 positions and engaging the crush feature which turns the angle chosen into a 2 dimensional viewpoint. It’s a surprisingly clever game and really makes you think creatively to progress through each level.
Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask – This plays pretty much the same as previous entries in the series which isn’t a bad thing at all, the puzzles are interesting and the mini games are fun and provide a nice contrast. The main difference for me is that the plot feels a bit more personal as it links to the eponymous Professor’s past and this makes for a very interesting game.
Cooking Mama 4 – This game is more or less the same as previous entries, the main difference as far as I can see is that there are a number of unlockable items and mini games as a result of achieving certain goals during the main game. I’ve always found it fun and a game that is good when you just want to have a quick 5 or 10 minute go on something.
Shinobi – I picked this up for a fiver and as such went in with pretty low expectations and while it’s not the best game I’ve played, and it’s certainly nowhere near as good as Shinobi 3 on the Mega Drive it’s a decent game though a bit unforgiving at times.
Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D – I picked this up for free as part of a promotion where I bought 3 games (Animal Crossing, Fire Emblem and Luigi’s Mansion) and while the game mechanics need some getting used to, it’s a fun and properly old school platformer and it looks good too, there’s a lot of detail on the screen.
Tetris – This is pretty much the same as every Tetris game ever produced, which isn’t a bad thing as traditional Tetris is a classic, there’s other modes to play too though they’re not a patch on the original mode but as with all versions the difficulty increases as you progress while playing.
Pokemon Dream Radar – This is essentially a mini game that allows you to catch certain pokemon and items and then download them to a copy of Pokemon Black or White 2, the main draw is that it allows the user to catch the three legendaries Tornadus, Thundurus and Landorus and import them into your save game but once these have been caught you gain the ability to put one of the DS Pokemon games into your 3DS and use the game to catch that games respective legendary.
Mario and Donkey Kong: Minis on the Move – A puzzle game where you have four different modes, each with numerous levels, where you have to fill in the missing pieces for a maze in order to guide the minis on that level to the exit while collecting the three tokens present. It starts of easy enough but does make you think as often the solution requires a degree of trial and error to find.