All posts by The Laymen's Gamer

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[ Game Music ] Chrono Cross and Kingdom Hearts II

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything like this so you lucky bastards get two, this time. Picking these tunes out for mixing up and mastering was kind of a no-brainer: I wanted to take something that was very simplistic and calming and put my own little spin on it without taking away from what made them good in the first place and I think I succeeded, here.

Hopefully, you guys enjoy this one nearly as much as I did putting them together.

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[ Blog ] An Open Letter to Electronics Boutique and GameStop

To Whom it may Concern:

You need a better training regiment for your employees. I could leave it at that but it doesn’t seem that anyone in your franchise on either side of the border is really interested in listening unless someone is blowing fire up your ass; I have a story behind this feeling and I’m going to take the time to share it with you.

I promise. It's exciting.
I promise. It’s exciting.

This started way back when Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn came out for the PlayStation 3. I was all hyped to get it and, as a Walmart employee, I considered myself among the first to have dibs on the game. It was right around this time that I modded my PlayStation 3 and, as it happens when you mod your system and you play online, you get banned. Of course, Sony stepped it right up and banned my account and my system. That was really big pill to swallow because I’d seen and heard nothing but good things about the game and I was actually out to get a physical copy of the game – while I do perform a certain amount of illegitimate actions on my system, I fully believe in supporting the industry and the titles I enjoy thoroughly – so I could play it on my system. I was disappointed but it wasn’t the end of the world: maybe I could get another PS3 and leave that one unmodded so I could play games online on it, FFXIV included. There was an option. I always had that option. It wasn’t an easy choice or something that would come easily but I had that option.

Almost makes you wish you had no choice at all, doesn't it?
Almost makes you wish you had no choice at all, doesn’t it?

Fast forward a little bit, here, and I get word that a PlayStation 4 version was coming out. I rejoiced at the news and it only got better from there: there was an open beta that I was eligible to participate in, there was plenty of goodies for pre-ordering and, after playing the open beta and proving to myself that I really wanted to commit to this game, I discovered there was a collector’s edition being released with all kinds of goodies. I was hooked after playing the beta and it only seemed natural that I would want all the advantages that came with pre-ordering the collector’s edition. The only problem was that none of the Canadian retailers – Best Buy, EB Games, Future Shop, and Walmart – had listings for the collector’s edition. They had listings for all the other retail releases of the product for all its systems but none of the collector’s edition. I could have easily pre-ordered the regular edition and sated myself with the in-game goodies that came with the pre-order for that but the collector’s edition just seemed too good. I decided to play the waiting game for the collector’s edition.

The next act: playing a game that I don't know the rules to that I can never win.
The next act: playing a game that I don’t know the rules to that I can never win.

This is where your companies come into play: I started the process by going to your locations in Windsor, asking around about the game, what kind of options I have in terms of purchase and availability. I researched the product and I was checking for signs and opportunities to pre-order but nothing was coming up. I would keep calling in and checking in because, let’s face it, I’m a fairly regular customer of yours, anyway, so I figured it wouldn’t hurt to try and find out as much as I could about how I could go about getting this collector’s edition. Half of the people I talked to had absolutely no information for me and that’s where I ran into my first set of problems. The other half of the people I spoke with had minor information about the product and barely knew a collector’s edition even existed. Up until today, not one person told me there was a pre-order available for the product; this is screwy because I’ve asked about pre-orders with some of these people as well. I’ve been asking about this product since the start of the first open beta and the pre-orders apparently closed on the 26th of March.

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Yes, guys, it gets worse.

Now, the difference between the two situations is this: the first time, there was a choice to get what I wanted at a later time. It may not be a smart choice or an easy choice but there, at the very least, was a choice. This time, according to the gentleman I spoke with today, I now have no choice – I will have to settle for not getting the collector’s edition and short of searching for it at an exorbitant price on eBay, or something, there’s literally no choice here unless this guy at one of your stores actually picks up the slack of all the other employees at your other locations and actually does something beyond his knowledge and power. I am okay with settling for less, I’ve spent a good portion of my life living with “less than” as part of my everyday situation. It’s not okay when I have to settle because of many other peoples’ incompetence. I literally wanted to give your company more money for something that I dearly wanted and in compensation for your employees’ errors and lack of product knowledge I get nothing but a series of “I will do my best” and “I’m not sure” statements that doesn’t really inspire much more confidence as this kind of nodding-head crap is what got me here in the first place.

We actually aspire to inspire great disappointment in our customers!
We actually aspire to inspire great disappointment in our customers!

I’m going to spend a lot of time trying to figure out, on my own, what my options are going to be because clearly your companies are not to be trusted with this simple, simple set of tasks.

With this, you’ve lost a long-time customer.  You won’t miss me, no doubt. I’ve only got upwards and onward to go from here. I’m sure there’s another local business that could benefit from having me as a valued customer other than being a statistic.

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[ First Impressions ] Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes

It’s finally here. It’s finally freaking here. This is one of the games I’ve been waiting for, for so long. I finally got myself a copy of Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes for my PlayStation 3. Okay, I’ve had it for a while now and I’ve only played a few hours in but I can say one thing about it that is undeniable: it was well worth the wait.

Before I go any further, I should say something: I’m a huge Metal Gear fan. If you’ll believe it, I got my start playing Snake’s Revenge; I ended up thinking “well, okay, the original has to be better than this, every first game is”. I ended up playing Metal Gear for the first time, as a result and the rest, as they say, is history. I have a slight bias, as you might have guessed, and that bleeds into almost all of my experiences with the franchise – except for VR Missions. That game just shouldn’t have happened. Ever.

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Seriously, though: fuck you, VR Missions. Go to hell.

Since I haven’t played through the entire game proper – as I actually like to take my time and enjoy a game instead of concerning myself with its length – just yet, I’ve decided to address the two main issues that people have with this game instead of doing my normal “first impressions” review:

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“This Game is too Short!”

Perhaps the biggest qualm everyone has is in response to this video where a guy performed a speed run of Ground Zeroes where he skipped all cutscenes and knew exactly where to go and what to do and was able to complete the game in ten minutes. People had been complaining about the potential length of this game from the moment Kojima explained that it would be much shorter than Phantom Pain but since this video was uploaded the outcry has gotten louder and more heated.

Far as I can tell, this guy has been through the game a few times, which proves a point to me before this video even gets started: replay value is there. Some people do go through awful games just to prove they can be the best at something but most people that I know only go back through a game that they can, at the very least, tolerate.  That tells me that he’s put a lot more than just ten minutes into this game. That also tells me he’s tried many different methods, which brings to mind another point I’ll be addressing later. If you can make a debate about being able to complete it in ten minutes, I’d make just as valid a debate about the time you would need to put into the game in order to be able to complete it in ten minutes.

To expand on the replay value, this game takes a concept started in Metal Gear Solid 3 and expands on it infinitely; you are given a set number of missions related to the story and side missions to complete but you are also given an infinite number of ways to accomplish them. Grand Theft Auto is lauded the way it is for its typical mission structure – shoot this, escort that, blow this up, perform these favors – but rather for its open-endedness and rewards based on how much you screw with things. You’re basically dropped in an enemy camp with little more than your vague mission objectives, especially early on. You could sneak your way through, plow your way through, knock people out, save all the hostages on your own time; there’s a number of things you could do that are completely unrelated to the missions.

This game, yes, does give you the option to breeze right through it with reckless abandoned. By the time I finished this article I actually saw somebody complete this game in not 10 minutes but 7 minutes! It’s crazy the length some of these people will go to to prove a point but the proof is there: you can complete the game quickly. Does that mean you should? Not in a million years. Does that mean you will be able to without playing it thoroughly, at least, once? Probably not without help.

That brings me to my next point, which deals with the next huge point of contention everyone seems to have with this game:

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“Why is the Game so Expensive?”

Of course, this question is in direct correlation to its length, in most people’s minds. However, cost should be directly correlated to its value and a lot of gamers out there feel that a game isn’t worth a lot if you can’t drown yourself in it, in terms of hours played. Truth be told, though, the value of a game can’t be strictly about its length: a lot of people typically don’t feel this way, either, but it seems that people expected this entry to be longer as Metal Gear Solid, as a franchise, is well-known for convoluted plots, double-crosses, plot twists, and endless possibility in gameplay and storyline depth.

This game’s light on story, I’ll give you that; this game is used as a prologue to Phantom Pain - which, by the way, is going to be so awesome if this one is any indication at all – and its save data will likely be able to be used in conjunction with the game, directly, so the story here should be treated more as an introduction to the background of Phantom Pain, which is something that I think is going on. If you go through the cutscenes, extra recordings, background information, and listen to as much as possible, like most real fans of the series would and are usually used to doing by now, you would use way more than 10 minutes just in doing that alone. It’s very clear that this game is extremely deep, replayable, and has all kinds of production value that you would come to expect from Hideo Kojima and Kojima Productions.

To directly answer this question: you’re paying for more than the game’s apparent length. You’re paying for way more than that. you’ve always been paying for more than the gameplay experience and that’s part of why the franchise is so beloved by so many. Kojima even brought the price down from its previous price point – probably seeing the ire that the price point would cause in the general public and was likely already creating.

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The Answer and The Rant

I didn’t even realize that headline could pose as ideas for new Metal Gear Solid villain names. You heard it here first! All kidding aside, though, the answer to every single complaint regarding this game’s expense and length can be summarized thusly: don’t buy the fucking game if you don’t think it’ll be worth your time and shut up enough to let the people who are enjoying it, to enjoy itYou would think that would be a simple concept to grasp but it’s been trending among casual gamers for the last five or so years to complain about video games that aren’t catering to their tastes. Listen up, and listen good: this game is, basically, extra content for those who would love to learn more about Phantom Pain and the era that game will portray. It is a more than friendly price for fans who have put a lot of time, effort, and care into this franchise and I think that this game gives anyone who loves Metal Gear plenty to do until the next entry comes out. This will open all kinds of doors into what Phantom Pain will bring us and I, for one, love what this game brings to me.

This is where I get kind of ranty, though: there are punks among the legions of “writers” and “journalists” out there who are hating on this game. There are plenty of people who call themselves professionals of the industry who think Kojima is milking this franchise but seem to forget that all kinds of companies have been doing this before, even, the 8-bit era came around. There are people hating this game that I could run logic circles around, for days, and someone decided to imply that they have better things to do than have a “Twitter debate” with me; coming from someone who also responds to tweets with the verbal equivalent of “dat tweet doe.” You can’t tell me you have better things to do when you spent a 5-10 tweet thread going over why a friend of yours on Facebook why they won’t let you access their wall. Come on. This guy writes for IGN

If you want to hate something, that’s fine. If you don’t want to buy something, that’s cool, too. If you want to rant and rave about how you don’t think something should be praised as you feel it’s going to be, that’s fine. Scream it from your rooftop, as loud as you can… but for crying out loud, I should be able to shut my door and shut you people out. I’m just trying to enjoy my games and, as a gaming journalist and enthusiast, you people are making it extremely hard to do so when you take every chance you get to nitpick on everything and complain about everything that doesn’t convene you. Ground Zeroes wasn’t meant to be long and if you thought it was you clearly haven’t followed its development. Get off my damn lawn and stop screaming about how I should agree with you!

One comment on an article on IGN probably sums it up best:

People buy some yearly franchises, maybe multiple ones, that are basically the same things re-skinned with new stories and a couple new features at full price every single year. Think of sports and the shooter series. Yet one series that has a passionate following that rarely releases games comes out with a prologue at half-price and the whole world explodes. Gamers make me sick.

For crying out loud, people. You’re just ridiculous. Companies have been doing this for eons. Why are you just noticing now?

Yes, before you say anything, I know my bitching about someone else’s bitching makes me a hypocrite but I really don’t care. Scream all you want and ruin your own experience but stop fucking with mine, alright?

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[ Blog ] All’s Well That Ends Well

Well, seeing as Sony will likely never give me access to my PlayStation Network content that I spent years and loads of hard-earned cash on again, I may as well spill the beans before I go any further, here: I am the proud owner of a modded Slim PlayStation 3. I highly suspect someone that I thought I can trust reported me and I’m grateful for the fact that I no longer speak to them because I suspected they were pricks to begin with; they’re likely the reason I ended up getting banned from PSN but it could have happened for a variety of reasons. I took a lot of pride from the games I got hard copies of, though, in spite of the fact that I could download whatever game I wanted; all of them were in pristine condition and I loved supporting the developers and companies behind IPs that I cherished. Lately, though, times have been hard and I’ve been faced with either having hard copies and having them sit around and do nothing, mostly; I could also be putting them up for sale and downloading them when and if I would like to play them. The latter is what I ended up doing but after more than three months of trying to privately sell them, I gave up. What I ended up doing is buckling and going to a local game shop here in Windsor in order to trade them in for cash but the trade to cash rates weren’t that great so I was forced to make a choice – trade for my gaming habits or take a huge hit on what I’d get back in cash. Cash was incredibly tempting, trust me. I would have loved to chip away at my bills but the rate this guy was giving me just wasn’t going to cut it for nearly 15 games… three of which were limited editions.  I was really attached to them. I wasn’t about to get socked for nothing. I did a lot of thinking. I paced that store like a madman, trying to go over my choices and get the most for my games. Suddenly, I had a thought and it became rather obvious what I should do:

Why am I not wearing pants?
Why am I not wearing pants? I should probably be wearing pants.

When me and my wife Daisy were still living in Ottawa, we were both working in places half-way across town from each other; she worked for Rogers Telecommunications and I worked for Walmart. We would both periodically have rough days, as I’m sure you could imagine. Well, she had a particularly rough day and I had the day off and we had agreed a good way to relieve some of that negativity is to go see a movie together – we had been talking to go see Grown Ups 2 since we’d both really liked the original – and this was a pretty good opportunity as the theater that was showing it was nearby her work and I had all the time in the world to meet her there and there was only one showing after she got off of work. Since she had the car, I had to take the bus to get my way clear across Ottawa in order to get to the theater so my logic decided to side with the possibility that I’d like some entertainment while I was on my hour-long bus ride across multiple buses; I brought my Nintendo 3DS along for the ride.

The first bus was alright, I was playing Pokemon White 2 and it was keeping me busy; getting myself to the second bus was a breeze because it barely felt like time was passing at all. I was even, dare I say it, having fun. Second bus wasn’t as great as some people on the bus were being annoying and kept distracting me from my play and since I didn’t have earbuds to help me block them out, I decided to put the system away in my coat pocket for safe keeping so I wouldn’t be further annoyed by the fact that not only was there vulgar and annoying people on the bus but their distraction was actually causing me to suck at the game.

"Yeah, okay, pal. You keep telling yourself that."
“Yeah, okay, pal. You keep telling yourself that.”

Anyway, a short time after putting it away, those annoying people got off of the bus and I ended up feeling sleepy. I tried playing my game for a little while but I decided to put it back as I was too sleepy to play. I put it back away and planned on trying hard to stay awake for the rest of the ride. I failed and I failed hard. I’m sure you could see how the rest of this story goes but in case you don’t, I’ll keep it short and sweet: I almost missed the stop that would have taken me to the theater and I rushed out, hoping to make it in time. I made it to the theater, to my surprise, with time to spare. So, smiling to myself, I sat down on the front steps of the theater to pull out my 3DS to continue my game where I left off but I was faced with a problem:

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Both my coat pockets were empty. I know I didn’t drop the system on the way because, trust me, electronics make a nice, distinctive thunk, sometimes following by tinkling, after being dropped on the ground. I would have noticed and promptly had a heart attack. I thought about going back but the bus I left was long gone and the offices I would need to call into to have that bus checked were closed long ago. I have it on good faith that my 3DS was stolen – even if it wasn’t on the bus and my memory doesn’t serve me right I know it wasn’t at any of the locations I could have left it at and the lost and found of Ottawa’s transit company never found it so boiling it down to it being stolen is a pretty safe assumption, one way or another. It quickly turned into securing my account and its information, which, thanks to Nintendo’s “great help,” that didn’t take very long.

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Fast forward back to today, where I’m trying to make a gaming purchase decision with the store credit I’m getting for my games and the decision suddenly becomes clear – this is the one opportunity I’ll get to get my 3DS back. Even better, I’ve been afforded an opportunity to get a 3DS XL, which I’ve been ogling since it came out, anyway. I snatched that bugger up for ten dollars more than the credit I got on my games and now I can happily play all the latest handheld stuff again.

Given, I’ve sold most of my DS titles after feeling I’ll never be able to afford to replace my 3DS but I have a couple games still - Final Fantasy III and Dragon Quest IX – and thanks to the help of a wonderful customer representative with Nintendo, who I’ll go on about in a second, I was able to transfer my old downloads and transactions to my new system, which should be rolling out in no time.

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Getting on about this guy from Nintendo that I spoke with: he immediately caught on to the reference to Metal Gear Solid in my email and the subtle reference I made in conversation with him, responding with his own. It’s moments like those that make me glad I’m the kind of gamer I am; gaming is supposed to be about the shared joy of something people really enjoy about gaming and when two people can share that joy without even really saying that much, I think it’s really special. We ended up talking, in downtime, about the oncoming release of Ground Zeroes and what I thought about it, having played it. He even went one step further and secured a promotion that shouldn’t have carried over but assured me went through anyway. Either he was really good at faking me out due to the fact that I was a gamer or this was a genuinely great moment in gaming. Just buying this system has been an entirely positive experience, right from top to bottom.

Just goes to show that not all negative experiences have to stay that way; had I not gotten my 3DS stolen, I would have never ended up with a 3DS XL, for example. I would have never been able to speak with that awesome Nintendo rep. I would have never gotten to experience a couple new things and, sincerely, was one the bigger reasons I spent time with my cousin Leo and, as a result, got to see an aunt and uncle that I needed to spend more time with, anyway. Think about it. It all came around full circle.

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Today was a good day.

By the way, guys, my friend code is 3497-1408-5741. Hit me up. Thanks for reading and have a wonderful night!

 

 

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[ Game Theory ] The Last of Us: Ellie and the Infected Revisited

Last summer I posted this article talking about this game called The Last of Us for the PlayStation 3 and one of its greater mysteries: the infection and why Ellie was immune. In order to understand what was going on I looked at the inspiration for the infection, ophiocordyceps unilateralis, more commonly referenced in the game as cordyceps, hoping to grasp how it worked and why it did what it did. I understood the concept but that was based on a misunderstanding of what a fungus really was and how it worked in the context of the game. This misunderstanding was cleared up thanks to a correction I’d gotten from a reader on my previous post, something I should have known if I’d done my research just a little more thoroughly: that fungi are no longer classified as plants and haven’t been for many decades, based on the fact that they have no chlorophyll; in addition, due to that, they cannot perform photosynthesis.

I'm about to bust some serious science chops, here, folks, so hold on tight.
I’m actually surprised that good ol’ Nye here didn’t personally slap me for that one.

It was rather shameful because I based all of this on old knowledge and I really shouldn’t have assumed. I know better, now, though, and decided to revisit the topics; this time, though, with a renewed focus on what the infection in the game really is and why Ellie is immune. I think that the two go hand in hand – while the question of “Why is Ellie immune?” is more intriguing to me, you can’t understand one without understanding the other.

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What is The Infection?

According to the game, the infection, which receives no formal name, originated in South American crops. It’s strongly implied that this fungus was a mutation of the fungal infection we currently know as ophiocordyceps unilateralis. While the reasoning for this mutation is not quite clarified, I believe the mutation was evolutionary; the ants that the infection formerly spread through adapted and found a way to create immunity to the infection, giving the fungus an ultimatum: evolve or die. This infection made the easiest and simplest choice: spread through the most dominant species in the planet that shares the most common characteristics with other species. I also don’t believe that the infection, as the population knows it, didn’t originate in South America but rather the first instance of human infection was noted there.

Protecting yourself from infection through the game is primarily done through two methods: covering one’s face with a gas mask to protect one from exposure to spores and keeping yourself from being bitten by one of the infected. Given the infected, driven only by instinct, attack by brutalizing and/or biting the victims; this makes one wonder if skin contact with the spores are exactly how the infection is spread. Given that the infection needs to take root in the brain in order to perform any kind of manipulation, this makes one wonder where it starts and how it gets there: my theory is that the infection is primarily transmitted through the blood. If one were to leave their face uncovered that exposes two methods of infection via spores: through the eyes, nostrils and mouth; the latter two through ingestion and absorption into the blood via the small intestine or through the eyes, giving the spores direct access to the brain almost immediately. If one were bitten then the spores given off by an infected would have instant access into the bloodstream. From the blood they would take root in the spinal fluid and then, from there, into the brain stem and take root into the brain from there. Most of the time spent from bite to infection is spent by the body metabolizing the infection and moving it from the location of the exposure to the brain – once it takes root in the brain the changes in character and function take place almost immediately, turning the person into a vehicle for infection.

This is similar to the Rage virus from the film 28 Days Later, a point I made in the last article regarding this topic, in that the infected turn into vectors for the infection whose sole purpose is infection through the bloodstream; I might say, though, in that movie, the results are a little more dramatic as the infected could throw up blood creating the possibility of infection through mere contact with the infected’s blood. Another similarity is how the Rage virus also bolsters the infected; in the context of The Last of Usthis way the infected are able to continue on actively spreading the infection without fear of damage or destruction. With regards to The Last of Us’ infected, this happens in many different ways: the first and perhaps most noticeable are the growths that can be seen on the body as the infection spreads through it, creating a kind of armoring against physical damage, happening first around the head and facial areas where the infection is more severe and focused, at first, and then affecting the body as time goes on; the more immediate way is biologically, how it bolsters the senses, causing blindness almost immediately and probably affecting the nerves to eliminate pain sensations, bolstering and chemically affecting muscle tissue for optimal strength, agility, and tenacity, and generally alters the host to make it the most powerful, deadly, and invincible it can possibly be; and then the least noticeable, in how it handles itself when the infection is sensing weakness or oncoming death in the host by moving itself to an area, if possible, that’s extremely humid and dark, allowing for the death of the host, sprouting stems, and spreading spores even after complete cell death of the host.

What type of infected you see tells you how long the host has been infected for: much like a tree’s rings, the sizes of the growths, the strength and types of its abilities, and its overall strength and appearance can tell you a great deal. Many don’t reach its final stage – Joel calls them “bloaters” – for a variety of reasons but the fact remains that if the infected is allowed to live for a certain period of time, they reach this stage with almost certainty. This final stage is able to actually launch projectiles containing spores at their victims, also able to take extreme amounts of damage due to the growths all over their bodies.

Now that we understand what the infection actually does, why it does it and how it does it, we’re left with one very important question that was asked by Sam when discussing things with Ellie: in the primary stages of infection, is there any humanity left in the infected?

Good question. There’s no explanation that I can give as there’s no straightforward evidence that could explain this: the people in The Last of Us justify their actions against the infected like many would in their situation; because they cannot understand the infected and they cannot cure the infected – by means that anyone’s aware of at the start of the main story, anyway – they defend themselves using any methods possible, usually using lethal means to ensure their safety. However, when observing infected hosts known as “Runners” and “Stalkers,” they exhibit qualities that do not directly affect their ability to spread their spores: they are often seen moaning, acting erratically, screeching, and sometimes appearing aloof in their motions. This has always led me to assume that the infected, up until a certain point – this point being when they become what’s known as “Clickers” – the host is actively fighting the infection, suffering through the process and trying to remove it from the body the best way it knows how. I believe that while the infection starts affecting thought processes and motor skills almost immediately after taking root in the brain the brain still initially retains some of its more functions that aren’t necessary to the spore’s spread and therefore is in constant combat that it’s bound to lose because the infection, by that point, controls most important functions of the brain, leaving the rest to follow until the infection needs to do away with those functions to increase efficiency. Is there a person still left in there? I believe so but they are forever and irreversibly changed. Once infected, they are best to be put out of their misery.

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 Why is Ellie Immune?

That leaves us with the grand-daddy of all the questions in the game and the question that the game’s storyline pretty much hinges on: why on Earth is Ellie immune to the infection? In order to explore this I would have to warn that there are some pretty heavy and juicy spoilers so, please, if you haven’t played the game yet, don’t go any further; better yet, if you haven’t played the game, why are you even reading this article?

Moving along, we know two things from the game that vaguely hint at the reasoning that Ellie may be immune: when Joel and Ellie reach the laboratory where the Fireflies are able to find a cure through Ellie, they have to perform surgery on her brain; secondly, everyone on the planet has been, at least, exposed to a minor amount of spores as spores are airborne and will travel some ways before dying off. It would be hard to believe that the human population hasn’t mildly been exposed, at some point, to the spores. The solution, after doing my research and writing this article, would lie in her blood and her brain: my theory suggested, at first, that the ants the cordyceps initially infected evolved to adapt to the infection, rendering the infection useless against those ants and leaving the infection to also adapt to their situation. I would think that it’s safe to assume that due to humanity’s obviously more complex biology in comparison to ants and to the mild exposure to the spores over the years have caused an immunity to be built over time in Ellie. If this is true, one can only assume that others have built up an immunity as well, especially in children born after the pandemic took place.

This leaves some hope for the world of The Last of Us after its rather sad ending; witnessing Joel’s collapse into an emotional meltdown left a lot of us thinking that Joel could be responsible for the eventual death of humanity as a whole… but, hopefully, this theory holds up in the context of the game… leaving hope for humanity, after all.

If the theory doesn’t hold up, the only other suggestion could be that some kind of neural or brain condition created an anomaly in the human brain that caused the spores to be introduced into a host but cause the infection to pass up the host; this still allows for the possibility for others who are immune but when Joel broke down, he may have ended up killing the only ones who were able to isolate and promote a cure, effectively dooming everyone still. Here’s to hoping that there’s still hope to be held out for the world of The Last of Us and judging from talks about making a sequel and a movie based on the world of the game, I’m going to hold out for hope. How about you?

"How can we break up progression and call it a gameplay feature?"

[ Blog ] Satisfaction

Only one day after my claim that I was back to force Tales of Xillia into submission, I can proudly return and say the following: I was literally an hour or so away from the end of the game when I last put it down. I was literally one string of cutscenes away from the game telling me “Here, you’re a step away from the last dungeon; have open access to the world and its activities,” a la almost every console JRPG in existence. I wasn’t sated with simply accepting wrenching a victory away from this game and went in search of mysteries and optional activities. After going after extra boss monsters, completing a fair share of side activities and filling out my inventory lists sufficiently, I went after the final dungeon, who submitted to me with little more than a whimper along with its final bosses.

The universal sign for "you just got your ass kicked."
The universal sign for “you just got your ass kicked.”

With that being said, though, I can finally give my final word on the game: it’s great but it has its flaws. Have you ever had that group assignment while in school and you despised doing it because there was that one kid that not just didn’t do their best but also hindered progress of your assignment by either doing nothing or actually making things worse? In so many words, this is Tales of Xillia: a game that follows all the tropes, breaks said tropes, and then paves its own path… and constantly trips over itself constantly. If the leveling and shop systems were both only a little more traditional I would have enjoyed this game a lot more and it would have felt less like I had to turn it into a huge undertaking.

Where do I turn my sights, from here on out? I’m looking forward to Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes coming out soon, I might decide to revisit Lightning Returns if time and mood permits, I have several games that need completing… I could go in and demolish Dynasty Warriors 8 or see about waiting for the expansion to that… I’m not sure. I could wait for South Park: The Stick of Truth, as well.

I know I have, thanks to reader feedback, a little revisitation to The Last of Us because, I think, I got some of my information and research wrong when coming up with some of my theories. I need to get back into that. I also want to write a review for Tales of Xillia as well as making some music, as well. Stay tuned right here and thank you for reading!

 

And stay down, bitch.

[ Blog ] It’s On

Now that the first phase of the beta testing for Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn on my PlayStation 4  is done, I have only one thing to say in response to playing it as thoroughly as I could: I’m going to be pre-ordering the Collector’s Edition, if possible. I’m so completely satisfied with the experience, even in its beta form; it fills in gaps that I felt were left open in other MMORPGs, including Final Fantasy XI, and fixes things that I felt needed fixing. Given, the HUD and some of the GUI things need changing in order to make it more playable, it doesn’t detract from the experience enough to keep me from wanting in. It makes me anxious to try on The Elder Scrolls Online. I’m expecting less of a cinematic and story-driven experience but if it’s anything like Skyrim and Oblivion, before it, were, I would like to get in on that as well.

That being said, if you read my last post, you can probably guess exactly where I’m going with this, now:

Oh, yes. It's time.
Oh, yes. It’s time.

It’s time to do what I’ve been meaning to do for a while; I’d been distracted by other titles. Now that the beta test is over and I’ve been annoyed to tears with Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII, I can return to Tales of Xillia and finish this bitch off. I played it a few times since my last post and I must say that things have gotten bumpy since my last encounter with the game. Before I go too far into where I’m at and why that is, I should probably tell you a bit about my experience with the game so far.

I kind of picked the game up on a lark, really; I’d been an off-and-on fan of Tales since its first incarnation and expected to see much of the same kinds of things from this title: tons of Japanese anime tropes, fan service, Star Ocean-style combat, decent voice acting, and a few out-of-the-blue hair-pulling experiences. Of course, I’d expected a few plot twists, every role playing game has them and, arguably, it’s how creative writing goes, these days, because you can’t have the reader getting bored; you know that having an engrossing story with interesting characters isn’t enough, these days (yeah, I’ve got a bit of a chip on my shoulder on that one but that’s a story for a different day).

For just over half of the game, that’s exactly what I got – while, like I said before, I found the shop system to be frustrating, unnecessary, and very bothersome – it wasn’t until you reached a certain point where things start seeming like a huge plot twist was on its way, it gives you not just one plot twist, but many, one being larger than the one previous. By that point, if it wasn’t for the fact that I was committed to completing this game – which was increased by the fact that, by this point, I thought I was closer to the end of the game than I thought I actually was – I probably would have put it down but I’m glad I stuck it out because now that I’ve finally grasped the concepts needed to succeed well at this game I’ve been able to see the interesting parts of the story that has pushed me past the game’s shortcomings.

Now that I’m returning to the game I find that I have a confidence I didn’t earlier have – I now no longer have an expectation in regards to the length, plot, or difficulty of the game and am fully prepared to take on anything; maybe even moreso than I need to be. I’m ready to rock this joint. Any more of this twisty plot-twist-for-the-sake-of-grabbing-my-attention bullshit and I’m out, though.

And stay down, bitch.
And stay down, bitch.

After this, I’ll probably get back to playing Tales of Graces f and maybe try to tackle Lightning Returns, as retarded as the timing issue is on the latter. I’m out, guys; thanks for reading!

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[ Blog ] Come ON, Man; Give me a Choice!

I guess I should explain my absence, as it came rather suddenly: I started this blog not as an outlet but a way to keep my writing skills sharp, to expose my tag as The Laymen’s Gamer in between writing gigs, and to write about what something I felt strongly about – the gaming industry – without restriction. However, this came with some bumps along the way: since this blog wasn’t recognized as a news source that made writing reviews, news articles, and features here would go without exposure as reddit and N4G didn’t respect that nearly as much as they should. Beyond that, there was the busy life that came with getting married, moving, having two birthdays, and Christmas, all in a two-to-three month period. That took up a lot of time, so much so that I stopped writing, for the most part, altogether. Now that the dust from that, for the most part, has settled, I’ve taken my job at Gaming Precision back up and I’ve decided to return to writing for this blog. I’m working pretty hard hours to get around but I still find time for gaming and I still try to find time for writing. It’ll get easier as I settle more and more into a routine.

Over this course of time I’ve been making plenty of time for gaming, when and where I can; I finally completed Diablo III, Grand Theft Auto V, Tomb Raider, Sleeping Dogs, Saints Row IV, and Metal Gear Rising; all games I’d put down either because it was too frustrating, too boring at the time, or required too much of my time to complete. A lot of them literally required just going through the final lap of the game but I was able to complete a lot of them right from the start, especially GTA V and Saints Row IV. There are two that have been eluding me, though: Tales of Graces f and Tales of Xillia.

I’ve put those games down off and on due to a couple of things: first, the battles are easy to manage if you’re any kind of experienced RPG fan but then there’s that one battle that comes out of nowhere, not so much challenging you but forcing you to reconsider how you’ve been doing things up to this point. I’m up for challenges; I love them. However, when a battle comes up and changes up, completely, how to approach a battle it serves more as a puzzling roadblock than a challenge. I find this is less a case in Graces f but Xillia is terrible for this; I’ve found myself stuck on a battle not because it’s too hard but because it will continue to be impossible until you find the key to beating the battle. No, there’s no hidden strategy you have to look for or certain move you have to use to exploit the battle’s weaknesses; you can’t even go back and get a whole lot from grinding out levels. The key to this game’s success lies, sadly, in the amount of money you make and spend at the shops. Now, buying the latest equipment at the shops seems like more of a given, right? Not with this game. Each shop you encounter has the same stock and you can only better the stock by donating junk items you get from battle, chests, or hidden places in dungeons, or currency. Sometimes, literally, the only way to proceed in the game is to make sure your characters have a certain level of equipment, even when the equipment you’ve had for the last two hours have made each battle almost ridiculously easy. So, now, because of this ridiculous boss fight that is scaled way too much for your current party, you have to grind out not for character levels, not for money, not for items or resources, but for shop levels. Best part about that? You have no idea what shop level would have the equipment you need to pass the boss battle so you continue at it and take repeated stabs at said boss battle until you squeak by.

yes, Gaius, I'm looking right at you.
Yes, Gaius, I’m looking right at you.

I’ve created a formula that hasn’t failed me since I’ve figured it out and it’s tedious and it requires more patience than I have, most days: when you enter a new monster-laden location, clear that location out. I mean that. Dominate every monster and, if they reappear, kill those, too. Keep at it until you feel you’ve sufficiently cleared out the area, move onto the next, and repeat. Also, pick up everything that isn’t stapled to the ground, Fallout-style. Every shop also has a bonus towards certain types of junk items so make sure you watch for that. Once you get into the swing of it, it’s not quite that tedious but it certainly eats up a lot of time and it’s annoying as all hell that you must do it in order to progress in the game and in the story. Not doing it causes the game to slap you back down to reality, telling you “We don’t care about how good you are at role playing games; you’re going to play at the pace we set for you and that’s final!”

"How can we break up progression and call it a gameplay feature?"
“How can we break up progression and call it a gameplay feature?”

I was frustrated with this and I put the game down, figuring between that and the massive accommodation to weeaboos the world around – this game is literally honorifics away from being a complete weeaboo experience, a la Persona – I had been through enough. By the time I did, guess what came around, finally?

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That’s right, folks: a game that’s been after my heart for so long but has been equally avoiding it for just as long and has just as much a torrid history with me as Xillia does. I’m not much of a MMORPG fan, really. I never have been. I’ve played EverquestWorld of Warcraft, Ragnarok Online, Guild Wars, and numerous others in an effort to find one that stuck. I even tried playing Final Fantasy XI briefly and nothing really stuck. For a genre of games that were meant to be played in a social sense, these games seemed to fail to create a sense of proper community, only succeeding when forcing players into these situations. Back when Final Fantasy XIV was announced, I was hesitant; it was the second MMORPG bearing the Final Fantasy name in three entries – spin-offs not counted – and I felt that maybe they were ready to fix what I felt was wrong with FFXI. When I heard that they were going to release a version for PlayStation 3, that’s what cast aside all doubt in my mind – until the problems started. They pushed back the release of the PS3 version and there were murmurs among the masses that the PC version wasn’t all that great, to begin with. I was excited but I was worried. It was right around the time that the PS3 version was actually released that I was finally banhammered from ever using the PlayStation Network ever again on my PS3 and… well… truth be told, that was half the reason I was angry about the whole situation.

I had to wait longer just to play the game I had waited so long to play in the first place.

Then, like a bat out of hell, without warning, a version for the PS4 was announced; even better, they later announced they were going to do a public beta for the game. I was ecstatic. When the beta finally dropped, I dove in headfirst and I’ve literally only come out due to limitations from the beta. My willingness to stick by this beta in spite of the fact that there are still some things to iron out can actually hold DC Universe Online responsible because I’d come back to that and learned to enjoy it after having some serious problems with the PS3 version of the game. While trying to figure out how to come back to the beta for the second time – characters would not carry over to the final release of the game so it’s really just an opportunity to find out what class/race combination works out best for you – I picked up Tales of Xillia again, not expecting to get very far and being tedious and easy enough to allow me to think on that while I’m playing.

I don’t know what caused this but now I’m playing Xillia like a well-oiled machine and I’m plowing through it like crazy and I determined myself to beat it quite thoroughly. I want to make the game my bitch. I have a problem, now, though; I want to keep playing both games. I know I can’t. I actually would like to tackle Graces f again sometime but I’m determined. I will have whipped both games into submission and I know I can only do that one game at a time.

Right now, I’m playing more of Xillia because it had some surprising – though, in retrospect, they aren’t that surprising, as they’re tropes of both RPG and anime genres – plot twists and I didn’t have as much of the game completed as I previously thought; I can also play that in chunks more than I can Final Fantasy XIV, so, unfortunately, Xillia has gotten more of my time, but for good reason.

This is the face of indecision.
This is the face of indecision.

Hopefully, more comes down the pipeline for the PS4 because I really don’t want to go an tackle Lightning Returns. That’s a whole different story about a game that breaks up progression for a stupid, fucked up reason. However, I shall bid adieu for now! Take care and thanks for reading!

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[ Game Music ] Persona 3 – The Battle for Everyone’s Souls

I know that it’s been a while, guys; I promise I haven’t forgotten about this blog. A lot has been going on: between getting married, moving ten hours away, finding a new place to live, finding new jobs, going through training for said jobs, unpacking, getting signed by Unigamesity and getting re-signed with Gaming Precision and reestablishing myself in the community, I’ve not had much time to even think about this blog.

However, though, this post isn’t without content: this song – hell, the entire series this song is from – is a personal favorite of mine and it felt very natural to mix this and arrange it for general enjoyment. It’s been my first foray into posting stuff like this into the public in some time; it’s very exciting for me because, now, I’ve been made aware of SoundCloud, a place where I can host my tracks without having to pidgeonhole myself into posting them on YouTube.

With that being said, enjoy! I won’t be posting much in the way of reviews, news, and stuff like that on my blog but I will keep on posting here, I promise. I will also be doing weekly updates so that way you guys can keep up to date with my content on the sites that I write for.

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[ Review ] Beyond: Two Souls

Are any of you old enough to remember Choose Your Own Adventure books? I used to read those things by the case load. I loved the ability to read a book but have direct control over what happened to the characters and how those choices affected the situations. Most of the endings were, more or less, different variations of the same things but the real beauty were the few books that took this idea and made the endings wildly different but still in context. This is primarily why I fell in love with Quantic Dream’s work: they gave me a brilliant story that, while outlandish and unorthodox most times, handed me control over how events were going to go forward. They gave you the ability to make certain choices, choices that had real and lasting consequences – not in the Mass Effect sense where it changed the world around you but in the sense that it made your character develop and change in certain ways – and held you accountable for those choices later on so that your challenges were more personal.

Indigo Prophecy (or Fahrenheit in certain other countries) started it out for me but I didn’t really start following Quantic Dream until I heard about Heavy Rain and got to complete it for myself. Unraveling the case of the Origami Killer has got to be one of the best told tales in gaming to this date – the only problem here was that I have a hard time calling it a video game. While this kind of video game was right up my alley, it felt way more like those Choose Your Own Adventure books that I was mentioning before; you’re on one path of many but you’re still moving towards the same ends. Add into the mixture that that means you’re spending more time watching what’s going on than taking part in what’s going on and you have something that’s more of an interactive movie than a video game.

What you have here with Beyond: Two Souls is something along the same lines: they tried a few new things and it works to some degrees. It works against the game somewhat but when you consider the context of the game and the story as a whole it makes a lot of sense. When taking in everything about this game, you have to wonder a couple of things: a lot of people are terribly judgmental about this game for its being so damn erratic and throwing gameplay elements at you without really showcasing them but is this really because this game’s potential wasn’t fully realized or that this was done on purpose to immerse you in exactly the way Quantic Dream wanted for the player? That’s a tough one to figure out, I think, without directly asking the creators…

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The Gameplay

There isn’t a whole lot to this game in terms of gameplay – it seems like a big point of contention with this game right now and it seems people were expecting way more than what they got. When you’re actually offered more direct control over the game, you’re doing one of four things: you’re in a slow-motion segment where you have to push the right stick in the direction that Jodie’s momentum – which, I’ll tell you now, isn’t always obvious – is moving towards, you’re making a decision or conversation, you’re moving around the playing field, or you’re pressing a combination of buttons in order to progress Jodie’s actions. Jodie’s success or failure seems to depend on how well you can do those things – whether you succeed or fail, though, doesn’t stop your progress, apparently. Never have I failed a sequence and have that land me in a “Game Over” sequence. Everything just kept trucking along, my failed decisions, actions, or choices being chained to me like a large weight, whose consequence would be apparent to me later. While this is an interesting way to go about it, that certainly removes any sense of urgency or motivation when you get the feeling that you just can’t lose, especially if you’re not attached to the characters.

As a game, my primary beef is that the game – like so many people before me have probably stated – could have been so much more in terms of what you can actually do to affect the story and its characters. Not every choice can be as drastic as whether or not you jump off a ledge to your doom but, rather, during some of the action sequences, I want to control, with greater influence, how I go about the situation, much like in games like Metal Gear Solid 4; if I fail, then the enemy captures me instead of killing me, throwing me into a brand new circumstance to get myself out of. If I get knocked out during a fight, then I get back up after being robbed or scolded or whatever and would have to live with that judgment. They didn’t necessarily have to sacrifice interactivity to preserve their concept, yet they did. Can’t say that I like that, too much.

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The Story

This is the game’s raison d’etre: to tell a brilliant and layered story. The story of this game revolves around the character, Jodie Holmes, through three main points of her life. Jodie’s quirk is that she was born with a gift; she is spiritually bound to an invisible entity she calls “Aiden” and Aiden can manipulate the world around them to suit their needs. This manifests in a way that the world around them isn’t ready for and that sets Jodie on her way through the journey of her life, which takes her all the way from a scientific testing facility, to a course with the CIA, all the way to the Department of National Defense.

I’m going to go no further into it so that way I’m not spoiling anything for anyone but there are two things about this plot that I really enjoy and it actually has nothing to do with the super-epic main plot arc. First, there’s a lot of seemingly insignificant moments in the plot that are deceptively consequential and incredibly human; second, the ending ties up nearly everything that’s come to pass neatly and leaves a lot wide open for interpretation and discussion without confusing people. While this story isn’t exactly told in a neat fashion – going back and forth between three integral phases of her life in an erratic way won’t exactly win many fans – the nonlinearity isn’t exactly unfamiliar territory; Christopher Nolan’s Momento is an example of a movie that was presented in a very similar way. It was all over the place until the very end where everything came together and the reasons for everything, including the way the movie was told, are explained. Some of the explanations in Beyond are kind of a stretch but they do serve to tie things up nicely if you think about it in just the right way.

Aside from that, let’s talk a moment about the star acting in this one – not all of the supporting characters are on their top notch game, here, but the performance Willem Dafoe, Ellen Page, and Kadeem Hardison give (as Nathan, Jodie, and Cole, respectively) are among some of the best acting performances I’ve seen in gaming hands down. Given, this isn’t always saying a whole lot but this is still an incredible performance and Ellen Page is often found stealing the show and carrying the narrative along on her back alone. Given the scope of the game’s plot and the demands it makes of her, personally, her performance here is astonishing and just admirable.

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The Lighter Side

Emotion is the core that drives much of the narrative in this game and, for that, it actually seemed to really grab the attention of my wife-to-be, Daisy, when I was playing it; you have to keep in mind that Daisy isn’t much of a gamer, so that means a lot when a guy like me when she actually gets in the zone with me and gets involved, so I asked her to write something for my article to show what she, the casual gamer, thought of the game:

Warning, some spoilers ahead!

I occasionally look up from Facebook and wedding planning to check out the game Kenny is currently playing; having just felt the loss of the awesome music from Grand Theft Auto V, I noticed he was playing something different, a game with a sweet-faced little girl with some sort of troubling issues of a presence that seemed to protect her/control her. At first, I was like “Well, this is some weird shit” but then I slowly pushed my laptop aside so I could actually see what was going on. I don’t game, I only watch sometimes. I have only ever really watched through Mass Effect and The Last of Us (which was entirely too creepy and gory for me). I was so into what I was seeing, this poor little girl, being tested and not having much of a life outside this facility she was in and this “presence”. It kept shifting: one time she would be a little girl; the next, she was at an awkward party where I relived every awkward shy girl party moment I have ever experienced; the next, she was grown up again, fighting off war lords..(can this girl not catch a break?)

This game doesn’t go in order so I was even more intrigued (and upset for people with OCD) to find out why. I kept asking him questions and if I missed anything when I had to get up for something. I started to really like this girl, she was strong and always fighting this constant battle to be who she wanted to and just be a normal girl. I liked the characters (well, most of them). As we were bounced around through her life I became emotionally attached to her, I wanted her to live and find out what this presence was all about. This game REALLY has a great story, it’s not “just a game.” I felt like I was watching a movie the whole time and I couldn’t wait to see what happened next. Parts of it reminded me of The Last of Us, even I thought she looked a little bit like the girl from that game but it’s very different.

- That was an awesome call on her part because Ellie from The Last of Us actually looks a lot like Page, a likeness that has often led some to believe she was originally created to be portrayed by Page but that didn’t work out.

I looked it up and found out Jodie Holmes was actually Ellen Page, which is funny because I had no clue but I kinda thought that was who she looked like. She did an excellent job and was a very strong female character. I’m not one of those feminist types by any means at all but this is a kick ass game with a strong female main character. Which I think, sometimes, us girls need to be reminded of. She stands up for herself, she pushes limits, etc. Even goes through different looks and phases; that part was very real to me: the partying, the dating stuff that we all go through and you are basically watching her do that. In one scene, she is so excited a guy is coming over she apparently forgets to order pizza or find her phone, she even goes through the “what should I wear” routine.

- That scene is when Ryan comes over for an impromptu date – you have to compete with Aiden’s jealousy and the fact that getting everything together for the occasion is way harder in this game than it should be. Why does a portable phone have to be so damn small? Seriously, hasn’t everyone used cell phones for the last ten or so years?

To sum it up, as a gamer wife to be, I see a lot of games, some I look up and don’t care much about; this one was amazing, I almost want to play it myself, I hope there is a second one or a movie. And come on now, you can give her the option to “kiss” which I remember screaming out ..”now kiss, kisss” then “why didnt you make them kiss, God come on” and you can relive all your awkward teenage moments! This game is a 10 for me and I didn’t even play it! I was shocked to find out in the end who/what the presence was: the game is entirely worth it for that, I had came up with various theories throughout and none were true. However, I would like to see it played again now knowing more stuff to see if the connections make more sense! I’m kind of really sad it’s over now. Guess its back to wedding planning for this girl!

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The Final Verdict

One would buy this game for the same reason one would buy a movie; not so it would consume every moment of your free time that you could spend watching movies, but rather so you could revisit a great tale that you enjoyed, at your convenience; which is exactly how I would recommend any of Quantic Dream’s games. You should experience it at least once but don’t hold onto it if you don’t plan on checking out all the story branches and getting all the trophies.

Just keep in mind that the game is, above all else, an interactive drama; you’re not going to get much actual replay value from it. If it hasn’t interested you, yet, and nothing I’ve said has sparked interest in you, nothing in this game will and, in buying it, you’ll have wasted your cash. This is one of those “once in a while” games that you’ll keep around to kick back with, play it differently, and see if anything different happens.

Great experience but the whole gaming part falls kind of short.