Until Dawn Review

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Nobody was buried under snow in my playthrough…

I’m gonna go ahead and preemptively declare Until Dawn as my sleeper hit of the year. I mean, sure, I heard a bit about it, and even thought I’d probably like it. But I did not expect to love the game as much as I do. As we played, Steve-O and I had a harder and harder time turning the console off each night when it was time to quit. I was skeptical at first. While Until Dawn meshes two of my favorite genres, Survival Horror and Narrative (Point and Click, I guess they’re called), I was concerned the game wouldn’t give me enough anxiety to be scary, because it’s not really based on player skill, per se. Plus, I figured, it’d rely mainly on jump scares. Meaning not scary at all.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. Yes, there are jump scares. And yes, I’m embarrassed to admit how many of them I fell prey to, even when I felt them coming. But we still felt a lot of the anxiety you’d typically get while playing a survival horror game. It just manifests itself a little differently. Instead of thinking “I’m out of healing items and ammo and have to make it to the next save point without dying and having to do everything all over,” your train of thought instead is, “If I do this wrong I’ll get this character PERMANENTLY killed.” No do-overs here, people. Like Heavy Rain, making a wrong decision can get a character dead, and there ain’t nothing you can do to fix it. Save starting a new game file, anyway.

Until Dawn is not very forgiving, either. Very few of your decisions are black and white in terms of outcome. In fact, people are still debating on message boards about what actions, conversation decisions, and collectibles lead to which outcomes. Moreso than Beyond Two Souls and Telltale Games’ selections, Until Dawn relies on the player finding collectibles to further enhance the story. And it appears that, on at least one prominent occasion, neglecting to pick some up can lead to a character death.

Speaking of collectibles, I really like the Totem concept. While exploring, you can pick up color coded totems that will foreshadow possible events in the future. For sadists like us, it means we still get to view a character’s death even if you don’t put the events in motion.

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One of our friends just disappeared? Let’s do it!

In case you’ve missed some of the commentary surrounding this game, it does, indeed, feature a bunch of horny high schoolers trying to get laid. Yes, even that snow-covered picnic table is no match for adolescent libido. What, there’s a killer on the loose? All the more reason to get laid one last time! The game certainly starts off with the typical cheesy 80’s slasher horror movie feel. But a few hours into the game we came to realize it evolves into something more. Let me put it this way: We began our adventure fully intending to get everyone killed. Yet, as the game progressed and we spent more time with these entitled brats, we sort of grew attached to them. We actually didn’t want most of the characters to die. (Not all, but most)

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Apparently Sam is an expert rock climber.

Until Dawn relies on timed QTEs and conversation options for the bulk of the gameplay. There are a handful of events requiring the player to aim and shoot guns, but they’re few and far between. During chase sequences, you often have to make timed, off-the-cuff decisions about how the character should progress. Fast or cautious? Left or right? Hide or try the door knob? Each decision potentially changes the future framework of your experience with this game whether you realize it or not. Don’t enter Until Dawn thinking that your decisions won’t change anything more than some dialogue subtleties like Telltale Games’ series. No. Until Dawn is, I daresay, the first game of this genre I’ve played to fully realize the butterfly effect. Everything else I’ve played before now barely scratched the surface.

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People still toy with these things?

Excellent butterfly effects and 80’s horror flick homages aside, Until Dawn is also well crafted on the aesthetic side of things. The graphics are excellent. The character models and facial recognition are top-notch. Remember Heavy Rain showcasing character facial expressions during the pause menu? Same goes here. Character’s profile pics change depending on their condition in-game as well. Someone take a little tumble or get in an altercation? Their pretty face now has bruises or cuts. Also, and I really appreciated this, the menu actually displays the character’s current relationship status with the rest of the cast! What a novel concept! You’re also shown how you’ve royally f***ed up their personality, to boot. Each character begins with 3 prominent personality features. They certainly don’t have to STAY brave, or loyal, or smart. Player actions and conversations will change all that, and the game will always keep you updated on how your choices are changing the framework.

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That’s one messy hickey.

Until Dawn breaks up the suspense by interjecting sessions with a psychologist. While I didn’t dislike these portions, and I did appreciate how the scenery eventually morphed into some messed up Silent Hill imagery, they did feel like Shattered Memories rip offs. Every session you had to answer his questions. In turn, these made small changes to the game. If you say you’re scared of spiders, they will crawl across the screen at one point. It’s small, superficial things like that. Miniscule in comparison to the rest of the butterfly effects this game offers. However, I did like how they helped unravel one of the game’s major mysteries.

There isn’t much else I can say without spoiling all the fun. Your first game will probably hit or fall just shy of the 10 hour mark. Despite being a short game, due to its high replay and production values, I think its totally worth paying full price. Until Dawn has set a new precedent for “Choose your adventure” games. I can only hope other companies are taking notes.

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Retro Review: Suikoden 2

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Still not enough room for all of the characters.

Recently, Steve-O and I had the urge to scratch a “retro JRPG” itch. Remembering that Suikoden 2 was added to the Playstation Store for only $10, a much more affordable option than the rare disc which, until then, sold for over $100 used, I went ahead and downloaded it. A game that had been on our bucket list for a long time, but disregarded because of the old price point, we were excited to finally play it. Steve-O especially, as he’s played every main entry title.

We’d played Suikoden 1 and 3 together in past years. While I don’t exactly dislike Suikoden games, they do have two defining features that also happen to be on my RPG pet peeves list: silent protagonists and recruiting a bajillion characters. Recruiting all 108 stars of destiny characters is mandatory if you want to see the best ending, to boot! Suikoden 2 doesn’t stop there when it comes to arbitrary requirements to get the better ending after investing 50 hours in the game. All I have to say is I’m grateful we played the game during Age of Google.

RPG pet peeves aside, Suikoden 2 is a pretty solid JRPG. It takes the groundwork framed by the first Suikoden and improves upon it. You’ll create your own silent (generic and boring) young protagonist, and through a strange series of circumstances, become the leader of a rebel army. You’ll get to name the main character and army, so choose the most inappropriate names you can come up with. Personally, I’m still gravely wounded over not having enough character spaces to name my army the “Fuzzy Beaver” or “Bearded Clam” army. So many missed opportunities…

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Having six characters in battle at one time is helpful when experimenting with new allies.

Suikoden 2’s battle system is a bit different than many turn based games. I love that you’re able to bring six party members along with you, especially since the game FORCES certain characters on you ALL THE TIME! Add that to my RPG pet peeve list. In a game with over 108 recruitable/playable characters, being forced to bring certain characters with me so they can have one line of dialogue during a scene is beyond frustrating. Especially when you have a lot of equipment and Runes to swap around. Armor is relatively standard fare, but character weapons are unique to each character and can’t be removed. These add some individuality to a game where interchangeable Runes can make them blend together.

Certain characters have weapons with Runes embedded in them. This gives their weapons special effects, adding some flare. Some will have extra damage, some will have elemental effects. Each character can also have up to three Rune slots unlocked as they level. This means that you could potentially equip someone with 3 Runes to boost their physical attack prowess, 3 Runes full of magic spells, or whichever combination you desire. You can make some pretty sick physical attackers and mages with the right Rune combinations.This system helps make nearly any characters you select a viable option, but it does mean you’ll spend a lot of time micro-managing when swapping characters. And you will be changing your party up a lot because the game doesn’t really give you a choice not to.

One good feature that does help to offset all the character swapping and leveling you’ll potentially be doing is the experience distribution. The game doesn’t give those sitting out experience, but low level characters will catch up in a matter of a few fights, tops. This is the only hint I got that maybe, just maybe, they DID want us to experiment with different characters.

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Favorite boss design in the game.

I won’t say that Suikoden 2 is difficult, because it isn’t and if I did I’d be harassed with “N00B!” comments. But with that being said, the first boss fight was definitely a wake up call. Everything went from smooth sailing to “Okay maybe this game is serious!” Bosses in this game get multiple turns in a row, counters, and do crazy AoE damage. Sometimes, just for fun, they counter with an AoE attack then do it again on their turn before your characters get a chance to heal. Moral of the story: Never go into a boss fight without resting and getting spells back. You won’t make it long without high damaging runes and heal spells. Aside from the boss fights that actually require some thought and strategy, much of the battle system is a breeze.

The battle simulator fights, however, aren’t all that  great. Truthfully, it’s never been my thing to begin with. So I am a bit biased against them. I find the entire process cumbersome and boring. Half the time we wanted to let Apple do her own thing (This prompts the AI to handle the fighting for you) but she typically got units killed so we’d have to take matters into our own hands. Unlike other games of this nature, the player isn’t given a very clear picture of what their goal is. There were way, way too many hidden agendas and forced “Get your ass kicked by the enemies” for my liking.

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There is no HP meter either, you have to guess based on how many soldiers are left standing.

Don’t let fanboys with nostalgia vision try telling you about how unique the story in this game is, either. Sure, the over-arching plot doesn’t turn into “saving the world from an ultimate evil” like virtually every other JRPG in existence, but there’s plenty more JRPG tropes to go around: Silent protagonist? Check. Annoying characters that you just wanna kill tagging along for the entire journey? Check. Childhood best friend becoming your misled, angsty nemesis? Check. Traumatized child who refuses to speak until the dickbag she worships has his redeeming moment? Check. And that’s not even getting into all the watered down caricatures the characters are. There’s 108 of them, so it’s not like the writers really had any other choice.

As with most other old school JRPGs, the terrible translations make the entire experience more humorous than it probably should be. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Though I have no doubt she really said this!

All in all, Suikoden 2 is a worthy JRPG to take the time to play if you’re a fan of that genre like we are. Steve-O, the Suikoden veteran, gives it a two thumbs up. Suikoden 2 wasn’t masochistic and grind-y enough for our tastes, though…. So maybe we’ll do Earthbound Beginnings next to further torture ourselves!