Resident Evil 3: Nemesis – Playstation, Dreamcast, Game Cube, MS Windows

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I think I remember him…he sat behind me in 10th grade Geometry.

 

Hah…sweet. I got Resident Evil 3 out on Valentine’s Day.

Five full games into the series, and I’ve reached a limit for the number of buildings I can reasonably believe have self-destruct mechanisms. A top-secret laboratory working on unethical experiments, maybe. A mansion with a similar laboratory underneath? You’re pushing it, but I guess I’ll give you that one. A municipal water-treatment-slash-weapons-factory? Nope. Not even you, Umbrella. Hell, the FBI launches an investigation every time someone buys fertilizer in large quantities. How is it that a drug company can buy self-destruct detonators by what I can only assume is the gross and no one suspects a think until someone’s brain gets eaten?

Or am I wrong about this? Are self-destruct mechanisms common? Is my house not up to code without one? Does my school have one? Should I ask where the button is and run self-destruct drills with my students? What if I have to trigger it? How do I know what emergencies demand the destruction of my place of work?

…meh.

RE3 - Jill Fashion

I think Jill is looking to make herself a sandwich…preferably with Lara Croft.

Resident Evil 3 follows Jill Valentine after she ditched the uniform of a high-class Bond villain’s henchman and dressed in something more sporty, more casual, better suited for picking up dashing young Hispanic mercenaries in a lively night club currently burning to the ground and filled with the living dead. But oh, someone else has a crush on her—or at least wants to crush her—and this charming bachelor just won’t take “no” and a grenade to the crotch for an answer! Yes, Umbrella gave Hodor their new line of flesh-eating-bacteria shaving cream and sent him out the door. Meanwhile, there’s also Russian Guyovich Villainski, who broadcasts the fact that he’s evil so strongly that every TV in Racoon City is only picking up silent movies of men tying women to railroad tracks. Seriously, I thought we left the anti-Russian sentiments in the rubble of the Berlin Wall.

RE3 - Nemesis

And listen to the music of the night!

Aside from the simultaneous outbreaks of both the T-virus and G-virus, we learn that Nemesis is a new model of tyrant caused by the NE-T virus. There are so many letters running wild around town that I think it would be reasonable to assume that Umbrella’s stockholders are likewise the sponsors of Sesame Street. (Ever wonder about Cookie monster’s insatiable hunger? That’s right: the C-virus. Or why Claire Redfield sounds suspiciously like the star of the Big Comfy Couch? Right again: competition for children’s television can get fierce.)

Still, I’m beginning to question the wisdom behind Umbrella’s bioweapons. I know it seems like inflicting your own soldiers with plague-level infectious disease seems like a sure-fire way to victory, and Nemesis does seem unstoppable, but if you have to create ten thousand zombies just for the off chance of creating a tyrant or super-powered mad scientist, maybe take a moment and ask yourself if you weren’t just doing fine with traditional guns and bullets. And who thought that the best medium for this would be a viral infection? Not cyborg implants? Not genetic engineering? Your first thought was to make a bunch of people sick? Typical American pharmaceutical philosophy: there’s money to be made in prolonging the problem.

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I often feel like this when I go to work.

What? The gameplay? Fuck, it’s like every other Resident Evil game to this point. Except the zombies move a little quicker, Jill has figured out how to walk up stairs on her own, and Nemesis reaches velociraptor intelligence by learning how to open doors. Here, Capcom further stretches the definition of “Resident.” Maybe they realized that no one actually resides in a police station, so they decided to make up for that by using an entire city—albeit a city that, for whatever reason, seems to connect all its streets and alleyways with doorways. By RE5, they’ll just assume Africa counts as a place people reside, and by RE6 they just drop all pretense completely and decide we’re all residents of the entire planet.

Results:

5:10:42

Grade E

Seriously? I played on hard mode and got a lower score than ever before? I guess that’s what you get when you save before anything difficult and after anything unpleasant.

OneWord

Stars

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Resident Evil 2 – PS1, N64

 

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So…Birkin has an eye…in his shoulder. How does that work? Can he actually see out of his shoulder?

When I began this every-Resident-Evil project, I swear I honestly didn’t plan for it to line up this way! Still, while everyone is driving the sleek, new model of Resident Evil 2, complete with hybrid engine, GPS Navigation, MP3 Player, and back-seat jacuzzi, I’m still booting up my Playstation with a crank. Yeah, but following the pattern, I’ll do the remake next, right? Guess again, Kreskin! As a guy who devotes his time to retro games—and having started this blog after the announcement of the PS4—I still don’t have anything that can play the remake! But I’m working on it.

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Actual photo of me trying to start my PS2.

I don’t like playing on easy mode. According to my ten-year-old save files, I didn’t the last time. But for whatever reason, I couldn’t make it to the police station. The point of Resident Evil has always been to conserve ammo and avoid monsters, but when the game throws an undead football team—including their mascot—at you in a corridor about as wide as your average toilet stall before the game’s first healing item, it’s hard to limp to the end without ending up like a communal pig roast. Easy mode makes the game condescendingly pointless. You still have over 40 zombies and a licker before it stops bogarting the herbs, but you get to walk around like you’re hoping to supply an NRA convention with ammo.

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Oh, it’s simple. Just get by these six zombies with whatever’s left of the 30 bullets you started with and there’s an herb for you. Just nudge your way past them, right?

With four unique scenarios (that tell essentially the same story), Resident Evil 2 adds some interesting ideas to the series. There’s a surprising attention to detail. Claire carries her survival knife on her shoulder, but if you stash it in the item box—say, because it’s like fighting zombies with a toothpick—you can see that the sheath is empty. Although, since the knife takes up a precious spot in your inventory, I’d expect to see that sheath stuffed full of herbs or bullets or at least a grenade launcher. They also removed the auto-aim function . . .

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I know the writers are bad, but this is just downright lazy.

As usual, the writing is right up there with the likes of Shakespeare, Tolkien and the menu at McDonald’s. Leon chases around a hot Asian femme fatale that he just met in the worst unreciprocated crush since my junior year of high school, and Claire immediately drops her search for her brother to indulge her motherly instincts chasing around a ten-year-old girl. It always amused me how any random person wandering through the Umbrella labs could easily use scientific equipment, but RE2 tops all the other games by giving a ten-year-old a fluent knowledge of how to operate municipal water supply filtration plants.

As we’d see later in Resident Evil 3, this game introduces a giant terminator monster who chases you relentlessly throughout the map—unless, of course, you go through a door, in which case he’ll take a break for a little while. (Umbrella must be a deceptively progressive corporation if it allows its products to join their labor union.) You can stand and fight or prey on the eight-foot-tall monsters’ fear of messing up his snazzy bowler hat trying to fit through a door, or you can dump all your grenades into him until he passes out—it makes no difference. He’ll still be up and much healthier than he should be for a genetic freak literally powered by a virus.

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The always lovely Claire Redfield.

I might laugh at him for his inability to overcome the concept of a slab of wood with hinges, but every time you knock him down and rush off in search of the next shiny object, you pass up an excellent opportunity to saw off his head or set him on fire or something. Even worse is blasting the mad scientist a few times, then sitting back to watch him transform. Hey Leon, you know what might be a good idea? Taking down the giant, aggressive abomination while he’s currently undergoing a crippling physical transformation. (Ah, Dr. Birkin, I, too, had a difficult adolescence.) And it’s not just bosses! Silent Hill lets you go all American History X on the monsters, but in RE2, you can’t curb stomp them unless they start digging into you like a porterhouse steak.

Still, when one major boss shrugs off a terminator-style plunge into a vat of liquid steel like a lukewarm bubble bath, and another catches his second wind after a swift, heavy decomposition, it becomes clear that the primary symptom of the G-virus is a wicked case of plot-contingent immortality. Leon, Claire and the monster are all fine with pulling their punches until conditions are just right for a thrilling climactic showdown.

Leon A – Rank C, 3:46:46

Claire B – Rank D, 3:37:20

(How the hell did my rank fall?)

Claire A – D, 3:15:33

Leon B – D 3:08:44

“Ada, Wait!” – 6

Resident Evil – PS1, Sega Saturn, NDS

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You have to give it to Rebecca: she finds an underground industrial complex with sharks flopping around on the concrete and doesn’t even flinch.

In 2010, I worked as a tour guide for the Split-Rock Lighthouse in Minnesota. In the lighthouse keeper’s house, they kept an old typewriter with a little card saying, “Please don’t type on the typewriter.” Bored with my job and with no fucks left to give, one day I changed that card with one that said, “An old typewriter. If you had an ink ribbon, you could save your progress.”

However, despite what you’d think, the kind of person who gets their kicks slaughtering zombies and running around abandoned buildings collecting junk doesn’t really overlap much with the kind of person who wants to see phallic buildings with giant flashlights in the Minnesota wilderness. I even witnessed a mom read the card to a six-year-old girl without so much as a twinge of confusion, as though it made perfect sense given the context. I guess a lot of people just glaze over in any setting that’s even remotely educational.

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These crows have little tolerance for the unwashed masses who don’t appreciate art.

One of the big decisions I had in reviewing “every” Resident Evil game is just how many different versions of this game I’m willing to slog through in a row. Seriously, there’s the original, the directors cut, the directors cut Dual Shock Ver, the game cube remake, Resident Evil: Deadly Silence, as well as a battle version for the Sega Saturn. Apparently there was even a game boy color port in the works before Capcom realized that was pure fucking stupidity. So naturally the ROM leaked and plenty of fans were willing to pay a literal ransom in order to play a 32-bit game on an 8-bit system with a 166×144 display.

Short answer: I’ll post about the original and the Game Cube remake. I’ve done Deadly Silence already, and the others just don’t seem different enough not to drive me crazy with repetition.

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Chris shoots a plant, the prequil to Chris Punches a Rock

You have your choice of playable characters. Some of you know Chris Redfield from Resident Evil 5. It’s worth noting that before he was a hulked-out Call-of-Duty wanna-be who punched boulders, he was a terrible actor in an ill-fitting cop costume who shot plants. Jill, on the other hand, before adopting her femme fatal look for Resident Evil 3, went into life-and-death situations dressed like she was on loan from the French Foreign Legion. The major difference between them—which will become a trend in the world of Resident Evil—is that boys have more life, while girls have more pockets. You know: exactly the opposite of the real world.

re dc poe shoots plant

Seriously…you want me to shoot a plant?

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Fortunately, launching itself head-first through the window gave it a concussion, and he’s rather easy to avoid after that.

Resident Evil is just an escape room where you get to shoot things. Focus is less on combat, more on conserving bullets while you solve puzzles to proceed. It is frustrating at times that, by the game’s logic, a grenade launcher and an herb both take up the same amount of space in your pockets, but I think to how many things slide out of my grip when I’m just walking from the couch to the kitchen. I suppose I don’t really need to leave a trail of junk that I’ve tried to stuff in my pockets to feed my kleptomania. On those occasions when one must do battle with a monster, I doubt they’d wait for me just a minute while I pick something up.

Final Score:

Jill – 5:47
You’d think for as many times as I played this game, I wouldn’t suck quite so much.

Chris – 4:20 “What a tough guy! You’ve closed this case completely!”
God, even the congratulatory text somehow manages to come across as a terrible actor.

Xenogears – PS1

 

Xeno9

…one of the minor enemies, actually.

The pathology of an independent, freelance game critic such as myself is not unlike the madman who plunges head-first into human waste hoping that, unlike the last two-dozen piles of excrement, there might be something good inside. I generally prefer to think of it like the Shawshank Redemption, that someday I’ll emerge victorious and stand triumphantly cheering in the rain as I taste the sweet, longed-for joys of pure freedom; unfortunately, I’ll have to swim through a lot of shit to get there. I don’t know. Maybe making a habit of criticizing games just teaches me to look for the negative, or maybe having just a modicum of disposable income and enough tech skills to emulate just about anything I can’t afford has piled up the shitty games that look interesting at first glance. Fortunately, every so often there’s a game that, even after two decades of play, still does everything right. A game so well-conceived that it’s almost depressing how fucking awesome it is. A story so strong it empowers you, makes you feel invincible. “Yes!” you cry to the heavens. “I am important! I have made contact with the divine and thrown the yokes and shackles of an oppressive deity from the shoulders of mankind, and thanks to me the world will at long last know the true release of tension and live its days in glorious peace. Now I have to shut off the Playstation, look for my unemployment check, and then go watch the dog take a shit in the back yard so I can pick it up with my hand.”

Xeno6Xenogears is, quite frankly, the best game ever made, and there is a special place in Hell, where you’re forced to play Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde until the end of eternity, reserved for any of you who disagree with me. How’s that for being completely objective, non-judgmental and totally writing without any preconceived notions whatsoever?

Xeno8

Have you considered, maybe, joining the circus?

Most often cited as Xenogears’ biggest flaw is its story, said to be convoluted, harder to follow than a GPS unit set to the “down syndrome” voice, and denser than the impacted bowel of a neutron star. All those grievances are…well, I’ll give it this much; it’s not the way we usually tell stories in video games. Even some of the best told stories necessarily take a back seat to gameplay. That’s why the vast majority of games fall into the fantasy genre, where questing allows both plot an character to take a direct route through the vilest, stinkiest dens of monsters in order to carry out interspecies genocide in the name of personal growth and development. If you instead want to steer your heroes through populated areas to examine mundane desires and struggles of a broken society under the oppression of the powerful, you might have to reign in those violent instincts lest we start to notice your characters’ party tends to look like boys’ night out with Joseph Stalin, Genghis Kahn and Hannibal Lecter.

Xenogears attempts just that. Our main character, Fei, starts the game with nothing but his God-given amnesia trope and the personality of a gladiola. When a centuries-old war crash lands in his village (after somehow avoiding it for five hundred years), he gets into an abandoned mech (called “gears” in this world), and in trying to protect everyone accidentally inflicts collateral damage that slaughters 95% of the population. Oops. Anyway, he spontaneously decides to take a short hiatus from living in the village, and begins to travel the world, exercising more care about where and when he participates in battle. Problem is, he attracts trouble like Scooby Doo attracts asshole cosplayers, not to mention he discovers that a hidden nation of elites ruled by an oligarchy of old men with strong self-interests and an inept figurehead of executive power is manipulating world events through the use of their over-inflated military. Oh, I know what you’re thinking, though…they don’t represent the United States because their de facto leader is a brilliant physicist who specializes in life-extending nanoengineering, while our de facto leader is a clown that wants you to supersize your french fries.

Xeno5

Why does God look like someone drew a face on the Thanksgiving turkey?

Anyway, the story does weave together about a dozen plots, complete with several factions of villains who all strive for their own personal goals. In short, we see people struggling to live and find meaning in life across the world, only for the villain to resurrect a God who has literally been farming us because he was hurt 10,000 years ago and has to harvest a shit ton of organs. So the hero, who has both to discover the reason why his personality is as developed as a hydrangea and to embrace some weird, Freudian mommy issues, now has to fight that god just to restore meaning to the lives of the game’s survivors. Almost all characters affect the plot in one way or another. Villains have noble ambitions and human emotions, while heroes make mistakes and succumb to temptations. It’s a moving story, deeply human, beautifully written, and translated with as much care as a lemur with a hangover and access to Google translate. The language is more distracting than a bikini courtroom, but I don’t think this necessarily counts as a strike against the game. Rather, I think it’s strong support for a remake. The game has one of the most amazing end-credits songs I’ve ever heard, and I think Square-Enix ought to upgrade its translation from “hungover lemur” to something a little higher up on the intelligence scale, like “stoned cocker spaniel” or maybe “pig that isn’t so sure that was really a truffle anymore.”

Xeno1

If I had a dollar for every time someone told me that…

Also a point in the “needs a remake” category, the game’s second disc plays like you were running out of time before the test, so Square had to rush through the Spark Notes before class started. Granted, there is something strangely Shakespearean about seeing characters act out vital scenes against a black stage and a poorly drawn backdrop, but the finer plot points about a planet in turmoil over the resurrection of an unfeeling God probably require a little more nuance and development than your average Elizabethan dick joke. And when entire dungeons are swept over in just a few lines of dialogue, the game ends like a customer service transaction from Wells Fargo—you’re more than just a little confused, but pretty sure that it owes you something it’s not planning on giving you.

Like any good RPG, the actual game is played out through hundreds upon hundreds of repetitive battles. Here, Xenogears is…eh. It’s okay. Not great. But okay. They’ve got a system where rather than enter the “fight” command a half a million times until the game ends, you mix up weak, medium, and strong attacks until your action points run out. Really, it doesn’t matter what you throw at 90% of the enemies—all you’re doing is teaching characters special deathblow combos or simply using the combos. I guess it’s better than your typical RPG. Magic in Xenogears is very much like a bedpan: it has some creative applications, but you’ll probably never want to use it unless you’re healing.

Xeno3Xenogears also employs a secondary battle system for gear fights. Rather than using up AP over a single turn, gears are fueled up and slowly deplete this fuel over the course of a dungeon. They can sacrifice a turn in battle to charge a small amount, which somehow is a feature they can’t use outside of battle. It’s like if you could only recharge your phone one percent at a time while in your car, idling in the fast lane of the freeway (functionality which I hear is coming in the next model iPhone). Gear battles take a little more thought than character battles since you can’t level-up your mechs. So just to lay this out here, your gear can only charge when its being attacked, it can fly in cut scenes but can’t reach a treasure box on the top shelf when under your control, but Squaresoft drew the line at a robot getting stronger through experience points. That somehow would have shattered suspension of disbelief? Meh. Whatever. The gear battles are difficult because you’re limited to the upgrades you can purchase in shops and three equipment slots, but once you lose to a major boss, you know what attacks to prep for and can equip your gear properly. The only downside is it requires you to either play through the game once or, you know…die…in order to have a decent shot at winning.

But quite honestly, any of the games combat flaws slide by virtually unnoticed because of how fluid and compelling the story is. So let’s get on it, Square. Time for a remake already!

Mega Man X4 – Playstation, Sega Saturn (PS2 and Game Cube as part of Mega Man X Collection)

Mega Man X4 (USA)-180303-224651

Let’s add “fire-bot and ice-bot” in same lineup to the list of things Sigma probably should stop doing.

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Why, praytell, would a robot need shapely breasts? Unless that’s a special place to store her double-D cell batteries, I’d say the real drama behind the X series is the use of sexbots, hereafter known as “sexploids.”

I haven’t reviewed many Mega Man games, even though I talk about them I’m bringing up an old flame to make the games I do play frequently jealous. Truth is, they’re wonderful, but a little difficult to write about. For the purposes of a humor blog, the games are comic gold. Dr. Wiley, one of the most brilliant minds of all time, has a distinct recipe for his schemes—build a team of eight robots, each with a rock-paper-scissors Achilles heel that will rip each other open like a pinata in a batting cage—and he refuses to deviate from that plan for fear of breaking his streak of inevitable failure. A hundred years later, the ultimate reploid Sigma shows a sense of learning from history rivaled only by the United States Congress, and launches his wars against X using the exact same tactics. Still, writing these blog entries entirely with the copy-paste keyboard shortcut feels a bit like cheating, hence the reason I’ve avoided most Mega Man games.

Mega Man X4 (USA)-180303-233149

No, no. It’s totally reasonable that you want to build a ten-meter tall robot with giant hulk hands out of solid gold. Aren’t the practical applications obvious? Oh, wait! Let’s make him fly!

Mega Man X4 tackles the familiar formula with the free thought, creativity, and the deviance of an 80-year-old woman attending mass on a Tuesday morning. The game opens with a cut scene introducing Repliforce, an organized militia of Reploids designed to hunt Mavericks. Perhaps if you live in a world where reploids tend to turn maverick and become threats to humanity, it might not be wise to let them unionize. In the first stage, Sigma hijacks some Repliforce soldiers, pulls a false flag attack on the Sky Lagoon. Again, I have to question the wisdom of the people who welded a handful of battleships together and suspended them over an inhabited city like an anvil over Wile E. Coyote’s head, but perhaps in the future, Congress has passed some sort of MacGuffin Act to move plots along expediently. The Repliforce Colonel shows up in the wake of the attack and decides that rather than disarm and sort out the confusion with reason, diplomacy and grace, he’ll spit out some NRA “cold dead hands” vitriol, thus dooming the entire Repliforce to be branded as Mavericks. Even so, the General decides to peacefully take his army off-planet to found his own colony where they may live in peace, stressing that such an act is neither about rebellion nor insurrection against the humans. So naturally, the maverick hunters do the only logical thing and hunt them down to wreak bloody, bloody justice on their rusting corpses.

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X gets this weapon after beating Grady in the Overlook Hotel.

That is, for those of you keeping score, more story than in the entirety of the classic Mega Man series, and also a wonderful justification for never having attempted anything more in-depth than “mad scientist steals robots, programs for evil, hides in castle.” Fortunately, it doesn’t have to have a strong story; it has to be a good game. And Capcom sticks to its Mega Busters on this one, with the tried-and-true formula of an octet of rampaging robots running weaponry hardware that is 100% compatible with X’s systems. You’d think they’d learn and switch from Mac to Linux. It might run a little more successfully, cost less, and at the very least force X to program his own drivers. I suppose they could switch to Windows, but X would have to read the EULA before each boss fight, and they’d only get one or two good shots on him before crashing and needing a hard reboot.

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Zero got this technique after defeating my garage roof in February.

X4 adds its own unique touch on the formula, though. Rather than having Zero make cameo appearances as a playable character, the player can choose to play through the whole game as either X or Zero. X does his normal routine, blasting his way through an army of small robots who, I don’t think we’ve ever established, may or may not be sentient, and also searching for the upgrade capsules that Dr. Light spread around the planet like his own Gap chain. Zero, however, functions differently. Rather than gaining mobility through capsules and weapons from enemies, each maverick defeated augments either abilities slightly through the use of special moves. It’s amazing how such a minor change can make it feel like X4 is essentially two games, with the same bosses requiring different weaknesses to beat, some becoming easier and others harder, and level order requiring new strategies and opening new possibilities. In this, X4 introduces a brilliant new feature to the series that cracks the series formula wide open, adding layers of depth to the old formula heading into the future! So naturally, Capcom never did this again.

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Dying reploids look an awful lot like a spyrograph design.

Lunar 2 Eternal Blue Complete – PS1

L2 Cover
Well the past few months have definitely proven educational. Here I have a brand-new fantasy novel fine-tuned for readers, ready to go out to agents for the first step in the publication process, and what type of fortune and glory do I discover? I’d have more volunteers to test the stuff fermenting in my cat’s litter box than to read my latest fantasy-adventure epic. I’d say that being an author makes me feel like dating in high school again, but damn…by the time I was seventeen even I met a girl who let me touch her tits. Funny, now that I’m not trying to get laid, I end up getting rejected more often than a drunken hobo with eczema offering women the last swig of his whiskey if they’ll touch his penis. So…here I return to say moderately witty things about video games, where I can at least pretend than the handful of people who have liked random articles are actually regular readers and not just trying to draw traffic to their own blogs.

[sigh…anyone want the last swig of my whiskey in exchange for publishing my book?]

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Jean is going to combat the Goblin King with a little Dance Magic Dance.

So here we go…Lunar 2: Eternal Blue. It figures that a game set on the moon would be totally eclipsed by its predecessor. Lunar: the Silver Star Story Complete, as I’ve said before, is like a magic mushroom trip in video game form: a rush of pretty sounds and colors, creative ideas, a sense that you’re doing something important, and a total euphoria culminating in the feeling that even though it lasts about 26 hours, it ended way too early. Well, fortunately Working Designs found a way to remedy that feeling of disappointment coming down from the final boss fight: requiring an additional five more hours of gameplay to get the good ending!

L2 Ghaleon

…because otherwise everyone’s going to write off the game as a crappy sequel and we won’t get any installment but Dragonsong for the next twenty years.

Quite honestly, I’m on the fence about how to describe that; either it’s like some sort of customer loyalty program throwing in a free tenth dungeon for every nine that I clear, or it’s a Nigerian Prince who ran into some unexpected red tape while trying to wire me my dear Uncle Mtumbo’s inheritance, and just needs me to crawl through a few extra dungeons before that money finally shows up. I think it all comes down to the battle system. In the first game, battles were semi-tactical. The player had to account for enemy formations, weaknesses, and the ranges and zones of their own attacks. MP had to be conserved, but if you played it right you could easily spend your way through battles and still have a little leftover to save for some rainy day boss fight. Most RPG battles tend to be so repetitive they could simulate what it’s like to have autism, but the Silver Star Story takes great pains to avoid that. Eternal Blue, on the other hand…well, you may want to avoid loud noises and watch out for antivaxxers, because Working Designs threw all that careful planning out the window. For most fights, the best option you have is just to mash the attack button like you’re trying to get an elevator door to close.

L2 Lucia

This is why you don’t see a lot of Lunar cosplayers.

I mean, I guess it’s worth playing. I did, after all, play through the bonus dungeons to get the good ending, but honestly when the girl decides to dump the hero in favor of chilling out for a few thousand years on a planet sterilized by a magical nuclear apocalypse…well, it triggers flashbacks from high school, so naturally I’m not too inclined to leave it at that. But my guess is that, while the Silver Star Story was revised and fine-tuned with love and care until it was perfect, Eternal Blue was spit-shined, wrapped in plastic, and hastily chucked on the next truck heading out for Walmart. But hell, what would Working Designs know about revision? It’s only literally what their name means.

L2 Hiro

A hero named Hiro. The most original idea since spelling Dracula’s name backwards.

Also…a general note for creative minds everywhere…stop naming heroes “Hiro.” Yes, the Japanese name sounds an awful lot like the English word “hero.” That being said, it is not insightful, funny or clever to christen your protagonist thusly. It is nothing more than a bad pun. A dad joke. It makes your story less classy than a Carrot Top comedy routine.

Silent Hill – PS1

SH What is it

It’s a Western deity worshipped by over 2 billion people.

One of the unfortunate byproducts of writing humor is that often times, I have a tendency to shout out scathing remarks which your average high school student would follow up with, “What? I’m just telling the truth.” However, there’s a limit for mean, a point where the fruit of ridicule hangs so low that it’s slowly cooked by the geothermal heat of the earth’s crust, the kind of mean-spirited taunting usually reserved for major GOP candidates who feel that those poverty-stricken, unemployed, single teen moms have it too good and ought to be taken down a peg. And such is my problem with Silent Hill. After glancing at my notes and realizing that I’ve just copied lines of dialogue verbatim, I can’t help but feel a bit sleazy for going after the video game version of that girl who wanders around a frat party in various stages of undress loudly repeating “I’m so hammered!” in hopes that someone will take her to bed to fix all her self-esteem and daddy issues. I know the game was popular when it came out, but Silent Hill has aged so poorly that it has a permanent spot in the back of the fridge because you’d rather let its primordial soup run its course than get near it to clean it out. But, damn it! I swear I’m going to keep writing these things until someone gives me a job writing comedy, so…on with the show!

SH Boomstick

Where’s a boomstick when you need one?

Harry Mason is your standard survival horror everyman with a personality slightly less impressive than an avocado. He comes to Silent Hill for vacation-slash-finding-his-missing-daughter, but after getting lost in an alley designed by Pac Man, three sloth monsters try to stab him to death. He wakes up in a cafe with the NRA’s wet dream: a 22-year-old police girl who tosses Harry a gun without so much as a perfunctory “Are you a criminal?” She merely leaves him with the instructions, “Don’t shoot me” (indicating the near certainty that she’ll become a boss fight) and “Know what you’re shooting before you pull the trigger.” Three seconds later, an unidentifiable monster attacks and Harry blasts it without thinking, much less a scientific analysis of its genus and species. And thus begins a long and rambling plot full of unexplained events and vague motivations in which Harry spends more time chasing after a cult than looking for his daughter.

Let me get this out of the way; I liked the game. I enjoyed playing it in that way that you sometimes can’t stop fantasizing about girls your brain tells you are unattractive. And in the end, fun gameplay is what counts. But don’t get me wrong—my brain was telling me this game is very unattractive. Something about a fun game that has a character utter the phrase, “Rather than shifting from reality to nightmare, it feels like reality is becoming the nightmare,” creates a mental friction not unlike receiving a hand job from a belt sander. Half the time the game doesn’t trust players to have any sort of thought process running, forcing Harry to narrate out loud and shout out “What is that?” (or another favorite, “Cheryl?”) at so many obvious objects and events that turning it into a drinking game would prove fatal after thirty minutes of game play. I also noticed that the dialogue often spends copious amounts of time reiterating simple ideas. Here’s a line from the script:

This may sound really off the wall, but listen to me. You’ve got to believe me. I haven’t gone crazy and I’m not fooling around. At first, I thought I was losing my mind. But now I know I’m not. It’s not me.

Midvale

Harry Mason, ca. 1982

I honestly can’t tell what’s more off-putting: when a character gets stuck in a loop and you have to give them a good whack to move on to the next thought, or listening to the voice actors say things like, “Devoured by darkness” and “My daughter is missing” with all the passion of a geometry lecture delivered by a narcoleptic. And the other half of the time, the writers rely on the fact that the player’s brain has a shorter draw distance than the town. Early on, Harry finds a scrap of paper with the words “to school” scrawled in Crayola, and like the junior Scooby Doo detective that he is, assumes that Cheryl has simply ditched him to hang out at the school in a strange town. I like to picture this guy in the same graduating class as Rick Grimes and the guy from Heavy Rain.

No Dog

But Cheryl could be in there. Or Carl. Jason? Janet? Brad? Janet? Dr. Scott? Rocky?

Game play is all right, I guess. Not exactly a stunning endorsement, I know,. But being one of the early balls to explode forth from the canon of survival horror, I can’t really fault them for abiding by things that weren’t tropes yet when the game came out. You wander through an environment full of obstructions, trying to find multiple keys for single doors which the owners have cleverly scattered halfway across town in some drunken fit of reverse-kleptomania. You solve puzzles. You dodge and fight monsters. The control scheme offers the greatest challenge though, as not only was “Push the direction you want to move” as terrifying, foreign and quite obviously much easier to use as the metric system, the tank controls would glitch out every so often, making it impossible for Harry to step around and avoid monsters. The one saving grace is that it was often rather fun to build up a head of steam and then ram Harry into immobile objects for the satisfying “thwack” it would make, even if I did do this accidentally while being chased, leading to several eviscerations.

I’ve always thought Silent Hill puzzles were a bit contrived. My first time playing Silent Hill 2, I had spent a good half hour whacking monsters with a stick with a nail in it, but then I came to a key that was just out of reach beyond a barred doorway. Oh, if only I had some long, hooked tool that might be able to extend my reach! Woe is me! In the original, I picked up an axe halfway through the game, but still needed keys to get through wooden doors for some reason.

SH - Sloths

Harry faces down one of the seven deadly sins.

One of the bigger annoyances are the sloth monsters encountered in the school level. Despite the fact that you’ll find more bullets than textbooks, there’s absolutely no reason to use them as the sloths are invincible. Personally, I find that this defeats the main decision that makes survival horror fun to play—do you want to eliminate monsters permanently, or conserve ammo and risk a mad dash around the enemy every time? Silent Hill’s school makes that decision for you. Shooting them incapacitates them briefly, but three bullets to the face don’t affect them any more than the recoil of the gun does to Harry, so while he stands there waiting for his pants to dry, the sloths grab on to your legs like murderous toddlers looking for a ride. Not surprisingly, the monsters are actually supposed to be children, but censors felt that in a game littered with corpses and stocked full of monsters, cultists and blood, the idea of killing a violent hell-spawned creature of evil and darkness crossed a line, so long as said demon was only a meter tall.

SH Corpse

Oh! Thank god it’s not a kid. Otherwise this might have been tragic and gruesome.

But the game is tolerable, if not good. I had originally planned some jokes about Harry breathing like an obscene phone call when he’s wounded, and how the fog filling the town made it seem like the design team based their whole concept on the game having a low draw-distance. However, not having a life meter is one of the things that contributes to the uncertainty of survival horror (challenging when you think your health items are best spent), and upon reading that the design team introduced the fog for exactly that reason, I started thinking of it as a rather clever solution to a problem. Furthermore, Silent Hill moved away from horror based on jump scares and other things that make people like Markiplier scream like a drunken frat boy overstimulated by a football game. Even considering the control issues and the fact that tutorial tips display when loading after a game over—you know, approximately ten seconds after they would have been useful—I thought the challenge was well-balanced.

Don’t ask me about the weird Animal House style dance video they play after the credits, though. That’s probably the scariest thing about the game.