There is a lot to say about Nier Automata; it is a game which attempts to cover numerous massive themes, and is generally successful at it. I almost feel that in entering it expecting something in-depth, however, my initial experience was diminished by a subconscious hunt for things which were wrong, things which would give some clue to what I was going to experience. In doing this I think I missed a lot of the less subtle things in it, or did not give them due significance. There are subtle clues and wrongnesses throughout a first playthrough of the game, but they pale in comparison to the massive, unsubtle ones.
Note: This article discusses the mechanics and sidequests of Nier Automata.
There is a good setting, and indeed a good story, hiding in the back third of Horizon Zero Dawn. The first two-thirds make reaching that excellent payoff perhaps a little too frustrating, but at the same time I am not entirely sure how I would have presented it differently. The game spends hours presenting a hostile, superstitious and often annoying world which genuinely feels like the sort of tribalistic society that would emerge in a post-apocalyptic world, but at the same time it plays so heavily on how regressive the world is it becomes difficult – from perspective of the protagonist, and by extension the player – to forgive them enough to save them.
Note: This review also talks about the plot of Turn-A Gundam, as well as discussing details of the story of Horizon: Zero Dawn.
Brent Spivey’s skirmish wargame Rogue Planet plays like the much-loved Games Workshop RPG/miniatures game hybrid Inquisitor; it has similar systems of random activation counts and a focus on interactions with terrain and inventive skill use. It is different in fundamental ways mechanically, but the intent – bringing together the freer mechanics of role-playing games and the structure and campaign advancement of a miniatures skirmish game. It will not stand as a direct competitor to something like Necromunda, as the focus is not on highly granular combat and strict rules (insofar as Necromunda’s rules were strict), but it offers an attempt to emulate, as any niche wargame should, a specific kind of skirmish combat.
Writing the background for this army took significantly longer than the more comparatively cursory unit descriptions my Northern forces received. I came into possession of the Duellist’s Handbook, Southern Republic Army List and Southern Field Guide before writing this and so decided, as is my way, that if I was going to do this it was going to be done properly.
The immediate problem came from the fact I had just bought two Fer de Lances, and the Southern Republic Army List claimed on page 146 that only “a few dozen” of these Gears were in service, and “it is a capital offence for it to be used by any other Republican unit”. Thus I had to make a few adjustments to the background and came up with the Fer de Lance Beta (which is probably not strictly fluff-accurate, but sidesteps more awkward questions).
The only other major background howler I can think of is the move away from strict 5-Gear Cadres (something that the newest edition of the game rules and my choice of unit loadouts does not make particularly easy to do thematically).
As I mentioned in my previous post, my current miniatures wargaming project is nearing completion but still has several models unfinished. As I finished a key part of the army, the Kodiak Gear pictured above, I decided it was good material for a little longer piece of backstory, detailing exactly how awkward a malfunctioning and uncalibrated mech could be for a unit…
In my longer review of Mirror’s Edge Catalyst I talked about how it was an ultimately anemic attempt at an activist piece of science-fiction; it failed to consider its liberal message on a level beyond what seemed to me to be the superficial. This was primarily a result of its creation of a bland dichotomy between terrorists on one end (who believed and exposited at great length that tacit acceptance of inequality made people a fair target for being killed in the name of the cause) and a peaceful progressive movement that seemed mostly to exist to make the protagonist appear to have agency. There was never a proper sense of struggle; the status quo seemed to be set up purely to hinge on the protagonist – and thus the player’s – actions.
Note: This article discusses in close detail the story of Mirror’s Edge Catalyst.
Mirror’s Edge Catalyst is a game I was eagerly looking forward to playing for no reason other than the flawed original’s immensely enjoyable gameplay; the first game offered something interesting and different, a first-person acrobatic platforming game which offered minimal combat. It was not perfect, and felt underdeveloped, but the sequel seemed to offer a fuller and more developed experience. I am thoroughly enjoying Catalyst as a game; its mechanics are more polished, it has a large amount of missions to complete and its aesthetics are excellent (and Solar Fields’ soundtrack, readily available to purchase online, is well worth buying for any fans of ambient music). But it is a game I am enjoying despite a lot of flaws; while there is a well-made game there, it is dressed up in a lot of superfluous and questionable design decisions.
Note: This review discusses in some detail the plot of Mirror’s Edge Catalyst.
As I come to the end of playing a campaign of Pandemic Legacy, I feel it is time to review the game; it is the first “Legacy” or permanent campaign-based game of its kind I have really played (apart technically from Time Stories and Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective, which have a similar limited-plays nature but are a series of discrete missions to complete one at a time rather than a narrative campaign), and I was interested to see if it was as good as the reviews suggested. I have always had reservations about the idea of a board game with limited opportunities to be played, but I entered the campaign with an open mind.
Now the campaign is all but complete, I have thought about what I made of the experience; I enjoyed the game a lot, but at the same time a number of issues meant I never felt it was a truly great game. The potential is there for the Legacy boardgame model to do interesting things (although I still feel much of the design space it opens could be replicated with non-destructive alternatives such as apps), and I am eager to see how later games develop the ideas seen in Pandemic Legacy‘s first “season.”
Note: This review will discuss the development of the Pandemic Legacy Season 1 campaign, including details of hidden information and scenarios.
Official Trails of Cold Steel art, Artist: Enami Katsumi
Note: This article discusses in detail plot events from Trails in the Sky and Trails of Cold Steel
In my previous article about Trails of Cold Steel 2 I mentioned how its story seemed to be a safe, comfortable sort of power fantasy at odds with how the characters described their affiliation and intentions; the player spends much of the game gathering allies for various missions in a manner similar to Mass Effect 2 and games in its vein. Each location liberated gives a new set of goals and allies to find, and the aim is to recruit a strong force for the ultimate recapture of the hero’s school, currently occupied by enemy forces. This in its own right is a good example of how the game’s narrative logic falls squarely into adolescent power fantasy; the primary objective for what rapidly becomes an immensely powerful paramilitary force is recapturing a school of symbolic, if not strategic, value. This is in service to a larger goal – trying to convince an enemy soldier who personally wronged and abandoned the heroes to return to the fold. To this end the player takes part in military operations of ever-increasing scope which call into question the “neutrality” which the characters keep referring to.
Official Trails of Cold Steel 2 art, Artist: Enami Katsumi
Currently I am playing Trails of Cold Steel 2, which picks up directly from a significant cliffhanger in the same way Trails in the Sky did; it begins with the cast divided, the enemy holding the upper hand and the situation generally bad except certain fundamental details of scale are different, which puts a very different tone on it and one that makes the whole “message” of the story different. It builds on a different set of pop-culture references, evoking more the “magical high school” kind of anime story rather than the easygoing pastoral fantasy Sky built on and so focuses on a cast of truly exceptional, highly-specialised heroes who fill various expected role of that sort of ensemble. Certain decisions in the sequel double down on this, taking the story outside of its initial high-school setting, which create some interesting questions about the story. As it stands I have yet to finish the game, but am some significant time into it, and this article reflects my initial thoughts on where Cold Steel stands as a series narratively.
Note: This article deals directly with story details of Trails of Cold Steel 1 and 2, as well as referring to Trails in the Sky