I have spent my life being told lies like “technology will make life better, easier, and more convenient”. Hardware manufacturers have spent years telling me crap like “you have to pay extra for online services so we can provide the best user experience”. Yet looking back through the years, I’m of the opinion that in many ways things are worse now than they were when I was a kid. Rather than spend an eternity looking at every relevant topic in this discussion, let’s just look at the one most relevant this week. I’m of course talking about game demos.
This past week was Gamescom. I like Gamescom. I think it’s a good concept. Much better than E3 in my opinion. It’s open to the public. It’s not nearly as focused on press conferences. Actual gameplay footage and demos are a much bigger focus at this show. I have beef though. My problem isn’t actually with Gamescom. It’s with the fact that I’m expected to travel all the way to Germany just to play a 10 minute game demo for games that are coming out less than a year from now. Back in the day, this was totally unacceptable. If you grew up in the pre-online gaming era, you remember how hard it was to distribute game demos. You had to go to a local store to try games. Or you had to buy a game and they attached a disc with other demos on it. Or stores gave out demo discs. Some magazine subscriptions came with demo discs for you to try. All of these methods were troublesome, inconvenient, and costly for publishers. And yet they did them, a majority of the time. Very few AAA titles were released back in the day without a demo being available somewhere. The prospect of asking people to pay $50+ dollars for a game without them being able to try it first was laughable. No one was that stupid. Now we’re all that stupid and games cost more (when you factor in DLC and special editions).
There’s no excuse for every game not to have a playable demo in 2018. Especially every AAA game. We have the technology. They can do timed beta tests that last only a matter of hours all conducted digitally. They can patch your games and change things about them while you’re playing other games. So someone please explain to me why I have to fly all the way to Germany to try out Devil May Cry V. There were countless games shown at Gamescom for multiple platforms with fully playable demos. They could release just what was shown as playable for Cyberpunk 2077 and people would pay for it. That beta footage looked better than many games released this year. So why couldn’t I play it from my house on my PC or PS4? I’m not saying just leave it out there indefinitely. But there’s no legitimate reason why they couldn’t have released a timed beta demo for the length of Gamescom for many of the games shown.
Where we’re at technologically is way ahead of where we’re at logistically. Spider-Man is out less than two weeks from today. It’s been gold since late July. Why isn’t there a demo? We have the technology and have for more than a generation. Yet demos are rarer today than they ever have been. Betas might be more plentiful, but that’s not the same thing and really only applies to online multiplayer games in a majority of cases. There’s no excuse for it. Consumers have a right to try software before they pay $60+ dollars for it. Yet all major platforms no longer provide demos for AAA games most of the time. Steam has the two hour return policy, so you can kind of demo anything, which is great. But that’s not officially a demo. And it doesn’t help console players at all.
Now there are of course some valid arguments about why a studio wouldn’t release beta content to the public. But in my book it’s hypocritical to let anyone play demos of a game at that point. Why does being press or having the money to travel to Germany magically make a person more worthy of playing incomplete game demos? Don’t let anyone outside the company play them if they aren’t ready to be played by the public. At least that would be fair. The current system is full of unfair bias while ignoring the technological capabilities we’ve had available for at least two gens of gaming.
I don’t blame studios/publishers though. I mean it’s definitely their fault, but we’re just as much to blame. When it was least convenient to distribute demos, we got them for most games. Now when it’s most convenient to distribute them, and moderate them as well, we get fewer than we’ve gotten since like the SNES. We let that happen. We allowed companies to stop putting out demos. I remember about half way through the PS3 era when I started noticing that AAA demos were becoming noticeably rarer. And very few people were talking about it. The public just let it happen, like we always do with gaming industry bullshit. We should have been more diligent.
I want to see shows like Gamescom, Tokyo Gameshow, and E3 become more interactive for the public not in attendance. Any demo that’s available for the public to try at these shows should also be made available to the public at home for the duration of the show. I shouldn’t have to watch some asshole at (insert your least or most favorite gaming journalist firm here) play a game in order for me to make a buying decision. Let me test drive the car for myself, like we always did back in the day. It’s time consumers stop complaining about bullshit that doesn’t matter and exercise our power for things that actually make sense to complain about. This is one of those things that actually matters.
Here’s a list of just some of the demos we should have gotten to play last week or earlier, all of which will be released in less than a year.
This past weekend, I finally finished the main story of Nioh. It took me just over 70 hours to complete. I am not finished with the game because there are several post-game missions, an entire new class of items you unlock by finishing the main story, a new game plus mode (which I probably don’t have time to play), and a number of DLC missions, which I do plan on completing. I have to say that this was an excellent game. I have some complaints, which is true for every game I’ve ever played, but overall Nioh was quite the positive gaming experience.
I played both the alpha and beta of the game, but didn’t get around to actually playing it till they had already announced the sequel, which was the main reason I finally got my ass in gear with this one. What I find interesting is that many people I’ve spoken to aren’t fans of Nioh because of their relationship with Dark Souls. I understand but don’t agree with this point of view. First, because the games really are quite different in many respects. And second, because Dark Souls I & II (still haven’t gotten around to III) are no more or less flawed than Nioh. All three of these games, and Bloodborne, all have their own issues which are subjective design choices that some people will like and others will hate, while many won’t care one way or the other. So rather than write a straight review of Nioh, I thought it would be more useful to write a comparison of Nioh to Dark Souls with a focus on some key design choices/differences between the two franchises.
People tend to differentiate Dark Souls from Bloodborne because of the combat pacing/style. Dark Souls is seen as the slower more defense focused game that relies heavily on technique and strategy. While Bloodborne is seen as the faster paced more offense focused game that relies more on real time skill and reaction. Having played both games, I can agree with this assessment on some level. I tend to prefer Dark Souls, which is interesting because I hate blocking in games generally. What I like about Nioh is that it allows the player a lot more differentiation while still keeping it really simple, when it comes to combat. Dark Souls offers you 22 different weapon types with various weapons in each category, but they’re all fairly similar, with the exception of magic. It’s one handed short weapons or two handed great weapons, plus bows for ranged attacks. The combat is focused much more on stats than actual weapon performance other than one handed vs two handed. But you do have a fair amount of control over the pacing of combat between those two differentiations, not to mention you have the option to play with or without a shield. You also have to take weight into account when playing Dark Souls and it has a huge effect on gameplay.
Bloodborne is less varied in specific weapon options with only a single version of each type of weapon, but each of the 15 weapon types is fairly different plus there are 11 different secondary weapons to choose from. You are afforded a lot more variation among the Bloodborne weapons, but the pacing of combat is very similar for all weapon types. Add this to the fact that there are no shields in Bloodborne and weight doesn’t have to be accounted for and you have a very fast paced, but less varied gameplay experience than Dark Souls.
The problem with both Dark Souls and Bloodborne, when it comes to combat, is you have a lot of choices, but few options. Ranged attacks and magic aside, Dark Souls really just comes down to one handed vs two handed weapons, shield or no shield in the case of choosing one handed, and weight class, which affects agility. Bloodborne is similar in making you choose between one handed and two handed combat, but it gives the player the option of using any weapon in either way and allows you to change in real time. But with the lack of weight and similar style the weapons carry, you can pretty much commit to a play style early on and ride it out the whole game. For instance, I used two handed axe for probably 85% of the game.
Nioh takes a much different approach to combat differentiation than either Dark Souls or Bloodborne. While those two franchises approach the issue from the style of traditional action games, Nioh is more similar to a JRPG. Rather than bogging you down with tons of weapon types, there are only six: katana, axe, kusarigama, spear, dual-swords, and tonfa. As well as three ranged types: bow, rifle, hand cannon. Each weapon type is wholly different, but true differentiation comes from the fact that there are countless variations of each type of weapon as well as the ability to manipulate, reforge, and evolve them. The speed and style of combat is contingent on numerous factors. You have to account for weapon type, weapon stance (low, mid, high), armor weight, magic and ninja enhancements, natural weapon enhancements/buffs, learned skills/techniques, and you can forge your own buffs into weapons. All while also considering your character’s build. The thing I really like is that the game forces you to take the time to “master” all six weapon types to get maximum character bonuses. This allowed me to find which type of weapon actually works the best for my style of play. You also get to carry two main weapons and two ranged weapons which can be hot swapped at any time. While it’s easy to settle into a specific weapon type, you are still constantly honing and evolving your use of any weapon type as you learn new techniques, magical enhancements, and acquire different/better versions of a weapon type. Combat is never really mastered, so much as it slows down in its evolution.
The Souls franchise, spanning all the way back to the original Demon’s Souls (2009), takes its name from the fact that the one and only currency available in the game is souls. You use them to level up, buy things, and upgrade gear. This system works because it’s simple. With a single currency to do everything, you don’t have to worry about exchange rates, what resource to focus on accumulating, or how to manage and distribute your rewards. You have one thing for everything all the time. The problem with this system is that when you die, and fail to reclaim your souls, you are royally screwed. You lose your progress towards everything you’re working towards all at the same time. That level up, those upgrades, that new weapon. It’s all gone in one foul swoop. Realizing this, Nioh went a different way.
Nioh has two currencies, amrita and gold. Amrita is the equivalent of souls but it can only be used to level up. Its sole purpose is to make you physically more capable. Gold is used for everything else. Buying items, selling items, upgrading gear, forging new gear, and pretty much everything else is done with gold. It’s the currency of the game. Amrita is simply the currency of your character’s development. In most games, xp is permanent while gold can be lost/stolen. In Nioh, it’s the reverse. Just like with Dark Souls, you can lose your amrita when you die and fail to return to your corpse. But your gold is permanent until you spend it.
What’s nice is that you get both gold and amrita from killing enemies, just at different rates. You can also choose to trade gear for either gold or amrita, depending on what you want. This is why I find this system superior. The player is given a choice in how to prioritize their loot. If you don’t want to level up but want better gear, you can choose to focus on amassing gold. If you want to level up, you focus on amassing amrita. And in the late game this becomes key because leveling up becomes way slower than improving your gear with crafting and upgrades.
There is technically a third currency called glory, which you get from fighting revenants, but it’s not as useful and it’s not required to get through the game. I honestly didn’t use it at all except to buy character transformations, which I’ll address in the appearance section.
One of the main selling points of Demon’s Souls, and by extension Dark Souls, was the multiplayer interactions. This includes co-op, PVP, and communication through hints. I have to say that both games franchises/games get a little right and a lot wrong, but in different ways. The worst part about PVP in Dark Souls is that it’s never by choice for the victim of invasion. You can be playing the game with no interest in fighting or even interacting with other players, soon to reach the next bonfire, only to be invaded and often killed by no fault of your own. One of the worst things in the game(s) is that there are invasion hot spots where you literally can’t progress forward because you can be back to back invaded by the same player who’s already proven to be stronger than you. One of the only ways around this is to play offline, but then you lose the ability to summon help, so it leaves you in a catch 22. Nioh doesn’t have this problem.
There is no invasion in Nioh. You never have to fight against anyone you don’t choose to. If you want a PVP match you have to go into the PVP lobby and create/find a match. That’s how it should be. But the regular game is not devoid of special interactions against other players, or at least a version of them. The revenant system is the bridge that connects PVP and PVE. When you die, you leave a corpse. It has your gear, traits, fighting style, and abilities. When other people play through a level, they can see your corpse and choose to challenge it in a duel. If they can defeat it, they get some gear matching the gear you were wearing when you died in that spot. You don’t actually lose any of your gear. What’s great about this system is you can see the level and class of gear of the corpse before battling it so you can decide which fights are worth your time as well as moderate how difficult these opponents are. This allows you to have the PVP experience and rewards without actually having to be bothered by other people or wait for them to be online in order to get rewards from fighting them. And the revenants are different from each other. They have different gear and use different tactics based on the player they’re derived from. Some use magic, some fight more conservatively, some are terribly easy even when they’re a much higher level. It’s a great system that allows everyone to have the encounters they want without negatively affecting those of other players in the process. And just to spice it up a bit, there are moments in the game where revenants are summoned automatically, similar to the bell ringing maidens in Bloodborne. In key areas there are sages playing a Japanese guitar like instrument. This automatically summons any revenant you get too close to within the vicinity of the music. Once you’ve killed the sage, the automatic summoning ceases. What’s really nice is that once the sages are killed they’re dead for good even after you die and respawn.
Communication between disconnected players is an important part of both Dark Souls and Nioh, but it’s done in completely different ways. In Dark Souls you can leave messages for other players. This is a nice system, but it’s also annoying for everyone involved. As a person leaving a message you have to choose the best spot to leave it so that people will see it. You have to piece together a message with sentence fragments because you aren’t given the ability to just write whatever you want, which is a good thing. Even after all that work people still might not notice or take the time to read your message. And even if they do read your message, if they don’t up-vote it the message will eventually disappear no matter how useful it actually may have been. The person reading the message has to find it, actively read it, interpret the piecemeal language in the context of the current setting, and up-vote it to make sure it doesn’t disappear for other players. Very few people actually want to go through any of this trouble. Not to mention that it’s extremely difficult to leave helpful messages to players that also have to be located in places they will actually see. In reality, the only information players absolutely need in a Soulslike game is how other players died. Missing a chest sucks, but it’s not the end of the world. And if you really want to find all the items, you’ll use an online walkthrough. The only information that will truly affect players is knowing what’s coming to kill them. So Nioh focuses only on conveying information about deaths between players directly. This is also done through the revenant system and it’s way more convenient than the messaging in Dark Souls. When you die and leave a corpse/revenant, players can also see how you died. It’s easy because there aren’t even any commands needed unless you actually want to fight a revenant. Just walking near their corpses instantly tells players how they died, what level they were when they died, and the gear they were carrying. And that’s really all the information you need. Being able to see how other players died gives you a clear hint about what’s coming up to try and kill you so you can be ready.
I would say neither Nioh nor Dark Souls handles coop matchmaking well. Both do certain things well, but both also have fundamental flaws to their systems which make things terribly inconvenient for the player(s). Dark Souls has the more convenient summoning system in that you can at any time drop a sign in any location and other players can summon you. You can summon up to three people, which is really convenient. It’s a nice system because you can be playing the game and farming while waiting to be summoned. The hitch is that you can only summon people when you’re alive, which requires using an item or helping someone else beat a boss. Overall thissystem makes it so you never have to waste any time while waiting to get summoned by other people. Nioh fails in this regard. To play coop as the summoner, you can only summon people from in level shrines, which are the equivalent of bonfires. There are two to four per a stage. There is no alive or dead system in Nioh, which is a good thing, but summoning requires single use items, which you find as loot from killing enemies. You can carry up to 99 of these at a time, which is nice, but they are not easy to find early on in the game. So you have struggle alone early on if you actually want/need summons to move forward. Personally, I think Nioh is easier than Dark Souls and I didn’t summon anyone to beat the main story. This was not the case for Dark Souls I & II or Bloodborne for me. What’s really annoying about the system in Nioh is that you have to do it at a shrine, meaning you have to reset all the enemies you’ve already cleared to summon someone and you can’t summon from the boss door like you can in Dark Souls. But thankfully you can go back to shrines while a summon is active, refilling all yours and their health and items. Being summoned is even more inconvenient in Nioh. You can’t just drop a sign or ring a bell and go on with your day until summoned. You have to go to a menu on the world map and enter a summoning lobby. You then have to wait until you’re summoned to play in a stage. On the flip side, you can set parameters for summons such as which stage you’d liked to be summoned to and difficulty level. But if no one wants to summon then you just sit and wait rather than farming while you’re waiting. And you can be rejected by players once summoned, which might happen for various reasons.
What I find superior about summoning in Nioh compared to both Dark Souls and Bloodborne is that there are no level caps or level scaling. If you are on the first stage as a level 5 and you want to summon a friend who is level 150 and has already beaten the game, you can do that. If you want to bring in a high level player to stomp the boss for you, the game doesn’t scale them down to your level. It lets them play to the full extent of their power and abilities. And that’s how it should be. If you want to earn it, that should be your choice as the player. If you want your friends to help you, then that should be your choice as well. But you can only summon one player in Nioh as opposed to three in Dark Souls.
Dark Souls and Bloodborne are full open world games where you make your way across the land finding bonfires or lanterns along the way, which can then be used as warp points. There isn’t really a right way to go, but you have to figure out where to go to move forward in the story. I find the system inconvenient because you have no real direction. Many people enjoy this style of play because they like feeling in control, but I find it a large waste of my time for games like this. Nioh is broken into missions. There is a world map with clearly defined main missions and sub-missions. Each individual mission is a contained open world that you can freely explore within the confines of, but there is an entrance. The only way out is by completing the mission objective, which is usually but not always to defeat a specific enemy, usually a boss. I prefer this system. The game has the same level of stress as any other Soulslike game while you’re in the thick of it, but you don’t always have to be in the thick of it. There is structure and clearly defined goals. You can skip sub-missions or play them all. You don’t accidentally miss bonus bosses before beating the game. You control everything because it’s all clearly laid out on a world map. This also makes organizing your matchmaking easier, even though the system in general is inferior, because you don’t have to deal with the trying to put your spot down in the right area problem you get in Dark Souls. You can handle all of that from the world map.
Character development at base level is similar between Dark Souls and Nioh. In Dark Souls you have nine stats that can be advanced one at a time in exchange for souls. In Nioh you have eight. These stats improve certain specific features of your character and make them better able to handle certain weapons, armor, skills, and general performance. It’s the same system. But the gear development and aesthetics systems are much more robust and user friendly in Nioh.
Developing weapons in Dark Souls is done by going to a black smith and trading materials and souls to level up a weapon. You can slightly differentiate the development of weapons by using different materials to take new development paths. The weapon’s performance is based solely on stats depending on the development paths you’ve taken with the specific weapon. In Nioh, you don’t level up weapons until the end game/NG+ when you get divine weapons, but that’s not relevant to a first play through. Weapons are split into five categories based on rarity (color in menu) which kind of translates to potential. The same is true for armor in all respects except familiarity, which I’ll explain. You can get the same piece of gear at any of the five rarity types. The rarity level defines how many natural enhancements it has and its maximum familiarity potential. Familiarity is essentially how much the attack stat on any weapon can increase with use. The highest possible familiarity is 999, but this is only available on divine items after beating the final main story missions. During the first playthrough, 900 is the maximum possible familiarity. So your goal is to get purple, the rarest type, rarity gear for all your items because it offers the highest familiarity bonus for weapons and the most natural enhancements on gear. Natural enhancements can be anything. Sometimes it’s more damage against certain enemy types. Sometimes it’s higher amrita (souls) yields. It can be resistance to certain types of damage or increased damage of a certain type. Even lower weight and blacksmith costs can appear as a gear enhancement. So even when you find a rare item with high starting stats, it might not be the enhancements that work best for you. That’s OK in Nioh though because you have the ability to reforge and evolve items. Gear can be broken down and crafted into new things. Gear can be absorbed into other gear to make it stronger, or weaker if you combine something stupid. You can even forge new stats into gear.
In Dark Souls you don’t really have techniques. You have gear of various types and stats. But fighting is focused on the technical aspects of using that gear and applying it to the combat situation you’re in. There are heavy and light attacks and some charge moves, but that about does it for what you can do. Nioh has specialty techniques that you develop with special points in either samurai, ninja, or mage categories. These techniques can be specific combos, buffs, spells, specialty items, and specific moves. Many of them are tied to specific stances within specific weapon types. You can get really technical in this game if you want to and mastering certain techniques can make all the difference.
Nioh has one the best appearance systems I’ve seen in any Soulslike game ever, and it doesn’t even have a character creator. Dark Souls lets you create your character, but you are stuck looking like whatever armor you are wearing, regardless of how bad it looks. It the problem of so many RPGs. Your best stuff doesn’t look cool and your cool stuff doesn’t perform the best. Nioh gets around this by letting you refashion gear. Any piece of gear you find can be skinned over to look like any other piece of gear regardless of what it is. Some gear looks awesome and some gear looks like trash. But with refashioning you just spend a modest amount of gold (modest for the end-game anyway) and you can make that awesome piece of gear look like whatever gear set you like. In my case I use the best mid-weight gear I have but I refashioned it to look like the DLC gold set, because I’m a sucker for shiny gold gear. I have the performance I need to succeed, and I shine while doing it. You can refashion weapons as well. Some weapons look so cool with elaborate designs and paint jobs, while others are boring and devoid of color. But appearance has nothing to do with performance. That’s why the refashioning system is so important.
Nioh may let you customize your gear to look however you want, but you can’t create your own character. You play as William, a British white man with blonde hair. The only customization you have for him is his hair style. But what is nice is that you can get transformations. As mentioned previously, there is a third currency called glory. You can only get this from killing revenants. It can be used to buy special crafting materials, but what it’s most useful for is buying transformations. You have the ability to transform William into any character you meet in the game. That includes villains you face and female characters. You just buy the transformations with glory and you can change your appearance an unlimited number of times to whatever transformations you own. Transformations do not affect gameplay or stats. It’s a nice way to let players look the way they want to in case you get tired of being a blonde white man running around killing monsters in Japan. For instance, I like being a Black Samurai, based on a historical character you duel later in the game.
Both Nioh and Dark Souls have NG+ modes, but what’s nice about Nioh is that it has actual end-game content that takes place within your first playthrough. Defeating the final story stage unlocks several bonus sub-missions as well as more story that connects into the DLC. You also get a new class of items after you complete the final level, which can be used for this end-game content before you start a NG+ run. I will probably never play NG+ but I still have several hours of play to look forward to in Nioh before I put it on the shelf for good. I have never played past beating the final boss in Dark Souls or Bloodborne, because I simply had no reason to and have no interest in replaying the same game.
What’s nice about the NG+ though is that it’s directly connected to your original playthrough. It’s not even called NG+. It’s referred to as “Way of the Strong”. From the world map you can switch between normal play and NG+ play from the same file as often as you like. The NG+ levels are the same stages with higher difficulty and better rewards but you don’t have to have a completely separate playthrough from your original. This is nice because it allows you grind with better yields or in normal difficulty at the same time, taking advantage of either depending on what your goals/needs are. And the DLC content is attached in the same way so you can always jump around to play whatever you want at any time. This is made possible because of the level based structure mentioned previously. So while I don’t see myself finishing NG+, I may very well run a few stages for better gear that I can then use to complete the end-game missions and DLC. It’s the best of all worlds.
I want to be clear in saying that I am not arguing that Nioh is superior to Dark Souls. I am arguing that Nioh is not a clone of Dark Souls. It’s part of the Soulslike genre which started with Demon’s Souls, but it is an original game with considerably different design choices, aesthetic, and gameplay. As with any two franchises or even just individual games, there are both good and bad things about both Nioh and Dark Souls and there’s no reason to ignore one simply because it’s not the other. If you haven’t played Nioh but you do play Dark Souls then I highly encourage you to try it out. Especially with the sequel on the way.
I’ve been very critical of games like PUBG and Fortnite: Battle Royale, not to be confused with regular old Fortnite, which everyone seems to have forgotten. Not as much here on my blog but definitely on Twitter. The concept has always looked and sounded terrible to me from the very beginning. It’s the reason I have never loaded up Fortnite: Battle Royale, even though it’s free on multiple platforms I own, and though I’ve been asked several times, I’ve never even considered buying PUBG. But I will admit that no matter how much you watch or read about a game, you can’t say you’ve truly experienced it until you’ve actually tried it. So with that thinking in mind, I finally tried a battle royale game.
As a part of my real job, I often have to try certain games to assess their potential marketing value. This weekend, for the first time in my career, a battle royale game came up. And as a professional, even though I had/have no interest in this genre, I still agreed to download and play one of these games through the lens of marketing.
I was tasked with trying an early access game called Fear the Wolves. This is a standard PUBG style battle royale game set in the same world as “The Zone” from the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. games. I played it. Took it seriously and genuinely tried to get into it. Even managed to get a kill and find several different types of gear. But I still don’t get it. I don’t understand why people enjoy these games.
Let me be clear. I’m not saying there was anything wrong with this particular game. It worked fine for what it is. The graphics weren’t anything to write home about, but the PUBG graphics were trash when it was first made available in early access as well, so that’s not the issue. The controls worked fine. I experienced a few small glitches, but that’s true for so many betas I’ve played at both indie and AAA level, so again that’s not the issue. I just don’t understand the appeal of these types of games.
This was my experience. Wait for more than I would normally wait for any game, but admittedly not the most I have waited for a multiplayer match in some past games. Then wait through a two to three minute countdown after I’ve already waited for matchmaking to end. This was unacceptable. But I understood why it was necessary. No one sits and waits for that matchmaking because it takes too long. So you tab out and screw around on Twitter while you’re waiting. But then because everyone is tabbed out they have to make a long countdown to give everyone time to tab back in. Then go through this really long helicopter sequence and pretend like where I choose to deploy is actually going to matter in the grand scheme of things. I will note that the controls menu said you can direct your parachute descent but this didn’t really work for me in the game so that was one glitch that actually did irritate me a lot. Hit the ground and then sprint to the nearest building only to find the same crappy pistols over and over again. Not once did I find a gun better than pistol. Found multiple types of pistols, but never any firearms better than pistol. Found an axe as well, which I of course never got to use because I never got close enough to anyone with it, since they had guns. Spend a bunch of time stressed out waiting in buildings hoping to ambush someone, only to have that stupid enclosing death fog (it’s actually called an “adrenaline infection” in this particular game) show up, forcing me to give up my post and run inward. But now that I’m running inward I’ve lost my element of surprise. Then I see someone and try to run up and kill them, again with my pistol, and even though I shoot them a bunch of times first they don’t die and eventually they kill me, often with a better gun. That was the whole experience over and over again.
Why is this fun for people? Even when I did get a kill, it was still not that gratifying in the grand scheme of things because I never got close to actually winning the matches. I spent more of my time in loading screens and then waiting around or looking for more crappy pistols than I did engaged in combat. It’s one thing when it’s a real stealth game like Metal Gear Solid 3 and you’re going out of your way to sneak up on people. But being in a huge map devoid of people only to then get killed in fairly boring encounters isn’t nearly as entertaining or gratifying as a real stealth game.
This is where the “git gud” crowd will chime in, but I honestly don’t think that applies here. Even if I was surviving longer, it would still be pretty boring, because victory is much easier to achieve by avoiding combat altogether rather than actually trying to engage people. So even if I was amazing, playing logically with the goal of winning would still be mostly waiting around and then eventually dying and having nothing to show for my better placement. It’s really a zero sum scenario where it’s fun to win and otherwise pretty boring or way too stressful but not in a fun way. It’s fun to play a PVP match like Destiny or COD, both games I genuinely hate, because it’s active, exciting, and consequential without being long winded and pointless when you finally do get killed. You can keep playing. You can make up for your death. You can go for revenge. Even though I don’t particularly like PVP games, and especially not those crappy FPS games I mentioned, I can still appreciate why they’re popular. But I have no idea why people enjoy these battle royale games. And I really don’t get how people can watch other people play them. That sounds unbearably boring. And I’m not even comparing them to story based games, which are by far superior both in development effort and gameplay experience.
Someone please explain it to me. If you grew up playing games in a pre-battle royale context, how do you enjoy these types of games? How are you not bored 90% of the time while playing them? I get that kids today have been groomed to play these games. So much of game development has been building to these sorts of hollow experiences in the last five to ten years. The move away from single player games, always online requirements, and microtransactions have all culminated in the battle royale concept. But kids aren’t even the biggest gaming market today. I don’t get how gamers who grew up in or before my era can play these types of games past casual level. If you grew up with Mario, Final Fantasy, Uncharted, and God of War how does this type of gamplay experience appeal to you? It’s not just single player games though. Look at the multiplayer stuff we’ve come from. Mario Kart, Goldeneye, World of Warcraft, and Halo to name a few. I don’t even like all those games, but I’d play them over these battle royale games any day of the week. Even the half and half stuff like Dark Souls, The Division, and GTA Online are way more gratifying for all players than these battle royale experiences. How does one actually enjoy playing a game where only 1 of 100 people can win while everyone is putting in the same amount of time and effort? How does one call an experience where you spend more time in lobbies than actually playing enjoyable? I simply don’t understand the appeal.
Some games got close to the sweet spot. Things like Sea of Thieves and updated No Man’s Sky are starting to get there. The Division, for all its faults, got very close as well. There’s even some merit to Destiny. But these battle royale games have gone too far. They took the concept of rogue likes, the size of RPGs, the mechanics of PVP FPS, and the scale of MMOs and squished them all together in a lazy smattering of tolerable graphics. They squeezed out all the good parts and left the skeleton of each genre. I like the concept of 100 people roaming Skyrim with the ability to rob and kill each other. But the story would still need to be there along with respawning and the ability to retain at least some of your valuables. Battle royale comes off like the Star Wars: Battlefront II of MMOs. All the heart has been pulled out to focus on pure gameplay mechanics, ultimately leaving a disappointing experience. But clearly I’m missing something because it’s currently the most popular genre both for concurrent players and stream views. What exactly am I missing? Because I just don’t see it.
This week, I got to attend an event called PlayStation Gaming Festival. I’ve never heard of this event before. I don’t know if it’s an annual thing that happens in Taipei and I’ve just never heard about it before or if this was the first time, but I attended and I’m very happy I did. I don’t want to focus too much on the event itself. Pretty much it was just lots of different PS4 game demos, including some PSVRP titles, a swag shop, and a “Bring Your Own PS4” LAN party, which I took no part in. My one real complaint about the event was that they showed a lot of demos for already released games, which I found very odd. They showed Nioh, which really irritated me because at first I thought they had a demo for Nioh 2, which I really wanted to try. They showed Horizon: Zero Dawn, which is more than a year old. They were featuring Frozen Wilds content, but that’s still almost a year old. They had Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise, which is about six months old and Attack on Titan 2, which is about five months old. Both of these demos were featured, and I tried them, this year at Taipei Game Show so they didn’t need to take up space here. And most odd/irritating was that they had Assassin’s Creed: Origins. This was weird because they also had Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, which is the soon to be released latest title in the franchise. But rather than having four screens of that setup, they only had two and then two of Origins right next to it. They should have just been running four screens of Odyssey. I waited almost two hours to try Odyssey because of this odd decision. Overall it was a good event though and I did get to try a number of new demos for unreleased games, which is the only reason I went in the first place.
What I want to do here is give a short first impression of each demo I tried. Please note a few important details. All of these demos were in Chinese. Not the in game dialog, but the settings. Dialog language was different for each game depending on the title. Some were in English, some Japanese, and some Chinese. But the HUDs, tutorials, and all non-dialog text was in Chinese, which I do not read. So with certain games I struggled to figure out exactly how the controls worked. I can of course get the gist of most games based on general gaming experience, but for more nuanced controls and special gameplay such as secondary items, I was not able to master any of them because I couldn’t read anything. Along with that, many of the games were set to Japanese standards/settings. What that means is the X button acts like the O button and the O button acts like the X button. Many Western gamers don’t realize this, but in Asia they use an altered control scheme for most games. Each demo session only lasted 10 – 15 minutes. So obviously I wasn’t able to get a full grasp of most of the games I tried. So please take these micro-reviews with a grain of salt and understand that I am giving my account of each game based on very little playtime and less than ideal gameplay conditions. All that being said, I still believe that my insight, due to my general gaming and reviewing experience, can be valuable to people curious about the titles I tried.
I will give one to three paragraph accounts of each demo I tried at the event with as much useful information as I can. Please note that the screenshots featured below were not taken by me. I was not allowed to take pictures of specific games during the event so I just pulled these images from Google for visual reference.
This game was probably the main reason I wanted to attend the event. It is the hype of all hyped games right now, and SONY is aware of that fact. It was the most featured game at the event both in the number of demo units available and in the banners and advertising for the event as a whole. It was of course the first game I played.
Spider-Man very much was inspired by Arkham City. It’s a full open world filled with people and interactive objects. The combat is very similar to the Arkham games, but it’s been noticeably adapted for Spider-Man’s style of movement and abilities. Fighting is very smooth, but not easy to master. You can get by in earlier fights with button mashing, but technique will play a big role as you progress through the game. One of the things I couldn’t master with a Chinese HUD was the special combat items. You can bring up an item cache and use special objects in combat such as a web bomb. These are in limited supply though and I didn’t get to find out how to refill them. I really liked how your fighting and the HUD were linked. What I mean by this is when you take a hit, say from a stun rod, the HUD gets fuzzy and shakes as if you’ve suffered a temporary injury from the impact. This made you feel the consequences of taking damage a lot more than in the Arkham games because the disorientation can negatively affect your ability to play, thus leading to further damage. It’s a good mechanic. The fights are very showy. There are even moments where the game slows down during special attacks so you can get a perfect screenshot.
The city is a large open world, full of tasks that are indicated by symbols floating in the sky. You can track specific objectives or just free roam. You unlock more of the map by doing the Assassin’s Creed perch thing on top of specific points. The difference is that it’s way easier to traverse buildings as Spider-Man because he can web swing, climb smoother/easier than an assassin, and literally sprint up buildings like Alex Mercer in Prototype. That being said, I was not a huge fan of the web swinging. It works, but it wasn’t as fluid as it could be. Like with the Arkham games, you can’t just latch on to anything with no understanding of what it actually is you’re grappling. Only specific points on buildings and other web capable structures can be latched to. This means you have to actually swing based on the proximity of the buildings around you and even then you have your limits. It’s a very “realistic” system in that you have to actually think about where and how you’re swinging. But it’s not as fun as it could be because you notice the limits of your mobility relative to what you’d like to do. It reminded me a bit of the Attack on Titan game but I actually think that is smoother because you don’t have limits on what you can tether to as long as a structure of a certain height is around. Spider-Man’s swinging system works well enough and is in no way a deal breaker, but I was hoping for something smoother that would let me move through the large city map effortlessly. The world is alive. There are random occurrences happening all the time such as crimes you can choose to stop or just ignore them. I stopped a restaurant robbery and then got involved in a police chase. The problem was I couldn’t figure out what to do once I landed on the car because no button indicators appeared and everything I tried just moved me to different sides of the truck without ever entering it. Ultimately I got thrown off of it and the truck got away. I liked the fact that you could fail at stopping crimes without the game resetting as if you died or failed. Suffice it to say that if you liked the Arkham games, you will definitely like this.
The first thing that needs to be said about Jump Force is that it does exactly what it needed to do. It allows me to pit my favorite anime heroes and villains against each other in a three dimensional field of play with smooth, highly accessible gameplay, really nice graphics, and fairly similar movement and controls for all characters. Let me be clear. This isn’t Injustice or Smash Bros. Each character doesn’t have their own unique weight and movement that severely affects play style from character to character. Or at least that’s not how it was in the mode they had running in the demo. Goku isn’t flying around the stage while Zolo is left on foot trying to jump up and land a few lucky strikes. Luffy can’t hit Sasuke from across the screen with stretchy arms. Everyone feels very similar, and that’s a good thing. The game is about having a fairly balanced anime themed match up that focuses more on the player’s management of their HP, energy level, and use of mobility rather than depicting a truly realistic matchup between characters with different powers from different worlds. Frieza can get beaten by Naruto and Goku doesn’t automatically win every fight. The only noticeable differences between the characters is their special moves. Each character has four special techniques that are specific to them and have different affects and damage levels. This is where they actually differentiate somewhat. The basic combat is very easy to pick up. Even with the Chinese HUD, I was eventually able to figure out how to do specials with all six of the available characters in the demo. This is because they have the same two button commands for special moves. The idea is not for them to be hard to use. The art is in knowing when to use them. They can miss, by the way. My only complaint about the demo was that they clearly had the AI set to easy. I never lost a match. So I can’t really speak to how balanced it is because I was dealing way more damage with my attacks than what I was taking from the PC. I assume this was intentional to make the demo more enjoyable for amateur gamers.
Jump Force looks good. The graphics do the characters justice, even when coming from different shows with different art styles. I will say that Frieza looks super creepy as a 3D model. They stayed true to the drawings from the show. There is something so gratifying about seeing Naruto land a Rasengan on Frieza. Or Luffy a multiple hands punch combo on Sasuke. This game is about having fun. Unless there’s a more complicated mode of play, I don’t see it being taken seriously in e-sports for more than a debut season.
Overcooked is a super niche indie game that you either love or you hate. I was surprised by the number of people who waited in line to try the demo for the sequel at this event. It plays exactly the same as the first one, which isn’t a bad thing. It’s just a new set of levels and plot, which is really all it needed. The only added feature I noticed, which I saw another player do but never figured out myself, was that you can use a comment wheel to visually verbalize what you want done. This would be extremely useful for online play without mics because it allows players to communicate non-verbally. I enjoyed the demo, I will be buying it, and anyone who enjoyed the first one will probably do the same. I will be picking it up on Switch though.
Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey
I haven’t played Assassin’s Creed: Origins yet. That means, assuming the combat and movement system for Odyssey is similar to that of Origins, I have not been formally introduced to this new control scheme yet. I struggled immensely to climb, run, and fight because I couldn’t figure out the nuances of things like dodging, countering, and blocking or even just how to run and speed climb. I don’t even know if all these mechanics still exist in the game. And the demo wasn’t helpful, even if it had been in English. It just dropped me into some random far along moment in the game with a bunch of gear. I got my ass handed to me twice by a group of Spartan soldiers. The game was very responsive, and I don’t assume it’s that hard to play once you actually learn the controls through an early on tutorial. The one thing I was able to quickly figure out was the bow, which works well.
The HUD is a bit busy in Odyssey. There is a lot shown on screen while playing in both text and symbols. But I appreciated the wealth of information the game was providing me without having to access menus or press special commands. The graphics are great. The voice acting is very realistic, to a point where I was questioning my own pronunciations of Greek words I thought I knew, like drachmae. Odyssey also has a dialog system similar to Mass Effect. You are given text options and have to pick one. These appeared to affect the story and the missions made available to you. The demo didn’t give me enough about the story, but I got to meet Socrates (Sokrates according to the game) as a younger man and have a debate with him about a rebellion.
Just Dance 2019
This was the first time I ever tried Just Dance with the PS Move. I do not like it. I will be buying Just Dance 2019 on the Switch. Overall, it was pretty much the same thing. The song menu was much different than that of previous games. It’s a scrollable menu of songs similar to when you scroll through a PSN sale as opposed to the usual rotating song reel you see in the previous games. And, assuming this wasn’t Just Dance Unlimited, it seems like they brought back access to some older songs I remember from previous versions of the game.
Sonic Mania Plus
Sonic Mania Plus has already been released, but it is fairly new so I guess it made sense to have at this event. Up until now, I hadn’t played it before. It is the same stressful, 2D gameplay I remember from my childhood. I wasn’t interested when I first heard about it, but after playing the demo I might consider it when it goes on sale.
Soul Calibur VI
Soul Calibur has always been one of my favorite fighter franchises. It’s smooth, has good graphics, individual character styles, and some of the best cameo appearances in all of gaming. In this installment, you get to play as Geralt of Rivia from The Witcher series. The game plays like the past ones. The spirit bar is the more traditional Street Fighter style one than the orbs you had in one of the more recent installments. Overall the game plays very well. They didn’t do too much to change the formula other than make the specials slightly easier to use and give you the ability to dodge them. There are also standoff sequences like in Injustice: Gods Among Us, where your spirit bar faces off against your opponents to decide the outcome, but I was not able to implement/initiate this consistently.
It’s still the great looking game it always was, complete with sexy, super revealing Ivy costume. The game looks good and plays well. Certainly a fighter worth buying that has stayed true to the roots of the franchise mechanically and stylistically.
The Legend of Heroes: Thors Military Academy 1204
I randomly tried this game by a Japanese developer called Nihon Falcom. Apparently this is one in a long running franchise of at least 14 games. It was in Japanese and I only sort of understood what was going on, but the gameplay was phenomenal. This is a turn based RPG that has you play with an active squad of four, but it’s not as simple as old Final Fantasy games. The field of combat is a three dimensional space where you location matters. You can’t choose to move to specific locations on the field. Your movements for each character in your team is driven by your attacks. As you attack different enemies on the field, your characters will disperse accordingly. The way they’re grouped affects the effectiveness and reach of enemy attacks. The same goes for your attacks. This comes into play with reference to magic attacks that have to be aimed. Even though I couldn’t read any of it, I was able to pick up how combat works fairly quickly and I found the system to be very satisfying. It’s a system where you walk around the map and enemies appear on the screen, but when you make contact with them a battle mode ensues.
The graphics are solid, but very Japanese. It looks like many 3D JRPGs with an aesthetic that’s both mature and youthful at the same time. Something I thought was really interesting is that you can use any of the members in your party as your on screen avatar when outside of battle and you can change them instantly just by scrolling through them with L1. I’ve never seen this in an RPG before done in such a convenient, efficient way. The game also has a “Hi-Speed Mode” that can be easily toggled on and off just by tapping R1. It speeds up everything including your movement outside of battle. I found it extremely useful since I couldn’t actually understand/read anything the characters were saying. Since I don’t know how connected the stories actually are, I don’t know if this is worth buying as the 14th game in a franchise. But if I only cared about gameplay, I would probably pick this one up.
I had heard the name before, but I really didn’t know anything about Code Vein. Since the demo was in Japanese, I still don’t know much. The best way to describe it is that it’s Bloodborne with a DmC aesthetic. I don’t know why I was in a series of cliffs tinted to look like Hell. But there sure were a lot of demonic looking creatures that kept respawning every time I died. The game plays like a Souls game but it’s even faster paced than Bloodborne and has a stereotypically JRPG anime art style, which isn’t a bad thing. I enjoyed the faster paced combat but I didn’t feel like there was enough of a balance between attacks and stamina. It feels as limiting as Dark Souls as far as number of consecutive attacks you can pull off before running out of stamina, but with the faster paced movement you feel it a lot more. They need to up the stamina amount to reflect the increase in movement speed or else you always feel too tied down. The game is challenging, like any Souls style game. I don’t think I saw a single person beat the demo boss and I couldn’t even reach the boss. But that’s fine. Thus is the nature of games in this genre. With practice and proper character development, which I assume plays a factor, it should be totally manageable.
While the core gameplay feels like a Souls game, Code Vein has a lot more technical additions. The HUD, which was in Chinese, has eight specialized actions/abilities, and quite possibly the ability to rotate wheels to more actions like in Nioh. That’s a lot of extra stuff to have to keep track of. I’m sure it’s like any other game, where you’ll only use maybe four of them a majority of the time, but it really crowds the screen. The HUD takes up so much of the bottom right corner that if you aren’t using a large monitor, which they were at this event, I could see it being a real problem. While I wouldn’t call it a bad game by any means, this isn’t something I’ll be picking up with all the other Souls style games currently on the market.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider
The latest installment of the current Tomb Raider franchise looks like another hit. The gameplay is pretty much the same. Seemed to be the same controls mostly, still working against Trinity, and another larger build minority character is there to help Lara with her adventure. This one looks really good visually. There was a scene where I was swimming through a cave and suffocated, but I wasn’t even sure if I was playing or watching a cinematic until after I died the first time, because the graphics blend perfectly now. It seems superfluous to say any more about Shadow of the Tomb Raider. It’s going to be very similar to Rise of the Tomb Raider gameplay wise because the formula works and there’s no need to really change it. If you played the last two, you should certainly buy this one based on what I experienced in this short demo. I know I’ll be getting it.
Recently they announced a lot of details about the upcoming Star Wars Episode IX. We know it will be released December 2019. We know that Luke, Lando, Chewbacca, and through the magic of editing, Leia, will all be returning in this “final” installment of the Skywalker epic. We know the new players will all be returning including Rey, Finn, Kylo, Poe, and Rose. On some level I think we can be thankful that it’s being written and directed by J.J. Abrams instead of Rian Johnson. We can be almost certain that this will not be the last Star Wars film, because Disney gonna Disney. But it may possibly be the last “Episode” in the current timeline. Most predictably, we know a lot of people are going to be unhappy with the movie, no matter what happens.
I don’t believe the movie will tank like Solo did. What do I mean by that? Solo tanked in the fact that it didn’t make as much money as was expected. That’s what tanking a Star Wars film is for Disney. Review scores don’t matter. The Rotten Tomatoes score doesn’t matter. Awards don’t matter. Even the general opinion of the public on social media doesn’t really matter to Disney in reference to this specific franchise anymore. All that matters is ticket sales. At this point, it’s an almost unsalvageable franchise critically because of all the bad blood. But that doesn’t mean it can’t still be a profitable franchise. And that’s why they’ll keep making Star Wars movies. Solo did badly because people boycotted it because of Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi. Solo actually wasn’t terrible. I enjoyed it. It wasn’t A New Hope, but I left the theater entertained and didn’t regret having spent the money to see it. And I truly believe that most people who actually watched the movie felt that way. The low scores and ticket sales were in response to The Last Jedi and not a legitimate indicator of Solo or what people actually thought of it. So the question is will this same responsive smear campaign and boycott happen to Star Wars Episode IX? I say yes and no.
Yes, there will be a smear campaign against Star Wars Episode IX. That will happen. It will get fabricated review scores that lower its IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes scores. People will complain about Disney and feminism, mistreating the Skywalkers, and everything else the internet likes to complain about in reference to the latest saga. But no I do not believe there will be a legitimate boycott the way things went for Solo. Solo was an easy movie to boycott because you could get away with not watching it. It’s the same thing with Rogue One. These side films, whether they’re good or terrible, don’t really matter. They don’t tell you any information that you absolutely needed to know to follow the general plot of Star Wars. When you walked out of Rogue One and Solo, literally nothing had changed. You aren’t in any way surprised or moved by the things you saw. And that’s the intention of those movies. To get people to pay Disney more money without impacting the main timeline of the Star Wars franchise. And technically it works. Rogue One did very well and most people said good things about it. But they’re both still inconsequential films to the franchise. This will not be the case with Episode IX.
Whether you hated Episodes VII and VIII or you loved them, if you’re a real Star Wars fan you paid to go see them. That’s the entire con of making a continuous franchise. Once you’re committed, you’re committed. I think Suicide Squad was terrible. I think Batman vs. Superman was terrible. I think Justice League was average at best. I think the Shazam trailer looks like trash. I’m still gonna pay to go see it. And that’s the game. Star Wars Episode IX matters. Not only is it the last film in the current saga, but it’s also supposedly the last Skywalker focused film, and it’s the very last film Carrie Fischer/Princess Leia will ever be in. And Billy Dee Williams, arguably the coolest (as in smooth and memorable as opposed to awesome) actor/character in the original trilogy, if not the entire Star Wars universe, is finally returning. All Star Wars people are going to go see it. Even the ones who absolutely hate the current saga, hate Disney for “ruining” Star Wars, hate feminism, hate minorities, and hate J.J. Abrams for The Force Awakens are still going to go see this movie. At the very least, everyone wants closure. People might completely stop supporting Star Wars and never sit through another film in the franchise again after they watch Episode IX, but they are certainly going to go watch it none the less, because people need an ending. The Matrix Reloaded (2003) sucked. We still went to see The Matrix Revolutions (2003). It’s for that reason that I don’t think Star Wars Episode IX will tank. It will almost assuredly get bad reception from the public. It will most likely get low scores on IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes. But unlike Solo, it will make lots of money.
So if we can all accept that we’re going to see the movie, let’s instead talk about how we should see the movie. We have more than a year to prepare ourselves for this last installment of the Skywalker family tree. Let’s get to it now so it doesn’t have to be a bloodbath during Christmas season 2019. Here are my thoughts on the current saga. I didn’t like The Force Awakens. I had tons of problems with it and how it ignored longstanding Star Wars canon. I felt like it was a lazy almost beat for beat remake of A New Hope, with a diverse cast and a female protagonist. I didn’t have a problem with the diverse cast. I didn’t have a problem with the female protagonist. But I had a lot of issues with the blatant disregard for the established rules of the Star Wars universe. But I was able to leave the film assuming that Rey was a Skywalker so at least I could justify a lot of her bullshit by saying well she’s a Skywalker so at least we know why she’s unjustifiably great at everything she does. But Rian Johnson took that justification away in The Last Jedi. I did not like The Last Jedi, but it was admittedly the best looking Star Wars film ever made. But the rules were pretty much all disregarded and thrown aside for some agenda that I still can’t really grasp or justify in my head. And Luke dies in the laziest way possible. It was a bad Star Wars movie. Though I actually do rank it higher than VII, and that’s what I really want to focus on.
I don’t want to talk about any of these movies in terms of general film making. That’s a pointless argument in this case. I only want to talk about them in terms of Star Wars film making. The Last Jedi is a better Star Wars movie than The Force Awakens for one simple reason; it follows the trajectory of its predecessor film. What do I mean by that? The main flaw of The Phantom Menace is that it’s attempting to build a foundation for a set of already existing films without rehashing the same ideas you’ve already seen in three extant movies. It’s this desire to link to the past films, that are actually set in the timeline’s future, without playing the same beats over again that led to some bad decisions. Like with midichlorians. Most people agree that midichlorians were a stupid idea that should never have been introduced. They justified some future bullshit which is pretty much all encompassed in Rey, but technically they were never mentioned again after Episode I. The reason The Phantom Menace struggled so much was that it didn’t have a trajectory to follow because it was prequel. It had to start from pretty much scratch and somehow set off a series of events that would eventually lead to A New Hope. Easier said than done.
In a lot of ways, The Force Awakens was in a similar boat but it does have a foundation of six other films preceding it. It’s tasked with starting a new arc of three films but it doesn’t have a pre-established endpoint, nor does it have to start from scratch the way The Phantom Menace did. Yet The Force Awakens does something inherently wrong that The Phantom Menace doesn’t; it breaks the rules of the universe. I have used the word “breaks” here because “changes” is a lazy way of saying retconned or ignored canon, neither of which are considered good things in most fandoms, SJW or not.
World building matters and the best franchises are the best franchises because they have well established worlds/universes with established rulesets. A good writer doesn’t throw out the rules. A good writer writes new ideas and creates new concepts while adhering to the rules. Let’s take the example of Rey in The Force Awakens. If we completely disregard the anti-feminist, alt-right crowd and accept the totally canon supported argument that a woman can be a powerful Jedi/Force user (Ahsoka Tano & Asajj Ventress), which we should, the film still presents a staggering number of issues with Rey.
It’s not the fact that she’s a woman that’s problematic. Nor is it the fact that she’s powerful in the ways of the Force. It’s the fact that a character with no training or even a basic knowledge of the Force is able to use high level Force abilities that Luke, one of the strongest Force users in the established film canon, wasn’t able to do without years of training even after being trained by Yoda, arguably the greatest Force user that ever lived. It’s the fact that she could go from no knowledge of the Force to using Jedi mind tricks and outclassing a trained Sith “lord” (Kylo Ren) in a matter of days that presented the real justifications for complaint. The rules of the universe were broken. Not just ignored but flat out broken. And the sad part was that this was all easily avoided with just a few extra scenes or a bit of altered dialog.
Rey could have already known about the Force, since lots of people do/did in the Star Wars universe outside of Jedi and Sith. She also could have had at the very least some light training while spending most of her life on a desert planet with nothing to do except salvage scrap and eat magical expansion cakes. Literally three lines of dialog inserted into any conversation with Finn, Han, or Maz Kanata could have fixed everything. “When I was a kid, I met a wizard of sorts. He taught me magic and said if I kept practicing I could be a great wizard one day too. I’ve practiced every day since then.” Problem solved. With just these three vague lines from off the top of my head added, everything else that happens in The Force Awakens could have still happened and there would be little justification to argue that canon was broken. That wouldn’t have made the movie great by any means. But it would have removed the main reason people, who aren’t blatant sexists, were unhappy with Rey. The Phantom Menace has a number of issues, but in no way does it break established canon. Even the midichlorians don’t actually break canon. They simply add to it in a stupid way. And that is why I rate Episode I higher than Episode VII.
So when looking at The Last Jedi in comparison to The Force Awakens, I think The Last Jedi is the better Star Wars movie for the simple fact that it follows the path set out by its direct predecessor film. Note that I’m not saying that it’s a good movie or even a particularly good Star Wars movie. I’m saying that it’s a better Star Wars movie than The Force Awakens. Episode VII gives canon the finger. That’s what makes it a bad Star Wars movie. Episode VIII doesn’t do that. Instead, The Last Jedi just accepts the fact that its direct predecessor film has already given canon the finger and just roles with it.
In a world where an untrained teenage girl can out Force a trained Sith lord directly descended from Darth Vader himself, why can’t the daughter of Darth Vader survive the vacuum of space by wrapping herself in a Force bubble and flying through an explosion of debris? In a world where a low ranking Storm Trooper, excuse me First Order Trooper, who has possibly never even seen a light saber before can pick one up and rival the combat ability of by now I’ve proven probably the worst Sith lord ever ordained, why can’t an entire fleet of repurposed imperial ships be destroyed by a single ship with almost no fuel in a hail Mary light speed maneuver?
The Last Jedi didn’t break the rules because the film takes place in a universe where the rules no longer apply. But you can’t technically blame The Last Jedi for establishing this lawless universe because that was done by The Force Awakens. The Last Jedi simply takes it to a new level and decides that if the most important rules are no longer rules then there’s really no reason to have any rules at all. Which is a sensible conclusion to make. It’s like how if someone proved beyond a reasonable doubt that there was no God then the world would sink into chaos like at the end of Preacher Season 1 or Sausage Party. If there are no rules then you would live like there are no rules. You wouldn’t continue the pain in the ass lifestyle of following rules that don’t matter just because it’s a nice thing to do. What’s the point when you can have a lot more freedom and fun doing whatever the hell you want? That’s what Rian Johnson did with The Last Jedi. Order disappeared from the Star Wars universe and he went all in on taking advantage of that.
Taking all that into account, the question now becomes how should we watch Star Wars Episode IX? Now we can choose to watch it like we’ve watched all other Star Wars movies if we want to. Hold it to the old guard rules of canon, compare it directly to Episodes IV – VI, and almost assuredly hate it for completely justifiable reasons, again ignoring the anti-feminist and anti-minority, alt-right crowd. But is it worth it? Should we hold a movie to the gold standard that takes place as the final act that’s already established itself as not even bronze quality Star Wars film making? I say no. Why should we put ourselves through that for the second time in a row? That’s just setting ourselves up for disappointment. Instead I’ve come up with an alternative way to watch this next and any future Star Wars movies in the main timeline.
Rather than compare Episode IX to Episodes I – VIII and hold it to the highest standard, we should only compare it to Episodes VII and VIII. If we accept that the old canonical rules pretty much died with The Force Awakens, as I have argued here, then what reason do we have to hold Episode IX to a pre-Episode VII standard? If you think about it logically, there really isn’t one. By that standard it will be bad and it will make true classic Star Wars fans angry. But I don’t believe it has to be bad if we base it solely on current saga standards, especially considering how low they already are.
If we watch Episode IX in the context of VII and VIII only then I believe it could be a fairly tolerable movie. We would go in knowing there aren’t any hard rules about how the Force works. We’d have an established context to why random characters with no background can be/are ultimately super important. Instead of going in expecting Avengers: Infinity War, we should go in expecting The Matrix Revolutions. In this way we wouldn’t have to leave the theater angry. We could just leave unimpressed but content with what we saw within the context of the current saga.
I know this type of viewing sounds hard to a lot of diehard fans, myself included. But is the possibility of seeing a move and finding it tolerable truly worse than the alternative? I’m not saying you should support the current direction Disney is taking with Star Wars. But if you are going to see the movie, and you know you will, then maybe it doesn’t have to be the terrible experience that you’re already expecting it to be. You have more than a year to prepare yourself so maybe take advantage of that and consider a new way of thinking. It took me a long time to do that, but I finally have myself so I know you can too.