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Recent reviews by ZeSmith

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Showing 1-10 of 64 entries
No one has rated this review as helpful yet
9.1 hrs on record
The best deduction puzzles I've seen since Return of the Obra Dinn.

Obra Dinn is probably the closest equivalent. But unlike it, there's a much bigger narrative focus. And since it's set in a fictional world that is only roughly inspired by our own, you're going to have to reverse engineer the world building to figure some things out.

Your task is always to fill in the blanks, and there's always multiple ways to get to a conclusion, which rewards lateral thinking. They get tricky quickly, but once you get the answer, it always feel like it was the most obvious thing in retrospect. Which is what good puzzles should be.

While the art style was, huh, repulsive at first, but it grew on me since then. It's very effective, and it's distinctive. I like how most characters are ugly (because most of them are pieces of ♥♥♥♥). The music contributes very well to the atmosphere of every scene, especially in the DLC.

Oh, yeah, there's DLC. They're both great, and they offer a slightly more difficult challenge since it's expected you'll be doing the main game first.

In short, if you liked Obra Dinn, you'll love this. Just make sure you play with highlights enabled, otherwise you'll be doing a lot of pixel hunting. Dragging and dropping keywords can get a bit tedious, but never enough to detract from the whole experience.

I can't wait for the sequel.
Posted December 19, 2023. Last edited December 20, 2023.
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2 people found this review helpful
8.0 hrs on record
Well, that sure made my eyes a little bit wet. My throat a bit tight.

My feelings... complicated.

Okay, so, this is another one of those "indie games that are about mental health". And it's weird at first but then the whole plot becomes incredibly obvious somehow and then the ending is both gut wrenching and also touching but most importantly happy. Which is an interesting combo.

Mechanically, it's a visual novel with a few minigames thrown in to spice up the monotony of reading text boxes. You'll be reading a lot of text boxes, and also running from one text box to the next. There are some clever puzzles in there, though, which made my brain feel big, and that's always a plus in my book. But it made me wish how that combat button press QTE thing was a JRPG combat system. Think about it.

But really, the ending makes it all worth it. There's a very mature message there. Yes, it's about mental health, but it doesn't cut corners, and it avoids the common traps you see when people try to turn those themes into game mechanics.

So, give it a shot if you like reading, thinking and crying. Oh, and cats. So many cats.
Posted December 15, 2023. Last edited December 15, 2023.
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No one has rated this review as helpful yet
6.9 hrs on record
It's impressive how this game was essentially made by a single person. Sure, it's short (you'll be done in less than eight hours), but it has some gorgeous pixel art, an incredible soundtrack, and very witty writing. I wasn't expecting to be as emotionally invested in the lives of a bunch of rodents but here we are.

The combat system is interesting, but ultimately both shallow and also incredibly easy. In fact, that would be my one negative criticism: the complete lack of challenge. I've never lost a fight. Really, you're in this for the world and its inhabitants.

And yeah, those characters are awesome. I love how grounded the world feel, how every element of it is tied to a real life object or idea. There's so much imagination on display, all the time. Yeah, it's short, but I played most of it in one sitting. The fights might be playing themselves, you'll still soldier on just to see what happens next, especially because of how tight the pacing is.

It's cute, it's queer, it's great. What more do you want?
Posted December 13, 2023. Last edited December 13, 2023.
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No one has rated this review as helpful yet
11.2 hrs on record
Full disclosure: I couldn't finish this game. I know what I have to do, but in order to do it, I have to show some piloting skills that I don't have, and I'm not sure I want to actually learn them. I was never good at those six-degrees-of-freedom flight experiences. Thankfully, you don't have to be for like 95% of the game. Most of the time, what Outer Wilds does is give you some clues and then asks you to connect the dots. And I love doing that, so that's great.

Anyway I watched the ending on YouTube and yeah, I wasn't really that far from it. Still took me a while to get there, lots of puzzles to solve, most of them of the environmental variety. And the soundtrack makes my eyes well up a bit.

In short, it's probably the second best time loop game ever made, after Majora's Mask. High praise, I know. It's certainly a bit niche, but if you're the kind of person who enjoys just solving mysteries, there's your game.
Posted November 11, 2023. Last edited November 11, 2023.
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32 people found this review helpful
5.6 hrs on record
So in a post-Undertale (or heck, even a post-EarthBound) world, I don't think anyone can be surprised by meta twists on game mechanics. But it's the first time I've seen them being used in actual puzzles instead of only as narrative elements. Undertale didn't do anything outside of the game, after all, it only commented on the fact that this is a video game that you can choose to stop playing.

So OneShot definitely does more with the medium than its closest equivalents. It's also a really funny story with well written dialogue and endearing characters. It's very short (you can probably finish it in one playthrough, even if you go for all the endings), but it's tightly packed with stuff to see and feel.

The puzzles are generally clever and often require thinking outside the box (sometimes literally). I won't really go into details because I don't want to spoil the fun, but I will say this: they made me feel smart.

So, yeah, it's strange, it's funny, it's heartrending, and while there was no crying until the end, those were happy tears.
Posted November 6, 2023. Last edited November 7, 2023.
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1 person found this review helpful
9.9 hrs on record
Yeah, yeah, this is 2D cyberpunk Resident Evil with a side of Silent Hill.

I've heard they patched in a better inventory system just before I got to play it, and that's a relief, because I swear half my play time was done backtracking to a chest to swap items in my inventory. The combat is a load of butt, but thankfully there's not too much of it (enemies are nearsighted and dumb, just sneak or run circles around them).

As a result of the top down perspective, the game is not scary at all. There are no jump scares, just an foreboding sense of dread. The environments range from "spooky abandoned area" to "almost Hell", with a hearty helping of meat moss to gel things together. If you've played Silent Hill, you know the type. And, of course, the plot is pretty much impenetrable.

I'm going to give a recommendation because it is otherwise very competent, the puzzles are clever, the feeling of exploration is always there, and the atmosphere is really good at drawing you in. Oh, and there's just enough mind screws to tie things together. And while the story won't make a lot of sense while you're playing it, it does give you a lot to think about once you're done with it.

Also, putting German everywhere gives everything a completely different feel than in other sci-fi settings, as if the world itself is angry. Which I guess is something nobody else has done.

So, yeah, it's a bit rough around the edges, but I had trouble putting my controller down while I was in it. Perhaps it is hell, eh.
Posted November 1, 2023.
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24 people found this review helpful
1 person found this review funny
8.1 hrs on record
I'm going to be honest up front: I didn't finish this game. I played for quite a bit, and then I got to a point where I figured out what the main objective of the game was, then realised in order to get to the end, I'd have to deal with RNG, time-of-day sensitive events, and most importantly, one of the worst fishing minigames I've ever seen.

But still, it's overall pretty interesting. I especially like how everything is a neat puzzle, how you have to pay attention to context cues, your environment, put multiple things together. It made my brain feel big. I like the world, the characters, and how both unhinged and grounded everything is. It's weird, but in a way that makes sense.

In short, I really like the premise, the themes, and the overall ideas on display here. It's just the actual execution I have problems with. But then again, this game is over 25 years old, so I won't hold it too much against it. Games were literally built different back then.

It is a recommendation because what it does, it does very well, and as a historical artifact, it is very compelling. I would definitely play a modern reinterpretation of this formula, with better controls, quality of life improvements, an in-game calendar, and less punishing timings.

Oh, and a better fishing minigame. Or no fishing at all, that'd be good too.

Although at that point I could just be playing Undertale again.
Posted November 1, 2023. Last edited November 1, 2023.
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7 people found this review helpful
26.1 hrs on record
It took me a while to finish this game.

I initially picked up near its release, then stopped playing for a while, and then went back and finished it. I liked the idea of a game where you play as the boatman ferrying souls through the gate and helping them with any unfinished business. It deals with grief, loss, and remembrance. It's an intriguing proposition.

I don't really know how I feel about it. It's a recommendation because its art and music and atmosphere and writing are all great. But as for the game itself, I don't know, I don't think it's that good.

Okay, let me qualify that. It's not that it's not good. It's more that it's not for me. I like sad games, difficult games, complicated games. I've cried through a few endings in my time. But in, say, Celeste, the emotional payoff is gated by tight and satisfying platforming. In Undertale, it's bullet hell and puzzles. Here, it's... farming.

I'm not a fan of grindy stuff. I don't like when my games are routine. Routine is for my daily life, not my virtual escapism. I know all games are ultimately repetitive, but I prefer those that at least make an honest effort at hiding this repetition.

But the thing is, the grind here is also part of the experience. It's one of those "story supported by mechanics" type deal. Your daily tasks represent Stella's journey through the underworld. After all, taking care of those around you is often a routine, and it's often not very fun. That is the whole point.

So I can't really knock off points off of it. Yeah, I thought the gameplay was painful, but so is Stella's story. You can't really extricate one from the other. And at the end of each of those quests, you do get a very emotional scene with an interesting character. But I wish I could just skip through most of it. But then, wouldn't that cheapen the experience?

I guess it's good. Not my game of the year, but good. Yeah, okay, let's make that a recommendation.
Posted October 24, 2023.
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No one has rated this review as helpful yet
6.2 hrs on record
I'm not sure how I feel about the idea of a metroidvania without a map. I mean, those games have had maps for a few decades now. At least most of the rooms have a memorable enough layout, but the Nintendo 64 aesthetic does make most of them look very barren.

That being said, this might be some of the best platforming I've played, well, ever. This moveset is so great, and this really is the best wall jump in the industry. The number of times I've said "was I supposed to do it that way?" cannot be counted. Is it sequence breaking if there doesn't seem to be a sequence to begin with? Wanna go somewhere without the move to do it? Well, you can try with your other moves, it'll probably work.

Yeah, okay, it's short, and the ending is just, well, an ending, but it's cheap. If you felt like Mario 64 was too easy and shallow, give it a shot. You might have to draw your own map, however, the game doesn't give you one.
Posted October 24, 2023. Last edited October 24, 2023.
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2 people found this review helpful
36.1 hrs on record
So, you like Chrono Trigger, don't you? You're the kind of JRPG enjoyer that's in it for character focused storytelling, strategic combat and the kind of plot twist that make you realise that this isn't actually a final boss (twice)? Well, hop on!

Sea of Stars is... well, calling it a "Chrono Trigger spiritual successor" would actually do it a disservice. It's not a wrong statement in itself: CT was clearly the main inspiration there, but the developers' goal wasn't to simply recreate the 1995 original (damn, it's already been that long). No, they're also breaking a lot of new grounds in the JRPG space.

The real draw here, besides the absolutely breathtaking pixel art (which I will go so far as claim is the best I've ever seen) and the absolutely banging soundtrack, is the combat system. Fighting any enemy is a puzzle into itself, figuring out the best order of operation to interrupt enemy actions and put the tempo on your side. You will feel very smart fighting bosses, let me tell you. It is somewhat on the easy side, however, but since then is that a bad thing?

The narrative is... serviceable. Since the developers couldn't decide which of the twin solstice warriors of Zale and Valere would be the "JRPG party leader", they share the role, which means they don't really have much of a personality. Chrono was a blank slate for you to project yourself into, after all. As such, the story has to force their childhood friend Garl into doing most of the emotional heavy lifting. If you feel like the whole plot revolves around Garl like he's the writer's pet character, well, that's because someone has to talk during the cutscenes.

Another point is that (and that's not really a spoiler) this game is technically a prequel to the Messenger. You don't need to have played that game (I sure didn't, but now I guess I'll have to) to understand what's going on, but there's a few moments that I'm told have much more impact if you know what they lead up to.

Also, this game is very long? I went for the true ending (oh, yeah, there's two endings in this game) and that took me a while. Just like Chrono Trigger, just when you feel you're done, surprise, there's a whole new game behind it.

Anyway, it's very good.
Posted October 4, 2023.
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Showing 1-10 of 64 entries