March Game Notes
This is my first attempt at doing this and I am planning on doing it on a monthly basis. The idea behind these blog posts is that I will take notes on the things I notice while playing games. Most things will be critiques because it is easier to see the flaws. In some cases, I will offer up ideas on what I think is a better alternative. Once I complete a game I will likely do a more in-depth analysis of the game and talk about how everything fits together as a whole.
This game has been collecting electronic dust in my steam account for a very long time. I heard that it is a very good metroidvania style game and purchased it a long time ago but I never gotten around to playing it. I spent a few hours playing it in March and will pick it back up after completing some of the other games I have been playing.
Overall the theme is really well done. The music and visual aesthetics match together very nicely. They are unique enough to make the game stand out instead of feeling like it is just another Metroid clone.
The opening cut scene was dragged out and very slow. For more retro games I prefer the occasional walls of text with little bits of information like in Metroid fusion.
The controls feel imperfect to me. The jumps seem a little too floaty and it is hard to aim diagonally. A button is dedicated to locking the position you are currently aiming instead of having a dedicated 45 degree button like in Metroid games. It seems like there is a cool down between shoots. If you hit an enemy the cool down is either non existent or reduced by a significant amount of time. Perhaps this was a means of punishing players with bad aim, a bug or maybe this is needed for another reason I haven't discovered. On the other hand, the initial power ups are very cool. Being able to explode the shoot after a second button press is a great idea! It opens up a lot of possibilities.
Health seemed a bit odd in the game. I prefer a number to easily know how many more hits I can take and how much damage particular enemies deal. When my health was low, an annoying alarm sound plays. This is very common in games and I find it very annoying. It's even more annoying to anyone else who isn't playing the game but can hear it. I think this is an important consideration for newer games because e-sports and streaming are becoming increasingly popular and important in the gaming community. Games likely do this to make sure the player knows that he is low on health and can not think of a better way to do this. A few alternatives I would suggest:
- Add a red tint to the screen. For a more dramatic effect oscillate its alpha channel
- Slow down the game time briefly after the player hits lower than a certain percentage of health
- You can also adjust the music speed or it's pitch.
- Have the player look more damaged.
- Make the UI for the health bar much larger. This is often done in fighting games and some other games known for their difficulty like Dark Souls and Monster Hunter
I have played Stardew Valley a handful of times. It is one of those games that I never finish and start a new file every time I pick it back up. I have the notion that I will experience it all at once and actually finish the game this time but I never do. I do not pace myself and only play a little bit of a few different games at a time. Instead I play only one game and then move on to another after a few weeks or months. I do love this game and recommend it to everyone who likes these sorts of games. If you never tried a game like it before, this is a good one to start with. I dare say that Stardew Valley is better than the Harvest Moon games. I really love Rune Factory Frontier and can't decide which one I like more because there are differences between the two. I lean slightly towards Rune Factory and wish they came out with more games or remade it for the Nintendo Switch.
On a side note I would like to point out that Stardew Valley was made by one person. All of it! The music, the graphics, the programming, everything. It is an incredible feat that one person could do so well in so many different areas.
Starting out with the character creator which has made a lot of progress since the old days of harvest moon games. I am not a huge fan of how it works with so many options, but it gets the job done: I would prefer a generic starting character that you can dress but that adds a significant amount of cost and time to the development of the game. The ability to see the character from the sides and back is really nice and essential for knowing what some of the hair styles look like. Overall, I feel there are too many choices. I would prefer if they were broken into subcategories. For example, the hair can be divided by hair length and the clothes by style.
I love it when character creators have randomizers that create decent looking characters unlike the Elder Scroll games. This game does not have a randomizer for names which is something else I like. Otherwise I stick with really lame names like Mr. Sir because I want to dive into the game already! By this point I already spent a ton of time on the character creation.
I find it odd you can select your pet in the initial character creator screen. You do not get the pet until a little way into your first season. I wish the pet had some meaning with hidden bonuses and that there were more choices for a pet.
The opening cut scene is different and a bit darker than related titles which is nice and refreshing. It is still a bit similar to the others in the sense that you inherit a farm though so part of me wishes there was a different scenario like in Animal Crossing games.
The music in the games is very simple and catchy. More tunes would be nice, but it is not necessary and understandable considering the game was built by one person. At night the music switches to ambient noises which is very nice. When it is raining there is only ambiance as well. This is once place where I really wished there was music.
The time passes in 10 min increments and there is a dial in the UI to show you which part of the day it is by using a sun and a moon in the dial. This portion of the UI feels really cluttered. There is so much information packed in such a small space of the screen. Rune Factory Frontier did an excellent job with this.
The menus also feel a bit cluttered. I wish auto sorting and auto dumping items was a simple button press. Given how many items there are in the game, I wish there was slightly more inventory spaces. Like two or three more for every bag size.
If you go to bed at a decent time you will wake up at 6am. The pacing of how long a day is feels right, I can get a decent amount done but not too much. On the other hand I end up playing the game a little bit longer per a sitting than I should but that's a good thing.
The camera is bounded to the scene so it wont move unless the player is moving towards away from the edges of the current scene. The camera only follows the player if they are passing the center point of the camera.
The fishing game is a little bit painful. All that clicking hurts my fingers and tenses up my hand. At the very beginning it is too difficult to catch fish unless you are skilled at this already. When playing on a console I have a much easier time with the fishing. A button press is easier than clicking the mouse. The distance bar feels off to me, to get a max cast I have to let go of the button to what feels a little early.
The rarity for items is very limited which makes it a fairly easy to get the best quality items. Items either have no rarity, a silver star or a gold star. Getting gold star items feels too easy. I can start getting gold star items with the first set of crops I plant. I get all gold star fish after only a season or two of heavy fishing.
Starbound is another one of those games I pick up and put down but I haven't spent nearly as much time with this one in the past. Starbound soft locks your progress based on story progression which is fine but to move forward in the story you have to find specific civilizations and scan their artifacts which can be very time consuming. If the order wasn't locked it would add a ton of freedom to the game and make this much less aggravating. This tedious process forces me to put the game down after a few days to the repetitiveness of searching the same types of planets over and over.
My overall impression of the game, which I would go more in depth in a dedicated post is that they added a lot of mechanics and didn't balance them with each other. Because of this the different aspects of the game fight against each other instead of helping one another.
The game starts with a lengthy tutorial section. You can skip most of it but I do wish I can skip more of it. I think this is important for types of games where people are going to make multiple characters for. The different races and their different ships encourage players to do this.
Overall I do not like the controls for the game. It the distinction of left click vs right click on items which doubles your bar but it feels sloppy to me. With so many essential items and the faster paced combat I find it difficult to take the time to hit a key or scroll to the right weapon under those circumstances. More importantly there are so many key tools that are in the middle of the items bar. You could use key shortcuts for some of these, but the keys are not always obvious because they are different from similar games like Terraria.
The ores in general are cool. They can be in the foreground or background and instead of being a dedicated block they are in the block. While there are plenty of tiers, they are very similar looking to each other making it hard to know which is which visually. I feel like this is a mining game, but I am never compelled to mine. I spend so much time looking for the artifacts to scan that I find what I need by raiding all the chest I find in the meantime. A more server penalty for robbing the innocent towns would discourage me from doing this.
The crafting system is very complex as well. Granted Terraria is also complex with many crafting stations, Starbound is even more complex. More importantly the crafting wait time mechanic seems pointless. There is no point in crafting weapons because you will always find better weapons looking for the artifacts to scan.
The UI and item handling is clunky as well. For games that allow you to have so many different items it is essential that they make it easy to sort and store your items. Not all storage containers allow you to sort items. There is no auto dumping or auto loading of items either.
The enemies are bland and indistinguishable from the friendlies. Walking near them and seeing if they are aggressive is the best tactic. They lack any complex AI and will just charge at you very quickly or shoot a projectile.
I only played this once before and put it down because I got busy. JRPGs are games I tend to pick up and put down but I do manage to go all the way through them sometimes. I played all the way through some of the earlier Final Fantasy games, Tales of Symphonia and got almost all the way through some others like Dot Hack and more recent Final Fantasy games. FFXII is my favorite thus far.
An overall impression of this game is that it is very focused on cinematics which is a double-edged sword. The story and scenery is great but at times it comes at the expense of the gameplay.
The game follows a popular opening sequence which I really enjoy and is effective. The sequence is cut scene, boss fight and then the main game. This lets you get into the combat with an enemy more interesting than a slime and a lot quicker than other RPGs do. This captures the players attention.
Fighting all the enemies at the beginning of the game is worthless. You don't get any experience and the items and gill you get amounts to little to no benefit in the next portion of the game.
The game does still spoon feed tutorials. They are quick screens and at appropriate times but there are so many. Some I think should be discovered by the player intuitively such as sneaking up on enemies. RPGs should have a certain level of discoverability and play to our curiosities instead of spoon feeding how everything should be.
The camera is a pain in the ass. I have spent over 40 hours and I still can't reliably control the dam thing as I intend to. Its pacing is odd when I try to manually adjust it and it makes navigating to the obviously placed chest annoying. While going through the level the camera will automatically adjust itself to show you the landscape which is pretty but I want to play the game.
The maps are very linear with little to no branching paths. It's just corridor after corridor. Yes, they look nice but they are repetitive. When combined with the bad camera controls I end up looking at my mini map a lot more than I look at the main game. At times I wish I can jump to some control over my characters.
There are so many cut scenes. Again, they are nice, the story is good but I would like to play the game for more than 30 seconds before jumping into another cut scene. In a lot of these cases I think the cut scenes should just be chained together.
Characters grunt a lot in cut scenes. It feels very unnatural to just grunt to acknowledges something is happening or someone is saying something. There is nothing wrong with silence and I am surprised that a game like FF does this.
There are a ton of save stations. I wonder if its even worth saving unless you plan on exiting the game. Especially once you discover that a continue means starting off just before the last fight instead of the last save point.
The fights can be painfully slow at times. This is most noticeable when you are only playing as one or two-character teams or when your up against a large number of enemies. Time is not the same thing as difficulty. I sometimes use the occasional alternative route to avoid enemies not because they are hard but because it is so time consuming.
It is not obvious how low you are on health in the beginning of the game. Characters can die very quickly. By the time the screen is flashing red, it is often to late to do anything because of how slow the paradigm shifts are. This is less of a problem as you get farther in the game.
The break system on the other hand is a very nice way to force players to use more diversity in the game.
Lastly Vanille is my waifu. I love her character design and voice.