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The OMG Review
Our review format is not your usual fare and we’ve broken it down into 3 very simple ratings! “Buy it!” means that the game deserves a place in your collection. Be it day 1 or a slightly delayed purchase, it’s hard to go wrong with this title. In numbers, this is around an 8/10 and above. “Wait for it…” means that the game probably isn’t worth it at its day 1 price point, we suggest you wait for a sale before jumping in. In numbers, this is around a 5 – 7/10. “Ignore it!” means that the game is not something we’d recommend playing, whether it be now or in the near future, unless you want to intentionally hurt yourself. Let’s not even go to the numbers for this one.
Sneak Peek
  • Release Date: July 17, 2020
  • Platforms: PlayStation 4
  • Genre: Open-world action adventure
  • Similar Games: Horizon Zero Dawn, Tomb Raider, Assassin’s Creed, The Witcher 3
  • Price: Estimated SRP PHP2,999

Highly anticipated and unafraid to release close to heavyweights like The Last Of Us Part II and the now delayed Cyberpunk 2077, Ghost of Tsushima is a breakaway hit for Sony’s first-party developer Sucker Punch, infamous for, well, Infamous. I’m going to come right off the bat and gush over this beauty of a game put together from what seems like the best features of similar open-world role models of recent years: Horizon Zero Dawn, Breath Of The Wild, The Witcher 3, and of course the North American studio’s own learnings from the aforementioned Infamous franchise.

Sucker Punch is certainly no neophyte in this stage and this is clearly their best work yet. While it hardly breaks new ground with its gameplay, Ghost of Tsushima (GoT) is a tour de force of cinema in videogame form, combining iconic moments nearly only seen in films with exciting and varied combat flowcharts and exploration elements that meld with a plot-pushing pace that strives to never lose its tempo.

Stare in awe at the iconic cinematography of a samurai movie in a videogame.

Let’s head into the thick of this romanticized take on the 13th century Mongol invasions of Japan and allow me to do so in the form of one of his hobbies – a Haiku (it’s one of MANY side-activities you can do in GoT; a more serious equivalent to Yakuza’s and Sleeping Dogs’ karaoke).

This review is spoiler free.

Story and visual,
Combine in sheer artistry,
Crowned by wondrous sound.

Our hero, the eponymous Ghost, begins the game as only Jin, the scion of a clan of warriors born and sworn to defend the island they call home. The tutorial area is a brutal introduction to real-world-inspired initial reaction of the Japanese to the Mongol horde – Jin participates in the defense of Tsushima, but is met by a foreign enemy employing foreign tactics.

I had qualms over the seemingly slow approach of the game, and the first “WOW” moment did not come immediately, but come it did after the game finished with its intro sections. GoT was slowly and surely weaving a tale founded on a rich lore of alternate history, with its characters as cornerstones with which the pillars of its master plan would hinge on. 

Jin and the other characters’ relationships are built over really well-acted dialogue, both in English and Japanese dub, although the facial animations and mouth movements might be a little bit disorienting as they are keyed into English scripts only. You would expect a Samurai game to be paired perfectly with Japanese dubs, but the English voice actors are equally as deserving of praise, oftentimes being the better option so as not to have the subtitles distract from the on-screen action.

The main characters each develop their motivations, actions, and emotions over the course of their own Tales, always inviting you to uncover more and more about them – and it is an offer that’s hard to avoid as they mesh together well in the grand scheme of the island’s politics and setting.

Nearly all the cut-scenes are from Jin’s point-of-view, and is centered on his journey around the island

We are soon presented with the central conflict of the game, a Batman-esque premise of the guerilla Ghost being the hero the people of Tsushima needs, while Jin’s rigorously trained samurai self is forcefully evolved by dire circumstances of a new and inscrutable enemy from beyond the seas. The Mongols are not afraid to use fire, hostage-taking, and other tactics samurai would consider dishonorable – and the Ghost learns to employ assassinations, stealth, and actual new technology (at least for warriors of the time in this portrayal of shogunate Japan) against them.

Eventually, the Ghost learns that the people have flocked to his name not only for protection, but to support him as well – Tsushima was not going to be saved by one man alone, but it sure does begin with his efforts in bringing down their oppressors, one peasant saved at a time.

We meet other like-minded individuals – some from Jin’s past, and others new acquaintances – that will share our journey, not as tag-alongs but as well developed characters that bare their motivations and energy in their actions. Together, along with legends, myths, and events from all the corners of the island, a living, breathing setting is borne and raised in the matter of anywhere from 40-60 hours, the amount of time it will roughly take to Platinum the game.

GoT is full of fights and encounters amidst iconic scenery.

The game shines in the presentation of its story in these regards, which, while it is a very Hollywood take on the honor-and-swordplay beats of samurai flicks, is very respectful, well-developed, and nurtured over a forgiving but adventurous pace, especially for an open-world game that comes with lots of side quests and distractions.

If you loved watching The Bride demolish gangsters and assassins, or Daigoro protect his cub, or Jack stand steadfast against time and a gigantic demon warlock, you will love GoT. I’ve heard it compared to Sekiro if only for its theme – while they are two games floating down diverging river paths, the love for the lore of bushido is embraced in both – GoT is just more grounded in realism, though not without dabbling in a little mythological spirituality.

The visual artistry is without a doubt, its most breathtaking aspect. The world is littered with views and vantages straight out of a feudal-era painting to enjoy. It is an experience that begs you to appreciate beauty even in the ravages of strife and suffering, if only to serve as a breather between the tense battles you have to take part in. High Resolution and High Frame Rate mode is present for PS4 Pro users, but we noticed hardly any frame rate dips so we opted to use High Resolution all the way, rewarded with some of the most stunning scenery in any game.

via GIPHY

The score and ambient audio provides bountiful support in immersing us through the various locales, feeling as authentic as a Kurosawa masterpiece. Speaking of the famed filmmaker, there’s even an option to up the cinematic feel – a

“Kurosawa Mode” graphic filter that turns the game black, white, and grainy (and the sound a bit muted and dull), which while most certainly a novel gimmick, is a cool addition; along with the “cinematic” camera pan speed (though the camera is not without its troubles – which we’ll later tackle below), making for some great shots to capture on video. Simply put, it you love fiddling around in Photo Mode, you will spend hours doing so, no question.

It is a creative marvel of passion – delighting with every scene, every vista, every muddy roll through the rice paddies and bloody slashes through flesh and armor. And I absolutely loved the ending credits song – can’t wait for the official soundtrack to be released.

Open-world ninja,
Samurai action hero,
Fluid, organic.

GoT is an amalgamation of the best bits of the action-RPG sub-genre, opening up once the initial mechanics, plot points, and characters are introduced. The core loop is familiar: unlock a quest line via meeting an NPC, follow them or their story to a place of interest, do battle or solve a puzzle, and reap the rewards.

It seems a pedestrian formula at first glance, but the implementation is streamlined to keep you always wanting more. Quests, or Tales, are manageable in length and will almost never feel like a drag because of wonderful writing for the most part, which could possibly stand toe to toe with The Witcher 3. Longer Tales are split apart in chapters that you can conveniently sidetrack yourself out of if you feel like taking on something else for the meantime. Exploring Tsushima’s nooks and crannies will, for the most part, be bursting with flavor.

Where will the wind take us next?

Tsushima Island itself is divided into three main regions corresponding to the game’s possibly film-inspired three acts. Each region is sizable, with so much to see and do that there is hardly a dull moment in the world. Across valleys and lakes and fields, each area has a noticeable theme that makes the region distinct and the map stand out in vivid color. As you ride into the sunset, you notice hardly any loading times except for the times when you employ fast travel, and even then loading times are short, averaging around 5 seconds, give or take, on a PS4 Pro.

The main navigation mechanic is presented as the Guiding Wind, a representation of the Kamikaze (literally Divine Wind) that was said to have helped drive away the IRL Mongol invasion. Swiping up on the Dual Shock touchpad calls forth a visual and aural cue in the form of a gusting wind, blowing towards the direction of the map entry you would have been instructed to track. Not only does this make exploration intuitive – it is also an immersive and clever way of merging game-play mechanics with character and plot development – Jin’s connection to the Divine Wind is explored pretty early on in a story cut-scene. Travel by horseback and just plain running around is also rewarded by the myriad activities you can do besides moving the plot along.

Question marks can sometimes appear on the map where the fog-of-war is wiped away by your world movement or mentioned by NPCs, and following these can lead to cleverly hidden mini-games, platforming challenges, or an outright trove of loot that’s still presented in a way that makes sense within the world. The map is immense, but points of interest are properly scattered that weaving to and from each point does not feel like a chore, highlighting a triumph in game design.

Be honorable and stylish at the same time.

The amount of vanity gear you can equip is enough to satisfy a huge range of tastes – dress like a wide and towering Oni-faced war leader, a rough-and-tumble my-own-rules ronin in a hakama (please do correct me in terminology of there is a better one – I’m an enthusiast, not an expert), or the eccentric weird hats of feudal longbow archers.

Past cosmetic upgrades, shrines atop mountain peaks and beyond precarious caves provide charms that can be equipped for stacking benefits like damage reduction, hot spring onsen in hidden coves provide healing and permanent boosts to health, and even a sort-of Simon-Says sequence in bamboo practice stands that increase your resolve, basically your ‘mana’ to pull off your techniques.

via GIPHY

Tsushima is mostly handcrafted goodness except for its random-battle system – these points in the map are fun to discover and complete and are meticulously scattered all over the island.

Always move forward,
Building your legend slowly,
Ghost or Samurai.

Experience and character progression is given form by the growing of the Ghost of Tsushima’s legend among the populace. As you conduct your exploits saving villages and their inhabitants from roving squads of Mongolians and native opportunistic bandits, the people take notice of your work and show their gratitude with meager gifts of supply rations (the game’s main currency – a refreshing alternative where actual money would not make sense for a wartime setting).

Completing enough adventures that contribute to the Ghost’s living legend grants us Technique Points that can unlock combat and exploration options, custom-fit to your choice of play-style.

So many ways to kill a man… or bear… or…

Plying your operations across larger and larger swathes of territory will have you returning to some areas where peasants and merchants are already able to return in safety to their habitations, thanks to your efforts in driving away hostile forces. This trend of give and take echoes all throughout Tsushima, giving players and Jin constant doses of gratification.

Craftsmen, that can improve your weapons and armor, and merchants, that provide more vanity options for playing samurai dress-up, pop-up in quest hubs big and small, eager to offer their services to the Ghost in support of his heroic deeds.

These are consistent qualities maintained throughout the whole game: everything makes sense in the scope of world-building an already well-known and often-depicted landscape that may be written off as an easy or safe choice for game developers.

The life of Tsushima and its katana-sharp romanticization are given life by mechanics that are gracefully intertwined with the fact that it is still a game that needs to played – everything from character statistic/skill upgrades, crafting, navigation and exploration as I’ve mentioned above, to the combat, side-quests for loot, and overall progression is backed by a story element.

And finally, the combat – we remembered Sucker Punch’s promise of “exhilarating” fights – and they for sure delivered on this guarantee. The dance of movement and timing represents the best elements of samurai/ninja-inspired action games of old: of Tenchu’s quick and brutal stealth kills, to Sekiro’s perfect parries and dodges, even to hints of Bushido Blade – the game allows you enough leeway to choose how to take on the Mongol hordes.

via GIPHY

A relatively fresh mechanic called the Standoff, allows you to challenge idle unalerted enemies to a duel that you can end in one strike – or fail and get punished to a sliver of your health instead. It’s another smart implementation of what is in the narrative as Jin keeping useful samurai tactics – again it makes sense in both gameplay and story.

Failing that, you can of course quietly approach an encampment and bring them down one by one without their buddies getting none the wiser. My slight gripe is that while there is a cool behind-the-paper-door insta-kill, there is no from-the-ledge kill, like from when you hang by a window or overhang and pull someone to their death. Still, the variety of executions you can commit in the shadows are varied enough.

via GIPHY

There’s also all manner of “Ghost” weapons, the side of Jin representing his acceptance of the any-means-necessary against the invaders and bandits – throw kunai at their necks and hear them gurgle blood as you rush other targets down, smokebombs to regain the advantage of stealth (and thus enable insta-kills even amidst alerted enemies), and even a technique similar to the Mongols’ that allows you to set fire to your blade.

It’s really your choice – build tanky and fight like the stubborn and bear-like Kikuchiyo in Seven Samurai, or trick your opponents with tools of misdirection both literal and strategic, like Kyuzo from the same film.

The combat and stealth sequences in the main Tales are wonderfully choreographed and seem to enable Jin and the player to exercise their creativity in the effort of mastering an obstacle in the most beautiful way possible without ever pressuring you with a score – it’s up to you too what’s cool or not in your book. Together with lilting crescendos nudging you ever forward from a quiet buildup as you approach enemies – the pace never lets up when it finds opportunity.

Most of these Tales are topped at the end by Duels, boss fights that work a bit different from regular battles – they’re great early on but by the end, some can be underwhelming copy-pastes and re-orders of sequences you’ve already conquered. Nevertheless, the fights never lose their flair, and these are some of the most intense and visually appealing moments in the game.

via GIPHY

Random battles also litter the landscape and offer challenges that sometimes reward Jin with information from rescued hostages – these is another appreciated break in the otherwise expected tediousness of manual travel as the battles are quick, and positioning and enemy group composition indulges you to strategize on the fly especially if you’re caught on horseback and seen from afar.

Other challenges that are prearranged but can be tackled at your leisure include Mongol work camps, the occupied village territory, and military installations filled with soldiers all waiting to be Ghosted. Terrain features await your surveying eye – be patient for the proper moments to strike undetected or be quick before you are seen and an alarm is raised.

Climb up to roofs and towers, crawl under floorboards, and squeeze through cracks in fences – they’re all here from Tenchu – done with modern-day video-game sensibilities and design in mind.

Close to perfection,
Details loved, flaws accepted,
Greatness still stands out.

It was a long and arduous journey we took to get here – it’s sure got that one-more-quest (one more game?) itch just waiting to be scratched and then it’s 3 AM in the morning. I’ve finished the game and still there was stuff to do. It behooves me to say that it wows in so many things, but we still have to talk about where it falls short, unfortunately.

via GIPHY

Enemy AI is exploitable once you get the feel from the first act – even if they do upgrade in their tactics and start ganging up on you, sometimes it feels like a crap-shoot when you pick them off one-by-one with your bow, and just wait for them to drop their alert level. For this reason I’d even recommend upping the difficulty to “Hard” if you feel that the Ghost is too much for his enemies and combat starts to feel like a chore (unlikely, but I’ve felt it a few times across the play-through).

The over-the-shoulder camera can be horrendous in the most inopportune moments. There is no option to have Jin and other characters outlined if they are behind opaque surfaces, and the sticky-as-molasses camera panning often gets stuck in a corner while you get pummeled by an enemy you’re struggling to see. I’ve come to the realization that it may have been a design decision to keep the cinematographic ambiance of the game to the max – but at least a way to deliberately adjust view distance above what the game’s display options offer would have been nice.

There are also quite a bit of weird and minor quirks that can be annoying (that oddly feel in-place in a large open-world game), like NPCs asking you to follow them but close the door on your nose. You’ll notice some NPCs look like some others that fulfill other bigger roles – a somewhat common occurrence for games of this size. And eventually, you can get hit by open-world tedium – you’ll begin to notice which patterns are being repeated, which voice lines keep getting said, and which places you’d probably hate to bother with because you know it’s cribbed from some other place you’ve been to already except that the water mill is in another place, or that there’s more dogs there than archers, and the like.

A Ghost must also rest.

For Breath Of The Wild, I think that’s both what made and broke it – experiences had a lot of variance even for the smallest side quests, but because of their sheer number, it can desensitize you to the remainder of what you can do in the world. In this case, I’m thankful they’re 100% optional like in Zelda, and the grind for materials isn’t as hard as i’d initially thought. And far removed from the (mostly) relaxed mood in BOTW, the goal of saving Tsushima is never out of sight and it is felt, alluded to, directly referenced, and rewarded for.

Overall, Ghost of Tsushima is probably the best recent open-world game to come out this year – but due to its mishaps (which, to be fair, are mostly minor), it’s a game that I love but cannot objectively say was a perfect experience for me. It comes hair-splittingly close for what I could consider our Editor’s Choice rating, and my actual editor will definitely contest me on this, but I ultimately feel that it definitely can do a lot better in terms of polish.

There are very small issues that I battled with (especially the camera) – but I have full confidence that those quibbles won’t take away anything too significant from this otherwise wonderful work of beauty (except maybe cost them the Game of the Year award).

It’s a magnificent endeavor that may have been too big for its own merit, or over-focused too far on some design elements, but it will definitely be a bad-ass katana-swinging contender with its moving story and spectacular presentation.

What we liked:

  • The most beautiful and cinematic open-world game yet
  • Quest writing that can stand up to the likes of The Witcher
  • Fluid and sensible battle mechanics
  • Very fast load-times

What we didn’t like:

  • Annoying camera behavior
  • Exploitable enemy AI 
  • Open-world fatigue can set it by the later stages of the game
  • Small details that feel overlooked

Verdict: Buy it!

Ghost of Tsushima is a technical and artistic marvel. Very few games can look and play as good as this effort from Sucker Punch, and that alone makes it worthy of a full price purchase. It’s an open world game that fully immerses you in the experience with its stunning presentation but also provides nearly the same amount of quality in all its aspects. It begs the question of how they’ve managed to fit everything in a ~40GB file size with minimal loading time. We may not know, but we are thankful and amazed that they’ve managed such a feat.

Ghost of Tsushima is the title that will catapult Sucker Punch to a status not many devs and studios can and will ever reach. It is a titanic effort and it will be to Sucker Punch what Horizon Zero Dawn was to Guerilla Games, a title that may very well be considered their greatest work.

Ghost of Tsushima was reviewed on a PS4 Pro through a review copy provided by the Publisher.

The OMG Review
Our review format is not your usual fare and we’ve broken it down into 3 very simple ratings!

“Buy it!” means that the game deserves a place in your collection. Be it day 1 or a slightly delayed purchase, it’s hard to go wrong with this title. In numbers, this is around an 8/10 and above.

“Wait for it…” means that the game probably isn’t worth it at its day 1 price point, we suggest you wait for a sale before jumping in. In numbers, this is around a 5 – 7/10.

“Ignore it!” means that the game is not something we’d recommend playing, whether it be now or in the near future, unless you want to intentionally hurt yourself. Let’s not even go to the numbers for this one.

Sneak Peek
  • Release Date: June 19, 2020
  • Platforms: PlayStation 4
  • Genre: Action adventure
  • Similar Games: The Last of Us, Uncharted
  • Price: Estimated SRP PHP2,800 – 3,000

The Last Of Us Part II comes out next week Friday, June 19th. Before it hits shelves, your console’s drive space, or the many Youtube channels out there, we’re giving you this spoiler-free review in an attempt to fairly judge our experience after having finished the game multiple times (and then some). The sequel to Naughty Dog’s masterpiece take on the post-apocalyptic zombie action genre has been on every M-rated gamer’s mind ever since the ending of the first one blew our collective heads.

I had come into that game late, playing it only when the remastered version came out. Thankfully, I got to experience it spoiler free. I had many presumptions, being a horror and sci-fi nut in many mediums including videogames, and none of my expectations came close to encapsulating what a wild ride the first was: one truly had to see it to believe it – and that’s just saying something about the story. The sequel is an attempt to catch bottled lightning for the second time, and for a game that some will attest to needing no followup (indicating how perfect and complete the previous one was), it was going to be quite the feat to accomplish.

Life in the world is cold and hard, it’s difficult to expect otherwise

I’ll save you a few minutes of reading: it is the best game yet to come out this year. Maybe not best-selling, as Animal Crossing: New Horizons also just came out – but The Last Of Us Part II is already my contender for Game Of The Year, arguably, even over the Final Fantasy 7 Remake. We had to come up with a new rating past our usual Buy/Ignore/Wait verdicts just for this (and retroactively, for FF7R as well). I could end the review right now with just that, for fear of accidentally lessening the impact of how good the game is when played leak and spoiler-free, but If you still want to read more, thanks and go on ahead; we’ve got a lot of stuff to unpack – and I promise I won’t ruin anything for you.

This review is spoiler free.

Jackson, Wyoming – or where our story begins

The game is set a few years past the ending of the first, and we find ourselves back in the peaceful settlement our protagonists have joined. The timeskip alone tells us that a lot of time and events may already have transpired from the Joel and Ellie we know to the Joel and Ellie of this game. It’s pretty casual – drinks at a bar, awkward social situations, playing in the snow – life seems normal in the continental United States of Fungus. Well, yeah, except for that. The Cordyceps infestation is still very much a problem outside the walls of this prospering abode. We take control of Ellie, who’s now a lot taller from before, and even sporting a tattoo. 

Peace inside the walls is determined by action outside them

The small details in this first act begin to hint at a lot of things you will need to know: Ellie’s grown up, but the world is still the same as the first, seemingly normal and unperturbed by the disasters knocking outside the gates. One of our first tasks is to go on patrol around the settlement – and we are not told that “in today’s world, we go on patrol to check for clickers and other infected in the surrounding areas”.

We are shown Ellie going on a route and role that she hasn’t taken before, and therefore we, as the audience, inherit her eyes and POV. By this we know that Jackson is kept liveable by people who aren’t the same as the people from the outbreak – these are people who’ve lived decades past that (including Ellie and Joel) and that their collective experience in dealing with the Infected and life after the fall of the world has served them well. This is mere minutes into the game, but the rules of the world have already been set – and this is the first thing the game shows without outright telling, with little hand-holding.

Ellie knows what to do, and is raring to contribute to her community – but Naughty Dog still considers that not everyone has played the first before this one, and so we get a tutorial. Like in the first, controls and gameplay concepts are introduced as we go along a relaxed sequence after the introductory scenes in a cold-open narrative style (we jump into the story immediately, and merely observing and then trying lets us grasp what we have to do to play).

It’s a very convenient learning curve for anyone – even those unfamiliar with a PS Dual Shock controller

The controls feel very responsive and intuitive, even more than the first game – alongside the fact that numerous customization and accessibility options are provided well enough to aid any kind of player (so much so that it deserves a separate rundown and read through). Both the camera and how our character behaves with it have been streamlined in operation compared to the original, and it feels less constraining to lie prone or look over tight corners. In terms of controls and camerawork, The Last of Us Part II delivers with flying colors.

The tension is built up over the course of a few fights, QTEs, and a very open-world-ish series of “find an area and clear it of loot and enemies”. In a slight contrast to the first game, the world of TLOU2 appears more explorable and inviting; there’s even a dedicated jump button now, adding to the verticality of locales and your traversal options. There is stuff you can miss: it’s up to you whether you want to play this as quick as you can, or if you want to cross out every nook and cranny you can before going ahead – just be aware that environmental circumstances may not always allow you that leisure (i.e., being chased down by enemies).

That said, it feels natural where you can go and where you cannot: the areas are not so plagued by invisible walls, and the level design is very context-sensitive in that, as I’ve said already, observation alone lets you into a lot of information about what you can or cannot do. See that ledge? Does it look like you can step on top of it? Well, you can. If it doesn’t (there’s all sorts of garbage above it or something), then you can’t grab onto it and pull yourself up.

Up to you to set how overt these hints are; hooray for options!

It sounds so simple, and really, nothing groundbreaking – but there lies an astounding level of polish and attention to even small things that may not even get seen. I didn’t feel bad about possibly missing loot to grab because I did want to push the story forward (or I did not want to risk bothering a clutch of infected), and I found myself thinking, what would Ellie do? I also got the feeling that I was being taught how to play the game again even if I had played the first, because it was such a smooth and engaging experience to do whatever it is the game hints at to progress the story. 

That there is the key: TLOU2 has a habit of nudging you ever forward, egging you on towards uncovering more and more about the world and what’s happened to it, that the process of tinkering with what you find and dealing with obstacles you encounter already shows you a lot of the story – because the story is the juicy succulent meat of it all. The pacing shows us that this is a sequel to a game that made us cry and/or cringe at the horrors of both human and monster. It starts off slow, almost reassuring even, but the mounting suspense is grating and ever-present, and we are made to feel like Ellie does: a teenager that’s not so helpless against the world – but the world is still one unforgiving son-of-a-bitch too.

Taking it all in before setting out

Seattle, Washington – or where our story unfolds

Seattle is huge. When we arrive downtown, there is an absolute TON of things we can immediately do. Ellie’s obviously not from this particular city (and so are the lot of us who haven’t been to Seattle, much less a fictional one ravaged by a destructive and fatal contagion), and procuring a map allows both Ellie and we, the player, to make sense of the surrounding cityscape. We’ve talked about the Finding Nora sequence a bit in our preview, so let me regale you with another sequence that separates this game from the first. 

Downtown Seattle is a taste of The Last Of Us 2: Open-World: the less-than-linear approach was teased in the first act and now in this area, we really get to explore at our leisure. Ellie has the freedom to check out a number of spots on her (and our) own accord: we are not pressed by time nor circumstance – we can stay here for the rest of the game should we want to, looking for collectible trading cards or that one last bit of alcohol we need to make another molotov. Or simply, admiring the views, observing stupid roaming infected who can’t see us hiding in the grass, or riding a horse around pretending this is Red Dead Redemption. I’ve experienced minor clipping glitches such as the horse’s feet going through some stair steps, or Ellie getting stuck in midair after a short jump against a wall – nothing too bad as everything else looks gorgeous and well-placed. 

It’s a brave new world out there

And gorgeous is an understatement. The Last of Us Part II pushes the graphical boundaries of the PlayStation 4 Pro and just when you think you’ve seen great graphics, you haven’t seen The Last of Us 2 yet. Which leads us to think at what could be, with the PlayStation 5 just looming over the horizon.

This level of nonlinearity is reflected in the rest of the game after being introduced in a practically looser and less-hurried section of gameplay in downtown. At this point, there are encounters with clickers and other enemies, but nothing seems too daunting yet, so the exploration feels like something out of Skyrim where you’re more excited of what goodies you get to bring home rather than wary of what danger you can get yourself into.

Later on, the same non-linear concept is hammered on to everything you do – there are always multiple approaches to either combat or exploration, stealthily or not, and there will be loads of options presented as a situation unfolds. A wall may open up due to an explosion that alerts enemies but allows you a way through undetected, an infected may run after humans should one appear between you, and improvised weapons may become available from debris (so far, my favorite is a modified hammer). While it may have been a scripted event, the game always offers you a choice of how to go about things.

Get knocked down and you can still shoot – make it count!

We get a few more toys to play with in Seattle, some of which were shown in the official State of Play and other previews, such as explosive arrows for use with the bow, taped-together melee weapons like a bat with nails on it, and it seems like we’ll want to use each and every one of these because there are quite a number of encounters that seem like killing everything that movies might be the only way to progress. By this time we’ll be getting adept at how Ellie deals with threats, whether with projectiles or by bashing their head or stabbing their necks.

One of the things you are taught is that stealth is as important here as it was in the first game, maybe even more. The enemy AI is much smarter but at the same time, Ellie is much more capable, as brought about by her age.

She is much more agile, and the rhythm of dodging and striking is another cool improvement, albeit a somewhat repetitive one. Still, figuring out how different enemies react to melee attacks is a fun dance. There are only a limited amount of stealth kill animations and it can get cumbersome at some point – but kills on stunned or surprised enemies make up for that, with some so wildly shocking that you’ll probably select your own favorite weapon like how I did – by their hit/kill animation.

Wait for some opportunities that can allow you to pit human vs. infected – trust me: you’ll know when

Once we’re ready to set forth with supplies, a lot of which we’ve gathered from the unfortunate blokes who took time to write a lot of notes to tell us THEIR story, the plot is once again set in motion by Ellie finding clues that eventually leads her to what she set out to do by coming to the state of Washington. We’d arrived here clueless but driven, then after some preparing and equipping, we chase after our objective having survived a new city with its own brand of obstacles in a different state of dilapidation that riffs on the Salt Lake City and Boston of before: Seattle seems empty, but not quite.

While I was playing, I got to where I was without feeling like I was being told to do anything, like anything, or agree with anything: I got here because the game was showing me all these things that begged me to discover them. From the wayward note with a combination to a safe with medical supplies from an ailing husband to a pregnant wife now long-since dead and infected, to knowing that I was as disgusted as I was driven as I bury the blade of a machete into some screaming cultist’s bald head.

The clicker is in the details

Now that I’ve gotten most of what little of the story I can divulge (and the beauty of how it is presented), along with describing the gameplay that came along with it, I can wax further on everything else that made me fall for this game. 

First off, difficulty options are more varied and customizable this time around. As I’ve mentioned in our preview, you can play to your own style, and adjust the difficulty accordingly, since some options will present a different experience from the defaults (i.e., more action vs. more stealth, or more punishment vs. less consequences). None of the options, even the easiest nor the hardest one, have taken my fun away.

Customization is vast

Character progression is divided into item upgrades (via crafting recipes), equipment upgrades (via the workbench and scrap material), and passive upgrades (using vitamin supplements). Some parts of these are unlocked by finding magazines – “training manuals” – which I often wondered if they were possible to miss, but none have been required to progress in story, but all that I’ve tried sure helped in combat and staying alive while exploring.

The encounter variety is a huge plus too, considering I’d already found the first one a bit formulaic. Again, they already had a good formula, and it seems that Naughty Dog listened to a lot of feedback about the first game and its remaster, thereby now executing the same formulas with A+ levels of painstaking detail. It’s the same game, sure, but done by degrees better.

You know how in the first game you almost never got to use those bricks and bottles? You’ll be scrambling for them here in the second game. You know how in the first game the infected weren’t really THAT scary or intimidating once you get used to them? You will always learn to treat them with caution in the second game. Throw away your notions from part 1 because part 2 will chew it up and spit it out.

With enemies, there’s new forms of infected like the smelly-ass Shambler (Ellie describes how it smells vividly in both words and tone), and the soon-to-be-infamous Ellie-sniffing dogs, which is such a basic addition when you think about it, but it evolves the gameplay dynamics by leaps and bounds, forcing you to think and act on the fly.

I loved using silencers to avoid getting into cornered situations like these

On the human side, there’s the Washington Liberation Front (WLF), of which I’d rather not spoil anything about. Of course, there’s also the Scars – the creepy-as-hell madmen who communicate with surprisingly eerie whistles, who I don’t doubt you will both be excited and afraid to meet. I wish I could say more about them – but I’ll leave it by saying that they are as alive as our protagonists, calling each other’s names when someone disappears, crying for a dying teammate, and vowing revenge against us. They are all still human after all.

I still cannot get over how most everyone, if not everyone, in the world we encounter has a name, something we can connect their faces to. It makes everyone much more relatable, especially with the letters strewn around the world. Reading them is not a boring affair, and the world building accomplished by Naughty Dog is absolutely spectacular.

Farty McFartypants sounds exactly how you think it does

The audio-visual presentation is top-notch and is what I expected from a triple-A release from a triple-A studio like Naughty Dog. While I am no expert with the technicalities of videogame rendering breakthroughs of recent years – The Last Of Us boasts art direction and design that nearly no game I’ve ever played before has ever shown.

The sense and interactiveness of objects in and around the areas you can tread are a tour-de-force of handcrafted detail, with every placement feeling real and not a procedurally-generated decision. Everything in the world makes sense – a bottle of alcohol in a bar, or that pair of scissors in an office. There’s a logic and reason that pervades the world and it is seen through every detail.

The sound effects are as visceral as the graphical accompaniment, with each gurgle and scream you hear indicative of the pain you inflict or receive. Each moment and encounter in the world is an elevated experience because of the sound design, which creates such an atmosphere of dread and tension that is executed beautifully.

There is Johnny Cash in the soundtrack, and a few other gems I will not dare say because you yourself will want to hear it and go “damn, great taste”. The score is also very good in accentuating the penultimate word describing my experience, “tense”, but never forgets that there are calm and somber moments even in a world that’s already ended.

Even had time for a song

I could scarcely find anything else that was wrong or lacking aside from very minor nitpicks in the version I’ve played for 26 hours in the first run (a team member finished his playthrough in 35 hours), and another 15 or so (and counting) for my various revisits taking additional notes for this review (and replaying specific chapters at will). You read right, the game could take you anywhere from 25-35 hours, a far cry from the paltry game length of part 1.

There is no multiplayer just yet, similar to how the first did not have it at the outset, and I am excited to think about the possibilities that will present.

While the game plays at a steady pace of 30 frames, there are a few areas where it would dip, but not to the point of it being unplayable. Looking as good as it shows is already a feat on its own, so the minor fluctuations are forgivable.

That said, this release is already a monumental effort in terms of conveying a single-player experience that’s bound to stay with us for quite a while. It took me to school, and taught me a number of things I did not expect would get tackled in a videogame about zombies. I grew up, it seems, just like Ellie did, even if we aren’t the same age. This is one game that the story carries the gameplay more than most – but it is far from a cinematic novel. After all, my heart had skipped a lot of beats getting around insane humans and ravenous infected as much as my hands sweat from gripping the controller hard, especially in some really tight situations in the dark.

What we liked:

  • World building and attention to detail is phenomenal
  • Audio visual presentation is masterful
  • Vastly improved gameplay
  • Character animations are top notch
  • Impressive accessibility options

What we didn’t like:

  • Minor graphical hitches
  • Frame dips in some areas
  • Not getting to play it on the PS5 just yet.

Verdict: Buy it!

The Last of Us Part II is a triumph. Despite all the challenges, the game is strong enough to shrug it off and matter where it needs to the most. It’s not the most mechanically challenging or scariest game out there because it doesn’t need to be, instead it grips you in ways that you don’t really expect. Whether it be in the small details of the world or in its narrative twists, The Last of Us Part II is an experience that exceeds expectations.

The Last of Us 2 was reviewed on a PS4 Pro through a review copy provided by the Publisher.

The Last of Us 2 won’t be releasing until June 19 but we’ve been playing it for nearly a week now and trust us, there’s so much we want to say! It’s tough not being able to talk to anyone about it…

So here’s the next best thing, we’ve got an early preview for everyone and we’ll be keeping this spoiler free, without any specific reference to story events or key plot points. We will, however, be talking about a certain section of the game, so if you want to keep the whole experience fresh, proceed at your own risk.

Disclaimer – this preview covers areas and gameplay that are also seen in the recent State of Play presentation. No key plot points and character references will be discussed throughout this preview.

Since Ellie has learned to swim by this point, let’s dive right in.

———————————————————————————————————————————————-

The setting and not knowing what’s next

The game that certainly requires little further introduction is about our girl Ellie, as she combs the post-apocalyptic urban sprawl of Seattle to find a someone important to her quest, whom we learn might be somewhere in the middle of town. We begin our trek at the fairly usual (in a dystopian fiction sort of way) Route 5 South Avenue, which actually exists in and cuts through most of the city IRL. This tiny tidbit is just a small testament to the painstaking detail that Naughty Dog have employed in the game, which we’ll touch more on later.

What welcomes us in Seattle in The Last Of Us 2 are cracked roads, abandoned cars, dark recesses, and a quiet – too quiet – soundscape. We encounter a number of fauna, which have reclaimed the city along with the flora, as we traverse the seemingly linear paths to get closer to our goal, but progress is a tad slow. We have to push a few garbage containers to step on, pull a few chains, and while it is a bit linear – going off-track is easily rewarded by bits and pieces of materials we can use to make and upgrade tools and weapons.

The scenery is lush and beautiful but the action is very gritty and visceral, two complete opposites that make up the aesthetic of the game. PS4 titles don’t get more graphically stunning than this one, and utilizing the console capabilities, the world of The Last of Us 2 is one that you’ll appreciate once you get to play it. Videos and trailers can only do so much, but this time around, seeing will be believing. And I believed.

That’s where we need to go, and we get to see it from afar – along with the dangerous path we have to take to get there.

There’s encounters to be had and places to explore, adding every note and sign we find to the lore (the game slowly feeds you backgrounds and backstories too via the notes you find around). The world is large and there is a lot of incentive to go away from the beaten path, we go slow because… oooh, nice, found us a workbench, time to upgrade our pistol with the scraps we got… AMBUSH! We get blindsided, assured by a false sense of security brought about by the silence, and now we have to figure out a way out of this mess. This, is The Last Of Us 2 – at least, the parts I can safely tell you about.

As we go on through the dilapidated areas picking trash like an impromptu garbage collector, we’re accosted by both human and infected (the Stalkers make an appearance in a sequence that’s very hide-and-seek-ish: it’s so gratifying to get the drop on a sneaking Stalker – only to find out that its two buddies just got the drop on you).

We get sidetracked, fall into some stinky looking water, get back on our way, meet some creepy whistling hooded bald dudes (they shot me with an arrow, dammit!), and then suddenly…

“Be vewwy vewwy quiet.” -Elmer Fudd, while holding his rifle

There’s dogs! God I hate these dogs (I know, and I’m sorry. I take care of five dogs, but I’ve never hated them in a game before like in this one since getting Tanya eaten by one in Red Alert back in the day). They sniff us out, but we’re clever too – we use our bricks and smoke bombs to create an elaborate but efficient sequence of quiet undetected kills, ensuring us we have a way out without getting swarmed by these bozos – technically.

Enemy sequences with dogs are some of the most intense ones around, not allowing you to breathe because of their unique ability to sniff you out. You’ll need to use every crack in the wall and every distraction you can muster to regain stealth, all while dodging the patrolling humans.

We crawl into a vent and eavesdrop on some soldier-looking-types. We inch further on, and then we find our target. She remembers us, we’re told, visually mostly – because she seems speechless. Her face says a lot, but not all…. 

It’s Metal Gear meets RE meets Bioshock meets The Last Of Us. Shiv-eater!

How The Last Of Us 2 grips your heart and never lets go

The suspense was so thick I could cut it with a shiv. So it was the whole time I’d played it up to this point in Seattle, and it is quite an experience getting told by the game to be careful – be smart about it – and OBSERVE. What a treat it is – the polish of the level designs are top notch, often making you go into “wow, cool!” moments enough into letting your guard down and falling prey to your own giddy noises that attract all manner of opposing denizens.

Level design is one of the biggest improvements in The Last of Us 2, employing a certain level of verticality not seen in the first game. You can break glass, climb ropes, squeeze through gaps, and each element adds a certain level of complexity on how you approach the game with your unique playstyle.

The melding of gameplay and design is one I can only describe as an “attention-laden effort”; the details – like meeting people you read about in an old note, but they’re now old-ass infected wearing some knick knack they talked about – tells the audience that damn, the people who handcrafted each and every part of this would love for you to pry and pick on it piece by piece, while ducking for cover and keeping quiet, of course.

Names are not just simple names, they’re part of the infected you just killed on the way, they’re the members of the WLF that are on the hunt… There’s a face to the name and vice versa, and even with something as small as this really shows how Naughty Dog is really pushing the envelope with The Last of Us 2.

There are a lot of things not obvious on the surface – like what the hell are these people doing, why is this room filled with bullets and vitamins (of course, it’s a game), and why do I feel like I can’t put the controller down even if it was *looks at watch* Jesus it’s 5AM on a Sunday morning? But every question like this is answered with a little investigation, a little observation – trust in your environment to show you what needs to be done, what can be done, and why it can be done, or why you should do it. The story is everywhere – all of Seattle’s a stage, Ellie and the clickers mere actors in it, I should say. 

Baby girl’s all grown up and seeing the world – the sooner we accept this, the sooner we appreciate it.

There’s a variety of ways to go about the quest of finding our target, and I really loved that I could decide on the fly: combat set pieces were a sort of active puzzle with multiple solutions depending on how you want to play the game, and how difficult you want to make it. I started with Moderate then cranked it up to Hard, then tried Very Light (you could mix and match individual aspects of the difficulty too, as you please, just like in TLOU1). Changing these won’t even mar the experience – it only morphs it. The game respects how you play and doesn’t force you otherwise.

Want to feel like Sam Fisher and crack necks left and right, shooting those that see you doing it? Set it to Very Light. Ever wonder how Solid Snake would feel if he was stranded in the Spencer Mansion in the Arklay Mountains? Crank that difficulty up to Hard. If you want to play real-time XCOM where every encounter could very well mean the end of the game? Put it up on Survivor and plan ahead for each battle you have to push through on.

The way I played? Melee upgrades, silencers, and faster prone movement was my jam. I didn’t like aiming/shooting while moving so I didn’t take that upgrade tree much, and it feels like the rest of the game offers this much leeway as far as progression options are concerned.

Yes, you read right, you can equip silencers in the game.

All these elements, the tiny details (I once killed a dude with his own weapon and was overly shocked and delighted to know that wow, that could happen), to the broad gameplay strokes (it’s a formula, but a formula done EXTREMELY well), combine for a harrowing experience that I cannot forget at all these past few days. And I haven’t even talked about the narrative and plot yet – which I won’t, because I don’t want to ruin it for everyone else, but I’ll say only this much: it respects the audience it expects. 

The combat is refreshingly improved with a myriad of options unfolding in real time – as if Naughty Dog had listened to whatever made some moments in TLOU1 tedious or repetitive.

The long and excruciating wait

This could have just been more of the same – most of humanity is just as much a monster as the various virus-laden infected, and we’re gonna have to ferry Ellie across a sea of QTEs, sneaking sections, and shootouts to find or do whatever it is she needs to. So many theories have been propped up (some on tinfoil, some on actually good analyses), but really, Ellie and the game have so much more to show, even just in this small section that we experienced ahead of time.

From the title itself, it’s a game about surviving more than anything else, and survive we will in this second installment. The first game dug into what it means to be human in a world where we are no longer king, a monster apocalypse where the apocalypse is more important than the monster, what it entails to be the last remnants of a dead world. This small part of the gameplay in the sequel shows us more and then some, trusting us that we too have grown even in this harsh setting we’ve made into our playground, and it pays off in spades.

We want to tell you more, but this is just a taste of what you can expect with our full review of The Last of Us 2, which we will gladly share with you on June 12.

*This early preview of The Last of Us 2 was done on a PS4 Pro via a review code provided by the publisher.

The OMG Review
Our review format is not your usual fare and we’ve broken it down into 3 very simple ratings! “Buy it!” means that the game deserves a place in your collection. Be it day 1 or a slightly delayed purchase, it’s hard to go wrong with this title. In numbers, this is around an 8/10 and above. “Wait for it…” means that the game probably isn’t worth it at its day 1 price point, we suggest you wait for a sale before jumping in. In numbers, this is around a 5 – 7/10. “Ignore it!” means that the game is not something we’d recommend playing, whether it be now or in the near future, unless you want to intentionally hurt yourself. Let’s not even go to the numbers for this one.
Sneak Peek
  • Release Date: April 28, 2020
  • Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC
  • Genre: Arcade Beat-em-up
  • Similar Games: Final Fight, Brawlhalla, Castle Crashers
  • Price: Starts at PHP549.95 (PC), USD24.99 or around PHP1,250 (Other platforms)

The acclaimed beat-em-up franchise from the heyday of the Sega Genesis (a.k.a the Mega Drive in North America) returns after a 26 (!) year hiatus, courtesy of French nostalgia-freaks Lizardcube (who made the Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s trap remake) and Dotemu, the dev/publisher responsible for a ton of new-age ports, including fighting game cult classic Garou: Mark of the Wolves and Final Fantasy VIII Remastered.

Lizardcube worked in collaboration with a multinational team, sharing co-development credit with Guard Crush Games (who brought in their Streets of Fury engine), and even having the original SOR series composer Yuzo Koshiro tag along for the ride once hype built up after 2018 announcement of the new game.

It’s certainly an experience from a bygone era of short playthroughs and simple overall mechanics, but it sure holds up not only as a faithful love song to the arcade culture of Japan and the 90’s idea of a dystopian near-future, but as a stalwart tentpole of the (long-thought-dead) genre of pressing a button to send your fist into a goon’s face while walking left-to-right.

Streets of Rage 4 is the new sequel to an old trilogy that hasn’t put out an entry since the 90’s. The art direction is snazzy (that’s some appropriate 90’s lingo right there) and crisp, portraying a down-on-its-luck urban landscape teeming with corruption. The animations are fluid and smooth, and there is virtually negligible input lag whenever you press something on your controller. Combined with a set of rad tunes (there I go again), and the option to play the retro soundtrack, it makes for an immersive old-school vibe with a pinch of today’s more modern sensibilities. It is by no means breaking new ground, but it doesn’t feel too left-behind in spite of its obviously dated gameplay.

The premise is simple – a horde of bad guys stand between you and peace for Wood Oak City, and they all need big dose of punching and kicking and throwing, and whatever your selected character does for a Star Move (a special signature area-of-effect attack).

https://youtu.be/nDXY1WRef0Q

How I learned to appreciate beat-em-ups as an adult

We start the game with only Story Mode and the 4 main characters unlocked: series vets Axel Stone and Blaze Fielding are joined by newcomers Cherry Hunter (teenage daughter of SOR1’s Adam Hunter), and Floyd Iraia (a cybernetically enhanced apprentice of SOR3’s Dr. Zan). The story doesn’t promise anything outside of the scope of your average Hollywood crime-doesn’t-pay cop show except there’s cyborgs and that bullets don’t kill you in one hit (oh wait, that screams Hollywood more than anything else).  But that’s okay: I barely paid any attention to the story and it’s STILL the most fun I’ve had in a while (well, at least since I’ve played Doom Eternal).

The story unfolds via animated
No in-engine cutscenes here, but the pretty animated comics sequences do the job squarely

I didn’t think it was fun at first: I had a hard time going about throwing my fisticuffs thinking that “hey, these used to be easy when I was a kid” – it was not, and I may have forgotten that I have rarely finished any of these games without help (including a ton of extra coins for the arcade).  Normal difficulty sets you with 2 full health bars, and earning a good score nets you extra lives mid-stage. Stringing together consecutive hits without getting hit back multiplies your score by quite a bit, and helps you get closer to a stage’s end-boss with a backup life or two. Sounds easy enough? WRONG. Hella wrong.

Your life meter is a resource (another special move with invulnerability frames also costs a bit of health), and the game is not going to hold itself back in taking it away from you if all you expect to do is mash buttons. It beat me back hard, forcing me to use the provided Retry Assists – extra lives at the cost of dividing my total score by a factor. I refused to go down to Easy difficulty because I’m trying to prove that I was as stubborn as some of the game’s enemies (looking at you Ruby and family).

Good ole police brutality
Good ole police brutality

After 4 hours of banging my head against the many brick walls I encountered, I finished Story Mode shouting, “what a bad game!”. I had many complaints: I had no dash and walking through the side-scrolling levels felt like a slog through a muddy swamp, the hitboxes of some enemies felt so unfair (you’ll learn to hate Galsia holding a knife), and the 2D plane of movement is going to fry your depth perception. I was so ready to write this off as an “ignore it” and tell you that I wasted my cold hard cash on it… until something just *clicked*.

I put the game on Easy, and it was one of the best decisions I have ever made in my life, right next to buying a Wii U when everyone else was getting a PS4 (I will fight people). I had read on a forum that Easy is the mode you play at if you like everything about beat-em-ups except getting beat up.

Try not to get surrounded by these mooks
Try not to get surrounded by these mooks

Lowering the difficulty didn’t turn me soft as I had naively clung to previously: it instead afforded me a luxury that arcade beat-em-ups never did when I was a kid – it gave me a chance to learn the mechanics in a less-pressuring environment. Stage after stage and gangbanger after gangbanger, I grew more comfortable with how to best utilize the few buttons I had to work with, and even distinguishing my preferences for each character’s fighting style.  Cherry did have a dash, and it was her gimmick: run around the room and smash enemies with your flying knee and guitar before they and their cohorts had a chance to retaliate. Blaze had the ability to pick up grounded opponents for a few more hits, and her aerial Y-attack can cover a lot of distance, handy for escaping grenades and molotovs and other painful obstacles. Floyd? Well, he slow, he punch strong. These only expanded as I began to unlock more characters, starting from the pixelized SOR form of Axel (you can switch in-between stages).

Just keep playing to unlock characters, each pip on the lifetime score bar is a new one
Just keep playing to unlock characters, each pip on the lifetime score bar is a new one

After a full no-game-over run at Easy, I took my newfound skills to the test at Normal, and it felt more natural when I wasn’t button-mashing any longer. I waited for enemies to finish their turn first, then attacked conservatively, not pressing any more than I needed to. I learned which attacks of mine would allow me to juggle enemies as long as it was safe to do so: I had no idea beat-em-ups had these sort of mechanics, EVER, and I was like a gamer reborn, suplexed into the wet baptismal afterbirth of popped thumb callus. Every complaint I had about hit- and hurtboxes, of unfair attacks and punishing situations disappeared.

Two (and sometimes three) fists are better than one

It is short at 12 standard levels (there’s a Boss Rush and Arcade mode, too – plus some Easter eggs: try Taser-ing an arcade machine), ranging at around 1-4 hours per full run, but don’t think that’s all it has to offer. This is the kind of game made for couch co-op (however hard that is to achieve at this time depending on your circumstances). I fortunately have a housemate living with me, and definitely, plying the Streets of Rage with a buddy was the most fun way to play SOR4.  It feels like the general difficulty is also tuned for 2 players (the maximum is 3, as SOR tradition goes, apparently) as the enemies don’t increase in number or damage with the addition of another player. Playing with a friend means you can hit each other, so some amount of coordination and spatial awareness is needed before someone breaks a controller in half when they get hit with a thrown lead pipe for the 15th time. 

We enjoyed sandwiching bosses with punches and kicks amidst shouts of “WOMBO COMBO!” and “THAT AIN’T FALCO!”. 
We enjoyed sandwiching bosses with punches and kicks amidst shouts of “WOMBO COMBO!” and “THAT AIN’T FALCO!”.

I’ve also tried joining in online co-op games around maybe twice now before I started writing this article, and I think I ruined some rando’s weekend night by interrupting his throws with my excited mashing. I had played this game on Steam, and without cross-platform play, the open game list wasn’t too long at 2 or 3 options each time I looked, although the experience was lag-free and actually enjoyable too (I had learned from the people I joined). There is no quickplay/auto-join feature too, but maybe that’s for the best lest you interrupt someone’s session, but it would’ve been cool to have us join with a tag-in attack to help out some brotha that’s getting clobbered.

The concert level looks straight out of Scott Pilgrim
The concert level looks straight out of Scott Pilgrim

There’s also a PvP Battle mode, if you fancy beating your friends up as the actual goal of the game, but it’s sparse and seems like a bonus as opposed to a full-fledged game mode (after a match, you just get dumped back straight into character select, and nothing is unlockable via Battle, at least as far as we’ve played).

What we liked:

  • It’s a tried-and-true formula, but it’s going to school you still
  • Short and sweet, but easily replayable, especially in co-op
  • 17 characters!
  • Great bang for the buck

What we didn’t like:

  • There is little to do past beating people up and getting a higher score
  • No cross-platform means online play is sparse at the moment
  • Hitboxes and misleading depth can get frustrating

Verdict: Buy it!

It’s an easy choice to go for the PC / Steam version of the game for PHP550 but even as the PS4 and Switch versions are priced much higher, I’d still recommend it as a straight buy. It’s a throwback to the olden days that’s got hardly anything to prove beyond being a ton of fun in short bursts of play. I see myself playing this months from now whenever I need a break and don’t want to think about loading up anything more committal than a game that asks me to move forward and kick stuff. Hell, get it on Switch and thank yourself whenever you go to the toilet and want something to do other than your business and some “mild reading”.

The OMG Review
Our review format is not your usual fare and we’ve broken it down into 3 very simple ratings!

“Buy it!” means that the game deserves a place in your collection. Be it day 1 or a slightly delayed purchase, it’s hard to go wrong with this title. In numbers, this is around an 8/10 and above.

“Wait for it…” means that the game probably isn’t worth it at its day 1 price point, we suggest you wait for a sale before jumping in. In numbers, this is around a 5 – 7/10.

“Ignore it!” means that the game is not something we’d recommend playing, whether it be now or in the near future, unless you want to intentionally hurt yourself. Let’s not even go to the numbers for this one.

Sneak Peek
  • Release Date: April 24, 2020
  • Platforms: PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, PC
  • Genre: Action RPG
  • Similar Games: Secret of Mana
  • Price: Starts at PHP2,199

Seiken Densetsu 3 was a beloved action RPG released by Square, before they became the Square Enix most would know now, for the Super Famicom back in 1995. Trials of Mana, not to be confused with the remake, was its English moniker as it was ported and released for the Nintendo Switch nearly a year ago.

I say only for the Super Famicom and not the SNES, because Seiken Densetsu 3 would never reach outside of Japan for 24 years; and even though a direct prequel was released worldwide for the Nintendo DS in 2007, the original had remained a dream in many a non-Japanese-speaking JRPG fan’s head.

The series itself is a franchise with a lot of underrated history that could stand amongst the heavyweights: the Tales, Xenos, Final Fantasies, and Dragon Quests, but has been mostly quiet for the past decade… until around now, that is. 

Trials of Mana Remake is an action-RPG that did the multiple-POV gimmick long before Octopath Traveller did, offering replayability and variety right off the bat. The player follows the plot from the viewpoint of 3 out of 6 main characters to choose from: the swordsman Duran, the amazon Riesz, the mage Angela, the cleric Charlotte, the rogue Hawkeye, and the beastman fighter Kevin. 

Once you choose your team of three (1 main hero and 2 companions), your main character (MC) is introduced in their home nation and sets off on quest that brings them in contact with a cadre of villains, each representing nations of their own and seeking to exploit the world’s Mana Stones (sources of magic) as they seek to conquer the rest of the world. While the premise is as familiar as most JRPGs, players are presented with different perspectives depending on the characters they choose.

The characters look better than I had imagined, and both English and Japanese voiceovers are available

The world of Mana is rich and bright

The story is a light and charming romp across the locales where our characters live, even with the fate of the world hanging in a balance: I loved that fact that it still doesn’t take itself too seriously, nor project an edgy or hardcore feel. The 3D rendering of characters I knew from the original is done with a very consistent aesthetic, with the designs making sure our cast are distinct and memorable no matter your pick.

I played the PC version, which ran at a good 60 FPS at 1920×1080 resolution, although it isn’t the kind of game that I’d say benefits much from that. The PS4 Pro version plays at mostly the same clip, so expect good performance either way you choose.

The perpetual snow of the mage-country Altena glistens in a bright white in contrast to the lush jungles bathed in a moonlit night in Ferolia, where the beastmen reside: the world you travel in is a visual treat as you explore it, fighting monsters in real-time. Spending time in the world itself moves along the day-night cycle, with either Lumina (day) or Shade (night) Time conferring a few bonuses or enabling certain interactions.

The Li’l Cactus scavenger hunt was a neat new feature: find where he’s hiding and get rewarded with quality-of-life improvements like inns not charging you for resting anymore

Your face buttons allow you to jump, dodge, and execute two varying levels of attacks, which can be strung together in simple combos that have unique qualities (AOE, long-range poke, or a knockback), or in the case of your power attack, can be held then released to break an opponent’s armor (which some of them have). These elements combine with items (such as offensive Coins and defensive/restorative Candies and Herbs) and special learnable moves that exude a certain rhythm in combat that rarely gets stale, in the face of the monster’s equally varied attacks.

The D-pad interface for moves and items pause the battles while you take your pick at your own leisure, but you can also assign certain frequently used ones to shortcut button combinations (shoulder + face) that don’t halt the action.

Kevin turns into a stronger werewolf at night!

Enemies also have a variety of ways to hurt our party, ranging from normal bites, charges, and pokes with minute tells that warn you to dodge, or abilities that take some time to come out while forming a red danger marker on the battlezone that you will want to avoid. Engaging an enemy traps the party in a limited area of the map without having to load a battle sequence, and escaping is a simple matter of hugging the edges of the area until your escape meter fills out completely ( while avoiding attacks that cancel or slow it down).

The boss fights are inescapable showdowns with often huge and towering multi-hitbox fiends, and will test your skills in timing and positioning as your entire team is pelted by a barrage of attacks. Your player-controlled character is aided by the other two, whose AI can be set to settings like “Target: Range Enemies” and “Balanced Attack: switch between attacking and supporting allies.” 

One boss is an evil fireplace that stares at you intently in a room riddled with traps.

I played on Normal difficulty with Charlotte, Kevin, and Riesz for my first playthrough that took 23+ hours to complete along with a post-game section not in the original game, and am currently progression through New Game Plus on Hard, which allows you to bring all your items and Chain Abilities that can be equipped by any character, and even choose a new team.

It’s good, but is it great?

My younger self who played the original would blow his mind off on how it looks and plays, but now, I guess not. It’s got a lot going for it, but the general feeling I get is that it could be so much better.

Probably not something I want to be a part of…

The exploration is one thing that feels stunted: while maps are quite sizeable in scale, the feeling I’d expected to get when strolling around whacking monster heads was betrayed by the game handholding me every single moment and ushering me on to the next plot-mover.

In terms of interface, this was great – an icon kept you pointed in the right direction always, you will almost never be lost. But what if I had wanted to be lost? The fun in leaving the beaten path in search of hidden treasure is still there (examine shining points in clever hiding spots, breaking pots and vases to reveal free stuff), but with the rewards being mostly just a few potion-type items and lucre (the Mana series’ version of Gil/gold).

I also have this pet peeve where invisible walls that keep you on rails are somewhat inconsistent in execution, as there are places where you’d expect them to be, and places where I cannot fathom why the hell they don’t want me crossing through.

There’s a bit of platforming (and 2D sections in a throwback to the same in SD3) and verticality, but all the handholding made me feel like some clever level designs were wasted. Some maps just end up outright inaccessible… so why even let me go there? These are the hometowns of the characters you didn’t pick, which were treated the same in the original, but this is exactly one of the things I was expecting to be tooled up in a remake.

The class system, too, has been retouched (not revamped – it’s still a tree split into Light and Dark paths), which does create a healthy amount of options in combination with the completely new stat system that enables a couple of different builds for your characters. Your final class is locked to items that are based on RNG: if you don’t find the item for what you want, you’re forced to either stay at a lower class or grind/look for more ??? seeds (they turn into what you’ll need). A fourth class upgrade has been added to the mix, but unfortunately you can only use the new ultimate classes after you’ve defeated the main boss in your saga. 

I had to go Necro because I didn’t have the Warlock item, and all my seeds turned into the Necromancer’s

Story-wise, I felt alright with the exact same beats getting faithfully retained in this remake, but I’d felt a certain amount of polish lacking from how the narrative was unfolded. The game is pretty linear in flow once you get started: here’s a new area, explore it, get through it, fight the boss. That wasn’t a problem for me by itself, except that some parts of the game feel like they’re just moving the plot along – nothing is unexpected and while I’m thankful for a fairly fast and non-grindy pace, I feel like this could have been the opportunity to fill out more of the setting and backstories that weren’t possible in Seiken Densetsu 3.

Cutscenes (in-engine) would also sometimes end with little to show for it compared to what was said; this is a big factor for me that made me feel like while overall the effort is well-done… the creators have missed a solid chance to further develop what was great about the game: its charm.

Ok, lol, thanks

Charlotte, who’s an Elfin girl who ages slower than humans, speaks in permanent UwU-mode, which I never thought annoying, because it was tastefully done, and the ENG VA totally owned and killed the act: Alana Marie Cheuvront seems like a new talent in the industry, and her part in Mana I’d think would be well received for acing a potentially cringe-worthy affair. My fellow editors, on the other hand, didn’t like it at all. To each their own, I guess? Overall, the English VA’s are decent enough to not want to switch over to Japanese.

The world embraces the cartoony vibe of the old one and doesn’t get bogged down in explaining itself, for instance, why one of the fast travel options is getting launched by a cannon to your destination. Your moves and attacks feel impactful and fun without having to always be overpowered, and really shows the flavor of your team and the choices you made in building them.

And as a bold redeeming factor, I cannot help but compare (again) the multi-POV approach to Octopath Traveller (a game which was also well-done but ultimately fell short of greatness). Trials at least has your team interact with you and the world more than Octopath’s just- or barely-there teammates.

It gets hard to understand, sometimes

These and the experience as a whole at least made it easy for me to overlook what seems to me like details that fell over the wayside in the mad rush to release a finished product. Here’s hoping that remakes in general can again build from these subtle decisions that differentiate a remake from a remaster. I understand that some people would want things to stay with a degree of familiarity from the past iteration… but a remake to me means it’s the past-plus-more. More than just a fresh coat of paint and new tunes (which by the way, were still fantastically awesome, but can still opt to switch to the classic SD3 versions of the OST).

What we liked:

  • It’s the classic you’ve known and loved, from story to soundtrack
  • Battle system is fun and easy to pick up
  • Stat builds and Class trees make for massive replayability

What we didn’t like:

  • As a remake, more aspects of the game could have been explored
  • Load times are quite lengthy

Our verdict: Wait for it.

Trials of Mana is a Squeenix JRPG that competes well with other more recent franchises. To me it’s a better Octopath Traveller, but just a little short of Bravely Default or the new Tales games. I enjoyed my time with it but I’ll probably put the controller down soon – it’s like meeting an old friend from your childhood haunts, even if you know you’re not going to talk with ‘em everyday now like you guys did before.

If you’re a Mana fan, by all means, buy it now since we’ve waited YEARS for this. It’s a great Mana game that can stand toe to toe with JRPG’s of the current generation. It’s no Final Fantasy, so it’s quite understandable that not a lot of people may be familiar with the series.

If you’re on the other side of the spectrum (which is probably the majority) who are wanting to get your feet wet into the franchise, we recommend waiting a bit more for a sale. The steep price tag is hard to justify for something that straddles a fine line between a remake and a remaster. Trials of Mana feels more like it’s somewhere in between, with multiple missed opportunities that could have fully justified the “Remake” tag.

Trials of Mana was reviewed on the PC and PS4 via a review code provided by the publishers.