Video Game Review: Emily is Away

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Emily is Away is a free-to-play Choose Your Own Adventure game that takes a unique approach to the genre by telling its story entirely though a conversation between two people over five years through AIM. Each chapter of the game is a year apart (Starting in your senior years of High School and ending with your senior year of College) and focuses on your relationship with a friend you had in high school: Emily. The two of you keep in touch over the years and visit or talk about issues with boyfriends/girlfriends and you may even take a pass at her (wink wink).

The game is pretty simple. You simply choose your response to her messages from a list, and then slap random letters on your keyboard as your character types out the response. You even have your character making typos and going back to fix them, which is a neat touch and adds some immersion. However, the effect of typing your responses quickly grows old and I wish that there had been an option for the answers to just auto-complete.

The story is clearly where the game is supposed to shine, but it really doesn’t. It’s a very, very basic “will they or won’t they” story with a very lousy payoff. I won’t spoil anything, but the main issue I take with it is that the game makes itself out so that your choices make a difference (Frequently the game will say “Emily will remember that” or “You chose to _______”) but they really don’t. Emily might say a different thing once in a while depending on what you put earlier, but it rarely if ever makes any kind of real impact on the story. There’s only one real “major” decision that can majorly change the game, and I hesitate to even call it major. I guess it would be fine for it to only have one ending if two things were true: The game didn’t tease you with alternate endings, or if the story we were given was any good. Unfortunately, frequently interesting options appeared that I wanted to choose, but halfway through typing them my character would back off and change his response to one of the others. That’s not how you do choose your own adventure games! If your character is disobeying the players directions, then you’re not even playing as them. Also, as I pointed out the story is nothing special. Like I said I won’t spoil it but there’s no real twist, nothing of a real climax, and the character just muddle around for five chapters.

On top of all that, the game is just really short. In less than an hour and a half I ran through the game three times (Trying to figure out if there was a different ending I could get. There wasn’t.) and then screwed around with a bunch of easter eggs in the first chapter. After the story is done, those easter eggs are all you really have to extend the life of the game, and that’ll only do so for another twenty minutes at best.

I suppose I should give this game a little credit. It’s clearly just an indie game that someone made in their free time and probably one of their first attempts. However, it teases me with a false branching structure, has a story that’s mediocre at best, and what is initially an immersive control scheme that eventually just makes your fingers sore. It is free, so there’s no real harm in trying it, but I would recommend that you set your status to away for Emily is Away.

I give Emily is Away a 2 out of 5.

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Video Game Review: Titan Souls

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(PlayStation 4/PlayStation Vita/Android/PC/Mac, 2015)

“Another broken soul seeking truth.” – Unknown Titan

Titan Souls is going to sound very familiar to those who have played Shadow of the Colossus because this game is something of a spiritual successor to it. Your unnamed character wakes up in a strange land inhabited by powerful giants and must destroy all of them… because. I’m sure there’s a deeper meaning to a lot of this and much more story if you really pay attention, but there isn’t much to go on without reading that far deep into the symbolism, so I’m just going to stick to talking about the gameplay.

Titan Souls is a semi-isometric pixel-art action/adventure game. Your adventurer is significantly worse off than Wander, who had a sword, bow, arrows, and a horse for his journey. No, all you have to your name is a bow and a single arrow. The good news is that most of your opponents die in one hit. The bad news is that so do you, and most of them aren’t very forthcoming with their weak spot. Having only one arrow is a problem, though you can call it back to your hand by holding the fire button. You’re rooted in place while calling the arrow, but the arrow can actually kill while returning to you, allowing for some interesting tactical moves. Also aiding you is your ability to roll and run, which are unfortunately mapped to the same button. It’s a simplistic game design, but ultimately works. Sometimes you’ll be able to tell where a boss’s weak point is immediately and the challenge is just lining up the right shot. Other times you’ll need to find a way to expose the weak point. Either way, the game’s isometric view becomes problematic here and trying to line up a shot diagonally is just a nightmare. It’s a simplistic control style that ultimately works, but in a game where life or death are in the details and down to a second, certain frustrations with the controls feeling slightly stiff or floaty can get you killed, and I think the developers missed a chance to really tighten the controls here and make the experience that much more enjoyable. One small issue I take personal offense to is the inability to roll up stairs. I know it isn’t realistic (I say as I fight a giant treasure chest), but after playing so many Zelda games where rolling up flights of stairs is natural, I can’t help but feel restricted. It isn’t like it matters in the boss battles, since no arena has stairs in it, but it’s just something that doesn’t feel right in this kind of game. Basically I’m just giving the game shit over a minor thing, but hey, that’s what I’m best at.

The bosses are all very well designed and clearly take plenty of inspiration from Shadow of the Colossus. At the same time, they lend to their own unique style, and while Shadow of the Colossus favored strange golem-like creatures, whereas Titan Souls has a more varied design, including different oozes, mechs, and even organic creatures like yetis or killer mushrooms. The area design is also top-notch. While you need to take the appearance of the game with something of a grain of salt due to the pixel-art style, the game manages to pain some really incredible ruins, volcanoes, lakes, and forests to fight inside of. One of the biggest draws of Shadow of the Colossus was just how large and epic the world felt to get around. The journey was half the adventure, and that’s what it feels like here. Still, the world does end up feeling fairly smallish.

The score is just incredible. A hugely varied number of music tracks unique to each boss manage to pump you up and help the game to feel more epic. While it doesn’t compare to Shadow of the Colossus in that regard, that’s hardly surprising and Titan Souls manages to do very well with what it has in this regard.

The fights themselves are very creative. Unlike Shadow of the Colossus where each battle is long and epic whether you win or lose, this game is paced much more quickly. You’ll probably die at least a dozen times to each boss just to learn their patterns and how to expose/reach their weak spot. In particular, the end of the game informed me that I had died something like 174 times to the 18 bosses. Some of them I actually managed to defeat in only a few attempts, and others took dozens of tries. The bosses are equal part action and puzzle, and while it certainly can get frustrating, it’s a challenge that you’re given all the tools to overcome. As such, there’s a really great sense of satisfaction when you land that killing blow, made all the more empowering by a cool post-battle sequence where you rip the arrow out of your fallen foe. I will say that some bosses can get a little ridiculous, and defeating them is less “figuring them out” and more “lucky shot.” The final boss in particular can be annoying, though certain patterns did present themselves and in retrospect I’d have a much easier time beating him again.

Now, let’s talk value. For a $15 game, you’d expect a good amount of content, but I was honestly shocked to discover that there really isn’t as much as I’d expect. As previously mention, there are 18 bosses, but you don’t even have to defeat them all to beat the game. You defeat four initial bosses, only need to beat seven of the twelve in the next area to access the final area, and then battle two last bosses. While I mentioned that each boss takes several attempts, the fast pace of the game works against it here and the fights aren’t epic struggles like in Shadow of the Colossus. Most boss fights (as I discovered by watching speed runners) could be beaten in mere seconds. I even managed to do this to a few bosses myself. One battle in particular took me less than five seconds once I had it figured out. I actually defeated all eighteen bosses (not realizing that the final gate opens after I beat seven of the area) and according to Steam, it took me less than three hours. Three hours! The game isn’t entirely over after that, I should say. A final, FINAL boss remains after the credits (Which I didn’t put too much effort into. It’s a three-stage boss and if you die at any point you have to restart the whole thing, and I was exhausted so I just watched someone else beat it on Youtube. Call it lazy, but it was also super late.) and three challenge modes exist in a New Game+ mode. Hard Mode makes all the bosses more difficult by adding abilities, hazards, and speed to the bosses. Iron Man gives you only a single life to take on all the titans, and a third mode takes away your ability to run and roll (which I’m not sure if it’s possible. Certain bosses seem to have attacks that would be unavoidable without rolling. I image it was tested, but good luck). Still, these are ultimately small distractions that a dedicated player could have self-imposed on themselves anyways (other than Hard Mode). It seems like a flimsy way to extend the life of the game, and I can’t help but feel like it was a big missed opportunity to do something incredible instead of something that’s just good. While it does sound like a short adventure, for $15 (or cheaper, during a frequent Steam Sale) it’s worth a look for sure.

The game has its flaws for certain, but it ultimately does an admirable job of paying tribute to one of the most iconic and amazing games to ever be made. It’s a unique experience and worth a play if you’re willing to make the attack… on titan.

I give Titan Souls a 4 out of 5.