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Spectacular failure

15 Mins read
SAINTS ROW (2022) — SAINTSROW.COM

Video Game Review

Saints Row 2022Sony PlayStation 5

Digimon SurvivePS4/Personal Computer via Steam

The Origin: Blind MaidPS4

FOR gamers steeped in action-adventure titles, their bias for the Saint’s Row Franchise runs deep. While the first Saints Row release was nothing memorable, it was Saints Row 2 that convinced them of the series’ legs. The game had similar mechanics to classics like Grand Theft Auto, but its humorous approach to its open world helped it stand apart from the others. It strayed — and stayed away — from more serious topics its predecessors discussed, opting instead for a light-hearted, silly tone to color its urban environments. It boasted of bright, colorful atmospheres amid all the mayhem, effectively making Saints Row 2 a seminal title.

Fast forward to today, and the Saints Row series is still alive and well. It’s latest offering isSaints Row 2022, which, for the most part, seeks to reflect what has made the Saints Row series so beloved. It does have its own version of witty and charming dialogue, and is clearly aimed to capture the same types of audiences its predecessors had. Unfortunately, for all its good intentions, it suffers from a number of problems, and while some parts of it are enjoyable, it never manages to live up to expectations.

There’s the story, for one. In Saints Row 2022, you create your own character in the fictional city of Santo Ileso. Caught between rival gangs, you and three friends team up to make your own gang, and work together to take the city into your hands. You do this by going on odd jobs, doing character missions, fighting other gang members, and taking each district piece by piece until the whole city is yours. It’s a neat concept, and it doesn’t really have to do much more than that to become enjoyable. Insert a bit of humor, add a little justification (no matter how silly it can be), and you have the makings of a pretty good Saints Row game.

The problem comes in the quality of Saints Row 2022’s writing. It never really manages to be anything but annoying. None of your companions are really interesting, and what personalities they have seem to be based on pop culture tropes more than anything else. This would be fine if the tropes themselves were enjoyable or done well, but they’re not. Instead, they try to pull funny modern references, all while setting it to the tune of gun-fighting, rampant gang-related violence, and constant criminal activity. It never feels like it fits; it’s never fun when it’s put center-stage, and it always feels out of place. The game throws heartwarming stories of finding gifts for orphans even as you gun down dozens of policemen in your attempts to escape them. It’s a story trying to talk about struggle and hardship even as you mow down gangsters by the dozen. It feels like a parody that’s trying too hard, and that ends up with the game feeling hollow. Its humor misses its intentions, and the characterizations of its characters are just not enjoyable.

Of course, this can all be forgiven if the gameplay is immersive, and to its credit, there are a few stand-up things that help keep Saints Row 2022 somewhat enjoyable. The gunplay, for instance, has become more nuanced. It tries to be tactical when it can, addressing enemies that try to swarm and overwhelm you with sheer numbers. While you can stand up to their gunfire, you have to be a bit more careful in how you deal with them, as certain enemies are more dangerous and become high-priority targets. This leads to a pretty brisk pace during combat, forcing you to choose your targets wisely and take down your enemies in order of priority. Finishing moves can be done on some enemies, with the combat flowing around you taking down enemies one by one, doing your fancy stuff when you can, and relying on your arsenal of pistols, sub-machine guns, and rifles to finish the rest of them off. It all feels pretty weighty, and while it’s about what you’d expect from the genre, in theory, this does hold up well if the pacing of its encounters is finely tuned.

The problem that rears its ugly head comes in implementation. While the gunplay in Saints Row 2022 is enjoyable, if somewhat safe, in design, there are just way too many bugs to really find a proper time to enjoy it. Some of it can be visual issues, with annoying pop-in textures in the world or enemies’ life bars flashing alternate colors. These are unfortunate but forgivable, and had the game stopped at minor details like cars appearing and disappearing in view, then the issues would stop there. The problem is, it doesn’t, and often escalates into game-breaking concerns that just stop all progress. At the time of review, there were quite a few that negatively impacted the enjoyment level. From missions failing to continue due to triggers not happening, to zoom-in bugs that required a full console restart to get rid of, Saints Row 2022 was just a mess to behold. It was hard to enjoy. There were reload animations that refused to stop, enemies that needed to be killed but didn’t spawn in the mission zone, and glitches galore that made some mandatory sequences unplayable. It’s just a mess of issues that detract from the overall enjoyment, and these are impossible to ignore.

It’s actually a shame. There are parts of Saints Row 2022 that genuinely entertain and come in line with the series’ humor. The Insurance Fraud minigame where you have to throw yourself at cars is still pretty enjoyable. Driving around the city, even with its slippery controls, brings the right sense of scale into the world, and while the characters are dreadful, the moment-to-moment excitement you can have by causing mayhem is still present — at least when the bugs aren’t rearing their ugly heads.

It’s just too bad that the bugs in Saints Row 2022 rear their ugly head time and again. It’s difficult to ignore issues that need constant restarts and mission repeats and failures to get past. Saints Row 2022 is a mess, but not because its foundation is weak. After all, you can make jokes about anything given enough talent, and the writing, with a little more nuance, might’ve been saved had a little more time been put into it. Technical issues could have been fixed prior to release, with problematic missions redesigned and retooled to flow better and actually function. However, the number of bugs present provides food for thought on just how much quality assurance actually went into ironing out the issues. Perhaps some more time and development could have saved the game and made it fun, because when it works, it’s fine. It just doesn’t work very often.

As it is, Saints Row 2022 is filled with game-breaking bugs that stop your progress. It rightly tries to echo the series’ best parts, but it fails so spectacularly that it’s just sad to go through. Perhaps with enough time and given enough updates, it can deliver sustained enjoyment.

THE GOOD:

• Still has some enjoyable minigames

• Decent combat and gunplay

THE BAD:

• Feels unfinished, with game-breaking bugs that make it hard to enjoy

• Very annoying characters that are hard to empathize with

• Mundane and too safe for its own good during the times it does actually work

RATING: 6/10

POSTSCRIPT: If you saw the trailers, you wouldn’t expect the version of Digimon Survive that hit store shelves. The promise was an experience similar to a Fire Emblem game: a decent story, some enjoyable tactical gameplay, and a few memorable moments and characters to treasure. Reality has turned out to be much different, but in an extremely positive way.

While Digimon Survive does aim to blend a good mix of its storytelling with solid tactical gameplay, it manages to stand out because of the way it presents its concepts. Its dark themes stand in contrast to the typically cheerful look and style of Digimon’s animé roots, and the way the game lays its story out provides a solid sense of mystery and urgency that allows it to punch far above its weight. While it does have its flaws, this mix of visual novel/turn-based role-playing game puts its best foot forward when you look at what it offers.

In Digimon Survive, you’re thrust into the shoes of a handful of students who now find themselves lost in another world. Their only defense against the wilds are their Digimon partners. Stuck in this alien land, they must look for any possible way to escape, and steel themselves into making hard choices if it means their overall survival. New friends and enemies lie in wait around every corner, and with every new opponent they face, they run the risk of losing old friends in the challenges ahead.

This sense of loss is a very real concept that Digimon Survive takes to heart. The choices you make during the game’s visual novel segments have a huge impact on how things play out. From swaying stray Digimon to fight by your side to permanently losing access to companions, your decisions have consequences, and each choice pushes you down one of three separate routes. It’s a simple visual novel system that’s given real weight by adding tangible consequences you can see firsthand. While a golden route does exist where you keep everyone alive, your first run will not be so lucky, and you will end up losing some of them. This dark tone of losing companions is what keeps the story’s tension high, as the impact of your choices can end up with you losing characters you actually like.

Needless to say, the type of action-reaction gameplay loop featured in Digimon Survive works only because the visual novel segments are written very well. While you may be spending an hour or two just reading, the way characters are fleshed out and how concepts are introduced make for a very engaging narrative. The art style during these sequences is crisp and expressive, and the voicework for each character is done very well. The overall tone and mystery the story sets are engaging, and the activities you do with your friends genuinely feel like good world-building instead of padding. The different twists and turns the story takes also make for some exciting drama all the way through, and while some of them may feel predictable, they still feel like offshoots of a natural development of the plot. It is a story of exploration and survival done right, of how a bunch of kids in an unknown environment can survive the worst conditions. With no one but each other to rely on, they wind up banding together to try and survive, and it’s a plot beat done so well that it’s hard not to get engrossed.

To be sure, the visual novel segments aren’t the only standouts in Digimon Survive. Now and then to break the tension, you do also get the chance to flex your brain muscles and engage in some turn-based tactical combat. These are also pretty simple to get into, and anyone familiar with how TRPGs work will find Digimon Survive’s grid-based combat mechanics pretty simple to understand. With basic attacks to use and abilities that cost stamina points to perform, it’s an RPG system that’s as simple as they come. Mainly relying on exploiting elemental weaknesses, using status ailments, and recruiting new Digimon to fight with you, it’s not particularly unique, but it does the job it needs to do, and provides a good breather from just reading the whole way through. If anything, these combat sections are way too easy for what they’re designed to do, and they even come with their auto-battle system if you just need to wrap things up without really thinking. The battles you fight are never really challenging, and while you are free to play them whenever you please, they serve as minor distractions before the story segment starts.

This is basically how Digimon Survive goes from then on. You play an hour or two of the visual novel sections, make your choices, and learn more about the world. You explore your surroundings, meet new Digimon, and, occasionally, get into a minor battle or two. Once that’s done, you get into more story sequences and repeat the process all over again. This core design never wavers, and much of the game revolves around you falling in love with its themes. Its battles can be entertaining, yes, but its slower-paced sections are where its heart and soul really lie.

This leaves the typical gamer in a very conflicted position as to what to think of Digimon Survive. The story and what the writers have done with it deserve major props. Few visual novels are able to tackle this sense of loss or dread without the result feeling cheap or contrived. The different ways Digimon Survive’s characters are able to win gamers over show that a good story can very much keep a game afloat, and even make it enjoyable despite all the reading you have to do. That said, its tactical gameplay can leave gamers wanting, as it never feels quite enough to require focus. Its combat mechanics aren’t bad, but they lack the complexity and quality-of-life features that other visual novels and tactical RPGs (for example, Super Robot Wars) can bring. While you spend more time reading than strategizing, the battles you do fight are definitely among the game’s weaker parts.

If nothing else, Digimon Survive’s extremely high-quality narrative distinguishes it from the dregs of the genre. It boasts of a strong, engaging tale to read through, and whether you’re playing it on the PS2 or on your personal computer via Steam, if you’re just looking for a VN to bite down on, it has plenty on offer. Do know going in, however, that while it’s a fantastic VN, it’s a less-than-stellar tactical RPG, and anyone who picks it up with the hopes of being engaged in deep combat mechanics will be sorely disappointed.

If you’re looking for a new VN to read through, then Digimon Survive is a superb pickup. Even non-Digimon fans can find something to like, and while parts of the narrative may feel a little slow, the payoffs it gives out are more than worth the wait.

THE GOOD:

• Really compelling story to dive into

• Strong themes and writing style, with likeable characters caught in tense situations

• Decent amount of replay value, with three main routes available (and a fourth perfect-ending golden route to finish)

THE BAD:

• Combat segments aren’t nearly as entertaining as its story segments

• Story can be a little slow, especially at the start

• Highly dependent on how much you enjoy VNs, with little else to offer otherwise

RATING: 8/10

There’s a lot to say aboutThe Origin: Blind Maid, and, sadly, not everything is positive. It looks fantastic for an independently produced release, sporting some nice monster designs and environmental feel that can suck you right in. However, while its visuals are good and its ambition makes for a lofty goal, it doesn’t manage to live up to the expectations it sets. What could’ve been an interesting if rough-around-the-edges game is mostly ruined by its lack of focus, and while it does have a good framework, the execution leaves a lot to be desired.

Creditably, The Origin: Blind Maid does quite a few things very well. Its opening premise is extremely engaging, with you knowing nothing except for the fact that you are being hunted. What story you do get comes in bits and pieces from notes and diaries scattered around in the environment, and when you read through them, they paint an interesting picture that will keep you moving forward in spite of the spooks and scares you may encounter. As you run through its different environments, the darkness and the lonely setting can really get to you. And if you play it at night, you may be even more immersed in its atmosphere. Should the game manage to suck you in, you’ll find it to be pretty entertaining, even if it does have rough edges here and there.

As you traverse haunted places in The Origin: Blind Maid, you’ll be going through what are mostly the staples of the survival horror genre. Aside from finding helpful notes in the environment, you also have to scavenge for items and ammunition. Enemies haunt the local areas, but you can avoid them if you’re quiet, or gun them down if needed. It’s a simple but effective formula, and it helps keep the tension high especially when you can’t properly see where your enemies are lurking around. Do you risk skulking around and getting found out and attacked, or do you walk more openly so you can engage at a safe distance knowing that you’re wasting precious ammunition but not getting hurt in return? It’s the classic survival horror formula at its finest, with the story keeping you on your toes, and the threat of monsters ever present no matter where you go.

The trouble comes when you realize these concepts are akin to templates that The Origin: Blind Maid tries to follow, and that their actual execution varies greatly from its intentions. Even when it tries its hardest, it often ends up feeling unpolished and tedious. Take the game’s combat, for instance. In theory, it would be fast-paced and brutal, necessitating ammo management and a proper sense of risk-reward options. In practice, it appears to be only half-functional, with your weapons feeling weightless and lacking real impact. Enemies seem to vary from non-threatening and easy to take down to nigh invincible beasts you just have to avoid, and while it’s fine if that’s the case, the absence of any indication on which is which becomes damning. Bottom line, you are forced to guess, not quite the action the best titles in the genre aim to elicit from gamers. Exploration could’ve saved this concept, as the environments you traverse do look nice, but they also have their own quirks and flaws. The textures are detailed, but the level design lacks an attention to detail that should have made the gameplay flow well. Areas are either linear corridors or hallways to sprawling empty darkness where you move blindly from one level to another. The game lacks any cohesive sort of flow to it, as you’re often stumbling around in the dark, unaware of where you are or where you even need to go. While it does keep in theme with the idea of being lost, the actual gameplay ramifications just make it feel lacking any fun. Even when locations are engaging and are more thought out, they’re spaced between several minutes of frustrating meandering in the dark.

Rough as The Origin: Blind Maid is, if you can stomach the dead air, you do have at least some variety in what you can encounter. When you’re not fighting or dodging regular enemies, you have to be careful around the various bosses that stalk the levels. There’s some added variety in the puzzles you have to solve, and there are a few weapons to find and play with while you’re doing some standard chase sequences. Inventory management is pretty standard, but at least there’s a clear level of progression at work, with the game actually feeling like it’s building up to something. What’s more, the cutscenes hit pretty hard, as they’re not just entertaining to watch; they’re also rife with entertaining B-movie cheese and over-the-top voice acting.

Even then, The Origin: Blind Maid is hard to recommend because its few bright spots are spread so thin. There are also the various bugs and control issues to keep in mind. Save files sometimes have trouble loading, and while the controls work, there’s a sense of sluggishness and non-responsiveness that doesn’t feel right in contrast to far snappier, more responsive games. Enemies can look janky, environments can appear blurry, text can be unreadable in the dark, and the overall fidelity of the game just feels out of whack, especially when poorly developed models stand in stark contrast to the generally good visuals. While patches have been put out to address these bugs, not all have been solved, and it’s this cavalcade of minor issues that really stops an already slow-to-start game hard in its tracks.

It’s obvious that a lot of time, effort, and passion have gone into the making of The Origin: Blind Maid. That said, some games are just not fun to negotiate, and sadly, The Origin: Blind Maid is one such game. While it has its moments, they’re fleeting at best, and what remains is a well-meaning survival horror title that tries its best, but never quite manages to become what it wants to be.

THE GOOD:

• Nice visuals, especially during the few times it does actually get to show off its lighting

• Decent mix of concepts of crafting, combat, and exploration, survival-horror style

• Good narrative that keeps the game interesting and the player guessing

THE BAD:

• Concepts are good in theory, but just not fun to play, with the gameplay feeling neither impactful nor weighty

• Environments are good textually, but they have a bad flow to them, often leaving you confused and lost

• Feels unpolished and unfinished

RATING: 6/10

THE LAST WORD: We Are Football, a football management simulation by Germany-based Winning Streak Games and published by THQ Nordic, has just released new downloadable content that adds international competitions such as the European and World Championships to the game, along with many other features around these events. Before starting a new game, you can choose to become the coach of one more than 90 national men and women’s teams. To celebrate the launch of the new National Teams DLC, the core game has been made available at a 60% discount. There is likewise a bundle discount on offer. Note, though, that you will not be able to continue your current playthrough if you wish to access the DLC.

Neptunia Sisters VS Sisters, the latest action RPG from the popular series, will be released on January 24, 2023 for the PS4, PS5, and PC via Steam. Two variants will be on tap: the Standard Edition and the Deluxe Edition (which includes, apart from the game, a swimsuit costume set, the digital artbook, the original soundtrack and soundtrack art, and four avatars for the consoles and wallpapers for the PC). In Neptunia: Sisters VS Sisters, you get to play as any of the Goddess Candidates, led by Nepgear, who awaken from a two-year-long slumber to a Gamindustri that has been upended by the treacherous Trendi Phenomenon. During the time they had been sleeping, citizens of Gamindustri, unable to leave their homes in fear of monsters lurking outside, turned to using a new device called the rPhone as their main method of communication.