Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon (PS4/5, 2023)
This was my first game in the Armored Core series. To be frank I had never heard of the franchise before this game's trailer was first shown, so I can compare it to Daemon X Machina at best.
There are a lot of complaints online about the stagger mechanic that seems to be new to the series. As someone new to the series I did not see a problem with it. For me it added a strategic element to the combat that Daemon X Machina lacked. It also allows for a variety of playstyles. Players are free to choose the weapon type they want to use to build the stagger meter and the type they want to use when going in for the bigs hits. Enemy HP bars also do not feel blown up to accomodate the feature. Even chip damage accumulates stagger reasonably fast.
The campaign is great. No mission feels like another, with diverse maps and gimmicks that do not overshadow the game's core mechanics. The story is not going to win any literature awards but it was intriguing and told well enough to keep my interest up. The ambient soundtrack however is a bit of a bummer. It works well for what it is and fits the setting but games are more fun with actual music running in the background. Therefore Daemon X Machina actually did a much, much better job with its energetic soundtrack.
I had a great time with Armored Core VI and enjoyed the challenging bosses. People jest that nobody is playing it anymore on steam, but I enjoyed that the game only lasted me a week and did not expect me to spend an eternity grinding for upgrades. Hopefully a sequel will keep up with that design philosophy. Games like Elden Ring are too much of a timesink for me these days.
My only complaint is that the balancing is a bit out of hand. Apparently there are lots of loadouts that trivialize the game, and some bosses almost seem to expect players to be running one of those. I had to switch parts around a few times because my generic medium assembly seemed to have no chance of winning against certain bosses.
By the way unlike other multiplats this game still looks really good even on PS4 and only seems to suffer a bit in its framerate on previous gen consoles. Obviously it runs and looks better on PS5. But the PS4 version works very well and is not a botched downport like Star Ocean 6 for example, a game that looked awful and barely ran on PS4.
Super Mario Bros. Wonder (Switch, 2023)
Thank god Nintendo finally moved away from the generic clean 3D look they were employing for the New Super Mario Bros. series. Over 30 years since Super Mario World and 2D Mario finally looks good again. I suppose it was about time. Although to me Mario and Luigi look a bit off in this new style, but I still appreciate the effort the artists put into this game.
Anyways, this is Mario and gameplay reigns supreme. And unfortunately this is not where Super Mario Bros. Wonder shines. Half the game is made up of short gimmick stages ripped straight out of Mario Maker that honestly just feel like a waste of time. Most regular stages are terribly easy even on a challenge run that ignores the new badge feature. The few challenging stages expect you to spend an absurd amount of retries on them to hit your jumps just perfect. This game makes me miss when lives mattered and games were balanced around players having to complete a set of stages before they could save their game. The new wonder stage gimmicks are surprisingly fun sometimes. That is when they do not play like out of place mid-stage minigames.
Super Mario Bros. Wonder is a decently fun game, it does not hurt to kill time with it. But Mario did better in the past and both Super Mario World and Super Mario Bros. 3 are available on Nintendo Online. I recommend playing those over Wonder.
Final Fantasy XVI (PS5, 2023)
I expected a terrible movie game when I went into this one. And that was exactly what I got for many hours. Final Fantasy XVI starts off just like XIII — players get to walk along straight hallways to trigger cutscene after cutscene. And much like Final Fantasy XIII did, so does XVI eventually open up a little and start to respect player agency at least somewhat. Unfortunately that does little to help matters because Final Fantasy XVI is about the most mediocre action RPG imaginable. For a game inspired by Devil May Cry there is surprisingly little fidelity in its combat system. FFXVI is a straight up button masher with little regard for timing, positioning and move variety. Enemy HP bars are also blown out of proportion to the point the boss fights bored me once I had down their movesets and still had to whack on them for minutes. The game is also barely an RPG. There is no customizable party and Clive's equipment save for accessories has no attributes (and those special attributes on the accessories only increase the damage output of certain skills). As far as I can tell there are no status effects in this game.
The story has its moments but is overally generic set in the most cookie-cutter boring fantasy world imaginable. Scenes inspired by Game of Thrones are awkward at best. This game was released in 2023, so no worries, you still get to waste your time on errand sidequests to be rewarded with potions. I miss when sidequests were about discovering optional dungeons, special equipment and superbosses. The official guide's secret section is just a collection of developer interviews — because it turns out the game itself has no secrets.
I ended up just dropping the game 20 hours in because I did not feel it was worth spending any more of my time on it. Character models may look impressive, but I did not purchase this to watch a 3D movie and the stale stock asset environments are not helping matters. For a Final Fantasy title XVI is painfully bland. Even Final Fantasy XV had more personality and imagination to it.
Returnal (PS5, 2021)
Almost forgot how good it feels to have stakes in a game. Difficulty hits different when screwing up makes you lose progress. As such Returnal made me feel adrenaline like no other game in recent time.
Much like with Armored Core my only complaint is that the game is oddly balanced. Some weapons are much stronger than others and it feels like part of the difficulty in beating Returnal other than look is learning to identify those broken weapons and abuse them. Experimenting with weapons ruined more than one run for me. However playing Returnal was still a great experience. If I had the time I would keep playing to complete the databank, see the true ending, get the story's full picture and do some challenge runs. Returnal is easily one of the best games of the current decade so far.