Episode 62 - The End of Physical Media

Since the beginning of video games, the physical object has been a core part of the experience. The game disc, the manual, the box, the strategy guide—all of these are tangible symbols of the hobby that have lasted for decades. We now find ourselves in a place where the manuals have disappeared, the online platforms have expanded and the consoles are doing away with physical media readers. In this episode, we talk about the evolution of the video game as a physical product and the impact on the hobby and gamer community.

Intro music provided by sawsquarenoise. Used with permission.

Episode 58 - Reimagining the Classics

For the entirety of the past console generation, remakes and remasters have been the hottest trend in gaming. You can nearly be assured that if a game sold well or is being talked about by enough fans, there is likely a plan to rerelease the game for modern consoles to sell additional copies with almost no downside risk to the publisher. Games like Final Fantasy VII and Resident Evil 2, some of the most iconic games of all time, are going well beyond a simple remaster and redefining the entire game. In this episode, we explore the art of the possible and discuss how we would reimagine some games that are high on our list as candidates for reimagining.

Intro music provided by sawsquarenoise. Used with permission.

BCG Review - Dead Cells

BCG Review - Dead Cells
Platform: PC, Mac, Linux, PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch

BCG Verdict: Over a year after it’s early access release, Dead Cells has taken a very good game and made it great. The attention to detail and polish on this unabashedly in-your-face roguelike metroidvania really shows. In a time where there are plenty of options for roguelikes and metroidvanias, Dead Cells shines through as a best of both worlds alternative, providing fast-paced action and configurability for just the right price.

You can get yourself a copy of Dead Cells for Switch, or for PS4. Using these links gives BCG a commission and helps to support the show.

Review:

In episode 38 of the BCG podcast (June 2017), I gave my initial impressions of an interesting early access game that showed great potential. Fast-paced roguelike gameplay combined with the exploration components of a metroidvania not only proved to be a unique blend of two well-loved genres but also showed how a challenging game can also be actually fun--especially to a Business Casual Gamer. At the time, I spoke positively about the game; however, I had no idea where a year’s worth of feedback and refinement could take the experience.

Dead Cells  offers something for everyone in a rich, action-packed world.

Dead Cells offers something for everyone in a rich, action-packed world.

Frequent listeners to the podcast will recall that BCGers tend to have a love-hate relationship with roguelikes. While we enjoy games like The Binding of Isaac and Enter the Gungeon, play sessions can very quickly devolve into the nightmarish, “what did I accomplish in that last hour?” situation. As business casual gamers, we like to see the fruits of our--admittedly abbreviated--labor, and losing an hour to a roguelike with little to show for it (a common occurrence) is not an ideal outcome.

What’s so fascinating about this game, in fact, is that I never got that feeling, even after multiple deaths. The game seems to accentuate two things: velocity and power. Even in the face of a clean restart, it’s quick to present to you a (likely new) way of mangling the hordes of enemies in your way as you explore complex labyrinths sprawling about. Where games like Enter the Gungeon seem slightly afraid to offer you too much too soon, Dead Cells is all about acceleration, accentuating your endurance and brutality at a relatively frequent pace. Those that study theories of fun will certainly recognize this style of leaving breadcrumbs at short intervals to help keep players engaged, and it works. This is one of the first roguelikes where death simply means more time to have fun as opposed to a driver of mounting frustration.

Upgrades are aplenty, with some of them persisting through death.

Upgrades are aplenty, with some of them persisting through death.

And it’s good, too, that Dead Cells has struck this chord so well, as without it, the experience would almost certainly fall short for BCGers. It seems that the last year has found ways to reduce overall difficulty without making it feel less difficult. I quickly learned to hack through enemies with great elegance, all the while distinctly conscious of the fact that my run may be quickly ended with one simple lapse of concentration. The game somehow bolsters that feeling of power while providing an undercurrent of challenge.

Dead Cell’s pixelated graphics really suit the experience. Sprites are crisp and colorful, and animation is fluid and engaging. Many times during my playthroughs, I found myself enamored by the attention to detail: hanging cages that swing when touched, pulsating things on the ground that seem to react to your very presence, and unique lighting to help further sell the mood. Likewise, sound effects are crisp and well done. The soundtrack is strong as well, though I often found myself unintentionally disregarding it as I focused on the immediate tasks at hand. To that end, I think it hits just the right spot: not too intrusive, but there to do its job when needed.

Colors are sharp and animations are fluid.

Colors are sharp and animations are fluid.

As you’d expect in a game of this type, controls are precise and responsive. I found playing with an Xbox One controller to be a pleasant experience. There’s little to no lag with inputs, which is of particular importance in a game where you only have a few hits until your one life is expended. A large portion of the power a player draws from the game is directly related to their ability to attack, dodge, and maneuver their way in and out of peril, and I’m very happy to see that developers Motion Twin got this dialed in correctly.

It may go without saying for a roguelike, but all of these aspects, combined with typically short play sessions, make this game a great consideration for business casual gamers. I’ve had no problem starting and stopping many times, each iteration (read: death) bringing me closer to upgrades and new weapons, each of which persist across runs. It’s these small carrots that keep the game compelling, and as mentioned earlier, Dead Cells has no issue doling them out fairly liberally. That said, all of this feedback to the player doesn’t dilute the challenge component of the experience. All in all, it’s still a rough game to tackle, albeit not as difficult as some others of its type.

Temporary item purchases help accelerate runs... for a price.

Temporary item purchases help accelerate runs... for a price.

All in all, I was surprised to find myself stuck to the screen when playing this game. While I can appreciate the amazingness of games like Enter the Gungeon, I rarely ever find myself choosing to play that game when I have 20 minutes to kill. With Dead Cells, I’ve had no problem doing just that, each time approaching the game with intent to just have some fun for a short while. I think this--more than anything--speaks to why this game is likely to be remembered as a true classic in its time. If you’re looking for a fresh introduction to roguelikes, I’d definitely recommend giving this one a try.

You can get yourself a copy of Dead Cells for Switch, or for PS4. Using these links gives BCG a commission and helps to support the show.

The hero even has a "roar" animation akin to the amazing  Guardian Heroes .

The hero even has a "roar" animation akin to the amazing Guardian Heroes.

BCG Ratings:
Multiplayer Fun: N/A; streamer mode untested
Time Sensitivity: Excellent (Start and stop quickly)
Duration: Short, excellent replayability
Family Applicability: Teen and Interested Gamers (Not for young children or non-gamers)

Ratings Explained:
BCG Ratings are our attempt to summarize a game’s most critical factors for the business casual gamer. See the descriptions below for details.

Multiplayer Fun - This attempts to measure the fun factor for business casual gamers that don’t have hours to sink into a multiplayer experience. Ratings of “BCG Friendly” are games that are casually-focused in multiplayer environments, whereas “Hardcore Only” ratings are generally more challenging to approach from a BCG angle.

Time Sensitivity - This measures the game’s ability to be started and stopped frequently at relatively small (e.g. 30 minute) intervals. The best games in this category offer meaningful fulfillment even in short play times, whereas games that require two-hour sessions to make meaningful progress score low in this category. 

Duration - This measures the overall length of the game to complete casually on a first playthrough. While long durations don’t necessarily mean a bad game, some players may opt to steer clear of games requiring too much of a time commitment.

Family Applicability - This measures the applicability of the game to family gaming sessions, particularly with younger children or non-gamers. A full “Family Friendly” rating means that everyone will find some fun in the game, whereas “BCG Only” is more likely to be enjoyed only by gamers themselves.

Chris
 

BCG Review - Octopath Traveler

BCG Review - Octopath Traveler
Platform: Nintendo Switch

BCG Verdict: A strong RPG with some blemishes, bolstered by a compelling battle system and unique graphics. It’s a worthwhile visit for the business casual gamer, offering small, digestible chunks of story for players with little time, all while striking a strong chord for those of us who enjoyed 16-bit RPGs in the 90s.

You can get yourself a copy of Octopath Traveler here. Using this link gives BCG a commission and helps to support the show.

Review:

In the time leading up to its formal release, Octopath Traveler saw two demos and quite a bit of media attention. The initial promise was quite lofty: eight unique characters, each with his or her own story to tell, woven into a unique tale similar to that of a 1990s-style RPG. And if that wasn’t enough, developer Square Enix planned a truly unique visual display consisting of a marriage between modern, 3D worlds and old-school, 2D tile-based RPGs of the SNES era. What could go wrong?
 

Octopath Traveler is a unique 3D world with 2D flair.

Octopath Traveler is a unique 3D world with 2D flair.

In truth, while Octopath isn’t perfect, not a lot went wrong. While the stories for the eight characters don’t really intertwine directly, the lack of those complexities are easily forgiven for just that: unnecessary complexities to the BCG-style gamer. In fact, the intentional step to maintain relatively siloed stories among the protagonists ends up offering a bit more of an open feel to a genre that is notorious for story linearity. Players choose a starting character and quickly encounter the other seven, optionally taking time to sidetrack along the newcomer’s story before delving deeper into the original task. This type of approach, mainly consisting of small, 30-minute pieces, makes it incredibly simple to pick up and put down many times over a day or week--an ideal trait for those of us with hectic schedules. The disjointed stories never disrupt the enjoyment, as it feels quite similar to games like Final Fantasy IV or VI, breaking off to tackle a new character’s immediate needs while putting the previous task on brief hold.

Some players may argue with the story decision; however, very few will take issue with the battle system, which paints an interesting layer of exceptionality over the tried-and-true turn-based battles we’ve come to expect. Thankfully throwing the old “real time battle” mechanics out the window, battles proceed in a well-defined order, shown at the top of the screen at all times. This gives the player the ability to better understand if they can get aggressive now and still have time to heal before an enemy’s action. Each character begins with a primary job and a set of weapons that align with their role. Gone are the simple days of choosing one weapon and mashing through fight commands to victory. Instead, players must carefully choose which weapon to use for each turn as well as which enemy to target.
 

The battle system is a refreshing take on 16-bit style turn-based RPGs' offerings.

The battle system is a refreshing take on 16-bit style turn-based RPGs' offerings.

This is where the system gets fun. Each enemy has a set of weaknesses that are initially unknown to the player. As attacks are rendered against them, weaknesses are slowly discovered (and, thankfully, remembered) throughout the battle. Additionally, every enemy has a shield value that represents the number of hits against their weakness that they can withstand before entering a “broken” and vulnerabile state. During this broken state, enemies take more damage and may not take any action. Where traditional RPGs would have players focusing damage on one particularly threatening enemy, Octopath’s system allows players to “juggle” breaking one or more enemies to prevent them from inflicting damage against the party. Further, breaking enemies only lasts so long, encouraging players to hit them hard while they’re down at the expense of crowd controlling the other enemies in the battle.

Coupled with the weaknesses mechanism is the boost system. The end of each turn awards each character with one Boost Point (BP) for which they can save up to five. Then, when their turn comes back around, they may choose to use up to three of those points to enhance their action that turn (which consequently prevents them from gaining BP that turn). Is an enemy broken? Use some BP to deal multiple hits for catastrophic damage. Need a clutch and more powerful heal? Add on some BP to that magic spell. This alone would make for some interesting battles, but Octopath adds an extra twist. Each physical hit of a weapon onto an enemy decreases their shield value, allowing players to accelerate breaking enemies with strategic BP usage. This idea, coupled with the other uses of BP, creates very unique trade off situations that bring much more excitement to battles than many similar systems in other RPGs. Enemies--especially bosses--have very high hit points, necessitating a thoughtful approach at very turn. For the BCG, this means that even a 30-minute play session consisting of a handful of random battles can be just as exciting and rewarding as making strides in the story.
 

The overworld map seems small, but packs quite a lot of content.

The overworld map seems small, but packs quite a lot of content.

The game’s visuals are quite compelling. We’ve never quite seen a 2D-sprite-meets-3D-environment approach just like this one, and for most players, it is quite a remarkable sight to behold. Maneuvering through the world is simple and direct, as expected, and interaction with objects and non-player characters is straightforward. The music in Octopath is exceptional, fitting closely in with the narrative and driving player emotion appropriately, although it still can’t hold a candle to Nobuo Uematsu’s offerings from the 90s.

Blur effects in the foreground and background can become distracting.

Blur effects in the foreground and background can become distracting.

If there’s something to be frustrated about, frankly, it’s an artistic design choice in the visuals. Whether there due to a technical limitation or otherwise, the game’s visual depth of field and bloom effects quickly become distracting, even frustration-inducing. To aid in the feeling of depth, buildings and objects in the foreground and background are dramatically blurred, more so than any game we’ve seen in the past. There are times where two-thirds of the screen is blurred, leaving only a small center segment with the character in focus. This happens more often than desired and can easily wreak havoc on a player’s eyes. It’s more than just distracting.

All in all, Octopath’s exceptional battle system is diminished by its middle-of-the-range story and visual quirks. That said, it’s still quite a lot of fun and represents one of the best RPGs of its type in many years. The fragmented story segments--while a frustration point for some gamers--actually helps the business casual gamer, offering opportunities for discrete, 30-minute play sessions without risk of wasting time. If you have a Switch and are looking for a reasonable facsimile of our favorite 90s RPGs, you won’t be disappointed in Octopath Traveler.

You can get yourself a copy of Octopath Traveler here. Using this link gives BCG a commission and helps to support the show.

BCG Ratings:
Multiplayer Fun: N/A (No multiplayer)
Time Sensitivity: Excellent (Start and stop quickly)
Duration: Moderate (50+ hours)
Family Applicability: Teen and Interested Gamers (Not for young children or non-gamers)

Ratings Explained:
BCG Ratings are our attempt to summarize a game’s most critical factors for the business casual gamer. See the descriptions below for details.

Multiplayer Fun - This attempts to measure the fun factor for business casual gamers that don’t have hours to sink into a multiplayer experience. Ratings of “BCG Friendly” are games that are casually-focused in multiplayer environments, whereas “Hardcore Only” ratings are generally more challenging to approach from a BCG angle.

Time Sensitivity - This measures the game’s ability to be started and stopped frequently at relatively small (e.g. 30 minute) intervals. The best games in this category offer meaningful fulfillment even in short play times, whereas games that require two-hour sessions to make meaningful progress score low in this category. 

Duration - This measures the overall length of the game to complete casually on a first playthrough. While long durations don’t necessarily mean a bad game, some players may opt to steer clear of games requiring too much of a time commitment.

Family Applicability - This measures the applicability of the game to family gaming sessions, particularly with younger children or non-gamers. A full “Family Friendly” rating means that everyone will find some fun in the game, whereas “BCG Only” is more likely to be enjoyed only by gamers themselves.

Chris