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June 2023 Retrospective

I'll go into this more in-depth later in the article but last month, regarding Final Fantasy XVI, I wrote:

Based on everything that I have seen it will be a good game by all objective measures. But at the same time I fear that I will not enjoy it because it will not represent what "Final Fantasy" means to me. The age of turn-based RPGs appears to be over. The reign of third-person action RPGs is here.

I think this Groundskeeper Willie quote fits best.

I warned ya! Didnae I warn ya?!

The Good

Who’s Telling the Truth about Disco Elysium?

A fantastic documentary by People Make Games on the tumultuous development of Disco Elysium and its uncertain future. I know it is a long watch at two hours and 30 minutes but if you are a fan of the game then I truly believe it is worth every second of your time.

Read Project Hail Mary

I thoroughly enjoyed the hard sci-fi setting and dry, sarcastic comedy of Andy Weir's debut novel, The Martian. So it probably comes as no surprise that I also enjoyed his third novel, Project Hail Mary, which walks a similar path.

If you have any interest in hard sci-fi and you haven't read The Martian I highly recommend you do so. If you find yourself enjoying it then I guarantee you will also enjoy Project Hail Mary. If you haven't heard anything about either of these books do yourself a favour and go in as blind as you can. There are some absolutely fantastic twists and turns that really make the novels great.

Honourable Mentions

WWDC 2023

At this year's Worldwide Developers Conference Apple finally unveiled their long rumoured augmented reality goggles.

I am not going to be one of those people who pretends that this first iteration of Apple Vision Pro is going to set the world on fire. With a starting price of $3,499 USD only batshit insane techies like myself are going to buy it. But that was also how things started with the original iPhone and to be clear I have absolutely no idea if these goggles are going to become just as popular. But what I do know is that this level of hardware has the potential to enable all sorts of interesting new software just like the iPhone did.

Before the Apple Vision Pro was revealed I honestly did not believe this sort of hardware was feasible in AR or VR goggles. The quality of the screens, the fidelity of the eye tracking, the gesture recognition all seem to work better than anyone (outside of Apple) thought possible. It even contains an M2 chip which powers most of Apple's laptop hardware. You're basically strapping a MacBook to your face!

The Valve Index and Meta Quest Pro definitely aren't trying to compete directly with Apple, since they are literally less than half of the price. But I think Apple starting with such high quality hardware and then trying to bring it down in price is going to work much better than the competition who is focusing on getting $400 goggles first. If this type of technology starts to gain traction you can bet dollars to donuts that in 5-10 years we'll be seeing an Apple Vision Air for less than $1000.

Started playing Final Fantasy XVI

What makes a Final Fantasy game great? In my opinion it would be turn-based combat, an enjoyable story, customizing the gear and skills of your party, engaging characters, and a sprawling open world at the absolutely minimum. I'm not yet sure if Final Fantasy XVI actually has any of this.

Let's start with the combat because that is the most obvious departure. This is a poor man's version of a hack and slash like Devil May Cry or Bayonetta. You are essentially spamming a single attack button to swing your sword. You have a set of abilities that 99% of the time you activate the moment they come off cooldown. If you're fighting a tougher enemy or boss maybe you'll wait a teeny bit longer until they become "staggered" at which point your attacks do more damage. That really is the extent of the combat. At least that is what I am experiencing after 15 hours. I wouldn't put it past Square Enix to maybe add more combat mechanics at the 30 hour mark but I can only write about what I've experienced.

I may be able to let the shallowness of the combat slide if Final Fantasy XVI didn't also completely abandon the idea of a party that you get to control and equip. You only ever play a single character, and you only ever get to adjust their equipment and abilities. Random people jump in and out of your party at random times and honestly they seem to be so stupid and do so little damage that it is almost like they are not there. At the same time the equipment you get to choose from is essentially "pick the biggest number". Your equipment doesn't bestow upon you any unique abilities or passive traits. It solely exists to make the numbers get bigger. It's crazy to play a Final Fantasy game where the RPG elements are effectively pointless. The only reason you need to level up and get better equipment is so your damage scales for the higher level enemies. Honestly this game could lose every concept of level and still play the same.

At this point in time you're probably asking yourself why am I still playing this game and the answer is the story. While all of the good Final Fantasy game designers seem to have left Square Enix, a couple of the writers appear to have stayed. Based on what I have experienced so far I would say the story is middling but combined with the worldbuilding there is a lot of potential. I've reached the Final Fantasy sweet spot where the stakes of having to save the world are starting to reveal themselves and I really do want to see how things are going to play out. The biggest reason why I say the story is middling is because there really aren't many characters who I actually care about. The main character is a whiny shonen style hero like Shinji from Neon Genesis Evangelion or Eren from Attack on Titan. I really couldn't give a fuck about him but since he is literally the only person I get to control I am forced to hear him continually smolder with generic rage. Fifteen hours into Final Fantasy 7, 9, 10, or 12 I was already enamoured with the party I had formed and wanted to see where they would go to next. In Final Fantasy XVI I'm only interested in seeing where the political intrigue of this obviously Game of Thrones inspired world goes next. But of course in true Final Fantasy style none of the villains are cunning and crafty bastards like in Game of Thrones. They are comically evil caricatures that feel more at home in a Kingdom Heart's game.

If I am making it sound like the game is horrible I apologize because it definitely is not. I do plan to keep playing and beat the entire game in July. I'm just frustrated because I know I'm never going to get another Final Fantasy game like 7 or 9 or 10. Deep down I'm still one of those gamers who loves turn based combat where I get to customize every little aspect of my party and send them up against some godlike being who wants to destroy the world.

Read Network Effect

I finally got around to reading Network Effect, the fifth book in The Murderbot Diaries and actually the first full novel as the previous four were all novellas.

There really is no sugarcoating it, I think the length of a novella serves the setting of Murderbot better. The first third of this book was excellent and felt very much like the previous four novellas. But then it just began to drag. Everything was so telegraphed and you're just going through motions by the end. I was probably two hours away from finishing the book and I just wanted it to be over.

Season 3 of Ted Lasso

I finished season 3 of Ted Lasso and the best thing I can say is I was thoroughly whelmed. I honestly barely remember any of this season's story arcs. The interactions and interpersonal relationships of the characters were what I enjoyed.

Obviously nothing can top the perfection of the first season but it definitely feels like the writers started to lose sight as to what made Ted Lasso so special. There was definitely a much higher note to go out on but in terms of series finales go, if that is what this turns out to be, it gets a solid single thumbs up from me.

The Bad

Beat The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom

After 100+ hours I finally beat The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom with a completion percentage of 50.24%

Undoubtedly there are going to be some people who question how I could spend 100+ hours in a game and still say it is bad. My response would be that Tears of the Kingdom is two very different games.

The game that I enjoyed was exploring the world of Hyrule, similar to how I enjoy sandbox or survival games like Skyrim or Minecraft. The combat, quests, and story are all essentially glue or tape that holds the open world together. I play those games for that feeling of setting off in a random direction and discovering something new. Since there is no in-game clock (which is another hysterical omission by Nintendo for a game released in 2023) I would bet that I played this type of game for the majority of my first 60 hours. There was always a shrine to discover, a sign of President Hudson to help prop up, a Skyview Tower to unlock, or a helpless korok who needs to be returned to their friend.

But then I decided it was time to focus on the main quest which took me into a game where combat and dungeon crawling were the most important gameplay mechanics which I could not care less about.

One of my biggest complaints about Breath of the Wild was its lack of dungeons. The Divine Beasts were pale imitations and unfortunately the temples in Tears of the Kingdom are just as unsatisfying. Every temple plays out exactly the same way. First you find its entrance and walk into a central atrium which contains X number of locks. You then fan out from that atrium and go to X dead ends where each lock is opened. Then you retreat back to the atrium and fight the final boss. There is nothing special or unique about these temples. You've already encountered every aspect of them out in the world at large. You're just forced to solve the same type of puzzle multiple times and then fight incredibly bland bosses. Ironically the most enjoyable thing about each temple is getting to their entrance because that is about exploring the world.

After I had completed all of the dungeons I was at a point where I could go and confront the final boss. But I figured that before doing that I should probably try to complete some of the random quests that I had picked up but had not yet completed organically. This was when I realized just how MMO like Tears of the Kingdoms quests were. For the most part you're just fast travelling to a very explicit place at a very explicit time so a hardcoded trigger could be tripped and the quest would complete and give you a paltry reward. While I was exploring the world and naturally completing random quests I didn't notice this but when completing them back to back their repetitive nature was hard to escape.

I finally decided that it was time to end my suffering and fight the final boss, and it was here that all of the shortcomings of the combat came to a head. I'm not saying that I expected this game to have Elden Ring or Devil May Cry quality of combat but its lack of depth became even more clear. To defeat the final boss I just ran directly at him and mashed attack until he did some bullshit move and damaged me. I would then eat a meal and wallop on him again until his massive health bar hit zero. There was no using any of the abilities I had acquired, hell even arrows were apparently useless against them. The game just wanted me to mindless bonk this boss with a sword until they died. It's hilarious to watch how far Zelda has fallen from the days of Wind Waker and Twilight Princess.

In my "My most anticipated games of 2023" article I wrote:

As much as I hated on Breath of the Wild because it wasn't a "real" Zelda game, I readily admit that it was a fantastic open-world game. Having had six years to adjust my expectations for Tears of the Kingdom I am finally in a position to be really excited about it.

Unfortunately even after six years and tempered expectations I'm still not happy that I played Tears of the Kingdom. Hopefully I will not be fooled a third time but at this rate we'll probably not see the next Zelda game until the end of the decade. Fingers crossed someone inside Nintendo can get a hold of this engine and create a brand new IP because I truly do think that there is a all around great game somewhere in there.

Trying to find a home

There is nothing more soul crushing than searching for a home in Canada right now. And it isn't even because we're losing out in any bidding wars. It is literally impossible to find a decent home for a sane price. Effectively any "starter" home within 30 minutes of where we currently live is close to $2 million dollars. If you bump it up to 60 minutes maybe you'll be able to find something for $1.5 million.

I cannot fathom who is purchasing a home right now. I ranted back in February about how a $1,000,000 mortgage would be over $5,500 CAD and after the latest interest rate hike we're probably at $6,000 now. If you're making $250,000 salary that is half of your monthly income tied up in a mortgage payment.

Review June Goals

July Goals