Games that just didn’t cut the mustard Jun-Dec 2021: Dark Souls, Astria Ascending, Flynn Son of Crimson, Nier Automata and more!

Welcome one and all, to another one of my bi-annual public therapy sessions.

You know, I love videogames. But some games are shit, and playing shit games results in a build-up of negativity – negativity which must be purged in the fires of sick journalistic burns, which I will now vomit out onto the Internet. That is, after all, the perfect place to store all manner of stupid and unnecessary opinions.

So, join me in my critical catharsis of the pent-up anger, disappointment and aggravation that’s been festering inside me for the last 182 days. These games sucked.

Dark Souls on Playstation

I really need to get something off of my chest. Dark Souls – nay, the Souls franchise as a whole – is utter garbage, and I’m tired of pretending that it’s not.

Usually when videogame franchises get as much clout as the Souls series, I can at least understand where fans are coming from, intellectually, even if I can’t empathise – but the Souls games are special in that they are the only games which leave me utterly dumbfounded as to how any human being could possibly find these enjoyable.

My distain for Dark Souls actually has nothing to do with it’s difficulty. Celeste, Blasphemous and Hollow Knight are all pretty challenging games and those were a joy to play. The problem with Dark Souls is that is fundamentally poorly designed.

The boss fights – arguably the series’ main pull – are the worst offenders. Most of them rely on cheesing the AI in some way (like climbing up and jumping off towers/walls over and over again to confuse them) instead of requiring actual skill, which is a perfect example of bad game design if ever there was one. It’s a game which gives the appearance of having a dynamic combat system, but which actually relies on the player using cheap exploits to negotiate the over-powered enemies.

All this isn’t even taking into account the slow, clunky controls and clumsy animations. And don’t even get me started on the ‘lore’ – listen, I’m sure that some people like to wade through reams and reams of item description text for scraps of vague and pretentiously-written lore, but it sure ain’t me.

These games are so badly designed that it’s baffling. I don’t think that they walk the line between challenging and unfair well at all.

A lot of Souls fans like to cope that some people just aren’t ‘hardcore’ enough appreciate the franchise, but honestly, the fact that those people think that playing Dark Souls for 50 hours makes one a ‘hardcore gamer’ pretty much invalidates any opinions they might have on the matter.

Mercenaries Saga Chronicles on Switch

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to play Disgaea if Disgaea was completely striped of all its polish and charm? The answer is, well, unpleasant.

Mercenaries Saga is a low-budget tactical RPG which feels shoddily constructed in every sense of the word. It is actually a compilation of 3 Mercenaries Saga games, but I must confess that the first entry in the trilogy – Mercenaries Saga: Will of the White Lions – was so uninspiring that I couldn’t bring myself to play the others.

Boring story; generic graphics; poorly optimised level curve which results in needing to grind levels between story missions (something which was never necessary in Disgaea). Bottom line = play Fae Tactics instead.

Carrion on Xbox

It’s an absolute crime that I had to include Carrion on this list – it has by far the most badass concept of any game I’ve played this year. You play as an alien creature escaping from Area 51, brutally murdering every scientist, soldier and government official unfortunate enough to cross your path. It’s deliciously gory and oh-so-satisfying in a sadistic sort of way.

There’s only one problem. The developers forgot to add a map.

Carrion’s world is very complex with no signage (I suppose because aliens can’t read) and lots of sprawling interconnecting tunnels to navigate. An environment like this would surely require a map somewhere in the UI to help you remember which branching paths you’d already taken and which quick travel ‘portals’ will take you where, right? Well, it seems the developers didn’t think so, which only resulted in me getting completely stuck, not having a single clue where I was supposed to be going and where I’d already been.

At first, I presumed it had to be a mistake. I mean, can you imagine trying to play a Metroidvania without a map? I was cursed to retrace my steps over and over only to find myself getting more and more disorientated. Eventually, the frustration become too much to bare and I quit. A great game, ruined by the omission of what should have been an obvious feature of the UI.

Flynn: Son of Crimson on Xbox

Truthfully, Flynn: Son of Crimson isn’t a bad game, it’s just not a good one either. I think this one stings more because I had such high expectations for it – the art style; the gameplay; it looked right in my wheelhouse. Whilst I have to give due credit for the beautiful presentation, the rest of the game fell short of expectations – the gameplay loop, whilst perfectly acceptable for a side-scrolling action-platformer, simply isn’t enough to compensate for the unengaging story and bland dialogue.

Astria Ascending on Xbox

I’ve often found myself over the last few years pining for a great new JRPG series that would really blow my socks off – the genre is a little stagnant at the moment, with most new JRPG releases being either remakes of decades old classics or entries to already well-established franchises – and I really thought that Astria Ascending could be that JRPG for me.

Well, it wasn’t… and here are a few reasons why.

  • Environments were confusing to navigate due to the overly complex 2D backdrops which made it hard to distinguish what items/doorways you could interact with and what you couldn’t (made worse by the fact that there’s no map on the UI).
  • Combat itself was uninspiring with many of the 8-character roster being the same character archetype but repackaged and sold again (there are, for example, two ‘elemental mage’ characters who are called different names but which play almost identically)
  • One of the first boss battles of the game was hands-down the most cheap, frustrating and unsatisfying boss battles I have ever suffered through in any JRPG. It relied almost entirely on stunning my only water magic user – who was the only character capable of damaging it – ad infinitum until I ran out of mana/items.
  • The perk system for levelling up characters is needlessly complicated. The perks themselves are uninspiring until pretty deep into the game when some cool perks finally open up.

Stylistically, Astria Ascending is absolutely stunning with a whimsical, unique and superbly detailed art-style. It also boasted an interesting (if not slightly cliché) concept brimming with potential. Unfortunately, this stylish veneer wasn’t enough to disguise the fact that the gameplay itself was lacklustre at best.

Nier Automata on Xbox

Playing Nier: Automata is practically mandatory for weebs across the world. This game actually features one of my favourite soundtracks of all time, with a hauntingly beautiful score sung in a strange language called Chaos which is intended to be a mass-up of French and Japanese.

But this isn’t an interactive disco – how is the actual gameplay? Well, it’s absolutely terrible, thanks for asking.

I’ve played quite a few action-RPGs which are very similar to Nier: Automata, but never before have I felt so inhibited by the game’s own controls – they felt clunky, unresponsive and slow which, in a fast-paced action game like this one, is a recipe for frustration.

I can see what Nier was trying to go for here, but it was done so much better in games like Scarlet Nexus in which combat is fluid and characters feel suitably agile.

This is a more personal gripe with the game, but I never enjoyed Nier’s aesthetic very much either – it feels, dare I say it, a little tacky, like a caricature of a Japanese videogame. There are far too many short-skirted waifus and edgy hair-dos for me to take this franchise seriously, even if it is supposed to be set in the bleak far-future.

I really feel like I lost otaku points for this one, but Nier’s appeal just does not compute.

Now that I’ve gotten all that out of my system… what are you excited for in 2022?

On a slightly more positive note, there’s lots happening in the world of entertainment this coming year. What are the chances that it will all be terrible and disappointing?

For all the weebs, we’ve got the final seasons of My Hero Academia airing later on this year, a new series called Cyberpunk: Edgerunners, more Made in Abyss, Attack on Titan: the Final Season will finally finish and, most importantly (IMO), the second cour of a Case Study of Vanitas will air in only a fortnight from now!

In terms of notable videogame releases, it’s a little more uncertain presumably due to the last 22 months of disruption, but we’ve definitely got Elden Ring to look forward to in late February, Bethesda’s new RPG Starfield (Skyrim in space?) and although it hasn’t been officially confirmed, Hollow Knight: Silksong could be releasing this year also!

~ See, it’s not all bad ~

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