Backloggin’ the Year – Paul’s Playthrough, September & October 2021
Welcome to Backloggin’ the Year, a feature that discusses the challenges and excitement that come with working through your backlog. Paul Shkreli looks at where he’s at in terms of his backlogging goals.
And just like that, Fall is in full swing. If you’re anything like me, you’ve already raided the leftover Halloween candy a few times over until there’s nothing left but Twizzlers. Thanksgiving is just around the corner, if you celebrate it…and I suppose it is still there, even if you don’t. The second half of the year has been a bit slower with the backlog, but only because of all the great games coming out! I really enjoyed my time with Tales of Arise, while reviewing the recent port of Phantom Brave. More recently, I shared my thoughts on my time with Dungeon Encounters, an unexpected contender for my personal GOTY.
With all these new releases, it’s been a bit difficult to get to my backlog. But don’t worry, it is still there waiting for me:
Why am I like this pic.twitter.com/IuXoMCVsUN
— Paul Shkreli (@paulwall217) October 29, 2021
Another development I am inclined to share: In another life — not only before the pandemic, but also before the announcement of a Demon’s Souls remake — my PlayStation 3 was ruined when, during a move, my stressed-out cat peed directly on top of it. I embarked on a quest to obtain a replacement launch PlayStation 3 so I could replay games like Demon’s Souls, which was surprisingly difficult. I was eventually successful in this endeavor, just nearly a year after the release of the PlayStation 5 and the remake of the very PS3 game I wanted to replay. It’s still a success, however, as I have a ton of content that is simply inaccessible on my PlayStation 4/5, like Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo, a remaster I bought when George W. Bush was in office. Technically, you could call this a long-term quest in retro gaming. I’m coming to terms with accepting the fact PlayStation 3 is now considered “retro” gaming! See you at my retirement party next month.
finally got a working PS3 pic.twitter.com/OczJKbFqDo
— Paul Shkreli (@paulwall217) October 27, 2021
Shin Megami Tensei IV (3DS)
Did you know there exists a little-known series that is kind of like Persona 5, but without any of the chill vibes and high school dating sim elements? Discourse and my sarcasm aside, Shin Megami Tensei IV came out in 2013 for the Nintendo 3DS, during a time where it felt like all the major JRPGs were being developed for handheld systems and before most of our favorite series were relegated to some gacha game for mobile devices for the rest of time.
When the game initially came out, I played it for a few hours before being distracted by something on a larger screen. I appreciated a mini-guide was included, given the difficulty of the game, but tucked it away and assumed I would come back another day. Little did I know that day would be eight years later, and just after playing a remastered Nocturne and weeks before playing the anticipated and just-released Shin Megami Tensei V for the Switch. Playing SMT IV Apocalypse, the partial-sequel was recommended, but I couldn’t justify buying it given how little of the standard game I completed.
I…still haven’t finished this game, but only because I keep finding myself playing Dungeon Encounters. With a dozen or so hours in, I have only really begun to explore the narrative and presentation of Tokyo. The battle system is entirely what any SMT fan would expect including the press turn battle system, rewarding efficient playing with extra turn opportunities. I just can’t help but find the game to feel so…static. Character portraits, enemy designs, even the city layouts are all so still. The only time it feels like anything is moving is when dungeon-crawling. That said, the character art is well drawn and the music is always a highlight of a MegaTen game. I am hopeful I will one day finish the game, even as I sit here and wait for the newest installment to be delivered.
Super Castlevania IV (SNES)
After playing through my very first metroidvania earlier this year and then experiencing Metroid Dread, I felt compelled to check out the first Castlevania game for the Nintendo. I played for about five minutes until the internet told me to start with this game instead. I am so glad I listened to a random stranger online for once.
I don’t want to tell anyone my first Castlevania game was that edgy PS3 one lmao
— Paul Shkreli (@paulwall217) October 31, 2021
There is a reason this game is a classic, and I am happy to report it has nothing to do with nostalgia. The controls are as tight as a whip, an absolute requirement in a game like this where one wrong move can mean a quick death. This game came out in 1991, so it definitely shows signs of age; but the graphical design pops with a palette drenched in dark, earthy hues. The developers knew how to stretch this 16-bit console to the max, and did so without pulling any punches with regard to difficulty, either. The sound design is thoughtful, with an emphasis on ambient noise to effectively set the stage for battles against demonic hordes.
In retrospect, the long-lasting appeal of this game makes perfect sense. My first true exposure to the series was the 2011 series reboot, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow for the PlayStation 3. It was very 2011, featuring a moody protagonist with moodier hair and a bag of chips on his shoulder, which still reminds me of a mishap where God of War was tossed in the laundry with early aughts Hot Topic. The game was fine, I guess, but I didn’t understand the hype of the series from Lords of Shadow or the Netflix anime alone. Now that I know what’s good, I’m off to reboot that PlayStation 3 so I can load up Symphony of the Night.
Parasite Eve (PlayStation)
Before Kingdom Hearts combined Final Fantasy with Disney, Square Enix was first mixing up JRPG elements with popular survival horror tropes in their “cinematic RPG” from 1998, Parasite Eve. This is the game I did not know I needed. It just does not get better than this, and I really mean that: just take a look at the sequel(s). Actually, spare yourself the heartache and years of wondering about certain design mechanics involving disintegrating clothes. The game opens with rookie NYPD office Aya Brea attending a Christmas Eve (get it?) opera. Minutes into the show, the audience spontaneously bursts into flame. There is very quickly a ton of exposition about mitochondria – and please, do not use this game as a substitute for a textbook when studying for the MCAT – but the story is essentially about a primordial entity seeking frozen sperm from a hospital in order to give birth to the “Ultimate Being” to bring about a new world order. In a sense, this is just another JRPG where your objective is to bring down a God.
If you’re willing to bypass an awkward localization replete with police officer stereotypes (some harmless, some not) there is a lot to enjoy. There is an abundance of beautiful cutscenes featuring New York City which are surprisingly well done, even now. The gameplay itself is enjoyable, with a turn-based and action hybrid battle system utilizing a version of the Active Time Battle system popularized by Final Fantasy. Since this is New York City and Aya is a cop, her weapons are almost exclusively guns. We’re talking handguns, rifles, rocket launchers, you name it. She clearly has a concealed weapon’s permit. Aya’s own mitochondrial powers manifest in the form of “Parasite Energy,” essentially the game’s magic system. Aya is able to heal, speed up her ATB, or cause other status effects. I found it difficult to dodge many enemy attacks – especially during boss battles – but nothing so detrimental to impede my enjoyment of the mechanics.
Parasite Eve (1998, PSX) a game about nice police officers. pic.twitter.com/0X8ntBZpF4
— Paul Shkreli (@paulwall217) October 31, 2021
The score is absolutely gorgeous, a beast of electronic synths with a haunting pulse throughout. The battle themes specifically are standouts, vibrating at a high frequency. Another standout track is the map theme, capturing the essence of the concrete jungle. There really is much to love crammed in such a short game, nothing to say of the elaborate and dense Chrysler Building and its many floors waiting for adventurous players.
Parasite Eve underscores how difficult it is to quantify value based on length. This game can absolutely be cleared in under a dozen hours, but the time spent with the game feels substantial and meaningful. While there is inherent replayability through New Game +, the Chrysler Building, and the “true ending,” the length of the game alone is insufficient to adequately determine the value of the experience. Parasite Eve is moody and dark, but doesn’t stick around long enough for its strong sense of style to grow stale.
Well, that’s it for this wrap-up, folks. We are approaching the home stretch of 2021, and there are still games in the backlog to complete. I will be back in late December or early January for my final backlog post of 2021. If you need me, I’ll be playing Shin Megami Tensei V!