Video Game Review: Pokemon Sword and Shield: The Crown Tundra

Details: You need to own either Pokemon Sword or Shield in order to play this. Spent about five hours playing through it. This expansion is identical for Sword and Shield, but I played the Sword version. More information can be found at https://swordshield.pokemon.com/en-us/expansionpass/the-crown-tundra/

Score: 5.7/10

The Crown Tundra was mostly a disappointment to me. It lacks story, something the Isle of Armor downloadable content (DLC) had a lot more of. Crown Tundra is simply an excuse to send players out to catch more Pokemon, often times with little to no context. If that is appealing to you, then you’ll enjoy this.

Crown Tundra takes place south of the main continent in Pokemon Sword and Shield. You walk in and are instantly asked to go on an adventure.

There is a short bit of story involving a new legendary Pokemon. That takes about an hour at most. Other than that, you’re basically told to explore this new area and catch more Pokemon. Almost no other context is given, which just doesn’t work for me. If the main thing you like about Pokemon is simply catching more Pokemon, then you’ll love this DLC. If you need a little more story and motivation, this content will fall flat.

The biggest dissapointment to me are the visuals. You need to keep in mind that the Nintendo Switch is an objectively, technically inferior video game console when compared to the Playstation 4 or the XBOX One. And that was the truth years ago when the Switch first came out. Now, the Playstation 5 and XBOX Series X are coming out and the visuals for this game look even more inferior by comparison. This is not a good looking game. It looks like it was made for the Playstation 3, at best. This wouldn’t be so bad if the gameplay made up for it, but the gameplay doesn’t.

One of the biggest complaints most critics had of Pokemon Sword and Shield is that it did nothing new. It took the old Pokemon formula and copied and pasted it into this game in its entirety. This was a system of gameplay that was developed in the 1990’s. It’s old and boring. I wish they would’ve done some kind of overhaul or big upgrade, but they didn’t. With Crown Tundra, the monotony of this gameplay is exacerbated by the passage of even more time. This game just isn’t that fun.

The game does try to add a few new features like Dynamax Adventure, but that’s just a slightly altered rehash of the preexisting Max Raid battles.

To make matters worse, the music wasn’t that great. There’s still not voice acting also, which sucks.

Overall, this was a disappointment. I do not recommend The Crown Tundra to anyone but the most ardent Pokemon fans who love to do repetitive, monotonous tasks and enjoy bland, outdated visuals.

Video Game Ongoing Review: Genshin Impact, Part 2, The Current State of the Game

Details: More information can be found at https://genshin.mihoyo.com/en

Score: 5.5/10

Edit: Added a bit about the true biggest issue in Genshin Impact and that is account security.

A while back I did a review of Genshin Impact (you can read it here: https://elliotsview.com/2020/10/03/video-game-review-genshin-impact/). A few months have passed and I decided to give the current state of the game a review. I still enjoy the game, but it’s incredibly obvious how predatory this game is and how much worse it is in comparison to other games that rely on microtransactions or loot boxes. This is undoubtedly a pay to win game that seeks to annoy players into paying real money.

EDIT: The single biggest issues in Genshin Impact is account security. If you’ve been browsing internet forums, then you’d know that many, many people have had their accounts hacked. Much of the time, accounts are stolen and resold on websites that sell stolen accounts. A quick internet search will be sure to show many of them. In fact, you can find these sites advertised through official advertisements on YouTube.

The reason that so much account stealing is going on is because Genshin Impact has some of the worst internet security on the planet. A common implementation of internet security is two factor authentication. Basically, if you want to make changes to the account, two factor authentication requires a confirmation message sent to either your email or phone number and you must reply within a certain amount of time. Genshin Impact does not have that. If someone can somehow enter your account, they are free to change things without requiring a confirmation reply. It is incompetence of the highest order. Or perhaps they did this on purpose in order to facilitate account theft.

This is the biggest single reason not to play or to spend money on this game. Any progress you make can easily be stolen away by someone else. Browsing through internet forums yields many, easily correctible methods that a novice on internet security could correct. There are many security threats that have been discussed on the internet one of them is that attaching a phone number/email to your account makes it visible to everyone and enables thieves to attack your game account, as well as your email or phone number (this has been fixed in a sense, but there are still many easily correctible methods to reveal account information). A new one is how creating an account on the official Mihoyo forums reveals your account information, again leaving it vulnerable to attack. The most obvious of threats is that there is no measure to stop repeated login attempts which means that if someone can guess your email/username, they can take an infinite number of tries in order to brute force through and guess your password. And none of these even touch upon the many, many programs being sold on the internet that allow anyone to hack badly secured web pages such as Genshin Impact’s web page.

All of this is to say that accounts are not safe and until they meet some level of security, you should not spend money and perhaps not even play this game.

The second biggest gripe most players have is probably with the resin system. Like in many gacha or pay to win games, there is a stamina system in the game. In order to participate in most activities, you have to spend an in game resource, known as “resin” here, in order to participate. You gain one resin every eight minutes and you can only hold 160 resin at any time. Any excess resin is lost so the player is incentivized to play this game once or twice per day in order to spend the resin before it is lost.

The first issue with the resin system is that there isn’t enough of it. It takes me about fifteen minutes to use a days worth of resin. Along with the other daily activities, I spend about thirty minutes playing the game, which sucks because I would like to play more and feel like I’m making some progress. As it stands, I feel little to none of that. The implementation of resin makes this game feel like a job and that makes me want to stop playing altogether.

The other issue with resin is that it forces players to play everyday unless you want to lose resin. I get that this is a ploy by the developers to try and train players into a habit of playing every day so that they never leave the game. Instead, I feel like this only encourages players to leave the game forever. At first, it might be hard to feel like you’re missing out of progression, but after you drop the game, the feeling of how much you’ve missed out on will keep players from coming back. I used to play a game called Archeage which employed very similar mechanics to Genshin Impact. When I dropped that game, I never felt any need to come back because I had missed so many months of progress that I didn’t want to try catching up. The same will be true here and when players inevitably drop this game for something else. They will never come back.

There is a clear lack of content which exacerbates the problem of resin. Based on these first few months since the game released, it’s become clear that events are scheduled for every six weeks. While these events are entertaining, they are short and usually consume resin, making the events even shorter. You are literally gated by resin from playing the game and these events. Resin in fact acts like an artificial delay meant to slow down the speed at which players play through content. The end results is that while these games are fun, they do little to nothing to alleviate the boredom caused by resin restrictions.

Worth noting is that a new character banner drops about every 28 days I think. That means you get to roll on new characters about every month. The new characters that have been released so far are not appealing to me, but that is admittedly a subjective opinion. What is not subjective is that these characters are not that helpful for players trying to progress through the game and this because of how the game favors fire characters.

In the current state of the game, Genshin Impact clearly favors fire oriented characters. It just seems like a deliberate design decision. Fire characters and fire elemental reactions deal the most damage. It is also well known that the most powerful character in the game is a fire character that can only be obtained by gambling and spending real money. I’ve seen YouTube videos where people have spent thousands trying to get this character, often times to no avail. I get that the makers of Genshin Impact want money, but the problem is that this devalues any character that is not fire or supportive of fire and creates balance issues in the gameplay.

As said above, new characters rotate about every month. If they are not fire oriented characters focused on damage dealing, why would anyone want to waste money on them? These characters are clearly inferior if they are not fire. The only other reason would be if they are aesthetically appeasing, but creating a character that is purely aesthetically pleasing and not useful for playing the game is stupid. Mihoyo (the developers of this game) is shooting themselves in the foot by creating a system that favors one type of character above all others. If they really wanted to make money they would make all character types equally useful instead of favoring just one type. Instead, the favoring of fire characters is just evidence of Mihoyo’s incompetence.

There is a clear lack of free content for players compared to other games in this genre and the prices are also comparably high. Anyone who plays games in this genre knows that Genshin Impact is one of the stingiest of all these games. As with other games in this genre, this is unlikely to change until the game’s popularity irrevocably dies. Then they’ll likely offer some handouts for players or lower prices. Unfortunately, by then, it will probably be too late and the game will be mostly dead. At least that’s how it’s worked with gacha games in the past.

Overall, the game is still sort of fun, but I think the hype is over. Twitch streamers are dropping this game en masse. Viewership for this game is dropping. Active players and revenue are also likely dropping. This is all because there is simply not much to do. Prices are high and Mihoyo is stingy and selfish. There is little to no content and what little content there is is gated behind resin.

Genshin Impact made hundreds of millions of dollars in their first few months of operation. You’d think Mihoyo would be smart enough to reinvest some of that into the game and not follow the boring formula of a generic gacha game with periodic updates and needlessly annoying content gates. Then again, maybe they’re satisfied with the money they’ve made and feel comfortable running this game into the ground.

Video Game Review: Lost Sphear

Details: Played on the Nintendo Switch. howlongtobeat.com says that most playthroughs take about thirty-four hours. More information can be found at https://lostsphear.square-enix-games.com/home/

Score: 6.4/10

Lost Sphear is the follow up game to the mostly successful I Am Setsuna. The goal of both games were to recreate the feeling of old fashioned Japanese role playing games.

The biggest issue I have with this game is that the game was boring until about halfway through. Keep in mind that the game averages to about thirty-four hours per playthrough, so to get to the interesting part, you’d have to get through about seventeen hours of boring stuff just to get to some stuff that isn’t that boring. It’s a big ask for a player and I’m not sure it’s worth it.

Lost Sphear takes place in a fantasy world of magic and monsters. You play a young boy named Kanata. When people in the world start disappearing and becoming “lost,” Kanata must now use his new found power to restore them and tackle a threat that seeks to destroy the world.

It’s a deliberately generic role playing game story that mimics the basic story structure of most Final Fantasy games. As said above, my biggest issue with this game is that the story is mundane until about seventeen hours into it. That’s a lot to ask of players to deal with before the game gets good. Even when the story gets good, it merely becomes tolerable from when it was intolerable. By the end of the game, I did find myself enjoying what was happening, but not enjoying half of the game was a lot for me to deal with.

Gameplay is a lot like I Am Setsuna, but with improvements. It was as if they listened to all the complaints fans had with I Am Setsuna and then published a patch which addressed them all. It’s not big changes, but many small changes which improve the experience overall.

Other than these small improvements, the gameplay is almost identical to I Am Setsuna. You explore a world map with smaller areas that you can further explore littered throughout the world. Enemies exist throughout the world and if you walk into them, you start a battle. The battle system uses the well known active time battle system. All this means is that each character in the battle has a bar that fills in real time. When the bar is filled, you get to take an action. An action can be attacking, casting spells, using items, etc. All characters have health bars and the goal of battles is to whittle down an enemy’s health bar before they whittle yours down.

This is all standard stuff. Again, this game seeks to emulate old Japanese role playing games. There are a number of new systems though that worth discussing.

First is the Vulcosuits. Basically, during a battle, you can morph into a mech robot that increases your power and gives you some new abilities. The problem with these Vulcosuits is that they don’t really become useful until much later in the game when you have more artifacts.

Artifacts are places on the world map that you can restore with Kanata’s power. Each artifact gives you a passive ability, like improving the duration of Vulcosuits, increasing damage providing a minimap in the top left corner. Many of the artifacts later in the game improve the use of Vulcosuits and without these artifacts, the Vulcosuits are mostly useless time wasters.

Altogether, the gameplay in this game is unoriginal, but satsifactory.

The visuals in the game are its weakest aspect. The game looks like it was designed for smart phones, from the menu’s to the layout of the world. It is not a pretty game and lacks much of the art direction that made I Am Setsuna so appealing. Lost Sphear looks cheaper. In a role playing game, presentation is everything and the presentation here isn’t great.

The music is fine. There’s not voice acting other than random quips made during battle. Also, all the quips are in Japanese since they didn’t bother recording English versions.

Overall, this game isn’t great. It isn’t terrible either. However, I do not recommend this game because it wasted so much of my time before becoming tolerably interesting. This game just isn’t worth the time.

Video Game Review: Genshin Impact

Details: I’ve played at least twenty hours, probably more. I have not spent a penny on this game. More information can be found at https://genshin.mihoyo.com/en

Score: 7.2/10

The most accurate name I’ve heard people call this game is “Breath of the Waifus.”

Genshin Impact is a free to play game that shamelessly copies the visual style and gameplay (and by copy, I mean it copies almost to the point of stealing) into a gacha game format. It’s a fun game for all the same reasons that Breath of the Wild was fun and annoyingly addictive for all the same reasons gacha games are addictive. This is a game with great presentation and likely a surprisingly high budget.

The story is about an interdimensional traveler who gets sent to a fantasy world with their twin sibling. Once there you get involved with the local people, fight bad guys, fight a dragon and a whole bunch of stuff that is pretty normal for most role playing video games.

The core gameplay is taken directly from Breath of the Wild. Like almost exactly. There is this big world for you to explore. The world is largely structured the same as Breath of the Wild. That means there’s mountains and rivers and some towns. The best part of Breath of the Wild is that you could climb a mountain and see the entire landscape. Then you could go to literally any point you just saw. Genshin Impact does that too.

Traversing the world in Breath of the Wild was one of it’s most positive aspects. Genshin Impact copies that almost exactly. There’s a stamina bar. You can climb any surface as long as you have stamina. You can dash as long as you have stamina. The one thing that’s different is that when it rains, you can still climb with no problems.

Combat is also almost exactly the same. Even many of the attack animations look like they were directly copied. The only thing about combat not copied is the use of magic.

The big differences come when we start talking about the gacha elements. In that way, the game is still unoriginal, they just folded gacha elements into Breath of the Wild gameplay.

In case you don’t know what gacha games are, they generally are cheaply made, free to play games meant to siphon money from players through gambling/slot machine mechanics. How it normally works is that you’ll download one of these games, usually on your smart phone, and you’ll play a bit. Then you’ll hit a wall in your progression that can only be overcome with a huge time investment or paying money to the game in exchange for what you need to progress further. But this isn’t a straightforward exchange. You normally buy a “loot box,” which is just a bundle of randomly generated in game items. The good items, which are the items you need, have a low chance of being generated while the trash items have a high chance of dropping. Hopefully, you’ll get what you want early on, but the probability is high that you will have to buy a ton of loot boxes before you get what you want. That’s the business model of a gacha game.

With that in mind, Genshin Impact is fun early on. I’d say it’s fun for the first ten to twenty hours. That’s pretty good considering this game is free to play. But then you hit the wall and you need to either invest a huge amount of time grinding in order to progress, or you could spend money gambling on whether you’ll get the in game items you need to move forward. And there are a lot of in game items in Genshin Impact.

Firstly are the characters. There are at this time around twenty-four available characters in the game. Each character has their own abilities and elements. During combat, you can swap between four available characters. As you play the game, you’ll learn that there is synergy between characters and their abilities. You’ll also learn which characters are good and which are trash, either by Googling it or through trial and error. The main way to get more characters is through loot boxes. At this time, there is a free character available, but I don’t know how that will play out in the future. The game was released like a week ago.

Then there is the equipment. There’s a ton of gear you can get, usually from treasure chests strewn across the land. Enemies don’t drop weapons. Gear is ranked between one and five stars. Four star and lower gear can be obtained through gameplay. Five star gear can only be obtained from loot boxes. Even then, the odds of obtaining one is very low. I have yet to see a five star weapon.

As expected from a gacha game, almost everything in this game can be leveled. Leveling is progression, which is what gacha games seek to block in exchange for real money.

For instance, the Adventure Rank is the most important level in the game. It controls whether you can progress in the story and whether gameplay mechanics can unlock. You can gain Adventure Rank only by doing things in the game. There is no way to directly purchase higher Adventure ranks. However, doing things in the game requires better gear and characters, which does require money. So Adventure Rank really acts as an umbrella form of progression under which the other loot box blocking kinds of progression in the game.

Characters and weapons can level up, but in order to do so, you need a complex slew of money and items. There’s just too many to properly discuss, but suffice it to say, paying real money will make it easier to obtain these items. Some of these items can be purchased directly from the in game shop. Others will have to be earned through grinding gameplay, which needs items and characters, which means real money for loot boxes.

In regards to how the loot boxes work in this game… it’s too complicated to explain. There are multiple forms of in game currency, many of which you can by and convert into other forms of in game currency for which to purchase loot boxes or other in game items. It’s a mess and it is likely deliberately so in order to confuse players and induce them into spending more money than they need to.

Despite the money grubbing loot boxes, there is cooperative multiplayer. Amazingly, the multiplayer is crossplay. That means that someone playing on their PS4 can play with someone on the XBOX or their computer. It’s amazing. But there is a limit to what you can do. Only up to four players can be in a game at a time and one person must be host. You can’t do main story missions or any of the many instanced dungeons in the game. You can do side quests and other world missions. Multiplayer is basically just for people to run around the world. Keep in mind, this is predominantly a single player game and multiplayer is more of a side thing to just screw around with your friends.

Visually, the world is beautiful… and looks like the world from Breath of the Wild. It looks like a direct copy. The art direction/style is exactly the same. The terrain, the sky, hell the grass looks exactly the same. Character animations looks the same. Combat looks the same. Everything looks the same.

Well, almost everything. This is a Chinese made video game, so there are a lot of Chinese elements in it. In the game world, there are two main sections. There’s a western fantasy part and a Chinese, wuxia fantasy part. Both parts are beautiful, but Breath of the Wild didn’t have none of that. As this is a free to play online game, I anticipate that more parts of the world will be released as time goes one. There’s probably going to be a desert, a snow area and a bunch of other commonly used fantasy terrain I imagine. I’m spit balling here.

The music is fantastic… and reminds me of melodies from other popular role playing games like Final Fantasy. Whether it is a copy or not, there are some beautiful tracks here. It’s almost entirely orchestral music.

I also love how this game is largely voice acted. Not only is there voice acting, there’s voice acting in multiple languages and they are all available to everyone. The voice acting is pretty good, too, in all the languages. It’s impressive as good voice acting is something that’s lacking in so many games.

Overall, I really enjoy Genshin Impact and will continues to play it in the near future. Personally, it’s the right game at the right time. I was just in the mood for something grindy and this gorgeous, free to play game dropped into my lap. The first dozen or so hours are really fun and they throw a few free loot boxes your way. However, this is still a gacha game. Soon enough, you will hit a wall in progression and if you want to see what happens in the story or defeat ever more power enemies, you will need to invest large amounts of time or real money.

Personally, I refuse to spend real money and don’t mind spending time. At least for now. At the time this review was written, the game has only been out four days. Who knows how things will change in the future, for better or worse. Even still, this is a beautiful, expansive world to explore and I enjoyed exploring it for amazing price of free.

Video Game Review: I Am Setsuna

Details: The game takes about twenty-five hours to beat according to howlongtobeat.com. More information can be found at https://iamsetsuna.square-enix-games.com/us/

Score: 7/10

I Am Setsuna was released in 2016 and is a call back to the Japanese role playing games of old. It doesn’t innovate in any way. It just tries to recreate what came before.