Hi! You may recall that last month I put together an article about the five games I was hoping to play during December. I did pretty well on that front too, ticking four of the five games off my list! In this post, I’ll give a brief summary of my progress with each of the five games. As writing out my To-Play list was so good at motivating me to get through some of my backlog, I figure I could turn this into a regular series documenting my gaming progress in a bitesize format. After all, it gives me less excuses for slacking off on my endless backlog… !
Right then, it’s update time!
As of now, I’ve finished the main story of Pokémon Scarlet and am into the endgame. My general opinions have stayed generally consistent from my last update: I think the free-roaming open-world of Paldea is a welcome innovation for the series, and the new designs for characters and Pokémon are fantastically creative, but the story and difficulty curve have taken some hits.
The majority of Scarlet is taken up by the Treasure Hunt that Naranja Academy students (of which the player is one) go on. If we look at each of the three paths that form this Treasure Hunt, the traditional Gyms are definitely my favourite, as they have the most variety and challenge. The Titan Pokémon and Team Star bases were less engaging to me, as the gameplay loops for each of them were quite repetitive. There’s another significant reason why the Gyms were my favourite route; each of the three Treasure Hunt quests has a character tied to it, and for the Gyms that’s the infectiously enthusiastic Nemona. Her passion for battling and her general upbeat personality is a joy to be around, and the climactic fights against her are a treat. The Gym Leaders themselves have a range of fun designs, whether they be an expert MC, or an internet influencer stopping mid-stream to battle you. However, you barely spend much time with them outside of the Gyms, so it’s hard to grow too attached.
Also, as the game continues on, I found that the Gyms became easier and easier, even though I was attempting to keep myself from over-levelling too much. If you have a decent amount of Pokémon experience, then there isn’t too much challenge here. My traditionally Steel-focused team had very few issues, with my most exciting battles being when I accidentally strayed to later-game Gyms early on. Taking this route had the downside of unknowingly bypassing weaker Gyms, which were then disappointingly straightforward when I had to go back to them. This is one of the main problems with an open-world Pokémon game that lacks dynamic or flexible levelling.
The Elite Four and Champion weren’t the tough obstacles I was hoping for, and another reason for this is the forced use of the Exp. Share (as in Sword/Shield). I may sound like an old record because I keep bringing this up, but I don’t understand why the series has committed to removing the optional On/Off switching of the device. It used to be a way to make the games more of a challenge – and it’d be useful in Scarlet, where you’re showered with Exp constantly.
Back to some positives; seeing Pokémon roaming an open-world still feels like a marvel, and I can still only imagine showing Scarlet and Violet to someone back in the ’90s playing the original Pokémon games! Additionally, I was glad to see some more environmental variety later in the game, for example swampy marshlands and snow-covered peaks. It broke up the abundance of grassy plains nicely. I’ll reiterate, too, that the new Pokémon designs are excellent, and I particularly enjoyed discovering new Steel-type species such as the adorable Orthworm and anime-style Tinkaton!
Furthermore, whilst I found the Titan Pokémon and Team Star bases to lack the substance of the Gyms, each of these routes do become much-improved in their later stages. When they start to unveil more of their stories and shake up the gameplay formula a bit, there are some genuinely emotional revelations. The way that the three routes of the Treasure Hunt come together right at the end was very satisfying too, emphasising themes of camaraderie, friendship, and family.
Overall then, Pokémon Scarlet is a very mixed bag in my personal opinion. It’s not anywhere near the peaks of the Pokémon series in my eyes, but I have a lot of time for the way it looks to innovate and push the overall series forward. It’ll be exciting to see the next few Pokémon games and how Game Freak goes about leaning further into the open-world approach!
A Plague Tale: Requiem
I won’t spend too many words A Plague Tale: Requiem here, as I ended up writing a fully-fledged review for the Asobo Studio-developed sequel! You can read that here.
Over my holiday break, I devoted alot of time to sitting down and playing Requiem. As a big fan of the original game, which was subtitled Innocence, I was excited to delve into this follow-up. It was a delight, then, to discover that not only did Requiem maintain the core appeal of the first game, but it went above and beyond to improve on it in every area. Both the narrative and gameplay go to bold new places, and the game is also a technical marvel. Playing it in 4K HDR on an Xbox Series S was a real feast for the eyes and ears.
The game packs plenty of emotional punch, continuing the story of siblings Amicia and Hugo within fictional 1300s France, where plagues of rats are sweeping across the country. Of particular note is how the roster of supporting characters gets some fabulous new additions, especially the soldier Arnaud and sailor Sophia – and there is a superb balance of story and exploration throughout. The ending leaves me very intrigued to see if and how the A Plague Tale franchise might be continued – I imagine we won’t know for a while, but I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled (whenever I’m not vigilantly watching out for rats, of course)!
After a couple of years gradually making my way though CrossCode on Nintendo Switch, I’ve finally reached the end of the epic, sprawling campaign. What a journey it’s been. Developed by Radical Fish Games, CrossCode feels like a love letter to RPGs whilst simultaneously being a bold, modern, trope-smashing new example of what the genre can do.
At first, CrossCode might seem to be yet another story of a virtual world being more than it seems, but the way the narrative and the characters develop is intelligently mapped out and soon has you emotionally invested. The story subverted my expectations multiple times, but it never did it at a whim – there’s always the build-up necessary to make the big twists and turns work as well as they do.
It doesn’t hurt that CrossCode is stunning to look at! The world is immediately absorbing, with detailed and colourful layered 2D environments. Most of all, the character sprites are wonderfully expressive, both in-game and when they accompany the often witty on-screen text. CrossCode is often very funny – for example, the main character Lea has damaged speech capability in the virtual world, and often only has words like “Lea” and “Hi” to navigate conversations with! As you can imagine, there’re a lot of hilarious moments that come out of that – but also some more contemplative ones, too.
I haven’t even talked about the real-time combat of CrossCode yet! In this game world of different characters and classes, Lea is a Spheromancer, though other characters and classes can join your party. Spheromancers specialise in ranged combat, and over the game you’ll gain a large, varied, and often visually spectacular selection of abilities and elements to help you take down enemies and solve puzzles. Oh, yeah – there’s plenty of dungeons in CrossCode, and you’ll be amazed at the sort of intricate puzzles that the player is solving by the end of the game, as if it’s second nature. CrossCode gets the pacing of how it ramps up the difficulty just right, always challenging your knowledge of your abilities. The quality and scale of the dungeons reminded me a lot of classic 2D The Legend of Zelda games, and that’s good company to be in.
There are in-depth skill trees and equipment customization options tied into the combat too, letting you tweak your playstyle to the way you like it. Perhaps you prefer ranged fighting, or maybe you’d like to tailor yourself to go in close more often. Accompanying this are detailed encyclopaedias of enemies, characters, materials, story beats and more. Filling up these collections gives you plenty to do as you explore the vast world of CrossCode. Reaching the end of the game took me around 50 hours, and there’s still a fair bit I haven’t seen (and the A New Home postgame DLC which I’ve just started… !).
There’s honestly so much minutiae I could get into when discussing CrossCode, but for this post, I’m just going to give my base level recommendation that any fan of RPGs should play it. Everything you need in a great RPG is here, but CrossCode also has a contemporary feel and a compelling narrative that bursts with originality!
Mario Strikers: Battle League Football
My progress with Mario Strikers: Battle League Football is a little different from the previous three games in this post, as I’d already rolled credits when my friend and I finished the regular difficulty Cups earlier last year. However, I mentioned in my December To-Play article that I’d like to play more of the game over the holiday period, and that’s exactly what happened!
Over the break, the same friend and I jumped back in to attempt the Galactic Mode Cups that unlock once you complete all the regular Cups. We expected that this is where the classic Mario Strikers rock-hard difficulty would reside, and we were right! There was also a significant amount of free DLC waiting for us. This included a new stadium and several new characters such as Daisy, Pauline, and the ever-reliable Mario Strikers shooting master Birdo! We’re still waiting on Monty Mole though, Nintendo…
Still, we boldly (or foolishly) decided to jump straight into the Galactic Mode, despite not having played for months. It was definitely the step up we craved after the regular difficulty Cups! However, careful what you wish for, as Galactic Mode is tough as nails, and we suddenly found ourselves on the ropes more often than not. The enemy AI is more ruthless and proactive in-match, rarely giving you a moment to stop and think.
After some mixed results in Galactic Mode, we took the pressure off by dabbling in other more relaxed modes. This allowed us to enjoy the new DLC more, especially the animated Hyper Strikes for each of the new characters. Daisy even does a Rabona in hers! The new expanded roster of characters is definitely an improvement, considering how it felt a little lacking at launch.
In addition, we ventured into the online mode (just standard matches, as the current online season hadn’t started yet). Playing against human opponents online gives a different thrill, especially when you’re in local co-op. It’s also a way to gradually earn Coins to buy gear for your characters and enter the Cups with, so there’s a productive feeling to playing online. Plus, it was reassuring to find that the online play has solid and stable connection speeds.
Overall, playing Mario Strikers: Battle League Football in a friendly, casual setting with plenty of friends around feels like the right way to experience it. Sharing the ridiculous, glorious, and occasionally painful moments is extremely entertaining – I doubt I’d think of playing it without at least one friend beside me. Battle League Football felt a little lacking on content at launch, and didn’t have quite the same fulfilling chaos of the GameCube and Wii games. These issues inherently remain, but the abundance of free DLC and the discovery of the challenging Galactic Mode has since improved my opinion on the game considerably. Battle League Football will stay on my shelf, primed and ready for the next co-operative game session!
Horizon Forbidden West
Finally, we come to the game I still haven’t gotten around to yet. Hey, four out of five games is still pretty decent for a backlog completion post, right?
There isn’t much more to say here that I haven’t already said. I love Horizon Zero Dawn, and I’ve been excited to play Horizon Forbidden West for years. I just keep putting off starting it for some reason, as if I’m putting too much pressure on myself to play it. I know that sounds weird, as it’s a video game; but when I build up my excitement, that occasionally leads me to putting off a game like Horizon Forbidden West, even though I know it’s counterintuitive.
But wait! I’ve now cleared my To-Play list of other games mentioned above, including time-consuming experiences such as CrossCode. So now, in theory, I’m clear to play Horizon Forbidden West. Therefore, that’s my main gaming goal for January: finally play this game! It’s a short To-Play list for the time being, but no less effectual. Then, hopefully, I can come back next month (a year after the release of Forbidden West, ironically) and write out a post with my thoughts.
Right then, that’s how I’ve been doing with my To-Play list. Now it’s time for me to go and finally start Horizon Forbidden West! I’d also love to know which games you’re playing, whether they be new releases or games from your own backlogs. It might make me feel better about my own glacial progress, haha!
Have an amazing day!
7 thoughts on “My To-Play List: January 2023 Progress!”
It’ll maybe sound odd, but sometimes having a game you know will be long looming over you has the same effect as long chores. You may enjoy the thing once you start playing it, but the thought of having to invest 60 to 100 hours can be really off-putting. Good luck with Horizon though. I hope you have good things to report in February provided you do another of these 🙂
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I think you hit the nail on the head there with the chore comparison. I know once I’m into Horizon the hours will fly by! Thank you – I definitely plan to do another update next month, which should be very Horizon-themed… ! 🙂
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Heard so many good things about CrossCode, but I was always worried it was overhyped as is often the case with crowdfunded games. Not to mention its length was huge! Then I played the demo and really loved it. I did buy it a while back, but still haven’t gotten around to it…
Hope the DLC is good too! I adore its composer.
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Thanks for the comment! In my opinion CrossCode is most certainly not overhyped, and it constantly surprised me in delightful ways. It is definitely long, but it’s worth the payoff if you see it through. I hope you find the time to get into it!
I still need to get back to finishing the DLC when I have time. It’s the sort of game that could keep me going forever, but then I’d never play anything else, aha!
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