BACKLOG is a long-running yet increasingly infrequent casual video game blog feature which finds me checking in on progress through my extensive backlog of video games, old and new. Beyond updating my progress in completing said games I’ll note small achievements, write short reviews and there may be some discussion on first impressions on upcoming games. These posts have nothing, or at least very little to do with music. If you want your video game music or game reviewed: firstname.lastname@example.org
The most popular sub-genre of video game today is basically “grift as a service”, a strange brew of broken and repetitive actions meant to juice the lowest common denominator without producing a fair or consistently functional product. At some point I’ve had to consider that no hobby of mine has changed as drastically as video games have and to such a negative degree that the technological advances made over the last 2-3 decades hardly count. Scam-level monetization and systems of psychological reward which amount to gambling make the popular video game experience entirely painful, joyless dirges seemingly meant to program underdeveloped brains. “Don’t overthink it.” quickly becomes the major motto of this latest corporation-raised generation. The major point to make, if we can speed whatever this thought is along: If you are bored playing a 2023-released video game it is likely a symptom of above-average intelligence, or, under-medication eh. Shit barely passes for entertainment anymore beyond a penny slot machine. *shakes fist*
Me? I’ve got a list of cool-ass old games to cut through whenever valuable modern shit dries up. Since the last BACKLOG entry in September of 2022 I became obsessed with WarTales (Early Access, PC), completed my first playthrough of Steelrising (PS5), reviewed Star Ocean: The Divine Force (PS5) and the latest God of War game before the end of the year. At some point I became frustrated with Ys VIII (PSP) but eventually finished it in between pecking away at Chained Echoes, which is a much, much longer game than I’d expected it to be. Otherwise, The Witcher: Enhanced Edition is the most recent game I’ve finished and the main subject of today since they’d announced a remake of it was coming in the next few years (I’m guessing 2024 or bust). Remakes don’t seem to be easing up anytime soon: Resident Evil IV, Gothic, Dead Space are all coming up or already out, too. Not into it, but I get why updated versions might be exciting for some. The main reason for returning to The Witcher was the idea that the original game will get its definitive (probably censored) version in a remake and the old game will become valueless abandonware soon enough. One last whip through.
The actual non-remake afflicted wishlist for 2023? Atomic Heart looks to be exactly the sort of fun I’m up for, a first person shooter with some Bioshock influenced powers. Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty is a bit of a given since I’d been so hooked on the Nioh series and generally enjoy the mix of responsive combat, ARPG-lite mechanics which comes with the territory. Ys X: Nordics is a hundred percent day one pre-order as I’ve been wanting more of that series after recently playing through the five most recent entries in the series. Sea of Stars looks to be a promising turn-based classic JRPG influenced game from the makers of The Messenger. I am guessing Greedfall II: The Dying World will take some of the lessons learned from Steelrising‘s action-based combat and even if it doesn’t I loved the first game to the point of replaying it twice. Atlas Fallen is yet another case of trusting the developer, since Deck13 delivered for my taste with The Surge 2 and I’m looking forward to what they do next. Otherwise I’m keeping Final Fantasy XVI, Scars Above, Lies of P, and Assassin’s Creed: Mirage in my peripheral vision. As always wish lists get cut down by half every year as games turn out to be bland or broken, but those are the ones I’m hyped over right now. Did I miss anything important?
THE WITCHER: Enhanced Edition (CD Projekt Red, 2008)
When The Witcher released back in 2007 it was far more impressive a feat than it appears today, especially coming from an independent developer who’d seem to have come from the PC RPG modding scene, a full suite of niche inception. A big part of the necessary context is that it was welcomed on the heels of the much-loved Neverwinter Nights II (2006), though not related in any other sense than it being built from the same engine and translated to a single-player (or, single protagonist character driven) game. It was easy to pick up and understand in terms of gameplay mechanics, controls, and general UI. This isn’t why the game caught on, though, just a point of accessibility that mattered at the time. Game studios like Obsidian and BioWare had done such incredible work for the PC RPG space that decade and for many this would be the game to take the narrative a step beyond Dungeons & Dragons. Well, to be fair Dragon Age: Origins would be the one to actually get it mostly right a few years later in 2009 but certainly in a different way. For context 2007 was the year of: Mass Effect, S.T.A.L.K.E.R., and BioShock. This was a memorable yet janky game for fantasy nerd weirdos in a drought year where the alternative was a bad WoW expansion and a shit Beowulf game.
Where the original Witcher excelled before the bigger-named entries of the late 2000’s “western RPG” headspace lies in its character driven format, its edgy “adult” situations and a somewhat unique setting steeped in eastern European folklore. Geralt was an unforgettable character, aloof but sensible and constantly faced with moral grey area to parse through as he investigated the supernatural horrors around every corner of this very small chunk of Temeria. There is no better way to immerse oneself into this world which Andrzej Sapkowski created back in the late 80’s outside of reading the actual books. It isn’t a perfect characterization but the player does have the option to act like Geralt proper if they choose. The main reason I can say this now rather than back in 2007 is because I’d gotten the full set of The Witcher novels (all of which are set before the events of this game) and began reading through them before starting this playthrough. As with most European folklore the stories are simple yet relatable and the horrors which haunt the superstitious mind are especially fantastic.
As is the case in the other two Witcher games the people of this realm are flawed exaggerations of human ignorance, superstitious and disturbed self-serving brutes for the most part and all of ’em are racist (versus elves, witches, anyone considered non-human) folks who enjoy a good bit of drink, a bit of religious noise, and a regular screw. This is a slight exaggeration of the world Sapkowski built in the books for the sake of this being a world of anti-heroes and deeper moral grey area. The exaggerated, often comical NPC interactions and ambiance tasks the character with inference that these are symptoms of times where poverty, war, paranoia, terrorism, and mass genocide are signaled by a lack of leadership for the common good. The commonwealth are expendable, the new dangers of a shattered world have no real defense, and Geralt cannot be the Elric of Melnibone people assume he is in this case. In shying our protagonist away from the brutal justiciar strength of the archetype towards a reluctantly moral, politically neutral yet rational and thoughtful character Geralt is a likeable nihilist (when he has amnesia) and a romantic hedonist who puts up with his “monster-killing mutant man-witch” job when he is feeling himself. We get some of the best explained personal philosophy from the fellow in this game and these are deeper resonances which one needs as context in approaching the next two games. Those who have wronged him, cheated him, used him and those who have been loyal to a fault all read on his face (kinda) and in dialogue beyond. This continuity of character, even if you make a few dick-headed choices and bungle things up, amount to one of the more interesting protagonists in grimdark/high fantasy video games to date. — Also, the real reason this game was popular is because you can have relations with several women in the game where a “trading card” pops up during the scene and shows an illustration of them nude. The first guide that I remember seeing on GameFAQs back in the day was a “romance” guide, a how-to-plow (almost) everyone in a single go.
But hey, lets not get ahead of ourselves. The main reason this first game from CD Projekt Red needs a remake should be obvious within moments of starting the main campaign. The combat is kinda shit, the graphics were a bit sloppy for their time with a messy/jagged render, and the game was so poorly optimized that loading screens often lasted up to 90 seconds or more. It was a surprise that The Witcher was ever popular when we consider entering a pub in Vizima takes 90 seconds and accidentally clicking the door icon might lead to a frustrating sequence of events that last upwards of five minutes of load times before you get back into the building. There are a lot of buildings in the town too, eh. Not a great thing in a game which eventually relies upon backtracking to juice its main areas of side quest options. For the Enhanced Edition this was yanked down to 20-30 second load times and some proper optimization which came later on. This was the first time I played this game with reduced load times. It wasn’t made entirely painless, though: Crashes during loading screens meant lost progress, early combat encounters (including the very cheap first boss fight) would begin before you’d loaded your autosave after dying leading to hopeless loop of instant death, and a glitch with the hair physics meant many characters mops fluttered around at an insane speed during conversations. Otherwise remnants of the base kit Aurora Engine are here, such as the awkward walk-up when a character comes to greet you, a short cutscene where they awkwardly skitter towards you. The game certainly doesn’t deserve a remake for these somewhat forgivable flaws but to be fair I’ve never minded the click-based combat system and most people absolutely hate it.
A complete rework of the game for consoles was in the cards over ten years ago (2009) but eventually went awry due to developer benchmarks not being met for the outsourced work and, I guess to be fair the port they planned for the game sounded far too ambitious for its time, a list of ideas that would all be implemented on The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings which was far from perfect (and still isn’t properly optimized) when it released in 2011. Now that CD Projekt Red have the means and the vision to remake their first game I don’t think there is much of an argument to be made for retaining the timing intensive point-and-click combat system, the loopy pathing of mouse-based movement, and the Chapter-based story being upheld in the impending remake but I do think that there is a certain atmosphere, a level of wonderment and absolute dread which a new version of the game will have trouble recreating. The Witcher is charmingly oppressive, unpredictable and “mean” in a way which will never translate to modern video game mechanics.
This being my second time playing through this part of the video game trilogy sixteen years after the first time I definitely had more fun deliberate making different choices and re-experiencing things I’d forgotten about (the Aerondight quest with the Lady of the Lake, getting the best armor, etc.) but I’d become more annoyed with the underwhelming main story arc, the lack of combat difficulty on Normal, and the amount of backtracking needed between the two halves of Vizima and the Swamp during the first two thirds of the game’s chapters. The way the leader of the Order steps in as the big bad boss of the game later on paired with the fairly empty Swamp Cemetery + Manor final areas of the game made the original feel rushed toward its finish line and I think this is where a remake could redeem the playthrough through its pace and characterization by resolving the siege on Vizima more completely before tackling the Manor rather than giving the player a handful of side quests to finish in a rushed final area. It prolongs the momentum of the playthrough in a strange way that needs resolve.
Some random notes on this “definitive” playthrough on my part: Equal distribution of skill points among the three fighting styles for each sword is key to remaining versatile in fights but you can generally focus on fast and group styles for Silver sword to start and heavy/fast styles for Steel sword before branching out. Main stat distribution is by far more important since it unlocks access to combinations in combat as well as the use of more than Signs. Alchemy makes the game a lot more fun but the big mistake folks make is using Blizzard early on, the game doesn’t give a great explanation as to how to time your attacks when using it and this actually increases the difficulty of combat. On harder difficulties always turn in your collection quests before brewing potions, you can easily miss out on a quest or waste a ton of time making a friggin’ Cat potion out of rare monster hunting spoils and having to leave the area or rest to respawn mobs. As for Signs, Igni significantly reduces the difficulty of combat due to its DOT and Aard is still the go-to Witcher dealie but the game has always been well-balanced towards the use of the other Signs and they are easy to find early in the game if you know where to head. The use of Yrden and Quen can significantly change your playstyle and are almost necessary on higher difficulty where the game demands slightly more strategic gameplay with limited resources.
YS SEVEN (Nihon Falcom, 2010)
The seventh mainline series Ys game takes us to the magical kingdom of Altago, a land which is known for their Dragon Knights, its four major tribes and a mystic history which appears long lost to the people at the port where the protagonist Adol Christin and his fellow adventurer Dogi land. The townsfolk are eager to share their collective unrest: A plague spreads over the land alongside earthquakes abounding as a seemingly corrupt (or, distracted) leadership in the capitol challenges their way of life. I’ll spoil the game right here, since it is a simple story told with only a few twists towards the end. The continent was willed into existence by five dragons, they have chosen Adol as their conduit, the one who can prevent the great reset of the continent which is impending by the hand of a greater Evil. Without the faith of the people who no longer live in accordance with the land and with fealty to the Gods that created this place, the continent itself will self-destruct and take everyone with them. The innocent woman we meet at the beginning of the game turns out to be helping this plot of annihilation along. There is an ancient evil who you’ve been helping all along it makes a good case for you to be the major sacrifice to bring the world to an end through… a terribly unbalanced final boss fight.
Of course if you’ve played through Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana you’ll find a much better version of this whole idea within that game’s fantastic storyline, the events of Ys Seven are a lite version of what would come later on as well as an expansion upon similar plotlines from other games. In most cases the Gods are not pleased with mankind, or people themselves cannot sustain their natural cycle of existence and resort to outrageous measures to ensure survival (see: Ys IX: Monstrum Nox). Most of this story occurs in the way you’d expect ’em to per the typical action oriented JRPG formula, a town tasks you with a dungeon, a monster lies at the end of the dungeon, defeating the monster allows for a revelation or a next location. This is all very traditional, charming, and fun as a classic gameplay loop which rewards the player with places to explore and gear to upgrade. Simple enough? No, because you need to switch your characters up and grind combat frequently by spamming your combat skills. Proficiency with every character’s combat skills is entirely necessary to beat the final boss, this is non-negotiable. You have to play this game a certain way to beat it even if none of it will seem necessary while you are easily skating through boss fights, new mobs, and areas with enough gold and materials to craft new weapons/gear on a constant basis. Also, there is a block/parry mechanic the game just never communicates and the AI never uses it.
Healing items making it too easy? Parry impossible to master? Just skating by? Wait until the last boss makes paste of your under-skilled companions and their weakling AI. Everyone on the damned internet will tell you this going into the game (if you ask) and of course I shrugged it off because I am pretty good at beating these sorts of made for kids handheld JRPG games and their multi-tiered gimmicky final bosses. There is always an exploit, right? — In the case of Ys Seven, there is of course no exploit. Not to belabor the point, but this was frustrating enough that I opted to play through this game a second time rather than grind out skill levels in the late game. How was this still fun? Ys games are generally a lot of fun to play, have great music, and move quickly within a very simple structure. The story has its weak points but in the bigger picture of action JRPG games, the greater structuring of these games and their inherent loop is inoffensive at worst and fun at best. Now that I’m a bit more versed in PSP emulation there are a host of games I’d never finished that call for a revisit next: (Crimson Gem Saga, Ys: The Oath in Felghana, Metal Gear: Peacewalker, etc.)
Dark & Darker is a dark medieval fantasy Player Versus Player Versus Enemy (PvPvE) run-based multiplayer game from Iron Mace Games which features team play, six classes, tons of loot, and pretty much works on the same general “get loot, kill everyone, escape” mechanic that made Escape From Tarkov so popular. It has been massively popular during its four alpha playtests so, for this latest one I’m jumping in and learning how to play. This time around they’ve added a “solo players only” dungeon with very difficult mobs and different extraction mechanics. These games are only fun while everyone else is still learning, so I’d advise people to be persistent and give it a try despite how challenging it is to start out. You can watch the first four hours I played here:
YEARLY BACKLOG REVISION
Having to replace my nearly ten year old PC with a new, very expensive one back in December of last year meant I can now play, emulate, capture, and stream video games on the PC at reasonable quality with my old PlayStation 4 Pro also hooked up nearby in my home office. This opens a lot of possibilities for catching up with my BACKLOG in general but it leaves the PlayStation 5 down in my living room collecting a bit of dust for a month or two… eh, beyond binges of Slay the Spire. This has me shifting around the order of the list for a few lingering PC games I’ve been avoiding. Here is the updated list for the foreseeable future:
First, [#1] The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings Enhanced Edition (CD Projekt Red, 2011) is finally playable without burning out my PC with its still completely shit CPU intensive optimization. I’ve spent about three hours in the game working through the complex combat system, controls and the extended introductory action piece which sets up the story. The switch to a close-up third person perspective means combat feels awful but the controller-built scheme makes for easy to pick up gameplay and truth be told, this game had most of the best elements of The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt albeit in smaller spaces and a complex, political plot. I am glad to not have to fire up an old Xbox 360 to play it since this runs at 60fps and works well with a PS4 controller. Since I’ve just finished The Witcher (2007) this will be an easy game to follow up with and the next-gen optimized Playstation 5 port of the third game recently releasing means I’ll likely replay that game and finally, finally tackle the DLC this year.
[#2] Alpha Protocol (Obsidian Entertainment, 2010) has been on my backlog ever since I did a Splinter Cell series playthrough circa 2015 and had folks recommend it to me incessantly. This is another game which was essentially built for consoles and basically demands the player use a controller. Otherwise it is what I’d consider a Deus Ex inspired game from the era of Mass Effect wherein the player can choose between stealth ops, janky gunplay, and tech skills to make it through the game. I’ve played through the extensive tutorials before but restarted recently and pushed through to the first mission area. While it is a dated game not-so loved by critics at the time so far it seems to be exactly my kind of game per its RPG-lite elements and cheesy spy thriller feeling. On that same tip, [#4] Deus Ex: Invisible War (Ion Storm, 2003) is next on the list after this, perhaps the worst game in the series and one which I’ve never managed to finish due to frequent distraction away from its bland look, bad story, and inferior experience compared to the rest of the franchise. Before I get around to that game I’ll step into one of the bigger games on my backlog for the last ten years with [#3] Divinity II: Developer’s Cut (Larian Studios, 2012) an expanded final edition of Divinity II: Ego Draconis circa 2010 which is a third person PC action RPG that runs nearly a hundred hours or more and runs on the Fallout 3/Oblivion engine. If you’re not entirely up to speed, a lot of these games were overlooked in the early 2010’s on my part because I was playing Skyrim and Dark Souls, etc.
[#5] Resident Evil 5 (Capcom, 2009) has been on my list since I’d played through the remaster of the first game a few years back. I’d been planning to play it co-op with a friend, took a detour to play the remake of Resident Evil 2, and eventually decided to do a solo playthrough once the Playstation 4 upscaled version of it went on sale. It is one of those classic meme-assed games friends of mind always refer to and it is about time I picked it up and go to it. [#6] Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia (Konami, 2008) is a game I’ve owned for quite some time but never fully invested time into beating since the NDS specific control scheme frustrated me to no end. It is about time to finally finish it, keeping in mind I used to write exclusively for “metroidvania” themed sites/forums when it came to video games. Per the modern console space there are two games I’d like to finish (but probably won’t) in the semi open-world biker zombie apocalypse game [#7] Days Gone (Bend Studio, 2019) alongside the less engaging semi open-world car-combat apocalypse game [#8] Mad Max (Avalanche, 2015), an action game which many have been calling underrated since it released. I never stuck with it since it featured a slow pace to start and a kinda blah 30fps on consoles.
From there we have games which are largely reserved for dead consoles (or emulation) starting with the now fully translated trio of Sega Saturn-era games [#9] Shining Force III: Scenario 1 – Outo no Kyoshin (Camelot Software, 1998) which keeps well within the tradition of the series turn-based strategy RPG lineage but breaks it into three dimensions. I intend to play through all three Scenarios since I’ve heard that the story is fantastic and each game offers a reasonable challenge. The only difficulty is consistent Saturn emulation which allows for reasonable savestates, actual saving and things like controller mapping which actually sticks in the ini file. Otherwise I have pared down the final few items to [#10] Metroid Prime 2: Echoes (Retro Studios, 2004) which I’d never completed back in the day alongside [#11] Ys: The Oath in Felghana (Nihon Falcom, 2010) which serves as a remake of the third game in the series. That’ll be on the Playstation Portable, and I guess interestingly enough a Nintendo Switch version is coming this year as an HD remaster. Finally, yes, I have figured out how to get [#12] Panzer Dragoon Saga (Team Andromeda, 1998) to emulate properly, save the inputs, and save properly in game. So, that will happen at some point since it seems to be the most pushed-back game on my back log of video games for decades now.
Several mediocre games fell off my backlog in 2022 because they were not fun: Final Fantasy VIII: Remake was a slog, lost patience for its story beats and wobbly Kingdom Hearts+ combat. Deathloop was a cool idea wrapped around a dull story, the gunplay and powers took forever to feel interesting and at that point I’d rather play Dishonored. Moonscars felt like a student made metroidvania without a satisfying loop, the more progress I made the less interested I became in advancing the idiotic story. Chasm was a charming and fun metroidvania to start, a game which evolved slow and steady with its challenges but gave so few breadcrumbs of story that its dull combat eventually had me moving on. I am still on the fence with Scarlet Nexus since I cannot get into the story but the combat systems are satisfying. Finally, I have not given up on Pillars of Eternity but I have dropped off of it hard, finding it cumbersome to play with a controller. Also, I dropped down the well… If you know what I mean.
- [#1] The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings Enhanced Edition (CD Projekt Red, 2011) PC
- [#2] Alpha Protocol (Obsidian Entertainment, 2010) PC
- [#3] Divinity II: Developer’s Cut (Larian Studios, 2012) PC
- [#4] Deus Ex: Invisible War (Ion Storm, 2003) PC
- [#5] Resident Evil 5 (Capcom, 2009) PS4
- [#6] Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia (Konami, 2008) NDS
- [#7] Days Gone (Bend Studio, 2019) PS4
- [#8] Mad Max (Avalanche, 2015) PS4
- [#9] Shining Force III: Scenario 1 – Outo no Kyoshin (Camelot Software, 1998) SAT
- [#10] Metroid Prime 2: Echoes (Retro Studios, 2004) GCN
- [#11] Ys: The Oath in Felghana (Nihon Falcom, 2010) PSP
- [#12] Panzer Dragoon Saga (Team Andromeda, 1998) SAT
<strong>Help Support Grizzly Butts’ goals with a donation:</strong>
Please consider donating directly to site costs and project funding using PayPal.