The Infinite Zenith

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Category Archives: General Gaming

Go! Go! Nippon! ~My First Trip to Japan~: Reflections and Reminiscence on A Journey to the Land of the Rising Sun Five Years Earlier, and Revisiting My First Visual Novel

“Japan never considers time together as time wasted. Rather, it is time invested.” –Donald Richie

On this day in 2017, I was sitting on the benches at the Vancouver International Airport awaiting a flight back home. Although exhausted, I was immensely satisfied with my excursion. Early in May, I boarded a plane bound for Narita International Airport. We’d arrived later in the evening, so after reaching our hotel, we had time for dinner at a Chinese-style restaurant at the Hilton Tokyo Narita Airport before hitting the hay. The next morning, after a full Western breakfast, we boarded our ride and headed straight to the heart of Tokyo to check out the Meiji Jinju Shrine and Tokyo Imperial Palace. After stopping briefly in Ginza for a shabu-shabu lunch, the afternoon consisted of walking the Sumida River and exploring the Kogan-ji temple. The day wrapped up with an exquisite Wagyu beef and snow crab dinner at the Hotel Heritage. Here, I had the chance to soak in their onsen: having seen the procedure countless times in anime, I felt right at home in cleaning up and enjoying the experience. On the second day of our lightning tour, we travelled deep into the mountains of Yamanashi, stopping at Heiwa Park near Gotemba to view Mount Fuji from a distance. Following yakiniku, we visited Oshino Village and Mount Fuji’s Fifth Station. From here, we drove out to Shirokabako Resort by Mount Tateshima, where we spent the night. The next day opened with a drive to Magome-juku, where we took in the quiet of the Japanese countryside and had a traditional lunch before being whisked away to the heart of Nagoya to check out Atsuta Shrine. The final stop for this third day was Gifu: we were now within a stone’s throw from Kyoto, and on our final full day, we entered Kyoto itself, stopping by the Kinkakuji in the morning. Here, I enjoyed matcha ice cream and the iconic golden-leafed walls of Kyoto’s most famous temple under drizzling skies. Following a kaiseki lunch near Yasaka Shrine, we visited Todaji Temple in Nara, known for its free-roaming deer population. The day concluded in Osaka: after taking in the sights of the Sakai shopping district, we stopped for an omurice dinner, and I swung by a local bookstore to grab a copy of Kimi no Na Wa‘s manga before turning in: the next day, I’d been slated to fly on over to Hong Kong for the trip’s second leg, so early in the morning, we made our way over to Kansai International Airport. Although a flight out usually is more a matter of procedure, a pair of surprises awaited me here at Kansai International Airport; I was able to try authentic okonomiyaki, and I came upon a copy of the Kimi no Na Wa artbook while waiting for my flight. Like the protagonist Go! Go! Nippon! ~My First Trip to Japan~, I had a very short window in which to take in the sights, sounds and tastes of Japan, and I similarly realised an inevitable truth: that it would take a lifetime to fully experience everything Japan’s got to offer: this game had come into my path some five years prior to my travels to Japan in 2017.

As the story goes, on a miserable late autumn afternoon, I was typing away in the quiet of my office space: having finished building a sodium-potassium pump on the same principles as the renal filtration model I’d designed during the previous summer, I was working on a term paper ahead of a presentation for my research course. As I reached the section on my findings, one of my friends appeared at the lab. His classes for the day had ended, and he had something amusing to show me: a YouTuber was playing through a visual novel about visiting Japan, and was doing a throw-your-voice style voiceover of the dialogue. I’d only been mildly interested at the time, and despite having picked the game up to try it out, Go! Go! Nippon! remained a bit of a curiosity for me until, four years after its initial release, the 2015 expansion was announced. The additional content and visual improvements were enough for me to pick this up, and I’d beaten one of the Makoto routes posthaste. However, a post never materialised, and it is with some irony that I reflect on how my typical tendency for procrastination meant that I would only write about the game a full five years after I’d returned home from my travels to Japan and Hong Kong. The premise in Go! Go! Nippon! is simple: a foreign traveller decides to visit Japan at the behest of two pen-pals he’d met in an online chatroom, and upon arriving, discovers they’re sisters, Makoto and Akira Misaki. Despite the initial awkwardness, said visitor gets a very personalised tour of some of Tokyo’s most famous destinations, and along the way, becomes closer to Makoto or Akira, depending on the choice of destinations visited. Despite its hokey premise, Go! Go! Nippon! has proven to be surprisingly entertaining, being part visual novel and part Lonely Planet travel guide: the game is remarkably detailed about the history and information surrounding some of Tokyo’s attractions, from Ginza and Akihabara, to Shibuya and Mount Takao. The setup provides players the ideal environment to acclimatise to what a visual novel is like, using a story that is relatable for overseas players who might be dreaming of one day setting foot on the Land of the Rising Sun. In this way, despite being cheesy on first glance, Go! Go! Nippon! ends up being a fantastic experience for both introducing players to visual novel mechanics, as well as providing a guide to Tokyo’s sights to the same level of depth as a travel book might. The visual novel consequently received a pair of expansions, which brought Go! Go! Nippon! into the world of HD and provided animated character models using Unity. In addition, additional locations were added along with a more sophisticated decision tree that brings with it, new events for players to check out. The concept has proven quite enduring: Makoto and Akira have since become Virtual YouTubers, and the developers, OVERDRIVE, have also been surprised with the success of this series and its characters. When they’d started the Virtual YouTubers programme with Makoto and Akira, they’d made a tongue-in-cheek remark about how if they ever hit ten thousand subscribers, they would begin development on Go! Go! Nippon! 2. This particular milestone has since been reached, and all eyes are now on OVERDRIVE as they begin work on a sequel to a game that I’m certain that no one expected to reach the heights that it did.

There is a degree of irony in the fact that I ended up playing through and writing about Go! Go! Nippon! five years after my travels to Japan; a trip to Japan costs around 2400 CAD for an individual, whereas Go! Go! Nippon! and its expansions together are two orders of magnitude cheaper (since I bought Go! Go! Nippon! during sales over the years, my total for all three games was 14.91 CAD). However, despite the dramatic contrasts in the manner in which one gets to experience Japan, there are also striking similarities, attesting to how well Go! Go! Nippon! is able to capture the feelings of travelling Japan. While on first glance, Japan possesses a dramatically different culture, set of values and customs compared to somewhere like Canada, setting foot in Japan also made it apparent that the similarities were greater in number than differences. Outside of Japan’s numerous temples, attractions and sights, I found that whether it was Tokyo, Gifu, Nagoya, Kyoto or Osaka, the roads and streets were filled with people getting from point A to point B. Some were salarymen headed to work, while others were students who were out and about on their daily activities, no differently than how my days ordinarily went back home. My vacation had allowed me to see Japan’s sights, both iconic and ordinary. Seeing tranquil power surrounding a shrine to the striking views of Mount Fuji, enjoy some of their finest food, including kaiseki, Hokkaido Snow Crab and Wagyu beef and iconic experiences like soaking in an onsen was lovely, but I also had a chance to order ramen in a restaurant where the staff did not speak English (or Cantonese), buy manga from a bookstore and sit down to an omurice in a department store restaurant. The scope of my experiences thus ranged from the touristy, to the everyday, and in retrospect, this is what had made this vacation especially memorable. Recalling this allows me to better understand the reason why some folks seek out authentic experiences that allow them to do what locals do now, and having now revisited Go! Go! Nippon!, it becomes clear that this is also one of the reasons behind the game’s charm: Makoto and Akira take the players to iconic locations around Tokyo, but also gives one a chance to see things from a local’s perspective, whether it be a Japanese summer festival, fireworks performance or even Comiket itself. Thus, with this being said, being able to travel to Japan for real, curiously enough, gave me a better sense of appreciation for what Go! Go! Nippon! was going for, too.

Additional Remarks, Screenshots and Commentary

  • It may surprise readers to learn that, when this blog was about three months old, I’d actually written a first impressions piece about Go! Go! Nippon!. Back then, my posts had no consistent format and style; that particular post had six screenshots, and barely covers any of my reflections surrounding Go! Go! Nippon! (the idea of a reflection would come about four months later, after I finished cell and molecular biology). This post, then, aims to offer a slightly more comprehensive set of thoughts on what is my first-ever visual novel experience on top of giving me a place to reminisce about my travels five years earlier.

  • Typically, visual novels simply entail reading the text, gaining a modicum of understanding as to what’s happening and then playing through by making decisions at critical junctures, decisions consistent with one’s own values to see what the outcome is. Depending on one’s choices, an outcome can end up better or worse, pushing players to evaluate their own decision-making in specific contexts. Go! Go! Nippon! is a little more gentle in this regard in that there are no wrong choices. One’s itinerary in Go! Go! Nippon! impacts which of Makoto or Akira players spend more time with, and this cascades into a tearful ending that, sometimes, will end with a romantic outcome.

  • On my own trip to Japan, I ended up visiting Meiji Jingu (a Shinto Shrine just a stone’s throw from Shinjuku Koen), Ginza and Sumida Park, just across the river from the Tokyo Skytree. All of these locations are fairly close to the spots that are available in Go! Go! Nippon!: in its original incarnation, Go! Go! Nippon! had been focused on Tokyo’s attractions, but the expansions allow players to check out Mount Takao and Kyoto. On my trip to Tokyo in 2017, I did not have a chance tom visit Asakusa, one of the most iconic spots in Tokyo.

  • As a natural part of Go! Go! Nippon!‘s progression, players will “accidentally” walk in on Makoto drying herself after a shower. Of Makoto and Akira, Makoto is better-endowed, and it is in the expansion games, where the character models are animated, that players really appreciate the HD updates bring to the table. The newer games are rendered in Unity, and I imagine would use the game engine’s rigging to handle animations. Attention is paid to details: when Makoto perks up or leans forward, oscillation is also present in her model. As an aside, I prefer showering in the evening, so were I to take the protagonist’s place, there’d be no chance of this happening.

  • Dialogue with Akira and Makoto is such that players gain a bit of insight into their character; Makoto feels weighted down by expectations and is graceful, studying English at the local university, while Akira is a fantastic cook, tsundere and feels like she lives in Makoto’s shadows. In between Akira and Makoto explaining the history and details behind every location to the level of detail that would be appropriate for a Lonely Planet travel guide, one gains the sense that Makoto and Akira are full-fledged characters whom, in addition to their profound knowledge of Japan, its attractions and history, also have their own unique traits.

  • One could say that Akira and Makoto’s knowledge of Japan is encyclopaedic: both bring up nuances and details that really illustrate the history of a given area, but isn’t something that one could readily just recall off the top of their head. To put things in perspective, while I’m familiar with the history and trivia of some of the most famous attractions in Calgary, I can’t just bring this stuff up in casual conversation with the same level of detail. Granted, this is a visual novel, which allows OVERDRIVE to thoroughly research locations and incorporate them into the game, allowing Go! Go! Nippon! to be both instructive and entertaining.

  • Folks looking to learn about the locations visited in Go! Go! Nippon! can easily look up their details online, and Go! Go! Nippon!‘s expansions include a link to Google Maps, allowing one to get the precise spot that players visit in the game. Here, I’ve opted to try an izakaya out; the Japanese equivalent of a pub, izakaya are quite different than a pub in that food is served over a duration of time and is shared by a party. Having Akira and Makoto around would make an izakaya easier to experience: while my rudimentary Japanese allowed me to order food in a more conventional setting, I’m certain that without a guidebook at my side, an izakaya would be trickier to order at.

  • On the second day, players “accidentally” walk in on Akira changing after Makoto asks them to check in and see if she’d awaken yet. Unlike Makoto, who’d taken things in stride and is swift to forgive, Akira’s reaction is par the course for what one might expect in reality, and in most anime. Akira’s dissatisfaction is most apparent when she swaps out sugar for salt in the player’s coffee, but seeing the player taking their lumps leads Akira to forgive them in the end. This is where my old post ends: in 2012, my patience for playing visual novels was nil. In the decade that’s elapsed, I’ve come to appreciate a much wider variety of games.

  • From here on out, I venture into a side of Go! Go! Nippon! that I’d not previously visited; my choice of destinations for my first full play-through of the 2016 expansion took me to destinations that were quite similar to those I’d visited in my 2017 trip. This particular trip had been billed as “美食” (jyutpimg mei5 sik6, literally “beautiful eats”) oriented: attractions had been secondary to visiting places with particularly fancy Japanese cuisine, and as a result, the places we chose to visit were a bit more inconspicuous, selected to be closer to the dining venues.

  • While we didn’t visit the Tokyo Skytree itself, or Kyoto’s Fushimi Inari Shrine as a part of this trip, the locations we did end up hitting were quite scenic and enjoyable in their own right. A bonus was that the crowds here were fewer, allowing us to spend less time in lines and more time exploring. In retrospect, I am glad that I picked the 美食 oriented approach: especially nowadays, it is possible to gain a good measure of what an attraction feels like using virtual reality and Google Maps. However, there is absolutely no equivalent for being able to sit down to a meal in another country and enjoy what foods a nation has to offer.

  • Unlike the original Go! Go! Nippon!, the 2016 expansion gives players a chance to visit Kyoto, as well. Kyoto was day four for me: having spent the first day in Tokyo, our second day was in Yamanashi, and the third day was spent in Gifu prefecture. On the morning of the fourth day, the Kinkakuji was the only destination I visited; this is an iconic part of Kyoto, and because we were there on a Saturday, the crowds were immense. Here at the Kinkakuji, I remember marvelling at how brilliant this gold-leafed temple was, even on an overcast day.

  • Aside from spotting some tourists decked out in maiko outfits (it was 1100 in the morning, and real maiko usually begin making their rounds at around 1700), I also had a chance to sample the iconic matcha soft-serve ice cream. Japan’s soft serve is in a category on its own: while visiting Oshino village at the foot of Mount Fuji, I ended up going for a blueberry ice cream, as well. Enjoying these smaller things accentuated my experiences, and I had been glad to have brought the equivalent of 250 CAD worth of Yen in cash for this trip. This allowed me to buy things where credit cards wouldn’t work: while Japan is an ultra-modern society, I was quite surprised to learn most places didn’t accept credit cards.

  • The Kinkakuji is such an integral part of Kyoto that every single anime with a class trip to Kyoto will inevitably feature this park, and of note is the fact that both K-On! and Kinirio Mosaic: Thank You!! visit the area as a part of their third year class trips. Besides being an iconic landmark with a storied history, I know the Kinkakuji best as Futurama‘s “Omaha, Nebraska”, and recall that one of the Kinkakuji’s most famous tales is that it was burned to a crisp by a monk-in-training during the 50s. Its lesser-known cousin is the Ginkakuji, which, contrary to its name, is not covered with silver plating.

  • Go! Go! Nippon! captures the look-and-feel of a quiet Kyoto side street perfectly; after my visit to the Kinkakuji ended, I headed on over to Torihisa, a kaiseki restaurant. Kaiseki is a multi-course meal in which numerous small dishes are served in an artistic fashion. I thoroughly enjoyed lunch; kaiseki had been high on the list of things I’ve wished to try. Torihisa is located across the street from Maruyama Park, home of Yasaka Shrine. Maruyama Park is a fantastic place for hanami,  but I’d arrived about two months too late.

  • Although the protagonist of Go! Go! Nippon! has two full days in Kyoto to explore, I was on a more rigid schedule: as soon as lunch ended, we immediately set course for Nara Park, home to their famous sika deer. The portrayals of Nara Park in anime is no joke: the deer are very friendly towards people, and I watched one deer boldly snatch a tour pamphlet from a visitor’s hand here. After Nara had wrapped up, my final destination was Osaka. During my last evening there, I had dinner at an omurice restaurant and decided to go with a curry-katsu omelet rice; this was an all-in one that allowed me to try authentic Japanese curry and tonkatsu in conjunction with what is a contemporary Japanese comfort dish.

  • Just like that, my week had come to a close. Go! Go! Nippon! makes it clear to players that there is so much to see and do in Japan that a single week will be insufficient to experience things in full. This message is accentuated by the visual novel format; one has the opportunity to go back to a save point and make different decisions, allowing for a more complete experience. The equivalent to doing this in real life would be prohibitively expensive, but I was impressed with the breadth of my experiences over the course of a week.

  • If I had to pick the most standout moment in a vacation that was one long pleasant memory, it would be on the first full night. After we spent the day exploring Tokyo, we went out over to Saitama’s Heritage resort, a secluded retreat on the western edge of Musashi Kyuryo National Government Park. This evening saw the fanciest meal of the entire trip: an exquisite Wagyu beef nabesashimi and several small, artfully presented dishes, including unagi, pickled daikon and a side of fried potato croquettes. This was a feast for the eyes and the taste buds. There is an old saying of unknown origin: the Chinese eat with their mouths (taste is king), the Japanese eat with their eyes (presentation matters) and the Koreans eat with their stomachs (a meal should be satisfying). I’m not sure where this comes from, but seeing the artful presentation of meals in Japan, I confirm this certainly holds true.

  • To round out what was an excellent dinner, I set foot inside the onsen, and because of my timing, I had the entire baths to myself. After cleaning myself off thoroughly, I lowered my body into the waters and felt all of my aches melt away. Meals on the other days were still solid: the second night saw me at a buffet at Shirakaba Resort Ikenotaira Hotel. What stood out most to me here was the fact that they had bakke and fiddlehead tempura available. We’d travelled through Yamanashi so we could see Mount Fuji from several different vantage points on this day, and although Mount Fuji remained completely obscured by cloud throughout most of the day (as Yuru Camp△‘s Rin would describe it, “wearing a hat”), we did end up hitting the Fifth Station at Narusawa for an up-close-and-personal look at Japan’s most famous mountain. Aoi, Hinata, Kaede and Kokona start their ascent of Mount Fuji here in Yama no Susume‘s second season, so my second day essentially had me visiting Yuru Camp△ and Yama no Susume destinations.

  • On day three, we continued through the mountains of Nagano on our way into Gifu. The highlight of this day was the stop at Magome-juku, the forty-third of the stations along the Nakasendō trail. It’s a beautiful village perched on a hillside, and after venturing from the top of their main street to the bottom, we stopped for lunch at Magomekan Food Stands. Their set lunch was as beautiful to behold, as it was generous in portion sizes, and tasty to eat. Featuring rolled omlette, karaage and grilled fish, as well as a massive bowl of noodles, it was the perfect way to round out the morning’s activities.

  • Back in Go! Go! Nippon!, I’ve reached the end of my first playthrough, and thanks to the way I roll, I ended up with what is considered the best ending for the Makoto route: I chose a Makoto destination for days one and three, and did an Akira destination for day two. In this way, I unlocked the ending where players and Makoto ring a bell together. Although Makoto struggles to be forward about her feelings, in the end, she comes through and openly returns the player’s feelings. Contemporary reviewers found the whirlwind romance aspect of Go! Go! Nippon! to be completely contrived, out of the blue.

  • However, players with enough maturity will quickly realise that Makoto and Akira are representations of the joys of visiting Japan itself: in this way, Go! Go! Nippon! might be seen as a visual portrayal of falling in love with Japan over the course of a week, coming to see for oneself the nation’s pluses and minuses, and deciding for oneself if their initial impressions were on the mark or need rectification. Whether it is house-hunting, travel or romance, there are many commonalities. All involve that initial honeymoon-like phase where everything feels perfect, and how over time, imperfections manifest. What happens next then depends on the person: individuals willing to accept imperfections and embrace what they’ve fallen in love with will find happiness, while those who cannot accept the imperfections will restart the process anew.

  • In my case, nailing the Makoto route on first try was quite entertaining. However, in the spirit of playing through Go! Go! Nippon! properly, I switched over to one of my other saves so I could check out the destinations I’d not visited on my first run. Tokyo Skytree ended up being first on my list; while in Tokyo, I gazed wistfully across the Sumida river: this hadn’t been a destination we had in mind, and therefore, we skipped over checking out the tallest building in Tokyo. In retrospect, I am okay with this choice: that day had been overcast, and the view from the top wouldn’t have been quite as impressive.

  • In 2015, following my journey to Taiwan, I ended up going to Hong Kong, and here, I did check out the Sky100 observation deck, in addition to Taipei 101. On any given vacation in East Asia, Hong Kong inevitably becomes a part of the itinerary because the flights are actually more economical this way, and it gives me a chance to visit family. Whenever heading into Hong Kong, I always get the feeling that I’m going home: to me, Hong Kong simply feels like a super-massive Chinatown, where Cantonese is the lingua franca. Unlike Japan, or Taiwan, where I only know enough phrases for the basics (and in the case of Japan, enough to surprise store clerks and servers at restaurants), I’ve got level three proficiency with Cantonese and can carry out conversations.

  • While I technically are a native Cantonese speaker, I have next to no exposure in legal and professional vocabulary, so I’m unable to conduct business in Cantonese; for instance, I have no idea how to describe the process for sorting out a build error in an Xcode project in Cantonese. While my Cantonese is practically native at the conversational level (I know enough slang to keep up with things, for instance), I hesitate to say I have native proficiency on things like a resume because that would imply I can read and write, as well. If I had to guess, I have level 2 proficiency with written Chinese, and level 3 proficiency with Cantonese, having worked in a Chinese language-setting previously.

  • Here, I accompany Akira to a ramen joint after picking the “ocean” option, and she demonstrates how to properly eat ramen. While it is appropriate to make some noise in Japan, the practise is not kosher in China or Hong Kong, but when I visited the ramen place in Gifu, I followed local customs just to express my enjoyment of the noodles all the same. Sushi etiquette is a little easier to follow, and this reminiscence did leave me with a hankering for sushi. Fortunately, there’s an excellent sushi place within walking distance now, and I’m making good on my promise to try things out. Yesterday, I ordered a combo with California, Volcano and Dynamite rolls, plus salmon, tuna and shrimp nigiri with a takoyaki: this was a very tasty lunch, a welcome change of pacing just before the Victoria Day Long Weekend arrived.

  • By now, I’ve become a ways more receptive of raw fish dishes: five years earlier, I ended up dousing my sashimi into the nabe at Heritage Resort, rendering it cooked, as back then, I wasn’t too fond of raw fish (exposure to shows like Yuru Camp△ have since broadened my mind). These days, I enjoy raw fish as much as I do cooked fish: the salmon and tuna nigiri were the highlights, being excellent with a dash of soy sauce. Although it is mentioned frequently, food is only a secondary aspect of Go! Go! Nippon!: being a virtual experience, things like food cannot be adequately mimicked. While one can see Akira explaining how to properly eat a ramen, one’s imagination must kick in to fill in the rest; imagination plays a very large part of enjoying visual novels: these games are quite static, and although they provide a few cues (such as sound effects and whatever visuals are available) to convey a moment, on top of what the dialogue yields, one must let their mind’s eye do the rest.

  • One of the numerous events players can unlock in Go! Go! Nippon! is the summer festival; although absent in the original, the expansions introduce events which unlock after certain conditions (flags) are met. The summer festival is a pleasant event and would allow players to really experience an authentic Japanese celebration; the natsumatsuri is equivalent to the state fairs of North America (or for my Canadian readers, the Calgary Stampede), featuring plenty of games and eats, plus performances and fireworks. If memory serves, unlocking the summer festival requires going to specific destinations on the first and second day.

  • Visual novels have a vocabulary that is quite related to programming. “Flags” in software usually refer to Booleans that control whether or not something happens (e.g. if the “isLoggedIn” flag is true, show the home screen, otherwise ,show the login screen). In visual novels, flags keep track of a player’s state, and “events” result from certain combinations of flags being set. I normally think of events as certain actions or inputs a program listens for, but in visual novel speak, “events” are simply things to show a player. Go! Go! Nippon! allows me to demonstrate this: if I visit certain destinations on days one and two, the flag for the Comiket event are set true, allowing me to experience it. It took me several attempts to get this right.

  • On the topic of conventions and gatherings like Comiket, it’s the May Long Weekend, and that means Otafest is now in full swing. Back in February, I declined to submit an application to volunteer, feeling it to be more prudent to leave time open in the event that my move had left me busier than anticipated. In typical fashion, I’ve finished all of the essential tasks, and even got my driver’s license and banking information updated to reflect the new address, so this long weekend, I’ve actually had more time than anticipated. However, I’ve decided against attending the local anime convention; having experienced Japan so thoroughly, the appeal of visiting an anime convention as a guest has diminished for me.

  • Instead, I became more interested in taking a more active role through volunteering, which gives me a chance to give back to the local community. My plans to continue volunteering at Otafest will depend on my schedule, so I’ll have a better idea of whether or not I’ll be returning closer to next year’s application deadline. For now, my long weekend has consisted of sleeping in, tending to housework and hitting the gym, before swinging by the local mall so I could pick up some new shirts and shorts. Afterwards, we sat down to our first-ever Southern Fried Chicken at the new place. This year’s Otafest looks like it’s a scaled-back event, and there’s nothing particularly stand-out on the schedule, so I’ve no qualms with sitting this one out in favour of a relaxing long weekend.

  • Go! Go! Nippon!‘s easy-to-use UI means the user experience is solid, and in this way, I was able to go through the game several times in order to accrue screenshots for this post. Here, I accompany Akira to Mount Takao, which Hinata and Aoi hit back in Yama no Susume‘s first season. Located about an hour from the heart of Tokyo, Mount Takao is about a ninety-minute hike in total and offers stunning views of Tokyo. It was nice to see Go! Go! Nippon! include a vast range of destinations into the expansions: the original game only had six destinations and two possible routes.

  • This would have made it considerably simpler to complete, and in retrospect, Go! Go! Nippon! “grows up” with players. The first game truly is a suitable introduction to the visual novel format for first timers, and I’ve long felt that while the game’s subtitle is My First Trip to Japan, the title also can count itself as My First Experience With a Visual Novel: the premise of travelling and exploring different destinations is a much gentler and accessible introduction to the format compared to something like CLANNAD or Higurashi, where making bad decisions can irrevocably alter the outcome of one’s experiences.

  • First-time players will also be unfamiliar with the save mechanics. Visual novel veterans will tell players to save right before decision branches come up. This is a matter of efficiency: if one makes a bad choice, they can instantly revert and make another pick. Similarly, in a game where a choice causes the story to open up in a different way, one instantly has a snapshot they can go to. On my first playthrough of Go! Go! Nippon! in 2012, I saved simply when I needed to leave the game, and this made revisiting the game somewhat cumbersome. By the 2015 expansion, I was better versed in how visual novels work and more ready to explore new routes.

  • In the present day, I know enough of the ins-and-outs so that I could easily navigate the storylines of Go! Go! Nippon! and swiftly acquire screenshots for this post. I am glad to have picked up the 2016 expansion; I had debated doing so when it first came out, having already dropped coin for the 2015 expansion, but after visiting Japan in 2017, I decided to bite the bullet and complete my Go! Go! Nippon! experience when the expansion went on discount during the summer of 2018. Although I had intended to play and write about Go! Go! Nippon! back then, 2018 was a bit of a more difficult time for me: my start-up was in dire straits, and I had been in the middle of discussions to take on a Xamarin project, which meant I needed to swiftly pick up Xamarin and C#.

  • Further to this, I had been invited to Battlefield V‘s closed alpha, and Harukana Receive was airing. Between everything that was going on, Go! Go! Nippon! was benched, and for four years after that, sat untouched in my Steam Library. The five-year mark to my return home from Japan, coupled with one of my friends bringing the game’s recent successes in the Virtual YouTuber scene and OVERDRIVE’s intention of making a sequel came together to provide the encouragement I needed to finish enjoying, and writing about Go! Go! Nippon! in its latest incarnation.

  • I am glad to have done so now: the game offers an interesting parallel with my own experiences, and although I didn’t have two kawaii guides walking me through the history and etiquette of various areas, I was able to see for myself the wonders of Japan, both historical and modern. While my experience with Go! Go! Nippon! started out as a joke, I was pleasantly surprised to find that even in a game meant to instruct and gently poke fun at foreign impressions of Japan, there is a considerable amount of depth in the writing. For instance, Akira’s tsundere personality is not representative of Japan as a whole, but from a broader perspective, shows how something that initially seems difficult to understand has more to it than meets the eye. Akira feels like a close friend, a companion over time as players spend more time with her destinations.

  • I’ve long been a Makoto fan, and my decisions on my first run through Go! Go! Nippon! reflect this. However, in revisiting the game, I learnt more about Akira. In time, I came to like her character, as well. Finding newfound, pleasant surprises in the familiar is something I’ve always been fond of, and much as how revisiting Titanfall 2‘s campaign allowed me to get my paws on the EM-4 Cold War in one mission, re-playing Go! Go! Nippon! let me to see a side of the game, and a set of destinations that I’d otherwise never see.

  • The premise in Go! Go! Nippon! shows players why there is incentive to replay the game again and make different choices; this outcome would extend to different visual novels and similarly encourage players to go back and try things out again. In the case of CLANNAD, for instance, players can make choices to go down the most well-written central route, which follows Nagisa, or they can opt to check out Kyou, Kotomi and Fuu’s stories. However, whereas Go! Go! Nippon! does not have a persistent state that lingers even after one has completed multiple play-throughs, CLANNAD does: certain actions can only be achieved by revisiting the game multiple times and making smart decisions. In this way, Go! Go! Nippon! can be seen as an introduction to a genre which is one that I do not play often, but one that has its own nuances, as well.

  • As a consequence of playing the Akira route with the aim of unlocking one of the events (at the time of writing, I’ve yet to succeed), I ended up with the second outcome for Akira, which has her bringing players to Toshimaen, a theme park that is quite special to Akira. After returning to Tokyo from Kyoto, the sum of a player’s decisions allow them to visit a special destination, and there is no “bad end” here in Go! Go! Nippon! in a traditional sense. Visual novels are legendary for their bad endings: unlike the average first person shooter campaign, which only has one ending, and any “bad end” is dying in the campaign, visual novels can take depravity and the macabre to the next level.

  • All told, spending a day with Akira at the waterpark isn’t a bad outcome by any stretch: it gives players a chance to see Akira rocking a polka-dot bikini. Tango-Victor-Tango incorrectly pegs Akira as being flat, although this moment also led me to wish that there was such an equivalent moment with Makoto. I’m now curious to see what the optimal route for Akira yields, but I’ll likely get around to this later in the future. The Division 2 had just opened their ninth season, and having spent the whole of last year on break from The Division 2 after completing the Manhunt event for Faye Lau, it’s been fun to return to the game and learn that my old standby, the Hunter’s Fury gear-set with the Chatterbox and Ninjabike Kneepads, is still viable. Similarly, I’ve recently resumed playing Ghost Recon: Wildlands on account of an excellent sale, so between these two games, I expect to be somewhat busy in the gaming front for the foreseeable future.

  • For the remainder of my revisit through Go! Go! Nippon!, I have a bit of footage from the other destinations I ended up going to as a result of trying to unlock various events. Here, I’m back in Ginza: in a curious turn of fate, Ginza was the first place I visited when I played through Go! Go! Nippon! in 2012, and it was also the first stop on my trip to Japan in 2017. Ginza is known for its high end shopping experiences, and while we browsed shops, we found that prices were jaw-droppingly high. Here, Makoto welcomes players to the district and the famous Wako Store, with its distinct clock face. I most vividly recall Ginza because we had shabu-shabu here.

  • Because of the scope and scale of any trip to Japan, I would contend that there is no right or wrong way to go about things. Anime fans tend to visit Tokyo and Akihabara, while folks looking for a more historical experience will tour Kyoto. Visitors looking for the ultimate seafood experience are best served checking out Hokkaido, while Japan’s southern section, near Hiroshima or Kumamoto, would provide a quieter experience. For me, one potential return trip would entail taking a closer look at Kyoto’s highlights; it’s a destination that K-On! and the Kiniro Mosaic movie both swing by the old capital as a part of the third year’s class trip.

  • However, this would be secondary to my long-standing wish to travel Takehara in Hiroshima. Well off the beaten track, Takehara is home of Tamayura, and even a full decade after I’ve finished watching the anime, the town’s iconic warehouse district has more or less remain unchanged. If I were to visit, I imagine that I’d be able to see the sights that Fū and her friends saw in their everyday lives. On such a trip, I’d likely choose lodgings anywhere outside of the Warehouse district: hotels right in the old town are considerably pricier. I imagine that a week in Takehara would be more than enough to explore all of the spots in Tamayura.

  • Back in Go! Go! Nippon!, for my shot at getting Makoto’s second ending, I ended up playing through a completely different set of locations, in turn allowing me to unlock a host of achievements to go with my adventures. The 2016 expansion is the only way to actually unlock achievements, but as of the 2015 expansion, Go! Go! Nippon! added Steam Trading Cards and badges. It took me a while to collect enough cards to make a level 5 Makoto card. The only way to get an Akira badge is to get foil drops, but badges cost a dollar apiece, so the logic of doing so wouldn’t be sound.

  • The CG scenes in Go! Go! Nippon! are of a varied quality: the protagonist is rendered without eyes, and this creates a bit of a disconnect whenever he’s visible. The faceless male is a long-standing element in visual novels, meant to give players additional immersion, but here in Go! Go! Nippon!, the effect is quite uncanny and looks a little off. Conversely, stills of just Makoto and/or Akira look gorgeous, and I found myself thinking that, were Go! Go! Nippon! ever to be made into an anime about touring Tokyo, I would have no qualms in watching it.

  • That no such anime has appeared a decade after Go! Go! Nippon!‘s release indicates that such a wish will remain a pipe dream at best. Here, at Tsukiji Market, I explore Tokyo’s largest fish market. After departing Japan and landing in Hong Kong, I had the pleasure of checking out Sha Tin Market, an indoor wet market, while awaiting a dim sum lunch with relatives. I’ve always been fond of wet markets because they represent a very active place where seafood is sold; by comparison, most seafood is frozen at home, although some supermarkets do carry live seafood, as well.

  • Looking back, the Hong Kong side of my travels were also superbly enjoyable: I know Hong Kong like the back of my own hand, despite only having visited a handful of times, and this is largely in part owing to the fact that 1) there are English signs everywhere and 2) I speak Cantonese well enough, allowing me to ask for directions without any trouble. The MTR is also intuitive, allowing one to visit any part of Hong Kong with ease. My time in Hong Kong was characterised by spending plenty of time with family, window shopping at various malls, and experiencing Hong Kong’s culinary landscape.

  • In Go! Go! Nippon!, since Makoto isn’t much of a cook, players won’t pick up anything from the fish market here, and instead, she’ll bring players to the Tsukiji Hongan-ji, a Buddhist temple that originally opened in 1617 but burned to the ground forty years later. It was moved to a new site, was destroyed by an earthquake in 1923. The modern temple was completed in 1934. This does appear to be a recurring theme in Japan’s landmarks, which have been destroyed and rebuilt on several occasions. While the buildings we see now might not be in their original form, seeing them rebuilt is a testament to the tenacity of the Japanese people.

  • Having now gone through three-quarters of Go! Go! Nippon!, it is evident that attention has been paid to the background artwork, as well. Backgrounds in this visual novel are intricate and life-like, and although some scenes are blissfully quiet, others are filled with people. This aspect is one of the most crucial elements in Go! Go! Nippon!: visual novels often feel empty and devoid of human presence, isolating players and forcing their attention towards the heroines. This was the case in Sakura Angels: although the artwork was stunning, the world felt very empty. According to my records, I began Sakura Angels in June 2015, but never finished, and the last time I opened the game was back in 2017, so the time is probably appropriate for me to go back and wrap this one up.

  • Stay! Stay! DPRK! had similarly felt quite empty, but then, it was a logical design choice because players are visiting North Korea. As such, when Go! Go! Nippon! strikes a balance between the tranquil areas of Tokyo, and the livelier ones, it gives this world a more life-like feeling: Sakura Angels exuded a sense of isolation and loneliness that is simply absent in Go! Go! Nippon: Makoto and Akira keep it lively, but cues in the game’s artwork and presentation also serves to capture the sheer energy (and volume) of crowds in Tokyo’s most iconic locations.

  • Having tea in Japan is a quintessential experience: for 850 Yen, one could stop by Nakajima-no-Ochaya for whisked matcha and wagashi. One element in Go! Go! Nippon! that initially appears inconsequential to gameplay was the inclusion of a wallet. Players are asked to enter the exchange rate (at the time of writing, 1 CAD is exactly 100 Yen), and then the game keeps a running total of how much one has spent over their travels. One could play the game as someone with infinitely deep pocketbooks, or approach things more frugally, but as far as I can tell, one’s expenses don’t affect outcomes. Having said this, the wallet mechanic helps one to ballpark how much their itinerary might cost in reality, to within a precision of ±20 percent.

  • As far as landmarks go, I know Tokyo Station best as being the home base for Rail Wars!, and in 2017, I do not believe we passed by this landmark: the original brick building was constructed in 1914, and over the years, became infamous as being the site of two high-profile assassinations. With a passenger volume of up to half a million every day, it is the busiest station in Japan and is Tokyo’s equivalent of New York City’s Grand Central Station. With the ten-year mark of Rail Wars! fast approaching, I have plans to revisit the series again.

  • On my all-Makoto run, I ended up wrapping up the day to Tokyo Station by accompanying her to a sweets shop of sorts, located in the labyrinthine interior of Tokyo Station and its many shops. Owing to the sheer volume of foot traffic at train stations in Japan, stations also double as shopping centres. This stands in stark contrast with home, where our light rail stations appear to be arbitrarily placed. Urban planning in North America is built around vehicle ownership, and while this creates sprawling cities where people have a great deal of space to themselves, it also results in inefficiency. Having now moved to somewhere within a stone’s throw of a light rail station, I am rather excited by the fact that I can now hop on a train and be anywhere in the city on short order.

  • Moments like these really serve to showcase Makoto and Akira’s personalities beyond initial impressions the original game presented: Makoto might not be a capable cook, but she absolutely enjoys her sweets. It was very endearing to see Makoto this way. This is something that was only introduced with the 2016 expansion, which really fleshes things out. I would hold that the expansions are not optional add-ons, but essential parts of the Go! Go! Nippon! experience: the expansions each give the UI significant upgrades, and the 2016 version will openly indicate which of Makoto or Akira will accompany a player to a destination.

  • This makes it much easier to determine which destinations one should visit when playing through Go! Go! Nippon!: on my first run, my thoughts were that I should bias the game slightly towards Makoto. To this end, I picked Makoto destinations for two of the three days, and then went with an Akira destination for the remaining day. If I had to guess, going with Makoto or Akira for all three days seems to create in Makoto or Akira an overwhelming sense of yearning, causing both to wish to remain with the player, whereas balancing things out gives either Makoto or Akira a chance to think things through and come to terms with expressing how they feel more openly.

  • On this route, I ended up taking Go! Go! Nippon! over to Shinjuku Gyoen, a beautiful park at the heart of Tokyo that folks know best as the setting for Makoto Shinkai’s Garden of Words. For the player and Makoto, a rainstorm soon develops, perhaps being a clever (and subtle) callback to the events of Garden of Words, soaking Makoto to the bone. During my trip to Japan, our destinations did not include Shinjuku Gyoen, and instead, the day began with a visit to Meiji Jinju Shrine, which is a twelve-minute walk away from Shinjuku Gyoen.

  • The end result of this route sees Makoto pick up a stylish new outfit, and with this, I’ve now got two of the three possible Makoto endings unlocked. I never thought that Go! Go! Nippon! would be quite as engaging as it was; my introduction to the game had been through a friend who was watching a YouTube playthrough of the game in between classes, and the game had seemed quite hokey at first glance. However, going through the game again, I’ve come around: while Go! Go! Nippon! might be a dating simulator pretending to be a Lonely Planet travel guide, it does feel sincere in its portrayal of things.

  • This is why I’m rather excited to see what Go! Go! Nippon! 2 has in store for players; since Makoto and Akira broke into the Virtual YouTuber scene, their popularity has increased, and generated enough buzz so that OVERDRIVE seriously considered a sequel. While Makoto and Akira are unvoiced in Go! Go! Nippon!, they have the traditional “anime dub” voices as Virtual YouTubers, which makes them sound like RWBY characters. High on my wishlist for Go! Go! Nippon! 2 would be to have some proper dubbing: in particular, Ayano Taketatsu is suited for playing Akira and her tsundere personality, and Ai Kayano similarly could play Makoto: Kayano’s voice has a matronly and warm character to it.

  • Besides complete voice acting, other items on my list include a wider set of destinations, extending north to Hokkaido, and south towards Hiroshima and Kumamoto, or even perhaps Okinawa. Additional things I’d like to see include high resolution character models and 4K support: Go! Go! Nippon!‘s character models look a little fuzzy compared to their CG counterparts and the background artwork, so seeing improved assets would be fantastic. Similarly, Go! Go! Nippon! only goes up to 720p, but even back in 2016, 1080p resolution was already commonplace. A 4K visual novel with 1440p and 1080p settings would bring this series into the present. Beyond these technical aspects, it’ll be exciting to see what OVERDRIVE chooses to do with their next iteration in the series.

  • Reminiscing about my vacation to Japan and Hong Kong in 2017 a full five years later was a fun exercise: since then, I’ve only travelled abroad for business (having gone to Denver to consult on and save an app, and then to Silicon Valley to attend an F8 developer conference). Aside from statuary holidays, I’ve been putting my nose to the grindstone for the past five years, and as a result, my world now is quite different than it had been then. While I had a life-changing experience in Japan, I continue to maintain that it would be most unwise of me to uproot my life and become an expatriate in Japan (as one of my former friends had done, at the expense of their career), but now, things have reached a point where I am able to begin considering a return trip: for me, one of the biggest joys of travel, outside of seeing the world outside my routine and enjoying a culture’s best, is knowing I’ve got a home and a warm bed to return to.

Although travel is doubtlessly a large aspect of Go! Go! Nippon!, the elephant in the room is the fact that this game also has elements of a traditional dating simulator, in which player decisions impact the story’s outcome in a tangible way. The setup in Go! Go! Nippon! prima facie appears implausible, and contemporary reviewers felt the romance aspect in Go! Go! Nippon! to be wedged in as a means of appealing to the demographic most likely to look at such a title. While it is the case that the romance in Go! Go! Nippon! can appear superficial at first glance, Go! Go! Nippon! cleverly utilises the dating sim mechanic to, again, speak to the joys of travel. It is the case that Makoto and Akira can be anthropomorphic representations of what travel entails: there are goods and bads, moments worth remembering, and accidents one would rather forget. When one travels to a destination for the first time, they fall in love with the initial impressions. As one’s experiences broaden, they learn more about the destinations, both the pluses and minuses, ultimately cultivating a unique and distinct collection of memories that accompany them home, and in some cases, creates a yearning to return. With this as a metaphor, it is not so implausible to suppose that one could fall in love with someone as quickly as they do a place. Watching the player depart, and how each of Makoto and Akira handle this moment, brings to mind what happens at the end of a vacation: there always is a desire to extend one’s stay, to do more. This aspect of Go! Go! Nippon! proves surprisingly enduring, and it is, curiously enough, through a dating sim setup that different facets of travel can be explored. I imagine that OVERDRIVE had initially designed this more as a piece to ensure players would gain the classic dating simulator experience when going through Go! Go! Nippon!, but the consequences of this element, intentional or not, is that it brings additional depth and enjoyment to the game. Curiosity to see what happens when one makes different decisions to see how things with Makoto and Akira turn out also pushes one to visit, and learn about, different spots. Getting to know Tokyo and its surroundings better, then, is analogous to getting to know Makoto and Akira better. On my first run of this game, making decisions as I would in reality earned me what is considered the “best end” for Makoto: I received a kokuhaku and the story allowed us to reunite. This speaks volumes about my character, but jokes notwithstanding, I would very much like to visit Japan again in the future. Until then, Steam is suggesting that I’ve still got about a quarter of the achievements to unlock in Go! Go! Nippon!, and its successor, Go! Go! Nippon! 2, looks like it’s going to be a reality now, so I’m curious to see what this entails. This time around, I will try to complete Go! Go! Nippon! 2 at least once before planning out a return trip to the Land of the Rising Sun.

Boundary: Reflections and Impressions From the SteamFest Alpha Demo

“For the wise man looks into space and he knows there is no limited dimensions.” –Zhuangzi

While perusing through a copy of PC Gamer back in 2008 at the local supermarket, I came upon an intriguing featured article detailing a game that had been particularly novel. The premise was that a mining accident that rends the lunar surface, sending billions upon billions of tonnes of lunar material into near-Earth space, damaging infrastructure and threatening to destroy the moon itself. Amidst the ruins, the International Space Agency (ISA), who enforce stellar law, and the Moon Mining Cooperative (MMC), a massive corporation who sought to profit from space mining operations, find themselves spiralling towards an inevitable armed conflict as the ISA seek to bring the MMC to justice and control the limited resources to ensure their survival. Players take control of soldiers and fight with full freedom of movement in a zero-gravity environment. Built for the most cutting-edge PC hardware of its time, Shattered Horizon represented a bold new direction for first person shooters, and despite providing six degrees of freedom with respect to its movement, the game proved intuitive, enjoyable and challenging for players. The only real downside was that one needed heftier PC hardware of the time to play the game (a Core 2 Quad Q6600, GTX 260 and 2 GB of RAM); while the game was counted as lacking in a single-player mode and AI bots to train against, overall, Shattered Horizon was praised for its movement system, unique atmosphere and engaging mechanics. A future update did end up adding a campaign and AI bots, but in 2014, Shattered Horizon was stricken from the Steam Store: the game’s developers, Futuremark, was bought out by Rovio Entertainment, and Futuremark announced that their inability to support the game meant it was unfair to players who picked the game up late in its lifecycle, as they would receive no new updates or content. Attempts to bring first person shooters into space had proven quite unsuccessful: 2013’s Call of Duty: Ghosts, and 2016’s Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare represented bold stabs at elevating interest in zero-gravity firefights, but were met with cold reception. However, in January of last year, Studio Surgical Scalpels announced a ground-breaking new project called Boundary, and in its trailer, heavily-armoured astronauts were shown flying through the depths of space, engaged in a harrowing firefight amidst the super-structure and narrow corridors of a space station while debris filled the space from the flying bullets. The aesthetic conveyed in this trailer immediately brought to mind Shattered Horizon, as though the game had been resurrected and given a makeover to capitalise on graphics and visual effects resulting from over a decade of advancement. Although intriguing, Boundary fell from my mind until last Wednesday, when I caught wind of the fact that Boundary would be participating in SteamFest, a time of celebrating upcoming games.

After installing the client, joining my first match and winning thanks to beginner’s luck, I spent the past several days playing through Boundary‘s alpha demo to gain a feel for things. Out of the gates, the roughest aspect to acclimatise to was getting stuck in the level geometries. There were moments where I would land on a surface, then attempt to peek a corner, only to get stuck there. Only a frenzied alternating between engaging the thrusters and rising would dislodge me from this surface, and on several occasions, this led to my getting killed. Similarly, after I latched down on a solar panel and prepared to snipe a target, inconsistent movement would lead me to unexpectedly stop aiming down sights, and the foe I’d been tracking would disappear from sight by the time I found a position from which to aim down sights again. Both faults in the movement system resulted in my dying to a player who was doubtlessly enjoying my predicament. Besides the janky movement on surfaces, Boundary‘s UI and UX are very rough. The user interface is cluttered. Menus are difficult to navigate, and it is difficult to determine what one can interact with. Button text fails to describe what a button does, and sometimes can be downright misleading: I accidentally joined the wrong game mode on more than one occasion. In game, the HUD is messy, with elements being difficult to read, and a massive alpha banner covers the lower left-hand side of the screen, blocking one from spotting enemies from that side. Similarly, directional indicators cover the entire screen, obscuring the enemies themselves. The user experience is also tricky in places; switching one’s loadout requires numerous button presses and diving into menus to change out weapons or attachments. The font sizes are on the small size, making things difficult to read, and menus are filled with text. In terms of gameplay, enemy visibility is limited, and the game offers very little in the way of identifying where foes are coming from. On more than one instance, I spawned into the map, only to die instantly from a sniper, or found myself shot in the back before I could respond. In close quarters environments, raising a weapon up to aim down sights is sluggish, as is changing out my weapons – trying to combo ordnance usage into using a primary or secondary weapon to finish a foe off is not viable, and running out of ammunition mid-firefight can be a death sentence, since swapping over to my sidearm is slow. However, enemy visibility and postion identification, together with the slow ADS and weapon swap, is very much a part of the tactical shooter experience in that one must take full advantage of the environment for cover, and understand their gear’s limitations to determine when is an appropriate time to change things up. Further to this, because Boundary is in alpha stage, the UX and UI can still be improved: compared to game mechanics, UI and UX elements are often the easiest to change. Similarly, the movement and environment geometries could also be updated to be a little smoother in places. While it looks like I’ve rattled off a long list of problems, it is quite telling that most of my gripes about Boundary are either related to UI/UX, or my own lack of familiarity with the mechanics. Indeed, once I began feeling more comfortable with things, I found myself having fun – towards the end of the demo period, I had a positive KDR and was winning more games than I lost.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • There were three playable classes in Boundary‘s demo: Sergeyev is the default assault, featuring high health and decent mobility. Armed with an AKM, Sergeyev is a good all-around class for attack and defense. All classes are equipped with two ordnance options, as well as two special abilities, and by default, players start with high explosive grenades and EMP rounds. The former can quickly make short work of foes at the expense of having a long switch time, while the latter disable enemy movement for a brief period and can make for follow-up shots.

  • When a player is “killed”, their spacesuits have suffered enough damage to become punctured. In this state, an emergency balloon inflates around the player to keep them alive. In this state, players can be revived by allies, although this act leaves them vulnerable to enemy fire, and during the six hours I spent in Boundary, I was never once revived, nor did I feel comfortable reviving a downed friendly player because of the prospect of being fired upon. In the end, it was much easier to just respawn and keep going, although this only worked because I was playing the Domination mode. The other mode that Boundary‘s demo offers is Elimination in a Counterstrike or Rainbow Six: Siege like mode. The lack of respawns make this mode punishing, and I opted to play Domination for the fact that one could get back into things after being killed.

  • Initially, I did have some trouble adjusting to the AKM’s recoil, but once I did, the weapon did become more manageable to use. In discussions, some have wondered how automatic weapons could work in space: while it is possible to fire a gun in space because the ammunition contains its own oxidiser, and a quick look around finds that both recoil and gas-operated mechanisms could work in space. Recoil operated weapons continue to function because the act of firing a bullet would adhere to Newton’s Third Law, and the chemical reaction between the oxidiser and propellant in a bullet would produce the gas needed to cycle a weapon. Special modifications would need to be made in order for the weapons to operate efficiently, but this is not outside the realm of possibility with existing technology.

  • Despite knowing that the “space” environment is merely a very well-rendered skybox, this hasn’t stopped the visuals in Boundary from being gorgeous. All of the maps look stunning, and here, I score a kill with the AKM on a foe while I traverse the solar panel on one of the maps. The sun and a planet are visible below, and more impressively, reflections can be seen in the solar panel mirror. Boundary has support for real-time ray tracing, although an RTX 2060 or better is required to make full use of the graphics, but even on the GTX 1060 6 GB model, Boundary is a beautiful-looking game whose aesthetic is definitely worthy of Shattered Horizon.

  • Alexandra is the second class available in Boundary; by default, she carries an LMG with sixty rounds, and of all the classes, has both the largest health pool and highest armour amount. In exchange, her mobility is greatly reduced. I found the LMG to be a decent weapon for closer range engagements: at medium and long range, one needs to tap-fire to reduce bullet spread. Having the extra armour and health is nice, especially since one can get attacked from all directions. Over time, as I levelled up each of the classes, weapon attachments became available to me, and I found that Boundary allows one to try out new attachments in a firing range that is accessible from the weapon mod menu.

  • This part of Boundary was excellent design: one feature missing from modern first person shooters is the ability to immediately try out their weapons with the latest mods to see how handling and performance has changed. In this area, Boundary has absolutely nailed it, and games like Call of Duty and Battlefield could take a leaf from Boundary‘s book. After experimenting, I found one sight that proved particularly fun to use for the GSW-MG, Alexandra’s starting weapon. Firing from the hip is not too effective with the heavier weapons in Boundary, but in a pinch, one can do well enough in extreme close quarters; the large circle here indicates the region in which bullets fired will land, showing the extent of spread when hip-firing.

  • After unlocking Sergeyev’s second weapon, the Mosin-Nagant bolt-action rifle, my experience in Boundary changed completely, and here, I scored a double kill with it. Throughout my time in Boundary, I would go on to earn several more double kills with the GSW-MG and later, Yao Yi’s submachine guns. However, in a manner reminiscent of my Halo 2 Vista days, capturing the double kill badge proved quite tricky: even with Steam’s screenshot function, badges disappeared before I could reach for the button, so this ended up being the only double kill badge I captured. Because Boundary‘s games are five-versus-five, multi-kills are a bit of a feat, so one could say that double kills are a sign of improving in the game.

  • The combination of unlocking good ranged weapons and attachments, coupled with my becoming more familiar with the mechanics in Boundary, meant I would begin performing better in later matches to the point where I was going KD-positive and contributing to my team’s ability to keep the entire map locked down. On the other hand, during some matches, my team either did not care for playing the objective or otherwise, was simply outperformed.

  • Unlike Shattered HorizonBoundary only has local sounds audible to the player: one’s own movement and gunfire can be heard, but beyond this, other players cannot be heard at all. Shattered Horizon had gotten around this by keeping sounds and stating that complex processing allowed for sounds to be simulated. In tactical shooters, players must depend on audio cues to determine their foe’s position, and since this is absent in Boundary, it does create for gripping moments where one has no idea where the enemies are coming from. I do not think Boundary will add mechanics for helping one determine where enemy players are, since one could also use this stealthiness to their own advantage.

  • Here, I experiment with Alexandra’s GSW-TAR (I’d hazard a guess that this stands for Tactical Assault Rifle), a burst-fire weapon carrying a maximum capacity of twenty-five rounds and one more round in the chamber by default. This weapon proved fun to use, handling like Halo 2‘s battle rifle, and although I didn’t get around to unlocking it, there is a forty-round extended magazine available if one ranks Alexandra up far enough, which would turn the GSW-TAR into a battle rifle more closely resembling Halo 2‘s.

  • Domination matches are short and intense, lasting a total of ten minutes; at the halfway point, the opposing teams switch spawns so the match is a little more fair. Maps aren’t symmetrical, and the developers do this so any advantages one gains in one half the map are offset by playing on the less favourable side, bringing to mind how in ice hockey and beach volleyball both have teams switching sides to offset any advantages the weather might confer. However, during lulls in the combat, one can really appreciate how well-designed the maps are, as well as admire the scenery: it strikes me as curious that the planets appear to be different on some of the maps, and here, on one of the larger space stations, it would appear as though I were orbiting a desolate, uninhabited planet.

  • Alexandra’s GSW-AMR (Anti-Materiel Rifle) is the most powerful weapon in Boundary‘s demo; per its name, it does the most damage per shot and is limited to a three round capacity. While immensely powerful on a per-shot basis, the weapon is hampered by the fact that it obscures half the screen when equipped, and together with a low rate of fire in addition to its small magazine capacity, the GSW-AMR is actually less effectual than Sergeyev’s Mosin-Nagant, which has a larger capacity, slightly faster firing rate and the fact it doesn’t obstruct half the screen.

  • The Boundary demo ends tomorrow at 1000 PST, but I’ve decided to call it in early: while I’ve had no shortage of fun with this demo, real-world circumstances meant that I have increasingly less time to game. Yesterday, I spent the day clearing out bookshelves and wall units to get everything packed up ahead of the move, and ended up picking up dinner from our favourite Cantonese restaurant (seafood fried rice, sweet and sour pork, Chinese broccoli and seafood, deep fried oysters and mushrooms, Buddha’s Delight, and a chicken and seafood medley cooked in a clay pot): nothing beats a hearty meal after a day’s work. It was surprising as to how quickly an afternoon disappeared.

  • Today, my morning was directed towards assembling the new ergonomic task chair I’d picked up last weekend. A proper task chair is leagues ahead of a “good gaming chair” in terms of comfort, and the chair I ended up going with offers fully adjustable seat height, armrests, and a mesh back rest that fits the contours of my back (the back rest itself is fully adjustable). Altogether, the task chair runs rings around a gaming chair in terms of comfort, practicality and aesthetics; I’d much rather have an inconspicuous and functional chair for my home office space, versus something whose ability to elevate my gaming and development prowess is little more than an urban legend originating from the internet’s less scrupulous corners.

  • The third and final operator, Yao Yi, unlocked on Friday – she’s the fastest moving class in Boundary, sporting the highest mobility at the expense of health and armour. By default, Yao Yi is equipped with the GSW-SMG, a solid close quarters submachine gun with high RPM and solid hip-fire performance. I ended up getting a double kill in close quarters whilst clearing it of foes. Excelling in close quarters scenarios, Yao Yi proved to be extremely fun to use, although with her, it’s advisable to stay near or inside structures, since her weapons are all about short-range engagement.

  • Yao Yi also comes with a shotgun, but I never found this quite as effective as the GSW-SMG: during the first match I played with Yao Yi, I was absolutely shredding with the GSW-SMG despite having no attachments unlocked for my weapons. Traditionally, I’ve preferred close quarters environments as a result of being ineffective with snipers; in my Halo 2 days, I always found the most success by getting up close and personal with foes, whether it be using the battle rifle and melee to stop my enemies, or picking up the power weapons optimised for close-range combat. Battlefield led me to become more comfortable with sniping, and nowadays, I freely switch between long and short ranges depending on what the situation calls for.

  • One mechanic I found to increase the tactical piece in Boundary was the fact that one could patch up their spacesuit if they’d survived a firefight narrowly: the process takes a set amount of time (Yao Yi’s light armour means she can repair sooner, while Sergeyev and Alexandra both take a longer since their armour is heavier), and during repairs, one cannot use their weapons, so players are forced to make a split-second decision on whether or not they want to repair before entering their next firefight. Because of the lack of motion trackers and other means of determining the positions of hostiles, the few seconds it takes to repair can be quite suspenseful.

  • As I became increasingly familiar with Boundary‘s mechanics, sniping became increasingly enjoyable. I found that it was best to hang back from the combat if one were using a slower-firing weapon and pick foes off from a distance (resulting in a Long Shot badge here); if one continues staring down a foe, they become automatically spotted for a while, and their position is revealed to the opposing team. To let players know of this, a test indicator warns players if they’re spotted, giving them a chance to get to cover and wait things out.

  • I believe that overall, there were four maps available to players during Boundary‘s demo: a solar power station, a large space station with a pair of shuttles docked, a partially-assembled space hotel and a linear facility resembling the International Space Station. Each of these maps have a unique aesthetic and are fun to explore, but unfortunately, Boundary‘s demo did not indicate to players which map they were joining after successfully match-making to a server. Knowing the map can impact one’s choice of loadout, and in all shooters I’ve played previously, the loading screen makes it clear which map a user is joining.

  • For instance, on the International Space Station-like map, I prefer equipping the Mosin-Nagant because there are long sightlines, and very few obstructions, making the weapon highly effective; after unlocking the 8x optics for the Mosin-Nagant, I was able to pick enemies off from across the map. While the Mosin-Nagant is slower-firing, using the high explosives ordnance or sidearm, modified to fire on full automatic, allowed me to hold my own in situations where enemies had managed to close the distance on me, and here, I landed a satisfying headshot on an enemy while the planet’s curvature is visible above.

  • Boundary features a full-featured customisation system for both weapon attachments and cosmetics: using an operator unlocks more weapons, attachment and customisation options, while match performance also yields credits that can be used towards player customisation. For most of my run, I ran the default appearances for most everything: all of the guns in Boundary start out with an astronaut-white finish, matching the spacesuit that I had. However, the accumulated points would allow me to pick up different spacesuit textures, accessories for my helmet and even a shoulder badge. These have no impact on gameplay, but admittedly, the weapon skins and accessories do look quite nice.

  • Studio Surgical Scalpels, the developers behind Boundary, is a Chinese company located in Shenzhen, Guangzhou Province. They were originally founded in 2015 by four experienced game developers and have since expanded to ten employees. The Chinese origins of Boundary are apparent in some of the assets and artwork used in the game: patches with Simplified Chinese characters are common, and I actually found myself running into a host of players with handles consisting of all Simplified Chinese characters, including an unfortunate player here that I ended up shooting in the face.

  • Seeing Chinese players, and the occasional Japanese player, led me to wonder what things are like on the other side of the world; I’ve previously read that in China, internet cafés are popular amongst the technologically-inclined crowd, who enjoy them for providing reliable high speed internet and act as hubs for socialising with other users. South Korea and Japan also has a strong internet café culture: in South Korea, gamers are fond of hanging out here, while in Japan, internet cafés offer patrons services like dining and showers. The range of services offered by Japanese internet cafés has created a social phenomenon called “net café refugees”, homeless individuals who have no permanent address and find accommodations in internet cafés owing to their low rates.

  • This phenomenon is touched upon in Makoto Shinkai’s Weathering With You: after Hodaka arrived in Tokyo, he resided at internet cafés until his funds ran dry, and luck sent him on a path towards Keisuke Suga and Hina Amano. In North America, internet cafés fell out of popularity in the late 90s as homes became wired with increasingly capable connections. Here, in a moment of pure luck, I shoot the lights out to a fellow who had been picking off teammates on server I was on: shinobaeTV is a Twitch streamer who specialises in FPS and primarily plays Escape From Tarkov.

  • While I’ve occasionally run into some streamers during my online escapades, I’ve never actually encountered my favourite Battlefield YouTubers before. There is little doubt that folks who make their living making videos about first person shooters would be uncommonly skilled with them; by comparison, I can be said to “dabble” in video games, playing for my own enjoyment above all else. Admittedly, I was wondering if I should participate in Boundary‘s demo at all because over the past few years, my inclination to play multiplayer games have dropped considerably, and from disuse, my skills have evaporated.

  • Playing through Boundary‘s demo, however, I quickly learnt that while my reflexes are certainly not what they were, patience became my greatest asset. I did the best in matches where I anticipated my opponents’ movements and positioning, and then reacted accordingly with the tools available to me. While my speed and aim are no longer enough to out-perform someone younger, I can capitalise on things like flanking and map knowledge to nonetheless hold my own. Indeed, it was in this way that towards the end of my time in the demo, I was able to consistently go KDR positive.

  • One thing that might need to be dialed back for the final release is the fact that the ordnance players have access to are exceedingly powerful: a volley of high explosive grenades can wipe even Alexandra out, and here, I got hit with an EMP barrage. EMP rounds disable one’s thrusters, leaving them to float helplessly in space, but in spite of this, I managed to turn Yao Yi’s GSW-PCC, a weapon resembling the P90, against this foe, surprising them: just because one is drifting doesn’t mean they’re defenseless, and determined players can still survive even when their ability to move around is significantly degraded.

  • One thing I did notice (and found hilarious) was the number of kill-trades I had in Boundary: a “trade” occurs when both players act in a way as to defeat one another simultaneously. In one particularly unusual match, I ended up with a KDR of exactly 1:1 because every death I incurred, I traded with my opponent. In games, trades are usually considered to be a sign of weak netcode or bad design; Battlefield 4 had been notorious for kill-trades back in the day, although numerous patches and updates to the backend rectified the issue. Here, I narrowly managed to avoid a trade on virtue of having heavier armour while playing as Alexandra.

  • Having now roughly put in about six hours into Boundary, the lingering question is whether or not this game will join my (considerable) library of other titles. While I did have a handful of frustrating moments initially while learning the mechanics and map layout, once I became more familiar with the game, I was having quite a bit of fun. There is no denying that Studio Surgical Scalpels have done a phenomenal job of bringing 2009’s Shattered Horizon to life in Boundary, and this has certainly been a worthwhile game to experience. My verdict at present is that this game is something I’d like to see a little more to before I make a concrete decision: Boundary has all of the right things in place, and for now, having a bit more information will help me out with said decision.

  • Altogether, I am glad to have taken the time to try out Boundary, which allowed me to experience a space tactical shooter (something I’ve been longing to do since reading about Shattered Horizon years earlier); the idea of a proper space shooter is one that still remains relatively unexplored, and it is fantastic to be able to play a game that is very much grounded in reality. With this post in the books, we exit the last weekend of Februrary, and here, I will close off with two remarks. First, I will note that I’ve got one more post lined up before the month is over, for the #AniTwitWatches Girls und Panzer revisit, and second, Boundary came up a bit unexpectedly. With the SteamFest demo over, I will be returning my efforts into Project Wingman as I aim to move towards the game’s halfway point.

Overall, Boundary‘s greatest strength is in its aesthetics. Everything about Boundary conveys the feeling of an authentic tactical space shooter; the astronauts themselves wear bulky, heavily-armoured spacesuits and make use of a large, highly-evolved version of the Manned Maneuvering Unit (MMU) that NASA utilised in 1984. The spacesuits provide the astronauts with access to a pair of ordnance launchers and other equipment, as well as additional functions that specialise each astronaut type in its role. The environments are similarly detailed, feeling as though they are the types of facilities that are extensions of what current space programmes can already construct. Interiors of space stations feel like slightly more sophisticated versions of the International Space Station or Tiangong, while exteriors make use of the same scaffolding and solar panels as seen in reality. The slow, methodical movement systems gives players a sense of mass despite the apparent weightlessness, and the weapons themselves feel realistic; they resemble modern firearms modified to work in space. The movement system and six degrees of freedom, coupled with the chaotic space station environments and lack of motion trackers, mean that players must constantly keep their heads on a swivel – foes can come from any direction, and similarly, one can utilise full freedom of motion to ambush unsuspecting players. The weapons themselves feel modestly powerful, and the in-game explanation for how spacesuits survive damage from firearms is grounded in reality: the spacesuits themselves are vulnerable to fire, but players wear varying amounts of armour that absorb and deflect bullets. Careful aim is needed to hit weak points (for instance, a single shot to the helmet will take a player out of the fight), and hitting the MMU or armour plates deal reduced damage. The mechanics also forces players to be strategic in how they approach firefights; if one comes out of a firefight alive, they must also find a safe place to patch up their spacesuit, during which they will be vulnerable to enemy action. In the time I’ve spent with Boundary, it is clear that the tactical aspect of this tactical shooter is well-thought out, and the core gameplay elements are solid. Further to this, despite looking amazing, Boundary does run well on even older systems. Altogether, Boundary has succeeded in bringing Shattered Horizon into the 2020s – the game looks great, handles reasonably well and only has a few areas where it needs improvement. Beyond this, Studio Surgical Scalpels have done an incredible job with Boundary, and while I’m still on the fence about whether or not this game will enter my library once it is launched on account of my erratic schedule, the game has proven to be very promising and has what it takes to set itself apart from the giants of the industry.

A Private Ragnarok Online Experience and Recalling 2008’s Total Lunar Eclipse

Nostalgia is the only friend that stays with you forever.” –Damien Echols.

Fourteen years earlier, the moon passed into the Earth’s shadow. For a nearly a full fifty minutes, the moon shone with a bright red and copper hues, corresponding to a L4 on the Danjon scale. This lunar eclipse could be seen from almost the whole of North America, and more unusually, the eclipsed occurred at a reasonable hour: totality began at 2001 local time, and back in those days, as a student, I would be preparing to wrap up the evening. A glance outside allowed me to witness one of the brightest and most memorable lunar eclipses I’d ever seen, and since then, I’ve managed to catch a few other total lunar eclipses, with 2015 and 2018 both seeing “supermoon” eclipses. In 2015, I was sitting down to moon cakes when the lunar eclipse occurred and three years later, I pulled myself away from Battlefield 1 to gaze up at the moon. However, the 2008 lunar eclipse remains special to me: that evening, I’d just hopped onto my friend’s private Ragnarok Online server to meet up with some mates who were getting into things for the first time. Since I’d been fully leveled, I was asked to look over a friend who was just starting out as a mage: the bridge north of the mage town was host to weaker monsters, and this proved to be a good place to begin levelling up for starting mages. I therefore spent thirty minutes walking the friend through some essential spells, and at half hour’s end, said friend had enough experience to begin exploring spells of their own. I sent a message back to my other friends, the server host, and remarked that we were on our way to familiarising ourselves with the mechanics: this friend would later go on to host the World of Warcraft private server, and here, our interest had been to engage in Ragnarok Online‘s War of Emperium guild wars, in which guilds attempt to conquer castles. In order to reach such a point, all participants needed to be familiar with Ragnarok Online‘s mechanics, and so, I spent most of my hours after my studies had concluded in Payon Dungeon with another friend who played an assassin. Together, we slaughtered our way through the first three floors and concluded that the final floor was not worth taking on without more people. In addition, I would occasionally accompany my assassin friend to Morroc Pyramid. In this way, many an evening was spent exploring Ragnarok Online: back in those days, coursework had been remarkably light, and I found myself steamrolling all of my studies, affording me time to go exploring with friends before we migrated over to the World of Warcraft private server.

Ragnarok Online represented my first-ever MMORPG, a Korean game based on a manhwa that first released in 2002. By the time my friend had set a server up, the game had been around for six years. Using two-dimensional character sprites, what stood out to me about Ragnarok Online had been how adorable the player sprites were. However, underlying the game’s simple visuals was an entire world to explore – at that point in time, I’d primarily played sandbox simulation games like Sim City, or first person shooters like 007 Nightfire, Half-Life 2 and Halo. The idea of an open-world RPG was new to me, and I would come to most enjoy the act of exploring new areas in the world of Ragnarok Online: the game’s colourful environments and a remarkably relaxing soundtrack meant in the overworld, I was free to explore areas without worrying about dying to mobs. On evenings where I’d finished my coursework ahead of my friends, I spent time exploring the fields surrounding Prontera and Geffen at my own pace. As time wore on, the server host recommended that I go on over to Payon to power-level my mage, whose Soul Strike capability was especially powerful against undead foes. It was here that I spent hours farming the undead, and over time, I eventually built a formidable wizard with access to potent spells for area-denial. On evenings where my friends were available, we would work together on dungeon crawls. A few weeks after the lunar eclipse, we’d been powerful enough to trivially slaughter mobs on lower floors before reaching the bosses. Before midterm exams began, we were able to defeat Payon Dungeon’s boss, Moonlight Flower: we had a crusader to fulfil the role of a tank, an alchemist for healing and buffs, and an assassin for DPS. In conjunction with my wizard’s devastating spells, our party smashed Moonlight Flower, and at this point, my friend was satisfied that we were ready to try some PvP in War of Emperium. As fun as these group events were, I was always at my happiest when I was exploring, and after I entered university, my friend sent me the server files so I could host my own private server. On a December morning after my first year exams ended, I got my server up and running, ready for me to continue exploring from where I’d left off a few years earlier.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • It’s been over a decade since I last wandered Rune-Midgarts on my private private server, and it took a few moments for me to adjust to the controls again. Player movement in Ragnarok Online is mouse-based, and the WASD keys aren’t bound to anything. Similarly, spells and abilities are engaged through the function keys rather than the number keys. These differences mean I would need to fumble through a different mindset, and I’m glad that my objectives in Ragnarok Online aren’t to play War of Emperium or go on dungeon crawls nowadays, as my muscle memory for this game is nonexistent.

  • On the other hand, I have no trouble with exploring the world of Rune-Midgarts in Ragnarok Online: after exiting the city of Prontera, I headed out over into the fields surrounding the area and prepared to walk over to Geffen. When I first started out, my friends (among them the server host) suggested that I play a mage based on my personality traits; there is a bit of a meta game in MMORPGs in that classes do seem to reflect an individual. In Ragnarok Online, foes often have elemental traits that make them more or less vulnerable to certain kinds of magic.

  • I headed over to Geffen to do my job change. In Ragnarok Online, mages are the casters, and to level, being a fire mage is a suitable build to go for. My friends actually suggested I go with a bolt build and specialise in soul strike, since at the time, they were interested in dungeon play. Payon Cave became our go-to haunt, and this proved to be the perfect place to power-level, since Soul Strike does bonus damage against undead foes. Besides myself, the server host played a crusader, and one of my other friends became an assassin.

  • Once my friend’s private server had opened, my life settled into a pattern: I would capitalise on the fact that there was so much self-study time to finish all of my assignments, wrap up anything I’d missed at home and go through all of my lecture notes so I was confident I got that particular lesson before dinner, and then after dinner, I would sign in and join my assassin friend to clear out mobs in the easier floors of a given dungeon. Payon Cave and Morroc Pyramid were are favourite places to visit, and the server host actually would create a custom teleporter for us so we could reach our favourite dungeons more easily.

  • On most evenings, the host and a few other players would join us on our dungeon adventures, as well. To help things along, my friend had set the server’s experience gain level to nearly nine times that of the normal rate so we could reach the endgame more quickly, become comfortable with our class’ chosen powers, and so, begin to really do the activities that the server had been set up for: War of Emperium.

  • Because of Payon’s proximity to Payon Cave, this spot ended up being the hub for most of our activities. We would gather here and trade off potions ahead of dungeon crawls, use the text chat to discuss both the evening’s game plan and other topics, and over time, Payon ended up being our Barrens Chat of sorts; upon returning home from school, everyone would sign in, leave their characters here and chat on topics from our plans for the weekend, to helping one another out regarding the day’s lessons: back then, several of us used MSN messenger to chat, but some friends didn’t have MSN, so Ragnarok Online‘s chat client became our go-to.

  • I believe that it was in January when the server first started; I vaguely remember that back then, my term had been sufficiently easy so I could go through my coursework, participate in yearbook activities and have enough time left over to both play Ragnarok Online and watch Gundam 00. Things eventually slowed down once the new year arrived, and while we gained several new players through friends who’d been curious, a few weeks after the lunar eclipse, my friend was already eying the setup of a World of Warcraft server.

  • However, we did end up gathering at his place for War of Emperium events on more than one occasion before the World of Warcraft server went live. These early LAN parties required quite a bit of setup, and I remember that the first time we did such an event, it took over two hours for everyone to be properly kitted out, organised into teams and for my friend to find the server commands needed to manage a War of Emperium event. During this event, I was destroyed because I didn’t fully understand the wizard’s capabilities. On our second War of Emperium event, I’d become a full-fledged Wizard and had all of my spells fully-leveled.

  • This proved to be a game changer: my teammates positioned me at the entrance way with an alchemist and an assassin. The plan had been to wait for the attackers to enter, and then have me use my powerful array of AoE spells to lock down the chokepoint, while the alchemist kept my health and mana topped off, and the assassin would pick off anyone who’d gotten through. On defense, my team ended up very successful on defense, although since my spells were slow to charge, we proved less efficacious on offense, and that day’s War of Emperium ended in a draw.

  • After the last War of Emperium event, my friend moved us over to World of Warcraft, and Ragnarok Online became forgotten. I ended up requesting (and receiving) the server files from said friend so I could continue exploring Ragnarok Online at my own pace; the server host and I had visited several notable locations in Ragnarok Online, including the “unfinished village” that would later become Moscovia, a Russian-themed town that acts as an entrance to the area’s dungeon. However, with my own server, I had unlimited time to explore.

  • My private server was truly private in that it was not configured for others to connect to it; while creating an immensely lonely experience, a far cry from the experiences I had during my friend’s Ragnarok Online heydays, having an entire server to myself meant I could check out some of the most unique places in the whole of the game that we’d never even set foot in. Kunlun is one such place, a Taiwanese-themed town floating high above the clouds. Kunlun is counted as the most romantic place in the whole of Rangarok Online, and others have done in-game weddings here owing to the setting.

  • Kunlun’s theme is one of my favourite pieces of background music in Ragnarok Online, a game whose incidental music is of a very high standard. Whether it be a consequence of hearing these songs non-stop when I first played the game, the fact that the music itself is immensely relaxing, or a combination of the two, nostalgia immediately sets in whenever I hear any of the background themes to the major cities: Prontera, Payon and Geffen have some wonderful songs, as well. As it turns out, I’m not the only one who feels this way: folks who grew up around Ragnarok Online have similarly found the music to be cathartic, bringing back memories of an older, simpler time.

  • The edges of Kunlun town are ringed with floating islands that can be visited. Looking back, I’m not sure if any of my friends had ever visited Kunlun’s floating islands; most of our time had been spent blasting stuff in fields and dungeons surrounding Prontera, Geffen. Morroc and Payon, as well as gearing up for War of Emperium events. In the past fourteen or so years, I’ve come to really appreciate the elegance in Ragnarok Online‘s design; maps are standalone tiles linked by portals, and this made it easy to add new content to the game without altering the game world. Conversely, when Blizzard updates World of Warcraft, changes to the central maps had far-reaching consequences.

  • At some point during my private server experience fourteen years earlier, my friend invited me to check out some of the places he felt were the most novel; when this happened was lost to time, but I imagine that it was during the winter break, after we’d both finished our exams. My friend thus brought me over to the “unfinished town” of Moscovia, which did not have NPCs or any assets on his server version. I ended up updating my server so that it would have the completed town, and this makes all the difference. Originally, Moscovia could not be reached, although after I ran the update, a boat in Alberta provides access to this area.

  • If I had to guess, Ragnarok Online likely uses the same tile system that Sim City 4 uses, employing a combination of 3D assets and 2D sprites to build the game world. Although contemporary titles far surpass anything in Ragnarok Online in terms of visuals, the older graphics have a unique charm about them. It suddenly hits me that, given that Ragnarok Online itself is two decades old now, I imagine that a mid-end smartphone would have the computational power to run such a game, and with a few tweaks to the UI, Ragnarok Online could definitely be made to run on a tablet.

  • With this in mind, Gravity has released a mobile version of Ragnarok Online for Android devices with visuals far surpassing those of the original, speaking to how far technology has come. Back in Ragnarok Online, I continue exploring the Russian-themed architecture of Moscovia; like Kunlun, there’s an entrance to a dungeon in this map, and the area is steeped in lore. The Ragnarok Online and World of Warcraft that I know are quiet places, but I’ve seen gameplay footage on official servers; every nook and cranny of the map is populated, creating a much richer world.

  • If my memory is not mistaken, I played Ragnarok Online during January, as I’d just picked up a new Dell XPS 420 to replace an aging computer from the early 2000s. The jump to a Q6600 Core 2 Quad,  3 GB of RAM and an ATI HD 2600 XT meant I was able to play my favourite games of the day, including Halo 2 Vista and Half-Life 2 without any difficulty, and performance remained quite good even with newer titles like Team Fortress 2 and Borderlands. However, the best games of the day, like Crysis and Battlefield 3 gave my machine difficulties owing to the weaker GPU. In the end, the Dell XPS 420 served for a total of five years; it was sufficient for my undergraduate programme, but as the RAM modules began to age and overheat, my machine began to perform poorly. I subsequently built a new desktop, and this machine has served me until the present.

  • The last place I chose to visit for this recollection is Amatsu, a Japanese-themed city where sakura blossoms are in eternal bloom. This town is host to the Amatsu Dungeon, which can only be entered after completing a quest. Questing in Ragnarok Online is a ways more complex than they are in something like World of Warcraft and require a bit of patience to complete, especially since individuals of interest can be quite tricky to find. Quests do explore lore in a meaningful way, but on the flipside, unlike World of Warcraft, the rewards can seem paltry in comparison to the time it takes to complete them.

  • Ragnarok Online actually had no quest tracker at launch, and this feature was implemented a few years later. Even then, during my original run of Ragnarok Online, I never bothered to do any quests, and instead, simply levelled up by beating up monsters in dungeons and fields. With this, I’ve fulfilled a promise to bring my old private server back to life; since I do have a running server again, I may return at some point to write about other places in Ragnarok Online: Yuno was another area I was particularly fond of, and I’ve yet to visit the Christmas fields, as well.

  • Here, I climb out to a viewpoint overlooking the bridge immediately west of Geffen: the bridge north of Geffen is infested with higher level monsters and is unsuited for beginners, but the west bridge is much friendlier, being the place where I walked another friend through the basics of Ragnarok Online some fourteen years earlier. According to my astronomy charts, the next lunar eclipse visible from North America will be in May 2022, although this is only a partial solar eclipse.

Since I received the files for my own private server, I utilised my private server to acquire screenshots and recall my experiences for my old website. However, the server files otherwise remained unused – during university, I spent most of my time playing Halo 2 Vista, and when servers for that shut down, I migrated over to Team Fortress 2. Ragnarok Online and World of Warcraft both fell from my mind until a desire to explore Pandaria bought me back into World of Warcraft. After being unceremoniously kicked from a dungeon in World of Warcraft a few years back, I ended up spinning up my own Wrath of the Lich King server so I could explore without worrying about being kicked by try-hards. The experience had been phenomenal, and as I tread familiar places like Elwynn Forest and the Eversong Woods, I recalled that I also had a considerable amount of fun with Ragnarok Online. After doing some tuning to get the old server files running, I’ve finally returned to Ragnarok Online some twelve years after I ran my private server for the first time, and fourteen years after the eclipse that had occurred the evening I was getting another friend into Ragnarok Online. Although my private server is now a private private server thanks to how my router is configured (i.e. other players can’t connect unless they’re on my LAN), having an entire server to myself for exploration has been great: for someone such as myself, being able to walk through quiet cities, gentle plains, verdant forest and peaceful coasts while listening to Ragnarok Online‘s wonderful soundtrack has proven to be immensely cathartic, a far cry from the higher-octane games I’ve played through since building a more powerful desktop. Despite its age, Ragnarok Online still has its charm: while the days for my hosting my own War of Emperium events are long past (for one, I’m not sure if any of my old friends have the time to do so), being able to casually walk from Prontera over to Alberta and explore some of Ragnarok Online‘s most unique spots remains highly enjoyable, representing a change of pace from my latest gaming exploits.

ШХД: ЗИМА / IT’S WINTER: A Reflection of the Darkest Season on the Coldest Days of the Year

“He looked at the snowflakes dancing above the fire and remembered the Russian winter with a warm, bright house, a fluffy fur coat, swift sleighs, a healthy body, and all the love and care of a family.” –Leo Tolstoy

I’m standing in a dark kitchen, and there’s a snowfall outside. After retrieving the house keys, I walk down a flight of steps and close an open window before stepping out into the frigid night. There’s no one around: most of the neighbours are already asleep, although I encounter a sparkler that was left in the ground. A faint rumbling noise can be heard in the distance, and I walk on over to the bus station. A snowplow is busy clearing the roads from the snowfall, but there will be no buses at this hour. A sense of tranquility overtakes me: a familiar world is buried under a few inches of snow, drowning out almost all ambient noise (save my own footsteps). After a few minutes, my fingers and ears begin to feel the bite of this winter night. I prepare to head back to my apartment, passing by the local convenience store, whose sign is aglow in a vivid green despite being closed. I return to the warmth of my apartment and gaze outside again before turning off the lights and head for bed, falling asleep under the quiet of a new snow. This is Ilia Mazo’s ШХД: ЗИМА / IT’S WINTER, a recreation of the Хрущёвка (khrushchyovka, literally “Krushchev Slum”, or panel housing) common to the Soviet Union. Although Mazo suggests that IT’S WINTER is meant to convey the endless melancholy of the Soviet Winter, and Russians can attest to the fact that IT’S WINTER accurately captures a world that otherwise remains far from the minds of those who live elsewhere, this title actually does something else, as well: it reminds those who experience it to count their own blessings. After wandering the deserted apartment blocks, my own small unit feels warm and inviting. I’ve got a roof over my head, a well-stocked fridge and a warm bed to return to. While the snow falls outside, I can read a book, watch some TV, listen to the radio or doze off. IT’S WINTER is not a game in a traditional sense: in fact, it lacks the features that make a game (a clearly-defined set of victory or failure conditions), and instead, gives players the freedom to do as they will. Imaginative folks can spend hours mastering the game’s mechanism for a manipulating objects to cook themselves up a fabulous dinner, or else do a bit of reorganisation if they so choose. In this way, IT’S WINTER also speaks to the idea of perspective, of counting one’s blessings: temperatures yesterday reached a low of -34°C before windchill (-40°C with windchill), so rather than braving the biting cold of an otherwise gorgeous day, I ended up staying in and eating tang yuan, at peace with the cold weather and short days.

Seven years earlier, I was enveloped by a sense of bitterness: after the Alberta floods took out any opportunity I had to attempt a kokuhaku, I entered my first term of open studies without resolve or determination. My work suffered for it; besides Japanese history and a course on proteins, I ended up taking a special projects course, where I attempted to continue the work I had done that summer on peer-to-peer networking as a mode for sharing computational loads in multi-system biological simulations. However, I was preoccupied and thus, never made the same progress as I did in previous years: in retrospect, I consider my grade in that course (a B+) to be highly generous, considering I made next to no advancements. That term, I only had the winter anime convention to look forward to, and even that proved to be a disappointment when I learnt that the organisers had unveiled a secret collectable pin available only to those who attended a special session. The winter break came and went, taking with it the festivities and lights of Christmas. During the dark of that year, I fell into a depression that worsened upon finding out the individual I’d been waiting for had begun seeing someone else. In the years following, I’ve associated the winter months after December with misery, darkness and the near-total absence of hope. Combined with the need to frequently shovel the walk, navigate icy roads and deal with bitterly cold weather, the winter does appear to offer people with very little to like. However, in recent years, this stance has softened somewhat: a failed kokuhaku does not render a cup of cocoa any less warming, and even after the last of the Christmas lights are downed, I have the consolation that every day I get through means I’m one day closer to the summer, a time of exploration and joy. Kokuhakus may fail, and darkness may fall upon the world after each summer, but as long as I’ve got it in me to put one foot in front of the other, there will always be something to look forwards to, and something new to work towards.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • When one opens up IT’S WINTER, they’ll always spawn in the dark kitchen of a Soviet-era apartment in the middle of nowhere. Developer Ilia Mazo had stated that IT’S WINTER could be set anywhere in Russia, from the outskirts of Moscow, to the heart of Vorkuta in the Komi Republic, or even the Kolyma region’s Magadan. I quickly glanced around the small but cozy-looking kitchen before deciding that I should get a feel for this small one bedroom, one bathroom apartment before taking a look outside.

  • The bedroom is the largest room in the flat, and there’s a balcony players can walk out to. Russians consider the balcony an essential part of their space, and while they are largely used for storage, some creative residents have transformed balconies into makeshift rooms. While balconies and patios are great for places where it’s summer for at least six months of the year, in somewhere like Russia or Canada, I would prefer more interior space instead: a lot of condominiums in my area have balconies, and while they’d be a brilliant space during the summer, we recall that in Alberta, winter dominates for up to eight months of the year.

  • I’d much rather have more interior space for something like a home office or reading nook. While the bedroom is minimally furnished, it does feel like a comfortable space, as well. I do realise here that my thoughts about IT’S WINTER stand contrary to what Mazo had intended to say: small hints of the protagonist’s monotonous and depressing life can be found scattered around the apartment, from anti-depressants to notes speaking to the inescapable boredom that one might face while being confined to their small homes for much of the year owing to the bitterly cold Russian winters.

  • IT’S WINTER can be thought of as a statement about depression from the Soviet perspective: the apartment is a small space, and even outside, there’s a limit to how far players can go before being enveloped by the winter weather. No matter where one goes, it’s always nighttime, and the skies are cloudy, only being lit by the glow of street lamps below. In this function, IT’S WINTER succeeds entirely in its function: there is little doubt that the me of seven years earlier would’ve found this experience to be a profoundly relatable one: I’d been dreading the arrival of winter, a time when being outside isn’t possible, and the only thing that I could do was focus on my open studies, completing courses that ultimately might’ve been completely pointless.

  • After I stepped outside for a walk, I found myself taken aback at how quiet everything was: the centre courtyard is completely devoid of life, and the playgrounds are deserted. Everything is bathed in a gentle glow from the streetlights: there is a beauty about this type of setting, although strangely enough, rather than finding myself feeling saddened by what I was seeing, I felt a sense of tranquility instead. IT’S WINTER offers players with no objectives or goals, but this near-total freedom meant I was also able to impart my own feelings on things.

  • Here, I encounter a lone sparkler that someone had left behind. Larger sparklers can burn for up to a minute-and-a-half, so it is clear that there are other people with me, but perhaps the brutal winter cold forced them back inside after they’d lit the sparkler. This small sign of life was regarded as saddening for some, but again, a different perspective from me gave me a bit of reassurance, that I wasn’t entirely alone: on nights like these, people would have an inclination to remain in their flats, and some might have even turned in already. I would chalk up my different stance on winter in the present to be a consequence of where things have headed for me in the past year. After conversation with family yesterday, I finally confirmed the date that I will be moving in to the new place: they’d figured out what date was the most optimal (i.e. lucky) for the move by means of feng shui.

  • While I won’t share all details at present, I can say that it is happening in the spring, and that I am very excited. The new place is a luxury condominium located in one of the best parts of Calgary, close to public transportation and numerous shopping and dining. I’d long been in love with that side of town, and it also means I’ll be much closer to my parents, and some relatives. After touring the space back in September, something in me clicked, and this space became something I found myself daydreaming often about. As a luxury condominium, there’s a well-equipped gym, complete with dedicated bench press and squat racks, plus a beautiful rooftop patio and meeting hall with a gorgeous view of the mountains. The unit itself is beautifully appointed, affording me with a gorgeous view of the north from the solarium, kitchen and my bedroom.

  • It’s a far cry from the view that the apartment in IT’S WINTER provides: the more I explored IT’S WINTER, the more I realised that this was a title that conveyed melancholy, depression and the inescapability of these conditions to me. I am aware that some time ago, I disparaged Depression Quest for its poor execution and portrayal of depression. My thoughts on Depression Quest have not changed since then – it is a low-effort hypercard game made by those with only the vaguest idea of what depression entails and no idea what software development requires. IT’S WINTER manages to do what Depression Quest could not, and the reason for this is because IT’S WINTER gives players options and lets players work out that whatever they do ultimately ends up being futile. Depression Quest, on the other hand, takes agency away from those who’ve got the patience to sit through it.

  • Moreover, IT’S WINTER visually captures what depression might look like – a foggy, cold and snowy evening illuminated by the occasional light, but in a dark world where everything is otherwise closed. There is no incidental music to speak of, leaving players to get lost in their own thoughts as they wander the frigid wasteland. By comparison, Depression Quest makes use of a repetitive and insensitive piano piece that feels completely out-of-placed. Altogether, it is sufficient to say that IT’S WINTER is a proper experience, whereas Depression Quest should be removed from the Steam Store for making a mockery of what is a very serious mental health issue. As it stands, I enjoy things where an honest and sincere effort was made into conveying an idea to players, and IT’S WINTER does this very well through its simplicity.

  • This leads to the question of whether or not IT’S WINTER is worth the price it commands: a lofty 10 USD (12 CAD) for an experience that typically lasts about a quarter hour. I can’t answer this for others, but for me, the price represents a means of supporting the developer and his other projects. Routine Feat is another work from Mazo, but it is set during the summer and has a slightly more developed narrative. The way I see it, since Routine Feat is free to play, contributing to IT’S WINTER means also supporting Routine Feat: looking around at the aesthetics, I feel that it would be a great game to frame my recollections of the MCAT, as well as of the flood that struck my home town some eight-and-a-half years earlier.

  • I found out about IT’S WINTER a few weeks ago while browsing around articles about Russian apartments. Folks over in North America are accustomed to their large homes of 1700 square feet or above, so the austere and small size of khrushchyovka can come across as being quite unlivable in comparison. While there are some aspects that can take some getting used to, such as the relative lack of space and nonexistent control over the heating, Russians have also managed to turn these spartan quarters into personalised homes. Russians are fond of redecorating their interior spaces, and the inside of a seemingly drab-looking khrushchyovka can look unrecognisable.

  • The nature of khrushchyovka contributes to the Russian belief that the inside is what counts, and in IT’S WINTER, this aesthetic seems to be retained: the lifeless apartment blocks outside stand in contrast with the small but cozy space belonging to the player, and I found that on several occasions, there was a feeling of reassurance whenever I stepped out of the winter night and climbed up the stairs to my place. It felt good to know that no matter where I explored, there was always a place I can return to. One small detail that I did find amusing was how I could jump off my fifth floor balcony and land on the snow below, unharmed.

  • Here, I encounter the snowplow that is making the rounds. Its cabin glows brilliantly: besides the sparkler and lights in the other units, it’s the only sign of life in IT’S WINTER. Despite its simplicity, I found myself watching its progress: some audio will play if players spend enough time looking at the snowplow, and this in turn prompts thoughts of who the driver is, whether or not he has any stories to share, and what his thoughts on the cold winter weather are. As it is, IT’S WINTER offers no answers for players, leaving them to draw their own conclusions.

  • Temperatures today reached a much more agreeable and comfortable -15°C, so I capitalised on this as a chance to go out and pick up ingredients for the New Year’s Eve dinner, as well as our annual New Year’s 打邊爐 party. Despite some issues with availability, we managed to pick up most of what we were looking for, and I am quite looking forwards to things. The forecast indicates that New Year’s Day is going to see a high of -8°C, which is very comfortable by all standards, but it’s still cold enough to really enjoy hot, savoury food and good conversation.

  • The fact that this year’s Christmas Day and New Year’s Day land on a weekend means that there have been observation holidays on Monday, so I’m going to be returning to work on Tuesday, January 4. With the time that has passed in my break, I’ve managed to take delivery of both beds and mattresses, and I’ve also moved most of my old university books over. In the time remaining during this break, I’ll aim to finish assembling a shoe cabinet. Whatever time is left, I’ll take easy: I’ve made some progress in levelling up in Battlefield 2042, and I’ve just unlocked the PKP, a LMG that is said to be as accurate as an assault rifle with the capacity of a machine gun. In Halo Infinite, I am at the excavation site, and I’ll be looking to finish that mission before writing a post about my experiences in the open world.

  • Here, I walk by a store with a green sign. WIRED erroneously indicates that this is a pharmacy, but closer inspection finds that it reads продукты (produkty), which refers to convenience stores. The nearest convenience store to me is about a three minute walk away, but they’re open twenty-four hours a day, so on paper, it means I could head out at 2 AM and pick up a coffee if I felt so inclined. Here in IT’S WINTER, the convenience store is about a minute and a half from the player’s flat, but it’s closed, so there’s no opportunity to browse around and see what they’ve got.

  • One of the most visually distinct features about IT’S WINTER is the fact that it has a very Minecraft-like aesthetic. This works to IT’S WINTER’s advantage: while photorealistic graphics are often touted as being the driving force behind hardware and algorithmic advances, they alone do not improve a game. What’s important to a game (or experience) is the aesthetic, and as such, while IT’S WINTER might not have the insane visuals of something like DOOM or Crysis, the art style works perfectly for what Mazo is trying to convey.

  • The quiet playgrounds here really speaks to IT’S WINTER‘s desolation: ordinarily, playgrounds are venues of amusement, filled with children’s laughter. I glance around the empty courtyard before making my way back into the player’s flat. One thing I had worried about was whether or not I’d be able to find the entry again after exiting: there are very few identifying marks, and I ended up making use of the fact that walking out, I could immediately see a flat with a purple light in it. Since I was across from it, if I could find this purple light, I knew I could find my flat again.

  • The interior of the apartment complex is filled with locked doors, and people seem to be fond of leaving their refuse in the hallways. Being a good Samaritan, I cleared the hallways out before returning to my unit. To remember which unit, one simply needs to recall that they’re adjacent to someone with a steel-black door. Of course, if this isn’t viable, then a fair way would be to approach every door and see if the prompt to open it appears. Upon returning to my flat, I head to the bathroom, wash my hands, turn the lights in the bedroom on and prepare to catch some shuteye.

  • IT’S WINTER is certainly one of the most unique experiences I’ve ever tried, and I can say that it was quite worthwhile in making me count my blessings, as well as showing me how even in a melancholy environment, there can still be things to be grateful for. I’ll likely play through this whenever I’m feeling introspective, and depending on my experiences, I might return to write about things again. With this post in the books, I have two more posts planned out for this year: a talk on PuraOre! now that I’ve crossed the finish line, and then as I’d noted earlier, a talk on Halo Infinite. It’s now a ways past lunch, and after enjoying an English muffin with sausage, there’s nothing left on my itinerary for the day, so it’s time to make as much progress as I can with my remaining blog posts, wrap up the excavation site mission in Halo Infinite and then see if I can get Ace Combat 5 up and running.

In the present day, winters no longer quite bother me to the same extent as they once did. While sleet and slush still evoke in me a twinge of annoyance (I hate ice more than I do extreme cold), the snow and darkness simply acts as a reminder that I’ve got a roof over my head, and like the protagonist of IT’S WINTER, my fridge is in good shape, so I’ve got much to be thankful for. In the New Year, the list of things I am to count my blessings for will lengthen: at the time of writing, all of our beds and mattresses have been delivered, and after speaking with a feng shui expert in the family, we’ve now locked in a time for moving-in day. This is going to be busy season, as my goal now is to begin finishing the move ahead of this day and finalise all of the furniture that we’ll need. Quite simply, I’m going to be focused on something with a tangible goal, and I’ve long found that to ward off feelings of loneliness and melancholy, a productive mind acts as the perfect countermeasure. The future is one I am quite looking forwards to, creating a bit of warmth in me even as we’re in the middle of winter’s darkest, loneliest months; after Christmas, winter is at its most miserable, but knowing there is something to both work towards and look forwards to is a massive psychological boost. Memories of months I once spent memorising physics concepts for will be displaced by shopping for furniture and arranging for movers, as well as packing and cleaning, and right as winter ends, it’ll be time to begin a new chapter in life. One could say that I no longer regard winter as poorly as I once did: it’s taken almost a decade, but I do feel like I’ve pulled through and overcome my dislike of the winter months. Like IT’S WINTER, an experience about winter melancholy and loneliness, I’ve found that changing my point of view on things transforms something negative into something more welcoming. I’ve only really explored a few areas of IT’S WINTER insofar, and I’d certainly like to try my hand at making a more scrumptious dinner with the ingredients available in the fridge seen in-game, and mess around with the physical objects in the apartment, as well as see how far I can go before I hit IT’S WINTER‘s map boundaries. Finally, Ilia Mazo has also released a title called Routine Feat, set in the same apartment blocks, but now, during summer. A decade earlier, I would’ve been staring down the MCAT, and nine years ago, despite the pleasant sunny weather, I found myself in the throes of melancholy after the Great Flood washed away my summer. I am now curious to know if Routine Feat is able to capture the melancholy and loneliness I’ve come to associate with those experiences.

That First Foray Into Hope County: A Free Weekend of Far Cry 5

“The difference between involvement and commitment is like ham and eggs. The chicken is involved; the pig is committed.” –Martina Navratilova

When one is constrained by the fact that a game is available to try for one weekend, there is a natural inclination to get as much done as possible. Far Cry is, fortunately, one of those games where one can finish things on very short order; an unnamed rookie deputy accompanies Deputy Marshal Cameron Burke and Sheriff Earl Whitehorse on an assignment to arrest Joseph Seed, leader of the cult known as Eden’s Gate – Seed has gained power in Hope’s County and amassed a sizeable following who believe that a collapse of civilisation is at hand. However, Whitehorse is uncertain of the implications arresting Seed would bring and implores the deputy not to go through with the arrest. After reaching the church where Seed is preaching, the deputy decides not to follow through, and Whitehorse notes its for the better, since walking into the hornet’s nest could spell disaster and result in unnecessary death. While this is the course of action I would’ve gone for in reality, doing so would result in no game – Far Cry 5, like its predecessors, is a first person shooter, and the first thing about these games is to shoot stuff. Hence, I loaded a new save file, proceeded with the arrest and escape the homicidal cultists on a stolen vehicle. After falling into the river, my character is rescued and tasked with helping the resistance liberate Hope County. I thus took control of Fall’s End, giving the resistance a foothold, before heading over to hope Hope County Jail to seize control of it from Eden’s Gate. On the way, I gained several allies after retrieving their possessions, rolled back the fog of war over the southern regions of Hope County and even unlocked the MBP .50 Blood Dragon before the weekend ended. In the time I spent in Far Cry 5, I was absolutely blown away by the scenery – there is no denying that Hope County is a beautiful place. In fact, being set in Montana, Hope County resembles the southern foothills of my home province, being a combination of farm fields, evergreen forests, rolling hills, pristine lakes and distant mountains. The stunning scenery, however, conceals danger in the form of Eden’s Gate, who lurk around every corner and pose a threat to Hope County’s residents.

In its portrayal of Eden’s Gate, Far Cry 5 creates a much more gripping and terrifying foe than I’d seen in most of my other games. Right out of the gates, Joseph Seed is presented as a menacing figure whose calm demeanour and choice of words belie a psychopathic individual with megalomaniac tendencies. Upon walking into Seed’s compound for the first time, the fanatical cultists surrounding him create a tangible sense of dread – even Whitehorse hesitates to act against Seed. After the player escapes from the cultists following their failed attempt at arresting Seed, propaganda spread throughout Far Cry 5 perfectly captures how cults operate; their soothing words of salvation and redemption create a feeling of ease, but stand in stark contrast with their actions. With Far Cry 5, Ubisoft sought to explore religious fanaticism and extremist beliefs; Far Cry games previously depicted despotism and toppling of authoritarian regimes in far-flung countries, and while Far Cry 5 is no different, the choice of antagonists did create no small controversy. Indeed, the portrayal fanaticism is chillingly accurate, and I found myself surprised at how calming and reassuring Eden Gate’s words were despite knowing full well the game had intended for me to blast them with an arsenal worthy of the Doom Slayer. Cults are built around unreasonable devotion to a cause whose leaders justify horrific actions in the name of some higher power, and Far Cry 5 shows how difficult it is to take on a cult head-on, especially when they’ve amassed a certain amount of followers. However, once the initial shock of Eden’s Gate wears off, aside from the occasional bit of propaganda broadcast around Hope County and the terrifying hallucinations that Faith Seed appears in, Far Cry 5 is otherwise a run-of-the-mill Far Cry experience, albeit one that is set in a place reminiscent of my own backyard, a place where I’d rather be hiking and fishing in as opposed to blowing stuff up with cool guns.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Far Cry 5‘s opening segment is quite lengthy, and it took a while to really drop players into the open world. Through it all, I was unnerved – while Joseph Seed himself is a calm individual not given to fits of violence like Pagan Min, the way he delivers his lines gives the impression that he is always in control, even when things aren’t appearing in his favour. Like Far Cry 4, Far Cry 5 opens with a pursuit. This time, it’s through the forests of Montana by nightfall, and while players are soon reunited with Burke, their escape fails when their truck flips into a river.

  • Players start on an island, where they have a chance to become familarised with Far Cry 5‘s mechanics. Initially, one can only hold onto a single primary weapon and a sidearm: players start the game with the iconic M1911, and I found that shooting in Far Cry 5 was a bit tricky, with bullets not going where I’d intended them to go at medium ranges owing to the game’s use of ballistic motion. After killing off some Eden’s Gate members, I picked up the AR-C rifle. This weapon is a mainstay in Far Cry 5 and despite being a common rifle, is a decent all-purpose weapon with a solid rate of fire, ammunition capacity and moderate damage.

  • Once players finish the last of the missions on the starting island, the morning fog rolls back, and Hope County is thrown into sharp relief. From here, the goal is to get a foothold in Hope County so the resistance can start taking it back from Eden’s Gate. I thus headed towards Fall’s End, a town in the southwestern corner of the map, and began my attempt to take it back from Eden’s Gate. At the start of my journey, I have none of the perks and accessories that increase my durability and firepower, so even a handful of weaker enemies could prove lethal.

  • On my attempt, I ended up climbing to the roof of a building after quietly taking down whatever Eden’s Gate sentries were in my path, and found myself a mounted gun. From up here, I proceeded to mow down everything that moved with relative ease, even the aircraft that came to strafe my position. With this, I retook Fall’s End and gained my first foothold into Hope County, giving me access to the shop and several vehicles. At this point in the game, I lacked the funds to buy anything, so this wasn’t particularly helpful, but as I began exploring, I would come across a weapon that was rather more suited to my play-style.

  • After storming an outpost and shooting out several snipers, I came upon the AR-CL, a modified AR-C that has a heavy barrel and long-range optic perfect for sniping. Having a scope made it far easier to pick off distant foes, and the AR-CL can kill with one headshot, making it a powerful asset to have, especially in a game where medium range combat with automatic weapons and iron sights is tricky. Picking up a semi-automatic rifle was a game-changer for me, giving me considerably more confidence in firefights.

  • However, the drawback to having a slow-firing DMR meant that I didn’t carry any weapons more suited for CQC beyond the M1911; this would leave me at a disadvantage if enemies ever closed on my position. In Far Cry 4, time meant I would be able to unlock up to two more primary weapon slots, and in the old day, I would carry an assault rifle, anti-materiel rifle and LMG for a good balance of combat versatility. Being limited to one weapon at a time was something I’d tangibly felt, and as I began amassing perk points, the first thing I did was to unlock the second slot for primary weapons.

  • Far Cry 5‘s map looks a little smaller than Kyrat did, but unlike Kyrat, there seems to be a much greater variety in terrain: there are hills and cabins, farmers’ fields and lakes, all of which come together to remind me of home: I am just north of Montana, and the southern reaches of my home province possesses very similar geography. I’ve actually been longing to go back and visit Waterton National Park, but current circumstances means that at least for now, Far Cry 5 is the best I got.

  • I ended up accepting a mission that sent me over to the Hope County Jail, which was under siege from Eden’s Gate forces. There was an RPG lying around, as well; while the attack initially could be repelled with the AR-CL, the Eden’s Gate forces will eventually bring vehicles to the table. Sharp-shooting will allow for the driver and any gunners to be dealt with, but when one is swarmed by others, there’s not much time for precision shooting. The RPG will make short work of the pickup trucks in Far Cry 5, and more than before, I wished I had a second primary weapon slot here.

  • Once the Hope County Jail is cleared, I gained access to another outpost. However, my victory was short-lived, since Far Cry 5 forcibly transported me into the Bliss, a drug-induced hallucination. Faith Seed is one of Joseph’s leftenants in Hope County and oversees the drug production that keeps Eden’s Gate in check. I was never too fond of these moments in Far Cry 4, but the religious imagery in Far Cry 5 meant that such moments were better incorporated into the game and all the more unsettling. When my character came to, I found myself in the middle of nowhere.

  • I subsequently unlocked a second weapon slot and equipped the MP5K, a submachine gun with excellent handling traits and burst fire. At close ranges, every pull of the trigger is a kill if one is aiming for the head, and having a good CQC option made firefights much more survivable now – I would use the AR-CL for picking off foes, and anyone that got too close would be dealt with by the MP5K. As players complete activities in a region, they earn Resistance Points, which makes different items accessible for purchase. The stock weapons commonly seen in Far Cry 5 are more than usable, but there is a joy to be entering firefights with more unique, or even over-the-top weapons.

  • Since Far Cry 5 decided to drop me off somewhere remote, I decided to explore and found myself on a hillside overlooking the forests below. The scenery in Far Cry 5 is fantastic, and this looks like a scene right out of a postcard of the Rocky Mountains. It’s been smoky in my area for the past month, and these past few days, the weather’s improved dramatically, more closely resembling the weather I know August best for. However, this weekend, the smoke did return, and what’s more, there’s now a ten-hectare fire burning immediately west of the city.

  • August is traditionally counted as the last month of summer, since classes resume in September, but ever since I entered the workforce, my summer ends during the Autumnal Equinox. This leaves me plenty of time to enjoy the days left in the summer, and August days are best spent outside: as it is still early in the month, assuming that the smoke is held at bay, there’ll be opportunity yet to walk under the sunlight. Of course, while the fire and smoke lingers, I’ll strive to make a dent in my still-sizeable backlog: there’s little point in going out and breathing in smoke.

  • I absolutely love the way the AR-CL looks on the screen: the optics look intimidating, and the red tint on the eyepiece is an especially nice touch: ruby lenses block out the greens and browns of foliage to make it easier to spot game during hunting. The tint, however, creates an image that isn’t true-to-life, so for everyday observation, ordinary coatings are preferred. In video games, this is purely aesthetic and have no impact on gameplay whatsoever.

  • During my time in Far Cry 4, I often tried to liberate outposts without setting alarms off, and towards the endgame, I had a suppressed rifle purpose-made for the job; I would simply locate all of the alarm boxes, sniped them from afar and then picked off enemies with the rifle before moving in with the MG42. The game thus began to feel a little too easy near the end, but in Far Cry 5, I am reminded of where I began: stealth and strategy return in a big way. I found that I could simply punch out alarm boxes and then go loud: after demolishing a heavy unit, I confiscated his M60 and blasted everything that moved.

  • In order to survive, however, I ducked inside one of the houses to recover my health. Far Cry 4 had incremented health, but in Far Cry 5, this goes away: players have one full bar of health and can recharge fully when out of combat. Perks will increase the player’s maximum health. As I waited for my health to return, I admired the design of this Montana house: the architecture and designs here are very authentic, and were it not for Eden’s Gate, Hope County feels like a very nice place to live. I suppose the same could be said of Far Cry 4‘s Kyrat, whose Nepalese/Bhutan aesthetic looked inviting and friendly in the absence of Pagan Min’s dictatorship.

  • In the end, I ended up clearing the outpost by going loud, unlocking myself yet another place to fast travel from and replenish my gear. During my run of Far Cry 5, however, I never felt the need to top up on ammunition, since the Eden’s Gate patrols roaming the map always dropped plenty of ammunition. I imagine this could change as I increase my ammunition capacity and take on increasingly challenging fights, but for now, I was able to get by without resupplying. The feeling after clearing an outpost is always satisfying, and Far Cry always had a way of making these achievements feel special. Here, I had the added bonus of finishing to a gorgeous sunset.

  • My next mission was to help recover an aircraft for Nick Rye, a pilot and mechanic who resists Eden’s Gate. Armed with the AR-CL, I picked off all enemies striking the farm and ended up unlocking the mission. Because the mission entailed attacking John Seed’s ranch, I imagined the site would be heavily defended and therefore sought out an aircraft to help with the fight. Helicopters can be found around Hope County, and while they’re excellent for getting around, the versions I ran into didn’t have any weapons on board.

  • En route to the ranch where Nick’s plane is kept, I had another random encounter: Far Cry 5 depends on players going around Hope County and speaking with people in order to unlock missions from them. Here, for instance, I came across a member of the resistance named Grace, and after reviving her, I helped her to defend wave after wave of Eden’s Gate members from desecrating the graves beside the church. Grace is a sniper, and I took a leaf from her page, since I was rocking a marksman rifle. The assignment proved straightforward enough, and upon completion, I knew I’d be able to call upon Grace for fire support if needed.

  • I haven’t had any need to call in the hired guns yet simply because the missions are simple enough early on, but I imagine that, were I to go further, having the extra firepower would be helpful. One thing I avoided doing during my run at Far Cry 5 was attacking the Eden’s Gate silos: they take an inordinate amount of ammunition to destroy. However, since Eden’s Gate patrols the map with trucks armed with machine guns, seizing one of those would be my best bet. Players can later purchase armed vehicles for their own use, making these missions easier to complete, and as one gains more resistance points, the M79 can also be unlocked. Back in Far Cry 4, the M79 made all anti-vehicle missions trivially easy.

  • One aspect of Far Cry 5 that I wasn’t familiar with were the random story events; besides Faith’s terrifying Bliss visions, John Seed himself will order his goons to capture the deputy. I was quite unprepared for that firefight and was captured, but since it was a part of the story, I made it out and was able to shoot my way to victory. At this point in time, I’d also picked up the M133 pump-action shotgun, although my lack of durability in Far Cry 5 meant I preferred to fight at longer ranges: I ended up using the AR-CL and MP5K for this fight and managed to survive long enough for an extraction, after which I decided to take a shot at Nick’s mission.

  • Nick’s mission entails recapture his custom plane, which fell into Eden’s Gate hands, and after some initial recon of John Seed’s ranch, I realised that the place was too heavily fortified for any sort of ground attack. I thus commandeered a WWII-era AdjudiCor FBW airplane and flew it over to the ranch, hoping to use the rockets and bombs to soften up the ground targets before capturing the place on foot. Once my ordnance was exhausted, I bailed and parachuted out over the compound. With my presence no secret, I switched over to my small arms and ran a one-man wrecking crew on the ranch.

  • To help with my stealth out, I ended up kitting my AR-C with a suppressor and red dot sight: being able to aim with more confidence and silently kill foes made a huge difference, and within moments, I had the ranch cleared out. Without Eden’s Gate firing at me, I was free to explore the place, and in moments, found the aircraft that had been the aim of my mission. I hopped in and carefully taxied onto the runway before taking to the skies. The mission had started out quite stressful: flying in a given game is always a challenge for me, and I tend to crash if the controls aren’t sufficiently simple.

  • While I did have a bit of trouble with the AdjudiCor FBW, once I boarded Nick’s plane, the mission carefully guided me through and gave me a chance to even blow a few things up. This mission was especially thrilling, showing what Far Cry 5 is like at its best; the flight path Nick suggests takes players over the rivers and lakes of Hope County, and it is a thrilling flight. Towards the end, Nick will ask the player to carefully land at his airstrip. Landing is usually the trickiest part of any flight, and there are precious few places in Hope County where one can land, but with Nick’s guidance, the first bit of the mission draws to a close.

  • The second half of the mission is to defend the airstrip from wave after wave of Eden’s Gate attackers. Here, I’m rocking a highly customised MBP .50 called the Blood & Dragon. I’m not sure what the story behind it is, but this weapon was made available to all players, and I was able to equip it simply by checking my store out. The base MBP .50 is a powerful weapon firing fifty-cal rounds, capable of downing almost anything in one shot. I haven’t gotten quite that far into Far Cry 5 to know if there’s an equivalent of the AMR in the game: this weapon is a modified Z93 capable of blowing up vehicles and killing large game in a single shot, making it obscenely powerful. With the Blood & Dragon, however, I still had a great time blowing enemies away: the weapon itself also looks awesome.

  • It suddenly hits me that today is a day after the ten-year mark to the day that Tango-Victor-Tango’s One Week War drew to a close. I’ve not been back for quite some time now, but I do remember that a friend and I had made the (in retrospect, unwise) decision of participating; we had hoped to put an end to a segment of the community that did not respect expertise and idealised instant gratification. There had been a significant portion of the userbase who believed that no one could be more knowledgeable than anyone else on certain topics, and that they alone were competent creators and critics despite lacking the requisite backgrounds, insisting on using certain terminology without understanding what they mean (such as believing that “deconstruction” means “realism” when it clearly does not).

  • The end result of this were that a large section of the site’s users words and remarks were completely contrary to what someone with legitimate experience in a field would suggest: these individuals gave the impression of having lived a majority their lives on the internet without actually making an effort to cultivate any useful, marketable skills, but still believed that their opinions were more valid than those of an expert’s. My friend and I had hoped that by pruning that part of the site, these users would see the errors of their ways and move on. While that part of Tango-Victor-Tango was removed, their community’s general disrespect for expertise endured, and in the aftermath, we had wished that instead of participating, we’d spent that time on other pursuits. One of my most well-known articles, detailing Tango-Victor-Tango’s decline, came from this incident: I’d published it on a beautiful August afternoon some eight years earlier on a day similar to the sights I saw in Far Cry 5.

  • August is one of the nicest months where I am, and it is no joke when I say that the mountains an hour to the west are every bit as nice as the scenery from this screenshot, hence my remarks about enjoying the weather. Our disagreements with these sentiments ended up leading me to write a post about Tango-Victor-Tango and their shortcomings with my friend. When the site’s moderators caught wind of this post, it led to my getting permanently banned. As an act of defiance to Gus “Fast Eddie” Raley and John Murphy “Fighteer” Aldrich, I have been ban-evading successfully for years. While I haven’t been a contributor for years, I do maintain a burner account to keep an eye on things (even Tango-Victor-Tango gets one or two things right from time to time), and I have noticed that compared to the site a decade earlier, things are considerably quieter as the more troublesome members have also moved on with their lives. However, it is disappointing that the observations I made in my eight-year-old article still hold true.

  • Today, Tango-Victor-Tango is nowhere nearly as influential as it had been a decade earlier. Although some individuals, like “WarriorsGate”, “RedSavant”, and “FillerDude”, continue to act as though their forums are a hub of intellectual pop-culture discussion, the site is a gated mutual admiration society. In theory, this should be a positive by preventing their traits from getting out to the world at large, but in reality, many trends from Tango-Victor-Tango have since propagated to social media: any discussion on politics and current events is inevitably infested with those who act as though they were the singular authority on the topic. The belief that upvotes, karma, retweets and follower count hold merit have their origins from the sort of thinking that dominated Tango-Victor-Tango, and is the reason why misinformation is so widespread. This explains how outspoken individuals of dubious value (usually characterised by their “soccer mom” bios or duck-faced profile pictures) command followings that are cult-like.

  • In giving players a chance to take the fight to a cult with firearms, Far Cry 5 gives players a very satisfying experience that is also sobering; while players can massacre cultists in Far Cry 5, I’ve heard that reaching Joseph Seed in the end doesn’t actually have any meaningful choice, since the outcomes end up being similarly enough. This has parallels in reality, where dealing with social media addicts who blindly follow pretty faces individually is trivially easy, but they are numerous enough so that taking one down only results in five taking their place. I’ve previously gotten several outspoken individuals (whose profile pictures look like they were intended for Tinder) suspended, but new accounts always keep cropping up to replace them. The wiser choice, then, is not to allow social media to bother oneself and focus on the meaningful things in life.

  • I’ll wrap this post up with a moment of me returning to Fall’s End prior to the free weekend’s conclusion. Far Cry 5 proved immensely enjoyable owing to its setting, and a glance at the game’s features show that this is a title I would’ve had a great deal of fun playing. However, at this point in time, I have hit a bit of saturation when it comes to gaming: I am now three quarters of the way into DOOM Eternal, and have begun exploring Northrend in World of Warcraft. I imagine that The Ancient Gods will take me a bit of September and potentially early October, which means I’ll be done just in time for Battlefield 2042‘s release. Consequently, at this time, I don’t think it is in my best interest to pick up any more games, lest they join my already-sizeable backlog.

Altogether, while Far Cry 5‘s greatest strength is the setting, after the free weekend ended, I have concluded that Far Cry 5 is unlikely a game I will be picking up – the game is familiar and inviting, offering incremental improvements over its predecessor, Far Cry 4, but otherwise remains very similar in terms of mechanics, requiring that players destroy and capture assets that Eden’s Gate have taken ahold of to eventually force leaders of a region into the open for a confrontation. This means there’s no learning curve, and I could get back into things very easily. While doubtlessly an enjoyable experience that demands forward thinking and adaptiveness, the open world design of Far Cry 5 also means that I will need a considerable amount of time to make headway into liberating Hope County. A glance at what’s available in Far Cry 5 indicates that there’s quite a bit to do. Besides missions, I could go perfect my flying, spend time fishing or hunting, and even train a pet to accompany me on my assignments. Far Cry 5 was evidently designed to provide staying power, and moreover, the game offers expansion materials that sends players to Vietnam and Mars; as enjoyable as this sounds, there aren’t enough hours in the day for me to really enjoy games that have this level of possibility. Far Cry 4 had taken me a while to beat for this reason, and while it proved an enjoyable experience, it also took me eleven months to finish. I might’ve had that sort of time on my hands four years earlier, but these days, things are a bit different; Far Cry is a series that does require a bit of a time investment to fully enjoy, and so for the present, I do not plan on advancing further into Far Cry 5. Having said this, Far Cry 5 has proven to be a solid experience, and I am curious to see how Far Cry 6 turns out – the E3 trailer suggests Far Cry 6 is even bigger and bolder than its predecessor, returning to the tropical world that defined earlier Far Cry titles and introducing more custom options. Cautious optimism characterises my response to Far Cry 6: the E3 trailer was impressive, but my aging rig might not be able to handle the game, and Far Cry 6 releases in the same timeframe as Battlefield: 2042 and Halo: Infinite, so for the present, I am going to wait before making any decision. In the meantime, should I feel the inclination to return to rural Montana, I have the comfort of knowing that all of my progress in Far Cry 5 is saved, so I’ll be able to resume my journey precisely where I’d left off.