Backlog Abyss: January 2022

If there’s one thing I lack complete self-control over, it’s maintaining my video game backlog. Sure, I finish games regularly, but that doesn’t stop me from purchasing a hot new release or falling prey to a good seasonal sale. It’s honestly gotten to the point where I will most assuredly die before I empty my backlog out, so at this point all that’s left to do is spelunk the bottomless caverns of my various digital libraries and play whatever sparks joy.

In an effort to give this website something a little more consistent, I’m going to start a monthly series here entitled Backlog Abyss. It’s basically just a way for me to write up some brief thoughts on the various games I’ve played in the previous month, as well as provide the aforementioned consistency that jarsh.zone desperately needs. I don’t have any strict criteria here, but I’d like to keep it to the games I actually manage to finish. You may see a random abandoned game from time to time though if I have enough to say about it. It’ll be fun!

This month features a couple of replays, an exciting new experience, and a potential new certified jarsh.zone classic (which is also technically a replay; just a different version).

Death’s Door

Death’s Door is a game I had been putting off for months and to be honest I don’t have a good reason for that. It evokes similar feelings to a top-down Zelda with a dash of Dark Souls. Its presentation was inspired by the films of Studio Ghibli and you can really see it with certain character designs like the Urn Witch. It all comes neatly wrapped in a gorgeous soundtrack and writing that honestly took me by surprise.

I think what I love most about the writing in general is its ability to take the moroseness of its world seriously without being completely dour. There’s a light-hearted, often humorous tone that weaves itself in between the more poignant moments and it strikes this balance perfectly. Being called a “little shit” by one of the early bosses definitely caught me off guard and I’ll never forget how hard it made me laugh when it happened. But then it gets kinda sad and thoughtful not long after and it doesn’t feel like a jarring tonal shift like you’d think it would. There’s a lot of talk about death in this game (of course) and the angle of hunting the souls of people who have lived well beyond their time to the point where it’s corrupting them is…well it’s pretty fucking heavy when you think about it. Still, I can’t get over how elegantly balanced the writing in this game is. I laughed, I pondered, and I died a lot.

This game is tough, man! The combat is quick and brutal but you have plenty of options to defend yourself in this oppressive world. Boss fights are an elegant ballet of dodging and closing the distance to get those precious hits in. They’ll sometimes even have a weak point that can be exploited with certain abilities but I won’t spoil that for you (also because I suck and only found a couple of them). Even more than the combat though, it’s the exploration that really sucked me into Death’s Door. There’s a sense of interconnectedness throughout; shortcuts on shortcuts on shortcuts help make exploring less of a chore. There are plenty of environmental puzzles as well, though it’s nothing that will bust your brain open.

I can’t really think of anything else to say. It’s just a good time and I often find myself itching to go back to find more collectibles and upgrades. The finale in particular is a hell of a ride and I’d love to experience it all over again whenever I find the time to do so.

Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune and Uncharted 2: Among Thieves

I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with NaughtyDog’s games that goes all the way back to Crash Bandicoot, which is a series that I’m not the biggest fan of admittedly. I’ve dabbled a bit in the Jak & Daxter games and will surely dive deeper into those someday as I had a lot of fun with the first entry, but ND has never been high on my list of favorite studios thanks to their pivot to Serious Games for Serious Gamers™. 

Of course I’m mostly joking, because Uncharted is goofy as fuck. And I don’t mean that in a bad way necessarily; they’re over-the-top action movies where all the quips are perfectly timed and the floor always seems to be falling out from under the protagonists. It’s boneless Indiana Jones with a healthy dose of cover shooting, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have fun with this series overall. Upon replaying the first two games in January I only had fun with one of them.

Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune is a tire fire. It’s an overly simplistic, jank as fuck shooter with samey environments and villains who’s names I genuinely can’t remember without googling. The story is breezy and charming and the game definitely doesn’t overstay its welcome since you can finish it in under five hours but…that’s about all I have to say in terms of positives. I don’t particularly love cover shooters to begin with but it can be done well. I don’t think Drake’s Fortune does it very well. It’s a frustrating gallery shooter of similar-looking enemies and it really loves these sections about as much as it loves throwing mediocre climbing sections at you. It’s a five hour blur of the same shit and I genuinely never want to look at it again.

Among Thieves, on the other hand, is a dramatic leap in quality, even though it maintains its predecessor’s fundamentals. There are still plenty of big shootouts and climbing mechanics that have zero stakes whatsoever, but it’s all paced so much better. There are huge, bombastic set pieces now to set the stage, like fighting a fucking tank as it tears through a small village, or the entirety of the train section. It’s a little longer than the first game, but it doesn’t feel nearly as tedious until maybe the end (this series should maybe stop doing boss fights). It’s a good time overall and while it’s not climbing up my list of all time favorites anytime soon I had a lot of fun with it. It’s a simple, blockbuster action game that knows exactly what it is and sometimes I need that.

I’m currently working through the third game at the time of writing this so look forward to that in the February edition of Backlog Abyss!

Super Mario Kart

This game is evil and taught me at a young age that life isn’t fair. Love the music though!

Final Fantasy IV

I’ll be straight up with this one. I love Final Fantasy IV. I first played this one on the Super Nintendo when I was young and wanted to play anything remotely resembling an RPG after Super Mario RPG blew the hinges off my brain door. The music and characters immediately stuck out to me as a child and I’ve always wanted to revisit this game to see how it holds up. I played a bit of the DS remake when it first released and while I loved it, I never finished it (probably because it’s tough and I suck at RPGs lmao). 

With the release of the Pixel Remaster, I decided it was a good time to refamiliarize myself through this version, and I’m happy to say that it lived up to the nostalgia I had for it growing up. The Pixel Remaster may not be the definitive version, but it’s a great way to experience the story of this game. The script is good, and the quality of life features make it easy to recommend to newcomers. The rearranged music is fucking fire and although I don’t love the font choice the rest of the presentation is solid.

Regardless of what version it is though, it’s the characters and story that I love the most. I know FFIV gets a lot of flack for its story being nonsense but man…I just do not care. It’s completely bonkers and I adore that about this game. It’s the first FF to really establish the method of storytelling that now permeates through the entire franchise, and it’s a hell of a first impression. The twists and turns that the story takes may not always make the most logical sense, but taken as a whole it’s still an amazing ride. It’s less about inserting yourself into the role of a faceless main protagonist and more about getting absorbed into a story about a group of people giving their all to save the world they inhabit. Party members drift in and out throughout Cecil’s journey and you never really know if you’ll see them again or how they’ll reintroduce themselves in the narrative. I genuinely adore every character that joins your party (even Edward), and while I wish some of them would have been given a little more development, I can’t say I was completely disappointed in any one character’s particular arc. I just…like ’em all a whole lot.

If I’m being too vague and rambly here it’s because I highly recommend this game and I don’t care how old this game is: I don’t want to spoil anything in case you get the spark to pick it up someday. There are other Final Fantasy games I like a little more, but IV is really special and absolutely deserves your attention if you’ve never played it before.

JANUARY END

And that’s all I have for the month of January! I’ve already finished a couple of big games this month so the February edition of Backlog Abyss should be a lot of fun to write about. If you have any suggestions for how I could structure this series going forward let me know! It’s a new thing I’m trying out and I want to make sure it’s easy on the eyes. Until next time!

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