Screenshot: Agents Of Mayhem/Deep Silver

Every Friday, A.V. Club staffers kick off our weekly open thread for the discussion of gaming plans and recent gaming glories, but of course, the real action is down in the comments, where we invite you to answer our eternal question: What Are You Playing This Weekend?


Agents Of Mayhem

I’ve been chipping away at this over the last few weeks between other duties and the sheer chaos that’s been going on around here lately. It’s the latest from Volition, the long-lived studio that most recently made waves with its irreverent Saints Row games, and it’s vaguely set within that series’ universe. It’s been subject to a pretty divided reception, and that seems totally warranted. I’ve had some fun with the game over my 10 or so hours of play, but there’s a lot about it that rubs me the wrong way.

Hands down, the most irritating thing is the writing. Saints Row always teetered on a line between charming and obnoxious, but it had enough heart to usually fall on the former side. Despite sharing some of the same writers, Agents’ dirty humor and edge is less skillfully crafted and often feels forced. It certainly doesn’t help when the same cringeworthy dick jokes get repeated over and over again during a boss fight where you’re deflecting some giant energy balls. On the other hand, when nearly every character is a foul-mouthed goober, it makes the more earnest members of your team, like the immunologist-turned-archer Rama, that much more pleasant to be around.

But if you can get past Agents’ sense of humor, the superpowered third-person shooter underneath is plenty enjoyable. Each of the 12 characters in your roster has a different gun and a few different special abilities. You mix and match together a squad of three heroes and head out into a futuristic Seoul to blast your way through some mostly unimaginative “go here, shoot this” missions, pressing a button to switch between the three heroes at any time.

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It’s a neat idea and provides some much-needed choice to the repetitive action, but it’s completely at odds with Agents’ desire to be an open-world game. The only place you can switch your active trio is back at home base. You can teleport there at any time using a button in your menu, but you’re always going to have to pull yourself out of the action. Any team-switching you do pulls you out of Seoul and completely breaks what little open-world flow the game has to begin with. Combine that with a seemingly endless well of currencies and experience points and customization options and passive missions and boring side quests and—well, you get the drift. It’s so much bloat thrown in to overcomplicate a simple game with some simple pleasures. [Matt Gerardi]


Undertale

I first played Toby Fox’s Undertale shortly after it came out in 2015 and found it to be a remarkably artful, if twee, lo-fi RPG. I spent a few hours picking through its surrealist story of an underground world full of charming freaks and friendly monsters, got to about the midway part, and shelved it for another day that never quite came. In the intervening time, the legend of the game has ballooned into something I couldn’t have expected, with a Tumblr-based fandom renowned for its dogmatic affection for pacifist play-throughs and obsessive, sometimes incestuous shipping. In a recent, decidedly nonscientific GameFAQs poll, it was named the single greatest video game ever created. People fucking love Undertale.

So with its recent rerelease for PlayStation 4 and the dust-covered PS Vita, I decided to give it a second shot. And it is still a remarkably artful, if twee, lo-fi RPG! Fox, who previously created the comic strip Homestuck, is at his best in the game’s quiet moments, drawing sudden long shadows in the world when you approach a climactic moment and creating stunning tableaux as your character encounters new structures in the underworld. The gangs of punklike monsters hanging around inspire a natural sort of outcast empathy, likely inspiring some of the vehemence of the game’s fandom. Your mileage will vary with the writing; like a lot of indie games, its primary tonal inspiration appears to be “Twitter,” and it frequently devolves into doggo jokes, self-conscious ellipses, and, good god, the puns. There are a lot of puns.

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Like I said, your mileage will vary. The game seems remarkable to me, though, outside of all of this, for two things: The first is the concision with which it tells its initial tale and the deceptive depth it hides, with metatextual mechanics based on your save data and a battle system full of sly subversions. The other lingering triumph of the game, I think, is slightly lower-key. It’s rare to come across a weird, specific, deeply personal indie or alt game designed with no agenda on its mind. So many smaller games seem like formal experiments or almost didactic exercises in expanding the notion of video games, but Undertale sets its sights on merely telling a story as interestingly as possible. That’s rarer than you’d think, and worthy of the praise it has received. Some of it, at least. [Clayton Purdom]


I Am Setsuna

I’ve never really liked Japanese role-playing games, particularly the Final Fantasy series, because random battles infuriate me so much that I can’t believe it was ever an accepted way to make a video game. But like everybody who grew up with a Super Nintendo, I loved the shit out of Chrono Trigger. It was all the good stuff from a Final Fantasy game but with a much more interesting battle system that actually involved seeing enemies on the map and giving you a chance to sidestep them if you had better things to do. I Am Setsuna, which comes from Square Enix’s Tokyo RPG Factory, is pretty much an explicit attempt to replicate some basic elements of Chrono Trigger. It even adds some clever twists, like the position of your characters affecting the way your attacks will work.

From what I’ve played, the story and the setting don’t quite live up to Chrono Trigger, and while the twinkly piano music is nice and moody, it doesn’t quite pump me up the way “Frog’s Theme” does. Still, the mechanics are very good, and it’s nice to play a kind of game that I haven’t really seen in a long time, so I’m definitely on board for whatever nostalgia-baiting nonsense Tokyo RPG Factory will come up with next. Also, I’ve been playing I Am Setsuna on my Switch, which automatically makes it better because that console was expensive and there aren’t a ton of good games on it yet. [Sam Barsanti]

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