Outward isn't so much bad as it is outwardly bland. Bolstered by its genuinely endearing premise, and an emphasis on a more "human" approach to the RPG genre, the title is simultaneously held back by lacklustre presentation, an underwhelming combat system, and a main game that goes on far too long to justify the onslaught of hostility thrown at the player.
While the journey is more important than the destination, the fact NAIRI lacks a traditional conclusion - leaving many arcs and themes in a resolution limbo - hurts the narrative considerably. Considering just how much the story focuses on Nairi as a character, a cliff-hanger ending that places emphasis on plot comes off structurally inappropriate at best. That said, the script, atmosphere, and puzzles all warrant at least one playthrough. Tower of Shirin might fall much flatter than it needed to thanks to a poorly realised ending, but NAIRI, as a whole, is a charming point-and-click with plenty of heart.
While the combative elements leave much to be desired, Mage's Initiation to pay tribute to the old Sierra titles of yore without failing to craft an identity of its own alongside the homage. D'arc's initiation is almost too simple for its own good, serving as a prologue of sorts to a grander adventure, yet so much focus placed solely on a single story beat is exactly what allows the narrative to lend impact to any given moment. The plot itself may never get too exciting, but active world building, endearing visuals, and focused puzzles ensure that in Mage's Initiation: Reign of the Elements there is seldom a dull moment in D'arc's journey.
Catherine Classic may not be the definitive way to experience Vincent's journey of self discovery, mainly due to some pesky technical issues, but it is a solid port nonetheless, with a few improvements of its own. Faster loading times, crisper visuals, and dual audio support, elevate the title from beyond just another bog standard PC port. It is unfortunate that English audio clips in when playing in Japanese, but Catherine is so thoughtfully designed, and so well-written that it's easy enough to endure the port's more disappointing qualities in favour of the incredible experience underneath. Catherine Classic is a great alternative to the PS3 original, if flawed.
Despite a fairly strong lead in from Thicker Than Water, Episode 5: From the Gallows is unable to craft a wholly satisfying conclusion to A New Frontier's story. In many respects, this finale is exemplary of Telltale at its absolute worst: uneven character focus, forced cameos, rushed pacing, meaningless choices, and uninspired plotting. Although A New Frontier comes out thematically cohesive, that means little when the final product found itself unable to fully develop its cast before the finale while also refusing to commit to either Javi or Clem as the protagonist. As From the Gallows comes to a close, it feels as it season three still had more story to tell.
Devoid of both style and substance, Poi is perhaps the least interesting 3D platformer currently available for the Nintendo Switch. Not only is it mechanically shallow with a relatively skill ceiling and floor, the level design rarely, if ever, gets creative enough to mask how lacklustre the platforming can be. To make matters worse, this is just charmless all around thanks to an incredibly safe aesthetic that renders a potentially fascinating world completely unmemorable. This neither reinvents platforming, nor serves as a suitable love letter to the genre, ensuring it is best left forgotten.
Although Pilot Sports is not exactly bad, it is likewise far from compelling in its own right. Most of its best qualities are shared with the far more polished Pilotwings series, with its reliance on homage doing a considerable amount of damage. The content present is fine enough, but that, in itself, is a problem. Fine is not good. Pilot Sports is a below average flight simulator that might scratch that wholly unique Pilotwings itch, but only for so long.
Although Episode 4: Thicker Than Water once again deprives players of all agency, it's actually handled relatively well in-universe, making for a second-to-last episode that actively marches towards the finale. Characters are finally reaching a point where they feel fully developed, the story has found a suitable emotional centre, and the stakes have been raised high enough where Javi and Clem will naturally find themselves challenged in Episode 5. It isn't as strong as it could have been - in large part due to A New Frontier's overall structure - but Thicker Than Water stands out as the strongest chapter in season three thus far.
A love letter to all things videogame, Guacamelee! is a fantastic blend of homage and originality, resulting in a wildly memorable, if a bit short, Metroidvania. From the title's tight platforming-heavy level design, to its skill based combat, there is never a dull moment in Juan's quest to save El Presidente's daughter. Although the script does rely on out of place humour perhaps too often, and the general difficulty does take a hit near the end, this makes for a fantastic experience from start to finish, with plenty to love and admire. Best of all, at no point in its quest to pay tribute to the legends that came before it does this title forget to craft an identity of its own, elevating the title to the same level as the ones that inspired it.
Repetitive, dry, and inexplicably uninteresting, Travis Strikes Again is a massive misstep for a series with an otherwise solid track record. It's not so much the near complete abandonment of what made No More Heroes so appealing that plagues the hack n' slash, but the all-around drop in quality from the original duology. Dialogue is stiff, lacking in the same character that made Travis Touchdown so unpleasantly likable; the once colourful world of Santa Destroy is tossed aside in favour of multiple virtual realities, none of which manage to capture the same wonderful seediness of the fictional Californian town; and boss fights, once the staple of the franchise, come and go all too soon with none of the expected impact. Suda51 has always been an acquired taste, but Travis Strikes Again will be hard to stomach for even the most invested of fans.
Boasting the best script, best overworld, and best pacing the series has ever seen, Tales of Vesperia stands out as the single strongest entry in the franchise. Though later entries do feature stronger casts and gameplay mechanics, this is not lacking in either department. The members of Brave Vesperia all share an excellent amount of chemistry with one another, and the combat, while comparatively simple, actually thrives in how easy to pick up but difficult to master it can be. While not every addition exclusive to the Definitive Edition exactly benefits the narrative - a shame considering how thematically cohesive and airtight the overall story is - each gameplay addition is ultimately for the better, from the two new party members all the way to the new dungeons. Tales of Vesperia is a high point not only for its franchise, but for its genre.
In spite of an ending that arrives too soon, Moonlighter manages to offer an engaging balance of commerce and action up to the very end. There is a natural rhythm to opening the titular shop during the day only to dungeon crawl once night falls. Progression is constant, emphasizing a design philosophy that prioritizes a lack of wasted time above all else. From enhancing weapons to upgrading Rynoka, every piece of gold Will spends is in benefit to not only the player, but also the flow of it all. With surprisingly tight combat and an economy influenced exclusively by the protagonist himself, this is one of the most endearingly creative takes on action-RPGs this generation.
Sheltered makes for an engaging time killer in short bursts, but very few of its survival themed mechanics serve in benefit to the overall experience. Where Scenario actually makes good use of the premise, Survive suffers considerably due to poor RNG, a tedious loop, and a difficulty curve that, while adjustable, does very little to accommodate newcomers. There is an admittedly strong thematic cohesion between the gameplay and atmosphere, but this doesn't do nearly enough to do its premise justice.
With refined combat, a far tighter script, and an infinitely more likable cast, Torna - The Golden Country manages to address almost all of Xenoblade Chronicles 2's core problems without ever straying too far from its source. The DLC does still suffer from a few of XC2's flaws, particularly in how it paces its story and handles tone, but Torna is nonetheless a fantastic prequel that helps to fill in the blanks without ever feeling pandering or relying too much on fan service. This expansion is a net positive for the series, showing that Monolith Soft is willing to address criticism in earnest. In many respects, Torna - The Golden Country is the game Xenoblade Chronicles 2 should have been.