I’m sure I’verantedaboutmyloveforvariousResidentEvilgamesbefore, but I like to start my posts with a bit of personal history. From some of my earliest memories, I was a Nintendo fanboy who also loved horror. I loved my NES, the SNES was the console that made me realize how powerful my love of games was, and I was all in on the Nintendo 64. Simultaneously, I loved slasher films, haunted houses, and, of course, zombies. This made the allure of the original PlayStation console very hard to deny. As a diehard Nintendo fanboy, I’d ridiculed Sony’s entrance into the gaming market. No one could take down Nintendo, I thought. But then I started seeing all these exclusive PlayStation games in Electronic Gaming Monthly and GamePro that I just couldn’t ignore. Final Fantasy VII? Metal Gear Solid? And, yes, Resident Evil. When I finally convinced my parents to buy me a PlayStation (“the games are different! You can’t play these on Nintendo 64, I swear!”), Resident Evil: Director’s Cut was the first game I got.
Thus began my long love affair with the Resident Evil series. Though I owned and loved my PlayStation and PS2, my fanboy heart was still beating for Nintendo, and I was rooting for the GameCube to succeed. When Capcom announced a slew of games exclusive to the little purple console, including Resident Evil 4, I was ecstatic. And when Resident Evil 4 went on to be a ground-breaking game-of-the-year, my heart swelled with nerdy joy. It didn’t bother me that RE4 would go on to be a multiplatform megahit. By then I had pretty much given myself over to the multi-console mindset. Why restrict myself to one console and one set of exclusive games when I could play everything (when I could afford it)? But my love for the Resident Evil series thrived, and in recent years it’s burned even brighter, thanks to incredible remakes and new entries alike.
When the Resident Evil 4 remake was announced, I was surprised by the number of video game content creators and podcasters that legitimately seemed to question the “need” for a remake. I’m tired of remake discourse in general, I think. The “need’ argument rarely, if ever, holds water for me. Whether we’re talking about an original piece of content, a sequel, a remake, whatever, where does “need” come in? What does it mean to need a new piece of entertainment/art? That it’s somehow “vital”? I don’t love that idea. If a video game studio releases a totally new IP, how often do we hear the same people saying “ah, yes, we needed this”? Or, if it’s bad, “we didn’t need this”? It all seems caught up in a years-old distaste for existing IP that goes back decades. This is a personal blog post so I’m not going to dig up the research I’ve read that shows the “we’re running out of ideas” mentality is ancient, but I can’t help but think of it every time gamers bemoan a new remake/remaster just because they’re not interested in it. The remake of Cabin Fever, a horror movie I love, was very bad. It didn’t magically erase the original Cabin Fever movie, just as a “bad” remake of Resident Evil 4 wouldn’t change any of the previous versions of the game, just offer a new iteration for younger gamers who prefer fresher paint and added features.
Lucky for us, the remake of Resident Evil 4 isn’t bad. In fact, like the other recent remakes and mainline entries, it is pretty incredible. Capcom once again does an amazing job at balancing elements that made the original game special with new features, polish, and careful editing. To start with, the game looks great. I’ve blathered at length about how good the RE Engine is at textures, lighting, and more, and this game is another stellar example of that. The engine doesn’t do all the work, though. It’s obvious that a lot of thought and care went into designing every outfit, item, character, and environment. I’ve always loved that you can go into your menu and examine items in Resident Evil games. Not just because you must in order to solve little puzzles or find hidden objects, but it helps me appreciate the time the designers took in crafting these fully rendered, often very pretty objects that have gotten increasingly ornate over the years.
Speaking of beautiful environments, one of my favorite design upgrades in this game is the castle. The castle in the original game was fine in terms of gameplay and basic design, but Capcom has gotten so much better at crafting spaces that feel real, lived in, and are filled with little gorgeous details. As was the case with Castle Dimitrescu from Resident Evil Village, I found myself wanting to own and live in this castle. Yes, it’s filled with blood fountains and mutant insect nests and a rickety-at-best series of underground mineshafts, but that just adds some lived-in charm! Who doesn’t want a library filled with not only books but also violent, aggressive suits of armor? I rest my case. If I suddenly became a multi-billionaire, I swear to you I would buck the current trend of being a massive, maniacal asshole and I would give so much money to the fight against climate change and ending world hunger and unseating tyrannical politicians… AFTER I build an exact replica of every mansion, house, and castle from the Resident Evil series. I just happened to have some screenshots of the remaster of the original Resident Evil 4 on my PS5, so I’ll throw in a couple for comparison.
If we’re talking about glow-ups, however, we can’t pass over one of the biggest makeovers in Resident Evil history: Ms. Ashley Graham. I’m not exaggerating when I say I love the new Ashley. To be fair, I wasn’t much of a hater of the original Ashley. I didn’t love her, and her sometimes incessant shouts of “Leooooon!” were grating, but I really didn’t get the hate about her as a companion. Had people played with other AI follower characters in video games? They were notoriously terrible and legitimately dumb, so to have an AI follower that was smart enough to duck and stay out of the way of my gunfire was amazing to me at the time. The new Ashley, like the new Resident Evil 4, is smarter, prettier, and much deeper.
Okay, maybe “much deeper” is slightly hyperbolic, but I give Ashley 2.0 a lot of credit. I know some people are disappointed that she’s still a damsel, but her kidnapping and rescue is central to the RE4 story, and she’s the president’s daughter, not a rookie cop or special agent. I think Capcom was aware of the image of a flailing, desperate Ashley and made strides in making her tougher and more of a partner rather than a parcel to be carried and protected. She helps me solve puzzles, calls out danger, and even becomes a “master of unlocking” (an Easter Egg that thoroughly charmed me). When you first meet her, she swings a heavy candle holder at your head. And when you flee the church to make your way back to the village, she says “can we take a break?” When Leon says “Sorry, we have to keep moving,” Ashley doesn’t whine or play for sympathy. She simply says “okay,” and that’s the last time she comments about being tired or living through an absolute hellscape. She’s not popping zombie heads or punching boulders, okay, but she’s far braver and stronger than Ashley 1.0.
Part of Ashley’s glow-up is also a, well, glow-up. “Really, Joey? A third paragraph about Ashley? This game is called Resident Evil 4, not Ashley Graham Magical Dress-up Time.” Okay, imaginary reader who represents a small component of my writerly anxiety, but maybe it should be called that, because the new Ashley is, in my eyes, a hottie-boom-body, as the kids say. Or they did. Once upon a time. Maybe. It probably doesn’t hurt that, as with my beloved Lady Dimitrescu, Capcom used a real model for Ashley’s face. Speaking of Lady D, pairing her with Ashley is a fair representation of my broad “taste” in women, virtual or otherwise. Smart, mousey, kind, outgoing? Yes. Tall, assertive, sexy, aggressively murderous? Also yes. Capcom knew what they were doing when they dressed Ashley like Velma from Scooby Doo and gave me nerdy-but-fashionable glasses for her to wear. And have you seen the absolute deluge of Leon smut out there? The in-depth analysis of his biceps and hair? I will not apologize for my newfound Ashley obsession. Insert emoji with the scrunchy little angry face.
Okay, phew, I may have gotten a little defensive there. Let’s settle down, take a breath, and talk about grumpy, one-eyed, spider-spined monkey dudes. Well, him and the rest of the cast of villains. While the arguably silly plot remains (and what would a Resident Evil game be without it), as does a small slice of the camp from the original, the new iterations of Mendez, Krauser, Salazar, and Saddler are more menacing and (to some extent) believable. Salazar in particular maintains his stature and vamping but feels a lot more realistic and at-home in this new world. It feels like some kind of small (eh? see what I did there?) miracle that Capcom managed to keep Resident Evil 4’s silliness but somehow make a slightly more grounded, believable reality. Yes, you’re unrealistically dodging massive chunks of rock on a jet ski and fighting gigantic, twisted tangles of flesh and eyeballs, but all the Resident Evil remakes feel interconnected and adequately less cheesy to me, and I have to think it’s in large part due to their refined villains.
Leon and Luis are also slightly toned down in terms of their quips, but I appreciate their slightly antagonistic bromance in the remake. Luis’s role hasn’t expanded all that much, but I feel like small tweaks to his backstory (like the photo of him on a certain research team) and dialog about him (between Leon and Ashley after his death) make him feel more vital to the story. Leon maintains his golden retriever aloofness, particularly when it comes to Ashley’s subtle advances. I was so tickled when they started flirting in Chapter 9, when Ashley asks him if he does a lot of missions like this and he responds with the classic “well, yeah… but I’m not used to having such good company.” And, later, when Leon balks at Ashley’s suggestion that he wear a suit of armor, she says “too bad. I think you’d look pretty dashing.” Come on, man. Chemistry for days between these two! Except Leon later just has to drop the ball when Ashley suggests she could pull some strings and get him assigned to her security detail. Leon. My man. Get it together.
I should wrap things up, but I’ll rapid-fire some other things I loved. The controls, as with the recent third person RE games, are tight and responsive. The egg bit (using eggs as weapons against bosses) is a cute, silly Easter… well, you know. I am so happy they kept the Merchant mostly the same but expanded his lines. He is so sassy in this. The way he says, “See anything you like, Strange-uh?” gets me every time. The shooting gallery is seriously well-done. The unique design, sounds, commentary, gameplay… all great. I love the inclusion of classic character models for the briefcase charms (though why not let us use them in-game, like the Resident Evil 2 remake did?). Sound design is immaculate. All of my heart to the return of the white wolf.
I’m sure I’m forgetting things, but the last thing I’ll say is that I love the costumes and wish there were more of them. With them, I was able to take one of my favorite screenshots of all time. Look at these two. It looks like an old-timey Hollywood paparazzi photo where a famous celebrity couple are caught coming out of a diner. Leon coolly looking away, Ashley stunned by the crowd of flashbulbs. I love it.
And I love Resident Evil 4. Capcom has blown me away with how frequently they’re releasing just killer Resident Evil games. A bounty of riches. Having one team work on new entries and another work on remakes is genius, and it feels like a new RE game is always just around the corner. If the pattern holds, we should hear about Resident Evil 9 next, along with maybe a tease for the next remake? I can’t wait.
*blows dust off imaginary typewriter* Hello again, old friend. Friends? I don’t know who I write these to, in reality. I maintain that this blog is a way for me to chronicle my history with video games mostly for myself, but I am aware that an occasional stranger or friend might pop in and read these overly long and rambling posts. So, to you, hello. It has been a while.
A lot has happened since I last wrote, not least of which is landing a dream job with PlayStation. It couldn’t have come at a better time, too. Last summer I was mid-crisis, anxious about finishing my degree and what came next. I got a call about a copywriting position I’d applied for just two weeks prior. I’d also applied for a game testing position, sure I’d never qualify for the writing position since it was far from entry level. When I got the call, I was certain it was for the testing job. Nope. I felt incredibly lucky and honored to even get a pre-interview call, and with each subsequent round of interviews I told myself that I was just really fortunate to have gotten that far. When I got the job offer, I lost it. I couldn’t believe it was happening to me. Maybe I’ll write about it in more detail later but suffice to say it was quite a ride.
This post, as others in the past have, will focus on catching up on games I’ve played recently. Well, if eight months can be called “recent,” I guess. To manage the length (somewhat), I’ll abstain from saying much about games I’ve revisited. Animal Crossing New Horizons is currently pulling me back in, I replayed Ace Combat 7 to chip away at the platinum for that, I played Everybody’s Golf with friends until the second the servers were taken offline (RIP), and I still pop into Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Mario Party Superstars, and Phasmophobia on the regular. I also threw several dozen more hours into No Man’s Sky at one point. But let’s talk about newer experiences.
Arcade Spirits: The New Challengers
I’ve gushed about my time with the first Arcade Spirits game, so The New Challengers was one of my most anticipated games of 2022. The colorful art style and character design, the clever writing, the retro game scene vibe — I loved it all, and the sequel fine-tuned much of what I liked about its predecessor. I really liked the original cast of characters so my main concern going into the sequel was that I might not connect with the new crew as well.
Turns out, the team at Fiction Factory Games knows what they’re doing, and I loved the new cast as much as the old. I also really liked the competitive tournament storyline and the many choices you can make about your approach to the matches and Iris, besides the obvious relationship stuff. Speaking of, the first game touched on some interesting gender and sexuality things, and the sequel adds even more, including the ability to be in a poly relationship. I’m sure it’s not the first indie game to allow it, but it still felt pretty refreshing. And I took advantage of it, because it just so happened to involve my two top relationship choices: Grace and Jynx. Best of both worlds, babyyyyy. I do still wish there were character animations and even more customizable player character models, but maybe that will come in future installments – of which I hope there are many.
I’ve written about my love for Until Dawn and my mixed (but mostly positive) feelings for the Dark Pictures Anthology games, so The Quarry was one of the games I was very excited for in 2022. One thing that turned me off about some of the Dark Pictures games was the settings. While I appreciate the desire to let players experience several different horrific scenarios in several different settings, like a ghost ship or an ancient cave system, there’s something about the classic bunch-of-teens-in-the-woods scenario that scratches the classic slasher itch for me. The Quarry scratched that itch even more than Until Dawn, and while the latter is still my favorite in the series, I had a ton of fun with former.
I’ll avoid story spoilers here, but the story was indeed a highlight in this entry. Having good characters is a must for ensemble horror, and I haven’t liked a cast in the series this much since Until Dawn. There has been a likable character or two in each game, but I thought this whole lineup was strong. Ted Raimi was great as Sherriff Hackett, Siobhan Williams played a great final girl (sort of?), frickin’ Lance Henriksen? Ariel Winter? Great cast. My favorite character was Kaitlyn, played by Brenda Song, though. Not only was she “a baddie,” as the kids say, she was the kind of character that you’d actually want with you in a situation like that. Smart, strong-willed, and (almost) unflinching.
Good writing goes a long way in making a good story and good characters, though, and I thought the dialog writing in particular was much stronger in this game. There was an occasional cheeseball line or cringey joke, but those are part of the horror experience, too. For the most part, I thought the characters sounded believable and natural. The graphics were also, as always, excellent. I love the realistic horror movie look, plus with forced camera angles, moody lighting, and great animation, these games still feel like the closest thing we can get to a playable horror movie. I haven’t gotten the platinum trophy yet, but I can see myself going back and cleaning that up at some point. Supermassive Games puts these games out at a decent clip, too, so I hope I won’t have to wait very long for the next one.
Resident Evil Village: Winters’ Expansion
I can’t get enough of Resident Evil Village. Well, I can’t get enough of the Resident Evil series in general, which is why I’m super stoked for Resident Evil 4 Remake later this month. But Village holds a special place in my RE-heart, and not just because of the beautiful Lady Dimitrescu. Okay, so largely because of the beautiful Lady Dimitrescu. Get it? Largely? Because she’s very big? Ahem. No, I love a lot of what Village brought to the series. The graphics and design were stunning, the balance of eerie exploration and tense action was on point, and I was invested in the Winters family’s tragic tale.
The Winters’ Expansion is woefully lacking in vitamin D (as in the Lady), but it does continue Rose’s story right from the end of the main game. It’s a short experience but there are some very cool, scary scenes. Light content spoilers ahead, though I’ll avoid story stuff. You return to House Beneviento and are once again stripped of any weapons and required to sneak your way out, solving puzzles along the way. I loved that part of the main game, so I was very happy to see another level like it. The mannequins were very creepy, to the point where I sent a short video to a friend and they wrote back “oh hell no.” As a matter of fact, oh hell yes. I haven’t yet gone through the game in third person mode, but I do like that they’ve added that option for people who prefer that perspective over first. It was a short addition to the Village story but it was as beautiful and spooky as the main game, so I had a good time with it.
Stray blew up in a way that few could have gue… oh, who am I kidding? As soon as the trailer for this game was released, I think the combination of adorable cat and atmospheric robot city convinced me and many others that this was a sure hit. And that it was, deservedly so. It’s a fairly simple and straightforward game, with just a handful of puzzles and combat scenarios, but it’s incredibly charming and emotionally engaging. I mean, come on. It’s a cat. As a cat owner myself (hi, Bella! She can’t read this. She’s a cat. But I will read it out loud to her at some point), I was instantly invested in this little feline’s fate.
Slight spoilers for the beginning of the game, but right in the very first scene you’re already heartbroken. If you’re me (and at least one of my friends), your eyes are actually welled with tears by the scene that sets the adventure into motion. There are other moving moments as well, but overall this was just a sweet, lovely experience for me. Combat and running from enemies was tense, but later I could find a cozy shelf in a library bathed in soft lighting, curl up on a pillow, and go to sleep. And I could sleep for as long as I wanted. There’s even a trophy for sleeping a certain amount of time! And it’s that kind of thing that made me really appreciate this game. They got the cat-ness right. Rubbing up against robot legs, knocking things off shelves, scratching rugs and couches when I can… It’s not an intensely realistic cat sim, but it balances the right kitty notes with a world I wanted to explore and a story that engaged me. I really liked it.
Call of Duty Modern Warfare II
I hadn’t played a CoD in a while (since… the first Ghosts?), and Modern Warfare II seemed to be getting some buzz, so I decided to give the campaign a try. I finished it, and it retains much of what I liked about previous campaigns, though there were a couple of small annoyances. While I understand the desire to produce highly scripted action set pieces, and sometimes they work well, sometimes it just felt like I was set up to fail. I feel most immersed and a part of the action when everything seems inevitable and natural. When it’s obvious that a guy is scripted to kick in a door and blast me with a shotgun as soon as I step past an invisible line, I feel more like I’m an actor in a movie, hitting my mark. Yes, I understand that these kind of invisible triggers are in most games, but in MWII sometimes they result in immediate death. It was like the developers were trying to get across the point that war is hard and death is around every corner. Which, yes, duh. But you also want me to feel like a badass who’s taking out entire squads almost single handedly, so… these two things didn’t mesh for me. I am fine with challenging games when my deaths feel like my fault. I scold myself and try again. When I feel like the game is working against me and my deaths are the result of careful scripting, I feel far less engaged and more aware of the “gaminess” of it all.
Also, please, video game developers, I’m begging you to do some research on Lake Michigan before trying to depict the Chicago lakefront. This is not the first game where you can see lights across the lake from the city, but this might be the biggest budget one with the most people working on it. You’re telling me no one involved has been to Chicago or even looked at pictures of the lake from the city? Lake Michigan is massive. By surface area, it’s bigger than nine of the US states. It’s bigger than entire countries, like the Netherlands, Denmark, Croatia, Switzerland, and Taiwan (not combined). I understand that people see “lake” and think of, like, a lake where they might go kayaking with their family on vacation but… no. Please. Justice for Lake Michigan.
Anyway, those gripes aside, I had a pretty good time with MWII. It looks amazing, as they often do, and the gunplay and movement feel as fluid as ever. One of my favorite things about the series is the variety when it comes to mission types. I can see how it might get old if you play every single entry, but I like breaching a desert facility with a squad, then firing on several escaping enemies from an airship above, then sneakily infiltrating an area solo, then crawling through muck to snipe a compound. I could probably have done without the vehicle hopping mission, but you can’t win ‘em all sometimes. Overall, it was a fun time.
I’ll keep this relatively short because Disco Elysium is a dense game with a lot to unpack. If you are a big fan of the game or just want to hear more, we recorded two episodes discussing it on our Pretty Pixels Podcast (which is now on potentially permanent hiatus, RIP), which you can find here and here. To sum it up, I really warmed to this game over the many hours I spent with it. It was a gradual climb that ended with me loving it. My first hour with the game felt slow and confusing. The second was slightly clearer, but I found myself wondering if this game was being obtuse just to seem complicated or nuanced. With each subsequent hour, my cynicism melted away and I could see purpose behind the design choices the developers made. The amnesia, the inner voices without context, the impact of player choice… like Harry’s memory, slowly things started to come into focus.
In the end, Disco Elysium tells a complex but beautiful (if tragic) story that is not just Harry’s. It’s yours. It’s Kim’s. It’s Elysium’s. It was a ride. I was surprised, I was moved, I was provoked to really consider things like government, identity, systems of power. I started my journey in a detached and cynical way, but ended up getting misty-eyed on several occasions, none of which I want to spoil. So, like other narratively rich games, I mostly have to just urge you to play it and experience it for yourself. It might seem confusing and, depending on your tastes, overly “artsy” at first, but if you stick with it I have a feeling you’ll get a lot out of it, as I did.
Poor Gotham Knights. Gamers on social media love a punching bag, and Gotham Knights really took a beating when it came out. As is often the case, it does seem that after the launch ire dies down, people start discovering it and there is an adjustment in public sentiment when people start realizing that it’s not nearly as bad as reactionary hot-take-baiters seemed to make it out to be. I played it alone and with a friend, and while I do agree with some of the valid criticisms of it (primarily that the city isn’t as filled with the kind of rich detail and love that we’ve come to expect), I had a good time and thought it was a solid Batman story.
Yes, the city design is uninspired, but I thought the characters looked great and I was frequently snapping screenshots of Batgirl (the only character I played as) kicking ass and gliding over rooftops. The opening cinematic was rad, as was the ending sequence. One of my favorite things about the game was the costumes, though. I don’t know if this is controversial to say, but the costumes are one of the few things this game does better than the Arkham games (though I do feel it’s unfair to the devs to keep making that comparison). Batgirl alone has the awesome Knight Ops, Eternal, Beyond, and Talon suits.
Online co-op was very fun, though when my friend and I got too far from each other, we did experience some slowdown. I also do wish that the cycle travel was faster, as it felt like I was dutifully obeying local speed limits rather than zipping dangerously through the dark streets of Gotham. Still, overall, I had a really good time with Gotham Knights and am always down for more Batman games where we get substantial story beats involving Bat Family characters we don’t see in games as often. On a last note, I would bet a very pretty penny that Harley Quinn’s appearance was based on Bridget Fonda. Seriously.
That same friend I played Gotham Knights with, Paul (hi, Paul!), had been recommending Thronebreaker to me (and every one of our podcast listeners at the end of every episode) for months, so we did a game swap. He is a huge Star Wars and Mass Effect fan, so I was absolutely shocked and appalled that he hadn’t played Knights of the Old Republic yet. That game played a critical role in deepening my love of Star Wars, plus it was the launch of my love of Bioware-style RPGs that have moral alignments, choices, romance options, and all that good stuff. What I am not typically a fan of is, uh… card games. Thronebreaker, dear reader, is a card game. But I do love The Witcher 3, so in the spirit of the swap, and to keep an open mind, I downloaded Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales and started my deck-based journey.
Right off the bat, I loved the art style. The thick comic lines, minor details, and subtle animations really made the maps, characters, and cards very pleasing to look at. Especially Queen Meve. Because she real purty. Ahem, where was I? Speaking of Meve, though, I very quickly became invested in the story. Again, no big story spoilers, but the plot involves Queen Meve being dethroned and her fight to win back her Queendom. The enemies are particularly well written, which is so important in revenge/vengeance stories because my drive to kill them painfully grows with each new slight or injustice they deliver. And my bloodlust was ready to burst once I got near the endgame. Okay, wait, I guess I should slow down and talk about the actual card battles. As I played the tutorial, and the game introduced rule after rule, and I could see how deep you could get into deck building and strategy. I could feel my brain going numb. I fumbled my way through the first few real battles before deciding to just use a guide for any battles I struggled with.
Surprisingly, it wasn’t many! I fought every battle I could for practice, and eventually I started to catch onto some of the patterns the game uses. An enemy would start laying down certain cards and I would think “ah, they’re trying to set me up for this. Well then I’ll do this.” So, yes, I did need help on occasion, but it didn’t diminish my experience. Every victory felt hard fought and my ultimate victory was very sweet. I didn’t get the best ending, because I made what I didn’t realize at the time was a bad decision, but my ending was pretty solid. Overall, I ended up having a ton of fun with Thronebreaker. And Meve can get it.
Dying Light 2
Oh, Dying Light 2. I really wanted to love you. I really do appreciate all of the work that goes into games, especially games with as many moving parts as Dying Light 2. And there are things I enjoyed in my time with the game. The gameplay loop, which is a big part of the experience, hooked me. Like the first game, I enjoyed doing runs, scoping out new places to raid, dodging zombies, levelling up, all that good stuff. And some of the early story beats, like liberating the first utility tower, made me excited about the narrative and my role in it. If you’d asked me when I was around a quarter of the way through the game what I would score it, I’d have said around an 8, maybe an 8.5. Unfortunately, that number steadily dropped as the game carried on.
Granted, some of my biggest gripes are with the last quarter of the game, which drags on at an uneven pace, making me wish at every turn that it would just end and leave me with my still mostly positive memories. But end it did not, and the final stretch had several sections that just slowed it down even more, like an infuriating and pointless duct crawling section and a terrible final boss. I got the “good” ending, but by the time I got it I just didn’t really care anymore. I was so annoyed by the last bit of the game. If I were just looking for an open world zombie game to pass the time with missions and side quests and such, I might have had a perfectly fine time. The story kind of ruined it for me.
I like to fit small indie games between bigger, AAA affairs, and Unpacking seemed like the perfect kind of low-stakes, chill, cozy experience to follow Dying Light 2 with. It was everything I’d hoped it would be. It was charming, the retro pixel art was adorable, the soundtrack was pretty bangin’, and the narrative was subtle, sad, sweet, and more. It’s a simple premise, obviously: click on a box to produce an object, find a place for it in a room (or rooms), and click on where you want it to go. You can turn things, move them around, or just lazily toss things where you like. Some things have a very specific location, and I did find myself a little frustrated when I couldn’t figure out where that spot was, but overall the game was pretty free and loose with where I could drop things.
Yet again, no major story spoilers, but I really loved the way the narrative unfolded in this game. Each room, each object, reveal new wrinkles in the story. You find yourself feeling like you really know this character you’re playing as, just by considering the kinds of items you’re handling and the space you’re unpacking them in. Each room contains clues, and this environmental storytelling felt new and rewarding. But my story might not be yours, or even “the” story. A friend of mine played and mentioned how sad it was that the player character [redacted]. But when I played, I didn’t read it that way at all. It’s not that either of us has to be “right” – we just experienced a different version of the same story. Which is pretty cool, I think. So, yeah, I loved Unpacking. While it is pleasant and charming, to call it a “palate cleanser,” as I was about to, is unfair to it, even if that’s how I used it. It’s a wonderful game in its own right.
FAR: Changing Tides
FAR: Changing Tides was another quiet, lovely game. Whereas Unpacking kept text to a minimum, FAR excludes it entirely. For a game about tending your ship, sailing the seas, and exploring the depths, the lack of narration or exposition felt appropriate. The sailing mechanics are simple and rewarding. You push in a heavy switch to raise your mast, carry down a cable to open the sail, and move the sail with a handle to control speed. You can stop quickly by releasing the handle and loosing the cable. These are the opening sailing controls, and I would have been happy enough with even just this simple setup. Slight progression spoiler, but as you get further you unlock a steam engine, then even more upgrades later. With the steam engine, you use trash you’ve collected from the seafloor or ruins as fuel, and must then balance the previously mentioned controls with occasionally feeding the engine and putting out any fires that might occur if you push it too far.
Things didn’t always go smoothly, of course, and dealing with storms, obstructions, and other barriers meant I had to always be on my toes in case I had to jump into action and halt the engine, drop the sail, and stop on a dime. This made travel itself a perpetual puzzle, but to unlock upgrades or a path forward, I also had to explore buildings, ruins, and more, solving pretty straightforward physics puzzles along the way. While these weren’t as fun as sailing, they were still rewarding, especially because I then got to scurry back to my ship, my home, my heart. The sometimes-smooth, sometimes-manic process of driving my ship was endlessly soothing. It made me wish for a fully 3D, open-world version, where I could literally just sail around and explore strange new places.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge
Man, what a blast of pure nostalgia. Shredder’s Revenge has learned the valuable lesson of recent excellent remakes and remasters, like the Resident Evil games and Metroid Prime Remastered in that it maintains the essence of the thing you once loved and polishes it with modern flair. In my fuzziest, most nostalgic memories of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles the arcade game, it plays like a dream. When I revisited it a while back, I was reminded of the reality, which is that it is an arcade game designed to snarf up as many of your quarters as possible. It was purposefully unbalanced and, at times, unfair. We can’t have you just breezing through it on a few measly quarters, can we? Luckily, I played it in The Galloping Ghost Arcade, in Brookfield, Illinois, where you pay an entry fee and can then play as much of any game that you want. Infinite continues meant I could finally beat the TMNT arcade game that I never fully beat as a kid (though I did make it to Shredder a few times).
Shredder’s Revenge takes the fuzzy part of my memories with that classic arcade game and delivers them back to me in a beautiful retro package. The sprite work and animation are bright and beautiful, the soundtrack is bangin’, and the game plays like a cleaner version of what I remember the arcade game playing like with some added special moves unique to each character. It was a pretty short game, yes, but I was able to play the whole thing with a few of friends and had a lot of fun doing it. If I’d just played it solo it would have still been a good time, but there is something extra fun about picking heroes, helping each other, and experiencing something new with friends.
Twelve Minutes, like Gotham Knights, was a bit of a victim of gamer ire on social media when it came out. I can understand why, given the level of Hollywood talent involved, the hype preceding release, and the admittedly awful narrative twist. Removed from the drama, though, I thought it was a pretty decent adventure game that reminded me of the simple joy of a point-and-click-style narrative mystery. Like those games, you investigate objects and points of interest, and, with the power of inductive reasoning, piece together a story. There were a couple of pieces that were a little frustrating to fit together, but overall it was a pretty satisfying loop. Get it? Loop? Like… a time loop? Never mind. Yeah, the twist was very dumb, and the voice acting was a bit of a mixed bag, but it was a short and ultimately decent experience.
Metroid Prime Remastered
Metroid Prime was one of the oldest games on my backlog. I loved my GameCube and was desperate for new, exciting releases after launch. At the time, Super Metroid was on a ton of “best games of all time” lists. I felt like I’d missed out by not playing it, so when Metroid Prime came around I was determined to not miss out. Unfortunately, a couple of things were conspiring against me. First, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City was released just a couple of weeks prior to Metroid Prime, and I wasn’t ready to move on from its sunny, retro, neon-washed streets. I shipped out for basic military training two months later, so a lot of that time was spent with friends, saying my goodbyes. I wouldn’t get my GameCube shipped to me until I was in technical training, more than three months later. I tried to start Prime while I was in training, but I just wasn’t feeling it. Too many distractions. Like its predecessor, it was held up as one of the best games of all time.
The years went by, sequels were released, and I just never got around to playing it. Then Metroid Dread came along, and I decided to play Super Metroid to prepare for the release of the much-hyped Dread. And I’m glad I did, because I fell in love with it. And Dread. And Samus Returns. And Fusion. Yes, I was a total Metroid convert. I had seen the green visor-tinted light. So when Metroid Prime Remastered was announced and shadow dropped, I snapped it up right away. As the other entries in the series are, it is truly an incredible game, and an amazing remaster. As others have pointed out, it doesn’t seem like a simple up-res. It sure seems like the graphics were completely replaced with new assets. Everything looks crisp and beautiful, and it runs as smooth as Chozo butter… if there is such a thing.
Much of what I loved about Metroid Prime is what I love about the series in general. It’s atmospheric, moody, challenging, and Samus Aran is a certified badass. Every time I got stuck with a puzzle, or struggled with a boss, I worried it was going to be a massive road block that would frustrate me and cause me to walk away. But apparently Retro and Nintendo know how to make video games, because the answer to my troubles were always within grasp. With a little patience and the willingness to approach things from a different angle, I was always able to overcome challenges. Ridley was a classic Metroid boss fight. My first attempt, he demolished me. How could I beat him? Should I look up a guide? After my second try, he still beat me, but I could see his patterns. I crushed him on the third try. I love Metroid Prime Remastered and I really hope they give the same treatment to Prime 2 and 3. Also, that Phazon Suit? Sexyyyyyy.
My time with PowerWash Simulator was brief but intense. I don’t know what it says about my brain, but pressure washing dirt and scum from every kind of surface, building, vehicle, and structure was supremely satisfying. I don’t really even know what to say about this game that’s not obvious. You have a pressure washer with several attachments that control the strength and size of your jet, and you use it to clean vehicles, buildings, carnival rides, ancient ruins, and more. The game is forgiving in the sense that you don’t need to blast away every single molecule of dirt on a segment of whatever you’re washing. If you get around 97%, it’ll auto-complete for you, which takes away a lot of the pressure (badum-csh) that you might get stuck because you can’t find what tiny patch you’re missing.
I played this game obsessively over the course of a couple of weeks, sometimes listening to podcasts while I worked. It felt oddly productive. Like, obviously I’m playing a game, but after I completed a particularly big, complicated job, I felt seriously accomplished. The very loose and silly story was charming, and there were a couple of very fun surprises throughout. I put the game aside after I finished the campaign, but I’ll definitely be picking it back up at some point to run through the Tomb Raider and Final Fantasy VII content, and I hope Square keeps adding more levels from their IP catalog. Chrono Trigger sets, anyone?
God of War Ragnarök
God of War Ragnarök will always hold a special place in my heart because it’s the first first-party game we shipped during my time with PlayStation. I didn’t write for the game itself, just some support stuff, but seeing one of my fellow copywriter’s name in the credits was so exciting. And what a first game to be even loosely associated with. I loved God of War 2018, and I think Ragnarök surpassed it in every way. While it is a cross-gen game and doesn’t take full advantage of the PS5 hardware, it’s still gorgeous. Its beauty isn’t just about the fidelity of its graphics, though. It has exceptional character and level design, with obvious care and thought put into the smallest of details. A word of caution: visual spoilers in the pictures below.
The story and writing were also top-notch. I really don’t want to spoil anything, but I will say that they put a lot of work into each and every major character. Every line lands, and there are some really moving and breathtaking scenes. An excursion with Brock to retrieve a weapon (he said vaguely) was probably my favorite. A favorite side quest involved a couple of beautiful, glowing jellyfish-like creatures. I also love how they developed relationships between characters. Again, it’s hard to say much without spoiling anything, but the way that Kratos and Atreus’s storyline wraps up was better than I could have guessed. I’m so excited to see what the future holds for these characters.
The combat, new and old, was awesome, and [slight combat spoiler, if you haven’t already heard] I absolutely loved the spear combat. I liked the axe and blade combat from the first game a lot and, admittedly, I questioned whether a new weapon could match the simple yet rich potential of those two. It did – so much so that it quickly became my primary weapon. I also, once again, enjoyed the added complexity of using Atreus in combat to stun, distract, or damage enemies. Some random notes: the first fight with Thor was amazing. I love Fenrir. So much. I was excited to see Deborah Ann Woll, because I like her a lot. Freya is a baddie and can get it. Sif is a baddie who can get it. Sexy Valkyries are back, babyyyyyy. And the game was surprisingly funny, even more so than its predecessor. I have many more thoughts, but it’s hard to dive too deep without giving anything away. Suffice to say, I loved my time with God of War Ragnarök and it deserves all the praise it’s gotten.
Need for Speed Unbound
I wouldn’t call myself “a racing game person.” I don’t buy every big racing game, I don’t have a racing wheel, and I can be really picky when it comes to sim vs arcade racers. And yet some of my favorite games of all time are racing games. I’ve spent countless hours chucking shells in the Mario Kart games, I nearly hundred percented the first two Midnight Club games, loved knocking heads in Road Rash, and Burnout Paradise was one of my favorite games of all time. It’s been a while since I’ve played a great arcade racer, and since Need for Speed Unbound was getting some hype, I decided to check it out. I was worried that it might be another Forza Horizon experience, though, where people say it’s arcade-y but it ends up being more realistic. As is often the case, I worried for nothing. Before I knew it, I was sliding around corners, breaking dramatically through billboards, and taking down competitors with style.
It made me realize that one of the very specific things I look for in a racing game is controllable power slides. If I can’t slide recklessly around a curve, recover, and get right back in the race? Not for me. NFS Unbound definitely requires skill and focus, but it controls loosely enough to make races feel just the right amount of ridiculous. I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that I had played many, many hours before having a sudden realization: this game reminds me of Burnout Paradise! From the basic design of the open world, to starting events, to breaking billboards, it’s all so similar. Weirdly enough, it was a very subtle thing that made it click: the way the camera swings around behind your car after completing an event. I was amazed… and then I looked it up and, uh, yeah, it’s the same developers. So… duh.
I also got very into making a rad wrap for my cars. When I first looked at the customization options, I wasn’t feeling it. I thought “eh, I don’t want to ruin my perfectly beautiful paint job.” I kept scrolling through the decals. “Oh, well… that one is pretty cool. Maybe just one decal.” Scrolled more. “Ooh, dang. Alright, maybe just two.” Two hours later and my car was completely wrapped. Tweaking my design and unlocking new decals via street art was fun. Tweaking my car’s performance and unlocking new parts was also very rewarding. My only real complaint is that the difficulty is not balanced very well. Between impossibly fast AI who will zoom past you with inferior cars to cops that conveniently t-bone you out of nowhere, it really felt like the game was working against me in unfair ways at times. In the end, though, I had an excellent time with Unbound. Even after finishing the campaign, I couldn’t get enough and drove around grabbing collectibles, cleaning up optional events, and popping a few final trophies.
I loved my PS VR, so I was thrilled when a follow-up was announced, especially because the specs for it were so impressive. I always said I would take power over portability, so I didn’t mind the fact that it would be wired, since that just meant it wouldn’t be hampered by mobile processors and would take advantage of the PS5 hardware. Well, I got one at launch and it’s fully lived up to my expectations so. Granted, I haven’t had it for long, but it has everything I wanted in a new VR unit: 4K (2K per eye) OLED displays, better tracking, headset see-through, controllers designed for VR, and it even has a couple of features I didn’t know I wanted (haptic headset feedback and eye tracking). It’s not the Ready Player One leap that VR skeptics seem to be waiting for, but it smooths out many of the last-gen rough edges and I’m just hyped for the library to grow. I do wish there was a media player on PS5 that supported VR, but maybe that’ll come later.
In terms of games, I bought a handful but haven’t played all of them yet. I got Before Your Eyes, Gran Turismo 7 upgrade, and Star Wars: Tales from the Galaxy’s Edge, which I haven’t played yet. I played through the campaign for Tetris EffectConnected, but there’s not much to update there since I also played the original. Same with the few rounds of Pistol Whip that I tried. I played through the tutorial for Resident Evil Village VR, and while the game looks beautiful and the gunplay is surprisingly fun, it’s also the only game I’ve played so far that’s made me feel a little of the ol’ familiar VR sickness. I did play through the opening levels of What the Bat?, which were pretty fun.
Horizon Call of the Mountain
Again, I haven’t beat this game yet, but I’m a couple hours in and it’s great so far. It’s beautiful, the climbing is intuitive, the bow combat is precise and fun, and there are several fun little VR activities (like painting) to show off the medium’s potential. I love the Horizon games, so while I’ve been disappointed with the relative lack of Aloy, I am happy to just have an opportunity to explore the vibrant, colorful world. I’ll do a more thorough VR game post at some point, but for now I have to take another multi-month blog writing break. Just kidding! I think. I hope. No, seriously.
My history with FromSoftware games is virtually non-existent. I own a copy of Bloodborne that a friend gave to me, and I bought the Demon’s Souls remake for PS5, but I have yet to play either. My exposure to their games comes in the form of the persistent discussion about their difficulty and accessibility with the release of each new game. You know how it goes. A new FromSoft game comes out, hardcore fans get excited and hype rises, curious newcomers enter the fray and decide to check it out, some of them are in love and some of them dare to criticize the inflexible difficulty and lack of accessibility options, a certain contingent of toxic FromSoft fans attack any and all critics, shouting “git gud,” “this game isn’t made for you,” “accessibility options would ruin the game,” all that fun stuff, rinse and repeat. Though I hadn’t played them, I found myself on the side of those calling for more accessibility. I was irked by two main things: for one, accessibility options don’t have to “ruin” a game because they are, as their name implies, options. Adding optional modes for people with disabilities or people who lack the time, patience, or skill to navigate an infamously challenging game doesn’t mean longtime fans can’t play the game how they want to play it. Just because the options are there doesn’t mean you have to use them. The second thing (other than the obvious annoyance at the ridiculousness of the “git gud” refrain) is the lack of willingness by critics to hold the game’s difficulty against it. We seem more than willing to hold a game’s difficulty against it when it’s “too easy,” but there seems to be a hesitation to do the same for inordinately hard games. Read or listen to criticism of games like Kirby, or Luigi’s Mansion, or Super Princess Peach, and you’ll often see scores purposely lowered because the games are “too easy” and don’t present much of a challenge. It’s not a criticism of the design of the game, just the perceived lack of difficulty. I struggle to think of an example of a critic taking significant points off for games that are “too challenging.” Even when a game like Returnal is so challenging that some reviewers can’t finish their review copies in time for embargo, the critical response is mostly unphased. So, to see so many lament that each FromSoft game was difficult, maybe too difficult, yet on the whole be unwilling to hold that difficulty against them was somewhat frustrating.
So, maybe it’s obvious, but I wasn’t all that hyped for Elden Ring when it was announced. The first trailer didn’t look great either, so I had no intention of playing it, at least not until I tried that copy of Demon’s Souls that I have. Just because the discourse around the game frustrated me didn’t mean I was unwilling to try these games. Aside from the toxic fanboys/defenders, I’ve heard great things about them, so I had every intention of playing my copy of Demon’s Souls… eventually. Then Elden Ring was released to even greater fanfare and praise than other Souls games, and my good friend Paul (who has great taste in games) was very hyped for it. Maybe I should start with this game and not Demon’s Souls, I told myself, and decided that I’d pick it up if I just so happened to see it on sale – which I did, in late March. I was, of course, somewhat excited to try it, because it did look pretty cool in the TikTok and Twitter clips I’d seen, but most of those clips highlighted the unrelenting, seemingly imbalanced difficulty I’d heard so much about, so my excitement was buffered by the expectation that this game might not be for me. I would try it, I told myself, and if I got too frustrated or the game was as obstinate as some have said, then I’d just quit. No pressure to finish. Just have a little fun and move on, able to judge for myself if the game is “too hard.”
I won’t beat around the bush too much. I did not quit, dear reader. I spent 154 hours in the world of Elden Ring, completed the story and most optional bosses (the ones I could find, anyway), and even got the platinum trophy for PS5 (which I guess isn’t that impressive, since a massive 10% of people who’ve played it on PS5 have done the same!). I had a lot of fun with this game, and there is a lot to love about it. Do I think it’s a “perfect game,” as many have claimed? Lord, no. Even after playing and loving it, there are some notable issues with it in terms of design and accessibility. But this is a game of moments and memories. There are some confounding, confusing design decisions, but when I found a way around some of the design, I had some amazing, incredible moments. I suppose I could say it’s an incredible game despite itself.
Let’s talk about some of those things I love. The art style and world design (on a visual level) are amazing. The actual graphics, as in things like texture, lighting, unique assets, etc. are not exactly optimal, but if you view the world from a distance and focus on the macro instead of the micro, this is a stunningly beautiful world. The word that came to mind at one point, as I was riding my spectral steed (what a cool description, too) through a low valley with a massive dragon sleeping in the distance and an enormous, glowing tree towering over virtually every corner of the map, was “majesty.” Elden Ring does the majesty of epic fantasy better than almost any game I’ve played. Regardless of the part of the world I was in, I could almost always swing the camera around and have some spectacular view (though this made the lack of a photo mode extra annoying).
The quiet, low soundtrack provides the perfect backdrop for this world, too. It doesn’t have the same kind of rousing pieces with dramatic swells that other fantasy games have (though I do like those types), and in fact it feels sort of… well, dead. But how perfect is that, given that this is a dying world, filled with ruins, both well-aged and in-progress? I kept waiting for the tempo or volume to kick up as I approached one of the many epic set pieces in the world, but it never did. The music stayed quiet, subdued. Like even the music had given up hope that this world could be saved. It’s seen too many Tarnished try and fail. You are no different. You don’t get a hero’s score.
Zooming in a bit more, I also loved the variety of cool locations in the world. Though there was a lot of copy/pasting with some assets, there were also a whole host of unique environments. An enormous mansion, beset on multiple sides by lava that flows beneath and around the grounds, spawning fiery slugs and seemingly tended by automaton iron maidens with masks and deadly, extending pendulum arms. A decaying swamp of putrid rot, surrounded by slapdash barriers of fire, meant to slow the spread of this poisonous disease. A besieged fortress, overtaken by monster and man, set on a hill over the sea. Seemingly endless enchanted towers with books and mystical trinkets scattered here and there. One my favorites: an underground city with (somehow) a starry sky, toppled buildings, ancestral woods, and crumbling columns.
There are also numerous caves, mines, and dungeons, though they’re all very similar in terms of design. One of the types of mines is crystal, though, which is important for considering something else I liked: environmental storytelling. There is an argument that the environmental storytelling in Elden Ring is too sparse, as the game’s insistence on being unhelpful to the player means that it’s easy to miss out on lots of narrative beats, big and small – but when it works, it’s incredibly satisfying. Let’s consider those enchanted towers I mentioned. I was in love as soon as I stepped through the threshold of the first tower. It was a tall, stone tower, set deep and solitary in the woods. There was a table with scrolls and what looked to be astrological devices strewn about, and the walls were lined with books, with a few piles stacked sloppily here and there as well. I said to Bella, my cat, “I think this is a wizard tower.” As I made my way up the winding steps, I noticed glowing crystals set on desks and floors. Not many, but enough to connect the idea of these crystals and magic use. Later, when I found one of the mines, the workers were mining the same crystals, and the beings overseeing them used magic, which reinforced the connection between magic and crystals. There’s a whole crystal economy, where witches/wizards somehow contract teams to mine crystals for them. So when I found a witch’s tower later in the game, I knew she was very powerful because the crystals in her castle were so massive they took up huge portions of the rooms in the tower. It may seem like an obvious connection, of course, but the game didn’t rely on written texts or logs to explain it, like many games do. I don’t mind reading lore, but there is something more elegant and efficient about dropping visual clues that the player can piece together.
Unfortunately, this design decision to be sparce in terms of how much the game communicates with the player was not always so elegant and efficient. As many have pointed out (and perhaps this isn’t new to Souls games, I’m not sure), the game doesn’t explain many of its systems. The “tutorial” section is easy to miss and provides very little in the way of real guidance. The game also lacks a quest list or way to track progress, which is especially frustrating when you aren’t sure where you should be going or where you’ve already been. Add to this what feels like sloppier combat than I expected (oh, this boss can swipe me through a wall? And this one somehow adjusts course in mid-air to hit me as I roll away? Cool cool), and I am more frustrated by the game’s design than its difficulty. If a game is challenging, that’s one thing. When a game’s design is lacking or seemingly antagonistic to the player, then the difficulty is a result of poor design, not legitimate challenge. I had to turn to my friends or the internet to explain many of the things that the game does not. I’ve seen some critics say that it’s just a part of the FromSoft formula. It builds community. I can understand that, and it sounds nice. That “community” was not always kind, or even helpful, though. Probably half of the threads or posts that I looked to for advice were filled with people refusing to provide aid because they thought the player should figure it out themselves and “just play the game.” In one Reddit post, someone asked a simple question about where to go after a certain big story event. The game, of course, doesn’t make it obvious. The first reply was something like “You could try playing the game.” Another was “Have you tried talking to NPCs?” The OP replied and said that they didn’t see any NPCs, to which the poster said something like “an NPC tells you.” Someone else chimed in and said that they could tell OP which NPC or where to find them, and someone else responded with “and play the game for them? Try actually looking around.” This is just one example, but there were many others, and some weren’t so tame. I don’t think the lack of information or instruction in a game deserves critical praise, and if the retort is that it drives you to a community outside of the game, and that community is even less helpful at times, that’s a pretty critical design flaw.
The combat was tough, yes, but once I power leveled a few times, it was much more satisfying. Without power leveling and/or having help with my build, the combat would have turned me away. Enemy AI seems to be programed to predict and punish many defensive moves, which makes some encounters feel cheap and unfair. After leveling to 125-150, I felt far more capable. I still got my ass kicked on occasion, but it usually felt like the result of bad decisions on my part. The thrill of beating some of the hardest bosses, like Malenia or Placidusax, was unparalleled, though. Each took me several tries, even at high level, so I was so charged when they went down. Similarly, fighting the Fire Giant with my friend Tab was fun if infuriating. My level was capped so I was much weaker than when I fought him alone, so we struggled a lot. We fought him dozens of times, and many of our deaths felt cheap (why is he suddenly floating yet still hitting us? And how does he keep magically sliding backwards without actually stepping?), but it was fun fighting alongside a friend and trying new strategies until we finally felled him. Tab was less than thrilled (they just wanted to progress, so it was a hollow victory for them), but I was energized by our big win. Less so with the final boss, though. He can eat my ass, cheap piece of shit.
I’d like to end by talking about my absolute favorite part of the game: a little witch named Ranni. Apparently, some people encounter Ranni early in the game, and she gives them the Spirit Calling Bell and Lone Wolf ashes. I missed her early on, so I had no clue who she was when I stumbled upon her witchy tower later in the game. With her big, floppy wizard hat and stitched-together doll body, she was like Gandalf mixed with the Corpse Bride. She has an ethereal glow and speaks softly, but she almost immediately asked if I would enter into her servitude. After spending hours in the world of Elden Ring, seeing all sorts of liars, backstabbers, and conniving murderers, the obvious answer to her question was “no.” So, of course I said “yes.” Because she is very pretty. And, luckily, it worked out! I totally fell for my other-worldly witchy doll woman. She has four hands and all my heart. When she went away during one part of her quest and I found her doll in my inventory, I was legitimately giddy with glee. I instantly sent pictures of my screen to friends with the caption: “best item in the game!” And I even made a meme about it:
The scene where you find Ranni and slip a ring on that finger? Heart melting. And although I got all three major endings (to get the platinum trophy), hers was by far my favorite. But why did I love her? I mean, her visual design is stunning, and her voice is, indeed, ethereal and angelic, but how much did I really know about her? I went on to find out that I was far from alone in my love for this character, so it is “a thing,” but at a certain point I thought about how I would explain my adoration for Ranni without talking about how cool she looked, and I was left with little. Yes, she is a powerful witch who can visit the spirit world and take the form of inanimate objects, but her backstory is relatively thin, as is the case with much of the narrative in Elden Ring. But I still loved her, despite knowing only a small handful of things about her. In fact, my love for her is a pretty good metaphor for my love for this game. It might not make sense that I love her, because I know so little about her and am basing my affection mostly on design and a thin backstory. Elden Ring is imperfect, and I actively think some of the design is flawed, but I can’t say I didn’t love my time with it. Is it game of the year? Not for me. In fact, I’m fretting the fact that many outlets are already pledging to give this their Game of the Year because I feel it’s going to do anything but encourage FromSoft to address the many accessibility issues present. But, as I said, Elden Ring is a game of moments for me, and despite my complaints, I had some pretty fucking awesome moments in my 154 hours. And, of course, there’s always Ranni.
I’m sure I’ve brought up Chrono Trigger before. It is my favorite game of all time, after all. It’s an objectively great game, but it’s also very important to me on a personal level. I played it at a turning point in my life. I got it for my 15th birthday – my first after my parents had gotten a divorce and just as I was preparing to leave my middle school friends to start anew at a huge, intimidating high school. Not only did it distract me during those tumultuous times, it also fundamentally changed my relationship with video games and my identity on the whole. If I had to mark a specific time when I went from a kid who played games to a “Gamer,” it was just then. I’d loved games since I was a small child, but it never felt like much more than a fun distraction. My intense love for Chrono Trigger made me realize how deep my love for the hobby ran.
I could probably literally go on until the End of Time (eh? eh? get it?) about Chrono Trigger but suffice it to say I was beyond excited when Square announced a sequel would be coming to the PlayStation, which I had only recently acquired. Chrono Cross was released in 1999 in Japan, just four years after Chrono Trigger. Looking at the two games, that seems wild. It also seems wild to me because I am old now and four years seems like such a short period of time, whereas when I was 15 it seemed like a lifetime to wait for a sequel to the best game of all time. The game wouldn’t release until 2000 in the US, which made the wait that much more excruciating. I avoid prerelease hype for the most part now, but back then I devoured any scrap of info or media that I could find about this mysterious new sequel. I had only recently gotten the internet (insert old man emoji here), but I scoured sites like IGN and Gamespot for any rumor or news, and any gaming magazine that even mentioned it was an instant buy. The strategy guide, published by BradyGAMES, was released almost a week before the game and I snapped it up and tried my best to avoid flipping through it and ruining any surprises that were in store.
My original encounter with Chrono Cross was not quite as magical as my experience with Chrono Trigger was, which seems like a pretty common experience among Chrono fans. [Plenty of spoilers ahead.] Don’t get me wrong, I loved the game, and it was one of my favorite RPGs, but (like many) I was undeniably disappointed that the story wasn’t a direct continuation of the previous game. I wanted to know what my favorite characters were up to after Lavos was defeated. Did Crono still have all of those cats? What did Marle’s eventual reign look like? Where did Magus go? It felt, at the time, like Chrono Cross purposely neglected any and all questions of the sort. There were nods to the first game, but this felt like its own thing, and that was something of a letdown, if I was being honest. Even the major inclusion of Schala, one of my favorite characters from Chrono Trigger, seemed somewhat tenuous, at best. I loved Schala so much that I called the Nintendo Tip Line for the first time ever and asked if there was some way to save her from her fate in the Ocean Palace. I awkwardly, nervously lied and said, “I heard somewhere that there was a way to prevent her from dying so I, uh, just wanted to check.” The Game Counselor™ was like “uh… yeah, I don’t think so.”
So, when I found out that Kid, one of the central characters in Chrono Cross, was Schala’s clone, and that you were fighting to free the real Schala from the Time Devourer, I had mixed feelings. That young Joey that called Nintendo to try and find out if Schala could be saved should have been thrilled! But this Schala, or her clone, didn’t seem like the character I knew and loved from Chrono Trigger. She was the opposite, in fact. Instead of being quiet, reflective, concerned, selfless, and sporting flowing purple hair and royal robes, she is spunky, brash, reckless, determined, loud, and wearing sporty clothing with a blonde ponytail. Look, I really like Kid as a character, but she is more like a mix of Ayla and Marle than anything remotely close to Schala. This is just one example of the ways the game changed or kind of glossed over familiar elements from Chrono Trigger, making it feel more like a game inspired by CT and not a sequel. Again, I enjoyed my time with it and even got all the endings and characters, but I don’t know that it hit me as hard as I was hoping it would.
Enter the long-awaited Chrono Cross: The Radical Dreamers Edition. Like many Chrono fans, I’d had my fingers crossed for years that this would come out. While I love Chrono Trigger and would love some kind of remaster (Pixel Remaster, pls) or reissue, I’ve played that game on the SNES, PlayStation, Nintendo DS, Steam, and iOS, while Chrono Cross hasn’t been offered the same kind of multi-platform accessibility. Plus, it’s a 3D PS1 RPG, which requires a bit more polish to make it run and look good on contemporary hardware, whereas the 2D sprites of Chrono Trigger are pretty timeless. I was eager to try Cross again, not just because it would be slightly prettier and more accessible (and I could get trophies for it, heh), but because I’d hoped that with time many of my conflicted feelings about the game would situate themselves. I was worried, though. What if I didn’t like it this time? What if years of newer and more streamlined RPGs had spoiled me and Chrono Cross felt stiff and hard to navigate? I’d tried to play the Final Fantasy VIII remaster and quit shortly into it because of these reasons, so what if that happened again with one of my favorite RPGs of all time?
It did not, dear reader. After beating this edition of Chrono Cross five times, getting all the characters and endings, and snagging the platinum trophy on PS5, I can say that I have a much deeper appreciation for the core game now. It’s not perfect, but it was wildly ambitious, and I think it achieved much of what it tried to. For example, when I first entered combat and saw the multi-attack/hit percentage system, I was like “oh no.” I’d forgotten about this little wrinkle to the combat system, and even now I’m not a fan of the misleading percentages. But I think the system itself works. Having to think about whether I should swing big and go for a critical strike at the cost of possibly whiffing, or use lighter, more guaranteed strikes to build up my stamina for a big magic attack, made combat feel dynamic and active, which I liked. The magic system, where each character had an affinity, but you could slot most magic attacks into anyone’s inventory was perhaps needlessly cumbersome (I still wish there was an easier way to save builds, rather than manually slotting them in over and over whenever you switch characters, or using the crappy autofill option), but I also appreciated that it allowed for seemingly infinite unique builds of your enormous roster of teammates. Yes, I relied on the same handful of spells for most of my runs, but with every new playthrough I thought about new and interesting builds I could do if I was more adventurous.
I was also worried about how janky and jaggy it might look, and although it took me a bit to get used to the shuddering that seems to persist with remasters of PS1 games (where, say, character idle animations sort of shudder without cause), I was overall very impressed with how the characters look (in particular) They retain the odd proportions of early 3D humanoid character models, but the colorful, vibrant cast look so good now, and their new portraits are gorgeous. I read somewhere that they lost the original high-res files for the background art, so they had to use AI upscaling to make them 4K compatible, and it seems to mostly work. Some backgrounds do look a bit murky, making it hard to distinguish between paths that you can navigate and environmental art, but some backgrounds seem to look more ethereal and artistic, which was a nice surprise. The Sea of Eden looked especially stunning.
I don’t know that I need to say much about the music. Chrono Cross’s soundtrack has been lauded as one of the best in video games since it came out, and I’ve been happy to see new people discover how vibrant, eclectic, and haunting it can be. I can’t even say that it stirred my nostalgia like other video game music has, mainly because I still listen to it pretty frequently while I’m writing or doing something that requires concentration. What didn’t quite stick in my memory as well were the finer details of the story, though. And, having played it again several times now, I can see why. Like many Japanese games, the plot really requires you to pay attention (and even then, its vague, twisty nature means it can be hard to track). Having played it before allowed me to pay even closer attention to subtle details, and I actually came to a much deeper appreciation for the story and how it really does continue the core premise of Chrono Trigger. What I’d once thought of dismissively as “nods” to the first game are far more significant. There are characters that are close to CT characters, like Glenn (a brave knight, like Glenn from CT) and Luccia (a genius scientists with a lively laugh, much like Lucca from CT), and I used to think of them as not-so-subtle tributes. But there is a line in a late-game dungeon that talks about how people exist as forms across many timelines and dimensions, which makes me think that these are not “nods,” but legitimate alternate versions of known characters. A “what if this character was born in a different world or time” kind of thing. I also don’t know that I fully appreciated Robo’s role in the story back in the day, but his sacrifice moved me this time around. I also really loved Balthasar’s significant role, though I really wish they’d given him a Nu companion.
Speaking of companions, the ability to recruit a sprawling, freaky cast of characters to follow you into battle was so ambitious and I appreciate the dev team for getting in as many characters as they did. I’ve read that they’d hoped to make it so that every character you speak with could be recruited but had to scale back due to scope, but I’m happy with the current roster. The game forces you to switch it up a few times (with the forced protagonist body and team swap), and I rotated pretty often, but some of my regular team members were Kid, Leena, Starky, Marcy, Riddel, Luccia, and Harle. Being able to slot most magic into any character meant that I didn’t have to think as much about who was good at what, so I usually went with who I thought would be fun to have in my party. I have to say, I feel like a Luccia apologist. She is framed as a typical mad scientist, more interested in making strides in science than morality or doing what’s “right” (plus she has poor Pip in a cage). I couldn’t help it, though. Look at her! Maybe it’s the new, high def character model, but I was smitten.
But she could never take the place of my main squeeze, Harle. I fell in love with Harle when I first played the game, and I guess playing Chrono Cross again after all these years does cast her in a different light. I remember her being a much more sympathetic character. While she does express conflicted feelings and regret about (seemingly) having to oppose you, she ultimately does just that. Was I mostly smitten with her because she seemed to have a thing for “me” (Serge)? I mean, she is adorable, and I love her French accent and how flirty and feisty she is, but she’s also pretty rude to my friends. At one point, she says “If you had to chooze between ze world and moi… which would you chooze?” I think I’ve always said that I would choose her, yet she seems unwilling to make the same choice for me. One of the endings does make it seem like you’re living a happy(ish) life alongside Harle as Lynx, though, so I guess that will have to be enough. With the rising popularity of romance systems in games, I do look back at JRPGs from this era, like Chrono Cross and Final Fantasy VIII and wish they could somehow retroactively add a dating system. If they did, I tell myself that I’d end up replaying the game many times over to date most or all the roster, but deep down I think I can admit that I would just keep picking Harle and muttering “next time. Next time I’ll choose Luccia” under my breath.
In the end, I was shocked by how much I loved playing through this game again, over 20 years after my first time with it. There was some nostalgia, but that didn’t impact my opinion of it nearly as much as I thought it would. Yes, there are some minor performance issues and I wish I didn’t have to stand exactly in front of chests and doors to open them, but there was far more to love about this experience and after getting the platinum trophy I walked away reluctantly, somehow still wanting to play more. I have other games to get to and there’s not much else for me to accomplish in Chrono Cross, but these playthroughs brought with them a more profound appreciation for the colorful, quirky, lovely world and characters I spent so much time with. Square’s willingness to release this with such fanfare gives me some faint hope that, should this game find success, we might actually see the fabled Chrono Break someday. They trademarked the name at some point and seemingly dropped the project, but with their recent investment in HD-2D games and willingness to develop games with retro art styles that are less development intensive in terms of funding (like I Am Setsuna), I remain somewhat hopefully that they’ll see the potential in giving a small but experienced team some funding to close out a Chrono trilogy. I mean, they could also throw a ton of money at a 3D remake of Chrono Trigger. After this experience with Chrono Cross, I just want more, damn it.
The weather here in sleepy Sycamore, Illinois, is cold and dreary. It’s a grey and snowy day… and it’s April. You know what’s not cold and grey, though? My love of video games. That was the absolute worst segue anyone’s ever written but I am tired, and I’d like to get back to playing the new Chrono Cross remaster, so let’s just let that one slide. It seems a fact that time works differently during a pandemic, so I’m not sure if I should say “it’s already April” or “it’s only April,” but I wanted to jot down some thoughts about the games I’ve played recently, regardless, because I feel like Chrono Cross will get a post of its own soon. I’m still playing Halo Infinite online, but I don’t have much to add other than I am absolutely styling in my cat ears and sparkly purple armor. They keep adding new armor components and accessories but, no. Get out of my face. I just want sparkly purple kitty time.
13 Sentinels Aegis Rim
I do have more thoughts on 13 Sentinels Aegis Rim, though, since I’ve finished it. I’ll keep it short, since I’ve already talked a bit about it, but I ended up really loving it and getting the platinum trophy for it. Admittedly, much of my love remains centered on the aesthetic. The water-color inspired character and background art is just gorgeous, and I never lost my sense of awe and appreciation for it as the game went on. The music and voice acting are also stellar, making the game feel as close to a 1980s-isnpired anime as you can get. The story was very hard to follow, but at a certain point I gave up trying to untwist the knotted narrative because more twists would inevitably pop up. I feel like I was rewarded for that, in a way, because everything became clear in the end. Well, most things. Look, if you asked me to recount the story I’d probably get lost in my own attempt, but I think the gist of this multi-layered story is get-able.
The combat sections were alright. I’m not a huge RTS player, so I was more than happy to set the difficulty to easy and handily hand the enemies their ass time and time again. There is yet another character that deals with gender issues in an annoyingly indirect way. I’ve written previously on characters in Japanese games that flirt with trans-ness or gender fluidity, but yet again the developers fail to commit. Tsukasa Okino is a “male” character that chooses to dress up as (and embody) a woman, flirts openly with a male character, and [SPOILERS] in the epilogue, when “he” embraces living in a simulation, he makes a comment about switching genders, saying “It’s not just the clothes. I can be whatever I want here.” While I applaud Japanese developers for dealing with things like gender and sexuality more often and openly in their games, I wish they wouldn’t dance around it as much. This character’s gender is such a big part of their story – why not just use clear language instead of talking around it?
What I won’t talk around (aren’t you loving this terrible transitions?) is my adoration of Yuki Takamiya. What a badass cutie. I didn’t love who she ended up with, but I looked forward to playing her story segments every time. She’s a delinquent and a detective, which is not a common combo in Japanese media, in my experience. Young detectives are usually virtuous, working with police or other agencies to bust the bad guy (or that’s used as a ploy to hide the villain, ala Persona 5). Yuki does work with law enforcement, but only because she’s forced to, essentially. But, yeah, I just wanted to shout out my favorite character. Carry on.
Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth
Have I mentionedthatIlovePersonagames? They are, for me, the types of games where I feel a sadness when I’m close to completing them. I get so invested in the worlds that P-Studio makes that I want to live in them forever and rub shoulders (or eat beef bowls) with the wonderful characters that inhabit them. After each Persona game, I attempted to fill the new Persona-shaped hole in my soul by buying merch or other Persona games. It’s how I ended up with Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth, which I was honestly not very sure I’d like. It’s a dungeon crawler and the character models are chibi – two things I’m not much of a fan of. I hadn’t played my handheld systems in a while, but since I’d busted out my cool SNES 3DS to play Metroid games, I figured I’d finally give Persona Q a shot. If I didn’t like it, I could just stop playing it, right?
Well, I’m probably 50-60 hours in so far and you couldn’t make me stop playing this game. I say “probably” because I ordered a new, sealed copy from Amazon and it came with save files, meaning someone obviously owned this “new” copy before. If you owned a copy and had a P4 protagonist save file named “Mike” or a P3 protagonist file named “Minato,” I have your game. Well, it’s mine now. But thank you for the save file because I used it to start a new game plus and got your personas and weapons (and impressive playtime), which helped a lot. While it’s true that I prefer to see my characters (and enemies) as I run around dungeons, the first-person dungeon crawling is pretty fun, and I can’t deny that I quickly came to like drawing in the map on the 3DS screen. What I love about this game is, of course, the characters and story. Yes, they’re in chibi form, which is unfortunate, but when I realized that all of the original voice actors from both Persona 3 and Persona 4 were back and delivering tons of lines, I was so in. The writing, too, is just as good as the core games, and I’ve found myself legitimately laughing out loud a few times. Add in an amazing soundtrack of P3 and P4 tracks, and I am in love. I’m not yet finished with it (I’m on the last dungeon) but I’m also in no rush to beat it, despite looking forward to Persona Q2 with much excitement now.
Persona 4 Arena Ultimax
As further evidenced above, every Persona game I’ve played so far has been a hit. Persona 3 Portable, Persona 4 Golden, Persona 5 and Royal, Persona 5 Strikers, all three dancing games, and Persona Q have all won me over in one way or another. Persona 4 Arena Ultimax is the first game in the series that I haven’t loved. Please, don’t get me wrong: it’s a solid game. As with Persona Q, the full cast of P3 and P4 voice actors return, which is always a big deal for me. They do stellar work and it brings so much to the games when they’re present. I also really liked seeing big, high definition art assets for the characters. There are lots of great, classic Persona settings and expressions to enjoy, and I will never shun more time with super bae Mitsuru.
The writing doesn’t seem quite as good as the other Persona games, though there is a ton of it. This is a fighting game, yes, but there is a lot of story. Fighting games usually foreground the gameplay and the story (if there is one) takes a definite backseat. Not so here. Not only can you play through the story mode from three different perspectives, each character also has a very healthy story that you can play through separate from the main story. There are some great moments and exchanges here, but overall the writing was much weaker than what I’m used to in Persona media. Ultimately, though, the kind of fighting in this game (think Guilty Gear) is not really my thing. I am no fighting game expert so I am ill-equipped to explain why I don’t vibe with the feel of this kind of game, but I mostly button-mashed my way through the first half of the game and turned on auto-play for the rest. The sprite work is great, though, and I was charmed by new (to me) character Labrys. I beat the three story runs and Chie’s segment (she’s my favorite fighter, I think) but I think I’m okay with putting it aside now.
Hitman 2 and Hitman 3
I played bits of the first Hitman trilogy back in the day, but I don’t think I ever finished any of them. I really liked the gameplay and, more to the point, the concept of a world of possibilities. The assassination part was fun and fulfilled some boyhood James Bond/The Professional fantasy, sure – but I have always dreamed of a video game that allows for ultimate realism. A fully rendered world where I can do the same things I can in real life – pick up a random can from the ground, enter any closet or room, turn on faucets for no reason, etc. The Hitman games aren’t fully realized in that sense, but they were moving in that direction, even with the early entries. The idea of having choice in how you complete levels wasn’t new, but the number of choices you had in these games seemed staggering. It wasn’t just “go in stealthy or go in loud.” It was “go in stealthy or go in disguise or snipe from far away or don’t go in at all and rig an explosive that will catch them on the way out or poison a drink that will be carried to them or go in loud or…” you get the idea.
I’d heard so many good things about this latest Hitman trilogy, and after Tab listed Hitman 3 as their game of the year for 2021, I decided to pick it up. I’d also nabbed Hitman 2 on PSN, so I started with that game and played them back-to-back. Generally, it was the same great concept from the early games but with a lot more style and attention to detail. The story was very good but my favorite thing about these new games is the level design. So much thought and care seem to have gone into considering the many ways players might approach a level. Yes, there are specific ways in which the game seems to want you to tackle it, but it doesn’t restrict you too much. I will say that I felt like a very lazy assassin the first few missions. I would sneak in, very stealthily, just trying to scope out the scene and find access to the target. But as soon as I was close, I would just find a dark corner, pew pew them with my silenced pistol, and slip into the shadows. It sounds kind of cool but in practice it was pretty dull and uninspired.
I knew it was on me, though, so with the “Ark Society” mission, where you attend an elaborate secret society party and have to eliminate two socialites and, if possible, extract someone without being detected, I decided to take my time, listen to conversations, and establish a plan. I found out that one of the socialites was planning to hold a ceremony where she faked burning herself alive in a huge effigy, Wicker Man-style, so I sneakily sabotaged the escape hatch below the effigy, dressed as the master of ceremonies, lit her on fire and walked away as everyone cheered, thinking it was a part of the show. For the other socialite, I followed an old fling of hers, knocked him out and took his clothes, stole a very expensive artifact/necklace they were both after, and got her alone before offering to put the necklace on her – and choking her with it. I then found the extraction target and walked right out the front door. Pew pewing people from the shadows is all well and good, but there is a far more rewarding thrill when a level unfolds like that. I didn’t have the same experience with the oft-discussed Knives Out-like mansion level (I didn’t steal the detective’s outfit and was in the middle of scoping things out when I saw an opportunity for a quick, easy kill), but I did have similar experiences with the mission set during a ritzy party at a vineyard. I took the winemaker’s outfit and acted as him as I took one of the targets on a tour of the winery. At each stop, Agent 47 described a way in which someone might accidentally perish, so I knew I was probably able to eliminate this target any number of ways here. When we got to a grape pressing station with a massive hydraulic press, which she stepped under, I deactivated the safety mechanism and turned on the press. The target disappeared into a squishy red puddle and everyone in the area just thought it was a terrible accident, so I walked away with no consequence.
That was probably my most outrageous kill, but my favorite level overall was the nightclub level in Germany. A trope in some espionage stories is when the agent is betrayed by their own agency and other agents of equal(ish) skill and ability are hunting them. This level lets you live out that scenario in a loud, thumping night club, and there was something so thrilling about weaving in and out of large crowds, hunting these agents who are becoming increasingly nervous as their partners on comms stop responding, one by one. It was a far more active level than most, but it still required a lot of legwork and intel gathering, making it so rewarding in the end. I also had a moment where I really appreciated the depth of the DualSense’s vibration feature. I was several minutes into the mission, very focused, when I had a moment of realization that maybe my TV was too loud. I could feel the loud bass in the controller, and it legitimately felt like speakers pumping. My TV, it turns out, was not that loud. That’s not what really impressed me, though. After realizing how subtle and realistic the vibrations were, I paid closer attention to them and found that it’s also directional. When Agent 47’s right side was toward the speaker, the right side of the controller vibrated. As I rotated, the vibration shifted to the front of the controller (when facing the speaker), then the left side (when that side was facing it). And it was dynamic, too, of course – the closer I was to the speaker, the more pronounced the vibration was, and all that. A small detail, yes, but it made me appreciate the artists who probably put a lot of time into things like it.
After playing and loving Super Metroid, Metroid Dread, and Samus Returns, I wasn’t done with Metroid games. All three of those games were bangers, as the kids say, so I ready for more baddie-bopping and spooky-scanning as Samus, and I turned to one of the two remaining games that I own: Metroid Fusion. A version of the “Title” theme plays over the intro cutscene, which portrays a critical part of the Metroid lore (the, well, fusion of Samus’ DNA with Metroid DNA), so I was all ready to delve into another atmospheric environment. And then I started playing and the music was more action-suspense than eerie horror. It was also a bit jolting to go from those previous games, which had very tight, intuitive controls, to controls which felt a little trickier to master. I’m sure they felt great on a GBA back in 2002, but let’s just say I was not spinning and grappling with the greatest of ease. There was also an incredibly annoying end sequence, where I was forced to traverse my way to a very hard boss, defeat them, then traverse my way to another boss that I had to defeat. That sounds reasonable, but they purposefully block off a save room between fights (and there is no auto-save), so having to re-do that segment several times was infuriating and time-consuming.
I’m starting with my complaints, but my experience overall was positive. Those are some notable grievances, but I loved the corrupted Samus chasing you [SPOILER] and I especially liked that they pulled the ol’ enemies to allies twist at the end, where the “bad” Samus attacks the final boss with you. I still loved the core gameplay of puzzling out each new area and frequently obtaining new powers, and I am always down for new suit color combos. Yes, there were a few annoyances with this experience, but overall I was still very into it and I’m ready to move onto the original Metroid soon.
Find Love or Die Trying!
This is an indie visual novel by Auden Jin that I played for an episode of the podcast. For Valentine’s Day, we chose a romance visual novel or dating sim from itch.io to play and discuss. The premise of this game seemed like silly fun and the art looked good, so this was my choice. I wasn’t expecting much (the quality of games on itch.io varies wildly, which is not a bad thing but is a reality), but I was totally charmed by this game. There are so many twists and turns in the story, some of them very goofy, but I was fully on board. The characters were fun takes on existing tropes, there were some genuinely funny moments, and I legitimately found myself invested in the story. This was a nice surprise.
I’ve written about Minecraft before, but somehow I keep coming back to it. Tab and I jumped back in recently and we built a very, very long railway to a jungle biome we had scoped out last year. We started building a new town there, so I decided to make a Wayne Manor/Batcave. I have on almost every server I’ve played on, save this one, so it was time. As I was digging out and shaping the Batcave, guess what appeared? Bats! I was so excited. It was a little embarrassing. But I am nearing the end of construction and I can’t wait.
Horizon Forbidden West
What was not a surprise (this is the last game so you no longer have to suffer these terrible segues) was how much I loved Horizon Forbidden West. Horizon Zero Dawn is one of my favorite games of last gen, so I made sure to get my collector’s edition of Forbidden West pre-ordered as soon as I was able. I think, as I did with Zero Dawn, I’ll mostly let the screenshot dump do the talking here, but there are some things I want to say about my time with the game. If you follow gaming news or know/follow people who’ve played this game, you’ve likely heard about how gorgeous it is by now. And, well, it is. I would say I don’t think these screenshots do it justice, but they come pretty close. The game is gorgeous in screenshots and in motion. You can pause the game at almost any point, go into photo mode, and find a cool or beautiful picture to take. The environment, the character models, the enemies, even the small animals scurrying about, all look amazing. I even found myself staring up at the night sky several times, looking for unique features or constellations. And, you know what? There are constellations! None that I recognized as real, but I can tell that there are clusters of stars that some environmental artist went to the trouble of making look like little constellations. I really appreciate little things like that.
Speaking of little things, there was that whole, dumb controversy (if you can call it that) about Aloy having facial fuzz. First of all, how is it a bad thing that we now have video game consoles powerful enough to render such a minute detail? Second, you can actually see it in the game. It wasn’t some highly rendered cut scene or piece of promo art. Character models are so highly rendered and beautiful in this game. As with the first game, I frequently found myself stopping to marvel at graphical details big and small. Hair! Look at Aloy’s hair!
Amazing. One of the things I love most about these games is the combat, though, and I loved it just as much here. I didn’t find myself using as many gadgets as I did in Zero Dawn, but I also didn’t really mind that. I was perfectly happy rolling out of the way of a charging thunderjaw at the very last second, spinning, notching an arrow, then releasing it to strike a tiny component on its back and running for cover. I played over 150 hours of this game and never got tired of the combat. Some of the new dinos were challenging, but I still love the thunderjaws and tallnecks. I have some thoughts on spoiler-y things, so I’ll add a [SPOILER WARNING] here, which includes screenshots that show spoilers. They begin after these next two pictures.
The story didn’t pleasantly surprise me like the first game’s did (how could it, though, since I had no idea what to expect from the first one?), but I did end up really liking it. As soon as I saw the primary villains floating down from the sky, I was like “is this a Superman movie?” And it kind of was. The villains in this game are absolutely Kryptonians. Advanced civilization hailing from an exploding planet, impermeable to damage (save one key weakness!), flight, Lex Luthor-looking-ass as the leader… But I dug it! They were campy and fun, and it was very rewarding to take them down. Celebrity performances aren’t always great in games, but I also thought Carrie-Anne Moss was excellent.
The other spoiler-y thing I want to talk about is the sunwing travel mechanic, unlocked later in the story. It was vaguely spoiled for me by the kind of people who are like “I won’t spoil it but” and then proceed to drop specific “hints” that then actually spoil it. I wasn’t terribly mad about it, though, because it allowed me to push through the story early enough to have plenty of time with my beloved sunwing. I wasn’t sure I would use it much because I don’t use the other mounts in the game and I generally like travelling in open-world games on foot, but I almost instantly fell in love with it. It felt very good to control, it looked and sounded amazing (the dino sound design needs more credit in this game, too), and it was so useful. One of my favorite things to do was call the sunwing just before jumping off a high ledge and having it swoop down and snatch me out of the air. So fucking cool. I do agree that they waited a little long to introduce the option of flight, but I was able to get a ton of flying time in and I loved it.
I also loved the swimming in the game. Well, after obtaining the breathing apparatus. Before then, I would try and explore deep, scary caverns and start to feel a bit of real panic when I’d get turned around or stuck on something. Once I got the device, I was free to explore submerged ruins, deep caverns, oceanic wrecks and more to my heart’s content. And I did, and it felt great. The swimming controls in this game are like most others, but they do feel slightly refined and very responsive, making cutting through the water feel more natural and smoother than I’m used to. I should wrap this up, but I’ll add a few more minor thoughts. I loved some of Aloy’s outfits. The Carja Shadow was by far my favorite aesthetically, so I rocked that for a big chunk of the game. Once I started nearing end-game stuff I decided to take the time to earn and upgrade the Nora Thunder Warrior ‘fit, which doesn’t look as cool but has pretty great stats. The glider was very cool but I’m glad they kept climbing mostly the same. It seems like a lot of people want to climb everything in games post-Breath of the Wild, but I really like the minor challenge of having to think about where I’m climbing, how I’ll get from one place to another, if there is a best route, etc. It reminds me of Tomb Raider in that sense, and I like it. Okay, I’d meant to let the screenshots speak for themselves, but I ended up doing plenty of yapping myself. I’ll shut up now, though I could go on and on about this beautiful, amazing game. Thanks for reading.
Wow, it has been a while, has it not? 2021 was a light blogging year for me, mostly because recording/editing the Pretty Pixels Podcast takes up the time that I would have been normally dedicating to writing about games. I haven’t given up on it, though. I love writing about games and, with some luck, maybe I’ll do it professionally someday. For now, I’ll continue to post some general musings about the games I’ve been playing (if you’re interested in more regular thoughts, feel free to check out the podcast!). Given that my last post was in August, I have a lot to catch up on. Like, a lot. Let’s get into it. Grab a mug of your favorite hot beverage (I’m sipping hot chocolate out of a Meg Turney mug I bought myself for Xmas) and join me on this meander through the many games I’ve played through fall and into winter. [Spoiler warning: there will be some spoilers in both the text and images, so skip any games you don’t want spoiled]
Back 4 Blood
Back 4 Blood was one of my most anticipated games of the year, due in no small part to my love for the Left 4 Dead games. It was mostly just my friend Ron and me playing those games, but this time we had a full crew, as we were joined by my friends Tab and Paul. The best parts of my experience with this game mostly came from playing with friends, but there were some things I really liked in the game itself. I was very worried about the card system that the game introduces to the Left 4 Dead formula. I’m personally not a fan of card-based systems usually, so the idea that I’d have to worry about building and managing decks instead of just running around and gunning down zombies did not sound appealing. Almost immediately I realized that I didn’t need to use the cards at all, if I didn’t want to. They boost and modify your stats, but I could safely ignore them and still contribute to the team.
I did want those boosts, though, so I began adding cards here and there, looking for cards that fit my playstyle. Before I knew it, I had a regular run deck, a healing deck, an endgame deck, and a grinding deck. Clearly, I was more into the card system than I thought I would be. I was also into the character classes. Again, I could ignore them if I wanted to, and I didn’t give them much thought when choosing to play as Doc. She’s very cute and she’s a doctor. That was good enough for me! Once I started getting cards that significantly boosted my already increased healing abilities, though, I decided to become a great healer in order to help the team out. The running around and shooting zombies part was as fun as I’d hoped it would be, so the fact that I came around on the two things I was worried about – the card system and character classes – means that my time with this game was fun and filled with great moments with friends. The fun came with some frustration, however. The uneven difficulty was very annoying. We usually play games on “normal” difficulty, but we unanimously agreed to play this game on “recruit,” and even then, we found certain levels very, very hard. We have yet to beat the final stage, in fact. We only tried a few times but had no interest in beating our heads against the wall. The card/cosmetic progression is also very weird and annoying. Why can’t I just earn things for my character? Why do I have to unlock many, many cards and accessories for characters I never use, just to get one thing for my own character? And why can’t I earn experience in solo play? This is not a competitive game. The clothing variety is also severely lacking. They’ve fixed/addressed some of these issues in a recent patch, so maybe they’re no longer applicable, but aside from these complaints I had a great time with Back 4 Blood.
Jurassic World Evolution 2
Jurassic World Evolution 2 was also one of my most anticipated games of the year, and I was more and more excited about it as we got closer and closer to the release date. I really loved my time with the first game, so even if this game was more of the same, I knew I was going to play the hell out of it. And I did. I haven’t gotten the platinum trophy for it because it requires that I beat the challenge modes on the hardest difficulty and, yeah, no thanks. I tried one of them and got my shit rocked so I’m good for now. These games aren’t really about challenge for me. Well, that’s not totally true. I started the first game with the intent of just using sandbox mode to make a beautiful dinosaur sanctuary, but I ended up really enjoying the campaign and the challenge of building parks on islands with different terrain/environmental challenges. The same was true with this sequel. My parks are rarely very pretty, but I love the thrill of having a new map handed to me and pausing to quickly generate a number of different layout possibilities in my mind.
In the end, it still came down to the dinosaurs, though. Completing objectives is rewarding, but my main mission was always to keep my dinos happy and safe. Setting up a new paddock was always fun. I was so excited when I was finally able to unlock and afford to hatch a T-Rex. Like an expectant parent, as my new baby girl was synthesizing in the hatchery, I was constructing a large, roomy pen for her, altering the terrain to be mostly sand in the center with a nice half-moon grass border for the goats (and so she had something soft to sleep on), placing feeders both near water (convenience) and in a quiet spot near the back of the paddock (to get away from the guests when she needed some quiet time), planting a few patches of thick trees for scenery and hunting, digging a few water holes so she had some choices, and generally just making sure my baby gir- er, my T-Rex’s living space had everything she needed to be happy. It was experiences like this that I enjoyed most, as it was with the first game.
There were also some nice upgrades, big and small. I love the new terrain and weather options (though some of the storms can get fucked), the addition of avian and aquatic dinos is awesome, and the smoothing out of small things like path snapping was welcome. There were some seemingly small but fairly annoying bugs, though. Rangers can’t enter the water paddock or aviaries, so they send in drones. These drones would sometimes get stuck on things, causing all kinds of headaches. I had a Pteranodon that got injured in a fight. I sent a helicopter to tranq her so the medical team could treat her. The drone that was supposed to tranq her got caught on something in the dome, so the helicopter just kept circling the dome and the drone wouldn’t tranq the dino. I couldn’t reassign the helicopter, and when I took over manual control it would immediately return to circling as soon as I gave up control. My Pteranodon was slowly flatlining right in front of me and I couldn’t do anything about it. Well, I could, and I did, but no thanks to the glitchy drone. I built a new response station and viewing gallery, then sent the new helicopter team to do the job of the old one. What an expensive solution. Overall, however, I had a marvelous time yet again, hatching, raising, and caring for some beautiful dinosaurs.
Oh, Super Metroid. You’d been on my backlog for over two decades. You were on the list of games I asked for leading up to my 13th birthday, those many years ago. Though I never did get you then, you were one of the first games I bought for the Virtual Console on my Wii. I was determined to knock you off the list – one fewer game for people to be like “wow, how have you not played that?” But I didn’t. I kept putting it off and putting it off. Then Metroid Dread was announced, and the new-2D-Metroid hype train left the station. I try very hard to avoid hype normally, but in this metaphor, I found myself standing in Grand Central Hype Station, watching the train leave with a wistful sadness. A new reminder that I had never played Super Metroid, oft celebrated as one of the greatest games of all time. As the release of Dread neared, I’d decided to give it a shot. Finally, a solid reason to also play Super Metroid, which Dread would surely be compared to by many.
And people were right. It is truly an excellent game. Returning to an older game can be hit or miss, but Super Metroid ages incredibly. Its controls feel tight and intuitive (a couple of special moves aside, which I’ll talk about later), the sprite graphics and animations are still beautiful (is this one of the earliest examples of “floaties,” multi-layered atmospheric graphics, being used in games?), the music and sound remains iconic, and the level and game design was so masterful. The way the game introduces a new power or mechanic and immediately requires you to use it (by, say, trapping you in the room you got it in and making the only exit blocked by an obstacle that requires your new power) is also great. The way many of these elements came together to create a unique atmosphere of disquiet, loneliness, and horror was probably my favorite thing about the game, though. It just felt cool. As mentioned, I did find myself a little frustrated by the lack of clear tutorial for some of the special moves, like the Shine Spark. A friend mentioned that there are little creatures that show you how to do them, and I was sure I must have missed them. I looked them up (the Dachora) and I feel very confident that I never saw one of them. Granted, I didn’t explore everywhere and was rushing through a lot of the areas, so maybe I just missed them altogether. Space and wall jumping also seemed slightly delayed. Like, instead of hitting the jump button as soon as Samus touched a wall to jump again, you had to wait a split second for one frame of her foot to change, so it was more difficult than most other wall jumping mechanics I’ve tried. These are very minor complaints about a game that is approaching its 30th anniversary, so don’t take them too seriously. I loved my time with Super Metroid and was fully stoked for…
Having just played Super Metroid, I was immediately struck by how familiar Dread felt. There were two Metroid games released on the NES before Super Metroid came out on the SNES, but you’d be forgiven for not knowing that given how often every subsequent Metroid game was compared to its SNES forebearer. It’s clear that Nintendo wants to be faithful to that template, and I don’t blame them. Despite the Prime trilogy’s success in moving the series to a 3D perspective, Super Metroid’s legendary status seems to be something fans want to revisit in the 2D titles. Having finally played it, I can understand why. Dread captures much of what I loved about Super Metroid, irons out the couple of wrinkles, and delivers a more easily digestible (and arguably more fleshed out) story via cutscenes and voice acting. I loved Samus in Super Metroid, but she has so much more attitude and personality in Dread. Her poses are so deliberate, her head movement and gestures are subtle but full of emotion, and the final scene was so incredibly badass and cathartic.
Cathartic might seem like an odd word choice, especially given my limited experience with the series, but let me explain. With how long the Metroid series has been around, I’ve had many plot points from previous games spoiled. I knew that a lone baby Metroid becomes attached to Samus and views her as a motherly figure, and given that the baby isn’t present in later games I had a feeling that it probably died. None of that seemed to prepare me to actually play through that scenario. I was so excited when I ran into the baby Metroid near the end of Super Metroid. Maybe because it was a “baby,” and seemed to want to follow me, I was instantly enamored with it. I love (most) baby animals and creatures, so the idea of having a “pet” or “baby” Metroid was very appealing. I’d known this little parasite for but a moment and I was in love. Yes. Give me all of the baby Metroids. So, when it swooped in during my seemingly impossible and highly frustrating boss fight against Mother Brain, saving my life, I got misty-eyed. My little, strong baby, stepping in to save me and bestow me with great powers. My heart. And then that bitch-ass, shit-eating Mother Brain killed it. She killed my baby. I was furious. Should I have been? Well, that’s subjective, I guess. This was my first Metroid game, so these characters were new to me, and (as I said) I had barely just met the baby Metroid – but the feelings came, regardless. I was so sad to lose my new baby friend, and so angry that Mother Brain had done so callously and with great malice. I relished the opportunity to use my newfound Metroid powers to murder Mother Brain in kind.
Samus’ Metroid DNA is a huge part of the Metroid Dread story, and although I haven’t played any of the games between Super Metroid and Dread, I can’t help but imagine that some of that DNA must come from my poor, sweet baby Metroid’s gift of power near the end of Super Metroid. Regardless of whether it’s canon, in my head I was carrying the death of my Metroid baby with me, infused in my DNA. So, when Samus scream in fury and transforms into a beastly Metroid-infused hybrid and blasts away the final boss… I felt like my baby Metroid was with me, helping me once again. I should also mention the EMMIs, which I really liked. They weren’t as pervasive as I’d expected, but that was a good thing. I wasn’t looking forward to being stressed out constantly, so only having to quickly navigate the EMMI zones was fine. Also, I think the EMMIs highlight the great level design. Every EMMI is the same in terms of powers and abilities, so the methods you employ to take them down don’t change with each new EMMI. What does change is the level design, and thus your strategy to employ those methods. It takes some time to blast away the EMMI’s face shield, then charge a shot, aim, and hit their weak spot. In order to have that time, you need to evade the EMMI and find a spot that will give you the time you need. With the first EMMI, they give you a nice, long, straight platform. By the later EMMIs, the zones are designed so that you have to evade a lot and keep an eye out for an area that might work. You might find one, set up and start blasting as soon as the EMMI rounds the edge of a platform, only to find that you’re just shy and have to perform a counter to evade again and find a new spot. It was very thrilling. Speaking of the counters, the sensation of landing one of those successfully is amazing. It’s one of those video game chef’s kiss moments that just feel so good. Overall, as with Super Metroid, I loved my time with Dread.
Metroid: Samus Returns
I loved my time with Dread so much, in fact, that in the middle of playing it I went and looked to find other Metroid games to buy. I am, I guess you might say, a Metroid convert. Well, not really a convert, since I never hated it. Maybe a newly minted Metroid devotee? A baby Metroid fan, if you will. See what I did there? Because I’m a fan of the baby Metroid… and I’m also… never mind. Anyway, I already have the original Metroid and Metroid Fusion (thanks, 3DS Ambassador Program!), so I ended up getting Metroid: Samus Returns, since it is a remake of the second game in the series and one of the more recent entries. I was a little concerned about playing an intense platformer with potentially tough boss fights on my 3DS, with the shoulder buttons being in a position that makes my hands feel weird, but I barely noticed that. What I did notice was the similarities to Dread, which make sense given that they were made by the same developer just four years apart.
Much of what I loved about Super Metroid and Dread was present here, too. The beautiful backgrounds and environments, the haunting, eerie music, the responsive controls and carefully considered level design, and the generally immersive, addictive atmosphere. After three Metroid games, I feel like I can say that one of my favorite things about the series is the boss fights. The enemy design and combat are great, sure, but I think the developers have done a great job with difficulty balancing. In all three games, I found myself in similar boss fight situations: enter a room, get absolutely demolished by the boss, wonder if I’ve ever played a video game before as I softly weep to myself, try again and get crushed again, consider the possibility that this boss is impossible and these developers should die, try again and start to get the first couple of wave patterns, die a few more times as I get better and better, then beat the boss and feel like a superhero and the best gamer in the history of the world. I loved that most bosses seemed so hard at first because it made the victory so rewarding. I kind of rushed through Super Metroid, so I think I got something like 45% of the collectables but didn’t feel particularly compelled to get the rest. I got 50% of them in Dread but was also pretty satisfied with that number. Somewhere in the middle of Samus Returns, I realized I wanted to extend my time with the game and get all of the collectables, so I 100%ed this one. I’m so glad I’m finally Team Metroid. I love these games.
As with Metroid Dread, I felt a need to play older Halo games that I’d missed prior to jumping into Halo Infinite. I’d played the first three Halo games and liked or loved them all, to some extent. Halo 3 was my favorite, and I played a ton of it, so playing Halo 4 seemed like a given when it first launched. I can’t recall why, but I passed on it when it came out. It might have been in the two-year window where I had mostly stopped gaming because I was busy with school, or the concern about the studio switch from Bungie to 343, or any number of other factors, I guess. I did end up buying it at some point, but it’s sat on my backlog along with Halo 5 Guardians, which I also purchased at some point (but wouldn’t play until I’d played 4, for obvious reasons). One of the most interesting things (to me) about playing Halo 4 was the controls. I’d played a fair amount of the Halo Infinite multiplayer before diving into 4, and those controls seemed so intuitively Halo to me that when I played 4, with its slightly outdated and uncustomizable controls, I kept making mistakes and crouching when I meant to melee and reloading when I meant to throw a grenade. It wasn’t a deal breaker, but it just felt weird.
I played the Master Chief Collection version of the game, so it looked amazing. I was frequently impressed with the graphics, the sound design was as solid as always, and some nostalgic gaming itch was scratched when I woke up on a spaceship in distress, having to procure weapons and fight my way out. The reason I’m most happy that I played it before Infinite, though, is that this entry seems critical in terms of Cortana’s storyline. I’ll talk about why I was so glad when I talk about Infinite, but I enjoyed the plot wrinkle of Cortana having to deal with the concept of death.
Halo 5: Guardians
Halo 5 seems to be a controversial entry in the series, as I’ve heard that so many fans were deeply disappointed in the campaign. In terms of gameplay and fun, I thought it was great. The presentation (graphics, production, actors, etc.) was above and beyond the previous entries. It seemed clear that this was meant to be a much “bigger,” even more mainstream addition to the overall story of Halo. The controls were modernized, and the addition of the ability to mount ledges was very cool. I had a ton of fun with the game overall, though I can see why hardcore Halo fans were probably disappointed in it. The story of Halo had always followed Master Chief and Cortana, so when the narrative is shifted so dramatically to where they’re more like side characters in a grander story, it was probably jarring and unwelcome. Pair that with Cortana’s switch to galactic villain, after the previous game further made her into a close, intimate partner for Chief, and I can see why fans were upset. Still, I did have a hell of a time playing it, and I think the knowledge that I was immediately going to play Infinite after and get a resolution to the Chief/Cortana story made it not feel quite so severe.
My time with Halo Infinite involves the online mode and the campaign, so let me start with the online multiplayer, which was available first. Halo 3 was one of the few games that I really, really got into online, and I played a whole lot of it. I was just shy of the rank of Staff Captain and had almost 500 ranked matched under my belt. My time with the Infinite multiplayer is giving me the same kind of magical feels that Halo 3 did. Part of it might be that I have/had a dedicated group of friends to play with, but I also feel like the matches are just fun. It took a while to get back into the rhythm of playing Halo online, though. When we first started playing, I did what I do in most shooters: try to shoot people to death. The problem in a Halo game is that it’s designed to force you to think creatively because of the shields. If you’re very accurate and you get the jump on someone, you can take them down with just your rifle or pistol. That rarely happens, though, so you must get into the habit of using your weapon to down their shield and then either switching to a secondary weapon, getting close enough for melee, or hitting them with a grenade to finish them off. When you get in the rhythm, it feels so good. I played a match the other day where I went 17-3 (rare for me) and everything was just clicking. I had at least three kills where I use a clip of my assault rifle to down their shield, then switched to my pistol and finished them off. I felt like such a badass, heh. It can also (often) not go right, and it’s frustrating to feel like you’re always a second shy of winning every faceoff you get into. Either way, I’ve been having a blast online. I do wish the battle pass rewards were better and more frequent. They break every aspect of appearance into numerous items, so it takes forever to unlock a small component of an armor set that you might not even use. Still, I see a great many more matches in my future.
As for the campaign, I really loved it. The open world was a little sparser than I’m used to from modern open world games, and many of the activities just involved killing enemies or grabbing something, but that was fine. I still enjoyed zipping around with the Grapple Shot, clearing out FOBs, and finding Spartan Cores or multiplayer cosmetics. The story is what I really appreciated, though. This entry returns to the classic Chief-centered adventure involving Cortana. I really liked his new AI companion, Weapon, and this is where my previous note about being glad I played 4 and 5 comes in. I’ll throw an extra [SPOILER] tag up, since this game is still so new. The Weapon’s reaction to finding out she was a copy of Cortana hit me so hard. She was genuinely hurt when Chief tried to delete her as a safety measure, since he had failed to do so to Cortana, and in this moment, she was confronted with the reason why, and her emotional response was powerful. Add to it Cortana’s final goodbye, near the very end of the game, and I was a misty-eyed mess. These moments wouldn’t have been nearly as impactful if I hadn’t played Halo 4 and 5 just before, so I am very happy that I did. The ending wasn’t nearly as final as I was expecting, which is good. I am ready for more Chief and Weapon adventures.
Life is Strange: True Colors
I loved Life is Strange and Before the Storm, and really liked Life is Strange 2, so I was very excited for this game, especially because they finally ditched the episodic release schedule of the previous entries. I think the nostalgia and charm of the first game and its characters keeps it my favorite in the series, but True Colors comes close to unseating it. While the story wasn’t quite as epic and dramatic as the other games, it felt more focused and grounded. It felt shorter but tighter, narratively. I love the smalltown Colorado setting, and the characters were great.
One of the things I appreciated most about this entry was the range of emotions you encounter throughout the game. In the previous games, it felt like a one-way street in terms of plot development and tone: they started cheery and “normal,” then became darker and darker as the story progressed and more supernatural elements were introduced. It was all justified by the narratives, but it was kind of a bummer. By the end of Life is Strange 2 I was just sad. True Colors does so much more with emotion and jumps around a lot, which made it feel more dynamic and satisfying. I loved the soundtrack, the chapter where you play out an epic, town-wide LARP game, and overall I thought the story, choices, and ending(s) were great.
Before Your Eyes
I’m going to go light on the spoilers with this one, because it’s a short and narrative-heavy game, but it’s going to be difficult to talk about my reaction without giving anything away. Before Your Eyes is a short and relatively inexpensive game ($9.99 regularly on Steam, currently on sale for $5.99), so if you have any interest in playing it, I’d recommend to just avoid my (and other people’s) thoughts and just play it. This is the kind of story that’s most impactful without a heads up about what’s coming. Having said that, let me first talk about the “gimmick” of controlling the game by blinking your eyes. If you haven’t heard of this game, it’s a narrative indie game that uses your webcam to detect blinks, advancing the story every time you blink. I thought that this meant that if you didn’t blink, a scene may play on for many minutes, but that’s not the case. Scenes are mostly contained and very deliberate in what they are showing you. If you just stare, refusing to blink, the dialogue will end and you’ll find yourself just watching someone looking out to sea, or someone doing the dishes, for a long time. So that made it feel less gimmicky to me, because it wasn’t about the novelty, it was still about the story. It worked really well, in terms of implementation, too. There was maybe one or two times where the scene advanced and I didn’t feel like I blinked, but it accurately registered my eye motion a vast majority of the time.
Beyond the blinking mechanic, which I think is such a cool, novel way of involving the player in a story about memory, the story just crushed me. As I said, I won’t get into specific spoilers, but broadly speaking the narrative takes a turn at a certain point and I found it very difficult to avoid blinking with all the tears spilling from my eyes. This sadness was different than the sadness that I felt at the end of, say, Life is Strange 2, where after hours of trauma and horror, I just felt drained. Before Your Eyes is such a short experience that I walked away weirdly thrilled by how much it moved me. I’m no stranger to crying during video games, but it’s rare that I’m struck by the kind of emotion that overcame me with the ending to this game. I don’t watch many streamers nowadays, but this is the kind of game that I’d love to see people play, so maybe I’ll have to look up some reaction videos.
I’d picked this game up on a whim during a sale, and it took me a bit to get into, but I was mostly pleasantly surprised by it. It’s a dating sim that puts you in the role of Melissa, a young student who attends a summer research trip to Belgium. I was all in for the dating sim part, but when the game introduced a social management system and an archeological dig puzzle, I was worried that they would distract from the dating.
Not so (besides, you can turn the puzzles off if you want to). The digging puzzles turned out to be pretty fun, and the social management stuff was inobtrusive and also kind of fun in its own way. I don’t know why, but I really like journals in games, so that helped. Some dating sims can really drag on with too much dialog, but I found the pace of this game to be solid, and as a former wannabe geologist, I appreciated the many geology/archaeology puns throughout. Even the title is a pun (C14 dating is carbon dating)!
The Dark Pictures Anthology: House of Ashes
As a big Until Dawnfan, I’ve been chasing that high with every new Supermassive release. I was very disappointed in Man of Medan, I liked Little Hope enough to get the platinum trophy for it, and House of Ashes was… somewhere in between. I’m a fan of the photorealistic graphics of these games, and this game doesn’t disappoint in that arena. The characters and environments look great. The setting was hit or miss for me, though. Isolated cabin in the woods? Yes. Ghost ship. I can dig it. Abandoned witch town? Aw yeah. Caves and ancient ruins? I guess? It’s not bad, but it was my least favorite of the series’ settings, especially given the military angle as well. As a veteran, it was hard not to be distracted by some of the silly mistakes, given that most of the presentation seemed to strive for realism (supernatural/alien elements aside, of course). Eric is way too young to be a Lt. Col. It’s highly doubtful the other soldiers/Marines would speak to such a high-ranking officer in the way that they did right off the bat, too. There was one of those terribly incorrect military salutes at one point. Again, I know it’s silly to get caught up on stuff like that, but it was distracting.
I didn’t hate the game, though. I didn’t even dislike it. I just had some minor problems. I found the moral choices to be fairly solid (though they still do that annoying thing where they seem to deliberately imply that you should make a choice that ends up being the wrong one), the story was pretty interesting, and I thought the twist was pretty cool. There was one thing I did want to touch on, though, because I haven’t seen anyone mention it. There is what certainly seems like digital brown face in the game. The character of General Dar is an Iraqi general, voiced by a Canadian actor of Egyptian descent who speaks fluent Arabic. The character model, however, is of a white actor – the same one used for the character of John in Little Hope. I get needing to reuse assets to get these games out as frequently as they do, but there’s something about using a white actor and just changing the color of their skin to make them another nationality that feels wrong. That and my previous quibbles aside, I mostly had fun with House of Ashes and look forward to the next Dark Pictures installment.
Nekopara Vol. 1 and 2
Like C14 Dating, I nabbed these games for very cheap during a PlayStation Store sale. I seem to buy a lot of visual novels when they’re super cheap and then never play them. Well, I had family staying with me recently and I was looking for PS4 games that I could passively play in my room while they slept in the living room, where my primary consoles are. The Nekopara games seemed like good candidates. I like the anime art style, and because they’re straight up visual novels I could just put them on auto and journal or do other things while I watched them in bed. The story was more interesting than I’d expected, and I really liked the “E-mote” animation system. It made the art so much more dynamic. I knew that the games were sexual in nature, but when I got to the first scene with nudity, I was surprised by how heavily edited it was. I also have the games for Steam (got them in a visual novel bundle in a previous Steam sale), so I decided to see just how heavily censored the PlayStation version was.
And, let me tell you, they are heavily censored, especially if the 18+ patch is installed on Steam. In the PlayStation version, when you become intimate with a cat girl, you… kiss. That’s it. There is at least one nude scene, but it’s heavily censored. In the 18+ version, there is graphic, animated sex. I was shocked. Not in the bad way, mostly. I like sexy games, when they’re good. But I will say that the question of age in these relationships is kind of weird. These are “cat girls,” so they age differently than humans, but it seems heavily implied that these girls are maybe too young to be having sex with their owner. The fact that he is their “owner,” too, and calls them his “daughters” struck me as a little icky. I’m guessing it’s part of the appeal of these kinds of stories for some people, but it felt a little off to me. Still, I like the art and story, and I’m all for pervy sex games, so I’ll probably finish the series.
I was very excited for Lake after seeing it in one of the indie showcases at E3 earlier in 2021. It looked like a perfect fall game. Cozy, quaint, and charming. I think the phrase I used to describe it when it came out was “good, but rough around the edges.” There were some pretty significant bugs at launch, including one that prevented me from continuing the game until it was patched. Some of the character movement and action prompts seemed loose or glitchy as well. The story, of a woman who takes a break from her high stress IT job to deliver mail for her dad in their hometown, was good. I really enjoyed getting to know the characters of this small town, though I was left wanting more. There seemed to be some stories or things in the world that may have been meant for something and were never mentioned again. You meet a character who says she’s the town mechanic and will fix your mail truck whenever you need, for example. This is pretty standard telegraphing in video games/storytelling. Now you know who to go to when you need to repair your truck later. But that time never comes, so why include that line? It doesn’t seem like much of a stretch to think that vehicle repair was supposed to be included at some point but was dropped.
So, the story and writing were good (if a bit unpolished), but the thing I really wanted more of was delivering the mail. You start each day with a number of letters or packages, then you just drive around and drop them off. It’s so simple yet so satisfying. It’s the core of the gameplay, so I imagine the relaxing, rewarding nature is meant to play into the big decision you make at the end of the game – to stay in this small town and keep delivering mail, or go back to your big city IT job. Which is great and all, but when you make a mechanic that’s so satisfying, why not give players the option to do more of it? I really wanted an endless mail delivery mode. I chose to stay in the small town, so I was somewhat disappointed when the game didn’t allow me to keep delivering mail after the end credits. Maybe they’ll patch it in later, or make a sequel that’s just called Mail, where that’s all you do is deliver mail. That would be nice.
I wasn’t all that excited for Deathloop until it was close to release, but the prospect of a pop-in-pop-out stealth espionage game got the best of me and I got it day one. None of my friends played beyond the opening of the game, though, and I was too nervous to open the multiplayer to strangers, so I ended up never having the (reportedly) thrilling experience of chasing or being chased by a friend as you/they tried to complete campaign levels. I still really enjoyed the campaign, though. It felt to me like the ultimate evolution of old school FPSs. After Halo, Medal of Honor, and Call of Duty, shooters took a very cinematic, guided turn, which I’m certainly not complaining about. But if you’d asked me in 2001, after playing games like GoldenEye 007, Perfect Dark, TimeSplitters, etc., to predict what an FPS produced in 2021 would look like, it would be Deathloop. There are so many facets that remind me of old school console shooters, like sneaking around unique areas, listening in on guard chatter, trying different approaches and weapons with the same levels again and again, quirky bosses who have specific routines, and more. The level design, which allows for numerous paths through and approaches to every level, was a great addition to the classic mix, and the overall presentation was stellar. I was happy that Maggie Robertson won the award for best performance at the (dumb) Game Awards for her performance as Lady Dimitrescu, but Jason Kelley and Ozioma Akagha’s performances as Cole and Julianna, respectively, were amazing. I loved their personalities and wanted even more interactions between them. The story was interesting, though it felt a bit disjointed, and the end was fairly disappointing, but after the first handful of hours or so I really got into the gameplay and, overall, had a lot of fun.
Far Cry 6
I was late to the Far Cry fandom, but I really liked my time with Far Cry 4, 5, and New Dawn. I know people complain about Ubisoft open worlds and the plethora of activities and collectables contained within, but I am such a fan of how well designed and crafted these worlds are. In terms of environmental variance, realism (geological features and topography), and tiny details, Ubisoft worlds are top-tier, so I always love exploring and experiencing the massive, beautiful landscapes. The island setting in 6 was beautiful and enchanting, and the cast of characters in this installment is probably my favorite of the games I’ve played. El Tigre! Everyone in the game was so mean to my Dani that I was initially suspicious of El Tigre’s motivations. He quickly became my favorite person to see at base camps, though, because he always greeted me warmly and really believed in me.
I also really liked Jonron. Mostly because of her abs. I’m kidding! She was very fun and friendly, and she was very athletic and cute. I also really liked the amigos. They were all great in their own way, but I stuck with the adorable, clumsy lil croc Guapo for most of the game – until, that is, I got Oluso. I have a black cat whom I love with all my heart, so when I found Oluso, a magical black panther who sneaks around and poofs enemies into the nether when she pounces on them, I was in love. She never left my side, and I wished that I’d had her with me from the start. Add the series’ typical solid gunplay, an interesting and well-acted story, and lots of fun activities and collectables, and I had a great time with the latest entry in the long-standing Far Cry series.
Sakura Succubus 3
Much of what I wrote about the first twoentries carries over here, so I won’t retread too much. Like Nekopara, I played this on PlayStation first, then tried it on Steam. It’s more explicit on Steam, but not to the extent of Nekopara. The story is contrived and silly, but I dig it. The writing is mediocre, but I really like the art, though Nekopara has maybe spoiled me because now I want all of my static 2D characters to be animated in some way. Still, I can’t deny that I’ve enjoyed the Sakura Succubus games to this point.
Pantsu Hunter: Back to the 90s
This game looked so weird and, frankly, bad, that I had to snatch it up when I saw it on deep discount during a PSN sale. It’s a point-and-click adventure game where you do various things to try and collect panties from several women’s apartments. It is… very weird and bad. But in a good way! The writing is so bad and poorly translated and the main character is terribly problematic, but the (also bad) limited voice acting, dumb scenarios, and retro art style was strangely charming. Kind of a so-bad-it’s-good thing.
For example: in one scenario, if you decide to sit down in a chair in the kitchen, you die. You just die. Later, in a different scenario, you find a story that describes a local legend in which a woman’s husband is unfaithful and she orders a chair from a place that reportedly makes furniture for women who’ve been scorned by men. This mysterious company takes a while to get your furniture to you, but when it arrives it’s covered in a thin layer of poison that is undetectable and only harmful to men. The woman in the story (who is obviously the woman whose apartment you visited earlier in the game) breaks up with her boyfriend long before getting her freshly poisoned chair, so by the time she gets it she forgets all about the poison. That, apparently, is when you show up and decide to sit on it, dying instantly with much confusion. So, thanks to silly stories like that and a b-movie level of camp, I actually found myself liking this game. I wouldn’t say it’s good, exactly, but I had fun with it.
Dead by Daylight
As a huge horror fan, I’d been hoping to play Dead by Daylight for a long time. As soon as they started partnering with classic horror franchises like A Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween, Silent Hill, and more, I was in. It’s an online multiplayer game, though, and I didn’t know anyone who played it. Enter Halloween 2021 and some friends who were looking for spooky games to play. We only played a handful of times, and it’s not a perfect game, but I thought our time with it was pretty fun. I especially liked being the killer, of course. Creeping around menacingly as Freddy Krueger, chasing my terrified friends into corners and slashing them to bits… that makes me sound a little disturbed, but if you’ve played it, you probably know that thrill. As a survivor, I found myself genuinely yelping a few times when a friend rounded the corner as the killer or found me hiding behind a bush. I wasn’t into it enough to continue playing online with strangers, but I had fun with my time hiding and slicing.
Radiohead: Kid A Mnesiac Exhibition
I am a big (if lapsed) Radiohead fan. Their early albums were a huge part of my teen years and are inextricably included in the soundtrack to my life. I haven’t kept up with them recently, but I still love their classic albums, especially OK Computer, Kid A, and Amnesiac, the latter two serving as the inspiration for this virtual art exhibit. There is no “game” to play, but exploring the many different rooms and exhibitions was very cool. The way they play with graphics, perspective, and sound is not easy to describe, and given that it’s free I’d just recommend anyone vaguely interested to just check it out for yourself. I’ll share just two key moments from my time, though, to give you a sense of what to expect. The entire museum or “exhibition” is made up of existing art and music assets from the Kid A and Amnesiac albums (thus the name), and many rooms are dedicated to one or more tracks from those albums.
“The National Anthem” is one of my favorite Radiohead songs, so of course I rushed into that room when I saw it. There were a few Radiohead bear characters standing around, looking at walls of televisions showing album art or other weird things. I could hear “The National Anthem” playing, but it was low and incomplete. There was a translucent, triangular column in the center of the room, which looked to be filled with some kind of amniotic fluid. As I stepped into it, the bass from the track kicked in and the song felt so much fuller and more alive. When I stepped out, it stopped.
There was also a room where a very large painting seemed to float in space in the distance. I walked toward it and, as I did, I realized that the painting was made up of thousands of what I might call 3D rendered pixels. The “pixels” that made up the flat-looking 2D image were actually long shafts of color that I then walked through. There is also a part where you enter and walk through the iconic cover art for Kid A, which was trippy. There were a number of other moments that would be difficult to describe, so if you’re interested in art, Radiohead, or just cool interactive experiences, I’d say just give it a look. It’s free, after all.
Mario Party Superstars
Some of my fondest multiplayer memories are of me and my friends Ron, Gari, and Tina playing the first three Mario Party games. We rented them often, playing for hours and even briefly adopting nicknames based on our character of choice. Mine was, of course, Peach, which is a part of where my love for that character stems from. What we loved about these games is that skill only counted to an extent. Ron and I were the big gamers in the group, so we had an unfair advantage in some of the multiplayer games we’d play. The Mario Party games even the playing field to an extent, because some of the minigames are less skill based than others (and some are outright based on chance), plus the games randomly give out stars at the end based on bizarre things that are usually out of your control, like how many Bowser spaces you land on. So, while Ron and I would dominate in some of the minigames, many of them were totally up in the air, especially when the game would pair us off in a 2 vs 2 or 3 vs 1 game. We had so much fun.
I’ve liked or loved most of the Mario Party games since, but I will say I was very disappointed with Mario Party 9 and 10, and also pretty unimpressed with 8. Super Mario Partyfor the Switch is pretty decent, but with no online play I’ve had little opportunity to play it. I played it by myself for a bit, but it’s never the same. Luckily, I’ve had lots of opportunities to play Mario Party Superstars with friends online, and this collection of boards and minigames from the first three entries (I think some of the minigames are taken from later entries, too) has fully restored my love for Mario Party. The game looks great, too, which is something I haven’t thought about the series in a while. I do wish there were even more boards, but hopefully they’ll fix that with DLC. Either way, I’ve had such a blast playing this game with friends. Peach is the Party Star, babyyyyy.
The Matrix Awakens
This “game” is a demo for Unreal Engine 5, and it begins with an intro that features the voice and likeness (both real and digital) of Keanu Reeves (as himself and Neo) and Carrie Ann Moss, then puts you in the shoes of a new character that helps Trinity evade pursuing agents by shooting them, vehicle tires, and a helicopter as Trinity speeds along a crowded highway. Eventually you’re free to explore this seemingly fictional city, walking, driving, or flying a drone around to look at the bustling metropolis. Many people have commented on the ability to look at various layers of the city, like surface mapping, lighting, the ability to increase/decrease population, etc.
These tools are cool and all, but I was mostly curious about how they made the city, in terms of building/road placement. I don’t remember reading that it was procedurally generated, but the placement of some of the buildings was odd and unrealistic. This is not a dig, necessarily. It made me think that the engine gave you the ability to sort of “paint” buildings into a city, with the engine placing them in somewhat reasonable places that you could then go in and tweak. That would be a pretty cool feature that would make city-building so much easier than what I imagine it’s like now.
13 Sentinels Aegis Rim
This is the game I’m currently playing, and I knew very little about it going in. I knew it was made by Atlus, who I love, it was an RPG, which I love, and had cover art in a visual style that, yes, I love. As it turns out, the whole game is in that 2D water color-esque style, and it’s so lovely. The characters are 2D and the narrative environments are kind of 2.5D in that they are mostly 2D but you can walk a little to the front and back of the space. The characters look hand sketched/painted, and their avatars, while made up of 2D static art, are also animated, making them look like paintings come to life. So far, the thing I like most about the game is just appreciating every new environment and character I come across. I really love the game’s art style so far.
The story, up to the point that I’ve played (I’m about 6 hours in and nearing the end of the “tutorial” segment) seems to be a cross between Neon Genesis Evangelion (high schoolers piloting giant mechs to defend Japan from kaiju) and Terminator (time travel as a means to avoid future catastrophe), but there is more at play, I’m sure. In the short time I’ve played there have been a ton of fun cultural references, too, like E.T., The X-Files, Men in Black, Godzilla, and more. I was also so happy to hear familiar voice actors from the Persona games (Xanthe Huynh, Cassandra Lee Morris, Laura Post). The combat is grid-based strategy, which is usually hit-or-miss for me. So far, the battles have been very easy, so as long as they remain intuitive and not too frustrating, I’ll be good. I’ve really liked what I’ve played so far, so hopefully I’ll have time to write about it more when I finish it.
And that wraps up 2021 for me. 2022 is set to be a huge year for gaming, if the release schedule holds firm. Starfield, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild 2, Horizon Forbidden West, Elden Ring, God of War Ragnarok, Saints Row, PS VR 2, and more? I’m going to have to find time to write more regularly.
Welp, between finishing up a summer semester, spinning up two fall courses, keeping up with the podcast, and, well, life, I haven’t had as much time to write here. That little voice has been nagging at me, though. “Why haven’t you posted?” “If you wait too long, there will be too much to catch up on.” “You are a worthless human being.” “Remember that time in third grade when you were in library class and everyone was lined up against the walls for an activity and you felt sick but the library teacher wouldn’t let you go to the bathroom so you threw up in front of everyone and then the teacher yelled at you to go to the bathroom so you ran out of the room and were puking as you ran down the hallway, legs spread wide to avoid the vomit?” Okay, voice, I get it, I’ll write an update post.
The truth is, I’ve been replaying some not-so-old favorites, so I haven’t exactly felt the same kind of pull to document my thoughts. When I play a new game, I like to write about it to sort through and preserve my initial feelings about it. That was the primary reason for starting this blog, after all. Much of this summer has been spent with familiar friends. I replayed the entire trilogy in Mass Effect Legendary Edition, Final Fantasy VII Remake, I got the platinum trophy for Arcade Spirits and Doki Doki Literature Club Plus!, and I’m currently playing the new Quake remaster and Persona 5 Royal. Yes, again. Get off my case. I have played some new games, like Microsoft Flight Simulator and Mario Golf: Super Rush, but I’ve mostly felt empowered for the first time in a long time to go back and replay older games this summer. It probably sounds silly, to some extent. I can do what I want with my time and I’m not required to keep up with the latest releases due to my job, so what’s the big deal about replaying old games? Well, for me, it’s our old, dear friend: anxiety.
Everyone’s anxiety manifests itself in different ways, and it’s only been in these last couple of years that I’ve come to know my own. One of my manifestations is the need to move forward, always. I think grad school is partly to blame for this, with its insistence that you are always working, studying, being “productive.” Internally, I’d look at all the things I haven’t done and feel ill. How many books should I read to be considered an expert on something? How many movies have I not yet seen? How many video games? Checklists of things formed in my subconscious. If I checked a box, meaning I read, watched, or played something new, I felt a sense of accomplishment. I was making progress. I was growing, learning, being some form of “productive.” Conversely, the thought of revisiting something made me feel anxious. I would have an urge to rewatch a favorite movie and immediately squash it. It felt wasteful when there were so many movies I hadn’t seen yet. The same for games, so for the first time in a long time I was actually keeping up with new releases, not out of a desire to be “in the conversation,” but to check those sweet, sweet, internal boxes.
Something changed this summer, though, and it makes me hopeful that all of the work I’ve put into addressing my issues with anxiety is paying off. When Mass Effect Legendary Edition was announced, I was as excited as anyone. But I worried that I would buy it at release, then just not touch it for months. When my friends said that they, too, were planning on playing it at launch, I had more of a reason to force myself to play it. I was happily surprised, then, that I felt no stress or anxiety when I booted it up. Just the rosy glow of nostalgia. Playing through the recently released Final Fantasy VII Remake Intergrade should have been even more likely to cause me stress, because I just played through that game last year. Nope. I played through the story again, plus the new content, and I never felt rushed or guilty. And so the summer went. I feel ready for the new flood of games coming this fall, but I’m glad I spent my summer revisiting old favorites. I don’t have time to write about my time with these games in-depth, but here are some “brief” little tidbits.
Microsoft Flight Simulator
I finally have a game for my Xbox Series X! When I saw the trailer for this game at E3 2019, I was so excited by the idea of being able to fly anywhere in the world, which is rendered in its entirety using Microsoft’s Bing Maps and Azure AI. That idea, that I could fly over places both foreign and familiar, was too cool to pass up. I didn’t have a PC that could handle it, but when it was announced for the Xbox Series X, I knew I had to have it. And I do. And it’s great. Well, the tutorial could use some work. They walk you through a series of simple tasks to familiarize you with flight controls, navigation, takeoff and landing, and more. But this is a complex game, and they sometimes just leave steps out. So I would be in the middle of a tutorial, following every step they walked me through, then a prompt would pop up like “flip the clapback switch before throwing it back” and I’m like “uh, the what switch? Did we cover that? Where is it?” I eventually got the basics down, enough to fly pretty well with some of the game’s assists on.
And that’s how I like to play the game. I tried flying without any assists and almost immediately got an alarm about mixed fuel, which we never covered in the tutorial. I was like nope, no thanks, I’m okay with using assists. That first flight was exhilarating, though. I wasn’t sure how I’d fare on my own for the first time, so I charted a flight path that departed from and returned to an airport in eastern Australia. I took off, cruised north along the coast, looked out at the beautiful city and scenery, and returned for landing. It was a simple thing, but also thrilling. It reminded me of the first time I flew in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. It was the first big, open-world game I’d played where you could find a plane, hop in, take off, and land somewhere else, all with no loading screens. I found a crop duster, got up to speed on a dirt airstrip, and took off. The plane wobbled so much and I was sure I’d crash it, but I got it under control, flew to a nearby beach, and landed safely. There is something about that experience that really hits me. It somehow feels more “real” than so many other video game experiences. It did then, and it does now, in Microsoft Flight Simulator.
I’ve logged a little over 100 hours so far, mostly spent visiting places I’ve lived or places I want to go. I took off from Maxwell Air Force Base, where I was stationed for most of my time in the Air Force, I visited Chicago and looked for my first high school, flew over the places I’d visited on my road trip to the West Coast, skimmed the naval base in Bahrain, and more. My second flight was from a grass field less than two miles from my house to a small airport in Storm Lake, Iowa, where my friend just moved to. The buildings, roads, and other land features aren’t perfectly rendered, but they’re mostly recognizable. I could very easily make out the buildings I worked in at Maxwell AFB but my house and the courthouse I currently live behind are virtually non-existent, for example. Still, I am really digging the ability to visit places like Japan, England, Africa, and more, especially because I have no idea when I’ll get to do so in reality. I look forward to many more hours in the sky with this one.
Mario Golf: Super Rush
I was so excited for Mario Golf: Super Rush. Like Microsoft Flight Simulator, I was surprised by how hyped I was when it was announced earlier this year. It had been a while since I’d played a Mario Golf game, and I recently got back into Everybody’s Golf, which is so much fun. Ultimately, I’m pretty disappointed by it. To be fair, it’s not like I’ve played a ton of it yet. I’ve played through the tutorial, the first story match, and a few solo courses. I can see how this game might be fun with friends, but it’s not super satisfying to play solo (yet, anyway). My biggest complaint is how the game feels, which is subjective, of course. After having played so much of Everybody’s Golf, which has the exact perfect mix or realism and silly, cartoon fantasy for me, I don’t care for how intangible the ball and courses feel in Super Rush. When I hit a ball in EG, it looks, sounds, and feels like I hit a ball. The ball has depth and travels in a way that feels real. I look like a dopey, cartoon-y version of myself, and there is a big, silly mountain shaped like a man’s head in the far background, but the gameplay feels real enough to be satisfying.
When I hit a ball in Super Rush, it feels like I tapped a button and a flat, white dot is moving over a flat, colorful facsimile of a course. The ball doesn’t feel like it has weight or depth, so it ends up feeling like I’m playing one of those old school golf games on the NES or various handheld systems. I’m not looking for ultra realism here. I didn’t go into this expecting Tiger Woods: Mushroom Kingdom Edition. But when I look at how good the production values were for something like Mario Kart 8, I can’t help but want other Mario games to at least attempt that same level of polish and depth. I wanted a Mario Golf game with tons of fun characters and courses. The courses that I’ve played have mostly been uninspiring. The opening course in particular is dull and confusing. It’s supposed to be a beginner course, but why not have it be a Mushroom Kingdom course? And why are all the holes so tightly woven together? For the “Super Rush” mode? The Mario games have so, so many amazing levels that you could use for a golf game, but we see so little of that same inspired design here. I don’t mean to sound so negative, and I do still plan to continue giving this game a shot (maybe if I play with friends I’ll have a better time), but this was the first time I’d picked up my Switch in a while so the sting of disappointment was a little harsher than it might have been otherwise.
Speaking of disappointing, my friend Tab and I were very excited to attend the much-hyped Ariana Grande concert in Fortnite, but we walked away confused and a little underwhelmed. Neither of us would call ourselves Ariana Grande fans, but we’d heard so much hype about the Travis Scott Fortnite concert that we wanted to check out what seemed widely considered to be a true spectacle. It also gave me a chance to wear one of the [too many] awesome skins that I’ve bought over the last two years and have never touched. I chose my homegirl, Chun-Li.
The “concert” seemed like a recorded medley of music that played to pre-rendered/animated scenes with a large Ariana Grande moving through various colorful backgrounds. I guess I should have had my expectations in check, but I was expecting something like, oh I dunno, a concert? Not a music video. Still, the visuals were pretty cool and seeing a gigantic Ariana Grande stomping around was kind of fun. After a certain point, we were zapped back into the main map and weren’t sure if the concert was over. We were able to fly around and go through rings to collect points… but that was it. There was no indication of what was happening or whether or not the concert was over, and eventually we were just kicked from the server. It was a confusing and abrupt end to a dazzling but underwhelming “performance.” But, hey. I got to be Chun-Li and fly through a bunch of pink clouds and rainbows. I wouldn’t call it a complete waste of time.
Doki Doki Literature Club Plus!
I’ve written about Doki Doki Literature Club! in previousposts, and I’ll repeat what I’ve already said once again: If you haven’t played this game, it’s free on Steam so I encourage you to give it a shot. It defies expectations and challenges convention, so it’s best to go into it without any knowledge about the plot, themes, etc., which is why I’m always hesitant to talk about it in almost any capacity, regardless of overt spoilers. I will avoid those kinds of spoilers here, but if you have any shred of interest in a unique game that is made to surprise and provoke serious thought, don’t read anything else on it and just check it out.
Alright, preamble aside, I have not been shy about my love for this game, so when Dan Salvato tweeted that a deluxe, expanded edition of the game was coming to consoles, I pre-ordered a physical copy immediately. I paid for the pack of art and music that was released alongside the free Steam version of the core game back in the day, so I’ve already supported the dev team in that way, but this is the kind of game I want on my shelf. The cover art is beautiful, and I can’t wait to see the pack-in content (I played the digital version and am waiting for the physical edition to release). I won’t say much about the core game other than it was very fun to play through the game and get the platinum trophy in beautiful HD. The thing I want to comment on is some the new content that comes with this version of the game. The reveal announcement said there were “six side stories” that expand on each character’s personality and relationships more, but I think they undersold this content. What you get is more than “side stories” – you get a pretty thorough origin story for the club and every character. It’s hours of content, and it presents an expansive, substantial foundation for the core game. The core game still stand on its own just fine, but if you really want a full sense of these characters and the setting your character is walking into at the beginning of the core game, this added content is indispensable. I love this game even more now.
Final Fantasy VII Remake Intergrade
As with DDLC+!, I bought the PS5 version of Final Fantasy VII Remake Intergrade in part to play the new content, but also to experience a game I already love on my shinier, newer console. Playing through the core game with my old save file and stats was a breeze and allowed me to enjoy the story and enhanced graphics without having to worry about grinding or seeking out weapons/materia. I nabbed a few more trophies, like the one where you get Cloud, Tifa, and Aerith to each wear three different dresses during the Wall Market section of the game and the one where you defeat Bahamut and obtain his materia. Let me tell you, summoning a Bahamut later in the game, fighting some of the final bosses, was rad. And, of course, I spent more quality time with my number one FFVII bae, Jessie.
As for the new content, with Yuffie, I had a really good time with it. It wasn’t as impactful for me as the core game, of course, but I found the combo-based combat to be a lot easier and more enjoyable than I’d expected it to be. Yuffie was a very fun, cute, lovable character, and I thought her seemingly carefree attitude provided a ton of levity to the ending, which offered a look at the core game’s final moments from a different perspective. Somehow it felt even more heartbreaking from Yuffie’s point of view. I also liked some of the new characters introduced, the expanded look at characters from the core game, and I was very excited by the post-game scenes showing the main group from the core game leaving the city and traveling through the desert. It made the next installment feel so close, even if it is potentially still very far from release.
One Night Stand
One Night Stand is a short visual novel that puts you in the proverbial shoes of a man who has woken up in a stranger’s bed with no recollection of the night before. Through exploring the environment and talking to the bed’s owner, a young woman, you have to piece together the events of the previous evening and your relationship with this stranger. You can only choose to explore so many things each run (so, you might only get to investigate two of the eight or so items in her bedroom while she’s making you tea, then the story progresses), which means there are several paths through the game and multiple endings. These multiple paths aside, the main thing that distinguishes this game is its art style, which appears hand-drawn and rotoscoped. The game didn’t fully click with me, but I enjoyed it enough to play through all of the endings which didn’t take very long. There is some clever writing and a few funny bits, but I think the art style was, in part, why I didn’t get into it fully. Still, it was a pretty decent way to spend a few hours.
I spent more than a few hours with the console release of Arcade Spirits, however. As with DDLC+!, I first played this game on PC and I loved the colorful cast of characters and fun retro game-themed storyline. It’s a silly, flirty game that doesn’t take itself too seriously, and it was much lengthier than I’d expected. So, of course, when it released on consoles at the beginning of the summer, I yoinked it right from the PlayStation Store and decided to get the platinum trophy for it. This meant a considerable amount of replaying, but it allowed me to explore relationships with everyone. While I have yet to play a dating sim (or game with dating sim elements, like the Persona games) that really and truly makes the dating/relationship more of a focus than the story, Arcade Spirits comes closer than most. In Persona 5, for example, your relationship with your chosen partner is a very, very minor plot point that’s only explored in a few short scenes. In AS, scenes with your partner are written with a seriousness that gives a lot of weight to your decisions, and they feel more substantial.
I’d like more, of course, but I appreciate how deeply they allow you to explore these characters, regardless. Without spoiling too much, there is a character that’s struggling with gender identity issues, and I’d never have known that without dating them. The game is a fun, relatively “light” romp, but it does touch on some interesting social issues like gender and sexuality. I love the art style and character design, though I do hope there are more options in terms of main character appearance in the sequel. I appreciate that they allow you to make a character to vaguely fit any gender, but it winds up making every MC looks similar and not very much like the player. If I can name the character after myself and make choices about how I look, I want a character that looks more or less like me, and that’s not possible in this first game. That small quibble aside, I was more than happy to play this game multiple times through and spend more time with the crew at Quarter Up (the name I gave my arcade). I can’t wait for Arcade Spirits: The New Challengers, coming next year!
I picked this game up in a PSN sale which, I have to say, have gotten so much better over the years – they went from the occasional 30% off discount to regular 30-70%+ discounts of games of all types, much like Steam sales. I’m here for it. I’m also here for the kinds of cheap, pervy dating sims that are also, like a good flash sale, making their way from Steam to PlayStation and other consoles. Having said that, this game was just alright. It wasn’t especially pervy and the writing was pretty terrible. I give developers a lot of credit, because by all accounts making any game is a long, difficult process. But writers have long been excluded from game making because, in part, everyone thinks they can write. You just come up with ideas and write them out, right? Why pay someone else to do that for you? Because, as we’ve seen throughout most of video game history, writing interesting, funny, rich, sexy, cool, etc. characters and compelling stories is not easy.
And, yes, maybe the player isn’t drawn to a game like this because of the story or characters. Maybe they just want to do some puzzles or, as is the case here, see some anime tiddies. And that’s fine. But why make your game less than when it could be more? You can have both. You can satisfy the tiddie lovers and players who appreciate a decent, charming, playful story. The writing in this game is bad on a story and sentence level, and it made me wish I had the opportunity to write games. I am a defender of smut, and I won’t say I didn’t enjoy this game at all, but I guess I just wish people took even smut more seriously. When we give into the narrative that sex-related media is “just smut,” it keeps sex and sexuality in the shadows, something that we should be ashamed of. To this day, games with sex in them are often scrutinized more closely and criticized for being exploitative (which, granted, some are) and “pervy,” which even relatively reasonable people don’t want to associate with. And, yes, that’s their problem, to some extent, but I guess I just want sex to continue to be destigmatized, and I think one way we can do that is by treating it as more than just something to pump out (pun not intended) for people to use to pump out (there it is) to. That’s not even a real phrase but it felt right. How did I get up on this soapbox for a dumb game about anime tiddies? Sorry! I’ll move along.
I haven’t played much of the newly released remaster of Quake on the PS5, but one of the first things I found in the game was the nail gun and a box of nails. Right there, in front of my eyes, was the Nine Inch Nails logo. I was more excited than I should have been, and a wave of nostalgia flowed through me. You see, my friend Ron and I are big NIN fans, and back in the day we went on a wild goose chase for a copy of Quake 64 because we’d read that NIN had not only done the game’s soundtrack, their logo also appeared on the nail gun weapon and its ammo boxes. This was sometime between the release of Quake II for the N64 and Quake III, I think. Neither of us had a PC capable of running Quake, so we set out on a number of mall and game store adventures over the course of days or maybe weeks (I can’t quite remember and time is a funny, mysterious thing now). We finally found a used copy of it and were so excited to rush home and hear those sweet, dark tunes and see the clever nod to the band logo.
We raced home, popped it in the N64, and… were not completely blown away by the music. Maybe it’s the N64’s poor sound quality, we thought. Or maybe Trent Reznor just kind of phoned it in? Then we found the nail gun and there was no NIN logo. M-maybe it’s just on the ammo boxes, we reasoned, starting to lose hope. We found an ammo box and there was no logo. We were kind of crushed. It was, as Ron pointed out on a recent podcast episode where we talk about popular music in games, our first encounter with the complicated mess that licensing things like music across multiple platforms can be. I still enjoyed what we played of Quake 64 then, and I went on to love Quake II and Quake IIIArena, but I never went back and played the PC version of the game. That’s why, on entering a secret area and gazing upon the NIN-branded box of nails for my trusty nail gun in this PS5 version, I smiled and remembered the fun but ultimately disappointing adventure Ron and I shared. I’ve only played a few levels so far, but the gunplay is simple, smooth and fast, much like…
Back 4 Blood (Beta)
…the gunplay in the Back 4 Blood demo, which I played a ton of with Ron and Tab over these last few weeks. Okay, so it’s a different kind of “simple” than an old school FPS game, but I was pleasantly surprised by how unobtrusive the card system I’d heard so much about was. When I heard that this game was a spiritual successor to Left 4 Dead, made by the actual dev team, I was very excited. When I read that it had a card system, my excitement was immediately buffered by caution. Card systems just aren’t my thing, so I worried that this new system would interfere with the fast-paced, frenetic gameplay I loved in the original games. My worries were pretty much unfounded. If you want to play this game and never worry about the cards, you can. The cards add bonuses, but their implementation can be as simple or complex as you want it to be. You can ignore them and just play, you can just pick cards that have obviously attractive perks (like +5 health or 20% ammo capacity), or you can go through and build a deck with a specific role in mind and coordinate with teammates to fit different play styles. You can build a deck that puts healing perks early so you can be the team healer, you can make a different deck that prioritizes ammo and support perks so you can play backup for a healer and heavy hitters, etc. Or you can all just build whatever decks fit your playstyle and not worry about roles. I found it more than unobtrusive – it turned out to be pretty cool.
We played through the available campaign act several times, and other than a few small complaints (AI is dumb and kind of glitchy, the shared currency system could be better explained, etc.), I had a blast. The zombie (I’m sorry, “Ridden” *massive eye roll emoji*) hordes aren’t quite as massive and intense as those I remember in L4D, and some of the special zombies aren’t quite as memorable, but the gameplay remains just as satisfying as it was in the previous games. Fighting our way through crowds of undead to find ourselves in a house where we know we’re going to draw a horde, setting traps and strategizing the best way to account for the many directions they might pour in, and then losing our shit when it all starts to fall apart… classic. I can’t wait to play more in October.
Persona 5 Royal
I mean, if you’ve kept up with my blog in any way, you might be sick of hearing about Persona 5. I loved that game and the manyPersonagames I played after it so, so much, and I’ve made no secret of that. I beat the original P5 three times, and though I only beat Royal once, I did get the platinum trophy for it. So why revisit such a massive, time-consuming game? Well, part of it has to do with the preamble for this post – I had played several of these old, favorite games over the summer so I felt like I could actually play through P5R without the kind of guilt and anxiety that would normally come with replaying a huge game like this. So, you might call it a test. A test that I passed, I would say, because I just maxed my characters out at level 99 and am about to enter the endgame for the base game’s story, and I’ve enjoyed every second.
The only difference with this playthrough is that I’m romancing Makoto. I’ve dated Ann, Kawakami, Futaba, and Kasumi, so Makoto was next on my list. I did realize at one point that I’m going through a whole heck of a lot just to date one character, but I don’t mind it. I love this game. I did make a save before my first opportunity to romance a character, though, and am planning on a run in the future where I romance everyone. I know I’ll get yelled for it later in the game, but I don’t know that I’ll have time to play through the game five more times to individually romance the remaining ladies. Anyway, I’ll shut up about this game (for now) because I’ve yapped on and on about it elsewhere, but I’m once again very happy to be spending time in Tokyo with all of my fictional, virtual friends.
Mass Effect Legendary Edition
I will also keep my discussion of Mass Effect Legendary Edition short, because I recorded a four and a half hour podcast episode about it with my friend Paul. Four and a half hours, I said! It was a beast of an episode, but we walked through each game and talked about ways in which this experience was different than our first playthrough of the trilogy (at launch), who we romanced, favorite characters, the DLC, and much, much more. To be honest, I’m a bit ME-chatted out for now, but aside from linking you to the episode in case you want to hear me and Paul blather on for hours about it, I will share just a few thoughts and more than a few screenshots.
Let’s start with the biggie: romance. Tali is my girl, and in my first playthrough of the trilogy I pursued her without hesitation. I’m sure I’ll write a Gaming Crushes post on her at some point, so I won’t go into all the reasons I think she’s great here, but I will say I was so sad in the first game when she wasn’t a romance option. So, I went with the only other real choice in that game: Liara. I did the same in my Legendary Edition playthrough, because I still couldn’t bring myself to date the openly xenophobic space racist, Ashley. I wanted to change things up this time through, but I couldn’t bring myself to not date Tali in Mass Effect 2. I was a bit of a slut, though. Before I dated Tali, I hooked up with both Kelly Chambers and Liara, because you can do so without entering a relationship with them. I don’t find anything wrong with that, though, so if you try and slut shame me I will quickly remind you that I am a cool dude who is currently talking about sleeping with fake women. Take that.
The third game is where things get interesting, though. I slightly regretted not shaking things up and dating someone new in ME2, so I was determined to find a new bae in ME3. I began, as always, strengthening my relationships with everyone and flirting here and there, when I was interested in someone. Who might I go for this time? Miranda really redeemed herself and went through a transformation of character and conscience between ME2 and ME3, so maybe her? Kasumi is amazing and I loved her right away, due in no small part to having not played her DLC back when I first played ME2. Diana Allers was modelled on and voice by the very attractive Jessica Chobot, so maybe her? Or my old fling Kelly? As it turns out, many of those options (and more) were locked out for me. I’d forgotten that you couldn’t romance characters from ME2 in 3 unless you’d also romanced them in the previous game. I was able to hook up with Diana, but it wasn’t a serious romance. So my options, near the end of the game, were limited. Look, I dated the space racist, okay? Don’t judge me! I’d heard that she improves after the first game, and… well, that’s technically true, I guess, because she’s no longer overtly racist. But she never has a moment where she’s like “man, I was an idiot back in the day, aliens are actually pretty cool,” so I ended up feeling like I was trapped in a loveless relationship of my own design. She would embrace me and playfully slap my chest armor, saying some flirty thing, and I would just stare soullessly into the distance, wondering what might have been if I’d just dated Miranda from the start in ME2. Sigh.
Anyway, I did really enjoy some of the DLC that I didn’t partake in back in the day. The Leviathan DLC was amazing. I loved the image of the huge, Reaper-like Leviathans rising from the deep. I was disappointed that we didn’t see them show up later, smashing headlong into Reaper ships, but they were cool nonetheless. I did, however, literally shout in glee seeing the scene where the thresher maw queen took down the Reaper. I’d forgotten about that scene, but it was one of my favorites in this playthrough. Anytime you turn a long-hated and strong enemy against a new and stronger enemy is gold to me. I also loved the Citadel DLC, and having the opportunity to party with all of my space besties before what would potentially be a true suicide mission was amazing. The writing in much of the DLC was also superb. Lastly, and briefly, I’ll just say that I did feel differently about the ending of ME3 this time around. I had felt resigned to no more Mass Effect games when 3 first dropped, so although the definitiveness of the ending made me sad, I accepted it with little trouble. This time, knowing what was to come with Andromeda and the upcoming ME game trailer, I was a little more irked by how rushed it felt. I chose the Synthesis ending back in the day, because it felt like it was the “right” ending, but I didn’t like that every being would lose its individuality. I chose the “good” Destruction ending this time, because it was the only ending where Earth, the Normandy, and (most importantly) Shepard survive. I felt very close to my character and friends this time (probably from playing the games back-to-back), so I really wanted the ending where the most people survived. But I sacrificed EDI (my love, who I would have 100% romanced if I could have), Legion, and all of the Geth who I’d fought so hard to save from a war with the Quarians. Ugh. It was very annoying.
So, ultimately, I had a wonderful time revisiting these games, and if you’d like to hear me get into far more detail, check out the podcast episode linked above. We get really, really in the weeds, and I still feel like we could have said much, much more. I’ll try and be better about writing more frequently, but I am currently working on my dissertation, too, which is going to take up massive amounts of time in the coming months. So, until next time, here’s more Mass Effect Legendary Edition screenshots.
If a game has a dating system, you can be pretty sure that I have a “crush” from that game. How could I not? I love romance systems in games, and I’ve gushed about how much I enjoyed those systems in the Persona series, which famously includes a dating sim-like feature. I’d already played Persona 4 Golden and Persona 5 by the time I got around to Persona 3 Portable, so I knew going in that my character would have to keep an eye out for his future bae. Wait… do people say bae anymore? I don’t think they do. I haven’t heard it in… a long time. Man, that word was all over the place for a while, and it was so useful for describing silly crushes on fictional characters. Let’s just pretend that I’m writing this post in 2018 and run with it. Where was I? Oh yes. In 2018. Looking for bae in all the wrong places.
You meet Mitsuru Kirijo pretty early in P3P, and as soon as I saw her I remember thinking “welp, call off the search, I think I found my future waifu.” Wait… do people still use waifu? Stop it, Joey, no one’s reading this and no one cares. Waifu. Bae. Booboo babykins. Okay, no one ever used that one. Let’s just move on.
I have long had a thing for red hair, so Mitsuru’s long, crimson locks, draped mysteriously over one eye, almost had me sold on her just by virtue of existing. It worked so well with her white and red outfit, too, so I pretty instantly had cartoon heart eyes and was ready to have my character virtually propose marriage. But I hope I’ve made it clear, if you’ve read any of the other entries in this series, that looks aren’t always what draws me to these fictional ladies. Some of them are stunning, yes, but there are literally thousands of attractively drawn/modelled characters, spanning decades of games. Hell, in the Persona series alone, most of the characters are some kind of cute/attractive. I needed to know more about Mitsuru before I went shopping for a little pixel engagement ring.
And, I have to say, as quickly as I fell for her appearance, I was almost as quickly turning my attention elsewhere. As beautiful as Mitsuru is, I found her to be cold, calculating, and dedicated almost exclusively to work. I found out pretty early that she is heir to her father’s company, The Kirijo Group, which executes shadowy research and development all around the world. As it turned out, Mitsuru took her responsibility to her father and the company very seriously, so every move she made was done in service to her role as future president of the company. Every class, every hobby, every friend had to either serve her future goals or stand aside. And romance? What’s that? Mitsuru agreed to an arranged marriage because it would strategically benefit her father’s company. It’s not uncommon to marry for reasons other than love in Japan, but Mitsuru’s fiancé was a really piece of classist, arrogant, manipulative, abusive shit.
It’s not that I didn’t respect her situation and the immense stress she must feel with such a future hanging over her head, but it created an impenetrable wall that I just couldn’t crack, no matter how charming and flirty I was. Well, the protagonist in P3P isn’t exactly smooth, so my many attempts to chat her up between missions were probably more awkward than debonair. Less “hey, baby,” and more “uh……………….. hi?” Which, if we’re being honest, is far more like me in real life, so I guess it works out. My point is that I didn’t get very far when I tried to get to get to know her. She was all work and no play, and as the leader of our merry gang, that philosophy extended to those around her as well. The summer break is much shorter in Japan than it is in US schools, but it’s still a welcome respite from seemingly endless exams and studying. Well, thanks to Mitsuru, we didn’t get that break, because she signed the whole group up for extra classes. For our own benefit, she said. So it wasn’t long before I just accepted that Mitsuru and I probably weren’t meant to be and began considering my other options.
Yukari seemed an obvious candidate, and maybe even the character the game intends for you to get with. She’s cute, funny, pretty laid back. She’s a good friend. And what about Aigis? She’s a badass robot chick! She is literally made to kick ass, she undergoes incredible growth and development as she becomes more and more human, and her voice is absolutely amazing. Heck, I was even considering Toriumi. As the staple teacher romance option, there is the taboo element that comes with a teacher/student relationship, even in Japan, but she is a writing teacher who loves video games and computers, and she’s pretty dang attractive. She is almost too perfectly suited for me. Luckily for me, I played Portable, the only version of the game that actually allows you to romance every character without penalty (unless you don’t make a final, definitive choice, I think). I was able to explore what relationships with all of these characters and more would be like. Mitsuru was not among them, at first. My uncertainty toward her may have played a part, but she was also not interested in pursuing a romance, given her arranged engagement.
So we beat on, fists against the faces of shadows. But things began to change. With the social, academic, and familial pressures on her mounting, Mitsuru came to some vital realizations about her life. One of the key lessons in Persona games (and most JRPGs, really) is that you can’t do it all on your own. We are at our best and most powerful, these games suggest, when we have the support of our friends, family, teammates, and community. Mitsuru began to let me in. We hung out. We talked. I actually made her laugh. And in what began as an uncomfortable conflict with her fiancé, where he threatened her and the future of her company if she didn’t honor their engagement, she snapped. Not then, in the moment, but the crack had formed that would break her open and reveal her true self. Like a true persona user, she was undergoing a dramatic awakening.
She maintained all of her strengths, including her brilliance with business, fierce intelligence, selfless leadership acumen, and determination to succeed, only now she added steadfast independence, loyalty to herself and her friends, infinite charm, and an empathy that allows her to see the world in a less fixed, impermanent way. She is still the heir to a huge company, still a top student with infinite potential, and still a badass fighter and friend. And, of course, she still rocks those red tresses and that coy smile, meaning she is a dangerous combo of beauty and beastly intellect and strength. I had fun flirting with the other characters in Persona 3 Portable, but with her awakening, Mitsuru became my clear favorite. I’m grateful that I was able to see her again in Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight, but I’m really hoping for the long-rumored Persona 3 remake/remaster to come out so I can revisit all of my friends and, above all, my bae. My waifu. My redheaded booboobabykins. Mitsuru.
E3 is back, baby! Well, almost. Kind of. Sort of. Not really, but there are a bunch of exciting videos and streams from most of the big industry publishers coming up, so that’s good enough for me. It’s been a while since I’ve written out a wish list, but I just published the latest podcast episode, all about this very subject, so I thought I’d revisit my old wish lists and put the power of my desire for these games into the universe on the off chance that it somehow reaches the hearts of these publishers many months in the past and they begin working on these games with enough time to produce and show something for this event. Did that make sense? Probably not, but let’s move on.
Like many gamers, I have that nasty habit of getting my hopes way up for E3. I can usually keep my expectations in check, but there are always those little embers of hope that will burn eternally for some new, exciting entry in a long-loved series, or maybe some shocking new IP from a favorite developer. There are things we know we can reasonably expect, but it’s the things that seem farfetched that are the most tantalizing to dare wish for. My previous wish lists have been a mix of the two, and while I’m usually slightly disappointed when most of my hopes are dashed by any given E3 showing, my track record isn’t a complete disaster. From the two lists above, we did end up getting a new Animal Crossing game on Switch, Final Fantasy VII Remake, Dragon Quest XI, a new Tomb Raider game, Soulcalibur VI, plus announcements of new Fable and Perfect Dark games. And I want more? Yes. Always. Here are some things I want from some of the big publishers and platform holders.
Sure, I want to see a teaser for a new Assassin’s Creed game, and I’d be pretty hyped for a new Splinter Cell even though I never played through any of the previous entries. What I really want from Ubisoft this year is info on Skull and Bones, though. I know they went back to the drawing board in terms of the game’s direction, and that set them back a bit, but they have to have something by now, right? Right? If I’m really being sassy, I don’t just want a new teaser, either. I want a full reveal. I want more than just ship-to-ship combat. I want exploration. I want to hunt for an old wooden treasure chest buried deep in the sand. I want to swim away from a cute fifteen foot great white shark who wants nothing more than to chomp my widdle feets. I want to sail under the stars, riding the wind and singing shanties with me maties. I want to pirate, not just fire cannonballs at another ship. And I want the option to do it offline, please. Give it to me, Ubisoft.
I don’t really know what I want from Microsoft, to be honest. They’ve heard my prayers for a new Fable game and even a new Perfect Dark game, so what else could a boy ask for? Well, mostly more of the same. Meaning, just show me the things I already know you’re working on. Give me a big ol’ substantial Starfield reveal. Show me multiple planets I can visit, show me a better and more fleshed out romance system (than the Elder Scrolls or Fallout games), show me a release window. Show me a better and more impressive Halo Infinite trailer. And, if you really want to be generous, actually show me something from the aforementioned Fable and Perfect Dark games. I get the sense that the latter is probably still very early in development, but even a flashy, brief teaser would be good. Even though I mostly want to see what I already know exists, I am pretty excited for Microsoft’s presentation, because they’ve done a good job of dropping big surprises in recent shows. They might even give me something I don’t even know I want yet!
Square Enix is a big one for me, due in no small part to the fact that they have made some of my favorite games and series of all time. They are one of the shows where my hopes are always way off the charts. Yes, I want to see more of Final Fantasy XVI and am hoping for a new Tomb Raider game, but what I really want I very much doubt I’ll get. Well, I’ll get Dragon Quest XII, because they just recently announced that at the Dragon Quest 35th Anniversary event. It’s probably also too early to see anything from the follow-up to Final Fantasy VII Remake, but boy howdy do I want to. And it would be perfect timing, given that the next gen version of the first game and a new DLC episode is dropping this month. If they do show it, I’d love for confirmation that there will some kind of overworld or open world for us to explore. I also want confirmation that Jesse is still alive. *teary-eyed emoji* The things I really, really want are probably not going to happen, but every year I cross my fingers and pray to the ancient gaming gods for Square Enix to do something with the Chrono franchise. The original game seems to get more and more love with each passing year, yet Square has done virtually nothing with it. I think many of us would love something dramatic, like a remake or a sequel, but at this point I would settle for a remastered version or a remake/remaster of Chrono Cross. Just some sign that they are aware that they have control over one of the most revered and highly regarded games of all time. I would also love a new Parasite Eve game, even if it’s just remasters of the two original games. Lastly, and this is a new one, with the reveal of an HD-2D remake of Dragon Quest III, I would love to see some classic Final Fantasy games done in the same engine/style. That one seems more plausible than my other two impossible wishes, but it also seems like something that we wouldn’t see until next year at the earliest.
There are rumors of a Red Dead Redemption remake/remaster, and of course we’re all curious about the state of Grand Theft Auto VI at this point, but who knows if/when we’ll see that. No, what I want is something I’ve been dreaming about for a very long time: Bully 2. Rumors of a sequel to the first game have kind of ebbed and flowed over the years, with pockets of certainty followed by some interview snippet that seems to completely shut it down. At a recent investor call, a rep for Take-Two said that “new iterations” of existing Rockstar IP were on their projected development table, and while that might very well just mean new GTA and Red Dead games, there is a silly little part of my brain that is hoping beyond hope that they mean the long-awaited Bully 2. Even a remake of the first game in the new engine with added content would be fine.
Okay, so when I hear “Capcom” I automatically think “Resident Evil.” I haven’t played a Monster Hunter game yet, and Street Fighter VI is just a given, right? So, aside from a surprise new Marvel vs Capcom or Street Fighter Alpha announcement (doubtful), what I most want is, well, more Resident Evil. I know, I know, they just released one of my favorite RE games of all time, but it’s not just that I’m a greedy glutton for more (though, to be fair, I am). Capcom has released four mainline Resident Evil games in the last four years: Resident Evil 7 (2017), Resident Evil 2 (2019), Resident Evil 3 (2020), and Resident Evil Village (2021). All of those games are excellent, and if I remember correctly at some point they stated that they intended to stagger new entries with remakes. If that’s true, it’s remake time, babyyyyyy. I get the sense that people want a Code: Veronica remake but expect a Resident Evil 4 remake. Either of those would be fine with me, but if I’m being honest, what I really want is a re-remake of the original Resident Evil, or maybe even a combination of Resident Evil 0 and that game, since their stories directly tie together and overlap. The original has already been remade, true, and maybe that will be what delays or prevents its consideration for the remake treatment. But that remake was released almost twenty years ago and was still using the pre-rendered backround/tank control-style of old school RE games. Imagine it remade in the new engine with an over-the-shoulder camera, like RE 2. *drools* Capcom did confirm that they’ll be talking about Resident Evil Village, and my hope is that we see actual DLC and not just more of Re:Verse. Resident Evil 7 had some excellent DLC, so I want to see more of that with Village. Maybe one pack that follows Chris’s exploits, and two packs dedicated to showing us more backstory for the four lords? Two lords per pack?
Nintendo seems to have a habit of either completely rocking people’s shit and being the talk of the show, or being the biggest disappointment. They can’t help it, though, if you think about it. They have the biggest, longest standing stable of classic characters and series. At every turn, people are asking when the next Mario or Zelda or Smash or Kart or Crossing or Paper or you name it. So it’s a given that there will always be a swath of Nintendo fans that will walk away sad that they didn’t see their favorite series or character represented. And Nintendo is in a very comfortable place right now in terms of both hardware and software sales, so it’s not exactly like they need to make a big splash. Still, I hope they not only show what’s become known as Breath of the Wild 2, but also give us a release date. Some people think it will be a 2022 game, but I have a hard time seeing it slipping from this year. If it really is using the same engine and assets as the first game, which it seems to be, I bet they’ve finished most of the core game by now and are in the polishing/testing phase. Mid-November to early December seems like a fair release window to me. Having said that, what do I want to see from a sequel to what’s become my favorite Zelda game? I not only want to see more Zelda, I want this to be a co-op adventure. If you had to switch back and forth between Link and Zelda for certain puzzles and if you could have a friend take the helm of one character, that would be pretty awesome.
Mario Kart 8 is one of my favorite games of all time, and with the original release being a full seven years ago, you’d think we were due for another entry. 8 has been selling like gangbusters month after month since the Switch version released, though, so I kind of doubt Nintendo is rushing the next version out the door. Still, it would be exciting to get a teaser, at least, as unlikely as it is. The reveal of new Smash characters is always fun, and rumors about which multiplatform character might show up next are always a good time. I said this in one of the previous wish list posts, but the time seems more right than ever for Master Chief. Would I love a character from Chrono Trigger? Magus, preferably? Sure. But that seems like a long, long, long shot. Nintendo’s already put two Microsoft fighters in (Minecraft Steve and Banjo & Kazooie), so the emerald-armored Spartan seems more and more likely, especially given the presumably close proximity of Halo Infinite’s release. Given my love for Fire Emblem: Three Houses, I also want a peek at the first true Switch Fire Emblem game. Three Houses started life as a 3DS game, and with how simplistic and muddy some of the environmental art is, it showed. I’d settle for a game that looked the same if the story and characters were just as good, but I’d love for them to wow us with a game that takes advantage of the rumored Switch Pro.
And, of course, the two games I will never stop wishing for until Nintendo delivers them to us: Mother 3 and a new Eternal Darkness game. I mean, I’d take anything from either franchise. The long-awaited English translation of Mother 3, an EarthBound remaster, a whole new game in the series. An Eternal Darkness remake, ala Resident Evil 2, a sequel that utilizes the HD rumble and other Switch features, whatever. Just do something with one or both of those series, damn it. I fear that the most likely window for some EarthBound news has passed, with the 30th anniversary of the first game in the series and the 25th anniversary of the second having passed. Sigh. It seems like an eventuality, because the call for a localization or port have only increased over the years, but when we’ll finally hear something seems a mystery. Also, where is our new Virtual Console, Nintendo? The current set-up can’t hold a candle to the previous catalog.
Bandai Namco have lots that they could show, put there are two pretty specific things that I want: remasters of the first two Tales games (Tales of Destiny and its sequel), and Ace Combat 8. Given the fact that Project Aces, Namco’s internal development team behind the AC games, had to reportedly fight for the chance to make AC 7, I have to wonder about the possibility for a sequel. Still, it was fairly successful both critically and commercially, so I’m holding out hope. Can you imagine a photorealistic flight sim that takes advantage of next gen processing power? As the kids say, “sheeeeeeesh.”
Persona 6. I want to just leave that here. No explanation. But I can’t. It’s probably my most anticipated game for the near future, but we’ve heard virtually zero about it. We know it’s in development, but at what stage is Atlus in? Persona 5 came out in Japan five years ago, so it sure feels like they must be pretty deep in development by now, even if P-Studio did help out with all of the bonus Persona games we’ve been treated to these five long years. Like Square Enix, Atlus/Sega has been targeting worldwide launches as of late, so my deep, deep hope is that we see a teaser at E3, get a trailer by the end of the year, and see the full game released next year. In the meantime, give us a remake or remaster of Persona 3, you cowards! You’ve already made new assets for the dancing game! Do it! Please!
And what about all of those Sega acquisition rumors? They’ve persisted for years, ever since Sega moved away from hardware, really, but they’ve always seemed kind of silly and star-gazey. It wasn’t until GamesIndustry.biz reported that Sega’s parent company had divided its assets, including its games division, in what could be preparation for a sale of some (but not all) assets. Sega has made some acquisitions of its own in recent years, including Atlus, and it may have been part of an effort to bolster its appeal for a sale. The rumors always seemed far-fetched to me until now. But who would they sell to? The name I keep hearing is Microsoft, and while that would make sense from Microsoft’s side, Sega is an old, storied Japanese company, so I have my doubts about that. That’s not to say I can’t see it, but it would surprise me more than if Sony or even Square Enix picked them up, even though those two don’t “need” it as much (and could Square Enix afford it?). Either way, if the rumors are true, and we learned about it at E3 – holy shit. What a historic year that would make this.
While EA is doing its own thing, as usual, I’m including my wishes for them here. They have a huge portfolio of games, but there are only a few I’m dying to hear more about or, dare I demand, see. New entries in both the Dragon Age and Mass Effect series have been teased, but only very recently. Do they have enough to show something substantial? Probably not, but I would love to see it, if they did. I do think they could probably have a short sizzle trailer for Dragon Age by this point, so that would be amazing to finally get a glimpse of. In terms of a surprise, though, I’d fall out of my proverbial chair if they showed anything from the long-rumored Knights of the Old Republic remake. I think I remember reading that BioWare is not working on it, but I assume EA still has the rights, so if it was going to be at a show, it would probably be this one, right? If we did see it, it would shoot to the top tier of my most-anticipated games list for sure.
Sony is also doing its own thing again, but unfortunately we don’t have any clue when that might be. Guerrilla Games recently said that they are still shooting for a 2021 release date for Horizon Forbidden West but are waiting until they’re more certain before announcing a date. Are they waiting for Sony’s event, or is Sony holding off on their event until they have a firm date that they can announce? That’s the last bit of info for Horizon that I’m interested in. I want it. Just give it to me this year. God of War: Ragnarok was originally slated to release this year but has since been pushed to 2022, but that means they are well into development at this point. Far enough along to share some actual footage, right? So I’m looking forward to that. I’d also love to see a new Uncharted game, but who knows if Naughty Dog will have had enough time to produce something showable, given that The Last of Us Part II came out just last year. The real thing I want to see at Sony’s show, though, is PlayStation VR 2. They’ve announced it and teased its features, but I want to see it in action. Well, as much as you can with a VR headset. I want to hear about the comfort, the convenience, the games – give me all the deets, damn it.
There are other things I’d love to see, of course, but these are the big ones. I listed more than I have in the past, so maybe now if only 20% of these hopes/dreams/predictions come true, I won’t be as sad because that will still be several games I’m getting. *wink* Who am I kidding? The moment the Nintendo showcase ends and we’re left with no Mother 3 again, the post-E3 depression will set in, regardless of the fact that we got surprise Metal Gear and Silent Hill announcements and the Resident Evil 4 remake looks rad. Just kidding. I would absolutely settle for that. Until then, I’m grabbing my nachos and Coke Zero and settling in for an exciting few days coming up!
Near the end of 2019, I wrote a post about saying farewell to my beloved custom pink DualShock 4 controller. As I mention in that post, I have a history with pink controllers and systems, as it’s been my favorite color for most of my adult life. Ever since Nintendo began offering multiple color choices for their controllers with the N64, I’ve frequently bought and cherished the options that really spoke to me. With the N64, it was the red controller I bought to celebrate my purchase of Castlevania 64. Hey, please stop laughing. I thought it was going to be amazing, okay? I was really excited for it. I even forced myself to beat the whole thing. You… you can stop laughing now.
Pink has, of course, long been offered as a “girls version” of various products, which (I suspect) is why the option typically comes after more “popular” or “neutral” colors like blue, red, yellow, etc. There have been some options, though, and I always jumped at the chance when an official accessory was released in pink. I have a pink Xbox 360 controller, pink Xbox One controller, a Princess Peach Pink Wiimote, pink Nintendo DS, and the aforementioned pink DualShock 4, which was a custom job by a company called ColorWare. I loved that controller, and even learned how to take it apart and replace the joysticks and battery so that I could extend the life of it. But that farewell post wasn’t exclusively about learning to let go of a cherished peripheral. It was also about letting go of the past.
The controller was a gift from my ex, who knew how much I loved my pink Xbox controllers and wanted to surprise me for my birthday. It was a great gift, especially given that Sony never officially released a pink controller (outside of rose gold, which is its own thing and is very different than the soft pink I like). Letting go of the controller was, in a way, me attempting to let go of my relationship, too. We’d been together for seven years and after our breakup I was living fully on my own for the first time in my life. I’d lived alone in the barracks when I was in the Air Force, and I’d had periods of living on my own (like being deployed for five months), but this was the first time I was living completely independently with no plans on that changing. I didn’t say much of this in that post about the DualShock 4. I tried to subtly imply it, but saying it out loud felt like a bit too much. Sometimes we process trauma with allegory and metaphor, sometimes we engage it directly. With this post, I guess I’m having it both ways, now.
I was talking with a friend about custom controllers recently, and we both decided to order a custom DualSense controller for our PS5s from ColorWare, who’d just began offering the service for next gen controllers. I went with a combination of soft pinks and opted to leave the buttons the default clear, because it was cheaper (and I still think it looks great). Both colors are matte, which feels very soft and nice. The exterior is a pink they call Glamour, and the center and trackpad are Cotton Candy. I received my controller just after beginning Resident Evil Village, so I’ve loved having it to play through both Village and Mass Effect Legendary Edition, two games I am having a blast playing through.
But, as you might have guessed, there is something symbolic about this controller for me. That custom pink DualShock 4 was purchased for me. I did love it, of course, but it was irrevocably tied to my previous relationship. I purchased this custom DualSense controller myself. It’s been four years since the end of that relationship and I’m still living on my own. I still struggle. I’ve had bad weeks. Months. Hell, 2017-2019 were the hardest years of my life in terms of mental health. I’d had plenty of dalliances with depression when I was younger, but the headspaces I would occasionally find myself in during these years were literally reality-altering. I’ll spare you the details, but it was (at times) rough. I’ve since had lots of therapy, done tons of journaling, and worked on myself and my mental health in a myriad of ways. I’m not at my best, but I am better. A part of my journey has been coming to terms with what it means to be truly independent. When I was younger, what it meant to be “independent” seemed pretty obvious. You pay your own bills, make your own decisions. But as I’ve aged into early antiquity, I’ve come to realize that it’s about more than that. You can pay your own rent and decide you’re going to eat that whole pint of Ben and Jerry’s Cherry Garcia ice cream for dinner, and that certainly constitutes a version of independence. But ultimately, for me anyway, it comes down to emotional dependence. Allowing the thoughts and feelings of others to dictate your mood or choices or path… that’s not very independent. You’re still living your life for others and not yourself. That’s not to say that you can’t be considerate and take others’ feelings into account, of course. But, in my case, I would find myself going through a depressive episode or feeling angry and sad that a joke didn’t land or a tweet went unnoticed or an idea was dismissed or even poked fun at. I would have periods of hypersensitivity like these, where a seeming lack of positive attention from friends (or even internet people) would make me wonder just how much I mattered to people. No one likes my tweets. No one reads my blogs. No one thinks I’m funny or smart. Those were the kinds of thoughts that would run through my head. Why try, then? If no one cares, why produce anything?
Look, I know. This all sounds very self-indulgent and selfish. And it probably is, to some extent. But I suspect that many of these thoughts are fairly common. Many of us have insecurities about what we do or don’t put out into the world, whether that’s content or commentary. But living on my own added a new layer of that for me. I didn’t have the one person to fall back on when feeling vulnerable. In previous relationships, when I would begin to feel things like that, it was easy to think some version of “well, it doesn’t really matter. At least they care about me.” Living on my own? I didn’t even have that. So, what would normally snap me out of these dangerous thoughts, was confronting myself with the question: “why does it matter?” And sometimes I would struggle with it, sometimes the answer was clear: “it shouldn’t.” And that process, of having to realize again and again that I don’t want my happiness and self-worth to be dictated by others, is what I come back to again and again when I think of independence. It’s what I struggle with, still.
And this controller, as silly as it might seem, is symbolic of that journey for me. Nobody bought this controller for me. I bought it for myself. It was, financially, an “independent” choice. But it means more than that to me. It is a reminder that I don’t need approval from others. If someone doesn’t like pink, they can judge me all they want for buying this controller, but it doesn’t change the fact that I like pink. If they think it was a bad financial decision, that doesn’t change my belief that, for me, it was worth it. I have a long way to go in my journey to be “truly” independent. I know there will still be plenty of instances where I allow myself to be negatively affected by what other people think of me. But I’m determined to keep working at it, beautiful new pink controller in hand.