Video Game Crushes: Mitsuru Kirijo

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 2021 Hype-rule Warrior (it me)

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.

Ubisoft

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.

Microsoft/Bethesda

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

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.

Take-Two/Rockstar

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.

Capcom

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

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

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.”

Sega

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.

EA/BioWare

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

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!

Hello, New Friend

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.

Itchy. Thirsty. My Time with Resident Evil Village

It’s absolutely clear to me that the people behind Resident Evil Village were beyond thirsty when making this game. Maybe the term “thirsty” will lose its colloquial meaning at some point in the future, so let me be clear for future readers: these developers were horny as hell. Sure, the Resident Evil series has had some very attractive characters in the past, but they were usually limited to one or two a game. A Jill Valentine here, a Leon Kennedy there. Sprinkle in a little Sheva Alomar if ya fancy. But Resident Evil Village is filled with characters that seem made to lust after, which is in stark contrast to Resident Evil 7, which had virtually no characters worth pining for. I imagine an early development meeting where the game’s director was like “okay, everyone, with the power of the new consoles and the versatility of the RE Engine, I want this game to be very, very pretty.” And someone on the design team whipped out a forbidden thirst notebook that they’ve been sketching in for years. Anytime they had to draw yet another throbbing, slick, pustule-ridden monster, they would take a break and draw a character they wanted to kiss and do the naughty with. That notebook became the core design doc for this game.

I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me back up and start with my experience with the game. I’ve written about my love for the various Resident Evil games and characters in the past, so I guess for context I’ll just say that I’ve been a fan since the very beginning. I favor the earlier games and, like some other fans, was mostly turned off by some of the convoluted/silly twists and turns the series started taking. But I loved the new direction (also kind of throwback?) of Resident Evil 7 and I was all-in when I saw the first trailer for Village. Is there still silliness to be found? Sure. But Capcom has traded twisting, crisscrossing storylines for simpler narratives told in elaborate, well-crafted set pieces, much like the earliest games in the series. When I say that Resident Evil 7 and Village go back to the roots of what made the series special, that’s what I mean. I don’t mean that they’re returning to shuffling zombies and Raccoon City. They’re returning to interesting premises that are then fleshed out with minimal story and maximum atmosphere, and an attention to detail in world building.

We can see evidence of this shift even in how Capcom has handled the naming and marketing of Resident Evil 7 and Village. RE 7 was introduced as Resident Evil Biohazard, but many quickly took to calling it Resident Evil 7. The Biohazard moniker wasn’t just a tribute to the series’ Japanese title, which has always been Biohazard, though. Capcom treated RE 7 as a spiritual refresh of the series. New characters, new setting, new biological weapon type (fungus), new perspective. Old level design, themes, storytelling, atmosphere. I believe Capcom used Biohazard because they wanted the game to reach a new audience, and one thing that deters many gamers from a new entry in an old series is numbers. How many times have you heard (or asked yourself) “do I have to play the other games in the series to play this one?” The next Final Fantasy game is Final Fantasy XVI. 16! And there are still plenty of people who aren’t sure how the series works or whether or not you need to play previous titles in order to ‘get’ the newest entry. So, Capcom wanted players to think of RE 7 as a new title that was wholly unconnected from previous titles so that they could hop right in without worrying about feeling lost or confused about who a character was or why you were doing certain things. I don’t know how well it worked, though, because, as mentioned, people instantly began calling it RE 7 and not Biohazard. With Resident Evil Village, however, in some of the earliest interviews with developers about the game, they insisted this game be called Village. Yes, there is a very clearly highlighted VIII in the word “Village,” but when asked if this game was “Resident Evil 8,” the team stood fast and insisted that it was Resident Evil Village, probably for the same reason as with RE 7: they want to market it to people who may have never played a Resident Evil game before. This time, however, I think it worked. I hear the occasional person say “Resident Evil 8,” but for the most part both the gaming press and people I’ve seen on social media or Twitch refer to this entry as Resident Evil Village.

Whatever you call this entry, I loved it. I finished my fourth playthrough recently, a hardcore run, and I plan on getting the platinum trophy for it soonish. The above-mentioned blend of classic RE elements with gorgeous new settings and characters was a winning combo for me. In the early RE games, the pace was generally slow, plodding even, punctuated by moments of terror as you navigated just a few familiar spaces. Starting with Resident Evil 3, the series began working toward the concept of forward motion, where you’re constantly moving from one set to the next. It traded atmospheric horror for the anxiety of having to always be ready to act and react. I never felt like they got the balance between those two things right, if they were even trying. But with Village, it’s about as close as you can get. There are several areas in the game, each with its own style, design, enemies, and more. In some, the pace is slow and you’re meant to puzzle your way through various rooms. In others, you’re moving quickly and aren’t too concerned about exploration because the pressure is on and you have shit to get done. Maybe this blend of the two approaches to the RE formula will leave ardent fans of either upset that the game doesn’t lean heavily one way or the other, but I thought it made for a dynamic experience where in one stretch I was stressed and in distress, and in another I could take my time and explore the gorgeous scenery.

Speaking of gorgeous scenery, I really want to talk about how beautiful this game is. I’m not talking about the sexy thirst traps yet. We’ll get there. Keep your pants on. Pants on, eyes up, because we’re talking about some ceilings. There is so much visual detail in this game that I legitimately can’t fully do it justice in either writing or pictures. Virtually none of the screenshots I’m sharing really represent these visuals in their full glory. I do want to focus on a few examples of the graphics and visual design, though, and ceilings are one of them.

Our beloved Lady Dimitrescu’s castle is much like the lady herself: huge, beautiful, elegant, and I want to be inside it. Wait, what? Shhh. Let’s move on. At every turn I was overwhelmed by the level of detail in each new room or space I entered. Chairs, tables, shelves, a delicate teacup stained with lipstick and blood, a lace shawl draped over a regal couch with two black gloves thrown carelessly nearby. At some point I realized I’d also constantly been looking up at each new ceiling I stepped under. Ceilings in video games have long been an afterthought for game designers. Real house designers, too, I guess, but why would video game ceilings ever need to be unique and detailed? There’s never much of a reason to look at them. Yet here I was, constantly tilting the camera up to appreciate the virtual, digital woodwork, paint, and sculpting. I know that the designers use some kind of high resolution scanning technology to photograph objects and then render them in-game, so maybe these are real ceilings in some real castle or estate in Europe, but either way I was weirdly blown away by the care and attention that went into something as minor as this.

Something I liked more broadly about the game’s visuals was the variety of textures and the way light interacted with those textures. I’ve gushed about the RE Engine’s ability to render realistic looking surfaces before, but with the power of the PlayStation 5 at their disposal, the development team really went all out in producing an incredibly impressive variety of unique textures for this game. Again, these pictures don’t really do the game justice, but I want to talk through a few, starting with one that I think highlights how many different detailed and unique textures you encounter in the castle alone.

Maybe the picture above doesn’t look super impressive here, but if you get close to anything in this photo you’ll find a realistic surface that reflect the soft light from the window in its own way. The fabric of the carpet looks and “feels” different than the fabric of the decorative chair. The wood on the floor has a different grain and reflective surface than the wood of the wall or the wood of the chair or the wood of the small table. The canvas of the painting looks like canvas. The frame looks hand carved. The peeling wallpaper looks at once dated and perhaps formerly elegant, and it reflects both the light and shadow of the window and curtains. I could go on, but again, this is just one picture.

Also, I’m calling them “textures,” but for the majority of 3D gaming history, “texture” usually meant 2D art on a flat surface, meant to give the appearance of “texture.” So, a grass “texture” might have been mottled and green, maybe with some hash marks, to make it look, at a glance, like grass. Over time, other 2D elements were added, like clumps of tall grass, to increase the believability, but it wasn’t until relatively recently that some versatile video game engines were able to render surface to actually look like they had a texture and weren’t just 2D pictures plastered on a polygonal surface. The RE Engine is one of those engines. If you look at some of the surfaces in these pictures, like the floor here:

Or the table here:

You’ll see that things like imperfections, grooves, or separations, are actually rendered in 3D, meaning they’re affected by light and shadow as they would be in a real 3D space, which makes them look incredibly realistic. And these kinds of textures are everywhere. The basement floor in Donna Beneviento’s house, for example:

As soon as I saw it I knew what that floor felt like. I’m no interior designer or architect, so I don’t know if it’s glossy concrete or some other kind of poured material, but I just know that it’s hard, cool, and smooth, just by looking at it. And, again, you can see that it’s uneven, and the light reflects off of it as if those slight, broad bumps and waves are really 3D and not just a flat picture. I’m giving a lot of credit to the engine, but I think the actual visual artists deserve tons of credit, too, not just for the overall design of these spaces and elements, but for the amount of detail that they put into these designs as well. I went on a whole tear about Leon Kennedy’s radio case when I wrote about the RE 2 remake, and now I want to do the same for Donna Beneviento. I should give a general [SPOILER WARNING] here, because I’ll be getting into some light spoilers here, and then major spoilers later (especially in the pictures). Donna Beneviento is a great character, and I’ve seen some people claim that she “steals the show” from Lady D (blasphemy). And yet, we barely see her. She’s in, I think, two scenes (and a couple of very brief flashes), and you barely get a good look at her before she turns to dust. But let’s look at the level of detail they put into a character we’ll see on screen for less than five minutes, total:

Okay, so this isn’t her whole design, but there is one detail I want to laser focus on. Is it the lace doll dress, which has actual holes in the surface and isn’t just a picture of holes? No. Nor is it the thick fabric of Donna’s dress, the etched bone of the doll, the soft wood grain of the chair, or any of the other impressive surfaces and details of this model. You’ve probably guessed it by now, but it’s her hands. And not just the fine lines and creases of her skin, which are very realistic looking, but her nails:

Look at them! They are flawed and imperfectly perfect. Her nails have grown out a few days since they were painted, as evidenced by the fact that we can see some bare nail at the base, near the quick. The paint on her pointer finger looks bumpy, as if her first coat was uneven (or the nail itself is bumpy). The paint on the middle finger looks very smooth and glossy, and the light reflecting on it is clear and shiny. On her ring finger, however, the light is softer and more absorbed than reflected, which seems to indicate that she might have scuffed that nail or messed up the last coat of paint. And look at the little chip near the edge! All of this detail on a hand that virtually no one who plays the game will get close enough to see in their playthroughs. Might the visual designers have scanned in a real person’s nails and just mapped them on a model in the game? Maybe. Either way, a lot of care and thought went into these choices, it seems to me, and I will never shut up about how impressed I am by the visuals of these games. I legit want to live in either Castle Dimitrescu or House Beneviento. Elon Musk is running around spending all this money blowing up spaceships when he could be building an exact replica of one of these homes for me and I will never forgive him for that.

Visuals, aside, I found the gameplay to be surprisingly smooth and responsive. There’s a throwaway line in the very beginning the game that reveals that Ethan has been through military training, so maybe that’s why he’s so much steadier and more adept at using firearm than Leon Kennedy was in RE 4. When you tried to aim any weapon with Leon, it was like he was doing so while being tickled. He could not keep his aim straight. Ethan aims, reloads, and changes weapons like a pro, and it made for very satisfying combat, which is something I’m not used to in RE games (not that it was ever the point). With such precise aiming, shooting shambling zombies might be a breeze, but as with other recent RE games, the developers make up for it with enemies that have erratic, only semi-predictable movement. Lycans will walk menacingly, then suddenly shift to a low dash using their arms, then stand up and side-step a shot. Ghouls will shamble, like zombies, and lazily loll their heads or jerk their upper bodies dramatically to swing a weapon. The combination of precise weapon handling and erratic enemy movement meant that I mostly felt in control of situations, but when shit went sideways or I began to get overwhelmed, I panicked. I like that balance in RE games.

As far as the story goes, there are certainly some silly, anime-esque aspects (I mean, you fight a flying vampire dragon lady, a fishman, and a giant mech dude, all in the same game), but it all made sense in the context of the new storyline that started in RE 7. I especially liked the idea that this fungus, able to transform only specific types of people, was around for centuries in Europe and is likely the source of many mythic characters and creatures that we’re familiar with, like vampires, werewolves, ghosts, and more. It’s an interesting if minor twist on the original concept of a virus being the source of modern zombies. I’m not necessarily fully invested in Ethan’s story, but I thought they told his tale well. Do I think he’s really dead? Probably not, unless the developers want him to be. If his seeming unpopularity affects their decision, it would be easy to leave him dead. He did blow up, after all. But they wrote themselves a nice little insurance policy that would allow them to bring him back, too. Chris Redfield and his Blue Umbrella crew are in the area to investigate this new type of mold, and in one audio clip right near the end of the game, one of Chris’s team mentions that testing shows this new mold is very different than the mold found in Louisiana in RE 7. It’s revealed, again near the end of the game, that Ethan actually died in RE 7 and is, himself, a mold monster. How does he have all of the memories and mannerisms of the real Ethan, then? Well, they also explain that the European strain of mold has a huge underground root system that acts as a database, storing any and all DNA that it comes in contact with. It’s how Mother Miranda, the game’s antagonist, plans on bringing her dead child back to life. Her DNA is stored in this “database” and Miranda has been seeking a vessel to transfer her daughter’s essence into. If this mold has a “database,” it stands to reason that the mold in Louisiana did/does as well, given that Evelyn (the antagonist of that game and a test copy of Miranda’s daughter) was able to commune with all mold creatures in the area and communicates with Ethen now, who she recreated through potentially similar means. If that’s true, Ethan’s essence is still alive and able to be transferred to a new vessel or reformed by Evelyn at any time.

In another twist, the BSAA shows up in the final assault, and it’s revealed that they were using bioweapons that looked like ghouls in tactical gear to infiltrate Heisenberg’s compound. Chris is confused, and I think we are supposed to also be confused as the audience, especially given that at the very end of the game Chris says that he’s going to BSAA headquarters to investigate. There is one clue that I noticed on Heisenberg’s very low-effort, basic-ass conspiracy board that I think explains why the BSAA was there:

Heisenberg was creating an army of bioweapons in his factory. There were literal production lines of bioweapons constantly cycling in the background of the main factory floor. In his notes, he reveals that he is trying to create an army to challenge Miranda and basically rule the world. On this board, he very clearly writes “BSAA Come!!” While this could mean a few things, it makes me think that he summoned the BSAA, perhaps with the intent of partnering with them or selling them his bioweapon army. It can’t be a coincidence that the BSAA happens to be using bioweapon soldiers when they show up to a facility that’s manufacturing bioweapon soldiers. Either Heisenberg called them or he simply predicted they would come. I have a hard time believing the latter, given the lack of contextual evidence.

There’s so much more I could talk about but we’re getting long in the tooth here and I need to cover the most important aspect of this game, which is what you’re here for anyway, right? Let’s get to it. These character designers take the term “horny on main” to a new level. Instead of publically pining after virtual sexy people, they just went ahead and created them. A game full of them. The most obvious, of course, is Lady Dimitrescu and her lovely, bite-y daughters.

Besides being featured prominently in the game’s promotional material, sexuality is just a part of their design. Even as the Dimitrescu “daughters,” Bela, Daniela, and Cassandra, are hunting me down to kill me, they’re seemingly in an erotic frenzy, talking about tasting my man blood, tying me up, and shouting things like “don’t you love me?” as I attack them. They chain me up, sniff at a handkerchief that has my blood on it, and are desperate to “consume my man flesh.” When they catch me and chomp into my neck, their eyes roll back into their heads in ecstasy. Yes, most of this is about them wanting to eat me, but their mannerisms and tone are undeniably sexual. And look at them! They’re just sexy, vampy, Nicks-ian babes.

I really loved this flirty little flip of the handkerchief

Our most cherished and worshipful Lady D is, of course, the most famous of the sexy characters in this game, though, and my only complaint concerning her is that she wasn’t featured more prominently. That’s not a real complaint. I knew going in that she was probably just one of several major characters, but I love her design and personality so much that I just want more. So much is made of her size, but that is on the lower end of her most attractive qualities in my eyes. A huge part of it is just how she holds herself and her mannerisms. She is constantly aware of her posture and pose, and moves with determined grace. She doesn’t just command her daughters to string me up – she does so with a stylish flourish of her hands before placing them firmly on her hips. In her argument with Heisenberg, she booms at him with a commanding voice before switching effortlessly to a soft lilt and tossing her head back to show her superiority. Yes, I understand all of this makes her sound like a bitch. And she is. A big, boss-ass bitch. And that is hot. Her fair skin and dark eyes, peeking out from her wide, stylish hat don’t hurt either. I should note that she wasn’t as scary and intimidating as Mr. X from RE 2. If Mr. X caught you, there was a chance that he’d insta-kill you, but other than slashing at me, Lady D didn’t seem to have that ability, which was kind of sad. It would have made it that much scarier. I wish they’d either added an insta-kill move, or a hug move. That would have worked, too.

If I ever become wealthy, my first move will be to hire someone to recreate this for me

There are plenty of other sexy characters in the game, but there were two that surprised me. No, not Heisenberg and Chris (though I was actually surprised at how many people I’ve seen thirsting after Heisenberg. Really?). We’ve already talked about the first: Donna Beneviento. Okay, okay, so she has some issues and she is incredibly shy when it comes to showing her face. But she is a major, under-the-radar beauty. Yes, she plays with dolls, but I have shelves and shelves of action figures, statues, and amiibo, so if she can make Batman or Princess Peach fly around and talk, I’m going to take that as a fun party trick. She also loves games! We played hide-and-seek and tag. So. I’m just saying, I don’t think it would be hard to convince her to sit down and play some games with me. She would love Little Big Planet! And, like my high school self, she has a majorly goth, black-centric wardrobe. She doesn’t have Lady D’s presence, but I think we could make it work.

Lastly, the big baddie herself, Mother Miranda is a stone cold fox. And a stone hearted monster. A minor detail. Look at her!

I don’t know nearly as much about her as the others, because she doesn’t have her own house that I can snoop through to get a sense of who she is and how she lives. I know that she tore a baby apart and put it in jars that she gave to her friends. Which, you know. Not cool. She also did so in order to get a new version of her old baby, and I’m not necessarily looking for kids right now, especially of the moldy variety, but… well, that’s all I got. She’s hot. That’s about it. She’s got the face of an angel and six wings to match. The developers of this game were thirsty as hell and it came out in all of these designs, but you know what? I am not complaining. After a whole run of games filled with bulgy eyeball creatures and slimy mutant blobs of teeth and tentacles, I will take a slew of sexy ladies.

And their plus ones, I guess

Okay, I have to let you go, but I have so many thoughts about this game so I will just randomly throw out some final blurbs. I was disappointed by how they treated The Duke’s character. Many people seem to like him, but his design is very fatphobic. My first run of the game was surprisingly easy. I didn’t mind, though, and the hardcore run was, indeed, pretty tough. I’ve seen people claim that the House Beneviento part of the game “rips off” PT. It certainly seems inspired by it, but the game borrows from tons of horror media, including Dracula, The Island of Dr. Moreau, Saw, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and more. If anything, it seemed like homage to PT, particularly given the fact that there is little chance Silent Hills, the game that PT was a demo for, will ever come out. I was one of the people that thought Chris might become a werewolf at some point, but I wasn’t necessarily upset that he didn’t. He was a little more brusque than I would have expected. With how much Ethan suffered, and his pierced hands, and his sacrifice and resurrection, it’s hard not to see him as a Christ figure. I thought the concept of family was super interesting, especially given the previous game’s focus on it as well. Evelyn, in the previous game, was made from a sample of Miranda’s daughter’s DNA, right? And she was obsessed with family. She kept looking for a family. Miranda, her sorta-kinda mother, in this game, is also deeply concerned with family. Also, Evelyn seems to make Ethan as a mold creature, and he’s also obsessed with family and will do anything he can to protect/save his daughter, Rose. Was he “programmed” to do that by Evelyn? Hmm. I didn’t mind the action-packed Chris section at all. After being so precious and careful about my ammo and aim for most of the game, it felt cathartic to just let loose. Lastly, who is this figure in the very last shot of the game? They’re walking on the road in the far distance, and they’re far too small to make out any features, but I don’t for a second believe this was just a random design choice.

Spring Cleaning 2021

I just wrapped up the spring semester last week, and as usual, it was a bit hectic. I’d planned on keeping up with these posts, especially because I’ve recently played some games that I had lots of thoughts about, but ‘twas not to be. So, given that two of my most anticipated games of the year are coming out this week and next (Resident Evil Village and Mass Effect Legendary Edition), I figured I’d do a spring cleaning, as it were, and just jot down some brief thoughts about the many games I’ve played since my last post. These aren’t even all of the games, actually. I’ve continued to play Ghost of Tsushima and Minecraft with friends, I played a bunch of VR games with my family, and I’m finishing up a platinum trophy run of Arcade Spirits on PS5 since I picked it up on sale and was itching to replay it anyway. It’s been fun seeing the other romance options, but Naomi is still #1 bae. I just read that the sequel, Arcade Spirits: The New Challengers is coming out early next year, so my hype for that will slowly be rising. Anyway, let me stop jabbering and get to… more jabbering.

Life is Strange 2

When I saw the trailer for Life is Strange: True Colors in March, I was reminded that I’d never gotten around to the second game in the series. I played and loved both the first game and Before the Storm, and I’d purchased LiS 2 in a sale, but I just never played it. Given that I’m writing this, I think you can guess that I ended up giving it a shot. Wouldn’t that be the worst twist? Write out a whole prelude about how I’ve been meaning to play each of these games and then just move on. No, no. I did play it, and I mostly really liked it. It follows the same formula of the previous two games, including having your character keep a journal. Where Max was big on snapping photos in the first game, our new protagonist, Sean, will find a quiet place to sit and sketch his surroundings, which you do several times throughout the game. You also collect little trinkets and sometimes if you investigate something in the environment while you’re exploring, Sean will write about it or add a little sketch to the journal. I love these kinds of charming details in these games. It goes a long way in developing these characters and complicating the story that is more directly told via dialogue and cutscenes.

There was a lot I liked about the game, but my main complaint has to do with just how much of a bummer the story was. I wouldn’t hold that against it in an objective review. Some of my favorite stories are tragedies. I think the game says some serious and important things about timely issues, like racism, the US justice system, homelessness and more. And I think it handles those issues pretty well. But, I tell you what, it makes for a depressing ride. The narrative structure is what I’ve come to call “tiered tragedy.” I don’t know if that’s a real phrase, but I couldn’t get it out of my head as I was playing it. The other games in the series might also be called tiered tragedies, as would something like The Walking Dead. In these kinds of narratives, our characters never seem to catch a break. There is a tragedy at the very beginning of the story (a popular girl goes missing, a father is killed, a zombie apocalypse), and our characters are ushered from one tragedy to the next, seemingly endlessly. They can never really catch a break, because any time they find some time to rest or begin to rebuild their lives, the narrative structure demands that they encounter a new tragedy, probably worse than the others. In LiS 2, this meant that no matter how hard I tried to make Sean a good brother, an honest survivor, a heroic figure, I seemingly just kept being punished for it. And, like I said, I wouldn’t say that this makes it a bad game. It just left me feeling kind of defeated in the end. There is no “happy” ending, as I verified by looking them up after I finished the game and got a pretty sad ending. Turns out it was one of the better ones. There is definitely a place for stories like this in games, though, and that sense of hopelessness may very well have been a part of the point of the game. These characters, Sean and Daniel, are not only burdened with being Hispanic during a time in the US when a violent, vocal minority despises them, they’re further  marked by this new tragedy that makes them orphans, criminals, and transients. What kind of life do they have ahead of them, even with the “happiest” of endings? But, again, maybe that’s part of the point. It’s hard to succeed and overcome tragedy when the system fails you again and again.

Fallout: New Vegas

Fallout: New Vegas was another game I’d been meaning to play for quite some time. “Some time” being, uh, just over a decade. Jesus. When “newer” games on your backlog are ten years old, you know with some certainty that you’re getting old. Sigh. Anyway, I absolutely loved Fallout 3 when it came out, and I spent many an hour scouring that game’s fictional Washington DC/Virginia wasteland. I collected every bobblehead, did every single mission I could find, and squeezed every ounce I could out of the story and world. So, playing New Vegas seemed like a no-brainer. I was a little worried that it was being developed by Obsidian, which by that time I’d only known as the developer of the very good but very buggy Knights of the Old Republic II, so when the reviews for New Vegas started coming out and reviewers complained about the many bugs, I grew even more worried. I hated the idea that I might encounter a game breaking bug 20 hours in. My friend, Ron, did play it at launch, and he reported that he encountered something very much like that. So I put the idea aside and told myself I’d come back to it after it was patched. And I did! Plus… an extra decade.

Anyway, let’s get to the game already. Like Fallout 3, this was a huge game, and I spent a lot of time with it. I didn’t quite exhaust every side mission and collect every snow globe, but it was pretty close. I started playing on my old PS3, but I ran into some technical issues with it so I switched over to playing it via PlayStation Now on my PS5, and near the end of the game I was plagued by some very annoying hitching. Between that and the encroaching release of Resident Evil Village, I sort of rushed through the final stretch of the game. When I started, though, I was at first a little put off by the graphics. Well, not the graphics. The movement. The game seemed very dark, and there was a certain amount of motion blur that made me feel… odd. I’d never run into that in a game before. I turned the brightness up and decided to press on, and I’m glad I did. As soon as I began doing quests for the townsfolk in the opening area, I could sense that same magic that I’d loved about Fallout 3. Roaming the desert, helping friendly strangers, sticking it to the scum that would take advantage of the less fortunate, stumbling upon stories and relics from people that died long ago in the war or shortly after.

This game, more than the other two I’ve played, really plays up the concept of factions and their conflicting motivations. There were so many factions, major, minor, and even medium, and I truly had a difficult time choosing how to deal with some of them. I supported the NCR from the beginning, but I found myself trying to be at least somewhat diplomatic with the other factions so that they wouldn’t stand in my way at the final battle with Caesar’s Legion. Sometimes that meant actually helping them out, and sometimes that meant killing or ousting the current leadership and inserting someone who was easier to influence. It was much more complicated than I expected, but I appreciated it. The final battle could have been a little more engaging, but overall I loved this game, as I could have guessed I would. Oh, and for my primary companion, I went with Veronica as much as I could. Who doesn’t want Felicia Day following them around, punching heads off and quipping wise? As for my second companion, I switched pretty regularly between ED-E and Rex, a very good boi.

Emily is Away ❤

I was looking forward to this game from the minute Kyle Seeley, its developer, announced it. I loved the first two games in the series, Emily is Away and Emily is Away Too, in part because of how they tapped so directly into my nostalgia by taking place entirely in AOL Instant Messenger chat windows. The third game takes place in a fictional version of Facebook (Facenook) in 2008. Setting aside, the game’s narrative plays out just as the previous two did, via a series of chats with other characters. I named my character after myself, selected the pixelated profile picture that looked most like me (which wasn’t very close at all – I’d love future installments to allow actual character creation, but given that one dude makes these, I doubt it will happen), and jumped in, ready to find love… I hoped.

I don’t want to spoil much of the story, but I will say that I liked the writing a lot. The interactions seem very real and believable, and there were so many scenarios that seem ripped straight from my early years on social media. It’s what these games are really good at. They simulate memories that I’d nearly forgotten all about. There is something exciting and visceral about flirting with these virtual characters, in part because they stimulate real feelings I once had doing that exact thing. Unfortunately, as with the other two games, warm and fuzzy flirtation isn’t the only mood the game simulates. As I said, I won’t spoil anything, but there are several endings, and after my first playthrough I was bawling. I was hurt, and it felt a little too real. Just as with the happy emotions, I was all too familiar with the sad feelings of distrust, inadequacy, rejection, and abandonment.  I felt like I’d done everything right, and yet things just didn’t turn out my way. And that was the most painful part, I think, because that’s the kind of thing that goes through your head when a real relationship falls apart. In both cases, I was left looking back and wondering what I did wrong. Maybe if I’d done this different or said that another way… but that kind of thinking, as it is in real life, changes nothing. You have to move on. So I did. My second playthrough ended much, much better. Fuck Emily. Evelyn 4 ever. That should be the next game’s title.

Peggle 2

I don’t have much to say about Peggle 2. I played and loved the first game, and this entry is more of the same. The concept seems so simple, but there is a surprising amount of skill involved. Yes, you basically just launch a ball into a screen of pegs and hope for the best. But once you start getting the hang of it, you begin to see better and better ways to aim your ball, resulting in awesome chain reactions that result in those oh-so-satisfying endings that the series is known for. The new Peggle Masters are just as cute and charming as the first game’s, with Luna being my clear favorite. So spooky and cute. These games are old and I decided to play this one for the first time on a whim, but I do wish PopCap had churned out a couple more over the years.

Tender

Tender is an iOS game that simulates the dating app Tinder. You eventually learn that you are a human that’s travelled to an alien planet in search of… love? Maybe? You swipe through a variety of quirky, hand-drawn aliens, each with a short bio. These profiles aren’t as expansive as real dating profiles, but you see some familiar lines and attitudes. If you match with someone, you chat with them in much the same way as you do in Emily is Away. You choose between 2-3 dialogue options, and then tap your phone to pretend to type it out. If your conversation sparks interest, the other person (?) proposes a date, which you schedule in real time, meaning you have to actually pick up your phone and virtually meet the person at the time and date that you selected. If you forget, they understandably get pissed. It’s a very cool and interesting concept, and there is lots of cool and unique artwork in the game, but ultimately I walked away feeling underwhelmed. Part of the reason for this was that, of the eight or nine characters I chatted with, none of them went particularly well. What’s worse is, apparently the game asks for the name of your real life ex at some point (which I had forgotten and had to be reminded of by Tab, the friend who recommended the game) and it introduces them as one of the characters you can swipe on and romance. Not realizing this, I thought the name was a coincidence and swiped right on her. I then had to virtually chat and romance (and, ultimately, try and fail to reject) my ex. Not cool, man.

Layers of Fear

I love horror movies and games, but something the two share is that there are plenty of crappy releases of each. I don’t think it’s a bad thing, because there are some people who voraciously consume any and all horror, regardless of quality, and more power to them. I just don’t have the time to check everything out, and some of the bad stuff is, like, annoyingly bad. So, I was I hesitant to try Layers of Fear until I heard Brittney Brombacher recommend it on the What’s Good Games podcast. I’ve listened to that podcast enough to know that Brittney’s tastes pretty closely align with mine, so I figured I would give this game a shot.

While it does have the hallmarks of B level horror (less-than-stellar voice acting, cheap scares, weak writing), it also plays around with environment and expectations in some cool ways. I really like when horror games mess with perspective, perception, and other visual components. It’s why I loved Eternal Darkness on the GameCube so much, and why I’ve wanted them to make a sequel. LoF starts out as a pretty standard spooky-mansion game, then devolves more and more into an exploration of nightmare imagery. While I did appreciate the mind-bending visual puzzles, I was also a little sad that the story was told in an unsatisfying way, seemingly in service of the visual spooks. Where the story ended felt very different than where it began, so I almost wonder if they had given us more chances to revisit the mansion in its original state, knowing what we know later in the game, if the story’s conclusion would have felt more grounded. Maybe none of this makes sense if you haven’t played the game, but I’m trying to avoid spoilers, since this game is a mystery, too.

Sakura Succubus

I was tipped off to this game by that same friend, Ron, from the famed New Vegas blurb (above). “Play it and tell me how it is,” he said. Fine. I’ll play the erotic hentai game. For you. For friendship. Okay, so maybe it’s for friendship and maybe it’s because I’ve played a few other sexy-type games. Either way, I played it and was mostly disappointed. It’s rated M, but it’s hardly all that scandalous. It’s suggestive, at best, and despite the game’s tagline of “There’s no shortage of women to woo!”, there are only three. Three women to woo. If that’s not a shortage, it’s gotta be pretty close. I mean, granted I am single, so three women is a surplus to me, but in terms of a fantasy dating sim/visual novel, I’d count three as a shortage.

I didn’t hate this game, because it did have a few funny lines and some of the art was pretty decent. But that’s about all I can say about it. The reason I tend to avoid many visual novels is that they rely almost exclusively on two things: writing and art. There are rarely any gameplay systems or puzzles or even very much in the way of animation. They’re mostly static images and text, so if those elements aren’t interesting, impressive, or engaging, I get bored very quickly. This is where my main issue with this game lies. It has an interesting enough premise, and some of the static images are cool, but there isn’t very much variety in terms of different character poses, expressions, or minor graphical variations, and the writing is pretty bad. I don’t always like to criticize writing in games, because it’s historically been less than impressive to begin with, but the writing in this game contains the kinds of things they tell you not to do in writing classes and workshops. You’ll click through a scene, then the next scene begins with your character waking up and walking you through what you just did. Like “My memory’s a little hazy, but I remember talking with that sexy lady at the bar, and I followed her back to her place where she seduced me, and then I…” We just did that! Why do me need a recap! There is also a lot of unnecessarily elevated adjective work. It’s one of those things they try and break in novice writers. If you mean “face,” you should probably just say “face.” Put the thesaurus down. No one calls it a “visage” anymore. I’ll end on a positive note and say that this was the easiest platinum trophy I’ve ever gotten, though. I literally just clicked through a story for a couple of hours and *badoop* Platinum Trophy Unlocked.

Resident Evil Extravaganza (Resident Evil 0, Resident Evil Code: Veronica, Resident Evil 4, Resident Evil Village Demos)

In a previous post, I mentioned that I’ve recently felt like I could revisit old games without feeling like I was wasting my time (thanks, anxiety). Because of that, I decided to go back and finally, finally finish Resident Evil 0, the only mainline game in the series I haven’t finished. I’d started it twice and never got past the first or second boss, respectively. I think part of it was that I wasn’t a fan of switching characters frequently or the new inventory system, so for this run I decided to use a guide and lower the difficulty to easy. I probably could have just stuck with normal because it ended up being very easy with the guide, but I was able to blaze through the game and I’m glad I finally played it.

One of the things that really struck me about this entry was just how gorgeous it is. I played the HD remaster, sure, but the graphics were only scaled for HD, not reproduced. The move to fully 3D environments in Resident Evil 4, which came out right around the same time as this game, meant a sacrifice of highly detailed, pre-rendered backgrounds for more free mobility and camera movement. It was a good choice, to be sure, but there is something very cool about such an old game looking so good. At the time of those games’ release, gamers were pretty insistent on games being fully 3D, gorgeous, and highly realistic. Tides have changed since then, though, and I wonder if Capcom could get away with releasing an old school, pre-rendered-style ­Resident Evil game. Not a mainline entry, because people would probably lose their shit, but a throw-back side story. These screenshots don’t really do the game justice, but the lighting, shadows, and particle effects were especially impressive. The little leech eggs looked so gross and gelatinous and cool! A weird thing to get excited about, maybe, but you weren’t there. You had to see them in all of their jiggly, glistening glory.

Beauty aside, I did end up liking this one. It, like RE4, is where the series really starts getting into some of the batshit melodrama that would climax in RE6, but it also had a lot of fun stuff from the original games, like shuffling zombies, zombie dogs, big, creepy mansions, and more. Plus, it stars Rebecca Chambers, who I was always hoping to see more of after her brief appearance in the original game. She isn’t always given the same love as the other series mainstays, but I really hope she turns up again soon. Maybe Chris really will turn into a werewolf in Village, as Capcom has been teasing (probably misleading), and then he’ll attack Ethan and we’ll be like “no way!” but then right before he chomps his face, a huge syringe will plunge into his shoulder, and the camera will cut over to Rebecca, who will tilt her glasses down and say “who’s the Alpha now?” Because, you see, she was STARS Bravo Team, and Chris was STARS Alpha team… never mind, let me move on.

After having such a good time with 0, I had a hankering to play Resident Evil 4, even though I’ve played through it several times on both the GameCube and the Wii. It was… uglier than I remember, heh. Where 0’s HD makeover highlighted the benefits of static backgrounds (more processing power available to render the 3D models and other things), RE4’s makeover made some things look better (character models), but some things remained very muddy (environmental textures). It was still great fun, though. I remembered, as I was playing, how exciting and different this entry felt when I first played it. I was also reminded of how Capcom ran with some of the more action-oriented aspects of the game with RE5 and RE6, though. Some of the shooting and the action was fine, but what I liked about RE4 was less those elements and more exploring a spooky village and then an elaborate, deadly castle. Sound familiar? As long as there aren’t too many roundhouse kicks in Village, I’m hoping it takes the best elements of RE4 and RE7.

Deciding to stick with my Resident Evil kick, I chose to play through Resident Evil – Code: Veronica X, since I barely remembered it after playing it a little on a friend’s Dreamcast, and then all the way through when it first came out on the PlayStation 2. I remember thinking it was okay but not great back in the day, but I’ve since seen so much love from some corners of the RE fandom that I was convinced I must have been missing something. I mean, I like Claire a lot, so it is cool that she has (mostly) her own game, but after replaying it now I think my feelings are about the same. I began to get annoyed at having to backtrack in the last half of the game, especially with the annoying moths, who would not only poison me, but also force me to stop and endure the injection animation. This game did introduce semi-fully 3D environments, though. Partially-3D, I guess? So it was visually impressive for its time, but it didn’t have the brand-new excitement of the very different RE4, and it also didn’t retain the same retro-feeling magic of RE0. Plus, there are some very overt issues with gender, which was a little cringey. So, this is certainly on the lower end of my list of Resident Evil games, but I wouldn’t say I didn’t like it. It had enough REzzy charm for me.

And, of course, I have been playing the Resident Evil Village demos as they’ve been made available. I didn’t make it through the Village demo the first time I played it, even though I was trying to be pretty efficient and not linger too much on gawking over the beautiful environment. I made it through the Castle demo a time and a half on my first run, though, but much of that showed up in the MAIDEN demo so it wasn’t quite as exciting. With the 60 minute demo of both sections, I was able to make it through all of both areas. I’m sure I’ll have plenty more to say later, after I’ve played the actual game (out tomorrow!), so I’ll just leave you with some of the screenshots I took of the demos. I’ll be playing Village all weekend, so get ready for a big ol’ post about that soon, too!

I was obsessed with this corner. Look at how the light lands differently on the cloth of the curtain, the wood from the wall, and the metal of the gun. *heart eyes emoji*
More *heart eyes emoji*
Is this a Deftones album cover?

Persona 5 Strikers Steals… My… Heart (okay it doesn’t quite work this time around)

Oh, Persona 5. What is left to say about you? I’ve confessed my love for that game before, and I will probably continue to do so until my mind begins to slip and I forget the people and things that mean the most to me. Actually, I doubt I’ll stop even then. Someone like my sister will be visiting me in a care facility, and she’ll be like “It’s me, Joey. Christy. Do you remember me?” And I’ll be like “Eh? Who’s that? Is that you, Morgana? Turn into a freaky cat truck so we can get back to grinding XP.”

Okay, maybe that’s a bit of a stretch. But I do love the Persona games. A lot. Persona 5, in particular. So when I heard about Persona 5 Scramble, as it was called before the name changed to Strikers, I… wasn’t as excited as you might have guessed. I mean, I was somewhat excited, because give me Persona-anything at this point and I’ll be happy. I played and loved all three dancing games, for example. But if you’d asked me in 2017 what I wanted from the P-Studio team, it would not have been a “Dynasty Warriors Persona game.” What I’ve played of those types of games, musou games, is limited, I confess. I’ve played a couple of demos and I rented one of the earliest Dynasty Warriors games but bounced off of it. If you tell me a team is making a “musou-style game” with an existing IP, what I imagine is the assets (characters, environments, music) of the original IP slapped onto the 1-vs-100 battles of a Dynasty Warriors game and, well, that’s about it. There might be a story, told in brief cut scenes or in-battle dialogue segments, but the focus of a game like that is the fighting. That, to my understanding, is what draws fans of those games to that series.

I don’t have anything against that kind of combat in games, but it’s not really my thing. So when the playfully teased “Persona 5 S” turned out to be Persona 5 Scramble, a musou-style game, I was definitely excited to have more P5, but I couldn’t help but to be disappointed that we weren’t getting a “true” P5 sequel, or even Persona 6, or a remake of Persona 3. I knew I was going to buy Strikers at release and play it, but my expectations were pretty low.

Joey. You silly, silly boy. How wrong you were. Well, in my defense, I think the above explanation justifies my mild apprehension toward this game. It’s not that I was dreading it or anything. I just wasn’t expecting it to be much in the way of a real sequel to P5. I was expecting to plod through the combat, basking in the occasional injection of colorful dialogue from the characters I’d come to know and love. But, as I said, I was so very wrong.

Persona 5 Strikers should really be called something like Persona 5.5 or, less seriously still, Persona 5 2. Or, you know what? Persona 5 Summer Blast or something along those lines would have worked perfectly. Between the name and the pre-release marketing, the focus on the new combat system really distracted from what this game really is, which is a direct sequel to Persona 5. The story follows the exploits of our beloved Phantom Thieves during the summer after the previous game’s story ends. So much of the game is the same that it feels like a real sequel in many ways. The Metaverse still exists, and just as in P5, the team enters dungeons (now called Prisons instead of Palaces) to battle shadows and take down powerful bosses/”Monarchs.” After each Prison is successfully infiltrated, the Thieves regroup and move onto the next, all the while uncovering the mystery of who is behind it all.

So, in structure and narrative, the game is absolutely a direct sequel to P5. It doesn’t have the calendar system, where you have to manage your time and can only perform a certain number of actions in a day – which makes sense, because much of that system is centered around the idea that the protagonists are students who have to balance their school life with their extracurricular, paranormal activities, while in this game they are on summer vacation and there is no fall term to worry about (for the player, anyway). While that’s a welcome omission, this game is also missing the social link/friendship/dating mechanic of P5, which is a blessing and a curse. A blessing because you don’t have to worry about who to spend your time with and making sure you level up everyone so that you can unlock certain Persona fusions. A curse because that is one of my favorite aspects of the core games.

What really make this game feel so familiar and like a direct, full sequel, however, are the art and the voice acting. New levels and characters fit right into the P5 universe, which I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised about, but I guess I was expecting Koei Tecmo to be handling more of the game than just the combat systems. Everything outside of combat feels like it was made by the same team(s) who made P5. The art is stylish, the menus are dynamic and fun, and the dialogue sounds exactly as it should. All of the excellent voice actors from P5 return as well, which is a critical part of making this game feel like a warm, welcoming cup of hot cocoa. Maybe it’s because I spent so much time with P5 but I was so smitten with the performances of all of the voice talent involved, more so than any other game I’ve ever played. Halfway through my playthrough of that game, I found myself searching for the actors on IMDb, finding and following them on Twitter, and getting so excited when I’d hear them in a different game or anime. They brought the same charm and talent to Strikers, and I’ve once again loved every moment of hearing Max Mittelman (Ryuji) exclaim “for real!?” or Cassandra Lee Morris (Morgana) swoon over Erika Harlacher’s Lady Ann. My favorite short quip comes from the amazing Erica Lindbeck, though. It’s a very simple, small line, and she chirps it when you pick up a piece of loot in the prison: “Meh. I give it a 5 out of 10.”

Okay, so the game wasn’t the vehicle for non-stop musou combat with a sprinkle of story that I expected it to be, which is great. But let’s talk about the combat, because I was also pleasantly surprised by how much I liked that, too. In the previously mentioned musou games I dabbled with, there are waves after waves of enemies that surround you, and I was usually very easily able to get by with learning one or two simple combos and button mashing. While that is true, in essence, here, there are seemingly far fewer enemies, probably because P5’s elemental weakness/”All Out attack” return, and with them comes the opportunity for slightly more complex, strategic combat. It might sound convoluted, but I quickly and easily found a rhythm of scanning for weaknesses, attacking with Personas, taking advantage of environmental attack points, throwing in a few physical strike combos, and tagging teammates to increase Showtime meters (which are carried over from Persona 5 Royal). I got into trouble a couple of times early on, but once I found this rhythm I never struggled with any of the Monarchs or even the very difficult Dire Shadows (once I was appropriately leveled, of course). While I do still prefer turn-based combat, I ended up really liking this system, too.

I feel like I’m doing that line-by-line, clinical thing, but my love for this game and the other Persona games goes deeper than stunning art and excellent voice acting. The confluence of elements that make up these games creates a feeling that this world, these characters are real and I feel welcomed among them. Early in the game, I was happy to bounce around familiar settings from P5, but as soon as an RV camper was introduced and I was told I’d be going on a summer road trip all around Japan with my friends, I felt that warm and fuzzy feeling that I’ve come to know so well. Yes, the combat is great, but I was with my friends, and my favorite moments ended up being things like our time on the beach, or our many adventures with food, or any number of smaller, personal moments. Riding the Ferris wheel in Sapporo with Ann. Watching the fireworks with the whole gang, including the new, absolutely adorable Sophia. This entry, whatever the gameplay is, was just another excuse for me to hang out with my old, virtual friends. And I was 100% here for it.

I’m currently finishing up the platinum trophy, but there is one trophy that requires an ungodly amount of grinding for Bond points. Why does Atlus insist on always having at least one pain-in-the-ass trophy? The good news is that the music is, of course, bangin’, so I’ll just enjoy the amazing soundtrack while I grind these last hours away. I really loved my time with Strikers, and the steady release of Persona content since P5 (Royal, Dancing in Starlight/Moonlight, Persona Q 2, and now Strikers) has really kept me happy while awaiting news of the next mainline game. I fully plan on watching the anime for all three Persona games this summer, too. I’m glad that Atlus is dedicated to producing content outside of the core games, because it gives fans more time with the characters they love. As much as I am looking forward to Persona 6, I will be sad to leave my P5 friends behind, so having anime, manga, etc. to help me extend our time together is wonderful. Atlus has built up enough trust with me that I feel confident I will love P6, though, so as Futaba would say: “Bring on the buffs!” Er, “bring on the sequel!”

Video Game Crushes: Ann Takamaki

I am fairly deep into Persona 5 Strikers right now, and although I’ll probably dedicate a separate post to my thoughts about the game overall, I will say now that I am loving my time with it. I doubt I’m the only Persona 5 fan that was expecting this game to be a simple, shallow distraction while we waited for a new mainline Persona game (or a remake of Persona 3, *fingers crossed emoji*), but it feels far more like a true sequel to Persona 5 than I could have hoped for. Part of the reason for that feeling, I think, is that so much of my love for Persona 5 was due to the excellent cast of characters, and all of our favorite Phantom Thieves are back at it in Strikers, with their original voice actors in tow. The subject of this particular post is one such character: Ann Takamaki, aka Panther.

Before I start, I have to acknowledge the issue of age. While these entries aren’t meant to critically analyze these characters, I want to be clear that I understand there are issues with how this series sexualizes some of its teenage female characters, and Ann happens to be a prime example of that. Aside from that, I am quickly becoming an Aging, Ancient Gamer, so for me to be writing about characters that are so much younger than I am is, maybe, a little icky for some. I understand that, but I want to make it clear (if it’s not obvious) that I don’t have actual crushes on these characters, especially the morally problematic ones such as Ann. My “crush” on Ann is as a character, for one, but more importantly it comes from the context of the game. If I allow myself to live the fantasy presented to me, that I am a teen boy in high school, then Ann would be my crush in that fictional world. I know this might seem like an excessive and unnecessary prelude for some, because the romance aspect of these games is often cited as something that people love, so I know I’m not the only one with a “crush” character, but I delayed writing this entry for so long because I worried that it might come across as lecherous or gross. My opinions about Ann as an element of a product created by people are very different than my feelings about her as a character in this fictional world that I love. Okay. I think I’ve probably said more than I need to, so let’s get back to Ann.

Although Persona 5 was my introduction to the series, I had some idea of what to expect in terms of gameplay and content before playing it. I knew there was a social aspect to its RPG elements, and you could increase your link with characters to the point where you romanced them. Being a fan of romance options in games, I had fun guessing who I might romance before I actually sat down to play the game. Makoto seemed like an obvious choice, followed closely by Kawakami (who I think resembles Alison Brie, particularly in the show GLOW, who is my celebrity crush). Ann? The seemingly stereotypical preppy, pretty girl? Nah. Booooring.

Ann is one of the first characters you can romance, though, because she joins your group very early and you’re able to spend a lot of time with her before you even meet other characters. So, as my social link with her crept up, I almost felt like the game was treating her like the default choice. Early on, I was sure I’d resist the temptation to up and romance the first character that came my way. As the story progressed and I spent more time with her, however, I began to have a… change of heart. Yes, yes, I said The Thing. Take a shot if you’ve played the game and were waiting for that.

It’s easy for me as an American to look at Ann and imagine that she is probably very popular and highly sought after. She has some of the very basic markers of “traditional beauty” for western women and girls: the fair skin, the blonde hair, the impossibly blue eyes. As it turns out, these features make her something of an oddity in a Japanese high school, and she talks about feeling alienated and ostracized. I was a little dismissive of that at first, I have to admit. “Oh, really? The blue-eyed, blonde-haired beauty feels like a freak? Okay. Sure.” But Ann’s background and history really broke me down over time, and I began to think that my western idea of what is “beautiful” is probably a bit restrictive. Not in the sense that I think her beauty is superior to anyone else’s, but more that I imagine that others value it the same way I might. That’s not to say that Ann wouldn’t be considered beautiful in Japan. She’s a model, so clearly her looks are valued by people. But as many people can attest, high schoolers can be cruel, and students who are different are often not exactly treated kindly.

After I let the fact sink in that she, like Ryuji and Joker, was a bit of an outcast, I began to see her differently. She’s not motivated by popularity and the adulation of others, as I suspected she might be from the game’s promotional art. She’s incredibly determined to be successful at her career, to the point where she is even unavailable for a time due to balancing her work and school life. I certainly don’t fetishize work culture, but I like that she has the drive to keep trying, even when she faces the setbacks that she does. One of those setbacks is that she isn’t as fit or trim as the other models she’s competing against, which is very weird to consider given the fact that virtually everyone in these games is pretty thin. She makes a couple of valiant attempts to lose weight and get fitter, but her love of sweet always wins out in the end. It me, as the kids say.

Part of what might be at the center of her tenacity is her seemingly eternal optimism. She’s not the kind of flighty blonde you might find in other media, where her optimism comes from a lack of awareness or detachment from reality. Ann is smart and knows when things are grim, but she also knows that it’s important for a friend group to have someone who reminds them that things aren’t as terrible as they seem. Hope is never lost. In Strikers, the first major enemy you face is an idol whose twisted desires for revenge have made her into a cruel, abusive, malevolent pop star who delights in using her fame to treat people the way she was treated when she was in high school. Recognizing a fellow outcast and victim of bullying, Ann acts as the group’s moral compass when tensions run high and some want to make her pay in much harsher ways. Ann’s ability to empathize with even some of the most unlikeable and aggressive enemies is something I admire. She doesn’t empathize with Kamoshida, though, which is good. Because fuck that guy.

Aside from all that, she’s just a great, funny teammate with some serious firepower. Get it? Fire power? Because her particular magical affinity is fire? What’s that? You didn’t know that because you’ve never played the game? You’re just being nice and reading this because you’re my friend? Fair enough. But, trust me; it was almost a funny joke. Seriously, though, in my first playthrough of the game, Ann was my heaviest hitter. While JRPGs have a long history of making the “pretty” girls healers, Ann was nothing of the sort for me. She was a whip-cracking, flame-slinging, Persona-wielding, badass bitch, and I was here for it. Or, er, there for it. In the past. In that fictional realm.

I love so many of the characters in the Persona games, but Ann has become something of a representative of my love for the series and characters as a whole. She’s great all on her own, but being my first bae in a series that I would come to adore and obsess over, she’s kind of a symbol of my love for the entire series. I have an Ann poster, t-shirt, statue, phone case, mask… I even have an Ann tattoo! So, yes, I have a crush on the fictional character of Ann, but she also represents my even bigger real-world crush on Persona and all of the magic that has come with every single game I’ve played since my first adventures in Persona 5. I am grateful that I’m getting a whole new set of adventures with these characters in Strikers, and I hope there are even more games with this cast to come. This summer, I am planning on watching every Persona anime available, so I’m excited to get even more time with my virtual, fictional friends soon. *nerd emoji*

Pretty Pixels Podcast

In 2006, podcasts weren’t exactly popular. I probably don’t know enough about the history of podcasts to claim that they were still “niche” at that point in time, but they certainly weren’t nearly as popular as they’ve become in the last five or so years (and even more so since the beginning of the pandemic). 2006 was, however, when I discovered the 1UP.com network of podcasts. I did not listen to them on my iPhone, as so many people do now, because the iPhone did not yet exist. I listened to them on my iPod Classic, if that gives you an idea of just how long ago this was. The proverbial Stone Age of smart devices and online media distribution. I might as well have been sitting around a fire or listening to them on coconuts or whatever.

Anyway, I’m not a podcast hipster. I wasn’t “into” podcasts back then. I was, however, newly discovering the gaming community that 1UP was cultivating, and through it I was further shaping my identity as a gamer. It was the only gaming community that I was ever really active in. I had a blog that I posted to, I posted to message boards – I even won a couple of contests and was featured on the site a few times. I won this Star Wars: The Force Unleashed USB drive with a bunch of official art assets loaded on it:

No talk me, I’m angy.

I also won this Activision desk clock, sent to me directly by former EGM editor-in-chief Dan Hsu and featuring a photo of former-former EGM editor-in-chief Ed Semrad. Sadly, I don’t seem to have the email exchange between myself and Shoe anymore, and I can’t even remember what the contest was, but it remains an oddly very prized possession of mine.

I miss that site. Are there communities as seemingly diverse and accepting as that anymore? It doesn’t seem like it, but I haven’t given many a chance since those halcyon days, cut short by the sale, consolidation, then shutdown of 1UP.com between 2009 and 2013. My favorites of their podcasts were The 1UP Show, EGM Live, 1UP FM, and Retronauts. I can still hear the theme song for The 1UP Show in my head, particularly on days when I “just wanna stay home and play all my video games.” Seriously, listen to this. Then, check out the summer theme as well.

There was some impressive production that went into the presentation of these shows, but that wasn’t what was so appealing about them. What I loved so much was hearing people who genuinely loved video games… just talk about video games. They were sometimes funny, sometimes reflective, sometimes focused, sometimes scattered. But their passion for video games came through in every episode, and I felt like I was a stranger who was lucky enough to have stumbled into a group of close friends that were having a great time and didn’t mind me eavesdropping. I wanted so badly to start a podcast of my own. 1UP.com and EGM were sold and dismantled starting in January 2009, the month I separated from the military and moved back to Illinois. I ended up staying with my best friend Ron, and given our history of gaming adventures together, I proposed we start our own podcast, given that our favorites were now being discontinued. I excitedly began writing down potential topics to discuss and games to play, I ordered fairly expensive studio mics, and… we never went through with it.

I submitted a few memories for this feature and I was so excited when this was the one they chose to include

After sitting in its original packaging for over a decade, I recently unboxed the mic and ordered an interface and stand so that I could actually use it. I teach online classes and my laptop and headset mics just weren’t cutting it. Digging it out brought back memories of a podcast left uncasted (I said what I said), as you might expect. I listen to a lot of video game podcasts now. IGN Game Scoop!, The Game Informer Show, The MinnMax Show, What’s Good Games, Adrift Gamer, Game on Girl, Singing Mountain, Triple Click and (if you can believe it) more. There are also gaming podcasts that I listened to for some months and then fell off of. There are video game podcasts I have never listened to, and probably many shows I’ve never even heard of. The market is, if not flooded, saturated. For this reason and more (hello, crippling insecurity, how are you today?), I never felt like there was a “right time” to try and get that podcast started again. There are enough podcasts out there, I’d tell myself. Who wants to hear from me? I’m not a games journalist or industry personality. I’d just be another thirty-something white dude with a podcast. Nobody’s asking for that, right?

I have no idea how they selected “popular” blogs, but I never felt like I had many readers

And then I had one of those refreshing realizations. The kind that are always late but somehow feel on time. Who the fuck cares about who has what podcast and what people might think about another show that covers video games? From the very beginning, I wanted to do it for myself. I wanted to have a show because I wanted to share my passion for games. I never thought about audience size or reception. Podcasts have become corporatized and monetized now, so that seems to be the primary drive for many people. I never imagined I would make money with a podcast. I’d never even considered having ads. So what was I worried about? If I finally did it, I would be checking a box that has been unchecked for 12 years, and if I had fun while doing it, mission accomplished. So I decided to do it.

Tab London, who I’ve mentioned in previous posts, has been encouraging me to do it for years. I shared my dream with them during a late night lab session when we were in our master’s program together. We were working together on a class based on video games, so I naturally asked if they’d be interested in hosting something with me. They readily agreed, but I made it clear (because of the aforementioned insecurity, I think) that I didn’t know if/when I’d ever get around to actually getting my shit together and starting something. That was, I think, six years ago. Every now and then, since that time, Tab would ask if I’d given it any more thought. “Ehhhh,” I’d start. “Not really.” Or “Yeah, I want to. Maybe soon.” Internally, I always had some excuse. I was busy. I wasn’t sure if I could keep up. I wanted to make sure it was good. I didn’t know if my mic would work. And on and on. One of the things I’ve learned about my anxiety, though, is that it’s very good at helping me avoid things I’m nervous about. My anxiety works with the logical part of my brain to come up with completely reasonable excuses that keep me from doing things I’m worried will end poorly. The podcast was one of those things.

Again, “popular”? Hmmm

Another thing I’ve learned, in response to my anxiety-induced avoidance, is to challenge myself when those thoughts prevent me from doing something that I know I actually want to do. Do I really not have time for a podcast, or am I just not willing to make time? Am I really worried about what people will think, or is that an evergreen excuse to keep me from taking chances? If I’m so worried that I won’t be able to use my mic, why haven’t I tried it yet?

So I stopped allowing myself these excuses and recently asked Tab if they were still ready and willing to do the podcast. Fucking duh, I’ve been saying you should do it for years, they said. I’m paraphrasing. A bit. So I bought what I needed to use my mic, downloaded audio recording software, and began researching hosting options. We came up with a name, a basic structure, some goals and specific segment ideas, and a logo. We reached out to Ron for a theme song, I registered our podcast, and we recorded an introduction episode (“Episode 0”) last week. We uploaded it yesterday and it went live on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Amazon, and other sites today. We fucking did it. Finally.

I was beyond ecstatic when they chose my memory of my favorite game of all time for this feature

We went with the name Pretty Pixels Podcast for a few reasons. First, there’s that delicious alliteration. Second, we both share a love for unique graphics and art styles. Whether it’s the simplicity of a beautiful indie game or the incredible lighting effects in a AAA release, we revel in how pretty video games are, old and new. While we want our podcast to be fun for us first and foremost (because, as the 1UP shows did with me, we think that will transfer to fun for the audience), we also do want to bring something relatively unique to the crowded gaming podcast landscape. As we’re both gaming or gaming-adjacent scholars, we plan to bring some of our academic background to the table. Not always, of course. Even we tire of academic discourse. But where some podcasts shy away from discussing “serious” issues in gaming, we want to lean into it when it feels right. We’ve discussed having guests on, but we’re waiting until we feel comfortable enough doing the show on our own before jumping into that pool. There were a lot of laughs during our first recording session (even if they were edited out because they kept us from getting anything recorded), and I am looking forward to many more in future episodes.

There is still some lingering doubt, of course. We aren’t established, we don’t have a studio or industry connections. We won’t be selling mattresses or underwear. I doubt we’ll get codes for reviews and we have no privileged knowledge about gaming news or events. We have our love of games, our sense of humor, and our brains. Whether that is “enough” for modern podcast audiences is impossible to answer. But if we can make just a few people feel like I did back in the day, listening to the 1UP Show and feeling like I was a part of a meaningful conversation filled with love for games? That will always be enough for me.

Finally.

Revisiting Resident Evil 7, Thirsting After Lady Dimitrescu, and Getting Hyped for Village

One thing I’ve learned in my many years as an avid gamer is how to manage my hype levels. When I was a kid, I would tear through every page of Nintendo Power or EGM, eagerly consuming every bit of available information, speculation, and rumor about the games I was excited to play. My hyperbolic fervor did nothing to speed the games’ release schedules, though, so I would essentially torture myself for months, wanting constantly to play the newest entry in a favorite series or some new, rad looking IP. Worse, the incessant, obsessive yearning would warp my expectations of these games, so much so that I was often underwhelmed with the very games I was expecting to love. I’ve learned to temper my hype and expectations until a game’s release is close, so you might ask me if I’m excited about a game a year from its release and I could say “eh, I guess.” Then, just a few months from its release date, if you asked again, I might be like “holy shit, yeah, that game? Already pre-ordered the Deluxe Special Day One Collector’s Limited Platinum Gold Diamond Edition, boiiiiii.”

Thus is the tale of my hype for Resident Evil Village. As a big fan of the franchise, there is always a certain level of excitement with the approach of any new mainline game in the series, but Village is very close now and with the excellence of the last three games (Resident Evil 7, Resident Evil 2, and Resident Evil 3), my anticipation is accelerating greatly. After the announcement trailer in June of last year, my hype was shambling like a regular zombie. It was there, it was moving, but it wasn’t in danger of infecting me with uncontrollable, unchecked expectation. Now, after the recent Resident Evil Showcase, my hype is definitely a Crimson Head zombie. It popped right up and is sprinting after me, ready to chomp me with jaws of unbridled hype. That whole analogy got so far away from me. Kind of like a licker when it leaps through-okay I just need to stop.

Resident Evil Village is probably my most anticipated game of this year, and I am so delighted by how much attention Lady Dimitrescu has gotten on social media lately. I’m genuinely not pulling a hipster “I liked it before it was cool” move, but Lady D and her witchy-looking lady friends were the most intriguing and exciting thing about the original trailer released back in June 2020. They were only very briefly shown, but there was something so mysterious and, yes, sexy about their poise and style that just kept me thinking about them. Were they vampires? Ghouls? Witches? I didn’t know, but I was ready to meet them.

Why are they so hot, though? Please, forgive my thirst over these characters, but I have to document my feelings for posterity. I’d hate to reach a point in my life where I realize I’ve forgotten about *checks notes* every virtual character I ever lusted after. I think the witchy “daughters,” as Lady D calls them in the latest trailer, are pretty self-explanatory. They’re… witchy. That’s pretty hot in and of itself. But Lady D’s magnetic allure surprised me. If you told me that I would be lusting after a posh-looking woman in a wide brimmed hat and an outfit with a general “heading to the Kentucky Derby” kind of vibe, I would have said “I’ll lust after anything at this point, I’m desperate.” No, wait! I didn’t mean that. Note to self: edit that out before posting. What I really would have said was that you were crazy. That does not seem like the kind of aesthetic I go for.

So, what, then? Why does she seem so hot? Well, as my Gaming Crushes posts have probably revealed, I do have a thing for strong, capable women, and Lady D is brimming with power, poise, and authority. The refrain I keep seeing in reference to her is “step on me,” and she definitely captures that vibe perfectly. There is a playfulness to her menace. She might be chasing after me and trying to skewer me with her impressive nails, but she’s having a blast while doing it, and that’s more than I can say for grumpybutt Mr. X. She’s bold, confident, and seemingly very self-assured, and that’s definitely attractive to me. Does it hurt that she owns an expansive, beautiful estate and has a keen fashion sense? No. It does not. The high-society look rarely does much for me, but she rocks it. The pale skin, dark hair, fiery eye combo doesn’t hurt, either.

Okay, I’ll move on in a second, I swear, but I’ve seen a lot of pictures of Lady D popping up on social media in response to the latest trailer, but there is one very fast cut from the original trailer that I have yet to see anyone share, and I’m kind of surprised.

While it’s difficult to say what’s happening in this image with 100% certainty, it seems likely that our lusty lady is, well, feeding on what looks like a person’s arm (also, note the tooth-like bumps under her lips – those look like some serious chompers). Given the first-person perspective of the game and the fact that Ethan had his left arm cut off and stapled back on in Resident Evil 7, I’m kind of thinking these witchy women popped it off and are feeding on Ethan’s potentially unique life juice. Why would it be unique? Well, he did get his arm and leg chopped off in the previous game and inexplicably functionally reattached them with either staples or a bottle of freaking first aid potion. In the RE universe, that probably indicates he has some kind of healing power or something, right? Which would make the way that Lady D talks about Ethan in the recent trailer make sense. She not only knows him by name, but she’s also apparently been tasked with tracking him down by a superior. If we’re moving into fantasy territory where vampires, werewolves, and giants exist, though, my money is on his blood being special in some way. So the fact that she is, in all of her towering, seductive, dominant glory, at some point, sucking on your arm, makes me feel… well… I don’t know yet. I’ll get back to you in May.

Okay, okay, I’m done thirsting. For now. As I mentioned in my last post, I so rarely take the time to revisit old games that I’ve played before because there is constantly something new and exciting to play, but recently I’ve allowed myself to do just that. I beat Resident Evil 7 at least a few times when it came out, but I never got the platinum trophy because some of the more difficult achievements seemed, well, difficult. I wanted to revisit it just to sort of play it and experience the horror again, anyway, so I decided to go for the platinum trophy as well. I replayed it once on Easy difficulty, just to get back into it and grab the trophies for using less than three medicine items and never opening the storage chests, and then I tackled it on Madhouse mode. And, phew, it was no joke. I used a guide to make sure I didn’t miss any of the mode-exclusive collectibles, but I rarely find guides useful when it comes to boss fights, so some of those really did a number on me. It took me a long time and a lot of stress lines, but I finally managed to beat it and I got the platinum. Feels good, man.

I also went ahead and bought all of the DLC, which I’d never played before, so I dug through those as well. Some of them aren’t my cup of tea (particularly the combat/survival focused entries), but a few of them added some nuance to the base game’s narrative and I really appreciated them. The first of these is “Daughters,” which offers a glimpse at the Baker family just prior to their infection by Eveline. There are some indications of the family’s humanity in the base game, but not quite enough to fairly frame the tragedy that became their life. This DLC has you, as Zoe, help Jack and Marguerite prepare to take on another apparent victim (Eveline) of a recent storm that is devastating the region, including their farm (and it further explains the boarded-up and broken-down state of the grounds when you get there). There are little clues scattered around the house that show a close, caring family (aside from Lucas, who still seems like a dick), which heightened my appreciation for the Baker family and Zoe as a character in a big way.

Speaking of Zoe, I also really liked “End of Zoe.” This DLC was quite the opposite in terms of gameplay and tone, as instead of passively exploring the house, you play as Joe, Jack’s brother and Zoe’s uncle, bullrushing through the swamps surrounding the Baker’s house and bashing infected and alligators alike in the face with your bare fists. It is ridiculous and very un-RE-like, but also very fun. The main antagonist is what seems to be a resurrected Jack, looking very much like Swamp Thing, and squaring up to him with just your fists is silly and badass. Joe sees an enemy and he doesn’t think “dang, how much ammo do I have? Can I afford to take it down?” He thinks… well, I don’t even think he does think. He sees an obstacle, and he punches it. Literally everything. Wooden crate? Punch it. Boarded up door? Punch it. Toothy ooze monster? Punch. It. Can you imagine him in the previous RE games? “Hmm. A door with the shape of a diamond on it.” *punches through it* “Oh no, a giant snake.” *punch it in its giant snake head* Nemesis comes bursting through the wall. “SSSTA-“ *Punch* Like I said: ridiculous but fun. Plus, it gave us a satisfying (if cheesy) conclusion to Zoe’s story.

The last piece of DLC I’ll talk about is “Bedroom,” an escape-room style bit where you play as our favorite cameraman and Sewer Gators alum, Clancy. If you like the recurring, sometimes macabre puzzles littered throughout the RE series, you’ll probably like this DLC. It’s not just a collection of standalone puzzles – they’re all interconnected. You have to figure each out using environmental clues and solve them in the correct order to escape the room that Marguerite has locked you in. Think of the “Happy Birthday” puzzle that Lucas sets up. It took me a few times to get it, but it never felt unfair or illogical. With both this and the “Daughters” DLC, I kind of wish they’d been in the core game. I guess I can see how they might have affected pacing, but both of them feel like they would have felt natural and contributed something to the tone and setting of the game.

I will continue my revisiting… Revisiting Evil… does anyone have that as a blog or podcast name yet? If not, I should nab it. “This week on Revisiting Evil: how to make a Jill sandwich. Plus, coming up later: why Nemesis would make a great astronomer,” Anyway, I will continue playing old RE titles by starting Code Veronica X soon, since that’s probably the mainline entry I’ve played the least and, thus, don’t remember very well. To look forward, though, I wanted to talk a bit about the “Maiden” demo for Resident Evil Village.

The first time I played it was before my decision to replay RE 7, so playing it again after that really highlighted how far the RE Engine has come. I posted about how impressed I was with it after Resident Evil 2, but it seems like Capcom continues to squeeze every ounce of beautiful, reflective, textured blood out of it with Village. I’m so glad there is no combat in this demo, because it really allowed me to just wander the rooms of this big, ornately decorated castle and inspect every detail. I know there are some people who lament the direction Capcom has taken with RE 7 and Village (despite getting two of the best remakes of classic PlayStation games ever, but that’s a debate for a later time), but I very much appreciate the attention and care they’ve given to maintaining so much of the atmosphere and tone that made some of the earliest games so memorable. Paintings, statues, decorations – these are things that bring texture to a setting just by existing, but the level of texture and what it adds to a player’s experience is variable. If a team has the time and skill, they can create set decoration that tells a story of their own. Some of those in the demo are very classic RE, like:

But some of them seem so well conceived and executed that they bring the castle to life in much clearer and more nuanced terms than any of the previous RE settings. Look at this photograph:

Every time I do it makes me lau- oh god, what am I doing? Ahem. Moving on. It’s just a simple picture of… bats? Birds? Creatures? It’s eerie, sure, but does it have significance? Or is it just for ambiance? If it is just birds, why would this regal, matronly vampire have it framed and on display? Upon close inspection, it looks to be a bird of prey (right) with its talons stretched out, aiming to pierce another bird that it attempting to dodge. Lady D is the antagonist pursuing Ethan in this game, and she, too, has long, retractable talons. Consider also this vase:

At a glance, it looks like a pretty typical medieval style vase. Given the castle’s age and Lady D’s lineage, it might be an actual medieval artifact. It fits the castle’s décor and contributes to the overall spookiness of it, but what may have been behind the developer’s decision to include this specific design? Well, if there is one word that springs to mind when I look at this scene, it’s “ritual.” We don’t see much here, but what we do see is a seated man surrounded by others, seemingly against his will. His brow looks furrowed in concern, but more importantly, the man behind him seems to be clasping his shoulder as if he is preventing him from standing. Another man reaches out to stay the hand of the apparent captor, as another (very tall) man stands contemplating, with his hand on his chin. They are, it seems, deciding his fate. If you read the notes and pick up on context clues in the demo, there is a suggestion of some kind of ritual. There is a list of potential candidates for said ritual or purpose, and in the latest trailer, Lady Dimitrescu refers to “the importance of the ceremony.” I’m not trying to make some grand statement about this vase or any of these background details, but I love how much texture they bring to this setting. This vase lets me believe that some ancestor of Lady Dimitrescu (or the lady herself, if she turns out to be very old) had an artist make a vase to commemorate this ceremony, or perhaps she saw this and it reminded her of the momentous occasion. Either way, it seems to be far from randomly chosen as background flavoring. I can’t wait to play the final game and take my time looking at the impressive number of background decorations that will probably be spread all throughout the castle.

Aside from admiring the graphics and environmental nuance, I very much enjoyed seeing one of Lady Dimitrescu’s daughters in action. In my first playthrough, I rushed past her, as it seems I was expected to. But in later sessions, I followed her up the stairs and watched her glide and dissipate around a corner. The way that she moves is very cool, and I am ready to be both spooked and subtly stimulated by her and her sibling’s pursuit of me in the final game. It’s like “oh, noooo, don’t block my way and bite my neck, sexy vampire ladies! That would be sooooo baaaaaaad!”

So, yes, I am very much ready for May 7th. I’ve preordered the Deluxe Edition, am still playing through old RE titles, and am hopeful that my friends will eventually let me watch them play through the Maiden demo so I can bother them with my dumb love of the same kinds of details I discuss above. I’ll be back in May, of course, with a post about the main game, and don’t be surprised if you see a Gaming Crushes post about Lady D at some point, heh. Until next time, this has been Revisiting Evil. Smash that subscribe button. I’m just kidding. I’m full of dumb jokes today. Ugh. Okay, bye.

Comfort Food Games (and Coffee. And Killing)

In the final months of 2020, I found myself keeping up with new games unlike most other times in my life. While I would love to play all new games as they’re released, I usually can’t for various reasons. One is that I am definitely the type to finish games. I don’t like bouncing between narrative games especially, so if I’m playing some big, story-driven game, I have to finish that one before I move onto the next. Another reason is that I don’t rush through games, particularly when I’m really into them. I wouldn’t call myself a completionist, but when I love a game I will find any and every excuse to extend my time with it (including getting every achievement/trophy). But between quarantine, new consoles, and just a general desire to play more video games, I really burned through some of the big, new games of 2020 these last few months, including Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, Spider-Man: Miles Morales, Astro’s Playroom, Cyberpunk 2077, Star Wars: Squadrons, The Dark Pictures Anthology: Little Hope, and Phasmophobia. I liked or loved all of these games, so it’s not that the deluge of glorious gaming was oppressive or taxing, but when it was all said and done, there was a part of me that yearned for the familiar or forgotten. Without realizing it, I found myself playing older games that I had either bought and forgotten, or had already played and loved. This is just a scattershot post to cover my thoughts on these games, but one of them – Resident Evil 7 – will get its own post, because my playing of that is tied into my hype for Resident Evil Village, and I have plenty of thoughts about that game.

Let’s begin with an oldie. Please, take a trip down memory lane with me. The year is 1999. I am sixteen years old and newly into my Star Wars fandom. The Phantom Menace is set to release in May and the hype among myself and others is indescribable. Alongside the movie, Star Wars Episode I: Racer is coming to the N64, and it takes advantage of the new Expansion Pak, which expands the console’s memory and allows for more detailed textures and prettier graphics. I am stoked. I play the demo at a kiosk in some store and the game looks incredible. I am amazed at how fast the pods zip through the courses. I am ready to absolutely wreck Sebulba’s shit. And then I don’t buy it. I was sixteen, after all, and I’m pretty sure I had yet to land my first job. Oh well.

Fast forward to the present, and the retitled Star Wars Racer is on sale in the PlayStation Store for something like $4. I did end up buying a copy of it for the N64 at some point, but I don’t exactly bust that old beauty out very often. So I bought it and figured I would play for a bit, the nostalgia would wane quickly, and I would push it aside and move on. The startup screen and the very hitch-y CG intro movie did little to challenge these expectations. The game is ugly. Don’t get me wrong! It was very impressive… 22 years ago. But time is rarely kind to early 3D games, and the murky and muddy textures were both nostalgically quaint and, well, bleh.

Then, however, I started playing. Immediately I was impressed by how fast and smooth the racing was. Remember when Anakin was testing his podracer and his face was all

Well that’s how I felt playing this game. I was constantly stunned with how fast I felt like I was moving, and I kept wondering if the old game was this fast or if the remastering included a speed boost. I do remember it being pretty fast back in ’99, but this fast? On an N64? After I finished the first circuit and nabbed a comfortable first place, I quit for the night, content with my experience. It was fun! Time to move on. The next night I began looking for my next game but couldn’t put Racer out of my mind. One more circuit, I told myself. As soon as it starts feeling too challenging I’ll be done. Nope. I played the whole. Damn. Game. Did it get challenging? Yes. Did I have to try a few tracks several times? Also yes. Did I want to punch Sebulba in his seballsba? Again, yes. But I did it. The speed, the tracks, the music… it just felt like the right game at the right time. And now I think the prequel trilogy is ripe for a revisit. Meesa gonna watchen it. I’m sorry for that. Why am I like this?

Aside from revisiting such an old gem, I was also in the mood to tie up loose ends, so I finished my playthrough of The Last of Us Part II, finally. [Some light spoilers ahead, particularly in images] While I could certainly spend an entire post breaking the game down, as many have, I’ll just focus on a few things that stood out to me. Overall, I really liked the game. I didn’t love the ending and I think they were a little heavy-handed with some elements of the story, but there is so much that works well in this game. I think it’s easy to zoom out and critique the broad strokes of the narrative, but this game’s greatest strengths are revealed when you zoom in, literally and figuratively. I was in constant awe of some of the smallest of details. In most games, when you pick up an item there is a generic swiping or grabbing animation. In this game, there are specific animations for every item. The upgrade currency in this game comes in the form of pills, and sometimes you will find both a pill bottle and individual, loose pills. If you mash the action button to grab all of them quickly, the items don’t just disappear from the world and appear in your inventory with a cursory swipe. Your character will wrap one hand around the bottle, and as they reach back to slip it into their pack, their other hand will be pinching one individual pill with their fingers. They’ll then drop that into a pocket while the other hand, now free, pinches the last pill and does the same. And you can either stand still and do this, which is one animation, or begin to walk away, and your character will look natural as they tuck the items into their pack and trot away. This is just one very specific example, but the game is filled with little details like this. Every melee weapon slots onto your pack in a different way. Every firearm has unique, detailed reload and upgrade animations. The game was so thorough in its attention to detail that I found myself shocked when I’d catch some missed little thing that I would never have questioned with another game. The best example of this is when you upgrade a firearm. You clear the weapon before working on it, which means you eject the round that’s in the chamber, which pops out and flies off screen. Where does it go? Your character never grabs it and loads it back in the magazine or weapon, and with ammo so incredibly scarce in the game I found myself flinching every time a precious piece of ammo popped out of my gun.

The small interactions between characters and moment-to-moment story beats were some of the best I’ve seen in games. Naughty Dog is known for these kinds of interactions, but this game really outdid their previous work, in my opinion. The banter between characters sounds natural and not forced, yet it always reveals something new about the story or the characters. Writing casual dialog that somehow seems unnecessary but is secretly vital to character and plot development is rare and impressive. Among my favorite of these sequences is Ellie and Dina’s trip to the synagogue, Abby and Owen’s first trip to the aquarium, and Ellie and Joel’s trip to the museum. The last one is easily at the top of my list, and not just because of the overt references to Jurassic Park, one of my favorite movies of all time. Thematically, the idea of visiting a natural history museum in a post-apocalypse is always fun and thought-provoking. We take museums for granted today, because we have years of compulsory school and the internet that readily remind of us where we and other creatures have been in the long history of our world. When that goes away, however, what do we have? Word-of-mouth stories about dinosaurs and trips to the moon? Rumors about seals that have spots? Beyond themes, there were just so many small moments that were cute on their own, but also complicated the relationship between Joel and Ellie. This scene more than any other breaks my heart when I think about where it fits in the dynamic between these two characters. I would 100% take an entire game filled with scenes like this.

As I said, I spent a lot of time with this game and the narrative is very rich, but those are some of my impressions. I do think they missed an opportunity for a more satisfying resolution, and I agree with the sentiment that, despite the subtlety of the interpersonal interactions, they were decidedly less subtle with some of the major themes involving violence and revenge, but overall I found a lot to like and appreciate about this game.

Speaking of interpersonal interactions (Segue King 2021 babayyyy), I also played through the charming Coffee Talk recently. I remember hearing about this retro-looking indie game a year ago, when it was released, but I quickly forgot about it. The curse of the quaint indie game, sadly. I just happened to see it while scrolling through sale titles on the PlayStation Store, though, and it seemed like such a perfect game for this wintry time of year. Serving coffee and other hot drinks and listening to strangers share the details of their lives? Yes, please.

While I was somewhat disappointed in the lack of dialog choices and inability to form relationships with the characters that come into your shop, I did find the game relaxing and engaging. The drink making mechanics are simple, the stakes are rarely ever high, and I enjoyed the slight challenge of figuring out what kind of drink my patrons were asking for. The Seattle setting seems like a no-brainer for a game about a coffee shop, but I also think the choice to have the shop only be open at night and the constant rainy weather were perfect. They created a mood and ambiance that truly made me want to curl up with a cup of hot chocolate or coffee and just chat or read a book. Like a tasty, warm beverage, this game was a comfort and joy to play.

But, as I said, I did go into the game thinking the social mechanics would be a bit more… well, existent. As much as I like visual novels/narrative experiences, I always find myself wanting to be a part of the story that’s unfolding. I was hoping to form my own relationships with these characters, and when I saw how colorful and varied the cast was, I immediately thought there would be dating sim aspects to the story. Sadly, there are not, which is a real bummer because the game seems so perfect for it. When the latte art mechanic was introduced, I thought (not knowing there were no romance elements yet) it would be so fun if one of the ways you could flirt or reveal your feelings for a crush was by making a heart in the foam (if the game set it up as not unsolicited and creepy, of course). I am always curious about who people would romance in games, so if that also sounds like you, I think I probably would have gone for Aqua. Lua would probably also be a contender, but I feel comfortable saying Aqua is my… cup of tea. Thank you, thank you, I’ll be here all night. Anyway, while I did find the game a fun, soothing distraction for what continues to be a historically messed up timeline, I do have my fingers crossed for a sequel with more options for interactivity and immersive storytelling. And smooches.

Lastly, my friends and I have gotten back into Minecraft in the last week or so, and in a big way. We are obsessed. Just today I tweeted that I have been having creeper-related dreams almost every night this past week. On the one hand, it’s annoying and frustrating, but I can definitely see the humor in it. And it makes sense. Creepers are the perfect embodiment of anxiety. You work so hard to build something and spend time thinking carefully about how to execute your plans. You spend hours mining, collecting the necessary materials, laying block by block, tweaking the details as needed. Then, out of nowhere, boom. Your blocky dreams are shattered. After the first time, you can never rest easy. Every time you let your guard down, there he is. His little green face tilted toward you, wanting with every ounce of his hissy being to explode and take your beautiful creations with him to what I imagine is a very pixelated hell. Fucking assholes.

Those dipshits aside, we’ve been having a blast (why did I do that to myself? I could have used any other word to describe our shared experience, but no. I went with blast. *shivers in creeper-related stress disorder). Other than the semester I played the game with my students, I’ve never played with this many people before (there are six of us so far), so it’s very rewarding knowing that I can at one moment contribute something to the collective group, and at another go off and work on something on my own that someone else might run across and think is neat. Just yesterday I crossed over Russell’s impressive bridge that connects our mainland with the lands to the East, Amy recently showed me her massive hole (yes, I think she knew what she was doing when she referred to it as such), Tab and Tirzah have cultivated an expansive farm, and I have been sailing to distant lands to both leave markers for exploration and, as a bonus, import wolves (which our lands are sadly lacking). We’ve been very chill and loose about it, and there are no expectations or ultimatums. We help out, we do our own thing, we are basically just having fun. It’s such a welcome change of pace in light of the big, AAA gauntlet I put myself through (willingly and with much fun to be had, of course) in the fall and early winter.

It’s also been so long since I last played that I am frequently both delighted and horrified at some of the changes they’ve made in the many updates to the game. Llamas? Cute! There are water zombies now? Ugh. Cats!? Dolphins!? Yessss. Aggressive merpeople and deadly undercurrents? Get out of my face. But I will take all of the bats and pandas and polar bears, thanks. We may get tired of the game eventually, but I love what we’re doing in the world so far. Check out Amy and Russell’s giant in-home aquarium:

And Tab and Tirzah’s elaborate farmhouse:

For my house, I was somewhat inspired by the massive mansion/castle in the Resident Evil: Maiden demo, and also by the many iterations of Dracula’s castle in the Castlevania games. I’m not exactly the most creative and skilled designer, but I like how my house has turned out so far. The façade is a little bland:

But I’m very happy with the interior. I built my house into the side of the mountain in our town, so I keep digging further into the mountain to create secret rooms and a full-sized Satanic house of worship, including a pastor’s office with a hidden door that leads to a portal to Hell.

I also have a dungeon where I keep zombies, skeletons, spiders, and creepers, a forbidden cauldron room, a dedicated Nether portal chamber, and a couple of other secrets.

I don’t imagine these pictures are all that riveting to most, but there is something I really love about sharing Minecraft creations. Maybe it has something to do with the impermanent nature of games like this. When the servers are shut down, these worlds will go away forever. But in my small way, I can document the exploits of my friends and me. Maybe, if we continue to play for a long time, I’ll do so again in the future. For now, though, I have some diamonds to mine. If you’ll excuse me.