Big Ol’ Early 2023 Catch-up

*blows dust off imaginary typewriter* Hello again, old friend. Friends? I don’t know who I write these to, in reality. I maintain that this blog is a way for me to chronicle my history with video games mostly for myself, but I am aware that an occasional stranger or friend might pop in and read these overly long and rambling posts. So, to you, hello. It has been a while.

A lot has happened since I last wrote, not least of which is landing a dream job with PlayStation. It couldn’t have come at a better time, too. Last summer I was mid-crisis, anxious about finishing my degree and what came next. I got a call about a copywriting position I’d applied for just two weeks prior. I’d also applied for a game testing position, sure I’d never qualify for the writing position since it was far from entry level. When I got the call, I was certain it was for the testing job. Nope. I felt incredibly lucky and honored to even get a pre-interview call, and with each subsequent round of interviews I told myself that I was just really fortunate to have gotten that far. When I got the job offer, I lost it. I couldn’t believe it was happening to me. Maybe I’ll write about it in more detail later but suffice to say it was quite a ride.

This post, as others in the past have, will focus on catching up on games I’ve played recently. Well, if eight months can be called “recent,” I guess. To manage the length (somewhat), I’ll abstain from saying much about games I’ve revisited. Animal Crossing New Horizons is currently pulling me back in, I replayed Ace Combat 7 to chip away at the platinum for that, I played Everybody’s Golf with friends until the second the servers were taken offline (RIP), and I still pop into Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Mario Party Superstars, and Phasmophobia on the regular. I also threw several dozen more hours into No Man’s Sky at one point. But let’s talk about newer experiences.

Arcade Spirits: The New Challengers

I’ve gushed about my time with the first Arcade Spirits game, so The New Challengers was one of my most anticipated games of 2022. The colorful art style and character design, the clever writing, the retro game scene vibe — I loved it all, and the sequel fine-tuned much of what I liked about its predecessor. I really liked the original cast of characters so my main concern going into the sequel was that I might not connect with the new crew as well.

Turns out, the team at Fiction Factory Games knows what they’re doing, and I loved the new cast as much as the old. I also really liked the competitive tournament storyline and the many choices you can make about your approach to the matches and Iris, besides the obvious relationship stuff. Speaking of, the first game touched on some interesting gender and sexuality things, and the sequel adds even more, including the ability to be in a poly relationship. I’m sure it’s not the first indie game to allow it, but it still felt pretty refreshing. And I took advantage of it, because it just so happened to involve my two top relationship choices: Grace and Jynx. Best of both worlds, babyyyyy. I do still wish there were character animations and even more customizable player character models, but maybe that will come in future installments – of which I hope there are many.

The Quarry

I’ve written about my love for Until Dawn and my mixed (but mostly positive) feelings for the Dark Pictures Anthology games, so The Quarry was one of the games I was very excited for in 2022. One thing that turned me off about some of the Dark Pictures games was the settings. While I appreciate the desire to let players experience several different horrific scenarios in several different settings, like a ghost ship or an ancient cave system, there’s something about the classic bunch-of-teens-in-the-woods scenario that scratches the classic slasher itch for me. The Quarry scratched that itch even more than Until Dawn, and while the latter is still my favorite in the series, I had a ton of fun with former.

I’ll avoid story spoilers here, but the story was indeed a highlight in this entry. Having good characters is a must for ensemble horror, and I haven’t liked a cast in the series this much since Until Dawn. There has been a likable character or two in each game, but I thought this whole lineup was strong. Ted Raimi was great as Sherriff Hackett, Siobhan Williams played a great final girl (sort of?), frickin’ Lance Henriksen? Ariel Winter? Great cast. My favorite character was Kaitlyn, played by Brenda Song, though. Not only was she “a baddie,” as the kids say, she was the kind of character that you’d actually want with you in a situation like that. Smart, strong-willed, and (almost) unflinching.

Good writing goes a long way in making a good story and good characters, though, and I thought the dialog writing in particular was much stronger in this game. There was an occasional cheeseball line or cringey joke, but those are part of the horror experience, too. For the most part, I thought the characters sounded believable and natural. The graphics were also, as always, excellent. I love the realistic horror movie look, plus with forced camera angles, moody lighting, and great animation, these games still feel like the closest thing we can get to a playable horror movie. I haven’t gotten the platinum trophy yet, but I can see myself going back and cleaning that up at some point. Supermassive Games puts these games out at a decent clip, too, so I hope I won’t have to wait very long for the next one.

Resident Evil Village: Winters’ Expansion

I can’t get enough of Resident Evil Village. Well, I can’t get enough of the Resident Evil series in general, which is why I’m super stoked for Resident Evil 4 Remake later this month. But Village holds a special place in my RE-heart, and not just because of the beautiful Lady Dimitrescu. Okay, so largely because of the beautiful Lady Dimitrescu. Get it? Largely? Because she’s very big? Ahem. No, I love a lot of what Village brought to the series. The graphics and design were stunning, the balance of eerie exploration and tense action was on point, and I was invested in the Winters family’s tragic tale.

The Winters’ Expansion is woefully lacking in vitamin D (as in the Lady), but it does continue Rose’s story right from the end of the main game. It’s a short experience but there are some very cool, scary scenes. Light content spoilers ahead, though I’ll avoid story stuff. You return to House Beneviento and are once again stripped of any weapons and required to sneak your way out, solving puzzles along the way. I loved that part of the main game, so I was very happy to see another level like it. The mannequins were very creepy, to the point where I sent a short video to a friend and they wrote back “oh hell no.” As a matter of fact, oh hell yes. I haven’t yet gone through the game in third person mode, but I do like that they’ve added that option for people who prefer that perspective over first. It was a short addition to the Village story but it was as beautiful and spooky as the main game, so I had a good time with it.


Stray blew up in a way that few could have gue… oh, who am I kidding? As soon as the trailer for this game was released, I think the combination of adorable cat and atmospheric robot city convinced me and many others that this was a sure hit. And that it was, deservedly so. It’s a fairly simple and straightforward game, with just a handful of puzzles and combat scenarios, but it’s incredibly charming and emotionally engaging. I mean, come on. It’s a cat. As a cat owner myself (hi, Bella! She can’t read this. She’s a cat. But I will read it out loud to her at some point), I was instantly invested in this little feline’s fate.

Slight spoilers for the beginning of the game, but right in the very first scene you’re already heartbroken. If you’re me (and at least one of my friends), your eyes are actually welled with tears by the scene that sets the adventure into motion. There are other moving moments as well, but overall this was just a sweet, lovely experience for me. Combat and running from enemies was tense, but later I could find a cozy shelf in a library bathed in soft lighting, curl up on a pillow, and go to sleep. And I could sleep for as long as I wanted. There’s even a trophy for sleeping a certain amount of time! And it’s that kind of thing that made me really appreciate this game. They got the cat-ness right. Rubbing up against robot legs, knocking things off shelves, scratching rugs and couches when I can… It’s not an intensely realistic cat sim, but it balances the right kitty notes with a world I wanted to explore and a story that engaged me. I really liked it.

Call of Duty Modern Warfare II

I hadn’t played a CoD in a while (since… the first Ghosts?), and Modern Warfare II seemed to be getting some buzz, so I decided to give the campaign a try. I finished it, and it retains much of what I liked about previous campaigns, though there were a couple of small annoyances. While I understand the desire to produce highly scripted action set pieces, and sometimes they work well, sometimes it just felt like I was set up to fail. I feel most immersed and a part of the action when everything seems inevitable and natural. When it’s obvious that a guy is scripted to kick in a door and blast me with a shotgun as soon as I step past an invisible line, I feel more like I’m an actor in a movie, hitting my mark. Yes, I understand that these kind of invisible triggers are in most games, but in MWII sometimes they result in immediate death. It was like the developers were trying to get across the point that war is hard and death is around every corner. Which, yes, duh. But you also want me to feel like a badass who’s taking out entire squads almost single handedly, so… these two things didn’t mesh for me. I am fine with challenging games when my deaths feel like my fault. I scold myself and try again. When I feel like the game is working against me and my deaths are the result of careful scripting, I feel far less engaged and more aware of the “gaminess” of it all.

Also, please, video game developers, I’m begging you to do some research on Lake Michigan before trying to depict the Chicago lakefront. This is not the first game where you can see lights across the lake from the city, but this might be the biggest budget one with the most people working on it. You’re telling me no one involved has been to Chicago or even looked at pictures of the lake from the city? Lake Michigan is massive. By surface area, it’s bigger than nine of the US states. It’s bigger than entire countries, like the Netherlands, Denmark, Croatia, Switzerland, and Taiwan (not combined). I understand that people see “lake” and think of, like, a lake where they might go kayaking with their family on vacation but… no. Please. Justice for Lake Michigan.

Seriously, what are those lights over the water? Get outta here.

Anyway, those gripes aside, I had a pretty good time with MWII. It looks amazing, as they often do, and the gunplay and movement feel as fluid as ever. One of my favorite things about the series is the variety when it comes to mission types. I can see how it might get old if you play every single entry, but I like breaching a desert facility with a squad, then firing on several escaping enemies from an airship above, then sneakily infiltrating an area solo, then crawling through muck to snipe a compound. I could probably have done without the vehicle hopping mission, but you can’t win ‘em all sometimes. Overall, it was a fun time.

Disco Elysium

I’ll keep this relatively short because Disco Elysium is a dense game with a lot to unpack. If you are a big fan of the game or just want to hear more, we recorded two episodes discussing it on our Pretty Pixels Podcast (which is now on potentially permanent hiatus, RIP), which you can find here and here. To sum it up, I really warmed to this game over the many hours I spent with it. It was a gradual climb that ended with me loving it. My first hour with the game felt slow and confusing. The second was slightly clearer, but I found myself wondering if this game was being obtuse just to seem complicated or nuanced. With each subsequent hour, my cynicism melted away and I could see purpose behind the design choices the developers made. The amnesia, the inner voices without context, the impact of player choice… like Harry’s memory, slowly things started to come into focus.

In the end, Disco Elysium tells a complex but beautiful (if tragic) story that is not just Harry’s. It’s yours. It’s Kim’s. It’s Elysium’s. It was a ride. I was surprised, I was moved, I was provoked to really consider things like government, identity, systems of power. I started my journey in a detached and cynical way, but ended up getting misty-eyed on several occasions, none of which I want to spoil. So, like other narratively rich games, I mostly have to just urge you to play it and experience it for yourself. It might seem confusing and, depending on your tastes, overly “artsy” at first, but if you stick with it I have a feeling you’ll get a lot out of it, as I did.

Gotham Knights

Poor Gotham Knights. Gamers on social media love a punching bag, and Gotham Knights really took a beating when it came out. As is often the case, it does seem that after the launch ire dies down, people start discovering it and there is an adjustment in public sentiment when people start realizing that it’s not nearly as bad as reactionary hot-take-baiters seemed to make it out to be. I played it alone and with a friend, and while I do agree with some of the valid criticisms of it (primarily that the city isn’t as filled with the kind of rich detail and love that we’ve come to expect), I had a good time and thought it was a solid Batman story.

Yes, the city design is uninspired, but I thought the characters looked great and I was frequently snapping screenshots of Batgirl (the only character I played as) kicking ass and gliding over rooftops. The opening cinematic was rad, as was the ending sequence. One of my favorite things about the game was the costumes, though. I don’t know if this is controversial to say, but the costumes are one of the few things this game does better than the Arkham games (though I do feel it’s unfair to the devs to keep making that comparison). Batgirl alone has the awesome Knight Ops, Eternal, Beyond, and Talon suits.

Online co-op was very fun, though when my friend and I got too far from each other, we did experience some slowdown. I also do wish that the cycle travel was faster, as it felt like I was dutifully obeying local speed limits rather than zipping dangerously through the dark streets of Gotham. Still, overall, I had a really good time with Gotham Knights and am always down for more Batman games where we get substantial story beats involving Bat Family characters we don’t see in games as often. On a last note, I would bet a very pretty penny that Harley Quinn’s appearance was based on Bridget Fonda. Seriously.


That same friend I played Gotham Knights with, Paul (hi, Paul!), had been recommending Thronebreaker to me (and every one of our podcast listeners at the end of every episode) for months, so we did a game swap. He is a huge Star Wars and Mass Effect fan, so I was absolutely shocked and appalled that he hadn’t played Knights of the Old Republic yet. That game played a critical role in deepening my love of Star Wars, plus it was the launch of my love of Bioware-style RPGs that have moral alignments, choices, romance options, and all that good stuff. What I am not typically a fan of is, uh… card games. Thronebreaker, dear reader, is a card game. But I do love The Witcher 3, so in the spirit of the swap, and to keep an open mind, I downloaded Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales and started my deck-based journey.

Right off the bat, I loved the art style. The thick comic lines, minor details, and subtle animations really made the maps, characters, and cards very pleasing to look at. Especially Queen Meve. Because she real purty. Ahem, where was I? Speaking of Meve, though, I very quickly became invested in the story. Again, no big story spoilers, but the plot involves Queen Meve being dethroned and her fight to win back her Queendom. The enemies are particularly well written, which is so important in revenge/vengeance stories because my drive to kill them painfully grows with each new slight or injustice they deliver. And my bloodlust was ready to burst once I got near the endgame. Okay, wait, I guess I should slow down and talk about the actual card battles. As I played the tutorial, and the game introduced rule after rule, and I could see how deep you could get into deck building and strategy. I could feel my brain going numb. I fumbled my way through the first few real battles before deciding to just use a guide for any battles I struggled with.

Surprisingly, it wasn’t many! I fought every battle I could for practice, and eventually I started to catch onto some of the patterns the game uses. An enemy would start laying down certain cards and I would think “ah, they’re trying to set me up for this. Well then I’ll do this.” So, yes, I did need help on occasion, but it didn’t diminish my experience. Every victory felt hard fought and my ultimate victory was very sweet. I didn’t get the best ending, because I made what I didn’t realize at the time was a bad decision, but my ending was pretty solid. Overall, I ended up having a ton of fun with Thronebreaker. And Meve can get it.

Dying Light 2

Oh, Dying Light 2. I really wanted to love you. I really do appreciate all of the work that goes into games, especially games with as many moving parts as Dying Light 2. And there are things I enjoyed in my time with the game. The gameplay loop, which is a big part of the experience, hooked me. Like the first game, I enjoyed doing runs, scoping out new places to raid, dodging zombies, levelling up, all that good stuff. And some of the early story beats, like liberating the first utility tower, made me excited about the narrative and my role in it. If you’d asked me when I was around a quarter of the way through the game what I would score it, I’d have said around an 8, maybe an 8.5. Unfortunately, that number steadily dropped as the game carried on.

Granted, some of my biggest gripes are with the last quarter of the game, which drags on at an uneven pace, making me wish at every turn that it would just end and leave me with my still mostly positive memories. But end it did not, and the final stretch had several sections that just slowed it down even more, like an infuriating and pointless duct crawling section and a terrible final boss. I got the “good” ending, but by the time I got it I just didn’t really care anymore. I was so annoyed by the last bit of the game. If I were just looking for an open world zombie game to pass the time with missions and side quests and such, I might have had a perfectly fine time. The story kind of ruined it for me.


I like to fit small indie games between bigger, AAA affairs, and Unpacking seemed like the perfect kind of low-stakes, chill, cozy experience to follow Dying Light 2 with. It was everything I’d hoped it would be. It was charming, the retro pixel art was adorable, the soundtrack was pretty bangin’, and the narrative was subtle, sad, sweet, and more. It’s a simple premise, obviously: click on a box to produce an object, find a place for it in a room (or rooms), and click on where you want it to go. You can turn things, move them around, or just lazily toss things where you like. Some things have a very specific location, and I did find myself a little frustrated when I couldn’t figure out where that spot was, but overall the game was pretty free and loose with where I could drop things.

Yet again, no major story spoilers, but I really loved the way the narrative unfolded in this game. Each room, each object, reveal new wrinkles in the story. You find yourself feeling like you really know this character you’re playing as, just by considering the kinds of items you’re handling and the space you’re unpacking them in. Each room contains clues, and this environmental storytelling felt new and rewarding. But my story might not be yours, or even “the” story. A friend of mine played and mentioned how sad it was that the player character [redacted]. But when I played, I didn’t read it that way at all. It’s not that either of us has to be “right” – we just experienced a different version of the same story. Which is pretty cool, I think. So, yeah, I loved Unpacking. While it is pleasant and charming, to call it a “palate cleanser,” as I was about to, is unfair to it, even if that’s how I used it. It’s a wonderful game in its own right.

FAR: Changing Tides

FAR: Changing Tides was another quiet, lovely game. Whereas Unpacking kept text to a minimum, FAR excludes it entirely. For a game about tending your ship, sailing the seas, and exploring the depths, the lack of narration or exposition felt appropriate. The sailing mechanics are simple and rewarding. You push in a heavy switch to raise your mast, carry down a cable to open the sail, and move the sail with a handle to control speed. You can stop quickly by releasing the handle and loosing the cable. These are the opening sailing controls, and I would have been happy enough with even just this simple setup. Slight progression spoiler, but as you get further you unlock a steam engine, then even more upgrades later. With the steam engine, you use trash you’ve collected from the seafloor or ruins as fuel, and must then balance the previously mentioned controls with occasionally feeding the engine and putting out any fires that might occur if you push it too far.

Things didn’t always go smoothly, of course, and dealing with storms, obstructions, and other barriers meant I had to always be on my toes in case I had to jump into action and halt the engine, drop the sail, and stop on a dime. This made travel itself a perpetual puzzle, but to unlock upgrades or a path forward, I also had to explore buildings, ruins, and more, solving pretty straightforward physics puzzles along the way. While these weren’t as fun as sailing, they were still rewarding, especially because I then got to scurry back to my ship, my home, my heart. The sometimes-smooth, sometimes-manic process of driving my ship was endlessly soothing. It made me wish for a fully 3D, open-world version, where I could literally just sail around and explore strange new places.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge

Man, what a blast of pure nostalgia. Shredder’s Revenge has learned the valuable lesson of recent excellent remakes and remasters, like the Resident Evil games and Metroid Prime Remastered in that it maintains the essence of the thing you once loved and polishes it with modern flair. In my fuzziest, most nostalgic memories of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles the arcade game, it plays like a dream. When I revisited it a while back, I was reminded of the reality, which is that it is an arcade game designed to snarf up as many of your quarters as possible. It was purposefully unbalanced and, at times, unfair. We can’t have you just breezing through it on a few measly quarters, can we? Luckily, I played it in The Galloping Ghost Arcade, in Brookfield, Illinois, where you pay an entry fee and can then play as much of any game that you want. Infinite continues meant I could finally beat the TMNT arcade game that I never fully beat as a kid (though I did make it to Shredder a few times).

Shredder’s Revenge takes the fuzzy part of my memories with that classic arcade game and delivers them back to me in a beautiful retro package. The sprite work and animation are bright and beautiful, the soundtrack is bangin’, and the game plays like a cleaner version of what I remember the arcade game playing like with some added special moves unique to each character. It was a pretty short game, yes, but I was able to play the whole thing with a few of friends and had a lot of fun doing it. If I’d just played it solo it would have still been a good time, but there is something extra fun about picking heroes, helping each other, and experiencing something new with friends.

Twelve Minutes

Twelve Minutes, like Gotham Knights, was a bit of a victim of gamer ire on social media when it came out. I can understand why, given the level of Hollywood talent involved, the hype preceding release, and the admittedly awful narrative twist. Removed from the drama, though, I thought it was a pretty decent adventure game that reminded me of the simple joy of a point-and-click-style narrative mystery. Like those games, you investigate objects and points of interest, and, with the power of inductive reasoning, piece together a story. There were a couple of pieces that were a little frustrating to fit together, but overall it was a pretty satisfying loop. Get it? Loop? Like… a time loop? Never mind. Yeah, the twist was very dumb, and the voice acting was a bit of a mixed bag, but it was a short and ultimately decent experience.

Metroid Prime Remastered

Metroid Prime was one of the oldest games on my backlog. I loved my GameCube and was desperate for new, exciting releases after launch. At the time, Super Metroid was on a ton of “best games of all time” lists. I felt like I’d missed out by not playing it, so when Metroid Prime came around I was determined to not miss out. Unfortunately, a couple of things were conspiring against me. First, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City was released just a couple of weeks prior to Metroid Prime, and I wasn’t ready to move on from its sunny, retro, neon-washed streets. I shipped out for basic military training two months later, so a lot of that time was spent with friends, saying my goodbyes. I wouldn’t get my GameCube shipped to me until I was in technical training, more than three months later. I tried to start Prime while I was in training, but I just wasn’t feeling it. Too many distractions. Like its predecessor, it was held up as one of the best games of all time.

The years went by, sequels were released, and I just never got around to playing it. Then Metroid Dread came along, and I decided to play Super Metroid to prepare for the release of the much-hyped Dread. And I’m glad I did, because I fell in love with it. And Dread. And Samus Returns. And Fusion. Yes, I was a total Metroid convert. I had seen the green visor-tinted light. So when Metroid Prime Remastered was announced and shadow dropped, I snapped it up right away. As the other entries in the series are, it is truly an incredible game, and an amazing remaster. As others have pointed out, it doesn’t seem like a simple up-res. It sure seems like the graphics were completely replaced with new assets. Everything looks crisp and beautiful, and it runs as smooth as Chozo butter… if there is such a thing.

Much of what I loved about Metroid Prime is what I love about the series in general. It’s atmospheric, moody, challenging, and Samus Aran is a certified badass. Every time I got stuck with a puzzle, or struggled with a boss, I worried it was going to be a massive road block that would frustrate me and cause me to walk away. But apparently Retro and Nintendo know how to make video games, because the answer to my troubles were always within grasp. With a little patience and the willingness to approach things from a different angle, I was always able to overcome challenges. Ridley was a classic Metroid boss fight. My first attempt, he demolished me. How could I beat him? Should I look up a guide? After my second try, he still beat me, but I could see his patterns. I crushed him on the third try. I love Metroid Prime Remastered and I really hope they give the same treatment to Prime 2 and 3. Also, that Phazon Suit? Sexyyyyyy.

PowerWash Simulator

My time with PowerWash Simulator was brief but intense. I don’t know what it says about my brain, but pressure washing dirt and scum from every kind of surface, building, vehicle, and structure was supremely satisfying. I don’t really even know what to say about this game that’s not obvious. You have a pressure washer with several attachments that control the strength and size of your jet, and you use it to clean vehicles, buildings, carnival rides, ancient ruins, and more. The game is forgiving in the sense that you don’t need to blast away every single molecule of dirt on a segment of whatever you’re washing. If you get around 97%, it’ll auto-complete for you, which takes away a lot of the pressure (badum-csh) that you might get stuck because you can’t find what tiny patch you’re missing.

I played this game obsessively over the course of a couple of weeks, sometimes listening to podcasts while I worked. It felt oddly productive. Like, obviously I’m playing a game, but after I completed a particularly big, complicated job, I felt seriously accomplished. The very loose and silly story was charming, and there were a couple of very fun surprises throughout. I put the game aside after I finished the campaign, but I’ll definitely be picking it back up at some point to run through the Tomb Raider and Final Fantasy VII content, and I hope Square keeps adding more levels from their IP catalog. Chrono Trigger sets, anyone?

God of War Ragnarök

God of War Ragnarök will always hold a special place in my heart because it’s the first first-party game we shipped during my time with PlayStation. I didn’t write for the game itself, just some support stuff, but seeing one of my fellow copywriter’s name in the credits was so exciting. And what a first game to be even loosely associated with. I loved God of War 2018, and I think Ragnarök surpassed it in every way. While it is a cross-gen game and doesn’t take full advantage of the PS5 hardware, it’s still gorgeous. Its beauty isn’t just about the fidelity of its graphics, though. It has exceptional character and level design, with obvious care and thought put into the smallest of details. A word of caution: visual spoilers in the pictures below.

The story and writing were also top-notch. I really don’t want to spoil anything, but I will say that they put a lot of work into each and every major character. Every line lands, and there are some really moving and breathtaking scenes. An excursion with Brock to retrieve a weapon (he said vaguely) was probably my favorite. A favorite side quest involved a couple of beautiful, glowing jellyfish-like creatures. I also love how they developed relationships between characters. Again, it’s hard to say much without spoiling anything, but the way that Kratos and Atreus’s storyline wraps up was better than I could have guessed. I’m so excited to see what the future holds for these characters.

The combat, new and old, was awesome, and [slight combat spoiler, if you haven’t already heard] I absolutely loved the spear combat. I liked the axe and blade combat from the first game a lot and, admittedly, I questioned whether a new weapon could match the simple yet rich potential of those two. It did – so much so that it quickly became my primary weapon. I also, once again, enjoyed the added complexity of using Atreus in combat to stun, distract, or damage enemies. Some random notes: the first fight with Thor was amazing. I love Fenrir. So much. I was excited to see Deborah Ann Woll, because I like her a lot. Freya is a baddie and can get it. Sif is a baddie who can get it. Sexy Valkyries are back, babyyyyyy. And the game was surprisingly funny, even more so than its predecessor. I have many more thoughts, but it’s hard to dive too deep without giving anything away. Suffice to say, I loved my time with God of War Ragnarök and it deserves all the praise it’s gotten.

Need for Speed Unbound

I wouldn’t call myself “a racing game person.” I don’t buy every big racing game, I don’t have a racing wheel, and I can be really picky when it comes to sim vs arcade racers. And yet some of my favorite games of all time are racing games. I’ve spent countless hours chucking shells in the Mario Kart games, I nearly hundred percented the first two Midnight Club games, loved knocking heads in Road Rash, and Burnout Paradise was one of my favorite games of all time. It’s been a while since I’ve played a great arcade racer, and since Need for Speed Unbound was getting some hype, I decided to check it out. I was worried that it might be another Forza Horizon experience, though, where people say it’s arcade-y but it ends up being more realistic. As is often the case, I worried for nothing. Before I knew it, I was sliding around corners, breaking dramatically through billboards, and taking down competitors with style.

It made me realize that one of the very specific things I look for in a racing game is controllable power slides. If I can’t slide recklessly around a curve, recover, and get right back in the race? Not for me. NFS Unbound definitely requires skill and focus, but it controls loosely enough to make races feel just the right amount of ridiculous. I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that I had played many, many hours before having a sudden realization: this game reminds me of Burnout Paradise! From the basic design of the open world, to starting events, to breaking billboards, it’s all so similar. Weirdly enough, it was a very subtle thing that made it click: the way the camera swings around behind your car after completing an event. I was amazed… and then I looked it up and, uh, yeah, it’s the same developers. So… duh.

I also got very into making a rad wrap for my cars. When I first looked at the customization options, I wasn’t feeling it. I thought “eh, I don’t want to ruin my perfectly beautiful paint job.” I kept scrolling through the decals. “Oh, well… that one is pretty cool. Maybe just one decal.” Scrolled more. “Ooh, dang. Alright, maybe just two.” Two hours later and my car was completely wrapped. Tweaking my design and unlocking new decals via street art was fun. Tweaking my car’s performance and unlocking new parts was also very rewarding. My only real complaint is that the difficulty is not balanced very well. Between impossibly fast AI who will zoom past you with inferior cars to cops that conveniently t-bone you out of nowhere, it really felt like the game was working against me in unfair ways at times. In the end, though, I had an excellent time with Unbound. Even after finishing the campaign, I couldn’t get enough and drove around grabbing collectibles, cleaning up optional events, and popping a few final trophies.


I loved my PS VR, so I was thrilled when a follow-up was announced, especially because the specs for it were so impressive. I always said I would take power over portability, so I didn’t mind the fact that it would be wired, since that just meant it wouldn’t be hampered by mobile processors and would take advantage of the PS5 hardware. Well, I got one at launch and it’s fully lived up to my expectations so. Granted, I haven’t had it for long, but it has everything I wanted in a new VR unit: 4K (2K per eye) OLED displays, better tracking, headset see-through, controllers designed for VR, and it even has a couple of features I didn’t know I wanted (haptic headset feedback and eye tracking). It’s not the Ready Player One leap that VR skeptics seem to be waiting for, but it smooths out many of the last-gen rough edges and I’m just hyped for the library to grow. I do wish there was a media player on PS5 that supported VR, but maybe that’ll come later.

In terms of games, I bought a handful but haven’t played all of them yet. I got Before Your Eyes, Gran Turismo 7 upgrade, and Star Wars: Tales from the Galaxy’s Edge, which I haven’t played yet. I played through the campaign for Tetris Effect Connected, but there’s not much to update there since I also played the original. Same with the few rounds of Pistol Whip that I tried. I played through the tutorial for Resident Evil Village VR, and while the game looks beautiful and the gunplay is surprisingly fun, it’s also the only game I’ve played so far that’s made me feel a little of the ol’ familiar VR sickness. I did play through the opening levels of What the Bat?, which were pretty fun.

Horizon Call of the Mountain

Again, I haven’t beat this game yet, but I’m a couple hours in and it’s great so far. It’s beautiful, the climbing is intuitive, the bow combat is precise and fun, and there are several fun little VR activities (like painting) to show off the medium’s potential. I love the Horizon games, so while I’ve been disappointed with the relative lack of Aloy, I am happy to just have an opportunity to explore the vibrant, colorful world. I’ll do a more thorough VR game post at some point, but for now I have to take another multi-month blog writing break. Just kidding! I think. I hope. No, seriously.

A Summer of Reflection

Welp, between finishing up a summer semester, spinning up two fall courses, keeping up with the podcast, and, well, life, I haven’t had as much time to write here. That little voice has been nagging at me, though. “Why haven’t you posted?” “If you wait too long, there will be too much to catch up on.” “You are a worthless human being.” “Remember that time in third grade when you were in library class and everyone was lined up against the walls for an activity and you felt sick but the library teacher wouldn’t let you go to the bathroom so you threw up in front of everyone and then the teacher yelled at you to go to the bathroom so you ran out of the room and were puking as you ran down the hallway, legs spread wide to avoid the vomit?” Okay, voice, I get it, I’ll write an update post.

The truth is, I’ve been replaying some not-so-old favorites, so I haven’t exactly felt the same kind of pull to document my thoughts. When I play a new game, I like to write about it to sort through and preserve my initial feelings about it. That was the primary reason for starting this blog, after all. Much of this summer has been spent with familiar friends. I replayed the entire trilogy in Mass Effect Legendary Edition, Final Fantasy VII Remake, I got the platinum trophy for Arcade Spirits and Doki Doki Literature Club Plus!, and I’m currently playing the new Quake remaster and Persona 5 Royal. Yes, again. Get off my case. I have played some new games, like Microsoft Flight Simulator and Mario Golf: Super Rush, but I’ve mostly felt empowered for the first time in a long time to go back and replay older games this summer. It probably sounds silly, to some extent. I can do what I want with my time and I’m not required to keep up with the latest releases due to my job, so what’s the big deal about replaying old games? Well, for me, it’s our old, dear friend: anxiety.

Everyone’s anxiety manifests itself in different ways, and it’s only been in these last couple of years that I’ve come to know my own. One of my manifestations is the need to move forward, always. I think grad school is partly to blame for this, with its insistence that you are always working, studying, being “productive.” Internally, I’d look at all the things I haven’t done and feel ill. How many books should I read to be considered an expert on something? How many movies have I not yet seen? How many video games? Checklists of things formed in my subconscious. If I checked a box, meaning I read, watched, or played something new, I felt a sense of accomplishment. I was making progress. I was growing, learning, being some form of “productive.” Conversely, the thought of revisiting something made me feel anxious. I would have an urge to rewatch a favorite movie and immediately squash it. It felt wasteful when there were so many movies I hadn’t seen yet. The same for games, so for the first time in a long time I was actually keeping up with new releases, not out of a desire to be “in the conversation,” but to check those sweet, sweet, internal boxes.

Something changed this summer, though, and it makes me hopeful that all of the work I’ve put into addressing my issues with anxiety is paying off. When Mass Effect Legendary Edition was announced, I was as excited as anyone. But I worried that I would buy it at release, then just not touch it for months. When my friends said that they, too, were planning on playing it at launch, I had more of a reason to force myself to play it. I was happily surprised, then, that I felt no stress or anxiety when I booted it up. Just the rosy glow of nostalgia. Playing through the recently released Final Fantasy VII Remake Intergrade should have been even more likely to cause me stress, because I just played through that game last year. Nope. I played through the story again, plus the new content, and I never felt rushed or guilty. And so the summer went. I feel ready for the new flood of games coming this fall, but I’m glad I spent my summer revisiting old favorites. I don’t have time to write about my time with these games in-depth, but here are some “brief” little tidbits.

Microsoft Flight Simulator

I finally have a game for my Xbox Series X! When I saw the trailer for this game at E3 2019, I was so excited by the idea of being able to fly anywhere in the world, which is rendered in its entirety using Microsoft’s Bing Maps and Azure AI. That idea, that I could fly over places both foreign and familiar, was too cool to pass up. I didn’t have a PC that could handle it, but when it was announced for the Xbox Series X, I knew I had to have it. And I do. And it’s great. Well, the tutorial could use some work. They walk you through a series of simple tasks to familiarize you with flight controls, navigation, takeoff and landing, and more. But this is a complex game, and they sometimes just leave steps out. So I would be in the middle of a tutorial, following every step they walked me through, then a prompt would pop up like “flip the clapback switch before throwing it back” and I’m like “uh, the what switch? Did we cover that? Where is it?” I eventually got the basics down, enough to fly pretty well with some of the game’s assists on.

And that’s how I like to play the game. I tried flying without any assists and almost immediately got an alarm about mixed fuel, which we never covered in the tutorial. I was like nope, no thanks, I’m okay with using assists. That first flight was exhilarating, though. I wasn’t sure how I’d fare on my own for the first time, so I charted a flight path that departed from and returned to an airport in eastern Australia. I took off, cruised north along the coast, looked out at the beautiful city and scenery, and returned for landing. It was a simple thing, but also thrilling. It reminded me of the first time I flew in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. It was the first big, open-world game I’d played where you could find a plane, hop in, take off, and land somewhere else, all with no loading screens. I found a crop duster, got up to speed on a dirt airstrip, and took off. The plane wobbled so much and I was sure I’d crash it, but I got it under control, flew to a nearby beach, and landed safely. There is something about that experience that really hits me. It somehow feels more “real” than so many other video game experiences. It did then, and it does now, in Microsoft Flight Simulator.

I’ve logged a little over 100 hours so far, mostly spent visiting places I’ve lived or places I want to go. I took off from Maxwell Air Force Base, where I was stationed for most of my time in the Air Force, I visited Chicago and looked for my first high school, flew over the places I’d visited on my road trip to the West Coast, skimmed the naval base in Bahrain, and more. My second flight was from a grass field less than two miles from my house to a small airport in Storm Lake, Iowa, where my friend just moved to. The buildings, roads, and other land features aren’t perfectly rendered, but they’re mostly recognizable. I could very easily make out the buildings I worked in at Maxwell AFB but my house and the courthouse I currently live behind are virtually non-existent, for example. Still, I am really digging the ability to visit places like Japan, England, Africa, and more, especially because I have no idea when I’ll get to do so in reality. I look forward to many more hours in the sky with this one.

Mario Golf: Super Rush

I was so excited for Mario Golf: Super Rush. Like Microsoft Flight Simulator, I was surprised by how hyped I was when it was announced earlier this year. It had been a while since I’d played a Mario Golf game, and I recently got back into Everybody’s Golf, which is so much fun. Ultimately, I’m pretty disappointed by it. To be fair, it’s not like I’ve played a ton of it yet. I’ve played through the tutorial, the first story match, and a few solo courses. I can see how this game might be fun with friends, but it’s not super satisfying to play solo (yet, anyway). My biggest complaint is how the game feels, which is subjective, of course. After having played so much of Everybody’s Golf, which has the exact perfect mix or realism and silly, cartoon fantasy for me, I don’t care for how intangible the ball and courses feel in Super Rush. When I hit a ball in EG, it looks, sounds, and feels like I hit a ball. The ball has depth and travels in a way that feels real. I look like a dopey, cartoon-y version of myself, and there is a big, silly mountain shaped like a man’s head in the far background, but the gameplay feels real enough to be satisfying.

When I hit a ball in Super Rush, it feels like I tapped a button and a flat, white dot is moving over a flat, colorful facsimile of a course. The ball doesn’t feel like it has weight or depth, so it ends up feeling like I’m playing one of those old school golf games on the NES or various handheld systems. I’m not looking for ultra realism here. I didn’t go into this expecting Tiger Woods: Mushroom Kingdom Edition. But when I look at how good the production values were for something like Mario Kart 8, I can’t help but want other Mario games to at least attempt that same level of polish and depth. I wanted a Mario Golf game with tons of fun characters and courses. The courses that I’ve played have mostly been uninspiring. The opening course in particular is dull and confusing. It’s supposed to be a beginner course, but why not have it be a Mushroom Kingdom course? And why are all the holes so tightly woven together? For the “Super Rush” mode? The Mario games have so, so many amazing levels that you could use for a golf game, but we see so little of that same inspired design here. I don’t mean to sound so negative, and I do still plan to continue giving this game a shot (maybe if I play with friends I’ll have a better time), but this was the first time I’d picked up my Switch in a while so the sting of disappointment was a little harsher than it might have been otherwise.


Speaking of disappointing, my friend Tab and I were very excited to attend the much-hyped Ariana Grande concert in Fortnite, but we walked away confused and a little underwhelmed. Neither of us would call ourselves Ariana Grande fans, but we’d heard so much hype about the Travis Scott Fortnite concert that we wanted to check out what seemed widely considered to be a true spectacle. It also gave me a chance to wear one of the [too many] awesome skins that I’ve bought over the last two years and have never touched. I chose my homegirl, Chun-Li.

The “concert” seemed like a recorded medley of music that played to pre-rendered/animated scenes with a large Ariana Grande moving through various colorful backgrounds. I guess I should have had my expectations in check, but I was expecting something like, oh I dunno, a concert? Not a music video. Still, the visuals were pretty cool and seeing a gigantic Ariana Grande stomping around was kind of fun. After a certain point, we were zapped back into the main map and weren’t sure if the concert was over. We were able to fly around and go through rings to collect points… but that was it. There was no indication of what was happening or whether or not the concert was over, and eventually we were just kicked from the server. It was a confusing and abrupt end to a dazzling but underwhelming “performance.” But, hey. I got to be Chun-Li and fly through a bunch of pink clouds and rainbows. I wouldn’t call it a complete waste of time.

Doki Doki Literature Club Plus!

I’ve written about Doki Doki Literature Club! in previous posts, and I’ll repeat what I’ve already said once again: If you haven’t played this game, it’s free on Steam so I encourage you to give it a shot. It defies expectations and challenges convention, so it’s best to go into it without any knowledge about the plot, themes, etc., which is why I’m always hesitant to talk about it in almost any capacity, regardless of overt spoilers. I will avoid those kinds of spoilers here, but if you have any shred of interest in a unique game that is made to surprise and provoke serious thought, don’t read anything else on it and just check it out.

Alright, preamble aside, I have not been shy about my love for this game, so when Dan Salvato tweeted that a deluxe, expanded edition of the game was coming to consoles, I pre-ordered a physical copy immediately. I paid for the pack of art and music that was released alongside the free Steam version of the core game back in the day, so I’ve already supported the dev team in that way, but this is the kind of game I want on my shelf. The cover art is beautiful, and I can’t wait to see the pack-in content (I played the digital version and am waiting for the physical edition to release). I won’t say much about the core game other than it was very fun to play through the game and get the platinum trophy in beautiful HD. The thing I want to comment on is some the new content that comes with this version of the game. The reveal announcement said there were “six side stories” that expand on each character’s personality and relationships more, but I think they undersold this content. What you get is more than “side stories” – you get a pretty thorough origin story for the club and every character. It’s hours of content, and it presents an expansive, substantial foundation for the core game. The core game still stand on its own just fine, but if you really want a full sense of these characters and the setting your character is walking into at the beginning of the core game, this added content is indispensable. I love this game even more now.

Final Fantasy VII Remake Intergrade

As with DDLC+!, I bought the PS5 version of Final Fantasy VII Remake Intergrade in part to play the new content, but also to experience a game I already love on my shinier, newer console. Playing through the core game with my old save file and stats was a breeze and allowed me to enjoy the story and enhanced graphics without having to worry about grinding or seeking out weapons/materia. I nabbed a few more trophies, like the one where you get Cloud, Tifa, and Aerith to each wear three different dresses during the Wall Market section of the game and the one where you defeat Bahamut and obtain his materia. Let me tell you, summoning a Bahamut later in the game, fighting some of the final bosses, was rad. And, of course, I spent more quality time with my number one FFVII bae, Jessie.

As for the new content, with Yuffie, I had a really good time with it. It wasn’t as impactful for me as the core game, of course, but I found the combo-based combat to be a lot easier and more enjoyable than I’d expected it to be. Yuffie was a very fun, cute, lovable character, and I thought her seemingly carefree attitude provided a ton of levity to the ending, which offered a look at the core game’s final moments from a different perspective. Somehow it felt even more heartbreaking from Yuffie’s point of view. I also liked some of the new characters introduced, the expanded look at characters from the core game, and I was very excited by the post-game scenes showing the main group from the core game leaving the city and traveling through the desert. It made the next installment feel so close, even if it is potentially still very far from release.

One Night Stand

One Night Stand is a short visual novel that puts you in the proverbial shoes of a man who has woken up in a stranger’s bed with no recollection of the night before. Through exploring the environment and talking to the bed’s owner, a young woman, you have to piece together the events of the previous evening and your relationship with this stranger. You can only choose to explore so many things each run (so, you might only get to investigate two of the eight or so items in her bedroom while she’s making you tea, then the story progresses), which means there are several paths through the game and multiple endings. These multiple paths aside, the main thing that distinguishes this game is its art style, which appears hand-drawn and rotoscoped. The game didn’t fully click with me, but I enjoyed it enough to play through all of the endings which didn’t take very long. There is some clever writing and a few funny bits, but I think the art style was, in part, why I didn’t get into it fully. Still, it was a pretty decent way to spend a few hours.

Arcade Spirits

I spent more than a few hours with the console release of Arcade Spirits, however. As with DDLC+!, I first played this game on PC and I loved the colorful cast of characters and fun retro game-themed storyline. It’s a silly, flirty game that doesn’t take itself too seriously, and it was much lengthier than I’d expected. So, of course, when it released on consoles at the beginning of the summer, I yoinked it right from the PlayStation Store and decided to get the platinum trophy for it. This meant a considerable amount of replaying, but it allowed me to explore relationships with everyone. While I have yet to play a dating sim (or game with dating sim elements, like the Persona games) that really and truly makes the dating/relationship more of a focus than the story, Arcade Spirits comes closer than most. In Persona 5, for example, your relationship with your chosen partner is a very, very minor plot point that’s only explored in a few short scenes. In AS, scenes with your partner are written with a seriousness that gives a lot of weight to your decisions, and they feel more substantial.

I’d like more, of course, but I appreciate how deeply they allow you to explore these characters, regardless. Without spoiling too much, there is a character that’s struggling with gender identity issues, and I’d never have known that without dating them. The game is a fun, relatively “light” romp, but it does touch on some interesting social issues like gender and sexuality. I love the art style and character design, though I do hope there are more options in terms of main character appearance in the sequel. I appreciate that they allow you to make a character to vaguely fit any gender, but it winds up making every MC looks similar and not very much like the player. If I can name the character after myself and make choices about how I look, I want a character that looks more or less like me, and that’s not possible in this first game. That small quibble aside, I was more than happy to play this game multiple times through and spend more time with the crew at Quarter Up (the name I gave my arcade). I can’t wait for Arcade Spirits: The New Challengers, coming next year!

Sakura Succubus

I picked this game up in a PSN sale which, I have to say, have gotten so much better over the years – they went from the occasional 30% off discount to regular 30-70%+ discounts of games of all types, much like Steam sales. I’m here for it. I’m also here for the kinds of cheap, pervy dating sims that are also, like a good flash sale, making their way from Steam to PlayStation and other consoles. Having said that, this game was just alright. It wasn’t especially pervy and the writing was pretty terrible. I give developers a lot of credit, because by all accounts making any game is a long, difficult process. But writers have long been excluded from game making because, in part, everyone thinks they can write. You just come up with ideas and write them out, right? Why pay someone else to do that for you? Because, as we’ve seen throughout most of video game history, writing interesting, funny, rich, sexy, cool, etc. characters and compelling stories is not easy.

And, yes, maybe the player isn’t drawn to a game like this because of the story or characters. Maybe they just want to do some puzzles or, as is the case here, see some anime tiddies. And that’s fine. But why make your game less than when it could be more? You can have both. You can satisfy the tiddie lovers and players who appreciate a decent, charming, playful story. The writing in this game is bad on a story and sentence level, and it made me wish I had the opportunity to write games. I am a defender of smut, and I won’t say I didn’t enjoy this game at all, but I guess I just wish people took even smut more seriously. When we give into the narrative that sex-related media is “just smut,” it keeps sex and sexuality in the shadows, something that we should be ashamed of. To this day, games with sex in them are often scrutinized more closely and criticized for being exploitative (which, granted, some are) and “pervy,” which even relatively reasonable people don’t want to associate with. And, yes, that’s their problem, to some extent, but I guess I just want sex to continue to be destigmatized, and I think one way we can do that is by treating it as more than just something to pump out (pun not intended) for people to use to pump out (there it is) to. That’s not even a real phrase but it felt right. How did I get up on this soapbox for a dumb game about anime tiddies? Sorry! I’ll move along.

Quake Remastered

I haven’t played much of the newly released remaster of Quake on the PS5, but one of the first things I found in the game was the nail gun and a box of nails. Right there, in front of my eyes, was the Nine Inch Nails logo. I was more excited than I should have been, and a wave of nostalgia flowed through me. You see, my friend Ron and I are big NIN fans, and back in the day we went on a wild goose chase for a copy of Quake 64 because we’d read that NIN had not only done the game’s soundtrack, their logo also appeared on the nail gun weapon and its ammo boxes. This was sometime between the release of Quake II for the N64 and Quake III, I think. Neither of us had a PC capable of running Quake, so we set out on a number of mall and game store adventures over the course of days or maybe weeks (I can’t quite remember and time is a funny, mysterious thing now). We finally found a used copy of it and were so excited to rush home and hear those sweet, dark tunes and see the clever nod to the band logo.

We raced home, popped it in the N64, and… were not completely blown away by the music. Maybe it’s the N64’s poor sound quality, we thought. Or maybe Trent Reznor just kind of phoned it in? Then we found the nail gun and there was no NIN logo. M-maybe it’s just on the ammo boxes, we reasoned, starting to lose hope. We found an ammo box and there was no logo. We were kind of crushed. It was, as Ron pointed out on a recent podcast episode where we talk about popular music in games, our first encounter with the complicated mess that licensing things like music across multiple platforms can be. I still enjoyed what we played of Quake 64 then, and I went on to love Quake II and Quake III Arena, but I never went back and played the PC version of the game. That’s why, on entering a secret area and gazing upon the NIN-branded box of nails for my trusty nail gun in this PS5 version, I smiled and remembered the fun but ultimately disappointing adventure Ron and I shared. I’ve only played a few levels so far, but the gunplay is simple, smooth and fast, much like…

Back 4 Blood (Beta)

…the gunplay in the Back 4 Blood demo, which I played a ton of with Ron and Tab over these last few weeks. Okay, so it’s a different kind of “simple” than an old school FPS game, but I was pleasantly surprised by how unobtrusive the card system I’d heard so much about was. When I heard that this game was a spiritual successor to Left 4 Dead, made by the actual dev team, I was very excited. When I read that it had a card system, my excitement was immediately buffered by caution. Card systems just aren’t my thing, so I worried that this new system would interfere with the fast-paced, frenetic gameplay I loved in the original games. My worries were pretty much unfounded. If you want to play this game and never worry about the cards, you can. The cards add bonuses, but their implementation can be as simple or complex as you want it to be. You can ignore them and just play, you can just pick cards that have obviously attractive perks (like +5 health or 20% ammo capacity), or you can go through and build a deck with a specific role in mind and coordinate with teammates to fit different play styles. You can build a deck that puts healing perks early so you can be the team healer, you can make a different deck that prioritizes ammo and support perks so you can play backup for a healer and heavy hitters, etc. Or you can all just build whatever decks fit your playstyle and not worry about roles. I found it more than unobtrusive – it turned out to be pretty cool.

We played through the available campaign act several times, and other than a few small complaints (AI is dumb and kind of glitchy, the shared currency system could be better explained, etc.), I had a blast. The zombie (I’m sorry, “Ridden” *massive eye roll emoji*) hordes aren’t quite as massive and intense as those I remember in L4D, and some of the special zombies aren’t quite as memorable, but the gameplay remains just as satisfying as it was in the previous games. Fighting our way through crowds of undead to find ourselves in a house where we know we’re going to draw a horde, setting traps and strategizing the best way to account for the many directions they might pour in, and then losing our shit when it all starts to fall apart… classic. I can’t wait to play more in October.

Persona 5 Royal

I mean, if you’ve kept up with my blog in any way, you might be sick of hearing about Persona 5. I loved that game and the many Persona games I played after it so, so much, and I’ve made no secret of that. I beat the original P5 three times, and though I only beat Royal once, I did get the platinum trophy for it. So why revisit such a massive, time-consuming game? Well, part of it has to do with the preamble for this post – I had played several of these old, favorite games over the summer so I felt like I could actually play through P5R without the kind of guilt and anxiety that would normally come with replaying a huge game like this. So, you might call it a test. A test that I passed, I would say, because I just maxed my characters out at level 99 and am about to enter the endgame for the base game’s story, and I’ve enjoyed every second.

The only difference with this playthrough is that I’m romancing Makoto. I’ve dated Ann, Kawakami, Futaba, and Kasumi, so Makoto was next on my list. I did realize at one point that I’m going through a whole heck of a lot just to date one character, but I don’t mind it. I love this game. I did make a save before my first opportunity to romance a character, though, and am planning on a run in the future where I romance everyone. I know I’ll get yelled for it later in the game, but I don’t know that I’ll have time to play through the game five more times to individually romance the remaining ladies. Anyway, I’ll shut up about this game (for now) because I’ve yapped on and on about it elsewhere, but I’m once again very happy to be spending time in Tokyo with all of my fictional, virtual friends.

Mass Effect Legendary Edition

I will also keep my discussion of Mass Effect Legendary Edition short, because I recorded a four and a half hour podcast episode about it with my friend Paul. Four and a half hours, I said! It was a beast of an episode, but we walked through each game and talked about ways in which this experience was different than our first playthrough of the trilogy (at launch), who we romanced, favorite characters, the DLC, and much, much more. To be honest, I’m a bit ME-chatted out for now, but aside from linking you to the episode in case you want to hear me and Paul blather on for hours about it, I will share just a few thoughts and more than a few screenshots.

Let’s start with the biggie: romance. Tali is my girl, and in my first playthrough of the trilogy I pursued her without hesitation. I’m sure I’ll write a Gaming Crushes post on her at some point, so I won’t go into all the reasons I think she’s great here, but I will say I was so sad in the first game when she wasn’t a romance option. So, I went with the only other real choice in that game: Liara. I did the same in my Legendary Edition playthrough, because I still couldn’t bring myself to date the openly xenophobic space racist, Ashley. I wanted to change things up this time through, but I couldn’t bring myself to not date Tali in Mass Effect 2. I was a bit of a slut, though. Before I dated Tali, I hooked up with both Kelly Chambers and Liara, because you can do so without entering a relationship with them. I don’t find anything wrong with that, though, so if you try and slut shame me I will quickly remind you that I am a cool dude who is currently talking about sleeping with fake women. Take that.

The third game is where things get interesting, though. I slightly regretted not shaking things up and dating someone new in ME2, so I was determined to find a new bae in ME3. I began, as always, strengthening my relationships with everyone and flirting here and there, when I was interested in someone. Who might I go for this time? Miranda really redeemed herself and went through a transformation of character and conscience between ME2 and ME3, so maybe her? Kasumi is amazing and I loved her right away, due in no small part to having not played her DLC back when I first played ME2. Diana Allers was modelled on and voice by the very attractive Jessica Chobot, so maybe her? Or my old fling Kelly? As it turns out, many of those options (and more) were locked out for me. I’d forgotten that you couldn’t romance characters from ME2 in 3 unless you’d also romanced them in the previous game. I was able to hook up with Diana, but it wasn’t a serious romance. So my options, near the end of the game, were limited. Look, I dated the space racist, okay? Don’t judge me! I’d heard that she improves after the first game, and… well, that’s technically true, I guess, because she’s no longer overtly racist. But she never has a moment where she’s like “man, I was an idiot back in the day, aliens are actually pretty cool,” so I ended up feeling like I was trapped in a loveless relationship of my own design. She would embrace me and playfully slap my chest armor, saying some flirty thing, and I would just stare soullessly into the distance, wondering what might have been if I’d just dated Miranda from the start in ME2. Sigh.

Anyway, I did really enjoy some of the DLC that I didn’t partake in back in the day. The Leviathan DLC was amazing. I loved the image of the huge, Reaper-like Leviathans rising from the deep. I was disappointed that we didn’t see them show up later, smashing headlong into Reaper ships, but they were cool nonetheless. I did, however, literally shout in glee seeing the scene where the thresher maw queen took down the Reaper. I’d forgotten about that scene, but it was one of my favorites in this playthrough. Anytime you turn a long-hated and strong enemy against a new and stronger enemy is gold to me. I also loved the Citadel DLC, and having the opportunity to party with all of my space besties before what would potentially be a true suicide mission was amazing. The writing in much of the DLC was also superb. Lastly, and briefly, I’ll just say that I did feel differently about the ending of ME3 this time around. I had felt resigned to no more Mass Effect games when 3 first dropped, so although the definitiveness of the ending made me sad, I accepted it with little trouble. This time, knowing what was to come with Andromeda and the upcoming ME game trailer, I was a little more irked by how rushed it felt. I chose the Synthesis ending back in the day, because it felt like it was the “right” ending, but I didn’t like that every being would lose its individuality. I chose the “good” Destruction ending this time, because it was the only ending where Earth, the Normandy, and (most importantly) Shepard survive. I felt very close to my character and friends this time (probably from playing the games back-to-back), so I really wanted the ending where the most people survived. But I sacrificed EDI (my love, who I would have 100% romanced if I could have), Legion, and all of the Geth who I’d fought so hard to save from a war with the Quarians. Ugh. It was very annoying.

So, ultimately, I had a wonderful time revisiting these games, and if you’d like to hear me get into far more detail, check out the podcast episode linked above. We get really, really in the weeds, and I still feel like we could have said much, much more. I’ll try and be better about writing more frequently, but I am currently working on my dissertation, too, which is going to take up massive amounts of time in the coming months. So, until next time, here’s more Mass Effect Legendary Edition screenshots.

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 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?

End of Summer Snippets

Well, the nights are getting cooler, the days are getting shorter, and I can already smell the scent of pumpkin spice on the veritable breeze that is social media bandwagoning. I love summer and will be sad to see it go, but I am trying to look forward to the nice things about fall. The beautiful autumnal leaves, the opportunity to make various chilies and stews, and I will, of course, once again embrace the spooky majesty that is Halloween by attempting to watch a horror movie every day in October and playing various scary games (I just picked up the Castlevania Anniversary Collection on PS4, as a matter of fact). I’m getting ahead of myself, though, as this blog is a look back, not forward. I’ve spent a ton of time with some big games this year, like Yakuza 0, Persona 5 Royal, and Final Fantasy VII Remake, so with this last month I’ve mostly been poking around and dabbling with shorter games. As has become habit, I wanted to share my thoughts on what I’ve been playing before the list grows longer than I can manage. Some [SPOILERS] throughout, if you care.

Secret Little Haven

I’ve professed my love for the Emily is Away games, and apparently I have a thing for throwback Internet/instant messenger games because I found this game to scratch that same nostalgic itch. The narrative unfolds through instant messenger chats, like the Emily games, but unlike those games Secret Little Haven is more firmly rooted in what seems to me to be the memoir genre. Both games’ developers would, I imagine, point to real life experiences from their past as influences for their games, but while the Emily games center on a more ‘universal’ experience of online flirting/romance, Haven is more narrow, centered on a young trans girl exploring identity through pop culture and finding community in online spaces. So, while I enjoyed the game on a subjective level, I also think it’s an important and interesting game to look at when considering games as a unique medium for memoir or just a rare example of a trans narrative in games. Also, the protagonist finds personal inspiration in a character from what appears to be a fictional version of Sailor Moon, which made me want to see/hear/read/play more stories of people discovering important aspects of their personalities through pop culture characters. I feel like that’s something that’s downplayed or thought of as ‘childish,’ but I have to imagine it’s more common than people let on.

Hatoful Boyfriend

This game started out as a joke Flash game, and it doesn’t seem to have evolved much beyond that. That’s not really a harsh criticism, because I don’t think the game was ever meant to be some deep, highly polished masterpiece, but it’s hard to avoid commentary on its bare-bones presentation. It was very weird and did show some cleverness in its awareness of the tropes in the visual novel genre, though. I only played through one ending and chose to pursue Nageki, the melancholy mourning dove.

Arcade Spirits

This game tapped directly into a very nerdy vein for me. I mean, it’s a dating sim about gaming. Uh, yes, please. The writing and characters were very charming and the story was far more involved and lengthy than I’d expected. I did wish there were more in the way of illustrations/animations (particularly in terms of player character design), but as an indie game I don’t exactly hold it against the devs. The writing was the highlight, anyway. Still, I loved these characters and this world so I would kill for Dream Daddy levels of art production. It was hard to ultimately determine how much impact on the story my choices had, but I was so invested in the world that I found naming our big public event (Funplex Alpha 3) and eventual independent arcade (Quarter Up Arcade) so much fun. I chose to date Naomi and she was a no-brainer for me. A smart, capable, nerdy girl in glasses who is passionate about video games? *swoon* It says on the official site that they’re working on a sequel, called Arcade Spirits: The New Challengers, and though I don’t expect it’ll be out anytime soon, I am already hyped for it.

NBA 2K20

As was the case with NBA 2K16, I got this game free through PSN, but this time around the story mode didn’t hook me as deep. I played through a few games, cutscenes, and minigames, but ultimately I didn’t love the feel of the gameplay. I’m happy to have it and might return to it to mess around with some friends eventually, but I wasn’t altogether too impressed with this entry in the series.

Rage 2

Speaking of not being too impressed, I also started Rage 2 recently and, well, you’ll be surprised to read that I was… not too impressed. Granted, I’m not terribly far in the game, but so far the only thing bringing me back is that sweet, sweet id gunplay. I have such fond memories of some of the older Quake games that this old-school-esque gameplay feels comfortable and cozy. Unfortunately, many of the other gameplay elements, like level design and animations, also feel dated, but in a negative way. When they showed the trailer at E3 a couple/few years back, some people complained that it looked too similar to Borderlands. At the time, I thought it was premature to make that claim and figured there is room for various takes on a neon-tinged post-apocalyptic Mad Max-style open world. And maybe there is, but Rage 2 ended up being way too similar to Borderlands for my liking, and it makes any weaknesses that much more glaring because there is a critically acclaimed series to make direct comparisons with. I’ll keep playing because the gameplay is fun, but I’ll probably move on before finishing the story.


I beat GRIS in a single sitting and it is just such a simple and beautiful game. It would make an excellent game to play with a class and discuss game design. It takes advantage of universal platforming knowledge and only complicates it beyond that in the slightest. The mechanics are minimal, which frees the player to just take in the gorgeous art that makes up the world. One of things that impressed me the most was how singular the world seemed to be. It didn’t seem like a series of screens with individual elements that had been placed here and there to make environments. It seemed like one gigantic canvas, each element drawn as a part of the whole, and you are a small blip that is just moving along as the camera sometimes slowly zooms in or out to reveal just how interconnected everything is. It’s hard to explain. I guess I might say that most platformers (because the individual platforms/assets are obviously separated from the background) seem like a series of ‘screens’ or small paintings, whereas this game seems like one gargantuan painting that you are navigating slowly but surely. Either way, what a moving story told almost exclusively with visuals. I think the only word in the entire game is “HOLD.”

The Last of Us Part II

I swear I usually finish games. Like, it’s a thing. I don’t like starting something if I have no intention of finishing it. I have finished some games that I really, really did not like. And yet this is the third game thus far that I have given up on. I do plan on going back to it, eventually, but I just didn’t feel like I was in the right emotional space for it at the time. I played for maybe 6-8 hours, and I liked what I played enough. It is, as you have probably heard/seen, a beautiful game. The subtleties and nuance in the acting performances were most impressive to me, and I look forward to seeing how the story plays out, but some of the implications about where the characters are going to be led were a bit heavy for me at this time. So maybe I’ll write a separate blog sometime down the line, when I finish it.

Ghost of Tsushima

I saved this one for last because, well, like literally every other person who’s played this game, I have a bunch of pictures that I am going to force upon you. I was so pleasantly surprised by Ghost of Tsushima. I thought the E3 trailer from last year looked pretty cool but it didn’t seem like my kind of game. I suppose because everyone seemed to assume it would play like a Souls game. I preordered it after a more recent gameplay trailer, because the open world looked beautiful and fun to navigate. It was, but the combat honestly ended up being my favorite thing about this game and kept me coming back. I wandered deep into a harder section of the map almost immediately, so I had virtually no skills to survive one particularly neverending group of enemies that kept killing me over and over again. Out of sheer stubbornness, I kept trying to best them, though, convinced I could pull it off. I could not, it turns out, but that practice against so many difficult foes made me very good at dodging and parrying early on, so once I started gaining abilities and stances, I felt unstoppable.

Before playing I was convinced I would choose the stealthy approach. Years of Assassin’s Creed and Metal Gear Solid games have prepared me for the art of the sneaky sneak. But, no. I enjoyed combat so much in Ghost that I would actively seek out large groups of enemies at every turn, to engage in the fast dance that was slicing my way through their ranks one parry at a time. Did I get myself into trouble and die? Sure, a few times. But more often I would stroll up to a camp of two or three dozen Mongols, as brazen as can be, and walk away soaked in the blood of my enemies mere minutes later. It was such a visceral thrill. Aside from that, yes, the game was gorgeous and I loved taking a million pictures in photo mode. I also liked the story and characters quite a bit and, as a fan of Ubisoft’s open-world games, I loved traveling around the world and writing haiku, chopping bamboo, collecting sword kits, and more. In a year with Persona 5 Royal and Final Fantasy VII Remake I don’t think this is my game of the year thus far, but it’s close.

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