Chrono Cross: The Radical Dreamers Edition

I’m sure I’ve brought up Chrono Trigger before. It is my favorite game of all time, after all. It’s an objectively great game, but it’s also very important to me on a personal level. I played it at a turning point in my life. I got it for my 15th birthday – my first after my parents had gotten a divorce and just as I was preparing to leave my middle school friends to start anew at a huge, intimidating high school. Not only did it distract me during those tumultuous times, it also fundamentally changed my relationship with video games and my identity on the whole. If I had to mark a specific time when I went from a kid who played games to a “Gamer,” it was just then. I’d loved games since I was a small child, but it never felt like much more than a fun distraction. My intense love for Chrono Trigger made me realize how deep my love for the hobby ran.

I could probably literally go on until the End of Time (eh? eh? get it?) about Chrono Trigger but suffice it to say I was beyond excited when Square announced a sequel would be coming to the PlayStation, which I had only recently acquired. Chrono Cross was released in 1999 in Japan, just four years after Chrono Trigger. Looking at the two games, that seems wild. It also seems wild to me because I am old now and four years seems like such a short period of time, whereas when I was 15 it seemed like a lifetime to wait for a sequel to the best game of all time. The game wouldn’t release until 2000 in the US, which made the wait that much more excruciating. I avoid prerelease hype for the most part now, but back then I devoured any scrap of info or media that I could find about this mysterious new sequel. I had only recently gotten the internet (insert old man emoji here), but I scoured sites like IGN and Gamespot for any rumor or news, and any gaming magazine that even mentioned it was an instant buy. The strategy guide, published by BradyGAMES, was released almost a week before the game and I snapped it up and tried my best to avoid flipping through it and ruining any surprises that were in store.

My original encounter with Chrono Cross was not quite as magical as my experience with Chrono Trigger was, which seems like a pretty common experience among Chrono fans. [Plenty of spoilers ahead.] Don’t get me wrong, I loved the game, and it was one of my favorite RPGs, but (like many) I was undeniably disappointed that the story wasn’t a direct continuation of the previous game. I wanted to know what my favorite characters were up to after Lavos was defeated. Did Crono still have all of those cats? What did Marle’s eventual reign look like? Where did Magus go? It felt, at the time, like Chrono Cross purposely neglected any and all questions of the sort. There were nods to the first game, but this felt like its own thing, and that was something of a letdown, if I was being honest. Even the major inclusion of Schala, one of my favorite characters from Chrono Trigger, seemed somewhat tenuous, at best. I loved Schala so much that I called the Nintendo Tip Line for the first time ever and asked if there was some way to save her from her fate in the Ocean Palace. I awkwardly, nervously lied and said, “I heard somewhere that there was a way to prevent her from dying so I, uh, just wanted to check.” The Game Counselor™ was like “uh… yeah, I don’t think so.”

I tried! Believe me! I tried. 😦

So, when I found out that Kid, one of the central characters in Chrono Cross, was Schala’s clone, and that you were fighting to free the real Schala from the Time Devourer, I had mixed feelings. That young Joey that called Nintendo to try and find out if Schala could be saved should have been thrilled! But this Schala, or her clone, didn’t seem like the character I knew and loved from Chrono Trigger. She was the opposite, in fact. Instead of being quiet, reflective, concerned, selfless, and sporting flowing purple hair and royal robes, she is spunky, brash, reckless, determined, loud, and wearing sporty clothing with a blonde ponytail. Look, I really like Kid as a character, but she is more like a mix of Ayla and Marle than anything remotely close to Schala. This is just one example of the ways the game changed or kind of glossed over familiar elements from Chrono Trigger, making it feel more like a game inspired by CT and not a sequel. Again, I enjoyed my time with it and even got all the endings and characters, but I don’t know that it hit me as hard as I was hoping it would.

Enter the long-awaited Chrono Cross: The Radical Dreamers Edition. Like many Chrono fans, I’d had my fingers crossed for years that this would come out. While I love Chrono Trigger and would love some kind of remaster (Pixel Remaster, pls) or reissue, I’ve played that game on the SNES, PlayStation, Nintendo DS, Steam, and iOS, while Chrono Cross hasn’t been offered the same kind of multi-platform accessibility. Plus, it’s a 3D PS1 RPG, which requires a bit more polish to make it run and look good on contemporary hardware, whereas the 2D sprites of Chrono Trigger are pretty timeless. I was eager to try Cross again, not just because it would be slightly prettier and more accessible (and I could get trophies for it, heh), but because I’d hoped that with time many of my conflicted feelings about the game would situate themselves. I was worried, though. What if I didn’t like it this time? What if years of newer and more streamlined RPGs had spoiled me and Chrono Cross felt stiff and hard to navigate? I’d tried to play the Final Fantasy VIII remaster and quit shortly into it because of these reasons, so what if that happened again with one of my favorite RPGs of all time?

It did not, dear reader. After beating this edition of Chrono Cross five times, getting all the characters and endings, and snagging the platinum trophy on PS5, I can say that I have a much deeper appreciation for the core game now. It’s not perfect, but it was wildly ambitious, and I think it achieved much of what it tried to. For example, when I first entered combat and saw the multi-attack/hit percentage system, I was like “oh no.” I’d forgotten about this little wrinkle to the combat system, and even now I’m not a fan of the misleading percentages. But I think the system itself works. Having to think about whether I should swing big and go for a critical strike at the cost of possibly whiffing, or use lighter, more guaranteed strikes to build up my stamina for a big magic attack, made combat feel dynamic and active, which I liked. The magic system, where each character had an affinity, but you could slot most magic attacks into anyone’s inventory was perhaps needlessly cumbersome (I still wish there was an easier way to save builds, rather than manually slotting them in over and over whenever you switch characters, or using the crappy autofill option), but I also appreciated that it allowed for seemingly infinite unique builds of your enormous roster of teammates. Yes, I relied on the same handful of spells for most of my runs, but with every new playthrough I thought about new and interesting builds I could do if I was more adventurous.

I was also worried about how janky and jaggy it might look, and although it took me a bit to get used to the shuddering that seems to persist with remasters of PS1 games (where, say, character idle animations sort of shudder without cause), I was overall very impressed with how the characters look (in particular) They retain the odd proportions of early 3D humanoid character models, but the colorful, vibrant cast look so good now, and their new portraits are gorgeous. I read somewhere that they lost the original high-res files for the background art, so they had to use AI upscaling to make them 4K compatible, and it seems to mostly work. Some backgrounds do look a bit murky, making it hard to distinguish between paths that you can navigate and environmental art, but some backgrounds seem to look more ethereal and artistic, which was a nice surprise. The Sea of Eden looked especially stunning.

I don’t know that I need to say much about the music. Chrono Cross’s soundtrack has been lauded as one of the best in video games since it came out, and I’ve been happy to see new people discover how vibrant, eclectic, and haunting it can be. I can’t even say that it stirred my nostalgia like other video game music has, mainly because I still listen to it pretty frequently while I’m writing or doing something that requires concentration. What didn’t quite stick in my memory as well were the finer details of the story, though. And, having played it again several times now, I can see why. Like many Japanese games, the plot really requires you to pay attention (and even then, its vague, twisty nature means it can be hard to track). Having played it before allowed me to pay even closer attention to subtle details, and I actually came to a much deeper appreciation for the story and how it really does continue the core premise of Chrono Trigger. What I’d once thought of dismissively as “nods” to the first game are far more significant. There are characters that are close to CT characters, like Glenn (a brave knight, like Glenn from CT) and Luccia (a genius scientists with a lively laugh, much like Lucca from CT), and I used to think of them as not-so-subtle tributes. But there is a line in a late-game dungeon that talks about how people exist as forms across many timelines and dimensions, which makes me think that these are not “nods,” but legitimate alternate versions of known characters. A “what if this character was born in a different world or time” kind of thing. I also don’t know that I fully appreciated Robo’s role in the story back in the day, but his sacrifice moved me this time around. I also really loved Balthasar’s significant role, though I really wish they’d given him a Nu companion.

Okay, yes, let’s just move on, shall we?

Speaking of companions, the ability to recruit a sprawling, freaky cast of characters to follow you into battle was so ambitious and I appreciate the dev team for getting in as many characters as they did. I’ve read that they’d hoped to make it so that every character you speak with could be recruited but had to scale back due to scope, but I’m happy with the current roster. The game forces you to switch it up a few times (with the forced protagonist body and team swap), and I rotated pretty often, but some of my regular team members were Kid, Leena, Starky, Marcy, Riddel, Luccia, and Harle. Being able to slot most magic into any character meant that I didn’t have to think as much about who was good at what, so I usually went with who I thought would be fun to have in my party. I have to say, I feel like a Luccia apologist. She is framed as a typical mad scientist, more interested in making strides in science than morality or doing what’s “right” (plus she has poor Pip in a cage). I couldn’t help it, though. Look at her! Maybe it’s the new, high def character model, but I was smitten.

But she could never take the place of my main squeeze, Harle. I fell in love with Harle when I first played the game, and I guess playing Chrono Cross again after all these years does cast her in a different light. I remember her being a much more sympathetic character. While she does express conflicted feelings and regret about (seemingly) having to oppose you, she ultimately does just that. Was I mostly smitten with her because she seemed to have a thing for “me” (Serge)? I mean, she is adorable, and I love her French accent and how flirty and feisty she is, but she’s also pretty rude to my friends. At one point, she says “If you had to chooze between ze world and moi… which would you chooze?” I think I’ve always said that I would choose her, yet she seems unwilling to make the same choice for me. One of the endings does make it seem like you’re living a happy(ish) life alongside Harle as Lynx, though, so I guess that will have to be enough. With the rising popularity of romance systems in games, I do look back at JRPGs from this era, like Chrono Cross and Final Fantasy VIII and wish they could somehow retroactively add a dating system. If they did, I tell myself that I’d end up replaying the game many times over to date most or all the roster, but deep down I think I can admit that I would just keep picking Harle and muttering “next time. Next time I’ll choose Luccia” under my breath.

In the end, I was shocked by how much I loved playing through this game again, over 20 years after my first time with it. There was some nostalgia, but that didn’t impact my opinion of it nearly as much as I thought it would. Yes, there are some minor performance issues and I wish I didn’t have to stand exactly in front of chests and doors to open them, but there was far more to love about this experience and after getting the platinum trophy I walked away reluctantly, somehow still wanting to play more. I have other games to get to and there’s not much else for me to accomplish in Chrono Cross, but these playthroughs brought with them a more profound appreciation for the colorful, quirky, lovely world and characters I spent so much time with. Square’s willingness to release this with such fanfare gives me some faint hope that, should this game find success, we might actually see the fabled Chrono Break someday. They trademarked the name at some point and seemingly dropped the project, but with their recent investment in HD-2D games and willingness to develop games with retro art styles that are less development intensive in terms of funding (like I Am Setsuna), I remain somewhat hopefully that they’ll see the potential in giving a small but experienced team some funding to close out a Chrono trilogy. I mean, they could also throw a ton of money at a 3D remake of Chrono Trigger. After this experience with Chrono Cross, I just want more, damn it.

Ugh. Heartbreaking.
Gato. 😦
Okay, so the fourth wall breaking was a little silly.

Diving Into 2022

The weather here in sleepy Sycamore, Illinois, is cold and dreary. It’s a grey and snowy day… and it’s April. You know what’s not cold and grey, though? My love of video games. That was the absolute worst segue anyone’s ever written but I am tired, and I’d like to get back to playing the new Chrono Cross remaster, so let’s just let that one slide. It seems a fact that time works differently during a pandemic, so I’m not sure if I should say “it’s already April” or “it’s only April,” but I wanted to jot down some thoughts about the games I’ve played recently, regardless, because I feel like Chrono Cross will get a post of its own soon. I’m still playing Halo Infinite online, but I don’t have much to add other than I am absolutely styling in my cat ears and sparkly purple armor. They keep adding new armor components and accessories but, no. Get out of my face. I just want sparkly purple kitty time.

13 Sentinels Aegis Rim

I do have more thoughts on 13 Sentinels Aegis Rim, though, since I’ve finished it. I’ll keep it short, since I’ve already talked a bit about it, but I ended up really loving it and getting the platinum trophy for it. Admittedly, much of my love remains centered on the aesthetic. The water-color inspired character and background art is just gorgeous, and I never lost my sense of awe and appreciation for it as the game went on. The music and voice acting are also stellar, making the game feel as close to a 1980s-isnpired anime as you can get. The story was very hard to follow, but at a certain point I gave up trying to untwist the knotted narrative because more twists would inevitably pop up. I feel like I was rewarded for that, in a way, because everything became clear in the end. Well, most things. Look, if you asked me to recount the story I’d probably get lost in my own attempt, but I think the gist of this multi-layered story is get-able.

The combat sections were alright. I’m not a huge RTS player, so I was more than happy to set the difficulty to easy and handily hand the enemies their ass time and time again. There is yet another character that deals with gender issues in an annoyingly indirect way. I’ve written previously on characters in Japanese games that flirt with trans-ness or gender fluidity, but yet again the developers fail to commit. Tsukasa Okino is a “male” character that chooses to dress up as (and embody) a woman, flirts openly with a male character, and [SPOILERS] in the epilogue, when “he” embraces living in a simulation, he makes a comment about switching genders, saying “It’s not just the clothes. I can be whatever I want here.”  While I applaud Japanese developers for dealing with things like gender and sexuality more often and openly in their games, I wish they wouldn’t dance around it as much. This character’s gender is such a big part of their story – why not just use clear language instead of talking around it?

What I won’t talk around (aren’t you loving this terrible transitions?) is my adoration of Yuki Takamiya. What a badass cutie. I didn’t love who she ended up with, but I looked forward to playing her story segments every time. She’s a delinquent and a detective, which is not a common combo in Japanese media, in my experience. Young detectives are usually virtuous, working with police or other agencies to bust the bad guy (or that’s used as a ploy to hide the villain, ala Persona 5). Yuki does work with law enforcement, but only because she’s forced to, essentially. But, yeah, I just wanted to shout out my favorite character. Carry on.

Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth

Have I mentioned that I love Persona games? They are, for me, the types of games where I feel a sadness when I’m close to completing them. I get so invested in the worlds that P-Studio makes that I want to live in them forever and rub shoulders (or eat beef bowls) with the wonderful characters that inhabit them. After each Persona game, I attempted to fill the new Persona-shaped hole in my soul by buying merch or other Persona games. It’s how I ended up with Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth, which I was honestly not very sure I’d like. It’s a dungeon crawler and the character models are chibi – two things I’m not much of a fan of. I hadn’t played my handheld systems in a while, but since I’d busted out my cool SNES 3DS to play Metroid games, I figured I’d finally give Persona Q a shot. If I didn’t like it, I could just stop playing it, right?

Well, I’m probably 50-60 hours in so far and you couldn’t make me stop playing this game. I say “probably” because I ordered a new, sealed copy from Amazon and it came with save files, meaning someone obviously owned this “new” copy before. If you owned a copy and had a P4 protagonist save file named “Mike” or a P3 protagonist file named “Minato,” I have your game. Well, it’s mine now. But thank you for the save file because I used it to start a new game plus and got your personas and weapons (and impressive playtime), which helped a lot. While it’s true that I prefer to see my characters (and enemies) as I run around dungeons, the first-person dungeon crawling is pretty fun, and I can’t deny that I quickly came to like drawing in the map on the 3DS screen. What I love about this game is, of course, the characters and story. Yes, they’re in chibi form, which is unfortunate, but when I realized that all of the original voice actors from both Persona 3 and Persona 4 were back and delivering tons of lines, I was so in. The writing, too, is just as good as the core games, and I’ve found myself legitimately laughing out loud a few times. Add in an amazing soundtrack of P3 and P4 tracks, and I am in love. I’m not yet finished with it (I’m on the last dungeon) but I’m also in no rush to beat it, despite looking forward to Persona Q2 with much excitement now.

Persona 4 Arena Ultimax

As further evidenced above, every Persona game I’ve played so far has been a hit. Persona 3 Portable, Persona 4 Golden, Persona 5 and Royal, Persona 5 Strikers, all three dancing games, and Persona Q have all won me over in one way or another. Persona 4 Arena Ultimax is the first game in the series that I haven’t loved. Please, don’t get me wrong: it’s a solid game. As with Persona Q, the full cast of P3 and P4 voice actors return, which is always a big deal for me. They do stellar work and it brings so much to the games when they’re present. I also really liked seeing big, high definition art assets for the characters. There are lots of great, classic Persona settings and expressions to enjoy, and I will never shun more time with super bae Mitsuru.

The writing doesn’t seem quite as good as the other Persona games, though there is a ton of it. This is a fighting game, yes, but there is a lot of story. Fighting games usually foreground the gameplay and the story (if there is one) takes a definite backseat. Not so here. Not only can you play through the story mode from three different perspectives, each character also has a very healthy story that you can play through separate from the main story. There are some great moments and exchanges here, but overall the writing was much weaker than what I’m used to in Persona media. Ultimately, though, the kind of fighting in this game (think Guilty Gear) is not really my thing. I am no fighting game expert so I am ill-equipped to explain why I don’t vibe with the feel of this kind of game, but I mostly button-mashed my way through the first half of the game and turned on auto-play for the rest. The sprite work is great, though, and I was charmed by new (to me) character Labrys. I beat the three story runs and Chie’s segment (she’s my favorite fighter, I think) but I think I’m okay with putting it aside now.

Hitman 2 and Hitman 3

I played bits of the first Hitman trilogy back in the day, but I don’t think I ever finished any of them. I really liked the gameplay and, more to the point, the concept of a world of possibilities. The assassination part was fun and fulfilled some boyhood James Bond/The Professional fantasy, sure – but I have always dreamed of a video game that allows for ultimate realism. A fully rendered world where I can do the same things I can in real life – pick up a random can from the ground, enter any closet or room, turn on faucets for no reason, etc. The Hitman games aren’t fully realized in that sense, but they were moving in that direction, even with the early entries. The idea of having choice in how you complete levels wasn’t new, but the number of choices you had in these games seemed staggering. It wasn’t just “go in stealthy or go in loud.” It was “go in stealthy or go in disguise or snipe from far away or don’t go in at all and rig an explosive that will catch them on the way out or poison a drink that will be carried to them or go in loud or…” you get the idea.

I’d heard so many good things about this latest Hitman trilogy, and after Tab listed Hitman 3 as their game of the year for 2021, I decided to pick it up. I’d also nabbed Hitman 2 on PSN, so I started with that game and played them back-to-back. Generally, it was the same great concept from the early games but with a lot more style and attention to detail. The story was very good but my favorite thing about these new games is the level design. So much thought and care seem to have gone into considering the many ways players might approach a level. Yes, there are specific ways in which the game seems to want you to tackle it, but it doesn’t restrict you too much. I will say that I felt like a very lazy assassin the first few missions. I would sneak in, very stealthily, just trying to scope out the scene and find access to the target. But as soon as I was close, I would just find a dark corner, pew pew them with my silenced pistol, and slip into the shadows. It sounds kind of cool but in practice it was pretty dull and uninspired.

I knew it was on me, though, so with the “Ark Society” mission, where you attend an elaborate secret society party and have to eliminate two socialites and, if possible, extract someone without being detected, I decided to take my time, listen to conversations, and establish a plan. I found out that one of the socialites was planning to hold a ceremony where she faked burning herself alive in a huge effigy, Wicker Man-style, so I sneakily sabotaged the escape hatch below the effigy, dressed as the master of ceremonies, lit her on fire and walked away as everyone cheered, thinking it was a part of the show. For the other socialite, I followed an old fling of hers, knocked him out and took his clothes, stole a very expensive artifact/necklace they were both after, and got her alone before offering to put the necklace on her – and choking her with it. I then found the extraction target and walked right out the front door. Pew pewing people from the shadows is all well and good, but there is a far more rewarding thrill when a level unfolds like that. I didn’t have the same experience with the oft-discussed Knives Out-like mansion level (I didn’t steal the detective’s outfit and was in the middle of scoping things out when I saw an opportunity for a quick, easy kill), but I did have similar experiences with the mission set during a ritzy party at a vineyard. I took the winemaker’s outfit and acted as him as I took one of the targets on a tour of the winery. At each stop, Agent 47 described a way in which someone might accidentally perish, so I knew I was probably able to eliminate this target any number of ways here. When we got to a grape pressing station with a massive hydraulic press, which she stepped under, I deactivated the safety mechanism and turned on the press. The target disappeared into a squishy red puddle and everyone in the area just thought it was a terrible accident, so I walked away with no consequence.

That was probably my most outrageous kill, but my favorite level overall was the nightclub level in Germany. A trope in some espionage stories is when the agent is betrayed by their own agency and other agents of equal(ish) skill and ability are hunting them. This level lets you live out that scenario in a loud, thumping night club, and there was something so thrilling about weaving in and out of large crowds, hunting these agents who are becoming increasingly nervous as their partners on comms stop responding, one by one. It was a far more active level than most, but it still required a lot of legwork and intel gathering, making it so rewarding in the end. I also had a moment where I really appreciated the depth of the DualSense’s vibration feature. I was several minutes into the mission, very focused, when I had a moment of realization that maybe my TV was too loud. I could feel the loud bass in the controller, and it legitimately felt like speakers pumping. My TV, it turns out, was not that loud. That’s not what really impressed me, though. After realizing how subtle and realistic the vibrations were, I paid closer attention to them and found that it’s also directional. When Agent 47’s right side was toward the speaker, the right side of the controller vibrated. As I rotated, the vibration shifted to the front of the controller (when facing the speaker), then the left side (when that side was facing it). And it was dynamic, too, of course – the closer I was to the speaker, the more pronounced the vibration was, and all that. A small detail, yes, but it made me appreciate the artists who probably put a lot of time into things like it.

Metroid Fusion

After playing and loving Super Metroid, Metroid Dread, and Samus Returns, I wasn’t done with Metroid games. All three of those games were bangers, as the kids say, so I ready for more baddie-bopping and spooky-scanning as Samus, and I turned to one of the two remaining games that I own: Metroid Fusion. A version of the “Title” theme plays over the intro cutscene, which portrays a critical part of the Metroid lore (the, well, fusion of Samus’ DNA with Metroid DNA), so I was all ready to delve into another atmospheric environment. And then I started playing and the music was more action-suspense than eerie horror. It was also a bit jolting to go from those previous games, which had very tight, intuitive controls, to controls which felt a little trickier to master. I’m sure they felt great on a GBA back in 2002, but let’s just say I was not spinning and grappling with the greatest of ease. There was also an incredibly annoying end sequence, where I was forced to traverse my way to a very hard boss, defeat them, then traverse my way to another boss that I had to defeat. That sounds reasonable, but they purposefully block off a save room between fights (and there is no auto-save), so having to re-do that segment several times was infuriating and time-consuming.

Source: https://www.polygon.com/22715304/metroid-dread-fusion-recap-story-lore-samus-aran-chozo

I’m starting with my complaints, but my experience overall was positive. Those are some notable grievances, but I loved the corrupted Samus chasing you [SPOILER] and I especially liked that they pulled the ol’ enemies to allies twist at the end, where the “bad” Samus attacks the final boss with you. I still loved the core gameplay of puzzling out each new area and frequently obtaining new powers, and I am always down for new suit color combos. Yes, there were a few annoyances with this experience, but overall I was still very into it and I’m ready to move onto the original Metroid soon.

Find Love or Die Trying!

This is an indie visual novel by Auden Jin that I played for an episode of the podcast. For Valentine’s Day, we chose a romance visual novel or dating sim from itch.io to play and discuss. The premise of this game seemed like silly fun and the art looked good, so this was my choice. I wasn’t expecting much (the quality of games on itch.io varies wildly, which is not a bad thing but is a reality), but I was totally charmed by this game. There are so many twists and turns in the story, some of them very goofy, but I was fully on board. The characters were fun takes on existing tropes, there were some genuinely funny moments, and I legitimately found myself invested in the story. This was a nice surprise.

Minecraft

I’ve written about Minecraft before, but somehow I keep coming back to it. Tab and I jumped back in recently and we built a very, very long railway to a jungle biome we had scoped out last year. We started building a new town there, so I decided to make a Wayne Manor/Batcave. I have on almost every server I’ve played on, save this one, so it was time. As I was digging out and shaping the Batcave, guess what appeared? Bats! I was so excited. It was a little embarrassing. But I am nearing the end of construction and I can’t wait.

Horizon Forbidden West

What was not a surprise (this is the last game so you no longer have to suffer these terrible segues) was how much I loved Horizon Forbidden West. Horizon Zero Dawn is one of my favorite games of last gen, so I made sure to get my collector’s edition of Forbidden West pre-ordered as soon as I was able. I think, as I did with Zero Dawn, I’ll mostly let the screenshot dump do the talking here, but there are some things I want to say about my time with the game. If you follow gaming news or know/follow people who’ve played this game, you’ve likely heard about how gorgeous it is by now. And, well, it is. I would say I don’t think these screenshots do it justice, but they come pretty close. The game is gorgeous in screenshots and in motion. You can pause the game at almost any point, go into photo mode, and find a cool or beautiful picture to take. The environment, the character models, the enemies, even the small animals scurrying about, all look amazing. I even found myself staring up at the night sky several times, looking for unique features or constellations. And, you know what? There are constellations! None that I recognized as real, but I can tell that there are clusters of stars that some environmental artist went to the trouble of making look like little constellations. I really appreciate little things like that.

Speaking of little things, there was that whole, dumb controversy (if you can call it that) about Aloy having facial fuzz. First of all, how is it a bad thing that we now have video game consoles powerful enough to render such a minute detail? Second, you can actually see it in the game. It wasn’t some highly rendered cut scene or piece of promo art. Character models are so highly rendered and beautiful in this game. As with the first game, I frequently found myself stopping to marvel at graphical details big and small. Hair! Look at Aloy’s hair!

Amazing. One of the things I love most about these games is the combat, though, and I loved it just as much here. I didn’t find myself using as many gadgets as I did in Zero Dawn, but I also didn’t really mind that. I was perfectly happy rolling out of the way of a charging thunderjaw at the very last second, spinning, notching an arrow, then releasing it to strike a tiny component on its back and running for cover. I played over 150 hours of this game and never got tired of the combat. Some of the new dinos were challenging, but I still love the thunderjaws and tallnecks. I have some thoughts on spoiler-y things, so I’ll add a [SPOILER WARNING] here, which includes screenshots that show spoilers. They begin after these next two pictures.

The story didn’t pleasantly surprise me like the first game’s did (how could it, though, since I had no idea what to expect from the first one?), but I did end up really liking it. As soon as I saw the primary villains floating down from the sky, I was like “is this a Superman movie?” And it kind of was. The villains in this game are absolutely Kryptonians. Advanced civilization hailing from an exploding planet, impermeable to damage (save one key weakness!), flight, Lex Luthor-looking-ass as the leader… But I dug it! They were campy and fun, and it was very rewarding to take them down. Celebrity performances aren’t always great in games, but I also thought Carrie-Anne Moss was excellent.

The other spoiler-y thing I want to talk about is the sunwing travel mechanic, unlocked later in the story. It was vaguely spoiled for me by the kind of people who are like “I won’t spoil it but” and then proceed to drop specific “hints” that then actually spoil it. I wasn’t terribly mad about it, though, because it allowed me to push through the story early enough to have plenty of time with my beloved sunwing. I wasn’t sure I would use it much because I don’t use the other mounts in the game and I generally like travelling in open-world games on foot, but I almost instantly fell in love with it. It felt very good to control, it looked and sounded amazing (the dino sound design needs more credit in this game, too), and it was so useful. One of my favorite things to do was call the sunwing just before jumping off a high ledge and having it swoop down and snatch me out of the air. So fucking cool. I do agree that they waited a little long to introduce the option of flight, but I was able to get a ton of flying time in and I loved it.

I also loved the swimming in the game. Well, after obtaining the breathing apparatus. Before then, I would try and explore deep, scary caverns and start to feel a bit of real panic when I’d get turned around or stuck on something. Once I got the device, I was free to explore submerged ruins, deep caverns, oceanic wrecks and more to my heart’s content. And I did, and it felt great. The swimming controls in this game are like most others, but they do feel slightly refined and very responsive, making cutting through the water feel more natural and smoother than I’m used to. I should wrap this up, but I’ll add a few more minor thoughts. I loved some of Aloy’s outfits. The Carja Shadow was by far my favorite aesthetically, so I rocked that for a big chunk of the game. Once I started nearing end-game stuff I decided to take the time to earn and upgrade the Nora Thunder Warrior ‘fit, which doesn’t look as cool but has pretty great stats. The glider was very cool but I’m glad they kept climbing mostly the same. It seems like a lot of people want to climb everything in games post-Breath of the Wild, but I really like the minor challenge of having to think about where I’m climbing, how I’ll get from one place to another, if there is a best route, etc. It reminds me of Tomb Raider in that sense, and I like it. Okay, I’d meant to let the screenshots speak for themselves, but I ended up doing plenty of yapping myself. I’ll shut up now, though I could go on and on about this beautiful, amazing game. Thanks for reading.

E3 2018 Wishlist

When I look back at my wishlist for 2017, I’m surprised by how many items were eventually announced (after E3, but still). Some of them were givens, sure, but I was surprised that Soulcalibur VI actually became a thing, and with Geralt in the mix, no less. Anyway, as I said in that blog, I love to speculate, even if some of my hopes end up being just that. With that in mind, I’m making a new list for this year, and some of the entries will, unfortunately be the same as they were last year.

Nintendo/Switch

Virtual Console (or, well, something like it)

This was on my list last year, but Nintendo recently announced that their online service, coming this fall, will be something of a subscription model, with access to a library of games included. Great! In theory! The problem is that the release library is very small compared to the wealth of games that were available with the Virtual Console. I’m all for some multiplayer Dr. Mario action, but I am really hoping Nintendo announces a steady release schedule for this service, or some kind of agreement with third parties to release individual games for purchase, even if it’s not called the “Virtual Console.” I love the mini consoles Nintendo has been releasing, but they are limited (in game selection and availability). So I want this, Nintendo. Please.

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Mother 3/ Brand new EarthBound game

I will put this on my list every year until we see one. Paula be casting Prayer all up in this.

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Credit: https://kotaku.com/seriously-nintendo-its-time-for-mother-3-1796533984

New Eternal Darkness game

Another repeat offender. I rambled on for too long last year about why I thought this was plausible, and it still might be, but I’m worried that Nintendo just doesn’t feel the need to produce adult horror games anymore. The original game was in development for the N64 and then ultimately released on the GameCube, when Nintendo was still semi-competing with Sony and Microsoft. Now, Nintendo seems content to do their own thing, which means a game like Eternal Darkness makes less and less sense as time goes on. But I still think it would be a great showcase for some of the Switch’s unique tech, like the HD rumble and infrared sensors. Oh well. I’ll keep my hopes high and expectations low for this one.

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New Smash Bros. characters

So it seems an absolute given that the new Smash game will be the highlight of Nintendo’s E3 video, but what about the roster? Given that each game is fundamentally the same in terms of gameplay and design, the roster is what I’m most curious about. Sure, I want a robust single player experience outside of the multiplayer brawling action (return of Subspace Emissary, plz), but when that iconic siren goes off and “A New Challenger Appears”? Hype. They will almost certainly play on that in their E3 video, but who beyond the Inklings from Splatoon will they announce? With previous characters like Snake, Bayonetta, Cloud, and Ryu, I don’t feel like anyone is outside the realm of possibility. So, aside from every dang previous character returning, who do I want to see? For one, Crash Bandicoot. I get a weird surge of nostalgic joy when rival mascots show up in Nintendo games, and it’s not totally ridiculous, given that the Crash trilogy will be making its way to the Switch in July. Halo‘s Master Chief also sounds like a stretch until you consider the cache it would give Microsoft with Nintendo and Smash fans, a potentially useful thing to have considering how far behind Sony they are in sales. I would also love to see Lara Croft, who also has a new game coming out in the fall. Two last mentions that would be incredible but are probably impossible: Mickey Mouse and Rey (Star Wars). Rey because, well, she is awesome. But Mickey Mouse strictly because it would be another iconic character that no one thought was possible to get for the game. Both of these are owned by Disney, though, and they are famously stingy with their characters, so I have no hope for those last two.

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Animal Crossing for Switch

My thoughts haven’t changed much on this. I was worried that the mobile AC game might give Nintendo an excuse to delay a proper console version, and with Smash Bros. being their big release for later this year, I’m still kind of worried that an Animal Crossing game won’t come anytime soon. Still, it would be nice to see an announcement at E3.

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Persona 5

Yes, I’ve already put well over 300 hours into the PS4 version, but I would buy a Switch port on day one, especially if they finally lift the restriction on taking screenshots. I’ve romanced Ann, Futaba, and Kawakami, but I’m keen to give a relationship with Makoto a shot. And Haru. And Tae. And Hif-okay, I can hear myself and I sound a little desperate, so let’s just move on.

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And that’s about it for Nintendo. I’m sure they’ll show more from the new Yoshi game, Metroid Prime 4, and maybe even the Pokémon game, but I’m only passively interested in those at this point. I’d like to see some fun new colors for the Joy-Cons, too, I guess. And an N64 Classic (though they might do the GameBoy first).

Sony/PS4

Most of what I’m looking forward to from Sony and third parties has already been announced, but it will be nice to see more from The Last of Us 2, Shadow of the Tomb Raider, Days GoneSpider-man, and maybe Soulcalibur VI and Anthem. So what’s left in the way of surprises? Well I’d love to see…

Final Fantasy VII

They announced this a while ago, but there has been some behind-the-scenes drama (uh, of course, it’s Square) followed by nothing but silence, so I would be pretty hyped if they showed an extensive trailer and announced that the first episode was going to drop this fall. True, the original game is not among my favorites in the series, but they will likely address much of that game’s clunkiness with this remake. And it would be one of those “oh snap it actually happened” moments in game history, so I have my fingers crossed that we’ll finally see something.

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Until Dawn 2

This is a holdover from last year’s list, but it seems perhaps more likely this year, given that Supermassive Games has released a bunch of the other games that they had in the works. Those games were hit or miss, which I can’t deny makes me worry about a potential Until Dawn sequel, but who am I kidding? I would be super excited to see it announced at E3 and I would definitely buy it at release, especially if it had an optional VR mode.

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Chrono Trigger/Cross sequel

I know this is a one-in-a-million shot. I know. Last year I left it as a footnote because it’s probably an impossible dream. But! I want it so bad. So I’m going to put it here in an attempt to will it into existence. Let’s do it.

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Credit: https://www.goombastomp.com/looking-back-chrono-cross-divisive-impressive-successor/

Microsoft/Xbox One

I didn’t have a section dedicated to Microsoft last year, because their exclusives just haven’t really been all that exciting for me. But unless they’re late in the stages of working on their next-gen hardware, which I doubt because of the XB1 X, they need to come out with some cool and exciting games to make some ground in their battle with Sony. They can’t win this generation, but at this point in the cycle more people begin buying second consoles, so if they’ve haven’t gotten a Switch or upgraded to a PS4 Pro, there are plenty of people who would snag an XB1 if the right group of games enticed them. Games like…

Fable 4

Sure, Lionhead Studios closed down, but rumors have been swirling about a possible fourth game for, well, years. With Sony snagging many of the big RPG mainstays, it would be a smart move for MS to drop a big, beautiful RPG of their own. Hell, the original Knights of the Old Republic was one of the main reasons I bought an original Xbox in the first place. I didn’t really want one. I didn’t feel like I needed it, and it was expensive. But when I heard about an RPG set in the Star Wars universe, where I could choose to be Dark Side or Light Side, and I could romance characters… well, I was sold. And the Fable games have always been fun, colorful, and whimsical, so I welcome another.

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Credit: https://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2018-01-17-sources-microsoft-plots-fable-return

New Perfect Dark game

These last couple of years have seen some strides, finally, for female video game, movie, and comic book characters. There are plenty of FPSs out there, but how many of them star a badass lady-spy like Joanna Dark? Rare and Microsoft flubbed Joanna’s star potential with Perfect Dark Zero, but if there was a time to redeem themselves and make a character that lived up to her original potential, it’s now.

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Credit: http://bbs.a9vg.com/thread-1051770-1-1.html

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