The Journey Back

Rating: Not Available

Available for: Android, Windows, iOS

Broken Rules’ Old Man’s Journey (2017) is probably one of the more unique games I’ve played this year. There aren’t any action sequences, no dialogue, not even a character name to go by. And yet, in an hour and a half, it tells a story that is meaningful in its simplicity.

Old Man’s Journey follows an older man, as one might expect, as he receives a sudden letter and must be guided across mountains and sea to an untold destination. Throughout his journey, he encounters obstacles and resurfacing memories of a life he left behind. While moving mountains and pathways in unique puzzles, the player is slowly introduced to the unfolding story and soon realizes where the old man’s destination might be leading.

I’ll refrain from spoilers as much as possible here, because like my post on Transistor, Old Man’s Journey’s short story leaves little room to go into detail.

 

One thing I loved about this game is their use of environmental storytelling. It can be very tempting to use dialogue to convey your story, especially when you just want your audience to know all the details you’ve come up with. However, Old Man’s Journey expresses their story through the world around the old man: they use the weather, the townsfolk, the different settings like the town and countryside, and the shifting difficulty in terrain to lay out the emotional journey the player must take. The old man reminiscences in significant locations along the way and the player is drawn in by curiosity at what each location might reveal.

I also think this mechanic could have been utilized a bit more. During the puzzles, you can click around for various environmental reactions (the trees move, the sailboats change direction, etc.), something that was very reminiscent of my old point-and-click games. Occasionally, a click would result in a zoom in to focus a person’s small actions (a man playing guitar or a child playing). It would have been interesting to incorporate this into the old man’s story, at least in the beginning segment in the town. How does everyone else in town react to the old man? He’s been there for a while, so they must have some opinion of him. At the same time, these little details made the scenery more alive and not necessarily so focused on the old man, making it a private journey between the player and him.

 

The progression of weather and the use of terrain was especially interesting while playing this game. Weather can be a common mechanic when trying to convey a certain kind of emotion (how many times have we seen sad scenes in movies with rain?), but in Old Man’s Journey, the puzzles and terrain also rose in difficultly, reflecting the troubled memories the old man was also recounting at the time. It starts out with smooth hills and plains and transitions into abandoned territory with rubble and frequent waterfalls blocking your path. Additional obstacles such as sheep and walls made the path less straightforward and more treacherous for the old man. The underwater segment felt especially meaningful after experiencing the emotional journey, serving as a form of revelation for the player, who has seen this man’s dream change as he realized what was truly important to him.

Old Man’s Journey is a short and sweet game that can be appreciated for its environmental storytelling, its beautiful visuals, and lovely soundtrack. Broken Rules was able to convey exactly the story they wanted to tell in the world they created, and I’m looking forward to see what else they come up with!

Old Man’s Journey Official Website

Old Man’s Journey Trailer

Happy gaming!

~ M

Revisited: Final Fantasy III

Rating: E10+ for Fantasy Violence, Mild Blood, Suggestive Themes

Available for: Nintendo DS, Wii, Wii U, iOS port, Android, PSP, and Windows (via Steam)

Just to clear some things up before we get started here: I played the Nintendo DS version of Square Enix’s Final Fantasy III, the original third title of the Final Fantasy series, not the one that is also technically Final Fantasy VI due to a bunch of confusing localization stuff. It still kinda confuses me so I’m not going to explain it here, but you can go research it if you want to.

A few months ago, I found a box of old, unfinished games and decided that it would be good to explore them again in a blog series I’m calling “Revisited.”

I bought Final Fantasy III around the time I was just getting into story-heavy games. I believed that since Final Fantasy was a well known series, it would be good for me to know it. Turn-based mechanics and character classes very quickly ended up feeling like new territory to me. Not that I hadn’t seen it before, but I suddenly felt like a novice and that this was a game meant for better gamers than me. After a lot of stumbling around, various walkthroughs, and much level grinding later, I found myself in the final dungeon of the game, severely underleveled and in no condition to fight the bosses. Frustrated and not exactly enthusiastic about leveling up another 10 levels after this much work, I put the game down and didn’t finish it. That is, until I decided to pick it up again a few weeks ago. Revisiting the series, I discovered several things: Final Fantasy III has a great story and it could simultaneously greatly benefit from a modern day remake.

Square Enix’s Final Fantasy III starts with an earthquake and an orphan named Luneth trying to fight his way out of a cave after said earthquake. He stumbles upon a Crystal of Light, who tells him that he and three other orphans are destined to be the Warriors of Light to save the world from impending, eternal darkness. You very quickly meet up with your fellow Warriors of Light: Arc, Refia, and Ingus, and guide them through the world, while those influenced by the dark try to throw the world into chaos. Along the adventure, the Warriors of Light meet many important, temporary companions who will help bring hope to the world and help you find a way to defeat the culprit behind the chaos.

 

Throughout the game, you can immediately tell that it was written for a younger audience (though I would argue the difficulty level isn’t), and while the story can be simplistic, it does hold themes very popular to JRPGs, particularly the importance of hope and the balance between light and dark. Luneth, Arc, Refia, and Ingus are a constant presence of light and goodness, completing quests not as just a means to an end but because they are good people who want to help out others. What is especially great about them is that they are good people in different ways: Luneth is determined to do what’s right, Arc is kind and gentle, Refia has a good heart, and Ingus is loyal and noble. I believe a remake would really help this be expounded upon, since there is limited dialogue in the game and very little to chance to get a deep understanding of the main characters’ fleshed out personalities. The opening cinematic seems to suggest a really interesting dynamic between the group, and I felt that it was never really addressed in the entire game. Yes, there is a bit of banter with temporary companions, but it only has a couple of short exchanges and you have to remember to press a button to activate it. A remake would help create more dialogue/banter opportunities between the cast and really build up their bond.

Another way in which a remake could help this game is by filling in for some of the narrative gaps that happen throughout. I definitely felt like I was spending more time level grinding and dungeon crawling than I was focusing on the story, and it becomes especially prevalent in the final part of the game. Even with completing everything, I still found myself ten levels below where I needed to be to work through the final dungeon. This meant I had to spend a lot of time level grinding in a separate dungeon because that dungeon gave me more experience points per fight than the enemies in the final dungeon. I feel like this could be improved with side quests, by having the Warriors of Light bring hope and help to people in small ways and still ensuring that you are properly leveled up by the end of the game. This would also help make the long stretches of level grinding feel more interesting than endless running around in circles and hoping the enemies with more experience points attack you.

 

I don’t usually delve into this much, but mechanics that could also be improved with a remake:

1. Quest Markers: usually a character will just tell you the name of your next destination but otherwise doesn’t give you any sort of direction of where to go next (and when the world gets much bigger, yeah, it would have been a big help)

2. Not Limiting Saves to the World Map: as an obsessive saver, this would have saved me a lot of stress (at least a pre-boss checkpoint would have been nice)

3. Visible Enemy Encounters: okay, this one is more personal preference but I like deciding whether I want to fight an enemy or avoid it, rather than being forced into an encounter and trying to run away

4. Graphics Update: not that the style isn’t cute and nostalgic in its own way, but that opening cinematic was the biggest tease as a kid

Final Fantasy III is a wonderful game that I am so happy to have finally completed, and I would love to see it remade with modern day mechanics. There are a lot of opportunities to reinforce themes and characters in small ways throughout the narrative, while at the same time helping the player make sure they’re properly leveled up for the challenges ahead. Details like quest markers and more frequent save opportunities could help avoid annoyances and frustrations that don’t really add a beneficial challenge to the game. Final Fantasy III has a good story in its own right, but it also has great potential to be an even better story. It seems that now there are even more opportunities to play this title than when I first played it, so I would check it out if you have the chance!

Final Fantasy III Official Website

Final Fantasy III iPhone Trailer

Happy gaming!

~ M

P.S. My next post is going to be delayed a week since two weeks from now is San Diego Comic Con!! And I’ll be attending! See you all in three weeks!

E3 Impressions

I’ve been watching the E3 press conferences for the past couple of years, but I think this is the first time I actually sat through all of them (minus Bethesda’s because it was at a really late hour for me, sorry, Bethesda!). And compared to last year, I found many of the conferences to be…lacking. There were plenty of games to be discussed, that’s for certain, but I felt like there weren’t as many new game announcements like in years past. Many of the games brought up last week were games that had already been announced, and maybe it’s just me, who prefers to see new game announcements, but I just couldn’t seem to get that excited about the whole thing. This isn’t to take away from people who did enjoy this year’s E3, because I know there are a number of people who walked away hearing of new titles they had been waiting years for. This all being said, I did want to bring up some of the titles that I thought were interesting and I’m looking forward to hearing more about.

Without further ado, my highlights!

1. A Way Out (EA)

Every once in a while I see a game where I go “yes, this is exactly the type of game that is perfect for the point of my blog!” From the creators of Brothers- A Tale of Two Sons, A Way Out is the story of two prison inmates trying to escape from prison. The player, or rather, two players each control one of the inmates in split-screen, cooperatively working to navigate through the narrative simultaneously. I don’t know how much the plot itself interests me, but I am definitely intrigued by the unique game mechanic used to tell this story.

A Way Out E3 Trailer

2. Dishonored: Death of the Outsider (Bethesda)

I’ll tell you one thing: I was not expecting to hear anything Dishonored related this year, so this was a very pleasant surprise to wake up to. I still haven’t figured out if Death of the Outsider is DLC or if it’s a stand-alone game, but I already love the idea of playing from Billie Lurk’s perspective. This now means that I need to go through all the Dishonored and Dishonored 2 DLC before it comes out!

Dishonored: Death of the Outsider E3 Trailer

3. Hidden Agenda (Sony)

This is another game where I said “Oooooooh, I really like this mechanic.” By the same group as Until Dawn, Hidden Agenda is a game where you are trying to find the serial killer and you and a group of friends collectively make decisions to affect outcomes in the story. It sounds like there were will be more subtle mechanics also in play and it looks like it could be a lot of fun for a game night with friends.

Hidden Agenda E3 Reveal

4. Unnamed Pokemon Game for the Nintendo Switch (Nintendo)

I cannot tell you how long I’ve waited for a main Pokemon game to be on a console. Okay, technically it can still be on a handheld, but I’ve always wondered how Pokemon would look if brought to a console. It’ll be interesting to see if the set-up changes at all or if they plan on keeping the same format. The only thing said during Nintendo’s presentation was that the game is in development, but that’s all it took for me to be intrigued.

Pokemon Switch Announcement

5. Tunic (PC)

I know literally nothing about this game other than it follows an adorable little fox on an RPG adventure and it looks precious. I’m curious to know what the story is and how the world works in the game, so I’ll be keeping my eye on this one.

Tunic E3 Trailer

Other Thoughts:

There were two other games discussed at E3 with titles and developers I’m familiar with, so I thought I’d share my thoughts on those titles here.

Life is Strange: Before the Storm (announced during Microsoft’s conference)

I watched my sister play the first Life is Strange and I really enjoyed a lot of the game, except for the ending. That being said, I thought that story was pretty complete, so when I heard that the developers were making a sequel, I did not expect for us to go back to the same characters. I don’t know how I feel about there being a prequel coming out, since I was pretty sure we had a full picture of what happened with Chloe and Rachel before Max arrived. I was honestly hoping for a different story and maybe the same rewind mechanic, so I have mixed feelings about this announcement.

Life is Strange: Before the Storm Announcement Trailer

Anthem (EA)

BioWare’s new IP had gotten some buzz before E3, so I already knew about some of the details of the game before going into this conference. While I really like some of BioWare’s titles and this game does look very nice, I’m still getting used to the MMO style of gaming. I’ll be curious to see more details about this game and see how it stands out from the other games doing similar things.

Anthem Reveal Trailer

Overall, these were the titles that stood out to me the most. Some sequels for very popular games were announced as well and while they’re not on this list, I want to do some research on them to get a better idea of what the hype is about.

Did you see any of the conferences, and if so, which ones? Which titles are you most excited for? What were you hoping to see at E3 this year but didn’t? And is there anything not on this list that you recommend I take a second look at?

Happy gaming!

~ M

Mystery Blogger Award: Acceptance Speech!

During the last month, I had the honor of being nominated for the “Mystery Blogger Award” by both Robert Ian Shepherd of Adventure Rules and herrdelta of Split Screens!

Robert’s blog, Adventure Rules, discusses everything gaming, including reviews, impressions, and he answers a bunch of fun questions about his gaming experience!

herrdelta’s blog, Split Screens, features a great mix of reviews and news on games, tv shows, and movies!

I want to take a moment to thank you both for nominating me! It’s been great meeting you, and I hope we can continue sharing opinions on gaming.

Without further ado, let us begin the post!

The Rules

– Put the award logo/image on your blog

– List the rules

– Thank whoever nominated you and provide a link to their blog

– Mention the creator of the award and provide a link as well

– Tell your readers 3 things about yourself

– You nominate 10-20 people (I’ll only be doing 5)

– Notify your nominees by commenting on their blog

– Ask your nominees any 5 questions of your choice; with one weird or funny question (specify)

– Share a link to your best post(s)

Background of the Award

mystery-blogger-award

Okoto Enigma is the creator of the Mystery Blogger Award. It was made as a way for undiscovered bloggers to be recognized and to create a greater community for bloggers to connect with each other. You can find the full description of the post here.

A quote from the official post: “Mystery Blogger Award”  is an award for amazing bloggers with ingenious posts. Their blog not only captivates; it inspires and motivates. They are one of the best out there, and they deserve every recognition they get. This award is also for bloggers who find fun and inspiration in blogging; and they do it with so much love and passion.”

3 Things about Myself

1. My official undergraduate degree states that I studied English, but I was also a pre-med! Which means I’ll be forever confusing everyone when it comes to explaining what I studied in college. Originally, I intended to go to med school, but I ultimately decided to follow my heart and pursue writing. I feel really comfortable jumping between writing and science, however, and it’s probably why I get really excited about stories that examine science and science ethics.

2. I used to draw a lot as a kid and in recent years, I’ve picked it up again. I’ve been thinking about starting a series on here where I draw fan art from games I’ve played.

3. One of my favorite things about writing is coming up with original characters, whether it be in a character creation setting or just in my own writing. I love figuring out who they are, making headcanons, and just generally figuring out how they fit into the universe.

The Answers to the Questions

(Okay, usually it’s only 5 questions, but since I’m answering both Robert’s and herrdelta’s questions, it’s going to be a little longer….)

Robert Ian Shepherd’s Questions

1. What made you decide to take up blogging?

For the past couple of years, I’ve gotten into gaming in a way that was very different from my childhood. I was playing a lot of games that had deep stories and characters that I just wanted to talk to everyone about. I also wanted to start exploring more games so I wasn’t just replaying the same handful all the time. As a result, this blog was born!

2. What’s your favorite video game?

I have a hard time choosing just one game, but I split my favorites between the Dragon Age series, the Fire Emblem series, and the Persona series. Dragon Age and Fire Emblem feed directly into my love of medieval fantasy, and Persona games are fun modern day supernatural stories that have this really cathartic feel to them.

Since I’ve started this blog, I think Transistor will now also have to be added to the list too….

3. Why should people read your blog?

I think I bring a different kind of gaming review to the community. It’s more focused on the narrative aspect of the game itself and how well the developers use a video game medium to tell their story better than any tv show, book, or movie could. It’s also the kind of thing that I’d like to see people’s opinions on; agree or disagree, I want to know what they also got out of the game’s experience.

4. What video game item do you wish you had in real life?

The timepiece from Dishonored 2. Imagine going to historical sites with that!

5. If you could set up two characters from different games on a blind date, who would you put together?

Oh, hmmmmm, I’m having a lot of trouble deciding which characters would be good to pair up, mostly because I usually already ship them with someone else in their own respective games. That being said, I would love to see D.Va from Overwatch and Futaba Sakura from Persona 5 meet. They could talk about video games and computers and it’d be great.

herrdelta’s Questions

1. Who is your biggest video game crush and why?

Without hesitation: Alistair Theirin from the Dragon Age series. He’s a lovable sweetheart, and I loved his sense of humor. And as cheesy as it was, I was a sucker for that rose moment with the Warden.

2. If you could pick one game to be remastered, what would it be?

POKEMON SNAP. Without question. But I want all the new Pokemon in it, too. Nintendo, please make this happen for the Switch, I beg of you. It would be an automatic system seller for me.

3. What got you into playing video games?

As a child, I loved the new kinds of challenges video games presented and how each game brought something different to the table. As I grew older, my love of the stories was what turned me into the gamer I am today.

4. Outside of gaming, what is your favorite fandom or franchise (be it a comic, film, tv show, etc)?

I think the Harry Potter fandom will always be near and dear to my heart. I met a lot of wonderful people during my days there and I just remember the whole experience as being a lot of fun.

5. Is there any particular scene in a video game that you really wish you could rewrite? If so, how would you rewrite it?

Interesting question! As much as I love Dishonored, I hated the Non-lethal Option for “Lady Boyle’s Last Party.” Surely there were better ways to “Neutralize” Lady Boyle than shipping her off with the guy who was obsessed with her…. If I were to rewrite it, I would have focused a lot more on the fact that she was also the Lord Regent’s financier and not just his mistress. To Neutralize her, she would have been disgraced among her circles, so much so that she could no longer be trusted to be even near the Lord Regent and therefore cutting off his finances. That, or find a way to completely the deplete the family of their fortune, also cutting off the Lord Regent’s income.

And the Nominees are…

Michelle Anneliese, A Geek Girl’s Guide: Renowned Explorers: International Society Review

I really like Michelle’s reviews on games because she usually talks about different games I’ve never heard of before. It’s no different with Renowned Explorers: International Society, where she discusses the game’s unique “combat” mechanics and how quick and repayable the game is with the different ways players can approach the game. I haven’t played it yet, but she definitely made me want to check it out!

IamRhinos, IamRhinos: The Importance of Timing the Games You Play

I’ve often felt that after I’ve really enjoyed a game, I need to give myself a break before changing gears to another game, so I can give that new game the enjoyment and focus it deserves. IamRhinos writes a great article on this exact topic, acknowledging the fact that sometimes you need to play a game at the right time to fully appreciate it.

Hope Eliza, Nerd Out Word Out/Hope Eliza Blogs: Review- Little Nightmares

While I usually try to stay away from horror games, Hope Eliza does a fun review on the game Little Nightmares and explains that while she also stays away from horror, she couldn’t help but enjoy this spooky adventure. Her review does a good job explaining the style and all the elemental details that make this game interesting. I’ll have to be sure to add this game to my list!

M Weaver, Objection! Network: Night in the Woods Hits Too Close to Home, Wrecks Young Adults Everywhere

I have heard some truly excellent things about Night in the Woods, and M Weaver gives a wonderful overview of the game. Most compelling about the review is the discussion of what themes are made prevalent throughout with the heavy concentration on characters. I’m looking forward to trying this game out for myself!

Jon Wisniewski, The Legend of Pixels: Life is Strange Season 2: Thoughts and Speculations

Jon describes my exact thoughts when it comes to predicting what we will see in Life is Strange 2. With the first game having such self-contained elements to it, it seems highly likely that we will be seeing many new features in the sequel. I recommend checking out his post on the matter!

My Questions for You

1. What’s the funniest video game in-game moment you’ve had?

2. Con season is coming up (is here?), so have you ever been to a comic book/video game/etc convention? If so, which as been your favorite? If not, which one would you want to go to?

3. Favorite video game of 2017 so far? (Either that came out in 2017 or that you’ve played in 2017)

4. What video game have you replayed the most/have the most hours clocked into?

5. (Weird Question) You wake up to find that you are in your favorite video game universe. Which game is it and what is your first course of action?

My Best Post

So I don’t really have a lot to choose from, ha ha.

I’m quite proud of my first Dishonored post and my Dex post. With Dishonored, it was fun going through the different definitions of “dishonored” and seeing how they applied to the story as a whole. As for Dex, the game had an interesting method of handling dystopian/sci-fi themes in a way that was fascinating to explore in my first official post.

In closing up this very long post, I’d like to thank Robert and herrdelta again for nominating me for this award! It’s been really great meeting everyone so far in this blogging community and I’m looking forward to what new games and ideas may come in the future.

As for the nominees, I’ve greatly enjoyed reading your posts and I hope this nomination brings more people to your blogs!

Happy gaming!

~ M

Echoes of the Original Game

Rating: T for Alcohol Reference, Fantasy Violence, Mild Blood, Mild Language, and Suggestive Themes

Available for: Nintendo 3DS

Intelligent Systems’ Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia (2017) is the first in the series of potential Fire Emblem remakes, giving Fire Emblem fans, both new and old, the opportunity to experience these older titles in a new way. With Shadows of Valentia testing the waters of interest with its newer fanbase, it simultaneously reminds us of the great elements that remain traditional to the Fire Emblem name.

To those of you who know my gaming history, you know that my first Fire Emblem game was Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn, and while I have never played Fire Emblem Gaiden (which is what Shadows of Valentia is a remake of), playing this remake felt like stepping back in time. So many parts of this game held onto its original form, taking the remake into a literal translation that ended up having both positive and negative elements to it.

Shadows of Valentia follows both Alm and Celica, fated childhood friends who find themselves torn apart by war and time. The continent of Valentia houses the kingdoms of Rigel and Zofia, both dominated by different dragon gods and both currently at war with each other. When the king of Zofia is killed by his generals, a rebel group called the Deliverance is created to fight against the invading Rigelian army. Alm, along with his friends, volunteer for service and with the knowledge that he is the grandson of a famous general, Alm is eventually made leader of the Deliverance. On Celica’s side, when Celica has the premonition that something terrible will happen to her estranged friend Alm, she decides to seek the guidance of the goddess Mila in order to end the war peacefully. The player guides both characters along their respective paths, watching as the story unfolds and eventually brings the two characters back together.

First things first, Shadows of Valentia felt a lot more focused on the story they were trying to tell, something I felt was lacking in Fire Emblem Fates. I do believe a lot of this had to do with the removal of the Avatar character and the marriage system. Not that these were bad things, per se (goodness knows I had fun with it), but Fates felt more like it was catering to its fanbase than actually focusing on their own narrative. (You can read some of my thoughts on how the Fates story was handled here.) Yes, Fire Emblem Awakening also had an Avatar and marriage system, but it didn’t take away from the story as much as Fates did. The return of a set protagonist (or rather, protagonists) allowed Alm and Celica to be full, well-rounded characters with defined personalities and helped the story to flow in a particular way. This difference was reinforced with their relationships with other characters; these conversations were natural and you could sense the depth of the history between the characters.

That brings me to my next point: Shadows of Valentia put quite the emphasis on preexisting relationships, whether familial, platonic, or romantic. It’s quite common for the Fire Emblem series to feature a number of relationships, but these types of relationships definitely seemed to be more prevalent this go around. It was refreshing to see this series once again focus on Supports where marriage wasn’t the driving force/end goal.  Supports were limited in this game, so the pre-story relationships, in some respects, helped the story move along. You were also able to gather more information on the setting and how the world worked when it was defined by people from all over the continent. The overall game felt very short, and as always, I wish I could have spent more time with the characters. There was so much more I would have liked to have learned about them, but I know it would have been difficult with time constraints and not detracting from the overarching story.

There is one glaring problem I had with the writing and it would feel wrong of me not to address it. I took issue with the fact that a lot of the women’s characterizations were reduced to their relationship to or with a man. This was made even more obvious with the limited Supports and most glaringly with Faye’s entire characterization (oh, Faye, you deserved so much better). It’s not like Fire Emblem hasn’t had its issues in the past, but at least in all the incarnations of the series I’ve played, all of the women had character traits that went far and well beyond “I have a crush on/I am in love with [insert male character here].” Even the Support conversations between women were mostly focused on their brothers, their crushes, or their loves, whereas the men had conversations of their pasts and their interests. For many of the male characters, I can tell you what their interests, background, goals, and aspirations were. For the women? Not so much. Having never played Gaiden, I don’t know if all of these types of conversations were in the original version of the game (aside from Faye, who is an entirely new character, which only makes things worse), but you would think that if you were making a remake of a game, that the female characters would have been written better than in the original…. This is all I’m going to say on the matter for now, lest this become a much longer thing, but I did feel the need to bring it up.

Overall, Shadows of Valentia’s story was interesting and engaging in all the ways that made me originally fall in love with the series. Alm and Celica are defined as fated, Branded children and it is reinforced throughout the story without ever feeling contrived. In fact, it felt like a lot of classic stories where seemingly ordinary characters are pushed into a world of medieval politics and fights against dragons bent on world destruction. Things initially appear to be black and white in this world, but Rigelian allies and unmasked secrets reveal a more sinister plot is at work. The dungeon crawls were a unique twist to the Fire Emblem formula, and while at times it became tedious, it was a nice break to consecutive battle maps. That said, I thought the maps themselves could have been somewhat more interesting. While they were probably more realistic (with most everyone behind fortress walls), it probably took longer than it should have to reach the enemy attack zones and actually attacking them while trying to shuffle through open gates one by one. Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia was a great way to start a series of Fire Emblem remakes and I am definitely looking forward to seeing which title is next!

What did you think of Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia? Have you played older Fire Emblem titles? What did you think of the new style? Which game in the series would you love to see remade? I would love to hear your thoughts!

Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia Official Website

Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia Launch Trailer

Happy gaming!

~ M

Voices: Unlocked

Rating: T for Mild Language and Violence

Available for: Playstation 4, PC, iOS (including iPhone and iPad), Linux

Sometimes we don’t need 60+ hours of an RPG to get a good story, sometimes we only need a few hours. Supergiant Games’ Transistor (2014) took me all of 7 hours to complete, and I’m just as emotional about it as the day I finished it.

Now to those who don’t usually play video games, 7 hours sounds like a lot, but I cannot assure you it’s not. It’s the equivalent of finishing a book in an afternoon or two. And like a short story you would finish in an afternoon, Transistor shines in its simplicity, unencumbered by complicated storylines and overwhelming narrative.

Transistor starts when Red, a famous singer, loses her voice in an assassination attempt by a group called the Camerata. In the attempt, a man she was close to was killed trying to save her and his essence was absorbed into a sword known as Transistor. The game tosses you right into the story, as Red and her Transistor seek revenge on the four members of the Camerata and fight against a force called the Process that is taking over the city of Cloudbank. Much of the story and lore is revealed through the Red’s close friend’s commentary and OVC Terminals located throughout the city: polls and observations give hints as to the daily lives of Cloudbank inhabitants while news reports tell the player how much the Process has already destroyed the city.

However, the most interesting feature about Transistor’s gameplay style is the how narrative is revealed through actual combat. Red’s Transistor gains abilities as she levels up, and her abilities come from the voices of other influential figures who have previously been absorbed by the Transistor. Depending on how you choose to use the abilities (either Active, Upgrade, or Passive), the player can learn more about the person in question. You are frequently encouraged to change up the combinations of abilities in order gain greater insight to the world. This feature definitely pushed me out of my comfort zone, as I’m someone who likes to rely on certain combat combinations once I’ve found favorites, but the mechanic intrigued me so much that I couldn’t help but start to switch things up to learn more about these characters. The game also pushes you to do so, temporarily removing your most frequently used ability if you run out of Hit Points (you can regain these abilities after finding another access point).

In a game that doesn’t take very much time at all, it was important for Transistor to set the tone through the environment in addition to the Transistor’s commentary and OVC Terminals. The game does this by completely isolating Red and the Transistor as they make their way through the city. Cloudbank has been entirely evacuated and the city structures are awaiting their impending ruin; even Red’s companion will lament over what is no longer there. As Red returns to the scene of the crime and meets up with individual members of the Camerata, she finds the aftermath of destruction, the results of what the Process left behind when it broke from the Camerata’s control. The world is desolate here, but the character profiles will also inform you that the city was already on its way to ruin long before Red obtained the Transistor.

There is not much I can discuss in this post without going into spoiler territory, but I did want to highlight a couple of the interesting ways Transistor chooses to reveal its story. The narrative relies heavily on gameplay mechanics and environment in a way that is not centered around solely speaking with NPCs and interacting with a ton of different objects. It also requires some extra work on the player’s part, having them make an active effort to uncover more of the story and understanding of the world. However, even without filling each of the character profiles, you are still able to understand the story as a whole and become emotionally attached to its characters. All of this done in a such a short span of time is a wonderful example of how a video game can both be short and still tell an excellent story. Transistor is a game I definitely recommend.

Transistor Official Website

Transistor Launch Trailer

Happy gaming!

~ M

An Unmasking

Rating: Not Available

Available for: PC, Mac

Witching Hour Studios’ Masquerada: Songs and Shadows (2016) introduces a world heavily inspired by the Venetian masks and their aesthetics and interweaves it with a intriguing story involving magic and politics. Masks, here referred to as Mascherines, play a prominent role in the game, allowing their user magical abilities based on natural elements (earth, air, fire, and water) and consequently causing all sorts of political strife due to their limited nature. Throughout the game, they provide a multifaceted symbolism that is placed front and center in both imagery and message.

Masquerada’s story focuses on Cicero Gavar, as he returns to the Citte after five years of absence, five years since his brother died as part of a revolution between two factions of mask-owners. These two factions consist of the Registry, a government entity that possess the Citte’s collection of Mascherines, and the Maskrunners, people of the Citte who have obtained Mascherines through other means. Much of the tension between these factions are a result of the Mascherines going to members of each of the various guilds. Cicero, as a former member of the Registry, has been tasked with finding Razitof, an old friend who had been sent by the Registry to find how Mascherines are made. Cicero is soon joined by members of each of the guilds, including Razitof’s brother and an old acquaintance of Cicero’s brother, and before the long, the group find themselves uncovering truths behind their masks and their world.

Masks are popular for symbolizing hidden selves, representative of secret agendas not immediately ready to be narratively explained. Masquerada displays a duality between expressed self vs hidden self, and it becomes apparent in different forms. The most obvious form would be that of the politics between the guilds, with the guilds holding a monopoly over Mascherines. Possession of a Mascherine serves as a sort of permission slip to participate in political games between the factions. Cicero himself easily jumps right back into the dance upon his return to the Citte, while Tizania, a companion from the Luca Guild, indicates her reluctance that such games are necessary for communication in these circles. The emphasis on the divide between guilds becomes most apparent in the climax of the game and the metaphorical masks must finally come off in order to resolve the conflict affecting them all. I would have liked to have seen more of the relationship between the guilds throughout the game and what they each represent, something I think that would have given greater impact to the clashing powers dominating the Citte.

The second form of the masks’ symbolic purpose are amongst Cicero’s own companions. At first it would seem that the characters would be a little more forthright about their intentions for accompanying Cicero, but you soon find that they are each keeping their personal secrets, well, secret. This is noted among Cicero’s entries about his companions, indicating that while he doesn’t want anything to take away from his investigation, he can’t help but be curious as to everyone else’s motivations on this journey. As the story progresses and the stakes get higher, the characters begin to reveal their hidden lives, each with significant impact on the story itself. It was interesting to watch how each companion reflected on their past and how significant it was in motivating their actions. The moments felt very personal too, with a slow build up to each of the reveals and it only being revealed to Cicero in a private conversation.

While the first two forms of symbolism are more apparent, Masquerada also goes beyond using masks as merely something to hide behind, giving them this sort of physical representation of power and particularly power at the cost of another. As mentioned before, the Mascherines are mostly limited to the guilds, which gave way to a rising tension and then war between the Maskrunners and the Registry. The guilds, which are meant to represent different pillars of society, started focusing more on themselves than on the people they were meant to represent, something that ultimately led to the corruption of power seen throughout the game. Cicero serves as an intermediary in the narrative, reluctantly working for the Registry again but also understanding the plight of the Maskrunners and their daily struggles. Some of the other companions are or become sympathetic to the Maskrunners as well, understanding that the Crown is no longer what it was supposed to be.

Masquerada: Songs and Shadows present a world rich with magic and purposeful aesthetics, reflecting the very symbolism they hope to convey in their narrative. The masks were not just meant to be used as a form of combat but rather, they represented a deeper message about Masquerada’s world, and the fact that they made the image so central to their game indicated just how important it was for the story as a whole. As I mentioned earlier, I would have liked to have seen more concerning the politics between the guilds and versus the Maskrunners just to strengthen how high the conflict was by the climax of the game. That aside, Masquerada: Songs and Shadows has a wonderful story with very compelling characters, and I would recommend you to check it out!

Masquerada: Songs and Shadows Official Website

Masquerada: Songs and Shadows Release Date Trailer

Happy gaming!

~ M