The 60 Best Playstation Games
Ever since Sony entered the market as a dark horse during the console wars of the 90s, the PlayStation has always played by its own rules. Whether they were challenging Nintendo for mascot supremacy, making systems that stand for themselves, or battling their rivals in a format war, Sony has always had a plan.
They’ve co-opted the technology and ideas of their competitors and even blazed a few trails of their own. Love ’em for their fantastic original properties or hate ’em for their occasional bouts of cockiness, the PlayStation is once again the console to beat this generation, and the PS4 shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon, even with the PS5 just over the horizon.
With that in mind, let’s get moving, and jump into the next round of our Sony celebration!
60 Best PlayStation Games of All Time
60 – Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc
Sixteen students are trapped in the best school in Japan. When they were accepted into Hope’s Peak Academy they thought that they were set for life – a qualification from the school almost certainly guarantees lucrative job offers upon leaving – but quickly they discover that there’s something sinister afoot. The students are forced into a deadly game by a hidden antagonist – the only way to leave the school is to murder one of the other students and get away with it. If the murderer can trick the other students into believing their innocence they’ll be released and the rest of kids will be killed, but if the students work out who did it, then the murderer will be executed and life will go on inside Hope’s Peak.
Danganronpa is part visual novel, part Phoenix Wright. Playing as one of the students within the academy, you must spend part of your time getting to know the other students and learning about their various quirks and traits, and then when a murder occurs, solve the crime to ensure the survival of the rest of the students. Featuring a colourful cast of characters, some fantastic villains, and an always engaging mystery story right up until the shocking finale, Danganronpa is an interactive page-turner that you won’t want to put down. (John Cal McCormick)
59 – Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne
Nocturne is the first original Shin Megami Tensei game to come to the PlayStation 2, and it set multiple precedents for all the games that came after it. Things like Persona’s “One More” system and even the graphical stylings of games like Catherine have Nocturne to thank for helping ATLUS transition so well from 2D to 3D.
Set in then modern-day Tokyo, the world in Nocturne is turned into a demonic hellscape following an event known as the Conception. You have to fight and negotiate your way through encounters with demons as a human granted unearthly power. Along the way, you encounter what few other humans survived the Conception, and help them recreate the world in the shape of their desires. There’s also plenty of side-quests, a second dungeon, and even a cameo from a certain Capcom demon hunter.
Shin Megami Tensei III is no slouch on the difficulty either. Not many games out there are bold enough to give you the chance to game over from random critical hits in tutorial encounters, but Nocturne makes you earn the right to step outside the first area of the game. There are plenty of places where the game shows its age. Often times the way around a difficult encounter is to simply grind, Nocturne has plenty of bosses that act as notorious gatekeepers for both unseasoned and experienced RPG players. Clues and directions on where to go can be cryptic, making it confusing to figure out which +50 floor tower you need to be navigating at the given time. Underneath it all, though, is one of the best RPG experiences of the early 2000s. (Taylor Smith)
58 – Ratchet and Clank: Going Commando
As a kid, I remember once going with my mom to the late, great Blockbuster Video to browse their selection of games and movies and walking out with Ratchet and Clank: Going Commando. Not knowing anything about what I later found out was a sequel – I was drawn to the funny looking cartoon fella with the huge gun, I guess – I chose the game among a sea of others, excited for how I was going to spend my Thanksgiving break. When I got home, I placed it on the disc tray and almost immediately fell in love with what came next.
Ratchet and Clank: Going Commando picks up where the Lombax left off in Insomniac’s smash hit Ratchet and Clank, where the lovable heroes defeated the dastardly Drek. In that time, they have become galactic celebrities, yet their fame only proves to court further trouble. For the first Ratchet and Clank title, Insomniac introduced gamers to a brilliant and vibrant universe full of monsters hellbent on destroying our small, hairy hero and his metallic sidekick. The little guys weren’t helpless, however, as they regularly found weapons and over-the-top armaments of abnormal size and firepower. It was an amazing platformer, and Going Commando improved on it in every way. It was funny, exciting, and fascinating all at once, and at any given moment.
After completing Going Commando a few days later, starry-eyed and sore from laughter, I begged Mom to take me back to Blockbuster to snag the original Ratchet and Clank. Been playing them ever since. (Tyler Sawyer)
57 – Yakuza 4
While the Yakuza franchise has been a staple of Japanese console gaming since it debuted on the PlayStation 2 in 2005, the series has struggled to find an international audience due to its foreign nature and strange gameplay. Conversely, it is this unique approach to an open world that ended up drawing players to the games, cultivating a small, but dedicated community that has clamored for faster localizations of newer entries.
Originally released on the PlayStation 3 in 2010, Yakuza 4 expanded on the games’ signature action-adventure style, beat-em-up combat, by introducing three new characters that the player followed, in addition to series mainstay, Kazuma Kiryu. Joined by the escaped criminal Taiga Saejima, crooked cop Masayoshi Tanimura and wisecracking loan shark Shun Akiyama, the player is returned to the fictional Tokyo red-light district of Kamurocho to fight their way through hordes of criminals in a crime drama of epic proportions.
While the press is quick to compare Yakuza games to the Grand Theft Auto series, they are only comparable in terms of theme and scope. Although both focus on the complex inner workings of criminal organizations, Yakuza 4 has a more self-aware and absurd tone with higher emphasis on melee combat. Combat occurs in the form of both random encounters with rival street thugs and narratively impactful showdowns between legendary fighters. Players must make use of surrounding items, acquired weapons that range from baseball bats to nun-chucks, and special “Heat” moves that can only be performed upon stringing together elaborate combos. Additionally, each character has their own play style, with Taiga controlling like a juggernaut, Shun emphasizing rapid kicks and Masayoshi requiring quick defenses.
Defeating enemies nets experience points that can be spent on characters individually, gradually turning their attacks into over-the-top move sets more akin to Dragon Ball Z than actual martial arts. Surrounding the base fighting gameplay is one of the most interactive and richly detailed settings in all of gaming, Kamurocho. Streets are lined with Hostess Clubs, Karaoke Bars, Casinos, Hot Springs and Massage parlors, highlighting the unique cultural facets of Japanese society. Yakuza 4 also adds explorable rooftop areas, back alleys and underground segments that give an already lively world even more depth, making up for the sub-par graphics with amazing art direction. Whether pummeling Yakuza bosses on top of skyscrapers, refilling health at a sushi restaurant or merely wandering the red-light district, a somewhat unreliable targeting system is more than worth working through to experience a criminal underground you have never seen before. (Matt Bruzzano)
56 – Demon’s Souls
If you pay even passing attention to the gaming world as a whole, you’ve probably heard of a little series called Dark Souls, even if you’ve never deigned to actually play it. That’s okay, it’s okay not to be a masochist. But for the rest of us, this is where it all started.
Demon’s Souls is an incredibly difficult (but also incredibly rewarding) action-RPG from…well From Software. With the scope the series has since reached with the Dark Souls trilogy and Bloodborne, a game like Demon’s Souls comes across as little more than a proof of concept at this point. Back in 2009 though, it shook the gaming world right up and down to its foundation.
The return of the old schoolyard days of chatting with friends to see how they got through a certain part or toppled a particular boss was back, and the revolutionary messaging system hammered this concept home even further, as gamers were allowed to help or mislead their fellow miserable souls with scrawled hints here and there. The summoning system, which allowed you to call in a friend for help, and the invasion system, which allowed more malicious gamers the chance to ruin your day, also made their debut here. In fact, almost everything that made the Souls series great premiered right here in the first entry, even if these ideas were only perfected as time went on.
It may be a touch archaic compared to the games that followed it, but Demon’s Souls is still well worth playing and might be, to this day, the cruelest and most challenging entry from this infamous series. Wanna really “git gud”? Then crack open this gem and see what you’ve got. (Mike Worby)
55 – Ratchet and Clank: Up Your Arsenal
After Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando introduced an abundance of new ideas to Insomniac’s action-platformer series, its sequel, Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal, improved and expanded in less-developed areas to create the most refined entry in the franchise. The story follows Ratchet and Clank’s mission to reform the “Q-Force;” a team of space cadets that Captain Quark once led to fighting evil, in order to stop the robotic Dr. Nefarious from destroying all organic life in the galaxy.
Striking a good balance between the series’ staple absurd humor and genuinely funny character interactions, Up Your Arsenal rationalizes our protagonists’ adventure across the universe and manages to convey an entertaining narrative without tripping into the pitfall of taking itself too seriously, which future sequels have suffered from. Returning characters such as Helga and Big Al were a joy to series veterans, while original characters like the robotic pop star sensation Courtney Gears and the antagonist Dr. Nefarious kept the plot fresh and surprising. Aside from the nostalgia of returning faces and locations, gamers with save files of the first two games were also rewarded with discounted items at vendors.
Featuring a good mix of both classic and new weapons, Ratchet’s arsenal was more diverse than ever, with everything from disk blade guns to plasma whips. As weapons are used, they can be upgraded a total of five times (eight if including challenge mode) to dramatically alter their range, damage or effects – assuring that no two playthroughs will ever feel the same. Thankfully, the game did away with the awkward space combat and racing diversions in favor of less clunky platforming segments that tie into Captain Quark’s story. Additionally, a fully developed arena mode dubbed “Annihilation Nation” offered survival modes, weapon challenges, new bosses and gauntlets for the player to be repeatedly destroyed in. If the arena wasn’t difficult enough, Up Your Arsenal introduced online and split screen multiplayer to the series, allowing gamers across the world to beat each other to a pulp with wrenches and weapons of mass destruction. Although the game’s campaign was somewhat shorter than the second game and its multiplayer was fairly basic, the variety of weapons, great level design, and signature Ratchet & Clank tone make Up Your Arsenal the pinnacle of the franchise. (Matt Bruzzano)
54 – P.T.
On one fateful day in August of 2014, a strange game by the name of P.T. appeared on PSN, developed by an unknown “7780s Studio”. Within this game, players controlled an unnamed character in first-person, walking through a series of endless hallways in a haunted house, with each loop bringing about changes to the repetitive structure, seemingly at random. With each loop, the presence of a heavy-breathing radio noise ghost-woman became more and more apparent; sometimes appearing behind a window or at times right behind you, ready to pounce and kill on sight.
As this strange puzzle became an overnight phenomenon, players around the world banded together to find an escape, involving all kinds of specific, cryptic steps. These solutions, mulled over on message boards, sub-reddits and livestreams, often seemed to verge on conspiratory lunacy; blurring the edges of the feasible and the ludicrous.
But, eventually, the game was beaten, leading to the revelation that P.T. was masterminded by none other than Metal Gear’s Hideo Kojima, with help from horror director Guillermo del Toro, as a stand-alone “teaser” for Silent Hills – a revitalization of Konami’s Silent Hill property, starring The Walking Dead’s Norman Reedus as the lead character.
This triumphant reveal was, however, soon tarnished, as Silent Hills was canned shortly after by Konami as a result of their now-infamous falling out with Kojima; a confusing decision for many in the face of the tremendous success P.T. had received, and the sure success Silent Hills would have been. Not only that, P.T. was taken off PSN, unavailable for re-download, existing only for those who still have it installed on their PS4 hard drives.
P.T. is now more of an event, or a memory, than a game. With an atmosphere and presentation unlike any other game before it, P.T. had taken its indie horror game inspirations to a meaningful meta level, all the while also making a truly horrifying experience. Its legacy is already etched into gaming history and, while dwelling on what could have been is upsetting, its sole existence cannot be undermined either. (Maxwell N)
53 – WWF SmackDown! 2: Know Your Role
It could be said that WWF SmackDown! 2 has an unfair grasp on gaming nostalgia thanks to its development during the iconic Attitude Era of professional wrestling, but that does the game a tremendous disservice. Pro wrestling’s golden era had itself a more than able tag team partner in the video games medium, as PS1’s SmackDown! series went head-to-head with the N64’s Wrestlemania 2000 and No Mercy for the crown of ‘Best Wrestling Game Ever,’ and there’s a significant argument that there are still no new entrants in that fight. The fact that they were all published by THQ is quite astounding, but demand was so high for wrestling games in the late 90s/early 2000’s that both SmackDown! 2 and its predecessor were released in the same year.
Still standing as the best-selling combat sports title on a single platform, SmackDown! 2’s iconic legacy is richly deserved. A significant update to the career mode was the key selling point, and playing a co-op tag team career as the Dudley Boyz was enough to send a friend and I literally running home from the store clutching our “halfsies” copy on launch day. The game’s new tag team finishing moves may have been awkward to pull off, but nailing a Dudley Death Drop to win the titles alongside a pal was pretty special.
Pro wrestling is all about big, iconic moments, and SmackDown! 2 was more than able to provide a virtual equivalent. Most notably, the addition of the Hell in a Cell match changed the game forever. From thereon in, no multiplayer HiaC match can ever be competed without a gentleman’s agreement to climb up to the top of the cell as soon as possible and let the battle to powerbomb your opponent through the cell roof begin. An absolute classic that remains a wildly playable flag-bearer of arcade rasslin’ at its very finest. (Alex Aldridge)
52 – Gran Turismo
For years, the advent of a racing game on any console was an opportunity for developers and hardware manufacturers alike to strut their stuff, rev their engines, and take a nascent gaming device for a spin around the block – putting the pedal to the metal to really see what it could do.
The static nature of the cars themselves, as well as a guided, predetermined environment that is being passed through at high speed means that many of our best looking and most impressive games, at least in the early years of a console release, orbit the racing genre in some shape or form. In its day Gran Turismo was unabashedly one of these titles. Melding both realism and impressive graphics into a single game was until this point almost unseen in the home console market, making it not only the beginning of one of Sony’s most prominent and successful series of all time, but the grandfather of a genre that continues to flourish to this day. The most recent Gran Turismo may not be the go-to racing game on modern consoles, but one thing is for sure: every racing sim released post-1997 has its roots planted firmly in Gran Turismo on the PS1.
For its time, the game was a stunning showcase of a 3D-rendered environment for the player to compete in, with vehicles that felt more realistic than many had ever experienced. Having been very used to arcade-like racers for years, Gran Turismo was a welcome step towards realism that car fans had been craving since the inception of the home console. Cars looked and felt more like the real thing than they ever had before, with players being forced to learn how to drive each car they took control of if they wanted to get the best out of them.
What do PUBG, ISS Pro Evolution Soccer, Goldeneye, Halo and Half-Life all have in common? They are all classics that have since been surpassed in quality, but an entire genre or gameplay style has them to thank for its continued success. Gran Turismo is that game for racing fans. (David Smillie)
51 – Gravity Rush 2
The original Gravity Rush for PS Vita is a fun novelty in a rough-around-the-edges package. Gravity Rush 2 is more of the same, but bigger and better. Players control charmingly likeable protagonist Kat in an anime-like cel-shaded world that boasts bundles of environmental variety. Oh, and it also has the Gravity Rush map alongside new Gravity Rush 2 locales – sweet!
The combat may be clunky, the side quests may be scattershot, and the story may be forgettable, but these take a backseat to the Gravity Rush 2’s overwhelming positives. Firstly, Kat’s adventure is chock full of charm. The quirky characters and interactions meld with eye-popping environments, from the grungy browns of Hekseville’s Old Town, to Lei Colmosna’s bustlingly modern marketplace. Exploring Gravity Rush 2’s world is a joy, and said exploration is bolstered by Kat’s miraculous moveset, bringing us to our second point.
Holy cow, the gravity manipulation mechanics in Gravity Rush 2 are fun! The shining quality of its predecessor, they’re given an extra lick of paint before players are allowed to run wild. Soaring through the sky, manipulating the pull of gravity to ‘fall’ to one’s destination, Gravity Rush 2 nails travel and traversal better than any game I’ve played. Fast travel is redundant when such a consistently fantastic mechanic is at play, and for that reason alone Gravity Rush 2 is more than deserving a spot on this list. (Harry Morris)
50 – Uncharted: The Lost Legacy
Naughty Dog has an impressive track record for producing some of the best video games over the past decade and is responsible for some of PlayStation’s most visually striking experiences. From the survival horror of The Last of Us to the breathtaking Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, the Santa Monica-based developer showed no signs of slowing down when it released Uncharted: The Lost Legacy. Originally intended as a downloadable expansion to Uncharted 4, The Lost Legacy was later expanded and promoted to a standalone release at a reduced cost. It’s shorter than the other entries in the series (taking eight hours or so to finish), but it’s also a fully developed, satisfying adventure packed with the exciting action and memorable characters we’ve come to expect from an Uncharted game.
Sure, it’s a formulaic adventure without apology – giving anyone who’s played the original four games a distinct sense of déjà vu – but that doesn’t mean it isn’t compelling. Yes, every shootout and every set-piece in Lost Legacy seem directly lifted from a previous game, but thankfully, Naughty Dog has a rare ability to turn a by-the-numbers summer blockbuster with seemingly cookie-cutter sequences into something majestic. It’s as stirring an epic as Hollywood has ever produced and is peppered with iconic moments – including the game’s finale, which deserves a special shout out for how thrilling it is. (Ricky D)
49 – Yakuza 0
Yakuza 0 is a prequel entry in Sega’s cult classic crime drama/tourist simulator series. Set in the late eighties, the game follows the exploits and mishaps of young Yakuza members Kazuma Kiryu and Goro Majima as they distinctly become intertwined in a bonkers scheme surrounding an empty lot of land in Kamurocho – the series’ version of Kabukicho, Tokyo.
The game’s story alternatives rapidly between serious, sometimes harrowing, character drama and goofy side-story shenanigans, and fans of the series wouldn’t have it any other way. Aiding the narrative is a visceral, responsive combat system with each character having access to four fighting styles, an RPG-style ability progression system, and a tailored open world environment accurately depicting 80’s Japan, packed with side quests and extra activities.
Yakuza 0 is the perfect entry point into a much-beloved series, and for returning fans, a fascinating insight into the origin of the Dragon of Dojima. With remastered ports of the remaining PlayStation 3 titles likely headed to the PS4 in the next year or two, there’s never been a better time to tear off your shirt and flex rippling, tattooed muscle atop skyscrapers. (George Cheese)
48 – God of War III
God of War has always been a series which was brimming with potential. The first game boasted a great engine and some of the best use of quick time events ever seen, plus its romp through Greek history was at least engaging, if not always spot on.
God of War II amped things up even more, inserting more crazy set pieces, more variety, better boss fights and a much tighter narrative. In fact, its insane cliffhanger ending made the anticipation for the third one as palpable as it could possibly be, and with the enhanced horsepower of the PS3, boy did it deliver.
God of War III‘s opening is the stuff of legends, as you scale Mount Olympus itself on the back of a titan before doing battle with the Ocean God, Poseidon. But this is only the first of a series of epic showdowns with Olympus’ best and brightest. From the sadistic underworld battle with Hades to the coliseum brawl with Hercules, God of War III doesn’t lack for earth-shaking intensity or world ending gravitas, however, it does flounder a bit in its attempts to redeem Kratos through a surrogate daughter figure. Joel and Ellie this is not, and this piece of the plot is so bad and out of place that it nearly derails the entire thing.
Luckily there’s plenty more to like about the game than there is to take issue with, and it regularly finds itself rightfully in the conversation for the best PS3 exclusives. An awe-inspiring journey to some of the most epic mythical locations ever imagined, God of War III is not to be missed. (Mike Worby)
47 (tie) – Devil May Cry 3: Dante’s Awakening
One of the cheesiest reveals in the original Devil May Cry focused on the fact that the honorable warrior of hell, Nelo Angelo, was actually –*gasp* — Dante’s brother, Virgil. Though the moment itself was slathered in that sweet, sweet, pizza-covering nectar, it did stick in the minds of fans, leaving them wondering what the point of a reveal like that would be, unless the series were going to come back to it some day.
Lo and behold, a few years later it did just that, with the prequel Devil May Cry 3: Dante’s Awakening. Here we find Virgil as the primary antagonist, and Dante at his cockiest and most defiant. The difference between the two could not be more disparate than it is here, and it’s one of the things that helps the game to succeed so markedly over its predecessors.
It certainly helps that there’s more variety here than ever before, with several new weapons, an incredibly satisfying set of bosses, and enough new characters to really shake things up after the forgettable second entry. Arguably the best game in the series, and certainly the hardest, Devil May Cry 3: Dante’s Awakening is one of the great action games of the PS2 era, and holds up surprisingly well even a whole decade after the fact. (Mike Worby)
47 (tie) – Devil May Cry
When gamers are asked to cherry pick their favorite games from the action genre, Devil May Cry is always a game that invariably pops up.
What began as a Resident Evil side story has since morphed into one of the most successful and recognizable action series in gaming history. Focusing on the cocksure half-man/half-demon, Dante, Devil May Cry is still seen as a PS2 classic, even all of these years later.
This is essentially the game that modern action gaming has been built upon, and going back to it, it’s not hard to see why. Battling back the demons of hell is as satisfying as it has ever been, and the many firsts seen in Devil May Cry cannot be overstated. When you’re not smashing bosses with your massive broadsword, you’ll be air juggling their minions with your dual pistols or blasting them to bits with a sawed-off shotgun.
It’s a wild ride, and even if the plotting and puzzle elements haven’t aged very well, it’s still a blast to play, especially in HD. (Mike Worby)
46 – God of War II
In 2007, the hugely successful God of War got itself a sequel. Not on the recently released PlayStation 3, but on the older PlayStation 2 – and it still blew the audience away. God of War II is a bigger and more graphically intense follow up that offered mostly the same and more. The world of the game is enormous and complex, not to the level of a Nintendo game or a Tomb Raider, but connected all the same – and just like the first game, the epic locations, and ledge-jumping traversal foreshadow something like the Uncharted series, with comparable cinematic flair.
Telling the brutal tale of Kratos’ fall from grace, the story picks up right after the end of the first God of War, revealing that the other gods are unhappy with Kratos’s disruptive ways since he achieved godhood. After Zeus himself descends to kill Kratos, the dethroned war god teams up with the Titans in order to gain revenge on the gods of Olympus – but first, he must go on a journey to regain his power by tampering with the Threads of Fate.
Kratos’ second quest is in some ways even more impressive and varied than the first God of War, taking Sony Santa Monica’s interpretation of the Greek Myths to new heights (and depths). In the end, the game is let down only by tending away from the meticulously curated art design and stand-alone structure of its predecessor.
Still, much of what is set up in God of War II would pay off in the blockbuster third installment, and on the whole, it remains a valued sequel to a legendary game. (Mitchell Akhurst)
45 – Until Dawn
Best described as an interactive horror movie, Until Dawn’s story-driven point-and-click game design does a great job in paying tribute to mainstream slasher films while also fully embracing the silliness of the genre. What could have easily been a straight-parody, instead cleverly deconstructs slasher movie tropes in what amounts to roughly twelve hours of nail-biting suspense, unexpected jump scares, and lots of gore.
Where a movie like Scream put a postmodern twist on slasher films, Until Dawn takes on the genre and twists even harder via its most powerful attribute (and something movies don’t offer): interaction. Though there are plot holes in the elaborately concocted scenarios, Until Dawn gets points for its sly wickedness – forcing players to make choices that will determine the final outcome. By the time the ride is over, the game has changed course dozens and dozens of times, nodding and winking but never once losing momentum. Graphically, the game is gorgeous and the sound design is top-notch, which goes a long way in getting players to jump out of their seats; meanwhile, the voice cast (mostly TV stars) all turn in great performances. If you like scary, bloody, gory, grotesque and twisted games – Until Dawn is right up your alley. (Ricky D)
44 – The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel I & II
(Released in 2015 and 2016, respectively, for PS3 and PS Vita)
Telling grandiose stories has always been a strength of the JRPG genre. While famous franchises such as Final Fantasy and Tales of wipe the slate clean with each mainline entry, the Trails series says “No!” with all nine of its titles taking place on the same fictional continent of Zemuria; each of which is deeply interconnected to one another. The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel I & II are the latest in the series to be localized outside of Japan, and bring the conflict enveloping the continent to a frantic boiling point that is absolutely riveting to watch unfold.
It’s not just the main plot that makes Zemuria such a gripping setting, though, as its denizens are equally memorable. They speak with dialogue beyond the generic lines found in many other games and have genuinely interesting lives that develop as the game progresses. Characters get married, they get kicked out of their homes, they get into arguments with other; it’s witnessing these individuals live out their lives full of ups and downs without a “side quest” moniker attached that creates that extra layer of believability.
All this is punctuated by a deeply strategic, turn-based combat system that challenges players to the best of their abilities. While the graphics may not stand out as anything special, a phenomenal soundtrack perfectly captures every aspect of the game, especially for some of the more tender moments of the story. Fans of JRPGs, or even those that just appreciate fantastic world-building, owe it to themselves to embark on the Trails of Cold Steel. (Matthew Ponthier)
43 – Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age
Final Fantasy XII was always a contentious entry in Square’s storied series. While it was the first (offline) Final Fantasy to show enemies in the open world, and allow real time battles, it also had a cast of cardboard characters as your party, and one of the least exciting quests in the history of the franchise.
Enter The Zodiac Age. While we could argue the strengths and weaknesses of Final Fantasy XII until the moogles come home, one thing we can all agree on is that, over a decade later, the pacing of this game is awful. Luckily The Zodiac Age allows you to speed things up with the simple press of a button by either 2x or 4x the regular pacing of the game. This feature, also present in the PS4 version of FFVII, is an absolute godsend. Whether you’re grinding for levels or searching for a certain rare item, the ability to speed the game up at will improves Final Fantasy XII immeasurably.
Speaking of improvements, The Zodiac Age also re-tools the job system of FFXII, gives the game a face lift, and alters the item placement of the original game (though that last bit can be a bit of a pain). When you’re killing Yiazmat in 2 hours instead of 12, you’ll thank your lucky stars that you’re playing Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age, which is absolutely the definitive way to play the game. (Mike Worby)
42 – Vagrant Story
Dark and moody dungeons, a melodramatic high-fantasy story full of drama and politics, a unique RPG combat system and ass-less chaps – if the combination of such things gets your attention in any sort of way, then Vagrant Story on PS1 might be your kind of game.
Part of Final Fantasy’s loosely connected (but not really at all) “Ivalice Alliance” series of games, which includes Final Fantasy XII and Final Fantasy Tactics, Vagrant Story is simultaneously nothing like the Final Fantasy games of its time, while harking back to the very early days of the franchise in its storytelling and faux-Shakespearean character and world creation.
Its character design, which sometimes resembles a high-fashion raid on a medieval army’s supply closet, is immediately fitting despite looking ridiculously out of context – something I can’t say for most Square-Enix RPGs.
What’s added is a layer of macabre, mostly boosted by the kind of low-poly, mysterious nature of a lot of PS1-era games, making the creepier environments of the game look even more unfriendly.
Though a cult fanbase exists today, it’s a crime that Vagrant Story remains largely unknown. Perhaps the “The Phantom Pain” title shown at the end credits of the game was an indicator of a planned sequel that we never got to see, or a glimpse into the creation of a broader series. Or, maybe it’s just a subtitle for the game. Who knows.
Looking back on Vagrant Story today, despite all the visual elements of the game not only aging well but becoming even more enticing and unique, it’s hard to say that the sometimes overly obtuse gameplay is all that welcoming. It’s definitely the kind of RPG that could use a little bit of a gameplay tune-up to even out a few of the rough edges. From Square-Enix’s unexplored back catalog, I can’t imagine a better candidate for a remastered treatment than Vagrant Story, maybe similar to FFXII Zodiac Age. (Maxwell N)
41 – Suikoden
Asking a gamer to think back on the golden days of the JRPG will more often than not result in a nostalgia-filled trip down memory lane, with specific stops during the 90’s to reflect upon things like SquareSoft and their genre-defining Chrono and Final Fantasy titles; games like Earthbound, Fallout, and Planescape: Torment among others would get mentions, but one game which seems to fall just short of most people’s lists is Konami’s Suikoden.
Playing as the son of a great army general, the game’s lead character learns of treacherous individuals within the upper echelon of his own kingdom, forcing him to abandon his home and join a rebellion to fight on the side of the oppressed, with the goal of overthrowing an empire. The game’s plot was praised for its originality when compared to its contemporaries, and its musical score is hailed as one of the greatest of the generation.
Graphically the game resembles SNES classics like Final Fantasy VI, but with more realistically proportioned sprites, and gameplay wise Suikoden often finds itself being compared to Final Fantasy VII. The game features 3 types of battle systems. Normal, turned-based combat is the primary form of conflict resolution, with the other two types being one-on-one duels and war battles, which are both resolved using a simple rock/paper/scissors system where the player selects one of three commands and hopes for the best. Perhaps the game’s defining characteristic is its insane amount of recruitable party members; throughout the 20+ hour journey you’ll be able to enlist the services of over 100 different characters known as the “108 Stars of Destiny”. Later entries in the series would follow suit by also having a massive amount of potential allies.
Suikoden may not have the heritage of Dragon Quest nor the pedigree of Final Fantasy, and even within its own series Suikoden II steals all the praise, but the original still holds a special place in the heart of many a gamer. (Matt De Azevedo)
20 Memorable Moments from Telltale’s ‘The Walking Dead’ Series
To commemorate The Walking Dead game series, we’ll be counting down 20 of the most memorable moments throughout the series.
Recently rumours have surfaced that Telltale Games will be making a comeback following interest from a pair of investors. After the closure of the studio last year upcoming Telltale titles — such as The Wolf Among Us 2 –– were cancelled indefinitely but this news could mean that a revival of these games may be on the way. Skybound Games have also recently released The Walking Dead: The Telltale Definitive Edition, a collection of all 4 seasons of The Walking Dead game alongside some bonus content such as concept art, music and commentaries. Due to this release, and the newfound hope for Telltale Games, now seems like a good time to reflect on the game that thrust Telltale into the spotlight: The Walking Dead. The series was halfway through its final season when Telltale closed its doors but Skybound Games jumped in to finish off the story of Clementine, the hugely beloved protagonist.
To commemorate The Walking Dead game series, I’ll be counting down 20 of the most memorable moments throughout the series. A quick side note before we begin: when Telltale first closed down I wrote an article about the top ten moments from Telltale Games in general which included some Walking Dead moments. I will be using the same entries — with a few minor adjustments — if those moments find themselves on this list too, as my opinion has not changed.
*Major spoilers ahead for all 4 seasons of The Walking Dead.*
20. Kenny/Jane Flashback: A New Frontier
In Season Three, Clementine becomes a companion as the player takes on the role of a new character, Javier Garcia. We get some flashbacks as to what happened to Clementine in the gap between seasons two and three. There are multiple endings to season two, so it is the flashbacks that we get from two particular endings that are most memorable. In one ending Clementine can take baby A.J. and go with Kenny and in another she can leave with Jane. If the player leaves with Kenny, the flashback shows Kenny teaching Clementine how to drive. They get into an accident and Kenny is thrown through the windscreen, losing the feeling in his legs. To allow Clementine and A.J to escape, he uses himself as bait for walkers and gets eaten alive. This flashback is memorable for all the wrong reasons. It feels like a rushed and half thought out way of getting rid of Kenny to explain why Clementine is alone. For such a beloved character, it seems so wrong to merely dispose of him in order to wrap up a loose end. This ending for Kenny is an injustice to his character. Memorable doesn’t have to mean good! In the other flashback, Jane, Clementine and A.J return to Howe’s and are living comfortably enough. Jane sends Clementine to do a perimeter sweep but when she returns, she finds that Jane has hung herself. A distraught and confused Clementine finds a positive pregnancy test on the ground. This makes sense for Jane’s character. She was always a somewhat cold lone wolf who was uncomfortable with children. Finding out she was pregnant in a post-apocalyptic world would have been the worst possible outcome. She was a survivor who was willing to do whatever it took to stay alive and to have not one but two helpless babies in her care would not have been an option. There was also a somewhat selfish nature to Jane, so killing herself to avoid her pregnancy, and leaving Clementine and A.J alone, is a believable and fitting end to her story.
19. Clem Leaves to Search for A.J: A New Frontier
At the end of Season Three, Clem decides to venture out alone to search for A.J, the baby from Season Two who she had taken into her care. We see her navigating through walkers, taking them out confidently and with ease. This moment is a good representation of Clementine’s development through the years. Although she still had one more season to go, it was clear at this point just how much she has grown and matured since her introduction in season one. You can’t help but feel a connection with her if you have been playing the game since the beginning and seeing Clementine go it alone with a fierce determination about her made me feel proud of the person she had become.
18. Basement Scene: The Final Season
Something that I wasn’t expecting from The Final Season was a moment that felt like it was ripped straight out of a horror movie. Despite the horror zombie theme running through The Walking Dead series, it plays as an interactive point and click story rather than a horror game. In episode one of The Final Season, Clementine is locked in a basement with a character called Brody who has recently died. Clementine knows that Brody will turn into a walker soon, so she starts looking for a way to escape. The darkness of the basement is lit only by a flashlight which Clem goes to find. As she does, you can see that Brody’s body has gone. As the player maneuvers through the dark, disturbing noises can be heard as Brody slowly turns. It’s all very unsettling so I couldn’t help but feel a little unnerved. The creepiest moment comes when Clementine struggles to get the basement doors open and we then cut to Brody’s perspective as she approaches Clementine from behind. Just as Clem opens the doors, we see Brody’s zombified face appear behind her and drag her back into the dark. Of course, Clem survives the encounter but it is a genuinely scary moment due to the horror and suspense elements being crafted and utilized so well. It was a scene that left me feeling surprised, impressed and freaked out all at once.
17. Clementine’s Parents: Season One
From the beginning of the game, Clementine is certain that her parents are still alive and that she will find them. Voicemails left on Clementine’s house phone tell us that her father has been bitten but her mother’s fate is left ambiguous. Dialogue options allow the player to lie to Clementine but canon dialogue suggests that Lee is certain that they are both gone. This is more than likely the case but Clementine’s boundless optimism in the darkest of situations would give even the most cynical player some hope. When the group get to Savannah, Clementine is kidnapped and the final episode centres on Lee trying to get her back safely before his time runs out. He finally tracks her down in the hotel her parents had been staying and after covering her in walker guts to sneak her past a herd, Lee and Clementine begin their escape through the walker filled streets. As you navigate your way through the walkers, Clementine stops dead in her tracks with a horrified look on her face. We then see what has stopped her: the reanimated corpses of her parents aimlessly wandering the streets. It is in this moment that Clementine’s optimism is quashed. It doesn’t disappear entirely, but it certainly wanes from this point on. It is a turning point for her as a character as she has to stare the harsh reality of this new world in the face. There are no happy endings. There are only cold, hard facts. I myself was shocked by this too, having adopted some of Clementine’s positivity throughout my time playing. But I quickly realized that there was never really any hope for her parents, this was the harsh truth and perhaps I should have made Lee be more honest with Clementine about it from the start. This scene was impressive for the genuine gut punch it delivers as well as for being a pivotal moment for Clementine as a character.
16. The Walker Barn: The Final Season
An interesting new character from The Walking Dead: The Final Season is James, an ex-Whisperer who tries to convince Clementine that the walkers are more than just mindless monsters. When Clementine needs James to help her in the fight against Lilly, he only agrees on the condition that Clementine makes more of an effort to see things his way. To do this, Clem must don James’s walker skin mask and enter a barn full of walkers with the goal of touching the wind chime in the back. She reluctantly does so but when she reaches the wind chime and it starts to ring out, the walkers seem to look on in awe and confusion. James’s argument that there is a semblance of the person that they used to be within the walkers suddenly becomes far more convincing. The player can decide whether Clementine believes James might be right or not, but even if you remain unconvinced, it is hard not to see something vaguely resembling a human reaction when the walkers observe the wind chime. This is the first time in the game series that has suggested that there may be more to the walkers than first meets the eye. This is most likely not the case as Clementine later says, but it is hard not to see the expression in the eyes of the rotting corpses as they listen to the soft chimes. Jared Emerson-Johnson’s simple yet powerful music score for this moment is also one of the best in the entire game.
15. Clementine Dreams of Lee: The Final Season
Lee was such an important figure to Clementine as he taught her about survival and saved her life countless times so to see him again was a nice moment in The Final Season. Clementine dreams of Lee the night before she is due to lead an attack on Lilly and her group of raiders. She gets his advice and gives him an update of how things are going. Not only is it cool to see Lee’s updated character model in the new game engine, it is also good for Clementine to have one final moment with him to act as a form of closure to the series as a whole. I definitely felt emotional seeing Lee again, particularly when he comments on how big Clementine has gotten when he sees her at the age she is now. It was a great moment that wrapped up Lee and Clementine’s time together.
14. Duck Gets Bitten: Season One
Duck is one of the more polarising characters from The Walking Dead. Acting as the antithesis to the gentle and mild-mannered Clementine, Duck is the hyperactive, loud and somewhat irritating child of Kenny and Katjaa. Duck is well intentioned but it is difficult to find him anywhere near as likeable as Clementine. However, when it is revealed that he has been bitten by a walker in episode three, it is a sorrowful moment. Duck’s energy depletes more and more as he gets sick before either being put out of his misery by Lee or Kenny, or left to turn (depending on player choice). Kenny’s refusal to acknowledge the truth of Duck’s wound makes the situation all the more emotional. No matter what you thought of Duck, he was an innocent child who didn’t deserve the death he got. Duck’s bite and slow descent into death was memorable in that it showed that the game was very much in the same line as the corresponding comics. No one is safe. Any man, woman or child can die at any second in this walker infested world.
13. Clementine and Sam: Season Two
A brief but memorable interaction from Season Two of The Walking Dead is Clementine’s time with a stray dog called Sam. She encounters him near an abandoned campsite and though wary of each other initially, the player can choose to interact with Sam in a way that suggests he could be a new companion for Clementine. It all seems to be going well until Clementine finds a can of food. Once she gets it open, the player can choose to offer some to Sam. No matter what they choose to do, Sam snatches the food and tries to eat it all. When Clementine tries to grab it back, Sam attacks her. He clamps his jaw onto her arm and the player must wrestle with the dog to stop him. Clementine kicks Sam just as he goes for her throat and he ends up being impaled on an old tent pole. This moment is heart-breaking for both Clementine and the player. No matter how the player interacts with him, it is clear that Clementine and Sam like one another and she could have found herself a friend. As Sam lies dying, struggling and unable to move after his impalement, the player chooses whether they will leave Sam to die a slow and painful death or kill him outright to end his suffering. This is the final emotional blow in a scene that is already hard to watch.
12. Omid’s Death: Season Two
Another The Walking Dead scene that was difficult to watch was the opening moment from Season Two. Having lost Lee in the climax of Season One, Clementine becomes the playable character and is left with Omid and a heavily pregnant Christa. After stopping for a break at a gas station bathroom, Clementine makes the mistake of leaving her gun unattended. She ends up held at gunpoint with her own weapon as a teenage scavenger attempts to rob her. When Omid enters the bathroom to try and help Clementine, the shocked robber accidentally shoots him through the heart and kills him. Omid was one of the more likeable characters of Season One, despite being introduced late into the game, so to see him gunned down whilst attempting to protect Clementine is horrible. It is clear that Clementine blames herself for what happened due to leaving her gun to the side — as does Christa — which adds another dimension of sadness to this moment.
11. Katjaa’s Suicide: Season One
One of the most human and heart-breaking deaths in The Walking Dead game is Katjaa, Kenny’s wife and Duck’s mother. When Duck is bitten and on the verge of death, Katjaa and Kenny take him into the woods with the intent of putting him out of his misery. Although we don’t see it, we hear Katjaa suddenly turn the gun on herself. Katjaa was being incredibly strong about the situation and was far more grounded in reality about the situation then Kenny was. However, her sudden decision to take her own life made her character all the more tragic. Her strength faltered for one moment and she couldn’t handle it. Because of that, she made a split second decision. This was incredibly realistic and painful due to the sheer humanity of Katjaa’s thought process and her choice. The fact that it happens off screen and is still able to be so powerful is also testament to Telltale’s skill at constructing meaningful moments within their games.
10. Mariana’s Death: A New Frontier
You will probably notice that I haven’t included many entries from Season Three of The Walking Dead (also known as A New Frontier). It’s the weakest in the series of games and it doesn’t have quite as many iconic moments. However, there is one scene in particular that I always come back to when considering the game series as a whole. One of the faults of the series is, in my opinion, the decision to switch the focus to entirely new characters. Clementine is demoted to a supporting player in A New Frontier as the focus turns to Javier Garcia and his family. The characters aren’t nearly as easy to get emotionally attached to as the characters were in Season One and Season Two. Certain characters seem to act bitter and angry towards Javier no matter what dialogue you choose to use with them, such as Javier’s brother David and his nephew Gabe. Even Clementine seems surlier in this title (I can forgive her for that due to the fact that she is now a hormonal teenager). Despite that, there is one character that is sweeter in nature than the rest: Javier’s niece Mariana. Although the player only spends a small amount of time with her, her intelligence, maturity, creativity and soulful attitude instantly make her likeable. I couldn’t help but feel a connection to her and a desire to protect her, similar to the feeling that I got upon first meeting Clementine. At the end of the first episode, Mariana is suddenly shot through the head whilst retrieving her beloved headphones. It is not only a shock due to the unexpected nature of the moment but also emotional as Mariana is a good character who is still very young. For someone to callously shoot a little girl through the head is horrific, but very much aligned to The Walking Dead’s brutal style. Mariana’s death is similar to that of Duck’s, reminding us that children are certainly not safe from a gruesome death in this new and cruel world.
9. Lilly Returns: The Final Season
Lilly’s exit from The Walking Dead game was left open ended in Season One, no matter whether the player decides to leave her on the side of the road or not. Her return in The Final Season wasn’t a huge surprise due to trailers beforehand confirming her appearance but her relationship with Clementine is one of the more interesting elements. Clementine and Lilly had a good relationship in Season One. Though you don’t get to see much interaction between them, it is clear that Lilly cares for Clementine and wants to protect her as most of the other adults in the group do. In a sweet and familial gesture, Lilly is the one who gives Clementine the hair ties that she uses throughout the series. Things have obviously changed by the time that they meet again. Lilly is the lieutenant of a group of raiders from a haven called the Delta who are in search of soldiers to defend their home as they embark on a war with another group of survivors. This isn’t optional though and Lilly and her crew plan to kidnap those they want to recruit. They purposely travel to Ericson Boarding School to recruit the teenagers living there, having already taken some kids from Ericson beforehand. It is here that Lilly meets Clementine again. Their meeting isn’t exactly a joyous one. Clementine is thrown to the ground; a boot is firmly planted on her neck and a gun pointed at the back of her head. It isn’t until Clem is kicked in the face that she is turned around and Lilly recognises her. The conversation between the two can differ depending on Lee’s actions in Season One. Lilly is harsh and disrespectful towards those who have died (not remembering Carley/Doug’s name and suggesting that Lee was a bad mentor) but if Lee showed her kindness then she has a slightly softer edge to her. If Clem chooses to acknowledge Lilly and not be aggressive, she will also be a tad more understanding. However, as the game progresses the relationship between the two gets even more strained and Clementine ends up going to war against Lilly with the Ericson kids. Lilly and Clementine’s reunion is very bittersweet. Lilly was always a tough character so a cheerful reunion wasn’t expected, but to see two people who were once like family turn to mortal enemies is saddening. The character development for both Lilly and Clementine that their meeting leads to is also an interesting element, making it one of the more memorable parts of the game series.
8. Lilly Shoots Carley/Doug: Season One
Episode Three of Season One of The Walking Dead is arguably the best episode of the entire series. So much happens in a short space of time and by the end of the episode, things are vastly different from how they started. Halfway through Episode Three, tensions are running high in the group of survivors. Lilly is close to breaking point due to having to watch her father die in brutal fashion in Episode Two. When one of the group is found to be making a deal with bandits, Lilly is on a mission to find the culprit. As she tries to figure out who it was, she is pushed over the edge and snaps. She shoots Carley/Doug, whoever Lee saved in the first episode, and instantly kills them. The sudden death proved that Telltale weren’t afraid to kill off any of their characters and that everyone was expendable. It also showed how the horrors of the apocalypse can change people and turn them into ruthless killers. Lee is then left to choose whether to abandon Lilly on the side of the road or let her stay with the group, another tough player choice. The shocking murder and aftermath from Lee’s choice made for one of the most gripping episodes of the entire series.
7. Clementine Stitches Her Arm: Season Two
Clementine is shown to be a strong-willed and determined little girl, even from the very beginning of The Walking Dead game, when she was at her youngest. She continued to prove herself to be more than capable of surviving, but this moment in particular shows just how resilient she is. Clementine is left with a large gaping bite wound on her arm after the attack from Sam the dog. The new group she finds is suspicious of her bite so she is locked in a shed. After finding the items she needs to clean her wound and stitch it up, she sets about patching herself up. The player is forced to sew up Clem’s arm with a regular needle and watch as she screams and cries in pain. It’s hard enough to watch, but even harder having to control Clementine as she digs the needle into her flesh and her wound bleeds. Painful in every sense of the word, this moment not only shows that Clementine is more capable than most adults, yet alone an ordinary child, but also that Telltale are able to make their players squirm with a simple press of a button.
6. A.J. Shoots Marlon: The Final Season
One of the staples of The Final Season of The Walking Dead is the relationship between A.J and Clementine. A.J. was born in Season Two and after the death of his parents, Clementine adopts him as her own and raises him either alone, in Wellington or with Kenny or Jane depending on the player choice. No matter what the player chooses, Clementine is eventually reunited with A.J after he is taken from her by the New Frontier group from Season Three. She has been raising him ever since in a relationship that parallels the one between Clementine and Lee. The player has to be careful in what they say to A.J. as he is always paying attention, again in a similar fashion to how Clementine would take note of Lee’s actions (Clementine will remember that, after all). Being born into the apocalypse with no knowledge of the world before has made A.J tougher and less stable than Clementine was at his age. His decision to kill another human being at the end of the first episode shows just how warped his world view has become. Marlon is the leader of the Ericson Boarding School for Troubled Youths, where Clementine and A.J find themselves after the boarding school kids save them following a car accident. It is revealed at the end of the episode that Marlon has been making deals with bandits, letting them kidnap some of the students in exchange for leaving the others at the school in peace. Clementine confronts Marlon and they engage in a tense standoff with Marlon pointing his gun at Clem. It can end a couple of ways. Clementine can physically overpower Marlon or she can convince him to stand down and drop his weapon. What can’t be changed is A.J’s decision to shoot Marlon in the back of the head despite him surrendering. After he has killed Marlon, A.J. will then say that he did what Clementine told him to and he will repeat the phrase that she said to him earlier in the episode (either “aim for the head”, “don’t hesitate” or “save the last bullet for yourself” depending on player choice). The repercussions of Clementine’s teachings are highlighted here and I certainly started to wonder as to whether I had been teaching A.J the right things after this. In Season One, Clementine only killed when Lee was in mortal danger. This is not the same situation. Marlon had stood down. He had lowered his weapon. He was no longer a threat and yet A.J still found it necessary to kill him. I found myself feeling responsible for A.J.’s decision and that is what I believe makes this moment memorable. To engage the player enough for them to feel guilty on behalf of another character’s action is an impressive feat and Telltale pulls it off perfectly here.
5. The Return of Kenny: Season Two
The first Walking Dead season from Telltale was pretty brutal when it came to the final death count. One of those assumed casualties was Kenny, a lovable, albeit infuriating, character. His annoyance with player character Lee if you didn’t side with him at all times was a cause of frustration for many, but Kenny clearly had a good heart. When his family are taken from him, you can’t help but feel his pain. Although the death of his wife and child is a powerful moment in itself, Kenny’s return in Season Two represents some hope and light in an unforgiving world. Clementine is left entirely alone after the opening of Season Two so having a trusted person come back into her life, one she assumed was dead, is a positive thing for her. It is a far more positive outcome in comparison to her reunion with Lilly. Kenny goes through an interesting character arc as it becomes clear he is still fighting demons. He’s clearly traumatized by what happened to his family. He even seems to have regrets in the way he treated Lee, if the player did not always take his side. Kenny is a flawed but endearing character and his return allows for more character development, as well as giving Clementine a member of her new family back.
4. Clementine Gets Bitten: The Final Season
Toward the end of the last episode of The Final Season, the unthinkable happens: Clementine gets bitten. After an encounter with the brainwashed Minerva on a bridge, Clementine ends up with a massive axe wound on her leg. Unable to move quickly, she and A.J. end up trapped with walkers closing in. A.J. scrambles up a rock and attempts to help Clementine up after him. She isn’t able to move quickly enough and a pursuing walker bites her on the ankle. It is a horrible moment to watch, seeing the character that we have kept safe all this time finally meeting the fate that fans of the series were so afraid of. As Clementine checks her ankle, the player has to slowly open her boot and the tension is palpable as you do so. The music disappears and all you can hear is Clementine’s laboured breathing as she makes the discovery of teeth marks on her already mangled leg. Players who have completed the game know that this isn’t the end of Clementine –more on that later– but to see her grow weaker and weaker as she succumbs to her bite is pretty excruciating. A.J. and Clementine take shelter in a barn where she collapses to the ground, no longer able to move. She props herself up and instructs A.J. on how to secure the area as walkers attempt to get in. The scene is a direct reflection of the Season One ending, where Lee teaches Clementine to defend herself and helps her escape, whilst he sits on the floor unable to move. It is harrowing to see Clementine succumbing to the same fate as her protector, as she also teaches her ward how to go it alone. The scene makes the story come full circle, with Clementine saying her last goodbyes to A.J. and asking him to kill her as Lee did (players can also decide to tell A.J. to leave her there as with Lee). The strong parallels with Season One symbolise the completion of Clementine’s journey with the player and it is a memorable, and particularly affecting, scene.
3. Lee Gets Bitten: Season One
In Season One, Clementine goes missing at the end of the fourth episode whilst the group is in Savannah looking for a boat to escape. Intent on finding her parents, Clementine puts her trust in a stranger and, of course, it ends badly. As Lee, the player starts searching the house they are holed up in to try and find her. Lee becomes panicked as he spots Clementine’s hat and her radio outside of the fence. As the player reaches down to pick up the radio, a hidden walker lashes out and takes a bite out of Lee’s wrist. I still remember playing this part of the game for the first time years ago. I remember feeling absolute shock as the camera panned down to reveal the bite mark on Lee’s wrist. Lee starts to panic, saying “No!” over and over, and clutching at his wrist. His reaction wasn’t too different from my own. As soon as you realize he has been bitten, you know he is going to die. I had grown attached to Lee’s character as he had brilliant development through the series as well as an interesting arc and back story. Knowing that this was the end for him was so upsetting. Tension and anticipation also make up the scene, with the radio crackling as the player approaches just before Lee picks it up. You can tell something is going to happen, but can’t be sure what. This masterful approach to suspense, combined with the genuinely saddening and emotional moment, and Dave Fennoy’s fantastic voice acting, is what makes Lee’s bite one of the most memorable moments in The Walking Dead series.
2. Clementine is Alive!: The Final Season
After Clementine is bitten, we see A.J swing his axe down before the screen cuts to black. It’s assumed that he has put Clem out of her misery, and we begin playing as A.J. A.J is going about life at Ericson and catching some fish for dinner when he sees Clementine’s hat floating down the river (Clem lost her hat during the attack on Lilly and the raiders). As he carries the hat back to Ericson, Alela Diane’s ‘Take Us Back’ starts to play and some of the other kids join him on the way. This is the same song that plays during the credits of Season One, so it is assumed that this is the end of the game. A.J. has finally found a home and is living out his life with the boarding school kids whilst remembering the teachings that Clem gave him, just as Lee did for Clementine. However, upon his return we see that Clementine is actually alive but now missing a leg. Again, this is a moment that I remember well as I felt such emotion upon playing it. I think I may have audibly cheered. I had shed a tear over Clementine’s faux death — just as I did over Lee — and had resigned myself to the fact that she was gone. Seeing her limp onto screen, crutch in tow, was such a brilliant moment. Of course, if you think about it too much it doesn’t make that much sense. How could A.J, who can’t be more than 6 or 7, have managed to cut off a grown teenager’s leg? The axe he used was also covered in walker blood so surely if Clementine hadn’t bled out, she would have still been infected. How did A.J manage to get Clem back to the school by himself before she died of blood loss?? These are all valid questions which would usually seriously bug me, but I honestly did not care for any of it. All I cared about was that this character, who I had come to love after protecting her and watching her grow up and survive in a new and brutal world, was alive. Clementine has become such a beloved character amongst the gaming community that Skybound were able to save the game from complete cancellation. That wouldn’t have happened if the players hadn’t resonated with her the way that they did. We, as a community, needed the conclusion of her story and, thanks to Skybound, we were able to see her get the ending she deserved. The player’s role of Clementine ends in the barn as the player takes on the role of A.J. in the epilogue as he chats to Clem. Melissa Hutchison gives an impressive and tearful performance as Clem as she asks A.J. if she has done a good job taking care of him after spending so much time running and looking for somewhere to call home. She then hands over her hat to A.J., hanging it up for good, both physically and symbolically. Again, the emotion is potent here as we have experienced everything that Clementine has been through to finally get to this point. She can rest now, even if it is with only one leg. Clementine surviving her bite may not be entirely logical, but if there is anyone who deserves a happy ending (or as happy an ending as you can get from The Walking Dead) it is certainly our sweet pea Clementine. Lee will remember that.
1. Goodbye Lee: Season One
Having played through Season One of Telltale’s The Walking Dead multiple times, I can say with honesty that I still cry at the ending. Moving, brutal and emotionally crippling, Season One culminates with Lee succumbing to his bite and suffering one of two fates, depending on player choice. Choice one is to be shot in the head by Clementine, the little girl who you’ve given your life to protect. Choice two is to be left to turn into a walker, arguably a fate worse than death. So there are no winners here, no matter what you pick. Lee is an excellent protagonist, his dark past makes him a criminal and this contradicts his role of protector to Clementine. He isn’t perfect. He has made mistakes and continues to do so as you play. But he is believable as a flawed, but ultimately well-meaning, man. A man who sees his opportunity to redeem himself by saving, and taking care of, Clementine. To see him bitten at the end of episode four is a painful moment but watching him deteriorate through episode five, and eventually die, is excruciating. You feel a connection with him, a person struggling to do the right thing and protect those he cares about, despite the end of the world situation. As he and Clementine have a final moment together, it becomes clear that it has all led to this. That you have taught her how to survive, how to behave, but also how to say goodbye. The final words and last goodbye that he and Clementine share are, in my opinion, the most powerful and memorable of any Telltale game. And make sure to keep that hair short.
The Walking Dead: The Telltale Definitive Series is out now for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and Microsoft Windows.
‘Final Fantasy VIII’: A Beloved Black Sheep
If the the general operative way to make a sequel to a massive success like Final Fantasy VII would be to give people more of the same, only bigger and better, Squaresoft opted for something of a different approach.
When Final Fantasy VII emerged on the scene back in 1997, it changed the way gamers looked at, and experienced, JRPGs. With its flashy cutscenes, cool aesthetic and myriad of anime badasses, Final Fantasy VII pulled off the seemingly impossible task of making RPGs cool. It also gave RPGs a breath of fresh air, exposing them to the mainstream and earning them a much bigger slice of the gaming industry. Then came Final Fantasy VIII.
If the the general operative way to make a sequel to a massive success like Final Fantasy VII would be to give people more of the same, only bigger and better, Squaresoft opted for something of a different approach. In fact, Final Fantasy VIII was so wildly different from its predecessor that it wouldn’t be stretch to call them polar opposites.
Where FFVII took place in a world that was dark, moody and foreboding, FFVIII was bright, colorful and drenched in sunlight. Where VII began in the desolate slums of a fascist, dystopian nightmare, VIII opened in the sort of beautifully-rendered, futuristic facility that would be right at home in paradise. Though Final Fantasy VI and VII were separated by an entire hardware generation, there similar venues of dark steampunk and darker cyberpunk make them far more comparable in terms of their look and feel then VII and VIII.
The characters were just as distinctly different. There were no caped monster men or gun-armed maniacs here, just 6 high school students of relatively similar age, build and disposition. From the magic system to the way experience was garnered, from the way that weapons were upgraded to the method with which players earned money, Final Fantasy VIII re-did literally everything VII had built, right from the ground up.
This comparison goes a long way toward explaining Final Fantasy VIII and its strangely disjointed place in the series. Where VI, VII, IX and X are all fondly and widely remembered, VIII is more stridently beloved by a small group of loyalists. Despite its strong reviews and fantastic sales, Final Fantasy VIII found itself slipping further and further from the series’ limelight as the years passed by.
Now, however, with the release of Final Fantasy VIII Remastered, the black sheep of the mainline Final Fantasy franchise has gained a new lease on life. As one of the last of the golden age titles in the series to finally reach a mass market rerelease, FFVIII finally has a chance to redeem itself from years of teasing and jibes about its confounding junction system and endlessly plot-twisting time compression storyline.
Getting down to brass tacks, there was indeed a LOT to learn from the outset. Critics of the game are absolutely right in one respect: this game is complicated. If that weren’t readily apparent, the seemingly never-ending stream of tutorials that unfold over the course of the games first 10 hours oughta clue you in real quick. How to junction a GF, how to draw magic, how to junction magic, how to switch junctions, etc. You’ll be reading the word junction so much, you’ll think you’re watching an educational special.
With that said, though, once you’d finally mastered the many idiosyncratic elements of the junction system, you’d never felt more powerful in your life. Junctioning Ultima to strength, Full-Life to HP, and casting some Aura magic could make short work of just about any threat the game threw at you, and that’s just one of dozens of strategies that the malleable junction system provided players with. As Quistis points out early on, junctioning a status effect like blind or sleep to your elemental attack attribute could render seemingly insurmountable enemies relatively harmless in one fell stroke.
Of course, the complex nature of such a system could not be overstated. If anyone were to read this who hadn’t played the game, I’m sure it would come across as absolute jibberish. That’s part of the charm of Final Fantasy VIII though: like many a beloved cult classic, this game is as uncompromising and unabashedly against the grain as a sequel we might get from the likes of David Lynch.
The same goes for the magic system. While drawing magic from draw points and enemies is initially confusing, the amount of freedom it gives the player to stock up on spells and utilize them for a myriad of purposes was utterly earth-shattering. The fact that entire GFs (Guardian Forces) could be missed just because the player forgot to check the draw options on a particular boss was the kind of kick in the general genital region that made a game like Final Fantasy VIII worth going back to at least once more after completion.
Upgrading weapons with collected materials was also very different. No more just buying the next awesome sword from a new vendor, the player would instead need to find a Weapons Monthly issue for the information on the upgrade, and then mine the respective materials needed to improve their weapon. Finally, the SeeD salary system ranked and evaluated the player as they made their way through the game. No more earning a shower of gil just for offing a few enemies, if you weren’t representing the SeeDs and Gardens in an optimal fashion, your pay would suffer as a result.
Outside of gameplay, these wild 180 degree turns continued in Final Fantasy VIII‘s plotline. Following the hard science fiction bent of the story of FFVIII could be a task in and of itself. A game that ostensibly begins with high school mercenaries being dispatched to aid rogue organizations around the world eventually evolves into an endless battle across space and time with a sorceress from the future. Meanwhile, some of the most seemingly important plot points in the game, such as Squall’s parentage, or the party’s connection with Laguna and company, are resolved only in the background. Players looking to piece together the many disparate elements of this story will have to put on their Dark Souls helmets and do a bit of individual exploration if they want answers.
The way the game focused on love as an essential motivation is also unique to the series. Though there had been love stories in Final Fantasy games prior to this, they never offered this much depth and emotion. Essentially the central character arc of the game, that of Squall Leonhart, is that of a damaged, emotionally bereft man opening up and learning to love again after suffering loss in the form of childhood traumas. The importance of this focus cannot be overstated. Final Fantasy VIII is a love story first and foremost, and anyone who might doubt that prospect need look no further than the keyart that accompanies the title sequence.
This focus on love, and its healing power, offers Squall perhaps the most fascinating character arc of any in the Final Fantasy franchise. Ostensibly a cold, apathetic loner at the outset, Squall transforms over the course of the story into a man who’s willing to throw caution to the wind if it means saving his friends or his love. Take, for example, the sequence toward the end of the game wherein Squall hurtles himself into the depths of space to save Rinoa, with absolutely no plan on how he might make his return. His love is so important to who he is, and what it has made him, that he would rather die than let it go.
The defining moment for this character, Squall, is unimaginable to players who first meet him sulking and brooding his way through the little monologue snippets that play in his mind. Even in the middle of the story, he opts to send Zell to save Rinoa from a potentially fatal fall, only going himself when there appears to be no other option. This gradual arc from stoic and closed off to open and supportive is still fascinating over 20 years later, and one of the key charms of Final Fantasy VIII.
Back in the fold and better than ever after 2 decades, Final Fantasy VIII Remastered has given the beloved black sheep of the Final Fantasy family a new lease on life, and a second chance to redefine its legacy. Whether it’s your first time venturing into this mad little piece of fiction or you’re coming back for the 10th replay, there’s never been a better, or more convenient, way to experience this one of a kind story.
‘Dragon Quest’: A One of a Kind RPG
Even as time moves further away from May 27, 1986, Dragon Quest doesn’t feel dated. It certainly shows its age, but it has an elegance that only the best of games can boast. Even today, Dragon Quest is one of a kind.
The original Dragon Quest on the NES can be an incredibly difficult game to revisit. As the game that more or less set the foundation for all future JRPGs, Dragon Quest naturally feels primitive in comparison. Grinding is an outright necessity, there are next to no boss fights, and dungeons emphasize maze-like exploration over puzzle solving. The game’s initial Japanese release even used a password system to maintain progress. It wouldn’t be until the game was localized as Dragon Warrior in the west where it would gain a proper save system. In spite of all this, the first Dragon Quest has a certain charm unlike anything else on the NES.
Dragon Quest, plain and simple, isn’t like other RPGs— even of its era. Combat has little depth beyond “attack and sometimes heal;” there’s no party system with the player instead exploring the world entirely on their own; and virtually every single area on the world map is open to the player as soon as they start the game. Dragon Quest doesn’t follow traditional JRPG rules, but there were no set rules on how to make a Famicom RPG in 1986. That Dragon Quest opts for a smaller scoped solo adventure allows players to better immerse themselves into the role of the Hero, if nothing else.
Which is something Dragon Quest pulls off better than both The Legend of Zelda and Final Fantasy. Even though players can name him, Link has a distinct enough design where he truly does feel like his own character. On the flipside, while the Warriors of Light are genuine blank slates, the fact they function as a group of four instead of a single character means that NPCs never directly speak to the player— only the party.
With Dragon Quest, however, the Hero is a blank slate who’s roped into dialogue at virtually every turn. NPCs aren’t monologuing into thin air, they’re talking to the player. The player is railroaded into saving the princess, but they can choose to side with the final boss at the end of the game for no reason other than pure curiosity. The story’s only real main arc revolves around the player proving their lineage as the descendant of a legendary hero. Dragon Quest caters itself towards the player’s experience in every sense.
This is a detail that translates right into the main script and helps give Alefgard a real personality. The King explicitly mentions his disappointment with the Hero when he dies in combat. The same characters who praise the hero for being Erdrick’s descendant lambast him if players dare speak to them without proof. The Hero physically needs to carry the princess back to the castle after rescuing her, but there’s unique dialogue after defeating the final boss while still holding her.
In many ways, these little distinctions are necessary for Dragon Quest to thrive. As an RPG, it’s far too simple for its own good. While Sleep does end up adding a layer of strategy to mid-game combat, the majority of the game will be spent mashing the Attack command at enemies. Not only because spells are best saved for when needed, but because of how important a role grinding plays. At the same time, it’s not as if Dragon Quest’s constant grinding is inherently a bad thing.
While yes, grinding is more often than not a way to pad out a game with filler, there’s a therapeutic quality to grinding in Dragon Quest. It’s low maintenance with just enough thrills where it can be quite a zen experience. It’s certainly time consuming, but it’s time spent grounding the player in Alefgard. Given how small the map is, it’s more than likely for players to gain an intimate understanding of the overworld in a single playthrough. Usually, RPG overworlds are large enough where most won’t even humor learning the overall geography, but Dragon Quest makes it simple.
And almost necessary considering how much backtracking there can be. To its credit, though, it’s the good kind of backtracking dictated more or less by players. Although moving further and further away from the starting castle triggers stronger enemies to appear, the player really can go just about anywhere right at the beginning of the game. Enemies will massacre them with little to no effort, but it’s not difficult to find the three major relics in any order. It’s even possible to hold off saving the princess until the very end of the game.
This is also to say nothing of what Dragon Quest offers from a pure gameplay experience. While battles are incredibly simple, stat numbers are grounded to the point where every little point of damage makes a difference. There’s a thrill to underestimating an Axe Knight, barely surviving, and then landing a critical hit that kills him in one swoop. The occasional Goldman and Metal Slime go a long way in adding a level of excitement to the Dragon Quest grind. If it’s going to be mandatory, why shouldn’t it be potentially interesting?
Battles are made even better by Dragon Quest’s dynamic first person perspective. Upon entering a random battle, a new in-game window pops up depicting an enemy with a lush background behind them. Toriyama’s art design is already a massive boon to the game’s aesthetic, but depicting backgrounds in-battle helps better present Alefgard as an actual, living world— something very few NES RPGs went through the effort of doing.
Even dungeons manage to be compelling in their simplicity. Players need to rely on torches early on to see anything inside of caves. The fact that light slowly dims over time can force players to rush for the exit as darkness creeps in around them. Dragon Quest is a game that’s more than comfortable leaving players to rot in a pitch black dungeon. It’s an RPG that emphasized the importance of preparation without needing to make it a constant game mechanic.
Healing magic ends up replacing herbs, Radiant makes torches useless, and Return ensures that players never need to waste an inventory slot on a Warp Wing. At the same time, healing magic is the most reliable way to heal so players might want to stock up on torches and Warp Wings anyways just to save MP. There isn’t much depth at play, but a fair bit of thought does go into the moment to moment gameplay.
At its core, Dragon Quest is a game that never out-stays its welcome. It’ll be a challenging title for fans of the genre to experience, but it’s one that can take players back to 1986, when Final Fantasy was still an entire year away and the JRPG genre was in its infancy. Dragon Quest doesn’t humor the player, but emotionally involves them in the world of the game. Even as time moves further away May 27, 1986, Dragon Quest doesn’t feel dated. It certainly shows its age, but it has an elegance that only the best of games can boast. Even today, Dragon Quest is one of a kind.
‘Mages of Mystralia’ and the Fear of the Bigger Fish
‘Mages of Mystralia’ challenges notion of the magic user as an Other, tasking players with determining the truth of its world for themselves.
Magic as a misunderstood disaster engine is pretty routine with our fantasy worldbuilding friends. Identifying cosmically gifted individuals as something Other exists within the narratives of the fantastic as everything from plot-relevant physical division (like the Circle in Dragon Age) to garden-variety bigotry (like the witch-boy in Overlord II, for the six people that remember that absolute unit of a tale). Some characters think magic is dangerous, others just think it’s cheating, but almost without exception the magic users of any established world are treated like people who walk into work with blood and gooey bits on their hands; maybe there’s a perfectly reasonable, innocent, non-murder explanation, but the safe bet is to assume they started their day by throwing unsuspecting virgins into equally unsuspecting volcanoes.
Which is fair, since Mages of Mystralia begins with the red-haired Zia yeeting out of the town of Greyleaf after accidentally setting her entire house on fire. Because Zia, obviously, is a mage, and in Mystralia, this is a very big problem.
In the Before Time [crashing thunder], there were Mage Kings, kings that were mages, and kings that had magic (the poison specifically for Kuzco, Kuzco’s poison). Those possessing this gift were whisked away from their tiny, little villages and raised in the castle to be heirs and guardians and suspicious viziers. Then the goblins came and started wrecking shop, and one squirrelly moron named Aetius (first — and probably last — of his name) went looking for the Celestial Magic that you’re uber-super-not supposed to touch. He touched it, kept touching it, went crazy, and set the country on fire, ruining magery for everybody else. A slightly less squirrelly dude called the Marquis (the only one to survive stopping Aetius), then took over and made magery and anybody who practices it illegal. All the existing mages were killed or banished, and new mages, if they were found, were nixed on the spot.
Making unchangeable personal qualities illegal doesn’t solve things, however, because once every decade magic wakes up in somebody anyway — and this time, that person is Zia. So, the magic wakes up, sets her house on fire, and the citizens of Greyleaf take it upon themselves to throw her out since the Marquis is far away and doesn’t care about them anymore.
And so, the adventure begins.
After getting booted, Zia makes her way to the mage village of Haven, and on the way finds this objectively evil book in what looks like an abandoned altar…pillar…gateway…thing. It’s been here for a hot minute before she picks it up; it starts talking to her and teaching spells that her magery mentor (named Mentor) tells her a few minutes later she shouldn’t have yet, but he’s sure it’s fine.
This is objectively evil book — it has a smoky black speech bubble and everything — teaches spells and gives all kinds of historical context for the places Zia goes while looking for ways to keep a solar eclipse from ending the world. In particular, he says something that encapsulates the theme of Mages of Mystralia: the word “spellcraft.” Zia corrects him and says, “You mean magery.” He responds: “Magery is a word used by people who are afraid of the Marquis and his men. Spellcraft better describes what mages do. You should call things by their real name.”
The book isn’t the only one to talk about this. At the very beginning of the game, Mentor is sitting on a log in front of a safe house in the woods, saying that he’s going to start teaching Zia spellcraft — and then immediately corrects himself to “magery,” because Zia hears “spellcraft” and kind of loses her mind. “Fine, magery, then if that word scares you less.”
“Spellcraft” is a heavily stigmatized word in the universe of Mages of Mystralia, and the different ways in which the book and Mentor react to it are important. Mentor resigns himself to Zia’s fear of it, while the objectively evil book is actively combating this attitude. These characters represent the two ways one can approach this kind of total exile. Mentor is from the older generation, the ones who saw the fall of the mage kings and who almost definitely knew mages who died in the initial purge. He is jaded and irritable, and twice in the first twenty minutes says to Zia, “Life is so easy, is it not?” when she gets antsy about using her magic.
The book, however, is older. The book represents a time when having mage-kings and actively roaming mage-guardians worked, letting players know that this system isn’t inherently flawed. Mage-kings used to be the reason people could walk freely in the valley at all; under the Marquis, the goblins run totally wild, and all the roads in and out of everywhere are unsafe. The book is calling things by their “real names,” as he remembers them, and wants to know why the modern language has shellacked all this new jargon over the truth. (Side-note, I have literally no reason to believe this evil book is male, but anyway…)
So, the objectively evil spellbook is thus far the only Socratic character in the story (which is fine, as you don’t need more than one). The purpose of a Socratic character is to be the voice of dissent in a story-world with which an audience is unfamiliar. While the book’s questions are rarely overt, his casual observations and concerns about the state of the world as it is and the world as he once knew it imply a hoard of information players don’t have — like the old quarry having flooded itself out of practical use in “[his] time,” and the seal table thing in the mage town of Haven having once been in the castle — and this inspires the player to ask questions of their own — like whether Celestial magic is truly an evil thing. It’s easy to fall into the bad-fantasy-novel trap of having everything a character tells you about the history of the land be the complete and unadulterated, non-propagandized truth; the book is our anchor against this type of narrative complacency.
The book functions as Zia’s anchor as well; alone, she wouldn’t think to ask these questions. The people she meets who know she’s a mage — and who fear her because of it — believe that magic is dangerous, and to keep themselves safe, the Valley just can’t have any magic in it at all. Zia was raised by these people; she grew up believing the same thing. Now that Zia is in the thick of it, she has to look further into it; but they don’t, because they are satisfied with the answers they already have. Their terror of mages stems from physical insecurity and an unwillingness to trust people with inherently more power over the world than they’ll ever possess, even in theory. The fastest way to solve that problem at the time was to get rid of the offending power. That way, their ‘side’ (non-mages) would be the biggest fish in the ocean. There would be nothing left — in theory — capable of scaring them.
The turning point of Mages of Mystralia happens when the Marquis dies in the most suspicious fire ever. The Chancellor says, “A mage did it” and decides to find all the ones they let go the first time in order to kill them properly now. The first place to be attacked is Zia’s home village, Greyleaf.
This incident is the turning point not because it’s where the status quo gets paved over, but because public opinion begins to turn in Zia’s favor. The Marquis is dead, and the Chancellor — who was the voice of the Marquis and a man in whom the public had great trust — is becoming as dangerous as mages had ever been. Aetius had to be stopped not because of his Celestial magic, but because he was using it to burn villages to the ground; now the Chancellor is doing the exact same thing. The only difference is the Chancellor is using the army instead of magic.
The most eye-opening thing Zia learns, however, is that the fear of mages was not entirely organic, but orchestrated by a single person. The Chancellor, we discover, is a mage. His goal is to exact revenge on the mages of Haven who exiled him for trying to master magic he was not ready for — Celestial magic, just like Aetius. Does this mean, then, that mages are evil? If the last two people to burn down the Valley were mages, surely magic must be the problem. Yet it is not, precisely because Zia also a mage. If both the hero and the villain are mages, the only difference between them is who they are as people.
Mages of Mystralia is Zia’s journey — not only to love her new self, but in learning that, to quote The Blacklist of all things: “the line of good and evil runs through us all,” and the world is never as simple as we think. Mages aren’t inherently evil, and non-mages aren’t inherently good. We are presented with mages who are good and mages who are evil; we are shown people who fear the player, and people who do not. The Chancellor is a mage who hurts people; Zia, Mentor, and everyone in Haven are mages who save them. The world is full of evidence to something, but whatever that might be, Zia and the book have to find out what’s really true for themselves.
“You will not always find the answers you seek,” says the Enchanter in Haven, “but you will always grow stronger, seeking them.”
‘Creature In The Well’ Review: Dungeon Crawling Pinballing
‘Creature in the Well’ is a unique blend of genres, and an absolute must-try for audiences of both the pinball and puzzle games.
A top-down, pinball-inspired, hack-and-slash dungeon crawler? That certainly may be a genre combination never done before. But in reflection to the sciences of chemistry, sometimes grouping elements into a mixture can create something that is definitively unique and distinguishable from its initial ingredients. Creature In The Well is a whole new breed of game design — by blending various genres, developer Flight School has created one of the most distinctive and satisfying puzzle games in recent years. The closest comparison you can probably make is if Hyper Light Drifter collided with a classic pinball cabinet and Breakout.
Acquiring a New Beat
Creature in the Well tasks the final remaining BOT-C unit in a mysterious world to venture into the desert mountain that lies in wait next to the imprisoned city of Mirage, a land captured by a deadly sandstorm. Inside the mountain rests an ancient facility in need of power; but there’s also a fearsome creature who stuck in a state of despair. It is the bot’s job to reboot the machine, stop the monster, and save the city of Mirage from the never-ending storm that shrouds the land.
Although it may sound like a hack-and-slash dungeon crawler, Creature In The Well is not a test of strength against all odds; it’s a quest of knowledge that utilizes timed actions. The BOT-C unit is not on a bloodlust to its goal; it’s in a fight for survival through various puzzles that demonstrate adaptability. The game is a test against the active mind.
After obtaining a sword and learning quicker means of movement through dashing, it would be easy to assume that fighting comes next. However, the reality of the situation is that the BOT-C unit’s sword and secondary weapon are never swung directly at an opponent — not once throughout the entire journey. Instead, weapons are used as flippers in a sort of active pinball game, continuously knocking around orbs of energy at various machines that will grant voltage. This energy must be spent to open hydraulic doors throughout each dungeon that block progress, but it can also be used to upgrade the BOT-C unit’s gear via a blacksmith, or to find upgrades secretly scattered behind different pathways. The more thoroughly a dungeon is explored, the more voltage there is to claim from conquering puzzles of higher difficulty.
The environment then ends up becoming the greatest threat, as there are no true enemies to wield weapons against. A variety of projectiles can cause damage, forcing players to move around. Well-placed shots and timely swings are the keys to progression, and the only way of reaching the endgame. Adapting and using creative ways to solve puzzles is the foundation of Creature In The Well. Mastering Breakout and Pong-like movements for multiple projectiles at the same time is the recipe for success.
Creature In The Well makes magnificent use of the Unreal Engine, showcasing a nightly overcast atmosphere with a bleak, dark color palette, but it also manages to remain bright and colorful thanks to the illuminating projectile lights and flashy animations. This ultimately amounts to a game that is not only satisfying to play, but satisfying to watch. It’s a distinct art style that is welcoming to the eyes rather than a confusingly chaotic bunch of unrecognizable firefights.
Creature in the Well urges players to progressively think smarter as they traverse the eight vastly different dungeons. Each puzzle room slowly improves upon the last, as the game consistently and smartly reuses mechanics while introducing new gimmicks to accommodate the metronome-action movements. These gimmicks can range from the way in which energy orbs damage to adding new obstacles like electrical flooring or spiraling death traps.
Puzzles can progressively become more and more challenging, but most are either not mandatory or don’t need to be completed immediately, as there are branching paths and enough energy to skip some roadblocks. This ultimately comes off as a negative or positive aspect depending on the individual player, as puzzle difficulty drastically changes depending on the order in which dungeons are played. Creature In The Well’s lack of a recommended dungeon order might make you work harder in the early-game, which results in a rather carefree late-game that sees you blasting through puzzles with ease — or vice versa.
On the other hand, this gives the player breathing room, allowing them to experiment with routes and return to previous challenges. Skipping or leaving puzzles unsolved lessens opportunities for rewards, so a handy in-game map system allows players to keep track of exactly where they have not completed rooms on designated paths. An unyielding challenge can become an underwhelming enigma with proper dedication and practice. That said, although the endgame can become less challenging than the beginning, the pinball-inspired mechanics are so entertaining that a decline in difficulty never truly becomes an issue. Creature in the Well is never a slog to play through, even when revisiting old dungeons in the latter half of the game.
All of these dungeons conclude with thrilling matchups with the main power sources, as well as the creature who lives beneath the land. Creature In The Well does not have what many would consider traditional dungeon crawler boss fights, but simply sticks to a its puzzle gameplay and challenges players with a larger and more complex version. These battles involve the creature, who extends its arms from beneath the dark abyss in an attempt to attack you.
Embrace The Storm
Creature In The Well is a captivating case of a fresh experiment gone right. Flight School took risks in attempting to dabble in multiple genres at once that seemingly don’t correlate to each other. Yet, the end result is a fascinating concept built on the gorgeously-used Unreal Engine, with the potential to be further expanded upon. Albeit short, the journey to delve into the deepest parts of the mountain to solve new high-speed kinetic puzzles while avoiding a mysterious, calamitous creature never grows stale over the 5-7 hour journey. It is by far the most distinct ‘break the mold’ type game to be released this year, and an absolute must-try for audiences of both the pinball and puzzle game genres.
Goomba Stomp is the joint effort of a team of like-minded writers from across the globe. We provide smart readers with sharp, entertaining writing on a wide range of topics in pop culture, offering an escape from the usual hype and gossip. We are currently looking for Indie Game reviewers.
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