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The Best Video Game Soundtracks 2018 The Best Video Game Soundtracks 2018

Games

20 Best Video Game Soundtracks of 2018- Part One

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2018 has been a pretty good year for video games in general but also an impressive one for video game soundtracks. Join us as we take a look back on the past year and start counting down the top 20 soundtracks from video games.

20- Mulaka

Kicking off the list we have Mulaka, an independent game by Mexican indie developer Lienzo for PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, and Microsoft Windows. The titular character is a shaman-like figure and gameplay focuses mostly on combat and puzzle solving. Mulaka is a game rich in Mexican culture and tradition and the soundtrack very much reflects this. The game is heavily inspired by the Tarahumara, an indigenous group who dwell in Chihuahua in Northern Mexico. The game has full narration in the native Tarahumara language and the music is also inspired by them.  Lienzo worked with musician Diego Borja and poet and musician Martin Makawi on the soundtrack. They used traditional Tarahumara instruments to truly capture the essence of the Tarahumara culture and folklore, in which music is an incredibly important element. Lienzo fully engrosses the player in a culture that they may not necessarily be familiar with or even aware of and the music is a crucial part of this, pulling the player into the Tarahumara mythology.

Top Track- “Against the Beast of the Desert” – high octane and exciting, this track makes full use of a variety of instruments to create an exciting battle theme which also captures the spirit of Mexican culture.

19- Into the Breach

Into the Breach is a turn-based strategy game developed by Subset Games about mankind’s battle for survival against giant monsters known as the Vek. The player’s role in the game is to control a giant mech, piloted by a soldier, to not only defeat the Vek but also protect structures and various buildings so that the power grid which supports the mechs remains stable. The music for Into the Breach is composed by Ben Prunty, who creates a soundtrack which successfully conveys the apocalyptic themes by utilizing somber, sweeping tracks. Prunty also infuses this dystopian sound with a futuristic sci-fi style to make the game world of mechs and monsters come to life. The music is particularly impressive for a turn-based game, where music can often be of a softer nature. But Into the Breach defies this convention. In an interview with PC Gamer, Prunty discussed this change of tactic for a strategy game, “As a group, we decided to throw out the idea that strategy game music should be quiet, and for each new track I just kept iterating and refining the concept I built with the trailer music. I kept it more energetic, and stopped relying on synthesizers.” Using this method, Prunty creates something truly unique to the turn-based genre and a soundtrack on par with games such as Fallout.

Top Track- Old War Machines Of all the tracks from Into the Breach, “Old War Machines” best conveys the desperation and the determination of humanity against the Vek and the struggle for survival. It’s a high powered track with an edge of sorrow in its mournful violins. “Old War Machines” shows that Ben Prunty succeeds in capturing a dystopian video game world that won’t go down without a fight.

18- Guacamelee! 2

The DrinkBox Studios sequel to the original Guacamelee! game comes with a fun and flamboyant soundtrack with a mariachi-inspired theme. Guacamelee! 2 was released on PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch and Microsoft Windows this year with a release for the Xbox One due in January 2019. The game returns to its Mexican roots, following Juan Agucate the luchador. What I love about this soundtrack is the blend of classic Mexican mariachi band music with the chiptune video game music style. It’s a choice that merges well the vivid and colourful aesthetics and animation and the cartoonish, beat em up, Metroidvania gameplay. The game is full of charm and personality, and the soundtrack is equally effervescent.

Top Track- “Guacamelee! 2 Theme (Main Menu)” – The game’s main theme is a perfect blend of traditional Mexican mariachi music with techno chiptune riffs. It introduces the player to the games fun and lively manner immediately before you’ve even pressed start, making the tune stand out.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZfvR8XzPUUo

17-Assassin’s Creed Odyssey

The latest installment in the Assassin’s Creed franchise came out this year on the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and Microsoft Windows. Assassin’s Creed Odyssey delivered another impressive soundtrack, this one composed by Ivor Novello award-winning musicians Alexis Smith and Joe Henson, who make up the band The Flight. The game is set in Ancient Greece and is as epic in scale as is expected. In an interview done with Ubisoft for the game’s release, The Flight discussed the feeling that they wanted to get across with the soundtrack, “Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is about family, betrayal , nd war; it’s a proper Greek tragedy. We wanted the music to reflect that, to be able to go from tender and tragic, human and fragile to full-on epic battle.” This is one of the most powerful aspects of the soundtrack, its ability to switch between the epic and the personal. Music for the large action sequences fits well with the quieter pieces for character and narrative driven sequences, such as Odyssey, a melodious song sung in Greek which introduces the player character. The Assassin’s Creed franchise has always had a pretty good record of quality music, and Odyssey is no exception.  The Flight captures the sound of war and it echoes throughout, but the softer moments are what really stand out here.

Top Track- “Assassin’s Creed” – Whilst the main theme of the game, “Legend of the Eagle Bearer”, is fantastic, I chose the familiar theme that runs through all of the Assassin’s Creed games. It returns in Odyssey with a slight reinterpretation, as do the themes in all the games, and it’s a beautiful take on the iconic music. It acts as the menu theme, immediately drawing players back in to the Assassin’s Creed world from the moment they open the game.

16- Donut County

A simple game with a simple premise, Donut County is an indie game developed by Ben Esposito and published by Annapurna Interactive which was released on Microsoft Windows and Nintendo Switch with an Xbox One version coming in mid-December. The player acts as a giant hole whose goal it is to swallow as many objects as possible. That’s it. Despite the simplicity, Donut County is a charming game with a great soundtrack to accompany it. The soundtrack was composed by Daniel Koestner, a friend and collaborator of Esposito. The ukulele is the star of the show here as some of the best tracks come from the cute, folk inspired riffs. The folk style blends well with the colourful and blocky cartoon visuals. In an interview with Vox, Esposito joked about the use of the ukulele, “Ukulele, to me, if I even say the word, I’m like, ‘Ugh’.” Despite the cheesiness that can be associated with it, Koestner and Esposito utilised the ukulele to create a delightful score full of charm. The simplicity of the game and the effortless musical accompaniment did not come about easily. In the same interview, Esposito said, “We kind of went back and forth and whittled it down, and this is the culmination of six-plus years of music that we figured out a feel and a vibe for together.” The effort that went into putting the soundtrack together is evident here and it pays off in the end result. Donut County’s brilliantly crafted soundtrack stands out as one of the best this year.

Top Track- “Garbage Day” – The laid back tones of “Garbage Day” is so relaxing and well done that the song wouldn’t sound out of place on a folk album. It’s a great way to initiate the game as the main menu music and it’s also a good indicator of the music to follow. It also helped to coin the phrase, “Have a Garbage Day!”. So there are only positives to be had here.

15- Life is Strange 2- Episode 1

The first Life is Strange game had a well-known and highly praised soundtrack so it’s no surprise that the first episode for the second outing, Life is Strange 2, would already be impressing gamers with both its choice of licensed music and the original score.  There is still a significant amount of indie music woven into the soundtracks licensed songs with the likes of British band The Streets, Whitney and Phoenix making an appearance as well as more mainstream music such as a track from Bloc Party. The songs aren’t haphazardly thrown together to create an album that will appeal, they are carefully chosen to reflect the story and the characters journey just as they were in the first Life is Strange.

This time round, the focus is on two boys rather than Max and Chloe from the first game. Sean and Daniel are brothers who, after a devastating and tragic accident, end up alone and on the run, living on the road. Sean is a teenager, so he’s full of angst and is hurting from his losses whilst Daniel is still a child who is lost and confused due to Sean’s initial decision to hide the truth from him. The dynamic is completely different from the best friend relationship in the original Life is Strange but the soundtrack still manages to capture the essence of the brotherhood perfectly. The songs are what you might expect a teenage boy to have on his iPod; the moody “The Streets” is a particular stand out in this aspect and it was a great touch to have Sean mumbling along to it if you play it on the stereo in his room.

Jonathan Morali returns to score the sequel, otherwise known by his band name Syd Matters, and he does another excellent job with this one. The score for the first episode is only short, with three pieces of music, but this is to be expected. Each piece fantastically contributes when it comes to telling Sean and Daniels story just as his previous score told Max and Chloe’s.

The soundtrack for Life is Strange 2 is off to a brilliant start and I felt that it deserved a place on the best soundtracks list as it is only the very first episode. Jonathan Morali’s work on the score is impressive and the licensed songs are well thought out but not overkill. There is a lot of promise here for the upcoming episodes and I can’t wait to hear what the music will offer in the next episode.

Top Track- “Into the Woods” – I’ve chosen one of Jonathan Morali’s pieces of music for the best track rather than one of the licensed songs. “Into the Woods” manages to be both mellow and relaxing whilst also being haunting and isolating. It plays not long after Sean and Daniel go on the run. They find themselves in the woods, Sean having to take over as the parental figure and Daniel wanting to return to a home that no longer exists. Both are scared but for different reasons. It reflects the uncertain nature of the duo’s future but still manages to be a soothing piece of music, comforting like how the brothers are comforted by still having each other despite everything.  It’s an affecting piece to listen to while you play.

14- Deltarune

When indie RPG Undertale was released in 2015, praised was heaped upon it for many reasons including its impressive soundtrack. When the follow-up Deltarune came out this October, the soundtrack was once again a brilliant addition with new music as well as leitmotifs that occur throughout, some of which reference Undertale’s soundtrack.

Deltarune isn’t exactly a sequel to Undertale, nor is it a prequel. Creator Toby Fox has said that the game is separate and takes place in another reality. There are differences, but there are also glaring similarities and the music is one of them. Once again, Fox was entirely responsible for the music as he was with Undertale. It’s impressive enough knowing that one person was able to compose a great video game soundtrack on their own, but Fox has managed it twice now. The music is again reminiscent of old NES games to give it a retro feel but there are also a few piano and guitar based tracks that break it up a bit. Deltarune builds on that with one of its major tunes “Don’t Forget”, a short but sweet song played entirely on the piano with a voice accompaniment from Laura Shigihara. The added vocal effect adds softness to the song whilst still maintaining what we loved about the Undertale soundtrack in the rest of the score.

The quality of the Deltarune soundtrack is a testament to Toby Fox’s talents as a game designer and musician. He is able to craft another soundtrack which reflects the characters and narrative of the game brilliantly whilst also making a soundtrack which is genuinely fun to listen to and play along to. Whilst Deltarune’s OST doesn’t necessarily live up to Undertale’s soundtrack (such as the grandeur that was “Megalovania” or the eccentric nature of “Dogsong”), Fox succeeds in creating another great original score. Deltarune is only Chapter 1 of what is sure to have more installments, so hopefully moving forward, he will continue his trend of making memorable music.

Top Track- “Friendship” – I was considering having “Fields of Hopes” and “Dreams” as my top pick or “Don’t Forget”, but I eventually settled on “Friendship” as I feel that it defines what makes Toby Fox’s music so charming. The song is an alternate version of “Don’t Forget” but it has the retro style that we knew from Undertale. It combines a beautifully crafted original melody with that classic video game sound that Fox has mastered. “Friendship” stood out upon my first listen and I’d say it’s still my favourite.

13-Monster Hunter World

Capcom’s Monster Hunter World has a soundtrack as monstrously large as its titular creatures. So much of the game is lovingly crafted and the music is a stand out element. The JRPG title is pretty much what you would expect, with the game putting the player in the shoes of a Hunter who must trap or kill a variety of monsters of all shapes and sizes. It’s not uncommon to have a sprawling soundtrack for an RPG game but Monster Hunter World goes above and beyond with its rousing musical themes.

Composer Akihiko Narita worked with Zhenlan Kang and other talented musicians to create an atmospheric album that combined several elements. The whimsy, the adventure, the danger and the fierce battles that the player must face are all captured within the music. Each monster has a different theme and each piece of music corresponds to the monsters nature. This makes the music feel in sync with the creatures on screen. Main battle melodies switch up in tempo and tone in comparison to music for smaller fights. For instance, the small monsters battle music for Rotten Vale is more upbeat and perkier in its tone than the main battle music for Rotten Vale, though they share the same general theme. The shift in tone affects the atmosphere of the game and the players experience in turn, which is a definitely a worthy achievement.

Monster Hunter World has provided us with an epic soundtrack worthy of fighting monsters. The score swells and sweeps as it follows the player through their journey, changing composition when needed and adapting to each monster as it goes. Narita has created a stunning JRPG soundtrack which is sure to go down as some of the best music of the genre.

Top Track- Main Theme- “Stars at Our Backs” – Monster Hunter World’s main theme is an incredible tune, beginning timidly and becoming more brazen as the theme surges with power and scope, suggesting an adventure of epic proportions.  It characterizes everything great about action adventure role-playing games and brings it all into one epic theme. Also, check out “Meowscular Chef’s Custom Platter” a track featuring eighteen seconds of cats who are also chefs mixed with some fabulous guitar playing.

12- Detroit: Become Human

Quantic Dreams’ Detroit: Become Human, a game about androids and humans living amongst one another in a near future version of Detroit, was a somewhat polarising game upon release. It was met with generally positive reviews mixed with a few glaring issues that made many think the game was all style over substance. One element that can’t be knocked however is the soundtrack. Compelling, evocative and multifaceted, Detroit: Become Human had one of the most interesting musical arrangements of the year.

What makes the music to Detroit so interesting is the fact that it has three separate soundtracks, each created by a different composer with a unique style. The music is split three ways thematically so that each of the main characters, Kara, Connor, and Markus, have their own distinct music to represent them individually. This is an interesting way to go about creating a game soundtrack and to me, it worked great. Each character has their personal story with paths that merge and the music reflects this. They have their own themes and styles of music that inevitably end up meeting and merging but they never lose their individuality. The themes flow well independently but they work well with one another’s themes too so there is no jarring disassociation that could come from having several pieces of music that don’t compliment each other.

Each of the playable characters in Detroit is an android and it’s interesting to see how each composer goes about creating a theme for each of them. Philip Sheppard is the composer of Kara’s music, Nima Fakhrara composes the tracks for Connor and John Paesano created the music for Markus. Sheppard opts for a more melancholy and emotional sound. As Kara has to take care of a little girl named Alice, there is more of an emotional element due to the bond that grows between Alice and Kara. Sheppard captures this well with quieter pieces that are almost like lullabies at times. Meanwhile, Fakhara’s theme for Connor features robotic synthetic sounds and melodies. Connor begins the game as an android that will do anything to complete his mission but, depending on the player choice, he can become more of an emotional being, able to feel and empathize. Fakhara’s theme does a good job of telling the story of an android who is at times questioning himself, as the music can become softer and more heartfelt at times even though the cold and unfeeling nature of Connor’s theme still runs throughout. Paesano’s theme for Markus also holds more emotional tones, with soft piano riffs making up most of his tracks. His music becomes more rousing and defiant as it continues, reflecting his journey as he becomes a voice for all androids in Detroit. Even as he rises through the ranks, his soft piano is still there. Paesano is able to convey the conflicting emotions that Markus can feel at times.

All three composers manage to excellently portray their characters with music that reflects each character and changes accordingly as they progress through the story. Detroit: Become Human may not have been an appeal to everyone’s tastes, but it certainly has a soundtrack that deserves to be appreciated.

Top Track- “Kara’s Theme” – Markus’s theme is brilliantly motivating as well as being oddly soothing to listen to. Connor’s theme is a futuristic joy that wouldn’t sound out of place in a movie like Blade Runner. But it’s Kara’s theme that stands out to me. The sadness that surrounds the song is captivating and you can almost feel Kara’s desperate desire to survive, to protect Alice and to be accepted as more than a machine as you listen. Phillip Sheppard does an incredible job here.

11- Moonlighter

Indie games can be a goldmine of amazing music and RPG indie game Moonlighter from 11-bit studios has got such an endearing soundtrack that I had to add it to the list of best soundtracks. Moonlighter is a game where you maintain a shop by day and adventure into deep, dark dungeons by night. The mashup of business sim and dungeon explorer makes for a game full of charm, but the music adds even more heart to an already great game.

Much like the game, which switches between the calm reality of shopkeeping and the high octane bravery of battling dungeon dwelling nasties, the soundtrack also flits between music for exploration and adventure and music for casual relaxation. The drums echo and the strings ring out as the epic adventure music kicks in. The casual music is more carefree and loses the edge of the adventure music but doesn’t become any lesser for it. It’s a great way to show the difference in tone between the shop life and the dungeon life and David Fenn, the composer, balances it perfectly. He maintains the key theme throughout, which is one of the loveliest tunes to grace games this year.

Moonlighter as a whole, both in terms of the soundtrack and the game, shows that you don’t need a triple-A studio or an unlimited budget to create something beautiful and memorable. David Fenn’s music stayed with me long after listening, and it not only captured the essence of the game, it captured my spirits in a way that a lot of big name game soundtracks couldn’t.

Top Track- “Beyond the Gates”  this main theme just oozes charm, wonder, and brilliance whilst also being highly relaxing at the same time. I was actively looking forward to hearing the familiar sound of “Beyond the Gates” as I listened to the rest of the soundtrack and was happy when I could hear it expertly woven throughout the rest of the soundtrack. As far as indie game soundtracks go, Moonlighter is definitely one of my all-time favourites with “Beyond the Gates” now one of my favourite indie game themes.

PART TWO (TOP 10)

Antonia Haynes resides in a small seaside town in England where she has lived her whole life. She's a simple girl with a passion for zombies, writing, film, television, drawing, superheroes, Disney and, of course, video games. Her ideal day would consist of junk food, fluffy pyjamas and video games because quite frankly going outside is overrated. Follow her on Twitter on @RainbowMachete

Games

I Still Don’t Understand ‘Death Stranding’ (and That’s a Good Thing)

Death Stranding could create an experience unlike any game before it, and while I can’t claim to understand it, I’m certainly excited for it.

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It may only be a few months until launch, but Death Stranding remains shrouded in mystery. This first independent project from gaming auteur Hideo Kojima has been an enigma ever since it was first announced. When the world first saw Norman Reedus standing on a foggy shoreline with a weeping fetus in his arms, many questions naturally arose. Why is a celebrity actor cradling an unborn child on a beach? What kind of gameplay could we expect from this? And what does “Death Stranding” even mean, anyway?

Years may have passed since that initial reveal, but in my view at least, these questions still haven’t been fully answered. I simply do not understand Death Stranding. It’s confounded me like few games before it have – and yet, that may be the very best thing about it. There’s something enticing about that mystery. Death Stranding could create an experience unlike any game before it, and while I can’t claim to understand it, I’m certainly excited for it.

Between trailers, interviews, and a fairly hefty amount of gameplay footage, there’s been an increasingly constant stream of information about Death Stranding for over a year now. This is especially true at Gamescom 2019, where the game has had an extensive presence with two full trailers and a live gameplay demonstration. For most games, this extensive amount of coverage should eliminate all the biggest questions, presenting a relatively clear idea of what the final product should be. But consider the content of Death Stranding’s most recent trailers: one consists entirely of an exposition dump about the power and proper maintenance of jarred fetuses, while another opens with Norman Reedus urinating in a field to create a giant mushroom before dropping off a package for Geoff Keighley. Previous trailers show ruined cities overflowing with tar, gold-masked lion monsters, and levitating shadow creatures. If you can make heads or tails of all that, then you’re certainly cleverer than I.

With every new piece of information, I find it more difficult to wrap my head around the game. Even with the few concrete details known about it, Death Stranding continues to defy simple categorization. Although it features stealth elements, it certainly doesn’t seem like another Metal Gear; while it will have a massive open world, it doesn’t look like it will follow in the footsteps of signature modern open worlds like Horizon Zero Dawn or Breath of the Wild; and though it tells a story about reconnecting the broken cities of a post-apocalyptic United States, its mixture of stealth, politics, and the supernatural make it distinct from most other narrative-focused games out there. Each trailer introduces another wrinkle to the perplexing web of Kojima’s latest vision.

It is this very ambiguity that makes Death Stranding so enticing. With most games, it’s easy to understand them based on a quick glance at their trailer alone. This will reveal their genre, their personality, any unique gimmicks – all the usual culprits. But with Death Stranding, the more we learn about it, the more the mystery grows. At this point, it’s even difficult to pin the game into a single genre. Only the most ambitious games manage to create genres of their own, but from what we’ve seen so far, Death Stranding looks like it could be one of them. It could simply be little more than excellent marketing, but knowing that Kojima’s unbridled imagination is behind it, my hopes are high.

Death Stranding

It would make sense for Death Stranding to be so inventive given the circumstances behind its creation. For years, Kojima’s corporate overlords at Konami had stifled his creativity as they moved the company’s focus away from Kojima’s traditional titles like Metal Gear and Silent Hill towards more immediately lucrative pursuits such as mobile platforms and pachinko machines. Now that Kojima has freed himself from those restrictions and formed an independent studio of his own, his vision can run more freely than ever before. It’s to be expected that, finally presented with the opportunity to fully express his vision, he’d do so by creating something truly daring, something never seen before.

Of course, as attractive as the intrigue around Death Stranding may be, it doesn’t change that it’s difficult to really judge a game without knowing much about it at all. With so many important details remaining unspecified, there’s no telling whether Death Stranding will actually achieve its clear ambitions. If I were to view things pessimistically, I’d posit that the game’s ambiguity could be nothing more than an elaborate marketing scheme meant to mask the lackluster game beneath it. While I’m certainly much more optimistic about the game than that, I can’t deny the very real possibility that it could be the case.

But at the end of the day, I simply cannot resist the romantic allure of a game so surrounded by mystery. The core of Death Stranding may be wrapped in an inscrutable fog, but Kojima uses this layer of secrecy to invite players to experience a game that is truly new, an all-too-rare commodity in games today. Kojima hasn’t been free to express his vision so fully for years now, but at long last he has his chance. I cannot comprehend Death Stranding, and that’s exactly why I’m so excited for it.

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‘Daemon X Machina’ – Spotlighting 2019’s Least-Hyped Switch Game

Daemon X Machina made a bold first impression with its bombastic announcement at E3 2018 – and gamers promptly stopped caring about it. It’s time for that to change.

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Daemon x Machina

Daemon X Machina made a bold first impression with its bombastic announcement at E3 2018 – and gamers promptly stopped caring about it. It’s time for that to change.

From the very beginning, Daemon X Machina has struggled for attention.  It’s certainly not for lack of trying; after all, Nintendo has worked tirelessly to help promote this Switch-exclusive mech action game from Marvelous, even going so far as to position it as the first announcement of its big E3 Direct last year. Despite these efforts, though, Daemon X Machina has often been lost in the shuffle of other Switch exclusives. When there’s constantly talks of a new Animal Crossing, Zelda, or Smash Bros., an original IP like Daemon X Machina easily gets left out of the conversation. However, there’s no denying that it has some incredible potential, making it a game that’s certainly worth checking out amidst the crowded release schedule for the rest of the year. Now is the time to spotlight that ahead of its launch on September 13.

A good mech game doesn’t need to do much – it must simply provide the player with massive robot suits, near-excessive over-the-top action, and a story to help the game make at least a little sense. Daemon X Machina looks set to deliver in all three of those departments. It will feature a huge amount of flexibility to create the perfect mech, thanks to hundreds of interchangeable weapons and body parts, many of which can be scavenged from fallen enemies. With gargantuan destructible environments and hordes of robotic foes to take down, the combat looks to be as extravagant as some of the best action games of recent years. That’s not to mention the main plot, which focuses on the aftermath of the moon exploding. Yes, it does sound like ridiculous anime-inspired fodder, but a game about giant roots blowing each other out of the sky doesn’t need a plot that adheres to realism. It need only set up a somewhat-reasonable backdrop for intense mechanized combat, and in that regard, it’s looking like a recipe for success.

Daemon X Machina

All these features are great on their own, but what makes them truly exciting is the pedigree behind them. Daemon X Machina is being developed by a dream team of developers who have worked extensively on some of the most iconic mech games ever made. For instance, the team includes Kenichiro Tsukuda and Shoji Kawamori, who respectively produced and designed the mechs for the legendary Armored Core series. This team aims to take the classic formula that made Armored Core and other classics so special and put it back in the spotlight with Daemon X Machina. However, that doesn’t mean that it will be merely derivative. It already displays a distinct personality of its own thanks to its ambitious gameplay concepts (again, exploding moon) and its distinctive cell-shaded visuals. Its striking color palette of bold reds, blacks, and whites shouldn’t be surprising, considering that its art is directed by none other than Yusuke Kozaki, who has worked on such stylish titles as the No More Heroes series.

If it achieves its potential, Daemon X Machina could be a godsend for its genre. While it would be unfair to call the mech action genre “dead,” it is certainly quite niche. This would be the first time in years that a giant robot action game has had the full support of a major company like Nintendo behind it. And while Nintendo has already supported this genre in the past, this will be the first time that it’s done so on a hit console like the Switch, which automatically gives it a wide and passionate audience. Even with its inherent niche status, Daemon X Machina is already in a better position than many similar games before it thanks to its publisher and platform. If it does well, it could inspire Nintendo and other companies to promote similar games, leading to a needed revival of the genre’s popularity.

But this leads to one of the simultaneously best and worst aspects of Daemon x Machina: its demo. Marvelous released an early demo on the Switch eShop back in February with the intention of drumming up interest in the game and getting player feedback. To put it plainly, it wasn’t very good. The action felt unsatisfying with a lack of any feeling of real impact with each blow; it was difficult to aim at enemies due to imprecise targeting systems, poor visibility, and an absence of gyro controls; and worst of all, its performance was horrendous. It was stuck at a mere thirty frames per second, which is already less than ideal for such a fast-paced action game. But it didn’t even manage to hit that target consistently, leading to a choppy and unsatisfying experience. One need only take a quick look through Digital Foundry’s breakdown to understand the demo’s many issues.

Daemon X Machina

“Marvelous did something incredible here: they listened to their fans.”

However, the demo has turned out to be something of a blessing in disguise. Shortly after the demo’s release, Marvelous distributed a survey to many players and requested their feedback. A few months later, Nintendo released a new trailer showing how the feedback had been integrated into the game. The full list of changes reads like a wish list of everything that needed to be adjusted following the demo. Highlights include the addition of gyro controls, improved targeting and feedback systems, and most importantly, an improved framerate. In fact, the developers have stated that performance was one of their “top priorities” when adjusting the game.

Marvelous did something incredible here: they listened to their fans. The fact that they were so open to feedback and eager to improve bodes incredibly well for the final release. They know that the mech action genre isn’t what it used to be, and they seem truly passionate about creating a quality title in the genre they love. In an industry that is so often focused more on emptying players’ wallets than creating a worthwhile title, this attitude is incredibly refreshing, hinting of a project that’s filled with genuine care and passion.

The unfortunate truth remains that Daemon X Machina is bound to be one of Nintendo’s least-hyped games this year. As long as games like Astral Chain, Dragon Quest XI S, and Link’s Awakening are all releasing within the same month, it will almost inevitably remain that way. But there is incredible promise for it nonetheless. With the quality of the game design, the legacy of its creators, and their clear passion for their project, it looks set to become something very special and deserves every bit of attention it can get. If fans can look past the games that typically hog the spotlight to find this bombastic little secret, they could be in for an enthusiastic, if under-hyped revival of a once-dormant genre.

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Games

‘Earthbound’ is one of the Weirdest, Most Surreal Video Games

25 Years later…

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Games that Changed Our Lives

The SNES is arguably home to some of the best Japanese role-playing games ever made, but even among such revered company, Earthbound (known as Mother 2 in Japan) stands out as a brilliant satire about growing up and our fears of conformity. It’s anarchy versus conformity, only conformity doesn’t stand a chance.

EarthBound has been often compared to Catcher in the Rye with its complex issues of identity, belonging, loss, connection, and alienation. Blistering, hallucinatory, often brilliant, Earthbound is a one-two punch of social satire and a hilarious ride into the twisted recesses of a boy’s psyche. This often funny, always poignant coming of age tale, deeply embedded in suburban mores, centers around four kids, off to save the planet by collecting melodies while en route to defeating the evil alien force known as Giygas.

Earthbound
Earthbound
didn’t reinvent the wheel, but it sure had fun twisting the usual JRPG tropes. There’s a princess you must rescue, not once, but twice, who’s really just a child prodigy, and there’s an arch nemesis who turns out to be your next-door neighbour. The game puts you in the shoes of a young boy named Ness as he investigates a nearby meteorite crash. There, he learns that Giygas, has enveloped the world in hatred and consequently turned animals, humans, and inanimate objects into dangerous creatures. A bee from the future instructs Ness to collect melodies in a Sound Stone to preemptively stop Giygas from destroying the planet. While visiting eight Sanctuaries, Ness partners with three other kids, a psychic girl (Paula), an eccentric inventor (Jeff), and the prince of the kingdom of Dalaam (Poo). Along the way are underlining themes of corrupt politicians, post-traumatic stress, corporate greed, depression, capitalism, police violence, terrorist attacks, homosexuality, religious cults, and xenophobia. Your adventures take you through modern cities, prehistoric villages, cold winter climates, a desert wasteland, monkey caves, swamps, dinosaur museums, and even a yellow submarine.

“Ness, you’ve stood on the eight power spots of the earth. From these, you created Magicant, the realm of your mind.”

A pivotal moment in the game comes after collecting all eight melodies with the Sound Stone. After Ness has taken control of his Sanctuaries, Ness visits, Magicant, a surreal location that exists only in his mind and contains his warmest memories and his worst fears – an allegory perhaps, for how the entire game allows us to see into the mind of the creator. There, Ness must face his dark side. A man tells him, “Magicant is a place where you must cleanse yourself of the evil hidden within your mind. Take the time to look around, it is your mind after all.”

EarthBound is arguably one of the single best RPGs ever made, and boasts one of the best storylines of any game.


The tone of Earthbound is perhaps its most fascinating attribute, best exemplified by its most famous quote: “There are many difficult times ahead, but you must keep your sense of humor.” Earthbound skillfully surprises you with a reservoir of emotion and sentiment that happily counters the game’s trendy ironic veneer. Along the way, Ness visits the cultists of Happy Happy Village (based on a real-life Japanese doomsday cult founded by Shoko Asahara in 1984); their mission statement is to paint the town red by literally painting it blue. You’ll fight a watchful puddle of vomit and battle through the zombie-infested town of Threed. You’ll use a peculiar device called the Pencil Eraser to remove statues of pencils that block you from advancing through specific areas, and you’ll suffer through terrifying hallucinations of your family and friends, and be asked to dismember your arms and legs, or otherwise, lose your mind. In one of the game’s most memorable moments, Paula is kidnapped by the Department Store Spook, an unseen entity that resides in the town’s shopping mall. And after defeating Frank Fly and his evil creation Frankystein Mark II, you’ll be escorted to the back of a police precinct, only to be assaulted by four officers and Captain Strong, the chief of the Onett police force. Defeat the corrupt cops and you’ll gain access to the second town you’ll visit (named TWOson, so as not to be confused with Onett, Threed, and Fourside). And when entering a cave, you’ll battle five moles made up of members who each believe themselves to be the third-most powerful of their group. Then there is backwards city Moonside, a warped mirror image of Fourside, that hides a secret more terrifying than the town itself. Just walking around feels like something between an out-of-body experience and a nightmarish trance, in which abstract art attacks you and the psychedelic imagery, lit by gaudy fluorescent neon-lights which contrasts the entire look and feel of what came before. It’s a city where yes means no and no means yes; a place where blond-haired business men teleport you across the city blocks and where an invisible man with a unibrow and a gold tooth gets you past the sketchy sailor hiding out in the back alley.


Throughout the game, Ness is repeatedly antagonized by his neighbor, Pokey, who resurfaces several times, and countless other enemies including Titanic Ant, professional thief Mr. Everdred, and a glorious evil statue Mani, Mani. But the real big bad of the game is the aforementioned Giygas, a.k.a. The “Embodiment of Evil” and the “Universal Cosmic Destroyer”, who intends to sentence all of reality to the horror of infinite darkness. Giygas borrows heavily from Stephen King’s It and was inspired by a murder scene from the black-and-white Japanese horror film The Military Policeman and the Dismembered Beautya sequence which scarred creator Shigesato Itoi, when he accidentally watched the film as a child. Giygas is without question, the most disturbing, and strangest end-boss villain of any Super NES game – a character so deranged, there’s been hundreds of fan theories about what he really is.

While EarthBound’s overall gameplay feels like a traditional Japanese RPG of the era, the game is full of ingenious ideas that buck genre trends. EarthBound also makes no apologies for being very difficult to complete. It takes days to finish and is most challenging at the beginning when Ness travels alone and hasn’t yet powered-up. Inventory space remains incredibly limited since each character can only carry a certain amount of items and you can’t drop many of the items since they will come in handy later in the game. Boosting your XP is a must, otherwise, you won’t stand a chance in defeating any boss; and currency is also important when buying new weapons or visiting the hospital to attend to fatal injuries. Money must be withdrawn from the nearest ATM, deposited by your estranged father, and a bedtime snack from your loving mother sends you off to bed to recharge your stats. There are other refreshing deviations from RPG tropes, and every one of the four characters has a specific skill-set.

Earthbound is a strange game, themed around an idiosyncratic portrayal of American culture from a Japanese point of view. The game subverted popular role-playing game traditions by featuring a real-world setting while playing with various staples of the genre and adding a number of pop-culture references throughout. The Japanese title was inspired by the song of the same name by John Lennon – a song about growing up without a father for most of his life, and unsurprising, Ness’ dad is never once seen, and only communicates with his son via telephone. And that’s not the only Beatles reference you’ll see: EarthBound makes two additional nods to the world’s greatest band, along with allusions to Bugs Bunny, comedian Benny Hill, Rob Reiner’s This Is Spinal Tap, the Blues Brothers, Monopoly (Monotoli), Donkey Kong, Pac-Man, Rambo, Mr. T, and The Who, to name a few. Written, directed, and created by famous Japanese personality Shigesato Itoi; this is surely his love letter to 20th-century Americana.

Localizing Earthbound was a massive undertaking. Under directives from Nintendo, Marcus Lindblom worked with the Japanese artists and programmers to remove references to intellectual property, religion, and alcohol from the American release, such as the Coca-Cola logo and the red crosses on hospitals (due to issues with the Red Cross). Alcohol became coffee, Ness was no longer walking around nude in the Magicant area and the Happy Happyist blue cultists sprites were altered to look less like Ku Klux Klansmen. The Runaway Five members’ outfits were changed to make them look less like the Blues Brothers, and the “Sky Walker” was changed to the “Sky Runner” to avoid the Star Wars reference. Apollo Theater was changed to Topolla Theater, presumably to avoid issues with the real-life venue and the use of the word drug, seen on the various town maps was removed or changed. The list goes on and on…

Chock full of odd charm and humour in a genre that usually takes itself a little too serious, Earthbound is one of the weirdest, most surreal video games you’ll ever have fun playing.

earthbound

The game had a lengthy development spanning five years and involved a number of Japanese luminaries, including writer Shigesato Itoi, songwriter Keiichi Suzuki, sound designer Hirokazu Tanaka, and future Nintendo president Satoru Iwata. Released in a huge box-set that contained a strategy guide with scratch-and-sniff stickers, Earthbound came with a $2 million marketing campaign derived from the game’s unusual brand of humor. As part of Nintendo’s “Play It Loud” campaign, EarthBound’s tagline read, “this game stinks.” Earthbound was proud to one of the most bizarre RPGs – and it didn’t shy away from its offbeat premise. Unfortunately, the game was met with poor critical response and sales in the United States, but as the years went by, the game received wide acclaim and was deemed by many a timeless classic. It has since become one of the most sought-after games in the second-hand market, selling for upwards of $80 for the cartridge alone. Holding onto an incredibly dedicated cult following, the main character Ness became a featured character in the Super Smash Bros. series and in 2013, EarthBound was reissued and given a worldwide release for the Wii U Virtual Console following many years of fan lobbying.

EarthBound is arguably one of the single best RPGs ever made, and boasts one of the best storylines of any game. There are two extremely popular fan-made sites dedicated to the game (Starmen.netEarthboundCentral), and dozens of other sites have devoted countless hours in translating the sequel for English-speaking audiences. Earthbound was ahead of its time when released and its influence continues to be felt, inspiring the likes of Pokemon, Animal Crossing, Majora’s Mask, Chibi Robo, Retro City Rampage, and South Park: The Stick of Truth.

While Earthbound’s game mechanics stick to the traditional JRPG template, its surreal world, imaginative locals, and experimental soundtrack created a truly unique experience. Nothing stands out quite like its visual style – an 8-bit presentation powered by a 16-bit processor. The graphics might not be as advanced as some of the other 16-bit titles available on the SNES, but it is certainly among the most memorable. The SNES was home to some amazing soundtracks, but EarthBound’s soundtrack remains the best. Created by four composers, there’s enough music here to fill 8 of the 24 megabits on the cartridge – with direct musical quotations of classical tune and folk music, and a few samples culled from commercial pop and rock. It also contains one of the very best endings in any video game, a touching climax that captures the vulnerability and beauty of adolescence and the power of friendship. And the punctuation mark comes during the credits. Throughout the game, you’ll cross paths several times with a photographer who descends from the sky and snaps a photograph of your most recent achievement. These pictures will roll throughout the credits, serving as a makeshift montage of your time spent playing the game. And be sure to stay until the very end. To say more would be giving away the surprise.


I can’t think of another game as irreverently comic and deeply touching as Earthbound. Here is a game that resonates long after completion, and oozes originality in just about every frame. Ness may rock his sweet ball cap, handy backpack, telekinetic powers, and a trusty baseball bat, but even this hero needs to call his mom regularly, otherwise, he may suddenly find himself useless in battle. Earthbound stands, sweet and strong, outrageous and quirky, like its heroes — it’s about the loss of innocence as well as gaining wisdom – and is one of those treasures absolutely not to be missed. While it suffers from a slow start and stretched premise, the charm of its cast debunking an intergalactic conspiracy goes a long way. Of all the games I own on the Super NES, Earthbound is the game I treasure the most and the game that made me fall in love with the medium.

– Ricky D

EarthboundGameManual

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Games

Indie World 2019: The Best Games From Nintendo’s Showcase

With a healthy mix of brand new titles and a few shocking ports, here’s all the best games announced at Nintendo’s Indie World showcase.

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Indie World

Whenever Nintendo announces another indie presentation, it’s impossible to know what to expect. One may be a fairly low-key event, while another might announce a brand new Zelda game. The latest “Indie World” presentation for Gamescom 2019 found itself somewhere in the middle. It didn’t feature quite as many earth shattering reveals as the previous presentation in March, but with a healthy mix of promising new titles, updates on previously announced games, and a few shocking ports, Indie World was a worthwhile showcase in its own right. Without further ado, here’s some of the very best game announcements from the presentation, arranged in order of their appearance.

Eastward

Indie World

I’m firmly of the belief that you can never have too many Zelda-likes in your life. For this reason alone, Eastward looks like it could be an exciting addition to the Switch’s indie lineup. Better yet, this latest Chuckelfish-published game looks like it has all the makings of a great entry in the genre.

It tells a simple story: a miner finds a young girl alone in a secret underground facility, and together, they go on to explore a post-apocalyptic land. Although this world has been apparently ravaged by a cataclysmic disaster, it still looks gorgeous thanks to its lush pixel art and fluid character animations. Pair this with your typical Zelda-like gameplay loop of overworld exploration and dungeon puzzle-solving, and Eastward looks like it will be a promising prospect when it releases next year.

The Touryst

Indie World

Shin’en Multimedia has long been known for making some of the best-looking titles on Nintendo consoles with visual stunners like the Fast Racing series. However, The Touryst is a departure from the games they’re known for. While it’s just as breathtaking as their previous work with its beautiful lighting and voxel-based design, it’ll be a much slower experience than Shin’en’s signature lightning-fast racing games.

As its name would suggest, it focuses on a tourist taking a relaxing tropical vacation, whiling away their time with activities like shopping, scuba diving, and visiting arcades. However, the trailer also hints of a greater mystery lurking beneath this laid-back surface. With Zelda-like dungeons to explore and puzzles to solve as well as a contemporary tropical setting, it seems like it could be considered a spiritual successor to the NES cult classic, StarTropics. It should definitely be one to keep an eye on when it launches this November.

Röki

Who’s the real monster here? Röki is a narrative-focused adventure game set in a world taken straight out of Scandinavian fairytales, featuring a snow-laden forest inhabited by fantastical creatures of Nordic mythology.  It puts players in control of a young woman exploring this mystical environment, with the goal of saving her family and interacting with these various monsters. Its visuals adopt a beautiful storybook style, and with its emphasis on accessible gameplay and telling a touching story, it looks like it could be a worthwhile purchase for anyone in search of a more poignant adventure when it hits Switch this winter.

SUPERHOT

Indie World

It’s not a true Nintendo presentation without a shadow drop or two, so SUPERHOT took it upon itself to be the first to fill that void during Indie World. It’s a striking shooter built upon one simple concept: time only moves when you do. This core idea creates a uniquely methodical approach to the genre, nearly turning SUPERHOT into more of a puzzler than a shooter. It’s already made quite an impact on other platforms, so it should fit right in on Nintendo’s hybrid wonder – and best of all, it’s available right now.

Hotline Miami Collection

Indie World

If it has style, action, and plenty of violence, it’s probably a Devolver Digital game. The boutique indie publisher has supported the Switch with plenty of quality games over the past few years, but the brutal series that launched the publisher into fame in the first place has been strangely absent. Thankfully, that changed today with the surprise release of the Hotline Miami Collection on the eShop.

Gathering both games in the iconic Hotline Miami top-down shooter series into a single package, this release brings all of their signature hardcore difficulty and neon style to a Nintendo platform for the first time. For anyone who’s enjoyed Devolver’s fantastic output thus far on the Switch but hasn’t yet experienced these famously bloody titles, it should be an excellent purchase.

Ori and the Blind Forest

Microsoft’s surreal love affair with Nintendo continues with the reveal that another Xbox One console exclusive will be making its way to Switch. Ori and the Blind Forest: Definitive Edition is the ultimate version of the acclaimed artistic platformer. It will feature the same beautiful visuals, detailed world, and touching story that made the original release so special, along with all the additional areas, story, and improvements of the Definitive Edition.

For those concerned that the game’s incredible visuals will lose their luster on Nintendo’s under-powered device, there’s no need to worry: the developers have confirmed that the Switch version contains no compromises, running at a locked 60 frames per second at 1080p resolution while docked, with a native 720p resolution in handheld mode. It joins the ranks of Cuphead and Super Lucky’s Tale as yet another former Microsoft exclusive to appear on Nintendo’s console, and with its uncompromising conversion to Switch, it should be one of the most remarkable Switch ports yet when it releases on September 27.

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Game Reviews

‘Fire Emblem: Three Houses’ Review: Raising the New Generation to a High Standard

Fire Emblem: Three Houses marks a triumphant return to home console that puts in the effort to pull the player into its world.

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There are few comeback stories in the gaming industry as impressive as that of the Fire Emblem series. After very nearly going cold the grid-based, SRPG was single-handedly saved by 2013’s Fire Emblem Awakening and has since gone on to prosper as one of Nintendo’s most well-recognized IP’s. Now, after more than a decade, the storied franchise makes its return to home consoles with Fire Emblem: Three Houses, an entry that takes bold steps forward in promoting it above and beyond anything the series has seen to date.

Three Houses, Three Countries, One Path

Fire Emblem: Three Houses takes place on the continent of Fodlan and consists of three major countries. At the center of the three territories is the Garreg Mach Monastery which simultaneously houses the Military Officer’s Academy as well as The Church of Seiros, the land’s primary religion. The game picks up with your self-named protagonist being appointed a professor at the Monastery after protecting some of its students from a bandit attack. At the same time, an enigmatic young girl named Sothis begins appearing in your dreams who alludes to ominous events to come.

Sothis
Sothis will aid the player character throughout their journey

The gameplay of Fire Emblem: Three Houses can be split into two categories — The traditional turn-based grid combat familiar from past titles and the teaching and guidance of students at the monastery. Teaching and school life are brand new to the franchise and are the foundation on which the entire game is built upon.

In the early goings of the game, you are asked to choose between the three classes, or houses, to instruct and guide in your time as a professor. These three houses — The Black Eagles, The Blue Lions, and The Golden Deer — each correspond to one of the three countries of Fodlan and consists of students from those territories. Your selection of which house to lead will have ramifications that permeate practically every aspect of the game including the story, units available in combat, and interactions within the school; this lends the decision a weight that goes beyond choosing who has the prettiest faces.

Fire Emblem: Three Houses House Leaders
Claude, Dimitiri, and Edelgard are the heads of their respective houses and will play pivotal roles in the game if you choose them

The school year is divided into months with school activities taking up the bulk of the time that culminates with an assigned battle at the end. As a professor, you are tasked with teaching your students the art of war and this is accomplished primarily in the classroom. 

Each week begins with establishing a lesson plan for your class. You can work with students one-on-one to develop specific skills of various weapon types, assign them to group tasks to forge bonds and other proficiencies, and help them establish goals that they will work towards on their own time. Doing so allows them to equip better weapons and, most importantly, acquire new class types through certification exams. 

Small events such as students asking questions on subject matter or seeking advice on their goal paths are evocative or actually being a teacher. It’s easy to grow attached to your students as you guide them from a lowly Commoner class to something as grand as a War Master over the course of the game. While Three Houses does a good job of easing the player into these intricacies, there is an Auto-Instruct option available as well for those who find it daunting or don’t care for perfect optimization.

Fire Emblem: Three Houses Teaching

The end of each week features a free day that can be spent in one of three different ways. You can host a seminar with another faculty member that provides a large amount of skill experience or embark on battles for quest rewards and character-specific paralogues that help flesh out their backstories. The option to explore the monastery, however, is the most interesting and involved of the three as it gives you free rein to roam about the campus in a fully 3D environment.

All In a Day’s Work 

Garreg Mach Monastery is sprawling, with numerous buildings explore, courtyards to walk through, and facilities to take advantage of. While the graphics of Three Houses aren’t necessarily something to write home about from a technical perspective — there are even moments of noticeable slowdown in particularly populated areas — the vibrant art style and eye-catching medieval architecture give the monastery a beauty that makes it a pleasure to wonder about it.  Small details such as pegasus knights flying in the sky and messenger owls flitting about between buildings breath life into the campus and lend credence that this is an academy in a fantasy world.

There are a plethora of activities to do while roaming the premises and Three Houses does an admirable job of easing you into each of them. Tasks such as gardening various crops and fishing for the biggest catch not only provide valuable resources but also go towards increasing your professor level which increases your maximum Activity Points you can spend in a day.

Fire Emblem: Three Houses Monastery

Meanwhile, sharing meals with students in the dining hall, inviting them out to tea parties, and returning lost items all serve to build bonds between pupils and increase their motivation for further studies. Interacting with them in such ways or even just talking to them on the school grounds also offers insight into their thoughts and feelings on current events in the world, which goes a long way towards developing their character in addition to Fire Emblem’s long-established support conversations. 

As characters spend time together in the monastery and fight together on the battlefield their support levels will rise, granting various bonuses in battle such as increased hit rate and evasion. These supports are accompanied by conversations that flesh out each character’s personality and provide valuable backstories not found in the main story.

In typical Fire Emblem fashion, the cast of Three Houses is unique and distinct with multiple layers of complexity over initial arch-typical natures. Peeling back these layers over the course of the game serves as some of the most satisfying intrinsic rewards it has to offer, with macho, good guy Raphael and self-doubting Marianne being particular standouts in my play session. This is accentuated even more since every single line of dialogue, no matter how minor, is fully voiced, a rarity for JRPG’s. The English acting ranges from good to exceptional, but the Japanese voices are also available for those who prefer it.

Fire Emblem: Three Houses Sylvain
Support conversations range from comical, to serious, to heart-warming — but they are always engaging.

It’s a shame the same level of polish can’t be said about the main story, however. The plot is rather straightforward and doesn’t do much to push the boundaries of expectations outside a mix-up here and there. Many scene transitions are nonexistent and jarring and the stilted movements of CG scenes reserved for important moments detract more than they add. That said, the stellar character and world-building that take place within the monastery more than makeup for the lukewarm story-telling and give ample reason to become invested. Not to mention the curiosity of seeing the story from the other houses’ perspectives encourages subsequent playthroughs.

Bonding and interacting with students outside of your class is worthwhile as well as it’s possible to recruit them into your own house. Convincing a student to join your class takes a large amount of effort over a long course of time, making the moment they finally give the “Ok” feel much more earned than recruitment has in past Fire Emblems. This not only gives you another unit to use on the battlefield but also avoids potentially seeing them as an enemy down the line when things aren’t quite so peaceful in Fodlan anymore.

Fire Emblem: Three Houses Dining

It’s easy to fall into a routine when going about the monastery in Three Houses. The constant loop of every action taken feeding into accomplishing another is positively addicting. It encourages you to make the most out of each day while also emphasizing the steady march of time. For a game that places such importance on the passage of time, however, it is slightly off-putting how the seasons in the monastery never change from its default bright, sunny day, especially with talk of snow and colder weather abound in later months.

All time spent at school is ultimately in preparation for combat, though, and Three Houses presents some of the finest and most refined form of it the Fire Emblem series has ever seen.

Applying Theory to Practice

The fundamentals of combat in Fire Emblem: Three Houses are the same as all of its predecessors but numerous additions and changes cast it in a whole new light. Encounters take place on grid-based maps and you move each individual character to attack enemies, assist allies, and position them for counter-attacks, among other things. Once all of your units have moved the enemy gets their turn to retaliate and the process repeats.

Before initiating combat a combat forecast appears that tells you the damage each side will inflict, the chance of landing that attack, and the chance of dealing a triple damage critical hit. Utilizing this forecast to calculate risk vs reward of various engagements becomes routine as deaths of characters are permanent when playing in Classic mode, although Casual mode makes its return that brings back lost units after the mission as well. The fight then plays out automatically with characters fluidly moving in unique and organic ways depending on how the battle plays out. While you have no control during these segments, there’s something viscerally satisfying about seeing someone like burly Raphael deftly dodge an attack and roundhouse kick the enemy to the face in retaliation.

Battle

The weapon triangle — a series mainstay that gave rock-paper-scissors qualities to weapon types — has been done away with in Three Houses, requiring players to think beyond simply matching enemies with their direct counters. In its place come Combat Arts, a system that’s been taken from 2017’s Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia. These special skills are obtained by gaining proficiency in weapon types through teaching sessions and combat and grant each character different ways to approach combat.

The set of Combat Arts learned are unique to each character. For example, Claude and Bernadetta are both proficient with bows but only the latter learns the far-reaching snipe art “Deadeye,” while only the former learns the blessed imbued “Monster Blast”. This applies to magic as well, with every character learning a different set of spells as they grow more proficient. While there is some overlap in spells and arts learned between characters, they nonetheless make them feel more distinct from one another as opposed to simply using the ones with the best stats, minimizing the problem previous entries have of “dead weight characters”.

Another wrinkle to combat is the addition of battalions and Gambits. Battalions are a unit of generic soldiers that can be assigned to each character to confer various stat bonuses. Each battalion grants the use of their special Gambit, powerful abilities that typically hit multiple enemies in an area, thus weakening their stats and preventing movement for a turn. Support type gambits exist as well, such as letting allies sustain a lethal hit once or making it so they take and deal only one damage for a turn. Not only do Gambits open up new strategic possibilities by introducing a form of crowd control to the series, but they are also pivotal in taking down Three Houses’ new enemy type: Monsters.

Fire Emblem: Three Houses Combat
Battalions also add more life to the battlefields by showing more than just your unit and the enemy facing off one-on-one

Monsters have been in Fire Emblem games before, but never in this form. Monsters are gargantuan beasts that take up four squares on the grid, sometimes more. They have multiple health bars to drain, devastating area sweeping attacks, and barriers that diminish damage taken and prevent critical hits. The key to slaying these beasts is to utilize battalion Gambits to attack multiple parts of the monsters at once and systematically whittle down their barriers.

Unlike regular enemy and boss types that can usually be taken down by one reasonably powerful unit, monsters require the brunt of your military force to slay. Contending with both monsters and regular enemies as they barrel towards your army provides for some of the tensest moments in the game that then result in blissful satisfaction for overcoming them; all the more emphasized by Three Houses’ phenomenal soundtrack that amplifies feelings of triumph to remarkable heights.

Map designs, on the other hand, leave something to be desired as many take place in large, open areas where strategy ultimately boils down to careful positioning of units on defensive tiles. Even maps with branching paths feel like little more than an excuse to give your units an opportunity to equally distribute experience gained from combat. The lack of gimmicks and terrain variety leads to missions sometimes blending together, a problem exacerbated by the fact that nearly every victory objective is either “Route the enemy” or “Defeat the commander.” It’s never so dull as to become mind-numbing, but having more variety in the 60-80 hour long campaign would go a long way towards solidifying what is otherwise an incredibly tight combat experience. 

Lessons Learned, Experience Showing

Fire Emblem: Three Houses is a grand culmination that takes a deep, introspective look into what makes the series so great and evolving it in meaningful and impactful ways.

The monastery and professor role not only fit right at home in such a character-driven game but also breath fresh life into the school setting that has long been regarded as “the graveyard of creativity.” The main story may not be the most engrossing but never has it been easier to grow intimately attached to such a large and varied cast of characters. Those attachments manifest in battles as a drive to persevere and the various tools the game gives you, old and new, give the power to do so. Fire Emblem: Three Houses is no doubt, the triumphant return to home consoles that fans have been waiting over a decade for and a sterling lesson that for a game series, class is always in session.

Fire Emblem: Three Houses Rhea
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