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‘Not so Final Fantasy’ – Unpacking ‘FFVIII’s’ Most Fascinating Fan Theory

‘Squall is Dead’ – revolves around the idea that Squall is fatally wounded during the climactic battle at the end of disc one, rendering everything that happens thereafter an illusion generated by his dying mind.



Not so Final Fantasy is a tri-weekly column dedicated to all things Final Fantasy; from specific aspects of specific titles, to the universal features that set Square Enix’s inimitable JRPG series apart from the rest.

Final Fantasy VIII is without a doubt my second favourite game in the series, but I’ll be the first to admit, it’s not exactly what you’d call a typical JPRG.

Over the course of their adventure, protagonist Squall and company witness a chain of events that stretch the credulity of the series’ usual blend of science-fiction and fantasy to breaking point, threatening to jump the shark on more than one occasion. Amid amnesia-inducing Guardian Forces (summon monsters) and sporadic, subconscious journeys into the past are such things as a flying military academy and the Lunar Cry: a spectacular moment roughly three quarters of the way through the game during which a torrent of monsters rain down to the planet’s surface… from the Moon.

It’s perfectly understandable, then, that efforts to explain away some of the more ludicrous features of Final Fantasy VIII’s plot have been made over the years since its release.

The most prominent of these – titled, rather evocatively, ‘Squall is Dead’ – revolves around the idea that Squall is fatally wounded during the climactic battle at the end of disc one, rendering everything that happens thereafter an illusion generated by his dying mind.

I’ve never been convinced of the veracity of this particular fan theory myself, but it’s an intriguing prospect nonetheless, boasting some intriguing concepts that deserve a closer look – if only to disprove them.

Naturally, what follows is heavily laden with spoilers, so I’d advise not reading any further unless you’re already familiar with Final Fantasy VIII.

As I mentioned a few short lines ago, the theory doesn’t actually begin to diverge from the standard interpretation until the very final scene of disc one, specifically, at the moment Squall is impaled on a huge spear of ice magic cast by apparent villain Edea following SeeD’s abortive attempt to assassinate this increasingly powerful sorceress.

Knocked unconscious by the attack, Squall awakes sometime later trapped in a desert prison. Still somewhat disorientated, as you would be having so recently occupied the role of meat in a human kebab, the taciturn hero’s first thought is “where’s my wound”? A good question and one that kicks off the ‘Squall is Dead’ theory in earnest.

Squall pierced by Edea's ice magic at the end of Final Fantasy VIII disc one

How could such a brutal attack leave no mark whatsoever on Squall’s body, the theory asks? Surely neither Edea nor the Galbadian Army would bother healing him only to execute him later on? After all, he presents a very real threat to their plans. The answer, according to Duckroll (online alias of the individual who first conceived of the concept), is that, from here on out, everything we see is a figment of Squall’s imagination; a coma fantasy; an extended version of the concept of life flashing before one’s eyes immediately preceding death. The key difference is that, in Squall’s case, his failing brain takes it one step further and, rather than simply reminiscing on his past life, actually fabricates an idealized future in which he finally learns the answers to the questions he’s not had the opportunity to ask. Questions such as what are Edea’s motives? Who are Laguna, Kiros, and Ward, and what do they have to do with Squall? And, most importantly of all, where does the protagonist himself come from?

This explains why the story takes such a fantastical turn from this point onward. His subconscious is now free to conjure any scenario it deems necessary to answer these questions, unfettered by the laws of physics and probability, which includes placing Squall at the centre of events despite his relative inexperience (more on that later).

Returning to the problem at hand, i.e., Squall’s miraculous recovery, I think Duckroll’s solution is completely superfluous. Is a deathbed fever dream really a better explanation than the obvious? That Edea has indeed healed Squall’s wounds, not out of any residual kindness or as part of some convoluted scheme, but to ensure he’s 100% fit and conscious for the ensuing examination-by-torture. Choosing to interrogate Squall rather than Quistis (an experienced member of the Garden hierarchy and therefore more knowledgeable of its inner workings than Squall at this point) because true main antagonist Ultimecia, via her ensorcelled proxy Edea, is instictively aware even now of the crucial role Squall will play in her fated demise.

Not through something as banal as intuition, but through the paradoxical, time-warping cycle of events that binds them so inextricably. Edea’s powers stem from Ultimecia who travelled back in time to pass them on after her defeat at the hands of Squall; the man whose destiny it was, is, and will be to confront Ultimecia because it was his future self that warned pre-sorceress Edea of Ultimecia’s rise to power and, crucially, tasked her with founding both Garden and SeeD. And because headmaster Cid, it transpires, is married to Edea, he patiently awaits Squall’s arrival, grooming him for leadership and offering whatever assistance he can in the fight against Ultimecia when he eventually finds his way to Garden as a young orphan.

Okay, so the plot is as confusing as The Matrix sequels, more or less, but once you’ve got your head around the different time-lines, it starts to make sense in a weird kind of way. Not only that, but with so many competing narrative threads and esoteric concepts to factor in, it doesn’t require any great leap of the imagination to see any loose threads present in the final release as unintentional if natural consequences of the writer’s attempts to create a story that leans more towards science-fiction than the traditional medieval fantasy of previous Final Fantasy titles.

Between here and the final confrontation with Ultimecia, evidence supporting the ‘Squall is Dead’ argument fluctuates in believability, taking the form of various isolated incidents rather than any coherent theme connected to the main narrative.

I’m not going to address all of them in detail, of course. I mean, there’s not much to say about the floating Garden, Lunar Cry, or the presence of Moombas in their defense, other than these are surely pretty typical of a series that’s never exactly shied away from such flights of fancy. Exhibit A) Suplexing a ghost train in Final Fantasy VI. Two of the more compelling points deserve a mention, however, beginning with the sudden upswing in the careers of Squall and Seifer, and how this ties into the overarching theme of fate.

Squall and bitter rival Seifer duel during the introduction to Final Fantasy VIII

As a newly minted member of SeeD, Squall’s ascendancy to squad leader and, later, commander of Balamb Garden as a whole does seem a bit precipitous when you think about it. Prior to his sudden rise, Squall is very much a loner who only tolerates the company of others because his habitual professionalism and loyalty to Garden dictates he must; he certainly has no wish to form any personal bonds with his comrades. Seifer, meanwhile, though of dubious morality in the early stages of the game and similarly unsociable, has always demonstrated a comparable degree of loyalty toward Garden, making his sudden shift in allegiance and personality from an abrasive, antagonistic heel to someone overtly evil just as difficult to account for. Unless this was all a product of Squall’s fading subconscious.

If this was the case, their sudden upturn in fortunes doesn’t seem quite so out of place. You can easily imagine Squall projecting an idealized version of himself as the selfless savior of the world, the indomitable warrior who gets the girl and learns the value of friendship, while his rival, Seifer, becomes nothing more than another disposable stooge of the heinous villain.

Or is it simply fate? We’ve already established that Squall is central to SeeD’s plans by virtue of his time-spanning relationship with Edea and Ultimecia, and, though neither headmaster Cid nor Edea are able to explicitly inform Squall of his destiny (I assume because it’d create a paradox, though this is never stated), it’s only natural that the weight of responsibility gradually placed on his shoulders as the story progresses in order to prepare him for the battles to come begin to change his personality; especially in respect to the people he commands. Seifer, meanwhile, has always viewed Squall as something of a rival; perhaps because he sees much of himself in Squall along with a few key differences. Seifer thus feels he has to constantly prove himself to others, to show them he’s every bit as good as Squall, triggering the violent encounter between the two at the very beginning of the game and placing a very large chip on his shoulder which leaves him vulnerable to the manipulative powers of Ultimecia.

And this is far from the only time fate, in one guise or another, is addressed prior to the seminal confrontation at the end of disc one. Throughout the first few hours of Final Fantasy VIII, the story is punctuated by sporadic dream sequences in which Squall’s (and his two chosen companion’s) consciousness is sent back in time, by a mysterious woman named Ellone, to inhabit the bodies of three unusual and apparently random Galbadian soldiers. Not to change the past; Ellone realizes that’s impossible. But to teach Squall to embrace his destiny, prepare him for the challenges that lie ahead, and help him grow as a leader.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say fate accounts for the equally abrupt development of Squall and Rinoa’s relationship from thinly veiled hostility to all-consuming love. But nor do I think the quick turn around in their feelings serves as evidence for the ‘Squall is Dead’ theory.

Squall’s lack of interest in Selphie and Quistis as potential love interests for one thing, a sticking point for proponents, is hardly surprising when you consider the differences in their personalities. Selphie is bubbly and gregarious – the polar opposite of the laconic, aloof Squall Leonhart and therefore hardly a suitable match. Serious and a little bit bossy, Squall has always viewed Quistis, meanwhile, as a mentor; despite the fact she’s only a year older than him.

Rinoa, by comparison, falls somewhere between the two. She’s kind-hearted and sweet like Selphie, but not quite as animated. And, while she undoubtedly possesses a great deal of inner strength and determination, neither is she as straight-laced as Quistis. For her part, in Squall, Rinoa sees all the qualities she thought she loved about Seifer (martial prowess, hidden depth, faithfulness, nobility) along with a handful of others unique to Squall: integrity and a greater capacity for affection among them.

Her personality complements Squall’s in a way that neither of the other two’s can. She’s self-assured and tough enough to give as good as she gets whenever Squall falls into one of his frequent bouts of severe introspection, yet possesses the requisite warmth of character to melt his outwardly chilly disposition. When viewed from this perspective, it’s hardly surprising their relationship blossoms so rapidly once they’ve spent some time together and begun to understand what really makes one another tick.

Squall and Rinoa reunited - Final Fantasy VIII

As far as I’m concerned, it’s not until the last hour or so of Final Fantasy VIII that any really thought-provoking arguments in support of the ‘Squall is Dead’ theory come to light. Beginning with Ultimecia’s nihilistic monologue on the inexorable movement of time’s arrow in the build-up to the final, multi-stage boss battle.

According to the theory, Ultimecia represents Squall’s subconscious during this scene, as it tries to convince him to embrace his impending death. To give up his futile struggle to cling onto a life and reality that is fast slipping through his fingers.

I must say, when I first considered her words, I was little unsettled. They do seem a little out of context when you consider her reasons for compressing time are to protect herself from SeeD by creating a world in which she alone can exist. Humanity is simply collateral damage, not the target; unlike Kefka or Sephiroth’s plans. I was unsettled that is, until I dug a deeper and discovered the sentiments conveyed during this exchange differ quite drastically in the original Japanese version, wherein Ultimecia talks specifically about childhood feelings, and how the linear motion of time makes any attempt to hold on to the memories and experiences of our younger days pointless; a subtle shot at Squall’s newfound appreciation for his friends and their shared past in the seaside orphanage. Any deeper existential concepts are nowhere to be found.

It’s harder to dismiss the theory’s interpretation of the post-boss cut-scene. The sheer number of distorted images that flood the screen upon Ultimecia’s defeat alone makes it a difficult sequence to parse, let alone the recurrent image of Edea piercing Squall’s body with her magic.

If this was indeed the last thing he ever saw in the waking world, as the theory suggests, it would make perfect sense for this event to replay over and over in his mind as he wanders a featureless subconscious abyss, trying desperately to organize the disparate memories of his recent past and his place within them. The increasingly blurred nature of these visions symbolizing the deteriorating state of his mind and body.

Compelling as it undeniably is, there are still holes in this argument, however, that, when considered alongside the standard interpretation of everything that’s gone before, leave me ultimately unconvinced.

To begin with, later events appear as part of this vignette that, if the theory is to be believed, would have to have happened after Squall became comatose: most notably, the moment he and Rinoa reuinite in space shortly after Adel is released from her celestial prison and returns to Earth amongst the monsters of the Lunar Cry. If the theory is correct and only moments from his life race through his mind at this point, how is this possible?

Which brings me on to my second and most crucial point. Although the image of Edea’s near-lethal attack on the parade float recurs time and again, it isn’t because this signals the end of Squall’s corporeal existence, but because, as he plummeted to the ground and looked up into Rinoa’s panic-stricken face, this was the moment he realized the true depth of his feelings for her.

So, when he finds himself stranded in the infinite abyss caused by Ellone’s time magic – a place where past, present, and future blur into one confusing, homogeneous mass – Squall realizes his only chance of getting home is to use the strength of his attachment to Rinoa as his focal point; to orient himself in time. Thus he summons forth images of their first meeting at the graduation dance, his zero-G rescue mission, and even that infamous moment on the parade float; these images distorted by the extreme conditions, of course, and the nagging self-doubts and uncertainty that plague Squall.

Squall adrift in Final Fantasy VIII's climactic cut-scene

With precious little evidence supporting key points, I don’t think I’m being overly harsh when I say the ‘Squall is Dead’ interpretation of Final Fantasy VIII doesn’t have a lot going for it.

Aside from the counter arguments raised here and by various other fans who take the game at face value, director Yoshinori Kitase himself debunked the theory as hokum in a 2017 interview with Kotaku. Discussing the seminal encounter at the end of disc one that begun this whole discussion, Kitase said “I think he (Squall) was actually stabbed around the shoulder area, so he was not dead”. A pretty definitive response, I think we can all agree.

However, in the same interview, Kitase later conceded the ‘Squall is Dead’ concept presents “a very interesting idea” going on to say “if we ever do make a remake of Final Fantasy VIII, I might go along with that story in mind”. Perhaps there’s still hope for this intriguing idea after all, just not in the way adherents might have hoped.

Counting Final Fantasy VII, The Last of Us, the original Mass Effect trilogy, and The Witcher 3 amongst his favourite games, John enjoys anything that promises to take up an absurdly large amount of his free time. When he’s not gaming, chances are you’ll find him engrossed in a science fiction or fantasy novel; basically, John’s happiest when his attention is as far from the real world as possible.



  1. Izsak Barnette

    May 7, 2018 at 2:55 pm

    Great article, John. I always thought this particular fan theory was very interesting, especially considering the game’s insanely complex ending.

    • John Websell

      May 8, 2018 at 4:06 am

      Completely agree – the final few scenes are like something out of an M. Night Shyamalan film!

  2. John Cal McCormick

    May 8, 2018 at 6:17 am

    I’ve never actually heard this fan theory, and naturally when I read the title here I assumed this would be about the Rinoa/Ultimecia fan theory. This one is entertaining too. I always liked VIII.

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Game Reviews

‘Life is Strange 2’ Episode 4 Review – “Faith”: A Journey Through Trump’s America

Life is Strange 2 continues its strong trajectory from the previous episode, weaving a complex and troubling tale of faith gone mad.



Life is Strange 2 has returned for its penultimate episode, a dense and troubling exploration of faith, prejudice and family in a time and place that has never been more divided: modern America. Following the events of Life is Strange 2‘s stellar third entryEpisode 4: “Faith” sees Sean attempting to pick up the pieces of his shattered life after Daniel’s violent outburst at Merrill’s farm.

Though the story of Faith” begins in a hospital, with Sean working to recover from his injuries, the trajectory of the tale explores more settings and environments than any previous episode of the series. From wandering the highways of Nevada, to exploring a dusty motel, to sneaking into a remote church, Life is Strange 2‘s 4th entry never lacks for something new to see, or someone new to interact with.

Life is Strange 2
However, the cynical bent of the story is the new centerpiece of Episode 4. Though Life is Strange 2 has never sidestepped the controversy and division of Trump’s America, Faith” leans into these ideas with renewed fervor. Violence is committed more than once against our Mexican protagonist, and his skin color often sees him at odds with the more conservative denizens of the highways he journeys down. In a particularly telling exchange, Sean even finds himself beaten and placed on the other side of a closed compound, with a gun-toting guard glaring at him from the other side. Metaphors don’t really get much clearer than that.

This will, no doubt, lead to more calls of keeping politics out of games and other entertainment by the president’s more ardent supporters, but as other writers have pointed out, gaming has never been apolitical. Further, it would be categorically irresponsible to tell a story like this without addressing the elephant in the room. With these elements in mind, the politics of Life is Strange 2 have never been clearer than in Episode 4: “Faith”, and they account for some of the strongest storytelling fuel the series has found yet.

Life Is Strange 2, Episode 4: Faith
Politics aside, Life is Strange 2 also puts Sean at a variety of other disadvantages. His starting injuries include a lost eye that must be tended to medically throughout the episode, and the various beatings he takes throughout Episode 4 more than leave their mark. This leaves Faith as the typical darkest, and most troubling, episode of this second series, where we find our protagonist at his absolute lowest point, and must continue on with him in hopes of finding a better future. It’s a common enough trope, but one that is used to great effect here.

There are many returns of characters from previous episodes, some through letters and other communications, and others through surprising reveals and revelations. A particularly shocking character joins the story with zero preamble, and emerges as one of Life is Strange 2‘s finest editions yet. To spoil who, or how, would be criminal, but rest assured that Episode 4 is more full of surprises than any of the previous entries.

Life Is Strange 2, Episode 4: Faith
Though the main conflict that eventually reveals itself, that of Daniel being used as a messianic figure for an isolated Nevada church, feels contrived initially, the layers that are eventually revealed, and Daniel’s reason for joining the church, make a lot of sense in the overall scheme of things. Due to this strength of narrative, it really feels like all bets are off during the climax of Life is Strange 2: Episode 4, and that’s a good thing for a game so centered around the notion of interactive storytelling.

Fresh, prescient, and altogether rewarding, Life is Strange 2: Episode 4 — “Faith”, is a welcome piece of fiction in a society that has become so increasingly fragmented. It illustrates the horrors of the modern American landscape, but always remembers to remind us that there are good people out there, even when hope has never seemed so far away.

Strongly Recommended

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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.



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.



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

25 Years later…



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.

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.


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


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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.



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.


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.


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.


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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