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Goomba Stomp’s E3 2017 Predictions, Expectations, Hopes and Dreams

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e3-2017

It’s that time of the year again.

Here at Goomba Stomp we absolutely love E3. Each and every June, E3 rocks up and slaps us across the chops with more news than we can possibly cover, a bunch of trailers for games to be excited about that’ll probably end up getting delayed, and plenty of laughs – intentional and otherwise – along the way. Over the last three or four years, the E3 gods have been smiling upon those of us who spend our time writing about video games, delivering a veritable banquet of blockbuster surprises and relatively few of the on-stage gaffes and groan-inducing celebrity cameos that the convention was famed for a decade or so ago.

Who could forget Sony’s Jack Tretton giggling as he hammered nails into the proverbial coffin of the Xbox One by pulling apart Microsoft’s entire console strategy on stage back in 2013? What about Nintendo turning up with puppets a couple of years ago before breaking our hearts with footage of Star Fox Zero apparently pulled out of a time capsule from the Gamecube era? Microsoft surprising everybody and announcing backwards compatibility for the Xbox One? The year that Sony lost the plot and had The Last Guardian, Shenmue III, and the Final Fantasy VII Remake on stage? That incredible Zelda trailer last year?

The last few years have followed a similar pattern with Nintendo announcing very little of any worth, and Microsoft doing a really good job that was almost instantaneously forgotten about because Sony just did it all so much better. Sony’s 2016 conference consisted of little more than one kick-ass trailer after another, without any of the usual cast of characters boring us with facts and figures, and it seems like it’s going to be a tough one to top.

But could there be a change in the wind in 2017? Microsoft has a brand new console to shill which could be a game changer, and Nintendo is currently riding a wave of positive vibes thanks to the successful launch of the Switch, with all conventional logic saying that they must have some big games to announce considering the relatively sparse line-up of impending titles for the fledgling system. Surely Sony don’t have any more aces up their sleeves? Or do they?

We asked our writers to weigh in with some predictions on what to expect from E3 2017, a few of their hopes and dreams, and plenty of unfettered, wild speculation to get mad about in the comments.

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project-scorpio-1

What you hope to see at the Microsoft conference?

Matt De Azevedo: Handing the Scorpio over to Digital Foundry back in April was a genius idea for several reasons: it showed Microsoft’s extreme confidence in their product, it gave the most respected tech guys in the biz a chance to examine the hardware and share the results with the public, and most importantly, it assured that Microsoft isn’t going to spend their entire E3 conference going over spreadsheets detailing RAM and teraflops. The new console is the biggest shadow looming over the conference, and Microsoft would be wise to open their showcase with it but only spend a few short minutes on the hardware itself; hopefully they’ll reveal the final design along with the release date and price, then promptly move on to software. With that said, due to Microsoft’s new strategy of publishing all titles on both PC and Xbox—thus eliminating the console brand’s ability to tout any truly exclusive games—how exactly do they use software to sell the new machine? There’s only one answer: put its raw power on display.

RICKY D: I purchased my Xbox One back in December of 2015 and I’ve barely used the console. In fact, I haven’t turned it on in almost a year due to a lack of first party exclusives that interest me. I have nothing against Microsoft and I love the Xbox 360 but I’ve been sorely disappointed with the lineup for the Xbox One and given that I own a PlayStation 4, I prefer to play most third-party games on my Sony console. That said, I’m really hoping to see more of Cuphead along with a firm release date. It’s the number one reason I bought the console two years ago and I’ve been impatiently waiting for its release ever since. Finally, for all of the success of its established franchises, we are at the point where a new Halo, Forza, and Crackdown is just not enough to convince people they should buy a Microsoft console over a Sony PlayStation. Microsoft desperately needs a new IP, only I’m hoping it isn’t a first-person shooter or a racing game, rather something the company isn’t usually known to make such as an open world fantasy adventure in the vein of Witcher 3.

Mike Worby: Honestly, what I would really like to see from Microsoft is something of note. I’ll happily grab myself an Xbox One if you can give me a must-play that Sony doesn’t have.

John Cal McCormick: Games, games, games. Part of the problem with Xbox One right now is that there’s barely any point buying one unless you really love Forza, Gears, and Halo. The PS4 has had a more entertaining line-up of exclusive games in the first five months of 2017 than the Xbox One has since launch, and that’s not good enough. I’m hoping that Microsoft has some new IP at E3 2017 – first party, brand new ideas, unavailable on PS4. I’d also like to see Scorpio be competitively priced, and for them to avoid throwing money at a third party developer to buy exclusivity of an upcoming title like they did with Rise of the Tomb Raider – that deal was a massive misfire for all concerned. They need to talk about Scorpio, but it’s the games that matter most. Talk hardware, give us a price, and then wow us with games.

Marty Allen: What I hope to see from Microsoft is Cuphead and Below getting firm release dates in the not-too-distant future, but that’s rather selfish of me, as they’re the only games on the platform that currently interest me. Despite the fact that I don’t have an Xbox of my own, I’m always pulling for every console to make fun games, so I hope that they bring some big surprises to the table that not only excite their fan-base but also welcome new gamers as well. Sony and Nintendo are coasting on their own steam right now, it’s Microsoft’s conference to win or lose, but a win would grant them some much-needed press and momentum.

Brent Middleton: There’s a lot of doubt surrounding Microsoft’s first party lineup right now, but there’s some great potential. Hopefully, we’ll see more Sea of Thieves gameplay and get a firm release date for that as well as Cuphead. Aside from the exclusives we already know about, we also need to see new IPs taking advantage of the Scorpio hardware. Microsoft should treat the Scorpio as a new console generation and launch it with at least one new, memorable franchise. I also hope that we’ll see a Sunset Overdrive sequel.

What do you expect from the Microsoft conference?

Matt De Azevedo: Despite what some may be hoping, Microsoft doesn’t have any shocking console-exclusive announcements to make. Halo 6 and Gears 5 will not be shown or teased. Crackdown 3 will undoubtedly rear its head, but given the game’s known development issues there are too many doubts sewn into its fabric to wow anyone in the know. Cuphead and Sea of Thieves will get release dates, and while both games look interesting, neither has the power to cause massive rumblings at an event like E3. With Microsoft’s conference taking place a full day ahead of Sony and Nintendo’s, I expect them to send reverberations throughout the event by debuting a ton of 3rd party games and showing what they look like on the world’s most powerful console. Assassin’s Creed Origins will makes its official debut on Microsoft’s show floor, 2K Games will have a huge presence at the conference as they announce sequels for both Borderlands and BioShock, Call of Duty WWII will have a prominent showcase, and Microsoft will receive massive bonus points if they somehow convince Bethesda to let them be the first ones to show off Wolfenstein: The New Colossus. Microsoft’s goal won’t be to show games that can be only played on their console, but they’ll undoubtedly push their platform as the best place to play these games, and they’re gonna win over a fair share of people by officially debuting these titles alongside the Scorpio.

RICKY D: This is a huge E3 for the future of Xbox. The primary goal for Microsoft is first and foremost, to sell Project Scorpio. I expect a good chunk of the press conference to focus on the console itself with a lot of third party games being announced for the system and a heavy focus on virtual reality. One of Project Scorpio’s selling points has been how it will accommodate full VR experiences and now is the time for them to show fans exactly how. Apart from that, I expect the press conference to include a lot more gameplay footage of Crackdown 3 since we haven’t seen much from the game since it was revealed in 2014 and end with a big title that nobody has ever heard of. Phil Spencer usually puts the emphasis on games at E3 so even with though they’ll need to set aside a lot of time to showcase Project Scorpio, I expect to see a whole lot of games on display. Microsoft will be extremely keen to showcase the power of Scorpio, and to do this Redmond will enlist the help of both first and third-party titles for the job.

Mike Worby: Cynic that I am, I expect more focus on Forza, Gears, Halo and the like. I wish Recore had taken off for them so they could have a new killer app. Maybe Sea of Thieves will do it for them.

John Cal McCormick: I think that their conference is going to disappoint. I’m expecting the hundredth Forza game on Xbox One, Crackdown 3 to be shown again (probably looking nothing like it did the first time around, and with little talk of the once much-ballyhooed cloud processing we’ve all now forgotten about), and a lot of talk about the power of Scorpio. I desperately hope they have something more compelling than that. On the Scorpio front I’m expecting a lot of people to be pretty miffed with it because it seems like many are expecting this console to be a game changer, and it probably isn’t going to be. I’m expecting a more powerful Xbox One – a slightly better twist on Sony’s PS4 Pro – and that’s about it. No exclusive Scorpio games, no new generation, and a fairly high ($499?) price point. Microsoft needs exclusives to give people a reason to care, and I just don’t see where they’re going to come from with them throwing money at third party developers.

Marty Allen: What I expect from Microsoft is for them to produce a well-put-together showcase that doesn’t address the Microsoft-sized elephant in the room – what happened to all of their first party games? Yes, we’ll see more Crackdown 3 and Sea of Thieves and Forza; probably some more looks at Halo and Gears. And yes, even a new IP, but who knows what or how interesting it will be? They’ll talk Scorpio, but probably not as much as we think. They’ll try to make a splash, they’ll do ok, but they need that shiny new IP that sells itself.

Brent Middleton: I honestly expect Microsoft to go all out this year. Phil Spencer has to know how vital this year’s conference is to the future of the brand. They’ll probably have an extensive hardware overview of the Scorpio followed by both live demonstrations and trailers of games running on it. They’ll emphasize the power of the console and unveil its price and launch titles.

What you hope to see at the Sony conference?

Matt De Azevedo: Sony has set an unreasonably high bar for themselves with their two previous E3 outings being near perfection. They’re in a groove right now when it comes to these showings, and I expect a spectacular presentation as they somehow attempt to one-up the live orchestra they had last year. They’ll stick to a similar format: back-to-back trailers, give Shawn Layden some time to speak, then more trailers—and it’ll be a good show—but I just hope they don’t rely too much and what we already see coming.

Ricky D: Dare I even say Kingdom Hearts 3? Chances are, even if this game won’t be released anytime soon, Square Enix likes to remind their fans that the series does, in fact, exist. But seriously, it’s been over a decade since the second installment in the franchise was released, and fans are growing restless. I think fans are long overdue a first glimpse of the game. Let’s just hope they give us more than just a logo.

Mike Worby: Bloodborne 2 better be coming, baby. There have been rumblings, and I hope for my part that those rumblings are correct.

John Cal McCormick: Sony has been absolutely killing it since the launch of the PS4 when it comes to selling units and getting quality exclusive games onto the system, but their handling of some other aspects of the PlayStation brand has left a little to be desired. Nobody cares about PlayStation Now so I’d like to see it overhauled to allow the downloading of games, and also be incorporated into a new PlayStation Plus tier to be a little more cost effective. I want to be given a reason to buy PlayStation VR – the tech looks cooler than the other side of the pillow, but I’m not throwing £400 at a system to play Fruit Ninja VR. I’d love to see them announce PSOne Classics on PS4 with trophies etc. too. Other than that I just want them to do what they’ve been doing for the last few years – showing off more exciting games than everybody else, and giving us a few surprises along the way.

Marty Allen: Sony is the company to beat, so I hope to see them continue to kick butt and not rest on their shiny laurels. More than anything else, I hope to see a strong and convincing IP in place to make the case for VR. As a bit more of a long-shot, I hope to at least see what Sucker Punch has been up to, with an additional sidebar hope of some new action surrounding Sly Cooper. Moreover, I hope to see some noise from the new Red Dead, but I fear for it. Extra long long-shot: Kingdom Hearts announcement.

Ben Thompson: Since Sony has been dominating the first party exclusives over Microsoft, I would hope to see a continued focus on the games over hardware. Their conference last year showed game after game in quick succession, and I’d like to see this conference follow suit.  In terms of new game announcements, I would like to see Sony address the publishers and game franchises that have been dormant for quite some time. These games could, therefore, include a possible inFamous sequel from Sucker Punch, a follow-up to Supermassive Game’s Until Dawn or even a sequel to The Order 1886 from Ready at Dawn. Furthermore, since the advantages that come from owning a PS4 Pro has left me a little underwhelmed, I would love to see games take full advantage and push the hardware to its limit. These include games such as Insomniac’s Spider-Man and Quantic Dream’s Detroit: Become Human which would follow the trend started by Horizon: Zero Dawn in giving people a reason to go out and buy a PS4 Pro. Finally, even though I would prefer the conference to focus on the games over the hardware; for the past few years I have been holding out for a new PS Vita console. I know it’s a long shot, but at the very least I’d like to see the Vita get some attention in some way amidst all the PS4 announcements.

Brent Middleton: Sony has done a good job of keeping expectations low. Following a solid PlayStation Experience in December, the company is essentially victory-lapping this year. It’d be great if we saw more of the new God of War entry and how it’ll reinvigorate the franchise. I’d also like to see Sony nail down a release date for the Final Fantasy VII remake and Kingdom Hearts 3, but that’s really just wishful thinking at this point. But you know what I’d really love to see? A new IP that’s more in the vein of Ratchet and Clank or Jak and Daxter. I’d love to see something funny, colorful and clever from their internal studios.

the-last-of-us-2What do you expect from the Sony conference?

Matt De Azevedo: Sony should NOT show Kingdom Hearts 3, Final Fantasy VII Remake, Shenmue 3, Death Stranding or The Last of Us Part II, but their showcase will include at least 2 of them. We all know they’re in development, but none of the aforementioned titles will see the light of day in 2018, and there’s no point in dragging them out onto the show floor again without any substantial updates. PS4 Pro and PSVR will be mentioned but only in passing as Sony’s event will rely on exclusives; they’ll announce at least 3 never before seen first/second party titles (including FromSoft’s next project), while the brunt of the load will be lifted by Spider-Man, God of War, Detroit: Become Human, and Days Gone, all of which will get firm release dates. Sony’s showing will be excellent from a representational standpoint, and above average from a content perspective, but compared to their own previous shows it won’t be as explosive, unless of course they can use their partnership with Rockstar to debut a Red Dead Redemption 2 trailer, which wouldn’t only be the talk of the show, but would also steal the 3rd party thunder right out from under the Scorpio’s feet.

Ricky D: Sony has developed a bulletproof plan for showstopping E3 presentations in recent years and it isn’t really a big secret how – it’s all about showing games, games and more games. Two years ago it stole the show and left longtime fans nearly in tears by announcing a long-anticipated remake of Final Fantasy 7 alongside Shenmue 3, and last year it crammed as many games as possible into the event, including the then highly anticipated Horizon: Zero Dawn and the soon-to-be-released God of War. This year will be no different. The Japanese giant will look to continue its fan-pleasing streak and keep the PS4 out in front of its rivals with a strong lineup of, wait for it — games. Games, games, and nothing but games. With both the PS4 Pro and PSVR released last year, I don’t expect them to waste much time on their hardware, so it will be a case of Sony mopping the competition with the biggest, baddest, and frankly, best library of games. I expect first-party titles, exclusives, multi-platform crowd-pleasers, lots of indies and virtual reality. I mean we are already guaranteed to see The Last of Us: Part Two, the new God of War, Hideo Kojima’s Death Stranding, Detroit: Become Human, Days Gone and Insomniac’s Spider-Man and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. All that said, I expect nothing less than to see Rockstar Games on Sony’s stage at E3. Red Dead Redemption 2 will no doubt steal the show and honestly, if that was all they showed, it would already be enough.

Mike Worby: There will almost certainly be expansions on last year’s bombshells like The Last of Us 2 and God of War. I also expect to see a bit of that FFVII Remake in action, even if Square-Enix isn’t going to give it to us until 2020.

John Cal McCormick: I’m not sure what to expect from Sony. Last year I doubted they could continue their trend of great conferences and they gave us one of the best E3 shows of all time. I’m feeling doubtful – I mean, how many more games can they possibly have up their sleeves? – but again, I thought that last year and they nailed it. I’m going to lean towards disappointment for this one, and I think we’ll see more of the games we already know are coming – God of War, Death Stranding, Days Gone, Detroit – and the third party games they’ll have exclusive content for – Call of Duty, Destiny – and not much else. I’m also expecting a Crash Bandicoot style resurrection of another classic PlayStation game since resurrecting old franchises seems to be working out for Sony. I think we’ll probably see a new game from Sucker Punch since they’re known to be working on something, and we might even see a sequel to The Order. I don’t think we’ll see The Last of Us Part II, since that’s probably a way off, and I wouldn’t be expecting anything from Kingdom Hearts or Final Fantasy VII. We’re going to see Emma Stone announced as being in Death Stranding. Oh, and Bloodborne 2 is coming. I can feel it in my bones.

Marty Allen: I expect Sony’s conference to look much like last years, and that’s no bad thing. If it ain’t broke, show another long-form demo reel of games, games, games. We will see God of War and Last of Us 2, DLC for strong new IPs like Horizon and perhaps Nier. We’ll see a bit more of what Kojima’s been up to with Death Stranding. With recent re-masters like PaRappa and Patapon, they seem pretty keen to push nostalgia for old IPs, so perhaps a bit more of that? Shenmue remasters of 1 & 2 would go well with the upcoming release of 3. I expect some surprises, but I’m really not sure what. Bloodborne 2? Playstation All-stars 2? And I do expect a big push for VR, perhaps something with Battlefront? An all new Batman? They need something big there, and they are at least going to try before letting VR go the way of the Vita. Overall, I expect them to do another great job and keep their fans excited. Oh, and more Spider-Man, please.

Ben Thompson: The main goal for Sony is to make sure people get behind their previously announced exclusives; particularly the new IPs. I would, therefore, expect the conference to focus on the games already announced that we have only seen brief glimpses of. Games such as Sony Bend’s Days Gone and Insomniac’s Spider-Man need to impress to get people onboard. Although the latter will still sell well due to the existing fan base, people are still itching to see what this game looks like in motion. In contrast, Days Gone is a brand new IP and so it makes sense to reveal some more details surrounding its story and characters to get people sold. I would expect a release window to be given to both these games, likely around spring 2018. Naughty Dog doesn’t like to spoil their stories, so it’s unlikely that we’ll see more gameplay for Uncharted: The Lost Legacy, but rather a final trailer for the Uncharted spin-off. Lastly, given the huge success of Horizon: Zero Dawn, Sony will probably announce some upcoming story DLC along with a release date around set for October this year.

Brent Middleton: Sony doesn’t have to have a stellar conference this year, and they know that. Instead, because expectations are so low, they’ll likely have two or three exciting surprise announcements that completely blindside fans. Aside from that, they’ll just elaborate on games we know exist and announce more timed exclusivity deals with third parties. They’ll also probably show off more games that specifically take advantage of the PS Pro.

Super-Mario-Odyssey-Reveal-Trailer-1What you hope to see at the Nintendo Direct?

Matt De Azevedo: What I hope for from Nintendo is that they show some semblance of comprehension when it comes to modern day standards within the industry, but they won’t. I hope that they don’t make me question their grip on reality, but they will. For every Super Mario Odyssey there’ll be 10 Metroid Prime: Federation Forces, but fortunately for Nintendo the former will outweigh the latter, and at the end of the day the masses will walk away thinking about how good Mario looks.

Ricky D: Games and a lot of games. I want not one but two Metroid games, one 2D, and one 3D. I hope to see a new Donkey Kong Country, a new Animal Crossing for the Switch and a sequel to something like Luigi’s Mansion or The Wonderful 101. I’m also hoping to see Bayonetta make an appearance and a late 2016 release day for the Super Smash Wii U port. But what I really hope to see is a new IP from the Big N.

Mike Worby: All this talk about “no 3D Metroid being in the works” better be a confirmation that we’ve got an old-school Metroid in the pipeline. It’s been on my wishlist for 6 years Nintendo, please give us a new Metroid.

John Cal McCormick: I’d like to see a lot more of Super Mario Odyssey, but I’d also like for there to be a lot of other games announced because a Mario game in six months just isn’t enough. I want a new Pokémon, a new Mario Golf, and a new Metroid, as well as system-wide achievements being introduced, and news on the virtual store which hopefully won’t suck this time. After buying the Wii and the Wii U and never really feeling like I got much out of those consoles, I want reasons to be confident in picking up a Switch, knowing that I’ll actually play it, and it won’t just sit gathering dust next to my Vita. I want Nintendo to prove that they’re not archaic and backwards thinking, and that they’re not arrogant enough to believe that they don’t need to catch up to the competition in terms of features, online functionality, and their store. Selling Nintendo games to Nintendo fans is easy. They’d buy anything. Nintendo needs to sell their wares to lapsed fans and casual gamers to keep Switch going, and that means exciting new first party games, and something from third parties that doesn’t just feel like a rubbish version of what they’d get on PS4 – I’m looking at you, FIFA.

Marty Allen: Nintendo is where my hopes go wild, because they have a lot of potential energy right now, and I’m loving what the Switch has been delivering. On the one hand, Nintendo has been playing it pretty safe with their E3 presence over the last few years. On the other, their marketing over the last two years has improved enormously, so perhaps they’ll take this opportunity and really run with it? A boy can hope. My biggest dream is an all-new Animal Crossing for the Switch that works seamlessly with the iOs iteration. I’ll shoot for the stars and dream for a look at a new Metroid in the ilk of Prime, too. Beyond that, I hope to see a clearer vision of the Virtual Console that builds towards including Gamecube titles. And I hope to see a real solution to voice chat that doesn’t involve non-Euclidean geometry. More than anything, I hope Nintendo hits us with at least one big surprise reveal…

James Baker: Metroid Prime has long been due a reboot but it seems unlikely as Nintendo ignore one of their oldest franchises. The momentum is with Nintendo to revitalize some of its classics and to lose confidence now would be a huge blow. If Metroid doesn’t receive a new game, then a new Pikmin or Luigi’s Mansion would be great additions to the Nintendo Switch. Mario Party would be a welcomed as it’s perfect for the Switch’s motion controls, plus will be excellent at promoting the new online features. As for the Nintendo 3DS, I’m hoping for the final generation seven Pokémon game, rumored to be named Pokémon Stars. This will complete the Sun and Moon generation and lead into generation eight which I expect to be on the Switch in 2019.

Patrick Murphy: I want to know what Retro is working on. Whether it’s a new Metroid (doubtful), Donkey Kong (even more doubtful), or something completely new (please), Nintendo would be wise to clue gamers in on what one of their most respected first-party developers is doing. Though it’s likely that any Retro title would not be coming this year, their track record of quality is enough to lend some additional excitement to the already positive aura surrounding the Switch. 2017 has been pretty much mapped out for the new console, so hinting at things owners have to look forward to beyond this year is crucial. Otherwise, I obviously want to see more Mario Odyssey, I desperately want a slew of indie games showcased to tide me over in between the sparse AAA releases, and I’d love for a deal to be announced that sees a couple of third-party exclusives, like Bayonetta 3 or Beyond Good & Evil 2. Pie in the sky perhaps, but I can dream.

Brent Middleton: Nintendo has a lot riding on their E3 conference this year. The Switch is off to a strong start, but there are several things that need to happen at their Spotlight event. An update to the Switch’s UI would be welcome, especially if it included the ability to add more themes. Personally, I’d love to see Animal Crossing, but a new entry in the Metroid franchise wouldn’t be too shabby either. It’d be great to see another new IP shown off, but one delving into the RPG realm. And–though they might not be announced during the Nintendo Spotlight–more third party partnerships would also be welcome.

What do you expect from the Nintendo Direct?

Matt De Azevedo: Ports, re-releases, Splatoon 2, ARMS, and Super Mario Odyssey. Breath of the Wild will get way more time than needed, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 will get delayed (to the surprise of no one), and a few of the classic franchises that fans are dying to see more of will be shown but not in the way that anyone wants or expects. Those waiting for Odyssey before picking up the Switch will continue to wait, and those currently unconvinced on the console will remain so. Mario will be one of the best looking games at the show, but fans will walk away from this event feeling no different about Nintendo, and while that’s fine for some, it’s certainly disappointing to me.

Ricky D: Last year was an odd year for Nintendo. The Big N focused their E3 digital event on only one game: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and yet somehow they stole the show. This year, things will be somewhat different but I do expect a good portion of the digital event to once again focus on one game, that being Super Mario Odyssey. According to Nintendo, their E3 Spotlight Event plans to focus primarily on Switch titles coming our way in 2017. The problem is, there aren’t many first party games being released this year that we don’t already know about. Or do we? Nintendo of America boss Reggie Fils-Aime promises the company will deliver a huge E3 this year, and contrary to what I said on the NXpress podcast, I’m starting to think that maybe he isn’t lying. That’s why I actually expect Nintendo to surprise everyone and come out hitting hard. Despite their recent press release, I do think they will premiere a few yet unannounced games that will leave fans of Nintendo extremely happy. That said, I don’t expect much outside of a few seconds of footage of any of these surprise titles simply because nowadays, Nintendo relies more on the Nintendo Directs to promote their games. Apart from that, I expect to see a lot of games from Square Enix, Ubisoft, and yes, more amiibo.

Mike Worby: Like Mulder, I want to believe, but my fear is that we’ll see more spin-offs no one asked for and more gimmicky 1-2 Switch style games. Please, prove me wrong Nintendo.

John Cal McCormick: Nothing. This is the one I’m most worried about, because Nintendo needs to prove they’ve got big games coming following complaints about the sparse library on Wii U, and I don’t believe they’ve got them. I don’t think Metroid is coming. I think the next Pokémon is just going to be a riff on Sun/Moon as per usual. There’ll be more ports from Wii U like Smash. I think people are going to go into this one with high expectations and wind up disappointed.

Marty Allen: However… I expect Nintendo to play it pretty safe. Last year, they focused almost entirely on Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and it worked. They had a remarkable new game from a classic IP to present a clear vision for, and they did. I expect to see much the same surrounding Mario Odyssey, with few big announcements to cloud that vision. The new Mario will look and play like a dream, and we’ll all forget that we ever wanted anything else. We’ll also see a lot of Splatoon 2, a little of ARMS, and we won’t see a Smash Bros. re-master (we won’t see it YET – it can’t make sense to their marketing people to push that iconic fighter around the same time as ARMS). They’ll detail the second set of Zelda DLC, and I suspect they might make the current pack available as they do the Direct. I think they’ll give us a little treat – there’s a pretty good chance of getting a most-welcome Pikmin 3 re-master announcement. Maybe a Pokemon-shaped surprise, or deep cut around the Wonderful 101? Perhaps a little noise surrounding upcoming iOs entries? I think we’ll also see another strong highlight of their commitment to indies, with a few cool surprises and dates in that mix. Mostly, they’ll play it safe and keep their focus on Mario and the Switch’s momentum, but they’ll do a good job of it, capitalizing on a legendary IP and a lot of goodwill for a fun new platform.

James Baker: More footage of Super Mario Odyssey is likely to be shown, hopefully revealing more variation in the worlds. However, this is as good as it will probably get. I don’t expect the unveiling of any huge games. I hope Nintendo shock and surprise me and send an earthquake down the middle of E3. But what we will get is more footage of games already revealed, and probably more details on the DLC for Breath of the Wild.

Patrick Murphy: Plenty of Mario Odyssey and Splatoon 2, probably some more ports of Wii U games, additional footage from titles already announced, like Fire Emblem Warriors and Xenoblade Chronicles 2, a pledge to for some reason keep supporting the 3DS, new amiibo that I won’t care about, and an indie game highlight reel for stuff that released on other consoles six months ago. I’ve conditioned myself not to expect big excitement from Nintendo with these presentations, but something does feel a little bit different this year. The whole launch of the Switch feels special, and Nintendo wants to do everything they can to keep the good vibes going. I expect to hear Reggie to appear at the end with a knowing grin and a “just one more thing…”

Brent Middleton: We’ll see Super Mario Odyssey in much more depth and probably hear more about Splatoon 2 as well. I’m expecting a highlight reel of upcoming indies (including some new exclusives) and the formal reveal of Mario+Rabbids Kingdom Battle. Will we see any new IPs? Maybe one. Will we hear more about virtual console? Probably not.

What would be your dream announcement?

Matt De Azevedo: With the announcement earlier this year that the Deus Ex franchise has been put on hiatus, the chances of it showing up at E3 are literally 0.0%, and that’s a crying shame. Mankind Divided isn’t a good game, it’s a fantastic game, and I need a conclusion to Adam Jensen’s story. Please Square… I can’t take a wait like the one between Invisible War and Human Revolution. (Oh, and FromSoft: you guys are the best in the business and you know what to do. Fear the old blood.)

Ricky D: A new Earthbound/Mother game. And I don’t mean having Mother 3 released in the west. I mean the fourth entry in the series.

Mike Worby: If Nintendo finally premiered an achievement system, particularly for their classic games, I would lose my mind.

John Cal McCormick: PSOne games on PS4 with trophies. All the big games I want are already announced or too far off (Persona 6?!) to mention. Give me Metal Gear Solid, Final Fantasy IX and Silent Hill with trophies and I’ll be your best friend. Scout’s honour.

Marty Allen: Animal Crossing Switch: a massively multiplayer online, world-building dream of bug-catching wonders for me to retire to.

James Baker: Nintendo to reveal something we don’t already know about. Metroid Prime, Pokémon Stadium, Luigi’s Mansion – I’d even be happy for a new Harvest Moon. Just anything.

Patrick Murphy: A new ActRaiser, because I want one. C’mon, Square! Barring that, a Retro Studios-developed Metroid Prime 4 would have me thinking of little else until its release.

Ben Thompson: The Elder Scrolls VI or a new PS Vita console.

Brent Middleton: A new Animal Crossing game. One that greatly expands the player’s role as a mayor and adds enough new mechanics to make it feel like far more than a New Leaf expansion.

Who will “win” E3?

Matt De Azevedo: Microsoft has the most powerful horse in the race, but their jockey is questionable. Mario will stir the hearts of the masses, but Nintendo’s previous E3 showing proved that one fantastic looking game isn’t enough to win the event. While it’s still up in the air, realistically speaking if two or more of Spider-Man, God of War, Detroit: Become Human, or Days Gone get 2017 release dates then Sony automatically wins and people will be prematurely touting 2017 as one of gaming’s best years. And even if all four of those games are 2018 or beyond, Sony’s lineup still makes them the front runner. It’ll be tough to dethrone the reigning king.

Ricky D: Sony simply because Nintendo said they are only focusing on games being released in the upcoming twelve months and in my eyes, Microsoft just can’t compete with Sony’s library of games.

Mike Worby: Despite my snark, I feel like Nintendo could take it this year. It would be a welcome change to see someone really give Sony a challenge, and I fear that Microsoft isn’t up to the task at the moment.

John Cal McCormick: Sony. Even though they’re bound to disappoint at one of these shows sooner or later, betting against them given their recent record seems foolish. They’ve got so much third party support and an incredible array of first party studios – I don’t see how Microsoft or Nintendo will be able to compete.

Marty Allen: I think the very idea of winning E3 is a bit over-simplified, but I’m going to go out on a limb for the long-shot bet. I think Microsoft is going to swing for the fences and hit a home run. The real question is whether or not they’ll see the momentum through properly to bring their console back to a state of relevance.

James Baker: Sony will win, but strangely, it’s Nintendo’s to lose. If Nintendo doesn’t reveal anything spectacular, which they should after the successful release of the Switch, then Sony will walk it. Microsoft seems to have already accepted defeat, so who knows, they might strike back like a cornered snake.

Patrick Murphy: Doesn’t Sony always win these things? They have plenty of games, lots of sales numbers to report, and just the right street cred to make their rivals look silly. I’m not sure what Microsoft could do to make up ground in the cool department besides announcing an impossible number of exclusives, but as the wild card, I do think Nintendo has the ability to make a memorable splash with the right-sized cannonball. They can’t “win” (I’m not even sure they’re playing the same game), but they can earn a lot of positive buzz, which is a victory in itself these days.

Ben Thompson: Sony

Brent Middleton: I think most people will say Sony, but Sony actually doesn’t have to do much to “win” in the eyes of most gamers this year. If Microsoft or Nintendo far exceed expectations, it’ll be more of a “win” for them in my eyes.

 

Well, that’s it for our predictions for E3 2017, what about yours? Sound off in the comments below.

Humans by birth. Gamers by choice.Goomba Stomp is a Canadian web publication that has been independently owned and operated since its inception in 2016.

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Marty Allen

    June 6, 2017 at 9:39 pm

    This is such a great piece to have been a part of! I love hearing everyone’s perspective and being amongst a crew who are as obsessed with this madness as I am! Awesome thoughts, one and all!

  2. John Cal McCormick

    June 12, 2017 at 6:20 am

    ” I think that their conference is going to disappoint. I’m expecting the hundredth Forza game on Xbox One, Crackdown 3 to be shown again (probably looking nothing like it did the first time around, and with little talk of the once much-ballyhooed cloud processing we’ve all now forgotten about), and a lot of talk about the power of Scorpio. I desperately hope they have something more compelling than that. On the Scorpio front I’m expecting a lot of people to be pretty miffed with it because it seems like many are expecting this console to be a game changer, and it probably isn’t going to be. I’m expecting a more powerful Xbox One – a slightly better twist on Sony’s PS4 Pro – and that’s about it. No exclusive Scorpio games, no new generation, and a fairly high ($499?) price point. Microsoft needs exclusives to give people a reason to care, and I just don’t see where they’re going to come from with them throwing money at third party developers.”

    Well, I’m going to claim that one as a victory.

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Game Reviews

‘Heave Ho’ Review: Us & Chuck

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Couch co-op is a phrase that’s used pretty infrequently these days. In fact, it seems that couch co-op wasn’t even a phrase at all until it wasn’t the norm anymore. With the modern emphasis on online experiences, the delights of a room full of screaming maniacs stumbling through a party game is largely a lost remnant of generations past. This, however, poses a difficult conundrum to any reviewers unfortunate enough to be unable to fulfill the most vital component for a couch co-op game review: a full couch. Treading in the wobbly footsteps of party classic Mount Your Friends (and clasping at the slippery tentacles of Octodad), Heave Ho is a game fundamentally for social people.

Its premise is a very similar task that involves swinging your wacky avatar’s limbs around, desperately trying to grab hold of any nearby surfaces. The game is more concerned with getting your character to the end of an obstacle course than clambering over your opponents like in Mount Your Friends, and there are a distinctly smaller number of limbs to control (and appendages to laugh at).

Couch co-op is a phrase that’s used pretty infrequently these days. In fact, it seems that couch co-op wasn’t even a phrase at all until it wasn’t the norm anymore. With the modern emphasis on online experiences, the delights of a room full of screaming maniacs stumbling through a party game is largely a lost remnant of generations past. This, however, poses a difficult conundrum to any reviewers unfortunate enough to be unable to fulfill the most vital component for a couch co-op game review: a full couch. Treading in the wobbly footsteps of party classic Mount Your Friends (and clasping at the slippery tentacles of Octodad), Heave Ho is a game fundamentally for social people.

Its premise involves the very similar task of swinging your wacky avatar’s limbs around, desperately trying to grab hold of any nearby surfaces. But Heave Ho is more concerned with getting your character to the end of an obstacle course than clambering over your opponents like in Mount Your Friends, and there is a distinctly smaller number of limbs to control (and appendages to laugh at).

Fingertips count in ‘Heave Ho’

There’s really not much to Heave Ho that warrants more explaining, as expressed via the world’s shortest tutorial at the beginning of the first level. Use the left analog stick for moving both of your character’s arms, press L or ZL for grabbing with the left arm, and press R or ZR for the right; that’s it. At least, that would be it, unless — and this is admittedly a somewhat niche bugbear — you’re a user of the neon red/blue launch Joy-Con, because their colors are flipped on the game’s assistance gloves. You can tell yourself you won’t be affected, but if you’re playing handheld and staring at bright blue and red in your own hands, you’re naturally going to associate those colors with the in-game hands.

A lot of the game feels flat solo, but these moments are still great

Upon acknowledgement of the incredibly basic controls, players are promptly (and literally) dropped straight into the level, left to fumble your way around the various objects and pitfalls en route to the goal. Striking a balance between careful, methodical navigation and reckless flinging is the key to success, with the former being more reliable and the latter being a hell of a lot more fun.

Heave Ho does feels a little forced in terms of its attempts at humor; it’s all very noisy, colorful and silly, which is obviously the point, and playing a game where you chuck a gangly anthropomorphic blob around with little-to-no coordination is never going to be the way to get your fill of sophisticated chuckles. I guess goofy wigs and obnoxious voices are funny to some people, but as the game gets harder and the challenges begin to frustrate, the humor is less of a mood lifter and more of an annoyance.

It all looks like fun and games here, but this world is horrific

The strength of a game like this will typically be measured in the number of laughs emanating from a packed living room, but its longevity will always be judged on how it endears as a solo experience. This is even more vital in the absence of online multiplayer, meaning you’re either playing with a house full of mates, or by yourself. I don’t have a house full of mates all that often, so the majority of my time with the game was playing solo, and that really doesn’t feel like the optimum way to get the most out of Heave Ho. The wacky, party-gaming hijinks sharply degenerate into a frustrating, often tedious slog when played alone.

The moments of intense satisfaction when nailing a long swing to a distant platform, or completing a particularly tricky level, shouldn’t be ignored, but they are too often mired by either boredom or anger. Easier levels require very little thought or technique to complete, and late-game ones are rage-inducing. This is exacerbated by the inexplicable decision from the developers to force players to complete all of an area’s levels in one run. There are no checkpoints after individual levels, so if you find yourself at a wall on the final level of a run and need a break from the game, you’re going to have to go back and complete all its preceding levels just to get yourself back.

I ain’t even gotta look!

This is a real mood-killer, and I found myself apathetically averse to trudging back through older levels to merely match the progress of a previous day’s attempts, especially when that previous day ended in frustration anyway. The type of game that Heave Ho is — one that builds itself on rapid-fire, bite-size challenges — just cannot benefit from forcing players into marathon sittings, especially when multiple people are required for optimum enjoyment.

Having online options would help, and it’s baffling as to why couch co-op and online co-op are mutually exclusive in some games. Playing an online game of Worms back on Xbox 360 was one of the most hilarious experiences I’ve had in any multiplayer game, and it’s such a shame to be denied even the potential for this with Heave Ho instead of being left to drag my tired fiancé to the TV for some forced hilarity. It might have been the worst possible litmus test for a party game, but were she writing this review it would have consisted largely of how “stressful,” she found it. I saw a few smiles, but perhaps the game isn’t as inclusive as it tries to present itself.

Two heads are definitely not better than one here

With the fiancé out of the potential player pool, I may bring Heave Ho out at a more receptive social occasion in the future, as the potential for communal hilarity is definitely there, but solo play is definitely not going to be something to engage in again. Perhaps if the necessary quality of life improvements were made — chiefly, being able to swap the colours of the assist gloves around and having a checkpoint after each level — then players might be more inclined to hammer away at it, but unfortunately, it’s likely to be just squirreled away as a potential curiosity rather than a go-to source of fun.

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Games

20 Memorable Moments from Telltale’s ‘The Walking Dead’ Series

To commemorate The Walking Dead game series, we’ll be counting down 20 of the most memorable moments throughout the series.

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Recently rumours have surfaced that Telltale Games will be making a comeback following interest from a pair of investors. After the closure of the studio last year upcoming Telltale titles — such as The Wolf Among Us 2 –– were cancelled indefinitely but this news could mean that a revival of these games may be on the way. Skybound Games have also recently released The Walking Dead: The Telltale Definitive Edition, a collection of all 4 seasons of The Walking Dead game alongside some bonus content such as concept art, music and commentaries. Due to this release, and the newfound hope for Telltale Games, now seems like a good time to reflect on the game that thrust Telltale into the spotlight: The Walking Dead. The series was halfway through its final season when Telltale closed its doors but Skybound Games jumped in to finish off the story of Clementine, the hugely beloved protagonist.

To commemorate The Walking Dead game series, I’ll be counting down 20 of the most memorable moments throughout the series.  A quick side note before we begin: when Telltale first closed down I wrote an article about the top ten moments from Telltale Games in general which included some Walking Dead moments. I will be using the same entries — with a few minor adjustments — if those moments find themselves on this list too, as my opinion has not changed.

*Major spoilers ahead for all 4 seasons of The Walking Dead.*

20. Kenny/Jane Flashback: A New Frontier

In Season Three, Clementine becomes a companion as the player takes on the role of a new character, Javier Garcia. We get some flashbacks as to what happened to Clementine in the gap between seasons two and three. There are multiple endings to season two, so it is the flashbacks that we get from two particular endings that are most memorable. In one ending Clementine can take baby A.J. and go with Kenny and in another she can leave with Jane. If the player leaves with Kenny, the flashback shows Kenny teaching Clementine how to drive. They get into an accident and Kenny is thrown through the windscreen, losing the feeling in his legs. To allow Clementine and A.J to escape, he uses himself as bait for walkers and gets eaten alive. This flashback is memorable for all the wrong reasons. It feels like a rushed and half thought out way of getting rid of Kenny to explain why Clementine is alone. For such a beloved character, it seems so wrong to merely dispose of him in order to wrap up a loose end. This ending for Kenny is an injustice to his character. Memorable doesn’t have to mean good! In the other flashback, Jane, Clementine and A.J return to Howe’s and are living comfortably enough. Jane sends Clementine to do a perimeter sweep but when she returns, she finds that Jane has hung herself. A distraught and confused Clementine finds a positive pregnancy test on the ground. This makes sense for Jane’s character. She was always a somewhat cold lone wolf who was uncomfortable with children. Finding out she was pregnant in a post-apocalyptic world would have been the worst possible outcome. She was a survivor who was willing to do whatever it took to stay alive and to have not one but two helpless babies in her care would not have been an option. There was also a somewhat selfish nature to Jane, so killing herself to avoid her pregnancy, and leaving Clementine and A.J alone, is a believable and fitting end to her story.

19. Clem Leaves to Search for A.J: A New Frontier

At the end of Season Three, Clem decides to venture out alone to search for A.J, the baby from Season Two who she had taken into her care. We see her navigating through walkers, taking them out confidently and with ease. This moment is a good representation of Clementine’s development through the years. Although she still had one more season to go, it was clear at this point just how much she has grown and matured since her introduction in season one. You can’t help but feel a connection with her if you have been playing the game since the beginning and seeing Clementine go it alone with a fierce determination about her made me feel proud of the person she had become.

18. Basement Scene: The Final Season

Something that I wasn’t expecting from The Final Season was a moment that felt like it was ripped straight out of a horror movie. Despite the horror zombie theme running through The Walking Dead series, it plays as an interactive point and click story rather than a horror game. In episode one of The Final Season, Clementine is locked in a basement with a character called Brody who has recently died. Clementine knows that Brody will turn into a walker soon, so she starts looking for a way to escape. The darkness of the basement is lit only by a flashlight which Clem goes to find. As she does, you can see that Brody’s body has gone. As the player maneuvers through the dark, disturbing noises can be heard as Brody slowly turns. It’s all very unsettling so I couldn’t help but feel a little unnerved. The creepiest moment comes when Clementine struggles to get the basement doors open and we then cut to Brody’s perspective as she approaches Clementine from behind. Just as Clem opens the doors, we see Brody’s zombified face appear behind her and drag her back into the dark. Of course, Clem survives the encounter but it is a genuinely scary moment due to the horror and suspense elements being crafted and utilized so well. It was a scene that left me feeling surprised, impressed and freaked out all at once.

17. Clementine’s Parents: Season One

From the beginning of the game, Clementine is certain that her parents are still alive and that she will find them. Voicemails left on Clementine’s house phone tell us that her father has been bitten but her mother’s fate is left ambiguous. Dialogue options allow the player to lie to Clementine but canon dialogue suggests that Lee is certain that they are both gone. This is more than likely the case but Clementine’s boundless optimism in the darkest of situations would give even the most cynical player some hope. When the group get to Savannah, Clementine is kidnapped and the final episode centres on Lee trying to get her back safely before his time runs out. He finally tracks her down in the hotel her parents had been staying and after covering her in walker guts to sneak her past a herd, Lee and Clementine begin their escape through the walker filled streets. As you navigate your way through the walkers, Clementine stops dead in her tracks with a horrified look on her face. We then see what has stopped her: the reanimated corpses of her parents aimlessly wandering the streets. It is in this moment that Clementine’s optimism is quashed. It doesn’t disappear entirely, but it certainly wanes from this point on. It is a turning point for her as a character as she has to stare the harsh reality of this new world in the face. There are no happy endings. There are only cold, hard facts. I myself was shocked by this too, having adopted some of Clementine’s positivity throughout my time playing. But I quickly realized that there was never really any hope for her parents, this was the harsh truth and perhaps I should have made Lee be more honest with Clementine about it from the start. This scene was impressive for the genuine gut punch it delivers as well as for being a pivotal moment for Clementine as a character.

16. The Walker Barn: The Final Season

An interesting new character from The Walking Dead: The Final Season is James, an ex-Whisperer who tries to convince Clementine that the walkers are more than just mindless monsters. When Clementine needs James to help her in the fight against Lilly, he only agrees on the condition that Clementine makes more of an effort to see things his way. To do this, Clem must don James’s walker skin mask and enter a barn full of walkers with the goal of touching the wind chime in the back. She reluctantly does so but when she reaches the wind chime and it starts to ring out, the walkers seem to look on in awe and confusion. James’s argument that there is a semblance of the person that they used to be within the walkers suddenly becomes far more convincing. The player can decide whether Clementine believes James might be right or not, but even if you remain unconvinced, it is hard not to see something vaguely resembling a human reaction when the walkers observe the wind chime. This is the first time in the game series that has suggested that there may be more to the walkers than first meets the eye. This is most likely not the case as Clementine later says, but it is hard not to see the expression in the eyes of the rotting corpses as they listen to the soft chimes. Jared Emerson-Johnson’s simple yet powerful music score for this moment is also one of the best in the entire game.

15. Clementine Dreams of Lee: The Final Season

Lee was such an important figure to Clementine as he taught her about survival and saved her life countless times so to see him again was a nice moment in The Final Season. Clementine dreams of Lee the night before she is due to lead an attack on Lilly and her group of raiders. She gets his advice and gives him an update of how things are going. Not only is it cool to see Lee’s updated character model in the new game engine, it is also good for Clementine to have one final moment with him to act as a form of closure to the series as a whole. I definitely felt emotional seeing Lee again, particularly when he comments on how big Clementine has gotten when he sees her at the age she is now. It was a great moment that wrapped up Lee and Clementine’s time together.

14. Duck Gets Bitten: Season One

Duck is one of the more polarising characters from The Walking Dead. Acting as the antithesis to the gentle and mild-mannered Clementine, Duck is the hyperactive, loud and somewhat irritating child of Kenny and Katjaa. Duck is well intentioned but it is difficult to find him anywhere near as likeable as Clementine. However, when it is revealed that he has been bitten by a walker in episode three, it is a sorrowful moment. Duck’s energy depletes more and more as he gets sick before either being put out of his misery by Lee or Kenny, or left to turn (depending on player choice). Kenny’s refusal to acknowledge the truth of Duck’s wound makes the situation all the more emotional. No matter what you thought of Duck, he was an innocent child who didn’t deserve the death he got. Duck’s bite and slow descent into death was memorable in that it showed that the game was very much in the same line as the corresponding comics. No one is safe.  Any man, woman or child can die at any second in this walker infested world.

13. Clementine and Sam: Season Two

A brief but memorable interaction from Season Two of The Walking Dead is Clementine’s time with a stray dog called Sam. She encounters him near an abandoned campsite and though wary of each other initially, the player can choose to interact with Sam in a way that suggests he could be a new companion for Clementine. It all seems to be going well until Clementine finds a can of food. Once she gets it open, the player can choose to offer some to Sam. No matter what they choose to do, Sam snatches the food and tries to eat it all. When Clementine tries to grab it back, Sam attacks her. He clamps his jaw onto her arm and the player must wrestle with the dog to stop him. Clementine kicks Sam just as he goes for her throat and he ends up being impaled on an old tent pole. This moment is  heart-breaking for both Clementine and the player. No matter how the player interacts with him, it is clear that Clementine and Sam like one another and she could have found herself a friend. As Sam lies dying, struggling and unable to move after his impalement, the player chooses whether they will leave Sam to die a slow and painful death or kill him outright to end his suffering. This is the final emotional blow in a scene that is already hard to watch.

12. Omid’s Death: Season Two

Another The Walking Dead scene that was difficult to watch was the opening moment from Season Two. Having lost Lee in the climax of Season One, Clementine becomes the playable character and is left with Omid and a heavily pregnant Christa. After stopping for a break at a gas station bathroom, Clementine makes the mistake of leaving her gun unattended. She ends up held at gunpoint with her own weapon as a teenage scavenger attempts to rob her. When Omid enters the bathroom to try and help Clementine, the shocked robber accidentally shoots him through the heart and kills him. Omid was one of the more likeable characters of Season One, despite being introduced late into the game, so to see him gunned down whilst attempting to protect Clementine is horrible. It is clear that Clementine blames herself for what happened due to leaving her gun to the side — as does Christa — which adds another dimension of sadness to this moment.

11. Katjaa’s Suicide: Season One

One of the most human and heart-breaking deaths in The Walking Dead game is Katjaa, Kenny’s wife and Duck’s mother. When Duck is bitten and on the verge of death, Katjaa and Kenny take him into the woods with the intent of putting him out of his misery. Although we don’t see it, we hear Katjaa suddenly turn the gun on herself. Katjaa was being incredibly strong about the situation and was far more grounded in reality about the situation then Kenny was. However, her sudden decision to take her own life made her character all the more tragic. Her strength faltered for one moment and she couldn’t handle it. Because of that, she made a split second decision. This was incredibly realistic and painful due to the sheer humanity of Katjaa’s thought process and her choice. The fact that it happens off screen and is still able to be so powerful is also testament to Telltale’s skill at constructing meaningful moments within their games.

10. Mariana’s Death: A New Frontier

You will probably notice that I haven’t included many entries from Season Three of The Walking Dead (also known as A New Frontier). It’s the weakest in the series of games and it doesn’t have quite as many iconic moments. However, there is one scene in particular that I always come back to when considering the game series as a whole. One of the faults of the series is, in my opinion, the decision to switch the focus to entirely new characters. Clementine is demoted to a supporting player in A New Frontier as the focus turns to Javier Garcia and his family. The characters aren’t nearly as easy to get emotionally attached to as the characters were in Season One and Season Two. Certain characters seem to act bitter and angry towards Javier no matter what dialogue you choose to use with them, such as Javier’s brother David and his nephew Gabe. Even Clementine seems surlier in this title (I can forgive her for that due to the fact that she is now a hormonal teenager). Despite that, there is one character that is sweeter in nature than the rest: Javier’s niece Mariana. Although the player only spends a small amount of time with her, her intelligence, maturity, creativity and soulful attitude instantly make her likeable. I couldn’t help but feel a connection to her and a desire to protect her, similar to the feeling that I got upon first meeting Clementine. At the end of the first episode, Mariana is suddenly shot through the head whilst retrieving her beloved headphones. It is not only a shock due to the unexpected nature of the moment but also emotional as Mariana is a good character who is still very young. For someone to callously shoot a little girl through the head is horrific, but very much aligned to The Walking Dead’s brutal style. Mariana’s death is similar to that of Duck’s, reminding us that children are certainly not safe from a gruesome death in this new and cruel world.

9. Lilly Returns: The Final Season

Lilly’s exit from The Walking Dead game was left open ended in Season One, no matter whether the player decides to leave her on the side of the road or not. Her return in The Final Season wasn’t a huge surprise due to trailers beforehand confirming her appearance but her relationship with Clementine is one of the more interesting elements. Clementine and Lilly had a good relationship in Season One. Though you don’t get to see much interaction between them, it is clear that Lilly cares for Clementine and wants to protect her as most of the other adults in the group do. In a sweet and familial gesture, Lilly is the one who gives Clementine the hair ties that she uses throughout the series. Things have obviously changed by the time that they meet again. Lilly is the lieutenant of a group of raiders from a haven called the Delta who are in search of soldiers to defend their home as they embark on a war with another group of survivors. This isn’t optional though and Lilly and her crew plan to kidnap those they want to recruit. They purposely travel to Ericson Boarding School to recruit the teenagers living there, having already taken some kids from Ericson beforehand.  It is here that Lilly meets Clementine again. Their meeting isn’t exactly a joyous one. Clementine is thrown to the ground; a boot is firmly planted on her neck and a gun pointed at the back of her head. It isn’t until Clem is kicked in the face that she is turned around and Lilly recognises her. The conversation between the two can differ depending on Lee’s actions in Season One. Lilly is harsh and disrespectful towards those who have died (not remembering Carley/Doug’s name and suggesting that Lee was a bad mentor) but if Lee showed her kindness then she has a slightly softer edge to her. If Clem chooses to acknowledge Lilly and not be aggressive, she will also be a tad more understanding. However, as the game progresses the relationship between the two gets even more strained and Clementine ends up going to war against Lilly with the Ericson kids. Lilly and Clementine’s reunion is very bittersweet. Lilly was always a tough character so a cheerful reunion wasn’t expected, but to see two people who were once like family turn to mortal enemies is saddening. The character development for both Lilly and Clementine that their meeting leads to is also an interesting element, making it one of the more memorable parts of the game series.

8. Lilly Shoots Carley/Doug: Season One

Episode Three of Season One of The Walking Dead is arguably the best episode of the entire series. So much happens in a short space of time and by the end of the episode, things are vastly different from how they started. Halfway through Episode Three, tensions are running high in the group of survivors. Lilly is close to breaking point due to having to watch her father die in brutal fashion in Episode Two.  When one of the group is found to be making a deal with bandits, Lilly is on a mission to find the culprit. As she tries to figure out who it was, she is pushed over the edge and snaps. She shoots Carley/Doug, whoever Lee saved in the first episode, and instantly kills them. The sudden death proved that Telltale weren’t afraid to kill off any of their characters and that everyone was expendable. It also showed how the horrors of the apocalypse can change people and turn them into ruthless killers. Lee is then left to choose whether to abandon Lilly on the side of the road or let her stay with the group, another tough player choice. The shocking murder and aftermath from Lee’s choice made for one of the most gripping episodes of the entire series.

7. Clementine Stitches Her Arm: Season Two

Clementine is shown to be a strong-willed and determined little girl, even from the very beginning of The Walking Dead game, when she was at her youngest. She continued to prove herself to be more than capable of surviving, but this moment in particular shows just how resilient she is. Clementine is left with a large gaping bite wound on her arm after the attack from Sam the dog. The new group she finds is suspicious of her bite so she is locked in a shed. After finding the items she needs to clean her wound and stitch it up, she sets about patching herself up. The player is forced to sew up Clem’s arm with a regular needle and watch as she screams and cries in pain. It’s hard enough to watch, but even harder having to control Clementine as she digs the needle into her flesh and her wound bleeds. Painful in every sense of the word, this moment not only shows that Clementine is more capable than most adults, yet alone an ordinary child, but also that Telltale are able to make their players squirm with a simple press of a button.

6. A.J. Shoots Marlon: The Final Season

One of the staples of The Final Season of The Walking Dead is the relationship between A.J and Clementine. A.J. was born in Season Two and after the death of his parents, Clementine adopts him as her own and raises him either alone, in Wellington or with Kenny or Jane depending on the player choice. No matter what the player chooses, Clementine is eventually reunited with A.J after he is taken from her by the New Frontier group from Season Three. She has been raising him ever since in a relationship that parallels the one between Clementine and Lee. The player has to be careful in what they say to A.J. as he is always paying attention, again in a similar fashion to how Clementine would take note of Lee’s actions (Clementine will remember that, after all). Being born into the apocalypse with no knowledge of the world before has made A.J tougher and less stable than Clementine was at his age. His decision to kill another human being at the end of the first episode shows just how warped his world view has become. Marlon is the leader of the Ericson Boarding School for Troubled Youths, where Clementine and A.J find themselves after the boarding school kids save them following a car accident. It is revealed at the end of the episode that Marlon has been making deals with bandits, letting them kidnap some of the students in exchange for leaving the others at the school in peace. Clementine confronts Marlon and they engage in a tense standoff with Marlon pointing his gun at Clem. It can end a couple of ways. Clementine can physically overpower Marlon or she can convince him to stand down and drop his weapon. What can’t be changed is A.J’s decision to shoot Marlon in the back of the head despite him surrendering. After he has killed Marlon, A.J. will then say that he did what Clementine told him to and he will repeat the phrase that she said to him earlier in the episode (either “aim for the head”, “don’t hesitate” or “save the last bullet for yourself” depending on player choice). The repercussions of Clementine’s teachings are highlighted here and I certainly started to wonder as to whether I had been teaching A.J the right things after this. In Season One, Clementine only killed when Lee was in mortal danger. This is not the same situation. Marlon had stood down. He had lowered his weapon. He was no longer a threat and yet A.J still found it necessary to kill him. I found myself feeling responsible for A.J.’s decision and that is what I believe makes this moment memorable. To engage the player enough for them to feel guilty on behalf of another character’s action is an impressive feat and Telltale pulls it off perfectly here.

5. The Return of Kenny: Season Two

The first Walking Dead season from Telltale was pretty brutal when it came to the final death count. One of those assumed casualties was Kenny, a lovable, albeit infuriating, character. His annoyance with player character Lee if you didn’t side with him at all times was a cause of frustration for many, but Kenny clearly had a good heart. When his family are taken from him, you can’t help but feel his pain. Although the death of his wife and child is a powerful moment in itself, Kenny’s return in Season Two represents some hope and light in an unforgiving world. Clementine is left entirely alone after the opening of Season Two so having a trusted person come back into her life, one she assumed was dead, is a positive thing for her. It is a far more positive outcome in comparison to her reunion with Lilly. Kenny goes through an interesting character arc as it becomes clear he is still fighting demons. He’s clearly traumatized by what happened to his family. He even seems to have regrets in the way he treated Lee, if the player did not always take his side. Kenny is a flawed but endearing character and his return allows for more character development, as well as giving Clementine a member of her new family back.

4. Clementine Gets Bitten: The Final Season

Toward the end of the last episode of The Final Season, the unthinkable happens: Clementine gets bitten. After an encounter with the brainwashed Minerva on a bridge, Clementine ends up with a massive axe wound on her leg. Unable to move quickly, she and A.J. end up trapped with walkers closing in. A.J. scrambles up a rock and attempts to help Clementine up after him. She isn’t able to move quickly enough and a pursuing walker bites her on the ankle. It is a horrible moment to watch, seeing the character that we have kept safe all this time finally meeting the fate that fans of the series were so afraid of. As Clementine checks her ankle, the player has to slowly open her boot and the tension is palpable as you do so. The music disappears and all you can hear is Clementine’s laboured breathing as she makes the discovery of teeth marks on her already mangled leg. Players who have completed the game know that this isn’t the end of Clementine –more on that later– but to see her grow weaker and weaker as she succumbs to her bite is pretty excruciating. A.J. and Clementine take shelter in a barn where she collapses to the ground, no longer able to move.  She props herself up and instructs A.J. on how to secure the area as walkers attempt to get in. The scene is a direct reflection of the Season One ending, where Lee teaches Clementine to defend herself and helps her escape, whilst he sits on the floor unable to move. It is harrowing to see Clementine succumbing to the same fate as her protector, as she also teaches her ward how to go it alone. The scene makes the story come full circle, with Clementine saying her last goodbyes to A.J. and asking him to kill her as Lee did (players can also decide to tell A.J. to leave her there as with Lee). The strong parallels with Season One symbolise the completion of Clementine’s journey with the player and it is a memorable, and particularly affecting, scene.

3. Lee Gets Bitten: Season One

In Season One, Clementine goes missing at the end of the fourth episode whilst the group is in Savannah looking for a boat to escape. Intent on finding her parents, Clementine puts her trust in a stranger and, of course, it ends badly. As Lee, the player starts searching the house they are holed up in to try and find her. Lee becomes panicked as he spots Clementine’s hat and her radio outside of the fence. As the player reaches down to pick up the radio, a hidden walker lashes out and takes a bite out of Lee’s wrist. I still remember playing this part of the game for the first time years ago. I remember feeling absolute shock as the camera panned down to reveal the bite mark on Lee’s wrist. Lee starts to panic, saying “No!” over and over, and clutching at his wrist. His reaction wasn’t too different from my own. As soon as you realize he has been bitten, you know he is going to die. I had grown attached to Lee’s character as he had brilliant development through the series as well as an interesting arc and back story. Knowing that this was the end for him was so upsetting. Tension and anticipation also make up the scene, with the radio crackling as the player approaches just before Lee picks it up. You can tell something is going to happen, but can’t be sure what. This masterful approach to suspense, combined with the genuinely saddening and emotional moment, and Dave Fennoy’s fantastic voice acting, is what makes Lee’s bite one of the most memorable moments in The Walking Dead series.

2. Clementine is Alive!: The Final Season

After Clementine is bitten, we see A.J swing his axe down before the screen cuts to black. It’s assumed that he has put Clem out of her misery, and we begin playing as A.J. A.J is going about life at Ericson and catching some fish for dinner when he sees Clementine’s hat floating down the river (Clem lost her hat during the attack on Lilly and the raiders). As he carries the hat back to Ericson, Alela Diane’s ‘Take Us Back’ starts to play and some of the other kids join him on the way. This is the same song that plays during the credits of Season One, so it is assumed that this is the end of the game. A.J. has finally found a home and is living out his life with the boarding school kids whilst remembering the teachings that Clem gave him, just as Lee did for Clementine. However, upon his return we see that Clementine is actually alive but now missing a leg. Again, this is a moment that I remember well as I felt such emotion upon playing it. I think I may have audibly cheered. I had shed a tear over Clementine’s faux death — just as I did over Lee — and had resigned myself to the fact that she was gone. Seeing her limp onto screen, crutch in tow, was such a brilliant moment. Of course, if you think about it too much it doesn’t make that much sense. How could A.J, who can’t be more than 6 or 7, have managed to cut off a grown teenager’s leg? The axe he used was also covered in walker blood so surely if Clementine hadn’t bled out, she would have still been infected. How did A.J manage to get Clem back to the school by himself before she died of blood loss?? These are all valid questions which would usually seriously bug me, but I honestly did not care for any of it. All I cared about was that this character, who I had come to love after protecting her and watching her grow up and survive in a new and brutal world, was alive. Clementine has become such a beloved character amongst the gaming community that Skybound were able to save the game from complete cancellation. That wouldn’t have happened if the players hadn’t resonated with her the way that they did. We, as a community, needed the conclusion of her story and, thanks to Skybound, we were able to see her get the ending she deserved. The player’s role of Clementine ends in the barn as the player takes on the role of A.J. in the epilogue as he chats to Clem. Melissa Hutchison gives an impressive and tearful performance as Clem as she asks A.J. if she has done a good job taking care of him after spending so much time running and looking for somewhere to call home. She then hands over her hat to A.J., hanging it up for good, both physically and symbolically. Again, the emotion is potent here as we have experienced everything that Clementine has been through to finally get to this point. She can rest now, even if it is with only one leg. Clementine surviving her bite may not be entirely logical, but if there is anyone who deserves a happy ending (or as happy an ending as you can get from The Walking Dead) it is certainly our sweet pea Clementine. Lee will remember that.

1. Goodbye Lee:  Season One

Having played through Season One of Telltale’s The Walking Dead multiple times, I can say with honesty that I still cry at the ending. Moving, brutal and emotionally crippling, Season One culminates with Lee succumbing to his bite and suffering one of two fates, depending on player choice. Choice one is to be shot in the head by Clementine, the little girl who you’ve given your life to protect. Choice two is to be left to turn into a walker, arguably a fate worse than death. So there are no winners here, no matter what you pick. Lee is an excellent protagonist, his dark past makes him a criminal and this contradicts his role of protector to Clementine. He isn’t perfect. He has made mistakes and continues to do so as you play. But he is believable as a flawed, but ultimately well-meaning, man. A man who sees his opportunity to redeem himself by saving, and taking care of, Clementine. To see him bitten at the end of episode four is a painful moment but watching him deteriorate through episode five, and eventually die, is excruciating. You feel a connection with him, a person struggling to do the right thing and protect those he cares about, despite the end of the world situation. As he and Clementine have a final moment together, it becomes clear that it has all led to this. That you have taught her how to survive, how to behave, but also how to say goodbye. The final words and last goodbye that he and Clementine share are, in my opinion, the most powerful and memorable of any Telltale game. And make sure to keep that hair short.

The Walking Dead: The Telltale Definitive Series is out now for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and Microsoft Windows.

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‘Final Fantasy VIII’: A Beloved Black Sheep

If the the general operative way to make a sequel to a massive success like Final Fantasy VII would be to give people more of the same, only bigger and better, Squaresoft opted for something of a different approach.

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When Final Fantasy VII emerged on the scene back in 1997, it changed the way gamers looked at, and experienced, JRPGs. With its flashy cutscenes, cool aesthetic and myriad of anime badasses, Final Fantasy VII pulled off the seemingly impossible task of making RPGs cool. It also gave RPGs a breath of fresh air, exposing them to the mainstream and earning them a much bigger slice of the gaming industry. Then came Final Fantasy VIII.

If the the general operative way to make a sequel to a massive success like Final Fantasy VII would be to give people more of the same, only bigger and better, Squaresoft opted for something of a different approach. In fact, Final Fantasy VIII was so wildly different from its predecessor that it wouldn’t be stretch to call them polar opposites.

Where FFVII took place in a world that was dark, moody and foreboding, FFVIII was bright, colorful and drenched in sunlight. Where VII began in the desolate slums of a fascist, dystopian nightmare, VIII opened in the sort of beautifully-rendered, futuristic facility that would be right at home in paradise. Though Final Fantasy VI  and VII were separated by an entire hardware generation, there similar venues of dark steampunk and darker cyberpunk make them far more comparable in terms of their look and feel then VII and VIII.

Final Fantasy VIII

Beautiful scenes like this would be wildly out of place in Final Fantasy VIII’s predecessors.

The characters were just as distinctly different. There were no caped monster men or gun-armed maniacs here, just 6 high school students of relatively similar age, build and disposition. From the magic system to the way experience was garnered, from the way that weapons were upgraded to the method with which players earned money, Final Fantasy VIII re-did literally everything VII had built, right from the ground up.

This comparison goes a long way toward explaining Final Fantasy VIII and its strangely disjointed place in the series. Where VI, VII, IX and are all fondly and widely remembered, VIII is more stridently beloved by a small group of loyalists. Despite its strong reviews and fantastic salesFinal Fantasy VIII found itself slipping further and further from the series’ limelight as the years passed by.

Now, however, with the release of Final Fantasy VIII Remastered, the black sheep of the mainline Final Fantasy franchise has gained a new lease on life. As one of the last of the golden age titles in the series to finally reach a mass market rerelease, FFVIII finally has a chance to redeem itself from years of teasing and jibes about its confounding junction system and endlessly plot-twisting time compression storyline.

Final Fantasy VIII

Despite the games often sunny disposition, scenes of nail-biting suspense were often just around the corner.

Getting down to brass tacks, there was indeed a LOT to learn from the outset. Critics of the game are absolutely right in one respect: this game is complicated. If that weren’t readily apparent, the seemingly never-ending stream of tutorials that unfold over the course of the games first 10 hours oughta clue you in real quick. How to junction a GF, how to draw magic, how to junction magic, how to switch junctions, etc. You’ll be reading the word junction so much, you’ll think you’re watching an educational special.

With that said, though, once you’d finally mastered the many idiosyncratic elements of the junction system, you’d never felt more powerful in your life. Junctioning Ultima to strength, Full-Life to HP, and casting some Aura magic could make short work of just about any threat the game threw at you, and that’s just one of dozens of strategies that the malleable junction system provided players with. As Quistis points out early on, junctioning a status effect like blind or sleep to your elemental attack attribute could render seemingly insurmountable enemies relatively harmless in one fell stroke.

Of course, the complex nature of such a system could not be overstated. If anyone were to read this who hadn’t played the game, I’m sure it would come across as absolute jibberish. That’s part of the charm of Final Fantasy VIII though: like many a beloved cult classic, this game is as uncompromising and unabashedly against the grain as a sequel we might get from the likes of David Lynch.

Few JRPGs are peppered with as much colorfully silly levity as Final Fantasy VIII.

The same goes for the magic system. While drawing magic from draw points and enemies is initially confusing, the amount of freedom it gives the player to stock up on spells and utilize them for a myriad of purposes was utterly earth-shattering. The fact that entire GFs (Guardian Forces) could be missed just because the player forgot to check the draw options on a particular boss was the kind of kick in the general genital region that made a game like Final Fantasy VIII worth going back to at least once more after completion.

Upgrading weapons with collected materials was also very different. No more just buying the next awesome sword from a new vendor, the player would instead need to find a Weapons Monthly issue for the information on the upgrade, and then mine the respective materials needed to improve their weapon. Finally, the SeeD salary system ranked and evaluated the player as they made their way through the game. No more earning a shower of gil just for offing a few enemies, if you weren’t representing the SeeDs and Gardens in an optimal fashion, your pay would suffer as a result.

Outside of gameplay, these wild 180 degree turns continued in Final Fantasy VIII‘s plotline.  Following the hard science fiction bent of the story of FFVIII could be a task in and of itself. A game that ostensibly begins with high school mercenaries being dispatched to aid rogue organizations around the world eventually evolves into an endless battle across space and time with a sorceress from the future. Meanwhile, some of the most seemingly important plot points in the game, such as Squall’s parentage, or the party’s connection with Laguna and company, are resolved only in the background. Players looking to piece together the many disparate elements of this story will have to put on their Dark Souls helmets and do a bit of individual exploration if they want answers.

The keyart for the game, presented after the opening cinematic, immediately makes the focus of Final Fantasy VIII clear.

The way the game focused on love as an essential motivation is also unique to the series. Though there had been love stories in Final Fantasy games prior to this, they never offered this much depth and emotion. Essentially the central character arc of the game, that of Squall Leonhart, is that of a damaged, emotionally bereft man opening up and learning to love again after suffering loss in the form of childhood traumas. The importance of this focus cannot be overstated. Final Fantasy VIII is a love story first and foremost, and anyone who might doubt that prospect need look no further than the keyart that accompanies the title sequence.

This focus on love, and its healing power, offers Squall perhaps the most fascinating character arc of any in the Final Fantasy franchise. Ostensibly a cold, apathetic loner at the outset, Squall transforms over the course of the story into a man who’s willing to throw caution to the wind if it means saving his friends or his love. Take, for example, the sequence toward the end of the game wherein Squall hurtles himself into the depths of space to save Rinoa, with absolutely no plan on how he might make his return. His love is so important to who he is, and what it has made him, that he would rather die than let it go.

The defining moment for this character, Squall, is unimaginable to players who first meet him sulking and brooding his way through the little monologue snippets that play in his mind. Even in the middle of the story, he opts to send Zell to save Rinoa from a potentially fatal fall, only going himself when there appears to be no other option. This gradual arc from stoic and closed off to open and supportive is still fascinating over 20 years later, and one of the key charms of Final Fantasy VIII.

The heartfelt love story between Squall and Rinoa remains one of the games greatest strengths all these years later.

Back in the fold and better than ever after 2 decades, Final Fantasy VIII Remastered has given the beloved black sheep of the Final Fantasy family a new lease on life, and a second chance to redefine its legacy. Whether it’s your first time venturing into this mad little piece of fiction or you’re coming back for the 10th replay, there’s never been a better, or more convenient, way to experience this one of a kind story.

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‘Dragon Quest’: A One of a Kind RPG

Even as time moves further away from May 27, 1986, Dragon Quest doesn’t feel dated. It certainly shows its age, but it has an elegance that only the best of games can boast. Even today, Dragon Quest is one of a kind. 

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The original Dragon Quest on the NES can be an incredibly difficult game to revisit. As the game that more or less set the foundation for all future JRPGs, Dragon Quest naturally feels primitive in comparison. Grinding is an outright necessity, there are next to no boss fights, and dungeons emphasize maze-like exploration over puzzle solving. The game’s initial Japanese release even used a password system to maintain progress. It wouldn’t be until the game was localized as Dragon Warrior in the west where it would gain a proper save system. In spite of all this, the first Dragon Quest has a certain charm unlike anything else on the NES. 

Dragon Quest, plain and simple, isn’t like other RPGs— even of its era. Combat has little depth beyond “attack and sometimes heal;” there’s no party system with the player instead exploring the world entirely on their own; and virtually every single area on the world map is open to the player as soon as they start the game. Dragon Quest doesn’t follow traditional JRPG rules, but there were no set rules on how to make a Famicom RPG in 1986. That Dragon Quest opts for a smaller scoped solo adventure allows players to better immerse themselves into the role of the Hero, if nothing else. 

Which is something Dragon Quest pulls off better than both The Legend of Zelda and Final Fantasy. Even though players can name him, Link has a distinct enough design where he truly does feel like his own character. On the flipside, while the Warriors of Light are genuine blank slates, the fact they function as a group of four instead of a single character means that NPCs never directly speak to the player— only the party. 

Dragon Quest (Famicom)

With Dragon Quest, however, the Hero is a blank slate who’s roped into dialogue at virtually every turn. NPCs aren’t monologuing into thin air, they’re talking to the player. The player is railroaded into saving the princess, but they can choose to side with the final boss at the end of the game for no reason other than pure curiosity. The story’s only real main arc revolves around the player proving their lineage as the descendant of a legendary hero. Dragon Quest caters itself towards the player’s experience in every sense. 

This is a detail that translates right into the main script and helps give Alefgard a real personality. The King explicitly mentions his disappointment with the Hero when he dies in combat. The same characters who praise the hero for being Erdrick’s descendant lambast him if players dare speak to them without proof. The Hero physically needs to carry the princess back to the castle after rescuing her, but there’s unique dialogue after defeating the final boss while still holding her. 

In many ways, these little distinctions are necessary for Dragon Quest to thrive. As an RPG, it’s far too simple for its own good. While Sleep does end up adding a layer of strategy to mid-game combat, the majority of the game will be spent mashing the Attack command at enemies. Not only because spells are best saved for when needed, but because of how important a role grinding plays. At the same time, it’s not as if Dragon Quest’s constant grinding is inherently a bad thing. 


Dragon Quest (Mobile)

While yes, grinding is more often than not a way to pad out a game with filler, there’s a therapeutic quality to grinding in Dragon Quest. It’s low maintenance with just enough thrills where it can be quite a zen experience. It’s certainly time consuming, but it’s time spent grounding the player in Alefgard. Given how small the map is, it’s more than likely for players to gain an intimate understanding of the overworld in a single playthrough. Usually, RPG overworlds are large enough where most won’t even humor learning the overall geography, but Dragon Quest makes it simple.

And almost necessary considering how much backtracking there can be. To its credit, though, it’s the good kind of backtracking dictated more or less by players. Although moving further and further away from the starting castle triggers stronger enemies to appear, the player really can go just about anywhere right at the beginning of the game. Enemies will massacre them with little to no effort, but it’s not difficult to find the three major relics in any order. It’s even possible to hold off saving the princess until the very end of the game. 

This is also to say nothing of what Dragon Quest offers from a pure gameplay experience. While battles are incredibly simple, stat numbers are grounded to the point where every little point of damage makes a difference. There’s a thrill to underestimating an Axe Knight, barely surviving, and then landing a critical hit that kills him in one swoop. The occasional Goldman and Metal Slime go a long way in adding a level of excitement to the Dragon Quest grind. If it’s going to be mandatory, why shouldn’t it be potentially interesting?

Dragon Quest (Super Famicom)

Battles are made even better by Dragon Quest’s dynamic first person perspective. Upon entering a random battle, a new in-game window pops up depicting an enemy with a lush background behind them. Toriyama’s art design is already a massive boon to the game’s aesthetic, but depicting backgrounds in-battle helps better present Alefgard as an actual, living world— something very few NES RPGs went through the effort of doing. 

Even dungeons manage to be compelling in their simplicity. Players need to rely on torches early on to see anything inside of caves. The fact that light slowly dims over time can force players to rush for the exit as darkness creeps in around them. Dragon Quest is a game that’s more than comfortable leaving players to rot in a pitch black dungeon. It’s an RPG that emphasized the importance of preparation without needing to make it a constant game mechanic. 

Healing magic ends up replacing herbs, Radiant makes torches useless, and Return ensures that players never need to waste an inventory slot on a Warp Wing. At the same time, healing magic is the most reliable way to heal so players might want to stock up on torches and Warp Wings anyways just to save MP. There isn’t much depth at play, but a fair bit of thought does go into the moment to moment gameplay. 

At its core, Dragon Quest is a game that never out-stays its welcome. It’ll be a challenging title for fans of the genre to experience, but it’s one that can take players back to 1986, when Final Fantasy was still an entire year away and the JRPG genre was in its infancy. Dragon Quest doesn’t humor the player, but emotionally involves them in the world of the game. Even as time moves further away May 27, 1986, Dragon Quest doesn’t feel dated. It certainly shows its age, but it has an elegance that only the best of games can boast. Even today, Dragon Quest is one of a kind. 

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‘Mages of Mystralia’ and the Fear of the Bigger Fish

‘Mages of Mystralia’ challenges notion of the magic user as an Other, tasking players with determining the truth of its world for themselves.

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Magic as a misunderstood disaster engine is pretty routine with our fantasy worldbuilding friends. Identifying cosmically gifted individuals as something Other exists within the narratives of the fantastic as everything from plot-relevant physical division (like the Circle in Dragon Age) to garden-variety bigotry (like the witch-boy in Overlord II, for the six people that remember that absolute unit of a tale). Some characters think magic is dangerous, others just think it’s cheating, but almost without exception the magic users of any established world are treated like people who walk into work with blood and gooey bits on their hands; maybe there’s a perfectly reasonable, innocent, non-murder explanation, but the safe bet is to assume they started their day by throwing unsuspecting virgins into equally unsuspecting volcanoes.

Which is fair, since Mages of Mystralia begins with the red-haired Zia yeeting out of the town of Greyleaf after accidentally setting her entire house on fire. Because Zia, obviously, is a mage, and in Mystralia, this is a very big problem.

Mages of Mystralia house

In the Before Time [crashing thunder], there were Mage Kings, kings that were mages, and kings that had magic (the poison specifically for Kuzco, Kuzco’s poison). Those possessing this gift were whisked away from their tiny, little villages and raised in the castle to be heirs and guardians and suspicious viziers. Then the goblins came and started wrecking shop, and one squirrelly moron named Aetius (first — and probably last — of his name) went looking for the Celestial Magic that you’re uber-super-not supposed to touch. He touched it, kept touching it, went crazy, and set the country on fire, ruining magery for everybody else. A slightly less squirrelly dude called the Marquis (the only one to survive stopping Aetius), then took over and made magery and anybody who practices it illegal. All the existing mages were killed or banished, and new mages, if they were found, were nixed on the spot.

Making unchangeable personal qualities illegal doesn’t solve things, however, because once every decade magic wakes up in somebody anyway — and this time, that person is Zia. So, the magic wakes up, sets her house on fire, and the citizens of Greyleaf take it upon themselves to throw her out since the Marquis is far away and doesn’t care about them anymore.

And so, the adventure begins.

After getting booted, Zia makes her way to the mage village of Haven, and on the way finds this objectively evil book in what looks like an abandoned altar…pillar…gateway…thing. It’s been here for a hot minute before she picks it up; it starts talking to her and teaching spells that her magery mentor (named Mentor) tells her a few minutes later she shouldn’t have yet, but he’s sure it’s fine.

This is objectively evil book — it has a smoky black speech bubble and everything — teaches spells and gives all kinds of historical context for the places Zia goes while looking for ways to keep a solar eclipse from ending the world. In particular, he says something that encapsulates the theme of Mages of Mystralia: the word “spellcraft.” Zia corrects him and says, “You mean magery.” He responds: “Magery is a word used by people who are afraid of the Marquis and his men. Spellcraft better describes what mages do. You should call things by their real name.

The book isn’t the only one to talk about this. At the very beginning of the game, Mentor is sitting on a log in front of a safe house in the woods, saying that he’s going to start teaching Zia spellcraft — and then immediately corrects himself to “magery,” because Zia hears “spellcraft” and kind of loses her mind. “Fine, magery, then if that word scares you less.”

“Spellcraft” is a heavily stigmatized word in the universe of Mages of Mystralia, and the different ways in which the book and Mentor react to it are important. Mentor resigns himself to Zia’s fear of it, while the objectively evil book is actively combating this attitude. These characters represent the two ways one can approach this kind of total exile. Mentor is from the older generation, the ones who saw the fall of the mage kings and who almost definitely knew mages who died in the initial purge. He is jaded and irritable, and twice in the first twenty minutes says to Zia, “Life is so easy, is it not?” when she gets antsy about using her magic.

The book, however, is older. The book represents a time when having mage-kings and actively roaming mage-guardians worked, letting players know that this system isn’t inherently flawed. Mage-kings used to be the reason people could walk freely in the valley at all; under the Marquis, the goblins run totally wild, and all the roads in and out of everywhere are unsafe. The book is calling things by their “real names,” as he remembers them, and wants to know why the modern language has shellacked all this new jargon over the truth. (Side-note, I have literally no reason to believe this evil book is male, but anyway…)

So, the objectively evil spellbook is thus far the only Socratic character in the story (which is fine, as you don’t need more than one). The purpose of a Socratic character is to be the voice of dissent in a story-world with which an audience is unfamiliar. While the book’s questions are rarely overt, his casual observations and concerns about the state of the world as it is and the world as he once knew it imply a hoard of information players don’t have — like the old quarry having flooded itself out of practical use in “[his] time,” and the seal table thing in the mage town of Haven having once been in the castle — and this inspires the player to ask questions of their own — like whether Celestial magic is truly an evil thing. It’s easy to fall into the bad-fantasy-novel trap of having everything a character tells you about the history of the land be the complete and unadulterated, non-propagandized truth; the book is our anchor against this type of narrative complacency.

The book functions as Zia’s anchor as well; alone, she wouldn’t think to ask these questions. The people she meets who know she’s a mage — and who fear her because of it — believe that magic is dangerous, and to keep themselves safe, the Valley just can’t have any magic in it at all. Zia was raised by these people; she grew up believing the same thing. Now that Zia is in the thick of it, she has to look further into it; but they don’t, because they are satisfied with the answers they already have. Their terror of mages stems from physical insecurity and an unwillingness to trust people with inherently more power over the world than they’ll ever possess, even in theory. The fastest way to solve that problem at the time was to get rid of the offending power. That way, their ‘side’ (non-mages) would be the biggest fish in the ocean. There would be nothing left — in theory — capable of scaring them.

The turning point of Mages of Mystralia happens when the Marquis dies in the most suspicious fire ever. The Chancellor says, “A mage did it” and decides to find all the ones they let go the first time in order to kill them properly now. The first place to be attacked is Zia’s home village, Greyleaf.

This incident is the turning point not because it’s where the status quo gets paved over, but because public opinion begins to turn in Zia’s favor. The Marquis is dead, and the Chancellor — who was the voice of the Marquis and a man in whom the public had great trust — is becoming as dangerous as mages had ever been. Aetius had to be stopped not because of his Celestial magic, but because he was using it to burn villages to the ground; now the Chancellor is doing the exact same thing. The only difference is the Chancellor is using the army instead of magic.

The most eye-opening thing Zia learns, however, is that the fear of mages was not entirely organic, but orchestrated by a single person. The Chancellor, we discover, is a mage. His goal is to exact revenge on the mages of Haven who exiled him for trying to master magic he was not ready for — Celestial magic, just like Aetius. Does this mean, then, that mages are evil? If the last two people to burn down the Valley were mages, surely magic must be the problem. Yet it is not, precisely because Zia also a mage. If both the hero and the villain are mages, the only difference between them is who they are as people.

Mages of Mystralia is Zia’s journey — not only to love her new self, but in learning that, to quote The Blacklist of all things: “the line of good and evil runs through us all,” and the world is never as simple as we think. Mages aren’t inherently evil, and non-mages aren’t inherently good. We are presented with mages who are good and mages who are evil; we are shown people who fear the player, and people who do not. The Chancellor is a mage who hurts people; Zia, Mentor, and everyone in Haven are mages who save them. The world is full of evidence to something, but whatever that might be, Zia and the book have to find out what’s really true for themselves.

“You will not always find the answers you seek,” says the Enchanter in Haven, “but you will always grow stronger, seeking them.”

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